ConsRep 1501 E

The packaging for a microwavable “microwave” dinner is programmed for a shelf life of maybe six months, a cook time of two minutes and a landfill dead-time of centuries. ~David Wann

Announcements

Birds of a Feather Fest

February 6th to 8th 2015

With more than 125 miles of hiking, biking and walking trails, miles of coastline, varied habitats and more than 200 identified species,

Flagler County is a birder’s paradise. Few places offer as many wonderful opportunities to enjoy nature while being so connected,

accessible and clean. With a focus on families, beginners and experts alike, this festival will offer something for everyone.

We’re proud to have Greg Miller joining us for our inaugural year, along with a host of other great speakers and presenters.

You won’t want to miss out on this family friendly event!

CLICK HERE to register for this exciting event

Chipola Feather Fest – April 24th to 26th 2015 ‏

Register for this exciting new festival in April…Florida Panhandle Birding & Wildlife Viewing at its very best.

We have field trips, workshops, social events, vendors, live music, and great food!

Register for one or more of our scheduled field trips to see Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Bachman’s Sparrows,

Bald Eagles, Swainson’s Warblers, Indigo Buntings, Purple Gallinules, Acadian Flycatchers, Yellow-breasted Chats,

Red-headed Woodpeckers, Hooded Warblers, Mississippi Kites and much, much more.

Emmy award winning filmographer Elam Stoltzfus will be delivering a fascinating keynote at the historic Russ House in Marianna.

REGISTER EARLY while space is available.

CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS

Dear Burrowing Owl Guardians:

We’ll kick off owl season by refurbishing the five owl burrows at

Forest Lake Park on Sunday, February 22nd at 9:00 am.

One of the owl’s nesting chambers was collapsed by the mowers and the rest grew over in sod.

So the owls abandoned them and dug new burrows along the sidewalk at the edge of the park.

These burrows are close to the road and are on low ground, flooding easily.

We will be clearing sod, adding artificial burrows with nesting chambers and adding sand.
Our goal is to passively attract the owls back to their original safer locations.

 Anyone wishing to help us is welcome.

Location:      FOREST LAKE PARK

5700 SW 113th Avenue, 33330

Cooper City, FL 33330

Bring:  garden gloves and tools, water and snacks, sunscreen, your cameras and binoculars and come join us. 

Bring a lunch if you would like to hang out with us in the park after the work is done.

Questions can be directed toprojectperch@southfloridaaudubon.org.

ABOUT BURROWING OWLS IN SOUTH FLORIDA AND PROJECT PERCH

Southeast Florida is heavily populated and very developed.

Burrowing owls need wide open spaces with native groundcovers.

Habitat loss is the main reason they are threatened.

In a developed landscape, more than 80% of natural burrows flood due to our

low elevation or collapse under the weight of commercial mowers.

Safe burrows save owls. Many of the large green spaces left are at schools where 40% of our owls live.

We work with students to build artificial burrows with safe nesting chambers and add protective fencing around natural burrows.

We also install educational signs and help create outdoor classrooms that teach students environmental stewardship in hopes that they will protect the owls in the future.

As students learn to appreciate and protect their owls they become Owl Guardians.

Kelly Heffernan|Director|Project Perch|January 25, 2015
projectperch@southfloridaaudubon.org

Audubon of the Western Everglades Feathers & Friends Gala

featuring keynote speaker Mac Stone, author and photographer

When: Thursday, February 12
Where: Naples Beach Hotel
Time: 6:00 pm

Please purchase tickets by clicking HERE.

Join Clyde & Niki Butcher

www.clydebutchersbigcypressgallery.com

February 14-15, 2015
Annual Open House

The event is free and open to the public and provides an opportunity to learn more about this remarkable man’s art and the Big Cypress National Preserve. 

Clyde will be on hand to autograph books, calendars and photographs and will be showcasing all his new photographs in one gallery room.

Our knowledgeable (and passionate) guides will be giving swamp walk tours both days.

Classic Swamp Tour – 90 minutes

$50 per person, $35 per child reservations

Introductory Swamp Tour – 45 minutes

$35 per person, $25 per child reservations

Master Gardener Training Program Now Accepting Applications

The UF-IFAS/Broward County Master Gardener Training Program is now accepting applications.    

The principle purpose of this program is to train volunteers who will educate the public on how to solve their landscape, water, plant nutrition and pest problems.

Subjects covered by the Master Gardener training course include: environmental horticulture, botany, ecology, urban forestry, pollination biology, soil science,

landscape ecology, natural resource management, urban forestry, arboretum or botanical garden management, particularly with reference to Florida-Friendly Landscaping (FFL) and Integrated Pest Management.

The course is taught by Extension Agent Dr. John Pipoly, with assistance from Horticulture Technician Julio Perez.

Guest lecturers include Dr. Michael Orfanedes, Commercial Horticulture Extension Agent, 4 lecturers from the University of Florida, Fort Lauderdale and Tropical Research and Education Centers in Davie and Homestead.

There will also be a special guest lecture by Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, Medical Director of the Greater Miami Poison Information Center of the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami.

The course will meet every Thursday from March 5th to June 18th, from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, totaling over 130 contact hours of lectures, labs and field trips.

The course syllabus and locations of field trips may be found at: http://www.broward.org/Parks/Extension/UrbanHorticulture/Documents/MasterGardenerSyllabus2015.pdf

The application process is carried out by reading about the program at the University of Florida Florida Master Gardener website

 http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/mastergardener/ followed by reading about the Broward County Master Gardener Training Program

http://www.broward.org/Parks/Extension/UrbanHorticulture/Pages/MasterGardenerProgram.aspx

Application forms may be downloaded and filled out from here http://www.broward.org/Parks/Extension/UrbanHorticulture/Documents/MasterGardenerInterviewForms.pdf

An interview will be required. Interviews will be conducted at TY, Central Broward Regional, C. B. Smith, Plantation Heritage and Tradewinds Parks, Hillsboro Pineland and the Yellow and Green Market.

Directions to sign up for an interview are posted at: http://www.broward.org/Parks/Extension/UrbanHorticulture/Pages/MasterGardenerInterviewSchedule.aspx .

We would like to finish with all interviews by February 9th. Space is limited, so please hurry today! 

For further information or questions, please contact either Dr. Pipoly jpipooly@broward.org or Julio Perez, julperez@broward.org

Course registration is $275, and the good faith deposit is $200, refundable if the first year’s 75 volunteer hours are completed.

Join us in helping our communities… 18 community gardens, a veterans’ garden, 18 school gardens, countywide environmental events, exciting field trips, monthly meetings with interesting speakers and fantastic camaraderie… don’t miss it!

The Evenings at the Conservancy Speaker Series continues

The Evenings at the Conservancy Speaker Series continues with a presentation about black bears from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist Kathleen Smith. 

In the last 10 years, the populations of both humans and black bears have grown in Florida, leading to an increased amount of interactions between the two.

While the success of a rebounding bear population is to be celebrated, it brings with it management challenges.

Humans and bears have hundreds of interactions every day in Florida.

These interactions may take place in a subdivision or on a hiking trail and some of these encounters result in a conflict situation.

Smith’s talk will describe the most common conflicts and potential long term solutions to reduce them.

Kathleen Smith has worked with FWC for more than 7 years.

Currently, she’s the wildlife biologist working within the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed – CREW – Management Area and

she also responds to nuisance bear complaints and conducts black bear relocations.

The presentation will be on Tuesday, February 3 in the Jeannie Meg Smith Theater,

located inside Eaton Conservation Hall, from 6:30-7:30 PM with an opportunity for questions and answers.

The event is open to the public and all Conservancy members are encouraged to attend.

We will also be serving free wine, beer and food throughout the evening.

To attend, please pre-register for the event by emailing Kelsey Hudson at kelseyh@conservancy.org or by calling 239.403.4228.

The Evenings at the Conservancy lecture series is sponsored by Arthrex and Vi at Bentley Village.

Members: FREE
General Admission: $10

Save the date

2015/02/21

SFAS Presentation at Southwest Regional Library

Conservation in South Florida: Eagle Watch Program, Project Perch (Owls) and Sea Turtle Program

Saturday, February 21, 2015
1:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Southwest Regional Library Auditorium 111
Contact:  Nancy Boyle
954-432-2664.
South Florida Audubon Society

Bookmark the permalink.

« 2015/03/07 SFAS Shark Valley Visit

2015/02/07 FREE Event: Wetlands Tour / Bird Walk at the Boardwalk next to Southwest Regional Library

Take Sixx inaugurates Conservation Concert Season 2015 

 Tropical Audubon Society in South Miami Sat., Jan 31, from 7-10 p.m.

Marking its Quinquennial anniversary, our highly anticipated annual Conservation Concert Series

showcases top South Florida bands and solo performers.

Back by popular demand, Take Sixx has again volunteered to rock the old Doc Thomas House and Steinberg Nature Center grounds.

A donation BirdBar, courtesy of Republic National Distributing Co. &

Miami Brewing Company, provides liquid refreshment and the Latin Burger & Taco food truck sates appetites.

Additionally, neighboring TAS community partner restaurants (George’s, Sports Grill SoMi and Whisk Gourmet) offer takeout.

Gates open at 7 p.m., music starts at 7:30 p.m.

Picnic Tables available on a first-come basis.

Admission: $10 donation, children free.

Parking: Limited parking is available on the TAS grounds via the 55th Avenue gate. Limited free parking along 56th Avenue.

Metered parking available on Sunset Drive; various garage and valet parking options within 1-3 blocks; South Miami Metro-Rail Station approx. 5 blocks.

Of Interest to All

How Palm Oil, Fruit Bats and Deforestation Could Be Linked to Ebola Epidemic

A report released by the World Health Organization this month helps validate the hypothesis that deforestation helped spread the virus.

There is no question that the tragic and deadly spread of Ebola in West Africa is tied to the longstanding poverty in the region, and exacerbated by a woefully inadequate medical response by the international health community.

Less obvious are the links between the rampant deforestation in the region, rapid agricultural development and the killer outbreak.

And while it would be imprudent and irresponsible to place the blame for the Ebola pandemic in any particular plantation in West Africa, there is a very interesting line of scientific inquiry underway that is finding that in general such plantations—including of palm oil—could play a significant role.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of United Nations and other institutions recently hypothesized that severe changes in the forest ecosystems disrupted an equilibrium that has been keeping the virus at bay in the wild.

In their commentary Did Ebola emerge in West Africa by a policy-driven phase change in agroecology? the authors review peer-reviewed studies showing that Ebola has been circulating in the region for years—and that this was not a “spontaneous outbreak,” as often reported. Rather, the authors suggest a new hypothesis: that the destruction of virgin forests and planting of vast monocultures forced the virus to “spill over” from its wildlife sources into human hosts.

Though bushmeat consumption is commonly thought of as the point of transfer of the virus from animals to humans and could indeed be to blame for some Ebola outbreaks, the authors point out that other likely sources are living animals driven out of the forest by expanding agricultural production.

Palm oil plantations, for instance, make a great home for fruit bats or Pteropodidae. As the authors note, “Bats migrate to oil palm for food and shelter from the heat while the plantations’ wide trails permit easy movement between roosting and foraging sites.”

Several species of these fruit bats are documented “reservoirs” for Ebola, which could then be transmitted to plantation workers and locals in nearby villages.

The authors make the case that intact native ecosystems usually contain pathogens like Ebola, but that clear cutting vast areas of forest can make the pathogen spread out of control. They argue, “clear-cutting Forested Guinea may have lowered the ecosystemic ‘temperature’ below which Ebola can be ‘sterilized’ and controlled.”

What’s more, a report released by the World Health Organization this month helps validate the hypothesis that deforestation helped spread the virus. “Some evidence suggests that the resulting forest loss, estimated at more than 80%, brought potentially infected wild animals, and the bat species thought to be the virus’ natural reservoir, into closer contact with human settlements,” writes the WHO.

The first known infected victim—and 18-month old boy—had been seen playing in his backyard near a hollow tree infested with bats. Within three weeks, the boy and several of his family members had died of the infection.

This wouldn’t be the first time fruit bats could be linked to the spread of a virus. The Nipah virus in Bangladesh was spread by fruit bats urinating on the palm tree fruits that workers were cultivating.

A look at the land around the West African outbreaks fits well with this hypothesis. The first documented cases of infection in the current pandemic occurred in a small forest village just north of Guéckédou, in Southern Guinea near the borders of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Calling the area “ground zero” of the outbreak, researchers describe a “mosaic of local villages surrounded by dense vegetation interspersed with [oil palm] plantations.”

It’s also an ideal environment for fruit bats. And though oil-picking is a year round pursuit for local workers, the busiest time is the dry season—precisely when many Ebola outbreaks across Africa begin.

To be clear, this hypothesis was presented in a commentary section of an academic journal, so it is not a peer-reviewed piece of science. And another team more recently hypothesized the initial spillover took place when local children played with an insect-eating species of bat whose habitats are also being transformed by changes in regional agricultural production.

Whatever bat proves the source, the hypothesis that shifts in agricultural landscapes are promoting disease emergence should be taken seriously, especially as multinationals like Sime Darby and Olam continue to establish large-scale palm oil operations in Africa. The contention demands further research to inform land use planning decisions that minimize future risks of deadly diseases spreading out of control.

Kevin Grandia|January 20, 2015 

Governor Scott’s “Keep Florida Working” Budget Recommends Nearly $1.6 Billion to Protect and Preserve Florida’s Natural Resources

TALLAHASSEE – Governor Scott today recommended nearly $1.6 billion in funding dedicated to the protection and preservation of Florida’s natural and water resources. The Governor’s “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget includes funding dedicated to key environmental projects, such as $150 million for Everglades restoration, $50 million for springs protection and improvements, more than $150 million for the acquisition and management of conservation lands, and $50 million for water supply development projects.

Governor Scott said, “Florida has an abundance of natural resources that help create a foundation for our growing economy, whether it is driving our state’s tourism industry or providing a great quality of life that has attracted families to our state for generations. During my first term, we made historic investments in our springs and Everglades and I am proud to continue to make important investments in our environment this year. We will keep working to make sure we preserve our natural treasures so Florida can continue to be a top destination for families, visitors and businesses.”

The Governor’s proposed budget creates a dedicated source of revenue for Everglades restoration that will provide nearly $670 million over the next four years and more than $5 billion over the next 20 years. In addition, a dedicated source of funding will provide more than $220 million over the next four years and $1.7 billion over the next 20 years to ensure the continued protection of Florida’s springs. The budget also proposes a 10-year, $500 million program to ensure Florida’s water supply remains adequate to support a growing economy while still ensuring the environment is protected.

“Governor Scott’s proposed budget reflects his continued commitment to protecting the natural resources that greatly impact Florida’s economy and quality of life,” said Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Jon Steverson. “I look forward to working under his leadership to focus on completing projects that offer direct benefits to the natural resources and communities of Florida.”

“Governor Scott’s recommended budget recognizes the importance of restoring not only the Everglades, but Florida’s treasured springs and other vital water bodies,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida. “We applaud his continued commitment to the protection of Florida’s environment.”

The Governor is recommending the following proposals to help Florida’s environment:

$150 million for Everglades Restoration

In 2011, the Governor proposed his Everglades Restoration Strategies, which provides $32 million annually in state funding to improve water quality and move more water south, reestablishing a more natural flow through the Everglades. The “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget builds upon this recurring funding by providing $150 million in Fiscal Year 2015-2016 for projects vital to the protection of the Everglades and associated South Florida estuaries, including construction of the C-43 and C-44 reservoirs.

$150 million for Land Acquisition and Management

Governor Scott’s recommendation includes $150 million dedicated to land acquisition and management, so that the state can continue to conserve natural and historic resources, as well as effectively manage and protect lands already under state ownership for future generations to enjoy. This funding will focus in part on protecting land for the Florida panther.

The budget includes $100 million to support land acquisition through the Florida Forever program, $20 million to restore the Kissimmee River and $30 million for additional management dollars to ensure the land already owned by the state is properly cared for.

“We applaud Governor Scott for taking this critical step toward increasing land management funding. This increase will allow for enhanced prescribed fire and invasive plant management necessary to ensure the health of Florida’s conservation lands for iconic Florida species, such as panther and scrub jay and to enhance public recreation,” said Temperince Morgan, executive director of the Nature Conservancy in Florida.

$50 million for Springs Protection and Restoration

The “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget includes $50 million for springs restoration projects, building on the historic funding provided by the Governor’s administration over the past two years. In partnership with Florida’s water management districts, local governments and other stakeholders, the $40 million directed to springs protection over the past two years has leveraged more than $100 million in springs restoration and improvement projects throughout the state.

$100 million for Water Supply Development and Keys Wastewater Treatment

Governor Scott is working to ensure Florida’s natural resources, communities and growing economy all enjoy a sustainable supply of water. The “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget includes $50 million and will kick-off a 10-year, $500 million program to provide more than 250 million gallons of water a day to Floridians.

This also includes funding for regional alternative water supply development and for small, economically-challenged communities who need additional help to ensure the needs of their residents and natural resources are being met.

The Governor’s recommended budget includes $50 million for improving wastewater treatment in the Florida Keys, which will build upon the $100 million previously invested during the past four years. These improvements will protect water quality in the Keys, ultimately protecting South Florida’s reefs and waters.

“Florida has now surpassed New York as the third most populous state in the nation and as such, we need smart solutions to meet the needs of Florida’s families and small businesses,” said David Hart, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. “Governor Scott’s budget recommendations will continue to move Florida in the right direction. Ensuring our state has the necessary resources to stay competitive is vital to helping Florida’s economy grow.”

“Monroe County commends Governor Scott for his continued environmental commitment to the Florida Keys with his recommendation of $50 million in funding to help implement measures vital to the protection of our nearshore and National Marine Sanctuary waters, and in doing so, helping to preserve the Florida Keys as a unique environmental treasure and a valuable economic engine,” said Monroe County Mayor Danny Kolhage.

$25 Million for Beach Renourishment

The “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget also includes $25 million for projects to protect, preserve and restore Florida’s famous beaches and dune systems. Beach projects include:

  • $1,100,911 for Venice Beach Nourishment/ Sarasota County Shore Protection
  • $726,848 for Duval County Shore Protection Project
  • $10,520,990 for Walton County Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction Project
  • $100,000 for Ft. Pierce Shore Protection Project
  • $39,262 for Brevard County Shore Protection Project/ North & South Reaches
  • $496,486 for Broward County Shore
  • $60,000 for Blind Pass Ecozone Restoration in Lee County
  • $117,630 for South Amelia Island Beach Nourishment
  • $4,566,500 for Upham Beach Groin Replacement
  • $1,598,463 for Longboat Key Beach Nourishment (funds will be divided with inlet project)
  • $2,684,976 for Statewide Post-Construction Monitoring
  • $160,500 for Port Canaveral Inlet Management Plan (IMP) Implementation
  • $46,500 for Lake Worth IMP Implementation
  • $4,963,900 for Longboat Pass IMP Implementation (funds will be divided with beach restoration project)

$19 million for Florida State Parks Repairs, Renovations and Development

Florida is the only state that has been awarded three National Gold Medals for Excellence by the National Recreation and Park Association, and the funding recommended in the “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget will help this award-winning system continue to improve. Along with repairs and renovations, the budget also includes funding for ADA access improvements so all Floridians and visitors are able to enjoy the natural treasures of Florida’s 161 State Parks.

“This funding will help Florida State Parks continue to protect some of our state’s most beautiful natural and cultural resources for millions of visitors to enjoy each year,” said Don Philpott, president of Friends of Florida State Parks.

For more information on Governor Scott’s “Keep Florida Working” budget, please visit http://www.keepfloridaworking.com/.

nataliarodriguez2015|Jan.28.2015

Overpopulation: The environmental movement’s third rail

In 2014, our planet added approximately 80 million new Earthlings. That equates to the population of California, New York and Florida added to a world with depleting natural resources, unprecedented water scarcity and citizens with a “throwaway” mentality. As scientists predict that Earth’s population will only continue to grow, our fate will be determined by strides toward sustainable life now and in the future.

Population growth is an issue that transcends age, race, religion and borders. It touches on every environmental issue facing our planet — clean water, energy usage, public lands and wilderness use, endangered species, raw materials and food. And yet, it is the one issue that most major environmental organizations are not mentioning, let alone addressing. Humankind needs to become more educated on this topic. It’s vital to the survival of our species.

Take a second to think about the following statistics:

* 1 billion people are added to the planet every 12 years.
* Today, nearly
1 billion people do not have access to food and safe drinking water.
*
2.2 million acres of forest and ranch land are destroyed every year in the U.S, due to sprawl.
*
Deforestation limits our planet’s ability to control temperature.
* Every human generates 4.3 lbs. of waste per day.

One can easily grasp from these numbers that a growing population in a habitat with diminishing resources is not only detrimental, but is deadly.

Consider water. We rely on water for sanitation, sustenance and agriculture. What’s mind-boggling is that only 2.5 percent of the Earth’s water is fresh, and we only have access to one percent of it! What’s more, UN research suggests that water usage is growing at twice the rate of the population and that by 2025, approximately 23 percent of the population will live in an area affected by water scarcity. Our growing population is and will further strain our diminishing freshwater, and has already been the cause of domestic unrest in the U.S. (for example, “The American Nile“).

Another serious issue is waste. We often treat Mother Earth as a perpetual trash can. Too often the “use and throw away” mentality trumps all. The public is bombarded with products that are not designed for reuse. The trash often provides the graveyard for modern consumerism.

According to a robust breakdown by the EPA, in 2012 the U.S. incurred the highest levels of municipal solid waste generation so far in the 21st century (with 2012 being the second highest ever on record). A chilling, yet opportunistic, finding in the report is that Americans’ largest component of discarded waste is organic and recyclable. This means that Americans are putting too much paper, paperboard and compostable materials in landfills rather than recycling and reusing.

The silver lining is that Americans have an opportunity to better our practices by educating communities on recycling and composting programs, and providing accessible and affordable options. Convenience play a major factor in the adoption of recycling. However, compared to our European counterparts, we have a long way to go. Population growth requires us to abandon the traditional “use and discard” method.

Another pressure of population growth has been the impacts to our public lands and wild areas. Millions of acres of previously undeveloped lands are sacrificed each year in the U.S. to support urban growth, energy development and other private interests. Public lands, which support diverse ecosystems and exploratory outlets for those channeling their inner John Muir, are diminishing. Visits in 2014 to our National Treasures are up 20 million visitors over 2013. Conflicts between disparate users of public lands are becoming higher profile. Ranchers and gun owners protesting curtailment of public use, off-road vehicle enthusiasts and hikers coming into conflict, and the growth invasive species (often transported by human visitors and their machines) all threaten our public lands.

In addition, our forests are also shrinking. Saving America’s forests is rooted in protecting our wild, undeveloped areas. The Natural Resources Defense Council cites how U.S. energy companies in the Southeast are putting a tremendous strain on the local forests to produce energy for their fossil fuel burning plants. The U.S. also utilizes domestic forests for international profit agendas, and the Southeast has become the largest exporter of wood pellets in the world.

Urban growth also puts pressure on wild lands and has garnered serious attention from the Center for Biological Diversity (Director of Population and Sustainability Stephanie Feldstein’s blog), NYU (Urbanization Project), and the World Urban Forum. All three agree that population growth is a humanitarian issue, which requires careful attention and planning from urban and rural centers now.

Finally, there is the hard truth about birth rates. While falling world-wide, we are still replacing each human on the planet with two, four, and in some places, upward of eight children per adult! Though some economists believe world economic growth might be negatively impacted by a reduction of birthrates, our planet cannot sustain our current use of resources. Each year, we use the equivalent of 1.5 Earths. If current population growth and use statistics continue on the path we’re on, it is projected that we will be using two Earths of resources every year by the 2030s.

Meanwhile in the U.S., 397,122 children are living without permanent families in the foster care system. A total of 101,666 of these children are eligible for adoption. Around the world, an estimated 153 million orphans have lost one parent, and there are 17,900,000 orphans who have lost both parents and are living in orphanages or on the streets – and lack the care and attention required for healthy development. These children are at risk for disease, malnutrition and death. In other words, there are many children worldwide needing homes, but yet we as Americans compound our sustainability and environmental problem by having children at a rate that dwarfs the adoption rate by over 500 times.

Many small organizations, including my own, are scrupulously working toward protecting our growing population. While I believe that contributions from smaller organizations help enact change, it is also imperative that larger organizations with more robust resources get involved. Mobilization and activation are critical if we are going to make any real preparations to host our fast-growing family on Earth.

Huffington Post|Marc Ross|Founder and executive director|Rock the Earth|January 27, 2015

at 11:13 AM PST

Pipeline explodes in West Virginia

Another day, another gas pipeline bursts—this time in West Virginia, about an hour away from Pittsburgh and near the Ohio River.

A number of residents have said they saw what appeared to be a large fireball burning in the sky.

Brooke County Sheriff Chuck Jackson said the explosion is near the former riding stables on Archer Hill Road in Colliers, WV. Jackson said no injuries have been reported and no structural damage has occurred, but several area roads have been closed because of burning gas.

It appears only one home was evacuated and the fire eventually burnt off. At least one home and one power line has been damaged. There were no injuries. The cause of the explosion is still unknown.

Authorities shut off power in the area of Arch Hill Road in Colliers, WV, with some residents receiving their power through a substation.

Follansbee Fire Chief Larry Rea said the weather helped the fire from becoming more of a problem.

Enterprise Products, L.P., said they are working with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to determine the cause of the explosion. The company said in a statement that they did notice a pressure drop earlier in the day prior to the explosion.

The gas line will not be in operation again until PHMSA gives their approval.

This is the fourth major pipeline incident that’s occurred this month. In Montana, a 50,000 gallon spill resulted in cancer-causing chemicals leaking into residents’ drinking water.

But move along, folks. Nothing to see here.

Video

Faith Gardner|Tue Jan 27, 2015

[And the Senate just approved Keystone XL. Good thinking folks.]

Calls to Action

  1. Don’t let air polluters get a free passhere
  2. Help defend the Coastal California Gnatcatcher – here
  3. Ban Fracking in Florida – here
  4. Urge President Obama to Veto the Keystone XL Pipeline – here
  5. Speak out for American Avocet chickshere
  6.  Tell Lowe’s to stop selling bee-killing pesticides – here

Birds and Butterflies

Oregon Is The Place To See Bald Eagles In January And February

If you’ve ever wanted to see a whole lot of Bald Eagles, January and February is the time and the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Complex is the place. The eagle show going on there this time of year can be spectacular.

The Klamath Basin National Wildlife Complex encompasses six national wildlife refuges along the California-Oregon border. These include Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, the nation’s first waterfowl refuge, and Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuge, roosting site of the majority of the Bald Eagles that overwinter here.

The refuges cover a vast area of marshes, ponds, woodlands, and farmland and offer winter protection and feeding grounds to a million or more ducks and geese. These waterfowl are the reason all the eagles come to Klamath.

Bald Eagles nest from Alaska to Florida. In Canada and most of the United States, winter temperatures bring ice and snow, and conditions can get pretty tough for birds, even huge raptors such as Bald Eagles. Every year, in late fall and early winter as weather conditions begin to deteriorate and food-finding becomes a serious issue, great numbers of northern-ranging Bald Eagles move southward.

Bald Eagles are adept hunters, especially of fish, but they are also scavengers. To them, food is food, and the kind that doesn’t move is a lot easier to deal with than the kind that does. Bald Eagles gather at wintering sites all across the United States where food is plentiful and easy to find. In many places they congregate at open-water stretches below river dams and locks, feeding on fish. At Klamath the eagles feed on the thousands of waterfowl that die during the winter from a variety of causes. Several thousand geese and ducks, including Canada Geese, Snow Geese, White-fronted Geese, Mallards, and Northern Pintails, succumb every winter. This is but a fraction of the waterfowl that winter at the refuge, but it is enough to support 500 or more Bald Eagles every year.

Winter eagle-watching at Klamath Basin is always successful. For the most spectacular show, get up early to see the eagles fly from their overnight roosting trees. Most of the eagles spend the night at Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which is closed to the public. However, if you position yourself along the road in Worden, Oregon, at sunrise and face west, the eagles will soar by right over your head. This is something you just cannot experience anywhere else.

If you are not an early riser, visit Lower Klamath or Tule Lake refuges from mid-morning to early afternoon. There are auto-tour routes at each site, and you should be able to find dozens of Bald Eagles perched and in flight. Remember that Bald Eagles are not born with their adult plumage (it takes several years to develop), so a great many of the birds you see will not have a pristine white head and tail. But they will still be majestic.

Bald Eagles populations have recovered throughout the US in the past few decades, so you don’t have to go to the Klamath Basin to see them..  Here in the mid-Atlantic, we often encounter large numbers of eagles along Virginia’s Rappahannock River and they’re even been sighted within the city limits of Washington DC.

eNature|January 16, 2015

Why Does The Cold Cause Blackbirds To Gather In Large Flocks?

The old saying, “Birds of a feather flock together,” is particularly true among blackbirds in winter.

Though many birds band together during winter, none are as notorious for their flocking behavior as blackbirds, including.red-winged blackbirds, European starlings, common grackles and brown-headed cowbirds.

This group of a feather often flock together in the many thousands, sometimes the millions. One winter roost in the Great Dismal Swamp on the Virginia-North Carolina border held an estimated 15 million birds.

Flocks in the thousands often roost in urban and suburban areas, where their numbers and their noise make them unpopular among the people living nearby.

Attempts by state and federal wildlife officials to discourage or destroy such flocks of wintering blackbirds have usually failed.

One experiment, using a wetting agent sprayed on a huge flock of birds from an aircraft, left a much greater mess in the form of rotting carcasses.

Many wonder why birds in general and blackbirds in particular gather in flocks in winter. Though studies have been inconclusive, it’s generally believed that there is safety in numbers.

With many more eyes and ears to search for food and watch for predators, the chance of an individual bird surviving winter is increased.

There are reports of hawks attacking flocks of flying birds time and again, but failing to capture even one when the prey closed ranks to form a mass that the hawk was unwilling or unable to penetrate without being injured.

eNature|January, 2015 

Rare pipits return following rat eradication on South Georgia

The world’s most southerly song bird, the South Georgia Pipit, is fighting back from extinction thanks to work carried out by an 18-strong international team to eradicate rats from its island home in Antarctica.

Just as the final phase of the world’s largest rodent eradication project was being undertaken by UK charity, the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT), news came that a nest of five South Georgia Pipit chicks had been found in an area previously overrun by rats.

The South Georgia Pipit is only found on South Georgia and its numbers had been decimated by the invasive rat populations on the island. Its survival as a species was under threat before the eradication work began.

The discovery of the pipit nest was made at Schlieper Bay near the western end of the island by a former member of the rat eradication team, Sally Poncet, an expert on South Georgia’s wildlife and this year a recipient of the Polar Medal in recognition of service to the United Kingdom in the field of polar research.

Poncet was a member of what has been nicknamed Team Rat during its Phase 1 operations. She discovered the nest while on a Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris expedition (in collaboration with the Government of South Georgia) to survey Wandering Albatrosses.

Alison Neil, Chief Executive of South Georgia Heritage Trust says, “The discovery of pipit chicks is thrilling news and shows the rapid beneficial effect of the Habitat Restoration Project on this threatened species.

“People had spotted pipits exhibiting breeding behaviour following the baiting work, but this is the first firm proof that they are nesting in areas from which they were previously excluded by rodents.

“Pipits cannot breed when rats are present, so this discovery is confirmation that birds are quickly responding to their absence.

“We are confident that when South Georgia is once again free of rodents, it will regain its former status as home to the greatest concentration of seabirds in the world.”

South Georgia is one of the world’s last great wilderness areas and amongst the wildlife on the island are 90 per cent of the world’s Antarctic fur seals and half the world’s elephant seals.

Four species of penguin nest on the island, including King Penguins with around 400,000 breeding pairs. The island’s birdlife includes albatross, skuas and petrels, as well as the endemic South Georgia Pipit, and the South Georgia Pintail.

However, although the wildlife is impressive, it is a shadow of the numbers Captain Cook encountered when he discovered and named South Georgia in 1775.

Rats and mice, arriving in the ships of sealers and whalers, have spread over much of the island, predating on the eggs and chicks of many of the native birds.

The aim of SGHT’s project is to eradicate these invasive rodents and allow millions of birds to reclaim their ancestral home.

A successful trial phase in 2011 was followed by a second phase conducted in 2013. The results have been signs of rodents having been eliminated rats from almost two-thirds of South Georgia.

Phase 3 began on 18 January. The challenge is to complete the baiting of the entire island during the brief sub-Antarctic summer months and this will be followed by two further years of monitoring by the South Georgia Heritage Trust and the South Georgia Government.

Assuming no signs of rodents have been discovered by 2017, South Georgia will be declared free of rodents for the first time since humans first came to the island.

Rare duck thrives in EU protected areas

The Smew, a duck that is a rare visitor to the UK in winter, is doing twice as well as two decades ago within areas protected by EU wildlife laws, reports the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust (WWT) and British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

Scientists studied data from wetlands throughout Europe and found that as a result of climate change nearly a third of these ducks now spend winter in north-eastern Europe, compared to just 6 per cent 20 years ago.

And in that region, numbers of Smew within Special Protection Areas designated by the EU Birds Directive have grown twice as fast as those on unprotected sites.

WWT’s Head of Species Monitoring, Richard Hearn, says: “The EU’s network of protected areas is obviously helping Smew adapt to climate change.

“Most Special Protection Areas were designated around 20 years ago using the data that we had then. Things have changed dramatically in the natural world since then and we need to respond to help ensure that Smew and other waterbirds remain well protected.”

The National Organizer of the BTO’s Wetland Bird Survey, Chas Holt says: “The UK data that contributed to this study were collected by the dedicated volunteers of the UK’s Wetland Bird Survey.

“The published results are an excellent example of how collaboration across a species’ range can generate outputs that are of direct relevance to conservation.”

In Latvia and Sweden, however, the protected area network supports fewer than one in five Smew and in Finland that proportion drops to just one in 50.

Hearn says: “In this newly occupied region there aren’t enough protected areas and that could constrict the population as they spread north.”

The authors emphasize that protected areas also need to be maintained at the southern end of the birds’ range, in western Europe, so that they have somewhere to retreat during particularly harsh winters, such as during December 2010.

In the UK, a small population typically of fewer than 200 Smew can be found in winter at favored gravel pits and reservoirs in lowland England. This UK population has approximately halved since the late 1990s.

These results are based on data from the International Waterbird Census, coordinated by Wetlands International, from 16 countries since 1990 and the findings were published in the scientific journal Diversity and Distributions.

NEW Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail Coordinator

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Office of Public Access and Wildlife Viewing Services is pleased to announce that Dr. Greg Schrott has joined our team as the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trial coordinator.

Greg grew up in northern Virginia and has been a lifelong nature lover and an extremely avid birder since he was 11 years old. He went on to study biology at Virginia Tech, where he landed his first job cataloging its collection of thousands of bird skins from all over the world, making sure that all the species had been properly identified. Greg went on to graduate school at UCLA, where he earned his doctorate in 2001. He did his field research in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, where he studied the avifauna of a naturally fragmented pine forest ecosystem to better understand how forest patch size and vegetation structure influenced the composition of the avian community.

After finishing graduate school, Greg took a post-doctoral position at Kansas State University, where he studied “electronic birds,” working on a project that used computer simulation models to study extinction risk in populations of migratory birds in landscapes experiencing different scenarios of habitat loss or restoration. After that, he spent two-and-a-half years as a visiting professor at Western State College of Colorado in Gunnison, which is likely the highest, coldest, and most remote college town in America. In 2007, he was hired by the Archbold Biological Station to be the manager of its long-term project monitoring and studying Florida Scrub-jays, Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, and Florida Grasshopper Sparrows on the Avon Park Air Force Range in Highlands and Polk counties. This position gave him a great introduction to the wildlife, ecosystems and conservation community of Florida. It also led to his serving as chairman of the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Working Group from 2008 – 2012, and a term on the board of directors of the Florida Ornithological Society from 2011 – 2014. He has spent a lot of his time exploring the wonders of Florida and its birding spots over the years, and is really looking forward to helping share these places with others as the GFBWT coordinator!

Coastal California Gnatcatcher in trouble

The latest attempt by some Southern California developers to have the Coastal California Gnatcatcher removed from protections under the Endangered Species Act is pretty outrageous – they claim the bird doesn’t even exist!

The delisting petition sponsored by these developers relies on a single recent study claiming that the Coastal California Gnatcatcher is not a genetically unique subspecies. But most avian experts say that the study isn’t nearly enough to overturn than a hundred years’ worth of research to the contrary.

Moreover, they point out that the new study cherry picks genetic data and downplays significant visible differences and this study has yet to be independently verified.

The fact that the Coastal California Gnatcatcher is a distinct subspecies worthy of protection was established in 1993 at the time of the original listing, and confirmed by an expert panel convened by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 2004 – and there’s nothing in this latest petition that casts doubt on that determination.

Now is not the time to abandon this delicate species. It continues to lose habitat to development, repetitive fires, and the spread of inhospitable non-native plants. Not only is the California Gnatcatcher a magnificent bird worthy of protection, it is also inextricably linked to the rich coastal sage scrub of southern California, an enduring remnant of our wild coast that is now the most endangered habitat type in North America.

Brigid McCormack|Executive Director|Audubon California

Birdwatchers contribute to research

Local birdwatchers watched fewer birds during the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

“It was a pretty low count,” Janet Fox, of Kimball Township, Michigan said. She is the Christmas Bird Count compiler for the Blue Water Audubon Society. “What was unusual about our count this year is we had slightly more than 14,000 individual birds, which is low for our count — usually we’re hitting 19,000 to 20,000 birds.

“We had the variety, but not the total number.”

The local count was Dec. 21 — about 22 people participated, according to Fox.

“We had 74 species this year,” she said. “It’s a pretty good count —it’s not our best count, but it’s definitely not our worse.

“We have ranged from 59 up to last year, which was a banner year, with 88. So, 74 is a good count.”

The Blue Water Audubon Society has been doing a Christmas Bird Count for 59 years.

“You certainly can get a lot of great information over time about increasing and decreasing populations of birds, shifting populations of birds,” Fox said.

The National Audubon Society has been doing a Christmas Bird Count for 115 years. Tens of thousands of people in the Western Hemisphere participate.

Fox said the most common bird in the Blue Water Audubon’s count was the European starling, “which is about par for the course. I think we had like 1,500 of them.”

The most unusual bird, for this area, was a yellow-rumped warbler, Fox said.

“They come in the spring,”she said. “I’m not sure what that guy was doing here.

“We also had a common loon, we don’t see those too often.”

Counters also noted an Iceland gull, she said.

“We usually have them here in the winter,” she said. “We usually have one or two around here in the winter. It’s not commonly seen. People will drive over here to see it.”

Counters also saw four bald eagles and five snowy owls, she said.

Watching birds and participating in the Christmas count gives people the chance to contribute to research, Fox said.

“We do it to monitor the bird populations and see how they’re changing, how habitat and climate change affects bird populations, and we also do it because we love it,” she said “It’s fun.”

“It feels good to contribute to something bigger.”

Bob Gross|Times Herald

Protect Avocet Chicks to Protect Wetlands ‏

More than half of Great Plains “prairie pothole” wetlands have been drained for agricultural development—destroying habitat where the graceful American Avocet raises its young.

Right now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is about to finalize new procedures that could end protections for crucial remaining wetlands that Avocet chicks and numerous other shorebirds depend on.

The prairie pothole region of the Great Plains is the most important waterfowl breeding area in North America, particularly for migratory birds like the Avocet. No one ever forgets their first sighting of this well-groomed black, white and tawny colored bird, with its long curving bill.

60% of the American Avocet population breeds in this important habitat area every spring. Flocks of the elegant avian can be seen feeding with the tips of their bills dipping into the water as they lean forward to skim food from just below the surface.
But if the shallow, prairie pothole wetlands found on agricultural lands are not protected, the American Avocet will be in jeopardy.

Federal law requires agricultural landowners to protect wetland habitats as a condition of receiving government subsidies. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing new and untested identification methods that could fail to identify tens of thousands of important wetlands, which would allow them to be plowed under at will.

The agency is shirking its responsibilities by proposing to identify wetlands without ever leaving their offices—relying heavily on aerial photos taken during the driest part of the year, when shallow wetlands, which play such a critical role in the spring for Avocets, have dried up.

Andy Buchsbaum|Interim Executive Director|NWF Action Fund|1/30/15

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

Favorable Weather Boosts Monarch Population — But Not Enough

Scientists’ recent annual winter count of monarch butterflies showed a slight rebound since last year’s lowest-ever count of 34 million. Sadly this year’s numbers — 56.5 million — still represent an 82 percent decline from the 20-year average. A much greater population increase had been hoped for, since spring and summer weather conditions were nearly perfect for breeding in both the United States and Canada. Monarch populations are sensitive to weather and can vary widely from year to year, so a much larger population is essential for resiliency: A single 2002 winter storm killed about 500 million monarchs (more than eight times the size of the current population).

Bottom line: Of course the population boost is good news, but this year’s count was still the second-lowest ever. That’s why it’s vital that the Obama administration grant our 2014 petition to protect monarchs under the Endangered Species Act.
“This much-loved butterfly still needs protection under the Act to ensure that it’s around for future generations,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Tierra Curry.

Read more in The Courier-Journal.

Nestwatch eNewsletter

  Invasive species

Northern African pythons targeted for removal

This winter, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and partners are continuing increased efforts to locate and remove invasive, nonnative Northern African pythons in south Florida to take advantage of the weather and the snake’s limited distribution.

“Unlike the Burmese python in Florida, the Northern African python population is thought to be confined to a small area in a single county,” said FWC biologist Jenny Ketterlin Eckles. “Focused efforts by the FWC and partners to locate and remove these invasive snakes could prevent the spread of this species into natural areas and inform management actions to address the Burmese python population.”

The FWC and its state and federal partners are also coordinating surveys to take advantage of weather conditions that increase the likelihood of finding snakes.

“Snakes often bask in open areas on sunny days during cool winter weather,” said Eckles.

The Northern African python (also called an African rock or rock python) has been documented living in the Bird Drive Recharge Area, which covers approximately 6 square miles in western Miami-Dade County. In Florida, the average size of these found pythons is 10 feet in length posing a threat to native wildlife. They can grow up to 20 feet in length in their native range. The species is a nonvenomous constrictor snake native to Africa.

Even though Northern African pythons have not been documented within Everglades National Park, park biologists are participating in an effort to help prevent these snakes from expanding their range onto park property. Additionally, participants will survey land parcels that have not yet been searched and increase canvassing and outreach to residents and landowners in the area.

The FWC’s partners are the South Florida Water Management District, National Park Service, Miami-Dade County, University of Florida, United States Geological Survey, Everglades Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The public can help too. How?

  • Immediately report any sightings of live Northern African pythons to the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Venom Unit: 786-331-4454. For your safety, do not attempt to handle the snake yourself and, if possible to do so safely, photograph the snake.
  • Report past sightings, road kill, shed skins and other remains of Northern African pythons to Ivegot1.org.
  • If you own land in the identified area where this species lives, allow wildlife managers to search for pythons on your property.
  • Deter pythons from your property by cutting back vegetation, clearing debris and securing small pets.

The first sighting of this species was documented in 2001. Surveillance and removal has been underway since 2009. The FWC listed the Northern and Southern African pythons as conditional species in 2010, with the result that an individual can no longer acquire these species in the state for personal use. In 2012, The USFWS listed the Northern African python as an injurious reptile species and federal law now prohibits its transport across state borders and importation into the country without a permit.

While Northern African pythons are very similar in appearance to Burmese pythons, the skin pattern on their backs is less defined. Additionally, the belly scales of a Northern African python are a pattern of black and white markings, while those of the Burmese python are white.

To learn more about the Northern African python, go to www.MyFWC.com/Nonnatives then select “Reptiles” and look under “Snakes.”

Learn more about the FWC’s efforts to manage and minimize the impacts of nonnative species on Florida’s fish, wildlife and marine life at MyFWC.com/Nonnatives.

Hunt fails to find pythons, and that’s good news

Northern African python may be losing grip on South Florida

Workers from federal, state and local agencies fanned out over a 6-square-mile area to catch the non-native Northern African Pythons.

Trudging through thigh-high grass Thursday morning near the Everglades, biologists Daryl Thomas and Delta Harris scanned the ground for Northern African pythons.

They didn’t see any of the giant snakes, which consume goats, wart hogs and antelopes in their native land, and neither did any of the other 15 or so environmental workers spread out across scrubby land north of Tamiami Trail. But that did not at all indicate the expedition was a failure.

We think they’re confined to a small area, so we are increasing our efforts in hopes that we can eradicate them.- Jenny Ketterlin Eckles, non-native wildlife biologist, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

The absence of snakes on this hunt and several recent ones may indicate the fight is being won against a non-native constrictor that first turned up in western Miami-Dade County in 2001, state officials said.

Since their discovery, 29 African pythons have been captured, three found dead and three spotted but not captured. The single one found last year had been killed by a lawn mower when a Florida Department of Transportation worker trimmed grass near a road. Officials say this could indicate they are achieving their goal of preventing the snake from conquering a large swath of South Florida, like its equally fearsome cousin, the Burmese python.

“Last year, we only found one, so we’re hopeful,” said Jenny Ketterlin Eckles, non-native wildlife biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “We don’t think they’re completely gone from the area. It’s going to take a lot of surveys finding none before we can say we’re successful.”

The python has established a breeding population across six square miles around Tamiami Trail east of Krome Avenue, an area called the Bird Drive Basin.

Thursday was thought to be a good day to catch snakes out in the open, since the cool weather would force them to seek warmth in the sunlight. Any pythons were to be double-bagged and taken to the University of Florida’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center in Davie, where they will be killed with a captive bolt gun.

Participating in Thursday’s hunt were workers from the South Florida Water Management District, National Park Service, Miami-Dade County, University of Florida, United States Geological Survey, Everglades Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Unlike the Burmese python, which has infested the Everglades, the Northern African snake has not spread over a vast wilderness, and that gave environmental officials reason to hope they could eradicate it.

“We think they’re confined to a small area, so we are increasing our efforts in hopes that we can eradicate them,” said Eckles.

No one knows how the North African python arrived in Miami-Dade County, although the assumption is that people had released unwanted pet pythons there, which went on to breed. The state has since banned the possession of North African pythons in most cases, and the federal government banned imports.

The snakes can reach a length of 20 feet. But the largest found in Florida so far has been 14 feet, and the average has been 10 feet.

The danger to people is slight. Like any wild animal, they will defend themselves, but Eckles said they were extremely unlikely to attack a human being unprovoked.

Incidents have been rare. A 10-year-old boy was killed and eaten by an African rock python in 2002 in South Africa. And in 1999 a pet African rock python in Centralia, Ill., slipped out of its enclosure and strangled a 3-year-old boy.

David Fleshler|Sun Sentinel|1/30/2015

If you see spot a Northern African python while in the area, keep your distance, take a picture if possible and report it to the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Venom Squad at 786-331-4454.

Endangered Species

How to Save the Bees With Seed Bombs

Seed bombs began as a fun and friendly tactic for greening abandoned lots in urban spaces. “Guerrilla gardeners” throw balls of seeds and fertilizer into fenced-off spaces that are otherwise neglected, such as brownfields or land in zoning limbo.

Now, a California company is using seed bombs as a strategy to fight the disappearance of bees. Ei Ei Khin and Chris Burley started Seedles with the aim of spreading bee-friendly wildflowers in neighborhoods around the country. Their goal is to grow one billion wildflowers with the help of colorful seed balls, a project they call “Grow the Rainbow.”

Bee populations have been dropping for about a decade. Scientists think there are a number of contributing factors to colony collapse, including the proliferation of certain pesticides, parasites and even stress. But a decline in natural habitat—along with the loss of bees’ preferred wildflowers—is also a big factor. That’s how Seedles hopes to help, by encouraging people to plant more flowers.

Seedles creates seed balls with wildflowers native to six different regions of the United States. For example, the Midwest mix may include wild perennial lupine, lemon mint and butterfly weed. The seeds are rolled up with organic compost to fertilize the seeds, and non-toxic color powders to add a bit of fun. The balls can be tossed anywhere you want flowers to grow, and with the help of some rain and sun will start to sprout.

For Khin and Burley, helping the bees is part of building a more sustainable food system, which is dependent on pollinators for many foods. Burley told Bay Area Bites that the company is partnering with like-minded local food companies, to give away seed balls and raise awareness about the connection between bees and food.

A pack of 20 seedballs sells for $13.00 on the Seedles website. Or if you’re feeling crafty, check out this DIY tutorial on Gardenista.

Margaret Badore|TreeHugger|January 22, 2015

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

The Tiger Population Is Dwindling Everywhere Except for This Country

While the tiger population is decreasing everywhere else in the world, there’s one country that is having great success with its tiger conservation efforts. According to the results from the latest tiger census, the tiger population is up by 30 percent in India, meaning it now has nearly one third more tigers than it did just four years ago.

The key to India’s success in increasing the tiger population is in its wildlife conservation efforts, which Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar describes as a “huge success story.” Measures taken by India’s government – including the Special Tiger Protection Force, the Special Program for Orphan Tiger cubs, control on poaching and initiatives to minimize Human-Animal conflict, to name a few — have been influential.

Not only did government initiatives play a huge role in the prominent tiger inflation, but the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) of India also took significant steps in preserving wildlife through science, conservation and education. The WCS uses field-based science to save wildlife and wild lands, conservation to preserve species and landscapes, and education to train scientists and wildlife professionals and to provide inspiration to the youth of India.

India has also collected impressive data on wildlife, documenting important aspects of tigers and their habitat. “Never before has such an exercise been taken on such a massive scale where we have unique photographs of 80% of India’s tigers,” Javadekar told journalists in Delhi about the country’s achievements.

India is home to 70 percent of the world’s tigers, plainly indicating that conservation for wild animals is working there. It is one of the only places in the world where the number of tiger individuals is actually rising.

In 2008, the tiger population in India was down to merely 1,411. Since then, the numbers have incredibly risen to a substantial 2,226 in 2014.

Mr. Javadekar suggests that the successful tiger conservation practices of India can be used elsewhere. Javadekar has even offered support to other conservationists. According to the environmental report, “India was willing to donate Tiger cubs to international community and play a key role in the global Tiger Conservation efforts. The Minister stated this while inaugurating the two day meeting of the Chief Wildlife Wardens of Tiger States and Field Directors of Tiger Reserves, here today.”

Due to poaching, logging and other environmental factors, the tiger species is one the most endangered species with many subspecies, like the South China and Sumatran tigers, included on the critically endangered list. The Amur, Bengal, Indochinese, and Malayan tiger are also listed as endangered, as well as the entire tiger species in general. This highlights the absolute need for effective wildlife conservation efforts and really conveys the importance of India’s work and success with preserving and growing the tiger population.

Catherine Gill|January 21, 2015

Apes Are Dying of Ebola: Do We Have Resources to Save Them Too?

While the whole world is aware of the many human fatalities from the Ebola epidemic in Western Africa, you may not realize that the disease has claimed hundreds of thousands of other victims in the area. Unfortunately, Ebola is simultaneously working its way through gorilla and chimpanzee populations with no sign of stopping. In the past 25 years, Ebola has wiped out 33% of all apes, reports the Daily Beast.

Apes are already up against a number of obstacles that threaten their lives like poaching and habitat destruction. The last thing they need is to have a highly fatal disease reduce their numbers further. It’s even more devastating when you reflect on the fact that many of these primate species that are ravaged by Ebola were already officially listed as endangered.

Though prompt and adequate medical treatment gives humans a better chance of surviving the disease, primates are not so lucky. Infected chimpanzees die 77% of the time, while gorillas have a glum 95% mortality rate.

Given the epidemic, many conservationists and animal activists have called for increased efforts to discover an Ebola vaccine for gorillas to help limit the spread of the disease. While the interest is there, prioritizing this research is pretty controversial with the public and some scientific communities. With thousands of people dying from Ebola, it’s hard to convince people to focus on the ape side of the problem. As such, available resources are primarily devoted to the search for a human vaccine.

Obviously, there are no easy answers. One thing is certain, though: leaving primates on the back burner could spell doom for them in the long term. What’s worse, losing gorillas causes problems for the entire ecosystem, actually. As consumers of fruit and leaves, they inadvertently help spread seeds throughout the forest and promote biodiversity. When gorillas disappear from an area, the whole forest suffers for it.

A year ago, one research team made significant progress on finding an Ebola vaccine for chimpanzees, yet once the disease started spreading amongst humans again, the researchers diverted their attention. Given the extent of the ape plague, perhaps it’s time to allocate some resources back to protecting the animals, as well. As Sophie Muset of the Jane Goodall Institute points out, “If you want a healthy ecosystem, the more you have to invest in health for wildlife and humans… because really, it all works together.”

Indeed, some consider primates to be an accidental source of some Ebola outbreaks in humans. Since people in these regions are known to eat gorillas, experts suspect that people who eat Ebola-tainted gorilla meat are at risk of contracting the disease themselves. In that sense, alleviating the plague among the gorilla populations could save human lives down the road, as well.

Though it may be hard to convince people not to overlook apes during the human Ebola crisis, it’ll be a mistake to not take active steps to oppose the disease for these helpless animals. With a third of the ape population already lost to Ebola, we don’t have time to waste.

Kevin Mathews|January 24, 2015

Rare Frilled Shark Comes One Step Closer to Extinction

Pity the poor, misunderstood frilled shark. A member of the species (Chlamydoselachus anguineus) was caught by an Australian fisherman while trawling for sea perch last week and the news is buzzing about the beleaguered, bizarre-looking thing: “It looks like something out of Alien,” “freaky,” “horrific looking.”

This animal has evolved to thrive in the frigid depths of the ocean 5,000 feet below. It is a beautifully designed creature – a fossil species dating back some 80,000,000 years. Should it look like a kitten? Maybe its eel-like body, 300 frond-like needle sharp teeth and six sets of frilly gills do make for an unusual visage, but such are the splendors of diversity. Why must we bully the underdogs?

“It was really prehistoric looking, freaky really,” said David Guillot, the fisherman who caught the shark while trawling for fish at 3,600 feet, reports CNN. “The head on it was like something out of a horror movie. It was quite horrific looking. … It was quite scary actually.”

“I’ve been fishing 30 years and never saw anything like it. So I brought it in,” he said. “Honestly we thought we had caught a brand new species, maybe discovered something wild.”

A new species – couldn’t be further from that. But frilled sharks are rare. The IUCN List of Threatened Species lists the frilled shark as “near threatened,” describing it as a generally rare to uncommon deepwater species, “likely to have very little resilience to depletion as a result of even non-targeted exploitation.”

Guillot said that the frilled shark was still alive when he got it to the surface. It did not survive. Alas.

The shark was offered to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia, but since they already had one, they declined the offer. Reports note that the shark was sold to another party.

Melissa Breyer|TreeHugger|January 23, 2015

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

3 Serious Threats to Endangered Chimpanzee Habitat

Of all the endangered chimpanzee species in the world, the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee subspecies has the unfortunate distinction of being the most endangered. With roughly 6,000 of these chimps remaining, significant human intervention looks necessary to have a shot at protecting these apes.

At the present time, humans are largely counterproductive to this cause. In addition to the poaching that plagues this area of Africa, deforesting and farming have put a drastic dent in habitats for the Nigeria-Cameroon chimps. New research has found one final – and major — habitat destroyer. Not only does it look like the chimpanzees will be without places to live as soon as the next year, scientists predict that the number of chimpanzees in the world will drop by at least 50% thanks to this critical element.

1. Logging

Legal logging is a major industry in Cameroon, and is responsible for eliminating 1% of the country’s forests each year. Combine that with all of the illegal logging that occurs in the country, and you have a rapidly depleting habitat for chimpanzees. Nearly half of the country’s forests are supposed to be protected federally, but that doesn’t stop companies from making mistakes or producing falsified permits to chop down these designated trees anyway. Though the government has made some efforts to crack down on this abuse, the general consensus is that the forest laws are not enforced, allowing profit-seekers easy access to whatever trees they choose.

2. Agriculture

Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa, and 70% of the Nigerian population is employed in the agricultural industry. In order to make room for all of this agriculture, however, the people of Nigeria have had to eliminate plenty of forests, some of these areas being homes to chimps. Alas, Nigerians understand how critical this space is to continue their economic prosperity, which is why concern for chimpanzees is secondary — if on the list at all.

3. Climate Change

The latest research shows that climate change may be the biggest threat of all to these chimpanzees. True, most of earth’s creatures are threatened by mounting climate change, but it is a particularly pressing concern for a species with such low numbers to start. According to projections, even without the other obstacles, climate change will be responsible for wiping out a lot of the area’s forests in the next 60 years. While the chimps that live in the rainforest area were more likely to be relatively unaffected in the face of climate change, those that dwell in Cameroon’s central mountainous forests will either need to adapt by finding a new place to dwell or they will likely perish.

Kevin Mathews|January 23, 2015

2014 record year for rhino poaching

New figures have confirmed that 2014 was South Africa’s worst year ever for rhino poaching, with a total of 1,215 rhinos being poached; an average of more than three animals per day or 100 per month.

Numbers of poached rhinos have been increasing over the last seven years and these latest figures raise concerns that rhino populations in South Africa may be in decline for the first time in nearly 100 years.

This is despite an increase in support—both in terms of more rangers on the ground and more up-to-date equipment.

However, South Africa has been accused of not doing enough to address the crisis. It was conspicuous by its absence from the “London Declaration”, an international pledge made in February 2014 by the majority of countries directly impacted by the global poaching crisis to take action to address the situation.

The illicit trade in rhino horn, driven by demand from China and Vietnam for investment purposes and ill-conceived notions of healing benefits, has seen prices skyrocket, leading to increased poaching.

While South Africa plans to try to save rhinos by relocating them to supposed rhino-safe ‘strongholds’, Jason Bell, Director of International Fund for Animal Welfare Southern Africa, argues that all governments must increase investment in smashing every link in the rhino horn trade chain.

“These numbers are a wake-up call for the world. We cannot lose the fight to protect rhinos in the wild where they belong. We can and must do better,” he says.

“The whole world has acknowledged the crisis is rhino and elephant poaching. We must redouble our efforts to support anti-poaching patrols, vastly increase penalties for those caught poaching, increase vigilance on the borders to prevent trafficking and educate in demand countries: we must eradicate this deadly trade.”

“The lack of strong political will and active leadership from all arms of the government, neighbouring Mozambique and key Asian countries remains a serious impediment to turning this crisis situation around,” says David Newton, Director of TRAFFIC in East and Southern Africa.

2015 will prove a critical year for rhino populations in South Africa, if this tide is to be turned. “Another year of poaching like 2014 and it becomes increasingly difficult to see a positive conservation future for South African rhinos,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s Elephant and Rhino Programme Leader. “We’re facing a ‘do or die’ situation right now.”


$2m from US Foundation buys helicopter to fight poaching in DRC

The efforts of on-profit organisation, African Parks, to resolve the poaching crisis in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been bolstered by a $2 million grant from the Howard G Buffett Foundation (HGBF) in the United States.

The funding was used to purchase a the Eurocopter (Airbus) AS 350 B3 model helicopter, designed to accommodate a pilot plus five rangers with sufficient weapons and equipment for a 10-day patrol.

It is equipped with night vision capabilities and has been fully fitted for African Parks’ law enforcement operations to implement a variety of dedicated anti-poaching and support initiatives.

These activities include show-of-force operations, the rapid deployment of anti-poaching rangers, surveillance flights, the transportation of tracker teams in follow-up operations, the gathering of information on unauthorized aircraft flying over parks, the drop-off of supplies to ground units and the evacuation of ranger casualties.

In addition, the helicopter will be used for game counts, game translocations, the immobilization of game for collaring, and for lifting infrastructure components.

African Parks has also appointed a full-time pilot with experience in counter-poaching tactics.

The decision to use the funds to buy a helicopter followed a test-of-concept phase that made use of a charter helicopter in law enforcement efforts in the park during October, November and December 2014. This resulted in a marked decrease in elephant-poaching numbers during those months.

Elephant-poaching by well-armed, criminal groups (at least one of which is poaching from a military helicopter), by the Lord’s Resistance Army and by local, armed groups, reached unprecedented levels during 2014.

A spokesperson from HGBF says: “Our support for African Parks’ efforts in Garamba National Park is linked to our broader interests and more significant investments to mitigate conflict in eastern DRC and Africa’s Great Lakes regions.

“There is a clear link between poaching and the financial resources that fuel conflict so our hope is that this support will help curtail the negative forces that create instability and increase human suffering.”

Peter Fearnhead of African Parks says: “We sincerely thank the Howard G Buffett Foundation for the funding which has enabled us to purchase the helicopter.

“We also appreciate the personal interest demonstrated by philanthropist, Howard Buffett, in our poaching challenges, and his support for our strategic initiatives to curtail and prevent the rampant slaughter of elephants and other species in Garamba.

“As a conservation organisation we are not in the business of fighting guerrilla armies, rogue military units or criminal groups, but when their activities threaten the survival of the protected areas for which we are responsible we are compelled to act.

“While ‘boots-on-the-ground’ units and tactics remain the cornerstone of our wildlife protection strategy, it is widely acknowledged by law enforcement experts that the most effective force-multiplier is a personnel-carrying, night-capable helicopter.”

New Pesticide To Be Marketed Amid Misleading Claims That It Is ‘Safer for Bees’

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it completed the registration of a new pesticide, flupyradifurone, that would be marketed as an alternative to neonicotinoid pesticides, and “safer for bees.” A closer look at this chemical reveals that the agency is grossly misleading the public on the ecological safety of flupyradifurone since the chemical is systemic, persistent, and highly acutely toxic to adult honey bees. At a time when bees are declining, advocates say it is inappropriate for EPA to introduce yet another bee toxic chemical to the market.

Flupyradifurone (“Sivanto”) is a new systemic, butenolide insecticide from Bayer CropScience that is to be used on crops such as citrus, cotton, potatoes and many others, and also as seed treatment. Note: EPA is still considering soybean seed treatment. The chemical is a neurotoxic insecticide that can inhibit nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR) in the nervous system. Neonicotinoids, widely linked to devastating health impacts on bees, affect the nervous system in the same way. However, EPA states that flupyradifurone differs from neonicotinoids because of the way it binds to the receptors and is metabolized. However, most troubling is that, based on EPA’s registration documents, the chemical is highly toxic to adult bees for short-term oral exposures.

According to EPA, flupyradifurone went through a rigorous assessment review, given the elevated concerns surrounding bee decline and its link to pesticides. However, EPA’s review raises more questions than answers on why this latest chemical with potential risks to bees is being registered. EPA’s registration document states, “While the acute oral toxicity study indicates that flupyradifurone is highly toxic to individual adult honey bees, longer-term laboratory-based studies of both larval and adult bees show no adverse effects up to the highest dietary concentration tested.” For bees that come into surface contact with the chemical, EPA states in one document that the chemical is “practically nontoxic to adult bees on an acute contact exposure basis.” But in another document it reports, “In the acute contact toxicity test, some bees showed movement coordination problems or lethargy at the two highest concentrations…” after a few hours of exposure. Despite this, EPA concludes that its review of submitted field studies “did not result in any adverse effect on overall colony performance or overwintering capacity..” EPA documents can be found here.

As a systemic pesticide, it is expected that flupyradifurone will be taken up by the plant and persist in all plant tissues, including pollen and nectar. EPA finds that while residues in pollen were higher than those in nectar, “residues declined in pollen and nectar within a two-week window following treatment.” This means that bees can expect to endure at least two weeks of exposure to high levels of flupyradifurone residues on pollen and nectar. For adult bees that forage on this pollen and nectar, death is imminent as the agency has already found that flupyradifurone is highly acutely toxic from ingestion (oral exposures). To further compound this, EPA notes that the field studies reveal high mortality in adult bees within 24 hours of treatment. Note: It is also important to point out that EPA seemingly believes that it will be acceptable for bees to touch or tread on flupyradifurone residues, as long as they do not ingest it from pollen. This is certainly counterintuitive to natural bee behavior and anyone observing bees.

So why is EPA maintaining that this product is safer for bees? EPA believes flupyradifurone is less toxic than current insecticides on the market, including neonicotinoids. In fact, comparing toxicity values of flupyradifurone and imidacloprid, flupyradifurone is less toxic by the oral route (LD50 3.4ug/bee) than imidacloprid (LD50 0.004ug/bee). While flupyradifurone is less toxic than imidacloprid and some other neonicotinoids, bees are still at risk from flupyradifurone. EPA believes that in spite of the acute oral toxicity, flupyradifurone has no measurable impact on bee colonies and that there is “compelling evidence that the compound is not having a pronounced effect on bees…” EPA states that in making its decision it considered 38 studies, all of which are most likely industry studies, to reach its conclusion. The agency also finds in its registration document that flupyradifurone is “less toxic” to mammals, birds and aquatic organisms (even though it is very toxic to freshwater invertebrates and crustaceans), compared with pyrethroids, neonicotinoids, chlorpyrifos and others. Flupyradifurone is very persistent with half-lives in soil ranging from 38-400 days.

Of concern is the agency’s failure to take into account the cumulative impact of flupyradifurone and neonicotinoids like imidacloprid and clothianidin on bees and other non-target insects in the environment. Neonicotinoids, as well as a host of other insecticides are currently used as seed treatment and in other areas of agriculture and home and garden sites. Adding flupyradifurone to the chemical mix found in the environment will mean that bees and other non-target organisms will be exposed to mixtures of chemicals that have yet to be evaluated for their combined or synergistic effects, and possibly compounding the already dire plight of pollinators.

It was less than one year ago that EPA introduced to the market sulfoxaflor, another bee-toxic insecticide registered by EPA despite warnings from concerned groups and beekeepers. Beekeepers have since sued EPA over the registration of sulfoxaflor. Given the global phenomenon of bee decline and the precautions taken in the European Union regarding bee health with its two-year suspension of neonicotinoid pesticides, advocates are calling it irresponsible for EPA to allow into the environment yet another chemical with a high hazard potential for bee health. To many, EPA’s decision appears counter to current agency and interagency work to protect pollinators.

A recent government sponsored national survey indicates that U.S. beekeepers experienced a 45.2% annual mortality rate with their hives between April 2012 and March 2013. During the winter of 2013/14, two-thirds of beekeepers experienced loss rates greater than the established acceptable winter mortality rate. EPA, which is part of the White House Task Force on Pollinator Health, tasked with stemming the tide on bee declines, has a responsibility to bees, the environment and beekeepers in protecting bees and other pollinators from dangerous pesticides.

Source: EPA News Release|Beyond Pesticides, January 26, 2015

3 Million Acres of Critical Habitat Sought for 9 Neglected Endangered Species

Since 1978 hundreds of species have been denied specific habitat protections, despite being federally protected — so last week the Center for Biological Diversity  petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate critical habitat for nine endangered species in particularly acute need of habitat protection, mostly up and down the East Coast. They include the roseate tern, Shenandoah salamander, Roanoke logperch, Hay’s spring amphipod, two tiger beetle species and three species of freshwater mussels.

The petition requests that the Service designate as much as 3.2 million acres for the nine species, all of which are suffering major declines related to habitat loss.

“You can’t save plants and animals without saving the places they live,” said Brett Hartl, our endangered species policy director. “Despite the fact that species with critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as those without it, the Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to designate critical habitat for hundreds of listed species.”

Read more in our press release.

[But still nothing for the Florida Panther.]


Florida Black Bears Need Your Help

On Wednesday, February 4th, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will take up Florida black bear management in our state.  In response to an increased number of human-bear interactions, a number of policies are being discussed.  Those include strict no-feeding rules and mandatory use of bear-proof garbage cans in known bear habitat areas.  Those are positive developments and are strongly supported by scientific research.  However, the FWC is also considering reopening a recreational bear hunt.  That is not supported by science as a way of dealing with “nuisance bears” in residential neighborhoods – and South Florida Wildlands Association (SFWA) is opposing it.

For South Florida Wildlands, this is a painful new development.   In July of 2012, SFWA led an unsuccessful battle to keep Florida black bears on Florida’s imperiled species list – which by definition prohibited black bear hunting.  We argued that Florida’s 2,500 to 3,000 black bears – a recognized sub-species of the American black bear – existed in small, geographically and genetically isolated pockets which put many in the population in danger of local extinction.  Given triple digit roadkill numbers every year since 2000 and non-stop habitat loss (FWC expects the state to lose an additional 7 million acres of natural and undeveloped land as Florida moves toward a projected population of 36 million by they year 2060) – we argued that the Florida black bear should remain an “imperiled species” and the FWC should pull out the stops to prevent further habitat loss for black bears – as well as the many other species of terrestrial wildlife which share its range.

In their background materials for this meeting, the FWC staff states that “hunting alone will not likely reduce bear conflicts sufficiently in urban and suburban areas.”  They are absolutely right.  Research has shown virtually no connection between recreational hunting and reduced incidents of “nuisance bears” in residential neighborhoods.  See article from Missoula, Montana here and research study here.

As the research shows (and FWC has indicated on their website) the way to reduce or eliminate human-bear interactions in residential neighborhoods built in black bear habitat is to eliminate the attractant – food and food odors.

“Bears and other wildlife that linger in neighborhoods are a symptom of the problem of wildlife having easy access to human-provided foods. If the unsecured food source – garbage, compost piles, livestock, and pet/livestock/bird foods – are eliminated, the problem is eliminated. Bears will move out of the neighborhood to search out another food source.”

SFWA recommends supporting FWC’s actions on making bear proof garbage containers in “bear country” mandatory – and providing stiff fines for feeding of wildlife.  However a recreational hunt for Florida’s black bear – a species that is still rare in our state and whose available habitat is expected to shrink and become even more fragmented in the near future – is hardly warranted.

SFWA also strongly recommends asking the FWC to become engaged in consultation whenever new roads and developments are proposed in bear habitat.  One of the incidents which prompted this FWC meeting was a bear attack on a woman in central Florida in December of 2014.  The Heathrow subdivision in Lake Mary, Florida, where the incident took place, was expanded in 2012 in spite of hundreds of complaints from existing residents about bears inside the neighborhood.  Yet when asked their opinion of the new project by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the FWC – according to records obtained by SFWA through a public records request – had no comment.

Please take advantage of this opportunity to communicate with Florida’s wildlife agency – the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission – on this important topic.   Say YES to regulating garbage and food in bear habitat and regulating new roads and development.  And NO to recreational hunting of Florida’s black bears.

There are a few options for communicating with FWC commissioners prior to their vote on February 4th.

1. Attend the meeting in Jacksonville and give public comments.  You’ll have about 3 minutes.  All information on the meeting with background materials can be found here.

2.  Send an email to the commissioners expressing your opinion (include your county if a Florida resident).  You can reach them at:

commissioners@MyFWC.com 

3.  Use the FWC online contact form and fill out all required fields.  The form is accessible here.

4.  Telephone the Community Relations department of the FWC at: 850-488-4676

Matthew Schwartz|Executive Director|South Florida Wildlands Association|1/30/2015

Everglades

Good Water Management is Good for Northern Everglades Birds and Wildlife

As the wet season is wrapping up, we are breathing a sigh of relief for the birds and wildlife in Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuary ecosystems. Due to thoughtful water level management amongst the state and federal agencies this season, (and just the right amount of rain), our ecosystems are in a solid place as we enter the winter months.

During the wet season between May and October, Lake Okeechobee received slightly more than average rain.  Thanks to new management approaches and patience from the agencies, there were minimal summer discharges from the Lake to the St. Lucie, and mostly beneficial releases to Caloosahatchee Estuaries, allowing these delicate ecosystems to continue to recover from the devastation from last summer. Lake Okeechobee’s levels reached 16 feet in October, which is the considered threshold for harm. But with levels now dropping, lake levels are within the ideal zone for the end of the rainy season.

Lake Okeechobee’s ideal water level range is between 12.5 to 15.5 feet over the course of the year.  If the Lake is over 16 feet for too long, damage to the marsh occurs. The 50,000-acre submerged marsh community is in deep enough water that plants begin dying from wave action and from the loss of light in the deep, turbid, water. Prolonged deep water eliminates the wildlife rich wet prairie communities from the Lake, areas needed to support wading bird foraging. Rapidly rising water can drown alligator and bird nests (including Everglade Snail Kites) across the marsh. Click here to learn more about the effect of lake levels on the wildlife of Lake Okeechobee.

Managing Lake Okeechobee’s water levels is not easy. One wet tropical storm can raise Lake levels several feet –  levels harmful to the marsh and perilous for Hoover Dike safety.  The Corps cannot lower the Lake as fast as it can rise so they must make proactive releases to avoid harmful levels.   The management plan for the Lake allowed Lake releases to the estuaries virtually all summer, but the Corps decided to minimize releases to the estuaries.  This approach prevented harmful Lake discharges.  Note that the estuaries did receive some water from polluted local basin runoff, but it was not nearly as harmful as the previous year.

Very importantly, the SFWMD experimented with new operations to flow over 200,000 acre feet of water (about 5 inches of Lake level) south to the Everglades- water that otherwise would have been released to the estuaries.

The Corps and SFWMD’s approach over the summer came with some risk, but Audubon supported it based on climate patterns and lake level trends during the summer.  Almost weekly, the Corps hosts “Periodic Scientist” calls to get input from scientists from myriad agencies and interests, including Audubon, on day-to-day system conditions from throughout the system.  This information is then used to guide weekly decisions on Lake management.

We commend the Corps and SFWMD for innovative lake management this season and look forward to a healthy spring drawdown.

Audubon of Florida News Blog – Fri, 11/21/2014

Completion of major Everglades restoration construction contract celebrated at Picayune Strand

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District celebrated the completion of a major construction effort for the Picayune Strand Restoration Project today alongside federal, state and local representatives and Everglades restoration supporters.  The project is being conducted in partnership with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), a joint endeavor to restore, preserve and protect water resources in central and southern Florida.

Restoring Picayune Strand includes the plugging of 48 miles of canals, removing 260 miles of crumbling roads and constructing three major pump stations, all of which will restore more than 55,000 acres of natural habitat in an area once partially developed for an intended sprawling residential area.  The Corps completed construction of the Merritt Pump Station last month as part of a contract which marks a significant step forward in Everglades restoration.

“When the Corps of Engineers awarded the Merritt Pump Station construction contract in 2009, it not only marked the start of a massive restoration project here in Collier County, but it signaled the value of the important partnership we have with the South Florida Water Management District and the State of Florida,” said Col. Alan Dodd, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District Commander. “The completion of the Merritt Pump Station is a clear demonstration of this partnership at work, and it’s precisely this type of partnership that will further the goals and objectives envisioned in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan [CERP] over the coming years.”

The Merritt Pump Station is a key piece of infrastructure for the Picayune Strand Restoration Project that will maintain current levels of flood protection while directing fresh water to drained wetlands located downstream. In addition to the pump station, the contract includes 95 miles of roadway that were removed and degraded and about 10 miles of canals that will be plugged to restore the natural flow of water in the area.

Federal appropriations provided more than $66 million in order to complete the Merritt Pump Station. This included approximately $40 million funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, which accelerated the construction schedule and helped create local jobs. 

“Florida remains committed to Everglades restoration and to the shared investment needed to achieve this goal,” said Blake Guillory, Executive Director of the South Florida Water Management District. “Today’s event here in the western Everglades underscores the fact that we are making tangible restoration progress.”

Ecological benefits are already being seen at Picayune Strand as a result of the restoration work done to date. Native plants and animals are returning to the area, including the wood stork and endangered Florida panther.

By restoring the hydrology in the area, the completed Picayune Strand Restoration project will also directly benefit the southern Gulf Coast estuaries, improving juvenile fish habitats and increasing fish and bird populations, as well as recreational opportunities in the area.
“Picayune Strand is a great conservation success story and provides early proof that Everglades restoration works to improve wetlands and freshwater flows.  What could have been a sprawling development is on its way to being great habitat for wading birds, panthers and other wildlife,” said Eric Draper, Audubon Florida’s Executive Director.  “As great flocks of wading birds return to the Everglades we will witness nature’s resilience.”

Today’s ceremony not only provided attendees with the opportunity to see the completed Merritt Pump Station first-hand, it provided them with an opportunity to see restoration progress in action.  It also brought together a diverse group of individuals, representing numerous agencies and organizations whose collective support continues to provide momentum to move restoration efforts forward.

“Let today serve as a clear demonstration of what our continued partnerships and collaborations will bring and set the tone for how we move forward in our restoration efforts,” said Dodd.

The construction contract for the Merritt Pump Station was awarded to Harry Pepper and Associates of Jacksonville, Fla., in October 2009.  Now that the pump station is fully-constructed, it will undergo one year of operational testing and monitoring.

The Merritt Pump Station was the first CERP construction contract to begin. Progress also continues on the construction of the project’s other two pump stations, the Faka Union and Miller pump stations, with scheduled completion in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

Gov. Scott to pledge millions for Everglades restoration

Gov. Rick Scott is promising to dedicate tens of millions of dollars to helping the Everglades.

Scott is scheduled on Tuesday to announce that he wants to create a source of money for Everglades restoration that would result in $5 billion going to help the famed River of Grass over the next 20 years.

Scott will include the proposal in his budget recommendations that he will submit this week to the Florida Legislature.

Those recommendations will also include a proposal to set aside $150 million to acquire environmentally sensitive lands, including land that would provide habitat for the Florida panther.

The money for Everglades restoration would include the state’s share of restoring the Kissimmee River and constructing two reservoirs. Those projects would help deal with discharges of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee.

Gary Fineout|January 27, 2015

Governor Rick Scott Announces $5 Billion Over 20 Years to Restore Everglades

MIAMI, Fla. – Today, Governor Rick Scott proposed a dedicated source of revenue that will provide more than $5 billion for Everglades restoration over the next 20 years as part of his 2015-2016 “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget. If passed by the Legislature, $150 million will go towards Everglades restoration this year. In addition, Governor Scott’s proposed budget also includes $150 million that will be allocated toward land acquisition and management which will focus in part on protecting land for the Florida panther.

Governor Scott said, “Florida has an abundance of natural resources that help create a foundation for our growing economy, whether it is driving our state’s tourism industry or providing a great quality of life that has attracted families to our state for generations. During my first term, we made historic investments in our springs and Everglades and I am proud to continue to make important investments in our environment this year. We will keep working to make sure we preserve our natural treasures so Florida can continue to be a top destination for families, visitors and businesses.”

