The magnificence of mountains, the serenity of nature – nothing is safe from the idiot marks of man’s passing. ~Loudon Wainwright
Of Interest to All
A new Blue Marble
Not mounted on a stand, with color-coded state and national boundaries, as schoolroom globes are prone to display. Instead, we see our world as only a cosmic perspective can provide: blue oceans, dry land, white clouds, polar ice. A sun-lit planet, teeming with life, framed in darkness.
In 1972, when NASA’s Apollo 17 astronauts first captured an entire hemisphere of our planet, we were treated to such a view. The Blue Marble, it was called. The Space Program’s unprecedented images of Earth compelled us all to think deeply about our dependence on nature and the fate of our civilization.
Of course, at the time, we had other distractions. Between 1968 and 1972, the United States would experience some of its most turbulent years in memory, simultaneously enduring a hot war in Southeast Asia, a Cold War with the Soviet Union, the Civil Rights Movement, campus unrest, and assassinations. Yet that’s precisely when we voyaged to the Moon, paused, looked back, and discovered Earth for the first time.
The year 1970 would celebrate the first Earth Day. In that same year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were formed with strong bipartisan support. In 1972, the pesticide DDT was banned and the Clean Water Act was passed. And one year later, the Endangered Species Act would be enacted, the catalytic converter would be introduced, and unleaded automotive emission standards would be set. A stunning admission that we’re all in this together, with a common future on a shared planet.
Regrettably, we still live in a turbulent world. But we now have at our disposal, not simply a photograph of our home to reflect upon, but continual data of our rotating planet, captured 13 times per day, by the robotic Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a specially designed space camera and telescope, launched and positioned a million miles from Earth.
We will now be able to measure and track sun-induced space weather as well as global climatic trends in ozone levels, aerosols, vegetation, volcanic ash, and Earth reflectivity, all in high resolution — just the kind of data our civilization needs to make informed cultural, political, and scientific decisions that affect our future.
Occasions such as this offer renewed confidence that we may ultimately become responsible shepherds of our own fate, and the fate of that fragile home we call Earth.
Neil deGrasse Tyson|American Museum of Natural History|New York City|7/20/15
Grand Canyon added to the endangered list
The Grand Canyon has just been named one of the “Most Endangered Places” in America by The National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The Grand Canyon is threatened by development and uranium mining on the doorstep of this magnificent park.
In fact, a federal judge just approved a uranium mine only six miles from the Grand Canyon’s southern rim.
This is beyond unacceptable—but it’s not too late to stop it.
The Grand Canyon uranium mine is going forward, despite objections from local tribes and a ban on new mining close to the Grand Canyon that Environment America fought to convince President Obama to put in place.
The mining company argued that their mine is exempt from President Obama’s ban because they got their permit back in 1986, before the ban was enacted.
And the judge approved the mine, despite a 30-year-old environmental impact statement on the doorstep of the Grand Canyon.
Our grassroots campaign to save the Grand Canyon has mobilized hundreds of thousands of Americans. But the threat to the Canyon has never been greater.
If you would like to help with a donation in any amount, please click here
Elizabeth Ouzts|Regional Program Director|Environment Florida
“Building Strong” Relationships, ACOE. St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon
The 2015 ACOE Jacksonville District leaders. LtC. Jennifer A Reynolds; Col. Jason A Kirk; LtC. Mark R Himes
This past Thursday, at 5:30 PM in Jacksonville, Florida, was the farewell celebration for Col. Alan Dodd who has served the ACOE Jacksonville District the past three years. During his tenure he faced almost immediately the “Lost Sumer” of 2013. Something very positive that was born of that disaster was that communication between the South Florida Water Management District and the Army Corp of Engineers improved. This is a tremendous achievement. As all War College graduates know, you cannot win a war with out good communication.
Col Dodd and Lt Col Greco are now retired I believe. Or determining their futures. Thank you. The Jacksonville office of the US ACOE will now be led by Col. Jason A Kirk along with two Lt. Cols. Mark R Himes, and Jennifer A Reynolds. Lt Col Reynolds will be our main point of contact as she will oversee South Florida and be stationed here in West Palm Beach. Many have already met her. She is very popular.
I wish I had been at the celebration. I wish I had been a fly on the wall. Over a couple of beers, I wonder what the conversations were like:
Army… War….College….Engineering….Bosnia….Kosovo….Iraq….Afghanistan….Fort Hood…West Point…West Palm Beach….Jacksonville…St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon…Caloosahatchee…Everglades Restoration…Agriculture…the EAA…U.S. Sugar…the Florida Legislature…
That says it all doesn’t it?
I encourage everyone to reach out and introduce yourself to this new leadership team. Yes, there is a conundrum in that now these leaders are in charge of “opening the gates” to allow the polluted waters of Lake Okeechobee to ravage our St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. They have a job to do. To listen to Congress and the Dept of the Interior. Safety. Flood Control. More recently, the Environment. A job whose history, responsibility, and direction predates us. As is so often the case in this life, they are charged with managing and undoing what was done by our forefathers in an era where “man over nature” reigned supreme.
Can the same agency that historically destroyed our waterways through the building of drainage canals help to undo this mess? I think so. The Kissimmee River restoration is a testament to that.
This does not come easily or quickly but it can come. And through our passion we can win the hearts of these modern-day warriors, a step at a time…a year at a time. A disaster at a time.
Yes they have outstanding resumes and wide experiences but in the end, they are human like everybody else. I am certain they want a better future for their children. This is the key.
Their mission is stated as follows:
Jacksonville District provides quality planning, engineering, construction and operations products and services to meet the needs of the Armed Forces and the nation.
Our missions include five broad areas:
* Water resources
* Homeland security
* War fighting
Within these mission areas, our programs and projects:
* Ensure navigable harbors and channels
* Provide flood damage reduction
* Restore ecosystems
* Protect wetlands
* Stabilize shorelines
* Provide recreational opportunities
* Respond to natural disasters and in emergency situations
* Provide technical services to other local, state, federal and international agencies on a reimbursable basis
Welcome ACOE Warriors! Yes, the River Warrior and the River Movement of Martin and St Lucie Counties truly welcomes you! We are relying on you to protect us and our river the best you can.
BIOGRAPHIES, click on name: http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/About/Leadership.aspx
ACOE Jacksonville website: http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/
New pipeline bursts
Last week, a brand-new pipeline ruptured, spilling 5 million litres of tar sands bitumen into an important muskeg ecosystem in Northern Alberta.
Nexen, the owner of the one-year-old pipeline that burst, had installed a state-of-the-art leak detection system plus double walls, and boasted about how the new technology would help them protect the environment. Does this sound familiar to you? It might, because TransCanada has been bragging that its proposed Energy East pipeline will also be the height of pipeline safety. But clearly, state-of-the art in pipeline safety isn’t safe enough.
TransCanada wants us to trust that their pipeline technology is so sophisticated and safe that we don’t need to worry that their pipelines will rupture or spill. Meanwhile, Nexen’s spill occurred in a pipeline that had the most advanced spill detection technology. The simple fact is the detection system failed; the spill was accidentally discovered by an employee walking past it. They still don’t know how the rupture happened, or even when it started.
Even more alarming is that a US Department of Transportation study found that on average pipeline rupture detection systems only discover spills 11% of the time.
Just to recap: Energy East would ship 1.1 million barrels of bitumen per day, across 4,600 km and thousands of waterways across Canada. It would be the largest tar sands pipeline in North America. An undetected spill in a pipeline this size would have devastating environmental impacts. If Energy East were to spill for even just half an hour, it would release over 3.5 million litres of oil!
Spills like last week’s are a stark reminder that no pipelines are failsafe, not even brand-new pipelines with double walls and all the bells and whistles.
We did it!
The epic, first exploration of Pluto and its moons by NASA’s New Horizons mission was completed last week, on Tuesday, July 14. And it captured the attention and imaginations of people across America and the entire world.
New Horizons is truly an American-made product, and one we can all be proud of. More than 2,500 Americans worked to design, build, launch, and fly New Horizons.
This NASA-industry-academia team included major partners at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, the Southwest Research Institute, Ball Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance, KinetX Corporation, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Stanford University, the University of Colorado, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as well as dozens of other universities and small companies who contributed.
The people who created New Horizons to complete the first reconnaissance of the planets delivered on the promise we made in 2001 to explore the Pluto system. We invested 15 years of our careers and lives to do this, to create knowledge, to show the United States on its game, to inspire kids and adults alike — across the world — and to make you proud.
In addition to gathering incredible science, one of my hopes for the flyby was that we’d excite people about the power of exploration, the sheer audacity of our species, and the great things we can achieve. And it’s working — from an unprecedented response on social media to global news coverage, the exciting and historic nature of New Horizons has really caught on!
It took us more than nine years to cross the 3 billion miles of space to get to Pluto — and you have followed our journey, supported us, and believed in our mission. We can’t thank you enough for that, or for your support of NASA that made New Horizons possible.
The New Horizons team spells out a token of their appreciation at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
Calls to Action
Preserve the Crude Oil Export Ban – here
Tell Congress- Don’t gut the Land and Water Conservation Fund – here
Stop Monsanto’s Dream Bill – here
Tell the EPA: Put Our Health First, End Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining – here
Burmese python hatchlings on the move
Please don’t confuse them with our native snakes!
Burmese python eggs are starting to hatch. At birth many of these hatchlings are up to two feet long, already the size of many full-grown native snakes. Conservancy of Southwest Florida biologist Ian Bartoszek says it is unlikely most of us will ever encounter a python, but many people are afraid. Unfortunately native snakes are on the receiving end of these fears.
“Pythons get a lot of attention because of their size,” said Bartoszek. “Unfortunately many native snakes are misidentified as small pythons.”
“The most important thing we want people to know is please, never harm any snake. It is most likely you’ll hurt a native animal instead,” said Bartoszek. “Pythons are not venomous snakes and they do not want to be near humans.”
We to remind the general public the vast majority of snakes are native and are necessary for Southwest Florida’s ecological balance. Pythons, because they have few-if any-natural predators, are causing problems for native wildlife and the environment, not people.
However, hatchlings may begin to show up on rural roads, often moving at night. Burmese pythons are tan in color with dark blotches on the back and sides that are irregular shaped and fit together like puzzle pieces. Burmese pythons have a dark brown arrowhead shape on top of their head and a dark wedge behind the eye.
Conservancy of Southwest Florida biologists and partner groups are working to study this invasive species to help identify population management strategies.
How you can help
If you see what appears to be a python, take photos and note your location. Be as specific as possible. Report it on the www.ivegot1.orgsite. If you’re standing near a large-invasive snake call 1–888-IVE-GOT1 — a trained professional will help identify the type of snake.
Location information helps researchers document areas the snakes may be spreading in order to help manage population growth.
Python hatchling facts
- Python gestation period is about two months
- The average clutch ranges from 20–64 eggs
- Hatchlings are about two-feet long at birth
Conservancy of Southwest Florida|7/20/15
‘Bee’ the Solution
Honeybees are the only insect to produce food eaten by humans. To make just one pound of honey, worker bees have to fly 55,000 miles and tap two million flowers. Each honeybee’s wings beat about 200 times per second, creating their infamous buzzing.
Throughout history, countless cultures and civilizations have venerated the bee. Aegean cultures believed bees were a bridge from the natural world to the underworld. Records from 2,500 B.C. show honeybees carved into ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Honey was revered as a medicine and, when excavating pharaoh’s tombs, archeologists have uncovered jars of honey, buried alongside these leaders.
Sadly, today honeybees have lost their place of prominence in our society. They have been drawn into industrial agriculture and, each year, hundreds of thousands of honeybee hives are shipped from Coast to Coast, providing pollination for everything from almonds to zucchini. This system focuses on the economic value of the bees and disregards the life of the animal. We’re not taking care of the bees—they’ve become a commodity, much like CAFO beef or GMO corn.
For the past 70 years, the number of honeybee colonies in the U.S. has steadily declined. In the 1940s, there were 7.5 million colonies nationwide. Today, there are only 2.5 million. That’s 250 billion fewer honeybees. Clearly, if honeybees are any indication of the health of the environment, then they are sounding a warning to us all.
At Rodale Institute, we believe the backyard beekeeper is the key to honeybee health. We need more hobby beekeepers.
I’ve been a beekeeper for nearly twenty years. And part of my goal is to share my passion for the bees with others. Over the years, I’ve introduced a number of colleagues and friends to beekeeping: Stefano from Azure Bees; Adam from Whole Foods Market; and, most recently, Michael from Rodale Institute. Each has described beekeeping as a meditative, spiritual experience that has taught them patience, trust and increased their belief in the value of hard work. Working with the bees has changed their lives for the better.
When I welcome new employees to the Rodale Institute, I share the history of our organization, our core values and mission. To impress upon them the importance of our work, I relate our planet to a bee’s hive. We are the stewards of this planet, much as the bees are the stewards of their own colony.
After a bee stings, she dies. She only gets one chance to make this sacrifice for the hive.
We humans are lucky. We get many chances to protect and preserve our hive, our colony—this planet we share with so many amazing creatures.
At the end of each meeting, I ask my team, “What is your sacrifice? What will you do today to protect, strengthen and preserve our hive?”
It’s up to us to “bee” the solution.
My beekeeping philosophy is focused on preservation versus production, respect for the bees and trusting my intuition when dealing with them.
Here are my tips for healthy hive stewardship
- Find a mentor who fits your beekeeping values. I recommend that you never feed your bees sugar and avoid all antibiotics and chemical treatments. Each spring, Rodale Institute holds a two-day workshop on backyard hobby beekeeping. Check our online calendar for dates.
- Many beekeepers use smoke when entering the hives—they believe it calms the bees. I do not. I know how I feel when someone blows smoke in my face—and I only have two “scent receptors.” Bees have 170. After they are “smoked” it takes up to two weeks for them to regain full use of their scent receptors.
- Bees get a bad reputation for stinging but most “stings” are actually bites from wasps or hornets. Bees are industrious and focused on pollination. Traditionally, they won’t sting unless they feel threatened. When purchasing bees makes sure to find a local source. Check with other local hive stewards to ensure that your breeder is respected and that you’re getting a calm strain of bees.
- Be present with your bees but don’t overwork them. During the warm weather when bees are most active, check on your hives about once a month. Bees can actually begin to recognize your shape—they will get to “know” you as you continue to work with them.
- Make sure your bees have a clean source of water.
- Don’t take too much honey—especially in the fall. The bees need the honey as food to survive the winter. The National Honey Board selected September as “Honey Month.” In my opinion, that’s all wrong. July should be Honey Month—that gives the bees time to build up their reserves before winter sets in. Our team at Rodale Institute is working with Wedderspoon, an organic honey company, to increase awareness about honey—and get Honey Month changed!
EWContributor|July 16, 2015
FWC arrests poachers for possession of illegal species, including sea turtle
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) arrested four people over the weekend for possession of undersized and illegal species.
Saturday, as a result of an ongoing marine resource investigation, FWC officers conducted stops on two suspect vessels. These stops revealed undersized and illegal species onboard each vessel.
On one of the vessels, stopped in the Gordon Pass area of Naples, FWC officers located two goliath grouper filets and 86 red grouper. Eighty-five of the red grouper were undersized, some as small as 12 inches. These fish were located in a hidden compartment, which was detected by an FWC K-9.
The second vessel, stopped in the Caxambas Pass near Marco Island, had a similar hidden compartment, which contained parts of a sea turtle, 13 goliath grouper filets, 119 red grouper, five oversized permit and several other fish. Eighty-eight of the red grouper were undersized.
The operators and occupants were placed under arrest for poaching and the vessels were seized. The arrests include David Vazquez (DOB 06/18/1972) of Naples, who was operating the first vessel, and Jorge Escalona (DOB 10/22/1971) who was operating the second vessel. The second vessel had three occupants in addition to Escalona. Two of them were also arrested: Jose Escalona Ferral (DOB 02/27/1970) and Adnier Lobaina Lopez (DOB 02/20/1978). The other occupant, a juvenile, was released to a guardian.
“These arrests illustrate how dedicated FWC is to conserving natural resources in Florida,” said FWC Maj. Alfredo Escanio. “This case is something our officers and investigators put together over time and serves as an example to others; illegal acts like poaching are a serious threat to resource conservation and will not be tolerated.”
The individuals arrested will face charges including over-the-bag-limit red grouper, undersized red grouper, possession of undersized yellowtail snapper and oversized African pompano, possession of goliath grouper and possession of a marine turtle. Neither operator possessed a commercial fishing license. These charges range from second-degree misdemeanors to third-degree felonies and could carry penalties of up to five years in prison and fines of up to $5,000.
Harvest and possession of goliath grouper is prohibited in both state and federal waters. All sea turtle species in Florida are considered either endangered or threatened and are listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act and Florida’s Marine Turtle Protection Act.
To learn more about salt water fishing regulations in Florida, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and select “Saltwater Fishing” and “Recreational Regulations.”
To report a fish, wildlife, boating or environmental law violation, contact the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Reward Program by texting or emailing Tip@MyFWC.com, calling 888-404-FWCC (3922) or dialing *FWC from your cell phone.
Rhinos’ horns to be fitted with spy cameras and alarms to help catch poachers
Campaigners hope the Rapid system will prevent more baby rhinos being orphaned by poachers. Move hailed as a ‘game changer’ by animal protection activists
The last remaining rhinos on Earth could be fitted with spy cameras in their horns and heart monitors to help catch poachers in a move hailed as a “game changer” by animal protection activists.
With a rhino killed every six hours in Africa, it is feared the animal could be hunted to extinction by 2035, but a British-made system called Rapid – Real-time Anti-Poaching Intelligence Device – could make all the difference.
The system includes a camera, a heart-rate monitor linked to an alarm and a satellite-tracking device to enable the authorities to scramble a helicopter as soon as a rhino is killed. The camera in the animal’s horn would then be used to provide evidence against the poachers.
It is hoped that system, which could also be adapted to fit animals like elephants and tigers, will be trialed in South Africa by early next year.
Dr Paul O’Donoghue, of Chester University, who has worked with endangered black rhino populations for more than 15 years, created Rapid following a dramatic surge in rhino poaching, which has increased 9,000-fold since 2007 in South Africa alone.
“We had to find a way to protect these animals effectively in the field – the killing has to be stopped,” he said. “With this device, the heart-rate monitor triggers the alarm the instant a poaching event occurs, pin-pointing the location within a few metres so that rangers can be on the scene via helicopter or truck within minutes, leaving poachers no time to harvest the valuable parts of an animal or make good an escape.
“You can’t outrun a helicopter. Rapid renders poaching a pointless exercise.”
Steve Piper, the director of Protect Rapid, a non-profit organisation, added: “The only thing heading for extinction over the next decade is poaching itself.”
There are about 25,000 rhinos in the wild in the world, with 80 per cent of the population in South Africa. An estimated 1,000 rhinos are killed each year – a slaughter fuelled by demand for their horn, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine but is also seen as a status symbol in some Asian countries.
According to the conservation group WWF, there were more than 2,000 northern white rhinos in 1960. Today there are just five, with the sole male, Sudan, under constant armed guard in Kenya even though his horns have been removed to deter poachers.
There are up to 600,000 African elephants but about 35,000 a year are killed by poachers. Both rhinos and elephants could be wiped out within 20 years if the current death rate continues.
Claire Bass, executive director of the Humane Society International UK, which contributed funding to the Rapid project, urged others to support it so the devices could be deployed as soon as possible.
“Reducing market demand is critical to safeguard wildlife long term, but it needs to be coupled with urgent, effective action to stop the current poaching crisis.
“The Protect Rapid could be a game changer in the increasingly desperate fight against poaching, and the technology has the potential to be applied to other critically endangered species including tigers and elephants.
Ian Johnston|AP|20 July 2015
Sad news for Illinois bobcats
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed H.B. 352 to open a hunting and trapping season for bobcats for the first time in decades, despite receiving over 105,000 petition signatures urging a veto.
This is obviously a very disappointing loss for the constituents of Illinois and wildlife in the state, and it is sad to see that my state’s elected officials ignored our plea to save these beautiful animals.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States said:
“We are very disappointed that Governor Rauner chose to ignore the vast majority of his constituents who were strongly opposed to this unnecessary and misguided legislation. A statewide poll showed that 75 percent of voters wanted the Governor to veto H.B. 352, and his office received thousands of calls urging a veto. To get the bill passed through the legislature, lawmakers relied on absurd and outlandish exaggerations about bobcats – who are shy and elusive creatures that only weigh slightly more than an average house cat – and it’s unfortunate that the Governor apparently fell for this fear-mongering.”
