ConsRep 1602 A

I thank you God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”    –E.E. Cummings

Announcements

The next GBBC is February 12-15, 2016

www.BirdCount.org

REMINDER: GREAT BACKYARD BIRD COUNT WEBINAR

This year’s Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) will take place February 12-15, 2016, and we encourage all chapters to participate in and promote this fun, free, accessible citizen science event. 

On January 6, join us for a webinar discussing how your chapter can use the GBBC to connect your community with your local birds while supporting conservation.

Use this link to join from your computer, tablet, or smart phone: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/367716965

United States +1 (408) 650-3123
Access Code: 367-716-965

Of Interest to All

Bill to Regulate Fracking Gets Green Light in House

Fracking inched one step closer to becoming a reality in Florida Wednesday when the Florida House of Representatives passed a pro-fracking bill by a vote of 73-45.

HB 191, sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, would prohibit localized counties from banning fracking, a drilling process which recovers oil and gas from shale rock. 

The bill would also require the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a study on the impact fracking would have on Florida. The department would then write rules regulating fracking after the study had been completed. Regulations would begin in 2017.

Drillers would need to obtain permits before beginning fracking. Anyone violating the legislation would be fined $25,000 a day per violation. Fracking supporters say the process is good for the economy since it increases oil production, driving down gas prices and giving gas security in countries where fracking is allowed. 

Republican lawmakers onboard with the legislation said the proposal was just a way to regulate the industry, since fracking is already allowed in the Sunshine State. 

But environmentalists and opponents of the bill say fracking could have dire consequences for the people of Florida, putting millions of lives at risk as a result of the process. They say fracking would be harmful for people and the environment, potentially posing health problems by contaminating groundwater.

“It should be called the Anything For Money bill,” said Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton. 

Slosberg and House Democrats slammed the bill, citing fears for their constituents’ and their families’ lives.

“There are many things about this bill that disturb me,” said Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale. “As a parent, I have a responsibility to protect my family, as we all do.”

The bill’s supporters, however, said the legislation was merely a regulatory bill and another example of a controversy state lawmakers face as just another part of their jobs. 

“The controversies we face…aren’t new,” said Rep. Rodrigues, alluding to the introduction of electricity, modern cars and the Kennedy Space Center as some examples of environmental issues the Florida Legislature has tackled and passed, changing the lives of average Floridians for the better.

Ultimately, the bill passed on party lines. The bill’s passage was four years and 17 committee meetings in the making.

Associated Industries of Florida Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs Brewster Bevis chimed in on the legislation, applauding state lawmakers for voting to approve it.

“By working in good faith with concerned citizens and third parties, we believe that the final product of HB 191 both appropriately empowers the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to properly regulate the onshore oil and gas industry, and also ensures the protection and preservation of Florida’s environment,” he said.

The bill still needs to pass the Senate and be signed by Gov. Rick Scott before it becomes law.

Allison Nielsen|January 27, 2016 

SFWMD Took Necessary Emergency Action to Provide Flood Protection

The South Florida Water Management District’s primary responsibility is to provide flood protection for everyone within the agency’s 16-county service area. This week, the District took necessary action to fulfill that mission for thousands of families and businesses around Lake Okeechobee.

On Jan. 27, South Florida experienced its wettest January day in 25 years. Glades communities south of the lake saw particularly intense short-term rainfall – 6 inches in 24 hours – overwhelming the local flood control system. As a result, water managers “back pumped” water into Lake Okeechobee to provide necessary relief.

The SFWMD Governing Board essentially ended the routine practice of back pumping into the lake years ago, except under emergency conditions clearly defined by a Florida Department of Environmental Protection permit. In fact, there have been only eight other back pumping events using the permitted process since 2008. Today, this truly is a rare occurrence.

This winter is proving challenging for water managers who must balance flood control with protecting vital ecological areas such as the Caloosahatchee Estuary. In January, the region well exceeded its record rainfall total for the month, including more than six times the historical average for the Caloosahatchee Basin alone. District water managers have already maximized the amount of water that can be sent south to the Everglades or stored in regional or dispersed water management projects, prompting the extraordinary actions taken this week.

More water storage capacity is clearly needed to protect both South Florida’s residents, businesses and visitors and the environment. The District continues to work toward long-term solutions, such as construction of the C-43 Reservoir. The best way to help is by supporting either Governor Scott’s proposed budget or the “Legacy Florida” bill filed in the Florida House to provide a long-term, dedicated funding source to complete these critical projects.

Mitch Hutchcraft|Governing Board Member|South Florida Water Management District

A Short History of Groundhog Day

Punxsutawney Phil is part of a tradition with roots that extend back thousands of years

As the sun rose on Groundhog Day today, the region’s top furry forecasters all agreed that an early spring is on the horizon. While modern meteorologists may put more faith in weather satellites and statistical data than whether or not a big rodent saw its shadow, Groundhog Day wasn’t always a silly tradition: it’s actually rooted in the movements of the sun and dates back thousands of years.

Most ancient civilizations relied on the sun and the stars to tell them when to start planting crops, harvesting, or prepping for the cold winter ahead. This reliance on celestial cues evolved into traditions captured by holidays that have survived to this day, in particular those celebrated by the ancient Celts.

These days “Celt” is most often used to refer to people from Ireland, Scotland, parts of Britain, and Brittany in France (as well as a basketball team). At one point, though, groups of Celts lived all over continental Europe from Turkey to Spain. While it is unclear exactly how much modern Celts are related to the Iron Age civilization, the culture notably left its mark on the calendar, as several of their major holidays have survived in some form into modern times. 

For the Celts, their four major seasonal holidays were known as “quarter days,” as they celebrated the equinoxes and solstices that signaled the beginning of a new quarter of the calendar year. There was Yule, which fell on the winter solstice and was incorporated into Christmas; Ostara on the spring equinox, celebrating the return of spring and inspired many Easter traditions; Midsummer on the summer solstice, marking the longest day of the year; and the harvest festival Mabon, which took place on the fall equinox. 

But they also celebrated “cross-quarter days” that marked the midpoint between quarter days – one of which fell right around February 2, Tim Joyce writes for Q13 Fox News.

At the time of year when we celebrate Groundhog Day, the Celts celebrated a holiday called Imbolc (pronounced em-BOLG). Imbolc fell right between the winter solstice and spring equinox, and was often considered a time for initiations as well as predicting the weather, according to EarthSky.org. By this time of year, no matter how well-prepared they were, food became scarce and people looked to traditions for signs of relief.

As Joyce writes:

One of the legends is that on Imbolc, the creator (in their cultures personified as an old woman) would gather her firewood for the rest of the winter. According to the story, if she wished to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. Therefore, people…believed if February 2nd is a day of foul weather, it means that the creator was asleep and winter is almost over.

Over the centuries, people began to look for signs of the weather in all kinds of animals, from snakes to groundhogs. Ancient Germanic people, for example, would watch to see if a badger was spooked by its shadow, according to EarthSky.org. When British and German immigrants first came to the United States, they brought their traditions with them, including the celebrations that evolved into Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day isn’t the only cross-quarter holiday that has stuck to the modern calendar: May Day, which many now celebrate in honor of workers around the world, falls on the midpoint between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. Halloween also has roots in Samhain, the Celtic day of the dead – the last cross-quarter holiday of the year, Joyce writes.

These days, most people know better than to trust a skittish groundhog with predicting the weather. Experts say that groundhogs like Punxsutawney Phil and Staten Island Chuck are only right about 30 percent of the time. But when you’re in the midst of a long, cold winter, sometimes a little levity is in order.

Danny Lewis|smithsonian.com |February 2, 2016

Calls to Action

  1. Keep Polar bear’s birthing grounds safe from Big Oil’s allies – here
  2. Block the DuPont/Dow merger – here
  3. Tell the U.S. EPA that You Want Cleaner Air for our Southwest National Parks – here
  4. Tell Legislators to Object to Surplusing of State Lands – here
  5.  
  6.  

Birds and Butterflies

  Southwest Florida Eagle Cam

Wings Over Florida 

Wings Over Florida is a free listing recognition program open to bird watchers of all skill levels. We award full color certificates at seven levels, starting at 50 species for the Northern Cardinal Level.

Join us for a morning hike to enjoy winter birds at Chinsegut. We will look for the beautiful Yellow-throated Warbler, listen for the mellow coo of the Common Ground-Dove and marvel at the magnificent Sandhill Cranes. This field trip is perfect for beginner and intermediate level birders. Families and children are welcome.

Title: Wings Over Florida birding field trip

Leaders: Andy Wraithmell and Whitney Gray

Date: Saturday February 20th 2016

Time: 8am to 12pm

Meet: 7:55am at Chinsegut Conservation Center

Places: 20 

Fee: $10 per person donation to Wildlife Foundation of Florida (mail in a check to reserve spaces please).

Chinsegut Conservation Center

23212 Lake Lindsey Road

Brooksville, FL 34601

(352) 754-6722

For more information about Wings Over Florida CLICK HERE

Loaner binoculars will be available. Checklist and application form for certificate will be provided.

 

Invasive species

Argentina Battles a Plague of Locusts, Surging After Mild Winters

Farmers and officials are racing to get massive swarms under control

Argentine farmers are struggling to fight off the largest plague of locusts the South American country has seen in more than half a century. After several mild and rainy winters, locust populations surged at the end of 2015, leaving officials and farmers desperate to find ways to protect the country’s crops. But despite their best efforts, it might be too little, and too late, to eliminate the swarm.

Locusts have been a thorn in Argentine farmers’ side for generations. One of Argentina’s oldest agricultural programs is a government project designed to fight locusts that was founded in 1891. While farmers have turned toward modern pest control methods over the years, some farmers still resort to traditional methods, like burning large bonfires, to drive off the insect swarms, Jonathan Gilbert reports for the New York Times. Nevertheless, over the last five years, the agricultural agency Senasa has reported increasing locust populations, culminating in the massive locust swarms reported throughout the country.

“It is a national scourge which directly affects crops, grazing fields and natural forests, and could be much worse if not controlled in the next 20 or 25 days,” Juan Pablo Karnatz, secretary of the local agricultural group Confederación Rural Argentina, tells Diego Yañez Martínez for the newspaper La Nación.

Farmers have had a few lucky years relatively free of locusts. But the country has had several unseasonably warm and wet winters, perfect for the destructive insects to breed. Once locusts hatch, they can quickly grow up to two inches long and devour two to three grams of food every day. A recent outbreak last June saw a cloud of locusts about three miles wide and six miles long consume almost six square miles of crops in just a few days, Kari Paul writes for Motherboard. So far, the locusts reported are too young to fly, but fumigators only have about 10 days to kill them before the insects grow strong enough to travel.

“It’s the worst explosion in the last 60 years,” Diego Quiroga, Senasa’s chief of vegetative protection, tells Gilbert. “It’s impossible to eradicate; the plague has already established itself. We’re just acting to make sure it’s the smallest it can be and does the least damage possible.”

Experts say the warm weather contributed to the locusts’ resurgence, but there isn’t enough information available for scientists to determine whether or not it is a result of climate change.  Many farmers blame Senasa for its lax spraying policies under former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Gilbert reports.

Right now, fumigators are trying to hunt down clutches of young locusts before they can fly and swarm, but if the locusts become airborne, the government will be forced to rally aircrafts to spray them with pesticides from above—a more complex operation.

“We don’t know exactly where we’re at,” Karnatz tells Gilbert. “We may have contained some pockets, but it’s not a definitive victory.”

Danny Lewis|smithsonian.com |January 27, 2016

Endangered Species

Rare White Giraffe Survived Her First Year

The 15-month old calf has so far survived possible predation from lions, leopards, hyenas and human poachers

Almost one year after her first sighting, wildlife biologists were thrilled to spot a beautiful giraffe calf with unusual coloring in Tarangire National Park, according to the Wild Nature Institute’s blog. 

The calf, called Omo after a popular brand of detergent, is leucistic, meaning she lacks much of the pigment carried by a typically-colored giraffe. Unlike albino animals, Omo does have some color: her mane is rusty-red, the tuft of her tail black and her eyes are the dark pools of most giraffes, fringed by long, pale lashes. Albinism, caused by complete pigment loss, is marked by very pale eyes that appear pink or red because of blood vessels showing through, writes Liz Boatman for Berkeley Science Review. Leucism is low pigment, which is why Omo’s eyes are still dark, and the faint pattern of a giraffe’s spots still speckles her sides. 

“Omo appears to get along with the other giraffes, she has always been seen with a large group of normally colored giraffe, they don’t seem to mind her different coloring,” ecologist Derek Lee, founder of the Wild Nature Institute, tells Mark Molloy at The Telegraph

Already the strikingly-colored creature has survived her first 15 months—the most dangerous time for young giraffes that can fall prey to lions, leopards and hyenas. Now she faces a new danger that may dog her for the rest of her life: human poachers. 

Unusually colored animals can become a target for poachers and hunters simply because of their appearance. An albino roe deer, living in the U.K. allegedly prompted one German hunter to offer more than £5,400 (roughly $7,655 at the time) for the animal, The Independent reported in 2009.

Albino corn snakes fetch a higher price than their typically colored peers and seven albino alligators were stolen from a zoo in Brazil, according to The Independent. Horrifically, some poachers have even attacked human children with albinism for body parts they can sell to witch doctors, writes Andrew Malone for The Daily Mail

Omo is only the second white giraffe spotted in Tarangire over the last 20 years, Lee tells Sam Wood of Philly.com. If she can survive to maturity, at four years of age, there is a chance that she would pass her unique coloring on to her offspring.

Marissa Fessenden|smithsonian.com |January 27, 2016

Wild & Weird

Can A Groundhog Tell Us If The End Of Winter Is Near?

Tuesday is Groundhog Day and groundhogs are receiving A LOT of media attention.  And Punxsutawney Phil is preparing to deliver his forecast early that morning

We’ve received a number of inquiries about this furry, kind-of-cute rodent from readers.

Groundhogs clearly aren’t related to pigs or hogs—so what exactly are they?

The groundhog (also known as a woodchuck or Eastern Marmot) is actually a large, ground-dwelling rodent and is part of family of ground squirrels known as marmots.

Groundhogs are lowland creatures and are common in the northeastern and central United States, found as far north as eastern Alaska and south as the northern half of Alabama. (see range map to right).

If you live in the western U.S., particularly in rocky and mountainous areas, you’re probably familiar with the the groundhog’s cousins such as the yellow-bellied and hoary marmots. 

Can They Really Chuck Wood?
The name that many use for the animal, “woodchuck”, is derived from the Native American Algonquian tribe’s name for the animal, “wuchak”.

So despite the tongue-twister we’ve all heard (as well as that GEICO ad a year or two back!), it’s name has nothing to do with throwing around pieces of wood, even though it’s a great image….

Digging Life
These busy rodents are great diggers and hikers can often find their dens by looking for disturbed earth.  Their short, powerful limbs and curved, thick claws are ideally suited for digging the extensive excavations they are known to create. 

Groundhogs have two coats of fur—a dense grey undercoat that is then covered by a longer coat of banded guard hairs, which provide its distinctive “frosted” appearance.

They are good swimmers and excellent tree climbers and can do both while escaping predators. When threatened, groundhogs generally retreat to their burrows but the animal can tenaciously defend itself or its burrow using its two large incisors and front claws.  That said, groundhogs are pretty easy prey for predators such as coyotes, foxes, bears and even large raptors.  Young groundhogs are also preyed upon by snakes.

What Do Groundhogs Eat?
Groundhogs are mostly herbivorous, consuming wild grasses and other vegetation such as berries and agricultural crops.  On occasion, they’ll also eat grubs, insects, snails and similar small animals. Groundhogs don’t need open water to drink and can hydrate themselves by consuming leafy vegetation.

Individuals often “stand alert” in an erect posture on their hind legs when not actively feeding. This is a commonly seen behavior and easily observed.

So How Can They Predict The End Of Winter?
Unlike many rodents, groundhogs are true hibernators and are rarely, if ever, active or seen during the winter.  They often build a separate “winter burrow”, which extends below the frost line and stays at a steady temperature year round, allowing the animal to avoid freezing during the winter’s cold months.

It’s this trait of sleeping through the winter that led to the folklore that a groundhog’s behavior can predict when winter will end.

Since a groundhog sleeps through the entire winter, the reasoning is that the winter must be ending if he’s willing to stay out and about once he or she has been awakened on February 2nd.

It’‘s a pretty shaky premise and the poor creature is probably so dazed from being rudely awakened that he has no idea what the temperature is.

How Accurate Are A Groundhog’s Predictions?
Groundhogs are among our longest hibernators, often settling down as early as October and remaining in their burrow until March or April.

So no matter what our furry prognosticators may appear to tell us on Groundhog Day, it’s a pretty safe bet that just want to go back to sleep, regardless of the weather!

eNature|January 31, 2016

Everglades

Everglades restoration bill unanimously passes House committee

A bill that would fund Everglades restoration efforts with up to $200 million a year cleared the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Thursday with a unanimous vote.

“Today we are making great strides toward finishing a task that is important to all Floridians,” committee chair and Bartow Republican Rep. Ben Albritton said. “By protecting the Everglades, we not only improve one of our greatest resources, we also secure the water resources needed to provide for Florida’s expanding population.”

HB 989, sponsored by Republican Reps. Gayle Harrell and Matt Caldwell, would get the money from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, the destination for the 2014 land conservation amendment funds. The bill caps the Everglades’ share at 25 percent of the fund’s annual collections or $200 million, whichever is less.

“With the implementation of this legislation, we will ensure the state’s future funding for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and the Long-Term Plan, as well as provide significant funding for the Northern Everglades,” Caldwell said.

Under the bill, dubbed the “Legacy Florida” program, the South Florida Water Management District would get $32 million each year off the top to use for its Long Term Plan and the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program. The bulk of the rest would head to projects in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

“By creating the ‘Legacy Florida’ program, we are taking the necessary steps to complete the decades-long restoration that will ensure Florida’s River of Grass will be enjoyed by generations to come,” Harrell said.

The bill now moves to the House Appropriations Committee, its last scheduled stop before the chamber floor. The Senate version, SB 1168 by Republican Sen. Joe Negron, has yet to be heard in committee.

SFWMD Board Awards Contract to Continue Corkscrew Restoration

On Jan. 14, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board renewed its commitment to restoring the vast and ecologically diverse habitat of the Southern Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW) Project in southwest Florida.

The Board approved a $2.9 million construction contract to restore the natural hydrology and ecology on more than 1,000 acres of the project. This contract will involve removing 10 miles of roads cut through the area in the past, removing several spoil piles, plugging or filling drainage ditches to allow the area to naturally flood again and degrading existing berms previously built in the area.

The restoration construction contract is just the latest investment by Florida to restore this unique area near Bonita Springs. The 60,000 acres that make up CREW span both Lee and Collier counties. It is an area where, for centuries, floodwaters naturally flowed in sheets across the pristine landscape. It is also home to panthers, snail kites, wood storks, dozens of different species of wildflowers like the buttonbush and horned bladderwort. The CREW property includes a 5,000-acre marsh as well as Flint Pen Strands, the Bird Rookery Swamp and several hiking trails.

Development eventually blocked much of the natural flow of water with roads, agricultural ditches and homes; however, the state has been buying, preserving and restoring the land for years. A series of floods in 1995 led the District to create a comprehensive restoration project to restore the ecosystem while protecting nearby residents from flooding. To date, Florida and the U.S. Department of the Interior have invested nearly $40 million in the restoration of this critical ecosystem.

Water Quality Issues

Emergency  pumping  to Lake O started

A state environmental agency gave a presentation in Fort Myers on Thursday on cleaning up the Caloosahatchee River while another state agency pumped polluted farm water into Lake Okeechobee, which drains into the river.

If water management in Florida seems confusing, that’s because it is. The Army Corps of Engineers manages the Lake Okeechobee release protocol, but the South Florida Water Management District operates the pumps.

The district announced Thursday around 2 p.m. that it had declared an emergency the day before at 6 p.m., while the Army Corps was, ironically, taking public input in Clewiston on how to best protect areas around the lake from flooding.

How are these toxic releases possible?

“I’d call the water management district since they operate the pumps,” said John Campbell, an Army Corps spokesman.

Shortly after that phone call between The News-Press and Campbell, the Army Corps sent out a press release saying it was going to lower the amount of lake water flowing to Fort Myers. Levels had been at 5,000 cubic feet per second, which is well beyond the ideal maximum level of 2,800 cubic feet per second. So the water releases were “lowered” to the maximum level.

Those types of discharges kill sea grass and oyster beds and can disrupt the marine food chain. But the water pumped back into Lake Okeechobee on Thursday from farms has far higher nutrient levels than the lake itself, which has been in violation of federal standards for decades even without the pollution loads from farms surrounding the lake.

“This set of releases is going to include polluted water from the Everglades,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida. “This is not the water that’s coming down the Kissimmee River and into Lake Okeechobee.”

Recent studies have shown that exposure to bacteria can increase chances of diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

These releases increase the frequency and duration of harmful algal blooms, which, in turn, can cripple the tourism and real estate industries.

“In the lake we already have (excess nutrients) for phosphorus, and as far as I know they’ve never gotten down to where the phosphorus loading was down to (meet federal requirements),” said Rick Bartleson, a former district water quality scientist who now works at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. “The only time they can say they did (meet the federal standards) was a hurricane year when it blew away their sensor.”

Bartleson collects water quality samples in the river and estuary and reports his findings to the state Department of Environmental Protection, which gave Thursday’s presentation in Fort Myers, and other agencies.

“This is adding more phosphorus to the lake, which already doesn’t meet the standards,” he said. “They’re never going to meet the (federal standards) by back pumping.” Back pumping is taking water used to irrigate farms and pumping it back into the lake. The practice virtually stopped a decade ago because of environmental concerns.

Once famous for its plethora of blue crabs and massive tarpon, the Caloosahatchee River today suffers from excessive nutrients (which feed potentially harmful algal blooms), unacceptable fecal coliform levels, turbidity and low levels of dissolved oxygen.

DEP’s Kevin O’Donnell told a crowd of two dozen people Thursday that “in the east portion of the Caloosahatchee we have a nutrient problem. In the central portion … it looks like there is a lot of insufficient information (about the nutrients).”

“It’s reasonable to assume that if it continues for very long we would certainly be a recipient of elevated pollutant levels,” said John Cassani, with the Southwest Florida Watershed Council.

Bartleson said future damages here will depend on how long the district pumps farm water into the lake.

“The more back pumping they do, the more water that’s coming out of the lake, the higher our phosphorus and total suspended solids will be in the estuary,” Bartleson said. “In the estuary, phosphorus supports harmful algal called cyanobacteria.” Cyanobacteria, in large amounts, can produce a deadly toxin that causes illnesses in aquatic species and humans.

The district put out a press release 22 hours after the pumping started which stated:  “To protect the lives and property of approximately 50,000 people surrounding Lake Okeechobee, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) initiated emergency pumping of water into the lake following the wettest January day in 25 years across the entire SFWMD. Belle Glade, Pahokee, South Bay and Canal Point received some of the heaviest rainfall, with 6 inches in a 24 hour period. Rising water levels from this intense rain necessitated the rare pumping event, which began about 6 p.m. on January 27. Pumping operations, in coordination and accordance with permits issued by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, will continue as needed.”

Extreme Weather

2015 Crushed Global Heat Records: Three Things You Should Know

We hate to sound like a broken record, but we keep breaking heat records. Any way you slice it, last year was warm. Unusually so.

NOAA and NASA have both confirmed what scientists have been predicting for months: 2015 was globally the hottest year ever recorded (and the direct temperature records date back to 1880). But what else did scientists determine about the state of the climate in 2015? Here’s what else you need to know.

1. 2015 Crushed 2014

Not only was 2015 the warmest year on record globally, it beat the previous record, set in 2014, by a wide margin. The average temperature (over land and ocean surfaces) was 1.62°F (0.90°C) above the 20th century average, a full 0.29°F (0.16°C) above the previous record set in 2014.

That might not seem like much, but it’s the widest margin by which the global average annual temperature record has been broken – ever.

2. It Wasn’t All Due To El Niño – But It Played A Part

The planet is warming because of manmade carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases emitted from human activities like burning fossil fuels. The planet has warmed about 1.4°F (0.8°C) since 1880 and in 2015 this warming trend continued unabated.

On top of this human-caused warming, an El Niño event began last year and continues into the present. El Niño refers to the natural condition where ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific near the Equator warm to levels above the long term average. The 2015/2016 El Niño rivals the one from 1997/1998 as the strongest since record-keeping began (in terms of ocean surface temperatures above the long-term average).

El Niño events are a result of complex circulations in the ocean and atmosphere. They occur roughly every four to seven years and have a big impact on weather patterns globally. El Niño events can cause short-term spikes in average global temperatures, but they are not behind the long-term warming we’ve experienced over the past century. An increasing body of research suggests that strong El Niño events might happen more frequently as our planet continues to warm and our climate changes.

The bottom line? El Niño makes temperatures change from year to year, but in the long run, the Earth is steadily warming and it’s due to human activity.

3. Fifteen of the 16 Hottest Years on Record Globally Have Occurred After 2000

Of these 16 years, 1998 was the only one that occurred in the 20th century – and like 2015, 1998 was a strong El Niño year. While climate scientists don’t expect every year to be record warm (due to these natural fluctuations), there is already evidence to suggest this time next year we’ll be writing about 2016 being the new hottest year on record. The writing is on the wall: as humans continue to burn fossil fuels, our climate will change.

As atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe told the Associated Press, “It’s getting to the point where breaking record is the norm. It’s almost unusual when we’re not breaking a record.”

See videos

Click here to read more highlights from NOAA’s State of the Climate Report.

Palm Beach County sugar cane crop hit hard by wet weather

Belle Glade — Unprecedented January rains have flooded the sugar cane fields around Lake Okeechobee, damaging Palm Beach County’s signature crop and wiping out millions of dollars worth of vegetables.

“Some fields have received 12 inches of rain in January. We are in uncharted territory,” Barbara Miedema, spokeswoman for the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida in Belle Glade, said Thursday. “We are in a low field of lettuce right now. It’s completely ruined.”

In comparison, the historical annual average rainfall for the period from the start of harvest in mid-October to January 27 going back to 2009 is only 8 inches.

The Glades area’s agricultural industry is on track to experience the wettest January on record. The weather impacts on the Florida sugar cane industry reach from field preparation all the way through the harvesting and milling functions and could cost the industry millions, the Cooperative, U.S. Sugar Corp. and Florida Crystals Corp. officials said jointly Thursday.

The bulk of the state’s more than 400,000 acres of sugar cane is grown in Palm Beach County.

Although the extent and impact of the damage won’t be known until all the cane is processed in the spring, the harvesting season could be the longest ever. When the muck fields are wet, harvesting equipment cannot be brought in.

The cane crop is usually wrapped up by April, but harvesting is expected to continue into May.

The industry’s four sugar mills that normally run 24/7 have been forced to shut down off and on for an average of 16 days each due to the severe weather.

“Industry-wide, it costs millions of dollars for every day you are shut down, said Clewiston-based U.S. Sugar Corp. spokeswoman Judy Sanchez. “You have to close out all the processes that are under way and shut those down. You won’t have any cane coming in to take its place.

“The El Niño weather has adversely affected agriculture, particularly vegetables and sugar cane. It’s not just standing water in the fields delaying our harvesting and processing, the water is damaging our crops and sugar yields, both this year’s crop and next year’s crop,” Sanchez said.

Ron Rice, Palm Beach County extension service director, said, “It’s a nightmare for the mills. The best thing for a mill is to keep it supplied 24/7. When you start having these disruptions, it does not start back up in the same condition. It takes a while to get the whole system rolling and humming along again.”

When cane stays in the field past its ideal harvest date, it deteriorates and its sugar accumulation curve starts to drop, Rice said. Ultimately, the amount of sugar the cane yields declines.

Fields of young plant cane are in standing water and are most likely ruined, which affects the next three years’ crops. Wind and rain have also flattened the cane, making it “lay over” and become more difficult to harvest, the sugar companies said.

Wet weather also means the cane brings more mud into the process, which causes increased wear and tear on equipment, added West Palm Beach-based Florida Crystals’ spokeswoman Marianne Martinez. A longer cane grinding season will also result in less time off-season to repair equipment.

Sweet corn, green beans, lettuce, radishes, celery, parsley and other crops are also grown in the Glades and rotated with sugar cane. Those crops, less hardy than sugar cane, have been hit hard.

Sweet corn, the Everglades Agricultural Area’s largest vegetable crop, has experienced a 50 percent loss to date. The planting season runs for about four more weeks, so the full acreage might not be planted. The EAA has an eight-week period to sell the spring sweet corn crop.

EAA growers together market more than 7.5 million 50-ear boxes of sweet corn in the spring, or nearly 1 million boxes a week.

“Sweet corn has only a short storage life, so once you miss that window, it’s a loss,” Martinez said.

Florida’s sugar industry

In the 2014-15 season that ended in April, Florida Crystals Corp., the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida and U.S. Sugar Corp. produced 1.845 million tons of raw sugar, up from 1.7 million tons in 2013-14.

Sugar cane is planted on approximately 440,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area. Most of the production is in Palm Beach County, but sugarcane is also grown in Hendry, Glades and Martin counties.

The Florida sugar industry employs more than 14,000 people, has an annual income over $800 million, and a total direct and indirect value of over $2 billion.

Energy

29 Oil Train disasters between JAN. 19, 2013 and NOV. 8, 2015

1. Tilley, Alberta, JAN. 19, 2013: A Canadian Pacific freight train collides with a crude oil tanker near Tilley, Alberta, resulting in a fire that engulfs the tanker and locomotives. [Source]

2. Paynton, Saskatchewan, JAN. 24, 2013: A CN Rail train collides with a road grader and derails. An estimated 28,000 gallons of crude is spilled from four cars. One death resulted from the collision. [Source]

3. Parkers Prairie, MN MARCH 27, 2013: A mile-long Canadian Pacific train carrying crude oil from Canada derails. An estimated 20,000–30,000 gallons is spilled. [Source]

4. White River, Ontario APR. 3, 2013: A Canadian Pacific Rail train derails, spilling an estimated 16,500 gallons of light sweet crude. [Source]

5. Jansen, Saskatchewan MAY 21, 2013: A Canadian Pacific Rail mixed freight train derails, spilling an estimated 24,000 gallons of crude. [Source]

6. Calgary, Alberta JUN. 27, 2013: A Canadian Pacific Rail freight train carrying petroleum distillates derails after a bridge fails. Emergency personnel rushed to save train from falling into river. No injuries or spills reported. [Source]

7. Lac-Megantic, Quebec. JULY 6, 2013: 47 people are killed and nearly the entire downtown area is destroyed, when a runaway Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train derails, spilling 1.6 million gallons of crude oil and exploding in the tiny town of 6,000 residents. [Source]

8. Gainford, Alberta OCT. 19, 2013: A Canadian National Railway train carrying crude and propane derails near Edmonton, Alberta’s capital. No crude was spilled, but an explosion and fire resulted from leaked propane. About 100 nearby residents were evacuated and a major highway was closed. [Source]

9. Aliceville, AL NOVEMBER 8, 2013: A Genesee & Wyoming train carrying North Dakota crude derails near Aliceville, exploding and burning for more than 18 hours. About 748,800 gallons are thought to have spilled, including into surrounding wetlands. Four months later, oil was still oozing into the water. [Source]

10. West Nyack, NY DEC. 6, 2013: A CSX oil tanker collides with a truck at a railway crossing and both burst into flames. The driver of the truck was seriously injured. No spills reported. [Source]

11. Cheektowaga, NY DEC. 10, 2013: Five CSX oil tankers derail. The train was en route to Philadelphia from Chicago. No injuries or spills reported. [Source]

12. Casselton, ND DECEMBER 30, 2013: A BNSF Railway crude train crashes into another train, causing a massive explosion and leading to the evacuation of 1,400 nearby residents. An estimated 400,000 gallons of crude are spilled. [Source]

13. Plaster Rock, New Brunswick JAN.7, 2014: A Canadian National Railway train with DOT-111 cars carrying Western Canadian crude derails, sparking a large fire. Approximately 150 people are evacuated from their homes for three nights. No injuries reported. [Source]

14. Philadelphia, PA JANUARY 20, 2014: A CSX train carrying crude oil derails on the Schuylkill Arsenal Railroad Bridge in Philadelphia, causing the closure of a nearby busy expressway. No crude oil was spilled. [Source]

15. New Augusta, MS., JAN. 31, 2014: Thirteen cars of a Canadian National Railway train transporting North Alberta crude derails. 90,000 gallons of product were spilled and a dozen nearby homes were evacuated. [Source]

16. Winona, MN FEB. 3, 2014: A Canadian Pacific Railway train leaks 12,000 gallons of crude along 68 miles of tracks. The spill is reportedly due to a valve or cap mishap. [Source]

17. Frank, Alberta, FEB.14, 2015: A U.S.-bound Canadian Pacific train carrying Alberta tar sands derails. Fortunately, no oil is reported spilled. [Source]

18. Lynchburg, VA APRIL 30, 2014: A CSX train carrying crude oil derails in Lynchburg, setting off a 200-foot high fireball and prompting the evacuation of some 300 people. 30,000 gallons are spilled, including into the nearby James River. [Source]

19. Albany, NY APR. 30, 2014: Thirteen CSX DOT-111 crude tankers derail at the Selkirk Rail Yard. No spills or injuries reported. The derailment occurred the same day the state government touted an “inspection blitz” of oil trains that was conducted the previous week. [Source]

20. Estevan, Saskatchewan MAY 8, 2014: Four Canadian Pacific tankers carrying crude derail. No spills are reported. [Source]

21. LaSalle, CO MAY 9, 2014: A Union Pacific 100-car train en route to New York derails, spilling 5,300 gallons of Niobrara crude. Months later, groundwater tests conducted by the EPA showed toxic levels of benzene at the site. [Source]

22. McKeesport, PA JUN. 7, 2014: A CSX train derails over the Youghiogheny River. Twelve cars are involved, including one that contained light crude. No spills are reported. [Source]

23. Winnipeg, Manitoba JUN. 20, 2014: Two Canadian National Railway DOT-111 tankers carrying crude derail in the Symington Rail Yard. No injuries or leaks reported. [Source]

24. Mount Carbon, WV FEB. 16, 2015: 26 cars of a CSX train carrying 100+ cars of Bakken crude oil derail. Nearly 20 cars ignite, resulting in explosions and plumes of thick black smoke. Fires burned for days. One home was destroyed, and one car fell into Kanawha River. Drinking water intake pumps serving nearby Montgomery were closed. The train was traveling from North Dakota to Yorktown, VA. [Source]

25. Galena, IL MAR. 5, 2015: A BNSF train carrying 103 cars filled with Bakken crude oil derails near the Mississippi River, resulting in thick plumes of smoke and fires that burned for days. [Source]

26. Gogama, Ontario MAR. 7, 2015: A 94-car CN train carrying Alberta crude to eastern Canada derailed. Numerous cars catch fire. Oil spills into the Mattagami River System. [Source]

27. Heimdal, ND MAY 6, 2015: A 109-car BNSF train carrying crude oil derails in central North Dakota. Five to ten cars reportedly explode and burst into flames. The nearby town of Heimdal is evacuated. [Source ]

28. Culbertson, MT JULY 17, 2015: A BNSF train carrying 106 cars of crude oil traveling from North Dakota to Anacortes, Washington, derails. An estimated 35,000 gallons of crude spilled. No injuries or explosions were reported. [Source]

29. Watertown, WI NOV. 8, 2015: A 110-car Canadian Pacific train, carrying Bakken crude oil in 109 cars, derails near the downtown area on its way to Pennsylvania. 13 cars jump the tracks, with one car punctured. Hundreds of gallons of crude oil spilled. Dozens of homes were evacuated. [Source]

http://earthjustice.org/features/map-crude-by-rail?s_src=MoveOn.org_ThankYou_CBR&utm_source=crm#

Land Conservation

SFWMD Starts Work to Return Citrus Grove Back to Historic Everglades
The project will restore wildlife habitat and provide an array of ecosystem benefits

West Palm Beach, FL — Work to restore a former citrus grove back to Everglades habitat is set to begin with a construction contract approved this week by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD).

Known as the Sam Jones/Abiaki Prairie C-139 Annex Restoration Project, the approximately 15,000-acre site in Hendry County will be restored to an expansive wet prairie system with scattered cypress domes, tree island hammocks and sloughs. The restoration effort is designed to attract wildlife back to the site, including hares, turkeys, hawks, eagles, bobcats, black bears and panthers and benefit the groundwater, surface water and water supply of the area.

“Returning this land back to its former nature will bring vast benefits for wildlife and overall Everglades ecology,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Daniel O’Keefe. “As the site is adjacent to our treatment wetlands, restoring it will help connect natural areas across an expansive region.”

JMS Construction Services, the lowest responsive and responsible bidder, was awarded the approximately $1.5 million contract. This initial phase of construction entails site preparation, including:

• Removal and replacement of existing infrastructure such as metal pipes
• Removal of 247 8-inch diameter drainage culverts
• Abandonment of 15 irrigation wells
• Demolition and removal of associated concrete pads and piping

Legacy Florida

This week, the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee passed HB 989 by Representatives Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) and Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres), the Legacy Florida legislation. This bill will direct recurring funding of $200 million per year or 25% of the Amendment 1 allocation, whichever is less, to fund Everglades projects that implement the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration (CERP) Plan, the Long-Term Plan, the final Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP), and the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program. This will provide a reliable, sustainable and much-needed source of funding. 

Representative Harrell spoke about the importance of dedicating funding to accomplish Everglades restoration, a national treasure. Audubon Everglades Policy Associate Celeste De Palma testified in support of the bill. We will continue to actively support the passage of this landmark legislation.

For more information, please click here to read coverage from the Tampa Bay Times

Senate recommends $3.6 billion for environmental agencies in 2016-17 budget

Florida environmental agencies will have about $3.6 billion to spend in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, based on recommendations from the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government.

Put together by Umatilla Republican Sen. Alan Hays, the Committee released its budget recommendations Thursday, reports LobbyTools.

Among other things, Hays’ budget provides $1.5 billion to the Department of Environmental Protection, $1.7 billion to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service, $384.8 million to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and $41.9 million to the Department of Citrus.

The Senate’s proposal confirms a 4 percent budget increase requested by the DEP and Gov. Rick Scott, but only $82 million for Everglades restoration, which was less than contained in both the DEP budget ($176 million) and Scott’s plan ($151 million.)

According to LobbyTools, Hays’ budget recommendation matches DEP and Scott with $50 million for springs restoration projects, while increasing land acquisition spending significantly over what was requested. The Senate budget plan devotes $82.6 million to land acquisition, compared to only $63 million suggested by the DEP and Governor.

However, the Senate budget seeks to give Florida Forever $22.3 million, about the same amount asked for by Scott and the DEP. Also, $50 million would be allocated for water projects statewide. Local governments had already requested nearly $700 million for various water projects.

FDACS’ budget also includes about $2.8 million for implementing agriculture best management practices statewide, as well as eight additional staffers for the Office of Water Policy and a line item that would increase the pay for firefighters.

Phil Ammann|January 28, 2016

 

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

ConsRep1601 D

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. Chinese Proverb

 

Announcements

Corkscrew Swamp “After Hours”

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary’s boardwalk and nature center are transformed into a festival atmosphere when our popular After Hours event returns for the season on January 22, 5:30 until 9 p.m.

Stroll through an ancient forest under a full moon on guided or independent boardwalk tours, listen to Florida folk music, learn about Seminole arts and crafts, participate in an educational seminar,

shop for unique, nature-themed gifts in our nature store, and enjoy refreshments in our tea room.

This month’s event is themed “Full Moon of the Wolf: Traditional Seminole Legends and Art,” spotlighting the culture and history of Seminole and Southeastern native people. 

Pedro and Brian Zepeda, members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, will demonstrate their art and craft in our nature center and lead a presentation in our classroom from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

There is no additional charge beyond the regular admission of $14 per adult; $6 for college students with ID; $4 for children 6 to 18 years old,

free for children under six, and $10 for National Audubon Society members who present their ID card. 

Admission is good for two consecutive days, so come back and enjoy the boardwalk in the daylight hours on Saturday.

For more information and directions, call the Sanctuary at 239-348-9151 or visit  www.Corkscrew.Audubon.org

Loxahatchee Friends Annual Membership Meeting

Sunday, January 31, 1:00 p.m.

Join the Friends for our annual membership meeting in the Visitor Center auditorium, followed by wine and cheese on the pavilion.

17th Annual Everglades Day

Saturday, February 20, 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Join us for Everglades Day, our all-day family festival, with activities for all ages. This year’s theme is “Songs of the Everglades,” in recognition of next year’s 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty.

Enjoy tours, nature walks, bird walks, wildlife demonstrations, presentations, exhibits, games, kids’ fishing, kids’ archery, canoeing, music, dance, food trucks and much more!

All day free admission. Details to follow!

Everglades Day Volunteers Needed!

Anyone interested in volunteering to help on Everglades Day is asked to attend one of two volunteer orientations at the Visitor Center:

Thursday, February 4, 5:30 p.m. or Saturday, February 6, 10:00 a.m.

Of Interest to All

Corkscrew restoration project gets $2.9 million boost

About $2.9 million will go to restore more than 1,000 acres within Southern Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem project.

The South Florida Water Management District announced last Thursday the sum would cover a construction contract with tasks that include degrading about 10 miles of roads, plugging or filling unnecessary ditches and canal drainage systems and degrading existing berms within the project area, according to the water management district.

“This project is the essence of restoration,” said Rick Barber, governing board member of the water district, in a written statement. “Taking out roads and plugging ditches will continue a transformation back to a more natural environment while also maintaining flood control by providing water storage for nearby residents.”The Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem, known as CREW, is a 60,000-acre watershed that spans Lee and Collier counties and has a 5,000 acre marsh at its headwaters and the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, the water management district said.

Restoring wetlands by undoing human alterations to historic water flow would likely translate to flood protection for downstream residents in Bonita Springs, said Peter Cangialosi, environmental director for the nonprofit Estero Council of Community Leaders.

“The wetlands hold the water back and lets it out like a sponge,” Cangialosi said.

Water that is held can soak into the ground and replenish local drinking water supplies, too, which impacts the entire region, he said.

South Florida Water Management District said in its announcement that the agency has acquired about 4,000 acres for this project, cleared exotic vegetation form more than 2,500 acres and removed roads and plugged agricultural ditches on more than 600 acres.

“To date, the (water district) and state have invested more than $32 million to conserve the lands, with the U.S. Department of Interior contributing another $7 million to the restoration effort,” the announcement states.

Maryann Batlle|Naples Daily News

Calls to Action

  1. Stop the Sell-off of Vital Bird Habitat – here
  2. Meet 9 penguin species and learn what they’re facing – here
  3. ‏ Tell Congress to support the Paris Agreement – here
  4. Tell the USDA, don’t suppress bee science – here
  5. Demand strong and complete protections from methane pollution now – here
  6. Ban ivory around the world – here
  7.  

Birds and Butterflies

Where did all of the birds fly away to?

Christmas count down by about 5,500 from average

Someone forgot to tell the birds that people were looking for them on Dec. 20.

Members of the Blue Water Audubon Society saw fewer individual birds but slightly more bird species during the annual Christmas Bird Count.

Counters also saw some unusual birds including, for the first time, sandhill cranes. The long-legged waders were on the Canadian side of the count.

Janet Fox, the coordinator of the local count, said the weather might have had something to do with the lower numbers of individual birds.

“Well, it could have been,” she said. “All in all it wasn’t a bad day. It was just one of those, I don’t know, the birds weren’t out that day. Some days are just like that. The birds weren’t there.”

She said members of the count circle tallied 73 species, which was slightly more than the average of 70 since 1966, and about 11,500 individual birds, which was about 5,500 birds below average.

“We really had low numbers of the smaller birds,” she said.

Birds such as titmice, nuthatches, chickadees and native sparrow species weren’t out in numbers, Fox said, “We had good numbers of European starlings, not that we really want that, but we had it,” she said.

Counters tabulated three red necked grebes, waterfowl that are not common in the area.

“It’s the first time we’ve had them on our count,” Fox said. “They have been seen around the last few years, just a few, but usually on the Canada side of the river. It was unusual to spot them on this side of the river.”

The last time red necked grebes were found in the Christmas Bird Count was in 1978, she said, She said some early morning birdwatchers found eastern screech, great horned, barred and snowy owls.

“A nice variety — we had two parties going out owling and that really helped,” Fox said.

She noted that eastern screech owls are common in the area, despite rarely being seen.

“They are definitely out there, and people often don’t see them when they’re roosting during the day because they blend right in.”

She said participants also spotted several other birds of prey including bald eagles, red-tailed hawks and kestrels.

“We had six (kestrels) this time which is pretty good,” she said. “That’s a good number for us for kestrels.”

Bird watchers counted few waterfowl compared to previous years — for example, in 2014, participants counted 3,421 long-tailed ducks.

“Our waterfowl numbers were very low compared to other years,” Fox said. “We’ve had other years when the river has been open and the lake has been open but it has been so much warmer, that it’s my guess that they didn’t have to move here to feed. They didn’t need to come here. They may show up here later.

“Usually we would have several thousand individuals (waterfowl) and we didn’t come close to that this year.”

Data collected during the bird count by people in the Western Hemisphere is tabulated by the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. It is used to track long-term population and migration trends

BOB GROSS|TIMES HERALD

Project  FeederWatch eNews

Migratory Dragonfly Partnership Survey

Invasive species

Report Florida Keys reptiles, amphibians to FWC

Biologists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) need your help evaluating the status of reptiles and amphibians via online submissions.

Observations should include a photo of the animal and the location and date of the sighting. Species of particular interest are the Florida Keys mole skink, Key ringneck snake, rim rock crowned snake, brown snake, ribbon snake, red rat snake, and the Lower Keys populations of the striped mud turtle. Public participation will help scientists better understand the current distribution and population status of these species in the Florida Keys.

Persons submitting sightings can include photos on the reporting web page to help document the target reptile species, and FWC scientists will identify submitted photos of unknown reptile and amphibian species.

“Public reports of these cryptic reptiles, from residents and visitors alike, are essential in aiding our efforts at assessing their current status,” said Jonathan Mays, FWC research biologist. This information will be used to develop a more comprehensive study and to determine whether populations in the Keys are distinctive from those on the mainland.

To submit sightings of native reptiles and amphibians in the Florida Keys to FWC, visit MyFWC.com/Get-involved/ and select “Citizen Science” then “Sightings.” Sightings of nonnative species can be reported to FWC’s Exotic Species Reporting Hotline at 888-Ive-Got1 (888-483-4681) or online at IveGot1.org.

Cold Snap Helping Python Hunters In First Week Of Everglades Hunt

A dip in temperature may be giving hunters an early edge in a state-sanctioned hunt for elusive Burmese pythons in Florida’s Everglades.

Since the second Python Challenge began a week ago, snake hunters have turned in 39 of the invasive species, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The first month-long python hunt on state lands in 2013 netted 68 of the snakes, with the longest measuring over 14 feet long.

The beginning of this year’s hunt coincided with a cold snap. Chilly weather can drive the tan, splotchy snakes from the wetlands, where they’re extremely hard to spot, into the open as they seek warmth.

“Cooler temperatures on sunny days is kind of a good situation for finding pythons because they’re more likely to be on levies and roads sunning themselves,” commission spokeswoman Carli Segelson said Friday.

A cold front over the last week pushed temperatures across South Florida into the lower 50’s at night, which is below normal, said Chuck Caracozza, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami.

Another cold front that is driving a blizzard toward much of the East Coast will cause temperatures here to plunge into the 40’s, with a wind chill in some inland areas in the upper 30’s, he said.

Over 800 people have registered for this year’s python hunt, which ends Feb. 14.

No additional information about the pythons caught so far was immediately available, Segelson said.

During the hunt’s opening weekend, a wildlife commission officer caught a 16-foot-10-inch python in a narrow stretch of state land just west of Homestead, in the Miami suburbs, that is open for the competition.

“I’m sure some of the people registered for the Python Challenge were disappointed that one of our officers took such a big one, but obviously he had to take advantage of the situation and remove an invasive snake,” Segelson said.

Individuals and teams registered for the hunt are competing for cash prizes, while they snakes they catch are turned over to researchers.

In an average year, only about 200 pythons are caught in Florida, even though tens of thousands may be slithering through the wetlands. The pythons’ natural camouflage makes them difficult to find, even for researchers who blame them for enormous losses in native mammal populations.

The population of Burmese pythons likely developed from pets released into the wild, either intentionally or in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. They can grow to be more than 20 feet long and have no natural enemies in Florida other than very large alligators, humans or cold weather.

Record cold temperatures killed hundreds of pythons in the Everglades in January 2010 but, to researchers’ dismay, large numbers of the snakes still thrived.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Endangered Species

A New Approach by USFWS Over Wind Energy Avian Issues

In December of 2014, just six months after obtaining the first eagle take permit for a wind project, EDF Renewable Energy (EDF RE) completed negotiations over, and subsequently signed, an agreement (Agreement) with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that exempts eight of EDF RE’s wind projects from liability for the past take of birds protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA). The Agreement also exempts the projects from enforcement of future avian mortalities in exchange for EDF RE’s diligent pursuit of BGEPA take permits for each project. As the first known agreement of its kind in the wind industry, it may serve as a roadmap for wind farm operators seeking to avoid criminal enforcement.

Andrew Bell and Svend Brandt-Erichsen  

Water Quality Issues

New Water Law Will Affect Everyone Who Uses Water in Florida

On January 14, 2016, the officers of the Legislature presented CS/CS/SB 552 to Governor Scott for signature. More famously known as the “Water Bill,” this 134-page page marvel of compromise proves that it is still possible to pass controversial legislation in Florida today, even if it takes two years to do so. And, indeed, there is something in the law of interest to every homeowner, land developer, institutional user, farmer, utility, governmental unit and environmentalist, including plans for the allocation of limited water resources, development of new water projects, protection of Florida springs and regulation of discharges to impaired waters.

Origins

To understand the Water Bill, one needs to know the origin of much of it. Simply put, significant portions of Florida do not have enough water reserves from traditional groundwater sources to sustain continued growth. This dilemma has sparked the need to promote or even require development of alternative water supplies and to adopt additional limitations on withdrawals from traditional groundwater sources. Alternative water supplies include innovative solutions that do not involve withdrawal of water from traditional groundwater sources. Such solutions include implementation of graywater, stormwater and brackish water projects to augment existing sources.

In addition to the threat of diminishing water supplies, continued concern for Florida’s premier springs brought about the creation of a new regulatory category to afford them special protection, together with associated development limitations and remediation plans. Additional protections have also been afforded to help remediate impaired water bodies throughout the state, but particularly the ecosystems in south Florida.

Finally, the Bill addresses the multiple existing programs for protection of the South Florida natural environment, some quite outdated, to clarify who’s on first and what’s on second by creating lead agency responsibility for various regulatory programs and identifying Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) as the definitive tool for problem solving and regulation to protect/restore impaired waters.

Key Elements

Set forth below is a compilation of the key provisions of the Bill:

Effective Date

  • The  law will take effect July 1, 2016.

Springs Protection and Minimum Flows and Minimum Water Levels for Florida Waters

  • A new protected class of waters is created: the Outstanding Florida Spring (OFS). OFSs include all historic first magnitude springs and their associated spring runs and the following: De Leon, Peacock, Poe, Rock, Wekiwa and Gemini Springs, and their spring runs. If a minimum flow or minimum water level (MFL) has not been adopted for an OFS by July 2017 (2026 in Northwest Florida), emergency rulemaking will be used to adopt this protection. The MFL is the limit at which further withdrawals would be significantly harmful to the water resources or ecology of the area. Recovery and prevention strategies will also be adopted for any OFS not meeting the adopted MFL. (For those familiar with the import of this nuance: rules adopted for this purpose are not subject to the requirement that rules be ratified by the Legislature if they do not pass the adverse impact/regulatory costs criteria of the Administrative Procedures Act.)
  • The Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is made responsible for designating priority focus areas (areas where the aquifer is generally most vulnerable to pollutant inputs) for each OFS. Priority focus areas set the stage for prohibitions and protections under the new law.
  • Maintaining or restoring MFLs is a concern for all waters, not just the OFSs. In fact, the Bill provides that whenever an MFL is adopted or revised for any water body that falls below or is projected to fall below the MFL within 20 years, a recovery and prevention strategy (development of alternative water supplies or other actions) will have to be developed simultaneously.
  • By July 1, 2016, FDEP must begin assessment of every OFS for which an impairment determination has not yet been made under existing law. Concurrent with adoption of a total maximum daily (pollutant) load (TMDL) for the OFS, a BMAP shall be developed with a nutrient TMDL. (A TMDL is the load that a water body can assimilate without violation of water quality standards.) Where nitrogen pollution from onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems constitutes at least 20% of the nonpoint source nitrogen pollution or where remediation is necessary to achieve the TMDL, the BMAPs will include onsite sewage treatment and disposal system remediation plans. Local governments will be required to adopt a model fertilizer use ordinance unless one is already in place.
  • OFS BMAPs must include identification of each point source (discrete conveyance such as a pipe) or category of nonpoint sources (such as stormwater), including urban and sports turf and agricultural fertilizers, onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems (such as septic tanks), sewage treatment plants, animal wastes and stormwater facilities. An estimated allocation of pollutant load must be provided for each point source or category of nonpoint sources with target dates for achieving the TMDL. While this may sound like everyone will have a right to continue to pollute as previously authorized, there is no guarantee that the allocation will not result in a reduction of allowed discharge. In fact, the latter is most likely the case where an OFS is presently impaired by nutrient pollution. It is recognized in the Bill that onsite sewage treatment systems may need to be corrected or connected to central sewage systems in priority focus areas. Subject to available funding, the cost may be provided.
  • Activities prohibited within a priority focus area are: New domestic wastewater facilities with permitted capacities above 100,000 gallons per day (unless they meet advanced waste treatment standards); new onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems on lots of less than 1 acre, if in conflict with a remediation plan; new hazardous waste facilities; land application of domestic wastewater biosolids not in accordance with an FDEP approved plan; new agriculture operations that do not implement best management practices (BMPs) or other necessary measures.

Pilot Water Projects

  • Development of alternative water supplies for water-starved areas is encouraged through provision for pilot projects to be undertaken by the three largest water management districts: St. Johns, South Florida (SFWMD) and Southwest Florida. However, the Districts are precluded from distributing or selling water to the project participants. This assures those presently in the business of distributing or selling water that the districts will not become their competitors and encourages a partnering of those users and self-suppliers with the districts in these projects.

Central Florida Water Initiative

  • The ongoing collaborative work of stakeholders and regulating agencies known as the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) is recognized and affirmed. The CFWI is directed to adopt a single, multidistrict regional water supply plan, including needed recovery or prevention strategies and a list of water supply development or resource projects; provide a single hydrologic planning model; and develop uniform rules (that define harm, provide a consistent process for permit review, establish conservation goals for consumptive use permits and provide conservation goals consistent with the regional water supply plan, including a goal for residential per capita water use for each consumptive use permit). Rulemaking must be initiated by the end of this year. However, as an aside, much work has already been done in these topic areas, including adoption of the regional water supply plan, and activity will continue to surge forward in the coming months.

Regulation of Water Supply

  • Any new consumptive use permit or renewal that authorizes withdrawals of 100,000 gallons or more per day from a well with a diameter of 8 or more inches will be monitored for water usage.
  • Preferred water supply sources may be identified for users for whom access to new water supplies is not technically or financially feasible.
  • It is not inconceivable that existing permits will be reassessed in the future for “over-allocation.” In such case, the legislation states that no allocation will be modified where water use was reduced due to implementation of water conservation measures. Specific examples are provided for agricultural uses.
  • Water farming (water storage or water recharge for pay) is encouraged by affording priority consideration to public-private partnerships that store or treat water on private lands to improve water quality and assist with water supply or minimize nutrient loads and maximize conservation. Water farming became a useful tool when it was recognized that Florida discharges much of its freshwater to the ocean. This tool became particularly important as waters from the Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee were discharged to the ocean through the St. Lucie Estuary and concerns were raised that these discharges could cause imbalances to salinity of estuarine waters.

South Florida Environmental Programs

  • Various existing environmental programs are brought under the umbrella of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Protection Program and the Lake Okeechobee BMAP is identified as the program element designed to achieve the TMDL for the Lake. The Lake Okeechobee Basin encompasses not just the areas around the lake but travels up the Kissimmee River as well. The legislation requires development of milestones toward achieving the TMDL for the lake. Because the Bill identifies the BMAP as the means of achieving reductions in nutrient pollution, it requires SFWMD to amend the outdated Chapter 40E-61, F. A. C., to make it consistent with the Water Bill. The Rule will now provide for a monitoring program for those who opt to show compliance through monitoring instead of implementation of BMPs.
  • Lead agencies are designated as follows for the implementation of the Lake Okeechobee programs: SFWMD – hydrologic improvements; Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – agricultural practices; and FDEP – water quality protection.
  • In addition to regional projects, much of the implementation of the BMAP will come from implementation of BMPs, both for agricultural and non-agricultural sources of stormwater runoff. Rulemaking can be expected for the adoption of non-agricultural, non-point source BMPs, as there has already been rulemaking to adopt agricultural BMPs. The legislation provides that where water quality problems are detected for nonagricultural nonpoint sources despite the appropriate implementation of adopted BMPs, FDEP and the District shall institute a reevaluation of practices and the rules will be revised to require implementation of the modified practices within a reasonable time period. Might this involve retrofitting of existing urban stormwater systems? Stay tuned.
  • Programs similar to the Lake Okeechobee plans are provided for the Caloosahatchee River Watershed and the St. Lucie River Watershed. Existing programs are realigned to make them consistent with their corresponding BMAPs.
  • In a tidbit for the regulated community, the existing doubling up of permitting for the outfalls structures around Lake Okeechobee was dropped by FDEP. SFWMD will continue to obtain a permit from FDEP for its own outfalls.

Enforcement

Provision for enforcement and verification of BMAPs and management strategies was provided in a new section providing that BMAPs are enforceable pursuant to DEP’s currently existing suite of enforcement options from warning notices to criminal fines.

Other BMAP Changes

  • Each new or revised BMAP in the state will now include appropriate management strategies available through existing water quality protection programs to achieve the TMDL, which may provide for phased implementation; a description of BMPs adopted by rule; a list of projects in priority ranking with cost estimates and completion dates; the source and amount of financial assistance; and the estimated load reduction from each project.

Additional Items of Interest

  • A database of conservation lands suitable for public access and recreation will be made available electronically to the public.
  • Self-suppliers (those who produce their own water) will join local governments, government-owned and privately owned utilities as entities qualifying for technical assistance with water resource development.
  • The water management district annual reports to the legislature will include specifics about water quality and water quantity projects intended to implement BMAPs with priority rankings, cost, source, benefit and level of impairment of the water body involved.
  • Water management districts are directed to promote expanded cost-share criteria for additional conservation practices, such as soil and moisture sensors and other irrigation improvements, water-saving equipment, water-saving household fixtures and software technologies that can achieve verifiable water conservation.
  • FDEP must adopt a water quality classification to protect surface waters used for treated potable water supply. The criteria will be the same as those presently in use for Class III waters.
  • FDEP must establish standards for the collection and analysis of water quantity, water quality and related data.

Silvia Alderman 

Hopes For Stronger Water Bill Evaporate

A major overhaul of Florida’s water policy is headed toward Gov. Rick Scott’s desk. It says water pumped through pipes narrower than 8 inches doesn’t have to be metered.

Sponsors of a major rewrite of the state’s water policy are claiming victory after easy passage during the first week of the legislative session. But critics are asking Governor Rick Scott for a veto. They say the bill will do little to protect Florida’s freshwater springs, Lake Okeechobee or the Everglades.

The bill passed in the first week of session because House and Senate leaders are eager in an election year to claim environmental street cred. On the Senate floor Friday, President Andy Gardner described it in historic terms.

“This has been a good week for the residents of the great state of Florida. These bills, the water bill and others, we’re changing lives with that.”

But critics say the bill doesn’t measure up — literally.

One provision says water doesn’t have to be metered if it’s flowing through a pipe narrower than eight inches in diameter. That language was added by business lobbyists, says Bob Palmer, an executive committee member of the Florida Springs Council.

“Can they afford 200, 300 bucks a year to actually tell the citizens of Florida how much water they’re sucking out of the ground? I think they can. But apparently somebody thought that was too much of a burden so they inserted that huge loophole.”

The Springs Council and more than 100 other groups sent a strongly worded letter to Gardner and his House counterpart earlier this year. The letter recommended a dozen changes.

House Democrat Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach tried to add some of the changes when the bill reached the floor. Many of the changes were deceptively simple.

One would have required regulators to set a regional limit on water withdraws. The current piecemeal permitting approach makes it too hard to protect springs from over pumping, Pafford said.

“Permits are analyzed individually, cumulative effects are discounted, actual data on water flows are ignored in favor of model predictions. There’s an inherent bias towards granting permits for economic reasons.”

Pafford also wanted to require anyone pumping more than 100 thousand gallons of water a day from a well to install meters. Many Florida farmers estimate the amount of water they withdraw by the electricity their pumps use.

The amendments died. Sponsors said that after more than three years of negotiations, it was time to vote.

The bill focuses on three main areas. It orders regulators to set minimum flow levels for the state’s 39 major freshwater springs.  It sets guidelines for a regional water supply plan for Central Florida. And it sets guidelines for cleaning up Lake Okeechobee and the Northern Everglades.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is frustrated with the critics. Mainstream environmental groups like Audubon of Florida and The Nature Conservancy were key players, he says.

“It’s a broad-based coalition. It’s not the end of the work that needs to be done on water policy. But it’s an important step forward.”

Cris Costello, a regional organizer for the Sierra Club, wants lawmakers to get back to work this session while water is still on everyone’s mind. She says the bill focuses on tapping new water sources and ignores an obvious solution.

“Conserving water at the local level other rather than going to other basins to move water from one basin to another.”

Costello complains the bill is still based on a “best management practices” philosophy that mostly lets polluters police themselves.

Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper says the bill falls far short of landmark reform. However, he says the greens who stayed at the table prevented a wholesale attack on existing protections.

Businesses, farmers and most of the public would be up in arms if the bill made the most important changes needed to clean up and protect Florida’s water supply, Draper said.

“We would put significant restrictions on all fertilizer use. We would hook up almost all septic tanks to central sewer systems. We would eliminate the practice of applying any sewage products onto the landscape, such as disposing of a sludge, or using wastewater for landscape irrigation…”

Meanwhile, critics calling for a veto should brace themselves. Scott is scheduling a bill signing ceremony for Thursday.

Jim Ash

President Vetoes Bipartisan Resolution to Kill WOTUS

It was no surprise to anyone yesterday when President Obama vetoed a congressional resolution that would have killed the administration’s “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule that redefines the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. But it was a huge disappoint to farmers and ranchers.

In his statement to congress, Obama defended his action, saying, “We must protect the waters that are vital for the health of our communities and the success of our businesses, agriculture, and energy development.” 

The President added that he believes the resolution “seeks to block the progress represented by this rule and (would) deny businesses and communities the regulatory certainty and clarity needed to invest in projects that rely on clean water.”

Many farmers, ranchers and other landowners have opposed WOTUS from the start, believing that the restrictions will hurt rather than help them. Of even greater concern to the group is the fact that the rule gives the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers what the ag community feels is overreaching and unnecessary jurisdiction over farms and ranches.

Newly-elected American Farm Bureau Federation president, Zippy Duvall told Growing America that everyone involved in agriculture is confounded by the Obama decision, especially in light of wellspring of support against the rule at every level.

“The president’s veto is salt in the wounds of farmers and ranchers. We remain mystified as to why he continues to support this fatally flawed rule,” said Duvall. “Ninety-two members of Congress, 22 states, numerous cities and counties and dozens of industry groups have all stood up and said no to this rule. Courts have ordered the rule temporarily halted because of the harm it will cause. But, somehow, the president and the EPA just keep pushing. But we won’t stop either. We will not rest until this rule is gone.”

State officials are echoing Duvall’s sentiments. In Georgia, GFB president, Gerald Long, expressed his regret to Growing America. “The resolution received bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, so the president’s veto is disappointing,” Long said. “We had hoped for a legislative solution.” 

Long’s associate, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner, Gary Black, voiced an even stronger commitment to the farmers and citizens of his state, saying, “This frontal assault on private property rights must stop and we will continue to work towards thwarting this blatant overreach of the federal government.”

Growing America also spoke to Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, who aired similar frustrations. “Rather than work with stakeholders,” Northey said, “the President’s veto prevents the opportunity to work together on a new rule we can all support.”

WOTUS extends to government agencies what the American Farm Bureau Federation has called “almost unlimited authority to regulate, at their discretion, any spot where water collects on a farm, ranch or piece of land.”

To clarify, WOTUS redefines “navigable” bodies of water to include everything from dry streambeds to ditches, farm ponds and other occasionally or seasonally wet areas.

Despite efforts on Capital Hill, neither the Senate nor the House could find the necessary wording to write a veto-proof resolution. There’s no question that the veto will be viewed by Republicans as another example of the divisive atmosphere that exists between the parties.

The WOTUS rule became effective in August 2015, but legal challenges have kept it hold mode as the courts consider how to respond.

In another party line action, the White House blocked Republicans from using the fiscal 2016 so-called “omnibus spending bill,” essentially tying their hands should the courts lift the hold.

Lynne Hayes|Growing America|January 21st, 2016

Offshore & Ocean

Study: Man-Made Heat In Oceans Is Surging, Has Doubled Since 1997

“The changes we’re talking about, they are really, really big numbers.”

