ConsRep 1014 C

Why are ecologists and environmentalists so feared and hated? This is because in part what they have to say is new to the general public, and the new is always alarming. Garrett Hardin

Announcements

Public Webinar to Review RESTORE Act Projects

Join the online presentation on Wednesday, October 22.

On Wednesday, October 22, from 6pm to 8pm EST, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)

and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will host a online public webinar focusing on oil spill restoration projects.

Florida officials are in the process of identifying project proposals that qualify for “pot 2” of RESTORE Act money, controlled by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.

This Council, comprised of federal agencies and the five Gulf states, will control 30% of RESTORE funds, to be used to restore the Gulf and protect natural resources.

This is your chance to get the very latest about Gulf Coast restoration in Florida. You are encouraged to attend this virtual meeting.

Registration is required, please click here to visit the webinar website.

A brief presentation by Justin Ehrenwerth, executive director of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, will open the program.

For more information, please click here to see an article about this webinar from the Pensacola News Journal.

Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve Offers Wading Trips Through the Estuary

~Participants learn about ‘cradles of the ocean’ during unique adventure~

Participants will get an up-close look at wildlife in Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve.

Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve will host its final wading trip of 2014 in November, inviting visitors to discover first-hand why estuaries are known as “cradles of the ocean.”

Now open for registration, the trip is scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon on Nov. 5.

The trip will be led by environmental specialists from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve (EBAP).

Participants will take a refreshing journey into the waters of the bay, wading into mudflats and seagrass beds at low tide to find many of the plants and animals that call this estuary home.

Dip nets and seine nets will be provided for participants to collect organisms such as fish, shrimp, crabs and snails, which will be placed in buckets or magnifiers for a closer look.

Participants will be required to wear closed-toe shoes that can get wet, such as old tennis shoes or diving booties, and a swimsuit or shorts.

This trip is free of charge, but registration is required. Call EBAP at 239-463-3240 for more information and to sign up.

WHAT:    Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve Wading Trip

WHEN:    Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, 10 a.m. – noon

                                          WHERE:  Call Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve for directions (239-463-3240)

latashawalters|Oct. 21, 2014

Arthur R Marshall Foundation for the Everglades Presents:

Family-Friendly Fun in the Everglades
Join the Marshall Foundation team for the Annual Cypress Seed Harvest and Trail Cleanup at the ARM Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, 10216 Lee Road, Boynton Beach, on Saturday, October 25th from 9 a.m. to 12 noon.

As your family, scout troop or youth group joins the fun of hunting for and harvesting cypress seeds, the natural riches of the Everglades will surround you.

You will see herons and egrets, alligators, turtles, and so much more! The seeds you harvest will eventually become cypress trees that filter our water and protect the future of the Everglades.

As you search for seeds, you’ll be protecting the Everglades by helping to clear its trails. If your teenagers need service hours, the Cypress Harvest is a great solution. For more information, and to register, click here.

Call for Cypress Seed Harvest Team Leaders
We are in need of additional Team Leaders. Leaders are responsible for guiding groups of volunteers safely through the refuge to harvest seeds, remove exotic plants and clean up trails.

If you are interested in becoming a team leader for the event, please email our volunteer coordinator at volunteer@artmarshall.org.

Cruising the Intracoastal – The 2014 River of Grass Gala December 6, 2014
The Marshall Foundation is launching its 10th holiday gala aboard the beautifully appointed, 170 foot Lady Windridge this year.

We would love to have you join us for a glorious evening cruise on the Intracoastal highlighted by memorable water views of twinkling holiday lights.

There are still sponsorships remaining for you and your friends.

Don’t miss this opportunity for a fabulous evening of food, music by Monique McCall and Jeff Taylor, a very special live auction, and fun with friends on the water.

Dust off your yachting attire and board beginning at 6 p.m.

You will enjoy an unforgettable evening as your sponsorship benefits the Marshall Foundation’s education programs, and brings your sponsorship dollars a one-to-one match from the Batchelor Foundation.

To learn more about how you can join us aboard the Lady Windridge see here.

NEW! Everglades Speaker’s Bureau Now Online
The Marshall Foundation is available for presentations to your club or organization.

Learning more about the Everglades is important to everybody living in South Florida.

Crucial issues like Everglades restoration and protection, water policy, advocacy and the impact of Sea Level Rise are among the most critical ongoing discussions happening right now!

The Everglades needs our attention! Contact the Marshall Foundation and schedule a presentation today.

Spotlight on a Marshall Foundation Star
Bonnie Lazar, this year’s River of Grass Gala Chair, is a tireless crusader for the Everglades and for the Marshall Foundation’s social events and fundraising efforts.

Her status as a longstanding Ambassador of the Everglades proves her generosity and commitment to the cause of environmental education, Everglades restoration and protection.

Bonnie says, “I invite all my fellow Marshall Foundation fans to make a stretch gift for environmental education this year. The beautiful Gala Cruise will be our thank you for your generosity.”

Although her busy schedule means she is rarely able to relax and enjoy it, Bonnie loves her home in West Palm Beach and its ocean views.

She is a busy member of the Realtors Association, who began her career New York State, and her affiliation with the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches in 2001.

Bonnie is currently past president of the Regional Multiple Listings Service.

In addition to championing the Marshall Foundation in her spare time, Bonnie is vice president of the West Palm Beach Lions Club and a member of the board of directors for Executive Women of the Palm Beaches.

We are very grateful to Bonnie for her support and leadership of our 2014 River of Grass Gala.

• October 25 – Annual Cypress Seed Harvest & Trail Cleanup
• December 6 – River of Grass Gala – Lady Windridge Yacht, Launching from West Palm Beach

For information about upcoming events visit artmarshall.org or call 561-233-9004.

We look forward to greeting you in the coming months.

~Ann E. Paton|Editor

Everglades National Park seeks comments on Environmental Assessment for updated Fire Management Plan

I am pleased to announce the availability of an Environmental Assessment (EA) for an updated Fire Management Plan (FMP).   The National Park Service (NPS) is updating the park’s FMP due to changes in federal fire management policies which have evolved since the last FMP EA was prepared in 1991 and the last FMP update in 1995. The NPS invites public comments on the FMP EA though November 25, 2014.

The 2014 FMP EA evaluates two alternatives for the implementation of a comprehensive fire program including wildland fire response, fire protection, and fuels management utilizing prescribed fire treatments.  The proposed fire management plan supports National Park Service goals to restore fire’s natural role in the ecosystem. Both alternatives include a continuation of active management of fire and fuels within Everglades National Park. The main difference between the alternatives is the manner in which prescribed fire treatments are planned and where they would occur. 

The preferred alternative, Alternative B- updated FMP, includes a multi-year fuels treatment plan that calls for prescribed fires to be planned and implemented on a multi-year rotation of fuels treatments (see Appendix C). Prescribed fires would take place in wilderness and non-wilderness areas. The prescribed fire treatments would be prioritized annually based on public safety and ecological goals.

In Alternative A, current management, fire management would continue under the 1995 FMP.  Prescribed fire treatments would be planned and approved on an annual basis.  Since the 1995 FMP and its associated EA are out of date, prescribed fire treatments are limited to only two types of prescribed fires that are currently authorized under National Environmental Policy Act Categorical Exclusions (CEs).  Prescribed fires authorized under CEs include treatments to reduce hazardous fuel build-up and treatments to manage exotic plants.  Hazardous fuel reduction treatments would be limited to areas outside of designated wilderness and a maximum of 4,500 acres annually until completion of a new FMP EA, or until April 2015 when hazardous fuel reduction fires will no longer be allowed under a CE.  Exotic vegetation treatments would occur in wilderness and non-wilderness areas.

Wildfire response remains unchanged in both alternatives; however, Alternative B accommodates advancements in wildlife management and allows for adapting to changes in fire policy and emerging scientific knowledge.

The FMP EA analyzes the effects of fire management actions on the natural and human environment. It also assesses the effects of fire management on cultural resources in accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.
We welcome public input on this project and encourage you to review the EA and submit comments through the NPS’s Planning, Environment, and Public Comment website:

http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=19541

You may also mail or hand-deliver written comments to:

Brien Culhane                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Planning and Compliance Office                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Attn:  Fire Management Plan EA                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Everglades National Park                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  40001 State Road 9336                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Homestead, FL 33034        

A limited number of compact disk(CDs) of the FMP EA are available upon request by contacting Everglades National Park at 305-242-7700.

All comments must be received or postmarked by November 25, 2014.

For more information or questions, contact Rick Anderson, Fire Management Officer, at 305-242-7853 or rick_anderson@nps.gov

Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness

Date: May 30 – June 6, 2015

NPCA Member Price From: $6,290 per person

Are you looking for a distinctive way to see the Alaskan coastline and Glacier Bay National Park?

Then join NPCA on the Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness journey next June onboard the 62-guest National Geographic Sea Bird with Lindblad Expeditions.

The National Geographic Sea Bird will take you where others can’t go with the experts who know Alaska best.

This intimate journey features:

  • Unique access to Glacier Bay National Park with unparalleled views of the area’s magnificent scenery.
  • Naturalist-led wildlife viewing in search of bald eagles, harbor seals, humpback whales, orcas, puffins, and sea lions.
  • Opportunities to kayak and spend time in an expedition landing craft to get even closer to iconic wildlife.
  • Free round-trip airfare from Seattle if you book by December 31.

Want to see even more of Alaska’s national parks?

Then be sure to check out the optional seven-day post-tour land extension to Denali National Park.

Due to high demand, our spaces on this Alaska small-ship journey will only be held until November 7.

So please visit our online trip page, or contact us at 800.628.7275 or travel@npca.org, as soon as possible if you have any questions or want to reserve space on this extraordinary tour.

See you in the parks!

Ben Sander|Travel Program Manager

P.S. Here’s one more great reason to travel with us:

Every time you join a ParkScapes tour, a percentage of the proceeds helps support NPCA’s work to protect our national parks for current and future generations.

Of Interest to All

Bird Regains Sight After First-Ever Falcon Cataract Surgery

For the first time ever, a falcon has undergone eye surgery to remove cataracts and has received new synthetic lenses.

Banner is a 4-year-old lanner falcon who lives at the New Hampshire School of Falconry in Deering. She has had cataracts in each eye for nearly two years, and hasn’t been able to fly or hunt for the past two years.

Help finally arrived for the bird three weeks ago. On September 29, a veterinary team at Caves Animal Hospital in Deering carefully drugged her, and for each eye, cut into her cornea, removed the cloudy protein and implanted a uniquely designed artificial lens, and sewed her cornea shut again.

Banner was under the knife for about an hour, in the care of veterinary ophthalmologist Ruth Marrion, who performed the surgery. The procedure went off perfectly, reported The Concord Monitor. Marrion was one of several people who donated their services to help Banner.

A team of specialists from around the world designed the artificial lenses that were placed in Banner’s eyes. Canadian ophthalmology equipment manufacturer I-Med made the lenses and donated them to the surgical team in New Hampshire. The lenses themselves are only about six millimeters wide.

When a cataract is removed, so is the lens, so vision will be blurry unless a manufactured lens is implanted.

Banner will need anti-inflammatory eye drops for a few weeks to make sure her eyelids don’t become too irritated by the sutures in her corneas. Hmmm — I wonder how easy it is to put eye drops into a falcon’s eyes?

Banner obviously has special connections that enable her medical condition to receive the best possible care, but what happens to other animals and birds who are suffering?

Animal and bird hospitals, staffed by veterinarians, are pretty common, and mostly deal with domesticated animals. For example, each day 70,000 puppies and kittens are born in the U.S. As long as these birth rates continue there will not be enough homes for these animals. As a result, every year four to six million animals are euthanized. These hospitals may also perform surgery for cancer, soft-tissue surgery and orthopedic surgery.

Zoos also have their own medical facilities to take care of their animals. The Wildlife Conservation Society plays an active role in caring for zoo and aquarium animals, as their website explains:

“From baby wellness exams to geriatric care, our zoo and aquarium animals receive routine health check-ups throughout their lives. Our wildlife health specialists also conduct research to improve animal care in new and innovative ways. When necessary, they perform surgeries and treatments on many kinds of animals—perhaps a root canal for a tiger, an eye exam for a frog, even acupuncture for a camel.”

But what about creatures that are out in the wild? These animals can get hurt too, but most of the time it’s worse for them, since they don’t belong to anybody. So there’s usually no one to pay a veterinarian to take care of them. That’s where wildlife rehabilitators come into the picture: to take care of hurt or orphaned wild animals. These experts have special training and, in the United States, have to be specially licensed by each state and the federal government in order to do this.

Wildlife rehabilitators are like the ambulance team that first sees accident victims and treats them for shock and immobilizes fractures so they don’t get any worse before the doctor can see them. They may take blood and analyze it, look for parasites and treat them, give shots or other medications, clean wounds and bandage them.

They also work very closely with veterinarians, who take the x-rays and perform any necessary surgery, but there are so many wild animals that get hurt every year that often there just aren’t enough veterinarians to treat them.

So Banner, you are one lucky falcon. Here’s to a swift recovery from your operation!

Judy Molland|October 21, 2014

DEP and Collier County Enter Into Agreement on Dan A. Hughes Enforcement

~Collaborative approach strengthens efforts to protect Collier County residents~

Today, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) finalized a stipulated agreement with Collier County, clearing the way for the county to join DEP in its lawsuit against the Dan A. Hughes Company. The lawsuit, filed in July, requests the court’s enforcement of the requirements under the Consent Order between DEP and the Dan A. Hughes Company and seeks monetary penalties in excess of $100,000 as a result of the company violating the terms of the Consent Order and other regulations.

“We applaud the county’s collaborative approach and are committed to working jointly with them in holding the Dan A. Hughes Company accountable,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “I have a deep appreciation for the critical role local government plays in protecting the health, safety and welfare of Florida’s residents and the environment.”

In keeping with the intent of this agreement, DEP has already begun work at its own expense on numerous additional protective measures to ensure residents are safe. Efforts currently underway include:

  • DEP has drilled shallow groundwater monitoring wells near the Collier-Hogan site and continues to monitor them for contamination.
  • DEP has hired a team of independent third-party experts approved by the county and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida – ALL Consulting of Tulsa, Oklahoma – who have begun a full assessment of the activities that took place at the Collier-Hogan well.
  • DEP has initiated a thorough investigation of the flowback material produced at the Collier-Hogan well to ensure the material was treated and disposed of properly.
  • At the end of this month, DEP will begin work to install a deep groundwater monitoring well to the base of the underground source of drinking water (approximately 1,850 feet).

A copy of the stipulated agreement can be found here.

To access Secretary Vinyard’s Sept. 12 letter to Collier County, click here.

latashawalters|Oct. 21, 2014

Florida population surging again

For young job-seekers, South Florida has become a hip beach-side destination

Florida’s foreign-born population increased by 140,000 from 2010 through 2013

People from other countries and other states are pouring into Florida again, a sign of the state’s recovery from a long period of economic doldrums and slow growth.

Recently released U.S. Census numbers show that Florida’s foreign-born population increased by 140,000 from 2010 through last year. And movement within the United States left Florida with a net gain of 105,000 residents last year and 109,000 in 2012 — 84 percent more than in the previous two years.

The population surge has accelerated this year, according to state estimates, growing at a rate of about 700 new residents a day. That’s a healthy increase, though still less than the big migrations during the Sunbelt boom of past decades.

For many job seekers, South Florida has become a hip beachside destination with a nexus of entrepreneurs, investors, a big consumer market and a gateway to Latin America.

“You are getting a lot of young professionals and a buzz starting to happen down here,” said 23-year-old Shea O’Donnell, who moved in August from Seattle to Fort Lauderdale fresh out of college. She landed a job last week for a new company that promotes a mobile-device app for finding parking.

“When you launch successful startups, it feeds the ecosystem, and that brings in more young professionals and investors,” she said. “So you rock as a community, because you’re putting something back in. There’s a huge potential here.”

Older transplants from the North, frozen in place by the Great Recession, say the recent recovery makes it easier to sell their homes — or come up with enough money to buy a second home — and make that long-awaited move to sunny Florida.

“From a financial standpoint, a year earlier would have been ideal, but we weren’t ready at that time,” said Donna Nahum, 54, of Cherry Hill, N.J., who bought a condo in Boca Raton as a second home. “My husband is in commercial real estate, so we had a few leaner years. I feel like we may not have gotten in on the lowest part of the real estate market in Florida, but we got in while it’s on the rise.”

In the decades following World War II, Florida’s population had been growing by as much as a thousand a day, fueling a construction boom.

But the Florida dream of owning a home in semi-tropical paradise was badly shaken by a sharp rise in property taxes and a batch of hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 that raised insurance rates. A housing crisis in 2007, marked by a plunge in home values and widespread foreclosures, led to double-digit unemployment rates, a financial meltdown and the Great Recession.

Immigration from abroad and migrations from the North slowed to a trickle. According to state estimates, Florida gained just 75,000 people from July 2008 through June 2009. Five years later, in the 12 months ending in June 2014, the population shot up by 253,000.

“What you are seeing is pent-up demand,” said Mason Jackson, CEO of CareerSource Broward, a job-placement service. “People are saying, ‘I can move now. I want to go where it’s warm. And I might be able to find a job there more easily than before.'”

A fierce winter in much of the North early this year helped motivate people to follow the traditional pathway to Florida.

“We’re getting a big influx of people from the Northeast again. The harsh winter has really caused a lot of people to re-think where they want to live,” said Kim Bregman, buyer agent for Optima Properties, a real estate and relocation service based in Boca Raton. “And more people are able to work in a virtual [computer-linked] office, so they are able to live here and continue to work regardless of where their main job may be.

“Miami is on fire, and it moves up the coast. People are coming from Brazil, Venezuela, Israel. I just put in an offer, sight-unseen, from an investor in China. The world still sees Florida real estate as a good investment.”

Partly as a result, the state’s foreign-born population reached 3.8 million in 2013, a 140,000 increase from 2010, according to a compilation of census numbers by the Center for Immigration Studies, an advocacy group in Washington.

“The high [tourist] season is coming, so people are hiring now, in hotels and resorts, in the kitchen and housekeeping,” said Sandro Cristian Arotinco, 37, who moved from Peru in January and got a job this month as a chef at a Fort Lauderdale beach resort.

“We are not rich,” he said, “but are living in a nice way.”

All these trends have made it possible for Florida to resume its traditional role as a magnet for people who seek warm weather and a leisurely lifestyle.

“When the weekends come, it’s like vacation — palm trees and a beach,” said O’Donnell, the transplant from drizzly Seattle. “I’m not used to that. I think I’m adjusting just fine.”

William E. Gibson, Washington Bureau|Sun Sentinel|October 20, 2014

Calls to Action

  1. Save the Arctic refuge for birds and wildlifehere
  2. Tell President Obama and his administration to step up and clamp down on methane – here
  3. Give panthers a brakehere
  4. Audubon’s Top Ten Tips to Protect Beach Birdshere
  5. South Africa- Call Off the Rhino Auctionhere
  6. Help Save Utah’s Greater Canyonlands – here 

Birds and Butterflies

Birds and Warming: It’s Personal

Among the 314 North American bird species threatened by climate change are avian residents of every state. Nine state birds, including the Baltimore Oriole, Common Loon and Brown Pelican, are threatened in the states that have adopted them, and some could disappear locally. Use our local effects calculator to see which birds in your state are threatened and just how bad things might get for each affected species.
Search your state.→
State birds in trouble.→

Starlings on Prozac: It’s a Real Problem

Concern over the amount of antidepressants we’re using as a society has grown in recent years, but new research suggests that it’s not just humans that are being impacted by this, but also our bird populations too.

A research team from York University, England became interested in what effect antidepressants might have on birds when they inadvertently ingest trace amounts by feeding on worms that have digested human waste.

To do this, the team measured the level of the common antidepressant Prozac, which is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), that could be found in earthworms living in sewage work sites where birds will often go to feed. In terms of human dosage, the amount of the drug was very small at about just three to five percent, but that was still significant enough to warrant further investigation.

As such, the research team fed Prozac-carrying worms to 24 captive European starlings to gauge their reactions compared to a group of control birds who were fed worms who didn’t carry the drug. What the researchers found was interesting for a number of reasons.

For one, the birds passively given Prozac quickly began to display reduced appetites, eating much less but snacking throughout the day. Of itself this behavior isn’t necessarily bad, but in the wild it would put a huge amount of strain on a starling and, come winter time, would probably lead to starvation because it would cause them to miss the prime foraging times of daybreak and sunset.

The researchers also found that the starlings who passively ingested Prozac were less likely to show an interest in mating — that has obvious implications for overall starling numbers.

One other thing the researchers tested was whether the passive dose of Prozac affected the starlings’ mood. They tested this by measuring boldness, or how the birds reacted when a new object was introduced into their environment. Due to the fact that there are a lot of variables in measuring boldness and anxiety levels, and the fact that you can’t just ask the birds how they’re feeling, the researchers can’t give a definitive answer on this yet, but it seemed that Prozac didn’t make the birds more bold or relaxed, or have impact on mood at all.

Now it may be this wasn’t a task that carried enough stress to elicit a measurable response, and the researchers are keen to look at this more, but it might be that avian brains are different enough from human brains that SSRIs don’t change their behavior in the same way as they do in humans.

In the UK, starling numbers have fallen sharply, with a 66 percent decline in Britain since the mid-1970s. A number of reasons have been offered for this, but until now antidepressant use among humans has not been on the radar.

In recent years, antidepressant use has increased across Europe, creating a number of media scare stories. However, there is evidence that of itself this increase might not be a bad thing: taking a look at national figures, we’ve seen a decline in overall suicide rates. As such, we might say antidepressants are appropriate. If we accept this, the question then becomes how we stop our antidepressant use affecting other animals.

Lead researcher Dr. Kathryn Arnold has said that this research shouldn’t be seen as an attack on Prozac, but rather a call toward further research on this important issue.

“I’m not saying that if you’re depressed, don’t take Prozac. Sewage treatment works are really good sources of food for birds. We’re certainly not saying they should be covered over. Science needs to deliver better estimates of the environmental risks posed by pharmaceuticals. The effects we’ve measured so far are quite subtle. These aren’t big die-offs but they could have a negative impact on wildlife. We need to find out whether they are. It’s going to get worse so we need to get a handle on it.”

It’s important to put these findings in a proper context as well. The researchers aren’t saying that Prozac use might be solely responsible for the decline in starlings, but are simply offering that it might be one factor that has gone unnoticed until now.

Furthermore, this comes at a time when researchers are also busy studying the wider environmental effects our other commonly used medications might produce, for instance, what our over-use of antibiotics might be doing, particularly in marine environments where antibiotic resistance among marine bacteria could present real problems for marine species and for communities that rely on fishing as their main source of food and commerce.

Once again, then, we are reminded that what we do for our own health can have a much broader impact on other species and our environment than we had perhaps realized.

Steve Williams|October 22, 2014

  Invasive species

Lionfish-reporting app successful, plus 250 users sporting new lionfish shirts

See or catch a lionfish? Report it.

That’s what many lionfish hunters have been doing, thanks to the new Report Florida Lionfish app. Released to the public May 28, the app has been downloaded by more than 2,500 people. The first 250 to successfully report their lionfish catch or sighting received an interactive Lionfish Control Team T-shirt. The logo on these shirts is designed to come to life on your smartphone.

In addition to the app, data can also be submitted online at MyFWC.com/Lionfish by clicking on “Report Lionfish.”

Lionfish are an invasive species that negatively impact Florida’s reefs and wildlife.

The Report Florida Lionfish app includes educational information on lionfish and safe handling guidelines, as well as an easy-to-use data-reporting form so divers and anglers can share with the FWC information about their sighting or harvest. App users also can take and share a photo of their catch. These photos may be used in future publications or social media efforts. (Samples shown here: Kyle Huber with his lionfish, and Glen Hoffman’s big catch.)

The FWC will use the data to help identify sites where targeted lionfish removal might be most beneficial. All data will be available to the public and shared with other groups and agencies collecting this kind of information.

Several users have submitted ideas on how to improve the app, and the FWC is looking into implementing those changes, including allowing users to submit using a photograph that is already on their smart device and adding fields for smallest and largest catch.

Learn more about the new app, T-shirt and interactive logo by watching a video online. Missed your opportunity to receive a Lionfish T-shirt? These shirts will also be given out at various lionfish-related events, such as derbies, across the state.

Learn more about lionfish at www.MyFWC.com/Nonnatives; click on “Marine Life.”

Amanda Nalley|August 20, 2014

Video

Endangered Species

Plastic mistaken as food blocks up hawksbill turtle

One of three turtles fighting for life after being found on Northland beaches appears to be slowly but surely moving in the right direction.

The hawksbill, found in a critical condition near Baylys Beach on September 22, has a bowel blockage, probably caused by eating plastic debris it mistook for a jelly fish.

X-rays show the messy mass is shifting, thanks to decent doses of laxatives being first administered at Auckland Zoo and now at Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life. The young male hawksbill has passed small pieces of plastic in the last few days and vets expect the bulk of the problem, a backlog of sand and debris, to pass within the week.

That turtle was transferred from the zoo this week for ongoing care at Kelly Tarlton’s, where it joins another young hawksbill also found on Northland’s west coast in September. A green sea turtle rescued around the same time is still critically ill at Auckland Zoo, and its future hangs in the balance.

“When Department of Conservation [DoC] staff brought these turtles down from Dargaville and Kaitaia, they were in a seriously bad way,” Auckland Zoo senior vet James Chatterton said.

“They were all severely emaciated, dehydrated, suffering from bacterial infections and covered in algae and barnacles.”

Dr Chatterton said the zoo and Kelly Tarlton’s team also worked together last year treating turtles that had ingested plastic.

“It’s pretty distressing to see the impact we humans are having on marine life like this. A recent WWF report suggests 50 per cent of aquatic species have been lost in the past 40 years, with sea turtles one of the most affected, and significantly impacted by plastic in the ocean.”

Hawksbill and green sea turtles, both endangered species, are generally found in warmer waters but can be washed up on to New Zealand’s shores during colder periods if they are weak and ill.

Kelly Tarlton curator Andrew Christie said these turtles often mistook plastics and other rubbish for staple food such as jellyfish and sponges.

“Once they swallow them, this causes a blockage and begins a slow, agonizing death,” Mr Christie said.

If well enough, the turtles could be released back to the wild later this summer when the water off Northland’s coast has warmed.

Lindy Laird|Oct 18, 2014

Victory! World’s Largest Bat Colony Protected From Development

The home and futures of up to 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats have been at the center of a controversy surrounding a proposed housing development for the past two years. Luckily, their advocates won a major victory this month.

Every year these bats make their annual migration North from Mexico to Bracken Cave in central Texas to give birth and raise their young among the largest colony of bats in the world. Every evening from spring to fall, millions of them emerge from the cave to hunt night-flying insects in what’s been called one of the most vivid natural phenomena in North America. Not only do they offer an amazing sight to behold, but they provide us with a vital service.

“For 10,000 years, Bracken Cave has been a sanctuary for millions of Mexican free-tailed bats. Bracken’s bats consume more than 100 tons of agricultural insect pests, mosquitoes and other insects each night, saving Texas farmers millions of dollars annually in reduced crop damage and lower pesticide use,” said Andrew Walker, executive director of Bat Conservation International (BCI). “It’s a true natural treasure.”

While the cave and hundreds of acres of surrounding land are owned and protected by BCI, a proposed development project from Galo Properties that included plans to build nearly 4,000 homes just south of the cave on a property known as Crescent Hills  –  right in the flight path these bats travel twice a day – put their future in jeopardy.

Bat and wildlife advocates raised concerns about how a housing development would lead to conflicts with humans, how activity in the area would threaten the bats’ survival, and how these problems would impact other wildlife, including endangered golden-cheeked warblers.

Bracken also lies over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, which raised concerns that the project could threaten the water supply in San Antonio and surrounding communities.

Last week, those who have been fighting to protect Bracken’s bats, wildlife and water won a major victory when the San Antonio City Council approved a deal that will protect the 1,500 acre Crescent Hills property from any development in the future.

“San Antonio is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, in part because of the vast natural resources of the region. It’s our responsibility to ensure we protect and conserve what makes this region incredibly special,” said Ron Nirenberg, San Antonio District 8 City Councilman.

The city will now join public and private partnerships to purchase the property and authorized $10 million towards that goal as part of a conservation easement, while additional funds will also be coming from Bexar County, the Edwards Aquifer Authority and the U.S. Army.

BCI and the Nature Conservancy, which will jointly own and manage the property, will cover the last $10 million and they’ve raised about half of it to date thanks to private donations.

“Working to secure Crescent Hills was actually one of the more complex conservation deals we’ve done in San Antonio, but our collective efforts will result in incredible dividends: safeguarding Bracken Bat Cave, protecting the Edwards Aquifer and preserving important habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler. It’s a conservation trifecta,” said Laura Huffman, Texas state director for The Nature Conservancy. “Once this contract closes, nearly 5,000 contiguous acres will be protected by the Conservancy and its partners. We’re practicing smart conservation on a scale that truly makes a difference.”

For more information on how you can help, visit BCIBCI and The Nature Conservancy.

Alicia Graef|October 21, 2014

Only Six Northern White Rhinos are Left in the World

The northern white rhino is in a perilous situation. Only seven existed in the world, but on Friday, that number was brought down to six when Suni, one of only two males who was of age to breed, was found dead in his pen.

Although there have been no reports as to what caused the death, conservationists note that it wasn’t poaching. Living at the Ol Pejeta conservancy park in Kenya, he was 34 years old at the time of his death. Most northern white rhinos live up to 40-50 years, although it’s not unheard of for them to die in their mid-thirties.

The situation gets even worse: even though there are six northern white rhinos left in the world, only three are able to breed. One male rhino and two females are the only hope this subspecies has left.

Rhinos are notoriously difficult to handle when it comes to procreating. The females don’t reach sexual maturity until 6-7 years of age, while the males generally have to wait until they are 10-12. If they mate, offspring is not always produced. If the female does become pregnant, gestation can take up to a year and a half and only produces a single calf.

In an interview with CNN, the conservationists at Ol Pejeta said they would persevere with their mating programs, “in the hope that our efforts will one day result in the successful birth of a northern white rhino calf.”

The northern white rhino was indigenous to the East/Central African region, primarily located in South Sudan, Uganda, The Central African Republic and the DRC. However, poaching has put these animals in severe danger of extinction. Rhino horn, smuggled off the continent and shipped to Asia via illegal trade, is said to cure a number of ailments, despite the fact it is primarily made of keratin (i.e. not that different than your fingernail or hair).

Although efforts are constantly made to curb illegal poaching, equipment and methods have become sophisticated, with many poachers better funded than the wildlife authorities that are sent to protect the animals.

The conservancy released a statement after the death of Suni, calling the decrease in northern white rhinos, “a sorry testament to the greed of the human race.”

The Ol Pejeta Conservancy also houses black rhinos and uses a number of anti-poaching methods to try to keep intruders at bay. Earlier this year, they launched the use of trained dogs to sniff out poachers. They note that dogs, unlike bullets, can weave around bushes and track poachers quickly and efficiently.

The dogs are also given advanced protective gear to keep them safe. “[Poachers] are coming into the conservancy with AK-47 assault rifles and if we do actually come upon them or try to apprehend them, they will open fire every time on us,” said one of the conservationists.

“So what we’re doing with the dogs is giving them the latest ballistic body armor which is stab-proof, kick and punch-proof and also ballistic to AK-47 with plates in it…And we are also giving them the latest FIDO head gear, which is a piece of camera equipment we put on their head which actually films as the dog is going in for the attack. It has night vision and also has a GPS system as well.”

This will help ensure that the rhinos remaining at the conservancy are kept alive and well, while evoking a rather satisfying animal vs. poacher scenario.

Yet for the northern white rhino, it may turn out to be a lost cause. Even if we do have a best case scenario and both remaining females give birth to calves, this will be a long, hard march and it will likely be decades before we see northern white rhino numbers above the double digits.

Lizabeth Paulat|October 22, 2014

Already close to extinction, last male white rhino capable of breeding dies in Kenya

One of the last northern white rhinos on the planet has died in a reserve in Kenya, leaving the sub-species on the verge of extinction, experts said Saturday.

The male, called Suni, “was probably the last male capable of breeding”, according to Dvur Kralove zoo in the Czech Republic, where the rhino was born in 1980.

There are only six of the very rare rhinos left, having been hunted by poachers in central and east Africa for their horns, which are highly prized for traditional Chinese medicine.

The Czech zoo is the only one in the world to have succeeded in breeding the sub-species in captivity.

Suni — who is thought to have died from natural causes in the Ol Pejeta reserve — was one of two males and two females from Dvur Kralove zoo reintroduced into the wild in Kenya in 2009, in an operation dubbed “the last chance of survival”.

It was hoped that the females’ hormones would normalize in the wild, but even attempts at assisted conception failed.

“One can always believe in miracles but everything leads us to believe that hope they would reproduce naturally has gone,” the zoo’s spokeswoman Jana Mysliveckova told AFP.

Sperm from the males born at Dvur Kralove has been conserved at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin.

Another pair of the rhinos, too old to reproduce, live at the Wild Animal Park in San Diego in the United States, with another aged female remaining at Dvur Kralove, close to the border with Poland.

“The number of rhinos killed by poachers has increased incredibly in the past few years,” Mysliveckova said. “According to some scenarios, there will be no rhinos left in the wild in Africa in 10 years or so.”

Agence France-Presse|18 Oct 2014

Wealthy People Eat Endangered Pangolins as Status Symbol in Asia

What drives someone to eat an endangered animal? For some, it might be the taste, but for many it seems to be the exclusivity. Knowing that an endangered animal’s meat is rare, expensive and illegal seems to be a main draw.

That’s why pangolins seem to be winding up on so many plates in parts of Asia. Since this delicacy is too unaffordable for most people to order, richer individuals are gobbling up the threatened creature as a symbol of their elite status. One diner in Vietnam was spotted paying $700 for four pounds of cooked pangolin.

Although eating pangolins is illegal, not much is being done to stop this practice. A reporter at Global Post visited a restaurant in Myanmar and observed how the business didn’t even attempt to conceal that it had pangolin on the menu. Signs advertised the dish and the building had a cage with some live pangolins to entice affluent customers. The waitress even recommended ordering pangolin, calling the meat “delicious.”

It seems like poor pangolins can’t catch a break. The adorable and unusual-looking animal has already had its population decimated thanks to its use in traditional Eastern medicine. The animal is also hunted for its soft scaly skin, which similarly gets sold on the black market. On its current trajectory, the pangolin faces extinction, a fate that should be avoidable if they’re left off of restaurant menus.

Unfortunately, the pangolin is not the only endangered creature that humans eat. It turns out a variety of cultures like to consume some of their most threatened species, though it certainly seems more egregious when done to show off to friends rather than to provide necessary nourishment.

Growing awareness of illegal pangolin trade isn’t entirely beneficial in this particular case. Realizing the value of these creatures, poorer individuals in certain African countries have taken to snatching the remaining pangolins from the wild in order to earn some quick big bucks. This practice is already big in Asia – in Cambodia, someone who catches a pangolin alive can earn up to $400, meaning that a lot of disadvantaged people are actively on the hunt.

While law enforcement agencies do arrest pangolin hunters, it’s generally only these desperate people at the bottom of the totem pole being caught. For the most part, no one is arresting the kingpins behind the illicit pangolin trade, something that will be necessary in order to sufficiently protect the mammal.

To do its part, the Chinese government has increased pressure by threatening to jail those who consume endangered animals for a full decade. That’s a start, but in order to have a meaningful impact, China will need to do more to block the trade altogether – sign a petition to encourage China to boost their efforts and protect this vulnerable creature.

Kevin Mathews|October 20, 2014

Sign the petition to secure more protections for pangolins.

Water Quality Issues

Florida Utility Seeks Public Funds to Fight Clean-Water Rules

Environmental groups object to Florida Power and Light’s request for public funds to fight Clean Water Act regulations

October 22, 2014TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, Florida Power and Light (FPL) will appear before the state’s Public Service Commission to ask for Florida tax dollars to fund its efforts to fight an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to close existing loopholes in the Clean Water Act. The utility is asking for almost $230,000 to fight the rules, which would affect regulation of cooling ponds at its plants in the state.

Susan Glickman, state director, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, explains why her organization is asking the state to deny the power company’s request: “Water is our most precious resource, and to think that the utility would not only want to weaken water protections, but would want to use ratepayer money against our own interests is really outrageous.” An FPL spokesman says the additional regulation would cost the utility company millions of dollars it would ultimately have to pass on to consumers.

The EPA is expected to issue a final decision on its proposal in November. If approved, it would reinstate rules placed in limbo after two Supreme Court rulings. The court’s decision impacted the protection of small streams and wetlands, which can be found throughout the state.

George Cavros, energy policy attorney, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, says the intended purpose of the taxpayer funds for which FPL is applying is to help it comply with environmental regulations, not change them. “What’s different here is that Florida Power and Light, the biggest power company in the state, they are preemptively attacking a draft Clean Water protection rule – and that’s just simply not allowed under Florida law,” explains Cavros.

Glickman says she hopes the state refuses the utility’s request for the money, bucking what she calls a historical trend. “Utilities seem to get, under this Public Service Commission, everything that they ask for, so why wouldn’t they ask for the moon and expect it?” she says. So, we can only hope that the Public Service Commission will understand that this is an outrageous request.” The Florida Public Service Commission is expected to make a decision on the funding request by the end of October.

Stephanie Carson|Public News Service|October 2014

Clean Water, a Smart Investment

Why reduce pollution in local rivers and streams? A new report, commissioned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, found that cleaning up local waterways in the Chesapeake Bay region would provide nearly $130 billion annually in economic benefits. That’s the estimated value of natural benefits like cleaner water, cleaner air, hurricane and flood protection, recreation, and fresh, healthy food and seafood.

But 21 attorneys general from across the country have joined the American Farm Bureau Federation and others to try and stop efforts to restore water quality in the Chesapeake Bay region.

The Chesapeake, just like other waterways around the country, suffers from vast dead zones, where the water has too little oxygen to support aquatic life. Those dead zones are created by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.

After years of failed commitments to restore water quality, the region’s states and the District of Columbia developed a Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. The plan includes pollution limits set jointly by the states and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, individual plans developed by each jurisdiction to achieve those limits, and two-year milestones that ensure transparency and accountability.

And it is under attack, both in the courts and in Congress.

Why? Critics like The Fertilizer Institute and the American Farm Bureau are suing in federal court to stop the blueprint. They have actually said that if we are successful, other parts of the country might have to reduce pollution too. In other words, if the blueprint improves the health of the bay, a similar effort could be coming to a watershed near them before too long. That’s a problem only if you fear clean water.

The blueprint is working. Governments, businesses and individuals are rolling up their sleeves, working together, and making things happen to reduce pollution. Almost every sector of pollution is declining. Nature is responding and producing benefits for our health, the environment and our economy.

The report, The Economic Benefits of Cleaning Up the Chesapeake, found that the benefits nature provides to us will increase in value by more than $22 billion, a 21 percent increase as a result of fully implementing the blueprint. And we will reap those added benefits every year.

The peer-reviewed report, produced by economist Dr. Spencer Phillips and Chesapeake Bay Foundation water quality scientist Dr. Beth McGee, compared the value of those benefits in 2009, the year before the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint began being implemented, to the benefits that can be expected as a result of fully implementing the bay restoration plan.

The report estimates that the value of natural benefits from the pre-blueprint bay watershed, even in its polluted and degraded condition, at $107 billion. Once the blueprint is fully implemented and the benefits realized, that amount grows by 21 percent to $129.7 billion a year. Equally telling, if the region relaxes efforts and does little more to clean up the bay than what has been done to date, pollution will worsen and the value of bay benefits will decline by almost $6 billion.

The costs of inaction are serious. Think Toledo, where nitrogen and phosphorus pollution sparked a toxic algae bloom that contaminated the water supply. Residents were warned not to drink or have any physical contact with tap water.

The report addressed benefits, not costs. While there are no recent estimates of the total costs of bay cleanup implementation, a 2004 estimate put costs in the range of roughly $6 billion per year. Considering federal, state, and local investments in clean water in the 10 years since that time, Chesapeake Bay Foundation estimates the current number is closer to $5 billion annually. And once capital investments are made, the long-term annual operations and maintenance costs will be much lower. The result—the blueprint will return benefits to the region each year at a rate of more than four times the cost of the cleanup plan.

Clean water is important to the citizens of this region, and clean-up efforts have enjoyed the support of politicians of all stripes. While we are concerned about the opposition from national lobbying groups, we are confident that the Blueprint will succeed. The Chesapeake is the nation’s estuary, with Washington, DC at the center of the watershed. Failure to save the bay is not an option. So we ask, if not here, where? And if not now, when?

William Baker|President|Chesapeake Bay Foundation|October 22, 2014

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Why is Florida Reshaping an Entire River?

Why in the world would Florida try to reshape the Kissimmee River? An ongoing attempt to give the river more “curves” seems both drastic and expensive – isn’t it best to leave Mother Nature alone?

Actually, the current plan isn’t exactly messing with Mother Nature, explains NPR. If anything, it’s an attempt to put nature back to the way she was before human intervention 50 or so years ago. At that time, Florida officials decided to “straighten” the river by eliminating its natural curves in order to speed the waterway along for commercial interests. In the long term, though, the state realized the damage this plan had on the ecosystem.

The Kissimmee River was originally modified to help drain the swamplands, but ultimately it did the job too successfully. As a result, in dryer periods, the area lacks the water necessary for humans and animals to comfortably survive. Additionally, several dams were constructed to control the flow; these, too, are now marked for destruction to help return the river to normal.

Although there have been deliberate plans to reengineer rivers around the world, a project of this size has never been attempted previously. The plan will ultimately cost Florida more than $1 billion, but that cost seems worthwhile since the Kissimmee River is a main water source for 6 million people in the region. This move is especially important since experts already anticipate a major water shortage in Central Florida within another two decades.

Despite still being another three years from completion, the early stages have already yielded noticeable improvements. Paul Gray, a prominent Florida conservationist, is already impressed with the progress. “Birds are back, both wading birds and ducks. They’re all over the place. The oxygen levels in the river are better. There’s a lot more game fish in the river like bass and bluegill and stuff. Most of the biological perimeters, the goals of the restoration we’ve already met.”

Returning the river to its former slow, windy pathway is not conservationists’ only goal for the Kissimmee at the moment. Another ongoing effort includes getting the river’s water designated for protection in order to limit how much of it can be used for commercial interests. If environmentalists are able to establish a “water reservation,” that designation will similarly prevent the Kissimmee from drying out at certain points.

The debate on that effort continues to rage on, with many expecting the upcoming local elections to determine how the issue will ultimately shake out. In the meantime, eco-activists and residents alike will have to take comfort in knowing their once majestic river is returning to its curved glory. Let this story be a lesson to other regions of the world – “fixing” nature isn’t always a great idea. In the end, you might just wind up wanting to “fix it” back.

Kevin Mathews|October 22, 2014

Offshore & Ocean

Drive to Mine the Deep Sea Raises Concerns Over Impacts

Armed with new high-tech equipment, mining companies are targeting vast areas of the deep ocean for mineral extraction. But with few regulations in place, critics fear such development could threaten seabed ecosystems that scientists say are only now being fully understood.

Hydrothermal vents create rich mineral deposits that companies are eager to exploit. For years, the idea of prospecting for potentially rich deposits of minerals on the ocean floor was little more than a pipe dream.

Extractive equipment was not sophisticated or cost-effective enough for harsh environments thousands of feet beneath the ocean’s surface, and mining companies were busy exploring mineral deposits on land. But the emergence of advanced technologies specifically designed to plumb the remote seabed— along with declining mineral quality at many existing terrestrial mines — is nudging the industry closer to a new and, for some environmentalists and ocean scientists, worrying frontier.

More than two-dozen permits have been issued for mineral prospecting in international waters. And in April, after years of false starts, a Canadian mining company signed an agreement with the government of Papua New Guinea to mine for copper and gold in its territorial waters. That company, Nautilus Minerals, plans to begin testing its equipment next year in European waters, according to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a regulatory agency established in 1994 under the auspices of the United Nations. A Nautilus spokesman, John Elias, said the plan is to award a construction contract in November for a specialized mining vessel. “All other equipment has been manufactured and is in final assembly,” he wrote in an email.
Chief among critics’ concerns is that seabed mining will begin without comprehensive regulatory oversight and environmental review. They say dredging or drilling the seafloor could potentially obliterate deep-sea ecosystems and kick up immense sediment plumes, which could temporarily choke off the oxygen supply over large areas. And powerful international companies, they add, could take advantage of the lax or non-existent review and enforcement capabilities in many small island nations of the Pacific Ocean — precisely where seabed mineral deposits are thought to be highly concentrated.

“Communities are concerned that our governments don’t know enough about the ecology or the implications” of seabed mining, said Maureen Penjueli, coordinator of the Pacific Network on Globalization, a Fiji-based non-profit that has tracked seabed prospecting in the region since 2009. “We haven’t seen much benefit from land-based mining, let alone fisheries or tourism — and here we are entering a new frontier.”
But industry proponents say no extractive industry is free of environmental impacts, and that only a fraction of the seabed covered by exploration permits would actually be mined. Companies and governments, they say, are carefully studying both deep-sea ecosystems and emerging mining technologies in order to prevent or mitigate ecological damage.
“We are committed to using ecologically sound, deep-seabed mineral recovery methods,” said Jennifer Warren, the regulatory director at
UK Seabed Resources, a subsidiary of the U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin’s British arm. “Toward that end, we are working closely with research institutions and scientists to understand any potential environmental impact of commercial recovery efforts.”

Gaining that kind of understanding is a work in progress. As late as the 1950s, the deep sea was still viewed as a dark and barren place with little or no biodiversity worthy of protection. But in the 1960s, new sampling technologies prompted the discovery of new deep-sea species, and by the late 1970s, scientists had discovered bacteria that could thrive amid hydrothermal vents in deep, volcanically active regions. Those bacteria are turning out to be food for a number of “beautiful and strange” invertebrates, according to Cindy Van Dover, a marine biologist at Duke University. By the early 1990’s, scientists were speculating that the deep sea played host to as many as 10 million species of small invertebrates.
It is amid this awakening to deep-sea biodiversity that interest in seabed mineral mining is heating up. While investing in seabed-mining operations remains comparatively expensive, “the equation is turning,” according to Michael W. Lodge, legal counsel with the ISA. “People are starting to think that upfront investment is worth it for the long term payoff.” The ISA has issued seven new seabed exploration permits this year, Lodge noted, bringing its global total to 26, stretching across an area of international waters roughly the size of Mexico.
Nautilus Minerals’ planned operation in the territorial waters off Papua New Guinea, however, is widely expected to be the world’s first commercial-scale deep-seabed mine. Several neighboring countries have begun to issue export permits — and in some cases, are drafting seabed-specific mining legislation. New Zealand has also been weighing applications for two seabed mines in its waters, which would target iron sands and phosphate, respectively.

In an email message, James Hein, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the president of the International Marine Minerals Society, a non-profit organization linking industry, government, and academic institutions, suggested that the global rush to mine so-called “rare earth” elements – which are used to manufacture cellular phones, wind turbines, solar panels, electric cars and other applications – is a key driver in moving the industry forward.
Other sought-after resources include sulfide minerals — a source of precious metals like silver, gold and copper — that accumulate around gaps in the seafloor where chemical-rich fluids leak into the ocean at temperatures nearing 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The Nautilus Minerals project in Papua New Guinea
plans to mine a sulfide deposit by cutting the seabed with a remote-control machine that is 26 feet tall, 42 feet wide, and 55 feet long. According to the company, the ore will be extracted with an “associated suction mouth” and pumped to the surface — a distance of about a mile.
Manganese nodules — palm-sized chunks of rock containing copper, nickel and cobalt — are also prized, and in shallower areas, mining companies plumb for rocks containing phosphates, a key ingredient in agricultural fertilizers. “The process itself is essentially a large vacuum cleaner on the end of a hose,” said Chris Castle of Chatham Rock Phosphate, the company behind the phosphate-mining
application pending in New Zealand.
Here and elsewhere, however, environmental battle lines are now being drawn. In June, a New Zealand court, citing environmental concerns, riled the mining industry by
rejecting a proposed plan for an iron sands mine about 15 miles off the coast of the country’s North Island. The company behind the proposed mine, Trans-Tasman Resources, says it has spent over seven years and more than $50 million studying the potential impacts. An appeals hearing is scheduled for next March.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand advocacy group Kiwis Against Seabed Mining has argued that the mines would pose risks to iconic mammals — including blue whales and Maui’s dolphins — that outweigh any potential economic benefits.
Castle, Chatham Rock Phosphate’s project director, said the environmental impacts on the seabed would be far less than those that fishing trawlers regularly inflict. But Les Watling, a biology professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa,
argued that sediment plumes from the phosphate mine could stress or kill an entire species of local coral, Goniocorella dumosa, leading to wider impacts because the coral’s branches are a habitat for smaller organisms. And Liz Slooten, a zoologist at New Zealand’s Otago University, said the sounds from seabed mining in that area could damage or destroy the hearing of blue whales, causing them to flee and perhaps even beach themselves.
Ultimately, the exact impacts of deep-sea mining in New Zealand or beyond won’t be entirely clear until the mines actually open, said Phil Weaver, a geologist and the coordinator of a three-year project called
Managing Impacts of Deep Sea Resource Exploitation, which launched in 2013 with a $11.4 million grant from the European Commission. “We need |to put in place some criteria and protocols which will at least try to control those impacts based on available information.”

In March, the ISA began soliciting public comments for its first-ever Mineral Exploitation Code. A voluntary environmental code drafted by the International Marine Minerals Society in 2001 will inform the new ISA document, according to Hein, the society’s president. David Billett of Britain’s National Oceanography Centre, who sits on the ISA’s legal and technical commission, said environmental matters are “regularly raised” at the committee’s meetings, and that the ISA has strict guidelines for the sort of ecological data that prospective miners must collect along seabeds.
Still, individual countries are free to choose their own regulatory approaches to seabed mining, and permits in the South Pacific have already been issued in waters that cover an area the size of Iran, according to the
Deep Sea Mining Campaign, an international coalition of non-profit groups. A 2010 study in the journal Marine Policy said the “absence of a clearly defined regulatory regime” in international waters was encouraging seabed prospectors to pursue projects in territorial waters, where legal risks were smaller. It named Tonga and its neighbor Papua New Guinea as two countries that would struggle to balance economic development against the need to protect marine ecosystems.

Environmental groups are watching carefully as the Nautilus Minerals project gathers speed in Papua New Guinea. The company says its mine will not contaminate coral or fisheries, and Jonathan Copley, a prominent marine ecologist at Britain’s University of Southampton, has said that the project’s design appears to be environmentally sensitive. Yet Nautilus and other international firms have other mining applications scattered across the South Pacific, and Van Dover of Duke University said scientists’ biggest concern is the cumulative impacts of multiple mines opening in the same area.
“A single mining event — at the scale of a single hydrothermal vent field — would be no worse than the most extreme natural disturbance,” Van Dover said in an email message. “But multiple mining events in a region in a short period of time — i.e. within a decade — would be unwise without good environmental knowledge of the ability of the system to recover.”

mike ives|October 20, 2014

Time-Lapse Videos You Have to See to Believe

Have you ever seen a coral reef move? When nine months’ worth of images are condensed into three minutes of sped-up footage, a seemingly stationary ecosystem comes alive with growth and change.

Watch this video and three other amazing works of time-lapse photography to see fog that appears like a rushing river, glaciers that shrink in minutes, and forests that turn into cities. Some of these videos are beautiful representations of nature’s force; others are terrifying reminders of climate change. They all provide a perspective that needs to be seen.

Forestry

Mangrove Restoration Study Underway in Rookery Bay Reserve

~ Research partnership with USGS will assess natural community’s response to restoration efforts ~

NAPLES — Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has entered into a research partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to conduct a long-term study of a mangrove die-off area near Goodland. USGS awarded funding to this project for a minimum of three years to assess the 225-acre hydrologic restoration, partially underway, at Fruit Farm Creek.

Fruit Farm Creek is a mangrove-forested site located within the boundaries of the Rookery Bay Reserve, near Goodland on the Southwest Gulf coast of Florida. Construction of State Road 92, initiated in 1938, greatly altered natural tidal flushing to mangrove wetlands in the area. In particular, incoming flow from higher tides inundates the forest but cannot readily flush out, creating a “bathtub effect” that holds the water for longer periods than these forests would normally experience. Summer rains compound this effect. Following the heavy, flooding rains from Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the area has experienced a slow, steady die-off of approximately 65 acres of mangroves.

The reserve has partnered with the Coastal Resources Group, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the city of Marco Island to conduct the initial assessment of the area’s hydrology and produce a plan for restoring the affected mangrove forests.

“We have examples of how hydrological restoration works in other locations,” said Kevin Cunniff, research coordinator for Rookery Bay Reserve. “A long-term assessment of forest community change and recovery over the next decade will provide invaluable information regarding the resiliency of our mangrove wetlands and the cost/benefits of restoration.”

USGS has just installed 12 Rod Surface Elevation Tables (RSETs) in order to monitor surface elevation change associated with mangrove forest recovery within the study plots, which span a gradient of dead, degraded and intact forest. Initial assessments of the forest canopy, sediment conditions and plant/animal communities will begin early in 2015. Three reference area study plots, also including RSETs, will be established on the south end of Horrs Island adjacent to Fruit Farm Creek in November 2014. Long-term data collected will provide information on trends in forest canopy structure, sediment chemistry and nutrient cycling, and benthic faunal community and food-web structure.

In August 2013, a series of small trenches were excavated to reestablish tidal connection to one acre of a four-acre die-off area. Within one year, the return of normal tidal flushing has produced a dramatic response— mangrove seedlings are taking root and many of the characteristic fish, crabs, snails and other species have moved in. The project partners are still seeking additional funding to restore flushing to the remaining 224 adjacent acres. It is on the list of projects under consideration for federal funding through the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast Act (RESTORE Act).

Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve encompasses 110,000 acres of coastal lands and waters between Naples and Everglades National Park. It is managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coastal Office in cooperation with NOAA.

Press Releases|02 September 2014

Read more about Fruit Farm Creek  

‘No forests, no cash': palm oil giants commit to sustainability, but will they follow through?

Indonesia Chamber of Commerce plans to lobby for expansion of sustainable business practices

Four of Indonesia’s largest palm oil producers signed a landmark commitment in New York in September to further implement sustainable practices across one of the country’s largest commercial sectors.

Then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the Indonesia Chamber of Commerce (KADIN) witnessed the undertaking, which is hoped to expand the country’s palm oil industry while making it more environmentally friendly.

Wilmar, Golden Agri Resources, Asian Agri and Cargill all signed on to the agreement. Although nonbinding, their commitments emphasized greener palm oil development policies, more social benefits for workers and further cooperation in forming an implementation mechanism for the pledge.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia CEO Dr. Erfansjah was among those who lauded the gesture.

“Amidst the grim pictures in the market of how oil palm development has been impacting forests and people, WWF believes the commitments presented today by the top palm oil leaders of industry and KADIN sheds light to the global market that Indonesia is seriously making step-wise journey towards sustainability in the ways palm oil is produced,” he said in a statement.

Glenn Hurowitz, the chairman the Forest Heroes campaign, echoed this sentiment, saying that such pledges make significant waves on the international palm oil market.

“Investors are increasingly wary of providing finance to companies engaged in deforestation,” he said. “The message is clear: no forests, no cash.”

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil, a commodity that can be found in a variety products ranging from cooking oil to shampoo. Although it is important for Indonesia’s economy, the country’s palm oil sector has also contributed to Indonesia’s status as the world’s biggest deforester in terms of annual rate. According to Global Forest Watch data, Indonesia lost more than two million hectares of forest cover in 2012 alone, of which 840,000 hectares was primary, natural forest.

Furthermore, slash and burn land clearing tactics associated with palm oil plantations spur a yearly haze on Indonesia’s island of Sumatra. The smog, stemming mostly from palm oil-rich provinces such as Riau, has at times completely blanketed local communities as well as neighboring countries such as Singapore. Singapore recently passed a measure to hold both foreign and domestic companies responsible for creating haze that has at times choked the city-state for weeks at a time.

While all of the companies in question had previous policies aimed at reducing deforestation, this newest pledge is significant due to KADIN’s participation. Though many of its member corporations have yet to adopt green policies, the body has stated openly that it will now lobby the Indonesian government to expand sustainable business practices.

“KADIN has recognized the potential global demand for deforestation-free palm oil,” Greenpeace Indonesia forest campaigner Annisa Rhamawati told mongabay.com. “While the signatory companies have their own individual policies with timelines and detailed implementation plans, the KADIN pledge presents a challenge to other palm companies to turn their destructive practices into zero deforestation policies.”

However, Greenpeace noted in its press statement that while Cargill, Golden Agri and Wilmar are actively “taking steps to ensure that their operations and supply chains no longer contribute to deforestation, peatland destruction and social conflict,” the fourth signatory has yet to prove to the international community that they are doing the same.

Asian Agri is part of the Royal Golden Eagle Group, a conglomerate with longstanding ties to the Suharto regime run by Sukanto Tanoto. The group owns both Asia Pacific Resources International Ltd. (APRIL) and Toba Pulp Lestari — two firms that have lagged behind in sustainability commitments and have consistently been linked to heavy deforestation in Indonesia.

“Greenpeace welcomes the commitment by another big Indonesian palm oil company to stop clearing forests and peat lands, but we regret that the Sukanto Tanoto’s RGE Group has failed to seize this opportunity to address all of the group’s impacts on the rainforests of Indonesia and to commit to support wider forest conservation initiatives,” said Bustar Maitar, Greenpeace’s global head of its Indonesian forest campaign. “If Mr. Tanoto was serious about forest protection he would be stopping the bulldozers immediately in Indonesia.”

Attempts by mongabay.com to contact Asian Agri were unsuccessful.

WWF’s Irwan Gunawan said that despite the nonbinding and individual nature of each commitment, he believes the global stage on which the agreement was made will force the companies to make great leaps toward sustainable practices.

“For the companies and KADIN to make such a public commitment at a global forum… [it] will tie them with a huge responsibility, and to some extent put their reputation at risk… if they fail to meet what they pledged,” he told mongabay.com.

Ethan Harfenist|mongabay.com correspondent|October 21, 2014

Global Warming and Climate Change

Climate Change and the Dry, Wild West

I grew up in a small town in California called Placerville (population 10,000), located near Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada foothills. There, in the mountains, snow days were frequent in the winter, and for fun in the summer we’d kayak on the Sacramento River.. When I call my family, I get updates on how things are going in Placerville, but I also get regular updates on the ongoing drought in California.

Drought has become a bigger and bigger problem for Californians since I moved to the East Coast four years ago. Just this January, the Governor of California declared a state of emergency and the state has been classified as an Exceptional Drought area (the highest rating of drought possible). As a Fellow with EPA’s Climate Change Division, I wanted to learn more about the causes and effects of drought in my home town, and how climate change may be playing a role.

Under the Palmer Drought Severity Index, the Southwestern United States, which includes Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah, have been experiencing drought conditions since 2000. Low precipitation is part of the problem. Higher temperatures are also playing a role, increasing the rate of evaporation and contributing to drying over some land areas. While much of the American Southwest generally has low annual rainfall and seasonally high temperatures, every part of the Southwest experienced higher average temperatures between 2000 and 2013 than the long-term average (1895–2013). Some areas were nearly 2°F warmer than average.

Caption: A picture of mid- September drought conditions from the past 10 years. While drought is not something new to California, continued periods of drought have significant impacts on the state.  Image: U.S. Drought Monitor http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

Caption: A picture of mid- September drought conditions from the past 10 years. While drought is not something new to California, continued periods of drought have significant impacts on the state.
Image: U.S. Drought Monitor http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

Higher temperatures have also prompted early spring melting and reduced snowpack in the mountains in some parts of California. This can result in decreased water availability during hot summer conditions. Snowpack, through runoff, provides about one-third of the water used by California’s cities and farms. Snowmelt from the Sierra Nevadas to the Sacramento River, which provides drinking water to about 30 percent of California’s residents, irrigates key crops in the San Joaquin valley, and runs hydroelectric power plants that supply at least 15 percent of the state’s electricity, has decreased by about 9 percent over the past century. The importance of conservation has not gone unnoticed and restrictions were implemented by the State Water Resources Control Board in July, which limits outdoor water use in an attempt to conserve water.

As you can imagine, the drought is having an impact on the daily lives of my family in Placerville, and every Californian. Fortunately, the policymakers in California and at EPA are taking action to help protect against the worst impacts. Check out my next blog for part 2 of this story, looking at some of the impacts of the drought in California, and policy initiatives to address the problem.

Krystal Laymon|2014 October 21

Gov. Scott Receives More Than 90,000 Petitions Demanding Climate Leadership

More than 92,000 petitions arrived at Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office today urging the governor to announce his plan for fighting climate change. The petitions also call for Scott to cut carbon emissions and invest in solar power, actions that would help the state comply with the federal government’s proposed Clean Power Plan.

Children pulled red wagons piled with boxes into the governor’s office. Florida State University student and ReThink Energy intern Daniel Corbett spoke in Scott’s waiting room during the petition drop.

“It doesn’t matter whether you identify as a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, what faith you follow, where you call home, what language you speak or how much money you make, because climate change, pollution, whether our energy is dirty or clean, that is all of us,” he says.

The timing of the drop, weeks before the midterm election, is no accident, says Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Florida Director Susan Glickman.

“For the very first time ever, climate and energy issues have become a central issue in the elections, so people are paying attention, and we believe they will use these important issues as they make up their mind and who they’re going to vote for,” she says.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency wants states to come up with their own plans for lowering carbon emissions by the year 2030. The agency is taking public comment on that plan until December 1. 

Climate Movement Spans Generations

Scores of Audubon members from across the country joined the more than 400,000 marchers participating in the September 21st People’s Climate March in New York. What was perhaps more remarkable than the sheer numbers of marchers was the diversity of the crowd. The many young and multi-ethnic faces in the crowd inspired hope among the grizzled veterans of past movements.

Read more.→

Genetically Modified Organisms

Los Angeles City Council seeks to ban GMOs

Citing fears of the impact on the environment and public health, the Los Angeles City Council called Tuesday for a measure to ban the sale and planting of any genetically modified seeds within the city boundaries.

“I want to see all 503 square miles of Los Angeles be a GMO-free growing zone,” said Councilman Paul Koretz, who has been working on the proposal for more than a year.

“We are promoting urban farmers, and having a GMO-free zone would help them produce a crop that I think we can market as a Grown in L.A. brand.”

The council approved the proposal on a 13-1 vote, asking the City Attorney’s office to draft the measure. Councilman Joe Buscaino was the lone opposing vote, saying he believed it was beyond the city’s scope of authority.

The measure, if finally adopted. would also ban the planting and sale of fruit plants that are genetically modified.

“Let’s see what this does for our health, for soil health, for pollination — and let’s see what it does for economic development.” Koretz said.

He has argued genetic modification reduces the diversity of seeds, makes food unsafe to eat and is linked to the decline of the bee population.

Supporters of GMO — genetically modified organisms — deny the presence of any harmful effects and say the process has helped increase the world food supply.

The National Center for Policy Analysis said GMO crops are part of a worldwide strategy to combat the deficit between food supply and hunger.

“Global hunger will only continue to increase, and combating it will not be easy, yet the world is fortunate in that a wealth of research is dedicated to the advancement of farming,” said David Weisser, a researcher at the center.

“Through advanced research and new farming methods, hunger can be fought and conquered.”

Rick Orlov|Los Angeles Daily News|10/21/14

If $10 million isn’t enough to buy a NO vote on GMO labeling, how about $14 million?

With more than $25 million poured in to defeat statewide GMO labeling ballot initiatives in 2014, a small cabal of multi-national biotech, pesticide and junk food companies seeks to buy the elections in Colorado and Oregon.

Seeking to crush a groundswell movement in America to label genetically modified or GMO foods, a small group of multi-billion-dollar pesticide, biotech and junk food companies have poured more than $14 million into Colorado in September and October to defeat Proposition 105, a grassroots voter initiative to label GMO foods.

Just 10 corporations, including Monsanto, DuPont, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Kraft, General Mills, Hershey, J.M. Smucker, Dow and Kellogg, are responsible for more than $13 million of the $14.3 million total contributed to kill the Colorado GMO labeling bill.

Also of note among the donors seeking to defeat the Colorado GMO labeling bill are Abbot Nutrition and Mead Johnson, companies that make nutritional formulas for infants and the elderly – companies that do not want mandatory GMO labeling on their packaging.

In contrast, while more than 170,000 Coloradans signed petitions to place the bill on the November statewide ballot – nearly twice the number of signatures needed – the underdog Right to Know Colorado campaign has raised less than $1 million in cash and pledges, mostly through small business donations along with hundreds of $5, $10, and $25 contributions to the campaign from primarily Colorado citizens.

“I can’t understand why these corporations would put over $14 million into a Colorado campaign where the pro-labeling side has less than $1 million,” said Larry Cooper, Co-chair of the Right to Know Colorado campaign. “What are they trying to hide?”

Ironically, while a similar GMO labeling voter bill in Oregon, Measure 92, has been able to raise significantly more funding – $6.3 million in total – biotech has pumped more into Colorado than Oregon to defeat the GMO labeling measure – although that gap is closing rapidly as Election Day approaches. Monsanto, PepsiCo, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Land O’Lakes, General Mills, Hershey and other chemical and food multinationals top the list of donors to the No on 92 campaign in Oregon. To see the list of donors to both the Yes and No sides in Oregon, visit http://gov.oregonlive.com/election/2014/finance/measure-92/.

Delayed until the Colorado Supreme Court finally cleared the initiative to move forward in March following a complaint filed by the anti-labeling opposition, the Right to Know Colorado campaign got a late start but surprised industry followers by collecting more than twice the number of signatures needed to place the bill on the November ballot.

The Yes on 105 campaign has received important media endorsements from the Daily Camera, Colorado’s second largest newspaper, and BizWest, one of the state’s leading business journals. Additionally, in September, a 20-member Citizens Initiative Review panel endorsed Colorado’s Prop. 105 to label GMOs by a vote of 11-9. (A similar panel in Oregon voted 11-9 against Measure 92.)

In Colorado, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, and Whole Foods Market have provided significant support for the Yes on 105 campaign, helping to get out the vote through their stores and via endorsements and social media.

Major contributors to Colorado’s Yes on 105 and also the Oregon pro-labeling campaign include Presence Marketing/Dynamic Presence, Food Democracy Now, Organic Consumers Association, Annie’s Inc., Dr. Bronner’s, Boulder Brands and others. For a complete list visit www.righttoknowcolorado.org/donors and www.oregonrighttoknow.org/endorsements.

Grassroots organizations endorsing the Right to Know Colorado ballot initiative include Moms Across America, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Colorado Moms for GMO Labeling, Conservation Colorado, Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, Hazon, and others.

Seeing this rising tide of grassroots consumer and citizen support for GMO labeling as a threat to profits, Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Pepsi, Coke, Kraft, Grocery Manufacturers Association, and other pesticide, biotech and junk food companies have teamed up to spend more than $125 million over the past three years to defeat GMO labeling ballot initiatives in California and Washington in 2012 and 2013, and in Oregon and Colorado this year.

More than 93% of Americans want GMO labeling, according to a 2013 New York Times survey, and in late September, before the anti-labeling ad blitz on TV, 71% of Colorado voters favored GMO labeling, yet less than three dozen chemical, pesticide and junk food companies continue to fight history with a withering amount of cash to barrage the airwaves in Oregon and Colorado with deceptive advertising to confuse voters about GMO labeling – and to buy our elections.

Steven Hoffman|Managing Director|Compass Natural

Beware the Corporate Takeover of Seed Under Many Guises

New and existing legislations and treaties are increasingly restricting people’s food rights and eroding agricultural biodiversity in favor of a handful of big seed corporations that are already monopolizing the world’s seeds.

The UK hosted a festival across the country to celebrate and honor the humble seed. In London, the Lambeth Garden Museum hosted farmers, growers, food sovereignty campaigners, artists and chefs for 2 days of workshops, talks, storytelling sessions, artists, games and film screenings. The festival acknowledged the importance of seeds and our responsibility to protect all their biodiversity from corporate theft if we are to protect the health of our children and the planet. The event rightfully acknowledged the growing community of small farmers and gardeners who are safeguarding thousands of years of knowledge in food production and seed saving still vital in feeding the world today. As stated in the recent UN Commission of Trade and Development report, small holder farming is what is needed to feed the growing global population, not industrial systems.

October is Food Sovereignty month, and October 16 was World Food Day, both coming at a time when recognizing the importance of the seed is more critical than ever.

In UK and much of the rest of Europe, the industrialized farming system means that farmers are no longer saving seed as they had done for millennia, maintaining local varieties and cultivating regional biodiversity. High yielding and hybrid varieties now dominate the market, designed for large-scale high input industrial farms. A 2005 study found that on the European seed market, 74 % of cauliflower varieties were hybrids, as were 80 % of carrots, 85 % of calabrese, 87 % of spinach, and 89 % of tomatoes. Hybrid seeds are not worth saving as the yield goes down after the first year of planting due to the loss of ‘hybrid vigor’, the increased yield of hybrid seeds from crossing two inbred varieties. These hybrids have replaced open-pollinated varieties. Seminis, a European seed company bought by Monsanto in 2004, had previously deleted 2000 open pollinated varieties from their stocks, but these varieties still remain available to Monsanto for their breeding programs.

Monopolization of seed is not just a European issue but a global one, with international agritech giants buying out independent companies and leaving farmers with little choice but to purchase hybrid or genetically modified seeds in countries like the US. Monsanto bought 200 US independent seed companies over 10 years, with the corporation now estimated to own 23 % of the proprietary seed market. A similar drive for seed monopoly is taking place in the African continent, with SeedCo, one of Africa’s largest home-grown seed companies being bought out by transnational corporations Limagrain, the biggest seed and plant breeding company in the EU. Limagrain is investing US$60 million for a 28 % stake in SeedCo. SeedCo has sold 49 % of its shares in Africa’s only cottonseed company Quton to the Indian company Mayco, a Monsanto subsidiary. Syngenta in 2013 took over Zambia’s MRI seed, which is said to have the most biodiverse collection of maize seed varieties in Africa. South Africa’s largest seed company Pannar Seed was recently taken over by Pioneer Hi-Bred, a subsidiary of DuPont. These acquisitions of seed companies by a handful of corporate giants pose great threats not only to seed biodiversity, but also food sovereignty and people’s access to fresh foods, giving GM companies the chance to spread their patented seeds across the world.

Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont already own 53% of the global commercial seed market and the following legislative proposals and treaties are set to increase their monopoly.

Proposed changes to the EU seed laws (EU Plant and Reproductive Material Law) will further restrict the varieties of vegetables that can be saved and sold, threatening small and independent seed companies as well as small-medium scale commercial farmers. The proposed changes have been considered a gift to industry, allowing unrestricted marketing of patented seeds, favoring large companies with an expensive process of seed registration. A draft of the proposals was rejected earlier this year, and it is as yet uncertain what new drafts will be put on the table.

Patrick Mulvany, a policy advisor involved in the negotiations of the treaty said at the October 15 meeting in UK’s Houses of Parliament, “it’s not that we don’t want laws, but we want the right ones” for protecting biodiversity. Previous drafts of the proposals make clear that the legislation is designed for big industry which is being called the “consumer”, not small-medium commercial seed companies and farmers which would likely go out of business if the price for registering each seed variety is set at £2 000. New proposals also favor distinct, uniform and stable varieties such as hybrid seeds which due to their uniformity, are also the most vulnerable to unpredictable climate change and pest attacks. As Patrick later emphasized, “we need to re-imagine new rules that realize farmer’s rights and regulate industry”.

Biodiversity is also threatened by offsetting schemes that are supposed to charge companies for the biodiversity they destroy. This type of scheme not only encourages the destruction of land and biodiversity, but gives contentious green credentials to development strategies and companies that commodify nature and send out the message that nature is replaceable. As stated in an open letter to the EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik protesting the latest EU proposals for biodiversity in the region, signed by 67 organizations and over 9 000 people, it provides a ‘license to trash’ and the UK government has been quite open that it will speed up planning permissions. The UK government has already carried out small pilot schemes that have failed miserably, with not a single company involved making a single offset in the six counties that participated.

In another threat to food sovereignty, countries are being pressured to implement stricter plant variety protection regimes and adhere to the 1991 International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants Act of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties, known by its French acronym UPOV. This act is officially designed to give acknowledgement to breeders for new plant varieties, offering intellectual property (IP) rights for breeders and farmers. UPOV is an intergovernmental organisation based in Geneva. The act was first created in 1968 and has been revised since then, with most countries now being members of the 1978 Act or 1991 Act of UPOV. The latest version differs significantly from previous ones, covering all plant varieties instead of just national varieties; IP protection lasts for 20 years instead of 15, and governments are entitled to decide whether farmers shall be allowed to harvest material from a protected variety for any purpose, while previously they were permitted to use them for any purpose. Crucially, under the 1991 UPOV Act farmers would not be allowed to exchange or sell such material. This 1991 version of the act may function to some extent when applied to already commercialized farming systems but when applied to small farmers across the world who rely on informal seed exchanges and saving for food production, this new act will impact on the human rights to access to food and further erode the biodiversity that farmers depend on to deal with exigencies such as pest attacks and the vagaries of climate change.

Ghana is one country that is currently being pressured into implementing UPOV-1991. The Agribusiness Transnational corporations will not release GM foods in Ghana until this UPOV-91 Plant Breeders Bill is passed as when in place, it would protect the IP rights of the corporations’ seeds. As stated on the Food Sovereignty Ghana website: Ghana, the bill if passed “gives away control of its agriculture, and gives away control of its own food supply for nothing but empty promises. The Plant Breeders Bill makes a gift of Ghana’s land and agriculture to the Agribusiness TNCs. With this law, the TNCs can flood Ghana with GMOs and demand Ghana pay the price they set.”