As part of the $5 billion investment, Governor Scott is committed to fully funding the state’s share of the restoration of the Kissimmee River and the construction of the C-43 and C-44 reservoirs over the next four years. Collectively these projects will provide more than 100 billion gallons of storage to protect our estuaries from discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee. The dedicated source of funding for Everglades restoration will also allow for the Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District to identify and fund additional storage projects in the future – and provide the certainty that a restored Everglades will become a reality.

The Governor will release his full “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget recommendations this week.

nataliarodriguez2015|Jan.27.2015

SFWMD Highlights Restoration Project Progress in 2014

Wet season operations protected South Florida’s coastal estuaries

West Palm Beach, FL – A focus on moving projects forward to restore America’s Everglades and sending water south to protect coastal estuaries marked the highlights of 2014 for the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). The agency oversees water resources for 8.1 million residents and ecosystems that span 16 counties.

“This past year, the South Florida Water Management District focused on moving numerous projects forward,” said SFWMD Executive Director Blake Guillory. “I am pleased to say we made significant progress on essential work that will help protect water resources throughout South Florida.”

Project Progress

From increasing water storage to improving water quality, a host of projects saw significant progress in 2014. Successfully negotiating resolutions to several complex and longstanding State-Federal policy issues also allowed the agency to move forward with restoration efforts. Progress included:

  • Indian River Lagoon – South C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area (STA):  To expedite a key project in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), the State agreed to construct the STA component, system discharge and pump station components to reduce stormwater runoff to the St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon. With the assistance of legislative funding, the Governing Board approved two contracts this year – the C-44 Discharge Spillway and the $101 million C-44 STA project.
  • Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Reservoir: On the west coast, the C-43 Reservoir was formally authorized by Congress in the 2014 Water Resources Reform and Development Act.  While awaiting federal appropriation of money for construction, the District is designing and constructing project features that will provide interim water storage. 
  • Kissimmee River Restoration: The District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers successfully resolved a complex cost-crediting issue that allows for completion of construction to provide an additional 30,000 acre-feet of storage in the floodplain.
  • C-111 South Dade Project: The Governing Board took action to amend the latest partnership agreement allowing the Corps to complete the Contract 8 northern detention area, and thereby complete the Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park project. This effort is critical to the District’s ability to move additional water south.

Implementing Restoration Strategies to Improve Everglades Water Quality

To further improve water quality, components of the Governor’s Restoration Strategies plan were well underway in 2014:

  • Flow Equalization Basins (FEBs) to capture and store peak stormwater flows
  • Additional STA acreage to treat more water
  • Increased storage  to provide greater water management flexibility to capture, treat and move water

Under construction are the A-1 FEB, which will provide 60,000 acre-feet of shallow storage and treatment, and the L-8 FEB, which will provide 45,000 acre-feet of deep water storage. 

The STA-1 West expansion project land swap was also completed this year. Design is underway to add another 4,600 acres of treatment marsh.

To complement Restoration Strategies, initial work on a citrus grove to be restored to more historic wetland conditions started this year on the former Southern Gardens groves, also known as the C-139 Annex site in southeastern Hendry County. In collaboration with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the name of the restoration site will be known as the Sam Jones/Abiaki Prairie.

Moving Water South and Maximizing Storage

An analysis of the 2014 rainy season showed District operations successfully moved south about a half foot of water depth off Lake Okeechobee, helping to prevent freshwater releases to South Florida’s estuaries this summer. The District used every operational tool practicable while also taking advantage of favorable rainfall patterns across the 16-county region.

The District also took action in 2014 to continue increasing water storage on public and private lands to protect South Florida’s coastal estuaries and natural systems, including:

  • Completion of Nicodemus Slough in Glades County to create 34,000 acre-feet of new storage.
  • With funding assistance from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Governing Board approved contracts for three water farming pilot projects in the St. Lucie River watershed to test the concept of storing excess surface water on privately owned fallow citrus lands.
  • In December, the Governing Board approved additional agreements that more than double the overall water retention capacity in its Dispersed Water Management program. The approved contracts will add a total potential of 95,812 acre-feet of storage to the program, or about 36 billion gallons annually. This is the equivalent of 1.5 inches of water in Lake Okeechobee, a 730-square-mile lake at the heart of South Florida’s water management system.

Everglades restoration project has had modest impact, report shows

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A $13.5 billion project to restore the Florida Everglades has had limited impact even as the embattled ecosystem faces threats from climate change and invasive species, a progress report said on Friday.

The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), started in 1999 to restore Florida’s “river of grass” over 30 to 40 years, has been hindered by intermittent federal funding, the biennial report on the project by the National Research Council said.

Since the council’s last update two years ago, CERP has had “modest restoration progress focused on the edges of the Everglades (and) considerable state effort to improve water quality,” the report said.

The Everglades, an ecosystem of marshes, lakes, wetlands and tree islands stretching 200 miles (320 km) from Orlando to Florida Bay, is about half its original size. Water now moves through a maze of levees, canals and pump stations.

Much of the water is diverted for industry and for millions of people in South Florida. The water that remains is heavily polluted.

The CERP has seen modest improvements at Picayune Strand in southwest Florida, coastal wetlands at Biscayne Bay and at the C-111 Spreader Canal in southern Miami-Dade County, the report said.

The CERP is not adequately considering the threat from climate change, with the Everglades facing rising sea levels caused by higher temperatures, it said.

Climate change is expected to increase demands for water from agriculture, straining supplies as population increases.

CERP lacks overall coordination to deal with non-native species, with a shortage of research on them and their impact.

Such invasive plant species as melaleuca and Australian pine are infesting hundreds of thousands of acres (hectares) and fuel brushfires that destroy native plants.

Burmese pythons have become the Everglades’ top carnivore, eating alligators and virtually wiping out vertebrates, the report said.

The CERP involves 68 component projects overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District. The goal is to reinstate the original water flow as much as possible, mainly by restoring undeveloped wetlands.

In a statement, the Corps of Engineers said: “We recognize that as much progress as we’ve made in our restoration efforts to date, there’s still more work to be done.” A spokesman for the South Florida water district had no immediate response.

The National Research Council is part of the National Academies, which advise the U.S. government on scientific and technical issues.

Water Quality Issues

DEP Adopts Restoration Plan for Lake Okeechobee

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has formally adopted an aggressive 10-year restoration plan, known as a basin management action plan or BMAP, covering Lake Okeechobee. The long-term restoration plan was carefully developed through a series of public meetings that included environmental groups, agricultural interests, local governments as well as the public. The plan identifies a set of strategies and projects to reduce nutrient pollution to the lake that represents more than a $750 million investment and nearly 33-percent reduction in total phosphorous entering Lake Okeechobee over the next 10 years.

Governor Rick Scott said, “I am proud DEP continues to collaboratively work with all stakeholders to protect the quality of Florida’s water. The creation of this restoration plan builds on the success of our $880 million plan to protect the quality of water flowing into the Everglades. Restoring the waters of Lake Okeechobee and the Northern Everglades is a key step in preserving the greater Everglades Ecosystem for generations to come.”

“Achieving the reductions required to restore Lake Okeechobee is a monumental task; and this restoration plan represents a significant first step toward achieving that goal,” said DEP Interim Secretary Cliff Wilson. “We applaud the investments and commitment of all of the stakeholders in the basin and we are committed to continuing to work together to further refine the restoration plan until we achieve our goal.”

Over the last two years, with the support of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, DEP has conducted more than 10 public meetings to develop the final restoration plan. The BMAP identifies a variety of project types to relieve the lake of large influxes of nutrient-rich water, including dispersed water storage, nutrient reduction practices for urban and agricultural areas, and a number of cost-share projects using state financial assistance to accelerate restoration.

“DEP’s BMAP effort delivers an important tool for the long-term restoration of Lake Okeechobee,” said SFWMD Assistant Executive Director Lennart Lindahl. “Based on sound science and extensive public input, this important BMAP will help protect South Florida’s largest inland water body.”

The first five years of the plan cover a range of projects including the Kissimmee River Restoration Project, hybrid wetland treatment areas, dispersed water storage and stormwater treatment areas (STAs). The BMAP also identifies timeframes for the continued planning and development of longer-term projects over the next 10 years.

“Audubon Florida worked closely with DEP on the Lake Okeechobee water quality plan and considers the plan an important step toward meeting state water quality standards,” said Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper. “The plan includes projects that significantly reduce harmful phosphorous entering the lake and requires verification of the effectiveness of pollution control practices. In future iterations Audubon will continue to recommend additional measures to control and treat pollution.”

“We thank the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for its work and leadership on the Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) for Lake Okeechobee. Cleaning up the lake is a huge undertaking, and the BMAP is a good first step in that effort,” said Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg.

Located in the heart of the greater Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades ecosystem, Lake Okeechobee is the largest freshwater lake in Florida and the second-largest freshwater lake within the contiguous United States. It is a valuable, multi-purpose waterbody that provides drinking water for urban areas, irrigation water for agricultural lands, recharge for aquifers and freshwater for the Everglades. With a contributing watershed of approximately 1,800 square miles, larger than the state of Rhode Island, it is vulnerable both to pollution from surrounding land uses and flooding.

Everglades restoration project reaches milestone

Critics: State blind to pollution problem

The state is not doing its job when it comes to controlling and eliminating pollution loads in Florida’s lakes, rivers and estuaries.

Those were the sentiments of several outspoken critics of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection during a meeting the state agency hosted Tuesday in Fort Myers to present the latest information on nitrogen loads in the Caloosahatchee River, and its approach to cleaning up excess nutrients.

“It’s a lot of guesstimations and hoping and pray,” said Linda Young, director of the Florida Clean Water Network, about DEP’s pollution reduction program. “We keep seeing more and more stalling with no results.”

The Caloosahatchee River was artificially connected to Lake Okeechobee as a way to drain the lake and the Everglades for development. Nutrients from farm fields north of Okeechobee flow into the lake and then are, at times, pumped down the river and into the estuary where nitrogen imbalances can kill sea grasses, fuel algal blooms and shut down oyster beds.

Young and others said they appreciate work done by Bonita Springs, the City of Fort Myers, Lee County and other local governments, but critics say the state is refusing to face the real pollution problem: Lake Okeechobee.

Many of the projects discussed Tuesday would remove anywhere from 1 pound of nitrogen per year to several thousand pounds per year. And while that may sound like a lot of nitrogen, millions of pounds flow down the Caloosahatchee annually.

“Twenty-four thousand pounds of nitrogen a day come from east of Franklin Lock (dam near Alva),” said former Lee commissioner Ray Judah, now with the Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition. “While these projects are great, we’ve lost focus on the real problem.”

That 24,000 pounds per day translates into nearly 8.8 million pounds of nitrogen flowing from Lake Okeechobee and the upstream farming lands along the Caloosahatchee River a year.

DEP officials said the agency does not consider Lake Okeechobee to be impaired for nitrogen, so there is no official plan for identifying or removing nitrogen from the lake.

David Liccardi, with Bonita Springs public works, said the city is working toward a project that will use wood chips to remove some nitrogen. The project involves digging a large pit under an existing canal or waterway and filling that area with wood chips. The idea is that the wood chips will act like decaying organic matter, which is the natural way pollution is removed from water.

Liccardi said early estimates show wood chip reactors remove 80 percent or more of nitrogen. The nitrogen is absorbed by bacteria and released as a gas. This project could help Bonita Springs remove thousands of pounds of nitrogen each year.

“We need to take it one step further — implement the project and monitor it to see if we’re correct on our assumptions,” Liccardi said.

Chad Gillis|news-press.com|January 28, 2015

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Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Battle lines drawn over Lake Ontario plan

With a water surface area of 7,340 square miles, Lake Ontario ranks as the 17th-largest lake in the world. It has 712 miles of shoreline and an average depth of 283 feet.

But for the past half year what has vexed the lake’s diverse stakeholders is a matter of 2.4 inches.   

Under Plan 2014, a proposal put forth in June by the International Joint Commission, management of water levels in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River would be changed for the first time in roughly 50 years. The plan calls for increasing the 4-foot band of water level that at its peak would be 6 centimeters or 2.4 inches higher than under existing regulation. That proposed change has drawn praise from environmental groups and sharp criticism from shoreline property owners and others.

On Monday, both Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks entered the fray—on opposite sides.

Warren joined the statewide Support Plan 2014 coalition, saying that “Plan 2014 helps the city of Rochester by taking steps to restore beaches and shorelines.” The coalition argues that Plan 2014 will restore 64,000 acres of wetlands, boost hydropower production, and spur the tourism and sportsman industries, among other benefits.

At a news conference later that day, Brooks blasted Plan 2014. Higher water levels, she said, “could leave our lakeshore susceptible to significant flooding and increased erosion, resulting in millions of dollars in damages to both private properties and public infrastructure, with no recourse for compensation.”

The IJC sees its proposal as the “best possible plan,” a compromise that provides “significant environmental restoration with overall economic benefits and the smallest increase in damage to any property, infrastructure, shipping or recreational interests.”

Even so, the divide separating backers and foes of Plan 2014 seems as wide as the lake itself.

Source of the dispute

The IJC—created by the United States and Canada as a result of the century-old Boundary Waters Treaty—in 1999 launched a five-year, roughly $20 million study to examine long-term concerns of environmental groups, shoreline property owners, boaters and other stakeholders. A study board consisting of U.S. and Canadian officials was convened, along with a Public Interest Advisory Group to support the study.

“The five-year study was a very inclusive process,” said Frank Bevacqua, IJC public information officer. “The full range of stakeholders (was) directly involved in developing the models and the methods and the different alternatives.”

The study board’s final report, issued in 2006, concluded that environmental impact was not considered in the 1950s, when decisions were made to narrow the more than 6-foot natural range of Lake Ontario water levels by controlling outflows from the Moses-Saunders Dam on the St. Lawrence River.

Three years later, a new group was created—with members appointed by the two federal governments and well as the governments of New York, Ontario and Quebec—to advise the IJC on a new regulatory proposal. The result was Plan 2014. Compared to the existing regulation plan for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, called Plan 1958 DD, many of the impacts would be neutral or positive, the IJC maintains.

Municipal and industrial water use by the public and private sectors would experience no change, its report states.

Hydropower—at the Moses-Saunders dam and the Hydro-Quebec facilities on the St. Lawrence River—produces roughly 25 million megawatt hours of energy, currently valued at $1.5 billion annually. That would see a roughly 0.4 percent increase of power production, equivalent to the power supply of nearly 8,000 homes, the report states.

The impact on recreational boaters would be mixed, the IJC states, in part due to summers in which Lake Ontario levels would be “naturally lower.”

The biggest benefit would be to the natural environment of Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River, restoring wetlands that support a wide variety of birds, amphibians, fish and mammals.

This would come with direct cost, however, to coastal development interests—property owners and local governments that are directly invested in the lake and river shorelines.

“In comparing Plan 2014 to Plan 1958DD, the Commission recognizes that costs to maintain hardened shoreline protection structures, such as shore walls and revetments, may increase by a relatively small amount under Plan 2014,” the report states.

Plan 2014 estimates the average net increase annually to all Lake Ontario shoreline protection structures at $1.94 million—from $15.48 million under the current plan to $17.43 million.

“Under Plan 2014, (shoreline protection structures) would be over-topped a little more frequently,” Bevacqua said. “The cost a property owner or a community faces to maintain their shore protection would increase by about 12 percent.”

Roughly 60 percent of the lake and river shorelines include residential buildings. In Monroe County, some 90 percent of property is developed along Lake Ontario’s southeast shoreline. The IJC study concluded that more than 3,000 shoreline properties are at risk of flooding.
Conflicting views
Thomas Brown thinks the changes called for in Plan 2014 have long been needed. Now retired from the position of regional director with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, he has served as the state representative to the Great Lakes Basin Commission, the Great Lakes Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Winter Navigation Board and the Great Lakes Charter Task Force.

“Plan 2014 is designed to update the current Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River water level management plan (that) has been in place for more than 50 years,” said Brown, who currently is a U.S. Section member of the IJC International St. Lawrence River Board of Control. “(It) is designed to correct the deficiencies of Plan 1958DD—namely, its failure to represent environmental and recreational interests, and its failure to represent all stakeholder interests.”

Brown helped draft the first plan of study, which led to the completion of the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Study—the foundation of the Plan 2014 proposal.

“Given (the) minor management-range adjustment, shoreline property owners will continue to be protected from extreme water levels and retain most of the benefits derived under the current plan, a concern especially on the part of south shore Lake Ontario property owners,” he said.
Susan Holmes is not reassured by such statements. A Nothnagle Realtors agent who specializes in luxury, relocation and residential properties, Holmes also owns a Lake Ontario shoreline property.

“In addition to personally owning a summer home on Sodus Bay, I’ve been a Realtor for 32 years and am most appreciably concerned about property values,” she said. “Properties that are obliterated due to high water or a combination of high water and a storm surge would go from their current value to zero or may even become a costly liability to the property owner.”

Added Holmes: “I foresee bank foreclosures, a multitude of government penalties with exorbitant fines and unending lawsuits.”

Frank Sciremammano shares her dim view of Plan 2014. A professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, he is a nearly 20-year member of the St. Lawrence River Board of Control and an appointee of the IJC study board. Sciremammano refused to sign his name to Plan 2014—he was one of two people to do so—to express his opposition to the plan.

“That 4-foot (water-level) range has been relied upon for the design of boat launches, for all of (the) shore protection for marinas, for all kinds of stuff for 50 years. How are they going to fix that?” he said. “It’s more than just the homes; that’s all people are concentrating on. That’s very important, (but) the marinas are going to go out of business with this plan because on the local water side they’re not going to be able to get to their docks.”

“So the economic impact—that’s the part that they really fell down on,” he added. “This plan is far more radical than any of the plans that came out of the study.”

The IJC insists that Plan 2014—which awaits the approval of the U.S. and Canadian federal governments—was written with the future in mind.

“We understand that everyone really values the lake and the quality of life that the lake provides to the residents of the basin,” Bevacqua said. “That’s why we live there, and the IJC has made its best effort to recommend a plan that looks at all the values for the future both in terms of protecting communities and restoring the environment.”

KERRY FELTNER|Rochester Business Journal|December 26, 2014

Offshore & Ocean

The Future of Coral Reefs May Be Okay, But the Rest of the Ocean’s Not

Start planning your beach trips now, because the ocean and all its wonderful wildlife may not be around much longer.

With all the gloom and doom news stories going around about climate change, there are really two poster victims for the Earth’s temperatures rising: polar bears and coral reefs.

There’s some good news for the coral reefs, though: they may actually stand a chance of surviving climate change. A study in Nature found that damaged reefs were able to recover from bleaching events associated with global warming. This finding will allow scientists to determine which parts of the Great Barrier Reef are most capable of recovering due to two important factors: water depth and the physical complexity of the coral.

Unfortunately, not all coral reefs will be able to bounce back. The Guardian reports that reefs in a large area of the North Pacific, including the Marshall Islands and Hawaii, will die off due to the current massive coral bleaching caused by extreme sea temperatures.

If conservationists focus on protecting the reefs that have and can survive from future damage such as fishing, boat anchors and sediment dumping, efforts to protect the reefs from warming waters will be made easier.

Now the bad news: we could very well be on the brink of marine mass extinction and total ocean apocalypse essentially, and humans are the ones to blame. A study in the journal Science looked at all of ocean science to date and found what we’ve known about the ocean: massive amounts of atmospheric carbon are being absorbed, thanks to our meddling.

With 2014 officially being the hottest year on record, most of that heat was absorbed by the oceans, but with the combination of the results of climate change and generally messing with the structure of the ocean’s ecosystems, these are sad times for the great, big blue. Even some marine mammals are adapting to deeper waters just to avoid humans.

The effects of climate change alone have already caused the rapid decline of coral reefs worldwide, and are forcing fish to migrate to cooler waters.

Global warming isn’t the only thing to blame. We over-harvest species, which leads to irreversible damage to ecosystems, and although we’ve stopped hunting whales (though we haven’t stopped making beer from them), they are still being killed in collisions with ships. Don’t forget oil spills, either.

Fortunately, not all is doomed and there is still (some) hope. Malin L. Pinsky, an author of the report, says that the impacts are reversible. In addition, blue whale and orca populations seem to be on the rise along with other species.

Hopefully we can get our act together and make the ocean better. Especially before all our aquatic heroes meet unfortunate fates.

Rachel Sacks|January 22, 2015

Mystery Goo is Killing Seabirds in the San Francisco Bay

Rescuers are working diligently to save birds who are being killed by a “mysterious goo” that has appeared in the San Francisco Bay, while officials remain perplexed about what the substance is and where it came from.

Since affected birds began turning up in distress on shores last Friday, the International Bird Rescue (IBR) has taken in more than 300 birds covered by the unknown substance at its San Francisco Bay center located in Fairfield, while wildlife officials estimate that at least another 200 have been found dead. IBR describes the goo as being like rubber cement, and while so far it hasn’t appeared to harm other wildlife, it’s causing big problems for the area’s birds.

The goo is coating their feathers, which causes them to lose their insulation and leaves the birds vulnerable to hypothermia. So far it has mostly affected diving birds including surf scoters, bufflehead ducks and horned grebes on the eastern shore of the bay, however more affected birds have been reported on the west side near Foster City. The goo is also beginning to harm other species, including sandpipers.

“The good news is that we have modified our wash protocol and it appears to be working on healthier birds,” Barbara Callahan, IBR’s interim executive director, said in a statement. “However, some of the birds that have recently arrived are in much poorer condition, likely because they’ve had this substance on their feathers for several days now.”

The San Francisco Chronicle highlighted a number of theories about the mysterious substance ranging from a possible spill somewhere to someone intentionally dumping it in the bay, but the U.S. Coast Guard flew over the area to look for evidence of a spill and didn’t see anything.

Officials also strongly suspected a synthetic rubber that’s used as shipping fuel additive called polyisobutylene, which was responsible for a similar incident that resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 seabirds in the UK in 2013 after it was spilled from a cargo ship. However, Andrew Hughan, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said on Wednesday that state labs ruled the substance out, along with petroleum, although he added criminal charges are being considered if someone is found responsible.

Officials will be performing necropsies and additional lab tests, but don’t expect more results until next week. Meanwhile IBR continues to take in and work to save birds who have been affected. Because no responsible party has been identified, the organization has been left to cover the costs associated with rescue efforts, which it estimates are running somewhere between $6,000 to $8,000 each day to clean and care for the victims it takes in.

Alicia Graef|January 22, 2015

Can We Stop Before We Push the Ocean’s Wildlife to the Brink?

Although there have been far more losses when it comes to wildlife on land, scientists are warning that the world’s oceans are now facing a “wildlife Armageddon” that won’t stop if we continue to exploit marine resources at the rate we’re currently going.

In a new study just published in the journal Science, researchers synthesized data from numerous sources and concluded that we’re on the same path with our oceans that we were on land with the Industrial Revolution.

The group of scientists behind the study are now raising concerns that over the past 500 years, development has led to the loss of hundreds of terrestrial species, while only 15 marine species have been confirmed by the IUCN to have disappeared over that time period. Now they believe the world’s oceans are as healthy as the land was hundreds of years ago, but that if we continue on the path we’re on, things will drastically change for the worse.

“All signs indicate that we may be initiating a marine industrial revolution,” said Douglas McCauley of UC Santa Barbara and lead author of the study. “We are setting ourselves up in the oceans to replay the process of wildlife Armageddon that we engineered on land.”

Scientists are worried about how defaunation, or the total loss of species from an area, will ripple through food webs and alter ecosystem functions. Even though there have been fewer extinctions, we’re already seeing losses and drastic declines in many species: populations of sharks are plummeting, coral reefs are in trouble, we’ve overfished bluefin tuna.

With industrialized fishing, trawling, aquaculture, energy exploration, pollution and war games, among other things, we’re increasingly inserting ourselves into marine ecosystems with activities that could push them and the species who call them home to the brink.

“There are factory farms in the sea and cattle-ranch-style feed lots for tuna,” explained co-author Steve Palumbi of Stanford University. “Shrimp farms are eating up mangroves with an appetite akin to that of terrestrial farming, which consumed native prairies and forest. Stakes for seafloor mining claims are being pursued with gold-rush-like fervor, and 300-ton ocean mining machines and 750-foot fishing boats are now rolling off the assembly line to do this work.”

Along with our actions that directly impact marine ecosystems, scientists also warn that the world’s oceans are facing two other major threats: climate change and ocean acidification.

It seems like marine life is doomed, but the scientists also point out that we can take what we’ve learned on land and start making effective changes now to safeguard the oceans from being annihilated.

They hope to see the creation of more Marine Protected Areas — less than three percent of the global ocean is currently protected — but still warn that those might not be enough. Research professor at UCSB and co-author of the study Robert Warner added that we’ll still need effective policies in place to limit damage in other unprotected areas, stating ”We can blunder forward and make the same mistakes in the sea that we made on land, or we can collectively chart a different and better future for our oceans.”

Video

Alicia Graef|January 21, 2015

Measures to protect, restore reefs up for debate

An advisory group of citizens, business owners, academics and government agencies has rekindled the debate over establishment of no-fishing zones off Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

At a meeting of the “Our Florida Reefs” community working group Wednesday in Dania Beach, some 20 members recommended more than 140 measures aimed at improving and restoring coral reefs that extend from north of Biscayne National Park to the Broward-Palm Beach line. The group began meeting this year as part of the 10-year-old Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative coordinated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

A second working group for Palm Beach and Martin counties is holding similar discussions. The groups are expected to put their suggestions out to public meetings in late 2015.

Various forms of marine protected areas ranging from no-fishing zones to declaring the entire southeast Florida reef tract as a marine sanctuary and/or UNESCO World Heritage site were among the management strategies put forward at Wednesday’s meeting at the Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center.

Panel members said they fully expect public opposition, but are ready for it.

“Oh my God! No take!” Dan Clark, who heads the nonprofit environmental group “Cry of the Water,” said, half-joking.

In what one working group member called a “preemptive strike,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission executive director Nick Wiley recently wrote a letter to Broward County commissioner Kristin Jacobs, chair of the Southeast Coastal Ocean Task Force, reiterating the FWC’s position that no-fishing zones are a management measure of last resort to be implemented “only after less restrictive options have been tried and failed.”

For example, in the contentious, 10-year effort to adopt a management plan for the waters of Biscayne National Park that included a proposed no-fishing zone, the FWC convinced park officials to develop a less-restrictive alternative for protecting marine resources. Public meetings on that alternative and others will be held this week.

Other management recommendations from last week’s coral working group: increasing penalties for fish and lobster violations; halting the discharge of untreated waste water into the ocean through outfalls; keeping large ships away from coral reefs; protecting coral reefs from potential offshore oil drilling; developing strategies for coral re-stocking and enhancement; enhanced restrictions on coastal construction; limiting or eliminating beach renourishment projects; and restricting the use of pesticides and fertilizers on lawns and farms to protect reefs from run-off.

The working groups will continue discussing management options for the next several months. Anglers, divers, boaters and others can keep up with the process at http://ourfloridareefs.org. Final adoption of a suite of recommendations is expected in mid-2016.

Sue Cocking|MiamiHerald.com|09/20/2014

Scientists Discover Jellyfish Superpowers

Few marine creatures are as mesmerizing as jellyfish; their bizarre and beautiful forms undulating along with the rhythm of the sea, their tentacles trailing behind them. Yet although we think of them as languid drifters just going with the flow, new research  reveals something entirely different.

Scientists from Deakin University in Australia have found that one species, the barrel jellyfish (pictured above), has a remarkable ability to not only detect the direction of ocean currents, but to swim strongly against them.

“Detecting ocean currents without fixed visual reference points is thought to be close to impossible and is not seen, for example, in lots of migrating vertebrates including birds and turtles,” says Graeme Hays of Deakin University.

“Jellyfish are not just bags of jelly drifting passively in the oceans,” he adds. “They are incredibly advanced in their orientation abilities.”

The team collected data tracking the movements of the jellyfish and oceanic current flows, and found that the jellyfish can actively swim at counter-current in response to drift – the findings help to explain how jellyfish can congregate in the millions to form blooms that can last for periods up to several months.

It’s not yet clear just how the jellies know where to go, the researchers say. But it’s possible that they are able to detect current shear across their body surface; alternatively, they may be able to figure out the direction of the drift using cues like the planet’s magnetic field or infrasound.

Regardless of how they do it, it’s heartening to know that there’s more to jellyfish than just their billowing beauty – and it provides inspiration to further investigate the wonders of these creatures.

“Now that we have shown this remarkable behavior by one species, we need to see how broadly it applies to other species of jellyfish,” says Hays.

Melissa Breyer|Kara|TreeHugger|January 24, 2015

Officials put a hold on large-scale beach restoration project

In the face of strong opposition to the Walton County Hurricane and Storm Damage Reduction (beach nourishment) project, county commissioners have opted to put work leading up to the project on hold in order to determine if there is enough interest among beachfront property owners to warrant continuing to pursue it.

The decision was made at the Jan. 13 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) regular meeting at the South Walton Annex.

Work toward the project had been initiated over 10 years ago with a federal feasibility story. Now, according to state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller, a permit application for the project DEP has been completed, and the county is due a decision from the state on approval by Feb. 18 unless the county opts to allow the state additional time to decide.

Beachfront property owners will have the choice of whether or not to sign a construction easement that would allow project contractors to come onto their property to construct the project. Signing is voluntary, but it is unlikely that sand will be pumped onshore in areas not covered by signed construction easements. Representatives of project co-sponsor the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have stated that the project may be deemed unfeasible if an insufficient number of property owners agree to easements, although no specific number has been indicated.

Input from beachfront property owners in has been overwhelmingly negative at workshops and hearings held on the project in recent months, and this carried over as the commissioners discussed the project on Jan. 13.

This began with Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) Executive Director Jim Bagby presenting the commissioners with the alternatives of continuing with the project “full steam forward” or “taking the train off the track.”

District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows’ response was to propose putting the project “in abeyance” and sending out construction easement language to ascertain property owners’ interest in the project. Meadows proposed putting off, in the meantime, tasks associated with the project such as resurveying the Mean High Water Line (MHWL) and establishment of the Erosion Control Line (ECL).

Meadows observed that the indication is that 90 percent of beachfront property owners will not sign an easement. “There are an awful lot of people against it,” she said.

Meadows moved to proceed as she had indicated, and District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander seconded for discussion.

Comander initially spoke against sending out the easement language due to the opposition to the project that had been encountered. “If our emails are any indication, we’re going to be wasting stamps,” she said.

Comander observed that a decade ago, before she was elected commissioner, she recalled some of the same people now in the room to oppose the project who were at that time present to ask the commissioners to help them save their homes, which were in danger of collapse from storm impacts. In response, the BCC had authorized the issuance of emergency permits for temporary seawalls, an action that had led to mandates for the Habitat Conservation Plan and the Leave No Trace program, she recalled. Comander added that, however, the BCC does hear beachfront owners who are now saying that they do not want the project.

Meadows responded that for liability purposes, it would be ” judicious” to have a record of the property owner saying yes or no to the project.

District 2 Commissioner Cecilia Jones agreed on the importance of having “something in writing” from property owners. She added that it is possible that some property owners will say that they need more information in order to make a decision.

Comander also agreed that a “stack of papers” from property owners saying yes or not to the project would be helpful after the next storm or hurricane.

Ten people addressed the commissioners in public comment, all of them property owners except for one attorney. Again, only a couple of speakers said anything favorable about the project.
“This project should not proceed at all,” said attorney Kent Safriet.
“Why do you want to fundamentally change Walton County? Why do you want to reduce property values on the beach?” asked Blue Mountain Beach property owner Emmett Hildreth. He called the easement a “horror.”

Linda Hildreth thanked the commissioners for the action that they had proposed, putting the project on hold. “Thank you for listening to your constituents,” she said.

“Forget the easement,” urged Blue Mountain Beach property owner Sherry Chase.

Gary Drake warned of a “legal quagmire” if easements were sent out. He suggested instead affidavits or letters of interest. He asked how the easements would be “undone” if there is no valid project.

Walton County Attorney Mark Davis responded that the easements would not be valid if there is no project, but that in that instance out of an “abundance of caution” the BCC could record a determination that the easements would no longer apply.

Randall Brown pointed out that a lot of beachfront property owners live out of town and may not be informed about the project.

Meadows responded that she goes on the philosophy that people are “very smart” and that, upon learning about the project, they will do their own research and/or consult an attorney. “I want them to decide on their own,” she said. Meadows was of the opinion that the easement, “the true document,” should be sent out.

Sending out a letter of intent instead would be like asking a person to decide if they would like to get married and showing them a certificate that wasn’t the real one, she said.

Representing property owners at Rosemary Beach, David Bailey told the commissioners that the association board was “very appreciative” of their efforts with the project but that the board still had too many questions to act on an easement at this time. “We’re very interested in an opportunity to provide our thoughts on the project,” Bailey commented. He added that the owners he represents had been disappointed at the possibility that the BCC might act to “kill” the project at the meeting.

The commissioners discussed sending out an informational letter with the easements. District 1 Commissioner Bill Chapman spoke in favor of doing so.

Chapman observed that he had received over 300 emails, mostly in opposition to the project, but that there are more than 900 beachfront property owners. 
“Absentee owners may not have a clue,” he said. Chapman predicted that sending out the easements and letters would “kick off” in property owners’ heads the need to research the project.

Meadows amended her motion to provide for the informational letter to be sent along with the easement language, with the understanding that the letter would be composed by the county and TDC attorneys and would include a point of contact for information. The motion included a six-month period for property owners to decide whether or not to sign the easements.

The motion was approved unanimously.

In action following, the BCC also approved the easement language, which had been revised in response to a number of public workshops and that Bagby pointed out was the 12th version.

Information on the project and easements are available on the web site www.protectwaltoncountybeaches.com.

DOTTY NIST|Jan 23rd, 2015

Drought law: Congress proposals could destroy San Francisco estuary and many species

The impacts of California’s ongoing extreme drought are felt by everyone in the state. Some in Congress have proposed weakening environmental protections that would divert more of the water flowing to the San Francisco Bay. That would have serious implications for the largest estuary on the Pacific coast of North and South America and the fish, wildlife and people who rely on this unique ecosystem.

Fresh water that flows down our rivers through the Sacramento—San Joaquin River Delta to the bay and its estuary is the lifeblood for many species, such as our iconic Chinook salmon. In the ocean, salmon are consumed by orcas and other marine mammals, and some are harvested by commercial fishing fleets. San Francisco Bay and its estuary are nurseries for salmon, herring, halibut, sturgeon, Dungeness crab and other species that sustain fishing communities and sportfishing businesses from Monterey to Oregon.

If proposals to weaken environmental protections pass Congress and more water is diverted, our fragile estuary will continue to decline.

Few recognize that this ecosystem already is suffering from a decades-long man-made drought. In most years, the winter and spring months are drier than during any natural drought on record because of the extremely high levels of water diversion.

On average, more than half of the fresh water is diverted either upstream or at the southern end of the Delta, with more than 70 percent of it going to agriculture and the rest to cities and industry. When natural drought conditions are added on top of these long-term water diversions, this ecosystem receives an even smaller fraction of the water available. In comparable estuaries, like the Chesapeake Bay, people are not diverting anywhere close to 50 percent of the water nature supplies. The best available science shows that the health of rivers is degraded when more than 20 percent of their water is diverted.

Recent data confirm this. Last year between February and June–especially sensitive months for native fish–only one-third of the runoff from the Central Valley made it to the San Francisco Bay. Not surprisingly, data released this month showed that the once common Delta smelt reached all-time low populations in 2014, and other species remained near record lows. Last year, juvenile Chinook salmon suffered high mortality as they migrated toward the ocean, jeopardizing all four unique local runs of this culturally and economically important fish.

Increasing water diversions can only make things worse. If we compound the decades-long man-made drought and the natural drought by diverting even more water, we’re increasing the likelihood of multiple extinctions. That’s what laws like the Endangered Species Act are intended to prevent.

Some claim these laws are not effective because target species have not recovered. But the protections are intended only to prevent collapse and extinction, not to produce thriving ecosystems.

The future of our estuary is being discussed now as Congress considers drought legislation. Elected officials should look to the best available science when making decisions. Recent court decisions support the scientific basis for ecosystem protections that prevent even more dramatic reductions in flows to the bay.

Innovative approaches that reduce the impact of the drought on cities and farms are needed and possible. Our focus should be on improving how we use our limited water supply, not on shortsighted policies that divert even more water from the bay at the expense of native fish and ecosystems and those who depend upon them for their livelihood.

Jeanette Howard and Jon Rosenfield|Mercury News|01/23/2015

Great Barrier Reef: Greg Hunt orders dumping ban in bid to dodge in-danger listing

Australian government moves to ban dumping of dredge spoil in Great Barrier Reef marine park as it lobbies to stop the reef being declared ‘in danger’

The federal government has moved to ban the dumping of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef marine park as it lobbies to stop the reef being declared “in danger”.

The environment minister, Greg Hunt, has ordered the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to draft regulations to ban dredge spoil dumping in the area “once and for all”.

The move makes good on Hunt’s commitment to the Unesco World Heritage Committee, which has threatened to list the reef as in danger.

Environment groups say the dump ban in the marine park is an “important step” but ignores about 80% of dredge dumping in the rest of the reef’s world heritage area.

WWF Australia has called for a full ban on dumping within the heritage area.

“It it no longer acceptable to simply use the reef as a dump,” its chief, Dermot O’Gorman, said.

In 2013, the federal government approved the dumping of 3m tons of dredge waste within the marine park waters from the Abbot Point coal port.

Hunt is considering a revised plan to dump the spoil in the Caley valley wetlands.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society fears run-off will flow out to the reef and is calling on Hunt to reject the Caley valley plan.

Last year, the World Heritage Committee demanded Australia develop a long-term plan for the reef.

Hunt will travel to Europe next week to consult on the plan and outline progress in a bid to keep the reef off the “in danger” list.

“We have responded with rigor and passion to protect this icon,” he said.

Labor believes dumping should be banned in the entire heritage area and has pledged to do so if elected federally.

Australian Associated Press|24 January 2015

With Menhaden Making a Comeback, Managers Are at a Crossroads

Peer review of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s 2015 Atlantic Menhaden Stock Assessment is now complete. As expected, it shows the biomass (weight of fish) increasing after a steep decline, apparently driven by an increase in larger, heavier fish. However, the abundance (number of fish in the water) remains well below historic levels. The report’s authors “strongly encourage” an ecosystem approach to setting catch limits that ensure a food supply for ocean predators. Such a system would recognize menhaden as a fish “both valued commercially in its own right, and as an important prey species.” The commission’s Menhaden Management Board will review and consider the document during its Feb. 3 to 5 winter meeting.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission also manages populations of some sought-after game fish that feed on menhaden, such as striped bass.

It appears that we may soon get some promising news about the fish that’s sometimes called the most important one in the sea—the Atlantic menhaden. These small forage fish constitute a key part of the marine food web, and now the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is nearing completion of a new assessment of the stock.

The science is still undergoing peer review, but initial reports indicate that historically depleted menhaden are showing signs of improvement. A draft version of the assessment reveals that the biomass, or total estimated weight, of the species is up after a period of steep decline. This would echo recent anecdotal reports of whales, fish, and seabirds feeding on large schools of menhaden.

Despite this progress, the draft assessment indicates that there is still a long way to go for the population to return to its historic abundance, or to recover across its full range along the Atlantic coast. This puts commissioners at a crossroads: In the coming months they will decide whether to move forward with modern conservation management of this public resource or backslide to the failed system of the past.

Any improvement for Atlantic menhaden would be good news for striped bass, whales, seabirds, and the many other animals that need large schools of these oily fish for food. But we can’t ignore that this new assessment still relies on a limited, single-species method of counting fish populations. It does not incorporate modern scientific measures which would better ensure that enough menhaden are left in the ocean as prey for marine wildlife.

The commission also manages populations of some sought-after game fish that feed on menhaden, such as striped bass and weakfish, which are in decline. So it’s important that the regulatory body not increase catch levels until it can determine the appropriate amount of menhaden needed in the Atlantic to help speed the recovery of these popular game fish and all the other predators dependent on this key forage species.

In 2012, commissioners wisely recognized how important menhaden are for a healthy ocean and approved the first coastwide catch limits. That action has already resulted in hundreds of millions more menhaden in the water, and the industrial fishing companies that target these fish remained highly profitable even while operating under the increased limits.

But the commissioners went further: They also committed to developing a system to ensure that predators have plenty of menhaden to eat. Now they have the opportunity to build upon success and follow through on that commitment.

There will be pressure from the industrial fishing industry to use this new assessment as an excuse to go back to the old management system, which set no coastwide limit and assumed that fishing had no effect on a seemingly endless menhaden population. That would be a mistake, risking the progress that’s being made.

Commissioners should be proud of the work they’ve done and must stay the course of modern management with science-based catch limits. Putting in place limits that leave enough menhaden for predators to eat will ensure that the coastal ecosystems and the fishing communities that depend on them will be healthy and vibrant, now and for future generations.

Peter Baker|New England Ocean Conservation, U.S. Ocean Conservation|January 15, 2015

Rare Glimpse of Ancient Corals and Other Creatures of the Deep Video

Campaign launched to deal with problem of abandoned fishing gear

World Animal Protection (WAP) has launched a campaign it is calling the Global Ghost Gear Initiative to unite people with the expertise, influence and power to tackle the problem of discarded fishing gear.

‘Ghost gear’ is the term used to describe fishing equipment that has been lost, abandoned or discarded in the worlds’ oceans. It includes fishing nets, ropes, pots and traps.

Ghost gear represents one of the biggest threats to marine life as it can entangle, injure and lead to the deaths of millions of animals every year.

Most fishing gear is made out of plastic and any that is accidentally or deliberately dropped into the ocean will persist for centuries.

An estimated 640,000 tons of fishing gear – around 10 per cent of total marine debris – is added to our oceans annually. Combined, it weighs more than the Titanic.

WAP estimates that more than 136,000 seals, sea lions and large whales are killed by ghost gear every year. Countless more birds, turtles, fish and other species are also injured and killed.

The Global Ghost Gear Initiative aims to develop solutions by:

  • Sharing data, intelligence and resources to understand the scale of the problem and its causes, impacts and trends
  • Expanding and replicating solution projects in areas where ghost gear is a major problem
  • Spotlighting the problem and catalyzing efforts to create global, sustainable change

To find out more visit www.worldanimalprotection.org/build-the-global-ghost-gear-initiative

The Delta Smelt: A Tiny Fish with Big Implications

The delta smelt is a fish that grows to no more than three inches in length, but over the years this threatened species has made big headlines in California’s dusty, water-rights battleground. One congressional representative, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), is even on record as calling the smelt a “stupid little fish” that doesn’t deserve water (see video below). Recently, the Supreme Court dismissed such narrow-minded claims by denying a Big Ag-led attack against the smelt.

Protecting the delta smelt has reverberations far beyond the fate of one little fish, however. By denying Big Ag’s challenge of water restrictions meant to protect the smelt, the Supreme Court leaves in place a longstanding ruling that the Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to consider the preservation of all endangered species their highest priority.

But that’s not all. The Supreme Court’s decision also protects the much larger ecosystem dependent on an adequate flow of fresh water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Thanks to protections provided to the smelt and its habitat by the Endangered Species Act, many other species are now kept from joining the smelt’s imperiled ranks.

Finally, freshwater flows through the Delta support valuable commercial and sport fisheries and provide irrigation water for Delta farmers and drinking water for millions of Californians.

You read that last part right. Making sure that tiny little fish survives is actually pretty important to ensuring that California’s taps don’t run dry.

But agricultural interests and their friends in Congress don’t agree. They often attribute the lack of irrigation water to these water restrictions to protect the smelt, but nothing could be further from the truth. California’s longstanding water management problems are rooted in massive state and federal water projects that transfer unsustainable quantities of water from the Delta to semi-arid agricultural districts in the southern Central Valley. The problem is compounded by the current historic drought and resultant light snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains, which used to provide the state with the majority of its water through California’s dry summers. But, it’s easier for lawmakers to deny climate change and blame the tiny delta smelt for the lack of water than to address the bigger issue of unsustainable water projects.

Now that the Supreme Court has come down solidly on the side of reason and the law, legislators should take this opportunity to rethink California’s water management policies and provide for a more realistic distribution of our limited water resources to provide for a healthy environment, safe drinking water, and sustainable agriculture. The Supreme Court’s decision will also encourage new solutions to California’s water woes, pushing legislators to move beyond a status quo dependent upon the costly transport of Delta water to arid areas unsuitable for intensive, irrigated agriculture.

Fortunately, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision, politicians and the agricultural industry will finally be forced to move beyond blaming a tiny fish for all of their water woes. If they don’t, Earthjustice will continue its years-long effort to defend the smelt and everything that it stands for.

Trent Orr|January 21, 2015

How Does Your State Rank For Beach Water Quality?

The Natural Resources Defense Council analyzed 3,485 coastal U.S. beaches, and the results weren’t always pretty.

Ten percent of those beaches had water too polluted to swim in.

In addition to naming the country’s “Superstar Beaches” and “Repeat Offenders,” the NRDC’s Testing the Waters study ranked states, based on their beaches’ BAV or Beach Action Value, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s benchmark for evaluating swimmer safety. Keep in mind it only ranks 30 states with coastal beaches.

Table credit: NRDCTable credit: NRDC

The NRDC is also using its report as a way to encourage people to provide input on the proposed Clean Water Protection Rule from the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which would restore pollution control safeguards to various streams, wetlands and waters that are not protected today. Stormwater runoff remains the biggest source of beach water pollution.

Brandon Baker|June 29, 2014

FWC catches snorkelers spearfishing illegally in upper Keys

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) protects marine resources in the upper Keys in many ways. Sometimes a water patrol turns up suspicious activity.

Officer Danielle Munkelt caught four people who were spearfishing illegally on Tuesday. She spotted a group of snorkelers along the shoreline at the Channel 5 Bridge near Craig Key. After talking with them and then detecting discrepancies in their stories, she discovered a speared, undersized, out-of-season snook and five speared lobster onboard. Munkelt also retrieved a pole spear from the water.

The fish and lobster were seized and two subjects were charged with misdemeanors, including undersized and out-of-season snook, speared snook, spearfishing in the Upper Keys, undersized lobster and speared lobster.

They face up to 60 days in jail and/or up to $500 in fines for each violation.

Wildlife and Habitat

 Slicks Seep on in the Amazon ‏Pictures -

Good news for the ANWR

President Obama has announced the most important conservation gain for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in three decades!

After receiving more than one million public comments from folks (like you) requesting stronger protections for America’s iconic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the President and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell unveiled the Refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan, recommending a Wilderness designation for the Arctic Refuge’s Coastal Plain!

This is fantastic! If Congress acts on President Obama’s recommendation, this nursery for polar bear cubs, caribou calves, migratory birds and more will be protected from oil drilling once and for all.

Make no mistake, in today’s political climate, some will attack the President for standing up for the Refuge.

Our goal is and always has been to obtain the strongest possible protections for the Refuge and its Coastal Plain. Like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and all the iconic places protected by those generations that have come before us, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge must be here for future generations to enjoy.

Cindy Shogan|Executive Director|Alaska Wilderness League

5 Fascinating Facts About Hibernating Animals

Most people do not give much thought to the changing of seasons. Sometimes we change our wardrobes to include seasonal clothing that is appropriate for the weather. Other times we may alter our eating styles to include seasonal products or holiday foods. Annual cold-weather related disorders are even known to plague us. However, it is rare that our entire lives are uprooted and modified for the winter.

Animals that hibernate do exactly that. Their whole system and way that they live is transformed into something completely new. Whether it be a creature that can altogether stop breathing and instead absorb oxygen in a novel way, or a critter that “hibernates” in a lighter sub-style of the process in order to recuperate only until awoken by possible danger, the concept of hibernation is simply fascinating.

While there are more than enough extraordinary facts about animals who hibernate to produce extensive amounts of literature on the topic, here are just five remarkable facts that will blow your mind.

1. Some hibernating animals can stop breathing and be perfectly fine.

Water reptiles and amphibians can do some extreme things in order to hibernate. For instance, frogs like the hibernating bullfrog breathe air in the summer so that when winter arrives, their bodies slow down and they can absorb oxygen through their skin without actually breathing. In fact, most of a pond’s reptiles and amphibians are able to absorb the oxygen that they need through their skin; some turtles do this as well.

2. Some animals have adapted their hibernation style to suit their survival needs.

Animals such as bears can go into an alternate, light hibernation state called a torpor. Torpor is like hibernation, but in this condition, the bear can be woken up easily. Unlike the deeper sleep during hibernation, animals who are in a torpor can be more aware of threats, making them superior survivors. Ground squirrels are also among animals who torpor, however they shift between hibernation, torpor and being awake.

3. Animal companions can lightly hibernate and have even been mistaken for dead.

Hamsters are also animals who torpor. Hamster parents have mistaken their beloved pals to be deceased, only to witness their little balls of fur “come alive” again. The reason that hamsters go into light hibernation is due to the fact that there is a food and water source close by and readily available to them; they just wake up to dine, then resume their torpor. Sadly, hibernating hamsters can become tremendously startled if purposefully awoken from torpor, and some have even died of heart attacks.

4. An animal’s body can wake them during their hibernation in order to protect them.

Interestingly, the hedgehog whose heart rate drops by approximately 90 percent, can get too cold. If a hedgehog’s body temperature decreases to an unhealthy measure, it will wake up just enough so that the waking heart rate naturally warms it just right, then hibernation recommences. Hedgehogs also go into estivation during immensely warm weather, which is a hibernation that allows the animal to cool down before resuming normal activities.

5. Some animals use hibernation as if it were nature’s pause button.

The common poorwill is the only bird that goes into true hibernation. It hibernates during extreme temperatures (when it is either too hot or too cold) and at times of food scarcity. As a built in survival technique, the animal can take a hiatus and increase chances of continuation. The common poorwill can even hibernate while they are incubating their eggs, proving as not only a true survivor, but also a riveting multitasking animal.

Looks like nature has a pretty good handle on things, doesn’t it?

Catherine Gill|January 25, 2015

The battle to protect woodland caribou by defeating the Keystone XL pipeline has come to a head.

Congressional leaders have launched an all-out blitz to approve the dirty oil project—and by all accounts they have enough votes to pass reckless pro-tar sands legislation. Our last best hope for protecting threatened wildlife like caribou and stopping this dangerous project is a veto from President Obama.

Keystone spells disaster for countless wildlife and their environment. President Obama must reject it once and for all.

If built, Keystone would trigger a massive expansion of tar sands oil production in Canada, decimating at-risk herds of woodland caribou.

Woodland caribou have already lost huge swaths of their historic habitat to tar sands mining. Today these amazing creatures remain only in northern Boreal forest. Without improved efforts to save their little remaining habitat, local caribou herds face extinction.

In the United States, Keystone would gush an unimaginable 830,000 barrels of toxic tar sands oil through the delicate habitats of sage grouse, sandhill cranes, walleye fisheries and more, every single day.

There’s no doubt this pipeline will break. Somewhere. Some day.

In 2010, a pipeline rupture sent over a million gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River system, poisoning people and wildlife for miles around. The disaster showed just how grossly unprepared the industry and our governments are when it comes to handling toxic spills.

National Wildlife Federation

Obama seeks to put Alaska refuge off-limits to drilling

WASHINGTON — President Obama plans to ask Congress to designate more than 12 million acres of Alaska’s wildlife refuge as a protected wilderness area, seeking to block oil and gas production.

Alaska’s Republican lawmakers immediately criticized the plan, saying it would damage their state’s economy.

In a video released by the White House on Sunday, Obama said he wants to “make sure that this amazing wonder is preserved for future generations.”

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said, “just like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of our nation’s crown jewels and we have an obligation to preserve this spectacular place for generations to come.”

Much of the dispute revolves around some 1.5 million acres on the oil-rich coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, long a source of contention between conservationists and backers of the energy industry.

Alaska’s Republican lawmakers denounced the Obama administration’s plan as a threat to their state’s economy, and the nation’s energy production.

“It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “The promises made to us at statehood, and since then, mean absolutely nothing to them.”

Newly elected Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said the administration’s plan puts “energy security in serious jeopardy.” He said “we will defeat their lawless attempt to designate ANWR as a wilderness, as well as their ultimate goal of making Alaska one big national park.”

David Jackson|USA TODAY|January 25, 2015

Forestry

The Healing Power of Trees

I’ve had the good fortune to live in a wide range of places: in the city, in the rainforest, in the desert, in a canyon, in the mountains, beside the ocean, and numerous other places. I learned a lot about myself from being in such diverse environments. One of the main things I learned is that I love living near trees. If I can’t live in the middle of the forest, you’ll probably find massive cedar hedges or an old-growth pine somewhere on the land surrounding my home. And, new research shows that I’m not the only one who is happiest near trees.

A new study conducted by the University of Exeter, in Exeter, UK and the University of Trnava, Trnava, Slovakia found that people who live in more densely forested areas are less likely to be taking anti-depressant medications. Because a growing body of evidence has shown an association between access to urban greenspace and wellbeing, the scientists wanted to find out how tree density might affect mental health.

The researchers explored the number of trees per kilometer throughout London, England boroughs along with the rates of antidepressant prescribing. After adjusting for other potential factors, the scientists found that there was a decrease of 1.18 antidepressant prescriptions for every additional tree per kilometer of street. They concluded that an increased number of trees may reduce the incidence of depression. The study will be published in the April 2015 edition of the journal “Landscape and Urban Planning.

Obviously, most people who love nature don’t need a study to tell them what they already know. But, it’s nice when science confirms what we feel. It seems we humans are meant to be “tree-huggers” or at least live among the trees.

Even if we don’t live in a densely-forested area, we can contribute to the number of trees in our communities. We can plant more trees in our yard, propose the planting of more trees in public spaces, plant and care for potted trees on our balconies if we don’t have land in which to plant them. We can get involved with tree-planting efforts in our communities, or start them if they don’t already exist in our town or city. I’d love to hear how trees enhance your life and the efforts you may be making to add more trees to your neighborhood.

Michelle Schoffro Cook|January 23, 2015

One of America’s most precious and endangered habitats is under siege — again.

Contrary to its own policies, the Obama Administration is rushing through a massive old-growth timber sell-off in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska — the largest sale of its kind in decades. This industrial level logging could put many vulnerable bird species at risk.

Audubon has joined with other conservation groups in federal court to stop this malicious sell-off of America’s globally important coastal temperate rainforest.

The ancient coastal woodlands of the Tongass are home to many bird species that depend on old-growth forests for their survival. Native species include nearly a third of the world’s Red-breasted Sapsucker population and at least 20% of the global population of pacific-slope flycatchers. Marbled Murrelets — listed under the Endangered Species Act in Washington, Oregon and California — are old-growth-dependent birds that rely on Tongass old growth to support healthy populations.

Perhaps most at-risk from the so-called Big Thorne timber sale is the Queen Charlotte Goshawk, an old-growth dependent raptor. Only 300 to 700 breeding pairs of these birds survive in the wild. The proposed timber sale would degrade goshawk habitat, perhaps past the point of no return.

The Big Thorne timber sale would put 120 million board feet of old-growth trees literally on the chopping block. What’s worse, this is only the first of four massive logging incursions proposed by the US Forest Service.

Four years ago, the Obama Administration said it was bringing to an end the era of massive and destructive logging in the Tongass. This latest sale, sadly, is a giant step in the wrong direction.

David Yarnold|President and CEO|National Audubon Society

Global Warming and Climate Change

Before sea level rises, Miami Beach officials want to raise West Avenue 1½ to 2 feet

In an area that has seen its fair share of roadwork during the past few years, city officials want to raise West Avenue between 1½ to 2 feet during the next few years in an effort to prepare one of the lowest-lying points of Miami Beach for anticipated sea level rise.

Raising the road would be tied to stormwater drainage and sewer improvements that include installing more pumps to prevent flooding from rain and high tides. The first phase, which will likely begin in February, involves work on West Avenue from Fifth to Eighth streets and from Lincoln Road to 17th Street. This phase would last until August.

The West Avenue Neighborhood Association met Wednesday night with city officials to discuss the plans. Public Works director Eric Carpenter told the packed room of about 100 residents — some skeptical and some more in favor of the plan — that he prefers dovetailing the street raising with the underground infrastructure work rather than tearing up the street several times.

“It doesn’t really make any sense to disturb those segments of the street twice,” he said. “We’re moving forward with the stormwater improvements. What we’re trying to do now is get a consensus from the community that we want to move forward with everything else on that street so that we don’t have to come back later and tear it up again.”

With a higher road, the city would create transitions from the road to the sidewalk that include, depending on the property, a higher sidewalk, steps down to the sidewalk and/or extra drainage components to ensure that no water from the street is draining onto private property.

The stretch between 8th Street and Lincoln Road would be done at a later date in the second phase of the improvements.

Valerie Navarrete, president of the neighborhood association, said she feels the project is necessary sooner than later, even if it means everyone has to put up with more construction. She added that some private properties, like the building she lives in, will have to find solutions to pump water from their land.

“I’m three feet below sea level,” she said. “Our building’s water pump cost us $2,000.”

The contractor for phase one is Bergeron Land Development, and that first phase will cost about $15 million, according to city engineer Bruce Mowry.

Mowry also spoke to residents Wednesday, saying that Miami Beach — the western swath of South Beach in particular — is “ground zero” for the affects of sea-level rise.

“I’m not going to stop sea-level rise,” he said. “But we are here to try and mitigate.”

Some residents have been skeptical since first hearing about the project at a neighborhood meeting in December. Business owners have felt the pinch since a large section of Alton Road was torn up and rebuilt recently, and they worry work on West Avenue will further hinder business. Residents already tired of construction headaches are wary of more detours, jackhammers and dust.

With Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and commissioners pushing for projects like these to get done quickly, some residents are actually wondering if maybe the city should take more time to hash out the details before launching the two-phase project.

Wednesday night, residents asked several questions about timing and what impact the street raising would have on their properties. Virtually all agreed the work is necessary to keep South Beach dry, but many want to keep discussing details of how it will be done and what the finished street will look like.

“It’ll be OK,” said Gayle Durham, who is a member of the neighborhood association board and has had reservations about the project. She, like many, wants to keep discussing the impacts, including what kind of streetscaping will be done after the the road is raised. She suggested properties work with the city plant trees on private property to create a bigger canopy, and city staff said they were open to the idea.

“I feel better after this meeting,” she said at the end. “I trust them more.”

Shawn Bryant, another board member, asked why the city hasn’t fully designed both phases of the project, along the whole stretch of West Avenue, before starting phase one.

“This is a 12-block area, and you’re going into a project that hasn’t been full designed out,” he said. “That’s just astonishing to me.”

Carpenter and Mowry assured everyone that there would be a smooth transition between raised sections of West and non-raised sections between phases, and that the details of impacts on the sidewalk would get hashed out on a property-by-property basis. The project has also been broken up into phases because the neighborhood has, in the past, requested the city not tear up the whole street at once.

By the end of the two-hour meeting, Bryant was thankful for the explanations.

“I’m not against the project,” Bryant said. “I just want to understand the project.”

Carpenter said his office was available to people who have questions or concerns.

“I know that’s a scary thought when the government comes and says, ‘We’re here to help,’ but we really are here to help,” he said. “And if you have concerns or you have problems, let us know, and we’ll try and fix them.”

Joey Flechas|MiamiHerald.com|01/22/2015

An Arctic ice cap’s shockingly rapid slide into the sea

For years, scientists have documented the rapid retreat of Arctic ice, from melting glaciers in Greenland to shrinking snow cover in far northern Eurasia. Now researchers have discovered one Arctic ice cap that appears to be literally sliding into the sea.

Ice is disappearing at a truly astonishing rate in Austfonna, an expanse of frozen rock far north of the Arctic Circle in Norway’s Svalbard island chain. Just since 2012, a portion of the ice cap covering the island has thinned by a whopping 160 feet, according to an analysis of satellite measurements by a team led by researchers at Britain’s University of Leeds.

Put another way, the ice cap’s vertical expanse dropped in two years by a distance equivalent to the height of a 16-story building. As another comparison, consider that scientists were recently alarmed to discover that one of Western Antarctica’s ice sheets was losing vertical height at a rate of 30 feet a year.

“It is a very large signal,” said Mal McMillan, a geophysicist and one of two researchers at Leeds’  Center for Polar Observation and Modeling who worked on the study. “The ice cap has slumped out into the ocean with a substantial loss of ice.”

McMillan and colleague Andrew Shepherd analyzed changes in Austfonna’s ice using data from satellites that measure, among other things, changes in elevation. They found that the gradual melting of the island’s 1,550-cubic-mile ice cap recently shifted into overdrive, for reasons that aren’t fully understood.  Small ice caps like the one over Austfonna are believed to be more vulnerable to climate change-related thawing because relatively more surface area is exposed to the air and sea.

In this case, the ice cap lost one-sixth of its original thickness in two years, and the flow of ice from the summit to the sea accelerated by 25 fold, to a rate of several kilometers a year, a fast clip by glacier standards, the study found.

“What we see here is unusual because it …  appears to have started when ice began to thin and accelerate at the coast,” Shepherd said.

The research, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, illustrates how quickly ice caps can evolve, highlighting the challenges associated with predicting future impact of climate change, the scientists said. Arctic experts are closely watching changes in polar ice because of the potentially profound implications for sea-level rise. About a third of the increase in sea level in recent decades is attributed to melting glaciers and ice sheets, and researchers worry that more rapid melting could eventually swamp coastal cities around the world.

Still, researchers say, it’s too early to say definitively if the shrinking of the Austfonna ice cap is due to global warming. Ice caps can shift suddenly for reasons that have nothing to do with climate, McMillan said. But in this case the list of possible culprits would certainly include warmer ocean water and air temperatures, both of which have risen more rapidly in the Arctic compared to the rest of the planet, he said.

“We’ve only seen this for a couple of years,” he said of the Austfonna meltdown, “so we really need to monitor it further.”

Joby Warrick|January 23, 2015 

East Antarctica’s largest glacier melting: Totten region more vulnerable to climate change than previously thought

  • Totten Glacier was thought to be surrounded by cold waters
  • But scientists have found surrounding waters are warmer than expected
  • They were 1.5 °C warmer than other areas during the summer
  • Study hints East Antarctica is not as protected from change as experts used to think and could shed light on vulnerable parts of the ice sheets

The largest glacier in East Antarctica is melting due to warm ocean water, according to Australian scientists.

Until recently, the 74-mile-long (120km) Totten Glacier was thought to be surrounded by cold waters and therefore very stable and unlikely to shrink.

But now experts say that waters around the glacier are warmer than expected and are probably melting the ice from below.

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Australian scientists say that waters around Totten Glacier (pictured) which contains ice equivalent to a 20ft (six meter) rise in global sea levels, are warmer than expected and are probably melting the ice form below

Scientists believe the glacier contains enough water to cause a 20ft (six-meter) rise in global sea levels if it melted entirely.

‘We knew that the glacier was thinning from the satellite data, and we didn’t know why,’ Steve Rintoul, the voyage’s chief scientist told AFP.

The expedition found that waters around the glacier, which is 18 miles (30km) wide, were 1.5 °C warmer than other areas visited on the same trip during the southern hemisphere summer.

‘We made it to the front of the glacier and we measured temperatures that were warm enough to drive significant melt,’ Dr Rintoul said.

‘And so the fact that warm water can reach this glacier is a sign that East Antarctica is potentially more vulnerable to changes in the ocean driven by climate change than we used to think.’

The glacier, located in East Antarctica (marked on the map) was known to be thinning thanks to satellite images, but it is only now that scientists think they know why

The glacier, located in East Antarctica (marked on the map) was known to be thinning thanks to satellite images, but it is only now that scientists think they know why

Until recently, the 74 mile long (120km) glacier was thought to be surrounded by cold waters and therefore very stable and unlikely to change. A stock image of a penguin strolling past the King Sejong Korean station in Antarctica is shown

Previous expeditions had been unable to get close to the glacier due to heavy ice, but Dr Rintoul said the weather had held for the Aurora Australis icebreaker and a team of scientists and technicians from the Australian Antarctic Division and other bodies to investigate.

Dr Rintoul stressed that the glacier is not about to melt entirely overnight and cause a 20 ft rise in sea levels, but that research will help scientists predict how changes in ocean temperatures will impact on ice sheets.

‘This study is a step towards better understanding of exactly which parts of the ice sheets are vulnerable to ocean warming and that is the sort of information that we can then use to improve our predictions of future sea level rises,’ he said.

‘East Antarctica is not as protected from change as we use to think,’ he said.

The melt rate of glaciers in the fastest-melting part of Antarctica has tripled over the past decade, analysis of the past 21 years showed in a report published last month.

WEST ANTARCTIC IS MELTING AT TRIPLE THE RATE IT WAS A DECADE AGO

The Amundsen Sea has long been thought to be the weakest ice sheet in the West Antarctic.

Last month a US study suggested the barren region is hemorrhaging ice at a rate triple that of a decade ago.

Researchers believe that the melting of glaciers in West Antarctica may be irreversible.

The Amundsen Sea (pictured) has long been thought to be the weakest ice sheet in the West Antarctic. Now, a new US study suggests the barren region is hemorrhaging ice at a rate triple that of a decade ago

The findings of the 21-year study by NASA and the University of California, Irvine claim to provide the most accurate estimates yet of just how fast glaciers are melting in the Amundsen Sea Embayment.

Scientists found the rate by taking radar, laser and satellite measurements of the glaciers’ mass between 1992 and 2013.

They found they lost an average 83 gigatons per year (91.5 billion U.S. tons), or the equivalent of losing the water weight of Mount Everest every two years.

‘The mass loss of these glaciers is increasing at an amazing rate,’ said scientist Isabella Velicogna, jointly of the University of California, Irvine and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

‘Previous studies had suggested that this region is starting to change very dramatically since the 1990s, and we wanted to see how all the different techniques compared,’ added lead author Tyler Utterley of UCI.

Sarah Griffiths|MailOnline|26 January 2015

There is a Difference Between Weather and Climate Change

You may have heard people say that because they’re cold, global warming must not exist. That if temperatures are low, the planet could not possibly be warming up. This is not the case, of course, as weather and climate are two different things.

Next time someone points to the “historic” blizzard on the Northeast this past week as a sign that climate change is false, remind them to keep their eyes not on the dog but the man.

This analogy for the difference between weather and climate comes from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who explains the confusion between the two by giving an example about walking a dog.

deGrasse Tyson explains that weather is more short-term and less predictable, whereas climate is the long-term culmination of weather patterns over time. While a microscopic disturbance can set off large-scale changes in weather (rendering weekly forecasts useless), climate operates by a multitude of forces, such as changes in the sun, the tilt of the Earth’s axis and the concentration of greenhouse gases in the air.

To sum it up, climate is predictable and weather is not. deGrasse Tyson’s comparison of this to a dog’s movement doesn’t just explain the difference but also subtly points to one thing in common: man.

The long-term trajectory of the dog’s path is determined by the man walking the dog. Where the dog wanders is unpredictable, but its overall path can be anticipated by the man controlling the leash. Similarly, extreme weather can be expected in a warming world.

The US Senate may have recently voted that climate change is not a hoax, but they are still divided as to whether or not it is manmade. While it may not be completely certain that humans are the main force behind climate change, we are definitely heavily contributing to a warming world. The main fact to focus on, though, is that rising temperatures can create even stronger individual storms. Global warming doesn’t just put the planet in perpetual summer with no more snowfall or typical winter weather; instead, it changes the atmospheric moisture content.

Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, explains that a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, leading to a bigger risk of snow storms when combined with cold air. This also applies on the East Coast with moisture coming from the ocean, where temperatures are rising.

Extreme weather won’t just be occurring in winter either, as scientists are predicting increased rainfall and stronger storms in summer months as well.

We can look at day-to-day weather as a predictor of what climate might be like, but shouldn’t confuse the two. Weather is unpredictable, climate is not. We simply need to observe patterns over time; not to watch the dog being walked too closely but to watch the man walking the dog.

Rachel Sacks|January 29, 2015

Extreme Weather

Senate rejects link between human activity and climate change

Climate change “is not a hoax,” according to the U.S. Senate, which voted 98 to 1 in favor of an amendment stating as much Wednesday. Explaining his vote, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said that there was “Biblical evidence” of climate change, but that humans were not responsible for it.

With this amendment, Democrats had hoped to force Republicans to take a stance on the reality of global warming. They didn’t succeed. Two other amendments attributing climate change to human activity failed to achieve the 60 votes needed to advance.

There are somewhat intellectually respectable positions to take against climate-change legislation — for example, that the costs of stopping global warming might outweigh the benefits — but the Senate’s is not one of them.

“In conclusion, the Senate is pretty clearly a hoax,” Brad Plumer wrote.

Max Ehrenfreund|January 22, 2015

[The hot air that emanates from the Senate is contributing to climate change.]

Extreme El Nino and La Nina events to increase in a warming world, researchers say

Rising greenhouse emissions will lead to more frequent climate extremes resulting in severe drought occurrences (El Nino) followed by extreme floods (La Nina) the year after.

The global climate is likely to become increasingly prone to extremes with super La Nina and El Nino events in the Pacific to almost double in frequency this century, according to Australian-led research.

In a study published on Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, an international team led by CSIRO’s Cai Wenju found extreme La Nina events forming in the Pacific would increase from about one in 23 years to one every 13 years because of rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

The work, based on 21 climate models, comes a year after a team led by Dr Cai published a paper finding extreme El Nino events would double in frequency from once every 20 years to once per decade. Total event numbers remain little changed but their intensity increases.

About three-quarters of the additional super La Ninas would follow in the year after an extreme El Nino event, potentially adding severe strains to societies and ecosystems.

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“It means more occurrences of devastating weather events, and more frequent swings of opposite extremes from one year to the next, with profound socio-economic consequences,” the paper concludes.

The El Nino-Southern Oscillation is a major driver of climate variations. In El Nino years, the eastern equatorial Pacific warms relative to the west, slowing easterly trade winds and drawing rainfall away from eastern Australia and parts of south-east Asia with droughts common.

La Nina years involve the reverse process, with heavy rain and floods in the western Pacific but drier conditions prevailing in the east. The ocean also tends to absorb more heat during those years, placing a drag on surface warming.

Global records count four extreme La Ninas in 1877, 1972-73, 1988-89 and 1998-99. The latter event followed a year after a super El Nino, and in the future such back-to-back extremes will double in frequency to happen every other time, Dr Cai said: “Climate change is going to increase the sequence in which you have an extreme El Nino followed by an extreme La Nina.”

The eastern equatorial Pacific – where El Ninos form – is warming faster than the western Pacific and both are heating up faster than the central Pacific.

“In a warming world it takes smaller temperatures to generate those kinds of shifts [to either an extreme El Nino or La Nina] because the warming is not uniform,” Dr Cai said.

The tendency towards more extreme conditions has been noted in the latest climate projections released this week by the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology.

While droughts can be devastating the impacts tend to be slower to build compared with floods.

“While wet years are typically good for agriculture and for topping up our dams, the extreme La Ninas tend to lead to more flooding and damage, ” said Kevin Hennessy, group leader of CSIRO’s climate unit. “We find that there’s a significant increase in the one-in-20 year extreme daily rainfall events right across Australia in the future.”

Dr Cai and his team noted that in the super La Nina event of 1998-99, Bangladesh suffered one of its worst floods, with about 50 per cent of the nation and 30 million people affected. China also reported floods and storms that killed thousands and displaced more than 200 million.

The Atlantic hurricane season also tends to be more active than usual in La Nina years, as it was during the extreme event.

Dr Cai said the modeling of extreme Pacific conditions was based on the current high greenhouse gas emissions trajectory.

“If we do nothing, this is what happens,” Dr Cai said. “It’s an awful result.”

The next big area of study in the field is likely to focus on how the size of regions affected by floods and their intensity will change, he said.

Peter Hannam|Environment Editor|he Sydney Morning Herald|January 27, 2015

Brazil’s Drought Brings Water Supply to Near Zero Capacity at Hydroelectric Facilities

BRASILIA, Brazil Brazil is experiencing a debilitating drought as the nation endures the driest period since South America’s most populous country began keeping records in the 1930s. As a result of the arid conditions, reservoir levels and lake water flow to hydroelectric facilities that supply power to Brazil’s most densely populated city of Sao Paulo are nearing zero capacity.

According to the federal government, hydroelectric power facilities in the country’s southeastern region that supply power to close to 20 million people in the metropolitan region of Sao Paulo (MRSP) are being deactivated. A list of the deactivated facilities is not immediately available, but Brazil normally receives about 70% of its electricity from hydroelectric plants, according to energy officials.

The Billings Reservoir, in MRSP, supplies the 889-MW Henry Borden hydroelectric facility as part of the Cantareira water system. Local media outlets report Billings Reservoir is nearly dry.

Greater Sao Paulo, according to the World Bank, is the most important industrial producer of the country. Sao Paulo City, the world’s ninth-largest city according to available 2012 census data, is located on the southeastern end of the Alto-Tiete River Basin. The city relies heavily on the Cantareia water system for hydroelectric energy to power industry, sanitation and drinking water.

Cantareia water system is formed by six reservoirs in five basins located in the Serra da Cantareira to the north of Greater Sao Pauloin the states of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais. The system covers twelve municipalities, as well as the Guaru water treatment plant.

According to information from the state owned water utility, Companhia de Agua e Esgoto do estado de Sao Paulo (SABESP), the four-lake Cantareira water system is the largest of six reservoir systems that provide water to some 10 million of the 20 million people living in MRSP.

The six-reservoir system is linked by 48 km of tunnels and canals that provide flow for hydroelectric power and drinking water to MRSP and combined, the system is at or below 3% of its of its 264 billion gallon capacity.

SABESP is the largest water and sanitation company in South America. In the Alto-Tiete basin, the company provides urban water supply and sanitation services to São Paulo City and most municipalities of the basin, operating 195 water treatment plants and 350 wastewater treatment plants.

Because of the extreme water shortage brought on by the drought, SABESP has been forced to pump dead water — water from reserves below the intake pipes of several reservoirs — to use as drinking water.

For the Alto-Tiete system, water level stands at 10.5% against the 46.9% observed a year ago. Water reserves have plunged dramatically in the past 12 months, causing capacity in several reservoirs to reach all-time lows: Guarapiranga, from 77.3% to 46.9%; Alto Cotia saw the greatest decline, going from 86.3% to 32.8%; Rio Grande went from 93.7% to 74.3%; and Rio Claro diminished from 90.8% to 54.3%, according to the latest SABESP estimates.

On Jan. 19, Brazil’s national grid operator, Operador Nacional do Sistema Eletrico (ONS), cut power to several major Brazilian cities, including Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

The drought is also having an impact on energy supplies. Officials said with reduced generation from hydroelectric dams, demand for electricity generated from fossil fuel-fired plants will continue to peak as people turn up the air conditioning through the hot summer.

Gregory B. Poindexter|January 29, 2015

Genetically Modified Organisms

‘Seedy Business': New Report Digs Beneath Agrichemical Industry’s High-Cost PR Machine

‘The tremendous amount of money spent speaks to depth of public unease about GMOs,’ says lead author

What exactly is the agrichemical industry hiding with its high-cost public relations and lobbying efforts to convince the U.S. public that genetically modified organisms and pesticides are safe?

According to a just-released study by the newly-formed nonprofit organization U.S. Right to Know, the answer is: A great deal.

Entitled “Seedy Business: What Big Food is hiding with its slick PR campaign on GMOs”, and authored by Gary Ruskin, the study aims to expose the “sleazy tactics” of corporations like Monsanto and Dow Chemical.

“Since 2012, the agrichemical and food industries have mounted a complex, multifaceted public relations, advertising, lobbying and political campaign in the United States, costing more than $100 million, to defend genetically engineered food and crops and the pesticides that accompany them,” states the report. “The purpose of this campaign is to deceive the public, to deflect efforts to win the right to know what is in our food via labeling that is already required in 64 countries, and ultimately, to extend their profit stream for as long as possible.”

In fact, according to Ruskin’s calculations, the industry spent more than $103 million since 2012 on defeating state initiatives to mandate GMO labeling in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, with Monsanto alone spending over $22 million.

“The tremendous amount of money spent speaks to depth of public unease about GMOs,” Ruskin told Common Dreams.

The biotechnology industry—whose tactics include attacking scientists and journalists—switches its message depending on the regulatory environment, notes the report. For example, St. Louis-based Monsanto backs GMO labeling in the UK, where such labeling is mandatory, but strongly opposes it in the U.S. “Half of the Big Six agrichemical firms can’t even grow their GMOs in their own home countries,” states the report, due to health and environmental concerns in European countries.

Industry PR firms such as Ketchum—whose clients include tobacco corporations and the Russian government—have had considerable success in manipulating public opinion about GMOs. However, beneath the spin are a number of red flags about the environmental and human health impacts of agrichemical products.

According to the report, “big agrichemical companies have a well-documented record of hiding the truth about the health risks of their products and operations,” from the cancer-causing danger of polychlorinated biphenyls produced by Monsanto to the tragic human impacts of the chemical weapon Agent Orange, which was primarily manufactured by Dow Chemical and Monsanto.

Despite this track record, U.S. oversight of the industry is inadequate, according to the study, thanks largely to the anti-regulatory structures put in place by former Vice President Dan Quayle. The Food and Drug Administration, in fact, does not directly test whether GMOs are safe.

“This report presents a new argument for why the FDA regulatory process doesn’t work,” Ruskin told Common Dreams. “The FDA trusts agrichemical companies and the science they pay for, but the industry has repeatedly hidden health risks from the public so there is no reason to trust them.”

According to Ruskin, this is analogous to the pharmaceutical industry, where positive results get published over negative ones. “What we know is that agrichemical companies have repeatedly hidden health risks, repeatedly suppressed scientific results adverse to the industry,” Ruskin continued. “There is no registry of studies, no way to know. There are are no epidemiological studies on the health impacts of GMOs.”

Sarah Lazare|staff writer|Common Dreams|January 21, 2015

Seedy Business

What is Big Food hiding from you, with its slick public relations campaign?

Plenty, according to a new tell-all report by the nonprofit U.S. Right to Know.