WASHINGTON (AP) — The amount of man-made heat energy absorbed by the seas has doubled since 1997, a study released Monday showed.

Scientists have long known that more than 90 percent of the heat energy from man-made global warming goes into the world’s oceans instead of the ground. And they’ve seen ocean heat content rise in recent years. But the new study, using ocean-observing data that goes back to the British research ship Challenger in the 1870s and including high-tech modern underwater monitors and computer models, tracked how much man-made heat has been buried in the oceans in the past 150 years.

The world’s oceans absorbed approximately 150 zettajoules of energy from 1865 to 1997, and then absorbed about another 150 in the next 18 years, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

To put that in perspective, if you exploded one atomic bomb the size of the one that dropped on Hiroshima every second for a year, the total energy released would be 2 zettajoules. So since 1997, Earth’s oceans have absorbed man-made heat energy equivalent to a Hiroshima-style bomb being exploded every second for 75 straight years.

“The changes we’re talking about, they are really, really big numbers,” said study co-author Paul Durack, an oceanographer at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California. “They are nonhuman numbers.”

Because there are decades when good data wasn’t available and computer simulations are involved, the overall figures are rough but still are reliable, the study’s authors said. Most of the added heat has been trapped in the upper 2,300 feet, but with every year the deeper oceans also are absorbing more energy, they said.

But the study’s authors and outside experts say it’s not the raw numbers that bother them. It’s how fast those numbers are increasing.

“After 2000 in particular the rate of change is really starting to ramp up,” Durack said.

This means the amount of energy being trapped in Earth’s climate system as a whole is accelerating, the study’s lead author Peter Gleckler, a climate scientist at Lawrence Livermore, said.

Because the oceans are so vast and cold, the absorbed heat raises temperatures by only a few tenths of a degree, but the importance is the energy balance, Gleckler and his colleagues said. When oceans absorb all that heat it keeps the surface from getting even warmer from the heat-trapping gases spewed by the burning of coal, oil and gas, the scientists said.

The warmer the oceans get, the less heat they can absorb and the more heat stays in the air and on land surface, the study’s co-author, Chris Forest at Pennsylvania State University, said.

“These finding have potentially serious consequences for life in the oceans as well as for patterns of ocean circulation, storm tracks and storm intensity,” said Oregon State University marine sciences professor Jane Lubchenco, the former chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

One outside scientist, Kevin Trenberth, climate analysis chief at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, also has been looking at ocean heat content and he said his ongoing work shows the Gleckler team “significantly underestimates” how much heat the ocean has absorbed.

Jeff Severinghaus at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography praised the study, saying it “provides real, hard evidence that humans are dramatically heating the planet.”

Associated Press01/18/2016

New Rule Allows for First Aquaculture Development in US Federal Waters

NOAA has filed a final rule which will implement the US’s first comprehensive regulatory program for aquaculture in federal waters.

The new rule will allow NOAA Fisheries to issue permits to grow species such as red drum, cobia, and almaco jack in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico for an initial period of 10 years.

“As demand for seafood continues to rise, aquaculture presents a tremendous opportunity not only to meet this demand, but also to increase opportunities for the seafood industry and job creation,” said Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., NOAA administrator.

“This is all about managing and expanding seafood farming in an environmentally sound and economically sustainable way,” explained Michael Rubino, director, NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture.

“The permit process we’ve laid out accounts for the region’s unique needs and opens the door for other regions to follow suit.”

The new rule was welcomed by the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA). Tim Scates, a farmer from Carmi, Ill., ISA director and representative to the Soy Aquaculture Alliance (SAA), stated: “Allowing carefully managed aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico will provide a market for our soybeans and a domestic source of sustainable fish. Aquaculture operations can replace marine-based fishmeal with soybean meal, a proven, renewable protein alternative.”

There was opposition to the new rule however from some consumer, environmental and sustainable fishing and farming organisations.

In a press release, the groups claim that the Gulf of Mexico has changed significantly in the 11 years that it took to finalize the rule, with the effects of oil spills and hurricanes of fish populations and the environment still emerging.

The groups are now collectively analysing their legal options to challenge the new regulations.

http://www.thefishsite.com/newsletter/

Florida Bay in Crisis

This summer, the Florida Bay ecosystem suffered fish kills and seagrass die-offs that researchers haven’t seen in decades. These harmful conditions are the result of extremely high salinity levels created by drought combined with too little water flowing through the Everglades and into Florida Bay.

Audubon’s Everglades scientists, who monitor the health of Florida Bay, say the key to reversing this ecological crisis is speeding up Everglades restoration. Restoring the flow of freshwater to the Everglades will rebalance the salinity levels of Florida Bay and allow seagrasses and forage fish to rebound. In turn, this will mean more food for Roseate Spoonbills and other wading birds that nest on the mangrove islands that dot the Bay.

Rainfall from the last few months has brought salinity levels in the Bay back down to a healthier range and may help slow any additional ecological damage. But significant damage has already occurred and it is unclear if algae blooms or other ecological problems may still loom on the horizon. Audubon scientists continue to monitor conditions in the Bay and are working with Audubon’s policy team to advocate for the restoration efforts needed to repair the Bay.

Once constructed, the C-111 North Detention Area (more info below) will help, but additional projects that prioritize moving more water into Florida Bay are needed to better protect and restore its waters and wildlife and prevent another salinity crisis.

From Audubon Advisory

Southeast Florida Coral Reefs Health Update

During the summer and fall of 2015, the Florida Reef Tract experienced widespread coral bleaching and an unprecedented level of coral disease. In coordination with many partners, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coral Reef Conservation ..

Program conducted a significant response effort to better understand the prevalence and impacts of these stressors. Learn more here. White Bar

CRCP and SEFCRI Partner with the US Coastguard to Reduce Impacts to 600 Acres of Coral Reef Habitat

Through a Coral Reef Conservation Program, (CRCP), Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative (SEFCRI) and United States Coast Guard (USCG) partnership that began in 2008, a proposal to reconfigure the Port Miami Commercial Anchorage has taken a major step forward. After several years of collaboration with Port officials and users, the potential new design will not only reduce impacts to reef resources but also improve the safety of vessel traffic. Read more here.

Global Warming and Climate Change

Monroe County Commission to discuss sea level rise 

The Monroe County Commission will meet Tuesday to further plan and prepare for an issue that could make living in the Florida Keys more difficult in some areas, if not impossible in others, in the future.

The commission will discuss the topic of sea level rise and global climate change and how to prepare for it.

The County Commission will meet all day Tuesday to discuss sea level rise predictions and mitigation efforts in the Florida Keys and how the county can reduce its own carbon footprint in effort to minimize the causes of sea level rise. The commission will meet at 10 a.m. at the Marathon Government Center, 2798 Overseas Highway.

The low-lying Florida Keys is one of the most vulnerable communities in the country when it comes to sea level rise, ranking third, behind two coastal towns in North Carolina, according to a University of Georgia study. As much as 36 percent of the population in the Keys could be displaced by rising seas by 2060 if no changes are made to current infrastructure, the study states.

From the destruction of property to impacts on the water supply, sea level rise has been identified as one of the biggest issues facing South Florida in the future. This fall’s king tides gave Keys residents and visitors a taste of what the future could hold. 

The Florida Keys has experienced nearly 9 inches of sea-level rise in the past 100 years. County-contracted climate change experts predict from 3 to 7 inches of sea-level rise by 2030, and 9 to 24 inches of sea-level rise by 2060.

“I can honestly say that the Keys are the most unique and vulnerable community I have worked with,” said County sea level rise consultant and attorney Erin Deady, who has worked a dozen other Florida counties and cities on sea level rise and sustainability projects. “These decisions are not going to be easy and you are going to have to approach them differently in different parts of the Keys. The decisions made in the Upper Keys are going to be different than in the Lower Keys.”

The county has embarked on several initiatives in the past several years to prepare for sea level rise, such as raise roads and county facilities such as fire stations to lift them out of flood zones.

Following the fall king tides, the county has embarked on pilot programs in Key Largo and Big Pine Key to mitigate flooding from tidal influences, county sustainability coordinator Rhonda Haag said.

At the same time, it has reduced its energy consumption by roughly 20 percent in recent years and plans to reduce it another 20 percent, Haag said.

“We have to remain to be in the forefront in the planning and preparing because we are an island community,” Haag said.

TIMOTHY O’HARA|Citizen Staff|keysnews.com

Extreme Weather

2015 was officially the warmest year. 2016 will likely be hotter.

Why shattering temperature records is our new normal. Mashable

Epic blizzard makes way across East Coast, South

Heavy snow, winds, freezing rain blast much of nation

WASHINGTON A potentially historic snowstorm whipped by gale-force winds began hammering the Mid-Atlantic coast Friday, threatening to shut down big Eastern cities for days with more than 2 feet of snow, widespread power outages and impassable roads.

More than 85 million people — roughly 1 in every 4 Americans — in at least 20 states were under blizzard, winter storm or freezing rain warnings Friday from Arkansas to the Carolinas to New York City and extreme southern New England, according to Weather.com.

Air and road travel is expected to grind to a halt for much of the weekend. Airlines canceled more than 6,000 flights for Friday and Saturday across the nation by midday. Philadelphia International Airport announced it would be closed Saturday. All major airlines issued waivers for the weekend, allowing passengers to rebook onto earlier or later flights to avoid the storm.

Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and parts of other states all declared states of emergencies.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe called out another 200 National Guard troops Friday to supplement the 500 already at work because of the large volume of calls to state agencies.

At least five people died in storm-related crashes in Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina, the Associated Press reported. Officials warned residents to stay off roads as the blizzard made its way up the East Coast.

In Washington, the bull’s-eye of the storm, the federal government shut down at noon, as the first flakes began to fall. The region could see up to 2 1 ⁄ 2 feet of snow, and white-out conditions are likely.

“This is a major storm, it has life-and-death implications, and all residents of D.C. should treat it that way,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said Friday.

Blizzard warnings were in effect Friday morning for the big cities of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast as snow and ice fell across portions of the South, Ohio Valley and Appalachians.

The storm could rival the biggest snowstorms on record in Washington, D.C., potentially topping the city’s all-time biggest snowfall of 28inches Jan. 27-29, 1922. Philadelphia is forecast to receive up to 20 inches, while New York City could see 6-12 inches.

As the East Coast waited for the brunt of the monstrous storm, the system left misery in its wake in the South. In Nashville, the storm was on track to dump as much as 8 inches of snow, the most in Music City since 2003.

In a battle of plow versus snow in Asheville, North Carolina, the snow was taking the upper hand.

“The call I got this morning was that we were not able to keep up with the snow enough to open up the city’s roads, so we closed down except for emergency and road crews,” said Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, according to the Citizen-Times.

In Washington, the city’s entire rail and bus system will be closed Saturday and Sunday. In New York City, 1,000 track workers will be deployed to keep the subway system moving, and 79 trains will have “scraper shoes” to reduce icing on rails.

The only upside of the storm in the nation’s capital was the green light from the U.S. Capitol Police for sledding on Capitol Hill, which only became permissible after an act of Congress.

Doyle Rice and Doug Stanglin|USA TODAY

Expert: Blizzards twice as frequent in past 2 decades

Increase linked to sunspot cycles, better reporting

Snowstorms like the historic blizzard that lashed the East Coast this past weekend might be more numerous than they used to be.

The number of blizzards each year has doubled in the past two decades, according to preliminary research by geographer Jill Coleman at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.

From 1960 to 1994, the United States averaged about nine blizzards per year. But since 1995, the average is 19 blizzards a year, she said. The increase could stem from better reporting and monitoring of the storms, among other theories, Coleman said.

Overall since 1960, more than 700 blizzards have occurred in the U.S., excluding Alaska and Hawaii.

For a snowstorm to be classified as a blizzard, it must meet these criteria: heavy or blowing snow, sustained winds of 35 mph, and visibility of one-quarter mile or less — plus all three conditions must persist at least three hours. Washington, D.C., met those three conditions Saturday, according to data compiled by Capital Weather Gang.

Coleman said there’s a chance the increase in blizzards could be tied to sunspot cycles. Her research found blizzards tend to increase during periods of low sunspot activity.

“Sunspot-minimum periods tend to coincide with more frequent polar outbreaks in the Northern Hemisphere that could increase the likelihood for blizzard occurrence,” Coleman said. “However, sunspot activity is only a small component in explaining the frequency of blizzard occurrence.”

The number of sunspots visible waxes and wanes with a roughly 11-year cycle, NASA said. Sunspot activity was low in the mid-1990s and mid-2000s and is low again now.

Brad Anderson, a meteorologist from Lincoln, Nebraska, not associated with Coleman’s research, agreed that blizzards appear to go in cycles, noting that there were lots of blizzards in the 1970s but fewer in the 1980s. He said blizzard frequency can be linked to changes in large-scale climate patterns in the ocean and the atmosphere.

Coleman’s research is preliminary and undergoing review in a peer-reviewed journal. More investigation is needed to determine other reasons for an increase in the number of blizzards, she said. More blizzards are also occurring outside the traditional season of October to March, her research found. There were three more blizzards per year from April to September in the past two decades, as compared to 1960-94. Most “out-of-season” blizzards occurred in the northern Plains.

Blizzards have been reported in all months except September and August, but most occur in December, January, February and March.

While big blizzards that hit the East Coast make the news, most occur in the sparsely populated northern Plains and upper Midwest, especially in the Dakotas and Minnesota.

Only six states have never recorded a blizzard: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee, Coleman said.

“Sunspot-minimum periods tend to coincide with more frequent polar outbreaks in the Northern Hemisphere that could increase the likelihood for blizzard occurrence.”

Doyle Rice|USA TODAY

Land Conservation

State Lands

HB 1075 passed the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee this week amid significant opposition from environmental advocates. The bill is lengthy and is largely a reorganization of state lands statutes. However, it contains some troubling provisions. 

Eric Draper testified on behalf of Audubon, and expressed concerns with the numerous surplus lands provisions in the bill, as well as the provisions on land swapping, changes in the standard for managing land, and a significant policy shift contained in the bill that would include “pipes and pumps” in the Florida Forever Act and Amendment 1. 

We have met with the bill’s sponsor, State Affairs Committee Chairman Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres), who was very gracious and open to a continuing dialogue. We also continue to meet with Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) staff, House and Senate staff, and members of the Legislature to communicate our concerns and work toward solutions on this legislation. The companion, SB 1290 by Senator Wilton Simpson (R-New Port Richey), has not yet received a hearing.

Audubon Advocate|January 22, 2016

Miscellaneous

RAN’s Latest and Greatest ‏

Here is to the new year full of hope for our planet. We are ready and we sure hope you are joining us for the action packed ride. Rainforest destruction and climate change are top of mind for us and we will need you to join us every month and make corporations stand up and notice people-power. This month we’ve got a a curated wrap of 2015 and action you can take now to kick 2016 into high gear.

President Obama has one year left to Keep It in the Ground

This month, the Obama administration announced a moratorium on new coal leases on public lands—and applied a climate test to the practice of coal mining! That’s a huge step. Now it’s time to keep ALL fossil fuels in the ground.

Take Action

The End of Coal is in Sight

2015 was a year of astonishing progress in cutting big bank financing for coal mining. In just six months, four of the six biggest U.S. banks committed to cut financing for coal mining: Bank of America, Citi, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo. That’s remarkable progress in a very short time. You made it happen. Thank you!

Read More and Share

The Year In Review: Rainforest Free Pulp and Paper Campaign

Rainforest Free Pulp and Paper Campaign Text: What an incredible year for our work on pulp and paper in Indonesia! We had some incredible successes, one heartbreaking setback and many powerful moments. Here’s a glimpse behind the scenes of RAN’s pulp and paper work this year.

Read More

2015 In Review: Exposing Spin and Driving Innovation In the Palm Oil Industry

Last year, we witnessed a wave of paper commitments to cut the destruction of rainforest and peatlands, and the exploitation of local communities and workers, from the supply chains of the biggest snack food companies and palm oil giants in the palm oil industry. A year later, it is clear that our role in driving the much-needed transformation in this controversial sector has never been more important.

Read More

Driving Change to the Forest Floor

Celebrating 30 years of challenging corporate power, 2015 was a pivotal year for Rainforest Action Network. This year proved to be a unique moment in RAN’s forest program history, as we deepened the work from recent years past to drive real change to the forest floor.

Read More

Thank you for taking action for people and planet!

Rain Forest Action Network

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

Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

ConsRep 1601 B

The Endangered Species Act is the strongest and most effective tool we have to repair the environmental harm that is causing a species to decline. — Norm Dicks 

Announcements

Seismic testing in the Big Cypress National Preserve for oil and natural gas

The National Park Service (NPS) has extended their comment period for Burnett Oil Company’s proposal to conduct seismic testing in the Big Cypress National Preserve until this Monday, January 4th, at midnight. 

As many  already know, Burnett Oil of Fort Worth, Texas has leased approximately 235,000 acres of mineral rights in the heart of the Big Cypress National Preserve from Collier Resources for the purpose of oil development.  Their current application – “Phase One” – will impact more than 70,000 acres with seismic testing.  And for those already scratching their head – the National Park Service did not acquire the underground mineral rights when the preserve was established in 1974.  Most of those are privately owned – the majority by Collier Resources.

What you can do.  Go to the following website and get some comments in by the deadline. ….  The official comment form can be found here:

https://parkplanning.nps.gov/commentForm.cfm?documentID=69396

At this point, we’re suggesting a very narrow focus for your comments.  According to the landmark National Environmental Policy Act (signed on January 1, 1970) – and usually referred to as “NEPA” – the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required whenever decisions involving  “major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment” are made.  According to the White House Council on Environmental Quality – “Human environment shall be interpreted comprehensively to include the natural and physical environment and the relationship of people with that environment.”

Burnett Oil’s project – massive vibroseis trucks weighing tens of thousands of pounds each running on and off trails across a national preserve that contains jurisdictional federal wetlands and habitat for numerous federally listed endangered and threatened species – is definitely the kind of “major federal action” NEPA has in mind here.  The preparation of an EIS should be a no-brainer.  Unfortunately, the National Park Service has yet to come to that conclusion and has instead prepared a very basic Environmental Assessment (EA) that does not fully investigate all environmental impacts from this project – or the full range of alternatives open to Burnett in their search for oil in the Big Cypress.  Outside the question of the appropriateness of the Big Cypress for this type of activity – the review process is, so far, insufficient and incomplete……

If you have some time, please try to get some individual comments in to the National Park Service by the Monday at midnight (Mountain Time) deadline. 

Matthew Schwartz

Executive Director

South Florida Wildlands Association

P.O. Box 30211

Fort Lauderdale, FL 33303

954-634-7173

https://www.facebook.com/southfloridawild

Loxahatchee Friends Annual Membership Meeting

Sunday, January 31, 1:00 p.m.
Join the Friends for our annual membership meeting in the Visitor Center auditorium, followed by wine and cheese on the pavilion.

17th Annual Everglades Day

Saturday, February 20, 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Join us for Everglades Day, our all-day family festival, with activities for all ages.

This year’s theme is “Songs of the Everglades,” in recognition of next year’s 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty.

Enjoy tours, nature walks, bird walks, wildlife demonstrations, presentations, exhibits, games,

kids’ fishing, kids’ archery, canoeing, music, dance, food trucks and much more!

All day free admission. Details to follow!

Everglades Day Volunteers Needed!

Anyone interested in volunteering to help on Everglades Day is asked to attend one of two volunteer orientations at the Visitor Center: Thursday, February 4, 5:30 p.m. or Saturday, February 6, 10:00 a.m. 

Of Interest to All

Fracking: 

As the prospect of oil drilling inches closer to the Everglades, a Senate committee passed a measure to prohibit local governments from banning the controversial practice of drilling for natural gas, known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, but only after strengthening the protections against possible contamination and requiring lawmakers to sign off on any regulations.

The Florida Senate Environmental Protection and Conservation Committee surprised environmentalists by agreeing to a series of amendments that strengthen oversight of the practice – by requiring inspection of groundwater before and after the drilling begins – but the bill still allows companies to seek a permit to shoot thousands of gallons of water and acid into rock formations to release oil and gas trapped in the bedrock, known as acidization.

The proposal, by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, would require the Department of Environmental Regulation to establish rules governing the process but it would also halt the ability of local governments to write local ordinances. Broward County has scheduled a hearing to become one of about 60 local governments that ban the practice as a wealthy developer has applied for a permit to drill for oil on the edge of the Everglades.

John Kanter, of Kanter Real Estate, has requested a drilling permit to conduct exploratory drilling for oil and gas along a major drainage canal about a half-dozen miles west of U.S. 27 and Miramar. Under current law, the state may grant the permit and impose no requirement that the chemicals be disclosed or ground water be tested.

Under the bill, a version of which is also moving in the state House, state regulators would conduct a $1 million, one-year study to determine what impact the chemicals used in the fracking process would have on the state drinking water supply and then write new rules regulating the practice, beginning in 2017.

The regulations would include how the contaminated water and chemicals will be disposed of and the study will consider the potential for water contamination once a well has been plugged. Concerned about the impact to the state’s water system, the Senate included a provision that will require testing of ground water before and after the drilling occurs and require that any rules developed by state officials get a vote of approval from the Legislature.

“It would give our constituents who have a lot of nervousness about this a little more comfort in knowing the folks they are electing are going to take one more look before we start fracking in the State of Florida,” said Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who proposed the amendment.

Opponents warn that because of the state’s fragile limestone foundation, dangerous chemicals could seep into Florida’s porous rock formations and contaminate the state’s water supply too late for the state to do anything. Instead of regulation, they seek a ban.

But Richter argues that until a study is complete a ban is irresponsible.

“We need to responsibly do everything we can to be less dependent on others,” he said. “For 70 years we’ve been drilling for oil in the State of Florida and in fact over 600 million barrels of oil have been produced from 1,000 wells without any adverse impact.”

Todd Sack, a Tallahassee physician who has served on the environmental health committees of the Florida Medical Association and American Medical Association said both organizations have adopted policies opposing natural gas fracking. He said the bill allows drillers to hide any disclosure of chemicals used in the process by calling them a trade secret.

“This bill will interfere significantly with the ability of physicians to care for their patients,” he said. “Doctors caring for patients must know what chemicals are in our water.”

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida warned that the bill does not regulate all types of well-stimulation and said it fears that millions of gallons of drinking water will be used for the activity.

Supporting the bill was Associated Industries of Florida because of the “jobs it will create for the state of Florida,” said lobbyist Brewster Bevis.

Richter acknowledged, “it’s an emotional issue,” but vowed it would provide “absolute” disclosure of every chemical that goes into the ground.

“The status quo is much worse,” he said, nothing there would be no disclosure, regulation or requirement of bonds for the applicants. “This bill move the ball, maybe not as far as some would like.”

Arek Sarkissian|Naples Daily News|Tribune Bureau|Mary Ellen Klas|Herald-Times|Tallahassee Bureau

Fracking: Panel OKs ignoring local bans

TALLAHASSEE— A state Senate committee Wednesday approved a bill that would toss out local ordinances regulating or banning fracking.

The legislation would give the state control of overseeing the drilling method, triggering concerns the proposal would stop short of real oversight.

SEN. RICHTER’S BILL

Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, offered SB 318, which would create a specific state permit process for fracking and prohibit any new permits until the state Department of Environmental Protection conducts a yearlong study.

The bill also would require the Legislature to create rules from the $1 million study that would govern fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, for oil and natural gas.

The Senate Environmental and Preservation Committee passed Richter’s bill 6-3 and rejected by a 7-2 vote an amendment that would have restored local say on the drilling practice.

CURRE NT PROHIBITION

Current law forbids the DEP from issuing permits to oil and gas drilling companies that want to drill in municipalities that have passed ordinances or resolutions that oppose it.

Richter’s bill would remove that prohibition and pre-empt local regulations passed after Jan. 1, 2015.

Estero and Bonita Springs in Lee County passed ordinance s last year after the proposed deadline specified in the bill, and 64 other municipalities have passed resolutions opposing the process.

“Rather than having 400 different policies out there, this will create one uniform set of rules the entire state can follow,” Richter said. “And unlike those policies, these rules will be created with a firm idea of what fracking will do, its impact on the environment.”

Fracking is a drilling method where fluids such as rock-eating acid are injected into the ground at high pressure to release oil and natural gas.

Richter introduced the bill last year after members of the Collier County Commission raised concerns that DEP was unable to stop drilling performed by Texas-based Dan A. Hughes Co.

The company began fracking in Collier on the western edge of the Everglades and refused to heed orders from DEP to stop so the agency could perform a study to evaluate how it affected the environment. Hughes drillers eventually stopped, and the company was fined $25,000 and ordered to install groundwater monitors around the site.

Jorge Aguilar, of Floridians Against Fracking, said the environmental study proposed in the bill will not address the potential for environmental disasters.

“We certainly believe it won’t go far enough,” Aguilar said.

About 20 people who traveled from as far away as Orlando to testify were given short periods of time to speak.

“These were people who all traveled to give testimony, and I’m sure everyone in this room felt unheard,” said Kim Ross, of ReThink Energy Florida, which is opposed to the bill. “Clearly, we’ll be back at the next committee.”

The bill must pass two other committees before the full Senate considers it.

State Sen. Darren Soto, D. Orlando, filed the amendment that would have restored local government say on fracking. He said the long list of local governments that have voiced opposition to fracking through resolutions and ordinances led him to believe the majority of residents are against it.

“We’ll continue to push on that pre-emption language to see that local governments have some authority if not all authority on that issue,” Soto said. “I believe that’s the proper policy for an issue that’s so controversial and dangerous to the public health that I don’t want the state to be the final be-all on this issue.”

The language removing local control could kill the House version of Richter’s bill, which passed a House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee meeting last month with a 9-3 vote.

During that meeting, Republicans and Democrats told state Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, he needed to remove the pre-emption clause or it would not survive a vote on the House floor.

Richter said he planned to file an amendment to his bill that would soften pre-emption language.

“We’re working toward a solution so that the local municipalities retain their proper zoning authority,” Richter said. “They’ll have zoning authority.”

Richter’s bill drew several opponents, including the Florida Association of Counties.

Arek Sarkissian|Naples Daily News|Tribune Bureau

Changes at Arthur Marshall Foundation ‏

Over the years, the Arthur R. Marshall for The Everglades Foundation has awarded more than $450,000 in scholarships and internships, planted nearly 100,000 native Florida trees in wetland areas, educated more than 25,000 elementary and high school students and involved more than 5,000 volunteers in hands-on restoration projects.

We are proud of this legacy and know that the work of preserving and restoring the Everglades is more important today, than ever before. However, it is time to let others take the lead and continue the good work of the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation for The Everglades and to preserve its legacy.

As you know, the founding family members have suffered overwhelming circumstances, in the last few years, which in turn, affected the foundation. This included the death of Josette George Kaufman, who was the machine behind the organization, the illness of John Marshall, who was the voice of the organization and community activist and Nancy Marshall, who was the oil, who made it all happen, who championed the programming, rallied supporters and the fundraising efforts.

The attempt to replace them has proven insurmountable. In 2016, the Board of Directors will work with other organizations to continue the key programs of the foundation and create a platform to continue the support of environmental education.

The legacy continues, the work is not complete, it’s up to each of us to continue to champion the restoration of the greater Everglades ecosystem. Your support in this endeavor will be the ultimate thank you to John, Nancy and Josette, in her memory, for the years of dedication they have given to Everglades restoration and educating the next generation about our environment.

Please visit our website at artmarshall.org for future updates.

Sincerely,

The Arthur R. Marshall Board of Directors

REGULATORS BACK NEED FOR NEW FPL PLANT

Regulators decided Tuesday that a $1.3 billion, natural gas-fired power plant — proposed in rural Okeechobee County by Florida Power & Light — is needed to meet the demands of the state’s growing population.

The decision by the Florida Public Service Commission came after objections from a pair of environmental groups, the state Office of Public Counsel and the Florida Industrial Power Users Group. The Office of Public Counsel represents consumers in utility issues, while the Florida Industrial Power Users Group represents large electricity users.

Opponents questioned the need for the plant and argued it will hinder conservation efforts and slow the growth of renewable energy sources such as solar.

Commissioners agreed with a staff conclusion that the proposed 1,633-megawatt plant would increase FPL’s already-heavy reliance on natural gas. But Julie Brown, who formally began a two-year term as chair of the commission Tuesday, said the plant is the “most cost effective option” to bring more power to the state.

“We know there is a need. We know that it’s present. It will continue to grow,” Brown said.

The plant is planned for 250 acres of a 2,842-acre site that FPL owns in northeast Okeechobee County.

JIM TURNER|THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

10 Reasons Why It’s the Best Year to Enjoy National Parks

It’s the 100th birthday of the National Park Service, with opportunities to celebrate the parks throughout 2016. From planting a “Centennial Forest” in Texas to counting species of plants and animals on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., here are 10 ways to take your appreciation for national parks to historic levels in 2016.

Find additional practical details for these activities on our Find Your Voice events page as they become available.

1. Growing a National Park
January 18 through March 5, Big Thicket National Preserve, Texas

Don’t just enjoy the natural splendors of national parks—go one step further and plant your own. Starting on January 18—Martin Luther King Jr.’s Day of Service, when admission to all national parks will be free—volunteers will plant longleaf pine seedlings in Big Thicket National Preserve. Throughout the winter, a total of 100,000 seedlings will be planted right next to the park’s oldest longleaf pine forest. The planting of a “Centennial Forest” will help restore crucial habitat for several sensitive species in this part of East Texas, so not only will you leave a living legacy that will last for centuries, but rare animals like red-cockaded woodpeckers will be grateful, too.

2. Climbing Devils Tower?
No climbing skills are required as you experience the ascent of this Wyoming national monument from the comfort of your IMAX theater seat. “National Parks Adventure” is a 3-D feature film that offers bird’s-eye views of more than 30 national parks. The movie follows a trio of mountain climbers as they perform a series of vertigo-inducing stunts on America’s most venerated playgrounds, including scaling the Three Penguins rock formation at the entrance of Arches National Park. What’s more, the movie is narrated by renowned conservationist and Academy Award winner Robert Redford. The film opens February 12 in select theaters nationwide.
3. Stopping and Smelling the National Parks
March 5 through 13, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Spectacular flower displays, from the rare super blooms that grace Death Valley to the annual cherry blossoms that ring the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., are big draws to national parks. But what if national parks themselves were entirely made of flowers? That is the concept the Philadelphia Flower Show will bring to life this March with acres of floral displays inspired by national parks, from Yosemite to Shenandoah, in honor of the National Park Service’s centennial. Park rangers will also give talks about the parks and organize scavenger hunts.

4. Beautifying a Fledgling National Park
April, Pullman National Monument, Illinois

Pullman National Monument will celebrate its first year as a national park site while the Park Service is celebrating its hundredth year. The park preserves the utopian company town George Pullman built on the outskirts of Chicago in the late 19th century to house workers making his then-famous Pullman sleeping train cars. The utopia didn’t last long: the town was the site of a deadly strike in 1894 as workers protested high rents and declining wages. The Pullman district is in a historic neighborhood in one of America’s largest cities, with thousands of residents. As a result, it has its fair share of litter. On several dates in April, you can join other volunteers to clean up the park, weed, and plant native plants. You’ll also get your own tour of the site that inspired the Labor Day holiday.

5. Counting Birds, Flowers, Insects, and More
May 20 and 21, National Mall and Memorial Parks, Washington, D.C.

National parks are home to iconic species, from Yellowstone’s bison to Sequoia’s, well, sequoias, but the parks’ biodiversity extends well beyond their most recognizable denizens. On May 20 and 21, you can get a better idea of the parks’ vegetal and animal residents by teaming up with scientists and other volunteers to identify as many species as you can (humans count as one) within a 24-hour period. These events directly contribute to our knowledge of the parks’ ecosystems: during last year’s count at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, participants identified more than 20 species previously undiscovered at the park. The main “BioBlitz” event will take place in and around Washington, D.C., but you can participate in parks across the country.

6. Gazing at the Parks’ True Star Attractions
May 7, Mojave National Preserve, California

With majestic mountains, deserts, and lakes in front of them, national park visitors may forget to look up. That would be a mistake. Some national parks are among the best places in the country to contemplate the immensity of the universe—and our relative insignificance. Mojave National Preserve is one such spot: located four hours from Los Angeles and more than two hours from Las Vegas, its skies have minimal light pollution and clouds rarely get in the way. In June and October, astronomers will assist visitors as they peer through large telescopes at the Milky Way and at other galaxies far, far away. Get ready to be starstruck.

7. Checking Out New York’s Other Nature Haven
July 23, Gateway National Recreation Area, New Jersey and New York

Most New Yorkers in need of an immediate nature fix head to Central Park, but there is another option. The beaches, wetlands and upland islands of Jamaica Bay, part of Gateway National Recreation Area, are home to more than 325 species of birds (about 100 more than Central Park) and 100 species of fish. The best part? It’s only a bike ride away—albeit a 45-mile one—from the cacophony of the city. On July 23, participants in the Epic Ride will ride from Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to Rockaway, Queens, along the Brooklyn Greenway and Jamaica Bay Greenway bike paths. NPCA is teaming up with the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, Nature Valley, and Riis Park Beach Bazaar to bring the Epic Ride finish line to “the people’s beach” at Jacob Riis Park, Jamaica Bay. Once at Riis, bikers can enjoy local food and drinks, live music, and a well-deserved dip into the Atlantic Ocean.

8. Making the Great Pronghorn Migration a Little Bit Easier
May through October, Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming

When winter comes, Yellowstone’s northern pronghorn herd needs to migrate to lower—and greener—pastures beyond park borders. The problem is that unlike deer or elk, pronghorn—the world’s second-fastest land mammal behind cheetahs—do not readily jump and often turn back when confronted with fences. This means Yellowstone’s pronghorn may not be able to reach their winter habitat, or they risk being hit by traffic as they look for alternate routes. The good news is that pronghorn can easily pass under modified fences, and you can help enhance their ability to migrate. From May through October, volunteers will work to remove or modify 3.5 miles of fencing on the pronghorn’s path. Some of the work involves replacing traditional barbwire with wildlife-friendly adjustable fences, removing fences that are no longer needed, and raising the height of the bottom of fences to allow the pronghorn to easily pass under them.

9. Learning a Century’s Worth of Park History—In 12 Hours
August 6, Denali National Park, Alaska, and April 25-30, on PBS affiliates nationwide

The National Park Service may be celebrating its centennial this year, but national parks got their start 44 years earlier when Yellowstone National Park—the world’s first—was established in 1872. The birth of that park and the 408 that followed wasn’t a foregone conclusion. It took the dedication of passionate Americans and, eventually, political support from Congress and various presidents to create each park unit. You can learn about it all in the six-episode, 12-hour documentary The National Parks, directed by celebrated filmmaker Ken Burns. The 2009 series, which is as much a tribute to the beauty of the parks as a history lesson, is set to air again on PBS in April. Want to learn more? Guests of Camp Denali in Denali National Park will hear from the man himself as Ken Burns reminisces about the making of the series on August 6.

10. Blowing Out the Candles
August 25, nationwide

The National Park Service will officially turn 100 on August 25, and the best way to celebrate the birthday is to visit a national park. Founders’ Day honors the people who made it happen, from environmentalist John Muir to first National Park Service Director Stephen T. Mather. This year, the celebration will include a range of activities from Arches to Zion, including special tours, bookstore discounts, and impersonations. Need more convincing? All park entrance fees will be waived that day and the weekend that follows, through August 28.

Birds and Butterflies

Outlook for 2016: Audubon Sets Sights on Big Wins for Birds

It may seem at times that nothing good comes from Washington these days. While gridlock is often the case, there are strong opportunities for progress on some noteworthy issues. Here is a short list of key bird protection and habitat issues that are moving forward that will make a huge difference for birds.

Blueprint for Gulf Restoration

Last year marked important advances in restoring the Gulf of Mexico from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010. In July, a settlement for $18.7 billion was announced between BP, the Department of Justice, and the five states along the Gulf. This is the largest fine ever paid for an environmental disaster in U.S. history. It’s expected that this settlement will set the stage for a long term, Gulf-wide spending plan to restore marshes, coastlines, and other habitat devastated by the oil spill.

This direct infusion of money to restore the damaged Gulf would not have happened without the RESTORE Act of 2012, a legislative effort led by Audubon. This Act mandated that penalties paid by BP and their partners would be used to heal the Gulf. To spend the billions now in the bank, the Act requires the state and federal entities involved in restoration to create a Comprehensive Ecosystem Restoration Plan for the region. Now that the penalties and payment schedules are established, this group, known as the RESTORE Council, will get busy to hammer out this complicated and important plan. Audubon pushed hard for the creation of this approach and will work closely with local, state, and federal decisions makers, as well as Audubon chapters in the region, to adopt a plan that tracks closely with Audubon’s restoration agenda in the Gulf of Mexico.

Record Drought Brings Opportunity to Protect Water and Save Birds

This year promises to be an exciting and active time for water and drought policy in the West. There are several bills pending in Congress designed to create better and more efficient use of water. Many of these bills contain ideas that would create or restore essential habitat for birds and wildlife, increase water efficiencies, and modernize many of our water management systems. At the same time, there are also a host of ideas that would threaten core environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act as water policy gets reshaped. Audubon continues to promote the idea that we can safeguard critical water for wildlife while conserving water for other uses. This year Audubon will continue to work on proactive solutions to the drought issues in the west and also oppose any efforts that would threaten essential water for birds and other wildlife.

In parallel to Congressional action, the Obama Administration has recently prioritized water as a top tier issue and is working hard on innovative solutions. Many include new technologies, increased collaboration between federal and state governments, and more efficient use of water. Final proposals are not out yet, but Audubon remains confident that the White House is on the right path to achieving these goals as well as our goals of increased habitat for birds and wildlife. On March 22 we will celebrate World Water Day, which could include some important announcements and proposals aimed at more water for all.

Historic MBTA Changes Promise Best-Ever Protections for Birds

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) was signed into law in 1918, primarily to protect birds from overhunting. Audubon was the most important and vocal organization in its creation. Now, a century later, it is about to be refreshed by a bold new initiative coming from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Audubon again will be heavily involved in shaping the new direction for MBTA.

The administration is considering expanding the law’s reach from its traditional focus on regulating the direct take of birds through activities like hunting to a modern and much broader focus on regulating incidental take, which will lead to new protections for birds from a much broader array of 21st century threats, including power lines, cell phone towers, open oil pits, and wind turbines.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is currently in the process of updating the scope of the MBTA to provide greater protection for birds. This process provides an opportunity for Audubon to take a leadership role in the modernization of the MBTA, as well as an opportunity to heavily engage our chapters and other advocates in securing stronger bird protections. As this process firms up, we’ll be calling on everyone who cares about birds to help build in even stronger protections through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

From Audubon Advisory

Calls to Action

  1. Help stop California’s methane gusher – here
  2. Tell Sec. Vilsack to Let Vermont’s GMO Labeling Law Take Effect – here
  3. Tell President Obama – Protect the Grand Canyon from radioactive uranium mining – here
  4. Help Protect Sea Turtles – here
  5. Stop the Job and Democracy Killing Trans Pacific Partnership – here
  6. Help Save the American Bison ‏ – here
  7. Don’t Transfer Sacred Native American Land to Mining Company – here
  8. Obama- Take Arctic drilling off the table – here

Invasive species

Study: Asian carp could develop huge presence in Lake Erie

TRAVERSE CITY – Asian carp could become the most common fish in Lake Erie if the ravenous invaders develop a breeding population there, while popular sport species including walleye and rainbow trout likely would decline, scientists said Monday.

A newly published study based on computer modeling projected that bighead and silver carp, which are Asian carp species, eventually could make up about one-third of the total fish weight in Erie, which has the most fish of the five Great Lakes even though it’s the smallest by volume.

“They would be quite abundant,” said Ed Rutherford, a fisheries biologist with the federal Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor and a member of the study team, which included scientists from several U.S. and Canadian universities and government offices.

The carp, which have overrun the Mississippi River and many of its tributaries since being imported to the southern U.S. from Asia in the 1970s to cleanse sewage treatment ponds, gorge on tiny plants and animals known as plankton that all fish eat at some point in life. They are migrating northward toward the Great Lakes, where agencies have spent more than $300 million to keep them out.

A few have been found in Lake Erie over the years, and some samples of its waters have tested positive for Asian carp DNA. But there is no evidence that it has self-sustaining populations of silver or bighead carp.

Even so, the study’s findings underscore the significance of the threat, said Marc Gaden, spokesman for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, a U.S.-Canadian agency.

“It’s very sobering,” Gaden said. “Lake Erie is one of the most productive inland fisheries in the world.”

The study used an ecosystem modeling program and consultation with experts to estimate how Asian carp, which can weigh dozens of pounds and eat up to 20 percent of their body weight daily, would affect Erie’s food chains.

It found they would pose stiff competition for other plankton eaters.

JOHN FLESHER|ASSOCIATED PRESS

Endangered Species

Study Erases Misconceptions About Endangered Species Act, Raises Questions About Enforcement

Forty-three years after being enacted by Richard Nixon, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is still widely considered to be the world’s most powerful law for protecting endangered and threatened species. But it remains controversial, drawing praise and ire from separate quarters. Environmentalists sometimes question how well it’s enforced, while business interests often argue that it’s burdensome, getting in the way of development and economic progress.

One hotly debated part of the law is Section 7, which stipulates that contractors building or working on federal lands must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or National Marine Fisheries Service if their actions have the potential to disturb endangered or threatened species, or their habitats. During this process, there are consultations between the contractor and the federal agency with jurisdiction over the land (most commonly the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) and the FWS.

After this consulting process, the FWS issues a biological opinion, the purpose of which is to ensure that the development or action doesn’t “jeopardize” or “destroy or adversely modify” a species’ critical habitat. If the agency thinks that action does present such “jeopardy,” it says so in its ruling, and the plan must be altered before continuing.

But a study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences analyzed reams of government data and found that out of the 88,290 consultations in which the FWS was involved in the last seven years, only one project was determined to present a jeopardy to threatened species.

And even that project went forward, after slight modifications. (And the second project was initially determined to present jeopardy, a decision that was reversed as the result of a court case.)

This result shocked study authors Ya-Wei Li, senior director of endangered species conservation at Defenders of Wildlife, and his colleague Jacob Malcom. Li says it raises serious questions about whether the law is being followed, and also should put to rest the arguments that the ESA “kills jobs” and unduly restricts development.

“As a practical matter, all these stories about regulatory burden of the Endangered Species Act are almost certainly wrong,” Li says. “In the last seven years the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not had to stop a single project because of a finding that it would threaten a species’ survival.”

This is a big change from the past, says Li, who inputted much of the paper’s data into an online tool you can see for yourself. One previous study found that out of 10,762 consultations by the FWS from 1979 to 1981, 192 (or 1.8 percent) were found to present an unacceptable risk to endangered or threatened animals. And a white paper from the World Wildlife Fund found that 350 (0.47 percent) of the 73,560 consultations between 1987 and 1991 did the same.

So what has changed? Is the Fish and Wildlife Service still protecting the interests of endangered species?

Daniel Rohlf, a law professor at Lewis and Clark University who has closely followed (and sometimes been involved in) litigation involving the ESA for the last 25 years, says he thinks two things are happening. First, federal agencies and contractors are becoming more familiar with the law and what it takes to comply with it. “Especially agencies that routinely deal with [these] issues, such as the U.S. Forest Service—I think they have improved in at least recognizing that it must take into account needs of endangered species,” says Rohlf, who wasn’t involved in the present study.

Second, though, the law doesn’t seem to be being implemented quite as it should. “I think that clearly some, or perhaps the majority of the decline [in jeopardy findings] we’ve seen over the years stems from federal agencies and government taking more creative interpretations of the Endangered Species Act that diminish protections of endangered species,” Rohlf says. “And frankly in some instances,” political pressure has pushed the agency “to allow actions to go forward even though they have adverse consequences for threatened and endangered species.”

Rohlf says that one problem is that the agency makes small allowances that chip away at species’ critical habitats, which aren’t carefully kept track of and could lead to serious problems down the road. For example, as discussed in a 2010 case Butte Environmental Council v. United States Army Corps of Engineers, an environmental group sued the Corps, the FWS and the city of Redding, California, for allowing a business park to be built on protected wetlands home to endangered vernal pool shrimp and Orcutt grass. In a decision that was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the agency determined that although the development would indeed essentially destroy “critical habitat,” it was acceptable because it was only wrecking a small sliver of it.

Rohlf suggest these are “straws on the camel’s back” that aren’t being properly taken into account. Or, as the study states: “The cumulative effect of hundreds of these small projects is reduced populations or habitat, an outcome that some people refer to as ‘death by a thousand cuts.’”

Not everybody agrees that the study suggests implementation is slipping. Steve Quarles, an environmental lawyer based in Washington, D.C., says the study doesn’t take into account all the nuances of the negotiation process between the contractor and the various agencies involved. He says that in his own work representing contractors, significant changes have been made to development plans to protected endangered species as a result of negotiations with the FWS. But none of these changes were reflected in the final biological assessments of the service, and no jeopardy finding resulted—and thus, such changes are invisible to an analysis such as was done in this study.

In other words, contractors are just better at complying with the law these days, Quarles says. And all parties have gotten more sophisticated regarding the details of the ESA; they have access to better information and professionals consultants, and so more projects are probably being killed before formal consultations with the government even begin, he adds. “I’d say to a significant degree, the development community has learned to operate within the confines of the Endangered Species Act.”

Gary Frazer, who oversees the endangered species program at the FWS, says that it’s a “good study” but agreed that it didn’t reflect all the changes that are often made during consultations. The low jeopardy numbers are a matter of “agency learning,” Frazer says. “Most federal agencies and now very experienced in the Endangered Species Act, comfortable and knowledgeable about how to design their projects up front to avoid conflicts, and we are getting much better projects from the outset.”

“We are also finding as a general rule that throughout the consultation process conflicts are identified, and agencies are very responsive to modify their plans.” Ultimately, he says, the ESA “does accomplish good protection for species but in a way that allows projects to go forward and does not as a rule cause undue delay.”

The agency also pointed to recent testimony by the Department of the Interior’s Michael Bean attesting to recent success of the act and its implementation. Bean told the House Natural Resources Committee that since 2009 “more species have been taken off the endangered list due to recovery than in any prior administration. Though still endangered, many other species—among them the California condor, black-footed ferret, whooping crane, Florida manatee, Kirtland’s warbler, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and Florida panther—have had their populations increase to or near their highest levels in decades.”

Despite these success, the ESA is still under legislative assault, Li says. There are around 90 riders or amendments in the works or making their way through congress to weaken various aspects of the law. “We’ve never seen so many attacks in the history of the act,” he says.

Li and Rohlf concede that agencies have gotten better at complying with the law, but think the fact that only one project was altered as a result of a final FWS biological opinions is unfathomably low. It just “isn’t reasonable, even given that federal agencies are better attuned to the needs of endangered species,” Rohlf says.

Douglas Main|Tech & Science|12/17/15

Groundbreaking news for wild bison! ‏

In a landmark win for bison and all Americans, Montana just expanded year-round habitat for wild bison outside Yellowstone National Park.

Montana Governor Steve Bullock has agreed to expand year-round habitat for wild bison in Montana, outside Yellowstone National Park.

This is a huge step forward for wild bison and all of us who care deeply about wildlife.

It’s also a major victory for NRDC supporters like you, who have sent tens of thousands of messages over the years pushing for more critical habitat for bison outside Yellowstone National Park — and kept the pressure on until the job was done. Thank you.

Historically, thousands of wild bison have been hazed or slaughtered as they migrated from Yellowstone into Montana in the spring in search of grass for survival. This decision represents a significant change in bison management throughout the state.

You can read more about this landmark win online in this blog post by Matt Skoglund, director of NRDC’s Northern Rockies Office.

Of course, our campaign for wild bison is far from over. Just this week, for example, an ill-conceived plan to slaughter hundreds of bison around Yellowstone was announced. NRDC will continue to call for more year-round habitat and stronger protections for these majestic animals — and end the senseless slaughter of wild bison once and for all.

But today, please join us in celebrating this huge step forward for one of America’s most spectacular natural landscapes and its iconic wildlife.

Rhea Suh|President|NRDC|1/07/16

FEDS SEEK TO CHANGE MANATEE STATUS TO ‘THREATENED’

Pointing to increased numbers of manatees and improved habitat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday it wants to change the status of the sea cows from endangered to threatened.

The agency said in a news release that Florida has an estimated 6,300 manatees, up from 1,267 when aerial surveys began in 1991. Under the federal Endangered Species Act, endangered animals are considered in danger of extinction, while threatened animals are likely to become endangered in the “foreseeable future,” the news release said. “The manatee is one of the most charismatic and instantly recognizable species,” Michael Bean, principal deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks at the U.S. Department of the Interior, said in a prepared statement. “It’s hard to imagine the waters of Florida without them, but that was the reality we were facing before manatees were listed under the Endangered Species Act.

While there is still more work to be done to fully recover manatee populations, their numbers are climbing and the threats to the species’ survival are being reduced.” The agency said manatee-protection measures would remain in place.

But U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., sent a letter Thursday to the Fish and Wildlife Service asking it to withdraw the proposed status change, calling the move “misguided and premature” and saying manatees face threats such as collisions with boats, habitat loss and red tide. “Manatees have become an iconic symbol for the wilderness and beauty of Florida,” Buchanan wrote. “They are an engine in our economy even as they are a restorative presence in our tranquil waters. We must do everything possible to protect this treasured species.” The public will be able to submit information about the proposal during a 90-day comment period, which will start when the proposed change is published Friday. The agency is expected to make a final decision after the comment period.

The News Service of Florida.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Ignores Ongoing Threats and Proposes to Downlist Entire West Indian Manatee Species

Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed to reclassify the West Indian manatee from endangered to threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Save the Manatee Club does not believe it is appropriate to reclassify manatees at this time.

It is completely unclear why FWS feels justified in downlisting the entire species since the agency’s own 12-month finding cites that “population trends are declining or unknown in 84 percent of the countries where manatees are found.”

The FWS should not move forward with downlisting Florida manatees without a proven, viable plan for further reducing mortality and preserving vital warm water habitat and establishing recovery benchmarks in an updated Recovery Plan.

The FWS decision for Florida is largely based on a computer model that does not include two recent, massive die-offs of hundreds of manatees. The manatee population suffered catastrophic losses from prolonged cold snaps and toxic red tide blooms from 2010 through 2013.

The computer model also does not deal with loss of habitat due to waterfront development.

In addition, there is no long-term plan for the anticipated loss of artificial winter warm water habitat on which more than 60% of the Florida manatee population depends.

Read a summary outlining reasons why the FWS proposal to downlist manatees is premature. Click the following link to read Save the Manatee Club’s official comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from Dr. Katie Tripp, Save the Manatee Club Director of Science and Conservation. Date: September 1, 2014 – See more at: http://www.savethemanatee.org/aa_fws_downlisting_1-16.html#sthash.I1St6w3k.dpuf

Mangroves move inland as seas rise

Adapting to the damaging effects of climate change, plants are gradually moving to where temperatures are cooler, rainfall is greater, freshwater is available or other conditions are ideal.

Florida’s mangroves move inland to keep up with salt water intrusion caused by sea level rise.

On a local scale, FIU biology student Sean Charles is examining how mangroves in the Florida Everglades are impacting the ecosystem around them as they gradually move inland from saltwater to freshwater communities. For now, this tactic is helping the plants keep up with salt water intrusion caused by sea level rise.

Wetland ecosystems like the Florida Everglades provide a number of services that benefit people, including flood control, water purification, and carbon accumulation that removes harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Charles’ study specifically looks at how vegetation shifts and sea level rise, combined with ongoing restoration efforts, will impact ecosystem functions, soil elevation and the Everglades’ ability to store carbon. His research project is funded by the Everglades Foundation FIU ForEverglades Scholarship.

“The world’s largest wetland restoration effort is taking place right now in the Everglades,” said Charles, a Ph.D. student in John Kominoski’s Ecosystem Ecology Laboratory. “It’s a very interesting, yet scary, time for this amazing ecosystem, and we have the potential to make a difference. This study will improve our understanding of the risks and opportunities likely to confront the Everglades of the future, as well as coastal wetlands throughout the world.”

In addition to improving what is known about interactions among mangroves and their environment, Charles wants to informing Everglades conservation and restoration. He is also engaging K-12 students in Collier and Miami-Dade counties in a coastal plant restoration project. Known as “Marsh-Mangress,” the public school students will grow mangrove seedlings on school grounds until they are established and ready to be planted at local restoration sites.

“By learning through participating in active restoration projects, students will be engaged in the importance of environmental conservation and will, hopefully, better understand their role in it,” Charles said.

Evelyn Perez|01/07/2016

Wild and Weird

Going to Need a Tougher Buoy

The time a polar bear temporarily sunk important research equipment.

The top of the world is warming at almost twice the rate of the rest of the planet and scientists there are grappling with what that means for local wildlife.

For instance, as the ice retreats and shipping in the area increases, how will it impact resident marine mammals?

Answering such a question in the far north comes with unique challenges, though.

Our Arctic Beringia Program faced one such obstacle last year. As Dr. Stephen Insley detailed on WCS Canada’s blog, the team had placed a buoy in Sachs Harbor, in the western Canadian Arctic, to record underwater noise.

This would give a better picture of what the local whales and seals were up to and help the team better understand how the animals might be impacted by increased human activity.

At some point, before Insley and the team could retrieve the data they had recorded, the buoy disappeared underwater.

Suspicion fell on polar bears.

The disappearance coincided with a sighting on the outskirts of the nearby town. The local safety officer had chased two bears out of the area and one was seen swimming off in the direction of the buoy.

Eventually, after hours of dredging the water to no avail, Insley and a local colleague (who also happened to be said safety officer) struck research gold—they hooked onto the rope that was attached to the buoy and pulled it up.

On it, they had their smoking gun: water poured out of the busted float from a pair of teeth-sized holes, which were separated by roughly the width of a polar bear’s jaw.

Liz Bennett|Wildlife Conservation Society

Everglades

Corps breaks ground on North Detention Area for Everglades project

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, alongside federal, state and local officials, celebrated the start of construction on one of the three remaining contracts for the C-111 South Dade project, an Everglades restoration project in Miami-Dade County today.

The contract, known as Contract 8, involves constructing the North Detention Area, which will connect the C-111 South Dade project to the Modified Water Deliveries to Everglades National Park project. These projects are Foundation Projects, which the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) builds upon to deliver essential restoration benefits to America’s Everglades.

“The Obama Administration has already invested $2.2 billion in the restoration of the Everglades. This is the second groundbreaking in just two months,” said Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. “The C-111 South Dade project is critical to the overall efforts to restore the south Florida ecosystem. Together, we are saving this system and preserving it for future generations.”

Once completed, the project will work in concert with the Modified Water Deliveries project to create a hydraulic ridge that will reduce groundwater seeping out of eastern Everglades National Park. As a result, this will enable additional water flow into Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.

“When it comes to water, the entire Everglades ecosystem is interconnected,” said Col. Jason Kirk, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville Commander. “The North Detention Area will connect infrastructure from the C-111 South Dade and Modified Water Deliveries projects together to help ensure that water goes where it needs to go. This is an important step towards getting all of the necessary infrastructure in place, which will enable more flexibility in our water operations.”

The $13.9 million construction contract for Contract 8 was awarded to the Polote Corporation from Savannah, Georgia on Oct. 29. Two construction contracts remain for the C-111 South Dade project and are scheduled to be awarded within the next two years.

“The project exemplifies the collaboration of multiple state and federal agencies, as well as local area stakeholders, to protect America’s Everglades and the larger south Florida ecosystem,” said Florida Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Secretary for Ecosystem Restoration Drew Bartlett. “I commend the Army Corps and the South Florida Water Management District on advancing this project.”

The C-111 South Dade project is being constructed in partnership with the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), the local sponsor.

“The C-111 South Dade Project is critical to the ecology, economy and future of this beautiful area of southern Miami-Dade County. That is why our taxpayers have invested so much into this effort,” said South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Member Jim Moran. “I am extremely happy to see the progress we have made enhancing flood protection for the South Dade region and restoring the freshwater wetlands in Everglades National Park and the rest of the region.”

The completed project will restore natural hydrologic conditions in Northeast Shark River Slough, Taylor Slough and the eastern panhandle of Everglades National Park.

“We appreciate the partnership we have with the Army Corps of Engineers and the State of Florida, which is so vital to restoring more natural water flows to Everglades National Park, while also maintaining appropriate flood protection and water supply requirements,” said Pedro Ramos, Superintendent of Everglades National Park. “This ground-breaking signals that our continuing interagency partnerships have led to meaningful progress toward meeting these goals.”

The project will also provide maximum operational flexibility in providing environmental restoration of the area, while providing flood protection for the region.

“The C-111 South Dade South project will deliver long hoped-for benefits to Everglades National Park while protecting urban areas from the effects of moving more freshwater into the natural system,” said Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper. “Restoration efforts are starting to pay off in America’s Everglades. This important foundation project will provide infrastructure needed to increase freshwater flows in the future and will improve hydrology in Taylor Slough. Audubon is proud to be part of the effort to win authorization and funding for more restoration projects.”

Every restoration effort within the Everglades ecosystem directly or indirectly effects each other. Due to the interdependencies of these projects, the ultimate success of restoration efforts are dependent on the completion of others. In order for the southern portion of the Everglades ecosystem to be operated as effectively as possible, the necessary infrastructure needs to be in place, the necessary data to evaluate operational flexibility needs to be known, and the resulting Combined Operating Plan needs to be developed and implemented.

The completed C-111 South Dade and Modified Water Deliveries projects will provide this needed infrastructure and the ongoing G-3273 and S-356 Pump Station Field Test will provide the data needed to refine operations under the Combined Operating Plan. The Combined Operating Plan will enable additional water to flow south into Everglades National Park and provide optimal restoration and operational benefits for the southern Everglades ecosystem.

“Completion of this project will begin a new era in water management in the southern Everglades, which is important to both ecosystem restoration and water sustainability,” said Ramos. “This will improve the hydrologic conditions in the Taylor Slough headwaters, reduce groundwater seepage into the adjacent eastern agricultural areas, while sending additional freshwater into Florida Bay. It is a win-win for both the park and all our neighbors. We are very pleased to see this important component of the C-111 South Dade project moving forward into construction.”

jennifer.s.miller|usace|1/7/2016

Water Managers Break Ground On C-43 Reservoir

A water storage project in Hendry County recently broke ground after more than a decade of planning. Water managers are clearing land for the Caloosahatchee River West Basin Storage Reservoir project, or C-43 reservoir. This project is meant to keep the Caloosahatchee Estuary healthy.

The red area is where the C-43 reservoir is planned.

Credit South Florida Water Management District

The C-43 reservoir is planned along the Caloosahatchee River. It’s designed to grab and store water from the estuary when too much flows in during the rainy season. Then it will send some water back during dry season. Phil Flood is with the South Florida Water Management District, heading up this project. He said this is needed for the estuary’s water quality and habitat.

“The sole purpose of this project is to try to get the water right,” said Flood. “It’s all about trying to get the balance the salinity levels in the estuary and making sure that we have a productive and healthy estuary for the community.”

He said the C-43 reservoir will hold up to 55 billion gallons of water above ground. It’s part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. This component was developed by the state and federal government. Flood said the project will cost about $550 million. The state will likely front the initial cost, he said. But the feds will eventually share half the price. The water management district expects the reservoir to be operational by 2020. 

Jessica Meszaros|Jan 13, 2016

Everglades Coalition Celebrates New Hope at Conference

For the  31st year a coalition of environmentally aware groups came together to find ways to help the Everglades, the natural Gem of Florida. While plans are decades away from being complete, the ballroom at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables was trafficking in hope. Hope that a steady revenue spring may finally fulfill the promise that many Floridians made by voting to fund a massive restoration plan.

  Eric Draper of the Audubon of Florida was instrumental in getting Amendment One passed in the state with nearly 75% of the vote. The idea was that the money would go to for land conservation, and to fund Everglades Restoration for two decades.

  “Last year we didn’t get much of what we needed to get, but this year we have great hope because of the Legacy Act,” said Draper.

  That legislation would give a commitment of up to 200 million dollars a year for about 10 years.

  “Not only is it a commitment of $200 million dollars a year ,a floor of at least $100 million a year to be spent on CERP projects,” said Draper.

  CERP stands for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, and it refers to a comprehensive plan to restore the South Florida ecosystem including the Everglades.

  “The bill doesn’t just commit to the Everglades Restoration Plan, but to the new feature of the plan: the new Central Everglades plan. It is the real solution to moving water south,” he said. “We are very confident that at least the excuse of not having enough money will be removed.”

  John Adornato of the National Parks Conservation Association said 2016 would be an amazing year for Everglades Restoration.

  “With the Florida Legacy Bill is one step in the right direction. We have the groundbreaking of the C-111 project. We have proposed Earth Day 2016 ground breaking for the second bridge in Tamiami Trail. These projects are going to move water better through the Everglades as Everglades Restoration intended it,” said Adornato.

Frank Maradiaga|January 15, 2016

Water Quality Issues

Florida Department of Health toughens water quality standards

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Starting today, the sea water you’re swimming in will have to meet a higher water quality standard. Dubois Park posted a no-swim advisory five times in 2015. This year, the park goers could see an increase in days when bacteria counts put the water off limits.

The Florida Department of Health tests bacteria levels then notifies lifeguards if a beach needs to close.

“They’ll notify headquarters. Headquarters will let us know. We’ll change these signs and put up a red flag and notify the public of what’s going on and that they can’t enter the water safely,” explained Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue lifeguard Russ Gehweiler.

Florida Dept. of Health staff in Palm Beach County sample the water at 13 locations, from Boca Raton to Jupiter for enterococci bacteria. The new standards lower what prompts a bacteria-related no swim advisory; dropping the limit from 104 or greater Enterococci CFU (Colony Forming Unit) per 100 ml of marine water to 71 or greater Enterococci CFU per 100 ml. It’s all to keep you from being exposed to disease-causing bacteria.

“Whatever they can do to stop it is good,” said Gehweiler. “You do get a sore throat. If it’s dirty water sometimes you can just taste it. You go swimming that whole afternoon maybe even when you wake up the next morning with a sore throat or something you know you just don’t feel right.”

Gehweiler says he’s only seen a no swim advisory once or twice while he’s been on duty, but says swimmers were not upset.

“They were just happy that we tested and could let them know that you know it was unsafe to go in the water.”

Under the original beach sampling rules for palm beach county, bacteria advisories were posted less than five percent of the time. With the new standard advisories are expected to increase to about eight percent of the time.

Rachel Leitao|wptv

Modified Water Deliveries: Improving Hydrologic Conditions in Northeast Shark River Slough

Highlights

Long-expected benefits from Everglades restoration efforts are finally reaching Everglades National Park (ENP). A set of significant changes to the operation of the local water management infrastructure that controls the flow of water into ENP is about to begin, putting in place important first steps to allow more water to flow into Northeast Shark River Slough (NESRS). These changes will take place in three phases, with the first phase, referred to as Increment 1, to begin this summer (2015). (For project status, please see September and October updates at bottom of page).

Water Management System Background

The flow of water in south Florida is managed through a complex set of structures (e.g., pumps, gates) in a vast network of canals and levees, together known as the Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) project. How the system is operated, including how much water is delivered to ENP, has changed over time based on various operational plans (sets of specific rules for operation of pumps and gates). The construction and operation of the historic system disturbed the natural flow of water into the park, leaving Western Shark River Slough unnaturally wet and NESRS unnaturally dry.

The Modified Water Deliveries (MWD) project, a feature of the C&SF, was specifically designed to address the conveyance of water to ENP from the Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) to the north by 1) modifying Tamiami Trail to allow greater flow of water into NESRS; 2) providing flood mitigation for areas within the East Everglades given expected higher water levels in NESRS; 3) controlling seepage of water from the system to the east; 4) monitoring hydrologic and ecological response to changes in water deliveries; and 5) developing new operational plans. The MWD project features interface with the C-111 South Dade projects (provides for flood protection and water supply to south Miami-Dade County), which are located along the eastern boundary of the park. The C-111 projects consist of a set of pump stations and retention/detention areas built west of the L-31N Canal to control seepage out of the park.  

MWD Incremental Field Tests – An Interagency Effort

The structural features of the MWD project, begun in 1992, are now nearing completion and will allow the incremental increase in water flow into NESRS. Planning and development of this field-test phase of the MWD project has been a complex, multi-year, interagency undertaking that considered and evaluated input from stakeholders and the public in specifying project components; conducting environmental assessments, compliance, and permitting; and developing project timelines. Agency partners include the US Army Corps of Engineers, South Florida Water Management District, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Miami-Dade County, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, the agricultural and environmental communities, and the National Park Service, among others. 

Phased Implementation – Three Increments

The resulting plan includes three steps, or increments, to allow phased implementation of operations. Increment 1 is expected to produce small but important hydrologic benefits based on the additional water flow and seepage return. Increment 2 is expected to provide additional hydrologic and ecological benefits to NESRS and data collected during the first two increments will be used in Increment 3 to design a new operational plan for the system.  

Increment 1 (2015-2017)– Relax constraints on gage G-3273, and test seepage control pump S-356, while maintaining the L-29 Canal at the current level, or stage, of 7.5 ft

Increment 2 (2017-2019) – Relax constraints on G-3273, and test seepage control pump S-356, while allowing the L-29 Canal to reach a maximum stage of 8.5 ft

Increment 3 (2018-2021) – Develop a new operational plan for the system using data collected during Increments 1 and 2.