A recent human rights impact assessment of UPOV 1991 Act presented case studies in Peru, Kenya and the Philippines, stating that “Concerns have … been raised that UPOV 91-type PVP [Plant Variety Protection] laws overly restrict the traditions of seed management and sharing among farmers, thereby reducing the effectiveness and integrity of the informal seed system.” An open letter from 214 NGOs from around the world is also asking Dr Shakeel Bhatti, the Secretary to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture on Farmers’ Rights, to reconsider his approach to implementing UPOV-1991 in the Treaty of Farmer’s Rights. Instead, the letter invites UPOV and WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation) to agree to setting up an independent commission that will investigate its implementation with respect to recognizing the enormous contribution that local and indigenous communities and farmers across the world have made to conservation and development of plant genetic resources which “constitute the basis of food and agriculture production throughout the world”; protecting traditional knowledge relevant to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; farmers’ rights; and the farmer’s right to participate in making decisions at national levels.

A yet further threat to African farming and food sovereignty is the New Alliance for Food and Nutrition, a G8 initiative disguised as a development initiative but in reality facilitates private sector investment. Ten African countries are so far involved, the majority not the most vulnerable to food issues in the continent. Companies that have invested in this initiative include Monsanto, Coca-Cola, Syngenta, Cargill and Unilever. The UK government has invested £600 million of aid money for the initiative, and as Polly Jones of the World Development Movement explained at the Parliament meeting, this initiative will be used to develop export markets, change policies and make it easier for companies to access land, seed markets and supply chains. Investing aid money to change policies of sovereign nations may even contravene the British government’s aid policy which states “We will not make our aid conditional on specific policy decisions by partner governments, or attempt to impose policy choices on them.” However, the ten nations that have so far signed up — Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal and Tanzania — have made more than 200 policy commitments that will make it easier for multinationals to do business in their countries. Some of these policy commitments include implementation of UPOV-91. The UK government should not be pressuring other nations to make these changes. The World Development movement has set up a petition to write to local MPs telling them that the people do not want our governments to interfere in sovereign nations for the benefits of corporations. Policy changes will have vast implications for people’s sovereignty, not just food but land rights, water rights, labor rights, and to a healthy livelihood as these new policies push for more chemical inputs into farming systems.

But people are fighting back.

Seed cooperatives are springing up, including one just being established now, with representatives from Biodynamics Association, Garden Organic and The Organic Research Centre, and based in Willow Hall Farm in north Essex. This builds on Stormy Hall Seeds based in North Yorkshire, which will eventually become a part of the cooperative that will produce, process and store seeds for retail and dispatch. These initiatives provide a practical hands-on resistance to the corporate takeover of seeds, something widely discussed at the event as one of the methods we need to support, expand as well as acknowledge as a practice already growing in the UK and in Europe. The challenges lie in scaling up these initiatives, providing seeds and resources for commercial scale farmers, not just gardeners and amateur growers.

The Open Source Seed Initiative is an example of something larger that is currently lacking in the EU; it is a US resource for the conservation of seed that started in 2011. The initiative released its first sets of seeds in 2014, and was hugely popular, with nation-wide requests for 36 varieties of seeds from 14 different crops and even international requests from 8 different nations, highlighting the public demand for an alternative to patent-protected seeds. These examples are providing a successful framework to follow in the EU.

On a larger scale, scientists such as Dr Melaku Worede in Ethiopia who won the Right Livelihood Award in 1989 have provided a great example to the world on how to save seeds, generate new varieties and connect the scientists to farmers, the people who know the most about the importance of seed. Instead of keeping a few seeds that are only useful as a genetic library and conservation effort, Worede has scaled-up the initiative with small-scale farmers to collectively revive and conserve large amounts of traditional indigenous seeds in the face of drought that could then be freely distributed among farmers. Creating community seed banks conserve genetic diversity at the level of local farmers, where seeds are dynamically and frequently exposed to changing environmental conditions, instead of being held in suspension in sub-zero temperatures for conservation instead of active use. A new film by Jess Phillimore for The Gaia foundation to be released in December explores the achievements of Dr Worede in resisting further erosion of seed biodiversity and food sovereignty.

The Landworker’s Alliance, the UK arm of La Via Campesina along with WarOnWant have organised protests and have been campaigning against the EU seed policies as well as the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a free-trade agreement between the US and the EU. The TTIP will see the EUs legislation on a wide variety of areas eroded down to US standards, including food safety deregulation, environmental deregulation, in addition to other areas such as workers’ rights, public services and personal privacy, and will likely see the spread of GM foods and seeds in the EU markets. The biggest lobbyists of this trade agreement are indeed agribusiness corporations. The negotiations are all held in secret so the implications of this deal remain completely uncertain at this time. A growing resistance to this agreement is becoming more visible, with for example a stop TTIP petition garnering 600 000 signatures in under a week in the EU. To sign this petition go to the stopTTIP.org website.

Social mobilization in the form of protests and campaign work have brought important international gains recently, and provide inspiring examples of what can be done to protect seeds by wider society at large. On the 5th of September, the Congress of Guatemala successfully repealed the Plant Breeder’s Variety Act UPOV-91 following mass protests from farmer’s organizations, local indigenous campaign groups and civil society. The Act should have come into force in September following signing by the Congress in June. This is a great victory in the fight for protection of farmer’s rights versus that of the plant breeder, an example that broad alliances between farmer’s, activists, civil society and wider society can challenge the giant corporations to successfully protect the rights of the seed and the farmer. Protests against UPOV-91 and the New Alliance have been growing across the African Nations involved, including Ghana and Ethiopia, providing hope that they will follow in the footsteps of Guatemala in resisting the corporate takeover of their food supply.

The London Great Seed Festival and similar events across the country provide much needed resistance against the corporate takeover of seeds. The event included seed swapping, seed donations as well as workshops and seed guides to provide growers with a diverse variety of vegetables and the knowledge needed to successfully grow them. Providing seeds were the Seed Freedom Food Bank, Open Pollinated Seeds and Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library. In response to the looming threats on EU seed laws, these groups are seeing rising interest and participation in seed swapping, saving and home growing, as well as huge concern for the future of seed biodiversity and food sovereignty. The concern for their children’s health is another driving factor for people to take food production into their own hands or into local sustainable systems that they can trust. The pleasure of learning more about produce was also a key in drawing in the crowds. Adults and children participated in workshops on soil fertility and planting with the use of beneficial organisms like worms.

Urban areas are increasingly seeing urban gardens springing up, as well as community gardens and school gardens to keep children in touch with food production. Food Growing Schools, also represented at the festival, is a recent project in London to bring together growing expertise with children, equipping schools with the tools they need. These initiatives are vital as traditional knowledge on seed saving and crop production has been lost to industrial farming.

Events are popping up all over the country in local communities. These movements need to be supported and encouraged to grow, and more importantly, they need to be acknowledged. Biodiversity is in the hands of small farmers and gardeners, not registered in national reports that essentially analyze only industrial agriculture. As Patrick Mulvany said, only 1-2 % of UK citizens are farmers, but at least 4 times are growers, in gardens and allotments, and is an unacknowledged source of the UK’s biodiversity, providing already existing alternatives that can be expanded on. Bringing awareness to the rich resources that are on offer from nature and ours by right is the answer to food security.

Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji|October 22, 2014

Where’s GMO?

Recently Consumer Reports went to the supermarket and bought more than 80 different processed foods made with corn or soy, then sent them to a lab to be tested for the most common GMO DNA signatures. All the conventional products and all the ones labeled “natural” were found to contain 17.8 to 100 percent GMO corn and/or soy. All of the organic and Non-GMO Project Verified products contained no more than a trace (which is permitted). So, as most of us suspected, if it has corn or soy in it and it isn’t certified GMO-free or organic, it’s almost guaranteed to have GMO in it. And you might want to leave it on the shelf.

Jean Nick|Contributing Editor|Environment|Greener Choices

Read More >

Energy

Keystone XL Oil Pipeline Owner Wins Climate Leadership Award

WASHINGTON -– The company that wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline was recognized this week for leadership on climate change -– to the shock of environmental activists.

Alberta-based TransCanada, which has been seeking permission to build the 1,660-mile pipeline from Canada’s oil sands to refineries in Texas, was included as a corporate climate leader on the Carbon Disclosure Project’s Climate Performance Leadership Index 2014. The Carbon Disclosure Project, or CDP, is a United Kingdom-based nonprofit that works with companies to tally and report their greenhouse gas emissions. TransCanada was one of five energy sector companies included on the “A List” in this year’s report.

The report notes that the company has set targets for emission reductions, and includes a quote from TransCanada: “Our business strategy is informed by the risks and opportunities from climate change regulations, physical climate parameters and other climate-related developments such as uncertainty in social drivers … we anticipate that most of our facilities will be subject to future regulations to manage industrial [greenhouse gas] emissions.”

In a blog post, TransCanada said the listing “presents those companies identified as demonstrating a superior approach to climate change mitigation.”

“Recognition at the highest level by the CDP — the international NGO that drives sustainable economies — is very significant to us,” TransCanada president and CEO Russ Girling said in a statement Thursday. “For us, our CDP ranking helps us continue to challenge ourselves in terms of protecting the environment at every level of our organization.”

But environmental groups, which have raised concerns about the pipeline’s potential contributions to climate change, deplored the listing for a company whose primary business is building energy infrastructure for fossil fuels. “The only thing TransCanada is a leader in is exploiting the world’s dirtiest oil,” Friends of the Earth’s Luísa Abbott Galvão said in a statement Friday sent by The Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and the state-based group Bold Nebraska. TransCanada has made a “relentless push to foul our land, water, and climate,” said Bold Nebraska’s Jane Kleeb.

Final approval for the pipeline would have to come from the State Department, because it crosses an international border. A decision is on hold while a legal dispute over the proposed route through Nebraska is resolved.

The State Department released an environmental analysis earlier this year that found that the greenhouse gas emissions directly tied to the pipeline would be negligible, as the oil would still likely be developed without Keystone XL.

But others have questioned that logic, arguing that emissions linked to the pipeline would be significant and that its construction would facilitate greater development of the tar sands. Environmental groups also have pointed to the fact that other proposed pipelines have generated opposition in Canada, potentially limiting options for exporting the crude.

Kate Sheppard|10/17/2014

Paying the Price of Tar Sands Expansion

Despite all the reasons to keep tar sands in the ground, the refining equipment tax credit has helped put tar sands development in the US on the rise, accelerating climate change at the expense – in every sense of the word – of American taxpayers.

Carolyn Marsh was in her living room watching television on a Wednesday night in August when she heard a loud boom from somewhere outside. Having lived in the industrial town of Whiting, Indiana––just south of Chicago––for nearly three decades, she wasn’t terribly shaken. “There’s a lot of noise constantly,” she explains.

But when the news came on an hour later and reported an explosion at the nearby BP refinery, Marsh was incensed. It was the second serious incident since the recent completion of BP’s Whiting Refinery Modernization Project, which Marsh had fought to prevent.

In December 2013, after six years of community pushback, court battles, Environmental Protection Agency citations, and ongoing construction in spite of it all, BP’s $4.2 billion retrofitted facility came fully online.

A little-known tax break allows companies to write-off half of the cost of new equipment for refining tar sands and shale oil. According to a report by Oil Change International, this subsidy had a potential value to oil companies (and cost to taxpayers) of $610 million in 2013.

Tar sands are petroleum deposits made up of bitumen mixed in with sand, water and clay. Their production is extremely destructive at every stage: from strip mining indigenous lands in Canada, to disastrous accidents along transportation routes, to dangerous emission levels produced by refining the heavy crude, to the hazards imposed on communities saddled with tar sands byproducts like petroleum coke (“petcoke”), and finally to the greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere when the end product is used for fuel.

Despite all the reasons to keep tar sands in the ground, the refining equipment tax credit has helped put tar sands development in the U.S. on the rise, accelerating climate change at the expense––in every sense of the word––of American taxpayers.

Heavy speculation and investment in Canadian tar sands extraction have been going on since at least 1995, when the oil industry set a production target of 1 million barrels per day by 2020. That goal was reached far ahead of time, in 2004. Now the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers predicts a rate of 4.8 million barrels per day by 2030 if currently planned expansion holds.

In order to take full advantage of Canada’s tar sands-driven energy boom, American refineries would need to make costly retrofits to century-old facilities designed for the light crude that once flowed plentifully from domestic oil wells––not heavy tar sands crude with a consistency like molasses.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) gave the oil industry a kick in that direction when he introduced a tar sands refinery equipment tax break to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a bill that funneled $85 billion worth of subsidies to the energy sector.

A report by The Pew Charitable Trust estimated that, between 2005 and 2009, this refinery equipment tax break alone cost the government $1.2 billion and increased emissions by more than two million metric tons of carbon.

In the years since Grassley incentivized tar sands retrofits, refineries across the Midwest have sprung into action, undertaking massive overhauls to accommodate the tar sands crude that already flows into the U.S. through the original Keystone pipeline and Enbridge’s sprawling network of pipelines.

State and municipal governments have jumped on the tar sands subsidy bandwagon as well, offering tax breaks and other incentives to refineries considering tar sands retrofits.

One of the biggest handouts came, astonishingly, from the cash-strapped city of Detroit, whose city council approved a whopping $175 million tax break to Marathon for a tar sands upgrade in 2007. Earlier this year, city council members expressed dismay that the massive subsidy created only 15 new jobs for Detroit workers.

“In a city with double-digit unemployment, any company that’s receiving a tax abatement of nearly $180 million should be giving more back, including hiring residents,” Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins told the Detroit Free Press.

“They’re dangling carrots in front of minorities in the city of Detroit,” a worker rejected by Marathon told the Detroit Free Press. “They feel like they can do that. It’s a renegade refinery running over poor people.”

BP’s Whiting Refinery Modernization Project got a significant boost from local coffers as well. In 2008, Indiana’s state development agency awarded BP a $400,000 tax break in a deal that required the company to train 1,583 Indiana employees and hire 74 new ones by 2013. Strangely, in 2012, the same agency gave BP an additional $1.2 million with the same stipulation of hiring 74 people by 2013, but without the training.

This cozy relationship between BP and Indiana’s government was solidified several years earlier, before the Whiting Refinery Modernization Project was ever on the table. In 2003, BP successfully pushed for a tax reform law that shifted the company’s tax burden directly onto Indiana residents and paved the way for the refinery expansion.

Carolyn Marsh remembers the shock when her property taxes tripled. “I had been paying less than $1,000––my house is 105 years old––and suddenly I owed almost $3,000.”

With no children, a frugal lifestyle, and union wages, Marsh had saved quite a bit, though not enough to live in one of the Windy City’s lakefront neighborhoods. She was an avid birdwatcher, and living within walking distance of Lake Michigan, where migratory birds and waterfowl commingle, was Marsh’s dream.

Whiting, just 17 miles south of downtown Chicago, had parks along the lake and a wilderness area that Marsh would later save from development by pressuring city leaders to designate it as a bird sanctuary. Because it was an industrial area, property taxes were low, and the older homes were affordable.

But Marsh says it was a trade off. “If I wanted to live cheaply and have a house, I would have to tolerate living near a refinery,” she explains. “It’s dangerous. Refineries leak all the time and this whole area has a huge asthma problem.”

For 16 years, Marsh lived with that trade off, until BP threatened to seek out lower property taxes elsewhere and state lawmakers kowtowed to the corporation’s demands. The resulting legislation cut industrial property taxes by 14 percent, shifting hundreds of millions of dollars of taxes onto residential property owners like Marsh.

“Living cheap is no longer the situation for me or for others,” Marsh says. “But we still live with the pollution and the results of accidents at the plant.”

When the company announced its plans to refine tar sands in 2006, a BP executive credited the 2003 tax reform, saying the expansion would have been “much less likely,” under the old tax structure.

Marsh was instrumental in challenging the modernization project, testifying in a lawsuit concerning BP’s air permit. A 2012 settlement forced the company to pay an $8 million fine and spend an additional $400 million dollars on technology to reduce pollution.

Marsh was also involved in the public outcry against BP’s water permit, which originally allowed the refinery to discharge 54 percent more ammonia and 35 percent more industrial waste into Lake Michigan.

But, in Marsh’s view, these hard-won mitigations have had a minimal impact.

Only three months after BP’s Whiting Refinery Modernization Project was complete, the facility spilled what BP estimated to be between 15 and 39 barrels of oil, very likely the heavy tar sands crude, into Lake Michigan, a source of drinking water for millions of people. Five months after that, the explosion Marsh heard caused a fire inside the refinery. It was quelled by the end of the night, with one reported injury, according to BP.

“They should shut the damn thing down,” Marsh says. “We can’t keep exploiting our natural resources to put gas in our cars. It’s insane.”

Accidents like these are run of the mill for BP. With annual profits in the tens of billions of dollars, the corporation has a long history of opting to pay big fines rather than clean up its act.

The company also uses its war chest to exert influence over policymakers. According to The Center for Responsive Politics, BP has spent $95 million lobbying Congress since 1998. Individuals and PACs affiliated with BP have contributed a total of $7 million to Congressional election campaigns.

When the Energy Policy Act made its way through Congress in 2005, BP threw down $1.6 million to lobby for a number of provisions, including, ““issues with expanding refining capacity” according to their lobbying disclosure.

Though BP’s SEC filings don’t specify which tax credits the company has taken advantage of, its 2013 annual report does say that BP not only had $200 million in U.S. tax benefits that year, it also had $1.7 billion in U.S. tax credits stored up.

Corporations are allowed to carry over tax credits from one year to the next in order to use them at the most opportune time––generally those years when profits are high.

A footnote in the filing further explains that BP accumulated the $1.7 billion in tax credits between 2005 and 2011, which is both within the time window of eligibility for the refining equipment tax credit and within the time that construction at the Whiting refinery was underway.

All in all, it seems that BP got a big bang for its buck, spending $1.6 million to push through a plethora of self-serving provisions and likely writing off huge chunks of its $4.2 billion refinery upgrade as a result.

But they were hardly the only ones. On the long list of corporations that poured lobbying money into the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the infamous Koch Industries stands out. They too had something to gain in pushing for the refinery equipment tax break, which was among the many provisions they spent nearly $1.58 million lobbying for.

In the coming months, Bautista’s husband would pressure wash a sticky black film off their home multiple times. Her young daughter would come in from playing in the backyard, her face smudged with a sooty-looking substance that didn’t wash off easily.

Shortly after Bautista gave birth to her second daughter, a friend visited, bringing news from a meeting of the Southeast Environmental Task Force, where both women volunteered. The huge mounds were something called petcoke, the friend told Bautista.

“We started to make the connection,” she says.

They learned that petcoke, or petroleum coke, is a byproduct of oil refining that looks and burns like coal, but is much dirtier, emitting 5-10 percent more carbon dioxide per unit of energy. Refining tar sands bitumen requires a process called coking that produces far more petcoke than conventional oil refining.

Thus, as the Whiting Refinery Modernization Project gradually came online, petcoke began piling up on the banks of the Calumet River, awaiting shipment to countries where emissions standards are lower. The middleman? KCBX, a subsidiary of Koch Industries.

Yet, the neighborhoods that make up Southeast Chicago are some of the most underserved, particularly South Deering, one of the areas nearest to the petcoke piles.

“It’s a transit desert, it’s a food desert,” Bautista says. “They had one Laundromat that has recently burned down. People are washing their clothes in their bathtubs.”

Southeast Chicago is predominantly Latino. As the city’s industrial corridor, it’s long borne the brunt of environmental racism. The Southeast Side has higher rates of asthma, heart disease, stroke, and cancer than the Chicago area as a whole.

After years of living with pollution, Bautista says, many residents were initially unfazed by the petcoke piles. But then a particularly windy day in August, 2013 catalyzed the community into action.

After that, a number of community groups formed Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke and began a campaign to pressure city government to force out KCBX and it’s waste piles.

Last March, Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued regulations that ban new petcoke facilities and require KCBX terminals to fully enclose its petcoke piles by 2016.

KCBX says they need at least four years to accomplish this––and they’ve threatened to sue to get their way. They’re also demanding permission to pile the petcoke fifteen feet higher.

Meanwhile Illinois’ Attorney General has filed suits against KCBX for pollution violations, and in June the US EPA found KCBX to be in violation of the Clean Air Act.

While these moves constitute some modest progress, a Chicago city webpage about petcoke casts doubt on how seriously elected officials are treating the issue. The patronizing Q and A actually instructs residents to just stay inside and clean their homes in order to avoid exposure to petcoke dust.

“This is the kind of violence we’re under,” Bautista says. “We’re risking our lives just by breathing the air while these corporations are using tax loopholes to abuse us and make a profit. We’re financing our own misery.”

Bautista suspects that this is a tactic to minimize the issue of the petcoke piles in the upcoming elections. It’s unlikely to work, since she’s running for Alderman.

Her platform isn’t only about opposition to KCBX storing petcoke, though. Bautista is part of a growing movement for climate justice that demands broader systemic change from corporations and governments. In September she spoke in the closing plenary of the NYC Climate Convergence, held in conjunction with the historic People’s Climate March.

Her speech connected the struggles of people in Whiting, Southeast Chicago, Detroit, and so many other communities suffering the consequences of massive corporate welfare for the fossil fuel industry.

“BP and Koch industries are polluting our community, and it’s time they and companies like theirs pay up big time or get out,” she told her audience.

“This is what is meant by class warfare, but it’s only war when we rise up and fight against the forces that have hijacked our lives…Win or lose there is something about living a life with dignity––with our heads held high and exposing these systems that tear us down everyday while only a small minority profits in any way…Our backs are already against the wall. The only way to move is forward.”

Anna Simonton|Oil Change International|19 October 2014

DEP AND FWC Seek Public Input to Help With Oil Spill Recovery

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will host a Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast Act of 2012 (RESTORE Act) funding and projects webinar on Oct. 22 at 6 p.m. EST. There will not be a public meeting in Panama City on Oct. 22, as this webinar replaces the public meeting originally scheduled. The webinar format will allow for broader participation across the state.

WHAT:                Deepwater Horizon RESTORE Act Webinar

                                                                                                                                                                                          WHEN:                Oct. 22, 2014, 6 – 8 p.m. EST

                                                                                                                                                                                          REGISTER: Deepwater Horizon RESTORE Act Webinar

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council recently announced the process by which council members may submit projects for funding consideration under the Council-Selected Restoration Component. The submission window for council members to submit projects and proposals closes on Nov. 17. The council has noted that the initial projects to be funded will focus on water quality and habitat restoration. DEP and FWC are considering many project proposals that align with these focus areas, such as watershed restoration. All the projects submitted through DEP’s online portal will be considered, but any new project proposals or updates to existing proposals should be submitted through the portal as soon as possible. More information can be found at www.deepwaterhorizonflorida.com.

latashawalters|Oct. 21, 2014

U.S. Fracking Boom Prompts Oil Industry to Push for Crude Exports

Oil and coal producers in the U.S. are planning to use mile-long tanker trains to transport vast quantities of fossil fuels to the coast through areas that environmental groups believe should be protected.

The change in world fossil fuel production, consumption and costs caused by tar sands exploitation in Canada and the fracking boom in the U.S. is causing what Bill McKibben—author, environmental activist and co-founder of the international climate campaign group 350.org—calls a “chokepoint” in the unspoiled Northwest of the country.

Coal is already being exported in even larger amounts from the U.S. because it cannot compete with cheaper gas from fracking. Now campaigners fear that the oil industry also wants to export cheap oil to Asia—although so far the companies deny it, saying it will be sent by sea to other parts of the U.S.

The largest of the 11 proposals to build new or expand existing crude-by-rail terminals is that of Tesoro-Savage at the Port of Vancouver, Washington, just across the Columbia River from Portland.

The company wants the capacity to transfer crude oil from the North American interior to seagoing tankers and barges. Four “unit trains,” each a mile long and comprising up to 100 tanker cars, would arrive at the terminal daily, delivering 360,000 barrels of oil. This would be the largest such terminal in the region.

The Columbia River is the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest ecosystem, and was once home to what were claimed to be the world’s largest salmon runs. It is already stressed by 14 hydroelectric dams and barge traffic hauling grain and other products from the interior, as well as radiation leaking from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Richland, Washington.

The oil and coal trains must pass through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, a protected section of the river and its environs where hundreds of waterfalls create micro-habitats for species of plants found nowhere else on Earth.

Rail tracks run along very narrow routes on both sides of the river, sometimes on causeways on the river’s edge. They have already seen traffic increases. According to a report in the Oregonian newspaper, there was a 250 percent increase in the number of tankers passing through Oregon between 2006 and 2013.

Locations of the Pacific Northwest refineries and terminals under discussion.Locations of the Pacific Northwest refineries and terminals under discussion.

Since the Arab oil embargo in the 1970s, the U.S. government has banned the export of crude oil. This means that, for the time being, crude oil from North Dakota will go to refineries in Washington state and California, replacing the declining supply from Alaska.

In addition, the Vancouver terminal “would have the capacity to displace 30 percent of the crude oil currently imported to West Coast refineries from foreign countries,” according to an email written by Elizabeth Watters, a spokesperson for Tesoro. She added that this would “increase U.S. energy security in an uncertain world.” Watters also said Tesoro-Savage has no plans to export oil.

Claims that oil interests aren’t planning to export is “all bovine scatology, smoke and mirrors,” says Eric de Place, policy director for the Washington-based Sightline Institute, a not-for-profit sustainability think tank.

“I think it’s likely that in the near term they might transport some of the fuel to west coast refineries in Washington or California, but it’s pretty clear that they have their sights set on a robust export market.”

In addition, De Place says, the terminals “could be receiving Canadian tar sands oil on day one” and exporting it immediately, because tar sands oil from Canada isn’t under U.S. export jurisdiction.

Coal can already be exported. In fact, U.S. coal exports have nearly doubled since 2007, and three coal terminals are currently under consideration in Oregon and Washington. If all were built, about 100 million tons of coal would depart from the Pacific Northwest annually.

There is remarkable resistance among disparate political and economic interests to expansion of the fossil fuel industry in the region.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union objects to the Tesoro-Savage terminal on worker safety grounds because Bakken crude is far more flammable than other oil types, and there is opposition from local real estate developer working because he fears that the terminal would make his riverfront office/restaurant project untenable.

Potential spills

The city of Vancouver has passed a resolution against the terminal because of concerns about potential spills or explosions and traffic congestion. The state of Oregon rejected Australian corporation Ambre Energy’s coal terminal proposal at the Port of Morrow, and the Port of Portland has declined to consider adding oil-by-rail and coal terminals for the time being.

Governors of both Columbia River states have expressed concerns about climate impacts from the expansion of fossil fuel transportation in the region.

The Pacific Northwest region. Image: Google MapsThe Pacific Northwest region. Image: Google Maps

In a recent election debate, Oregon governor John Kitzhaber said: “It makes no sense to me to subsidies the burning of fossil fuels in Asia while we adopt state and federal policies that do just the opposite.”

Washington governor Jay Inslee is the sole person who will decide the Tesoro-Savage project’s fate. According to Inslee’s spokesperson, Jaime Smith, the governor believes that if “we are trying to wean ourselves off carbon-based fuels and use more clean energy technologies—if that is our intended goal as a state, as a nation—shouldn’t we be taking a look at that?”

But none of the political entities involved in deciding whether Tesoro-Savage can move ahead is obligated to consider climate impacts, leaving objections to the fossil fuels mostly to environmental campaigners. However, the states do have to consider issues of rail safety and the impact of possible spills.

If oil traveling to the Vancouver terminal is not exported, it wouldn’t necessarily add to the CO2 emissions already occurring in the U.S. because it would just “top up” the domestic supply—provided that U.S. consumption doesn’t rise.

But fossil fuels exported from the Pacific Northwest to Asia would certainly add to those emissions as Asia’s economies grow. Moreover, it would hoist the west coast by its own petard by increasing the hydrocarbon air pollution that already travels eastward across the Pacific from oil and coal burned in Asia.

Watters, asked whether Tesoro is concerned about climate change, wrote: “Tesoro recognises that climate change is an important global issue, and we are committed to reducing [greenhouse gas] emissions from our refineries to below 1990 levels.” He did not comment on the global warming potential of the fossil fuels Tesoro-Savage would be transporting.

What lifting the crude oil export ban would do to international and domestic crude oil and fuel prices is unclear. Brookings Institution analysts calculate that doing so would lower the price of gasoline by about $0.09 per gallon if the ban were lifted in 2015, and that U.S. exports would not affect the behavior of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

But De Place says: “The prevailing view among industry analysts is that that would raise the price of oil domestically.” He also warns that “the history of energy analysts predicting what the price of oil will do is the history of people going to the casino”.

The planning and permitting process for all the proposed Columbia River facilities will take several years.

Tesoro-Savage must submit a detailed environmental impact statement (EIS) to the Washington Department of Ecology, and a release of the draft EIS is expected in the spring of 2015, at which time public comment will be solicited.

The Washington energy facility siting agency will then make a recommendation to Governor Inslee, after which he will make his decision.

Other Pacific Northwest proposals are also in various stages of the process.

Until the oil and coal proposals are approved or rejected, it is still an open question whether the Pacific Northwest chokepoint will close to fossil fuels or be opened wider.

Valerie Brown|Climate News Network|October 22, 2014

Washington Post Editorial Board Damns Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

In light of a new study finding that particulates kicked up by mountaintop removal (MTR) are connected to the lung cancer epidemic in the regions where this form of coal mining is rampant, the Washington Post‘s editorial board added up all the evidence and came out with a powerful editorial damning the practice for its health and its environmental impacts.

“For decades, coal companies have been removing mountain peaks to haul away coal lying just underneath,” said the paper. “More recently, scientists and regulators have been developing a clearer understanding of the environmental consequences. They aren’t pretty.”

MTR, which involves blowing the tops of mountains or using massive earth movers to remove them to extract the coal inside them, has grown in popularity in the last several decades since it allows the mining of coal seams that otherwise would not have been cost-effective to mine and it requires fewer workers than underground coal mining. It’s become a big business, particularly in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky where the process became common in the 1990s.

“The technique made it economical for them to extract more coal from troublesome seams in the rock, which might be too small for traditional mining or lodged in unstable formations,” said the Post. “Environmentalists were appalled, but the practice spread and now accounts for more than 40 percent of West Virginia coal production.”

Not only environmentalists but surrounding communities were appalled for good reason. MTR leaves behind ravaged landscapes, with forests stripped bare and debris dumped in streams and valleys. The Post also connects MTR with a loss of biodiversity in the mined regions, referring to a study released this summer by the U.S. Geological Survey that compared streams in MTR areas with those farther away, finding changes in stream chemistry and decimated fish populations.”

“Mountaintop mining affects chemical, physical and hydrological properties of receiving streams, but the long-term consequences for fish-assemblage structure and function are poorly understood,” the study said. “Exposure assemblages had fewer species, lower abundances and less biomass than reference assemblages across years and seasons.”

The Post editorial doesn’t stop at blasting MTR for its impact on health, the landscape and biodiversity. It goes on to connect the burning of the extracted coal with climate change, saying, “It produces both planet-warming carbon dioxide and deadly conventional air pollutants.”

Responding to the Washington Post editorial, Thom Kay of Appalachian Voices said, “We’re glad one of the largest newspapers in the country is paying attention, even when many policymakers are not. The editorial does, however, give a bit too much credit to the Obama administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for their actions to reduce the environmental and human toll of mountaintop removal. Actions have been taken, certainly, but mountaintop removal is still happening in Appalachia.”

Anastasia Pantsios|October 23, 2014

Mountaintop Removal Linked to Cancer

We know what a mess mountaintop removal makes when the tops of mountains are literally blown off to access the coal inside them. Forests are stripped and debris is dumped into streams and valleys, leaving behind a ravaged landscape. It’s partly responsible for the loss of jobs in the coal industry since it requires only a handful of workers to operate the huge machines involved. Now we’re learning that the process, which has been touted by advocates as cleaner and safer than below-ground coal mining, is the direct cause of a lung cancer epidemic in the Appalachian communities—primarily in West Virginia, Kentucky and southwestern Virginia—where mountaintop removal coal mining is taking place.

A new peer-reviewed study by researchers from West Virginia University’s Mary Babb Cancer Center found that the coal-dust particulates it blows into the atmosphere has fueled an epidemic of lung cancer.

“Epidemiological studies suggest that living near mountaintop coal mining activities is one of the contributing factors for high lung cancer incidence,” the study states unequivocally in its introduction.

“This study shows that dust collected from mountaintop-removal communities promotes lung cancer,” the University of Indiana’s Dr. Michael Hendryx, who published earlier studies showing health problems linked to mountaintop removal, told the Ashland, Kentucky Daily Independent. ”Previous studies have shown that people who live in these communities have higher lung cancer rates, not due just to smoking. But with this study we now have solid evidence that dust collected from residential areas near mountaintop-removal sites causes cancerous changes to human lung cells.”

As Dr. Hendryx suggests, the study, Appalachian Mountaintop Mining Particulate Matter Induces Neoplastic Transformation of Human Bronchial Epithelial Cells and Promotes Tumor Formation, moved beyond simply the evidence that lung cancer rates (as well as rates for birth defects and Parkinson’s disease) are greatly elevated in mountaintop removal communities (MTR), studying the cancer-causing potential of the specific particulates in the dust created by such mining.

The study provides more ammunition to those fighting the impacts of MTR on their communities. In August, for instance, a federal judge overruled complaints by environmental groups about the issuing of a MTR permit in West Virginia, saying the evidence they presented of human health impacts was not compelling. The study advises implementing programs to limit exposure to the coal dust particulates.

“The coal industry and its allies in Congress have always been eager to dismiss claims that air and water pollution caused by mountaintop removal mining have any link to the high rates of lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and birth defects, or the decrease in life expectancy that counties with heavy mining have experienced over the past two decades,” Thom Kay of Appalachian Voices posted on the environmental group’s blog. “Will this study get them to finally change their tune? It’s almost certain it won’t. It will be up to those of us who care about the health of Appalachian communities to raise our voices and simply drown them out.”

Anastasia Pantsios|EcoWatch|October 20, 2014

Exxon: Destroying Planet Necessary to Relieve Global Poverty

 The fossil-fuel divestment movement has been on a roll lately to the tune of $50 billion, but one of its biggest successes happened last month: The world’s most profitable oil company squirmed. ExxonMobil’s vice president of public and government affairs published a critique of divestment that concluded by saying that destroying our planet’s climate by recklessly extracting and burning fossil fuel reserves is necessary to relieve global poverty.

This sudden concern is interesting from a company that holds the record for the highest corporate profits ever posted in the U.S. and whose CEO made more than $100,000 a day in 2012 (including Sundays). ExxonMobil hasn’t earned those kinds of profits by worrying overmuch about the poor of the world. As the Sierra Student Coalition‘s Anastasia Schemkes put it: “This is the oil industry saying ‘please don’t be mean to me’ after bullying vulnerable communities around the globe for decades.”

The real message of ExxonMobil’s blog post was unintentional. The fossil fuel divestment movement, which started on college campuses but has since spread to foundation boardrooms and beyond, is achieving its principal goal, which is to raise awareness of how morally indefensible the actions of companies like ExxonMobil really are. I’m not just talking about its core business of extracting as much oil as it can, wherever it can, while it can. This is a company that pretends to care about climate disruption (with lots of talk about “mitigation,” which is code for “do whatever it takes to keep burning fossil fuels”), while simultaneously funding the climate-denial industry and lavishing its largesse on obstructionist legislators.

How can we begin to get companies like this to change? It’s tough to beat such a Goliath through financial pressure alone. Even the most wildly successful divestment campaign is unlikely to dent this mega-corporation’s profits in the near term. But let’s not forget that even the hugest corporation is made up of real people. And real people start to get uncomfortable when it’s clear that not only is what they are doing terribly wrong—but that other people are taking note.

That’s when they start to get defensive—and we can see that divestment really is making a difference.

Michael Brune|October 21, 2014

Miscellaneous

Australian rock art is threatened by a lack of conservation

Australian rock art is under threat from both natural and cultural forces impacting on sites. But what saddens me the most is that there is so much government lethargy in Australia when it comes to documenting…

Australian rock art is under threat from both natural and cultural forces impacting on sites. But what saddens me the most is that there is so much government lethargy in Australia when it comes to documenting and protecting Australia’s rock art.

The Weekend Australian reported that 1,700 engraved boulders were removed to make way for the North West Shelf gas plant on Western Australia’s Burrup Peninsula in the early 1980s were relocated to a ridge.

They sat in a fenced compound for 30 years alongside others damaged due to neglect. Although the original landscape context of the art was destroyed at least they are now out of what was called the “the graveyard”.

But now, impending changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act by the Western Australian government means Aboriginal heritage will be worse off than ever before. This is because one person, possibly without relevant expertise, will be given the power to say yes or no to site destruction for development rather than a committee of experts.

Our article last week on the discovery of Indonesian rock paintings and hand stencils almost 40,000 years old generated much interest. Many comments focused on the need to better conserve and look after our shared rock art heritage.

The importance of rock art

Rock art sites are museums and art galleries embedded in natural landscapes, with ongoing cultural connection for contemporary Indigenous peoples. Despite this, and unlike built museums and galleries, the ability to continue to care for many of these important places is limited.

Some well known sites include Djulirri, in Arnhem Land, Eagle’s Reach in Wollemi National Park in New South Wales and the famous Laura-Quinkan sites of far north Queensland. But none of them have high security, protection from the elements or lots of financial support like built art galleries.

Australian rock art is extremely significant for Indigenous peoples of Australia, with its preservation important for Indigenous well-being. But it also should be a part of Australian national identity and World Heritage pride.

The earliest Australian rock art has been dated to almost 30,000 years ago and there may be older rock art given the new dates from nearby Indonesia. As many as 100,000 rock art sites lie across Australia and new discoveries are made each year.

But Australia has never had coordinated approaches to rock art documentation, conservation and management so the full extent of rock art is unknown.

Rock art is in peril because of development pressures, graffiti, vandalism, poor tourist management and several natural impacts. Some rock art sites have already been vandalized such as the rock engravings on the Burrup Peninsula, in Western Australia.

Current conservation methods fail because of a lack of a coordinated approach, lack of cultural context, reactionary methods, lack of training, minimal research and mismanagement.

Part of the problem is that rock art sites are key components of cultural landscapes and Indigenous Australians argue for a cultural landscape approach to their preservation so that development will have minimal impact on sites.

Non-Indigenous Australians prefer a more site-specific approach so that heritage preservation can have minimal impact on development.

Rock art sits in an ambiguous place – is it art, part of the environment, heritage, archaeology or is it something else? This lack of clear classification has allowed rock art to slip through the cracks of government portfolios.

For instance, although it is “art” it is not in generously funded arts portfolios. It usually is considered “heritage” but is always the poor second cousin of the natural and built heritage of Australia.

Australia’s National Heritage Strategy has recently been under review by both Labor and Liberal-led federal governments but rock art barely gets a mention in draft documents. Australia has never had a national rock art research or conservation strategy.

Recent and impending changes to legislation to reduce so-called “green tape” and new development plans for northern Australia could impact severely on rock art.

Both the final report from Inquiry into the Development of Northern Australia, released in September, and the Cape York Regional Plan for Northern Queensland, released in August, fail to say much, if anything, about the risks to rock art, let alone how these will be minimised.

Tourists are interested in rock art and there are a number of sites open to the public across Australia. And many Indigenous communities would like to develop well-managed rock art tourism ventures.

But we need to study rock art sites already open to tourists to see what is working and what is not, as well as to develop new inexpensive and sustainable rock art experiences.

Unfortunately, rock art conservation research has difficulty attracting Australian funding because many people do not see this as “sexy” research or research at all.

But rock art should never be destroyed or removed to compounds to make way for any new development.

Prof Paul Taçon (PERAHU, Griffith University) discusses the importance of rock art conservation.

So I am working with a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to develop Australia’s first national rock art conservation strategy.

This follows from a 10-day workshop in Kakadu National Park in August during which many Aboriginal participants became visibly emotional talking about threats to their sites. The strategy and an associated implementation plan will be available early next year.

But it can only be undertaken with widespread government and community support, and significant funding.

Paul S.C.Taçon|Chair in Rock Art Research and Director of the Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit (PERAHU) at Griffith University|October 16 2014

Judy Molland|October 21, 2014

Elephants Can Detect Rain From Hundreds of Miles Away

If we want to know the whether a storm is imminent, it turns out that we just need to look to elephants who can sense if they are coming even if they’re hundreds of miles away, according to a new study.

An international team of researchers from Texas A&M, the University of Virginia, the University of New South Wales and the University of Utah wanted to learn more about the strange migration patterns of elephants during seasonal shifts in Africa to determine whether they were related to weather.

As they note in their study, which was just published in the journal PLOS One, the relationship between elephants and rainfall has been been a part of the myths and legends of African and Indian cultures who live with them. Many believe seeing them is a sign that rain is coming, but very little research has been done on how elephants respond to rainfall.

Over a seven year period, they tracked the movement of nine elephants from different herds in Namibia using GPS trackers and compared the data they pulled to rainfall in the area. They found that sudden changes in direction that seemed to be made for no reason were actually their attempt to move towards rain.

More interestingly, they were changing directions to move towards storms they could sense even though some were as far as 150 miles away, and they were able to predict rain several days in advance. In some instances elephants from different areas were seen moving at the same time, which researchers believe was unlikely to be caused randomly by chance.

“The onset of the rainy season there is very abrupt and lasts just a few weeks, and the rest of the time, there is little or no rain at all,” Oliver Frauenfeld, assistant professor in the Department of Geography at Texas A&M, explained in a statement.

“With the GPS device attached to them, we learned that the elephants can detect thunderstorms at great distances. We don’t know if they can actually hear the thunder or if they are detecting other low-frequency sounds generated by the storms that humans can’t hear. But there is no doubt they know what direction the rain is.”

The researchers say more work is needed to give us a better understanding about how the weather is inspiring their movements and while their ability to find life-sustaining water is clearly a critical part of their survival, researchers hope what they’ve learned so far will lead to better protections for them.

As another recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences illustrated, poaching has reached a crisis level with the deaths of 100,000 elephants in Africa in the last three years alone due to the demand for their ivory, while heartbreaking stories of their plight continue to make headlines.

Researchers now hope their work will have an impact on conservation by allowing wildlife officials to better predict where elephant herds will be so they will be able to better prepared to protect them from poachers.

Alicia Graef|October 21, 2014

Can you believe someone shot a sea lion?

Armstrong is an adult female sea lion rescued on Avila Beach in California. She was suffering from a number of health issues, including malnutrition, a urinary tract infection, and an old fracture and infection in her right hind flipper due to a shark bite.

But x-rays also revealed the unmistakable outline of a bullet in her chest. Thankfully, the bullet got stuck in her muscle tissue and never reached her internal organs. After treating her infections and getting her to a healthy weight, we were able to release her back to the wild.
Unfortunately, most of the gunshot animals we rescue aren’t so lucky. In fact, we rescued two other victims just in the last month who sadly didn’t survive their injuries.

You may not be able to stop this senseless gun violence, but you can still help. Your support enables us to care for hundreds of marine mammals every year—including those harmed by human carelessness and cruelty.
Only together can we will give gunshot survivors like Armstrong a second chance at life.

Marine Mammal Center|October, 2014

Environmental Links

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

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ConsRep 1014 B

“Away, away, from men and towns, To the wild wood and the downs, — To the silent wilderness, Where the soul need not repress — Its music.” Percy Bysshe Shelley

Announcements

Project FeederWatch

Project FeederWatch is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada.

ID numbers are mailed to first-time participants in their instructional kits.

The number is printed above the mailing label (for U.S. participants, the number is printed on a letter in the kit, not on the envelope).

From October through February, it takes about three weeks from when you join or renew for an ID number to be activated online.

If you signed up more than three weeks ago and do not have your ID number, contact the FeederWatch office in your country.

Instructional kits start shipping in October to participants who sign up between March and September and can take 3-4 weeks to arrive.

If you are giving FeederWatch as a gift, you may download and print a gift recipient notification certificate to give immediately.

ARTHUR R. MARSHALL LOXAHATCHEE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Full Moon Guided Canoe Trips

Friday, November 7, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Saturday, December 6, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Meet at the Lee Road Boat Ramp to enjoy a guided moonlight canoe tour through a portion of the Refuge interior. 

Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants and bring a flashlight and bug spray.

Canoe rental from Loxahatchee Canoeing is $32; you may not bring your own. 

(One canoe seats 2 to 3 people.)

‘Ding’ Days to celebrate 25th

There must be 25 ways to celebrate “Ding” Darling Days, happening at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island October 19-25, 2014.

This year celebrates 25 years for the annual eco-festival, which started in 1989 as a one-day Family Fun Day and has grown week-long with

free and discounted tours, free nature presentations, and, still, its ever-popular Sunday Family Fun Day kick-off.

Here are 25 ways the refuge is celebrating its silver anniversary in October.

  1. The debut of the Discover Ding GPS-based game app – the first of its kind in the refuge system with an unveiling at 11 a.m. on Family Fun Day, Oct. 19, and tutorials throughout the day and at 9:25 a.m. daily during the week. Look for the walking cell phones!
  2. 25 “Ding” Things Silver Scavenger Hunt weeklong with 25 fun prizes.
  3. Free Silver Anniversary reusable tote bags filled with books and other goodies, while supplies last, on Sunday Family Fun Day.
  4. Free 25-minute archery demonstrations and clinics on Family Fun Day.
  5. Special free 25th anniversary presentations by Heather Hensen’s Ibex Puppetry troupe on Sunday, featuring a new surprise refuge creature.
  6. Free admission to Wildlife Drive on Sunday.
  7. Free naturalist-narrated refuge tram tours Sunday on a first-come basis.
  8. Free weeklong traveling exhibit of 2014-2015 Federal and Junior Duck Stamp art work in the free Visitor & Education Center.
  9. 25% off all Tarpon Bay Explorers tours Monday through Saturday – including tram, paddling, and nature cruise excursions.
  10. 25 stunning images of mating great blue herons at a special free photographic presentation by Sallie Rich on Coastal Bird Day, Monday, Oct. 20.
  11. Free Great Florida Birding Trail presentation by Mike Kiser on Monday.
  12. Free Beach Walk at Perry Tract on Beach & Water Day, Tuesday, Oct. 21.
  13. Free 25-minute stand-up paddleboard clinics on Tuesday and Thursday.
  14. Free wilderness paddles into the Refuge’s Lady Finger Lakes to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act on Monday and Wednesday (experience necessary).
  15. Free Calusa presentation and walk on Calusa Day, Thursday, Oct. 23.
  16. Free birding tram tours to Bunche Beach on Thursday and Friday. (Reservations required: 239-472-8900)
  17. Free Estuary Exploration tram tours on Thursday and Friday. (Reservations required: 239-472-8900)
  18. Free refuge admission to bikers and hikers only on Trails Day, Friday, Oct. 24. (Wildlife Drive is closed to all vehicular traffic other than special Tarpon Bay Explorers tram tours.
  19. First 25 bike rentals free at Tarpon Bay Explorers on Friday.
  20. Free Scat & Tracks program with walk to the new Wildlife Education Boardwalk on Friday.
  21. Free Animal Olympics throughout Friday at Bailey Tract.
  22. Free admission to Wildlife Drive for everybody on Saturday’s Conservation Art Day, Oct. 25.
  23. Plein-air artists along Wildlife Drive on Saturday.
  24. 25-cent Silly Photo Booth pictures on Saturday.
  25. Free meet-and-greet with federal duck stamp artists on Saturday.

For more information and a full “Ding” Darling Days schedule, visit www.dingdarlingdays.com

The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail Facebook page

The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail Facebook page is becoming more popular than ever.

We now have over 5,300 fans who enjoy daily posts about Florida’s amazing wildlife and top quality birding and wildlife viewing opportunities.

Stay in touch and visit our Facebook page TODAY and please click the Like icon to receive our daily posts in your news feed.

If you are already a fan of page, thank you.

Please help us spread the word and make MyGFBT the most popular birding and wildlife viewing Facebook page in Florida!  

Sign-up for Hog Island 2015

Registration begins Wednesday for Project Puffin’s 6-day birding and nature programs for adults, teens, and families at the legendary Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine.
Instructors include: Pete Dunne, Stephen Kress, Scott Weidensaul, and Paul Winter
Perennial favorites such as Field Ornithology, Joy of Birding, and Family Camp return alongside exciting new programs:
Hands-on Bird Science and Breaking Into Birding.

Visit the Hog Island website for the full schedule and detailed program information. 

Spaces can be reserved with a $100 deposit as soon as sign-up links go live Oct. 15th. 
Involve your Organization
In 2014, over 50 Audubon chapters and other organizations offered scholarships to inspire their members with new experiences and leadership training.

If you are affiliated with such a group, please consider sending someone to a Hog Island program in 2015.

Space can be reserved in the organization’s name until you choose a participant.

2015 Schedule and Information

Save $50 by typing “EARLYBIRD” into the code field during registration (expires Dec. 15th)

Always dreamed of working on Hog Island?  We are currently accepting applications for a full time Program Manager.  

Get your calendar today!

Our first ever Cornell Lab calendar is full of gorgeous photographs and fascinating facts about our feathered friends.

As you use your calendar throughout the coming year, I hope you’ll enjoy the stunning images of the birds that endlessly inspire us with their beauty, songs, and fascinating behaviors.

Support the Cornell Lab today and bring these birds into your home!

Of Interest to All

Port Everglades announces $1.6B improvement plan

Port Everglades released its 20-year master plan, which promises to create thousands of jobs and pour $1.6 billion into infrastructure improvements.

The plan encompasses eight projects that expect to create nearly 15,000 direct jobs. Most are temporary construction, but about 7,000 are estimated to be permanent. Overall, the plan can possibly support 135,000 indirect jobs statewide over the next 15 seven years, it estimates.

Currently, the port supports 11,700 direct jobs locally and about 201,000 jobs statewide.

Major improvements would add more space for ships by adding five new berths and widen and deepen the channel by 50 feet to allow for more freight to enter the port.

One of the port’s capital improvement projects will be delivered in December when it will open its newly renovated, $24 million Cruise Terminal 4, which will allow for larger cruises to dock at the port. The terminal has a revamped transportation area, 172 parking spaces, and 50 check-in counters for passenger embarking and debarking.

Construction is already underway for a $14.9 million improvement to the port and convention center’s security checkpoint on Eisenhower Boulevard and a $42.5 million overpass for Eller Drive to carry traffic over neighboring rail tracks to expedite cargo to the port.

The largest project, expected to be delivered in 2016, is the Florida Power & Light Next Generation Clean Energy Center. The $1 billion project will replace FPL’s Port Everglades Power Plant that was demolished in July 2013 and is expected to be fuel-efficient. It’s estimated to create 650 construction jobs.

Deepening and widening the navigation channels to Port Everglades by 50 feet is expected to be completed in 2022 at a cost of $368.7 million. It’s projected to create 2,222 direct construction jobs, 2,567 indirect jobs and 1,491 permanent jobs.

Port Everglades is a self-supporting Enterprise Fund and uses its profit to pay for its planned capital improvements, said port officials. The port had revenue of $143 million in fiscal year 2013

Emon Reiser|Reporter|South Florida Business Journal|Oct 8, 2014

Florida, South Carolina ports continue to prep for Panama Canal expansion

Port Everglades executives on Monday met with Panama Canal Authority (ACP) officials to review their strategic alliance and receive an update on the canal’s expansion program.

About 79 percent complete, the Panama Canal expansion involves the construction of a third lane of traffic to accommodate the passage of bigger ships and double current capacity. The port and ACP signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in 2011 to renew their alliance first forged in August 2009. The MOU commits both parties to share best practices, marketing activities and various data.



”Our partnership with Port Everglades further strengthens our shared goal of promoting trade growth in the region,” said Panama Canal Administrator Jorge Luis Quijano in a press release. “As we approach the completion of our expansion program, we look forward to pursuing even more mutually beneficial activities with [the] port.” 


The port provides service to 70 countries, is a U.S. gateway for trade with Latin America, and has the shortest, straightest entrance channel in the Southeast, Port Everglades officials said. Florida East Coast Railway recently opened an intermodal container transfer facility at the port that can provide even greater ship-to-rail connectivity from South Florida to points throughout the United States, they said.



”The future expansion plans at both Port Everglades and the ACP are destined to give each of our residents and visitors better access to the growing global economy,” said Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief.

Meanwhile, the Port of Charleston, S.C., marked a milestone with a project aimed at serving larger ships. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released a draft integrated feasibility report and environmental impact statement for a harbor deepening project at the port, which is served by CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway.

Launched in 2011, the project calls for deepening the harbor to 52 feet to handle post-Panamax vessels. Following the completion of the Panama Canal expansion and raising of the Bayonne Bridge in New Jersey, larger vessels are expected to call on the East Coast more frequently, port officials said in a press release.

“The port’s ability to handle post-Panamax vessels 24 hours a day without tidal restriction is critical to the future competitiveness of our state port system,” said Jim Newsome, president and chief executive officer of the South Carolina Ports Authority. “Completion of our harbor deepening project ensures that [we] will continue to grow above the market average and remain a top 10 port.”

Rail News|10/8/2014

[Still, there is no guarantee that the Post-Panamax ships will stop at any Florida port. There are approximately 450 land miles that freight must travel just to get out of Florida; Ports such as Savanna, Charleston and Port Elizabeth are much more centrally located and their overland infrastructure is already in place. Probably, the only freight that will come to Florida is that which is destined for consumption in Florida.]

University of Hawai’i at Mānoa
Published October 7, 2014 08:09 AM

Sea Turtles in Hawaii getting tumors and we are the cause

Hawai’i’s sea turtles are afflicted with chronic and often lethal tumors caused by consuming non-native algae, “superweeds,” along coastlines where nutrient pollution is unchecked. The disease that causes these tumors is considered the leading cause of death in endangered green sea turtles. The new research was just published in the scientific journal PeerJ.

Turtles that graze on blooms of invasive seaweeds end up with a diet that is rich in a particular amino acid, arginine, which promotes the virus that creates the tumors. Scientists at the University of Hawai”�i at Mānoa and their NOAA colleague estimate that adult turtles foraging at high-nutrient grazing sites increase their arginine intake 17—26 g daily, up to 14 times the background level.

“For years, local ocean lovers have known that our green turtles have had awful tumors on their heads, eyes and front flippers,” said UH Mānoa Marine Biology Professor Celia Smith, who worked with Kyle S. Van Houton of NOAA’s Turtle Research Program on this study. “Many hypotheses were offered to explain the tumors, but we kept coming back to the observation that urban reefs – those near dense populations – are the sites with greater numbers of sick turtles. We had no mechanism for this disease.”

More than 60 percent of turtles in Kāne”ohe Bay have been observed to bear tumors. Kihei, Maui, has been called a “ground zero” for fibropapillomatosis, the disease that is caused by a herpes virus and manifests as tumors in turtles. Humans appear unaffected by the disease.

Van Houtan and colleagues previously described an epidemiological link between tumors and coastal eutrophication, that is, the enrichment of coastal waters with nutrients from land-based sources of pollution such as wastewater or agricultural fertilizers. This new study analyzed the actual tissues from tumored green turtles and the amounts of arginine in the dominant algae forage species from across Hawai’i.

The analysis revealed remarkably high levels of arginine in tissues of invasive seaweeds harvested under nutrient-rich conditions, such as those affected by nitrogen from land-based pollution. These are the same conditions that promote algal blooms. The non-native algae “superweeds” grow so quickly when fertilized that some can double their weight in a period of two days.

University of Hawai’i at Mānoa|October 7, 2014

Read more at University of Hawai’i.

Earth’s Magnetic Pole Could Reverse Within A Single Human Lifetime

Over the course of millions of years, the Earth’s magnetic field can reverse, so that compasses point south rather than north. There has been plenty of speculation that we’re heading for another such event quite soon. Now evidence suggests that the last such event happened much faster than previously thought – suggesting the next one could too.

The records of these events, known as geomagnetic reversals, is written in magnetized volcanic rocks that maintain the polarization of the Earth’s field at the time they cooled. On average, they happen every 450,000 years, so at 786,000 years since the last one, we’re overdue – although a brief reversal that almost immediately undid itself happened around 40,000 years ago.

One outstanding question has been how rapidly these reversals can occur. While one study estimated change measured in degrees per day for one ancient event, most calculations suggest such events take 1,000-10,000 years.

So the publication in Geophysical Journal International of the claim that the last reversal, known as the Brunhes-Mutuyama event, happened in under a century represents a challenge to orthodoxy.

The authors, including Berkeley graduate student Courtney Sprain and her supervisor Professor Paul Renne, are not the first to suggest the last flip was unusually fast, but Sprain says the evidence they have found in the Suilmona Basin, east of Rome, is very clear. “The paleomagnetic data are very well done. This is one of the best records we have so far of what happens during a reversal and how quickly these reversals can happen,” says Sprain.

Volcanoes upwind of the basin, including Sabatini and Vesuvius, erupted frequently during the reversal, and the changing magnetic field can be seen in the sediments laid down. Argon-argon isotopic dating allowed Sprain and Renne to date the ash layers far more precisely than has been done before.

“What’s incredible is that you go from reverse polarity to a field that is normal with essentially nothing in between, which means it had to have happened very quickly, probably in less than 100 years,” said Renne. “We don’t know whether the next reversal will occur as suddenly as this one did, but we also don’t know that it won’t.”

Prior to the reversal, the team detected a 6,000 year period of instability. In light of the evidence that the Earth’s magnetic field is currently weakening and that changes in orientation are accelerating, it’s possible we are about to experience something similar, although we still have no idea what drives such events.

University of California – Berkeley. The path of the Earth’s North Magnetic Pole as it moved from Antarctica 789,000 years ago to its current home in the Arctic at a rate of 2° a year.

A forthcoming geomagnetic reversal looms large in the minds of catastrophists who predict all sorts of disasters as the next one, such as widespread deaths from cosmic radiation while the planet’s magnetic shield is down. The fact that past events have not been associated with mass extinctions seems not to register in these theories. However, the electrical grid could become far more vulnerable to solar storms.

Stephen Luntz|October 15, 2014

Collier County settles lawsuit against state over unauthorized oil drilling near Immokalee

NAPLES, Fla. – Collier County commissioners agreed Tuesday to end a fight with the state’s environmental agency, securing installation of a deep monitoring well and the hiring of experts to ensure there was no contamination from unauthorized oil drilling at a well near Immokalee.

Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the settlement with the state Department of Environmental Protection, and 3-2 to join the DEP in its lawsuit against the Dan A. Hughes Co., a Texas-based oil driller caught using unauthorized procedures at the well.

Document: Stipulated settlement agreement between Collier County and Florida Department of Environmental Protection

The Hughes’ Co. was caught late December injecting a dissolving solution at a high pressure into the ground to force openings in rock formations before state regulators had a chance to review the procedure, according to the DEP.

The technique, never before used in Florida, has concerned regulators about potential groundwater contamination and environmental damage.

In exchange for the county withdrawing its June petition challenging DEP, the state agreed to install an 1,850-foot groundwater monitoring well – to the base of the county’s drinking water – to ensure there was no contamination from the drilling. The monitoring well is deeper than those outlined in a separate agreement the state made with Hughes.

The state also agreed to hire experts not tied to Dan Hughes or Collier Resources to study whether there was any contamination. The experts also will study any possible impact on nearby wells that have been plugged.

In addition, DEP will seek more authority to address “new technologies and include greater protections,” which includes an increase in fines, authority to consider an operator’s past history in other states while permitting, new technology to monitor active wells in real-time, and higher bonds required of operators to cover cleanup costs.

“The department commits to work collaboratively with the county to address its concerns as the legislative process moves forward,” the settlement agreement states.

There is still an element of mistrust between county officials and state regulators, stemming from the way regulators notified the public about the unauthorized drilling several months after the fact and handled the incident before enforcing tougher sanctions against the driller only after months of mounting public outcry and pressure.

Commissioners Fred Coyle, Donna Fiala and Tim Nance said they voted to join the state in its lawsuit against the drillers so they could have a voice in the matter.

If there’s is a modicum of doubt that state regulators would change course or drop the litigation, then joining the suit gives the county a seat at the table, County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow said.

The county ought to hold the environmental department’s feet to fire, Coyle said.

“I have concerns about FDEP,” he said.

“The Hughes people have said on the record that they kept FDEP informed about what they were doing and I have a feeling they’re right,” Coyle said. “I really believe we don’t know what went on between the state and Hughes and that we’re going to be surprised and disappointed when we find out.”

Conservancy of Southwest Florida leaders endorsed the agreement between the county and the state, saying it accomplishes what the group hoped to do.

“We’ve got meaningful investigation, enforcement and have a legally binding agreement,” said Jennifer Hecker, conservancy director of natural resources. “Now a lot more needs to be done with actually regulating oil operators to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

The Hughes company agreed in an April consent order with DEP to a $25,000 fine and to hire an independent expert to monitor the area’s groundwater. That’s when the state informed the public of the procedure.

County officials, with the support of the conservancy, filed a petition with DEP in June to demand the state include provisions for more oversight, safeguards and accountability at the oil well. Commissioners argued that the DEP allowed Hughes to frack and deposit chemicals in the ground that weren’t disclosed on permits. Despite multiple requests for information, the state kept Collier County in the dark.

Herschel Vinyard, secretary of the DEP, has made several trips to Collier County talk to commissioners, the public and the media. Vinyard and the DEP have pulled all of Hughes Co.’s permits in Florida and filed a lawsuit in Collier County, arguing the company must comply with its consent order.

Document: Letter from DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard to Collier County commissioners

The Hughes Co. counter sued, saying it has met every state requirement. The company answered all regulators’ questions before moving ahead with the procedure. The company agreed to put forward a $1 million bond in case any environmental damage is discovered.

Commissioner Georgia Hiller, who with Commissioner Tom Henning voted against joining the state’s lawsuit, said the focus needs to be on regulatory changes in the state legislature.

“That’s where the issue really will get addressed,” Hiller said. “Looking for home rule on this matter is critical.”

The major concern with the Hughes Co. is whether there has been any groundwater contamination and those tests are ongoing, she said.

“Hughes has already agreed to set $1 million aside, so when there is real evidence of injury we can pursue a suit against them,” Hiller said. “Let DEP do what they have to do. I care about what happen to the environment and what potentially could happen to citizens.”

Greg Stanley |Naples Daily News|Oct 14, 2014

This proposed pipeline would be even bigger than Keystone XL

Meet Energy East: It will be 2,858-miles long, putting it right up there with some of the longest pipelines in the world. It would pump about a third more crude than Keystone XL was intended to. It’ll be bigger than the Druzhba pipeline, which carries oil 2,500 miles from Southeast Russia to the rest of Europe.

“Bigger” is the point. There’s no sense in extracting crude from Canada’s tar sands if you can’t sell it in extreme bulk, and a big part of selling it is figuring out how to get it to people. The fight against Keystone XL complicated plans to sell it to the U.S., so the crude had to be moved through preexisting channels instead.

Canada’s other big pipeline hope, the Northern Gateway, would pipe crude from the Alberta tar sands out to the energy markets in Asia. But it was first stalled by protests from Canada’s First Nations (which were ignored), and then kneecapped in a surprise ruling by the Canadian Supreme Court that gave First Nations living on the land the pipeline was going through the right to veto it. That has proved harder to ignore.

With the Asian and the U.S. markets sidelined, Canada is now aiming for Europe. TransCanada announced this week that it is close to submitting its federal application to build Energy East: $12 billion dollars of pipeline, all set to pump Alberta crude to the refineries and export terminals of Quebec and New Brunswick. Execs hope to have the pipeline approved by early 2016.

If it’s built, it will be the longest pipeline in North America, and the third largest in the world. Boosters say that unlike those other loser pipelines, Energy East is actually going to get built, because in a way it’s already been approved: It’s a massive retrofit and expansion of a natural gas pipeline that was already there to begin with.

Will it work? The practice of retrofitting an old pipeline instead of building a new one has already been used with some success, as in the case of Enbridge’s Line 9B reversal project. But wait, that’s also been delayed — probably not forever, but delayed nonetheless.

Tar sands crude is still making it to market; one analysis of recent Energy Department data claims that U.S. oil imports have soared 60 percent since TransCanada first applied to build Keystone. Producers have just moved it into the country using alternative channels, especially oil-by-rail.

Meanwhile, Energy East has other problems. There’s the matter of Arthur Irving, the billionaire who controls the refinery and much of the port at the pipeline’s terminus in St. John, New Brunswick. TransCanada was so nervous about being gouged by Irving that the company considered ending the pipeline several miles inland, though the two have since reached an agreement.

More uncertain is the business of Quebec: The pipeline will have to pass through the province in order to reach the coast, and Quebec is not a fan of tar sands. The province passed a fracking moratorium two years ago, despite being sued for the decision under NAFTA. A Quebec judge already temporarily shut down TransCanada’s exploratory work at the site of the proposed export terminal so that beluga whales could leave the area and migrate further south.

How much sway do whales hold with Quebec in the long term? Is Energy East just another pipe dream? We’re about to find out.

Heather Smith|16 Oct 2014

Calls to Action

  1. Tell President Obama: Stop the approval of 2,4-D – here
  2. Stop Destructive Mountaintop Removal Mininghere
  3. Stand up for clean water by adding your namehere
  4. Keep the East Coast off-limits to Big Oil & Gas – here
  5.  Tell The Shopping Channel- No More Real Furhere
  6. Clean up a billion tons of toxic waste with one new rule – here
  7. Tell the BLM to deny Idaho for Wildlife’s permit – here

Birds and Butterflies

The danger to birds from open pipes

Open pipes, widely used for a variety of purposes across the western U.S. landscape, have been reported as a “potentially very large” source of bird mortality according to research by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The finding was part of a peer-reviewed study accepted for publication by the “Western North American Naturalist” and authored by Charles D. Hathcock and Jeanne M. Fair.

“Based on these preliminary findings …  open bollards and pipes pose a potentially large-scale threat to birds, and research on the impacts of this threat, especially to cavity-nesting birds, should be encouraged and considered in management plans,” the scientists said.

The study looked at pipes in three circumstances and documented cases of the pipes causing bird deaths in northern New Mexico. In one study area, the scientists looked at a 25,303-acre site at LANL on the Pajarito Plateau on the eastern flanks of the Jemez Mountains. More than 100 uncapped, 4-inch open bollards (short posts) were examined. About 27, or more than 25 percent, of the open pipes contained dead birds. Also within LANL, the scientists looked at 88 open pipes used to anchor gates. These pipes had diameters of 3.5 inches or 4 inches, and 11 percent contained dead birds.

In the third scenario, the scientists conducted a preliminary assessment of open pipes on gates along a highway on federal land north of LANL; 14 percent of these open pipes contained dead birds. This gate configuration—with open pipes anchoring the gate on either side – is very common in the western United States.

Western Bluebirds accounted for 61 percent of the identifiable affected bird species. Other species identified included: Ash-throated Flycatcher, Acorn Woodpecker, Spotted Towhee, House Finch, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Western Scrub-Jay.

American Bird Conservancy|October 9, 2014

Read more at American Bird Conservancy.

Building Collisions Kill Millions of Birds Every Year. What Can We Do About It?

If you’ve ever heard the “thock” of a bird crashing into a window before falling lifeless to the ground, you know how sickening and terribly sad that sound is.

Collisions with buildings kill somewhere between 365 million and 988 million birds each year, according to a February 2014 estimate from researchers at Oklahoma State University and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center in Washington, D.C.

Birds just don’t see clear glass as an obstacle. When they’re looking at the window, they’re seeing the reflection of sky or trees instead of a pane of glass. They think they’re following a clear flight path. That mistake can be deadly; at least half of the birds who hit windows die from their injuries or because another animal killed them while they were stunned and couldn’t escape or protect themselves.

There are also other factors.

Did you know that most birds’ eyes are on the sides of their heads? “Birds have got this fantastically comprehensive visual field,” says vision scientist Graham Martin of the University of Birmingham in England. “But the best vision for most birds is actually out sideways.”

Martin has made some other fascinating discoveries about birds: in some big birds, such as eagles and some vultures, he has found a gap between the visual fields of the left and right eyes that leaves a blind spot roughly above where birds’ “foreheads” might be.

As a result of this gap, the birds may not even see a building or a wind turbine ahead. “They’re flying with the assumption—that has been a pretty good one for the last God knows how many millions of years—that there won’t be anything sticking up in the way,” Martin says.

The Humane Society of the United States has a list of ways to make windows visible to birds, which is an excellent start.

Daniel Klem, a biology professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Penn., helped establish what’s now known as the two-by-four rule: most birds won’t fly through a space less than two inches high between horizontal stripes or four inches wide between vertical stripes. Now it’s important that the people responsible for the construction of new buildings start paying attention to this rule.

Christine Sheppard, who serves as bird collisions campaign manager for the American Bird Conservancy, agrees.

“You have to get to the architects,” says Sheppard. Five years ago, she helped the U.S. Green Building Council develop a way to calculate a building’s lethality to birds. In 2011 the council launched a pilot program to give credit for collision deterrence as part of its Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) program, which certifies buildings as environmentally responsible.

Several companies now offer ways to make windows safe for birds. Many involve the application of various patterns of visual markers of a specific size, color and spacing to the exterior glass surface to provide the necessary visual signals for birds to avoid impact. Others sell perforated film, which covers the entire window and makes the glass opaque from the outside.

Hopefully, beginning with these small steps, the world can eventually become a safer place for birds.

Meanwhile, the Humane Society has a list of what to do if you find a bird who has flown into a window:

  • Gently cover and catch the bird with a towel and place her in a paper bag or cardboard box (with air holes) that is securely closed.
  • Keep the bird in a quiet, warm, dark place, away from activity.
  • Check on the bird every 30 minutes, but don’t touch the bird.
  • If the bird seems to recover, carry the container outside and open it. Then step back, remain quiet, and see if the bird flies away. If she doesn’t fly away, carefully take her back inside.
  • If the bird doesn’t recover within a few hours, but is still breathing, contact a wildlife rehabilitation representative.

Judy Molland|October 14, 2014

Eight Intriguing Migration Mysteries Solved With BirdCast and eBird

MysteryMap800

Artwork by Luke Seitz

Scientists are learning more than ever about autumn bird migration, but there are still plenty of unsolved mysteries. What forces dictate their departures and arrivals? Why do they choose the routes they do? And why do some birds end up far off course?

In the past, rare sightings have been chalked up as vagrants—anomalies of bird movement that couldn’t be predicted and might never happen again. But as time and data points have piled up, it’s become clear that many rare sightings are the result of regular, if infrequent, patterns. As we gain an understanding of these patterns, we can use them to unravel migration mysteries and know when and where to look for rarities.

Two of the programs leading the way in this effort are BirdCast and eBird. The eBird project provides the raw sightings data (when bird watchers like you report your sightings to the project). BirdCast combines the sightings data with meteorological data and weather surveillance radars (which can “see” birds just as they can “see” raindrops—as in the map above). These data sources allow BirdCast’s team to develop weekly, region-specific predictions to let North American birders know which birds to look for and when—as well as to understand rarer phenomena like these eight migration mysteries:

STrush
What’s that “peep” in the night? Ever go outside on a crisp September evening and hear what sounds like a spring peeper in the sky? Except, it’s fall… and frogs don’t fly? Lots of songbirds migrate at night and call to each other with very short, faint notes. The calls of Swainson’s Thrushes are among the most distinctive of these “night flight calls,” and they are loud enough that you can actually hear the birds as they fly overhead. Your best bets for hearing this peep in the night sky will come immediately after a cold front passes, particularly when birds fly into areas with poor visibility (like fog) and light pollution where calling increases dramatically (birds tend to call more frequently when disoriented). See this post to
hear the call notes and learn how to identify them.

NLapwing

Where did all those Northern Lapwings come from? After Hurricane Sandy in late October, 2012, dozens of Northern Lapwings showed up in the northeastern U.S. Never before had a tropical system’s passage brought such a bounty of this visitor from Eurasia. In fact, most hurricanes tend to take American birds and deposit them in Europe, not the other way around. But by analyzing meteorological data, the BirdCast team discovered that the hurricane’s counterclockwise circulation was augmented by high pressure over the North Atlantic and winds blowing from Europe. The result was east-to-west winds that delivered many American birders a new species for their life list. See the full story on vagrants from Sandy in the BirdCast archives.

FTFlycatcher2

What drives cameo appearances of Fork-tailed Flycatchers in fall? These spectacular birds are one of the species birders look forward to seeing when they plan a trip to Central or South America, where they are fairly common. But almost every autumn (especially in September) the tables turn and a few Fork-tailed Flycatchers come to visit birders in the eastern U.S. On closer examination, these rarities usually belong to the savana subspecies, which breeds from Brazil to Argentina and winters in Amazonia. In other words, these birds don’t belong in the U.S. The evidence suggests that when most Fork-tailed Flycatchers are migrating, some individual birds overshoot and wind up over the ocean, where they then fly downwind and end up making landfall in the U.S.

Where did all the Blackpoll Warblers go? Blackpoll Warblers are fairly common spring migrants all the way up through the eastern states. Not so in fall, when they are rarely sighted in states south of the mid-Atlantic. That’s because their main fall migration route takes them out over the open ocean. The birds often fly nonstop over the Caribbean en route to their winter grounds in South America.

CSparrow

Why do Chipping Sparrows migrate twice? We often think of migration as a straight shot from breeding grounds to wintering grounds. But quite a few species—including the familiar Chipping Sparrow—take a detour to accommodate their molt. These so-called molt migrants take a short migration trip to one area where they grow new feathers. Then they resume their migration to wintering grounds. For instance, Chipping Sparrows in the Front Range of Colorado migrate eastward to molting sites such as the Pawnee National Grasslands, then continue to Mexico.

PGallinule

What are Purple Gallinules doing in Newfoundland? When Purple Gallinules—which typically live in subtropical and tropical marshes—began showing up in Portugal, Maine, Newfoundland, Iceland, and Ireland, the BirdCast team took notice. They think an autumn drought in the Caribbean caused many gallinules to disperse in the winter of 2013–2014. Because Purple Gallinules are very strong fliers, and sensitive to changes in wetlands, they are very prone to wandering way out of their traditional range. And thanks to the now worldwide network of birders entering their sightings into eBird, the BirdCast team is able to convert these unusual sightings into data.

BFBooby2
What’s a Blue-footed Booby doing in California? The Golden State boasts a huge collection of cool birds, but the Blue-footed Booby is not usually one of them. It’s a tropical seabird typically found along the Mexican coast and south to South America—but in fall of 2013, many dozens of Blue-footed Boobies were
reported along the California coast. When the BirdCast team looked into meteorological patterns, it appeared that unusually warm sea surface temperatures may have caused the move, along with a similar pattern in Elegant Terns. The suggestion is that prey fish moved north to find cooler waters, and so the boobies moved with them.