Sarah Moore|Springfield, IL|Jul 20, 2015
Puffin colony numbers drop by half in 30 years
Numbers of puffins breeding in a large puffin colony on Fair Isle has halved, from 20,000 to 10,000 individual, a new study shows. The research, published by the scientific journal, PLOS ONE, covered a period of nearly 30 years, starting in 1986.
Dr Will Miles of the Fair Isle Bird Observatory found that the most likely cause of the decline was failure of young birds to return to the island to breed and that since the 1980s the quantities of fish brought ashore by adult puffins for their chicks declined substantially.
Dr Miles said, “We don’t know exactly why they would fail to return to Fair Isle and settle to breed but it may be due to declining local fish stocks and poor feeding conditions for seabirds in Shetland waters.
“It is very difficult to find out exactly what happens to immature puffins after they have fledged because of the vast sea areas and the problems of tracing them within other colonies.”
Dr Miles also looked at the possible impact of great skuas on the puffin colony. The number of these seabirds, also known as ‘bonxies,’ has increased by around 300% on Fair Isle in the same period, to over 400 breeding pairs in 2014, and in the UK in recent years, as well as eating fish, they’re known to have fed on seabirds.
He says he was surprised to find that, despite this increase, adult puffin survival on the island has remained high and stable over the 30 years. “It seems adult puffins on Fair Isle are pretty good at avoiding skuas and do not get heavily predated by them.”
Fair Isle is Britain’s most remote inhabited island and lies between Orkney and Shetland. It is one of only 4 sites chosen by the UK government, through the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, for intensive monitoring of seabirds. Dr Miles formerly took part in the monitoring activity, as an Assistant Warden at the Bird Observatory. He is now based at the University of Aberdeen and employed by the Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust.
Puffins are very long-lived, with some individuals reaching 30 years of age. Young puffins usually start to breed when they are 5 or 6 years old. Prior to breeding, these immature birds prospect colonies for mates and nest sites.
From Wildlife Extra|16/07/2015
Most Mountain Lion deaths in Southern California caused by humans
Human’s are the biggest threat to Southern California mountain lions is us, a 13-year study from the University of California, Davis, shows.
The study, published shows that humans caused more than half the known deaths of mountain lions, even though hunting mountain lions is prohibited in California, Most were killed through vehicle collisions, depredation permits, illegal shootings, public-safety removals or human-caused wildfire. Annual survival rates were only about 56 percent.
Exacerbating the problem is an interstate highway, I-15, a major thoroughfare connecting San Bernardino, Riverside and San Diego counties that has proven nearly impossible for the mountain lions to cross. It bisects the study area, which stretches from Orange County, south to the Mexican border and east to the Salton Sea. Crossing the interstate, especially for the animals of breeding age, is important for this population’s declining genetic diversity — and long-term health and survival.
Lead author Winston Vickers, an associate veterinarian with the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, said: “Nowhere in the U.S., outside of the endangered Florida panther, have mountain lion populations been documented that are this cut off and with survival rates this low.
“This means that the odds of an individual animal making it across I-15, surviving to set up a territory, successfully breeding, and then their offspring breeding so the genes are spread throughout the population is harder to have happen naturally than one would expect.”
The situation for mountain lions in the Santa Anas, particularly, has become so dire that translocation may be necessary to prevent further genetic decline, the study warned. However, developing means to connect the population more naturally is preferable, Vickers said, such as by creating safe crossings along targeted highways.
“This population has one foot on the banana peel and one foot on the edge,” Vickers said of Santa Ana mountain lions. “Whatever we can do, we should do. Other populations are going the same direction, they’re just not as far down the road.”
From Wildlife Extra|16/07/2015
3800 Critically Endangered Turtles Rescued From Shipping Crate
Turtle experts used to believe there were fewer than 3,000 Philippine Forest Turtles left in the world.
So imagine their surprise and horror when on June 18 they stumbled across 3,800 of these turtles stacked on top of each other in a cement tank in a Chinese-owned warehouse in the Philippines.
Were thieves trying to steal an entire species of turtles?
These turtles are solitary creatures, and don’t like being in a group. As a result, many of them had injuries, in some cases bites from other turtles. Rick Hudson, president of the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), said the discovery was “shocking” and “a nightmare” in an email to supporters. “Injuries were obvious,” he wrote. “Turtles were dying. There was chaos.”
These rescued turtles had been snatched from their forest homes by an organized syndicate of poachers.
“It appears that a businessman, a Chinese national in the Philippines, had stored them in a warehouse in large cement tanks, piled a dozen deep, awaiting export to China,” Dr. Brian D. Horne told mongabay.com. Horne is the Wildlife Conservation Society’s coordinator for freshwater turtle and tortoise conservation.
The Discovery and Rescue
Here’s how the TSA announced the discovery of these turtles on Facebook on June 19: “Yesterday, authorities in Palawan confiscated more than 4,000 turtles. More than 3,800 of them were endemic Philippine Forest Turtles. This number exceeds our current understanding of the existing wild population, and it will take years to comprehend the effects of this massive, highly coordinated poaching event.”
“Due to the fact that some of them were so emaciated and in such bad shape, we suspect that some of them were there for up to six months,” Hudson said.
On July 7, the TSA posted this: “Thanks to the heroic efforts of the excellent team of first responders, over 3,000 turtles have been released back into native habitat. Reports from the field indicate that we are now down to 246 turtles in intensive care, all of which were recently moved to the Katala Institute for Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation’s (KIEBC) facility.“
What Do We Know About These Turtles?
The Philippine Forest Turtle is one of the most endangered turtle species in the world and is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). In fact, for a long time it was believed to be extinct, but then a few live specimens were observed in 2003 in Palawan, an island of the southern Philippines, the only place where it is known to live.
Because there are so few of these freshwater turtles, and not much is known about them, the Philippine Forest Turtle Project is working to learn more about the tiny creatures, with the goal of making sure that they are no longer an endangered species. The group is also working to preserve their fragile habitat.
Why Is The Philippine Forest Turtle Critically Endangered?
One of the challenges the Project faces is illegal trading, such as that revealed last month. Thankfully, this time authorities were able to discover one of the illegal shipment centers, but that probably won’t be enough to deter future poachers. The fact that this turtle is extremely rare makes it eminently desirable for collectors, especially in China, but also in other places around the world.
“What’s disturbing is the level of trade that we’re seeing,” says Horne. Ever since its rediscovery on Palawan “there’s been this collecting frenzy for the pet trade, and all of a sudden the Chinese have ramped that up, collecting large numbers for turtle farms and really driving the species to the brink.”
This is not a problem unique to Philippine Forest Turtles. Millions of turtles die each year to meet Chinese demand, with countries like Vietnam having depleted native populations to send them abroad. And 75 percent of Asia’s freshwater turtle and tortoise species are threatened, according to National Geographic.
It’s not just in China. I visited Chinatown in San Francisco recently, and was horrified to see crates of live turtles for sale in a fish market. What makes people want to eat these adorable creatures?
And do these poachers have no scruples?
Judy Molland|July 19, 2015
Sea turtle released in Florida tracked by satellite transmitter
MARATHON, Fla. — A rehabilitated loggerhead sea turtle that convalesced about four months at a turtle hospital was fitted with a satellite-tracking transmitter and released Friday off the Florida Keys as part of a contest to monitor the travels of rehabbed turtles.
Aaron, a sub-adult reptile, crawled into the Atlantic Ocean as several hundred spectators cheered at Sombrero Beach. It is the only rehabilitated turtle of 12 that is part of the Tour de Turtles initiative created by the Sea Turtle Conservancy.
The online program will start tracking the reptiles in August for three months. Turtles will be monitored after releases in Panama, Costa Rica, Nevis, W.I. and Florida.
The tracking transmitter is affixed to each turtle’s shell with epoxy. After about a year, the apparatus falls off during the natural shedding of the shell’s outer layer.
“The takeaway from the whole program is to raise awareness about sea turtles, get people interested in turtles through technology and to let people know what they can do to help protect turtles,” said Dan Evans, research and technology specialist with the Conservancy.
Each of the turtles will have a separate web page with a map that monitors daily progress.
“It’s the turtle who goes the furthest distance in three months that wins,” Evans said.
Fitted with a satellite tracking transmitter, a rehabilitated loggerhead sea turtle named Aaron makes its way to the ocean Friday at Sombrero Beach in Marathon, Fla.
ANDY NEWMAN|FLORIDA KEYS NEWS BUREAU|AP
The Battle to Save the Endangered and Heavily Poached Pangolin
It’s a cat-sized, ant and termite-eating machine, a highly specialized mammal with a more than foot-long tongue that helps it to play a uniquely important role in ecosystems due to its ability to consume tens of millions of insects a year.
Tens of thousands of pangolins are poached annually and at least 26,000 imports of pangolin products were seized in the U.S. between 2004 and 2013. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Armored with rows of hexagonal scales, the pangolin can roll into ball, protecting it from even the most ferocious tiger. But the same defensive trick makes it easy prey for poachers, putting it on track to disappear before much of the world knows it exists.
Coveted in Vietnam and China as a delicacy and for its completely unfounded curative powers for everything from infertility to cancer, the pangolin is likely the world’s most illegally trafficked mammal.
Once found across much of Asia and Africa, the best-available research indicates some pangolin species have declined up to 50 percent in recent years. Just last week, smugglers were caught in Indonesia with more than a ton of dead pangolins, an increasingly familiar scene in an era when 1 kilogram of pangolin scales can fetch $600.
Tens of thousands of pangolins are poached annually and at least 26,000 imports of pangolin products were seized in the U.S. between 2004 and 2013. Yet, only one of eight pangolin species is protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
To change that, this week a coalition of wildlife groups—including the Center for Biological Diversity, Born Free USA, Humane Society International, Humane Society of the United States and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), petitioned the U.S. government to protect all pangolins as “endangered.”
That protection would prohibit all pangolin trade in the U.S., except to promote species conservation, and would heighten global awareness.
The need is pressing: Without increased protections, researchers predict some pangolin species will go extinct within a decade.
Sarah Uhlemann|Center for Biological Diversity|July 17, 2015
Thursday, July 9, 2015
Montana Approves Restrictions on Trapping to Save Imperiled Lynx
New Regulations in Lynx Habitat Aimed at Protecting Rare Cats
GREAT FALLS, Mont. – Today, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a set of reasonable restrictions on trapping in Canada lynx habitat recommended by the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks in an agreement with three conservation organizations who challenged the state’s failure to adequately safeguard the protected cats.
In 2013 Friends of the Wild Swan, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and WildEarth Guardians, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, sued Montana for its failure to ensure imperiled lynx are not caught in traps. Lynx are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act making it illegal to trap a lynx regardless of whether another animal was targeted or whether the lynx is killed, injured or released. At least 15 lynx were caught in traps in Montana since 2001, the most recent in December 2014. Five of these trapping incidents were fatal.
“We applaud the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission for taking this important step in bringing Montana out of the dark ages where trapping occurred nearly unregulated,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “These common-sense changes bring our state closer to ensuring our most imperiled wildlife are protected from cruel traps.”
Today’s approval of the settlement by the commission establishes a “lynx protection zone” in occupied lynx habitat in northwest Montana and the Greater Yellowstone region. The lynx protection zone restricts the size and placement of traps and snares that catch and sometimes kill lynx, and requires bobcat trappers to check their traps at least once every 48 hours. The use of fresh meat or feathers as bait is now prohibited in the lynx protection zone.
According to the best available science, these changes will significantly reduce or eliminate the risk of accidental lynx trapping and will decrease the likelihood of serious injury or death to the species if caught.
The agreement maintains the current closure of the wolverine trapping season in Montana for an additional two years with a requirement to consider the best available science before the season can be re-opened. It also includes enhanced monitoring and reporting, as well as a commitment from the state to meet with conservationists and update the regulations or the lynx protection zone boundary if more than one future lynx-trapping incident occurs.
“We appreciate the commission approving these changes that will reduce injury and mortality to imperiled lynx,” said Arlene Montgomery, program director for Friends of the Wild Swan. “Our goal is to protect and recover lynx and these new restrictions works toward that.”
“Lynx have been headed down the path to extinction partly because they were being illegally killed in traps set for other animals,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “We hope the measures approved today will mean the end of the incidental killing of lynx and will help Montana’s lynx population recover sufficiently to eventually be delisted as a protected species.”
“These are long overdue but important changes that if successful should keep lynx out of traps and help the long-term recovery of the species in Montana, which is something we all want,” said Western Environmental Law Center Attorney Matthew Bishop. “We commend the state for taking the steps necessary to protect one of our state’s most iconic animals.”
First listed in 1999, lynx are imperiled by trapping, climate change, habitat fragmentation, and old growth logging.
Contact: Bethany Cotton 406 414-7227
Wild & Weird
Snooty, the oldest manatee in captivity, turns 67 and celebrates with a birthday cake made of fruit and vegetables
The oldest manatee in captivity turns 67 this week, but he’s showing very few signs of aging.
Snooty, Tampa Bay’s most-beloved manatee, will be celebrating at the South Florida Museum of Bradenton, where he now lives.
Though he has turned a lighter grey and he has a bit of excess skin under his chin, be hardly looks a year older.
Snooty, the first manatee to be born in captivity, was born in Miami on July 21, 1948, and was moved to Manatee County a year later.
He is now the in the Guinness Book of World Records and sets records every day as the world’s oldest-known manatee, according to WFLA.
The museum held a birthday party for Snooty on Saturday, where he was fed a cake made of fruits and vegetables, that staff fed him layer at a time, Bay News 9 reported.
Wildlife experts say few manatees live past the age of 30 and most die in the wild before they turn ten.
- Snooty, Tampa Bay, Florida’s most-beloved manatee, turns 67 on Tuesday
- He was the first manatee to ever been born in captivity and is now held at the South Florida Museum of Bradenton
- Snooty sets records every day as the world’s oldest-known manatee
- Wildlife experts say few manatees live past the age of 30 and most die in the wild before they turn ten.
See some photos
Kelly Mclaughlin|For Dailymail.com|19 July 2015
Luxury Airport Terminal Just for Animals
A new terminal under construction at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport will feature spa therapies, a pool, showers and even conjugal stations. But don’t get too excited — it’s not for the likes of you.
The ARK terminal, set to open in 2016, is an animal-quarantine facility gone glam. Racehorses will have a jogging track. Mating pairs of penguins will have privacy stalls. And, if you have the extravagant wherewithal, the facility will include a bone-shaped wading pool and “pawdicures” for your pooch, as well as a custom-made jungle of climbing trees for your kitty.
The ARK will also be capable of handling 180 cattle — and the 5,000 pounds of waste they create — every day. Luckily the architects created the cattle pen on a slight angle so that all that manure will slide away into a receptacle, saving the primped Pomeranians and Persians next door from odoriferous offense.
Read more and see concept photos at Gizmodo.
Sleepy Creek Lands/Adena Springs Ranch Update:
Last week the St. Johns River Water Management District Governing Board approved a consumptive use permit (CUP) for Sleepy Creek Lands (formerly Adena Springs Ranch) over heavy public opposition.
The Board approved combining two existing consumptive use permits into a single permit allowing withdrawals of 1.46 million gallons per day (MGD), allowed the withdrawal location for .96 MGD to be moved from the sod farm to the northern tract of the ranch near the slaughterhouse, changed the use of the tract from sod to pasture irrigation, and extended the length of the permits more than ten years. The Board’s action, though expected, was nevertheless upsetting, and puts the aquifer, Ocklawaha River, and Silver Springs at risk of contamination by runoff from the ranching operations.
Despite this disappointment, it is also important to focus on our success in reducing the scale of impact from this project. Through your efforts and participation, the water management district was convinced to make important concessions to preserve water quality in the springshed. The original 2011 Adena Springs application requested a withdrawal of a staggering 13.26 million gallons per day. The final approved permit, by contrast, does not allow withdrawal of any previously unallocated water. The ranch was originally intended to contain 30,000 head of cattle but is now reduced to almost half of that. Moreover, the original application did not contemplate any runoff management; that requirement is now included in the final permit. The ranch has a second permit application pending for 1.12 MGD. District staff has recommended against issuing that permit.
Most importantly, the public outcry on this issue has raised state and national attention for the importance of springs protection and water conservation, and has shown that Florida’s citizens can and will band together to protect the state’s natural treasures against shortsighted private development interests. Many thanks to all of you who helped fight this permit and to those who continue to meet conservation challenges head-on every day.
Get More Information On This Issue: SJRWMD Press Release
Water Quality Issues
Big Ag Hates the Latest on Clean Water From the EPA
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just cleared up an important facet of the Clean Water Act in the United States, clearly articulating which waterways it can regulate and how. The clarification is important, as the issue was a source of considerable confusion — and that uncertainty meant that substantial pollution went unaddressed. This new rule could affect farms across the United States, which is why big agriculture is joining some 28 states along with other industries in opposing it, hoping it won’t be implemented on August 8. It could turn into an ugly fight, but the opposition also highlights the fact that the only effective way to address pollution is through clear assignations of personal responsibility and fines to force polluters to act.
To understand the ruling, it’s necessary to delve into some arcane aspects of the Constitution — but fortunately it’s not necessary to be a Constitutional scholar to get the basics down. Essentially, the Constitution delegates most regulatory power to the states, in a federal system designed to allow states to operate autonomously except for some key governmental components, including interstate commerce. The trade of objects across state lines naturally requires regulation from the federal government, as regulatory conflicts between two states could create a nightmare. At the time the Constitution was drafted, a huge percentage of trade took place over the waterways of the country, giving rise to the right to regulate the “Waters of the United States.” Ever since, people have been debating what the term means, because the government also promotes the right to self-determination and independence for landowners — in other words, they should theoretically be allowed to do whatever they want with their water. This has also become a source of regulatory conflict with irrigation and water policy in terms of conserving resources in regions like the West, where water supplies are limited.
However, the EPA recognized that there was a serious conflict here: Water doesn’t flow in a vacuum. Almost all waters in the United States connect to other waterways, with bodies like Salt Lake being a notable exception. That means that a farmer in one region who allows pesticides to flow into the river that runs through her land is passing those pesticides down the watershed, and that turns it into a problem other farmers as well as the federal government has to deal with. The EPA used this as the grounds for ruling that it could in fact regulate the condition of waterways on private land, holding farmers and other landowners liable for their actions.
Agribusiness claims that the ruling is an overreach, and that it will directly affect their ability to do business. They also suggest that it’s too vague to be enforceable, and too confusing for compliance — and in that respect, they’re joined by Congress, which has attempted to shoot down the rule with legislation. Much of the opposition comes from conservatives, particularly Republicans, along with trade organizations that rely on polluting processes — the oil and gas industry isn’t thrilled by the news, and neither are large-scale industrial farmers who aren’t concerned with conservation. They claim the bill will create unnecessary red tape as they try to go about their daily business.
Opposition to the clarified rule is telling. It indicates that big agriculture isn’t concerned with the cleanliness of the nation’s drinking water and natural resources until money’s at stake. The bill most certainly will create an increased financial burden for at least some industrial farms, as they’ll have to clean up practices like waste storage, excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides, and soil management. The EPA has long recommended that farms change the way they operate, but this rule would make it possible to mandate it and enforce that mandate with fines and other penalties. Apparently, that’s the only way to get industrial agriculture to care about the environment.
s.e. smith|July 19, 2015
What’s in your water?
Do you know if your water is safe?
One would think that in the world’s wealthiest nation we would not have to worry about whether or not our drinking water is safe for consumption, or our local waterways safe for recreation. But the facts clearly show that clean water is not something we can take for granted:
- Nearly one trillion gallons of raw human sewage flows into our waterways each year.
- Up to 3.5 million Americans fall sick each year from swimming in polluted waters. Pollutants include pathogens such as bacteria, parasites, and viruses, as well as pharmaceuticals and synthetic hormones.
- Nearly 50 percent of our nation’s streams, rivers, and lakes are too polluted to support swimming and fishing.
- In any given year, about 25 percent of U.S. beaches are closed at least once or fall under advisories because of water pollution.
- More than 700 different chemicals have been found in U.S. tap water, of which the EPA classifies 129 as particularly dangerous.
- Algae blooms kill aquatic life in such iconic places as the Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes, and the Chesapeake Bay.