Increment 1 (2015-2017)

Increment 1 will begin this summer (2015), as soon as the rainy season is underway and canal levels are high enough to turn the pumps on, and will continue for up to two years. As a flood protection measure for residential areas to the east, the flow of water into the park through the S-333 structure in the L-29 Canal is currently halted whenever water levels at the G-3273 gage in NESRS exceed 6.8 ft. New flood protection features built into the MWD project are expected to reduce the amount of time that flow through S-333 will be restricted. The goals of the Increment 1 test are to:

  • Discharge water through S-333
    • while maintaining a stage in the L-29 Canal of less than or equal to 7.5 ft
    • and while allowing the water levels at G-3273 to rise above 6.8 ft
  • Return water that seeps out of the park into the L-31N Canal back to the park by using the S-356 pump along the L-29 Canal
  • Continue to provide flood mitigation to the Las Palmas residential area east of the MWD project area
  • Continue to provide water supply deliveries to south Miami-Dade County
  • Collect hydrologic, water quality, and ecological data for use in designing Increments 2 and 3. 

Increment 1 Benefits

Increment 1 is expected to produce small but important hydrologic benefits:

  • An increase in water flow into the park from Water Conservation Area 3-A and from return of seepage from the L-31N Canal
  • Water quality will be maintained because seepage water is of very good quality and has low levels of total phosphorus
  • Hydrologic (water flows and stages) and water quality data will be collected for use in developing an operational plan to guide operation of the MWD and C-111 South Dade project features.

Increased water flow and better water quality are expected to improve habitat function and species composition and abundance, while promoting the build-up of soil and inhibiting soil loss. These goals will be achieved by:

  • Increasing length of hydroperiods (duration of time water is above ground level)
  • Increasing depth of inundation
  • Improving seasonal timing and distribution of water deliveries
  • Collection of ecological data for use in designing Increments 2 and 3
    • Water quality
    • Flocculent material
    • Periphyton
    • Vegetation communities and composition
    • Fish communities

September 2015 Update: 356 Pump Tests Begin

Increment 1 of the Modified Water Deliveries Field Tests, designed to bring more water into Northeast Shark River Slough, was set to begin this summer. Unfortunately, dry conditions persisted throughout south Florida from June through August and prevented water from reaching the levels required to start the test (higher than 6.8 ft at the G-3273 gage in Northeast Shark River Slough). 

Nonetheless, work on an important precursor to Increment 1, a test of the mechanical and electrical systems of the 356 pump station, was begun on September 9th. This test, known as Increment 0, is designed to ensure the pumps are functioning reliably prior to the initiation of Increment 1. Located along the L-29 Canal, the 356 station, consists of four pump units, each with a 125 cfs maximum capacity. The 356 pumps will be used to return water that seeps out of the park as a result of the Incremental Field Tests back into the park. Though on initial start-up, two of the pumps had problems (one was overheating, another was making a grating noise), the issues have been resolved and all four are now functioning well (see photo to the right) and prepared for operation as part of Increment 1.

Click here to explore US Army Corps test results for each pump.

Click here for a daily US Army Corps report of hydrologic conditions in the area.

Two Key Factors Control Phosphorus Movement from Soil to Groundwater

New insights into how phosphorus leaches into groundwater could help reduce its potential impact on water and the environment, a UF/IFAS scientist says.

Phosphorus poses an environmental threat when it travels from soils to open water bodies, including lakes, streams and rivers. When too much phosphorus is applied to soils, the ground cannot hold all of the chemical, said Gurpal Toor, an associate professor of soil and water science at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm, Florida. As a result, phosphorus leaches out and migrates to water bodies, lowering water quality and leading to algal blooms. Such blooms can choke off oxygen to fish and underwater plants.

In a newly published study in the Vadoze Zone Journal, Toor examined phosphorus that percolated into soils in Maryland and Delaware. He conducted the study with his former mentor, Tom Sims, a retired associate dean and professor at the University of Delaware.

For several decades, animal manure has flowed into soils in Delaware and Maryland. Areas around Lake Okeechobee, in Florida, mirror the agricultural soils of southern Delaware and Maryland, Toor said. So the findings apply to many places.

In the study, Toor and Sims characterized the effect of soil properties and saturation on phosphorus leaching from three soil series in Delaware and Maryland. Researchers collected 18 soil columns using a tractor- mounted device from three soils that varied in their drainage characteristics. Some drained well; others drained moderately and others drained poorly.

Researchers identified soils with variable phosphorus concentrations and determined their phosphorus saturation ratio, which is the amount of phosphorus in the soil versus the amount that soils can hold. They found that scientists and regulators should use the phosphorus saturation ratio and their knowledge of water flow paths in soils to predict how much phosphorus may leach from soils.

“Anyone who is concerned about how much phosphorus they have in the soils can quickly find out through a soil test,” said Toor. “This would not only protect the environment but will also reduce the need to apply excess fertilizer to grow crops.”

They also concluded that two factors determine the potential dangers of phosphorus leaching into groundwater: how much of the nutrient is already in the soil and the paths available for it to wind up there, Toor said.

Brad Buck|UF-IFAS Communications|January 15th, 2016

Great Lakes and Inland Waters

Mild winter aids Great Lakes’ water levels

It has seemed more normal lately. But Michigan’s mild start to winter has Great Lakes levels doing strange things.

“We’ve seen some very interesting conditions, to say the least, so far this winter,” said Keith Kompoltowicz, the chief of watershed hydrology for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Detroit.

December saw record amounts of precipitation in many parts of the Great Lakes basin — but in the form of rain, not snow, he said.

“It basically put a pause button on the seasonal declines across the lakes in general,” Kompoltowicz said.

Water levels that typically decline at the onset of winter stayed constant, or even rose.

And then there’s the ice cover. The warmer temperatures and lack of snow and ice have led to the entire Great Lakes system being only about 6.6% ice covered as of Friday. On the same day last year, the lakes were more than one-third — 34% — covered with ice.

One group that would normally celebrate such conditions is the Great Lakes freight haulers, the cargo ships moving iron ore, cement and other minerals and goods. The industry endured early stops to the shipping season, late spring starts and ice-jammed, snail-speed travel in-between the past two years. But crashing demand for steel is putting a damper on the party, said Glen Nekvasil, vice president of the Lake Carriers Association.

“In a very real sense, it’s almost like summer sailing out there, but we haven’t been able to take advantage of it because of the lack of demand,” he said. “The demand for cargo is down, because of all of the foreign steel flooding the market. The U.S. steel industry is running at 60% of capacity.”

The problem has been ongoing for years, but has grown more acute, Nekvasil said. “In my career, I’ve never before seen 1,000-footers (barges) lay up in November due to lack of demand,” he said.

The relatively open, warmer water on the Great Lakes, combined with cold air passing over it, could spur evaporation of lake water, noted Andrew Gronewold, a hydrologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.

“Usually, January and February is when we see big ice numbers,” he said.

But in 1997-98, the last mild winter in the Great Lakes region caused by the El Niño Pacific Ocean weather pattern, there was not a lot of evaporation of Great Lakes water because the air was so much warmer than usual, Gronewold said. Even a smaller-than-usual snow pack in the spring doesn’t necessarily mean slower seasonal rises in lake levels, he said, as other factors — including the amount and timing of rain and other precipitation — also play roles, he said.

The lake level forecast for the next six months shows some of the lakes making very slight dips in elevation as winter goes on, but rising even further by June — up to 3 feet higher on Lake Ontario; more than 2 feet higher on Lake Erie; about a foot and a half higher on connected Lakes Michigan and Huron, and just under a half-foot increase on Superior. All of the lakes exceed their long-term average elevation, a continuing trend over the last few years.

“The longer-term forecasts do show above-normal temperatures,” Kompoltowicz said. “That leads us to believe evaporation won’t be as much as it typically is in the wintertime.

“What we’re seeing now is largely being driven by El Niño. That doesn’t mean we’re never going to see winter — we’ve seen some evidence of winter in the Great Lakes already. But largely, we’re expecting a warmer and a little drier winter.”

KEITH MATHENY|DETROIT FREE PRESS

Wildlife and Habitat

Conservationists Challenge Helicopter Intrusions in Premiere Wilderness Area

POCATELLO, Idaho – A coalition of conservationists, represented by Earthjustice, today filed a legal challenge to the decision by the U.S. Forest Service to allow the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) to conduct approximately 120 helicopter landings in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness as part of a program to manipulate wildlife populations in the wilderness.

At issue is the Forest Service’s Jan. 6, 2016 decision to issue a permit allowing IDFG to land helicopters in the River of No Return through the end of March to capture and place radio telemetry collars on wild elk. The federal Wilderness Act prohibits the use of motorized vehicles including helicopters in wilderness areas.

The helicopter operations permitted by the Forest Service are part of IDFG’s broader program to inflate elk numbers above natural levels within the wilderness by eliminating wolf packs that prey on the elk. IDFG’s existing elk and predator management plans call for exterminating the majority of wolves in the heart of the River of No Return to provide more elk for hunters and commercial outfitters in an area that receives some of the lightest hunting use in the state.

“A wilderness is supposed to be a refuge from the noise and disturbance of motorized vehicles, not a helicopter landing zone,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso. “This motorized intrusion on one of our premiere wild areas is made all the worse by the fact that the Forest Service has allowed the state to turn natural wolf predation on elk into a reason to degrade the wilderness with helicopter landings.”

Earthjustice is representing Wilderness Watch, Friends of the Clearwater, and Western Watersheds Project in challenging the Forest Service’s decision. The groups seek a court order to prevent the helicopter intrusions on the River of No Return.

“This proposal violates everything that makes Wilderness unique,” said Wilderness Watch executive director George Nickas. “It’s an unprecedented intrusion with helicopters for the sole purpose to make wildlife populations in Wilderness conform to the desires of managers rather than accept and learn from the ebb and flow of nature.”

Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater added, “Wilderness, by law, is in contrast to areas that are heavily manipulated. This proposal to capture elk with net guns from helicopters is heavy-handed manipulation and denigrates the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.”

“The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness wasn’t ideal elk habitat until predators like wolves and grizzlies were eradicated,” said Ken Cole, Western Watersheds Project’s Idaho Director. “Now, the IDFG wants to continue manipulating this area and turn one of the nation’s premier wilderness areas into a game farm for outfitters and their wealthy clients.”

At 2.4-million acres, the River of No Return is the largest contiguous unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System in the Lower 48 and hosts abundant wildlife including elk,mountain goats, bighorn sheep, wolves, cougars, and wolverines. It is one of the few public-land wilderness areas of sufficient size to allow natural wildlife interactions to play out without human interference, and for this reason was one of the original wolf reintroduction sites in the Northern Rockies.

From Wilderness Watch

Wildlife Wins and Losses in the Final 2016 Budget Bill

Just before the holidays, Congress closed out the year by passing a final omnibus spending bill for the 2016 fiscal year. While there were a few setbacks in the bill, it did achieve important wins that will benefit birds and conservation, including the defeat of most harmful policy riders and much-needed spending increases for key programs.

The omnibus bill, which funds every federal program and agency through this September, will increase spending for a number of vital programs. Compared to last year, it includes a nine percent bump for the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, which protects bird habitat throughout the Americas; a 15 percent increase in WaterSMART to expand water conservation in the West; and a nearly 50 percent increase for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The omnibus also reauthorizes LWCF for three years, after opponents recently allowed it to expire, and will provide it with an additional $150 million for land acquisition over last year.

This bill had also been undermined by dozens of damaging policy provisions, known as ‘riders’, but nearly all of the riders were removed. These riders threatened to undo the significant conservation gains for sage-grouse, block enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), remove protections for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken and other wildlife under the Endangered Species Act, block the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule, build a road through Alaskan wilderness, and many more.

Additionally, the omnibus included extensions for key tax credits that incentivize new clean energy production, including the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and Production Tax Credit (PTC).

Disappointingly, the bill does mandate cuts to important conservation programs in the Farm Bill, which helps protect and restore habitat and resources on working lands, and included a rider to end the ban on oil exports to foreign countries. Nonetheless, thanks to the hard work of conservation champions in Congress and supporters like you, many safeguards for birds remained intact.

From Audubon Advisory

Mountain Lions of L.A.

They are called pumas, cougars or mountain lions. But they are also being called neighbors by some residents of Los Angeles

What do you do when you cross paths with a mountain lion? It’s in their nature to avoid people. Attacks happen but they’re extremely rare. Experts say if you stand tall, wave your arms, yell, but don’t run, they’ll back off. In Southern California, that’s advice worth remembering.

Los Angeles and its suburbs are home to 19 million people — the only megacity in the world where mountain lions, also known as cougars and pumas, live side-by-side with humans. For 13 years, the National Park Service has been studying the animals: opening a window on their mysterious world and raising questions about their survival in the land of freeways and suburban sprawl. They’re the unseen neighbors up the hill. And sometimes, they come to call.

Bill Whitaker: When you moved here, did you know that there was a mountain lion in the vicinity?

Paula Archinaco: No. No. Not at all. Not at all. There’s signs for rattlesnakes. There’s not signs for mountain lions.

[Bill Whitaker: Some view you have here…]

Paula and Jason Archinaco’s house is something of a local landmark: not just for the killer view of Los Angeles, but also for an encounter a workman had one day in the crawl space under the house. He was doing some wiring when he saw something scary.

Jason Archinaco: He comes into my office terrified. And he says, “Bro, you have a mountain lion in your house, bro.” And so I said to him, “A mountain lion?” And he goes, “Yeah, man, a mountain lion, face-to-face, eye-to-eye, it came eye-to-eye with me.” And he was like terrified.

He had been eye-to-eye with P22, so named by the Park Service: “p” for puma, number 22 out of 44 they’ve studied, photographed here with a small camera on a very long stick. P22 wears a park service tracking collar that sends GPS signals on his location. Signals that were blocked this day because he was under the house.

Paula Archinaco: He was just laying there, trying to snooze, completely just like, we woke him from a nap.

Soon the house was packed with cameras and reporters. P22 was already a local celebrity because of this National Geographic picture, taken by a remote camera a mile or two from the Archinacos’ house. Wildlife experts finally decided to shoo everybody out after the 11 o’clock news, hoping P22 might head back into the hills nearby which he did.

Bill Whitaker: So when did he leave? How did he leave?

Paula Archinaco: We don’t know how.

Bill Whitaker: They call ’em ghost cats.

Paula Archinaco: There you go.

And though they live in the shadows, in much of Southern California they’re never far away. A trail camera caught this one a stone’s throw from the rooftops of suburbia.

Jeff Sikich: These animals do their best to, you know, stay elusive and away from us. Even us researchers, who follow them almost daily, we hardly ever see them.

Jeff Sikich is a Park Service biologist, an expert on big cats who holds something of a record: he’s seen and captured P22 four times now.

This time, he corners the animal and hits him with a tranquilizer dart. Quickly, it knocks P22 out, with his eyes still open. The batteries on his GPS collar were running low. Replacing them gives Sikich and his crew a chance for a checkup. P22 is healthy, weighing in at 125 pounds. From experience, Sikich knows that when the animal comes to, it’s no threat: the instinct to get away from people kicks in. Sure enough, a groggy P22 wakes up and stumbles back into the shadows.

Jeff Sikich: Here’s the past eight months of where P22 has traveled.

The GPS signals from their collars tell Sikich and his colleague Seth Riley where the animals roam. P22 wanders the hills of Griffith Park, a small enclave in Los Angeles frequented by hikers and visitors to the park’s famed observatory.

Seth Riley: We haven’t, knock on wood, had any major conflicts with him and people. And it shows that even a large carnivore like a mountain lion can live right among people for many years.

They think P22 migrated east across the Santa Monica Mountains for 20 miles or so, perhaps chased out by a bigger male. He somehow crossed the 405 freeway, one of the world’s busiest, worked his way through Bel Air and Beverly Hills. And, somewhere near the Hollywood Bowl Amphitheater, crossed a second busy freeway, the 101, to Griffith Park.

Jeff Sikich: P22 had it great. No competition. No other adult males in Griffith Park. Seemed to be plenty of prey for him.

He’s been in Griffith Park for three years now: all alone, looking for love in all the wrong places.

Jeff Sikich: Yeah, you know, still hanging out there, which is pretty surprising. I would have bet he would have left looking for a potential mate.

If the mating urge overwhelms him, he could take his chances crossing the freeways again to find a female. A very risky business.

Bill Whitaker: Why not move him?

Jeff Sikich: Usually it doesn’t work moving lions. We’ll just be moving this animal, this adult male, into another adult male’s territory. And that usually results in the death of one of ’em.

And in the Verdugo Mountains, a small range overlooking the San Fernando Valley, there’s another lonely lion.

Nancy Vandermey: I never thought one would actually come through our backyard. And he was right next to our bedroom window.

Nancy Vandermey and Eric Barkalow moved here to be close to wildlife. And got their wish, in the form of a mountain lion named P41, who seems to love their backyard deck.

P41 is caught on a home surveillance camera

Nancy Vandermey and Eric Barkalow

Bill Whitaker: So he’s right out here where we are.

Nancy Vandermey: Exactly where we are.

He has come to visit at least 10 times, triggering security cameras taking both video and still pictures. The area is called Cougar Canyon. What else?

Eric Barkalow: Here he’s just literally made a loop around our house for some reason.

Like proud parents with baby pictures, they show off their video scrapbook.

Eric Barkalow: And let me point out how his paws are on the wood and not on the gravel so that he can make as little noise as possible. They want to be silent at all times.

Camera technology has revolutionized the way mountain lions and other wild animals are studied. Johanna Turner is a sound effects editor for Universal Studios. On her own time, she’s one of several “citizen scientists,” as they’re called, who put remote cameras up in the wild, hoping to get that perfect shot.

Bill Whitaker: How do you know where to look?

Johanna Turner: We’ll look for tracks and we’ll look for signs of them. And we look for deer, because that’s their food source.

To lure the lions into camera range, she’ll sprinkle catnip, vanilla extract, even men’s cologne on a branch. And just like housecats, they love it.

The Holy Grail is a shot like this one, of P41. But her cameras also catch bobcats, coyotes, foxes and bears: trouble-makers.

Johanna Turner: You come and find that a bear has, you know, turned the camera sideways or licked the lens or something. And that happens weekly.

Bill Whitaker: What’s the most amazing thing you’ve seen?

Johanna Turner: My favorite is a video of a female mountain lion and her two kittens, and they’re nursing on her. I still can’t believe that happened. That she decided to lay down right in the front of the camera.

Science is learning much more about what happens when the lions are penned in by freeways and houses. The Santa Monica Mountain range is about 200 square miles, the area usually staked out by just one male mountain lion. Here, there’s often a mix of a dozen or so males and females.

Bob Wayne: It’s a family you wouldn’t want to belong to….

Bob Wayne is an evolutionary biologist at UCLA. Using DNA from the blood samples taken by the Park Service, primarily in the Santa Monica Mountains, his scientists have built a family tree, unlocking some strange and deadly secrets.

Bob Wayne: It’s just rife with incestuous matings. It’s not a healthy situation.

The DNA shows males are mating with their own offspring. And killing them as well. Sometimes even killing their mates.

Bill Whitaker: And that doesn’t happen in the wild normally?

Bob Wayne: Rarely. Both the incest and this excessive amount of strife are very unusual.

Bill Whitaker: You think that is all because of this limited amount of space they have?

Bob Wayne: It is.

And on some primal level, they long for more space. At least 13 have been killed in traffic in recent years, trying to move on. It’s a double-edged sword: being penned in, the lions can’t get out to the wide open spaces away from the city – and the incestuous inbreeding will only get worse if lions from the wilderness can’t get in, to mate and strengthen the gene pool. But there is a possible solution.

It’s an ambitious plan to build the animals an overpass on the 101 freeway to open up a migration route. It’s been done elsewhere in the world – this one crosses the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park. At the proposed site on the 101, the freeway is 10 lanes wide, traveled by 175,000 cars a day. It would be a complicated, costly project.

Seth Riley: It would be an amazing statement to say, “OK, we care this much in Southern California about wild places and wild animals that we would do this and make a place for animals to get back and forth.

Bill Whitaker: Is that their only hope?

Jeff Sikich: Pretty much for our Santa Monica mountain lion population, yes.

And what about future generations?

Jeff Sikich: That’s a pretty good signal.

The beeps are coming from a collared female lion, P35. Researchers think she might have a newborn kitten or two at one GPS location where she’s been spending a lot of time. When the signals show P35 is a safe distance away from the spot, Jeff Sikich moves in: working on sheer intuition, looking for a needle in a haystack.

And he finds it. A feisty, three-and-a-half week old female, P44.

Her blue eyes will change to amber in a few months, the spots that camouflage her will disappear.

Sikich and his crew work in whispers, in case the mother is within earshot. P44 is given tags to identify her on trail camera pictures. She appears healthy: but given the danger she faces on the edge of civilization, her future is a question mark.

Jeff Sikich: Alright, time to go back.

All Jeff Sikich can do is put her back where he found her, to take her chances in the shadow of the city.

Global Warming and Climate Change

Scientist says Barrier islands could be unlivable in 50 years

Says warming will raise sea level drastically, but some call him ‘alarmist’

TOMS RIVER, N.J. – Much of this country’s barrier islands will be under water in 50 years because of climate change, according to a University of Miami professor and expert on sea-level rise.

On the Jersey Shore, not only would places like Long Beach Island and Seaside Heights be partially covered by sea water, but so would flood-prone coastal communities from Bay Head to Tuckerton. These areas also would face more flooding and greater risk from storm surges, according to Harold Wanless, chairman of the university’s Department of Geological Sciences.

“Most of the barrier islands of the world will become largely uninhabitable” within 50 years, he said, using the U.S. government’s official projections.

Wanless, whom some in the media have dubbed “Dr. Doom,” believes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is underestimating the onset of “a rapid pulse of sea-level rise” — perhaps as much as 30 feet by the end of century, or 4.5 times the official projection.

“I think by the middle of the century, people are going to become afraid of the (Jersey) Shore,” he said during a November conference by the Institute on Science for Global Policy here. “Right now, it’s where we all want to live.”

Brick Wenzel, a property and business owner from Lavallette, New Jersey, is worried that basing policy on Wanless’ “alarmist ideology” will only result in bad laws and regulations.

Wenzel, a commercial fisherman and owner of a restaurant and ice cream parlor in the half-mile-wide borough on the Barnegat Peninsula, said he believes climate change is real. Yet he thinks scientists like Wanless are blowing its effects out of proportion to attract attention.

“He is taking facts and using them to benefit himself,” he said.

Wanless admits that his forecast deviates from the center of academic discussion on rising sea levels, but he’s not the only one who thinks official projections are too low.

“All I’ve recommended people do is to u se the U.S. projections and incorporate accelerating ice melt because that’s what’s happening,” he said. “If we’re blindsided by this … then we’re going to see a mass migration away from the shore and low-lying areas.”

Wanless made three main points in his November presentation:

1. Stop thinking you have time.

“ (Sea level rise) is not something that is going to be stoppable at 2 feet or 3 feet or 5 feet. There are some people who go around saying, ‘Well, if we start behaving, it’s going to get better.’ It’s not. We warmed the ocean,” he said. “This is going to keep happening through this century and well beyond.”

Warm water in the North Atlantic and Arctic has been thawing polar ice around Greenland since about 1995, Wanless said.

“Even if we stopped burning fossil fuels tomorrow, the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will keep warming the atmosphere for at least another 30 years,” he wrote in a policy paper.

2 . Stop spending money on sand and sea walls.

“It’s really throwing money in the ocean when we do beach renourishment with accelerated sea-level rising,” Wanless said Earlier this year, federal tax dollars paid to transport nearly 10 million cubic yards of sand onto beaches in separate projects in New Jersey’s Monmouth and Ocean counties. The combined bill was about $168 million. That’s money Wanless said could be better spent preparing for the inevitable.

“At what point when you realize that the sea level is going to be rising at an accelerated rate do you say, ‘Maybe we should put aside money to help people relocate’?” he said. “People are going to lose everything at some point.”

3. Set — and stick to — rules on new development and rebuilding.

“We have to strengthen our regulations for rebuilding after storms,” Wanless said.

A seemingly never-ending debate surrounds flood insurance on the Jersey Shore and other areas subject to tidal flooding and storm surges. Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act in 2012 to push premiums up by as much as 25 percent or more to more accurately reflect risk.

“Then the bills came in, and everybody got on the phone with their senators a nd congressmen, and guess what, they reversed it,” Wanless said.

He contends that politicians need to hold firm on raising flood-insurance premiums, designating hazard zones and not encouraging development in areas that essentially are already lost.

RUSS ZIMMER|ASBURY PARK (N.J.) PRESS

What scientists just discovered in Greenland could be making sea-level rise even worse

Rising global temperatures may be affecting the Greenland ice sheet — and its contribution to sea-level rise — in more serious ways that scientists imagined, a new study finds. Recent changes to the island’s snow and ice cover appear to have affected its ability to store excess water, meaning more melting ice may be running off into the ocean than previously thought.

That’s worrying news for the precarious Greenland ice sheet, which scientists say has already lost more than 9 trillions tons of ice in the past century — and whose melting rate only continues to increase as temperatures keep warming. NASA estimates that the Greenland ice sheet is losing about 287 billion tons of ice every year, partly due to surface melting and partly due to the calving of large chunks of ice. Because of the ice sheet’s potential to significantly raise sea levels as it runs into the ocean, scientists have been keeping a close eye on it — and anything that might affect how fast it’s melting.

The new study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, focuses on a part of the ice sheet known as “firn” — a porous layer of built-up snow that slowly freezes into ice over time. It’s considered an important part of the ice sheet because of its ability to trap and store excess water before it’s able to run off the surface of the glacier, an essential service that helps mitigate the sea-level rise that would otherwise be caused by the runoff water.

“As this layer is porous and the pores are connected, theoretically all the pore space in this firn layer can be used to store meltwater percolating into the firn whenever melt occurs at the surface,” said the new paper’s lead author, Horst Machguth of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, in an email to The Washington Post. Over time, the percolating meltwater trickles down through the firn and refreezes.

Until recently, many scientists have assumed that most of Greenland’s firn space is still available for trapping meltwater. But the new research shows that this is likely no longer the case. Through on-the-ground observations, the scientists have shown that the recent formation of dense ice layers near the ice sheet’s surface are making it more difficult for liquid water to percolate into the firn — meaning it’s forced to run off instead.

A UCLA-led study reported that melt-prone areas on Greenland’s ice sheet use a drainage system of streams and rivers that carry meltwater into the ocean. However, the the study also found that measurements at the ice’s edge show that climate models alone can overestimate the volume of meltwater flowing to the ocean because they fail to account for water storage beneath the ice.

“If you look at some of the other studies which have been arguing that you have unlimited capacity for retention of water in the firn, this study shows that that is not the case,” said Kurt Kjaer, a curator and researcher at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, who has studied glacier dynamics on the Greenland ice sheet but was not involved in the study.

The researchers conducted their study by examining ice cores drilled into West Greenland’s firn between 2009 and 2015. They wanted to find out how a series of particularly warm summers, which caused especially significant melting events in 2010 and 2012, might have affected the ice sheet.

“I think the most notable result of our study is showing that the firn reacts faster to an atmospheric warming than expected,” Machguth said in his email. By examining the cores, the researchers found that the deluge of meltwater in recent years had trickled into the firn and frozen into chunks called “ice lenses.” These lenses then began to hinder any additional liquid water from trickling down through the firn, meaning the meltwater began to accumulate and freeze near the surface, increasing the number and thickness of the existing lenses in a kind of vicious cycle.

The cores suggested that the lenses thickened quickly between 2009 and 2012, Machguth said. Then, starting in 2012, another change took place.

“At our main field site the very intense melt of summer 2012 did not result in a strong increase of the ice layer as the layer was already in place,” he wrote to The Post. “Instead, at the main field site we could observe how the ice layer forced the meltwater to run off along the surface.”

This effect was most pronounced at lower elevations in West Greenland, where the water first ran down the ice sheet and accumulated. But Machguth and his colleagues predict that the same ice lens formation process will continue to occur at higher and higher elevations — and the amount of meltwater forced to run off the glacier, having no available firn to trickle into, will only increase.

This is not only a concern on the basis of its possible contribution to sea-level rise — the researchers also suggest that an increase in runoff could lead to certain feedback processes that will cause even more melt to occur in the future. Runoff water can carve channels into the ice sheet’s surface and create slushy areas, they note in the paper, which can cause a reduction in albedo — the ability of the ice sheet to reflect sunlight away from its surface. With more sunlight being absorbed, rather than reflected, surface temperatures could become even warmer and cause melt rates to accelerate.

And these changes to the firn are largely irreversible. While new firn can form as more snow falls and accumulates on Greenland’s surface, the process can take decades — and might not be able to occur at all in a warming climate.

This particular study was only conducted in West Greenland, so the scientists can’t say for sure whether their findings apply to the entire island. It would be enlightening to conduct similar studies elsewhere on the ice sheet, Machguth noted.

But in the meantime, the observations represent an important step forward in understanding the processes affecting Greenland, and could help scientists improve the simulations they use to make predictions about what will happen to the ice sheet in the future. “When you get this kind of dataset, a new kind of knowledge, of course it should be put into the models,” said Kjaer, the Natural History Museum scientist.

Chelsea Harvey|January 4

The Arctic Is Melting at a Record Pace — and It’s Having a Scary Impact on Global Weather

Scientists warn that we are entering uncharted territory when it comes to the loss of Arctic sea ice.

Arctic sea ice is melting at a record pace – and every summer looks grimmer. This past summer saw the ice pack at its fourth-lowest level on record, and the overall trend in recent decades suggests this will only continue.

“Using satellites, scientists have found that the area of sea ice coverage each September has declined by more than 40 percent since the late 1970s, a trend that has accelerated since 2007,” according to the recent report “Arctic Matters: The Global Connection to Changes in the Arctic” by the National Research Council of the National Academies.

The report added that by the end of each of the eight summers from 2007 to 2014, Arctic sea ice extent was over less area than at any time in the preceding three decades.

In addition to rapid melting of the sea and land ice in the Arctic, temperatures there are warming at least twice as fast as those of the rest of the planet – provoking other dramatic changes.

“Eventually we should see an Arctic Ocean ice free in summers as global temperatures continue to warm.”

Massive wildfires on frozen ground, resulting from increasingly dry conditions caused by anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), are becoming common; this phenomenon is unprecedented over at least the last 10,000 years.

These and other recent changes across the Arctic are making the weather and climate patterns there – and across the rest of the planet – more difficult to predict.

As Arctic Matters reports, “Changes in the Arctic have the potential to affect weather thousands of miles away. Because temperatures are increasing faster in the Arctic than at the tropics, the temperature gradient that drives the jet stream is becoming less intense.”

This causes the jet stream to weaken and shift away from its typical patterns, which then leads to weather patterns becoming more persistent and lasting longer in the mid-latitudes. This then results in longer droughts, more intense heat waves, and far longer and deeper cold snaps, such as those witnessed in the Northeastern United States and Europe during the last two winters.

Truthout interviewed several leading scientists on these issues, seeking a consistent expectation for what the dramatic changes in the Arctic mean. The verdict? If there’s one thing that all the scientists’ predictions have in common, it is significant change.

The Vanishing Arctic Ice Pack

Dr. Julienne Stroeve is a senior research scientist with the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. She specializes in the remote sensing of snow and ice, and works in the Arctic measuring changes in the sea ice.

“Eventually we should see an Arctic Ocean ice free in summers as global temperatures continue to warm,” Stroeve told Truthout. She expects us to begin seeing summer periods of an ice-free Arctic ice pack around the year 2040.

Bob Henson is a meteorologist with the Weather Underground, and author of The Thinking Person’s Guide to Climate Change.

He believes that while there will most likely be some small areas of year-round ice clinging to far northern Canada for decades to come, “I would expect a summer in the next 20 to 30 years in which sea ice covers as little as 10 percent of the Arctic for at least a few days in August or September,” he said.

Everything in the planet’s climate system is linked, and when one part of it changes, all the other parts will respond.

Henson pointed out that if we extrapolate data and make predictions from more recent conditions in the Arctic, the timeline for seeing a total loss of sea ice seems faster, but he said we will most likely see summer sea ice declining “in a two-steps-forward, one-step-back process, with record ice loss in some years (as in 2007 and 2012) and a temporary, partial ‘recovery’ in other years (as in 2009 and 2013).”

Regardless of the specifics of the timeline, many agree that an ice-free Arctic will appear before the next century begins.

Dr. Steven Vavrus at the Center for Climatic Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison focuses on the Arctic and serves on the science steering committee for the Study of Environmental Arctic Change. “The precise timing is nearly impossible to pin down, but most estimates range from around 2040 until the end of this century,” he told Truthout. “I would be very surprised if seasonally ice-free conditions during summer do not emerge by 2100.”

Dr. David Klein is the director of the climate science program at California State University, Northridge. Like others, he pointed out how the Arctic is warming two to three times faster than the rest of the planet, and pointed out how ice loss there is “proceeding more rapidly than models have predicted.”

“The loss of sea ice decreases albedo [reflectivity] and results in greater absorption of energy in the water, and the warm water then heats the air above it,” Klein told Truthout. “NASA’s CERES satellites have observed an increase of 10 watts per square meter of solar radiation absorbed by the Arctic Ocean from 2000 to 2014.”

By way of comparison, overall net planet-wide warming from greenhouse gases thus far is only one-twentieth that amount of heating.
While that might not sound like very much, as James Hansen has pointed out, cumulatively that amount corresponds to 400,000 Hiroshima atom bombs per day, 365 days a year, across the planet.

Dahr Jamail / Truthout|January 9, 2016

Extreme Weather

This Year’s El Niño Looks Menacingly Familiar

The world is bracing for record rains and droughts

El Nino Do these satellite sea surface images look similar? Experts think so. The image of the Pacific Ocean on the left was taken recently. To the right is a sea surface image taken in December 1997. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Weather watchers have found a doppelgänger—the evil twin of a past weather system that suggests Earth is in for a wild 2016. Satellite images of the Pacific Ocean suggest that El Niño 2015/16 could be as bad as the one that happened in 1998.

In a release, NASA shared satellite imagery of this year’s sea surface heights. The image looks quite similar to observations taken in December 1997. El Niño conditions that were brewing 18 years ago were truly vengeful, causing an epic winter with the warmest, wettest winter temperatures in 104 years and was responsible for hurricanes, floods, record rainfalls and ice storms.

El Niño events occur when warm waters in the Eastern Pacific Ocean influence everything from ocean conditions to weather on land. The events are part of a dual cycle called the El Niño Southern Oscillation cycle, which describes the ways in which the ocean and atmosphere typically fluctuate in the area between the International Date Line and 120 degrees West.

During El Niño, warm water builds up in the ocean, which then fuels a warming atmosphere, subsequently spurring tons of rain. During La Niña, the other side of the cycle, cool waters build and cool the atmosphere, drying up rain and causing parched weather conditions on land.

The current El Niño is actually running a bit late. Last summer, scientists began to sound the alarm about rising sea temperatures, and Japan’s weather bureau confirmed the phenomenon in December 2014. But the big event never materialized.

Scientists defended their predictions, pointing out that weaker El Niño events are largely unpredictable by definition. Since the event relies on the interaction of the water and the atmosphere, both parties must play ball in order to create an El Niño. “The possibility of a major El Niño was just that: one among many possible outcomes,” Michelle L’Heureux wrote early this year on NOAA’s blog.

This event, though, seems to be the real thing. The prospect of the strongest El Niño on record is causing concern among humanitarian groups—especially because El Niño can cause droughts in areas that aren’t struggling with record rains. But the phenomenon’s existence doesn’t necessarily spell global doom: As Tim Radford writes for The Guardian, the climate event could simply peter out.

Whether strong, weak or nonexistent, one thing’s for sure: El Niño knows how to keep weather experts on their toes.

Erin Blakemore|smithsonian.com|December 30, 2015

Tornadoes, severe storms in US cost $10B in 2015

For an eighth consecutive year, tornadoes and other severe thunderstorms likely caused at least $10 billion in property damage in the United States, according to an analysis by Germany’s Munich Re, the world’s largest re-insurance firm.

The deadly tornadoes in December damaged or destroyed thousands of homes and businesses across the South, which should push the total over the $10 billion mark for 2015.

“No year prior to the 20082015 period had insured thunderstorm losses been in excess of $10 billion,” said Mark Bove, a Munich Re research meteorologist.

Factoring in other damaging weather such as winter storms, floods and tropical storms, the United States had a total of $15 billion in insured losses in 2015, which is half of the recent average of $30 billion per year.

The quiet hurricane season helped suppress the damage total.

Hurricanes typically are the main contributors to property damage in the U.S.

El Nino helped suppress hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean, Munich Re said.

USA TODAY

Wintertime floods among costliest ever to strike US

Disaster slowly making its way down Mississippi

As floodwaters continue to rise along the lower Mississippi River, it’s clear the slow-motion disaster will be among the costliest wintertime flood events in U.S. history. Officials are simply trying to tally the price tag.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday that damage from the floods will top $1 billion. That number is likely to climb as the unpredictable and overflowing Mississippi continues its march south.

Over the weekend and into next week, floodwaters will continue to rise along the Mississippi River in Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, including the cities of Greenville and Natchez, Mississippi, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, according to AccuWeather. Minor to moderate flooding is possible south of Baton Rouge to New Orleans this month.

In recent weeks, the floods severely damaged homes, businesses and farms that line the Mississippi and its tributaries in Missouri and Illinois, where at least 25 deaths were blamed on the weather.

Once all the costs of lost business and damaged roads, bridges and public buildings are added up, it’s a “safe bet” the total loss will exceed $1 billion, said Steve Bowen, a meteorologist with Aon Benfield, a global reinsurance firm based in London.

That estimate comes from preliminary damage assessments from federal and local officials and from early insurance claims in affected areas.

For example, in and around the St. Louis area, floods have damaged or destroyed an estimated 7,100 structures, according to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, and at least a half-million tons of debris will need to be removed. Repairs to roads in St. Louis County will top $200 million.

In southwestern Missouri’s Greene County, flood damage cost almost $1 million, according to the Springfield-Greene County Office of Emergency Management.

Government officials are calculating damage in Illinois, where Gov. Bruce Rauner issued state disaster declarations for 23 counties, mainly in central and southern parts of the state.

Most of the costliest wintertime flood disasters on record occurred in the West. The highest price tags occurred with the California floods in 1995 that cost $5 billion, and the El Nino-driven West Coast floods in 1997 that cost $4 billion, Bowen said.

“That is what has made this current event so unique, since we don’t expect this kind of flooding in the Midwest and Mississippi Valley until the spring,” he said.

Missouri picked up almost three times its average rainfall in November and December, said Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, set an all-time flood record of 48.86 feet last week, breaking a record set during the floods of 1993, the National Weather Service said.

Doyle Rice|USA TODAY

First Jan. hurricane since ’38 forms in Atlantic

Alex became the first hurricane to form in the Atlantic Ocean in January in nearly 80 years Thursday morning, the National Hurricane Center said.

A hurricane warning was in effect for the Azores as the storm headed north-northeast at 20 mph toward the island chain with winds of 85 mph. The storm is forecast to bring hurricane conditions to the central Azores by early Friday.

Alex is only the third hurricane ever recorded in January in the Atlantic Ocean, according to Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach.

It is the first hurricane to form in January since an unnamed storm in 1938. The last storm to occur in January was Alice in 1955. That storm formed in December 1954. Hurricane records began in 1851.

The Atlantic hurricane season typically runs from June to Nov. 30.

Alex’s development was spurred by water that is at record highs for this time of year, about 72 to 77 degrees, said Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters.

USA TODAY

Two dead as tornadoes slam Florida

Dozens of homes struck; at least $3M in damage dealt

Two people were killed and dozens of homes destroyed or damaged as tornadoes and storms roared through southwest Florida early Sunday.

In Manatee County, a tornado with winds reaching 127mph swept through the town of Duette, 40 miles southeast of Tampa.

Sheriff ’s spokesman Dave Bristow said two adults died, and one adult and four children suffered non-life-threatening injuries in one devastated home. Four of the injured were between 6 and 10 years old, Bristow said.

Bristow identified the victims as Steven Wilson, pronounced dead at the scene, and Kate Wilson, who died at a local hospital.

The EF2-rated, or “strong,” twister ripped a 300-foot-wide swath of destruction along a 9mile stretch of the county, the National Weather Service said.

“I’m amazed to see anybody got out of this alive,” Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube told the Associated Press.

In nearby Sarasota County, another EF2 storm with winds reaching 132mph blasted a mile stretch with a width varying from 350 yards to 100 yards. Gov. Rick Scott toured some of the wreckage in Siesta Key, a barrier island between the Gulf of Mexico and Roberts Bay that was hammered by the storm.

Sarasota Fire Rescue reported multiple rescues, and the county Emergency Operations Center said preliminary damage assessments indicated 45 properties suffered a total of more than $3million in damage.

Florida Power and Light reported that 17,000 customers lost power. The utility tweeted that it hoped to have most power restored by 6 p.m. Sunday.

“Crews are responding safely and as quickly as possible to restore power,” FPL said in a statement. “We’ve added resources to help speed restoration efforts.”

The regional American Red Cross said volunteers were responding in both counties.

Photos posted to social media showed significant damage to homes. The storm damaged several condominiums on Siesta Key, where winds were estimated to have reached 70 mph, according to the National Weather Service. The Sarasota County government Twitter account reported no serious injuries.

Farther south, Weather Underground reported, severe thunderstorms swept through the Naples area with wind gusts topping 80 mph.

John Bacon and Matthew Diebel|USA TODAY

Energy

This Is What a Massive Methane Leak Looks Like

A leak is spewing millions of tons of the invisible gas into the skies above Los Angeles

Thousands of feet beneath Los Angeles’ suburban San Fernando Valley, an environmental disaster is playing out in real time. Since October 23, an underground storage well at a natural gas storage facility in Aliso Canyon has been spewing methane and other pollutants. Now, an environmental group has released infrared aerial footage of the leak’s above-ground consequences.

The video, which was filmed by Environmental Defense Fund, shows the otherwise invisible leak that has displaced thousands of residents and prompted L.A. County to declare a state of emergency. Officials from SoCal Gas, which administers the well site near Porter Ranch, recently pinpointed the location of the leak to a shallow location within the 8,700-foot well.

Air sampling near the site met state safety thresholds, but residents have complained of dizziness, nausea and a foul odor. Despite the evacuations, the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment says that the gas will not create long-term health effects. They note that the odorless gas contains chemicals with noxious odors that allow people to identify leaks using their sense of smell. These chemicals can cause nausea, headaches and other complaints even in small, non-lethal amounts. However, some residents, claiming that there are deleterious long-term effects from the emissions, have filed a class-action lawsuit.

It will be February or March before SoCal Gas manages to stop the leak, says the company on their website. A preliminary estimate of greenhouse gas emissions released by the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board suggests that the leak has already emitted over 1.6 million metric tons of methane and other gases. To put that number in perspective, that’s nearly 3.9 percent of the amount of methane emitted by California in 2013.

Methane can trap much more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide—28 to 36 times more. That makes the gas of particular concern to regulators. California recently announced that it will try to cut statewide methane emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

How much will the catastrophic leak at San Aliso undercut that goal? It isn’t yet certain: Officials are monitoring emissions using airplanes and will release final estimates once the leak has been mitigated by a relief well. Until then, the disaster will continue to play out in slow motion—and invisible to the human eye.

See the video

Erin Blakemore|smithsonian.com|December 29, 2015

Bomb Trains Seeing Red In WA

No matter how you feel about the agreement reached at the COP21 Global Climate Summit, one thing was made clear in Paris and worldwide: The People Of Earth Are Ready For A Fossil Free Future.

But Big Oil has been fighting back. And last month they won a victory when Congress voted to lift the crude oil export ban last month. The worst thing about the vote to is that it puts dozens more towns and communities in the path of dangerous bomb train shipments of crude oil by rail. Now that Big Oil companies can sell more-explosive Bakken and Tar Sands crude anywhere in the world, they’re rushing hundreds of new shipments of this dirty stuff towards our coasts every day. That’s why we needed 2016 to commence with renewed energy and a revolutionary fervor to reject fossil fuels and resist climate change. I saw just that, first hand yesterday in Vancouver, WA, at one of the best anti-oil rallies I have ever attended.

Tesero Corporation and Savage Companies (Tesero-Savage) have applied to build the largest oil train facility in the country just along the Columbia River. The facility would handle 360,000 barrels of oil per day (over 15 million gallons) and require, at minimum, four one mile-and-a-half long trains each day — that’s over six billion gallons of oil per year traveling in 43,000 train cars. Tesero-Savage recently completed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed facility, which is currently under review by the State of Washington’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Committee (EFSEC) who will eventually recommend Governor Jay Inslee to approve or reject the project.

EFSEC held a public hearing yesterday, and if the people who attended are any indication of the type of activism to expect in 2016, it’s gonna be a very good year. Halfway through the hearing I got to take part in a rally organized by a coalition of friends from great organizations like Climate Solutions, Friends of Colombia Gorge, Forest Ethics and Washington Conservation Voters. But the real leaders of this coalition are representatives of First Citizens like the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (Umatilla).

The Umatilla and other First Citizens have lived here since before there was even such things as the states of Washington or Oregon. They are fighting this facility because it threatens their livelihoods, their lives, their cultures and their legacies. They made this clear during the rally and during their testimony to EFSEC. And there is a very good reason that the nearly 1,000 people who attended the hearing (all dressed in red) and rally are skeptical of permitting bomb trains right next to a river – history suggests there would almost certainly be a catastrophic spill. Between 2010 and 2014, our nation experienced nearly 400 train derailments that spilled over one million gallons of crude oil into our communities and waterways.

Communities affected by massive oil spills never fully recover. Three years after 800,000 gallons of Canadian crude tar sand oil was spilled into the Kalamazoo river, residents still complain of adverse health and economic impacts. And tar balls are still washing up on shores, sea life is still turning up dead and businesses have still not recovered five years after the Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. If even a small amount of the more than 15 million gallons of crude oil that Tesero-Savage proposes to handle daily was spilled into the Columbia River or surrounding areas, the damage could be irreparable. This was our collective message to EFSEC, to Gov. Inslee and to Tesero-Savage: The risks to our climate, communities and waterways are just too great.

Anthony Rogers-Wright|Climate Solutions|Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation|Energy Facility Site Evaluation Committee|Forest Ethics, Friends of Columbia Gorge|Oil Trains|Tesero-Savage|Washington Conservation Voters

Drilling in Big Cypress: Rejected Bush Plan to Purchase Florida Mineral Rights Looks Genius in Retrospect

My how perspective changes! On May, 29th 2002, President George W. Bush and his brother, then Florida Governor Jeb Bush, proposed the federal purchase of $235 million dollars worth of oil leases in Florida: nine oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico for $115 million and $120 million dollars to buyout mineral rights in Big Cypress National Preserve. Eight years before the 2010 Deepwater horizon spill in the Gulf, Jeb Bush described the purchase of mineral rights as needed to stop “oil drilling in two of the most environmentally-sensitive areas of the state.”

In 2005, Taxpayers for Common Sense decried government efforts to purchase Florida mineral rights as “one of the worst land deals in history.”

Today, environmentalists bemoan the failure to purchase mineral rights in Big Cypress as a terrible mistake.

Big Cypress National Preserve was created in 1974 to “ensure the preservation, conservation, and protection of the natural scenic, floral and faunal, and recreational values of the Big Cypress Watershed.” As a swamp, Big Cypress is critical to the watershed of the Everglades. Wetlands purify freshwater and absorb storm surge to prevent floods.

The ecology of Big Cypress is not, however, pristine. Oil production began in Big Cypress in the 1940s. The preserve is home to numerous threatened or endangered species (including about 30 to 35 Florida panthers) considered “indicator species” — indicating the ecosystem, here Big Cypress, is sick.

Burnett Oil Company filed an application with the National Park Service to conduct a seismic survey of 110 square miles (70,454 acres) in the preserve. The study will evaluate the feasibility of drilling more oil wells. The National Park Service just completed an Environmental Impact Study evaluating the Burnett plan.

Burnett Oil Company owns the mineral rights on more than half the 730,000 acres that make up Big Cypress. When Big Cypress was created, the swampland was transferred to the federal government but the the mineral rights lying below the park were retained by the Collier family, who leased their right to drill for oil and gas to Burnett. Since efforts by the Bush administration to buyout the mineral rights on about 500,000 acres in Big Cypress for $120 million dollars were firmly rebuked in 2005, mineral rights in Big Cypress continue to be privately held.

Public debate over further drilling in Big Cypress is contentious. Homeowners worry drilling may occur close to their homes. Environmental groups are concerned that the seismic study may lead to drilling that could contaminate the aquifer that most of Florida relies on for its drinking water.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association and Conservancy of Southwest Florida expressed concern that even studies exploring the possibility of increased oil drilling in Big Cypress will exacerbate ecological distress since the oil exploration will require use of large trucks and heavy machinery over a 110 square mile swath of pristine wetlands.

The controversy over increased oil drilling in Big Cypress is intensified by the fear that Burnett might use “acid fracking” (a process of pumping acid to stimulate well production).

Although state and federal government may limit the scope of oil drilling activities by permit to protect public health and the environment, the US Constitution protects mineral owners from taking without compensation. Hence, the only way to completely prevent further oil and gas development (with or without acid fracking) in Big Cypress is for the government to purchase the mineral rights.

Which takes me back to my opening statement.

In hindsight, the Collier sale of oil rights hardly looks like a “taxpayer ripoff.” In hindsight, the Bush plan to purchase Florida mineral rights looks like genius.

Elizabeth Glass Geltman is the author of 17 books on environmental and natural resources policy and is an associate professor and program director for Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Public Health and the Urban School of Public Health at Hunter College. Geltman serves as the Secretary of the Environment Section of the American Public Health Association.

Environmentalists say oil exploration will damage Big Cypress

Exploration would cover additional 110 square miles; Environmental groups want more extensive review; National Park Service says the impacts would be mostly short-term

Plans by a Texas company to deploy massive thumper trucks to seismically explore for oil in the Big Cypress National Preserve are being challenged by more than a half dozen environmental groups.

In an 88-page report, the Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, Conservancy of Southwest Florida and other groups say testing in a 110-square mile section of the preserve will disturb vast new swaths of land. When the park service tentatively signed off on plans in November, the groups say that it failed to consider climate change or new technology, and too hastily made a decision based on old information from decades of drilling in the swamp.

This seismic testing and oil drilling will do irrevocable damage.

John Adornato, National Parks Conservation Association regional director

“A more thorough environmental review will reveal what we already know. This seismic testing and oil drilling will do irrevocable damage to one of Florida’s most iconic landscapes and should not be allowed to move forward,” John Adornato, a regional director for the conservation association, said in a statement.

In reviewing the request from Burnett Oil, the park service looked at the potential damage from driving the 33-ton trucks through the swamp. While some wildlife could suffer from short-term stress, park officials said damage would likely be minimal if workers complied with a lengthy list of requirements. Some wildlife could even benefit from new data collected in the process of looking for pockets of oil, the assessment found.

But the environmental groups say Burnett’s plans for five new staging areas require a more thorough review. Four of those areas would occur on pristine wetlands and could damage more than a thousand miles of untouched land, the groups say.

Approving the test without a full review could also set a precedent for expanding oil exploration, the groups say, and could lead to less land being more fully protected with a wilderness designation.

Drilling in the preserve, a refuge for panthers and other rare wildlife, dates back to the 1940s. When the preserve was created in 1974, the Collier Family, which owned much of the land, held on to mineral rights and over the years sold off drilling rights. Today, Exxon operates two drilling facilities including the Bear Island field, which was discovered in 1972 and includes 23 wells on nine pads and 17 wells in the Raccoon Point field, which was discovered in 1978.

Jenny Staletovich|miamiherald.com

Invisible gas leak empties Cal homes

LA suburb that E.T. once called home overwhelmed by out-of-control methane

LOS ANGELES – Laura Gideon and her family endured the sickening stench from an out-of-control natural gas leak for about a month before they could no longer tolerate the nausea, headaches and nosebleeds.

After she went to the emergency room in November vomiting and with a severe migraine, Gideon, her husband and their two children abandoned their home in the upscale Los Angeles suburb of Porter Ranch.

They moved in with her parents about 10 miles away to await a fix that could still be months away.

“We’re in mourning now,” she said. “We didn’t ever want to leave. We were in a nice gated community. We were safe, you know, supposedly good schools. This wasn’t our plan.”

Thousands of her neighbors have followed suit in an exodus from an invisible threat that wafts occasionally and doesn’t sicken everyone in its path, though it continues to spew enormous amounts of climate-changing methane.

The leak has cost the utility $50 million so far and is expected to balloon as the company tries a tricky fix to plug a well deep underground, while also compensating residents and fighting dozens of lawsuits.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared an emergency last week for the prolonged blowout that requires the utility to cover the costs and instructs state regulators to protect ratepayers.

Gas field massive

The well is one of 115 in the Santa Susana Mountains where Southern California Gas Co., a division of San Diego based Sempra Energy, stores natural gas in a vacant oil field about a mile and a half underground. It is the largest natural gas storage facility west of the Miss issippi River and holds enough to provide energy to all of Southern California for a month.

It has been gushing the equivalent of about a quarter of the state’s daily output of methane, along with other gases, since it was reported Oct. 23. It is also blamed for depositing tiny oil droplets on cars and houses that are about a mile away.

The hillside Porter Ranch community of about 30,000 people has grown considerably in the three decades since scenes in the movie “E.T. The Extraterrestrial” were filmed there.

Public health officials said most of the gas is dissipating and not causing long-term problems, but foul-smelling additives that make highly flammable gas detectable have been blamed for maladies including irritated throats, coughs and respiratory problems.

“It’s like being in a disaster area, but it’s not a disaster you can see,” said Sue Hammarlund, who has seen her share of national disasters as a Red Cross volunteer and has suffered from headaches and nosebleeds recently. “I think this is more debilitating mentally.”

Two local schools closed before the end of the year, and nearly 1,900 students will start the year at different schools.

While more than 4,500 families have either left or are on the move, many have stayed behind — because they either aren’t bothered by the smell, aren’t worried or don’t want to hassle with moving.

Bob Casselman has lived near the entrance to the gas facility 43 years. His wife, Pat, has only noticed the smell a few times and had very few symptoms.

“I can’t understand all these people,” Bob Casselman said. “Everybody wants a freebie. … Unless something’s really bad, we don’t complain.”

Unprecedented

The company has apologized for failing to disclose the leak after residents began complaining about the smell and for reacting slowly to their concerns.

The incident is unprecedented for a utility, and it is “forging new ground,” said Gillian Wright, a SoCalGas vice president.

Under orders from the county health department to relocate people who want to leave, SoCalGas has offered to pay up t o $250 a night for hotels, plus $45 per person per day for food, or up to $7,500 a month for rental homes. The leak is expected to be stopped in March.

Some residents have complained about not getting help calls returned and not finding relocation services helpful.

Cheri Derohanian said representatives she spoke with in Chicago and Colorado were useless because they didn’t know the lay of the land. One found her a downtown Los Angeles condo that was 30 miles away and better suited for urban hipsters than her family of four.

“We’re not a bunch of hicks. We’re like Porter Ranch, it’s like, you know, the Beverly Hills of the valley.”

BRIAN MELLEY|ASSOCIATED PRESS

[They say ‘it isn’t really a disaster’, but it is when you consider that the methane that ”dissipates” is entering our atmosphere where it is 50+  times more detrimental than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.]

Fracking wars heat back up

EPA’s independent Science Advisory Board tugged fracking back into the limelight with a draft report yesterday criticizing the agency for an “inconsistent” finding on fracking risks. Recall that oil and gas companies hailed EPA’s June report, which found that fracking poses no “widespread, systemic” risk to drinking water, as validation that the popular extraction method posed no risk to public health. The agency responded by vowing to consider its independent advisers’ recommendations before finalizing the report sometime this year, but an EPA spokeswoman also stood by the agency’s contextualizing of fracking-water impacts as relatively minor: “EPA’s assessment cites examples where hydraulic fracturing has impacted drinking water resources,” the agency told ME. “However, based on available data, the number of cases is small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.”

Katie Brown, spokeswoman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America-backed Energy in Depth project, said the EPA advisers’ draft report is “concerning, to say the least. [The advisory board’s] members are asking EPA to alter scientific findings based on what they admit are ‘outliers.’”

Recall that former EPA chief Lisa Jackson testified before Congress in May 2011 that she was “not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water.” Even if the final version of the agency’s study materially alters its headline finding of no broad threat from fracking, it is not expected to offer any specific edicts on stricter regulations

Eric Wolff|01/08/16 |With help from Elana Schor, Annie Snider, and Darren Goode

Obama Halts New Coal Mining Leases on Public Lands

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration announced on Friday a halt to new coal mining leases on public lands as it considers an overhaul of the program that could lead to increased costs for energy companies and a slowdown in extraction.

“Given serious concerns raised about the federal coal program, we’re taking the prudent step to hit pause on approving significant new leases so that decisions about those leases can benefit from the recommendations that come out of the review,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “During this time, companies can continue production activities on the large reserves of recoverable coal they have under lease, and we’ll make accommodations in the event of emergency circumstances to ensure this pause will have no material impact on the nation’s ability to meet its power generation needs.”

The move represents a significant setback for the coal industry, effectively freezing new coal production on federal lands and sending a signal to energy markets that could turn investors away from an already reeling industry. President Obama telegraphed the step in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night when he said “I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.”

Last year, Mr. Obama used his executive authority under the Clean Air Act to complete regulations that would limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, the nation’s largest source of planet-warming pollution. Republicans have attacked the rules, which could lead to the closing of hundreds of coal plants, as a “war on coal.” A halt to new leases would go even further by leaving coal unmined.

The action is certain to further inflame a political debate over the federal government’s control of public lands, most recently illustrated by an armed takeover of a wildlife refuge in Oregon. About 40 percent of the nation’s coal is mined on public land, and most of that land is in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming.

“It appears that they’re going after the federal coal leasing program with the intention of keeping coal in the ground,” said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association.

But companies can continue to mine the coal reserves under lease, estimated to be enough to sustain current levels of production from federal land for about 20 years, according to the administration official.

“Even as our nation transitions to cleaner energy sources, building on smart policies and progress already underway, we know that coal will continue to be an important domestic energy source in the years ahead,” Ms. Jewell said. “We haven’t undertaken a comprehensive review of the program in more than 30 years, and we have an obligation to current and future generations to ensure the federal coal program delivers a fair return to American taxpayers and takes into account its impacts on climate change.”

Mr. Obama hopes to make curbing climate change a cornerstone of his legacy. The administration’s action is the latest step in his ambitious efforts to use his executive authority to tackle climate change, though it could be reversed by another president.

As the administration has sought additional ways to discourage production and consumption of the fuel most responsible for global warming, economists have proposed a “production fee” associated with emissions from coal. Administration officials have estimated that cost — tied to what they call the “social cost of carbon” — at about $40 per ton of carbon dioxide produced.

A fee of that size “would shut down the industry on federal lands entirely,” said Alan Krupnick, an economist at Resources for the Future, which studies environmental economics.

He added, “But even a small charge that begins to internalize these costs — say, a couple of dollars per ton — would put the industry on notice.”

The environmental advocacy group 350.org, which led the successful campaign against the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, has since turned its efforts to pushing Mr. Obama to shut down new leases for coal mining on public lands.

“The administration’s top priority needs to be to keep fossil fuels in the ground,” said Jamie Henn, a spokesman for the group. “Any move that increases the cost of extracting fossil fuels on public land.”

The push to increase the cost to coal companies comes as the industry is struggling after one of its worst years in recent memory. The industry is suffering from a one-two punch from market forces and government policies. For decades, coal has dominated the American electricity market as the cheapest source of fuel, but in recent years, it has been overtaken by cheap natural gas.

At the same time, Mr. Obama’s new climate change regulations are driving electric utilities to shut down coal plants and invest in cleaner sources of energy, including natural gas, which produces half of the carbon pollution of coal, as well as wind and solar power.

A wave of bankruptcies has hit the nation’s largest coal companies, most recently on Monday with the bankruptcy filing of Arch Coal, the nation’s second-largest coal company. United States production of coal and employment in the coal sector have fallen to their lowest levels since the 1980s.

CORAL DAVENPORT|JAN. 14, 2016

Land Conservation

Corkscrew developer fights for project

The developer who won Lee County approval last year for the 1,325 unit Corkscrew Farms development east of I-75 said he plans to intervene in a suit seeking to kill the development.

The developer of Corkscrew Farms near Estero says he’s “shocked” that a suit has been filed to stop the 1,325 unit project on a 1,361 acre site east of Interstate 75,  and said his lawyers will be filing papers to intervene in the case.

The Estero Council of Community Leaders joined with the Responsible Growth Management Coalition in the case filed in Circuit Court last month. The suit attacks the decision not being “consistent” with provisions of the Lee Plan, which sets out comprehensive standards for development in the county.

Developer Joe Cameratta, whose Cameratta Companies is the developer of the project, said he is will do whatever is necessary to defend the project, including becoming a party to the suit, which names only Lee County and the Board of County Commissioners as defendants.

“I am going to do everything in my power to help the county defend its decision,”  Cameratta said in an email response to questions from The News-Press. “Our project received overwhelming support from so many groups and organizations, and concerned environmental groups such as the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.”

A spokesman for the county said this week that the suit has not yet been formally served on the county, but when it is, the county attorney’s office will “take all appropriate action” to defend the case.. The suit seeks to throw out a rezoning decision that was based on the recommendation of the county hearing examiner

Attorney Ralf Brookes, who represents the ECCL and the Growth Management Coalition has filed the suit under a  provision of law that will give opponents a second chance to argue their case. after presenting only a token case against the plan at the county hearing.

In an email, Brookes said the court proceedings will mean “brand new” consideration of the controversial development.

“There will be a new trial and the parties can include additional experts, witnesses and evidence,” Brookes said. “The parties are not limited to the record below.”

During the two days of hearings in September,  three members of the public spoke in opposition to the development, and no  expert testimony was offered to counter the developer’s presentation. By contrast, a half dozen individuals testified as expert witnesses for Cameratta and an additional six witnesses spoke on behalf of the county planning and development staff.

The suit claims that the development poses a risk to the Density Reduction/Groundwater Resource area that protects the region’s water supply. It cites recent traffic deaths of Florida Panthers and claims that the project is “an irreversible land-use change” that fails to meet legal requirements of the Lee Plan.

Cameratta said the project provides environmental benefits, including restoring wetlands disrupted by agricultural use, reducing water consumption and preserving existing wetland and forest land.

BILL SMITH|NEWS-PRESS.COM

Senators Introduce Bill to Permanently Protect the Arctic Refuge

In December, a record number of cosponsors in the Senate introduced an important conservation bill that would protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge once and for all.

Led by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Ed Markey (D-MA), the legislation (S 2341) would designate as Wilderness the coastal plain—the heart of the Arctic Refuge, and the region under threat by oil and gas interests—providing it with permanent protection from industrial development.

The coastal plain harbors nesting birds that migrate through all 50 states. More than one hundred species of birds depend on its pristine habitat, including Tundra Swans, American Golden-Plovers, and Snowy Owls, along with caribou, polar bears, wolves, musk oxen, and more. The pressure to drill here has continued for decades, putting at risk the astonishing wildlife and critical habitat of the Refuge.

Companion legislation, HR 239, was also introduced last year in the U.S. House, led by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA). Nearly one year ago, President Obama announced that the administration recommended protecting the Arctic Refuge as Wilderness, and called on Congress to pass legislation. It’s time for Congress to act.

If you haven’t already, please ask your members of Congress to cosponsor these bills.

From Audubon Advisory

Transportation

Justice Department alleges VW violated Clean Air Act

EPA says talks with automaker for fix are not going well

The Justice Department filed a civil complaint Monday against Volkswagen, alleging that nearly 600,000 cars with diesel engines in the U.S. violate emissions laws and that many were imported in violation of the Clean Air Act.

The lawsuit was filed in Detroit on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which worked with the California Air Resources Board in exposing the violations last year. VW has admitted to rigging cars with 2-liter diesel engines, and the EPA found violations in vehicles with 3-liter diesels as well.

The complaint alleges that the nearly 600,000 diesel-engine vehicles built since 2009 were equipped with illegal “defeat devices” installed to impair emission-control systems. That resulted in higher emissions than allowed by law.

The lawsuit also alleges that VW violated the Clean Air Act by importing vehicles into the U.S. that have far higher emissions than are allowed under their certification.

“Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emission-control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health and disadvantage competitors,” Assistant Attorney General John Cruden said.

The lawsuit was filed against Volkswagen in Germany and the U.S., as well as its Audi and Porsche brands.

Volkswagen responded by saying it is “working with EPA on developing remedies to bring the (diesel) vehicles into full compliance with regulations as soon as possible.” The EPA issued a statement saying the lawsuit will hold Volkswagen accountable while it tries to reach a deal with the automaker on how to resolve the issue with recalls. However, EPA Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles said the talks are not going well so far.

The complaint says 499,000 cars equipped with the 2-liter, four-cylinder diesel engines were designed to exceed EPA clean-air standards for nitrogen oxides by up to 40 times the legal amount during normal driving. They were rigged with software to detect when they were being tested for emissions. Only while being tested did their engines meet the standard.

In addition, it says Volkswagen Group equipped 85,000 vehicles with 3-liter, six-cylinder diesel engines to beat emissions tests.