The report, titled “Seedy Business: What Big Food Is Hiding with its Slick PR Campaign on GMOs,” details how since 2012, the agrichemical and food industries have mounted a complex, multifaceted public relations, advertising, lobbying and political campaign in the U.S., costing more than $100 million, to defend genetically engineered food and crops and the pesticides that accompany them.

Inside the pages of this thoroughly researched report, you’ll find examples of how companies like Monsanto use sleazy tactics to manipulate the media and public opinion. You’ll also learn how “the science” that the biotech industry claims is “on their side,” is actually bought and paid for.

“Seedy Business” also exposes a few of the crimes, scandals and other wrongdoings companies like Monsanto and Syngenta, Dow, DuPont and Bayer, would rather you not know.

Read the press release

Read the report

15 Health Problems Linked to Monsanto’s Roundup

Monsanto invented the herbicide glyphosate and brought it to market under the trade name Roundup in 1974, after DDT was banned. But it wasn’t until the late 1990s that the use of Roundup surged, thanks to Monsanto’s ingenious marketing strategy. The strategy? Genetically engineer seeds to grow food crops that could tolerate high doses of Roundup. With the introduction of these new GE seeds, farmers could now easily control weeds on their corn, soy, cotton, canola, sugar beets and alfalfa crops—crops that thrived while the weeds around them were wiped out by Roundup.

In the nearly 20 years of intensifying exposure, scientists have been documenting the health consequences of Roundup and glyphosate in our food, in the water we drink, in the air we breathe and where our children play.

Eager to sell more of its flagship herbicide, Monsanto also encouraged farmers to use Roundup as a desiccant, to dry out all of their crops so they could harvest them faster. So Roundup is now routinely sprayed directly on a host of non-GMO crops, including wheat, barley, oats, canola, flax, peas, lentils, soybeans, dry beans and sugar cane.

Between 1996 – 2011, the widespread use of Roundup Ready GMO crops increased herbicide use in the U.S. by 527 million pounds—even though Monsanto claimed its GMO crops would reduce pesticide and herbicide use.

Monsanto has falsified data on Roundup’s safety, and marketed it to parks departments and consumers as “environmentally friendly” and “biodegradable, to encourage its use it on roadsides, playgrounds, golf courses, schoolyards, lawns and home gardens. A French court ruled those marketing claims amounted to false advertising.

In the nearly 20 years of intensifying exposure, scientists have been documenting the health consequences of Roundup and glyphosate in our food, in the water we drink, in the air we breathe and where our children play.

They’ve found that people who are sick have higher levels of glyphosate in their bodies than healthy people.

They’ve also found the following health problems which they attribute to exposure to Roundup and/or glyphosate:

ADHD: In farming communities, there’s a strong correlation between Roundup exposure and attention deficit disorder (ADHD), likely due to glyphosate’s capacity to disrupt thyroid hormone functions.

Alzheimer’s disease: In the lab, Roundup causes the same type of oxidative stress and neural cell death observed in Alzheimer’s disease. And it affects CaMKII, an enzyme whose dysregulation has also been linked to the disease.

Anencephaly (birth defect): An investigation into neural tube defects among babies born to women living within 1,000 meters of pesticide applications showed an association for glyphosate with anencephaly, the absence of a major portion of the brain, skull and scalp that forms during embryonic development.

Autism: Glyphosate has a number of known biological effects that align with the known pathologies associated with autism. One of these parallels is the gut dysbiosis observed in autistic children and the toxicity of glyphosate to beneficial bacteria that suppress pathogenic bacteria, along with pathogenic bacteria’s high resistance to glyphosate. In addition, glyphosate’s capacity to promote aluminum accumulation in the brain may make it the principal cause of autism in the U.S.

Birth defects: Roundup and glyphosate can disrupt the Vitamin A (retinoic acid) signaling pathway, which is crucial for normal fetal development. The babies of women living within one kilometer of fields sprayed with glyphosate were more than twice as likely to have birth defects according to a study from Paraguay. Congenital defects quadrupled in the decade after Roundup Ready crops arrived in Chaco, a province in Argentina where glyphosate is used roughly eight to ten times more per acre than in the U.S. A study of one farming family in the U.S. documented elevated levels of glyphosate and birth defects in the children, including an imperforate anus, growth hormone deficiency, hypospadias (an abnormally placed urinary hole), a heart defect and a micro penis.

Brain cancer: In a study of children with brain cancer compared with healthy children, researchers found that if either parent had been exposed to Roundup during the two years before the child’s birth, the chances of the child developing brain cancer doubled.

Breast cancer: Glyphosate induces human breast cancer cells growth via estrogen receptors. The only long-term animal study of glyphosate exposure produced rats with mammary tumors and shortened life-spans.

Cancer: House-to-house surveys of 65,000 people in farming communities in Argentina where Roundup is used, known there as the fumigated towns, found cancer rates two to four times higher than the national average, with increases in breast, prostate and lung cancers. In a comparison of two villages, in the one where Roundup was sprayed, 31 percent of residents had a family member with cancer, while only 3 percent of residents in a ranching village without spraying had one. The high cancer rates among people exposed to Roundup likely stem from glyphosate’s known capacity to induce DNA damage, which has been demonstrated in numerous lab tests.

Celiac disease and gluten intolerance: Fish exposed to glyphosate develop digestive problems that are reminiscent of celiac disease. There are parallels between the characteristics of celiac disease and the known effects of glyphosate. These include imbalances in gut bacteria, impairment in enzymes involved with detoxifying environmental toxins, mineral deficiencies and amino acid depletion.

Chronic kidney disease: Increases in the use of glyphosate may explain the recent surge in kidney failure among agricultural workers in Central America, Sri Lanka and India. Scientists have concluded, “Although glyphosate alone does not cause an epidemic of chronic kidney disease, it seems to have acquired the ability to destroy the renal tissues of thousands of farmers when it forms complexes with [hard water] and nephrotoxic metals.”

Colitis: The toxicity of glyphosate to beneficial bacteria that suppress clostridia, along with clostridia’s high resistance to glyphosate, could be a significant predisposing factor in the overgrowth of clostridia. Overgrowth of clostridia, specifically C. difficile, is a well-established causal factor in colitis.

Depression: Glyphosate disrupts chemical processes that impact the production of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite and sleep. Serotonin impairment has been linked to depression.

Diabetes: Low levels of testosterone are a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. Rats fed environmentally relevant doses of Roundup over a period of 30 days spanning the onset of puberty had reduced testosterone production sufficient to alter testicular cell morphology and to delay the onset of puberty.

Heart disease: Glyphosate can disrupt the body’s enzymes, causing lysosomal dysfunction, a major factor in cardiovascular disease and heart failure.

Hypothyroidism: House-to-house surveys of 65,000 people in farming communities in Argentina where Roundup is used, known there as the fumigated towns, found higher rates of hypothyroidism.

Inflammatory Bowl Disease (“Leaky Gut Syndrome”): Glyphosate can induce severe tryptophan deficiency, which can lead to an extreme inflammatory bowel disease that severely impairs the ability to absorb nutrients through the gut, due to inflammation, bleeding and diarrhea.

Liver disease: Very low doses of Roundup can disrupt human liver cell function, according to a 2009 study published in Toxicology.

Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS): Sulfate deficiency in the brain has been associated with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Glyphosate disrupts sulfate transport from the gut to the liver, and may lead over time to severe sulfate deficiency throughout all the tissues, including the brain.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS): An increased incidence of inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) has been found in association with MS. Glyphosate may be a causal factor. The hypothesis is that glyphosate-induced IBS causes gut bacteria to leak into the vasculature, triggering an immune reaction and consequently an autoimmune disorder resulting in destruction of the myelin sheath.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma: A systematic review and a series of meta-analyses of nearly three decades worth of epidemiologic research on the relationship between non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and occupational exposure to agricultural pesticides found that B cell lymphoma was positively associated with glyphosate.

Parkinson’s disease: The brain-damaging effects of herbicides have been recognized as the main environmental factor associated with neurodegenerative disorders, including Parkinson’s disease. The onset of Parkinson’s following exposure to glyphosate has been welldocumented and lab studies show that glyphosate induces the cell death characteristic of the disease.

Pregnancy problems (infertility, miscarriages, stillbirths): Glyphosate is toxic to human placental cells, which, scientists say, explains the pregnancy problems of agricultural workers exposed to the herbicide.

Obesity: An experiment involving the transfer of a strain of endotoxin-producing bacteria from the gut of an obese human to the guts of mice caused the mice to become obese. Since glyphosate induces a shift in gut bacteria towards endotoxin-producers, glyphosate exposure maycontribute to obesity in this way.

Reproductive problems:  Studies of laboratory animals have found that male rats exposed to high levels of glyphosate, either during prenatal or pubertal development, suffer from reproductive problems, including delayed puberty, decreased sperm production, and decreased testosterone production.

Respiratory illnesses: House-to-house surveys of 65,000 people in farming communities in Argentina where Roundup is used, known there as the fumigated towns, found higher rates of chronic respiratory illnesses.

Alexis Baden-Mayer|Organic Consumers Association|January 23, 2015

Chuck Norris Calls Out Monsanto For Killing Food Supply

Chuck Norris has a special roundhouse kick with Monsanto’s name on it. Today, he has released a detailed article speaking out against Monsanto’s complete decimation of the food supply, from their health-crushing Roundup herbicide to their rampant genetically modified seeds that have infiltrated staple crops like corn, soy, and beets.

In the piece entitled ‘Chuck Norris raises red flag over Monsanto‘ and featured on World Net Daily, Norris speaks out plainly against the destructive force of Monsanto. Specifically, Norris highlights Monsanto’s use of glyphosate (used in Roundup) and its effects:

“…Monsanto began marketing glyphosate under the Roundup name in the 1970s, and it quickly became an industry standard. In 1997, its use tripled with the introduction of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops, plantings genetically modified to withstand glyphosate in order to enable farmers to use more of the herbicide in killing crop-threatening weeds. Glyphosate is sprayed on most of the corn and soybean crops in the United States, as well as over sugar beets, canola and other crops.

In 2007 alone, the agricultural sector applied between 180 million and 185 million pounds of glyphosate to crops in this country. The home and garden sector applied 5 million to 8 million pounds, and industry, commerce and government applied 13 million to 15 million pounds of glyphosate. It was the most widely used herbicide in U.S. agriculture and second-most widely used herbicide in the home and garden sector.

… The only real way you have of knowing whether glyphosate traces or residue is in the food you eat is if you grow it yourself or only buy products that are certified organic.

The EPA promised a completed preliminary risk assessment of glyphosate by the end of last year.”

It’s an amazing thing when public figures speak out plainly against Monsanto, because it shows just how far we have come in regards to spreading the word about Monsanto’s many attempts to root out independent farmers and dominate our food supply. It shows how grassroots action, and our campaign to the spread the word nationwide, is really quite effective.

Hats off to Chuck Norris for his latest piece that will no doubt turn many thousands of individuals onto the key subject of Monsanto’s Roundup and genetically modified seeds.

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USDA Green-Lights Yet Another Monsanto GMO crop

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved the sale and planting of Monsanto’s genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton. This approval follows that of 2,4-D tolerant soybeans and corn, billed as the next generation of herbicide-tolerant crops to tackle glyphosate (Roundup)-resistant weeds.

Dicamba-tolerant soy and cotton are simply the latest example of USDA’s allegiance to the biotechnology industry and dependence upon chemical solutions. This continues the disturbing trend of more herbicide-tolerant crop approvals taking place under President Obama’s watch.

Once again, the USDA has neglected to look at the full range of impacts associated with these GMO herbicide-tolerant crops. Instead the agency has opted for a short-term solution to superweeds that have become resistant to herbicides because of previous approvals of GMOs, thereby perpetuating and escalating chemical use.

The USDA’s Environmental Impact Statement predicted that dicamba use will increase 88-fold and 14-fold for soybeans and cotton, respectively, compared to current levels. Dicamba-tolerant crops will allow for wider windows of spraying throughout the season at unprecedented levels. Now that dicamba will be used in larger quantities, Monsanto has petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to increase the tolerance level of dicamba on cottonseed 150-fold. Higher levels of dicamba in the environment and our food pose unacceptable risks to human health and a wide variety of flora and fauna.

The USDA has ignored pleas from organic farmers and other specialty crop growers asking the agency not to approve these crops that will increase applications of this incredibly drift-prone herbicide. Farmers of nearby non-tolerant crops will pay the price for USDA’s short-term weed management fix in the form of diminished or completely destroyed harvests caused by dicamba drift.

There are currently at least 70 million acres in the U.S. afflicted with Roundup-resistant weeds. It is only a matter of time before those weeds become resistant not just to Roundup, but to a mix of other herbicides, as their associated herbicide-tolerant crops are being planted and sprayed with chemical cocktails. Instead of taking action to address the long-term superweed problem in agriculture, the USDA has chosen the status quo.

Unfortunately, the collateral damage of today’s USDA decision will be felt by organic and specialty crop farmers across the U.S. who have no defense against the use of this errant herbicide.

Wenonah Hauter|Food and Water Watch|January 15, 2015

Outrage Over US Secret Approval of Genetically Engineered Trees

Groups Condemn US for Bowing to Industry, Ignoring Widespread Public Opposition

New York (29 Jan. 2015) ­- Groups from around the world today joined together to denounce the US government for allowing the first genetically engineered tree, a loblolly pine, to be legalized with no government or public oversight, with no assessment of their risks to the public or the environment, and without regard to overwhelming public opposition to GE trees.

A secret letter from the USDA to GE tree company ArborGen dated last August, was recently exposed by scientist Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Center for Food Safety. In this letter, the USDA made the unprecedented decision to allow ArborGen to pursue unregulated commercial cultivation of a loblolly pine genetically engineered for altered wood composition. These trees could be planted anywhere in the US, without public knowledge or access to information about them.

Gurian-Sherman argues the USDA “is deliberately thumbing its nose at the public” with this decision, pointing out that this is probably the biggest environmental regulatory change in the US since the early 1990s.

Loblolly pines are native across 14 states throughout the US Southeast, and are grown in plantations around the world. Their pollen is known to travel for hundreds of miles.

“If these GE loblolly pines are released on a large scale in the US, there will be no way to stop them from cross contaminating native loblolly pines,” said biologist Dr. Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch. “This is deliberate, irreversible and completely irresponsible contamination of the environment with unknown and possibly devastating consequences. Forest ecosystems are barely understood, and the introduction of trees with genes for modified wood characteristics could have all manner of negative impacts on soils, fungi, insects, wildlife, songbirds, and public health. And all this for short term commercial profit.”

Many are also worried about the international implications of this USDA decision. Winnie Overbeek, International Coordinator of the Uruguay-based World Rainforest Movement states, “We are greatly concerned that these unregulated GE pines could be shipped to Brazil or other countries without public, or maybe even government, knowledge, further promoting the expansion of industrial tree plantations in the Global South. This contributes to deforestation and affects indigenous and peasant communities worldwide who depend on forests for survival.”

Global Justice Ecology Project’s Ruddy Turnstone from Florida remarks, “ArborGen and the government may think they have won this round, but there is already a huge anti-GMO movement. There are also forest protection groups, Indigenous Peoples, birders, foresters, scientists, parents, hikers, and many others who do not want the forests contaminated by GE trees. A great many of them will take action to ensure these trees are never planted.”

In 2013, when the USDA called for public comments on another ArborGen request to commercialize a GE Eucalyptus tree (a decision still pending), they received comments at the rate of 10,000 to one opposing the industry request. By simply refusing to regulate this new GE pine, the USDA has cut the public out of the process completely. In 2013, a conference on Tree Biotechnology in Asheville, NC was disrupted for its entire 5 days by anti-GE tree activists, and there were multiple arrests.

Campaign to STOP GE Trees|1/29/15

 

Monsanto’s Roundup. Enough to Make You Sick.

    Monsanto invented the herbicide glyphosate and brought it to market under the trade name Roundup in 1974, after DDT was banned. But it wasn’t until the late 1990s that the use of Roundup surged, thanks to Monsanto’s ingenious marketing strategy. The strategy? Genetically engineer seeds to grow food crops that could tolerate high doses of Roundup. With the introduction of these new GE seeds, farmers could now easily control weeds on their corn, soy, cotton, canola, sugar beets and alfalfa crops–crops that thrived while the weeds around them were wiped out by Roundup.

    Eager to sell more of its flagship herbicide, Monsanto also encouraged farmers to use Roundup as a desiccant, to dry out all of their crops so they could harvest them faster. So Roundup is now routinely sprayed directly on a host of non-GMO crops, including wheat, barley, oats, canola, flax, peas, lentils, soybeans, dry beans and sugar cane.

    Between 1996 – 2011, the widespread use of Roundup Ready GMO crops increased herbicide use in the U.S. by 527 million pounds—even though Monsanto claimed its GMO crops would reduce pesticide and herbicide use.

    Monsanto has falsified data on Roundup’s safety, and marketed it to parks departments and consumers as “environmentally friendly” and “biodegradable,” to encourage its use it on roadsides, playgrounds, golf courses, schoolyards, lawns and home gardens. A French court ruled those marketing claims amounted to false advertising.

    In the nearly 20 years of intensifying exposure, scientists have been documenting the health consequences of Roundup and glyphosate in our food, in the water we drink, in the air we breathe and where our children play.

    They’ve found that people who are sick have higher levels of glyphosate in their bodies than healthy people.

    They’ve also found the following health problems which they attribute to exposure to Roundup and/or glyphosate:

    ADHD: In farming communities, there’s a strong correlation between Roundup exposure and attention deficit disorder (ADHD), likely due to glyphosate’s capacity to disrupt thyroid hormone functions.

    Alzheimer’s disease: In the lab, Roundup causes the same type of oxidative stress and neural cell death observed in Alzheimer’s disease. And it affects CaMKII, an enzyme whose dysregulation has also been linked to the disease.

    Anencephaly (birth defect): An investigation into neural tube defects among babies born to women living within 1,000 meters of pesticide applications showed an association for glyphosate with anencephaly, the absence of a major portion of the brain, skull and scalp that forms during embryonic development.

    Autism: Glyphosate has a number of known biological effects that align with the known pathologies associated with autism. One of these parallels is the gut dysbiosis observed in autistic children and the toxicity of glyphosate to beneficial bacteria that suppress pathogenic bacteria, along with pathogenic bacteria’s high resistance to glyphosate. In addition, glyphosate’s capacity to promote aluminum accumulation in the brain may make it the principal cause of autism in the U.S.

    Birth defects: Roundup and glyphosate can disrupt the Vitamin A (retinoic acid) signaling pathway, which is crucial for normal fetal development. The babies of women living within one kilometer of fields sprayed with glyphosate were more than twice as likely to have birth defects according to a study from Paraguay. Congenital defects quadrupled in the decade after Roundup Ready crops arrived in Chaco, a province in Argentina where glyphosate is used roughly eight to ten times more per acre than in the U.S. A study of one farming family in the U.S. documented elevated levels of glyphosate and birth defects in the children, including an imperforate anus, growth hormone deficiency, hypospadias (an abnormally placed urinary hole), a heart defect and a micro penis.

    Brain cancer: In a study of children with brain cancer compared with healthy children, researchers found that if either parent had been exposed to Roundup during the two years before the child’s birth, the chances of the child developing brain cancer doubled.

    Breast cancer: Glyphosate induces human breast cancer cells growth via estrogen receptors. The only long-term animal study of glyphosate exposure produced rats with mammary tumors and shortened life-spans.

    Cancer: House-to-house surveys of 65,000 people in farming communities in Argentina where Roundup is used, known there as the fumigated towns, found cancer rates two to four times higher than the national average, with increases in breast, prostate and lung cancers. In a comparison of two villages, in the one where Roundup was sprayed, 31 percent of residents had a family member with cancer, while only 3 percent of residents in a ranching village without spraying had one. The high cancer rates among people exposed to Roundup likely stem from glyphosate’s known capacity to induce DNA damage, which has been demonstrated in numerous lab tests.

    Celiac disease and gluten intolerance: Fish exposed to glyphosate develop digestive problems that are reminiscent of celiac disease. There are parallels between the characteristics of celiac disease and the known effects of glyphosate. These include imbalances in gut bacteria, impairment in enzymes involved with detoxifying environmental toxins, mineral deficiencies and amino acid depletion.

    Chronic kidney disease: Increases in the use of glyphosate may explain the recent surge in kidney failure among agricultural workers in Central America, Sri Lanka and India. Scientists have concluded, “Although glyphosate alone does not cause an epidemic of chronic kidney disease, it seems to have acquired the ability to destroy the renal tissues of thousands of farmers when it forms complexes with [hard water] and nephrotoxic metals.”

    Colitis: The toxicity of glyphosate to beneficial bacteria that suppress clostridia, along with clostridia’s high resistance to glyphosate, could be a significant predisposing factor in the overgrowth of clostridia. Overgrowth of clostridia, specifically C. difficile, is a well-established causal factor in colitis.

    Depression: Glyphosate disrupts chemical processes that impact the production of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite and sleep. Serotonin impairment has been linked to depression.

    Diabetes: Low levels of testosterone are a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. Rats fed environmentally relevant doses of Roundup over a period of 30 days spanning the onset of puberty had reduced testosterone production sufficient to alter testicular cell morphology and to delay the onset of puberty.

    Heart disease: Glyphosate can disrupt the body’s enzymes, causing lysosomal dysfunction, a major factor in cardiovascular disease and heart failure.

    Hypothyroidism: House-to-house surveys of 65,000 people in farming communities in Argentina where Roundup is used, known there as the fumigated towns, found higher rates of hypothyroidism.

    Inflammatory Bowl Disease (“Leaky Gut Syndrome”): Glyphosate can induce severe tryptophan deficiency, which can lead to an extreme inflammatory bowel disease that severely impairs the ability to absorb nutrients through the gut, due to inflammation, bleeding and diarrhea.

    Liver disease: Very low doses of Roundup can disrupt human liver cell function, according to a 2009 study published in Toxicology.

    Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS): Sulfate deficiency in the brain has been associated with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Glyphosate disrupts sulfate transport from the gut to the liver, and may lead over time to severe sulfate deficiency throughout all the tissues, including the brain.

    Multiple Sclerosis (MS): An increased incidence of inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) has been found in association with MS. Glyphosate may be a causal factor. The hypothesis is that glyphosate-induced IBS causes gut bacteria to leak into the vasculature, triggering an immune reaction and consequently an autoimmune disorder resulting in destruction of the myelin sheath.

    Non-Hodgkin lymphoma: A systematic review and a series of meta-analyses of nearly three decades worth of epidemiologic research on the relationship between non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and occupational exposure to agricultural pesticides found that B cell lymphoma was positively associated with glyphosate.

    Parkinson’s disease: The brain-damaging effects of herbicides have been recognized as the main environmental factor associated with neurodegenerative disorders, including Parkinson’s disease. The onset of Parkinson’s following exposure to glyphosate has been well documented and lab studies show that glyphosate induces the cell death characteristic of the disease.

    Pregnancy problems (infertility, miscarriages, stillbirths): Glyphosate is toxic to human placental cells, which, scientists say, explains the pregnancy problems of agricultural workers exposed to the herbicide.

    Obesity: An experiment involving the transfer of a strain of endotoxin-producing bacteria from the gut of an obese human to the guts of mice caused the mice to become obese. Since glyphosate induces a shift in gut bacteria towards endotoxin-producers, glyphosate exposure may contribute to obesity in this way.

    Reproductive problems:  Studies of laboratory animals have found that male rats exposed to high levels of glyphosate, either during prenatal or pubertal development, suffer from reproductive problems, including delayed puberty, decreased sperm production, and decreased testosterone production.

    Respiratory illnesses: House-to-house surveys of 65,000 people in farming communities in Argentina where Roundup is used, known there as the fumigated towns, found higher rates of chronic respiratory illnesses.

    Alexis Baden-Mayer|Organic Consumers Association|January 21, 2015

    Energy

    Oil prices drop as global warming rises

    With oil prices plunging from more than $100 a barrel last summer to below $50 now, the consequences of a petro-fuelled economy are hitting home — especially in Alberta, where experts forecast a recession. The province’s projected budget surplus has turned into a $500-million deficit on top of a $12-billion debt, with predicted revenue losses of $11 billion or more over the next three or four years if prices stay low or continue to drop as expected. Alberta’s government is talking about service reductions, public-sector wage and job cuts and even increased or new taxes on individuals. TD Bank says Canada as a whole can expect deficits over the next few years unless Ottawa takes money from its contingency fund.

    It’s absurd that a lower price on a single commodity could have such a profound economic impact, but that’s what happens when you put all your eggs in one basket and fail to plan for such contingencies. With a population and oil-and-gas production profile similar to Alberta,Europe’s largest petroleum producer, Norway, is also feeling the impacts. But much higher taxes on industry, majority state ownership of the country’s largest oil-and-gas company and an approximately $900-billion sovereign wealth fund built from oil revenues are cushioning the fall.

    Some see low fuel prices as good news, but there are many downsides. With driving becoming less costly, more cars and trucks could be on the road, which is good for the auto industry but bad in terms of pollution, climate change and traffic accidents. And because the price of oil is now lower than the cost to extract oilsands bitumen, the industry is starting to put the brakes on rapid expansion plans — bad news for workers and businesses in Fort McMurray and those heavily invested in the industry but good news for the planet.

    Recent research shows most of Canada’s oilsands bitumen — as well as all Arctic oil and gas, most of Canada’s coal and some conventional oil and gas — must be left in the ground if the world is to avoid a global temperature increase of more than 2 C above pre-industrial levels, the internationally agreed-upon threshold for limiting catastrophic impacts of global warming. The report, by researchers at University College London’s Institute for Sustainable Resources and published in the journal Nature, concludes a third of the world’s oil reserves, half of gas reserves and more than 80 per cent of coal reserves must not be burned before 2050.

    The study also found that carbon capture and storage, touted as one way to continue exploiting and burning fossil fuels, is too new, expensive and limited to make enough of a difference by 2050.

    Study co-author Paul Ekins told National Geographic that putting hundreds of billions of dollars into fossil fuel exploration and development is “deeply irrational” economic behaviour. “What would be ideal,” he said, would be to “use the opportunity of this fall in the oil price to start instituting a global carbon tax, which would take some of the volatility out of the prices.” Removing fossil fuel subsidies would also help.

    John Stone, a Canadian scientist and lead author on the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, told CBC the UCL study “is another wake-up call to snap us out of our denial of climate change.

    With 2014 confirmed as the hottest year on record, and 13 of the hottest 15 years having occurred since 2000, we can’t afford to ignore the consequences. According to researchers, the odds that natural variability is causing today’s climate change are less than one in 27 million! It’s astounding that, in the face of such overwhelming evidence from scientists worldwide, people continue to deny the problem exists or that humans are responsible and can or should do anything about it.

    It’s especially irresponsible when energy conservation and cleaner fuel alternatives offer so many economic benefits, including job creation, greater stability and reduced health-care costs. As world leaders prepare for the UN climate summit later this year, we must look at the recent market meltdown as an opportunity to shift away from fossil fuels. It’ll be much easier and less costly to get on with it now than to wait until we’re left with few choices.

    By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundations Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

     

    Wood Pellets: Green Energy or New Source of CO2 Emissions?

    Burning wood pellets to produce electricity is on the rise in Europe, where the pellets are classified as a form of renewable energy. But in the U.S., where pellet facilities are rapidly being built, concerns are growing about logging and the carbon released by the combustion of wood biomass.

    In 2011, Enviva — the United States’ largest exporter of wood pellets — opened its flagship pellet-manufacturing mill in Ahoskie, North Carolina. The plant annually converts 850,000 tons of trees and waste wood into tiny pellets that are shipped to Europe and burned in power plants for what is being touted as a renewable form of electricity.

    Two years later, Enviva opened another mill 50 miles away in Northampton County, North Carolina, and by 2016 the company is expected to operate eight wood pellet mills from Virginia to Mississippi. Elsewhere in the southeastern United States, other companies are planning or rapidly building facilities to produce wood pellets. A mill planned by Biomass Power Louisiana in Natchitoches, La., will produce up to 2 million tons of the pellets annually. Drax, a British utility that’s taking steps to transform itself into a predominately biomass energy generator, has said it will open four of its own large mills to produce pellets in Mississippi, South Carolina, and Louisiana.

    Demand for this purportedly green form of energy is so robust that wood pellet exports from the United States nearly doubled from 2012 to 2013 and are expected to nearly double again to 5.7 million tons in 2015. This soaring production is driven by growing demand in the U.K. and Europe, which are using wood pellets to replace coal for electricity generation and heating. The European Union’s 2020 climate and energy program classifies wood pellets as a carbon-neutral form of renewable energy, and European companies have invested billions to convert coal plants to plants that can burn wood pellets.

    But as wood pellet manufacturing booms in the southeastern U.S., scientists and environmental groups are raising significant questions about just how green burning wood pellets really is. The wood pellet industry says that it overwhelmingly uses tree branches and other waste wood to manufacture pellets, making them a carbon-neutral form of energy. But many environmentalists and scientists believe current industry practices are anything but carbon-neutral and threaten some of the last remaining diverse ecosystems in the southeastern U.S., including the Roanoke River watershed surrounding the Ahoskie, N.C., plant and longleaf pine ecosystems near the large Enviva wood pellet mill in Cottondale, Fla.

    Critics contend that Enviva and other pellet manufacturers frequently harvest whole trees — including hardwoods from bottomland areas — that can take a long time to regrow, thus making the burning of wood pellets an overall source of CO2 emissions.

    “They are cutting them down and burning them to produce energy in Europe — a practice that both degrades critical forest habitat and increases carbon emissions for many decades to come,” says Debbie Hammel, a senior resource specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

    Less than a year after Enviva’s Ahoskie plant opened, the NRDC began monitoring how the facility was impacting nearby forests and what kinds of trees were being used to produce pellets. As the demand for wood to manufacture more pellets increased, the NRDC noticed forested wetlands in the Roanoke watershed begin to disappear.

    “A significant portion of the wood source Enviva uses comes from natural hardwood forests,” says Hammel, noting that logging in such forested wetlands and bottomlands creates major ecological impacts, including threatening species such as wood storks and the cerulean warbler. In the opinion of Hammel and others, burning wood pellet biomass to produce electricity is far more harmful to the environment and the climate than renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.

    Industry officials say, however, that manufacturing and burning wood pellets is an important part of the mix of renewable energy options. Seth Ginther, executive director of the United States Industrial Pellet Association, says that wood pellets are a “low-cost, low-carbon alternative” to coal. In addition, he says, wood biomass is lower in sulfur, nitrogen, ash, chlorine, and other chemicals than coal and traditional fossil fuels.

    Wood pellet producers are using waste wood and low-grade wood fiber in many instances, according to Ginther. This niche market is enabling some landowners to keep growing and planting trees, rather than chopping down woodlands for commercial development or agriculture. “Our industry helps encourage forest owners to reforest and replant so this market helps keep working forests working,” Ginther says.

    Ginther says that the U.S.’s wood pellet industry can expect even more robust growth if the Asian commercial market or European residential market embraces the combustion of wood biomass. “The U.S. has established itself as a sustainable source of fiber for bioenergy, and we are very proud of the fact that so many European customers are looking to U.S. producers for sourcing needs,” Ginther says.

    The wood pellet industry really took off in 2012, after the U.K.’s Department of Energy and Climate Change published guidelines on the direction of British renewable energy policy for the near future. The guidelines encouraged utilities to convert coal-fired generators to generators using wood biomass and gave utility companies the option to burn wood pellets to help them meet European Union air pollution and renewable energy standards. Power companies then began to turn to the southeastern United States, where logging is well-established and much less restricted than in Europe, as the primary supplier of wood pellets.

    “It is the EU that has prompted this industry explosion,” Hammel says.

    Some scientists say there are still more questions than answers when it comes to commercially burning wood pellets for energy, and it’s largely a matter of carbon cycle calculations. Bob Abt, a professor of natural resource economics and management at North Carolina State University, says a lot depends on the origin and type of trees used to feed the pellet mills.

    Burning wood pellets releases as much or even more carbon dioxide per unit of energy as burning coal, so in order for burning pellets to be carbon-neutral the carbon emitted into the atmosphere has to be recaptured in regenerated forests, Abt says. Residual wood, such as tree thinnings and unused tree parts left over at timber mills, is the best material for wood pellets, says Abt. But he and others say that not enough of such waste wood exists to feed the growing demand for wood pellets.
    So the industry has turned to whole trees.

    Softwood trees such as loblolly pines grown on managed plantations can be planted and regrown relatively quickly after harvesting, and selective removal of some trees may occur in as little as 12 years. When softwood is used, carbon released during the burning of wood pellets for electricity production can then be sequestered and stored in the new trees.

    But using hardwood trees from bottomlands results in a different carbon calculation, Abt says. Using these species of trees requires a much longer time to make up for the released carbon, as bottomland hardwoods grow more slowly. Abt also points out that floodplain forests, which are typically owned by smaller, private owners, tend not to be certified to adhere to sustainability standards. Regeneration in bottomlands also tends to be more variable and depends on local hydrological conditions.
    When a mill consumes nearly a million tons of wood a year, it’s difficult to track where every single tree comes from, according to Abt and other experts.

    But Forisk, a consulting company that tracks forest industry trends, calculates that the majority of the wood used at Enviva’s Ahoskie, N.C., mill comes from hardwood trees — including those typically found in wetland forests.
    Generally, wood pellet mills in North Carolina and Virginia are more reliant on these slower-to-regrow hardwoods, while mills in Georgia, for instance, mainly utilize plantation pines, Abt says. These two different classes of trees are “on different ends of the spectrum” when it comes to both forestry management and how much carbon is released and sequestered, he notes.

    If the timber industry in the southern U.S. gathers up all the branches, roots, and other tree waste and uses that wood to make pellets, William Schlesinger, who is president emeritus of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and a biogeochemist who studies carbon cycles, wouldn’t have a problem with it.

    The problem, he says, is when pellets are made from virgin growth and second-growth hardwoods.

    “The best evidence we have is that not all the pellets are coming from wood waste, and that creates a carbon deficit,” says Schlesinger, who was one of the scientists who wrote a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency calling on the agency to create strong pollution standards for biomass energy. Schlesinger points to aerial photos distributed by the Southern Environmental Law Center showing large-diameter oak and hickory trees felled for wood pellet production at Enviva’s Ahoskie mill.

    A study of the Ahoskie plant commissioned by the Southern Environmental Law Center and National Wildlife Federation found that more than 50 percent of the likely sourcing area for the Ahoskie facility is forested wetlands. More than 168,000 acres of wetland forest are at high risk of being cut down for manufacturing wood pellets at this single plant, the study said.

    The NRDC is currently undertaking a study using GPS data to map hotspots where wood pellet facilities throughout the southeastern United

    States are having the biggest impacts. The group plans to publish the study this spring, highlighting logging around wood pellet manufacturing facilities.

    Schlesinger says recent calculations using U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and International Energy Agency (IEA) data show that burning wood pellets results in major impacts on forests for very modest quantities of bioenergy. For instance, the IEA projects that to produce 6.4 percent of global electricity from burning wood biomass in 2035, the global commercial tree harvest — all trees felled except for traditional firewood — would have to increase by 137 percent.

    It’s not just European utilities that may end up burning wood pellets on an industrial scale. Hammel, of NRDC, notes the possibility of a significant shift to burning wood commercially here in the United States, depending on how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decides to count greenhouse emissions from power plants that burn biomass.

    “It would be a mistake for the EPA to give biomass energy producers a free pass on carbon accountability,” Hammel says. “Cutting down and burning trees for energy is a step in the wrong direction for the climate and our forests.”

    roger real drouin|22 Jan 2015

    Two utilities opt out of Cape Wind

    Future of Nantucket Sound turbine project in doubt as purchase contracts are terminated

    The Cape Wind plan was dealt a major setback Tuesday when two power companies that had agreed to buy energy from the Nantucket Sound wind farm terminated their contracts with the developers, raising questions about the future of the $2.5 billion offshore project.

    National Grid and Northeast Utilities said Cape Wind had missed the Dec. 31 deadline contained in the 2012 contracts to obtain financing and begin construction, and chosen not to put up financial collateral to extend the deadline.

    NStar, a Northeast Utilities subsidiary, informed Cape Wind officials of its decision late Tuesday, officials said.

    “Unfortunately, Cape Wind has missed these critical milestones,” Northeast Utilities spokeswoman Caroline Pretyman said in an e-mail. “Additionally, Cape Wind has chosen not to exercise their right to post financial security in order to extend the contract deadlines. Therefore the contract is now terminated.”

    In a separate e-mail, National Grid spokesman Jake Navarro said the utility was “disappointed that Cape Wind has been unable to meet its commitments under the contract, resulting in today’s termination of the power purchase agreement.”

    Under the 2012 agreement, Northeast Utilities and NStar agreed to buy 27.5 percent of Cape Wind’s production. National Grid had previously signed on to purchase 50 percent.

    A Cape Wind spokesman said the developer does not “regard these terminations as valid” because of provisions that, the company argued, would extend the deadlines.

    In letters dated Dec. 31 to both utilities and state regulators, Cape Wind president James Gordon asked that the power companies hold off on voiding the contracts, citing “extended, unprecedented, and relentless litigation by the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound,” a leading foe of the project.

    Those lawsuits, Gordon said in his letter, had prevented Cape Wind from meeting the milestones laid out in the 2012 contract. He argued that the litigation triggered a clause in the contract that allows for more latitude in Cape Wind’s ability to meet the deadlines.

    The long-term implications for the often-delayed project remained unclear late Tuesday. Announcement of the soured deal came on the second-to-last full day in office for Governor Deval Patrick, who has championed Cape Wind over fierce political opposition from some in his own party. The governor has often pointed to renewable energy as a vital part of the state’s economic future, and spent significant political capital in backing the proposal.

    Ian Bowles, who as Patrick’s first energy and environment chief helped shepherd the offshore project, said Tuesday’s news may have spelled the end for Cape Wind.

    “Presumably, this means that the project doesn’t go forward,” he said in a telephone interview.

    The jeopardy in which Cape Wind finds itself reflects a changed energy market, in which developers bear more risk than the eventual ratepayers, Bowles said.

    “The risk is on the developer to either build it or not. And in this case, the developer appears to have failed,” he said.

    Advances in the state’s renewable energy and efficiency policies have lessened the importance of Cape Wind in its overall energy landscape, Bowles said.

    In an e-mailed statement Tuesday, Patrick spokeswoman Jesse Mermell said, “The future of offshore wind in the Commonwealth remains bright, as does the path for the marine commerce terminal in New Bedford.”

    The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center last month released a request for proposals to manage the terminal, which is under development in New Bedford Harbor. That facility would help facilitate offshore projects such as Cape Wind.

    Governor-elect Charlie Baker is set to take office Thursday. Once a critic of Cape Wind, Baker shifted positions during last year’s campaign, calling the project “a done deal.”

    On Tuesday night, a Baker spokesman issued a statement that hinted that the new governor would not interject himself into the contract dispute.

    “Governor-elect Baker believes Massachusetts must continue to pursue renewable energy sources and diversify the energy portfolio to reduce our carbon footprint, and he will determine which policies will or will not keep Massachusetts a leader in environmental reform once in office,” Baker spokesman Tim Buckley said.

    Audra Parker of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound said preventing the construction of Cape Wind would save billions for ratepayers.

    “Very bad news for Cape Wind,” she said. “Very good news for Massachusetts ratepayers.”

    The offshore project, first proposed more than a decade ago, has been dogged by permitting hurdles, political obstacles, and legal protests.

    Jim O’Sullivan|Globe Staff|January 07, 2015

    Does the Yellowstone River Oil Spill Foreshadow the Future if Keystone XL is Approved?

    Suddenly at our house there was a definite smell. It was a diesel smell,” Gerald Reichert, member of the city council of Glendive, Mont., said on January 19. He told the Grand Forks Herald that he didn’t believe the reports of odors coming from residents’ taps until he smelled it in his own home.

    Where was this foul odor coming from?

    In what many are taking to be a foreshadow of the possible consequences if the Keystone XL pipeline is approved, an estimated 40,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from a pipeline into Montana’s Yellowstone River on January 17.

    The spill occurred after a break in the Poplar Pipeline, which carries crude oil from Bakken basin in Canada to Baker, Mont. It has now been shut down. The pipeline was last inspected in 2012 and is at least eight feet below the Yellowstone River bed, where it crosses the river near Glendive.

    Yes, there are already several oil pipelines that run from Canada to the U.S.

    Initial tests of the city’s water supply didn’t reveal traces of oil, but residents began reporting an unusual odor coming from their taps Sunday night, January 18. Montana Governor Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency Monday morning in Dawson and Richland counties.

    Late Monday night, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed that the oil had reached the drinking water supply of the town, which is home to about 5,000 people. Officials advised Glendive residents not to drink or cook with their tap water. “The initial results of samples taken from the City of Glendive’s drinking water system indicate the presence of hydrocarbons at elevated levels, and water intakes in the river have been closed,” the EPA said in a statement.

    Bridger Pipeline, which owns the Poplar Pipeline, committed to bringing water into the city every day until the water system is free of oil. On Thursday, the EPA said residents could resume using their tap water.

    Earlier Disasters on the Yellowstone

    Montana’s Yellowstone River is the longest undammed river left in the 48 contiguous states. It is a beautiful national treasure, tumbling out of Yellowstone Park, the nation’s oldest national park, until it joins the Missouri River 671 miles downstream. Sadly, it is a river already poisoned and diminished by mining pollution from the 19th century.

    This is not the first time the river has been threatened by oil spills: in 2011, ExxonMobil’s Silvertip Pipeline, which was buried below the Yellowstone River, broke, spilling more than 63,000 gallons of oil into the river.

    There have also been plenty of incidences of spills causing water contamination over the past year. Last August, more than a million gallons of mining waste spilled into rivers and creeks in British Columbia after a tailings pond breach, causing water-use bans to be implemented for thousands of people.

    August 2014 also saw a toxic algae bloom that contaminated the water of 400,000 people in Toledo, Ohio. Perhaps you also remember January 2014, when 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM, a chemical used by the coal industry, spilled into the Elk River in West Virginia, endangering the water supply for around 300,000 people.

    All this has people worried about the Keystone XL pipeline, and the many environmental dangers it would bring.

    The Keystone Pipeline Today

    Will the 1,179-mile pipeline, first proposed in 2008, which would carry an estimated 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil from Canada into the United States, actually be constructed?

    The answer, and the fate of the $8 billion project, depends on what happens in Congress, the courts, the White House and with TransCanada, the company planning to build it.

    What we do know is that last April thousands of citizen activists converged on the National Mall in Washington for a week of “Reject and Protect” rallies against the project. On November 18, by a single vote, the U.S. Senate stopped legislation that would have approved construction of the pipeline.

    The House this month passed legislation approving the pipeline’s construction for the tenth time. Identical legislation cleared an initial hurdle in the Senate, where a 63-32 vote was three more than the 60 required, but not enough to override a veto.

    The Senate is now considering dozens of amendments. This week it approved, by 98-1, a measure saying climate change is real, but Republicans refused to back two others that said human beings contributed to the problem.

    Meanwhile, President Obama’s remarks about the pipeline have become increasingly negative in recent months, raising the hope that he might reject the pipeline outright. In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Obama urged Congress to “set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline.”

    We will see how this unfolds, but until then, the residents of Glendive, Mont., now know first-hand what a crude oil spill smells and tastes like, and they are not in favor.

    Judy Molland|January 24, 2015

    You Won’t Believe Where the US Ranks Among the World’s Most Energy Efficient Economies

    You Won’t Believe Where the US Ranks Among the World’s Most Energy Efficient Economies

    The United States ranked only 13th on the list of the world’s 16 most energy efficient countries last year.

    The scorecard, published by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE), measured energy efficiency through 35 metrics in four broad categories: buildings & construction, transportation, industry, and national efforts to cut energy costs.

    Germany and Italy led the way – largely because of their various tax incentives for increased efficiency.

    China, who accounts for more than half of the world’s coal consumption, ranked 4th, due to its residential and commercial power requirements, among the lowest in the world.

    Colin Rabyniuk|January 19, 2015

    President’s new drilling plan fails the Climate Test

    President Obama has made some strong statements on climate change in the past few months, but his administration just took a major step backwards.

    A five-year plan just put forth is set to open new areas off our coasts to oil and gas drilling. Large parts of the Atlantic, Arctic, and Gulf of Mexico are all at risk, paving the way for even more fossil fuel extraction when we need to be putting a stop to it.

    President Obama has said climate change is the greatest threat of our generation. It’s time ALL of his policies lined up with this rhetoric…and that means no new offshore drilling.

    As you know, the world is in a very big hole with climate change and when you’re in a hole the first order of business should be to stop digging. Unfortunately, the Administration’s new plan clearly forgets this and fails the climate test.

    The science is clear – unproven reserves and new provinces for fossil fuel production should be off the table. The Administration needs to harmonize all of its policies with climate science, not just some of them.

    Many of the locations in this new proposed plan have been off limits to drilling for decades. Will President Obama risk sacrificing his climate legacy to help out Big Oil and Gas, or will he apply a climate test to all future energy projects like the science demands? The President needs to decide whose side he’s on.

    David Turnbull|Campaigns Director|Oil Change International

    Report Shows How Fracking Industry’s Failure to Follow Regulations Impacts Human Health

    A new report out today from Environment America Research & Policy Center shows that all types of fracking companies, from small to large, are prone to violating rules intended to protect human health and the environment.

    The report, Fracking Failures: Oil and Gas Industry Environmental Violations in Pennsylvania and What They Mean for the U.S., analyses Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry over a four-year period and found that the top offenders of regulations—averaging more than one environmental violation every day—represented a wide range of companies from Fortune 500 companies like Cabot Oil, to mom-and-pop operators, to firms like Chevron.

     

    “Fracking is an inherently risky, dirty, dangerous practice, and regulations can’t change that,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney with Environment America. “But this report shows that a range of oil and gas companies struggle to meet even modest protections for our environment and public health.”

    The report tracks lapses such as allowing toxic chemicals to leach into the air and water, endangering drinking water through improper well construction and dumping industrial waste into waterways.

    According to Environment America, fracking operators in Pennsylvania have committed thousands of violations of oil and gas regulations since 2011 with violations that are not “paperwork” violations, but lapses that pose serious risks to workers, the environment and public health, including:

    • Allowing toxic chemicals to flow off drilling sites and into local soil and water. In July 2012, for example, Chief Oil & Gas was cited by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) when the company allowed 4,700 gallons of hydrochloric acid to flow off of its drilling site in Leroy Township, Bradford County, and into nearby Towanda Creek, causing a fish kill.
    • Endangering drinking water through improper well construction. Well problems, including leaks, contaminated drinking water supplies in as many as 243 cases across Pennsylvania between December 2007 and August 2014—81 of them between 2011 and 2014. In one such case Carrizo (Marcellus) LLC was cited for failing to properly restore a water supply its fracking activities had contaminated.
    • Dumping industrial waste into local waterways. One operator, EQT Production, was cited twice in 2012 by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for violations at a well in Duncan Township, Tioga County, that polluted a local stream.
    • Otherwise disposing of waste improperly. In one 2012 incident at an Exco Resources well in Bell Township, Clearfield County, the company was cited for contaminating underground drinking water supplies as a result of leaks from a well drilled for the specific purpose of injecting toxic waste underground.

    The report ranks Pennsylvania’s 20 most frequently cited fracking companies by number of environmental and health violations from January 2011-August 2014. Houston-based Cabot Oil, a Halliburton contractor, committed the most total violations with 265.

    violations2600

    The report highlights the growing number of scientific studies that links the drilling practices of fracking to various health risks. Studies have shown that the proximity to well pads increases a person’s risk for respiratory and neurological problems, as well as birth defects. Here’s a chart showing the recognized health effects of air emissions from natural gas activities:

    Recognized Health Effects of Air Emissions from Natural Gas Activities

    This report comes on the heels of the worst fracking wastewater spill in North Dakota since the boom began in the state, leaking 3 million gallons into the river.

    “Fracking is a failure for our environment and health,” said Rumpler. “That’s why we should keep this dirty drilling out of our national parks, forests and other public lands.”

    Stefanie Spear|January 27, 2015

    Go with the wind

    Scientists who tested a floating windmill off the coast of Maine a year ago have gathered enough data to build a full-size model that can be moved to take advantage of high winds.

    The U.S. Department of Energy is using lasers attached to buoys to measure wind speeds at differing altitudes off the coast of Virginia Beach to learn how cost-effective it would be to harness the higher winds above sea level to power wind turbines.

    Meanwhile, construction of the nation’s first offshore wind farm may begin this year off Rhode Island.

    Amid these exciting advances in energy technology, New Jersey, once a leader, has become a laggard. The latest disappointment was the state Board of Public Utilities’ refusal to approve five windmills off Atlantic City just before ground was broken for the project late last year to take advantage of tax breaks.

    The BPU cited the cost to consumers, but the project’s developer, Fishermen’s Energy, said it would cost ratepayers only about $1 a year. That’s a small price considering the potential benefits, including creation of a manufacturing hub for energy jobs. Certainly it would be good to add another player to boost Atlantic City’s economy given the declining casino industry.

    Relying more on wind for power decreases the impact of greenhouse gases emitted from dirty energy sources such as coal, which are causing global warming and raising sea levels. Also, consider the money saved by reducing air-pollution-related respiratory ailments, which shorten lives and produce high medical bills.

    Some environmentalists continue to argue that turbine blades kill migratory birds and change their travel patterns, and that the installation of windmills could endanger sea life. But New Jersey addressed those issues in a report released in 2010 after two years of research, which concluded there would be only a marginal impact on birds and animals. The study laid out where birds and sea animals live, feed, and travel so windmill developers can avoid them.

    The state’s continuing antagonism toward offshore wind power denies the industry the practical experience it needs to continue to develop. With 127 miles of Atlantic coastline, New Jersey is in a unique position to be a leader in this fledgling industry, which is why the federal government awarded the Fishermen’s Energy project $47 million in funding last year.

    Four years ago, Gov. Christie saw the promise in wind power and signed legislation encouraging the industry. He should remember that now as his BPU and Fishermen’s Energy prepare to do battle over the denied permit in court in March. Why not avoid that drama and let the wind farm construction proceed? New Jersey doesn’t need a Luddite BPU that can’t see that the time for wind power in this state is now.

    Read more

    Land Conservation

    7 natural wonders that humans could destroy

    If you’ve dreamed of seeing the Amazon rainforest with your own eyes, you better start planning that trip soon.

    Many of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders are disappearing with devastating speed. Entire ecosystems, habitats and species that have existed for many thousands and in some cases millions of years could disappear in a little as a few decades, thanks to the destructive greed and consumption of one culprit: us.

    Humans have burned, cut down, poisoned and torn their way through nature’s resources and treasures at a much faster rate than the Earth can sustain. According to the latest Living Planet report, released by the World Wildlife Fund, humanity continues to consume natural resources at an alarming rate. The report says that our demands for the past 40 years have far exceeded what the Earth can replenish.

    At the rate we’re going, climate change, deforestation, mining, illegal consumption and even war could ensure that our grandchildren never see some of these natural wonders. And we might not just have to worry about the Earth’s beautiful places and animals disappearing: In a new paper published by the journal Science, a group of scientists concluded that human activities “are destabilizing the global environment.”

    In other words: We’re in big trouble unless something changes.

    Here are some of the natural wonders of the world that have been endangered and damaged by humans:

    1. The Everglades

    The Everglades National Park’s fragile wetlands are home to a large number of birds, reptiles, water habitants, and threatened species. The Florida park is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and since 2010 UNESCO has included it in its list of endangered sites.

    Encroaching urban development, reduced water flow and pollution from farms have destroyed more than half of the original Everglades and continue to endanger the habitat with further decline.

    2. Amazon rainforest

    As the world’s largest tropical rainforest, the Amazon is home to millions of rare animal and plant species, one-fifth of the world’s fresh water and more than 30 million people, including 350 indigenous groups.

    But its breathtaking splendors are being threatened by a host of problems, including illegal logging, drought, soil erosion, water contamination, and, of course, old-fashioned climate change. Antonio Nobre, a researcher for Brazil’s Earth System Science Center, has warned that both illegal logging and burning the forest to make way for agriculture are threatening its ability to regulate climate.

    An estimated 20% of the forest is now clear, and Nobre warns that reaching 40% could turn the famed rainforest into an “Amazon savannah.”

    Ending deforestation in the Amazon is one step toward saving it, but even if that ended overnight, various rare species will still slowly die out as the loss of habitat continues to take its enormous toll on the region.

    3. Congo Basin

    It’s home to the world’s second largest rainforest, and stretches across six countries: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

    Illegal and industrial logging, mining, farming, ranching, illegal wildlife trade and guerrilla warfare continue to deplete and threaten the future of this vast wilderness region.

    Abundant in natural resources, the Congo Basin lost about 700,000 hectares of forest per year from 2000-2010, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

    4. Mount Everest

    Climate change has also taken a toll on the world’s tallest summit, Mount Everest, resulting in a decrease in glaciers by 13% over the past 50 years, and the snowline shifting upward by several hundred feet.

    The temperature in the Everest region has also increased by slightly more than 1 degree Fahrenheit. While this change may seem miniscule, even small increases in temperature can have devastating consequences, including melting glaciers leading to flooding, rock slides and avalanches that could further alter the snow-covered landscape and ecosystem.

    5. Dead Sea

    Known for its low elevation, salted waters and the cornucopia of natural beauty products made from its raw, nutrient-rich minerals, the Dead Sea has been known by many names throughout history, including al-Bahr al-Mayyit in Arabic, Yam Hamelach in Hebrew, Bahr Lot and Lot’s Sea.

    Sadly, this historically significant natural wonder is yet another victim of human greed.

    Neighboring countries continue to tap into the Jordan River — the sea’s sole source — for farming, agriculture and agricultural purposes, depleting the sea at a rapid rate. Pairing that with the extraction of minerals for potash and cosmetics companies, the Dead Sea’s decline has only hastened. This continual pressure on the Dead Sea has resulted in its recession from the shore, the creation of dangerous sinkholes and its shrinking by more than 3 feet a year.

    6. Great Barrier Reef

    Larger than the United Kingdom and Ireland combined, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef ecosystem in the world and home to more than 1,500 species of fish, one-third of the world’s soft corals, 411 types of hard coral and a vibrant marine life.

    Marine scientists have warned that climate change will cause “irreversible damage” to this iconic heritage site by 2030 unless immediate action is taken. University of Queensland reef researcher Ove Hoegh-Guldberg told The Guardian “it is highly unlikely that coral reefs will survive” if the current average global temperatures continue at what he called the “business as usual” pace of hitting 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

    “Even under the best-case scenario of 2C (35.6F), corals disappear,” said Hoegh-Guldberg. “But with business as usual, it’s game over.”

    7. Bamiyan Valley

    Included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List and the List of World Heritage in Danger, the fragile yet beautiful Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan continues to bear the scars of the country’s lengthy war.

    Sadly, the valley has suffered the brunt of military action with parts of it abandoned and others parts inaccessible due to the presence of antipersonnel mines.

    Hyacinth Mascarenhas|GlobalPost|January 22, 2015

    This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

    Florida Forever Program Confirms 2015 Priority List

    Florida’s Acquisition and Restoration Council, the ARC, approved the state’s 2015 priority list last week, with more than a dozen of desired properties located in Alachua and Marion counties. The council held a public meeting on Dec. 18 to hear project proposals and ranked the sites in order of importance the next day.

    The 119-item list contains over 2 million acres of properties sprinkled throughout the state, with more than half located in North Central Florida.

    The list acts as a “wish list”, said Marianne Gengenbach, chief of office of environmental services within the division of state lands. They are the properties the Florida Forever program hopes to absorb in 2015 and receive state funding through Florida Legislature.

    Florida Forever is a conservation and recreation acquisition program to ensure Florida’s lands are protected and kept pristine.

    In addition to reviewing management plans for already-state-owned conversation lands, the ARC selected four new sites for state land acquisition this year, which is more than most years, Gengenbach said.

    Four new projects were added this year: Myakka Island Conservation Corridor, bordering both Sarasota and Manatee counties, Upper Lake Lafayette Aquifer Protection in Leon County, Arbuckle Creek Watershed in Highlands County and Costal Headwaters Longleaf Forest in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

    Each site is assigned to one of six categories where it is ranked from highest to lowest priority every year. Some projects’ rankings will move, while many stay the same.

    Using gathered data, the council assesses the value of the natural resources on the land by taking into account endangered species, natural habitats, historical value and water sources, she said. To qualify, the land must meet criteria listed in Florida Statute 259.105, the Florida Forever Act.

    “They do a detailed assessment of the natural resource values on that land to see how does that land help meet those Florida Forever goals and measures,” she said.

    Mike Wisenbaker, archaeology supervisor at the department of state division of historical resources, said one of the most important factors within the process is that all of the council members work together in each and every field review. However, on projects with specific natural resource values, a certain group will take control.

    “While this entire process is very much a joint effort, each council member and their staff use their own best discretion in ultimately deciding how to rank these projects,” he wrote in an email.

    Peter Frederick, Ph.D., research professor at the University of Florida Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, has been a member of the ARC council for six years.

    Frederick, whose last meeting as council member was Friday, said narrowing the list by ranking each property each year could get difficult.

    “Imagine trying to score 40 or more properties on 40 or more different attributes,” he said. “That can be really tough.”

    However, he believes the wide variety of conservation lands within the state is crucial to attract tourism and retirees as well as protect Florida’s future as a diverse ecosystem.

    “If you couple that with the warm environment in the winter, this is what’s bringing people to Florida,” he said. “Some may think it’s the beaches, but the uniqueness of the Florida landscape is one thing that the people come to see. That’s one reason we’re a destination and we always will be.”

    The multi-value point ranking system the council uses was enacted about five years ago, just after Frederick joined the group. He feels confident that the system allows the council to work efficiently and transparently, he said.

    Each acquisition requires negotiation between the seller and buyer, Gengenbach said. This can bring up obstacles where the seller pulls out or the budget doesn’t allow a huge expense.

    However, Amendment 1, the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, was passed in November in an effort to restore funding into the Florida Forever program, whose budget was cut severely in 2008 due to the recession.

    The amendment, which passed with a 75 percent in favor, is designed to give 33 percent of documentary stamp tax revenue to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund over the next 20 years.

    “If we receive increased funding, we will know where to spend it,” Gengenbach said. “We have a very good process in place for determining conservation priorities.”

    As for whether Amendment 1 will directly help the Florida Forever program, “it’s far too early to tell,” she said.

    “That amendment requires implementing legislation in order to decide how the funds that are under that amendment will be distributed and for which projects,” she said.

    The priority list will be presented to a board of trustees, consisting of the governor and cabinet, in May 2015 for their approval. It will guide which projects will be negotiated for purchase with funds from the state legislature, she said. According to the ARC, the board of trustees may approve or reject specific projects from the list, but they cannot change the priorities allocated.

    With almost 10 million acres of conservation land in Florida, Florida Forever and its predecessor P2000 programs have purchased over 2 million acres of property—that’s about the size of Puerto Rico.

    From a conservationist viewpoint, Frederick urges state citizens to take advantage of the opportunities.

    “Get out there and enjoy it,” Frederick said. “If you look at any other state, it’s really hard to see as much great unique property as we’ve got in Florida. There’s plenty of chances to get out there.”

    Michelle Champalanne|December 22nd, 2014

    Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition Launches at Hatchineha Ranch 

    The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition launched on January 10 from the Everglades Headwaters at Hatchineha Ranch in Polk County. They were sent off by family, friends, The Nature Conservancy, Alex Sink, Senator Bill Nelson and many more.

    After leaving the Everglades Headwaters, the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition team spent the rest of the first week immersed in the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve in Central Florida, a little known part of the state hiding within plain sight of Tampa’s and Orlando’s sprawling metropolitan areas.
    The swamp spans five counties and 560,000 acres, a majority of which is designated as an Area of Critical State Concern for the purpose of protecting Florida’s water supply.

    While in the Green Swamp, after backpacking and camping in rainy weather, the team participated in a controlled burn with land managers from Southwest Florida Water Management District.

    Fire is an important part of the ecosystem in Florida as it helps reduce potentially hazardous wildfires, insect and disease control, encourages new growth of native vegetation and maintains habitat for plant and animal species that depend on periodic fire.
    To follow the #Glades2Gulf Expedition, please check out the ways to follow the team on the right!

    The Palm Beach Zoo and Conservation Society is the first zoo to aid the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition. The Zoological Society of the Palm Beaches exists to inspire people to act on behalf of wildlife and the natural world. They advance their conservation mission through endangered species propagation, education and support of conservation initiative in the field, like Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition. Thank you so much to the Palm Beach Zoo and Conservation Society.

    To learn more about the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, please visit www.floridawildlifecorridor.org or follow us on social media!

    The Florida Wildlife Corridor is a nonprofit, tax-exempt charitable organization

    State Closes on Conservation Land Purchase in Southwest Florida

    TALLAHASSEE – Today, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, in collaboration with The Trust for Public Land, acquired 620 acres of conservation lands within the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW) Florida Forever project for $9,765,000.

    The CREW project provides connectivity between three conservation areas, offers critical protection for wildlife like the Florida panther and Florida Black Bear, and protects the flow of water into the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and other areas. The project supports at least two species of rare and endangered orchids and includes an unusual strain of dwarf bald cypress. 

    “Adding this land to CREW will provide many important benefits, including preserving southwest Florida’s water supply and providing connections between three conservation areas critical to the restoration of the Everglades,” said DEP Secretary Jon Steverson.

    “At The Trust for Public Land our mission is about conserving land for people. The conservation of this land offers greater opportunity for people to connect with natural Florida as seen by early Floridians. We thank the previous owners, the Gargiulo family, for helping conserve this land,” said Doug Hattaway, Senior Project Manager with The Trust for Public Land. 

    The property will be managed by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) as an addition to the CREW Wildlife Environmental Area to improve the environmental value and ecological functions of the watershed and provide public recreational opportunities such as hiking, wildlife viewing and birding.

    “Restoring this truly significant and special southwest coast ecosystem depends upon placing into public ownership the land needed to link the pieces of this natural expanse,” said SFWMD Executive Director Blake Guillory. “This acquisition is another great example of real progress in protecting our regional water resources.”

    The Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund approved the acquisition on Jan. 13, 2015 at the Cabinet meeting in Tallahassee, Florida.

    nataliarodriguez2015|Jan.28.2015

    Air Quality

    Polluting industries want a free pass to weaken smog protections ‏


    Today, Earthjustice joined other groups – including the American Lung Association, the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council–in calling on EPA to finalize a new smog standard that’s strong enough to protect public health from this dangerous pollutant.
    Earthjustice representatives, including attorney David Baron, were at the public hearing to finalize a more stringent smog standard than what the EPA has proposed.

    Ozone pollution, commonly referred to as smog, is a silent killer. It threatens the health of millions and is responsible for respiratory ailments, asthma attacks, and deaths.

    EPA has just released a draft rule that proposes to strengthen the current ozone standard. But industry is fighting to stop the EPA from adopting any new standards.

    Everyone has the right to breathe clean air. But we all need to fight for it.

    Jessica Hodge|Campaign Manager|Earthjustice

    Transportation

    8 Reasons to Adopt a Car-Free Lifestyle

    Numerous studies are showing that Americans are driving less. Younger people no longer see buying their first car as an eagerly anticipated rite of passage. Fewer own cars for reasons ranging from cost—they’re paying off student loans, not making major purchases—to the fact that many are moving back to cities where a car is not only not a necessity but a costly nuisance. The number of miles driven by the population as a whole has been declining for years for many reasons, not just the cost of gas. So the trend is unlikely to reverse, despite the drop in gas prices. And that’s good news in more ways than you might think.

    1. It’s good for your bank account. Between payments, upkeep, insurance and gas, owning a car can take a major bite out of a household budget. While a post-World War II culture had a fetish for cars and saw them as a form of entertainment, today they’re more like a utility that fills a need. If that need is filled by walking, bicycling or public transportation, personal costs drop steeply. That frees up income to use in other more enjoyable ways than getting your brakes fixed.

    2. It’s good for local businesses. Because it eliminates that major drain on people’s budgets, a critical mass of carless people has more money to spend on activities like eating out, patronizing entertainment options or giving to worthy causes. Walkable urban cores attract carless younger people, which fuels everything from entrepreneurship to active nightlife. On the other end of the spectrum, it also attracts retirees and empty-nesters who want to give up their cars now that they no longer have to drive kids to soccer practice and music lessons. They’re likely to patronize a city’s cultural offerings, restaurants and stores.

    3. It’s good for infrastructure efficiency. Growth in denser urban cores rather than far-flung suburbs is more sustainable. Suburbs with their malls, shopping strips and business parks grew up around freeway exits as car-dependency increased in the ’50s and ’60s, starting a vicious cycle of infrastructure attracting population and population requiring infrastructure. Whether it was roads, schools or water systems, that infrastructure was duplicative and costly as it served a more geographically spread-out population. It also often meant abandonment of existing infrastructure—see: Detroit—creating an incalculable amount of waste. Giving up cars has helped fuel the recycling and reuse of that older infrastructure.

    4. It’s good for diversity. Living in more densely populated urban areas puts people in constant contact with those of different races, cultures, socio-economic classes and ideas. Entrepreneurial immigrants are more likely to settle in urban areas to start businesses, offering residents the chance to become familiar with customs and cultures from around the world. Interacting with people who aren’t mirror reflections of yourself tends to raise awareness of and sensitivity to the interests and needs of others.

    5. It’s good for your personal health. Not having a car means that you tend to walk more. If you take public transit, chances are you’ll walk at least a short distance at both ends of your trip. More people are turning to bicycles too, with infrastructure like bike racks, bike “boxes” which lock up your bike and keep it safe from the elements and bike-sharing programs growing. Regular, moderate physical activity is an essential component in maintaining a healthy weight, keeping the heart and lungs in shape, building muscle and bone strength, and staving off a whole host of chronic diseases.

    6. It’s good for public health. Less obesity and fewer chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure mean a healthier populace overall. That decreases the strain on the health care system and in turn leads to lower health care costs for everyone.

    7. It’s good for the air we breath. Despite reductions in harmful emissions from auto exhaust in the last several decades, cars are still a major source of carbon pollution, spewing a variety of harmful chemicals into the air. Fewer cars on on the road means cleaner air for everyone to breath and a reduction in many chronic conditions, especially respiratory diseases such as asthma.

    8. It’s good for the planet. Transportation is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions which fuel climate change. Electric cars are a small-scale solution and very expensive, unlikely to lure many people who have given up their cars back to car ownership. Fewer cars on the road means slowing the rate of climate change-driven global warming. And that’s not just beneficial—it’s critical for the Earth’s survival.

    Anastasia Pantsios|EcoWatch|January 25, 2015

    Recycling

    Odebrecht USA, in Coral Gables, Fla. Among 14 WasteWise Participants Recognized for Reducing Waste

    Contact Information: Dawn Harris Young, EPA, (404) 562-8421 (Direct), (404) 562-8400 (Main), harris-young.dawn@epa.gov

    ATLANTA — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized Odebrecht USA, in Coral Gables, Fla. as the WaterWise “Small Business Partner of the Year.” Nationally, 14 WasteWise participants, that include research institutes, retailers and local governments, were recognized. The WasteWise program helps organizations and businesses apply sustainable materials management practices to reduce municipal and industrial wastes.

    WasteWise participants reported preventing and diverting a total of nearly 7.6 million tons of waste from being disposed in landfills or incinerators in 2013. This amount of waste diversion represents a reduction in greenhouse gases equivalent to taking more than 2.3 million passenger vehicles off the road for one year.

    Organizations can join WasteWise as a partner, endorser, or both. Partners demonstrate how they reduce waste, practice environmental stewardship, and incorporate sustainable materials management into their waste-handling processes. Endorsers promote enrollment in WasteWise as part of a comprehensive approach to help their stakeholders realize the economic benefits to reducing waste.

    Launched in 1994, WasteWise has become a mainstay in environmental stewardship and continues to evolve to address tomorrow’s environmental needs. For more information about the WasteWise Program, visit: http://www.epa.gov/waste/conserve/smm/wastewise/

    Connect with EPA Region 4 on Facebook: www.facebook.com/eparegion4

    And on Twitter: @USEPASoutheast

    Great news for recycling!

    People in New South Wales will soon be able to claim a 10c refund on their empty drinks bottles and cans – preventing millions of plastic containers from ending up in our forests, beaches, rivers and oceans. This will create a cleaner Australia and one that’s kinder on our birds and animals. Plastic litter can be deadly for seabirds and other marine life, which is what makes this win so important.


    You may have already heard of ‘Cash for Containers’. You buy a drink, and get 10 cents back when you return your empty bottle or can. In Europe, it’s one of the most popular and proven ways to reduce plastic waste, helping achieve recycling rates of up to 97%. And it’s a program that has operated successfully in South Australia for over 30 years, where recycling rates are double those of the rest of the country. NSW will soon enjoy the same benefits.

    This nearly didn’t happen. Coca-Cola and their beverage industry buddies fought us all the way, running attack ads, cozying up to politicians and even taking the fight to federal court. Coke thought they could bully and buy their way out of doing the right thing by the planet. But the truth is, no matter how much cash they threw at this, they couldn’t match us.

    Over 150,000 people signed petitions, called MPs and funded ads to tell politicians to back ‘Cash for Containers’. Thousands took to their cities, beaches and parks to pick up plastic trash and raise the alarm. We didn’t do it because someone made us; we weren’t doing it for recognition or rewards. It was simply the right thing to do.

    Now Premier Mike Baird has listened to our voices and brought ‘Cash for Containers’ to NSW.

    Greenpeace Australia Pacific|1/30/2015

    4 Ways to Reduce and Recycle in the Bathroom

    Recycling has come a long way since the very first Earth Day in April 1970. Collecting used paper, cans, and containers to be reprocessed into usable goods has become a healthy habit for thousands of Americans of all ages. However, in many homes, recycling efforts are confined to the kitchen. That’s a great start, but if you’d like to explore new frontiers in green living, try recycling and reducing in your bathroom as well. The best place to begin? Set up a neat place for you and your family to stash recyclables in your bath’s small space. Here are instructions to reduce or recycle common materials that would otherwise end up in your bathroom trash.

    Paper

    There are two ways of dealing with the plethora of paper in your bathroom. Clean, dry items like toilet paper rolls and tissue boxes are simple to recycle. However, wet paper should not be tossed into the nearest appropriate recycling receptacle. Its moisture is likely to cause mold growth, which can make the whole batch unsuitable for recycling. An alternative method for eco-friendly disposal of used uncontaminated items such as facial tissues and paper towels is to add them to your compost, treating them as brown material. If you don’t have a backyard compost heap, you can include paper towels with your yard waste, with your waste disposal company’s approval.

    Plastic

    Bottles, bottles, bottles. While we can understand the logic behind packaging personal hygiene products such as mouthwash or liquid soap in plastic (which, if dropped by slippery hands, won’t shatter as glass bottles would), it does tend to pile up. Try to buy bathroom bottles and jars according to plastic type. Clear PET plastic is the kind most readily accepted by recycling centers, followed by HDPE. Plastics with recycling codes 3, 6, and 7 are not only less easy to recycle; they are also hazardous to human health. Try to avoid buying bathroom products in these types of plastics.

    Reduce

    A useful green principle to put to work here is Reduce. You’ll have less to recycle if you buy lotions and scrubs in bulk, to be transferred into smaller-sized, easier-to-handle containers — repurposed, of course. Use a dedicated funnel for the task. Reduce even more by making your own cleansers and creams from natural ingredients. Don’t have the time or inclination to hassle with pouring and mixing? You can still reduce your use of shampoos and body washes by lathering up only once. And while you’re at it … you know how this kind of product comes with a little headroom at the top? Fill that inch or two with water, cap the bottle, and shake.

    Water

    If you love to garden, there’s a big green change just waiting to happen in your bathroom. Installing a graywater system will save precious water by recycling “gently used” runoff from such purposes as brushing your teeth or taking a bath. Please note, though, that you must use biodegradable toothpastes, soaps, and so on that are compatible with graywater systems. What is more, while this recycled water may be utilized to rinse your patio or water your lawn, it should not be sprinkled directly onto food crops. Check local regulations before having a graywater system added to your plumbing. Simpler water recycling actions include placing a bucket in your shower to catch the initial flow, before the water runs warm. Then use the clean water you’ve collected to fill pets’ dishes or water houseplants. Or pour it (fast and hard) into your toilet for a “free” flush.

    Laura Firszt|Networx.|January 26, 2015

    Miscellaneous

    How the Cat Genome Project Could Improve Cat and Human Health

    Cats: we love them, but we don’t understand them most of the time. Heck, half the time we’re not sure if they were ever domesticated in the first place. However, now that scientists are finally getting around to studying the cat genome, they may soon uncover the answers to many of our cat behavior and health questions.

    What’s a Genome?

    Before attempting to understand the cat genome project, it’s important to look at our own. The Genome News Network describes a genome as: “all of a living thing’s genetic material. It is the entire set of hereditary instructions for building, running, and maintaining an organism, and passing life on to the next generation. The whole shebang.” Think of the whole shebang as Russian nesting dolls where chromosomes house genes and genes house DNA.

    The National Human Genome Research Institute highlights how genetics and genomics aren’t the same. While genetics is limited to family and inheritance, genomics is more complex; it can explain why some of us “get sick from certain infections, environmental factors, and behaviors, while others do not.” Instead of zeroing in on one family, genomics looks at the entire human family since we are 99.9 percent genetically identical. Because genomics considers so many factors, studying the human genome is helping us understand diseases that are individual and environmental like, heart disease, asthma, diabetes and cancer. Genomics can actually help in nine of the ten leading causes of death in the U.S., excluding accident-related deaths.

    Why Were Dogs Studied Before Cats?

    While genomics can also improve our cat’s health and our understanding of our feline friends, some high-profile people wanted to learn more about the dog genome more than the cat one. As Nature reports that wasn’t the only reason that the dog genome was next when the human, mouse and rat genomes were complete. Dogs and humans share similar diseases, including narcolepsy and arthritis. Kennel clubs and dog breed standards also means less genetic variation and the potential to isolate “disease-causing genes” quicker.

    It’s okay, cat lovers, because the cat genome project has finally arrived.

    The Cat Genome Project Revealed

    Nature reports how earlier this month, a group of geneticists proposed sequencing the genomes of 99 domestic cats, in San Diego, Calif. Although it wouldn’t be the first attempt to sequence a cat’s genome, it is the first attempt to do it at this scale.

    Understanding cat health can help us understand our own. While the goal of the cat genome project is to “eradicate all genetic disease in cat breeds,” the project could help human health, too. For example, Nature explains how Leslie Lyons of the University of Missouri in Columbia found the mutations responsible for polycystic kidney disease, a disease that cats and humans share. While the team is working on a drug to fight the kidney disease (that might help humans one day), stopping cats from breeding with that mutation can help reduce the number of cases. Cat genomics can also offer us insights into type 2 diabetes, asthma, retinal atrophy, HIV and AIDS.

    Were Cats Ever Domesticated?

    Genomics can make our cats healthier, but it might also be able to answer the age-old question that baffles even the most experienced cat connoisseur: Were cats ever domesticated?

    Nature reports how Razib Khan, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of California, Davis, is looking for an answer. Khan and colleagues will use the genome sequencing to map cat domestication and trace how cats spread all over the world. Earlier cat genome sequencing efforts revealed that there could be genes that are linked to docility that separate wild and domestic cats, but only time will tell.

    Jessica Ramos|January 21, 2015

    13 Plants That Repel Mosquitoes

    Love being outdoors but sick of those annoying blood-sucking mosquitoes? Put down the sprays and nets, here are thirteen different plants you can grow that’ll help keep the mosquitoes away.

    Bug zappers are also annoying, and leave you sitting among insect parts. Moreover, you may not be in the mood for smoky candles or incense. However, this does not mean you have to be bothered by mosquitoes. Most people know about citronella, it’s found in many products that keep bugs away, but there are others that can do the job.

    Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)

    Mosquitoes hate the lemony scent of this plant. With some patience, you can easily grow this plant in your garden. You just have to buy stalks easily available in the market. Lemongrass prefers good drainage and full sun. However, it’s important to understand that this beautiful tropical plant does not tolerate freezing temperatures.

    Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

    For some gardeners, this is a perennial. For others, it is an annual plant. Catnip is considered about 10 times more effective than DEET for repelling mosquitoes. However, this plant has a tendency to be quite invasive.

    If it’s in the garden bed, cats can crush this plant. But you can keep a couple of them in hanging containers to avoid both problems.

    Marigold (Tagetes spp.)

    This is a sun loving annual plant. Besides mosquitoes, this one can also repel aphids. It can be an exceptional companion plant for the vegetable garden. Marigold plants are very easy to maintain. You don’t need a lot of care to keep them healthy and flourishing.

    This is a border plant that offers the simplicity to collect seeds for next year’s planting. Due to this, Marigold is an excellent addition. However, you should never rub this plant on your skin.

    Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

    Rosemary oil is considered heavenly to most humans. This shrub can easily repel mosquitoes, and keep your garden safe. This is one of the most attractive plants for herb and container gardens. It does not require a lot of water. In addition to this, Rosemary is also delicious, and you can use it for cooking soups, egg dishes and meat.

    Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)

    This perennial plant has a somewhat silvery foliage. In most zones, this plant can be easily grown in full sun. This is one of the most unique border plants. The pungent odor of this plant can keep mosquitoes at bay. Once again, you should make sure this plant is not rubbed on your skin.

    Mint (Mentha spp.)

    Many different mint oils are excellent for repelling mosquitoes. Thus, you should keep a couple of pots filled with these aromatic and hardy plants in the garden. Mints can spread easily, and they are best cultivated in small containers.

    Floss Flower (Ageratum houstonianum)

    This is an annual plant that grows about 6-12 inches. It needs partial shade to full sun. Besides repelling mosquitoes, this plant is considered an excellent butterfly nectar plant.

    Cadaga Tree (Eucalyptus torelliana)

    As the name suggests, this is a tree. It requires full sun to grow properly. This tree can attract wildlife to your garden. However, it is effective for repelling
    mosquitoes. With this tree in your garden, you may need a fence.