Why do Long-billed Curlews winter in both California and Mexico? Long-billed Curlews breed in grasslands and open country of the central and western U.S. In winter, you can find them in coastal and interior California, as well as in landlocked wetlands of the Southwest and Mexico. By putting together species distribution models from eBird data, it appears these two populations may employ different migration routes. Curlews from the Great Basin may travel westward to winter in California, while Great Plains curlews travel south to reach Mexico.

LBCurlew

(Illustrations by Luke Seitz|joint project of computer scientists and bird biologists|Cornell Lab|Oregon State University|University of Massachusetts, Amherst|other partners.)

victoria|October 9th, 2014

The Laysan Albatross Made an Amazing Comeback. Will It Be Enough?

They survived tremendous losses from feather hunting in the 1910s. Despite dangers from industrial fishing and plastic pollution, Laysan Albatrosses are today the second most abundant albatross in the world. But virtually all of them nest on tiny, flat coral atolls, where rising sea levels caused by climate change pose a real danger. The main Hawaiian islands of Kauai and Oahu may represent the brightest hope for the species—but only if they can survive alongside humans. Read the article and find out what you can do to help.
Watch an Albatross Grow Up in
this highlight video of Kaloakulua, the chick from our 2014 Laysan Albatross camera. Browse the full timeline here.

Let Them Eat Berries

When the leaves fall and the insects vanish, birds turn to berries and other native fruits to get through the season. Planting native shrubs and trees is a great way to augment your bird feeders—and now is a good time to plant. Our Citizen Science blog has a list of top 5 native berries plus recommendations specific to your area. 

The West’s Beleaguered “Rain Crows” Finally Get Protection

Yellow-billed cuckoos used to be a common sight along rivers all over the West, until dams, livestock grazing, water withdrawals and other factors devastated their populations. Back in 1998 the Center for Biological Diversity’s Noah Greenwald wrote his first Endangered Species Act petition seeking protection for yellow-billed cuckoos — and last week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to grant it. (The agency had already proposed to protect more than 500,000 acres of critical habitat for the bird in nine states.)

Sometimes called “rain crows” for their habit of singing before storms, these birds were once found from the shores of Lake Washington in Seattle to the mouth of the Colorado River. Today they live only in small, scattered populations in the West.

Their new Endangered Species Act protection is the latest final decision resulting from our historic agreement to speed decisions for 757 species around the country; 138 species have been protected so far.

Read more in The Press-Enterprise and act now to protect yellow-billed cuckoos’ critical habitat.

[Maybe there is still hope for critical habitat designation for the Florida Panther.]

Audubon Works to Save Critical Piping Plover Habitat

Last month, Audubon filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers to protect rare nesting habitat for the threatened Piping Plover in New York.

Fewer than 3,600 Atlantic Coast Piping Plovers survive today, with 20 percent of them relying on the shores of New York for nesting and breeding. With work on the well-intentioned but misguided Fire Island Inlet to Moriches Inlet Stabilization Project slated to begin imminently in September, Audubon New York stepped in and was granted a Temporary Restraining Order to protect this critical and rare plover habitat.

Audubon supporters like you have been pressing for an improved plan to ensure the plovers are protected and the plan is in compliance with federal law. Unfortunately, the Corps has ignored us and government scientists who recommended that the project be revised. The US Army Corp of Engineers has a responsibility to make sure this project is done right from the start.

You can still help urge the Corps to modify their plan. More than 20,000 Audubon members have already stepped up to help out, and it’s not too late for you to send a letter to the Corps!

The case is being reviewed by the courts, with the next conference with the judge scheduled for December 16.

Audubon Advisory|October, 2014 

Bird Cam Super Fans

                                         Exclusive Raptor Rapture Sign-up

Hog Island Audubon Camp, home of osprey pair Steve and Rachel, is now offering early enrollment to Bird Cam Super Fans.  Public registration begins Oct. 15th for Raptor Rapture, which runs July 15-19th 2015.  As a loyal fan of the inspiring nest group, you are eligible to reserve a space today. 

Thirty fortunate adult campers will have the opportunity to live on Hog Island, with Rachel and Steve, while taking part in our six day session called Raptor Rapture. Because you have been a devoted Bird Cam Super Fan we are pleased to give you the very first opportunity to sign up for the camp—one week before registration is open to the general public. For those who have already fallen in love with Ospreys and puffins, I can think of no better way to build on your passion than by attending Raptor Rapture and seeing the birds you’ve been watching on explore.org up close.
Osprey biologist Dr. Rob Bierregaard will direct the session with other raptor biologists on the instructor team.  

Questions?  Contact the Hog Island office at 607-257-7308 ext. 314 or hogisland@audubon.org

Live cams are made possible by a generous grant from explore.org.

Thousands of Care2 Members Fight to Save Britain’s Nightingales

While there’s no doubt that there is a pressing need for affordable housing and the regeneration that often comes with it, that shouldn’t come at the expense of established wildlife. Unfortunately, a new house building venture in Kent, South East England, threatens to displace the UK’s largest nightingale population, something that Care2′s international community is passionately fighting against using our petition site.

The plan, which was approved by the local Medway Council, is to build 5,000 new homes on the Lodge Hill site in Chattenden, Kent, which is internationally recognized as a key area for nightingales. This scheme, which has also received backing from the Ministry of Defense, comes despite the objections of key wildlife groups, including the Kent Wildlife Trust, the RSPB and Natural England.

This is particularly controversial because the new home plan is actually part of the Medway Council’s Core Strategy. That 15-year housing plan was withdrawn at the end of 2013 because an independent review found that the housing plan at Lodge Hill was in direct conflict with the government plans to protect what are known as SSSIs or Sites of Specific Scientific Interest. Lodge Hill was once again affirmed as an SSSI as recently as March of this year. The SSSI status is provided for within the law, and so this isn’t some meaningless title and should have meant the site is protected.

Despite this, the MoD submitted a revised plan that it contends eschews the problem by relocating the birds. The MoD therefore continues to support allowing the site to be built on, something that on Thursday the 4th of September, Medway Council’s Planning Committee approved. The council contends that this is a vital regeneration effort that will bring thousands of new jobs into the area and, as above, that these revised plans would allow for an alternative nightingale habitat on a 304-hectare site 14 miles north of Lodge Hill.

Wildlife campaigners remain skeptical, however, chiefly because there is no evidence that relocating nightingales is even possible as this has never been tried before. As such, this is a gamble, and one that conservationists say could do serious damage to the nightingales and to this precious habitat as a whole.

The nightingale is a songbird classed as an “amber list” species in the UK. This means that while it is not considered the highest conservation priority, which would be a red status, it has an “unfavorable” conservation status throughout Europe and so is seen as a sensitive population. In addition, nightingales have seen a moderate decline in breeding numbers in the past 25 years. In fact, a 2012 survey suggested that there may be as few as 3,300 breeding pairs left in the UK.

This is doubly as concerning because, according to the RSPB, the birds’ UK population is internationally important due to the fact that about a fifth of the world’s population of nightingales actually resides for part of the year in the UK and a great many of them at Lodge Hill.

However, it’s not just nightingales that are at risk. The area contains a number of badger setts, bat roosts and foraging sites, populations of crested newts, slow worms, grass snakes and adders, as well as fauna that is classed as declining in the UK. The planners would not know this, though, Kent Wildlife Trust alleges, because they failed to carry out a thorough invertebrate and botanical survey.

John Bennett, Chief Executive of Kent Wildlife Trust, told the Telegraph: “This development will result in the mass destruction of habitat and wildlife that cannot be replaced. The country cannot afford to lose out most previous highly protected wild places like Lodge Hill, which after all is supposed to be protected in law.”

There is a chance to stop the plans going forward, however. The Committee’s green light for these plans is subject to the approval of the Secretary of State and Minister for Housing, Eric Pickles. The Conservative-led coalition government has also been keen to bill itself as the greenest government ever, despite evidence such as the badger cull that might say the contrary. For this reason, Prime Minister David Cameron is also being petitioned by campaigners to directly intervene and speak out against these plans.

Steve Williams|October 8, 2014

South Florida butterflies win federal protection

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.

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

[Next, we need critical habitat designation for the Florida Panther.]

About 75% of flowering plants rely on pollinators, such as the graceful monarch butterfly.

But sadly, pollinators-especially monarchs-are on the decline worldwide. In fact, in California alone, the number of overwintering monarchs up and down the coast since the mid-1990’s has declined by nearly 90 percent.

Since Pollinator Week is June 16-22, there’s no better time than now to help these beautiful, hard workers and a great way to do so is to turn your yard or garden into a welcoming haven.

The best way to both help monarchs and attract them to your yard is to provide milkweed-an important host plant and food source for their caterpillars.

There are many different types of milkweed plants, so be sure to check which are indigenous to your region before planting. Here are five types that are native to the eastern two-thirds of North America, except for showy milkweed, found from the central states west to California and Oregon.

  • Whorled milkweed prefers really dry and sandy soils. Its white flowers appear between July and September and also entice native bees.
  • Butterflyweed’s orange flowers attract many butterfly species in addition to monarchs, including tiger, spicebush and pipevine swallowtails.
  • Common milkweed blooms purplish flowers from early to mid-summer. Be sure to plant with caution, as this plant’s aggressive nature can take over a garden.
  • Swamp milkweed prefers wet conditions in the wild but many gardeners find that it will also take to the average garden soil.
  • Showy milkweed boasts clusters of pink, star-shaped flowers and thrives in most western habitats, except deserts and high mountains.

Five Top Spots for Birding in Florida 

Here in Florida, birding and wildlife viewing is a big deal – even bigger than you might imagine.

In fact, birding is second only to beach-related activities as a form of outdoor recreation for both visitors and residents. The trend is still on the rise, so count on seeing more and more people carrying binoculars and spotting scopes around the Sunshine State.

If you’re already into birding, you probably know that Florida is considered one of the best places in the world for the activity. Here are five of the top spots you don’t want to miss:

*   Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – For Titusville, having one of the state’s most diverse wildlife habitats on your doorstep is a good thing. In January, the area hosts the annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, which is the largest of its kind in the country. Birders flock to the area en masse to get a look at migrating waterfowl and all manner of shorebirds along Black Point Wildlife Drive, a 7-mile loop around salt marsh impoundments. Whether you’re visiting for a day or a week, you’re sure to check a few species off your life list here.

Everglades National Park – When wildlife lovers dream, they more than likely dream about the Everglades. Not only is it a National Park, it’s also designated as an International Biosphere Reserve for its ecological importance. Residents of Everglades National Park include the Florida panther, American crocodile, the rare Ghost orchid, manatees and much more. For a good day trip, check out the Anhinga Trail and the Shark Valley tram. www.nps.gov/ever

Dry Tortugas National Park – Located about 70 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico, Dry Tortugas National Park is a little difficult to reach, but the reward is well worth the effort. Catch a ride on the Yankee Freedom Ferry, a high-speed catamaran that can get you there in just a couple of hours. Go in the spring and you’ll be rewarded with the rare sight of thousands of Sooty terns and Brown noddies nesting on Bush Key. www.nps.gov/drto

*   J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge – Year-round birding and wildlife viewing is terrific on Sanibel Island. At “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, you can drive around the 4-mile Wildlife Drive and get looks at Roseate spoonbills and Gray kingbirds. Take a walk on the Indigo Trail in the summer months, where Mangrove cuckoos can be found. www.fws.gov/dingdarling

*   STA5/Lake Okeechobee – It’s not a National Park or a National Wildlife Refuge, but STA-5 is one of the best birding spots in South Florida. Stormwater treatment areas are designed to filter out excess nutrients that would otherwise flow to the Everglades, but they also turn out to be excellent places for birding. To access STA-5, you’ll need to register a visit with one of the local Audubon Society chapters. The birding is fantastic year-round, and you’ll definitely add a few life-listers at STA-5. www.hendrygladesaudubon.org

If five locations aren’t enough, don’t worry. The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail covers the entire state, with 514 official sites to explore. Check out www.floridabirdingtrail.com  for more information.

 Florida Panthers

Partnership to protect panthers solidified

Big cat reality TV is coming to a zoo near you.

Naples Zoo and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida announced a $150,000 partnership Monday that will help fund a panther research program built around wildlife video cameras. The zoo is donating the money and will use videos from the research to educate the 360,000 or so visitors it sees each year.

“The study at the panther refuge is going to bring us into the future and advance those techniques,” said David Shindle, a panther biologist at the Conservancy’s North Naples campus. “This study is very intense. We currently have 67 cameras on the refuge and more to the south. It’s labor intensive and it’s large-scale, but it needs to continue.”

The Conservancy, with help from government agencies such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, monitors panther activities in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge near Immokalee and at Picayune Strand State Forest. These Collier County preserves are home to dozens of adult panthers and kittens.

The money will fund three years of research, allowing scientists such as Shindle to gather more information on these reclusive predators.

“I’ve always been involved in trying to explore better ways, more cost-effective ways, and, more importantly, non-invasive ways to monitor the panther population,” Shindle said.

The Naples Zoo is adding a panther exhibit that will feature the video research as well as other wildlife activities captured throughout the preserves.

The research will be shared with FWC, the Florida Wildlife Research Institute, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Panther Capture Team, a group of scientists and wildlife experts who track and sometimes capture panthers for research.

The Florida panther population has rebounded over the last 15 to 20 years, from a few dozen in the 1990s to as many as 200 today. The recovery was based largely on introducing several female Texas cougars into the Florida population, which increased the genetic diversity in the South Florida cats.

The partnership will also fund research into the habitat and habits of white-tailed deer in South Florida. Monitoring deer populations, Shindle said, will help biologists understand panther habitat and prey needs.

“Partnering with the Conservancy to ensure sound and important research on panthers will not only provide important message points as we prepare to introduce a new panther exhibit at the zoo, but it will serve as a powerful tool to connect guests with wildlife native to Southwest Florida,” Naples Zoo President Jack Mulvena said in a statement.

Conservancy President Rob Moher said the partnership comes at a time when pressure to develop roads, neighborhoods and commercial corridors on panther habitat is increasing with the recovering economy.

The research may help establish protocols for feline research and recovery efforts across the world.

“Not only is this research the framework for the future of understanding future panther recovery efforts, but this is published research that will be looked at all around the world,” Moher said. “This is not the only big (or little) endangered cat in the world.”

David Shindle and Rob Moher from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida speak about panther research. Video

Chad Gillis|news-press.com|September 8, 2014

FLORIDA PANTHER

Puma concolor coryi

Appearance: Coloration is fawn but can vary from a grayish to reddish yellow. Adult females weigh between 70 and 100 pounds, with males growing to 100 to 160 pounds. Long tail.

Feeding: Solitary predators that typically hunt during dusk and dawn hours. Prey includes white-tailed deer, wild hogs and other animals. Ambush prey, typically digging claws into flank and breaking spinal cord with their powerful jaws. Can consume 30 pounds or more per feeding.

Habitat: Once found throughout most of the Southeastern U.S., the Florida panther is now found only in South Florida, largely in Collier County.

Reproduction: Females can breed as early as 18 months old, males typically at 3 years. Gestation is 92 to 96 days, producing one to four kittens.

Sources: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Wildlife Research Institute

Florida Panthers Leaving Their Marks Across More of Polk

Florida panthers are moving through more parts of Polk County, according to state wildlife officials.

In February, a state biologist photographed panther tracks in the Green Swamp not far from U.S. 27 north of Davenport.

A panther was injured after it was hit by a vehicle east of Fort Meade in April. The animal is scheduled to be returned to the wild after its rehabilitation.

In recent years, Florida panthers have been tracked or photographed in the Avon Park Air Force Range east of Frostproof and at Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park east of Haines City.

“Panther Crossing” signs were erected several years ago along State Road 60 east of Lake Wales, not far from where a panther was hit and killed by a vehicle in 2007.

These big cats, which once ranged all over much of the Southeast, declined due to human persecution and loss of habitat to the point that the last surviving animals’ only refuge lay in remote areas of southwest Florida south of the Caloosahatchee River by the time they were classified as an endangered species in 1973.

The more frequent number of confirmed sightings is one measure of recovery efforts that have sought to increase the population of an animal that was once in danger of disappearing from the Florida landscape the way Carolina parakeets and ivory-billed woodpeckers did.

They are the last large native predator roaming Florida’s landscape.

Their extinction would signal the loss of wild Florida, supporters say.

Red wolves also once roamed Florida’s wilds, but the last one was reportedly shot near Lake Kissimmee in the 1920s.

But the increased number of panther sightings is not all good news.

Every panther whose presence has been documented in Central Florida so far has been a male, according to a state wildlife scientist.

“Once they go north of the Caloosahatchee River, they don’t return, which limits the breeding pool,” said Jennifer Korn, Florida panther specialist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Males are more likely to roam for a couple of reasons.

They usually require a territory of at least 200 square miles, an area about 10 percent of the size of Polk County, to avoid conflicts with males that have already established territories.

They also roam in search of mates, unaware that there are none to be found upstate.

Female panthers tend to remain closer to the site where they were born, Korn said, though some have been establishing territories closer to the Caloosahatchee River in recent years.

“The last female panther found north of the river was one captured in Glades County in the 1970s,” she said.

Florida panthers, which appeared on the verge of extinction 40 years ago, have been the focus of an extensive recovery effort.

One of the key parts of the recovery effort was to bring in Texas cougars to improve the Florida cats’ genetic makeup.

Years of inbreeding among a small population had created a situation where undesirable recessive traits, ranging from heart defects to reproductive problems, had become common.

In addition to restoring the population’s genetics, the recovery effort involved constructing wildlife underpasses beneath busy highways, expanding protected habitat and extensive monitoring.

The underpasses were designed to reduce the number of panthers being hit and killed by vehicles.

Nevertheless, 74 panthers have been killed by vehicles within the past five years, according to FWC statistics.

The other measures were designed to provide more room for the remaining panthers to hunt and breed and to track their movements.

Korn said protecting habitat where panthers are likely to disperse continues to be a key part of the recovery strategy.

“There’s a lot of work to create protected corridors,” she said, explaining it has involved a mixture of land purchases and acquisition of conservation easements on large tracts of agricultural land that offers relatively undisturbed lands where panthers can roam.

Scientists have known for decades that Florida panthers occasionally prey on cattle and other livestock.

Recently, there have been increased discussions of coming up with a compensation program for livestock owners when there is a confirmed panther attack.

Meanwhile, as the Florida panther population has increased from fewer than 30 animals in the 1980s to between 100 and 180 today, FWC officials have stepped up efforts to collect valid reports of sightings of Florida panthers and Florida black bears, which also occasionally find their way to Polk County, or their tracks.

According to a recent news release, in the past two years FWC officials report receiving 1,537 panther sightings, 275 of which have been verified.

Even though many of the sightings turn out to be other animals or are unidentifiable, wildlife officials stress they encourage the public’s participation.

“Someone’s excitement about seeing a Florida panther or black bear may translate into important scientific information if that sighting is reported to the FWC,” said Carol Knox, the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management section leader.

“By doing so, they are contributing to conservation of Florida’s largest land mammals.”

To submit photographs of panthers or panther tracks, go to www.MyFWC.com/PantherSightings.

In southwest Florida, man and panther vie over goats and state’s true nature

It’s not the Florida he or hundreds of other nervous Collier County residents ever imagined. Florida is supposed to be about shopping centers, golf courses, theme parks and watching pelicans at the beach. Cardinals are pretty and welcome, but tree frogs are noisy unless you turn up the air conditioning.

Five years ago, Freyre and his wife retired to a spacious patch of southwest Florida that borders wilderness teeming with animals that make the couple think twice about nighttime walks — bears, coyotes, snakes.

And panthers, those sleek nocturnal hunters that Freyre calls “lions.”

Freyre, 77, knows the panthers lurk in those woods because he wakes regularly to find that sometime in the night some beast has dragged off another one of his goats.

August was a bad month. A big cat was using his yard like a Taco Bell.

Freyre called Mark Lotz, the panther sleuth. He ought to have him on speed dial.

Lotz, whose last name happens to rhyme with “goats,” is a panther biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. In the winter, he helps catch the endangered species to fit them with radio collars that track their every movement.

When he isn’t catching panthers, Lotz patiently coaches a growing number of Floridians about how to live with the rising population of lions in their midst. For many, the panther is the wild heart of Florida. Remove it and Florida is gone. Others would be happy to see the cats removed from the neighborhood, if not the wild entirely.

Freyre, a New Jersey resident for most of his life, is a member of the latter group.

He lives in Golden Gate Estates, a development that was born as a real estate swindle in the 1960s to trick Yankees into buying swampland. The state eventually bought back the dampest acreage and turned it into a state forest. The dry part, north of Alligator Alley, became home to the Freyres and 22,000 other people.

The 4-square-mile development is suburban yet wild to the extreme. Glittery Naples lies to the west. The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, the Fakahatchee Strand, Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park are just east. Just around the corner from Freyre’s homestead is a Walgreens and a Hungry Howie’s.

And so, apparently, are the panthers. They’re 7 feet long from nose to tail and can weigh as much as 150 pounds. They normally eat deer, opossums, small alligators and hogs. But they don’t shy away from gift chickens and unprotected herds of domestic livestock.

“Cat food,” Lotz says.

Lotz is 44, divorced, quiet, athletic and funny. During panther-catching season he is often the biologist tapped to climb the tree where a tranquilized panther might have fallen asleep. His job is to secure the panther by rope and lower it gently to the ground. He is the only known Floridian to have been injured by a panther: During one exciting capture a panther fell from a tree onto his knee, resulting in surgery.

“Are panthers dangerous?” he is often asked.

Lotz has been trained not to sugar-coat his answer. Mountain lions, the close panther relative, have attacked and killed hikers in Colorado and California. It has never happened in Florida.

“But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t,” Lotz says.

In the 19th century, the panthers wandered almost to Texas. Feared by settlers, they were often shot on sight.

They steadily vanished from their multistate range and by 1980, scientists weren’t confident that panthers existed anymore. But a tracker hired by the state found them. Government agencies bought wilderness land to protect habitat.

Panthers had been isolated in southwest Florida for so long they suffered from birth defects that threatened to doom them anyway. In 1991, biologists released a few Texas cougars into South Florida so they could refresh the gene pool. Afterward, the cougars were removed. The panther population has since climbed from about a dozen feeble animals to more than 150 healthy ones.

All the while their habitat has continued to shrink, giving way to golf courses, shopping malls and subdivisions. Looking for new wild land, some young male panthers have roamed into Georgia. But more have headed west into Golden Gate Estates, where kids ride bicycles, climb monkey bars and play soccer. And home­owners sometimes claim tax exemptions by raising a few goats or chickens in the back yard.

In 2005, nobody in southwest Florida reported losing any livestock, according to a government report. In the year that ended June 2013, panthers killed 25 goats, cows, lambs and house cats.

Arturo Freyre’s telephone rang at 6:30 a.m. recently. It was a neighbor telling him that two of his goats were running in a panic down the street.

He had lost four goats the previous week and had spent a lot of time with Mark Lotz, who had even set up motion-sensitive cameras around the property.

Freyre shook a can of goat food in the direction of his pasture. That usually brings them running. Two came. Two didn’t.

He made the usual call.

“Mr. Lotz, I know you probably don’t want to hear from me again, but . . .”

Lotz headed over. He knew he would be little comfort to a man bewildered about what it sometimes means to live in Florida. Freyre came from Cuba in 1948 to learn how to fly airplanes. He enjoyed a long career in commercial aviation and lived in a place with sensible buildings and no lions. These days he looks at the world through the prism of Fox News. “I loved America when it was America,” he said.

“I don’t understand why you environmentalists don’t just move the panthers to public land,” he told Lotz. “That would solve the problem.”

Lotz explained that panthers, bears, bobcats and alligators come and go. A decade ago, biologists relocated a panther. That night the panther trotted 30 miles back to its favorite chicken coop. It’s better, Lotz says, to protect your livestock. Then the panther will move on.

When he retired to Florida in 2009, Freyre built his house, planted squash, raised chickens and got himself a dozen goats to qualify for his tax write-off. With money from a wildlife organization intended to help livestock owners cope with panther and bear predation, he actually started building a shelter. But he never quite finished it — there are a few gaps in the fence.

“Anyway, I’m an old man,” he said. “It’s very hard for me to round up my goats and get them into the shelter.”

Lotz is no Sherlock Holmes. But he is pretty good.

He followed a turkey vulture’s circling shadow into the woods and then tracked a foul scent to a fly-covered goat killed last week.

His real target were the goats that had disappeared the night before. Now Lotz crept through thickets of ferns and palmettos. He inched through tall grass like a golfer looking for a lost Titleist. He stopped. Pointed at grass lying at an angle as if something large had been dragged across.

He found the goat 10 feet away, below the branches of a Brazilian pepper. Freyre backed away in horror. “A lion must have done this!” he yelled.

Lotz described the attack: Springing, the cat had grabbed the 80-pound goat’s flanks with its powerful claws, then reached under with its massive jaws to clamp shut the wind pipe. The goat died from suffocation.

“Oh, my God,” Freyre cried.

They’re not his pets, he said, but he really enjoys having them around. His young niece in New Orleans loves them — she has given them names like Bambi.

Lotz never found the second goat. Perhaps the panther had buried it for a later dinner. Perhaps the panther was in the vicinity guarding its kill.

“Are we in any danger?” asked Freyre.

One last chore. Mark Lotz collected the memory cards from the four cameras in the woods. At Freyre’s picnic table he popped them into his laptop.

An image appeared — the nose of something brown sniffing the camera lens.

“Is that one of those mountain lions from Texas that are in the wild?” Freyre wanted to know.

Lotz avoided sighing. It’s a common question. If the animals now wandering southwest Florida are Texas cougars, goes the logic, they aren’t panthers and therefore deserve no protection. They can be moved or killed.

“No,” Lotz said. “It’s a Florida panther. Anyway, Texas cougars and Florida panthers mated centuries ago.”

“Are you sure that’s not a mountain lion? It must be 200 pounds. Maybe bigger.”

“No, the largest panther we’ve ever caught was 154 pounds. This is a young male. About 100 pounds.”

Unconvinced, Freyre removed his straw hat and held it in front of stomach like a shield.

“What am I going to tell my niece?” he asked. “I can’t tell her that Bambi is dead.”

JEFF KLINKENBERG|Staff Writer|Tampa Bay Times|September 13, 2014

  Invasive species

spot an invasive species? I’ve Got 1

Invasive species in Southwest Florida have a huge potential to negatively impact our native ecosystems and we need your help to thwart that problem. Now, it’s easier than ever to report an invasive species if you spot one. All you need to remember is “I’ve Got 1.”

The Conservancy is a member of the Southwest Florida CISMA – Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area – and we’re working together to document and study all reported sightings of invasive animals like the Burmese python.

If you spot what you believe to be an invasive species, there are three easy ways to report your find!

  • The web: www.IveGot1.org
  • The app: I’ve Got 1
  • The hotline: 1.888.IVE.GOT.1

Once your sighting is pinpointed on the map, researchers will be able to use that information to determine the areas into which these invasive animals are expanding.

So if you think you spot an invasive species, just remember… “I’ve Got 1!”

Endangered Species

New report: 100,000 elephants killed ‏

Words we live by: Stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand.

A recently released report confirms poachers slaughtered 100,000 elephants in Africa in the last three years.

100,000 elephants: their majestic bodies and intelligent eyes reduced to lifeless heaps. Entire herds destroyed. Mothers, young, all killed in cold blood.

More elephants are now being killed in Africa than are being born. This is what the path to extinction looks like.

Is this grim? Yes. Is it heart-wrenching? Absolutely. Is it a reason to give up hope?

No. Not now. Not ever.

Here at WCS we’re determined to win the war to save elephants – and we’re on the ground, battling to do so. We already have a clear goal and action plan: Stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand. Supporters across the globe have rallied around us and we’ve accomplished amazing things in the last year.

Here’s what we’ve accomplished and where we’re headed.

Stopping the killing.
Thanks to our generous 96 Elephants donors, we hired 12 new ecoguards in Conkouati-Douli National Park in the Republic of Congo – they just started their 6 week training course on October 1. Protection by vigilant ecoguards means that elephants are now venturing into areas of the park they were once too scared to access.

Now, the Nigerian government has asked us to take over management of Yankari Game Reserve, home to the last viable elephant population in that country. Start up costs, plus recruiting, training, and supplying ecoguards all need to be covered – but one thing’s for sure – when the resources are secured, we know how to protect those elephants on the ground.

Stopping the trafficking.
We’re working hard to protect elephants at every step in the supply chain. Just last month, we helped catch six suspected poachers in a late night raid in Niassa National Reserve in Mozambique. After carefully gathering intelligence on this gang for more than 10 months, the raid recovered more than $150,000 worth of elephant tusks, as well as five guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

We continue to ramp up law enforcement efforts to catch traffickers smuggling ivory out of places such as Ruaha Park in Tanzania. Right now, we’re in the process of selecting and training sniffer dogs to assist various law enforcement agencies with tracking down cashes of ivory, ammunition, and other illegal materials.

In less than a year, our 96 Elephants campaign has helped pave the way for bans on ivory sales in New York and New Jersey. Plus, the federal government has announced its intention to implement a ban. In the meantime, we’ve set our sights on our next U.S. target: California – the second largest market for ivory in the country. We’re gearing up with local partners to not only close loopholes that allow for the sale of illegal ivory, but also stiffen the penalties for those caught doing so.

Stopping the demand.
We’re actively working in China – the number one consumer of ivory – where our innovative awareness-raising campaign is educating consumers that ivory products mean dead elephants. Key to this is a website where citizens can go to learn more about the crisis and share their photo along with a pledge not to buy ivory. And along with many other tactics, we’ve set up ads in Beijing International Airport, blanketing a corridor that carries millions of passengers between Africa and China.

And that’s only a sampling of what we can accomplish for elephants in the next year!

This movement has come incredibly far in a year and together I hope one day we count down from 96 elephants killed each day…to 90…to 10…to 0.

Liz Bennett|Vice President|Species Conservation|Wildlife Conservation Society

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.

Key Findings:

Ecosystem Services

· 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.

Livelihoods

· 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.

Biodiversity Hotspots

· 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.

Recommendations

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

UNEP|October 7, 2014

Snow Leopard Catches Marmot (Photos & Video)

One of our research cameras in Kyrgyzstan has captured amazing photos of a snow leopard carrying a freshly killed marmot. See the pictures and video below!

[scroll down to see the video]

Like the author of a good suspense novel, this Kyrgyz snow leopard spares us the gruesome details of what’s to come.

Photos   Video

This California Highway Is Hindering Puma Genetic Diversity

Interstate 15 is big. It stretches across 10 lanes through the Santa Ana and Santa Monica mountains. It also keeps puma populations away from each other.

A study of 354 pumas in California by scientists from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine found that pumas in Santa Ana and Santa Monica had significantly lower genetic diversity than pumas in other parts of the state. This lack of genetic diversity was caused by human developments like the I-15. Over time, pumas have been forced to inbreed and their genetic diversity has plummeted.

“The lack of diversity is likely to cause serious problems within the next 20-50 years,” said Dr. Paul Beier, of North Arizona University, who works on the science-based design of wildlife corridors. “We know this because the Florida panther (same species as puma) also suffered lack of genetic diversity in the 1980s and 1990s that caused serious heart defects, sterility in many males, and susceptibility to infections.”

During the study, one puma got lucky and managed to cross Highway 101. He re-invigorated some of the genetic diversity among the pumas he encountered on the other side. But this is rare, especially as human populations around San Diego and Los Angeles grow and continue to develop the landscape.

Preventing a lack of genetic diversity in land-bound species will require urban planning that takes animal movements into consideration. One solution is to leave large pieces of land undeveloped. Another is to create crossing structures so animals can get past highways and railways with no danger of being struck by a moving vehicle.

“I suspect that lack of genetic diversity is a problem only for a handful of populations today, and that most puma populations are genetically healthy,” added Beier. “But this could become a problem in more places as human footprint on the landscape grows.”

Manon Verchot|TreeHugger|October 11, 2014

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Marijuana Farms Are Poisoning This Mink-Like Animal With Rodenticides

As the market for legal weed has blossomed in some states, so too has the use of rat poison on pot farms deep in the western woods, to keep rodents away from the aromatic plants. These are the same woods where a rare cat-sized mammal called the fisher lives in the cavities of trees and feeds on smaller animals—animals whose little bodies are full of the pot farmer’s rodenticide.

The fisher, whose numbers and range are already precariously low due to two centuries of trapping and logging, has been relegated to the same patches of public land in California, Oregon and Washington where illegal pot farming has taken hold. The threat of rodenticide has become widespread enough for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to announce Monday a proposal to add the fisher to the national list of endangered species.

When biologists assess the grow sites after raids, they often find packaging for large quantities of potent commercial rodenticides and other toxins, which are being used without regulation and in large quantities at grow sites. Rats and squirrels can survive three to seven days after eating the rodenticide, so the doomed animals roam around, falling prey to the fisher. One or two poisoned meals won’t kill a fisher, explains Mourad Gabriel, executive director of the Integral Ecology Research Center. But eating like that regularly will.

“It’s filling up slowly with these anti-coagulant rodenticides,” Gabriel says. Without immediate human intervention, like a vitamin K injection, “that fisher is going to succumb to the exposure levels and die.”

A study published in 2012 in the journal PLOS One found rat poison in the bloodstream of 79 percent of fishers they tested. More recent studies have put the number above 80 percent.

Environmental groups have pushed for years for protection for the fisher under the Endangered Species Act. Groups like the Center for Biological Diversity see its listing as key to the fight against plans to increase logging of public forest lands known as the “O&C lands” in western Oregon. Logging is also a significant stress driving down fisher populations, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“In addition to Endangered Species Act protection, the strong protections provided by the Northwest Forest Plan for old forest habitat need to be maintained, including on O&C lands,” Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement following the listing announcement. “And the dangerous rodenticides being used by illegal marijuana growers that have poisoned fishers need to be completely banned.”

The threat to the fisher is the latest of a string of recent news of ecosystem damage caused by marijuana farms. Streams are frequently diverted, without permit, to irrigate marijuana crops, using copious amounts of freshwater and posing a threat to the water supply in drought-ravaged states like California. In other waters, fertilizer and pesticide runoff is sparking blooms of toxic blue-green algae.

Zoë Schlanger|Newsweek|October 7, 2014

Florida manatees on collision course with extinction

The news last week that yet another endangered Florida manatee was struck and killed by a boat created barely a ripple in the media cycle.

The reports read like just another police blotter item, verifying that the 10-year-old female manatee had died from “blunt force trauma” after being struck by a boat off Riviera Beach.

It marked at least the 53rd time this year one of the charismatic marine mammals has been killed by a watercraft.

The sad truth is that despite their protected status, manatees continue to be relentlessly assaulted by habitat destruction, cold-stress mortality and red tide events.

But watercraft strikes continue to be the leading cause of death for manatees, killing, on average, more than 80 a year — a fatality count that by itself represents more than seven times the number of manatees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates can be killed without impairing the species’ recovery.

Despite this disturbing trend, new research reveals that regulators not only have failed to keep track of how many permits they issue every year for the new docks, piers and boat ramps that increase watercraft access to Florida’s waterways, they have failed to determine the cumulative impacts of the thousands of projects they approve on manatees.

A Center for Biological Diversity study reveals that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued more than 4,000 permits for watercraft structures from 2008-13 without giving any consideration to the projects’ cumulative impacts on manatees. And possibly thousands more were granted by the state of Florida. Over the same period, more than 500 manatees died after being struck by watercraft and countless others sustained injuries.

The study details how the Fish and Wildlife Service and Army Corps have purposefully sidestepped analyzing the cumulative impacts of permitting these projects in favor of a streamlined permitting process designed to expedite the permits.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the Army Corps is required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure actions it permits, individually and cumulatively, do not result in harm to individual manatees or jeopardize them as a species.

To skirt this legal requirement, the Army Corps and Fish and Wildlife Service developed the Manatee Key, a streamlined process for quickly identifying those projects with serious affects to the manatee while letting all other projects proceed with minimal analysis.

Evaluated individually the impacts of these projects may appear to be minimal, but when considered together the true environmental impacts are clear — the projects result in the preventable deaths of manatees.

Use of the Manatee Key should be suspended until a full investigation can offer a true picture of impacts to manatees. And the evidence suggests there’s much to be learned.

The Center for Biological Diversity study reviewed records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. However, there’s strong indication the information provided by the corps likely represents only a portion of the permits issued for watercraft facilities.

For example, the National Marine Fisheries Service reported that during a similar time-frame, 2006-10, the corps authorized 9,195 permits just to construct docks, and from 2000-09, the state of Florida authorized 10,266 facilities allowing watercraft access.

The report makes evident that the federal and state regulators responsible for permitting new structures in Florida’s waterways have virtually no idea how those structures are impacting endangered manatees.

And especially in this year when officials are evaluating whether to downlist manatees from endangered to threatened, it’s imperative that regulators do everything in their power to ensure a true accounting of the growing threats to these treasured marine mammals.

Jaclyn Lopez|Florida director|Center for Biological Diversity.

Rare fern in Miami proposed for endangered species list

A small, rootless fern found only in Miami’s rock ridge and one other place on the planet may be added to the endangered species list, U.S. wildlife managers announced Wednesday.

The Florida bristle fern, discovered a century ago growing in dense mats in shady hammocks near Coral Gables, once flourished in the pocked rock of the coastal ridge. Botanists found it clinging to the limestone floor and in sinkholes in at least 12 hammocks between Everglades National Park and Miami. But as early as 1938, they began to note its disappearance, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report.

In 2009 when federal wildlife officials nominated the plant for protection, biologists found it in just 10 spots in Miami-Dade County and two in Sumter County west of Orlando, where it sprouted from boulders. An inventory concluded there were fewer than 1,000 individual plants.

Botanists now worry the moss-like fern may vanish entirely as development continues to shrink its dwindling habitat and rising seas make that habitat more inhospitable.

“We have to rethink how we build our communities and where we build,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida-based attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued in 2011 to speed the protection of endangered species including the fern. “Florida is not making new land.”

Because the fern grows in such a specific place, it can also be considered an important measure of the health of the habitat, Lopez said.

In South Florida, the fern sprouts from pockets of limestone where water collects, making it susceptible to changes in groundwater. As seas rise, the fern’s coastal habitat will likely shrink. Saltwater may also push further inland through the region’s porous rock, making groundwater salty. Planners and water managers are now wrestling with how to control saltwater intrusion, from updating canal pumps to redistributing water through Everglades restoration projects. Those projects, ironically, are supposed to reverse drainage work that helped speed the fern’s disappearance decades ago when canals were dredged.

The public will have until Dec. 8 to comment on the proposal. Federal officials will then review the comments along with recommendations from scientists and agency staff before deciding whether to list the fern.

If the fern is listed, the agency will consider designating a critical habitat and coming up with a plan for saving it.

Jenny Staletovich|MiamiHerald.com|10/08/2014

Firefighters Save Two Adorable Bear Cubs Trapped Inside a Tree

Hearing desperate cries coming from a wooded area nearby, a concerned cabin owner in Milltown, Wisconsin, ventured out to find the snouts of two baby bear cubs sticking out of a hole in a huge cottonwood tree.

Unsure as to whether the cubs were truly stuck, the woman decided to return to check on them the next day — and the snouts were still there.

After calling the authorities to help, two wardens from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, along with Tammi Larson, who runs a wildlife rehabilitation facility in the area, went to the scene.

When they arrived they discovered the pair of bear cubs who appeared to have crawled into the tree, but were unable to crawl out.

“In 15 years of being a warden I haven’t seen bears caught in a tree before. I’ve seen lots of bears, just none that were trapped like that,” warden Jesse Ashton said.

Ashton believed that when the cubs had climbed into the tree, some dead debris had fallen down behind them, sealing the hole and trapping them inside.

As mother bear was nowhere to be found, Larson said that she had likely been killed by hunters or a vehicle, but thankfully the cubs were old enough to survive on their own.

“They couldn’t get out, but they had chewed a little hole so one of them could stick his snout through and cry,” Larson said.

Knowing that they didn’t have the equipment to free the cubs, the wardens asked for the help of the local Milltown Fire Department. Armed with a chainsaw, the firefighters carefully cut an opening in the base of the tree, while one of the baby bears looked on from his hole.

“We cut a hole in the tree and then we all backed off and waited,” warden Phil Dorn said. “The cubs crawled out and ran back into the woods.”

Although in pretty good shape considering, Larson could see that the bears were dehydrated so she offered them some watermelon to help quench their thirst, which they ate right away. The cubs stuck around the scene for a while checking out the onlookers before eventually scampering off.

With all three of North America’s bear species, the black bear, the grizzly bear, and the polar bear, threatened by habitat loss and other human-created issues, these two babies are fortunate to have such a lucky escape.

Bears play an important role in the ecosystem, and protecting them is everyone’s responsibility.

Abigail Geer|October 8, 2014

India’s Tiger Protection Squad Ensures No Poaching

“Tyger, tyger, burning bright,” wrote William Blake in his famed poem. And now it appears that thanks to a dedicated team belonging to the Special Tiger Protection Force(STPF), tigers will once again shine bright in the forests of Maharashtra.

The expertise of these trained hands was on display in February at the Ashta village which falls in the buffer zone of the Tadoba- Andhari tiger reserve of the state.A tiger had strayed into the village in the buffer zone of the reserve. This team managed to lure away the tiger from the village without any damage to human lives, while simultaneously managing a crowd of villagers who had gathered out of curiosity as well as fear. This was probably the first time that a tiger venturing into a human inhabited area was spared from being mauled by the crowd.

Since 2012, the STPF has been deployed in two tiger reserves in Maharashtra, one at Tadoba and the other at Pench tiger reserve. Tadoba is believed to be home to about 50 tigers, according to experts.

The tiger population in India was 1706 in the last survey conducted in 2011by the National Tiger Conservation Authority; over half the total tiger population of the world.

Swapnil Ghure, who heads the STPF says, “There has been no poaching incident in Tadoba since the STPF has been inducted. In a conflict situation they are helpful in two ways: to control the mob and ensure safety of wild animals besides monitoring wildlife.”

Instances of poaching are usually more common in summer when tigers approach water bodies and become easy targets for poachers. The summer of 2012; when the STPF was first introduced in Tadoba witnessed three instances of suspected poaching. In 2013, two incidents had evidence of poaching, but was not confirmed. The summer of 2014 showed brighter results with not one occurrence of poaching in Tadoba.

The STPF was formed following guidelines from the government to protect the tigers. Funds were released by the Government as early as 2008 to raise, arm, train and deploy the special tiger protection force in 13 sensitive tiger reserves. Karnataka was the first state to deploy the STPF in 2012. Other states soon followed.

The main duty of the STPF members is to protect the tigers and their cause by taking anti-poaching measures in the park. Controlling mobs of villagers is just one of the other tasks to facilitate the main objective of protecting tigers.

“We patrol the forests; our strength is in our numbers. We can take on a big group that is doing illegal activity inside forests and ensure the safety of wildlife animals from poachers, “said a female officer of the force.

Ramya Naresh|October 12, 2014

Are Cheetahs Dying Because We’re Making Them Walk Too Far?

Cheetahs are marvels at sprinting, but new research says that it’s not the cheetah’s natural predators that are pushing them dangerously close to population collapse, but the fact that mankind’s intrusion into their territories is making the cheetah have to walk father to find its prey.

Previously, scientists had assumed that because hyenas and lions are often seen stealing a cheetah’s prey, they might be one of the main factors responsible for the cheetah’s decline. Yet a new study shows that it might be humans encroaching on cheetah territory that’s really to blame here.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at Queen’s University Belfast, focused on how cheetahs burn their stores of energy and what effect environmental factors might be having on this ability.

Traditionally, it’s been thought that to achieve the impressive speeds cheetahs can reach–up to 120 km/h in short bursts and 93km/h for more sustainable short-term running–there is a heavy cost in terms of the energy the cheetahs use up. Therefore, holding on to every precious calorie would count. Except that’s not what this latest study found.

By studying 19 wild cheetahs from two separate reserves, one in the Kalahari Desert and the other from the wetter Karongwe Private Game Reserve, the researchers found that the cheetahs don’t actually burn much more energy when running than other mammals of their size.

The researchers could tell this by the fact that, prior to following the animals over a two week period, they put tracking collars on the animals and injected the cheetahs with what’s known as heavy water, water that has an abundance of the isotope deuterium and for that reason is traceable. As such, and as well as making behavioral observations, the researchers were able to collect the cheetahs’ feces and figure out how much water, and therefore how much energy, the cheetahs were expending each day.

What the scientists found, however, was that while the cheetahs weren’t expending much more energy during the actual hunting of prey (because they sprint relatively infrequently), they were being forced to walk many, many miles–sometimes cheetahs traveled up to nearly 30.6km a day–and expend relatively large amounts of energy in order to just reach their hunting grounds–and that’s likely due in part to human encroachment where we have either contributed to habitat loss and driven the prey further afield, or have put up barriers that the cheetahs must navigate around, adding many kilometers to their journeys.

Lead researcher Dr Michael Scantlebury from Queen’s School of Biological Sciences is quoted as saying:

“What our study showed was that their major energy costs seem to be incurred by travelling, rather than securing prey. If you can imagine walking up and down sand dunes in high temperatures day in, day out, with no water to drink you start to get a feel for how challenging these cats’ daily lives are, and yet they remain remarkably adapted and resilient. They can even withstand other species, such as lions and hyenas, stealing their prey. The reality may be that human activities – for example erecting fences that inhibit free travel or over-hunting cheetah prey – are forcing cheetahs to travel ever-increasing distances and that this may be compromising their energy more than any other single factor. Our study, which is the result of ten years’ of research, seriously questions previously held assumptions about the factors affecting population viability in large predators threatened by extinction.”

To be sure, this is only a small study but its findings do indicate that we at least need to pause and reassess how we set about preserving cheetahs. Currently, there are between 9,000 to 12,000 cheetahs remaining in Africa (though some reports put that figure as low as 7,500). In the 1900s there were more than 100,000. That shows a staggering decline in a species that, unfortunately, already has a limited gene pool, and now conservationists fear that the cheetah’s numbers have dwindled so low that, without intervention, population collapse may not be far off.

The bright side is that this study shows that some of the ways we can help the cheetahs may be relatively simple. For instance, removing barriers like heavily guarded livestock holdings so that the cheetahs have a more direct route to their prey might be one option–this could also be managed to benefit farmers by keeping their livestock away from more direct routes to prey and therefore out of danger. There’s also the fact that this research may go some way to warding off more extreme interventions, like culling hyena populations in a misspent effort to help the cheetahs.

To be sure though, there is a need to keep gathering data like this because it’s through such studies that we’ll get a true and accurate picture of the cheetah’s habits and needs, and be able to do the most good with our conservation efforts.

Steve Williams|October 7, 2014

When Bees Go Extinct, These 10 Foods Will Follow [INFOGRAPHIC]

Humans often overlook the vitally important role that bees play in our lives. Bees are seen as pests or a nuisances that are too be avoided lest one land on your arm and sting you! But, we rarely consider the bigger picture and recognize that without bees, some of the foods we eat every day would disappear. Every third bite of food we take is made possible thanks to our pollinator friends. That measures out to 90 percent of agricultural crops in the United States, which contributes an average of $19 billion to our economy. So, as you can see – without bees the agricultural system in the U.S. would virtually collapse.

Which is a bit troubling seeming as bee populations have been on a rapid decline since 2006. It is estimated that for the past decade, beekeepers have seen a steady decrease of their bee populations by 30 percent each year. The average beehive can include 60,000 worker bees, so a 30 percent decline would mean a loss of 18,000 bees. When you consider the fact that it takes 1.6 million domesticated bee colonies to pollinate California’s almond crops every year, this massive loss across the nation’s bee colonies should not be taken lightly.

The Bulletin of Insectology definitively named the pesticides (specifically neonicotinoids) which are sprayed on our agricultural crops as the prime cause of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) which has lead to the disappearance of bees. Among the many species we stand to lose due to human activity, the bee is intrinsically linked to our own survival, and it is imperative that we do all we can to protect the bee species.

To illustrate how dire nature of this, here are the top 10 foods we stand to lose, if we lose the bees.

When Bees Go Extinct, These 10 Foods Will Follow

Kate Good|OneGreenPlanet|Earth Monster|October 13, 2014

What You Can Do To Save Bees

The good news is there is still time to save the bees, but it requires fast, pointed action. To learn more about what you can do to save bees and to get started, check out these resources – and share what you’ve learned with all your friends!

Everglades

AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE FLORIDA SENATE AND THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA BOARD OF TRUSTEES

Project Title: Technical Review of Options to Move Water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades

Principal Investigators:

Wendy Graham, Director, UF Water Institute (Project Leader); Karl Havens, Director, Florida Sea Grant College Program; Thomas Frazer, Director, UF School of Natural Resources and Environment; K. Ramesh Reddy, Chair, UF/IFAS Department of Soil and Water Science

Mary Jane Angelo, Director, UF Environmental and Land Use Law Program; Peter Frederick, Research Professor, Wildlife Ecology and Conservation

Project Period: Start Date; Execution; End Date: March 1, 2015

Introduction

The south Florida regional landscape has been engineered to provide flood protection and water supply for (1) a population that has grown to over 8 million residents and that contributes hundreds of billions of dollars annually to the Florida economy; and (2) a large and productive agricultural area south, east, north, and west of Lake Okeechobee. The regional hydrologic system, called the Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) Project, functions well in meeting its primary intended purposes, which were identified when the project was authorized in 1948.

Today it is recognized that this flood control and water delivery system that serves Florida’s human population effectively also has caused considerable adverse impacts to the natural ecosystems of south Florida, including the St. Lucie Estuary, Caloosahatchee Estuary, Lake Okeechobee, and the Florida Everglades.

Such impacts stem from large deviations in the quantity and quality of freshwater delivered to these systems relative to a pre-engineered time period. The main location for surface water storage in the C&SF system is Lake Okeechobee, which was designed with two large canals that now have the capacity to carry large volumes of water to the St. Lucie Estuary and the Caloosahatchee Estuary.

Historically, no water flowed from the lake to the St. Lucie, and only a small amount of (much cleaner) water flowed to the Caloosahatchee. Currently, movement of water to the south is constrained by the capacity of much smaller canals, and by other factors including a need to prevent overtopping of levees in the Water Conservation Areas (a flood risk) and by legal limits for phosphorus loading to the Everglades.

Water in Lake Okeechobee has become highly polluted with phosphorus and other nutrients from agricultural sources north of the lake. In spite of Best Management Practices (BMPs) implemented in the watersheds, high nutrient loads to the lake continue, in large part due to legacy nutrients accumulated in the system.

The result of all of these factors is that when there is excessive rainfall in the northern basin and rapidly rising water levels in the lake, large discharges are made to the two estuaries. Large freshwater discharges reduce the salinity of the estuaries, harming biota that are adapted to higher salinity conditions. They have also been associated with algal blooms fueled by the nutrient-rich water from Lake Okeechobee.

For decades, planning has been underway to develop solutions to these problems, and most notably, this resulted in a program called the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) that is being implemented by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), its local partner the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), and the US Department of Interior (USDOI). Recently, these agencies have been focusing their efforts on a component of CERP, the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), which was designed to expedite restoration in the Central Everglades.

Recently, after a particularly wet season in the region and large regulatory discharges to the estuaries, concerns arose about the timing of completing CERP, especially about the timing of construction and completion of projects that would reduce damaging estuary releases and increase the flow of clean water south to the Everglades. Stakeholders have questioned whether there are more immediate solutions especially to the problem of high discharges of poor quality freshwater to the estuaries. In response to the recommendations of the Florida Senate Select Committee on Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee Basin, the Florida Legislature recently appropriated $232 million of funds to accelerate projects that are intended to take pressure off the estuaries and send clean water to the Everglades. The Florida Senate also recognized the value of an independent review of agency-adopted and other proposed plans to move even more water to the Everglades to:

(1) ensure that existing evaluations of plans by the agencies are technically sound; and

(2) possibly identify innovative, new approaches that have not previously been considered.

Objectives

(1) An interdisciplinary academic review team from the University of Florida Water Institute will review relevant reports and documents and interview scientists and engineers at the lead management agencies. The UF review team will also gather information from other agencies, organizations, and other individuals with expertise on issues related to reducing regulatory discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the estuaries and increasing the flow of water from the lake to the Everglades.

(2) The UF review team will develop a report for the Florida Senate that provides a summary and an independent assessment of this regional water management issue. The final synthesis document will include the following sections:

A Historical Perspective of the Regional System - this section will be a concise overview of the pre-C&SF hydrology and water quality and how and why the C&SF system was constructed. This section of the report will include a discussion of the historic approach to manage water without considering the environmental needs for variation in hydrology, amount of water delivery or nutrient content of the water and nutrient loads.

The Current State of the System - this section will focus on how water is managed now and the current state of water quality in the context of the current legal and institutional environment.

Restoration Plans - this section will include an inventory and assessment of current and proposed restoration plans developed by the state and federal agencies, as well as other plans proposed by stakeholders or identified by the review team. Examples of these plans include, dispersed water storage, Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells, Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs), the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), Plan 6, and River of Grass planning process. Constraints to solving hydrologic, water quality, and habitat issues will be identified as well as potential solutions. Review of plans will include breakdown of legal and institutional constraints that may limit or impact the feasibility of particular plans. Evaluations will be conducted based on readily available information. No new data collection or modeling will be conducted. However, recommendations for additional data collection or modeling to further evaluate new restoration options may result from the analyses.

Future Uncertainties – this section will consider uncertainties regarding rainfall, evapotranspiration, temperature, sea level rise, land use, population demographics, and legal and institutional framework that could affect the outcome of any restoration programs.

Options – this section will identify policy and project options for improving water management and note advantages and disadvantages associated with each option.

The final report will include references to all sources of material used to develop assessments and evaluations.

Approach – The UF review team will meet these objectives by thoroughly reviewing existing documents that have evaluated water storage, water quality, dispersal, and treatment options in the regional ecosystem by holding fact finding meetings to view presentations and ask questions of experts from the SFWMD, USACE, DOI, other agencies, and interested parties, and through closed review team meetings. The review of plans will consider an assessment of whether they meet their stated objectives, whether they may have unintended consequences, and what constraints exist to them achieving their desired outcomes.

The review activities will occur in fall 2014 and early winter 2015, with production of the final report in February 2015.

Support of relevant agencies to provide needed scientific information is critical for this project. The Florida Senate will make special requests of the agencies to support this activity in a timely manner.

National Park Service Prepares To Search Everglades For ‘Lost’ Ancient Settlements

Archeologists are heading to the Everglades this week to look for the remnants of a Native American settlement. The National Park Service is trying to find the location of a settlement discovered back in the late 1960’s and then lost.

For centuries, the Everglades has been home to a wide array of plants and animals, but it has also been home to humans. In the 1968, a dredging operation of Anhinga Slough revealed artifacts like bone tools that may have been used as hunting weapons.  But Margo Schwardon with the National Park Services’ Southeast Archeological Center says both the site, and the artifacts, were eventually lost to time.

“The site didn’t get recorded as we would today,” Schwardon says. “We didn’t have GPS. And we basically just have the ranger’s old field notes that talk about this discovery and we don’t know where the site was, other than what he drew on some sketch maps.”

Everglades officials now preparing to rebuild a bridge that winds through Anhinga Slough, but before any construction gets underway, the National Park Service wants to have a look at the area and see what lies beneath the water. Using the old notes and sketch maps, they’re hoping to find the site where the artifacts were originally found in 1968.

Meanwhile, the Southeast Archeological Center rediscovered the missing artifacts about seven years ago. They now reside at the Center’s Tallahassee location.

Water Quality Issues

H.R. 5078 - Waters of the United States

The bill passed the House Sept. 9th  by a vote of 229-179.

The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 5078, which would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers (COE) from finalizing specified draft regulations and guidance needed to clarify the jurisdictional boundaries of the Clean Water Act (CWA). The agencies’ rulemaking, grounded in science, is essential to ensure clean water for future generations and reduce regulatory uncertainty, and is responsive to calls for rulemaking from Congress, industry, and community stakeholders as well as decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Clean water is vital for the success of the Nation’s businesses, agriculture, energy development, and the health of our communities. More than 115 million Americans get their drinking water from rivers, lakes, and reservoirs that are at risk of pollution from upstream sources. The protection of wetlands is vital for hunting and fishing. When Congress passed the CWA in 1972, to restore the Nation’s waters, it recognized that to have healthy communities downstream, we need to protect the smaller streams and wetlands upstream. Clarifying the scope of the CWA helps to protect clean water, safeguard public health, and strengthen the economy.

H.R. 5078 would derail current efforts to clarify the scope of the CWA, hamstring future regulatory efforts, and create significant ambiguity regarding existing regulations and guidance. It would deny businesses and communities the regulatory certainty needed to invest in projects that rely on clean water. In addition to vitiating the specified draft regulations and already withdrawn guidance, the bill would call into question “any successor document” or “substantially similar” proposed rule or guidance, even if all stakeholders reached consensus. If enacted, H.R. 5078 could also incite further litigation that would only magnify confusion and uncertainty among affected stakeholders.

Furthermore, H.R. 5078 would further delay any action to clarify the scope of the CWA for up to two years by requiring State and local governments to engage in further consultations even though they were engaged and consulted during the development of the proposed rule and they continue to be consulted as the agencies proceed with rulemaking.

In the end, H.R. 5078 would sow more confusion and invite more conflict at a time when our communities and businesses need clarity and certainty around clean water regulation. Simply put, this bill is not an act of good government; rather, it would hinder the ongoing rulemaking process and the agencies’ ability to respond to the public as well as two Supreme Court rulings.

If the President were presented with , his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill.

Oil Industry Wastewater Dumped Into California Aquifers

Documents obtained by the Center reveal that nearly 3 billion gallons of oil industry wastewater have been illegally dumped into Central California aquifers — the same ones that supply drinking water and crop irrigation. The wastewater was injected directly into the aquifers through at least nine injection disposal wells, which are used by the oil industry to get rid of waste contaminated with fracking fluids and other pollutants.

“Clean water is one of California’s most crucial resources, and these documents make it clear that state regulators have utterly failed to protect our water from oil industry pollution,” said the Center’s Hollin Kretzmann.

While much more testing is needed to understand the full threat to the environment and public health, there’s certainly enough evidence for Gov. Jerry Brown to halt fracking and rein in this surge in oil industry wastewater that California clearly isn’t prepared to dispose of safely.

Read more in our press release.

[It wasn’t problem enough to suffer the worst drought in California’s recent history, now someone comes along and contaminates the little water there is left.]

PAST PRESIDENTS URGE IKES TO SUPPORT CLEAN WATER

You have all received previous action alerts from the Izaak Walton League urging you to support the rulemaking effort to restore some of the wetland and stream protections under the Clean Water Act. (Click here for a short “Clean Water” video.)

The protections for upstream wetlands and streams were lost as a result of two Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. The Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers are proposing to restore some of those protections. A short description for this process is that it is simply an effort to clarify for ALL parties which wetlands and streams remain protected, and which need case-by-case evaluation.

Both of us have worked on this subject since the first unfortunate Supreme Court decision. Neither of us are scientific experts, but we are well informed on the specifics of this issue. Please add your voice to those of the over 280 Ikes and friends who have already weighed in.

You know as well as any citizens in the USA today that our wetlands and headwaters play a vital role in our overall natural resource index of wellness. You also know that we’ve lost far too many wetlands, and that the destruction of over 50% of our original wetlands nationally has hurt us financially with flooding, soil losses, and degraded surface and groundwater resources.

You also know the price we continue to pay in the loss of biodiversity and sustainability; amenities that feed our souls and enrich us while we are here.

The proposed rulemaking process does not attempt to restore all the protections our wetlands had prior to the Supreme Court decisions. From 1974-2001, while the more protective regulations were in force, we farmed, we managed our forests, we met our construction needs, we planned and built our communities. During that period (1974-2001) our economy was generally strong, and our employment robust.

Some groups appear to have forgotten these facts, as well as their responsibility to be factual. A campaign has been launched that vilifies EPA, screams out in language that portrays this as the biggest government land grab in history and that it would prevent routine farming practices. Talk about emotional, and unsubstantiated, hysteria. Yet this campaign of fear and misinformation unfortunately seems to be working. The wetlands destroyers just succeeded in passing a bill against this rule in the U.S House.

Ikes like farmers! Many of us are connected to families with farm histories. For decades, Ikes have recognized the need to support taxpayer participation in the cost of private land conservation. Many Ikes work in construction and in diverse ways in our communities. All of us understand the need to recognize the rights of property owners and individuals AND the rights of the broad community. Since our country was founded, we’ve debated and we’ve balanced these rights. Balancing and discussing these diverse needs contributes to what makes us a great nation.

That is what this issue is all about; framing a modest set of regulations and allowing the exemptions that originated with the Clean Water Act, until the Supreme Court decisions threw the process into confusion and exposed millions of acres of our remaining wetlands and nearly 60% of our nation’s streams to destruction.

It is time to call a halt to allowing us to be out-worked by a national campaign of misinformation and outright lies! Let us stand up, work together, and let our government and our political partners know that we want our water protected. Commerce is integral to a strong economy, but without vital natural resources, commerce is lessoned. Clean water is vital to life itself. Remember, less than one-half of one percent of all the water in the world is available for human consumption, and today there are over 7 billion of us on this planet that must share that small percentage.

Can we count on you to send in a comment to the EPA supporting this clean water rule? And please, let your elected representatives know you care and ask your neighbors to help out as well.

Please note, the comment period to the EPA has been extended through November 14. Sample comments are under the yellow button below, but you are also able to edit and/or write your own, as well.

Jim Madsen|Dave Zentner|Past Ike Presidents

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

A Restored Kissimmee River in Sight

Also, a new fact sheet from Audubon explains the danger of too many nutrients in the Lake Okeechobee Ecosystem.

The remarkable Kissimmee River Restoration Project is approaching completion after decades of construction. Agencies are preparing to operate the finished project in the coming years.

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is moving forward with a rule to protect water for the restoration project. The rule, known as a water reservation, is a tool under Florida law to protect water for fish and wildlife or public health and safety. Once the rule is developed, it will legally protect the quantity and timing of water flowing into the Kissimmee River, Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, and floodplain for the natural system 

At a public SFWMD meeting last week, Audubon advocates and environmental partners told water managers that water for Kissimmee Restoration must be fully protected. Water for our ecosystem cannot be siphoned away to utilities and other thirsty water users in the Central Florida area. Click here for more information about this meeting.

Once complete, Kissimmee River Restoration Project will be the largest functioning restoration project of its kind in the world. The project restores 40 miles of the river and floodplain and almost 25,000 acres of wetlands. The benefits of the project are already unmistakable, and it isn’t even fully operating yet.

Earlier this month, Audubon’s Everglades Conservation Team joined our environmental partners in the Everglades Coalition on a trip to see the Kissimmee River Restoration project first hand. The group saw Swallow-tailed Kites, Everglade Snail Kites, Limpkins, Crested Caracas, and much more!

Click here to read more about this trip.

Excessive Nutrients Threaten Health of Lake Okeechobee Ecosystem

Just a little south of the Kissimmee River, Lake Okeechobee is in need of help. Pollution continues to enter the Lake at alarming rates from fertilizer, stormwater, and wastewater in the Okeechobee watershed. Audubon has produced a new fact sheet that explains why high phosphorus is a problem for our treasured lake and gives a vision to fix it. Click here to download.

What happens to a river when a dam is removed?

A study of the removal of two dams in Oregon suggests that rivers can return surprisingly fast to a condition close to their natural state, both physically and biologically, and that the biological recovery might outpace the physical recovery.

The analysis, published by researchers from Oregon State University in the journal PLOS One, examined portions of two rivers – the Calapooia River and Rogue River. It illustrated how rapidly rivers can recover, both from the long-term impact of the dam and from the short-term impact of releasing stored sediment when the dam is removed.

Most dams have decades of accumulated sediment behind them, and a primary concern has been whether the sudden release of all that sediment could cause significant damage to river ecology or infrastructure.

However, this study concluded that the continued presence of a dam on the river constituted more of a sustained and significant alteration of river status than did the sediment pulse caused by dam removal.

“The processes of ecological and physical recovery of river systems following dam removal are important, because thousands of dams are being removed all over the world,” said Desirée Tullos, an associate professor in the OSU Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering.

“Dams are a significant element in our nation’s aging infrastructure,” she said. “In many cases, the dams haven’t been adequately maintained and they are literally falling apart. Depending on the benefits provided by the dam, it’s often cheaper to remove them than to repair them.”

Oregon State University|October 9, 2014

Read more at University of Oregon.

Moving forward for a healthy Flint River

 When Georgia’s Flint River appeared on our America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2013 list, American Rivers and our allies were in the middle of a legislative battle that spanned two full sessions of the Georgia General Assembly. It was a long, hard fight, but in the end, Flint Riverkeeper and many Georgia Water Coalition partners including American Rivers were successful in bringing about major improvements to a bad piece of legislation, the Flint River Drought Protection Act. A vastly improved bill (though not an entirely necessary piece of legislation) passed the Georgia House and Senate in March of this year.

That said, there is plenty of work still to do to set the Flint on a path toward recovery. The Most Endangered listing called attention to the over-allocation of the Flint’s waters—a fundamental problem that the Drought Protection Act doesn’t really address. But as soon as another dry year arrives, it will become even clearer that a long-term solution needs to be found.

Thankfully, this year has been relatively normal on the rainfall gauge so far. But now that it’s midsummer, the river is dropping. In the upper Flint, this means that very soon, the river will be too low to be worth paddling. In the past, this point typically arrived closer to autumn, but due to the damage the river system has suffered, it now arrives earlier in the year—even in a year with normal rainfall.

And that’s just one of many storylines we highlighted in our Running Dry report on the upper Flint River, which came out last year. What we’ve seen since then is that the Running Dry report has very effectively changed the conversation. It’s begun to focus decision-makers’ attention on the low-flow problems plaguing the upper Flint. We’re hard at work right now on taking the next steps, mapping out ways to begin restoring healthy flows in the river in collaboration with the water suppliers in the basin and a wide array of other partners.

It’s our hope that State of Georgia officials will see the need for a holistic, basin-wide, science-based approach to restoring flows in the Flint. We’ve got to manage the waters of the Flint River basin sustainably, and keep all of the many people who depend on the Flint in mind, for today and future generations.

Ben Emanuel|July 8th, 2014

River restoration bids come in over budget; timelines have changed, but projects will be completed

Bids for three of five shoreline restoration projects along the St. Clair River are over budget, changing the timeline for completion of the projects.

“The whole reason for the projects is the removal of beneficial-use impairment for fish and wildlife habitats,” said Melanie Foose, area of concern coordinator with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

“Whether those projects are done this fall or this spring, we’re still looking at getting those projects finished.”

Bids for habitat restoration projects at Cuttle Creek in Marysville and the Marine City dredge cut in Algonac were over budget, but officials hope construction on the projects still will move forward this fall.

Bids for a habitat restoration project encompassing four miles of Crispin Drain on Harsens Island were almost $2.5 million over budget. Construction likely won’t start this fall.

“The EPA and the DEQ decided to go ahead with Marine City dredge cut and Cut­tle Creek drain and they’re going to seek more funding and, hopefully, do Crispin Drain at a later date,” Clay Township Supervisor Artie Bryson said The three drain projects, and shoreline restoration projects in Port Huron and Cottrellville Township, are being funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The projects are being spearheaded by the EPA and DEQ to restore fish and wildlife habitat and remove the St. Clair River as an area of concern. The St. Clair River was listed as an area of concern in the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada.
The five projects will include dredging, construction of habitat, removal of impediments to habitat and planting natural vegetation.

Bryson said the Crispin Drain project was expected to cost $850,000, and the lowest bid was about $3.4 million.

Bryson said he expects contractors anticipated delays since construction season was scheduled to run concurrent with duck hunting season. He’s hopeful future construction could take place during the summer.

Marysville City Manager Randy Fernandez said the Cuttle Creek habitat restoration received a grant of a little more than $1.4 million, but the lowest bid was slightly more than $2.3 million. “We’re potentially underfunded by around $900,000,” Fernandez said. “This week, we have been in contact with the DEQ, who has in turn been in contact with the EPA, to see what the next steps would be. … We’re still very positive that the project will be up and going before the end of the year, hopefully in November at the latest.”

Fernandez said the delay in construction could push the finish date into the late spring. He said the city is working with the DEQ to avoid any conflicts with golfers, because the creek runs through the city golf course.
“Given that we’re dealing with a golf course, we need the majority of this work to be done on or before April 1,” Fernandez said.

St. Clair County Drain Commissioner Bob Wiley said the estimated cost for work on the Marine City dredge cut — which runs from the St. Clair River in Algonac inland and north to Cottrellville Township — was about $800,000.

Wiley said the lowest bid was just under $1 million.

Wiley said small changes to the planned restoration and some extra EPA funding will make up the difference between the estimated and actual cost.

He expects to sign an agreement with contractors and start work within about three weeks.

“What this project’s going to do, it’s going to basically stabilize the outlet of the drain in the river,” Wiley said. He said crews also will remove phragmites and restore fish habitat.

Wiley said crews will continue to work on the project while weather permits and finish what’s left in the spring. Rose Ellison, an EPA environmental scientist, said crews have started to prepare shoreline stretches in Port Huron and Cottrellville Township.

The $320,000 project just north of the Municipal Office Building in Port Huron will include the removal of invasive species and the addition of rocks and logs in the water to create fish habitat.

Ellison said crews will plant native plants and develop a more natural shoreline. “There’s a little shallow shelf there, which is not very common in the upper part of the river,” Ellison said. “It’s been eroded, and the shoreline is steep.” Ellison said the work at Cottrellville Township Park between Marine City and Algonac also is underway. The cost of the project is about $2.5 million. “They’re getting ready to start placing stone in the water,” Ellison said.

She said the submerged rocks will create fish habitat. She said crews also will remove some metal docks and sea wall, replacing those with a softened, more natural shoreline.
She said submergent and emergent native vegetation will be planted.

Beth LeBlanc|Times Herald

Offshore & Ocean

Satellite Imaging Helps Us See the Ocean Floor

Our oceans remain largely a mystery to us, even though 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. Roughly 95% of the ocean is unmapped, and we still have a great deal to learn about all of the wildlife that lies beneath the waves.

Case in point: The massive tube worms discovered deep underwater in an area where scientists previously believed life was impossible. The creatures didn’t seem to get that memo, as they were in fact thriving…and they were found only 25 years ago, illustrating how much we don’t know about what’s hiding in the ocean’s depths.

No wonder, because exploring the depths of the ocean is extremely challenging. Humans can’t breathe underwater, and there’s only so far we can dive. In the pitch-black environment beneath the sea, pressure is extreme. The amount of time people can spend below the surface, even in pressurized submarines, is limited, and their health must be monitored carefully.

Consequently, much of the research done on the ocean occurs not through direct observation, but instead through the use of technology like remotely operated vehicles, cameras, radar, sonar, and now, satellites.

Satellites, it turns out, are changing the game when it comes to deep-sea mapping, which has long been a goal of researchers, yet something that’s remained stubbornly out of reach. Historically, it’s been accomplished by trolling ships back and forth, a slow, painstaking process that still leaves huge swaths of the ocean floor unmapped because it’s just not feasible to get the coverage needed to get detailed specifications of the entire ocean floor.

Satellites, however, can take in a much broader picture, and thanks to multiple passes over the Earth, their imagery can be refined and sharpened to remove artifacts and create a crisp, clear, fascinating, and, it turns out, revolutionary image of what lies beneath.

The equipment used by researchers measures very fine variations in the Earth’s gravitational field, which yields information about the structure of the Earth’s crust even when it’s buried under silt (as is the case for the ocean floor). Instead of measuring what’s happening beneath, they actually look at sea surface topography; the bumps and troughs created by gravitational pull from features far below. While these changes might not be apparent to the naked eye, they can be read by scientific equipment, revealing seamounts, long-dead volcanoes, deep rifts and areas of seafloor spreading.

To the astonishment of researchers compiling these data, gravity surveying has revealed some fascinating information about seafloor spreading, with thousands of extinct volcanoes distributed across the ocean floor. Even the Gulf, thought to be a well-understood region thanks to regular ship traffic and monitors, is actually revealing new secrets. These maps provide a wealth of new information about the structure of the ocean floor and, by extension, the history of the Earth, as much is written beneath the waves; like the history of when and how continents started pulling apart.

You won’t find Atlantis (or any missing aircraft) on these maps, but they do provide incredibly valuable insight for scientists in a variety of fields including oceanography, geology and paleontology. Another field is very interested in gravity mapping, as well: The oil and gas industry, which is highly dedicated to finding new areas of the ocean to explore in search for oil and gas deposits. Even as gravity mapping tells us more about the ocean, it could also put the ocean in danger by highlighting new areas of the world’s oceans to exploit.

s.e. smith|October 10, 2014

While Ocean Warms, NASA Study Reveals Deep Sea Hasn’t

The cold waters of Earth’s deep ocean have not warmed measurably since 2005, according to a new NASA study, leaving unsolved the mystery of why global warming appears to have slowed in recent years.


Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, analyzed satellite and direct ocean temperature data from 2005 to 2013 and found the ocean abyss below 1.24 miles (1,995 meters) has not warmed measurably. Study coauthor Josh Willis of JPL said these findings do not throw suspicion on climate change itself.

“The sea level is still rising,” Willis noted. “We’re just trying to understand the nitty-gritty details.”

In the 21st century, greenhouse gases have continued to accumulate in the atmosphere, just as they did in the 20th century, but global average surface air temperatures have stopped rising in tandem with the gases. The temperature of the top half of the world’s ocean — above the 1.24-mile mark — is still climbing, but not fast enough to account for the stalled air temperatures.

Many processes on land, air and sea have been invoked to explain what is happening to the “missing” heat. One of the most prominent ideas is that the bottom half of the ocean is taking up the slack, but supporting evidence is slim. This latest study is the first to test the idea using satellite observations, as well as direct temperature measurements of the upper ocean. Scientists have been taking the temperature of the top half of the ocean directly since 2005, using a network of 3,000 floating temperature probes called the Argo array.

“The deep parts of the ocean are harder to measure,” said JPL’s William Llovel, lead author of the study, published Sunday, Oct. 5 in the journal Nature Climate Change. “The combination of satellite and direct temperature data gives us a glimpse of how much sea level rise is due to deep warming. The answer is — not much.”