Chris Woodyard|USA TODAY

Miscellaneous

Twelve New Museums to Visit in 2016

Whether you’re a fossil hunter, a history buff or a basketball fan, you won’t want to miss these 12 must-see museums in the new year

What better way to ring in a new year than at a new museum? 2016 is shaping up to be a great year to visit new (or newly reopened) museums all over the world. From art and music to culture, literature and sports, these 12  museums all provide an in-depth look at the things that make the world great.

Explore Charlie Chaplin’s home, see the massive fossil collection of a lifetime, embrace African-American history, or enjoy international painted masterpieces—just make sure you don’t miss these much-anticipated debuts.

Pompeii (Naples, Italy)
Now Open

Just in advance of the 2016 season, six restored sites at the famous Pompeii ruins are newly open to the public. The reopened remnants of the city were preserved after Mt. Vesuvius erupted in the year 79, killing up to 20,000 inhabitants and burying the city in volcanic ash. They include a fabric business, a thermal bathing area, a laundry house and a middle-class dwelling. The restored villas are part of the Grand Pompeii Project, a preservation effort at the site that’s tackling wear and tear from weather and time.

These six sites were closed to visitors for several years. Labor disputes, monetary problems and management issues had the area in a holding pattern, causing a lack of maintenance funds, the collapse of some buildings and restricted tourist access. Now they’re open again—and should make it onto any ancient history buff’s must-see list.

The House of Marbury (Beijing, China)
Now Open

As of late December, fans of Stephon Marbury—the NBA player who moved to China to play for the Beijing Ducks—have a new way to enjoy his celebrity: by visiting the newly-opened House of Marbury in China. The museum follows Marbury’s basketball career from Brooklyn to Beijing and is the latest in the country’s series of extravagant tributes to the player.

China’s love for Marbury appears never-ending—in the past, he’s been on a Chinese postage stamp and has even been the subject of a Chinese-language musical. Not to mention the bronze statue, erected in 2012, that shows Marbury lifting the Chinese Basketball Association championship trophy.

Audain Art Museum (Whistler, Canada)
Opens March 5, 2016

Canadian homebuilder Michael James Audain needed a place to store his extensive art collection—so he decided to build a 56,000-square-foot gallery in Whistler to share his love of art with the public. When it opens in January, the space will house the world’s most extensive collection of the region’s art and artists.

The museum will feature art from Jeff Wall, a Vancouver-based fine art photographer, who will present his work in the context of British Columbia’s artistic history. Twenty-one of Wall’s pieces will be on display at the Audain for about five months.

GRAMMY Museum Mississippi (Cleveland, Mississippi)
Opens March 5, 2016

There’s already a GRAMMY museum outside of Los Angeles, but now it’s spinning off into the deep South. The museum’s Mississippi branch will echo the same dedication to music’s past, present, and future as its California-based sister museum—with a much stronger emphasis on the unique music of the Mississippi Delta.

Part of the museum’s mission is to fill in the missing pieces left by Mississippi’s removal of arts programs in many public schools. A group of about 30 teachers are helping put together a curriculum for children that includes blues and dance history mixed with overall American history like the Great Depression and the Civil Rights Movement.

National Blues Museum (St. Louis, Missouri)
Opens April 2, 2016

Celebrate the origin of nearly every modern form of popular music with a visit to the new National Blues Museum. The finished museum will have 15,000 square feet of exhibit, theater, and classroom space devoted to all things blues and will develop and show traveling exhibits, too. Want a preview? The museum’s radio station is already live, sharing updates and songs from a roster of well known and under-the-radar blues musicians.

Even with all that exhibit space, artifacts aren’t the focus of the new museum. Instead, technology-driven interactive features are designed to tell the story of the genre, following it from its Delta roots and tracing its many influences on modern music.

Boverie (Liège, Belgium)
Opens May 2016

Belgium’s Wallonia region is collaborating with the Louvre to open a new art museum in 2016. The Boverie will sit on an island in the middle of the Meuse River and brings Liège the best of Belgian art. But it won’t stop there: Its opening will be marked by the first of several annual exhibits of international masterpieces curated by the Louvre.

The first exhibition, Open Air, will present 60 pieces by the likes of Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, and more that capture the essence of painters working outside the studio and their representations of outdoor activities.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco, California)
Opens May 14, 2016

San Francisco’s MOMA closed its doors in 2013 for renovations and will finally reopen in May. The new building nearly triples the exhibition space of the old one and includes a ten-story addition, a new Pritzker Center for Photography and an ongoing film program. The fourth floor alone will be larger than the entire space used by the museum’s previous iteration, creating plenty of room for SF MOMA’s impressive collection.

Three thousand art pieces from 200 donors are expected to fill the new space, and the launch exhibition will feature more than 600 works by artists including Pablo Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg and Diane Arbus. 

Chaplin’s World: The Modern Times Museum (Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland)
Opens Spring 2016

Get ready for a long overdue date with one of film’s greatest stars. After several years of delay, this museum is expected to open in the spring at Charlie Chaplin’s sprawling Switzerland estate, Manoir de Ban. The main house will explore the man himself, while his comedic works and film legacy will be showcased in outbuildings.

One of the most anticipated exhibits is a pair of wings Chaplin created for his daughter to wear in the movie he never finished, The Freak. Others include a replica of Easy Street from Little Tramp and an exhibit specifically dedicated to Chaplin’s creative process.

The Etches Collection, Museum of Jurassic Marine Life (Kimmeridge, England)
Opens Summer 2016

Kimmeridge sits on the east end of the Jurassic Coast in England—a UNESCO World Heritage Site where Jurassic-period fossils are found in abundance. Fossil enthusiasts will find a lot to admire in local man Steve Etches, who collected and researched more than 2,000 fossilized marine treasures over the last 30 years. The museum is devoted to fossils, fossils and more fossils, all specimens from Etches’ epic collection of things that swam the prehistoric seas 150 million years ago. 

Many of the Etches Collection’s fossils are new to scientists, and the museum will present them in a novel way: following the story of how each creature lived, bred and died. Come for the ichthyosaurs and ancient barnacles—leave with an even greater sense of the wonder of the deep past.

Levi Coffin House Interpretive Center (Fountain City, Indiana)
Opens September 2016

Before the Civil War, the Levi Coffin House was the Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad—a pass-through point for more than 2,000 slaves en route to safety. The house was named after its owner, the so-called “president of the Underground Railroad,” and has long been open to the public as a National Historic Landmark. For Indiana’s bicentennial, the building next door will open as a more than 5,000-square-foot interpretive center that explores the state’s role in abolishing slavery and adds important context to the historic house.

The new center will feature an exhibit called “Souls Seeking Safety: Bringing Indiana’s Underground Railroad Experience to Life,” which will share stories from slaves who passed through the Coffin house on their way to the North.

Museum of Image and Sound (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Opens September 2016

Immerse yourself in the sights and sound of Brazil at the newly renovated Museum of Image and Sound. This museum, opened initially in 1965, will move into luxurious new digs on Copacabana Beach in 2016. Guests can see and hear national radio and video recordings and explore photography archives, regional exhibits and an entire floor dedicated to Carmen Miranda. The new building was designed to allow visitors to walk up the front facade in a vertical boulevard and is the brainchild of the architecture group responsible for other iconic buildings such as Los Angeles’ new Broad Museum.

The museum’s much-debated location used to be home to the old Club Help, a discotheque that became a symbol of Rio’s past prostitution problem. This building will have a club, too—a much more subdued piano bar.

National Museum of African American History and Culture (Washington, D.C.)
Opens Fall 2016

Last, but not least, is one of Smithsonian’s own, a long-anticipated museum that will find its home on the National Mall this fall. Devoted to the diversity, culture and richness of African American history, NMAAHC evolved from an exhibit space at the National Museum of American History. Though it won’t open until the fall, the museum is already hosting a spate of events to start the conversation the museum itself will continue in depth.

Pieces in the museum’s collection of 33,000 artifacts include objects from a sunken slave ship, a segregated rail car, Harriet Tubman’s hymn book, Chuck Berry’s Cadillac convertible, a guard tower from Angola Prison in Louisiana and items from #BlackLivesMatter protests.

Jennifer Billock|smithsonian.com|December 31, 2015

New Street Lamps Lure Mosquitoes With Fake Human Scents

Lighting the way in the fight against mosquitos

When setting a trap, it makes sense to tailor the bait to the tastes of whatever critter you’re trying to snag. Whether it’s a mousetrap or a roach motel, that old saying about catching more flies with honey tends to be true. So when it comes to baiting mosquito traps, it makes sense to make them smell like one of their favorite foods: people.

A group of researchers at the University of Malaysia have developed a new kind of street lamp that not only uses energy-efficient LEDs to light dark streets, but also act as mosquito traps by exuding an odor that mimics natural human scents. According to lead researcher Chong Wen Tong, the lamp emits low levels of carbon dioxide mixed with titanium dioxide and ultraviolet light, the combination of which drives mosquitoes wild, Carla Kweifio-Okai reports for The Guardian.

“The mosquito trap takes advantage of the mosquito’s sensory abilities by tricking them with features that mimic the odors associated with humans,” Chong tells Kweifio-Okai. Once the scent lures in the unsuspecting mosquito, a fan sucks them into a net inside the street light that makes it impossible for them to get away.

Chong developed the combination street lamp/mosquito trap as a way to bring better light sources to Malaysian cities and remote communities while fighting the disease-spreading insects. In addition to dangerous diseases like malaria, mosquitoes also spread dengue fever, which has grabbed a particularly strong foothold in Asian and Pacific countries over the last 50 years. According to the World Health Organization, 1.8 billion people in Asia and the Pacific are at risk of being infected with dengue annually, and about 500,000 people worldwide are hospitalized from the disease each year. Across Asia, the economic impact of dengue fever alone is an estimated $2 billion per year, Kweifio-Okai reports.

While Chong has yet to install the lamps outside of a small pilot program in Kuala Lumpur, a group of sensory biologists at the University of Washington have discovered an orchid that uses similar bait to lure in mosquitoes. According to a new study, a certain species of bog orchid that grows in the United States’ Pacific Northwest uses a scent similar to human body odor to trick mosquitoes into becoming pollinators, Elizabeth Pennisi writes for Science.

The smell given off by the orchid species Platanthera obtusata isn’t strong enough that the human nose would think it needs a hit of deodorant, but researchers discovered that the scent sets off electrical sensors in the mosquitoes’ antennae. That suggests that the buzzing insects might be attracted to the smell, which is composed of several chemicals found in human B.O., Pennisi reports.

In a presentation Monday at the 2016 annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, the researchers noted that the orchids supply female tiger mosquitoes with the necessary carbs, and the mosquitoes pollinate the plants in return, Sarah Sloat writes for Inverse. By observing how the mosquitoes behave around the orchids, researchers could figure out new kinds of bait to lure the biting bugs away from their human prey.

Danny Lewis|smithsonian.com|January 6, 2016

Scientists say humans have now brought on an entirely new geologic epoch

A group of 24 geoscientists on Thursday released a bracing assessment, suggesting that humans have altered the Earth so extensively that the consequences will be detectable in current and future geological records. They therefore suggest that we should consider the Earth to have moved into a new geologic epoch, the “Anthropocene,” sometime circa 1945-1964.

The current era (at least under present definitions), known as the Holocene, began about 11,700 years ago, and was marked by warming and large sea level rise coming out of a major cool period, the Younger Dryas. However, the researchers suggest, changes ranging from growing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to infusions of plastics into marine sediments suggest that we’ve now left the Holocene decisively behind — and that the proof is already being laid down in polar ice cores, deep ocean sediments, and future rocks themselves.

“In a way it’s a thought experiment,” said Naomi Oreskes, a geologically trained Harvard historian of science and one of the study’s authors. “We’re imagining what a future geologist will see when he or she looks at the rock record. But it’s not that difficult a thought experiment to do, because so many of these signals are already present.”

The paper was published Thursday in the journal Science and was led by Colin Waters, a geologist with the British Geological Survey.

“Quite unlike other subdivisions of geological time, the implication of formalizing the Anthropocene reach well beyond the geological community,” the authors conclude. “Not only would this represent the first instance of a new epoch having been witnessed firsthand by advanced human societies, it would be one stemming from the consequences of their own doing.”

It’s important to emphasize that the new study does not itself amount to a formal or official declaration of a new geologic epoch. Rather, the 24 authors are part of what is called the “Anthropocene Working Group,” convened by the University of Leicester’s Jan Zalasiewicz (the current paper’s second author) and organized under the Sub-commission on Quaternary Stratigraphy, a scientific body that oversees geological definitions for the period spanning roughly the last 2.6 million years (the “Quaternary” period). That sub-commission, in turn, is part of the broader International Commission on Stratigraphy, the body that would ultimately have to approve the authors’ suggestion if a new era is to be formalized.

So the new paper certainly doesn’t mean geology textbooks will be rewritten — that would require numerous further scientific steps, and assent extending far beyond the current 24 authors. But it makes a strong case that they ought to be.

“The scale is incredible,” said Waters of the geological changes that the “Anthropocene” has brought on. But he also admits that defining a new epoch, even as we’re observing its beginning, is a rather tricky affair — and one that will inevitably be shaded not only by how we think in the present, but also by how generations in the far future think of us.

“I suppose it’s a bit like, if you were writing this article just at the start of the Holocene, and you’re finding that Washington, D.C., or New York no longer has an ice sheet across it, would you know what the repercussions of that would be in several thousand years’ time?” Waters asked.

The concept of the “Anthropocene” was originally suggested by Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize winning atmospheric chemist who is also part of the “Anthropocene Working Group,” in the year 2000. The term has always denoted a new era or epoch uniquely defined by humans’ large scale impact on the environment — but the precise time of its beginning has been variously defined.

After all, humans started deforesting vast landscapes, and causing species extinctions, thousands of years ago. The industrial revolution, meanwhile, began around 200 years ago and represented a major step in how we influence the environment and consume Earth’s materials — as well as the kickstart to global warming.

However, the new study homes in on the middle of the last century as the likely marker for when the geologic “Anthropocene” truly began. The authors suggest that around this time, a confluence of major trends — population explosion, new technological advances, and booming rates of consumption — triggered changes that will be unmistakable in geologic records.

We began the 1900s with 1.65 billion people on Earth and ended them with 6 billion, according to the United Nations. But the majority of the growth was in the second half of the century — the world population did not reach 2 billion until 1927 and 3 billion until 1960.

Over the same broad period we managed to design nuclear weapons and warm the climate. And along with technological leaps and the population boom has come dramatically more uses of resources and transformations of natural environments — which, in turn, has affected the sediment layers that have been formed recently, or are being formed right now. These are likely to feature unprecedented levels of aluminum, concrete, plastics, and black carbon, the study asserts.

Humans have also dramatically changed the sedimentary processes of river systems — look what we’ve done to the Mississippi River and its wetlands, for instance. Soil levels of nitrogen and phosphorous have also exploded, the study asserts, from use of fertilizers. Perhaps the most distinctive change of all, however, may be the unmistakable signature of thermonuclear weapons testing, which began in 1952, and leaves a clear geological record of plutonium 239 that, the paper said, “will be identifiable in sediments and ice for the next 100,000 years.”

And then, well, there’s the record of human caused climate change. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have grown at an extraordinarily rapid rate, roughly 2 parts per million per year of late, and this will be distinctly recorded in the air bubbles contained in polar ice cores, one key type of geologic record. “Modern rates of atmospheric C emission … are probably the highest of the Cenozoic era,” or the last 65 million years, the study says.

Atmospheric methane levels have shown a similar rapid burst. And sea levels are surging rapidly upward, at least when viewed in geological context. They are probably higher now than they have been in the past 115,000 years, the paper said.

It’s all of these changes, at roughly the same time, that mark the onset of the Anthropocene, the authors suggested. “It’s not just carbon dioxide, and it’s not just in Europe and the United States,” said Harvard’s Oreskes. “It’s this whole set of things that reflect human economic activity basically since World War II.”

Previous reasons for geological demarcations, the researchers note, include changing solar cycles or major volcanic activity — but also sometimes stark and sudden events. For instance, the famous K-T event or K-T boundary, which marked the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago, features a global layer of the element iridium in rock, the signature of a major asteroid impact.

It’s perhaps only fitting, then, that the current paper hints that something much bigger than a mere shift into a new geologic epoch may be afoot. Epochs, after all, are relatively short periods in the grand geological scheme of things, when compared with larger units of time like eons, eras, and periods.

More momentous geological demarcations have often been based upon major changes in the composition of life on Earth — the Cambrian explosion, say, or the extinction of the dinosaurs. However, the paper notes that there are also signs that we may be at the beginning of what some have termed the “Sixth Great Extinction” in all of Earth’s history.

“Current trends of habitat loss and overexploitation, if maintained, would push Earth into the sixth mass extinction event (with ~75% of species extinct) in the next few centuries, a process that is probably already underway,” the paper said.

So, yes — we don’t formally, officially live in the Anthropocene yet. On the other hand, when you look at what we’ve done to the planet, saying that we still live in the Holocene seems to really miss something pretty important.

Chris Mooney|January 7

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

Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

ConsRep 1601 A

This is not just about telling people to change their light bulbs or buy a hybrid car. This disaster has gone beyond choices individuals can make. It’s now about industries and our governments around the world taking large scale, decisive action. — Leonardo DiCaprio 

Announcements

Welcome to Audubon’s 116th Christmas Bird Count. 

Registration for the 116th Christmas Bird Count is now available here, or to find locations, dates if entered, and contact information you can view the map of active circles by using the link below.

A map view of the circles expected in the 116th CBC can be found here.

Since the Christmas Bird count began over a century ago, it has relied on the dedication and commitment of volunteers like you.

Please keep reading to learn more about the Christmas Bird Count

When does the count happen?

All Christmas Bird Counts are conducted between December 14 to January 5, inclusive dates, each season.

Your local count will occur on one day between those dates. Participate in as many counts as you wish!

How does participation work?

There is a specific methodology to the CBC, and all participants must make arrangements to participate in

advance with the circle compiler within an established circle, but anyone can participate.

Each count takes place in an established 15-mile wide diameter circle, and is organized by a count compiler.

Count volunteers follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile (24-km) diameter circle, counting every bird they see or hear all day.

It’s not just a species tally–all birds are counted all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day.  

If you are a beginning birder, you will be able to join a group that includes at least one experienced birdwatcher.

If your home is within the boundaries of a CBC circle, then you can stay at home and report the birds that visit

your feeder on count day as long as you have made prior arrangement with the count compiler.

Check out the sign-up link above during the sign-up season for information on how to contact the compiler.

Reconnect with Nature this Holiday Season at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is Audubon’s gem in the Western Everglades.

A leisurely stroll on our boardwalk through the ancient forest of bald cypress trees is an unforgettable, awe-inspiring experience for the whole family.

The Visitors Center is located just east of Naples in beautiful southwest Florida.

Join us this winter to celebrate the season and reconnect with the birds and wildlife that make our state so special.

We have a thriving program of events and activities for our you to enjoy. 

Please take a moment to click through Corkscrew’s 2016 Annual Update below to learn about our history, mission, and upcoming programs.

We hope to welcome you soon!

For more information visit http://corkscrew.audubon.org

The Wrack Line – the e-newsletter of the Florida Shorebird Alliance (FSA).

The new year’s issue of the Wrack Line newsletter is now online: http://flshorebirdalliance.org/field-notes.aspx?category=1112

This issue contains information on upcoming winter shorebird surveys, as well as details on the Migratory Bird Treaty Centennial celebrated this coming year.

Of Interest to All

South Florida cast as hub of marine research

An effort is growing to brand South Florida as a national hub of marine research, a move that could mean millions of dollars for the region, supporters say.

The goal is to spotlight the wealth of research that universities are doing on coral reefs, sharks, wind currents, fish farming and other marine issues – research that gets scant notice nationally.

Building South Florida’s reputation for marine research could attract more scientists, money and marine businesses, supporters say.

Phil Purcell, who runs the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, came up with concept, sparked in part by hearing that some yacht owners were giving donations for marine research around the world.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, for instance, recently gave $4 million to a global shark census that use baited undersea video cameras and involves Florida International University.

Purcell recognized the work underway at South Florida’s universities and also knew how the region benefits from its branding as the “Yachting Capital of the World.”

Purcell figured a campaign that markets South Florida as a marine research hub could raise the area’s profile to attract more funds from yacht owners, philanthropists and others. The timing seemed right because of growing interest in such marine threats as pollution and flooding and in new marine opportunities like making medicines from snails.

Purcell approached Bob Swindell, CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, Broward County’s economic development group. Swindell saw parallels with growing efforts to market South Florida as a center for bio-technology and life sciences and as a technology hub for the Americas.

He saw the potential, too, to boost marine businesses and jobs. After all, healthy oceans and coasts are vital to tourism and real estate development, key economic drivers in South Florida.

Swindell offered to coordinate a summit in the spring to bring together university researchers, economic development groups, the boating industry and others. The group will try get a handle on what local universities are doing, how to boost collaboration and how to fill gaps to promote the area as a marine research hub.

“The sum of the parts has a lot more impact than the individual universities,” said Swindell. “And philanthropists and taxpayers don’t like to see a lot of redundancy and duplication of efforts.”

Scientists say South Florida differs from other marine research hubs in the U.S. such as Woods Hole in Massachusetts or Scripps and Monterey in California, because the region hosts the world’s third largest coral reef system and sits on the warm and swift Gulf Stream current in the Atlantic Ocean.

Yet South Florida’s research prowess could be better known – even among boaters and marine lovers.

Ask entrepreneur Manny Medina, the architect behind efforts to develop South Florida as the tech hub of the Americas. He recently gave $1.2 million for FIU to take over operations of the world’s only undersea research laboratory some five miles off Key Largo in the Florida Keys.

Medina grew up on the water in Cuba, then in the Florida Keys and other parts of South Florida and loves scuba diving, fishing, boating and other marine sports. “I have saltwater in my veins,” he joked.

Even so, it took a friend to introduce him a few years back to the Aquarius lab, as it was set to close.

“I’d never heard of it,” Medina said. “I went down and couldn’t believe that we had this incredible underwater habitat where scientists can stay for 30 days without re-surfacing.”

Medina said he approached FIU to add the lab 62 feet under the sea to its marine research portfolio. Jacques Cousteau’s grandson Fabien spent 31 days last year living at the Medina Aquarius lab more than 60 feet under the sea.

Medina calls Purcell’s proposal a “terrific idea,” even if only to boost collaboration among universities. Marine research in South Florida “can definitely use more exposure and coordination.”

Also enthusiastic about the concept is Mike Heithaus, dean of FIU’s College of Arts and Sciences and founding executive director of the School of Environment, Arts and Society – or SEAS. He worked with Medina to bring Aquarius lab to FIU and calls branding key “to attract outside interest and investment.”

Investment and funding remain serious challenges for research, Heithaus and other university leaders agree. The recession that began in December 2007 put a crimp on government outlays. Some schools have sustained research budgets only with help from money paid out by oil giant BP after its massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In South Florida, the University of Miami commands the largest marine research budget – typically around $50 million per year, said Roni Avissar, dean of UM’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. The Rosenstiel school has roughly 400 undergraduate and 300 graduate students, 200 post-doctoral researchers and 75 faculty, Avissar said.

“It’s super important that we are a research, education and outreach hub, because we are at the front line of whatever is going to happen with climate, weather and the marine ecosystem,” said Avissar of South Florida. Flooding, rising seas, hurricanes and depleted fisheries all could upend the region’s economy.

UM focuses its marine research in four areas: understanding and predicting hurricanes; marine conservation, including coral and sharks; ocean exploration; and marine bio-medicine, including studies that use marine organisms to help people with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Nova Southeastern University, known for work on coral reefs and fisheries, spends roughly $10 million to $15 million per year on marine research, said Richard Dodge, dean at Nova’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography and executive director at its National Coral Reef Institute.

That budget seems small, compared with the economic impact of coral reefs, said Dodge. Studies in 2000 and 2004 estimated that reefs along southeast Florida generated about $6 billion of economic activity and supported 71,000 jobs in areas that include boating, diving and fishing. The impact probably is greater now, he said.

The Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce, started 45 years ago as a private foundation, joined Florida Atlantic University in 2007 to access more diverse funding. It now operates with a budget of about $20 million, supported partly by the state university, said interim director Megan Davis.

While Florida already has a consortium of marine research groups, Davis sees potential for a marketing push to raise public awareness and mobilize more funding, especially as entrepreneurs turn to philanthropy.

“We have a lot of very important philanthropists who are looking for ways to fund the environment and need to know where they can put their dollars,” said Davis. “This could give them a road map.”

dhemlock@sunsentinel.com

Calls to Action

  1. Stop the giveaway of our national forests – here
  2. Don’t test GMO food on humans – here
  3. Stop the largest crude oil-by-rail terminal ever proposed in North America. – here 

Birds and Butterflies

Hope for One of the Most Endangered Birds in the United States

The Florida Grasshopper Sparrow (FGSP) is one of the most endangered birds in the continental United States. But thanks to efforts by Audubon, wildlife agencies and allies, hope may be on the horizon.

The strongholds for FGSP populations have been on three publicly-owned properties, but the populations on two of the properties have almost disappeared. The Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area still holds about 55 singing males and about 25 singing FGSP were found on a private ranch. Sadly, that may be all that remain in the wild.

Partly through extensive outreach by Audubon Florida, including a high-profile Audubon magazine article in 2013, the plight of this bird has been recognized and myriad actions are underway.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is doing intensive research on the Three Lakes population. That work is in cooperation with universities, private research centers, and Audubon, and includes work on the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, Avon Park Air Force Range, and private land.

This year, for the first time ever, researchers brought seven FGSP into captivity for breeding.

Audubon’s Dr. Paul Gray works with the Grasshopper Sparrow Working Group has extensive input on these efforts.

Dr. Gray led a sub-committee that developed protocols for law enforcement to deal with potential predatory visitors (e.g., unscrupulous photographers or tour leaders). Dr. Gray also administers Audubon’s Ordway-Whittell trust fund that funded three sparrow technicians at the Kissimmee Prairie in 2015.

Dedication to this bird is the latest chapter of Audubon’s work on the prairies, dating to the 1930s.

From Audubon Florida Naturalist annual report

Join the Annual Christmas Bird Count

The South Florida Water Management District, along with Hendry-Glades Audubon Society, is participating in the 116th Christmas Bird Count at Stormwater Treatment Area 5/6 (STA-5/6) in Hendry County. STAs are the water-cleaning workhorses of Everglades restoration and attract large numbers of birds.

Last year’s bird count documented 124 avian species and more than 38,000 individual birds. Data collected during the annual bird counts-which span North America and beyond during the weeks surrounding Christmas-are critical to studies of the long-term health and status of bird populations.

The event begins at 7 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 2. If you’re interested in participating, please RSVP to Margaret England, Hendry-Glades Audubon Society, at (863) 517-0202 or email sta5birding@embarqmail.com.

Click here for a map and written directions.

Bird habitat changing quickly as climate change proceeds

The climatic conditions needed by 285 species of land birds in the United States have moved rapidly between 1950 and 2011 as a result of climate change, according to a recent paper published in Global Change Biology.

“Our goal was to look at the climate where these birds were observed breeding over this period and determine where that ‘sweet spot’ was moving as the climate changed in this period,” says first author Brooke Bateman, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Warming temperatures are the fundamental alteration of climate change, and the researchers saw the expected northward expansion of suitable conditions, Bateman says, but also a considerable expansion to the west. Unexpectedly, the southern borders of suitable conditions did not, in general, move north, perhaps because a remnant population had not yet left that area.

In general, the southern plains and lower Midwest faced the greatest decline in ideal climate conditions, while the Dakotas, mid-Atlantic and Pacific Coast showed the greatest increase.

The study, the largest examination of the velocity of climate change for birds in the United States in the recent past, began by combining detailed weather records for the lower 48 states with data on the location of bird occurrences from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. The researchers cross-referenced those data, creating a computer model of where the birds nest, in terms of climate factors like average and extreme temperature and precipitation.

In the face of climate change, a suitable climate for birds has been moving, on average, eight tenths of a mile per year-about twice the pace predicted by earlier studies.

The researchers then used the model to predict where the same climate conditions for those birds would be located in 2011, reflecting the ensuing changes in climate. Finally, using data from the 2011 North American Breeding Bird Survey, they checked their work.

The results show that in the face of climate change, a suitable climate for birds has been moving, on average, eight tenths of a mile per year-about twice the pace predicted by earlier studies.

To make sense of their data, the researchers lumped bird species into guilds-groups based on shared factors like diet, foraging location and migration habits. Hospitable climate moved relatively fast for short- or long-distance migrants, carnivores, insect eaters, and birds that foraged in the air or the canopy of trees. Slow-moving guilds included permanent residents, herbivores, omnivores, hummingbirds and birds that forage on tree bark, such as woodpeckers.

Continue reading at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

http://www.enn.com/top_stories/article/49243 

Related articles:

 

Florida Panthers

A whisker away from extinction ‏

At the start of 2015 only about 180 Florida panthers were left. This year 40 Florida panthers were killed, a record high. This is on top of a previous record of deaths in 2014. Florida panther deaths are more than double the birth rate.

You can help the Conservancy of Southwest Florida reverse this trend. In 2016, the few remaining Florida panthers need your help. Save this Florida icon by donating toward the Conservancy Annual Fund Drive today!

The major causes of panther deaths are vehicle accidents and territorial disputes, both tied to shrinking habitat. We cannot let this continue in 2016.

With your support we will do so by:

Pursuing sound science-based policy work to promote smart growth alternatives to poorly planned development targeting primary panther habitat;

Funding our innovative program that reimburses those who suffer animal losses from Florida panther predation and helps to pay for well-designed animal enclosures to prevent further losses;

Supporting state and federal representatives’ recent effort to once again designate portions of Southwest Florida with a Critical Habitat Designation to further protect the Florida panther.

With 2016 right around the corner, don’t let this window of opportunity to save the Florida panther slip away. 

Robert J. Moher|President and CEO|Conservancy of Southwest Florida|12/23/15

Good News for Florida Panthers as Audubon Continues Advocacy on Their Behalf

Audubon is committed to the recovery of the Florida panther, where less than 200 individuals remain in the wild. Throughout 2015, staff and volunteers advocated on behalf of these great cats and the habitat they need for recovery.

In January, Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet approved the purchase of 619 acres of panther habitat in the Western Everglades. The property was previously slated for home development and has been an Audubon priority for many years. Known as the Gargiulo tract, the land offers significant restoration opportunities and will enhance nearby wildlife habitat value.

Unfortunately, over the summer, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released a policy statement to re-prioritize state resources for panther recovery. The proposed plan would have negatively affected collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
(Service) on expanding panthers’ breeding range, an essential part of recovery.

In response to objections from Audubon and others, Commissioners revised the policy statement in a positive way.

In other advances, Service Director Dan Ashe committed to increasing their resources for panther recovery efforts. That includes advancing an Audubon-supported strategy to incentivize and collaborate with ranchers and large landowners to manage their land for panthers.

Such financial incentives, along with smart land use planning and public education,are widely considered key to rural communities accepting a wide-ranging carnivore throughout the cat’s former southeastern United States range.

Another good sign along the road to panther recovery is the Florida Department of Transportation’s recent commitment to extend wildlife protection fencing and underpasses on Alligator Alley for an additional 18 miles.

From Audubon Florida Naturalist annual report

Florida Panther Habitat Needed, Congressman Insists

Pointing to an incident over the weekend in which a Florida panther was killed by a vehicle, U.S. Rep Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., doubled down on his call for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to designate a “critical habitat” for the official animal of the Sunshine State. 

“Each year, the Florida panther population continues to shrink in size as more big cats are hit and killed by cars because they lack a safe habitat,” Buchanan said on Monday. “Although these panthers are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, they face extinction because they have no protected area to live and repopulate.”

“We should not stand by and do nothing as yet another endangered species is wiped off the earth,” Buchanan added. “We don’t get a second chance once a species becomes extinct.”

Earlier this month, members of the Florida congressional delegation urged President Barack Obama to add more protection for Florida panthers, calling on him to create a critical habitat designation for the Florida panther. In 1967, the Florida panther was one of 14 mammals included in the launch of the Endangered Species Act. 

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., led the letter which was also signed by Buchanan, fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Curt Clawson and Democratic U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Patrick Murphy, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson. 

“The Florida panther is one of the most endangered species in the world as less than 180 of them survive today,” the representatives wrote Obama. “As you know, the two greatest threats to the Florida panther are the loss of habitat and automobile-related deaths, both of which are caused by increased development in environmentally sensitive areas.  The best available science suggests that current lands in conservation do not provide enough suitable habitat area to support even the limited number of existing panthers.  Further, on November 28th, two more panthers were killed by cars.

“As members of the Florida delegation, we are writing to request your support in establishing a critical habitat designation for the endangered Florida panther,” they added. “The Florida panther was listed as an endangered species in 1973, but critical habitat has never been established, even though the Endangered Species Act includes a requirement for the designation of critical habitat for endangered species. In other words, the Florida panther is protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, unfortunately its home is not. 

“It is of great importance to designate a critical habitat not only because it would preserve and encourage the growth of the current population of Florida panthers, but also because it would help to protect other valuable environmental resources, such as wetlands, aquifer-recharge areas, drinking water supplies and the habitat of other endangered species,” the representatives wrote. “At the top of the food chain, Florida panthers help keep feral hog numbers in check and deer, raccoon and other prey populations balanced and healthy.  Moreover, a designation of critical habitat does not mean that no further development is allowed in an area, it simply requires additional review when projects requiring federal permits would impact habitats considered essential to preventing the Florida panther from going extinct.

“We urge you to ensure the continued existence of the Florida panther and the preservation of Southwest Florida’s natural resources and unique character by supporting the designation of critical habitat for the endangered Florida panther,” they wrote in conclusion. “Thank you for your time and consideration.  The decision to take action now will provide a historic opportunity for protecting the Earth’s most endangered ‘umbrella species’ – the Florida panther.”

FWS is in charge of critical habitats and, on its website, defines the role of development in those areas. 

“A critical habitat designation does not necessarily restrict further development,” the FWS noted. “It is a reminder to federal agencies that they must make special efforts to protect the important characteristics of these areas.

“Only activities that involve a federal permit, license, or funding, and are likely to destroy or adversely modify the area of critical habitat will be affected,” the FWS added. “If this is the case, the Service will work with the federal agency and, where appropriate, private or other landowners to amend their project to allow it to proceed without adversely affecting the critical habitat. Thus, most federal projects are likely to go forward, but some will be modified to minimize harm to critical habitat.”

Back in 2013, there were 160 Florida panthers in the wild but current estimates have it as high as 180. As low as that number is, it was far worse in the 1970s when the population dropped to around 20. 

Kevin Derby|December 28, 2015

[I’d love to see it happen, I’m hopeful, but I’m doubtful.]

Endangered Species

We’re calling for a nationwide ban on bee-killing pesticides

A just-released study confirms that the U.S. bee population has crashed by 23 percent in just 7 years. We’re demanding a nationwide ban on bee-killing pesticides in 2016.

Worse yet, the biggest hot spots for bee die-offs are in farming areas where bees are most needed to pollinate crops, like apples, blueberries and peaches.

The bottom line is simple: No bees, no food. That’s why we’ll be fighting harder than ever to save the bees in 2016.

This study from the University of Vermont confirms what we’d long suspected—that the nationwide bee die-off is threatening the food supply we all rely on.

While past studies have found bee population declines, but this is the first time researchers have been able to map the bee die-offs and show that the bees are dying fastest in places where farmers need them most.

Our work to save the bees is making real progress. Public awareness of the threat to bees has never been higher, and Home Depot just committed to stop selling plants treated with bee-killing pesticides.

But to stop this nationwide bee die-off and protect many of the foods we love the most, we need to ban the use of bee-killing pesticides once and for all.

Margie Alt|Executive Director| Environment America|12/30/15

Everglades

Gayle Harrell, Joe Negron file legislation to pump $200 million into Everglades restoration

State Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, and incoming Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart filed bills Thursday to funnel $200 million annually to restore the Florida Everglades and nearby waterways.

The bills, HB 989/SB 1168, would set aside funding from voter-approved Amendment 1 funds from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund towards Legacy Florida, a $200 million a year project to clean up the Florida Everglades and associated waterways in the South Florida Area.

Negron filed companion legislation in the Senate and state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, will cosponsor the bill.

According to a press release from Harrell’s office, the funding is key to completing projects included in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, which provides a plan to restore the Everglades as well as giving a foundation for protecting and preserving the water resources in central and southern Florida, which make up over 18,000 square miles in the Sunshine State.

“Cleaning up the St. Lucie River, Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River, the Indian River Lagoon and the Everglades has been a priority for me since I was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives,” Harrell said. “The future of our way of life is linked directly to the health of our rivers, the Indian River Lagoon, Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. ‘Legacy Florida’ will provide the resources to make it possible for our children and grandchildren to enjoy these natural treasures.”

Under the legislation, the South Florida Water Management District will receive a significant portion of the funds. From the $200 million, $32 million will be distributed each fiscal year through the 2023-2024 fiscal year to the SFWMD.

The Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District will give preference to Everglades restoration projects that reduce harmful discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie or Caloosahatchee estuaries.

Legacy Florida has already gathered widespread support from many environmental groups like the Everglades Foundation, which said the legislation was not only good for restoring the environment, but for providing jobs in the Sunshine State.

“As an economic engine for the State of Florida and an important source of drinking water for Floridians and tourists alike, this bill is a sound investment in Florida’s future,” said the Everglades Foundation in a statement. “In fact, restoration projects, like the ones that this funding will go toward, create a significant amount of jobs for the state.”

The proposal will be considered during the 2016 regular legislative session, which begins next month. If approved, the law would go into effect July 1, 2016.

Allison Nielsen|Sunshine State News

Lake O Dike Repairs

The Herbert Hoover Dike (HHD), surrounding Lake Okeechobee, is currently recognized as requiring urgent repairs to minimize risks to public safety and to provide a tolerable level of economic, societal and environmental security in the region. The objective of the HHD Dam Safety Modification Study (DSMS) and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is to identify and recommend a cost effective alternative risk management plan (RMP) that supports the expeditious reduction of risk from a breach of HHD.

While the primary purpose of the remediation of HHD is to reduce risk to public safety, objectives of the project also include lowering the probability of experiencing a breach and incurring impacts on ecological, cultural and aesthetic resources and the everglades resulting from a breach. If a breach were to occur, both federally and state listed species, and habitats directly on the dike and within the path of the water due to a breach would be negatively impacted. Snail kite critical habitat in the southern portion of HHD could be negatively impacted due to lower lake levels. Further, if a breach were to occur along the southern perimeter of HHD, flooding would occur within the EAA and further south, through the Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) and eventually to Everglades National Park, negatively impacting species due to loss of foraging and nesting habitat. If a breach were to occur along the northern perimeter of HHD, flooding would be more localized due to the topography of the area; however, minimal effects would occur.

Alternatives

The Corps analyzed 11 alternatives for the HHD Dam Safety Modification Study (see Section 2 for more detailed description and figures). This Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) analyzes the environmental effects of (1)the No-Action Alternative; and (2) four alternatives with various cutoff wall locations and depths, and downstream armoring and floodwalls in select areas of low crest elevation (one of which has been selected as the TSP). In accordance with ER-1105-100, the socioeconomic impacts of the alternatives must be considered in plan formulation and evaluation. Typically, economic impacts are measured by National Economic Development (NED). In the case of the HHD DSMS, NED impacts are measured as reduced economic risk. Changes in economic risk are documented in Section 4 of the main report.

http://cdm16021.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16021coll7/id/2431

The comment period will be open for 60 days, until February 23.  The Corps is planning public meetings for Jan. 26-28 in Canal Point, Clewiston, and Okeechobee.  The Corps will provide additional information on the meetings when locations are confirmed. 

. For more information on Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation, visit the Jacksonville District website at http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/LakeOkeechobee/HerbertHooverDike.aspx.

Officials Break Ground to Commence Construction of Major Everglades Restoration Reservoir

South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board Vice-Chair Kevin Powers joined federal, state and local officials Nov. 20 to break ground to celebrate the start of construction for the reservoir component of the St. Lucie River (C-44) Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area (STA) project near Indiantown.

“As a Florida native and a longtime resident of the Treasure Coast, I am proud of the state’s significant contribution and the continued endeavors of the South Florida Water Management District in building this project,” Powers said. “The C-44 project will be one of the greatest steps forward in a generation for the quality of the water in the St. Lucie Estuary and the quality of life for all its residents, people and wildlife.”

Part of the larger Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan Indian River Lagoon – South Phase 1 Project, the C-44 Reservoir and STA will provide storage and water quality treatment, resulting in direct benefits to the St. Lucie Estuary and the Indian River Lagoon.

The SFWMD is expediting construction of the STA, discharge system and pump station components of the project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the project intake canal and access road, and is building the reservoir component.

For more project information and to view today’s construction progress, visit www.sfwmd.gov/c44cam.

A 20-Year Commitment to Everglades Restoration

Governor Scott has proposed an ambitious plan for funding the restoration and protection of Florida’s Everglades over the next 20 years. The Governor’s 2016-17 budget proposes a dedicated, ongoing source of revenue for Everglades restoration that will continue Florida’s job growth and eliminate the “stops and starts” that have repeatedly impeded Everglades restoration progress in the past. Establishment of a consistent, long-term revenue stream provides for steady progress in planning, design and construction of restoration projects.

Further, a long-term vision and dedicated funding source recognizes the international significance of Everglades restoration and its importance to Florida’s economy and the quality of life for millions of Florida residents.

20-Years of Dedicated Funding:

The Governor has proposed $5 billion in state funding for Everglades restoration over the next 20 years. The total proposed funding (state & federal) for implementing the 20-year plan is $9 billion. This includes $4 billion in anticipated matching federal funds for restoration projects cost-shared between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District.

Environmental Benefits of Dedicated Funding:

Implementation of the Governor’s 20-year funding plan will provide significant environmental benefits through construction of water storage reservoirs; aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) systems; stormwater treatment areas; wetland restoration; and infrastructure improvements. When completed, these projects will deliver critical benefits across the entire South Florida ecosystem:

• Creation of Water Storage to capture and store 1 million acre-feet (330 billion gallons) of fresh water during wet periods, much of which is currently discharged to tide. Additional storage will significantly decrease the frequency and intensity of harmful freshwater discharges to the estuaries.

• Reduction of Nutrients, including a significant reduction in phosphorus and nitrogen loads to Lake Okeechobee, Caloosahatchee Estuary, St. Lucie Estuary and into the Everglades. Overall reduction in phosphorus loads to the South Florida ecosystem is 252 metric tons per year.

• Restoration of More Natural Water Flows from the northern Everglades through Lake Okeechobee and to the southern Everglades, with more natural sheetflow of water into Florida Bay, Biscayne Bay and the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Area.

• Increase in Water Supply for environmental, agriculture, municipal and Tribal uses.

• Reduction in the Impacts of Sea Level Rise by increasing flows into the southern estuaries. This will mitigate saltwater intrusion into South Florida’s porous aquifer and its drinking water supplies.

Step One – A Four-Year Work Plan:

Governor Scott has proposed a Four-Year Work Plan that will provide substantial benefits in the near-term by making important progress on the state’s Restoration Strategies program and key Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan projects.

Benefits provided after the first four years of implementation include:

• Creation of Water Storage to capture and store more than 412,000 acre-feet (134 billion gallons) of fresh water during wet periods to reduce the frequency and intensity of harmful freshwater discharges to the northern estuaries.

• Reduction of Nutrients, including an 84 metric tons per year reduction in phosphorus loading to Lake Okeechobee, Caloosahatchee Estuary, St. Lucie
Estuary and the Everglades

http://my.sfwmd.gov/portal/pls/portal/docs/17566022.PDF

Water Quality Issues

FLORIDA SPRINGS AND AQUIFER PROTECTION ACT: New water protection rules could affect Volusia, Flagler waterways

Lawmakers could pass changes that affect local springs, lagoon

Florida legislators are poised to pass sweeping changes to rules governing the state’s water quality and quantity in January. Depending on who you ask, the legislation could be either the greatest in 40 years or the worst.

The bill is one of several initiatives taking shape that could influence Florida’s waterways and aquifers for years to come. Restoration and protection projects are planned for Florida’s springs, including Blue Spring in Orange City and Gemini Springs in DeBary.

Efforts also are underway to restore water quality in the Indian River Lagoon system, including Mosquito Lagoon. Lagoon advocates say it couldn’t come too soon, with a troublesome brown algal species blooming reappearing in Mosquito Lagoon in recent weeks.

In Flagler, local and state officials are working to get projects funded to address water quality at Pellicer Creek and Matanzas Inlet.

The biggest action in the coming weeks could be the 134-page Senate Bill 552. It has cleared all the committees in both houses and should be adopted the first week of the Legislative session, which starts January 12, said Senator David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, a key sponsor. 

Simmons calls it a “landmark piece of legislation that sets the stage for protection of our most precious part of the environment, our water.”

Read more

Dinah Voyles Pulver|news-jrnl.com|December 26, 2015

President Obama signs law banning microbeads

(CBS News)- Environmental activists are applauding a new law signed by President Obama this week outlawing microbeads that are used in personal care products. The bill is known as the Microbead-Free Waters Act, and it passed Congress with bipartisan support, reports CBS News correspondent DeMarco Morgan.

Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic found in many health and beauty products including soap, body scrub and toothpaste. They are generally used to exfoliate or add polish. No bigger than a grain of salt, these microplastics are a big concern for environmental scientists. They say the tiny particles are a harmful source of ocean and lake pollution.

“We now know the fish we harvest from our Great Lakes are eating these microbeads. Ends up on your dinner plate. It’s going from your face, right back into your body,” said scientist Marcus Eriksen of the 5 Gyres Institute.

Eriksen and his team study plastic pollution in waters around the world. He’s found microbeads in the San Francisco Bay and in high concentrations in the Great Lakes. Not all water treatment plants are able to filter them out.

“They’re absorbing industrial chemicals, pesticides from farms,” Eriksen said. “Even oil drops from cars will stick to these microplastics and microbeads. At that point they can enter the food chain.”

A single cosmetic product can contain up to 300,000 non-biodegradable microbeads. In September, California banned sales of products containing microbeads. Assembly member Richard Bloom authored the legislation and is thrilled Congress is following California’s lead.

“It’s very significant because you’re going to have 50 states doing the same thing, I have no doubt that it’s going to spread now to other countries and the longer we have these pollutants in the environment the harder it is to take action to effectively clean up after them,” Bloom said.

The law passed surprisingly quickly, but it’s not immediate. The new federal law prohibits the manufacture of products containing microbeads as of July 1, 2017.

winknews.com/2015/12/31

Offshore & Ocean

Beach renourishment begins

BROWARD COUNTY, FL – Some 750,000 cubic yards of sand will soon be distributed along beaches in Pompano Beach, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea and Fort Lauderdale.

The Segment II Broward County Shore Protection project is scheduled to get underway the first week in January. The $55-million project will result in pristine beaches about 75 feet wide and will add sand to areas that haven’t been renourished since 1983. The purpose of the Segment II project is to reconstruct areas of eroded beach and increase storm protection and habitat along the shoreline.

“We have waited a long time for this project to begin. It took a great deal of work, but federal, state, city and county governments came together to finance and design a beach renourishment plan that will restore our shoreline,” said Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca at an informational public meeting that he held for residents interested in the renourishment project.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers just recently approved the Project Partnership Agreement, which will reimburse $30 million, more than half the cost of the overall project, including post monitoring of the new sand. Broward County, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the three cities that are part of the Segment II project will pick up the rest of the cost.

“Our beaches are enjoyed by residents and tourists and they are vital to Broward County’s infrastructure and economy. Tourists spent an estimated $13-billion last year. We hope to keep this permit open, so that we can continue to protect and enhance the shoreline as necessary,” said Commissioner LaMarca.

Trucks will distribute the sand from three access points along the 4.9 mile stretch of beach. The sand is sourced from the Ortona Sand Mine in LaBelle, Florida and will be undergo continuous quality control testing during the project.

The project will be conducted in segments beginning January 4, 2016.  At each access site, 120 trucks will deliver an estimated 2,500 tons of sand six days a week through the duration of the project.

Information and updates on the Broward County Shoreline Segment II Protection Project can be found at www.broward.org/beachrenourishment. Questions about the project can be sent to Nicole Sharp, Broward County Beach Program Manager, at nsharp@broward.org or Greg Ward at gward@broward.org.

Big Oil’s 2016 plans off the Atlantic coast mean torture to endangered right whales

Seismic blasts, used to explore for oil, fire blasts 100x louder than a jet engine. Every ten seconds. For WEEKS at a time.

For endangered right whales with extremely sensitive hearing, each blast inflicts enormous pain, suffering and can even cause death.

Weighing in at a massive 40 tons, right whales almost went extinct. After dipping to below 300, the massive whales now number over 400. Scientists still consider every single living whale critical to the species’ survival.

Now imagine what an airgun that generates sound so loud it penetrates miles into the seafloor will do to a whale born to hear sound clearly underwater.

Help stop Big Oil’s whale-killing plans in 2016: Donate to the Sierra Club and you’ll help:

  • Mobilize wildlife lovers to take action against Big Oil’s plans for offshore drilling
  • Fight Congressional attacks on wildlife and wilderness
  • Launch targeted media outreach in key Congressional districts

We can win against Big Oil in 2016. The same way we won on Keystone this year. And won against Shell in the Arctic. With relentless, disciplined campaigning, applying pressure on the right people, at the right time, until they yield. Your passion, commitment and generosity made all the difference this past year.

What happens next year to the last remnants of our wilderness and wildlife depends on you and what you do right now. Make a sound investment to defend our natural world. I promise you we’ll use every dollar you donate wisely.

Dan Chu|Senior Campaign Director|Our Wild America|Sierra Club

Wildlife and Habitat

Huge Win for Africa’s Wildlife

This sixth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), held Dec. 4–5, marked the first time the illegal ivory trade was featured on the forum’s agenda. Leading up to the forum, the China-Africa Wildlife Conservation Council, an African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and Aspen Institute initiative comprised of Chinese and African civil society leaders and celebrities, worked tirelessly to position wildlife issues as a priority to be included on the traditionally development-focused diplomatic agenda.

“Because the role that China plays in [the FOCAC] agenda is significant and by all accounts game-changing, it has a responsibility as well as an opportunity to help ensure Africa’s elephants, rhinos and other wildlife have a future in the modern Africa rising up before us,” says AWF CEO Dr. Patrick Bergin.

This high-level dialogue is focused on strengthening the collaboration on economic development between China and 50 African countries, and the inclusion of the illegal ivory trade positions wildlife trafficking as a focus of ongoing relations between China and African countries.

> Find out more about the forum

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Establishes First New Critical Wildlife Area in Decades

In November, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted unanimously to establish a new Critical Wildlife Area (CWA) at Second Chance Sandbar in southwest Florida.

The new CWA will close the island to vessel landings during the beach-nesting bird season.

Second Chance Sandbar is part of a shoal system south of Collier County’s Cape Romano. It has supported the region’s largest Least Tern colony in past years, as well as nesting Black Skimmers and Wilson’s Plovers. Least Terns and Black Skimmers are both state Threatened and Wilson’s Plovers are a declining species of growing conservation concern.

Commissioner Liesa Priddy—a southwest Florida resident who has visited the site—was an impassioned advocate for passage.

Commissioner Ron Bergeron also endorsed the protection, saying that he has fished this region since childhood and marveled at its bird wealth.

Chairman Brian Yablonski told the Commissioners that there has only been one other CWA designation in the state in the last twenty years, but to look closely because “we’re going to be seeing more of these.”

Special thanks to Collier County Bird Steward and wildlife photographer Jean Hall for travelling 16 hours round-trip to the meeting in Panama City and to Bay County Audubon co-president Ron Houser for their testimonies on behalf of the designation.

But most of all, congratulations to the staff of Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, FWC and Audubon, and the many volunteers who give their time to protect these special places.

Because of your efforts, Second Chance CWA now has a real chance at success for nesting birds.

From Audubon Florida Naturalist annual report

Forestry

Mangroves are hurting in Florida Bay

In Florida Bay, black mangroves are turning brown — a worrisome condition for one of South Florida’s hardiest trees.

“When you see black mangroves and buttonwoods defoliating in Florida Bay, it’s scary,” Peter Frezza, research manager for Audubon of Florida’s Tavernier Science Center, said Friday.

Frezza and a botanist recently took samples off mangroves in central Florida Bay. The ailing trees are “very prevalent” on small islands in the Calusa Keys and Bob Allen Keys inside Everglades National Park, he said.

Depending on ecosystem conditions, some trees may die. The extent remains uncertain.

The primary suspect of the unusual browning is a lack of fresh water flowing through the Everglades system to reach Florida Bay.

“It’s almost certainly a result of the hyper-salinity and hypoxia [lack of oxygen] in the bay,” Frezza said. “It would be too random for it to be anything else.”

A dry summer caused a spike in the salinity of the bay’s normally brackish waters. That killed environmentally important seagrass over thousands of acres, which in turn increases the chances of a harmful algal bloom. A rare wet December may help prevent a major threat.

“There’s no sign of a serious algal bloom right now,” Frezza said. “But there is no question we need more freshwater flow into Florida Bay, and we’re not seeing it.”

KEVIN WADLOW|keynoter.com|December 19, 2015

10 Case Studies of Community Forestry Enterprises

With the second week of the UN climate talks now underway in Paris, many are underscoring the potential for community forestry to mitigate climate change. The Rainforest Alliance has just released 10 case studies of our work with community forest enterprises (CFE) in Latin America that show how CFEs can effectively conserve forests while improving local livelihoods. Results also highlight how handing over forests to communities must be coupled with long-term support from government, donors, technical assistance agencies and responsible markets if the enterprises are to realize their full potential and keep forests standing.

The case studies, produced with support from the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), cover operations in Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru. Cases profile a range of enterprises: from small cooperatives to the largest CFE in the world, from newly established enterprises to groups that have been active for decades. In addition, both temperate and tropical forests, communities with both permanent land titles and fixed-term leases (“concessions”), and those that produce both timber and non-timber products (like Brazil nuts) are represented in the case studies.

As diverse as the enterprises represented in these case studies are, they consistently demonstrate that:

  • CFEs can be highly profitable, and can contribute significantly to household livelihoods
  • CFEs can conserve forest as well as, or better than, protected areas, and can implement forest management that will sustain timber and NTFP harvesting over the long term
  • CFEs can honor community aims and cultural values while creating new structures, professionalizing management and achieving enterprise competitiveness
  • New markets for lesser-known species and value-added products can be forged by CFEs, and CFEs can deliver quality products to highly demanding markets
  • New loan mechanisms for CFEs can be developed, and CFEs can successfully manage credits
  • CFEs can create significant opportunities for women, especially when they diversify their businesses and build up value-added capacity

18117342186_a0f60c719e_k

Sawn logs at FORESCOM cooperative, founded to enable 11 concessions in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve to collectively process and market wood harvested from their certified forest concessions. Photo: Sergio Izquierdo.

The case studies also provide important information about exactly what kind of support community forestry enterprises need to achieve these positive outcomes, including:

  • A supportive legal and institutional environment
  • Solid social foundations and administration capacities that continue to grow stronger
  • Long-term support through technical assistance, transcending the typical project cycle
  • Links to responsible markets
  • Access to finance tailored to local needs

Taken together, the case studies make clear that when local communities have rights, support, and clear economic incentives to manage forests sustainably, their enterprises can hold back deforestation and create economic opportunities for locals.  In other words, community forestry is a powerful tool to help people and the planet prosper together.

Rainforest Alliance|December 7, 2015 

Global Warming and Climate Change

State ignores climate change

Regional efforts able to go only so far

When Charlie Crist was Florida’s attorney general and preparing to run for governor in 2005, he sat down in a private room at the Biltmore Hotel in Miami with U.S. Sen. John McCain.

The two Republicans talked political campaigns, strategies and endorsements. As Crist was getting ready to leave, Mc-Cain stopped him.

“Charlie, I think there is one more thing you should focus on,” Crist recalled McCain saying.

“What’s that?” Crist asked.

“Climate change,” Mc-Cain answered. “It’s a big deal.”

At the time, Crist said in a recent interview, he didn’t know much about the subject. But the Arizona senator piqued his interest.

LEADING THE WAY

That brief conversation in Miami would result in Florida becoming, however briefly, a pioneer in grappling with the effects of climate change, such as flooding and freshwater drinking supplies contaminated with saltwater. After Crist was elected governor, he convened a summit, appointed a task force and helped usher in new laws intended to address a future of climate change and rising sea levels. Crist and the Florida Legislature set goals to reduce emissions back to 1990 levels.

The effort didn’t last, and in a short amount of time, the state with the most to lose from a warming planet became a symbol of the polarized debate surrounding climate change.

Earlier this year, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that after Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011, state agencies told employees not to use the terms “climate change” or “global warming” in official correspondence. Emails warned staff and contractors to stay away from the terms. Environmental reports stopped including the words “climate change.” One state official even refused to say those words during a committee hearing. With no leadership from Tallahassee, the burden of dealing with climate change shifted to municipalities, where today the majority of the work to address the effects of global warming is being performed. The success of these local programs represents a dramatic reversal, elevating Florida back to its pioneering status in confronting a changed world. In April, President Barack Obama called a four-county collaboration on climate change in South Florida a “model” for the country.

Still, reversing course on confronting climate change has cost Florida valuable time the state needs to face a threat scientists and urban planners say is inevitable.

“If we had not seen those priorities shift, we would be in a very different place,” said Jennifer Jurado, director of Broward County’s Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division task force.

When Crist resolved to act on climate change a decade ago, it was a different political era.

“There wasn’t as much resistance to focusing on the environment as there is today,” Crist said.

In 2007, his first year in office, Crist convened a national climate change summit in Miami. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a fellow Republican, attended. Crist created the Governor’s Action Team on Energy and Climate Change. The task force, in turn, canvassed research by the state’s universities and presented a series of recommendations.

“Back then, Republicans in the (state) House and Senate, while not really enthusiastic, well, it didn’t really bother them,” Crist recalled. “So it wasn’t that heavy a lift initially.”

In fact, Crist was working with Schwarzenegger and another Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, to create an alliance of moderate Republicans concerned about climate change.

Florida was at climate change forefront. The Crist administration was moving forward with ambitious legislation.

Crist signed an executive order that would reduce Florida’s greenhouse gas emissions from cars and industry so that by 2015 the state would be at 2000 levels and by 2025 at 1990 levels. Crist’s executive order also mandated that statewide building codes seek a 15 percent energy-efficiency increase.

Meanwhile, Crist’s task force proposed “market-based solutions” to reduce greenhouse gases — specifically cap-and-trade, which limits the emissions companies are allowed but creates a marketplace through which they can buy or trade to go over the limit.

The task force’s next step was to turn those recommendations into law, and its members needed a sponsor in the House. They found one in Rep. Stan Mayfield, a Republican from Vero Beach. Mayfield was sick with cancer at the time. Nonetheless, he became an ardent champion of the bill.

“Stan was critical, being a Republican and in leadership. That was a big boost,” Crist said. “He really put his heart and soul into this.”

In June 2008, House Bill 7135 was signed into law, making Florida “among the forefront of state-level climate actions at the time,” said Steve Adams, director of strategic initiatives for the Washington, D.C.- and Vermont based Institute for Sustainable Communities, a nonpartisan international nonprofit. At the time, Adams served as an energy and policy adviser to Crist.

“For a brief shining moment there, it seemed like there was a way forward,” Adams said.

In May 2009, Crist announced he would not to run for re-election to seek an open U.S. Senate seat. Rick Scott, a businessman, was elected governor in 2010. Scott won with a self-funded campaign. Crist ran against Republican Marco Rubio and lost.

Scott took office in January 2011 when the country and state were mired in recession. Dealing with climate change was not on his agenda. Instead, Scott focused on slashing the government workforce and creating tax rebates to lure businesses to the state.

Not only were the Scott administration and the Republican- controlled Legislature not interested in dealing with climate change, but they worked to roll back the laws passed during Crist’s term in office.

HB 7135 and its Senate companion were chipped away at over the next two years, according to those who worked on the bill and a review by FCIR of the amendments that undermined it.

In 2011, Sen. Alan Hays, a Republican from Umatilla, sponsored legislation to repeal the cap-and-trade program in the law. A Climate Change Commission charged with implementing the new laws was disbanded and its powers transferred to the Department of Agriculture, where it now is called the Office of Energy.

By 2012, most of the key provisions ofHB7135 had been rolled back. In 2014, Crist, switching to the Democratic Party, challenged Scott for governor and lost.

Among those with an early sense that the state could not be relied on to combat the problem fast enough were representatives from some of Florida’s most populous and at-risk counties.

In 2009, county commissioners and representatives from Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties traveled to Washington, D.C., to talk to federal officials about the need to address the effects of climate change now. They were already dealing with street flooding and saltwater intrusion, they told federal officials.

“We agreed it would be beneficial to work regionally,” said Nichole Hefty, chief of Miami-Dade’s Office of Sustainability.

In 2010, those four counties, which together make up 30 percent of the state’s population, formed the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact. The partnership, formed with bipartisan support, shares knowledge and resources to plan for a changing world.

“We decided when we formed the compact that neither the state nor the federal government were moving fast enough,” Hefty said.

The four-county compact was having success addressing community issues related to the warming planet.

With millions in federal stimulus grant money, the collaboration established offices to study energy efficiencies and conservation, the impact of changes and a host of other issues. They coordinated their projections on what sea-level rise would look like in each neighborhood and worked with the county departments to protect public infrastructure, such as those that provide water and sewer services.

They also established greenhouse gas reduction goals for each of their communities.

Members of the compact are monitoring a host of complex threats they anticipate. Increased flooding could put humans into contact with bacteria, for instance. A warmer climate might become more hospitable to diseases.

“We’re looking at how weather is changing,” Hefty said. “The probability of more extreme events, hurricanes, precipitation — less frequent but heavier — and drought.”

The compact’s work is recognized as groundbreaking. There are seven regional climate change collaboratives in the United States today. Five of them are in California.

“Florida is, in many respects, the most advanced, most well-known and admired,” said Adams of the Institute for Sustainable Communities.

Yet the counties can do only so much by themselves, said Jurado, Broward’s liaison to the compact. More involvement from the state and the governor is needed.

“There are many planning and management responsibilities at the state level that are not happening,” she said.

Water conservation funding has been dramatically cut, and state energy-efficiency goals have been eliminated. The state is not offering rebates for solar energy. There is a lack of coordinated investment on the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. And there still is not enough investment being made to grapple with saltwater intrusion into Florida’s freshwater supplies.

“Those activities should be aligned at state and local levels,” Jurado said. Climate change is “not a jointly held conversation.”

The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting is a nonprofit news organization supported by foundations and individual contributions. For more information, see fcir.org.

Not only were the Scott administration and the Republican-controlled Legislature not interested in dealing with climate change, but they worked to roll back the laws passed during Crist’s term in office.

Tristram Korten|Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

GROUNDWATER DEPLETION ADDING TO SEA-LEVEL RISE

What’s pumped from aquifers largely ends up in oceans

PALM SPRINGS , CALIF. Increasing amounts of water are being depleted from the world’s aquifers, and scientists have estimated that a large portion of the water ends up flowing into the oceans.

So much groundwater is being pumped from wells that researchers say it is contributing significantly to global sea-level rise.

Hydrologists Yoshihide Wada and Marc Bierkens have calculated estimates of the amounts of groundwater depleted annually since 1900, and their findings are striking. When plotted on a chart, their figures show depletion occurring at an accelerating pace.

The quickening rate of global depletion adds an alarming dimension to scientists’ findings, based on satellite measurements that reveal widespread declines in aquifers around the world. And as that water flows off the continents, it is adding to the problem of rising seas as glaciers and ice sheets melt amid global warming.

“If we want to understand current sea-level rise, which we need to understand to better predict future sea-level rise, we have to take account of this groundwater contribution,” said Bierkens, a professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands who is also affiliated with the Deltares institute.

Wada, a research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, said the world’s demand for water has grown significantly in the past 15 years as the global population has swelled. More water is being used to produce food, and much of that water is being pumped from aquifers.

Climate has also played a role in places like California, where drought has led farmers to pump groundwater more heavily to make up for the lack of surface water.

As water is pumped from wells, some of it is taken up by crops or piped to cities. Some evaporates and ends up in the clouds. In places, some of the water soaks back into the ground and replenishes aquifers. But scientists have calculated that much of the groundwater winds up in rivers and, ultimately, oceans.

Bierkens and Wada estimated that in 1960, the amounts of groundwater depleted each year contributed between 0.09 and 0.27 millimeters to sea-level rise. By 1990, that had grown to 0.25-0.54millimeters per year. And in 2014, they estimated, groundwater depletion was causing 0.41 to 0.89 millimeters of sea-level rise each year.

Researchers have produced varying estimates, with groundwater depletion accounting for between 10 percent and 30 percent of annual sea-level rise in recent years. Bierkens and Wada came down in the middle at roughly 20 percent in a 2012 research paper.

That makes groundwater a small yet significant chunk of the projected rise in the world’s oceans, which threatens to swamp many low-lying islands and inundate coastal cities in places in the United States and elsewhere.

Using a range of scenarios, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has projected that the seas could rise by between 1foot and slightly more than 3 feet by 2100. Other researchers have warned that the oceans could rise faster.

Because groundwater pumping isn’t well monitored or measured in most places, scientific estimates of depletion are calculated based on limited available data. That includes recorded declines in groundwater levels when that information is available. In many places, though, measurements of changes in water levels aren’t publicly shared or are only partially released, complicating the work of researchers.