    Catmint (Nepeta faassenii)

    Catmint is another perennial plant to repel mosquitoes. It’s height is just about 2-3 feet. This plant is an excellent mosquito repellant. In addition to this,
    catmint is also a butterfly nectar plant. Your cats will just love it.

    Citronella Grass (Cymbopogon nardus)

    This is a popular perennial plant that flourishes in the USDA zones. This plant needs partial shade to full sun. The oil from this plant is also used to produce mosquito repellant candles.

    Clove Tree (Syzygium aromaticum)

    This is another tree to repel mosquitoes. However, it’s not very tall. It needs partial shade to full sun. The flower buds of this tree produce spices, which are used in various dishes. It’s an excellent mosquito repellant.

    Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

    This is a perennial plant. It provides nectar for butterflies. The flowers can be easily dried and kept in the garden to repel mosquitoes and other insects.

    Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

    Lemon balm is a perennial plant, and requires partial shade to full sun. The leaves can be used in flavor iced and hot teas. It can also be used as a substitute for lemon peel.

    These were the 13 most popular plants to repel mosquitoes. With these plants in your garden, it will be easier to get rid of mosquitoes, and enjoy your time in the Sun or while taking care of your garden.

    Kathryn’s News|January 26, 2015

    What You Need to Know About Toxic Chemicals in Your Furniture

    Once upon a time, flame-retardant furniture seemed like a good idea. It seemed like less kindling in the case of someone tipping over a candle or a wire overheating.

    Instead, the chemicals used to make upholstery foam less flammable brought their own problems—problems more immediate and more common than those rare instances of fire. Those toxic chemicals, shed into the air by sofas and other furniture containing the foam, were linked to a host of health problems including fertility issues, neurological deficits, developmental delays and cancer. American infants were found to have extremely high concentrations of fire retardants in their blood compared to those in other countries, according to a study sponsored by the Environmental Working Group. And when they did burn, the fumes were highly toxic and dangerous.

    So just as manufacturers are being pressured to remove flame retardant chemicals from children’s clothing, bedding and furniture, the pressure has been mounting on makers of upholstered household furniture. Organizations like Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families have been leaning on manufacturers through its Mind the Store campaign.

    That campaign is paying off. The group is reporting that some of the U.S.’s largest furniture retailers have agreed to phase out the chemicals, although the companies aren’t necessarily saying what and when. The country’s largest furniture retailer/manufacturer Ashley Furniture has agreed to eliminate them but hasn’t announced a timetable to do so. Ashley’s announcement came in response to a letter from the Safer Chemicals, Health Families Mind the Store campaign.

    “For years, consumers were saddled with few safe choices when they wanted to buy a couch or other foam-padded furniture,” said Mind the Store campaign director Mike Schade. “Thankfully big retailers are beginning to remove toxic flame retardants. The nation’s top furniture retailer Ashley has recognized that these toxic flame retardant chemicals are not necessary and will be manufacturing and selling furniture products that are safer as they meet the new California flammability standards. But customers want and have a right to know what they are buying. It’s vital Ashley take the next step by announcing a clear public timeframe for phasing out these chemicals in furniture foam and fabrics.”

    Last week, the Chicago Tribune reported that Crate and Barrel, Williams-Sonoma’s Pottery Barn and West Elm, and Room and Board have mostly eliminated the toxic chemicals already, and that Futon Shop, IKEA, La-Z-Boy, Scandinavian Designs and Walmart have told their manufacturers to stop using the chemicals. Other companies such as Pier 1 did not respond to inquiries.

    “The inconsistent messages mean consumers must ask retailers pointed questions if they want to ensure a particular couch or chair doesn’t contain flame retardants linked to cancer, developmental problems, reduced IQ and impaired fertility,” reported the Tribune.

    California was the impetus for the addition of the chemicals to upholstered furniture and now it’s the impetus for their removal. Furniture companies began loading sofas with flame retardant upholstery foam after the state passed TB-117 in 1975. That law required the foam to meet a certain level of resistance to an open flame, providing home residents with a window of escape in case of fire. Since California is such a big market, companies just added it to all their furniture.

    But evidence emerged over the years that not only were the chemicals escaping into the air and causing potential health problems but they weren’t even that effective in fending off fires. Public sentiment turned against them. In late 2013, California passed new flammability standards which kicked in at the beginning of this month. While not banning flame retardants, they no longer require that furniture be resistant to open flame but only to smoldering cigarettes. Most upholstery fabrics meet that standard without chemicals, eliminating  the need for fire-resistant foam underneath. For greater consumer protection, the state later added a requirement that  products containing the chemicals be labeled.

    The California law was challenged by Chemtura Corp., one of the world’s largest makers of chemical flame retardants, but its challenge was dismissed by a judge in California in August who said its reasoning would lead to “absurd results.” Chemtura, which devoted $23 million to lobbying against the new standards over a five-year period and defeated five previous failed efforts to reform the California standards, is most likely concerned with another result: the hit to its profits.

    “Eliminating toxic flame retardant chemicals makes our homes safer while improving our health. The industry is responding, but with varying degrees of success to consumers. We urge other leading furniture retailers to adopt policies with clear timeframes to phase out these unnecessary and dangerous chemicals,” said Schade.

    Anastasia Pantsios|January 27, 2015

    Farmers Rewarded for Practicing ‘Carbon Farming’

    Soils naturally absorb and sequester carbon dioxide and following organic practices, such as adding compost and bringing back herds of grazing animals, can make a huge difference in how much carbon dioxide soils can retain.

    In 2007, a California rancher, John Wick and his partners at the Marin Carbon Project convinced researchers at the University of California, Berkeley that restoring grassland soils could serve as a major source of carbon sequestration. Using his land for the experiments, the researchers found that every year, Wick’s soils held more and more carbon.

    After years of study, they have found that “compost applied to five percent of the state’s grazing land would store a year’s worth of emissions from conventional farms and forestry operations there. If that’s increased to 25 percent of grazing land, the soil would absorb 75 percent of California’s total annual emissions.”

    Calling these regenerative practices “carbon farming,” the state of California is rewarding farmers and ranchers for how much carbon they have in their soil. Farmers receive tradable greenhouse gas emission reduction credits, which they can sell on California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Exchange. The program allows farmers to benefit from the state’s cap-and-trade program.

    Now, the program is going nationwide. Through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Ducks Unlimited, a conservation nonprofit, has developed a way to measure and reward farmers for carbon sequestration.

    “Under the program, ranchers voluntarily set aside grassland in a permanent  conservation easement that allows them to grow hay and graze animals, but forbids tilling or conversion to other uses,” according to Sustainable Business. The more carbon they sequester, the more credits they earn. Once the carbon in the soil is measured and formally registered, organizations or companies can buy the credits.

    Australia already has a nationwide system for carbon credits from farming and forestry. By planting trees, reducing fertilizer use and methane emissions from livestock, Australian farmers receive carbon credits to sell into the nation’s carbon trading system.

    The World Bank has also started a carbon trading program for small-scale farmers in Kenya. Through the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund 60,000 Kenyan farmers receive carbon credits by improving the organic matter in the soil.

    All of these programs are voluntary, and thus, limited for now. But Tom Vilsack, USDA Secretary, explains their importance: “Ranchers benefit from new revenue streams, while thriving grasslands provide nesting habitat for wildlife, are more resilient to extreme weather, and help mitigate the impact of climate change.”

    Cole Mellino|January 26, 2015

    Scientists Create Eco-Friendly Metal That Repels Water

    If you’ve ever lost power because of an ice storm bringing down your electrical lines, you’ll appreciate this new technology from researchers at New York’s University of Rochester.

    Working on the microscale and nanoscale, the scientists used powerful lasers to etch parallel groves onto metal surfaces about 0.1mm apart, the BBC reports. The result? “The material is so strongly water-repellent, the water actually gets bounced off,” Rochester optics professor Chunlei Guo says in a news release. “Then it lands on the surface again, gets bounced off again, and then it will just roll off from the surface.” Check out the jaw-dropping videos below.

    Unlike other materials that have hydrophobic qualities (such as non-stick Teflon pans) the slippery nature of this surface won’t peel off or degrade over time since it’s not reliant on a chemical coating — meaning that it’s eco-friendly, too.

    Much like how lotus leaves stay clean in muddy water, this metal is also self-cleaning. The Rochester team found that when water drops onto the metal, the droplets take dust off with it.

    The laser treatment has been successfully used on platinum, titanium and brass, aluminum and stainless steel.

    The applications could be limitless: from boats and planes to solar panels and smartphones — basically anything that you want to keep dry or don’t want to rust or freeze over. “Some potential applications for anti-icing surfaces include protection of aerofoils, power transmission lines, pipes of air conditioners and refrigerators, and radar or telecommunication antennas,” the research team writes in the Journal of Applied Physics.

    It can also be used for sanitation purposes. “We wanted to create this super hydrophobic surface that will not only repel water but also repels water containing waste materials,” professor Guo explains in the video below. One possible outcome? A toilet that requires little to no water to flush, while remaining clean and dry. The Bill & Melissa Gates Foundation, which has provided $620,000 in funding for the project, is particularly interested in this aspect, USA Today reports.

    Before we get too excited about electrical lines and solar panels that never have ice freeze on them, it’s important to note that it’s going to take some time before the technology becomes widespread. According to the press release, one hour is needed to etch a square inch of the metal.

    Lorraine Chow|NationSwell|January 29, 2015

    In Memoriam

    Lotte Hass, one of the world’s first female divers, has died at the age of 86 on Wednesday, 14th January 2015.

    José Tendetza, an Ecuadorian indigenous leader and environmental activist. José was set to arrive at the UN Climate Change Conference in Peru on December 3 to raise concerns about a mining project in his community. Tragically, he never arrived.  

    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

    Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

    ConsRep 1501 D

    No one should be able to enter a wilderness by mechanical means. Garrett Hardin

    Announcements

    ALERT: Legislature Seeks Your Input on Amendment One

    Florida voters overwhelmingly approved the Florida Water and Land Legacy (Amendment One) by 75 %,

    more than any other environmental constitutional amendment in the history of the state. 

    Now the Florida Senate wants to hear what you want them to do as far as making it happen. 

    TAKE ACTION:

    1) Submit your comment on this website: 

    http://www.flsenate.gov/Media/Topics/wlc

    President Gardiner has given the Environmental Preservation and Conservation committee the job of figuring it out and they’re asking for your input. 

    Chairman Dean has set up a webpage where you can submit comments on how the legislature should discharge its responsibilities in regard to Amendment One:

    http://www.flsenate.gov/Media/Topics/wlc

    The site also has information about the amendment you may find of interest.

    The  Jan. 7 meeting  of Sen. Dean’s committee was devoted to the Amendment and can be seen here:

    http://flsenate.gov/Committees/Show/EP/

    Scroll down to the 2015 Meetings Records box and click on ‘Post Meeting Packet’ and ‘Video’.

    2) Meet with your legislators: 

    Just as important as sending comments to the site is meeting with your legislators,

    building a relationship with them, and urging them to stand up for the environment. 

    It will make a big difference if everyone’s legislator knows how important it is to do what the voters expect –

    restore full funding for water and land conservation.  Remind them of the benefits conservation programs have provided your community –

    from parks to aquifer recharge to eco-tourism that stimulates the local economy. 

    You can find talking points and examples of past and future conservation projects organized by county and region at:

    http://floridawaterlandlegacy.org/sections/page/legitoolkit

    Find your Rep. and Senator at:

    http://myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Representatives/myrepresentative.aspx 

    and http://www.flsenate.gov/Senators/Find

      These sites will take you to each legislator’s page where you’ll find their district addresses and phone numbers.

    3) Let me know what your legislator says: 

    If you talk with your legislators or their staff about Amendment One, please let me know what they say.

    That kind of feedback will really help my work as the Sierra Club lobbyist.

    Thank you for everything you do for the planet!

    David Cullen|lobbyist|Sierra Club Florida

    The Florida Wildlife Federation Action Alert

    The Florida Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation (EPC) Committee has requested the public’s input into the proper use of Amendment 1 dollars.

    We need your help to ensure funds are spent properly!

    Following is a recommended sample that you can use, or please feel free to use your own words and voice your Amendment 1 priorities.

    Submit comment here:

    http://www.flsenate.gov/Media/Topics/wlc

    Thank you!!

    ——-Sample——-

    Dear Senate EPC Committee Members,

    Floridians voted overwhelmingly in favor of Amendment 1 (75 percent) to conserve land and protect and restore our watersheds across Florida.

    I request that you spend Amendment 1 funds in fiscal year 2015-2016 to:

    1) provide increased funding for Florida Forever

    2) promote land management

    3) protect springs

    4) restore the Everglades and other wetlands

    5) promote and enhance sustainable outdoor recreation

    I believe that the use of bonding and other matching funds should be employed to maximize the conservation benefits of Amendment 1.

    Please use bonds and Amendment 1 funds to buy land for the EAA Reservoir Project to reduce harmful discharges

    to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and provide clean water for the Everglades.

    Submit comment here:

    http://www.flsenate.gov/Media/Topics/wlc

    COALITION OF RESIDENTS TO HOLD PRESS CONFERENCE RELATING TO RELEASE OF POLLUTED WATER FROM LAKE OKEECHOBEE

    The press conference will respond to dry season releases of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee, which are expected to begin flowing into the

    St. Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon on Friday, January 16th through S-308 and S-80 due to the management practices of the

    U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, the South Florida Water Management District and the restraints of the overall drainage system.

    The press conference will refute any discharges into the St. Lucie from Lake Okeechobee and promote the purchase

    of 46,800 acres of option lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area by the State of Florida this year with funds from Amendment 1, Land Acquisition Trust Fund. 

    This land purchase is necessary for a dynamic storage flowway south of Lake Okeechobee to provide enough storage,

    treatment and conveyance of water from the Lake to stop the destructive discharges to the coastal estuaries and restore the flows to the Everglades.

    Friday, January 16, 2015

    12:00 NOON EST

    St. Lucie Lock and Dam, Lake Okeechobee

    2170 Canal Street

    Stuart, FL 34997

    Press Conference details and more details forthcoming can be viewed on the Rivers Coalition Facebook page

    Festival In the Woods – Picayune Strand State Forest

    January 24, 2015

    Hours: 10:00 am to 3:00 pm.

    2121 52nd Ave. S.E., Naples, FL 34117

    239-348-7557

    Festival in the Woods at Picayune Strand Fire Ecology in Southwest Florida -

    Saturday, January 24, 2015 10:00 am to 3:00 pm Picayune Strand State Forest Sabal Palm Hiking Trail Trailhead 3.3 Miles East of Collier Blvd. on Sabal Palm Rd. 

    Guided Hikes*  Wildlife Presentations*  Guided Bicycle Tours*  Children’s Activities*  Environmental Exhibitors & Vendors*

      Participation will be on a first come, first served basis.

    For additional information, please contact: Heather L. Ferrand,

    Mitigation Specialist Caloosahatchee Forestry Center (239) 690-3500, Ext. 104 or Heather.Ferrand@FreshFromFlorida.com

    http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Florida-Forest-Service/Our-Forests/State-Forests/Picayune-Strand-State-Forest

    Help plan the future of Florida Keys Wildlife and Environmental Area

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is presenting a 10-year plan for the Florida Keys

    Wildlife and Environmental Area at a public hearing Tuesday, Jan. 27, in Monroe County.

    People are invited to the 7 p.m. public hearing at the Harvey Government Center,

    second floor, 1200 Truman Ave., Key West.

    Staff will present the draft land management plan for FWC-managed portions of the Florida Keys, and people will be encouraged to comment and ask questions.

    For more information on the upcoming local public hearing, go to www.MyFWC.com/Conservation and select “Terrestrial Programs” then “Management Plans.”

    The Florida Keys WEA consists of small sites on the chain of islands stretching from Key Largo almost to Key West.

    It contains some of the best examples of undisturbed tropical hardwood hammocks in Florida.

    Many of the wildlife species here are imperiled and found nowhere else in the U.S., including diminutive Key deer and brightly colored Liguus tree snails.

    Other species found in the WEA include the white-crowned pigeon, Lower Keys marsh rabbit,

    Key Largo cotton mouse, Big Pine ring-necked snake, Florida Keys mole skink,

    Lower Keys striped mud turtle and Stock Island tree snail.

    Tropical hardwood hammocks also function as a critical stopover for scores of migratory birds. I

    n the fall, the birds feed on berries and insects and rest here before heading south over open waters to Caribbean islands and Latin America.

    They return on their way north in spring.

    “The Florida Keys WEA was purchased to ensure the preservation of fish and wildlife resources,

    other natural and cultural resources, and for fish- and wildlife-based public outdoor recreation,”

    said Rebecca Shelton, FWC land conservation biologist. “This draft plan will specify how we intend to do that.”

    All lands purchased with public funds must have a management plan that ensures the property will be managed

    in a manner consistent with the intended purposes of the purchase.

    Hunting and fishing regulations are not included in this plan or meeting; those are addressed through a separate public process.

    To obtain a copy of the draft land management prospectus for the Florida Keys WEA,

    call Peter van de Burgt at 850-487-9982 or email Peter.Vandeburgt@MyFWC.com.

    For more information and background details on management plans and their goals,

    visit MyFWC.com/Conservation and select “Terrestrial Programs” then “Management Plans.”

    For more on the Florida Keys WEA, go to www.MyFWC.com, click on “”Wildlife Viewing” then “Wildlife Management Areas.”

    Select “WMA of your choice” and look under “Lead Areas.”

    Photos available on FWC’s Flickr site: Go to https://flic.kr/s/aHsk7xqJbS

    Sign up to participate in the Gulf Reef Fish Survey today

    Attention Gulf reef fish anglers: You’ve asked for better data and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has listened and taken action.

    Now the FWC needs your help.

    Sign up today to participate in the Gulf Reef Fish Survey.

    The easy, no-cost process will help the FWC paint a clearer picture of how many people are targeting Gulf reef fish,

    like red snapper and gag grouper, and what anglers are seeing on the water.

    The Gulf Reef Fish Survey is for anglers (including those 65 and older) fishing in the Gulf of Mexico

    (excluding Monroe County) from a private boat, who plan to harvest, possess or land any of the following reef fish:

    red and vermilion snapper; gag; black and red grouper; gray triggerfish; greater and lesser amberjack; banded rudderfish; and almaco jack.

    Those fishing from a for-hire vessel are not required to participate in the Gulf Reef Fish Survey.

    Anglers under 16 years of age and those fishing from a vessel that has a vessel recreational fishing license also do not need to participate.

    To sign up online, visit www.License.MyFWC.com, enter your date of birth and one of the required “Lookup Method” identifiers

    (Social Security number, FWC customer ID or driver’s license number) and click continue.

    If you are a new customer, you may have to create a customer account before you proceed to the next steps.

    Once you are in the system, click “Purchase a License.” Add the no-cost Gulf Reef Fish Angler to your cart

    (found under “Saltwater Fishing”) and then check out. Make sure to print a copy to take with you when you are fishing.

    You can also sign up in person at tackle shops, sporting goods stores and your local tax collector’s office, or by phone at 1-888-FISHFLORIDA (347-4356).

    Renewal will be on an annual basis, just like any one-year license.

    Are you a Florida resident 65 or older and exempt from needing a recreational saltwater fishing license? 

    No worries!  You are not required to purchase any other license, such as a recreational saltwater fishing license,

    or pay any other fees to participate. When signing up online, you are still required to click “Purchase a License,”

    but signing up as a “Gulf Reef Fish Angler” is no-cost. You can also sign up in person at any tackle store or tax collector’s office.

    Anglers may choose to begin participating in the program right now. Signing up will be mandatory for Gulf reef fish anglers starting April 1, 2015.

    Through this program, researchers will be able to better determine how many people in Florida are fishing for reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Many of those who signed up for the Gulf Reef Fish Survey will be contacted by the FWC

    and asked if they would be willing to provide information about their Gulf reef fish fishing activities.

    The Gulf Reef Fish Survey will improve recreational data collection, giving the FWC a more realistic picture

    of what is happening on the water and allowing for more informed fisheries management decisions.

    Participants who are contacted by the FWC and do provide information about their Gulf reef fish fishing activities

    will be entered into a drawing to win an annual, 5-year or lifetime recreational saltwater fishing license.

    Want to know more about the Gulf Reef Fish Survey?

    Visit www.MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Gulf Reef Fish Survey.”

    Join us for a 30-minute preview of “Earth: A New Wild”
    Presented by PBS

    WGCU Public Media and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida invite you to an exclusive FREE premiere of “Earth: A New Wild.”

    We will be premiering the brand new show on Tuesday, January 27 at 6:30 p.m. inside Eaton Conservation Hall here at the Conservancy Nature Center [Map].

    This five-part series takes a fresh look at humankind’s relationship to the planet’s wildest places and most fascinating species. Dr. M. Sanjayan,

    a leading conservation scientist, takes viewers on a stunning visual journey to explore how humans are woven into every aspect of the planet’s natural systems.

    To attend, please pre-register for the event by emailing Kelsey Hudson at kelseyh@conservancy.org or by calling 239.403.4228.

    The Evenings at the Conservancy lecture series is sponsored by Arthrex and Vi at Bentley Village.

    Members: FREE
    General admission: $10

    “EARTH: A New Wild” premieres on WGCU HDTV Wednesday, February 4 at 9 p.m.

    Of Interest to All

    State eases oversight of Turkey Point cooling canals

    Forty years ago when Florida Power & Light carved a 5,100-acre network of canals from wetlands to cool its sprawling Turkey Point power plant perched on the edge of Biscayne Bay, the radiator-shaped loop seemed like a reasonable alternative to dumping plant water into the pristine bay.

    But increasingly, that decision has come to vex the utility and state regulators charged with managing it.

    Last summer, water temperatures routinely climbed over 100 degrees. A festering algae bloom worsened, trapping heat and making it harder for the canals to do their job. And after an expansion of the power plant two years ago, salinity in the canals began creeping up, helping feed a growing underground saltwater plume that threatens nearby drinking water supplies.

    Now, a new operating permit in the works for more than a year is raising alarms after the state Department of Environmental Protection signed off on it two days before Christmas and removed state water managers from the license, giving DEP sole authority and catching local government officials off guard.

    “We definitely have concerns,” said Biscayne National Park Superintendent Brian Carlstrom, who said plans to use water from a nearby waterway to freshen the cooling canals could threaten decades of Everglades restoration work.

    At issue is the battle over freshwater. Two years ago, FPL conceded that water from the cooling canals, saltier and heavier than adjacent water, had helped push a saltwater plume inland. But the utility believes it can control the spread by putting fresher water into a surrounding canal, dug in the 1970s to help prevent the saltwater intrusion now occurring.

    While the spread of the plume has been monitored, environmentalists complain too little has been done to investigate exactly how the canals contribute to the plume or what should be done to stop it.

    “It’s almost as if the utility wrote [the permit] for themselves and it allows them to do business as usual,” said Tropical Audubon executive director Laura Reynolds.

    Last week, a three-judge panel from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a hearing in Homestead after the Miami-based Citizens for Allied Safe Energy argued that the expansion has caused the problems.

    “The canals can’t support the reactors at this level” of power production, said Barry White, a CASE organizer who appeared before the panel, which has until March to rule. “You’re either going to face the problems now and tell FPL to cut back those reactors and find out the problems in the canal. Or if they don’t do that, they’re going to shut down on their own.”

    Critics, including Miami-Dade County, also fear the changes loosen rather than tighten controls on a system in distress and cuts the public out of the equation: in the permit order, DEP called the South Florida Water Management District’s oversight “redundant.”

    “They essentially took away authority without asking,” said Julie Dick, an attorney for the Everglades Law Center. “We moved from an agency that has a governing board and a public process to an agency that does things behind closed doors.”

    But state officials said in a statement late Friday that the decision to remove the water management district from the license was the result of working “collaboratively” over four months with the district, FPL and environmental groups to draft the new order.

    The order will also set in place new measures intended to reduce damage from the salty cooling canals by freshening them with water from the aquifer or nearby canals, DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller wrote. FPL has until March to say exactly what those measures are.

    FPL says the measures will cover both short-term remedies for the canals and ongoing environmental concerns. And spokeswoman Bianca Cruz called CASE “an anti-nuclear group of people that attempts to use the process to grab inflammatory headlines and raise money.”

    The water management district did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

    Both the City of Miami and the county have asked the state for more time to look at the order. Tropical Audubon has also asked for time to argue for a hearing.

    The county, which received the plan Christmas Eve, is “feverishly evaluating” the plan, said Lee Hefty, director of the Division of Environmental Resources Management.

    Hefty said the county is chiefly concerned about the threat to drinking water supplies and ensuring the utility starts correcting damage already done.

    “At this point, the most important issue we’re focusing on now is their proposed action to change the salinity in the cooling canals and make sure it isn’t going to exacerbate water quality,” he said. “We want to make sure there is adequate monitoring going forward.”

    County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa has asked for an independent study of the cooling canals and said this week she expects to present fellow commissioners with a formal resolution next month.

    Carlstrom believes removing the water management district, which is overseeing the state’s Everglades restoration projects, from the license will weaken the state’s ability to locally guide work.

    FPL, which in the past has fought monitoring efforts and until two years ago denied its cooling canals were contributing to the growing plume, says it plans on making a three-step fix. First, clean up sediment in the canals. Second, draw less salty water from canals or the Floridan aquifer to reduce salinity and get levels comparable to nearby bay water. Finally, the utility plans to use newer, more efficient equipment to cool the water.

    But critics say those quick fixes do nothing to address potential damage done by 40 years of industrial wastewater or to determine what effect the canals may be having on groundwater that flows easily through porous limestone.

    “The public should have the opportunity to be involved in making comments on that management plan, to make it some kind of public process,” said Caroline McLaughlin, a program analyst for the National Parks Conservation Association, which was surprised by the state’s quick action.

    Turkey Point sits on 11,000 acres about 25 miles south of Miami. FPL began building the canals in 1970 after environmentalists sued to stop the utility from dumping cooling water in Biscayne Bay. The utility promised to keep salinity in the canals just above levels in the nearby bay. An 18-foot-deep “interceptor” ditch was also dug to block any saltwater moving west and threatening the drinking water supplies and the Everglades.

    But over the years, saltwater started migrating inland. In 2009, regulators demanded FPL address the spreading plume and, after yearlong objections from the utility, hammered out a deal in which FPL agreed to spend millions of dollars to study the plume and undergo monitoring by the county and water management district. In 2012, the study concluded that many factors — sea level rise, storm surges, mining, groundwater withdrawals — and not just the cooling canals contributed to the plume.

    In recent years, evidence mounted that water from the cooling canals might be the problem. During planning to increase power production, FPL discovered that the interceptor ditch had failed to stop the deep migration of saltwater. County surveys show salt levels steadily creeping up.

    In August 2014, after expanding the plant, the utility found salinity in the canals had climbed to about three times the level of nearby sea water. When an algae bloom worsened over the summer, FPL filed emergency requests for additional water from the Florida aquifer and nearby canals of up to 100 million gallons a day. FPL also treated the algae with copper sulfate. Salinity dropped in October, but rose again in December.

    More water seems to be the solution. But in a region struggling to increase freshwater to revive the bay and nearby Everglades, critics worry that the solution, and planned addition of two more nuclear units that would use two deep wells to draw water from the aquifer as a back-up, could be the start of more problems.

    Miami-Dade county, for one, urged the state to “require FPL to address the root problem,” rather than simply dilute the salt, according to a November letter from county environmental staff.

    “What we would like to see is real abatement,” said the Everglades Law Center’s Dick. “Industrial wastewater has been in that 6,000-acre cooling system for 40 years, so there’s 40 years of industrial wastewater going out to the groundwater that could really destroy the wellfield and water supply for the Florida Keys.”

    Jenny Staletovich|MiamiHerald.com|01/16/2015

    Corps proposes operations changes on Okeechobee Waterway locks

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District is seeking comment from the public on a proposal to reduce the operating hours at locks on the Okeechobee Waterway in accordance with a national strategy to standardize lock operations.

    The new proposed operating hours at each of the five locks are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week.  The proposed change would take effect on April 1, and would affect the following locks:

    * Moore Haven Lock on the west side of Lake Okeechobee
    * Ortona Lock near LaBelle
    * Port Mayaca Lock on the east side of Lake Okeechobee
    * St. Lucie Lock near Stuart
    * W.P. Franklin Lock near Fort Myers

    “These changes are the result of an evaluation of the service levels at each of the locks as the Corps and the Army seek methods to gain efficiencies on water transit systems across the nation,” said Jim Jeffords, Operations Division Chief for Jacksonville District.  “These changes will allow the district to reduce costly overtime while still maintaining operating hours that accommodate 95 percent of the boat traffic that passes through the locks.”

    Written comments on this proposal are being accepted until February 13, 2014.  Comments may be submitted via -email to SFOO@usace.army.mil  or mailed to the following location:

    U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
    South Florida Operations Office
    525 Ridgelawn Road
    Clewiston, FL  33440

    The proposed changes won’t impact Canaveral Lock near Port Canaveral; it will continue to operate from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily.  The Corps has issued a Notice to Navigation on this subject.  For more information on navigation notices concerning Canaveral Lock or the Okeechobee Waterway, please visit the following website: http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/Navigation/NoticestoNavigation.aspx.

    Oil spills in Montana’s Yellowstone River after pipeline leak

    Reuters – Bridger Pipeline LLC said on Monday it has shut the 42,000 barrel per day Poplar pipeline system after a weekend breach that sent as much as 1,200 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone River near Glendive, Montana.

    The company said crews are now cleaning up the site after the leak on Saturday morning. Bridger estimates between 300 and 1,200 barrels spilled but could not say how much of the light crude flowed into the river.

    The pipeline system runs from the Canadian border to Baker, Montana, where it meets the Butte pipeline. The Poplar system gathers crude from Bakken producers in eastern Montana and North Dakota. The company cannot yet say when the line will reopen or what caused the leak.

    “Our primary focus right now is on response and cleaning it up as quickly as we can,” said Bill Salvin, a spokesman for the privately held Bridger Pipeline.

    Despite the shutdown, the price of Bakken crude was little changed on the Martin Luther King holiday. Bakken crude narrowed slightly to $5.40 per barrel below the West Texas Intermediate benchmark, according to Shorcan Energy brokers, compared with a settlement of $5.80 under the benchmark on Friday.

    One trader in Calgary said he did not expect the outage to have a significant impact on differentials as the pipeline is not a major conduit for crude in the area.

    The spill is the second in the river in recent years. In 2011, Exxon Mobil Corp’s 40,000 bpd Silvertip pipeline in Montana ruptured underneath the river, releasing more than 1,000 barrels of crude and costing the company about $135 million to clean up.

    The spill was 9 miles upstream from Glendive, a town of 5,000 about 220 miles (354 kilometers) northeast of Billings, Montana, near the North Dakota border.

    Aircraft patrols have spotted oil sheen as much as 25 miles downstream of the leak site, according to a statement from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, but no municipalities have reported problems with their water systems because of the spill.

    Reporting by Scott Haggett and Nia Williams in Calgary|Additional reporting by Ashutosh Pandey in Bengaluru|editing by Jessica Resnick-Ault and Cynthia Osterman|Jan 14 2015

    Bill would prohibit Florida utilities from charging for fracking

    A bill filed in the state Legislature Tuesday would prohibit Florida utilities from charging customers for investment in fracking operations.

    Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, filed the measure in response to a recent ruling by the Florida Public Service Commission that will allow Florida Power & Light to collect $191 million from ratepayers to invest in an Oklahoma fracking project.

    In March, the PSC will decide whether to allow FPL to expand the effort. Duke Energy has expressed interest in exploring similar proposals.

    FPL has said investment in the fracking project will help stabilize volatile natural gas prices for its customers by locking in a price.

    But the utilities have downplayed a significant benefit.

    Florida utilities stand to make financial gains with the fracking strategy. Florida utilities currently do not profit from the cost of fuel used to run their power plants. The utilities bill customers for their fuel costs as a pass-through charge.

    But the fracking deal would allow the utilities to earn profits on the fuel that powers their plants, along with revenue from the construction of the facilities and the electricity they generate. FPL’s proposal would be the first effort by the state’s utilities to charge customers for fracking exploration.

    “If FPL’s joint venture were as much of a slam dunk as the company suggests, then why aren’t the shareholders putting up their money?” Dudley said in a statement. “The truth is that the power companies aren’t interested in risk, and they certainly aren’t interested in saving customers money. They are interested in one thing and one thing only: profit.”

    IVAN PENN|Tampa Bay Times|January 20, 2015

    Worst Fracking Wastewater Spill in North Dakota Leaks 3 Million Gallons Into River

    Three million gallons of brine, a salty, toxic byproduct of oil and natural gas production—also known as fracking wastewaterspilled from a leaking pipe in western North Dakota. State officials say it’s the worst spill of its kind since the fracking boom began in the state.

    The spill was reported 17 days ago when Operator Summit Midstream Partners found a toxic leak of salty drilling waste from a pipeline in the heart of the Bakken oil boom.

    Officials say there’s no immediate threat to human health but as Marketplace’s Scott Tong reports yesterday, there could be trouble ahead. He interviews Duke geochemist Avner Vengosh who has sampled frack wastewater and has found that “North Dakota’s is 10 times saltier than the ocean, that endangers aquatic life and trees, and it has ammonium and radioactive elements.”

    Tong also interviewed Hannah Wiseman, law professor at Florida State, who says the disposal of fracking wastewater is under regulated.

    “A typical well can spit about 1,000 gallons a day,” says Tong. “Some of the water is recycled back into fracking, stored in pits or used to de-ice roads. It’s also injected deep underground, which has been known to cause earthquakes.”

    Wiseman shares that fracking wastewater issues also exist in Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas.

    Stefanie Spear|January 23, 2015

    Calls to Action

    1. Classify Monarch Butterfly as Endangered – here
    2. Demand Protection for Tufted Puffins – here
    3. Protect Endangered Species from International Trade – here
    4. Implement Strict Ivory Ban – here
    5. Protect deep-sea corals from destructive fishing – here
    6. Speak up for endangered Florida panthers – here
    7. Tell EPA: Cut Carbon Emissions From Airplanes  – here
    8. Protect America’s threatened tropical marine ecosystems – here

    Birds and Butterflies

    Florida pelicans are being slashed, beaten

    Someone has taken a violent dislike to Florida’s iconic brown pelicans.

    In the Florida Keys over the past six weeks, more than a dozen pelicans have turned up with their pouches slashed, left to die of starvation.

    “It is heartbreaking to see,” said Maya Trotman, director of Florida Keys Wildlife Rescue, which has dispatched volunteers to try to find any more maimed pelicans still flying around.

    Meanwhile, in the Jacksonville area this past weekend, 18 pelicans washed ashore along a 40-mile stretch of beach with fractured wings, the bones sticking out. Ten are dead, and the rest will never fly again.

    “It’s so horrible. … It looks like somebody took a ball bat and just smashed the heck out of them,” said Cindy Mosling, co-founder of the Bird Emergency Aid & Kare Sanctuary (BEAKS for short) on Big Talbot Island near Jacksonville, which is taking care of the eight survivors.

    Pelicans are not on the endangered species list, but like most seabirds and shorebirds they are still protected from harm by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

    Neither the injuries suffered near Jacksonville nor the ones in the Keys were an accident, say wildlife officials and bird rehabilitation experts. The sheer number of injured pelicans proves that, as well as the manner in which they were attacked. For instance, Trotman said the slash wounds on the pelicans found on Cudjoe Key and from Sugarloaf Key to Big Pine Key appeared to have been inflicted by someone “with a sharp knife.”

    How could someone maul or mutilate a bird that’s always such a delight for picture-snapping tourists? Some suspect it’s because pelicans can also be a bane to anglers, snatching their bait and getting caught on their hooks.

    Wildlife officials emphasize that they are still investigating. They are also hoping the public will report seeing anything suspicious.

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information on each of the two pelican attacks. A dock construction company that uses a pelican in its logo has put up a $5,000 reward for information about the slashed pelicans in the Keys. And Mosling said BEAKS plans to offer a reward for information on whoever beat up their pelicans.

    This is not the first time pelicans have been targets of violence in the Keys. In December 2013, several pelicans were found with their pouches slit, and no one was ever apprehended and the attacks stopped — until recently.

    Incidents of wildlife cruelty in the past six months have included a teenager who shot a dolphin with a bow and arrow and someone who shot a pregnant female dolphin with a gun. That second case remains under investigation.

    Craig Pittman|Times Staff Writer|Tampa Bay Times|January 16, 2015

    Someone is Killing Florida Pelicans in the Cruelest Way Possible

    More than a dozen brown pelicans have been found around the Florida Keys in recent weeks, all dead from the same tragic and cruel crime. Someone slashed their pouches, rendering them unable to eat. The poor birds died slow, agonizing deaths from starvation.

    What’s worse, this isn’t the first time someone has targeted pelicans in this horrific manner. This crime is not limited to the Florida Keys; pouches have been cut in California as well.

    The current series of Florida maimings has been happening for weeks around the Keys. Someone strategically cuts along the whole length of the pelicans’ pouch, effectively ensuring that anything the birds try to hold there will slide right back out again. Forcibly cutting a live and struggling bird would require strength, a bit of determination, and perhaps more than one person.

    The inherent evil here is the slow way this crime kills. Pelicans hunt by scooping up fish in their pouches. If they can’t do that, they can’t eat.

    A similar spate of Florida pouch-slashing happened in late 2013, but no one knows who did it or why. Now it’s happening again. Maya Totman, director of Florida Keys Wildlife Rescue, doesn’t understand who would do something this awful.

    “It’s a mystery,” she told the Miami Herald. “I don’t know why people are doing this.”

    Seeing a struggling bird with its pouch sliced open is every bit as disturbing as you’d imagine it to be. Kyle Miller of Summerland Key, Fla., knows about that firsthand. He was on his dock tossing baitfish into the water in mid-2014 when he saw something truly heartbreaking. It was a pelican with a slashed pouch, desperately trying to eat.

    “I knew something was wrong because he’d take the ballyhoo and it would fall out of his trap,” Miller told the Miami Herald. “He was so hungry, but he couldn’t get anything in his stomach.”

    Pelicans Are Protected, Like Lots of Other Migratory Birds

    Once at risk because of pesticide pollution, brown pelicans today exist in great numbers along the coastlines of Florida, Texas, California and elsewhere.

    Though they’re not endangered, brown pelicans are a protected species under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). While most of us are familiar with the Endangered Species Act, fewer know much about the MBTA, which makes it illegal to take, possess, sell, buy or barter for any migratory bird — or its parts, nests or eggs — without a valid permit.

    A bird need not be a rare species to be protected under the MBTA. You might be surprised to see how many birds are covered under this law, including the mallard duck, the American robin, the albatross, the chickadee, and many more birds we see everyday.

    Is this crime the work of perturbed fishermen who don’t like competing with the pelicans for fish? Is it some spiteful person with an axe to grind about the behavior of pelicans? If so, why not kill the birds outright? Why make them suffer so horribly? Whoever is doing this needs help and must be stopped.

    Pelicans Will Boldly Grab Your Fish, But They’re “Like a Puppy” Too

    Some say brown pelicans are aggressive, hanging around marinas and stalking fishermen’s boats, looking to grab fish whenever possible. It’s a possible motive, but not a very good one.

    “If you’re cleaning fish and you walk away from the cleaning table, they can come and grab your fish,” Miller told the Miami Herald. “They’re always there on top of you. They can be bold. They’ll be right at your feet waiting for food. You can almost trip over them sometimes.”

    Miller agreed that’s no reason to harm them in this outrageous manner. “Even though pelicans are a nuisance, it’s not their fault. You should never want to make any animal suffer. It’s heartless,” he told the Miami Herald.

    “I’ve been fishing my whole life and whenever we see pelicans they are curious and friendly,” Glen Larson, president of the Dock and Marine Construction Corp., told the New York Daily News. “They’re like a puppy begging for scraps.”

    Larson’s company logo is the brown pelican. He’s offering a $5,000 reward for the arrest of those responsible for this crime.

    “I want this guy to get caught and be penalized,” Larson told the New York Daily News. “They’re the one bird that should be a state symbol. This bird doesn’t do anything to harm anybody.”

    Florida Keys Wildlife Rescue has managed to save a few injured pelicans found alive with the help of volunteer veterinarian Dr. Don J. Harris. We can be thankful for that, but a few isn’t enough. The person or persons tormenting these innocent and beautiful birds must be found and stopped.

    Susan Bird|January 19, 2015

    A Snowy Owl Sequel?

    Last year’s blizzard of Snowy Owls in the Great Lakes states, the Northeast, and down the Atlantic Coast was epic, an unprecedented irruption.

    Now some birders are asking, is it happening again?

    Snowy Owls are being seen and reported on eBird this winter across the northern-third of the Lower 48 states from Washington state to Maine, with some reports of snowies as far south as Oklahoma and Maryland.

    Scientists surmise that last year’s large southward sweep of Bubo scandiacus east of the Mississippi River was triggered by a record nesting season among the breeding population in northern Quebec. When it came time for fledglings to disperse, some among the bumper crop of young snowies had to travel far south to find food. The majority of Snowy Owls seen in the Lower 48 states last year were young males.

    This past summer, there was another bumper crop—this time in Nunavut. Researchers from Canada’s Laval University reported record numbers of Snowy Owls nesting on Bylot Island. The previous high found in and around their research plot was 33 nests in 2010; this year they found 116 nests.

    So this winter’s Snowy Owls could be returnees from northern Ontario, new birds from Nunavut, or a mix of both. A Snowy Owl geotracking effort called Project SNOWstorm may help answer that question. (See Science from a Snowstorm below.)

    Comparing the frequency of Snowy Owls reported on eBird checklists in the Northeast shows that so far this has been a good winter for snows…but nothing like last year.

    Graph from The Cornell Lab’s Birdcast article, Species on the move: Snowy Owl.

    According to Marshall Iliff, a project leader on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird team, this year’s winter Snowy Owl flight into the Lower 48 is impressive but not at the scale of last year’s irruption. For comparison, last winter a 5-state block in the Northeast had more than 8,000 reports of Snowy Owls from November to January. This winter that same block has had 1,200 snowy reports so far.

    Still, Iliff says, it’s an above-average winter for snowies.

    “This flight can be thought of as an echo flight,” said Iliff. “Echo flights are above average flight years following a very above average year. The exact cause is unknown and might be related to good summer food resources [lemmings] continuing from the previous year, another region with above average food resources, or possibly one-year-old birds returning south via last year’s route.”

    For up-to-date reports on where snowies are being seen this winter, check out this custom eBird Snowy Owl map. You can also sign up for eBird’s Snowy Owl alert service.

    victoria|January 16th, 2015

    Science from a Snowstorm

    Very little is known about where Snowy Owls go when they travel back north after an irruption. So with snowies in spades last winter, noted naturalist/author Scott Weidensaul helped organize a scientific effort called Project SNOWstorm to put solar-powered data loggers on Snowy Owls and track their movements.

    Last winter the project tagged 22 owls in 7 states. Now they’re waiting for some of these owls to return. Their data loggers will download automatically once they’re within cellular signal range.

    So far this winter three tagged owls have flown back within cell range in southern Ontario. The downloaded data from one owl showed that it flew 1,200 miles north from where it was tagged in Erie, Pennsylvania, to spend summer in the subarctic tundra near the Hudson Strait. This may be where this owl was born, since it’s the area of northern Quebec that had a record Snowy Owl nesting season. By October, the owl had flown back south to the St. Lawrence River Valley along the Ontario–New York border.

    The SNOWstorm team hopes to tag another eight to 10 owls this winter. If they do, scientists may be able to determine if this winter’s owls return to Ontario, Nunavut, or somewhere else during the breeding season.

    To see project updates, visit the Project SNOWstorm blog.

    This entry was posted in Birds

    From feathery hats came Florida conservation movement

    It was very fashionable in the 1800s for women to wear bird plumes, and even entire bird carcasses, on their hats. This fashion trend led to the beginning of the conservation and environmental movement in Florida.

    “The conservation movement in Florida began with a specific aim. It was a group of people who were alarmed about the fact that wading birds were being slaughtered in the Everglades for their feathers, which were sold to hat manufacturers in the North,” says Gary White, author of the book Conservation in Florida: Its History and Heroes.

    Since then, it’s broadened to include many other areas (such as) concern about invasive species, protection of the land itself; not only the birds and other wildlife but the land itself that they depend on for habitat. There’s much more understandings now of how certain species have to have a certain kind of habitat. So it’s broadened greatly over the past century or so.”

    This week, thousands of conservationists, environmentalists, naturalists, bird watchers, and eco-tourists will converge on the Titusville campus of Eastern Florida State College for the 18th Annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, presented by the Brevard Nature Alliance, Jan. 21-26.
    From 2 p.m. to 4 pm, Gary White will be signing copies of his book in the Exhibit Center at the festival.

    “The organized conservation movement in Florida began March 3rd, 1900. That was the day that fifteen people met at a house in Maitland and decided they were going to create the Florida Audubon Society,” White said. “Their purpose was to bring attention to the slaughter of birds, because there were no laws at the time to protect wading birds in the Everglades, so one of their highest priorities was to push the legislature to enact laws that would protect birds.”

    The Florida Audubon Society was successful. The Florida legislature passed a law protecting non-game birds in 1901. The popularity of plumed hats around the world, and the rampant slaughter of birds to meet that demand, had nearly led to the extinction of egrets and other birds in Florida. President Theodore Roosevelt established Pelican Island, which is in the Indian River Lagoon near Sebastian, as the first National Wildlife Refuge in 1903, to protect birds from plume hunters.

    It was the Maitland home of Louis F. and Clara J. Dommerich where the Florida Audubon Society was founded. One member of the group was particularly persuasive when it came to convincing women to stop wearing plumed hats.

    “Mary Munroe was the wife of a renowned nature writer, Kirk Munroe,” White says. “She met strangers on the street who were wearing hats adorned with bird feathers, which was extremely common at the time, and (would) lecture them on the cruelty that went into those feathers being on their hats. According to the early biographers, some of the women were so moved by what she said that they took off their hats and pulled off the feathers and changed their ways right there.”

    From the work of naturalist William Bartram and ornithologist John James Audubon in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, to the most contemporary discussions of climate change and water use, Conservation in Florida: Its History and Heroes chronicles in detail the pivotal moments in our state’s environmental movement as it developed.

    “After the original priority of enacting laws to protect birds, the next major stage was turning attention toward the preservation of the Everglades,” says White. “In south Florida there had been schemes for decades to drain the Everglades. Networks of canals were dug to try to dry it up so it could be used in a more valuable way. That process started in the 1920s and lasted about 20 years until in 1947, Everglades National Park was dedicated.”

    Another milestone in the conservation movement was the successful effort to halt construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal in 1971, after about a third had been built. Since the 1800s, attempts had been made to bisect the Florida peninsula with a canal across the state, which would have devastated both the St. Johns River and the Ocklawaha River.

    The conservation and environmental movement continues today, and it all started with opposition to a misguided fashion statement.
    About the writer
    Dr. Ben Brotemarkle is executive director of the Florida Historical Society and host of the radio program “Florida Frontiers,” broadcast locally on 90.7 WMFE Thursday evenings at 6:30 and Sunday afternoons at 4:00, and on 89.5 WFIT Sunday mornings at 7:00. The show can be heard online at
    www.myfloridahistory

    Ben Brotemarkle|Florida Today|January 19, 2015

    Nicaragua Canal No Friend of Birds

    It’s one of those perennial bad ideas that won’t die. Plans for a 173-mile ship canal linking the Caribbean and the Pacific appear to be making headway once again. If it proceeds, the Nicaragua canal will slice through some of the hemisphere’s most precious bird habitat, posing a raft of new threats to the region’s biological wealth.
    Read More→

    Suit Filed to Help Save Gunnison Sage Grouse

    The Center for Biological Diversity and allies went to court this week to ensure that the Gunnison sage grouse, a unique and lovely bird, gets the strong federal protection it needs.
    Following a pair of Endangered Species Act settlements reached in 2011 with environmental groups including the Center, in 2013 the Service proposed to designate the sage grouse as “endangered” — the most protective status for any species with federal safeguards. Then the agency buckled to pressure from developers, energy corporations and politicians, downgrading the species to the less-protective “threatened” status last November.
    This fascinating bird — famous for its showy mating displays — once lived in parts of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona but now occurs only in seven small populations in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. Livestock grazing, oil and gas drilling, motorized recreation and urbanization have contributed to its ongoing decline.
    “All of the science points to the Gunnison sage grouse being endangered,” said the Center’s Amy Atwood.

    Banded Spoonbill Among Highlights of Naples Christmas Bird Count

    NAPLES – Research staff with Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve recorded a banded roseate spoonbill while conducting the annual Naples Audubon Christmas bird count by boat between Naples and Marco Island on Dec. 26, 2014.

    The faded red metal band on the spoonbill’s upper left leg was seen as the bird was feeding among the mangroves lining the Rookery Bay backwaters. Bands are color-coded in accordance with the location at which they were banded. There are also letters inscribed on the bands to differentiate species.

    “I’ve looked at hundreds…maybe even thousands of spoonbill legs over the past ten years and this is the first one I’ve found with a band,” said Beverly Anderson, Rookery Bay biologist. “Using binoculars, I was able to make out CV inscribed on it.”

    Anderson contacted the Florida Audubon research center in Tavernier and learned the bird was banded by Audubon scientists as a chick at the Alafia wading bird colony near Tampa Bay on April 25, 2007. It was last reported from Alafia on June 21, 2007 and has not been reported again until now.

    “Re-sightings of banded individuals help us better understand where birds disperse to find feeding grounds, as well as the age at which they mature and their longevity,” said Tavernier Research Center Manager Peter Frezza.

    Other Naples Christmas count highlights were three peregrine falcons, two common loons and six northern gannets.

    mburgerdep|Jan. 16, 2015
    Read more in
    The Denver Post.

    Another mediocre nesting season for wading birds

    South Florida’s wading birds built an estimated 34,714 nests last year, a 28 percent drop from the 48,219 nests in 2013, according to the South Florida Water Management District’s annual wading bird report.

    The extent of the decline varied among species, with small herons and snowy egrets showing continuing declines and wood stork nests increasing 26 percent over the bird’s 10-year average.

    Nesting by roseate spoonbills in Florida Bay has improved slightly in recent years but this year nest numbers (126 nests) were half that of last year and less than a third of the 30-year average.

    Nests that produced at least one fledgling was generally poor for all species in 2014, largely due to a reduced food availability and abandonment.

    Audubon Florida attributed the decline in nesting to the lack of suitable foraging habitat, which the group said highlights the urgency of Everglades restoration projects.

    “Despite the mediocre overall year, the 2014 South Florida Wading Bird Report shows that where Everglades restoration projects start working, the birds and wildlife rebound,” added Dr. Paul Gray, Audubon’s Northern Everglades Science Coordinator.

    This year is the 20th edition of the annual report, a multi-agency effort that is an essential resource for guiding Everglades restoration strategies and weekly operational decisions.

     Florida Panthers

    Endangered Florida panthers need our help.

    Fewer than 180 Florida panthers remain, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service just announced that a record-breaking 33 panthers were killed in 2014.
    Each year Florida panther habitat has continued to shrink, but we can put a stop to this now. The USFWS can grant critical habitat designation to the lands that are essential to the continued existence of an endangered species, and give them their best chance of survival. Please sign # 6 in “Calls to Action” above.

    Panther depredation update ‏

    The FWC has updated the “Panther Pulse” page with depredation information  through 1/20/2015. Panthers are a top predator and prey on a variety of wildlife such as deer, hogs, raccoons, armadillos and rabbits. Unfortunately, they sometimes prey on domesticated animals such as goats, sheep, calves and even pets. When a panther or other wild animal preys upon or injures a pet or domestic livestock it is called a depredation. Depredation information can be viewed at: http://www.floridapanthernet.org/index.php/pulse/

    People can protect pets and other backyard animals from panthers and other predators by following the advice available at: http://www.floridapanthernet.org/index.php/handbook/LivingInPantherCountry/.

      Invasive species

    Lionfish app map brings disturbing news Video
     Why lionfish hunters should stay focused.

    Seems as if every day brings more disturbing lionfish news, and Tuesday was no exception.

    For those who aren’t familiar with lionfish: They’re non-natives from the Indo-Pacific region and a major threat to any environment they invade because they eat huge numbers of juvenile native fish, and a handful of lionfish can quickly dominate a saltwater or brackish-water habitat – lionfish also have 18 venomous spines that can deliver an excruciating sting.

    In August, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission introduced a free lionfish app, on which people can report sightings.

    On Tuesday, FWC sent a release announcing that the app now has an interactive map that plots lionfish reports.

    I thought that was really cool and immediately opened the app on my smart phone, and here’s where it gets disturbing.

    Since lionfish showed up off Lee County in 2011, most sightings have been well offshore, though the invasion is definitely moving inshore (in May, commercial fisherman Mike Dooley caught a lionfish in a mangrove creek between Burnt Store Road and Matlacha Pass), and the lionfish app map I saw Tuesday had a lionfish report from the Burnt Store Road spillway by Embers Parkway, 1.5 miles inland from Matlacha Pass and more than 12 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.

    “It was on the east side of Burnt Store, in a culvert, popping out and pulling minnows in,” said Doug Pierce of Cape Coral, who saw the fish in August. “My son Grayson pointed it out. He said, ‘Look at that lionfish.’ We tried to catch it, but that didn’t work, and we weren’t going to go in and grab it.”

    This is scary news:

    If lionfish are in mangrove creeks and a Burnt Store spillway, they’re almost certainly established throughout the Charlotte Harbor estuary system, which includes Pine Island Sound and Matlacha Pass; the estuary system is an extremely productive nursery for such important species as redfish, snook, spotted sea trout, tarpon, snappers and groupers; lionfish feed voraciously on juvenile fish; therefore, an extensive lionfish presence in the nursery could have a devastating effect on local fish stocks.

    When told about the spillway lionfish, Mike Campbell, Lee County senior environmental specialist, said:

    “I figured they were already here. They’re in the nursery, so I’d be interested in seeing studies on the difference between gut contents of lionfish out on the reefs and in the nursery ground, what percent sport fish they’re eating in the nurseries. I’d like to see how big a problem we’re going to have with recruitment.”

    FWC’s lionfish app can be downloaded at the Apple Store or Google Play.

    Kevin Lollar|news-press.com|December 19, 2014

    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 www.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.

    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 MyFWC.com/Nonnatives; click on “Marine Life.”

    Endangered Species

    Baby White Rhino born to mother that survived horrific poaching attack

    Kariega Game Reserve in South Africa announced the birth this week of a baby White Rhino to a mother that had survived a terrible poaching attack that left her without her horn.

    Thandi the rhino, whose story was reported on Wildlife Extra, gave birth to her calf in the early morning, witnessed by two Kariega rangers.

    Shortly afterwards wildlife vet Dr William Fowlds observed the mother and her calf from a distance and confirmed that both looked well.

    Thandi and two male rhinos were discovered in 2012 with their horns brutally removed by machete. They had been tranquillized and left to bleed to death.

    The two males did not survive but Thandi endured numerous operations over two years, including pioneering skin graft surgery under the care of Dr Fowlds.

    “I am sure that the whole rhino caring community will share in the joy of this amazing birth,” says Fowlds.

    “Thandi’s story has always been an incredible testimony of the will to survive against all odds. She represents so much of what her species faces under the current poaching crisis.”

    Blood tests revealed that Thandi was pregnant in December 2013. The veterinary team estimated that she could give birth anytime from December 2014. The gestation period of a white rhino is between 15 and 16 months.

    All those who had been involved in Thandi’s dramatic story of survival had been waiting anxiously for the past month.

    “Her survival has already given us inspiration but the birth of her calf brings a new dimension of hope to the crisis,” says Dr Fowlds, “showing us that a future generation of life is possible if we put our minds and hearts to it.”

    South Africa has the largest population of rhinos in the world. However, figures compiled by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs show a dramatic escalation in the number of rhinos being poached.

    During 2014, a staggering 1116 rhinos were killed. Over the past five years 3569 rhinos have died at the hands of poachers.

    For the safety of Thandi and her calf, the area is off-limits to all visitors. It is important that both rhinos be left undisturbed to ensure that the calf has the best chance of survival.

    To read more of Thandi’s story click here.

    Nearly 8,000 Acres Proposed to Save Florida Plants

    As part of a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the feds this week proposed to protect nearly 8,000 acres for two Florida plants threatened by sea-level rise. If the proposal is finalized, more than 4,400 acres will be protected for the Florida semaphore cactus — which may already be declining because of rising seas — and some 3,400 acres will be protected for the aboriginal prickly apple, which has already had many of its coastal sites wiped out.

    Both plants were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2014 as the result of a Center petition and lawsuit.

    “These native plants are being squeezed out of existence — pressed between coastal development and rising sea levels,” said Jaclyn Lopez, the Center’s Florida director. “Habitat protection under the Endangered Species Act will not only save them from extinction but will help to spur South Florida’s planning for the rising seas that threaten life as we know it on our coasts.”

    Read more in our press release.

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

    Weighing in at 740 pounds, biggest ever Florida black bear killed

    Florida’s biggest bear on record killed in Longwood neighborhood

    Wildlife officers trapped and killed the biggest Florida black bear on record Sunday in a Longwood neighborhood.

    The mammoth animal, which had been roaming Seminole County neighborhoods for more than a month, weighed 740 pounds, according to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. That’s more than 100 pounds heavier than the previous record-holder, a 620-pound black bear caught in Paisley in 2013.

    The Longwood bear most likely did not balloon to 740 pounds by sticking to its staple diet of nuts, berries and sabal-palm hearts. It probably feasted on a cornucopia of curbside garbage, too, said Thomas Eason, a bear biologist and director of FWC’s Division of Habitat & Species Conservation.

    Residents had complained for weeks about a large beast with white chest markings that had been wandering through their yards and streets.

    Though many people still regard the state’s native black bears as curious, playful critters, frequent conflicts with humans have forced FWC to change its approach in managing the once a threatened species.

    The result likely will be more dead bears, Eason said.

    The agency’s more aggressive approach follows the mauling of two Seminole County women and a teen-age girl in the Panhandle during the past 13 months, the injury of a 68-year-old woman in Heathrow and the growing number of human-bear encounters.

    Wildlife commissioners are set to discuss FWC’s bear-management strategies next month, when they’ll also consider allowing a bear hunt in Florida for the first time since 1994. The agency is studying the bear population, which was estimated at 3,000 animals a decade ago but is believed to have exploded.

    The Longwood bear’s fate may be a result of the agency’s new, tougher approach.

    Adult male black bears weigh on average about 250 pounds, though they range between 125 and 600 pounds, according to the American Bear Association. Females are usually smaller, though they can tip the scales at 300 pounds or more. The bears in the Seminole County incidents were smaller females with cubs.

    The size of the bear mattered less to FWC than its behavior, said Mike Orlando, the agency’s bear expert in Central Florida.

    “We don’t always rush out and capture them just because they’re big,” he said. “No bear — not big ones, little ones or the medium-sized ones — should be comfortable in neighborhoods.”

    The previous Florida record-holder had made a nuisance of itself in the Lake County community of Paisley, tearing into livestock pens and rummaging through garbage cans. It was later released in the Ocala National Forest and hasn’t been heard from since, Orlando said.

    State Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, who called the state’s nuisance-bear hotline last month about a group of bears in his Alaqua neighborhood, was stunned to hear of the new record-setter.

    “I can’t even picture that,” he said. “It would barely fit in the trap.”

    FWC believes the big bear was the same distinctively marked animal that residents in several neighborhoods had seen at all times of the day.

    “It had a high presence in the community,” Orlando said. “It did not run or flee from people as it should.”

    He said the agency had little option but to euthanize a bear that had demonstrated it was dangerously comfortable around people.

    “We don’t want to kill any animal, especially an impressive and majestic animal like that,” Orlando said. “But public safety is paramount.”

    Wildlife records in North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other states with black bears boast bigger animals, but nearly all were shot by hunters in the wild, not captured in a residential neighborhood.

    Stephen Hudak|Orlando Sentinel

    Wild & Weird

    Are Marine Mammals Adapting to Avoid Humans?

    Remarkable ocean research shows us that certain whale and seal species are reaching new depths and breaking records by diving so far away from the surface that experts are shocked that they can even survive the pressure. Some animals like the Cuvier’s beaked whales can dive almost 10,000 feet and hold their breath for 138 minutes.

    These animals are developing new survival skills, and scientists are finding things like their positively charged myoglobin and pauses to their organ functions to be the secret to their incredible diving depths.

    Cuvier’s beaked whales are not the only ones that seem to be adapting. Weddell seals, sperm whales and elephant seals have evolved their abilities to dive deeper and hold their breath longer, as well. In fact, the elephant seal can now hold its breath underwater for two hours.

    Is marine hunting and fishing affecting the ocean’s wildlife? Will all marine life someday be hiding in the depths of the ocean, having changed their mechanisms in order to avoid some of their biggest obstacles or negative effects from the environment?

    One theory comes from oceanography expert Randall Davis of Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi. Davis believes that marine animals extreme dive for one reason only: to get food. Davis suggests that animals deep dive to get the best payout in terms of food and that they are not enduring the momentous undersea pressure for fun. Could over-catching from the fish industry and environmental changes be the cause of animals having to work harder to find food?

    The depths that the Cuvier’s beaked whales are traveling causes 100 times the pressure that they feel at the surface and is enough to cause their lungs to collapse. However, to avoid this peril the whales have lungs that can actually fold down. By doing this, they release all of the air pockets and actually exhale about 90 percent of the oxygen in their lungs.

    The decrease in oxygen that these marine mammals experience during this process also causes stunts of blood flow to their major extremities and vital organs, so their bodies shut down the kidney, liver and digestive functions while they dive. They also lower their heart rate. Remarkably, the Weddell seal’s heart rate is reduced down to just four beats per minute during these deep diving sessions.

    With these extraordinary adaptation skills also comes a health risk for these sea plunging creatures. Researchers have found that Weddell seals and bottlenose dolphins are developing heart arrhythmia conditions due to this deep diving. Professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz, Terrie Williams, says that although we assume that marine mammals have completely adapted their lives, it is not a perfect system. Williams also points out that, “Even 50 million years of evolution hasn’t been able to make that basic mammalian response impervious to problems.” These animals can also suffer decompression sickness from coming to the surface too quickly without their body being able to adjust.

    While avoiding natural predators or needing to search harder for food can cause them to dive to such great depths, researchers speculate that noisy sonars may explain why animals like turtles come rocketing to the surface and suffer from decompression sickness. The animal ascends prematurely before the body is ready. With natural predators in the wild as well as human interference from fisheries and submarine technologies to deal with, it seems that these sea mammals sometimes have no where to escape.

    Perhaps food shortage, like Davis suggests, or human hampering causes these animals to be deep diving and ascending in such a way that has not allowed their species to adapt to this process over time. Either way, it is unusual to what ocean experts have seen in the past. Oceanographer Andreas Fahlman, also of Texas A&M University, states simply, “With our current knowledge of physiology, they’re going way over and beyond what they’re supposed to be able to do.”

    Catherine Gill|January 19, 2015

    Everglades

    2014 Everglades System Status Report available online

    Gov. Scott supports  Caloosahatchee Reservoir project

    Gov. Scott agreed Thursday to fully fund the (State share of) Everglades restoration project

    Gov. Rick Scott pulled out the state check book this week, promising to fund several Everglades restoration projects over the next four years.

    The most critical project for this region is the Caloosahatchee Reservoir, which is designed to store about 170,000 acre feet of water, or just more than 55 billion gallons. Total costs for the reservoir are expected to exceed $585 million, and the state portion Scott agreed to this week will be disbursed over a four-year period, according to state records.

    “The discharges from Lake Okeechobee in 2013, and the resulting harm to our estuaries, serve as a major signal that we must accelerate work on the restoration projects needed to safeguard South Florida’s waters,” Scott said in a statement. “Addressing the environmental challenges of South Florida requires the simultaneous investment in projects to store excess water, clean polluted water and send the clean water south – away from our estuaries and into the Everglades.”

    Stormwater runoff from lands within the watershed and excess nutrients from Lake Okeechobee releases (the lake was artificially connected to the river to drain the Everglades) have caused a myriad of problems, from dying sea grasses to crippling effects on the local tourism industry.

    Fifty-five billion gallons of storage might sound like a lot of water, and it is, but water quality experts say the Caloosahatchee River watershed needs two additional water storage projects of similar size to mimic historic conditions.

    The Caloosahatchee Reservoir is an Everglades restoration project that Congress agreed — through a Water Resources and Development Act — to fund its portion of the water treatment compound.

    Randy Smith, spokesperson for the South Florida Water Management District — the state agency overseeing Everglades restoration, said the money will be used to get an early start on the project, although no construction timeline was available Friday…..

    Scott also agreed to set aside money for the St. Lucie Reservoir (a sister project to the Caloosahatchee that’s located on the east coast) as well as restoration work on the Kissimmee River, which feeds nutrients into Lake Okeechobee from the north.

    BY THE NUMBERS

    Caloosahatchee Reservoir

    • 55: Billion gallons of storage
    • 1,500: Cubic feet per second of water that will be pumped  into reservoir
    • $585: Million dollars in estimated cost – 50/50 cost share with CORPS
    • 10,700: Acres – land has been purchased 

    http://www.evergladesplan.org/pm/projects/proj_04_c43_basin_1.aspx

    Chad Gillis|news-press.com|January 16, 2015

    Moving water south next step in Everglades restoration

    There are two big problems facing hydrologists and engineers working to restore flows in the historic Everglades: inadequate water drainage and storage infrastructure and too much phosphorus in Lake Okeechobee.

    A committee of the South Florida Water Management District met Thursday in West Palm Beach to discuss how state and federal agencies can best remove pollution from Lake Okeechobee before redirecting that water south to Everglades National Park.

    “Obviously the estuaries aren’t the place to put it, unless, of course, it has an ecological benefit,” said Jeff Kivett, water district director of operations. “The expectation would be that we would relook at the regulation schedule — which we hope would give you additional storage in the lake.”

    The regulation schedule Kivett referred to is an Army Corps of Engineers protocol that dictates when to release water and how much. The district and corps typically must lower the lake level in the spring or early summer to provide space for that coming rainy season.

    The water district includes 16 counties and represents the historic Everglades system. It starts just south of Orlando, flows south to Lake Okeechobee and then is disbursed to various drainage features. The system works well, too well in some instances, as fresh water is sent to the oceans at an unnatural rate.

    But at times, like late summer of 2013, water can come into the lake faster than the water district and Army Corps can pump it out. The dike itself is part of the problem.

    “There’s been a lot of talk about having a big open area in the dike where water could flow through it, but we have to have those control structures in place to protect lives during a hurricane,” Kivett said. “Even if you want to send everything, you have a structure that won’t allow it physically. It’s a sever constraint.”

    This year, water is being released early because the lake is relatively high, at more than 15 feet above sea level Thursday, and because meteorologists are predicting El Nino conditions will impact weather here by spring. El Nino generally brings cooler, wetter winters to Southwest Florida.

    The phosphorus comes into play when it’s time to release lake water. Phosphorus levels in the lake have been 150 parts per billion or higher in the last decade or so. State law says it is illegal to discharge water that contains more than 10 parts per billion, so water managers, at times, are forced to either keep the water in Okeechobee or send mass freshwater plumes to one or both coasts.

    Tom Teets, water director of Everglades policy, said water conservation and storage areas south of the lake and north of Everglades National Park are making larger freshwater releases to the south more realistic because, hopefully, the lower levels won’t violate water quality laws.

    “We’re gradually decreasing the phosphorus levels in those conservation areas,” Teet said. “We’re working our way further from that line.”

    Bubba Wade, former WMD governing board member and senior vice president at U.S. Sugar, said the state should focus more on cleaning water upstream of Okeechobee, where much of the phosphorus enters the system.

    Sending lake water south, Wade said, will not be an option during heavy rain events.

    “It’s really not feasible when you have an event like we had in 2013,” Wade said. “(And) if that’s your solution — sending dirty water through the lake — the focus should really be removing those nutrients before they get into the lake.”

    Chad Gillis|news-press.com|January 8, 2015

    Water Quality Issues

    Farms Can Be Held Liable For Pollution From Manure, U.S. Federal Court Rules

    WASHINGTON, Jan 16 (Reuters) – A U.S. federal court has ruled for the first time that manure from livestock facilities can be regulated as solid waste, a decision hailed by environmentalists as opening the door to potential legal challenges against facilities across the country.

    A large dairy in Washington state, Cow Palace Dairy, polluted ground water by over applying manure to soil, ruled Judge Thomas Rice of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington on Wednesday.

    “The practices of this mega-dairy are no different than thousands of others across the country,” said Jessica Culpepper, an attorney at Public Justice, one of the firms that represented the plaintiffs, a collection of public advocacy groups.

    The case is scheduled to go to trial in March to decide the extent of the contamination and the clean-up.

    This is the first time the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which governs the disposal of solid and hazardous waste, has been applied to animal waste from a farm.

    Industrial livestock operations produce hundreds of millions of tons of manure annually.

    The district court ruling, if upheld, could affect any large livestock facility that produces more manure than it can responsibly manage, including poultry, beef and hog farms, Culpepper said.

    An attorney for Cow Palace said on Friday that it plans to ask for an appeal.

    “There’s a reason no court has ever done this. It’s because the statute was not intended to apply to these situations,” said Debora Kristensen, an attorney for Givens Pursley, a law firm that represented Cow Palace.

    Kristensen said Cow Palace has already entered into a voluntary agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which enforces the act, to address water contamination concerns.

    Fertilizer is not considered waste under the act, but the district court found that Cow Palace was applying more manure to crops than needed. In one instance, the plaintiffs in the case said Cow Palace applied more than 7 million gallons (26 million liters) of manure to an already “sufficiently fertilized field.”

    The district court said Cow Palace’s excessive application transformed the waste, which is “an otherwise beneficial and useful product,” into a discarded material.

    The court found that Cow Palace’s management of its manure violated the “open dumping” provisions of law.Unlike other federal contamination laws, the act requires violators not only to stop polluting, but to clean up any damage it has caused.

    The case is Community Association For Restoration Of The Environment, Inc. et al v. Cow Palace, LLC et al, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, No. 13-CV-3016

    Ayesha Rascoe|Reuters|01/16/2015|Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh

    Plan targets farmers in 3 states to help reduce Lake Erie algae

    TOLEDO Farmers in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana are being asked to be part of the solution in fixing the algae problem in Lake Erie. Federal officials on Friday outlined a program that will make $17.5 million available to farmers who take steps to reduce the pollutants that wash away from the fields and help the algae thrive.

    HOW WILL IT WORK?

    First, it’s a voluntary program so farmers won’t be forced to take part. And it only applies to those who have land in the western Lake Erie watershed, which is mostly made up of northwestern Ohio, southeastern Michigan and northeastern Indiana.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture will work with those farmers to reduce their field runoff by developing a plan that could include planting strips of grass or cover crops that help soil absorb and filer the phosphorus found in farm fertilizers and livestock manure.

    Farmers would receive a payment from the government.
    “We will not go to a farm and say ‘you will do this,’” said Terry Cosby, the USDA’s state conservationist in Ohio. “They’re in charge of their farm.”

    But that doesn’t mean all farmers who apply will be selected or get a payment. The agriculture department will rank the applications based on what farms are most likely to have the biggest impact on reducing runoff.

    WHY TARGET FARM RUNOFF?

    Researchers have found that agriculture is the leading source of the phosphorus that feeds the algae in Lake Erie and other fresh water sources. Some researchers say as much as two-thirds comes from agriculture.

    The algae blooms produce the type of toxins that contaminated Toledo’s drinking water supply and a sliver of southeastern Michigan for two days last August.

    WILL IT MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

    It depends on how farmers respond.

    Similar incentive programs have had mixed results. But there seems to be renewed interest as the farm industry is doing more to promote conservation programs and since the water trouble in Toledo last year.

    Ohio as a whole had $30 million in applications for conservation programs through the USDA last year, but only had enough to cover just over one-third of the requests, Cosby said.

    No matter how many farmers participate, more steps will be needed.

    Other proposals in the works include a legislative proposal to ban the spreading of manure on frozen ground in Ohio. Lawmakers are also looking at ways to cut down on phosphorus that comes from sewage systems, leaking septic tanks and the dumping of sediment f rom harbors into Lake Erie.

    John Seewer|Associated Press|1/19/2015

    Florida adopts 10-year plan to clean Lake Okeechobee

     The state Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday announced the adoption of a 10-year restoration plan… for Lake Okeechobee that is expected to reduce phosphorous entering the lake by one-third.

    The $750 million “basin management action plan” identifies a variety of projects intended to lessen the influx of nutrient-rich water into the lake, create water-treatment areas and establish stormwater treatment areas for both urban and agricultural areas, according to a news release from the department.

    Lake Okeechobee

    “Restoring the waters of Lake Okeechobee and the northern Everglades is a key step in preserving the greater Everglades ecosystem for generations to come,” Gov. Rick Scott said in a prepared statement.

    Environmental groups, in comments included in the department’s announcement, praised the lake-restoration plan they helped create and noted more work is needed.

    “Cleaning up the lake is a huge undertaking, and the (basin management action plan) is a good first step in that effort,” Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said in the release.

    “The plan includes projects that significantly reduce harmful phosphorous entering the lake and requires verification of the effectiveness of pollution control practices,” Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper said in the release. “In future iterations, Audubon will continue to recommend additional measures to control and treat pollution.”

    Water issues statewide are expected to get plenty of attention in the 2015 legislative session. A group of senators is expected to again push to increase funding to preserve some of the state’s most endangered natural springs.

    Meanwhile, it remains to be seen how lawmakers will carry out a voter-approved constitutional amendment that dedicates fees from real estate transactions to water-resource projects and land-conservation efforts.

    http://southeastagnet.com/2014/12/17/florida-adopts-10-year-plan-to-clean-lake-okeechobee/

    Randall|The News service of Florida|December 17th, 2014

    Great Lakes & Inland Waters

    Inspirational Leadership on the Rio Grande/Bravo

    Federal botanist Joe Sirotnak helps restore and protect a river shared by two countries

    Joe Sirotnak never seems to tire. A federal botanist in Big Bend National Park, Sirotnak is working with his colleagues to restore and protect the Rio Grande/Bravo River. This involves removing invasive plants that threaten the natural environment, re-vegetating tributaries that fuel the river, and coordinating crews to help with all these processes. It’s not a simple job, but Sirotnak is patient, dedicated and rarely dispirited.

    “You work hard in hot temperatures in a remote, desert environment. It’s challenging,” Sirotnak said. “But we focus on the big picture—our shared objectives—and that’s how we are able to succeed.”

    The Rio Grande/Bravo stretches 1,255 miles along the US-Mexico border and serves as the primary source of water for 5.5 million people. It’s facing grim threats: dams, over-allocation of water resources, invasive species, pollution and climate change put the people and wildlife that depend on the river at risk.

    WWF and partners are committed to restoring the river downstream of Presidio, Texas and Ojinaga, Mexico, where the Rio Grande/Bravo makes a “big bend” en route to the Gulf of Mexico.

    One of the current priorities is to remove giant cane, an invasive, exotic plant that has established in dense stands on both sides of the river. Removing cane allows sediment to move downstream and helps return the river to a more natural, healthy state. But it’s a hard job requiring physical labor, large crews, and careful coordination of workers on both sides of the border. Whenever possible, Sirotnak is there alongside the crews, even if he doesn’t have to be.

    When the partners joined forces, they turned to Rio Grande Scientific Support Services (RGSSS), a local consulting group, to help with the cane removal process.

    “Joe was there the first time we went out, and he still comes whenever he possibly can,” notes Jeff Renfrow, founder of the RGSSS. “When the cane removal trip falls on his day off, he still comes. He wants to help and be involved.”

    Sirotnak can’t imagine not participating. “What am I supposed to do? Send our work crews into cane thickets without help? I can’t let them have all the fun.”

    His dedication has earned him great respect amongst the crews. Even when Sirotnak is not present, they think of him. The crews say they are determined to remove the invasive cane—every last plant—and will put in extra effort for Sirotnak and his colleagues. It is the inspirational leadership of people like Joe Sirotnak that moves forward the shared mission of restoring and protecting our nation’s rivers and other natural wonders.

    Stop the War Against the Colorado River

    As we head into 2015, the health of Colorado River is at extreme risk as is the economies of states in the lower part of the river in Arizona, Nevada and California that depend on flows in the river. Drought continues in the Southwest U.S., climate change is predicted to decrease river flows an additional 10 to 30 percent, and the level of Lake Mead—the reservoir that holds water for much of Nevada, Arizona and Southern California—continues to fall with no end in sight.

    2014 saw one important event in Colorado River management to address these issues—a historic agreement between water agencies in the three states noted above to dramatically escalate their conservation and water-sharing programs. But this won’t be enough to stave off the continually falling levels of Lake Mead. Further, and even worse, the biggest threat to the Colorado River is coming from the upstream states—Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico are proposing to take even more water out of the river.

    Specifically, in recent water planning processes in the upstream states, Colorado proposed $20 billion worth of dam and reservoir projects, Utah proposed $15 billion, Wyoming proposed “10 dams in 10 years” and New Mexico endorsed a bill-dollar water project, most of which in all four states would take even more water out of the Colorado River before it gets to Lake Mead.

    Statements made by water officials in the upstream states highlight this escalating water war. Colorado’s lead water official recently said, “If anybody thought we were going to roll over and say, ‘OK, California, you’re in a really bad drought, you get to use the water that we were going to use,’ they’re mistaken.” And the lead water official in Utah recently stated, “It’s necessary to put dams on all rivers in Utah.” Thus, the upstream states have declared war on the river and war against the downstream states.

    We need multilateral disarmament on the Colorado River.

    The health of the river including its endangered fish and vast recreational economy cannot support more diversions, nor can Lake Mead and the water supply needs of the downstream states. All told, the Colorado River has about 5 trillion gallons flowing in it in an average year. People—farms, cities, industries from Denver to Los Angeles and beyond—take out every single drop such that the river no longer reaches the Gulf of California. The upstream states may think they are legally entitled to more water out of the river, but common sense and environmental stewardship dictate otherwise.