- The amount of fish advisories to limit or avoid eating certain fish due to contamination with chemical pollutants has increased from 5 percent of total lakes and streams in 1993 to more than 40 percent in 2010.
We must stop polluters from treating our cherished waterways as their personal dumping grounds. And we are on the verge of a HUGE victory. Less than two months from now, the Clean Water Rule — which closes polluter loopholes in the Clean Water Act — will be the law of the land. That is if we can keep polluters from killing the rule in Congress or through litigation.
Along with our $1.8 million campaign to defend the rule, we are also developing campaigns to reduce the massive amount of pollution that comes from factory farms, and helping communities develop better systems to control stormwater and wastewater runoff.
Thanks to your support, we’re raising the voice of clean water champions to a crescendo that no amount of polluter lobbying and funding can muffle.
We want an America where everyone can count on clean water coming from their taps and flowing in their local waterways, but we can’t get there without your support
If you wish to contribute to Environment America’s campaign to promote the Clean Water Rule, please click here
John Rumpler|Director|Clean Water Campaign|Environment America|7/22/15
Wildlife and Habitat
Wildfires Are Happening More Often and in More Places
Average fire season length has increased by nearly a fifth in the last 35 years, and the area impacted has doubled
This weekend, authorities evacuated some 300 homes threatened by two lightning-sparked wildfires raging in Washington State. Up in Alaska, more than 4.4 million acres of land have burned this year. And cities across the U.S. West and Midwest have sent out air quality alerts due to skies made hazy by smoke from Canadian wildfires.
Hundreds of wildfires now rage across Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Canada. And if wildfire seasons seem to be getting worse—it’s because they are. According to new research, fire season length has increased by nearly 20 percent on average in the past 35 years, and the global area now impacted by long fire seasons has doubled.
Wildfires play an important role in many ecosystems, but they can also cause big problems for people who live in wildfire-prone areas. The cost of fire damage and efforts to fight wildfires can run high. The United States, for instance, has spent an average of $1.7 billion each year on wildfire suppression. And total wildfire costs in Australia reached as high as $9.4 billion in 2005. Scientists expect that climate change will increase the severity of the fire season in the coming decades.
In places where wildfires most commonly occur, fire danger indices have been developed that use local weather variables to predict the risk that a fire will spark and spread. Matt Jolly, an ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service, and his colleagues combined several of these indices with surface weather data to explore how fire seasons have changed over the last 35 years. Globally, average fire season length increased by 18.7 percent, the researchers report today in Nature Communications.
The change in wildfire season length was not identical across the globe. About one-quarter of vegetated land has seen an increase in season length, but 10 percent has experienced a decrease, Jolly’s team found. Australia and the boreal forests of Canada—places known for their wildfire risk—had increases not in season length but in volatility—these locations now see more swings between wet and dry conditions than they did in the 1980s and early 1990s.
“Climate is lengthening fire weather seasons and increasing fire season variability globally, and this is impacting more global, burnable area each year,” says Jolly.
The increase in wildfire season length may also elevate risk in areas where fires have not been common in the past, he says, such as South American tropical forests. The U.S. West is currently so dry that Olympia National Park, which usually gets 150 inches of rain each year, is on fire.
“Wildfires occur at the intersection of weather, available fuel and sources of ignitions,” Jolly says. And an increase in fire season length may not automatically mean more fires. California is in the midst of a severe drought but has been spared devastating wildfires because of limited ignition sources, such as lightning or irresponsible humans. But in Alaska, weather conditions conducive to wildfires have aligned with adequate fuel and sources of ignition, Jolly notes.
If the climate changes of the last few decades continue, he says, “and if they are coupled with available fuel and sources of ignition, we can expect even longer fire seasons in the future.”
Sarah Zielinski|smithsonian.com|July 14, 2015
Five Things You Didn’t Know About…Grizzly Bears
Grizzly bears are one of America’s most iconic wild animals. As many as 50,000 of these great bears once roamed across the Lower 48. But aggressive lethal persecution in the 1800’s and through the mid 1900’s reduced their numbers to only a few hundred. Today, after decades of conservation efforts roughly 2,000 animals remain.
Here are five “fun facts” about grizzlies you might not have known:
- One Bear, Many Names. “Grizzly bear” is actually a geographical nickname for brown bears in inland areas of North America, due to their often lighter-colored tips of fur, giving them a “grizzled” appearance.
- Recent Arrivals. Grizzlies came to North America from Eurasia only about 50,000 years ago. They probably arrived over the same Siberian land bridge that gave rise to North America’s first human communities thousands of years later.
- Slow to Grow. Grizzly bears are one of the slowest reproducing land mammals in North America. Females do not breed until 6-8 years old, and cubs will stay with mom until they are 2-3 years old. On average, litters are only 1-3 cubs, making every female bear extremely important to the survival of the species!
- Tiny Beginnings. A newborn grizzly cub weighs about one pound. An adult male may weigh up to 850 pounds or more. That means some grizzlies grow to more than 800 times their birth weight! During the late summer and early fall, grizzly bears eat constantly to gain weight ahead of winter hibernation. Sometimes they gain as much as three pounds a day!
- The Nose Knows. A grizzly’s sense of smell is estimated to be seven times better than a hound dog. They can pick up the scent of food (or you) from miles away!
As the saying goes, we only save what we know and love.
Don Barry, Defenders of Wildlife|7/20/15
Massive Mine Could Destroy One of the Last Best Places for Bull Trout and Grizzly Bears
Montana is often called “the last best place.” The moniker is a tribute to what makes our state unique: vast expanses of undeveloped land on a scale that can be found in few places in the lower 48. This unspoiled wildness makes Montana an incredible place to explore and an invaluable area for wildlife conservation.
In the northwest corner of the state is a place that epitomizes some of the best features of our nation’s remaining wild spaces. The Cabinet Mountains Wilderness is a 35-mile expanse of glaciated peaks that supports countless species of native wildlife, including mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pikas, wolverines, moose, elk, deer, wolves, mountain lions and Canada lynx. The Cabinet Mountains also harbor populations of grizzly bears and bull trout—threatened species protected by the Endangered Species Act. These species are now under even greater threat from a proposed copper and silver mine in the core of their wilderness habitat.
As of 2014, the grizzly bear population estimate for the Cabinet Mountains was just 21 individuals, a number so precariously small that there’s a real risk grizzlies will be wiped out in the ecosystem. Indeed, federal scientists believe that a program of “augmenting” the population by importing grizzlies from other parts of the Northern Rockies is the only reason the species can still be found in the Cabinet Mountains. Nevertheless, the Cabinets offer one of the last remaining strongholds for grizzly bears in the continental United States, which is why the federal government and the state of Montana have invested substantial resources to increase the population there. Together with the neighboring Yaak River drainage, the Cabinet Mountains form one of six grizzly bear recovery areas designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as essential to the species’ recovery.
For bull trout, too, the Cabinet Mountains hold a unique opportunity for recovery. Logging, mining and construction of dams and roads have damaged bull trout habitat in the region, but the streams originating in the wilderness still support some of the last migratory populations of bull trout, which are essential to bringing back the species.
In short, bull trout and grizzly bears in the Cabinet Mountains are already hanging on by a thread. And given widespread habitat destruction across both species’ range, restoring bull trout and grizzly bear populations in that ecosystem offers a critical opportunity to recover both species.
But the promise of the Cabinet Mountains for bull trout and grizzly bears is in jeopardy, due to a March 2014 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow a massive mining project to move forward in the heart of the wilderness. The proposed Montanore Mine project would extract up to 20,000 tons of copper and silver ore every single day for up to 20 years, transforming some of the last, best habitat for threatened bull trout and grizzly bears into a large-scale industrial mining site.
Among other harmful effects, the mine would disturb more than 1,500 acres of forest and drain water from wilderness streams—making some stream reaches go dry. The mine would also bring more than 800 people into a remote wilderness area where they are likely to encounter and kill some of the last grizzly bears surviving in the region.
The Cabinet Mountains are no place for a mine. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s own scientific evidence shows the fragile populations of grizzly bears and bull trout making a last stand in the wilderness simply can’t take it. If we mine in the heart of the Cabinets, we may well push these species beyond the point of no return.
So Earthjustice, on behalf of Save Our Cabinets, Earthworks and Defenders of Wildlife, is invoking the protections of the Endangered Species Act and taking the Fish and Wildlife Service to court in order to halt the Montanore Mine. We’ve filed suit in federal district court in Montana to overturn the Fish and Wildlife Service’s conclusion that the Montanore Mine won’t endanger the survival or recovery of grizzly bears or bull trout. If we are going to fulfill the promise of the Endangered Species Act and save the few intact ecosystems that remain in our country, we can’t let our last, best places for threatened species wind up on the rubble pile.
Katherine O’Brien|July 17, 2015
The Jewels in Oakland’s Crown: In Defense of Eucalyptus Trees
“A thousand leaves on every tree, and each a miracle to me” — Joaquin Miller
Take a hike in the forests of the Oakland hills, and sooner or later, you are likely to bump into a trail marker containing the image of Joaquin Miller, an early settler to the city responsible, in part, for the lush forests which blanket the hills. A colorful figure from the 19th century, famed in his day for his poems celebrating the West’s spectacular natural beauty, Miller was called the “Poet of the Sierras” and today has the distinction of having an Oakland street, Oakland elementary school and Oakland park named in his honor. The founder of California’s first Arbor Day, Miller planted the land that is now a park bearing his name with 75,000 trees, mostly Eucalyptus, Monterey Pine and Monterey Cypress, three of the very species of trees now slated for eradication across 2,059 acres of public lands in Oakland, Berkeley and surrounding cities.
After timber hungry fortune seekers arrived in droves to the San Francisco Bay Area during the Gold Rush and clear cut the Oak trees which gave the city of Oakland its name, early settlers like Miller looked about the blighted hillsides so prone to devastating fires which regularly swept across the empty grasslands and undertook a deliberate campaign of beautification and forestation–a plan that has bequeathed to us what is now one of the most spectacular natural jewels of the Bay Area: the forests of the East Bay hills. When encroaching development subsequently threatened these forests in the early part of the 20th century, Bay Area naturalists, including Robert Sibley, set about preserving them, creating the East Bay Regional Parks District and with it, many of the now most beloved and heavily visited public parks in the East Bay.
Today, these publicly owned lands contain forests that are an integral part of the San Francisco Bay Area’s historical heritage, a living link to our past that remain as beautiful and cherished by most East Bay residents as on the day these parks were founded. And while every generation since their planting has been blessed by public officials who embody and reflect the public’s love and appreciation for these trees, ours has not been so fortunate. The City of Oakland, the East Bay Regional Park District and the University of California at Berkeley are now staffed by people seeking to destroy the very trees their predecessors sought to protect.
Championing a plan to cut down over 400,000 trees and spread toxic herbicides upon their stumps, they will (in their own words) “eradicate” these forests forever so that the land upon which they grow can be converted back to that which Miller and other early residents sought to beautify: “grassland with islands of shrub.” Where once the EBRPD called our Eucalyptus forests “keynote features” which should be protected for future generations, stating that “special efforts should be made to promote and protect wildlife in all its forms by not disturbing the natural cover,” today’s EBRPD administrators unabashedly claim their goal is to chop these trees down.
Armed with federal and local taxpayer funds to pay for their deforestation agenda, they are moving forward with a plan that will, over the course of the coming decade, methodically destroy — bit by bit — these living embodiments of the region’s history. With chainsaws and herbicides, they will undo that which over a century ago Oakland citizens bestowed to future generations by shovel, seedling and great personal effort: hundreds of thousands of towering, majestic, carbon sequestering, shade giving, animal habitat creating, fire preventing, soul nourishing trees.
The question, of course, is why? More specifically, why an area noted for embracing environmentalism is intent on deforestation and poisoning San Francisco’s East Bay public land, including wildlife corridors, recreation areas, and residential neighborhoods? If you believe proponents, it is because the trees pose a risk of fire. They have worked tirelessly to turn public opinion in the East Bay against Eucalyptus trees since the infamous Firestorm of 1991 which burned scores of homes and killed 25 people. Chief among their claims is that these trees were to blame for the ferocity of that fire because they are alleged to possess unusually high quantities of volatile oils that make them more flammable and prone to shooting off embers which enable the spread of fire. These claims have been repeated so many times they are often regarded as self-evident, even though the evidence does not support them, nor does the history relating to the ignition and spread of past fires in the hills. Indeed, the 1991 fire and a later 2008 fire in the region started not in trees, but in grasses, the very sort of vegetation that clearcutting will, by deliberate design, proliferate throughout the hills. In fact, the stated aim of the deforestation effort is to replace the East Bay’s Eucalyptus and Monterey Pine forests — forests containing species of trees that are among some of the tallest in the world — with shallow grasses, grasses that are highly susceptible to fire and which even the EBRPD has admitted on their website are “one of the most dangerous vegetation types for firefighter safety due to the rapid frontal spread of fire that can catch suppression personnel off guard.”
In a report highlighting the heightened fire risk which will result from this plan, David Maloney, a former Oakland Firefighter and Chief of Fire Prevention at the Oakland Army Base, criticizes the spread of misinformation about Eucalyptus as motivated not by a genuine fire abatement goal, but native plant ideology. Maloney writes that the plan is “a land transformation plan disguised as a wildfire hazard mitigation plan” that will “endanger firefighters and the general public… and be an outrageous waste of taxpayer money.” He notes that claims about the peculiar flammability of Eucalyptus are unfounded, calling them, “propagandistic statements which are designed to scare the public, which have no basis in fire science… Fire Science has proven that every living tree — regardless of its species — due to its moisture content and canopy coverage of ground fuels, contributes to wildfire hazard mitigation.” For example, morning and evening fog drip in Eucalyptus forests has been measured at over 16 inches per year in the Bay Area, even during hot, dry summers. Given the recent drought, this fog drip provides one of the few sources of moisture our public lands have been receiving.
Moreover, Bay Laurels, a preferred species by “native” plant advocates, possess higher oil content than Eucalyptus, Acacia, Monterey Pine, and Monterey Cypress and yet these trees will not be removed, highlighting, again, an alternative motivation than fire abatement. According to Cornell University, essential/volatile oils in Blue Gum Eucalyptus leaves range from less than 1.5 to over 3.5%. While the leaves of California Bay Laurel trees contain 7.5% of essential/volatile oils, more than twice the amount of oil in leaves of Blue Gums.
Not only are Eucalyptus trees very fire resistant, but they provide a variety of other benefits as well. Eucalyptus trees, for example, increase biodiversity, with a 1990 survey in Tilden Park, one of the parks slated for deforestation, finding 38 different species beneath the main canopy of Eucalyptus forests, compared to only 18 under Oak trees. Indeed, Eucalyptus provide nesting sites for hawks, owls and over 100 other species of birds. They are also are one of the few sources of nectar for Northern California bees in the winter and are crucial for migrating Monarch butterflies. Eucalyptus trees benefit other trees, as well. Without the Eucalyptus trees to capture and distill the moisture in fog, Oaks currently growing under the canopy of Eucalyptus would be unable to survive in many of the areas in the hills they can now be found, areas which would otherwise be too dry to sustain them. Lastly, they benefit the human residents of the hills by not only providing breathtaking natural beauty, shady hiking trails and serene, peaceful escapes from the hectic pace of day to day life, they trap particulate pollution, sequester carbon and prevent soil erosion in the hills — a particular concern to hills residents whose homes are located above steep hillsides of Eucalyptus forest now slated for eradication.
Given that Eucalyptus trees are so beautiful and environmentally beneficial, what is the real reason proponents of deforestation want to clearcut them? They claim that the trees are “non-native,” a pejorative term based on an idea we have thoroughly rejected in our treatment of our fellow human beings — that the value of a living being can be reduced merely to its place of long ago evolutionary origin. But even accepting the discriminatory and unscientific underlying premise which responsible environmentalists are beginning to reject in ever increasing numbers — that the word can and should be divided between “native” plants and animals who are worthy of protecting and “non-native” plants and animals who deserve to die — the claim that that Eucalyptus trees are “non-native” is being challenged as well. Given that Eucalyptus readily hybridize with other species and have created types of Eucalyptus trees which originated in California and can be found nowhere else, some claim “we might now have some California eucalyptus hybrids that could rightly be considered native, or at least have earned full citizenship.”
For those of us who were born and raised in California, have lived here most of our lives and have found ourselves surrounded by Eucalyptus trees and forests wherever we may travel in this beautiful state, the suggestion that trees which are so abundant and have been here for over a century should be considered anything but iconically Californian betrays both logic and experience and the deep affection so many of us feel for them.
In 1933, Gertrude Stein is credited with describing Oakland with the famous quip, “There no there there.” It has been used by Oakland-bashers ever since. In truth, Oakland has a lot going for it. And in the Oakland hills, it’s got the forests; forests filled with hundreds of thousands of majestic, towering, beautiful, quintessentially “Oaklandish” Eucalyptus trees. Indeed, when asked what he would miss most after being traded from the A’s to the Yankees, Mr. October himself, hall-of-fame slugger Reggie Jackson, said, quite simply, “I’ll miss the trees.” So will we all. Because if this plan is allowed to proceed — at least as it relates to the Oakland hills — Stein’s words may yet prove prophetic.
Dr. Peggy Drexler|Gary Hart|Nathan J. Winograd|07/20/2015
[No matter how lush, how beautiful or how popular with the locals, they are still considered invasive species. They are prone to catching fire, are voracious water drinkers, spread uncontrollably and the wood is not strong enough for construction of anything but furniture.]
Central Walbran & Edinburgh Mountain Old-Growth Forests At Risk!
Canada’s Two Grandest Old-Growth Forests – Central Walbran Valley and Edinburgh Mountain Ancient Forest – Under Threat of Logging!
See an INTERVIEW on Global TV with the AFA’s Ken Wu (featuring some great photos and video clips by the AFA’s TJ Watt) at: http://globalnews.ca/video/2102896/vancouver-island-ancient-forests-at-risk
Canada’s two most magnificent old-growth forests, the Central Walbran Valley and the Edinburgh Mountain Ancient Forest on southern Vancouver Island are currently under threat by the Surrey-based Teal-Jones Group . The company is planning eight new cut-blocks (clearcuts) and a new road in the Central Walbran, and two new cut-blocks and a new road on Edinburgh Mountain. The Walbran Valley is home to perhaps Canada’s finest stand of old-growth red cedars, the Castle Grove, while Edinburgh Mountain is home to “Big Lonely Doug” – Canada’s 2nd largest Douglas-fir tree, alas completely surrounded by a 2012 clearcut. Recently, AFA activists TJ Watt and Jackie Korn recorded the calls of several threatened Marbled Murrelets, a seabird that nests only in old-growth forests, in close proximity to the Castle Grove. Will the BC government allow the destruction of this species at risk’s old-growth habitat?
***PLEASE take 30 seconds to SEND A LETTER at www.BCForestMovement.com calling on the BC government to protect these old-growth forests! ***
Read our two recent MEDIA RELEASES:
- Canada’s Two Grandest Old-Growth Forests Under Logging Threat by the Teal-Jones Group! http://www.ancientforestalliance.org/news-item.php?ID=903
- Audio Recording of the Threatened Marbled Murrelet, an Old-Growth Dependent Seabird, taken in the Endangered Central Walbran Valley: http://www.ancientforestalliance.org/news-item.php?ID=906
Read some recent NEWS articles on this issue:
- 24Hours: Add ancient forests to protected lands: activists: http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2015/07/09/add-ancient-forests-to-protected-lands-activists
- Times Colonist: Environmentalists fight to save tract of old-growth Island trees: http://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/environmentalists-fight-to-save-tract-of-old-growth-island-trees-1.2007073
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Global Warming and Climate Change
Is Climate Change Really Going to Give us a 20-Foot Sea Level Rise?
You may have seen claims in recent weeks that historic records show a global temperature rise could give us sea levels 20 feet higher than the norm. How accurate are these claims, and why is it important that we take this issue seriously?
The reports are a result of a University of Florida study that was recently published in the journal Science. The researchers, including lead author Andrea Dutton, wanted to investigate how historically Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have reacted to global temperature rises and therefore get a glimpse of how current climate change might impact our sea levels.
The international team of scientists wanted to look at evidence of peak sea levels during several different periods of history and how that affected the polar ice sheets. They used computer models and geological evidence to specifically identify when average temperatures were around 1 to 3 °C (1.8 to 5.4 °F) above preindustrial levels–this being the standard level that we use to assess modern climate change. The researchers then looked at how high global sea levels were compared to the base rate when the ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic had retreated.