In a 2011 study, Leonard Konikow of the U.S. Geological Survey calculated that groundwater depletion accounted for about 6 percent of sea-level rise in the 20th century. But he estimated that share grew to 13 percent from 2000 to 2008

Ian James|The Palm Springs, Calif. Desert Sun

Scientists say we could be underestimating Arctic methane emissions

BARROW, AK – A new study examined methane emissions at sites on Alaska’s North Slope, south of Barrow, and found that cold-season emissions make up a significant portion of the methane emitted from the Arctic throughout the year. This is a fact not reflected in current climate models. (Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

Arctic permafrost has become a recent star in the climate change conversation, capturing the attention of scientists, activists and policymakers alike because of its ability to emit large quantities of carbon dioxide as well as methane — a particularly potent though relatively short-lived greenhouse gas — when it thaws. As temperatures rise in the Arctic, scientists are increasingly concerned that permafrost will become a major contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions driving global warming.

Studies of permafrost emissions are important in both estimating current levels of greenhouse gas emissions and making predictions for the future. So far, most studies have focused on the way permafrost behaves in the summer, when Arctic temperatures are at their highest. But a new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says we’ve been overlooking the importance of cold-season emissions of methane gas in particular — and possibly underestimating their impact in the future.

“The cold period in general is the time of the year that is warming the fastest in these Arctic ecosystems,” said the new study’s lead author Donatella Zona, an assistant professor at San Diego State University and research fellow at the University of Sheffield.

Until recently, scientists have known very little about how much methane is released by permafrost during the cold winter months, she said. But she noted, “Really, if we’re thinking about the future of climate change, we need to understand if this time of the year is important.”

Currently, most of the models that scientists use to predict future methane emissions only factor in warm-season methane emissions, assuming that the vast majority of permafrost emissions will occur when temperatures are at their highest. These models are important because they allow scientists to make projections about how severe global warming will be in the future and help policymakers make decisions about how much — and how quickly — global carbon emissions need to be reduced.

So Zona, along with a group of nearly 20 other scientists, decided to investigate whether cold-season methane emissions were really as negligible as the models have assumed. They examined data collected from five different sites in Alaska between June 2013 and January 2015, as well as data collected from aircraft in the same region.

“Donatella and her team are to be commended for making the first year-round measurements of [methane] in the Arctic,” said Stan Wullschleger, an environmental scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in an email to The Post. “…The fact that this was done not just at one site, but multiple sites, is a breakthrough in our ability to quantify [methane] budgets for tundra ecosystems.”

The researchers found that cold-season methane emissions are not only not negligible — they’re pretty significant. While emissions varied somewhat from one site to the next, Zona said that, overall, emissions from September to May accounted for about half of all the methane emitted from those sites throughout the entire year.

This might seem a little baffling when you consider the fact that methane is generally released as Arctic soil thaws — a process that should be most pronounced during the warmest part of the year. Zona said the key to understanding where cold-season emissions come from lies in the way Arctic soil is structured and how it reacts to changes in temperature.

Arctic soil layers are structured kind of like a sandwich in the winter, Zona said. There’s a top layer (the very surface of the soil) and a bottom layer that both freeze as temperatures drop. In between them, there’s a layer of soil — found just below the surface — that can remain unfrozen for months, even as the temperature drops. This period of time is known as the “zero curtain” period, because temperatures in the unfrozen middle layer tend to hover right around zero degrees Celsius. The researchers believe that the majority of methane emissions produced during the winter occur during this zero curtain period, while the middle soil layer is still unfrozen.

The researchers also discovered another characteristic of cold-season methane emissions that isn’t well reflected in current models. According to the authors, most models assume that wetter tundra sites produce more methane than drier sites — but they found that dry sites actually seemed to be producing the most methane.

These are all important points when it comes to predicting how much methane the Arctic will release in the future.

Estimates of current Arctic methane emissions are more or less accurate, Zona said. But she believes the models are likely to underestimate how much methane will be produced in the future, if they don’t take cold-season emissions into account. This is because the zero curtain period will likely exist for longer and longer amounts of time if winter temperatures continue to rise in the Arctic. Future increases in snowfall could also help extend the zero curtain period, since snow tends to insulate the soil and keep it warm.

“The problem with modeling is that there’s not much data available from sites,” said Martin Heimann, director of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, noting that different areas in the Arctic emit methane at different rates. Expanding the database with more on-the-ground measurements, such as those collected in this study, will be crucial to coming up with the most accurate understanding of the processes going on in the Arctic and the way they will affect Earth’s future climate.

In the meantime, the study identifies some key aspects of Arctic methane emissions that, until now, have been largely overlooked — and suggests that a major updating of climate models may be overdue. The paper encapsulates “fascinating research that is neither captured in previous measurements or in our models,” Wullschleger said. “We still have a lot to learn.”

Chelsea Harvey|December 21

Extreme Weather

Nation’s midsection braces for blizzards, twister threat

Storm system could throw wrench into holiday travel plans

The central U.S. braced for a storm system forecast to bring everything from blizzard conditions to the threat of tornadoes Saturday as the South tried to recover from severe weather that hammered the region for days.

Snow, ice, heavy rain and thunderstorms were all forecast for the weekend in the central U.S. and were sure to cause travel headaches as families travel home from the holiday.

The National Weather Service warned the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles to be ready for a “historic blizzard” that could dump 6 to 15 inches of snow. Amarillo and Lubbock, Texas, were in the storm’s path.

A blizzard warning was to go into effect for the region at 6 p.m. Saturday and last until Monday morning. High winds were forecast to drop wind chills to as low as 10 degrees below zero. Blizzard warnings were also in effect for parts of northern and central New Mexico.

Ice could also create travel headaches Sunday into Monday from west-central Texas to central Oklahoma, central Kansas, southeastern Nebraska and southwestern Iowa.

The system came after days of unseasonably warm weather fueled torrential rain and deadly storms in the southern U.S., leaving at least 15 people in three states dead since Wednesday. Flash floods hit Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi on Christmas Day. Flood warnings remained in effect for parts of northern Alabama on Saturday.

Damage was limited after a tornado touched down about 5 p.m. Friday just 10 miles outside Birmingham, Alabama, knocking down trees in a working- class neighborhood. Several people were taken to the hospital with minor injuries, and some were trapped inside damaged homes, Lt. Sean Edwards, a Birmingham police spokesman, told the Associated Press.

Into Sunday, severe thunderstorms and heavy rain were likely in eastern Oklahoma, Arkansas, north-central Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana, with more flooding possible, the National Weather Service said.

Snow will also target a vast area from southeast Wyoming to northern Michigan through Sunday, with the heaviest snow accumulations of 10 to 15 or more inches forecast from southern Minnesota to northern Michigan, the National Weather Service said. The system will move into the Great Lakes and Northeast on Sunday and Monday.

The snow and winter weather in the central states this weekend will move toward the eastern Tennessee Valley early next week, followed by cooling temperatures for the South and Northeast by midweek, Storm Prediction Center forecaster Corey Mead said.

Katharine Lackey|USA TODAY

Tornadoes, floods, snow and ice take hold of Texas

‘Total devastation’ in Garland after EF-4 storm hits

The death toll from a swath of tornadoes that roared through the Dallas area rose to 11 on Sunday as the state struggled to combat heavy rains, floods and what was shaping up to be an “epic” snowstorm.

The violent weather continued a string of killer tornadoes and flash flooding across a swath of the nation over the past several days. At least 35 people have died in Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi and Tennessee.

On Sunday, snow and ice became a primary culprit as white-out conditions and ice storms brought havoc to roads across much of North and West Texas. Parts of New Mexico and Oklahoma were also being blasted.

National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Wiley said the region can expect 8-16 inches of snow, with some isolated areas seeing 20 inches or more, before the storm moves east Monday.

“This is really going to be an epic snow,” he said. “Throw in 50 mph winds, and we are calling for drifts to 10 or 12 feet.”

Other areas will see brutal ice storms, he said. And there was the rain: Heavy rains sweeping through the Dallas area and into parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas could bring heavy flooding in some areas for days.

At least 11 tornadoes blasted through the Dallas area Saturday, a preliminary count that could rise or fall in coming days, Wiley said.

Hardest hit Saturday was Garland, Texas, a city of 230,000 people 20 miles northeast of Dallas where eight people died and 15 were injured, police Lt. Pedro Barineau said. Most of the fatalities occurred on highways as cars became caught in the severe weather, and several vehicles plunged as far as 17 feet from a bridge, authorities said. Barineau said 600 homes and businesses were damaged.

“It’s total devastation,” Barineau said.

Three people, including an infant, died in Copeville, Texas, about 40 miles northeast of Dallas, according to the Collin County Sheriff ’s Office.

In Ellis County, 40 miles south of Dallas, no deaths were reported, but County Judge Carol Bush said 15 homes were destroyed, and 100 homes, churches and businesses were damaged by at least one tornado.

The tornado that roared through Garland was rated an EF-4, with winds reaching 175 mph, the National Weather Service said Sunday. This is the nation’s first EF-4 tornado to strike in December in 15 years. It is also the farthest west a tornado of that strength has formed in December, according to the tornado research site U.S. Tornadoes.

Until the holiday season outbreak, only 10 people had died in tornadoes across the nation this year — the fewest on record. Wiley blamed the rare run of December tornadoes in part on a strong El Nino that has been pushing spring-like temperatures across much of the North and East. El Nino can also take some blame for the snowstorm — another trait of the system is colder-than-normal temperatures in parts of the South.

AccuWeather Meteorologist Brett Rathbun said ice could create travel headaches into Monday from west-central Texas to central Oklahoma, central Kansas, southeastern Nebraska and southwestern Iowa

John Bacon|USA TODAY and WFAA-TV (Dallas-Fort Worth)

Midwest flooding grows as huge storm rolls across US

High water blamed for 18 deaths in Missouri, Illinois

A massive weather system that devastated parts of the South and Midwest roared north and east Tuesday, leaving flooding in its wake and driving ice, snow, heavy rains — and headaches — into the Upper Midwest and Northeast.

Winter weather slowed traffic to a crawl in parts of New York, New England and elsewhere. Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas were among states battling flooding from days of heavy rain.

In Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon activated the Missouri National Guard on Tuesday. Nixon, who traveled to Perryville, 80 miles south of St. Louis, to help coordinate government efforts to minimize flooding, said the guard would provide security in evacuated areas and direct traffic diverted by road closures. The Mississippi, Missouri and Meramec rivers all were at or near flood stage.

At least 18 deaths in Missouri and Illinois were blamed on flooding, mostly involving vehicles that drove onto swamped roadways.

The river on Tuesday spilled over the top of the levee at West Alton, Missouri, about 20 miles north of St. Louis. Mayor William Richter ordered any of the town’s 520 residents who had not already evacuated to get out of harm’s way.

In another eastern Missouri town, Union, water from the normally docile Bourbeuse River reached the roofs of a Mc-Donald’s, QuikTrip and other businesses. The river reached an all-time high Tuesday, nearly 20 feet above flood stage.

In St. Louis, more than 100 volunteers turned out in blustery, cold conditions to fill sandbags where a flooded waterway threatened hundreds of homes.

Interstate 44 was closed near the central Missouri town of Rolla, and a section of Interstate 70 was shut down in southern Illinois.

The worst flooding in some areas was not expected until Thursday.

More than 1,200 flights were canceled across the nation by 4:30 p.m. ET, according to the FlightAware tracking website. More than 240 flights were canceled in and out of Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Travelers leaving from airports in Toronto, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Denver and Dallas experienced long delays. The Indianapolis airport broke out cots and snacks as hundreds of would-be passengers waited.

“Looking on the bright side! Connect to our free WiFi on your phone, tablet, or laptop,” the airport tweeted.

In the Northeast, snow and ice were the problem. Boston, which last winter set a record with more than 9 feet of snow, had been reveling in a mild winter. But on Tuesday the plows roared out of city garages.

The roads across parts of New York state were littered with accidents and slowdowns. Maine might see the worst of it; the National Weather Service warned that parts of the state could be walloped with 2 inches of snow per hour.

The week-old weather pattern that brought tornadoes, snow, ice, heavy rain and flooding to Texas and parts of the Midwest and Southeast has been blamed for more than 40 deaths.

John Bacon|USA TODAY|Contributing: Associated Press; The Indianapolis Star

Swollen Mississippi River crests in Mo., heads south

Rising water forces shutdown of second St. Louis interstate

Rising water on the Mississippi River and its tributaries forced the shutdown of a second major interstate Thursday near St. Louis as the torrent of high water rushed southward, setting up threats of more flooding in southern Missouri and Illinois, Tennessee and Mississippi.

Officials on Thursday morning shut down Interstate 55 south of St. Louis as water from the Meramec River poured onto the roadway. The Meramec had already forced the closing of a 24-mile section of Interstate 44, which radiates to the southwest out of St. Louis, causing havoc for commuters and semis.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Wednesday that water had topped nine levees. Most of those earthen barriers are meant to protect farmland rather than populated areas, and one of the failed levees was along now-deserted, man-made Chouteau Island near St. Louis on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. Officials helped residents get to higher ground as swollen rivers and streams pushed to heights not seen in nearly a quarter-century. The raging Mississippi, and the rivers that feed it, were expected to crest Thursday in Missouri, threatening low-lying communities and farmland.

The Weather Channel calls the situation a “slow-motion disaster” as the swollen rivers make their way to the Gulf.

At least 22 people have died in Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas and Oklahoma in the recent flooding, most of them swept away in vehicles while trying to get through high water.

Residents of the St. Louis suburb of Valley Park, population 7,000, had largely cleared out of their homes Wednesday, but were hoping the 9-year-old refurbished local levee, already at a breaking point, would still keep the waters of the fast-rising Meramec at bay.

Valley Park City Attorney Tim Engelmeyer said it was touch and go whether the expected crest of about 43 feet Thursday would breach the levee.

“We’re so close,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “We’re talking about a potential 6-inch difference.”

Conditions eased in some areas of the state, particularly in the southwest around Branson, where on Wednesday the rising White River swamped the town of Rockaway Beach, with a population of 800.

Table Rock Dam, which feeds Lake Taneycom and the White River, created problems for low-lying residents when it released a record 72,000 cubic feet of water per second Tuesday. But the pressure eased after Beaver Lake upstream in Arkansas closed its spillway, sending less water into Table Rock Lake, where water level had begun to drop.

Even as Missouri residents fought the flood menace, either with more sandbags or a dash to higher land, communities farther downstream braced for their own battle this weekend.

In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal has declared a state of emergency because of “imminent flooding” from the Mississippi and Red rivers.

In Tunica County, Mississippi, southwest of Memphis, dozens of families have already evacuated their homes, as rising water rolls down the mighty Mississippi toward them, WREG-TV reported.

“Oh gosh. It’s fixing to be bad,” Clayton Powell told the Memphis station.

Doug Stanglin|USA TODAY

Energy

Big Cypress oil drilling: a few spills, a lot of tanks and pumps

And miles and miles of pipelines

Deep in a pine forest of Big Cypress National Preserve, past a locked gate and up a rugged 11-mile road, stand a series of cleared fields full of pumps, storage tanks, generators and other equipment.

The Raccoon Point oil field, one of two operated at Big Cypress by BreitBurn Energy Partners of Los Angeles, offers a glimpse of what could be in store for more of the Everglades, under two pending oil exploration applications. The Kanter family of Miami has applied for a permit to drill in the Everglades about six miles west of Miramar. At Big Cypress, Burnett Oil Co., of Fort Worth, Texas, has submitted an application to engage in seismic operations, using specially equipped trucks to generate vibrations in the earth, to look for oil across 110 square miles.

At Raccoon Point, about 10 miles south of Interstate 75, BreitBurn runs an industrial operation involving dangerous fluids, heavy equipment and rumbling generators among forests and wetlands inhabited by deer, panthers, bears, turkeys and other creatures.

The five multi-acre pads at Raccoon Point support 17 oil wells, although not all are active. Workers, who occupy three trailers at the main pad, put in seven straight 12-hour days and then take seven days off, a schedule designed to accommodate the time involved in reaching the remote area.

“It operates pretty much like offshore, except you drive here,” said Ed Blake, area superintendent for BreitBurn.

The wells yield what’s called production fluid, a combination of oil and salt water. The fluid goes through pipes along the ground to a row of tanks as high as upended school buses. These tanks separate the oil and water. The oil flows through a pipeline under western Broward County to the Devil’s Garden Truck Loading Facility on Snake Road, where it’s pumped onto trucks, driven to Port Everglades and taken by ship to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.

There have been eight spills in and around the Big Cypress fields since 2011, totaling 15 barrels of oil, or 630 gallons, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Cleanup crews recovered all but four barrels, or 168 gallons. They also removed 53 cubic yards of soil. In addition, there were spills of 434 barrels, or 18,228 gallons, of saltwater, with all but 13 barrels recovered.

In one spill at Raccoon Point, for example, a break formed in a flow line, discharging two barrels of oil and water onto the ground, said Bob DeGross, spokesman for the preserve. In another, a vehicle struck a flow line, with one barrel discharged. For that incident, the company had to pay $7,000 for the damage and recovery work.

We’re very proud of our safety record. We run a very clean ship.- Antonio D’Amico, BreitBurn Energy Partners

Preserve and company officials say the safety record has been good, with only minor spills that have been contained by safety systems, such as automatic shutoff valves and earthen berms.

“The safety record, as far as I know, has been very good,” DeGross said. “Oil and gas production is considered to be of no substantial longtime impact. Although there’s noise, wildlife doesn’t seem to avoid the area. The staff has seen panthers, deer, a variety of wildlife passing through the area.”

BreitBurn vice president Antonio D’Amico said the company constantly conducts maintenance of the system, running internal monitoring devices through the pipes, keeping work crews busy checking on production systems, flying over the pads and receiving frequent visits from state environmental inspectors.

“We’re very proud of our safety record,” he said. “We run a very clean ship.”

Production has been down at the company’s fields, largely due to the fall in gas prices. The Raccoon Point field, in operations since 1978, produced 25,842 barrels of oil in October, the most recent month for which figures are available. This represents a significant decline from the 44,342 barrels produced in October of 2011. It costs more to produce oil from Big Cypress than from many of the company’s other fields because of the expense of transporting it over land and by water to the far-off Gulf refineries.

“Our production in Florida is some of our most expensive in our portfolio,” D’Amico said.

Oil drilling has taken place at Big Cypress since the 1970s. BreitBurn operates the fields under a lease agreement with Collier Resources Co., which represents the descendants of southwest Florida pioneer Barron Collier, who retained the mineral rights when the preserve was created in 1974.

Oil drilling in Florida goes back more than 60 years, when Florida’s governor and cabinet offered $50,000 to the first person or company to find oil. Humble Oil and Refining Co., a predecessor of Exxon, won the prize, striking oil near Immokalee in 1943, in the first of many wells to be drilled along a narrow geologic feature called the Sunniland Trend. Running diagonally across the peninsula from Fort Myers to Miami, the Sunniland Trend is a 150-mile-long, 20-mile-wide formation that contains oil deposits about two miles underground.

The latest exploration proposals for South Florida come from Burnett Oil Co, and the Kanter family. Burnett has submitted an application to look for oil across 110 square miles of Big Cypress using vehicles called vibroseis trucks, which vibrate a steel pad against the ground to generate the vibrations to allow the company to gauge the presence of oil. The Kanter family, major South Florida landowners, has applied for permits to drill an exploratory well in the Everglades of Broward County.

A review of the Burnett plan by the National Park Service released last month says it would cause only temporary and minor disturbance to wildlife and the preserve’s landscape. The review addressed only the proposal for seismic exploration, not any future drilling that could result.

Caitlin Weber, policy analyst for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, called on the park service to conduct an environmental impact statement on the Burnett proposal, rather than the less rigorous environmental review that was done. She said both the seismic operations and any resulting drilling would have “significant impact” on the preserve’s wildlife, water and natural beauty.

Karen Dwyer, of the Stone Crab Alliance, a Collier County environmental group, said the prospect of heavy trucks rumbling through the preserve and the industrial activities that would come with oil drilling would cause extensive damage to irreplaceable natural resources.

“We don’t want crushed nests or collapsed burrows or more road kill,” she said. “Nature has a right to live undisturbed, especially in a preserve.”

dfleshler|sunsentinel.com

Big Cypress oil drilling: a few spills, a lot of tanks and pumps

And miles and miles of pipelines

Deep in a pine forest of Big Cypress National Preserve, past a locked gate and up a rugged 11-mile road, stand a series of cleared fields full of pumps, storage tanks, generators and other equipment.

The Raccoon Point oil field, one of two operated at Big Cypress by BreitBurn Energy Partners of Los Angeles, offers a glimpse of what could be in store for more of the Everglades, under two pending oil exploration applications. The Kanter family of Miami has applied for a permit to drill in the Everglades about six miles west of Miramar. At Big Cypress, Burnett Oil Co., of Fort Worth, Texas, has submitted an application to engage in seismic operations, using specially equipped trucks to generate vibrations in the earth, to look for oil across 110 square miles.

At Raccoon Point, about 10 miles south of Interstate 75, BreitBurn runs an industrial operation involving dangerous fluids, heavy equipment and rumbling generators among forests and wetlands inhabited by deer, panthers, bears, turkeys and other creatures.

The five multi-acre pads at Raccoon Point support 17 oil wells, although not all are active. Workers, who occupy three trailers at the main pad, put in seven straight 12-hour days and then take seven days off, a schedule designed to accommodate the time involved in reaching the remote area.

“It operates pretty much like offshore, except you drive here,” said Ed Blake, area superintendent for BreitBurn.

The wells yield what’s called production fluid, a combination of oil and salt water. The fluid goes through pipes along the ground to a row of tanks as high as upended school buses. These tanks separate the oil and water. The oil flows through a pipeline under western Broward County to the Devil’s Garden Truck Loading Facility on Snake Road, where it’s pumped onto trucks, driven to Port Everglades and taken by ship to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.

There have been eight spills in and around the Big Cypress fields since 2011, totaling 15 barrels of oil, or 630 gallons, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Cleanup crews recovered all but four barrels, or 168 gallons. They also removed 53 cubic yards of soil. In addition, there were spills of 434 barrels, or 18,228 gallons, of saltwater, with all but 13 barrels recovered.

In one spill at Raccoon Point, for example, a break formed in a flow line, discharging two barrels of oil and water onto the ground, said Bob DeGross, spokesman for the preserve. In another, a vehicle struck a flow line, with one barrel discharged. For that incident, the company had to pay $7,000 for the damage and recovery work.

We’re very proud of our safety record. We run a very clean ship.- Antonio D’Amico, BreitBurn Energy Partners Preserve and company officials say the safety record has been good, with only minor spills that have been contained by safety systems, such as automatic shutoff valves and earthen berms.

“The safety record, as far as I know, has been very good,” DeGross said. “Oil and gas production is considered to be of no substantial longtime impact. Although there’s noise, wildlife doesn’t seem to avoid the area. The staff has seen panthers, deer, a variety of wildlife passing through the area.”

BreitBurn vice president Antonio D’Amico said the company constantly conducts maintenance of the system, running internal monitoring devices through the pipes, keeping work crews busy checking on production systems, flying over the pads and receiving frequent visits from state environmental inspectors.

“We’re very proud of our safety record,” he said. “We run a very clean ship.”

Production has been down at the company’s fields, largely due to the fall in gas prices. The Raccoon Point field, in operations since 1978, produced 25,842 barrels of oil in October, the most recent month for which figures are available. This represents a significant decline from the 44,342 barrels produced in October of 2011. It costs more to produce oil from Big Cypress than from many of the company’s other fields because of the expense of transporting it over land and by water to the far-off Gulf refineries.

“Our production in Florida is some of our most expensive in our portfolio,” D’Amico said.

Oil drilling has taken place at Big Cypress since the 1970s. BreitBurn operates the fields under a lease agreement with Collier Resources Co., which represents the descendants of southwest Florida pioneer Barron Collier, who retained the mineral rights when the preserve was created in 1974.

Oil drilling in Florida goes back more than 60 years, when Florida’s governor and cabinet offered $50,000 to the first person or company to find oil. Humble Oil and Refining Co., a predecessor of Exxon, won the prize, striking oil near Immokolee in 1943, in the first of many wells to be drilled along a narrow geologic feature called the Sunniland Trend. Running diagonally across the peninsula from Fort Myers to Miami, the Sunniland Trend is a 150-mile-long, 20-mile-wide formation that contains oil deposits about two miles underground.

The latest exploration proposals for South Florida come from Burnett Oil Co, and the Kanter family. Burnett has submitted an application to look for oil across 110 square miles of Big Cypress using vehicles called vibroseis trucks, which vibrate a steel pad against the ground to generate the vibrations to allow the company to gauge the presence of oil. The Kanter family, major South Florida landowners, has applied for permits to drill an exploratory well in the Everglades of Broward County.

A review of the Burnett plan by the National Park Service released last month says it would cause only temporary and minor disturbance to wildlife and the preserve’s landscape. The review addressed only the proposal for seismic exploration, not any future drilling that could result.

Caitlin Weber, policy analyst for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, called on the park service to conduct an environmental impact statement on the Burnett proposal, rather than the less rigorous environmental review that was done. She said both the seismic operations and any resulting drilling would have “significant impact” on the preserve’s wildlife, water and natural beauty…..

dfleshler|sunsentinel.com

FPL TURKEY POINT WATER PERMIT GETS BOOST FROM JUDGE

Rejecting arguments of an environmental group, an administrative law judge Thursday recommended that the South Florida Water Management District give final approval to a permit that would allow Florida Power & Light to pump large amounts of water out of a canal system. The permit would allow FPL to use water from what is known as the L-31E Canal to help reduce the temperature and salinity of a water-cooling system at the utility’s Turkey Point power-plant complex, said Thursday’s decision by Administrative Law Judge Bram D.E. Canter. The cooling system itself is a network of canals designed to dissipate heat from water used in power plants. The water management district on June 1 gave notice that it planned to issue a permit for the pumping plan, leading to a challenge from Tropical Audubon Society, Inc.

The environmental group raised a series of objections, including that the project would harm nearby Biscayne Bay and that the permit would not be limited to the amount of water needed, according to Canter’s decision. But the judge turned down the group’s arguments on issues such as whether the project would harm Biscayne Bay. “Tropical Audubon failed to prove the proposed water use would have more than a de minimis (insignificant) effect on the environmental resources of Biscayne Bay,” one section of the 32-page decision said. “Therefore, it failed to prove noncompliance with any district permit requirement applicable to protection of Biscayne Bay and its natural resources.”

The News Service of Florida.

More job cuts expected for oil workers in 2016

Explosive job growth in the oil and gas sector propped up the U.S. economy for several years after the recession, as the fracking revolution put American energy workers back to work.

But 2015 was the year that job gains i n the energy sector came to a screeching halt as rock-bottom oil prices triggered layoffs of more than 258,000 workers globally, according to an analysis by industry consultant Graves & Co. The energy business is poised to endure a fresh round of job cuts and bankruptcies in early 2016, analysts say.

The number of active oil and gas rigs in the U.S. fell 61 percent to 698 as of Dec. 31, compared to a year earlier, according to Baker Hughes Rig Counts.

Record-low oil prices drove gasoline below $2 per gallon for 71 percent of U.S. gas stations by the end of the year, according to AAA, fueling record sales of new vehicles and boosting holiday shoppers.

But the global glut of oil — caused by a sustained surge in U.S. output and high production by the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries — has undercut profit margins and spawned a slew of job cuts for energy companies. Oil is trading below $40 a barrel for the first time since early 2009.

The headlines focus on job-cutting global giants such as Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and Halliburton, which plan to cut thousands of positions this year.

Yet it’s been particularly treacherous for exploration and production jobs, including roughnecks, drillers, roustabouts, surveyors and drafters.

“The closer you are to the wellhead, the quicker you are to lose your job,” Houston-based energy consultant John Graves said. “Those are the kind of jobs that get hit first because it’s where a company can quickly make cuts.”

In energy-rich Texas, exploration and production companies have shed at least 60,000 jobs, said Karr Ingham, petroleum economist for the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers. That’s about one-fifth of their Texas workforce.

“I expect it to get worse in the near term,” Ingham said. “Expenses have to be cut pretty dramatically, and that means that employees on payrolls have to go.”

Oil companies in Texas have endured revenue losses of up to 70 percent.

Oil production leader Saudi Arabia has refused to slash output to bolster prices, and U.S. producers have kept wells flowing to pay off investments ordered in the 2000s when new fracking technology triggered a spike in American energy production.

“Many of these companies are negative cash flow, and that’s not a sustainable dynamic,” said Dan Heckman, national investment consultant for U.S. Bank Wealth Management.

NATHAN BOMEY|USA TODAY

Magnitude-4.2 earthquake shakes Oklahoma

A magnitude-4.2 earthquake hit north of Oklahoma City early Friday. It was the latest in a series of quakes that have rattled the state at an increasing rate in the past few years.

Only minor damage and no injuries were reported after the quake hit about 5:40 a.m. Friday near Edmond, Oklahoma. The quake was centered about 16 miles north of Oklahoma City.

Edmond reported about 4,400 power outages shortly after the quake, according to the Associated Press, but it was not clear whether the two were related, and power was restored within a few hours.

The increase in quakes in the state has been linked to oil and gas production, according to state and federal scientists.

In 2012, the state experienced just a few dozen magnitude- 3.0 or greater quakes. That number skyrocketed to more than 800 in 2015, according to the Associated Press.

Many quakes have occurred in swarms near areas where deep well injection operations — which pump wastewater from oil and gas production into the ground — are taking place.

USA TODAY

[According to an article in this month’s Popular Science, the water in the injection wells acts as a lubricant on the faults, releasing the tension and letting the plates slip.]

Land Conservation

DEP sets record straight on hunting, privatizing Florida State Parks

Florida State Parks have come under fire recently, and the Department of Environmental Protection feels it’s time to “set the record straight.”

A new DEP email takes exception with several recent media accounts, each inaccurately “perpetuated misconceptions” about the future of Florida State Parks.

“As these stories are being driven by false allegations based on incomplete information that does not present a complete or accurate picture of the efforts of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Park Service,” the email says.

Among the rumors DEP Secretary Jon Steverson dispelled during his recent Senate testimony: Florida parks are not for sale; he is not looking to “surplus parks,” commercialize them or “ruin any visitor’s experience.”

At particular issue is the claim, made by Craig Pittman in the Tampa Bay Times, who wrote that “every Florida State Park is being considered as a potential killing field” with a proposal to allow hunting at all 174 state parks and trails.

This, Steverson says in the email, is blatantly untrue.

“There are currently no proposals to open any additional parks to hunting,” he writes. “Further, DEP does not have a blanket policy to implement hunting, nor any other activity, across all of Florida’s 174 state parks, trails, and historic sites.”

For hunting – or any activity, for that matter – to be even considered in any state-run property, it must be included in the parks unit management plan, the governing document guiding management of each Park. New activities, which include hunting, must go through a thorough vetting process that involves staff, planners, and the public before any such action is implemented.

Over the past quarter-century, limited hunting has been permitted by the Florida Park Service in unit management plans for three locations – Rock Springs Run State Preserve, Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve and the Marshall Swamp Property of the Cross Florida Greenway.

The decision to allow hunting would certainly not be based on “whether hunters could find something to shoot there,” as Pittman writes.

Steverson stresses that any possibility of adding hunting to a particular management plan would first have to go through a gauntlet of internal resource managers, park planners, public input, and an advisory committee of local elected officials, experts, and other stakeholders. Any prospective hunt must be deemed appropriate, go through the appropriate agency, and be designed for safety and minimal impact to visitors and resources.

As for the assertion that the DEP is pursuing “incompatible” or previously banned activities, the Secretary points out that for years, park staff have successfully implemented efficient resource management tools  – especially timber practices used to restore and manage lands in 34 state parks since 2005.

Steverson added that timber thinning provides an essential public service by reducing the chances (and severity) of wildfires, as well as promoting growth of remaining trees and native plants.

Also, Steverson addresses accusations the DEP is looking to “privatize” parks. Suggestions that the state is looking to privatize public parks are simply not supported by the overall process of updating unit management plans. Park planners must apply a standardized checklist that identifies potential activities or additional facilities, he says.

“This checklist is designed to serve as a conversation starter that is used in the very first steps of the park-planning process,” he writes. “This list includes nearly 60 potential recreational, resource management and other activities, ranging from boat ramps, kayaking and trails to camping or hunting. However, none of the activities or facilities listed are required to be implemented, or even further evaluated.”

Privatizing is not simply letting corporations have their way with public land.

As required by Florida law, each prospective activity (or change in activities) must be judged on appropriateness, evaluated by Park planners and staff, and based on individual needs and attributes of the park. Again, the process includes numerous opportunities for public review and comment.

Florida parks hold a special role in the state – and are some of the best in the nation. Steverson concludes with a vow that he and his department are committed to good land stewardship.

“The Florida Park Service will always be the ones to manage the lands entrusted to us, both for recreation and protection purposes,” he says. “The department has no intention of privatizing parks.”

Phil Ammann|Dec 9, 2015

Environmental Links

SFAS International Wildlife News Audubon Advocate Audubon Restore Eco-Voice South Florida Wildlife Care Center Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital The Turtle Hospital The Marathon Wild Bird Center Climate change info Audubon’s Coastal Strand Audubon of Florida News Blog Bioenergy News Climate Progress – climate science, politics and solutions Collins Center for Public Policy Comprehensive Everglades Restoration News EcoWatch – feeds from the WaterKeeper Alliance Everglades Foundation – press releases Everglades Hub Fort Myers News – Press Green Front Pages from Florida Newspapers Herald Tribune Newspapers –  Environmental News 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

Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

ConsRep 1512 C

The truth is, as most of us know, that global warming is real and humans are major contributors, mainly because we wastefully burn fossil fuels. — David Suzuki 

Announcements

The 115th Audubon Christmas Bird Count is here —

Be a part of America’s longest-running wildlife census!

Miami – Dade County Christmas Bird Count

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Saturday, December 19

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Email Brian Rapoza

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Kendall Christmas Bird Count

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Saturday, December 26

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Email Bill Boeringer

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Coot Bay / Everglades Christmas Bird Count

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Saturday, January 2

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Email Brian Rapoza

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Key Largo-Plantation Christmas Bird Count

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Monday, January 4 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Email Pete Frezze

Click here for apps, how to submit findings & National Audubon Christmas Bird Count 

From TAS

Reconnect with Nature this Holiday Season at Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is Audubon’s gem in the Western Everglades.

A leisurely stroll on our boardwalk through the ancient forest of bald cypress trees is an unforgettable, awe-inspiring experience for the whole family.

The Visitors Center is located just east of Naples in beautiful southwest Florida.

Join us this winter to celebrate the season and reconnect with the birds and wildlife that make our state so special.

We have a thriving program of events and activities for our you to enjoy. 

Please take a moment to click through Corkscrew’s 2016 Annual Update below to learn about our history, mission, and upcoming programs.

We hope to welcome you soon!

For more information visit http://corkscrew.audubon.org

Of Interest to All

Three Things You Need to Know About the Paris Agreement

After two weeks of intense negotiations at the UN’s COP 21 climate talks and behind-the-scenes maneuvering seemingly lifted straight out of House of Cards, we have a global deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions. A big, big deal.

And while the ink is still drying on the agreement and analysts are working to digest its full implications, a few major points stand out. Here’s what you need to know.

1. In a word – well, two – we won.

Not the war, but a critical battle. With negotiators from 195 countries with very different agendas and interests involved, a perfect agreement that ushered in a 100 percent clean energy economy on January 1 was never a possibility. What we needed was an agreement that – as Coral Davenport writes in the New York Timessends a clear signal to markets and investors that the future of energy is in renewables like wind and solar.

The Paris agreement passes that test. With this agreement, nations signed on to a goal of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius, while pursuing actions to stay under 1.5 degrees and, in not so many words, reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions in the second half of the century. We’re not getting carried away by this first number: many will argue that 2 degrees is still too high to avoid serious climate impacts, and many countries fought for a pure 1.5-degree goal. Plus, scientists believe the commitments on the table won’t get us to 2 degrees, which means there’s real work still to be done to make countries’ commitments are updated to become even more ambitious in the years ahead.

The important thing is that we have an agreement with the most ambitious target ever formalized at this level and a shared long-term goal of breaking up with fossil fuels. The implication couldn’t be much clearer: with governments taking increasingly serious steps to move away from oil, gas, and coal in the years ahead, demand will slowly decline. Meanwhile, demand for energy from clean, renewable sources will grow as nations fill in the gap. Which means there’s a lot of money to be made in the clean energy sector. If you’re an investor and you happen to like making money, you’re going to take note.

2. Five-year reviews keep the process going forward

It’s one thing to set a common goal. It’s another to make sure everyone works together to get there.

We knew an agreement at COP 21 would be a vital first step. We also knew the challenge would be to keep nations moving forward in the years ahead. By establishing a process where countries will meet every five years to review their progress in cutting emissions, the Paris agreement creates a way to ensure everyone’s living up to their promises. Just as important, this window creates an opportunity for civil society groups like us and citizens like you to keep the pressure on governments to increase their commitments to cutting emissions – also submitted every five years.

We knew this agreement wouldn’t be perfect, and it’s not. Divisions remain on the concept of differentiation, i.e. which countries should take more action on mitigation and financing resiliency and action in developing and less-developed countries. But negotiators have carved out a workable solution for the time being. Governments have a great deal of work to do over the next few years to ensure that this agreement is implemented in a truly equitable manner. 

3. The COP 21 agreement wasn’t the only game in town

An agreement with the scope and reach of the one reached at COP 21 is critical if we’re going to get emissions down quickly enough to get close to the 1.5, or even 2 degree target. While national-level action is essential, it’s also not enough on its own.

Which is why all the initiatives announced in Paris to give cities, companies, and private citizens a bigger role in speeding up the transition to a clean energy economy were, frankly, so exciting. For starters, there was the announcement that nearly 400 cities have signed up to the Compact of Mayors coalition to measure and reduce emissions. When you consider these cities could together avoid 740 million tons of emissions annually in 2030, that’s a major step forward.

Then there was the 154 US companies that account for nearly 11 million employees and more than $4.2 trillion in annual revenue pledging support for climate action. Plus, while 20 countries – including the US – pledged to double their investment in clean energy research and development, private investors were also announcing sizeable commitments to support this area. Already, we’ve seen the price of solar, wind, and battery technologies plummet in recent years. These new commitments can only accelerate this trend right when we need it most.

Let’s also highlight the fact that we saw a truly unprecedented show of popular support for a strong agreement all around the world. Climate Reality joined with partners throughout the climate community – including Avaaz, 350.org, the Sierra Club, Guardians of the Earth, CAN International, Greenpeace, and many more – to bring over 6.2 million people together to demand action in Paris, with over 2 million of those being Climate Reality supporters. The world was watching these negotiations in a way it never had before – and it showed.

We’ll have more and more in-depth analysis of the Paris agreement in the weeks ahead. Though there are still very real challenges and a whole lot of hard work in front of us and things the agreement didn’t fully achieve, the key takeaway here is that for the first time, we have a common goal in confronting climate change and we have a way to do it. For years, we’ve been saying that Paris could be the turning point. Now we believe it will be. And for today, that’s enough to celebrate.

The Climate Reality Project

Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

Keep pets and livestock from becoming prey to wildlife

Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission sent this bulletin at 12/11/2015 11:18 AM EST

If you are like most Americans, your pet is a beloved member of the family.  Having your pet injured or killed by a wild animal can be a tragic and traumatic event.

Reports of negative interactions with Florida wildlife are on the rise, prompting the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to remind Florida residents and visitors to protect their pets and livestock from wildlife depredations.  Florida is unique among states in the eastern U.S. in that most of the native predators still roam here. This includes panthers, bears, alligators and bobcats. Many negative interactions with Florida wildlife can be prevented by taking the appropriate precautions.

Safety measures should be taken to protect pets like dogs and cats, by keeping them indoors at night, on a leash or in an outdoor predator-proof pen.

Cats are a particularly easy target since there are a variety of predators that prey on them, including panthers and coyotes as well as bobcats and even dogs. Keeping your cat inside not only protects it from becoming prey but it also prevents it from preying on songbirds and other native wildlife.

People should also take necessary precautions to properly shelter animals such as goats, sheep, calves, pigs, donkeys and poultry from wildlife depredations. Livestock can be protected by keeping them in a secure fenced enclosure with a roof, especially at night. Electric fencing is also an effective deterrent to prevent depredations on domestic animals.

Coyotes are well documented throughout Florida and live in all 67 counties. They are extremely adaptable and are found in rural, suburban and even urban areas around the state.

Both coyotes and bears are attracted to a variety of food sources such as unsecured trash, bird and wildlife feeders and pet food left outside. However, because bears are opportunistic feeders, depredations of pets or livestock are more often caused by more active predators such as panthers or coyotes.

While panthers don’t eat trash and pet food, they will eat the animals that are attracted to these items. Panthers are typically found in southwest Florida, but they are starting to be reported with more frequency in other parts of the state.

“We are asking people to proactively take precautions by removing attractants and protecting and securing their pets and small livestock from predators,” said Kipp Frohlich, FWC’s Deputy Division Director of Habitat and Species Conservation. “By taking these actions today, people can help discourage panthers, coyotes and other predators from repeatedly coming back into their yard or community looking for easy prey.”

When feeding outdoor domestic animals, be sure to only put out enough food for the animal to eat immediately, and then remove any uneaten food as soon as possible.  Keep all food sources stored in a secure location when not in use to reduce the likelihood of conflicts between your animals and bears and other wildlife.

For technical assistance regarding coyotes near your home or in your neighborhood, contact the nearest FWC regional office by going to MyFWC.com/Contact and clicking on “Regional offices.”Additional information on coyotes can be found by going to MyFWC.com/Wildlife and clicking on “Living with Wildlife” then “Coyotes.”

To learn how to reduce conflicts with bears, visit MyFWC.com/Bear and click on “Bear Wise Communities” on the left side of the page. If you observe bears exhibiting threatening behavior, report it immediately to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

If you experience a panther depredation or have a panther situation that requires immediate assistance, please call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone. Because panthers are a federally protected species, and they represent a potential human safety risk, the FWC investigates reports of panther depredations, usually visiting the site to gather evidence. With home owner permission, the FWC will often set up a remote camera to determine if the panther is returning to the same site repeatedly.

For more information about how to protect people, pets and livestock from panthers and other predators, visit FloridaPantherNet.org and click on “Living in Panther Country.”

To see if panther depredations are occurring in your area, visit FloridaPantherNet.org, click on “Panther Pulse” and scroll down to “Depredations.” You can sign up to receive panther information, including depredation email updates, by simply clicking on the red envelope on any page of MyFWC.com and selecting “Florida Panther” under the “Wildlife/Managed Species” section.

Panther photos available on FWC’s Flickr site. Go to: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjxNqYsp

Humans Caused a Major Shift in Earth’s Ecosystems 6,000 Years Ago

We upended a pattern held for 300 million years, and that may mean we are causing a new phase in global evolution

It’s hard to imagine a global force strong enough to change natural patterns that have persisted on Earth for more than 300 million years, but a new study shows that human beings have been doing exactly that for about 6,000 years.

The increase in human activity, perhaps tied to population growth and the spread of agriculture, seems to have upended the way plants and animals distribute themselves across the land, so that species today are far more segregated than they’ve been at any other time.

That’s the conclusion of a study appearing this week in the journal Nature, and the ramifications could be huge, heralding a new stage in global evolution as dramatic as the shift from single-celled microbes to complex organisms.

A team of researchers led by S. Kathleen Lyons, a paleobiologist at the Evolution of Terrestrial Ecosystems (ETE) program in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, examined the distribution of plants and animals across landscapes in the present and back through the fossil record in search of patterns.

Mostly they found randomness, but throughout time, there was always a small subset of plants and animals that showed up in relationship to one another more often than can be attributed to chance. That relationship either meant that pairs of species occur together, so when you find one, you usually find the other. Or it meant the opposite: when you find one, the other is usually not present, in which case they’re considered segregated.

An example would be that where there are cheetahs, you often find giraffes, because they prefer the same habitat. Predator-prey relationships can also cause animals to co-exist on the landscape, as in the case of dire wolves and giant ground sloths in the late Pleistocene. It’s believed that dire wolves may have preyed on baby giant ground sloths.

On the flip side, segregated animals are those that appear together less often than they would by chance alone. Today, Grevy’s zebra and colobus monkeys are rarely found together because they have evolved to exploit different landscapes. 

The surprise discovery was that for 300 million years, it was more common for species pairs to occur together—to aggregate on a landscape—than it was for them to segregate. Then the pattern flipped around 6,000 years ago in North America. Around the same time the human population was expanding and becoming dependent on agriculture, plant and animal communities shifted to a pattern dominated by segregation.

Lyons and her colleagues looked at nearly 360,000 pairs of organisms from 80 communities on different continents, but the best data available to them around the time period in question came predominantly from North America. Lyons expects the pattern shift will be evident around the globe if other researchers look for it.

“It’s striking that there’s a community structure that is changing in ways it hasn’t changed before and that appears to be associated with humans,” says Erle Ellis, a professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland and a member of the International Union of Geological Sciences Anthropocene Working Group. “I would say it’s one of the most interesting indicators I’ve ever seen of a shift in the biosphere associated with humans.”

The scientists can’t say exactly why the shift occurs at this distinct moment in human history, but they’ve gone to great lengths to rule out other possible connections, including examining ice cores to get at past climate conditions. There have been many periods of natural climate variability over those 300 million years, and still the pattern held steady, with an average of 64 percent of species pairs with significant relationships being aggregated.

After the shift 6,000 years ago, the average dropped to 37 percent. Today, a significant relationship between a pair of species is more likely to mean where you find one, you don’t find the other. In other words, species are more segregated than they’ve ever been.

Though there’s no smoking gun, Lyons has thoughts on the role humans played in this change. “We’re living in a lot of areas where species used to overlap their distributions,” she says. “They don’t overlap anymore because they can’t get through the areas where we’re living now.”

Gregory Dietl, a paleoecologist and Curator of Cenozoic Invertebrates at the Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca, New York, says that this break in a 300-million-year-old pattern signals that we’re living in a new world, and that makes it more challenging to use the past to predict what may happen in the future.

“For me that was the big piece,” he says. “What does this more segregated pattern mean then, ultimately, for how species may adapt or just respond to climate change in the future?”

Dietl wrote a review of the study that also appears in the same issue of Nature. Like many of his colleagues who have seen the paper, he believes it’s reasonable that increased segregation may make species more vulnerable to changes in their environment.

“It probably means species are more vulnerable to extinction because there are fewer connections between them,” Lyons says. Humans have broken up plant and animal populations by destroying and fragmenting habitats. Their ranges are smaller, and no longer overlap in the way they once did.

“And because their geographic ranges are smaller, their abundances are almost certainly smaller.” But understanding how environmental changes will impact species is far more difficult in a world without clear examples from the past to rely on.

Whether more plants and animals adapt or go extinct in the future, this dramatic shift in the past highlights the extent of human influences that have prompted the official naming of a new age: the Anthropocene.

“There’s a tendency to think humans did not become a transformative force until fairly recently,” says Ellis. “But this effect can be placed at the very beginnings of agriculture. So it’s a very early indicator. The process of humans becoming distinct from other species and the way they transformed the Earth is really the cause of the Anthropocene. So this [study] is interesting in terms of asking where and when did this train leave the station?”

Please upgrade your Flash Plugin

Discover why scientists think we are in a new geologic age and what it means for our future.

However, this study is not likely to help set the date scientists will use to mark the start of the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene Working Group is due to make that decision in 2016, and they’re more likely to rely on the accepted practice of identifying a well-defined line in the sand—or in most cases, the rock—that represents the sum of environmental changes denoting the shift from one time period to the next.

Chair of the working group and professor of paleobiology at the University of Leicester, Jan Zalasiewicz, says that line is likely to have been drawn in 1952, when fallout from thermonuclear weapons tests deposited a distinct radioactive signature in sediment around the world.

“Radionuclides do not represent as big a change to the Earth system as do the changes in population dynamics described in the paper, but they do provide a sharper time marker,” he wrote in an e-mail. And that’s what the working group is looking for. What the current paper contributes to the discussion, however, may be something even bigger on Zalasiewicz’s radar.

“This adds weight to the increasing impression that the Anthropocene is not simply different from the Holocene, but differs in some important respects also from all previous historical episodes on this planet,” he wrote. Zalasiewicz was one of the coauthors on a recent paper in The Anthropocene Review proposing that the significant impacts humans are making to life on the planet could be the start of a long transition to something completely new—a third stage in evolution.

The previous transition from single-celled organisms to complex life took roughly 100 million years, so it’s not unreasonable to suggest that we’re initiating a (very long-term) change in course for the biosphere.

Proponents of such a transition point to the global homogenization of plants and animals, the introduction of vast amounts of new energy into Earth’s system from the burning of fossil fuels, the increasing integration of technology into a global network of human interactions and the dominance of a single species, Homo sapiens, directing the evolution of other species.

If Lyons’s results can be replicated in the fossil record in other parts of the world, it would prove that our global influence on the evolution of life on Earth began thousands of years ago.

“I have to say that this result is so striking that I think it’s going to keep a lot of scientists busy trying to decipher this,” Ellis says. “They’re opening up a door to a whole new way of looking at changes in the Earth system, changes in the biosphere, changes induced by humans. This isn’t the final word, but it’s the opening salvo to a discussion on it.”

Kimbra Cutlip|smithsonian.com|December 16, 2015

Calls to Action

  1. Support solar choice. Sign the pledge and let us know if you’d like to volunteer – here

Birds and Butterflies

Every Tally Counts Towards Conservation ‏

This year’s Audubon Christmas Bird Count has begun and with your help, we continue to fuel important conservation work.

In 1900, Dr. Frank Chapman proposed a new holiday tradition to help rather than hunt birds. A promising group of conservationists in the forming Audubon movement accepted his challenge. What began with 27 enthusiastic birders and a count of 89 species is now the longest-running citizen science project in the world. Last year marked the 115th year of the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and broke records with 72,653 observers and more than 63 million birds tallied.

This year’s 116th Audubon Christmas Bird Count has begun and will once again gather essential data for shaping our understanding of birds and how we can help them. Fueling conservation work year after year, Christmas Bird Count data has been used as a basis for landmark research such as Audubon’s 2014 Birds and Climate Change Report and reports by the EPA and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service which help guide bird conservation efforts.

Learn more here about the Audubon Christmas Bird Count or find a count near you!

Gary Langham, Ph.D.|Vice President and Chief Scientist|National Audubon Society|12/15/15

Good News! Migratory Bird Treaty Act is Safe for Now

Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC), the sponsor of legislation aimed at weakening the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), appears to have backed off a destructive course that included sponsoring an amendment on the Department of Interior and Environmental Protection Agency appropriations bill that would have eliminated enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The change of heart followed a vigorous, hard-hitting campaign by Audubon’s Washington, DC office and a barrage of more than 57,000 messages you and other Audubon members sent protesting the proposal.

Audubon was instrumental in opposing the Bird Killer Amendment and Audubon’s activists—like you—sent thousands of messages and made hundreds of phone calls to the Congressman’s office. Audubon spoke out about it in the news, and organized a town hall conversation with our activists to discuss tactics for opposition. You can hear a recording of that conversation with Audubon Vice President of Government Relations Mike Daulton at our website (scroll down to the “Want to learn more?” section).

Audubon also found direct evidence of the involvement of Duke Energy in promoting legislative changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and exposed it using original investigative journalism. An Audubon online petition campaign resulted in 44,000 emails to the CEO of Duke Energy, asking Duke to stop attacking the laws that protect our birds.

But the bad news is, many on Capitol Hill are still waging war on birds and bird conservation. We can’t rest while others plan new attacks on the MBTA and our core conservation laws. This victory should encourage us all that we can win the war, but only if we continue to fight!

From Audubon Newsletter

Piping Plovers Get a Protected Park in the Bahamas

Thanks in part to the efforts of Audubon’s shorebird experts, the plovers’ wintering grounds are now a national park.

In 2012, when Audubon scientists Matt Jeffery and Walker Golder discovered hundreds of Piping Plovers wintering at Joulter Cays, a smattering of remote, uninhabited islands in the Bahamas, it was something of a coup. Worldwide, the Piping Plover is a near-threatened species (the global population is estimated at just 8,000 breeding birds), and any new knowledge about its winter hideout would offer a fresh opportunity for protection. But once the exhilaration of the discovery wore off, Jeffery and Golder were faced with a question: What next?

The two shorebird experts knew they had to find a way to guard Joulter’s plovers—sand mining, overfishing, and pollution all pose big threats to the local ecology. The answer, they decided, was to persuade the Bahamian government to designate the area as a national park.

To build a case for Joulter’s ecological significance, Jeffery and Golder teamed up with the Bahamas National Trust, an NGO tasked with preserving the country’s natural resources. The partners surveyed the birds in the islands and found that at least 4 percent of the world’s Piping Plovers winter there—the second-highest known concentration, after Texas. They also came up with significant numbers of Short-billed Dowitchers, Reddish Egrets, Red Knots, and Clapper Rails.

“The protection of shorebirds really vaulted [Joulter Cays] to a higher level of importance and urgency,” says Eric Carey, executive director of the Bahamas National Trust. The BNT also surveyed Joulter’s vast coral reef and inventoried the many marine species that would benefit from protection, including bonefish and sponge populations—both of which are important to the Bahamian economy. By the time they were finished, the conservationists had put together a solid argument that protecting Joulter would be a boon for wildlife and local communities alike.

The government agreed. In September, when the Bahamas added 11 new national parks to its roster, Joulter’s 113,920 acres of land and sea were among them. “This is a great victory for heroic birds that don’t know borders and for the people who depend on the shores and waters of the Joulter Cays to make a living,” says Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold.

That doesn’t mean the work is over. Although Joulter’s new status brings an immediate end to the threat of sand mining, the BNT still has to write a management plan to regulate fishing, boats, and foot traffic in the park. “The designation takes certain threats off the table,” explains Jeffery. “But that’s only the first step.” Still, 113,920 acres is a mighty big step.

From Audubon Newsletter

Pascagoula River Audubon Center Opens Its Doors

A decade-long odyssey yields improved access to the natural world.

This week, the Pascagoula River Audubon Center finally opened its doors to the public. Ten years in the making, the 5,000-square-foot center in Moss Point, Mississippi, will serve as a community hub, a tourist destination, and the focal point of wetland and riparian habitat restoration along the river and along coastal Mississippi. The idea to build a nature center in Moss Point first surfaced in the 1990s as a way to tie the local community to the river that nourishes it, the Sun Herald reports. When center director Mark LaSalle—already a resident of coastal Mississippi—joined Audubon in 2004, the plans to build that long-wished-for nature center finally began to crystallize.

The cypress-timbered and glass building sits on a 10-acre site of trees and coastal marsh along the Pascagoula River, the largest undammed river in the lower 48 states. In addition to the center, the Pascagoula River Audubon Center site has a number of boardwalks through woodland and marsh habitat, a bird blind, native-plant demonstration plots, and a children’s nature play garden.

Its free-flowing state has made the Pascagoula River a focal point for conservation efforts for decades. More than 200 species of bird live and breed in the habitats that line the Pascagoula. But the region is also rich with human history. Audubon Mississippi staff, and volunteers from the local Audubon societies, have collaborated with nearby Turkey Creek community leader Derrick Evans and others to prove that the Turkey Creek watershed, and the associated community, needed protections from the rampant development that erupted in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. By listening to the local communities like Moss Point and their needs, the Pascagoula River Audubon Center will help to support and celebrate all inhabitants of coastal Mississippi—avian and human.

From Audubon Newsletter
 

Florida Panthers

Panther Habitat threatened again

A crucial slice of Florida Panther habit and regional groundwater resources in southeast Lee are at risk of disappearing forever because of improper action by the county, according to a lawsuit filed by two community organizations.

The Estero Council of Community Leaders and the Responsible Growth Management Coalition argue in their Lee Circuit Court complaint that, in November, county commissioners wrongly granted developer Cameratta Companies permission to build 1,325 houses on what is supposed to be protected land.

DOCUMENT: Click here to read the lawsuit.

DOCUMENT: Click here to read the exhibits.

“Clearly, we are not being listened to on this,” said Don Eslick, chairman of the Estero Council of Community Leaders. “The handwriting is on the wall.”

Lee commissioners have exhibited a pattern of signing off on the development applications of campaign contributors, said Wayne Daltry, a longtime Lee County activist and a member of Responsible Growth Management Coalition’s leadership team.

“It stacks up,” Daltry said. “Everybody gets approved unless somebody challenges them.”

Cameratta’s development, known as Corkscrew Farms, would be built on a 1,361-acre Corkscrew Road property about six miles east of the Interstate 75 interchange. Corkscrew Farms would sit within a rural area, known as the DRGR, that has been density-restricted by county policy since 1990 because the land was deemed crucial for Lee’s drinking water supply.

“Once it is developed, it is irreversible,” said Ralf Brookes, the Cape Coral-based lawyer representing the ECCL and the growth management coalition in the lawsuit.

Joe Cameratta, Cameratta Companies founder, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Lee County declined comment in an emailed statement attributed to Deputy County Attorney Andrea Fraser.

“The county has not been officially served with the complaint. Once we are served we will review the complaint and answer the complaint appropriately,” according to the statement.

Corkscrew Farms is not the only project that signals Lee County’s growth management strategy on the DRGR has shifted.

Last month, Lee commissioners approved a development agreement that lets Private Equity Group, under the name Alico East Fund, apply for permits to build up to 1,096 homes and 40,000 square feet of commercial and retail space on a 2,960-acre Corkscrew Road property. The project, also within the DRGR, is known as WildBlue.

Eslick said the ECCL “tolerated” WildBlue because it is adjacent to existing residential neighborhoods and is bordered by Alico Road to the north, which helps split the traffic.

But Corkscrew Farms contradicts county policy for the DRGR because it is an example of “leapfrog development,” a term that refers to projects removed from urban services, such as schools, and that would require the extension of public facilities.

“This project is really the one that is sprawl,” Eslick said.

Corkscrew Farms would add 12,000 trips per day onto Corkscrew Road, which two-lanes east of I-75 and is already overburdened with traffic, and Lee County failed to complete a comprehensive traffic analysis before doling out its approval, according to the lawsuit.

More drivers on Corkscrew Road would also endanger the lives of Florida Panthers, according to the complaint.

“We imagine that we would increase the probability of panthers being hit,” Brookes said.

In Florida, there have been 38 documented panther deaths in 2015 as of Wednesday, and 27 of those deaths have been blamed on vehicles.

The lawsuit is a necessary “last resort” to defend the DRGR, Eslick said.

“We really didn’t have a whole lot of choice,” he said. “(Corkscrew Farms) is really the beginning of what appears to be a big trend totally in conflict with all the effort we put in to protect that area.”Lee County has no need to build “a solitary development” in the DRGR, said Brookes.

“(The DRGR) is a vast amount of green space that is awe-inspiring,” Brookes said. “There are huge open vistas you can see on the horizon, uninterrupted wild Florida. Otherwise we’ll be like Miami with development all the way to the edge of the Everglades.”

Maryann Batlle|Naples Daily News|12/19/15

Everglades

Now Available: Audubon’s State of the Everglades Report – Fall 2015

The exciting and inspiring work of Everglades conservation depends on the actions of dedicated people. With this State of the Everglades update, we want to connect you with the good work being done to benefit Florida’s birds and wildlife.

Passionate citizens have always been the driving force behind Everglades progress. Whether you are reading this as an Audubon donor, volunteer, advocate, or partner – or someone getting ready to do your part, remember that we walk in the muddy shoes of those who came before us and must make things better for those who follow.

Audubon’s Everglades Team – our science and policy staff and wonderfully committed board leadership – pledge to keep pushing policy makers for the best solutions for the River of Grass. Please review the important stories inside this PDF magazine to learn more about what we are doing to help Lake Okeechobee, Florida Bay, the coastal estuaries, and the rest of the Greater Everglades.

Together we are making a difference.

Click here to download your free copy of our comprehensive biannual report on the River of Grass.

CERP Turns 15: A Key Milestone for Everglades Restoration

December 2015 marks the 15-year anniversary since President Bill Clinton, joined by Florida’s then-governor Jeb Bush, signed the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). Now halfway through the proposed 30-year vision of restoring America’s Everglades, there’s still much more work to be done to meet the goals of the largest ecosystem restoration project in history.

Here’s a snapshot of the past 15 years of  restoration…and a hopeful look at what’s in store.

Water Quality Issues

Congress Acts for Keep Clean Water Act and to Save Oceans

Efforts to gut the Clean Water Act were thwarted. “Due to overwhelming public support, the Clean Water Rule has now withstood every attack that polluters could muster in Congress,” said John Rumpler, an attorney with Environment America. “Polluters and their allies have played all their dirty water cards in Congress and lost.”

All three anti-National Ocean Policy riders in the Omnibus bill were removed from the legislation.  This is very good news for all eight Regional Ocean Planning Bodies.

An Ocean Trust Fund is in the bill.  What we have been calling the National Endowment for the Ocean will be called the National Oceans and Coastal Security Fund.   The name has changed but the conservation purposes stay the same.

Full funding by NOAA for Regional Coastal Resilience Grants ($5 million) for another year.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund was reauthorized for three-years at $450 million in fiscal 2016, a major boost over the current level of just over $300 million.

From ORI

Water woes lurk as saltwater moves inland, upward

West Virginia has coal. Colorado has snow. Florida has lots of water, at least it did.

The Sunshine State gets nearly 5 feet of rain each year, which is just a few inches shy of what Arizona, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming receive combined.

But a century of drainage and development has crippled freshwater flows in the historic Everglades, possibly even changed summer weather patterns. Some scientists speculate that so much water runs off the landscape so quickly that there’s not enough moisture in the air – during the wet season – to create daily afternoon rains.

“To a large extent (water) was thrown away to turn South Florida into what I call terraform upland, turning wetlands into (dry) lands,” said Jim Beever, with the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council. “Florida was a paradise and we tried to turn into the Midwest.”

All that would be bad enough, but Florida’s rapid growth means demand for fresh water to drink, not to mention clean, flush and sprinkle lawns with, is increasing even as supplies fall. The state’s population is pushing 20 million, with most of those people centered on the coast. What was once a common, cheap commodity is now becoming harder to find, or getting much more scarce and expensive.

How bad is it? South Florida was once home to one of the most productive freshwater systems on the planet. Today, park biologists are scrambling to find enough water to keep alligators in the Everglades alive.

Groundwater levels have dropped nearly 7 feet in Lee County over the past 20 years, according to data recorded by the United States Geological Survey. Some coastal cities are moving from freshwater aquifers that provide relatively inexpensive water to much deeper, brackish aquifers that often cost billions to build and operate.

That’s because the shallow, cheaper freshwater aquifers have been nearly tapped out.

In Florida, freshwater is needed not only for drinking water and to feed wetland systems that support protected wildlife but also to help battle saltwater intrusion, when saltwater moves from either an ocean or deeper, brackish aquifers into drinking water supplies.

State water managers say the resource is sustainable, even in the face of saltwater intrusion in cities like Bonita Springs and Naples. The South Florida Water Management District, which oversees water supply in the 16-county area, started documenting the movement of saltwater below ground in 2009 and has detected intrusion in Lee and Collier counties.

“We’re not seeing rampant inland movement of the saltwater into the aquifers, but saltwater intrusion is still occurring,” said Pete Kwiatkowski, with the district’s water supply bureau. “It looks like those well water withdrawals (in Bonita Springs) are contributing to inland movement, and we’ll be working with the water utility supplies to see if they’re increasing water usage or if they need better monitoring wells.”

Bonita Springs, though, may soon allow higher density development in a part of the town specifically set aside to recharge drinking water aquifers.

More development means more water usage, which is only adding to the problems, critics say.

“It’s a Band-Aid we’re stuck with and a Band-Aid that’s never coming off,” Beever said. “And you’re going to see more of it.”

CHAD GILLIS|NEWS-PRESS.COM|December 11, 2015

[If salt water can migrate through Florida’s substrate, think about how easily fracking fluids, which are much lighter and much less dense than sea water, will migrate into our surface waters, our wells and our aquifers.]

National Academies Report: Stormwater and Graywater Offer Alternative Water Sources, But Guidelines Needed on Their Safe Use

From the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Press Release:

In the face of drought and major water shortages, the U.S. is increasingly turning to alternative water sources like stormwater and graywater, but guidelines and research on their risk to public health and the environment are needed to support decisions for safe use, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  Graywater and stormwater could significantly supplement traditional potable water supplies using existing technology to capture and treat the waters, but there is currently limited information on the costs, benefits, risks, and regulation of such projects, the report concludes.  Additional research and changes in infrastructure will be necessary to take full advantage of the potential of graywater and stormwater, the report adds.

Graywater is untreated wastewater from bathroom sinks, showers, tubs, washers, and laundry sinks, and stormwater is runoff from rainfall or snowmelt from roofs, parking areas, and land surfaces.  These types of water can be collected and treated for non-potable uses including irrigation, toilet flushing, and laundry and outdoor washing.  The committee that conducted the study and wrote the report undertook a comprehensive analysis of the risks, costs, and benefits of various uses of graywater and stormwater, as well as their capture and use at household, neighborhood, and regional scales.

More research and data on stormwater and graywater quality are necessary to assess the risks under various human exposures, particularly on the types and concentrations of pathogens that are likely to occur, the report says.  Additional information is also needed on the organic chemicals in stormwater and their consequences for various uses.