    The Colorado River is a patient in the emergency room. If the patient is bleeding out, you don’t cut open a new artery to heal it, and that’s what the proposed projects by the upstream states would do.

    Just like how multilateral nuclear disarmament is the only sane and responsible policy to address our political wars, multilateral river disarmament is the only sane and responsible water policy for the states in the Colorado River basin in 2015.

    Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico need to put their water engineers on other types of work—instead of building more dams that destroy the river, a new water ethic that focuses on conservation and river health must move forward.

    Gary Wockner|January 14, 2015

    Georgia claims Florida is responsible for collapse of Apalachicola Bay oysters

    Georgia is denying it caused the decline of oysters in Apalachicola Bay beginning in 2012 and says Florida is responsible for environmental problems along the Apalachicola River.

    Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been battling in court since 1990 over water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River system. Florida contends that increasing water use upstream harms oysters and the seafood industry at Apalachicola Bay by depriving the estuary of needed fresh water.

    At the direction of Gov. Rick Scott, Florida in 2013 asked the U. S. Supreme Court to divide water among the states. Florida said Georgia’s storage and use of water over several years had reduced freshwater flows, causing the oyster population to collapse and threatening endangered and threatened sturgeon and mussels in the Apalachicola River.

    The Supreme Court in November allowed the case to proceed and in December appointed Maine lawyer Ralph I. Lancaster to oversee the matter.

    Last week, Georgia responded to Florida’s claims by pointing out that Scott in 2012 blamed drought and overfishing — not lack of water flowing from Georgia — for the lack of oysters in Apalachicola Bay.

    Georgia said Florida is responsible for some or all of the decline of Apalachicola Bay oysters by permitting the overfishing and the harvest of undersized oysters.

    Furthermore, Georgia said Florida had failed to close portions of the bay to fishing to create a reserve stock of oysters, failed to lease areas for oyster harvesting and failed to replace shells taken from oyster bars even though shell replacement and oyster planting have been conducted for 100 years.

    Georgia didn’t say exactly how leasing harvest areas could protect oysters. The Georgia Environmental Protection Department declined to answer questions, citing unspecified instructions from Lancaster to lawyers in the case. The Gainesville Times in Georgia reported Monday on the state’s response in the lawsuit.

    In a Dec. 22 letter, Lancaster urged the lawyers from both states to continue to “meet, confer and work collaboratively and cooperatively” and to “aggressively explore settlement possibilities.” A case management plan allows states to request that documents in the case be classified as confidential and sealed from public view.

    Georgia seems to be implying that leasing areas of Apalachicola Bay would prevent overfishing or the taking of undersized oysters presumably by restricting legal access to harvest areas.

    Florida wildlife officials said Tuesday they could not respond to Georgia’s statements because of the pending litigation. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection did not respond, and the governor’s office said it was working towards issuing a response on Wednesday.

    Asked whether leasing oyster harvesting areas would help the bay, Nick Wiley, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said after a Senate committee meeting, “We don’t feel like it’s right to force any type of regulatory program on that community.”

    “What we’ve got to do is work hand-in-hand and find the right solutions,” he said.

    Shannon Hartsfield, president of the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association, said leasing areas may not reduce overfishing because oyster harvesting then would be classified as aquaculture and size and catch limits would not apply.

    The leases would make it worse,” Hartsfield said.

    Hartsfield told the Senate Committee on Agriculture on Tuesday that oyster reproduction seems to be improving because of increased freshwater flows over the past year and because of shell that had been placed in the bay to restore oyster reefs.

    In an interview, Hartsfield dismissed Georgia’s claim that Florida is allowing overfishing of oysters. He said there was no daily catch limit until the 1990s, when it was reduced to 20 bags of oysters per person.

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Sept. 1 reduced the daily limit to five bags.

    “They (Georgia officials) are just pulling something from out of their hat — that’s what they’re trying to do now,” Hartsfield said.

    Wiley said Scott’s statement in 2012 that overfishing was to blame for the oyster population collapse was made early in the process — before University of Florida scientists in 2013 reported that harvesting was not to blame.

    BRUCE RITCHIE|FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS|Jan 20, 2015

    Offshore & Ocean

    Ocean Animals Threatened With ‘Major Extinction’: 4 Things We Can Do to Help

    From whales to anchovies, ocean animals are facing dire threats that can be linked directly to human activity. A study conducted by scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara and released yesterday in the journal Science, concluded that humans are “on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them,” reported the New York Times.

    Said scientist Douglas J. McCAuley, one of the study’s authors, “We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event.”

    Why are sea creatures so threatened? One factor is overfishing. People are eating more fish and seafood than ever before, depleting some stocks of animals to the point where they cannot effectively reproduce. Various fishing practices also affect how sea animals survive. For example, many fishing nets unintentionally catch turtles, octopus, and other creatures that die before they can be returned to the water. Plus, bottom trawlers that scrape their nets across the sea floor have already degraded 20 million square miles. Mangroves that would team with sea life are being replaced by fish farms, which usually raise monocultures of fish that can be processed into food. Whales, as big as they are, are no match for the container ships they collide into.

    Climate change also wreaks havoc on sea life. Coral reefs have declined by 40% worldwide in part due to waters that have gotten too warm to support coral that prefer the cooler temperatures they evolved in.

    Mining the seabed for various minerals is also taking its toll, not only by wrecking the ocean floor and surrounding areas, but by increasing the amount of pollution the ocean must somehow figure out how to offset. That’s not easy when so much raw sewage and industrial run-off are already polluting seas all over the world.

    While the outlook is bleak, scientists haven’t given up hope yet. Large parts of the ocean still remain wild, which enables the animals that live there to continue to reproduce or escape some of the depredations they face closer to shore. Dr. Stephen R. Palumbi of Stanford University, another author of the report, says “If by the end of the century we’re not off the business-as-usual curve we are on now, I honestly feel there’s not much hope for normal ecosystems in the ocean.

    “In the meantime, we do have a chance to do what we can. We have a couple more decades more than we thought we had, so let’s please not waste it.”

    What can you do?

    * Support efforts to protect areas of the ocean as ocean preserves and conservation areas.

    * Improve management of the fishing industry to reduce overfishing and the use of technology that destroys ocean ecosystems.

    * Accelerate efforts to mitigate climate change. Do what you can to use alternatives to the fossil fuels that cause climate change, and support public policies that accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources.

    * Eat seafood that has been caught via verified sustainability methods. The Monterey Bay Aquarium publishes a handy pocket guide to choose the most sustainably raised seafood.

    Diane MacEachern|January 17, 2015

    Our Florida Reefs

    We are excited to announce the launch of the Our Florida Reefs coastal and ocean use survey!

    This survey is being conducted as part of a local initiative for our area, known as Our Florida Reefs.

    Please follow this link to register http://ofr-coastal-use.point97.io/respond/register/ofr-mapping

       or visit the Our Florida Reefs webpage at www.ourfloridareefs.org

    and click on the MAPPING tab.

    WHAT: We are collecting information on how you enjoy the reefs in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Martin counties. By providing information on where you fish, dive, boat, surf, etc. you will be part of the data used by the Our Florida Reefs Community Working Groups to enhance recommendations on managing our reefs to better balance resource use and protection.

    The Our Florida Reefs Team coral@dep.state.fl.us

    Winter 2015 Southeast Florida Reef Winter 2015 newsletter hot off the presses!

    The current issue of our newsletter “Southeast Florida Reef News”, which contains articles by several of our staff and is a great way to stay informed about the efforts of our programs along the northern third of the Florida Reef Tract.

    The newsletter is available online here , as well as accessible in a PDF format: Winter 2015 newsletter. 

    Giant snail the solution to Barrier Reefs Crown-of-thorns problem?

    Beautiful as it may be, the Crown-of-thorns Starfish has had a devastating effect on parts of the Great Barrier Reef

    Good news for Australia in the battle to save delicate coral organisms on the Great Barrier Reef from annihilation by the rapidly multiplying and invasive Crown-of-thorns Starfish.

    Scientists have discovered that the scent of the Triton Sea Snail is repellent to the giant starfish.

    The Crown-of-thorns has been responsible for 40 per cent of coral cover loss on the Great Barrier Reef in the past 30 years.

    University of the Sunshine Coast senior lecturer Scott Cummins says they have learned that the Triton Snail is one of the starfish’s natural predators.

    “We put [the snail] next to the Crown-of-thorns Starfish and they reacted quite obviously,” he says.

    “They started to run away, which is quite an important finding because it tells us they do have very poor eyesight, so they are sensing or smelling their main predator.”

    At the moment, in an effort to save the reefs, divers search for the starfish and administer a lethal injection which was developed by James Cook University, but this is very costly an labor intensive. This new discovery may provide the long-term answer to the problem.

    “The snail is releasing a complex mixture of molecules,” explains Cummins. “We want to narrow it down to exactly what the molecule is then hopefully we can take that and put it into some slow release system on the reef.”

    Australian Institute of Marine Science researcher Dr Mike Hall says the decline of the giant Triton Snail, prized for its beautiful shell, might have partially contributed to the population explosion in Crown-of-thorns Starfish that has had such a devastating effect.

    The snail has been protected in Australia since the 1960s but it is still extremely rare on the Great Barrier Reef.

    Town given more time to comment on Reach 8 impact statement

    Army Corps grants extension to Feb. 25

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released its long-awaited draft study on the environmental impacts of coastal protection measures being considered for Reach 8.

    The town wants more time to respond to a draft document that reviews possible coastal protection projects for the island’s southernmost beaches.

    The Town Council unanimously voted Tuesday to ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a 30-day extension to a public comment period on its draft environmental impact statement for Reach 8.

    The council’s decision follows the Shore Protection Board’s recommendation Friday to extend the comment period, which is scheduled to end Jan. 26. Town staff, the Coalition to Save Our Shoreline, Citizens’ Association of Palm Beach and numerous residents also support the delay.

    Corps Project Manager Garett Lips sent an email to stakeholders Thursday saying the 45-day comment period has been extended to Feb. 25.

    The draft document evaluates the effectiveness and environmental consequences of six potential coastal protection projects for a 1.24-mile segment of the town’s shoreline south of the Lake Worth Pier as well as Palm Beach County beaches in South Palm Beach, Lantana and Manalapan. It’s needed before the town can do any significant, long-term nourishment projects for South End beaches.

    As part of the comment process for the document, known as the EIS, the Corps hosted a public forum Jan. 7.

    “The comments that came out of that meeting concerned grain size, cost, durability, level of storm protection and even fairness,” Public Works Director Paul Brazil said at Tuesday’s council meeting. “There are a lot of misconceptions we’d like to clarify in writing. The extension would give us an opportunity to provide this written back up, provide these clarifications, have another Shore Protection Board meeting and still present to the Town Council the shore board’s recommendation as to what the town’s official comments should be for the draft EIS.”

    Brazil, who did not respond to questions or comments at last week’s public forum or Friday’s Shore Board meeting, addressed some of the “misconceptions” Tuesday.

    Grain size

    South End residents, SOS and its coastal engineering consultant Karyn Erickson think the town’s proposed plan to place 75,000 cubic yards of offshore dredged sand with a 0.25 mm grain size is unacceptable. Instead, they suggest the town place at least 162,000 cubic yards of much coarser sand mined from an upland sand source.

    “The town is proposing to use the wrong kind of sand,” said SOS board member Eileen Curran. “Offshore sand will wash away because the grain size is not compatible with that of the native beach sand.”

    Brazil said the town’s proposal follows what’s likely to be approved by state and federal regulatory agencies. The 0.25 mm size is what’s recommended in Palm Beach Island Beach Management Agreement and already a higher standard than most communities in the area, he said.

    “We’re taking it seriously, but both the (Florida Department of Environmental Protection) and Corps feels the material we’re using is appropriate for the projects we’re doing,” Brazil said. “We’re not trying to short anybody or pump bad material.”

    Councilwoman Penny Townsend said the judge’s ruling in the 2009 lawsuit involving Reach 8 set the grain size for beach-compatible sand to 0.38 mm. She said she’s concerned environmentalists will try to block anything less.

    Sand cost

    Residents and civic groups also think the town’s cost estimates for using off-shore sand instead of mined sand are inaccurate. While the town says mined sand can cost more than double the price of dredged sand, the opposition says prices are comparable.

    “The cost differential is not what you think it is, and I think it will be proven through the comment period,” said SOS board member Madelyn Greenberg. “You should check out what the county is paying for mined sand because you will find that you are paying more for your dredged sand.”

    Brazil said sand dredged for the Midtown Beach re-nourishment project, including mobilization, cost about $19 a cubic yard. He estimates mined sand costs $40-45 a cubic yard.

    “Town staff, consultants, residents and peer reviewers have spent years putting together this 10-year coastal protection program,” Brazil said. “The prices have been vetted repeatedly and for years. The only way that it is more cost effective to use upland sand is in a very small volume. When it comes to a larger project it isn’t cost effective and it has been proven repeatedly. If we took the volume of sand that’s in the 10-year program and replaced it with trucked sand, it’s an additional $80 million.”

    The town’s 10-year coastal protection program already is projected to cost about $100 million.

    Councilman Bill Diamond said transportation, mitigation and other factors need to be included in the cost as well.

    “I’m not sure we’re doing the mathematics here correctly,” he said.

    Added Townsend: “I don’t think we’ve done a complete cost-benefit analysis in terms of using upland sand as opposed to dredge sand.”

    Pending a Corps extension, town staff will provide additional response to concerns about the town’s proposed project at the February shore board meeting.

    Aleese Kopf|Daily News Staff Writer |1/15/2015

    Read more

    Are Offshore Ports the Future?

    The benefits of offshore ports in the U.S. & Africa

    In many parts of the world, offshore ports are a good solution for meeting the requirements of the rapid changes in the international container and bulk shipping industry. Bigger ships, changing routes and destinations require larger and deeper ports, which port owners and operators can be confident will be capable of handling ever-increasing sizes of vessels for many years to come.

    Changing Shipping Routes

    One of the major challenges in the current container shipping industry is to bundle and organize capacity in the most economical way. In terms of vessel size, Maersk is leading with its Triple E vessels, but the capacity of these new, larger ships needs to be combined with other main carriers in order for it to be effective. Various alliances have been formed, and new ones are being developed.

    As part of this process, capacity is being shifted to routes which haven’t changed for many years, for example in West Africa. Due to the so-called cascading down process, ships which were never originally intended for use in West Africa will now soon be there. Ports like Abidjan are already anticipating these changes and looking at possible solutions. Others are talking about it but haven’t really started to tackle the issue yet.

    However, many of the traditional ports lack the physical possibilities (in terms of size, depth, finance, etc.) to make the changes required to enable them to cater for larger vessels and increased capacity. As a consequence, offshore hubs along parts of the West and East African coasts are a solution: in the Guinea–Liberia region for the export of minerals; in the Cameroon–Gabon region for containers; and in Mozambique for bulk.

    The benefits are massive. We’ve predicted that the savings in investment and operational costs could add up to between 40 to 50 percent.

    Similar developments can be seen on the East Coast of the U.S. Due to the same cascading effect and the fact that the biggest container vessels can sail direct via the Suez Canal straight to the U.S. East Coast, an option that is rapidly developing as an alternative for the New Panama Canal. The route via Suez has a greater degree of freedom in terms of ship sizes, especially when the planned increase in two-lane capacity is ready.

    The big question now is if and how quickly the U.S. East Coast ports can adjust to this development. New cranes have just been ordered and installed for the New Panamax vessel sizes. Some ports have dredged their channels and quays and widened their basins at substantial cost. Others aren’t yet ready to do this, which might be an advantage. Investing in an offshore port could be the best solution by providing a hub for a whole region with fewer limitations for long term development than is often the case in existing ports without limitations in free height (draft), which is an issue in New Jersey for instance, or for various environmental reasons.

    Are Offshore Ports a Solution?

    Some coasts are just not suitable for deep water ports due to their extended shallow foreshore. For a required water depth of say 20 m, a deep water port might need to be 15 km or more away from the shoreline.

    This is a situation found along large parts of the African coast, particularly in West and East Africa. So instead of bringing the ship to the port and dredging long and deep channels and port basins on the coastline, one solution could be to bring the port to the ship at the required water depth with an offshore port providing various handling facilities for bulk and/or terminals for containers.

    Barging the cargo to and from the offshore facility and terminals to nearby coastal or river ports, and using existing corridors and facilities can thus save on capital construction and operational costs.  It can also reduce the environmental impact and minimize the ecological footprint.  By concentrating present and future development in one spot, an offshore port could work very well not just in Africa but also in the U.S. Currently, up to 70 percent of all West Coast containers move east by rail and road. If only 20 percent of these containers would shift from overland transport to all-water direct import via the Suez Canal to an East Coast offshore port, this would save:

    •    20 to 30 percent on direct freight costs from the Far East to the U.S. East coast due to the all-water economy of larger scale shipping
    •    30 to 40 percent (or even more) on direct freight costs due to 40 to 50 percent shorter overland transport distance in the U.S. itself
    •    20 to 30 percent in emissions on the all-water-route (lower fuel consumption, more efficient engines) plus a 40 to 50 percent reduction in overland transport emissions.

    The estimated overall cost reduction for an East Coast multi-user offshore hub compared to improving existing ports and relying on overland transport to be between 30 to 40 percent for both investment and operations. And lower freight costs could also mean lower consumer prices and therefore be better for the overall economy. Instead of ships first going via Caribbean hubs, having an offshore port hub in the United States would mean that without extra handling, the industry can keep money and jobs in the U.S.

    For the mining industry, using an offshore hub would provide overall better performance and therefore easier overall feasibility of the whole development, which means earlier viability of the development of the whole prospect. Mining projects that weren’t feasible in the traditional setting with a rail link and one or more coastal ports can become viable when choosing an offshore hub. Even more so, when in combination with (inland) barging or coastal shipping.

    The Concept

    In the offshore port model, no dredging is required as the facility is placed in water of sufficient depth, say 20 to 22 meters. In order to avoid or reduce the need for expensive breakwaters, technologies such as dynamically controlled mooring and proactive fender systems will be used to guarantee safe operations and a sufficient wide operating window for handling the cargo.

    For bulk, the degrees of freedom are usually much larger than for containers, which is why these dynamic systems are being used on an increasing number of container terminals all over the world, especially in existing ports with heavy swell issues.
    For containers, the offshore hub would consist of a smart terminal arrangement of say two or three berths for the main carriers and four or five for barges to nearby ports and coastal shipping. The facilities can be extended in almost any combination with dry bulk, wet bulk and containers, depending on zoning and safety requirements.

    This concept is not entirely new. Bechtel has already built the deep water Khalifa Port and Khalifa Industrial Zone in Abu Dhabi, one of the world’s largest combined port and industrial zone developments. However, Khalifa Port is connected to the mainland by a causeway and bridge and the offshore hub proposal is essentially an island. There are similarities in terms of port and terminal operations, as well as scale. The offshore hub would be able to handle up to 4 million TEU per year.

    Conclusion

    The offshore hub represents a viable solution to the future needs of ports, which need to adapt to the ever-increasing sizes of vessels, particularly in the U.S. and Africa. Offering the opportunity to save costs, minimize environmental impact and increase capacity, this concept could provide the answer where traditional ports cannot.  Its prospects look promising. In Africa, the multi-user offshore port concept provides a strategic solution by maximizing the benefits of infrastructure corridors. While in the U.S., Bechtel is currently in discussions with various government agencies about the development of an offshore port on the East Coast. 

    Marco Pluijm|Ports and Marine Sector Manager|Bechtel|January 14, 2015

    Coral Reefs Show Remarkable Ability to Recover from Near Death

    Scientists have identified key factors that enable corals to recover from bleaching events brought on by global warming

    As the planet heats up so do the world’s waters, and that means more coral bleaching. But now a new study reveals that some corals can bounce back from such near death experiences.

    The heat death of a reef reveals itself as whitening, dubbed coral bleaching, which results when corals expel the tiny plants that provide food and are responsible for the rainbow of reef colors. In 2014, coral bleaching happened in the northern Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Hawaiian Islands and even the Florida Keys. Severe bleaching has now happened two years in a row off Guam and overheated waters have now appeared off the Pacific island nations of Kiribati and Nauru and are also pooling near the Solomon Islands.

    “The odds seem good for 2014 to be only the third recorded global scale mass bleaching,” says Mark Eakin, coordinator of the Coral Reef Watch at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This event may not be as bad as 2010 or the worst year ever—1998—but “any global-scale mass bleaching is a big issue.”

    A new study offers hope. Looking at reefs off two of the central Seychelles isles in the Indian Ocean, scientists from Australia found that reefs could rebound even from severe bleaching events, such as those that whitened more than 90 percent of a given reef in 1998. “This is perhaps the most severe coral bleaching event on record,” notes Nicholas Graham, a coral researcher at James Cook University and lead author of the new study, published January 14 by Nature. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.)

    The team has monitored 21 reefs in the Seychelles since 1994, taking a range of measurements that include the total number of plant-eating fish and the amount of nutrients reaching the reefs. The majority of these reefs—12 out of 21—were able to recover after bleaching in warming waters in 1998. The other nine became seaweed-covered ruins.

    The scientists have teased out the factors that most strongly predicted a resilient or doomed reef: water depth, the complexity of its shape, nutrient levels, amount of grazing by fish and survival rates for young coral. In fact, using just two of those—growth in waters 6.6 meters or more in depth and complex, branching shapes at least 30 centimeters high atop the reef—the team could predict which reefs would or would not recover 98 percent of the time.

    The factors in reef resilience may not seem surprising; for instance, corals at greater depths may better resist heating waters because the warmest waters are closest to the surface. And this doesn’t mean that simple reefs in shallow, warm waters are necessarily doomed. Cutting down on the amount of nutrient and sediment pollution can boost the resiliency of shallow reefs as can cutting back on fishing for seaweed grazers. “Reducing local impacts as much as possible will give them the best chance of survival,” Graham notes. “Managing the impacts to reefs is really about understanding and managing human actions.”

    Reefs that have survived one bleaching event may even be more resistant to future trouble, as reefs that weathered 1998 proved even more resilient in the 2010 bleaching event off Indonesia. “Many reef corals just might be capable of adapting fast enough to survive current rates of global environmental change,” wrote marine biologist John Pandolfi of the University of Queensland in a commentary on the new research.

    On the other hand, marine reserves did not seem to offer any extra protection to coral reefs, at least off the Seychelles islands of Mahe and Praslin, even though more seaweed-eating fish were present in these no-take reserves. Complex reefs in deeper water that are not deluged with pollution recover best, according to the new study, and may serve as coral refuges.

    One factor that could complicate this resilience analysis is seawater acidity, or pH. The oceans also absorb the atmospheric carbon dioxide that accumulates from rampant fossil-fuel burning, which renders the water more acidic. The corals that form Australia’s Great Barrier Reef are now growing half as fast as in the 1970s, largely because much of that new growth is dissolving away at night, according to a 2012 paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research. And although corals can adapt to warming waters and resist more acidic ones, climate change adds to the stress caused by water pollution, overfishing and other threats to reefs, which shelter coastlines from the impacts of extreme weather and sea level rise as well as provide food for hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

    If coral reefs are to thrive in the Anthropocene—the current epoch in which human activity has become a driving force on the planet—CO2 levels in the atmosphere will have to drop. As for 2015: “my next big concerns are the reefs on these South Pacific islands, the Indian Ocean and perhaps Southeast Asia later this year,” Eakin says. “If it continues, then we will have to worry about the western North Pacific, again, and Caribbean for next fall.”

    David Biello|January 15, 2015

    Feds say ‘nurseries’ could save Government Cut coral

    To cease the “rapid” destruction of rare coral brought on by the dredging of Government Cut, federal wildlife managers are recommending the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers promptly move colonies to an underwater nursery exactly where they can be nursed back to overall health.

    In an internal Sept. ten email, fishery officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the rehabbed coral could then be relocated when the $205million project concludes.

    The recommendations come as the Corps grapples with escalating criticism more than the project launched last summer season to widen the channel and make way for bigger ships expected from an expanded Panama Canal. In August, a month after environmentalists threatened to sue over the work, the state Division of Environmental Protection issued a stern warning that dredging had violated the guidelines of a state permit.

    Corals record huge rise in sea level after ice collapse

    Fossil corals from the tropical islands of Seychelles may help scientists predict the future of the Antarctic ice sheet.

    An examination of the fossils shows that global mean sea level about 125,000 years ago—when the average global temperature was only slightly warmer that it is now—peaked at 20 to 30 feet above current levels.

    In fact, sea levels rose enough to submerge the locations of many of today’s coastal cities. Understanding what caused seas to rise then could help protect those cities today.

    The rapid retreat of an unstable part of the Antarctic ice sheet was a major contributor to that sea-level rise, says Andrea Dutton, a geochemist at the University of Florida.

    “This occurred during a time when the average global temperature was only slightly warmer than at present,” she says.

    For the study, published in Quaternary Science Reviews, researchers evaluated fossil corals in Seychelles because sea level in that region closely matches that of global mean sea level. Local patterns of sea-level change can differ from global trends because of variations in the Earth’s surface and gravity fields that occur when ice sheets grow and shrink.

    The findings show that while sea-level rise in the Last Interglacial period was driven by the same processes active today—thermal expansion of seawater, melting mountain glaciers, and melting polar ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica—most were driven by polar ice sheet melt.

    The study also suggests the Antarctic ice sheet partially collapsed early in that period.

    “Following a rapid transition to high sea levels when the last interglacial period began, sea level continued rising steadily,” Dutton says. “The collapse of Antarctic ice occurred when the polar regions were a few degrees warmer than they are now—temperatures that we are likely to reach within a matter of decades.”

    Several recent studies by other researchers suggest that process may have already started.

    “We could be poised for another partial collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet,” Dutton says.

    U. Florida|January 9, 2015

    The National Science Foundation supported the work.

    Source: University of Florida

    Florida Summit To Showcase Advances In Artificial Reef Research And Technology

    GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Artificial reef experts, fisheries scientists and reef managers from around the state and nation will come together to discuss current issues and exchange ideas for future projects at the 2015 Florida Artificial Reef Summit Jan. 13-16 in Clearwater Beach.

    The summit provides a rare opportunity for members of the state’s artificial reef community to hear recent research results, share experiences and generate new ideas, according to Bryan Fluech, Florida Sea Grant Agent with the UF/IFAS Extension in Collier County.

    The last statewide Summit took place in 2010 in Cocoa Beach where over 180 participants including researchers, artificial reef program managers, marine contractors, natural resource managers, volunteer research diver organizations, and artificial reef citizen constituency organizations attended the event.

    “We are excited to welcome these groups back to continue the discussion on how to move Florida’s artificial reef program forward,” Fluech said.

    The theme of this year’s conference is “Navigating Expectations and Charting Objectives.”

    “We chose the theme to reflect on the diverse perspectives of artificial reef use in Florida as well as discuss what it takes to responsibly plan for, manage, and evaluate a comprehensive artificial reef program in the Sunshine state,” Fluech said.

    Florida Sea Grant, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the University of Florida IFAS Extension Service are organizers of the event.

    Florida has one of the most active artificial reef programs in the world with over 2,900 planned public artificial reefs placed off of its coasts. Everything from bridge rubble to specially designed concrete structures to retired naval ships has been deployed. Besides providing recreational fishing and diving opportunities, artificial reefs have also been used as substrate to support new oyster reefs, as erosion control structures to protect vegetated shorelines, as well as mitigation and restoration reefs to replace and repair natural hard bottom habitats lost through beach re-nourishment activities or vessel groundings.

    “Artificial reefs drive a variety of economic activities that bring significant economic benefit to coastal communities,” Fluech adds. “A number of cost-benefit analyses in Florida show positive economic results, especially in the local economies directly impacted by the fishermen and divers that come to take advantage of the reefs.”

    For more than three decades, Florida Sea Grant has contributed to Florida’s artificial reef program by developing and disseminating science-based information about the ecology of artificial reefs and their construction. Many of Sea Grant’s county-based extension faculty members assist local artificial reef programs by providing technical information that can improve the productivity and management of these reefs.

    For more information on the conference, agenda and speakers, visit www.flseagrant.org/artificialreefs/summit

    Can’t make the conference in person? Listen in via Livestream at Http://x.co/reefsummit.

    FloridaFishinFool|Jan 07 2015

    Galapagos Popular Pit Stop for Pregnant Whale Sharks

    With 13 major islands and over 100 rocky islets, the Galapagos Islands are a dream destination for many adventurous travelers, but their popularity isn’t limited to the scuba diving crowd.

    A new study co-authored by Turtle Island’s Conservation Science Director Alex Hearn reveals the Galapagos Islands are also a major pit stop for migrating whale sharks.

    The Galapagos Whale Shark Project is the brainchild of naturalist and explorer Jonathan R. Green in collaboration with Turtle Island Restoration Network, the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Galapagos National Park Service. Between 2011 and 2013, the science team surveyed the whale shark population around Darwin Island, the northernmost island in this biogeographical region.

    During a total of 180 dives, teams recorded information about the shark’s size, sex, potential signs of pregnancy, presence of noticeable scars, behavior, and associated fauna. They followed this up with photographic analysis of the area behind the shark’s fifth gill—which serves as a kind of human fingerprint—and prominent scarring. Their data revealed an unprecedented number of whale sharks using the island’s coastal waters as a migration stopover.

    “The prevailing thought in the past was that a handful of whale sharks would spend several months at Darwin, but now we know that that the island is visited by several hundred whale sharks, each staying only a couple of days.” Explained Dr. Hearn

    More importantly, the majority were large, apparently pregnant females. “Most of these females had big, distended abdomens, which seems to indicate pregnancy. This is the only known place in the world whale sharks in this condition are regularly seen. It’s a mystery why they are here, but we believe Darwin may be a waypoint from which they move into the open ocean to give birth to up to 300 1.5-2 foot young.”

    Using high-tech acoustic telemetry tags, researchers tracked the movement patterns of four apparently pregnant individuals around Darwin Island. These tags ‘pinged’ each minute, allowing the sharks to be followed from a small vessel with a directional hydrophone attached to it. The data revealed frequent use of Darwin’s Arch, a natural rock arch located near the main island, but showed no signs of feeding or other specific behaviors, leading scientists to theorize the migration had reproductive purposes. Such usage could have important implications for whale shark conservation.

    Since 2002, whale sharks have been listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, largely due to the presence of whale shark fisheries in the Pacific and Indian oceans, most of which have now been closed. However, whale sharks are still taken as by-catch, or illegally. Last year a single slaughterhouse in southeastern China’s Zhejiang province was found to process up to 600 whale sharks annually. Whale shark fins are also highly prized as trophies, and can fetch up to $1,000 each.

    Elsewhere, whale sharks can become entangled in fishing gear such as purse seines. In some instances, fishers set their nets around whale sharks in order to catch the fish that swim alongside them. They then drag the shark out of the net and release it, although this may cause injury and even death. This practice is now discouraged or banned in many countries, including the USA, which recently passed legislation banning the setting of nets around whale sharks, to comply with international conservation measures for this species.

    With an estimated 695 pregnant females passing through Darwin’s protected waters, the Island could provide essential information to understand the sharks’ reproductive cycles, and in turn, aid conservation efforts.

    Gloria Dickie|Turtle Island Restoration Network Intern|Todd Steiner|Ocean Views|January 14, 2015

    Wildlife and Habitat

    Otters around the world are threatened with extinction says new report

    The International Otter Survival Fund (IOSF) has become increasingly concerned about the decline of many species of otter in different countries with many little or no government conservation support.

    As recently as 2012, the Japanese Otter was officially declared extinct, and of the 13 species across the world, nine are declining in numbers.

    In the IUCN Red List, five species are classed as Endangered and two as Vulnerable, meaning that they are facing a high or very high risk of extinction in the wild.

    The Eurasian otter, the only species which we have in the UK, is overall classed as Near Threatened, despite recent rises in UK populations, but in Asia it is believed to be critically endangered.

    Asia forms about 80 per cent of the geographical range of the Eurasian otter. In parts of China it is almost extinct and in the Changbaishan Mountain Reserve numbers went down from 1.2 million in 1975 to just 4 in 2012 – a decline of over 99 per cent.

    There have been no sightings of the species since the early 1990s in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam and most of India. Even in Europe it is declining in some areas.

    Conservation of otters depends on creating a greater awareness of their importance in the ecosystem and demonstrating how vital they are in wetland habitats, says IOSF. They are the ideal environmental indicator species – they use both the land and water habitats and so it is essential that both are in pristine condition.

    This is important not just for otters but for all wetland species.

    The IOSF is holding a series of training workshop for students, park rangers and government officials to encourage the next generation of otter workers to gather  reliable data, encourage enforcement of legal protection and develop effective education/public awareness programs within local communities.

    The most recent workshop was held in Bangladesh in December 2014, where there is an urgent need for conservation as a result of an oil spill in the Sundarbans, home to Asian small-clawed otters.

    In that region, 350,000 litres of oil were emptied into this pristine environment killing the small crabs and mudskippers that are prey for the otters.

    Dr Paul Yoxon of IOSF says: “The Sundabans is a truly wonderful environment with tiger, crocodile, the rare Ganges and Irrawaddy river dolphins, eagles, kites and egrets.

    “The need for conservation has clearly increased with the oil spill and the increasing human pressure, but until now no-one had been looking at the otters.

    “Now this will change and with the care of the Bangladeshi people the three species of otter that inhabit this truly remarkable place will continue to survive.

    “There is now a Bangladesh Otter Network to take things further and encourage more students to study otters and work on their conservation.”

    For more information go to www.otter.org

    Protecting the Galapagos Islands

    The Galapagos Islands are truly unique. They have more endemic species—species that can only be found there—than any other cluster of islands in the world.

    Since 2000, Sea Shepherd, a nonprofit dedicated to marine wildlife conservation, has been working with the Ecuadorian National Park Service in the Galapagos Islands to protect its delicate ecosystem. “Duties have included training and funding the wildlife unit K-9 program to detect contraband wildlife, patrolling the marine reserve to deter and apprehend poachers, educating schoolchildren on the need for conservation, and installing and maintaining an automatic identification system.”

    Jack Grove, a marine biologist and professional naturalist who lived and worked on the island for seven years, is speaking up about Sea Shepherd’s crucial role in safeguarding the islands. Grove, a supporter of Sea Shepherd, says with Sea Shepherd’s help, the Ecuadorian government is strengthening enforcement of its regulations to ensure violators are properly prosecuted.

    Grove had a transformative experience when he visited the islands for the first time as a deckhand on a sailboat in 1975. “I was astounded by the abundance of life, the fearlessness of the animals. Like so many other naturalists before me, it changed my life,” he said.

    “When Charles Darwin referred to Galapagos as a living laboratory of evolution, he recognized that these islands are special and they deserve special attention,” Grove said. Captain Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd’s founder, who recently spoke out about SeaWorld’s cruel treatment of its animals, has worked to  protect the world’s oceans and marine life for more than three decades. “The Galapagos is our line in the sand. If we can’t save something as beautiful, as profoundly unique, as pristine as the Galapagos, we can’t save anything,” he said.

    Grove’s message is one of urgency: “Our planet, our biosphere is at a tipping point. We are losing species daily … We need more sanctuaries and protected areas and we need organizations like Sea Shepherd to determine and observe what is happening in these vast areas of open ocean,” Grove explained.

    Video

    Cole Mellino|January 13, 2015

    Southwest Florida’s valuable salt marshes in danger

    Say the words “salt marsh,” and some people will think of swarms of mosquitoes, and others will have no idea what you’re talking about.

    But these little-known coastal plant communities are very important habitats that are being threatened by rising sea level.

    According to a recent study by Jim Beever, principal planner for the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council, area salt marshes are migrating landward ahead of rising sea level where possible — some authorities say that, in a best-case scenario, sea levels will rise 5 inches by 2050; worst case is 16 inches by 2050.

    When their landward movement is blocked by development, however, they are being drowned.

    “I think most people who live here and are not natives aren’t aware that we have salt marshes,” Beever said. “But salt marshes perform a lot of functions that are valuable to people.

    “Tarpon fishermen depend on salt marshes for the early life stages of tarpon. Salt marshes protect us from storm surge, and they clean the water that runs off the land before it reaches the estuary.”

    For the three-year, $439,725 study, financed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Beever identified 14,852.95 acres of salt marsh in the Charlotte Harbor system, which includes northern Charlotte Harbor, Pine Island Sound, Matlacha Pass and Estero Bay.

    Salt marshes are communities of salt-tolerant vegetation and algae in areas flooded and drained by tides.

    Twelve types of salt marsh are found in the Charlotte Harbor system, each identified by its dominant vegetation or lack of vegetation. Shrub mangrove marshes, for example, are dominated by black mangroves, while algal salt marshes are dominated by microalgae, and salterns, also known as salt pans and salt barrens, are patches of high-salinity soil with no vegetation.

    Southwest Florida’s salt marshes are full- or part-time habitat for 422 invertebrate, 217 fish, 31 reptile, 15 mammal, 11 amphibian and 301 plant species.

    Listed species using area salt marshes include the snowy plover, wood stork, Florida black bear, Everglades mink, Sanibel rice rat and mangrove rivulus, a small insect-eating fish that can tolerate salinities from 0 to 68 parts per thousand.

    Life along the salt marsh: Protecting tidal creeks with vegetative buffers

    South Carolina is home to approximately 350,000 acres of salt marsh, comprising 30 percent of all tidal salt marsh in the United States. This is impressive as the salt marsh ranks as one of the most biologically productive ecosystems on Earth (second only to the rainforest), providing vital wildlife habitat and nursery grounds to many species of birds and fish.

    The salt marsh also provides protection to our homes and communities. It serves as a sponge to reduce the impact of storm surges, it filters pollution from stormwater runoff and helps to keep our water clean, and it is home to many of the commercially and recreationally important fish and shellfish species.

    Here in the Lowcountry, we are fortunate to be surrounded by tidal creeks and vast stretches of Spartina alterniflora, the dominant plant species in our salt marsh.

    Many Lowcountry home gardeners find themselves within a stone’s throw of a salt marsh. Often, yards adjacent to a salt marsh are low lying and may even become inundated during high tides with brackish or saltwater.

    This can be a tricky place to garden as most plants don’t tolerate these conditions well. If you find yourself in this predicament, and you want to beautify your yard while also protecting our tidal marshes for current and future generations, the answer is quite simple: Establish a salt marsh buffer.

    Benefits of buffers

    Buffers really are a win, win, win. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control has deemed vegetative buffers one of the most effective ways to protect salt marsh habitat. If a buffer is created correctly, this vegetative strip can provide the following benefits:

    Reduce shoreline erosion and protect property from flooding.

    Reduce pollution in stormwater runoff as buffer plants slow the flow of water, allowing plants, soil, microbes and sunlight to reduce pollutants.

    Increase privacy for the homeowner while still maintaining a view.

    Serve as wildlife habitat, providing the opportunity to view species such as the painted buntings, snowy egrets or great blue herons.

    Save the homeowner money as little to no irrigation, fertilizers or pesticides are needed to maintain this area of the yard

    A buffer how-to

    If you are interested, here are some suggested steps to establish and improve your salt marsh buffer.

    Before planting, it is important to be familiar with local, state and federal regulations. In South Carolina, the “critical area” is defined as coastal waters, tidelands, beaches and dune systems. These areas are protected under the direct permitting authority of the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Ocean and Coastal Resource Management.

    For the purpose of this article, the buffer zone and recommended establishment and maintenance actions take place above the high water mark, thus inland from the critical area and do not require disturbance of the actual salt marsh.

    One of gardening’s golden rules, “right plant, right place” is key when establishing a vegetative buffer. Using the “right plant” will increase the effectiveness of the buffer and increase the chances that it will survive.

    Plant selection is narrowed by the dynamic conditions that exist adjacent to a salt marsh, including the ever-present elements of wind, salt and sun exposure. There are few appropriate plants for such sites, and most of these are native to our region and have adapted to the pressures of life near the salt marsh.

    Before planting, consider the existing topography, vegetation and soil at the site. Surveying the vegetation, you may find that you have existing plants that you would like to include in your vegetative buffer, such as live oak, beautyberry or sweetgrass. The root system of established plants helps to prevent erosion by holding soil in place. Wherever possible, use the natural contours and keep those plants you have in place. This will avoid unnecessary erosion by minimizing disturbance to the soil.

    If you already have turf grass in your buffer area, the lawn should be kept at the maximum recommended height for the grass type. This will allow for a more extensive root system and create a larger leaf area, which will work to slow runoff and capture sediment. Irrigation, pesticides and fertilizers should be used sparingly in this area, helping to prevent the transport of pollutants to area waterways.

    To learn more about plant selection and maintenance in your salt marsh vegetative buffer, check out the H2O-016 factsheet “Life Along the Salt Marsh: Protecting Tidal Creeks with Vegetative Buffers” at clemson.edu/hgic/water.

    Kimberly Counts|Special to The Post and Courier|Jan 10 2015

    Baffin Island Caribou hunting ban: short term pain for long term gain

    On January 1st 2015, the Government of Nunavut implemented a temporary ban on caribou hunting across Baffin Island. This marks a first for the area’s unique population of barren-ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) that have declined, mainly owing to natural cyclical rhythms, as much as 90 percent over the past 20 years. Imposing a moratorium on hunting at the bottom of the natural population cycle, is a smart decision that WWF supports.

    Nunavut’s Environment Minister Johnny Mike recognizes just how high the stakes are, describing the situation as “urgent” in a December 20th news release, and saying elsewhere that “if we do not stop hunting now, the effects will be permanent. There will be no more caribou on Baffin Island, and Inuit culture will be even more impacted.”

    His statement was supported by a 2012 aerial survey that found between 3,500 and 6,000 of the ungulates on the northern island, down from up to 330,000 in the 1990s. The Government of Nunavut says in a submission on the issue that “caribou numbers increase until they surpass the carrying capacity of the environment, and then they decline precipitously to low numbers until the range conditions improve, at which time the cycle begins again.” Reports show that this is indeed the case, with low numbers in the Northwest Territories in the 1920s, followed by a big increase in the 1940’s, and additional highs and lows from the 1950’s to 2000’s.

    In addition to their natural cyclical population fluctuations, caribou across the Arctic are facing multiple pressures to their long-term survival.

    Scientists are also concerned about the impact climate change is having on the Baffin herd’s ability to find lichen, their main source of food. Warmer temperatures and more precipitation can cause more frequent covering of lichen and other food by thick layers of ice and snow that caribou can’t break through with their hooves. And when you combine this with increased industrial development in the north and the pressures of harvesting, it’s clear that sweeping measures are necessary to help protect the future of the species.

    All the more so when you factor in the enormous food security and cultural challenge the population decline present Nunavummiut, the Inuktitut word for people from Nunavut. Caribou are a very important resource for both food and clothing on Baffin Island, even though only a handful of people have been able to hunt the species for meaningful sustenance over the past few years.

    In addition to the moratorium on hunting, what is crucially needed  is stronger protection of calving and post-calving areas through land-use planning to protect the most critical caribou habitat in Nunavut and across the Arctic. We’ve previously pointed out that the latest draft of the Nunavut Land Use Plan does not adequately protect the places that are critical for the species survival.  Strengthening the Land Use Plan and developing a long-term caribou management strategy is essential to ensuring that this iconic species remains a part of Canada’s incredible northern landscape. Most crucial, of course, is the community of nations coming to an effective agreement to drastically lower greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change has not been caused by Northerners and yet, they will suffer disproportionately form its effects.

    The hunting ban is a step in the right direction and a signal that the Nunavut Government isn’t willing to gamble with its natural resources. We hope to see the same leadership in land-use planning processes. Most importantly, we hope that countries, including Canada, will show leadership next December in Paris and reach a meaningful agreement to substantially lower greenhouse gas emissions. If all of these pressures on the Arctic landscape are dealt with, northern communities and the wildlife they depend on will thrive.

    Paul Crowley|January 13, 2015

    Sundarbans still reeling from effects of December oil spill

    Last month, an estimated 350,000 liters of fuel oil spilled into the Sundarbans delta on the Bay of Bengal. An oil tanker that had collided with a cargo vessel on December 9th sank into the Shela River, spilling its oil into a protected sanctuary for the rare and endangered Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) and the Ganges river dolphins (Platanista gangetica).

    The navigation route through Shela River had been unauthorized, yet about 200 boats and ships carrying cargo or oil would ply the route daily. Earlier this month, despite the catastrophe, the Bangladesh government reopened the main Shela River for cargo boats. This would go on temporarily, a government statement said, until an alternate waterway was dredged.

    After the news of the oil spill spread, the local Sundarbans inhabitants were the first responders, according to Mowdud Rahman, an engineer and activist with the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports.

    “People started cleaning the highly toxic oil with their bare hands. They did not waste a single moment for any protective gear to come, or any remuneration to be announced,” he told mongabay.com. “Sundarbans is their source of livelihood…so the existence of this forest means a lot to them.”

    The government authorities, however, “did nothing other than watching oil consistently getting dispersed all around,” Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan, a professor at Dhaka University, had told mongabay.com previously. “A privately hired small vessel salvaged the sunken ship after two days of the oil spill in the Shela River!”

    Within a few days of the spill, the oil had spread to about 350 square kilometers, covering other rivers and canals.

    Despite warnings by experts to act quickly, Bangladesh’s shipping minister had announced that the spill would not cause serious damage. Moreover, a team of specialists from the UN found no visible impact of the oil spill on the forest floor. Their team leader said that “the oil spill’s initial acute impacts to wildlife appeared to be limited,” Dhaka Tribune reported.

    But a new preliminary study by researchers from Khulna University in Bangladesh, conducted from the December 11th (two days after the spill) to the 25th, found that the oil spill has had devastating effects.

    “The river Shela and its connecting canals and creeks, and some eastern canals of the Pashur river have been contaminated by oil spill,” said the study’s lead author, Abdullah Harun Chowdhury, an environmental scientist with Khulna University. “We studied more than 1,200 square kilometers, and found that more than 500 square kilometers were highly contaminated by oil, with more than 300 milligrams of oil per liter of water.”

    In fact, the oil contamination in the 15 sampled locations ranged between 300 to 1,700 milligrams per liter of water. Anything above 10 milligrams can produce lethal conditions for aquatic life.

    Chowdhury’s team found that the oil had reached forest floors, depositing on the soil of intertidal zones, leaves and stems of plants, floating fruits, roots, and pneumatophores. The contaminated waters were also marked by a sharp drop in the diversity of phytoplanktons and zooplanktons, and an increase in species that thrive in polluted waters.

    This is because oil inhibits sunlight penetration into water, Chowdhury said, which affects photosynthesis and food production by the phytoplanktons.

    Sundarbans is the largest single block of mangrove forests in the world, shared between India and Bangladesh. Chowdhury’s team found that the oil had covered seedlings and fruits of Sundari trees, the dominant mangrove species in the Sundarbans, affecting their regeneration. Moreover, the dark oil had coated their breathing roots, or pneumatophores.

    Chowdhury had expected that the oil spill would hit the Sundarbans fish populations hard, especially since the spill had occurred during their breeding season. His surveys confirmed his fears. The contaminated locations were indeed marked by an absence of eggs and hatchlings of native and commercially important fish species, mudcrabs, and mudskippers.

    During the course of the survey, Chowdhury’s team did not see any deer, wild boar, or migratory birds. Nor did they see many of the otherwise commonly found birds. But they did find a number of oil-coated animals such as otters, crocodiles, monitor lizards, and frogs. Many of them were dead.

    Despite the affected area being in the dolphin sanctuary, the team found just a single dead dolphin. Others may have moved to other creeks and rivers, Chowdhury said. According to Rahman, coordinated efforts to clean up the spill are still lacking.

    “Except some assurances, pledges, and formation of an investigation committee, we have not seen any effective actions from the government,” he said. “Instead, the government reopened the river route through Sundarbans through which 400 vessels crossed the Shela River on the very first day of the opening. This oil spill incident should have been a wake-up call for all of us. But we see the same carelessness as we have been seen before.”

    The oil spill was a disaster waiting to happen, Rahman added. Despite protests and warnings, the government is establishing a 1320 megawatt (MW) coal-powered plant at Rampal, just 13 kilometers away from Sundarbans, he said.

    “Experts have warned, people are protesting…However, concerned authorities and the India-Bangladesh governments are not paying any attention. Instead, the government has given permits to another company named Orion to establish a 565 MW [coal] power plant very close to Sundarbans…If such activities are not stopped, Sundarbans will lose its glory.”

    Shreya Dasgupta|January 21, 2015

    Prescribed burns Planned for Tower Road

    NAPLES – Resource management staff at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve have released plans for their first prescribed burns in 2015. Weather permitting, prescribed fires will commence each day around 9 a.m. from Jan. 16 through Jan. 21 in areas west of Tower Road and Barefoot Williams, south of the Treviso Bay area.

    Rookery Bay Reserve staff coordinate burns with the Florida Forestry Service and work with partnering land managers and local fire departments to get the job done safely and efficiently.

    Residents in the adjacent areas will see and possibly smell smoke from the fire. Fire personnel will contact visitors in the area to ensure their safety while traveling near activity areas and will carefully monitor the fire throughout the day until it extinguishes.

    “The main purpose of these burns is to reduce fuel loads and manage wildlife habitat,” said Rookery Bay Reserve Resource Management Coordinator Jeff Carter. “Prescribed burns also help to increase ecosystem diversity, while assisting in invasive plant control.”

    According to Carter, a major portion of Collier County is comprised of plants that are dependent on fire to maintain species composition and diversity. These species are the same as those that are prone to lightning-strike wildfires and the controlled reduction of those fuels will prevent catastrophic wildfire damage. Fire-dependent plants include the South Florida slash pine, gallberry, saw palmetto and scrub oaks.

    There are a number of reasons why prescribed fire is used as a management tool in natural areas, which include:

    • Reduction of fuel load to decrease threat of wildfires;
    • Stimulation of food and seed production and opening areas for wildlife feeding and travel;
    • Ecosystem diversity;
    • Enhanced endangered and threatened species habitat; and
    • Invasive plant control.

    For more information about Rookery Bay’s prescribed fire program, click here.

    mburgerdep |January 23, 2015

    Forestry

    LONGLEAF PINE

          Benefits, Characteristics

    Only a small percentage of longleaf pine remains across the Southeast. We know that longleaf pine is extremely beneficial to wild turkeys and other upland game species, which makes its disappearance especially disturbing. We know that longleaf pine is significantly more fire tolerant than other southern pines. But what exactly gives the longleaf pine this fire tolerance?

    I constantly encounter landowners who are frustrated with longleaf pine because of its initial slow growth. A year after planting, longleaf seedlings can still only be a foot tall, meanwhile a slash or loblolly of the same age may already be two- to three-feet tall. To the untrained eye this is a legitimate concern, but once you understand the growth characteristics of longleaf pine, you will probably be more than happy to sacrifice a few inches of growth in the first year. 

    A longleaf pine has a unique growth stage called the grass stage when it is fire resistant. When fire is introduced to the growing tip, or the bud, it is protected under a thick arrangement of needles near ground level. While the bud is protected at this stage, the tree concentrates its resources these first few years developing a root system instead of height growth. This allows for rapid growth after a fire due to the well-established root system.

    This well established root system and the reduced occurrence of epicormic branching makes longleaf pine far more resistant to disease, tornadoes and hurricanes that destroy other southern pines such as loblolly, slash. Because of its resilience, it is not uncommon for longleaf trees to live for 150 years or more. The longevity of longleaf pine allow the stands to provide a variety of different habitats ranging from early successional to a sub-climax old growth state. Each of these growth stages can be managed most effectively with fire to provide excellent wildlife habitat, especially for wild turkey.

    Are you interested in having longleaf pine on your property? If so, join us at the National Wildlife Turkey Foundation conserving and enhancing Florida acreage by promoting longleaf pine and prescribed fire. And we will help. Our biologists will assist you develop a wildlife management plan for your property. Natural Resources Conservation Service provides technical and financial assistance. Learn more at your local USDA service center.

    Derek Alkire|regional biologist|National Wild Turkey Federation in Florida

    Florida Forest Service to Plant More Than 2 Million New Trees on State Forests This Year

    Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam and the Florida Forest Service announced Friday the planting of more than 2 million new trees on more than 3,000 acres of state forests this year. The Florida Forest Service also reminds citizens about the importance of trees in recognition of Florida’s Arbor Day, which is being celebrated tomorrow with events, tree plantings, seedling giveaways and more.

    “We are fortunate that Florida has an abundance and large variety of trees across the state, but we shouldn’t take our trees for granted,” Commissioner Putnam said. “We are excited to announce that we will be planting 2 million trees this year as we continue to educate Floridians about the importance of our natural resources.”

    Florida’s Arbor Day is always celebrated on the third Friday in January, making Florida the first state celebration in the country. The Arbor Day Foundation recently donated more than $100,500 to replant more than 500,000 trees in Florida this year, bringing the statewide total to 2.1 million. Since 2009, the Arbor Day Foundation has contributed approximately $610,000 toward reforestation efforts on Florida state forests. Since 2001, the Florida Forest Service has reforested more than 52,000 acres.

    “Arbor Day is all about celebrating the countless ways trees benefit our lives,” said State Forester Jim Karels. “Trees moderate temperature extremes, reduce storm water runoff, absorb air pollutants and create a more pleasant environment.”

    Several citizen groups, local governments and non-profit organizations are working together to plant more trees in areas of the state where they are in decline. For example, the City of Miami has set a goal of planting 10,000 trees each year for the next 10 years.

    Florida communities can take advantage of favorable weather for tree planting during this time of year. Some communities combine their Arbor Day celebrations with other events, such as local seafood festivals or craft fairs.

    Florida Forest Service foresters participate in these efforts throughout the state by helping with tree planting projects, tree seedling giveaways and forestry education events. To participate in a local event, contact your local Florida Forest Service field unit office. To learn more about how you can contribute to reforestation efforts in Florida, visit the Friends of Florida State Forests.

    The Florida Forest Service manages more than 1 million acres of public forest land while protecting 26 million acres of homes, forestland and natural resources from the devastating effects of wildfire. Learn more about the Florida Forest Service.

    Global Warming and Climate Change

    Climate change impacts being assessed by Florida Department of Health

    Gov. Rick Scott has never said that he believes climate change is really happening, despite meeting with scientists who did their best to persuade him. His Department of Environmental Protection has no specific program devoted to combating the problem. And although a group met in St. Petersburg last year to propose some possible climate change solutions for Scott, they have gotten no response from Tallahassee.

    But one agency, the Florida Department of Health, is taking action on climate change. It’s handing out $10,000 grants to people and organizations exploring the health impacts of a warming world.

    One grant recipient, Vicki Boguszewski of Key West, said she wasn’t surprised to find that agency pursuing a climate change agenda, despite the lack of interest or direction from the governor’s office.

    “There are very intelligent people working for the people of Florida in the DOH,” she said.

    The department’s grants are part of a program called Building Resilience Against Climate Effects, or BRACE. The money — $234,000 so far — comes from an identically named program at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that’s funding projects in 14 other states.

    So far the Florida grants have gone to Manatee and Sarasota county health departments, as well as to Boguszewski, who is health services director for a nonprofit in Monroe County.

    The goals of the program include developing a state hazard and health response plan, incorporating the science regarding climate change into routine public health surveys, and increasing public awareness of what an altered climate will do to everyone.

    However, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health was careful to avoid using the term “climate change” in explaining its goals. Instead, she said it’s focused on “health effects related to weather events.”

    The latest news regarding climate change seems particularly dire. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA announced Friday that 2014’s global temperatures show it was the warmest year on record, dating back 135 years to when records first began being kept in 1880.

    Florida’s geography — extremely flat and surrounded on three sides by water — makes the state vulnerable to sea level rise. Increasing acid levels in the oceans hurt the state’s coral reefs, and most Floridians would say the state is already hot enough.

    But there are plenty of other potential health effects from climate change, too, according to the Department of Health: “allergies, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, foodborne illness, heat-related illness and death, injury, mental health disorders, stress-related disorders, stroke,” and diseases spread by mosquitoes, to name a few.

    In fact, a recent survey of doctors across the U.S. who belong to the American Thoracic Society found that the majority said their patients were already experiencing medical conditions associated with climate change, such as increased asthma attacks and allergic reactions.

    Yet Scott has not embraced the cause, saying in 2010, “I’ve not been convinced that there’s any man-made climate change . . . Nothing’s convinced me that there is.” In 2014, while running for re-election, he answered all questions about climate change by saying, “I’m not a scientist.”

    In August, a coalition of scientists from Florida universities met with Scott to try to convince him that climate change is both real and a serious problem for the state. It did not go well.

    “There was, in fact, no acknowledgment of the issue, nor was there any reflection of the seriousness of the issue,” Eckerd College professor David Hastings said after the meeting. “I’m concerned he might not do anything.”

    Scott did ask the scientists for solutions, so in October, Hastings and other concerned scientists, students, activists, and business entrepreneurs gathered at Eckerd to brainstorm a list of solutions that they then sent to Scott. He has not responded, according to Hastings and Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Action Fund, who helped organize the meeting.

    The news that the Department of Health is pursuing research on the problem is a sign that some government agencies are acknowledging what seems obvious, she said.

    “Even if the administration wants to ignore reality,” Glickman said, “the world is still moving forward.”

    CRAIG PITTMAN|Tampa Bay Times|January 17, 2015

    For Vulnerable Barrier Islands, A Rush to Rebuild on U.S. Coast

    Despite warnings from scientists, new construction continues on U.S. barrier islands that have been devastated by storms. The flood protection projects that accompany this development can have harmful consequences for coastal ecosystems being buffeted by climate change.

    Six years ago, Hurricane Ike nearly wiped the barrier island of Bolivar off the Texas map. A 17-foot storm surge destroyed nearly every home in some communities and killed at least 15 people. Long-time residents feared the wild, sandy spit of land between the Gulf of Mexico and Galveston Bay would never recover.
    Today, Bolivar is definitely back, and bigger than ever. Small fishing cabins and trailers have given way to candy-colored homes that sit on pilings more than a dozen feet above the ground. What was once a down-home, everyone-knows-everyone kind of place has become a weekend retreat for wealthy Houstonians. Many who grew up fishing at Rollover Pass and biking along the Jane Long Memorial Highway can’t afford to stay; real estate prices have nearly doubled.

    Longtime resident Cindy Rodriguez is both surprised and delighted at the change in her hometown’s fortunes.

    “There was talk of it being abandoned,” she remembers.

    Many coastal zone experts believe that it should have been. With sea levels rising and a changing climate leading to more intense storms, many of the United States’ barrier islands will face existential threats this century, experts contend. But as the aggressive rebuilding of Bolivar Island demonstrates, the warnings of coastal planners, ecologists, and insurance companies often fall on deaf ears.

    Along the New Jersey and New York coasts after Hurricane Sandy, down the shores of Virginia and North Carolina following major storms, and across the Gulf of Mexico coast in the wake of recent hurricanes, rebuilding has taken place on dozens of vulnerable barrier islands. Not only does this recurring reconstruction place billions of dollars of property at risk, but it often means the construction of hugely expensive flood protection and storm-control projects that can harm coastal ecosystems.

    Hardened shorelines take away crucial habitat for turtles and waterfowl. Jetties interfere with the growth of sea grasses that crabs and small worms need to hide from predators. Dams, locks, and other barriers change a waterway’s salinity and its sediment content, disrupting the natural growth of oysters, clams, and other salinity-sensitive species.

    Efforts to create nature reserves and national seashores on U.S. barrier islands continue. But as the current construction boom on Bolivar Island shows, these conservation initiatives often run up against powerful business and political interests.

    “I think it’s ultimately foolish [to develop these islands], and I’m not alone in saying that,” said William Boicourt, an oceanographer at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “They’re in a dynamic process, and even if you put in a man-made barrier to slow that down, it’s ultimately a losing game.”

    Historically, residents of barrier islands have not always looked to the government for millions of dollars in salvation efforts when the sea encroached. Often, they simply left. When Hog Island, on the Virginia Coast, eroded to the point where it was uninhabitable in the 1930s, residents barged their houses to the nearby towns of Willis Wharf and Oyster. Similar tales have repeated themselves in Texas and Louisiana, where barrier islands were popular refuges for pirates but often not considered fit for long-term structures.

    But in the mid-20th century, planners and developers began to view the nation’s barrier islands as resort towns in the making — a steady source of tourism dollars, property tax revenue, and construction jobs. Federal and state governments spent big on bridges, dunes, beach replenishment, and public piers to encourage settlement. Government-backed flood insurance encouraged that process, as did the federal government assuming the role of rebuilder-in-chief, said Rob Young, a geologist who directs the program for the study of developed shorelines at Western Carolina University.

    “Why do we rebuild on barrier islands?” asked Young. “Because the people who are doing the rebuilding are making a sound economic decision.” The owners may rebuild the home, he said, but “the rest of us are putting back all the infrastructure. We’re raising the road. We’re putting back the beach. The rest of us are assuming all of the risks.”

    The people came. Galveston, located on a barrier island across the bay from Bolivar, is a city of 50,000, home to both one of the country’s largest petrochemical corridors and the University of Texas Medical Branch. More than 7,000 people now inhabit Ocean City, Maryland year-round; hundreds of thousands more visit every summer. In Alabama, 1,300 people live year-round on Dauphin Island, a spit of sand in the Gulf of Mexico that has been battered by more than 10 hurricanes and major storms in the past 35 years, but has been repeatedly rebuilt. North Carolina’s Outer Banks has year-round residents on many of its barrier islands. New York’s Fire Island has a small year-round population and a thriving summer one.

    If damage from recent storms demonstrates anything, it’s that leaving barrier islands alone makes good ecological sense. These skinny, sandy shoals are lands on the move, shifting, gaining, and losing sand in rhythm with the ocean currents. Their highest grounds are sandy dunes. The rest is wetlands and beachfront, with an ocean or gulf on one side and a bay on the other. They protect the mainland from floods and are prime habitat for migrating birds.

    Repeatedly rebuilding barrier islands like Bolivar — whose highest land is just six feet above sea level — carries a hefty price tag. The proposed Ike Dike that will protect Galveston and Bolivar on its Gulf side is estimated to cost at least $3 billion. At least $80 million has flowed into rebuilding Dauphin Island, much of it from federal funds. And Hurricane Sandy’s devastation in 2012 cost at least $65 billion. Since then, there has been little serious discussion of retreating from New Jersey’s 127 miles of heavily developed Atlantic Ocean shoreline, which includes many miles of barrier islands.

    In a 2014 report, the National Research Council concluded that barrier islands, as “inherently mobile landforms,” aren’t safe for “human facilities with a fixed position.” They are still losing sand, the report said, but they are not gaining it back. That dearth of new sediment could lead to complete submergence of some islands, the report said.

    After Hurricane Ike pummeled the Texas coast in 2008, state officials began talking up plans for a Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area that would protect undeveloped areas along barrier islands and wetlands in the Galveston region. The proposed reserve, which is now before Congress and enjoys bipartisan support, would include 700,000 acres of tidal marshland and more than 350,000 acres of bay and estuarine areas, including parts of Bolivar Island.

    Bolivar Island has undergone an unprecedented building boom since Hurricane Ike. Before Ike, the island had a wild feel. Its housing stock was a hodge-podge of some well-built and large brick structures mixed with smaller, homey places. The rebuilt Bolivar retains that feel in itrs older sections. But resorts with names like The Biscayne and Gulfport Village are far more upscale. Locals have taken to calling them bird houses because of their height, color, and décor.

    After the storm, many long-term residents could not afford to return. Rebuilding cost too much, and insurance reimbursements took too long. That inability to come back opened the door for developers who had the cash and real-estate agents who had ready buyers in the Houston area, one of the country’s wealthier metropolitan regions. The desire for an upscale and relatively affordable beach house meant a rush to rebuild Bolivar at a pace not seen in other parts of Galveston County. As of 2013, the county had issued 1,542 building permits for the Bolivar peninsula, and only 996 for other unincorporated county areas, according to the Houston Chronicle.

    During a recent visit, “For Sale” signs dotted the roads, along with billboards urging new lot owners to call custom builders. Even under rainy skies, builders were working, framing out houses on raised platforms and clearing old debris.
    Richard Gibbons, conservation director of the Houston Audubon Society, said he is “very, very surprised” at the pace of development.

    “The Bolivar peninsula would be much better serving as a wild green buffer of flood protection rather than having it built out,” he said.

    The American Bird Conservancy has designated part of Bolivar Island as a Globally Important Bird Area. Some winters, more than 10,000 American avocets descend upon its still-wild parts. Plovers, spoonbills, pelicans, egrets and loons are among the species living there year-round or migrating.

    Since the 1980s, the Houston Audubon Society has been buying up property on Bolivar for conservation with other nonprofit partners. It now owns more than 2,000 of the peninsula’s 11,689 acres. After Ike, Houston Audubon sensed an opportunity to purchase more. But Gibbons said the group has given up on acquiring any property in Crystal Beach, where pastel houses line an expansive shoreline with only a thin ribbon of dunes separating the sea from homes.

    With federal dollars for coastal protection becoming ever tighter, barrier islands have to compete with places like New Orleans, Miami, and Norfolk for funds. Because of high reconstruction costs, state and university officials discussed moving the University of Texas Medical Branch from Galveston inland to Austin — a move that would have cost billions of dollars and meant the loss of a major employer. In the end, the university and stayed on the island, in part because rebuilding the facility’s high biosecurity labs would have been extremely expensive.

    But barrier islands with less political clout won’t be so lucky, said Joe Fehrer, a project manager for The Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve. “The small communities are the places that just are going to go away,” Fehrer said.

    Fehrer knows that story too well. His father, Joe Fehrer, Sr., had the difficult task of telling those who bought lots on Assateague Island in the

    rona kobell|1/15/2015

    Sea Levels Already 8 Inches Higher on Marin’s Pacific Coast

    Rising Sea Levels the Focus of Marin Online Interaction.

    Marin County residents concerned about the local impact of rising sea levels have the opportunity to address the issue online.

    The Marin County Community Development Agency (CDA) is posing questions on its Open Marin webpage. Residents are asked to share facts and opinions about local changes being seen.

    The Open Marin conversation is a follow-up to public workshops held in West Marin during late October 2014, when residents helped planners identify key assets along the coast that may be vulnerable to higher sea levels and intense storms.

    Debuted in 2013, Open Marin is a web-based civic forum that expands options for participation in County government. It encourages dialogue on specific issues and allows constituents to read what others are saying about hot-button topics. Open Marin makes it easier for people to provide feedback on County program and projects – especially for residents who have a tough time attending public hearings in person because of work schedules, family commitments, travel and other “real life” events.

    County planners are deep into a public education campaign about the Collaboration: Sea level Marin Adaptation Response Team (C-SMART), which is assessing the vulnerabilities of coastal towns to potential rising ocean levels and intensifying storms. Scientific evidence shows that sea level rise is accelerating because of thermal expansion of the oceans and the melting of glaciers and ice sheets. Sea level has risen 8 inches along Marin’s Pacific Coast since record keeping began.

    Although there is no immediate danger to residents, climate experts predict that the sea level could rise nearly 5 ½ feet between now and the year 2100, putting communities such as Bolinas, Stinson Beach, Muir Beach, Point Reyes Station, Inverness and Marshall at risk.

    Additionally, the intensity and frequency of storms are expected to increase, compounding potential hazards. Natural resources, such as wetlands and habitat areas, also are in jeopardy.

    Bea Karnes|Patch Staff|January 17, 2015

    Here’s How Greenland’s Melting Ice Sheet Is Contributing to Rising Sea Levels

    If the entire Greenland ice sheet, which covers 656,000 square miles, were to melt, it would pour enough water into the world’s oceans to raise global sea levels by about 20 feet. But little is understood about how this massive hulk of ice behaves.

    A group of researchers spent five years measuring and imaging the flow of meltwater across the surface of the ice sheet. They found that each river of meltwater ended in a moulin, a kind of sink hole that allows the water to penetrate into the glacier and drain out at the bottom. The surface of the ice sheet, in other words, acts a bit like Swiss cheese.

    “One of the most pressing environmental problems of the decades and centuries ahead is rising global sea levels, and one of the leading causes of sea level rise is the melting of ice from glaciers and ice sheets,” Laurence Smith, chair of the UCLA geography department and lead author on the research, says. “Greenland in particular is the single largest melting chunk of ice in the world.”

    In order to monitor the flow of meltwater, Smith and 10 other researchers launched buoys with on-board GPS devices and an unmanned boat designed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They also used military-grade satellite technology to take high-resolution images of the ice sheet’s network of streams.

    Their findings, published Tuesday in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, improve understanding of just how melting glaciers and ice sheets contribute to sea-level rise, which could help to better project how fast and how high the oceans will rise in the coming decades and centuries.

    “If we can get better estimates, then we can have better projections for the extent and the impact of global warming,” said Marco Tedesco, a co-author and head of City College of New York’s Cryospheric Processes Laboratory. “Greenland is really the big player for sea-level rise in the future, so improving climate models is extremely crucial.”

    Video

    Laura Dattaro|January 13, 2015

    10 riskiest places to buy your seaside dream home

    As sea levels rise, real estate investments in these seaside metropolises could amount to throwing money into the sea

    There’s no doubt humans are attracted to oceans. Globally, 44% of all people on Earth live within 150 km (93 miles) of the shore, and eight of the 10 largest cities in the world are near the coast. But global sea levels have risen about eight inches in the last century and are projected to rise another one to four feet this century.

    That growth comes at quite a cost. World Bank economist Stephane Hallegatte led a 2013 study, published in the Nature Climate Change journal, forecasting that average global flood losses would multiply from $6bn per year in 2005 to as much as $1tn a year by 2050 if large coastal cities don’t take steps to adapt.

    All this means that buying a dream home on the beach could amount to throwing money into the sea.

    Luckily, a growing number of studies have measured the risk from rising oceans, taking into account how many people live in low-lying areas, the value of at-risk real estate and business operations, the levels of preparedness (including countermeasures, such as Amsterdam’s dykes, to prevent flooding damage) in different areas – and predictions for how those factors may change in 2030, 2050 or 2070.

    If you’re looking for coastal property for your dream home – or just dreaming – here are 10 seaside metropolises where investments face high risks from climate change:

    Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China

    Historically known to Westerners as Canton, Guangzhou is the third largest city in China, with a population of nearly 13 million. Located on the Pearl River Delta and the South China Sea, close to Macao and Hong Kong, Guangzhou is a center of car manufacturing, biotechnology and heavy industry.

    As Asian economies grow and urban populations boom, Asian cities, especially in China, Thailand and India, will leap to the head of the pack when it comes to risk. Guangzhou is already there, and it lacks strong protection against sea level rise. Even with savvy infrastructure upgrades for resilience, Guangzhou could see $13.2bn in annual losses by 2050, according to Nature Climate Change.

    New Orleans, US

    In his prescient 2001 book Holding Back the Sea, Christopher Hallowell documents New Orleans’ numerous flooding risks. It has a poor location that is historically prone to flooding. Oil and gas drilling has lowered the ground elevation while engineering on the Mississippi River has starved the area of rejuvenating alluvial deposits. Meanwhile, its marshes have been weakened by invasive species. Sea levels rise around it as extreme storms batter it.

    Over the last century, the sea has swallowed more than one-third of Louisiana’s coastal plain. Hurricane Katrina brought that all home in 2005, when the resulting flood lasted for weeks and the recovery reconfigured the city.

    In general, wealthier cities have better protection against sea level rise than those in developing countries, but New Orleans, along with Miami and New York, lag behind. Post-Hurricane Katrina investments in New Orleans, however, including decisions to relinquish some areas to the ocean, are helping.

    Guayaquil, Ecuador

    The commercial, manufacturing and population center of Ecuador, Guayaquil sits at the mouth of Guayas River, near the Gulf of Guayaquil the Pacific Ocean. Home to more than 2 million residents, its major industries include business, agriculture and aquaculture. Even with flood protection upgrades, Guayaquil could see $3.2bn in annual losses by 2050, according to Nature Climate Change.

    Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

    Home to 7.4 million people, Ho Chi Minh City sits on the banks of the Saigon River, where the Mekong Delta empties out into the South China Sea. One-third of the city is already exposed to flooding, with much land just a meter or so (about three feet) above sea level.

    But with the economy and population booming, it is building out towards the coast, exposing new real estate to risk of flooding. Rising sea levels are already turning inland water saltier, making it unsuitable for growing rice.

    Rotterdam, another delta city in the Netherlands, is advising Ho Chi Mihn City on how best to adapt. The Vietnamese city launched a climate adaptation strategy in 2013 that would wield technologies and policies that have helped Rotterdam fend off the sea.

    Abidjan, Ivory Coast

    The economic capital of Ivory Coast, Abidjan, lies near the Gulf of Guinea on the Ébrié Lagoon, an industry epicenter. With 13 million people in the greater urban area, its population is second only to Lagos, Nigeria, in the region. Major industries include a large oil refinery as well as food production, lumber and manufacturing, including cars, textiles, chemicals, and soap.

    An engineering project to turn the lagoon into a deepwater port, though, is causing erosion problems. Human activity is causing some places along the West African coastline to lose 23-30 meters (75-98 feet) a year, damaging valuable infrastructure such as roads and houses.

    Mumbai, India

    Formerly known as Bombay, Mumbai is one of the world’s true megacities, with a metro area population of nearly 21 million. The capital of Maharashtra state, Mumbai is also the financial, commercial and entertainment capital of India. Many of Bollywood’s most famous stars own mansions there.

    But all this is built upon seven islands, which were fishing colonies in another era. Coastal flooding wouldn’t just make homes soggy, it would reduce the availability of freshwater due to seawater intrusion and flood submerged waste dumps, contaminating the limited water supply. Even with protection upgrades, Mumbai could see $6.4bn in annual losses by 2050, according to Nature Climate Change.

    Miami, US

    Located at the mouth of the Miami River, between the Everglades and Biscayne Bay, most of Miami is just six feet (1.8 meters) above sea level. The glitzy city, with a metro-area population of 5.5 million, is already seeing regular flooding of city streets at high tide (pdf).

    A two-foot rise in sea levels is expected by 2060, according to the US Geological Survey. Miami has always flaunted its seaside locale, building $16bn of real estate below a two-foot (0.6 meter) elevation (pdf). Nevertheless, insurers and lenders continue to support the city’s development.

    New York City and Newark, US

    New York City needs no introduction as a global hub of finance, art, culture and education. But its location on the Atlantic Ocean, at the mouth of the Harlem River and in a tidal strait, isn’t doing it any favors. And despite having a larger GDP than London, Tokyo and Amsterdam, it has lower levels of protection than they do, according to Nature Climate Change.

    Aside from sea level rise, NYC is threatened by regional changes in ocean currents. Together these factors are likely to increase loss of wetlands, coastal flooding, storm surge, erosion and property damage. Hurricane Sandy was an early warning of what could come, pushing floodwaters over barrier islands and into seaside communities, destroying or damaging 305,000 homes in New York and 72,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey.

    Shenzhen, China

    Located just two hours’ drive from Guangzhou, Shenzhen lies at the mouth of the Pearl River Delta. Shenzhen was the first of China’s Special Economic Zones, attracting foreign investment, turning it from a small village into the 15 million-person city it is today. It is home to a stock exchange and high-tech companies and is one of the world’s busiest container ports.

    As a village, it perched on hills. But most of those hills have now been leveled for development. Migrants from inland are now flowing into the city, and nearby hills are also being leveled to make room for more development. All this increases its risk.

    Osaka, Japan

    Osaka is Japan’s third largest city. For centuries, it has been an economic center of Japan, benefitting from its location at the mouth of the Yodo River on Osaka Bay. But now that location could make it vulnerable to coastal flooding (pdf). More than 10% of greater Osaka’s 2.5 million population and more than US$200bn in economic assets are at risk, according to a report from OECD. As the city continues to expand, those losses could damage nearly US$1tn in assets by 2070.

    Erica Gies|independent reporter for water and energy for the NYT, the Economist, Scientific American and more|11 January 2015

    UN Climate Chief: Carbon Bubble Is Now a Reality

    The so-called “carbon bubble” is no longer a concept, it’s a reality, according to UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, who will oversee the crucial UN climate conference in Paris in December.

    Investors who sunk their money into the fossil fuel sector are going to come up losers, she suggested, as plummeting oil prices have made new extraction projects too costly to continue to pursue and concerns about global warming have made them too risky.

    “A lot of the stranded asset conversations we’ve been having for a long time are now coming true,” she told RTCC, speaking from the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi. “Those expensive oil projects—deep sea, Arctic, tar sands—those are actually beginning to be taken off the table because of the low oil prices.”

    That’s good news for the environmental groups that have long warned about “stranded assets”—coal, oil and gas that would have to be left in the ground to slow climate change—and how that was leading to an overvaluation of these reserves.

    RTCC cited a number of expensive exploration and extraction projects that have already been cancelled. Chevron has delayed plans to drill in the Canadian Arctic. Norway’s Statoil has returned three licenses to explore for oil off the Greenland coast. And Shell and Qatar Petroleum announced last week they were scrapping a planned $6.5 billion petrochemical project in Qatar, saying it was “commercially unfeasible, particularly in the current economic climate prevailing in the energy industry.” Qatar’s state-controlled petrochemical company Industries Qatar abandoned plans for another $6 billion plant last September. Many of these projects were planned when oil was $100 a barrel. It’s now under $50.

    In the U.S., Texas is feeling the brunt of the oil bust, as extraction companies lay off workers. The New York Times reported yesterday, “With oil prices plummeting by more than 50 percent since June, the gleeful mood of recent years has turned glum here in West Texas as the frenzy of shale oil drilling has come to a screeching halt. Every day, oil companies are decommissioning rigs and announcing layoffs. Small companies that lease equipment have fallen behind in their payments.” And the once seemingly unstoppable growing of fracking in North Dakota’s Bakken shale region has also come to a screeching halt.

    Carbon Tracker Initiative, a independent nonprofit think tank that analyzes energy from both an environmental and financial standpoint, coined the term “carbon bubble” and has continuously warned investors about the risks of sinking money into fossil fuel-related businesses, due to the 2c target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

    “If the 2C target is rigorously applied, then up to 80 percent of declared reserves owned by the world’s largest listed coal, oil and gas companies and their investors would be subject to impairment as these assets become stranded,” the group said in its report Unburnable Carbon.

    Figueres told RTCC she believed investors and investment firms would be taking notice, opening up the possibility that investment assets might begin to shift more decisively to renewables.