They discovered that, 125,000 years ago, sea levels rose between 20-30 feet when the average global temperature was one degrees Celsius higher than preindustrial levels. The researchers point out that this is about the temperature we’re currently at. A global target is to keep global temperatures below 2 °C, something that experts warn is critical in order to prevent the worst effects of climate change.
“This evidence leads us to conclude that the polar ice sheets are out of equilibrium with the present climate,” Dr. Andrea Dutton is quoted as saying. “As the planet warms, the poles warm even faster, raising important questions about how ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica will respond. While this amount of sea-level rise will not happen overnight, it is sobering to realize how sensitive the polar ice sheets are to temperatures that we are on path to reach within decades.”
Climate science skeptics often cite the fact that estimates on things like temperature and sea level are not as reliable the further back in time we go, and therefore try to undermine warnings like this. Famously, they lambasted Al Gore for “exaggerating” sea level rise claims in his film An Inconvenient Truth. However, we know that sea levels are already rising, and now at the fastest rate recorded in the past century. Thanks to research like the above, which is not unique and sits among a good body of other research, we know that sea level rises of more than one meter are possible, and that they correlate with global temperature rise and retreating ice sheets.
The question of whether sea levels could rise as much as 20 feet may sound like scaremongering, but the data seems to support it as a very real possibility even if it is unlikely to be a problem during most of our lifetimes. The point is, if we want to guard against that happening, or even getting close to that figure, we need our governments to take sea level rise seriously.
Given that this area of research isn’t well explored, more investigation is necessary and the researchers say that they want to investigate which areas of the ice sheets might be most susceptible to change, as well as developing a greater understanding of exactly how polar ice sheet decline tallies against the rate of sea-level rise so we can get an idea of what to expect in the near to long-term future.
Steve Williams|July 18, 2015
Come hell or high water: The disaster scenario that is South Florida
Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is a strange-looking beast. Its south runway, unveiled last September as part of a $2-billion expansion project, rests like an overpass atop six lanes of highway traffic. Across the road, facing the vast turquoise sweep of the Atlantic Ocean, is Port Everglades – home to some of the largest cruise ships on Earth. Between them, the bustling terminals handle a significant portion of the human cargo that fuels Florida’s $70-billion-a-year tourism machine.
Easily lost in all this bigness is a temporary water feature – a large puddle by the side of the road near the foot of the elevated runway.
“This is just from rain,” says Lee Gottlieb, an environmental activist and 40-year resident of South Florida. “I don’t think it’s rained here in five, six days.”
But the rainwater pools anyway. Virtually all of South Florida is only a few feet above sea level. “They elevated the runway,” Mr. Gottlieb says, “but all the terminals …” he pauses, exasperated. “Obviously, if we had a major deluge – this is a flood area.”
It has become increasingly commonplace for politicians at every level of U.S. government – from small-town mayors to the President himself – to describe climate change as the single most important challenge of the coming century. Such rhetoric is buoyed by myriad crises, from sinking land mass in southern Louisiana to historic droughts in California. In low-lying Florida, the culprit is the rising sea level. Should the ocean crawl just one more foot up the edges of this peninsula – something that’s projected to happen in the next two decades, by some estimates – most of the canal systems that keep the saltwater out of the area’s drinking wells would cease to function. A few more feet, and entire towns suddenly turn neo-Venetian, the roads flooded, the infrastructure almost impossible to salvage.
But beyond the dire warnings, something else is happening in South Florida. Here, for the first time in North America, the conversation is no longer just about what climate-change countermeasures or conservation initiatives to pursue – taking shorter showers or subsidizing electric cars. It’s about a much more existential question: What if it’s too late?
Scientists are starting to suggest that, in the long run, much of South Florida cannot be saved and that policymakers should begin planning for how to best deal with a massive northward exodus in the coming decades, as some of the most iconic real estate on the continent begins to succumb to the sea.
“Sooner or later, this city, as you see it right now, won’t be like this,” says Henry Briceño, a water-quality researcher at Florida International University. “Miami and the whole of South Florida is not going to be like this any more. So we have to develop a way to plan and supply services in a changing scenario, and that’s not easy. And then, sooner or later, we’ll have to move. Most of the population will have to move.”
Imagine a prohibition on fossil fuels, effective tomorrow. Every gas-guzzler off the road; every coal plant shuttered; every source of greenhouse-gas emissions brought under control.
Even then, by some estimates, the atmosphere would experience residual warming for another 30 years. That, in turn, would continue to heat the oceans for about another century. The warming ocean would melt the ice-packs in Greenland and Antarctica. And, finally, those melting masses of ice would raise the sea level.
“We’ve missed the boat, so to speak, on stopping serious warming in a way so we can turn it around real quick,” says Harold Wanless, chair of the department of geological sciences at the University of Miami. “That’s gone, we’ve warmed the ocean too much. So we’re in for it now.”
Very few people in Florida have spoken as passionately – or for so many years – as Prof. Wanless about what the irreversible mechanics of rising sea levels are likely to do to the southern half of this state. The son of a geologist, he has been talking to anyone who’ll listen – community organizations, high schools, even the religious TV program The 700 Club – since the early 1980s.
Back then, projections estimated that sea levels would rise by about four feet by the end of the coming century. Today, that number is in the low to middle segment of U.S. government projections, which run as high as six feet.
“That’s going to eliminate living on all the barrier islands of the world,” he says. “It’s going to inundate major portions of the coastal delta in China, India, the U.S. and elsewhere. That’s where a huge amount of agriculture is.”
At six feet of sea-level rise, roughly half of Miami-Dade County will be under water. Given the impact such land loss would have on vital infrastructure, it may well render the area totally uninhabitable.
Few places are as geographically ill-equipped to deal with rising water as southern Florida. Not only is much of the land barely a few feet above sea level, it also sits on a bed of porous limestone and sand, making measures such as dikes far less effective. Higher sea levels would eat away at the barrier islands that buffer the coast against powerful storms – which is hugely problematic, given that more powerful storms are one of the hallmarks of climate change. The rising water also threatens to slip inland and contaminate the wells that provide much of the region’s drinking water.
“The biggest stress on the system is water supply,” says Doug Young,(President of South Florida Audubon Society) a long-time environmental activist who moved to Florida from Montreal 24 years ago “We’re just about the most susceptible place in the entire world. The salt water pushes in from the ocean and gets into the aquifer. It’s happening as we speak.”
But even as experts tried for years to explain these looming catastrophes to South Florida residents, showing them maps of how much land would be lost with every foot of sea-level rise, often they would encounter the same response.
“They’d look at a map and say, ‘Oh, my house will still be there,’” Prof. Wanless says. “Yeah, but the infrastructure has totally collapsed, you just happen to be in a little high spot. There’s no sewage, and there’s probably no reliable electricity or anything any more. You’re just camping out there on your little hill.”
The response illustrates the central hurdle for climate-change activists: The changes will unfold over the better part of a century. In geologic terms, it’s a blink of an eye. But in human terms, where the standard unit of measurement is often a 30-year mortgage cycle, it’s easy to dismiss rising waters as a problem for a future generation to face.
Indeed, advocating for billion-dollar conservation measures – to say nothing of planning for an outright evacuation in several decades’ time – is lonely work in a place where the tourism and real-estate industries are doing brisk business. Countless condos are going up in Miami-Dade County alone, and new beachside hotels are popping up all along the southern coast. Of these, the closest thing to a forward-looking project is a proposal by a Dutch company to build a community of multimillion-dollar mansions that float.
Perhaps as a result, scientists here have had a particularly difficult time convincing the state’s leadership to treat climate change as a priority – or even a reality. In March, allegations surfaced that officials with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection were being ordered not to use the terms “climate change” or “global warming” in any official capacity.
The state government flatly denies that accusation. “The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has no policy banning the use of ‘climate change,’ ” says Lori Elliott, a spokesperson for the DEP, adding that the department is running a number of multiyear sea-level-rise monitoring and adaptation projects. “In fact, the department constantly monitors changes we identify in Florida’s ecosystems and works with other local and state agencies to ensure Florida’s communities and natural resources are protected.”
Regardless of where state authorities stand on the issue, rising sea levels pose another fundamental problem: unpredictability. So the prospect of oceans rising in a uniform, linear fashion – in a way that can be accurately approximated and planned for – appears unlikely.
A time-travelling cartographer, standing on the southern edge of the Florida peninsula some 18,000 years ago, would have seen a land mass roughly 160 kilometres wider than the one today. There used to be far more of this place, but the sea swallowed it.
What’s left of that land is a series of old beach ridges. Scanning the underwater ridges produces a timeline of how the land was drowned. Instead of a gradual rise, the spacing of the ridges indicates that the land loss happened in what Prof. Wanless calls “pulses.” Somewhere, a massive ice sheet would disintegrate, and over the following hundred years, a relatively huge sea-level rise would follow. The gradient was less akin to sliding down a smooth curve, and closer to falling down an uneven staircase.
That’s what worries scientists – the prospect of shocks, of sudden changes. And not just geological ones.
On a clear April day, Mr. Gottlieb, the environmental activist, drives to a seawall near Ft. Lauderdale. It is new, rising about three feet in the clearing between a sandy ocean beach and the road. It was built with flooding in mind, after rain from Hurricane Sandy inundated the roads here. The base cost of the seawall is about $10-million a mile. It is yet to be seen whether the wall will withstand, in any meaningful way, a direct hit from the next major hurricane.
Rising waters may eventually consume large swaths of South Florida, but sudden storms will likely change the geographic and economic landscape first. “Insurance companies are already increasing flood insurance premiums,” Prof. Briceño says. “There is a point when insurance companies will say ‘no more.’ And if you are unable to insure a property with a mortgage on it, your property is worth nothing.”
It is those sorts of shocks – uninsurable properties, credit-rating declines, crippling storm-damage bills – that a growing number of policymakers are trying to avoid. Tired of waiting for the state to act, a group of counties that occupy some of the most vulnerable ground in South Florida have formed a task force of sorts to figure out how to best address rising sea levels.
“We should be building for transition,” says Philip Stoddard, a professor at the department of biological sciences at Florida International and the mayor of South Miami. “We should be elevating areas to make it possible for some business activity to remain as the water comes up.”
But even with such measures, Prof. Stoddard has little doubt that, 20 years from now, many communities will begin fading away. “We’ll be depopulating,” he says. “You can either depopulate in a frantic, disastrous fashion, or you can do it methodically according to people’s risk tolerance. I’m all in favour of doing less damage as people head out the door.”
But Prof. Stoddard’s work is further complicated by the fact that nobody really knows just how much sea-level rise to expect. Models from 20 and even 10 years ago are looking increasingly conservative. And some new estimates are producing numbers that make the previous projections look trivial by comparison.
A few years ago, climatologist James Hansen suggested a sea-level rise of about 16 feet by 2100 – a number far higher than most other projections. The estimate was based in part on the idea of “amplifying feedbacks.” For example, ice reflects almost all solar radiation, but open water absorbs it. So as an ice sheet melts, it has a reinforcing effect, increasing the melting rate. Several of those feedbacks had not been incorporated into other climate-change models. Accounting for them, Dr. Hansen argued, pushed the numbers up.
The projection was met with skepticism. To test it, Prof. Wanless recently decided to see if the melt rate in Greenland was consistent with Dr. Hansen’s projections. Looking at satellite data, he found it was not – it was melting at an even faster rate.
Lee Gottlieb stands on a pristine beach a few kilometres north of Miami, observing his creation – a set of rolling dunes, anchored in place with sea oats. The grass is thin and shivers in the breeze. The structure is a sacrificial lamb; a major storm surge would likely destroy it. But it would still serve as a buffer, protecting the infrastructure farther inland. Mr. Gottlieb has been trying to convince municipalities and private developers to support the dune project. Some prospective partners have been receptive. Others declined, complaining, in one case, that if the oats grew too tall, they might ruin the ocean view from a condo’s mezzanine-level pool.
“Do we really think [the sea oats project is] going to save the day? No,” Mr. Gottlieb says. “But we need to bring people’s attention to the issue. We can’t afford to wait another 10 years.”
Exactly what South Florida will look like a decade from now is anyone’s guess. It’s impossible to predict whether another hurricane will devastate the area, or at what point insurance companies might balk at the risk.
Meanwhile, not everyone wants to discuss the notion of long-term evacuation. There’s the prospect of plummeting home values, of the massive public and private costs. And there’s a decidedly human factor: Some people don’t want to leave the places they call home, come hell or high water.
“People think that everywhere we live has always been there, and that’s just not true,” Prof. Wanless says. “Every community is so afraid of facing the reality that you have to move on some day, and honestly plan for it.”
OMAR EL AKKAD|MIAMI|The Globe and Mail|Jul. 17, 2015
Sea level on the rise in Southwest Florida
Michael J. Barry started to study the sea level rise on the coast of Southwest Florida 10 years ago as an employee of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. After becoming a private contractor, he continues to study the effects that sea level rise is having on the coast of the state, specifically the vegetation shifts inland due to saltwater intrusion.
Barry, 47, grew up in the southern end of Portage, Michigan with an interest in nature and the environment, but it wasn’t until college, Barry found a reason to make a living as an advocate for climate change and as a contractor documenting vegetation shifts in the mangrove swamps of Southwest Florida.
“Growing up in Florida, you have to really want to be in those mangrove swamps to do it, and I like it,” Barry said. “What we’re seeing out there and what we have seen out there is what already is and will affect us all.”
Although he has only been a contractor for 10 years, for the past 20 Barry has been paying close attention to sea level rise on the coast of Southwest Florida and watching changes in the environment accelerate relative to the average rate of change over the past 3,000 years.
Barry began studying pre-engineering for his undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan in 1985. But two courses instantly lured him away from pursing an engineering degree, and it cemented his decision to change majors and begin studying at the UM School of Natural Resources.
“The first two classes I took were, the biology of woody plants, and the global environment class,” Barry said as he laughed. “I did my term paper on climate modeling, so unfortunately I’ve been paying attention to this all along. If I hadn’t, I might have enjoyed my career a little more.”
Barry earned his B.S. degree in 1990. He took a year off to study in Costa Rica before he earned his degree.
Barry looked for work in his home state of Michigan, but the opportunity didn’t seem to be there at the time. He was looking for a rope to pull him in somewhere, so he searched for anything that he could grab on to.
“My connection to Florida is half my dad’s family was in the Tampa, central Florida area,” Barry said. “So, as kids we would come down every year, often time in the summer-the opposite of the snowbirds.”
He managed to pay off college loans before he made the trip and ultimate decision to relocate to Florida.
“At the Immokalee IFAS Center, at UF’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Science, they had a field-tech position open up for the citrus wildlife study,” Barry said. “There was a big citrus boom after the ’89 freeze where it killed a lot of the citrus in central Florida. So, the cold north winds brought me down from Michigan.”
Prior to the collection of tidal stage data that began in Key West in the 30s, the sea level was considered to be rising at .04 millimeters every year, and this was the rate that sea level rise was averaging over the past 3,000 years Barry said.
The rate was 2.6 mm 10 years ago. This rate was the average rate of rise between the years from 1940 to 2005. It was calculated by Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, based on Key West stage data, Barry said. Today, from the recorded data and as of 2013, the sea is rising at a rate of 3.3 mm every year-and it’s only heading in one direction, Barry said.
“So, 20 years ago on Little Pine Island, we were looking at the effects of sea level rise on isolated rises out there,” Barry said. “I became familiar with the shift of vegetation, basically looking at dead trees with no regeneration of that species, being replaced by halophytic or salt tolerant species.”
Barry has been keeping up with the pace of sea level rise on the coast of Southwest Florida since 1995.
“The vegetation changes are a result of the tides,” Barry said. “Vegetation changes are also affected by drainage of wetlands and development. We are going to be losing a lot of habitat, especially looking at places such as Rookery Bay.”
Areas on the coast like barrier islands are only being affected by sea level rise, but the areas on the mainland have more extreme issues due to the compounding factors of sea level rise and drainage of wetlands.
Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is contracting Barry currently to monitor and study the changes that he has been monitoring since he started working in the state.
Rookery Bay Reserve Environmental Learning Center, Photo by Jack Lowenstein/© Naples Herald.
“The paid work on vegetation shifts on the coast started 10 years ago on Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife refuge,” Barry said in an email.
“The mangroves’ habitat is shifting up to higher elevations inland and converting the former non-mangrove species to mangrove-dominated areas,” Barry said.
With the changes that Barry has been recording for decades, he has recorded the effects that sea level rise will have on the vegetation, but also the effects it will have on the state and residents living near the coast, which includes Naples. He believes his research shows overwhelmingly conclusive results.
“The tide is rising here, and the evidence is obvious in the field,” Barry said.
This aerial photograph shows the amount of erosion that Panther Key has experienced since 1927. Photo by Michael Barry
When Barry provides data about shifts in vegetation, he is also showing his personal experiences that he, his colleagues and his family have had in Florida’s natural ecosystems.
Barry’s wife, Sara Barry and son, Kadin Barry are enjoying a day in a hammock out in the mangrove swamps. Barry said in the slide he created, “Our Choice: prepare and lessen impacts for our children and theirs…or wake up one day and say, ‘Oh is that what Al Gore was talking about.'” Photo by Michael Barry
“It’s true, out there in Florida, you have to want to be there when you’re outside between mosquitoes, the heat, the afternoon lightning storms, the snakes, the gators; you have to like it,” Barry said. “That’s never been a problem for me, so I’ve always had plenty of field work.”
Barry’s evidence has agreement from other sources regarding the patterns he studies and monitors.
“And in the southernmost Florida Keys, freshwater pine forests are shrinking and are being replaced by plants that live in saltwater,” according to the National Parks Service website. “In both cases, plants are responding to the conversion from freshwater to saltwater environments because of sea level rise.”
This is a depiction of buttonwood mortality rates near Big Pine Key due to drainage and storm surge. Photo by Michael Barry
Barry gets direct indications of the effects that salt water is having on the natural ecosystems when he sees large numbers of dying buttonwoods and cabbage ponds farther inland. As the mangrove habitat moves inland it begins to disrupt other ecosystems such as the pinewood uplands, which are higher in elevation compared to the coastal mangrove swamps.
“With high temperatures and much less rain during the rainy season, that means less fresh water,” Barry said. “Our biggest challenge for the future is fresh water.”
Barry’s data shows changes in sea level rise, and it will begin to affect humans if these changes compromise the natural aquifers and freshwater wetlands farther inland.
“The thing is that, it’s not about me; it’s about the data that I work with that’s here in this coast,” Barry said.
At the rate that the sea level rises each year and increases, charts from organizations such as NASA, NOAA and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimate that the sea will rise to 2 meters by 2100, covering much of Southwest Florida.
“My son, if he lives to an average lifetime, he will see much of Naples go under water,” Barry said.
Kadin Barry, 4, is fishing on Panther Key. “With luck our son will be 89 in 2100,” Barry said. Photo by Michael Barry
Barry believes that taxing to lower certain emissions that cause warming of the oceans and sea level rise to occur need to be implemented for now and in the future.
“The carbon tax is a thing we really need to move toward as a global community,” Barry said. “It’s basically putting a monetary value on the pollution. Based on what I’ve read in terms of what we can do for our future, that is the most important thing to support. That is what they’ve been trying to get people to agree with. Of course, half the electorate doesn’t think that is an issue.”
Originally recorded data in 1940, Barry has aerial photos that show changes on the coast of Southwest Florida between that year and as recent as 2014. The images show the erosion of barrier islands and the coast’s decrease in size, as well as the dying vegetation and changes to habitat like in the pinewood uplands.
“Whether I am seeing vegetation changes happening or not, the tidal stage data is there, and nobody is making this stuff up, and these are changes I have been watching my whole career,” Barry said.
“If people really want to know what is occurring they need to look at the data,” Barry said. “The data is there. You can say natural cycles, but people have been teasing out the natural cycles for years.”
Barry firmly believes that human activity plays a role in the changes that have occurred since industrialization and the developing of other technologies that have developed in the past hundred years.
“A lot of our forests and things have changed just over the last 18,000 years, and that is when things started warming, natural warming,” Barry said.
Barry stresses that the changes he has gathered and recorded-from the past 70 years to the present-are not simply due to natural occurrence.
“For me, I’ve been into the woods my whole life,” Barry said. “And you can see how I live. I don’t expect people to do the same things that I do, but what bothers me the most is not only are they not interested, but they choose to not even believe the data.”
“We’ve gotten better at controlled burning and techniques of exotic control,” Barry said. “Some pieces of land managed to fill in canals and start holding back the freshwater and building the aquifers up again. So, individual pieces of property have gotten better. We’ve nailed a lot of the melaleuca in the big cypress area, for example.”
“It’s the reality. It’s the planet we live on,” Barry said. “When you live in a house or in an apartment, and that’s your world, there are certain things you can’t do: You can’t bust up your chair and have a bonfire in your living room. You can’t turn on the faucets and let them run and overflow. We have constraints where we live.”
There may not be a final solution for the rate that the sea level is rising, but Barry sticks to his view on prevention and preparation.
“For me, the first thing to know, when living in Florida, is to conserve fresh water,” Barry said. “The next thing is to take climate change very seriously and support any collective political actions that are going to deal with it because it’s incredibly important.”
Barry enjoys being in the field more than anything. He wants to be in the mangroves, and he wants his data to reach the eyes of the masses, especially in Southwest Florida.
Barry is in the waters off of Panther Key. It’s a favorite camping spot for him and his family. Photo provided.
“It just so happens that a person like me with my background and my likes is certainly going to be the one that is going to go out and do this kind of work,” Barry said. “And what is out there is going to affect us all.”
Related to the research that Barry conducts is the research of Dr. Michael Savarese, a professor of marine science, at Florida Gulf Coast University.
Savarese studies the effect that erosion from sea level rise is having on barrier islands off the coast of Southwest Florida. The dunes that act as a natural-protective barrier to homes and vegetation farther inland on the islands are deteriorating on the Ten Thousand Islands. This is also at the cause of warming oceans and sea level rise Savarese said.
“The good news is we’ve only been experiencing maybe 100 years of this sea level rise, so it’s not dramatic,” Savarese said. “But if that persists, we will see a dramatic change in the near future.”
Jack Lowenstein|Jul 19, 2015
9 Ways Climate Change is Making Us Sick
And five ways we can protect ourselves…
Yes, climate change is causing hurricanes, droughts and making sea level rise. But it’s also making us sick. Illnesses related to a warming planet are on the rise. Here are 9 specific maladies related to climate change that could be affecting you or those you love, and 5 ways for dealing with them.
1) Asthma and respiratory ailments
Asthma is increasing across the U.S. Between 2001 and 2009, reports the Centers for Disease Control, the number of patients diagnosed with asthma rose by 4.3 million. Asthma is the leading cause of school absences, and of many work absences as well. Asthma attacks are often triggered by pollen. As it turns out, plants are starting their pollination season earlier, and it lasts longer. That doesn’t bode well for anyone who suffers from any number of respiratory ailments.
In addition to asthma, the number of people suffering from hay fever and other pollen allergies is also on the rise. There are two reasons for this. First, the range where goldenrod and other plants that release heavy amounts of pollen is increasing as global warming makes parts of the country more hospitable to plants that used to be contained by colder temperatures. Second, as mentioned above, the sheer amount of pollen that plants are creating is increasing. Trees are the most common trigger for spring hay fever, reports the National Wildlife Federation. With spring arriving 10 to 14 days earlier than it did just 20 years ago, pollination is starting earlier. Hay fever is, too.
3) Heart disease and stroke
Extreme temperature changes, plus high particulate matter from burning coal and gasoline, can increase the risk for heart attack or stroke. The risk is particularly great if you live in an urban area with high levels of outdoor air pollution.
4) Poison ivy
Climate change is bad for you, but very good for poison ivy. As a result of higher global temperatures, poison ivy leaves are getting bigger, the vines are getting hairier and the oil in the leaves that makes you itch is getting more potent.
5) Dengue fever
As warmer bands of climate take hold, mosquitoes carrying dangerous dengue fever are moving north. Consequently, a disease that was once restricted to the tropics is starting to show up in the southern U.S. The Natural Resources Defense Council reports that two types of mosquitoes capable of transmitting dengue fever can now be found across at least 28 states.
6) Lyme disease
Diseases carried by ticks are spreading, as well, especially in the northeast. “In Maine, which had been considered less hospitable to ticks because of its colder climate, crews tapping maple trees are seeing more of them than ever,” Ted St. Amand, an entomologist and district manager for Atlantic Pest Solutions. “There never was much concern because deer tick was not that prevalent inland from the coast,” St. Amand said. “Now it’s everywhere.”
7) Other infectious diseases
Malaria and cholera are not big threats in the U.S., fortunately. But in the wake of extreme weather events, various waterborne pathogens can cause diarrhea and may contaminate water supplies. These pathogens reproduce more quickly in warmer conditions as well.
8) Heat stroke
Prolonged exposure to extreme heat can cause heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heat stroke and even death. Senior citizens may be particularly susceptible, particularly those who do not have air conditioning.
9) Mental health and stress
Extreme weather events like hurricanes and droughts are putting tremendous pressure on people, who worry about their basic survival. Stress, anxiety, depression, even post-traumatic stress disorder can occur when someone goes through a harrowing
What Can We Do?
1) Cover up
Protect yourself from mosquito bites by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks when you’re out in the yard. The same protection will work against poison ivy and ticks when you’re weeding or taking a hike in the woods. Protect bare skin by spraying insect repellent proven to be effective against both ticks and mosquitoes.
2) Pay attention to air quality alerts
Most cities will issue a “Code Orange” or “Code Red” or “Code Purple” to alert citizens to stay inside. You can see the complete guide to air quality alerts here.
3) Get the medical attention you need
Your doctor should prescribe the proper treatment for asthma, heart disease, allergies and other physical ailments. A therapist or psychiatrist can help treat anxiety or depression related to your climate concerns. Be prepared by having emergency medication on hand before you need it.
4) Stay indoors or in a cool location when temperatures rise
If you have family, friends or neighbors who are suffering from the heat, help them get to a community cooling center, where they can get some relief, water and medical care if they need it.
5) Use less energy, and support public policies to reduce the use of fossil fuels
Shifting to renewable sources of energy like solar and wind is the most important way to reduce the build-up of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change in the first place. In the short term, monitor your health and well-being closely. In the long term, we will all be victims of climate change one way or another unless we cut back on the energy we use and develop strong national public policies that decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and boost our use of solar energy and wind power.
Diane MacEachern|July 20, 2015
James Hansen: ‘Emergency Cooperation Among Nations’ Is Needed to Prevent Catastrophic Sea Level Rise
If a new scientific paper is proven accurate, the international target of limiting global temperatures to a 2°C rise this century will not be nearly enough to prevent catastrophic melting of ice sheets that would raise sea levels much higher and much faster than previously thought possible.
According to the new study—which has not yet been peer-reviewed, but was written by former NASA scientist James Hansen and 16 other prominent climate researchers—current predictions about the catastrophic impacts of global warming, the melting of vast ice sheets and sea level rise do not take into account the feedback loop implications of what will occur if large sections of Greenland and the Antarctic are consumed by the world’s oceans.
A summarized draft of the full report was released to journalists on Monday, with the shocking warning that such glacial melting will “likely” occur this century and could cause as much as a 10 foot sea-level rise in as little as 50 years. Such a prediction is much more severe than current estimates contained in reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—the UN-sponsored body that represents the official global consensus of the scientific community.
“If the ocean continues to accumulate heat and increase melting of marine-terminating ice shelves of Antarctica and Greenland, a point will be reached at which it is impossible to avoid large scale ice sheet disintegration with sea level rise of at least several meters,” the paper states.
Separately, the researchers conclude that “continued high emissions will make multi-meter sea level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.”
The Daily Beast‘s Mark Hertsgaard, who attended a press call with Dr. Hansen on Monday, reports that the work presented by the researchers is
warning that humanity could confront “sea level rise of several meters” before the end of the century unless greenhouse gas emissions are slashed much faster than currently contemplated.
This roughly 10 feet of sea level rise—well beyond previous estimates—would render coastal cities such as New York, London, and Shanghai uninhabitable. “Parts of [our coastal cities] would still be sticking above the water,” Hansen said, “but you couldn’t live there.”
This apocalyptic scenario illustrates why the goal of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius is not the safe “guardrail” most politicians and media coverage imply it is, argue Hansen and 16 colleagues in a blockbuster study they are publishing this week in the peer-reviewed journal Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry. On the contrary, a 2C future would be “highly dangerous.”
If Hansen is right—and he has been right, sooner, about the big issues in climate science longer than anyone—the implications are vast and profound.
In the call with reporters, Hansen explained that time is of the essence, given the upcoming climate talks in Paris this year and the grave consequences the world faces if bold, collective action is not taken immediately. “We have a global crisis that calls for international cooperation to reduce emissions as rapidly as practical,” the paper states.
Hansen said he has long believed that many of the existing models were under-estimating the potential impacts of ice sheet melting, and told the Daily Beast: “Now we have evidence to make that statement based on much more than suspicion.”
Though he acknowledged the publication of the paper was unorthodox, Hansen told reporters that the research itself is “substantially more persuasive than anything previously published.”
For his part, Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for Slate, said the “bombshell” findings are both credible and terrifying. Holthaus writes:
To come to their findings, the authors used a mixture of paleoclimate records, computer models, and observations of current rates of sea level rise, but “the real world is moving somewhat faster than the model,” Hansen says.
[…] The implications are mindboggling: In the study’s likely scenario, New York City—and every other coastal city on the planet—may only have a few more decades of habitability left. That dire prediction, in Hansen’s view, requires “emergency cooperation among nations.”
In response to the paper, climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University affirmed: “If we cook the planet long enough at about two degrees warming, there is likely to be a staggering amount of sea level rise. Key questions are when would greenhouse-gas emissions lock in this sea level rise and how fast would it happen? The latter point is critical to understanding whether and how we would be able to deal with such a threat.”
The new research, Oppenheimer added, “takes a stab at answering the ‘how soon?’ question but we remain largely in the dark. Giving the state of uncertainty and the high risk, humanity better get its collective foot off the accelerator.”
And as the Daily Beast‘s Hertsgaard notes, Hansen’s track record on making climate predictions should command respect from people around the world. The larger question, however, is whether humanity has the capacity to act.
“The climate challenge has long amounted to a race between the imperatives of science and the contingencies of politics,” Hertsgaard concludes. “With Hansen’s paper, the science has gotten harsher, even as the Nature Climate Change study affirms that humanity can still choose life, if it will. The question now is how the politics will respond—now, at Paris in December, and beyond.”
Jon Queally|Common Dreams|July 21, 2015
Australia’s ‘Sunshine State’ Gets Rare Dumping of Snow During Record Cold Snap
July means winter “down under” in Australia. And winter they are getting. “Icy blasts of wind have led to an unusual blanket of heavy snowfall across Queensland—which typically calls itself the “sunshine state”—during some of the coldest winter weather in decades,” reports The Telegraph.
While it’s not uncommon for parts of eastern Australia, including Queensland and New South Wales, to see snowflakes or minor accumulation, there hasn’t been snow or cold like this in a while. The last significant snowfall in this area was a little more than an inch in 2007. This time some areas saw three inches of snow and recorded their lowest temperatures in more than 40 years. “Cold fronts, caused by blasts of icy winds from Antarctica, are common during Australian winters but this year’s has been much stronger than usual,” says The Telegraph.
Queensland, which is about the same distance from the equator as Florida, is more known for sun-drenched beaches and drought than cold and snow. “We haven’t seen snow like this in 30 years,” Jess Carey, from the Bureau of Meteorology told The Telegraph. “People talk about the 1984 event—it really is the most significant since then.”
Cole Mellino|July 22, 2015
Genetically Modified Organisms
This Mycologist Holds the Patent That Could DESTROY Monsanto
In 2006, Paul Stamets, the world’s leading mycologist, was granted a patent called SMART pesticides that could keep insects from destroying crops only using mother nature. This could help in the destruction of Monsanto.
Monsanto, the biotech company found to be the most hated organizations in the world, is responsible for a number of dirty dealings that have earned it such a reputation. The creator of Agent Orange (a deadly herbicide responsible for thousands of disfigurements and birth defects in Vietnam), and glyphosate (recently declared to be “probably carcinogenic” by the WHO), it’s for good reason individuals everywhere are banding together to boycott the giant company and its foul play. (Don’t believe us? Watch Food, Inc.)
But although awareness is being raised every day enlightening individuals on why they should opt for organic seeds, local produce, and support bio-dynamic agricultural methods, few feel confident that their efforts will actually help put the agri-giant out of business. Based upon the following news, however, we believe there’s reason to be hopeful:
In 2006, Paul Stamets, the world’s leading mycologist, was granted a patent that has potential to change the world.
Stated by executives in the pesticide industry, the patent Stamets holds represents “the most disruptive technology we have ever witnessed,” and when they say disruptive, they mean harmful to the chemical pesticide industry.
It seems Paul has figured out how to use mother nature to keep insects from destroying crops, a finding that could make chemically-produced pest control completely obsolete. It is what is being called SMART pesticides.
SMART pesticides provide safe and nearly permanent solution for controlling over 200,000 species of insects – and all thanks to the magic offered by mushrooms.
The Mycologist does this by taking entomopathogenic Fungi (fungi that destroy insects) and morphs it so it does not produce spores. In result, this actually attracts the insects who then eat and turn into fungi from the inside out!
Wouldn’t a better world result if biotech companies have limited control over crops, seeds, and the way populations grow food? Monsanto is already blamed to be responsible for the bee and monarch die-off; who knows what other horrors could be prevented if its toxic chemical concoctions were no longer needed to grow crops.
Monsanto may have generated $16 billion dollars in 2014, but its sales have reportedly been decreasing thanks to consumer awareness and action taken by activists.
News Report|Authors|True Activist|NationofChange|July 12, 2015
breaking: House passes Dark Act 275 to 150 to kill GMO labeling
breaking: House passes Dark Act 275 to 150 to kill GMO labeling
Monsanto’s worst nightmare is about to come true! The American people are waking up, just as Monsanto’s lobbyists are working behind closed doors to rig our nation’s laws against us.
Openness and transparency are allegedly the foundations of a democratic, free market society, but yesterday, in a stunning display of arrogance and miscalculation, the House of Representatives voted 275 to 150 to pass H.R. 1599, Monsanto’s Poison Pill, to appease Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association in their continued quest to deny Americans there basic right to know what’s in their food.
For the past 4 years, the GMO labeling movement has had Monsanto and their junk food allies on the run, forcing them to spend more than $100 million to defeat four ballot initiatives and millions more to play defense in over 26 other states where common sense bills to label genetically engineered foods have been submitted.
Now, Monsanto is getting Congress to pass laws that protect their toxic GMO and chemical products at the expense of the American public and our constitution. This legal assault on our democratic rights is an outrage! But we’re not backing down.
Despite Monsanto’s constant threats, farmers and activists across the country are continuing to fight back.
While yesterday’s vote in the House was disappointing, the fight is far from over and we need your help in the next 6 weeks to make sure we stop Monsanto’s poison pill in the Senate.
Right now Monsanto is desperate to hide their untested GMOs in our food because they know Americans don’t want to eat them. The good news is that last year the state of Vermont passed a strong GMO labeling bill and a recent federal court judge ruled in our favor and denied the biotech industry’s efforts to get the lawsuit dismissed.
This means that the same food companies that have fought to kill GMO labeling here in the U.S. – Pepsi, Coke, Kraft, General Mills and Kellogg’s – are preparing to comply with the Vermont law when it goes into effect next year and they’re now desperate to get the Senate to pass this bill to make it illegal for Vermont or any other state to ever label GMOs!
Already, Monsanto and their corporate front groups are panicking at the idea of having to put simple labels on food products sold in the U.S., even though they already do this in 64 other countries around the world. This Congressional overreach smacks of desperation and the food movement has never had a better chance to expose Monsanto’s corruption of Congress and we need your help to do it!
In the past 4 years, Monsanto and the GMA spent more than $100 million to defeat GMO labeling, but they can’t keep us down!
At Food Democracy Now!, we’ve always believed that all roads lead to GMO labeling, which is why we’ve supported a 50 state strategy from the beginning. This year, we’ve to continue the fight with GMO labeling activists on the ground and we need YOU to make this happen.
Just like they did in California, Washington, Oregon and Colorado, pesticide companies like Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical are spending millions of dollars to defeat your right to know what’s in your food. They’re not backing down, but neither are we. With your help, we can defeat them, like we did in Maine, Connecticut and Vermont!
If you would care to contribute to the fund to defeat Monsanto, please click here.
Food Democracy Now! Team |7/24/15
Coal Industry to Suffer Major Loss in Favor of Clean Water
For years, the coal industry has flagrantly polluted drinking water while conducting business. Though the EPA has tried for some time to put a stop to this eco-destruction, the agency has never been effective at implementing real change. Now the Interior Department has jumped in to say, “Don’t worry, EPA, we’ll handle this,” by offering up new regulations that will impact the coal industry. Although the rules might not prevent water pollution entirely, it will hit coal executives where it actually hurts: their pockets.
Despite that the coal mining industry itself has changed its practices a lot, regulations for coal mining have gone virtually untouched in the past few decades. Recognizing that mountaintop removal has led to scenarios previous regulations couldn’t anticipate, the U.S. Department of the Interior proposed new rules that should hold the coal industry more responsible for their activities.
For starters, the coal industry would be responsible for funding research on the environmental consequences of the mining, both immediate and down the road. The research would be used to establish regulations that the coal industry would follow to avoid contaminating local streams. Previously, miners have been able to “accidentally” dump waste into nearby water with little recourse. Now, the coal industry would have to tackle the costs of not only keeping the water clean, but also cleaning up the water when mistakes occur. Beyond that, the coal industry would also be held responsible for environmental restoration after mountaintop removals by doing things like planting trees.
None of these rules will stop coal mining or mountaintop removal altogether, but they will add a lot of extra costs to the coal industry in order to conduct business. These expenses are good for a few reasons. First, it might prove so costly that – for the sake of profits – coal-mining companies abandon some of their sites, particularly those located near waterways. Second, it will make energy produced by coal more expensive overall thereby accelerating the need to switch to renewable energy. Third, by demanding the money for mining up front, the government is finally taking into consideration the true cost of mining on the environment that the coal industry was blissfully ignoring while reaping in major profits.
Environmentalists are fairly pleased with the Interior Department’s regulations, but wish that the rules extended much further. Protections are great, some argued, but they’re not worth nearly as much as outright forbidding these companies from dumping mining waste into waterways. “What we need are strong and well-defined mining rules that ensure the health of our nation’s lands and waters,” said Jane Davenport of Defenders of Wildlife.
Expectedly, elected officials with heavy mining activities lack any sense of excitement for these proposed rules. Senator John Barrasso, a Republican representing Wyoming, said he would work to pass laws that oppose something that thwarts coal jobs and affordable energy. WV Democrat Senator Joe Manchin wrote, “This administration’s long list of overreaching regulations is absolutely crippling West Virginia families and businesses.”
Despite having some political opposition, hopefully, the Interior Department will have their newly proposed regulations go into effect. We’ve known for too long just how harmful coal mining can be to people’s health, particularly when they receive their drinking water from nearby streams. It’s time to be proactive and do something about it!
Kevin Mathews|July 18, 2015
Fracking Industry Mangles Methane Facts
A new set of peer-reviewed scientific papers pointing to 50 percent higher than estimated regional methane emissions from oil and gas operations in Texas were published this week. And like clockwork, the oil and gas industry’s public relations machine, Energy In Depth (EID),proclaimed that rising emissions are actually falling, and that the industry’s meager voluntary efforts are responsible.
This is, of course, wrong on both counts. In fact, it’s a willful misrepresentation of the findings.
Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas and a powerful greenhouse gas.
First, the assertion that emissions are going down is flat wrong. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) latest inventory released in April reports that in 2013 the oil and gas industry released more than 7.3 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere from their operations-a three percent increase over 2012-making it the largest industrial source of methane pollution. So much for those voluntary efforts.
But EID also fumbles the two main findings of the studies: First, that traditional emissions inventories underrepresent the magnitude of the methane problem by 50 percent or more; and second, that this undercount is primarily due to relatively small but widely distributed number of sources across the region’s oil and gas supply chain, coming from leaks and equipment malfunctions not currently accounted for in the emission inventories everyone has been pointing to. In short, the Barnett papers tell us there’s a pervasive but manageable pollution problem occurring across the entire supply chain that requires a comprehensive, systematic monitoring effort and effective repair regime to address it.
Regulators in Colorado understood this to be the case, which is why Colorado took steps to adopt state-wide leak detection and repair requirements for oil and gas operations last year, and why Wyoming and Ohio have also taken first, important steps in this direction. The Barnett papers confirm the importance of these regulatory efforts and suggest that requirements to find and fix leaks across the oil and gas industry are a national priority.
The good news is that reports indicate once you find these sources, they’re fairly cheap and easy to fix. And it is important to do so. Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas and a powerful greenhouse gas and many of the leaks and malfunctions lead to emissions of other air pollutants that contribute to local air quality problems besides.
An Ounce of Prevention
Fire prevention offers a good way to think about this. Fires are relatively rare, and occur unpredictably. And just a few do real damage. But that’s an argument in favor of a broad and vigilant solution: Smoke detectors in every home; regular safety inspections for large buildings; and sprinkler systems and firefighters to stop small situations from becoming big ones.
The same type of ongoing fire prevention measures keeping people safe in office buildings around the country is needed to stop this methane and associated air pollution that is harming communities near oil and gas development.
In the Barnett alone, we’re talking about a volume of methane emissions equal to $66 million per year in wasted product. Also enough gas to meet the heating and cooking needs of roughly 320,000 homes and to deliver the equivalent climate benefit of cutting emissions from nine coal plants over the next 20 years. Clearly, these are not insignificant numbers, as EID suggests. Instead, it shows how meaningless percentage points are without proper context.
Industry often points out it can be trusted to reduce methane emissions, and that regulation is not needed. But the sub-one-percent participation rate in EPA’s voluntary Natural Gas Star proves otherwise.
We don’t have any doubt that industry could manage this problem more effectively, without undue hardship or cost. But as with fire safety, there’s no evidence it will happen without proper regulations requiring every oil and gas facility to do what needs to be done, and that no one among the thousands of oil and gas producers, gatherers, or pipeline operators can derive a competitive advantage from cutting corners. Only consistent national rules can ensure that companies have a level playing field and people have the vital protections they deserve.
Mark Brownstein|Environmental Defense Fund
35,000 Gallons of Oil Spills After Montana Train Derailment
Three tank cars continued to leak crude oil on Friday in rural, northeastern Montana in the wake of a 21-car derailment that downed a power line, closed a major highway and forced the evacuation of a town. Emergency workers responding to the Thursday evening derailment said cleanup of the leaking crude could not begin until the arrival of a Texas-based Burlington Northern Santa Fe hazardous materials team. The wreck is the latest in a string of derailments this year exposing the still-unchecked dangers that crude-oil trains pose to people and the environment, and how unprepared communities are to deal with the threat.
“This derailment is only the latest reminder that the dangers of transporting crude by rail are magnified by the lack of equipment and training available to local emergency workers,” said Jared Margolis, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity who focuses on the impacts of energy development on endangered species. “Communities should not be forced to wait for industry hazmat teams to travel across the country while leaking oil contaminates our water and soil.”
The accident involving the 106-car train came just hours after another derailment had shut down rail traffic through the area. The accident comes on the heels of six other major oil train derailments just this year, including several explosive spills.
The accidents have exposed the ineffectiveness of new federal regulations for oil trains that will allow dangerous, puncture-prone tank cars to remain in service for up to 10 years. The new regulations allow oil trains to move at speeds well in excess of the puncture resistance of even the newer tank cars, and fail to limit the weight and length of oil trains to prevent derailments.
“A moratorium on oil trains is needed to prevent these disasters and ensure that emergency responders can be trained and equipped to take appropriate action after derailments,” Margolis said. “It’s irresponsible to continue to allow these dangerous trains to roll through our communities and across some our most pristine landscapes.”
Center for Biological Diversity|July 17, 2015
More Smoke, More Mirrors For Solar Politics In Sunshine State
The politics of solar power seem to have taken a decidedly dark turn in the Sunshine State.
To be fair, despite the license plate slogan, Florida has never been very sympathetic with the sun. Under current law, only utilities are able to sell electricity to customers in Florida, including power generated by solar panels.
Over the better part of the past year, Floridians for Solar Choice (FLSC), a political action committee funded primarily by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, has been collecting signatures to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot in the 2016 election. The proposed amendment would allow non-utility companies to sell solar power to customers directly.
Florida’s investor-owned utilities are anything but keen on the ballot proposal. This may explain why some people suspected that Florida Power & Light(FPL), a wholly-owned subsidiary of NextEra Energy and the state’s largest utility, may be backing Consumers for Smart Solar (CSS), a political action committee that appeared out of the blue last week. To be fair, the organization was officially founded on July 8, 2015, according to the Florida’s Department of State.
In less than a week, CSS launched a snazzy new website loaded with professionally produced multimedia content, recruited a slate of high-profile supporters and staged a major news conference kicking off its statewide ballot initiative. CSS seems more interested in denigrating FLSC’s amendment than promoting its own rival solar ballot.
Where did CSS come from? Who paid to set it up?
CSS has not yet raised a single dollar in contributions, according to records from Florida’s Division of Elections.
Given the organization’s rabid rhetoric against what it calls the “Big Solar” industry, one might suspect FPL was the source of CSS’s money.
“We have appreciated the opportunity to offer technical and policy assistance to Consumers for Smart Solar in the development of their amendment,” FPL spokeswoman Alys Daly said, an FPL spokeswoman said in an email to John Howell in The Daily Fray. “We have not yet made a donation, but we certainly intend to join others in supporting the effort.”
I am not an expert in campaign finance law, but I could not help but notice the FPL spokeswoman’s odd choice of words. Campaign finance laws regulate campaign “contributions” – not “donations.” In Florida’s Political Committee Handbook, the word “contribution” appears 144 times. By contrast, the word “donation” is not used even once.
A “contribution” may include circumstances where a company pays its employees to provide “technical and policy assistance” to a political action committee (PAC), but it is anybody’s guess what ”donations” include.
Normally, I probably would not have wondered about these things, but “normal” rarely applies in Florida’s utility industry. My suspicions deepened when I discovered that CSS is located at the same address as another elusive PAC called “Take Back Our Power,” which was funded almost exclusively by FPL as part of a bitter political battle between the utility and the City of South Daytona.
In 2011, South Daytona’s City Council voted in favor of creating a municipal utility rather than renewing a 30-year franchise agreement with FPL. “Take Back Our Power” was founded in 2012 and appears to have existed solely for the purpose of preventing the establishment of a municipal electrical system in South Daytona.
FPL contributed almost $400,000 to Take Back Our Power, including a significant amount of so-called “in-kind contributions” described in public records as “Consulting Services.” Think “technical and policy assistance.”
Take Back Our Power was located at the same address as CSS – 2640-A Mitcham Drive, Tallahassee, Florida 32308. The office building located at the address is actually occupied by Carroll & Company, a an accounting company that provides campaign finance compliance services. Carroll & Companyserved as the Campaign Treasurer for Take Back Our Power. It is playing the same role for CSS.
A few weeks before South Daytona voted on the ballot measure backed by Take Back Our Power, South Daytona’s City Council met to discuss, among other things, a controversial letter the organization had sent to voters. I’ve included a few excerpts from the meeting minutes below, which suggest that Take Back Our Power was little more than a front group for FPL.
Joseph Yarbrough, the City Manager of South Daytona, “stated that a PAC could say anything and have an unlimited amount of money. He noted the average spent was $80 per vote on the charter amendment. There had never been a campaign in the history of the city all combined that ever came close to spending that amount of money. If the city is for sale, it’s for sale . . . after six years of sending facts out and doing the best to provide the information to the citizens including transparency, the public doesn’t get involved. They have a tendency to look at slogans rather than the information. The city knew that FPL could do polls every week to measure the public opinion and spend whatever money necessary to protect their territory. FPL does not want to sit down and settle a dispute.”
Darryl Reichenberger, a resident of South Daytona, “stated that he was offended by the letter from ‘Take Back Our Power’ . . . [which] was blatantly full of untruths and some half-truths . . . He asked that the city council do more public education. He said ‘Take Back Our Power’ had no desire to debate the facts but simply spread the information that FPL wanted.”
I may be wrong, but I don’t think CSS would be legal but for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in “Citizens United.”
Renewables Win Again: Landmark Settlement Prompts 200th Coal Plant to Retire
The skies are looking bluer. Today we announced the 200th coal plant to be retired since the Beyond Coal campaign began working with local communities to shut down old and outdated power plants. Since the current goal of the campaign is to retire half of the nation’s more than 500 coal plants, you can see that we’re making significant headway. That success is the result of a lot of hard work on the part of Sierra Club legal and conservation staff, the support of far-sighted donors and, last but not least, the thousands of ordinary people from every walk and stage of life who’ve worked to kick coal out of their own communities.
But although tallying coal plants retired is a useful gauge of progress, it doesn’t capture the full impact of this campaign. The story doesn’t end once the coal plants are gone. What happens next is at least as important.
Right away, of course, we see a better life for those whose air and water were affected by coal. After all, in 2010, when we were just getting started on coal-plant retirements, the Clean Air Task Force estimated that coal-fired power plants power plants contributed to 13,200 premature deaths, as well as 20,400 heart attacks and 217,600 asthma attacks. Saving those lives is one reason why the Clean Power Plan is so essential. But the benefits don’t stop there. Our responsibility to end the suffering caused by coal brings with it a singular opportunity to build something better to take its place.
Here’s one of my favorite examples. This fall, the last generator will spin down at the Widows Creek coal plant, which was built by the Tennessee Valley Authority during the Eisenhower administration. But the plant site won’t be idle for long. TVA and Google have announced that much of the site’s infrastructure will be repurposed into a new $600 million Google data center. And get this: The new data center will be 100 percent powered by renewable energy.
Google would not be building a data center powered by renewable energy on the Widow’s Peak site, though, if the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign had not helped negotiate the retirement of 18 TVA coal plants, including this one, way back in 2011. At the time, it was the largest coal-retirement agreement the nation had ever seen. We didn’t know that one of those retirements would one day be repurposed into a renewable-energy powered data center. But we did know that something better would take the place of that coal plant, just as it will for all the others.
Already this summer, for instance, two other power producers for Appalachia have announced that investing in wind and solar will be the most affordable way for them to replace power from polluting coal plants that will be retired as a result of the Clean Power Plan.
So while I’m stoked to see 200 coal plants retired—something no one would have predicted a decade ago—what’s really got me excited is the clean energy innovation and investment that’s springing up to take coal’s place. That’s the key to nothing but blue skies from now on.
Michael Brune|Executive Director|Sierra Club|July 15, 2015
Check Out This Bird-Friendly Bladeless Wind Turbine
Does a wind turbine have to have one of those pinwheel-looking blades that spins around to be called a turbine? It depends what definition you go by.
Meet the Vortex Bladeless, a wind ‘turbine’ without blades, developed by a group of inventors at a Spanish tech startup. This new wind energy solution looks more like a giant golf tee then a wind turbine.
Its inventors — David Suriol, David Yáñez and Raul Martín — describe it as “[a] more efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly way to produce energy.”
It has no moving parts, so how does it work? Basically, Vortex Bladeless consists of a conical cylinder fixed vertically with an elastic rod. The cylinder oscillates in the wind, which then generates electricity through a system of coils and magnets.
Vortex Bladeless explains:
“Our device captures the energy of vorticity. As the wind bypasses a fixed structure, it’s [sic] flow changes and generates a cyclical pattern of vortices. Once these forces are strong enough, the fixed structure starts oscillating, may enter into resonance with the lateral forces of the wind, and even collapse. Instead of avoiding these aerodynamic instabilities our technology maximizes the resulting oscillation and captures that energy.”
How does this new wind energy solution compare to traditional wind turbines? Instead of the usual tower, nacelle and blades, the Vortex Bladeless has a fixed mast, a power generator and a hollow, lightweight and semi-rigid fiberglass cylinder on top.
Sounds promising, but is it improving upon traditional turbines or just offering another way to accomplish the same thing?
According to Vortex Bladeless, it’s technology saves 53 percent in manufacturing costs and 51 percent in operating costs compared to conventional wind turbines. That makes sense, since it has no gears or bearings to make or fix. Wear and tear is less of an issue, and because there is no contact between moving parts, there is no friction, therefore no lubricant is required.
But does the Vortex Bladeless produce as much (or more) energy as conventional wind turbines? That’s where the new technology falls short, sort of. Here’s what Wired shared about the Vortex Mini, which stands at around 41 feet tall and can capture up to 40 percent of the wind’s power: “Based on field testing, the Mini ultimately captures 30 percent less than conventional wind turbines, but that shortcoming is compensated by the fact that you can put double the Vortex turbines into the same space as a propeller turbine.”
So while the Vortex produces less power than conventional wind turbines, you can fit more of them in the same amount of space, which means more power per square foot.
Another potential positive: apparently the Vortex is safer for birds, because it doesn’t require the same type or magnitude of movement as the traditional wind turbine, allowing for higher visibility. So much so, the company boasts that several environmental advocacy groups, including the SEO Birdlife Association, are actively supporting Vortex’s mission.
It’s been said before that wind turbines are basically bird death traps – and often they cut through prime flying space making the carnage even worse. Smithsonian investigated that claim and came up with a study which cited somewhere between 140,000 and 328,000 birds die each year from collisions with wind turbines.
With nothing spinning and a smaller girth it makes sense that less birds would be harmed by the Vortex.
The Vortex is also virtually silent; With the oscillation frequency of the equipment below 20Hz, the impact sound level is nonexistent, opening the possibility to make the future wind farms completely silent.
When it comes to wind power, it appears that both turbine models have their merits. In 2014, 39.1 percent of the electricity used in Denmark came from conventional wind power, more than double what it was a decade ago, setting a new world record in renewable energy production from wind in the process. Even the Eiffel Tower is hip to wind power.
Suriol’s take: “We can’t say anything bad about conventional wind turbines; they’re great machines. We’re just proposing a new way, a different way.”
The first Vortex products will be focused on small-scale production, and should be ready to be produced in about a year, according to the company blog.
Whether you prefer your wind turbines with or without blades, it sounds like wind power is blowing one step closer towards sustainably powering the world. Just because conventional turbines aren’t broke, that doesn’t mean that tinkering, innovating and improving should cease. Consider us lucky that inventors didn’t stop at the first telephone, computer or car.
Technology and innovation are travel partners through time, co-dependent entities that lead society to greener pastures. Without innovation, technology would be stuck in time, success measured by its last, not next, breakthrough.
So keep the innovations coming. Some may work, some not so much, but try we must because every improvement is a step closer to the sustainable future we require, if there’s going to be a future at all. And even the failures can produce valuable lessons that will inform future innovations down the line.
Tex Dworkin|July 19, 2015
Wind Farms are being Built in Important Bird Areas
New research supported by American Bird Conservancy (ABC) shows that more than 30,000 wind turbines have been installed in areas critical to the survival of federally-protected birds in the United States and that more than 50,000 additional turbines are planned for construction in similar areas. More than 27,000 of these turbines exist in or are planned for federally identified or designated areas, including 24,000 turbines in the migration corridor of the Whooping Crane, one of the nation’s rarest and most spectacular birds, and, almost 3,000 turbines in breeding strongholds for Greater Sage-Grouse, a rapidly declining species recently considered for Endangered Species Act protection.
The Associated Press (AP) independently calculated data on which the ABC based its report and reached a similar conclusion that large numbers of turbines are being built in important bird habitats.
PORT AUSTIN, Mich. – The sky above a tabletop-flat expanse of eastern Michigan farmland near Lake Huron is a well-traveled pathway for migratory birds journeying between summer nesting areas in Canada’s boreal forests and wintering grounds to the south. Thanks to reliably brisk winds, the ground below is dotted with hundreds of electricity-generating turbines.
Federal guidelines from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urge wind energy developers to locate turbines with special care in places such as the “Thumb” region of Michigan’s mitten-shaped Lower Peninsula – or avoid them altogether, to prevent fatal collisions between birds and the towers’ whirring blades. But an advocacy group says the government’s voluntary approach is allowing too many wind farms to be built or planned for construction in important nesting areas and flight paths across large sections of the nation.
A new analysis by the American Bird Conservancy said more than 30,000 of the existing 48,000 turbines are in places that government agencies or nonprofit organizations such as the National Audubon Society describe as having special significance to birds. More than 50,000 others are planned for construction in such locations – about half of all turbines on the drawing board nationwide, according to the study, which the conservancy provided to The Associated Press.
Locations that the group considers sensitive range from the Prairie Pothole region of the Great Plains, home to the threatened piping plover, to the entire state of Hawaii, where 32 bird species that exist only there are listed as endangered or threatened. Another is Huron County, at the tip of Michigan’s Thumb, where 328 turbines already generate power and local officials have approved 50 more.
“Wind turbines are among the fastest-growing threats to our nation’s birds,” said Michael Hutchins, coordinator of a conservancy program that encourages “bird smart” wind energy production.
The AP produced similar results after independently calculating data on which the conservancy based its report. The group used data from the U.S. Geological Survey, which keeps records of existing turbines, and the Federal Aviation Administration, which developers are required to notify before building new ones.
The conservancy said more than 96,000 planned turbines nationwide were listed in the FAA database, even after eliminating those it considered likely to be canceled because the agency designated them as posing a high-risk to air traffic. But the American Wind Energy Association, which represents the industry, said even that adjusted total is overstated.
A spokesman for the wind association, Tom Vinson, said the FAA figures aren’t meaningful because many will be scrapped because of wildlife concerns, inability to find a purchaser for the power or secure land agreements, high transmission costs or other reasons. “It won’t be anywhere near 96,000, and certainly not over the next several years,” Vinson said.
Spokesman Paul Takemoto said the FAA doesn’t track which projects on its list eventually are completed, although developers are required to remove ones from the list that are abandoned.
The record year for new wind energy was 2012, when about 6,750 turbines were installed, Vinson said, so companies would have to continue putting up turbines at that rate for more than 14 years to match the number in the FAA database – a highly optimistic scenario for an industry dependent on federal tax credits with shaky prospects in Congress.
The wind industry also said some of the high-risk areas are too broadly defined, and said some migrating birds fly high enough not to be endangered by turbines. The flyway of the endangered whooping crane is a swath of the nation’s midsection up to 200 miles wide extending from the Texas Gulf coast to the North Dakota-Canada border.
Mike Parr, the conservancy’s chief conservation officer, said birds fly at different altitudes depending on circumstances such as weather, often dipping low enough to encounter turbines.
Location is important – but how much is an unsettled question, said Andrew Farnsworth, a bird migration expert with the Cornell University ornithology laboratory. There is little peer-reviewed scientific research about the relative risk posed by the density of turbines in an area, their siting and height, nocturnal lighting and the habitat needs of particular bird species, he said.
What’s certain is that lots of birds have fatal encounters with turbines, Farnsworth said. Studies have produced varying numbers, he said, but the most recent and comprehensive analysis estimated the annual death toll between 140,000 and 328,000. The wind energy association says that’s a small number compared to the millions that collide with buildings and telecommunications towers or are killed by cats. Parr said the conservancy is concerned about all those threats but is focusing on wind power because it’s a “large-scale, newly developing threat to birds,” especially during migration.
More than 6,000 existing turbines and more than 20,000 planned ones are in areas with federal designations such as national wildlife refuges, critical habitat for endangered and threatened species and core areas for the greater sage grouse, the analysis says. Of those, about 90 percent are within the whooping crane corridor.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s voluntary guidelines, issued in 2012, urge companies to consider risk to birds and other species when choosing turbine locations and say some areas “may be inappropriate for development because they have been recognized as having high wildlife value based on their ecological rarity and intactness.”
The government said it can regulate wind development only on lands it administers, such as national wildlife refuges. Elsewhere, it can threaten legal action against companies whose turbines kill species protected under federal law, such as bald and golden eagles. The government has charged and reached settlements with only two wind energy companies for such kills. Spokesman Gavin Shire said the Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating 16 other cases of bird deaths at wind facilities, five of which have been referred to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution.
Michelle Minkoff|AP data analyst
Guardians Challenges Massive Mining Plans in Western U.S.
Interior Department Proposals Would Open the Door for Billions of Tons of Coal, Carbon Emissions
Washington, D.C.—Together with a coalition, WildEarth Guardians yesterday filed appeals of U.S. Interior Department plans to make 80 billion tons of coal available for mining in Montana and Wyoming.
“At a time when our world is struggling to reduce carbon, keep fossil fuels in the ground, and have any chance of rescuing our climate, Interior is opening the door for an unprecedented amount of coal production,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director. “This isn’t just inconsistent with our climate objectives, it completely destroys them.”
The proposed plans direct how the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management would manage publicly owned lands and minerals in the Buffalo Field Office of northeastern Wyoming and Miles City Field Office of eastern Montana. This region contains the Powder River Basin, the nation’s largest coal producing region.
More than 10 billion tons of coal would be made available for mining in the Buffalo Field Office and more than 70 billion tons would be made available in the Miles City Field Office.
Based on estimates from the Bureau of Land Management that every ton of coal mined in this region produces 1.659 metric tons of carbon dioxide, this means the mining threatens to unleash more than 130 billion metric tons of carbon.
This represents more than 20 times the amount of total greenhouse gas emissions released in the U.S. in 2013. It would also erase the gains to be made by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which targets carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
To put the potential emissions into further perspective, the Keystone XL Pipeline, which has drawn a national flurry of concern and galvanized a climate movement, would release a little more than six billion metric tons of carbon.
“Without a doubt, the Interior Department’s coal plans for Montana and Wyoming represent the single largest, most costly and dangerous threat to our climate in this nation,” said Nichols. “Every American should be outraged that our federal government, despite extolling the need to dramatically reduce carbon, is actually paving the way for the coal industry to stay in business and keep polluting our atmosphere.”
In administrative appeals, called “protests,” filed yesterday, WildEarth Guardians joined the Western Environmental Law Center, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Powder River Basin Resource Council, and Montana Environmental Information Center in calling on the Interior Department to abandon its coal plans for both the Buffalo and Miles City Field Offices.
Citing the enormous carbon costs of more coal mining and complete disregard to the climate impacts of burning coal, the groups called on Interior to back down from its proposal and instead adopt plans that do not make more coal available for mining in the region.
The appeals come as the Interior Department is increasingly recognizing the inconsistency of making coal available for mining while striving to reduce carbon. In a speech in March, Interior Secretary, Sally Jewell, commented that it’s time for an “honest conversation” about the federal program and to answer the question, “How do we manage the [federal coal] program in a way that is consistent with our climate change objectives?”
A response to the protests is likely by the end of August 2015.
Contact: Jeremy Nichols (303) 437-7663
Judge Keeps Oil, Gas Exploration Out of Arctic Refuge’s Coastal Plain
Important news in our work to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: A federal judge this week rejected an effort by the state of Alaska to conduct harmful seismic oil and gas exploration in the biologically rich, 1.5-million-acre coastal plain area of the refuge. The state had filed a legal challenge against an earlier decision by the U.S. Department of the Interior rejecting the plan. Conservation groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, intervened in the case.
Spanning more than 19 million acres, the refuge is America’s largest tract of pristine wild land and crucial habitat for caribou, polar bears, wolves, fish and migratory birds. Its subsistence resources have also sustained Alaska Native people for thousands of years.
Now it’s time for Congress to permanently protect the Arctic Refuge, in all its richness and diversity, before it’s destroyed for short-term profit.
Read more in our press release.
Obama Administration Grants Shell Final Permits to Start Drilling in Arctic Ocean
Royal Dutch Shell was granted federal permits yesterday that clear the way for the oil company to begin drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The U.S. Department of the Interior granted the permits for Shell to drill off the coast of Alaska in the Chukchi Sea.
The company is only permitted to drill the top sections of its wells because it lacks the equipment to cap the wells in case of emergency. The ice breaker carrying the required capping stack for the wells, is receiving repairs to its damaged hull in Portland, Oregon. The permits also restricts Shell to drilling only one well at a time, due to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife regulation.
This announcement comes on the heels of a nationwide protest last weekend where people in 13 states gathered for a “ShellNo” Day of Action asking President Obama to revoke oil and gas exploration leases in the Chukchi Sea.
Many environmental organizations are irate over the granting of the final permit to Shell. Here are several of their responses:
“This approval for Shell to drill in Alaska from the Obama administration is just the latest in a string of concessions for Shell, a company that cannot even make it to the Alaskan Arctic without significantly damaging its equipment,” said Tim Donaghy, Greenpeace senior research specialist. “By opening up the Arctic to oil drilling, President Obama is courting disaster and undermining his legacy on climate change. The world cannot afford to burn Arctic oil, and the consequences of a spill would be enormous.”
“President Obama’s decision to undercut his climate legacy and allow Shell to drill in the Arctic Ocean goes against science, the will of the people, and common sense,” said Michael Brune, executive director of Sierra Club. “The President ignored his advisors when they said that any drilling in the Arctic carries a 75-percent risk of a ‘major’ oil spill; he ignored the people as hundreds of thousands of Americans continue to come together and call on Obama to say ‘Shell No’ to drilling in the Arctic Ocean; and he ignored common sense as Shell continues to commit one reckless mistake after another.”
“We’ve seen time and again, most recently just last week: when you drill, you spill. And when you spill in the Arctic Ocean, the consequences are all but irrevocable,” said Rachel Richardson, the director of Environment America’s Stop Drilling program. “The area is simply too fragile and too remote to ever fully recover from a catastrophic spill, and polar bears, beluga whales, and other wildlife unique to this precious area will pay the price.
“Today’s action is a huge setback for climate action and the health of the Arctic. But in the long term, with the support of the public, we can protect our oceans from drilling and transition toward a 100 percent clean energy future.”
Natural Resources Defense Council:
“Shell shouldn’t be drilling in the Arctic, and neither should anybody else,” said Franz Matzner, director of NRDC’s Beyond Oil initiative. “President Obama’s misguided decision to let Shell drill has lit the fuse on a disaster for our last pristine ocean and for our climate. Fortunately, Big Oil faces a long road before commercial production of Arctic Ocean oil begins. Any plan to combat climate change over the long term must reverse course in the Arctic now.”
“Today’s decision takes us in exactly the wrong direction—it puts an irreplaceable region, its people, and its wildlife directly in harm’s way and veers us off a course on addressing climate change,” said Erik Grafe, staff attorney at Earthjustice. “Drilling in the Chukchi Sea risks significant effects on walruses and whales in the rapidly warming Arctic Ocean even without an oil spill. And the science is clear, Arctic Ocean drilling is incompatible with avoiding the worst effects of climate change. Wrong as it is, this decision won’t stop the demand for change. We call on the Obama administration to show leadership and re-consider its course on Arctic Ocean drilling.”
Oil Change International:
“The Obama Administration should put Shell out of its misery,” said Stephen Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International. “They have wasted billions on the hunt for unburnable carbon and wreaked havoc on everything they come in contact with in their Arctic exploits.”
Friends of the Earth:
“Today’s approval ignores Shell’s dismal record of safety violations and undermines President Obama’s pledge to combat climate change,” said Marissa Knodel, climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “With this decision, President Obama has given Shell an open invitation to turn the Chukchi Sea into an energy sacrifice zone, threatening both the resilience of the American Arctic Ocean and his climate legacy.”
Stefanie Spear|July 23, 2015
Time to put Shell out of its misery.
Time to put Shell out of its misery.
If it wasn’t so sad it would be hilarious: Royal Dutch Shell just crashed another one of their Arctic drilling vessels. And they still want to go ahead with drilling.
First, Shell ran the drill rig Kulluk aground in Alaska in 2012, resulting in 8 felony convictions for recklessness and willful deception of authorities. Now they’ve torn a 3 foot gash in their primary icebreaker, Fennica.
On July 3rd, Shell was taking another shortcut through shallow, treacherous waters with the Fennica when they struck something hard enough to puncture the hull of their toughest icebreaker.
Shell is now violating any responsible reading of their permit and has proven they value money over the safety of our oceans and climate. It’s time to cancel Shell’s arctic drilling permits.
Shell has been forced to send the Fennica south to Portland, Oregon for repairs. This is Shell’s only icebreaker equipped with a “cap stack”, the mission critical gear needed to cap a blown-out well. Shell’s own safety plans – the ones they had to submit to the Department of Interior in order to get permits to drill in the Arctic – rely on having two primary icebreakers in order to avoid accidents that can lead to devastating oil spills.
Yet the Department of Interior just granted a limited permit allowing Shell to begin the drilling process, while keeping it from actually drilling down to the oil itself. This conditional approval is another step in the wrong direction, but Shell will still need a new permit to drill for oil once it completes the Fennica’s repairs.
Without the Fennica, Shell is in violation of its own Oil Response Plan, as well as its Exploration Plan.
The next step should be clear: the Department of Interior should cancel the permits they have already granted Shell, and refuse to grant any more.
PS – Stay tuned in August for a new analysis from the smart wonks here at OCI on why Arctic oil fails the climate test. OCI is data driven, and people powered by folks like you.
Hannah McKinnon|Oil Change International|7/24/15
New York’s Fresh Kills Landfill Gets an Epic Facelift
The biggest garbage dump on the planet once contained 150 million tons of reeking trash. No more.
Mark Hauber doesn’t fit the classic field-biologist archetype. A professor of animal behavior and conservation at New York City’s Hunter College, Hauber has been collecting data at his study site for five years. Yet his clothes aren’t wrinkled, stained, or moldy (they’re actually crisp and black); he’s not covered in scratches or insect bites; his face is clean-shaven and his haircut fresh. He lacks the thousand-yard stare that marks longtime researchers toiling in remote locales.
But then his site isn’t exactly the norm either—it’s a former city dump. And though the 2,200 acres of meadows, woodlands, and marsh that comprise the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island’s western shore can look deceptively bucolic, there’s no escaping the fact that approximately 150 million tons of garbage—everything from dirty diapers and televisions to Big Wheels and greasy takeout containers—lie beneath.
On a storybook-glorious June morning, fields abloom with purple and yellow flowers, Hauber is wading through knee-high grasses toward a wooden nest box at Fresh Kills, a notebook and a dental mirror in hand. Using a battery-powered drill, he unscrews the front of the box and notes, based on the presence of either sticks or straw, whether a tree swallow or house wren is responsible for the elaborate architecture inside. He checks for nestlings against the back wall with the mirror (he finds none), then turns his face to the sky and blindly feels inside with his fingertips for eggs (he counts four). “Touch is best if you don’t see anything,” he says. “I used to study juncos, which have really small eggs.” Hauber enters this data in his notebook, quickly replaces the front of the box, and moves on to make stops at 69 other stations similarly situated among mounds of garbage.
You can’t see any of this detritus, of course— it’s buried under more than two feet of soil and multiple underground barriers, including a thick, impermeable layer of plastic sheeting. But its presence is palpable in the four grassy monadnocks rising up to 225 feet tall, in the intermittent exhalations of landfill gases from passive vents, in the 386,000 gallons of leachate that daily ooze from the mounds into an on-site treatment plant, and in the hundreds of protruding gas wellheads and monitoring pipes.
This level of environmental control isn’t unusual for a closed landfill, but Fresh Kills has more reason than most to put on a pretty face. The planet’s most notorious dump is slowly morphing into New York City’s largest and most biologically diverse urban oasis-—a playground two and a half times the size of Central Park. In fact, when eventually completed, Freshkills Park (yes, it’s one word now) will be the largest dump-turned-park in the world.
Roughly 17,000 years ago the Wisconsin ice sheet retreated from Staten Island, setting the stage for what would eventually become the Fresh Kills wetlands complex—a diverse marshland, teeming with life. American eels and Atlantic silversides flashed through creeks; bitterns, herons, and harriers carved the air. Native Americans, followed by colonists, sustained themselves on the area’s ducks, clams, crabs, mushrooms, wild grapes, and watercress. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Staten Islanders drained and ditched the meadows and cut salt hay for their livestock. They cultivated corn and wheat in the uplands and processed grain in a tidal mill at the head of Fresh Kills Creek. The muskrat trapping was reportedly excellent.
But a shadow would soon fall upon this arcadia. In 1917 the Metropolitan By-Products Company built a reduction plant at Fresh Kills that converted the city’s festering dregs—mostly food waste and dead animals—into fertilizers. Politics closed the plant after just a year, but Staten Islanders continued to tip their rubbish at Fresh Kills into pits that had been excavated for brick making, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers still dumped atop the marshes the spoils it dredged from the rapidly industrializing Arthur Kill, on the wetlands’ western edge.
Still, the volume of waste was penny-ante compared with what was to come. In the post-WWII years, New Yorkers were buying—and trashing—ever more stuff. Landfills in the other boroughs were maxing out, ocean dumping was banned, and no one wanted an incinerator in his or her backyard. Fresh Kills, primed by years of local dumping, was ripe for further exploitation.
The first garbage scows arrived in 1948, and within seven years Fresh Kills had become the largest landfill on the planet—sprawling over more than 2,600 acres. By the early 1970s it was annually receiving enough waste to fill both towers of the World Trade Center. The once-resplendent tidal marshes had taken on a nightmare quality. Machinery dripping with garbage juice clanked and roared over roads made of trash. On windy days, so much airborne litter collected on chicken-wire fences that it could topple their wooden supports.
Although the landfill’s original plan called for filling and flattening the marsh—the better to create a platform for building—engineers were by now mounding the waste, aiming for a height of about 600 feet. They layered garbage with soil in an attempt to tame the stench and the scavenging birds, dogs, and rats. Still, residents of Travis, on the landfill’s north side, kept their windows shut in the summer, and shoppers held their noses while bolting from parking lots into the Staten Island Mall, on the landfill’s eastern flank.
By 1991 the volume entombed at Fresh Kills exceeded that of the Great Wall of China. Six days a week, between 8 a.m. and midnight, the landfill accepted the equivalent of more than 2,800 garbage trucks of residential waste: stained mattresses, torn sheets, moldy carpeting, paint thinner, roach spray, mercury thermometers, and, it was rumored, the Mob’s dead bodies.
The transfer of waste groaned on until March 2001, when Mayor Rudolph Giuliani sent what was meant to be the city’s last barge of garbage across New York Harbor. Staten Islanders rejoiced. In early September the City of New York announced the start of an international design competition to transform the heaps of trash into a world-class park. Just one week later the city reopened the dump to absorb 1.2 million tons of debris, including human remains, from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Processing this material continued until July 2002; by then 48 design proposals had been winnowed to six teams, and then three.
Not surprisingly, all three designs emphasized active recreational opportunities and major ecological restoration. They also employed soaring rhetoric, played with themes of regeneration and reuse, and advocated the eradication of invasive phragmites, a perennial grass introduced from Asia. Some ideas were more quixotic than others. One group, RIOS Associates, imagined moving visitors around on amphibious buses powered with biogas generated by the digestion of landfill plants. Its design also called for a corn maze; a rodeo in which sanitation workers would race to lift eggs off traffic cones with bulldozer buckets; and 100 acres of solar collectors that resembled tree crowns on metal poles. JMP Landscape and John McAslan + Partners called for the construction of ecospheres with tropical, subarctic, and temperate climate zones.
In June 2003 the Department of City Planning announced the winner: Field Operations, the design studio behind Manhattan’s rabidly successful High Line Park. Critics praised the plan’s embrace of flux and indeterminacy over so-called “architectural heroics.” In the group’s “Lifescape,” the long march of time would eventually shape vast swaths of landfill into scenic landscapes. When completed, the park would undulate over more than 2,000 acres of lawns and grasslands rising to four distinct (garbage-filled) humps. Bands of hardwoods and pine-oak barrens would cast welcome shadows, and three saltwater creeks would nourish extensive tidal wetlands. Meanwhile, spaces closer to roadways and ferry landings would be developed for recreational and cultural activities that have since been hashed out in public meetings. In addition to esplanades, promenades, and panoramic viewpoints, the master plan now calls for more than 40 miles of multi-use trails, an amphitheater, horseback riding, kayaking, ball fields, restaurants, picnic bosques, bioswales, composting toilets, a native-seed farm, and an allée for playing bocce, badminton, and chess. Should the winters bring snow, expect sledding and cross-country skiing. (Back in the day, sanitation workers used to careen down the mounds on improvised sleds and saucers.)
Fourteen years after the competition announcement, an official completion date for Freshkills Park is still unknown. The effort is in its larval stages, mired in red tape and delayed by, among other things, a lawsuit filed by 9/11 families wanting to remove human remains from the West Mound. (A federal judge recently ruled that the remains will stay; a memorial will mark the site.) Today there are ball fields and a 3.3-mile greenway open on the park perimeter, but most of the interior is accessible to the public only on tours offered periodically throughout the year.
But permit-carrying scientists like bird researcher Mark Hauber can visit whenever they like. He is one of at least a half dozen researchers wading through Fresh Kills’ weeds in pursuit of knowledge. Richard Veit, a biologist who teaches at the College of Staten Island (CSI), is working with students to capture and band big brown, little brown, and red bats in the park. The U.S. Forest Service is collecting and breeding birches and willows, hoping to identify a cultivar that will best withstand the landfill’s unique climate. Then there’s Seth Wollney, a doctoral student at CSI, who’s studying, among other wildlife, native and invasive turtles and how they colonize and use the park’s retention ponds. Much of the work is basic science: What species are present, and in what numbers? Are animals passing through, or are they taking up residence and raising young? Is the wildlife healthy?
Each of these researchers was invited to embark on his or her Freshkills studies by park administrator Eloise Hirsh, a cherub-faced woman with gentle waves of silvery brown hair. Though Hirsh served as the first deputy commissioner of the city’s Parks Department from 1978 to 1981, she had never been to the dump. But she knew plenty about it; her husband had been the commissioner of the city’s Sanitation Department in the early 1970s. In 1988, on a hiatus from New York, the civic-minded couple moved to Pittsburgh, where Hirsh spent seven years directing the Office of City Planning, specializing in transforming industrial dead zones into assets like parks and so-called new-urbanist communities.
When Hirsh returned to New York in 2005, she learned about the plans for Fresh Kills from the city’s latest parks commissioner. She vividly remembers that spring morning when she visited for the first time. “It was misty. We were driving up these hills, and everything was very green. I saw two pheasants doing their mating dance, and I just fell in love.” Hirsh was named park administrator in September 2006 and, as a direct counterpoint to the landfill’s stigma, immediately began to organize public tours and events that would attract people from the community. “Staten Island has been dumped on for 50 years,” Hirsh says, “and you’re not going to get over that because the City of New York declares that they’re doing this nice project.”
Now when Hirsh brings Staten Islanders onto the mounds, many of them burst into tears, she says, incredulous at its beauty. But the landfill’s history is long, and there is still plenty of anger, skepticism, and mistrust. Former residents remember their homes being taken by eminent domain in the 1950s—for a park, some were told. They recall how quickly their marshes and meandering streams were filled and then piled with trash. The dump would soon close, the politicians repeatedly promised. They lied. To this day, many older residents insist the landfill contains toxic material, illicitly buried; they blame the dump for their poor health. (Although Fresh Kills accepted only residential waste, it still contains plenty of household heavy metals, solvents, acids, and pesticides.) Now they wonder if their suggestions, offered at all those public meetings, will be heeded. Will the park actually come to fruition? Will it be safe?
It was partially in response to this last concern that Hirsh opened the park to scientists. “I want people to see that the natural health of the place is being restored,” she says. “I want people to see that Freshkills is worthy of study, and that it’s safe for people to be here.” Perhaps most important, she says, “I want the site to exist as something other than a dump.”
Mark Hauber was the first researcher Hirsh invited to Fresh Kills. Here, and in three other study sites around the city and state, Hauber is documenting the age, sex, and health of nest-box occupants and tracking whether they successfully fledge their young. He’s also testing the minus-cule feathers of baby birds for toxins. Swallows (and occasionally wrens) eat insects that have an aquatic phase, Hauber explains, which means they could potentially pick up contaminants that leach from the garbage piles into the park’s various wetlands. Since the park plan calls for catch-and-release fishing and kayaking areas, water quality is of great interest to its administrators (as is the health of the soil and air).
With a more complete understanding of how birds use Freshkills, Hauber hopes eventually to make the park more suitable as a stopover site for migrants. All coastal migrants must fly past New York City, he notes, and “this new stopover, which is elevationally unique and diverse, will be critical for increasing available sites for feeding, resting, and hiding from predators.”
Might the park be equally hospitable to bats? “You’ve got this huge area of grasslands now,” Richard Veit says, “and it’s filled with grasshoppers and other insects.” In other words, bat food. “But there aren’t a lot of trees for bats to rest in around here.” For now. Foresters are currently clearing invasive plants (with the help of goats), restoring soils, and planting thousands of willows, poplars, oaks, maples, and hickories.
Freshkills may not have the cachet of a classical research station, but scientists are eager to work here because the park presents a novel opportunity to document rapid changes, to experiment with restoration techniques, and to influence park policy and land-use decisions, of which there are still plenty to be made. Remember: For Freshkills to succeed, it needs a great deal of constituent support. “So we have to listen to what everyone says,” Hirsh tells me. A golf course is under consideration (it would generate much-needed revenue). And so many people clamored for easier access to the Staten Island Mall that crews will soon construct a four-lane road through the park’s center.
That’s a worrisome thought for Seth Wollney, a barrel-shaped man with a scruffy beard, ponytail, and tattoos paying tribute to the Grateful Dead, Darwin, and turtles. Wollney fears that cars will crush his reptiles as they move between ponds. He’s concerned, too, about the city spraying Freshkills with larvicide to control the spread of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus. Mosquitoes, of course, are a staple food for birds and bats, and turtles dine on their larvae.
“Spraying kills dragonflies, too,” Wollney says. “And since dragonflies eat mosquitoes, we could end up with more mosquitoes. Could we use tree swallows to control insects instead? What about mosquito fish?” (a nonnative fish introduced to park ponds many years ago). For their part, Veit and Hauber fret about proposals to erect 30,000 solar panels and several wind turbines in the park: How will they affect the bats and the birds of the future? It’s hard to say without knowing how those animals use this space today. “That’s why you want scientists here,” Wollney says. “To get baseline data to answer these questions.”
Researchers do know that Freshkills’ biodiversity is on the rise. In addition to the pheasants Hirsh noted in 2006, there are herds of deer (which locals hunt on the down low), red foxes, rabbits, coyotes, snakes, turtles, and more than 200 species of birds. Why so many animals at what was, until recently, a reeking sacrifice zone? There’s more open space now, of course, with fewer men and machines clanking around, and better water and air quality.
Birders are excited about Freshkills because so much marsh and grassland on Long Island, in New Jersey, and in New England has been lost to development or to the consequences of climate change. Open space is a rare commodity in dense cities; that’s why Central Park is so important to resident and migratory birds. Considering its size, and with a richer mix of habitats, Freshkills may be even more significant, ornithologically speaking.
Meanwhile, the city’s mountains of garbage continue to grow. New Yorkers are still generating enough waste daily to fill the Empire State Building, then exporting it by truck and train to landfills in Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina. As ever, trash flows toward low-density, low-income communities, most of which are unlikely to hold international design competitions once their dumps max out.
But the Freshkills scientists have plenty to focus on before pondering such matters. For Richard Hallett, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service, which is breeding and then planting the park’s poplars and willows, Freshkills is “a perfect place to test new ways of creating green space in urban areas, which is a focus of many cities. There are so many urban areas like this”—brownfields and other post-industrial sites—“so there’s a great need to know how they can grow forests. The methodology we’re using is portable to other cities and situations.”
Staten Island is starting to reimagine itself as a vibrant, forward-thinking place, an ecological and cultural destination. Neighborhood home prices are increasing, and two new hotels have popped up on the landfill’s perimeter. It’s fair to assume that at least a few guests have little idea of what lies beneath the windswept meadows just outside their windows.
Today the park represents different things to different people. But before long, the history—and even the mythology—of these much-maligned acres may hardly matter. For wildlife and for people, Freshkills will be an oasis in a hot and clamoring city. While we’ll likely never see the profusion of birds, fish, game, and plants that delighted Fresh Kills’ earliest human visitors, we may see, if we’re wise enough to leave most of this place alone, something of equal value: a testament to nature’s vast power to heal.
Elizabeth Royte|July – August 2015
Stop two massive mines from destroying essential wildlife habitat
Two massive mines could soon destroy irreplaceable habitat for grizzly bears and bull trout!
The awe-inspiring Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in Montana contains essential undeveloped habitat for grizzly bears and bull trout—threatened species protected by the Endangered Species Act.
Today, however, this remote ecosystem is at imminent risk of being dug up, polluted and destroyed to create two massive copper and silver mines.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has already given these mines the green light.
Operations at the Rock Creek Mine are expected to extract 10,000 tons of copper and silver ore EVERY DAY for up to 35 years, affecting 7,000 acres of wildlife habitat.
Operations at the Montanore Mine are expected to extract up to 20,000 tons EVERY DAY for up to 20 years, damaging more than 1,500 acres of forest and making wilderness streams run dry.
In 2014, the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that as few as 21 grizzly bears remained in the Cabinet Mountains. If these mines are developed, we risk losing this special place and the wildlife that depends on it.
We must do everything we can to fight back, but we’re up against the powerful mining industry and its allies. These companies are pushing hard to develop the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, and the only thing standing in their way is a determined group of concerned citizens and the power of the law.
Earthjustice has been battling in court to save this wilderness for more than a decade…and we’re not about to give up now.
We have the chance right now to stop these two massive mines from harming threatened grizzly bears and bull trout and degrading a majestic wilderness area…but the clock is ticking!
Clean air forum highlights asthma risk in Pittsburgh
In anticipation of the summer smog season, Pittsburgh residents came out in droves this spring to hear from PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center staff and local experts about the threat air pollution poses to the city and region.
Nearly 150 people attended a clean air forum held in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh to see a presentation of air quality maps from Carnegie Mellon University that showed a neighborhood-by-neighborhood analysis of air pollution for the region. Attendees also heard from a local asthma specialist about how air pollution revealed in the maps could impact their health.
“With more than 100,000 Pittsburghers suffering from asthma and ongoing smog alert days in the region, it’s crucial that the Allegheny County Health Department start to rein in the worst sources of pollution as quickly as possible,” stated PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center’s Stephen Riccardi.
4 Big Recycling Myths Tossed Out
America’s recycling system is in crisis.
That’s the picture the Washington Post recently painted in a damning story on the state of recycling in the United States. First, the mixed-material “blue bins,” designed to decrease the hassle of sorting, are contaminating the recycling coming into facilities—meaning recyclable materials end up getting chucked into landfills along with trash. Second, thanks to lighter packaging, dwindling demand for newsprint, and low oil prices, the commodity prices for recyclables have decreased—so China, which used to buy most of our recycled materials, no longer has incentive to do so. According to the Post, this means that recycling is no longer profitable for waste management companies, and municipalities are stretching to pick up the cost.
So is the end of recycling drawing nigh? Not necessarily. The experts that I spoke to agreed that our system is broken—but for a slightly different set of reasons than those that the Post listed. And guess what? They think there’s a way to fix it. Let’s take a closer look at some of the common myths about recycling:
Myth #1: Recycling was invented to reduce waste.
Back in the 1970s, says Samantha MacBride, a sociologist at CUNY’s Baruch School of Public Affairs and author of the book Recycling Reconsidered, cities and towns became overwhelmed by the amount of plastic packaging entering the waste stream and started demanding something be done about it. In order to avoid regulation and the banning of plastic products they used, the beverage and packaging industry pushed municipal recycling programs. Decades later, the plastics used for packaging have barely been regulated—so cities and towns have to deal with more waste than ever before.
The problem is so overwhelming that many contract with private trash companies, the largest of which is publicly-traded Waste Management, which brought in nearly $14 billion last year. Recycling only generates a fraction of the revenue of these companies (much more comes from landfill, which requires less labor), but they are able to make some profit from selling bales of recycled materials to countries like China as raw material. When commodity prices are low, they shut down recycling plants and put recyclable materials in landfills, or renegotiate contracts with cities to charge more for their services. In short, these corporations have no incentive to reduce waste.
Myth #2: Blue bins are what’s mucking up the recycling stream.
In single stream recycling—the “blue bin” model—consumers put all their recyclables in one bin, while in dual stream, the consumer sorts the materials at the curb into different bins. According to Container Recycling Institute president Susan Collins, data does suggest that single stream recycling leads to more contamination than dual stream—garbage gets thrown into blue bins at a higher rate, spoiling what’s actually recyclable.
But MacBride says that contamination rates in single-stream recycling are not actually that much higher than that in dual stream recycling—and that people who complain about blue bins are missing a much larger problem: Because the packaging and beverage industry has opposed banning even the most troublesome plastics, like polystyrene, there are now “thousands of different kinds of plastics,” says MacBride. In 2013, the US generated 14 million tons of container and packaging plastic. It takes so much work to sort through that mess that it’s nearly impossible to make a profit doing it—so companies like Waste Management send it to China. Plus, all of the different kinds of plastics used for packaging confuse consumers. (Can the soda cap be recycled or just the bottle? What about the bag inside the cereal box?)
Myth #3: Falling commodity prices mean the end of recycling.
Big, profit-driven trash companies like Waste Management argue that factors like low oil prices, less demand for newsprint, lighter-weight packaging, and contamination from single stream recycling have slashed commodity prices and made recycling untenable. “It isn’t profitable for us, and we have to react by shutting down plants,” Waste Management CEO David Steiner told the Wall Street Journal. But Collins says this is “not a surprise to anyone.” She and other recycling advocates point out that recycling markets fluctuate like any commodity; oil prices and the market will eventually adapt and rebound.
Myth #4: The solution is to quit recycling—
it’s just not worth it. That’s the story Big Waste has been peddling. But some smaller recycling outfits aren’t buying it. Take the city of St. Paul, Minnesota: Fifteen years ago, city officials balked when Waste Management raised its rates for the city’s curbside pickup program by 40 percent. So St. Paul ditched Waste Management and contracted with a new partner: a nonprofit called Eureka Recycling. Since 2001, Eureka reports, its recycling program has generated $3.5 million in revenue and 100 new jobs. It also diverts 50 percent of its trash away from the landfill, with a goal of 75 percent in the next 5 years*—an accomplishment it has achieved largely through a program that gives consumers clear instructions about what they can recycle.
Employee-owned Recology in San Francisco also educates residents about recycling and employs hundreds of people to sort the materials coming into their recycling facility. As a result, while Recology, which saves 92 percent of San Francisco’s trash from the landfill, isn’t seeing Wall-Street-level profits, it isn’t experiencing a crisis either. As Collins points out, when commodity prices are down, the the highest quality bales are sold first, rewarding operations doing the best job recycling.
One way to improve the bales: Ditch the plastics that are hardest to recycle. Indeed, a growing number of cities—including San Francisco—have banned plastic bags and polystyrene. The result is less sorting required at the facility—and better bales. As Recology manager Robert Reed told me, “We are confident that we can move our materials because of the high quality of the bales that we make and the quality of our recycling process
Luke Whelan|Jul. 13, 2015
Are You Eating Hidden PFASs? Why You Need to Stop ASAP.
PFASs are probably one of the nastiest toxic substances you’ve never heard of—but might be ingesting trace amounts almost every day.
PFASs stands for poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances. They’re an industrial solvent that is added to the containers of common foods, plus electronics, footwear, sleeping bags, raingear and tents. They’re what help fabrics repel water. They also keep microwave popcorn from sticking to the bag, pizza boxes from collapsing no matter how greasy they get from the cheese and pepperoni and food from sticking in a non-stick pan.
They’re related to PFOAs, a chemical the Dupont Company used to add to Teflon to make it non-stick before the public learned that PFOAs cause cancer and poisoned drinking water, Environmental Working Group reports in “Poisoned Legacy.” Public outcry led to a ban on PFOAs. Now, EWG has learned that PFOAs were simply replaced by PFASs, which are also carcinogenic and widespread.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that traces of the chemicals can be found in the bloodstreams of nearly every American alive today, reports Tech Times. They can also pass into embryos developing in the womb. Plus, many animals have trace amounts of PFOAs in their blood, including polar bears.
In addition to cancer, PFASs have been found to cause “liver toxicity, disruption of lipid metabolism and the immune and endocrine systems, adverse neurobehavioral effects, neonatal toxicity and death, and tumors in multiple organ systems,” scientists wrote in Environmental Health Perspectives. Despite the public health threat they pose, companies that use products tainted with PFASs are not required to disclose the presence of this chemical or the exposure consumers might suffer. If you want protection, it’s up to you!
What Can You Do?
1) Pop popcorn in a pot with oil, or microwave in a plain paper bag.
Stop eating popcorn from standard microwave bags. It only takes a couple minutes more to pop corn in a covered pot with a little oil. Or, simply put corn kernels in a plain paper bag and curl up the end (DON’T STAPLE OR TAPE IT). The popcorn will pop in the bag; try it a few times until you find the right amount of time for your microwave.
2) Pick up your pizza rather than have it delivered, or ask them to wrap it in aluminum foil rather than put it in a pizza box.
Take a pizza stone or cookie sheet with you when you pick up your pizza, and have them put it on that rather than in their box. Or, if it is being delivered, ask them to wrap it in aluminum foil rather than put it in the box. If they insist on the box, they can still wrap it in foil first.
3) Skip greasy fast food you carry out in containers that could be manufactured using the chemical.
If you are carrying out, take your own safe, reusable containers for the food. It’s always more eco-friendly to take your own reusable containers for carry-out, anyway.
4) Cook with stainless steel or cast iron.
At home, throw away any non-stick cookware you still have. Replace it with stainless steel or seasoned cast iron. Yes, cast iron is a bit heavy, but it is great for cooking just about everything. Here’s how you can season it so food won’t stick.
5) Bake with silicone or stainless steel cookie sheets, cake pans and pie tins.
Since you grease the pans anyway.
Diane MacEachern|July 18, 2015
Tips for Avoiding BPA in Canned Food
The recently published Environmental Working Group (EWG) study, “BPA in Canned Food: Behind the Brand Curtain,” on Bisphenol A (BPA) contamination in canned foods highlighted what many consumers don’t know—your food contains literally hundreds of chemicals. Present in trace amounts, some enter food by leaching from the container (such as the epoxy lining of metal cans). Whether or not this continuous, low dose exposure to a complex cocktail of chemicals poses a risk to human health is poorly understood and a polarizing topic that is difficult for consumers to navigate.
The EWG focused on one of the most well-known of these chemicals: BPA. Metal food cans are lined with an epoxy resin in order to prevent corrosion and other damage that could heighten the risk of contamination with botulism. BPA is frequently found in these resins because it makes it more durable, and is also found in a myriad of other products including polycarbonate plastics, cash register receipts, medical devices and fire retardants. BPA is also considered an endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC) because it can interfere with hormones, most notably estrogen. It is for this reason that many individuals are seeking ways to reduce exposure.
Whether or not a canned food product is packaged with a BPA-containing lining such as epoxy is typically not disclosed. However, testing by Consumers Union (which publishes Consumer Reports) and other groups have previously found that use of BPA-containing lining in food cans is widespread. Some manufacturers have announced their intention to phase out and discontinue use of BPA-containing can linings in favor of BPA-free linings or alternative packaging methods. The EWG study was conducted to follow up on that manufacturer claim, and assess progress towards that goal. The study found that only 12 percent of brands were truly BPA-free. An important caveat of the study is that the EWG did not conduct independent tests to validate their findings so the conclusions are entirely based on self-reported data. All data for the EWG study came from a market survey, conducted using the tool LabelINSIGHT.
Some cans have a BPA-free label but there are no uniform or enforceable standards for making such a claim. So, importantly, even if a can is labeled as BPA-free, there is no guarantee that the claim is valid. For their survey, the EWG considered a can to be BPA-free if the can lining was not intentionally manufactured with BPA. Companies reporting “trace amounts” of BPA, BPA levels in compliance with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements, or levels “below” or “well below” FDA requirements were classified as containing BPA unless the manufactures could provide data on the specific levels. So the percent of brands that are truly BPA-free may be a little higher than the estimated 12 percent.
Consumers should also be aware that “BPA-free” does not mean “EDC-free.” Hundreds of EDCs have now been identified and are ubiquitous in food packaging, personal care products, household cleaners, cookware, furniture and building materials. Some of the most well-known EDCs are fire retardants (used in furniture, electronics and building materials), surfactants (used on waterproof fabrics and cookware,) plasticizers (used in food materials, medical devices, the coating of pharmaceuticals, paints, personal care products, and cosmetics) and pesticides. Although they have different mechanisms of action in the body, they are classified as EDCs because they disrupt aspects of the endocrine system, including the activity of estrogen, testosterone and the thyroid hormone.
One particular concern is exposure during critical windows of development, including gestation (pregnancy), when hormones play a fundamentally important role in shaping organs, such as the brain. Early childhood and puberty are also considered to be especially vulnerable periods to chemical exposures. Health effects associated with EDC exposure include lower sperm counts, infertility, early puberty, increased breast and prostate cancer risk, obesity and metabolic disease.
Because EDCs are present in foods and food packing in such small amounts, the FDA and other regulatory agencies consider them safe and insist that people are not exposed at levels high enough to cause health effects. However, what’s disturbing about this practice is that it leaves consumers utterly in the dark about the nature of the potentially dangerous chemicals they unwittingly put into their bodies every day.
BPA is ubiquitous and the Center for Disease Control has estimated that nearly all Americans are continuously exposed. More than a thousand studies, using a variety of animal models and other laboratory tests, have identified BPA-related effects including early puberty, heightened risk of breast and prostate cancer, ovarian malformations and effects on the developing brain. BPA exposure has also been associated with behavioral effects in children and cardiovascular disease risk in adults. The FDA has repeatedly concluded, however, that current exposure levels pose no significant health risk—a position they reiterated last year. This conflicting information can make it difficult for consumers to understand the state of the science and make informed purchasing decisions.
While it’s unclear exactly how many EDCs are in food, the FDA is currently tracking hundreds of chemicals present in trace amounts. Most of these chemicals have not undergone any toxicity testing of any kind, and current regulatory policy does not require that they be tested for endocrine disrupting effects. Although it is impossible to know precisely which foods are contaminated and which are not, there are simple, general things consumers can do to significantly reduce chemical exposure.
Avoiding heavily processed and packaged food is one of the most effective ways, as is choosing locally sourced organic foods. Be aware that plastics can leach other chemicals besides BPA, including BPS, a chemical structurally similar to BPA. There is growing evidence that BPS is also capable of interfering with estrogen signaling. Softer plastics and plastic wraps contain a class of chemicals called phthalates, some of which interfere with testosterone signaling.
Cardboard beverage containers are lined with a plastic-like coating to keep them from leaking, and this coating can leach chemicals into the liquid inside. To minimize exposure, choose milk and other liquids sold in glass containers, and store beverages at home in glass. Glass is inert and will not react with the liquid leaving a funny taste like metal. Acidic foods, such as coffee and tomato juice, and alcoholic beverages are most likely to react with the food containers so when possible, purchase these items in glass. Also, avoid microwaving food on plastic or in plastic packaging because this can cause chemicals to leach into the food. Use a ceramic plate or glass container instead.
Can linings were developed for a critical reason: to prevent botulism and spoilage. They do an excellent job at that, but an unintended consequence is that they leach trace amounts of BPA and other chemicals. Plastic food packaging also helps keep food safe from bacteria, but largely exists for another reason: convenience. The vast majority of all disposable plastic water bottles, utensils, cups and take-away cartons end up in a landfill or the ocean, where it takes hundreds if not thousands of years to decay. As a result of all that pollution, there is nowhere on Earth that is not chemically contaminated. Glass bottles, metal utensils and similar materials are recyclable but also durable and reusable, making them a “greener” choice. Using data from the EWG and others to reduce chemical exposures, but also waste, is a good choice for individual health and the health of our planet.
Dr. Heather Patisaul |Associate Professor of Biological Sciences|NC State University|July 16, 2015
Spacecraft spots Earth’s ‘bigger, older cousin’
Scientists have spotted a planet outside our own solar system that’s the most likely yet to harbor life.
NASA’s Kepler space telescope has captured evidence of the potentially habitable planet. Kepler 452b, as it’s known, is only slightly larger than Earth and is positioned just far enough from its star to boast liquid water, a prerequisite for life as we know it.
In the crowning touch, it orbits a star much like our own. Other planets outside our solar system are similar to Earth but orbit much smaller, cooler stars than our own sun. Such stars might not be as friendly to life as the star on which Earthly life depends.
“Today Earth is a little less lonely because there’s a new kid on the block,” Jon Jenkins of NASA’s Ames Research Center said Thursday. “In my mind this is indeed the closest thing we have to a planet like the Earth, especially in terms of the distance we find it from its star.”
Kepler 452b takes 385 days to orbit its star, just a little more than Earth takes. The planet is in a solar system 1,400 light years from our own.
Felicity Wishart, campaign director of the Fight for the Reef, Felicity has spearheaded this campaign that has led to significant Great Barrier Reef protection policies.
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