The report recommends best practices and systems for the capture and use of stormwater and groundwater.  In locations where it can be stored in aquifers for use during drought or dry seasons, stormwater captured at neighborhood and larger scales can significantly contribute to urban water supplies.  Stormwater infiltration — groundwater recharge — is commonly practiced, but the designs and regulations may not adequately protect groundwater quality, particularly for urban stormwater.   Graywater reuse for non-potable uses like toilet flushing and subsurface irrigation may provide arid regions such as Los Angeles potentially substantial water savings and a steady water source during the summer months when there is little or no rainfall.  However, larger irrigation systems and indoor reuse requires more complex plumbing and treatment systems that are typically more appropriate for new multi-residential buildings and developments and for future urban planning.

Irrigation at the household scale can be achieved with simple systems that require little energy and maintenance, but the report notes that neither graywater nor stormwater should be used in arid regions to support landscaping that is not sustainable in the long term.  If water conservation is the primary objective, alternative strategies like designing water-efficient landscapes to reduce or eliminate irrigation should first be examined and would provide much larger reductions in water demand in arid regions.

The report also notes that little is known about the impact of installing on-site water systems on homeowners’ water-use behavior.  This points to a need to study behavioral responses to conservation measures.

One of the greatest hurdles is the absence of risk-based guidelines that ensure water quality is protective of public health, the report says.  Rigorous, risk-based guidelines could improve safety, reduce spending on unnecessary treatment, and assist communities that lack an existing regulatory framework for on-site water supplies.  The committee recommended that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a collaboration of states, or a collaboration of U.S. water organizations working with EPA develop these guidelines.  Right now, there is substantial variation in on-site graywater and stormwater regulations at the state and local levels.  Regulations have not evolved quickly enough to keep up with advances in technologies and their use, hindering the capacity for graywater and stormwater to significantly expand the nation’s water supplies.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; National Science Foundation; Water Research Foundation; Water Environment Research Foundation; Los Angeles Department of Water and Power; WateReuse; City of Madison, Wisconsin; National Water Research Institutes; and through the Academies’ Presidents’ Fund, support was provided by the Arthur L. Day Fund, W.K. Kellogg Foundation Fund, and George and Cynthia Mitchell Endowment for Sustainability Sciences.  The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine.  They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.

Florida Water Daily|December 17, 2015

Lake Okeechobee water level is in the Low Flow Sub-Band.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District will begin a 7-day average 1500 cfs pulse release at S-79 Structure on the Caloosahatchee. The target discharges at S-80  to the IRL continue to be 0 cfs.

The latest Environmental Conditions Report of SFWMD can be found at the following URL (see right bottom under Operational Reports)

http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xweb%20-%20release%202/operational%20planning

These releases will start Friday, 18 December 2015 at 0700 hrs and end on Friday, 25 December  2015 at 0700 hrs..

The next call to solicit input from the Scientists will be held on Tuesday, 22 December 2015 at 2:00 pm.

The call-in number and webinar address is given below:

https://www.webmeeting.att.com

Meeting Number 877-336-1839

Access Code 5106119

Security code 1101

Water farms exceed goals, but is it enough?

 

. Three Treasure Coast water farms are surpassing their contracted goals of keeping contaminated water out of the St. Lucie River.

Figures obtained from the water farm managers show they’ve held back a total of about 6.5 billion gallons of water that otherwise would have reached the St. Lucie estuary and Indian River Lagoon.

That’s far more than the combined 3.7 billion gallons called for in the projects’ contracts with the South Florida Water Management District and enough water to cover the city of Stuart with 3 feet, 8 inches.

But is it enough to make a difference in the environmental health of the St. Lucie River estuary?

So far this year, the Caulkins Citrus Co. water farm in western Martin County, by far the most effective of the three facilities on the Treasure Coast, has pulled nearly 5 billion gallons of water out of the C-44 Canal and has held another 540 million gallons of rainfall so that none of it reached the St. Lucie. But nearly 60 billion gallons of water – enough to cover Stuart with 33 feet, 10 inches – from the C-44 has reached the estuary this year, including nearly 34 billion gallons from Lake Okeechobee.

Huge influxes of freshwater lower the salinity in the estuary, which is supposed to be a mixture of inland freshwater and saltwater brought from the ocean on high tides. Long periods of low salinity can kill oysters and sea grass, important species in the estuary’s ecosystem.

Also, water from Lake Okeechobee and runoff from agricultural lands in western Martin and St. Lucie counties is laden with nutrients, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, that can cause algae blooms in the unnaturally low-salinity estuary. The blooms also can kill oysters and sea grass.

EVERY DROP COUNTS

Water farms are part of the water management district’s program to keep polluted water out of estuaries. Water is pumped out of a canal leading to an estuary and onto land surrounded by a berm. Typically, the water stays on the farm until it evaporates into the air or percolates into the ground; but it can be released back into the canal if needed.

The district has contracts for three pilot water farm projects: Caulkins; Evans Properties Inc., which owns a 970-acre facility on the C-24 Canal; and Spur Land & Cattle Co., with a 210-acre operation on the C-23 Canal.

Although limited in scope, the three pilot water farms “help the estuaries because every drop counts, and any water you keep out of the estuaries helps the estuaries,” said Mark Perry, executive director of the Stuart-based Florida Oceanographic Society.

Water farming has always been seen as an interim solution to keeping water out of the estuaries, said Ronald L. “Ron” Edwards, president and CEO of Evans Properties Inc., buying time while reservoirs designed to hold much more water can be built.

The C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area currently under construction, for example, won’t be fully operational until 2020; and construction hasn’t started on similar projects proposed for the C-23 and C-24 canals.

“The real cost comes from doing nothing,” Edwards said. “By the time the reservoirs are built in 20 years, the lagoon could be beyond recovery; or it would take a whole lot more money to fix it.”

PREPPING FOR EL NINO

From Dec. 4 through Wednesday, the Caulkins facility didn’t pull any water out of the C-44 Canal. Farm manager Tom Kenny said the water district ordered the pumps shut off Oct. 27 and didn’t have them turned back on until 3 p.m. Wednesday.

During the interval, nearly 4 billion gallons of runoff from nearby fields and groves poured through into the St. Lucie River.

With heavier than average rainfall forecast in the coming months, the water management district wants water farms to be able to take on a lot more water this coming winter, said spokesman Randy Smith.

Kenny said the Caulkins facility could have taken more water. Spur Land & Cattle’s water farm is “totally full,” said Wesley Carlton, the project manager. “It’s got so much water, people call it the swimming pool.”

Edwards said the Evans water farm is “within a couple of inches” of being full.

The El Nino threat means the coming year will be the water farms’ real test, Perry said.

“They were able to take some water this past year, and that was great; the estuary didn’t have any significant damage,” he said. “But we may see a lot more water coming to the estuary next year. Will the water farms be able to make much of a difference?”

HOLDING WATER

The three water farms designed to keep water out of the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon have met or exceeded the goals set for them in contracts with the South Florida Water Management District, which is paying them a combined total of $1.44 million annually.

EVANS PROPERTIES INC.

  • Where: St. Lucie County on C-24 Canal
  • Size: 970 acres
  • Water expected to hold: 1.2 billion gallons per year
  • Water held since May: 1.19 billion gallons
  • Annual payments: $537,168.50

SPUR LAND & CATTLE (Bull Hammock Ranch)

  • Where: Martin County on C-23 Canal
  • Size: 210 acres
  • Water expected to hold: 283.5 million gallons per year
  • Water held Jan. 1-Oct. 31: 272.6 million gallons*
  • Annual payments: $54,720

CAULKINS CITRUS CO.

  • Where: Martin County on C-44 Canal
  • Size: 450 acres
  • Water expected to hold: 2.2 billion gallons per year
  • Water held since Jan. 1: 5 billion gallons
  • Annual payments: $480,830

* Runoff from heavy rains in November pumped onto the water farm probably brought the annual total over the expected 283.5 million gallons.

Tyler Treadway|TCPalm

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Protecting the Water of Lake Okeechobee

Protecting the Water of Lake Okeechobee, the Liquid Heart of the Everglades An audacious grab for Lake Okeechobee’s water is taking place as the sugar industry lobbies against restrictions on irrigation during droughts.

The sugar industry lays claim to water from Lake Okeechobee, and during serious droughts compels the South Florida Water Management District (District) to install pumps at taxpayer expense to deliver water to the vast sugarcane fields.

Audubon has objected to the practice of unrestricted water use from the Lake during droughts. Allowing use of pumps removes incentives for the sugar producers to reduce water use. Audubon staff have long pointed out that unnaturally low drawdowns of Lake Okeechobee endanger Everglade Snail Kites and damage Lake Okeechobee habitats. In 2011, use of pumps made Lake water levels so low it stranded Kite nests, killing nestlings.

Audubon’s Dr. Paul Gray advised the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to put specific conditions on the pumps to protect the ecosystem.

However, when conditions were proposed, the District Governing Board Members voted to be prepared to sue their federal partners to remove the endangered species conditions on the pump permit.

Lake Okeechobee is the liquid heart of the Greater Everglades. The State of Florida long ago recognized the valuable birdlife using the Lake and granted a lease to Audubon to manage 30,000 acres of productive marsh.

Dr. Gray patrols the marsh, as Audubon wardens have for decades. A large diversity of wading birds, ducks, raptors, and shorebirds make use of Lake Okeechobee, one of the most productive parts of the Everglades ecosystem.

The sugar industry wants the Lake managed as a reservoir to satisfy growing irrigation demands. However, each time pumps were used since 2001, results are disastrous for fish and birds.

In 2011, as nestlings were dying, the district provided sugarcane farmers with 170% of a normal year’s supply of water. People like you can make a difference in how the District operates pumps in the future and manages this integral Everglades habitat.

Sign up for the Audubon Restore eNewsletter

Effort to keep Asian carp from lakes stymied

$300M quest for deterrent seems to come up empty

TRAVERSE CITY – When scientists discovered six years ago that aggressive Asian carp had made their way up the Mississippi River’s tributaries toward the Chicago area, the Obama administration and alarmed state officials pledged swift action to head off an invasion they feared could devastate fishing and boating on the vital Great Lakes.

Since then, federal agencies have spent more than $300 million on stopgap measures, including placing electric barriers on one likely route, a shipping canal that leads to Lake Michigan. But as the carp get closer — some are within 80 miles of the lake — the quest for a surefire deterrent seems to be coming up empty.

An advisory panel that has debated solutions for several years is scheduled to hold what may be its final meeting Thursday, with no sign of a consensus plan, several members said in interviews.

Even if talks continue, chances are growing that the carp will arrive before anything conclusive is done to stop them. At their recent pace, the first young carp could reach Lake Michigan within two years, although a number of obstacles could slow them considerably.

“It’s one of the things that keep me up at night,” said U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat whose state borders four of the five Great Lakes. “Asian carp could devastate our Great Lakes and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that depend on them.”

The most effective measure proposed — blocking waterways that connect the Mississippi River watershed with Lake Michigan — is favored by a majority of the eight Great Lakes states but widely unpopular in two of them, Illinois and Indiana. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it could cost up to $18 billion, a figure supporters contend is exaggerated.

Separating the watersheds would disrupt shipping on rivers and canals in the Chicago area, where barges annually haul an estimated $29 billion worth of coal, chemicals and other freight. The added delays would shift more cargo to already-packed highways and railroads, said Benjamin Brockschmidt of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

Also, scientists acknowledge that even if the waterways are blocked, Asian carp eventually might reach the Great Lakes anyway— for example, from careless anglers dumping bait buckets — and that their effect on other fish is still speculative.

“Severing a critical part of the nation’s water transportation network is too high a price to pay for a solution that is not guaranteed to stop the spread of invasive species,” said Tom Allegretti, president of American Waterways Operators, which represents barge and tugboat companies.

Environmental groups and the region’s fishing and boating industries, which generate $23 billion annually on the lakes, are most worried about two varieties of Asian carp: bighead and silver, which weigh dozens of pounds and gorge on the same tiny plant and animal life that feeds the lakes’ other fish. Scientists are still measuring their impact in rivers, but under worst-case scenarios, the large carp could leave popular sport fish to go hungry and suffer population drop-offs. Asian carp are edible but bony, and most Great Lakes fish connoisseurs regard them as a poor substitute for the walleye and whitefish.

Additionally, silver carp are notorious for springing from the water when startled, sometimes ramming boaters with bone-cracking force — a hazard that some fear could damage the Great Lakes’ tourism industry.

Several carp species were imported from Asia in the early 1970s to cleanse algae from fish farms and sewage treatment ponds in the South. They escaped during flooding and have migrated up the Mississippi and its tributaries, including the Illinois River, which leads to a network of Chicago-area rivers and canals and Lake Michigan.

Carp DNA was detected in those waters in 2009, spurring calls for urgent action.

This fall, crews discovered two small silver carp farther up the Illinois River than ever before. It meant the leading edge of the juvenile population had advanced 66 miles since January — to within 77 miles of Lake Michigan.

“We’d not seen that kind of movement in the last four or five years,” said Charles Wooley, deputy Midwestern regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “And all of a sudden, boom.”

The juveniles have a better chance of slipping past the electric barriers alive than the larger adults.

Even if the carp get through, scientists say, it could take years to establish breeding populations, and it’s doubtful they would spread completely across the Great Lakes, although they could overrun shore areas and tributary rivers where popular species like perch and trout breed and people enjoy water sports.

One proposal with broad support is opening another line of defense at a lock-and-dam near Joliet, Illinois, about 10 miles south of the electric barriers, which could buy more time. Already, a 2-mile-long earthen dam has been built near Fort Wayne, Indiana.

JOHN FLESHER|ASSOCIATED PRESS

Wildlife and Habitat

Environmental Impacts of Proposed Seismic Studies for Oil Exploration in Big Cypress National Preserve

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/miami-dade/fl-big-cypress-oil-environment-20151120-story.html

The comment period on Draft Environmental Assessment has been extended to January 4, 2016

http://www.nps.gov/bicy/learn/news/comments-on-environmental-assessment.htm

Link to Draft EA PDF
http://parkplanning.nps.gov/showFile.cfm?projectID=53498&MIMEType=application%252Fpdf&filename=Burnett%20EA%20NPS%20revision%2011%5F18%5F15%2Epdf&sfid=226780

It would appear that the USFWS is retracing the same ground in trod in 1988 to approve the seismic studies based on a superficial EA rather than a more comprehensive EIS.  The approved studies were halted in after environmental groups filed a lawsuit.
http://www.nytimes.com/1988/05/18/us/agency-halts-oil-exploration-in-florida-preserve.html

There is a pattern of USFWS failure to intervene on behalf of threatened or endangered species in projects that could adversely impact them or their habitats.
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/14/government-rarely-intervened-projects-endangered-species

Irrespective of whether anybody can link the unnatural stresses from the unnatural vibration frequencies and intensities in the ground, air, or trees to unnatural wildlife alert, startle, or irritation, the applicant will claim that any effect is short-lived and of no consequence in terms of the reproductive success of wildlife that were temporarily disturbed by the activity.  The counter to this unsupported self-serving claim is that locally significant reproductive failure can occur from nesting females temporarily or permanently abandoning their nests when they are startled by the unnatural vibrations from the seismic testing.

Despite this line of argument, in one’s comments on the EA for this project one should demand that the applicant be required to monitor the vibration energy in the ground, air, and trees as a function of frequency and distance along a set of radii centered on the plate or explosion source and to hire a bevy of professional wildlife biologists to observe, photograph, and videotape any changes in wildlife behavior associated with these seismic studies along those same seismic wave energy gradients. 

The most sensitive measure of adverse impact on reproductive success is the incidence of unhatched eggs in the nests in trees from rookeries affected by the seismic waves versus the incidence in nests in trees from rookeries that are unaffected by the seismic waves.  If the incidence of unhatched eggs relative to an upper-bound incidence from a set of unstressed reference rookeries for endangered and trust wading bird species decreases exponentially with distance from the seismic wave source, it would be hard to argue that the seismic exploration was not the cause of the unacceptable effect on reproductive failure.  If any threatened or endangered species is involved, any detectable increase in reproductive failure is a taking under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

This skittishness may be exacerbated by the neurotoxic effect of methylmercury, a toxic effect first documented in a study of the cause of the observed effect of an increase in the failed hatching rate in Forster’s tern rookeries on Green Bay.  What was initially hypothesized to be caused by the embryotoxicity of dioxin-like PCBs bioaccumulating in the eggs was disproved by a clever study design where the scientists switched dirty eggs from the Green Bay rookeries with clean eggs from un-impacted inland lake rookeries under clean birds and clean eggs from the un-impacted rookeries with dirty eggs from the impacted rookeries under dirty birds, and it turned out it was the increased skittishness of the brain-addled nesting females in the Green Bay rookeries that was causing the increase in lethal temporary abandonment of their nests.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3803335

This may also be occurring in the Everglades and may explain why the year-to-year nesting rates for many wading bird species are oscillating more than in un=impacted wetlands with the same environmental cues.

Irrespective of whether seismic stress has a measurable effect on reproductive success, if the seismic explorations are successful, this will inevitably lead to an application for the extraction of discovered oil, even though there is now a glut of fracked oil and natural gas on the market.

Because there is no way to extract this oil cost-competitively without doing unacceptable environmental damage, there is no reason to explore for this oil at this time.  When the price of oil rises to the point that it is cost-competitive to drill for such oil safely, then and only then would it be appropriate to explore for it, because only then could the benefit to society of accessing the oil outweigh the risks to the public welfare embodied in the protection of the public trust that is BCNP.

In one’s comments one might also ask whether one could generate the equivalent in green energy more cost-effectively over a longer period of time with less adverse environmental impacts in areas that have not been set aside as a unique national preserve as a viable alternative to the exploration and extraction of any and all such oil reserves.  That should probably be addressed in a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement forced by EPA’s determination that the emission of carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels represents an imminent threat to the public health and welfare by causing unnatural ocean acidification, global warming, sea level rise, and represents an unreasonable risk of climate disruption, as evidence by the juxtaposition of record-breaking highs in one region and record-breaking lows in another region of the same continent and climatological region, a condition that is occurring even as I write.

Larry Fink

For animals, mild weather mixed bag

Food abundant without snow, but snowshoe hares are easy prey

MONTPELIER, Vt. For now, the El Nino-driven mild weather across much of the nation is a boon to some wildlife, which are able to forage for more food and are using less energy surviving, experts say. But for some species — like snowshoe hares, whose white fur makes them conspicuous to predators — the lack of snow isn’t good news. Access to food, such as nuts and apples, which have been abundant but are now getting scarce, has kept some black bears active and out of their winter dens. The bear activity has prompted officials in Vermont and Massachusetts to urge residents to wait for snow before putting up bird feeders to avoid attracting bears.

“We suggest waiting for 6 or more inches of snow that lasts before putting out your bird feeders, especially if you have been visited in the past by bears or if there are sightings of bears in your neighborhood,” said Forrest Hammond, Vermont Fish and Wildlife’s bear biologist. “Due to lack of snow and frozen ground, birds are able to forage in fields and forests for their natural foods.”

Female bears typically go into their dens before males, he said. A lack of available food, rather than cold weather, tends to drive males into their dens, he said.

In Maine, the bears stayed out later than normal this year, but most seem to be denning up now, said Judy Camuso, director of wildlife for the Maine Department of Inland, Fisheries and Wildlife. In Colorado, which last week was blanketed with snow, bears started to hibernate on schedule this fall, according to Mat Robbins, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The amount of snow also can affect how comfortable the bears are and the rate that they use up their accumulated fat while they hibernate, Hammond said.

“A lot of their den sites a re laying there exposed to the elements now,” he said. “If we get a couple feet of good snow depth, then their dens are covered over completely. You wouldn’t know there was a bear ever there.”

Predators don’t know they are there, they are not exposed to the elements, and they sleep much more soundly, so they’re not using up as much of their fat reserves, he said.

The mild fall also has delayed the annual migration of some geese and other waterfowl, according to Geoff LeBaron, director of the Christmas Bird Count for the National Audubon Society. Some species that winter in the U.S. move with the weather, or just in advance of it, so geese and waterfowl, especially in the East, stay north for as long as they can in mild winters, he said. Once things start to freeze up and there’s snow cover, they’ll head south, he said.

Virginia, where the temperature is expected to hit 70 on Christmas, is not seeing as many migratory waterfowl — Canada geese, swans — as it normally does this time of year.

“Without that colder weather up north to push those birds down, the word is that it’s been slow,” said Lee Walker, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

A lack of snow also makes some animals more vulnerable to prey. Snowshoe hares and long and short-tailed weasels have already molted and grown in their winter white coats, a process driven by length of daylight.

“If you’re a barred owl or a great horned owl or a hawk — you know, a red tailed hawk — or a fox or a coyote or a fisher, everything that’s hooked in as a predator would love to have a snowshoe hare for dinner,” said Mark Scott, director of wildlife for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

LISA RATHKE|ASSOCIATED PRESS

Rainbow Collars Could Help Keep Cats From Wiping Out Birds

This colorful trick may stop Fluffy from murdering local songbirds

Cats may be great at keeping your house mouse-free, but let them outside and they could become part of a major environmental problem. According to a 2013 report published in the journal Nature, cats are one of the biggest human-related threats to ecosystems around the world. In the U.S. alone, they kill between 1.3 and 4 billion birds and between 6.3 and 22 billion mammals every year.

People have struggled to find ways to prevent outdoor pet cats from adding to the body count with solutions like creating enclosed backdoor “catios” or by banning outdoor cats altogether. But recently, two unrelated groups of scientists each found that forcing Fluffy to wear a large, brightly-colored collar while she’s running around outside can make a dramatic difference in the rates of dead birds she drags back home, Conor Gearin reports for The Atlantic.

Go to any pet store and you’ll likely find a wall of cat collars designed to keep the furry murderbeasts from claiming new victims whenever they go outside, whether by using loud bells or trying to slow down their lightning-quick strikes. In this case, both studies looked at one cat collar brand that uses bright colors to warn birds that they are being stalked.

Unlike many small mammals that rely on their sense of smell to detect and avoid predators, birds can see color extremely well. While most mammals only have two color pigments in their eyes and primates (including humans) have three, birds and some lizards use four color pigments, Gearin reports. Usually this helps them find food and mates, but that extra pigment also allows them to easily spot a cat wearing a big, rainbow-colored collar.

“They’re best used by owners whose cats catch a lot of birds and lizards and either don’t catch a lot of mice and rats, or their owners don’t care whether they catch mice and rats,” Catherine Hall, the Murdoch University Ph.D. student who authored one of the studies, said in a statement.

While this may be great news for birds, these collars won’t do anything to stop cats from going after small mammals that may be endangered, especially in places like Australia where some conservationists believe that cats are responsible for almost all recent small mammal extinctions, Cara Giaimo writes for Atlas Obscura.

And even if all the pet cats got collared, they are just a small fraction of the world’s bird-killing felines, University of Nebraska biologist John Carroll tells Gearin. Feral cats are also big-time bird hunters with no human owners to curtail their killing.

“There’s some value to it,” Carroll says. “But it doesn’t get to the root of the problem.”

So while it’s far from a total solution to the threat, if your kitten has brought home one too many bird carcasses lately, this rainbow collar might just do the trick.

Danny Lewis|smithsonian.com|December 16, 2015

Are polar bears the new canary in the coal mine? ‏

Polar bears are victims of one of the planet’s most tragic ironies.

The bears’ home in the Arctic, where human activity is relatively scarce, is bearing the brunt of climate change’s deadly effects.

Air temperatures near the North Pole are rising twice as fast as the global average. Summer sea ice—which is vital habitat for polar bears, walruses and other wildlife—is disappearing at a record-breaking pace.

The Arctic has big problems, but we have big plans.

Heartbreaking photos of starving and emaciated polar bears have gone viral in recent months. Those bears depend on sea ice to hunt for seals and other prey. As sea ice disappears, polar bears must work harder and harder to find their next meal.

To make matters even worse, the Arctic Ocean has been targeted by giant oil and gas companies that dream of turning these remote waters into the next big oil field.

Thanks to you, we all dodged a bullet this year when Shell and Statoil abandoned plans to drill in the Chukchi Sea. But make no mistake, the oil behemoths have not given up by any stretch. And the impacts of drilling in the Arctic Ocean could be catastrophic.

With your generous support, we’re:

•   Fighting to keep the Arctic Ocean’s oil safely below the seafloor, where it belongs.
•   Advancing efforts among Arctic nations to conserve and protect key habitats in this imperiled region; and
•   Promoting safer shipping practices to minimize the threat of ship strikes and spills that could affect iconic Arctic species like bowhead whales.

What happens in the Arctic affects us all. Your support couldn’t come at a more important moment.

Thank you for your steadfast support for the ocean and for Ocean Conservancy.

Andrew Hartsig|Ocean Conservancy|12/20/15

Forestry

3200 hundred Years in One Photo ‏

Amazingly awesome to think of the life of this tree! Thank God no loggers took it down–nor forest fires, nor earthquakes.  –Just a quiet life in a California forest for all these years.

Not every tree has a nickname, but ‘The President’ has earned it. This giant sequoia stands at 247 feet  tall, and is estimated to be over 3,200 years Old. Imagine, this tree was already 1200 years old when Jesus walked the earth.

The trunk of the  president measures at 27 feet across, with 2 BILLION needles from base to top.

Because of its unbelievable size, this tree has never been photographed in its entirety. Until now. A team of National Geographic photographers have worked along with scientists to try and create the first photo that shows the president in all its glory.

They had to climb the tree with pulleys and levers, and took thousands of photos.  Of those, they selected 126 and stitched them together, to get this incredible portrait of the President.

And here it is:

Incredible, is it not?

Barbara Ruge|BrowardSierra|12/17/15

Global Warming and Climate Change

Sea Level Rise, South Florida and the Everglades

Most South Floridians live on porous limestone rock blanketed with a few inches of soil, mere feet above sea level. This, coupled with gradually rising seas, has caused property owners to be rightfully concerned about flooding and property loss.

Over the past 100 years, sea level has risen approximately 8 inches globally. Over the next century, that could increase five-fold.

While flooding in urban areas is always a concern, most South Floridians are utterly unaware of the impact rising sea levels have on the natural landscape of the Everglades. This lack of awareness is, to some degree, understandable. A remarkably resilient ecosystem, the Everglades contains a variety of habitats adapted to a range of flooding from either freshwater or saltwater, so some may wonder why we should be concerned about sea level rise at all in the Everglades.

How the Everglades responds to rising sea levels is a bit complex. The Everglades is a flat, low- lying landscape with a gentle slope — about a 1.5 to 2-inch rise for every mile from the coast. The conventional thinking is that coastal habitats such as mangroves will gradually migrate up this gentle slope with increased penetration of saltwater into freshwater habitats.

This “landward migration” scenario, however, may not necessarily be the rule.

Cape Sable, a span of beach and freshwater wetland shielding the southwest coast of the Florida peninsula, may provide an instructive glimpse into a potential future scenario. In the 1920’s, the dredging of canals accelerated saltwater penetration into this freshwater marsh habitat.

The outcome was less like “landward migration” and more analogous to the land loss situation in coastal Louisiana.

When we deprive Everglades marshes of freshwater, organic soils (known as peat soils) decompose and disappear, resulting in a rapid loss of soil elevation. In severely dried areas, the soils also become vulnerable to fire. Freshwater plants die and soils begin to breakdown resulting in massive nutrient releases to nearshore habitats like Florida Bay.

Ultimately, the outcome is that collapsed areas created by soil loss are often too deep with saltwater for mangroves to become established. Instead, they remain open water habitats and eventually become seagrass habitats. This phenomenon has already shaped the coastlines of Biscayne and Florida Bays, and accelerating this process will also change the future coastline of the entire South Florida region whether we recognize it or not.

This process is particularly significant for the Everglades. Not only is it the source of our drinking water, it is also our most important protection from sea level rise and storm surge. By not offsetting this saltwater intrusion with restoration of freshwater flow, we are effectively leaving our back door open in a rising flood. For this reason and more, Everglades restoration should be our highest priority.

As for what the future South Florida will look like, excellent monitoring and modeling tools are available to us. We know what today and tomorrow – or perhaps even the next 20 years – will be like.

What will happen over the next 50 to 100 years is less certain.

Although South Florida won’t disappear into the sea anytime soon, there is a clear and growing need to educate citizens about the significance of incremental sea level rise. The first step is to acknowledge the problem.

Beyond that, we must continue to monitor changes in the ecosystems we depend on and prioritize the science needed to understand how future Floridians might be affected. While we don’t want to take too long, time and resources are needed to understand the sea level rise problem and develop the most advantageous options, strategies and solutions.

Dr. Stephen Davis|December 1, 2015

Extreme Weather

Unseasonably warm weather setting records

DETROIT – This is December? Really?

After breaking some records for warmth Saturday, the Detroit area did the same Sunday when 61 degrees was recorded about 1 p.m. at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

That tops the record 60 degrees for Dec. 13 that was set in 1881.

Saturday’s high of 63 degrees at the airport in Romulus broke the Dec. 12 record of 61 from 1949. Pontiac and White Lake Township also set records Saturday.

The unseasonably warm temperatures partly are due to warm, moist air moving northwest from the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico and the warming El Nino weather system, National Weather Service meteorologist Deb Elliott said.

A high of 63 was expected Sunday in Grand Rapids in western Michigan. Flint, northwest of Detroit, could reach 66 degrees, according to the weather service.

Even Traverse City in northern Michigan was expected to reach the mid-50s.

Most ski hills in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are closed because of the higher- than-normal temperatures.

Rheanne Suszek just hopes the weather pattern sticks around.

Suszek, 33, of Detroit, took advantage of the warm weather to take a run Sunday along Detroit’s east riverfront.

“It keeps me outside more,” said Suszek, an executive director at an area YMCA. “I’ve done a lot of running. I went bike riding. I’m also more likely to go out to dinner or have cocktails.”

On Sunday, she wore running shorts, a long-sleeve shirt and knee-high socks. On a typical December day in Michigan, she would have donned “long, insulated running tights,” Suszek said.

She may be able to keep the tights folded and tucked away for at least a few more days. Temperatures in and around Detroit are expected to dip overnight, but still could reach the upper 50s on Monday.

COREY WILLIAMS|ASSOCIATED PRESS

Record-breaking warmth continues in East

A freakish December heat wave has shattered more than 1,000 high temperature records in the central and eastern U.S. for the month, and after a brief weekend cool-down, the warmth will likely return in time for Christmas.

The weather this past weekend in many locations was more typical of October than December, AccuWeather meteorologist Brett Rathbun said.

AccuWeather meteorologist Evan Duffey said: “The warmth in the East last weekend was set up by a very strong jet stream that lifted well north of the eastern United States.”

Some of the temperatures broke records that had been set in the 1870s and 1880s, according to AccuWeather.

Snow cover has also been paltry: As of Monday, only 3 percent of the Northeast was snow-covered, compared with 81 percent on the same date last year.

The warmth should continue for another couple of days in the central U.S.

“Another big surge of warmth is in store for the week of Christmas in the eastern U.S.,” AccuWeather meteorologist Paul Pastelok said.

USA TODAY

You think this year is hot? 2016 tipped to break annual global heat records again

The remarkable global heat experienced in 2015 is not yet over and already forecasters are predicting next year will be hotter again – marking three years in a row of record annual warmth.

The prediction, by Britain’s Met Office, for the possibility of a trio of record-breaking years comes just days after almost 200 nations agreed in Paris to a new global agreement to tackle climate change.

Under the pact, to take effect from 2020, nations would review efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions every five years with the aim of keeping temperature increases to “well below 2 degrees” of pre-industrial levels.

The Met Office’s release on Thursday of its annual global temperature forecast comes as south-eastern Australia swelters in what is expected to be record early-season heat.

Advertisement

Adelaide is on course to mark four days in a row of 40-plus days by Saturday, the first time such a run has been recorded in December.

The Met Office said this year was on track to eclipse 2014 as the hottest year for average sea- and land-surface temperatures. 

Using data for the first 10 months of 2015, the temperature was 0.72 degrees above the 1961-90 average and well above 2014’s record 0.61 degrees above the norm.

The Met Office predicts 2016 will spike even higher, with a central prediction for a temperature anomaly of 0.84 degrees above the 1961-90 average.

“This forecast suggests that, by the end of 2016, we will have seen three record, or near-record years in a row for global temperatures,” Adam Scaife, head of long-range prediction at the Met Office, said.

Australian heat

Climatologists say the record heat is the result of the background climate change triggered by human activities, such as burning of fossil fuels, combining with natural cycles, particularly the monster El Nino in the Pacific.

During El Nino years, altered Pacific wind patterns lead to the ocean tending to absorb less heat from the atmosphere. Rainfall also tends to shift eastwards, leaving eastern Australia relatively dry.

With less moisture available during dry years for evaporative cooling, temperatures – and the associated bushfire risks – can soar in spring and summer across south-eastern Australia.

The Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting severe heatwave conditions over almost all of Victoria from Friday to Sunday, with pockets to Melbourne’s east and south-east NSW likely to experience extreme conditions.

While blasts of summer heat are not uncommon, it is unprecedented to have such warmth in places such as Adelaide this side of January.

Still chart-topping

The forecast for a hot 2016 globally is remarkable, given that records continue to tumble for 2015.

New data out overnight from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that last month was the hottest November for global sea- and land-surface temperatures – extending the run of seven consecutive record-breaking months.

The November average temperature was 0.97 degrees above the 20th-century average, beating the previous record for the month – set in 2013 by 0.15 degrees, NOAA said.

November’s anomaly was the second largest for any month in the 136 years of NOAA records, shy only of October’s record departure from the norm.

The northern autumn/southern spring was also the hottest on record, as were the first 11 months of 2015.

As shown in the following chart, 2015 is notably warmer than the previous six warmest years, all of which have come since 1998.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/you-think-this-year-is-hot-2016-may-break-annual-global-heat-records-again-20151217-glqgrr.html#ixzz3umvrC7Ce
Follow us: @smh on Twitter | sydneymorningherald on Facebook

Genetically Modified Organisms

GE Chestnuts: Ho Ho NO.

The Nightmare Before Christmas – Future

In the midst of the holiday season, while thoughts turn to roasting chestnuts, a handful of scientists are working to genetically engineer the iconic American chestnut tree which they hope to release throughout the Appalachians and the Eastern US. Indigenous Peoples, scientists and others are raising alarms about the risks of these trees, cautioning about their dangerous impacts to forests, wildlife and human health [1]. Due to these unassessed risks, they warn, GE chestnuts, or any GE trees trees should never be approved for planting.

But GE tree scientists appear less worried about risks than about public relations. In his most recent annual report [2], Dr. William Powell of SUNY’s School of Environmental Science and Forestry stresses that it is “essential to reach out to the public,” adding, “we need their help to get the chestnut through the regulatory process. There is a significant anti-GMO movement that may try to stop the deregulation (legalization) of the [chestnut]. Therefore we need strong public support to counter any roadblock they may try to erect.”

“First of all, the GE tree regulatory process is not supposed to be a popularity contest,” stated BJ McManama of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “Opposition to GE trees is growing because people are concerned with defending and protecting the biodiversity of our already stressed forest ecosystems. If GE American chestnuts are legalized, the ripple effects will be far reaching and potentially catastrophic. Even with years of research, all the variables cannot be identified and/or tested, which is precisely the reason to reject all GE trees once and for all.”

And if it’s widespread public opposition he is worried about, Powell has good reason to be concerned.  

“In 2015 alone, more than a quarter of a million people signed on to reject genetically engineered trees [3],” stated Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project and Coordinator of the international Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees. “Just this year, protests took place on six continents [4], and in September, there was an action at the world headquarters of GE tree leader ArborGen where two of us were arrested [5]. Earlier this month, in the face of a possible jury trial, they dropped our charges.”

In 2013 the largest ever protests against GE trees took place in Asheville, NC at the Tree Biotechnology 2013 conference. Hundreds of concerned citizens rallied there against GE trees, and several were arrested for disrupting the conference.

“Right now, the US biotechnology regulatory process is being reviewed [6],” added Dr. Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch. “The government appears to be trying to streamline the approval process for the large number of new GE plants, trees and microbes that are coming up for evaluation. Yes, it’s true the current regulatory process is basically obsolete, but any new process should be more rigorous, not less. The GE American chestnut is a perfect example of this. If this tree were green-lighted, the impacts to forests, biodiversity and people would be nearly impossible to predict and potentially devastating. It would also open the door to other dangerous GE trees. If the regulatory process was really science-based and concerned about safety, Powell’s GE chestnuts would never be approved. In fact, there would be a permanent halt on any GE tree deregulation,” Smolker said.

GE tree opponents promise more to come in 2016.

Anne Petermann|GJEP

Energy

Environmentalists Sound Alarm On Proposed Drilling Near Florida Everglades

Florida’s Everglades has an ecosystem known for its sawgrass, cypress trees, alligators — and perhaps soon, oil wells.

Oil drilling isn’t allowed in the 1.5 million-acre Everglades National Park, but the ecosystem extends far beyond the park’s boundaries — and drilling is allowed in Big Cypress National Preserve, an adjacent protected area about half the size of the park.

Environmental groups are concerned that the testing may harm endangered plants and animals, and that it may open sensitive areas to drilling and fracking.

Betty Osceola, a member of the Miccosukee tribe, has lived her whole life in the Everglades. During the Seminole Wars of the 19th century, her ancestors hid from federal troops in the Everglades swamps and cypress forests.

“This land, the Everglades, they protected us in our time of need — she provided us shelter, she provided us food, she provided us water,” Osceola says. “As indigenous people, it’s our turn to take up and speak for her.”

Osceola is part of a group protesting plans for seismic testing on 70,000 acres in a key part of the ecosystem inside Big Cypress National Preserve.

Don Hargrove, the preserve’s minerals management specialist, says there’s nothing new about the efforts to drill there.

“Oil drilling and oil fields were here when Big Cypress was created; as a condition of the establishment of the preserve, oil and gas was to continue,” he says.

There are over a dozen active wells in Big Cypress now, Hargrove says, and that number may increase. The Burnett Oil company wants to look for oil by crisscrossing the Preserve with large, 60,000-pound trucks that vibrate large plates against the ground to generate seismic signals. The first phase of the survey would take about 8 weeks.

In an environmental assessment, the National Park Service said it believed the activity likely would have only a minor impact on endangered wildlife; animals like the Florida panther, for instance, are expected to move away from the trucks.

Matthew Schwartz, with the South Florida Wildlands Association isn’t so sure.

“They have no idea when they’re going through an area if there’s a denning panther, maybe a female panther with kittens in an area,” he says. “And that panther may abandon a den when it hears the intrusion.”

The staff at Big Cypress National Preserve held a public meeting this week to answer questions about the seismic testing, where they played a video of one of the large thumper trucks in action.

“Where’s the bang?” one audience member asked. Dave Wisniewski, who conducts the seismic surveys for Burnett says that’s a common misconception.

“It’s an engine noise is all you hear,” he says. “When it’s shaking, you can actually hear it shake up a little different pitch, but there’s no boom.”

For environmental groups and others who live near Big Cypress, the bigger concern may be what the survey reveals. With new techniques like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — fracking — oil companies have begun taking a new look for reserves in Florida, and they’re particularly interested in a geological area called the Sunniland Trend that runs far beneath the preserve.

Wisniewski says that’s where the seismic survey comes in.

“So this identify, hopefully reserves, for Burnett and then minimize the amount of drilling they have to actually do,” he says.

Matthew Schwartz of the South Florida Wildlands Association says a large chunk of the Everglades could see drilling — Burnett Oil Company has rights to look for oil on more than half of the preserve’s 730,000.

“They’re probably going to find oil, because this is smack in the middle of the Sunniland Trend,” Schwartz says. “And then comes what? New access roads, oil pads, drill rigs — fracking? I mean, all of that is on the horizon for the most biodiverse piece of federal land, public land, in the continental United States?”

Before it approves the survey and possibly more drilling, Schwartz is calling on the National Park Service to prepare a full environmental impact statement. If necessary he says, he’ll go to court to force the issue.

Greg Allen|Dec 10, 2015

Report says Straits of Mackinac oil pipeline not necessary; too risky

Continuing to move up to 23 million gallons of crude oil per day through 62-year-old, underwater pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac is too risky and not necessary, an environmental group said Monday.

For Love of Water, or FLOW, released a report on alternatives to Enbridge’s Line 5, saying the existing oil pipeline network in the Midwest provides alternatives that pose far less risk to the Great Lakes.

FLOW, would like the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board to take a comprehensive, systemwide look at the oil pipeline network in the state and close down Line 5.

“The bulk of the oil that goes through Line 5 goes from Canada back to Canada,” said Gary Street, a former Dow chemical engineer and FLOW technical adviser. “The risk is being given to the state of Michigan; the profitability flows to Enbridge.

“Our work today has given us reason to believe that alternatives do exist, and they exist within the existing pipeline system.”

FLOW-outlined alternatives, including existing pipeline systems coming north to Michigan from the Gulf of Mexico, and the “Alberta Clipper” pipeline that takes crude oil from Alberta,Canada eastward. The Alberta network includes a pipeline through productive oil regions in North Dakota that runs southeast through Minnesota and reaches a major pipeline hub area near Chicago. From there, available pipeline capacity exists on Enbridge’s Line 6B, which runs east-west through the southern Lower Peninsula of Michigan before reaching Marysville and continuing on to Sarnia, Ontario — the same Michigan finishing point for Line 5.

Line 6B could handle the added capacity, FLOW members say, because Enbridge doubled the capacity on that line — to up to 500,000 barrels per day — via a completely new, 30-inch Line 6B pipeline that was built as part of a “maintenance and rehabilitation program.” The new section of pipeline was built after an oil spill in Marshall in July 2010 when Line 6B leaked for more than 17 hours, dumping more than 800,000 gallons of oil in nearby rivers and streams. It was the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history and led to a more than $1 billion cleanup of Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River that took more than four years.

Enbridge has referred to Line 5 through the Straits of Mackinac as “a vital piece of Michigan’s energy infrastructure,” providing the Marathon refinery near Detroit with 28% of its refining feed stock and providing 85% of the propane that heats homes in the Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan. About 30% of the light crude oil Line 5 transports stays in Michigan, Enbridge officials have noted.

Enbridge spokesman Jason Manshum, who attended Monday’s meeting of the pipeline safety advisory board, described that body as the best to decide on Line 5 options.

“What we will continue to do here, with the advisory board, is work with a credible third party to look at all of these issues,” he said.

Options could include other oil transport methods such as barges, trucks or by rail; existing pipelines around the Great Lakes region, or determining Line 5 should continue to operate through the Straits, Manshum said.

“At the end of this, we should be able to make a sound recommendation to the governor on what, if any, alternative would be,” he said.

FLOW officials, however, say that the Marathon refinery’s more than $1 billion revamping in recent years to accept heavy crude oil from western Canada means 100,000 of the 130,000 barrels per day the refinery needs are coming via pipelines such as Line 6B, and its remaining need can be met via the existing pipeline system. As propane delivery to the U.P. occurs before Line 5 reaches its underwater segment at the Straits, it would be unaffected, Street said.

“Line 5 in the Straits is not vital energy infrastructure to Michigan’s economy,” said Liz Kirkwood, executive director of FLOW.

“We can’t afford to limit the discussion of alternatives as between Line 5 versus ‘bomb trains’ or oil tankers in the Great Lakes.”

If Line 5 were to leak in the straits, it would require Enbridge to shut down its operation and employ the kinds of alternate routes FLOW is proposing, Street said

KEITH MATHENY|DETROIT FREE PRESS

Natural Gas and the Environment

Natural gas is an extremely important source of energy for reducing pollution and maintaining a clean and healthy environment. In addition to being a domestically abundant and secure source of energy, the use of natural gas also offers a number of environmental benefits over other sources of energy, particularly other fossil fuels. This section will discuss the environmental effects of natural gas in terms of emissions, as well as the environmental impact of the natural gas industry itself. Scroll down, or click on the links below to be transported ahead.

Emissions from the Combustion of Natural Gas

Natural gas is the cleanest of all the fossil fuels, as evidenced in the Environmental Protection Agency’s data comparisons in the chart below, which is still current as of 2010. Composed primarily of methane, the main products of the combustion of natural gas are carbon dioxide and water vapor, the same compounds we exhale when we breathe. Coal and oil are composed of much more complex molecules, with a higher carbon ratio and higher nitrogen and sulfur contents. This means that when combusted, coal and oil release higher levels of harmful emissions, including a higher ratio of carbon emissions, nitrogen oxides (NOx), and sulfur dioxide (SO2). Coal and fuel oil also release ash particles into the environment, substances that do not burn but instead are carried into the atmosphere and contribute to pollution. The combustion of natural gas, on the other hand, releases very small amounts of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, virtually no ash or particulate matter, and lower levels of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other reactive hydrocarbons.

Fossil Fuel Emission Levels;  Pounds per Billion Btu of Energy Input

Pollutant   Natural Gas   Oil           Coal
Carbon Dioxide   117,000      164,000  208,000
Carbon Monoxide  40     33      208
Nitrogen Oxides  92   448 457
Particulates    7 84   2,744
Sulfur Dioxide  1 1,122 2,591
Mercury 0.000   0.007 0.016

                  Source: EIA – Natural Gas Issues and Trends 1998             

Natural gas, as the cleanest of the fossil fuels, can be used in many ways to help reduce the emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere. Burning natural gas in the place of other fossil fuels emits fewer harmful pollutants, and an increased reliance on natural gas can potentially reduce the emission of many of these most harmful pollutants.

Pollutants emitted in the United States, particularly from the combustion of fossil fuels, have led to the development of many pressing environmental problems. Natural gas, emitting fewer harmful chemicals into the atmosphere than other fossil fuels, can help to mitigate some of these environmental issues. These issues include:

Read more

Fight for our future? It’s on. ‏

It is true that last weekend in Paris, governments signaled the end of the fossil fuel age.

It is also true the agreement is light on specifics and lacking in many important ways. The science has been clear that this must happen for decades. Paris is a sign that the politics are beginning – just beginning – to catch up to the science.

But we now can have confidence we will win this – from this point forward it is all about how fast. Every moment counts though, literally, for billions of people. This is the fight of our lives, and it is very, very much on.

The climate movement showed its strength in Paris, despite unforeseen obstacles to planned marches and demonstrations. Oil Change International used creativity and great organizing to inject our key message of #StopFundingFossils at Paris. We released a new analysis exposing that fossil fuel subsidies still outweigh climate finance by 40:1.* And we supplied the conference’s must have fashion item: scarves that said #StopFundingFossils! 

We are rigorous in our analysis, and always creative in our campaigns.

This year’s victories over the Keystone pipeline and Arctic drilling are just the beginning. Next year, we look towards further exposing Big Oil’s lies and support of climate denial; protecting public lands from oil and gas development; keeping the tar sands in the ground; and ensuring governments Stop Funding Fossils, once and for all.

We have made huge headway this year, but the empire continues to strike back. Just days after we all were given new hope in Paris, Congress responded by lifting the crude oil export ban and incentivizing further oil production in the US. It’s hard to imagine a clearer example of how far politics still has to go on climate in order to catch up with the science.

Our response is simple: Bring it, Big Oil. 

Obviously there is an amazing and even daunting amount of distance still to cover, but as we close out this year in which we have won so many important victories that were at one time considered unachievable, I’m hopeful that winning can increasingly become a habit, and no longer a rare exception.

The fossil fuel industry and their corporate and state allies are still very, very strong, but their air of invulnerability has been tarnished and torn.

We see you, fossil fools, and we are coming.

Help us make our campaigns bigger and better. Please donate today.

Steve Kretzmann|Oil Change International|12/17/15

The huge political horse trade in the budget that will change where the U.S. gets its energy

A deal on energy is playing a key role in the new budget proposal.

After 40 years, Democrats are giving up the fight over lifting crude oil export restrictions that have effectively banned most sales of U.S. crude oil abroad. In return, Republicans are dropping their opposition to lengthy extensions of the solar and wind tax credits that will give huge boosts to renewable energy projects.

“The spending bill is that rare example of bipartisan compromise that actually yields positive outcomes all around—ending an outdated ban on free trade in oil, plus multi-year support for clean energy that will allow solar and wind to keep growing at a fast clip,” said Jason Bordoff, founding director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

The omnibus budget bill released Tuesday night would allow all crude oil exports except in certain economic or national security emergencies.

[Here’s what’s in the budget deal]

The budget compromise also includes a five-year extension of the investment tax credit for solar and an extension of the production tax credit for wind retroactively to last year and ending in 2019. The wind credits are pegged to the start of construction rather than the start of production, extending the benefits for companies. But the deal would phase down the credits 20 percent each year.

The change in oil export rules is a triumph for the American Petroleum Institute, shale oil producers in states like Texas and North Dakota, free trade economists from both parties, and Sens. Lisa Murkowsi (R-Alaska) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), whose home state producers – battered by the recent plunge in oil prices — will be able to get somewhat higher prices abroad.

Many Republicans also argued that if the United States were going to lift restrictions on Iranian crude oil exports as part of the deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program then limits on U.S. crude oil exports should also be lifted.

The budget’s solar and wind tax credits also extend support for renewable energy central to President Obama’s push to lower greenhouse gas emissions as part of the international climate deal struck in Paris last weekend. The tax credit for wind is also favored by Great Plains lawmakers from both parties.

[How one word nearly killed the climate deal]

The Solar Energy Industries Association said that the extension of the investment tax credit, due to expire at the end of 2016, would lead to $125 billion in new private sector investment in the United States and that solar power would triple by 2022 to 95 gigawatts, equal to about 3.5 percent of U.S. electricity generation, offsetting emissions equivalent to 26 coal-fired power plants.

Despite rapid reductions in the cost of wind and solar, both still rely heavily on government subsidies. Bloomberg New Energy Finance has estimated that without the extension of the investment tax credit, solar installations would fall 70 percent in 2017 whereas an extension would boost solar projects by 50 percent through 2022.

The end of the crude oil export ban has been a symbolic as well as economic issue for Congress. First imposed in 1975 in the wake of the Arab oil embargo, the ban directed the president to draw up rules “prohibiting” crude oil exports. The president was allowed to make exceptions in cases of national interest, and minor exceptions largely included some sales to Canada that made logistical sense. As domestic oil production sank steadily through 2009, there was no outcry for export permits.

But the boom in shale oil production since 2009 has changed that. The United States still imports more than 9 million barrels a day, but there has been a surge in shale oil, which is a high-quality oil in demand in Europe and elsewhere, where many refineries cannot handle low-quality crudes. By contrast, U.S. refineries especially along the Gulf coast have been mostly upgraded to handle low-quality crude that can be imported from Canada, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

Without being able to export, large portions of the North Dakota shale oil has been shipped by train to older East Coast refineries able to drive harder bargains because the shale oil producers have fewer choices.

Most economists say that lifting the export restrictions would have little impact on U.S. consumers. While high-quality U.S. crude prices will rise slightly, the price of imported low-quality crudes should fall by a similar amount.

“We have a long history of believing that export restrictions are not an appropriate policy tool,” Lawrence H. Summers, former Treasury Secretary, Harvard University president and head of President Obama’s national economic council said at a Brookings Institution event in September 2014.

He said: “The merits [of lifting restrictions] are as clear as the merits with respect to any significant public policy issue that I have ever encountered.”

The tradeoff on energy was made easier for the Obama administration by language inserted in the budget compromise that would give the president the ability to impose restrictions on oil exports, like licensing requirements, for up to one year under certain special circumstances – and if necessary, the ability to extend those requirements or restrictions annually. Some of these special circumstances include: national security threats, national emergencies, sustained crude oil shortages, and when supply shortages or price increase are likely to negatively impact employment. (There are no restrictions on the export of refined petroleum products and refiners have long sold gasoline and diesel fuel abroad.)

Although the administration has long opposed the lifting of crude oil restrictions, earlier in the week White House spokesman Josh Earnest had refused to say the president would veto a budget bill over the item. Instead he said the White House opposed the change on “procedural” grounds because the executive branch should be responsible for making the decision.

On Wednesday, Earnest said the United States already exports 4.3 million barrels a day of refined petroleum products and as a result of waivers issued by the administration, producers currently export about half a million barrels a day of crude and condensates.

The companies most likely to benefit are the big North Dakota producers including Continental Resources, Hess, EOG, Whiting and Statoil. The Obama administration had already made certain export exceptions of some very light crude oil, known as condensate, mostly produced in Texas.

But with the recent plunge in the price of crude oil, now selling for barely a third of its peak price, many of those companies remain under financial pressure and all have cut back on drilling for new resources.

Heitkamp, who sat at the head table of an API event the week she took office, hailed the energy deals in the budget.

“This deal to lift the 40-year old ban on exporting oil is a huge win for North Dakota and it reinforces the importance of good-faith, bipartisan negotiations and legislating,” she said in a statement.

Steven Mufson|December 16

EPA reverses position on Sabal Trail pipeline

From Politico Florida:

In October, the EPA said in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that it had “very significant concerns” that the proposed route posed a threat to the Floridan Aquifer, the drinking water supply for much of the region.

But in a Dec. 11 letter sent to the Army Corps of Engineers, the EPA’s James D. Giattina said the agency had met with representatives of Sabal Trail Transmission LLC and reviewed the company’s comments sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

From the Gainesville Sun:

The EPA now believes the company “fully considered avoidance and minimization of impacts during the development of the preferred route” for the natural gas pipeline.

The Corps of Engineers is the agency that will decide whether to issue a Clean Water Act permit allowing Sabal Trail to discharge dredged or fill material into water during construction.

From the Palm Beach Post:

Frank Jackalone, senior organizing manager, Sierra Club of Florida, questioned the “about face” in such a short time and said, “I smell a skunk.”

“This was really bold. There was a very detailed analysis of why the pipeline was flawed in the 30-page letter by the EPA to FERC. Now suddenly in a five-page letter, James Giattina (an EPA administrator) throws it all out the window,” Jackalone said Wednesday.

Florida Water Daily|December 17, 2015

Obama rebuffs attempt to kill Clean Power Plan

Pocket vetoes save climate measures

WASHINGTON President Barack Obama has vetoed attempts by the Republican-controlled Congress to kill the Clean Power Plan that’s a cornerstone of his climate change initiatives, the White House announced Saturday.

“The Clean Power Plan is a tremendously important step in the fight against global climate change,” Obama said in a veto message signed late Friday. Reversing those regulations “not only threatens ongoing progress toward cleaner energy, but would also eliminate public health and other benefits” in reducing premature deaths and childhood asthma, he said.

The new rules aim to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants 32 percent by 2030, a key bargaining chip in the recently completed United Nations Climate Conference in Paris.

The two vetoes — on separate resolutions that would have rescinded emissions regulations on both new and existing power plants — bring the total number of Obama vetoes to seven, including five this year. Seven years into his presidency, he’s now issued fewer vetoes than any president since Warren G. Harding, who issued six.

The vetoes were dated Friday but announced early Saturday morning from the White House as t he president was departing San Bernardino, California, on his way to a two week family vacation in his native Hawaii.

Obama issued pocket vetoes of the resolutions under a constitutional provision that prevents bills from becoming law when Congress adjourns and the president fails to sign them. Both the House and the Senate adjourned for the year Friday.

But for good measure, Obama used a controversial form of veto in which he refused to sign the bill but sent it back to Congress anyway with a veto message. Recent presidents have used the belt and- suspenders approach to the veto in order to remove any confusion about their intent. Pocket vetoes can’t be overridden, but that was nearly impossible anyway because the Senate was 15 votes short of what would be needed. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R. Ky., had attempted to use a form of legislation called a resolution of disapproval to overturn the regulations. Republicans could still derail the plan via the judicial route.

GREGORY KORTE|USA TODAY

Land Conservation

 570 Acres set aside for conservation in Palm Beach County may be sold

Palm Beach County purchased 570 acres of property about 15 years ago with voter-approved money intended to preserve agricultural land.

Now, those acres used to grow vegetables could be deemed surplus land and sold to the highest bidder. That has environmentalists and preservationists crying foul.

Selling the property could eventually lead to more development in the Agricultural Reserve, a 21,000-acre area west of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach prime for growing vegetables, said Drew Martin, a representative of the Sierra Club.

“It violates the trust of the voters,” said Martin, who has declared his candidacy for the Palm Beach County Commission. “No one voted for that and thought the land would be sold down the road.”

The land is jointly owned by the county and the South Florida Water Management District, which has the majority 60 percent ownership stake.

The water management district is investigating whether to make the property available for sale, but nothing has been decided, said Randy Smith, a water management district spokesman.

Thousands of new homes and more shopping centers could join the spread of development in Palm Beach County’s Agricultural Reserve after rule changes approved Monday.

County commissioners agreed to ease building limits in the 21,000-acre farming region west of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach, where…

Thousands of new homes and more shopping centers could join the spread of development in Palm Beach County’s Agricultural Reserve after rule changes approved Monday.

County commissioners agreed to ease building limits in the 21,000-acre farming region west of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach, where…

County officials say any sale would be contingent on the land being used for agriculture and would be voted on by the County Commission.

To help keep development from overtaking farmland, Palm Beach County voters in 1999 approved spending $100 million to buy about 2,400 acres that gets leased out to farmers.

The county purchased the 627-acre McMurrain Farms property west of State Road 7 in 2000 for $23 million.

Two years later, it sold 53 acres to Pero Family Farms, which used the land to expand its hydroponic farming operations. Pero Family Farms leases the remaining 570 acres for about $300,000 annually, and rental payments are divided between the county and the water management district.

The water management district acquired its interest in the property using about $14 million in federal funds for Everglades restoration and intended to build a reservoir on the property. The district determined the project’s benefits did not justify the costs, Smith said.

The water management district is investigating whether it could transfer funds from a sale to the recently acquired 1,800-acre Harmony Ranch property in southern Martin County to satisfy the federal government’s requirements for Everglades restoration, he said.

The 570 acres in Palm Beach County do not have development rights, and any sale of the land would be subject to deed restrictions limiting its use to agriculture, Audrey Wolf, the county’s facilities director, wrote in an email.

Commissioner Paulette Burdick said a deed restriction is not sufficient to ensure the land is protected. Selling the land would constitute a “betrayal of the public’s trust,” she said

“A deed restriction can be removed – all it takes is four votes,” Burdick said.

Commissioner Melissa McKinlay says she is “adamantly opposed” to selling any public land in the Agricultural Reserve purchased with funds approved in the 1999 referendum. The measure passed by a 2-to-1 margin.

“If that is the promise we made to voters, we need to keep it,” McKinlay said.

In 2011, Gov. Rick Scott directed the state’s five water management districts to review land holdings and look for surplus property that could be sold.

Skyler Swisher|Sun Sentinel|December 9, 2015

Miscellaneous

Escape to American Samoa, the National Park on the Other Side of the World ‏

 

Halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand lies the only U.S. national park south of the equator, National Park of American Samoa, the cultural hub of the Polynesian triangle. The national park is spread across three islands, each showcasing unique natural wonders, from beaches to dense rainforest to towering cliffs. Tying them together is the word Samoa or “sacred earth,” which the parks help to protect, including the customs, beliefs, and traditions of the ancient family-centered culture there.

The warm hospitality of Polynesian culture will embrace you as soon as you meet your Samoan guide, Pika. Your first morning, Pika will take you to his village on the small islet of Aunu’u, just off the coast of the main island of Tutuila, for a traditional welcoming ceremony and feast made in an Umu, or underground oven. Afterward, we will explore the 375-acre volcanic island and meet a national park ranger for a guided introduction to the park.

Over the next three days, we’ll explore the breathtaking outer islands of American Samoa. First, we fly to Ta’u and venture through the rainforest, past archeological sites to rocky beaches. We’ll take in some of the highest coastal cliffs in the world.

In the late afternoon, we’ll boat to the island of Ofu and our beach-side accommodations. Some of the best snorkeling can be found at the sandy beaches only a short walk from your room. You will also get the opportunity to go on some short hikes up rainforest-lined cliffs, led by national park staff who explain the importance of the natural and cultural history along the way. As we await our Umu-made dinner, we will relax along the beach as Pika teaches us how to weave baskets and bowls from palm fronds.

I was fortunate enough to join NPCA’s group last May for this adventure. It is one of the most unique national parks I have ever been to, with amazing cultural and natural wonders you will not encounter anywhere else.

We will be hosting two departures in 2016, in April and October, and both are filling quickly to a maximum of 12 travelers each. For more information or to book space, contact our travel partner Off the Beaten Path at 800.445.2995 or travel@offthebeatenpath.com. You can also reach me at 800.628.7275 or travel@npca.org. Be sure to check out our full lineup of tours for 2016.

The National Park of American Samoa
April 29-May 6 and
October 21-28, 2016
From $4,295 per person;
$625 single supplement

Ben Sander|Travel Program Manager|NPCA

P.S. Here’s one more great reason to travel with us: Every time you join an NPCA small-group tour, a percentage of your tour cost helps support NPCA’s work protecting our national parks for current and future generations.

Sewage sludge dumping raising a stink in Palm Beach County

Thousands of tons of treated sewage sludge, shown here getting spread on farmland near South Bay, each year gets trucked from Hollywood, Fla. for disposal in western Palm Beach County.

Truckloads of treated sewage sludge from Broward County are getting dumped on Palm Beach County farmland.

Palm Beach County fields once green with sod have turned into a sludge-covered disposal site that reeks like the inside of an over-loaded portable toilet.

Truckloads of leftover sewage sludge from Broward County are getting spread on western Palm Beach County farmland – turning a portion of the Everglades Agricultural Area into a destination for treated human waste.

The Dan Griffin Sod Company considers the sludge a welcome fertilizer to help boost its farming potential. But Palm Beach County officials say the property is now more like a dump site than agriculture.

“It was disgusting. You couldn’t bear the smell,” said County Code Enforcement Director Ramsay Bulkeley, who inspected the property after complaints of noxious odors. “It looked like I was walking on raw sewage.”

As much as 10,000 tons of sludge a year gets spread on the 317-acre property, according to the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s office, which has sought to revoke the agricultural designation of the land and the tax breaks that come with it.

Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office inspectors in March observed some of the sewage sludge spread on farmland in the Everglades Agricultural Area, south of Lake Okeechobee.

“There is absolutely no sod on the property. They are using the property to process sewage sludge,” said Diane Pendleton, agricultural department manager for the property appraiser’s office. “It’s unbelievable and unconscionable to be dumping waste in the Everglades Agricultural Area.”

Environmental advocates warn that the dumping creates a contamination threat to the Everglades, where taxpayers are already spending billions of dollars to clean up water pollution.

“It’s a substance that should not be spread on fields ever,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest, who has challenged sludge spreading elsewhere in Florida. “It’s inexcusable that [state regulators] would permit this.”

And when more than 20,000 horses are assembled during Palm Beach County’s equestrian season, that adds to an already messy problem – along with a bigger…

But state regulators counter that the spreading of this treated sewage sludge – from the Southern Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant in Hollywood – is allowed to be used as a fertilizer as long as pollution controls are followed.

For Dan Griffin, mixing in the cleaned-up sludge and mulched debris into his land is a way to restore soil worn away by decades of farming.

“You can use it as a fertilizer,” Griffin said. “It [is] good and safe for the environment.”

The Dan Griffin Sod Company property is located on Willard Smith Road just west of U.S. 27, about seven miles south of South Bay. Sugar cane planted along the edges of the property, shield the sludge from view, but can’t block the smell.

The sewage sludge spread on the land is a wastewater plant byproduct leftover from cleaning up what gets flushed down toilets and sent to the wastewater plant in Hollywood. That plant also treats waste from Dania Beach, Hallandale Beach, Miramar, Pembroke Park and Pembroke Pines.

The sludge, also called biosolids, gets dried, treated and heated to kill off bacteria, viruses and other contaminants that pose a potential health or environmental risk, according to city spokeswoman Raelin Storey.

Hollywood treating the sludge to that degree qualifies the material as a fertilizer that can be spread where ever fertilizer is allowed, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

“We feel that we have come up with a very environmentally responsible disposal plan,” Storey said. “The end product is essentially a fertilizer.”

Lesser-treated sewage sludge is not allowed to be spread near Lake Okeechobee or other protected water bodies. Much of it ends up spread on land scattered from the Panhandle to Central Florida. Sludge from across the state is also disposed of in landfills.

The dumping on the remote Griffin property started in 2009, according to the Property Appraiser’s Office. It was an anonymous complaint in 2014 about “horrific site conditions” that triggered inspections by the property appraiser’s office and county code enforcement.

Instead of sod, the Property Appraiser’s office found trucks delivering mounds of sludge that gets spread out and dried. There was an “overwhelming strong fecal matter odor,” according to a report from the Property Appraiser’s Office.

Sugar cane has also been planted on portions of the property, but sludge processing has become the main use of the land, Pendleton said.

As a result, the Property Appraiser’s office this year revoked the agricultural classification on Griffin’s property. That would boost the potential taxes owed on the land to nearly $50,000, instead of about $20,000 a year.

Also, while state law limits local regulations on farming operations, losing the agricultural designation could enable county code enforcement to require a clean up of the property.

“Agricultural purposes does not include processing of farm products and certainly not sewer sludge,” according to the Property Appraiser Office report challenging Dan Griffin Sod Company’s agricultural designation.

Griffin challenged the Property Appraiser’s findings and an independent hearing officer sided with Griffin, restoring the agricultural designation for the land and the tax breaks that come with it.

The hearing officer found that the use of the land at Griffin Sod Company still qualifies under the state standard of “good faith commercial agricultural use.” Despite the shift away from sod and adding sludge, the planting and sale of sugar cane from the land shows an “intent to farm the remaining acreage,” according to the findings.

The Property Appraiser’s Office can appeal those findings, which could lead to a court challenge next year.

In addition to the tax fight over the sludge dumping, the environmental concern is that adding treated human waste to land in the Everglades Agricultural Area – the farming region south of Lake Okeechobee – is importing more potential pollution problems that could flow south to the Everglades.