    “When you begin to see very specific examples of a concept that was previously only a concept, I do think it’s going to be taken much more seriously on the part of investors,” she said. “That volatility in prices is one that incrementally and gradually makes investment in oil and gas more risky than investment in renewables, where it is very predictable what the upfront cost of infrastructure is, and then the price of fuel from then on is very predictable and certain.”

    Anastasia Pantsios|January 20, 2015

    A matter of when, not if  

    To their credit, Miami-Dade leaders haven’t kept their heads in the sand over the threat of climate change to our largely coastal county — an area so vulnerable to the threat of saltwater intrusion.

    Former Commissioner Katy Sorenson was an early champion of taking action. Most recently, County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa has put the issue front and center, working to create the Sea Level Rise Task Force and putting County Clerk Harvey Ruvin in charge.

    The two of them, who spoke to the Editorial Board last week, have done a superb job keeping focused, shutting out the politics of this issue that has been freighted with ideological opposition and downright denial. The reality is, ice caps are melting, seas are rising and South Florida is Ground Zero in what will be the devastating effects. Punto! Just ask Miami Beach, which has wisely committed up to $400 million to install scores of pumps to counter widespread flooding.

    Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, too, gets it. He has supported the work and warnings of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact, which unites Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe and Palm Beach leaders in preparing the area for rising sea levels, already under way.

    Ms. Sosa’s resolution asks commissioners to make battling sea-level rise an integral part of the county’s growth and development process. Her efforts, if approved, of course will come with an eventual price tag. But this will be money well-spent — money that means this region’s survival as a business engine, a tourist lure and the place millions of us call home.

    Armed with the July findings and recommendations of the Sea Level Rise Task Force, Ms. Sosa is proposing a resolution that asks the mayor to begin taking, as she told the Editorial Board, “baby steps” to seriously address how to mitigate damage when — not if — the effects of climate change hit full force.

    Here’s what the resolution asks the mayor to do: accelerate adaptation of the planning process recommended by the task force and work with other state and federal agencies; have county administrators establish formal oversight for the climate-change planning process; have the county identify the most vulnerable areas and incorporate sea-level rise and storm-surge risks when considering or approving major projects. And it asks that the county recognize the need to develop insurance mechanisms that will provide real help to the victims of climate change.

    The way Ms. Sosa and Mr. Ruvin see it — and we agree — if the region doesn’t take action now, we and, as important, future generations will regret such irresponsibility. “Without planning and action, sea-level rise will affect Miami-Dade’s vital facilities and infrastructure,” Ms. Sosa said.

    She said that the county can’t ignore the possibility that, if tides are not held at bay, our county could become uninsurable, decreasing the value of our $6-trillion worth of built environment.

    That’s a dire prediction, but she is not crying wolf. Unless the commission wants to roll the dice on the notion that climate change is a fallacy, they will approve Mr. Ruvin and Ms. Sosa’s recommendations.

    Video

    Senate votes that climate change is real

    The Senate on Wednesday voted that “climate change is real and is not a hoax” as Democrats used the Keystone XL pipeline debate to force votes on the politically charged issue ahead of the 2016 elections.

    The “hoax” amendment to the pipeline bill from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) passed 98-1, with only Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, the chairman of the Senate Republican campaign arm, voting “no.”

    In a surprise, the Senate’s leading skeptic of climate science, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), voted in favor of the amendment — but made clear he doesn’t believe humans are the primary driver of climate change.

    The GOP “yes” votes also included three of the GOP’s leading contenders for the White House: Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.).

    Republicans backed Inhofe’s stance in a second vote, rejecting an amendment from Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) that stated, “climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to climate change.”

    The “significantly” in the provision is what many Republicans pointed to as a point of contention as they blocked the amendment in a 50-49 vote, short of the 60 that was needed for approval.

    Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who voted for Whitehouse’s amendment but rejected Schatz’s, said the inclusion of “significantly” was “sufficient to merit a ‘no’ vote.”

    Five Republicans broke with the party line and voted for Schatz’s amendment: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.). Kirk and Ayotte are up for reelection in 2016.

    In an attempt to provide political cover for Republicans, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) put forward an alternative that expressed the sense of the Senate that the Keystone oil pipeline would not significantly impact the environment or contribute to global emissions. The provision included a line stating that humans contribute to climate change but without the word “significantly.”

    Fifteen Republicans voted for that amendment, including Paul, making him the only 2016 contender to go on record as saying that human beings contribute to climate change.

    The other Republicans who voted for Hoeven’s measure were: Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio), John McCain (Ariz.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Dean Heller (Nev.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Mike Rounds (S.D.) and Murkowski, Graham, Collins, Ayotte, Kirk and  Alexander.

    Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called the climate change votes “a step forward” for Republicans.

    “I think what is exciting is that today we saw for the first time — a number, a minority — but some Republicans going onboard and saying that climate change is real and it’s caused by human activity,” Sanders said.

    “And I suspect that you are going to see in the months to come, more and more Republicans forced to acknowledge that reality,” he added.

    Sanders said the Senate would vote Thursday on his amendment, which goes one step further by stating that climate change is “already causing severe problems all over the world, we have a window of opportunity and we have to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to energy efficiency.”

    Wednesday’s votes came after senators duked it out on the Senate floor in a wide-ranging debate over climate change and its relationship — or lack thereof — to the $8 billion pipeline project, which is undergoing federal review.

    “It starts by admitting you have a problem, just like many other areas of human life,” Whitehouse said of Republicans’ skepticism on climate change.

    Graham, who is mulling a White House bid, said the fact that climate change is real he “completely understand[s] and accept[s],” but as to the amount human are contributing, “I don’t know.”

    “It does make sense that man-made emissions are contributing to the global warming effect — the greenhouse gas effect seems to me scientifically sound,” Graham said. “The problem is that how you fix this globally is going to require more than just the U.S. being involved.”

    Graham has said in the past he believes climate change is occurring but scolded Democrats for using “gimmicks” and “tricks” that hurt their cause.

    “You are undercutting a real genuine debate. You made climate change a religion rather than a problem. It is a problem,” Graham said.

    He said Democrats should not be blocking construction of a pipeline that he said would benefit the U.S. and help transport crude oil from not just Canada but key production hotspots in the U.S.

    High-ranking Republicans have in recent months taken to deflecting questions about climate change in interviews, repeatedly stating, “I am not a scientist.” Environmental advocates have expressed hope that the refrain is the beginning of a shift in the GOP on the issue.

    Still, President Obama, who has made climate change a central focus of his second term, turned the “scientist” response into a punch line in his State of the Union address.

    “I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act,” Obama said. “Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what — I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities.”

    The Senate also voted Wednesday on three other amendments to the Keystone bill, with none of them passing.

    Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-Utah) amendment to limit lawyer fees on endangered species lawsuits was voted down 54-45. Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) measure on the transportation of petroleum coke fell in a 41-58 vote. And Sen. Pat Toomey’s (R-Pa.) amendment on coal refuse plants was voted down 54-45.

    Laura Barron-Lopez|01/21/15

    [Now that they have decided that climate change is real, I wonder if they will do anything about it.]

    Genetically Modified Organisms

    Unregulated Genetic Engineering: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

    Some companies are so hell-bent on avoiding oversight of their genetically engineered crops that they are using new technique to avoid any government review of the safety and environmental impact of their products.

    The technique – called gene “editing” – allows companies to create all sorts of new plants and crops.

    What could possibly go wrong?

    Scotts Miracle-Gro, one of the many companies using this technical loophole to avoid regulation, has a bad history with genetic engineering. Back in 2003, Scotts created a new kind of grass designed to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, marketed by Monsanto under the brand name Roundup. Before any regulators could check it out, it escaped into the environment from Scotts’ test plots in Oregon. The failure to contain this experimental plant forced the company to shut down its biotechnology operation.

    Today there is increasing concern that genetically engineering crops to tolerate glyphosate has negative environmental effects. Widespread adoption of genetically modified corn, soybeans and other crops has dramatically increased the use of weed killers such as glyphosate. This, in turn, led to the evolution of weeds that can also withstand glyphosate, which has forced farmers to turn to ever-more toxic herbicides linked to serious health problems, including cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

    In spite of the increasing concern that genetically engineered crops are driving up the use of glyphosate, Scotts is back in the business of bioengineered plants. In 2011, the company rolled out a new grass engineered with the same resistance to glyphosate. Because they developed it with gene editing, a type of genetic engineering that skirts USDA review by not introducing a regulated type of gene into the plant’s DNA, the grass isn’t required to get approval under current law.

    Companies are escaping regulation not just on genetically engineered grass but also on food. Corn and canola (canola oil is found in processed foods such as potato chips) engineered with gene editing have escaped oversight too. Just this week (Jan. 15) the USDA granted “non-regulated” status to soybeans and cotton manipulated by Monsanto to be resistant to a new combination of herbicides.

    Don’t you think someone should make sure the food we eat is safe to eat?

    That’s a familiar story line: new organisms created without government oversight poised to escape into the environment and create all sorts of havoc. Could be the beginning of a blockbuster movie. Things can only end badly.

    Emily Cassidy|Research Analyst|January 15, 2015

    [Maybe one day we’ll see human brain cells spliced into crops so they can tell us what they need.]

     

    How the People Can Outwit the Global Domination Plans of Agribusiness

    The strategic centerpiece of Monsanto PR is to focus on the promotion of one single compelling idea. The idea that they want you to believe in is that only they can produce enough for the future population. They wish you to therefore believe that non-industrial systems of farming, such as all those which use agroecological methods, or SRI, or are localized and family-oriented, or which use organic methods, or non-GMO seeds, cannot feed the world. This same PR strategy is followed by every major commercial participant in the industrial food system.

    To be sure, agribusiness has a few other PR strategies. Agribusiness is “pro-science”, its opponents are “anti-science”, and so on. But the main plank has for decades been to create a cast-iron moral framing around the need to produce more.

    Therefore, if you go to the websites of Monsanto and Cargill and Syngenta and Bayer, and their bedfellows: the US Farm Bureau, the UK National Farmers Union, and the American Soybean Association, and CropLife International, or The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, USAID, or now even NASA, they will raise the “urgent problem” of who will feed the expected global population of 9 or 10 billion in 2050.

    Likewise, whenever these same organisations compose speeches or press releases, or videos, they devote precious space to the same urgent problem. It is even in their job advertisements. It is their Golden Fact. And as far as neutrals are concerned it wins the food system debate hands down, because it says, if any other farming system cannot feed the world, it is irrelevant. Only agribusiness can do that.

    The real food crisis is of overproduction


    Yet this strategy has a disastrous weakness. There is no global or regional shortage of food. There never has been and nor is there ever likely to be. India has a superabundance of food. South America is swamped in food. The US, Australia, New Zealand and Europe are swamped in food. In Britain, like in many wealthy countries, nearly half of all row crop food production now goes to biofuels, which at bottom are an attempt to dispose of surplus agricultural products. China isn’t quite swamped but it still exports food (see Fig 1.); and it grows 30% of the world’s cotton. No foodpocalypse there either.

    Even in Bangladesh the farmers do not produce the rice they could because prices are low, because of persistent gluts.

    Even some establishment institutions will occasionally admit that the food shortage concept – now and in any reasonably conceivable future – is bankrupt. According to experts consulted by the World Bank Institute there is already sufficient food production for 14 billion people – more food than will ever be needed. The Golden Fact of agribusiness is therefore a lie.

    Truth restoration


    So, if the agribusiness PR experts are correct that food crisis fears are pivotal to their industry, then it follows that those who oppose the industrialization of food and agriculture should make dismantling that lie their number one priority.

    Anyone who wants a sustainable, pesticide-free, or non-GMO food future, or wants to avoid climate chaos, needs to know this weakness. They should take every possible opportunity to point out the evidence that refutes it. Granaries are bulging, crops are being burned as biofuels or dumped, prices are low, farmers are abandoning farming for slums and cities, all because of massive oversupply.

    The project to fully industrialize global food production is far from complete, yet already it is responsible for most deforestation, most marine pollution, most coral reef destruction, much of greenhouse gas emissions, most habitat loss, most of the degradation of streams and rivers, most food insecurity, most immigration, most water depletion, massive human health problems, and so on. Our planet is becoming literally uninhabitable solely as a result of the social and ecological consequences of industrializing agriculture. All these problems are without even mentioning the trillions of dollars in annual externalized costs and subsidies.

    So, if one were to devise a strategy for the food movement, it would be this. The public already knows (mostly) that pesticides are dangerous. They also know that organic food is higher quality, and is far more environmentally friendly. It knows that GMOs should be labeled, are largely untested, and may be harmful. That is why the leaders of most major countries, including China, dine on organic food. The immense scale of the problems created by industrial agriculture should, of course, be understood better, but the main facts are hardly in dispute.

    But what industry understands, and the food movement does not, is that what prevents total rejection of bland, industrialized, pesticide-laden, GMO food is the standard acceptance, especially in Western countries, of the overarching agribusiness argument that such food is necessary. It is necessary to feed the world.

    So, if the food movement could show that famine is an empty threat then it would also have shown, by clear implication, that the chemical health risks and the ecological devastation that these technologies represent are what is unnecessary. The movement would have shown that pesticides and GMOs exist solely to extract profit from the food chain. They have no other purpose. Therefore, every project of the food movement should aim to spread the truth of oversupply, until mention of the Golden Fact invites ridicule and embarrassment in the population, rather than fear.

    Divide and Confuse


    Food campaigners might also consider that a strategy to combat the food scarcity myth can unite a potent mix of causes. Just as an understanding of food abundance destroys the argument for pesticide use and GMOs simultaneously, it also creates the potential for common ground within and between constituencies that do not currently associate much: health advocates, food system workers, climate campaigners, wildlife conservationists and international development campaigners. None of these constituencies inherently like chemical poisons, and they are hardly natural allies of agribusiness, but the pressure of the food crisis lie has driven many of them to ignore what could be the best solution to their mutual problems: small scale farming and pesticide-free agriculture. This is exactly what the companies intended.

    So divisive has the Golden Fact been that some non-profits have entered into perverse partnerships with agribusiness and others support inadequate or positively fraudulent sustainability labels. Another consequence has been mass confusion over the observation that almost all the threats to the food supply (salinization, water depletion, soil erosion, climate change and chemical pollution) come from the supposed solution–the industrialization of food production. These contradictions are not real. When the smoke is blown away and the mirrors are taken down the choices within the food system become crystal clear. They fall broadly into two camps.

    On the one side lie family farms and ecological methods. These support farmer and consumer health, resilience, financial and democratic independence, community, cultural and biological diversity, and long term sustainability. Opposing them is control of the food system by corporate agribusiness. Agribusiness domination leads invariantly to dependence, uniformity, poisoning and ecological degradation, inequality, land grabbing, and, not so far off, to climate chaos.

    One is a vision, the other is a nightmare: in every single case where industrial agriculture is implemented it leaves landscapes progressively emptier of life. Eventually, because it vaporizes the carbon, the soil turns either into mud that washes into the rivers or into dust that blows away on the wind. Industrial agriculture has no long term future; it is ecological suicide. But for obvious reasons those who profit from it cannot allow all this to become broadly understood.  That is why the food scarcity lie is so fundamental to them. They absolutely depend on it, since it alone can camouflage the underlying issues.

    Jonathan Latham|Common Dreams|January 18, 2015

    Answers to common questions about GMOs

    Isn’t GM just the same as traditional plant breeding?

    Selective breeding is not the same as genetically engineering, which, by its very definition, alters genetic material in ways that could simply never occur in nature. Fragile and highly complex ecosystems now have to accommodate transgenic species that could never have evolved naturally – and the risks and consequences of this cannot be predicted.

    Don’t we need GM to create new and improved crops?

    We often hear about new crop varieties with special properties – such as drought or flood resistance – or nutritional benefits – such as fish oil producing ‘flax’. For most of these new varieties – including high antioxidant tomatoes, beta carotene-rich bananas – naturally occurring, selectively bred varieties already exist. People can grow and eat them today, right now – rather than waiting decades for them to be developed via GM.

    Doesn’t turning our backs on GMOs condemn millions to starvation?

    It’s an old argument that GMOs are necessary to feed the world. Quite simply, they are not – and promoting this idea distracts us from the key issues of poverty, lack of access to food and increasingly, lack of access to land to grow it on which we need to act on. According to a recent United Nations report, while “international policy discussions remain heavily focused on increasing industrial agricultural production,” hunger is not caused by a food shortage but by “a lack of purchasing power and/or the inability of the rural poor to be self-sufficient.”

    GMOs are not, and cannot be, the answer to address these fundamental problems.

    Surely scientifically-produced seeds must be good for everybody?

    For centuries, farmers and plant breeders have selectively raised crops to produce varieties adapted to each area’s specific soil, geography and climate. In contrast, the biotech industry promotes omogenous varieties via seed patenting and industrial agriculture.

    Loss of seed choice threatens traditional food cultures and food security, whilst vast agricultural monocultures result in a dramatic loss of plant diversity.

    Doesn’t new industry mean more economic opportunities?

    The GM industry is quietly transforming food into a patented commodity owned by just a handful of multinational companies. Three agrichemical firms – Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta – now control 53% of the global commercial seed market. The top ten seed firms, with a majority stake owned by US corporations, account for 73%.

    GMOs may create economic opportunities for already rich corporations, but more often than not, they mean less opportunity and less profit for the small farmers in developing nations who grow the majority of the world’s food.

    Doesn’t GM make economic sense for farmers?

    GM crops were sold with the promise of consistently better yields and less use of expensive pesticides, leading to more profitable farming. They have largely failed to deliver. Studies from the USA have shown that profits have been highly variable, chemical costs have spiraled and cost of the seeds, which cannot be legally saved for replanting, now stands at around 3-6 times that of conventional seed.

    Ultimately higher costs for farmers will lead to higher costs for consumers.

    But don’t farmers have a choice of whether to grow GM crops?

    Even farmers who have chosen not to go down the GM route can still find their fields contaminated with GM crops. Cross-pollination between related species of plants can occur, and GM and non-GM seeds can be mixed together during storage. The more land planted with GM crops, the more this contamination will become a problem for non-GM, and especially organic farmers and the organic industry.

    Contamination can cost farmers valuable export licenses or organic certification, ruining livelihoods.

    Aren’t GM crops are strictly regulated for safety?
    Amazingly GM crops are ‘safety tested’ by the same companies that develop them. Plus, regulations vary from weak (EU) to non-existent (USA). No human studies have ever been done to show the safety of eating GM foods and there are important gaps in our understanding of their potential toxicity. So much so that in late 2013, nearly 300 scientists and legal experts signed a statement affirming that there was no scientific consensus on GMO safety and that such trials as exist suggest real potential for harm from eating GM foods.
    Millions of Americans eat GMOs every day and they’re fine!

    Millions of Americans do indeed eat GM food every day. But with no GM food labeling and no epidemiological studies carried out, it’s not scientific to claim that there is no health impact. In fact, in the US, rates of chronic disease, such as heart disease, asthma, cancer and diabetes are on the rise. By 2025, chronic diseases will affect an estimated 164 million Americans – nearly half (49%) of the population.

    Does a GM diet play any part in this alarming rise in disease? Without proper research, we can’t say “yes”, but neither can we say “no”.

    Can’t I simply choose not to eat GM food?

    In the EU, GM foods, or foods containing GM ingredients, must be labeled as such. However, anyone who drinks non-organic milk or eats nonorganic meat and dairy products in Europe is supporting the GM industry. Around 30 million tonnes of GM animal feed (predominantly soya and maize) are imported into the EU each year – to feed to pigs, poultry, dairy and beef cattle, as well as farmed fish.

    The products from these animals – meat, dairy, eggs – are not required to be specially labeled. Other hidden GM ingredients include preservatives, soya lecithin, aspartame and wine yeasts.

    Surveys show that around 40% of takeaway meals are cooked using GM oils – and while UK restaurants are required to tell customers this, the majority don’t.

    All of this makes it very difficult to ‘choose’ whether or not to eat GM.

    Is it OK to grow GM crops so long as we don’t eat them?

    Whatever their end uses, GM agricultural crops have implications for those who grow them, and the surrounding communities and environment. Whether Bt cotton or crops grown for biofuel, these plants can cross pollinate, are sprayed with high levels of toxic chemicals, and commit farmers to a treadmill of rising annual seed and chemical costs.

    What’s the scale of the issue?

    Since the first commercial plantings in North America in the late 1990s, GMOs have spread globally. By 2012, over 17 million farmers in 28 countries were growing GM crops on 170 million hectares – that’s more than 12% of the world’s arable land.

    Today in the USA, GM crops account for about half of harvested cropland. Around 94% of the soy, 93% of corn (maize) and 96% of cotton grown is GM.

    Without labeling people in the US have no power to choose whether they want to eat GMOs or not. Is this really what we want in the UK and the rest of Europe?

    It’s not really an issue in the EU though is it?

    In the Europe things are different. Only two commercial GM crops have been approved in the EU. One is a pest-resistant Bt maize (known as MON810) grown mainly for use in animal feed; the other is the Amflora potato, genetically modified to produce starch for use in paper-making, grown in small quantities in Sweden and Germany between 2010-12 before being withdrawn.

    In the EU, more land is under organic cultivation than GM. In 2011, GM crops were grown on 0.1% of arable land in Europe, compared with nearly 4% for organic. Government plans to allow GM in the UK and the rest of Europe crops could threaten this.

    But numerous field trials of GM crops are taking place in preparation for producing commercial crops. For instance, in the UK we have recently had field trials of a GM camelina (false flax) and wheat trials are planned for 2015.

    As consumers and voters, we have an opportunity – maybe even a responsibility – to raise our voices to protect our food system for ourselves and for generations to come.

    DOES ORANGE JUICE HAVE TO GENETICALLY MODIFY OR DIE?

    CITRUS GREENING, A BACTERIAL DISEASE THAT’S RAVAGING ORCHARDS, HAS BROUGHT THE OJ INDUSTRY TO A CROSSROADS.

    Everybody loves Florida orange juice. Since its emergence in the late 1940s, the sunny beverage has survived hurricanes and anti-sugar diet crazes to become as common on American breakfast tables as scrambled eggs.

    But Florida’s citrus industry is facing a new existential threat: Citrus greening, a bacterial disease spread by an insect called the Asian citrus psyllid, is killing Florida’s citrus trees. The disease emerged in 2005 and since then citrus production has slowed. Last year Florida produced only 104.4 million boxes of oranges-its lowest in about 30 years.

    Researchers and industry experts say they have a potential solution: genetic engineering. Texas A&M University and University of Florida researchers are separately testing GMO citrus. Erik Mirkov, a plant pathologist at Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center who has been working on solutions to citrus greening for nine years, has developed an approach that uses spinach defensins to strengthen oranges’ resistance to greening.

    Mirkov says if Americans want to keep orange juice on their tables, genetic engineering is the best option. “Greening is in Florida and Brazil, so the two biggest producers of oranges in the world could potentially not be able to grow them anymore,” Mirkov says. “In a case like this, it’s not a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.”

    But will Americans want their OJ with a side of spinach? That’s still up for debate, especially as questions about the safety of GMO foods continue. Opponents say those who want to save the citrus industry need to look elsewhere and explore non-GMO options-such as organic growing and using parasites to the kill the citrus psyllid-which promote sustainable control of the disease. Genetic engineering could be a game-changer for the citrus industry, but it also could be an uphill battle to get GMO oranges from research labs to supermarket shelves to kitchen tables.

    Immature young orange showing aborted seeds and lopsidedness.Photo: courtesy of Ron Brlansky, Plant Pathologist, IFAS, University of Florida, Lake Alfred FROM LAB TO FARM TO TABLE

    Citrus greening is a blow to an already-ailing industry. Orange juice consumption hit an 18-year low this year, and consumers increasingly have more exotic fruit juice options such as acai berry, but lower production also has affected sales.

    Citrus greening is undoubtedly part of the problem. Most of the world’s citrus-producing regions, including several Asian countries, Brazil, Florida, Texas and California, have experienced greening. The disease begins in a citrus tree’s roots, infecting a tree before a grower can do anything to stop it, making an otherwise healthy fruit resemble a weird hybrid of a lime and orange.

    “Greening disease has been in the world for a long time. It’s been around for as long as it has and we haven’t found a non-GE cure to date,” says Rick Kress, president of Southern Gardens Citrus, the world’s largest supplier of pure Florida orange juice. “Every researcher that is aware of this disease has said the ultimate solution is going to be genetic engineering.”

    Mirkov and Jude Grosser, a researcher at the University of Florida, agree. Mirkov is working closely with Southern Gardens Citrus, and his approach has been used on the most commonly grown oranges, grapefruits and popular lemon varieties in Texas and Florida. So far, spinach defensins have made many trees resistant to greening and others more tolerant to it, meaning they have the bacteria at lower levels than a conventional citrus tree and can still bear fruit.

    Grosser’s research explores both GMO and conventional breeding approaches. On the GMO side, Grosser’s team has scoured the plant kingdom to find genes that can be introduced to citrus trees to improve their resistance. Though researchers will need to go through a thorough regulatory process to ensure GMO citrus meets the same standard as the normal fruits, Grosser says only one foreign gene is being added to the plant, so there shouldn’t be a significant difference between the two. Whether consumers agree is another issue.

    “The consumer base in the U.S. is a bit more accepting than other places in the world, but the two major orange juice companies-PepsiCo. and Coca-Cola-are international companies, so that complicates the issue,” Grosser says. “Orange juice companies are going to want this to be salable worldwide before they try to commercialize this.”

    Even still, the citrus industry has a lot of educating to do. Recent surveys show that Americans are skeptical of GMO foods-only a third of people believe they’re safe to eat. Another survey finds 93% of American consumers want labels for GMO foods so they can avoid them.

    Any GMO solution would require regulatory approval by the USDA, FDA, and EPA, but opponents say so far these agencies have rubber stamped other GMO foods.

    “People are concerned that this is a new technology and that it’s not being well-regulated,” says Bill Freese, a science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety.

    “Whenever you transfer a foreign gene into a crop where it hasn’t existed before, you create potential food safety risks because it creates a new protein that people haven’t been exposed to.”

    Freese says it could take about 30 years to build resistant citrus trees through genetic engineering and commercialize them, which he says would be too late. He says there are better approaches the industry can explore, including a nutritional approach that involves treating infected trees with a mix of micro- and macronutrients; biocontrol methods involving parasitic wasps and fungus that kill the citrus psyllid; and heat treatments that use PVC tents over smaller trees and seedlings to trap heat that suppresses the disease and stimulates healthy growth.

    “There have been a lot of experiments with using GMOs for disease resistance, but the majority of them have failed and never resulted in viable crops,” Freese says. “To develop a typical biotech crop costs a $135 million, and that’s a huge investment of resources when there’s a good chance of it failing.”

    But Mirkov says proposed non-GMO solutions aren’t viable or sustainable. He is continuing his research and is hopeful there will be small-scale commercialization of GMO citrus trees within the next four years, which could pave the way for more production. If and when this happens, consumers will have to choose whether to put that carton of GMO-labeled orange juice in their grocery basket or simply leave it on the shelf.

    SATTA SARMAH

    It’s Time to Start Thinking About Tomatoes Like Computer Code

    A group of breeders wants plant genetics to be open source.

     There’s a tomato called Rutgers, a variety that was favored by New Jersey’s canning industry in the 1930s, when Campbell Soup, Heinz, and Hunt’s were all sourcing fruit from the Garden State’s 36,000 acres of vines. Today, the processing tomato varieties offered by Seminis, which was the largest seed company in the world before Monsanto acquired it, have nondescript names such as Apt 410, Hypeel 108, and PS 345.

    The changes that occurred in plant breeding and the seed business between the days of Rutgers’ popularity and the industry’s current preference for high-functioning varieties with far less evocative names tells the story of how our vegetables became privatized in recent decades. As tomato names go, Rutgers is no Black Krim or Mortgage Lifter, but its collegiate inspiration speaks of a tradition of plant breeding led by public institutions that has largely disappeared.

    Before 1982, land-grant universities were at the heart of plant breeding. That year, federal legislation was passed that encouraged licensing deals between private industry and public institutions, increasing the role corporations played in developing plant varieties. The Bayh-Dole Act was followed by plant varieties’ increasingly falling under intellectual property laws, further changing the balance. Instead of Rutgers University developing a tomato that’s good for New Jersey’s climate, you have industry pushing for tomatoes that are good for profits. Fittingly, a group of plant scientists from a land-grant school, the University of Wisconsin, is trying to change the balance.

    With last week’s inaugural release of seeds for 29 varieties of 14 crops, the Open Source Seed Initiative is trying to bring plant breeding back into the commons—just one of the many terms it’s adopting from the open-source coding community. On its website, the group writes that “genetic resources—in the form of seeds—are going to be set aside for humanity to use in any way it sees fit. These genetic resources cannot be patented or otherwise legally protected, making them essentially available in perpetuity in a protected commons.”

    What that means is the seeds the group released can never be limited by any kind of intellectual property protection. “I liken it to a genetic easement. Or a national park for seeds,” says U.W.-Madison horticulturist Irwin L. Goldman. Like a national park, this protection needs to be funded, meaning that the curious backyard gardener will have to pay to receive seeds—$25 for a collection containing 15 of the open-source varieties, money that will support “farmers and any breeders committed to releasing varieties forever protected in the public domain.”

    Like open-source code, the genetic material, the seed’s equivalent of 0s and 1s, is in the public domain, and breeders can use it to develop new varieties of, say, sweet peppers or carrots. In turn, those new vegetables will be required to remain in the public domain. But just as you can walk into a bookstore and buy a copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, neither of which is covered by copyright protection, the seeds can still be sold. High Mowing Organic Seeds and Wild Garden Seed will soon be selling OSSI varieties too.

    Framing the seed debate in coding terms may be a recent development, but the idea of public access and the freedom to develop new varieties based on previously existing vegetables without running into arcane copyright laws is as old as the science of horticulture. Rutgers is an open-pollinated variety, meaning the seeds will grow more Rutgers tomato plants—its biology is anathema to copyright protection. A farmer could save the seeds to grow next year’s crop, or a breeder could cross it with another variety to make something new. Apt 410 is a hybrid, the offspring of two parent varieties that can only be grown from seeds sold or licensed by Seminis. If OSSI takes off, plant breeding might once again start looking like the former rather than the latter.

    Willy Blackmore|April 21, 2014

    Monsanto’s Roundup Found in Animals with Birth Defects

    Danish farmer Ib Borup Pederson had reared hogs for decades. So he was alarmed when he observed a growing incidence of malformations and birth defects in his newborn piglets. The deformities included: gaps in piglet’s skulls, deformed bones, missing limbs, and a female piglet with testicles.

    Realizing that he had switched the feed three years earlier to Monsanto’s genetically-modified seed and because he had never witnessed such high numbers of birth defects in his piglets before, he suspected that the GM-seed or the glyphosate could be to blame. He had the piglets assessed by the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Leipzig, Germany and Hvidsten, Denmark and by the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Sadat City University in Egypt (source: Townsend Letter, January 2015).

    Glyphosate, a pesticide used in Monsanto’s genetically-modified seed, has also been called the “Darth Vader chemical.” The researchers found glyphosate in the lungs, livers, kidneys, brains, muscles, and gut walls of the piglets. Their findings were published in the journal Environmental and Analytical Toxicology. It was found in the highest concentration in the lungs and hearts of the animals, with lower concentrations in the muscles. The researchers conclude that “further investigations are urgently needed” to determine whether there is a link between the glyphosate concentrations and the birth defects.

    In an earlier study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, researchers identified a link between glyphosate pesticides and lymphoma—a type of cancer of the lymph nodes and lymphatic system. The scientists found that glyphosate exposure doubled an individual’s risk of the cancer.

    Glyphosate, also known as Roundup, has been linked to other serious health conditions and environmental degradation.

    As far back as 2009, France’s highest court found Monsanto guilty of lying about the safety of Roundup, including falsely advertising it as “biodegradable,” “environmentally-friendly,” and even claiming that it “left the soil clean.”

    In an interview, Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) discussed glyphosate as possibly “the most important factor in the development of multiple chronic diseases and conditions that have become prevalent in Westernized societies.”

    Glyphosate has been linked to other diseases, including: breast cancer, kidney failure, and celiac disease. For more information about glyphosate and genetically-modified seeds, check out the excellent book Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies about the Safety of the Genetically-Engineered Foods You’re Eating by Jeffrey M. Smith, a former executive at an independent laboratory testing for genetically-modified organisms in food.

    Michelle Schoffro Cook|January 22, 2015

    Energy

    The Year Ahead: Top Clean Energy Trends of 2015

    For the past 13 years, Clean Edge has published the annual Clean Energy Trends report that has sized the global market for solar, wind, and biofuels and tracked everything from venture capital and stock market activity to total global investments. This year, instead of issuing one single report, we’ll be producing infographics, tables, charts, and webinars throughout the year – so be on the lookout in the coming weeks and months.

    In the annual report, we also picked our top trends to watch for the coming year. Here are our top trends that matter in 2015:

    • Moves Toward 100 Percent Renewables Will Expand
    • Energy Storage will Carve out a Competitive Advantage
    • Low-Cost Oil Could Impact Clean Transportation, but not Clean Electricity
    • Other Regions will Follow New York Fracking Lead

    Let’s take a closer look at the top trends and how they are likely to impact markets in 2015.

    Moves Toward 100 Percent Renewables Will Expand

    Naysayers will tell you that renewables will remain a niche offering that’s unable to provide large amounts of total electricity supply. But in 2014, the trend toward bucking this myth was on full display. In less than two years, Apple went from primarily fossil fuels to 100 percent renewables, and Amazon.com (at least for its data center operations) recently joined other tech leaders like Facebook and Google in announcing plans to get to 100 percent renewables. Denmark reaffirmed its commitment of getting to 100 percent renewables for all of its energy supply, including transportation, by 2050; it’s already close to reaching its goal of 50 percent renewables on its electricity grid by 2020. And late in the year, NextEra Energy announced its plan to acquire Hawaiian Electric. While its subsidiary NextEra Energy Resources is a leader in U.S. wind and solar development, its other subsidiary Florida Power & Light has been less than a stellar supporter of renewables deployment. The next year will tell which direction NextEra plans to take Hawaiian Electric, which already had plans to reach 65 percent of its electricity sales from renewable resources by 2030. These developments and others will shine a light on what’s possible and how getting to high-penetration renewables will become an increasingly achievable reality.

    Energy Storage will Carve out a Competitive Advantage

    Dozens of companies are jockeying for position in the energy storage sector, looking to provide customers with reduced costs, greater energy reliability, and improved resiliency. Costs are still an issue, but those hurdles are being addressed in ways similar to the recent scale up, and the concomitant reduction in pricing, for solar PV. In particular, commercial and industrial customers in high-cost electricity regions, especially those with rising demand charges, will be among the first to reap the benefits of energy storage. California is one market ripe for development as it works to achieve its first-in-the-nation energy storage mandates, as is Japan, as that nation considers expanding energy storage efforts as part of its latest economic stimulus package. Opportunities are also heating up in New York, and even Texas, as regulators, utilities, and companies look to integrate more renewables, ease strain on the grid during peak electricity demand, and enable a more resilient grid. As prices come down, look for energy storage to become an integral part of the larger energy equation.

    Low-Cost Oil Could Impact Clean Transportation Sectors, but not Clean Electricity

    The one given for fossil fuels is their volatility. Sudden and often unforeseen geopolitical events, oil spills, and terrorist attacks can very quickly impact the oil price equation. Right now, with oil prices hovering around $50 a barrel (down dramatically from more than twice that level in mid-2014), it’s easy to think that the move towards efficiency and renewables will decline. But both clean-energy sources and efficiency improvements continue to be on a rapid ascent, and are in fact part of the reason why we are seeing lower oil prices. “The story should not be how falling oil prices will impact the shift to clean energy,” says Bloomberg New Energy Finance chairman Michael Liebreich, “it should be how the shift to clean energy is impacting the oil price.” And on the electricity front, one simply needs to understand that electricity prices in the U.S. are not tied to gasoline or oil prices, but to the cost of electricity provided by utility companies (which continue to increase in almost all markets.). If low oil prices stick around for a while – which is by no means a given – that could impact the sales of hybrids and EVs in the near to mid-term. However, even on that front, vehicle mileage standards in the U.S. and elsewhere will guarantee that overall vehicle efficiency will continue to improve for the foreseeable future.

    Other Regions will Follow New York Fracking Lead

    One of the big surprises of late 2014 was Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announced ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the state of New York.  A small but growing number of communities in the U.S. have banned fracking, but New York’s is the first statewide ban. While supporters of the natural gas industry generally downplay the impacts of fracking, the truth is that this is not simply a right-left debate, but increasingly a regional discussion pitting oil and gas interests against other industries and the public interest at large, especially around clean water supplies (highlighting the ever growing challenges at the water-energy nexus). While many ranchers and farmers initially supported fracking, and the lease benefits that came with it, the tide may now be turning in some regions. Back in 2013, for example, conservative Mora County in New Mexico became the first county in the U.S. to ban fracking, primarily over local concern for its water supply. Other counties and cities voted for bans in the November 2014 election including Denton, Texas, the first city in the Lone Star State to do so. France has an outright fracking ban in place, and Germany continues to enforce restrictions and is evaluating a broader ban. The large natural gas interests may have missed a golden opportunity to show true leadership during the early shale gas boom — but could still work to set up and enforce strong environmental regulations. But we believe that we’ll continue to see local, state, and national bans if the very real concerns of citizens, especially around clean water supplies, aren’t adequately addressed.

    A host of other developments are likely to impact the clean-energy sector this year. In the U.S., these include the passage of the Keystone XL pipeline by the new Congress (and what steps, if any, President Obama decides to take in response); the new EPA carbon regulations and their impact on power plant emissions; the ongoing proliferation of distributed energy resources with utilities, regulators, and vendors battling over the future of our energy infrastructure; and the advent of U.S.-China climate activities and collaboration. Be on the lookout for Clean Edge analysis on all of the above and more, from a February webinar on U.S.-China clean-energy opportunities to the U.S. Clean Tech Leadership Index, our annual tracking of states and metro areas, in the spring. The markets for clean energy, from hybrid vehicles and green buildings to solar PV and smart meters, continue to show annual double-digit growth, all of which we’ll be tracking in 2015 and beyond.

    Ron Pernick|Managing Director|Clean Edge|January 14, 2015

       Florida cities fight offshore drilling

    Florida coastal cities oppose federal moves to open the Atlantic to offshore rigs.

    As more communities along Florida’s Atlantic coastline dig in against offshore drilling, several civic, business and environmental leaders spoke out this week against federal plans to open ocean waters to exploration.

    Last summer, the Obama administration said it will allow energy companies to apply for permits to probe for oil and gas off the East Coast, using devices that send explosively loud pulses into the seafloor.

    Noise from the devices has long been protested as harmful to sea life, including highly endangered North Atlantic right whales.

    On Wednesday in Brevard County, members of the Marine Resources Council, a Melbourne Beach city commissioner and the president of Roffer’s Ocean Fishing Forecasting Service decried offshore drilling as not worth the risk of environmental disaster.

    The gathering was on hand for the release of a report by the environmental group Oceana called “Offshore Energy by the Numbers.”

    Oceana’s report states that an alternative energy industry, offshore wind turbines that generate electricity, would produce twice as many jobs and twice as much energy as drilling in the Atlantic.

    U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management officials would oversee geologic exploration along the Atlantic coastline from Delaware Bay to Central Florida and as far out as 400 miles from the coast. The agency said whales will be protected from the pulses.

    The Oceana report states that a “modest and gradual development” of wind turbines offshore from Florida would create 28,000 jobs, or 24,000 more jobs than would be needed to extract oil and gas offshore from the state.

    “It would only take four years of offshore wind production to generate more energy than that contained in all of the economically recoverable offshore oil and gas,” according to Oceana.

    The prospect of offshore rigs has prompted more than a dozen governments along the Florida’s east coast to send letters of opposition or pass resolution in opposition to geologic exploration and offshore drilling.

    According to a tally kept by Oceana, the communities are Atlantic Beach, Cocoa Beach, Cape Canaveral, Fernandina Beach, Indiatlantic, Indian Harbour Beach, Jacksonville, Melbourne, Melbourne Beach, New Smyrna Beach, Satellite Beach, St. Johns County, St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach.

    Margot Dorfman, a Melbourne Beach commissioner, said coastal communities will bear the potential consequences of drilling but get little benefit.

    “There is no revenue sharing for oil and gas in the Atlantic so Floridians will not earn a penny if they drill off our coasts,” Dorfman said. “Only the oil and gas companies and the politicians that take contributions from them will benefit.”

    Kevin Spear|Orlando Sentinel

    Brevard communities oppose oil exploration

    This poll is not scientific and reflects the opinions of only those internet users who have chosen to participate.

    INDIAN HARBOUR BEACH –Survey companies are chomping at the bit to start exploring the waters off Florida’s east coast for oil.

    But now leaders in several Space Coast cities are hoping to send a unified message, that they don’t want oil exploration or oil rigs off Brevard County’s coastline.

    They’re concerned about what it would mean for marine life and tourism.

    The Obama Administration reopened the east coast of the U.S. to oil exploration this past summer.

    Now every Brevard County coastal community, from Cape Canaveral to Melbourne Beach has passed a resolution, asking the White House to reconsider their plan.

    Melbourne and Indian Harbour Beach passed resolutions this week.

    News 13 has learned that at least six companies have filed permits with the federal government, requesting the exploration of oil and natural gas off Florida’s coast.

    The feds haven’t issued any permits yet, but the companies would conduct seismic air gun testing.

    That testing fires intense blasts of compressed air to survey the ocean floor for oil and gas deposits.

    A federal study says that noise, as loud as explosives, could kill more than a hundred thousand whales and dolphins.

    It’s one of the reasons groups like the Surfrider Foundation are against the proposal.

    “I’ve spent all my life on these beaches and I don’t want to see dead dolphins washing up and I don’t want to see oil wells and I don’t want to see oil spills,” said Mike Daniel with the Surfrider Foundation.

    Supporters of the plan say the discovery of oil off our coast could lead to jobs and help reduce America’s dependence on foreign sources of oil.

    Environmentalists are still waiting on the Brevard County Commission to take up the resolution and send it to the White House.

    Jerry Hume|Reporter|News 13|January 16, 2015

    Dutch Company Powers Street Lights With Living Plants

    Plant-e, the Dutch based company that is spearheading this new “sediment microbial fuel cell,” has lit up over 300 LED street lights by tapping into the energy found in the soil of living plants.

    The plants produce excess sugar during photosynthesis.  This sugar is deposited in the soil and breaks down into protons and electrons.  Plant-e’s technology places electrodes in the soil and conducts the electricity produced during the breakdown.

    A long term goal of the company is to plant electrodes in wetlands and rice patties, generating energy on a larger scale and bringing electricity to places that have never had it before.

    minds.com|January 14, 2015

    Pope Francis Says No to Fracking

    We’ve been busy lately providing news on all the great ways Pope Francis is working to create a healthy, sustainable planet. In July 2014, Pope Francis called destruction of nature a modern sin. In November 2014, Pope Francis said “unbridled consumerism” is destroying our planet and we are “stewards, not masters” of the Earth. In December 2014, he said he will increase his call this year to address climate change. And, last week we announced that Pope Francis is opening his Vatican farm to the public.

    Now, we learn from Nicolás Fedor Sulcic that Pope Francis is supportive of the anti-fracking movement. Watch this interview by Fernando Solanas where he met with Pope Francis soon after finishing a film about fracking in Argentina.

    The movie, La Guerra del Fracking or The Fracking War, was banned in cinemas by the Argentinian government, so the filmmakers decided to post it on YouTube. We are awaiting translation of the film and then we’ll feature it on EcoWatch.

    “When I was doing research for the film, every time I’d ask someone if they knew what fracking was they had no idea,” said Sulcic. The problem was that “the government didn’t call it fracking, they called it ‘non conventional gas’ so no one was making the link to what was happening in Argentina to what was happening America. I got really mad and knew something had to be done to make people aware of what was going on. I saw the website Artist Against Fracking and felt that was a very good example of what was needed to be done here to take the cause to more people rather than just environmental activists.”

    With support by Peace Nobel prize Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Oscar winning Juan Jose Campanella and other very well known Argentinian intellectuals and social leaders, a website was launched to help raise awareness about the dangers of fracking Argentina.

    Video

    Stefanie Spear|January 12, 2015

    Wind Turbine Trees Generate Renewable Energy for Urban Settings

    You’ve most likely heard one of the arguments leveled at wind power: turbines are ugly. And while you might not agree, it’s true that the tall turbines that are increasingly appearing all over the landscape stand out among their surroundings.

    NewWindPower-generating “wind trees” are designed to blend into both urban and rural environments. Photo credit: New Wind

    French entrepreneur Jérôme Michaud-Larivière decided to do something about that. His company New Wind has created the “Arbre à Vent” or “wind tree,” to tackle the issue of what they refer to as “an environment marred by machines that are too big, too noisy and quite unsightly.”

    The 26 x 36 foot tree features 72 “leaves” that act as miniature silent turbines with integrated generators, each producing a small amount of electrical power. Because the leaves are small and light, they are set in motion by winds as light as 4.4 miles per hour, capturing light winds that large vertical turbines can’t and potentially producing power as many as 280 days a year. And while each tree produces only 3.1 kilowatts of power, a streetscape lined with them could power all the nearby streetlights or a small apartment building.

    “Making use of the slightest breeze, the Arbre à Vent is able to exploit all types of wind, in a 360 degree radius—turbulences, vortexes, drays and other wind phenomena found in urban and rural environments,” says the company. “The Arbre à Vent is part of the energy harvesting movement, and powerful enough to ensure the electrical autonomy of a family of four.”

    The trees are designed and constructed to be durable, reliable and lasting in a variety of outdoor conditions. The generators connected to the leaves are sealed in protective casing, and the unit is designed so that if one leaf breaks down, the others will still function.

    The trees won’t fool anyone into thinking they are real but they could easily pass as a piece of outdoor sculpture.

    “The biomorphically inspired Arbre à Vent, your own personal windmill, is a truly eco-friendly solution—no more line drops, no more energy carrying costs, an extremely low carbon footprint, virtually invisible technology and completely silent operation,” the company boasts. “The distinctive yet human-scale design promises to reconcile the consumer with his means of generating electricity.”

    Prototypes have been installed on several private properties, with a demonstrator tree to be installed in Paris on the Place de la Concorde this coming May. They’re expected to cost about $36,500 a piece.

    Also on the drawing board is “foliage” that can be installed on rooftops and balconies and along roadsides to power variable-message signs. A scaled-down “wind bush” is also in the works.

     Video

    Anastasia Pantsios|January 6, 2015

    Ohio’s Renewable Energy Freeze Threatens Growth of Solar and Wind Investments and Jobs

    When Ohio Governor John Kasich signed SB 310, a two-year freeze of the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, last June, he was leading the way—backwards. Ohio became the first state to roll back standards that were already in place, passed in 2008 in an uncontroversial unanimous bipartisan vote. Those standards—which required that, by 2025, 25 percent of the state’s energy be created by advanced energy sources, half of them renewables, and that utilities reduce energy use by 22 percent—proved effective not only in moving the state closer to a clean energy future but in creating jobs, fueling economic growth and generating new investment.

    That’s now threatened by the freeze, according to a new report from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

    “Ohio is a prime example of why policy matters,” said the Pew report. “Just as the state’s energy policies once encouraged the development of a clean energy industry, recent uncertainty surrounding the renewable and efficiency portfolio standards has stunted investment and growth.”

    Pew’s findings should be a warning for other states considering such a rollback bill, called the “Electricity Freedom Act” by lobby group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is pushing the effort. The study found that the standards had spurred business investment and manufacturing in a state well-positioned to take advantage of opportunities in the renewable sector because of its industrial history and infrastructure. Ohio was first in the country in the number of facilities making wind energy components and second in the country in making solar-related equipment as of 2013.

    Since the 2008 passage of its alternative energy portfolio standard and energy efficiency portfolio standard, the study said, “The state has leveraged other state and federal financing such as tax exemptions, rebates and loans to build on that groundwork. Ohio attracted $1.3 billion in private clean energy investment from 2009 to 2013 and is expected to generate an additional $3.3 billion over the next decade.”

    Ohio had attracted $755 in wind investments between 2009 and 2013, and has enough wind resources to meet all of the state’s current energy needs. Its 86 solar technology facilities rank it 16th in the country in total capacity and 8th in total jobs numbers.

    But the report cautions, “Installations and revenue in some sectors, particularly wind, are expected to stall because the state enacted a two-year freeze of the portfolio standards in June 2014. This action has affected many projects and contracts already underway, creating uncertainty for investors and businesses.”

    Already private investment in solar fell from 12th place nationally in 2012 to 20th nationally in 2013—from $187.4 million to $75.3 million—because of uncertainty about how the legislature might act on the standards. The legislature also eliminated a requirement for the amount of renewable energy that must be generated in-state, making such investment even less attractive. And it hampered wind development by enacting an onerous new setback regulation.

    “Ohio’s experience demonstrates the importance of long-term policy to foster growth in the clean energy industry,” said Tom Swanson, manager for The Pew Charitable Trusts’ clean energy initiative. “The state’s alternative energy portfolio standard, along with the federal production tax credit, boosted Ohio’s strong manufacturing base, which at one point supported 62 facilities producing wind energy components—more than any other state. But now, many manufacturers are directing their investments elsewhere because policy uncertainty is tightening the local market for their products.”

    Adding to that uncertainly, the fossil fuel-friendly legislature has formed a committee to study the possibility of killing the clean energy standards permanently, and it’s packed with clean energy opponents. Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) deputy director Jack Shaner called the panel “an insincere sideshow.”

    At the time of its passage, the rollback was widely condemned by environmental groups.

    “With this legislation, Governor Kasich is moving the state backwards while monopoly utilities like FirstEnergy and AEP will see even greater profits,” said Sierra Club campaign representative Daniel Sawmiller. “Ohioans can now expect higher electricity bills, fewer jobs in the clean energy manufacturing and construction industries, and increased pollution.

    “Dirtier air. Higher electric bills. Lost jobs and investment. These are the new ‘dividends’ in store for Ohio from this major divestiture in clean energy,” said Trish Demeter, managing director of Energy and Clean Air Programs for OEC.

    According to the findings of The Pew Charitable Trusts, those predictions of jobs and investment losses were accurate.

    Anastasia Pantsios|January 14, 2015

    Potentially endangered bat could change pipeline project

    ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – A potentially endangered species of bat could become a major obstacle to the proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline in northern Minnesota.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether to declare the northern long-eared bat an endangered species because the spread of the white-nosed syndrome disease has reduced its population.

    In that case, Enbridge could be forced to postpone its pipeline project or chose a different route. The current proposal would carry crude from the North Dakota oilfields to Superior, Wisconsin and would run through the bats’ habitat.

    Enbridge has already taken steps to avoid disrupting that habitat. Minnesota Public Radio (http://bit.ly/14X95jo) says Enbridge launched a $5 million research project to locate the trees where the bats roost during the summer. After analyzing the data, the company modified the route of the pipeline in Aitkin and Carlton counties.

    Associated Press|January 19, 2015|Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org

    Coal casts cloud over Germany’s energy revolution

    Germany cut emissions and boosted renewables last year, but critics say CO2 reduction targets can’t be met unless it closes coal-burning power stations.

    BERLIN, 20 January 2015 − The energy market in Germany’s saw a spectacular change last year as renewable energy became the major source of its electricity supply − leaving lignite, coal and nuclear behind.

    But researchers calculate that, allowing for the mild winter of 2014, the cut in fossil fuel use in energy production meant CO2 emissions fell by only 1%.

    Wind, solar, hydropower and biomass reached a new record, producing 27.3% (157bn kilowatt hours) of Germany’s total electricity and overtaking lignite (156bn kWh), according to AGEB, a joint association of energy companies and research institutes.

    This was an achievement that many energy experts could not have imagined just a few years ago.

    Beyond that, Germany’s primary energy consumption – which includes the energy used in power generation, heating and transport − fell to its lowest level since reunification with East Germany in 1990, AGEB report. It shrank by 4.8% compared with 2013.

    Estimates by AGEB indicate that Germany’s CO2 emissions will have fallen in 2014 by around 5% compared with 2013, as consumption of all fossil fuels fell and the contribution from renewables rose. Half the CO2 savings came from power generation.

    Germany’s use of hard coal − sometimes called black coal, which emits much less CO2 than brown coal, as lignite is known − in electricity generation was 7.9% lower than in 2013, and lignite 2.3%. The share of fossil fuels in the overall energy mix fell from 81.9% in 2013 to 80.8%.At first sight, that looks like a big success story. But it comes after several years of rising emissions that have cast doubt on the “Energiewende” − the ambitious German energy transition plan for a simultaneous phase-out of nuclear power and a move to a carbon-free economy.

    While all of Germany’s remaining nine nuclear power plants must by law be shut down no later than the end of 2022, there is no such legally-binding phase-out for the coal industry. So no one can tell how long Germany will go on burning the worst climate change contributors, lignite and hard coal.

    In July 2014, a group of NGOs published a study on the EU’s 30 worst CO2-emitting thermal power plants. German power stations featured six times among the 10 dirtiest.

    CROP-WWF-dirty-30-2014

    Dirty 30

    Never heard of Neurath, Niederausssem, Jänschwalde, Boxberg, Weisweiler and Lippendorf? These are the sites of Germany’s lignite-powered stations, which together emit more than 140 megatons of CO2 annually − making Germany Europe’s worst coal polluter, followed by Poland and the UK.

    And international banks, including Germany’s biggest investment bank, keep on financing coal. A study by BankTrack shows that 92 commercial banks financed the coal industry in 2013 to the tune of at least €66bn – a new record. The top investor was the US bank JP Morgan Chase. Deutsche Bank was tenth.

    That level of investment puts into perspective the US $10bn that is now in the UN’s Green Climate Fund to help developing nations fight climate change.

    Germany has one of the most ambitious climate targets worldwide: by 2020, its CO2 emissions are due to be 40% below their 1990 level. But how can it achieve this?

    Climate goals

    The latest Climate Protection Action Plan, adopted by the German Cabinet on 3 December last year, says that 22 million tons of CO2 will be saved “by further measures, especially in the power sector”.

    Does that mean less power from coal? In any case, it will not put Germany back on track, as nearly 80 million tons of CO2 must be saved to reach the country’s 2020 climate goals. The Greens pointed out that a coal-fired power plant such as Jänschwalde alone produces more than 22 million tons of CO2 − and Jänschwalde is not even the biggest German polluter.

    So, right now, the Energiewende seems a story both of success and of failure.

    Mojib Latif, the German meteorologist and oceanographer who co-authored the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, says: “The only way of countering the rise in CO2 is to expand renewables. The technology is there − it just has to be used.

    “My most urgent wish for the energy future is that Germany must stop using coal. Otherwise we have no chance of achieving our climate targets.” − Climate News Network

    Henner Weithöner|1/20/2015

    Historic Grassroots Victory Stops Central Illinois Coal Mine

    An eight year battle against a central Illinois strip mine ends in victory for the communities of Canton and Orion township. An arm of Springfield Coal Company asked the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to terminate their permit for their North Canton Mine before a court hearing challenging errors in permit approval.

    “The naysayers told us we couldn’t fight city hall and the mine. They have more money. But we stayed the course,” said Brenda Dilts, chair of Canton Area Citizens for Environmental Issues.

    The permit challenge hinged on the mine’s potential impact to streams and Canton Lake, which supplies water to roughly 20,000 people, but opposition rallied around many ways the community would be harmed, including noise, water well contamination, heavy truck traffic and airborne pollutants. Only a road and fence would have separated the mine from residents in Orion township, Dilts said. “Now people are free to enjoy their country living and well water.”

    Dilts wrote a letter to the editor in 2006 after hearing a presentation by the company and the Department of Natural Resources at a city council meeting. “I came home from vacation to voicemail messages full of support for my letter. Only one message was negative. We decided to start having meetings. Twelve people came at first to write letters. Then we had 25 and soon we outgrew our meeting space at the library. We organized until we became a legitimate source of pain for the company.”

    The group faced intense opposition and some harassment in a community with a long history of coal mining but also received unexpected support, including from students at nearby Spoon River College. “We thought young people would support the mine because all the company and city talked about was jobs, jobs, jobs. But students said they weren’t going to college to work in a coal mine. They want jobs that make the community better. It was the old timers who talked about jobs, but they didn’t mention their friends who had died of black lung.” More recently, a company is considering a utility scale solar field near Canton.

    With most national green groups focused on coal power plant emissions rather than mining, the Canton neighbors raised funds locally with biscuits & gravy breakfasts, chicken dumpling dinners and yard sales.

    “The significance of Springfield Coal Company’s permit withdrawal cannot be overstated. This coal company—with sites all over the state and all kinds of coal reserves—was defeated by the dedication, caring and hard work of local citizens,” said Joyce Blumenshine, chair of the Heart of Illinois Group of the Sierra Club. Our attorney, David Wentworth, with the Hasselberg Grebe Snodgrass Urban Wentworth firm in Peoria, had a tremendous case to stop this mine. We fought hard in the community and in court to protect the lake and streams. The fact the mine decided to give up on the eve of our court hearing says a lot.”

    Jeff Biggers, author of Reckoning at Eagle Creek said, “In the face of a state gone wild on coal mining, the grannies of Canton have scored a major victory against Big Coal. Uncompromising, creative and brilliant strategists, Brenda and her merry band have taught environmental groups and all of us who care about our communities, our water and climate a great lesson: If we work together and hold our ground, we can and must stop reckless coal mining.”

    Will Reynolds|January 20, 2015

    Naples Oil Well Fracked!

    Report puts fracking, oil well, back in the spotlight

    A state-commissioned report by an Oklahoma firm has “concluded with confidence” that the Collier-Hogan oil well was hydraulically fractured at the end of 2013 – a practice that is under increasing scrutiny across the country.

    The report directly contradicts an earlier statement by the Texas-based driller, the Dan A. Hughes Co., that it did not hydraulically frack the well.

    Prepared for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection by Tulsa, Oklahoma-based ALL Consulting, the 67-page report sheds light why the now-closed well, south of Lake Trafford, became a bone of contention between the DEP and the driller Dan A. Hughes Company, based in Beeville, Texas.

    And it calls into question an earlier report the Hughes Co. commissioned that said the driller followed “standard industry practices” in drilling and operating the well.

    Both reports were submitted to the DEP in December.

    While both reports concluded that there was not enough available data to evaluate whether the three-day workover at the well impacted drinking water – DEP’s main concern – ALL’s report said it was evident releases of oil and other liquids did happen at the well site, leading to inspectors finding an oily sheen on an adjacent canal.

    It also disclosed a number of missteps the driller made, including dropping tools down the borehole that weren’t fished out; poorly cementing casings; failing to pressure-test the casing and surface equipment to see if they could handle the pressures of the frack job; and not taking adequate steps to contain spilled oil or liquids at the drilling site.

    But petroleum engineer Dan Arthur, who prepared the report, warned against jumping to extreme conclusions about what these mistakes mean for the environment and Southwest Florida’s water supply until more groundwater monitoring data is available.

    While its initial testing of the groundwater did not show significant anomalies. the DEP has not released the latest data from its surface groundwater monitoring wells at the site and is in the process of digging a deeper well to test lower aquifers.

    “While mistakes happen at wells, it doesn’t necessarily mean that bad things happened because of it,” Arthur said.

    Arthur said that many people think of fracking as a new and sophisticated well stimulation technique.

    In reality, he said, the practice goes back to the 1800s, when a Pennsylvania driller decided to shoot nitroglycerin into his dead wells. The explosions created fractures to get the oil flowing again.

    But these days, hydraulic fracturing uses chemicals and liquids injected under high pressure to create fissures, which are propped open with sand, to stimulate oil or gas flow.

    Fracking has been under fire in recent years because of its use of carcinogenic chemicals and heavy use of freshwater, among other concerns.

    Legislators from New York to California have voted to ban it, and three Florida lawmakers have introduced bills in recent weeks following suit.

    Currently, Florida has no regulations banning either hydraulic or acid fracturing, or requiring the disclosure of what chemicals have been used in the fracking process.

    Although environmentalists have long suspected the Collier-Hogan well was fracked, the Hughes Co. contends that what happened during the three-day workover was routine.

    In a May 1 email to the Daily News, David Blackmon, then-spokesman for the driller, said the procedure was “not a hydraulic fracturing operation” but rather “a stimulation treatment very similar to acid stimulations that have been commonly used in Florida for more than 50 years.”

    He said a similar acid stimulation had been performed on the Collier-Hogan well in mid-2013.

    “We followed the second acid stimulation by injecting a modest volume of water and sand under enough pressure to prevent the formation from closing in on itself,” he said in the email.

    But that’s not how the DEP saw it. A day after the procedure began on Dec. 30, 2013, the agency issued a cease-and-desist order, signed by then-DEP Secretary Hershel Vinyard, saying it did not have “sufficient information that the proposed workover would be protective of the state’s groundwater resources.”

    The workover didn’t stop until shortly after 4 p.m. the next day.

    On April 8, the DEP reached a consent order with the Hughes Co. that required the driller to pay $25,000 and come up with a plan to monitor groundwater for possible pollution.

    After increasing public outcry from environmentalists, as well as criticism from the Collier County commissioners, the DEP revoked all of Hughes’ permits, and the driller exited Florida.

    The DEP and the Hughes Co. currently are locked in litigation over the matter.

    As he was preparing his report for the DEP, Arthur was not allowed to inspect the Collier-Hogan well site during his visit in October, although he was provided access to the exterior perimeter of it and was able to read gauges and make other observations with binoculars.

    Instead, he used DEP inspection reports, photographs and reports by other consultants, including the one commissioned by Hughes by New Port Richey, Florida-based HRP Associates, and another done in November by Fort Myers-based AECOM for the Collier County Growth Management Division.

    The Hughes Co. would not comment on why Arthur was not allowed to tour the well site or ALL Consulting’s conclusion the well was fracked.

    It did, however, issue a statement through its current spokesman, Lucas Frances, that it was “pleased” that ALL’s and AECOM’s reports “found no adverse impacts to water resources from the Collier-Hogan 20-3H well.”

    Yet neither report came to that specific conclusion, although both noted it was highly unlikely that chemicals would migrate upward through the protective casings or the thick layers of hard rock between the oil reservoirs and the aquifers.

    One other possible upward route for chemicals – two abandoned oil wells dating from the 1940s near the Collier-Hogan well – also was considered in both reports as a possible migration venue for waste fluids from the well.

    The wells had been singled out as a potential problem by hydrogeologist Noah Kugler, a consultant hired by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

    The AECOM report found “plugging deficiencies” in both old wells; the ALL report said only one was possibly deficient because its driller, the Humble Oil and Refining Company, tried and failed to re-enter it in 1953.

    Because of this, the ALL report suggested a cement plug and casing be tested at the well, known as Permit 103, and that cross-flow conditions should be investigated from the surface to a depth of 4,200 feet.

    Once the investigation was completed, the report recommended the well be plugged with cement to a depth of 1,900 feet.

    In a letter to DEP, Jennifer Hecker, director of natural resources for the Conservancy, took issue with ALL’s suggestion that Permit 103 be reopened for testing, saying it increased the chances groundwater contamination could take place. For the same reason, she suggested the Collier-Hogan not be reopened to obtain flowback samples.

    She also questioned why the simulated modeling of fractures mentioned in ALL’s report did not match the proposed or actual workover, and said there was not enough supporting evidence for ALL to conclude that there was a limited likelihood that shallow aquifers were not affected by the well’s faulty construction.

    She told the Daily News that in the absence of evidence about the effects of hydraulic fracturing in Florida’s unique geology, the DEP needs to be cautious and ask more questions before allowing other drillers to proceed.

    “Otherwise, we’re playing Russian roulette with our water supply,” she said.

    June Fletcher|Naples Daily News|January 22, 2015

    Land Conservation

    Over $20 million in grants awarded for wetlands

    MICHIGAN — Michigan wetland conservation efforts will soon be under way, following the announcement of $21 million in grants to help in conserving coastal wetlands.

    Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Jan. 7 grants amounting to $21 million would be provided by the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program, to fund 25 projects in 13 Great Lakes and coastal states.

    These projects will help to conserve and enhance more than 11,000 acres of wetland area and upland habitat.

    “Coastal wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world,” Ashe said, in a press release. “The nation’s coastal resources provide resting, feeding and breeding habitat for 75 percent of waterfowl and other migratory birds, and nearly 45 percent of the nation’s endangered and threatened species are dependent on coastal habitats.”

    He added wetlands play an important role in the filtering of drinking water, storm and flood control and also help support local economies and provide jobs through outdoor recreation.

    A portion of the funding will be awarded to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Keweenaw Land Trust, to help acquire valuable wetland area.

    The organizations will receive $1 million used to purchase four privately owned parcels, comprised of coastal wetlands and near-shore aquatic habitat. The parcels are located on the Abbaye Peninsula and Huron Bay in Lake Superior and total 1,374 acres, including almost a mile of shoreline on Lake Superior.

    This area is know for its large, forest-type wetland and habitat, home to many species, including gray wolves, black bear and bobcat. While much of these coastal wetlands are continually threatened by development, this project aims to protect the area.

    To further help with funding the project, there will be a non-federal match of more than $1.4 million to complete the project.

    A report shows these types of projects are significant, as wetlands and similar areas are experiencing losses every year of more than 80,000 acres.

    More than $35 million will be contributed as well, by governments throughout the country, private landowners, conservation groups and others for other various projects involving wetlands.

    The National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is funded through provisions of the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act, created in 1990. Funding is provided by the Sport Fish Restoration Act revenue.

    which is generated from a tax on fishing equipment and boating fuel.

    To learn more about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit www.fws.gov.

    Osceola County Orders Ecological Review of Deseret Ranch Plan

    Osceola County has responded to efforts spearheaded by Audubon Florida and a coalition of Audubon chapters in Central Florida by ordering an independent ecological review of the vast Deseret North Ranch sector plan.

    The 133,000 acre development proposal, involving a potential new population of over 500,000 people, and over 180,000 new housing units was headed on a fast track toward approval in October, when Audubon sounded the alert and filled the County Commission chamber with many concerned citizens and representatives from Audubon chapters in Osceola, Orange, Polk, Seminole and Lake Counties.

    The Deseret development would be the largest single development proposal ever to take place in the state’s history.

    The lands affected include important ecosystem components of the Econlockhatchee River Headwaters, the St. Johns River and tributaries, and highly important wildlife corridors and wildlife habitat. Components of the Sector Plan proposal include a proposed new bridge over the St. Johns River, and a new reservoir which would capture water now contributing to the base flow of the St. Johns River. In October, Osceola County Commissioners voted 4-1 against the transmittal of the plan to the Department of Economic Opportunity, the first step in the approval process. Instead, a commission majority asked the County Manger’s office to initiate a stakeholder process to further evaluate the proposal.

    The county has now taken another important step to assure a proper and objective evaluation of this massive development project. Following recommendations made by Audubon Florida during stakeholder meetings, the county has retained some of Florida’s best known and most respected ecologists to perform a peer-review analysis of the sector plan and the land conservation plan presented by Deseret’s planners and biological consultants.  The team, consisting of Dr. Richard Hilsenbeck of the Nature Conservancy. Dr. Reed Noss of the University of Florida, and Dr. Jay Exum of Exum Associates Inc. will spend at least two months in the evaluation process.

    Further action by Osceola County on the Deseret Sector Plan will now not take place until April 2015 at the earliest. The outcome of the process will likely be shaped by the recommendation of the county’s new ecological peer review team.

    Audubon Florida extends heartfelt thanks to the Audubon leaders in Central Florida who stepped forward to state concerns about the Deseret plan. Audubon also thanks the County Commission, County Manager and staff at Osceola County for doing the right thing to assure a proper and thorough evaluation of the Deseret Sector Plan.

    A letter stating Audubon Concerns about the Deseret Sector Plan, and other related materials can be viewed by clicking here.

    Deseret Sector Plan Facts:

    • Projected Population – 500,000 +-
    • 182,600 Development (housing) units
    • 43,837,390 Square Feet of Commercial/Service Industry space
    • 23,969,010 Square Feet of Industrial space
    • 15,660,500 Square Feet of Institutional built space
    • 20,390 hotel rooms

    Audubon Florida News|January 15, 2015

    Plan for paved bike path across Everglades

    How would you like to bicycle across the entire Everglades?

    Opposition surfaces to proposed bike trail across Everglades

    A proposal for a paved bike trail across the Everglades moved closed to reality this month, with the release of a draft feasibility study for a 76-mile path that would run next to Tamiami Trail.

    But groundbreaking remains years away if it takes place at all, and opposition has surfaced among some of the people living along its path and their supporters, who say it would destroy wetlands, encroach on tribal land and further commercialize the Everglades.

    This could offer an opportunity for all different types of recreational users, for walkers, bird watchers, bicycling, running.- Patty Huff, Naples Pathway Coalition

    The River of Grass Greenway would be a paved path 12 to 16 feet wide, running from the outskirts of Miami to the outskirts of Naples. Trail heads every 10 or 12 miles would offer parking, restrooms, water, air for tires, picnic shelters and vending machines.

    “We’re in such a perfect location, with the national parks, for people to experience the Everglades from a recreational standpoint without having to pull over to the side of the road,” said Patty Huff, an Everglades City cyclist and one of the originators of the proposal. “Right now it’s very unsafe. People do bicycle the Tamiami Trail. This could offer an opportunity for all different types of recreational users, for walkers, bird watchers, bicycling, running – without having to drive by very fast or pull over and get out of the car. It’s a much safer alternative for people to see the Everglades.”

    Originally proposed in 2006 by the Naples Pathway Coalition, a cycling group, the proposal was taken up by the National Park Service, which obtained $1.5 million for the initial planning work.

    At a meeting last week at Big Cypress National Preserve, the latest draft was discussed by representatives from Collier County, Miami-Dade County, the Florida Department of Transportation, the National Park Service and other agencies. A final feasibility study is expected to be released in May.

    Several people attended the meeting to oppose the greenway, largely Miccosukee Indians living along the route and their supporters.

    It’s certainly going to cause more destruction. My ancestors have been here for years. They died for the right to be here.- Betty Osceola, Miccosukee living on Tamiami Trail

    “You’re only helping the ones who are going to make a profit out of this. We don’t want it here,” said Betty Osceola, a Miccosukee who lives along Tamiami Trail. “It’s certainly going to cause more destruction. My ancestors have been here for years. They died for the right to be here.”

    Karen Dwyer, a founder of the Stonecrab Alliance, a Naples-area environmental and human rights group, said the project’s organizers should defer to the wishes of those living along the projected path.

    “If there is just one Seminole or Miccosukee who doesn’t want it, we shouldn’t put it in,” she said. “We should respect their rights. I don’t think anyone should be building a bike path across their sacred burial grounds, their battlegrounds and the places where they live. It’s going to cause a lot of impact. There will be dredging in wetlands. I just think the environmental impacts are too great.”

    Mark Heinicke, project manager for the Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department, said neither tribe has taken a position on the project but they will be consulted through the entire process. His department has taken the lead on the feasibility study.

    Huff, the cyclist who helped come up with the proposal, said the trail is intended to go in with as small an environmental impact as possible.

    “I love the parks. I love nature,” she said. “I don’t want to do anything that’s going to take away from anyone’s experience of the parks. I want to do the minimum amount of trail heads and amenities.”

    No one expects the greenway to be built at once, and no one expects the funding to come from a single source. But the initiative is clearly a serious one, involving federal, state and local agencies that have gone deep into a planning process to make the trail a reality.

    No one knows the cost yet. Heinicke said greenways typically cost $500,000 to $1 million per mile. By this formula, the Everglades greenway would cost $38 million to $76 million.

    The cost would vary along the route, since the trail would have to take a variety of forms to get it across the Everglades. Depending on the location, the trail could run a few yards from the road, on a newly constructed boardwalk, on top of a levee, on a bridge that would have to be built for that purpose and in various other configurations.

    Funding for greenways generally draw on federal transportation money, state grants, local sources and corporate donations. Most of the $38 million to construct the 36-mile Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway, for example, came from federal transportation funds and from a foundation run by the family that founded Walmart.

    There is also no set timetable on when work could start, if it ever does. There will be years of studies, including an environmental impacts statement. If work does take place, backers say the project will be built in segments, beginning at each end and working toward the middle.

    David Fleshler|Sun-Sentinel

    Air Quality

    Coalition Urges EPA to Curb Airplane Carbon PollutionTake Action

    The Environmental Protection Agency is finally taking its first steps to reduce airplane carbon pollution because of a lawsuit by the Center and allies. But as the climate crisis deepens, a coalition of groups is urging the Obama administration to move faster to regulate the airline industry’s skyrocketing emissions.

    In a new letter to the EPA and the Federal Aviation Administration, the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation organizations are asking for strong standards to reduce aircraft emissions soon. Big cuts wouldn’t be tough: The best U.S. airlines already generate 27 percent less greenhouse pollution than the worst ones, experts say.

    In May the EPA will begin determining whether aircraft carbon pollution endangers health or welfare. It clearly does; airplanes are one of the fastest-growing sources of planet-warming gases. But the agency should simultaneously start analyzing how to make airplanes less polluting. Unless it takes that second step quickly, sensible regulations could be delayed for years.

    Urge the EPA to act now so that aircraft pollution will be reduced no later than 2016. Please sign #7 in “Calls to Action” above.

    Transportation

    Energy poured in to cutting-edge conservation ideas

    A battery that could treble electric car mileage and cut costs is among the innovations moving closer to reality on the frontiers of science.

    LONDON, 23 January, 2015 − Here’s a plan for cutting your carbon footprint: fit your electric car with a high-performance lithium sulphur battery that can treble the mileage for a much lower cost.

    That’s just one of many examples of innovative energy conservation solutions that scientists are currently on the brink of turning into reality. Others include fitting your clothes with zinc oxide nano-generators that can harvest mechanical energy from the moving fabric to charge your portable devices.

    Then you could move into a new suburban development carefully planned to maintain all the trees that store and sequester carbon. You’ll be in a city anyway − and cities are best placed to plan new energy efficiencies.

    Linda Nazar, chemistry professor at the University of Waterloo, Canada, and colleagues believe that a lithium-sulphur battery is one step nearer reality.

    Light and cheap

    Sulphur is abundant, light and cheap, and a rechargeable sulphur cathode could be so much less costly than the lithium cobalt ion in lithium-ion cells – if only the sulphur could be stopped from dissolving after a few cycles.

    She and her team report in report in Nature Communications that ultrathin, nanoscale sheets of manganese oxide could stabilize the sulphides and deliver a cathode that could be recharged more than 2000 times. So far, the Waterloo team claim only to have worked out the mechanism that would stabilize a sulphur battery: there is much more to be done.

    Meanwhile, a group at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology report in Applied Physics Letters that piezoelectric zinc oxide nanotechnology could be used to harvest mechanical energy.

    Any movement – any sound, any vibration, any exertion of muscle, any step, any movement of fabric – represents energy that could be turned into electrical current, especially with a little help from exquisitely-designed aluminium nitride insulators.

    Illustration showing stacked flexible nanaogenerators (left) Image: Giwan Yoon/KAIST

    Illustration showing stacked flexible nanaogenerators (left)
    Image: Giwan Yoon/KAIST

    So someone wearing, for instance, a medical device that monitors heart rate and breathing could actually provide the power for the device just by walking about, or breathing. That’s the possibility: more exploration is needed, say the scientists.

    Both pieces of research are reports from the frontiers of energy conservation science. But at the University of Florida, one group zeroed in on the oldest carbon storage and sequestration technology of all: the tree.

    Homes needed

    There are 19 million people in Florida now. By 2040, the population could be 25 million. That’s a lot of new homes needed − and it would help if they started off in a conservation-friendly way.

    Environmental specialist Richard Vaughn and colleagues report in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning that they looked at a plan to build 1,835 homes on a 700 hectare site that is – for the moment – a managed pine forest.

    They grouped the trees according to age and calculated that, since older trees hold more carbon than younger ones, it would make sense to reduce the area for subdivision and group the homes closer together so as to preserve the oldest trees.

    One of the designs saved 71% of the original stored carbon and 82% of the carbon that would have been sequestered by the forest.

    “If you have a compact subdivision, you’ll have fewer roads,” said one of the Florida report authors, Mark Hostetler, professor specializing in biodiversity conservation. “With fewer roads, you have less energy used to produce the roads.

    Patches for wildlife

    “That impacts how much carbon is released. With more patches of biodiversity, you also have natural patches for wildlife. And there’s water. With compact neighborhood design you’ve decreased the pavement and you’ve kind of separated the built areas from the natural areas.”

    All urban areas offer scope for energy savings, because all cities generate a higher proportion of carbon emissions than rural areas.

    Felix Creutzig. head of the land-use, infrastructures and transport group at Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, Berlin, and colleagues looked at energy and emissions data from 274 cities in 60 countries – cities home to 21% of the global urban population – and considered the future under a “business-as-usual” scenario.

    They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that energy use would triple by 2050. Another two to three billion people would crowd into the cities, and the urban “footprint” would grow by 1.2 million square kilometers – an area the size of South Africa.

    Some thoughtful urban planning and energy policies, however, could make a big difference − especially if the planners got to work early.

    “This window of opportunity exists especially for low-emissions cities in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, where urbanization and associated rises in income could lead to high increases in urban energy use if current trends continue,” they report. –

    Tim Radford|Climate News Network|23 January, 2015

    Cheap gas hurts market for e-cars

    DETROIT Drivers trying to calculate whether it’s practical to own an electric car are facing a new math. U.S. gas prices have fallen more than $1 per gallon over the past 12 months, to a national average of $2.06, according to AAA. That makes electric cars — with their higher prices tags — a tougher sell.

    Fuel savings are not top of mind to many consumers right now,” says John Krafcik, president of the car shopping site TrueCar.com. Automakers have responded by slashing thousands of dollars off the sticker price of electrics. Incentives averaged $4,159 per electric car last year, up 68 percent from 2013, according to Kelley Blue Book. The average for all vehicles was $2,791.