The study took advantage of the fact that water expands as it gets warmer. The sea level is rising because of this expansion and water added by glacier and ice sheet melt.

Carol Rasmussen|NASA Earth Science News Team|October 6, 2014

Continue reading at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Keep Florida’s Shorelines Beautiful and Safe for All

Each October, volunteer boat captains and their crews coordinated by Audubon’s Florida’s Coastal Island Sanctuaries, Tampa Bay Watch, and Sarasota Bay Watch visit bird nesting islands and foraging habitats in west central Florida’s estuaries, lakes, and rivers to remove fishing line and other trash that pose an entanglement threat to birds and other wildlife.

A Saturday in October with a high tide is chosen because this is the only time of the year when almost no birds are nesting on the bird colony sites in this region of Florida.  That means that volunteers can remove the deadly line, balloon ribbon, lures, and other fishing gear snagged in mangrove trees and saltmarsh habitats without endangering chicks or eggs in the nest or frightening fledgling birds.  The higher tides allow boat captains to safely approach islands surrounded by shallow water, seagrass and mudflats, and oyster beds.

Fishing line is hard to spot, entangled in the mangroves or washed up on marsh and beach shorelines, but it is a clear hazard to wading birds.  Nesting pelicans and wading birds sometimes even deliberately collect it, mistaking it for the softer grass materials that they use to line their nests.  Once a leg or wing is entangled in the line, it becomes a remorseless killer.  A single long line stretching across a bird island can persist for years, entangling many birds.

Audubon and Tampa Bay Watch began the fishing line cleanup in 1993 after a sobering survey at Passage Key National Wildlife Refuge at the mouth of Tampa Bay, where staff found over 50 dead birds snared in line. Sarasota Bay Watch, a newly formed group, has been a fishing line cleanup partner with Audubon for six years.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists report that entanglement in fishing gear is the primary cause of mortality of Brown Pelicans, killing adults as well as young, inexperienced birds.  Of course, other birds and wildlife as dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, and otters also fall prey to this insidious, invisible killer.

Pre-registration ensures that captains and their crews have permission for this once-a-year event from landowners and managers to otherwise restricted bird nesting sites.  Audubon and the Bay Watch groups have coordinated this activity with park, refuge, and wildlife area managers and receive their full support and participation.

An important component of the fishing line cleanup has been the outreach to fishermen.  Newspaper and other media coverage have helped spread awareness of the need for fishermen to properly dispose of line and other fishing gear.

Audubon Florida Newsletter

Wildlife and Habitat

5 Facts You Didn’t Know About Sea Otters

We’re excited to put the spotlight on these amazingly cute and intelligent superstars of the marine world! Here are 5 exciting facts you otter know about sea otters!

1. Sea otters are social animals and a group of them is called a raft. To humans, rafting is a sport or a leisurely weekend activity, but to otters rafting is a way of life! If you see one otter, there’s a good chance that many more are swimming nearby. Sea otters prefer to swim in same-sex groups called rafts. These groups can range from just ten otters to larger groups of hundreds or thousands. Something cute to note is that rafting sea otters can often be seen holding each others’ paws to prevent themselves from floating apart while sleeping.

2. Baby sea otters are absolutely adorable, but it’s hard work being a sea otter mom.

Can you imagine being a new mother and having to swim through waves with an infant sleeping on your stomach? Sea otter moms do it all the time.

Born in the water with only the ability to float, sea otter pups cannot swim until they reach 2 months old and shed their newborn fur coat (lanugo).  During this time frame, the female otter serves as her baby’s crib, ferry, groomer, and feeder

At 2 months old, an otter pup will learn to swim and dive on its own, but life doesn’t get any easier for mom until the pup is weaned after 6 months of age. This is due mainly to the fact that sea otters do not have blubber to keep them warm. In order to regulate temperature, an adult otter must eat approximately 25% of their body weight each day and that doesn’t even include the additional amounts mothers need to eat to nurse their babies.

According to a June 2014 research study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, a female sea otter requires 14 hours of hunting per day to gain enough energy and nutrition to care for a 6 month old pup. Unfortunately, this means that otter mothers are more suceptible to health issues and mortality by the time the pup can be weaned. Some otters will abandon their babies to ensure their own survival, particularly when faced with food limitations within an area.

Since sea otters normally give birth to one pup every year, an otter mom’s job really is never done!

3. Sea Otters are one of the few mammals on earth that use tools to hunt and eat. Most of us will admire sea otters for their cute looks and silly antics, but they’re also a smart species. They belong to a small club of mammals that use tools to hunt and eat. Since shellfish like clams and crab make up a large portion of their diet, sea otters have to find clever ways to crack their shells open. This is usually done by finding a rock, placing it on their stomach, and then hammering the shellfish into the rock until it yields the meat within.

Even cooler is the fact that sea otters have their own convenient hiding places for their favorite rocks. Each of their forelegs has a pocket of skin which can be used to safely store the otter’s tool of choice and their freshly caught prey while diving to and from the surface.

4. Sea otters are marine super heroes! If the image that pops into your brain of is that of furry caped crusaders swimming around and battling crime at sea, this may seem like an exaggeration. However, sea otters do play a crucial role in the marine ecosystem. Sea otters are considered a keystone species in their environment because they prevent small yet destructive species like sea urchins from overgrazing on kelp. Sea urchins naturally have voracious appetites and can rapidly destroy kelp forests when their populations grow too large.

But why is kelp so important? Thousands of species rely on kelp forests for food and shelter including fish, birds, shellfish, and other animals. It also helps to absorb from powerful waves resulting from storms that can cause damage to the coastlines. That’s why sea otters are important.They’re protectors of the kelp and keepers of the peace and balance in the marine world.

5. California’s southern sea otters are a threatened species protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Hunted nearly to extinction in the 19th century fur trade, southern sea otter populations are on a long road to recovery, aided by organizations and individuals dedicated to species conservation. In 1977, the Endangered Species Act listed sea otters as “threatened” and granted them protection under federal law, but population growth is slow due to both natural and human made threats such as water pollution, predators, food limitations, and illness.

The US Geological Survey released their annual sea otter census report on September 22, 2014 which revealed that the average population size of wild southern sea otters currently lies at 2,944. Compared to last year, the growth is deemed negligible but it does show continued stability. Once population averages surpass 3,090 for three consecutive years, sea otters will be under consideration for removal from the threatened species list, marking a great milestone in the species’ recovery.

To find more information about what you can do to help protect sea otter populations and improve the nearshore ecosystem, visit our partners at www.seaotters.com. Be sure to also follow them on Facebook to see how they’re celebrating Sea Otter Awareness Week with the live cam, giveaways, contests, events and more.

Milaena Hamilton|Animal Planet|October 15, 2014

Forestry

Olives Growing in Popularity as Disease Plagues Citrus

When Vicki Hughes gets a call from a Florida farmer interested in olives she knows what he’s facing in his orchards.

“I meet a lot of Florida citrus growers and they are all just sick of dealing with greening,” said Hughes, who has served at the director of the Georgia Olive Growers Association for the past two years. “They are ready to do something different, and they are set up for trees already. It is a natural thing for them to consider shifting from one kind of tree to another kind of tree.”

In two weeks, olive growers from around the Southeast will converge on Lakeland, Georgia, the epicenter for a growing industry that got its start only a few years ago.

Many of the people who come to the conference may be from Florida, where growers for years have fought canker and now citrus greening, a disease that is impossible to prevent, causes deformed fruit and eventually kills trees.

“If we were unable to grow citrus then olives could be a good alternative for us, especially here in North Florida,” Florida Extension agent Trevor Hylton recently told folks in his two north Florida counties, Leon and Wakulla. “Olive is a very ancient crop; it was mentioned in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible 30 times. If it can survive that long, it must be a very resilient plant.”

Farmers have been eager to learn more about olive-growing since Georgia Olive Farms started growing the fruit five years ago. The Shaw family that owns the operation has accommodated them – sharing the knowledge they’ve gathered since 2009. So many people want a consultant to help them start an olive operation, the Shaws ask Hughes to help answer questions and show people around the operation.

“We’re trying to be as helpful as we can be,” said Jason Shaw.  “We have people out here (at the farm) all the time.

“We are farmers, we are trying to farm and make a living, but we also are doing everything we can to grow the industry.”

This year, the olive growers moved the convention to fall, when visitors could see the process of milling olives into oil. (The fruit goes from the field to the mill in a single day most of the time for freshness’ sake.)

The group also is working with researchers at the University of Georgia to help advise new growers and to hone the profile and standards of Georgia-grown olive oil.

In coming years, the olive growers association hopes to have a lab certified to analyze oil for grading and sell.

“We aren’t just trying to benefit Georgia growers. This would benefit growers all over the U.S.,” said Hughes. “We want the first lab to be in Georgia, of course, but it won’t be the last one.” 

To find out more about the September 25 conference in Lakeland, Georgia, which is $75 for members and $150 for nonmembers, go to www.georgiaolivegrowers.com

Allison Floyd|September 12th, 2014

Global Warming and Climate Change

Poland will buy in to climate change plan IF it gets aid

Poland says it will need cash and help in curbing its emissions if it is to sign up for a new decade of EU green energy policy at talks this month, according to a document seen by Reuters.

The document shows the 28 EU member states are broadly ready to agree a new set of 2030 goals to follow on from 2020 energy and environment policy, although Europe’s biggest power Germany says it will not agree a deal “at any price”.

Poland has always been the most reluctant of EU member states to sign up for ambitious climate policy before the rest of the world.

It argues that EU emissions account for only a small part of the world’s pollution, and that Poland needs help in moving away from its heavy dependency on coal, the most carbon-intensive of the fossil fuels.

The briefing document, drawn up by EU officials ahead of a summit of EU leaders on 23-24 October, says Poland is not convinced about the need for a deal now, but “is working in the spirit of not blocking an agreement”.

Members of the current European Commission, meant to step down at the end of this month making way for a new set of officials, say the EU must decide now on its negotiating position ahead of U.N. talks on a global pact on tackling climate change to be hosted by Paris next year.

The executive EU Commission outlined in January its vision for 2030 goals, including a 40% cut in carbon emissions compared with 1990 levels, an improvement in energy efficiency to 30% versus business as usual and a target to get 27% of energy used from renewable sources.

EurActiv|October 10, 2014

Read more at EurAcitv.

Fish Forced Poleward

Large numbers of fish will disappear from the tropics by 2050, finds a new University of British Columbia study that examined the impact of climate change on fish stocks. The study identified ocean hotspots for local fish extinction but also found that changing temperatures will drive more fish into the Arctic and Antarctic waters.


Using the same climate change scenarios as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, researchers projected a large-scale shift of marine fish and invertebrates. In the worst-case scenario, where the Earth’s oceans warm by three degrees Celsius by 2100, fish could move away from their current habitats at a rate of 26 kilometers per decade. Under the best-case scenario, where the Earth warms by one degree Celsius, fish would move 15 kilometers every decade. This is consistent with changes in the last few decades.

“The tropics will be the overall losers,” says William Cheung, associate professor at the UBC Fisheries Centre and co-author of this study, published today in ICES Journal of Marine Science. “This area has a high dependence on fish for food, diet and nutrition. We’ll see a loss of fish populations that are important to the fisheries and communities in these regions.”

Cheung and his colleague used modeling to predict how 802 commercially important species of fish and invertebrates react to warming water temperatures, other changing ocean properties, and new habitats opening up at the poles.

“As fish move to cooler waters, this generates new opportunities for fisheries in the Arctic,” says Miranda Jones, a UBC Nereus Fellow and lead author of this study. “On the other hand it means it could disrupt the species that live there now and increase competition for resources.”

This study follows previous research that looked at change in fisheries catch in relation to ocean warming since 1970.

The University of British Columbia|October 10, 2014

See more at The University of British Columbia.

Twenty Things You Can Do To Address The Climate Crisis!

Getting your mind around climate change is hard. Confronting it requires us to deal with the ways that coal, oil, and gas have shaped nearly every aspect of our world, from our built environments to our economic systems — even our ideologies and patterns of thought. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t concrete actions each of us can take, right now. Here are 20 examples of things YOU can do (some details are US-specific).

1. Reorganize the mode of production so that surplus and capital is distributed equally throughout society, and workers have decision-making power over their labor.

2. Find out about fossil fuel projects being built or proposed in your neighborhood (most of which can be found in the records of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or the Environmental Protection Agency) and mobilize your community against them. Read these excellent resources on how to start organizing your community and spread them far and wide.

3. Understand that while climate change affects us all, there are specific populations who are more vulnerable than others — these are low-income communities, communities of color, coastal communities and communities on the frontlines of fossil fuel extraction. Find a frontline organization near you and offer to support their work. Ask them what kind of help they need and take direction from them.

4. Lay off the policeman, the commodities trader, the real estate agent and the speculator in your head.

5. Read about what the crisis could potentially look like — go HERE or HERE or HERE or HERE or HERE — and think about what this could mean for you personally, or for people and places you love.

6. After you’ve read about the crisis, let yourself feel grief. Don’t ignore your feelings, either through resignation or through forced optimism. Feel what you feel.

7. Talk about your feelings with your family and friends. Talk about what matters to you, about what the climate crisis threatens in your life. And when they are ready, talk with them about taking action. You will learn things that you didn’t know about your loved ones, and you will discover allies in unexpected places.

8. Find out if your local politicians have ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Call out any politician that participates in or is a member of groups designed to give corporations the power to write the law.

9. Become an active voice in your community, writing letters to the editor in local papers and building an internet presence to spread information.

10. Do not fall into the trap of feeling contempt for your fellow human. These feelings are guaranteed to undercut your work. If you encounter resistance, consider carefully where that resistance comes from. Radical empathy is not only good for the soul, it will actually make you a more effective activist.

11. Look in the mirror. Do you see someone with job security? Someone who is in a position of privilege within your society? Think about how you can use this privilege to destroy the systems that created it — for instance, you may have less to lose than others by getting arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience.

12. Stay awake — there are all kinds of great resources for staying up-to-date about the climate crisis, and the more you know, the better you will be able to understand this moment.

13. Build resilience — support spaces that are growing food, going off-the-grid, or supplanting the capitalist state in providing for our basic human needs. If you are able to do so, consider building these spaces yourself.

14. Don’t blame the poor — don’t blame the worker whose industry job is the only job he could get, don’t blame the woman who buys carbon-intensive food for her family because that’s all that her budget and her neighborhood has to offer, don’t blame the big family in the developing world that doesn’t have access to family planning. The poor are not the problem. If you need to blame anyone, blame the ruling class that controls the options available to poor people in the US and around the world, and whose policies, consumption habits and ideology are far, far more responsible for the crisis.

15. Again — don’t blame the poor. Seriously.

16. Walk by yourself at night under the dark sky. Recognize that you only have one life, that you have more power than you realize, and that there is a grace and a joy that comes from using that power for something bigger than yourself.

17. Recognize that the climate crisis is complicated — no one person is going to solve it by themselves, and any “list” that suggests as much is probably lying, or at the very least advancing an individual-based value system that sounds suspiciously like advertising.

18. Go ahead and make changes to your consumption habits. But also remember that no slave was ever freed by individuals choosing to purchase products that are free from slave labor.

19. Truly addressing the crisis will require building people power on a scale that the world has never seen before.

20. Build that power. I wish you so much more than luck.

Patrick Robbins|thischangeseverything.org|October 7th, 2014

Audubon’s Climate Initiative Launches with a Bang

By any yardstick, the response to Audubon’s climate change and birds report was a resounding success. More than 1,170 news stories, editorials, letters to the editor and op-eds were published in papers around the country—and the world.

We got our share of tweets and Facebook posts, with more than 30,000 earned social media mentions from thousands of individuals and organizations. And here’s a big number: we generated more than two billion earned media impressions (impressions are “opportunities to see” the message) through print, TV and radio, web, and other social media outlets.

As the implications of Audubon’s science sinks in, it leads people to the right question: what can we do to protect birds from a warming world?

One of the ways Audubon tried to help answer that question was through a Telephone Town Hall that drew 7300 participants. The passion and enthusiasm for solutions from the callers was evident during the hour-long session. Everything from planting bird-friendly native plants, to the importance of the EPA rule to reduce carbon pollution, to local partnerships with faith and other groups, to specific species and their response to global warming were part of the discussion.

As Audubon launches a campaign to “spread the word,” chapters are answering the call. Armed with a PowerPoint, fact sheets, a short DVD, and other tools, chapter leaders are taking the message to their chapters as well as to their larger community. State directors and other staff can’t keep up with demands to visit chapters to discuss the report. And Audubon continues a series of meetings to inform state and federal agency partners, along with Members of Congress and their staff.

Support is coming from many quarters. Audubon received a Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award for the study. The honorees will be recognized in the November issue of Popular Mechanics, available on newsstands October 14, and were also celebrated at an awards ceremony in New York City.

Looking at global warming through the lens of birds and how they will fare as climate patterns shift is bringing a new way of talking about a heretofore tricky subject and a new focus to the backyards across America.

Audubon Advisory|October, 2014

The Planet Just Had Its Warmest September On Record, Continuing Hot Streak

This past September was the warmest since records began in 1880, according to new data released by NASA this weekend. The announcement continues a trend of record or near-record breaking months, including May and August of this year.

The newly released data could make it very likely that 2014 will become the warmest year on record.

sept 2014
September temperature anomalies (in degrees Celsius) compared to the 1951-1980 average. (PHOTO: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies)

Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist and climate modeler at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told The Huffington Post last month that although these temperature records are significant, they are just one piece of the data that “point[s] towards the long-term trends” of warming. He cautioned against focusing too intently on any one month or year, but rather the broader scope of human-caused climate change.

Obama Calls For More Ambitious Approach To Climate Change In U.N. Speech Video

In a speech at the U.N. Climate Summit, President Obama called for a more ambitious global approach to environmental issues, and noted a new push to boost what the White House calls “global resilience” in the face of climate change.

We embedded video of the president’s speech here and posted updates below.

Closing his remarks, Obama repeatedly uses the words “ambitious” and “ambition,” calling for the world’s largest economies to move past fears that new climate rules could hamper business.

“We have to raise our collective ambition,” the president says of the need to meet a global challenge. He later adds that the world’s children deserve that kind of ambition.

Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., Obama says, “There is such a thing as being too late.”

After listing achievements toward minimizing climate impact by the U.S., Obama says, “But we have to do more.”

He then touches on some of the initiatives and plans that were included in a lengthy White House message that went out just before noon today.

The president acknowledges that America bears some responsibility for climate change, saying, “We recognize our role in creating this problem; we embrace our responsibility to combat it. We will do our part.”

But he also says countries that are struggling to build their own industries can’t repeat the mistakes others have made in what he calls the “dirty phase” of development. He also notes partnerships with China and with African nations.

Saying that the effort to fight climate change can only succeed if both developed and developing nations join with the U.S., Obama says, “Nobody gets a pass.”

He later adds, “Nobody can sit on the sidelines on this issue.”

Saying that no city and no nation are immune from the effects of climate change, President Obama lists areas that have been hit by severe weather and climate conditions. He notes the tidal flooding that often hits parts of Miami, the forest fires that now ravage the Western U.S. for much of the year, and the flooding that hit New York City itself along with Hurricane Sandy.

“So the climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it,” he says.

Our original post continues:

As NPR’s Christopher Joyce reported for All Things Considered on Monday, climate activists are looking for solutions from business as much as they are from politicians.


Noting recent problems in adopting sweeping new agreements on a global approach, Chris said that this climate summit “is different: binding agreements are not on the table. Instead, it’s a pep rally to get world leaders to volunteer something to limit warming.”

The goal of the meeting, he reported, was to boost the chance that at next year’s big climate meeting in Paris, progress toward a new treaty can be made.

The White House says that to help local officials deal with the impact of catastrophic events such as droughts, floods, coastal storm surges, and public health problems, the U.S. will release data gathered by NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey and other agencies.

“These datasets are being made available via a user-friendly interface on USGS’s Earth Explorer website,” the White House says.

The president will also note a series of agreements the U.S. has entered into as part of the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, as initiatives being undertaken by governments and businesses in areas ranging from methane gas mitigation to palm oil and from hydrofluorocarbons to forest preservation.

Bill Chappell|September 23, 2014

Studies Confirm Humans Play Significant Role in Altering Climate

Two separate studies have confirmed the extent of human influence on climate change—and, for once, carbon dioxide is not the usual suspect.

“This study has shown for the first time that the drying of the monsoon over the past 50 years cannot be explained by natural climate variability, and that human activity has played a significant role in altering the seasonal monsoon rainfall on which billions of people depend,” Dr Polson said.

One team has just found that air pollution dimmed the skies of northern Europe, reflected sunlight back into space, reduced evaporation, and increased river flow.

The second group reports that similar aerosol pollution had a quite different effect on the Asian monsoons: in the second half of the 20th century, the darkening skies reduced temperatures and cut the summer monsoon rainfall by 10 percent.

The two seemingly contradictory findings underscore two clear conclusions. One is that climate science is complex. The other is that human activity clearly influences the climate in different ways.

Both studies are concerned with an era when there was, worldwide, more concern about choking smog, sulphuric aerosol discharges and acid rain than about man-made global warming. They also both match complex computer simulation with observed changes in climate during the second half of the 20th century

Nicola Gedney, a senior scientist at the UK’s Meteorological Office, and colleagues report in Nature Geoscience that she and colleagues looked at the growth in aerosol pollution, especially in the Oder river catchment area of central-eastern Europe, that followed the increased burning of sulphurous coal in Europe right up till the late 1970s.

The consequence of that burning was a reduction in sunlight over the hemisphere. But this began to reverse with clean air legislation and a widespread switch to cleaner fuels. River flows, which had been on the increase, were reduced.

“We estimate that, in the most polluted central Europe river basin, this effect led to an increase in river flow of up to 25 percent when the aerosol levels were at their peak, around 1980,” Dr Gedney said. “With water shortages likely to be one of the biggest impacts of climate change in the future, these findings are important in making projections.”

Meanwhile, a group led by Debbie Polson, a researcher in the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences, Scotland, focused on aerosol pollution and the Asian summer monsoons, which provide four-fifths of the annual rainfall of the Indian subcontinent.

They report in Geophysical Research Letters that they calculated annual summer rainfall between 1951 and 2005, used computer simulations to quantify the impact of increasing aerosol emissions and greenhouse gases during that time, and factored in natural variations, such as volcanic discharges.

They found that, overall, levels of rain during the monsoon fell by 10 percent, and this change could only be explained by the influence of aerosols from car and factory exhausts.

“This study has shown for the first time that the drying of the monsoon over the past 50 years cannot be explained by natural climate variability, and that human activity has played a significant role in altering the seasonal monsoon rainfall on which billions of people depend,” Dr Polson said.

Tim Radford|Climate News Network|October 13, 2014

Massive Methane Hot Spot Detected by Satellite

One tiny section in the U.S. is responsible for a significant amount of the country’s methane emissions, according to new information released by scientists from NASA and the University of Michigan.

MethaneThe Four Corners area seen in red produces the largest concentrated amount of methane emissions in the U.S.

On this map, lighter colors are higher than average; darker colors are lower.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan

In a study published this week, they analyzed satellite-gathered data and found that an area about 2,500 square miles, near the “Four Corners” where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah connect, produces the largest concentration of these greenhouse gas emissions ever found in the U.S., more than triple the previous estimate based on ground-gathered information. While carbon emissions are more plentiful and have attracted most of the attention as the driver of climate change, methane has been found to be an even more potent greenhouse gas.

The researchers looked at data from 2003-2009 and found that in that time, that area released 590,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere annually, nearly three and a half times the previous estimate for the area. That’s about 10 percent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s official estimate for the whole country during those years. The hot spot persisted during the entire observation period.

Fracking has been widely identified as a culprit in boosting methane emissions. But this new analysis indicates that older methods of fossil-fuel extraction are just as harmful, with methane emissions added to carbon emissions to multiple the environmental damages from fossil fuels. Fracking wasn’t widely used in the area during the period studied; the boom didn’t kick off there until 2009. But it is a major coal-mining center. And New Mexico’s San Juan Basin is the most active coalbed methane production area in the country, a process in which methane-heavy natural gas (composed of about 95-98 percent methane) is extracted from pores and cracks in coal to use for fuel. In the process, it produces significant leaks (and well as coal mine explosions.)

“The results are indicative that emissions from established fossil fuel harvesting techniques are greater than inventoried,” said the study’s leader author Eric Kort of the University of Michigan. “There’s been so much attention on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, but we need to consider the industry as a whole.”

In March, President Obama announced a blueprint for methane emission reduction that included addressing emissions from coal mines.

Anastasia Pantsios|October 10, 2014

Extreme Weather

Category 3-4 Hurricane Gonzalo bears down on Bermuda

Bermuda is bracing for one of the most powerful storms in recent years.

Hurricane Gonzalo is churning through the North Atlantic, tracking for the island with wind speeds topping 125 miles per hour as of 8 p.m. Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The storm was listed as a Category 3 hurricane after briefly reaching Category 4 status earlier when wind speeds reached 130 mph, before weakening slightly.

The storm is moving in a westerly direction at 9 mph and is expected to brush Bermuda on Friday morning, according to the National Weather Service. But Gonzalo’s path is still uncertain enough that officials aren’t yet ruling out a direct hit on the island.

Bermuda is now under a hurricane warning. Gonzalo is expected to cause powerful, gusty winds, heavy rains and flooding as it closes in.

The storm hit the Virgin Islands on Monday, causing some property damage and power outages.

Meantime, Tropical Storm Ana in the Pacific also is on the radar.

The storm is strengthening and could reach hurricane status by this weekend, according to forecasters.

Ana’s winds measured 70 miles per hour, close to hurricane strength. It is forecast to intensify into at least a Category 1 hurricane with wind gusts up to 100 miles per hour by Friday, officials said.

If it stays on its current track, it will directly impact the Hawaiian Islands by this weekend into early Monday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Hurricanes are a rare occurrence in Hawaii, the agency said. Only three storms have made a direct landfall on the islands in the past 55 years.

Shelby Lin Erdman|CNN|October 15, 2014

Genetically Modified Organisms

Indigenous Peoples Unite to Stop Genetically Engineered Trees

GE Trees: Another Form of Colonization

(Qualla Boundary, North Carolina)–In the shadow of Columbus Day and the legacy of colonization in the Americas, the Indigenous Environmental Network [1] and Eastern Band of Cherokee community members organized a gathering of Indigenous Peoples from across the Southeastern US for an historic Indigenous Peoples’ action camp against genetically engineered trees (GE trees). Participants condemned GE trees as a form of colonization of the forest.

The Indigenous Environmental Network Campaign to STOP GE Trees Action Camp focused on building an information-sharing and mobilization network of tribal representatives and community members to address the unique threats posed by GE trees to Indigenous Peoples, their culture, traditions and lifeways. Steering Committee members of the Campaign to STOP GE Trees [2] were invited to present concerns about the social and ecological dangers of GE trees.

“All trees and the variety of life that depend on forest biodiversity have historically and will in the future continue to be a necessary part of Indigenous culture and survival, which GE trees directly threaten,” stated BJ McManama, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network.

The action camp, which took place in the mountains of North Carolina, detailed threats of genetically engineering forms of native trees traditionally used by eastern Indigenous Peoples, specifically the American chestnut.

Cherokee participants expressed fears that American chestnuts, genetically engineered with DNA from unrelated species, would negatively impact their traditional lifeways, saying that GE trees are dead trees with no soul.

“I’m very concerned that GE trees would impact our future generations and their traditional uses of trees. Our basket makers, people that use wood for the natural colors of our clay work-there would be no natural life, no cycle of life in GE tree plantations,” said Lisa Montelongo of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee.

Genetically engineered eucalyptus trees also threaten Indigenous lands in the US South. GE eucalyptus plantations, proposed by GE tree company ArborGen, are planned from South Carolina to Florida to Texas. The future development of millions of acres of non-native and invasive GE eucalyptus trees would threaten Indigenous lands throughout the region with devastating impacts including depletion of water, contamination with toxic herbicides and pesticides and loss of biodiversity.

“This needs to be stopped immediately. This is not how the forest was meant to be used.  The forest gives life to The People, but these GE trees mean death. They are not for The People, they are only to make money for a few rich people,” said Danny Billie of the Independent Traditional Seminole Nation, based in Florida.

100% of participants at the camp oppose the release of GE trees.

Contact: Jay Burney|Media Coordinator|Campaign to STOP GE Trees|jay@stopgetrees.org

Colorado is the Next State Fighting for GMO Labels

The battle against GMOs is being waged once again, this time in both Oregon and Colorado. Both states will go to the polls to decide whether or not foods containing GMOs should be labeled as such.

GMOs have been used in the United States for almost 20 years without mainstream conflict, but in recent years, the issue has been brought front and center. In fact, GMOs use is one of the most hotly debated food issues worldwide.

In Colorado, citizens will be voting on Proposition 105. It won’t ban GMO foods outright, but would require foods with GMOs sold in the state to have “produced with genetic engineering” clearly visible on the label by July 2016. Food sold in restaurants, meat from animals that had not been genetically engineered and alcoholic drinks would be exempt from the labeling requirements.

Amid the calls for clear labeling, the FDA stands by the stance it took in 1992, saying that genetically-modified crops are no different than regular crops. Additionally, the National Academy of Sciences has reviewed GMO research multiple times over the years, and has found no evidence that eating genetically modified food is hazardous to anyone’s health.

That’s not stopping Coloradans from taking the issue to the polls. The outcome of the GMO vote may influence the rest of the country’s perception on the issue, since the state is often used as a test case for national issues.

It won’t be smooth sailing to get the proposition passed, however. The group opposed to labeling, the “No on 105″ Coalition has raised $9.7 million to fight the proposition, with huge donations from Monsanto, Pepsi Co, J.M. Smucker Co., and others. This echoes what happened in California and Washington last year, when the anti-labeling groups far outspent the groups that supported labeling. Both states’ labeling campaigns ultimately failed in the polls.

Despite that, some remain optimistic about Colorado, and similarly Oregon, when it comes to the GMO labeling battle. After all, Vermont, Connecticut and Maine all passed labeling legislation, albeit with caveats limiting the laws’ power.

Colin O’Neil, director of government affairs at the Center for Food Safety feels the individual state votes may lead to the FDA coming up with a labeling standard.

“We could have as many as five states by the end of this year with mandatory labeling,” he told The Los Angeles Times. “Is the FDA going to allow them to dictate national policy, or will they step in with a federal blueprint? I suspect we are not going to see a patchwork go on much longer before the feds step in.”

Brandi|Diets in Review|October 11, 2014

Big Win! Monsanto Reports $156 Million Loss in Q4 as Farmers Abandon GM Crops

Are you invested in Monsanto stock like Bill Gates, who owns hundreds of thousand of Monsanto shares worth about $23 million? It might be time to pull out since the company just reported over $156 million in losses for the fourth quarter.

“For the quarter ended Aug. 31, Monsanto reported a loss of $156 million, or 31 cents per share, compared with a loss of $249 million, or 47 cents per share, in the same period last year.”

It’s a tough time for biotech, and thank goodness. Monsanto’s losses were attributed to farmers in major agricultural zones favoring soy over GMO corn because of falling crop prices – largely caused by Syngenta’s release of MIR162 corn, which has been completely refused by Chinese officials repeatedly – which have depressed both local and foreign corn bushel prices.

There is a looming $1 billion dollar class action lawsuit Syngenta will face, currently pending in three states over the release of AGRISURE VIPTERA® 4. All three class action suits were filed this past week in Federal Courts by U.S. farmers.

Syngenta also just happens to be the company that has covered up the true toxicity of Atrazine, and the company has been sued in six different states to clean up more than 1000 water systems in six states where the herbicide has been found polluting rivers, streams, and lakes.

Soybeans sales are still around $200 million, doubled from previous years, but they account for a much lower market share than the GMO corn products which Monsanto sells and promotes for use with their toxic herbicide, RoundUp.

Adjusted losses for the biotech bully come to 27 cents a share, three cents worse than estimates.

While it would have been nice to take down this Agri Business giant for different reasons, it seems the company’s partner in crime, Syngenta, is doing the work of dismantling the GMO paradigm for us.

In the last two years, Monsanto has reported huge losses, so we must be doing something right. If this trend continues, and it should if we continue the good fight, then we can all hope to see the GMO Empire crumble in due time. Continue raising awareness and purchasing non-GMO, organic foods. Voice your words with your dollar.

Christina Sarich|October 12th, 2014

Widespread Glyphosate Contamination in USA

Most comprehensive study reveals glyphosate and AMPA in the environment over 9 years and across 38 states.

The most comprehensive research to date on environmental glyphosate levels exposes the widespread contamination of soil and water in the US, as well as its water treatment system. Looking at a wide range of geographical locations, researchers from the US Geological Survey (USGS) analysed 3732 water and sediment samples and 1081 quality assurance samples collected between 2001 and 2010 from 38 states in the US and the district of Colombia. They found glyphosate in 39.4 % of samples (1470 out of 3732) and its metabolite AMPA (α-Amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid) in 55% of samples. Water samples included streams, groundwater, ditches and drains, large rivers, soil water, lakes, ponds and wetlands, precipitation, soil and sediment, and waste water treatment plants.

These results are to be expected when the use of glyphosate has steadily increased in the US (and similarly in Canada) over the years, particularly since the introduction of genetically-modified crops tolerant to the herbicide. The rise of glyphosate-resistant weeds also means that farmers need to spray more chemicals than before in order to protect their crops (see  Monsanto Defeated by Roundup Resistant Weeds, SiS 53). Glyphosate accounted for 32-36% of all pesticide (insecticides, herbicides and fungicides) use in the US in 2007 according to EPA data. It is the top pesticide in agriculture and the second for home and garden and commercial settings. Agricultural use has gone up from 3 180 tons (of active ingredient) in 1987 to 82800 tons in 2007. Non-agricultural use of the herbicide has also risen steadily in the US, from 2270 tons in 1993 to 9300 tons in 2007 (Figure 1). The common use of glyphosate in urban areas is also exacerbated by the impervious surfaces of cities, resulting in substantial pesticide inputs to urban drainage systems. Until recently data had been lacking on glyphosate occurrence in the environment, though studies published over the last couple of years are raising concerns. Detecting glyphosate in surface waters, rain and even groundwater, contradicts the producers’ claim that its chemical propensity to bind to sediment will prevent it from leaching into groundwater supplies (see [4] GM Crops and Water – A Recipe for Disaster, SiS 58).


Figure 1: Use of glyphosate and planted hectares of corn and soybeans from 1987-2008

Data collection had previously been limited not only by glyphosate’s high solubility and polarity which make its detection more difficult, especially at environmentally relevant levels, but also due to the official line taken by authorities that glyphosate is safe. This makes assessment of its presence in our environment less of a priority, and hence left unstudied and unregulated. The safety claim has also encouraged farmers to overuse glyphosate, mostly sprayed on crops “post-emergence” or after crops and weeds have emerged from the soil and often applied repeatedly throughout the season, especially with the rise of glyphosate-resistant weeds. In addition, they are liberally used on non-GM crops as a desiccant (drying agent) to facilitate harvesting (see [5] How Roundup® Poisoned my Nature Reserve, SiS 64).

To address the lack of knowledge in this area, researchers at the USGS began developing their own methods in the 2000s, using solid-phase extraction and liquid chromatography/mass spectroscopy, which is able to detect both glyphosate and its metabolite AMPA at levels as low as 0.02 μg/l (0.02 part per billion, ppb) for both compounds.

The results are shown in Table 1. Glyphosate and AMPA were most frequently detected in soil, followed by drains and ditches, rain and large rivers. For soil and sediment, and soil water a total of 45 soil and sediment samples were collected from seven sites in Mississippi and Indiana, with both glyphosate and AMPA being detected at least once in samples from all seven sites. Both were detected in 90 % of sediment samples with concentrations frequently above 10 μg/kg, with an average of 9.6 μg/kg. In 116 soil samples glyphosate and AMPA were detected in 34.5 % and 66.5 % respectively. Large rivers showed average levels of 0.03 μg/kg in 53.1 % of samples tested. Least frequent but detectable levels were found in groundwater samples, with 5.8 % and 14 % of samples testing positive for glyphosate and AMPA respectively.

Glyphosate is claimed by biotech proponents not to leach into groundwater supplies, but this work and a previous study performed in Catalonia, Spain have both detected its presence in groundwater supplies [4], a major source of drinking water.

The present study also found an increase in concentrations over time, showing higher levels from 2006-2010 compared to earlier years (2001-2005), consistent with rises in both agricultural, home and commercial use of the herbicide. Temporal patterns however, were not recorded and these likely change with agricultural seasons.

The study highlights the ubiquitous contamination of the environment with glyphosate herbicides at ever increasing levels. This herbicide is highly toxic to humans, farm animals, and wildlife, and at levels as low as 0.1 ppb; there is indeed a strong case for halting its use altogether (see  Ban GMOs Now, Special ISIS report).

References:

  1. Battaglin WA, Meyer MT, Kuivila KM, and Dietze JE. Glyphosate and Its Degradation Product AMPA Occur Frequently and Widely in U.S. Soils, Surface Water, Groundwater, and Precipitation. Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA) 2014, 50, 275-290. DOI: 10.1111/jawr.12159
  2. Sirinathsinghji E. Monsanto Defeated By Roundup Resistant Weeds. Science in Society 53, 40-41, 2011.
  3. 2006-2007 Pesticide Market Estimates, 3.4 Amount of Pesticides Used in the United States: Conventional. US Environmental Protection Agency. http://www.epa.gov/opp00001/pestsales/07pestsales/usage2007_2.htm 
  4. Sirinathsinghji E. GM Crops and Water – A Recipe for Disaster. Science in Society 58, 8-10, 2013.
  5. Mason, R. How Roundup Poisoned My Nature Reserve, SiS 64, to appear
  6. Ho MW and Sirinathsinghji E. Ban GMOs Now, ISIS, London, June 2013, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Ban_GMOs_Now.php

    Synthetic Biology Could Open a Whole New Can of Worms

    PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 7 2014 (IPS) – Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is the world’s leading producer of vetiver. In the southwest of the country, vetiver production is hard to ignore.

    Driving into Les Cayes, the largest town in the south, one is greeted by fields of vetiver on either side of the road. The same is true if driving from Les Cayes to Port Salut. Steep hillsides of the green grass line many of the ridges between the two towns.

    Synthetic biology differs from conventional genetic engineering in its technique, scale, and its use of novel and synthetic genetic sequences – raising new risks to biodiversity.

    Haitian vetiver is highly regarded among perfumers, and it is a key ingredient in some of the finest and most expensive perfumes in the world.

    However, struggling Haitians who farm this product could be dealt another harsh blow with the introduction of a new industry – synthetic biology. Although still undefined, synthetic biology can be described as ‘extreme genetic engineering,’ and refers broadly to the use of computer-assisted, biological engineering to design and construct new synthetic biological parts, devices and systems, and to redesign existing biological organisms.

    “In countries like Haiti there are high-value agricultural exports that form a significant part of the economy, and those high-value low-volume goods are slated to be created by companies like Evolva and could replace the truly natural products,” Dana Perls, food and technology campaigner with the civil society group Friends of the Earth U.S., told IPS.

    “Evolva is creating synthetic biology flavors and fragrances which could be offered at a much cheaper price and would ultimately remove the need for different farmers of flavours and fragrances.”

    Haiti’s vetiver crop is processed by 10 distillers, but it provides jobs for some 27,000 farming families in the southwest. For these farmers, the vetiver plant has important conservation benefits, preventing soil erosion, and helping maintain water quality.

    The global value of the synthetic biology market reached 1.6 billion dollars in 2011and it will further grow to 10.8 billion by 2016, increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 45.8 percent.

    Haiti’s share of worldwide vetiver exports grew from 40 percent in 2001 to over 60 percent in 2007. But in the wake of the worldwide financial crisis, Haiti has seen a sharp reduction in vetiver exports. The country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, produces about 50 to 60 tons vetiver annually, about 50 percent of the world’s supply.

    An estimated 60,000 people in Haiti’s Les Cayes region depend on vetiver as their primary income source. The crop is grown on 10,000 hectares.

    Before 2009, Haiti’s vetiver crop was valued at approximately 15-18 million dollars per year. In recent years, Haiti’s export earnings from vetiver have declined to around 10 million per year.

    Synthetic biology differs from conventional genetic engineering in its technique, scale, and its use of novel and synthetic genetic sequences – raising new risks to biodiversity.

    Friends of the Earth International is urging caution and has made several recommendations to the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) being held here from Oct. 6-17.

    “We are recommending a moratorium on the environmental release and the commercial use of synthetic biology, specifically because of the lack of international regulations and virtual lack of environmental and safety assessments anywhere in the world. We are encouraging the CBD to stand behind the precautionary approach which countries have already agreed to by being signatories to the CBD,” Perls said.

    “This is a new and emerging issue and needs to be treated as such. Many of the concerns have to do with the environmental, cultural, social impacts of this new technology, including what would happen if a product like ginseng here in Korea were to be produced using synthetic biology. The impact that it would have on small famers across this country could be immense.

    “It would also have a large impact on countries like Brazil where the feed stock would be grown in order to produce these synthetic biology organisms, which will churn out whatever you’ve designed it to churn out,” she added.

    While biotechnology has been portrayed as a panacea for climate change and other societal ills, Friends of the Earth said the claims that genetically engineered plants and microbes can sequester more carbon in the soil and produce more fuels when processed than conventional methods have yet to be proven.

    The group noted that “in the wake of these unfulfilled promises” emerges synthetic biology, a more extreme form of genetic engineering, which has also been touted as the solution to the climate crisis.

    But the group said synthetic biology is not a sustainable solution to the climate crisis and has the potential to create an entirely new set of problems.

    The Philippines is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of coconut oil. Twenty-five million people in a population of 100 million are directly or indirectly dependent on the coconut industry for their livelihoods and domestic food security.

    Neth Dano, program manager with the ETC Group, told IPS, “There is a lot at stake for the Philippines” on this issue because synthetic biology could potentially replace coconut oil in the global market.

    “In the Philippines, coconut production is not done in a plantation way, it’s small scale. And in the structure of rural economies, in most cases the coconut producers are among the poorest ones,” Dano explained.

    Dano said the CBD as the United Nations body responsible for looking at potential impacts of development on biodiversity and also primarily for conservation of biodiversity can do a lot to address the concerns over synthetic biology.

    “The CBD is the only body in the United Nations that had taken up synthetic biology so far and addressed the concerns on its potential impacts on biodiversity,” Dano said.

    Dano noted also that most of the commercial beginnings of synthetic biology were related to climate change.

    “The earlier research and development efforts were focusing on algae that actually would produce biofuels. And biofuels were seen as a solution to address this problem of massive greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. So it was actually presented as a solution to climate change as a mitigation strategy,” she said.

    “The big oil companies invested so much in the development of biofuels from synthetically modified algae but the investments did not deliver, so now they’ve shifted their attention to low-volume high-value and this is where the lauric oils come in,” Dano added.

    Desmond Brown|Edited by Kitty Stapp

    Acquisition of Africa’s SeedCo by Monsanto, Groupe Limagrain: Neo-colonial occupation

    Addis Ababa 7 October 2014 – The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) is deeply concerned about the recent acquisitions by multi-national seed companies of large parts of SeedCo, one of Africa’s largest home-grown seed companies. Attracting foreign investment from the world’s largest seed companies, most of who got to their current dominant positions by devouring national seed companies and their competitors through mergers and acquisitions, is an inevitable consequence of the fierce drive to commercialize agriculture in Africa.

    The deals in question involve French seed giant Groupe Limagrain, the largest seed and plant breeding company in the European Union, who has invested up to US$60 million for a 28% stake in SeedCo. In another transaction, SeedCo has agreed to sell 49% of its shares in Africa’s only cottonseed company, Quton, to Mahyco of India. Mahyco is 26% owned by Monsanto and has 50:50 joint venture with the gene-giant to sub-license its genetically modified (GM) bt cotton traits throughout India. Interestingly, Mahyco also specializes in hybrid cotton varieties, unlike Quton, who also produces open-pollinated varieties (OPVs) of cottonseed.

    These acquisitions follow close on the heels of Swiss biotech giant Syngenta’s take-over in 2013 of Zambian seed company MRI Seed, whose maize germplasm collection was said at the time to be amongst Africa’s most comprehensive and diverse. Taken together, this means that three of the world’s largest biotechnology companies, Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta, all now have a significant foothold on the continent in markets for two of the three major global GM crop varieties: maize and cotton.

    SeedCo, like so many other seed companies around the world, began life as a farmer-led and owned organisation to improve the availability of quality maize seed in 1940. Today it describes itself as Africa’s largest seed company, operating in 15 countries across the continent and has significant market shares in Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. SeedCo also has access to government and donor-funded input subsidy programs in Zambia and Malawi and has set its sights on potentially lucrative markets in Nigeria and Ghana. In July 2014, SeedCo and Limagrain began discussions with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) for a collaborative research project on maize lethal necrosis in Africa.

    The creation of an predominantly privately owned seed industry in Africa is a vital component of the Green Revolution push, which equates agrarian transformation in Africa with the adoption of commercial (corporate) certified seed and other expensive inputs such as fertilizer. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), for example, claims to collaborate with 80 small and medium sized seed companies across Africa and has also organised public-private-partnerships between seed companies and public research institutions. How many of these newly established entities will remain independent of global seed industry players remains to be seen.

    Multinational capture of local seed companies is a process that has long been underway in South Africa, a country much further down the Green Revolution path than any other in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 1999 and 2000 Monsanto purchased two of the country’s largest seed companies, Carnia and Sensako, and the Missouri based company now enjoys a dominant position in South Africa’s commercial seed market. In 2012 the largest domestic seed company, Pannar Seed, was taken-over by US firm Pioneer Hi-Bred, itself a subsidiary of the DuPont chemical company. The purchase not only gave Pioneer access to Pannar’s vast maize germplasm collection and agro-dealer network in South Africa, but also the company’s long established footprint in 23 other countries across the continent. Even the smaller South African companies are now seen as fair game, with Link Seed being taken over by, ironically, also Limagrain in 2013.

    Apart from the concerns raised above, there are numerous worrying implications arising from these deals. What, for example, will be the implications of Mahyco’s (and thus Monsanto’s) involvement in the cotton seed sector in Africa through its SeedCo interests given their focus on hybrid and GM cotton seed, as opposed to SeedCo’s current focus on OPVs? Under what terms will Limagrain’s involvement in the proposed public private partnership with CIMMYT (and future project’s that its stake in SeedCo)inevitable bring? Monsanto’s involvement with public research bodies in Africa through the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project has been uncovered as bio-piracy instead of benevolence. Further, how will Limagrain benefit from SeedCo’s involvement in input subsidy schemes in Malawi and Zambia? From the outside this appears to be another case of scarce African agricultural budgets being used to subsidize the multinational seed industry.

    AFSA believes that solutions to Africa’s agricultural challenges can be found in the collaboration between its small-scale farmers and public researchers, with the former taking the lead in setting the research agendas and objectives. A key part of public investments in R&D and extension should include identifying, prioritizing and supporting work around participatory plant breeding, participatory variety selection, farmer-managed seed certification and quality assurance systems, identifying and supporting the development of locally important crops on the basis of decentralized participatory R&D, farmer to farmer exchanges and so forth. The encroachment of the international seed industry, which focuses almost exclusively on genetically uniform varieties, subject to UPOV 1991 style intellectual property protection, takes us further away from this agricultural vision and closer to neo-colonialism of Africa’s food systems.

    Dr. Million Belay Coordinator of AFSA|millionbelay@gmail.com

The Ghost in the GMO Machine

While independent research shows that Chlorpyrifos, a Dow Chemical insecticide used in Kaua‘i’s GMO fields, can cause significant harm to children nearby, Dow is intent on convincing the EPA otherwise.

The bodies and minds of children living on the Hawaiian island of Kaua‘i are being threatened by exposure to chlorpyrifos, a synthetic insecticide that is heavily sprayed on fields located near their homes and schools.

For decades, researchers have been publishing reports about children who died or were maimed after exposure to chlorpyrifos, either in the womb or after birth. While chlorpyrifos can no longer legally be used around the house or in the garden, it is still legal to use on the farm. But researchers are finding that children aren’t safe when the insecticide is applied to nearby fields.

Like a ghost drifting through a child’s bedroom window, the airborne insecticide can settle on children’s skin, clothes, toys, rugs, and furnishings.

In fact, it’s likely that the only people who needn’t worry about exposure to chlorpyrifos are adults living far from the fields in which it is sprayed. That includes civil servants who work for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which regulates the stuff, and executives with Dow Chemical, the company that manufactures it.

In a regulatory process known as re-registration, the EPA will decide in 2015 whether it still agrees that chlorpyrifos is safe for farming, or whether it will order a complete ban, as Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Pesticide Action Network have demanded in lawsuits filed in 2007 and in 2014.

Dow has long insisted that its chlorpyrifos products are safe, despite tens of thousands of reports of acute poisoning and multiple studies linking low-level exposures to children with lower IQ. The company also has a long history—going back decades—of concealing from the public the many health problems it knew were linked to chlorpyrifos.

In 1995, the EPA found that Dow had violated federal law by covering up its knowledge of these health problems for years. In 2004, then-New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer found that Dow had been lying about the known dangers of the pesticide in its advertising for nearly as long. Together, the EPA and the State of New York have levied fines against the company approaching $3 million.

On Kaua‘i, subsidiaries of four transnational chemical companies—Dow Chemical, DuPont, Syngenta, and BASF—spray chlorpyrifos and several other potent pesticides to protect their experimental genetically engineered crops (GMOs) against a wide variety of bugs and weeds. Because of the heavy pesticide use, Kaua‘i’s GMO testing fields are among the most toxic chemical environments in all of American agriculture. The island, with its precious ecosystems and diverse wildlife, seems particularly ill-suited to be a laboratory for such experiments.

In two incidents in 2006 and 2008, all students at the Waimea Middle School on Kaua‘i were evacuated and about 60 were hospitalized with flu-like symptoms like dizziness, headaches, and nausea. Many people in town blamed the outbreak on chlorpyrifos dust and vapors that they believed had drifted from the nearby GMO test fields. The corporations denied that any illnesses were caused by their products and officials only tested for a few of the possible chemicals that could have contaminated the school and children.

The companies conduct their experiments on Kaua‘i because it has a 12-month growing season, and they can get in three or four crops each year. As Steve Savage, a former research manager for DuPont, has stated that they protect their GMO crops with chemicals to protect their large investments.

“The pesticides used on the seed farms are mostly just there to protect these very valuable seeds from pest damage,” he said. “That is more challenging because there is no winter to set-back the populations of things like insects. Some of the tropical weeds are also very challenging to control.”

There’s no doubt that chlorpyrifos is efficient at killing insects. But the question before the EPA re-registration process is, “What is it doing to children?”

The last time chlorpyrifos went through the re-registration process was in 2000. (The EPA is required to do that every 15 years.) At the time, Dow was fighting off several lawsuits from families with children poisoned by the chemical. It also faced an almost certain regulatory crackdown by the EPA. A large number of children and adults were being poisoned by more than 800 different chlorpyrifos-containing products that were commonly used around the house, including Dursban, Raid, Black Flag Liquid Roach and Ant Killer and Hartz Mountain Flea and Tick Collar. Chlorpyrifos applied by pest control operators also often led to serious health effects.

Under the terms of an agreement between Dow and the EPA, chlorpyrifos products for indoor use were taken off store shelves at the end of 2001 and were banned in schools, parks, and at day care centers. They continued to be used on the farm under the trade name Lorsban.

Dow Chemical started selling chlorpyrifos in 1965. In 1972, when the EPA banned DDT and other bug-killers, chlorpyrifos was there to take their place. There was a time when chlorpyrifos was invited into most homes in America on a daily basis. Approximately 21 to 24 million pounds were used annually in the U.S., of which about 11 million pounds were applied in the home, where the chemical’s main job was to kill termites.

Because of its extensive use in the home before the ban in 2000, the vast majority of the U.S. population was exposed to chlorpyrifos or its environmental breakdown product, trichloropyridinol (TCP). A 1998 Minnesota Children’s Exposure Study found that 92 percent of the 89 children evaluated had measurable amounts of TCP in their urine. A 1998 study of 416 children in North and South Carolina found TCP in the urine of all the children evaluated.

Chlorpyrifos belongs to a class of pesticides known as organophosphates, which are designed to interfere with the way insect brains operate. They can also interfere with human brains. Some people are more sensitive to chlorpyrifos based on their genes, according to the EPA ].

A 2000 EPA review of “incidents” caused by chlorpyrifos notes, “Children under six were three times more likely to be hospitalized, five times more likely to be admitted for critical care in an intensive care unit (ICU), and three times more likely to have experienced a life-threatening outcome or death when exposed to an organophosphate than when exposed to non-organophosphate pesticides.”

By 1984, the number of chlorpyrifos poisonings in the home had begun to rise, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

The Poison Control Centers found that the annual number of reported chlorpyrifos poisoning cases before 2000 was close to 7,000. Many of these exposures involved small children who never developed symptoms, but several hundred cases per year were serious enough to require special medical attention. At least three children died. For example, in 1996, among the victims who received medical follow-up care, 567 experienced moderate, major, or life-threatening effects.

“These data do suggest that inhalation or dermal exposure can lead to life-threatening effects,” the EPA said in 2000.

The EPA accused Dow of concealing what it knew about the negative health effects of chlorpyrifos from 1984 to 1994 when CBS News investigated an incident in which the parents of a disabled child obtained a judgment against Dow for injuries that a court found were caused by a prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos.

Under the Federal Insecticide, Rodenticide, and Fungicide Act (FIFRA), the nation’s main law regulating pesticide use, pesticide manufacturers like Dow are required to report to the EPA any complaints they receive about pesticide poisonings within 30 days. The law is designed to warn the EPA of all known health dangers associated with a product so it can prevent further poisonings and save lives. The EPA fined Dow $876,000 for 327 violations of FIFRA, but it failed to investigate any deeper.

The EPA never determined how many lives were ruined or lost as a result of harm caused by chlorpyrifos or Dow’s cover-up. Nor did the EPA ever open a criminal investigation to find out who at the company knew about the health problems or why they didn’t report them to the EPA. The EPA never determined whether responsibility for the cover-up extended all the way to the top of the corporate ladder or was limited to lower-level employees.

The EPA’s disinterest in investigating Dow was shared by Congress. A review of the Congressional Records from 1994 to 2014 revealed that only one Member of Congress— – Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont— — spoke out about any concerns over chlorpyrifos. Congress’ indifference toward the chlorpyrifos poisonings stands in stark contrast to its recent grilling of General Motors CEO Mary Barra over the deaths of drivers caused by accidents due to faulty ignition switches.

It may no longer be possible to conduct such an investigation. The EPA has destroyed many of the relevant documents, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Colaizzi.

Dow, meanwhile, asserts that chlorpyrifos has never been proven to be a danger to public health, despite the fines. “The information in question involved unsubstantiated allegations made in the course of litigation,” said Dow spokesman Garry Hamblin. He claimed the company “never agreed that this material represented ‘factual information’ which the company needed to report to EPA. As a means of resolving the dispute, [it] paid a negotiated settlement for late delivery of information and changed its reporting practices to better address EPA’s expectations.”

But Dr. Janette Sherman, an internist and toxicologist with a workers’ compensation practice in Detroit and Maui, disputes Dow’s assertions of innocence. She examined some of the most seriously injured victims, including:

  • 9-year-old Joshua Herb of Charleston, West Virginia, who became a quadriplegic after his home was treated with chlorpyrifos. He had been exposed in utero to Dursban and another organophosphate, propetamphos. A court found that animal tests performed at Duke University showed that chlorpyrifos, when combined with the other chemical, caused “catastrophic destruction” of the nervous system in lower doses than it would have alone. Dow settled his case for a reported $10 million; and
  • The Ebling sisters in New Albany, Indiana. Connie, 9, and A.J., 6, had developed seizures, incontinence, and learning disabilities after their apartment was repeatedly sprayed with Dursban. One day, Connie was admitted to a hospital following a round of intense seizures. “I found her face-down in her eggs,” her mother told a reporter in the hospital room one evening. The young girl sat on her bed, gaping at a visitor, drooling, and hooting as she struggled to assemble a simple puzzle.

“The children were the most tragic,” said Sherman. “These kids had no future whatsoever. None.”

Sherman developed medical histories of the victims and testified about them in court. She also wrote about them in 12 articles that were published in peer-reviewed medical journals.

In 1999, an article in the European Journal of Oncology described eight children with a pattern of similar birth defects. Each had a history of in utero exposure to chlorpyrifos during their first trimester. All eight had birth defects of the brain, including four who had a missing or defective corpus callosum, the band of nerves connecting the two hemispheres in the brain. Five had heart defects. Other defects affected the eyes, the face, and the genitals. All of the children were developmentally disabled, and all but one required feeding, diapering, and constant monitoring.

Sherman explored family histories for alcohol consumption and maternal smoking for possible alternative explanations. She interviewed parents and other family members, reviewed medical files, and conducted physical examinations of six of the children.

Monitoring for pesticide levels was not conducted during any of the pregnancies. Thanks to Dow’s failure to report the incidents in a timely manner, a significant amount of time elapsed before pesticide contamination was even considered as a possible cause, or before other parents could be warned about the hazards known to be associated with exposure to chlorpyrifos, according to Sherman.

In advertisements, Dow tried to assure the public that when used as directed, chlorpyrifos is “safe.” The state of New York deemed that such claims were false, and in 1994 Dow agreed to stop making them.

But a 2004 investigation by then-New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer found that Dow had continued to make misleading claims for a decade, including these statements:

“Chlorpyrifos is one of the most important, safe and widely used insecticides in the country.”

“No significant adverse health effects will likely result from exposures to Dursban, even at levels substantially above those expected to occur when applied at label rates.”

Spitzer’s office fined Dow $2 million for making these and dozens of other “fraudulent” safety claims. “Pesticides are toxic substances that should be used with great caution,” Spitzer said at the time. “By misleading consumers about the potential dangers associated with the use of their products, Dow’s ads may have endangered human health and the environment by encouraging people to use their products without proper care.”

The EPA says that the number of chlorpyrifos poisoning reports in home settings declined by 95 percent in the decade after 2001, when urban uses were banned.

In 2004, researchers at Columbia University found that babies born in upper Manhattan after January 1, 2001 were larger and longer — and had less chlorpyrifos in their umbilical cord blood plasma — than babies born before that date.

Several recent studies show that chlorpyrifos, as it is used today, still harms the developing brains of children.

“Toxic exposure during this critical period can have far-reaching effects on brain development and behavioral functioning,” said Virginia Rauh, a professor at the Columbia University’s School of Public Health. “Some small effects occur at even very low exposures.”

In 2008, another Columbia University study of 265 children found that, after pregnant women were exposed to chlorpyrifos, their babies had a lower intelligence rating.

In 2011, researchers at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York linked chlorpyrifos to a reduction in a child’s ability to solve problems.

From 1998 to 2011, the CHAMACOS (Center for Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas) studies were conducted on farm workers near Salinas, California.  The studies examined associations between prenatal and postnatal exposure to low levels of organophosphate pesticides like chlorpyrifos and cognitive abilities in school-age children. The studies found that higher concentrations of chlorpyrifos in the mothers’ urine were linked to declines in working memory, processing speed, verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, and IQ of their children. Children of mothers with the greatest urinary concentrations had an average deficit of seven IQ points compared with those in the lowest concentrations— — the equivalent of being a half-year behind their peers, according to The Nation http://www.thenation.com/article/178804/warning-signs-how-pesticides-harm-young-brain

The EPA says it will consider these human epidemiological studies before it makes a final re-registration decision. But according to a June 25, 2014, memo written by the agency’s Health Effects Division, the EPA appears ready to dismiss them in favor of two unpublished, non peer-reviewed studies conducted by Dow scientists in 2013.

These studies claimed that chlorpyrifos cannot possibly do any harm to bystanders, even at “the highest possible concentration in the air,” the EPA memo said. It reasoned that, “if there is no hazard to the vapor for these pesticides, there is no risk.”

The memo goes on to say, “The results of these studies have significantly changed how [the] EPA considers the hazard to chlorpyrifos.”

The two Dow reports were based on the company’s own experiments with five groups of lab rats. Sherman said a peer review would have questioned some of the assumptions made by the authors of the study. The lab rats were given chlorpyrifos through the nose but, in reality, children also absorb the chemical through the skin, by putting toys in their mouths, by rolling around on the rug, and even through breast milk. She also said that the sample size—five groups of eight rats each—is not statistically significant.

While the EPA so far seems content to rest its decisions on industry-sponsored studies with lab rats, independent research clearly shows that chlorpyrifos can put children’s futures at risk. Advocates, meanwhile, wait for the EPA to rule on their seven-year-old petition, demanding that the pesticide be banned completely, on farms as well as in houses.

Paul Koberstein|Earth Island Journal|October 11, 2014

Bill Nye the Science Guy’s Take on GMO Foods (Video)

With the continued controversy over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the Right to Know labeling initiative in Oregon that will be on the November ballot, I thought it was perfect timing to feature this Bill Nye video explaining his take on genetically modified foods.

What’s his take? He says, let’s farm responsibly, require labels on our food and carefully test these foods case by case.

Stefanie Spear|October 15, 2014

Energy

Fracking Footprint Seen From Space

An unexpectedly high amount of the climate-changing gas methane, the main component of natural gas, is escaping from the Four Corners region in the US Southwest, according to a new study by the University of Michigan and NASA.

The researchers mapped satellite data to uncover the nation’s largest methane signal seen from space. They measured levels of the gas emitted from all sources, and found more than half a teragram per year coming from the area where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet. That’s about as much methane as the entire coal, oil, and gas industries of the United Kingdom give off each year.

Four Corners sits on North America’s most productive coalbed methane basin. Coalbed methane is a variety of the gas that’s stuck to the surface of coal. It is dangerous to miners (not to mention canaries), but in recent decades, it’s been tapped as a resource.

“There’s so much coalbed methane in the Four Corners area, it doesn’t need to be that crazy of a leak rate to produce the emissions that we see. A lot of the infrastructure is likely contributing,” said Eric Kort, assistant professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences at the U-M College of Engineering.

Kort, first author of a paper on the findings published in Geophysical Research Letters, says the controversial natural gas extraction technique of hydraulic fracturing is not the main culprit.

“We see this large signal and it’s persistent since 2003,” Kort said. “That’s a pre- fracking timeframe in this region. While fracking has become a focal point in conversations about methane emissions, it certainly appears from this and other studies that in the U.S., fossil fuel extraction activities across the board likely emit higher than inventory estimates.”

While the signal represents the highest concentration of methane seen from space, the researchers caution that Four Corners isn’t necessarily the highest emitting region.

“One has to be somewhat careful in equating abundances with emissions,” said study contributor Christian Frankenberg at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The Four Corners methane source is in a relatively isolated area with little other methane emissions, hence causing a well distinguishable hot-spot in methane abundances. Local or more diffuse emissions in other areas, such as the eastern U.S., may be convoluted with other nearby sources.”

ClickGreen Staff|ClickGreen|October 10, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, ClickGreen.

Fracking Fractures Argentina’s Energy Development

AÑELO, Argentina, Oct 8 2014 (IPS) – Unconventional oil and gas reserves in Vaca Muerta in southwest Argentina hold out the promise of energy self-sufficiency and development for the country. But the fracking technique used to extract this treasure from underground rocks could be used at a huge cost.

The landscape begins to change when you get about 100 km from Neuquén, the capital of the province of the same name, in southwest Argentina. In this area, dubbed “the Saudi Arabia of Patagonia”, fruit trees are in bloom and vineyards stretch out green towards the horizon, in the early southern hemisphere springtime.

But along the roads, where there is intense traffic of trucks hauling water, sand, chemicals and metallic structures, oil derricks and pump stations have begun to replace the neat rows of poplars which form windbreaks protecting crops in the southern region of Patagonia.

“Now there’s money, there’s work – we’re better off,” truck driver Jorge Maldonado told Tierramérica. On a daily basis he transports drill pipes to Loma Campana, the shale oil and gas field that has become the second-largest producer in Argentina in just three years.

“That water is not left in the same condition as it was when it was removed from the rivers; the hydrologic cycle is changed. They are minimizing a problem that requires a more in-depth analysis.” — Carolina García

It is located in Vaca Muerta, a geological formation in the Neuquén basin which is spread out over the provinces of Neuquén, Río Negro and Mendoza. Of the 30,000 sq km area, the state-run YPF oil company has been assigned 12,000 sq km in concession, including some 300 sq km operated together with U.S. oil giant Chevron.

Vaca Muerta has some of the world’s biggest reserves of shale oil and gas, found at depths of up to 3,000 metres.

A new well is drilled here every three days, and the demand for labor power, equipment, inputs, transportation and services is growing fast, changing life in the surrounding towns, the closest of which is Añelo, eight km away.

“Now I can provide better for my children, and pay for my wife’s studies,” said forklift operator Walter Troncoso.

According to YPF, Vaca Muerta increased Argentina’s oil reserves ten-fold and its gas reserves forty-fold, which means this country will become a net exporter of fossil fuels.

But tapping into unconventional shale oil and gas deposits requires the use of a technique known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” – which YPF prefers to refer to as “hydraulic stimulation”.

According to the company, the technique involves the high-pressure injection of a mix of water, sand and “a small quantity of additives” into the parent-rock formations at a depth of over 2,000 metres, in order to release the trapped oil and gas which flows up to the surface through pipes.

Víctor Bravo, an engineer, says in a study published by the Third Millennium Patagonia Foundation, that some 15 fractures are made in each well, with 20,000 cubic metres of water and some 400 tons of diluted chemicals.

The formula is a trade secret, but the estimate is that it involves “some 500 chemical substances, 17 of which are toxic to aquatic organisms, 38 of which have acute toxic effects, and eight of which are proven to be carcinogenic,” he writes. He adds that fracking fluids and the gas itself can contaminate aquifers.

Neuquén province lawmaker Raúl Dobrusin of the opposition Popular Union bloc told Tierrámerica: “The effect of this contamination won’t be seen now, but in 15 or 20 years.”

During Tierramérica’s visit to Loma Campana, Pablo Bizzotto, YPF’s regional manager of unconventional resources, played down these fears, saying the parent-rock formations are 3,000 metres below the surface while the groundwater is 200 to 300 metres down.

“The water would have to leak thousands of metres up. It can’t do that,” he said.

Besides, the “flowback water”, which is separated from the oil or gas, is reused in further “hydraulic stimulation” operations, while the rest is dumped into “perfectly isolated sink wells,” he argued. “The aquifers do not run any risk at all,” he said.

But Dobrusin asked “What will they do with the water once the well is full? No one mentions that.”

According to Bizzotto, the seismic intensity of the hydraulic stimulation does not compromise the aquifers either, because the fissures are produced deep down in the earth. Furthermore, he said, the wells are layered with several coatings of cement and steel.

“We want to draw investment, generate work, but while safeguarding nature at the same time,” Neuquén’s secretary of the environment, Ricardo Esquivel, told Tierramérica.

In his view, “there are many myths” surrounding fracking, such as the claim that so much water is needed that water levels in the rivers would go down.

Neuquén, he said, uses five percent of the water in its rivers for irrigation, human consumption and industry, while the rest flows to the sea. Even if 500 wells a year were drilled, only one percent more of the water would be used, he maintained.

But activist Carolina García with the Multisectorial contra el Fracking group told Tierrámerica: “That water is not left in the same condition as it was when it was removed from the rivers; the hydrologic cycle is changed. They are minimising a problem that requires a more in-depth analysis.”

She pointed out that fracking is questioned in the European Union and that in August Germany adopted an eight-year moratorium on fracking for shale gas while it studies the risks posed by the technique.

YPF argues that these concerns do not apply to Vaca Muerta because it is a relatively uninhabited area.

“The theory that this is a desert and can be sacrificed because no one’s here is false,” said Silvia Leanza with the Ecosur Foundation.

“There are people, the water runs, and there is air flowing here,” she commented to Tierramérica. “The emissions of gases and suspended dust particles can reach up to 200 km away.”

Nor does the “desert theory” ring true for Allen, a town of 25,000 people in the neighbouring province of Río Negro, which is suffering the effects of the extraction of another form of unconventional gas, tight gas sands, which refers to low permeability sandstone reservoirs that produce primarily dry natural gas.

In that fruit-growing area, 20 km from the provincial capital, the fruit harvest is shrinking as the number of gas wells grows, drilled by the U.S.-based oil company Apache, whose local operations in Argentina were acquired by YPF in March.

Apache leases farms to drill on, the Permanent Comahue Assembly for Water (APCA) complained.

“Going around the farms it’s easy to see how the wells are occupying what was fruit-growing land until just a few years ago. Allen is known as the ‘pear capital’, but now it is losing that status,” lamented Gabriela Sepúlveda, of APCA Allen-Neuquén.

A well exploded in March, shaking the nearby houses. It wasn’t the first time, and it’s not the only problem the locals have had, Rubén Ibáñez, who takes care of a greenhouse next to the well, told Tierramérica. “Since the wells were drilled, people started feeling dizzy and having sore throats, stomach aches, breathing problems, and nausea,” he said.

“They periodically drill wells, a process that lasts around a month, and then they do open-air flaring. I’m no expert, but I feel sick,” he said. “I wouldn’t drink this water even if I was dying of thirst….when I used it to water the plants in the greenhouse they would die.”

The provincial government says there are constant inspections of the gas and oil deposits.

“In 300 wells we did not find any environmental impact that had created a reason for sanctions,” environment secretary Esquivel said.

“We have a clear objective: for Loma Campana, as the first place that unconventional fossil fuels are being developed in Argentina, to be the model to imitate, not only in terms of cost, production and technique, but in environmental questions as well,” Bizzotto said.

“All technology has uncertain consequences,” Leanza said. “Why deny it? Let’s put it up for debate.”

Fabiana Frayssinet|Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez|Translated by Stephanie Wildes

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

This is outrageous. Fracking companies are polluting our water with cancer-causing chemicals, and lying about it. Tell the EPA to set the record straight and admit that fracking is toxic.

It’s breast cancer awareness month, and one fracking company thought it would try and ‘do its bit’ by painting a bunch of fracking drill bits pink. They even made a splashy website and held a press conference to pat themselves on the back.

There’s just one problem: Fracking pumps millions of gallons of toxic chemicals into the ground — including chemicals linked to breast cancer, like Toluene and Benzene. And when those chemicals inevitably leak into local groundwater supplies they also cause flammable faucets, earthquakes and more!
This would almost be funny, something for the late night comedy shows. Except that for over a year the EPA itself has been covering up research proving that fracking contaminates groundwater.*

So I’m headed to EPA headquarters tomorrow along with nurses and fracking-impacted families to demand they stop the cover up, and admit fracking is poisoning our water, land and climate.** Will you stand with me and all the families impacted by fracking, by signing on to our EPA message?

You’re also invited to join us, or your local Global Frackdown event – there are over 250 planned worldwide!

To make our event at EPA more interesting, we’re issuing a personal dare to Administrator Gina McCarthy: If she’s reviewed the research, and is convinced fracking is so safe, then she needs to drink the fracked water presented to her by our friends in Dimock, PA.
We’re calling it the #FrackWaterChallenge, and we hope it will spur the EPA to take some real action, for a change, on fracking.

But McCarthy and the EPA aren’t likely to listen to us unless we can bring the support of tens of thousands of people like you with us. McCarthy has been ignoring us for months, even literally turning her back on an impacted resident from Dimock, and walking away when he tried to ask her why EPA wasn’t helping his town.***

That resident turned fracktivist, Craig, will be with me in D.C. tomorrow. But I need you to sign on in support so we’re not the only ones who show up to demand EPA take action. Will you sign on here?

Thanks,

Drew Hudson, and the team at Environmental Action

PS – This is just one of hundreds of great events planned all over the world to call attention to the dangers of Fracking. Please take a minute to check out the map, and sign up to join (or host!) an event near you this weekend.

* Americans Against Fracking, EPA action more info page

** Global Frackdown event, Director McCarthy Will You Take the #FrackWaterChallenge?

*** Emily Wurth, What Will it Take for the EPA to Act on Fracking?, Food and Water Watch Blog, September 29th, 2014

Victory for Greenpeace Campaign as LEGO Dumps Shell Oil

After an intense three-month campaign by Greenpeace that included the most viral video in its history, LEGO announced that it is ending its partnership with Shell Oil Company.

“It’s a massive victory for the million people globally who called on LEGO to stop helping Shell look like a responsible and caring company rather than a driller intent on exploiting the melting Arctic for more oil,” said Greenpeace’s Ian Duff. “To maintain respectability in the face of growing opposition to Arctic drilling, Shell needs to surround itself with decent and much loved brands—museums, art galleries, music festivals, sports events. LEGO’s announcement is an important step towards blowing Shell’s cover.”

Greenpeace targeted the promotional relationship between the Danish toy company and the multinational energy giant due to Shell’s extensive drilling activities in the Arctic, which threaten the area’s ecosystem and fuel climate change. While the company suspended its activities there last year following legal challenges and operational mishaps, it’s said it will resume drilling in 2015.

The Greenpeace campaign played on the warm and fuzzy association both children and adults have with the versatile, building-block toys to stage a series of attention-grabbing protests. Its video, “LEGO: Everything Is NOT Awesome,” attracted nearly six million millions views and helped trigger over a million signatures on its petition. Protests also included a “play-in,” where children built Arctic animals out of LEGO at Shell’s London headquarters; worldwide recreations of famous protests made from LEGO; lifesize “LEGO” figures descending on a LEGO store in New york’s Rockefeller Plaza; and tiny LEGO figures taking over a gas station in Denmark.

Early in the campaign, LEGO tried to punt, saying that Greenpeace should be talking instead to Shell about its Arctic drilling instead of LEGO. Yesterday it conceded.

“We are determined to leave a positive impact on society and the planet that children will inherit,” said LEGO CEO Joergen Vig Knudstorp in the statement. “We don’t agree with the tactics used by Greenpeace that may have created the misunderstanding among our stakeholders about the way we operate.”

The marketing partnership between Shell and LEGO goes back to the ’60s. Since 1966, LEGO has sold sets that included Shell gas stations, race cars and tanker trucks, among other items.

“The tide is turning for these fossil fuel dinosaurs that see the melting Arctic as ripe for exploitation rather than protection,” said Duff. “The message should be clear; your outdated, climate wrecking practices are no longer socially acceptable, and you need to keep away from the Arctic or face being ostracized by society.”

Anastasia Pantsios|October 9, 2014

Growth in energy
Marysville Ethanol plant provides market for corn producers

MARYSVILLE — Matt Frostic, of Frostic Farms in Applegate, said having an ethanol plant in Marysville gives him a nearby market for the corn he grows.

“It’s more profitable to transport to a local ethanol plant than to have to ship the product far away,” Frostic said. “In 2004 and 2005, we started seeing an uptick in demand. Now, with increased technology, Michigan is seeing corn surpassing the demand for (food and ethanol) product.”
Frostic said corn prices have bottomed out.

“It’s part of the cycle,” Frostic said. “In 2008, a bushel of corn sold for $6, now it could sell for $3.50. Overall, things are still positive, though; the market just has to regulate itself out.”

Frostic said one positive sign for the ethanol industry is that ethanol is being shipped out of the United States to other countries.

“It’s crazy that we are importing oil to the United States while we are exporting ethanol,” said Jeff Sandborn, Michigan Corn Growers Association chairman.

A number of farmers and officials, including U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, toured the Marysville Ethanol, LLC, plant on Tuesday.

“Ethanol production is one step in trying to wean ourselves off our foreign dependence on oil,” Miller said. “It’s also a good part of our overall energy portfolio alongside solar and wind power.”
Miller said Michigan’s Thumb leads the state in ethanol, wind and solar production.
“It’s good to see that Marysville Ethanol plant buys all of their corn from local corn farmers,” Miller said. “This is really a state-of-the-art, high tech production facility.”

Marysville Ethanol produces 50 million gallons of ethanol each year, said Manouch Daneshvar, Marysville Ethanol vice president.

“We buy from 170 local corn farms within a 150-mile radius; corn is delivered to us on 12,000 trucks and we deliver ethanol using 4,000 trucks,” Daneshvar said. “The impact of our facility is far-reaching. It takes farmers, plant workers, drivers and many more to produce this product.”

Marysville Ethanol is one of five ethanol plants in Michigan that produce a total 250 million gallons of ethanol each year, Daneshvar said.

Jim Zook, Michigan Corn Growers Association executive director, said all five plants are producing at full capacity.

Alvin Ferguson, of Ferguson Farms in Allenton, said he enjoyed touring the plant, as most of his corn is sold to Marysville Ethanol.

“It’s good to see and know where your corn is going and who your buyer is,” Ferguson said. “We also buy the corn byproduct back from them to feed to our livestock.”

Going from grain to ethanol takes about 65 to 70 hours.

“The ethanol then goes into gasoline,” said Aric Metevia, Marysville Ethanol plant manager. “When you see gas marked as “E10,” that means 10 percent of the gasoline blend is ethanol. That means there is 10 percent less gas fumes going into the air.”

Federal policy dictates that gasoline refineries blend certain volumes of ethanol into their gasoline.

If that changes, demand for ethanol could decrease, or it could increase.

“The ethanol industry is status quo because there has been a policy debate for the past two years, and that debate could keep going for another two years, but plants will not expand before they know what the outcome of the debate is,” Zook said.

Zook said consumer demand can be stronger than policy, though.

“If consumers demanded more vehicles to be E85 compatible, which is gasoline with 85 percent ethanol in it, then producers would meet that demand,” Zook said.

Sandborn said the auto industry needs to fully catch up to the ethanol trend in order to increase demand for the product.

“The thing about ethanol is that we don’t have to wait plenty of years to renew our ethanol crop like you do for oil,” Sandborn said. “Each year we are getting better at producing corn, while it is becoming harder to get to oil.”

Nicole Hayden|Times Herald

We Can Do Better: The Unintended Consequences of EPA’s “Clean Power Plan”

Most people agree that it is time to seriously reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG).  EPA is actually required by law to reduce power and industrial GHG emissions in the U.S., and they certainly deserve an “E” for effort so far.  But effort without good outcomes doesn’t really count.  Sadly, the EPA’s rule as proposed would create unintended consequences that will prevent essential long-term carbon reductions in the U.S. power sector.

Here’s why: the rule’s main approach to reducing emissions is — not renewables, not energy efficiency, not even carbon capture or nuclear, but — switching practically overnight from coal to natural gas-fired electricity.  This is like a binge diet to lose weight in two weeks (a really bad idea) by switching from donuts to bagels (an even worse one).

We all know binge diets avoid the balanced nutrition and long term program needed for healthy, sustained weight loss.  In the same manner, the EPA’s sudden shut down of coal plants will put reliability and affordable power at risk, leaving massive amounts of new gas-fired power as the only answer to keep the lights on and electric bills tolerable. 

And just like bagels are a really high carb replacement for donuts, natural gas is a high carbon replacement for coal. And what about renewables, the “vegetable” of a balanced diet?  Once our power markets are saturated with new natural gas plants, there will be no room left for new, zero carbon power, no matter how cheap it becomes. When you’re full of bagels, who has room for vegetables?

NRG sees renewables, carbon capture, and innovative distributed energy technologies as the foundation of a clean energy economy that can thrive without risking catastrophic climate change.  We’ve already begun our own carbon reduction regime by building one of the largest renewable energy fleets in the country.  And we believe that the U.S. will benefit from rapid clean energy growth, helping stave off the worst of climate change, while demonstrating the commercial success of clean technologies.

We are concerned that the EPA’s rule, as proposed, is poised to create a new “dash to gas,” locking in decades of yet another carbon-dense fossil fuel, while locking out the increasingly economical clean energy sources the world needs.

The good news is that simple revisions to EPA’s rule can easily be addressed to result in greater overall emissions reductions at a lower cost.  To see how, we encourage you to read NRG’s recommendations to the EPA in our “Glide Paths Instead of Cliffs” white paper

This topic will be discussed during a mega-session at Renewable Energy World Conference, North America, which takes place in Orlando, Florida December 9-11, 2014.

Steven Corneli|October 15, 2014

Land Conservation

Gov. Scott: Florida Gulf Coast Restoration Moving Forward

~Plan includes 30 projects in Florida totaling more than $100 million~

Today, Governor Rick Scott announced the funding of the third and largest set of early restoration projects, as approved by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees. Nearly $88 million represents 28 projects, which will take place throughout many communities along the Panhandle. Additionally, two U.S. Department of the Interior projects will take place at Gulf Islands National Seashore in Escambia County and total approximately $15 million.

Governor Scott said, “Today’s announcement of more than $100 million in funding is great news for families in the Panhandle. We must protect our state’s natural treasures so future generations of Floridians will be able to enjoy our state’s great natural treasures.”

Across the five Gulf States, $627 million will be allocated to implement 44 projects that will continue restoration of the natural resources and associated lost recreational services, which were affected by the spill. This third phase of early restoration includes many proposals suggested by Florida citizens, such as oyster and scallop restoration, seagrass restoration, artificial reefs, living shorelines, recreational beach restoration and state park improvements. Public comment was essential to the development of the final plan and projects.

On April 20, 2011, BP agreed to provide $1 billion in early restoration funds to the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees for early restoration projects. The Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have trustee representatives for the state of Florida. With the third phase of early restoration, Florida’s portion, $100 million, will be completely funded; however, state officials will continue to participate in developing projects for the federal agencies to propose for implementation in Florida.

Senate President Don Gaetz said, “My hope – and that of all Northwest Floridians—is that these projects selected by local leaders will produce a true return-on-investment and be managed with careful stewardship.”

Representative Clay Ingram said, “I am excited that six projects have been approved for Escambia County, and I applaud Governor Scott and FDEP Secretary Vinyard for their continued work to restore Florida’s Gulf Coast, which was so badly damaged as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.”

“I am proud of the work that is being done to restore Florida’s Gulf Coast,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “We will continue to work with the local communities on implementing these projects and look forward to future restoration.”

“I have been impressed with the coordination of both DEP and FWC on creating a suite of projects that will positively impact the Panhandle,” said Escambia County Commissioner and President of the Florida Association of Counties Grover Robinson. “One of the boat ramps in the first phase of early restoration projects, Mahogany Mill, took an adverse legacy and turned it into an environmental asset for our county. I look forward to many more significant improvements for our Gulf Coast communities.”

Santa Rosa County Commissioner Lane Lynchard said, “The Santa Rosa projects approved today demonstrate an additional step forward in our long-term recovery from the oil spill. These projects, as well as others to come, will have a lasting, positive impact on our environment.”

Walton County Commissioner Sara Comander said, “I am excited the Trustees have approved the Walton County projects as well as other regional projects benefiting our county, which will allow visitors and residents to make the most of our beautiful natural resources.”

“We are very pleased the third set of early restoration projects have been approved,” said FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley. “These projects will enhance important fisheries and help Florida retain its prominence as the Fishing Capital of the World.”

Early restoration represents an initial step in recovery. In the first two phases of early restoration, the state of Florida proposed a dune restoration project, four boat ramp enhancements in Escambia County and two coastal conservation projects that are taking place across many Panhandle counties. There has already been much accomplished by these projects and it is expected that the third phase will bring further successful restoration to the Gulf Coast communities. Assessment of injuries to our Gulf’s natural resources is still ongoing and ultimately, the responsible parties are obligated to compensate the public for the full scope of natural resource injuries caused by the spill.

For more information on the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process, specific project information and to review the projects that have already been implemented visit www.deepwaterhorizonflorida.com.

latashawalters|Oct. 9, 2014

A new concept in EV charging

There is no doubt that the EV industry is here to stay, too much money has been invested and too many people have transferred over from old-style technology. However, while EV technology itself continues to develop, efficiencies are improved and prices continue to fall, there have been ongoing concerns about recharging systems of the future. However, a company by the name of Ubitricity in Germany may well have come up with a solution which could be the answer to all our prayers!

Ubitricity has created a system of electric vehicle charging stations which are based on lighting poles which are present in every village, town and city in the world. So how does this system work and could it really be a game changer for the electric vehicle market?

Smart cables and meter readers

The company has partnered with German energy provider Grundgrun to fit an initial 100 city light poles with the new recharging system. The smart cable and Ubitricity meter simply slot into the light fitting with the other end of the smart cable plugged into the electric vehicle in question. It is then simply a case of flicking the switch, using the power supply which goes to the lighting pole and hey presto, your electric vehicle will be recharged.

Quote from ElectricForum.com: “Are we on the verge of significant savings for electric vehicles?”

Even though there will be an initial charge for the Ubitricity meter, when you bear in mind the availability of these potential new recharging stations and the relatively small cost to convert, this will be minimal in the scheme of things. In many ways this solution seems too simple, too straightforward and perhaps more importantly, too cost-effective. However, sometimes it is the simple things in life which make such a difference!

BOB SHETH|Electric Forum|October 8, 2014

Read more at ENN Affiliate Electric Forum.

Judge Blocks Potential FPL Plant Bordering Big Cypress Reservation

A circuit judge has blocked the possibility of Florida Power and Light building a power plant bordering the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in Hendry County.

It came down to one word: utilities.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida was locked in a legal battle with Florida Power and Light, Hendry County and McDaniel Reserve Realty Holdings.

The fight was over whether an ordinance the county passed in 2011 allowing for a solar and gas-powered plant to be built on property next to tribal land lined up with the Hendry County Comprehensive Plan.

The ordinance rezoned the land under a policy whose permitted uses includes, among other things, “utilities.” FPL, which owns the land, said that word meant a power plant.

Judge Donald Mason disagreed.

Samuel Tommie lives on the reservation. He has concerns about possible environmental harm and the loss of Seminole artifacts if a plant was built on the site.

Tommie said he is happy with the ruling.
“I’m glad that the judicial system is in place to hear my tribal concern,” he said. “And that I feel like that we did have a chance to put our voice out there and put our argument out there and be heard.”

FPL spokesperson Sarah Gatewood said the company is reviewing the court’s decision.

“We’ll continue to work with Hendry County and all the local stakeholders to secure all the necessary approvals that we will need for any kind of potential project on that property in the future.”

Gatewood said FPL has no specific plans for the land. 

Topher Forhecz

County plans wetland preserve in Fort Gratiot

People are getting a park, property owners are getting flood relief, nature is getting a hand and the county is getting a discount — all on 75 acres in Fort Gratiot.

What will be christened the Veterans Memorial Wetland Preserve began when the state Department of Environmental Quality ordered a property owner to replace or repair wetlands destroyed without permission.

The Kettlewell family spent about $512,000 mitigating the wetlands damage on a parcel along the west side of Parker Road between Keewahdin and Carrigan roads.

The St. Clair County Drain Commissioner’s office paid the Kettlewells about $155,000 to do some additional work on the site to help prevent flooding in the area served by the Howe-Brandymore Drain. And then the Kettlewell family donated the 75-acre site to the county.

Drain Commissioner Bob Wiley said a pond, flood plains and water control weirs on the parcel will mitigate surges of stormwater in the drain. Flood waters after a heavy rainfall will collect in the pond at the preserve, then will be released slowly to protect downstream property owners.

“It will help the people in the drain district and it will also be something we can utilize for a nature preserve,” Wiley said.

A wide, flat berm circling the pond will allow walkers to explore the wet­lands. Wiley said he hopes to eventually to add picnic tables, benches and a more permanent walkway.

The drain commissioner’s office will purchase the weirs for about $67,000. He said the Parker Road project allows the drain commission to complete a needed project at low cost, with benefits to people in the drain district and to people looking to enjoy the outdoors.

“Pieces of the puzzle started falling into place, where we could get the project done and get this drain cleaned out and flowing better,” Wiley said. “In the process, we were able to create this really nice wetland preserve where about $500,000 in development came from a private property owner.”

Michael S. Rossow, a project manager for the engineer firm TetraTech, said the project has taken 15 years to come together. “It takes a lot of dedication, especially on the drain office’s part,” Rossow said.

Wiley said he expects the pond and wetlands to be completed by next June, but people likely will be able to walk around the property in late spring. He expects work to clean out, deepen and widen the Howe-Brandymore Drain work to be completed some time in the fall. Wiley said once the drain commission gets a price on seeding materials, he’s hoping volunteers will help to landscape the wetland preserve.

The wetlands project isn’t the only development planned for Parker Road. Fort Gratiot is buying a little more than 101 acres just north of the drain office’s new wetlands.

Fort Gratiot Supervisor Jorja Baldwin said the township was prepared to purchase the property from the Kettlewells in 2012, but township officials realized the property contained some wetland violations.
Baldwin said the township would not have been able to afford to fix the violations.

The Kettlewells resolved those violations by creating and restoring about 20 acres of wetlands on the drain office’s property, Baldwin said.

“By creating all of these wetlands, the property that we were interested in, which had a wetland violation, has now been mitigated,” Baldwin s aid. She said the township lawyer is reviewing a purchase agreement for the more than 100 acres of property for about $270,000. Baldwin said the property would be used for Little League diamonds and soccer fields. Baldwin said the township currently leases property on State Road from the Port Huron Area School District for baseball leagues.

She said the lease is year to year, and the fields are becoming crowded.

“Our programs are large enough that we need a permanent solution,” Baldwin said.

Soil excavated to create the wetlands will be piled on the township parcel to create a sledding hill.

She said the mixture of the sports complex property and wetland property on the west side of Parker Road, and the township bike path and Fort Gratiot Pond on the east side of Parker will make for diverse offerings for people in the area.

“What an achievement to have all this — to have 100 acres within a mile of your commercial district,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin said the Parker Road property will be purchased with the township’s share of parks millage money.

“We’re purchasing it with our parks millage money, but it’s not going to leave a tremendous amount of money for development,” Baldwin said.

“We’ll have to fundraise to develop sports fields.”

Beth LeBlanc|Times Herald

EPA working on new permit rules to better protect wetlands

The Environmental Protection Agency is working on new development regulations aimed at reducing the loss of wetlands in areas such as Southwest Florida.

“We’re trying to protect stream systems, specifically those stream systems that have connectivity to downstream waters,” said Thomas McGill, chief of Wetlands Coastal and Ocean branch for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Waters near rivers and streams are protected (under the proposed rule).”

Dozens of residents, politicians, scientists from EPA and FGCU met at the Harborside Event Center Tuesday to discuss federal permits and loss of wetlands in Southwest Florida.

EPA’s new rule will look at what waters are considered to be waters of the United States — systems protected under the Clean Water Act. It’s meant to clear up confusion between EPA — which comments on environmental impacts — and the Army Corps, the permit issuing agency.

That confusion has led to the loss of some wetlands in Southwest Florida and across the country.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report this year that says Lee County lost 8.7 percent of its wetlands, and Collier has lost 3 percent over a six-year period. Southwest Florida is considered one of the “hot spots” in the nation for wetland loss.

Fifty percent or more of wetlands in Lee and Collier have been lost since 1850, and, despite federal laws and regulations designed to protect those wetlands, the loss continues.

“In the ’80s and early ’90s, people started realizing that what happens upstream effects downstream,” said Win Everham, an FGCU ecology professorate. “What we used to have were seasonal wetlands all over the landscape, and we’ve replaced them with stormwater ponds. We’re becoming the land of 10,000 ponds.”

Brad Cornell, with Audubon Florida, compared historic maps of Florida’s uplands and wetlands to what the landscape looks like today. The old map shows uplands, seasonal wetlands, shallow wetlands, deep wetlands and lakes and rivers. The modern map looks like a gray grid.

“We have lost a lot of the uplands — they’ve been turned into retail and agriculture — and almost all of the shallow wetlands are gone,” said Brad Cornell, with Audubon Florida. “We’ve lost about 40 percent since 1850, and 70 percent of the shallow wetlands. And it has a consequence for life in Southwest Florida, whether you’re a bird or a human.”

In 1850, Audubon estimates there were 2.5 million wading birds in the Everglades system — which includes the Kissimmee River, Lake Okeechobee, Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park.

As of 1995, 90 percent of those birds were gone, and now an estimated 100,000 wading birds are all that’s left in South Florida.

The forum was hosted by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, which held a similar lunch presentation Tuesday in Naples.

Conservancy Policy Director Jennifer Hecker said the public will be better off addressing these ecological issues now than in the future.

“It’s just going to add to the total price tag, because we’re going to have to do even more to restore those wetlands than if we do it now,” she said.

Lee County’s wetlands have been lost mostly to agriculture, mining and development.

Chad Gillis|news-press.com|October 15, 2014

 Ranchers hoping state will help preserve land

DESOTO COUNTY – There is no sign advertising the Candy Bar Ranch, no big arched entrance or folksy logo, just a gravel drive off State Road 72 and a plain metal gate.

Like many of his neighbors in this rural area 17 miles east of Myakka River State Park on the border between Sarasota and DeSoto counties, Candy Bar owner Jim Lanier likes to fly under the radar. He’s even reticent to talk about how many cattle he has. Cows are like cash here, and it’s never wise to boast about how much money you have lying around.

Lately, though, Lanier has been eager to invite visitors onto his property, smiling from underneath his cowboy hat as he shows off the 838 acres of pine woods, marshes, oak hammocks and broad pastures. The 73-year-old rancher has been busy extolling Candy Bar’s conservation value. He wants to leave a legacy, one that would safeguard the ranch from development.

Candy Bar is among 10 ranches covering 13,116 acres in Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties that are included in two new applications to the state’s Florida Forever land conservation program.

The properties include rare habitats, three miles of Myakka River frontage and a range of imperiled species. Two of the ranches are adjacent to Myakka River State Park. All are connected to a wide swath of conservation land surrounding the park.

Ranch owners and conservation groups are hoping to capitalize on an expected influx of state tax revenue into Florida Forever to expand on the extensive corridor of preserved lands in eastern Sarasota County.

Such conservation efforts had little chance of securing state funding in recent years after lawmakers drastically reduced the Florida Forever budget during the Great Recession. But property owners and conservation leaders say they are encouraged by a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would devote an estimated $5 billion in real estate taxes collected over 10 years to land-buying efforts in Florida.

“We want to get landowners interested in conservation on the list for when funding becomes available,” said Debi Osborne, who developed one of the recent Florida Forever applications as director of land protection for the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast in Osprey.

Polls show the ballot proposal is extremely popular, but even if the amendment does not pass, Gov. Rick Scott and his opponent Charlie Crist are talking about devoting much more state tax revenue to conservation.

The ranchlands near the Myakka River east of Interstate 75 – and farther east toward the Peace River – have become a focal point in the region for protecting water resources, wildlife habitat and traditional agricultural uses. Many large tracts have already been preserved, increasing the conservation value of surrounding properties.

The area resembles a large green jigsaw puzzle on maps, with various preserves named after long-time ranching families. As the real estate market picks up and development kicks back into gear, conservation advocates are racing to add key pieces before they are lost to other purposes.

‘Myakka Island’

More than 100,000 acres already have been protected in the region known as the Myakka Island, making the total conservation holdings larger than 22 of 58 national parks.

The centerpiece of the conservation corridor is the 37,000-acre Myakka River State Park. State and county officials have slowly worked to buffer the park, established in 1934, by purchasing conservation easements on nearby ranches or buying them outright.

“The area’s resource value is so high for so many reasons,” said Julie Morris, director of conservation for Venice-based Wildlands Conservation.

Morris helped assemble a seven-ranch deal in Sarasota and DeSoto counties that includes the Candy Bar property. The ranches were added to the Florida Forever priority acquisition list in June. The project would extend the eastern edge of the Myakka Island corridor of preserved lands. Another three ranches in Sarasota and Manatee counties are included in the Florida Forever funding application put together by Osborne. That proposal is being evaluated by state officials today to determine if it should be a funding priority.

All 10 ranches connect to existing conservation areas around the Myakka Island.

Protecting large, unbroken tracts of undeveloped land has “tremendous” value for wildlife, Morris said. Many species struggle when isolated by development into smaller populations or are “sensitive to human activities.”

The local ranches contain ecosystems considered especially important to protect, including a “very rare” expanse of dry prairie and thousands of acres of pine flatwoods, which are being lost to development at a rapid clip. Other distinguishing features include the Myakka River waterfront, a sawgrass marsh and significant tracts of relatively pristine wetlands and forests.

The ranches are home to imperiled species such as the crested caracara, eastern indigo snake and wood stork. Black bears, bobcats, deer and wild turkeys all roam the area.

Limiting development on the properties also helps recharge groundwater supplies and curtail water pollution, Morris said.

The Myakka Island has been targeted by local conservationists because it represents one of the last, best chances to preserve large chunks of contiguous land in the Sarasota region. Such properties are under increasing development pressure.

Among the three parcels included in the Florida Forever application going before state officials today is the McCall Ranch, now being called the Orange Hammock Ranch.

A 15,000-home development once was proposed for the land, which is within the city of North Port, but the project fell apart during the recession.

The property owner recently filed for bankruptcy protection, and the ranch was claimed by the mortgage holder, who is interested in selling, Osborne said. Developers have explored buying sections of the ranch, which conservationists covet because of its location near other preserved lands and vast expanse of undisturbed natural areas.

Another property included in the same proposal – Triangle Ranch in Manatee County – also has been up for sale. The owner said in a letter to the state that he wants to see the land preserved but can’t be picky about the buyer.

“It may well fall into the hands of someone with little, if any, interest in its unique conservation value,” wrote owner Anthony G. Carlton, a distant relative of the Carlton family that sold significant conservation holdings to Sarasota County.

Triangle Ranch – one of the properties bordering Myakka River State Park – has such high conservation value that the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast secured an option to buy the land, but still must find funding. The Myakka River snakes through the ranch and the property has 220 acres of sawgrass marsh that are considered important for the river’s water quality.

Farther east, the seven-ranch deal on the border between Sarasota and DeSoto counties is in an area where phosphate mining companies have been active.

Lanier, the Candy Bar Ranch owner, calls phosphate mining “the big gorilla in the canary cage.”

“They’re buying properties in this area,” Lanier said, adding: “We feel pretty strongly about keeping this corridor in agriculture out here if at all possible and of course this amendment is going to have a lot to do with the outcome of that.”

Even if the constitutional amendment passes, though, it will take years for state officials to work their way through the Florida Forever priority list. Lack of recent funding has contributed to a huge backlog of conservation priorities.

State Department of Environmental Protection officials estimate the total value of the 2 million acres already added to the Florida Forever priority acquisition list at nearly $5 billion. Conservation advocates say that’s a conservative figure, and put the the value closer to $10 billion.

Yet only $129 million has been devoted to the program over the last six years, less than half of what lawmakers once spent every year to buy conservation lands in Florida.

The constitutional amendment would ensure the state goes back to earmarking hundreds of millions annually towards conservation programs, but the backlog of projects means funding could still be tight.

To stretch available dollars, state officials often focus on acquisitions that include matching funds, whether from local governments, private individuals, or other sources.

Sarasota County voters approved a special tax for conservation purchases. Most of the annual tax revenue is obligated to pay off bonds sold to finance previous land deals, although there is $2.1 million available for property acquisition next year.

Conservation easements also tend to be looked on more favorably by state officials, a fact that could help the Southwest Florida ranch deals. The easements are cheaper than buying land outright. They restrict development, but ownership and land management remain in private hands.

That is important for Lanier and his neighbors, who want to see agricultural activities continue on their ranches.

Born in Arcadia, Lanier grew up working his family’s DeSoto County ranch.

He became a veterinarian and owned the Animal Medical Clinic in Sarasota before handing the business over to partners eight years ago.

Running the Candy Bar Ranch still keeps Lanier plenty busy, though. He maintains a herd of Charbray cattle on the ranch, which he bought from a family that had owned it for generations.

The daily routine varies. In recent weeks it has centered around mowing the pastures to keep the weeds down. That might seem tedious to some, but Lanier finds it therapeutic, calling his John Deere mower his “psychiatrist.”

“You can solve a lot of the world’s problems as you bump along,” he joked recently while riding around the property in a cowboy hat, black jeans and a plaid short-sleeve shirt, his four-door Toyota truck bouncing slowly over dirt tracks worn into the pasture and pine forests.

Along the trail are pens for trapping wild hogs, drinking ponds for the cattle, a friend’s beehives, solar-powered wells and feeding stations for wild game. A flock of up to 30 turkeys regularly visits the ranch house. The Charbray hide from the sun in shady groves.

The landscape changes from seasonal wetlands to wide pastures and undisturbed forests. Pointing to a dense hammock of cabbage palm and oaks, Lanier remarks on how beautiful the trees are when they sway in a breeze.

He finds beauty everywhere on the ranch: The spiky expanses of saw palmettos that stretch underneath the pines, the long black bodies of the eastern indigo snakes.

“I would sure rest better in my grave knowing this was still in agricultural use and not a shopping center,” he said.

Zac Anderson

Vote Yes on 1

On November 4, a historic conservation initiative will give Florida voters a chance to directly decide the future of Florida’s water and environmental sensitive lands. The Florida Water and Land Conservation, Amendment 1, dedicates funds to acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands.

Protecting our water is a critical area of focus for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. We are a strong and active supporter of Amendment 1 and encourage citizens to Vote Yes on 1 on November 4.  This amendment is our best opportunity to address threats to water quality and keep pollution out of our waters without any increase in taxes.
The Conservancy joins many others in endorsing Amendment 1 – including the Florida Water and Land Legacy, a coalition of conservation and civic organizations, businesses and concerned citizens who share the mission of protecting Florida’s most cherished waters and natural areas.

This group was successful in placing Amendment 1 on the ballot, giving Florida voters the chance to support clean drinking water, protect our beaches, rivers, lakes and streams and restore our natural treasures including the Everglades. In addition, Amendment 1 has received the endorsement of The News-Press.

You can support the campaign in a number of ways:

•    Sharing Facebook and Twitter posts,
•    Forwarding informational emails to your friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues;
•    Submitting a letter to the editor of your local paper, explaining the importance of Amendment 1

To learn more and find out how you can help, call Conservancy Environmental Policy Specialist Jeremy Frantz at (239) 262-0304 x267 or visit http://voteyeson1fl.org.

Transportation

Cadillac Announces Its Latest Plug-In Hybrid Car: The CT6

Global product chief Mark Reuss has set the stage next year for the debut of Cadillac’s newest rear-wheel-drive, luxury sedan: the CT6. The Cadillac CT6 will be the highest-end product out of the current model range, sitting just above the CTS and the XTS thanks to its 8 inch longer body and 25 kilogram weight-loss.

GM has even patented their new-improved wielding technique which Reuss claims allows the use of an innovative mix of aluminum and high-strength steels with stamped and cast parts, which in turn will provide a much stiffer shell. Reuss himself called it “The world’s most advanced body structure.” This should lead to both a quieter, and more comfortable ride.

According to The Detroit News, Reuss has announced that the CT6 will boast a twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine with an eight-speed automatic transmission. In addition to this, there will in fact be a plug-in hybrid version, with the ability to reach an impressive 70 miles per gallon.

The CT6 faces fierce competition as it is set to battle it out with the likes of: the Audi A8, the BMW 7 Series and the Jaguar S-Class, because of its size, stature, and presumably similar price range. Despite this though, new president of Cadillac, Johan de Nysschen claims that it will not be competing in the same class as the Cadillac CT6.

The Daily Kanban recently reported that de Nysschen said: “CT6 is not positioned against S-Class, 7 Series or [Audi] A8. It will have more advanced technology, better dynamics, similar refinement but it is smaller.”

The design of the new hybrid vehicle hasn’t been unveiled yet, but many are speculating it may take design cues from Cadillac’s forthcoming Elmiraj. But is this just a way of fueling the fire and adding heat to the competition?

De Nysschen seems confident that the Cadillac will outperform its German and English rivals. We already know that the CT6 is due to be a whopping 350 kilograms lighter than the 7 series. With those kinds of promises, it’s easy to see why Reuss, de Nysschen and the Cadillac team may currently be feeling smug.

Cadillac is starting to up their game with the success of the CTS which won over many of its critics. Sales were also up with 2013 proving to be a very good year for Cadillac and consequently its parents company General Motors too. Despite a decrease in last months sales of 1.3% in  the US, on the global front Cadillac really isn’t doing too badly. A 10% sales increase in 2014 through to August shows how well sales have been progressing, mainly because of sales gains in China.

And it’s not just sales that are up too – Cadillac’s average transaction price has been over $49,000, which trumps rival German luxury brands.

The question now is, can they keep up this strong, productive and driven motive? We’ll have to wait til late next year to find out, but if one thing’s for sure, it’s that Cadillac is most definitely not to be taken lightly.

Photos

Callum Newcombe|October 7, 2014

Mercedes-Benz Unveils the Future Truck 2025: A Self-Driving Truck That Can Save Thousands of Lives Every Year

Mercedes-Benz Unveils the Future Truck 2025: A Self-Driving Truck That Can Save Thousands of Lives Every Year

Mercedes-Benz has taken another giant step towards autonomous driving, as they recently officially unveiled the Future Truck 2025, an invention that Mercedes is hoping will revolutionize the haulage business, in their favor.

Though the project was announced in July, Mercedes has just recently given us even more of an insight in to what the Future Truck could do, and its features.

It seems that Mercedes is spearheading the promotion of the Future Truck 2025 with the angle of safety. They claim that the Future Truck 2025 will save thousands of life each year because as Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, a board member for Daimler, explains, “Once the highway pilot takes over, it never get’s tired, it’s always 100 sharp, it’s never angry, it’s never distracted,” taking away many of the flaws of a human pilot.

While many may see this as a great improvement and another step in the right direction towards completely hands-free driving, others are likely to see this leading to widespread job cuts across the haulage industry. But as Mercedes and Daimler are keen to stress in the promotional video that was launched, the driver is still very much essential to the operation.

The driver still has to drive to and  merge on to the highway and reach a set speed in which the highway pilot will take over. The driver’s seat then rotates 45 degrees, leaving the driver able to focus their attention on other factors of their journey in a more comfortable position.  The cockpit features a chic decor with a spacious design. If the exterior isn’t quite futuristic enough for you then you can be assured that inside the Future Truck 2025, that the modern days average trucker’s cockpit interior design is not at all apparent.

Some of the most notable features on the Future Truck 2025 are actually the lack of some industry standard features. Headlights have been scrapped, and instead are LEDs which look fantastic. They possess an ambient and gracious quality while at the same time are a great indicator of who is controlling the vehicle at any point, as the colors change from a white to a blue once the highway pilot becomes the primary driver of the vehicle.

Another drastic change in the current design of the Future Truck 2025 are the cameras that now replace the wing-mirrors.

Another smart idea that definitely has its benefits, not to mention inner-city driving, but the cameras give a clearer and much broader picture of what’s on the road for the driver to see.

The Future Truck may be over a decade away according to Mercedes, but the goal makes clear their desire to lead the race in revolutionizing the future haulage business. It’s a given that the current prototype will probably be a completely different vehicle by the time that Daimler and laws are ready for the production of these kinds of vehicles, but it will be interesting to see whether proposed changes and introductions will stick or whether more improvements will be in place by the time that these kinds of vehicles hit the roads.

Photos

Callum Newcombe|October 7, 2014

FRA releases DEIS for Public Comment on All Aboard Florida Project

PRESS RELEASE NUMBER: DOT 10-14
CONTACT: FRA Public Affairs
PHONE: 202-493-6024
SUBJECT: Environmental Protection
KEYWORDS: AAF, All Aboard Florida, NEPA, DEIS
ABSTRACT: WASHINGTON – The U. S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) today published the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Orlando to West Palm Beach section (Phase II) of All Aboard Florida – Operations LLC’s (AAF) passenger rail Project.

WASHINGTON – The U. S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) today published the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Orlando to West Palm Beach section (Phase II)  of All Aboard Florida – Operations LLC’s (AAF) passenger rail Project.

“Our role is to ensure compliance with federal environmental laws so that communities remain safe and experience as few adverse impacts from this project as possible,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “That is why we are having a robust comment period to hear from as many people as possible before any other action is taken.”

The DEIS is a milestone in the clearance process for all known environmental impacts before pre-engineering, design and construction can begin on the Project.  Publication of the DEIS begins a comprehensive 75-day public comment period that is nearly twice as long as the time period required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969.  The DEIS examines four alternatives, including a No-Action Alternative for the 168.5 mile proposed alignment between West Palm Beach and Orlando.  The document includes environmental analysis for both Phase I and Phase II, and lays out potential impacts from the project on cultural resources, navigation, wetlands, floodplains, biological resources and natural ecological systems, as well as land use.

Although the overall environmental impact of the project will be minimal, with some beneficial impacts anticipated in air quality, transportation efficiency and noise, the document identifies a dozen adverse impacts across four alternatives.  The DEIS proposes nineteen distinct mitigation strategies for the adverse impacts identified.

“Public involvement and input is critical in evaluating alternatives and ensuring a thorough analysis of all aspects of the project,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo. “The FRA welcomes public involvement in this process and is committed to ensuring AAF’s compliance with all applicable Federal standards and regulations.”

FRA invites the public, governmental agencies, and all other interested parties to provide written comments on the DEIS. Public information meetings on the DEIS will be held throughout the comment period. Complete information on the comment process, public open houses, and the full DEIS can be found on either the FRA or AAF websites, www.allaboardflorida.com or www.fra.dot.gov.

The Administration is publishing this document in coordination with the Federal Aviation Authority, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Coast Guard.  Public notice will be made through a notice in the Federal Register, newspaper ads, and press releases.

FRA issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) in January 2013 for Phase I of AAF’s Project, which would provide rail service on the 66.5 miles between West Palm Beach and Miami.  Although the DEIS was initiated for Phase II of the Project, (West Palm Beach to Orlando), the document analyzes the cumulative effects of both phases of the Project since train operations will cover the full corridor between Miami and Orlando.

AAF currently has an application pending for a Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).  Although the NEPA process and the consideration of a RRIF loan are separate and distinct processes, the environmental review is a mandated prerequisite for eligibility and consideration of a RRIF loan. 

AAF’s Project proposes to construct and operate a privately owned and operated 235-mile intercity passenger railroad system that would connect Orlando with Miami, with intermediate stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.   The Project would be implemented in phases and includes adding double track to existing rail right-of-way between Cocoa and Miami and building a new rail right-of way between Cocoa and Orlando.  The Project would include 32 passenger trains daily and travel between 79 mph and 125 mph.

U.S. Department of Transportation|Office of Public Affairs|Washington D.C.|Sep19, 2014

Recycling

Plastic bag makers launch push to overturn ban

Plastic bag manufacturers on Friday passed their first hurdle in their effort to delay and eventually repeal California’s new ban on single-use plastic shopping bags before it takes effect.

The office of Attorney General Kamala Harris cleared the way for the groups to begin collecting signatures for a referendum on the ban on the November 2016 ballot.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 30 signed the first statewide ban on plastic bags, citing a “torrent” of plastic pollution in parks and waterways. It followed one of the fiercest legislative battles of the year.

If opponents of the law submit more than 500,000 signatures by January, the ban would not take effect until voters weigh in.

A national coalition of plastic bag manufacturers says voters will be on their side when they learn the law, SB270, authorizes a 10-cent fee for paper bags that are now often provided for free.

“If this law were all owed to go into effect, it would jeopardize thousands of California manufacturing jobs, hurt the environment, and fleece consumers for billions so grocery store shareholders and their union partners can line their pockets,” Lee Califf, executive director of the American Plastic Bag Alliance, said in a news release.

Under the state ban, l agree grocery stores must stop carrying single-use bags by July 2015. Pharmacies, liquor stores and convenience stores must comply the next year.

An environmental group that supports the ban has vowed to fight the referendum. “We are confident that Californians will repeat history by rejecting an effort by an out-of-state, special-interest, polluter-funded misinformation campaign to overturn a popular law,” Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, said in a news release.

Records show the American Plastic Bag Alliance has spent at least $140,000 lobbying the California Legislature and the governor’s office in the first six months of the year.

Fenit Nirappil|Associated Press|10/11/14

Top 10 Most Important Items to Recycle

Recycling is one of the most important things we can do to preserve our planet.

On a daily basis, more than 100 million Americans participate in recycling used and old materials in their household and offices.

Are you one of them? Or are you trying to sort which items you can recycle and which ones belong in the compost or the garbage?

To help you out, the National Recycling Coalition has put together a list the top ten most important items to recycle.

#1: Aluminum. This is because aluminum cans are 100 percent recyclable and can also be recycled over and over again. Even better, turning recycled cans into new cans takes 95 percent less energy than making brand-new ones. So how about starting with all those soda and juice cans?

#2: PET Plastic Bottles. Americans will buy about 25 billion single-serving bottles of water this year, according to the Container Recycling Institute. Worse yet, nearly 80 percent of those bottles will end up in a landfill. Let’s put a stop to that. Making plastic out of recycled resources uses about two-thirds less energy than making new plastic. And because plastic bottles, more than any other type of plastic, are the most commonly used type, they are usually the easiest to recycle.

#3: Newspaper. This is a pretty obvious one, right? It seems like a no-brainer to set up a recycling bin next to your garbage can for newspaper and any other scrap paper. So why should we recycle paper? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, paper makes up about one-third of the all the municipal waste stream in the U.S. That’s a whole lot of paper, and since we know that recycling all that paper conserves resources, saves energy, and doesn’t clog up the landfills, there’s no reason not to do it.

Once you have those in place, let’s move on to the rest of our list.

#4: Corrugated Cardboard. Old corrugated cardboard (OCC) represents a significant percentage of the commercial solid waste stream. In 1996, the U.S. generated 29 million tons of OCC, or 13.8% of our municipal waste stream. Approximately 90% of that comes from the commercial or non-residential sector, the places where we work. So next time UPS delivers a big box to your office, be sure to break it down and recycle it. (After you’ve emptied it, of course.)

#5: Steel cans. Just like aluminum, steel products can be recycled over again without compromising the quality of the steel. We’re talking about steel cans, but maybe you have some steel auto parts or appliances ready for recycling too? More than 80 million tons of steel are recycled each year in North America, and recycling steel saves the equivalent energy to power 18 million households a year. You can learn more about steel recycling by visiting the Steel Recycling Institute website.

#6: HDPE plastic bottles (HDPE stands for high-density polyethylene, a common and more dense plastic, which is used for detergents, bleach, shampoo, milk jugs.) HDPE plastics are identified by the logo on the bottom of the container. (Three arrows in the shape of a triangle.) Check the number inside that logo: numbers 1 and 2 are recyclable almost everywhere, but 3 through 7 are only recyclable in limited areas. And don’t forget to rinse and clean all of your HDPE containers in the sink. Any remaining dirt or food particles can contaminate the recycling process.

#7: Glass containers. Recycled glass saves 50 percent energy versus virgin glass, and recycling just one glass container saves enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for four hours. Recycled glass generates 20 percent less air pollution and 50 percent less water pollution, and one ton of glass made from 50 percent recycled materials saves 250 pounds of mining waste. Wow!

#8: Magazines and #9: Mixed paper. There are so many reasons to recycle all kinds of paper that it makes no sense not to. First, recycled paper saves 60 percent of energy versus virgin paper, and also generates 95 percent less air pollution. Recycling one ton of paper saves 17 trees and 7,000 gallons of water. Sadly, though, every year Americans throw away enough paper to make a 12-foot wall from New York to California. Let’s work on changing that!

#10: Computers. Computers can be recycled in a couple of ways, depending on the state of the machine. Giving old, working computers to friends and family members or donating them to nonprofit organizations not only keeps the computer entirely out of the waste stream, but it presents computer access to someone who might not otherwise be able to afford it. Non-working computers can be sent to recycling centers where they are dismantled and valuable components are recovered.

Of course, there’s also reducing and reusing, and if you choose those, you will have even less to recycle!

Judy Molland|October 14, 2014

27 Awesome Ways to Reuse Food Scraps

1. Make broth. Celery tops, onion and garlic skins, carrot peels, and other food scraps are great for flavoring your vegetable broth. Just save the scraps in a freezer-safe container until you have enough to cook them up. When the broth is done, strain out the solids and toss them into your compost bin.

2. Use old lemon peels to infuse liquor. Check out this simple recipe for lemon brandy. You can also use this technique to make lemon vodka, rum, tequila…pretty much any liquor you like!

3. Save those kale stalks. Most recipes for kale and other dark leafy greens call for removing the leaves from the stems, but there is a lot of nutrition in those kale stalks! Try this recipe for kale stalks with chili and garlic.

4. A small slice of citrus peel keeps brown sugar from hardening. Just make sure that you store the sugar in the refrigerator, so the peel doesn’t rot.

5. Is your garbage disposer stinky? Throw citrus peels into the garbage disposer to destink it.

6. Apple peels make a tasty tea. If you want to make this recipe vegan, go for agave nectar or maple syrup in place of the honey or skip the sweetener all together.

7. Use apple peels to clean aluminum cookware. You can get the deets from DIY Network.

8. You can actually eat carrots without peeling them, but if you want to peel your carrots, save the peels. You can use them to make carrot oil, which is a great addition to your DIY beauty regimen.

9. Cucumber peels deter pests. You can find a list here of how to use cucumbers to deter ants, moths, mites, wasps, and silverfish.

10. Reuse those broccoli stems. Like kale stems broccoli stalks have tons of nutritional value. Just slice away the tough outer skin and try some of these recipes!

11. Does your kiddo eat his sandwiches with the crusts cut off? Save the crusts in a container in the fridge and grind them into breadcrumbs.

12. After making almond milk, dry the leftover pulp in the oven and use it in any recipe calling for almond flour. Try these almond flour muffins to start.

13. Next time you get a bunch of beets, save the leafy tops. Wash them well to get all of the dirt off, and you can cook them up just like you would Swiss chard, a close relative to the beet.

14. Did someone say chard? Check out this recipe for quick-pickled Swiss chard stems!

15. After cutting the top off of your pineapple, don’t toss it in the compost. You can actually use that top to grow another pineapple.

16. Save the bottoms of your green onions, too. You can plant them in a pot or your garden to grow new onions.

17. Speaking of onions, you can use the skins to make fabric dye. Both yellow onions and red onions work to make dye.

18. Reuse celery leaves. Celery tops are full of nutrients and flavor. Green Talk shows you lots of ways to cook and store celery leaves.

19. Use coffee grounds to deodorize your hands and cutting board after chopping garlic and onions. Rub them on, then rinse away. It seriously works like magic!

20. Next time you make a romaine salad, save the lettuce hearts to grow more lettuce. Here’s how!

21. Use potato peels as a natural remedy for warts.

22. You can reuse the pulp left from juicing veggies to make broth. Just like tip #1, you’ll probably want to strain out the solids when the broth is done.

23. Leftover fruit pulp adds fiber and vitamins to your smoothies.

24. Instead of tossing peach pits into your compost, try this recipe for peach pit jelly.

25. Got tomato scraps? Use them to make tomato sauce.

26. Save those cracker crumbs. The crumbs from the bottom of that bag of crackers work great as breading or to top off a casserole. If there aren’t enough in the box, mix them with your other breadcrumbs. Maybe crumbs you made from those bread crusts (#11)?

27. Infuse vinegar with citrus peels. Just like with infused liquors, you can experiment with different sorts of citrus and different vinegars.

Becky Striepe|Care2

Got some food scraps that are destined for your trash or compost bin?

Before you toss those out, take a look at these creative ways to reuse them.

We have a serious food waste problem. While a lot of the food that goes to waste worldwide is on the supply side, we as consumers can do our part to reduce food waste as well. These ways to reuse food scraps are just one aspect of how we as consumers can reduce food waste. Check out some of these articles for more tips and ideas to reduce food waste at home:

With 30-40 percent of our global food supply going to waste, anything that we can do to maximize the food we have can help. Check out these awesome ways to reuse food scraps to help you put a dent in the food waste in your kitchen!

Becky Striepe|Care2

Miscellaneous

Pig supplies rebounding from virus
Litters, feed supplies up, but issue not eradicated

DES MOINES, Iowa A virus that killed millions of baby pigs in the past year and led to higher pork prices has waned thanks to warmer weather and farmers’ efforts to sterilize their operations. And as pigs’ numbers increase, sticker shock on things like bacon should ease. Already, hog supplies are on the rise, with 5.46million baby pigs born between June and August in Iowa, the nation’s leading producer — the highest quarterly total in 20 years and a record 10.7 surviving pigs per litter, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

It’s a significant turnaround from a year ago when the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus was wiping out entire litters. Since the virus first showed up, the federal government rushed to give conditional approval for a vaccine, and those in the industry began taking precautions, such as disinfecting trucks, equipment and clothing.

“We’ve gotten better at managing biosecurity and establishing health protocols,” said Greg Lear, a producer near Spencer, Iowa, who lost more than 800 baby pigs last December. “I think Mother Nature helped us with sunshine. It doesn’t like sunshine and warmer temperatures.”

It’s clear the industry is managing the virus, but it’s far from eradicated. Two new cases were confirmed by South Dakota veterinary officials in the past week, bringing the state’s total to 38 farms. And there’s reason to be cautious, Lear said, as the virus thrives in colder, wetter environments like those found in fall and winter.

As baby pigs died across the country, pork supplies dropped and prices rose, setting a monthly average retail record of $4.20 per pound the week of Aug. 14 — an 11percent increase over the $3.76-per-pound a year earlier, the USDA said.

Consumers didn’t seem to be scared by the high prices, though, as demand dropped only about 3 percent in the most recent quarter compared with a year ago, the USDA said.

“We’ve been talking for some time about consumers starting to push back, and we have seen that in certain degrees — but not maybe what we had expected,” said Lee Schulz, a livestock economist and assistant professor at Iowa State University. “From a pure price standpoint, it’s a bit surprising that we’ve seen such robust demand.”

This year’s anticipated record-breaking corn and soybean harvests are playing a role in increased producer profits as well, because of a drop in the cost of feed.

Producers are hoping to cash in by raising more hogs. Missouri reported 40,000 more sows, Iowa added 30,000, and Texas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana and Oklahoma each added thousands, the USDA said in a Sept. 29 report.

It takes about six months to raise a pig to market weight, so the increased supply could mean a slight drop in consumer prices this winter and a more noticeable decline in the spring, Hurt said, noting his models for profit by the end of 2015 are about $30 per animal.

David Pitt|Associated Press|10/11/14

Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey & Other A-List Celebrities Featured in Eco Video Series

Conservation International has partnered with a number of A-List celebrities, including Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Harrison Ford, Edward Norton, Robert Redford, and Penélope Cruz, to create a video series that personifies elements of our planet to explain the environmental crises we are facing from the Earth’s perspective.

As part of the campaign Nature is Speaking, each of the celebrities lend their voice to an aspect of our planet – for example, Spacey is the rainforest, Cruz is the water, Norton is the soil, and Roberts is Mother Nature. The mantra of the campaign is “Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature.”

Julia Roberts is Mother Nature https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmVLcj-XKnM

Kevin Spacey is The Rain Forest https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBqMJzv4Cs8

Edward Norton is The Soil https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dor4XvjA8Wo

Robert Redford is The Redwood https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3e66bnuxV2A

Harrison Ford is The Ocean https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rM6txLtoaoc

Penelope Cruz is Water https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwV9OYeGN88

Ian Andrew|October 6, 2014

Let’s slow down, for the sake of ourselves and our planet

The Amazon rainforest is magnificent. Watching programs about it, we’re amazed by brilliant parrots and toucans, tapirs, anacondas and jaguars. But if you ever go there expecting to be overwhelmed by a dazzling blur of activity, you’ll be disappointed. The jungle has plenty of vegetation — hanging vines, enormous trees, bromeliads and more — and a cacophony of insects and frogs. But much of the activity goes on at night or high up in the canopy.

Films of tropical forests don’t accurately reflect the reality of the ecosystems. They’re skillfully edited shots acquired over many months. Our media-nurtured impatience and urgent sense of time often prevent us from seeing how life truly unfolds.

Nature needs time to adjust and adapt to biosphere changes. After life appeared on Earth, atmospheric oxygen gradually went from zero to 20 per cent, oceans appeared and disappeared, mountains thrust upward and then eroded, continents moved on tectonic plates, climate cycled between ice ages and warm intervals, magnetic poles reversed and re-reversed. Life flourished because species and ecosystems evolved over time.

The fossil record also indicates periods of rapid change, including mass extinctions when up to 95 per cent of living things were wiped out. Each time, survivors changed, adapted to new conditions and flourished. Still, recovery took millions of years. Humans have been around for a mere 150,000 years. We’re an infant species, but our precocity has allowed us to expand exponentially. Now our technological power and consumptive demand are undermining the planet’s life-support systems on a geologic scale.

We’ve become impatient. We’re so demanding that we’re unwilling to slow down and ensure our major projects are sustainable for human society and the biosphere. Over the past century, we’ve burned increasing amounts of finite fossil fuels that were stored and compressed over millions of years, exacerbating conditions that lead to climate chaos. We’ve clear-cut vast tracts of forest that have evolved over millennia, flooded huge areas under large dams, depleted our oceans with over-efficient fishing technology and spread vast quantities of toxic waste throughout the planet’s air, water and soil.

Governments rationalize these actions by claiming to do proper environmental assessments, but continue to impose restrictive time limits on assessment processes while reducing the number of scientists and other staff who do the work. It takes time to acquire scientific information, and it can’t always be done on a strict timetable.

If we truly desire a sustainable society, we require vibrant and abundant nature. To recognize that nature isn’t separate from us and fully understand how it provides critical services, we need patience to learn its secrets. We can’t survive, let alone be healthy and flourish, without clean air, clean water, clean soil and food, photosynthesis and biodiversity. But we’re overwhelming nature — and ourselves — with the incessant demands of our ramped-up consumer culture.

Fortunately, people are starting to remember that we’re part of nature and that what we do to the natural world we do to ourselves. They’re taking notice of the drastic impacts we’re having on Earth, our only home, and demanding that we show more care.

In New York on September 21, more than 300,000 people turned out for what was billed as the largest climate march ever, one of 2,646 marches in 162 countries. Leaders of some of the world’s largest corporations are calling for climate action and carbon pricing, and distancing themselves from organizations that have worked to stall progress. Even the heirs of the Rockefeller Standard Oil fortune announced they’ll withdraw their investments in fossil fuels, including the Alberta oil sands.

With the Blue Dot Tour, the David Suzuki Foundation and I are hoping to encourage all Canadians to become part of this growing movement to protect the air, water, soil and biodiversity that we and our children and grandchildren need to survive and be healthy. Like nature, social movements sometimes take time to evolve and unfold. We don’t always see their impacts as they happen. If we expect a dazzling blur of activity and immediate results, we’ll be disappointed.

Let’s slow down, breathe, listen, look and feel. Only then will we understand our place in the world and what we must do to live well on this small blue dot spinning in an enormous universe.

By David Suzuki.

Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area

 Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area stretches for 40 miles along the course of the only free-flowing tributary to Lake Okeechobee. Framed by bald cypress swamps and hardwood hammocks, Fisheating Creek has long been valued for its scenic quality unmarred by houses and other human intrusions.

Strategically located in relation to Big Cypress Swamp, Okaloacoochee Slough, Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area, Lake Okeechobee, and the Lake Wales Ridge, Fisheating Creek is critical to the long-term welfare of Florida panthers, Florida black bears, swallow-tailed kites, whooping and sandhill cranes, crested caracara, and a number of other species native to the area.

Here you can paddle along the creek enjoying the scenery and the abundant wildlife, hunt for deer, feral hog, and Osceola turkey, fish, picnic, and camp.

Exciting Campground Changes!

Fisheating Creek campground continues to get better and better.  A new vault toilet and outdoor shower are in place at the Depot swimming and camping area.  One thing continues the same, our concessionaire Fisheating Creek Outpost continues to provide high quality service to campers and paddlers as well as exciting and fun interpretive programs.

Environmental Links

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

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ConsRep 1014 A

 

I see humanity now as one vast plant, needing for its highest fulfillment only love, the natural blessings of the great outdoors, and intelligent crossing and selection. Luther Burbank

Announcements

Join us for the Everglades Coalition’s 30th Annual Conference!

Send it South: Water for America’s Everglades

The Coalition’s Annual Conference seeks to raise critical, timely issues for in-depth debates in an open, accessible forum.

Community leaders and political figures come to discuss their positions, pledge their support and offer challenges to the community.

The conference is attended by decision-makers from federal, state, local and tribal governments, agency representatives, stakeholders

and a vast array of public and private interests including scientists, educators, contractors, conservationists, the media, students and the general public.

The conference is the largest annual forum to advance Everglades conservation and restoration.

The 30th Annual Conference – Key Largo, FL
January 8th, 9th,& 10th, 2015

- See more at:

http://www.evergladescoalition.org/conference.html#sthash.9jbI3UMu.dpuf

The 4th Annual Florida Panther Festival
November 15 – 16, 2014

Exotic Pet Amnesty Event
Surrender your exotic pet,
no questions asked, to be adopted by a qualified individual.
HELD AT FESTIVAL LOCATION
Nov. 15th 
More information  coming soon

Festival
Saturday, November 15
10am – 4pm
North Collier Regional Park
FREE ADMISSION
RAIN OR SHINE!!
Stay tuned for more updates!
Field Trips
Sunday, November 16th  Various Locations
Click here for more information!

ARTHUR R. MARSHALL LOXAHATCHEE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
New Smartphone/Cellphone Self-Guided Tour

The Friends are proud to announce our new self-guided tour that you can take using your smartphone or cellphone.

Look for the signs along the Marsh Trail and at the boat docks and Butterfly Garden across from the Visitor Center – you can start your tour wherever you choose.

You can learn about birds, butterflies, alligators, invasive species and much more! If you can’t come out to the Refuge right away,

you can call 561-962-9451 and enter a topic number from 1 to 13 or visit http://myoncell.mobi/15619629451 and view all 13 videos.

SCHEDULED PROGRAMS       

October 2014
Tram Tours of the Marsh
Every Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Tuesday, October 20 & 27, 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Thursday, October 9, 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.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, October 11, 8:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.
Saturday, October 25, 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.
Enjoy this 3-minute video made on the canoe trail:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BW49VXaOvGU&feature=related 

 Full Moon Guided Canoe Trips
Friday, November 7, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Saturday, December 6, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Meet at the Lee Road Boat Ramp to enjoy a guided moonlight canoe tour through a portion of the Refuge interior. 

Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants and bring a flashlight and bug spray.

Canoe rental from Loxahatchee Canoeing is $32; you may not bring your own.  (One canoe seats 2 to 3 people.)

RESERVATIONS REQUIRED – PLEASE CALL LOXAHATCHEE CANOEING at 561-733-0192.

SFAS Calendar of Events for Oct / Nov

For more information or updates to the schedule please see our SFAS Calendar of Events.

2014/10/07 – 08 Sapelo Island Birding Adventure

2014/10/08 Free Film Global Frackkdown

2014/10/11-12 FL Keys Hawk Watch Weekend Getaway

2014/10/12 Bird Walk at Tall Cypress Natural Area in Coral Springs

2014/10/16 SFAS Educational Meeting at Fern Forest Nature Center

2014/10/17 – 18 AUDUBON ASSEMBLY

2014/10/19 Flamingo Gardens – Birding by Season

2014/10/19-25 Ding Darling Days, Sanibel Island

2014/10/25 Free Birding Field Trip – Richardson Park and E Ft. Laud

2014/11/02 Birding Class at Bonnet House – Ascend to Better Birding

2014/11/04 Vote YES on Amendment 1

2014/11/08 and 09 Sanibel Island Weekend Getaway

2014/11/08 Sea Turtle Oversight Protection Fundraising Concert and Silent Auction

2014/11/09 Bird Walk at Tall Cypress Natural Area in Coral Springs

2014/11/15 FREE Birding Field Trip – Plantation Preserve

2014/11/20 SFAS Educational Meeting at Anne Kolb Nature Center

Florida DEP Division of Water Resource Management Senate Bill 536 Study

Please note, the date for the public workshop in Palatka has moved to November 13 at 1 PM!

As a reminder, the remaining public workshops on the SB 536 Study being held this Fall are:

  • Monday, October 20, 1 PM, West Palm Beach (SFWMD/DEP)
  • Monday, October 27, 1 PM (CST)/2 PM (EST), Panama City (NWFWMD/DEP)
  • Wednesday, October 29, 10 AM, Brooksville (SWFWMD/DEP)
  • Thursday, November 13, 1 PM, Palatka (SJRWMD/DEP)

Please visit our SB 536 Study web page for more details, including workshop locations, agenda, and presentations. 

Thank you,

SB536 Study Team
sb536study@dep.state.fl.us

Save Our Creeks. 

Annual Meeting Oct. 18th, Moore Haven

Save Our Creeks is a Florida non-profit membership organization made up of interested citizens and groups devoted to the general purpose

of conservation of natural resources, especially creeks and small waterways. Our focus is primarily in SW Florida.

Like them on Facebook .

NRCS  initiated the Public review period for the Draft Environmental Assessment for the Fisheating Creek Wetland Reserve Plan of Operation,

under the Wetland Reserve Program. All Agencies/Partners are welcome to continue reviewing the Draft EA. 

This document is available for download for your review at https://amec.box.com/s/fupfwamcgbjllj866jj1

Please submit additional comments and questions to Angelique Bochnak at Angelique.Bochnak@amec.com or to Sara Miller at Sara.Miller@amec.com .

Angelique M.K. Bochnak, Ph.D., PWS
Senior Water Resource Scientist
Ecosystem Ecologist and Biogeochemist
AMEC
Environment & Infrastructure, Inc.
404 SW 140th Terrace, Newberry, FL, 32669, USA
Tel 352-332-3318 x 2616, FAX 352-333-6622
Direct 352-333-2616, mobile/cell 352-474-9048
angelique.bochnak@amec.com

Of Interest to All

Two Tampa Corporations and Four Tampa Residents Plead Guilty to Scheme to Unlawfully Sell an Unregistered Pesticide and Obstruct Justice

ATLANTAWifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Maureen O’Mara, Special Agent in Charge, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division (EPA-CID), Michael A. Hill, Special Agent in Charge, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Inspector General (EPA-OIG), Atlanta Field Office, and Colonel/Director Calvin Adams, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Division of Law Enforcement (FWCC), announce that New Nautical Coatings, Inc., d/b/a “Sea Hawk Paints,” Sea Hawk Refinish Line, Inc., d/b/a “Refinish Line Auto Supplies,” of Clearwater, and Erik Norrie, 42, David Norrie, 46, Jason Revie, 44, and Tommy Craft, 46, each of Hillsborough County, pled guilty before United States District Judge Ursula Ungaro.

New Nautical Coatings, Inc. and David Norrie pled guilty to willfully conspiring to corruptly obstruct the due and proper administration of law under which a pending proceeding was being had before the Environmental Protection Agency, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371. At sentencing, David Norrie faces up to five years in prison, up to three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine. At sentencing, New Nautical Coatings, Inc. faces a fine of up to $500,000, or twice the gross pecuniary gain resulting from the offense, whichever is greater, and a term of probation of not less than one year and not more than five years. Pursuant to the terms of the plea agreement, New Nautical has agreed to pay a fine of $1,235,315.00, and implement a comprehensive Environmental Compliance Plan in cooperation with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the EPA.

Sea Hawk Refinish Line and Erik Norrie pled guilty to willfully conspiring to knowingly distribute and sell an unregistered pesticide, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371. Jason Revie and Tommy Craft pled guilty to knowingly distributing and selling an unregistered pesticide, in violation of Title 7, United States Code, Section 136j(a)(1)(A). At sentencing, Erik Norrie, Jason Revie and Tommy Craft face up to one year in prison, up to one year of supervised release and a $100,000 fine. Sea Hawk Refinish Line, Inc. faces a fine of up to $200,000, or twice the gross pecuniary gain resulting from the offense, whichever is greater, and a term of probation of not more than five years.

According to court documents, New Nautical manufactured a marine paint called Biocop Anti-Fouling Coating which contained tributyltin methacrylate (“TBT”), a pesticide subject to registration with the EPA that was found to have a significant harmful effect on marine life. On or about March 30, 2005, the EPA cancelled New Nautical’s registration for Biocop, making it unlawful for the company to manufacture Biocop for sale in the United States after December 1, 2005, or sell Biocop in the United States after December 31, 2005. At the time, New Nautical was the last manufacturer of TBT based anti-fouling coatings in the United States.

In order to manufacture and sell Biocop after its registration was canceled, New Nautical Coatings conceived and executed a plan to produce and sell Biocop in the United States by making it appear that it had manufactured Biocop prior to December 1, 2005, and sold its inventory of the banned pesticide to distributors, including to codefendant Refinish Line, by December 31, 2005. In an effort to conceal New Nautical’s unlawful production and sale of Biocop from authorities, David Norrie falsely represented to an EPA inspector that New Nautical had sold its existing stock of Biocop to distributors. Additionally, after David Norrie sold 60 gallons of Biocop to a customer in Broward County, he directed that customer to tell the EPA that he did not have Biocop and that New Nautical did not sell Biocop.

Sentencing for all defendants is scheduled for December 5, 2014.

Davina Marraccini|EPA|Marlene Fernandez-Karavetsos|DOJ|October 6, 2014

Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves Celebrate 40 Years of Protection

A month-long celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves continues to bring much-needed attention to one of the state’s treasured natural resources. The “Soiree by the Bay,” held Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014, at the Deering Estate at Cutler, featured the beauty and history of the aquatic preserves in pictures, art, video and storytelling.

Noted speakers at the “Soiree” included Representative David Richardson, Commissioner-elect Daniella Levine Cava and John Cyril Malloy III of Malloy and Malloy, P.L., whose father co-sponsored the legislation that created the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve Act. International eco-artist Xavier Cortada was in attendance, and on display was eco-artwork made by students inspired by the artist’s “Seagrass|Seahorse” painting made expressly for the 40th anniversary.

Children around the county painted their own version of a seahorse on flags donated by Miami-based company TUUCI. These flags will be part of a participatory eco-art project later in the month during the “Paddle Out” event on Oct. 25.

“Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves were established by the state of Florida to protect the abundant resources in this estuary,” said Pamela Sweeney, manager of Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves. “Our aquatic preserves serve the most populous county in the state, and they remain as vital a resource now for our commercial and recreational interests as it was when Miami was first settled. We attract tourists from around the world to these spectacular waters — right offshore from one of Florida’s largest cities. We hope these events celebrating 40 years of protection encourage the community to become active in the conservation of Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves.”

The month-long recognition of the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves’ 40th anniversary will conclude on Oct. 25 with “Paddle Out! Biscayne Bay,” an island excursion in the northern part of the aquatic preserves where Cortada will lead a community art project with the participants. Throughout the month, the community will be asked to pledge an eco-action — a personal commitment to help Biscayne Bay not just survive, but thrive, for the next 40 years.

“I am proud of the work that is being done across Florida to conserve and restore coastal and aquatic resources, while also providing additional recreational opportunities to our local communities and visitors,” said Kevin Claridge, director of the Florida Coastal Office. “I look forward to celebrating Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves’ anniversary and sharing our success stories in those preserves as well as in the other 39 aquatic preserves in Florida.”

During the “Paddle Out! Biscayne Bay” adventure paddle, registered participants will be invited to travel via canoes, kayaks and paddleboards along a three-mile route in the bay to the destination island. Once at the island, paddlers will display flags featuring children’s eco-action inspired artwork. The afternoon will feature food trucks, live music and opportunities to become part of the Friends of Biscayne Bay.

Florida is home to 41 aquatic preserves, encompassing 2.2 million acres of submerged land. Aquatic preserves protect the living waters of Florida to ensure they will always be home for bird and fish nurseries, freshwater springs and salt marshes, seagrass meadows and mangrove forests.

latashawalters|October 7, 2014

 

How a Tiny Brain Worm Is Killing Moose Across North America

On the first day of my visit to Yellowstone National Park, I got up at dawn and wandered over to the river flowing a few hundred feet from my campsite. Through the mist rising from the water I spotted a magnificent bull moose, standing motionless, its enormous antlers leaning back as it pointed its muzzle to the sky.

Entranced, I stood still, feeling blessed by this magical moment.

Now I read that these impressive animals are in serious trouble.

Moose are the largest of all the deer species. Males are immediately recognizable by their huge antlers, which can spread six feet from end to end. These animals are so tall that they prefer to browse higher grasses and shrubs because lowering their heads to ground level can be difficult.

We learned recently that half of the world’s wildlife has disappeared in the past 40 years, and it seems that moose are not exempt from this trend.

Moose populations are in steep decline in North America, in their normal habitats from Montana, Wyoming and British Columbia, to Minnesota and New Hampshire.

The state of Minnesota, for example, had two separate moose populations 20 years ago. One of them has all but disappeared since the 1990s, dropping from 4,000 to less than 100. The other population, in northeastern Minnesota, is dropping 25 percent a year and is now fewer than 3,000, down from 8,000.

“Something’s changed,” says Nicholas DeCesare, a biologist with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks who is counting moose in Minnesota. “There’s fewer moose out there, and hunters are working harder to find them.”

Scientists are trying to figure out exactly what is causing the moose die-off.

Climate change is a definite suspect. Winters have grown substantially shorter across much of the moose’s range. Average winter temperatures in northern Minnesota have increased more than four degrees over the past 40 years. And that’s bad news for a couple of reasons.

Scientists think warmer winters and longer summers may be weakening the heat-sensitive moose and giving wolves more time to hunt them.

Parasites also have more time to infect them.

Then there’s the brain worm.

Historically, deep winter snow kept deer out of moose country, so the animals didn’t mix much. But a series of warm winters, as have happened recently in the Northeast and Midwest, can allow deer, and brain worms, to move north into the boreal forest.

This tiny parasite coexists happily with white-tailed deer, living in the connective tissue around the brain and spinal cord (or the meninges). But in areas with lots of deer, moose pick up the worm, too. And that’s a big problem for the moose. Some moose seem able to fight off the parasite, but others start walking in circles or just stand around until they become prey or die.

The National Wildlife Federation describes one study:

In early 2013, Minnesota biologists outfitted 110 adult moose with GPS collars and mortality sensors—and a year later added 36 more to replace those that already had died. They also put collars on 34 calves in May 2013. In a similar effort, New Hampshire and Maine biologist radio-collared 103 moose, half of them calves, in January 2014. The devices not only track locations, they also send messages to researchers when an animal may be dead, making it possible for the biologists to race in to collect carcasses or samples for analysis.

By March 2014, only nine of the 34 Minnesota radio-collared calves were still alive; the rest had mostly been killed by wolves, others by bears. More than a fifth of the adults also died.

So now it’s a race against time to understand exactly what’s causing this decline, and then figure out what to do about it.

The researchers admit they may not come up with answers before all the moose are gone from Minnesota, but hope that what they ultimately learn may save the moose populations in the rest of North America.

Judy Molland|October 9, 2014

Calls to Action

  1. Help save the bees – here
  2. Tell the USDA and EPA to stop GMOs that threaten monarch butterflies – here
  3. Tell Secretary Jewell to Protect Wolverines – here
  4. Help save cats ordered to be killed with antifreeze by a Missouri mobile home park owner – here
  5. Stand up for bears and wolves in Alaska’s national preserves – here
  6. Protect the Arctic’s Walrus from Shell’s New Drilling Plan – here
  7. Don’t strip protections for elephants – here
  8. Ban Poisons that Kill Wildlife – here
  9. Keep the Oil and Gas Industry Away From the Pawnee – here
  10. Say No to Offshore Industrial Fish Farms – here
  11. Demand a more cautious approach to offshore drilling in the Arctic – here
  12. Tell the Department of Interior To Give Panthers Room To Roam – here 

Birds and Butterflies

Jacksonville’s Bluebirds Get New Homes

Over the last 60 years, bluebird populations have steadily declined for a number of reasons including a lack of natural cavities in trees and snags and increased competition for nesting sites and food from non-native bird species. Nest boxes are an easy way to help bluebirds increase their population numbers.  Nest boxes are specifically designed to create an appropriate sized nest cavity for bluebirds, and when positioned and maintained properly, bluebirds will readily use them and fledge numerous chicks throughout the summer.

As part of its biodiversity program, Bacardi Bottling Corporation in Jacksonville, Florida, has restored five acres of native warm season grasses on its property, and installed a dozen bluebird nest boxes within the restoration area.  Audubon Florida staff recently joined Sally Cannon, Eric Hearn, Jen Lishen and Denise Guillet of Bacardi during their weekly Nest Watch to monitor their bluebird boxes.  Some of the nest boxes were empty, but many had the beginnings of nests or nests with eggs.  There was also an abundance of grasshoppers and other insects, otherwise known as bluebird food, living amongst the newly restored grassland.

Audubon Florida is happy to see many corporations creating environmental stewardship and sustainability policies in their corporate strategies.  Strategies including energy and water savings and land restoration are simple ways for corporations to generate a softer impact on the environment they depend upon.  We encourage you to learn more about the environmental policies of the corporations you frequent – what you learn may surprise you.

- See more at: http://audubonoffloridanews.org/#sthash.pYHu1mxn.dpuf

Sandhill cranes find new home in Michigan’s Saginaw County

SPAULDING TOWNSHIP With a few tentative steps outside their cages, a group of sandhill cranes experienced the freedom of nature for the first time in several months on Sept. 23. Amid creeks, greenery and reeds at the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge in Saginaw County, wildlife experts released four juvenile cranes and one adult crane. The adult sandhill crane was found in Virginia, where cranes are not normally sighted in the summer, suffering from a minor case of lead poisoning. The young cranes were found without their parents.

Maxine Biwer, a supervisor for the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at the Howell Nature Center, has been watching over the cranes for between three to four months, tracking their progress before deciding that Tuesday was the day the group was ready to be reintroduced back into the wild.

‘I’m really, really pleased,’ she said. ‘It’s always unpredictable. This is the first time we put them out into a place like this. “We have them in a very large outdoor closure when we were raising them, but it’s really not the same.’ Once the cages were unlocked, one crane flew out of the gate, leaving its gang behind, but the rest walked cautiously outside and explored their surroundings before coming back together as a surrogate family.

‘You never really know how they’re going to behave,’ Biwer said.

‘I’m really pleased they’re sticking with the adult (crane); sticking together as a group,” he added.

The group had to be retrained to enter the wild once they were ready for release.

Trainers raise them in a simulated wild environment, even using an educational crane in order to train and raise them on how to interact with their own kind.

‘As soon as they’re self-feeding, we put them all in a group together so they can hang out with other cranes,’ Biwer said.

As recently as 20 years ago, it would be extremely rare to even see a sandhill crane on the refuge, said refuge manager Steve Kahl. The sandhill crane has an average lifespan of 20 years. It has a wingspan from 5 to 6 feet and can weigh up to 14 pounds. Dating back to the market hunting days of 1920s, sandhill cranes were once hunted close to extinction but have made a strong recovery in the past two decades. ‘Nowadays, we have flocks of several hundred,’ he said. ‘They’ve really made a strong comeback.’

Mike Koury|Associated Press|10/06/2014

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey Celebrates 35 Years

It is amazing to say that the Center for Birds of Prey celebrates 35 years this October. Our Center began admitting raptors in 1979 due to the urgent need of a facility to care for Florida’s special birds.

Doris Mager kicked off the fundraising campaign by sitting in an inactive eagles’ nest for six nights and seven days raising $9,000 to help start our Center.

In 1979 the Center’s clinic admitted 74 patients including 8 Bald Eagles. We have come a long way since then; and are now a leading facility in raptor care and rehabilitation admitting more than 17,500 patients including more than 1,500 eagles since 1979. At the close of 2013 our team admitted 717 patients, a record compared to the last 10 years.

We strive to provide the best care for our patients and are regularly asked to consult for special cases, training and research studies. Birds that are unable to be released have been placed around the country as Education Ambassadors; their stories are amazing. Our education team reaches more than 30,000 annually. Our success is due in large part to donors and volunteers, who are committed to Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. Please celebrate with us. Stay tuned for future events and thank you.

Help Audubon Florida protect wildlife.  Please visit our website to donate online right now.

Florida Raptor News|October 2014

Fall Migration is in Full Swing

The migration seasons are like nectar to a butterfly for birders. Now is the time where birds small and large are migrating through the flyways (Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific).  Go out, explore your back yard, community and National parks; you can see anything from Hummingbirds to Bald Eagles either gathering food for more energy to continue their flight or reestablishing nesting sites for the winter.

Florida Raptor News|October 2014

Bald Eagle Nesting Season Starts Soon

Eagle nesting season has officially begun! Eagles have been returning to the state for the last month and many are beginning restorations to their nests. “Nestorations” as many of our volunteers call it. Eagle nesting season officially begins on October 1, and runs through May 15. Many eagles lay their eggs in late November and early December and incubate for 30-33 days, so eaglets often hatch right around the Holidays.

This season, Audubon’s EagleWatch program is set to debut our new web portal. This new, purpose built website will make data entry easier, faster, and more accessible. This online database will later be integrated with powerful online GIS tools to help us better understand and protect Florida’s Eagles. For more information on the EagleWatch program, click here or email Matt Smith at eaglewatch@audubon.org.

Florida Raptor News|October 2014

Both Of Broward’s Bald Eagle Pairs are back!

 

Last year we had a second Bald Eagle pair take up residence in Broward County, this one in Deerfield Beach.  They successfully fledged two eaglets and have returned from their summer migration to begin nest restoration.  We have a dedicated  Eagle Watcher for this nest, Hellene Grundler, who is keeping photo and video records of their progress and also sending in data to the Audubon Florida EagleWatch program. 

The Pembroke Pines Bald Eagles returned in early September and are also in the process of nest restoration.  Follow the Eagle Forum and our SFAS Facebook page to keep up with both Bald Eagle pairs. 

Our two primary eagle watchers for the South Florida Audubon Eagle Watch are Dr. Ken Schneider and Hellene Grundler.  Both are talented photographers who document the eagles’ progress with images.  You may contact them with questions at eagles@southfloridaaudubon.org

SFAS October Newsletter

SFAS’ Project Perch

SFAS” Project Perch and Schools: Information on Project Perch activities with Broward County schools is available on a separate web page, click here

Broward County Burrowing Owl Cam: To go directly to the Broward County Burrowing Owl Cam, click here.

Project Perch Photos (slideshows): There are slideshows of Burrowing Owls,Young Burrowing Owls, Burrowing Owls in Flight School, and Rehabilitated Owl Releases.  Click on the title you want to go to the page for that slideshow.

Project Perch and Screech Owls: For information on Screech Owl Releases from Rehab, click here.

ABC’s Bird of the Week: Yellow-billed Cuckoo ‏

Rain Crow: Yellow billed Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoos are slender, elusive birds. Like other cuckoos, such as the rare Bay-breasted, they seem stealthy even in flight, slipping through the trees on long, pointed wings. More often heard than seen, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo’s croaking call—sounding on hot summer days before storms—led to its folk name, “rain crow.”

Habitat loss and fragmentation have led to long-term declines. In the West, riparian habitat has been lost to farmland and housing; invasive plants such as salt cedar also degrade habitat. This western population is now listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act; its range in the West is so diminished that it hardly appears on this small range map.

Read full account and hear the cuckoo’s call >>

Florida Panthers 


Big wins for the Florida Panther

Sierra Club and its allies are on a roll with recent victories for the Florida Panther.

The Sierra Club, along with other environmental groups have settled a litigation case involving secondary Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) trails in the Big Cypress National Preserve. One hundred and forty-six miles of disputed secondary trails have been closed in the Preserve, bringing the ORV trail system to within the limits set forth in the 2000 ORV-management plan. Trails were closed in the Corn Dance Unit and Turner River Unit, where a Florida panther was illegally shot last year. The trails will remain closed indefinitely until environmental impacts to panthers and other endangered species can be completed.

In another win for panther habitat, a judge has ruled that Hendry County officials illegally granted approval for a FP&L natural gas plant in panther habitat, just north of the Seminole Reservation. The proposed 3,000 acre gas plant would have been located in an area containing high amounts of biodiversity and panther activity, as well as cultural artifacts. The Seminole Tribe had been in battle over this plant for the last few years. The judge ruled that the plant would have been located in an area forbidden under the county’s land use regulations.

A great job on behalf of all the coalition partners and citizens of southwest Florida!

Alexis Meyer|October 6, 2014


Panther Kitten Deaths Signal Need for Underpasses

Two Florida panther siblings were killed by cars on August 24th, marking the 20th and 21st panther deaths for 2014.

The four-month old kittens were found on either side of Immokalee Road, near Wildwood Boulevard at the entrance to Bonita Bay Club East in Collier County.

Twenty-two panthers have died this year: seventeen from vehicle strikes, two from intraspecific aggression (fighting between individuals of the same species), and three from other causes. With this many deaths by September, the state is heading toward a record breaking year for panther mortality; the current record is 26 panther deaths in one year. Mortality tends to increase in the fall and winter months, when southwest Florida’s human population increases.

Mortality by vehicle strike and intraspecific aggression is a direct result of habitat loss and increased pressure from development. Once ranging throughout the southeastern United States, panthers have been relegated to a breeding population south of the Caloosahatchee River. These lands are increasingly being carved up for housing developments and fragmented by roads, which puts dramatic pressure on a species that has reached, and possibly exceeded, it’s carrying capacity in its current habitat.

One solution, other than protecting more habitat for the panther, is to couple wildlife underpasses with fencing in high risk areas for panther deaths. Installing underpasses has significantly reduced road kills in those areas. On I-75, along Alligator Alley, this method has drastically reduced all road kills, a great success for such an environmentally sensitive area. Coupling fencing with underpasses allows wildlife to be funneled into a safe thoroughfare, which not only allows panthers to cross roads safely, but also benefits black bears, bobcats, otters, and other species.

Alexis Meyer|Florida Panther Critical Habitat Campaign|Sierra Club|September 19, 2014

Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge

3860 Tollgate Blvd., Suite 300, Naples, FL 34114 /

Phone: 239-353-8442  Fax: 239-353-8640

E-mail: floridapanther@fws.gov

Website: www.fws.gov/floridapanther/

26,400acres – Admission is free.

Until 1989 the vast majority of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge’s 26,400 acres was used for private hunting and cattle grazing.

Once owned by the Collier family, the property is part of the Big Cypress Basin. The Lee-Tidewater Cypress Company logged most of this area from 1944 to 1957, at about the same time the adjacent Fakahatchee Strand was being logged. By the time U.S. Fish and Wildlife acquired the land in 1989, all of the virgin stands of bald cypress were gone, but there were still expansive stands of slash pine, immature cypress domes, wet prairies, hardwood hammocks, and marshes.

Soon after acquisition, U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists began a regimen of prescribed burns. Every year several different sites are burned on three- to four-year rotations.

The objective of these 5,000- to 7,000-acre burns is twofold: primarily to increase browsing areas for white-tailed deer, which, along with feral hogs, are the primary prey of Florida panthers; second, to rid the forest understory of invasive plants such as Brazilian pepper, melaleuca, cogongrass, and Old World climbing fern.

It is important to understand that the Panther Refuge is not designed with the eco-tourist in mind. This is a true refuge, for not only the endangered panther, but also a host of other wildlife that struggle beneath Florida’s unending growth and urban sprawl. These include the threatened indigo snake, wood stork, limpkin, swallowtail kite, snail kite, Big Cypress fox squirrel, Florida black bear, and the very rare Everglades mink.

Therefore, access is limited to two short hiking trails located approximately one-quarter mile north of I-75 along the southeastern edge of the refuge.

A sign directs visitors into the parking lot where two gates lead to the trails. The shorter trail (0.3 mile) is improved and wheelchair accessible. The second trail is 1.3 miles long and takes you through a nice mixture of habitats. After a brief stroll through a hardwood hammock, you find yourself walking on limestone bedrock beside saw palmetto and vast, open stands of slash pine.

The highway noise coming from I-75 is a distraction, but this is probably why this region was chosen for the trails in the first place. The nearby I-75 underpass, connecting the Florida Panther Refuge to the Fakahatchee Strand to the south, is one of the most frequently used underpasses by panthers.

They are definitely around, but only five to 11 radio-collared panthers use the property every month, and given the refuge’s immense size, you are not likely to see one during your 30-minute hike. If you are lucky, you might find a panther track left in the mud beside the numerous deer tracks you will see.

 Invasive species

State and Federal Agencies Poison Lake to Fight Invasive Species

On September 10, fisheries biologists from federal and state agencies took the extreme step of poisoning Lake Yankton, on the South Dakota-Nebraska border, to remove undesirable and invasive fish species. Officials in South Dakota and Nebraska took this step because game fish such as bass, bluegill, catfish, and walleye had been crowded out by carp and other invasives in the lake.

The problem started in 2011 when flood waters caused the Missouri River to backflow into the lake – the invasive fish species came in with the flood waters. It took about 700 gallons of the poison rotenone to kill every fish in the lake.

This drastic measure shows the serious threat posed by aquatic invasive species. It’s why the League organizes the annual Missouri River Clean Boat Event each spring in the area – to teach boaters and anglers how they can prevent the spread of invasive species. The three critical steps are clean, drain, and dry.

Lake Yankton will be refilled and restocked. However, it could take two years or more for the fishery to return to normal.

Izaak Walton League|October 2014

Broward infestation of giant African land snails appears limited

 African land snails caught in Davie

Infestation of giant African land snails in Broward appears confined to small part of western Davie

About 280 giant African land snails have been caught in western Davie over the past four weeks, but the infestation appears to be confined to a few properties, the Florida Department of Agriculture said Friday.

The department, which is trying to prevent the fist-sized mollusks from reaching South Florida’s farms, said an intensive search on a one-mile radius around the site of the original discovery found no snails beyond a few properties in the immediate area.

The snails were found on five properties, two on Southwest 20th Street and three on Southwest 136th Avenue.

“We think it’s pretty well contained in that one neighborhood,” said Mark Fagan, spokesman for the department. “We continue to go out a mile from the original find, and we’re not finding any.”

The snails were the first ones ever discovered in Broward County, a worrisome but expected expansion of their range from the original infestation sites in Miami-Dade County.

After being caught, the snails were sent by truck to the Florida Department of Agriculture’s facility in southern Miami-Dade County, where they are frozen to death, crushed and taken to a landfill.

First discovered in South Florida in 2011 near Douglas Park in Miami, the huge snails have been taken extremely seriously by state agriculture officials, who have deployed 50 workers in Miami-Dade County to root them out with rakes and treat infested areas with chemicals.

The snails carry a parasite that causes meningitis. No person has contracted the disease from them so far, but a German shepherd is believed to have been infected. The snails eat plaster and stucco to replenish their shells, making them a threat to houses. And they can consume more than 500 types of plant.

They have not yet reached the farmlands of southern Miami-Dade County, which produce tomatoes, okra, peppers, avocados and other crops, officials have said. But they have come close, and in other countries that they have infested they have multiplied quickly and overrun farmlands.

Native to Nigeria and adjacent countries, the snails were imported into the Miami area by Practitioners of Ifa Orisha, a Santeria-like religion in which devotees consume soup made from the snail. Others came in as pets. Imports into the United States are now banned.

Despite the good news that the snails appear not to have spread far, the Agriculture Department plans to keep checking the neighborhood for at least two years.

“There is a lot of natural habitat for these snails and a lot of hiding places,” Fagan said. “Today we found six adult snails in less than 10 minutes.”

They will also treat the properties in the area with chemicals to kill any they don’t catch.

The department has asked the public to report any possible sightings. Many of the reports are false, particularly from sites near canals, where the snail in question usually turns out to be a native apple snail, Fagan said.

If you think you have these snails on your property, you can report it to the Florida Department of Agriculture at 1-888-397-1517.

David Fleshler|Sun Sentinel

FWC furthers lionfish control measures, prohibits lionfish aquaculture

At a Sept. 10 meeting in Kissimmee, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) acted to prohibit lionfish aquaculture. Lionfish are an invasive species that have a negative impact on native fish and habitat.

The changes will go into effect by Dec. 1. Updates will be available at www.MyFWC.com/Lionfish.

Management changes were developed in coordination with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) and include:

  • Prohibiting the harvest and possession of lionfish eggs and larvae for any purpose other than destruction;
  • Prohibiting the intentional breeding of lionfish in captivity.

A scientific research exception will allow permitted research institutions to breed and cultivate lionfish for the purposes of researching population control and impact mitigation.

“Every lionfish prevented from entering Florida waters, and every change that encourages removal is a step toward successfully limiting the negative impacts lionfish have on native fish and wildlife,” said FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley.

The FWC implemented several management changes including prohibiting the importation of live lionfish into Florida effective Aug. 1. The FWC encourages divers and anglers to remove lionfish whenever they can.

See or catch a lionfish? Report a sighting by downloading the new Report Florida Lionfish app on a smart device or by visiting www.MyFWC.com/Lionfish and clicking on “Report Lionfish.”

To learn more about these changes, visit MyFWC.com/Commission and click on “Commission Meetings.” To learn more about lionfish, visit www.MyFWC.com/Lionfish

Invasive lionfish threaten Gulf of Mexico ecosystem

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

Endangered Species  

Wolverines in Lower-48 Denied Protection… Again

Wolverines in the Lower 48 have had a tough go of it in the quest to list them under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Conservation organizations started requesting protection for wolverines in 1994, and three times the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) decided – despite mounting evidence to the contrary – that wolverines did not deserve to even be considered for listing. It wasn’t until 2013 that things finally looked hopeful: the FWS issued a formal proposal arguing that wolverines should be listed as “threatened” due to the threat of climate change impacting their habitat. But that basis for hope recently disappeared – and left conservation advocates wondering just how badly a species needs to be doing in order to get protection under the ESA?

An internal FWS memo from the Denver regional office surfaced this summer, recommending that wolverines should not be listed because of uncertainties regarding the impacts of climate change. The final decision from the Director of FWS to deny listing on those grounds arrived a few weeks later on August 13, with FWS arguing that experts can’t predict with certainty the impacts climate change will have on wolverines. The problem? The agency’s own experts – field biologists who have worked for several years on the wolverine listing decision – had already given the opposite recommendation. They were entirely convinced by the best available science that wolverines deserved the protection of the ESA as a “threatened” species due to the threat of climate change but unfortunately, that point of view did not carry the day with the final agency decision.

And what could climate change mean for wolverines? With snow levels in the West expected to continue to decline over time, wolverines will find that the deep, persistent snowpack that they depend on for den sites is dwindling. This prediction is based on solid science and regarded by most experts as a serious threat to wolverines.

It’s pretty hard to understand why FWS would dismiss the findings of its own experts on likely climate change impacts, or ignore other types of threats to the species that are widely acknowledged to be valid concerns. The truth is that wolverines are in serious trouble from a number of threats, along with any impacts coming from climate change. These animals already face a host of other problems, including a small population (fewer than 300 in the entire lower 48 states!) and low genetic diversity.

Furthermore, the FWS asserts that the wolverine population in the Lower 48 is currently stable or slightly increasing, even though there is no published research to back up this assertion. Biologists estimate a current total wolverine population of fewer than 300 individuals, and that an average of only 35 animals each year are actually reproducing and contributing to the next generation. While new tools have recently allowed us to spot some wolverines in regions where they had not been seen for decades, these anecdotes are not proof that the population is expanding. Lone individuals here and there do not mean that breeding pairs are abundant. It is reckless to assume a population is increasing when the science isn’t there to prove it!

The FWS is supposed to make decisions based on the best available science. In this case, FWS chose be dismissive of the likely impacts from climate change and ignored a multitude of other threats to the wolverine. Defenders and other conservation groups will now challenge this flawed decision in federal court and we will keep you informed about our progress in getting the wolverine protection under the ESA.

Meanwhile, Defenders will continue our extensive work on the ground to help protect wolverines. We work to protect habitats important to wolverines and other species, support and perform monitoring and research, educate the public, and rally around possible reintroductions of this elusive predator.

It is a fundamentally American value to protect our land, air, water, and wildlife – that’s why Congress enacted the ESA. If we’re not willing to protect one of the rarest mammals in the Lower 48, a species with fewer than 300 individuals left south of the Canadian border and one of the lowest successful reproductive rates known to mammals, how imperiled does a species have to be to gain federal protection?

Kylie Paul|29 September 2014

[Michigan, the Wolverine State, until recently, hasn’t seen a wolverine in 200 years. Unfortunately, shortly after it’s discovery the lone wolverine died. It was mounted and traveled around the state for a year or so, but the exhibition was retired.]

08 September 2014

An Unprecedented Step for Corals

This summer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration took the unprecedented step of listing 20 species of stony corals as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This decision represents a tenfold increase in the number of corals with ESA protections; previously only two corals – the elkhorn and staghorn corals – were considered threatened. The newly listed species included critical reef-building corals like the boulder star corals, which are the redwood trees of the reef – foundational species that have defined Caribbean coral reef ecosystems for many thousands of years.

I have witnessed the decline of boulder star, elkhorn, staghorn, and other corals firsthand on the reefs of the Florida Keys and Bahamas. Many coral colonies have dwindled and wasted away in the 15 years that I have been working as a coral reef scientist. Their decline is a troubling sign for the future of this amazing and diverse ecosystem. And you don’t have to take my word for it; just consider these before and after photos documenting the profound changes that have occurred during my lifetime.

NOAA’s decision to list these 20 species is a great first step in recognizing the problems facing corals and other reef wildlife. Yet most of the important actions needed to protect these species are still to come. Hopefully NOAA will establish rules under section 4(d) of the ESA to protect these threatened coral species.

Unfortunately there are myriad threats facing corals today, ranging from climate change and ocean acidification to severe overfishing fishing and pollution. Global-scale problems like rising sea surface temperatures and ocean acidification are incredibly difficult to address. Corals may naturally move to new locations or adapt to rising temperatures and ocean acidity. Along the Florida coast this is already happening, with staghorn corals found further north today than they have been for thousands of years. Conservationists and reef managers may even be able to help corals move and adapt. Yet corals can only move so far before the habitat becomes unsuitable, and our climate may change faster than the time it takes these long-lived and slow-growing animals to adapt. A long-term solution will require major reductions in greenhouse gas production, and the ESA listing alone cannot solve such a global problem.

Still, the ESA listing and subsequent measures could improve the status of these threatened corals. Both Caribbean and Pacific species were listed, most of which live within U.S. waters. Some of the most immediate threats to reefs come from overfishing and nutrient pollution – factors that we can control through better fisheries management and effluent controls. For example, nutrients and microorganisms from untreated sewage commonly find their way onto coral reefs. As a result, human gut bacteria and viruses from raw sewage can be found on the surface of corals, and these microbes can even cause coral disease. Our federal and state agencies should use the ESA listing decision to encourage or enact measures, such as improved sewage treatment and effluent reductions, that would improve the health of these threatened species. Such measures may even buy time for us to address the larger problems of climate warming and ocean acidification.

Dan Thornhill|Conservation Scientist|Jake Li |Director of Endangered Species Conservation|Defenders of Wildlife

Endangered Everglades snail kite rebounding

Life is getting better for the Goldilocks of the Everglades.

After years of droughts pushing water levels too low or floods pushing water levels too high, more recent conditions have been just right for the ever-sensitive Everglades snail kite.

As a result, the number of the endangered birds is growing, signaling hope for both the health of the struggling species and for the famed River of Grass that it calls home.

There were just 800 Everglades snail kites in 2008, but their numbers had grown to about 1,200 birds in 2013 and are so far holding steady this year, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“They are a very good indication for the health of the Everglades,” Jane Graham, Audubon Florida’s Everglades policy associate, said about the snail kite. “They are like the Goldilocks bird. … We want to see them doing well.”The future of the Everglades snail kite has been imperiled by decades of draining to make way for South Florida farming and development, which has shrunk the Everglades to about half of its size.

The hope is that the endangered bird will be one of the beneficiaries of ongoing Everglades restoration efforts aimed at recreating water flows that once naturally sent more water south.

“For this species, one of the biggest threats is habitat loss and significant changes in water level,” said Laura Barrett, imperiled species conservation coordinator for the wildlife conservation commission. “It is definitely tied to the ecosystem functioning properly.”

The Everglades snail kite is almost too finicky for its own good.

The medium-sized bird of prey with its skinny, curved bill feeds primarily on the apple snail.

The problem is that apple snails lay their eggs just above the water line. That means droughts and floods as well as manmade manipulations of water flows can put the next generation of snail kite food at risk.

Now, a new snail invading the Everglades has offered some dining relief for the snail kite.

While “exotic” species that aren’t native to Florida are usually seen as a threat to the ecosystem, this larger, heartier “island apple snail” has been able to provide a more steady food source.

Native apple snails are about the size of a golf ball and produce up to 50 eggs at a time during the spring.

The exotic snails, originally from Argentina and Brazil and imported for South Florida aquariums, can grow to the size of a baseball and produce up to 500 eggs year-round.

Wildlife officials say the new snails could end up being too much of a strain on vegetation or have other harmful environmental consequences. But so far, they are at least part of the reason that snail kites are doing better.

“It has been stable the last two years and increased over previous years,” Barrett said about the snail kite population. “We have seen a slight uptick.”

As of late May, the peak of the Everglades snail kite nesting season, about 311 nests had been identified from the Kissimmee River to the southern Everglades, according to the South Florida Water Management District.

That nest count was a little less than last year, but still in line with the holding-steady estimates of the snail kite population in recent years.

Fewer snail kite nests were found along the Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee this year compared to last year, but there were more nests in Everglades National Park, the Everglades water conservation areas that stretch along Broward and Palm Beach counties and the nearby stormwater treatment areas.

That could signal that snail kites are making more of a return to the central Everglades area where they once flourished, officials said.

“The good news is they are moving out to other parts of the system,” said Terrie Bates, the South Florida Water Management District’s director of water resources. “That’s a good thing to have them back in the conservation areas of the Everglades.”

Despite encouraging signs of snail kite resiliency in recent years, significant obstacles remain for the bird that Audubon calls an Everglades icon.

The up-and-down water levels that are a consequence of South Florida’s vast flood control system remain a threat to the future of the Everglades snail kite.

Everglades restoration is moving slower than once expected.

And while the yo-yoing snail kite population has held steady in recent years, it is still less than half of the 3,600 snail kites that were found in 1999.

“We want (more of) them to be nesting,” Graham said. “It means the Everglades are doing better.”

Andy Reid|Sun Sentinel|July 6, 2014

Experts to promote wild lynx effect for Scotland

 Scotland’s last lynx are thought to have died out in the Middle Ages

Efforts to “rewild” parts of Scotland could involve the reintroduction of Eurasian lynx, according to some conservationists.

Trees for Life said the predator could “play a crucial top-down regulatory role in ecosystems” by helping to control red and roe deer numbers.

The charity’s Alan Watson Featherstone and author George Monbiot are due to speak to MSPs on “rewilding”.

The men will later address a conference at Edinburgh University.

Rewilding is an effort, supported by various conservation groups, to encourage native species of fauna and floral to flourish.

In a statement, Forres-based Trees for Life said the reinstatement of lynx could help to better control wild deer, which feed on young trees.

The charity said the main impact of lynx would likely be in disturbing deer populations, causing these animals to move more frequently so that their grazing was less concentrated in specific areas.

Trees for Life added: “The lynx – already reintroduced to areas of Europe such as the Alps and Jura mountains – offers little threat to sheep.

“It is a specialist predator of roe deer, a species which has multiplied in Britain in recent years and which holds back the natural regeneration of trees through intensive browsing.”

Mr Featherstone and Mr Monbiot, a columnist for The Guardian and author of the book, Feral, are to speak to the Scottish Parliament’s cross party group on international development.

Later, the two men will take part in Rewilding the World, an event organised by the University of Edinburgh’s Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability as part of Edinburgh World Justice Festival.

Mr Monbiot said: “Rewilding offers us a big chance to reverse destruction of the natural world.

“Letting trees return to bare and barren uplands, allowing the seabed to recover from trawling, and bringing back missing species would help hundreds of species that might otherwise struggle to survive – while rekindling wonder and enchantment that often seems missing in modern day Britain.”

Mr Featherstone said Trees for Life was working to restore Scotland’s last remnants of native Caledonian Forest.

He said: “In the Highlands we have the opportunity to reverse environmental degradation and create a spectacular, world-class wilderness region – offering a lifeline to wildlife including beavers, capercaillie, wood ants and pine martens – and restoring natural forests and wild spaces for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.”

Mr Featherstone said rewilding involved supporting reintroductions of once native species, such as beavers

Earlier this year, landscape conservation charity the John Muir Trust said there was “no ecological reason” why wolves could not be reintroduced to Scotland.

In an edition of its journal, JMT said the animal had been demonized in the UK.

It raised the issue of bringing back the wolf as part of a wider discussion on rewilding the UK.

The Cairngorms may have been the last stronghold of Scotland’s native lynx.

They could have survived in the mountainous area’s forests, one of the last places in Scotland to suffer deforestation, into the late Middle Ages.

The wolf was hunted to extinction in Scotland in the 1700s with some of the last killed in Sutherland and Moray.

Wolves were driven to extinction by persecution and hunting. Chieftains and royalty led some of the hunting parties.

One attended by Queen Mary in 1563 employed 2,000 Highlanders and ended in the deaths of five wolves and 360 deer.

Animals killed near Brora, in Sutherland, in 1700 and another at Findhorn, in Moray, in 1743 were among Scotland’s last.

JMT said it hoped to stimulate debate on returning areas to more natural states.

In the John Muir Trust Journal, chief executive Stuart Brooks said the charity wanted to help develop a practical vision on rewilding.

His comments accompanied an article by the charity’s communications chief Susan Wright and head of land and science Mike Daniels.

In the article, they said wolf ecotourism was growing in other parts of Europe, but also noted a cull of wolves in Sweden.

However, there has been opposition to talk of reintroducing apex predators such as wolves and lynx.

NFU Scotland said Scotland no longer had suitable habitat for the animals, and warned that they would go for the easiest kill – domestic livestock.

Another good year for sea turtles nesting in Florida

In 2014, loggerhead turtle nest numbers remained high and leatherback turtle nesting reached a new record in the state according to FWC research scientists.

“Sea turtles face many important threats at sea and on land, which need to be addressed for the recovery of these charismatic and endangered species, but the results of the 2014 nesting season in Florida are encouraging and provide a positive outlook for the future”, said Dr. Simona Ceriani, FWC research scientist.

The monitoring program on sea turtle nesting in Florida is an outstanding collaboration involving more than 2,000 individuals with diverse backgrounds who share a common passion for sea turtles. The extensive data collection from more than 800 miles of beach is made possible with the help of FWC-trained and authorized surveyors from conservation organizations; universities; federal, state and local governments; and hundreds of private citizens.

The FWC and partners perform two annual surveys: a statewide survey that began in 1979, which documents nearly all sea turtle nesting in Florida, and an index survey, which pools data from select beaches that have consistent monitoring during a specific 109-day window to detect trends in nesting.

Loggerhead nest counts in 2014 were slightly higher than in 2013. Loggerhead nest numbers in Florida show a complex pattern: nest counts have increased, then decreased, then increased again. Despite the variable pattern, the overall trend in this species’ nest numbers is positive.

Green turtle nesting trends show an exponential increase over the last 26 years, although counts in 2014 were much lower than last year. This was expected because green turtle nesting patterns tend to follow a two-year cycle with wide year-to-year fluctuations. Green turtle nest counts set two consecutive high records in 2011 and 2013.

Although nesting at a much lower level than loggerheads, the nest counts for leatherback turtles reached a new record high in the state in 2014, showing a slight increase over the previous high in 2009. The trend in leatherback nesting shows an exponential increase over the last 26 years.

For more information about trends in sea turtle nest counts, visit www.MyFWC.com/Research, click on “Wildlife,” then click on “Nesting” under the “Sea Turtle” heading. To purchase a sea turtle license plate to help fund FWC’s efforts, visit BuyaPlate.com.

Report sick or injured sea turtles to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

This Rare Species May Finally Get Protection From Pot Pesticides and Other Killers

This week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced it’s considering endangered species protections for rare fishers in the west, which would help protect them from rodenticides, more commonly known as rat poison, being used on pot farms.

Fishers, who are relatives of weasels, mink, martens and otters, were once abundant in Pacific states, but their populations have virtually disappeared in past decades thanks to trapping, predator control programs and development, and they continue to face threats including forest habitat loss from wildfires, logging, alterations and still more development.

Another major threat to their survival that is being newly considered is the use of anticoagulant rodenticides that are being used to used to control rats and other “pests” in the forest at marijuana grow sites.

According to a statement, the FWS doesn’t know exactly how bad the problem is, but cases of exposure have been documented in fishers in the Klamath Mountains and Southern Sierra Nevada, as well as in Olympic National Park in Washington where they were reintroduced in 2008.

Making the threat even worse is that fishers don’t have to eat the poisons directly, but can be harmed by eating prey that have ingested the poison. Second-generation poisons can kill with one dose, but may take up to a week before signs start showing and animals die of internal bleeding. Before then, they’re more vulnerable to dying of other injuries that may have been minor, or predation.

Last year researchers at the University of California, Davis studying this issue also noted that the deaths they documented in different areas fell between mid-April to mid-May – prime planting season – and raised concerns about how this could affect fisher kits who are born at that time and are more vulnerable to losing their mothers who they are dependent upon for survival.

Sadly, some haven’t taken kindly to the discovery. After connecting how these poisons are harming wildlife, lead author of that study, which was cited by the FWS in its proposal, Dr. Mourad Gabriel became a target, and his dog Nyxo was intentionally killed with meat laced with the very poison he was studying.

Erin Williams, who oversaw the FWS analysis, told the AP that even though the poisons are regulated, the rules have done little to stop their misuse on pot plantations in forests where fishers live. According to the FWS, rodenticide use has been verified at illegal marijuana cultivation sites within occupied fisher habitat on public, private and tribal lands in California.

Worse is that these poisons don’t discriminate and if they’re hurting fishers, they’re likely hurting other species. Researchers are currently trying to see how these poisons are impacting northern spotted owls.

Under the proposal, the West Coast fisher population would be protected as a threatened species in California, Oregon and Washington, which will make it illegal to harm or kill them.

The FWS has opened a 90-day public comment period and will be holding public meetings over the next two months in those three states. The agency is expected to make a final decision by September of next year. If you want to comment in support of long-overdue protections for fishers, you can submit one here at regulations.gov.

Alicia Graef|October 9, 2014

How Palm Oil Production Has Changed Life for the Orangutan

Palm oil is a vegetable oil that can be found in around 50 percent of all consumer goods. This singular oil may appear to be an unassuming additive, but when you look down the supply chain to the regions of the world where palm oil is grown, this oil becomes rather devious. Palm oil production is one of the leading causes of deforestation in the Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra. In Sumatra, approximately 10.8 million hectares of tropical forest have been cleared to make way for palm plantations, and the circumstances in Borneo are no better.

The process most favored by the palm oil industry for clearing space for palm plantations is the slash and burn technique. A rather self-explanatory process, palm producers hack away at the existing fauna present in the rainforest, then set what is left on fire to create a flat, unadulterated plain. This process destroys any living being, plant or animal, in sight. Palm oil is a highly profitable crop, meaning many companies are willing to turn a blind eye to the damage that is caused in its production.

Sadly, however, there are many casualties of the palm industry as the result of this vicious practice, one of the most prominent being the orangutan.

The orangutan could once be found across the rainforests of the Southeast Asia, but in modern times, Borneo and Sumatra have become the only native habitat for the species. But, as palm oil production advances through the rainforests of these islands, the orangutan is running out of time. In the past two decades alone, nearly 20,000 orangutans have lost their lives at the hands of the palm oil industry. With population totals teetering around the 60,000 range, if their rate of decline continues as such, the orangutan only has about 30 more years before they could become extinct.

Orangutans are the world’s largest arboreal (lives in trees) animals. They spend around 60 percent of their days foraging for food, which is largely found in the rainforest canopy, making the tree tops a natural home for these mammals. Infant orangutans learn to forage for food and nest from their mothers.

For the first two years of an infant orangutan’s life, they are completely dependent on their mother for food and transportation. It is not uncommon for an infant to be carried by their mother until the age of five, and some even stay by their mother’s side until they are eight. Most orangutans become fully independent around the age of 15 or 16, but always return home to visit their mothers when they get the chance. The average lifespan for an orangutan in the wild is between 30 and 40 years. Females typically live the area where they were raised for the bulk of their lives, but males have been noted to travel up to two miles a day.

Orangutans are incredibly intelligent primates, who share 97 percent of the same DNA as humans. They have been known to make tools, some groupings of orangutans even make the same kinds of tools in a sort of “cultural tradition.” These incredible, unique cultural traits have been exhibited in varying populations of orangutans, illustrating the ability of these animals to learn and pass down knowledge between generations.

As you can see from the natural behaviors of the orangutan species, they are a group of animal that is largely dependent on the homes and lives they have built for themselves in the trees. They are highly dependent on one another, and exist in a tight-knit, carefully learned organization.

Seeing the rampant destruction that palm oil production has reaped on the natural habitat of the orangutan, it is easy to understand how the loss of the native ecosystem is intimately tied to the loss of the orangutan.

When the tree tops that the orangutan calls home are cut down and destroyed, a few things can happen to the orangutan. Orangutans are considered pests to palm oil producers. When palm plantations intersect with the forest, orangutans can find themselves in the middle of a palm field when out foraging for the day. Unfortunately, palm farmers will resort to clubbing or shooting orangutans if they find them in their fields. Palm workers will also kill orangutans who manage to survive the slash and burn process. In 2006, a reported 1,500 orangutans were clubbed to death by by palm workers. In the past decade alone, 20,000 orangutans have died at the hands of the palm oil industry.

As the orangutan’s natural habitat disappears, these animals are forced into closer contact with humans, which usually ends poorly for the orangutan. Historically, orangutans that have been discovered by palm producers, adjacent villagers or poachers and survived, wind up being sold into the illegal pet trade or the entertainment industry. According to Borneo Orangutan Survival Australia, around 1,000 orangutans are smuggled into Indonesia or transported overseas.  Sold into zoos, circuses, or even to be used for movies and television.

While there are many organizations working to protect the orangutan species, the majority of orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra will not find their way into sanctuaries.

Kate Good|OneGreenPlanet|Earth Monster|October 9, 2014

Solving the human-jaguar conundrum, farm by farm

It’s not easy for humans and wildlife to live next to each other, and in Costa Rica, one of the primary examples of this has long been the conflict between people and jaguars. However, a project getting under way in Guanacaste and the Osa Peninsula – Costa Rica’s northwestern and southwestern regions, respectively – is trying to ease tensions between farmers, or ranchers, and jaguars. The objective of the program, sponsored by the National University (UNA), is to find ways for farmers to protect their cattle without killing the big cats.

The human-jaguar struggle dates back to the introduction of cattle by the Spaniards, but worsened in the 1970s when the Costa Rican government inadvertently placed the two species at odds through simultaneous programs: One, a homesteading initiative, encouraged farmers to set up shop in isolated and inhospitable places, thus infringing on animals’ habitats; the other, the country’s budding conservation movement, designated protected areas and refuges in those same areas. In recent years, a number of initiatives have emerged to try to address the problem and provide farmers and communities with alternatives while protecting jaguars.

Today, the situation is bad in Osa, said Carolina Sáenz-Bolaños, who coordinates the UNA Jaguar Program. Hunting, gold mining, loss of habitat and loss of prey have reduced the population there. In Guanacaste, on the other hand, jaguar numbers seem to be increasing, along with the risk of conflict. The idea of this latest initiative of the Jaguar Program is to work with local people in both regions to show that they can live with wildlife while also protecting their cattle and other domestic animals. In the weeks to come, Sáenz-Bolaños and colleagues will meet with farmers and ranchers at cattle auctions to explain the project and test their interest.

Similar programs are working in Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico and other places, but need to be adapted to Costa Rica and to the size and type of farming in the target areas. Some solutions are easier than others. For example, explained Sáenz-Bolaños, if the cattle drink in a river, farmers can provide them with water in a more secure area. Corrals can be used to protect cattle, especially at night. Radio music will make the cats think people are nearby. Dividing a pasture into quarters and moving the cattle every day will make them harder to find. Lights, even firecrackers, can be useful in keeping jaguars at bay. Burros, or donkeys, can be added to the herd, because they make noise that alerts the cattle about the presence of cats; older cows and bulls with big horns tend to warn off jaguars as well, and moving cattle away from wooded areas will also help.

And then there are water buffalo.  In Venezuela, Sáenz-Bolaños said, they have herds of buffalo that are able to resist attacks yet provide as much milk as cows, if not more, and Costa Rica has herds of its own that provide an alternative here as well.

These are a few of the tricks that keep cattle safe. However, Sáenz-Bolaños said program workers will analyze each participating farm by size, location and other factors to determine the best methods.

The Jaguar Program is part of a larger, umbrella organization, the International Institute for Conservation and Managing Wildlife (ICOMVIS), an interdisciplinary program that borrows students and teachers from different departments to study and implement conservation projects. Their work with jaguars began in 1990 in Corcovado National Park to study their habits and food sources.  Later, they began using cameras to capture images of the cats and identify them.

Jaguars range through forested areas, in the Caribbean area, Osa, Guanacaste and national parks. Their diet is meat; wild pigs are most common, but monkeys, deer, turtles, sloths and other animals also are prey. The powerful cats can weigh up to 200 pounds. The brown-colored pumas, or mountain lions, are smaller and share wooded areas with jaguars. Both species are endangered and protected.

Another new phase of the Jaguar Program is educational outreach to address underlying cultural issues. Education students and teachers from UNA have been working with schools in the areas to show that jaguars and pumas are not the terror that legends and tales speak of, but are part of an ecosystem.

“If the children learn now, when they are small, they will be less likely to hunt them or destroy their environment” later on, Sáenz-Bolaños said. A coloring book about the life of jaguars is one of the tools the program uses. Teachers write stories about jaguars, and students have used radio campaigns and other media to reach the public.

“It’s about changing the mentality of the people,” Sáenz-Bolaños explained. “People trust the university and have been receptive.”

Mitzi Stark|10/11/2014

Wild & Weird

What Makes Crows Gather in Large Roosts During Fall and Winter?

Range of American Crow
Range of American Crow

Steve Bailey is a bit of an exception.

Whereas most people in Danville, Illinois, wish the crows now in their midst would find themselves another winter home, he welcomes the visitors with open arms. He’s a bird lover, of course, and proud to live in the unofficial Winter Crow Capital of North America—despite the noise, the mess, and the smell that comes with that distinction.

Danville is home to roughly 35,000 people. Its crows, however,  number some 162,000 according to the recent Audubon Christmas Bird Count. There are so many crows in the 6- to 8-block area where they nightly roost that their weight sometimes snaps branches off trees.

And then there’s the endless supply of droppings and the incessant racket. No wonder some desperate residents have cut down healthy shade trees in order to force the birds to relocate. Others have tried scaring the birds away with plastic owls and sirens, even recordings of Barred Owl calls played throughout the night.

Still, the birds remain. The most obvious reason for their stubbornness is that Danville offers a perfect location for crows. It’s in a river valley surrounded by agricultural land in all directions. As for the crows’ communal tendencies, the birds know that there is strength in numbers. That is, roosting together helps them watch for predators and increases their chances of finding food.

Given these tendencies, it should come as no surprise that Danville’s is not the only large crow roost that takes shape in the United States from fall to spring. In Jasper County, Iowa, for example, thousands of crows settle down a little to the east of Newton. In Massachusetts, up to 20,000 descend on the center of Framingham every afternoon. Wichita, Kansas, has 100,000 crows spread among a few roosts. And in the 1940s and ‘50s, Stafford County, Kansas, hosted upwards of a million crows in winter, though that roost eventually disintegrated.

And perhaps the same fate will someday befall Danville’s crows. No doubt most of the town’s residents would welcome such a development. For bird lovers like Steve Bailey, though, Danville just wouldn’t be the same without its winter crows.

Good or bad, they’re certainly a spectacle!

eNature|October 06, 2014

What’s That Weird Purple Sea Creature? Explaining Viral Video

It may look like a billowing piece of garbage, but this odd-looking purple creature is actually a rare discovery that has scientists giddy with excitement.

Scientists aboard the E/V Nautilus research vessel, led by Titanic discoverer and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Robert Ballard, recently recorded this siphonophore swimming at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico (map).
Siphonophores, a member of the phylum Cnidaria, are among the group of organisms that includes the famous—and famously painful when it stings—Portuguese man-of-war.

Siphonophores are not actually jellyfish; they’re “colonial animals” comprised of small, interdependent life-forms called zooids. They’re also tough to see.

“I’m not sure exactly what the population of siphonophores is globally (I wouldn’t be surprised if no one really knew)—but I do know that I’ve watched a LOT of underwater exploration and have seen a few siphonophores over the years, but [none] like that!” Katy Croff Bell, chief scientist of the Nautilus Exploration Program and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, said by email from the ship.

The species in the video is most likely Erenna richardi, Stefan Siebert of the Dunn Lab at Brown University, which specializes in Cnidaria, said by email. There are about 180 species of known siphonophores and five to six species in the genus Erenna, half which are currently undescribed, said Siebert, who was not involved in the Nautilus research.

Though they’re not jellyfish, these siphonophores do sting: ”The waving structures observed at the back end are contracted tentacles equipped with stinger capsules. When undisturbed, they are lowered and form a curtain used to fish for prey,” he said.

More Than the Sum of Its Parts

Made up of a diverse group of living things (zooids) that form the whole, a siphonophore can reach lengths of up to 130 to 160 feet (40 to 50 meters), making them among the longest creatures in the world.

“Each zooid is an individual animal, but they all have adapted to fill specialized roles,” said Croff Bell. “For example, some are for protection, some are for eating, some are for reproduction, and some even ‘bioluminescent,’ or light up to attract food.”

But here’s where the language gets tricky. Because the zooids cannot reproduce or survive independently, they can’t be considered true organisms, said Brown University’s Siebert, who calls the zooids that make up a siphonophore “bodies.”

To understand how an organism could be made up of many smaller bodies, Siebert noted it’s important to understand asexual reproduction.

“Many life-forms can reproduce asexually, i.e., they can make identical copies of themselves. In [the] case of colonial systems like corals or siphonophores, those newly formed bodies do not become physically separated but instead remain attached and integrated,” said Siebert.

They weren’t always like this, though. The zooids, or bodies, that make up a siphonophore were once independent organisms that at some point in evolution joined forces into one.

Siebert said that now the zooids essentially act as organs for the siphonophore. (See more jellyfish pictures.)

“Interestingly, both humans and siphonophores are complex systems with organs dedicated to a particular function. They, however, achieved it in very different way,” he said.

“In the case of humans, one body got compartmentalized and organ systems evolved within this body. The siphonophores basically modified bodies to fulfill organ function in the colony.”

Which, in truth, sounds like a level of cooperation humans can only aspire to.

Stefan Sirucek|Weird & Wild|September 23, 2014

Everglades

Herbert Hoover Dike gets much needed repairs

Thousands dead. Billions of dollars in damages. Years of rebuilding. Irreversible damages to the Everglades and drinking water aquifers.

It may sound like a trailer for a sci-fi movie, but those phrases were taken from state and federal agency reports, university findings and insurance risk assessments to describe the Herbert Hoover Dike, a 143-mile earthen dam that’s been eroding for the last half century.

Engineers have warned about the looming threat for decades, and those concerns have only been reinforced in the last 10 years as storms such as Hurricanes Wilma (2005), Katrina (2005) and Sandy (2012) ravaged Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi and the Northeast.

“When I was a young man I didn’t think about it a lot,” said Butch Wilson, a South Bay native and director of the Clewiston Museum. “All that changed in 2005, when a naughty woman named Wilma came through. After the storm I got on my bicycle and got on the dike and rode to Belle Glade. The weedline was about 10 feet just below the road on the dike. I talked to a firefighter in Belle Glade and he said the water was 2 feet from the top. It’s things like that that make me uncomfortable.”

A 2006 South Florida Management District report warns: “Seldom have we seen dam safety concerns voiced by so many engineers so consistently for so long.”

The Army Corps of Engineers started a rehabilitation project in 2007 in hopes of making the dike safe for nearby residents, the Everglades and farming operations. The News-Press spent several weeks touring the dike and talking to people who live near it to better understand Lake Okeechobee and its massive dike system.

Replacing sections of the dike and reinforcing others costs about $10 million a mile, according to the Army Corps.

The priority is protecting the lives of the 40,000 people or so living in Clewiston, South Bay, Belle Glade and Pahokee. Historically, Lake Okeechobee was the heart of the Everglades, and the lake swelled each summer before toppling and sending sheet flow all the way to Florida Bay.

That natural process stopped about a century ago, when early farmers first started piling muck in the mounds in hopes of redirecting the summer rains. The first large levee was constructed in the 1930s. Another storm breached the dike in 1947, and the state and federal government, in response, built extra canals and levees to tame the lake and the hurricanes that upset it. Today’s Herbert Hoover Dike was completed in the late 1960s.

The current project is aimed at improving the structural integrity of water release points, sometimes called culverts. The corps assessed 32 water control structures and is now replacing or removing each structure. These areas, engineers say, are the most prone to seepage and leaks.

“We want to strengthen it to the point where it will handle major events,” said John Campbell, with the Army Corps, while touring a construction site near Pahokee. “When it gets up to 18 to 20 feet, it’s a concern.”

The Army Corps keeps lake levels at 12.5 to 15.5 feet above sea level. The lake has been kept higher in past decades, but water levels of 17 or 18 feet can destroy vegetation in the lake and kill the fishery. Higher water levels also mean more pressure on the dike. More pressure, in turn, leads to seepage, leaks, and, eventually, a breach.

“Typically, a breach would erode from the inside out, so what happens is the crest of the embankment falls onto itself and that opening would widen until we reach equilibrium,” said Tom Willadsen, Army Corps project manager for the dike rehabilitation. “If it was a storm condition, the water would be cresting over the top of the embankment and begin eroding the outside of the dam.”

To replace water control structures, engineers must dig more than 35 feet (the height of the dike) to the bottom of the old structure – which is usually below the lake. The old structure is removed and a larger, more substantial one is built in its place. Replacing a single water control structure takes about 18 months.

Willadsen said the Corps hopes to have all projects under contract by 2017 and work to be completed in 2021.

Florida International University’s International Hurricane Research Center lists Lake Okeechobee as the No. 2 threat of catastrophic flooding from a natural disaster, behind only New Orleans.

“The current condition of Herbert Hoover Dike poses a grave and imminent danger to the people and the environment of South Florida. In this, we join many other investigators, from grassroots engineers to eminent specialists, who for 20 years have warned that Herbert Hoover Dike needs to be fixed,” reads a South Florida Water Management District report from 2006. “We can add only that it needs to be fixed now, and it needs to be fixed right. We firmly believe that the region’s future depends on it.”

The report goes on to say that making the dike truly safe would likely cost more than the Army Corps of Engineers entire budget for projects across the nation, which was $4.7 billion in 2013. Billions of dollars in Everglades restoration could be lost in one event, which could also damage drinking water aquifers and cause irreversible harm to Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve.

It’s not just engineers and nearby residents who are concerned. Lloyd’s of London issued a firm warning to companies that insure homes and property in South Florida.

“The dike was built from un-compacted earth, made up of naturally porous materials such as peat, gravel, sand and shell and is therefore prone to leaks,” Lloyd’s forecasters wrote. “Since the construction of the dike, the land outside of the dike has been eroding, particularly on the south side of the lake.”

Willadson said the threats are real, and that the Corps works with other federal agencies to plan for worst-cast scenarios – which would likely be a major hurricane hitting Okeechobee.

“I know there’s higher level of coordination, because we do have issues with regards to a breach,” he said. “Damages would be rather significant.”

Florida’s ecology and economy are tied closely together. The state promotes itself as the “Fishing Capital of the World” and as the home to the Everglades as well as thousands of beaches, rivers, creeks and lakes. Florida generates nearly $30 million a year just from saltwater fishing licenses.

Lake Okeechobee was once an ecological treasure, a pristine lake unlike any in the world. With development came change, and restoring the area to its original brilliance is impossible.

Some groups have pushed the state and federal government to purchase farm lands south of the lake. That idea nearly came to fruition in 2008, but a lack of funds kept the South Florida Water Management District from buying out all of U.S. Sugar.

Karson Turner, a Hendry County native and commissioner, said farming will always be a reality on Lake Okeechobee, and that small towns around the lake can’t survive on tourism alone.

“I don’t care how pretty they make the lake, there aren’t going to be enough people coming out on airboats to tour the lake to employee all the people in Clewiston,” Turner said while fishing for bass on Okeechobee on a recent morning. “(The Army Corps project) is $640 plus million dollars in repairs and not one ounce more of water able to be stored, a delay with no end in sight.”

People in the Fort Myers area want fewer releases from the lake during high-water periods, mostly late summer. Lake releases from 2013 were blamed, partly, for algal blooms in the Caloosahatchee River. Some swimming beaches were closed, and freshwater plumes were flushed 15 miles or more into the Gulf of Mexico.

Kurt Harclerode, with Lee County’s Division of Natural Resources, said local governments want the lake to be healthy. At the same time, they don’t want heavy lake releases that flush out the estuary and kill off the marine food chain.

“You need a dynamic lake that rises and falls. That’s what we want, but we want flexibility so there’s no drastic change,” said Harclerode, who worked for the Water Management District for several years. “If you had an additional six inches of water, that would be 225,000 acre-feet. If you look at what the district is doing – hold water on any piece of land they can get – the cost is enormous compared to what it would cost to hold that water in Lake Okeechobee.”

By the numbers

Herbert Hoover Dike

* 143: Miles of earthen structure

* $500: Million in repairs

* 2,500: Estimated death toll in 1926, 28 hurricanes

* 32: Culverts repaired or replaced

* 451,000: Acres in size

* 15.5: Maximum feet in sea level for lake management

Source: Army Corps of Engineers

Chad Gillis|news-press.com|October 5, 2014

Deseret Ranches’ future metropolis would dam creeks for water

Deseret Ranches and Sumter County plans for a metropolis of 500,000 proposes to dam creeks to get water for metropolis of tomorrow.

A tough choice over Central Florida’s water future is unfolding now as the giant Deseret Ranches proposes to dam a pair of creeks, an idea rejected long ago by state officials as environmentally unacceptable.

Osceola County and Deseret Ranches are planning for expressways, industries and 500,000 residents by 2080 on 133,346 acres of ranch southeast of Orlando.

Water would come in part from damming Wolf and Pennywash creeks, two of several creeks on Deseret Ranches selected in the late 1950s to be part of a reservoir designed to ease St. Johns River flooding.

Graphic: Osceola damming controversy

Graphic: Osceola damming controversy

SHINIKO R. FLOYD, ORLANDO SENTINEL

Dam plan of Deseret Ranches draws from a 1950s proposal that Florida rejected.

Regardless of whether Wolf and Pennywash creeks are dammed, said Deseret manager Erik Jacobsen, “increased population is coming to Central Florida and will need water from somewhere.”

Few private owners of big tracts have the ranch’s patience and resources. Spanning 295,000 acres in Orange, Brevard and Osceola counties, Deseret has belonged for nearly 60 years to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon church. A recent purchase of 382,800 acres in the Panhandle expanded church real estate to nearly 2 percent of Florida.

Authorities warn the region is pumping so much water from its main source, the Floridan Aquifer, that connected springs and rivers are shriveling. The next choice, pumping from rivers and lakes, has triggered furious opposition.

The idea of damming Wolf and Pennywash creeks resurrects an option from a dark age for Florida’s environment, an era that inflicted damage the state is still repairing.

Deseret Ranches and Osceola County say the environment would gain from submerging the two creeks and their swamps of tupelo, black gum, red maple and other trees.

The new reservoir would create “valuable habitat for wading birds, water fowl and other wildlife,” their development plan states.

That wording is similar to justification more than 40 years ago by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for why Wolf, Pennywash and Jane Green creeks should be held in a reservoir called Jane Green Lake.

“The multipool system will also provide desirable habitat for a large number of aquatic wildlife, including river otter, great blue heron” and many other species.

That corps comment in 1973, part of a draft Environmental Impact Statement, came amid an environmental awakening in the U.S. and Florida in particular.

The state began to realize that corps works — including channelizing the Kissimmee River and digging the Cross Florida Barge Canal — were savaging spectacular examples of nature.

By 1973, the corps’ taming of the St. Johns River had been underway for nearly a decade. A huge levee had been built, and one of the Deseret Ranches creeks, Taylor Creek, had been dammed.

The corps’ 1973 report said the proposal to dam Wolf, Pennywash and Jane Green creeks “represents a major physical alteration of the existing environment” and that of most of 7,720 acres of forest along the three creeks “would be killed by impounded waters.”

Through the mid-1970s, the state told the corps it was ruining the St. Johns River basin, and in 1986 the corps formally “eliminated” the dam proposal.

Deseret, Osceola County and St. Johns River Water Management District officials said the dam project was dropped mostly out of concern for Jane Green Creek and large Jane Green Swamp. But the corps report makes little distinction among the creeks.

The Deseret development plan is moving quickly. On Thursday, the county’s planning commission gave it preliminary approval. On Oct. 20, county commissioners will consider sending the plan to state officials for review. The county’s final approval could come in February.

The St. Johns water district won’t comment on damming Wolf and Pennywash creeks.

“It really depends on the proposal,” said the district’s Hal Wilkening. “There are a lot of ways to dam a creek.”

Jeff Jones, Osceola’s director of strategic and economic development, said the development plan doesn’t give Deseret permission to build anything.

It describes “what we would like to see happen out there,” Jones said.

Kevin Spear|Orlando Sentinel


Coastal communities to Governor Scott: Reject U.S. Sugar city, buy land now

Two coastal communities ravaged by algae from Lake Okeechobee discharges held simultaneous protests last Wednesday to demand Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) reject US Sugar’s proposed city in the Everglades and send water south.

Environmentalists, community activists, elected officials, chamber of commerce officials, Realtors and business owners called upon Governor Rick Scott and his agencies to reject the development and buy US Sugar’s land at FDEP offices in Ft. Myers and Ft. Pierce.
U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brother’s “Sugar Hill” would create a massive, sprawling city between the Everglades and its water source, Lake Okeechobee.  The 67-square-mile project would bring 18,000 new residential units and 25 million square feet of commercial, industrial, office and retail buildings directly into the Everglades Agricultural Area.

The speakers warned that the massive city planned south of Lake Okeechobee could sabotage efforts to protect the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries and to restore the Everglades. It would ensure continued environmental and financial devastation for coastal communities as water from the Lake continues to be released east and west during the rainy season instead of being sent south the Everglades.

“The proposed Sugar Hill Sector Plan would impact the State’s ability and contract right to purchase these lands to be used for moving water south from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades and stopping the destructive discharges to the coastal estuaries,” said Mark Perry, Executive Director of the Florida Oceanographic Society in Stuart.

The South Florida Water Management District has an option to buy 48,600 acres of U.S. Sugar land by October 2015. Over 13,000 acres of that land falls within the Sugar Hill city plan. Sewall’s Point Commissioner Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch pointed out the importance of maintaining options for sending water south: “There are many ways of sending the water south. We need to reserve all of these lands for trading and conservation in the future — and for the kids.”

Mark Anderson, Ft. Myers business and property owner, and representative of the Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce, said:  “Endless studies have confirmed the importance of restoring the connection from Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades to create a southward flow of water between the two. The studies are conclusive: it is now action that is needed to acquire the land needed for restoration and not development.”

Speaking on behalf of the Martin County Conservation Alliance, Maggy Hurchalla, five-term Martin County Commissioner and member of the Everglades Hall of Fame, said, “If [Sugar Hill] is approved, then we are saying as a state that this is what we want to happen. We are committing local, state, and national resources to making it happen. We can’t commit to restoring the Everglades and destroying the Everglades at the same time. We need the state to tell the world that Florida’s choice will be restoring the Everglades.”

“The Florida Department of Environmental Protection should formally advise the Department of Economic Opportunity to reject the Sector Plan because of its adverse effect on the Florida Everglades and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, and the flood control, water supply and economic functions they provide to nearly 8 million Floridians,” said Julia Hathaway, organizer for the Sierra Club in West Palm Beach.

Dave Kirwan, Board Member of Reef Relief and a Cape Coral resident stated:  “The Sugar Hill Sector Plan is a very bad idea for water quality and the environment of South Florida. Everglades restoration and improving the water quality of Florida Bay is critical to protecting and preserving Florida’s Barrier Reef; the only living coral reef in North America and the third largest in the World.”

A statement by Paton White, President of the Audubon Society of the Everglades said:  “Clearly, the fast-tracking of such an ambitious and unprecedented development plan needs to slow down. We call on the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District to strongly oppose this short-sighted and inadequately researched plan when they make their comments this week to the Department of Economic Opportunity.”

The River Warriors were out in force in Ft. Pierce and the Solidarity Fish “swam” to both coasts to join the effort.  Organizations involved in Ft. Myers and Ft. Pierce included:  Sierra Club, Indian River Keeper, Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce, Rivers Coalition, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, Reef Relief, Treasure Coast Progressive Alliance, Martin County Chapter of the Native Plant Society, River Kidz, Responsible Growth Management Coalition, Inc., and Audubon Society of the Everglades.

Sierra Club Florida News|October 3, 2014

Florida gets $2 million to conserve lands north of Lake O 

 Florida received $2 million of federal land conservation money  to help protect wilderness areas, create parks and shelter public spaces from urban development while preserving the natural environment.
The announcement came in advance of a gathering of ranchers, sportsmen and federal officials in Fort Pierce on Wednesday to talk about the next steps for creation of an Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.

Ranchers in Central Florida have agreed to allow conservation measures on their lands to keep them rural and available for grazing. The plan is to avoid development that leads to urban runoff that could add pollution to Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades.
Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will lead the discussion with members of the Northern Everglades Alliance and the Florida Sportsmen’s National Land Trust.

Federal officials are pointing to the Everglades Headwaters initiative as a leading example of land conservation.

They say it will conserve habitat for 88 threatened or endangered species, including the Florida panther, black bear, whooping crane, snail kite and wood stork. And they say it will help filter pollutants from the Everglades watershed while protecting the water supply for millions of residents.

It is part of a broader plan to take pressure off of Lake Okeechobee and prevent polluted discharges during rainy seasons that foul estuaries leading to the east and west coasts. Those discharges have impaired boating and other recreation in nearby waterways, forced communities to restrict swimming and depressed property values in parts of northern Palm Beach County and along the Treasure Coast.

But the headwaters project is just one form of conservation. Florida Park Service officials will decide how to distribute this year’s $2 million allotment, which comes from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The fund, generated from offshore oil-drilling revenue, has provided $134 million to Florida since 1965, and every county has benefited. The fund has been used in past years to help pay for parks, wilderness areas, access for hunting and fishing, veterans memorials, boat marinas and picnic areas.

“These local projects – parks, ball fields, open spaces – play an important role in improving the health and vitality of urban areas, and protecting natural areas for future generations of Americans to enjoy,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said on Tuesday.

Florida’s share is part of $43 million that will be distributed to the states.

Interior officials are using a national tour, including the Florida visit, to make a pitch for extending the program, which is set to expire unless Congress acts. They say it generates $4 of economic activity for every $1 spent.

William E. Gibson|Washington Bureau|Sun Sentinel|July 8, 2014

Water Quality Issues

Safe Drinking Water Act Turning 40

As a child in Cleveland in the 1960’s I grew used to seeing the signs of our bustling industrial city; flares on tall smokestacks just off the highway, the elegant Terminal Tower shrouded in haze and smog barely visible on a hot summer day, and the awful smells near “the Flats” by the Cuyahoga River. This was all just another part of living near the city. But like most kids, I was still eager to find new places to play outside, even downtown. One of these was Edgewater Beach on Lake Erie, right in downtown Cleveland.

Whether we were there to see the fireworks on the 4th of July or stopping by to get near the water on a hot Sunday afternoon, we were uneasy about taking a swim. Even as a 7-year old, I understood that something had to be really wrong when the Cuyahoga River caught fire. What I didn’t understand was that the water that I watched burning on the nightly news, flowed into the source of my drinking water.

Cities around the country faced similar source water challenges that impacted drinking water quality, and they are part of the reason the Safe Drinking Water Act was passed in 1974. I didn’t understand until much later the very important role that implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act played in protecting the health of Americans by cleaning up Lake Erie and waters all across the US. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the law, which requires all public water systems to comply with strict drinking water quality standards.

Safe drinking water is central to our lives and to our health, but there are many continuing and emerging challenges to providing safe drinking water. To mark the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, we will highlight stories and examples of the importance of drinking water to our economy, our health, and our environment. We will also share the efforts currently underway to address the challenges our drinking water supplies face. You can follow and share these stories by going to the Safe Drinking Water Act 40th Anniversary website  or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

Peter Grevatt, Ph.D.|Director of EPA’s Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water|2014 October 7

Major Breakthrough: Desalination Powered by Graphite and Solar Energy

IndustryTap has written extensively about desalination. With worldwide spending on desalination technology expected to hit $16.6 billion by 2016, there is plenty of research and development underway driven by the world’s growing need for fresh water and a plentiful supply of saltwater. The fate of humanity and all living beings and an avoidance of the collapse of civilization depend on a plentiful supply of freshwater.

Like all new technologies, the challenge for desalination is to find a version that is economically viable for mass markets.

Now, researchers at the University of Houston & MIT have developed a process whereby graphite is placed in a microwave oven for seven seconds during which it “expands like popcorn”, according to Hadi Ghasemi of the University of Houston. The resulting porous material (see image below) concentrate solar energy, creating hotspots in graphite. Saltwater from below seeps upward into the graphite, heats up quickly and evaporates. The result is the creation of steam, which is condensed, collected and stored in tanks.

One current issue to overcome is the clogging of the graphite sponge by salt left behind after evaporation, but researchers are confident this can be overcome.

The breakthrough includes reducing the need to concentrate sunlight 1,000 times for current desalination technology to concentrating sunlight just 10 times. This requires relatively cheaper lenses, making this new form of desalination more economical.

Solar Sponge

Solar Sponge (Image Courtesy http://www.mit.edu)

Offshore & Ocean

Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Fish and Wildlife Resources Announced

Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, and former Wyoming governor, Dave Freudenthal today named 20 members of the national Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish and Wildlife Resources. Morris and Freudentahl, the Blue Ribbon Panel co-chairs, made their announcement during a keynote address at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Blue Ribbon Panel represents the outdoor recreation retail and manufacturing sector, the energy and automotive industries, private landowners, educational institutions, conservation organizations, sportsmen’s groups and state fish and wildlife agencies. The Panelists will work together over the course of a year to produce recommendations and policy options on the most sustainable and equitable model to fund conservation of the full array of fish and wildlife species.

The Blue Ribbon Panelists on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish & Wildlife Resources:

Kevin Butt—General Manager and Chief Environmental Officer, Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America, Inc. and Board Member, Wildlife Habitat Council

John Doerr—President and CEO, Pure Fishing, Inc. and Board Member, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation

Jim Faulstich—Owner, Daybreak Ranch and Vice Chairman, Partners for Conservation

John Fitzpatrick—Director, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Co-inventor, eBird

Gregg Hill—President and CEO of Exploration and Production, Hess Corporation

Rebecca Humphries—Chief Conservation Officer, National Wild Turkey Federation

Dr. Stephen Kellert—Professor Emeritus of Social Ecology and Senior Research Scholar, Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Board Member, Bio-Logical Capital; Founding Partner, Environmental Capital Partners

Jennifer Mull—Chief Executive Officer, Backwoods Equipment, Inc. and Board Chair of the Outdoor Industry Association

John W. Newman—CFO and Treasurer, LLOG Exploration Company, LLC and Board Chairman, Ducks Unlimited

Margaret O’Gorman—President, Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC) and Board Member, Stewardship Action Council

Glenn Olson—Donal O’Brien Chair in Bird Conservation and Public Policy, National Audubon Society (NAS) and Member, North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) Council and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act Advisory Council

Collin O’Mara—President and CEO, National Wildlife Federation

Connie Parker—CEO and Founder, CSPARKERGROUP and Board Member, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and the Wildlife Foundation of Florida

Charlie Potter—CEO, Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation and Founder and Chairman, Great Outdoors, LLC

Lynn Scarlett—Managing Director, Public Policy, The Nature Conservancy

John Tomke—President, Ducks Unlimited de Mexico and Chair, Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council

Dr. James Walker—Vice Chairman of the Board, EDF Renewable Energy and Board Member, American Wind Energy Association

Dr. Steve Williams—President, Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) and Board President, National Conservation Leadership Institute; Board Member, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

Bob Ziehmer—Director, Missouri Department of Conservation

“Conservation means balancing the sustainability of fish and wildlife with the many needs of humans for clean air and water; land; food and fiber; dependable energy; economic development and recreation,” said Morris. “By assembling this Panel of highly regarded leaders and problem solvers, we will find a way forward that safeguards not only vital natural resources, but also our nation’s economic prosperity and outdoor heritage.”

“With fish and wildlife species and natural resource-based enterprise at stake, we can’t afford an ‘us vs. them’ mentality,” said Freudenthal. “It is time to create certainty for both industry and the conservation community by building a 21st century funding model.”

State hunting and fishing license dollars, federal excise taxes on hunting and fishing gear and motorboat fuel taxes have provided the backbone for funding states’ fish and wildlife conservation programs over the past century. However, there has always been a significant gap in dedicated funding for conserving the 95 percent of all species that are neither hunted nor fished.

Only partially filling that gap is the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program, the sole federal source of funding to state agencies to prevent new endangered species listings. Since 2010, the program’s funding has been cut by more than 35 percent while petitions for federal endangered species listing has skyrocketed by 1,000 percent.

“Dedicated funding allowing for the management of all fish and wildlife, whether game or non-game species, is essential for this nation,” said Bob Ziehmer, Missouri Department of Conservation director and representative for state fish and wildlife agencies on the Blue Ribbon Panel. “Many species are declining in abundance and will continue to do so if we don’t work toward establishing a sustainable funding source for our nation now and into the future.”

The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies began its quest to secure sustained funding for fish and wildlife diversity conservation in the early 1990s. The launch of the Teaming With Wildlife coalition, which now includes nearly 6,400 organizations, was a critical step in demonstrating broad and diverse support for dedicated fish and wildlife funding.

The co-chairs expect to add approximately three more individuals and four Ex Officio participants to the Panel before it convenes its first meeting in early 2015.

To learn more about AFWA’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Fish and Wildlife Resources, go to www.fishwildlife.org/blueribbonpanel.

Mark Humpert|September 30, 2014

Coral Reefs Soften Ocean’s Fury for Millions of Coastal Dwellers

Call up in your mind the classic travel ad picture of a tropical island: turquoise waves lapping gently at a white sand beach, palm fronds waving in a mild breeze.

Now direct your view off shore. See that line of white foam, just shy of the horizon? That’s the crest of a coral reef that extracts over 95% of the energy from incoming waves. Without it, the waves wouldn’t lap so gently.

Coral reefs get lots of attention for the biodiversity they harbor — and for the threats posed by warming and acidifying oceans — but there’s been very little work done on the value they offer to coastal communities worldwide.

Reefs v. Breakwaters: Just as Good at a Fraction of the Cost

A group of researchers, including the Conservancy’s Michael Beck and Christine Shepard, combed the literature on corals and wave breaking. They extracted quantitative data from 27 studies of wave breaking in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans — and they found that intact coral reefs reduce wave energy by 97% and wave height by 84%. The study is published this week in the journal Nature Communications.

Of course, it’s possible to construct breakwaters to do a similar job, but they are far more expensive. For 29 projects the authors surveyed, the median cost of breakwater construction was 15 times that of reef restoration. And when a concrete breakwater starts to crumble, someone has to go fix it. A living coral reef has the potential to repair and maintain itself.

These figures put the ongoing degradation of coral reefs in a new light. The authors calculate that about 100 million people live within less than 10 m above sea level and less than 10 km from a coral reef. They receive substantial benefits from the reefs — even if they never grab a fishing pole or pull on a mask and fins to enjoy the beauty of that watery world.

coral_shoreline_graphicsRestoring for Protection Means Location Matters

The study suggests a somewhat different way of approaching coral conservation and restoration. Right now, remote biologically-diverse reefs are the most common targets of conservation organizations.  But focusing more on reefs closer to population centers would offer much greater coastal protection benefits and might also generate increased support for restoration.

“Adaptation funds are about helping people,” says Beck. “That could mean much more support for reefs near people;  these reefs won’t be nearly as beautiful — they’ll often be a bit run down. But it is exactly these reefs that — if restored and conserved — could do the most good for the most people.”

Restoration methods include both structural support in which in which rocks or concrete balls offer corals a better foothold — and coral transplantation in which naturally broken bits of coral are harvested, cultivated and transplanted back to a living reef.

And what of all those pessimistic predictions about coral bleaching and ocean acidification? Though the threats are real, Beck sees cause for optimism. Of the major types of habitat that serve to protect coasts, there are more coral reefs remaining (70%) than mangroves (50%), marshes (50%) or oyster reefs (15%).

Scientists are also finding that corals can recover after bleaching events. When water temperatures rise, corals eject the single-celled algae called zooanthellae that give them color and help feed them. If conditions improve, the corals can recover. There is also some evidence emerging, that the zoothanthelae, with their short life cycles, may be capable of rapid evolution in response to climate change.

“Even when we’ve seen severe bleaching — as in 1998,” says Beck, “we’ve seen that coral reefs can recover. What we know is that  we can reduce other impacts, and when we do, bleaching will have less of an impact.”

Marty Downs|May 13, 2014   

Climate Change Is Killing Coral Reefs, and That Could Cost the Economy $1 Trillion a Year

Carbon emissions have triggered a 26 percent increase in ocean acidification.

At the SXSW Eco conference in Austin, Texas, this week, a frequent refrain was that humanity does not value the oceans, treating the planet’s life support system as a source of free food and, alternatively, a garbage dump for carbon dioxide, plastic, and other pollution.

Well, the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity has just put a price tag on our neglect: $1 trillion a year.

That’s how much the acidification of the ocean from greenhouse gas emissions is expected to cost the global economy annually by 2100. The loss will come mainly from the death of coral reefs that support a variety of marine life as well as 400 million people.

The world’s oceans act as a giant carbon sink, absorbing greenhouse gas emissions that would otherwise go into the atmosphere. But all that carbon dioxide throws the oceans’ pH off balance, turning the seas increasingly acidic. The U.N. report released Wednesday found that since the Industrial Revolution, the acidification of the ocean has jumped 26 percent.

“The impacts of ocean acidification are beginning to be felt in some areas, but future projections indicate even more broad-reaching deleterious impacts if action is not taken,” Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, wrote in the report.

The study makes for grim reading.

“It is now nearly inevitable that within 50 to 100 years, continued anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions will further increase ocean acidity to levels that will have widespread impacts, mostly deleterious, on marine organisms and ecosystems, and the goods and services they provide,” the authors wrote.

The oceans won’t be recovering anytime soon. When high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere triggered ocean acidification 56 millions ago, it took 100,000 for the seas to bounce back, the report noted.

Some marine species, such as sea grass and algae, may flourish in acidic waters, but many others will suffer.

“Early life stages of a number of organisms seem to be particularly at risk from ocean acidification, with impacts including decreased larval size, reduced morphological complexity, and decreased calcification,” the researchers wrote.

What is certain is that acidification is exterminating the tropical coral reefs that 400 million people around the world depend on as a source of food and livelihood, according to the report.

The researchers calculated the estimate of a $1 trillion annual loss to the global economy based on the impact on tourism and fishing.

But they acknowledged that the estimate likely does not account for the true economic consequences of ocean acidification.

“The estimated impacts are, however, considered to be partial, since the underlying value data is largely focused on recreational values and includes limited information on the value of other services such as coastal protection or non-use values for biodiversity,” the report states.

Todd Woody|October 09, 2014

Forestry

New Citrus Trees Resist Greening

The varietals only show superior tolerance in soils on the East Coast

LAKELAND | The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released five new citrus varieties that appear to tolerate the fatal bacterial disease citrus greening better than existing varieties.

All five new releases are rootstocks, or citrus varieties bred primarily for specific soil conditions. The canopy of a commercial citrus tree comes from other varieties of oranges, grapefruit or tangerines grafted onto the rootstock just above ground level.

However, all five new rootstocks show superior tolerance to greening only on flatwood soils in the Indian River and Gulf Coast growing regions along the Florida coasts, according to USDA documents. Results of field tests showed no advantages over existing rootstocks grown in the sandier soils along the Central Florida Ridge, which includes Polk County.

Kim Bowman, a research geneticist at the USDA Horticultural Research Laboratory in Fort Pierce, developed all five rootstocks.

The new releases join four other rootstocks, all among the 10 most widely planted in Florida, Bowman developed earlier, said David Hall, the Fort Pierce lab’s interim director. Bowman could not be reached on Wednesday.

“We’re really excited about this release,” Hall said. “It’s really exciting to have rootstocks that show increased resistance to greening.”

Citrus is a fatal bacterial disease that threatens the future of Florida’s commercial citrus industry. Infected trees produce fewer, smaller fruit and have difficulty holding onto the fruit before it can be harvested.

In the five citrus seasons before greening was discovered in 2005, Florida growers produced an average of 225 million boxes of oranges. In the 2013-14 season, the orange harvest fell to 104.6 million boxes and is expected to fall below 100 million when the USDA releases its initial 2014-15 crop forecast on Friday.

The USDA decided to release the new rootstocks earlier than usual because of pleas from Florida citrus growers for new measures against greening, Hall said.

According to the USDA documents, the field trials for the five new rootstocks were limited to about 20 Hamlin orange trees, each at experimental groves near the Fort Pierce lab, which has flatwood soils, and in Orange County along the Ridge. Hamlin is Florida’s most widely planted early orange variety, harvested from October to March.

The new rootstocks could perform differently when they are more widely planted in commercial groves across Florida, Hall said.

In the field tests, all five rootstocks showed superior tolerance to the effects of greening, the documents said. Tolerance means the citrus tree can still be infected with the disease but shows a greater ability to cope with the infection.

The new rootstocks particularly outperformed Swingle, the most widely planted rootstock in Florida, the documents show.

From 2008 to 2012, infected trees on the new rootstocks produced two to three times more oranges when compared with infected trees on Swingle. Fruit size generally was larger and with more juice than Swingle trees, although the differences were not statistically significant in some cases.

Researchers also sampled the trees for bacterial levels, which could also account for the improved performance, but found no significant differences between the new rootstocks and Swingle. That supports the inference the rootstocks are naturally resistant to greening.

Mike Sparks, chief executive at Lakeland-based Florida Citrus Mutual, the state’s largest growers’ group, expressed confidence that the release of the new rootstocks represents an advance in the fight against greening.

“We are very optimistic the new rootstocks will really help growers,” Sparks said in an email to The Ledger. “It’s another tool for them in the battle against (greening). With several incentive programs out there designed to get growers to re-plant, these releases couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Kevin Bouffard|THE LEDGER|October 8, 2014

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.

Longleaf pine forests benefit humans as well as wildlife. They support our freshwater systems, provide natural resilience to catastrophic storms, and help sustain the regional economy. But Florida’s forests need our help – can you join us today with a safe and secure online gift?

It’s sad but true. 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 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.

Global Warming and Climate Change

Audubon Report Inspires Action on Global Warming

Seven years of Audubon science offers a startling conclusion—more than half of our North American birds are at risk from global warming, with many of them threatened with extinction. Audubon’s report was announced and widely covered the week of September 8 and the reaction has been inspiring.
Partner organizations like the National Wildlife Federation and the Center for American Progress heralded the report and found the science accessible to “even the non-science person.” Mom’s Clean Air Force, a community of hundreds of mothers and fathers fighting to curb pollution and limit climate change, blogged, and emailed their 360,000 members with a personal message about what birds mean to them:

“Every morning, I watch the hummingbirds canoodle the trumpet vine, and I am in awe of such tiny miracles. Each of us needs to do our part to preserve the world with which we are blessed. I’m in this to protect my children-but all creatures deserve our compassion and our care.”

In Ohio, the Audubon press event at the Grange Insurance Audubon Center drew more than 120 chapter members, volunteers, representatives from other organizations, elected officials and staff, with a special appearance from three key participants—a Barn Owl, an American Kestrel, and a Northern Saw-whet Owl, care of the Ohio Wildlife Center. All three birds are living reminders of what we may lose: they are threatened by global warming.

For Audubon, this information compels us to act. That’s why we are launching our five-year Climate Initiative to respond to this grave threat to birds and people.

The Audubon Initiative will employ a number of campaigns to bring this issue into focus for bird lovers across the country. Playing to Audubon’s strength—for who among us isn’t happy to discuss birds—the first campaign is “spread the word.” Start with your chapter, your neighbors, your colleagues and other peers and have a conversation about how birds are responding to a changing climate and what we can do about it.

While the numbers are dire, there is reason for hope. Backyards across America can be havens for birds. Chapter volunteers already help improve and protect existing habitats in Important Bird Areas.

But we can do more. Armed with the information in Audubon’s climate study, we can advocate for the protection of climate “strongholds”—those areas that our science shows will be important for birds and their survival in the future. This is part of the answer to helping birds survive a warming world, but we won’t be successful unless we address the underlying cause and reduce carbon emissions. We can all do our part here as well by using energy wisely.

For more than 100 years Audubon has been the voice for birds and never shirked the hard task of protecting them from plume hunters or the ravages of DDT—each as flagrant and seemingly insurmountable in their time as the over-indulgence in fossil fuels may seem in ours. It’s not too late to act. Let’s start the conversation.

Read more about our landmark report at audubon.org/climate.

Loss of Sea Ice Forces 35,000 Walruses to Shore

A walrus flash mob of sorts was spotted by biologists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on September 27, raising concerns about how the loss of Arctic sea ice is impacting marine life.

An estimated 35,000 Pacific walruses were spotted on shore about five miles north of Point Lay, Alaska, during NOAA’s annual Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals project where they “hauled out” on land to rest.

A few thousand were first spotted on September 13. They have been moving on and off shore, but their numbers have multiplied.

They would normally be hanging out on sea ice offshore, which they use to rest on when they forage, give birth on during their spring migration and to move around, but a lack of sea ice has left them with no alternative place to rest but land, which poses a problem for populations along the Russian and Alaskan coasts.

As they congregate on land, they’re left with fewer places to forage and more competition. Calves and other young walruses are vulnerable to being trampled if there’s a stampede, which can be started when they’re startled.

According to the AP, there have already been dozens of bodies observed that may have died in that way. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be removing the bodies to determine the cause of death

This isn’t the first time walruses have been observed in massive groups along the coast. According to NOAA, from 2009 -2013 large groups were spotted along the coast of Alaska every year around this time except for 2012, when there was likely enough sea ice for them to use.

“The walruses are hauling out on land in a spectacle that has become all too common in six of the last eight years as a consequence of climate-induced warming,” the U.S. Geological Survey said in a statement. “Summer sea ice is retreating far north of the shallow continental shelf waters of the Chukchi Sea in U.S. and Russian waters, a condition that did not occur a decade ago.  To keep up with their normal resting periods between feeding bouts to the seafloor, walruses have simply hauled out onto shore.”

According to a the National Snow and Ice Data Center, this year Arctic sea ice reached its lowest extent of the year on September 17 and reached the sixth-lowest amount of Arctic sea ice on record.

“It’s another remarkable sign of the dramatic environmental conditions changing as the result of sea ice loss,” Margaret Williams, managing director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Arctic program, told the AP. “The walruses are telling us what the polar bears have told us and what many indigenous people have told us in the high Arctic, and that is that the Arctic environment is changing extremely rapidly and it is time for the rest of the world to take notice and also to take action to address the root causes of climate change.”

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Alicia Graef|October 3, 2014

Natural dam design to protect against rising sea levels

A Hungarian team has unveiled a new concept to reduce the impact of rising sea levels in the world’s delta regions by introducing a modular structure to cultivate mangrove forests to form natural dams

The increasing problem of sea level rise represents one of the most flagrant consequences of the global climate change. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in September 2013, due to global warming sea level will have increased by 100cm by 2100. This prediction forecasts the submersion of some 5M km2 of the lowest lands on earth, which is twenty times the area of the UK, causing massive migration and serious economic damages.

Hence, in 2013, France’s Jacques Rougerie Foundation’s international architecture competition called for proposals in three categories of which one was “Architecture and Sea Level Rise”. Here they welcomed architectural concepts reflecting on this environmental issue. More than 500 entries were received from 76 countries of the world. The jury awarded the first prize in the mentioned category to CALTROPe.

CALTROPe’s main goal was to propose a future-oriented and innovative architectural solution responding to a problem due to sea level rise: the reduction in area of tropical and subtropical delta regions that are socially, economically, and ecologically vital for our planet. To get the core concept clear, firstly the significance of the targeted area and its dynamics and ecological processes were observed.

There are two main factors evoking sea level rise: the growing volume of warming water on account of global temperature increase, and the melting of inland ice. In coastal zones, rising sea level endangers densely populated low altitude big river deltas.

“At present, 24 out of the 33 largest deltas are sinking and losing land; as confirmed by a 2009 study in Nature Geoscience”

Deltas are incessantly built and evolved by sand and gravel river sedimentation pushing always a bit forward the estuaries in the sea. Owing to this sedimentation process deltas conquer substantial areas from the seas every year. The largest tropical deltas on Earth can measure tens of thousands of square kilometers. However, by today, human activity significantly transformed the natural run and hydrodynamics of our planet’s huge rivers by dikes controlling their flow, and bigger and bigger dams and reservoirs disturbing water yield. These interventions hinder transport and resupply of alluvium as well as its accumulation and integration into deltas. In addition, agronomy and industry take away important amounts of water, so most rivers lose substantial water capacity by the point they reach their estuaries. As a result of all these reasons, at present times, 24 out of the 33 largest deltas are sinking and losing land; as confirmed by a 2009 study in Nature Geoscience. Building is giving way to erosion, and expansion to decline. Seas are also reclaiming the deltas, which will be further accelerated by sea level rise.

Since ca. 500M people live in deltas (equals to the population of the European Union and to 8% of all humanity on earth), for whom these zones mean home, life and living. Sea level rise just in itself leads to disastrous consequences but the situation will be exacerbated by the eventual destruction of more and more intense storms and sweeping hurricanes also ascribable to global warming. Thus vast areas of living spaces and agricultural lands may disappear or at least be endangered shortly. Moreover, we have to expect the collapse of the complex estuarine ecosystems. The tropical and subtropical countries with these dense population tend to have weak economies and are the most vulnerable to these threats. The prospective soar of uninhabitable zones foreshadows a modern age mass migration. Hence we focus on the deltas of these regions.

Mangrove forests grow in tropical and subtropical foreshore habitats. Mangrove swamps are composed of 40-60 species in about 20 genera and in more than 10 families. This plant association forms different coastal zones, the composition depending on the degree of salinity and water coverage.

Endemic plant species adapted to the waving and the tidal fluctuations of the littoral swamp by evolving a special profuse strong lateral root system for better foothold (Figure 1). Water is so poor in oxygen that it cannot supply the plant with this substance. Thus the immense root system obtains oxygen from the air via negative geotropic (growing upward) pneumatophores, i.e. breathing roots.

“These trees create the grounds of their own habitat as they contribute to soil formation and prevent neap tide backwash from eroding the coast”

By developing an abundant root network while growing, trapping alluvium from the river and the waves, these trees create the grounds of their own habitat as they contribute to soil formation and prevent neap tide backwash from eroding the coast. Thanks to these properties, mangal is the only natural plant association on earth that helps land gain areas from the sea (Figure 2). Beside the protection against constant effects, mangrove provides shelter against extreme weather events. It absorbs 75%t of wave energy, so the mangal-entrenched land is relatively protected against storms and tornadoes.

Despite its importance, mangal had become one of the most endangered tropical ecosystems on earth by the millennium. Sadly, the original coverage has diminished by more than 35%. In addition to direct human intervention (deforestation), indirectly prevailing processes are also reducing the coverage. Because of sea level rise and the reduced amount of influent alluvium, the mangrove zone situated between the tidal and mean sea levels is moving up following the new coastline. Consequently, by the seaside, those trees that are permanently under water die, letting devastating waves to rage; while landside, the mangrove is climbing with high tide on land occupying the habitat abandoned by land plant associations.

After the examination of the dynamics, the flow characteristics, and the ecological regularities of deltas, it was concluded that the intentional and increased retention of water-borne alluvium carried in big quantities by delta rivers can be the key for the protection against the effects of water level rise. Therefore our aim was to elaborate a straining system that is able to catch alluvium and integrate mangroves into an architectural structure in an organic and controlled way. It was essential to design such modules that initiate positive changes in a symbiotic way with local endowments on the critical coastlines.

The CALTROPe module system is to be installed between the delta’s branches and on the foreshore, following the sedimentation patterns. The lace is to be built in one or two to three levels and the height of the system is defined by the mean water depth on the shore. Mangrove saplings are to be planted in the flared hollow arms of the top level. In time, the trees’ roots will enmesh other units as well, creating a live sifter layer on the constructed one. The prefabricated modular system serves essentially as a supportive frame and helps the trees take root and grow strong where the water would be too high otherwise. On the foreshore, the special mangal needs (water depth, salinity, etc.) are artificially established under water on the CALTROPe lace. The structure ensures appropriate life conditions for the plant even in water several metres deep. That way, the intricate root system and the human-built construction form together a natural dam that retains alluvium and adds it to the shoreline soil (Figure 4).

“The prefabricated modular system serves essentially as a supportive frame and helps the trees take root and grow strong where the water would be too high otherwise”

The system consists of numerous examples of one single element type. The units can be combined both horizontally and vertically. Modularity allows adjustment not only to the conditions at the time when the lace is installed but also to evolving circumstances. This feature is crucial respecting the protean dynamism of delta geography, especially if one takes into account how little we know about climatic changes and their potential impact on sea level. The units serve at the same time as a framework, as incubators for the planted saplings, and as a flow-decelerating wall contributing to wave protection and sedimentation.

The modules’ blend is a special mixture of concrete developed for this purpose, always containing local materials. In 15-20 years, as the plants get stronger, the concrete lace starts crumbling and decomposing. Eventually, the crumbs also become parts of the alluvium and integrate into the sediment.

The installation of the CALTROPe lace consists of a gradual development process of several steps. Four to five years after planting, the saplings grow strong enough to be self-supporting, preserve soil and strain water. Sedimentary processes start immediately and keep on banking up alluvium incessantly. The lace always curves and forms closed lines to enhance alluvium capturing and structural stability (Figure 5).

These areas do not only function as a dam, a filter or a pier, but CALTROPe’s “watery esplanades” also provide habitat for other organisms that creates the possibility for local population to earn a viable and sustainable living. The presence of the lace and the care for the flora can prove to be useful in several ways for the locals. The participatory factor brings people together and reorganizes the community. Collaboration improves the community’s sense for self-supporting, constructive management strategies that utilize local resources.

Sea level rise has become an inevitable and unpreventable fact. Yet the installation of the CALTROPe lace could contribute to the articulated and effective utilisation of delta sediment and to the rescue or possibly the slight expansion of existing estuary infields. The retention of a few years’ sediment is already enough for the protection of the coast. We believe that if the installation is well scheduled, the volume of sediment trapped will form sufficiently high dams to save the current lands when the sea level goes beyond the critical point.

The CALTROPe concept was also well received beyond the scope of the competition. Though there is certainly a long way from theory to practice. Firstly there needs to be hydrodynamic and materials testing, and then small-scale mock-ups will be assembled. Hopefully, the core idea will prove correct, that is to say that natural processes catalysed by human intervention can offer a good solution for problems generated by human activity.

Gergö BALÁZS, Biologist and Diver, Department of Zoological Systematics and Ecology, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary|Anna BARÓTHY, Leading Designer and Project Manager, Szövetség’39 Art Base, Budapest, Hungary|Janka CSERNÁK, Designer, Szövetség’39 Art Base, Budapest, Hungary|

Dr Viktor GRÓNÁS, Senior Lecturer and Diver, Department of Nature Conservation and Landscape Ecology, Szent István University, Gödöllö, Hungary

Call Me a Convert: The Climate Movement Is Stepping Up

In the People’s Climate March is the suggestion that civilization might rise to the challenge, perhaps in time to avert total catastrophe.

Less than two weeks have passed and yet it isn’t too early to say it: the People’s Climate March changed the social map — many maps, in fact, since hundreds of smaller marches took place in 162 countries. That march in New York City, spectacular as it may have been with its 400,000 participants, joyous as it was, moving as it was (slow-moving, actually, since it filled more than a mile’s worth of wide avenues and countless side streets), was no simple spectacle for a day. It represented the upwelling of something that matters so much more: a genuine global climate movement.

When I first heard the term “climate movement” a year ago, as a latecomer to this developing tale, I suspected the term was extravagant, a product of wishful thinking. I had, after all, seen a few movements in my time (and participated in several).  I knew something of what they felt like and looked like — and this, I felt, wasn’t it.

I knew, of course, that there were climate-related organizations,demonstrations, projects, books, magazines, tweets, and for an amateur, I was reasonably well read on “the issues,” but I didn’t see, hear, or otherwise sense that intangible, polymorphous, transformative presence that adds up to a true, potentially society-changing movement.

It seemed clear enough then: I could go about most of my life without brushing up against it. Now, call me a convert, but it’s here; it’s big; it’s real; it matters.

There is today a climate movement as there was a civil rights movement and an antiwar movement and a women’s liberation movement and a gay rights movement — each of them much more than its component actions, moments, slogans, proposals, names, projects, issues, demands (or, as we say today, having grown more polite, “asks”); each of them a culture, or an intertwined set of cultures; each of them a political force in the broadest as well as the narrowest sense; each generating the wildest hopes and deepest disappointments. Climate change is now one of them: a burgeoning social fact.

The extraordinary range, age, and diversity exhibited in the People’s Climate March — race, class, sex, you name it, and if you were there, you saw it — changes the game. The phalanxes of unions, indigenous and religious groups, and all manner of local activists in New York formed an extraordinary mélange. There were hundreds and hundreds of grassroots groups on the move — or forced to stand still for hours on end, waiting for the immense throng, hemmed in by police barricades, to find room to walk, let alone march.  At least in the area that I could survey — I was marching with the Divest Harvard group, alongside Mothers Out Front — opposition to fracking seemed like the most common thread.  And the only audible appeal to a politician I heard was a clamor to get Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban fracking in New York State.

If what follows sounds circular, so be it: there is a social movement when some critical mass of people feel that it exists and act as if they belong to it.  They begin to sense a shared culture, with its own heroes, villains, symbols, slogans, and chants. Their moods rise and fall with its fate. They take pleasure in each others’ company. They look forward to each rendezvous. And people on every side — the friendly, the indifferent, as well as the hostile — all take note of it as well and feel something about it; they take sides; they factor it into their calculations; they strive to bolster or obstruct or channel it. It moves into their mental space.

The climate movement is, of course, plural, a bundle of tendencies. There are those who emphasize climate justice — “fairness, equity, and ecological rootedness” in one formulation — and those who don’t. Politico’s headline-writer called 350.org and other march co-sponsors “rowdy greens,” to distinguish them from old-line Washington-based environmental groups.  To my mind, they are not so much rowdy as decentralized on principle, which means that the range of approaches and styles is striking. This is a feature characteristic of all the great social movements of our time.

Degrees of militancy also vary– again, this goes with the territory of mass movements. The day after the march came the Flood Wall Street sit-downs, tiny by comparison and far more targeted on specific enemies: the hell-bent fossil-fuel corporations that pump record amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and the banks that support them. These demonstrations have their own disruptive but remarkably civil forms of disobedience, and there will be more of them in the months to come, as well as a host of local campaigns — against tar sands oil in South Portland, Maine, on ranches and campuses in Nebraska, and among Texas evangelicals; against fracking throughout New York and many other states. Some will be more militant, some more sedate, some broader-based, some narrower. Factions will emerge — a movement large enough to turn out throngs won’t be able to avoid them — but so will an acute awareness of commonalities, not least the recognition that time is running out for a civilization that seems unnervingly committed to burning down the house it inhabits.

“Were you in New York on September 21, 2014?” will be a question that future generations will wield as today those of a certain age might ask, “Were you in the March on Washington on August 28, 1963?” (In both cases, they’re prone to mistake a single manifestation for the entirety of the movement.)

Cynics will look at photos of the crowd, observe the staggering range of posters and banners, and conclude that those 400,000 participants — the number certified in a remarkable act of legitimation by Fox News — are so disparate that they can’t even agree about what they stand for; and that would be accurate, up to a point, but rather trivial in the end and certainly not as important as critics might imagine.

The same could have been said of the vast antiwar mobilizations of the late 1960s — crowds ranging from Quaker pacifists and Democratic liberals to Vietnam veterans and Viet Cong supporters, and more brands of revolutionary socialists than General Mills made cereals — and of the early feminist parades as well. The civil rights movement called itself nothing more specific than a “freedom movement,” and both its supporters and its adversaries knew in their bones what that meant. The house of the climate movement will hold many mansions (and probably its share of hovels, too), but for all the differing emphases, even conflicts on particular issues, there will be a great bulge of de facto agreement on one thing: governing institutions have, so far, defaulted and the depredations of corporations and governments have to be stopped. Now.

Complaints about the movement’s disparate nature, its radical “horizontalism,” its lack of “demands” also miss the coordination abundantly in evidence. At 12:58 p.m. that Sunday in New York, two minutes of silence, previously announced via text messages and e-mails, cascaded northward from Columbus Circle up Central Park West through a boisterous crowd — a crowd of crowds — and suddenly the roar, the bands, the noise subsided. The silence surged block after block in the most disciplined manner. You could feel it rippling uptown. And so did the clamor that followed, block by block, the whooping and horn-blowing and marching-band uproar that signaled a single, unmistakable, gigantic statement: “We’re here!”

Slash-and-burn leftists will carp. Some already have, calling the March “a corporate PR campaign,” a zinger joyfully picked up by the world’s biggest climate change denial site, or claiming that the march sold out to capitalism because $220,000 was raised to plaster the subways with posters advertising the march and some large environmental groups have decidedly un-green investment policies. It will be said that to make any substantial progress, there must be a global revolution against capitalism, but what such a revolution should disown is decidedly unclear: Markets? All large corporations, or some? All profit motives?

And what forms of social organization are to be recommended is equally blurry. Broad-brush sloganeering is feel-good bait for those who nestle comfortably in the history of left-wing revolutions, but erases important distinctions among types of capitalists and forms of capitalism. There’s a world of difference between the ExxonMobils and BPs straining to extract every last reserve of fossil fuel from the ground and companies that harness solar, wind, and other sustainable energy. There’s equally a world of difference between American-style top-down corporate governance and German-style codetermination, a system in which labor elects almost half a company’s board of directors.

Critics will accurately note that this new movement is unfocused; it does not converge on a single demand or small set of demands as did the anti-Vietnam War movement of the 1960s and early 1970s, or the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s, which was responsible for the only New York protest (Central Park, 1982) that outnumbered the People’s Climate March. Some climate activists think a carbon tax might prove the common denominator; it’s even supported by some conservatives, and recent moves by fossil-fuel companies suggest that they believe a carbon tax is only a matter of time. Others doubt that America is ready for new taxes, whatever they’re called.

What policies and terminology will best underscore the truths that carbon-based energy is scarcely “cheap” and that it exacts a host of planet-imperiling social and economic costs remains in dispute. There’s a big push for “carbon pricing” from the World Bank, for instance.  What’s meant is a mixture of taxes, cap-and-trade policies, and internal pricing proposals, all based on the principle that once the actual costs of carbon are factored into policy calculations, it will become pricier and renewable energy less so.

After the march, Éva Borsody-Das, an activist with the Divest Harvard alumni, wondered whether unity might be attained on the common ground of a “carbon freeze.” It would be modeled on the “nuclear freeze” proposal of the early 1980s for a U.S.-Soviet agreement to stop the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons. The author-psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, a veteran of that movement, has proposed the use of the term “climate freeze,” meaning “a transnational demand for cutting back on carbon emissions.” In Lifton’s judgment, public as well as elite opinion is undergoing a “climate swerve” that might plow the ground for advances in policy.

What would such freezes mean? How would progress toward them be measured? Would they be enough? That’s for future debates within the movement to sort out, if they can.  But immense social movements are not buckets of answers, but places where people converge on questions.  They are zones where debates evolve. They raise expectations, they disappoint. They win battles, but lose them, too. People arrive, people burn out, people fall away. They get fed up with each other, accuse each other of buying in and selling out and preaching to the choir, and undoubtedly in the case of the present movement, charges that none of us have yet imagined.

But don’t forget this: the movement has arrived.  It’s a fact.  And as the climate-change crisis mounts and powerful institutions default, it needs to grow if we have any hope of keeping in the ground the lion’s share of the carbon reserves already known to lie there. (Eighty percent of them is the figure usually cited.)

It would be decidedly premature to suggest that this movement will soon win anything, no less everything it wants, or that it will succeed in curtailing the burn-off of fossil fuel carbon compounds and all the extinctions and acidifications and extreme weather and sea rise that will follow. But the People’s Climate March does suggest that something commensurate with the magnitude of the global climate crisis has come into being.

The great boom of the last two-and-a-half centuries happened because industrialists took charge of the remains of previous life forms — fossil fuels indeed! — to power the most rapid, productive, and destructive transformation in history. They remade the world and, in the process, unmade it. With all its accomplishments, the world they made is well on its way to burning through its assets.

Nature and history have talked back. In a few short centuries, the carbon-based fuels of the industrial breakthrough have come to threaten the entirety of a civilization they made possible. In the People’s Climate March is the suggestion that civilization might rise to the challenge, perhaps in time to avert total catastrophe. After the march, the four-letter word I heard most was: hope.

Todd Gitlin|TomDispatch|October 2, 2014 

Report: High tides cause more frequent flooding

Rising sea levels cause more frequent high-tide floods even on completely clear days on the East and Gulf Coasts, says a report out Wednesday from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

In the next 15 years or so, many towns and cities could see a tripling in the number of high-tide floods each year. In 30 years, a whopping tenfold increase is possible. “Several decades ago, flooding at high tide was simply not a problem,” said Melanie Fitzpatrick, a report co-author who is a climate scientist at UCS.

“Today, when the tide is extra high, people find themselves splashing through downtown Miami, Norfolk and Annapolis on sunny days and dealing with flooded roads in Atlantic City, Savannah and the coast of New Hampshire,” she said.

The UCS report builds upon a report this year from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which found that such nuisance flooding, as it’s known, has increased on all three U.S. coasts 300 percent to 925 percent since the 1960s.

“We know that along the U.S. coast, almost 3 million people and their homes reside within 3feet of mean high water,” Fitzpatrick said. Overall, she said, 100 million people live in coastal counties — nearly one third of the U.S. population.

Devastating floods occur when storm surge water roars inland, which happened during hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

The sea level has risen nearly 8 inches worldwide since 1880, but it doesn’t rise evenly: In the past 100 years, it has climbed about a foot or more in some U.S. cities, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Around the world, sea level is rising in response to global warming,” Fitzpatrick said. “As the oceans heat up, the water expands, and as glaciers and polar ice sheets melt, they add water to the oceans.”

Fitzpatrick said people can do three things about this: They can live with the worsening flooding, retreat from the coasts or try to stay and defend the land.

Doyle Rice|USA TODAY|October 9, 2014Doyle Rice|USA TODAY|October 9, 2014

Massive Methane Hot Spot Detected by Satellite

 One tiny section in the U.S. is responsible for a significant amount of the country’s methane emissions, according to new information released by scientists from NASA and the University of Michigan.

In a study published this week, they analyzed satellite-gathered data and found that an area about 2,500 square miles, near the “Four Corners” where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah connect, produces the largest concentration of these greenhouse gas emissions ever found in the U.S., more than triple the previous estimate based on ground-gathered information. While carbon emissions are more plentiful and have attracted most of the attention as the driver of climate change, methane has been found to be an even more potent greenhouse gas.

The researchers looked at data from 2003-2009 and found that in that time, that area released 590,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere annually, nearly three and a half times the previous estimate for the area. That’s about 10 percent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s official estimate for the whole country during those years. The hot spot persisted during the entire observation period.

Fracking has been widely identified as a culprit in boosting methane emissions. But this new analysis indicates that older methods of fossil-fuel extraction are just as harmful, with methane emissions added to carbon emissions to multiple the environmental damages from fossil fuels. Fracking wasn’t widely used in the area during the period studied; the boom didn’t kick off there until 2009. But it is a major coal-mining center. And New Mexico’s San Juan Basin is the most active coalbed methane production area in the country, a process in which methane-heavy natural gas (composed of about 95-98 percent methane) is extracted from pores and cracks in coal to use for fuel. In the process, it produces significant leaks (and well as coal mine explosions.)

“The results are indicative that emissions from established fossil fuel harvesting techniques are greater than inventoried,” said the study’s leader author Eric Kort of the University of Michigan. “There’s been so much attention on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, but we need to consider the industry as a whole.”

In March, President Obama announced a blueprint for methane emission reduction that included addressing emissions from coal mines.

Anastasia Pantsios|October 10, 2014

Reducing Carbon Emissions Would Fuel Global Economy

Evidence is amassing to discredit those middle-ground politicians who say they think climate change is real but don’t think we should address it because of the steep economic costs.

Two reports issued today by the Climate Policy Institute add to the growing pile of studies showing that moving to clean-energy, low-carbon policies that help mitigate the effects of climate change could actually provide fuel for the economy. They found that moving to such policies could save the global economy trillions of dollars in the next two decades to invest in economic growth. The reports were commissioned by the New Climate Economy project as part of the research conducted for the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

“For policymakers around the world wondering whether the transition to a low-carbon economy will help or hurt their countries’ ability to invest for growth, our analysis clearly demonstrates that, for many, the low-carbon transition is a no-brainer,” said Climate Policy Initiative’s executive director Tom Heller. “It not only reduces climate risks, its benefits are clear and significant.”

“Moving to a Low Carbon Economy: The Financial Impact of the Low-Carbon Transition” juxtaposes the costs of low-carbon electricity and low-carbon transportation system with the costs of the current system. “Moving to a Low Carbon Economy: The Impact of Different Policy Pathways on Fossil Fuel Asset Values” looks at the risk and extent of existing fossil fuel assets’ loss of value (aka asset-stranding), which would limit governments and businesses’ ability to borrow against them to finance growth and investment, including investment in a clean energy technologies.

The reports came to a number of conclusions about the positive economic impacts of shifting to policies that favor clean, renewable energy. They found that since governments worldwide and not private companies control 50-70 percent of oil, gas and coal resources, they also have the power to shape policies that can lead to savings or to asset-stranding. They also concluded that the savings in operational costs from renewable energy as opposed to fossil-fuel energy far outweighs the value of the stranded assets. And they assert that transitioning away from coal would provide the greatest benefits in emissions reductions with the least loss in value.

They also urge reducing the cost of financing renewable energy plants to lower the cost of transition worldwide, implementing a planning approach that includes taxes and innovation, and using gas as a bridge fuel in some regions—particularly China and India—until 2030 but saying gas use would have to decrease after that.

“Our analysis reveals that with the right policy choices, over the next twenty years governments can achieve the emissions reductions necessary for a safer, more stable climate and free up trillions for investment in other parts of the economy,” said Climate Policy Initiative’s senior director David Nelson. “This is even before taking into account the environmental and health benefits of reducing emissions.”

Anastasia Pantsios|October 9, 2014

Ocean Acidification from Climate Change Could Cost $1 Trillion

The United Nations Environment Program and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) released a report this week at a conference in Korea, compiling studies on the impact of increased ocean acidification, caused by absorbing carbon dioxide, on the marine and coastal ecosystems. The report updated a 2009 report, since the amount of research into ocean acidification has grown, along with concerns about the effect it is having on marine organisms and the economies dependent on them.

“The oceans are facing major threats due to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” said CBD’s executive secretary Braulio Ferreira de Souzo Dias in the report’s introduction. “In addition to driving global climate change, increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide affect ocean chemistry, impacting marine ecosystems and compromises the health of the oceans and their ability to provide important services to the global community. The impacts of ocean acidification are beginning to be felt in some areas, but future projections indicate even more broad-reaching deleterious impacts if action is not taken.”

The report finds that ocean acidification has increased about 26 percent in the past 200 years, absorbing more than a quarter of the carbon released by human activity. “Ocean acidification is a direct result of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations due to the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, cement production and other human activities,” it says.

It points out that the absorption of carbon by the ocean has significant benefits: by absorbing more than a quarter of human-produced carbon emissions, it has substantially slowed climate change. But that’s offset by the negative impact on seawater chemistry and its effect on marine life, as well as the economies and communities dependent on it.

“It is now nearly inevitable that within 50 to 100 years, continued anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions will further increase ocean acidity to levels that will have widespread impacts, mostly deleterious, on marine organisms and ecosystems, and the goods and services they provide.,” says the report. “Marine calcifying organisms seem particularly at risk, since additional energy will be required to form shells and skeletons, and in many ocean areas, unprotected shells and skeletons will dissolve.”

It points out that the cost to industries linked to just coral reefs could lose as much as $1 trillion annually by the end of the century if no action is taken.

“When ecosystems stop delivering the way they should, they essentially deliver less services and less benefits,” said Salvatore Arico of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). “In the case of coral reefs, those systems are essential for people’s livelihoods in many regions of the world and they will be significantly affected.”

But the report also finds that international awareness of these consequences is growing, along with the amount of research being done.

“Many programs and projects are now investigating the impacts of ocean acidification on marine biodiversity and its wider implications, with strong international linkages,” it says. “The United Nations General Assembly has urged States to study ocean acidification, minimize its impacts and tackle its causes. Many United Nations bodies are focusing attention on these issues.”

Anastasia Pantsios|October 9, 2014

Plant Breeding vs. GMOs: Conventional Methods Lead the Way in Responding to Climate Change

Genetically engineered (GE) seeds are often sold to farmers and the public on the grounds that they are the wave of the future, taking over where conventional plant breeding left off by improving productivity and sustainability. But that might be changing.

Last month, the highly respected science journal Nature published a news article reporting that conventional breeding substantially out-performs genetic engineering for several very important traits—drought tolerance and the ability of crops to use nitrogen (e.g., from fertilizer or manure) more efficiently.

It’s unusual to see the two methods compared. Science journals have presented advances in breeding for drought tolerance. But none have been bold enough to say what has been obvious for several years—that conventional breeding is working considerably better than genetically engineered seeds for this trait.

As the Nature article points out: “Transgenic techniques, which target one gene at a time, have not been as quick [as conventional breeding] to manipulate [drought tolerance].” For those who want more detailed information on this topic, I analyzed and compared genetic engineering and traditional breeding for drought tolerance and nitrogen use efficiency in reports published in 2012 and 2009, respectively. I came to very similar conclusions as the Nature article.

The article also notes that while Monsanto hopes to get a transgenic drought tolerant seed trait to Africa “by 2016 at the earliest,” there are already about 153 varieties of conventionally-bred corn currently in trials for drought tolerance. And conventional seeds have been shown to improve yields–a scientific term for the actual amount of corn harvested–by as much as 30 percent higher than non-tolerant varieties during drought. Many other non-GMO drought-tolerant varieties are already deployed to several million farmers with yield improvements reported to be about 20-30 percent compared to previous varieties.

By comparison, Monsanto’s drought tolerant seeds provide only about 5 or 6 percent yield increase in the U.S., and only under moderate drought conditions (PDF). Comparisons are somewhat tricky, but there is little doubt that conventional breeding is outperforming GE for improving drought tolerance.

Nature doesn’t mention that conventional breeding has also been making important staple crops popular in the developing world–such as sorghum, millet, cassava, rice, and wheat–much more drought tolerant (PDF). There are no available GE seeds for any of these crops.

The Nature article discusses another important genetically complex trait—nitrogen use efficiency (NUE), or the amount of grain produced for a given amount of nitrogen fertilizer. This trait is important in Africa because crops often do not get enough of this crucial nutrient for optimum production. Fertilizer is also scarce and very expensive there. As with drought tolerance, conventional breeding is making inroads—21 varieties with improvements of about 1 ton per hectare in trials (in much of Sub Saharan Africa, this would amount to about 20 to 50 percent yield increase), with GE traits “at least 10 years away,” says Nature. In developed countries, improved NUE is important because inefficient fertilizer use is the main culprit in over 400 coastal dead zones (PDF), where it is harming fisheries. It is also the main contributor of the potent global warming gas, nitrous oxide.

Other important crop traits, such as increased yield potential, are also genetically complex. This has led some scientists to realize that the success of the few available GE traits is due in part to their exceptional simplicity. In other words, drought tolerance is controlled by many genes, which each tend to contribute only a small benefit. Genetic engineering can manipulate only a few genes at a time, but it is hard to find a small number of genes that provide substantial drought tolerance on their own. By contrast, the few engineered genes that have been successful happen to have big effects. But this is often the exception, rather than the rule.

Major Goodman of North Carolina State University, a highly respected corn geneticist and member of the National Academy of Sciences, put this succinctly in testimony before the National Research Council recently. He noted that some have pointed out that the current GE seeds provide solutions to problems that are “low-hanging fruit.” Goodman corrected this perception: They were not low-hanging, he said. They were “on the ground.”

The potential of conventional breeding is largely untapped, as the authors of another Nature article noted last year. Ironically, experimental techniques from the science that genetic engineers also use molecular biology, has helped conventional breeders better understand the genetics of conventionally-bred crops and related plants.

Some academic scientists claim that GE seeds would be more successful if it weren’t for expensive safety regulations. They claim that the high cost of complying with regulations is a big barrier to getting approval for their genes. But this is not necessarily the reason these crops are not making it to the marketplace. Engineered seeds that would produce drought tolerant plants, or improve yield potential in major crops like corn, soybeans, and rice have huge potential markets, which more than offset any regulatory costs. So these genes are of great interest to big companies with very deep pockets, not just “poor” academic scientists. These companies also have huge research budgets and access to university research; they have been trying to improve these and other traits using GE for many years. Despite all this, the virtual lack of commercial products suggests limitations of the technology.

In several papers, Goodman points to other factors that hamper the development of GE seeds. He notes that conventional breeding typically costs about a million dollars per trait, compared to hundreds of millions for genetic engineering. An industry-supported report puts the average cost at $136 million per GE trait, with the large majority of the cost going to research and development and the like, not regulatory expenses. Goodman also explains that genetic engineering is not faster than most types of breeding in producing successful traits, contrary to popular myth.

As I have written elsewhere, genetic engineering may make some contributions to improving agriculture. But since conventional breeding is cheaper and more effective, it should get a much bigger share of public research funding and policy support. Instead, only a small fraction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture research budget supports breeding and agroecology, while Farm Bill policies subsidize and favor a few commodity crops. And due to this lack of support, there are fewer public breeders at land grant universities over the past several decades.

Conventional plant breeding is no panacea. As with genetic engineering, traits that look promising initially can, with further work, reveal problems like lowered yield (or “yield drag”). Breeding for industrial agriculture systems is also a problem. This has led to such dubious projects as tomatoes that are hardy enough to be harvested by machines, but taste like wax, and “green revolution” crops overly-reliant on irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticides, to the detriment of the environment, public health, and often small-scale farmers. But conventional breeding has also shown that it can be of great benefit if certain principles are followed.

First, it must be coupled with organic and “agroecological” farming systems, which rely on long crop rotations, cover crops, mulches, manure, and so on. Second, it must include meaningful participation from farmers. Breeders need to work with farmers on a continuing basis. Farmers know what their challenges are, and what crop characteristics are important to their communities.

Finally, good public breeding must supply poor and peasant farmers with free or inexpensive seed, and farmers must be able to save it and further improve it for local conditions. Agroecology is place-based, meaning that how it is used is based on local conditions such as pests, soils, and climate. This often makes it inherently more resilient than industrial agriculture, which largely ignores these factors, or tries to beat them into submission with expensive chemicals. Farmers, such as small-holders in developing countries also are responsive to local conditions, and maintain vital crop genetic diversity that is needed for continuing improvements. Breeding that respects and supports these farmers is critical.

If done right, conventional breeding and agroeocology can both improve agriculture in many ways. But achieving this potential means getting our priorities straight and seeing beyond silver-bullet solutions. The latest Nature article demonstrates a step in the right direction in recognizing one piece of this puzzle.

Doug Gurian-Sherman|October 10, 2014

Creating Sustainable Strategies to Address China’s Growing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

As greenhouse gas emissions are slowly reduced in Europe and the U.S., total global emissions are still rising, due in large part to the fast-growing economies of India and China. The U.S. Energy Information Agency reports that half of the world’s increase in energy consumption by 2040 will be attributed to China and India, “as they use energy to fuel their economic growth.”

While Chinese investment in solar power recently hit an all-time high, China is still relying heavily on coal and other fossil fuels to meet its increasing economic and energy demands. According to Justin Gillis of the New York Times:

“China is spending heavily on renewable and nuclear energy as it tries to slow the growth of coal, but despite those efforts it has become by far the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Its emissions of 10 billion tons a year of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels and cement manufacturing are almost twice those of the United States, though emissions per person are still far higher in the United States.”

Of course, climate change is not the only global sustainability problem, but it is an important and prominent one. Reducing emissions and promoting global environmental sustainability is a shared responsibility for all countries, but China’s contribution is particularly important. China recognizes their key role. At the United Nations Climate Summit last month, the Chinese Vice Premier announced China’s intention to reach peak carbon dioxide emissions as soon as possible, building on previously-announced commitments to set a cap on carbon. However, although the Chinese government has worked to establish a sustainable strategy for its development, the sheer pace of China’s economic growth makes it a difficult task.

It is important for China and in fact all of the planet’s economic development, that we incorporate  a more holistic understanding of environmental sustainability—including, but not limited to, greenhouse gas emissions—as we make the transition to a sustainable, renewable economy. For this to happen, we need a rigorous, valid and standardized system to measure and manage sustainability. We need a generally accepted set of sustainability metrics if we are to seriously assess the progress we are making during the transition to a sustainable economy.

Next week, I’ll be traveling to Beijing to formalize a partnership between Columbia University’s Earth Institute and the China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE), a leading think tank focused on promoting international economic research and exchanges in various fields. One of our research groups at the Earth Institute, the Research Program on Sustainability Policy and Management, will be conducting joint research with the Center to design a sustainability measurement and metrics system based on China’s unique economic development path.

The broader importance of this work lies in the need for a standardized methodology to organize the vastly increasing amount of sustainability performance measures—in a way that enhances organizational and local level management and improves sustainability performance. The partnership with CCIEE will produce applied research that can contribute to both U.S. and Chinese decision-making in sustainability policy. This in term could facilitate the development of renewable-resource based economies in China, the U.S. and around the world.

While in Beijing, I’ll also be visiting the Columbia Global Centers | East Asia, an important partner for the Earth Institute as we expand our research into China, where I’ll be giving a talk on “Environmental Policy and the Business of Sustainability.” I’ll be discussing the importance of environmental policy in achieving a sustainable society and the need to manage short-term costs for long-term gains. I’ll trace the environmental movement over the past century, exploring how the environment emerged as a public policy issue and how current environmental policy reflects our values as society. I’ll also discuss how environmental regulation influences the economy and demonstrate how the path to a clean economy requires public policy that stimulates changes in the economic behaviors of businesses, governments and individuals.

As China advances their sustainability efforts and aims to achieve a growing economy along with a cleaner environment, it’s important that they look at how other countries have overcome similar obstacles. I have worked on U.S. environmental issues since 1975, and have a keen appreciation of the mistakes we made here in the U.S. as we moved to decouple the growth of pollution from the growth of the gross domestic product (GDP). Before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created, U.S. pollution was growing at a rate similar to the rate of economic growth. By the time EPA was a decade old, the absolute levels of pollution had dropped, while the GDP continued to grow. With few exceptions, that trend has continued ever since. My hope is that some of what we learned here in the U.S. through trial and error I can share with my colleagues in China and help them avoid making some of the mistakes we made.

Ultimately, it will be important for the U.S.  to increase its efforts on sustainability and decrease carbon emissions, but it’s necessary for China to quickly step up their efforts as well. While China faces many challenges, I look forward to the Earth Institute playing a small part in efforts to advance China’s sustainability strategy with the China Center for International Economic Exchanges.

Steven Cohen|October 9, 2014

Genetically Modified Organisms

New Experimental GE Wheat Contamination in Montana Puts Wheat Farmers at Risk

Center for Food Safety calls “coexistence” a failed policy, demands moratorium on open-air field trials

September 26, 2014 (Washington, DC)–The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced that experimental genetically engineered (GE) wheat was discovered in July, 2014 at a  Montana research facility that has not legally grown the variety since 2003.

“Once again, USDA and the biotech industry have put farmers and the food supply at risk,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety. “Coexistence between GE and non-GE crops is a failed policy that fundamentally cannot work. Genetic contamination is a serious threat to farmers across the country.”

In the same announcement, USDA closed its investigation into a May, 2013 GE wheat contamination episode in Oregon without any explanation for the incident. That contamination episode led to closures of vital export markets and a class action lawsuit against Monsanto by wheat farmers.

“Just as USDA closes one fruitless investigation, it tries to bury the story of yet another contamination. USDA cannot keep treating these as isolated incidents; contamination is the inevitable outcome of GE crop technology,” said Kimbrell. “It’s time for Congress to take definitive action.”

Monsanto is currently in the process of settling a class action lawsuit brought by wheat farmers impacted by the Oregon contamination episode, which forced exports to several Asian and European markets to be suspended and cost farmers millions of dollars. USDA records reveal that Monsanto has conducted 279 field tests of herbicide-resistant wheat on over 4,000 acres in 17 states since 1994. Monsanto has received at least 35 notices of noncompliance from 2010 through 2013, more than any other company.

“Farmers, not the biotech industry, are on the hook for these contamination episodes. There must be accountability for Monsanto,” said Kimbrell. “USDA should, at a minimum, immediately place a moratorium on open-air field testing of genetically engineered crops.”

After a decade of field trials, Monsanto dropped efforts to introduce Roundup Ready GE wheat in 2004 in the face of intense international opposition from consumers, farmers, wheat millers and food companies.  However, after a six-year hiatus, Monsanto once again began extensive field-testing of GE wheat in 2011.

Opponents of GE wheat have long argued that it would contaminate conventional wheat, making it unsellable to many markets that reject GE products. The U.S. is the world’s biggest exporter of wheat, an $8 billion business. A 2005 study estimated that the wheat industry could lose $94 to $272 million if GE wheat were introduced.  Past transgenic contamination episodes involving GE corn and GE rice have triggered over $1 billion in losses and economic hardship to farmers.

In late 2005, the USDA’s own Inspector General issued a scathing report detailing numerous violations of agency rules in regulating genetically engineered crop field trials. USDA officials did not know the locations of many field trials it was charged with regulating, and did not conduct required inspections of others.  In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences also criticized serious deficiencies in USDA’s regulation of genetically engineered crops.

In 2013, Center for Food Safety joined over 150 organizations and businesses in a letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack calling on the agency to protect the wheat industry by implementing necessary protections from GE contamination.

Center for Food Safety|Sept 26, 2014

Farmers’ seed options drastically reduced in GMO-producing countries

Farmers in the United States, Europe, Brazil, India, and South Africa find fewer non-GMO options as biotech companies monopolize seed markets with GMOs

One of the claims made by proponents of genetically modified crops is that GM technology increases farmers’ seed choices. They also claim that farmers in countries that restrict GMO production have fewer seed options. But recent research shows the opposite—that instead of increasing farmers’ choice, the introduction of GM crops has limited farmers’ seed options.

Angelika Hilbeck, senior scientist at the Institute of Integrative Biology at ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), and several other researchers analyzed seed catalogs in Spain, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. They found that in Spain—the largest European country to adopt GM corn—farmers’ seed choices declined overall and increasingly became a choice among GM varieties.

“Non-GM cultivars of maize were replaced with fewer GM cultivars,” Hilbeck said.

But, in three EU countries that ban plantings of GM corn—Germany, Austria, and Switzerland—farmers have either many more corn seed varieties available to them now than in the 1990s (Germany and Austria) or at least the same number (Switzerland).

Hilbeck presented their findings at a conference on GM crop cultivation in Bremen, Germany in June 2012.

Hilbeck said that decreasing farmer seed choices in the United States because of GM technology led her to see if there was a similar trend in Europe. “We could not find any evidence to the contrary, which is what developers and proponents of GM technology in agriculture claim: increased choice,” Hilbeck said. “All evidence points to a decline rather than an increase.”

Proponents of GM crops claim that demand for GM seeds is strong as evidenced by the high adoption rates of GM corn and soybeans by US farmers, but a big reason for this is that large seed companies are phasing out non-GMO varieties. As a result, farmers have little choice but to buy GM seeds.

Research by Hilbeck and others found that the number of non-GMO corn seed varieties in the US decreased 67% from 3,226 in 2005 to 1,062 in 2010, while the number of GM corn seed varieties increased 6.7%.

“Farmers are facing fewer choices and significantly higher prices in seed,” says Kristina Hubbard, author of the Farmer to Farmer Campaign report. “Seed options narrow when a handful of companies dominate the marketplace.”

Iowa farmer George Naylor says he has trouble finding non-GMO soybean seeds: “Some seed companies don’t offer any. One company’s soybean seed lineup is all Monsanto’s Roundup Ready2 (seeds).”

Todd Leake, a farmer in Grand Forks County, North Dakota, sees similar problems. “Most of the conventional, non-GMO soybean varieties that I can find are ten to twelve years old,” he said. “Their disease resistance and yield have fallen well behind the Roundup Ready varieties.”

“In terms of non-GMO in general, there is less breeding,” said Jim Orf, professor of agronomy and plant genetics at the University of Minnesota, who breeds non-GMO soybeans for food use.

The problem is similar with corn. In 2009, University of Illinois entomologist Michael Gray surveyed farmers in five areas of the state to ask if they had access to high-yielding non-GMO corn seed. He found nearly 40% said “no,” while nearly half (46.6%) in Malta, IL said they did not have access to elite non-GMO corn hybrids.

Wendall Lutz, a farmer who grows non-GMO corn in Dewey, Illinois, said, “I don’t have the variety of genetics to choose from that farmers who buy GM corn do.”

The situation is even worse with sugar beets where there is no farmer choice. When GM Roundup Ready sugar beets were introduced in 2005, the sugar beet processors decided to convert the entire US production to GMO.

“This was a coordinated effort to genetically modify an entire sector of the processed food industry simultaneously and without holdouts that might otherwise have provided a source of conventional beet sugar to fulfill non-GMO consumer demand,” said Frank Morton, owner of Wild Garden Seeds and a plaintiff in a lawsuit to stop production of GM sugar beets in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

Reduced seed options for organic farmers

GM technology has also reduced seed choices for organic farmers. Several organic corn seed companies have reported testing seed and finding low levels of GM presence. Organic farmers have had their crops rejected by buyers and suffered economic losses when their crops tested positive for GMOs. As a result, some US organic farmers have stopped growing corn because of the GMO contamination threat.

In Canada, organic farmers lost the market for organic canola due to GMO contamination.

“With the proliferation of GM canola, it is almost impossible to buy uncontaminated seed, let alone contend with contamination from pollen drift,” said Arnold Taylor, an organic farmer and president of the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, which filed a lawsuit against biotechnology companies for the loss of the organic canola market.

GMOs are also affecting rare heirloom corn seed varieties, says Jere Gettle, founder of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. “Over 50% of historic corn varieties are now contaminated with Monsanto’s GMO crops,” Gettle said, based on tests his company has conducted on heirloom seed.

Farmers are seeing less seed choice in other countries where GMOs have been introduced. In Brazil, it’s getting harder for farmers to obtain non-GMO soybean seeds, says Ricardo Tatesuzi de Sousa, executive director of ABRANGE (the Brazilian Association for the Producers of Non-GM Grains).

Brazil’s acreage of non-GMO soybeans has decreased steadily since the commercialization of GM soy in 2005. Tatesuzi de Sousa estimates that about 20% of Brazil’s soy production is non-GMO.

He says that large companies such as Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred, BASF, and others dictate what seed growers produce and what seed distributors sell to farmers.

“If the seed growers want access to good (genetic) material, they have to submit to what the companies want,” Tatesuzi de Sousa said. “They can tell farmers not to plant non-GMO.”

Meanwhile, seed distributors withhold non-GMO soybean seeds from farmers. “They keep (non-GMO) seeds unavailable and when farmers buy all the seed, they say ‘we had all this non-GMO seed available.’ But they aren’t putting it into the market,” Tatesuzi de Sousa said.

He refers to a commonly used term—the 85/15 rule, which means that distributors will sell 85% GM seeds and just 15% non-GMO.

“This is control of the market,” Tatesuzi de Sousa said.

A similar situation is occurring in South Africa. Willem Visser, marketing manager for Delta Seed, an independent seed company, says it is “virtually impossible to get non-GMO soy seed in South Africa.”

There, the soybean market is essentially dominated by three companies: Pioneer and a subsidiary, Pannar, and Link Seed. A glance at the companies’ websites showed that all soybean seed varieties offered are Roundup Ready.

In India, genetically modified Bt cotton accounts for 85% of the country’s cotton production. Non-GMO cotton seed varieties are being phased out by private and public seed breeders.

“Farmers buy Bt seeds because they have little choice—it is very hard to find non-GM seeds anymore,” said Glenn Davis Stone, a professor of anthropology and environmental studies at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, whose research has focused on India’s cotton production.

Resurgence of interest in non-GMO seeds

In response to increasing dominance of GM seed, non-GMO seed initiatives have been launched in several countries. Some small US seed companies—such as eMerge Genetics for soybeans and Spectrum Premium Genetics for corn—are breeding non-GMO seed varieties as farmers face increasing weed and insect resistance problems with GM seeds.

In Brazil, the Soja Livre or “Soy Free” program was launched by Embrapa, Brazil’s leading agricultural research organization, along with several other groups. The program aims to breed non-GMO soybean varieties and “provide greater competitiveness to the production chain.”

Tatesuzi de Sousa says Soja Livre is succeeding. “We now have 13 seed companies selling non-GMO seed when before there was only one.”

In India, the University of Agricultural Sciences Dharwad, bioRe India, Ltd., and Swiss-based Research Institute of Organic Agriculture launched a joint effort in 2011 “to re-establish the seed value chain for non-GM cotton.”

In South Africa, Visser also sees farmers returning to non-GMO seed because of insect resistance problems. “There seems to be a spark of interest from more and more farmers about non-GMO corn and soy seed,” he said. “We’ve been yielding better in trials than most GMOs, and our products are more consistent. Our pricing is also much better than the GMO hybrids.”

Ken Roseboro|February 28, 2013

GMOs Are Old Hat. Synthetically Modified Food Is The New Frontier

Genetically modified organisms are ancient, technologically speaking. Though some consumers may just be discovering that they’re in the food system (and getting riled up about labeling them), farmers have had access to them since 1996.

But there’s a new technology on the scene, adding a twist to the already complicated conversation about GMOs in our food: synthetic biology.

In essence, synthetic biology is about designing and building workhorse organisms that can make things more efficiently than nature (or make things we might need that nature doesn’t make at all). According to Todd Kuiken, a senior program associate with the Synthetic Biology Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, “It’s the next stage of genetic engineering.”

While there’s been far more hype around synthetic biology’s potential to create drugs, biofuels and even designer creatures, some of the most recent “synbio” products to hit the market are actually (somewhere) in our food.

Synbio vanillin, marketed as an alternative to artificial vanilla flavor, was rolled out in the U.S. this summer. But don’t expect to be able to locate it in your local supermarket. Its maker, International Flavors & Fragrances, the U.S. partner of a Swiss company that invented the technology, is keeping mum about which food companies are using it.

While genetically modified seeds typically contain genes from another organism that bestow a plant with a new defense mechanism, making synbio food involves taking genes from a plant and giving them to yeast to make the same compound the plant makes, but much more efficiently, via fermentation.

Evolva is the Swiss synthetic biology company that developed the synbio vanilla; it also has synbio saffron, the antioxidant resveratrol and stevia in the pipeline. All are expected to go to market in the next two years. The main advantage of synthetic biology foods, Evolva claims, is that they can be made in a lab, rather than in a field that has to be tended by laborers and is subject to unpredictable variables like weather.

As we’ve reported, saffron is one of the most labor-intensive and expensive crops in the world (there are lots of fake versions out there). And the sweet molecule in the stevia plant occurs only in tiny quantities — well below 1 percent of the plant’s total composition, which drives its cost up, too. Evolva’s synbio resveratrol, the antioxidant that occurs naturally in red wine and chocolate, will be available this fall, and could get snapped up by supplement companies peddling the chemical’s supposed anti-aging benefits.

Artificial vanilla flavoring, meanwhile, is cheap, but it’s derived from petrochemicals and paper mill waste, and thus can’t be labeled “natural.” So Evolva saw an opportunity: Synbio vanillin, the name of the compound in the vanilla bean that imparts most of its flavor, can be labeled “natural” because it’s made from fermentation, according to the Flavor and Extracts Manufacturers Association. (Flavorings and supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.)

Evolva claims its vanillin “will have a better and more rounded taste” than the artificial vanillin that’s in most of the vanilla-flavored food products out there. (The biotech company acknowledges its product still won’t taste as good as real vanilla extract from the bean, which, as we’ve reported, has more than 250 flavor and aroma compounds that give it its mouth-watering robustness.)

Primarily, Evolva wants to “make these expensive and scarce products more affordable” and available, CEO Neil Goldsmith tells The Salt. And Evolva’s process is cost-effective and sustainable, he says.

The company also says it has performed rigorous safety tests. And as for the vanillin — chemically, it’s identical to the artificial vanillin already on the market, so the flavor industry group has designated it as “generally recognized as safe.” Critics have pointed out that new products like synbio vanillin are slipping through a regulatory loophole that allows them to earn this GRAS designation without a government safety assessment of the process.

There are several other companies making synbio flavorings and supplements, says Kuiken. But few are as transparent as Evolva, he says. “Evolva is being completely open and up front about their process.”

After years of experiments, Goldsmith says his company has figured out how to give yeast directions — in the form of genes for enzymes — to turn sugar into stevia, vanillin, saffron and resveratrol.

Yeast is a natural at transforming sugar into substances we love — that’s what it does with alcohol, of course. And as synthetic biologists are learning, with the right genetic instructions, yeast can ferment sugar into lots of other things, too.

So will these new synbio foods measure up to the original versions, or be accepted at all by a public that’s increasingly skeptical of GMOs? Hard to tell right now — and it’s also virtually impossible for consumers to track synbio foods, even if they wanted to.

As Kuiken notes, “The people making these materials aren’t the ones putting them into the final products, and sometimes the companies buying the flavorings and supplements didn’t know they were made with synbio.”

But besides potential advantages of flavor and price, some companies are betting that synbio foods could be far better for the planet, and thus marketable to conscientious consumers, if they get off the ground. As Luc Henry of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology wrote in a blog post for Discovery, “Not only does [engineered yeast] not require any land, but also the final products, such as Evolva’s vanillin, are chemically identical to the one isolated from natural sources and do not need to be labeled as ‘GM.’ ”

Indeed, eco-minded engineers have been inspired by the environmental potential of synbio food. As Motley Fool recently reported, new dairy products are in the works that would require no cows at all. The start-up Muufri is using fermentation to engineer yeast to make cow, goat and buffalo milk, and a group of biohackers is pursuing synbio vegan cheese.

But even though most consumers still haven’t heard of synbio foods, one advocacy group is scrutinizing them and rejecting claims that they are “natural.” In August, Friends of the Earth noted in a press release, “Like ‘traditional’ GMOs, synthetic biology ingredients are entering food and consumer products in absence of adequate health and environmental safety assessment, regulations or labeling.”

The environmental group also announced that it had persuaded Häagen-Dazs and a few other small ice cream companies not to use vanilla produced via synthetic biology. (Häagen-Dazs’ move was a bit like a mayonnaise company slapping a gluten-free label on the jar, since Häagen-Dazs only uses real vanilla extract in its ice creams. The company seems unlikely to ever buy synbio vanilla, a substitute for artificial vanilla.)

Dana Perls, a food and technology campaigner with Friends of the Earth, says she has a lot of questions about the potential environmental impact of synbio foods. In particular, she wants to know how much sugar will be required to feed the yeast to make all these products.

“If you scale this up, it could hugely exacerbate the environmental impacts of sugarcane plantations, which are already responsible for huge amounts of destruction in biodiversity hot spots,” Perls says. “I think Evolva’s claims of sustainability are questionable at best.”

Perls says it’s also misleading for Evolva to call its vanillin “natural.” “Consumers don’t know the difference between natural and synthetic,” she says.

Kuiken of the Synthetic Biology Project says that while technically, companies like Evolva are allowed by law to call their products “natural,” the debate is an important one to have.

Ultimately, he says, the success of synbio foods will depend in part on whether the regulatory system can handle this type of technology, and what consumers have to say about it.

“The vanillin is going to be an interesting case to watch to see how people accept it or not,” says Kuiken. “And I wonder: Do people even know that the artificial vanilla they’re buying now” is derived from petrochemicals?

NPR|October 3, 2014

New Experimental GE Wheat Contamination in Montana Puts Wheat Farmers at Risk

Center for Food Safety calls “coexistence” a failed policy, demands moratorium on open-air field trials

September 26, 2014 (Washington, DC)–The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced that experimental genetically engineered (GE) wheat was discovered in July, 2014 at a  Montana research facility that has not legally grown the variety since 2003.

“Once again, USDA and the biotech industry have put farmers and the food supply at risk,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety. “Coexistence between GE and non-GE crops is a failed policy that fundamentally cannot work. Genetic contamination is a serious threat to farmers across the country.”

In the same announcement, USDA closed its investigation into a May, 2013 GE wheat contamination episode in Oregon without any explanation for the incident. That contamination episode led to closures of vital export markets and a class action lawsuit against Monsanto by wheat farmers.

“Just as USDA closes one fruitless investigation, it tries to bury the story of yet another contamination. USDA cannot keep treating these as isolated incidents; contamination is the inevitable outcome of GE crop technology,” said Kimbrell. “It’s time for Congress to take definitive action.”

Monsanto is currently in the process of settling a class action lawsuit brought by wheat farmers impacted by the Oregon contamination episode, which forced exports to several Asian and European markets to be suspended and cost farmers millions of dollars. USDA records reveal that Monsanto has conducted 279 field tests of herbicide-resistant wheat on over 4,000 acres in 17 states since 1994. Monsanto has received at least 35 notices of noncompliance from 2010 through 2013, more than any other company.

“Farmers, not the biotech industry, are on the hook for these contamination episodes. There must be accountability for Monsanto,” said Kimbrell. “USDA should, at a minimum, immediately place a moratorium on open-air field testing of genetically engineered crops.”

After a decade of field trials, Monsanto dropped efforts to introduce Roundup Ready GE wheat in 2004 in the face of intense international opposition from consumers, farmers, wheat millers and food companies.  However, after a six-year hiatus, Monsanto once again began extensive field-testing of GE wheat in 2011.

Opponents of GE wheat have long argued that it would contaminate conventional wheat, making it unsellable to many markets that reject GE products. The U.S. is the world’s biggest exporter of wheat, an $8 billion business. A 2005 study estimated that the wheat industry could lose $94 to $272 million if GE wheat were introduced.  Past transgenic contamination episodes involving GE corn and GE rice have triggered over $1 billion in losses and economic hardship to farmers.

In late 2005, the USDA’s own Inspector General issued a scathing report detailing numerous violations of agency rules in regulating genetically engineered crop field trials. USDA officials did not know the locations of many field trials it was charged with regulating, and did not conduct required inspections of others.  In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences also criticized serious deficiencies in USDA’s regulation of genetically engineered crops.

In 2013, Center for Food Safety joined over 150 organizations and businesses in a letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack calling on the agency to protect the wheat industry by implementing necessary protections from GE contamination.

No sign of health or nutrition problems from GMO livestock feed, study finds

A new review study finds there is no evidence in earlier scientific studies indicating that genetically engineered feed crops harmed the health or productivity of livestock and poultry, and that food products from animals consuming such feeds were nutritionally the same as products from animals that ate non-GMO feeds.

A new scientific review from the University of California, Davis, reports that the performance and health of food-producing animals consuming genetically engineered feed, first introduced 18 years ago, has been comparable to that of animals consuming non-GE feed.

The review study also found that scientific studies have detected no differences in the nutritional makeup of the meat, milk or other food products derived from animals that ate genetically engineered feed.

The review, led by UC Davis animal scientist Alison Van Eenennaam, examined nearly 30 years of livestock-feeding studies that represent more than 100 billion animals.

Titled “Prevalence and Impacts of Genetically Engineered Feedstuffs on Livestock Populations,” the review article is now available online in open-access form through the American Society of Animal Science.

Genetically engineered crops were first introduced in 1996. Today, 19 genetically engineered plant species are approved for use in the United States, including the major crops used extensively in animal feed: alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, soybean and sugar beet.

Food-producing animals such as cows, pigs, goats, chickens and other poultry species now consume 70 to 90 percent of all genetically engineered crops, according to the new UC Davis review. In the United States, alone, 9 billion food-producing animals are produced annually, with 95 percent of them consuming feed that contains genetically engineered ingredients.

“Studies have continually shown that the milk, meat and eggs derived from animals that have consumed GE feed are indistinguishable from the products derived from animals fed a non-GE diet,” Van Eenennaam said. “Therefore, proposed labeling of animal products from livestock and poultry that have eaten GE feed would require supply-chain segregation and traceability, as the products themselves would not differ in any way that could be detected.”

Now that a second generation of genetically engineered crops that have been optimized for livestock feed is on the horizon, there is a pressing need to internationally harmonize the regulatory framework for these products, she said.

“To avoid international trade disruptions, it is critical that the regulatory approval process for genetically engineered products be established in countries importing these feeds at the same time that regulatory approvals are passed in the countries that are major exporters of animal feed,” Van Eenennaam said.

Collaborating on the study was co-author Amy E. Young in the UC Davis Department of Animal Science.

The review study was supported by funds from the W.K. Kellogg endowment and the California Agricultural Experiment Station of UC Davis.

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California – Davis.

GMO Crops Accelerate Herbicide and Insecticide Use While Mainstream Media Gets It Wrong

Michael Specter’s recent articles bashing Vandana Shiva and the labeling of genetically engineered foods in the New Yorker (Seeds of Doubt and The Problem with G.M.O. Labels) are the latest high-profile pro-GMO articles that fail to engage with the fundamental critique of genetically engineered food crops in U.S. today. Rather than reduce pesticide inputs, GMOs are causing them to skyrocket in amount and toxicity.

Setting the record straight, Dr. Ramon J. Seidler, Ph.D., former Senior Scientist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has recently published a well-researched article documenting the devastating facts, Pesticide Use on Genetically Engineered Crops, in Environmental Working Group’s online AgMag. Dr. Seidler’s article cites and links recent scientific literature and media reports, and should be required reading for all journalists covering GMOs, as well as for citizens generally to understand why their right to know if food is genetically engineered is so important. The short discussion below summarizes the major points of his five-page article.

More than 99 percent of GMO acreage is engineered by chemical companies to tolerate heavy herbicide (glyphosate) use and/or produce insecticide (Bt) in every cell of every plant over the entire growing season. The result is massive selection pressure that has rapidly created pest resistance—the opposite of integrated pest management where judicious use of chemical controls is applied only as necessary. Predictably, just like overuse of antibiotics in confined factory farms has created resistant “supergerms” leading to animals being overdosed with ever more powerful antibiotics, we now have huge swaths of the country infested with “superweeds” and “superbugs” resistant to glyphosate and Bt, meaning more volume of more toxic pesticides are being applied.

For example, the use of systemic insecticides, which coat GMO corn and soy seeds and are incorporated and expressed inside the entire plant, has skyrocketed in the last ten years. This includes use of neonicotinoids (neonics) which are extremely powerful neurotoxins that contaminate our food and water and destroy non-target pollinators and wildlife such as bees, butterflies and birds. In fact, two neonics in widespread use in the US are currently banned in the EU because of their suspected link to Colony Collapse Disorder in bees.

Mainstream pro-GMO media also fail to discuss the ever-increasing amount of older much more toxic herbicides like 2,4 D and Dicamba being sprayed along with huge volumes of Glyphosate to deal with superweeds. Most importantly and egregiously, this biased reporting does not mention the imminent approval of the pesticide industry’s next generation herbicide-tolerant crops that are resistant not only to glyphosate, but also high doses of 2,4 D and Dicamba, that will lead to huge increases of these toxic chemicals sprayed on our food and farming communities.

U.S. Department of Agriculture and EPA are in the process of rubber-stamping these into our farming communities (and unlabeled onto our dinner plates) this fall, yet pro-GMO media consistently fails to discuss their imminent approval even as the lower-toxicity profile of glyphosate is touted. Such reporting gives a pass to the chemical pesticide industry that pours millions into lobbying government and media elites and defeating voter ballot initiatives to require labeling of GMO foods.

Hopefully Dr. Seidler’s article will be widely read and disseminated, so reporters can learn the facts and check their biases against industry-fed distortions.  Citizens and consumers need to hear the fundamental concern that GMOs are doubling down on, not freeing us from, the pesticide treadmill that contaminates our food and water while lining the pockets of the chemical companies that make both the GMOs and the pesticides used on them.

David Bronner|September 29, 2014

Can Genetic Engineering Save the Florida Orange?

Genetically modified oranges might save Florida’s blighted groves—if Americans will drink the juice.

Researchers have found that thermotherapy, or baking infected citrus trees with solar radiation to 100 degrees Fahrenheit for a few days, kills some of the citrus greening bacteria and allows the tree to survive a few more years.

From there, the bacterial disease incubates in the tree’s roots, then moves back up the trunk in full force, causing nutrient flows to seize up. Leaves turn yellow, and the oranges, deprived of sugars from the leaves, remain green, sour, and hard. Many fall before harvest, brown necrotic flesh ringing failed stems.

For the past decade, Florida’s oranges have been literally starving.

Since it first appeared in 2005, citrus greening, also known by its Chinese name, huanglongbing, has swept across Florida’s groves like a flood. With no hills to block it, the Asian citrus psyllid—the invasive aphid relative that carries the disease—has infected nearly every orchard in the state.

By one estimate, 80 percent of Florida’s citrus trees are infected and declining.

The disease has spread beyond Florida to nearly every orange-growing region in the United States. Despite many generations of breeding by humanity, no citrus plant resists greening; it afflicts lemons, grapefruits, and other citrus species as well. Once a tree is infected, it will die.

Yet in a few select Floridian orchards, there are now trees that, thanks to innovative technology, can fight the greening tide. These trees have the potential to keep Florida orange juice on your breakfast table—provided you are willing to drink the juice of oranges that have been genetically modified to contain genes from spinach.

The trees are the work of Erik Mirkov, a plant pathologist at Texas A&M University who has spent his career applying the tools of biotechnology to citrus. Over the past few years, his research on genetically modified oranges has gone from an academic sideshow to one of the great hopes of the industry.

It’s highly unlikely, researchers and growers agree, that oranges will remain in Florida unless new, modified strains like Mirkov’s are widely grown—a view endorsed by the National Research Council several years ago.

Citrus greening incubates in the tree’s roots, making it difficult to detect infection. A healthy citrus root system is shown at left, and an infected one at right.

Photograph by Craig Cutler, National Geographic

The pressure to find solutions keeps growing. Even without disease, the orange industry is under stress. It’s losing land to housing developments; it’s losing customers to the spreading notion that orange juice is a sugary, not healthy, drink.

This past year, Florida produced only 104.4 million boxes of oranges, the lowest total in nearly three decades; this next season could be even worse. There’s rampant fear that Florida orange groves are a couple of years away from full collapse.

“Growers are calling all the time because they’re watching their livelihood collapse in front of them,” says Robert Shatters, a molecular biologist at the U.S. Horticultural Research Lab in Fort Pierce, Florida. “We feel that pressure very strongly. We realize time is ticking.”

The citrus industry, slow to prevent the greening disease, has partially redirected its advertising budget and invested heavily in research—reportedly $90 million so far. Southern Gardens Citrus, one of the largest growers, supports Mirkov’s work. The federal government, too, has contributed, with this year’s farm bill directing $125 million toward the fight against citrus greening.

Growers and scientists desperate for ways to sustain existing trees have already adopted temporary measures—targeted applications of antibiotic, for instance, or of fertilizer and water to reduced roots.

Researchers have found that heating trees inside plastic tents can prolong life spans by killing some of the bacteria; in California, researchers are releasing parasitic wasps from Pakistan that attack Asian citrus psyllids.

And close to commercialization—so close that Shatters, the scientist behind them, can’t talk specifics anymore—are chemical tree coatings that target the specific biology of the psyllid.

More ambitious projects include efforts to replace the Asian citrus psyllids with ones that have been rendered incapable of spreading the disease, much like recent work that has combated malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

And inspired by trials in humans that have used modified HIV to attack cancer, citrus scientists have engineered a common citrus virus to carry molecules known to attack Candidatus liberibacter asiaticus, the bacterium that causes greening—with limited success so far.

For citrus researchers, this past decade has brought mixed emotions. The objects of their study are in trouble, yet their work has never been more important. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” says Shatters. “As a scientist, it’s been the most exciting time in my life.”

That’s especially true for Mirkov. For much of his early career, he couldn’t interest anyone in growing his biotech citrus. Now, he gets unsolicited calls from Florida all the time. “All my beautiful citrus trees are dead,” they say. “When can I get your trees?”

The Asian citrus psyllid feeds on citrus trees and carries the disease from tree to tree. In Florida, most citrus trees are infected.

Back in the 1990s, as young scientist who had just earned his doctorate, Mirkov became fascinated with applying the nascent tools of biotechnology to citrus. The greatest threat to the fruit then was a virus called tristeza, a Portuguese word for sadness, after the sadness that stems from its arrival. The virus had spread to Florida—”Florida gets everything first,” Mirkov says, because it’s a global crossroads with a hospitable climate—and he feared its arrival in Texas.

Other researchers had created papayas that resisted ringspot virus by inserting a small bit of the virus’s DNA into the plant’s genetic code. Using a similar strategy, Mirkov created Ruby Red grapefruit that resisted tristeza. With permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2000, he planted the country’s first biotech citrus trees in an orchard near his lab.

They’re still there, 14 years later; Mirkov periodically renews his research permit, and each year he must pick and grind the fruit and plow it into the soil, because selling the fruit or planting the trees outside a research plot is not allowed. No company has sought to commercialize the trees, which would require a lengthy and costly deregulation process. It wasn’t worth the hassle.

In 2000, the citrus world had a different priority: canker, a bacterial disease that had reemerged and run wild in Florida. Mirkov began exploring how citrus plants could resist bacteria. His virus resistance tricks wouldn’t work, so he looked at genes that produce antimicrobial proteins.

There were many intriguing sources: scorpion and honeybee venom, sarcophagus beetle toxin. They worked well, but then he imagined what would happen if the public found out their orange juice had a bit of sarcophagus beetle in it. “If I’m going to do this,” he decided, “it’s got to be with genes that were commonly consumed by everyone.”

Mirkov was fortunate that a group of Spanish scientists had dedicated themselves to grinding up a wide variety of plants to discover their defensive proteins. They had identified a potent one in spinach, of all things, that attacked a wide variety of bacteria and fungi. Spinach has several such proteins, it turned out; incorporating just a couple into a tree might give it resistance to a broad spectrum of diseases.

That’s exactly what Mirkov and his colleagues did, copying the genes that encode several of these proteins into an orange tree’s DNA.

At first they targeted canker bacteria. But once greening appeared, it was obvious to Mirkov that they might rework the system to deliver the antimicrobial proteins to the innermost layer of bark—where the greening bacteria disrupt the flow of the tree’s nutrients. By 2007, he had begun working with Southern Gardens.

Before field trials, Mirkov first tests his biotech trees in his “psyllid house,” an insect-proof greenhouse that is creeping with the jumpy brown bugs. It’s a much more severe environment than the trees would see in real life, yet by the second and third generations, his greening-resistant orange trees continued to thrive even after 16 months in the greenhouse.

“The plants were literally covered in psyllids, and there was no infection at all,” Mirkov says. “Those are the lines that go into field trials.”

Those field trials have also met with success: Some of his first-generation trees are resisting the disease to some degree, even after five years; a much larger trial of second- and third-generation trees is going well after almost two years.

Overall, Mirkov is on his fifth version of the technology, and they’ve begun applying it to the whole diversity of Florida citrus: grapefruit, lemon, and, importantly, the rootstocks, like sour orange, that growers use as a base for their trees.

Southern Gardens is now seeking to deregulate these oranges for free use, a long process that requires approval from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration. It’s a process that tends to dissuade academic scientists; except in a few rare cases, like genetically modified papaya in Hawaii, only wealthy seed companies pursue deregulation of biotech crops.

Other researchers, like the University of Florida’s Jude Grosser, are pursuing biotech oranges, but Mirkov’s are the closest to market, experts say.

So just how long will it take? Barring a long regulatory holdup—far from a sure bet—the first commercial planting should come in three to four years, says Mirkov.

One great remaining question is whether consumers will drink juice from genetically modified oranges. It’s a dilemma that Southern Gardens has been worried about for years, as Amy Harmon of the New York Times documented in a long feature last year.

A raft of market research has probed this question, Shatters says, and found that, unsurprisingly, the public is more open to biotech orange juice when it’s presented as the alternative to no high-quality orange juice at all.

While GMO crops are grown on nearly half of the United States’ farmland, and they supply cornmeal, oils, and sugars that tens of millions of Americans eat daily, there has never been a case quite like orange juice.

When Mirkov read the comments on the New York Times story, he was heartened to see how many people said they might give GMO O.J. a shot. The negative comments focused heavily on Monsanto—even though the company is not involved in the orange work. “They just have this preconceived idea of big bad Monsanto doing this again,” Mirkov says.

Until the fruit is out there, it’s hard to say whether consumers will buy it. The idea of spinach DNA in an orange, even if safe and odorless, could just be too much, Mirkov worries: “Some people might say, ‘I guess I’ll drink apple juice instead.'”

Meanwhile, given the slow pace needed to develop biotech oranges, any method that can buy time for existing trees is welcome. One of the most promising involves Mirkov’s old friend, citrus tristeza.

Just as “disarmed” viruses like HIV can make effective drug-delivery devices, citrus pathologist Bill Dawson of the University of Florida and his team have shown that tristeza, which spreads to every part of a tree, can deliver treatments like Mirkov’s spinach proteins. Since the genes for the proteins would be inserted into the virus, not the tree, the oranges themselves would not be genetically modified. And since the virus can be grafted into existing trees, the system might save some infected citrus trees, or at least extend their lives. Every year counts.

In the end, it’s unlikely even biotech trees, if they happen, will eradicate the problem; complete immunity is unlikely, and the bacteria may evolve ways of overcoming the newly engineered defenses.

In our hyperconnected world, Florida was living on borrowed time before greening arrived. If the industry survives, the disease will always have to be managed, says Jim Graham, a soil microbiologist at the University of Florida.

“This disease will always be the most devastating and difficult of citrus that we know and will ever know,” he says. “We’re stuck with a very difficult problem from here on in.”

Paul Voosen|National Geographic|September 14, 2014

U.S. farmers latest to sue Syngenta over GMO corn rejected by China

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Farmers from the biggest U.S. corn-growing states have sued Syngenta AG over sales of genetically modified corn seed not approved by China, joining global exporters in pursuing damages from the Swiss-based company.

In coordinated lawsuits filed on Friday in federal courts in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri, farmers accused Syngenta of being reckless when it launched U.S. sales of Agrisure Viptera corn seed in 2011 without obtaining import approval from China, a major buyer.

The farmers, who did not plant seed containing the unapproved trait, claimed they suffered losses because the price of U.S. corn dropped when China began rejecting boatloads of crops containing Viptera corn last year.

In April, the National Grain & Feed Association estimated that U.S. farmers had lost more than $1 billion due to trade disruptions linked to the rejections.

The lawsuits seek to open the complaints to all U.S. farmers who grew non-Viptera corn since China began rejecting the trait in November 2013.

Viptera corn, known as MIR 162, was planted on about 3 percent of U.S. corn acres during the past two years, according to court documents. Still, industry members have said the trait can be found throughout the supply chain because it is difficult to segregate one variety from another.

“There are a lot of angry farmers out there who really feel like Syngenta needs to step up and do the right thing, and that is compensate farmers for all the losses that occurred as a result of Syngenta prematurely rushing the product to market,” said James Pizzirusso, a partner with law firm Hausfeld LLP, which is coordinating the farmers’ lawsuits.

Last month, agribusiness company Cargill Inc [CARG.UL] and another exporter separately sued Syngenta for selling Viptera corn seed before Beijing approved imports. The companies said they suffered combined damages of more than $131 million linked to China’s rejections of U.S. crops containing the trait.

Syngenta had no immediate comment on the farmers’ lawsuits. The company has said the exporters’ complaints are without merit.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is negotiating with China to synchronize its regulatory review of new traits with the United States in a bid to reduce approval times, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters on Monday after a speech in Chicago.

According to the lawsuit, farmers felt misled about the prospects for China to approve imports of Viptera corn because Syngenta Chief Executive Michael Mack said in an April 2012 earnings call that he expected Beijing to clear the trait “within a matter of a couple of days.”

Beijing still has not approved Viptera corn.

“We don’t mess with China,” Deb Volnek, a Nebraska farmer who is among those suing Syngenta, told Reuters. “When China buys something, the markets go up. When they don’t, the markets go down.”

Her case is Volnek Farms Inc v. Syngenta Corporation et al, U.S. District Court, District of Nebraska, No. 14-cv-00305.

Tom Polansek|Oct 6, 2014

Monsanto Scandal Causes Reopening of US Investigation of GMO Wheat

The USDA revealed that genetically engineered wheat was discovered on a Montana farm after the trial period had run its course. This new GMO wheat scandal, with fingers pointed at Monsanto, is a “failed policy” that threatens farmers.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) agencies investigated the appearance of what appeared to be GE wheat on an Oregon farm, and concluded that it was an isolated incident. The investigation was closed after ‘exhausting all leads,’ but new GMO wheat has been detected at the Montana State University’s Southern Agricultural Research Center (SARC) in Huntley, Montana, where Monsanto and researchers grew GE wheat as part of field trials from 2000 to 2003.

The Oregon wheat was later suspected by environmentalists to be a development by Monsanto, meant to withstand the spraying of RoundUp. The APHIS found no evidence at that time that the GE wheat had been released into the market. Just this week, the agency is releasing its full findings on their investigation with personal information and confidential business information redacted.

This time; however, a new investigation will be opened to investigate regulatory compliance issues with the GE wheat found growing at the research facility in Montana. While this site was previously authorized for Monsanto to conduct field trials, the company is not supposed to be growing GM wheat or any other GM crop there now.

Furthermore, the GM wheat found growing there now has been genetically tested and is significantly different from the GE wheat found growing in Oregon last year.

Since the original field trials granted to Monsanto, the APHIS has not deregulated any GE wheat varieties. They are not to be for sale or in commercial production in the U.S.

During the Oregon farm GE wheat investigation, conducted over a period of ten months, 291 interviews were held with wheat growers, grain elevator operators, crop consultants, and wheat researchers. Thousands of pages of evidence were collected and carefully reviewed.

Also, 100 samples were collected from businesses that purchased and sold ‘certified’ seeds from the farm in Oregon, as well as harvested grain that was gathered from the grower. It was after researching this incident exhaustively that the APHIS concluded that the incident was a one-off. No one was sure how the GM wheat was found to be growing at the Oregon farm.

A copy of the 12,842 pages that comprise the complete report of investigation and evidence file is available on the APHIS website.

Montana Investigation

Though Monsanto’s initial GM wheat field tests were conducted under APHIS’ regulatory approval, they have no business growing GM wheat now. This is a serious breech of compliance, and as many have suspected, Monsanto has little regard for regulatory approval for their GM crop experiments, though they often receive it through political maneuvering and illegal campaign contributions nonetheless. The field trials were supposed to be a part of research conducted on the safety of GM crops, not a free pass to develop new wheat strains to sell to the unwitting public.

The APHIS claims that it is taking steps to make sure that other strains of GM wheat do not show up elsewhere in the U.S., and that they will inspect field trials planted in 2014. Additionally, they will remove plants that appear ‘as volunteer plants,’ meaning that they appeared later after an initial harvest, as plants sometimes do.

It is clear with this new Montana GM scandal that cross-breeding, the scarce but resilient GM plant that lasts after a crop has been cleared, as well as the insidious business habits of Monsanto are still threatening organic farmers’ fields and the right of the U.S. public to have GMO-free food.

Christina Sarich|Natural Society|News Report|October 7, 2014

GMOs are Everywhere and Should be Labeled, Study Finds

“Natural” label is virtually meaningless and should be banned, Consumer Reports declares

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are present in many common products including breakfast cereals, chips, and infant formula—including some that carry misleading labels like “natural,” according to a study released Tuesday by the nonprofit Consumer Reports.

Based on its findings, combined with the results of a survey (pdf) by the Consumer Reports National Research Center showing nearly three-quarters of all Americans seek to avoid GMOs when they shop, Consumer Reports is calling for mandatory labeling of GMOs in food and a ban on the meaningless “natural” label.

“Federal law already requires labeling that lets consumers know whether foods have been previously frozen, made from concentrate, pasteurized, or irradiated, and we believe the label should also say if food is genetically engineered,” said Jean Halloran, director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports.

The nonprofit, which is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization, tested more than 80 different processed foods containing corn or soy—the two most widely grown GMO crops in the U.S.—between April and July 2014. It found that nearly all of the samples of products that did not make any non-GMO-related claim on the package did, in fact, contain substantial amounts of genetically modified corn or soy.

The study also revealed that while the independently certified “Organic” and “Non-GMO Project Verified” labels are reliable, “no-GMO” or “non-GMO” claims made by a manufacturer have no standard definition, don’t require independent verification, and are therefore less trustworthy. In a letter (pdf) to the Federal Trade Commission on Monday, Consumer Reports asked the agency to investigate the non-GMO claims on packages of Xochitl Totopos de Maiz corn chips after finding several instances of genetically engineered corn in the product.

Most notably, although more than 60 percent of people in the Consumer Reports national survey said they believed that “natural” means that a product does not contain controversial ingredients, testing did not bear out that correlation. According to Consumer Reports, “virtually all of the samples we tested of products that made only a ‘natural’ claim did have a substantial amount of GMOs” (though some have since removed the claim or have become Non-GMO Project Verified).

“The confusing nature of this claim is just one reason we are asking the government to ban the use of ‘natural’ labels on food,” says Urvashi Rangan, director of the safety and sustainability center at Consumer Reports.

GMO food labeling requirements are on the ballot this fall in Oregon and Colorado; Consumer Reports is supporting both campaigns.

Deirdre Fulton|staff writer|Common Dreams|October 07, 2014

Energy

EPA’s Clean Energy Standards Could Actually Lower Electricity Bills

Millions of Americans are watching their bills more closely as middle-class incomes continue to stagnate in the nation’s uneven economic recovery.

So it’s frustrating to hear opponents of climate action once again use the threat of higher electricity rates as a scare tactic to try to stop the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. We know it has many people concerned.

The good news is that we have more evidence than ever before to prove our opponents wrong.

Electric rates in the United States have remained steady over the last 20 years, even as consumption of renewable energy increased 40 percent, statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show. Over the same time, we reduced coal plant emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides by more than 75 percent.

The power sector has a long history of implementing clean air standards while delivering reliable power and doing so at lower-than-anticipated costs. Not surprisingly, EPA’s modeling shows that the average monthly electric bill will be $8 lower in 2030 with carbon pollution limits than without it.

So why, then, would fossil fuel interest groups claim that electric bills are going to drastically increase whenever we talk about clean energy and reducing pollution from power plants?

It comes down to this: The proposed plan will place the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution emitted by power plants in the United States – a proposed rule that will shift the market toward clean energy and away from the dirtiest power producers and their shareholders.

States would need to ramp up carbon-reducing measures such as energy efficiency and installation of renewable energy sources so the power sector as a whole can cut emissions by 30 percent in 2030, from 2005 levels.

Of course, nobody really opposes clean air. This is why opponents of EPA’s plan point to utility bills – when it’s really about defeating clean air policies.

In California, the state’s efficiency standards have saved Californians $74 billion and avoided the construction of more than 30 power plants.

Now, remember that as our coal fleet continues to age it must be replaced, anyway. The industry is already facing competitive pressure from low- and zero-carbon resources – with or without new policies.

New coal-fired power plants are one of the costliest generation options even without considering the significant pollution they generate. If built in the next five years, they would cost about 19 percent more than onshore wind, 44 percent more than combined cycle natural gas, and significantly more than energy efficiency measures.

The energy sector is entering a new era, even if some players have yet to get onboard.

The cost of renewable energy has been dropping dramatically and wind is now competitive with coal in some places. The top 10 wind-producing states have average residential electricity prices that are lower than the national average.

The Clean Power Plan may just spell out what many in the industry already knew: Fossil fuels are not as cheap as they may seem. So why do opponents think they can fool consumers to think they’re better off with pollution?

Beats me. Today, more than ever before, we can show that clean energy is a good deal for you and me.

Mandy Warner|climate and air policy specialist|Environmental Defense Fund|October 3, 2014

Ready to Ban Fracking? watch a Video

Resounding victory in the fight against mountaintop removal coal mining ‏

    Last week, a U.S. District Court judge upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s veto of a permit for one of the largest and most extreme mountaintop removal coal mines ever proposed, the Spruce No. 1 Mine.

    For more than three years, Earthjustice has been fighting in court to defend the EPA’s veto. Last week’s ruling shoots down the coal industry’s last argument in the fight over Spruce, one of the most monumental so far in our fight against mountaintop removal coal mining.

    But despite this win, we cannot let up.

    There are still dozens of active and pending mountaintop removal coal mining permits that we need to stop. Everyone deserves clean water and no one should face the health threats associated with mountaintop removal coal mining.

    The court ruling found that the EPA’s decision to veto the mine was based on strong scientific evidence of serious environmental harm.

    Going forward, the EPA must faithfully apply that science and take concrete steps to avert the damage that would be caused by all other mountaintop removal mining permits.

    Until this is done, Earthjustice will continue to fight to end destructive mountaintop removal mining once and for all. I hope you continue to stand with us as we do.

    Trip Van Noppen|President|Earthjustice

    Documents reveal Halliburton fracking proposal at Collier-Hogan oil well, shed new light on drilling

    NAPLES, Fla. – Although the company has long denied it fracked the controversial Collier-Hogan well, newly released documents show the Dan A. Hughes Co. received a “hydraulic fracture” proposal last October from the Halliburton Co.

    The proposal is very similar to a controversial “acid stimulation” technique that a different company, Baker Hughes, proposed in December and eventually performed for Hughes at year’s end.

    The Dan A. Hughes Co. confirmed Monday that Baker Hughes, an unrelated oil field services company, also used a different acid technique to increase production at the well in October.

    Document: Workover procedure proposal from Baker Hughes to Dan A. Hughes Co. on Sept. 30, 2013

    Document: Workover procedure proposal from Halliburton Co. to Dan A. Hughes Co. on Oct. 21, 2013

    Document: Workover procedure proposal from Baker Hughes to Dan A. Hughes Co. on Dec. 23, 2013

    The October procedure used a more traditional technique that does not fit the definition of fracking, which is the process of forcing water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into rocks deep underground. Fracking opens the rock, allowing chemicals to flow, and then keeps the fissures open. The October procedure did not use sand to keep the fissures open, but the December one did.

    Although fracking is not prohibited by Florida law, the practice has drawn scrutiny nationwide.

    Opponents of drilling in Southwest Florida say the documents call into question just what the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which regulates drilling, knew about what was planned for the controversial well, and when.

    “The DEP is disingenuous when it says it didn’t know what was going on at the well,” said Don Loritz, vice president of Preserve our Paradise, an environmental group that opposed the drilling at the well near Immokalee.

    Preserve our Paradise recently obtained copies of the records when the Hughes Co. dropped its “trade secret” opposition to a public records lawsuit the group had filed against the DEP.

    Although the Hughes Co. said Sept. 23 that it is exiting Florida and will cap the once-producing Collier-Hogan well, the question of what the DEP knew, and when, is still very much a live issue due to a spate of lawsuits over the procedure, known as a workover, to increase the well’s production.

    Tensions began between the Hughes Co. and the DEP on Dec. 31, after the workover began. The regulatory agency immediately issued a cease-and-desist order.

    On April 18, DEP announced it had finalized a consent order with Hughes, saying it had “caught the Dan A. Hughes Co. conducting unauthorized activities” after receiving a notice on Dec. 23 about the workover proposal submitted by Baker Hughes.

    DEP added that the department “was not afforded the opportunity to complete its review of the proposed procedure before operations began.”

    But Hughes Co. spokesman Lucas Frances denies the DEP was ever uninformed about its plans.

    He said before the DEP was given notice Dec. 23, the company and the DEP had numerous discussions, including a face-to-face presentation the company made to DEP’s staff in Tallahassee on Nov. 4 about Halliburton’s proposal.

    Moreover, he said the Hughes Co. had agreed to postpone the workover on several occasions at the DEP’s request.

    “DEP had full knowledge of Hughes’ activities,” Frances said, adding the DEP had an inspector on site “before, during and after the workover.”

    Because of ongoing litigation with the Hughes Co., DEP spokeswoman Tiffany Cowie said the agency declined to comment.

    Both the DEP and the Hughes Co. have long denied the “unauthorized activity” done was fracking.

    But on Monday, Frances said “the procedure conducted by Hughes did create fractures in the rock.“ The fractures were filled with 49,500 pounds of white sand, according to the proposal Baker Hughes submitted.

    However, Frances defended the practice, saying “the accepted acid treatments conducted in Florida for the past 60 years also create fractures.”

    But Loritz, with Preserve our Paradise, noted Baker Hughes’ technical specifications “are virtually identical to the earlier Halliburton hydraulic fracturing recommendation.”

    Specifically, both the Halliburton and Baker Hughes documents proposed injecting chemically laden fluid at the same bottom-hole pressure of 9,427 pounds per square inch.

    But Halliburton proposed using a 15 percent solution of hydrochloric acid while Baker Hughes actually used a weaker 10 percent hydrochloric acid solution.

    Loritz said that even though the Collier-Hogan well will be capped, it’s important for the public to know what level of scrutiny the DEP is giving to exploratory drillers in Southwest Florida because of concerns about groundwater safety and other possible environmental impacts.

    “We still don’t know what, if anything, the DEP did to ensure public safety as the plan was going forward,” Loritz said.

    June Fletcher|Oct 6, 2014

    EPA Takes First Step Toward Regulating Fracking Chemicals

    The Obama administration began a process that may result in the first federal regulation of chemicals used in fracking, a drilling technique that has transformed energy production while eluding oversight sought by environmentalists.

    After three years of delay, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said today it’s considering rules requiring oilfield service companies such as Halliburton (HAL) Co. to send it details on the health and safety of the chemicals used. The agency said it may decide to stop short of rules, and use incentives or voluntary steps.

    “It’s unfortunate that this process has taken so long, as it addresses a critical need to ensure the safety of chemicals used in fracking,” Richard Denison, the lead scientist of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a blog post. “This is only the first baby step toward initiating the rulemaking process EPA said it would undertake.”

    Environmental groups have been pressing the agency to collect information on the fluids injected with water and sand to break apart underground rocks, saying they may be a danger to human health or the environment. The oil and natural gas industries have tried to fend off any federal oversight of the practice, saying states can best oversee it. Oilfield service providers also say their recipes are trade secrets.

    ‘Important Step’

    The EPA earlier said it would consider gathering the information under a provision of the toxic substances act. The action today is the next step, and it came without a specific guarantee of a regulation that the environmental groups sought.

    “Today’s announcement represents an important step in increasing the public’s access to information on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing,” James Jones, the EPA’s assistant administrator, said in a statement. The plan will “complement but not duplicate existing reporting requirements,” he said.

    Industry, which has fought to preempt federal oversight of oil and gas drilling, reacted cautiously to EPA’s announcement.

    “Our members are committed to the continued safe and responsible development of America’s abundant natural gas resource and to being good neighbors in communities in which we operate,” Dan Whitten, a spokesman for the America’s Natural Gas Alliance, said in an e-mail. “We look forward to engaging with EPA to see that any new regulatory or voluntary program employ a common sense, workable and effective approach.”

    Gas Boom

    Fracking has led to a natural-gas boom in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas, sparking opposition among some residents who say the technology may contaminate drinking water and add to air and soil pollution. Many drilling companies are disclosing chemical information on the industry website FracFocus.org. Some states require drillers to submit data to the site.

    Critics say the website allows too many exemptions that keep ingredients secret and doesn’t permit easy aggregation of information. And drilling companies may not know the full list of chemicals used in their fracking fluids, they say. The EPA has the authority to make more broad demands, and, if necessary, keep the information private.

    “The presumption should be on behalf of disclosure,” Deborah Goldberg, a lawyer at Earthjustice which, along with EDF, petitioned the EPA in 2011 to require the chemical disclosure. “One of the best incentives for safer chemicals is forcing disclosure of toxic chemicals.”

    Already, one supplier to the drilling industry is acting.

    Baker Hughes Inc. (BHI), the world’s third-largest oilfield services provider, in April said it will disclose all the chemicals used in fracking fluids after negotiating with suppliers and customers.

    Halliburton reports its fracking fluids to FracFocus, said Susie McMichael, a spokeswoman for the company.

    “Halliburton has been working and continues to work with the EPA and other regulatory agencies in answering questions and providing them with information as requested,” she said in an e-mail.

    Schlumberger Ltd. (SLB), the world’s largest oilfield services provider, declined to comment.

    The EPA, in its notice of proposed rulemaking today, is giving companies, environmentalists and interested members of the public 90 days to respond, and will subsequently decide on its next step.

    Mark Drajem|May 9, 2014

    Lab Official Pleads Guilty for Faking Water Quality Tests for Coal Companies

    A West Virginia lab technician pleaded guilty yesterday to a charge of faking water sample quality tests so that coal mining companies could be guaranteed clean reports to submit to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), reports the Charleston Gazette.

    John W. Shelton worked for Appalachian Laboratories Inc. (AL), a company certified by DEP to conduct such tests as part of the Clean Water Act. The company conducts tests at more than 100 water sampling locations in the state. Shelton admitted to conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act by diluting water samples, substituting clean water for other samples and not keeping samples refrigerated along with another unnamed AL employee.

    The criminal charge was filed September 2 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. It alleged that “From 2008 until approximately July 2013, the defendant John W. Shelton knowingly conspired with a person known to the United States Attorney to commit offenses against the United States: that is, to tamper with, cause to be tampered with, falsify and render inaccurate monitoring methods required to be maintained under the Clean Water Act, namely that samples and measurements shall be representative of the monitored activity and that samples to be analyzed for certain pollutants must be preserved at or below six degree Celsius.”

    Most damningly, the charges stated, “The objects of the conspiracy were to increase the profitability of Appalachian by avoiding certain costs associated with full compliance with the Clean Water Act and to maintain and increase its revenue by providing its customers and the agencies regulating those customers with reports purporting to show that those customers were operating their sites in compliance with the CWA and thereby allow those customers to avoid fines and other costs associated with bringing their operations into compliance with the CWA and thus encourage and maintain for Appalachian the patronage of those customers.”

    In other words, the lab kept up its client base of mining companies by making sure that no matter what they dumped into the state’s waterways, their testing, which they were required to submit to the DEP and the EPA would always come up clean.

    In the plea agreement, the prosecutors and Sheldon concurred that another official at Appalachian stressed the important of “pulling good samples,” which was understood to mean making sure they complied, not that they were taken properly, and that Appalachian employees only stored the samples in cooler when DEP inspectors were around. “Each time that Shelton and others at Appalachian diluted the sample water or replaced the sample water with water that would pass, they allowed water that they believed exceeded permit limits to discharge into the waters of the United States,” it said.

    The Gazette said that this case “raises questions about the self-reporting system state and federal regulators use as a central tool to judge if the mining industry is following pollution limits.”

    Environmental group Appalachian Voices concurred, pointing out the history of issues that have arisen with self-reporting.

    “The discovery that a lab employee in West Virginia knowingly altered sampling procedures to assure that monitoring reports submitted for coal companies would be in compliance with the Clean Water Act raises serious questions about the reliability of monitoring reports for the coal industry across Central Appalachia,” said the group’s Central Appalachian campaign coordinator Erin Savage.

    “In 2010, Appalachian Voices uncovered water monitoring reports that contained duplicated data for the three largest mountaintop removal companies in Kentucky. During the period they were submitting erroneous monitoring reports, these companies never reported a single pollution violation. No criminal charges have been brought in Kentucky in relation to those cases. In light of the charges brought in West Virginia, however, we have to wonder how widespread these criminal practices are. This shocking discovery further highlights the extreme need for state agencies to seriously reevaluate their enforcement efforts and for the EPA to step in when the states do not properly enforce the law.”

    Sheldon will be sentenced in February and could face as much as five years in jail and up to a $250,000 fine.

    Anastasia Pantsios|October 10, 2014

    Land Conservation

    Paisley Caves added to U.S. list of most important archaeological sites

    The National Park Service has added the Paisley Five Mile Point Caves to the listing of the most important archaeological and historic sites. Excavations at the site have produced evidence of human occupation beginning 14,300 years ago.

    Situated near the town of Paisley in south-central Oregon, the caves have been the subject of archaeological excavations that have produced evidence of humans  in Oregon nearly 1,000 years earlier than previously thought.

    The National Park Service recently added the Paisley Five Mile Point Caves to the list.

    Other archeological sites listed in Oregon include Abert Lake Petroglyphs, Fivemile Rapids Site, Fort Rock Cave, Greaser Petroglyph Site, Mosier Mounds Complex, Picture Rock Pass Petroglyphs Site and Sunken Village Archeological Site.

    The occupation of Paisley Five Mile Point Caves predates the appearance of “Clovis” sites by more than 1,000 years. Clovis sites, characterized by a distinctive projectile point, have been documented throughout many regions of the United States. For many years they had been widely accepted as evidence for the first human settlement of the Americas.
    Led by Dennis Jenkins of the University of Oregon, a team of Paisley Caves researchers conducted archaeological excavations and extensive laboratory analyses to amass information challenging the “Clovis First” hypothesis. Much of the research occurred during five field seasons during the first decade of the century.

    Along with stemmed projectile points, grinding stones, modified animal bone and woven plant fiber cordage, Jenkins’ team recovered coprolites (feces) containing human DNA. The evidence was verified by multiple independent laboratories.

    More than 200 coprolites were radiocarbon dated to pre-Clovis times. The discovery by UO researchers of 14,300-year-old human feces demonstrates the presence of an ancient human population in America’s Far West at the end of the last ice age.

    “Archaeologists have worked at the site since 1938,” Jenkins said in a statement released by the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History, where he is a research associate and director of the UO Archaeology Field School in the northern Great Basin. “As we have used increasingly sophisticated scientific techniques in recent years, our understanding of the cultural and megafaunal remains at the site has grown dramatically. Analyses by our research team provides significant new information regarding the timing and spread of the first settlers in the Americas.”

    The site is located on land managed by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management. It is situated off a very rugged road along the southeast side of the Summer Lake Basin. Routine visitors would not likely know they are at the caves.

    “BLM is indeed pleased to see the Paisley Five Mile Points officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places,” said Stan McDonald, state archaeologist for Oregon and Washington for the BLM, in a statement released by the agency. “The site’s listing underscores the importance of Oregon’s archaeological heritage to understanding the full breadth of the human experience. We extend our thanks to our partner, the University of Oregon, and associated research team for their dedication and commitment to outstanding research.”

    Now a sagebrush steppe vegetation community, the Paisley site once was grassy plains surrounding a lake, marsh and river. Camel, bison, horse and waterfowl bones have been found in the area. Humans living there 14,300 years ago were gathering and consuming aromatic roots, for which they would have needed special knowledge that would have developed over time.

    Terry Richard|oregonian.com|October 05, 2014

    The Campaign to Protect Florida’s Most Cherished Waters and Natural Areas

    Florida’s Water and Land Legacy is a coalition of the conservation and civic organizations, businesses, and concerned citizens who together succeeded in gathering nearly 1 million signatures from Florida voters and placing Amendment 1: the Water and Land Conservation Amendment on the November 2014 ballot. 

    Amendment 1 gives Florida voters a direct opportunity to keep drinking water clean, protect our rivers, lakes, and springs, restore natural treasures like the Everglades, and protect our beaches and shores.

    Amendment 1 is our best opportunity to address threats to our water quality and keep pollution out of our waters—without any increase in taxes.

    Floridians understand the value of clean and abundant water for people and wildlife, and they cherish the natural areas that make Florida special. That’s why Amendment 1 would ensure that these values have a place in our state’s constitution.

    The Water and Land Conservation Amendment will appear as Amendment 1 on the November 4, 2014 ballot.  Voter approval of Amendment 1 will:
    • Ensure that our cherished beaches, rivers, lakes, springs and coastal waters are protected for future generations. Vibrant and healthy natural areas supply us with clean water and improve our quality of life. Irreplaceable treasures like the Everglades and our world-class beaches also draw millions of visitors every year and form the backbone of our tourism economy.  Yet almost 2 million acres of important water protection areas, beaches, springs, and other vital natural areas remain vulnerable to unwise development decisions and deep funding cuts.  Amendment 1 creates stable and long-term funding for conservation programs like Florida Forever and Everglades restoration, ensuring that we safeguard our most treasured waters and lands for future generations.
    • Direct one-third of existing fees collected by the state when real estate is sold to protect natural areas and wildlife habitat and preserve our water quality for the next two decades. Amendment 1 will dedicate funding to conserve and restore Florida’s most cherished waterways and natural areas using existing state revenues generated by real estate transactions. Fees on real estate transactions, aka “doc stamps,” have been allocated to water and land conservation since 1968. Yet since 2009, these fees have been diverted to the state’s general revenues while funding for water and land conservation projects has been slashed by more than 95 percent. Amendment 1 would provide $10 billion over the twenty-year life of the measure, all without any tax increase.
    • Reinforce Florida’s long-standing leadership on water and land conservation. In Florida, conserving the water quality of our lakes, rivers and springs and restoring lands necessary to protect drinking water sources historically has transcended party politics.  Popular programs like Save Our Rivers, Save Our Coasts, Preservation 2000, and Florida Forever—geared towards funding important conservation projects—have been a priority of every Governor for the last four decades, including Governors Graham, Martinez, Chiles, Bush and Crist.
     

    President Obama creates the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

    Fantastic news in California! This week, President Barack Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that the San Gabriel Mountains will be protected as a national monument.

    The San Gabriel Mountains are in one of the busiest forests in the nation, serving as the wild “backyard” for Los Angeles. In addition to serving as a recreation destination for millions, the range provides one-third of Los Angeles County’s drinking water and more than 70 percent of its open space. The San Gabriels also provide essential habitat for wildlife, including rare and endangered species like California condors, Nelson’s bighorn sheep and mountain lions.

    The Wilderness Society has spearheaded efforts to protect the area for more than 10 years, from leading local partnerships to outreach on Capitol Hill. We are thrilled to see this wild gem of Southern California protected for current and future generations.

    The Wilderness Society|10/10/14

    Pew Applauds Obama Administration for Protecting Southern California Wild Lands

    WASHINGTON—The Pew Charitable Trusts applauded President Barack Obama’s decision today to designate the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, which covers about 350,000 acres in the Angeles National Forest north of Los Angeles.

    This will be the 13th national monument, and the first large-scale land monument near a major metropolitan area, designated by President Obama. It will stretch from Santa Clarita in the far west of Los Angeles County to San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles.

    Mike Matz, director, U.S. public lands with The Pew Charitable Trusts, released the following statement:

    “This designation, which will protect the source of 70 percent of LA County’s open space and more than one-third of its drinking water, is an important conservation milestone for our country. Not only is the President creating the second-largest land monument of his administration, but in so doing he is contributing to the health and well-being of generations of children who look to the nearby San Gabriel mountains for clean air and water, and for the opportunity to get outside and explore and enjoy a wild place that is just beyond their backyards.

    The San Gabriel Mountains are the first large-scale land monument near a major metropolitan area designated by President Obama.

    “The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument grew from the local community’s interest in safeguarding this majestic mountain range, which has been put at risk by growing population pressures, increased recreational use, and insufficient management resources. The monument designation will help preserve the rich multicultural history of the San Gabriel Mountains, including its many Native American archaeological sites, Mt. Wilson Observatory and the Mt. Lowe Railroad. It will also preserve critical habitat for many endangered plants and animals.

    “The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is a model use of the Antiquities Act, which is intended to protect deserving and uniquely American areas of historic or scientific interest on public lands. For nearly ten years, The Pew Charitable Trusts, along with a diverse coalition of local supporters, has urged Congress and the administration to help fulfill the community’s vision of protecting and enhancing these mountains, rivers, and parks with access for all.

    “Our thanks to President Obama, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and Representative Judy Chu (D-CA) for listening to local residents, business owners, sportsmen, and community leaders, and ensuring that the San Gabriels—the recreational backyard for more than 17 million Southern Californians—will be protected for generations to come.”

    The Pew Charitable Trusts|October 08, 2014

    Air Quality

    Clean Air Act: EPA’s Proposal for Reducing CO2 Emissions From Electric Power Sector Would Present the States With a Complex Task

    The Obama Administration has released its much-anticipated proposal for limiting nationwide carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the electric power sector, calling for an overall 30 percent reduction by 2030, compared to a 2005 baseline (about a 17 percent reduction from current emissions). The proposal calls for increasing the efficiency of coal-fired power plants and for reducing the amount of power generated by coal- and oil-fired plants in favor of natural gas-fired combined cycle turbines, low- and zero-carbon power generation (renewables and nuclear) and improved demand-side energy efficiency.

    The proposal will likely receive a boost from the Supreme Court’s recent decision upholding the core of EPA’s existing permitting requirements for greenhouse gas emissions.

    There will be a major focus in coming months on whether EPA has legal authority to adopt this rule, since it rests on a little-used provision of the Clean Air Act. But equal attention should be given to the work it would impose on the states. While sweeping, EPA’s proposed rule only provides a broad outline and sets ultimate objectives: state-specific CO2 emission reduction goals.

    The task of fleshing out the details and implementing the reductions would fall to the states, which will have one to three years to submit plans for reducing emissions from their electric power sector. In many states, that will include making changes to or expanding programs administered by agencies that in the past have had no direct responsibility for air quality programs.

    The resulting decisions – made in the next two to four years – could substantially reshape the electric power sector in many parts of the country over the next two decades. EPA will be accepting comment on the proposal for 120 days and has said that it hopes to finalize the rule in June 2015. If it succeeds in doing so, states will be required to complete their plans between June 2016 and 2018.

    Noting that power plants account for “roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions,” President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, released in June 2013, committed to cutting such emissions from both new and existing power plants. Concurrent with issuance of the Climate Action Plan, a Presidential Memorandum directed EPA to propose two sets of Clean Air Act regulations.

    First, EPA was directed to follow up its April 12, 2012 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants by issuing a new proposed rule no later than September 20, 2013. EPA timely issued the revised proposed rule. See R. Allan, EPA Issues Revised Proposed Regulations for Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Power Plants, Marten Law Environmental News (Nov. 18, 2013).

    The revised proposed rule wasn’t published in the Federal Register, however, until January 8, 2014, with a 60-day public comment period. That comment period subsequently was extended by 60 days to May 9, 2014.[4] The Presidential Memorandum instructs EPA to “issue a final rule in a timely fashion after considering all public comments as appropriate.”Second, the President directed EPA to “issue proposed carbon pollution standards, regulations, or guidelines, as appropriate, for modified, reconstructed, and existing power plants by no later than June 1, 2014,” to issue a final rule no later than June 1, 2015, and to require that states submit their implementation plans under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act “by no later than June 30, 2016.” The proposed rule released on June 2 responds to this second imperative of the Presidential Memorandum.

    The Clean Air Act includes both health-based and technology-based requirements to control air pollution. The health-based requirements are linked to ambient air quality standards – the amount of a particular air pollutant found in the ambient air that is deemed safe for public health and welfare. EPA’s existing greenhouse gas permitting rules were developed under the Act’s permitting programs aimed at achieving and maintaining ambient air quality standards. Under those rules, a permit is required before constructing a new major source of air pollutants that is subject to an ambient standard or any major modification to a major existing source of those air pollutants. Permits for these sources must require them to implement the “best available control technology” (BACT) for each pollutant “subject to regulation” under the Act.

    The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld EPA’s determination that greenhouse gases have become “subject to regulation” and so must be included in the BACT determination made for sources that become subject to permitting because of their emissions of other air pollutants. However, the Court struck down EPA rules requiring sources to obtain permits based solely on their greenhouse gas emissions (a ruling that reportedly affects only about 3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions).

    The Agency’s newly-proposed greenhouse gas standards for existing power plants derive from another of the Clean Air Act’s technology-based requirements, contained in section 111 of the Act. This section requires EPA to designate categories of stationary sources and to develop standards for performance of new sources within each category that reflect the “best system of emission reduction” (BSER) that “has been adequately demonstrated,” taking into account costs, non-air quality environmental impacts, and energy requirements.

    The resulting rules are referred to as New Source Performance Standards (NSPS). As with other provisions of the Clean Air Act, “new” sources for purpose of NSPS include both newly constructed sources and sources that have been modified in a manner that increases emissions. EPA has used its authority under section 111 to develop NSPS for source categories ranging from refineries, pulp mills and cement plants to dry cleaners, grain elevators and landfills.

    A less frequently-used provision of this section, section 111(d), also authorizes technology-based performance standards for existing sources, subject to three limitations.

    (1) EPA must already have adopted a performance standard for new sources in the same source category;

    (2) no existing source performance standards are allowed for any air pollutant for which EPA already has established a health-based ambient air quality standard; and

    (3), standards also are barred for emissions (or possibly source categories) regulated under section 112 of the Act, which applies to hazardous air pollutants (HAPS).

    (The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments included two versions of this final constraint, creating some ambiguity as to whether the prohibition only applies to hazardous air pollutants regulated under section 112, or to any source category as a whole that has been listed under section 112. This ambiguity may be the subject of future legal challenges to the proposed greenhouse gas rule.)

    Section 111(d) actually looks to the states to develop the particulars of the performance standards for existing sources, in response to guidance from EPA. EPA is directed to adopt regulations that “establish a procedure similar to” the process used to develop State Implementation Plans (SIPs) under section 110 of the Act,which are plans proposed by states, subject to EPA approval, for achieving the ambient air quality standards set by EPA.

    EPA adopted regulations in 1975 that set EPA’s review process and approval criteria for state plans.

    EPA triggers the states’ planning process under section 111(d) by issuing guidelines that identify the “systems of emission reduction” that the agency believes have been adequately demonstrated for the relevant existing sources. The states must then submit a plan to EPA establishing performance standards for those existing sources for the designated air pollutant. In formulating their plans, states are allowed to take into consideration, “among other factors,” the remaining useful life of any particular source to which the standard would apply. As with SIPs, if a state fails to submit a plan or EPA determines a state plan is not satisfactory, then EPA may proscribe a plan for a state.

    Read more

    Transportation

    U.S. Sugar and Hendry County seek to turn sleepy airport into cargo hub to rival MIA

    At the heart of a controversial plan for a huge new development near the northwest edge of the Everglades – dubbed “Big Sugar City” by environmentalists – is a crucial, but less noticed proposal for a $400 million makeover of a flyspeck of an airport in rural Hendry County.

    The goal is to transform sleepy Airglades Airport, where skydiving is the reigning business, into an international hub for perishable cargo to rival Miami International Airport about 80 miles to the southeast. If it doesn’t happen, Big Sugar City, also known as Sugar Hill, may not become a reality either.

    Airglades International LLC (AIA), the private outfit selected by Hendry County to develop the airport, has a straightforward business plan: add a new 10,000 or 12,000-foot runway, build a one-stop air cargo complex and siphon off MIA’s multi-billion dollar perishable cargo business – everything from fresh food and flowers to drugs and medical shipments.

    Last year, MIA accounted for 72 percent of all U.S. perishable imports.

    “The idea is to take the airport and turn it into a relief valve for MIA’s perishable air cargo in order to make more room for passenger growth and regular air cargo at MIA,” said AIA President Fred Ford. “We’re not here to steal, rob or purloin any of their key core business.”

    Officials at MIA, who say their airport has plenty of capacity to expand, appear unconcerned.

    “Fred told us about the concept, but I don’t think it’s even getting off the ground yet,” said Joseph Napoli, chief of staff and senior policy advisor for the Miami-Dade Aviation Department. “It’s many years into the future, I believe. We are very neutral to it.”

    Indeed, AIA’s plan might seem laughable except for two things: the Federal Aviation Administration is taking it seriously and AIA’s players, including majority investors U.S. Sugar and rancher/grower Hilliard Brothers of Florida, have plenty of financial firepower at their command.

    Hendry County is seeking federal approval to privatize its airport under the FAA’s Airport Privatization Pilot Program. The program, authorized by Congress in 1996, allows local governments to sell or lease publicly owned airports to private developers with certain restrictions.

    An advertisement in the September issue of Florida Trend magazine touts Airglades’ ability to promote economic development to the surrounding area. “Bringing jobs in for a smooth landing in southern Florida’s sweet spot,” the headline says.

    Clearly, Hendry could use the huge shot in the arm that a successful air cargo hub could bring. Hendry is among Florida’s poorest counties, with the state’s highest unemployment rate, 13.1 percent in August.

    The FAA approved Hendry County’s preliminary application in 2010. Since then, the county has negotiated airport management and purchase/sale agreements with AIA for the 2,800-acre airport facility. Last month, following FAA approval, AIA took over management of Airglades Airport, Ford said.

    Hendry County's Airglades Airport Photo: U.S. Geological Survey

    Hendry County’s Airglades Airport Photo: U.S. Geological Survey

    The county’s price tag for the airport, located off U.S. 27 about five miles west of Clewiston, would depend on how many jobs are created. Ford said the floor price is $5 million.

    “What we are doing now is working with (MIA’s) users and the tenants and brokers, the flower importers and such, and asking them, “If you had a clean canvas to build an airport what would it look like?” said Ford.

    Ford did not discuss how who, exactly, would pay the estimated $400 million cost to develop Airglades, or how much each would pay.

    Neither Hendry County Administrator Charles Chapman, who is shepherding the Airglades proposal, nor County Commissioner Karson Turner, who told Fort Myers Florida Weekly in March that Airglades development could be “a generation changer,” responded to requests for comment.

    The airport property is adjacent to U.S. Sugar-owned land the state has an option to purchase next year under the 2010 state deal that seeks to restore the natural flow of Lake Okeechobee water south to the Everglades – land that is also part of the massive Sugar Hill development now under review by state officials.

    On Sept. 10, dozens of environmental groups and interests wrote to Gov. Rick Scott asking for a public discussion on how the Sugar Hill property might impact long term Everglades restoration. The land the state has an option on is just southwest of Lake Okeechobee and could be used to move excess water from south into the Everglades, and not dump it into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and estuaries.

    Scott later put out a letter declaring that the state’s reviewing agencies “hold a special responsibility to ensure that proper rigor and careful, thorough evaluation” is given to the Sugar Hill proposal.

    On Oct. 3, both the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection announced their opposition to Sugar Hill.

    “The district recommends against approving the proposed [Sugar Hill] sector plan as it does not provide sufficient information to show that future Everglades restoration efforts will not be harmed,” wrote district water supply bureau chief Dean Powell in a letter to the State Land Planning Agency.

    Hendry officials are preparing a draft environmental assessment for presentation to the FAA before the end of the year. During the FAA’s review period, public hearings and workshops will be held.

    The FAA can either approve the county’s assessment and issue a “Finding of No Significant Impact,” or decide that a more detailed environmental impact statement is require. Such a finding could, at a minimum, significantly delay AIA’s plans.

    Ford said he expects a decision from the FAA next year.

    Planning documents describe numerous improvements in store for the Hendry County airport, including upgraded infrastructure such as lighting and drainage. They say the principal markets for perishable air cargo goods will be Central and South America. About 15 to 20 cargo aircraft are anticipated to use Airglades at the outset, with 25 to 35 flights five years after opening.
    “No more than 100 flights a day at build out,” said Ford. Huge Boeing 747-400 cargo jets are among the aircraft that could land there.

    AIA’s goal is to break ground by 2017.

    Ford, a former airport manager, is also president of Florida Fresh Cargo, an investor group of local agricultural interests that first pitched the concept of a perishable air cargo complex at Airglades to Hendry County in early 2010.

    “The growth in interest and scope made (Florida Fresh) realize that in order to fully realize its potential, other key business partners would be necessary,” says a history of the project on Hendry County’s web site.

    U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers “separately created a new entity named Sugar Hill, expressly for the purpose of joining (Florida Fresh) to form a new company…AIA” in February 2012,” the project history says.

    Sugar Hill envisions the transformation of 43,300 acres – or 67.7 square miles – of sugar cane fields, citrus groves and pastureland into 18,000 homes and 25 million square feet of space for manufacturing, warehousing and other kinds of businesses.

    Development would occur over the next 46 years, until 2060.

    While the Sugar Hill Sector Plan has encountered opposition, the proposal to develop Airglades largely has avoided critical notice. For example, the southern regional director for the Florida Wildlife Federation, Martha Musgrove, said the group “has never focused on Airglades Airport.”

    Musgrove said that while Florida Wildlife’s primary interest is the habitat of animals, her organization does recognize the need for economic growth in the area.

    According to Ford, the success of the Airglades initiative will decide the fate of Sugar Hill.

    “A lot of people don’t read the fine print (in the Sugar Hill proposal) and have concluded this is the plan for the future. It is not. It is a plan if the airport is successful – what could be done on the property in and around the airport,” Ford said.

    Dan Christensen|BrowardBulldog.org|October 8, 2014

    Recycling

    California Bans Single-Use Plastic Bags – But The Alternatives Could Be Even Worse for the Environment

    Last Tuesday Governor Jerry Brown signed SB270 into law, officially making California the first state to ban single-use plastic bags.

    The law, which is set to take effect in July 2015, will ban grocery and retail stores from providing single-use plastic bags to their customers and will require them to charge at least 10 cents for alternatives such as paper bags, cotton totes, compostable bags, and reusable plastic bags.

    In order to reduce job losses, the bill that was introduced by Senator Alex Padilla, will also provide funding for California-based plastic bag companies to develop reusable options.

    Plastic Bags: The Facts:
    • An estimated 1 trillion plastic bags are used all over the world each year.
    • That’s nearly 2 million plastic bags a minute.
    • California alone throws away 14 billion a year, which also creates 123,000 tons of waste.
    • Estimates on how long it takes for a plastic bag to decompose vary, with 500 – 1,000 years being the range. However, plastic bags never fully biodegrade and instead they become smaller plastic pellets that are equally as harmful for the environment.
    • In 2002, Ireland led the way with their plastic bag tax or “PlasTax” which resulted in a 90% drop in plastic bag consumptions and 1 billion fewer bags were consumed annually. Moreover, the tax raised $9.6 million from the first year, money which goes back into a “green fund” for measures that will help the environment.
    • In Australia, research showed 72% of customers accepted single-use bags that were offered for free but only 27% accepted the plastic bags if they were going to be charged.
    • And in California, 39% of customers left the store without a bag once a fee was applied, as as opposed to 17% before the fee.
    • However, the anti-plastic hype may be masking a more serious issue.
    • The alternatives to single-use plastic bags aren’t particularly environmentally friendly.
    • Paper bag use increases from 3 to 16% with the introduction of the tax.
    • Paper bags must be used 3 times before their global warming impact is lower than single-use plastic bags.
    • Reusable bag use increases from 5% to 45% with the bag ban.
    • The common reusable bag, the non-woven polypropylene bag that is commonly found in supermarket checkout lines, need to be used 11 times before its global impact is less than disposable bags.
    • If you decide to go for a cotton tote instead, they require 131 uses before its global impact is less than disposable bags.
    • While reusable bags reduce litter, they’re only worth the energy to produce them if they’re actually used.
    However, environmental institutions are still in favor of the reusable bags as it moves “away from the disposable society and use-and-toss mentality.”

    The fight against this use-and-toss mentality is exactly what makes such plastic bag bans worthwhile.

    Each year, thousands of animals get sick and die because they mistake plastic bags for food. When a gray whale was beached and died in Seattle in 2010, it was revealed that more than 20 plastic bags were found in its stomach.

    Opposition to the Ban

    With any step towards a more environmentally friendly world there’s opposition, and the plastic bag ban is not the exception.

    In 2007, a Safeway lobbyist in Annapolis, Maryland, called a proposed bag tax “un-American” while Senator Padilla’s last attempt to push a similar bill through last year was defeated by just 3 votes.

    The American Progressive Bag Alliance has funded attack ads calling the bill a “dirty deal between politicians and grocers”, who will now profit from selling bags to unwitting customers.

    Sarah Burke|October 7, 2014

    Miscellaneous

    How to Reduce Exposure to Alkylphenols Through Your Diet

    Alkylphenols are industrial chemicals that are found in hair products, spermicides, cleaning products and detergents. They are an endocrine disruptor.

    Concern about alkylphenols first surfaced decades ago when a group at Tufts observed an excessive proliferation of human breast cancer cells in certain types of plastic containers, something that would normally only be seen if the cells were exposed to some type of estrogen. They identified an alkylphenol leaching from the plastic as the culprit, causing the “estrogen-like properties when tested in the human breast tumor cells.” (In my video Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors and Allergies, I talk about some of the dangers of alkylphenol.) Excessive proliferation of human breast cancer cells is never good, so countries in Europe started banning and restricting the use of these chemicals. However, the U.S. EPA has been slow to respond.

    A half million tons of alkylphenols continue to spew out into the environment every year, so much so that now that they come down in the rain and then accumulate up the food chain.

    One study examined the Japanese food supply to find out which foods had these potentially allergy-exacerbating endocrine disruptors. The researchers found that chicken and especially fish had the highest levels. Water animals and birds concentrate these compounds to levels several thousands of times greater than those in the environment because these are fat-soluble chemicals. “Therefore, they can easily contaminate foods of animal origin, which are thought to represent the most important source of human exposure to many organic pollutants,” not just the alkylphenols. Another group also found that fish was the worst.

    Which kind of fish? Anchovies, mackerel, salmon and cod seem to have the highest levels. In fact, salmon was the only food found contaminated with nonylphenol diethoxylate, which is even more potent than regular nonylphenol. The levels of contamination in fish were at the concentrations that start to make breast cancer cells go crazy in vitro.

    These findings are consistent with the fact that seafood consumption has been associated with severe asthma, current and severe rhinoconjunctivitis, (seasonal pollen allergies), and current and severe eczema: (an allergic-type disease of the skin) in adolescent populations around the globe.

    If these synthetic xenoestrogens are playing a role, what about natural phytoestrogens, such as those found in soy foods? It turns out that in patients with asthma, consumption of a diet with moderate to high amounts of soy phytoestrogens is associated with better lung function and better asthma control. If anything then, it’s these chemical pollutants, which come down in the rain, contaminate the soil, the plants, and then concentrate up the food chain in the fat of animals. We’re now the animals at the top of the food chain, like the polar bear or bald eagle, building up higher levels of these synthetic xenoestrogens.

    Thankfully, there aren’t many cannibals around anymore. However, there is one group that continues to feed off human tissues—babies (See The Wrong Way to Detox). Alkylphenols have been found to concentrate in human breast milk, particularly in women who eat fish. The highest levels of these endocrine-disrupting pollutants were recorded in milk samples from mothers who said they ate fish at least twice a week, consistent with the fact that seafood consumption represents an important source of alkylphenol intake. Even these “slightly elevated levels of endocrine disruptors in the milk of mothers with a seafood-rich diet may be associated with adverse effects on neurological development, fetal and postnatal growth, and memory functions on breastfed infants, because these contaminants may interfere with the endocrine [hormonal] system.”

    Since these toxins concentrate in fat, the highest concentrations may be found in straight animal fat, such as chicken fat, lard, tallow, or fish oil. Consumption of fish oil capsules and processed fish products has been associated with alkylphenol concentration in mothers’ milk, again thanks to bioaccumulation up the food chain. And then we recycle the leftover remains of farm animals into farm animal feed, so the levels can get higher and higher in animal products.

    As one commentator noted, while these pollutants do contaminate human milk, they also contaminate cow’s milk—humans and cows live in the same polluted world. In fact, infant formula was found to be over five times more contaminated, so breast is still best, absolutely. But nursing mothers can still make good food choices to prevent excess exposure to these pollutants in their infants.

    Endocrine disruptors have also been linked to conditions such as male infertility (Male Fertility and Diet) and early onset of puberty (Protein, Puberty, and Pollutants).

    Dr. Michael Greger|October 3, 2014

    Mobile Home Residents Ordered to Kill Feral Cats with Anti-Freeze

    A large population of feral cats have been a problem in a Missouri mobile home park. Some residents feed the cats. Others want them dead.

    Residents of the park received a letter stating that any resident found feeding the ferals would be evicted. Additionally, the letter asked the residents to place bowls of antifreeze outsize their homes to kill the strays. In addition to death by anti-freeze, cats burned and shot to death have been found all throughout the mobile home park.

    USA Today reported the letter to say:

    “Anyone found feeding stray cats will face immediate eviction. Beginning the first of October we will begin an all out assault on all stray cats … so keep your one pet indoors. All residents can help clean up the stray cat problem by leaving a bowl of antifreeze out to poison these ever increasing problem.”

    A previous letter to residents stated that rents could go up if the cat problem wasn’t handled. Mark Rich, the trailer’s park manager, is on vacation in Colorado and denies writing the letter. The letter sent to residents is reportedly from a company involved with the trailer park. However, residents state they witnessed Rich shooting at several cats and leaving out plates of cat food laced with antifreeze. 

    A Care2 petition targeting The Stone County Sheriff’s Department, states:

    “A thorough investigation of the White Eagle Woods mobile home park must be carried out and any further attempts by Mark Rich to kill the stray cats must be stopped by local law enforcement.”

    Lisa Spector|October 4, 2014

    Record U.S. corn harvest a pile of troubles for grain handlers

    CHICAGO Oct 3 (Reuters) – The giant corn harvest about to hit full stride in America’s Midwest looks set to overwhelm storage and pile up outdoors, grain industry sources said, raising quality issues and making it hard to keep supplies moving.

    This year’s record corn crop of 14.4 billion bushels alone would fill up 60 percent of the country’s grain storage of 24 billion bushels.

    In total, with a record soybean crop too and hefty harvests of other grains including spring wheat, there will be about 20 billion bushels of new crops looking for storage. That would be on top of the 3.5 billion bushels reported in storage as of Sept. 1 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

    Hal Reed, chief executive officer of the Andersons Inc , a major grain handler in Toledo, Ohio, said his company is already piling grain at its elevators in Tennessee and other mid-South states even before harvest moves north into the main Corn Belt.

    “We still believe the actual yields will continue to grow from where USDA has them at now. The corn crop is as good as any I’ve ever seen,” Reed said.

    Surplus corn is often held in temporary piles of 200,000 bushels or more covered with tarpaulin waiting for trains or barges to ship the grain out, but this year transportation has been hard to find as shale oil competes for space on rails.

    “There are going to be piles and piles. The stampede will start about Oct. 20,” when on-farm storage in Iowa should be about full, said Charles Hurburgh, a grain quality specialist at Iowa State University.

    The challenge will be to preserve the quality of the crop left on the ground and keep it safe for later use by food processors, ethanol and starch makers, livestock feeders and exporters.

    Grain merchandisers need to make sure corn is dried to about 13 percent moisture before storing. It also needs to be properly aerated during the months it is on the ground to prevent spoilage and stop toxins from growing.

    Soybeans, valued for their oil content and harvested before corn, are more likely to be sold straight off the field than corn, which is hardier and can be “air dried” to save farmers money from having to pay to dry the grain.

    “As much as people say you can put corn away at 17-18 moisture, put the aerators on and keep it – experience tells that doesn’t always work out well,” said Joe Christopher, a Nebraska merchandiser.

    Grain merchants are expected to force many farmers to accept “deferred pricing,” or DP, contracts, which allow merchants to take ownership of the grain, allowing them to move it to manage their space.

    But there are still problems moving the piles with rail freight rates soaring because of competition not just among grain shippers but also from shale oil in many grain regions, especially the Dakotas.

    “It gets clogged up at the farmer, it gets clogged up at the elevator, it gets clogged up at a whole bunch of places. It’s going to be a real problem,” said Stephen Nicholson, an analyst at Rabobank, a major farm lender.

    Christine Stebbins|Oct 4, 2014|Editing by Lisa Shumaker

    Environmental Links

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

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    ConsRep 914 D

    Until man duplicates a blade of grass, nature can laugh at his so-called scientific knowledge.” Thomas Edison

    Announcements

    FWC News Release – FWC to hold public workshops for input on managing bears in south central Florida

    FWC to hold public workshops for input on managing bears in south central Florida

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will hold three public workshops in October to discuss management of black bears in south central Florida and how people can get involved in working with the FWC on local bear issues.

    Under the FWC’s Florida Black Bear Management Plan, approved in 2012, seven Bear Management Units (BMUs) will be established throughout the state.

    The BMU approach will allow the FWC to manage bears based on the characteristics of bears, people and habitat in different parts of Florida. The first steps are being taken to create the South Central BMU to manage the bear subpopulation on the Lake Wales Ridge and surrounding areas.

    Workshops will offer the public a chance to provide input on local bear issues and allow interested people to sign up to be active members of the South Central Bear Stakeholder Group. The meetings will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the following locations:

    • Sebring – Tuesday, Oct. 7, Highlands County IFAS Extension Auditorium, 4509 George Blvd.
    • Lakeland – Wednesday, Oct. 8, Circle B Bar Reserve, 4399 Winter Lake Road.
    • Punta Gorda – Thursday, Oct. 9, Charlotte Harbor Event Center, 75 Taylor St.

    “The workshops will give the FWC a better understanding of the local perspective on bear management in south central Florida,” said Dave Telesco, FWC Bear Management Program coordinator. “Participants at the workshops will have the opportunity to interact more directly with FWC staff than during typical meetings. We will be listening more than talking.”

    The South Central BMU includes Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands, Hillsborough, Indian River, Manatee, Martin, Okeechobee, Osceola, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota and St. Lucie counties.

    Five BMUs already have been initiated: West Panhandle, Central, East Panhandle, South and North. Immediately following the completion of the South Central BMU workshops, the FWC will start the final BMU in the Big Bend.

    Go to www.MyFWC.com/Bear and look for “Which BMU are you?” to find out more about black bears in your area.

    “A guide to living in bear country” is also available at www.MyFWC.com/Bear by clicking on “Brochures and Other Materials,” and you can find more on bears and the bear management plan at www.MyFWC.com/Bear.

    Gary Morse, 863-648-3852|Carli Segelson, 772-215-9459|September 22, 2014

    The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail (GFBWT) and the Wildlife Foundation of Florida is proud to announce a new partnership with InterContinental Hotel Groups.

    Book your stay, using the link below*, at any InterContinental Hotel and 5% of your stay (at no extra cost to you) will be donated to the Wildlife Foundation of Florida.

    Explore hotel options or book your stay today.

    Money raised will support the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail and wildlife conservation through stewardship and citizen-science volunteer projects.

    *The IHG link will take you to the IHG reservation website to book your stay. By using our link to access the reservation site, your stay will be linked with the birding trail.

    Proposal to Remove or Transfer Ownership of Aids to Navigation in Everglades National Park

    The United States Coast Guard wants to hear from you!

    The USCG is asking for public comment related the removal of channel markers from Coot Bay to Little Shark River Entrance.

    The USCG is in the process of making a determination of transferring the markers to National Park Service ownership as well as considering complete removal of markers in the backcountry from Coot Bay to the mouth of the Little Shark River

    NOW IS THE TIME TO TELL THE COAST GUARD THAT YOU OPPOSE THE TRANSFER OF OWNERSHIP AND REMOVAL OF CERTAIN MARKERS!

    Public Comment Period Closes: October 1, 2014

    In recent years, the USCG has allowed the markers to fall into disrepair to the point where many regular visitors now avoid the channel due to the potential for submerged piles below the waterline increasing the potential for collisions.

    Now that the markers have degraded to such a state, that the USCG, the agency responsible for their decline is now attempting to discontinue service that has played a vital safety roll for all on water activities in the backcountry.

    Those that are beginners fishing the backcountry, those that are enjoying the houseboats on an infrequent basis and those that canoe the Wilderness Waterway from Chokoloskee to Flamingo

    depend on these markers to assist with confirmation of their location in this vast part of the Park.

    This is a boater and paddle craft safety issue

    Please send comments to the email address above in support of the USCG continuing to maintain the markers from Coot Bay to the entrance of Little Shark River.

    For more information please contact Trip Aukeman CCA Director of Advocacy at taukeman@ccaflorida.org

    Two Stop Sugar Hill / Buy the Land Press Conferences on October 1 ‏

    Stop Sugar Hill/Buy the Land Press Conferences Wednesday, October 1 5-5:30 pm at both locations: In Ft. Myers: FDEP South District Office, 2295 Victoria Avenue, Ft. Myers, FL 33902 In Ft. Pierce: FDEP

    Stop Sugar Hill/Buy the Land Press Conferences

    Wednesday, October 1

    5-5:30 pm at both locations:

    In Ft. Myers: FDEP South District Office, 2295 Victoria Avenue, Ft. Myers, FL 33902

    In Ft. Pierce: FDEP Branch Office, 337 N. U.S. Hwy 1, Ft. Pierce, FL 34952

    Next week is the deadline for FDEP and SFWMD comments to the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) on the Sugar Hill Sector Plan

    - the DEO process is such that denial is impossible without negative comments from the agencies.

    Despite what you may have seen/heard from Hendry County, all of the U.S. Sugar property in the Sugar Hill Sector Plan is included in the contract to buy

    U.S. Sugar land for Everglades restoration and the protection of the estuaries. 

    Some of that property is for restoration projects and the rest of it is for swapping to get the non-U.S. Sugar lands in the EAA needed to send clean water south. 

    Join us to deliver a loud, clear message to FDEP, SFWMD and the Governor:


    *Stop the Harm

    *Buy the Land

              *Send Water South

    *Fund it Now

                    *Save the Everglades

    Please contact me for more information and to let us know if your organization would like to speak at the press conference.

    Cris Costello|Regional Organizing Representative|Sierra Club

    Cell:  941-914-0421

    Office: 941-966-9508

    cris.costello@sierraclub.org

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    Join our film screening of “Gasland”! ‏

    The Global Frackdown is a massive day of international protests against fracking. It’s a day for us to come together

    — to unify as Floridians and as members of our global community

    — to demand an end to the dirty and dangerous practice of fracking.

                Join the Global Frackdown in Pembroke Pines!

    What: FREE “Gasland” screening

                    When: Wednesday, October 8 at 5:30 p.m.

                               Where: South Regional/ Broward College Library,

    7300 Pines Blvd., Pembroke Pines, FL 33024

    On Wednesday, October 8, Food & Water Watch, along with South Florida Audubon Society and the Broward Chapter of the Sierra Club, will be hosting a FREE film screening of “Gasland.”

    Come learn more about fracking and how you can get involved!

    About the Film:

    The largest domestic natural gas drilling boom in history has swept across the United States.

    The Halliburton-developed drilling technology of “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing has unlocked a “Saudi Arabia of natural gas” just beneath us.

    But is fracking safe? When filmmaker Josh Fox is asked to lease his land for drilling, he embarks on a cross-country odyssey uncovering a trail of secrets, lies and contamination.

    A recently drilled nearby Pennsylvania town reports that residents are able to light their drinking water on fire.

    This is just one of the many absurd and astonishing revelations of a new country called GASLAND.

    We need you with us so we can stand together to send a clear message to our elected officials:

    we demand a future powered by clean, renewable energy, not one that depends on dirty, polluting fossil fuels.

    Our movement continues to grow, and on October 8 we’ll stand together and say no to fracking!
    Sign up here and let us know you’ll stand with us against fracking on October 8!

    I hope to see you there!
    Vickie Machado|Florida Organizer|Food & Water Watch
    vmachado@fwwatch.org

    Audubon Florida Conference Call

    You are cordially invited to take part in a special conference call to hear the latest news on Audubon’s new science on birds and global warming.

    What: Birds and Global Warming: a Telephone Town Hall
    Where: on your phone
    When: Thursday, October 2nd, at 7:30 PM Eastern (60 Minutes)

    Sign up for this important and free phone briefing.

      Summer Edition of Audubon Florida Naturalist Magazine Now Available Download your (free!) copy

    LauderScape- Critical Meeting with Monique Damiano, Gene Dempsey, etal

    When: 
    Tuesday, October 14, 2014, 3:00PM to 7:00PM

    Where: 
    100 N Andrews Ave, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301

    Research on the Florida Scrub-Jay:

    What have we learned in 40 years and what more is there to learn?

    Dr. Reed Bowman , a world renowned Avian Researcher,  Author, and an avid photographer,  will present an informative program ” Research on the Florida Scrub-Jay:

    What have we learned in 40 years and what more is there to learn?” on  Monday October 13   at 7 p. m. at the Cooperative Extension, Dallas Townsend Building 1085 Pratt Blvd. in LaBelle.

    For information  about this free program hosted by Hendry-Glades Audubon Society contact Butch Wilson 863- 983-2870 or Margaret England  (863) 674-0695 sta5birding@embarqmail.com

    Dr. Reed Bowman is an Associate Research Biologist and head of the Avian Ecology lab at Archbold Biological Station.

    He holds graduate degrees in wildlife and biology from McGill University and the University of South Florida.

    Over the last 25 years he has studied the ecology, demography, and conservation of several threatened and endangered birds, including the White-crowned Pigeon, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and for the last 20 years, the Florida Scrub-Jay.

    In addition to his work in avian ecology, one of his primary interests is the many affects, both locally and worldwide, of increasing urbanization on birds.

    He is the author of more than 60 scientific papers and book chapters and the editor of two books, including the recently published and acclaimed “Avian Ecology and Conservation in an Urbanizing World”.

    He is a Fellow of the American Ornithologists’ Union and a past President of the Florida Ornithological Society.

    He also was Chairman of the FOS’ Bird Records Committee that evaluates new additions to the avifauna of the state. He is a member of the Florida Scrub-Jay Recovery Team and helped develop the soon-to-be released Recovery Plan for this species.

    He is an adjunct graduate faculty member at University of South Florida, University of Central Florida, and University of Memphis and has been the major advisor of two Ph.D. students and six Masters students.      

    Reed also is an avid photographer, attempting to capture the spirit of the landscapes and organisms of our wildlands and to use his imagery to further conservation of these special places.

    Pythons in Paradise

    Please join us for another special edition of the “Evenings at the Conservancy” environmental lecture series.

    Our upcoming presentation is a joint presentation with our long-time neighbors, the Naples Zoo.

    Before the main presentation, guests have the chance (if you would like) to meet an ambassador snake from the Zoo and hear about the Zoo’s upcoming plans for a new python exhibit.

    Main event: Conservancy wildlife biologist Ian Bartoszek will present updated information on the collaborative Burmese python research project in Southwest Florida.

    After the presentation, Bartoszek, the Zoo’s Director of Animal Programs Liz Harmon and Zoo Animal Care Supervisor of Ectotherms Zach Marchetti will be available for question and answers.

    Seating is limited; RSVP is required.

    WHEN:
    Tuesday, October 7, 2014 | Presentation begins at 6:30

    WHERE:
    Conservancy of Southwest Florida |
    1495 Smith Preserve Way Naples, FL

    COST:
    Conservancy Members: Free | Non-Members: $10

    RSVP:
    Please call 239-403-4228 or email
    kelseyh@conservancy.org

    Light refreshments will be available.

    Join with Tropical Audubon Society in Bird Walks

    Sun., October 19

    Big George & Little George Hammock

    Tiffany Melvin of Miami-Dade County’s Environmentally Endangered Lands Program will lead birders on a walk through this county property in southwest Miami-Dade, normally closed to the public.

    This walk is limited to 15 participants and reservations are required.

    No fee. Email Brian Rapoza for details, including meeting place and time. 

    Sat., October 25

    Everglades Nat’l Park — Beginning Birding
    Brian Rapoza will lead this carpool trip. Birders of all abilities are welcome.

    Meet at 7:30am in the parking lot of the Coe Visitor Center at Everglades National Park. There is an entrance fee to the park. Bring lunch. 

    Save the date for 25th annual “Ding” Darling Days

    Mark your calendars for this year’s “Ding” Darling Days birding and eco-festival at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida, the week of Oct. 19-25, 2014.

    Family Fun Day kicks off the week with free activities on Sunday, Oct. 19. It features all-free refuge tours, live wildlife presentations, archery clinics, hot dogs, a touch tank and butterfly house, and kids’ nature crafts.

    Muppeteer Jim Henson’s daughter, Heather Henson, with Ibex Puppetry, will return with performances featuring life-size endangered animal puppets.

    Conservation Art Day winds up the celebration on Saturday, Oct. 25, with visits from Federal Duck Stamp and Junior Duck Stamp winners and nature art workshops.

    Free and discounted birding, biking, kayaking, paddleboarding, sea life boating, and interpretive presentations will fill the week between the two events.

    The 25th annual “Ding” Darling Days celebrates the birthday of the refuge’s namesake, father of the Federal Duck Stamp program and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Jay N. “Ding” Darling.

    The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS), and Tarpon Bay Explorers cosponsor “Ding” Darling Days with generous support from the local community and businesses.

    Visit http://www.dingdarlingdays.com for updates on events, information on sponsoring “Ding” Days, or to sign up for e-mail update bulletins.

    Contact Wendy Schnapp at 239-470-1877 or EcoErler@aol.com to become a sponsor.

    Florida Native Plant Society Annual Conference

    The Florida Native Plant Society Annual Conference will be held in Tallahassee, Florida, May 28-31, 2015.

    The Research Track of the Conference will include presented papers and a poster session on Friday May 29 and Saturday May 30.

    Researchers are invited to submit abstracts.

    http://www.fnps.org/

    LauderScape ‏

    When: 
    Tuesday, October 14, 2014, 4:30PM to 7:00PM

    Where: 
    100 N Andrews Ave, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301

    Of Interest to All

    Deep Dredge Critics File Emergency Demand to Stop “Destruction of Endangered Species”

    The deep dredge could be in very deep trouble. Miami’s most controversial public works project has been under the microscope in recent months as environmentalists have complained the dredge is killing precious coral colonies.

    This morning, however, those same environmentalists are filing a request for an emergency injunction that could bring the $200 million dredge to a grinding halt.

    “The damage is continuing 24/7 since they’ve been dredging 24/7,” said Rachel Silverstein, executive director of Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper. “We can’t afford to wait any longer.”

    The request for an injunction has been a long time coming.

    Three years ago, Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper and other activists filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the government agency overseeing the project. The environmentalists argued that not enough was being done to protect Biscayne Bay wildlife from years of dredging and underwater dynamiting.

    The dredge went ahead anyway, but environmentalists were able to obtain more money for mitigation and greater monitoring.

    In July, the environmentalists filed a formal notice of their intent to sue the corps and its contractor once again, arguing that the corps hadn’t lived up to its promises.

    The activists provided New Times with evidence that silt from the Deep Dredge had spread across Biscayne Bay, burying coral under a deadly layer of dirt, sand, and bacteria.

    Much of that damage has since been confirmed by both the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    Now the environmentalists are following through on their threat to sue. Yesterday, Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, Miami-Dade Reef Guard Association, Tropical Audubon Society, and retired boat captain Dan Kipnis jointly filed a formal lawsuit in federal court.

    The suit claims that the Army Corps of Engineers is violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing dredge sediment to smother endangered as many as 250 species of endangered coral.

    The activists are also filing a request for an emergency injunction this morning. The request will ensure the case is heard as soon as possible to prevent further environmental damage, says Silverstein, noting that dredge ships recently moved into Biscayne Bay.

    Silverstein says she and her fellow activists gave the corps time to clean up its act, but they haven’t seen any signs that their concerns are being taken seriously.

    “Since we filed [an intent to sue in July], all that’s happened is we’ve got more and more evidence – even from government groups themselves– about how bad the destruction has been,” she said. “We have no option now but to demand that the Army corps stop dredging until it can fix its ways.”

    Sue Jackson, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, said she couldn’t speculate about what might happen in court. However, she said the corps was doing its best to balance its duty to carry out the project with environmental concerns.

    “Some environmental impact is unavoidable, but there has to be balance if we’re to grow as a nation and remain vital in the global marketplace,” Jackson said in an email to New Times. “This is a complex challenge, economically and environmentally. With nearly a century-long history, Miami Harbor’s Government Cut was federally constructed specifically to create a transportation hub (ship-to-rail/road) for importing and exporting goods, which supported local and regional economies and national economic goals. If you research the port’s history, you’ll see that it has always been Miami’s economic engine. The environment is also important to us, and we continue our mitigation efforts.”

    Jackson said that delays in dredging “would have consequences,” and that it costs between $50,000 and $100,000 per day to keep dredge ships on the water.

    Silverstein countered, however, that the environmentalist groups’ intent is not to kill the dredge or cost taxpayers any more money.

    “Our goal is not to just stop this project and have it not completed,” she said. “Our goal is really to stop the damage and make sure that federal and local laws are being followed.”

    The lawsuit and emergency injunction request are just the latest salvos in what is shaping up to be a nationwide battle over dredging. Roughly a dozen different ports are hoping to complete similar projects in order to lure the huge “post-Panamax” freight ships that will soon stream through a deepened Panama Canal.

    “Our suit is bigger than what is going on in Miami,” Silverstein said. “These projects are being planned up and down the east coast, particularly at Port Everglades. We are using Miami as an example of the damage that can be done when proper care isn’t taken.”

    “What’s at risk is losing some critical natural resource environments that are very unique to Florida,” Silverstein added. “They keep our coastlines safe from storm surges and help with flooding.”

    A hearing could be held within days. A federal judge will decide whether to impose an injunction — bringing the dredge to an abrupt and perhaps costly halt — or let the project proceed.

    “We have mounting eye-witness account and various government agency reports that highlight that the damage going on is even worse than what we predicted,” Silverstein said. “It’s going to be hard for a judge to ignore.”

    Michael E. Miller|Oct. 2 2014

    PEER: Florida is Collecting Fewer Pollution Fines Than Ever Before

    As he stomps his way around the state hoping to keep his job, Governor Rick Scott has been pushing his “Keep Florida Beautiful” campaign, a likely too-little-too-late bid to appear like a friend to the earth. As we’ve written before, nothing is further from the truth, with the Scott administration putting up the worst numbers in terms of corrective actions for polluters in some time. Now the same environmental watchdogs have released a new report examining the amount of pollution fines the state collected in 2013. It’s not good.

    According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the amount of money the state collected in fines last year dropped by more than half from previous year — capping off a plummet that started the year Scott took office.

    The group’s report, released yesterday, states the Department of Environmental Protection collected around $688,000 in 2013. The year before, the department collected $1.6 million in fines in 2012. That’s a 57 percent drop.

    This is all part of a pattern. In 2010, the year before Scott took office, DEP collected a high $7 million from polluters. Each year since the department has taken in less and less money, with large drops between each year: $3 million in 2011; $1.5 million in 2012; and now $688,000 in 2013. The latest amount collected is just 10 percent o