When too much phosphorus from fertilizers and other pollutants washes into the Everglades, it fuels the growth of cattails that squeeze sawgrass out of Florida’s River of Grass.

Sewage sludge treated to kill virus, bacteria and other potential health threats is considered a Class AA biosolid and can be used on land for edible crops, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.

Griffin said decades of farming had worn his land “down to the rock” before he started adding the sludge. He said his plan has been to keep using it until his mucky soils are 3- to 4-feet deep again.

“It is all legal,” Griffin said.

Andy Reid|Sun Sentinel

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

Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

ConsRep 1512 B

If you really think the environment is less important than the economy, try holding your breath while you count your money. – Dr. Guy McPherson

Announcements

Attend the Everglades Coalition’s 31st Annual Conference!

Voices of the Everglades: All for Restoration

January 7-10, 2016 at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, FL

Register NOW to take advantage of early registration rates, which have been extended until Friday, December 11.

The Everglade s Coalition conference is the largest annual open forum raising critical and timely issues for in-depth

debate in the advancement of the restoration and conservation of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem.

Of Interest to All

All Eyes on Paris

President Barack Obama urged the world to view the climate talks that kicked off in Paris last Monday as potentially the last chance to make a meaningful impact on combating climate change. Invoking Martin Luther King Jr., he warned his fellow heads of state that, “There is such a thing as being too late.” Obama and Chinese President Xi also held a bilateral meeting before the speech to reiterate our countries’ mutual commitment to climate cooperation.
For nations laying out a new path forward on climate change in Paris, California has decades of experience to draw on and an eagerness to share. With an economy growing 50% faster than the national average, California shows it is possible to increase jobs AND cut harmful emissions—reducing per capita energy use and saving citizens money through energy efficiency and cleaner cars. Gov. Jerry Brown, eight members of the legislature, and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are all attending the Paris talks to lend their insights and experience.
Over 100 companies joined together on the second day of talks to sponsor a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Business Backs a Low Carbon USA”. The ad endorses action to reduce U.S. carbon emissions, investment in a low-carbon economy, and a strong and fair climate deal in Paris.
Read More From EDF Experts:

Heather Shelby|Environmental Defense Fund

The most ambitious climate agreement in history ‏

The Paris Agreement establishes a long-term, durable global framework to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s what that means:

I’m Brian Deese, President Obama’s senior advisor. I’m here in Paris, where more than 190 countries just came together around the most ambitious climate agreement in history.

The President spoke from the White House to lay out the importance of this agreement. Check out his remarks here:

So why is this such a big deal? The Paris Agreement establishes a long-term, durable framework to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s what that means:

First, for the first time ever, all countries committed to putting forward ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions.

Second, countries will now be required to report their progress toward those targets using a rigorous and standardized review process. That kind of transparency is vital to keeping every country moving toward carbon reduction.

Third, it provides strong assurance to developing countries, particularly the most vulnerable, that they will be supported as they build towards clean, climate resilience.

It’s truly a historic achievement. It is the culmination of nations, businesses, cities, and citizens combining forces to achieve something together. And it sends a powerful signal to the world — businesses and countries alike — that we’re moving to a clean energy economy.

Today, as the President said, we have demonstrated “that the world has both the will and the ability to take on this challenge.”

So be sure to watch the President’s remarks and read more about the specifics of the agreement.

Thanks, and stay tuned for more from the frontlines of the fight against climate change. We’re nowhere near done yet.

Brian Deese|Senior Advisor to the President|The White House|12/12/15

Calls to Action

  1. Stop coal mining on roadless forests – here
  2. Tell FWS to act quickly to protect manatees – here

Birds and Butterflies

Scrub jay bill is back — and again causing feathers to fly

A proposal by House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach to make the scrub jay the state bird is again making feathers fly.

Marion Hammer, longtime lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said Wednesday that she is dusting off her talking points and will begin working legislators to block Pafford’s effort — a tactic she last deployed when a lawmaker tried to elevate the scrub jay in 1999 and 2000.

Hammer says she is a fan of the mockingbird, which was named Florida’s official bird by the 1927 Senate. She also worries that switching to the scrub jay would increase environmental efforts to protect the threatened bird’s habitat, mostly coastal and interior scrub across Central Florida.

Hammer is a big property rights proponent. As well as a huge gun proponent.

On Wednesday, Hammer said she suspected that Audubon Florida got Pafford to file his bill.

For his part, Pafford said he agreed to sponsor the measure after attending an Audubon meeting last month and hearing from a member — a Republican, he added — who was frustrated that he couldn’t get anyone to file legislation for the bird, whose population has been decimated by development.

Pafford agreed. He also said that he hoped Hammer’s entry into the fight would heighten attention to the bill.

“If she wants to elevate the conversation, all the better,” Pafford said.

John Kennedy|KennedyReport|December 9, 2015

Florida Panthers

Florida Congressional Representatives Urge Obama to Designate Habitat for Florida Panthers

Members of the Florida congressional delegation urged President Barack Obama on Wednesday to add more protection for Florida panthers, calling on him to create a critical habitat designation for the state animal. 

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., led the letter which was also signed by Republican U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan and Curt Clawson and Democratic U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Patrick Murphy, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson. 

“The Florida panther is one of the most endangered species in the world as less than 180 of them survive today,” the representatives wrote Obama. “As you know, the two greatest threats to the Florida panther are the loss of habitat and automobile-related deaths, both of which are caused by increased development in environmentally sensitive areas.  The best available science suggests that current lands in conservation do not provide enough suitable habitat area to support even the limited number of existing panthers.  Further, on November 28th, two more panthers were killed by cars.

“As members of the Florida delegation, we are writing to request your support in establishing a critical habitat designation for the endangered Florida panther,” they added. “The Florida panther was listed as an endangered species in 1973, but critical habitat has never been established, even though the Endangered Species Act includes a requirement for the designation of critical habitat for endangered species. In other words, the Florida panther is protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, unfortunately its home is not. 

“It is of great importance to designate a critical habitat not only because it would preserve and encourage the growth of the current population of Florida panthers, but also because it would help to protect other valuable environmental resources, such as wetlands, aquifer-recharge areas, drinking water supplies and the habitat of other endangered species,” the representatives wrote. “At the top of the food chain, Florida panthers help keep feral hog numbers in check and deer, raccoon and other prey populations balanced and healthy.  Moreover, a designation of critical habitat does not mean that no further development is allowed in an area, it simply requires additional review when projects requiring federal permits would impact habitats considered essential to preventing the Florida panther from going extinct.

“We urge you to ensure the continued existence of the Florida panther and the preservation of Southwest Florida’s natural resources and unique character by supporting the designation of critical habitat for the endangered Florida panther,” they wrote in conclusion. “Thank you for your time and consideration.  The decision to take action now will provide a historic opportunity for protecting the Earth’s most endangered ‘umbrella species’ – the Florida panther.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is in charge of critical habitats and, on its website, defines the role of development in those areas. 

“A critical habitat designation does not necessarily restrict further development,” the FWS noted. “It is a reminder to federal agencies that they must make special efforts to protect the important characteristics of these areas.

“Only activities that involve a federal permit, license, or funding, and are likely to destroy or adversely modify the area of critical habitat will be affected,” the FWS added. “If this is the case, the Service will work with the federal agency and, where appropriate, private or other landowners to amend their project to allow it to proceed without adversely affecting the critical habitat. Thus, most federal projects are likely to go forward, but some will be modified to minimize harm to critical habitat.”

Back in 2013, there were 160 Florida panthers in the wild. As low as that number is, it was far worse in the 1970s when the population dropped to around 20. 

Kevin Derby|December 10, 2015

Everglades

Levee fixes aim to prevent flooding, insurance spikes

Flooding fears in Palm Beach and Broward counties could be eased by newly completed improvements to the levee that helps keep the Everglades from swamping South Florida.

The work on the East Coast Protective Levee is intended to lessen safety concerns about the 60-year-old structure, while also sparing residents in communities from Wellington to Weston from potential spikes in flood insurance costs.

The upgrades by the South Florida Water Management District included boosting portions of the earthen levee – which stretches north to south from Palm Beach to Miami-Dade counties – replacing flood gates and stabilizing the embankments to try to bring it up to federal standards.

It cost about $18 million to shore up 38 miles of the Broward County stretch of the levee, which was completed in 2013, according to the district. It cost nearly $9 million for improvements to about 21 miles of the levee in Palm Beach County, where work ended in November.

“Development has built right up to the edge of that levee,” district spokesman Randy Smith said. “For the human safety factor … it’s very important.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency last year signed off on the improvements to the Broward County portion of the levee.

Everglades’ levee fails to meet federal standards

Now it’s up to FEMA to decide whether the upgrades in Palm Beach County were enough to meet flood-control standards and, as a result, head off potential higher federal flood insurance costs for areas near the levee.

The 105-mile-long East Coast Protective Levee, built in the 1950s, reaches from west of West Palm Beach to the Tamiami Trail west of Miami.

Much of the levee serves as a dividing line between what remains of the Everglades and suburbia that through the decades has spread to land that was once part of Florida’s River of Grass.

The Sun Sentinel reported in 2010 that the Broward County section of the levee failed to meet federal standards and that there were similar concerns about the Palm Beach County portion.

The concerns included: erosion, rutting on top of the levee, settling of the structure over time leaving sections too low, overgrown vegetation getting in the way of maintenance, slopes that were too steep and culverts needing repair.

The improvements are intended to reduce the threat of the levee getting overtopped by storm surge from the Everglades and to avoid too much water seeping through, which can lead to erosion and a breach.

“This rehabilitation effort was important for the flood-control system to continue operating as designed well into the future,” said Jeff Kivett, the district’s director of operations, engineering and construction.

After completing construction on the Palm Beach County section, the water management district this month is expected to provide FEMA engineering reports for officials to review and then decide whether the improvements meet flood protection standards. A FEMA decision could take up to six months, according to the district.

Federal levee and dam safety standards have gotten tougher since levees in New Orleans gave way during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The condition of the East Coast Protective Levee drew more scrutiny in recent years as FEMA has been re-evaluating flood zone designations in South Florida. If a levee doesn’t meet federal standards, then the areas near it can end up with higher-risk flood zone designations.

That can boost insurance premiums for existing homeowners and require more people to buy insurance. The average residential flood insurance policy from the National Flood Insurance Program costs about $700 a year, according to FEMA, but that cost can more than double for high-risk areas.

Local officials have been pushing for FEMA to reconsider the costly consequences of revamped flood maps. The completed improvements to the East Coast Protective Levee are expected to help.

“That will save the taxpayers … a considerable amount of money in their [insurance] premiums,” said Ken Todd, county water resources manager.

abreid|sunsentinel.com

Water Quality Issues

EPA Proposes To Ban Chlorpyrifos

EPA is seeking comments on a recently released proposal to reject tolerances of chlorpyrifos in response to a court-ordered deadline.

Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate insecticide, acaricide and miticide used primarily to control foliage and soil-borne insect pests on a variety of food and feed crops.

“At this time, EPA is unable to make a safety finding as required under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) due to exposure to drinking water in certain watersheds,” EPA says in a release.

According to EPA, in June, it indicated an intention to issue a proposed rule revoking tolerances by April 15, 2016, to address previously identified drinking water concerns and in response to a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA). The timeline would allow for additional analysis.

On Aug. 10, the 9th Circuit rejected EPA’s timeline, ordering EPA by Oct. 31, 2015, to either deny the petition, issue a proposed revocation, or issue a final revocation rule.

“EPA is not denying the petition because we are unable to make a safety finding based on the science as it stands currently. EPA is not issuing a final revocation rule because we have not proposed it and have not completed our refined drinking water assessment, leaving certain science issues unresolved,” says the release.

“Therefore, as we are informing the court, we have proposed to revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances based on the science as it stands. Issuing a proposed revocation provides an opportunity for public input prior to any final decision. The court also required EPA to provide the timeline for a final rule should EPA issue a proposed revocation by Oct. 31. EPA is notifying the court of the anticipated release of the final rule in December 2016,” the agency said.

EPA says based on current analysis, there are not risks from exposure to chlorpyrifos in food.

“But, when those exposures are combined with estimated exposure from drinking water in certain watersheds, EPA cannot conclude that the risk from aggregate exposure meets the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) safety standard. EPA has determined that safe levels of chlorpyrifos may be exceeded in parts of the U.S. for people whose drinking water is derived from some small vulnerable watersheds where chlorpyrifos is heavily used. If the tolerances are revoked, EPA would cancel the associated food uses of chlorpyrifos,” the agency said.

EPA is performing additional analysis related to its hazard assessment in order to make certain that any final decision protects infants and children. Once completed, if warranted, it would inform a final tolerance revocation rule. The agency is also working to refine the drinking water analysis.

“In December 2014, EPA released a human health risk assessment for chlorpyrifos. The assessment indicated the potential for drinking water risks in small watersheds characterized by high concentrations of farming where chlorpyrifos may be widely used. The 2014 assessment included a refined drinking water analysis for the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast, but not the entire country,” the agency said.

EPA will accept comments on this proposed rule for 60 days. The Proposed Tolerance Revocation Rule will be available at www.regulations.gov in docket EPA-HQ-OPP-2015-0653.

Christina Herrick|November 3, 2015

Jason Totoiu: Follow law in protecting water as public resource

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam’s recent column, “The time for bold water policy is now,” correctly identified the need for a comprehensive, statewide approach to sustain our long-term water quality and water supply. Thankfully, Florida law provides a strong foundation for the protection and management of our water resources based on the fundamental principle that water is a public resource. The law, however, is only as good as its implementation and enforcement.

The Water Resources Act was passed in 1972 following a special water conference convened by the late Gov. Reubin Askew, who declared a water crisis amid water shortages, saltwater intrusion into wellfields, and fires in the Everglades.

Fast-forward more than 40 years. Despite the act’s creation of regional water management districts, which are responsible for setting minimum flows and levels to protect our state’s waters from significant harm, and establishing water reservations to protect fish and wildlife, our state is experiencing a second crisis. Excessive water consumption is depleting our aquifers, the absence of consistent clean water flows is causing toxic algae blooms in our springs, estuaries and bays, and not enough water flows south to restore America’s Everglades.

What went wrong? Key protections of our water law have not been implemented. In many cases, water managers failed to quantify the water needs of the natural system when the law was enacted. Now they are faced with the difficult task of restoring ecosystems damaged by over-allocation of water and preventing future harm, while seeking to make even more water available to meet the growing needs of our state’s residents and businesses.

Florida missed an opportunity to implement key protections before and we cannot afford to miss the same opportunity again. Water managers must quantify both the needs of the natural system and the amount of water available for human consumption at sustainable levels. They must also expeditiously develop and implement water reservations and minimum flows and levels to ensure that future allocations will not cause even greater stress to our surface waters and aquifers. Further, lawmakers have a tremendous opportunity with the passage of Amendment 1 to help solve our state’s water crisis by funding land acquisition to assist in meeting our restoration needs.

While Commissioner Putnam celebrates improvements, the partial mitigation of significant, longstanding harm does not equate with real success. For example, Putnam lauds the use of best management practices even though much more is needed to address pollution flowing into Lake Okeechobee.

In 2001, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection established a limit for phosphorus inflows and set a target date of Jan. 1, 2015 to achieve it. That date has come and gone and the inflow of phosphorus is nearly four times higher than the established limit.

For Lake Okeechobee, we need an implementation plan with five-year milestones, clear measurable performance markers and state agencies that ensure these milestones are met. Best management practices alone are not enough if they do not put us on a path toward meeting the environmental standards based on the best science.

Commissioner Putnam is right, in that water is “Florida’s goose” and the time to act is now. We can solve our state’s water crisis through collaboration, innovation and sound planning if we learn from our past mistakes, optimize our existing laws to protect our natural systems, and always treat our state’s precious water supplies as public resources, as the Water Resources Act requires.

Jason Totoiu|executive director|Winter Haven-based Everglades Law Center Inc.|Special to the Star-Banner|December 6, 2015

Activists rally for tougher water policy in Florida

MERRITT ISLAND — About 15 people gathered outside House Speaker Steve Crisafulli’s office Wednesday, demanding stronger laws to clean up Florida’s waters.

They said they’re fed up with special treatment for select industries and delays on stricter water pollution rules to clean up the Indian River Lagoon and other vital state waters.

“We need our legislators to step up,” said Vince Lamb, chairman of Preserve Brevard Inc., a nonprofit group based in Merritt Island. “We hate watching the governor and the Legislature acting like puppets for ‘Big Sugar’ and other polluting interests.”

Organizers planned simultaneous rallies in front of the district offices of Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner, House Speaker Crisafulli, and at Glen Springs/Ring Park in Gainesville.

Wednesday’s event included delivering a letter outlining their concerns to Gardiner and Crisafulli’s offices.

A total of 106 organizations and businesses signed in support of the letter.

The event’s organizers say water quality is declining in Florida’s lakes, rivers, springs and estuaries, because Florida goes easy on polluters.

At Crisafulli’s Merritt Island office, people held signs that said, “Save the Lagoon,” “We are watching,” and “Do your job! Restore our water resources.”

The protesters want stricter enforcement and verification of basin action plans to reduce water pollution and specific deadlines for meeting daily water pollution limits.

They also criticized the Central Florida Water Initiative plans that include “surface water withdrawal projects that total nearly $1.8 billion, to be paid for with tax dollars and implemented and operated by private companies,” the letter says. “This represents a massive transfer of public money to private pockets.”

The clean water advocates are focusing attention on new House and Senate water bills (HB 7005 and SB 552), which they say fall far short of protecting Florida waters.

Because of pressure from agriculture and other industries, the state is retreating from policies that protect water quality, the protesters said.

“While these bills include some improvements, many of them are undermined by loopholes,” said Phil Stasik, president of the nonprofit Space Coast Progressive Alliance.

Crisafulli was travelling at the time, his Merritt Island staff said, but they supplied a written response on the issue. His letter said that Florida is “poised to pass” a comprehensive water bill that protects water flow and quality in aquifers and springs. The bill will include uniform water supply planning and consumptive water use permitting, according to the letter. It also builds upon cleanup plans for the Northern Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, Caloosahatchee Estuary and St. Lucie River and estuary, the letter says.

The letter also says the Florida House also will put forth legislation this year called “Legacy Florida that will result in consistent, predictable funding each year for Everglades restoration effort.

“We expect the annual amount to reach $200 million!” his letter states.

Jim Waymer|FLORIDA TODAY|December 9, 2015

House passes bill to ban microbeads

The House easily approved a bill yesterday that would phase out microbeads in cosmetic products in less than two years.

Lawmakers approved H.R. 1321, the “Microbead-Free Waters Act,” by voice vote under suspension of the rules.

Though issues of harmful chemicals in consumer products can be divisive, lawmakers came together around the need to mitigate the environmental impacts of synthetic microbeads, which have been found in the Great Lakes and other bodies of water. Studies have found that the tiny beads can pass through wastewater treatment systems, where they can bind with other pollutants and harm aquatic life (Greenwire, April 20).

In this case, lawmakers largely agreed that the microbead problem couldn’t be managed, so they moved for a ban.

The bill would halt manufacturing of plastic microbeads by July 1, 2017, and ban the delivery of new cosmetic products containing microbeads by July 1, 2018. It also would prevent states from setting their own timelines for faster phase-outs.

With the support of industry groups like the Personal Care Products Council, the American Chemistry Council and others, there was little standing in the way of the legislation.

The measure “creates a planned and pragmatic national phase-out process in the interest of both consumers and the personal care products and cosmetics industry,” Lezlee Westine, the president and CEO of the Personal Care Products Council, said in a statement.

The industry will be “proud” to stop using microbeads, Westine added.

The bill “is an important step to ensure we have one sensible, national standard for phasing out the use of solid plastic microbeads in personal care products across America,” the American Chemistry Council said in a statement. “We look forward to working with members of the U.S. Senate in hopes that this legislation will quickly become law.”

This kind of industry cooperation “happens quite a bit, though people don’t realize it,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said on the House floor.

Lawmakers would continue to push to send the bill to President Obama as soon as possible, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said.

Though House lawmakers have moved quickly, there is less indication that Senate action is imminent.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has taken no action on a companion measure, S. 1424, which also has bipartisan co-sponsors.

The Senate bill was introduced in May with Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan as co-sponsors with Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Kirk of Illinois. Since then, the bill has won the support of Democratic Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

Upton said these lawmakers — many of whom, like Upton, hail from Great Lakes states — had “huge interest” in sending the bill to President Obama as soon as possible.

Aides to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who leads the Health Committee, didn’t respond to a request for comment yesterday on whether he supports the bill or intends to hold a hearing on the plan.

Sam Pearson|E&E reporter|December 8, 2015

Water woes lurk as saltwater moves inland, upward

West Virginia has coal. Colorado has snow. Florida has lots of water, at least it did.

The Sunshine State gets nearly 5 feet of rain each year, which is just a few inches shy of what Arizona, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming receive combined.

But a century of drainage and development has crippled freshwater flows in the historic Everglades, possibly even changed summer weather patterns. Some scientists speculate that so much water runs off the landscape so quickly that there’s not enough moisture in the air – during the wet season – to create daily afternoon rains.

“To a large extent (water) was thrown away to turn South Florida into what I call terraform upland, turning wetlands into (dry) lands,” said Jim Beever, with the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council. “Florida was a paradise and we tried to turn into the Midwest.”

All that would be bad enough, but Florida’s rapid growth means demand for fresh water to drink, not to mention clean, flush and sprinkle lawns with, is increasing even as supplies fall. The state’s population is pushing 20 million, with most of those people centered on the coast. What was once a common, cheap commodity is now becoming harder to find, or getting much more scarce and expensive.

How bad is it? South Florida was once home to one of the most productive freshwater systems on the planet. Today, park biologists are scrambling to find enough water to keep alligators in the Everglades alive.

Groundwater levels have dropped nearly 7 feet in Lee County over the past 20 years, according to data recorded by the United States Geological Survey. Some coastal cities are moving from freshwater aquifers that provide relatively inexpensive water to much deeper, brackish aquifers that often cost billions to build and operate.

That’s because the shallow, cheaper freshwater aquifers have been nearly tapped out.

In Florida, freshwater is needed not only for drinking water and to feed wetland systems that support protected wildlife but also to help battle saltwater intrusion, when saltwater moves from either an ocean or deeper, brackish aquifers into drinking water supplies.

State water managers say the resource is sustainable, even in the face of saltwater intrusion in cities like Bonita Springs and Naples. The South Florida Water Management District, which oversees water supply in the 16-county area, started documenting the movement of saltwater below ground in 2009 and has detected intrusion in Lee and Collier counties.

“We’re not seeing rampant inland movement of the saltwater into the aquifers, but saltwater intrusion is still occurring,” said Pete Kwiatkowski, with the district’s water supply bureau. “It looks like those well water withdrawals (in Bonita Springs) are contributing to inland movement, and we’ll be working with the water utility supplies to see if they’re increasing water usage or if they need better monitoring wells.”

Bonita Springs, though, may soon allow higher density development in a part of the town specifically set aside to recharge drinking water aquifers.

More development means more water usage, which is only adding to the problems, critics say.

“It’s a Band-Aid we’re stuck with and a Band-Aid that’s never coming off,” Beever said. “And you’re going to see more of it.”

CHAD GILLIS|NEWS-PRESS.COM|December 11, 2015

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Hope for fish habitat restoration projects; Native wildlife repopulating

Researchers say it’s too early to definitively tell if the nine fish habitat improvement projects in the St. Clair River from Port Huron to Harsens Island have made a difference. But the preliminary results are encouraging.

“We can see pretty good numbers of baitfish, shiners and sport fish as well,” said Ed Roseman, research fishery biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Great Lakes Science Center in Ann Arbor.

“We get surgeon larvae pretty much everywhere in the river,” he said. “Right below our reefs we’re seeing pretty good reproduction.”

Crews from the USGS have been checking for fish eggs and larvae in areas close to the shore, such as the Blue Water River Walk in Port Huron, as well as in deeper parts of the river near artificial reefs.

Roseman said one of the reefs is near Pointe Aux Chenes in the North Channel near Algonac; a second reef is in the Middle Channel between Harsens Island and Dickinson Island; and a third reef is just south of St. Clair at Harts Light.

Other habitat restoration projects funded through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative include:

Port Huron North, south of Pine Grove Park near the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Hollyhock mooring;
Port Huron South, near the Municipal Office Center;
Upper St. Clair River Shoreline, along the Blue Water River Walk;
Marysville Living Shoreline, off River Road;
Cuttle Creek, from the Marysville Golf Course to the river;
Cottrellville Township Park, along the river between Marine City and Algonac;
Marine City Drain, north of Algonac;
And the Krispin Drain on Harsens Island.

“We have a couple of different things going on,” Roseman said. “The river walk area, they have restored a lot of shoreline there and put in a lot of fish habitat. “We’re looking for evidence of spawning fishes like lake whitefish and lake trout. They are native species that have historically spawned in the St. Clair River.” He said study efforts, which will continue until the weather changes, are focusing on the fall spawners. Crews will return in the spring to look for spring spawners such as sturgeon. Crew members are wading or using small boats in shallow areas looking for larvae and eggs. They’re using a larger vessel, the Lake Whitefish, in deeper offshore areas, Roseman said.

“We have a few reefs we have restored in the river that we are assessing as well as general habitat for spawners,” he said.

Researchers use egg mats — mats of tangled fibers that trap fish eggs — and small-mesh plankton nets to snag the tiny bits of life they need for the study.

“Our work is part of a larger effort that involves the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and Michigan Sea Grant,” Roseman said.

He said 2016 will be the last year for intensive study in the St. Clair River. “The goal is to restore functional spawning habitat and remove beneficial use impairments,” he said.

Beneficial use impairments on the St. Clair River are:

Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption;
Restrictions on drinking water consumption, or taste and odor;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Bird or animal deformities or reproduction problems;
Loss of fish and wildlife habitat.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Beach closings

Other beneficial use impairments were tainting of fish and wildlife flavor, removed in 2012; added costs to agriculture or industry, removed in 2011; degradation of benthos, removed in 2014; restriction on dredging activities, removed in 2009; and degradation of aesthetics, removed in 2012. Roseman said researchers are crunching the numbers collected during fieldwork. “We’re in the process of counting our samples and doing the math from this past year,” he said. “There’s a lot of lab work that goes on after the field work. There’s not a lot of instant gratification.”

BOB GROSS|TIMES HERALD

Pipeline legislation would give Great Lakes greater protection

WASHINGTON — A pipeline safety bill p assed by a U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday would make pipelines in the Great Lakes subject to greater scrutiny and encourage oil companies to plan for spills under ice cover such as that seen at near-record levels in the Great Lakes the l ast two years.

The legislation, which goes to the full Senate for consideration, comes as concerns continue to be raised about Enbridge’s Line 5, twin pipelines which run beneath the Straits of Mackinac in northern Michigan. Environmentalists and others worry a spill there could be difficult to respond to and cause vast damage to the Great Lakes.

The measure passed Wednesday on a voice vote by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which would reauthorize the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) through 2019. But it also included several provisions originally written into a separate pipeline safety bill by U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, both D-Mich.

Those provisions included designating the Great Lakes as a high consequence or “unusually sensitive” area under the law, meaning pipelines operated in and around them would be subject to higher safety standards and specific spill-response plans.

Another provision in the bill requires PHMSA and pipeline operators to look at response plans that take into account the possibility of ice cover. According to Peters’ office, the Coast Guard has acknowledged it lacks the technology and equipment to react to a worst-case discharge under solid ice and it could be limited in its response in waters that were partially blocked by icy conditions.

“It’s taken five years and nearly $1 billion to clean up the last oil spill from a pipeline break in Michigan, and a similar spill in the Great Lakes would be devastating to our economy, environment and drinking water supply,” said Peters, referring to the 2010 break along another Enbridge pipeline near Marshall in south-central Michigan, which sent hundreds of thousands of crude into the Kalamazoo River.

Enbridge says the 60-year-old pipelines running 4.6 miles beneath the Straits of Mackinac are safe and coordinated safety drills have been run to test response times.

Recently, Enbridge spokesman Michael Barnes reiterated to the Free Press that section of Line 5 “has never had an issue” during its years of operations.

But environmentalists and others have raised numerous concerns both there and along other sections of the pipeline.

In October, the Free Press reported that a Coast Guard oil spill contingency specialist believed another segment running through the Upper Peninsula and under at least 20 rivers and creeks within a half-mile of Lake Michigan at some points, may pose an even greater threat.

TODD SPANGLER|DETROIT FREE PRESS

Offshore & Ocean

Mining New England’s Ocean Floor for High-Tech Metals

The rare earth elements and high-tech metal mining-eye of Mordor is turning to the seamounts in the Atlantic Ocean off of New England’s shores because George W. Bush forever protected Pacific Ocean seamounts when he created the Northern Hawaii Island National Marine Monument. 

Southeast of Cape Cod, beginning more than 120 miles away, tower up about 9,000 feet above the ocean floor four seamounts – Bear, Physalia, Mytilus, and Retriever. Each underwater mountain peak has a unique assemblage of animals and bacteria living more than a thousand feet deep below the reach of any sunlight.

However, it is what they share in common and their great age that interests the mineral mining industries most.  The Atlantic Ocean has been widening for about 135 million years.  As our continent moved west, a single hot spot in the crust birthed out of volcanic lava eruptions a row of mountains.  Bear, Physalia, Mytilus, and Retriever Seamounts, ancient and gnarly with black basalt, are now dormant and ready for mining.

The astonishing aspect of basalt is its mean rock porosity of 60% and extraordinarily high surface area. The seamounts act like raised sponges absorbing rare minerals from the enormous quantities of seawater that flow over for millennia.  Minerals that are in trace amounts in seawater are accreted into hydrogenous ferromanganese crusts.  The seamounts jagged summits are paved with crusts of metal sequestration.

High-tech metals highly concentrated in the crusts of seamounts include tellurium, cobalt, bismuth, zirconium, niobium, tungsten, molybdenum, platinum, titanium, and thorium. Tellurium is combined with bismuth in an alloy that is being tested as a next-generation computer chip that is more efficient and immensely faster than existing chips. Tellurium is combined with cadmium into an alloy that is considered the best material for production of multi-terawatt solar-cell electricity using thin-film photovoltaic technology. 

Tellurium can also be mined in California, but that would likely inconvenience and offend some of the powerful 1% who prefer to let China do the mining resulting in cheaper products for them who can afford to pay more.  Besides, 99% of the animals living on the four seamounts have yet to be identified by science, so nobody will miss them.

Massive ecological restoration set to launch with spill funds

GALVESTON, Texas — Federal government agencies, state offices, environmental groups, universities, and an army of experts and advisers are gearing up to launch the nation’s largest ever coordinated ecological restoration effort, all thanks to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Today the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, a multiagency body established by the federal RESTORE Act, meets in Biloxi, Miss., to vote on a proposed initial funded priorities list (FPL) of conservation projects, speeding up a process that has been in the works for years and will lumber forward for many more. The FPL includes 10 projects centered on bays, wetlands and river deltas found throughout the Gulf region, and another project that addresses the Gulf of Mexico as a whole.

The council is also reviewing a much broader framework for approvals and oversights for projects in all five Gulf Coast states, which were deemed to have been affected in some way by the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion and oil spill. 2016 is the period for bureaucratic planning and preparation, and for conservationists to put together proposals.

Elsewhere, officials in Galveston are moving forward with an unrelated plan to massively expand a large Gulf marine protected area. The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary includes three reef systems enjoying federal monitoring and protection. Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would like to add seven more.

“This year, we finally put out the notice of intent to expand our boundaries, and that went into that public process,” explained NOAA research coordinator Emma Hickerson during a visit to the agency’s regional office in Galveston. “And now we’ve had the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, so people are thinking more conservation, so I think some of the comments came from that.”

At a recent packed public meeting held here to explain the RESTORE Act and fund distribution process, officials said the $8.8 billion settlement between the government and BP PLC, the operator of the fated well, represents a once-in-a-lifetime chance to nail down scientific monitoring, studies, habitat restoration, and fisheries and wildlife conservation programs in a comprehensive, long-term manner. The only thing the entire effort won’t address is the root cause of the famous Gulf of Mexico dead zone.

“We believe it is a good settlement,” said Department of Justice attorney Steve O’Rourke during a hearing on a draft programmatic damage assessment and restoration plan. “[It’s] by far the largest penalty in any environmental case.”

$1 billion has been linked to early restoration projects. Another $700 million will be set aside as insurance to deal with “natural resource conditions unknown at the time of the agreement,” according to a synopsis by the settlement trustees. The rest, some $7.1 billion, will be made available for projects over a course of 15 years with the first disbursements from those funds expected to start in 2017.

It’s a massive pot of funding available over a sustained duration that is getting noticed by all concerned actors in the Gulf of Mexico region. And already the push for long-term study and protection of the Gulf using oil spill money is sparking some controversy, well before the biggest pool of money begins to flow.

Millions of dollars have already been spent on early restoration efforts, though some projects were pre-existing, while many are located nowhere near the site of the oil spill. This spending was designed to demonstrate the government’s and BP’s commitment to taking care of the Gulf long after the worst effects of the nation’s worst environmental disaster had faded from view. Other funds have been collected from companies that worked with BP on the Macondo well and who settled with the government sooner than the well’s operator did.

Projects generating controversy

Some projects on the FPL that the council is looking at today are raising eyebrows.

The proposal would have spill funds diverted to needs that existed well before the Macondo explosion occurred. Early spill money will likely be used to plug leaking wells at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, for instance. At one hearing, a fishing industry representative complained bitterly of an urban waterways project winning out while the Gulf’s shrimping industry continues to suffer.

Vietnamese fishing communities along the Gulf Coast appear particularly aggrieved. A representative of theirs hastily coordinated a group trip to the Galveston meeting and handled interpretation of the proceedings. Those speaking through the interpreter complained of lax communication on the entire project, and spoke of a collapse of shrimp populations in the Gulf and concern that the restoration projects proposed so far did little to acknowledge the problem.

If approved, the FPL will use $139.6 million for projects aimed at “hydrological restoration, land conservation, and planning for large-scale restoration projects,” according to the draft. A total of $43.6 million would be put aside “for implementing priority activities in the future.”

The council would like to use the funds to fill in some 16 miles of abandoned oil and gas canals along the Gulf Coast and to plug 11 abandoned oil and gas wells. They would like to encourage reduced fertilizer usage in coastal agriculture and “invest in Gulf-wide science, coordination, and planning programs.”

Looking further out, the picture is more complicated.

The draft programmatic damage assessment and restoration plan proposes using BP’s spill money to finance restoration along 13 categories. A 50-page overview details how the trustees would like to see funds allocated starting in 2017. As the hardest hit by the spill, Louisiana would receive the lion’s share of the settlement, $5 billion. $1.2 billion would be set aside for projects to heal the open ocean in the Gulf. As the least impacted state, Texas will receive the smallest share, just under $240 million, though universities in Texas have already benefited from spill money to set up research centers, so-called Centers of Excellence.

The trustees and the RESTORE Act council are working to ensure maximum input from all concerned and adequate transparency about where and how projects are being funded and implemented. At least half a dozen websites are following the Deepwater Horizon settlement funds and tracking the scientific studies. Ecologists are taking advantage of the zeitgeist by setting up a firmer network to share and disseminate Gulf of Mexico scientific research for the next couple of decades.

The bureaucracy being created is formidable as well. NOAA official Mel Landry described what’s being assembled as an “ecosystem-level integrated restoration plan.” The money will be disbursed by the Department of the Treasury. The trustees include four federal agencies and 13 Gulf Coast state conservation and land departments.

Eight separate restoration areas each will be assigned a Trustee Implementation Group. These TIGs will then be responsible for soliciting and approving restoration projects. The first requests for proposals will likely begin rolling out next year, should the final plan win approval.

The Trustee Council and TIGs are to be on guard against waste and abuse. Officials say these past several months of planning and bureaucratic preparations have been necessary to ensure that the forthcoming enormous volume of cash for conservation and ecological restoration is spent wisely. The large bureaucratic edifice also matches the scale of the damage the spill caused, they argue — estimates figure that the 134 million gallons of oil spilled polluted some 1,300 miles of coastline and caused a massive loss of large marine vertebrates and the deaths of billions of oysters and trillions of marine life eggs, Landry said.

Expanding the ‘incredible’ Flower Garden Banks

Efforts to expand the Gulf’s largest marine protected area are also expected to quicken next year.

Hickerson said the proposal to nearly triple the size of the Flower Garden Banks has been sent to NOAA headquarters, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. She hopes the final proposal will be ready for public perusal in spring 2016.

Her team can’t be accused of rushing things. The effort got underway in 2006 but gained new impetus with the 2010 spill. Hickerson said the Flower Garden Banks luckily avoided the worst of the spill’s effects. Thanks to better seabed imaging technologies and dozens of remote operated vehicle surveys, scientists have gained a much better appreciation for how rich the region is in coral and marine life. The area is located off the coast of Texas about 200 miles from the site of the Macondo well disaster.

The Flower Garden Banks’ Sanctuary Advisory Council recommended the addition of seven seamount structures to the marine sanctuary’s protection, advice based in part on what the NOAA office in Galveston can reasonably manage with existing funds and resources.

To date, the push to expand the size of the Flower Garden Banks has received no spill money, but the timing couldn’t be better. As planning for spending Gulf spill money gains speed next year, the Flower Garden Banks expansion proposal will be moving in parallel. For now, the aim is to simply extend existing marine sanctuary regulations onto these seven new areas. So far, the oil and gas industry has seen this proposal as relatively benign. These days, few companies are willing to push against conservation in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Even before Deepwater Horizon, there were efforts in conservation to look at the Gulf of Mexico as a need for higher protection, but I think the Deepwater Horizon has sort of elevated that in everybody’s mind,” Hickerson said.

She said efforts to protect coral habitats in the Gulf are worthy in their own right, oil spill or no. “One of the healthiest coral reefs in the Caribbean is in the Gulf of Mexico,” Hickerson said. “The Flower Garden Banks is incredible.”

Nathanial Gronewold|E&E reporter|December 9, 2015

SWFWMD Reports Gains in Seagrass Coverage in Sarasota Bay

Scientists with the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s (District) Surface Water Improvement and Management, or SWIM program, released the results of the 2014 seagrass mapping study showing Sarasota Bay now supports 13,288 acres of seagrass beds; an increase of 701 acres in seagrass coverage.

Sarasota Bay waters include five bay segments made up of Manatee and Sarasota County waters. All bay segments gained seagrass from 2012 to 2014 with an overall 5.6% increase since 2012.

Sarasota Bay contains more seagrass as of 2014 than it has at any other time in the history of the District mapping program; the largest amount of seagrass measured since the 1950s.

The District maps seagrass in five estuaries spanning the five coastal counties of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, and Charlotte.

Documenting the extent of seagrass and how it changes overtime is a valuable tool for scientists throughout Florida. Seagrasses are an important barometer of a bay’s health because they require relatively clean water to flourish, thus they are sensitive to changes in water clarity and quality.

The District’s maps are used as a tool for measuring and tracking biological integrity of estuaries as it relates to water quality conditions. Seagrass generally grows in waters less than 6 feet deep, but in the clear waters around Egmont and Anclote Keys it can be found in water ten feet deep or more.

The District began its formal seagrass mapping program in 1988. As part of the program, SWIM scientists assess seagrass in five Gulf coast estuaries. Every two years maps are produced from aerial photographs and then verified for accuracy by conducting field surveys. The results are used to track trends in seagrass and to evaluate ongoing water quality improvement efforts.

SWFWMD Press Release|Florida Water Daily|December 9, 2015

Seagrass Die-Off Carries Fears Of Another Collapse For Florida Bay

  Almost 30 years ago, a seagrass die-off in Florida Bay led to massive algae blooms in the famous fishing grounds that form the southernmost end of Everglades National Park.

The collapse of the bay, and its impact on the recreational and commercial fishing industries of South Florida, helped garner support for Everglades restoration at the state and federal levels.

Starting the in late ’90s, the bay recovered. But after a prolonged drought, the seagrass has started to die again, bringing fears that another cascade of impacts will follow.

“We may be looking at something that’s set up to happen every 25 years or so,” Florida International University marine science professor Jim Fourqurean said Tuesday in a report to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, “which means half of Florida Bay and a large part of the sanctuary is going to have impaired fishing, impaired water quality for at least half the time.”

Fourqurean said researchers have found about 40,000 acres of the bay showing some symptoms from the die-off.

“That doesn’t mean there’s 40,000 acres of dead bottom,” Fourqurean said. “But there’s at least 40,000 acres in which there is active seagrass die-off happening right now.”

Seagrasses provide habitat for prized gamefish and for many species of fish larvae, which later go on to populate the Keys reef. Algae blooms can also wipe out sponge populations, which help filter the water and are used by young lobster.

Scientists suspect the causes of the die-off is similar to that of 1987: prolonged drought and high temperatures, leading to water that is too salty and hot for seagrasses to survive. And the northern part of the bay is still not receiving the right amount of freshwater at the right times from the mainland Everglades, scientists say.

Recent rains may have come too late, Fourqurean said.

“Even though salinity’s decreased, the trigger looks like it’s been pulled,” he said, “and the grass die-off areas still seem to be expanding.”

Nancy Klingener|Dec 8, 2015

Wildlife and Habitat

$50 Million Helps Ag Producers Restore Wildlife Habitat

GAINESVILLE, Fla., Dec. 10, 2015 – USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is making available about $50 million this year in financial assistance to partner with agricultural producers who want to restore and protect habitat for seven focus species, including the gopher tortoise. Conservation efforts for the gopher tortoise are part of Working Lands for Wildlife, an innovative partnership that supports struggling landscapes and strengthens agricultural operations.

“The decisions of agricultural producers can have significant impacts on wildlife,” said Russell Morgan, NRCS state conservationist in Florida. “By managing land with the gopher tortoise and other wildlife in mind, producers can benefit entire populations while also strengthening their agricultural operations.”

This year, NRCS will invest about $3.7 million on habitat restoration for the gopher tortoise, the keystone species of longleaf pine forests in the Southeast. The tortoise, known for its deep burrows, is listed as threatened in the western part of its range under the Endangered Species Act. Since 2012, NRCS has worked with land managers to make conservation improvements to more than 278,000 acres of pine forests, benefitting the gopher tortoise and many other species.

Technical and financial assistance is available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. NRCS financial assistance covers part of the cost to implement conservation practices. For more information, visit your local NRCS field office. To learn more, go to Getting Started with NRCS.

Global Warming and Climate Change

From Paris

Today is a historic day: as tens of thousands of people filled the streets of Paris, politicians finalized a major new global climate agreement.

The deal in Paris includes an agreement to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, with an aim of 1.5 degrees, and achieve climate ‘neutrality’ that will require phasing out fossil fuels soon after mid-century. That’s not what we hoped for, but it’s still a deal that sends a signal that it’s time to keep fossil fuels in the ground, and for investors to cut their ties with coal, oil and gas by divesting.

This deal represents important progress — but progress alone is not our goal. Our goal is a just and livable planet.

If followed to the letter, the agreement leaves far too many people exposed to the violence of rising seas, stronger storms and deeper drought. It leaves too many loopholes to avoid serious action — despite the heroic efforts from leaders of vulnerable nations and communities who fought for a deal in line with science.

But the coal, oil and gas corporations of the world should take little comfort. That 2 degree pledge would require keeping 80% of the world’s remaining fossil fuels underground, a 1.5 degree target even more — and countries are required to come back to the table every 5 years to increase their ambition in reaching those goals.

Paris isn’t the end of the story, but a conclusion of a particular chapter. Now, it’s up to us to strengthen these promises, make sure they are kept, and then accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels and towards 100% renewable energy.

As world leaders in Paris were finalizing the text of the deal, thousands of people returned to the streets of Paris to demonstrate their commitment to continue the fight:

They were joined by hundreds of solidarity actions around the world, all echoing the same message: it’s up to us to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Standing together, flowers in hand, we formed red lines in the street — because lines have to be drawn in this fight for justice, and it’s up to all of us to stand on the side of those on the front lines of this crisis.

More lines are being drawn everywhere against the true villain of the last two weeks: the fossil fuel industry, which has done everything possible to weaken even this late, late deal.

Without pressure from ordinary people, world leaders would have gladly ignored this problem entirely. It’s pressure from people that will close the gap between what was signed today and the action we need.

This begins the next chapter. Please watch for the announcement of something big in the coming days!

May Boeve|350.org

Extreme Weather

Strengthening El Nino keeps arctic air at bay

Ski areas in the Northeast are getting nervous, a confused southern bird has been spotted in New York City, and Buffalo, New York, has yet to see snow, something that hasn’t happened there in December since records began shortly after the Civil War.

So far, in the U.S.’s weather contest between the warmth of El Nino and the icy cold of the infamous Polar Vortex, it’s been El Nino in a wipeout.

Record-breaking warmth is possible this weekend for much of the central and eastern U.S., with temperatures forecast to soar as much as 20 to 30 degrees above average from Texas to New England, according to AccuWeather.

The ongoing and strengthening El Nino could keep arctic air out of much of the U.S. well into winter.

El Nino occurs when tropical Pacific Ocean waters are warmer than normal, which can have wide-ranging effects around the world. By one measure, this is the most intense El Nino ever recorded, as November water temperatures in the Pacific were the warmest on record, said meteorologist Jan Null of Golden Gate Weather Services.

USA TODAY

Genetically Modified Organisms

Dow Chemical and DuPont to combine; $130 billion deal ranks among top 20 all-time mergers

Dow Chemical and DuPont will attempt to merge in an all-stock deal that would create DowDuPont, a colossal chemical producer worth $130 billion, before splitting into three separate companies

Dow Chemical and DuPont agreed Friday to combine their operations, creating a chemical and agricultural giant with a combined market value of about $130 billion. The deal is among the top 20 biggest mergers ever.

The two companies will become DowDuPont. After completing the deal, they plan to split into three publicly traded companies — one focused on agriculture, one on material science and one on specialty products.

They estimated it would take up to two years to complete the tax-free split. Until then, shareholders of each company will hold 50 percent of the combined company. Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris will become executive chairman of the new entity, while DuPont CEO Edward Breen will become chairman and CEO.

“When I look at DuPont and Dow, I see businesses that fit together like hand in glove,” Breen said in a conference call. “The strategic nature of what we could pull off is incredible. To me it checks all the boxes of a great deal and a way to create value for our shareholders.”

The companies have identified $3 billion in annual cost savings, which they said would translate into $30billion in market value, in addition to $1 billion in targeted “growth synergies.”

Before the merger, DuPont said it will shed $700 million in costs, with about 10 percent of its global workforce “impacted,” according to a statement. The had 63,000 employees at the end of 2014.

Dow is slashing $300 million in costs before the closure of the deal as part of what it called a three-year, $1 billion “productivity plan.”

The companies said they would maintain dual headquarters in Midland, Michigan, and Wilmington, Delaware, but plan to “optimize” their physical footprint, which could mean plant closures.

The deal comes amid a record year for mergers and acquisitions announced by U.S. companies. M& A activity in 2015 hit a record $4.6 trillion as of Monday, according to Dealogic.

It’s the 18th biggest deal ever and the fifth largest deal announced this year, according to Dealogic. It’s behind the Aller- gan-Pfizer, Anheuser-Busch In-Bev-SABMiller, BG Group-Royal Dutch Shell and Time Warner Cable-Charter Communications mergers. It’s ahead of EMC Corp.-Dell and Kraft-HJ Heinz.

Liveris, who has thirsted for a deal with DuPont for “an awful long time,” had faced the serious prospect of a renewed fight with activist investor Dan Loeb. DuPont has faced pressure from activist investor Nelson Peltz. Both companies had been under fire to consider breaking up.

The companies have combined annual revenue of about $83 billion and operating profit of about $15 billion, with a profit margin of 18 percent. They would have combined net debt of $18.3 billion.

The deal is subject to regulatory approval across the globe. U.S. regulators have pumped the brakes on several major deals in recent months amid concerns about competition.

But the plan to break up into three companies could assuage regulators. The companies expect to close the deal in the second half of 2016.

The agriculture company alone would have combined revenue of $19 billion, making it the industry’s largest company by sales.

Dow also announced Friday that it has acquired from Corning Corp. the 50 percent stake in silicon-making joint-venture Dow Corning that it did not previously own, for $4.8 billion. The deal would create $400 million in annual savings from cost cuts and revenue opportunities, Dow said.

Nathan Bomey|USA TODAY

Energy

Protect The Big Cypress From New Threats By Big Oil!

Burnett Oil Company out of Fort Worth, Texas, has applied to the National Park Service (NPS) for a permit to conduct seismic testing for oil on more than 70,000 acres of the Big Cypress National Preserve.  Not good.  After engaging in years of conflict and hard fought litigation over the proper balance of motorized recreation in this unique but fragile national preserve, we are now faced with a private company poised to drive 67,000 pound vehicles (“vibroseis” trucks) over a vast swath of this incredible ecosystem simply to look for oil.  And if Burnett finds it – which is (unfortunately) likely since this part of the preserve lies in the footprint of the oil-bearing Sunniland Trend of southwest Florida – we can expect new access roads, oil pads, drilling rigs, pipes, water wells, wastewater injection wells, and possibly fracking to get that oil out.  This is NOT academic geological research.

For South Florida Wildlands Association, the Big Cypress National Preserve is at the heart of our mission to protect wildlife and wildlife habitat in the Greater Everglades.  It is by far the most important piece of public land for the endangered Florida panther, and also serves as habitat for dozens of other federally and state listed plants and animals – as well as hundreds more not yet on any protected species list.  Habitats in this unique preserve include wet prairies, marshes, pinelands, cypress strands, hardwood hammocks, and coastal mangroves.

All research conducted to date on the use of motor vehicles inside the Big Cypress National Preserve indicates that this project will lead to clearing of native vegetation, and likely lead to severe compaction and rutting of fragile soils, the spread of invasive plant species throughout the target area (and beyond), changes to the preserve’s hydrology, and disturbances to Florida panthers, eastern indigo snakes, burrowing owls, gopher tortoises, Florida bonneted bats, and many other rare species.  The many human visitors to the preserve – who come looking for an experience of Florida as it used to be – are likely to be shocked by the new industrialization of this unique piece of federally owned public land.

Video of a vibroseis truck in action is below.  These are much bigger than the swamp buggies and ATVs used for recreation in the preserve.  A few seconds of this two minute video will quickly give you the picture of what Burnett Oil has in mind for the fragile Big Cypress ecosystem.  Hint – have your speakers turned down – these machines are LOUD.  Two independent groups of three trucks each will be traversing the preserve.  Lines of “geophones” laid and retrieved by helicopter and ground crews will crisscross the lines traversed by the vehicles.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4El6U0XTNS0

Much has already been written about this operation.  South Florida Wildlands Association is quoted in the articles linked below from the Miami Herald, Naples News. and the Sun-Sentinel.

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article24820741.html

http://www.naplesnews.com/news/seismic-testing-plans-for-big-cypress-oil-drilling-concern-panther-advocates-ep-543680389-330648001.html

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/miami-dade/fl-big-cypress-oil-environment-20151120-story.html

So far the National Park Service has only written an “Environmental Assessment” for this project – and not the full-blown “Environmental Impact Statement” required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for a “major federal action” such as this.  While an Environmental Assessment (EA) might be suitable for constructing a small project (e.g. a campground on a few acres of the preserve), it is far from the complete analysis of all impacts required by NEPA for a 70,000 acre project of this type.  The Code of Federal Regulations (40 CFR 1508.27) for NEPA lists ten “significance factors” to determine when an EIS is necessary.  Any one of them would be enough to trigger an EIS.  This project has many.  A few are pulled out and highlighted below:

(3) Unique characteristics of the geographic area such as proximity to historic or cultural resources, park lands, prime farmlands, wetlands, wild and scenic rivers, or ecologically critical areas.

With perhaps more species diversity than any other public land in the continental United States, the Big Cypress National Preserve is definitely an “ecologically critical area.”  And tens of thousand of acres of designated “wetlands” will be impacted by Burnett’s proposed operations.

(4) The degree to which the effects on the quality of the human environment are likely to be highly controversial.

(5) The degree to which the possible effects on the human environment are highly uncertain or involve unique or unknown risks.

The impacts of this search for oil are definitely controversial – and many of the effects and risks are unknown.  This technique of searching for oil has never been used before inside the Big Cypress National Preserve.

(9) The degree to which the action may adversely affect an endangered or threatened species or its habitat that has been determined to be critical under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

The Big Cypress is one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in our nation and home to approximately 30 animals listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.  Many more are on Florida’s list of “imperiled species.”  It is almost completely unknown at this point how the many federally and state listed species in the target area will respond to Burnett’s seismic and ground operations.  That should be the subject of a rigorous Environmental Impact Statement BEFORE any federal permitting for this major project is even considered.

How you can help –

1 – Send individual comments to the National Park Service (NPS) at the NPS website set up for this particular project.  Explain that a full-blown Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is absolutely necessary for this project before it can be even considered for permitting.  The Environmental Assessment (EA) NPS has produced so far is completely insufficient.  Also warn the NPS that significant damage to the natural resources of the preserve – such as the spread of invasive plants and the crushing and destruction of natural soils (or even the underlying limestone caprock found in the preserve) by these massive trucks is strictly prohibited by legislation such as the Organic Act of 1916 – the enabling legislation which created the National Park Service itself.  The website for comments can be found at the link below.  Please use this opportunity to tell the NPS how you want YOUR national preserve managed.  These individual comments will be extremely important as this process unfolds.  You have through December 20th, 2015 to submit comments.

https://parkplanning.nps.gov/commentForm.cfm?documentID=69396

More information on this project from the NPS can be found here:

https://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=53498

The Truth about the Price of Solar Energy

We’re clearing up commonplace myths about solar energy. Here’s how to respond next time you hear this common misconception.

Here at The Climate Reality Project, we’re taking outdated information about climate change and setting the record straight, making sure the most up-to-date climate science is available to our readers. As part of that effort we’re debunking the most common myths about renewable energies.

Earlier this month, we told you why solar panels are a reliable source of energy, even when it’s cloudy or cold. Next up, we’re tackling another common myth: the economics of solar energy.

“Myth: Solar energy is too expensive and isn’t affordable for most people.”

Fact: The price of solar energy has dropped significantly in the last seven years and many scientists predict it will continue to decrease.

The claim that solar energy is too expensive is out-of-date and continues to be proven wrong. The average cost of solar panels fell 75 percent between 2009-2014 alone, and some analysts predict the cost of PV modules will drop 25 percent by 2018. The result is that in many regions around the world and parts of the US, electricity from solar is as cheap – or even cheaper – than electricity from coal, oil, or natural gas.

So it’s no surprise that clean energy is one of the world’s fastest growing industries, and already makes up more than 20 percent of the world’s electricity generation. Bonus: when you use solar energy to do things like power homes or schools, you’re helping protect humans from higher carbon emissions, unnecessary air pollution, and the devastating impacts of climate change.

If you’re ready for a future powered by clean, renewable energy, download our free Solar Myths EBook now to learn how solar energy can not only meet our energy needs, but can even help solve climate change.

The Climate Reality Project

The Threat from South Florida Growth and Development Fostered by FPL’s Expansion of its Turkey Point Nuclear Plant and Transmission Infrastructure Goes Beyond ENP

A year ago on .e unit of the Turkey Point nuclear reactor had to be shut down over a steam leak. http://www.npr.org/2014/07/23/334494701/nuclear-plant-may-be-in-hot-water-over-its-cooling-system

This occurred after Federal, state, and local officials gave Florida Power and Light (FPL) the authority to run their open cooling water canals hotter than originally capped in its permits.

 http://www.industrialinfo.com/news/abstract.jsp?newsitemID=245731

FPL never should have gotten its permits renewed for the existing nuclear plants, let alone the OK for the expansion to double the operation. The fix is always in at the NRC, so it was never not going to get its Federal permits for renewal and expansion.  It’s too bad the fix was also in at the Miami-Dade City and County Councils, because some of their children and grandchildren are in harm’s way. 

That something was amiss at Turkey Point should have been evident in the fact that it was leaking substantial quantities of tritium, a byproduct of water-cooled nuclear reactors.  The technical experts at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) did a superb job of analyzing the contaminated groundwater data to prove the tritium plume wasn’t a natural occurrence as claimed by FPL and in briefing then Executive Director, Carol Wehle, to that effect.  To her credit, once she could separate the science from the fiction, she stood up to FPL, because she didn’t like being lied to. 

Those elected and appointed officials could have rejected subsequent permit applications for renewal and expansion of its Federal, state, regional, and local permits it needed based on the fact that FPL lied about the source and significance of the tritium in the plume in the groundwater beneath Turkey Point.  Unfortunately, there were too few elected and appointed officials with the integrity and intestinal fortitude to just say no, so FPL still got its permits for renewal and expansion from SFWMD and everybody else. 

The 22 inch rainstorm in less than 24 hours I experienced in Boynton Beach in January 2014 was a once-in-one-thousand-year storm, according to my Boynton Beach annual drinking water supply fact sheet.   Anybody willing to give me odds that it won’t happen again over the design life of these nuclear power plants as the Gulf of Mexico, the Everglades, and the Gulf Stream all continue to heat up under the influence of nuisance warming to complement our nuisance flooding?  http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2014/01/10/22258116-nearly-2-feet-of-rain-in-24-hours-hits-floridas-palm-beach-county?lite

This extreme rainfall event occurred over a large swath of Southeast Florida.  During that once-in-one thousand-year event the flooding of the emergency generators at the St. Lucie nuclear power plant at Hutchinson Island may have been an even riskier unsafe “event”. (http://www.tcpalm.com/news/local-news/st-lucie-county/flooding-at-st-lucie-nuclear-plant-prompts-more-oversight-from-regulators_24283175 ) It was bad enough to prompt increased oversight by the NRC.  (http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/news/2014/14-055.ii.pdf )

The situation at the St; Lucie nuke is also an example of the risks posed by the systematic under-design of inherently dangerous instrumentalities like nuclear power plants in the face of the old extreme events like earthquakes, tsunamis, and floods.  This systematic under-design will be exacerbated by the new normal extremes of heat, wind, tide and rain from global warming and sea level rise.  –

When does a nuisance become an unreasonable risk to our way of life when the under-designed flood control and water supply infrastructure is systematically overwhelmed in low-lying South Florida? 
Laughable as it may seem, not being able to talk about it objectively will only exacerbates that threat. http://www.usatoday.com/story/weather/2015/03/09/florida-governor-climate-change-global-warming/24660287/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGgQriiD8VI

Perhaps all of these other internal and external threats are mass media-amplified bread-and-circus distractions to allow these money-making entities in collusion with the government agencies they have corrupted to continue to socialize more and more risk so as to be able to privatize more and more profit, whether in the form of selling more coal-fired power in exchange for more methylmercury in your fresh and salt water fish, selling more guns in exchange for more mass shootings, or selling more unsafe nuclear power in exchange for our comfort and control.  Now that’s a threat to our way of life from creeping socialism you can believe in. 

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mggkGeDX6lg

Larry E. Fink, M.S.|Waterwise Consulting, LLC

The Sabal Trail Project Is…

Sabal Trail Transmission, LLC (“Sabal Trail”), a joint venture of Spectra Energy Corp. NextEra Energy, Inc. and Duke Energy, is proposing to design, construct and operate an approximately 515-mile interstate natural gas pipeline to provide transportation services for power generation needs to Florida Power and Light (“FPL”) and Duke Energy of Florida (“DEF”) beginning in May 2017.

The Sabal Trail underground pipeline will bring additional affordable, clean natural gas supplies to Florida, while increasing the reliability of the region’s energy delivery system and positively impacting the economy in the Southeast region of the United States, specifically Alabama, Florida and Georgia. The Sabal Trail project will provide economic stimulus in the form of increased tax revenue and local jobs. According to an economic study, the pipeline project will immediately create jobs for hardworking men and women in these three states, with the end product being capable of transporting over 1 billion cubic feet per day or more of natural gas to serve local distribution companies, industrial users and natural gas-fired power generators in the Southeast markets.

Land Conservation

The Florida House of Representatives Launches “Legacy Florida” Bill filed by Rep. Gayle Harrell which establishes the annual dedicated funding source to restore the Florida Everglades

Tallahassee, FL – The Florida House of Representatives today announced the creation of the “Legacy Florida” bill to establish a dedicated funding source to restore the Florida Everglades. Sponsored by Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart), the bill will result in a reliable, sustainable funding stream for Florida’s River of Grass.

The bill will direct funds from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF) to fund Everglades projects that implement the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, the Long-Term Plan, the final Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan adopted by the Department of Environmental Protection in December 2014, and the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program.

“As a seventh generation Floridian, I have made the care of our natural resources a legislative priority. I want to ensure that future generations can enjoy the beauty of well-managed land and water,” said Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island). “The Everglades is at the heart of our natural resources, and I believe consistent funding will help preserve and protect this national treasure.”

“Cleaning up the St. Lucie River, Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River, the Indian River Lagoon and the Everglades has been a priority for me since I was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives,” said Representative Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart). “The future of our way of life is linked directly to the health of our rivers, the Indian River Lagoon, Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades. ‘Legacy Florida’ will provide the resources to make it possible for our children and grandchildren to enjoy these natural treasures.”

“Legacy Florida” has received the support of major stakeholders across Florida.

Erik Eikenberg, CEO, The Everglades Foundation

“The Everglades Foundation appreciates the Speaker’s support of legislation that will dedicate funding to Everglades restoration, and especially the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, to help move projects to completion.  The Everglades is an economic engine for this state and a sound investment.   Restoration projects create jobs and protect the water supply for one in three Floridians.  We look forward to working with the Florida Legislature and the Governor’s Office to ensure a dedicated revenue source for a restored Everglades becomes a reality.”

Eric Draper, Executive Director, Audubon Florida

“Dedicated funding will ensure steady progress on the projects needed to provide clean water to the Everglades and estuaries. We applaud this legislation and its commitment of state funds to ecosystem restoration. Floridians should welcome this as a major step forward toward implementing plans to meet water quality goals and deliver freshwater flows.”

Robert Thomas, Chairman, Florida Land Council

“The Florida Land Council applauds the establishment of a dedicated funding source for Everglades restoration.  Long term funding for the implementation of the Everglades water quality plan, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, and the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program is needed to ensure that there is ample clean water available for a healthy ecosystem while meeting the other water related needs of the region.”

Temperince Morgan, Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy

“The Nature Conservancy applauds the Legislature for creating a steady and predictable funding stream for projects that will improve water quality and quantity for the Everglades and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries. We believe this significant commitment of Amendment 1 funds assures completion of projects that help to restore essential habitats for Florida’s imperiled species.”

Tom Feeney, President and CEO, Associated Industries of Florida

“Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida H20 Coalition applaud Speaker Steve Crisafulli for supporting dedicated funding for the Everglades, which will help tackle Florida’s major water problems in a comprehensive way.  By supporting legislation, which would appropriate a portion of Amendment 1 funds annually for Everglades projects, we will be able to see positive impacts through the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan, and the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program.  We look forward to working with Florida lawmakers and the Governor to see this funding plan come to fruition during the 2016 Legislative Session.”

The “Legacy Florida” bill will be filed by Rep. Gayle Harrell in the coming weeks. The following is the summary of the draft legislation:

•           From funds distributed into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF) pursuant to s. 201.15, F.S., (Amendment 1 33% funds), after paying required debt service, a minimum of the lesser of 25 percent or $200 million must be appropriated annually for Everglades projects that implement the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan as set forth in s. 373.470, the Long-Term Plan as defined in s. 373.4592(2), F.S., the final Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan adopted by the Department of Environmental Protection in December 2014, and the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program as set forth in s. 373.4595, F.S.

•           From these dedicated Everglades funds, $32 million must be distributed each fiscal year through the 2023-2024 fiscal year to the South Florida Water Management District for the Long-Term Plan as defined in s. 373.4592(2), F.S.

•           From the dedicated Everglades funds remaining after deducting the $32 million, a minimum of the lesser of 76.5 percent or $100 million must be appropriated for 10 years (through 2025-26) for the planning, design, engineering and construction of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan as set forth in s. 373.470, F.S.

•           The legislation requires the Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management district to give preference to those Everglades restoration projects that reduce discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie or Caloosahatchee estuaries in a timely manner.

  Michael Williams|December 1, 2015    

Transportation

Florida to get $12 billion for roads, bridges, transit

WASHINGTON – Florida will get nearly $12 billion to improve roads, bridges and transit systems over the next five years under a massive transportation bill that President Obama signed into law Friday.

The $305 billion measure, known as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act or FAST Act, is the first long-term transportation bill Congress has passed in a decade. It provides Florida about $1 billion more than it would have gotten under current funding formulas.

The new law depends on a patchwork of funding sources beyond the 18.4-cent-per-gallon gas tax that provides most money for highway projects. The next Congress and president will have to decide how to make up a shortfall that could reach around $24 billion per year.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida praised the measure as long overdue.

“Because of this bill, we’re going to provide states and communities with over $300 billion over five years to repair the roads and bridges of this country and greatly improve rail and port projects,” Nelson said on the Senate floor following passage of the measure late Thursday. “And as a result, we are going to create jobs.”

He mentioned some projects that could immediately benefit, including I-95, I-75, SunRail, Tri-Rail “and the streetcars in Fort Lauderdale.”

A little more than $10 billion will go to Florida’s highway program, with the rest earmarked for transit.

Tom Yu, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation said the package represents a 15 percent increase in highway funding and 18 percent increase in transit funding. He couldn’t say how the bill would affect specific projects because the agency was still reviewing the bill.