    The discounting, combined with new vehicles such as the BMW i3, the electric Kia Soul and the Mercedes B Class, boosted sales of electrics 35 percent last year, according to Ward’s AutoInfoBank. But the gains came before gas prices plunged in the second half. So the discounting will likely continue. In January, the electric version of the Ford Focus was selling for an average of $25,168, or 16 percent lower than the sticker price of $29,995, according to TrueCar. Here’s how the numbers break down:

    ­ Price: Even with automakers’ incentives, electric vehicles cost more than gas-powered cars because of the expensive batteries that run them. A gas-powered Focus, for example, currently sells for $9,300 less than the electric version. At current gas and electricity prices, it would take 27 years to pay off the premium for the electric version. If gas went back to $4 per gallon, it would take eight years. At the high end of the market is the Tesla Model S, which starts at $71,070. That’s almost $15,500 more than the BMW 535i, a gas-powered competitor.

    Federal and local incentives can narrow the gap. New electric cars — whether bought or leased — qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit, and many states offer additional tax credits or other incentives. California offers a $2,500 cash rebate to electric car buyers, for example.

    With the federal tax credit, it would take five years to pay off the difference in price for an electric Focus at current fuel prices.

    ­Fueling cost: Even when gas prices hover around $2, it’s cheaper to charge an electric car. Residential electricity averages 12 cents per kilowatt hour nationally; at that price, it costs around $550 per year to charge the Nissan Leaf for 15,000 miles of driving. At $2.06 per gallon, it costs $950 per year to fill the similarly sized, gas-powered Sentra, which averages 33 mpg; at $4 per gallon, it would cost $1,816.

    ­Resale value: Electric cars don’t hold value well, in part because of their higher up-front cost. Incentives, which can inflate demand and cheapen a car’s image, won’t help. Consumers are also wary of new technology and are less willing to take a chance on used electric cars, despite battery warranties of up to eight years. Kelley Blue Book says electric cars have the lowest residual value of any segment, at around 20percent after 60 months. Full-size trucks, by comparison, hold 50 percent of their value.

    Dee-Ann Durbin|Associated Press|1/23/2015

    Recycling

    You probably didn’t know how bad food waste is for the environment

    Almost one-third of all food produced in the U.S. in 2010 was ultimately thrown out. That kind of waste represents a serious problem for both the environment and your family’s pocketbooks.

    Food waste, in fact, is the leading source of garbage in landfills and accounts for a staggering 17% of American methane emissions.

    Much of the problem stems from the near ubiquitous Best-Before labelling systems, a voluntary measure introduced by manufacturers in the ’70s largely for shelving and inventory purposes.

    These labels are not the final voice on food safety, but rather general estimations of a product’s freshness.

    You can reduce your footprint, and your family’s grocery bill, by considering food before blindly tossing it out. Trust your eyes and nose when judging the quality of your food.

    Colin Rabyniuk|January 14, 2015

    Every Time You Recycle a Can, You Strengthen the U.S. Economy

    As a good citizen, when you faithfully toss that soda can into a recycling bin, you are contributing to a multibillion dollar industry. Yes. Believe it or not, recycling metals like steel and aluminum brings the people and the economy of the U.S. billions of dollars in income. It accounts for jobs to thousands, incurs tax revenue in billions and provides massive export opportunities.

    To understand the impact of such a huge industry, we must understand the scrap metal recycling business. When cars, machinery and even airplanes are no longer usable, they are sent to scrap metal recycling centers. These centers tear the machines apart; separate the metals, safely dispose unrecyclable bits, and produce new metal that can be used to manufacture new cars, new machinery and even new blenders.

    Creates a Circular Economy

    Steel is the most recycled material worldwide. This is largely due to the fact that steel can be recycled over and over and over again with no loss in quality from its original state. In 2010, the scrap recycling industry in the U.S. processed 74 million tonnes of scrap steel. This created a scrap market value of more than $22 billion. That’s 22 billion that can be put to use, regenerated and sustained by just one industry.

    Steel is a ferrous metal, but non-ferrous metals (containing no iron) can also be recycled infinitely without losing their physical and chemical properties. Recycling non-ferrous metals like aluminum, zinc and copper increases the value of the non-ferrous scrap industry each year, which means that each year this industry adds more revenue to the U.S. economy than ever before.

    Encourages International Trade

    Each year, the U.S. scrap metal industry exports scrap products worth billions to more than 90 countries, including China, Turkey, South Korea, Taiwan and India. These countries import the metals and then use them to manufacture their own products. Their use of recycled scrap further lessens the use of valuable raw materials like iron ore. There is also an 86 percent reduction in air pollution and a 76 percent in water pollution through the use of recycled steel.

    Provides Jobs

    The scrap recycling industry supports hundreds of thousands of jobs per year—both directly and indirectly. These jobs come from the direct production and financial procedures that occur during the recycling process as well as those working in auto yards and machine supplying services that facilitate the actual recycling of the metals. These jobs add to the sum of the total economic activity generated by the U.S. scrap recycling industry, which numbers in billions.

    To add to it, these jobs are not limited to those living in the urban areas. The scrap metal industry has facilities in rural areas as well as cities, in all states, in every part of the country. Thus, the industry is as widespread as it is profitable.

    Garners Tax

    The scrap metal industry provides billions in state and local revenues each year. These returns are then used to help local communities all over the country. Add to that the federal taxes by the industry and its employees. That makes it billions of dollars in taxes that the scrap recycling industry provides each year to the U.S. economy.

    The scrap metal industry is definitely strengthening the U.S. economy. Millions of tons of scrap metal, paper, plastic, glass, textiles, rubber and electronics are recycled each year to manufacture reusable items. And yet, according to Sims Metal Management, $7 billion worth of “waste” material was disposed of in landfills in 2010 instead of being recycled. If we all do our part, we can avoid this waste and help the scrap metal industry boost our economy even further.

    Anne Staley|January 20, 2015

    Trash Free Seas Alliance

    Unless you are intimately involved with Algalita, you probably know little about a very interesting organization called the TRASH FREE SEAS ALLIANCE (TFSA).

    In 2012, a unique alliance of major entities that influence plastic distribution and recovery worldwide was formed.  Ocean Conservancy took the lead to form the Trash Free Seas Alliance, with Algalita one of the founding members.

    The TRASH FREE SEAS ALLIANCE believes we all share in the responsibility to find solutions to ocean pollution.  The alliance provides a unique space for respectful dialogue that is both productive and honest between a diversity of interests from the nonprofit, corporate, government, and academic sectors that in the past might not have had such cooperation. With guidance from some of the world’s leading scientific advisors, dialogue provides a focus on marine debris issues of greatest concern followed by the incubation and piloting of effective, innovative solutions.

    Bill Francis, Board Member,represents Algalita and has attended several meetings of the alliance,.  He says  “It should be noted that there are varying perspectives on the problem of marine debris, which has made for active and at times conflicting opinions on what needs to be done, and when.  The discussions have been effective at getting issues on the table for discussion, including recognition that the majority of ocean pollution is plastic.”

    This is the first time in the world of plastic pollution that the stakeholders of the problem are sitting at the same table with each other and have committed to jointly solving the problem.  No one organization has everything necessary to solve the problem of plastic pollution on their own.  There are continuing discussions about how much and what type of programs should be implemented.  The role of recycling has generated a lot of discussion.  Alternate materials, legislative changes, extended producer responsibility, and many other approaches are being evaluated, to varying degrees, by the members.

    Bill’s comments about what’s ahead in 2015…:

    ”  The good news is that after three years, there is a positive movement, agreed upon by the members, to develop, fund, and implement a worldwide program to reduce plastic pollutants from getting into our oceans.  This world-wide concept has the potential to be a true game-changer, and is being championed by major plastic resin manufacturers.

    The solution, should it be implemented as currently envisioned, will be the first process for stopping plastic pollution agreed upon by everyone on all sides of the issue.  More details of the Trash Free Seas Alliance collaborative solution are expected to be presented at the Clinton Global Initiative University meeting in March 2015 in Miami.

    There are a lot of things being done by people associated with Algalita that don’t get much press.  The work with the TFSA is just one example of the behind the scenes work being done that doesn’t show up in our day to day results monitoring.  I thought you should know that with the TFSA, Algalita is using our “Mouse That Roared” voice to continue to ensure that solutions to plastic pollution are in the forefront of decision makers’ minds around the globe as we move into the future.”

    Miscellaneous

    Florida Online Trail Guide

    A total of 429 hiking, biking, paddling and equestrian trails are featured in a new online guide produced by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Greenways and Trails, part of the award-winning Florida state park system. Trail maps for five different regions are divided into land and paddling trails with each trail marked with an icon and featured by name and category. Trails two miles or longer have been included.

    “This guide is a must for residents and visitors who enjoy outdoor recreation,” said Donald Forgione, Director of the Florida Park Service, “It shows the abundance and diversity of trails found in Florida — all available in one easy-to-navigate site.”

    Non-motorized trails are increasingly seen as a way to improve the overall health of Florida residents and visitors and they contribute to Florida’s tourist economy. According to the American Heart Association, every dollar spent on biking and walking paths could save approximately $3 in medical expenses. In addition, trails are part of the booming outdoor recreation industry. According to the 2012 Outdoor Industry Association report, outdoor recreation in Florida generates $38.3 billion in consumer spending and creates nearly 330,000 jobs.

    The Greenways and Trails Online Trail Guide can be accessed by logging onto www.floridagreenwaysandtrails.com.

    Digging out of Canada’s mining dilemma

    It sometimes seems people in the mining and fossil fuel industries — along with their government promoters — don’t believe in the future. What else could explain the mad rush to extract and use up the Earth’s resources as quickly and wastefully as possible?

    Global mining production, including fossil fuels, has almost doubled since 1984, from just over nine-billion tons to almost 17-billion in 2012, with the greatest increases over the past 10 years.

    It’s partly to meet rising demand from expanding human populations and supply the cycle of consumerism that fuels the global economy through planned obsolescence, marketing unnecessary products and wasteful technologies. And, as the British Geological Survey notes, “It may be uncomfortable to acknowledge, but wars have been the drivers for many of mankind’s technological developments. Such technologies depend on secure supplies of numerous mineral commodities for which demand inevitably escalates in times of war.”

    Mining is important to human well-being, but the current economic system means it’s often aimed at maximizing profit with little regard for people or the environment. It’s one area where Canadians can make a difference. Canada is a global leader in mining, especially in Latin America. According to the Mining Association of Canada, “Almost 60% of the world’s public mining companies are listed on the TSX and TSX-Venture Exchanges, and 70% of the equity capital raised globally for mining companies is raised on these exchanges.” The association adds, “Canadian-headquartered mining companies accounted for nearly 37% of budgeted worldwide exploration expenditures in 2012.” Canada has also tied foreign aid to support for mining interests.

    Canadian mining companies haven’t always had a great record for environmental and social responsibility in communities where they operate — but public scrutiny and pressure may be helping to change that. In the face of criticism, industry leaders insist practices are improving. “The Canadian mining industry, and certainly what our members are doing now, is much, much different now than what it was 20, 25 years ago,” Canadian Mining Association president and CEO Pierre Gratton told Global News in response to a critical Council on Hemispheric Affairs article.

    According to the June 2014 article, “Large-scale Canadian mining companies, and the Canadian government that oversees such commercial ventures, have failed to adhere to reliable standards of international law, which assert that home states are responsible for the actions of their citizens abroad.” The article points to evidence that Canadian mining corporations have often operated with little regard for nature reserves and protected areas, and have depleted scarce water supplies, neglected indigenous rights and disrupted communities and created health problems through air, water and land pollution. “Each year, a number of protestors who raise concerns against mining activities are seriously injured, persecuted, or even killed.”

    That appears to be the case at a gold- and silver-mining operation in Guatemala run by a subsidiary of Canada’s Goldcorp. According to the Guardian, it’s drawn numerous local complaints for “intimidation, threats, social division, violence, bribery and corruption of local authorities, destruction and contamination of water sources, livestock dying, houses shaking, cracked walls, the criminalization of protest, forest cleared, and appalling health impacts such as malnutrition and skin diseases.” An indigenous man who spoke against the mine was beaten and burned alive by hooded men who first questioned him about anti-mining activities. Goldcorp has denied the allegations.

    In the past, Canadian companies haven’t been held responsible for actions of foreign subsidiaries — but that may change. A number of people from Eritrea and Guatemala are suing three Canadian mining companies in Canadian courts for alleged abuses at mines in those countries, which include forced labor, human rights violations and assault. The Financial Post said lawyers are getting around the “corporate veil” by “suing the Canadian parents for negligence and other traditional torts on the grounds that management hasn’t lived up to the standards outlined in their public pronouncements.” In other words, the companies are being held globally to the standards they publicly claim at home.

    Mining is important but, as with much human activity in the face of rapidly growing populations, we must learn to develop and use resources in ways that aren’t wasteful, destructive and unsustainable. And mining companies must be held to high standards for environmental and human rights protection — at home and abroad.

    By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundations Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

    Growing Almonds in California Uses More Water Than LA

    Is your snacking contributing to water scarcity?

    California has been going through a multi-year drought that a recent study has shown is the “worst in 1,200 years“, with 2014 being the driest year in a century. Nobody knows exactly when things will return to normal, but some researchers say that, if history is our guide, it’s possible that it could take decades.

    While there’s been some precipitation lately, if we look at the U.S. Drought Monitor website, it’s pretty clear that things are still pretty far from normal, with a majority of the state being “extreme” and “exceptional” drought conditions:

    USDM/Public Domain

    So water is scarce and everybody is being asked to do their part to conserve (despite some misfire from the authorities, such as giving fines to some people because they didn’t water their lawn). But how much water are people really using compared to other industries in the state?

    MJ/Screen capture

    The state produces over 80 percent of the world’s almonds and 43 and 28 percent of the world’s pistachios and walnuts. (source)

    As you can see on the chart above, just the walnuts that are exported overseas from California use more water than all the homes and businesses in Los Angeles (population: over 10 million), and the almonds produced for export use more than 2x LA’s water, while all the almonds are close to 3.5x. And Los Angeles is a big water user (just look at San Francisco at the top of the chart…).

    This provides some context for who the real water users in the state are. Remember, almonds and walnuts are just two crops, though a very thirsty ones; it takes about a gallon of water to grow one almond, and nearly five gallons to produce a walnut. Does it make sense to ask people to take shorter showers while the area dedicated to growing nuts in the state has doubled in the past 10 years?

    What California really needs to deal with its drought challenge is a much more water-efficient food-producing sector (other areas of the world are much more advanced in techniques like drip-irrigation and permaculture), and that might mean that certain crops are just not meant to be grown in the state, at least not in the quantities that they are now.

    Kara|selected from TreeHugger|January 15, 2015

    Family Farmers Hold Keys to Agriculture in a Warming World

    Half a billion small-scale farmers are helping pioneer sustainable techniques.

    The challenge is huge but the solution may be small—very small.

    Faced with global warming and a population that will swell to nine billion by 2050, a growing number of experts say that the way to feed the masses as climate change makes growing our food more difficult is to focus on family farmers, who often can barely feed themselves.

    When policymakers in the developed world talk about feeding billions of extra mouths in the decades to come, it’s multinational agribusinesses—which operate industrial-size farms—that usually get most of the attention.

    But in the long run, it’s small-scale farmers in the developing world, using low-tech but sustainable agricultural techniques, who may be best poised to lead the way in adapting to a warmer world and ensuring the security of the global food supply.

    There are more than 500 million family farmers who produce at least 56 percent of the world’s food. Most are subsistence farmers, scratching out barely enough to feed their own families, with little or nothing left over to take to market.

    A report on family farms released in March by the sustainable agriculture group Food Tank credits these small-scale farmers with contributing to global food security—that is, having sufficient quantities of food available on a consistent basis—through the use of more sustainable agricultural practices.

    For instance, while agribusinesses use fertilizers and pesticides to yield bumper crops of single grains like corn and wheat, smallholder farmers are growing indigenous plants that help protect increasingly stressed natural resources (like water) and that improve the density of nutrients in crops.

    That helps explain why the Food Tank report, which crunched data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other sources, concluded that smallholder farms “are not only feeding the world, but also nourishing the planet.”

    The United Nations, for its part, has designated 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming to raise the profile of these unsung agricultural workers and spotlight the roles they could play in the face of challenges like climate change, malnutrition, and poverty.

    Small-Scale Vulnerability—and Resilience

    A sobering report released last month by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of cataclysmic consequences of global warming that are already being felt, including drought, extreme heat, and flash floods.

    Those changes have an outsize impact on farmers.

    For years, civil wars, corrupt governments, poor infrastructure, and other political conditions were the major impediments to food production and distribution.

    But Jerry Glover, a U.S. Agency for International Development agroecologist, says there’s been a “significant shift … In many regions, an emerging cause of food insecurity is the lack of ability of those farm fields to support yields that are necessary because of land degradation and the effects of climate change.”

    Glover and sustainable agriculture experts like Danielle Nierenberg, president of Food Tank, see smallholder farms in the developing world—and sometimes on city rooftops in the developed world—as leading the way in navigating an increasingly uncertain agricultural landscape.

    In its recent report, Food Tank cited the many low-tech “agroecological approaches” used by smallholder farms “to combat climate change and create resilience to food price shocks, natural disasters, and conflict.”

    Among them: agroforestry, which integrates trees and shrubs into crop and livestock fields; solar-powered drip irrigation, which delivers water directly to plant roots; intercropping, which involves planting two or more crops near each other to maximize the use of light, water, and nutrients; and the use of green manures, which are quick-growing plants that help prevent erosion and replace nutrients in the soil.

    Former U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman recently returned from Guatemala, where farmers are adding vegetables—and biodiversity—to traditional corn and bean fields, rotating coffee with other crops to fight a deadly leaf fungus, and using drip irrigation techniques to grow mangos and plantains.

    “What they need is fertilizers; they need better seeds,” said Glickman, speaking at a Future of Food forum hosted at National Geographic’s Washington headquarters on Friday. “They don’t necessarily need GMO crops right now.”

    Genetically modified crops are the work of big agriculture, which has generally been more focused on increasing yields on some of the world’s most productive lands.

    Indeed, large-scale monoculture farming, with its heavy use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically modified seeds, has contributed to the disappearance of about 75 percent of plant genetic diversity over the last century, according to the FAO.

    At a time when Food Tank says that 30 percent of the world’s arable land has been depleted of nutrients and has become less productive because of unsustainable agricultural methods, family farmers who plant a variety of indigenous crops are obtaining 20 to 60 percent higher yields than farmers who cultivate only one crop.

    And “forgotten crops” like millet, sorghum, and the now-trendy quinoa—often staples of smallholder farms—can go longer without water and can better resist disease than mass-produced and resource-thirsty corn, wheat, soybeans, or rice.

    “These are the crops often referred to as ‘poor people’s food’ or sometimes even ‘weeds,'” Nierenberg says, “but these are foods that can be resilient to the impacts of climate change.”

    Farming Out of Poverty

    Even as they demonstrate ways to help feed a more crowded, warmer world, small-scale farmers are among the most threatened by climate change and the surging population.

    Many family farmers till two hectares (about five acres) or less, often on marginal lands susceptible to changing climate and catastrophic weather events in developing areas of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Central America.

    And despite their vocation, they’re among the world’s poorest and most malnourished. To make matters worse, they live disproportionately in regions that are expected to see the largest population bumps by midcentury, making limited resources even scarcer.

    “Most of the poverty in the developing world is in rural and agricultural areas,” says Glickman. “To the extent that we can give family farms [and] smallholder farms in sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia additional tools to use better farming methods, better seeds, better fertilizer, more technical information to grow better crops, we help pull them out of poverty.”

    According to a UN Millennium Project Task Force report cited by Food Tank, about half of the world’s hungry live on smallholder family farms.

    Investing in these “stewards of the land,” as Nierenberg calls them, so that they can grow more nutritious food will not only help raise them out of poverty but also help a warming planet.

    Andrea Stone|National Geographic|May 2, 2014

    Food diversity under siege from global warming, U.N. says

    ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Climate change threatens the genetic diversity of the world’s food supply, and saving crops and animals at risk will be crucial for preserving yields and adapting to wild weather patterns, a U.N. policy paper said on Monday.

    Certain wild crops – varieties not often cultivated by today’s farmers – could prove more resilient to a warming planet than some popular crop breeds, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.

    But these wild strains are among those most threatened by climate change.

    Ensuring food security and protecting at-risk species in the face of climate change is one of “the most daunting challenges facing humankind”, the paper said.

    Between 16 and 22 percent of wild crop species may be in danger of extinction within the next 50 years, said the FAO paper. They include 61 percent of peanut species, 12 percent of potato species and 8 percent of cowpea species.

    “In a warmer world with harsher, more variable weather, plants and animals raised for food will need to have the biological capacity to adapt more quickly than ever before,” FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo said in a statement.

    “Preventing further losses of agricultural genetic resources and diverting more attention to studying them and their potential will boost humankind’s ability to adapt to climate change.”

    To improve the resilience of food systems, the paper recommends strengthening gene banks to include crops now considered “minor”, a review of breeding practices, the creation of community seed banks, and improving seed exchanges between farmers in different regions.

    Seeds and genetic material from crops under threat should be preserved in labs when they are not safe in the wild, said the paper.

    World food production will need to rise by an estimated 60 percent by 2050 to feed a growing population, the FAO said, and climate change will make boosting yields tougher in many regions.

    Cropping areas are set to shrink in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, India and northern Australia, while warming temperatures will open new regions to agriculture in the northern United States, Canada and much of Europe.

    Farming systems – and crops themselves – will need adapt to cope in these new environments, the paper said.

    Scientists worry that certain crop varieties and animal breeds could be abandoned by farmers and livestock keepers in the face of climate change without steps to conserve them.

    Breeders will need to identify genetic resources with suitable traits for developing varieties that can thrive in extreme climatic conditions, the paper said.

    Reporting By Chris Arsenault; editing by Megan Rowling

    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

    Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

    ConsRep 1501 C

    “To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” Terry Tempest Williams

    Announcements

    WATER CONSERVATION EXPO & VENDOR FAIR

    Reducing Your Water Footprint: Corporate & Institutional Practices

    Guest Speakers From:

    WALT DISNEY WORLD, MARRIOTT, PUBLIX,

    UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI, TOHO WATER AUTHORITY

    AND FLORIDA HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION

    View Full Agenda

    Friday, February 20, 2015

    8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

    South Florida Water Management District Headquarters

    B-1 Auditorium, 3301 Gun Club Road

    West Palm Beach, Florida 33406

    Florida’s Transportation Visioning Regional Forums

    Public participation is solicited without regard to race, color, national origin, age, sex, religion, disability, or family status.

    Persons who require special accommodations under the American with Disabilities Act or persons who require translation services (free of charge) should contact

    Paula San Gregorio at 850-414-4811 at least seven days prior to the meeting.
    Florida Transportation Plan
    Strategic Intermodal SystemSIS
    For more information and to register:
    www.FloridaTransportationPlan.com
    Please join the Florida Department of Transportation for a series of Transportation Visioning Forums!
    These forums provide an opportunity for Floridians to offer their thoughts about the state’s transportation
    system at all levels – statewide, regional, and local.

    Monday February 2, 2015
    Sebring Civic Center
    335 West Center Avenue
    Sebring, Florida 33870
    1:00 PM – 5:00 PM

    Tuesday February 3, 2015
    Marriott Hotel at Tampa International Airport
    Broward Room
    4200 George J. Bean Parkway
    Tampa, Florida 33607
    1:00 PM – 5:00 PM

    Thursday February 5, 2015
    Delray Beach Old School Square Gymnasium
    51 North Swinton Avenue
    Delray Beach, Florida 33444
    1:00 PM – 5:00 PM

    Wednesday February 11, 2015
    FDOT District 2
    Urban Office Training Facility
    2198 Edison Avenue
    Jacksonville, Florida 32204
    8:30 AM – 12:30 PM

    Thursday February 12, 2015
    Emerald Coast Convention Center
    1250 Miracle Strip Parkway SE
    Fort Walton Beach, Florida 32548
    1:00 PM – 5:00 PM

    Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center’s little explorer play zone now open

    FREE TO MEMBERS!
    Exhibit open every day from 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM

    Come play, learn and explore! The new Little Explorer Play Zone at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center

    features a crawl through Gopher Tortoise burrow, a life size Bald Eagle’s nest and more interactive areas for little ones to investigate.

    “The opening of the Little Explorer Play Zone provides us with another great venue for reaching kids through environmental education,” said Rob Moher,

    Conservancy President and CEO. “Environmental education is one of the Conservancy’s most important missions,

    and reaching future generations through programs such as our Little Explorers preschool program helps us fulfill our goal of protecting our water, land, wildlife and future.”

    The play zone is open seven days a week from 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

    ”The Conservancy’s Little Explorer Play Zone provides a destination for families, visitors, year-round residents and grandparents

    to enjoy a fun, engaging, educational experience while teaching young children the importance of a healthy environment,”

    said Nicki Dardinger, Education Director at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

    Along with the opening of the new play zone, the Conservancy now offers their “Little Explorers” pre-K programs.

    The programs, designed for children age 18 months to 5 years old, allow children to explore nature and discover amazing

    animals through multi-sensory and interactive activities, stories and crafts.

    Little Explorers Schedule – All Programs Begin at 10 AM
    January 8 
    Felina the Florida Panther
     January 22 – Grand Opening
    Molly the Manatee
     February 12 
    Sassy the Sea Turtle
     February 26 
    Little Owl Lost
    March 12 
    Be a Junior Veterinarian
    March 26 
    Little Cardinal and Friends
     April 9 
    Build a Burrow
     April 23 
    How My Little Hands Can Help the Earth

    Information sought regarding suspicious pelican deaths

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is seeking information regarding the injuries and deaths of approximately six pelicans in the Florida Keys.

    In the past few weeks, pelicans with slit throat pouches have been turning up on Cudjoe Key and in areas from Sugarloaf Key to Big Pine Key.

    The FWC asks anyone who has information regarding these incidents to call its Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or text Tip@MyFWC.com.

    People with information may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.

    Brown pelicans are fish-eating birds that skim the water and collect fish in their large throat pouches.

    The throat injuries prevent them from swallowing and can ultimately lead to them dying of starvation.

    The brown pelican is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act and as a State Species of Special Concern by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule.

    Photos available on FWC Flickr site: Go to https://flic.kr/s/aHsjBAae65

    Audubon of the Western Everglades presents

    Feathers and Friends Gala

    Thursday, February 12th, 2015

    Keynote Speaker Author/Photographer : 

    Mac Stone

    Naples Beach Hotel (Beach Side)

    851 GULF SHORE BOULEVARD NORTH,

    NAPLES, FLORIDA 34102

    6:00 pm Cocktails – Cash Bar

    7:00 pm Dinner

    Followed by Speaker

    $125.00 per person

    Reserve your seat today.

    or

    Call Lori at 239~643~7822

    or e-mail audubonwe@live.com

    See you on February 12th!

    Photo Exhibit Reflects Environmental Mission

    NAPLES – The Friends of Rookery Bay and the United Arts Council of Collier County invite the public to attend the Ninth Annual Juried Photography Exhibition

    at Rookery Bay Reserve, debuting Jan. 29, 2015. The exhibition highlights works by 21 Florida artists and features a wildlife theme.

    The exhibit, on display through March 26 was selected by preeminent photographer Clyde Butcher

    who has wandered Florida and the country recording the last wild vestiges of America through his unique large-format camera techniques.

    An opening reception in the art gallery takes place from 5:30 – 7 p.m. Jan. 29 and includes wine and light hors d’oeuvres.

    Cash prizes will be awarded to the top three photographers in the show during the reception.

    Admission is $3 for the public and free for participating artists and their guests, as well as members of the United Arts Council and Friends of Rookery Bay.

    Space is limited. To book your registration, click here.

    Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center is located at 300 Tower Rd., off Collier Boulevard between Naples and Marco Island.

    WHAT:      Ninth Annual Juried Photography Exhibition

    WHEN:      Jan. 29 – March 26, 2015
                      Monday – Saturday 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

    WHERE:    Rookery Bay Reserve Environmental Learning Center
                      300 Tower Rd.
                      Naples, FL 34113

    mburgerdep|Jan. 13, 2015

    Of Interest to All

    Celebrate Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary’s 60th anniversary

    You can strike out in any direction to shake down your holiday eating – sandy shore, neighborhood sidewalk, regional park or urban green space.

    But if you have northern relatives here for a short duration or haven’t been out for yourself in a while, consider a visit to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

    This Collier County gem was saved 60 years ago from the clutches of Lee-Tidewater Cypress Company, a logging operation intent on converting the world’s last expanse of virgin bald cypress into post-war lumber. By the late 1940s, threats to the swamp weren’t a new phenomenon: A warden was patrolling in the early 1900s to protect the largest wood stork rookery in the world, as well as showier wading birds that were slaughtered for their plumes for fancy hats.

    But it was the logging of centuries-old, goliath trees that caused the National Audubon Society and a stream of others to raise the support necessary to purchase the invaluable stand.

    By Dec. 15, 1954, 2,880 acres were secured-with 640 old-growth acres a gift from the logging company.

    The “Corkscrew rookery” became Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, with Audubon warden Henry (Hank) P. Bennett guiding visitors on canoe excursions through the lettuce lakes.

    Around 1957, a boardwalk was completed and a chickee hut welcomed intrepid visitors, who arrived via a 4-wheel drive down the dirt-road entrance.

    Today, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary encompasses more than 13,000 acres, with the 2.25-mile boardwalk and the Blair Audubon Center the centerpiece of what’s often called the crown jewel of National Audubon Society’s environmental centers.

    “Every day throughout the swamp, amazing scenes unfold. With patience, luck and silence, I’ve had the opportunity to see enough to be amazed,” says Sanctuary director Jason Lauritsen.

    He recounts moments of deep connection with the ecosystem: “It’s hard to beat standing statuesque in a foot of water in the heart of the bald cypress forest as four dozen raucous wading birds forage on a dense concentration of fish while four otters engage in carefree play, or laying prone on an old logging trail eye-to-eye with a bobcat as he walks within 20 feet of me, casting a casual but lingering glance, or to witness thousands of diminutive tree swallows descending feverishly en masse on a wax myrtle bush, so oblivious to my presence that I could have reached out and touched them.”

    The Corkscrew Watershed is part of the Western Everglades, and while it’s still home to the nation’s largest nesting colony of federally endangered wood storks, the watershed also is connected to the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve and Delnor-Wiggins State Park, and the Estero, Imperial and Cocohatchee rivers along the way. It’s also connected with water quality and wildlife habitat at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and the Big Cypress National Preserve.

    Currently, Lauritsen says, Audubon is focusing on restoring the health and function of three square miles of Corkscrew’s shallow wetlands by 2020 to support the health of the wood storks and other wildlife.

    “Corkscrew serves as a benchmark against which people can identify and measure both the scale of man-induced changes in the environment and a measure of the health of the ecosystem,” he says.

    If You Go

    * What: A 2.25-mile boardwalk and the Blair Audubon Center, which has a theater, library, photography gallery, restrooms, nature store, and tea room with healthful and vegetarian lunch options.
    * Hours: The 2.25-mile boardwalk is open daily from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (last admission sold at 4:30 p.m.), 365 days of the year.
    * Admission: $12 for adults; $6 for college students with photo ID; students 6 – 18 are $4; and children under 6 are free. Current National Audubon Society members are $6.
    * Details: No pets allowed
    * Directions: 375 Sanctuary Road W., northeast of Naples, 15 miles from I-75 on Immokalee Road (Exit 111); 239-348-9151;
    www.corkscrew.audubon.org

    * Upcoming Events:

    World Wetland Day festival, Saturday, Jan. 31

    Wednesday,  05:15 PM EST

    House Republicans passed a bill forbidding scientists from advising the EPA on their own research

    The “reform” measure makes room for industry-funded experts on the EPA’s advisory board

    Congressional climate wars were dominated Tuesday by the U.S. Senate, which spent the day debating, and ultimately failing to pass, a bill approving the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. While all that was happening, and largely unnoticed, the House was busy doing what it does best: attacking science.

    H.R. 1422, which passed 229-191, would shake up the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, placing restrictions on those pesky scientists and creating room for experts with overt financial ties to the industries affected by EPA regulations.

    The bill is being framed as a play for transparency: Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, argued that the board’s current structure is problematic because it  “excludes industry experts, but not officials for environmental advocacy groups.” The inclusion of industry experts, he said, would right this injustice.

    But the White House, which threatened to veto the bill, said it would “negatively affect the appointment of experts and would weaken the scientific independence and integrity of the SAB.”

    In what might be the most ridiculous aspect of the whole thing, the bill forbids scientific experts from participating in “advisory activities” that either directly or indirectly involve their own work. In case that wasn’t clear: experts would be forbidden from sharing their expertise in their own research — the bizarre assumption, apparently, being that having conducted peer-reviewed studies on a topic would constitute a conflict of interest. “In other words,” wrote Union of Concerned Scientists director Andrew A. Rosenberg in an editorial for RollCall, “academic scientists who know the most about a subject can’t weigh in, but experts paid by corporations who want to block regulations can.”Speaking on the House floor Tuesday, Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., summed up what was going on: “I get it, you don’t like science,” he told bill sponsor Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah. “And you don’t like science that interferes with the interests of your corporate clients. But we need science to protect public health and the environment.”

    The House, alas, is staying the course, voting this week on two other bills aimed at impeding the EPA, including one that prevents the agency from relying on what it calls “secret science” in crafting its regulations — but which in reality, opponents argue, would effectively block the EPA from adopting any new rules to protect public health. The trio, wrote Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, in an editorial for the Hill, represents “the culmination of one of the most anti-science and anti-health campaigns I’ve witnessed in my 22 years as a member of Congress.”

    The White House has threatened to veto all three.

    Lindsay Abrams|staff writer|Salon,

    House Approves Keystone XL—Again

    In a move that surprised exactly no one, the Republican-dominated U.S. House of Representatives voted today for the tenth time to approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Following a short floor discussion that reiterated all the familiar arguments pro and con, the House voted 266-153 in favor of the project.

    The vote took place only four days after the current session opened, rejecting pleas from some Democrats to give the matter more consideration. But it’s not like the result was ever in doubt; with an enhanced Republican majority in the House, it passed by an even bigger margin that in the previous votes.

    “The only folks who think the first major act of Congress should be to force approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline are those in the pocket of oil and gas billionaires,” said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. “That explains why 266 members of the House voted to try and do just that. Big polluters are getting the Congress they paid for, and they are now trying to make everyone else pay the price.”

    On the Senate side, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the pipeline by a vote of 13-9 and passed it on to the full Senate for a vote. Senator majority leader Mitch McConnell, who has said repeatedly that approving the pipeline would be his first priority in the new Congress, said that a cloture vote will take place Monday night. With 60 sponsors, the bill will easily clear that hurdle and go on for a guaranteed-to-pass vote, following its failure to pass the Senate in November by one vote. It will then be the first item that the new Congress sends to President Obama to sign, which he’s indicated lately that he would veto the bill.

    Stirring up the rhetoric on the already heated issue, the Nebraska Supreme Court this morning failed to find in favor of local landowners trying to block the state from implementing the route chosen by TransCanada, the company building the pipeline. Obama has given as one of his reasons—pipeline supporters’ coordinated talking point today is that this was an “excuse” rather than an actual reason—that the Nebraska court case was pending. But it was far from the only reason he’s offered in recent weeks. The State Department review of the project is still pending and concerns about its environmental impacts remain.

    “We take risk to our lands, the American people face threats to their health, and TransCanada gets to reap the rewards,” said Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “That’s not a winning formula for our country or the economy.”

    And despite the Nebraska ruling, it appears Obama is still not inclined to let the Keystone XL project proceed.

    “Regardless of the Nebraska ruling today, the House bill still conflicts with longstanding executive branch procedures,” said White House spokesman Eric Schultz. “If presented to the president, he will veto the bill.”

    While an additional three Democrats are said to support the bill in addition to its 60 sponsors, the Senate would need 67 votes to override the President’s veto.

    “Ultimately, this House vote was nothing but a waste of time,” said Brune. “The President has made it clear he will reject these attacks on his authority and repeatedly stated that he will reject the tar sands pipeline if it contributes to the climate crisis. The President has all the evidence he needs to reject Keystone XL now, and we are confident that he will.”

    “Given that it will never become law, this legislation only serves to remind us of just how out of whack Congressional Republicans’ priorities are with what the American people actually want,”said the Stop Dirty Tar Sands Coalition in a statement. “Rather than wasting time on meaningless legislation to do the bidding of one foreign oil company, Congress should be getting to the real work of taking action on climate and transitioning the United States to a clean energy future.”

    Anastasia Pantsios|January 9, 2015

    Eight Jacksonville District projects received congressional authorization

    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Eight U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District projects that will provide critical infrastructure to local ports and ecosystem restoration efforts in Florida received approval as part of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014, which was signed into law June 10.

    Four navigation projects and four Everglades restoration projects were included in the bill that, in total, authorized 34 Corps projects across the nation.

    “Receiving authorization for these projects demonstrates the valuable work we’re doing here in Florida and the quality work the Jacksonville District continues to deliver,” said Col. Alan Dodd, Jacksonville District commander. “Congressional authorization is the first step.  It now makes these projects eligible for funding during the appropriations process.  After receiving appropriations, we can then finalize designs, partnership agreements and contract actions that will enable us to start construction.” 

    The eight Jacksonville District projects that have received congressional authorization are:

    • Jacksonville Harbor’s Mile Point Project: Will improve navigation safety by reducing the impacts of ebb tide crosscurrents at the confluence of the St. Johns River with the Intracoastal Waterway
    • Jacksonville Harbor Project: Will deepen the Jacksonville Harbor channel to allow passage of larger ships, thereby reducing transportation costs and improving navigation safety
    • Canaveral Harbor Project: Will deepen Canaveral Harbor to improve navigation safety and allow passage of  larger ships
    • Lake Worth Inlet Project: Will widen and deepen Lake Worth Inlet to increase overall port efficiency and safety and generate transportation cost savings.
    • Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir Project: Will capture and store basin stormwater runoff, along with a portion of water discharged from Lake Okeechobee; Water will be slowly released into the Caloosahatchee River
    • C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project:  Will preserve clean water for Everglades National Park and restore freshwater flows to Florida Bay
    • Broward County Water Preserve Areas:  Will reduce seepage loss from Water Conservation Area (WCA) 3A/3B to the C-11 and C-9 basins and capture, store and distribute surface water runoff from the western C-11 Basin that has been discharged into WCA 3A/3B
    • Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands Project: Will improve the ecology of Biscayne Bay, including the freshwater wetlands, tidal creeks and near-shore habitat by redirecting freshwater runoff that is currently being discharged through man-made canals directly into Biscayne Bay

    All eight of these project’s final reports, known as Chief of Engineers, or Chief’s reports, were submitted to Congress for authorization between 2011 and 2014.  One of the district’s broadly-supported ecosystem restoration projects, the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), is scheduled to complete its Chief’s Report in summer 2014, making it ineligible for the current legislation.  However, under this timeline, the massive restoration project aiming to restore the central portion of the central Everglades will be completed in less than three years since its initiation in 2011.

    “I’ve heard concerns about CEPP not making it into this legislation; however, do not lose sight of the fact that four important Everglades restoration projects have just been authorized,” said Dodd. “Two of which, the C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir and Broward County Water Preserve Areas projects, are ones that CEPP will build off of.  So, although CEPP isn’t included in this bill for authorization, it will not hinder our ability to move forward with projects that need to be constructed prior to CEPP implementation.”

    A project’s inclusion in WRRDA does not guarantee funding in the appropriations process. Still, getting a project into an authorization measure is a necessary first step to acquire funding in a later spending bill. With these eight projects authorized, they now move one step closer towards implementation and open up the queue for additional planning efforts that will be delivering completed Chief’s Reports in the months ahead, such as CEPP, for authorization in a future WRRDA bill.

    Additional information on these projects available at: www.saj.usace.army.mil

    Jenn Miller|U.S. Army Corps of Engineers|Jacksonville District

    Audubon Conservation Priorities and the 114th Congress

    It’s a new year and a new Congress—and with it, a new political dynamic in Washington, DC—that will have important impacts for birds and their habitats over the next two years.
    After the 2014 midterm elections, control of the U.S. Senate changed hands to the Republican Party, which also expanded its majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Over the next two years of the 114th Congress, and the final two years of President Obama’s term, Audubon will be engaged in the key policy issues and debates that affect bird conservation, including the fate of hundreds of millions of dollars in conservation funding, the protection of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws, and the defense of our spectacular public lands.
    Funding Conservation
    Starting in February, the annual federal budget process kicks off. Over the following months, Congress will determine the funding levels for critical conservation programs that help protect and restore habitat and wildlife populations. Audubon’s priorities include the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, as well as key regional projects such as Everglades restoration and sustaining water resources in the Colorado River basin.
    Protecting Bedrock Environmental Laws
    Throughout the next Congress, we can expect a clash over foundational laws such as the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which has helped save birds like the Bald Eagle and Brown Pelican from extinction. We can also expect Congressional efforts to blunt the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a key tool for public engagement on environmental issues, and the Antiquities Act, which allows the President to designate new National Monuments to protect critically important landscapes.
    Defending Public Lands
    In the new Congress, we are prepared to see perennial battles over public lands return to the fore, including renewed efforts in the House and Senate to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development. Congress may also again attempt to force the construction of a misguided and destructive road through protected Wilderness in Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, a globally Important Bird Area.
    The next Congress will offer a number of opportunities for Audubon advocates to take a strong stand in support of conservation funding, legislation that will benefit birds and other wildlife, and bedrock environmental laws that protect the environment and public health.

    A Third of Natural World Heritage Sites Are in Danger

    From the Florida Everglades to Africa’s first national park, many crucial protected areas are in serious trouble

    SYDNEY—A third of the United Nations World Heritage sites valued for their geology, biodiversity or natural beauty are in danger. And 8 percent of all the sites—including Everglades National Park in Florida—are now considered to be in critical condition, according to an assessment from the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

    The IUCN plays an advisory role in the UNESCO World Heritage program, which maintains a list of international sites of cultural or natural significance. Once a site is listed, it is up to the nation where it is located to maintain and preserve the site. Being listed in the program is deemed incredibly valuable for tourism, so the threat of de-listing can prompt countries to take action to better protect a site.

    Just because some sites are now listed as critical doesn’t mean “the situation can’t be fixed, that we need to resign ourselves to failure. We need to fix it,” says Cyril Kormos, vice-chair for world heritage at the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas.

    Until now, most assessments of World Heritage sites have been reactionary, undertaken only when threats have been identified. This is the first report to look at all of the 228 natural and “mixed” sites in the program, ignoring those of only cultural value, such as the Statue of Liberty. The final report, released November 13 at the IUCN World Parks Congress, ranks sites in one of four categories: “good”, “good with some concerns”, “significant concern” and “critical”.

    The majority of natural World Heritage sites are doing well, the report finds, but many are dealing with threats such as invasive species and the impacts of mismanaged tourism, dams, hunting and fishing. The pressure on these sites is only increasing as the world’s climate warms. Climate change was one of the threats that landed the Great Barrier Reef in the “significant concern” category, along with coastal development, shipping, runoff and fishing. The region’s effective management is what spared it from a critical listing. “Certainly climate change is the main potential threat to natural world heritage globally,” says Elana Osipova, a world heritage monitoring officer at the IUCN.

    Sarah Zielinski|smithsonian.com|November 14, 2014

    Human activity has pushed Earth beyond four of nine ‘planetary boundaries’, scientists warn

    Humans eroding the earth scientists warn

    Humanity is disrupting the health of the earth and the future is grim unless changes are made to stabilize climate, biodiversity and fertilizer distribution says lead researcher ANU Professor Will Steffen.

    At the rate things are going, the Earth in the coming decades could cease to be a “safe operating space” for human beings.

    That is the conclusion of a new paper published in the journal Science by 18 researchers trying to gauge the breaking points in the natural world.

    The paper contends that we have already crossed four “planetary boundaries”.

    They include the extinction rate; deforestation; the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; and the flow of nitrogen and phosphorous (used on land as fertilizer) into the ocean.

    “What the science has shown is that human activities – economic growth, technology, consumption – are destabilizing the global environment,” said Will Steffen, who holds joint appointments at the Australian National University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and is the lead author of the paper.

    These are not future problems, but rather urgent matters, according to Professor Steffen, who said that the economic boom since 1950 and the globalized economy have accelerated the transgression of the boundaries.

    No one knows exactly when push will come to shove, but he said the possible destabilization of the “Earth system” as a whole could occur in a time frame of “decades out to a century”.

    The researchers focused on nine separate planetary boundaries first identified by scientists in a 2009 paper. These boundaries set theoretical limits on changes to the environment, and include ozone depletion, freshwater use, ocean acidification, atmospheric aerosol pollution and the introduction of exotic chemicals and modified organisms.

    Beyond each planetary boundary is a “zone of uncertainty”.

    This zone is meant to acknowledge the inherent uncertainties in the calculations, and to offer decision-makers a bit of a buffer, so that they can potentially take action before it’s too late to make a difference.

    Beyond that zone of uncertainty is the unknown – planetary conditions unfamiliar to us.

    “The boundary is not like the edge of the cliff,” said Ray Pierrehumbert, an expert on Earth systems at the University of Chicago. “They’re a little bit more like danger warnings, like high temperature gauges on your car.”

    Professor Pierrehumbert, who was not involved in the paper published in Science, added that a planetary boundary “is like an avalanche warning tape on a ski slope”.

    The scientists say there is no certainty that catastrophe will follow the transgression of these boundaries. Rather, the scientists cite the precautionary principle: We know that human civilization has risen and flourished in the past 10,000 years – an epoch known as the Holocene – under relatively stable environmental conditions.

    No one knows what will happen to civilization if planetary conditions continue to change. But the authors of the Science paper write that the planet “is likely to be much less hospitable to the development of human societies”.

    The authors make clear that their goal is not to offer solutions, but simply to provide information. This is a kind of report card, exploiting new data from the past five years.

    It’s not just a list of Fs. The ozone boundary is the best example of world leaders responding swiftly to a looming environmental disaster. After the discovery of an expanding ozone hole caused by man-made chemicals, chlorofluorocarbons, the nations of the world banned CFCs in the 1980s.

    This young field of research draws from such disciplines as ecology, geology, chemistry, atmospheric science, marine biology and economics. It’s known generally as Earth Systems Science. The researchers acknowledge the uncertainties inherent in what they’re doing. Some planetary boundaries, such as “introduction of novel entities” – CFCs would be an example of such things – remain enigmatic and not easily quantified.

    Better understood is the role of carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. The safe-operating-zone boundary for CO2 had previously been estimated at levels up to 350 parts per million (ppm).

    That’s the boundary – and we’re already past that, with the current levels close to 400 ppm, according to the paper. That puts the planet in the carbon dioxide zone of uncertainty that the authors say extends from 350 to 450 ppm.

    At the rate CO2 is rising – about 2 ppm per year – we will surpass 450 ppm in just a couple of decades, said Katherine Richardson, a professor of biological oceanography at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and a co-author of the new paper.

    Humanity may have run into trouble with planetary boundaries even in prehistoric times, said Richard Alley, a Penn State geoscientist who was not part of this latest research. The invention of agriculture may have been a response to food scarcity as hunting and gathering cultures spread around, and filled up, the planet, he said.

    “It’s pretty clear we were lowering the carrying capacity for hunter-gatherers 10,000 years ago,” Professor Alley said.

    Today there are more than 7 billion people, using an increasing quantity of resources, turning forest into farmland, boosting the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and driving other species to extinction.

    The relatively sudden efflorescence of humanity has led many researchers to declare that this is a new geological era, the human age, often referred to as the Anthropocene.

    The Earth has faced shocks before, and the biosphere has always recovered. Hundreds of millions of years ago, the planet apparently froze over – becoming “Snowball Earth”.

    About 66 million years ago, it was jolted by a mountain-sized rock from space that killed half the species on the planet, including the non-avian dinosaurs. Life on Earth always bounced back from these shocks.

    “The planet is going to take care of itself. It’s going to be here,” Professor Richardson said.

    “There’s a lot of emotion involved in this. If you think about it, the American ethic is ‘the sky’s the limit’. And here you have people coming on and saying, ‘No it isn’t, the Earth’s the limit,’ ” she said.

    Technology can potentially provide solutions to many of the environmental problems we face today. But technological innovations often come with unforeseen consequences. Professor Pierrehumbert said we should be wary of becoming too dependent on technological fixes for global challenges.

    “The trends are towards layering on more and more technology so that we are more and more dependent on our technological systems to live outside these boundaries,” he said.

    “It becomes more and more like living on a spaceship than living on a planet.”

    Play video

    Joel Achenbach|The Washington Post|January 16, 2015

    Calls to Action

    1. Give Panthers room to roam – here
    2. Tell Congress: Keep Your Hands Off Our Wolves ‏- here
    3. Tell the EPA to protect our U.S. forests – here
    4. Tell the EPA you support stronger smog standardshere
    5. Tell Congress to protect GMO labeling, not corporate secrets – here
    6. Protect ocean wildlife from destructive fishing practices – here
    7. Tell the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Council to Protect Deep-Sea Coralshere

    Birds and Butterflies

    Audubon Bird Stewards Were Key to the Success of Florida’s Coastal Waterbirds in 2014

    Thanks to Audubon’s volunteer and staff bird stewards, 2014 will be remembered as an extraordinary year for Florida’s coastal waterbirds. There are many reasons to celebrate the incredible effort put forth by the dedicated individuals who work to make sure that nests are protected, chicks have the opportunity to fledge, and the public is educated about Florida’s remarkable coastal habitat. Here are a few highlights from around the state:

    • Audubon partners, staff, and more than 110 bird stewards protected nesting birds on 200 miles of coastal beaches from Bald Point State Park in Franklin County westward to Pensacola Beach. Our new-in-2014 Panhandle rooftop nesting program monitored 109 historically active buildings and protected 29 active colonies of Least Terns, Black Skimmers, and Gull-billed Terns through the season. 
    • The Northeast Florida region saw the state’s top nesting success for two shorebird species: 22 American Oystercatcher chicks and more than 40 Wilson’s Plover chicks fledged on shell rakes and beaches.
    • In a season uninterrupted by tropical storm surge, Audubon stewards helped carry a big win across the finish line – spectacular nesting success for Black Skimmers in both the Southwest and Suncoast regions. Over 1,200 young took flight by season’s end. Survival of these young birds will mean an increase in the state’s estimated population of 4,000 Black Skimmers by a whopping 30%.
    • Indian Key, one of the islands in Pinellas National Wildlife Refuge, supported successful nesting supported successful nesting by seven bird species for the first time since the 1880s, thanks to predator control by Refuge staff. It was once such a large colony that it took Lechevalier’s plume hunters over two years to shoot the thousands of birds nesting on the island.

    Click on the regions below to read more on 2014 nesting season highlights for your special area of the Florida – or scroll down to read them all.

    A special thanks: this year’s success could not have been achieved without the dedication of more than 500 bird stewards and Colony Watchers working at more than 45 beaches and 32 wading bird rookeries with our many partner organizations and site managers. Thank you for all that you do.

    Are you interested in becoming a Bird Steward? We are now looking for volunteers for the 2015 nesting season. If you would like more information about opportunities in your area, please send an email with your contact information and location to flconservation@audubon.org

    The evolution of modern bird species revised by major new study

    The genomes of modern birds reveal how they emerged and evolved after the mass extinction that wiped out dinosaurs 66 million years ago, reports Smithsonian Science.

    The family tree of modern birds has long been the subject of debate and the evolution of our more than 10,000 species has not been known.

    Now a four-year international collaboration involving more than 200 scientists from 80 institutions in 20 countries has sequenced, assembled and compared full genomes of 48 bird species.

    The first findings of the Avian Phylogenomics Consortium led by Guojie Zhang of the National Genebank at BGI in China and the University of Copenhagen, Erich D Jarvis of Duke University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Thomas P Gilbert of the Natural History Museum of Denmark, suggests some remarkable new ideas about bird evolution.

    The consortium focused on species representing all major branches of modern birds including the crow, duck, falcon, parakeet, crane, ibis, woodpecker and eagle.

    The first flagship paper published in Science presents a new family tree for birds, based on whole-genome data.

    The new family tree resolves the early branches of Neoaves (new birds) and supports conclusions about some relationships that have been long-debated.

    For example, the findings support three independent origins of water birds. They also indicate that the common ancestor of core land birds, which include songbirds, parrots, woodpeckers, owls, eagles and falcons, was an apex predator, which also gave rise to the giant terror birds that once roamed the Americas.

    The whole-genome analysis dates the evolutionary expansion of Neoaves to the time of the mass extinction event 66 million years ago that killed off all dinosaurs except some birds.

    This contradicts the hypothesis in previous research that Neoaves arose 10 to 80 million years earlier than that.

    Using this new genomic data, the conclusion is that only a few bird lineages survived the mass extinction.

    These gave rise to the more than 10,000 Neoaves species that now comprise 95 per cent of all the bird species we have today.

    The researchers believe that the ecological niches left by the mass extinction event may have allowed birds’ rapid species radiation, in less than 15 million years, which explains modern avian biodiversity.

    The second flagship paper produced by the consortium describes the big picture of genome evolution in birds.

    Six other papers describe how vocal learning may have independently evolved in a few bird groups and in the human brain’s speech regions; how the sex chromosomes of birds came to be; how birds lost their teeth; how crocodile genomes evolved; ways in which singing behaviour regulates genes in the brain; and a new method for phylogenic analysis with large-scale genomic data.

    Visit Science to learn more.

    Partnership to help Sage-Grouse continues to grow

    When many different groups come together for a common goal, the impacts can be tremendous. That’s the case for the sage-grouse, an at-risk bird in the American West. Since 2010, over 1,100 ranches have teamed with the Sage-Grouse Initiative (SGI) and conserved 4.4 million acres across 11 western states, an area equivalent of 2 Yellowstone National Parks. The diverse partnership led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service includes ranchers, state and federal agencies, universities, non-profit groups and businesses that rally around a common vision of conserving wildlife through sustainable ranching.

    SGI continues to grow and just today ConocoPhillips announced the company will invest $1 million to further strengthen the partnership. The contribution was made to the Intermountain West Joint Venture, one of the key partners of SGI. New funding will be used to extend the partnership through 2019 by providing $200,000 per year to support SGI’s Strategic Watershed Action Team, or SWAT. This team provides field delivery, science, communications and partner development support to SGI.

    “SGI has been successful because our partners have bought into this model of voluntary, proactive conservation and stepped up with significant investments,” NRCS Chief Jason Weller said. “This growing partnership shows what private landowners, NRCS and partners have accomplished together over the last five years, and it will play a key role in transforming the initiative into a durable conservation effort.”

    Once numbering some 16 million before settlement, sage-grouse have dwindled to as few as 200,000 birds. The SGI works to reverse trends by proactively conserving sage-steppe landscapes, providing win-win solutions to non-regulatory threats facing ranching, sage grouse and 350 other species.

    NRCS launched SWAT in 2011 as its primary vehicle for increasing capacity and scaling up SGI delivery. This model teams 40-plus paying partners with NRCS and places 27 partner conservationists in NRCS field offices to provide technical assistance to private landowners and facilitate conservation projects. Additional SWAT funding is invested in science to effectively target conservation investments where benefits are highest and in communications to maintain partner and landowner support and participation.

    “We have a mechanism that works,” said Tim Griffiths, Sage Grouse Initiative National Coordinator.  “SWAT is an incredibly efficient way to leverage partner resources and is resulting in unprecedented SGI participation and outcomes.”

    A primary outcome of SWAT is the doubling of SGI conservation since 2011. The SWAT has helped:

    • Establish conservation plans for more than 1.8 million acres of grazing systems, providing better habitat for sage-grouse and forage for livestock;
    • Remove more than 200,000 acres of conifers, restoring original habitat the sage-grouse needs.
    • Mark or remove almost 800,000 feet of fence, minimizing the risk of sage-grouse colliding with fences;
    • Restore more than 800 acres of wetlands, enhancing habitat; and

    Place almost 25,000 acres in conservation easements, guaranteeing healthy habitat in the long-term. From private companies to state and federal agencies to non-profit organizations, all SGI partners rally around the common vision of achieving wildlife conservation through sustainable ranching.

    “In SGI, all partners put their differences aside and agree to work on common ground,” Griffiths said. “Focusing all our efforts to achieve a shared vision has enabled us to achieve unprecedented success.”

    Griffiths also credits the SGI and SWAT’s success to the partners’ willingness to work together behind a common SGI brand and share success with all. “It’s amazing what you can accomplish when nobody takes the credit.”

    The agreement became effective Jan. 1 and continues through December 31, 2019.

    Learn more about Sage-Grouse Initiative.

    Byrhonda Lyons

    Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve Tags Migrating Monarch Butterflies

    APALACHICOLA – The Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve completes its 14th year of tagging migrating Monarch butterflies along the Apalachicola causeway bridge. This year, staff and volunteers captured and tagged 1,213 of the long-distance fliers before releasing them to continue their migration to Mexico.

    The Monarch butterflies are tagged during the early morning when temperatures are low so that staff can safely collect them with very minimal stress to the butterflies. There is a high concentration of Monarchs that roost on saltbushes in a cold-slumber that allows for easy and safe collection of the insects by hand. The captured Monarchs are kept in large plastic containers until they are each given a feather-light coded tag that includes three letters and three numbers that will associate the Apalachicola tag site with other points of recovery for each butterfly.

    “This tagging project helps researchers determine the pathways taken during the butterflies’ long migration from the U.S. to Mexico, which can be up to 3,000 miles long,” said Jennifer Harper, manager of the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve. “For example, this year, the Apalachicola Research Reserve team recaptured a Monarch that had been tagged in the St. Marks Refuge in October.”

    The migration information is particularly important because it helps researchers determine the influence of weather on the migration and the overall survival status of Monarchs. Research indicates the Monarch population has declined up to 90 percent due to various factors such as habitat loss, land management practices and some types of chemically aided agriculture. The loss of quality breeding habitat due to increased use of herbicide-tolerant crops has been particularly harmful because the butterfly’s host plant (milkweeds) has been essentially eliminated in the agricultural landscape where they were once abundant. Because Monarchs are viewed as a biological flagship species for conservation, monitoring the population also helps to assess habitat loss at local, regional and international levels.

    In addition to Monarch tagging, the Apalachicola Research Reserve education staff also conducted five separate Monarch tagging demonstrations with 121 students and staff from Franklin County Schools, grades pre-K through 7. Teaching students about the life cycle (metamorphosis) of butterflies is an excellent strategy to develop their awareness for similar biological processes that occur throughout the natural world.

    There are many things people can do to help increase the Monarch population. One of the easiest and most helpful options is to create breeding habitat for Monarchs by planting milkweed that is native to Florida. Native milkweed is the only food source that Monarch butterflies will feed on and there are numerous species of native milkweed to choose from. Host plants that are the easiest to grow in Florida are butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). Both are great nectar sources for pollinators, provide breeding habitat and are readily available at plant nurseries.

      mburgerdep|Jan. 02, 2015

    California Condor Chick Born in the Wild

    Here’s something cool: Unbeknownst to wildlife experts, somewhere deep in central California’s Ventana Wilderness, two adult California condors successfully mated and reared a chick — without anyone noticing. The newly discovered, untagged juvenile was reported by biologists with the Ventana Wildlife Society as a welcome oversight; it suggests these condors may finally be gaining independence.

    By 1987 California condor numbers had plummeted to an all-time low of just 27 individuals. But after years of captive breeding and reintroduction to the wild, these largest of North American birds have begun to rebound. Today their numbers are estimated at 425, with 219 of these living wild in California, Utah, Arizona and Mexico.

    This is the third time since 1997 that a condor hatching has been missed. May there be many more hatchings to come.

    Get more at Discovery News.

    Plan to save monarch butterflies backfires

    It started with the best of intentions. When evidence emerged that monarch butterflies were losing the milkweed they depend on due to the spread of herbicide-resistant crops in the United States, people across the country took action, planting milkweed in their own gardens. But a new paper shows that well-meaning gardeners might actually be endangering the butterflies’ iconic migration to Mexico. That’s because people have been planting the wrong species of milkweed, thereby increasing the odds of monarchs becoming infected with a crippling parasite.

    Habitat loss in both the United States and Mexico has long been the main threat to the North American monarch population. After decades of effort, Mexico curbed deforestation in the butterflies’ winter habitat in the oyamel fir and pine forests of Michoacán and Mexico states. But the loss of milkweed in the United States continues to be a major issue, scientists say. The plant, on which monarchs lay their eggs, used to spring up in between rows of corn, soybeans, and other commercial crops. But today, many farmers plant herbicide-resistant versions of these crops, which allows them to spray their fields with powerful chemicals such as Roundup—killing milkweed in the process. Last year, the number of monarchs that migrated to Mexico was the lowest ever recorded, covering a mere 0.67 hectares of forest, down from a high of 21 hectares in the 1996 to 1997 season. (Scientists in Mexico are planning to announce this season’s count by the end of the month.)

    That’s why many monarch buffs swung into action. However, the only species of milkweed widely available in the United States is Asclepias curassavica, which is native to the tropics. Tropical milkweed is pretty, easy to grow, and monarchs love it. “If I were a gardener, I would have done the same thing,” says Dara Satterfield, a doctoral student in ecology at the University of Georgia, Athens.

    The problem is that tropical milkweed—at least when planted in warm environments like southern Texas and the U.S. Gulf Coast—doesn’t die back in the winter like native milkweed does. When presented with a place to lay their eggs year-round, many monarchs don’t bother making the trip to Mexico at all. Tropical milkweed is “trapping the butterflies” in these new winter breeding sites, says Lincoln Brower, a monarch biologist at Sweet Briar College in Virginia.

    But it turns out that year-round tropical milkweed presents an even more direct threat to the butterflies. Milkweed hosts a protozoan parasite called Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE). As caterpillars, monarchs ingest the parasite along with their normal milkweed meals, and when they hatch from their chrysalises they are covered in spores. “It’s a debilitating parasite,” Satterfield says. Infected monarchs are much weaker than their healthy counterparts and don’t live nearly as long. In fact, if an OE-infected monarch tries to migrate, it will probably die long before it arrives in central Mexico, Satterfield says.

    In that way, the migration is vital to keeping OE under control in the North American monarch population, Satterfield explains. Migrating “weeds out some of the sick monarchs every year,” preventing them from passing the parasite along to their offspring. What’s more, it gives the monarchs a chance to leave behind contaminated milkweed plants, which then die off during the winter. When the butterflies return in the spring “they start over fresh” with new, clean milkweed, Satterfield says. But if the monarchs aren’t migrating, and the tropical milkweed isn’t dying off, OE never goes away.

    To figure out if tropical milkweed is increasing OE infections among monarchs, Satterfield enlisted scientists and volunteers to help her sample thousands of butterflies at breeding sites in the United States, as well as in their winter habitat in Mexico. The technique is easy to learn and, with a light touch, harmless: Simply press a small piece of transparent tape against a monarch’s abdomen to collect any OE spores and then send the tape to Satterfield’s lab. She and her colleagues then counted the number of spores trapped by the tape to tally infection rates at different sites.

    Monarchs who stayed in the southern United States for the winter were five to nine times more likely to be infected with OE than migrating butterflies were, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. In some winter breeding sites, 100% of monarchs they sampled were infected, Satterfield says.

    The work proves “absolutely definitively” that tropical milkweed is threatening the monarchs and their migration, Brower says. And the findings are particularly troubling for monarchs returning from Mexico in the spring, he adds. They pass right through these winter breeding sites and could lay eggs on infected milkweed while they are there or mate with infected butterflies. Infecting the returning monarchs with OE “is the last thing we want to do, particularly when the monarchs are in the low numbers that they are now,” Brower says.

    Satterfield’s study “quantifies something we knew was a risk,” says Karen Oberhauser, a conservation biologist at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. And it’s hitting the monarchs at a particularly vulnerable moment. If the North American population were bigger, the number of winter-breeding, OE-infected butterflies would be trivial compared with the number of hearty monarchs migrating to Mexico. But as the population shrinks, risks like OE can have an outsized effect on overall population numbers, Oberhauser explains. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now reviewing the monarch’s status under the Endangered Species Act.

    There is some good news. Nearly all tropical milkweed in the southern United States is in gardens, Oberhauser says. So if everyone who planted it to help the butterflies can be convinced to replace it with a native milkweed species—or at least cut the plant back every few weeks during the winter—they could quickly put a stop to the destructive winter-breeding trend. (Native milkweed isn’t always as easy to get as tropical milkweed, but it’s starting to become more available online, Satterfield reports.) According to Oberhauser, tropical milkweed is “a problem we can solve.”

    Lizzie Wade|13 January 2015

    Monarch butterfly protections could restrict GMOs

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently said the monarch butterfly may warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act.

    A petition to list the monarch butterfly as a threatened species has set the stage for another battle over biotech crops.

    Federal regulators think monarch butterflies may be a threatened species, which could eventually provide biotechnology critics with a new justification for restricting genetically engineered crops.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently said the butterfly may warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act, finding that environmental groups have furnished “substantial” data that indicates federal protection for the insect may be necessary.

    Environmentalists claim that widespread adoption of “Roundup Ready” biotech crops resistant to glyphosate herbicides has increased usage of these chemicals, depleting the monarch’s milkweed habitat and drastically reducing its populations.

    The Endangered Species Act is a “very powerful” tool that environmentalists hope to use against glyphosate and, by proxy, herbicide-tolerant biotech crops, said Jay Vroom, executive director of Croplife America, an agribusiness group.

    “It’s a real concern, without a doubt,” he said. “To single out the GE resistance and glyphosate technology is suspect and does not comport with scientific trends.”

    The petition to list monarch butterflies as threatened is a new tactic in a broader campaign to discourage the cultivation of genetically modified organisms, said Damien Schiff, an attorney specializing in property rights and environmental law.

    In the past, pesticide opponents have successfully used the Endangered Species Act to require the federal government to increase its scrutiny of various chemicals and limit their uses, he said.

    “This is an element of the same general strategy,” Schiff said.

    If environmentalists succeed in obtaining a listing for the monarch butterfly, it would implicate the spraying of glyphosate and other herbicides on biotech crops across the large geographic area occupied by the species, Schiff said.

    Monarch butterflies in the Midwest — where they’re most populous — overwinter in mountainous areas of Mexico, while those in the West overwinter on the California coast.

    “That raises the possibility of a huge critical habitat designation,” Schiff said.

    Biotech critics were dealt a major legal setback in 2013, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the USDA lacked authority to regulate genetically engineered crops that are not plant pests.

    That opinion undermined the effectiveness of lawsuits challenging USDA’s environmental analysis of transgenic crops. Such cases had previously hindered the commercialization of “Roundup Ready” alfalfa and sugar beets.

    Biotech critics have since shifted their approach. Recent efforts, for example, have focused on encouraging states and local governments to label or restrict genetically engineered crops.

    Environmental groups say their ESA listing petition is motivated by a desire to halt the steep decline in monarch populations rather than an anti-biotech agenda.

    Over the past two decades, the number of monarchs has dropped from roughly 1 billion to less than 35 million, their petition claims.

    Even so, the environmental groups believe the main hazard facing the insect is the loss of summer breeding habitat due to GMO-related glyphosate applications, said Tierra Curry, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the petitioners.

    “We think one of the largest threats right now is increased pesticide use,” she said.

    Defenders of pesticides and biotechnology discount this argument, pointing out that farmers have removed milkweed from their fields prior to the advent of biotechnology or glyphosate.

    “We’ve been controlling milkweed a lot longer than Roundup has been available,” said Vroom of Croplife America.

    The petitioners argue that unlike older herbicides, glyphosate kills the perennial plant’s roots and prevents it from regenerating. The chemical is also much more prevalent now that major commodity crops can withstand it, they say.

    “We do see a very strong correlation,” said Sarina Jepsen, endangered species program director for the Xerces Society, another petitioner. “I just don’t think farmers were (previously) as effectively controlling milkweed.”

    If the species is listed, a possible remedy could involve farmers setting aside reserves free of biotech crops resistant to glyphosate, allowing milkweed to recover, she said.

    The USFWS is unlikely to take drastic measures, said Curry. “I don’t think the Service is going to come out and tell people they can’t grow Roundup Ready crops.”

    Possible restrictions would also not be immediate — the agency probably won’t decide whether or not to list the monarch until 2016, and then require another year to finalize the rules, she said.

    The pesticide industry does not believe a listing is justified and plans to oppose the listing petition, said Vroom. “This is another marathon journey.”

    Capital Press|January 12, 2015

      Invasive species

    Invasive lionfish threaten Gulf of Mexico ecosystem

    GALVESTON, Texas — It sounds like something from a horror film: A beautiful, feathery-looking species of fish with venomous spines and a voracious appetite sweeps into the Gulf of Mexico, gobbling up everything in its path.

    Unfortunately for the native fish and invertebrates it’s eating, this invasion isn’t unfolding on the big screen.

    In recent months, news has been spreading of lionfish, a maroon-and-white striped native of the South Pacific that first showed up off the coast of southern Florida in 1985. Most likely, someone dumped a few out of a home fish tank. With a reproduction rate that would put rabbits to shame and no predators to slow its march, the fish swept up the Eastern seaboard and down to the Bahamas and beyond, where it is now more common than in its home waters.

    “The invasive lionfish have been nearly a perfect predator,” says Martha Klitzkie, director of operations at the nonprofit Reef Environmental Education Foundation, or REEF, headquartered in Key Largo, Fla. “Because they are such an effective predator, they’re moving into new areas and, when they get settled, the population increases pretty quickly.”

    The lionfish population exploded in the Florida Keys and the Bahamas between 2004 and 2010. As lionfish populations boomed, the number of native prey fish dropped. According to a 2012 study by Oregon State University, native prey fish populations along nine reefs in the Bahamas fell an average of 65 percent in just two years.

    Lionfish first appeared in the western Gulf of Mexico in 2010; scientists spotted them in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, a protected area about 100 miles off the Texas coast, in 2011. Now scuba divers spot them on coral heads nearly every time they explore a reef. So far, significant declines in native fish populations haven’t occurred here, but the future is uncertain.

    “It’s kind of this impossible battle,” says Michelle Johnston, a research specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Galveston, who manages a coral reef monitoring project at the Flower Garden Banks. “When you think how many are out there, I don’t think eradication is possible now.”

    Lionfish are fascinating, beautiful creatures. Two nearly identical species are found in the Gulf. They grow to about 18 inches and have numerous venomous spines. Their stripes are unique, like those of a zebra. They hover in the water, hanging near coral heads or underwater structures where reef fish flourish. Ambush predators, they wait for prey fish to draw near, then gulp them down in a flash.

    The fish mature in a year and can spawn every four days, pumping out 2 million eggs a year. They live about 15 years.

    In the South Pacific, predators and parasites keep lionfish in check. But here, nothing recognizes them as food — those feathery spines serve as do-not-touch warnings to other fish. The few groupers that have been spotted taste-testing lionfish have spit them back out, Johnston says.

    In the basement of the NOAA Fisheries Science Center on the grounds of the old Fort Crockett in Galveston, Johnston sorts through a rack of glass vials. Each one contains the contents found in the stomach of a lionfish collected in the Flower Garden Banks.

    She points to a fish called a bluehead wrasse in one jar. “This little guy should still be on the reef eating algae, not here in a tube,” she says. Other jars contain brown chromis, red night shrimp, cocoa damselfish and mantis shrimp, all native species found in lionfish bellies. “The amount of fish we find in their guts — it’s really alarming. They’re eating juvenile fish that should be growing up. They’re also eating fish that the native species are supposed to be eating.”

    Lionfish can eat anything that fits into their mouth, even fish half their own size. They eat commercially important species, such as snapper and grouper, and the fish that those species eat, too. They’re eating so much, in fact, that scientists say some are suffering from a typically human problem — obesity. “We’re finding them with copious amount of fat — white, blubbery fat,” Johnston says.

    They can adapt to almost any habitat, living anywhere from a mangrove in 1 foot of water to a reef 1,000 feet deep. They like crevices and hidy-holes but can find that on anything from a coral head to a drilling platform to a sunken ship. They can handle a wide range of salinity levels, too. Their range seems limited only by temperature — so far they don’t seem to overwinter farther north than Cape Hatteras, N.C. — and their southern expansion extends to the northern tip of South America, although they are expected to reach the middle of Argentina in another year or two.

    “As long as they have something to eat, they’ll be there,” Johnston says.

    The impacts of their invasion could become widespread, scientists warn.

    In the Gulf, lionfish are eating herbivores like damselfish and wrasse — “the lawnmowers of the reef,” Johnston calls them — that keep the reef clean. “When you take the reef fish away, there’s not a lot of other things left to eat algae,” she says. That creates a phase shift from a coral-dominated habitat to an algae-dominated one. “When you take fish away, coral gets smothered, the reef dies, and we lose larger fish. It’s a snowball effect of negativity.”

    PAM LEBLANC|Austin American-Statesman

    Divers remove invasive surgeonfish

    Two women scuba diving beneath Palm Beach County’s Blue Heron Bridge during the Thanksgiving holiday spotted a bright yellow fish about four inches long they had never seen before.

    Some divers might have just admired it, snapped photos and kept swimming, but Deb Devers and Lureen Ferretti reported it to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) — a Key Largo-based non-profit organization that serves as a regional clearinghouse for control of exotic marine fish species.

    “They weren’t sure what it was, but they knew it was something that doesn’t belong here,” REEF director of special projects Lad Akins said.

    Akins said their instincts were right on: the fish was a mimic lemon peel surgeonfish, also known as a chocolate surgeonfish, native to the Indo-Pacific and the first of its kind documented in Florida waters. Devers kept track of the fish, and last month, she and Akins captured it alive using hand nets. It was shipped to the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada to be displayed as an educational tool on the hazards of invasive species.

    Related

    Akins said the removal might have averted an ecological disaster similar to the spread of lionfish — another Indo-Pacific invader now well-established in the Western Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. Lionfish — first sighted off Dania Beach in 1985 and believed to be an abandoned aquarium pet — have been blamed for wiping some local reef systems clean of native tropical fish.

    “We don’t know what the effects would have been if the fish had become established and began reproducing,” Akins said. “But if we wait to find out, then it’s too late.”

    Taking out the surgeonfish was the third successful preemptive strike against a non-native marine fish species in Florida coastal waters, according to REEF.

    In 1999 and 2002, REEF staff and volunteers captured four large Indo-Pacific batfish from Molasses Reef in Key Largo. In 2009, they removed a whitetail dascyllus damselfish from the east side of the Blue Heron Bridge. In 2012, Miami divers Greg Caterino and Wayne Grammes speared an exotic humpback grouper on a reef off Biscayne National Park and turned the carcass over to REEF. Akins said none of those three species are known to have reappeared in Florida waters since their removals.

    “Some people might say, ‘Oh big deal, we took this little fish out of the water,’” Akins said. “But that’s the way the lionfish got started. If only we could have taken the first few lionfish out of the water in the first place. We’re relying on divers, snorkelers and fishermen to be our eyes and ears on the water. It’s a perfect example of how early detection and rapid removal can be successful in stemming an invasion.”

    Releasing non-native fish into Florida waters not only is harmful, but also illegal. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission encourages pet owners who need to find new homes for their fish or other exotic animals to call the FWC’s Exotic Species Hotline at 1-888-IveGot1.

    Anyone who spots a strange-looking fish that they suspect is invasive is advised to take a photo and report the sighting at www.reef.org

    Sue Cocking|MiamiHerald.com|01/10/2015

    Endangered Species

    A Special Day for Wolves ‏

    Twenty years ago today, wolves returned to Yellowstone.
    It was on this date in 1995 that 14 wolves were released into Yellowstone National Park – the culmination of decades of work led by Defenders of Wildlife. Days later, another 15 wolves took their first steps into the Idaho wilderness.

    It’s a moment to remember – and celebrate. After nearly being wiped from the map of the Lower 48, wolves once again roamed wild and free in the Northern Rockies.

    Today, gray wolves exist in roughly ten states – and one has wandered as far as California. Your support through the years has been critical to our success and we hope you take heart in this conservation triumph.

    You and I both know it hasn’t been easy since those first historic steps were taken 20 years ago. The same ignorance and hatred that decimated wolves a century ago is still alive and well in some areas. The struggle to secure a future for wolves in the Lower 48 is far from finished.

    But today we celebrate. And from the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for all you have done for wolves and for America’s vulnerable wildlife everywhere.

    With deep appreciation,

    Jamie Rappaport Clark|President|Defenders of Wildlife|1/12/15

    2-State Gulf Coast Manatee Sighting Network Expanding West

    NEW ORLEANS — As manatees recover in Florida, their U.S. home base, more and more seem to be showing up farther west along the Gulf of Mexico.

    A total of seven stranded manatees had been reported along the Alabama coast before 2007, when a network to report strandings and sightings was created. Since then, “we’ve responded to dozens” of strandings, said Ruth Carmichael, head of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Manatee Sighting Network for Alabama and Mississippi.

    “I think things are changing, in the manatee population and in the environment,” she said Tuesday. She said scientists know there are more of the big, gentle marine mammals than there used to be. “But habitat is stable or declining. Animals are being forced to do something. The natural thing would be to spread out.”

    In hope of gathering enough data to learn whether her impression is accurate, she’s now working with people in Louisiana and Texas to expand the network — “as far as I know, the only manatee sighting network in the country” — to those states.

    “We see more animals coming here, staying longer, going farther west. We want to be prepared,” Carmichael said.

    Louisiana has averaged seven manatee sightings a year in the past 20 years, up from about one a year over the previous two decades, according to the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Natural Heritage Program, which has about 80 signs in areas where they’ve been seen, asking people to report sightings.

    Texas gets perhaps one sighting report a year, said Steve Lightfoot of the Texas Parks And Wildlife Department.

    Work toward a four-state sighting network is preliminary so far but the project is important, said Suzanne Smith, marine mammal stranding coordinator at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans and one of the people working with Carmichael.

    “They are an endangered species. So we need to work together to protect and conserve them,” Smith said.

    Manatees, also called sea cows, are vegetarians averaging about 10 feet long and about a ton in weight. Their greatest threats in the United States are habitat loss and boat propellers, which injure so many that biologists identify hundreds from their scars.

    The population was estimated in the hundreds in 1967 but is now at least 4,800, the number counted in late January 2014 by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The commission won’t give total population estimates.

    Florida manatees have recovered enough that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering reclassifying them from endangered to threatened. The department expects to decide by midyear but has not set a publication date, spokesman Chuck Underwood said Thursday in an email.

    Sightings have gone up much faster than strandings in Mississippi and Alabama, but it’s impossible to tell how much of that increase is just because more people are watching out for them and they know where to report, Carmichael said.

    The 1,387 reported in Alabama from the start of 2007 through November 2014 are nearly 12 times the total ever reported in the state before 2007. In Mississippi, 25 had been reported through 2006 and 147 since then. The network also has received a total of 10 reports from Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia.

    The stranding increase is more reliable, Carmichael said: “When a one-thousand-pound animal strands, people notice.”

    Her lab also has verified that Alabama and Mississippi are part of some manatees’ home ranges. “The same animals come back year after year,” she said.

    Many stranded animals are young, she said. “That suggests some naiveté — they’re less experienced, and don’t know when to leave” for Florida’s warm springs and power plant effluents, where the animals can stay warm in winter.

    THE ASSOCIATED PRESS|JAN. 12, 2015

    To report manatee sightings or strandings:

    Alabama or Mississippi: form linked at http://manatee.disl.org or 866-493-5803

    Louisiana: Natural Heritage Program at 225-765-2809 or klandry@wlf.la.gov; Louisiana Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 504.235.3005 or ssmith@auduboninstitute.org

    Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, 409-740-2200

    Reduced Japanese whaling fleet departs to conduct scientific studies

    Minke whales are still under threat, despite the international agreement

    A smaller than usual Japanese whaling fleet recently left port in Shimonoseki to carry out research in the Antarctic – but no whales will be harpooned after the World Court ruled last year that Japan’s ‘scientific’ whaling in the Southern Ocean was illegal.

    Japan’s Fisheries Agency announced that a reduced number of boats will instead head to the Antarctic to carry out sighting surveys, biopsy work and photo identification of whales led by the country’s Institute of Cetacean Research.

    Two catcher boats, without their harpoons, departed first and will be joined by Japan’s factory ship, the Nisshin Maru, which sets off on 16 January, for the non-lethal research which is expected to last until 28 March.

    An International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling in March 2014 ensured that for the first season in more than a century, whales in the Southern hemisphere were not be hunted for commercial purposes.

    However, despite its initial vow to abide by the ICJ decision, and current moves to carry out non-lethal research, in November last year the Japanese government revealed details of a new proposal, called NEWREP-A, which would see 333 minke whales harpooned in the name of science in the Southern Ocean from later this year. Conservation organisations have urged Japan to withdraw this proposal.

    Patrick Ramage, Global Whale Program Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, says: “While we congratulate Japan on its shift towards humane, non-lethal research on whales and welcome the fact that no whales will be slaughtered in the Southern Ocean this season, sadly Japan has not discarded its harpoons for good.

    “Japan’s new whaling plan fails utterly to meet the standard established by the World Court or to live up to the earlier rhetoric of Japanese officials. Japan needs to acknowledge that its cruel and unnecessary whaling must stop once and for all.”

    Japan’s new whaling plans are set to be examined by the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) when it meets in San Diego in the US in May. The IWC strongly backed the ICJ ruling when member countries met in Slovenia in September.

    5 Astonishing Facts About Bee-Killing Pesticides

    Humans have sprayed all sorts of pesticides to protect their crops since 2000 BC. Yet, after the Second World War, their use increased 50-fold. With so many chemicals left over, manufacturers decided to take the poisons meant to demolish and injure humans, and wage an eternal war against bugs instead.

    These chemicals were inexpensive, effective, and enormously popular. For instance, when DDT was discovered as an effective insecticide, it was welcomed and even embraced as a solution against malaria and typhus. While making the bee documentary Vanishing of the Bees, I found footage of chemical trucks rolling through the streets engulfing people with clouds of the stuff. Their logo was even “DDT is Good for Me.” Meanwhile, one farmer in Utah I interviewed recalled how in the ’50s, he and his brother used to playfully chase each other in the fields with hoses that gushed chemicals.

    With Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, came the realization that poisons were harming our environment as well as our farmworkers. Typically pesticides were sprayed topically over crops. Systemic pesticides were introduced with the idea that they would cause less toxicity to humans as well as birds and mammals compared to the previously used organophosphate and carbamate insecticides.

    The unintended consequences however have been incredibly alarming and have decimated bee populations all over the world. Here are 5 things you should know about these insidious chemicals.

    Extremely Persistent

    Systemic pesticides are highly water soluble and mobile, which means they can be applied in a number of ways: by drenching the soil; injecting them directly into trees; and even applying them as a seed coating. What is novel here is that the plant actually absorbs these chemicals and circulates it through its tissues. Unlike “traditional’ pesticides,” you cannot wash off systemic pesticides.

    To put things in perspective, neonics are 5000 times more dangerous than DDT.

    Bonafide Bee Killer

    Over the past two decades beekeepers from around the world (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, UK, and the United States) have independently implicated nicotine-based poisons at the root of colony collapse disorder, the phenomenon that has been killing millions of bees consistently for the past nine years.

    As these pesticides are translocated throughout the plant tissues, pollinators that visit flowers take back the poisons in the form of nectar and pollen and store it in their cells, which affects future generations.

    Honeybees can also come into contact with these pesticides via spray, dust, water, dew droplets, and soil.

    They kill insects by inflecting sub-lethal damage. They weaken immune systems, disrupt digestion, impair navigational abilities, and subtly harm the brain. These effects can be particularly detrimental to colonial insects like honeybees. Neonics are one of the most toxic classes of chemicals to bees and will kill bees and other beneficial insects at nanogram levels. Even small levels of neonics affect a bee’s ability to navigate and impairs their ability to detect odors – two crucial factors in their ability to forage for food.

    In 2013, the European Union determined that neonicotinoids posed an unacceptably high risk to bees and issued a provisional ban on three different systemic pesticides. And Health Canada recently blamed neonics when millions of bees died due to systemically treated corn.

    In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to allow neonics even though scientific assessments and early reviews from the early ’90s, expressed concerns with the high toxicity of these chemicals not only to honey bees, but to birds, other wildlife, as well as to endangered species. The EPA’s decision-makers overruled the scientists, however, and downplayed their warnings, according to Center For Food Safety.

    Meanwhile, makers Bayer Crop Science and Syngenta refuse to take accountability and continue to state their poisons are safe if used — according to their label.

    Most Prominent Pesticides On the Planet

    With brand names like “Gaucho” and “Poncho,” these nicotine-based pesticides were first introduced in Europe in the mid ‘90s. (Eventually, French beekeepers began reporting massive bee deaths and called the phenomenon Mad Bee Disease. After out ruling the usual suspects they concluded neonics were to blame.) In the United States, neonics became widely used in 2003, not long before the advent of Colony

    Collapse Disorder

    Today, systemic pesticides are the most widely used insecticides in the entire world, with over 500 different neonicotinoid products on the market, and applications estimated to exceed 150 million acres annually nationwide.

    In the U.S., neonicotinoids are currently used on about 95 percent of corn and canola crops; the majority of cotton, sorghum, and sugar beets; and about half of all soybeans. They are also used on apples, cherries, peaches, oranges, berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, and potatoes. And applied to cereal grains, rice, nuts, wine grapes.  and used on trees, turf, and on plants you find at Home Depot or Lowes.

    With a turnover of more than $1.5 billion in 2008, they represented 24 percent of the global market for insecticides. After the introduction of the first neonicotinoids in the 1990s, the market grew from 155 million in 1990 to 957 million in 2008. Neonicotinoids made up 80 percent of all seed treatment sales in 2008.

    The Toil On Our Soil, Brains, Rivers, And Other Creatures

    Bees are just the tip of the iceberg. These poisons also leach and accumulate in our soil and water. In fact, neonics have already seeped into our rivers and have been shown to stay in the soil for years (as they break down, their metabolites are more dangerous than the original parent compound).

    Naturally, any pesticide that can persist for many years, builds up in soil, and leaches into waterways is likely to have effects far beyond the pest insects it intends to target. Neonics have been shown to harm beneficial insects such as worms, as well as other pollinators such as butterflies, and possibly bats.

    A 2013 Dutch study determined that water containing allowable concentrations of neonicotinoids had 50 percent fewer invertebrate species compared with uncontaminated water.

    In Gardeners We Don’t Trust

    Concerned citizens have responded to colony collapse disorder by planting “bee-friendly” gardens to provide urban foraging grounds. Unfortunately many bee-attractive plants sold at top retailers in the U.S. and Canada continue to use persistent, systemic neonicotinoid insecticides Interestingly, products approved for homeowners to use in gardens, lawns, and on ornamental trees have manufacturer-recommended application rates up to 120 times higher than approval for agricultural crops. Because many products approved for home and garden use can be legally applied at rates significantly higher than the rates approved for agricultural crops, home gardeners may unwittingly be exposing pollinators to toxic levels of pesticides.

    And, neonicotinoid pesticides that are sold to homeowners for use on lawns and gardens oftentimes do not have any mention of the risks of these products to bees.

    The Bottom Line

    When it comes down to it, Big Ag cares about profits way more than bees and beings. Ironically, neonics are not even a critical tool for farmers. In the field, usefulness of neonicotinoid seed treatments for pest prevention depends upon the timing of planting and pest arrival. And studies show that in many contexts, neonicotinoid seed treatments do not provide significant yield benefits.

    For instance, the EPA recently concluded that “seed treatments provide little or no overall benefits to soybean production in most situations.”

    And European countries reported maintained crop yields after regional neonicotinoid bans were implemented. More sustainable agricultural practices, like crop rotations, are known to greatly reduce pest damage without the use of—or with greatly reduced use of insecticides.

    So why are we contaminating our food supply and putting our risk at health? The European Food Safety Authority (the equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency in the USA) reported that these systemic pesticides, which are neurotoxins, are also dangerous to the human nervous system—especially our noggins.

    We must continue to educate ourselves, because this is the first step toward affecting change.

    Maryam Henein|January 11, 2015

    FWC News Release: Slow down as manatees start their swim to warmer waters

    The annual migration of Florida manatees to warmer waters begins in November, which is Manatee Awareness Month.

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) encourages boaters to help protect migrating manatees by looking out and slowing down for these aquatic mammals that often rest or congregate underwater and can be difficult to see.

    “During Manatee Awareness Month, the FWC encourages the public to celebrate manatees by learning more about these gentle giants, including the importance of people’s actions in conserving this iconic Florida species,” said Carol Knox, the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management section leader.

    “Boaters slowing down and watching out for manatees can help protect this species from injury. Anyone who spots a manatee that is injured, entangled in fishing line or otherwise in distress can help initiate a rescue by calling the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922,” Knox said.

    On their annual trek, manatees, including mothers and their calves, swim along Florida’s many rivers, bays and coastal areas in search of the warmer, more stable temperatures found in freshwater springs, man-made canals and power plant outflows. Unlike dolphins and other marine mammals, manatees do not have true blubber to insulate them from waters below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, so they must find warmer waters during their migration to survive the winter cold.

    Despite their size, with adults weighing 1,000 pounds on average, manatees can be difficult to spot. That is why it is important for boaters in Florida, including those using personal watercraft, to slow down to prevent collisions with manatees, particularly in shallow areas or posted manatee protection zones. On Nov. 15, many seasonal manatee protection zones around the state go into effect. For manatee protection zones by county, including the seasonal changes, go to MyFWC.com/Manatee, and click on “Data and Maps.”

    Tips on how to spot manatees:

    • Wear polarized sunglasses when boating.
    • Look for circular patterns on the water’s surface – the so-called “manatee footprints” that indicate a manatee’s presence below.
    • Be careful when boating near shallow seagrass beds, where manatees like to graze.
    • Watch for posted signs indicating manatee protection zones and appropriate boating speeds.
    • Find out about great places in winter to watch manatees by going to www.MyFWC.com/Manatee and clicking on “Where Can I See Manatees in Florida?”

    People can support the FWC’s manatee research, rescue, rehabilitation and management efforts by purchasing the “Save the Manatee” Florida license plate at BuyaPlate.com, or by donating $5 to receive an FWC manatee decal by going to MyFWC.com/Manatee and clicking on “Decals.”

    Learn more about manatees at MyFWC.com/Manatee, where you can find “A boater’s guide to Florida manatees” and other information.

    Photos available on FWC’s Flickr site: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjxNrc5v.

    Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission sent this bulletin at 11/12/2014 09:38 AM EST November 12, 2014

    Hellbenders Threatened by Deadly Disease

    The hellbender, North America’s largest salamander, faces a long list of threats to its survival, including water pollution as well as capture and collection. And now there’s concrete proof of one more: a disease caused by a chytrid fungus, which affects amphibians across the country. A new study finds this chytrid fungus is widespread in western North Carolina waterways, infecting more than 25 percent of hellbenders in the region.

    The study was spurred by the imperiled status of the hellbender, whose populations are in sharp decline across the eastern United States. In response to a Center petition, in 2011 the Fish and Wildlife Service found that eastern hellbenders might warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.

    ut after the agency failed to make a final decision within one year, as the Act requires, we sued — and in 2013 we reached a settlement requiring a protection decision in 2018.

    The recent evidence of this disease in North Carolina makes it all the more important that these incredible salamanders get the protection they need.

    Read more in our press release.

    California Cracks Down on the Ivory and Rhino Horn Trades

    In an effort to help protect elephants and rhinos from the poaching crisis that threatens their future survival, California lawmakers have introduced legislation that would crack down on the trade of both ivory and rhino horn in the state.

    International sales of ivory were banned under CITES in 1989, but loopholes still allow people to own and sell ivory that was imported before that, which is known as ‘pre-ban’ ivory. Despite the ban, elephants and rhinos continue to be killed at a terrifying rate, while the number of large-scale seizures continues to grow.

    California created its own law regarding ivory in 1976, which currently makes it illegal to import or sell elephant parts, but a loophole allows for the sale of ivory that was imported before 1977. The problem with that is that no one can tell the difference and allowing some legalized ivory sales offers a cover for the illegal trade and has made the law virtually impossible to enforce.

    Assembly speaker Toni Atkins and principal co-author Senator Ricardo Lara just introduced a bill, AB 96, to crack down on the trade, which is appropriately named for the 96 elephants who are killed each day for their tusks. The bill would close the loophole and ban buying, selling, offering for sale, possessing with intent to sell, or importing with intent to sell elephant ivory or rhinoceros horn with exceptions for educational and scientific purposes.

    It will also increase penalties for violators and put the responsibility of enforcement into the hands of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, as opposed to law enforcement officers who currently deal with the issue.

    “The slaughter of elephants for their tusks and rhinos for their horns is as senseless as it is cruel,” said Atkins in a statement. “California recognized that and enacted a law almost 40 years ago to end the ivory trade here, but that law needs strengthening in order to be effective. AB 96 closes the loophole that allows the illegal ivory trade to continue to flourish and adds real enforcement teeth to the law so California can do our part to end the slaughter.”

    While China is largely being blamed for the demand that’s responsible for the continued slaughter of elephants and rhinos, the U.S. is right up there with them, coming in second place on the list of the world’s largest markets for ivory. California is also believed to be home to the second largest markets in the nation behind New York City.

    Last week the Natural Resources Defense Council released the results of an undercover investigation that found 1,250 pieces of ivory for sale in 107 tourist shops, antique stores and markets in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Worse, the authors of the report believe that the amount of ivory from recently slain elephants has doubled since 2006.

    “It’s absolutely astonishing how much ivory is being sold, in large part illegally, here in California,” said Elly Pepper, an NRDC wildlife advocate. “I think if people realized that the pieces being displayed right now on local store shelves most often come from elephants that were killed in recent years, they’d be shocked and outraged. But most people don’t know that the great majority of ivory products these days are altered to look like antiques in order to appear legitimate.”

    While the federal government is working on strengthening laws to protect these iconic species from disappearing, hopefully California will pass this bill and join other states that have taken the lead on this issue including New York and New Jersey, which both recently passed legislation to fight this bloody trade.

    Alicia Graef|January 13, 2015

    Wild & Weird

    Beautiful Gynandromorphy

    While emptying out a butterfly pupa chamber in an exhibit at Drexel University in Philadelphia, a volunteer stumbled across a stunning and lovely example of diversity in nature: a common archduke butterfly with a right wing typical of females and a left wing characteristic of males.

    According to LiveScience, the phenomenon is a rare “condition” called gynandromorphy whereby “the sex chromosomes fail to separate during cell division in early development.”

    But gender in the animal kingdom, as among humans, is a fluid spectrum of cultural and biological possibility. Describing this intriguing process as a “failure” of cell division says more about the observer than the observed. As with the random mutations that facilitate natural selection, it’s nature’s endless variability that gives us a rich, diverse and evolving world.

    Read more at LiveScience.

    Ceremony in Hawaii welcomes back whales as the aquatic mammals return from Alaska to winter in state [waters]

    KAPAA, Hawaii It was eight years ago, her first time on Kauai, when Kelly Kelsey made a whale connection.

    She and her friends were looking out at the ocean, holding hands, praying and singing. “The minute we started singing, these three whales started jumping in unison and kept going,” she said.

    It was a magical moment.

    “After about five minutes, we stopped singing, and they stopping jumping,” she said. “I said, ‘I think they heard us.’ ” There have been more such moments between Kelsey and the whales, where she would send out a song or even a thought and be rewarded with a tail slap. “I think, ‘OK, we are definitely connected,’ ” she said. That connection was strong during a welcoming the-whale ceremony Jan.11 at Kealia Beach lookout. The event, organized by Kohola Leo, which means voice of the whales, welcomes the return of the humpback whales from Alaska to spend the winter in Hawaii so they can breed and deliver their babies in warm tropical waters.

    About 100 people, as they gazed out on the ocean on a beautiful, blueskied, warm day, listened to music, poems and stories on the fifth anniversary of the welcoming party “to pay homage to the gentle, majestic giants of the sea.”

    “We want to wish them well and a prosperous year to share our love for them together as a group,” said Kalasara Setaysha, of Kohola Leo.

    Many cried out and cheered when several whales spouted in the distance, one showing its tail.

    Others spoke of the meaning of whales in their lives and feeling a love and energy whenever the whales are near. Aweepano Vivian Satow spoke of feeling the whales flying in the night sky, “sending their song into the core of the Earth and back up to the stars.”

    Another man, Mikha’el Sol, breathed deeply and held his hands out before saying: “I am whole and complete, exactly the way I am.” “It’s a wonderful celebration,” said Tom Teal of Northern California, who attended the event.

    It’s about protecting the whales, too, said Kelsey, co-organizer and founder of the welcoming in its fifth year, keeping them safe from sonar and other threats. She said it’s about giving them a sanctuary in Hawaiian waters.

    “Mind, heart and body — we can celebrate them and be mindful of them,” she said.

    That message, she said, is getting through.

    “I feel like people are waking up to the fact we’re all sharing the planet,” Kelsey said.

    Sandy Herndon of Kapaa told a story of wanting to swim with whales i n the Dominican Republic but being afraid.

    Finally, she found the courage to wear a vest and float in the waters while others in her group swam farther out toward a mother whale and her calf.

    Bill Buley|The Garden Island (Kauai, Hawaii)

    Everglades

    Sec. Jewell calls Everglades work a lesson for the nation

     After a boat ride through Florida Bay Friday and a quick primer on efforts to replenish the world’s largest seagrass meadow, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell called Everglades restoration work a model for the nation.

    “There’s such important work going on here with potential to influence the world,” Jewell said from the banks of North Nest Key. “It’s a model.”

    The lessons learned from more than two decades of work on the beleaguered estuary should inform conservation projects around the nation, Jewell said.

    “The Everglades is teaching us about the interconnectedness of the landscape,” she said. “We’re learning the impact of what we do on shore is impacting what we do offshore.”

    Scientists from the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, along with newly appointed Everglades Superintendent Pedro Ramos, led Jewell to Poor Joe Key and other spots to explain how decreased water flow has allowed pollution and salinity to increase and foul the once pristine bay.

    To repair the damage, scientists hope to return water flow to more historic levels by building a series of bridges across the Tamiami Trail and other projects. A one-mile span was completed in 2013, but two more spans remain.

    Despite chronic delays, planning has proceeded, said Nick Aumen, regional science advisor for the USGS. Modeling has also provided a glimpse of what restoration can accomplish.

    “Even though it’s a small amount and low flow,” Aumen said, “…it’s replicating the natural movement.”

    Completing the work will become even more crucial if predictions for sea rise come true, he added.

    Jewell’s tour coincides with a three-day conference by environmentalists in nearby Key Largo hoping to jump-start Everglades restoration efforts that flagged last year after $1.9 billion in crucial projects failed to make it into a public works bill. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers derailed the projects after failing to sign a report. Florida lawmakers proposed legislation this week to provide money, but parks service staff members predicted funding would not come until 2016, when another public works bill is expected in Congress.

    Jenny Staletovich|Miami Herald|January 9, 2015

    EVERGLADES RESTORATION PROJECTS CONTINUE WITH ISSUANCE OF NEW DEP PERMIT

    ~Critical water storage and treatment will be bolstered by latest construction effort~

    PALM BEACH COUNTY – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Office of Ecosystem Projects issued a permit to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) today to construct the L-8 Divide Structure, a key component of Governor Rick Scott’s strategies to restore south Florida ecosystems. The L-8 Divide Structure will assist the movement of stormwater into the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin providing much needed water storage and, when necessary, directing water from the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin south to designated stormwater treatment areas.

    “The department and the South Florida Water Management District continue to make progress on Governor Scott’s strategies to restore south Florida’s ecosystems,” said DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard. “This project is another significant step forward for the region as we work to increase our water storage and water treatment capacity and move cleaner water south, where it will ensure proper nourishment of Florida’s Everglades.”

    The L-8 Flow Equalization Basin will use a 53-foot-deep reservoir capable of storing approximately 45,000 acre-feet of water, or the equivalent of 22,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water. The below-ground reservoir was a former rock mine site located in central Palm Beach County. The location’s unique geology allows for deep, below-ground storage, reduces water loss through seepage and minimizes levee safety concerns. The L-8 Flow Equalization Basin consists of seven interconnected cells that will be utilized to manage basin stormwater. During storm events and other peak flow times, the reservoir will act as a storage feature. During dry periods, the reservoir will deliver flows for optimized treatment prior to those flows entering the Everglades.

    Other project elements such as the construction of a permanent discharge pump station and the inflow feature are already underway and on schedule for completion by Dec. 2016. The construction of embankment protection features is also nearing completion. Total project cost for the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin and associated projects is $75.5 million, with $35 million spent to date. Construction of the L-8 Divide Structure is scheduled for Aug. 2014 through Oct. 2016. The total project cost for the divide structure is $5.6 million. When completed, the L-8 Equalization Flow Basin will store up to 15 billion gallons of water so it can be treated and moved south to the Everglades.

    The L-8 Flow Equalization Basin project is a result of Governor Scott’s direction to DEP and SFWMD to develop a plan to address water quality concerns associated with existing flows to the Everglades Protection Area, which is one element of the Governor’s overall strategies to restore the health and viability of south Florida’s ecosystems. The department and SFWMD presented the plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in late 2011. After coordination with EPA, the final plan was included in permits and orders were issued by DEP in September 2012.

    The Governor’s landmark water quality plan includes:

    • 6,500 acres of additional stormwater treatment areas, which are man-made managed wetlands that naturally remove phosphorus from water prior to the water being discharged into the Everglades;
    • 110,000 acre-feet of water storage capabilities in flow equalization basins or reservoirs that work with the proposed and existing stormwater treatment areas to regulate flows and optimize treatment efficiency; and
    • Other components of the plan include engineering projects in existing treatment areas and the modification of conveyance features necessary to move the water through the SFWMD’s massive flood control and water delivery features.

    DEPNews@dep.state.fl.us

    Governor Scott: Funding  to Restore Lake Okeechobee/Estuaries

    TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Governor Scott released the following statement today on the news by the US Army Corps of Engineers of upcoming Lake Okeechobee releases to the east and t…he west, in anticipation of upcoming rainfall levels.

    Governor Scott said, “The Corps’ announcement of releases today from Lake Okeechobee proves that we cannot relent in our mission to restore Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. We must stay the course on our current water restoration commitments and complete the projects we have already started. We also need the federal government to step up their commitment to Everglades restoration by immediately requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to repair the Lake Okeechobee dike.

    “The discharges from Lake Okeechobee in 2013, and the resulting harm to our estuaries, serve as a major signal that we must accelerate work on the restoration projects needed to safeguard South Florida’s waters. Addressing the environmental challenges of South Florida requires the simultaneous investment in projects to store excess water, clean polluted water and send the clean water south – away from our estuaries and into the Everglades.”

    Over the next four years, Governor Scott is committed to:


    · Fully fund the state’s share of the restoration of the Kissimmee River (which Governor Scott has already funded at $5 million); and
    · Fully fund the construction and completion of the C-43 Reservoir(Governor Scott previously funded at $18 million) and C-44 (Governor Scott previously funded at $60 million).

    Focusing on completing these initiatives, while not a silver bullet, is essential to quickly increasing water storage space around Lake Okeechobee and restoring the Everglades. Together, these projects will create more than 300,000 acre-feet of new storage to help fight future releases from Lake Okeechobee.
    The Governor is committed to moving forward with sending water south. This year, the South Florida Water Management District sent more than 69 billion gallons of water south, sparing the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

    [I am looking forward to the follow-through.]

    Water Quality Issues

    Alico to store 34 billion gallons of Caloosahatchee watershed water 

    CLEWISTON, FL. — In an ongoing effort to increase water storage to protect South Florida’s coastal estuaries and natural systems, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board today approved agreements with various land owners including Alico in Hendry county that more than double the overall water retention capacity in its Dispersed Water Management program.

    In the largest storage contract, the District reached an agreement with Alico, Inc., on 35,192 acres of ranchland that will retain an annual average of 91,944 acre-feet of water from the Caloosahatchee River Watershed. This is an amount equal to approximately 34.5 billion gallons of water. This property also has the potential of sending water back into the Caloosahatchee River during the dry season.

    The approved contracts will add a total potential of 95,812 acre-feet of storage to the program, or about 36 billion gallons annually. This is the equivalent of 1.5 inches of water in Lake Okeechobee, a 730-square-mile lake at the heart of South Florida’s water management system. The program currently has a retention capacity of 93,342 acre-feet across 43 sites.

    “Storing water on ranchlands has proven to be an effective tool in the District’s ongoing effort to protect the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Daniel O’Keefe. “Today’s action shows this agency’s commitment to the Dispersed Water Management program, and we support its continued expansion to protect South Florida’s natural systems.”

    Don Browne|swFlorida.blogspot|December 11, 2014

    DEP Provides More Than $1.5 Million for Water Quality Projects in Northeast Florida

    TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is providing more than $1.5 million for water-related projects in two counties in northeast Florida. The funding will address issues related to stormwater drainage, excess nutrients and sanitary sewer service in Nassau and Putnam counties.

    “Properly addressing stormwater runoff and wastewater remains key to preserving and protecting Florida’s natural resources,” DEP Secretary Jon Steverson said. “Working with local governments in northeast Florida to protect the area’s waterbodies is a wise investment for the state and I appreciate the leadership shown by Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature.”

    “I appreciate Governor Scott, DEP and my colleagues in the Florida Legislature for providing this funding,” Sen. Aaron Bean said. “The variety of these projects shows how important it is for our state’s leadership to monitor all aspects of water quality in the state.”

    Nassau County is receiving $567,000 to help restore Thomas Creek to its natural condition, reducing flooding in the creek’s drainage basin and improving water quality. The project will focus on removing debris and fallen vegetation that have blocked waterflow, allowing stormwater to drain more quickly during heavy storm events. Thomas Creek creates much of the border between Nassau and Duval counties.

    The town of Hilliard is receiving $200,000 to fund part of a rehabilitation project aimed at addressing issues stemming from aging clay pipe in the town’s wastewater collection system. The funding will be used to clean and examine the clay pipes to make plans for repairing or rehabilitating any identified deficiencies.

    Putnam County is receiving $750,000 to help fund the construction phase of a regional wastewater system that will allow the county to hook up additional residences and businesses to the system and reduce the number of septic tanks being used in east Palatka. The removal of these septic tanks is part of the county’s Basin Management Action Plan and the project will contribute to improvements in the St. Johns River.

    mburgerdep|Jan. 14, 2015

    DEP Hosts Public Workshops on Water Quality Credit Trading

    TALLAHASSEEThe Florida Department of Environmental Protection is hosting two public workshops this week to discuss the expansion of the state’s Water Quality Credit Trading Program from the Lower St. Johns River Basin to statewide.

    The first workshop was held today in Orlando and a second workshop will be held tomorrow in Tallahassee. Information on tomorrow’s workshop follows.

    WHAT:     WATER QUALITY CREDIT TRADING WORKSHOP

    WHEN:     Jan. 15, 2015

                     9 a.m.Florida Department of Environmental Protection

    WHERE:  Bob Martinez Center, Conference Room 609

                     2600 Blair Stone Rd.

                     Tallahassee, FL 32399

    Water Quality Credit Trading is a voluntary, market-based program that establishes a financial incentive system to ensure cost effective water quality improvement projects. Under this voluntary program, stakeholders implementing water quality improvement projects beyond what is otherwise required would generate credits. These credits can be sold to other stakeholders in the basin to offset potentially more costly but equally effective water quality improvement projects.

    “Water Quality Credit Trading is a nationally recognized tool that allows stakeholders to meet water quality goals at the lowest possible cost,” said Tom Frick, director of DEP’s Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration. “Expanding trading statewide provides everyone opportunities to expedite cleaner water.”

    Market-based approaches can create economic incentives for innovation, emerging technology, voluntary pollution reductions and greater efficiency in improving the quality of the nation’s waters. Water Quality Credit Trading is most effective in areas where a quantified restoration goal has been developed, such as a TMDL or total maximum daily load. TMDLs identify the pollutant reductions necessary to restore a water body’s health and provide the measuring stick to determine if stakeholders have credits available. The TMDL typically also identifies pollutant loadings, the watershed conditions, and the maximum amount of pollutants that may be present for a water body to still be considered healthy. All of this information is necessary for effective trading.

    A Water Quality Credit Trading pilot program was utilized in the Lower St. John’s basin, and now the department is taking steps to implement the program statewide in areas with established restoration plans. These meetings will solicit stakeholder and public input on the rule language prior to adoption.

    For more information on Water Quality Credit Trading, click here.

    For more information on the meeting locations and agendas, click here and here.

    mburgerdep|Jan. 14, 2015

    LAKE O WATERS TO POLLUTE THE ST. LUCIE RIVER, AGAIN.

    Groups and Citizens Call on Governor Scott to Exercise the EAA Land Purchase or Release a New Plan to Solve the Water Crisis South of Lake O

    St Lucie Locks Press Conference “Talking Points” in preparation of upcoming releases from the Rivers Coalition for all involved and attend.

    * Today, we stand in front of St. Lucie Lock and Dam, along the St. Lucie Canal, with members of the Rivers Coalition in order to protect the St. Lucie River Estuary and Indian River Lagoon from more Lake Okeechobee pollution; and, today we call on Governor Rick Scott to exercise the land purchase option in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) and build a reservoir to store water that will otherwise pollute the St. Lucie River and estuary.

    * The South Florida Water Management District has the option to acquire 48,600 acres of land that could be used to store water and reduce discharges that expires in October 2015.

    * We can’t afford another “lost summer.” As things are, the Army Corps of Engineers will have to keep opening the locks and releasing polluted water down the St. Lucie River until we get no storage in the EAA.  It’s especially devastating that this is happening in January, not even during the rainy season.

    * The SFWMD should execute its option to purchase land just south of Lake Okeechobee to construct a deep storage reservoir to duce the amount of water polluting the St. Lucie River each year.  We need a plan to purchase critical land or execute this deal immediately. 

    * Water level in Lake Okeechobee has remained well above average since September. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) is predicting above average precipitation for Florida for the next 5 months which could replicate conditions that lead to the summer of 2013.  

    * Our families and economy deserve a solution. What is going to be done to prevent the crisis from a year and half ago from becoming a current event?

    * The Corps of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District will probably release an estimated additional 80 billion gallons in the next few weeks.  To put that in perspective, that amount of water would supply all of the residents of Martin County for more than two years. We need the governor to buy the available land in EAA or come up with his own plan to acquire needed land and build a reservoir south of the lake.  We need to fix this crisis before it gets any worse.

    * In 2013, above average rainfall later in the year sent Lake O waters to dangerous levels, triggering the releases to the estuaries and the resulting massive environmental and economic damages.

    * Current forecasts estimate that the lake level will not drop fast enough to be near 12.5 ft. above sea level by June, which is the start of the rainy season.  Lake Okeechobee needs to be around that level before the start of the summer rains so that it can hold the expected inflows. 

    * We are expecting, all of this to cause a decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to accelerate the recession of Lake Okeechobee by releasing water to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries Thursday or Friday. We stand united and opposed, always, to any releases to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon from Lake Okeechobee.

    SFWMD Approves Work to Boost Caloosahatchee Water Storage

    Early start of construction on a major reservoir will provide storage benefits sooner

    West Palm Beach, FL – With funding support from the Florida Legislature, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board today approved a contract to begin early construction on the site of a future Everglades restoration reservoir near the Caloosahatchee River. The work will provide critical water storage in the Caloosahatchee basin and help to protect the downstream estuary.

    “This work allows us to deliver some of the key benefits of the Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir before it is fully funded and constructed,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Daniel O’Keefe. “Every step we take to increase water storage means increased benefits to the river and estuary-and to the residents who depend on this vital ecosystem.”

    The C-43 reservoir project, a component of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, was authorized last year by Congress in the Water Resources and Reform Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014. It will one day hold approximately 170,000 acre-feet of water to be used during dry periods to help maintain a desirable minimum flow of fresh water to the Caloosahatchee Estuary. During the rainy season, the reservoir will store excess stormwater and regulatory releases from Lake Okeechobee, helping to prevent excessive fresh water flows to the estuary.

    Since 2012, the SFWMD put the reservoir property to use with emergency water storage of summertime rainfall. Temporary pumps and levee improvements helped to capture approximately 4.2 billion gallons of water that would have otherwise flowed to the river.

    Following this effort, engineers determined that early construction work on key features at the C-43 reservoir site could create up to 5,000 acre-feet of semi-permanent storage for the region, or the equivalent of 2,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Eventually, this storage site will be integrated into the full-scale reservoir project.

    Today’s contract award is the first of three construction contracts that will be issued using an $18 million investment from the Florida Legislature to complete significant work on the project.

    The first step, an approximately $2 million contract with Mitchell & Stark Construction Co., Inc., includes:

    • Demolishing existing features such as buried pipes, culverts and above-ground facilities at the storage site, a 3,500-acre impoundment approximately 15,000 feet long and 100 feet wide.
    • Construction of a berm, approximately 3 miles in length, to provide the northern boundary for the impoundment. The height of the berm will range between 3 and 8 feet and provide a maximum storage depth of 4 feet.

    Company studies how to make power from water

    New technology could be used in St. Clair River

    A device to harvest energy from the St. Clair River — first tested in Port Huron in August 2010 — could be returning to the blue water.

    Vortex Hydro Energy is about six months into a three-year preliminary permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to study placing a patented hydrokinetic power generating device in the St. Clair River.

    The device uses technology patented through the University of Michigan to harness the power of “vortex induced vibrations,” said Michael Bernitsas, a professor of naval architecture, marine engineering and mechanical engineering at U-M.

    Bernitsas invented the technology — called VIVACE, or Vortex Induced Vibrations for Aquatic Clean Energy.

    The devices, which contain cylinders, are placed on a river bottom.

    The cylinders move up and down as vortexes in the current move past them, creating kinetic energy. The kinetic energy is harnessed by what developers call an oscillator and sent to a generator that converts it to electricity.

    Bernitsas says the device is more environmentally friendly than turbines, which traditionally are used to harness hydrokinetic power from river bottoms. Vortex Hydro Energy, a spinoff company hoping to commercialize the technology invented and patented at U-M, placed prototypes in the St. Clair River near Dunn Paper in August 2010 and September 2012.

    The prototype in August 2010 was in the water for about a day and, in September 2012, the prototype remained in the water for about three months.

    The company is studying the possibility of recreating the prototypes on a larger scale in the same location.

    “We are in the process of designing and developing that device so we can deploy a small prototype in summer 2015 and a bigger one in summer 2016,” Bernitsas said.

    The 2015 and 2016 projects largely will be used to collect additional data on the viability of the project, Bernitsas said. The company’s preliminary permit from FERC would be used to set up a commercial operation on the bottom of the St. Clair River.

    According to 2010 Times Herald reports, the device installed near Dunn Paper in August 2010 was about 12 feet long, 12 feet wide and 12 feet tall.

    According to a May 2014 FERC notice, the commercial operation for which Vortex Hydro Energy has a preliminary permit would include multiple oscillators each containing four cylinders. The oscillators would be 20 feet long, 32 feet wide and 27 feet high. “We are trying to optimize basically the output in terms of the power that could be generated,” Bernitsas said. “We’re developing the controls to make sure we’re harnessing a good amount of energy from the flow and the efficiency.”

    David Haynes, director of business attraction for the St. Clair County Economic Development Alliance, said the agency has been working with Vortex Hydro Energy since 2008. “Initially, they were looking at the Detroit River, and when that didn’t work we introduced the Dunn Paper location,” Haynes said. “It’s a green technology. It’s environmentally friendly and it’s a perfect fit for what we have in our area.”

    According to FERC records, Vortex Hydro Energy also filed an application for a preliminary permit in 2010, but applied later than Current Connections, which was awarded the permit.

    Current Connections obtained the preliminary permit for a plan for six turbine farms containing a total of 396 turbine-generating units on the bottom of the St. Clair River, according to a December 2010 FERC order.

    Celeste Miller, a spokeswoman for FERC, said Current Connections’ three-year permit was relinquished in 2013.

    “Subsequently, we got an application from Vortex Hydro for the St. Clair River Project,” Miller said. “We issued them a preliminary permit.”

    Miller said Vortex Hydro Energy is required to submit updates to FERC every six months. She said the company missed its Dec. 31 deadline for the first report and now has until February to submit it.

    Miller said the three-year preliminary permit is a time for the company to do studies and meet with stakeholders and local and state agencies.

    “It’s an opportunity for the holder to get as much information as possible, to see if this site is feasible for them to develop,” Miller said.

    “While you have a preliminary permit for a particular site it gives you priority over the site while the permit is in effect. So no one else can come in and develop the site.”

    Within those three years, the company can submit an application for a license to develop the project.

    Once the application for a license to develop is submitted, FERC would conduct an environmental review of the proposal, seek comments from the public, and then determine whether it’s a public interest.

    Beth LeBlanc|Times Herald

    Offshore & Ocean

    Corals under threat from rapidly changing ocean conditions

    A deadly combination of changing ocean conditions are threatening the survival of coral reefs, new research from scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in the USA, shows.
    Coral reefs need to grow just below the sea surface so that the corals’ symbiotic photosynthetic algae can absorb sunlight. If they are submerged too deep, the ecosystem wastes away without solar energy to make food, therefore rising sea levels are a real threat.

    Also, thanks to the lowering of the ocean’s pH, corals are finding it harder to grow their skeletons and as a result are more vulnerable to bio-eroding organisms tearing them down, new research from scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), shows.

    “A healthy coral reef ecosystem exists in a constant and often overlooked tug-of-war. As corals build their skeletons up toward the sea surface, other organisms–mollusks, worms, and sponges–bore into and erode the skeletons to create shelters,” said lead author Thomas DeCarlo,

    This process, called bio-erosion, reduces skeletons to rubble, which is transported offshore during fierce storms or gradually dissolved in the sediments. On healthy reefs today, calcium carbonate production barely exceeds the loss by erosion, dissolution, and offshore transport. As a result of this delicate balance, coral reefs grow very slowly, if at all, when sea level is stable.

    When corals and bio-eroders are in balance, the former grow just fast enough to stay near the sea surface, while the latter are busily sculpting the coral skeletons into an intricate, three-dimensional habitat full of nooks and hiding places for fish, urchins, and other marine life.

    “The ocean will certainly absorb more CO2 over the next century, and ocean acidification is a global phenomenon that reefs cannot escape,” DE Carlo said. “But the encouraging news in our findings is that people can take action to protect their local reefs. If people can limit runoff from septic tanks, sewers, roads, farm fertilizers, and others sources of nutrient pollution to the coastal ocean, the bio-eroders will not have such an upper hand, and the balance will tip much more slowly toward erosion and dissolution of coral reefs.”

    Coral reef ecosystems, which provide critical buffers to shoreline erosion, sustain fisheries that feed hundreds of millions of people, and shelter 25 percent of all marine species. 

    Marine Life At Risk

    In the dark, cold waters of the deep sea lives a vibrant ecosystem teeming with life. Ancient corals (some hundreds of years old!) support anemones, sponges, fish, octopi, whales, and so much more.

    The incredible depth of these unique ecosystems, including a vast canyon off the Atlantic coast as deep as the Grand Canyon, has been their best line of defense for thousands of years… until now.

    Recent advances in fishing practices could soon bring devastating techniques like bottom trawling to these formerly untouched waters, ripping up and crushing corals in their wake.

    The Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council is considering regulating some of the most damaging deep-sea fishing techniques RIGHT NOW.

    You can help by signing # 6 in “Calls to Action”  above.

    Save Atlantic Deep Sea Corals 

    This month (January 2015) the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council will decide whether and to what extent to protect deep sea corals.  The New England Fishery Management Council and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the adjoining MAFMC to identify deep sea coral areas of consensus and common strategy.  However, the Mid-Atlantic region will be first and thus set the bar for the other councils.

    The Fishery Council is considering five alternatives to deep sea corals.  Alternative 1A is status quo, do nothing and continue with no measures designed specifically for the protection of deep sea corals.  Alternative 1B would protect corals at and below 200 meters.  The other three Alternatives step down the protection depths to start at 300 meters, 400 meters and 500 meters.  Let me take moment to explain why Alternative 1B protect at and below 200 meter is the best amendment.

    Last summer Martha Nizinski, Ph.D., and researchers surveyed deep sea corals from Virginia north and east to Maine. A remotely operated vehicle (ROV) was lowered into the deep from their ship.  They explored canyons that fringe the continental shelf diving 500 to deeper than 3,000 meters.

    “We found areas that had corals meters tall,” Nizinski said. “Corals grow very slowly, so those could be hundreds, even thousands of years old.”

    I recently attended the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council’s presentation by Dr Nizinski on deep sea corals.  In the canyons of the mid-Atlantic region they surveyed for corals below 500 meters.  Deep-water corals live in total darkness.  Absent light, these corals lack the symbiotic algae that produce nutrients to feed shallow water coral.  Instead, deep water corals feed themselves by capturing passing food.  In the mid-Atlantic region corals were found to favor steep slopes of 30% or more and outcropping peaks – two habitats not conducive for fishing.

    Deep sea coral communities are called biodiversity hotspots. They are considered essential habitats for commercially valuable fish stocks.  Yet, only redfish were frequently seen with specific deep sea corals.  It was, therefore, big news to learn from Dr. Nizinski that deep sea corals were observed with skate and hake.  That these two relatively abundant commercially valuable fish were seen with deep sea corals gives hope for the importance of these essential communities for less numerous ground fish populations.

    Please sign and comment on our letter urging the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council to adopt Alternative 1B – “a broad coral zone would be designated with the landward boundary approximating the 200 meter depth contour. . .”  We believe the most essential fish habitats with corals are the shallower slope waters.  That fewer corals are found in waters shallower than 500 feet does not mean that the habitat is not suitable for corals.  It may instead be indicative of more disturbances by humans.  Below 200 meters is up on the continental shelf where most of the fishing occurs.

    There is currently no ground fishing in waters more than 200 meters.  Alternative 1B would not diminish currently fished areas and would in essence freeze current fishing zones with no add-ons. The far-away canyon waters over 200 meters have outcropping and are steeply inclined.  These are areas not easily fished.  Let’s give refuge to the fish that dwell with deep sea corals and not disturb the ancient marine life that dwells in waters below 200 meters.

    Meanwhile across the Atlantic, Science AAAS reports marine biologist Jason Hall-Spencer of the University of Glasgow, United Kingdom, and two colleagues found large chunks of coral in the catch hauled up by two French vessels fishing off West Ireland. Radiocarbon dating of these fragments indicates the reefs are at least 4500 years old. Although only five of 229 hauls included substantial amounts of coral, Hall-Spencer says the extremely slow-growing coral can’t recover from frequent trawling.    

    Rob Moir, PhD.|January, 2015

    Bulldozing Deep-Sea Reefs

    Deep-water coral reefs off the coasts of Ireland and Norway, only recently explored, have already been extensively damaged by commercial trawling for fish, according to a new report. The researchers urge conservation measures to safeguard the reefs, which provide havens for marine life and valuable spawning grounds for fisheries.

    Tropical coral reefs are well-known for their astounding biodiversity, but coral reefs also exist in the frigid waters of the Northeast Atlantic, much deeper down, at the edges of the continental shelf. Only in the past several years have researchers begun to learn much about these reefs. Unlike their shallow-water cousins, which live symbiotically with photosynthetic organisms, these corals survive in the dark, using tentacles to feed on tiny crustaceans called copepods. Whereas deep-water reefs are built of only a few kinds of corals, they provide habitat for many hundreds of other species, including commercially valuable fishes.

    Now, videotapes taken with a submersible off Norway reveal that damage from commercial trawlers has left reefs there looking like a clear-cut forest, marine biologist Jason Hall-Spencer of the University of Glasgow, United Kingdom, and two colleagues report in the 7 March issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B. The trio also found large chunks of coral in the catch hauled up by two French vessels fishing off West Ireland. Radiocarbon dating of these fragments indicates the reefs are at least 4500 years old. Although only five of 229 hauls included substantial amounts of coral, Hall-Spencer says the extremely slow-growing coral can’t recover from frequent trawling.

    The study provides “unequivocal evidence that trawlers are devastating this ecosystem,” says marine biologist Callum Roberts of the University of York, U.K. Hall-Spencer says he has no doubt that protecting the reefs will be discussed when the European Union looks to revise its common fishing policy later this year.

    Jay Withgott|26 February 2002

    Wildlife and Habitat

    New habitat research could save endangered orangutans in Borneo

    New conservation research conducted by Dr Matthew Struebig from the University of Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology has discovered that up to 74 per cent of current orangutan habitat in Borneo could become unsuitable for this endangered species due to climate or land-cover changes.

    However, the research has also identified up to 42,000 sq. km of land that could provide a safe haven for the animals.

    The paper, entitled Anticipated climate and land-cover changes reveal refuge areas for Borneo’s orangutans, also involved scientists from Liverpool John Moores University and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW).

    Further contributions were made by conservation scientists from Australia and Indonesia, in consultation with leading orangutan experts based in the Malaysian and Indonesian parts of Borneo.

    Part of the research employed satellite images to map deforestation and estimate areas of forest change expected in the future.

    The researchers also mapped land unsuitable for oil palm agriculture, one of the major threats to orangutans, and used this alongside information on orangutan ecology and climate to identify environmentally stable habitats for the species.

    The research demonstrates that continued efforts to halt deforestation could mediate some orangutan habitat loss. This is particularly important in Borneo’s peat swamps, which are a home to large number of orangutans.

    The researchers believe that focusing conservation actions on these remote areas now will help to minimize orangutan losses in the future.

    Relocation of endangered species is an expensive process, says the study, so this research will contribute to conservationists’ understanding of how to identify appropriate areas which are safe from development as well as the effects of climate change.

    Huge injection of publicly raised cash given to support US wetlands

    The US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe recently announced over $21 million will be provided to 25 projects in 13 coastal and Great Lakes states to protect, restore or enhance more than 11,000 acres of coastal wetlands and adjacent upland habitats under the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program.

    State and local governments, private landowners, conservation groups and other partners will contribute over $35 million in additional funds to these projects, which include acquiring, restoring or enhancing coastal wetlands and adjacent uplands to provide long-term conservation benefits to fish and wildlife and their habitats.

    “Coastal wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world,” says Director Ashe.

    “The nation’s coastal resources provide resting, feeding and breeding habitat for 75 per cent of waterfowl and other migratory birds, and nearly 45 per cent of the nation’s endangered and threatened species are dependent on coastal habitats.

    “Coastal wetlands also provide billions of dollars in ecosystem services through drinking water filtration, buffering against storms and flood control, as well as billions more to support local economies through outdoor recreation-related expenditures and jobs.”

    The program, funded in part through taxes paid on equipment and fuel purchases by recreational anglers and boaters, also creates significant benefits for communities in the vicinity of wetlands restoration projects.

    As rivers re-open to shipping, oil threat to Bangladesh’s Sundarbans forest continues

    Bangladesh’s Sundarbans forest, home of incredibly rich biodiversity, is under unprecedented threat, writes ASMG Kibria. The recent oil tanker capsize on the Shela river puts the forest at risk of widespread biodiversity loss, but just this week, the authorities re-opened the Shela river to shipping with no restrictions on hazardous cargoes.

    The Sundarbans of Bangladesh is the largest mangrove forest in the world and vital for supporting hundreds of species many of which are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List – such as Royal Bengal Tigers, Ganges and Irrawaddy Dolphins, estuarine crocodiles and endemic river terrapins.

    This forest is a place of wild, menacing beauty where jewel-like kingfishers perch on sleeping estuarine crocodile or fly over the fin of passing shark; at low tide, otters, monkeys, wild boars, and spotted deer emerge from the forest.  The prolific bird population keeps the forest busy.

    And the mud banks regularly bear the deep pugmarks of a striding Bengal Tiger. The majestic tiger’s population in the Sunbdarbans forest is the largest remaining in the world.

    For its remarkable biodiversity and uniqueness UNESCO has declared this ecosystem as a World Heritage Area. But its protection is entirely inadequate to the riches it contains.

    Oil tanker capsize

    On 9th December 2014, the oil tanker Southern Star VII was wrecked on the Shela river after being rammed by a cargo vessel in Chandpai dolphin sanctuary, created to protect critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins.

    The tanker, which was carrying more than 350 tons of furnace oil, sank. More than two thirds of the oil since spilled into the river before the tanker could being salvaged. Environmental watchdogs have fear that the oil slick has already spread over an 80 kilometre wide swathe from the site of the accident.

    Oil has entered into the Sundarbans forest through twenty or more canals connected to Shela river, which further complicated the situation. Another major river, the Pashur, has also been affected by this pollution.

    This, the greatest ecological accident in country’s history, has heightened the grave concerns about the environmental impacts of river transportation through the Sundarbans.

    A devastated ecosystem

    “We have spotted dolphins coming out of the water more frequently for air and going down again in some places”, said Tapan Kumar Dey, Conservator of Forests. “Crocodiles’ movement in the affected areas has been less after the disaster and we are trying to determine actually what happened to them.”

    This would disrupt the entire aquatic system as this is happened in the time of fish breeding season. On 13th December the Dhaka Tribune reported first instance of Irrawaddy dolphin death about 25 kilometers away from the capsized tanker (see photo, above right).

    Monirul H Khan, professor of zoology at Jahangirnagar University, told the Dhaka Tribune: “Generally, dolphin corpses do not come to the water surface. The fact that one of them has floated to the surface should mean a number of dolphins have been directly affected. If large creatures such as dolphins could not survive, then smaller ones like otters and fish are in much bigger danger.”

    The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which had inscribed the Sundarbans on its World Heritage List in 1997, expressed concerned that “there is likely damage to the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, which must be evaluated.”

    Phytoplankton and zooplankton, the food producers of the aquatic ecosystem, have dramatically went down by 40% to 80% percent, according to a recent study.

    A 15-member team lead by Dr. Rouf from Fisheries and Marine Resources Technology found that within seven days after the oil accident, the river water contained 600 phytoplankton and 100 zooplankton per liter of the river water. In normal winter condition it contains 1,000-2,000 phytoplankton and 500-600 zooplankton per liter.

    This would bring profound negative consequences to the entire ecosystem. Already the fish availability in the river has dropped sharply. “Now it is the fishing season as the spring tide has started in the river. But the catch of the fishermen are very low”, said Amir Hossain Chowdhury, divisional forest officer of Sundarbans east zone.

    Forest department reported two otters were found dead and floating in the Shela river and Chototengra canal yesterday. After autopsy, furnace oil was found in the mouth cavities of the animals, they confirmed.

    Professor Abdullah Harun Chodhury from Khulna University has found that the dissolved oil content in the Shela river water is well above the threshold level for the crabs, otters, prawn, deer, fish eggs and other microbes.

    Vultures, eagles and other bird species who feed on dead animals are came back at the southern part of the Sundarbans forest there the accident occurred, said Abdullah Harun, Professor of Zoology department at Jahangirnagar University.

    “Only if they smell large numbers of dead animals do the vultures visit the place. At the end of December they were not supposed to be – here indicating there are many dead animals which have remained unnoticed.”

    Meanwhile, livelihood of millions of people around the area will severely affected which would increase forest destruction. It is high time to take smart and comprehensive measures for saving the forest.

    Government’s inability to foresee or forestall

    Bangladesh has never faced this kind of catastrophe of such scale – a fact frequently cited by regulators to clear themselves of responsibility. But the accident was entirely foreseeable – oil tankers have been moving through these channel for years. The authorities have so far failed to explain the lack of precautions and preparedness.

    Fortunately the forest department and the Padma Oil Company Ltd, owner of the spilled oil, started a cleaning up mission by employing local people. The company initiated a ‘buy back’ program paying 30 taka (less than 40 cents) per litter of sludge retrieved. They were also been committed free medical treatment if necessary.

    People have successfully scooped up large amount of oil by using sponges, sacks and pots despite potential health risks; however, this should not become an excuse for failing to progress essential technological precautions.

    “The extent of losses due to the oil spill is not as large as it was feared in the beginning”, claims Anwar Hossain Manju, the Forests and Environment Minister.

    But this is wishful thinking – the intention of the government is more to salvage their dwindling reputation, than to save the ecosystem. Forest department officials warned that although the adverse effects of this disaster are buckled down, oil stained plants along the canals would not survive.

    Amir Hossain, chief forest official of the Sundarbans said: “This catastrophe is unprecedented in the Sundarbans and we’re worried about its long-term impact.”

    Against UN advice, Shela river re-opened to shipping

    In response to request from Bangladesh government The United Nations (UN) promptly responded to this crisis and has dispatched a team of international experts to Bangladesh to help clean up remaining fuel oil in Sundarbans of Bangladesh.

    The development came as experts slammed authorities for failing to organize a proper clean-up effort of the oil spill since government was reluctant in accepting international support.

    The UN experts expressed concern over the disaster, urging Dhaka to impose a “complete” and “permanent” ban on the movement of commercial vessels through the 10,000 sq km (3,850 sq m) forest. The same request has been issued by the Ministry of Forests and Environment.

    But the Shipping Ministry has rejected this recommendation. temporary ban on shipping put in place after the accident was in fact lifted two days ago on 7th January, pending the dredging of an alternative route, the Mongla-Ghoshiakhali channel.

    Minister Shahjahan Khan said, “Human need is our first concern not the forest.” The statement is not unusual for a powerful politician with education little above benchmark for literacy definition and thereby, lack of knowledge to decide a sound tradeoffs.

    Hence – in the absence of national and international pressure – the Shipping Ministry is not going to review the permission of moving even vessels bearing hazardous cargoes through the delicate Sundarbans ecosystem.

    A global treasure that must be sustained

    Sundarbans is an incredible resource for the world although it is in Bangladesh and a small portion extends to India. But the politicians of Bangladesh will not act to rationally to preserve it unless there is enormous international pressure. World leaders and scientists should come forward to save the Sundarbans before it is too late.

    The biodiversity of Sundarbans contains 334 plant species belonging to 245 genera and 75 families, 165 algae and 13 orchid species. It is also rich in fauna with 693 species of wildlife which includes 49 mammals, 59 reptiles, 8 amphibians, 210 white fishes, 24 shrimps, 14 crabs and 43 mollusks species.

    The varied and colourful bird-life found along the waterways of the property is one of its greatest attractions, including 315 species of waterfowl, raptors and forest birds including nine species of kingfisher and the magnificent white-bellied sea eagle.

    Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), a New York-based organization discovered a surprising population of 6,000 Irrawaddy dolphins in the Bangladesh Sundarbans in 2011. This finding results an important effort to conserving the marvelous dolphins by declaring Dhangmari, Chandpai and Dudhmukhi areas of eastern Sundarbans as dolphin sanctuaries.

    Conservationists say these are among the most endangered dolphin species in the world and the mangrove forest is the only place where Irrawaddy and Long-nosed Gangetic river dolphins are found.

    Nevertheless, the Bangladesh government has persistently neglected the conservation of the forest. A great concern has been expressed about the future of this delicate ecosystem in recent study, ‘Securing a resilient future for Bangladesh Sundarbans‘.

    Since 1764 the forest has lost two third of its original size and currently it has shrunk to 140,000 hectares.

    ASMG Kibria|9th January 2015

    Giant Panda Bear Habitat Could Be Cut in Half by 2070

    Images of polar bears stranded on melting ice sheets are obvious reminders of climate change. Sadly, climate change is affecting the habitat of another bear that we’ve come to know and love, the endangered Giant panda bear, in less obvious ways.

    Panda Habitat Halved by 2070

    New Scientist reports that panda bears are going to have to relocate. It’s still mostly our fault, but not directly. Right now, pandas in the wild have two main things working against them. First, the wild gene pool is relatively tiny. Second, China’s boom of new wealth has created a construction and road-building boom that encroaches on panda habitat.

    Researchers are projecting that climate change will worsen the situation for pandas in the future. Ming Xu of New Jersey’s Rutgers University created a model to discover the impacts of climate change on panda habitat. Xu’s team found that “an average of 1 °C warming globally by 2100, could result in habitat suitable for pandas more than halving by 2070.” That’s just a conservative estimate.

    The bad news doesn’t end there for the pandas. Xu’s team predicts that the panda populations will become more fragmented as the average panda habitat could decrease by as much as 19 percent. In layman’s terms, smaller panda population could become cut off from the rest. The isolation would leave the smaller groups more vulnerable and at “greater risk of dying out.”

    Not all hope is lost, according to Xu’s team. Pandas still have a chance if they relocate to the north. A bamboo planting initiative now could create a suitable habitat for them later.

    Endangered Panda Reality and Threats

    Relocation and planting bamboo won’t solve all of the panda’s problems. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) explains that while we’d assume that pandas are thriving based on the number of panda births in captivity, the reality is much different in the wild. First of all, there are roughly only 1,600 pandas left in the wild. On top of that, half of panda habitat isn’t legally protected. As small populations get cut off and isolated from others, extinction is a real possibility.

    Here are the main threats hurting pandas:

    • Road construction causes populations to become fragmented, isolated and vulnerable, as pandas will avoid areas of road construction at all costs.
    • Dam and hydropower facilities frequently flood panda habitat.
    • Mining disrupts pandas’ peace (they dislike loud noises) and the forest’s vegetation, and creates water pollution.
    • Mass tourism brings in additional human threats.
    • Unsustainable forest practices destroy panda habitat.
    • Climate change and extreme natural disasters make pandas more vulnerable.

    How You Can Help Pandas

    In the wild, pandas have few natural predators. Their demise would certainly fall on us, so it’s up to us to help them.

    You can help the pandas right now by visiting the WWF and Defenders of Wildlife for tips.

    Climate change is an imminent challenge. To learn what you can do to create a better future for the pandas and the rest of us, here are ten easy tips.

    Jessica Ramos|January 12, 2015

    Biscayne Bay Selected By NOAA for Increased Habitat Conservation Investments

    MIAMI – Biscayne Bay was recently selected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as one of two sites in the southeast and Caribbean to be considered Habitat Focus Areas — places where the agency can maximize its habitat conservation investments and management efforts to benefit marine resources and coastal communities. The second site chosen was Puerto Rico’s Northeast Reserves and Culebra Island.

    Under NOAA’s Habitat Blueprint, which provides a framework for NOAA to effectively improve habitats for fisheries, marine life and coastal communities, Habitat Focus Areas are selected to prioritize long-term science and conservation efforts. As a Habitat Focus Area, NOAA and partners will provide conservation planning and development of a watershed management plan.

    “NOAA’s Habitat Blueprint illustrates our commitment to building resilient communities and natural resources by improving habitat conditions for fisheries and marine life while also providing economic and environmental benefits,” said Bonnie Ponwith, director of NOAA Fisheries’ Southeast Fisheries Science Center. “This effort will promote the exchange of ideas and transfer of best management practices between the two sites. NOAA is eager to bring the whole team to the table with our partners to focus on these areas and achieve benefits for these communities and natural resources.”

    Biscayne Bay is a shallow, subtropical ecosystem with extensive seagrass cover and a mangrove fringe along most of its shoreline. The bay contains more than 145,000 acres of habitat that is essential to commercially important species, such as grouper and snapper in their early life stages. The bay supports many living marine resources including protected species, such as green and loggerhead sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins, and several threatened coral species. The bay’s ecosystem strongly contributes to the economy of the surrounding area.

    “The DEP’s Florida Coastal Office is grateful and enthusiastic about the selection of Biscayne Bay as a new Habitat Focus Area for NOAA,” said Kevin Claridge, director of the Florida Coastal Office. “The Habitat Blueprint initiative will lead to increased partnerships and coordination to protect Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves for both present and future generations.”

    As a Habitat Protection Area, NOAA scientists will work to better understand the water quality issues in Biscayne Bay, as well as restore, improve and protect fishery habitats. In addition, NOAA will work to restore and maintain sustainable fish stocks, reduce marine debris impacts and improve shoreline protection.

    For more information about the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserves, click here.

    For more information about NOAA’s Habitat Blueprint Focus Areas, click here

    mburgerdep|Jan. 12, 2015

    Forestry

    Florida 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.

    Read more

    Global Warming and Climate Change

    Is the Climate Movement at a Tipping Point?

    Is the climate movement at a political tipping point? Could right now, 2015, be that moment in history, be something akin to the 1964-1965 period for the civil rights movement? Those were the years that two major pieces of legislation, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, ended legal segregation in the South and opened the way for a whole series of positive social, cultural and political changes in the U.S. in the years since.

    If looked at in that light, the answer is almost certainly “no.” Given the dominance of the Senate and the House by climate denier Republicans, it is extremely unrealistic to expect major national climate legislation until 2017 at the earliest.

    However, there are other things at work, three in particular:

    • The growing strength of the grassroots-based climate movement, as seen last year in the People’s Climate March, banning of fracking in New York, staying power of the no Keystone XL pipeline message and Northwest no coal exports campaigns, deepening of the fossil fuel divestment movement, emergence of a growing movement against new gas pipelines, compressor stations and export terminals, most visible at the week-long early November nonviolent blockade in Washington, DC at the headquarters of FERC, and more.
    • The roughly 50 percent drop in the price of oil on world markets, which negatively affects both oil and gas production and profits and, therefore, the willingness of banks and money people to invest in the oil and gas industry; the serious overproduction/debt/lack of needed infrastructure/decline in supply/decline in prices worldwide crises for the shale gas (fracking) drilling companies; and the deepening difficulties of the coal industry caused mainly by competition from renewables and gas, low prices, and tightening federal regulations directed primarily at them.
    • The dramatic rise in renewables, particularly wind and solar, both in the U.S. and worldwide. Deborah Rogers Lawrence, writing on Jan. 3 on the EnergyPolicyForum website, quotes from a recent report issued by Bloomberg New Energy Finance: “By 2030, the world’s power mix will have transformed: from today’s system with two-thirds fossil fuels to one with over half from zero-emission energy sources. Renewables will command over 60% of the 5,579GW of new capacity and 65% of the $7.7 trillion of power investment.’ And that is without much shift in current policy to incentivize renewable production. If countries were to get serious about climate change, these figures could presumably be accelerated.”

    In addition, 2015 is the year that the Pope is going to put forward a major encyclical and convene a meeting of religious leaders with the immediate objective of bringing pressure to bear on the December United Nations Climate Conference in Paris. That conference is on track to come up with some kind of a climate agreement, the big question being whether it’s more-of-the-same that we’ve seen for years and years or a badly-needed change of direction. Without question, the already-happening focus on this conference by the broad mix of people worldwide supporting strong action on climate, including the Pope, will undoubtedly have a big political impact, maybe even with the world’s governments.

    What about that climate-denier-run Congress? Will they be able to fundamentally alter these powerful economic and political developments?

    Without question, they will try. Indeed, they already are with their effort to ram through the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline despite Obama’s announcement that he will veto that legislation. They intend to try to reduce the Environmental Protection Agency budget to hamstring its already-far-from-consistent efforts to do its job and, in particular, to try to slow or stop its plans to enact regulations for the electrical power generation industry. I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried very hard to come up with a package of financial gifts to our “poor and struggling” oil, gas and coal companies in their time of need.

    Without question, the climate movement will need to rise to the challenge of these regressive efforts, as it is already doing on the Keystone XL front.

    But we need to be doing much more than this. We have some wind at our back, and we need to escalate our tactics.

    It would be a very big mistake for the grassroots-based climate movement to get too caught up in the ins-and-outs of Capitol Hill battles. Indeed, the biggest contribution we can make to those defensive tactics is to do build up the political will of the American people for action on climate.

    How can we best do this? In my view, learning from the civil rights movement and many other successful social movements down through history, we can best do so by escalating strategic, well-thought-through, nonviolent direct action and other visible, demonstrative actions in the streets, as massive and coordinated as we can make them.

    2015 might be a turning point year, but it definitely won’t be if we don’t rise to the occasion. History and our grandchildren are calling on us to do so right now.

    Ted Glick|January 12, 2015

    UF professor ties global warming to wheat decline

    UF professor says 2 degrees of global warming will cause 6 percent loss of wheat harvest.

    Wheat crops could suffer badly as global temperature rise this century, according a new study led by a University of Florida scientist.

    Steering an international team of 50 scientists, UF professor Senthold Asseng determined that a global temperature rise of nearly 2 degrees will cause a 6 percent failure in world wheat production, according to a university announcement of the study Wednesday.

    The finding comes amid the Obama administration’s proposed Clean Power Plan, a controversial initiative by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce by about a third the carbon dioxide emissions of electric utilities.

    EPA blames power plants as the nation’s single biggest source of greenhouse gases and wants states to come up with a plan by next year for reducing that pollution.

    Asseng said that worldwide food production needs to rise 60 percent by mid-century to feed an estimated 9 billion people. He said wheat crops now account for 20 percent of calories consumed in the world.

    The professor of agricultural and biological engineering said his team’s calculations “showed that warming is already slowing yield gains.”

    During the past century, the global average surface temperature has risen nearly 1.5 degrees, while the average temperature is expected to climb by 2 to 11.5 degrees by the end of this century, depending on decreases of greenhouse-gas emissions, according to EPA.

    Scientists elsewhere have documented shifts in plant and wildlife habitats because of changing climate.

    Asseng said scientists must develop heat-tolerant wheat varieties and continue to study potential for crop losses from global warming.

    He worked with scientists in 15 countries, including Frank Ewert in Germany and Pierre Martre in France.

    Kevin Spear|Orlando Sentinel|January 15, 2015

    Bernie Sanders Is Forcing Republicans to Embarrass Themselves on Climate Change

    The Senate legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline faces a dead-end at the president’s desk, unless Senate Republicans pick off a few more Democratic votes to override Barack Obama’s promised veto. That’s why Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has proposed an open amendment process, hoping to drum up bipartisan support before the Senate votes next week.

    Senator Bernie Sanders has taken him up on the offer. He plans to introduce a “sense of Congress” resolution that simply affirms climate change is real, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, and must be addressed. It would say that Congress “is in agreement with the opinion of virtually the entire worldwide scientific community” and “climate change has already caused devastating problems in the United States and around the world.” The question is whether McConnell would block this amendment before it came to a vote. On Tuesday afternoon he told reporters, “We are not anxious to block anybody’s amendment, we are wide open.”

    This means the Keystone XL debate is about to get a lot more interesting.

    The climate amendment is pure messaging. It does nothing to address the problems of global warming. Still, it will put many Senators in an uncomfortable situation. During the midterms, Republicans were anxious to ignore questions about man-made global warming. They ducked reporter and constituent questions about pollution with excuses like, “I’m not a scientist.

    A vote on Sanders’ resolution is tougher to dodge. One senator facing trouble is Mark Kirk, who faces reelection in 2016 in Illinois. This month, he seemingly reversed his position on climate science to climate denial in an interview with E&E Daily (behind a paywall). He argued “political correctness took over climate science,” then walked back those comments again to say he still believes humans have caused climate change. Now, he’s in the awkward position of having to vote on it. The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent also points to Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz as interesting politicians to watch because of their presidential ambitions (since both have rejected science in the past, I’d expect them to do the same again).

    Democrats have offered these resolutions before. Usually, they are blocked before a vote, like a resolution proposed by Senator Amy Klobuchar last July after the Senate’s most famous climate change denier James Inhofe objected. A similar resolution by Sanders was tabled last week in committee.

    A climate resolution clearly won’t pass. According to a count from ThinkProgress, 70 percent of Republican Senators are on the record saying humans aren’t responsible for global warming. That is the opposite of what a majority of moderate Republicans think, says a study published Monday by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. More than 60 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans accept climate change is happening. It’s the Tea Party wing of the party that doesn’t acknowledge it.

    Rebecca Leber

    3 Steps To Fighting Climate Change In The Garden

    Since starting my family 7 years ago, I’ve chosen to protect my children by ensuring their food is safe to eat. After all, it’s those small bodies that are most at risk from these toxins. From lettuce and peppers, to strawberries and apples, much of our commercial food supply is covered in toxic pesticides known to be harmful.

    I need to be honest — purchasing safer, organic products isn’t always cheap. In fact, it can be quite costly, sometimes almost twice the price of conventional products. And although I’m making positive purchases for the health of my family, the amount of carbon emissions to get organic products to our home still remains high. In fact, it’s estimated that over one third of the world’s carbon emissions is caused by agriculture — that includes moving food to the grocery shelves and ultimately, from the store to our homes. Since many organic products come from all over the world, that can negate the healthful value.

    I wanted to lower my costly grocery bills, lower my family’s participation in lessening carbon emissions and feed my family the safest, healthiest foods. Therefore, I’ve taken the home gardening plunge!

    How does my garden grow?

    I started by speaking with experienced gardeners; asking for gardening tips in my home state, Utah. As my husband began constructing the raised garden beds using untreated wood that we filled with organic soil, my son and I began growing organic and non-GMO seedlings indoors in a warm, sunny location. In Utah, cold weather vegetables can be planted by seed directly into the garden around mid-March. Green leafy vegetables, if harvested regularly, can offer a supply for many months. My family purchases organic greens weekly, so having a continuous supply of greens is money in our pockets and nutritious food in my children’s bellies.

    Watch out for frost! It’s best to transplant warm weather crops to the garden after danger of frost. Coincidentally, every year we have snow in May when most gardens are already growing, so preparedness plays an essential role in protecting a young garden. Fortunately, during cold spells, I’ve been able to keep our produce safe by simply covering them. Makeshift greenhouses are also common to get a garden started early and to protect crops until summer.

    3 simple steps to grow a vegetable garden and fight climate change:

    • Map out plant placement for maximize growing space and adequate sun exposure. In addition to garden beds, plants can also grow upwards by vining, and in hanging pots and smaller containers throughout your yard and garden.
    • Maintain healthy soil. I make sure to rotate the location of plants from the previous year. In prepping the garden for the growing season, we mix our household compost into the soil to feed our plants throughout the summer months.
    • Bring native plants into your yard that attract and feed the bees. Our world is seeing a large reduction in bee populations due to heavy pesticide use and this is threatening our food supply. Another good reason to avoid toxics in your yard and garden.

    Note: I’ve had a few issues with animals eating our food. Birds love strawberries, and the minute they turn ripe, the birds eat them. To keep the birds from eating my sons’ favorite snack, I place old  CD’s around the garden. When the birds fly near the fruit they quickly get scared away by the reflection. Another issue I’ve struggled with is slugs. Last year, I lost an entire crop of beets to slugs. I planted 3 rows of beets this year for pickling, but recently noticed I had slugs again. I found non-toxic repellent pellets that I placed around the garden and haven’t had any more problems. Rodents can also be an issue. They eat whatever they can find. To combat this, we fenced in our large raised bed and use chicken wire around other growing beds.

    (See: DIY Pesticide that’s Safe Enough to Eat)

    Involve your kids, share the bounty and cut carbon pollution!

    This year, I grew three times the amount of organic tomatoes, peppers and melons. With this abundance of starter plants, I supplied a neighbor and two friends with food for their gardens, lowering costs to their family budget and eliminating more carbon pollution.

    Getting my children involved in the process has made such a positive impact on my family. They enjoy every aspect of gardening — from planting seeds to harvesting delicious vegetables. My children now understand where their food comes from, how to eat healthy, and they’ve made the important connection that the energy it takes to grow vegetables naturally reduces our family’s carbon footprint right now!

    Bridget James|Moms Clean Air Force|May 31, 2014

    Climate Consensus – the 97%

    The Antarctic ice sheet is a sleeping giant, beginning to stir

    Infrastructure must adapt to shrinking southern ice sheets and sea level rise

    In a paper I just published with colleague Dr Ted Scambos from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, we highlight the impact of southern ice sheet loss, particularly the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, on sea-level rise around the world.

    We know that human emissions of greenhouse gases are causing the Earth’s temperature to rise and are creating other changes across the Earth’s climate system. One change that gets a great deal of attention is the current and future rates of sea-level rise. A rising sea level affects coastal communities around the world; approximately 150 million people live within 1 meter of current sea level.

    The waters are rising because of a number of factors. First, water expands as it warms. In the past, this “thermal expansion” was the largest source of sea-level rise. But as the Earth’s temperatures continued to increase, another factor (melting ice, particularly from large ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica) has played an ever increasing role.

    In the Southern Hemisphere, the largest player is the Western Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS). It is less stable than Eastern Antarctica and is particularly vulnerable to melting from below by warmed ocean waters. Scientists are closely watching the ice near the edges of the WAIS because they buttress large volumes of ice that are more inland. When these buttressing ice shelves melt, the ice upstream will slide more rapidly toward the ocean waters.

    As reported in our paper, according to some studies, “no further acceleration of climate change and only modest extrapolations of the current increasing mass loss rate are necessary for the system to eventually collapse … resulting in 1-3 metres of sea-level rise.” And this is from just one component of the great southern sheets.

    What we also discuss is that sea-level rise will not be uniform. Antarctica (and Greenland) are currently losing gigatons of ice each year. That ice is heavy, and we know from first-year physics courses that mass (particularly heavy items) expresses a gravitational attraction. So, all that ice sitting atop Antarctica is pulling ocean waters toward it.

    As the ice melts, the gravitational force will lessen, and the waters will “slosh” away from Antarctica. In our paper, we report that sea level rise in the Northern Hemisphere will be greater than the world-wide average whereas sea levels in the region next to Antarctica may actually fall. This means that infrastructure planning on the east and west coasts of North America as well as in Europe must be prepared for a greater than average sea-level rise.

    This is an exciting and rapidly evolving field of study that has tremendous implications on coastal communities and infrastructure. My colleague, Dr Ted Scambos summarized the current knowledge by saying,

    Antarctica’s ice sheet has been called the ‘sleeping giant’ of sea level, but it’s beginning to stir. Everything we’ve seen about this change points to human influences on climate – and now we’re at the point where human actions will be needed to stop it.

    We will be eagerly awaiting more results on this subject over the next few months and years.

    John Abraham|14 January 2015

    Extreme Weather

    2014 Australia’s third hottest year

    The past two years have been the hottest on record for parts of the country with NSW and Victoria experiencing the warmest average temperatures in 2014 according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

    Australia has capped two years of extraordinary warmth with 2014 declared the third hottest on record just 12 months after 2013 smashed annual highs, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

    No year since 1985 has observed a below-average global mean temperature and all of the 10 warmest years have occurred between 1998 and the present.

    Mean temperatures across the country in 2014 came in 0.91 degrees above the 1961-1990 average, behind only 2013 and 2005.

    Melbourne posted its equal warmest year on record in 2014, while Sydney’s average mean temperatures were 1.6 degrees above average, placing it behind only 2013. 

    “In 2014, we had quite a few heatwaves that contributed to those very warm conditions,” said Agata Imielska, senior climatologist at the bureau in Sydney. “They have been a lack of cool outbreaks.”

    Among the states, NSW had its hottest year for means on record last year, while Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia all posted their second warmest years. Only the Northern Territory missed out on a ranking among the four warmest years.

    The past two years were the hottest on record for most of the country.

    The past two years were the hottest on record for most of the country. Photo: BoM

    “A number of prolonged and geographically extensive warm spells affected Australia during 2014, resulting in monthly records for highest temperature being set at numerous locations,” the bureau said in its annual climate statement.

    The unusual warmth over the past two years has come despite the absence of a full El Nino in the Pacific, a climate pattern that tends to push up temperatures across much of Australia and south-east Asia.

    For 2014 alone, most of the country had 'very much above average warmth'.

    For 2014 alone, most of the country had ‘very much above average warmth’. Photo: BoM

    Climatologists say background conditions are warming as a build-up of greenhouse gases traps more of the sun’s heat in the atmosphere, making it increasingly likely that heat rather than cold records get broken.

    “Global warming is contributing to these heat records, and it’s very unlikely that we would have seen the proliferation or the frequency of these heat records around the world without the influence of global warming,” Karl Braganza, head of climate monitoring at the bureau, said.

    “The climate system we live in…that’s all about 1 degree warmer than it used to be,” Dr Braganza said.

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    Warming up

    Tuesday’s release of the annual survey comes a day after Perth reported its hottest January day for that site, with 44.4 degrees, and fire crews in South Australia continue to battle bushfires across the state as a second heatwave in less than a week laps over the region.

    With 2014 likely to be declared the warmest year on record globally, the Japan Meteorological Agency made the call this week and other agencies are expected to follow suit later this month.

    For rainfall, the east and far west were generally dry, while the north was wet.

    For rainfall, the east and far west were generally dry, while the north was wet. Photo: BoM

    “No year since 1985 has observed a below-average global mean temperature and all of the 10 warmest years have occurred between