The House passed the bill Thursday 359-65.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, one of 16 senators to vote against the measure, said the bill is too massive.

“Modernizing our nation’s infrastructure is necessary in order to have a 21st century economy,” he said in a statement released by his office. “But having a 21st century infrastructure doesn’t mean simply spending money, it means empowering states with greater autonomy to prioritize the infrastructure needs of their communities.”

Rubio also didn’t like a provision that revives the Export-Import Bank, a quasi-governmental agency that helps companies across the country export their products overseas when private financing or credit insurance isn’t available. Rubio describes the bank as “crony capitalist.”

Hard-line conservatives would like to see the Ex-Im Bank disappear over concerns it hasn’t made requested reforms and could leave U.S. taxpayers on the hook if companies default.

“The Export-Import Bank’s revival in this bill is especially offensive to taxpayers who want to end corporate welfare handouts and let the free market finance overseas investments by American companies,” Rubio said. “The time and effort that both parties in Washington have put into reviving the Export-Import Bank is just another example of how out of touch our federal government has become.”

The bank said that in Florida, 727 companies exporting $7 billion in products benefited from the government-backed financing from 2007 through 2014.

LEDYARD KING|THE NEWS-PRESS Washington bureau|December 5, 2015|Contributing: Bart Jansen, USA TODAY

VW: Engineers couldn’t meet US emissions laws

Chairman says engineers should have tried harder to meet American standards

Volkswagen investigators have determined that engineers cheated U.S. emissions tests in part because they could not figure out how to meet the standards, the company said Thursday.

Volkswagen Group Chairman Hans-Dieter Potsch told reporters that engineers erred by developing manipulative software to fool regulators because they “quite simply could not find a way to meet the tougher” limits for nitrogen oxide pollutants in the U.S.

“We are not talking about a one-off mistake, but a whole chain of mistakes,” he said at a news conference in German y.

Potsch said engineers should have persevered until they found a solution. He said the company has suspended nine managers who were “possibly involved in the manipulations” and the company is “relentlessly searching for those responsible for what happened.”

He pledged to assign emissions certification to independent auditors in the future.

The company will also form a new committee to authorize new emissions software to avoid future violations. Volkswagen has admitted fitting up to 11million diesel vehicles worldwide with software that cheated tests for NOx emissions, allowing the harmful pollutants to be emitted at rates of up to 40 times Environmental Protection Agency standards.

Volkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller said the company is still pursuing a fix for the U.S. vehicles involved in the crisis — nearly 600,000 diesel cars and crossovers such as certain versions of t he Passat, Beetle, Audi A6 and Audi Q5 — because of the complexity involved.

In Europe, where the fix is not as complicated because nitrogen-oxide emissions regulations are less strict, recalls will begin in January.

The episode is expected to cost the company tens of billions of dollars, but Mueller said Volkswagen stock gains in recent weeks show investors have confidence in the automaker.

Analysts say the company has sustained serious damage to its brand — particularly in the U.S., where sales fell 25 percent in November — although sales in Europe have been more resilient.

Potsch said 450 people externally a nd internally are involved in the episode.

NATHAN BOMEY|USA TODAY

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

Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

ConsRep 1512 A

The gross heathenism of civilization has generally destroyed nature, and poetry, and all that is spiritual. ~John Muir

Announcements

South Florida Audubon Society

presents an

Inspiring Movie Night among Stars and Fireflies ‏

“The City Dark” and “Brilliant Darkness”

Friday, December 11, 2015

at Anne Kolb Nature Center

Hollywood,FL

5:30 – 8:00 PM

Audubon Conservation Priorities for 2016

I am proud that Audubon leaders from around the state gather at the annual Audubon Assembly to vote to approve our conservation priorities. 

As far as I know we are the only conservation group that builds our conservation agenda from the ground up. 

You can download Audubon Florida’s 2016 Conservation Action Agenda here: http://bit.ly/1X7CADF

Eric Draper|Executive Director|Audubon Florida

The next GBBC

is

February 12-15, 2016

www.BirdCount.org

Of Interest to All

A 90-foot deep sinkhole closes Hillsborough park and fixing it will be complicated

LUTZ — A popular Hillsborough County park was closed indefinitely Wednesday after engineers discovered a sinkhole 90 feet deep and 6 feet wide.

The land for Lake Park, at 17302 N Dale Mabry Highway, is owned by the city of St. Petersburg, which leased it to Hillsborough County. The region’s water utility, Tampa Bay Water, has five active well fields in the park, which are used to pump groundwater to satisfy the bay area’s water needs.

All that has made fixing the sinkhole and reopening Lake Park a complicated proposition. The question now is: Who’s going to fix it?

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill discussed the “significantly deep chasm” at Wednesday morning’s commission meeting. He said the park had to be closed entirely until the county deems it safe to reopen. “The park, the land, is actually owned by St. Pete,” he said. “I believe, as the landowner, they would be the ones to pay for the remediation, which will be significant.”

“We’re still gathering information and we have folks going out there to check it out more,” said Ben Kirby, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s spokesman.

Warren Hogg, the water use permitting manager for Tampa Bay Water, said the utility acquired the well fields from St. Petersburg in 1998. The wells pump water from 700 feet below ground, he said, and had been off since mid July during the usual summer hiatus.

Tampa Bay Water resumed pumping Tuesday, Hogg said, but the utility does not believe that contributed to the formation of the sinkhole.

“If it’s not something we could have caused,” Hogg said, “we would not pay for fixing it.”

The sinkhole was first detected Tuesday night by a geotechnical engineering firm, according to Hillsborough County spokeswoman Michelle VanDyke. Sections of the park have been closed for weeks because of summer flooding.

“We’ve been dealing with (flooding) for a few weeks now, which is why we hired the firm,” she said.

Several organizations help maintain facilities at the park, including the Gasparilla Bowmen Archery Club, Hurricane R/C Club and Tampa BMX Raceway Inc. “This morning’s call was kind of a shock,” said BMX track operator Steven Smith.

Hanna Marcus|Times Staff Writer|December 2, 2015

Everglades Park and FPL cut land deal

Many threats to the Everglades are subtle: a worsening of water chemistry, the slow creep of non-native plants.

Then there’s the plan to run three sets of transmission lines through Everglades National Park on towers up to 150 feet high, destroying wetlands and ruining wildlife habitat so that electricity could flow north from new reactors planned at the Turkey Point nuclear plant.

To head off the project, the National Park Service this week announced it will acquire Florida Power & Light Co.’s seven-mile corridor through the eastern part of the park. In exchange, the park will give the company a narrow stretch of land on its eastern border, through which the company can run its power lines.

The park plans to use the land as part of a pathway for more water to flow into the northeastern Shark River Slough, where wetlands parched from more than a century of human alteration to the South Florida landscape are less able to support alligators, wading birds and other wildlife.

“This is an important step in our nation’s long term plan to restore the Everglades,” said Everglades National Park Superintendent Pedro Ramos. “Acquisition of this property is central to our efforts to elevate water levels in this area of the park. It is a critical component of long term Everglades ecosystem restoration.”

This is an important step in our nation’s long term plan to restore the Everglades.- Pedro Ramos, Everglades National Park

Although the park acknowledged the swap would cost the park some land, the agreement calls for FPL to try to avoid actually having to take the land for the project, which is years off, but rather to continue trying to acquire a power line corridor farther east, outside the park boundaries.

The decision still fell short of what many environmentalists hoped for, an outright purchase of the FPL land without the surrender of any park territory in exchange.

Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, said the decision would still allow the company to put power lines along the eastern edge of the park, creating a “new industrial landscape for visitors to the eastern side of Everglades National Park.”

Ecological impacts will be severe and include increased electrocutions and collisions with birds, including federally threatened wood stork colonies known to use this area.- Matthew Schwartz, South Florida Wildlands Association

“The lines will be visible for miles – including the observation tower at the end of Shark Valley and for the hundreds of thousands who visit the area on airboat tours,” he said. “Ecological impacts will be severe and include increased electrocutions and collisions with birds, including federally threatened wood stork colonies known to use this area, the spread of invasive plant species in the east Everglades through soil disturbance, changes to the hydrology of the east Everglades due to the construction of the concrete pads and access road, and other impacts that may still be unknown at this point.”

But the National Parks Conservation Association said the deal eliminates the threat of power lines running through the park and expressed hope that the company would succeed in finding land farther east for its power lines.

“We are cautiously optimistic,” said Cara Capp, the group’s Everglades restoration program manager. “The land swap presents an opportunity for FPL to be good corporate stewards of our beloved Everglades by sticking to its promise to use only a portion of the exchanged lands, possibly none, for its power line corridor and donate the unused land back to the park to be managed for preservation and restoration.”

The 320-acre FPL corridor stands on land called the East Everglades Expansion Area, added to the park in 1989. The park wants to acquire the FPL corridor, along with other privately held parcels within the expansion area, to use them to allow more water to flow into the park. The land that would go to FPL in exchange is a 260-acre, 6.5 mile corridor on the edge of the expansion area.

Ramos said the deal would help restore the Everglades while “mitigating costs to the government.”

Greg Brostowicz, spokesman for FPL, said the company was “pleased with the decision outlined by the National Park Service, which both protects Everglades National Park and the interests of FPL customers.”

He said the company is committed through agreements with the state to pursue an alternate corridor east of the park, and if it succeeds, it will return the land from the swap. But even if the swap takes place unchanged, he said, the deal protects the park and FPL.

“It guarantees that a 7.4-mile stretch of land currently owned by FPL and inside of the park boundary becomes a permanent part of Everglades National Park, resulting in additional acreage being added to the park,” he said. “It also ensures FPL customers are fairly compensated by relocating FPL’s right of way to the park’s eastern edge, adjacent to an area of existing development that includes roads, homes and commercial businesses.”

dfleshler|sunsentinel.com

Calls to Action

  1. Tell President Obama you support strong climate action in Paris – here
  2. Get Ace Hardware and True Value to phase out neonics. – here
  3. Stop Monsanto’s secret plan to Kill GMO Labeling – here
  4. Florida Residents: Send a Message to Key Legislators About Fracking – here
  5. Tell the Administration to leave Arctic and Atlantic offshore drilling out of their plans – here
  6. Tell the Bureau of Land Management to void the illegal oil and gas leases now – here

Birds and Butterflies

Wisdom: Oldest Living Banded Bird Returns to Wildlife Refuge

Meet Wisdom, the oldest living, banded, wild bird.

bird with mate

Photo by Kiah Walker, USFWS.

This 64-year-old bird returned to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge on November 19, 2015, after a year at sea. A few days later, she was observed with her mate. Wisdom departed soon after mating but refuge workers expect her back any day to lay her egg.

Wisdom was first banded in 1956. And because Laysan albatross do not return to breed until they are at least five years old, it is estimated Wisdom is at least 64 years old, but she could be older.

Although Laysan albatrosses typically mate for life, Wisdom has likely had more than one mate and has raised as many as 36 chicks. Laying only one egg per year, a breeding albatross will spend a tiring 130 days (approximately) incubating and raising a chick. When not tending to their chicks, albatross forage hundreds of miles out at sea periodically returning with meals of squid or flying fish eggs. Wisdom has likely clocked over six million ocean miles of flight time.

Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is home to the largest albatross colony in the world and 70 percent of the world’s Laysan albatross population. Midway Atoll is one of more than 560 wildlife refuges that make up the National Wildlife Refuge System. National wildlife refuges provide habitat for more than 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species and more than 1,000 species of fish.

Learn more about Wisdom at: http://usfwspacific.tumblr.com.

U.S. Department of the Interior

Speak Up for Birds Online with #BirdsTellUs

Please join our #BirdsTellUs social media campaign by sharing messages with the hashtag on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—and ask your friends, family, and chapter members to do the same. The campaign is making birds a part of the global conversation about climate change, as world leaders meet in Paris for the COP21 climate talks through December 11. Birds have long been the first indicators of stressed and unhealthy environments, and climate change is no exception. You can find more details on Audubon Works*

Accipiters- What You May Not Know

With cruel intentions they carefully scan the area with the mission to kill the first thing that moves.  They spot their target and fly in with quickness and precision for instant elimination.  These ultimate villains are not from your average comic book or movie.  In fact, they may be lurking in your backyard right now!  These killing machines are called the Accipiters, and they are the smallest, most agile and quickest hawks in the forest.

Birds from the Buteo Genus such as the Red Tailed Hawk may be the most deadly bird in the meadow, but when it comes to flying under and around branches, the Coopers Hawk and Sharp Shinned Hawk have the advantage. Their small bodies are perfectly designed for quick agile moves between the trees to make a kill on the ground or in the sky. 

Accipiters such as the Coopers Hawk are almost primarily bird hunters, so they need the extra agility to stay alive.  To humans, they may be beautiful and majestic to look at, but to a chicken or a sparrow an Accipiter is even worse than Darth Vader.

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey

News From the Field: Audubon EagleWatch 

Bald Eagle nesting season in Florida is in full swing! As of today, EagleWatch citizen-scientists have collected data on 193 active Bald Eagle nests all over the state, with more reports coming in every day. Eggs have been laid at numerous nests, and we are expecting to see quite a few eaglets hatching just in time for the holidays.

EagleWatch volunteers, in addition to collecting data, have been very active in protecting Eagle nests from potential threats. Already this year action by volunteers has prevented nesting Eagles from being disturbed by housing development, roadwork, land clearing, cell tower maintenance, and even helicopter flyovers!

EagleWatch has also worked with utility providers to identify and retrofit power lines that are dangerous to Bald Eagles and other raptors.

As the season progresses, there will certainly be much more work to protect Florida’s Bald Eagles, but the dedication and timely action of our volunteers has already made a big difference. For many, it is likely the difference between success and failure this nesting season.

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey

BIRD OF THE WEEK: Snowy Plover

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Charadrius nivosus
POPULATION: 38,000 individuals
TREND: Declining
HABITAT: Sandy beaches, salt flats, river sandbars

The diminutive Snowy Plover can be found along sandy coastlines in North and South America and the Caribbean. It is lighter in color than the closely-related Piping Plover and also differs from that species by a partial black collar and black legs and feet.

Like other beach-nesting birds such as Black Skimmer, Least Tern, and American Oystercatcher, Snowy Plovers are ground-nesters, creating small hollows called scrapes for their nests. They will try to divert predators from their nest using alarm calls and distraction displays.

Nesting on sandy beaches leaves the Snowy Plover vulnerable to a variety of human disturbances. Conversion of habitat to coastal development, beach use by off-road vehicles, and predation by cats, dogs and other animals are among the threats these birds face.

Invasive vegetation and sea level rise caused by climate change are other threats to Snowy Plover habitat.

Multiple Broods, Different Mates

Snowy Plovers are visual foragers, hunting by pausing, running, and pecking at prey spotted on the ground. Their diet consists of small crustaceans, mollusks, marine worms, and insects.

This species frequently raises two broods a year, and sometimes three in places where predation is low.  Chicks hatch covered with down and with open eyes. They are fully mobile and leave the nest within hours of hatching, though they still require parental care until they fledge about a month later.

Some Snowy Plover populations exhibit serial polyandry or polygyny; either the male or female bird may leave its mate soon after their chicks hatch and attempt a new brood with a different mate.

Steps to Save the Snowy Plover

American Bird Conservancy is leading a Gulf Coast conservation effort to identify and implement protective measures for Snowy Plovers and other vulnerable beach-nesting birds.  With one of our key partners, Houston Audubon, we’re monitoring populations of Snowy Plovers across the upper Texas coast. (See a video about that partnership and read a story about a plover family that survived a rock concert on the Texas coast!)

We also promote the “Fish, Swim, And Play From 50 Yards Away” program each year, which aims to educate tourists and local residents about the needs of beach-nesting bird species along the Gulf Coast.

The Snowy Plover is listed as endangered or threatened in several states and is included on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. The Western Snowy Plover, a subspecies that breeds along Pacific Coast and Baja California, was federally listed as Threatened in 1993.

American Bird Conservancy

 

Endangered Species

Another win for bees! ‏

Pop Secret has agreed to phase out bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides from their popcorn production!

Pop Secret has agreed to phase out bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides from their popcorn production!

In a statement to Center for Food Safety, Pop Secret (owned by Diamond Foods) committed to “removing 50% of its neonicotinoids usage in 2016, 75% in 2017, with a long-term commitment of further reducing usage by working with agricultural universities and those companies supplying neonicotinoids to the seed industry.”

Pop Secret is the second popcorn company to make this pledge thanks to your pressure. Last month, Pop Weaver became the first company to phase out bee-toxic insecticides from their popcorn supply.

Neonics are the most widely used insecticides in the world, and are a class of systemic chemicals, meaning they are dispersed throughout the treated plant, rendering the whole plant toxic. Just as alarming, neonics can last in the environment for years and they can harm species that the chemical was not designed to kill – like bees, butterflies, birds, and entire food chains.

We commend Pop Weaver and Pop Secret for being leaders in the popcorn industry and making this commitment to protecting bees and the environment. We hope that this important decision by Pop Weaver and Pop Secret influences their competitors in the popcorn seed market to do the same.

Center for Food Safety will continue to urge other popcorn companies to follow their lead. Stay tuned for more actions on this critical campaign in the coming weeks!

Center for Food Safety |12/03/15

Everglades

Gov. Scott: Protecting Florida’s Everglades is a Top Priority

Governor Rick Scott released the following statement in response to the Florida House of Representatives’ launch of “Legacy Florida.”

Governor Scott said, “It’s great to see the Florida House of Representatives, under the leadership of Speaker Crisafulli and Representative Harrell, taking initiative to support a dedicated source of funding for the Everglades. Restoring and protecting Florida’s Everglades is a top priority. We look forward to working with the Legislature, including Senator Joe Negron who has championed water issues, this upcoming session to establish long-term funding for our state’s most precious natural resource.”

The Florida Legacy Act Funds Everglades and Estuaries $200 million/year for 10 Years

Florida House and Senate Leaders indicated strong support for a plan to pass a bill that will commit 25% or up to $200 million a year of Amendment 1 money for the Everglades. The legislation will be sponsored by Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) in the House and Senator Joe Negron (R-Palm City) in the Senate.

The bill tracks Governor Scott’s proposal from last year to put 25.7% of Amendment 1 into Everglades restoration. The Legislature ignored Scott’s proposal last year but has made it their own for 2016. 

The spending plan will set a floor of $100 million for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) and continue spending for cleaning up pollution from sugarcane farms in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) along with projects to meet water quality standards for Lake Okeechobee. 

The 2017 budget has recommendations to fund CERP along with the water quality programs. Also recommended by the Scott Administration is $27.7 million of Florida Forever funds for Everglades and estuaries restoration land acquisition.

We expect to see the bill introduced in the next few weeks. 

Audubon Florida joined the Everglades Foundation in endorsing the idea. We commend the Everglades Foundation for working with House and Senate leaders to get support for the proposal. 

A press release issued from House Speaker Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island) said, “The Everglades is at the heart of our natural resources, and I believe consistent funding will help preserve and protect this national treasure.”

The Speaker’s release quoted both Audubon and the Everglades Foundation:

“The Everglades Foundation appreciates the Speaker’s support of legislation that will dedicate funding to Everglades restoration, and especially the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, to help move projects to completion. The Everglades is an economic engine for this state and a sound investment. Restoration projects create jobs and protect the water supply for one in three Floridians. We look forward to working with the Florida Legislature and the Governor’s Office to ensure a dedicated revenue source for a restored Everglades becomes a reality.” – Erik Eikenberg, CEO, The Everglades Foundation

“Dedicated funding will ensure steady progress on the projects needed to provide clean water to the Everglades and estuaries. We applaud this legislation and its commitment of state funds to ecosystem restoration. Floridians should welcome this as a major step forward toward implementing plans to meet water quality goals and deliver freshwater flows.”

Click here to send a note to Speaker Crisafulli thanking him for his leadership on the Everglades.

Eric Draper, Executive Director, Audubon Florida

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Cargo ship, crew stuck outside Minnesota for nearly a month under investigation for environmental infractions

MINNEAPOLIS – A German-operated cargo ship and crew have been stuck at anchor outside the Lake Superior port of Duluth for close to a month for unspecified environmental violations, with no resolution in sight despite the upcoming closure of the St. Lawrence Seaway for winter, officials said Wednesday.

The U.S. Coast Guard said the Liberian- flagged Cornelia is being investigated for “alleged violations of U.S. environmental regulations,” and the ship and crew are prohibited from leaving Duluth until they get clearance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The Coast Guard can’t say what the alleged violations were because of the ongoing investigation, but they didn’t take place in Duluth, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Yaw, a spokesman in Cleveland.

Duluth Seaway Port Authority spokeswoman Adele Yorde said such detentions don’t happen very often, perhaps once or twice a year across the Great Lakes system, and they don’t usually take so long to resolve. A complicating factor is the number of companies and countries involved, she said.

The crew of 19 Czechs, Ukrainians, Filipinos and Croatians apparently hasn’t set foot on shore since the Rev. Doug Paulson and volunteers from The Seafarers Center in Duluth took several into town to shop in early November. Paulson said they brought Christmas gift boxes to the crew when the ship arrived. He said they saw Coast Guard officials onboard and knew something was going on, but didn’t know what.

The 576-foot Cornelia loaded grain in early November for a customer in Tunisia, said Paul Gourdeau, executive vice president of Fednav, a Montreal, Canada- based company that chartered the ship and crew to bring it into the Great Lakes with a load of steel and take it back out with the grain. Once that voyage is over, the ship will revert to its owners, a German investment group, he said. He said he can’t comment on the alleged violations or efforts to resolve the dispute.

“We’re like everyone else — waiting here to see when the issue is going to be resolved and when the ship can move on,” Gourdeau said.

The ship is managed overall by the German shipping company MST Mineralien Schiffahrt. Company officials didn’t immediately return a phone call and email seeking comment.

Oceangoing ships typically try to leave Duluth no later than Dec. 18 because of the time it takes to transit the Great Lakes before the St. Lawrence Seaway closes for the season, Yorde said. A key gateway, the Welland Canal between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, is scheduled to close Dec. 26 but will remain open through Dec. 30 ice conditions permitting, the seaway authority says.

The crew could be in for “a long winter’s nap” without a resolution, Yorde said.

“They’re getting a great view of the hillside,” Yorde said, referring to the tall hills overlooking the port. “I’m sure they’re getting a little tired of the view.”

STEVE KARNOWSKI|ASSOCIATED PRESS

Offshore & Ocean

Nationwide, Fisheries Landings Continue to Break Records Thanks to Sound Management

A couple of weeks ago I went on a mackerel fishing trip out of St. Petersburg, Florida, with a 35-year commercial fishing veteran. It was a beautiful day and there was the slightest tinge of autumn out on the Gulf of Mexico, and we quickly caught the day’s order of Spanish and King mackerel. Heading back through John’s Pass I asked my friend, who also fishes for Gulf snapper and grouper, how business has been and without missing a beat he said “The last two years have been the best of my career.”

That commercial fishing captain’s booming business is a story reverberating in fisheries across the country, and is borne out in the 2014 Fisheries of the United States report issued by NOAA Fisheries this fall. The report, which is released annually, shows that U.S. fishermen landed 9.5 billion pounds of fish and shellfish with a dockside value of $5.4 billion, a volume that is higher than average for the past five years.

Recreational fisheries are seeing steady increases in landings as well. Here in the Gulf of Mexico the iconic red snapper fishery saw the highest allowable catch on record, at 14.3 million pounds of fish for 2015. Higher catch limits will ultimately result in more days on the water for recreational fishermen headed to the gulf to wet their lines from across the country as the stock continues to rebuild.

Out on the water, fishing is good because of good management practices put into place by federal regulators under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Simply put, the law works, and commercial and recreational fishermen are reaping benefits while stocks continue to rebuild end ecosystems continue to rebound.

NOAA administrator for fisheries Eileen Sobeck noted that “sustainable fisheries generate billions of dollars for our economy, help keep saltwater recreational fishing as one of our nation’s favorite past times, and help coastal communities remain economically resilient.” For my commercial fishing friend, keeping fisheries sustainable will keep his business prosperous, and thankfully there is good evidence for staying optimistic.

The 2014 Fisheries of the United States report can be found here.

J.P. Brooker

Forestry

Asian invader wiping out Florida OJ crop

Florida oranges are threatened with destruction if scientists and the government can’t find a way to stop an Asian bug from spreading a tree-killing disease. 

A worker checks new growth on orange trees for citrus greening at the Peterson Groves in Vero Beach, Florida, Nov. 11.

                                                                                                                                                                                    MARK ELIAS | Bloomberg A worker checks new growth on orange trees for citrus greening at the Peterson Groves in Vero Beach, Florida, Nov. 11.

Florida oranges are threatened with destruction if scientists and the government can’t find a way to stop an Asian bug from spreading a tree-killing disease.

The harvest for the state’s signature fruit could plunge to 27 million boxes by 2026, according to an Oct. 21 report by the Florida Department of Citrus. That’s an 82 percent drop from 149.8 million boxes in 2005, the year the bacterium that causes Huanglongbing, better known as citrus greening, was found in southern Florida.

The disease is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, a tiny winged insect, and there’s currently no known cure. Greening already caused industry-wide losses of $7.8 billion and more than 7,500 jobs between 2006 to 2014, the University of Florida estimates.

The outlook is “precarious” for Florida’s citrus industry, which “risks losing relevance and economic impact” in the long run if crop yields continue to fall and trees keep dying, the citrus department said in its Oct. 21 report.

The current harvest will shrink to 74 million boxes for the season that began Oct. 1, down 24 percent from a year ago and the lowest since 1964, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Nov. 9. The forecast signals the fourth consecutive seasonal decline, the longest slump since at least 1913, state data show. The prospects pushed prices for frozen concentrated orange juice to $1.4785 a pound Nov. 23 on ICE Futures U.S. in New York, up 43 percent from this year’s low of $1.0345 on Sept. 29. On Nov. 13, prices touched $1.607 a pound, the highest since June 2014. This is raising costs for Coca-Cola, maker of Minute Maid brands, and PepsiCo, which sells Tropicana and Gatorade.

Demand for America’s favorite juice has fallen because of consumer perceptions about about high calorie content and the rise of alternatives such as coconut water. Even so, Florida’s industry, which includes grapefruit and specialty citrus, still employs about 62,000 people and has an annual economic impact of $10.7 billion on the state, according to Florida Citrus Mutual, the largest grower organization.

Les Dunson, a 53-year-old farmer in Winter Haven, calls psyllids “the little monster” and says the insect has been more deadly than hurricanes. He’s the president of Dunson Harvesting Inc., which his grandfather started in the 1950s, and currently has about 2,000 acres. His output has fallen to about 600,000 boxes from 1 million a decade ago, even though he’s increased his annual pesticide use and feeds his groves with more nutrients to help productivity, he said in a telephone interview.

The invasive psyllid was first found in Florida in June 1998 and is now established throughout the state’s citrus-growing region. It feeds on the sap of tree leaves and can carry the bacterium that causes greening a mile without stopping. The insects live for about a month, and females can lay as many as 800 eggs in that time. A recent study by the University of Florida showed the bugs fly earlier in their life cycle, more frequently and farther when they are infected.

The bacterium blocks the passage of nutrients through a tree’s vascular system, producing leaves that have yellowing veins, yellow-green mottling and sometimes no green coloring at all. The yellowing typically spreads throughout the tree over a year, causing oranges to drop prematurely, contain aborted seeds or have a salty, bitter taste, compromising their use for juice. Root systems of infected groves often are poorly developed, and new root growth may be suppressed.

Infected trees get a “death sentence” after their sap is poisoned, even though symptoms might take several years to appear, said Michelle Cilia, assistant professor at Cornell University affiliate Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, who has studied greening for two years.

One short-term approach under trial is thermotherapy: encasing tree canopies in plastic tents and using steam to raise the temperature and kill the bacterium without hurting the plants. Some growers are applying nutrients directly on the leaves to keep trees productive even as they’re dying, and some are using pesticides, although too much can burn the fruit and psyllids have developed resistance to certain chemicals. To avoid a “bad neighbor” impact, some farmers have agreed to jointly apply pesticides in Citrus Health Management Areas.

“If someone makes a decision that they are going to control it aggressively, and if their neighbor doesn’t, they constantly get new insects coming from abandoned groves or neighboring groves,” said Robert G. Shatters Jr., a research molecular biologist for the USDA Horticultural Research Laboratory in Fort Pierce, Florida, described as the “epicenter of the disaster.”

Longer-term, genes from other plants could provide resistance to the psyllids or bacterium, but a transgenic plant would have to go through a lengthy registration process, he said.

There also are concerns about the cost of genetically engineered products, not to mention a possible public backlash against them.

By some estimates, the industry needs to plant more than 20 million trees in the next 10 years to restore production to pre-greening levels, said Michael W. Sparks, chief executive officer of Florida Citrus Mutual, which has more than 8,200 members.

While the disease is killing crops in other areas — including Brazil, the world’s top orange grower — it has caused the most damage in Florida, where urban sprawl and hurricane damage have helped shrink citrus groves to 501,396 acres, the lowest in 50 years. High salinity in water can weaken the trees, leaving them unable to fight the bacterium, and strong winds from Caribbean storms carry insects farther into healthy groves. There also are more small farms in Florida, and many have been abandoned or poorly maintained, allowing the insect to proliferate, according to Shatters.

“In Brazil, because they can control at such a large scale, they don’t have the ‘bad neighbor’ effect,” Shatters said. “They’re able to impose strict rules about removing infected trees, which they were able to apply with more clout, and they all abide by that.”

Partly because of this, Brazilian growers seem to be more successful than Floridians in battling the psyllids.

“Brazil and U.S. have adopted completely different strategies since the beginning,” said Ibiapaba Netto, executive director of industry group CitrusBR in Sao Paulo, the biggest producing state. “They spent everything in finding a ‘silver bullet’ against the greening, while we focused on controlling it.” Some farms have been able to contain the infection, and crops have been restored in some areas once devastated by the disease, “which means producers are getting more efficient in fighting it.”

Finding a permanent solution is difficult because the bacterium causing the disease can’t be cultured outside citrus groves, Shatters said. Still, “there’s hope” for Florida, as scientists pursue all possible options. Short-term fixes, including killing the bacterium with heat, “will provide a window of opportunity for the growers to remain productive while more mid-term and long-term solutions come down the road.”

MARVIN G. PEREZ |Panama City News Herald|Bloomberg|Nov. 27, 2015|Bloomerg’s Gerson Freitas Jr. contributed to this report.

9 National Parks That Will Deepen Your Love for Trees

They soak up carbon from our air, protect our soil, and provide homes for birds and other animals. They stand tall and majestic, inspiring wonder and awe. And every December, they even let us decorate and sing songs about them. These 9 national parks will deepen your love for those special sentinels of nature: trees.

1. Great Basin National Park, Nevada

The weathered, curiously twisted bristlecone pines at Great Basin are some of the oldest living organisms in the world, surviving in isolated groves through centuries of harsh weather. When scientists felled one of these ancient pines, named Prometheus, for research in 1964, they discovered it was about 4,900 years old, the oldest known tree at the time. Though none of the park’s current trees are known to be as old as Prometheus, some have stood in high-elevation groves for thousands of years. Bryce Canyon National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah are also home to these long-lived, fascinatingly shaped pines.

2. Congaree National Preserve, South Carolina

This preserve protects one of the oldest-growth forests on the East Coast, with bald cypress, water tupelo, cedar, and pine trees so ancient, hiking and canoeing among them feels like stepping back into another century. These spectacular trees escaped clear-cutting largely due to their location. Though a logging company had purchased much of the land by the early 1900s, the area was so difficult to access with heavy machinery, the company suspended its operations after only a decade, leaving most of the trees intact. As a result, even the “knees” of the park’s majestic cypress—the knobs that rise up from the trees’ extensive root systems—can sometimes grow taller than a man.

3. Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

The ʻōhiʻa tree is a type of myrtle native to the Hawaiian Islands with striking lehua flowers made up of many colorful stamens. The tree is highly adaptable, growing directly on the park’s volcanic rock—though it grows taller in more favorable conditions, including in the island’s cloud forests. According to Hawaiian mythology, ʻŌhiʻa and Lehua were lovers. The volcano goddess Pele fell in love with ʻŌhiʻa, and when he rejected her advances, she turned him into a tree. The other gods took pity on Lehua and transformed her into a flower so she could be joined forever with ʻŌhiʻa. As the legend goes, when someone picks a lehua flower, it will rain on the same day, from the tears of the lovers being separated.

4. Mojave National Preserve, California

If you want to immerse yourself in the otherworldly beauty of the giant yucca plants known as Joshua trees, Joshua Tree National Park is, of course, a classic choice. Just don’t overlook nearby Mojave National Preserve. This underappreciated desert park is home to the largest and densest Joshua tree forest in the world—with fewer crowds to share the views with. Take a stroll on the Teutonia Peak Trail in the Cima Dome region of the park to wander among the twisting branches and spiked leaves of these magnificent trees, which look like friendly characters from a Dr. Seuss book.

5. Olympic National Park, Washington

This Northwest park is home to lush, moss-covered forests with remarkably large primeval trees, including several “champion” trees—the largest known examples of particular species found anywhere on the planet. It’s no wonder that some call this region the Valley of the Rain Forest Giants. These towering trees include the world’s largest spruce, which measures an impressive 191 feet tall and nearly 60 feet in diameter, as well as the largest western red cedar and the largest hemlock, among other record-breaking behemoths.

6. Everglades National Park, Florida

Mangroves thrive in marine environments where few trees can survive, having adapted over years to filter salt water and withstand waves with their complex roots. Not only are mangroves hardy survivors, they also protect coastal areas from erosion and offer habitat to a variety of species, from oysters to birds to algae. The trees’ dense root systems even play an important role providing shelter for juvenile fish and other small aquatic animals. The Everglades feature the most abundant groves of these trees in the Western Hemisphere.

7. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Though the peak fall foliage season has passed in most of the country, the trees in Petrified Forest have featured a rainbow of brilliant colors year-round for centuries. More than 200 million years ago, these logs were buried so deeply in sediment that little oxygen could reach them, slowing their process of decay. The wood gradually absorbed minerals and crystallized over hundreds of thousands of years into almost pure quartz. Bits of iron, manganese, and other minerals created the dazzling spectrum of color in this ancient wood.

8. Redwood National and State Parks, California

The world’s tallest known tree, dubbed Hyperion, is a redwood growing in this jointly managed network of federal and state-owned parks protecting some of the country’s most spectacular old-growth forests. Even among groves of the world’s tallest trees, Hyperion towers above them at a staggering 379 feet, four inches tall. That’s taller than the Statue of Liberty!

9. President’s Park, Washington, D.C.

In a national tradition dating back to 1923, the president himself lights this elaborately decorated tree in front of a cheering crowd at the White House. This year, the oldest park ranger in the National Park System, the celebrated Betty Soskin, will be joining the president as part of the annual tree-lighting ceremony. Surrounding this enormous spruce is a walkway known as the Pathway of Peace, featuring 56 smaller trees representing each U.S. state and territory and the District of Columbia. Watch the event live online on December 3 and enjoy the weeks of free events that follow, including musical performances and a special workshop where children can visit with Santa.

Global Warming and Climate Change

Obama urges climate deal as summit opens in Paris

Says US ‘embraces doing something ’ on global warming

PARIS President Barack Obama urged his fellow world leaders Monday to reach a landmark deal to curb global warming before it dooms the planet.

“I come here personally as the leader of world’s biggest economy and second-biggest emitter to say that America not only acknowledges its role in climate change but embraces doing something about it,” Obama said.

Speaking at the opening session of a United Nations conference attended by 196 nations, he said the “old” arguments for inaction on climate change had been broken.

“One of the enemies we will be fighting at this conference is cynicism — the notion we can’t do anything about climate change,” Obama said.

He said that the next few weeks could mark a turning point in efforts to limit global temperature increases and that “climate change could define the contours of this century more than any other (problem).”

The conference, scheduled to conclude Dec. 11, aims to reach an accord for reducing manmade greenhouses gases that cause global warming.

More than 150 world leaders converged on the exhibition halls at Le Bourget Airport just outside the French capital amid extraordinarily tight security. Paris remains on edge in the wake of the Nov. 13 coordinated terrorist attacks by Islamic State militants in Paris that killed 130 people.

Opening the event Monday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said negotiators had only days to finalize an agreement. He said when the conference ends, he wants to be able to say that “our mission is accomplished.”

U.N. climate chief Christina Figueres said in her opening remarks that “never before has a responsibility so great been in the hands of so few. The world is looking to you.”

Obama said he saw climate change’s effects firsthand on his summer trip to Alaska, “where the sea is already swallowing villages and eroding shorelines” and “where glaciers are melting at a pace unprecedented in modern times.”

He called what he saw there a “preview of one possible future.”

“We know the truth: that many nations have contributed little to climate change but will be the first to feel its most destructive effects,” Obama said. “For some island nations, climate change is a threat to their very existence.”

Obama arrived in Paris late Sunday night and paid a surprise visit to the Bataclan theater, where 90 people were killed in last month’s terror attacks. He placed a white rose at a memorial at the scene.

In his address, he praised Paris for carrying on with the conference despite the attacks and said there was no greater rejection to those who wanted “to tear down the world.”

He also held bilateral talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and emphasized the importance of China-U.S. efforts to fight climate change. Those countries are the two biggest greenhouse gas producers.

China’s president, like Obama, used his speech to acknowledge that as the world’s largest emitter, China needs to support developing countries financially and technologically to combat global warming.

French President Francois Hollande connected the fight against global warming to the fight against extremism.

“What is at stake with this climate conference is peace,” he said. “The fight against terrorism and the fight against climate change are two major global challenges we must face.”

Kim Hjelmgaard|USA TODAY

Obama insists climate change is major threat

President Barack Obama is sticking with his view that climate change is a global threat on the order of terrorism, in part because terrorist groups like the Islamic State will be defeated in traditional ways.

“But if you start seeing the oceans rise by 5, 6, 7 feet,” and if weather patterns change to where “bread baskets to the world suddenly can no longer grow food, then you’re seeing the kind of crisis that we can’t deal with through the deployment of the Marines,” Obama said in an interview on CBS.

“We can’t deal with it through pouring money at it,” the president said.

As for terrorism, Obama — who is seeking a global climate change agreement — said that “we’re gonna get” the Islamic State.

Obama’s critics have mocked his efforts to equate climate change and terrorism.

Nearly all of the world’s scientists and most of its political parties see climate change as “a really urgent problem,” Obama said, adding that “the only people who are still disputing it are either some Republicans in Congress or folks on the campaign trail.”

USA TODAY

Geoengineering could curb global warming

Ways to artificially cool the world are possible, potentially dangerous

PARIS – It’s the option climate negotiators here are loath to talk about.

What if they fail to curb global warming, and the environment gets so dangerous that someone decides to do something drastic and play mad scientist? Should nations purposely pollute the planet to try to counteract man-made warming and cool the world? Scientists think they can do it, but should they?

The issue is called geoengineering — purposely tinkering with the planet as opposed to the unintentional warming that’s happening now. The most advanced method involves putting heat-reflecting particles high in the air, but there also have been proposals to seed clouds other ways, put mirrors in space or seed the oceans with iron.

Scientists noticed a temporary but pronounced cooling after the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. What’s in mind would be, essentially, an artificial and constant man-made volcano with material released by aircraft or cannons.

No one is seriously talking about doing it yet. But some scientists want to study it to find about side effects. And earlier this year, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences said small-scale controlled experiments could be helpful to inform future decisions.

Even geoengineering’s supporters aren’t proposing it instead of cutting back heat-trapping emissions from burning fossil fuels. But they say someday it might be needed.

Stanford University climate scientist Ken Caldeira isn’t advocating seeding clouds with sulfur particles any time soon, but he does fear a failure in climate talks and believes that at some point, drastic options will look more palatable. He thinks scientists need to prepare now.

“I think of it as kind of symptomatic relief,” Caldeira said on the sidelines of the U.N.-led Paris talks. “I’m thinking like morphine for the cancer patient.”

But others inside the negotiations shudder at even talking about the issue.

“The emissions and the climate change that we’re causing with that is already a massive experiment on our world that we don’t really know the outcome of,” U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Janos Pasztor said. “So I don’t think we should start another set of experiments and go into geoengineering. I think we should get our act together and reduce our emissions.”

Joe Ware, a spokesman for the faith-based group Christian Aid, was even more blunt.

“It’s probably playing God a bit too much for the faith community,” Ware said Friday. He said the world needs more wind farms and solar power instead.

Harvard scientist David Keith has been working on plans to test geoengineering at a very small scale. The first year would involve balloons putting small amounts of sulfates in the air and tracking changes. Although he has received interest from private individuals, he has been unable to get the federal government to pay attention, he said.

“You can’t uninvent this technology,” Keith said. “The next generation of our kids will make decisions about this as we deal with climate risk, whatever we do. If we decide not to have a research program, we give them the gift of ignorance.”

Marcia McNutt, the former U.S. Geological Survey chief who was tapped to be the next head of the National Academy of Sciences, led an academy panel that looked at the issue and recommended cautious and small-scale research.

She said that someday a nation in crisis, such as in a long-term devastating drought, might feel the need to do something. But, she asked, what if it hurts other nations?

Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, said putting sulfates into the atmosphere is a “tremendously bad idea” and a huge gamble f or the world.

Dana Fisher, director of the University of Maryland’s Program for Society and the Environment, said that “geoengineering seems very American to me.” That’s because it’s an option that doesn’t seem to involve sacrifice and takes advantage of technology.

“Technology makes us happy and sets us free,” Fisher said. “But there are unintended consequences.”

SETH BORENSTEIN|ASSOCIATED PRESS

Extreme Weather

El Nino could bring warmer, drier winter

Last year on this day, it didn’t snow.

Didn’t snow the next day, either.

It kept on not snowing for most of the month: December 2014 was the second least snowiest month on record in southeast Michigan — less than 1/10 of an inch for the month at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, and that fell on the last day of the year.

Keep dreaming, Bing Crosby.

Sara Schultz, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in White Lake Township, said it’s way too early to tell if December 2015 will follow in December 2014’s footsteps with little to no snow or will be more like the winter of 2013-14 when 94.9 inches was measured at Metro.

“Weather plays tricks on us,” Schultz said. “Mother Nature always throws us curveballs.”

Forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center back on Oct. 15 issued a winter weather outlook calling for a warmer and drier winter than normal.

That’s because of a strong El Nio weather pattern that developed in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific Ocean. A strong El Nio affects the position of the jet stream, keeping cold air to the north of St. Clair County for much of the winter.

“There are so many factors that come into play,” Schultz said, “While we’re expecting it to be warmer and drier overall, you’re still going to get be getting your snow and colder periods. It’s not Florida.”

A major snowstorm smacked Michigan in the face on Nov. 21-22. Schultz said Howell had the most snow in southeast Michigan with 16.8 inches. The weather service office in White Lake Township had 15.2 inches, “which is the most at the office since the office was built (in 1994),” Schultz said.

She said the next system should be moving out.

“It looks like mostly rain, but there could be a few rain/snow showers mix as the system exits (tonight) into Wednesday,” she said.

High temperatures look to be in the 40s through the middle of the week with lows in the 20s to 30s, she said.

If you want to know if there might be snow for Christmas, you’ll have to wait until at least Dec. 18 for the seven-day forecast, Schultz said, noting that based on past weather history, it’s likely there will be snow in December.

But “it’s too soon to tell,” she said.

BOB GROSS|TIMES HERALD

Florida marks record 10 years without major hurricane landfall

MIAMI- The state of Florida is marking a big milestone Monday with the official end of the 2015 hurricane season

– 10 years without a major hurricane making landfall in the state.

The Miami Herald reports the hurricane-free streak is a record for the state.

Experts warned Floridians shouldn’t count on the streak continuing, though. Michael Brennan, of the National Hurricane Center, said the state has been exceptionally lucky and residents should always be prepared for the possibility of a storm hitting.

Genetically Modified Organisms

Popcorn’s Dirty Little Secret

It’s no secret that Americans love popcorn. We consume more than 16 billion quarts of the buttery gold each year. But few know that most of what we’re feasting on comes from seeds coated with toxic bee-killing pesticides called Neonicotinoids.

No bees, no popcorn.

Which is why conservationists are celebrating popcorn giant Popweaver’s recent decision to phase out the use of neonicotinoid-coated seeds.

An estimated 80 to 95 percent of America’s corn and nearly half of its soybean seeds are pre-coated with Neocotinoids. Scientists have linked the use of these pesticides to an alarming decline in bee populations over the last decade. Beekeepers are reporting annual hive losses of 40 to 50 percent, with some as high as 100 percent. Overall, the number of managed honey bee colonies in the U.S. has dropped from 6 million in 1947 to fewer than 2.5 million today.

This has enormous implications—bees pollinate 71 of the 100 crops that provide 90 percent of the world’s food, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

And bees aren’t the only ones in trouble. Nearly 40 pollinator species are listed as threatened or endangered, with many more under consideration for listing. Without pollinator species, over 70 percent of plants would be unable to reproduce or provide food.

The first U.S. food supplier to make such a commitment, Popweaver plans to reduce the use of Neonicotinoid-coated seeds by 75 percent before 2017. The Center for Food Safety is now applying pressure on Popweaver’s competitor PopSecret to follow suit.

“We wanted to target popcorn because it is one of America’s best-loved snacks. It is a unique opportunity to highlight the fact that huge seed companies [read Dupont and Monsanto] are refusing to supply farmers with uncoated seed,” says Larissa Walker, Pollinator Program Director at the Center for Food Safety. “It puts the power in the hands of consumers to force the hands of big seed companies to supply more sustainable options.”

Pressuring popcorn companies to use non-coated seeds is a step in the right direction, but biofuel, grain, fiber, food, and beverage industries also rely upon Neonicotinoid-coated crops. A shift in large-scale agriculture’s reliance on pesticides would give pollinator species a fighting chance, bolster national food security, and ensure guilt-free popcorn eating for all. 

Robin Walter|Nov 12 2015

Order in the Court

One of the world’s most criminally corrupt corporations will finally get its day in court. And it won’t be pretty.

OCA, along with IFOAM International Organics, Navdanya, Regeneration International (RI), Millions Against Monsanto and dozens of global food, farming, environmental justice groups announced today that they will put Monsanto MON (NYSE) on trial for crimes against nature and humanity, and ecocide.

The announcement was made at a press conference held in conjunction with the COP21 United Nations Conference on Climate Change, November 30 – December 11, in Paris.

“The time is long overdue for a global citizens’ tribunal to put Monsanto on trial for crimes against humanity and the environment. We are in Paris this month to address the most serious threat that humans have ever faced in our 100-200,000 year evolution—global warming and climate disruption. Why is there so much carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere and not enough carbon organic matter in the soil? Corporate agribusiness, industrial forestry, the garbage and sewage industry and agricultural biotechnology have literally killed the climate-stabilizing, carbon-sink capacity of the Earth’s living soil.” – Ronnie Cummins, international director of the OCA (US) and Via Organica (Mexico), and member of the RI Steering Committee.

The trial will take place in The Hague, Netherlands, next year on World Food Day, October 16, 2016. OCA, Millions against Monsanto and other groups will organize a global protest against Monsanto on that day. If you want to organize or join a protest in your city, state or country sign up here.

This is a chance for the citizens of the world to hold Monsanto accountable for poisoning our soils, our food, our children and our future. It’s time.

Read the press release

Full list of Monsanto Tribunal Foundation founding organizations (so far)

Full list of Monsanto Tribunal Foundation organizing members

Learn more

Energy

Board questions EPA draft report on fracking

Water supply issues focus of concern

A review by an EPA advisory board says that a draft report on hydraulic fracturing did not support the conclusion that shale gas fracking hasn’t caused significant damage to the nation’s water supplies.

The draft report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board raises questions about research, the lack of robust data and some of the language of the EPA’s fracking study draft, ordered by Congress to assess the risks to water supplies from hydraulic fracturing. Congress directed the EPA to create the advisory board in 1978 to review the quality and relevance of science the agency used to craft policy and regulations.

According to the peer-reviewed document by the 30-member Science Advisory Board, the EPA’s primary conclusion to its June draft study — that fracking has not caused “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States” — isn’t supported by the cited data, which has gaps and deficiencies.

“Of particular concern is the statement of no widespread, systemic impacts on drinking-water resources,” the October advisory board report says. “Neither the system of interest nor the definitions of widespread, systemic or impact are clear — and it is not clear how this statement reflects the uncertainties and data limitations described in the Report’s chapters.” The advisory committee suggested revisions to make the conclusion “more precise and specific,” and to “clearly draw” from the report.

“The SAB panel thought, with respect to some stages of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle, that there’s a lot we don’t know or have sufficient data on, and that’s stated in our review,” said David Dzombak on Tuesday. Mr. Dzombak chairs the Science Advisory Board and heads the Carnegie Mellon University Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” together with horizontal drilling, has made possible natural gas development in more than two dozen shale formations, some thousands of feet underground, over the past decade. The process, which has been used on a smaller scale for 70 years, pumps millions of gallons of water mixed with some toxic chemicals and sand deep underground and under high pressure to crack tight shale formations and release the gas and oil they hold.

But fracking has come under fire by environmentalists and some residents in shale gas “plays” because of water usage and risks of surface and groundwater contamination.

The EPA’s study report does, for the first time, acknowledge that fracking has contaminated water supplies in a number of locations across the U.S., including Pennsylvania. But the Science Advisory Board review document says the study did not pay enough attention to fracking’s impacts on local water supplies, and notes that the agency did not do planned prospective studies of shale gas drilling sites to compare pre-drilling and post-drilling water supplies. It also says the agency failed to include enough information about water contamination investigations at three sites, in Dimock, in northeastern Pennsylvania; Parker County, Texas; and Pavilion, Wyo.

And although definitive data on the frequency, volumes, chemical composition and environmental impacts of fracking fluid spills is scarce, the review states, the available evidence “points to a reasonable likelihood of environmental impacts from a subset of such spills.” The review also notes that fracking’s impact on water consumption isn’t known because of limited available data.

It raises the point that well construction is critical because of the nature of fluids coming out of wells: “While chemicals used in [hydraulic fracturing] may have various toxicities in varying concentrations, and, even newer, greener mixes may be safer, oil field fluids are still nothing you’d want to drink. The fluids coming out of the well (hydrocarbons and produced water) can be far more toxic than those being used for fracturing purposes,” the report notes.

When the EPA report was released in June, the shale gas drilling industry hailed it as proof that fracking was not harming water supplies and state regulations were effective.

Asked to respond to questions raised by the advisory board review, the American Petroleum Institute, the nation’s largest oil and gas industry trade organization, referred to comments it submitted to the Science Advisory Board in August, that characterized EPA’s conclusion of no systemic impact from fracking as “sound.” Those comments also criticized the agency for its methodology and findings, including the need for more study.

Travis Windle, a Marcellus Shale Coalition spokesman, issued a statement supportive of the EPA’s “fact-based hydraulic fracturing findings,” and questioning whether the advisory board’s review identified any substantial differences.

Work on the advisory board’s peer review of the EPA study report will continue at a public meeting scheduled for Dec. 3, in Washington, D.C.

The board’s draft review should be finished in January, Mr. Dzombak said, with a final report due in late spring. The EPA is not obligated to follow the Science Advisory Board’s recommendations, he said.

Don Hopey|Pittsburgh Post-Gazette|November 28, 2015

FPL SEEKS GO-AHEAD FOR NEW OKEECHOBEE PLANT

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, November 30, 2015………. State regulators will hear arguments Tuesday on a proposal by Florida Power & Light to build a power plant in Okeechobee County, but critics question the need for the nearly $1.2 billion project.

FPL contends the natural-gas plant is the “best, most cost-effective option” to meet a need for additional power generation starting in 2019. The project, designed as what is known as a combined-cycle plant, would be built on an undeveloped site owned by FPL in northeast Okeechobee County.

“(The Okeechobee plant) will ensure reliable service for FPL’s customers and is expected to save FPL’s customers millions of dollars … in electricity costs over the next best alternative,” the utility said in a filing with the Florida Public Service Commission. “Once this new CC (combined cycle) unit goes into operation, it is projected to be the most fuel-efficient CC unit on FPL’s generation system, thus further enhancing the efficiency of an already highly efficient FPL generating system.”

But the project has drawn opposition from the state Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers, the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida. At least in part, they argue that FPL hasn’t shown that the 1,622-megawatt plant is needed.

“The cost of the proposed plant is too much for FPL customers,” the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida said in a Nov. 3 filing. “FPL is overbuilding its generating capacity in order to guarantee its own profits, at the cost of a small fortune to its customers.”

The Public Service Commission on Tuesday will hold a hearing on what is known as a “determination of need,” a key regulatory step before power plants can be built. The hearing could last two days.

The Okeechobee project would be one in a series of plants built by FPL, which has moved heavily toward using natural gas to generate electricity. As an example, a new Port Everglades plant is scheduled to begin operating in 2016, and FPL has also opened new plants in recent years at Cape Canaveral and Riviera Beach.

In a document filed with the Public Service Commission, FPL said it will need an additional 1,052 megawatts of power generation in 2019, with the number growing to 1,409 megawatts in 2020 and continuing to grow in the future. It said the design of the Okeechobee plant will be fuel efficient, which will help hold down natural-gas costs.

But the Office of Public Counsel said in a filing that the project would “needlessly increase FPL’s reliance on natural gas,” and the environmental groups argued the utility should instead look to use more renewable energy and conservation measures.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, for instance, said in a filing that FPL “did nothing more than pay lip service” to using solar energy as an alternative to the Okeechobee project.

But FPL disputed such arguments. “FPL’s projected need for generation in 2019 and beyond fully accounts for all reasonably achievable conservation measures and renewable energy reasonably achievable on FPL’s system,” it said in a filing.

JIM SAUNDERS|THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

Wall Street is listening — banks must drop coal! ‏

In just six months, four of the six biggest U.S. banks have committed to cut financing for coal mining: Bank of America, Citi, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo.

That’s excellent news for the climate and for communities around the world. And just one year ago it would have been unthinkable. Your actions made this happen! There’s much more to do in the fight against climate change. But for now, help us share the good news:

In May, Bank of America committed to cutting funding for coal mining—after four years of strategic pressure from you and your fellow activists.1 Looking back, we know the BofA announcement was a hard-earned tipping point in the financial sector. Just this week, RAN supporters like you forced Morgan Stanley’s hand as part of a sharp, focused campaign—RAN’s most recent push to hold banks accountable for their fossil fuel lending.2 All along, we were working behind the scenes for change across the entire banking sector. Eventually, Citigroup and Wells Fargo felt enough heat that they had to move too.

This is a global campaign. Since May, our friends at BankTrack, Friends of the Earth-France, and urgewald have won similar policies at European banks BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole, ING, Natixis, and Société Générale. On both sides of the Atlantic, banks are getting the message: coal means climate change and human rights violations. It’s past time for them to stop cashing in on the climate crisis. 

Today, I’m writing to you from the Paris climate summit, where RAN and our allies are continuing this fight. Together, we’re launching a new report analyzing the coal financing of the world’s largest banks.3,4 The Coal Test: Where Banks Stand on Climate at COP 21 is part of the global Paris Pledge campaign, pushing banks to end financing for coal altogether.5

While we’re encouraged by the progress we’ve made, there’s much more to do. The report profiles some of the banks in the U.S. and Europe that are taking positive steps—we call them “Frontrunners”. But there are no “True Leaders” on climate yet among big banks—we have more work to do before any major firm phases out coal financing entirely. And while we welcome these banks’ new commitments, they’re coming late in the day: since the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, the big banks have financed coal to the tune of $257 billion—an astonishing quarter-trillion dollars in the last six years alone.

Time is short. This year, global warming reached one degree Celsius. That means we are already perilously close to seeing the worst effects of runaway climate change.6 Coal is simply the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fossil fuel on the planet. We need to make it a thing of the past as quickly as possible.  

So, with your help, we’ll keep the pressure on. But the rapid progress we’ve made in just the last six months is a ray of hope. Thank you for making it happen.

Ben Collins|Climate and Energy Senior Campaigner|Rainforest Action Network|12/02/15

Land Conservation

HOUSE WANTS TO TAP AMENDMENT 1 FOR EVERGLADES

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, December 1, 2015………. As much as a quarter of the money voters approved to spend annually on statewide water and land preservation would flow into Everglades restoration and other South Florida water projects, under a House plan released Tuesday.

Rep. Gayle Harrell, a Stuart Republican who will sponsor a measure being called Legacy Florida, announced the proposal to designate for South Florida water projects either 25 percent or $200 million a year, whichever is lower, of money from a state land-acquisition trust fund.

The designation would “result in a reliable, sustainable funding stream for Florida’s River of Grass,” Harrell said in a prepared statement.

“The future of our way of life is linked directly to the health of our rivers, the Indian River Lagoon, Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades,” Harrell added in the release.

The funding proposal, which has support of House leaders, would top the $188 million that Gov. Rick Scott has requested for the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee in his $79.3 billion budget proposal for next fiscal year.

The land-acquisition trust fund has been set up to serve, for 20 years, as the storage point for 33 percent of a type of real-estate tax dollars that Florida voters approved in 2014 for land and water buying and preservation. That approval came through a ballot initiative known as Amendment 1.

Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida and a lobbyist on environmental issues, said Tuesday lawmakers still need to increase land-acquisition funding with Amendment 1 dollars. But he was also among those praising the House’s Everglades funding proposal.

“It ensures a steady flow of money for Everglades restoration,” Draper said. “The projects, for the most part, are already planned or identified. This just makes sure that the money is there to do it. It triggers federal dollars, so in some cases, to make sure that comes down and make sure the Lake Okeechobee plan is funded.”

The governor’s office has estimated Amendment 1 is expected to generate $905 million during the fiscal year that starts July 1. The voter-backed measure was projected to generate $740 million in the current fiscal year.

Scott has also asked that Amendment 1 money include $62.8 million for the land-acquisition program Florida Forever, $50 million to help maintain the state’s natural springs, and $10 million for the Florida Communities Trust Program which provides matching grants to local communities for land buying.
Scott’s funding proposals represent a $45 million increase for the Everglades, an $11.5 million boost to natural springs and nearly $50 million more for Florida Forever.

Environmentalists contend the overall funding should be higher in light of the Amendment 1 voter support and controversial spending decisions made by the Legislature this year. Those decisions, which included using money — reportedly about $237 million — to cover agency salaries and operations, are the focus of two lawsuits.

The House’s Everglades funding proposal would go into a number of projects that are geared toward restoring the flow of water across South Florida including: the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan; the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program; and the Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan, which was adopted by the Department of Environmental Protection in December 2014.

The bulk of the Legacy money, through fiscal year 2025-2026, would have to go to planning, design, engineering and construction of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

Under Harrell’s proposal, at least $32 million a year through the 2023-2024 fiscal year would also have go to the South Florida Water Management District for a long-term plan.

The proposal must be worked out with the Senate.

In 2014, Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who be formally designated Wednesday as the next president of that chamber, steered $231.9 million for projects related to the Everglades and the Indian River Lagoon.

JIM TURNER|THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

Florida Judge Tosses Part of ‘Amendment 1’ Spending Challenge

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, December 3, 2015………. A Leon County judge Thursday removed a major part of a lawsuit that contests how lawmakers decided to spend money that voters approved last year for land buying and preservation.

However, an attorney for four environmental groups challenging the state’s spending called the ruling a victory.

“We’re in this case,” said David Guest, managing attorney for the environmental law firm Earthjustice. “They tried to take us down. The way I see this game right now is that we’re at the first half and it’s 14-to-nothing for the good guys.”

Circuit Judge George Reynolds accepted a motion from the state to dismiss part of the lawsuit that sought a court order requiring state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater to transfer $237 million from the general-revenue fund to what is known as the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

The environmental groups — the Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and the Sierra Club — contend the money was improperly diverted from conservation purposes to agency staffing and operational expenses.

Richard T. Donelan, an attorney for the chief financial officer, argued that such a court directive would go against the constitutional structure of state government.

“We are the executive branch, not the legislative branch,” Donelan said. “We cannot exercise fundamental legislative decisions about from where to take money to pay for expenditures of the state.”

The ruling doesn’t end the lawsuit, which is one of two that contends lawmakers during a 2015 special session misspent money from the 2014 ballot initiative known as Amendment 1. The initiative requires that 33 percent of the proceeds from an existing real-estate tax, known as documentary stamps, go for land and water maintenance and acquisition across Florida.

Guest was given 20 days to amend the lawsuit, which was filed in June. Guest said after the hearing the attempt to move the money to the trust fund may now be redirected at the Legislature.

Guest claimed victory as Reynolds denied a request by the state to dismiss the entire lawsuit, which also contends the House and Senate defied a constitutional mandate on spending the money for land and water conservation.

Representing the Legislature, attorney Andy Bardos argued the funding decisions are at the discretion of lawmakers.

After the hearing Bardos would only say, “We’re pleased that the court dismissed count two.”

Environmentalists have been disappointed that more of the money wasn’t allocated in the current year for land acquisition.

The second lawsuit, filed Nov. 12 by a Gainesville-based group, the Florida Defenders of the Environment, wants a Leon County circuit judge to block the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of State, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission from spending the dollars in the current fiscal year.

The Florida House proposed Tuesday that at least 25 percent of the Amendment 1 dollars annually be used for Everglades restoration and other previously approved South Florida water projects. Otherwise the House and Senate are expected to take a similar approach to allocating Amendment 1 dollars next year.

Randall|JIM TURNER|NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA|December 3rd, 2015


 

Transportation

Florida to get $12 billion for roads, bridges, transit

WASHINGTON – Florida will get nearly $12 billion to improve roads, bridges and transit systems over the next five years under a massive transportation bill that President Obama signed into law Friday.

The $305 billion measure, known as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act or FAST Act, is the first long-term transportation bill Congress has passed in a decade. It provides Florida about $1 billion more than it would have gotten under current funding formulas.

The new law depends on a patchwork of funding sources beyond the 18.4-cent-per-gallon gas tax that provides most money for highway projects. The next Congress and president will have to decide how to make up a shortfall that could reach around $24 billion per year.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida praised the measure as long overdue.

“Because of this bill, we’re going to provide states and communities with over $300 billion over five years to repair the roads and bridges of this country and greatly improve rail and port projects,” Nelson said on the Senate floor following passage of the measure late Thursday. “And as a result, we are going to create jobs.”

He mentioned some projects that could immediately benefit, including I-95, I-75, SunRail, Tri-Rail “and the streetcars in Fort Lauderdale.”

A little more than $10 billion will go to Florida’s highway program, with the rest earmarked for transit.

Tom Yu, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation said the package represents a 15 percent increase in highway funding and 18 percent increase in transit funding. He couldn’t say how the bill would affect specific projects because the agency was still reviewing the bill.

The House passed the bill Thursday 359-65.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, one of 16 senators to vote against the measure, said the bill is too massive.

“Modernizing our nation’s infrastructure is necessary in order to have a 21st century economy,” he said in a statement released by his office. “But having a 21st century infrastructure doesn’t mean simply spending money, it means empowering states with greater autonomy to prioritize the infrastructure needs of their communities.”

Rubio also didn’t like a provision that revives the Export-Import Bank, a quasi-governmental agency that helps companies across the country export their products overseas when private financing or credit insurance isn’t available. Rubio describes the bank as “crony capitalist.”

Hard-line conservatives would like to see the Ex-Im Bank disappear over concerns it hasn’t made requested reforms and could leave U.S. taxpayers on the hook if companies default.

“The Export-Import Bank’s revival in this bill is especially offensive to taxpayers who want to end corporate welfare handouts and let the free market finance overseas investments by American companies,” Rubio said. “The time and effort that both parties in Washington have put into reviving the Export-Import Bank is just another example of how out of touch our federal government has become.”

The bank said that in Florida, 727 companies exporting $7 billion in products benefited from the government-backed financing from 2007 through 2014.

LEDYARD KING|THE NEWS-PRESS Washington bureau|December 5, 2015|Contributing: Bart Jansen|USA TODAY

Miscellaneous

Congratulations to Dianna Flynt, Rehabilitation Supervisor

During October, Audubon Florida hosted its annual Assembly in Maitland to over 200 guests. One of our own staff members was recognized for her hard work and dedication to the Audubon Florida mission. Dianna Flynt received the Staff Award of Distinction.

Dianna Flynt has been saving birds most of her life.  She started with water birds over in Pinellas County in the late 70s and began the career she has today in rehabilitating and releasing birds back into the wild.  Dianna’s commitment to conservation and saving Florida’s raptors is unwavering. Starting at Audubon in 1989 she has helped build the Center to what it is today.  Her creativity made her a pivotal member of the CBOP team that created the vision of the redesign of the facility, and remarkably utilized the space and property to meet the rehabilitation needs resulting in what the Center is today.

Dianna has many talents and oversees the Center’s bird care staff who trains and leads over 60 volunteers to help care for our bird residents and facilities.  Dianna has built tremendous relationships in the bird care community and provides expert advice to numerous small and large rehab organizations.   As a member on the board for the Florida Wildlife Rehabilitators Association she works closely with FWC and FWS with regulations and permitting for bird placements and other facilities in FL. She has been a valuable partner in assisting other wildlife in need at the Tampa Bay Oil Spill, and through hurricanes or tornadoes. Through her tireless efforts she has contributed to the release of thousands of raptors back into Florida’s skies and placed birds all over the country. 

A quote from Dianna that was featured on the National Audubon Website speaking about her work and the Center-“ It isn’t easy work to rehabilitate these birds, but it’s worth it every time one flies back into our Florida skies… All of this isn’t just for the birds; it’s also for us.”

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey

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

Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment