ConsRep 1507 E

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 ‏

A new Blue Marble.

Earth.

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
* Environment
* Infrastructure
* 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/

Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch

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.

Adam Scott|Environmental Defense|7/23/15

The White House, Washington

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.

Thanks, from the NASA New Horizons team!

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

  1. Preserve the Crude Oil Export Ban – here
  2. Tell Congress- Don’t gut the Land and Water Conservation Fund – here
  3. Stop Monsanto’s Dream Bill – here
  4. 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

Endangered Species

‘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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Make sure your bees have a clean source of water.
  6. 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

news/2010_jan/puffin_colony

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.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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.

Everglades

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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!
  5. 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

Forestry

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! ***

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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.

2) Allergies
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

Extreme Weather

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

Energy

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.”

George Cavros|7/19/15

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

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

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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:

Greenpeace:

“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.”

Sierra Club:

“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.”

Environment America:

“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.”

Earthjustice:

“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

Land Conservation

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!

Katherine O’Brien|Earthjustice|7/24/15

Air Quality

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.

Recycling

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

Miscellaneous

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.

USA TODAY|7/24/15

In Memoriam

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.

Environmental Links

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

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ConsRep 1507 C

It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. ~Rachel Carson  

Announcements

Workshop set for gopher tortoise conservation in central Florida

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is holding regional workshops to present information on opportunities for local governments to help conserve gopher tortoises in Florida.

The goal of these workshops is to identify ways cities and counties can participate in protecting one of Florida’s threatened species.

“Partnerships involving cities, counties and the FWC have led to wonderful projects to conserve gopher tortoises and their habitats,”

said Alex Kalfin, Local Government Coordinator for the FWC’s Gopher Tortoise Management Program.

“We look forward every year to our regional workshops, where representatives of local governments can find out how to get involved in gopher tortoise conservation.”

A workshop is scheduled in central Florida. Representatives from local governments in nearby counties are encouraged to attend.

Highlands County

Wednesday, July 22

9 a.m. – noon

Bert J. Harris Jr. Agricultural Center

4509 George Blvd.

Sebring, FL 33875

The workshop is free, but registration is required, as space is limited.

To register, please send your name and the name of your organization to Alex.Kalfin@MyFWC.com.

For more information, and to download the Gopher Tortoise Management Plan, visit MyFWC.com/GopherTortoise and click on “Management Plan.”

The 7th Annual Southeast Florida Regional Climate Summit 

December 1-3, 2015

Now more than ever we need to keep up with the current science, policy, impacts, and economics of the CHANGES in our CLIMATE and how they affect businesses, homeowners and local governments!

Sign up now for the 7th Annual Southeast Florida Regional Climate Leadership Summit –

a major three-day event  presenting topics ranging from local sea level rise and the economic implications of climate change,

to governmental and international collaborations and corporate initiatives! 

Register early at GreenKeys.info (you will be taken to the Monroe County Sustainability homepage.

Please look for the white Summit Registration button on that page to register) as seating is limited and last year’s event was SOLD OUT!

Monroe County and the City of Key West will co-host this year’s event on behalf of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact.

Sponsorship opportunities are available for companies and organizations that would like to take advantage of the event to promote their services.

The agenda is being updated as plans proceed, so stay tuned, and don’t forget to register before it’s too late!

Discount pricing for early Registration is in effect only until August 31st.

Registration questions may be directed to Karen Chang at kchang@sfrpc.com

Thank you and we hope to see YOU There!

2015 Florida Wildflower Symposium

Make plans to attend the 2015 Florida Wildflower Symposium at beautiful Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando on Sept. 25-26.

The event will include sessions on Florida’s bees and butterflies and the wildflowers they depend on, as well as landscaping for shade, wildlife and more.

Field trips to Central Florida’s beautiful natural lands are planned for Sept. 25, along with  dinner at Leu Gardens,  featuring keynote speaker J.C. Cahill,

an experimental plant ecologist best known as lead scientist on the PBS Nature series documentary “What Plants Talk About.”

On Sept. 26, classroom sessions, workshops and a plant sale are planned. A variety of vendors will be on hand, too.

`Circle the calendar and make plans to join us! Visit the Symposium web page to view sponsorship opportunities and learn more.

Panther Exhibit To Open July 18,2015

Uno Is Currently Living Behind the Scenes

Young Panther Blinded by Shotgun Is

Beneficiary of Cooperative Effort Between Wildlife Officials and Naples Zoo

Naples Zoo is creating a permanent home for a young Florida panther named Uno that cannot be returned to the wild after it was blinded by a shotgun blast.

This new panther exhibit will focus on expanding public awareness of the issues surrounding the growing number of cats in the area.

Naples Zoo is also fundraising for a new veterinary hospital to provide exceptional care for this cat as well as the many rare species at the Zoo.

And to meet the increased need to care for injured or orphaned panthers,

Naples Zoo is also creating habitat space to provide temporary care along with an all-new large animal veterinary clinic.

This is part of a cooperative effort with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the

Florida Fish and Wildlife and Conservation Commission (FWC) to meet their needs in recovering the state’s panthers.

Report a Panther Sighting | Guide to Living with Panthers

Of Interest to All

Oil well proposed for Broward Everglades

A Miami company has applied for a permit to drill for oil in the Everglades of western Broward County, setting off a likely fight with environmentalists over a remote area inhabited by wading birds, alligators and other wildlife.

“As second-generation Floridians and owners of this property for over 50 years, we are excited about the opportunities this land and these resources will provide for Florida”,- John Kanter.

Kanter Real Estate LLC, which owns 20,000 undeveloped acres of the Everglades in far southwestern Broward County, filed applications with the state to drill a well more than two miles deep to assess the feasibility of extracting oil. The well would stand about five miles west of Miramar.

The company said the application filed this week is “one of the first steps in a long-term plan that includes proposed mining, as well as water storage and water quality improvement components that have the potential for assisting with Everglades restoration.”

The land was originally acquired by Joseph Kanter, a Miami banker, real estate developer and philanthropist who helped found Lauderhill and several other communities. His plans to build a town on the Everglades land never materialized. The South Florida Water Management District acquired the rights to control the water flowing over the land, as part of its management of the Everglades.

Kanter’s son John said in a written statement the company plans to develop its holding in an environmentally sensitive manner.

Oil drilling is not historically compatible with protecting the water supply and Everglades restoration.

“As second-generation Floridians and owners of this property for over 50 years, we are excited about the opportunities this land and these resources will provide for Florida,” he said. “We understand and value Florida’s precious natural resources and believe the team of experts we have hired will allow us to complete the project safely while protecting Florida’s environment. As stewards of this land, we are fully invested in ensuring this project provides the maximum public benefit while also providing Florida with solutions for water storage and treatment in South Florida.”- Lisa Interlandi, Everglades Law Center

The land rests on an underground series of oil deposits called the Sunniland Trend, which runs from Fort Myers to Miami, where South Florida’s modest oil business has quietly gone on since the 1940s. In the past few years, there has been greater interest in looking for additional Sunniland oil deposits, including a pending plan for seismic exploration at Big Cypress National Preserve, where oil wells have been active in two locations for years.

Environmentalists, who only learned of the proposal Friday, said that drilling that area would threaten the region’s water supply, destroy wildlife habitat and complicate the restoration of the Everglades.

“I can tell you categorically it’s a big concern,” said Lisa Interlandi, staff attorney for the Everglades Law Center. “Oil drilling is not historically compatible with protecting the water supply and Everglades restoration.”

Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, said he would fight the proposal but that the state’s regulators tend to rubber-stamp oil drilling applications. He said the work would expose the Biscayne aquifer, the porous layer of underground limestone that serves as a source of South Florida’s drinking water.

“It’s ludicrous to consider doing this to the Everglades and the water supply,” he said. “This is the recharge area for the Biscayne Aquifer. Any rock mining or oil drilling is going to cut through the Biscayne Aquifer.”

The plan filed with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection calls for a five-acre oil pad, with the drill reaching 11,800 feet. Once up and running, the drilling would take place 24 hours a day for 60 to 80 days. A crew of 12 to 18 people would work on site.

The well would be exploratory only. There are no plans yet for pipelines or other means of transporting the oil.

Mark Randall, David Fleshler/ Sun Sentinel

Search for Everglades oil could move near Broward suburbs

In 2000, the U.S. Geological Survey reported that 14 wells had been drilled into the Sunniland oil trend. Ten were active and while no new wells had been drilled, five horizontal legs had been added to existing wells to up production.

Richard M. Pollastro and Christopher J. Schenk U.S. Geological Survey

A South Florida family that made its fortune in real estate asked the state this week to drill an exploratory oil well in marshes just west of Broward County suburbs, marking the first time the search for Everglades crude has extended so far east.

“As second generation Floridians and owners of this property for over 50 years, we are excited about the opportunities this land and these resources will provide for Florida,” John Kanter of the Kanter Family Foundation said in a statement. He declined a request for an interview.

The request for a drilling permit, the first step in what would likely be a lengthy review process, came as a surprise to environmentalists. While there has been a renewed surge of interest in exploring and drilling in existing oil fields in Southwest Florida, that had cooled with falling oil prices. And no company has previously targeted anything near the proposed location, along a major drainage canal about a half-dozen miles west of U.S. 27 and Miramar.

“I’m just kind of shaking my head,” said Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, which opposes expanded drilling. “I guess it was just a matter of time, but it’s interesting with oil prices plummeting that they decided to start drilling …. I would imagine the reaction from the community to drilling that close to the urban area would be intense.”

The well would be a traditional vertical well that could go nearly 12,000 feet deep, a Kanter spokeswoman said, and is intended to tap into the vast Sunniland trend, an oil formation that the U.S. Geological Survey said extends across all of South Florida and west into the Gulf of Mexico. The application from the Kanter Corp. of Florida, based in Miami, is the first step in a “long-term plan” that the company says also would include rock mining, another major concern for environmentalists.

If approved, the well would be the first so far east of the small drilling operations in the Big Cypress Preserve, which have hummed along for decades. Only one well has ever been dug in Broward County, said Florida Department of Environmental Protection communications director Lauren Engel. In 1985, a Texas company drilled just inside western Broward County line near Collier County. The well was plugged and abandoned the same year.

Shell Oil also surveyed section of far western Broward in the 1980s using thumper trucks, which send vibrations deep into the earth in search of oil, but drilled no wells.

Burnett Oil, another Texas company, has asked the National Park Service to expand the search for oil in Big Cypress, also using thumpers. But in June, Burnett dramatically scaled back its request after fierce opposition from environmentalists.

Audubon Florida executive director Eric Draper wondered whether the family might be angling for leverage in a legal fight with the state, which uses the land as part of its vast water conservation area to hold water for flood control.

“There have been some huge payouts to landowners in the [water conservation areas] arguing property rights claims because they cannot use their land,” he said in an email.

In a statement, the family said it purchased 20,000 acres more than 50 years ago. John Kanter’s father, Joseph, an Alabama native who became one of the top 10 apartment builders in the 1940s and 50s and later a banker, told the Herald in 1983 that he bought the land hoping to build a new city in the Everglades.

“Broward County has to expand, and that will be the land that will come up next,” he said.

Drilling on the Sunniland trend has so far been limited to a few locations in Lee County, Hendry and Collier counties, much of it crisscrossing Everglades wetlands.

According to Kanter’s application, the drilling operation would be contained on five acres, reached by roads along the L-67A levee.

DEP regulators have up to 30 days to determine if the application is complete and could ask for more information before moving forward, Engel said. The family would also need to obtain a water use permit from the South Florida Water Management District, said spokesman Randy Smith.

In addition to searching for oil, drilling could also be used to search for quality limestone. The family said mining operations could potentially provide more storage for water. But environmentalists say pits pose too big a risk of contamination to drinking water supplies in the shallow Biscayne Aquifer and argue that restoring wetlands to their natural condition would be far more beneficial.

Because a drilling operation would occur on habitat for endangered species including Florida panthers, Everglades snail kites, Cape Sable seaside sparrows and wood storks, and could generate gallons and gallons of wastewater, federal permits could also be required.

“It’s a complicated process but that process has never stopped any drillers from going into sensitive areas,” Schwartz said. “It’s ironic that a rock mine could be considered a facilitator of Everglades restoration. It’s weird. But that’s Florida.”

Jenny Staletovich|MiamiHerald.com

Big Energy Threatens the Everglades as never before

In the years since South Florida Wildlands has been working to protect wildlife and habitat in the Greater Everglades, we have never faced a combination of issues that have such capacity to destroy and degrade this unique landscape.  Folks who live in South Florida and follow local media are aware that a company (Kanter Real Estate LLC) has just applied for a permit to drill for oil and dig limestone mines on 20,000 acres of Everglades it owns in Broward County.  Stories below from CBS 4, the Sun-Sentinel and Miami-Herald provide maps and lots of background (including sound bites from South Florida Wildlands) on this breaking story:

http://miami.cbslocal.com/2015/07/13/company-wants-exploratory-oil-well-west-of-miramar/

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article27014374.html

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-broward-oil-drilling-20150710-story.html

Town hall meetings and further action alerts are coming soon on this brand new issue (though very similar to a battle we and our allies fought – and won – over oil drilling in the Western Everglades).

http://www.local10.com/news/south-florida-environmentalists-stop-oil-drilling-plans/26942746

But that’s not all.  We recently learned that Florida and Power and Light (FPL) is still intent on developing 3,000 acres of primary Florida panther habitat they bought just north of the Big Cypress National Preserve and Seminole Reservation for the purpose of building the largest gas-fired electrical generating plant in the nation.  Having lost a lawsuit with the Seminole Tribe of Florida over agricultural zoning on the property, FPL is now asking Hendry County to create a new land use type (Electrical Generating Facility) and move the property into that new classification.

The FPL property is surrounded by public lands that were acquired at tremendous cost and effort (e.g. the Big Cypress National Preserve, Dinner Island Wildlife Management Area, Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest) and contain some of the most important contiguous upland habitat for Florida panthers, black bears, and other wildlife in South Florida.  For years, the entire property had been expected to be protected by a Florida Forever land protection project called “Panther Glades.”  Unfortunately, funds were never available to complete that purchase prior to FPL buying the land for their own purposes.  From the standpoint of our stressed out wildlife in South Florida, FPL could not have chosen a worse location for their new power plant if they had tried.  Article from the Clewiston News explains more about what FPL is trying get the Hendry County Commission to do for them:

http://florida.newszap.com/clewiston/139732-113/florida-power-and-light-asks-hendry-county-to-change-its-comprehensive-plan

Earlier story on the proposed power plant and its expected impacts on wildlife is here:

http://www.scrippsmedia.com/fox4now/news/134352173.html

Description of Panther Glades is here:

http://www.dep.state.fl.us/lands/FFAnnual/Panther_Glades.pdf

But wait – there’s more.  In the Big Cypress National Preserve, another company (Burnett Oil Company of Ft. Worth, Texas) is applying for a permit to conduct seismic testing for oil across 110 square miles (70,000 acres) in the heart of the preserve.  The intent is to locate oil deposits before opening up the Big Cypress to additional oil drilling.  A federal comment period is open until the middle of August.  For those wondering how this can take place inside a national preserve – most of the below ground oil rights are owned by a company named Collier Resources while the National Park Service controls only the surface.  Collier Resources has leased some of these rights to Burnett Oil for the purpose of the seismic survey.  Another news story from the Sun-Sentinel summarizes this project – which would take place on some of the most sensitive and biodiverse wetlands in Florida:

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-big-cypress-oil-20150617-story.html

Finally, FPL continues to pursue their plans to construct two new nuclear reactors at Turkey Point on the shores of Biscayne Bay – next to some of the lowest lying land in South Florida (expected to be inundated with only a 6 inch rise in sea level) and right next door to Biscayne National Park.  We also expect a final decision this summer from the National Park Service on the request to turn over the eastern side of Everglades National Park to FPL for the purpose of constructing three massive power lines from Turkey Point to points north.  An article from the Broward and Palm Beach NewTimes explains how we reached this strange point – in spite of  congress having told the National Park Service years ago to buy out all land necessary to protect the lifeblood of fresh water into Everglades National Park:

http://www.browardpalmbeach.com/news/will-fpl-run-power-lines-through-the-everglades-6353489

Matthew Schwartz|Executive Director|South Florida Wildlands Association

Shining a Light on Light Pollution (Infographic)

Have you ever drifted off with the lights on? It turns out this could be doing more damage to your mental and physical health than you might think.

Shining a Light on Light Pollution (Infographic)

Light pollution is the name for the artificial light that spills from residential and urban areas when it would otherwise be dark outside. It can take many forms, such as urban sky glow and glare, but one thing that all forms of light pollution have in common is the effect it can have on your circadian rhythm. This rhythm controls much of our behaviors and our health.

Read the infographic below to learn more about what light pollution is and how it affects our bodies.

light pollution infographicInfographic from Nature Bright

Ashlyn Kittrell|July 11, 2015

Climate change may knock seafood off the menu

Researchers warn of a serious threat to fish, mussels and other marine species as carbon dioxide acidifies the world’s waters and increases temperatures.

LONDON, 7 July, 2015 – Pink salmon – the smallest and most abundant of the Pacific salmon species, and a supper table mainstay in many parts of the world – may be swimming towards trouble.

And they are not the only dish likely to disappear from the menu. Mussels, oysters, clam and scallop could all become scarcer and more expensive as the seas become more acid. And as the world’s waters warm, fish will start to migrate away from their normal grounds at an ever-increasing rate.

New research shows that as the world’s waters acidify because of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, the pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) could become smaller and less likely to survive.

Potentially problematic

Previous studies have repeatedly and consistently explored potentially problematic consequences of change in the pH value of the world’s oceans. The higher the carbon dioxide concentrations in the air as a consequence of the burning of fossil fuels, the greater the change in oceanic acidity levels.

But researchers at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and colleagues looked at the special problems of freshwater fish.

Only about 0.8% of the world’s water is fresh – that is, found in lakes and rivers – but freshwater species represent 40% of all fishes. Salmon spawn and the young are reared in fresh water, before taking to the seas to mature, then returning to repeat the cycle.

The Vancouver scientists report in Nature Climate Change that they tested very young embryos in water at acidity levels expected at the end of this century, and observed them for 10 weeks.

They found that these laboratory-reared salmon were smaller, and their ability to smell was reduced, which could mean problems in returning to their spawning grounds or for scenting danger and responding to it.

“It is not too late for society to benefit greatly from immediate reductions in CO2 emissions”

At the age of seaward migration, they were less able to use oxygen in their muscles, which promised problems finding food, evading predators or making long journeys.

“The increase in carbon dioxide in water is actually quite small from a chemistry perspective, so we didn’t expect to see so many effects,” said Michelle Ou, lead author of the study. “The growth, physiology and behaviour of these developing pink salmon are very much influenced by these small changes.”

Salmon aren’t the only freshwater fish at risk from climate change. Research published in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry reveals that a rise in water temperatures of 5°C could make common pesticides and industrial contaminants ever more toxic.

Ronald Patra, an environmental scientist at the Department of Planning and Environment in New South Wales, Australia, and colleagues tested rainbow trout, silver perch, rainbowfish and western carp gudgeon at temperatures higher than optimum for the species and in the presence of endosulfan, chlorpyrifos and phenol − all of which wash into waterways from the land.

Results varied according to pollutant, species and temperature, but, overall, all three chemicals became increasingly toxic as water temperatures rose.

Future toxicity

On the coast of Mangalore in southwest India, where mussel farming has become a growing industry, researchers decided to test future toxicity conditions for the green mussel.

The Society of Experimental Biology meeting in Prague learned that the bivalves were raised in high temperature and low salt conditions and exposed to toxic algae and bacteria of the kind that might be expected in a changing climate, which in turn affected the timing of the monsoon in ways that could lower seawater salinity.

“This is likely to increase the chance of outbreaks of toxic plankton blooms and make farming bivalves such as mussels increasingly challenging,” the meeting was told.

But changes to water chemistry – once again, the shift in pH values as yet more carbonic acid builds up in the seas – create problems enough for the commercial shellfisheries.

Wiley Evans, research associate at the Ocean Acidification Research Centre of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and colleagues report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One that shellfish farmers off the Alaska coast might, at extra expense, have to start modifying the sea water in their hatcheries because, the researchers reported, they expect “significant effects” from acidification by 2040.

The scientists monitored for 10 months the effects of water chemistry changes on oyster, clam, scallop and other shellfish larvae.

Alaska – with a limited growing season, melting glaciers that affect salinity, and with colder waters that more readily dissolve carbon dioxide – is a special case.

But in general, as researchers have repeatedly found, increasingly corrosive waters would make it more difficult for shellfish to exploit the calcium carbonate minerals needed to make shells.

Shellfish spend their maturity in one spot, whereas fish can and do shift their grounds when the conditions become uncomfortable − with consequences for established commercial catches such as sardines and sea bass.

Likely to migrate

But a 5°C average warming in global atmospheric temperatures – and climate scientists have repeatedly warned that this is possible before 2100 – means that fish are likely to migrate away from their existing habitats considerably faster than they are doing now.

Jean-Pierre Gattuso, of the Oceanological Observatory in Villefranche, France, and colleagues looked at the evidence on a global scale and report in Science journal that, without attempts to mitigate global warming, the oceans and the creatures in them will be seriously affected by temperature changes and acidification.

This is very bad news for the millions of people in the communities that depend on the seas for a living.

“On a positive note, we still have options to substantially reduce these impacts now, but the longer we wait the fewer and fewer options we have,” warns co-author William Cheung, of the fisheries center at Canada’s University of British Columbia.

Commenting on the research, Jason Hall-Spencer, a professor of marine biology at Plymouth University in the UK, said: “This review screams at me that the evidence is in, and it is not too late for society to benefit greatly from immediate reductions in CO2 emissions.”

Tim Radford|Climate News Network

Group Vows to Fight Everglades Oil Drilling

Tallahassee, FL – Activists are blasting the idea of drilling for oil in the Everglades – after a longtime Florida firm, Kanter Real Estate, filed for a permit to allow oil exploration on land it owns near Miramar.

An environmental group is vowing to fight a potential oil-drilling site proposed for the Everglades. This week, Kanter Real Estate filed for a permit with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to pave a five-acre parcel of land the company owns, and drill for 60 to 80 days to explore for oil in marshes outside of Miramar.

Matthew Schwartz with the South Florida Wildlands Association says the plan has the potential not only for harm to the environment, but to the local water system. “Clearly there is risk involved with an oil well in the middle of the Everglades punching through the water supply for millions of people.” The Kanter family, which has owned the land for decades, also said it might want to dig for limestone on the 20-thousand-acre property. The family-owned company has pledged to conduct its operations in an environmentally safe manner.

Kanter is likely to need additional permits from the South Florida Water Management District and the Army Corps of Engineers. Schwartz says his group will be there to fight it, all the way down the line. “There is an obligation to make sure that the environmental impacts are acceptable, and I think the bar is going to be too high. And we’re going to make that point to all of the agencies that are doing the permitting.” The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has 30 days to determine if the application is complete or ask for additional information. An environmental group is vowing to fight a potential oil-drilling site proposed for the Everglades. Suzanne Potter has the story.

Suzanne Potter| Public News Service – FL

“Safe” Alternatives to Chemicals in Plastics Linked to Health Problems

Plastics are everywhere: product and food packaging, beverage containers, electronics, office supplies and even the microbeads in hygiene products. The list doesn’t stop there. Even though we have a pretty good idea of what types of products plastics are in, do we know what is actually in the plastics we use?

A new series of studies from the NYU Langone Medical Center reports that two chemicals, di-isononyl phthalate (DINP) and di-isodecyl phthalate (DIDP), could be linked to adverse health effects such as insulin resistance, elevated blood pressure and other metabolic disorders. These chemicals are known as phthalates. The chemicals in questions were actually used in plastics as a replacement for di-2-ethylhexylphlatate, or DEHP, because it was linked to similar health effects.

The most recent study reports a “significant association” between high blood pressure and the presence of DINP and DIDP: for every tenfold increase in the amount of phthalates, there was a 1.1 millimeter of mercury increase in blood pressure. In an earlier study, the NYU team found that in adolescents with high levels of DINP and DIDP, one in three had insulin resistance whereas one in four with normal levels presented the precursor to diabetes.

After similar results were linked to DEHP, Europe banned the chemical in 2004. Manufacturers in the U.S. voluntarily began switching to the replacements after the studies. Currently, there is no federal requirement in the U.S. to test these chemicals for toxicity before their widespread use.

Leonardo Trasande, lead investigator of the NYU study, suggests avoiding plastics labeled with a 3,6 or 7 on the bottom as those are the plastics with phthalates present. He also discourages microwaving any plastic containers or putting them in the dishwasher. Trasande also notes that a lifestyle change that promotes more fresh foods that are not packaged in plastics decreases the number of phthalate metabolites.

Not only is plastic bad for health, but it isn’t environmentally-friendly either. States such as Hawaii are opting to ban single use plastic grocery bags in an attempt to curb the use of one of the notorious symbols of litter. However, plastic wraps and bags in food packaging and transport are still allowed with many such laws, meaning that the chemicals could still have the undesirable health side effects.

As Trasande mentioned, a dietary shift to more fresh foods could curb the need for plastics. Shopping at a farmer’s market to buy produce and fresh foods is one way. Instead of purchasing prepackaged meats, going to the butcher or meat counter means they will wrap your meat in paper rather than plastic.

For storage, using glass containers to store food rather than plastic is a step in the right direction. Not only will they last longer, but they are much safer to use in the microwave and dishwasher. Similarly, rather than using plastic water bottles or pitchers for beverages, glass options are available.

An entirely plastic free lifestyle is quite the shift; however, with the latest information regarding chemicals that were supposedly safe, introducing little steps, especially when it comes to food and beverages, could make an important difference in your health.

Ashlyn Kittrell|July 15, 2015

Rare ghost orchid blooms at Corkscrew

Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) by Mick Fournier, Pompano Beach, Florida

Ghost Orchid by Mick Fournier, Pompano Beach. (Note: This photo is a ghost orchid, but not the one at Corkscrew.)

NAPLES — Corkscrew Sanctuary could be hosting lots of orchid fans again during summer 2015, as its rare “super” ghost orchid produced its first bloom of the season on June 13.

The ghost orchid was made famous by the  2002 film Adaptation starring Meryl Streep and the best-selling Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean.

In 2007, a volunteer spotted a ghost orchid in bloom along the boardwalk, prompting a spike in visitors and attention. The orchid had more blooms than any ghost  orchid previously spotted and thus became known as a super-ghost.

The drama returned each summer when it bloomed. One year, the blooms disappeared overnight, the victim of hungry insects. Last year, a second smaller ghost orchid was spotted.

During the 2014 season, the super ghost orchid produced more than 40 blooms.

Here’s Corkscrew’s statement:

June 13, 2015:      One flower has opened up on the Super Ghost Orchid!  This is the third flower of the year!  On Jan, 25, 2015, the first flower of the year bloomed. It was a new record for the ghost orchid, blooming in January, the earliest in the year it had bloomed previously was late March of 2010!  This first flower lasted almost two weeks.  Then on Feb. 8 another flower opened, but that one only lasted a couple of days.  The Corkscrew “Super Ghost Orchid” typically produces flowers on and off throughout the summer and sometimes at other times of the year.

The super ghost is 50 feet in the air, 100 feet off the boardwalk. Visitors have to walk about a mile down the boardwalk to reach it. When it blooms, the sanctuary posts a sign and keeps a telescope there. (They recommend you bring binoculars.)

During past ghost-orchid blooms, many folks braved the heat for a summer visit. (I visited the sanctuary in June and there were no mosquitoes, only a few deer fly.  Carrying plenty of water and prepared to sweat, I thought it was a lovely visit, so don’t be afraid of summer at Corkscrew.)

In previous years, the ghost orchid blooms were visible for several weeks in July and into August.

The woman who originally spotted the ghost orchid was looking for owls, according to the Audubon Society article.   To make sure she could find the orchid again, she left her shoes to mark the spot while she searched for another witness.

Bonnie Gross

SeaWorld’s Baby Beluga Dies After Just Three Weeks

In June, SeaWorld San Antonio celebrated the birth of a baby beluga born to Martha and Imaq, but after just three weeks of life the calf has already died.

Despite the warm welcome, she failed to reach expected milestones even with intervention. SeaWorld announced her death, stating:

All of us at SeaWorld are saddened by the loss of our beluga calf, who died yesterday after weeks of intensive, round the clock care. The three-week old calf was born about a month premature.

The calf was not gaining weight at the rate our veterinarians expected, even though it did nurse from its mother. To supplement those feedings, the animal care team hand fed her specialized marine mammal infant formula seven times a day. A necropsy will be performed this morning, with results expected in six to eight weeks. Losing an animal in our care is never easy, and we thank everyone for their thoughts and support during this difficult time for our team.

The loss of yet another beluga calf is sad, but unfortunately it’s not very surprising. In June, another calf died at the Georgia Aquarium less than a month after she was born, leaving her mother Maris to grieve yet another heartbreaking loss.

For Martha, who SeaWorld fails to even mention in its update, this is at least her third lost calf. Despite decades of trying to keep and successfully breed belugas, the death toll continues to rise.

Aquarium officials continue to claim they don’t understand why so many keep dying, or attribute it as a normal thing for first time mothers, but marine mammal experts aren’t confused.

Following the recent loss of Maris’ calf, Dr. Lori Marino of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy said the deaths are no mystery at all writing, “It’s a classic case of the well-known medical condition Failure To Thrive Syndrome. FTTS is seen in human children and other animals (it’s known as Fading Puppy and Kitten Syndrome in dogs and cats) when they fail to develop normally both physically and mentally.”

She further explains the detrimental effects of captivity that include denying belugas the ability to learn from their own mothers and social groups and to get assistance from relatives to raise a newborn, and to choose their own mates, among other issues. Instead they are left surrounded by humans in entirely unnatural and unfamiliar environments to which they are not adapted.

“Studies of welfare in captive belugas support the assertion that belugas cannot live, let alone thrive, in a setting in which they never evolved. In captivity their lives are shorter and mortality rates are higher. They often die of stress-related diseases which break down their immune system function. They fail to thrive,” she writes. “So, when the veterinarians and staff at the Georgia Aquarium claim to be flummoxed over the death of two infant belugas, they need look no further than any basic marine mammal ecology textbook to find the answer to why belugas will never thrive in theme parks.”

It would be one thing if these efforts were truly being done to help wild populations, but they’re not. The captivity industry is only trying to maintain a captive population for us to gawk at.

If aquariums can’t get them to breed successfully, they will turn to taking more from the wild, like the Georgia Aquarium is doing right now through efforts to import wild-caught belugas from Russia, which is clearly not in the best interest of either wild populations, or the individuals who are torn from their families, confined to tanks and subjected to the whims of the industry.

It’s painfully obvious that the answer isn’t to try harder, but that it’s time to phase out these exhibits entirely and stop keeping these intelligent, social and complex animals in captivity. Hopefully as more people are made aware of the harm this industry causes the end of this industry will become a reality.

Alicia Graef|July 15, 2015

Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation Grants $15 Million to Environmental Organizations

Leonardo DiCaprio might be best known for his movies, but in recent years he been getting a lot of press for his dedication to protecting our planet. From speaking at the UN on climate change to donating millions of dollars to protect our oceans to participating in the People’s Climate March to building an eco-resort in Belize, DiCaprio is certainly prioritizing the need to protect mother Earth.

To further his commitment, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation announced this week $15 million in grants to more than 30 environmental organizations who are working to preserve and protect the future of the planet. These grants further the foundation’s approach to helping tackle some of today’s most pressing environmental issues.

“The destruction of our planet continues at a pace we can no longer afford to ignore,” said Leonardo DiCaprio. “I am proud to support these organizations who are working to solve humankind’s greatest challenge.”

These projects include “concrete and early-phase solutions to protect key species and threatened marine and terrestrial ecosystems, to empowering indigenous communities to be the long-term stewards and protectors of their natural resources,” according to the foundation. Since 2010, the foundation has funded more than 70 high-impact projects in more than 40 countries worldwide.

“Our partners on the ground are up against powerful industries that want unfettered access to our planet’s resources,” said Justin Winters, executive director of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. “We are dedicated to helping further their efforts to protect our oceans, forests and wildlands.”

Here’s a list of the organizations benefitting from these grants:

  • Amazon Watch
  • Biomimicry Institute
  • Bioneers
  • California Wolf Center: Pacific Wolf Coalition
  • ClearWater
  • Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
  • Conservation International
  • Dark Snow
  • Digital Democracy
  • Earth Echo International
  • Empowered by Light
  • International Fund for Animal Welfare
  • National Geographic: Pristine Seas
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Oceans 5
  • Save The Elephants
  • SavingSpecies
  • Tetiaroa Society
  • The Conservation Land Trust
  • The Solutions Project
  • Tony Fitzjohn/George Adamson African Wildlife Preservation Trust
  • Tree People
  • Virunga Fund
  • Waterkeeper Alliance
  • Wildlife Conservation Network
  • Wildlife Conservation Society
  • World Wildlife Fund

“No organization or individual alone can protect our planet’s life-giving engine. Partnering with the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation allows National Geographic Pristine Seas to help protect the wildest places in the ocean, so that the ocean can continue to provide for all of us,” said Dr. Enric Sala, National Geographic explorer-in-residence.

J. Charles Fox, program director of Oceans 5, also showed his gratitude for the grant. “The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation brings a strategic focus to helping coastal communities protect biodiversity. They provide significant knowledge and capacity to Oceans 5, so that we can better achieve our objectives for ocean conservation.”

In addition to the support to environmental organization, the foundation supported several winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s largest prize for grassroots environmental activists, to help advance their campaigns. These winners include:

  • Fatima Jibrell of Adeso
  • Rudi Putra of Forest, Nature and Environment of Aceh (HAkA) & Leuser Conservation Forum (FKL)
  • Dimitry Lisitsyn of Sakhalin Environment Watch

“We have a responsibility to innovate a future where the habitability of our planet does not come at the expense of those who inhabit it,” Leonardo DiCaprio said.

Stefanie Spear|July 16, 2015

No tax cut for SFWMD rate payers

The South Florida Water Management District board favors sticking with the same property tax rate, after cutting taxes for four years in a row.

The South Florida Water Management District balks at approving another property tax cut.

Environmental groups pushed for investing more in Everglades restoration instead of cutting property taxes.

Bucking political pressure from Tallahassee, the South Florida Water Management District Thursday decided to hold off on cutting property taxes.

The agency that guards against flooding and leads Everglades restoration had been cutting its property tax rate for four years in a row at the urging of state leaders pushing for cutbacks.

Environmental groups opposed another round of tax cuts, saying the district shouldn’t sacrifice millions of dollars that could help jump start slow-moving Everglades restoration in order to shave a few dollars off residents’ individual tax bills.

Environmentalists say tax cut imperils Everglades

Instead of supporting another cutback, the district’s board opted to stick with the current tax rate. Cutting the tax rate would have required the district to dip even deeper into reserve funds to avoid a budget shortfall.

“I do have concerns about where we are at [financially],” said district Board Member Mitch Hutchcraft, who supported staying at the current tax rate. “We have a budgetary challenge.”

Even though the tax rate stays the same, the district would generate about $21 million more due to rising property values. That money could be spent on Everglades restoration projects or other district expenses.

“That’s one for the history books,” Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper said about the board’s decision not to support another tax cut. “We just saw the water management district stand up. … They will be under tremendous pressure from Tallahassee to undo this decision.”

Environmentalists understand that their celebration could be short lived.

The governor, who appoints the district board, has veto power over the district’s budget and state lawmakers also have a big say in how the district spends its money.

Also, the district board could still opt to lower the tax rate during the final votes on the agency’s $754 million budget in September.

“There is a political reality here that we are ignoring,” said Board Member James Moran, who voted against the proposal to maintain the current tax rate.

Wells may not deliver enough Everglades help

Under the current proposal, the district’s property tax rate for southeast Florida would remain about 38 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value.

At that tax rate, a home in Broward or Palm Beach counties valued at $250,000 and eligible for a $50,000 Homestead Exemption would pay about $77 a year for water management district property taxes.

That’s about $6 more a year than would be owed under the district’s previous plan to reduce the tax rate about 8 percent. Cutting the tax rate would have allowed the district to generate as much money as the previous year, due to rising property values.

State leaders since 2011 have emphasized rolling back the district’s tax rate and making other spending cuts at the agency that oversees water supplies and flood control in 16 counties reaching from Orlando to Key West.

Cutbacks started in 2011 with slashing the district’s budget by about $100 million, leading to more than 100 layoffs. The district now has about 1,530 employees, about 400 less than in 2011.

Every year since 2011, district officials have reduced property tax rate to further rein in costs.

The district’s new budget proposal already calls for using nearly $200 million in reserves to cover expenses. Cutting the tax rate again would have required taking another $7 million more from reserves to avoid a budget shortfall, according to district estimates.

A tax cut doesn’t help address the district’s “revenue problems,” Board Member Sandy Batchelor said. “We just shouldn’t be spending down our reserves.”

Another district property tax cut was of particular concern to environmental groups because the district this year didn’t get as much money from the Legislature for Everglades restoration as expected.

Instead of the $150 million requested for the Everglades by Gov. Rick Scott, lawmakers approved closer to $100 million.

After years of suffering from draining to make way for South Florida farming and development, the Everglades can’t afford more funding delays for restoration efforts, according to environmental advocates.

They say the district and the state need to be investing more to build reservoirs and treatment areas that could hold onto rainwater that now gets drained away for flood control. That water could instead help replenish the Everglades and boost South Florida drinking water supplies.

Environmentalists argued that spending reserve funds to help finance a tax cut isn’t worth the potential cost to Everglades restoration.

“There’s more and more work to be done,” said Cara Capp, Everglades Coalition national co-chairwoman.

But allowing a tax break doesn’t have to mean sacrificing Everglades restoration efforts, according to District Board Chairman Daniel O’Keefe, who favored reducing the tax rate.

“If we have the reserves to make the budget work … I’m comfortable with doing that,” said O’Keefe, who in September could try again to lower the tax rate. “We can find the funding.”

Andy Reid|Sun Sentinel

Calls to Action

  1. Tell Congress- Don’t gut the Land and Water Conservation Fund – here
  2. Tell the National Park Service to prohibit seismic testing for fracking in Big Cypress – here
  3. Tell Congress- Stop the new Monsanto Protection Act – here
  4. Urge China to Crack Down on Hunting of the Yellow-Breasted Bunting – here
  5. STOP the Belo Monte Dam – here
  6. Help Cut Climate Pollution From Big Trucks And Buses – here
  7. STOP SHELL’S ARCTIC DRILLING PLANS – here
  8. Tell the NRC: Don’t weaken radioactive waste rules – here
  9. Don’t let Monsanto  corrupt science, democracy and our food supply – here

Birds and Butterflies

Global seabird populations have dropped 70 per cent in past 60 years say researchers

Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) have revealed that the world’s monitored seabird populations have dropped 70 per cent since the 1950s.

Lead author Michelle Paleczny, a UBC master’s student and researcher with the Sea Around Us project, published the findings in the journal PLOS ONE.

The information was compiled from studies of more than 500 seabird populations around the world, representing 19 per cent of the global seabird population.

The scientists found that overall populations had declined by 69.6 per cent, equivalent to a loss of about 230 million birds in 60 years.

“Seabirds are particularly good indicators of the health of marine ecosystems,” says Paleczny. ”When we see this magnitude of seabird decline, we can see there is something wrong with marine ecosystems. It gives us an idea of the overall impact we’re having.”

The dramatic decline is said to be caused by a variety of factors, including overfishing of the fish seabirds rely on for food, entanglement in fishing gear, plastic and oil pollution, introduction of non-native predators to seabird colonies, destruction and changes to seabird habitat, and environmental and ecological changes caused by climate change.

Seabirds tend to travel the world’s oceans foraging for food over their long lifetimes, and return to the same colonies to breed. Colony population numbers therefore provide information to scientists about the health of the oceans.

Albatross were part of the study and showed substantial declines. Paleczny says these birds live so long and range so far that they encounter many dangers in their travels.

A major threat to albatross is getting caught on longline fishing hooks and drowning, a problem that kills hundreds of thousands of seabirds every year.

“Our work demonstrates the strong need for increased seabird conservation effort internationally,” says Paleczny. “Loss of seabirds causes a variety of impacts in coastal and marine ecosystems.”

Seabirds play an important role in those ecosystems. They eat and are eaten by a variety of other marine species. They also transport nutrients in their waste back to the coastal ecosystems in which they breed, helping to fertilize entire food webs. 

The study is the first to estimate overall change in available global seabird population data and is a collaboration between UBC researchers Paleczny, Vasiliki Karpouzi and Daniel Pauly and Edd Hammill, a lecturer at the University of Technology, Sydney in Australia. 

From Wildlife Extra

Good News! Migratory Bird Treaty Act is Safe for Now

Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC), the sponsor of legislation aimed at weakening the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), appears to have backed off a destructive course that included sponsoring an amendment on the Department of Interior and Environmental Protection Agency appropriations bill that would have eliminated enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The change of heart followed a vigorous, hard-hitting campaign by Audubon’s Washington, DC office and a barrage of more than 57,000 messages you and other Audubon members sent protesting the proposal.

Audubon was instrumental in opposing the Bird Killer Amendment and Audubon’s activists—like you—sent thousands of messages and made hundreds of phone calls to the Congressman’s office. Audubon spoke out about it in the news, and organized a town hall conversation with our activists to discuss tactics for opposition. You can hear a recording of that conversation with Audubon Vice President of Government Relations Mike Daulton at our website (scroll down to the “Want to learn more?” section).

Audubon also found direct evidence of the involvement of Duke Energy in promoting legislative changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and exposed it using original investigative journalism. An Audubon online petition campaign resulted in 44,000 emails to the CEO of Duke Energy, asking Duke to stop attacking the laws that protect our birds.

But the bad news is, many on Capitol Hill are still waging war on birds and bird conservation. We can’t rest while others plan new attacks on the MBTA and our core conservation laws. This victory should encourage us all that we can win the war, but only if we continue to fight!

From Audubon Advisory

Unprecedented Efforts to Save Greater Sage-Grouse

The conservation of the Greater Sage-Grouse has sparked national interest and set in motion strategies to help the grouse and more than 350 other species that depend on the wild Western sagebrush landscape. Audubon and other stakeholders have been involved for years to develop science-based management for grouse and the sagebrush habitat it needs to survive, with the end goal of avoiding a listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

As part of this collective effort to avoid the necessity of a federal ESA listing, earlier this summer the Department of Interior released 14 final land use plan revisions, which will guide land management for the Greater Sage-Grouse on public lands in 10 western states, encompassing 60 million acres of public land. These plans represent a significant improvement over draft plans released in 2013, and will be finalized later this summer. This unprecedented action by the federal government comes just shy of the September 30 deadline for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to make a final decision about listing the grouse.

Unfortunately, Congress continues to meddle in these collaborative efforts in the form of bills that would delay the conservation work already underway, and largely complete. Most recently, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) attempted to attach a harmful amendment to the must-pass Defense Authorization bill. Although we were able to defeat that amendment (see “Your Actions at Work”), both House and Senate Interior Appropriation bills contain damaging amendments to grouse conservation efforts, ignoring sound science and the legal process already in place. And Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) has introduced standalone legislation (S 1036) that would derail efforts to save Greater Sage-Grouse. If you haven’t already, please tell your U.S. Senators that you oppose the amendments to the Interior bill.

To help get the word out on sage-grouse and demonstrate the public support for conservation action, Audubon partnered with other conservation groups in a 48-hour social media blitz in late June. Audubon chapters and members also participated via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Even Leo DiCaprio joined in, reaching a whole new base of people through his Instagram account.

In this highly politicized climate, Audubon is working to harness the strength of its impressive grassroots wingspan! Every voice counts in this effort to protect an iconic western bird and an imperiled landscape.

From Audubon Advisory

Bipartisan Bill Introduced to Extend Neotropical Migratory Bird Program

For nearly 15 years, the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (NMBCA) has helped protect habitat for the hundreds of species of birds that nest in the United States and winter in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Last week, Congressmen Ron Kind (D-WI) and Rob Wittman (R-VA) introduced legislation (HR 2957) to reauthorize funding for this vital program.

Through partnership-based grants, the NMBCA has positively impacted more than 3.7 million acres of bird habitat across the Western Hemisphere. Three-quarters of these projects occur outside the United States. In the past two years, projects have protected Golden-winged Warbler’s tropical forest wintering grounds in Columbia, grassland habitat for Eastern Meadowlark in Illinois, wetland stopover territory for Buff-Breasted Sandpipers in Bolivia, and more. Since 2002, more than $50 million in federal funding has been spent on behalf of Neotropical migrants, leveraging more than $200 million in matching funds, in order to support over 450 projects for these species.

Without action, the program could be at risk of losing funding. With the introduction of HR 2957, thanks to the bipartisan leadership from Congressmen Kind and Wittman, the NMBCA would be secured through 2020. In the Senate, a companion bill (S 520) was introduced earlier this year by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD).

From Audubon Advisory

Seabirds Have Declined by 70 Percent Since the ’50s

A new study in the journal PLOS One concludes that the world’s monitored seabird populations have dropped by a staggering 70 percent since the 1950s. Because seabirds are prime indicators of ecosystem health, these findings show that marine habitats are in serious trouble too.

This study compiled information on more than 500 seabird populations from around the world — 19 percent of all seabirds — and found they declined overall by 69.6 percent, a loss of 230 million individuals in 60 years. The birds are suffering from a long list of threats, including habitat loss, overfishing of the fish they eat, drowning in fishing nets, plastic pollution, oil spills and climate disruption.

The Center for Biological Diversity is working to save a number of seabirds, including ashy storm petrels, emperor penguins, marbled murrelets, brown pelicans and western gull-billed terns.

Read more in Science World Report.

Witness Mexico’s Amazing Migration of Millions of Butterflies!

This monarch butterfly migration video gives a glimpse of one of the most astounding natural events to occur in North America. Watch as millions of monarchs congregate in the volcanic mountains of central Mexico, the completion of their 3,000 mile migration.

See a slideshow and consider a trip to view the migration. 

  Invasive species

Florida trying to gain ground on pythons

State wildlife officials are hoping to thin the python population to some extent with a planned python hunt for early 2016.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently announced that a python hunting challenge similar to a month-long event in 2013 will be conducted. During the first challenge, about 1,600 hunters participated, netting 68 pythons.

“We’re really looking at trying to raise awareness again,” FWC spokeswoman Liz Barraco said. “What the python challenge did really well back in 2013 was get people aware of the problem with invasive species in the state of Florida. What we’d really like to do is get their attention again.”

Plans for the 2016 hunt are still being finalized, Barraco said.

Researchers and wildlife officials are hoping that a pair of recently released studies can provide a better understanding of the pythons’ movements and make them easier to track.

While some pythons can grow to lengths of more than 19 feet, the large reptiles have proven to be elusive and particularly difficult for hunters to spot, wildlife officials say.

“The animals themselves are really hard to find in the brush,” Barraco said. “They coil up very small. You could have theoretically an animal in a really small amount of space. If there was enough brush, you could walk over it multiple times and never see it. “

FWC has ongoing training programs for those who want to learn how to catch pythons, or identify and report their locations.

Pythons were first observed in Everglades National Park in the late 1970s, but weren’t recognized as an established wildlife population until 2000. Nearly 1,800 were removed from Everglades National Park and adjacent lands from 2000 to October 2011, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

With growing numbers, pythons have been blamed for decimating wildlife in the Everglades.

In March, the University of Florida and the U.S. Geological Survey released a study showing that that nearly 80 percent of marsh rabbits being tracked by researchers were eaten by Burmese pythons.

In late April, the U.S. Geological Survey released a tracking study of the pythons’ roaming area, or home range. Researchers used radio and GPS tags to track the movements of 19-wild caught pythons in the Everglades.

“We’re trying to figure out where the pythons are going on a regular basis and this type of data helped us,” said Kristen Hart, a research ecologist and lead author of the study.

The 5,119 days of tracking data led researchers to conclude that the pythons have a home range of 22 square kilometers, or roughly 3 miles wide-by-3 miles long, according to the USGS report.

The study also found that the pythons were concentrated in slough, or wetland, and coastal habitats, with tree islands, areas of high ground, being popular places for feeding.

“That’s usually where you can find birds and mammals, so for the pythons, those little areas may provide a place for their daily feeding opportunities or mating opportunities,” Hart said.

While wildlife officials have acknowledged that it may be impossible to eradicate pythons from the state, they are hopeful that learning more about their habitats can help slow their population growth.

“There’s a lot of different research that is ongoing,” Barraco said.” At the end of the day, we can all agree that the Burmese python doesn’t belong in the Everglades. So we’re all really focusing our efforts on what is the best thing we can do to find them and remove them.” 

Julius Whigham II|Staff Writer |Palm Beach Post|July 12, 2015

9 Invasive Garden Plants to Avoid

If you’re a garden-lover and care to keep your garden embellished with lush, healthy plants and vegetation, you should probably avoid having invasive plants that grow beyond your control and become a real pain that’s hard to get rid of.

Avoid the following 9 plants to protect your garden from some greedy pests. 

1. Bamboo

9 Plants You Shouldn't Never Plant in Your Yard

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Although these may furnish your backyard with an exotic touch, the nature of bamboo plants makes them grow and spread extensively in their surroundings and unfortunately, one has to take extreme measures if this happens in domestic circumstances. These measures may include plastic or concrete root barriers, which prevent its rhizomes from spreading uncontrollably. Running varieties include: Chimono-bambusa, Indocalamus, Pleioblastus, and Sasa. Clumping varieties, which grow and spread less rapidly, include: Bambusa, Borinda, Chusquera, Fargesia, and Otatea.

Source: Liz Foreman for HouseLogic

2. English Ivy (Hedera Helix)

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Unlike the Bamboo, the English Ivy is able to spread in all directions, and is especially known for growing on walls, reaching over fences and covering the ground. Many like to grow it for decorative purposes, only to find out that its stubborn and overly rapid growth can be both overwhelming and frustrating. 

Source: Jason V. Advani

3. Kudzu (Pueraria)

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This plant is an invasive, semi-woody vine that hooks itself to buildings, road signs and trees with an unforgiving greed. This beastly plant can spread through runners, rhizomes and seeds, and is able to grow up to 1 foot per day! It’s nearly impossible to eliminate this plant from your garden, and even if you do, it won’t be long-term. You may try applying herbicides for some years and maybe using herds of kudzu-grazing goats to destroy the plant, or else simply mow it constantly and wait for it to finally give up.

Source: John Kellogg

4. Japanese Stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum)

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Another unstoppable garden nightmare is the Japanese Stiltgrass, which originates from East Asia. The tactic of this plant is to spread above the ground through rhizomes and seeds, to the extent that it forms a web of grass that traps and starves other plants. The worst part is – the more you try digging the plant out, the more it grows, as its seeds grow best in loose soil. So you may want to apply pre-emergent herbicides, ideally in late spring or early summer. 

Source: Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut/Bugwood.org

5. Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum Salicaria)

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If it finds itself in the wild, the Purple Loosestrife plant can literally go on the loose, starving out native vegetation and wildlife. It was once used to treat dysentery (a serious inflammation of the intestine), but ironically, it’s also nicknamed ‘Beautiful Killer’ and ‘Marsh Monster’. The good news is, there are some natural pests that can help control this killer, including certain kinds of leaf beetles and weevils. You may also try digging out the plant and burning the remains, or tying it in a dark plastic bag in order to stop it from further infestation. 

Source: Donna’s Garden

6. Mint (Mentha)

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Everyone loves having some fresh mint within reach to add that extra taste to a dish or punch. However, this tempting, widely-used herb can be deceiving – it loves moist and shaded areas and can easily make them its home. If you want to keep your outdoor area out of any perilous mint colonization, you may want to plant this herb in containers, ideally kept in sunny windowsills indoors, or on a deck outdoors, so as to keep it away from other garden plants. 

Source: Teresa Byington of TheGardenDiary.com

7. Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria Seinensis)

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This pretty-looking tree can also be seriously deceptive – in fact, 19 states consider it as being invasive. This plant (and its cousin, the Japanese Wisteria (Wisteria Floribunda)) can grow up to more than a foot in diameter, making it easier to twist around trees tight enough to kill them, destroy other plants and collapse arbors. If you do get it in your garden, make sure you remove it from your trees, arbors and pergolas, and then spray with a systemic herbicide. 

Source: Kathy Jentz, Washington Gardener Magazine

8. Trumpet Vine (Campsis Radicans)

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Another unwanted invasive plant is the Trumpet Vine, also known as the trumpet creeper, since it can creep up walls or trees, grabbing on so tightly that attempting to remove it can be a nightmare. It is also able to send shoots far away from the main plant, making it even less controllable. Cutting it or digging it out might make it even fiercer, so the best way to control it would be to persistently dig up the mother plant and shoots and clear it from any blooms. You wouldn’t want to waste all your patience on this blooming plant!

Source: David R. Lindquist of Cary BirdCam blog

9. Leafy Spurge (Euphorbia Esula)

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The last vicious suspect is the three-foot-tall Leafy Spurge, whose seeds explode from capsules and can stay dormant in the soil for up to seven years. This plant grows so extensively that it can crowd out other plants and what’s more, it can spread toxins that prevent native species from growing near it. Take the necessary measures if you want to save your garden – spray them with a systemic herbicide, year after year.

Source: Kelvin Chau

Endangered Species

State ignores science in bear and panther plans

With as few as 3,000 bears and 180 panthers vying with nearly 20 million humans for a share of Florida’s ever-shrinking land mass it would defy reason to blame the bears and panthers for any increase in conflicts.

It would be equally unreasonable to suggest hunting is the best way to reduce those conflicts: There’s a trove of peer-reviewed research that makes clear hunting is not an effective way to manage conflicts with wildlife.

Yet, on Wednesday five people appointed to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission by a governor who remains “unconvinced” of humans’ role in climate change ignored all the best-available science and authorized the state’s first bear-hunting season in 21 years.

Without providing a shred of research to support their position, the commissioners insisted that the bear-hunting season, which would authorize killing 20 percent of Florida black bears, is necessary to reduce conflicts with people.

In bowing to the wishes of a slim handful of Floridians, the commissioners refused to give any weight to research that leaves no doubt about the best ways to minimize human-bear interactions and ensure sustainable bear populations over the long-term: secure garbage, employ nonlethal methods to address problem bears and work to make sure roads and sprawl don’t further isolate their populations.

It’s hardly just Florida black bears who will pay the price for this escalating refusal in the Sunshine state to allow science-based research to guide management of wildlife, especially management of rare apex predators like bears and panthers that play critical roles in protecting the health of our dwindling natural ecosystems.

Though the commissioners delayed taking any action on a proposal that calls for scaling back protection for Florida panthers, the growing contempt for science-based recovery plans for imperiled animals was embodied in statements made by commissioner and rancher Liesa Priddy who said, “We have a lot of panthers now. It doesn’t really matter if there are 180 or 250. We know we have a lot more than we used to.”

Not surprisingly, having “more than we used to” is not a scientific or meaningful standard for guiding the long-term recovery of a rare species, whether it’s Florida black bears or Florida panthers.

The facts are that the Florida panther’s one population in southwest Florida falls far short of meeting the scientifically established standards set by the federal recovery plan, which the the FWC helped draft seven years ago, that calls for two additional sub-populations of at least 80 animals each and habitat corridors that allow for free and natural genetic exchange between populations.

Instead of working to reintroduce populations of Florida panthers, the commission’s consideration of a proposal to scale-back panther protections simply asserts that the panther recovery goals are “aspirational rather than practical” and should be redrawn and claims the recovery plan is “unfeasible for a number of reasons” – but fails to name a single reason.

Nowhere in their considerations was their mention of the successful two-year study that temporarily reintroduced 19 mountain lions in north Florida, research that proved that Florida panther reintroduction is feasible. Nor do the commissioners seem interested in a survey found that 91 percent of respondents support effort to save the Florida panther and 83 percent support reintroduction.

The same disregard of the facts and public sentiment is behind the commission’s approval a week-long hunt for Florida black bears. That decision came despite the fact that the first survey of the bears population since 2002 won’t be completed until next year and that this unique subspecies of black bear now occupies less than 20 percent of its historic habitat in isolated pockets which continue to be squeezed by development and roads. More than 2,000 bears have been struck and killed by vehicles since 2002.

The commission’s contention that the bear hunt is warranted due to an increase in human-bear conflicts defies the findings of its own scientists indicating hunting will not reduce the conflict.

In addition to ignoring the science that shows that hunting is not an effective predator management tool, the commission seems to have given up on redoubling efforts to educate citizens on the benefits of to bears and humans of simply denying bears access to human food and garbage.

The commission’s opposition to letting research guide management of the state’s still-rare bear and panther populations demonstrates a troubling trend in which they are forgoing protecting and conserving wildlife in favor of capitulating to the desires a vocal minority who appear to share little interest in keeping wildlife wild.

This highly political approach should be replaced with a more cooperative, science-based approach to managing the state’s few remaining apex predators, one that recognizes the wide support among Florida residents for wildlife and that propels commissioners toward meeting their duty to treat wildlife as a public trust to be treasured rather than a problem to be eliminated.

Jaclyn Lopez|Florida director|Center for Biological Diversity

Man cited for keeping Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings in fish tank

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers cited a man for keeping two Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings in his household aquarium.

In response to a tip by a concerned citizen, FWC officers visited an address in Jupiter. After investigation, William Henry Jowett (DOB 08/09/1961) was issued a first-degree misdemeanor citation for possessing two loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings.

Jowett had obtained the turtles from his backyard canal two months prior and put them in the aquarium for his daughter to see. Jowett said he planned on releasing the turtles but grew attached to having them in the tank.

“Our mission is to conserve Florida’s natural resources and protect its people through proactive and responsive law enforcement services,” said FWC Lt. Chris Harris. “This investigation is only one example of our commitment to achieve this goal and demonstrates our efforts working with federal partners, the general public and the State Attorney.”

The two loggerhead turtles were removed from the saltwater aquarium and transferred to the Loggerhead Marine Life Sanctuary Center. The turtles have since been released offshore.

The loggerhead sea turtle is listed as a Threatened Species by the Federal Endangered Species Act, a Federally-designated Threatened Species by the Florida Endangered and Threatened Species Rule and by Florida’s Marine Turtle Protection Act. Florida Statutes restrict take, possession, disturbance, mutilation, destruction, selling, transference, molestation and harassment of marine turtles, nests or eggs. For more information on the Loggerhead sea turtle visit MyFWC.com and type “Loggerhead” in the search box.

Jowett was issued a first-degree misdemeanor citation. Penalties could include up to one year in prison and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

This case is a great example of how tips from the public can help. If you suspect a fish, wildlife, boating or environmental law violation including someone disturbing a sea turtle or sea turtle nest you should report it to 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.

Protect Pangolins, World’s Most Trafficked Mammals

Ever heard of the pangolin? Turns out these scaly, obscure animals — of which there are eight species in existence — are the world’s most trafficked mammals and at risk of extinction. So this week a coalition of wildlife groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, petitioned the U.S. government to designate seven species of pangolins across the globe as “endangered” under the country’s Endangered Species Act (the eighth species, a native of Africa, is already protected).

More than 960,000 of these armored mammals were illegally traded over the past decade; numbers are plummeting due to a massive and growing demand for pangolins’ meat and scales, especially from East Asia. But even U.S. demand is significant: At least 26,000 imports of pangolin products were seized in the United States between 2004 and 2013.

“If we don’t act now, demand for pangolin parts will wipe this extraordinary, odd and beautiful animal off the map,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center. “The United States must do its part to shut down trade in pangolin scales.”

Read more in the Center’s press release.

Could Moose Disappear Entirely From the Midwest?

Moose might not be the first to come to mind when we think of imperiled species, but conservationists are raising serious concerns about the future of moose in the Midwest who are declining at an alarming rate.

In an effort to keep them from disappearing from the landscape forever, the Center for Biological Diversity and Honor the Earth have filed a formal petition seeking federal protection under the Endangered Species Act for one of three subspecies of moose found in the Lower 48.

According to the Center, if they’re successful, protection would be extended to moose who are only found in the Midwest, covering those in northeastern and northwestern Minnesota, northeastern North Dakota, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Isle Royale, in addition to a small, recently established population in Wisconsin.

The worst losses so far have been in Minnesota, where they’ve declined by 60 percent over just the past 10 years, leaving only an estimated 3,450 individuals in the state.

“If we don’t protect them, moose could be lost forever from the North Woods,” Collette Adkins, a biologist and attorney who works in the Center’s Minneapolis office, said in a statement. “Growing up in Minnesota, I loved seeing moose during family vacations up North. It’s a tragedy that today kids like my own only know this symbol of the North Woods as stuffed toys in tourist gift shops.”

Unfortunately, these moose are being hit hard by some of the usual problems wildlife face, including hunting, habitat loss and fragmentation, but they’re also a species who are specially adapted to cold climates and are particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Warmer weather doesn’t just cause them physical stress, it’s also helping aid the spread of insects who alter forest ecosystems, in addition to aiding the spread of deadly diseases and parasites, including brain worms, liver flukes and ticks.

It’s hard to imagine something as small as a tick taking out a big lumbering animal like a moose, but without long winters and hard freezes, winter ticks are thriving and causing serious problems for moose who can be infested with thousands of them at once.

Scientists have previously raised worries about what impact a decline in this species will have. Not only do moose fill an ecological niche by providing a food source for other animals and creating habitats for smaller species through browsing, but they also generate revenue by captivating wildlife enthusiasts.

“Native people and the moozoog ― our Ojibwe word ― have coexisted for thousands of years in Anishinaabe akiing,” said Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth. “The destruction of habitat by mining and logging industries, as well as overharvesting, is destroying this relative. Any listing should include a full coordination with tribal governments and First Nations, in keeping with the treaty agreements. Our culture is tied to the moozoog and we will work to protect them.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now has 90 days to decide if the petition is warranted and if it does, it will start a 12-month status review for these moose. If they’re granted protection, hopefully the benefits that come with it, including habitat protection and a recovery plan, will help keep these moose from disappearing.

Alicia Graef|July 16, 2015

Everglades

WESTERN EVERGLADES  RESTORATION MOVES FORWARD

~Restoration project to improve water quality in the Everglades’ Western 139 Basin region ~

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has authorized the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to begin the C-139 Annex Restoration Project (also known as the Sam Jones/Abiaki Prairie Project) in Hendry County. The project will provide benefits to groundwater, surface water and water supply as well as complement other efforts to improve water quality for the Everglades’ Western Basins region.

“The department is committed to working closely with the South Florida Water Management District to restore the Everglades and the larger South Florida ecosystem,” said DEP Deputy Secretary for Ecosystem Restoration Drew Bartlett. “This project will provide numerous benefits and significantly improves water flows to the Everglades’ Western Basins region.”

The project’s goals include restoring 17,904 acres of former citrus groves; restoring natural wet prairie habitat; expanding habitat area for native plant and animal species; promoting the restoration of a self-sustaining ecosystem; and maintaining the current level of flood protection for surrounding properties while contributing to the improvement of water quality in the Everglades. Historically, environmental features on the site included an Everglades mosaic of wet prairie, sloughs, depression marshes and tree islands, as well as a drier prairie, wet flatwoods, oak hammocks and cypress swamp.

To restore the site, which is located north of the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in the Western Basins region, work will encompass removing citrus trees and other agricultural features, backfilling of Lateral Canal L-15, controlling exotic/invasive vegetation and making drainage refinements. This will be followed by large-scale planting of native vegetation that was historically present on the C-139 Annex Restoration Project site.

The restoration will occur in two major phases, with the completion of the first smaller phase supplying the native plant material for the much larger second phase. It is anticipated that the major restoration work will begin in 2015 and be completed by 2020. Once restoration is completed, the site will be evaluated for recreational opportunities compatible with permitting requirements and the purposes of the project.

Water Quality Issues

Bangkok Faces Major Water Crisis

One of the most popular tourist destinations on earth could run out of tap water within the next 30 days. Bangkok, Thailand which sees over an estimated 15 million tourists pass through their city each year has reached dangerously low levels in their city’s reservoir.

The issue involves both low rains and the influx of seawater into the Chao Phraya River, which is one of the main reservoirs for the large metropolitan city. The governor of waterworks told Reuters that, “Right now, there is only enough water in the dams to distribute for about 30 more days – if it doesn’t rain.”

That’s because the rain helps the Chao Phraya River from becoming salinated [sic] and keeps a balance of fresh water. Otherwise, the levels of salt that tend to creep into the waterway can be damaging, not just those who are using it the kitchen, but to people’s lands and crops.

The city’s waterworks system has already gone on high alert and told citizens to keep up to 60 liters of water in their homes for drinking and urged citizens to keep their water consumption to the bare minimum. However, for a city that boasts around 80,000 hotel rooms, and a high level of rice crops in surrounding areas, conserving water is a difficult task.

Thailand, like many tropical areas, goes through annual dry seasons as well as monsoon seasons. However due to environmental changes the monsoon season has come late this year. And just by being about a month further back than normal, an entire ecosystem has shifted into crisis mode.

The Prime Minister said he had a backup plan just in case the monsoons didn’t come. He unveiled his Plan B at a press conference: 500 artesian drinking wells. And according to the Prime Minister, digging is already underway. However, whether or not this will be enough for a city of millions is highly unlikely. It’s really just a band-aid on a problem that could be facing Bangkok again next year, as climates begin to shift irreversibly.

It is the eventuality of this climate shift that has led to new, strategic designs for trapping water within Bangkok and surrounding areas. Bangkok often goes through a flooding phase during monsoon season, but most of that water is later washed down into the country’s low lying river basins.

Now the city’s waterworks department is looking for a way to trap those floods and keep those lifesaving waters at the city’s disposal. And if the time between monsoons continues to lengthen, it could be the city’s only saving grace.

In addition to running out of tap water, the electrical grid of Bangkok and the surrounding areas also relies heavily on hydroelectric power. They have issued a warning calling the water levels critical in about 99 percent of situations.

For cities that rely on climate regularities to keep their ecosystems in check, many of which are in still developing nations, periods of climate shifting will bring up a number of problems around the globe. Whether or not Bangkok will receive its much needed monsoons is yet to be seen, but for many regions water scarcity has become an inevitable march towards the future.

For those of us in drought affected areas, we are going to have to come up with new and innovative ways of keeping the water we need at bay. Otherwise we will reach a tipping point when one day we go to turn on our taps, and nothing comes out.

Lizabeth Paulat|July 12, 2015

Huge win for our drinking water. 

We are pleased to reach out to you today with historic news. The Bonita Springs City Council unanimously (6-0) passed an ordinance prohibiting the use of fracking and fracking-like oil well stimulation treatments in city limits. The Conservancy supports Bonita’s efforts to provide necessary oversight to protect its drinking water – particularly in the absence of state regulations related to inappropriate oil drilling. Thank you for showing your support for our work.

We sincerely appreciate each phone call, email, donation, public comment and/or volunteer efforts each of you dedicates to our mission. Today is a tremendous example of what we and our partners can accomplish together. 

An excerpt from the Naples Daily News quotes, Jennifer Hecker, director of natural resource policy at the Conservancy, “I think that what Bonita has done today will pave the way for other communities to exercise their home rule authority to restrict inappropriate oil drilling activities and technologies within their communities.”

Read the full article here.

To learn more about the Conservancy’s work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future, click here.

Conservancy of Southwest Florida

Big coal SUES clean water ‏

The biggest private coal company in America just sued the Obama administration to stop the most important step for clean water in a decade.

President Obama’s “Waters of the U.S.” rule will protect the drinking-water sources for one in three Americans.

But Murray Energy—a giant coal mining company and major water polluter—is digging into their deep pockets to stop these clean water protections from going into effect.

It’s no surprise polluters such as Murray Energy want to avoid clean water rules.

Coal mining is an incredibly dirty business, and this one company has repeatedly been cited by environmental officials for leaking coal-slurry waste into rivers like Captina Creek in Ohio.

The CEO of Murray Energy is attacking clean water in the court of public opinion as well, comparing the EPA to “the Gestapo” and blasting what he calls the insane, regal Administration of King Obama.”

But our campaign to defend the clean-water rule is one of our biggest ever. We’re visiting a quarter-million homes in key states, running full-page newspaper ads, generating 15,000 phone calls, and organizing river rallies and town hall meetings to show public support.

Elizabeth Ouzts|Environment Florida Regional Program Director|7/17/15

South Florida gasping from 100-year drought

Eastern Miami-Dade and Broward counties have fallen into extreme drought conditions, water managers warned Thursday.

One measure of the severity: About 85 percent of Miami-Dade’s groundwater monitoring wells are at their lowest levels in a century, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Salinity in Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay continues to climb, and severe and moderate conditions stretch west and north to Collier and Palm Beach counties. And the weather forecast promises little relief: Below-normal rainfall is expected in July.

If this year’s feeble rainy season continues, South Florida’s drinking water supply in the Biscayne Aquifer could be threatened by seawater pushing in underground from the coast.

“For us, it’s an indicator to start monitoring the saltwater intrusion line,” said South Florida Water Management District operations director Jeff Kivett.

The district could order local utilities to cut back use to protect regional wellfields if conditions worsen, Kivett said. For now, the district is urging residents in Miami-Dade and Broward to adhere to oft-ignored year-round restrictions limiting lawn-watering to twice a week.

South Florida’s rainy season typically kicks in around June with the start of the hurricane season. This year, following a dry spring, a little more than 6 inches has fallen across a 16-county region, more than 2 inches below average.

July arrived with brutal heat and little seasonal afternoon rain. Rainfall in Broward was off by more than 8 inches. Miami-Dade was down 7 inches.

Water managers are also wrestling with low water levels in Lake Okeechobee, which this week slipped below 12 feet.

In recent months, the district moved about 228 billion gallons from the lake south to test massive stormwater treatment areas as part of its Everglades restoration efforts and to avoid polluting the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. In the spring, the lake is frequently lowered in anticipation of the rainy season and to protect its aging dike. The releases lowered the lake by about about 2 feet.

Because of restrictions on water quality, much of that water didn’t go where it was most needed in the southern Everglades. As a result, environmental conditions have worsened. Wetlands near Cape Sable have dried out, and salt levels in the bays have climbed steadily above levels considered healthy for marine life.

“There’s just no water to be moved through the system,” Terrie Bates, district chief of water resources, told the governing board at its monthly meeting Thursday.

Former board member Mike Collins warned conditions in Florida Bay are the worst in years and are “a precursor for some type of disaster.”

South Florida has always seen periodic droughts. Severe conditions can have dire consequences.

In the 1990s, acres of seagrass in Florida Bay wilted after a drought, followed by a massive toxic algae bloom that left the bay sick for years. Already this year, researchers have warned they are seeing fewer smaller prey fish in Florida Bay.

Balancing the ups and downs of the wet and dry seasons with the needs for flood control, water use and environmental conservation in South Florida can also have huge economic consequences. Case in point: a pumping permit needed to move water from Lake Okeechobee when levels fall too low set off a ruckus Thursday.

James Nutt, an attorney with the district, said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is refusing to budge on a decision to revise permit requirements on the pumps which include stricter guidelines to protect habitat for endangered snail kites that nest around the lake.

Board member James Moran called the move “clearly an overreach of the sovereign rights of Florida,” while Everglades Law Center attorney Lisa Interlandi defended the authority of federal regulators.

The board authorized the staff to appeal the Corps decision if the permit is denied in August and sue if necessary.

“The last time we had drought conditions and weren’t able to use pumps, the farmers in (the Everglades Agricultural Area) suffered more than … $100 million in crop losses,” Moran fumed.

In other action, the board also voted 6-2 to maintain its tax rate next year — $38.42 for every $100,000 in taxable value in Southeast Florida — rejecting a recommendation from staff to roll back the rate needed to cover its $720 million budget.

The decision, if approved, will mean most homeowners will likely pay more. Without maintaining the rate, the majority of board members worried a staff plan to dip into reserves to cover deficits would leave the district ill-prepared to deal with hurricanes or continue Everglades restoration work. The decision, which faces two public hearings in September, is the first time in five years the district has voted to maintain its rate and not cut taxes.

“We’ve proven we can run lean and mean, and we’re good stewards of the people’s taxpayer money,” said board member Sandy Batchelor. “But we need to be forward-thinking.

JENNY STALETOVITCH|MiamiHerald.com|July 16, 2015

USDA Designates 2 Counties in Florida as Primary Natural Disaster Areas

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated Broward and Miami-Dade counties in Florida as primary natural disaster areas due to damages and losses caused by a recent drought. 

“Our hearts go out to those Florida farmers and ranchers affected by recent natural disasters,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation’s economy by sustaining the successes of America’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities through these difficult times. We’re also telling Florida producers that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood.”

Farmers and ranchers in Collier, Hendry, Monroe and Palm Beach counties in Florida also qualify for natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous.

All counties listed above were designated natural disaster areas on July 15, 2015, making all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for low interest emergency (EM) loans from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), provided eligibility requirements are met. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses. FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability. FSA has a variety of programs, in addition to the EM loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from adversity.

Additional programs available to assist farmers and ranchers include the Emergency Conservation Program, The Livestock Forage Disaster Program, the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program, and the Tree Assistance Program. Interested farmers may contact their local USDA Service Centers for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures for these and other programs. Additional information is also available online at http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov

FSA news releases are available on FSA’s website at www.fsa.usda.gov via the “Newsroom” link.

USDA|July 17th, 2015

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Huge Spike in Dead Sturgeon Reported in Hudson River

Riverkeeper, represented by Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) last week to investigate and take immediate action in response to a shocking spike in reported sturgeon mortalities in the Hudson River estuary since the 2012 start of the new Tappan Zee Bridge construction project.

In the three-year period before construction began—2009 to 2011—a total of six sturgeon fatalities were reported throughout the estuary to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). In the three years after construction began—2012 to 2014—there were 76. In many cases the sturgeon were found cut in half, gashed or severed at the head or tail due to vessel strikes. Dozens more sturgeon mortalities have been reported to the DEC in 2015, bringing the total to more than 100.

The dramatic increases coincide with the start of pile installation testing in 2012; the massive dredging and pile driving work that began in 2013; and the ongoing bridge construction, involving close to 200 project vessels in and around the Tappan Zee.

chart3

The 2013 and 2014 reports, obtained through Freedom of Information Law requests, are compiled on this Google Earth map.

chart2

Between Crotonville and Riverdale alone, 10 and 13 sturgeon mortalities were reported in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Riverkeeper noted in its petition that the Hudson River estuary is tidal, meaning a dead or injured fish could be transported north or south of the project area on the tide. Moreover, a sturgeon injured as a result of project activity might travel some distance before it ultimately dies.

Riverkeeper|July 14, 2015

Hydroelectricity, Fisheries Engineering & Fish Passage Systems

By: David Russell Schilling|July 10th, 2015

Hydroelectricity has long been considered a renewable energy resource as water evaporates and falls as rain is collected in rivers and turns hydroelectric turbines producing energy. However, it has become clear that hydroelectricity creates unacceptable environmental damage in the form of flooding, unanticipated sediment problems, interference with the natural transport of nutrients and deleterious effects on fish.

Last year, IndustryTap wrote, “Whoosh Cannon Helps Spawning Salmon Scale Obstacles.” This year, the hydroelectric power industry seems to be getting on board designing and building “fish passage systems,” similar to the Woosh Cannon, that allow salmon and other fish species to bypass dams and other obstacles to reach ancient spawning grounds.

Black & Veatch recently undertook designing and building two fish passage systems to meet its obligations under a new PacifiCorp Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license on the Lewis River. As a result of the project, 117 miles of salmon and steelhead habitat upstream from the Swift, Yale and Merwin hydroelectric dams has been reopened and is now accessible to fish from below these dams.

Many dams built decades or even over a century ago have caused the steep decline in the presence of native aquatic species, and it was only recently that efforts were started to correct this problem.

For the past 20 years, researchers at the University of Massachusetts have been studying fish passage systems in an effort to better understand how ecosystems are affected by dams, how fish are affected by dams, and how hydroelectric power systems can be better designed and built to minimize environmental impact.

Fish Passage Systems are now part of the College of Engineering at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in the Civil & Environmental Engineering program.

Following is information on the Lewis River Project from the BV website:

MORE ABOUT THE PROJECT:

  • The Lewis River watershed drains portions of both Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams. The Lewis River is a tributary of the Columbia River.

Merwin Fish Passage Facilities

  • Turbine-driven pumps move a steady attraction stream of water at a rate of 400 cubic feet per second (cfs), attracting fish to the upstream flow and away from powerhouse outflow. Attraction flows are expandable, up to 800 cfs.
  • The fish naturally swim against the upstream current and follow it up a short fish ladder to a fish lift and then through an elevated conveyance flume to a sorting facility. Fish are then sorted according to species and birth origination (hatchery or wild).
  • The Merwin facilities operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and have the capacity to handle 3,700 adult fish per day, all of which must pass upstream or to hatcheries within 24 hours of collection.

Swift Floating Surface Collector

  • The 170-foot x 60-foot, 600 cfs floating surface collector is anchored by a mooring tower connected to the dam by an access trestle that’s supported by piles.
  • The 1,500 ton floating surface collector is specially designed to rise and fall with seasonal changes in reservoir water level of up to 100-feet, allowing the reservoir to be operated for flood management.
  • Attraction water is drawn through v-screens and velocity increases as water moves deeper into the collector and fish are captured.
  • The floating surface collector features 14 propeller pumps, including two standby pumps, which operate at 50 cfs each. The facility is designed to be expanded to a capacity of 900 cfs of attraction flow.
  • The floating surface collector has a capacity of processing up to 76,000 smolts in a 24-hour period.

This video shows efforts to improve fish passages in the Pacific Northwest’s Lower Snake River.

David Russell Schilling|July 10th, 2015

Restoring The Atchafalaya River’s Flow

A group of fresh water scientists are looking to restore the flow of water through the Atchafalaya River Basin

Most of the environmental restoration focus in Louisiana has centered around saving the disappearing wetlands around the Gulf Coast. But there’s another attempted restoration in the works, a little higher up. Local scientists affiliated with the Nature Conservancy are planning to repair water flow along the Atchafalaya River Basin.

In the 1840s a German immigrant named Anton Wilbert arrived in South Louisiana to work on the railroad. Working around Morgan City, Wilbert started to see possibilities in the acres of freshwater swamp that surrounded him. “He saw the Atchafalaya Basin and saw these just beautiful Cypress trees…beautiful forest. And he said wow…this could be a great opportunity for me here.”

That’s Jim Bergan of the Louisiana chapter of the Nature Conservancy. He says Anton Wilbert saw potential in timber, he was a woodsman and a coffin maker. “They cut down a lot of timber there, at the time, they were looking at ways of making a living for themselves, and create a supply of cypress which fed the growing, gulf coast market.”

Five generations of Wilbert’s family accumulated more than 100,000 acres of land around the region. They harvested timber, and later drilled for oil. Bergan says the family recently saw new potential in the land they’d owned for a century and a half. With environmental concerns growing about the health of the Atchafalaya River Basin, they realized the best use for some of their land was to dedicate it to scientific research. “They recognize that we have some hydrologic issues that definitely need to be addressed. They have responsibility to shareholders. Hydrological restoration isn’t a profitable enterprise.”

The family’s company, A. Wilbert’s Sons, sold 5,300 acres on the Eastern side of the Atchafalaya River Basin to the Nature Conservancy, Bergan’s employer. Now it’s up to him, and partners at LSU and the state’s department of natural resources, to figure out why this fresh water swamp isn’t working the way it’s supposed to.

Bergan and his colleague Bryan Piazza have spent years researching the Wilbert’s swampland. Piazza’s a freshwater and coastal specialist too. He navigates his boat to Bayou Sorrel, where some of the newly acquired land is. “The water comes up, the water in the river rises, these distributaries deliver water into the forest where it slows down, the nutrients are deposited, it fertilizes the trees, it helps everything grow. It helps the fish, it helps the crawfish. Then that water is supposed to flow down eventually to the Gulf of Mexico.”

But Piazza says the plumbing is broken in this swamp. Water gets stuck, instead of freely flowing in and out of the forest. “So what’s happened in here, it takes higher and higher floods to get the swamp flooded, there’s places where the water can’t get out.”

That’s a problem for the some 250,000 Cypress trees that line the basin. They need some dry periods to go along with the wet ones. So what broke the plumbing in the Atchafalaya Basin? It used to work like a pipe with a lot of holes in it. The river was the pipe, and the 30 distributaries, offshoots of the river, spread out, feeding the swampland with nutrients. Jim Bergan says the Federal Flood Control Act forced the Army Corps of Engineers to plug the holes. “The Corps been very successful in turning this basin into a floodway.”

They needed the Atchafalaya to push water faster out into the gulf, and make sure Baton Rouge, New Orleans and other population centers didn’t get flooded. One of the few surviving distributaries of the Atchafalaya is called Bayou Sorrel. It’s where Bergan and Piazza spend a lot of their time researching how to restore this river delta. Piazza says the aim of this restoration is to bring water through the forest in a slow way, “where it can deposit the nutrients to fertilize the trees and drive that biological productivity and then to get the water off.”

Now that Bergan and Piazza’s employer, the Nature Conservancy, owns the land, they are excited to establish a research center deep in the swamp, and get to work. And while they are relative newcomers to an area that is steeped in local knowledge, they feel like they’ve got a mandate to repair the Atchafalaya’s plumbing says Bergan.

“A lot of people we talk to, that are out here, guy on the boat just coming through, they’re out here every day, we’re not, and, even though they don’t have a degree in hydrology, or some other discipline, the first person a lot of these folks with the hunting clubs, and the fishermen, they ask about, what are we going to do with the water.”

The Nature Conservancy plans to invest 10 million dollars as part of their Atchafalaya River Basin Initiative in the next 10 years. That money will go towards the land acquisition, establishing a research center in the river basin, working with the state on restoration projects, and helping to fund academic research on river delta systems.

Support for WWNO’s Coastal Desk comes from the Walton Family Foundation, Kabacoff Family Foundation and Greater New Orleans Foundation.

Jesse Hardman|Jul 14, 2015

Offshore & Ocean

Lagoon health hinges on canal project

PALM BAY Storms send thousands of gallons per second of cloudy, contaminated water careening down Canal 1, south of Port Malabar Road, toward the fragile Indian River Lagoon.

This 8-mile, 100-foot-wide canal was cut in the 1920s, draining more than 100 square miles of historic St. Johns River floodplain so its fertile soils could be farmed.

But the canal — also called C-1 — linking the St. Johns to the Indian River Lagoon, often pushes too much fresh water, too quickly into the lagoon.

That lowers the lagoon’s salt content and kills marine life. The cloudy water blocks sunlight that seagrass needs to grow.

But ongoing improvements to the South Brevard canal system are reversing the water’s flow and hopefully the lagoon’s ill fortunes, curing chronic ecological sins of the past.

What went wrong in the Indian River Lagoon?

Canals like C-1 are widespread throughout the lagoon basin, acting as artificial arteries that drain freshwater lakes and rivers to coastal waters. So water managers say the so-called C-1 rediversion project and other improvements to the Melbourne-Tillman Water Control District could become a model for how to manager large canal systems that drain to the lagoon or other fragile coastal waters. But what flows from our yards to our canals also will determine the lagoon’s fate, officials say.

“I want everybody who’s anybody to know what the problem is out here,” Dan Anderson, director of the Melbourne-Tillman Water Control District, said recently aboard an airboat traveling the C-1. “All the agencies have to work together.”

Reversing the C-1’s flow has long been a goal of the Melbourne-Tillman district’s main partner — the St. Johns River Water Management District.

The C-1 rediversion has created thousands of acres of water-storage areas west of Palm Bay to restore the river’s historic flow to the north. The $40 million project already has reversed about 30 percent of the C-1’s flow to the lagoon and plans soon to make that more than 50 percent.

More fish, clams and crabs in the lagoon should soon follow.

Many other means of keeping foul canal water and muck from the lagoon are in the works. This year, the St. Johns district plans a $1.4 million project to firm up and reshape the C-1’s banks to prevent soil erosion along 2.2 miles of the canal, from Interstate 95 east to the main dam structure. And they’ll ultimately also build several sediment traps along feeder canals to capture soils before they can flow to the C-1, Turkey Creek and the lagoon.

St. Johns and the Melbourne-Tillman districts are working on agreements for those projects. Another proposal would buy a $250,000 harvester to extract invasive hydrilla that now grows worse since the two districts began holding back more water in the C-1 from flowing to the lagoon.

But steep challenges and delicate balances remain.

Storms that push water east up the canals continually threaten to flood Palm Bay neighborhoods. And when water managers discharge C-1 water to Turkey Creek to avert flooding, they must also weigh whether one bad slug of too much water can undo months of careful water management to improve the lagoon’s water quality.

Hydrilla worsens after more water is held back

One unintended consequence of the C-1 rediversion project, however, has been a worsening of an aggressive, invading plant that can grow several inches per day.

The stringy Hydrilla nuisance plant clogs the C-1 and its feeder canals, increasing flood risks. The invasive plant has grown worse in Melbourne-Tillman’s canals since 2011, when a new dam structure went in as part of efforts to hold back nutrient-rich fresh water from flowing to the lagoon. That created a hydrilla haven.

Man-made items also clog the canal system, Anderson says. Among those items are shopping carts, garbage cans, trampolines, lawn furniture and whatever else homeowners leave outside or near the canal banks.

Fertilizers from yards runs into the canals, and septic tank drainfields seep nitrogen and phosphorus-laden water into groundwater that oozes into the C-1 and its feeder canals, helping to fuel toxic algae blooms that can kill fish and other wildlife in the lagoon.

Clear for now, but not for long

Wildlife thrive in the C-1.

Egrets dash in front of the airboat this day as it races down the canal.

Anderson eases up on the throttle, bringing the boat to slow drift.

Bass and bottom plants are easily seen through a sun-glittered surface.

“It’s a rarity to see this kind of clarity,” Anderson says about the canal water, which one rain can foul. “It’s amazing how it will change to chocolate milk just like that.”

Farther south, along the Brevard-Indian River county line, the C-54 canal once sent similar surges of cloudy, fertilizer-laden fresh water from the 6,500-acre St. Johns River Water Management Area into the St. Sebastian River, which empties into the Indian River Lagoon.

During some bad storms, such as the 2004 hurricanes and Tropical Storm Fay in 2008, the district released billions of gallons to prevent flooding.

Small amounts can sometimes top dam structures, but new storage areas to the west have made such large-scale discharges a thing of the past.

The lagoon also reaped benefits from the St. Johns district’s $250 million, 20-year upper basin project, which has brought the marshy river’s flow closer to what it was before farmers drained it to grow crops, mostly to help feed troops during World War II.

And dredging of the St. Sebastian River, Crane Creek and Turkey Creek in recent years removed much of the sediment that washed from the St. Johns basin into the lagoon.

Brevard plans to dredge muck from Indian River Lagoon

The state is also beginning a program to remove muck from from waterways leading to the lagoon.

Muck — rotted plant matter, clays and soils from construction sites — has been likened to “black mayonnaise.” It blocks sunlight to seagrass and contributes to bacterial decay, which consumes oxygen, potentially causing fish kills.

Florida Tech scientists estimate 5-7 million cubic yards of muck blankets the northern lagoon, enough to fill a football field 1,000 yards high.

But the key to the lagoon’s future is keeping muck out in the first place, water managers say.

So people must help to temper what’s running off the streets and their yards, Anderson says.

“I think people need to realize where their stormwater goes and the impacts it creates,” he said.

Jim Waymer|FLORIDA TODAY

An End to Great Barrier Reef Dumping Is Imminent

Thanks to the support of hundreds of thousands of people around the world, we’re one giant step closer to protecting one of the Earth’s most beautiful and lively places.

A full ban on dumping in the Great Barrier Reef should come to fruition in a matter of months. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee has voted to maintain pressure on Australia to deliver on its promise to restore the health of the reef.
More than 500,000 WWF supporters from 177 different countries called on world leaders to defend the Great Barrier Reef.

The UNESCO decision requires Australia to deliver “effective and sustained protection” of the reef from threats including reckless industrialization and pollution. Australia is required to provide a first report on progress in just 18 months.

WWF expects a full ban on dumping in the reef’s World Heritage waters to come into force within months.

“Australia has promised to prioritize the health of the reef over damaging activities like dumping dredge spoil,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International.

“UNESCO will be watching to ensure that the condition of the reef improves in coming years, as will the 550,000 WWF campaign supporters and millions of people worldwide who are deeply concerned and want to see a stop to industrial destruction of the Great Barrier Reef.”

In its final reef decision, the committee expressed continued concern that habitats and wildlife populations have declined, and that the reef’s overall outlook is poor. The committee emphasized that major long-term threats such as water pollution and climate change remain and require action.

WWF Conservation Action Network |7/17/18

Forestry

Forest Plan Revision

The Flathead National Forest is revising its Land and Resource Management Plan (referred to as the “revised forest plan”) in compliance with the 2012 Planning Rule for the National Forest System.

The need for the proposed action is twofold: 1) significant changes have occurred in conditions and demands since the Flathead’s 1986 Forest Plan and 2) to ensure the adequacy of regulatory mechanisms regarding habitat protection across the national forests in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE) in support of the de-listing of the grizzly bear.

The Flathead National Forest is incorporating relevant direction from the NCDE Grizzly Bear Conservation Strategy (GBCS) as part of its plan revision process.

For more information about the forest plan amendment on the amendment forests click here.

Global Warming and Climate Change

Is the climate crisis creating a global consciousness shift?

When an assassin killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914, no one called it the start of the First World War. That happened years later, after the implications, consequences and scale of the response could be assessed. It’s often the way. That’s why historians are important; they put events in context.

Similarly, I doubt anyone knew how our world would change after Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak built their first computer in Jobs’ parents’ garage in 1975.

In 1988, when climate scientist James Hansen testified in Washington that human-caused global warming was kicking in, people might have been excused for failing to grasp the significance of his early warning. But there’s no excuse for humanity’s subsequent dismissal and denial of the reality of his statements and the deliberate, aggressive opposition to any action to reduce the threat.

For years, environmentalists have called for an urgent response to runaway climate change. Evidence has poured in from around the world to corroborate Hansen’s conclusions, from melting glaciers, sea level rise and ocean acidification to increasing extreme weather events and changes in animal and plant behaviour and ranges.

Despite the evidence, few governments have taken the necessary steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Instead of listening to scientists and citizens, many leaders have chosen to heed the fossil fuel industry’s massive PR machine and right-wing ideologues who see the call for global action as a socialist threat to capitalism.

There has been progress, at national and subnational levels, and among forward-thinking corporations and organizations. Some, like the commitment by countries including Denmark and Germany to reduce dependence on fossil fuels after the 1973 Arab oil embargo, were in response to markets rather than the climate crisis, but it positioned them well as evidence for climate change mounted.

More recently, people on the frontlines of climate change such as Pacific Islanders and Inuit have warned of the changes they’re experiencing. The insurance industry and a number of corporations have called for action, with some, like Tesla, designing solutions. But many in the media and government continue to downplay the problem.

I’ve been astounded by the lack of response over the years, but I’ll go out on a limb and suggest a shift is now taking place. Although we may not recognize its significance without the benefit of hindsight, we appear to be in the early stages of something huge.

Even some news outlets are shifting. The U.K.’s Guardian decided earlier this year to increase its coverage of climate change, going so far as to encourage divestment from the fossil fuel industry. The New York Times decided to use the more accurate term “denier” rather than “skeptic” to refer to those who reject the overwhelming evidence for human-caused climate change.

People power is another sign of the growing shift: 400,000 at the largest climate march in history in New York in September, with 2,646 simultaneous marches in 162 countries; an unprecedented gathering of 25,000 in Quebec City in advance of a premiers’ climate change summit in April; and more than 10,000 in Toronto (including me) on July 5 for the March for Jobs, Justice and the Climate in advance of the Climate Summit of the Americas.

When Pope Francis reached beyond the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to call for action on climate change, his message was endorsed by other religious leaders and organizations, including the Dalai Lama, the Islamic Society of North America, an influential group of Jewish rabbis and the Church of England.

Beyond visible evidence of the increasing willingness to meet the challenge of global warming, one of the biggest signs of a shift has been the almost unnoticed but spectacular increase in renewable energy investment in countries like the U.S., Brazil and China.

It’s easy for governments and industry to prioritize corporate profits and short-term gain over the best interests of complacent citizens. But when enough people demand action, take to the streets, write to business, political and religious leaders and talk to friends and family, change starts happening. We never know how big it will be until it’s occurred — but this time, it looks like it could be monumental! Let’s hope so.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

NOAA State of the Climate report: Which seven records were broken in 2014?

Global surface temperature diagram from NOAA

Surface temperature | NOAA

From greenhouse gas levels to ocean heat content, 2014 was a record-breaking year for the Earth system in many different ways. That’s the finding of the latest State of the Climate report from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) published today.

Now in its 25th year, the report provides a checkup of global climate using data collected from land, sea, ice and space. We take a look at seven of the records that tumbled last year.

Greenhouse gases

All the major greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, hit record high average concentrations last year.

After briefly passing 400ppm in May 2013, carbon dioxide levels at Mauna Loa in Hawaii stayed above this mark for the whole of April, May and June in 2014, the report says. Globally, 1.9ppm of carbon dioxide was added to the atmosphere in 2014, taking the average for the year to 397.2ppm.

State Of Climate 2014_Fig1

Global average carbon dioxide concentrations since 1980, with photo of Mauna Loa Observatory in background. Adapted from Figure 2.36 in State of the Climate in 2014

Concentrations of methane in the Earth’s atmosphere reached 1822.9 parts per billion (ppb) in 2014. This increase of 9.2ppb from 2013 is larger than in recent years, the report says. The average levels of nitrous oxide in 2014 was 326.9ppb, an increase of 1.0ppb from 2013. This is faster than the average year-on-year increase over the decade (0.75ppb per year).

Hottest year

As was widely covered in the media, 2014 saw the highest annual average global surface temperature since records began, the report says:

“The year 2014 was forecast to be a warm year, and it was by all accounts a very warm year, in fact record warm according to four independent observational datasets.”

Three of the four datasets put 2014 as the hottest year, while the UK Met Office put it joint top with 2010. The four estimates put 2014 at 0.27-0.29C above the 1981-2010 average.

The map below shows how this warmth differed regionally. Europe saw its warmest year on record, as did Mexico, while 2014 was second-warmest in Argentina and Uruguay, and third warmest in Australia. Much of Asia and Africa also saw above-average temperatures, the report says. Eastern North America was the only major region to observe a below-average annual temperature.

Surface Temps _2014_610

Average temperature in 2014 compared to the 1981-2010 average. Adapted from Plate 2.1c in State of the Climate in 2014

Record sea surface temperatures

The report summarizes the year for the Earth’s oceans in an unconventional manner – with a haiku:

“Not quite El Niño,
North Oceans’ fluxes, warmth shift,
dance with weird weather.”

The “not quite” El Niño refers to the global climatic phenomenon that kept scientists on their toes throughout 2014. While conditions in the Pacific Ocean looked ripe for an event to develop, they stayed on the cusp for much of the year, before an event started to emerge at the end of the year. Scientists now expect this El Niño will develop into a significant event in 2015.

But despite a faltering El Niño, the average global sea surface temperature was still the highest on record, the NOAA report says. As you can see in the map below, very warm temperatures were recorded in the central and northeast Pacific, and the western Atlantic.

The Blob” of warm water in the northwest Pacific has been connected by some scientists to the extended drought in California and the cold temperatures in the eastern US.

Fig 3.1_top

2014 average sea surface temperature, relative to the 1981-2010 average. Image courtesy: American Meteorological Society.

Record ocean heat content

It wasn’t just the surface of the oceans that had a warm year, the report finds. Measurements over the top 700m of the ocean show that 2014 was also a record year for the amount of heat stored in the ocean.

This reflects the continued increase of energy in the oceans, which absorb over 90% of the heat trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases, the report says.

OHC_timeseries _ALL2014_610

Ocean heat content each year since 1993 compared to the 1993-2013 average (dashed line) from a variety of data sources. Graph adapted from Figure 3.7 in State of the Climate in 2014

Record sea levels

With the oceans warming up, it’s no surprise that 2014 was also a record year for global sea levels. Several different components contribute to rising sea levels rise, including water expanding as it warms, melting glaciers and ice sheets, and changes to how much water is stored on land.

Global average sea levels have risen by around 3.2mm per year since satellite measurements began in 1993, the report says, with sea levels around 67mm higher in 2014 than they were in 1993. You can see this in the graph below.

Sea Level Rise Graph _20157-2015

Global sea level each year since 1993 compared to the 1993-2013 average (dashed line). Graph adapted from Plate 1.1x in State of the Climate in 2014

Greenland ice sheet albedo

The warm year saw the Greenland ice sheet experience above average melting for 90% of the “melt season”, the report says.

This contributed to Greenland setting a new August record for low albedo – a measure of how much of the sun’s energy that is reflected by a surface. A bright white sheet of ice generally has a high albedo, but melting makes the surface darker and less able to reflect away the Sun’s energy.

Scientists began taking records of albedo on Greenland in 2000, and 2014 saw the record low for August and the second lowest average albedo for the summer, which you can see in the graphs below.

Fig 5.14

a) Map of Greenland Ice Sheet surface albedo for summer (June to August) 2014, relative to the summer average 2000-2011, b) Average surface albedo of the whole ice sheet each summer since 2000, and c) Average surface albedo of the ice sheet each August since 2000. Image courtesy: American Meteorological Society.

Antarctic sea ice

While Greenland was setting records linked to melting, another was being set around the chilly mass of Antarctica, which saw a new highest daily sea ice extent. On 20 September, sea ice hit 20.1m square kilometers, as the image below shows. This topped the previous record set in 2013 and all other years since satellite measurements began in 1979. Last year also saw a new record for highest average extent from April to September.

Fig 6.1

Antarctica sea ice extent on 20 September 2014. The red line shows the 1981-2010 daily average sea ice extent for that date. Image courtesy: American Meteorological Society.

The NOAA report dedicates a specific section of the report to discussing Antarctic sea ice extent, which has seen records of high extent broken for three years in a row.

The report says the high amounts of sea ice are predominantly a result of changing wind patterns. As Carbon Brief discussed in an article last year, Antarctic sea-ice isn’t surrounded by land like the Arctic, so there’s nothing to prevent winds blowing ice out to sea. As the sea-ice moves away from the land, it exposes open water, which then freezes, allowing the sea-ice to grow.

But working out the how the atmosphere, ocean, and ice interact to cause changes in Antarctic sea ice is complicated, the NOAA report says. And there’s no one underlying reason that explains these records.

A closing haiku

As the report tops over 250 pages, this is just a snapshot of what it contains. But the report shows that 2014 was a standout year for many different aspects of our climate. As for how 2014 fits in with longer-term changes, the report turns to poetry again to sum up what the future has in store for the oceans:

“Seas warm, ice caps melt,
waters rise, sour, rains shift salt,
unceasing, worldwide.”

Blunden, J. and Arndt, D. S. Eds. ( 2015) State of the Climate in 2014. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 96 (7), S1- S267.

Robert McSweeney|16 Jul 2015

Science publishes new NOAA analysis: Data show no recent slowdown in global warming

Global temperature trends.

(Credit: NOAA)

A new study published online today in the journal Science finds that the rate of global warming during the last 15 years has been as fast as or faster than that seen during the latter half of the 20th Century. The study refutes the notion that there has been a slowdown or “hiatus” in the rate of global warming in recent years.

The study is the work of a team of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information* (NCEI) using the latest global surface temperature data.

“Adding in the last two years of global surface temperature data and other improvements in the quality of the observed record provide evidence that contradict the notion of a hiatus in recent global warming trends,” said Thomas R. Karl, L.H.D., Director, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. “Our new analysis suggests that the apparent hiatus may have been largely the result of limitations in past datasets, and that the rate of warming over the first 15 years of this century has, in fact, been as fast or faster than that seen over the last half of the 20th century.” 

The apparent observed slowing or decrease in the upward rate of global surface temperature warming has been nicknamed the “hiatus.” The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, released in stages between September 2013 and November 2014, concluded that the upward global surface temperature trend from 1998­­-2012 was markedly lower than the trend from 1951-2012.

Since the release of the IPCC report, NOAA scientists have made significant improvements in the calculation of trends and now use a global surface temperature record that includes the most recent two years of data, 2013 and 2014–the hottest year on record. The calculations also use improved versions of both sea surface temperature and land surface air temperature datasets. One of the most substantial improvements is a correction that accounts for the difference in data collected from buoys and ship-based data.

No slow down in global warming.

(Credit: NOAA)

Prior to the mid-1970s, ships were the predominant way to measure sea surface temperatures, and since then buoys have been used in increasing numbers. Compared to ships, buoys provide measurements of significantly greater accuracy. “In regards to sea surface temperature, scientists have shown that across the board, data collected from buoys are cooler than ship-based data,” said Dr. Thomas C. Peterson, principal scientist at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information and one of the study’s authors. “In order to accurately compare ship measurements and buoy measurements over the long-term, they need to be compatible. Scientists have developed a method to correct the difference between ship and buoy measurements, and we are using this in our trend analysis.” 

In addition, more detailed information has been obtained regarding each ship’s observation method. This information was also used to provide improved corrections for changes in the mix of observing methods.   

New analyses with these data demonstrate that incomplete spatial coverage also led to underestimates of the true global temperature change previously reported in the 2013 IPCC report. The integration of dozens of data sets has improved spatial coverage over many areas, including the Arctic, where temperatures have been rapidly increasing in recent decades. For example, the release of the International Surface Temperature Initiative databank, integrated with NOAA’s Global Historical Climatology Network-Daily dataset and forty additional historical data sources, has more than doubled the number of weather stations available for analysis.

Lastly, the incorporation of additional years of data, 2013 and 2014, with 2014 being the warmest year on record, has had a notable impact on the temperature assessment. As stated by the IPCC, the “hiatus” period 1998-2012 is short and began with an unusually warm El Niño year. However, over the full period of record, from 1880 to present, the newly calculated warming trend is not substantially different than reported previously (0.68°C / Century (new) vs. 0.65°C / Century (old)), reinforcing that the new corrections mainly have in impact in recent decades. 

NOAA

7 Climate Records Broken in 2014 Indicates Earth Is ‘Gravely Ill’

The annual State of the Climate report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and American Meteorological Society assembles climate studies and reports from the previous year in one package. The 25th annual report is out and the news isn’t good: indicators of climate change show up everywhere.

Geographical distribution of notable climate anomalies and events occurring around the world in 2014. Image credit: NOAA State of the Climate report

Geographical distribution of notable climate anomalies and events occurring around the world in 2014. Image credit: NOAA State of the Climate report

“Most of the dozens of essential climate variables monitored each year in this report continued to follow their long-term trends in 2014, with several setting new records,” the report said.

A lot of the 292-page study is highly technical as it incorporates the work of more than 400 scientists analyzing everything from temperatures to precipitation to extreme weather events to ice melt all over the world. But one of the main conclusions of the report is how much things are changing and how quickly.

Perhaps Jeff Severinghaus of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography provides the best takeaway from the report, saying, if this is Earth’s annual checkup, “the doctor is saying ‘you are gravely ill.’”

Here are seven climate records broken in 2014:

1. Hottest Year: Records for the hottest temperature were set around the world with the highest average global surface temperature since record-keeping began, according to four separate analyses. Records were shattered everywhere. Europe and Mexico had their warmest years ever, while Argentina and Uruguay had their second hottest years and Australia its third warmest after enduring all-time record heat in 2013. Africa and Asia also had above-average temperatures.

warmyear

The above table lists the global combined land and ocean annually-averaged temperature rank and anomaly for each of the 10 warmest years on record. Chart credit: NOAA

“Warmer-than-average conditions were present across much of the world’s land and ocean surfaces during 2014,” the report said. “These contributed to a global average temperature that was the highest or joint highest since records began in the mid-to-late 1800s. Over land surfaces, Eurasia and western North America were particularly warm, while noticeable cold was felt in eastern North America, which suffered several Arctic cold-air outbreaks in early 2014. The frequency of warm extreme temperatures was above average for all regions apart from North America.”

2. Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Driving those temperature increases were all the major heat-trapping greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, which reported record high atmospheric concentrations. Carbon levels at Mauna Loa stayed above 400 ppm from April through June, and globally the average was 397.2ppm. Methane concentrations rose as well, with an increase that’s bigger than the average annual increase of the past decade.

3. Sea Surface Temperature: The average sea surface temperature globally was the highest on record, with especially warm temperatures in the western Atlantic and central and northeast Pacific. While this didn’t drive an El Niño event in 2014, scientists expect one to arrive in 2015.

4. Ocean Temperature: The heat content of the ocean’s waters also set a record, reflecting the fact that the oceans absorb more than 90 percent of the heat trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere by greenhouse gases. As greenhouse gases rise, therefore, so do ocean temperatures.

Ocean heat content each year since 1993 compared to the 1993-2013 average (dashed line) from a variety of data sources. Exact estimates differ among data sets, but they all show the same upward trend. Graph adapted from Figure 3.7 in State of the Climate in 2014.

Ocean heat content each year since 1993 compared to the 1993-2013 average (dashed line) from a variety of data sources.

Exact estimates differ among data sets, but they all show the same upward trend.

Graph adapted from Figure 3.7 in State of the Climate in 2014.

5. Sea Level Rise: Sea levels are setting records too. Sea levels are now about 67 millimeters, or about 2.6 inches, higher than they were in 1993.  Factors contribution to this rise include the melting of glaciers and other sea ice, the fact that water expands as it warms and melting land ice flowing out to sea.

Global sea level each year since 1993 compared to the 1993* average (dashed line). Graph adapted from Plate 1.1x in State of the Climate in 2014. Image credit: NOAA's State of the Climate report

Global sea level each year since 1993 compared to the 1993 average (dashed line). Graph adapted from Plate 1.1x in State of the Climate in 2014.

6. Greenland Ice Melt: The Greenland ice sheet was above average in its rate for melt for 90 percent of the regular melt season. It hit a record low for August in how much of the sun’s energy is reflected off its surface. Melting darkens the ice sheet’s surface, making it less able to reflect the sun’s energy.

a) Map of Greenland Ice Sheet surface albedo for summer (June to August) 2014, relative to the summer average 2000-2011, b) Average surface albedo of the whole ice sheet each summer since 2000, and c) Average surface albedo of the ice sheet each August since 2000.  Image courtesy: American Meteorological Society

                                                                                                                                                                                             a) Map of Greenland Ice Sheet surface albedo for summer (June to August) 2014, relative to the summer average 2000-2011,

                                                                                                                                                                                             b) Average surface albedo of the whole ice sheet each summer since 2000, and

                                                                                                                                                                                            c) Average surface albedo of the ice sheet each August since 2000. Image courtesy: American Meteorological Society

7. Antarctic Ice Melt: Antarctic sea ice set a different record—for highest sea ice extent, which has broken records three years running. One possible reason for that is changing wind patterns, scientists say. Without land to block it as in the Arctic, ice near land blows out to sea, exposing open water, which then freezes. While it might sound counterintuitive to the idea of a warming planet, it’s indicative of  potentially climate change-driven atmospheric shifts.

“As we step into the next quarter-century of this report’s life, we look forward to seeing our Earth science disciplines grow to meet the challenges associated with documenting the evolving state of our planet’s climate system in this series,” says the report. “These challenges are not just in observing and documenting, but in connecting: across the climate system’s several major components and associated myriad sub-components, the time scales and observing practices related to these, and the possibilities of satellite-era Big Data with the longevity and purpose of more traditional observations.”

Anastasia Pantsios|July 17, 2015

Climate change is making wildfires worse and wildfires are making climate change worse

It’s the season when wildfires rage, and this year they’re raging particularly hard: In June alone, Alaska saw 1.1 million acres go up in flames. In California, firefighters had responded to 3,381 wildfires by July 11, “1,000 more than the average over the previous five years,” The New York Times reports in a big feature on wildfires in the state.

And that’s likely not a coincidence. A study published this week in Nature Communications connects worsening wildfire seasons to climate change, and suggests the trend will continue in the years ahead as climate change rolls forward. “Wildfires occur at the intersection of dry weather, available fuel and ignition sources,” the study’s authors write. Of those factors, “weather is the most variable.”

The study also suggests that wildfires will themselves play a role in driving climate change, creating a nasty feedback loop.

After combing through decades of data, the report’s authors show that, globally, wildfire seasons on average became 18.7 percent longer between 1979 and 2013. Some regions, of course, have it far worse: In parts of South America, wildfire season has increased by roughly 33 days over the last 35 years.

“We may be moving into a new normal. If these trends persist, we are on track to see more fire activity and more burned area,” lead author W. Matt Jolly told ClimateWire.

This map highlights areas where the length of the fire season has changed significantly since 1979, with the red areas seeing the most increase.

Click map to embiggen.

Nature

Longer fire seasons take a heavy economic toll. From the study:

Over the last decade, annual wildfire suppression costs on US federal lands exceeded $1.7B US dollars and $1B US dollars in Canada. When all components are considered, including preparedness/suppression costs and economic losses, these total costs are substantially higher. In Australia in 2005, total wildfire costs were estimated at nearly $9.4B US dollars or 1.3% of their Gross Domestic Product.

The fires, worsened by climate change, then hasten climate change by spewing carbon into the atmosphere in amounts that can be more than half of what we humans generate by burning fossil fuels.

That leads to the most worrying theory posited in the paper: That the world’s forests will become less able to take CO2 out of the atmosphere as climate change advances, in part because climate change–driven wildfires are killing them off. That means wildfires would be functioning as what climate scientists call a positive feedback mechanism, a phenomenon that is made worse by global warming and, as it gets worse, also drives warming — a vicious cycle that it might be too late to break.

John Light|16 Jul 2015

Extreme Weather

Why Parts of the World Are Experiencing Record-Breaking Rainfall

If you think you’re getting an unusually hard soaking more often when you go out in the rain, you’re probably right.

A team of scientists in Germany says record-breaking heavy rainfall has been increasing strikingly in the last 30 years as global temperatures increase.

Before 1980, they say, the explanation was fluctuations in natural variability. But since then they have detected a clear upward trend in downpours that is consistent with a warming world.

The scientists, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), report in the journal Climatic Change that this increase is to be expected with rising global temperatures, caused by greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels.

High-impact flooding

Short-term torrential rains can lead to what the team calls “high-impact” flooding. For example,extreme rainfall in Pakistan in 2010 brought devastation that killed hundreds of people and led to a cholera outbreak.

In the same year, rainstorms in Texas caused dozens of flash floods. And no fewer than three “once-in-a-century” floods in Germany all happened in just a couple of years from 1997.

“In all of these places, the amount of rain pouring down in one day broke local records—and while each of these individual events has been caused by a number of different factors, we find a clear overall upward trend for these unprecedented hazards,” says the lead author, Jascha Lehmann, a PIK researcher into climate impacts and vulnerabilities.

Statistical analysis of rainfall data from 1901 to 2010, derived from thousands of weather stations around the globe, shows that from 1980 to 2010 there were 12 percent more of these intense events than would be expected in a climate without global warming. In the last year of the period the team studied, there were 26 percent more record-breaking daily rainfall events globally.

Not all parts of the world are experiencing a similar pattern of soaking. The PIK scientists found that—possibly not surprisingly—wet regions generally saw a bigger increase in deluges and drier regions a smaller one.

In southeast Asia, the observed increase in record-breaking rainfall events is as high as 56 percent, in Europe 31 percent, and in the central U.S. it is a more modest, but still worrying, 24 percent.

In marked contrast, some regions have experienced significantly fewer record-breaking daily rainfall events. In the Mediterranean, the reduction is 27 percent, and in the western U.S. it is 21 percent. Both regions are at risk from severe droughts.

The team says there is a simple scientific explanation for what they report. They compared their findings with existing knowledge about how much more water the atmosphere can store when temperatures rise, described by what they call the well-known Clausius-Clapeyron equation.

Put simply, warmer air holds more moisture, which can be released during short-term heavy rainfall.

The scientists show that the observed increase in unprecedented heavy rainfall generally fits with this thermodynamically expected increase under global warming.

Upward trend

“One out of 10 record-breaking rainfall events observed globally in the past 30 years can only be explained if the long-term warming is taken into account,” says co-author Dim Coumou, a PIK researcher into the links between atmospheric circulation and extreme weather events. “For the last year studied, 2010, it is even one event out of four, as the trend is upward.”

There are, of course, qualifications to the broad picture. For instance, the scientists allowed for the fact that the quality of historic weather data differs from one place to another. Unsurprisingly, rainfall measurements from the Sahara desert are scarce, so the team avoids drawing conclusions for the region.

But rainfall in regions such as Europe and the U.S. has been carefully monitored for over a century, allowing the authors to draw conclusions with high levels of confidence

“The pronounced recent increase in record-breaking rainfall events is, of course, worrying,” Coumou says. “Yet since it is consistent with human-caused global warming, it can also be curbed if greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels are substantially reduced.”

Alex Kirby|Climate News Network|July 13, 2015

South Florida Experiencing Worst Drought in Decades

Unfortunately the outlook for the next three months does not offer much reason for optimism, nor does the likely onset of a strong El Niño, as there is typically not much of a precipitation signal in this region.

The prolonged precipitation deficit is leaving its mark on the region’s significant source of fresh water, Lake Okeechobee. The large shallow lake has an obvious seasonal cycle, lagging the precipitation cycle by a few months, but by this time of year, it should be increasing and it is still decreasing. The lake level is managed through a network of canals, but without sufficient rainfall to replenish it, human demands and evaporation will bring it down.

After receiving only 25 percent of its normal rain this wet season, South Florida is the driest it’s been in six decades, leading to severe to extreme drought conditions across most of the region.

Yet water supplies remain fairly healthy and the South Florida Water Management District has no plans to tighten water restrictions at this point.

Florida Water Daily|July 13, 2015|From the Washington Post

Genetically Modified Organisms

Anti-GMO Labeling Bill Just Got DARKer 

This week the House Agriculture Committee is expected to mark up and vote on a bill that would take away the right of states to label food with genetically modified ingredients, or GMOs. According to Environmental Working Group (EWG), the latest draft of the measure shows it to be a bad bill that keeps getting worse.

The bill originally only prevented states from labeling products with GMOs. The version to be considered this week goes a step further, prohibiting state and local governments from protecting the environment and public health from the side effects of the production of GMO crops. The bill also allows companies to make “natural” claims on foods with GMOs and blocks state efforts to prohibit these misleading claims. These are more reasons that clean food advocates call the bill the Deny Americans the Right to Know, or DARK Act.

“This bad bill just keeps getting worse,” said Mary Ellen Kustin, EWG senior policy analyst. “The DARK Act has always been an infringement upon the well-established rights of states to regulate food labeling, but the most recent versions of the bill takes that overreach to a new level.”

Use of herbicides linked to cancer, especially glyphosate, has exploded alongside the increase in production of GMO crops engineered to withstand the application of these toxic chemicals. In the last 20 years, use of glyphosate, which was recently identified as a probable human carcinogen by the world’s leading cancer researchers, has increased 16-fold.

As glyphosate use has increased, weeds have started to develop resistance to it. In response, Dow Agrosciences has produced Enlist Duo, a combination of glyphosate and another herbicide, 2,4-D, which was recently labeled a possible human carcinogen. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the use of Enlist Duo in 15 states, though the agency has not examined the safety risk of the two active ingredients when combined together.

“Because of the risks to human health posed by the widespread application of herbicides linked to cancer and other terrible diseases, like Parkinson’s, of course local governments would want to keep farmers and farmworkers safe from exposure,” said Kustin. “If the federal government isn’t going to protect public health, responsible local officials will want to step up—but the DARK Act wants to make it impossible for them to do so. Backers of the bill keep adding more ways to keep Americans in the dark.”

Environmental Working Group|July 13, 2015

Which of Your Foods are Sprayed with Round Up Just 3 Days Before Harvest?

If your food isn’t certified organic, you’re consuming some toxic food. Want to know why? Monsanto’s Round Up ‘pre-harvest’ spraying guide meant for conventional farmers recommends that they spray crops just three days prior to harvest – and they don’t just mean on GMO crops. This means you’re likely consuming food which had been drenched in toxic pesticides.

“Spraying a RoundUp brand agricultural herbicide allows for uniform crop maturity which gives you the option to straight cut harvest.”

RoundUp, the very same Monsanto-made product which contains the recently-declared carcinogenic chemical glyphosate (along with inert ingredients that are also extremely dangerous), is sprayed on your food just before you eat it.

Which Crops Exactly?

Monsanto recommends spraying for:

  • Wheat
  • Oats
  • Non-GMO Canola
  • Flax
  • Peas
  • Lentils
  • Non-GMO Soybeans
  • Dry Beans
  • Sugar Cane

That amounts to just about every grocery store food you can think of – after all, what doesn’t contain wheat, oats, soy, or sugar cane just for starters?

Though of course it isn’t like these conventional foods are totally safe anyway, since they are sprayed through the growing season. What’s more, some pesticides are even genetically implanted right into the plant itself, as in the case of Bt corn. This just means that after exposing you to herbicides not once, through genetic engineering, not twice, through mass fields spraying, but at least three times when the crops are sprayed just prior to harvest.

Further, Monsanto also claims that aerial applications can be made without drift onto unwanted areas. Say what??? Almost all research on the toxicity and environmental fate of herbicides is conducted on herbicide ‘active ingredients’ only and in complete isolation. In fact:

“Aerial applications are typically made by helicopter from 60-80 feet above the target area. Because of the method of application and the chemical behavior of the mixtures used, movement of herbicides, surfactants and inert ingredients off target is both inevitable and extensive.”

Think your foods are safe from glyphosate? Not as long as farmers are spraying crops with multiple rounds of Round Up.

 Christina Sarich|July 14, 2015

Lying Through Their Teeth

In yet another blatant show of support for Monsanto, members of the U.S House Committee on Agriculture signed off on a bill intended to permanently shut down the GMO labeling movement.

The Committee took only 17 minutes to push H.R. 1599 toward a full House vote, expected to take place early next week.
Members justified their votes on the basis of lies. Official statements issued by Committee Chairman Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Texas) and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.)
were disingenuously crafted to make consumers think the purpose of this bill, the “Mother of All Monsanto Protection Acts,” is to give consumers what they want—labels on foods containing GMOs.

From Peterson’s statement:

Consumers increasingly want to know more about where their food comes from and how it is produced. I think H.R. 1599 satisfies that demand while also recognizing what we know about the safety of the foods that our farmers produce.

H.R. 1599 doesn’t come close to satisfying consumer demand for labeling. It creates the framework for a government-run voluntary labeling scheme, while shutting down states’ rights to require mandatory labeling. Who in their right mind believes that corporations that spent hundreds of millions of dollars to keep labels off their GMO foods are suddenly going to voluntarily label them after this bill passes?

Conaway’s and Peterson’s statements perpetuated the lie that GMOs have been thoroughly tested and proven safe. And the issue of Monsanto’s glyphosate, the toxic chemical used on more than 80 percent of GMO foods, being officially classified as probably cancerous to humans? Barely mentioned.

Does The DARK Act Block Non-GMO Claims?

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) doesn’t seem to understand his own anti-GMO labeling bill.

During a hearing on a new version of H.R. 1599, Pompeo argued that his bill – which critics have called the DARK act, for Deny Americans the Right to Know — to block state GMO labeling laws would still allow companies to continue to make voluntary claims that their products don’t contain GMO ingredients.

Here’s what Pompeo said:

There is nothing in this legislation that denies any food producer any ability to market their product as non-GMO as long as that is a truthful statement and accurate.

In fact, section 102 of Pompeo’s bill would make any non-GMO claim a violation of federal labeling law – unless the non-GMO claim was approved through a new certification program to be established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Under Pompeo’s bill, it could take the USDA at least a year, and more likely years to set up such a certification program. After all, it took ten years to publish the rule implementing the National Organic Program.

In the meantime, food companies would have no way inform consumers that their products didn’t contain GMO ingredients.

Under current law, these companies rely upon guidance from the federal Food and Drug Administration to make non-GMO claims. More than 30,000 products have been certified as GMO-free by private organizations such as the non-GMO project.

If the new version of H.R. 1599 were enacted tomorrow, all existing non-GMO claims would violate section 403 of the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, the law that establishes whether a food product is “misbranded.”

Perhaps Pompeo read his own bill in the dark.

Here’s what the new version of the DARK act would actually do:

Block all state laws requiring mandatory GMO labeling, including a Vermont GMO labeling law set to go into effect in July of next year;

Effectively block FDA from creating a national mandatory GMO labeling system;

Block all non-GMO claims until USDA creates a non-GMO certification program;

Block all state and local efforts to protect farmers and rural residents from the economic and environmental impacts of GMO crops, including pesticide drift;

Prevent food companies from suggesting that non-GMO products are better than GMO products.
Taken together, it’s clear that the real intent of the new version of the DARK Act is to end all claims related to genetically modified ingredients – including both mandatory GMO labeling and voluntary non-GMO claims.

Why? 9 of 10 consumers routinely tell pollsters they want to know what’s in their food and how their food is grown – the same as consumers in 64 other countries where GMO labeling is already required.

Ironically, Pompeo’s bill is so poorly conceived that many of the food companies fighting mandatory GMO labeling would be subject to penalties if the new bill were enacted.

Oops.

Consumers simply want to know more, not less, about their food, including what’s in it and how it was grown.

Scott Faber|Vice President of Government Affairs|Environmental Working Group|July 15/15

New Study Says GMOs contain Cancer Causing Formaldehyde ‏

Earlier this week, the House Agriculture Committee passed a bill – H.R. 1599 – that would not only deny states the right to pass common sense GMO labeling laws, but also make it illegal for local citizens to ban or even regulate GMOs in their states or counties. If allowed to pass, this bill, introduced at Monsanto’s request by Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS) would unconstitutionally violate state’s rights in order to kill the growing movement to label genetically engineered foods in the United States. Incredibly, a floor vote on this outrageous bill is expected in the House next week.

What the American public needs to know is that most, if not all, of the research these members of Congress are relying on is either outdated or supplied by the biotech industry from GMO gene giants like Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical – you know, the companies that created cancer causing chemicals like Agent Orange, DDT, PCBs and dioxin. Now these same chemical companies, with a long history of lying about the safety of their products, are producing our food!

New Peer Reviewed Study Shatters Myth of Substantial Equivalence and GMO Safety

At the same time, across town at the National Press Club that morning, an independent scientist with four degrees from MIT, Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai released the results of groundbreaking new research that proves the FDA’s current legal construct of “substantial equivalence”, which allows new GMO crops to be approved without proper safety tests, is seriously outdated, unscientific and a fraud when it comes to assessing the safety of GMO foods.

Utilizing modern tools, Dr. Ayyadurai’s team has conducted the first of its kind systems biology analysis of more than 11,597 published peer reviewed scientific papers and found that the process of genetic engineering creates significant cellular disruption in GMO plants, particularly soybeans that contain Monsanto’s Roundup Ready gene, which make them able to survive massive doses of the world’s most widely used and bestselling weedkiller.

These findings shatter the myth that GMOs are “substantially equivalent” and show for the first time that significant damage is done at the cellular level to foods that have been genetically engineered through the process of transgenic insertion of foreign genes.

Therefore, we need an immediate ban on new GMO approvals until new safety standards and independent tests can be conducted.

According to the new research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Agricultural Sciences, the process of genetic engineering creates significant disruptions to basic cellular functions in Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GMO soybeans.

The new research found:

  • The process of genetic engineering introduces oxidative stress or system shock in GMO soybean plants.
  • This stress creates a metabolic disturbance in the plant’s normal cellular functions, including the plant’s ability to rid itself of harmful toxins.
  • This results in an alarming rise in the accumulation of Formaldehyde, a known class 1 carcinogen
  • and a significant depletion of Glutathione, a master antioxidant responsible for cellular detoxification and necessary for maintaining a healthy immune system.

This new research is alarming and raises serious questions for everyone who eats regarding the safety of our food supply and the current regulations that block GMO labeling and rubber stamp the approval of new GMO food crops.

Monsanto’s Lie of “Substantial Equivalence” and GMOs

For the past 20 plus years, the U.S. approval process for new GMO foods has relied on the deeply flawed and outdated regulatory concept of “substantial equivalence” that deems GMOs and non-GMOs to be essentially the same in terms of nutritional profile and other superficial characteristics. Incredibly, this legal approval process determining “substantial equivalence” by the FDA was originally developed for assessing the safety of medical devices, not complex organisms like plants or food for human consumption.

The regulatory concept of “substantial equivalence” was initially adopted in 1976 under President Gerald Ford so medical companies could fast-track the approval of simple medical devices if their component parts and functions were the same as previously approved products.

Fast forward to 1992, when former Monsanto attorney Michael Taylor was installed at the FDA, as the biotech industry was attempting to grease the wheels for approval of these new lab engineered foods. Monsanto’s Taylor succeeded in forcing the FDA to adopt the concept of “substantial equivalence” to govern the approval process of new genetically engineered foods, which had never before been consumed by humans.

This FDA 1992 regulatory framework, ushered in by a Monsanto attorney and relies upon voluntary industry testing, is outdated, unscientific and riddled with corruption. It’s time that we have real testing standards developed by scientists with modern 21st century methods and a moratorium on further crop approvals until such standards are developed and accepted by scientists not on the industry’s payroll.

With the finding of these significant cellular disturbances found in GMO plants, Dr. Ayyadurai’s research proves that the practice of applying the 1970s concept of “substantial equivalence” developed for medical devices, which have 10 to 100 parts compared to living biological organisms, which have more than a 100,000, is a scientific fraud and hopelessly outdated.

But the one thing we know is that Monsanto will respond to true independent science with more propaganda and right now they’re trying to rig the rules against us in Congress by abolishing state’s rights to label and regulate GMOs.  And we can’t let them get away with it.

What we need now is a new call for transparency in science and democracy. Help us make that happen. Share this new science with your friends and family, we can’t let them get away with this. Not after fighting so hard to reveal the truth about Monsanto’s corruption and GMOs!

Coincidentally, on July 2nd, the White House issued a call for more transparency and updating the current regulations that govern new GMO crops. We couldn’t agree more — it’s time for transparency and a moratorium on new GMO crop approvals.

Remember, democracy is like a muscle, either you use it or you lose it!

Dave, Lisa and the Food Democracy Now! team

U.S. Government Set to Approve Monsanto Protection Act

While Americans are busy enjoying their summer holidays, the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture has been busy signing off on a bill that will destroy any likelihood of labeling genetically-modified foods. Known as “HR 1599” by the government and “The Mother of All Monsanto Protection Acts” or the “Deny Americans the Right to Know” Act (DARK Act) by the public, the bill is scheduled for possible approval as early as July 23.

According to the organization Food and Water Watch, if the bill is approved, it will:

-Override laws passed at the state level, such as the one passed by the state of Vermont, that require genetically-modified foods to be labeled

-Prevent states from passing legislation that require genetically-modified foods to be labeled

-Limit the ability of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ever create a mandatory labeling law;

-Allow corporations like Monsanto to voluntarily disclose genetically-modified organisms or foods

-Allow companies like Monsanto to notify the FDA that they think the GMO food is “substantially equivalent” to organic or non-engineered versions of the same food

-Potentially allow corporations to include genetically-modified ingredients or foods in products labeled as “natural” foods

-Instruct the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create a program for products marked as “non-GMO.” Some people fear that this will weaken the requirements of independent labeling that ensure foods do not contain genetically-modified organisms.

While the Democratic representative for Minnesota Collin Peterson claims that the bill satisfies consumers’ desire to know where their food comes from and how it is produced, not everyone agrees.

Says Ronnie Cummings, the National Director of the Organic Consumers Association “H.R. 1599 doesn’t come close to satisfying consumer demand for labeling. It creates the framework for a government-run voluntary labeling scheme, while shutting down states’ rights to require mandatory labeling. Who in their right mind believes that corporations that spent hundreds of millions of dollars to keep labels off their GMO foods are suddenly going to voluntarily label them after this bill passes?” He adds that the approval of HR 1599would also guarantee the FDA never conducts independent, pre-market safety testing on GMO foods.”

Both statements by Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture and Texas Representative K. Michael Conway as well as Minnesota Representative Collin Peterson indicate that genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) have been thoroughly tested and proven safe, even in the face of mounting research proving otherwise. GMOs have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and sterility.

Some genetically-modified foods contain increased amounts of pesticides like glyphosate. According to research by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health there is a link between some pesticides and a significantly increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—cancer of the lymphatic system. In this type of cancer, tumors of the lymph nodes or within the lymph system can form. According to the review of 44 studies, 80 active ingredients in 21 classes of chemicals, researchers found that exposure to glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup pesticide, doubles the risk of this deadly cancer

Michelle Schoffro Cook|July 17, 2015 .

Energy

Heavy oil to be banned under Mackinac Straits

LANSING Heavy crude oil will be banned from a pipeline that runs under a scenic waterway where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet, state officials said Tuesday, adding they also will require independent analyses of future alternatives to the pipes and worst-case consequences of a spill.

Only light crude presently moves through Line 5, two side-by-side pipelines below the 5-mile wide Straits of Mackinac that transport nearly 23 million gallons of oil a day. It is run by Canada-based Enbridge Energy Partners, which told the state in February it has no plans to move heavy crude through the line built in 1953. The Great Lakes would be at “greatest risk” from a spill of “diluted bitumen” oil from Canada’s tar sands region, according to Attorney General Bill Schuette and Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant, who led a yearlong t ask force studying pipeline issues. About 840,000 gallons of heavy crude spilled from another Enbridge pipeline into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in 2010 — the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

The task force issued 13 recommendations, four specific to the straits’ pipelines. They include requiring Enbridge to pay for a neutral analysis of the potential liability from a worst-case scenario Line 5 spill and ensuring the company has enough liability insurance to cover damages.

Another proposal would make Enbridge pay for an outside study of pipeline alternatives. Options to be explored include building new pipelines that do not cross open waters of the Great Lakes, replacing the existing pipelines, decommissioning them or sticking with the status quo.

Schuette, a Republican, said he thinks the pipelines’ days are “numbered.” But Line 5 also is useful, he said, because it lessens the need for tankers, trucks and rail cars to transport light oils and petroleum products.

Enbridge did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The report noted the company has emphasized differences in materials used in the straits pipelines and the failed Line 6B in southern Michigan, changes in company procedures and the number and types of inspections.

The task force said with “so much at stake,” neither the state nor public has enough information to independently evaluate Enbridge’s conclusions. The report found, for instance, that much of the pipelines are heavily encrusted with invasive species that hurt visibility, and that Enbridge — citing confidentiality — did not provide results of most inspections.

The 20-inch pipes are part of Enbridge’s 1,900mile Lakehead network.

DAVID EGGERT|ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Latest Sign That Coal Is Getting Killed

Coal is a sick dragon, and the bond market wields a heavy sword

Coal is having a hard time lately. U.S. power plants are switching to natural gas, environmental restrictions are kicking in, and the industry is being derided as the world’s No. 1 climate criminal. Prices have crashed, sure, but for a real sense of coal’s diminishing prospects, check out what’s happening in the bond market.

Bonds are where coal companies turn to raise money for such things as new mines and environmental cleanups. But investors are increasingly reluctant to lend to them. Coal bond prices tumbled 17 percent in the second quarter, according to an analysis by Bloomberg Intelligence. It’s the fourth consecutive quarter of price declines and the worst performance of any industry group by a long shot.

Bonds fluctuate less than stocks, because the payoff is fixed and pretty much guaranteed as long as the borrower remains solvent. A 17 percent decline is huge, and it happened at a time when other energy bonds — oil and gas — were rising. Three of America’s biggest coal producers had the worst-performing bonds for the quarter: 

  • Alpha Natural Resources: -70 percent 
  • Peabody: -40 percent 
  • Arch: -30 percent

Coal powered the industrial revolution and helped lift much of humanity out of poverty, but its glory days have reached an end. Here are four of the biggest pressures facing the industry: 

The U.S. Grid Is Changing

About 17 percent of U.S. coal-fired power generation will disappear over the next few years, according to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). Obstacles include age, the abundance of cheap natural gas, and new EPA rules to cut pollution. Here’s a great visual breakdown of what’s happening to U.S. coal power. 

Coal Plants on the Way Out by 2020

Source: Bloomberg Business / BNEF

The map shows coal plants in 2010 that may be headed for retirement. Blue circles represent plants that will be shuttered by 2020, while yellow will convert to gas, and red have undetermined futures. Big coal won a small victory over the EPA’s new mercury restrictions at the Supreme Court in June, but it’s most likely a temporary reprieve.

Tom Randall|Bloomberg|July 13, 2015

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

200,000 People Demand Congress Puts an End to Mountaintop Removal

Signaling a watershed shift in recognizing the national health crisis from cancer-linked strip mining in central Appalachia, more than 200,000 people have signed historic CREDO Action and Earthjustice petitions, calling on Congress to pass the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act (H.R. 912) and enact a moratorium on new mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR).

mtr650jb

“The more health research we conduct on mountaintop removal the more truth we discover. We have already discovered enough truth that any reasonable thinking person understands we must take urgent action to stop any further MTR until it is proven that MTR is not a public health threat,” said Bo Webb, who lives under a mining operation and co-founded the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Campaign.

With the Appalachian coal industry in a tailspin and the global banking community pulling out of mountaintop removal financing, the extraordinary show of support for the ACHE Act campaign effectively acknowledges that the only defenders of the cancer-linked radical strip mining operations are a handful of absentee coal companies, indicted coal baron Don Blankenship, and their fringe supporters in Congress.

A New Appalachia is Rising

Fed up with the stranglehold of mountaintop removal mining blocking any economic future, residents are pushing a regeneration plan for a diversified economy, and calling for Abandoned Mine Land funds and investment from President Obama’s Power Plan to counter the irreversible health and environmental damage from strip mining.

“The more health research we conduct on mountaintop removal the more truth we discover. We have already discovered enough truth that any reasonable thinking person understands we must take urgent action to stop any further MTR until it is proven that MTR is not a public health threat,” said Bo Webb, who lives under a mining operation and co-founded the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Campaign. “Any politician, person, agency or organization that refuses to act quickly to protect our children from further exposure to mountaintop removal’s toxic fallout is not serving The People well,” Webb added.

The appeal to Congress on the basis of deadly and massive health costs sidesteps the Obama administration’s flawed regulatory approach, which has hedged on any further crack down on the devastating mining process despite years of evidence and two dozen peer-reviewed health studies on the impacts of the extreme mining process.

The historic petitions, in fact, were delivered within days of the anniversary of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, which granted federal sanctioning to mountaintop removal mining in 1977 over objections by President Jimmy Carter.

Keep that date in mind: How do you ask a plundered coal mining community to be the last community to die for a mistake?

mtrmap

Image courtesy of Coal River Mountain Watch

Despite recent news headlines that mountaintop removal mining has dropped more than 60 percent since 2008, according to an EIS assessment, residents living in strip mining areas in central Appalachia were quick to remind the news media that destructive mine blasting and its toxic fallout continued to flourish in close proximity to houses, schools and farms, even though they had not been registered as mountaintop removal operations.

“While some companies may claim that they no longer conduct mountaintop removal, the blasting methods and health consequences are the same regardless of what they call it,” said Bob Kincaid, president of Coal River Mountain Watch. “Tonnage may be down in some places, but companies such as Alpha Natural Resources are still blasting above our communities and seeking new permits. Given the host of diseases associated with it among an innocent population, we can live without it far easier than with it.”

Last week, in fact, on the same day the EIS assessment appeared, Coal River Mountain residents in West Virginia testified in opposition to a new 847-acre Alpha Natural Resources strip mine in their area.

“Mountaintop removal coal mining is a crime against Appalachia,” said Josh Nelson, communications director with CREDO Action. “That’s why grassroots activists around the country are demanding that Congress pass the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act and put an end to this deadly and unnecessary practice.”

“The coal industry is destroying Appalachia, detonating millions of pounds of diesel fuel and explosives daily to rip the top off of mountains for coal,” said Marty Hayden, Earthjustice vice president of policy and legislation. “More than 22 peer-reviewed scientific studies have found that cancer, disease, and birth defect rates are significantly higher in these areas. It’s high time for Congress to pass the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, which would place an immediate moratorium on new mountaintop removal mining permits.”

Jeff Biggers|July 14, 2015

STRONG NEW REGULATIONS ON OIL DISPERSANTS NEEDED

Almost 2 million gallons of toxic chemical dispersants were dumped in the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 BP drilling disaster, to “clean up” the oil spill. Yet five years later, it’s clear that the chemicals didn’t get rid of the oil. Instead, they pushed much of it down under the surface, where it has left a toxic legacy that could linger for decades.

The EPA is currently seeking public comments on new oil spill response safeguards. Now is the time to tell the agency that we must have the strongest possible protections from toxic oil dispersants.

With news that the Department of the Interior is considering expanding drilling off our coasts in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, the question is when-not if-another devastating spill will occur.

It’s outrageous that if another Deepwater disaster happened today, the federal response would look pretty much the same: Allow the oil company to cover its tracks by dumping millions of gallons of chemical dispersants containing secret, toxic ingredients on the spill, then telling the world that the oil has disappeared.

The EPA is finally calling for public comments on updated protections against toxic chemical dispersants, to ensure that companies like BP can’t just dump secret, toxic chemicals on oil spill disasters and call it a day. We need you to take action now.

Earthjustice has been fighting in court since the BP disaster to force the EPA to fulfill requirements mandated by the Clean Water Act for chemical dispersants. But we urgently need widespread public support to move these protections forward.

Toxic dispersants were used in response to the Gulf oil disaster without prior understanding of their effects on the marine ecosystems and human health. Earthjustice went to court to ensure that the next time there’s an oil spill, we’ll know what is in these dispersants and what they might do to our health and the environment before anyone allows them to be used.

Bonita Springs Fracking Ban Headed To Court

Environmentalists are bracing for law suits after Bonita Springs became the the first city in a drilling area to ban fracking, the controversial drilling technique.

Bonita Springs activists are bracing for lawsuits now that the city council has passed a fracking ban, the first of its kind in Florida in an active drilling area. The  controversial oil and gas drilling technique was one of the hottest issues in the last legislative session.

Anti-fracking activist Karen Dwyer says heavy-hitters Earthjustice  and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida are prepared to slug it out in court with the drilling industry and landowners.

“On the one hand, we’re prepared for a legal battle if it comes to that, but on the other hand, we’re hoping that it just compels counties across the state, as well as cities, to enact these local bans against fracking.”

Bonita Springs has no active drilling in city limits, but it sits atop the Suniland Trend, a vast reserve. Collier Resources owns mineral rights in Bonita Springs and drilling occurs within 10 miles. The company is threatening to sue.

Jim Ash|7/17/15

Exxon Exposed for Spending Millions on Climate Change Denial

ExxonMobil spokesman Richard Keil told a carefully worded whopper last week.

After the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) revealed that Exxon was aware of the threat posed by climate change as early as 1981 and has intentionally been deceiving the public for decades, reporters contacted Keil for comment. One reporter asked him about ExxonMobil’s long history of funding climate change denier groups.

“I’m here to talk to you about the present,” Keil said. “We have been factoring the likelihood of some kind of carbon tax into our business planning since 2007. We do not fund or support those who deny the reality of climate change.”

ExxonMobil no longer funds climate change deniers?! Is that right?

Technically, perhaps, because practically no one can say with a straight face that global warming isn’t happening anymore. Most, if not all, of the people who used to deny the reality of climate change have morphed into climate science deniers. They now concede that climate change is real, but reject the scientific consensus that human activity—mainly burning fossil fuels—is driving it. Likewise, they understate the potential consequences, contend that we can easily adapt to them, and fight government efforts to curb carbon emissions and promote renewable energy.

ExxonMobil is still funding those folks, big time.

Keil said he wanted to talk about the present, so why don’t we? According to the most recent publicly available data, last year ExxonMobil spent $659,000 on congressional climate-science-denier political campaigns and $1.9 million on 15 denier think tanks, advocacy groups and trade associations for a total of $2.56 million. Meanwhile, between 2007—when Keil said ExxonMobil began to factor in the ramifications of a carbon tax—and 2014, the company spent at least $10 million on climate science denier organizations to spread disinformation and undermine efforts to address climate change.

ExxonMobil Claimed it Stopped Funding Deniers Eight Years Ago

This isn’t the first time ExxonMobil has denied it was sponsoring a climate disinformation campaign.

Back in 2007, a UCS report revealed that the oil giant had shelled out at least $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to a network of more than 40 climate denier think tanks and advocacy groups to advance its agenda. Widely covered by the news media, the report prompted ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to acknowledge that his company had a PR problem. “We recognize that we need to soften our public image,” he said, according to a January 10 story in Greenwire, a trade publication. “It is something we are working on.”

A month later, just after the release of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report, an ExxonMobil official followed through on Tillerson’s promise to temper the company’s position.

“There is no question that human activity is the source of carbon dioxide emissions,” Kenneth Cohen, vice president of public affairs, told Greenwire on Feb. 9. “The appropriate debate isn’t on whether climate is changing, but rather should be on what we should be doing about it.” But what about the 40-plus ExxonMobil grantees UCS identified in its report? Cohen told Greenwire that the company had stopped funding them.

In fact, the company did not stop funding them. ExxonMobil’s documented support for denier groups did peak at $3.48 million in 2005, when the company began to cut off grantees. That year, it severed ties with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and over the next two years, it dropped a number of others, including the Cato Institute, Frontiers of Freedom, George C. Marshall Institute, Heartland Institute and Institute for Energy Research.

The company’s funding to denier groups, however, remained substantial, second only to the Koch brothers’ war chest. The company spent nearly $21 million from 1998 through 2006 and some $10 million from 2007 through 2014. Last year, the company paid out $1.9 million to 15 denier groups, including 10 cited in the 2007 UCS report.

The Disinformation Campaign Continues 

ExxonMobil’s climate science denier network may have shrunk since 2007, but the 15 groups currently in the company’s stable, including the American Enterprise Institute, American Legislative Exchange Council, Manhattan Institute and National Black Chamber of Commerce, are still doing their best to sow doubt about climate science and denigrate renewable energy.

Let’s take a quick look at what these four emblematic groups are doing.

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which has received $1.9 million from ExxonMobil since 2007, has played a relatively bit part in the climate and energy debate and, to its credit, has hosted some well-publicized forums on the pros and cons of a carbon tax. Even so, some of its prominent scholars are still pumping out disinformation. Two of the organization’s primary talking heads on climate and energy these days are institute fellow Jonah Goldberg and resident scholar Benjamin Zycher, who is also a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, another ExxonMobil grantee.

During an appearance on Fox News Channel’s Your World with Neil Cavuto show last November, Goldberg denounced climate scientists as profiteers who are “financially incentivized” to advocate for government action on climate change. Cavuto did mention that Goldberg works at AEI, but left out the fact that the organization has been generously funded not only by ExxonMobil, but also by the American Petroleum Institute and Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Zycher, meanwhile, has been caught playing fast and loose with the facts. For example, in late 2011, AEI published a book on renewable energy by Zycher that claimed the cost of solar power had jumped 63 percent since 2001. In fact, it had plummeted nearly 40 percent over that time.

Since 2007, ExxonMobil has donated $454,500 to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the secretive lobby group that drafts sample corporate-friendly legislation for state lawmakers. The company has also given campaign contributions to seven of ALEC’s 21 board of directors. What does a company like ExxonMobil get for that money? At a three-day conference held in Washington, DC, last December, ALEC’s corporate and legislator members collaborated on sample bills and resolutions that would, among other things, thwart implementation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed standard for existing power plant carbon emissions and block the EPA’s new proposed standard for ground-level ozone.

For ALEC, the role human activity plays in global warming is still up in the air. “Climate change is a historical phenomenon,” its website states, “and the debate will continue on the significance of natural and anthropogenic contributions.” That tortured position gives the organization the opening to invite such notorious climate science denier groups as the Heartland Institute and the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow to run workshops at its conferences. Both organizations are former ExxonMobil grantees.

The Manhattan Institute received $475,000 from ExxonMobil between 2007 and 2014. Last year the company gave the institute $100,000 for its energy policy center, the primary beneficiary being senior fellow Robert Bryce, a former reporter who previously worked for the Institute for Energy Research, another ExxonMobil grantee. Bryce has said he’s “agnostic” about climate change, and over the years he has written a stream of newspaper columns that sing the praises of oil and coal and disparage the potential of wind and other renewable energy technologies. For example, his May 4, 2012, Wall Street Journal column, “Gouged by the Wind,” claimed state standards requiring utilities to ramp up their use of renewables would significantly raise electricity rates, despite evidence to the contrary. His most recent column, “The Poor Need More Energy: What BP Knows and Pope Francis Doesn’t,” which ran on June 22 in the National Review, maintained that the best, low-cost energy source for developing countries is coal.

Finally, from 2007 through last year, the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), which boasts 151 chapters nationwide, received $800,000 from ExxonMobil, and the organization’s president, Harry C. Alford, is unapologetic about taking fossil fuel industry money. “Of course we do and it is only natural,” Alford states on the NBCC website. “The legacy of Blacks in this nation has been tied to the miraculous history of fossil fuel … [F]ossil fuels have been our economic friend.”

In June, the NBCC placed a column by Alford in a number of newspapers charging that the EPA’s plan to curb carbon emissions from existing power plants would impose “economic hardship” on blacks and Hispanics.

In fact, unchecked climate change will likely hurt poor and minority Americans most.

How did Alford come up with his upside-down assessment? John Rogers, a senior energy analyst at UCS, took a close look the NBCC-commissioned study that Alford used as the core of his argument and found it was based on several flawed fossil fuel industry-friendly studies. Two of the bogus studies were produced by ExxonMobil grantees, demonstrating the reach of the company’s disinformation campaign. One was from the Heritage Foundation, which received $340,000 from ExxonMobil between 2007 and 2013; another was from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which received $1 million from ExxonMobil last year.

ExxonMobil Curries Favor in Congress

Besides funding climate science denier groups, ExxonMobil spends a considerable amount of money on federal election campaigns. In 2014, for example, the company contributed $10,000 to reelect the most notorious denier in Congress, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, matching what it gave him in 2008. You may remember that just last February, Inhofe brought a snowball onto the Senate floor, ostensibly to prove that the cold spell gripping the Northeast somehow proved that human activity is not causing climate change. “Climate has always changed,” Inhofe declared. “… No one would debate that it has always happened. The debate is whether man is causing that to happen.”

Inhofe, however, is just the tip of the proverbial melting iceberg.

More than 40 percent of the $1.6 million ExxonMobil spent last year on 283 congressional races went to 102 documented climate science deniers. It gave $544,000 to 89 deniers in the House, including Fred Upton (R-MI), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the Science, Space and Technology Committee. Thirty-four of the 54 members of the Energy and Commerce Committee got ExxonMobil money, and half of those recipients are climate science deniers. Sixteen of the 39 members of the Science Committee, meanwhile, got ExxonMobil funding, and four of the recipients are deniers.

Upton, who had called for taking action on global warming before landing the Energy and Commerce chairmanship in 2011, now maintains—despite overwhelming scientific evidence—that climate change is “not manmade.” In April, his committee passed a bill sponsored by Ed Whitfield (R-KY), another ExxonMobil-funded denier, that would give states the choice to opt out of the EPA’s new carbon emission rules for existing power plants and postpone implementation until all legal challenges are resolved. That likely would take years.

When it comes to climate science denial, Lamar Smith is nearly on par with Inhofe. In April, he wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal, “The Climate Change Religion,” which was riddled with false claims, prompting a scathing critique by Factcheck.org. But Smith is doing a lot more than repeating the fossil fuel industry’s talking points in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. Since January, his committee has passed a handful of bills that, if enacted, would roll back public health and environmental protections and obstruct the EPA and other federal agencies from enacting science-based rules.

Then there’s the Senate. The balance of ExxonMobil’s support for deniers—$115,000—went to 13 senators, five of whom sit on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and four others on the Environment and Public Works Committee, including Chairman Inhofe. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), who received $10,000 from ExxonMobil last year and sits on both committees, has introduced a version of Whitfield’s opt-out bill in an Environment and Public Works subcommittee.

ExxonMobil’s ‘Plan B’ is Not a Viable Answer

In response to a reporter’s question last week in the wake of UCS’s revelation, Exxon spokesman Richard Keil maintained that ExxonMobil today “believes the risk of climate change is clear, and warrants action.”

Really?

A close reading of the transcript of the company’s annual shareholders meeting in May says otherwise. Over the last 25 years, ExxonMobil has repeatedly fended off shareholder resolutions to address climate change, and this year was no different. The message was loud and clear: Stay the course. Technological ingenuity will enable us to cope with the consequences.

One shareholder-sponsored resolution called on the company to set goals for curbing carbon emissions. Another would have required the company to appoint a climate change expert to its board. Still another requested a report on the company’s state and federal lobbying expenditures, including lobbying through trade associations and other organizations, such as ALEC. The answer was no, no and no. None of the climate-related resolutions passed.

In his opening statement at the meeting, CEO Rex Tillerson predicted that oil and natural gas “will meet about 60 percent of global energy in the year 2040.” And when asked later why he uttered nary a word about renewable energy in his remarks, Tillerson quipped, “We choose not to lose money on purpose” to loud applause.

Tillerson, who has long maintained that climate models are flawed, recommended a wait and see approach. “What if everything we do, it turns out our models were really lousy … and it turned out the planet behaved differently because the models weren’t good enough to predict?” he said. “What’s Plan B?”

For Tillerson, Plan B is continuing to burn fossil fuels and adapt to whatever happens, be it sea level rise or crop failures. “Mankind has this enormous capacity to deal with adversity,” he said, “and those solutions will present themselves as the realities become clear.”

In lieu of ExxonMobil’s dangerous, do-nothing Plan B, there are many things the company and other major carbon polluters can and must do to protect the planet. Step one for ExxonMobil: Put an end to its climate disinformation campaign. That means doing more than just talking about closing it down. ExxonMobil and other major fossil fuel companies must stop funding proxy groups and politicians to sow doubt about climate science and oppose proven ways to address the problem. After decades of deception, we need more than just talking the talk.

Elliott Negin|senior writer|Union of Concerned Scientists|July 17, 2015

Chevron evades $9.5bn restitution order

After 20 years of oil spills, deforestation, waste dumping and ill health, farmers and indigenous people in the the Ecuadorian Amazon have been fighting the Chevron-Texaco corporation. But despite its three times conviction and a $9.5 billion damages award to the victims, the oil giant looks no closer to making good its damage.

Chevron is a fugitive from justice. The company has been convicted three times under Ecuadorian law and is still using its tricks to evade justice … How long will we keep fighting? We’ll fight until they pay for and repair the damage.

When Servio Curipoma built his house in a small plot of land in the Ecuadorian Amazon, he did not know that a pool of oil lay underneath.

This was one of the nearly one thousand pools Texaco dug for waste disposal from its oil extraction activities, which it then covered again with soil to hide it from sight.

Twenty years later, in 2008, Servio and his family were relocated in a new house, some 20 meters away. By then, both his parents had died of cancer.

The rural parish of San Carlos, in the Amazonian province of Orellana, is located in the Sacha oil field, one of the largest in Ecuador. Discovered in 1969 by the US transnational company Texaco, it was bought by Chevron in 2001. In Sacha well no. 56 you can still see the remnants of its infrastructure and of the foundations of the house the Curipoma family left behind.

Ermel Chávez, leader of the Front for the Defence of the Amazon, points to the land where Servio grew his bananas. “If you put a stick in here, for example, water and oil come out. The is oil is just covered up. Nobody knows the diameter, but they always built large pools, up to three metres deep and 30 metres in diameter.”

Oil waste just dumped in situ

Texaco operated in the north-western Ecuadorian Amazon between 1964 and 1990. Each time the company drilled a well, it used the same technique. It dug large trenches – pools – in the ground around the platform, into which it discharged the initial oil extraction, sludge from the drilling process, and any waste water – without any attempt at waterproofing or concern for the environment.

At the time, these practices were already considered obsolete and were even forbidden in some countries such as the US. Many of these pits were later covered with earth and hidden by the company, which never bothered to determine the exact number of pools constructed.

During the class action taken by 30,000 affected people against Chevron-Texaco, the plaintiffs filed 996 separate complaints. Four decades later, the pools continue to leak toxic substances into the ground and to contaminate the groundwater.

Carmen Morocho lives with her family only a few metres away. Her house was built over an oil spill that occurred 40 years ago. “We are living on the spill. Everything is polluted, and we are also. Even inside the house, on the ground, there is a sheet of dried oil. We have covered it but … “

She pauses, thoughtfully, as if to find a proper end to her sentence. “This is how we get to live”, she sighs. And almost with the same resignation she explains that the land cannot be cultivated, because it produces nothing at all. “We haven’t left, because it’s hard for us to build a new house.”

Over 20 years of struggle

We leave Sacha for the Shushufindi field, in the neighbouring province of Sucumbíos. Along the way, the traffic of heavy trucks from the oil industry and countless signs of “danger” clash with the apparent peacefulness of the landscape.

The continuing presence of the Trans Ecuadorian Pipeline System (SOTE), a network of rusty pipes that covers 503 km between the Amazon jungle and the Pacific coast, reminds us that we are in the quintessential oil zone in Ecuador. A large Government sign underwrites this:

“Oil promotes the Good Life in your community!”

During the trip, Ermel tells us about the process of community resistance. On November 3, 1993, a group of native people and settlers affected by the impact of Texaco activities brought before a court in New York a lawsuit on behalf of the 30,000 people affected.

A few months later, on May 15, 1994, the Front for the Defence of the Amazon was formed to pursue the suit and offer support and advice to the communities involved in the oil conflict. The organization later expanded through the founding of the Assembly of People Affected by Texaco.

Thus began a long process that has lasted over twenty years, which has united five native nationalities and farmers with a common cause: to demand justice, and social and environmental reparation.

Victory! Of a sort …

On February 14, 2011, following the transfer of the trial to Ecuador at the request of Chevron, the Ecuadorian courts ordered the company to pay $9.5 billion dollars and to offer a public apology for the damage caused – failing which, the compensation would increase to $19 billion. The ruling was upheld twice: in January 2012 and in November 2013.

In the end, the damages were set at 9.5 billion dollars to be used for social and environmental reparation, despite the fact that the company never apologized. It was the largest compensation ever imposed in the wake of an environmental dispute, and one that Chevron refuses to accept.

“The case has been won. Chevron has been convicted. Now the problem is to collect the money”, says Ermel. Since the company has no assets in Ecuador, the only possibility is to arrange for property in other countries to be seized.

In November 2012 Argentina ordered the seizure of all the Chevron assets in the country, in what appeared to be the beginning of the enforcement of the sentence. However, the multi-million agreement between the renationalized Argentinian oil company YPF and Chevron for the exploitation of unconventional hydrocarbons in Patagonia, ended that possibility.

Now expectations have turned to Brazil and Canada. But it will not be easy. In March 2014, a judge in New York ruled that the Chevron conviction was “fraudulent”. This ruling does not overturn the decision of the Ecuadorian courts, but encourages courts in other countries not to enforce the penalty.

On October 24, the affected community filed a request before the International Criminal Court in The Hague against Chevron’s CEO John Watson and other senior executives of the company to be tried for crimes against humanity.

Recognizing the damage caused

Julia Gonzalez lives in Shushufindi since the years when Texaco operated in the area. She recalls sadly that they drilled a well right in front of the family home but nobody warned about the dangers involved.

The company carelessly dumped the waste and polluted the water sources that Julia and her family used for their daily consumption. “The water was yellowish and we washed and bathed in it, and drank it. We were never told that the water couldn’t be used.”

A study published by the Hegoa-UPV / EHU Institute concluded that lack of information on the harmful effects of the oil industry was widespread. It also revealed that on numerous occasions Texaco personnel told the population that “both oil and extraction water had positive effects on crops and even on the skin and general health.”

“It eventually hit me and my family”, Julia adds. Over the years they began to suffer from infections and diseases. All of Julia’s family died of cancer. In areas particularly affected by oil pollution such as Sucumbíos and Orellana, cancer is the leading cause of death and its incidence is three times higher than the national average.

Health problems persist for the affected populations. “Each of us can feel it in our bodies, in our daily lives, in our health problems”, says Julia. Fully aware that the social and environmental restitution in not easy, she demands that the company should admit to the damage done:

“We all want to put an end to this, but they should acknowledge the pollution and the harm inflicted on the population. They must recognize it so that we can finish with it all. This is my request.”

An urgent solution

The Shushufindi 61 well, drilled by Texaco in the seventies, is still functioning. Today it is operated by the state-owned company Petroamazonas, which now undertakes the extraction work. Ermel leads us through a path to an uncovered pool. Through the vegetation, we glimpse of a lake of black oil. With a long branch to probe its depth. About three metres.

“The problem is that oil seeps through the soil into the water table. This pool is about 40 years old and the oil has been seeping all the time”, he says.

Eight-five thousand samples of water and soil from different fields were taken during the legal proceedings. They all showed high levels of pollution. A study on the food chain showed that the fat from fish in the area contains hydrocarbons.

“We can deduce that the banana, cocoa, livestock and even the food is contaminated. The damage is incalculable”, Ermel continues. He believes that for some issues there is no redress.

“How can you repair two indigenous villages which have disappeared? And what about the territories of the native peoples? And the lives of the dead?” These are some of the questions to which he tries unsuccessfully to find answers.

‘Chevron is a fugitive from justice’

The last stretch of the route leads to the Aguarico 4 well, without doubt the most emblematic case. During the trial, the company lawyer claimed that the companies which have continued operating the wells after the departure of Texaco could be responsible for the pollution. This well, however, was operated exclusively by the US oil company.

Walking through a primary forest, we arrive at a new outdoor pool. A viscous mantle of oil covers its entire surface. Ermel thrusts in his hand and the white glove he is wearing comes out completely covered in crude. A strong smell of oil fills the air.

At one end of the pool, there is a pipe leading to a stream that runs downhill. This system, called gooseneck, was used by Texaco to dump polluted extraction water and sludge directly into creeks and rivers. The river water, which was once crystal clear, is today carries downstream a thick oily stain.

Ermel has been showing us along the way the still visible scars that the US oil company has left behind in Ecuador. What he does not understand is why other countries establish agreements with a company that refuses to admit its responsibility:

“Chevron is a fugitive from justice. The company has been convicted three times under Ecuadorian law and is still using its tricks to evade justice. When we go to Europe we always say that countries cannot do business with a company that is criminal. How long will we keep fighting? We’ll fight until they pay for and repair the damage.”

63,000 million litres of toxic water discharged into rivers, 680,000 spilled barrels of oil, 30,000 affected persons, two vanished indigenous villages and a million hectares of deforested land. This is the legacy which, after 26 years of operation, Chevron-Texaco has left in Ecuador.

Orlan Cazorla & Miriam Gartor|17th July 2015

Land Conservation

66 miles of gaps remain in Florida’s cross-state trail

TALLAHASSEE — There’s more than one way to put together a jigsaw puzzle when state trails are the pieces.

Last year, Gov. Rick Scott OK’d funding to finally begin stitching together the Coast to Coast Connector, Florida’s cross-state hiking and biking trail, from a patchwork of existing paths.

That includes the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, a popular segment running along an old rail line from downtown St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs. That trail will be tied to the Starkey Wilderness Trail in Pasco County.

When all the connections are finished, expected by 2020, the connector will span roughly 275 miles from St. Petersburg to Merritt Island.

Trail-goers will then have an uninterrupted shot from Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, a trip that could take as little as four or five days for diehard bicyclists.

And they’ll likely want places to eat and stay along the way. That’s why advocates have said the finished product will boost local economies by encouraging tourism and creating jobs.

The complications so far have been in exactly how and where to link one trail with another, said Dale Allen, president of the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation.

In the Tampa Bay area, that also includes linking the Suncoast Trail to the existing Good Neighbor Trail in Hernando County, and building another link from the county line to just north of State Road 54 in Pasco County, according to plans.

The best alignment has to be figured out, land has to be negotiated and bought and “environmental impact” studies often have to be done, Allen said, among other tasks.

For instance, on the eastern end, three different federal entities have to sign off — the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which operates the Kennedy Space Center; the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Canaveral National Seashore.

“There are lots of moving parts to the process, but I think we’re well on our way to meeting our goal and finishing” the trail, Allen said.

“I think 2016 is going to be a big year,” he added. “You’re going to start to see individual trails coming together into longer regional segments.”

The Florida Department of Transportation is the state agency overseeing planning and construction.

The agency directed $18.8 million to the project last year and expects to dedicate an estimated $5.5 million this fiscal year, which runs July 2015 to June 2016, spokesman Dick Kane said.

In future years, work will be paid out of the newly approved SunTrail funding, Kane added.

This year, lawmakers authorized the department to set aside $25 million a year for shared-use, “non-motorized” trails. The idea is to one day have a statewide system of trails that could link Pensacola to Key West.

Allen’s foundation conducted a study in 2013 that said areas adjoining the trail will see an annual economic benefit of $120 million.

The study said the Pinellas trail “is already regarded as an important engine for economic growth” and noted that a survey of Florida trail users showed each visitor spends about $20 per visit.

More than 1 million people yearly use trails in the central part of the state.

Roughly three-quarters of the cross-state byway — a little more than 200 miles — is built and open to the public. They first were independent trails.

To make one unified trail, there are eight gaps to fill. The longest is a nearly 20-mile stretch in south Sumter County. All in all, the gaps account for about 66 miles.

Sue Lofy|Palm Harbor|pedals along on the trail in Tarpon Springs. |JAMES L. ROSICA|Tribune/Naples Daily News, Capital Bureau|July 12, 2015

Jamaica’s Blue and John Crow Mountains become the country’s first World Heritage site

The Blue and John Crow Mountains has become Jamaica’s first World Heritage site, following advice from IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, UNESCO World Heritage Committee has announced.

Jamaica’s Blue and John Crow Mountains has been inscribed as a “mixed” site, recognizing the complex interplay between the area’s natural and cultural values. The local Maroon communities share a strong identity with the area and are actively engaged in its management.
“The Blue and John Crow Mountains in Jamaica is a jewel of the Caribbean displaying exceptionally pristine nature,” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Program. “We are delighted that a site so valuable in the eyes of the local communities has been recognised for its importance to the whole humanity. This inscription also helps to build a World Heritage list which can represent the world’s regions in a more balanced way.”

Combining Jamaica’s highest peak with a contrasting limestone plateau, the site boasts the greatest diversity of ecosystems and habitats on the island, which are also among the most intact in the Caribbean region.

It overlaps with one of the world’s 78 most irreplaceable areas for the conservation of amphibian, bird and mammal species. Half of the flowering plants growing at 900 to 1000 metres in the John Crow plateau cannot be found anywhere else in the world, while unique montane tropical forests hang on the steep slopes and rugged landscape of the Blue Mountains peaking at 2,250 metre. The site also hosts globally significant populations of bird species.

IUCNworldheritage

Recycling

7 Tips For Reducing Plastic Pollution and Saving Our Marine Species

For the first time ever plankton have been caught on camera eating small bits of our plastic waste, illustrating why we need to take the issue of plastics and marine waste seriously.

The New Scientist reports that a team from Five Films, a company that aims to deliver compelling messages through short films, was able to capture plankton eating tiny grains of plastic litter through use of a microscope. This has never been seen before, and it means that if plankton are eating plastic, it’s likely that by virtue of the food chain, larger marine mammals are consuming it too.

Says the article:

Millions of tons of plastic litter end up in the ocean every year and the effect on marine life is a growing concern. Among this debris are tiny particles from fragments of objects like buoys, floats or polyester fabrics or from additives in cosmetics. They contain toxic morsels that could be passed up the food chain if swallowed by organisms at the bottom.

You can watch the video here:

While creatures that consume these plastics may be able to excrete them, it’s thought that some will not be able to do so, and this can cause them to eat less and, as a result, fair less well. Some may even die. It’s also thought plastics consumption may have a cumulative effect, raising the chances of serious health problems and cancers. This doesn’t just affect creatures like plankton though, because those kinds of animals are key steps in the food chain. A drop in their numbers or problems with their health can affect their predators.

According to the EPA, plastics are among the most common components of marine debris. What’s important to understand however is that we can take steps to reduce plastic waste, and not just at the state level with bans on plastic bags, but at a personal level with the choices we are making every day. Here are some ways to manage and reduce plastics consumption that could have a meaningful impact on your own environmental footprint.

1. Use Alternatives to Plastic Bags

This is a tip you’ll see time and again but it’s important. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the average American family may take home as many as 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year, while in total the U.S. disposes of 100 billion plastic shopping bags every 12 months. Many of those bags end up in landfills and a good portion in our oceans.

One alternative to plastic bags is cloth bags. These are often sturdier anyway, and many stores now offer them as part of their move away from plastics, so it’s usually easy to substitute.

2. Don’t Buy Bottled Water

Many people will buy bottled water believing that they can simply put those bottles in the recycling and therefore it won’t harm the environment. Unfortunately, only certain bottles can be processed for recycling, meaning that the rest are discarded and end up in landfills where they will take hundreds of years to degrade.

An easy way to cut down on buying single use water bottles while you’re on the go is to get a good quality, non-BPA containing water bottle you can refill at home. Not only is this better for the environment, but you’ll quickly make back the money you’ve invested.

3. Wherever Possible Choose Cardboard Over Plastic

If you regularly buy milk or juices in plastic bottles, consider finding alternatives. For instance, often you’ll be able to buy juices in cardboard cartons, and the same goes for milk. While this obviously doesn’t cut down on the waste packaging problem, the cardboard can often (though not always) be recycled, so that at least helps to minimize your waste.

4. Buy From Bulk Bins if You Can 

Another way to cut down on your overall plastic waste is to try to buy from bulk bins. This cuts out a lot of the plastic bags and plastic containers that foods like pulses and rices often come in, and you may find that it works out cheaper too because you have cut down on packaging costs.

5. Grow Your Own Vegetables if You Can

While obviously you can’t grow everything at home, growing things like tomatoes, chilies and even potatoes can be achieved with very little room, expense or experience. If you’d like to learn how to kick-start your own urban vegetable garden we have a great guide for you here.

6. Re-Use the Plastics You Have to Buy

In a perfect world we’d be able to avoid all plastics and thereby eliminate the problem, but sometimes there are situations where we buy something and it comes in a plastic container and there’s no alternative. In that case, take a look at the container and instead of throwing it out when you’re done, think how you can re-purpose it. Cut-up plastic bottles make great little pots for seedlings, while tomato and salad containers can be reused for lunches on the go. Here are a few more suggestions, but get creative and see what you can come up with.

7. Take a Bag and Some Gloves Out With You and Pick Up That Litter Off the Beach

One of the ways you can help marine and beach animals escape the dangers of plastics is by litter-picking. This won’t cut down on the waste that’s actually in our oceans, but it can mean that crustaceans and other animals that live on our beaches are spared from consuming fragments of the plastics we’ve thrown out. You can make this into a fun bit of exercise for the whole family by seeing who can pick up the most litter in the shortest time, but obviously take gloves and keep a watchful eye on young children to make sure they don’t pick up anything sharp.

Bonus Tip: Avoid Products Containing Microbeads

Many healthcare products contain what are known as microbeads, tiny spheres of plastic that, for example, can be used for cleaning sensitive areas and so are found in face washes and even in our toothpaste. However, increasing evidence shows microbeads are harmful to the environment. You can read more about that issue here.

Steve Williams|July 11, 2015

Miscellaneous

What Killed the Dinosaurs in Utah’s Giant Jurassic Death Pit?

Paleontologists are gathering evidence that may help crack the 148-million-year-old mystery, including signs of poisoned predators

Utah is dinosaur country—so much so that the state has a scenic byway system called the Dinosaur Diamond that connects ancient final resting places across the desert. But among the sites holding preserved tracks and dusty fossils, one boneyard stands out as a 148-million-year-old mystery: the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry.

This national landmark, about an hour’s drive southeast from the town of Price, boasts one of the densest concentrations of Jurassic dinosaur fossils in the world. Oddly, the Jurassic jumble is packed with a particular species of wicked-clawed carnivore, an assemblage that has puzzled scientists for decades. What happened in ancient Utah to bring together this convergence of predators, and what could have killed the carnivores?

Now, a team of paleontologists from several institutions may have found some unexpected clues that would overturn the leading theory for explaining this dinosaur death pit. And like many great murder mysteries, the tale seems to involve a dash of poison.
No one knows who first stumbled upon the carnivore-rich quarry. The bone bed was already well known to local ranchers when the University of Utah undertook the first formal excavation in 1928, carting off more than 500 bones. A decade later, local lad William Lee Stokes told his professors about the site when he went east to attend Princeton University. The Ivy Leaguers dug around the site in the summers of 1939 to 1941, with Stokes eventually becoming the chief authority on the seemingly inexhaustible bone bed. Scientists from other institutions came and went over the years, all puzzled by the unusual fossil haul.
As Stokes and succeeding generations of paleontologists hammered into the quarry, they found that more than 75 percent of the bones extracted from the gray stone belonged to Allosaurus fragilis—a lithe predator that could grow upward of 30 feet in length, equipped by evolution with three wickedly curved claws on each hand and a mouth brimming with serrated teeth. Other predators turned up at the quarry, too—including the previously unknown Marshosaurus and Stokesosaurus – but none numbered anywhere close to the overwhelming abundance of Allosaurus.
The initial explanation for the skewed statistics seems simple: the site must have been a predator trap. Around 148 million years ago, in the warmth of the Jurassic dry season, an unwary Stegosaurus or similar source of meat must have blundered into the muck of a drying lake bed in search of a drink. All the tonnage pressed the dinosaur’s feet into the mire, and, exhausted from effort and dehydration, the animal quickly died. If the struggling dinosaur’s cries didn’t attract carnivores, then the postmortem smell surely did. But the voracious Allosaurus would have been trapped just like their last supper, and the trap would refresh itself with new bait as dinosaur after dinosaur wandered into the sticky pit.

As more researchers picked at the quarry, though, the predator trap hypothesis began making less sense. Dissenting paleontologists and geologists have pointed out that there was nothing at this site to trap the predators—the rocks hold no sign of asphalt or other substance sticky enough to ensnare dinosaurian feet. So far, alternative explanations have included severe drought, bodies floating in from elsewhere, poisoned water and more. All these options divide the mystery into two parts: how did the dinosaurs become buried here, and why does Allosaurus so greatly outnumber all others?
The answers to these questions rest with geology. Dinosaur bones can tell us a great deal about individual animals—size, age, health and so on—but the context of their stony burial is the most essential part of the Cleveland-Lloyd story. The rock itself, as well as the pattern in which the individual bones were laid out, hold clues to what the ancient environment was like and what may have brought this fossil assemblage together.

To reconstruct what happened, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh paleontologist Joseph Peterson and his field crew have been engaged in years of backbreaking labor. “There’s really no place in the world that’s like Jurassic Utah,” Peterson says, so the scientists have to reconstruct that lost world from bits and pieces.

While the Bureau of Land Management has done a great job protecting the site, Peterson says, there are some challenges inherent to the quarry. The exposed bone bed is currently shielded from the elements by a pair of buildings. The north quarry building is generally in good shape, in part because it is open to the public. But the south building has been used as storage space out of necessity and has become the perfect home for packrats and gopher snakes. Sweeping out the rat poop is usually the first task of the field season.

Also, even though most excavations here have been scientific, at unrecorded times in the past, some bones have been removed without any of the essential geologic information about how they were situated. Many of these chunks were placed around the quarry buildings or piled in the corner in what Peterson jokingly calls the “Table of Mystery and Despair”. 

For the past four years, Peterson’s team has spent a week or two at a time cleaning up the quarries and removing literal tons of limestone to expose more of the bone layer, so that the fossil bed can be mapped in detail for the first time. The team has been using a technique called photogrammetry—making 3-D photographic maps—so that changes to the quarry can be updated yearly with a few snaps of a camera. By studying these models, Peterson hopes to see whether the dinosaurs at the site were felled by a single catastrophe or if the bodies accumulated over time. “Regardless of what these results show us,” Peterson says, “it’s supplying a huge piece of this puzzle.”
The team is also gathering other lines of evidence. In addition to studies of the quarry’s geologic chemistry, they’re running some experiments on what happens to theropod carcasses when they’re soaked in the type of ancient environment that Cleveland-Lloyd represents. In absence of any living Allosaurus, the scientists are using modern dinosaurs, aka birds.

“My approach to the quarry is the same as a crime scene or archaeological site—leave no stone unturned,” Peterson says.
All the effort is starting to clear up the complex and sometimes seemingly contradictory signals about what happened at Cleveland-Lloyd. So far, the new results “support previous hypotheses regarding bloat and float as well as a toxic water source for the quarry,” says Indiana University of Pennsylvania geologist Jonathan Warnock. The full details are awaiting scientific publication, but the researchers are zeroing in on how poisoned water could have killed the dinosaurs and the way those bodies fell apart to make the pick-up-sticks accumulation embedded in Jurassic stone.

Not that the story of Cleveland-Lloyd is close to finished. Much of the bone bed remains beneath the rock, extending into the hills behind the quarry buildings. And just this summer the team exposed a fresh portion of the quarry surface that will be painstakingly excavated next year, including evidence of the 48th Allosaurus to be uncovered.

Even though Cleveland-Lloyd is a unique Allosaurus accumulation, Peterson expects that studying the site will yield more general facts about what happened to Jurassic dinosaurs between deaths and their discovery by paleontologists. The Utah boneyard a place not just to marvel at long-gone saurians, but also to reconstruct what the Jurassic world was truly like.

Brian Switek|smithsonian.com|July 10, 2015

In Memoriam

M. C. Davis, a Walton County developer who became a world-renowned conservationist, died on Saturday of lung cancer. He was 70.

Environmental Links

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

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ConsRep 1507 B

“Nature provides exceptions to every rule.” Margaret Fuller

Announcements

Save the Date!

3rd Annual Sea Level Rise Symposium

Given the enormity of the impacts to South Florida, the 3rd Annual Sea Level Rise Symposium will initiate the discussion of visionary ideas and solutions to encourage action now. 

Through expert presentations, audience discussions, and opportunities for personal action, participants will be encouraged to work together to build resiliency

in our built and natural environment to create a better future for our children and grandchildren.

Seas Are Rising: What Now? – Solutions for the 21st Century 

Given the enormity of the impacts to South Florida,

the 3rd Annual Sea Level Rise Symposium

will initiate the discussion of visionary ideas and solutions

to encourage action now. Through expert presentations,

audience discussions, and opportunities for personal

action, participants will be encouraged to work together

to build resiliency in our built and natural environment to

create a better future for our children and grandchildren.

To be held at:

Oxbridge Academy

3151 North Military Trail

West Palm Beach, FL 33409

Want To Join In On the Action? Register Here
Last day to register is Thursday, July 30, 2015 at 5:00 PM

$20.00 for students and teachers to attend

$30.00 for general registration

Register Here

Of Interest to All

Nationwide Protests Call for Immediate Ban on Oil Bomb Trains

Monday was the second anniversary of the tragic Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, oil train disaster that killed 47 people. Since then, oil trains continue to derail and explode with five already this year. Four of the derailments occurred within just four weeks.

A coalition of environmental and social justice organizations including Sierra Club, Greenpeace, ForestEthics, Oil Change International, Center for Biological Diversity, Rainforest Action Network, 350.org, Friends of the Earth, Food and Water Watch and Earthworks, have launched a week of action to call for an end to crude by rail shipments. The coalition has organized more than 80 events across the U.S. and Canada to call for an immediate ban on oil trains.

Lena Moffitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Dirty Fuels campaign made the following statement:

Exploding crude oil trains do not belong on the nation’s rails, and 25 million Americans—most of them people of color—do not deserve to be living in a blast zone. The Department of Transportation needs to take responsibility, and rather than put forward wholly inadequate rules that jeopardize the health and safety of communities along rail lines, the administration should ban bomb trains outright.

For the health and safety of all Americans, we need to leave dirty, volatile fuels like tar sands and Bakken crude in the ground. We don’t have to choose between pipelines that spill and bomb trains that explode because we can choose clean energy instead. From Vermont to Oregon, organizers remember those who lost their lives in the disaster.    

Cole Mellino|July 8, 2015

Port Everglades to get $1.2 million for next phase of dredging project

It will be years before dredging is done at Port Everglades

There’s more progress on long-touted plans to deepen the channel at Broward County‘s seaport to host larger ships, boost business and create jobs.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has set aside $1.2 million this budget year to help fund the next phase of the dredging project, Port Everglades chief Steve Cernak announced Tuesday.

Nearly 20 years in the works, Port Everglades just earned approval from the Army Corps to dredge its channel to 48 feet deep to better compete for cargo. The authorization dragged out, largely because of concerns over how to mitigate envrionmental damage to nearby coral reefs.

On Tuesday, representatives of Congress, Florida’s legislature, county and city governments, businesses and Port Everglades itself gathered for a news conference at the port to celebrate the approval achieved through what some called “a bipartisan, public-private partnership.”

The next step for the dredging project: a detailed engineering and design plan, expected to cost $5.6 million and take 18 months to 24 months to complete, Cernak said.

Funding for that plan will come about 75 percent from federal funds and 25 percent from local funds. Broward may accelerate payments and then seek reimbursement from federal sources, Cernak said.

After that, the seaport will need roughly $380 million for the construction phase, expected to take three to four years. That funding is expected to come about 55 percent from federal and 45 percent from state and local sources. The state could advance some money and then seek federal reimbursement, he said.

Securing funds for the next phases will take more effort by the bipartisan group in Washington, Tallahassee and even South Florida.

“We’re not there yet,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman, D-Weston, told the news conference attended by more than 100 people. “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Joked U.S. Rep Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach: “Whoever thought that digging a hole would be so difficult?”

Broward County Mayor Tim Ryan underscored the importance of keeping the seaport growing and competitive. He called Port Everglades “the economic powerhouse on the water here in Broward,” producing a $28 billion economic impact yearly and $800 million in local and state taxes annually.

“We’re talking about jobs, jobs, jobs, and that’s what this is all about,” said U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens.

Cernak said he intends to be “proactive and engaged” to push the dredging project forward.

Frankel welcomed that effort: “We still have to make the case. We still have a lot more work to do.”

Doreen Hemlock|Sun Sentinel

World Leaders Call For End of Fossil Fuels

In what we hope is a preview of what’s yet to come at November’s U.N. Climate Change Conference, President Obama and leaders of the world’s seven largest economies—known as the Group of Seven or G-7—called for the world to eliminate the use of fossil fuels by the end of the century. The G-7 leaders recognized the need to set ambitious 2050 goals now in order to achieve this ultimate goal.

The text of the announcement also loosely outlines what industrialized countries hope to see established in a Paris agreement: ways to ensure countries are cutting carbon as promised; “binding rules,” though not necessarily an internationally legally binding treaty; and a mechanism to promote increasing ambition over time. G-7 leaders also vowed to boost support for vulnerable countries, including delivering disaster risk insurance to 400 million new people by 2020 in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean. The leaders also vowed to spread clean energy in Africa, particularly as a way to boost energy access.

Is an Anti-Cancer Drug Growing in Your Front Lawn?

If you walk past my home, you might notice the dandelions that grow rampant on the front lawn. While neighbors continue to douse the yellow flowers with pesticides, like Monsanto’s Round-Up, which has been shown to cause cancer, I prefer to let the resilient and prevalent flowers grow. That’s because, in addition to dandelion’s excellent nutritional benefits, it is increasingly being shown in research to have potent anti-cancer properties.

One of the most exciting studies about dandelion’s anti-cancer abilities was published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada in conjunction with the Windsor Regional Cancer Center, tested the effects of an extract of dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale) on melanoma—an aggressive form of skin cancer. The scientists found that after 48 hours of exposure to the dandelion extract, cancer cells begin to die off. The study also found that dandelion was effective on cancer cells that were resistant to chemotherapy.

Other research published in the International Journal of Oncology suggests that the humble dandelion—the weed so many people hate—may offer new hope in the battle against cancer. The researchers tested various parts of the plant, which they made into herbal teas and assessed the effects on both breast and prostate cancers. They found that a tea made from the leaves decreased the growth of breast cancer cells while a tea made from the root blocked the ability of cancer cells to invade healthy breast tissue and healthy prostate tissue.

In another study published in the online medical journal PLoS One, researchers found that an extract of dandelion root was able to selectively and efficiently kill cancer cells without toxicity to healthy cells. They concluded that dandelion root and other natural medicines have “great potential, as non-toxic and effective alternatives to conventional modes of chemotherapy available today.”

According to a study published in Molecular Carcinogenesis, one of the ways that dandelion root seems to work is by making cancer cells more vulnerable to being destroyed through the body’s natural process known as apoptosis, which causes cancer cells to self-destruct. The study also found that dandelion root seems to increase the effectiveness of other cancer treatments used alongside it.

The studies use either dandelion root tinctures (alcohol extracts) or dandelion root or leaf tea to obtain their results. In my experience the dandelion root tinctures tend to be more potent. Choose a reputable brand of dandelion tincture for best results. Follow package instructions or work with a qualified herbalist.

Another way to reap the health benefits of dandelion root involves roasting dandelion root at 200 degrees for 2 hours or until completely dry and then grinding in a coffee grinder. Add a tablespoon or two to almond or coconut milk and a dash of stevia, blend and pour over ice for a delicious, naturally anti-cancer iced beverage. Alternatively, many health food stores carry roasted dandelion root.

For more information on natural approaches to cancer check out my e-book CANCER-PROOF.

Michelle Schoffro Cook|July 9, 2015

7 Billion and Counting

Today is World Population Day, and it’s easy to focus on the numbers—starting with the more than 7 billion humans now sharing our planet. Within many of our lifetimes, that number could surpass 10 billion. But grappling with the issue of global population is about much more than the numbers—it’s about the needs of the people behind those statistics.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Photo credit: Shutterstock

It’s been 20 years since the United Nations defined voluntary family planning as a basic human right. Unfortunately, 225 million women around the world who want to plan, space, or delay childbirth have no access to modern contraceptive methods. That means these women have little power to control their own lives or escape the cycle of poverty.

Providing consistent access to voluntary family planning is one obvious way to help these women, but it’s not the only one. Closely related issues are clean energy access, clean water access and the right to an education. An estimated 101 million children aren’t able to attend school, and more than half of them are girls. If women and families are going to gain ground economically, politically or environmentally, we need to address all of these fundamental inequities.

As is so often the case, though, helping those in need will help all of us. For instance, if we simply filled the unmet demand for family planning, the resulting reduction in CO2 emissions would be equivalent to eliminating deforestation worldwide, doubling the fuel economy of every car on the planet, or replacing every coal-fired power plant with solar energy.

Numbers are important, but so are connections. Human health, growing populations and the environment are inextricably linked. We can’t have a healthy planet without healthy families.

Michael Brune|July 11, 2015

Calls to Action

  1. Stand up and protect our bees – here
  2. Tell the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect Florida panthers – here
  3. Don’t Let Big Oil Drill Big Cypress – here 
  4. Tell Your Lawmakers: The Oil Export Ban Must Stand – here
  5. Stop Toxic Uranium Mine on Sacred Land – here
  6. Don’t let Polluters Gut America’s Clean Power Plan‏ – here

Birds and Butterflies

Controlled Burns Threaten Rare Florida Butterflies

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Controlled burns could wipe out rare north Florida butterflies if they’re not done with insect habitat in mind, according to a recent University of Florida study. The research found certain butterflies need fire because they feed on plants that only survive when flames weed out competing vegetation.

Lead study author Matt Thom with the U.S. Department of Agriculture says if fires get too big, all of the butterflies’ cocoons, which are buried near the soil surface, will burn up. “It’s this kind of strange trade-off,” says Thom. “Fire can be a positive thing for the host plants, but it also can be bad, detrimental to the populations of the organisms.”

The study looked at the frosted elfin butterfly, which lives in Ralph E. Simmons State Forest near the Georgia border. It found that the caterpillars in the cocoon stage don’t burrow far enough into the soil to survive the flames.

Thom says it’s all in how much land is burned at one time. “You need to burn these certain forests at certain intervals,” he says. “You know, too frequent a fire, or a fire that actually burns though the whole, entire area that the butterflies occupy, would be a pretty bad thing.”

Thom recommends controlled burns only be done on a rotation basis and in smaller, subdivided areas, so butterflies in the unburned area can repopulate the forest and maintain their natural balance between life and death.

Public News Service – FL|July 2015

Bridge construction disrupts falcon banding

Construction on the Blue Water Bridge this spring was an inconvenience for numerous motorists and at least one local family.

Biologists from the Michigan Department of Natural Resource were not able to band peregrine falcon chicks because of the construction, said Holly Vaughn, a wildlife outreach technician for the DNR.

The westbound span of the bridge was closed March 29 for resurfacing and maintenance. The nest box is on the eastbound span.

“There is construction going on …” Vaughn said. “The nest box was moved over to that side, we moved it over to that side a couple of years ago. It was inaccessible for banding.”

The westbound span opened to traffic Wednesday.

Vaughn said although biologists were not able to get a close look at the nest box, they’re pretty sure the peregrine parents were able to raise a family.

“Our peregrine falcon nesting coordinator, Christine Becher, she has confirmed that the parent falcons have been delivering food to one or more chicks in the nest box,” Vaughn said.

“Because we have not been able to access the nest, we are not 100 percent sure how many chicks there are, but we are sure there is at least one,” she said.

Most peregrine falcons have fledged, or left the nest, by now, Vaughn said.

She said the DNR will be back next year to check for chicks and band any that biologists find.

“It’s just a little bobble,” she said. “Every year there is a site or two we can’t get to because of construction or territorial parents that don’t let us get close to the nest.”

There are about 45 nesting pairs in Michigan — many of them nest on tall structures such as the Blue Water Bridge including the 11th floor of the Macomb County Building in Mount Clemens, power plant smokestacks and skyscrapers in Detroit.

“We usually have about 20 to 25 successful nests each year,” Vaughn said.

Biologists from the DNR also are banding osprey chicks in southeastern Michigan. The fish-eating raptors were reintroduced into the area in 1998 at Kensington Metropark.

Fast fliers

•Peregrine falcons are considered the fastest birds in the world. They approach speeds of close to 200 mph when stooping — diving — on their prey. The fastest land mammal, the cheetah, can approach speeds up to 75 mph. The fastest fish, the sailfish, has been clocked at 68 mph.

•Peregrines prey almost exclusively on medium-sized birds such as pigeons and doves as well as waterfowl. They’re also known as duck hawks.

•Peregrines can live up to 15 years in the wild. In Michigan, great horned owls often prey on peregrine chicks.

•There are about 139 peregrine falcons in Michigan, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

For more information about the state’s endangered and non-game wildlife species, go to www.michigan.gov/nongamewildlife.

Bob Gross|Times Herald|July 8, 2015

Thousands of Birds Abandon Eggs, Nests on Florida Island

SEAHORSE KEY, Fla. — The din created by thousands of nesting birds is usually the first thing you notice about Seahorse Key, a 150-acre mangrove-covered dune off Florida’s Gulf Coast.

But in May, the key fell eerily quiet all at once.

Thousands of little blue herons, roseate spoonbills, snowy egrets, pelicans and other chattering birds were gone. Nests sat empty in trees; eggs broken and scattered on the muddy ground.

“It’s a dead zone now,” said Vic Doig, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist. “This is where the largest bird colony on the Gulf Coast of Florida used to be.”

For decades, Seahorse Key has been a protected way station for myriad bird species. It’s part of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, which was established in 1929 as a sanctuary for birds devastated by decades of hunting for their colorful plumage. Accessible only by boat, today it’s a rare island off Florida not dominated by human activity and development.

When the birds come to nest, so too do biologists and naturalists who study the different colonies. But this year, the birds’ exit has the state’s avian biologists scrambling for answers.

“It’s not uncommon for birds to abandon nests,” said Peter Frederick, a University of Florida wildlife biologist who has studied Florida’s birds for nearly 30 years. “But, in this case, what’s puzzling is that all of the species did it all at once.”

Doig said some of the Seahorse birds seem to have moved to a nearby island, but they’re just a fraction of the tens of thousands of birds that would normally be nesting on the key right now.

To find answers, service biologists have been acting on the few clues they have.

First, they tested left-behind bird carcasses for disease or contaminants. Those tests came back negative.

Next, they researched possible new predators. Did raccoons swim over from another island? Perhaps some great horned owls flew out at night and started feasting?

Traps caught a few raccoons, which is common, but not enough to have created a wholesale abandonment. There were no telltale signs of owls.

Finally, Doig said, recent years have seen an increase in night flights over the area by surveillance planes and helicopters used to combat drug runners. Although the planes’ noise could be disruptive, Doig admits it’s a longshot.

The abandonment concerns biologists because it could have a ripple effect: Many bird species here return year after year to the same nesting sites. The disruption provokes anxiety that this important island refuge could somehow be lost.

“Any rookery that’s persisted for decades as one of the largest colonies is incredibly important,” said Janell Brush, an avian researcher with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “It’s quite a large colony. There had to be some intense event that would drive all these birds away.”

Biologist also don’t know how the disappearance will affect the island’s other animals, some of which rely on the birds to survive. Cottonmouth snakes eat bird predators like rodents, and in turn the birds drop lots of fish and other nutrients from the trees to feed the snakes.

In the meantime, tour operators that once spent hours taking naturalists and bird watchers to the island are making other plans.

Mike O’Dell runs tours out of the little marina in nearby Cedar Key. He said on a Tuesday in May he led a group out to view thousands of birds crowding the shores of the key. On Wednesday, there was nothing.

“It’s just that drastic,” O’Dell said. “There were none. It’s like a different world.”

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS|JULY 7, 2015

Migratory Bird Amendment Withdrawn!

Bird Conservation Votes Still to Come

Congressman Jeff Duncan will no longer be offering his amendment on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act to the Fiscal Year 2016 House Interior Appropriations bill. 

Thanks to all who contacted your Representative and signed on to letters opposing this amendment.  We will keep you posted on any new developments regarding the MBTA amendment adopted by the House on the Fiscal Year 2016 Commerce, State, Justice, Appropriations bill.  

American Bird Conservancy

Big wins for monarchs, thanks to you ‏

You Helped Turn Up the Heat to Save Monarchs! Thanks to you, our full-page ad exposing Dow Chemical for its assault on milkweed ran earlier this week in The New York Times.

Click to See Ad

The ad urges Dow to help bring monarch butterflies back from the brink of collapse by canceling its plans to sell Enlist Duo, a next-generation herbicide that will perpetuate Dow’s toxic assault on the milkweed monarchs need to survive.

And last week, we got some more good news for monarchs: The UNESCO World Heritage Committee announced it will start examining the plight of the monarch butterflies that spend every winter in Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage site.

This is a key step forward in our fight to save these magnificent butterflies, whose numbers have plummeted from over 1 billion less than 20 years ago to just 56.6 million this past winter — in large part because of the skyrocketing use of potent herbicides produced by industrial agriculture giants like Dow.

And it’s exciting progress for NRDC supporters like you, who barraged UNESCO with more than 50,000 letters calling for urgent action on monarchs. Your voices were heard!

Read more about UNESCO’s plans here.

Thanks to you, our “no milkweed, no monarchs” message reached millions of people throughout the country and the world — from the pages of the Times to the World Heritage Committee.

Of course, our job is far from over. We’ll be counting on your help in the weeks and months ahead as we harness this incredible momentum and keep the pressure on Dow to shelve its plans for Enlist Duo… urge the EPA to crack down on the skyrocketing use of milkweed-destroying herbicides… and call on UNESCO to recommend strong safeguards that will protect North America’s monarch butterflies.

Make no mistake: These are tough battles. But with NRDC supporters like you behind us, we’re ready to take them on — and win.

Thank you for standing with us in this fight for monarch survival.

Rhea Suh|President|NRDC

 Florida Panthers

On The Rebound, Panthers Prowl Expanding Swath Of Land In Florida

Panthers roam in rural Collier County, in southwest Florida. As the Florida state animal’s population has grown, wildlife officials may seek to take the panther off the endangered species list

In Florida, the official state animal triggers mixed feelings. The Florida panther has been on the endangered species list for nearly 50 years. From a low point in the 1970s when there were only about 20 panthers in the wild, the species has rebounded.

Now, nearly 200 range throughout southwest Florida. And some officials, ranchers and hunters in the state say that may be about enough.

Florida panthers are a subspecies of the cougar or mountain lion. They’re slightly smaller than their cousins, but like them, the panthers need lots of room to roam.

At the northern end of the panthers’ range is Black Boar Ranch, a hunting preserve near the town of LaBelle. When the ranch started 15 years ago, says ranch manager Cliff Coleman, you never saw panthers.

“Then you’d see tracks and then you finally got to where you see them, see sign all the time really,” he says.

Now, there’s a female panther with kittens living on the property, Coleman says. Like most ranchers in panther country, he loses livestock and game to panthers. While he doesn’t like it, Coleman says the panthers were here first

Black Boar Ranch recently signed an agreement with the U.S. Agriculture Department and the Nature Conservancy, a private environmental group, designating a portion of the ranch as habitat for the Florida panther. It connects to adjoining properties to the north and south, creating a travel corridor for panthers.

Creating a travel corridor for panthers and other wildlife has become increasingly important as the big cat’s population has grown in southwest Florida.

“Because their ranges are fairly large,” says Wendy Matthews, with the Nature Conservancy, “they need to move north in order to continue having a healthy population in terms of genetics and then also being able to have sufficient game to eat and feed their kittens with.”

Florida officials estimate there are now at least 180 Florida panthers living on millions of acres of public and private land in Florida. But after decades of protecting the panther and working to expand its habitat, state wildlife officials now say they want to adopt a new policy toward the endangered species.

Under a federal recovery plan for the panther, it can’t be taken off the endangered species list until three populations of 240 animals or more are established in Florida or other Southeastern states.

Liesa Priddy, a member of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and a ranch owner, believes those goals may be unrealistic.

“We’re at the point where we’re probably pushing the 240 animals in this primary, first range for panthers,” she says. “And where does the second population go? Because it takes a lot of contiguous land to support a panther population.”

Environmental and animal welfare groups are outraged. Many gathered recently in Sarasota at a hearing to discuss the new policy.

“We are shocked and dismayed that the Florida Wildlife Commission is backing off decades of protection for the Florida panther,” said Laura Bevan with the Humane Society.

Jennifer Hecker, with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, added: “We cannot fathom how we can be talking about that there are too many panthers.”

If adopted, the new plan would put Florida on record opposing efforts to establish a new panther population outside of southwest Florida. In their current range, the plan says, panthers may have exceeded their habitat’s “carrying capacity.”

At the hearing, the commission heard from dozens of people opposed to any move to weaken the state’s commitment to re-establishing the panther. But there also were many on the other side — hunters angry that panthers have taken their game and ranchers upset that panthers sometimes take their livestock.

“I raise cattle for a living,” said Jack Johnson, a rancher. “I don’t come to your house and take whatever it is you do. And I expect you don’t come to my house and take mine.”

But panthers are just one part of a much larger dispute playing out in Florida: one about land use and the future of millions of undeveloped acres in the state. After decades of development along the coasts, builders and retirees are increasingly looking to new communities in Florida’s interior, including areas west of Lake Okeechobee where panthers are becoming common.

Paul Carlisle, an administrator from Glades County, says more than one-third of the land there is already under conservation easements. Setting aside more land for panthers, he says, would hurt the county’s economy. The panther, Carlisle noted to the commission, used to range not just in Florida, but throughout the Southeast, from Texas to North Carolina.

“Why should Florida carry the whole burden of the panther that once had that broad range, and the expenses that goes along with it? And the cost of development,” Carlisle said. “Yes, development is needed. To be sustainable, we have to have development.”

Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission took another controversial position this month, responding to the rebounding black bear population by approving a bear hunt. Using some of the same reasoning as with panthers, the commission says bears may have reached the carrying capacity in some areas and it’s now necessary to control their population.

They are three species: panthers, bears and people, all of which require a lot of space. In Florida, officials say panthers and bears may just about have reached their limit.

Greg Allen|July 3, 2015

Have Florida Panthers Outgrown Their Realm?

SARASOTA — State officials want to abandon efforts to repopulate the endangered Florida panther in northern and central Florida. They warn that Southwest Florida has exceeded its panther carrying capacity, which has led to conflicts with people causing depredation of pets and livestock.

At a June 23 meeting, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission delayed action on a plan to revise the current panther strategy.

Over 200 people attended the meeting at the Hyatt in Sarasota. Most attendees were in opposition of the revision that would pull funding dedicated to the development of a panther population north of the Caloosahatchee River.

The move would end state support for long-standing federal efforts to establish two new panther populations in northern and central parts of the state.

Currently huge sections of Central and Southwest Florida are considered potential habitats for panthers. The section includes portions of public and private lands located in eastern Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties.

Opponents of the new plan worry the state might be conceding to landowners who want to reduce restrictions related to endangered species habitat. The federal government limits development in areas designated as critical habitat for an endangered species.

Critics also argue that establishing a larger population of panthers is essential for breeding purposes and ensuring a healthy gene pool.

The current recovery proposal, adopted in 2008, includes strategies for establishing populations of 240 panthers in three different locations. The population in Southwest Florida is on the road to recovery, but the outlook isn’t as bright for the panthers in central and northern areas. While FWC officials have documented the presence of the large cats in the wild, they have not found any evidence of breeding.

“While we have achieved great success recovering panther populations in Southwest Florida, there has been essentially no progress in meeting the broader range-wide recovery criteria,” said a statement released by the FWC.

It would take success in all three areas for the panthers to be removed from the endangered species list, according to federal regulations.

But according to the FWC, panthers have “exceeded carrying capacity in Southwest Florida.” Officials reported that panthers and humans had multiple conflicts, with panthers killing at least 35 domestic animals in 2014.

“At this level, panther populations are straining and currently exceed the tolerance of landowners, residents and recreationalists in the area,” said a statement released by the FWC.

It was human conflict that almost eradicated the panther population in the first place. Farmers, who were tired of the predators attacking their livestock, hunted them to near extinction during the early 1900s. Then, vast land development across the state depleted much of the big cat habitat.

By 1967 there were less than 30 in existence. That same year they were added to the endangered species list.

In truth, purebred Florida panthers are rare. In the 1990s, a recovery plan was enacted that temporarily introduced female Texas panthers to the area to help with the reproductive rate. The females were removed in 2003 after scientists determined the gene pool was large enough for successful reproduction.

While there is theoretically plenty of room for humans and panthers to coexist, over the last 30 years the latter abandoned nearly 600,000 acres of their traditional habitat in the Everglades. This was mainly due to periodic high water, which has caused dramatic declines of wildlife including deer-the panther’s primary prey.

Now there is a growing concern that the panthers are coming into residential areas looking for dinner. Not only that, but the FWC says it doesn’t have the manpower to deal with the conflicts.

A new plan would establish panther habitats on conservation lands while FWC members would concentrate on managing the species and community outreach.

FWC officials say they would support a more natural northern migration.

“Given the current federal recovery plan calls for establishing breeding populations of panthers north of the Caloosahatchee River, any efforts to achieve this outcome beyond natural range expansion, is the responsibility of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service,” said a statement by the FWC.

With nearly 2.5 million acres of protected lands in Florida, skeptics of the new plan believe large parks like Ocala National Forest, 673 square miles, and Apalachicola National Forest, 989 square miles, would offer perfect habitats for more panthers. (One male panther can have a territory of 200 to 250 square miles wide).

Officials will revise their position and bring up the issue at the September 2 meeting in Fort Lauderdale.

Merab-Michal Favorite|July 5, 2015

Over scientists’ objections, rancher pushes panther policy

The state pays nearly $1 million a year to biologists to study the Florida panther. Yet when the state’s top wildlife official decided to rewrite Florida’s panther policy to overhaul how the state manages the endangered cats, he didn’t consult them until the document was done.

Instead, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission executive director Nick Wiley brainstormed almost exclusively with an Immokalee ranch owner who has lost thousands of dollars thanks to panthers.

The rancher, Liesa Priddy, was appointed to the wildlife commission in 2012 by Gov. Rick Scott, during a time when her JB Ranch lost 10 calves to panthers in a two-year period. She estimates each calf cost her $1,000, and contends she has lost plenty more of them to Florida’s official state animal.

She and Wiley both say that her work on the controversial policy rewrite was not a conflict of interest. Instead, those monetary losses give her opinions greater weight.

“I don’t see anything in this policy that’s going to benefit me personally,” said Priddy, a third-generation rancher. “I think it’s perfectly logical that I’m the person who’s the point person for panthers for the commission, because I’m the one who’s living it on a daily basis.”

When Wiley formally unveiled the new policy at a wildlife commission meeting last month, it sparked such a strong backlash from the public that the commissioners agreed to postpone any decision on it until September.

Priddy is the one who first suggested to Wiley back in January that it was time to revise the state’s panther policy to say that instead of helping panthers spread throughout the state, the wildlife agency would focus on preventing further losses of livestock and pets. Documents obtained by the Tampa Bay Times show that Priddy was so closely involved in drafting the new policy, she edited drafts line by line and suggested changes in wording.

The policy rewrite says that panthers have outgrown their “carrying capacity” in their habitat south of the Caloosahatchee River — in other words, there are too many for the area to support naturally. When the wildlife commission’s scientists did get to see the policy, after it was drafted, they strongly disagreed.

“There is no science supporting the statement about ‘exceeding carrying capacity,’ ” panther biologist Darrell Land, who has been studying the big cats since 1985, said in a May email to his bosses. “I am unaware of any analysis … that reached that conclusion. … It is an opinion, not a fact.”

Wiley said he had “a lot of good debates” with the agency’s panther biologists about using that term, but decided to keep it in anyway.

“This was not a scientific paper anyway,” he told the Times. “It’s a policy paper.”

Priddy, in a May email to Wiley, spelled out that the phrase meant something other than what the scientists had in mind. To her, exceeding carrying capacity meant that “panther populations are straining and recurrently exceed the tolerance of landowners, residents and recreationists in the region.”

Panthers once roamed across the Southeast, but now are largely confined to Florida’s southern tip below the Caloosahatchee. In the 1990s, scientists estimate no more than 30 remained, many suffering birth defects caused by inbreeding.

To save the species, the state agency brought in eight female Texas cougars — a close cousin — and turned them loose to breed with the remaining male panthers. Their offspring were free of birth defects, spurring a population boom.

State biologists now estimate there could be between 100 and 180 panthers roaming through a habitat eroded by development. Priddy and other ranchers are convinced the numbers are far higher, perhaps ranging toward 300.

Panthers have been classified as endangered since 1967. For more than 30 years, the federal government’s official stance has been that for panthers to be taken off the endangered list, there must be two more panther populations established outside South Florida, and each of the three populations must number 240 adults. That goal was set based on scientific studies, and renewed most recently in 2006.

The policy paper that Wiley and Priddy wrote suggests that those goals are not realistic, so it’s time to change them. Wiley’s policy paper also says the wildlife agency wants more flexibility in dealing with panthers — in other words, the authority to kill cats that have become a nuisance to humans, the way it does with alligators and bears.

The policy also declares that starting new populations is no longer the state’s concern, but solely the federal government’s. From now on, it says, the state’s top priority will be preventing losses of domestic animals and making panthers more tolerable to landowners.

In his email to his bosses, the biologist Land said that complaints from ranchers and other residents that the panther population had grown too large is wrong.

“Nature changes over time,” he wrote, “and I could make the case that our natural systems are more like the way they were centuries ago.”

The biologist who has studied Florida panthers the longest is Roy McBride, 78, who first tracked one in the 1970s, and who brought in the Texas cougars in 1995. He still produces the official panther population estimate every year. In 2013, he calculated there were 104.

McBride said no one showed him Wiley and Priddy’s paper until it became public. He laughed about suggestions that hundreds of panthers are stalking through the wilderness, explaining that each panther needs to eat at least one deer a week.

If there are so many panthers running around, he said, “What are they eating?”

Craig Pittman|Staff Writer|Tampa bay Times|July 10, 2015 

Endangered Species

Captive Amur Leopards to be released into the Russian Far East

A plan to reintroduce captive Amur Leopards into the Russian Far East has been formally approved by Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has announced

The site for the reintroduction has been agreed as Lazovsky Zapovednik (State Nature Reserve) in the South-Eastern-most tip of Russia.

The Critically Endangered Amur leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) is probably the only large cat for which a reintroduction program using zoo stock is considered a necessary conservation action.

There are currently estimated to be between 50-70 left in the wild, in a small pocket of Russia between Vladivostok and the Sino-Russian border.  Around 220 Amur leopards are currently in zoos throughout Europe, Russia, North America and Japan, as part of a global conservation breeding program

 

me jointly coordinated by ZSL and Moscow Zoo.

Established pairs of breeding leopards from the breeding program will be transported to Russia where they will live in specially constructed enclosures. Here they will be allowed to breed and rear cubs, which will learn to live in that environment from the very start of their lives. Once they are suitably mature, the cubs will be released.

There is no fixed timeframe in place as yet but it has been suggested that construction of the facilities may start in spring 2016, and leopards could be released in 2017. 

ZSL will soon start analysis of which leopards will be initially used. 

More information about the reintroduction program, including the approved plan, can be found on the Amur Leopard and Tiger Alliance website

From Wildlife Extra

State ends harvesting of key food source for black bears

Black bears love saw-palmetto berries. The sweet-smelling fruit is a dietary staple for the omnivorous mammal.

But now it’s legal in Florida to harvest the once-threatened bears, and not the plentiful berries.

“It’s absolute nonsense,” said Chuck O’Neil, an animal welfare advocate and Central Florida-based vice president of the state League of Women Voters who called on state authorities six months ago to halt widespread berry-harvesting on public lands, suspecting it contributed to a spike in human/bear conflicts.

While a critical food source for many of Florida’s wild forest dwellers, the berries also are coveted for reputed (and much disputed) medicinal powers.

The acrid-tasting fruit, sometimes called a “swamp grape” because of its bluish-black hue when it ripens, contains an oil that has been used as an herbal treatment for a wide range of ailments — from asthma to migraines to an enlarged prostate, a condition that decreases urine flow and control in older men.

Addressing the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, O’Neil linked the harvesting of palmetto berries to the current plight of the Florida black bear, which will be hunted for the first time in 21 years.

He pointed out FWC’s manual on the management of black bear habitat says: “There is likely no other native mammal in Florida that depends on saw palmetto to the extent that the black bear does.”

“The depletion of black bears’ natural food source may well have been the underlying cause for most, if not all, of the recent bear/human conflicts,” O’Neil said as he lobbied wildlife commissioners to reject the bear hunt and speak up about berry harvests on public land. “If bears have natural foods, they tend not to risk confrontations with people.”

His appeal was partly successful.

The Florida Forest Service, a division of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, was directed June 18 by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam to stop issuing permits to palmetto-berry pickers in Florida’s 37 state forests. The division charged a $10-a-day fee for a permit entitling its holder to pick an unlimited amount of berries.

The ban was imposed because of FWC concerns, said Putnam spokesman Aaron Keller.

But a few days later, wildlife commissioners voted in favor of the bear hunt, now set for late October.

As the state pushes the forest service to be financially self-sustaining, the agency, for a fee, allows worm harvesting, bee-keeping, cattle grazing and Christmas tree harvesting on publicly owned lands. O’Neil and other environmentalists say the policy is in “direct contradiction” to good stewardship of public lands.

As for the medicinal value of the palmetto berry, recent literature casts doubt on its reputation as a herbal treatment for an enlarged prostate, a chronic condition that forces older men to make frequent night-time trips to the bathroom.

“There is conflicting and contradictory research about the benefits of saw palmetto for prostate symptoms,” according to WebMD, a popular Internet site that provides health news and advice. “Some research has shown that saw palmetto might modestly improve symptoms such as [repeatedly] going to the bathroom at night in some men with [an enlarged prostate.] However, higher quality and more reliable research seems to indicate that saw palmetto has little or no benefit for reducing these symptoms.”

Nonetheless, some reports list palmetto-berry extract among the top herbal dietary supplements in the U.S.

The berries are squeezed for their oil extract, which is processed into liquid and capsule form.

Capsules of saw-palmetto extract run $30 for an over-the-counter container of 120 softgel tablets at vitamin stores.

It’s popularity has spawned a black market for the fruit, enticing poachers to gather sacks of the berries for which they are paid 90 cents a pound.

But harvesting is both difficult and dangerous. The berries are the product of a small species of palm that feature sharp-edged, fan-like fronds.

Harvesters often trek deep into forested areas, battling heat, stinging insects and risking encounters not only with bears but nesting snakes.

Stephen Hudak|Orlando Sentinel

Miami Blue

The Miami Blue butterfly, which appears on the Save Wild Florida license tag, is a small, brightly colored butterfly found only in Florida.

Not long ago, the Miami Blue, once flying across the entire southern half of Florida, teetered on the verge of extinction. Insecticide use in South Florida, as well as destruction of roadside vegetation, natural disasters and an invasive species of fire ant devastated the Miami Blue butterfly population, which, at its lowest point, dwindled to 35 individuals.

Because of timely and decisive efforts on behalf of the State of Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission through the Florida Museum of Natural History and the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, the Miami Blue population was successfully restored through breeding and re-release. From 35 individuals, the beautiful and rare Miami Blue butterfly has been returned to South Florida by captively bred individuals in the thousands.

In 2006 alone, wildlife watchers spent $3.1 billion on wildlife-watching activities in Florida, not including hunting, fishing, and boating. The Miami Blue butterfly is one of many of Florida’s unique natural attractions. Despite its recent comeback, the butterfly is still listed as endangered in the state of Florida. However, it is not the only natural resource in need of support. Many of Florida’s native wildlife and natural wonders face increasing peril every day, and without funding for conservation projects, the state risks a multi-billion dollar contributor to its economy and well being.

To read further about South Florida’s Miami Blue, please click here

Things Are Looking Up for the World’s Smallest and Rarest Sloth

The world’s smallest and rarest sloth may be doing better than scientists previously thought.

Pygmy three-toed sloths, who can only be found on Escudo de Veraguas Island off the coast of Panama, are a critically endangered species. Scientists previously estimated fewer than 500 of them existed, the last census counted only 79, but according to a new study published in the Journal of Mammalogy their numbers could potentially be as high as 3,200.

After placing radio collars on 10 sloths in mangroves and tracking their movements over a period of three years researchers found only three of them remained in the mangroves where they were thought to stay. Five of them moved past the mangrove edge into other tree species, and four moved more than 200 meters inland. Their existence inland means there may be far more than the previous estimate.

“The actual population size is most likely somewhere between these two―perhaps 500 to 1,500 individuals,” said lead author and sloth expert, Bryson Voirin with Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Ornithology. “In any case, this is extremely small number for an entire species.”

Even though their numbers are higher than thought, Voirin still points to the need for more research and protection, adding in a statement, “Declaring the island a wildlife refuge or national park would protect not only the pygmy sloths, but also the other unique species found on the island.”

Their island home is largely uninhabited, but it is visited by fishermen, tourists and others who cut down trees, reducing their habitat. The island has also caught the attention of developers who, according to a statement, have at least one proposal out that calls for “turning the place into a semi-autonomous tax haven boasting a marina, airstrip, casino and hotel.”

While conservationists are working on efforts to protect their habitat and ensure their future survival, the U.S. is also considering including pygmy three-toad sloths under the Endangered Species Act, which would require a permitting process for importing them. There might not be a big demand for them in the states, but there has been some unfortunate interest.

In 2013, the Dallas World Aquarium ignited international outrage after stealthily attempting to take six of eight of these pygmy three-toed sloths from their island home in an effort it said was to help them by starting a captive breeding program.

Advocates for the sloths raised serious concerns about how taking individuals from such a small population could harm them, especially considering how little is known about how to properly care for them in captivity. The attempt was physically stopped by local residents and authorities said the sloths were released. Unfortunately, at least two are believed to have died as a result of the stress the ordeal caused.

Following the incident, the Animal Welfare Institute filed an emergency petition to get these sloths protected under the ESA to stop something like this from happening again. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it believes they may just need protection and while the agency still has to complete a one-year status review, the announcement holds more promise for the future of these unique little sloths.

Alicia Graef|July 7, 2015

Washington Gets Wildlife Trafficking Initiative on the Ballot

Residents in Washington state have stepped up big time for imperiled species who continue to suffer from the impact of illegal wildlife trafficking.

Thanks to a ballot initiative kickstarted by Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen, this November voters in the state will now be able to weigh in on a measure that is intended to protect almost a dozen endangered species by cracking down on the trade in their parts.

The measure, I-1401, will increase penalties for buying and selling products made from 10 species on the brink including elephants, rhinos, tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, marine turtles, sharks, rays and, last but not least, pangolins.

Supporters needed to turn in 246,372 signatures to get it on the ballot, and they far exceeded that goal, handing in 348,627 showing strong public support for protecting wildlife.

If it passes, Washington will be the first state to have a voter approved law like this go into effect that we can hope will set an example for other states to follow.

“We all have a responsibility to protect endangered animals, and Washington State can serve as a model to lead the way in disrupting the market for these products. If we turn away from our responsibility to protect our planet, these species will become extinct,” said Allen.

The severity of the problem in Washington isn’t known, but according to the Seattle Times, since 2010 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has confiscated more than 50 elephant products entering the state, in addition to parts of tigers, leopards and other animals.

Sam Wasser, Director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, added,”Many people don’t realize how important Washington is — together, our ports in Seattle and Tacoma represent the third most heavily trafficked container port in the U.S.”

While federal legislation is in the works, several other states are also working on the issue. New York and New Jersey already passed bans addressing ivory and rhino horns, but there’s been some unfortunate opposition from special interest groups that fear restrictions could impact trophy hunting and the sale of other items containing ivory.

Earlier this year, lawmakers in Washington introduced bills that would make it illegal to buy or sell ivory or rhino horns, but the legislation faced heavy opposition from the Seattle Symphony and National Rifle Association (NRA) and the legislature failed to pass it. Despite strong public support, the ballot initiative also faces some pushback.

Issues the symphony had were resolved, but Lars Dalseide, a spokesman for the NRA told KIRO 7, “I don’t think most people realize who Initiative 1401 truly affects. Ivory is found in pianos, guitars, string instruments and wind instruments. Ivory is found in art, in picture frames, in pistol grips and in furniture. Passing this Initiative suddenly turns each and every one of these items into contraband and makes their owners criminals.”

Or we could look at it another way to see who this initiative and similar efforts would truly affect, including the criminals who profit from the continued trade, the communities that are subjected to violence and the threat of losing the economic benefits they get from ecotourism, the individuals who have lost their lives trying to defend wildlife from poachers and each individual animal who was slaughtered for a body part at a rate that could bring about the end of an entire species in the wild within our lifetime – the effects of which we will certainly feel.

Those continued losses far outweigh any benefits that can come from keeping lax laws on the trade in wildlife.

For more info on the species under threat and ways to help, check out SaveAnimalsFacingExtinction.org.

Alicia Graef|July 7, 2015

Rare White Whale Makes Surprise Appearance in New Zealand

Rare White Whale Makes Surprise Appearance in New Zealand

The white humpback whale with a normal humpback whale. Credit: New Zealand Department of Conservation

Scientists got a special thrill this week when they got to experience an unexpected encounter with a rare white humpback whale who made a surprising appearance off the coast of New Zealand.

A research team with the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) were out conducting an annual survey of humpback whales in Cook Strait to see how they are recovering after commercial whaling was banned in 1964.

The whale they spotted is believed to be Migaloo, which is aboriginal for ‘white fella,’ who was first spotted off the coast of Australia in 1991 and has continued to make appearances there every year.

According to a statement from the DOC, two whales were first spotted before the team realized one of them was very much not like the other.

“I thought, wow that whale is white, that is amazing!” said John Gibbs, the boat’s skipper, in a statement.

Distinctive features, including his dorsal fin’s unique shape and spiny protuberances on his back led to the conclusion it was him, but they still took a skin sample with a biopsy dart to confirm it through DNA testing and will also use it to figure out whether he’s truly albino, or his unique coloring is due to something else.

“This is so unique. I have never seen anything like this in New Zealand,” said marine mammal scientist Carlos Olavarria.

According to the survey’s leader Nadine Bott, only four other white individual humpback whales have ever been documented.

“Migaloo is the most famous and another white humpback whale was spotted in Norway this year. Migaloo is thought to have fathered two white calves which have been making appearances along Australia’s eastern coast. One has been named MJ, short for Migaloo junior,” she said in a statement.

Migaloo’s appearance in New Zealand during the survey has raised more questions about how migrating humpbacks are dispersing, but the survey itself has also brought hope for these amazing creatures.

According to the DOC, this year brought a “spectacularly high count of humpback whales” with 122 spotted, exceeding the previous high of 106 in 2012 since they began counting those headed to their breeding grounds in the South Pacific in 2004.

Researchers believe it’s a promising sign the number of humpback whales is continuing to grow in New Zealand’s waters. According to the DOC, by the time commercial whaling was shut down so many had been killed that humpbacks were no longer migrating through Cook Strait and commercial whaling was no longer even viable. Hopefully with continued protection next year’s count will bring even more good news for the recovery of this species.

Alicia Graef|July 7, 2015

 Rare Beach Disentanglement of an Elephant Seal!

More than two years after his last “house call” from The Marine Mammal Center, elephant seal Green Tie has been spotted again in the wild.

The “ring” around Green Tie’s neck is a scar from the green plastic packing strap that was deeply embedded in his neck—and became his namesake. If someone had simply cut the loop and disposed of the strap properly, this potentially lethal entanglement never would have happened.

Every year, countless numbers of marine mammals find themselves entangled in ocean trash, all thanks to human negligence. On November 10, 2011, a large 700 lb. elephant seal was spotted at Piedras Blancas near San Simeon with a green packing strap wrapped tightly around his neck. Many entangled animals are initially strong enough to escape rescue attempts and because they continue to grow, their entanglements become even tighter. In many cases, these animals die as a result of the entanglement restricting their ability to swallow or hunt effectively. As you can imagine, it can be a very slow and painful death.

Fortunately for “Green Tie,” as he was nicknamed, his rescuers from The Marine Mammal Center were able to help him before it was too late!

Lisa Harper Henderson, site manager and rescuer for The Marine Mammal Center’s San Luis Obispo operations said:

“State Park rangers notified us on 11/8 that this big male elephant seal was on the beach and had a nasty entanglement. We knew low tide would be our best chance of getting him before he made a break for the water, and that low tide was to occur in the late afternoon on 11/10. A volunteer went back to the location on the 10th to see if the animal was still there. He was, so veterinary intern Dr. Michelle Barbieri headed down from Sausalito to meet us and make a plan of exactly how we would approach this big animal and safely capture and restrain him. We estimated him to be just over 700 lb. – the biggest animal we’ve responded to so far his year! ”

“It was quite the challenge to get the rescue net over this animal! After he was in it, he managed to escape through an opening and almost made his way back to the water. Fortunately, we were able to get to him before that happened and get him back into the net.”

“Once secured, Dr. Barbieri sedated him, and in a few minutes was able to cut away the entanglement. She then thoroughly cleaned the wound and saw that new skin was already growing over the wound – a good sign of recovery! We put a flipper tag on him (on the left rear flipper since he was a male,) took a blood sample, and named him “Green Tie” after the green plastic packaging strap he had been entangled in. About 20 minutes or so after he was sedated, Green Tie woke up and went back into the water, lounging in the shallows nearby. He will be sporting a scar around his neck for his lifetime, but at least he now has a second chance at life, entanglement-free!”

image

Dr. Michelle Barbieri cleans the elephant seal’s wounds.© The Marine Mammal Center

Days after he was freed from his entanglement – Green Tie was spotted on a beach near San Simeon snoozin’ with other elephant seals!

For several months leading up to February 10, 2013, The Marine Mammal Center rescue hotline had received calls about a sub-adult (4-to 7-year-old) elephant seal with a possible entanglement around his neck. The latest call said he was hauled out on the beach at Piedras Blancas, just north of Cambria, CA so a rescue team, composed of trained volunteers and staff, was dispatched on February 11, 2013 to see if they could help the animal.

You can just imagine the logistical challenges of helping a large injured elephant seal hauled out at a rookery crowded with other elephant seals – each weighing half a ton or more! How do you avoid disturbing the other animals and keep all the humans safe while you investigate the animal’s injuries? It’s a challenge, to say the least!

Dr. Lorraine Barbosa uses a pole syringe to sedate a sub-adult male elephant seal so she

can examine the wound on his neck. © Sharron Jackman – The Marine Mammal Center

Dr. Lorraine Barbosa, Koret Foundation Veterinary intern at The Marine Mammal Center, decided to try a non-intrusive approach. Alone, she very slowly snuck up on the sleeping animal, estimated to weigh 1,100 lbs., and used a pole syringe to administer a sedative. Her plan worked! Without disturbing any other seals, he was sedated within 15 minutes after receiving the sedative. Then the team moved in to get a closer look at the wound on his neck. 

The team got a surprise when they found an orange tag attached to his rear left flipper. The tag has a unique identifying number, and it was one of ours! The team now knew that this was not the first time this animal had been in the care of The Marine Mammal Center.
Dr. Barbosa carefully examined the animal’s neck and concluded that while it was crusty and had some discharge from the wound, there was no current entanglement or serious problem. Based on his flipper tag number, we now know that the Center disentangled this animal before, when he stranded just down the road from this beach. His name is “Green Tie” due to the green plastic packing strap found deeply embedded in his neck back in December 2011.

This time around, Dr. Barbosa found “skin fold dermatitis” in the neck wound. The packing strap that was embedded in Green Tie’s neck in 2011 was so tight that as he grew, it cut through blubber and muscle, creating a very deep wound that caused the skin to fold over itself. Moisture and bacteria can collect in these skin folds, causing the type of irritation that had caused people to think this might be a new entanglement.

All of this is very good news for Green Tie, as his dermatitis shouldn’t pose any serious problems for him. After his “house call” he awoke from the sedation, still in the same spot on the beach. In fact, there is a good chance he wasn’t even aware that he had been examined by The Marine Mammal Center for a second time.

Special thanks to volunteers involved in getting “Green Tie” free of his entanglement and back to the ocean! Gary Angelus, Jeff Sproul, Sarah Crass, Steve Johnson, Lisa Harper Henderson, Dr. Lorraine Barbosa and Dr. Michelle Barbieri.

Sea Turtles

Sea turtles, which are among the oldest creatures on earth, have remained essentially unchanged for 110 million years; however, they face an uncertain future. Illegal harvesting, habitat encroachment, and pollution (physical and light) are only some of the things sea turtles must face as each species struggles to stay alive.

FWC helps to protect and conserve marine turtles and their habitat through:

The management program (ISM) is primarily responsible for the management efforts of marine turtle recovery. Staff participate in decisions regarding coastal construction activities, land acquisition and management of nesting beaches and foraging habitats. Staff review and comment on permits for coastal construction activity, environmental resource permits, beach renourishment projects, beach lighting ordinances, and beach cleaning practices. Field evaluations of proposed and permitted activities are conducted to recommend and evaluate the success of marine turtle protection measures.

Coordination of research and management activities is accomplished through various means, including the administration of a marine turtle permit system. Through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the FWC reviews, issues, and administers permits for both research and management activities conducted with marine turtles within the state. Staff also monitors marine turtles held in captive/holding facilities.

See a Slideshow

Win: Court Upholds 8.6 Million Acres of Protected Habitat for Green Sturgeon

Chalk one up for ancient fish: Green sturgeon will keep 8.6 million acres of federally protected “critical habitat” off California, Oregon and Washington because of an important ruling this week by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The decision upholds a district court ruling from 2012 that was appealed by the Pacific Legal Foundation, which fought the designation on behalf of developers and corporations trying to strip federal protections from green sturgeon.

The green sturgeon, one of the oldest fish species in the world, was listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 2006 based on a 2001 petition by the Center. In 2009 the National Marine Fisheries Service protected coastal and river areas along the West Coast — including its only remaining spawning habitat on the Sacramento River — as critical habitat for the sturgeon.

After the Pacific Legal Foundation sued, the Center intervened to ensure essential habitat protections remained in place.

Court Victory: Grazing Hurts Endangered Species in Arizona’s Fossil Creek

A federal court has ruled that cows grazing in the Fossil Creek watershed of central Arizona damage the critical habitat of threatened Chiricahua leopard frogs — a violation of the Endangered Species Act. Grazing in stream corridors impedes these rare frogs’ movement among breeding sites, according to the court’s opinion.

Livestock “spend a disproportionate amount of their time in riparian zones,” and grazing can eliminate vegetation cover as well as spread disease, the court said. Cows’ munching, trampling and defecation bring serious degradation to streamside ecosystems. The ruling, which resulted from a lawsuit the Center for Biological Diversity filed in 2010, could mean the Fish and Wildlife Service will institute new rules to protect river habitat from the harm caused by cattle.

“Fossil Creek is one of the Southwest’s most biologically precious river reaches,” said the Center’s Jay Lininger. “The ruling is a victory for this beautiful creek, native wildlife and public investments made to recover them. We’re glad the court is demanding a course correction.”

Read more in our press release.

Customs officials seize 455 pangolins hidden in crates of fish in Indonesia

Indonesian customs officials foiled an attempt to smuggle 455 dead pangolins to Singapore from an airport in the country’s second city of Surabaya, a hotbed of wildlife trafficking.

Suspicious of a man with 43 cartons he claimed were full of fish, officers checked the boxes and found the scaly mammals instead. By the hundreds.

“The packages were lined with fresh fish as camouflage,” said Iwan Hermawan, the lead customs official at Surabaya’s Juanda International Airport.
The carcasses weighed 1,390 kilograms and might have sold for $255,000.

Officials aren’t yet sure of the creatures’ origin – Indonesian pangolins live Java, Sumatra and Borneo – but they know the suspect hails from Sidoarjo district in the province of East Java near Surabaya.

Critically endangered pangolins are prized in East Asian markets for their use in traditional medicine, cuisine and cosmetics.

“Not to mention the scales, which can be used as a precursor to make meth,” Iwan said.

The suspects faces a minimum of two and a maximum of eight years behind bars.

The head of the East Java customs office, Rahmat Subagyo, said his office was investigating illegal pangolin trading networks in the region.

Surabaya is a major trafficking hub, with frequent seizures at the city’s port and around town. Most recently, police arrested a man selling rare eagles on Facebook. In May, a man getting off a passenger ship was caught with 24 rare birds stuffed in plastic water bottles.

Petrus Riski|July 09, 2015

Wild & Weird

Sex-Reversal Observed in Wild Lizards (And Yes, it’s Climate Change’s Fault)

New effects of global warming on, well, everything, are still being discovered all the time. A recent study published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature reveals a new way that lizards might be affected by the higher temperatures (on average) that our planet has been doing through. The researchers studied a population of Bearded Dragon lizards in Australia, an animal who’s sex is usually determined by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and found that the heat was actually making eggs with male chromosomes turn out female after a climate sex-change, so to speak.

This actually is the “first report of reptile sex reversal in the wild,” and shows that other lizards could also be affected.

More worrisome is the fact that the offspring of the ‘sex-reversal’ female lizards were then born with a different genetic makeup that made them only rely on environmental factors (temperature) to determine the sex of their offspring:

The W sex chromosome is eliminated from this lineage in the first generation. The instantaneous creation of a lineage of ZZ temperature-sensitive animals reveals a novel, climate-induced pathway for the rapid transition between genetic and temperature-dependent sex determination, and adds to concern about adaptation to rapid global climate change.

It’ll be interesting to see if studies on larger populations can prove the effect, and if further studies on other species of lizards can show a similar phenomenon. I’m sure that this type of rapid climate change can have large unforeseen negative effects on lizard populations, and to other species through the various levels of inter-dependencies between all species.

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Michael Graham Richard|TreeHugger|July 6, 2015

Bizarre Sea Creature Finally Unmasked

The Cambrian period — between 540 million to 490 million years ago — marks an important time in the history of life on Earth. Some call it the Cambrian explosion because it’s when nearly all major groups of animals first appear in the fossil record.

You could also call it the weirdo explosion, if so inclined. A veritable fashion show of bizarre critters appears in the Cambrian fossil record: Wiwaxia, a genus of slugs covered in scales and spikes; Opabinia, which have been described as shrimp that swallowed a vacuum cleaner; and Hallucigenia, sea creatures smaller than a hair, covered in giant spines and clawed appendages.

Thing is, fossil records of Hallucigenia, since first discovered 100 years ago, were all missing the creatures’ heads. Now, for the first time, new specimens of Hallucigenia from Canada reveal the creatures to have eyes and what one scientist involved has called “a really cheeky semi-circular smile.”

Read more at BBC News.

Why Are a Third of These Female lack Sea Bass Becoming Male?

While sex changes have spurred many recent debates, it’s actually not a big deal in the animal kingdom. New research shows that black sea bass,
also commonly known as the giant sea bass, do it a lot. And Rutgers scientists are trying to figure out why.

An Evolutionary Switcheroo?

While the data on black sea bass is limited, scientists do know that they’re “protogynous hermaphrodites,” which is just a fancy way of saying bass born females can become males. As reported in Phys.org, new research suggests that a third of the female bass population will eventually become male. So a third of the males studied were not born that way.

But why are they doing this? Scientists want to find out to better under the bass and to help the struggling bass industry. Fishermen have lost their entire livelihoods.

A leading theory is that females become males when there are just not enough males around. An assistant professor with Rutgers’ Department of Marine and Coastal Science who led the study, Olaf Jensen puts it this way: “It sounds crazy, right? But from an evolutionary perspective, it’s a perfect way to keep balance in a population.” In a simulated study where female bass were grouped in a tank where they could still see the males, researchers observed that females made the switch when there were fewer visible males.

There are still many unknowns, but here are a few highlights from the research involving 1,500 fish caught by volunteer fishermen. Apart from a third of the females becoming males, the researchers also learned that the peak time for the transition is in October, post fishing season subsidies. How significant fishing pressure plays in the transition is still unclear.

Critically Endangered Black Sea Bass

What is clear is that the fishing industry nearly wiped the black sea bass out. While many fishermen struggle economically, the black sea bass is just trying to survive. They’re listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List since 1996. And the fish owe their alarming status to overfishing.

Californian and Mexican territories were harsh to the fish, particularly in the 1980s. While the bass population may be bouncing back in California, the bass in Mexican waters might not be as lucky — they may require extra protections.

The black sea bass was easy to overfish for three main reasons. As the word giant implies, they’re easy to find and fish. Their distribution is limited; that’s part of the reason the volunteer fishermen collected a large sample. Also, the fish participate in ”aggregation spawning,” which means they gather in greater densities to increase reproduction. The IUCN Red List is still unable to determine if they’re making a comeback or headed toward extinction. But conservationists also worry about the bass ingesting toxins and the effects of those toxins. We know that toxins have compromised reproduction and fertility in other species, could toxins also be involved in the sex change?

Clearly, the focus of the black sea bass needs to be on conservation — not on more studies that could be manipulated to justify exploiting them further. But their ability to change their sex is fascinating, particularly in this tense transgender climate.

Jessica Ramos|July 10, 2015

Water Quality Issues

Bondi Adds Florida to Lawsuit Against Federal Wetland Protections

BRADENTON — This week, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has joined Florida with seven other states in a suit challenging new federal rules designed to better protect the wetlands.

The suit claims that the new federal rules from the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are “an attempt by two agencies of the federal government to usurp the states’ primary responsibility for the management, protection, and care of intrastate waters and lands.”

The lawsuit was filed by Georgia, who has been joined by Florida, West Virginia, Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Utah and Wisconsin. The suit cites two U.S. Supreme Court decisions that ruled that the EPA and USACOE were protecting wetlands that did not meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act because they were only wet seasonally.

Florida is second to only Alaska in total square miles of wetlands. Bondi says that Florida is better suited to establish the regulatory rules necessary to protect the state’s waterways than the federal government.

The new rules are opposed by both the development and agriculture industries. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has praised Bondi for joining the suit.

“The unconstitutional expansion of the EPA’s jurisdiction over the waters of the United States not only infringes on states’ authority, but also it threatens the sound environmental protection programs we have in place today,” said Putnam in a statement.

Bradenton Times|Staff Report|July 3, 2015

Clean Water Act and the exception for ag

TMDL RULING SINKS IN: Long held exemptions under the Clean Water Act for agricultural runoff could be in jeopardy following Monday’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rdCircuit in American Farm Bureau Federation, et al., v. EPA . The three-judge panel disagreed with arguments made by the Farm Bureau and eight other agricultural groups that the Clean Water Act and Congress left no room for the EPA to set strict standards and deadlines when issuing a Total Maximum Daily Load for a waterbody. The suit stems from a 2010 TMDL issued for the Chesapeake Bay, which requires states to meet certain nutrient runoff reductions for agriculture and other sources by specific dates.

“This court is basically saying ‘yes you can’ regulate agricultural runoff because of the broad provisions in the law for reducing nutrient pollution through a Total Maximum Daily Load,”Gary Baise, an attorney at OFW Law and former EPA chief of staff, told MA. But those findings are flawed, he argues, because they don’t take into account provisions of the law exempting agriculture from being a regulated point source.

While Baise said the ruling will likely open the door to more citizen suits against farms for agricultural runoff, a lawsuit brought by the Des Moines water utility against upstream tile drainage districts for nitrogen in the Raccoon River could be the first beneficiary, Baise said. The Raccoon River is already considered an impaired waterway under the law, so the 3rd Circuit’s ruling “certainly strengthens the Des Moines Water Works position in saying, ‘Hey, you are the problem.’ This is coming from a non-point source. Clean it up,'” he said.

This all depends, of course, on whether Farm Bureau and other groups signed onto the suit decide to seek either en banc review of the decision or petition the Supreme Court to take up the issue.

Why Are They Flooding the Grand Canyon?

The Colorado River should reach the sea, that’s what it wants to do. It wants to start in the Rocky Mountains and wind its way 1,450 miles along the Arizona-California border into the Mexican delta, irrigating farmland and nourishing loads of wildlife and flora along the way before emptying itself into the Gulf of California. That’s what it did up until 1998. But then, gradually, ouch.

The mighty Colorado continues to take top honors in American Rivers’ annual ranking of America’s most endangered rivers. The conservation groups notes, “A century of water management policies and practices that have promoted wasteful water use have put the river at a critical crossroads.” Demand on the river’s water simply exceeds its supply, to the point that it no longer reaches the sea. Instead, it dribbles into nothingness somewhere in the desert of the Southwest.

As Jonathan Waterman wrote in The New York Times:

Now dozens of animal species are endangered; the culture of the native Cocopah (the People of the River) has been devastated; the fishing industry, once sustained by shrimp and other creatures that depend on a mixture of seawater and freshwater, has withered.

The river’s sad story began in 1922 with the Colorado River Compact, an agreement among seven western states to divvy up its bounty. Mexico was allotted 10 percent of the flow. Almost a century later and a study by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation finds that the entire river and its tributaries are siphoned off to meet the needs of 40 million Americans living in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. Along with hydrating 5.5 million acres of land, it also helps power much of the electricity that comes from hydro-power plants.

Did I say ouch? Ouch. And while the main river’s 15 dams (and hundreds more on tributaries) hydrate people and supply power for millions, they also stymy ecosystems. One feature which has been notably suffering is the river’s sandbars and beaches which are disappearing due to a lack of sediment; sediment which is held in dams along with the river’s water. These features used to provide habitat for fish and protect archeological sites.

But then came the “high-flow experiment,” (HFE as the U.S. Department of the Interior calls it), a plan to release some of the sediment which the dams are retaining by means of controlled flooding. This met resistance from the power companies because it meant lost revenue; but the importance was deemed necessary and the first trial release occurred in 1996. And they have continued. In a November 2013 flood from the Glen Canyon Dam, 34,100 cubic feet per second was released for 96 hours. The rush of water took almost a week to course down the canyon.

Now, a team of researchers have detailed the success of HFE in a study, saying that indeed, the plan is working. “The releases appear to be achieving the desired effect. Many sandbars have increased in size following each controlled flood,” the study authors note, “and the cumulative results of the first three releases [from the Glen Canyon Dam] suggest that sandbar declines may be reversed if controlled floods can be implemented frequently enough.”

However, now we have a drought and the idea of releasing that much water is difficult; the releases are decreasing as the dam engineers hold back water. Climate change has also been altering seasonal thunderstorm activity, notes Smithsonian.

Still, the researchers are carefully optimistic, saying, “Although long-term success cannot be predicted, the early results of HFE attempts to maintain the Grand Canyon’s sandbars show promise.” Now if only they could manage to get the river back to the sea, where the delta and estuaries along the way could use some promise of their own.

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Melissa Breyer|TreeHugger|July 7, 2015

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Don’t Poison Iconic Lake Superior for Bacon

Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes in North America, is under threat. Environmentalists fear that a proposed huge pig farm could spell trouble for America’s precious freshwater lake.

Possibly Polluting Lake Superior for Bacon?

As reported in The Chippewa Herald, the fate of the “largest hog farm in Wisconsin and the first animal feeding operation of its scale in the Lake Superior basin” is in the hands of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The DNR plans on conducting a full environmental study of the impact of a huge pig farm.

Here’s what we know about the proposed pig farm — called Badgerwood — so far. The fate of 26,350 of the world’s most abused animals would be sealed in the $17.7 million facility: 7,500 sows, 18,750 pigs and 100 boars. And 26,350 living and intelligent beings would be squeezed in only three barns with concrete manure storage structures — that could hold 180 days worth of “liquid manure storage.” The plan is to remove the waste “periodically” (whatever that means) and apply it to farm land.

But like we saw in footage taken from drones over a pig farm, dealing with pig manure isn’t as clean and easy as the proposed plan makes it out to be — and environmentalists know this. (You can watch that secret drone footage of a pig farm here.)

The top concern for Wisconsin environmentalists is water quality of the largest freshwater lake. Runoff from the farm could potentially pollute Lake Superior — a key source of drinking water for the neighboring city of Ashland. The city is already dealing with bacterial runoff from the beach, so they don’t need the added burden of a pig farm on their water security. As reported in The Chippewa Herald, Jeff Bierl, an Ashland County administrator, expressed his concern about the implications of the soil being clay:

The question is how much can you inject into the soil before the soil can’t take any more and then you get a rain and it runs off into the rivers and into the Chequamegon Bay.

As to be expected when the manure of 26,350 pigs can be stored for 180 days, a huge pig farm would bring foul odors to the area. Transporting the pigs would also diminish the area’s air quality with the farm’s increased traffic activity “from 60 cars and 10 trucks per day.” The Iowa-based farm (Riecks View Farms) wants to operate in Wisconsin to limit the spread of disease.

6 Reasons Pig Farms are Bad News

There are plenty more reasons to keep the pig farm out of Wisconsin. Here are six of them from Food and Water Watch, unless otherwise noted:

1. Pig waste is pretty toxic stuff: We’re talking about ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and nitrates potentially polluting Lake Superior. But wait…there’s more! Lake Superior could also be exposed to parasites, viruses, hormones, pharmaceuticals, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

2. Pig waste kills fish: Waste in waterways can drive algal blooms that take away oxygen from fish and other marine life. Without oxygen, the spaces become “dead zones.”

3. Pig farms waste a lot water: Water is so precious, and we’re wasting a ton of it on pigs who will just be killed in the end. According to a document from the Michigan State University Extension, pigs require huge amounts of water to drink, to cool them down and to clean up after them. In one pig farm, pigs can drink 875,562,000 gallons annually.

4. Pig farms contribute to air pollution: Hydrogen sulfide and endotoxin come from pig farms and pollute our air, says National Geographic.

5. Pig farms hurt human health: Pig farms are bad news for the residents that have to live near them. Respiratory problems, anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances, blue baby syndrome, disruption of thyroid function, bladder cancer and many more health issues have been documented in people near these pig farms.

6. Pig farms kill pigs: Pigs, who are more intelligent and certainly as lovable as your dog (have you met Esther the Wonder Pig?), suffer unthinkable horrors in the short lives that consumers condemn them to.

Jessica Ramos|July 6, 2015

Offshore & Ocean

What happens to a coral reef when an island is built on top?

Marine biologist John McManus, who has been studying Pacific coral reefs for the past 30 years, remembers a two-day boat journey a few years ago to a remote part of the Spratly Islands, a chain of low-lying coral and rocky reefs in the South China Sea.

“You are traveling along in open ocean waters, then you come upon a place where the waves are breaking, then everything beyond the reef is flat, like a giant pool,” said McManus, who is director of the National Center for Coral Reef Research at the University of Miami.

Today, seven such coral reefs are being turned into islands, with harbors and landing strips, by the Chinese military. Not only is this work threatening China’s relations with the United States and several other Pacific nations, it is also destroying a rich ecological network, according to McManus.

“This is devastating,” he said. “It’s the worst thing that has happened to coral reefs in our lifetime.” U.S. officials estimate that the Chinese military has built up the shallow tropical seafloor with reclaimed sand, steel, wood and concrete barriers to create 2,000 acres of new territory.

Chinese officials have said that “rigorous” testing is done before any construction to protect the reef environment and that beyond military uses the created islands will improve China’s capabilities for “search and rescue at sea, fishing security, disaster prevention and relief, and meteorological monitoring.”

While China’s construction has raised tensions in the region, it is also provoking questions about how long these bases will be able to withstand the severe storms that are frequent in that part of the Pacific Ocean.

“You can build an island if you do it right,” said Robert Dalrymple, a professor of civil engineering at Johns Hopkins University. “But it is not clear these islands will be permanent unless they can deal with erosion. They will wash away, just like putting sand on East Coast beaches.”

Artificial islands have been built for coastal resorts or airports in shallow waters off Florida, the Caribbean, the Arabian Sea and many other areas. The Philippines and Vietnam have erected outposts — many of them on wooden stilts — in the South China Sea in the past two decades in an effort to support territorial claims. But the Chinese efforts dwarf these projects. At some of the new islands, the Chinese are building concrete breakwaters hundreds of feet long to hold the sand in place.

Dalrymple has visited construction projects in China and says the country clearly has the engineering expertise to handle huge amounts of dredged material. Other experts say that the Chinese are working quickly, rather than carefully, to create the artificial islands.

“The engineering feats are incredible in terms of speed,” said Patrick Cronin, a senior analyst at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank. Cronin has been briefed on the island-building by senior U.S. officials. “They have not only doubled the land mass . . . but [also] have created forward staging bases of both military and civilian use. Dredging machines didn’t just build islands, but also dug deeper shipping channels.”

The results can been seen in unclassified satellite images posted by the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, another think tank. Time-lapse images show coral rings in an azure sea being filled in by white sand dredged from the nearby seafloor, followed by the arrival of construction cranes, workers and then multistory buildings.

Among the projects described on the CSIS site are:

● An airstrip almost two miles long on Fiery Cross Reef.

● Radar facilities and a helipad on Cuarteron Reef.

● A new dock and gun emplacements on Gaven Reef.

● Expansion on Hughes Reef from an outpost on stilts measuring less than a tenth of an acre to a 380-acre multilevel facility and harbor for both civilian and military ships.

● Dredging at Mischief Reef, which lies within what the Philippines considers its economic zone with floating naval docking stations.

● New piers, access channel and possible landing strip at Subi Reef.

● Desalination pumps and a concrete plant on Johnson South Reef.

While the artificial islands seem solid in the satellite images, the Pacific Ocean isn’t always peaceful, says Steve Elgar, a senior scientist in ocean physics and engineering at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole, Mass.

He wonders how long they will survive the wind-driven waves, some as high as 30 feet, that develop far out at sea and then roll in with no landmass to stop them. Such rocky islands as Hawaii, Guam and the Philippines are surrounded by coral reefs that help break up the force of waves traveling across the ocean. But the new bases in the Spratlys don’t have that protection.

“They are in the middle of the ocean, 1,000 miles from north to the south,” Elgar said. “With these huge fetches [distances that wind blows unobstructed over water], they have got to get big waves just from the wind blowing. They are exposed out in the middle of nowhere.”

Other ocean scientists worry about the effect of dredging and island creation on surrounding marine life. The Spratlys contain major fishing grounds for several Asian nations, and the local marine biodiversity has been on the decline for the past two decades, according to a 2013 study by Australian and Chinese scientists.

The report, which appeared in the journal Conservation Biology, found that coral cover had declined to about 20 percent (from about 60 percent) within the Spratly archipelago over the preceding 10 to 15 years. “Climate change has affected these reefs far less than coastal development, pollution, overfishing, and destructive fishing practices,” according to the report, which warned that the declines in the reefs were “unfolding as China’s research and reef-management capacity are rapidly expanding.”

Greg Mitchell, a professor of marine ecology at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., researches Pacific reef ecosystems. He says the new Chinese dredging and installation of concrete piers are probably destroying what’s left of the local ecology.

“If the islands had been left alone, they would probably be very diverse,” Mitchell said. “But all of the fishing fleets from Asia have been there hunting everything from sea cucumbers and giant clams and sharks for fins. My guess is the biodiversity has been altered already. But now, they are burying the ecosystem and destroying it.”

Eric Niiler|July 6. 23015

Deep-Sea Corals Win Historic Protection

Federal fisheries officials in the Mid-Atlantic voted on June 10 to create the largest protected area in U.S. Atlantic waters, a roughly 38,000 square-mile region where scientists have found an abundance of deep-sea corals. For comparison, that’s almost the size of the state of Virginia.

This area roughly parallels the coast from Virginia to New York, starting in some cases as close as 70 miles from shore along the edge of the continental shelf. There, undersea canyons thousands of feet deep are home to an extraordinary variety of life, from familiar squid and fish to bizarre sea spiders and long-nosed chimera.

Those fascinating creatures and many others depend on the habitat provided by deep-sea corals, which grow slowly over hundreds of years in the cold, dark depths of the sea. But they are easily toppled or broken by fishing gear that scrapes along the sea floor. Once damaged, the corals can take centuries to recover.

That’s why the vote by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council is so important. The designation prohibits the use of the most damaging forms of fishing gear at depths greater than 1,450 feet, an area that includes most of the corals scientists have found in the region.

Much of what we know about these unique coral structures is due to exploration by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Dives by the robotic submersible aboard NOAA’s special scientific vessel, the Okeanos Explorer, revealed an abundance of life in the deep seascape off the Mid-Atlantic coast.

And thanks to modern technology, thousands of people, including me, watched a live-stream video from the ocean floor as scientists attempted to identify the creatures that came into view.

Those amazing images sparked people’s sense of wonder about life in the deep sea, and the resulting public interest in protecting the corals has been remarkable: Nearly 120,000 people commented on the council’s proposal, with the vast majority urging action to keep corals safe.

As the agency that sets policy for how, when, and where we fish our oceans, NOAA Fisheries now must take the final step to approve and implement the council’s decision. That action would cement a conservation legacy for the Mid-Atlantic and, hopefully, inspire other U.S. fisheries officials to identify and protect the deep-sea corals in their regions.

Peter Baker|Mid-Atlantic Ocean Conservation|June 11, 2015

Fishing Blind

A dramatic decline in monitoring in the Northeast threatens sustainable fishing

A recent move by New England ocean fisheries management officials to suspend monitoring of commercial fishing vessels is the latest sign of disarray in a program meant to provide reliable, independent information about fishing. A good monitoring system tracks the amount and types of fish taken from the water and also gathers information about the “bycatch,” or nontarget animals killed by fishing. These data are essential for proper fishery management, and a decline in monitoring in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic undermines efforts to make the region’s fishing more sustainable.

The New England Fishery Management Council voted June 18 to suspend requirements that independent observers be on board vessels fishing for bottom-dwelling fish such as cod and haddock, known as groundfish. The vote was motivated by industry concerns over who would pay for the monitors. The move will take effect only if approved by the Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries), the agency responsible for the stewardship of marine resources. For the past five years, NOAA Fisheries has absorbed most of the cost of placing observers aboard the boats, but the agency announced earlier this year that it expected fishermen to assume those payments by the end of 2015.

Without observers aboard these vessels, it will be hard for scientists and fishery managers to know what’s actually happening on the water. That knowledge is especially critical right now, with New England’s cod population at a historic low and very tight catch limits in place. 

The groundfish fleet isn’t the only one poised to lose observers. Incredibly, some of the largest fishing vessels working the U.S. Atlantic Coast are also likely to see a dramatic reduction in the number of at-sea monitors this year. For example, monitoring of the midwater trawlers in the industrialized Atlantic herring fishing fleet is projected to drop from 30 percent of fishing trips in 2014 to about 3 percent in 2015. Midwater trawlers fishing for Atlantic mackerel, a depleted species, will have no monitors at all this year, according to NOAA.

These declines come despite votes three years ago by both the New England and Mid-Atlantic councils requiring monitoring of all trips by midwater trawlers. Industry representatives have even said they would support the 100 percent monitoring rule if costs could be kept low. However, a proposal to have the government and industry share the costs of observers fell apart in 2013, and the issue has yet to be resolved.

The lack of observers on this fishing fleet is especially disturbing because midwater trawlers deploy massive nets that, if used indiscriminately, can both quickly deplete forage fish populations and land an enormous amount of bycatch. Forage fish, especially Atlantic herring, play a crucial role in the ocean food web. It is telling that fishermen who are not part of these industrial fleets for herring and mackerel have voiced concern that the removal of large amounts of these baitfish will harm their ability to catch other predator fish such as tuna or striped bass.

Scientists and conservationists say they are worried about the volume of bycatch scooped up in midwater trawlers’ massive nets. River herring and shad—both listed by federal agencies as “species of concern” due to serious population declines—are vulnerable to this sort of bycatch because they frequently school together with Atlantic herring. Fishery managers have enacted limits on the amount of river herring and shad that can be killed as bycatch, but without adequate monitoring it will be difficult to verify that those limits are actually being obeyed. 

Better technology holds some promise: A pilot program to test electronic monitors is underway in New England, and fishing sectors elsewhere around the country are moving ahead with electronic monitoring that they say costs less than having human observers. But more must be done.

NOAA Fisheries and industry leaders must find a way to get enough eyes—be they human or mechanical—on the fishing. For now, it is discouraging to see the rate of monitoring drop to the single digits. Measurement is the heart of science, and you can’t manage a fishery if you can’t measure what’s happening there.  

By Peter Baker|New England Ocean Conservation|June 30, 2015

Wildlife and Habitat

Cuba’s Environmental Concerns Grow With Prospect of U.S. Presence

HAVANA – Like many of his countrymen, Jorge Angulo hopes the United States will lift the decades-old economic embargo against Cuba.

But Dr. Angulo, a senior marine scientist at the University of Havana, is also worried about the effects that a flood of American tourists and American dollars might have on this country’s pristine coral reefs, mangrove forests, national parks and organic farms – environmental assets that are a source of pride here.

“Like anywhere else, money talks,” Dr. Angulo said. “That might be dangerous, because if we go too much on that side, we lose what we have today.”

As relations between the United States and Cuba have warmed – the countries announced on Wednesday that their embassies in Havana and Washington would reopen by July 20 for the first time in more than 50 years – and as the renewal of trade seems more of a possibility, the Cuban government faces pivotal choices.

The country is in desperate need of the economic benefits that a lifting of the embargo would almost certainly bring. But the ban, combined with Cuba’s brand of controlled socialism, has also limited development and tourism that in other countries, including many of Cuba’s Caribbean neighbors, have eroded beaches, destroyed forests, polluted rivers, damaged coral reefs and wreaked other forms of environmental havoc.

read the rest of the article here:

Famed Wolf OR-7 Sires a Second Litter of Pups in Southern Oregon

Big news for wolf recovery on the West Coast: Wildlife officials in Oregon report that wolf OR-7 — who made international headlines in 2011 for becoming the first wild wolf in California in 87 years — has sired another litter of pups.

OR-7 has been roaming southern Oregon and Northern California for the past four years; he finally found a mate last year and had a litter of pups. It’s happened again for the second year in a row: While the new pups haven’t been seen, biologists say they’ve found scat making it clear there’s another litter.

It’s great news, but the future of wolf recovery in Oregon and the West still hangs in the balance. Oregon wildlife commissioners are considering a proposal to end state protections for wolves, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service keeps pushing to end federal protections for nearly all wolves around the country.

“OR-7 traveled 4,000 miles to find a mate and start a family,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Amaroq Weiss, “but this important recovery can only continue if we keep protecting wolves.”

Read more in The Oregonian — where you can also see photos of OR-7’s pups from a year ago — and watch our video.

Forestry

Tom Rooney Adds $2 Million to Fight Citrus Greening in Agriculture Appropriations Bill

The U.S. House Appropriations passed the Agriculture Appropriations Bill on Wednesday which included an extra $2 million to fight citrus disease. 

The money was requested by U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., who sits on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, to battle Huanglongbing (HLB), better known as citrus greening.

This is the latest federal effort to battle citrus greening. Back in April, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the opening of $23 million in USDA grants for projects taking on citrus greening. Earlier in the year, the USDA awarded $30 million to fight the disease.

In 2013, the Florida citrus industry — which generates $9 billion and employs more than 75,000 Floridians — saw its worst year in almost a quarter century. 

Spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, a tiny insect, citrus greening infects trees, leading to deformed and bitter fruit. Eventually, citrus greening kills the tree. One of the few ways to fight the disease is by removing the tree.

“Citrus greening disease poses an existential threat to Florida’s citrus industry and the 76,000 jobs it supports,” Rooney said on Wednesday. “This disease has already caused the loss of 200,000 acres of Florida citrus groves, and it now impacts every grove in our state. If we don’t take action, Florida orange juice will be a thing of the past.

“The funding in this bill will advance critical research to detect, manage, and ultimately find a cure for citrus greening disease,” Rooney added. “This is an important step forward, but I will continue working to increase citrus disease funding and ensure that our tax dollars are spent wisely.”

The Agriculture Appropriations bill totals $20.65 billion in discretionary spending, a decrease of $175 million from last year and $1.1 billion less than what President Barack Obama wanted.  With mandated programs included, the total appropriations come to just less than $144 billion. 

“Our bill saves taxpayer money by targeting funds to programs that work, while cutting inefficient, wasteful projects,” Rooney insisted. “We’ve also cut through red tape and reined in regulatory overreach onto farms in Florida and across the country.”

Kevin Derby|July 9, 2015

USDA Releases Final Numbers: ‘A New Low for Florida’s Citrus Industry’

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service released a final  report on Florida orange production for the 2014-15 season and found it below last year’s numbers. 

At 96.7 million boxes — up 0.3  million from what the USDA thought it would be in June — Florida’s orange numbers are down from last season when 104 million boxes were produced. The height of production came in 1997-98 when 244 million boxes were produced. 

The decline in Florida citrus from last season is mostly the result of Huanglongbing (HLB), better known as citrus greening.

Spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, a tiny insect, citrus greening infects trees, leading to deformed and bitter fruit. Eventually, citrus greening kills the tree. One of the few ways to fight the disease is by removing the tree.

In 2013, the Florida citrus industry saw its worst year in almost a quarter century. Earlier in the year, the USDA awarded $30 million to fight citrus greening and, back in April, launched a project with an additional $23 million in grants to fight the disease. U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., announced earlier this week that an additional $2 million was included in the House Agricultural Appropriations bill to fight citrus greening. 

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam weighed in on Friday. 

“The 2014-2015 citrus season represents a new low for Florida’s citrus industry and our state’s signature crop,” Putnam said. “We cannot overstate the challenges facing Florida citrus, but we will continue to fight to save the industry, its more than $10.7 billion economic impact and the more than 64,000 jobs it supports.”

Florida Department of Citrus Executive Director Doug Ackerman sounded a bit more upbeat than Putnam on Friday. 

“This report provides us with some closure on a difficult year for the industry,” Ackerman said. “While we certainly expect continued challenges ahead, we look forward to the opportunities a new season brings and are fully focused on delivering programs that will protect and promote the interests of Florida citrus.”

Kevin Derby|July 10, 2015

Global Warming and Climate Change

‘Historic’ Toronto climate march calls for new economic vision

More than 10,000 people demonstrated for “jobs, justice and climate action” in Canada

Demonstrators from a huge diversity of organizations marched boisterously through downtown Toronto on Sunday calling for a paradigm-shift in how climate change is addressed.

Not a typical protest of environmentalists, it attracted labor unions, First Nations, anti-poverty and faith groups, health workers and immigration rights activists who all underlined the need to change an economic system so it “works for people and the planet.”

Marchers carried banners broadcasting a wide range of demands but were united around a single message: that tackling climate change can make society much more fair and equitable.

It was the largest march related to climate change in Canadian history, outside of the province of Quebec, attracting more than 10,000 participants according to organizers, though some police estimated the number as high as 15,000.

One organizer from an anti-poverty group called the march, which came in the lead-up to a Pan American climate and economic summit in Toronto, the “launch of a powerful new movement.”

Marchers chanted for an end to the federal Harper government, some for fossil fuel divestment, other for vast investment in renewably energy and accessible public transit, increases to the minimum wage and affordable housing, and respect for the rights of Indigenous peoples, who live on lands across Canada that hold huge fossil fuel deposits, including Alberta’s tar sands.

“If we treated the climate change as the emergency it is, we would create many more times the jobs than we have now, and in the way we design the next economy, we could make sure that we don’t repeat the failures and injustices of the last one,” said author and activist Naomi Klein, who attended on the heels of an “unlikely alliance” struck between her and Pope Francis over his climate encyclical.

While it has been rare to see unions, environmentalists and First Nations march side-by-side, organizers believe these are very much “likely alliances” that will lay the foundation for more actions and campaigns bringing pressure to bear on policy-makers in the run-up to the UN climate negotiation in Paris in December and beyond.

The march’s diversity even attracted the star power of US actor Jane Fonda.

“I’m here because I think that the coalition that is represented in today’s march and rally, and not just today but ongoing in Canada — First Nations, labor unions, working people, students — this is the kind of coalition that will make the difference,” she said.

Martin Lukacs|6 July 2015

Internal Documents Expose Fossil Fuel Industry’s Decades of Deception on Climate Change

Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse created a stir recently when he speculated that fossil fuel companies may be violating federal racketeering law by colluding to defraud the public about the threat posed by carbon pollution.

Whitehouse likened their actions to those of the tobacco companies that conspired to manufacture doubt about the link between smoking and disease when they were all too aware of it. In 2006, a federal district court ruled that the tobacco industry’s deceptive campaign to maximize its profits by hoodwinking the public amounted to a racketeering enterprise.

Whitehouse may be among the first to suggest that the fossil fuel industry is flouting the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), but he’s not the first to point out the parallels between the tobacco industry’s fraudulent campaign and the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to quash government action on climate change.

Back in 2007, a Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report revealed that ExxonMobil—then the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas company—had spent $16 million between 1998 and 2005 on a network of more than 40 front groups to try to discredit mainstream climate science. Billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, meanwhile, were outed by a 2010 Greenpeace report revealing they spent significantly more than ExxonMobil between 2005 and 2008 on virtually the same groups. Many of those groups and the scientists affiliated with them had previously shilled for the tobacco industry.

Despite their outsized role, ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers are just a part of a much bigger story, according to a new UCS report, “The Climate Deception Dossiers.” After spending nearly a year reviewing a wide range of internal corporate and trade association documents pried loose by leaks, lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, UCS researchers have compiled a broader tale of deceit.

Drawing on evidence culled from 85 documents, the report reveals that ExxonMobil and five other top carbon polluters—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, coal giant Peabody Energy and Royal Dutch Shell—were fully aware of the reality of climate change but continued to spend tens of millions of dollars to promote contrarian arguments they knew to be wrong. Taken together, the documents show that these six companies—in conjunction with the American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil and gas industry’s premier trade association, and a host of front groups—have known for at least two decades that their products are harmful and have intentionally deceived the public about the climate change threat.

Exxon Recognized Carbon Emissions Problem 34 Years Ago

The collected documents reveal the fossil fuel industry campaign has relied on a variety of deceptive practices, including creating phony grassroots groups, secretly funding purportedly independent scientists, and even forging letters from nonprofit advocacy groups to lobby members of Congress.

ExxonMobil’s duplicity is perhaps the most remarkable. Internal documents and public statements stretching back decades show that ExxonMobil’s corporate forerunners Exxon and Mobil, which merged in 1999, acknowledged the threat posed by global warming as far back as the early 1980s.

UCS discovered one eye-opening document just last week, unfortunately too late to include in its new report. It’s an email former Exxon and Mobil chemical engineer Leonard S. Bernstein sent last October in reply to a request for comment by an Ohio University ethics professor about how corporations often fail to account for “externalities” such as pollution. Bernstein stated in his email that Exxon was factoring climate change into its resource development decisions more than 30 years ago.

“Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna [natural] gas field off Indonesia.” Bernstein wrote. “… [P]rojections were that if Natuna were developed and its [carbon dioxide] vented to the atmosphere, it would be the largest point source of CO2 in the world and account for about one percent of projected global CO2 emissions.” The company ultimately abandoned the project.

“In the 1980s,” Bernstein explained, “Exxon needed to understand the potential for concerns about climate change to lead to regulation that would affect Natuna and other potential projects. They were well ahead of the rest of industry in this awareness. Other companies, such as Mobil, only became aware of the issue in 1988, when it first became a political issue.”

It may have taken Mobil seven more years to wake up to the reality of global warming, but it was much more vocal than Exxon about it. In November 1988, five months after NASA scientist James Hansen rang the alarm bell before Congress, Mobil President Richard F. Tucker cited the “greenhouse effect” in a list of serious environmental challenges during a speech at an American Institute of Chemical Engineers national conference.

“Our strategy must be to reduce pollution before it is ever generated—to prevent problems at the source,” he said. “That will involve working at the edge of scientific knowledge and developing new technology at every scale on the engineering spectrum … Prevention on a global scale may even require a dramatic reduction in our dependence on fossil fuels—and a shift toward solar, hydrogen and safe nuclear power. It may be possible—just possible—that the energy industry will transform itself so completely that observers will declare it a new industry.”

Fossil Fuel Companies Disregard Their Own Scientists

Tucker’s warning went unheeded even by his own company. A year later, in 1989, 50 U.S. corporations and trade groups created the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) to discredit climate science. Its founding members included API, British Petroleum (now BP), Chevron, Exxon, Shell, Texaco and … Mobil.

Until it disbanded in 2002, GCC conducted a multimillion-dollar lobbying and public relations campaign to undermine national and international efforts to address global warming. One of its fact sheets for legislators and journalists, for example, claimed “the role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood” and emphasized that “scientists differ” on the issue.

An internal 1995 GCC primer included in the UCS report, however, indicates that the coalition’s own scientific and technical experts were telling its members that greenhouse gases were indeed causing global warming.

“The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established,” the 17-page document stated, “and cannot be denied.” The primer’s lead author was none other than Leonard S. Bernstein, who at the time was Mobil’s manager for corporate environmental, health and safety issues. After retiring from Mobil in 1999, Bernstein was a lead chapter author for U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports in 2001 and 2007.

ExxonMobil’s duplicity is perhaps the most remarkable. Internal documents and public statements stretching back decades show that ExxonMobil’s corporate forerunners Exxon and Mobil, which merged in 1999, acknowledged the threat posed by global warming as far back as the early 1980s.

UCS discovered one eye-opening document just last week, unfortunately too late to include in its new report. It’s an email former Exxon and Mobil chemical engineer Leonard S. Bernstein sent last October in reply to a request for comment by an Ohio University ethics professor about how corporations often fail to account for “externalities” such as pollution. Bernstein stated in his email that Exxon was factoring climate change into its resource development decisions more than 30 years ago.

“Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna [natural] gas field off Indonesia.” Bernstein wrote. “… [P]rojections were that if Natuna were developed and its [carbon dioxide] vented to the atmosphere, it would be the largest point source of CO2 in the world and account for about one percent of projected global CO2 emissions.” The company ultimately abandoned the project.

“In the 1980s,” Bernstein explained, “Exxon needed to understand the potential for concerns about climate change to lead to regulation that would affect Natuna and other potential projects. They were well ahead of the rest of industry in this awareness. Other companies, such as Mobil, only became aware of the issue in 1988, when it first became a political issue.”

It may have taken Mobil seven more years to wake up to the reality of global warming, but it was much more vocal than Exxon about it. In November 1988, five months after NASA scientist James Hansen rang the alarm bell before Congress, Mobil President Richard F. Tucker cited the “greenhouse effect” in a list of serious environmental challenges during a speech at an American Institute of Chemical Engineers national conference.

“Our strategy must be to reduce pollution before it is ever generated—to prevent problems at the source,” he said. “That will involve working at the edge of scientific knowledge and developing new technology at every scale on the engineering spectrum … Prevention on a global scale may even require a dramatic reduction in our dependence on fossil fuels—and a shift toward solar, hydrogen and safe nuclear power. It may be possible—just possible—that the energy industry will transform itself so completely that observers will declare it a new industry.”

Elliott Negin|Union of Concerned Scientists|July 9, 2015

Welcome to an extreme, warming world

My hometown, Vancouver, is in a rainforest, so we celebrate sunny days. People I talk to are enjoying the recent warm, dry weather, but they invariably add, “This isn’t normal” — especially with all the smoke from nearby forest fires.

With no mountain snowpack and almost no spring rain, rivers, creeks and reservoirs are at levels typically not seen until fall. Parks are brown. Blueberries, strawberries and other crops have arrived weeks earlier than usual. Wildfires are burning here and throughout Western Canada. Meanwhile, normally dry Kamloops has had record flooding, as has Toronto. Manitoba has been hit with several tornadoes and golf-ball-sized hail.

Unusual weather is everywhere. California is in its fourth year of severe drought. Temperatures in Spain, Portugal, India and Pakistan have reached record levels, sparking wildfires and causing thousands of deaths and heat-related ailments. Heavy rains, flooding and an unusually high number of tornadoes have caused extensive damage and loss of life in Texas, Oklahoma and Mexico.

The likely causes are complex: a stuck jet stream, the Pacific El Niño, natural variation and climate change. Even though it’s difficult to link all events directly to global warming, climate scientists have warned for years that we can expect these kinds of extremes to continue and worsen as the world warms. Some hypothesize that the strange behaviours of this year’s jet stream and El Niño are related to climate change, with shrinking Arctic sea ice affecting the former.

Several recent studies indicate a clear connection between increasing extreme weather and climate change. One, by climatologists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, looked at rising global atmospheric and sea-surface temperatures, which have increased water vapour in the atmosphere by about five per cent since the 1950s. According to the paper, published in Nature Climate Change, “This has fuelled larger storms, and in the case of hurricanes and typhoons, ones that ride atop oceans that are 19 centimeters higher than they were in the early 1900s. That sea-level rise increases the height of waves and tidal surges as storms make landfall.”

A Stanford University study found, “accumulation of heat in the atmosphere can account for much of the increase in extreme high temperatures, as well as an average decrease in cold extremes, across parts of North America, Europe and Asia,” but also concluded the influence of human activity on atmospheric circulation, another factor in climate change, is not well understood. 

Earth is clearly experiencing more frequent extreme weather than in the past, and we can expect it to get worse as we burn more coal, oil and gas and pump more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This can have profound and costly impacts on everything from agriculture to infrastructure, not to mention human health and life.

As Pope Francis pointed out, climate change and social justice are intricately connected: “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation.”

That’s why so many people from Canada and around the world are calling for action as government leaders prepare for December’s UN climate summit in Paris: religious leaders including Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama; global organizations like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, International Energy Agency and World Health Organization; businesses from Microsoft to Ikea to General Motors; and millions of people like those who marched for “Jobs, Justice and the Climate” in Toronto on July 5. All know the future of humanity depends on rapidly shifting the way we obtain and use energy.

Even though many world leaders recognize the problem, the recent G-7 agreement to decarbonize our energy by the end of the century is a horrifying joke. None of today’s politicians making the commitment will be alive to bear the responsibility for achieving the target, and the time frame doesn’t address the urgent need to begin huge reductions in fossil fuel use immediately.

Governments at the provincial, state and municipal levels have led the way in finding solutions. Now it’s time for national leaders to finally demonstrate real courage and foresight as they gear up for the Paris summit later this year.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Why Would 46 Senators Support Burning Trees for Electricity When It Contributes More to Climate Change Than Coal?

Chopping down trees and feeding them to power plants for electricity is a genuinely awful idea. It hurts biodiversity, belches toxic chemicals and contributes more to climate change than coal—all while masquerading as a source of clean “renewable” energy.

Unfortunately, none of this stopped 46 senators from publicly endorsing the idea last week. Led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the group wrote a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Energy demanding that the agencies accept something that is clearly, demonstrably false: that biomass power is carbon neutral. While the letter was chock full of anti-science Senators like David Vitter (R-LA), others like Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) fancy themselves climate leaders and should know better.

The science is clear. Sending whole trees through the smokestacks of power plants is a terrible way to generate electricity. Even using rosy accounting assumptions, it could take at least 50 years to work-off the carbon debt and break even with coal, meaning that burning wood now puts extra emissions into the atmosphere at precisely the time when reductions are most important. At the end of the day it is simply an inefficient source of electricity, emitting 50 percent more carbon than coal generating the same amount of energy. Leaving trees alone and allowing them to function as natural carbon sinks is a much more effective way to mitigate climate change.

The troubling part is that the timing of this letter wasn’t an accident. Any day, the U.S. EPA is expected to release the final version of its Clean Power Plan, the rule designed to lower carbon emissions from power plants, and one of the biggest questions is how favorably the rule is going to treat biomass. This means that the senators are angling to make sure that as states implement the rule, wood biomass is guaranteed as an option.

You know to worry when supposed climate champions are willing to line up with outright deniers in order to promulgate an industry myth. The letter contains loads of lawmakers who hate the EPA and want to sabotage the Clean Power Plan, including avowed climate deniers like Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). Also on the list are senators like Cory Gardner (R-CO) who sometimes admit that climate change is real, but who avidly supports doing nothing about it.

On the other side of the spectrum, these deniers have some strange company. Sen. Jeff Merkley led the charge for the democrats, and he has lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters of 98 percent. He was joined by other high profile environmental champions like Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Al Franken (D-MN), who boast lifetime scores of 89 and 93 percent respectively.

Really, the only thing these lawmakers have in common is a commitment to taking money from timber. Last November the industry poured more than $1.5 million into contested senate races, and unsurprisingly Merkley and Collins both did rather well with $40,399 and $35,250 each.

The senate isn’t the only place timber has been investing. Over in the House the industry spent more than $2.9 million on the last election, so it’s not particularly surprising that a funding bill that was debated this week includes a massive industry giveaway. Ostensibly, the bill is meant to provide money for the EPA and the Department of the Interior, but snuck into the text is a provision that would require the EPA to ignore all of its previous research and pretend that burning wood biomass is categorically carbon neutral.

Fudging the math to create the illusion of progress doesn’t actually keep carbon out of the atmosphere, and while these anti-science attacks are a familiar song from deniers, our climate champions should know better than to play along. Lowering emissions means honestly accounting for where our emissions come from—whether it be agriculture, transportation or electricity—and acting from there to make reductions. Pretending that one of these sources doesn’t exist at all is just another species of denial.

Lukas Ross|Friends of the Earth|July 9, 2015

Climate Change Is a Major Buzz Kill for Bumblebees

The humble bumblebee is feeling the squeeze from climate change. Research shows that its southern range is being reduced as the planet warms—and yet it seems to show no sign of migrating northwards to safety.

The role bumblebees play as plant pollinators is vital in providing food for humans and wildlife. Photo credit: Shutterstock

The role bumblebees play as plant pollinators is vital in providing food for humans and wildlife. Photo credit: Shutterstock

This unwillingness to head for cooler climes could prove disastrous, and has prompted some scientists to suggest that humans may need to intervene by creating refuges for the bees away from the heat.

Jeremy Kerr, a biologist at the University of Ottawa, Canada, and colleagues report in the journal Science that they generated a database of 423,000 local observations of 36 European and 31 North American species of the genus Bombus and mapped the patterns of change.

They found that in recent, increasingly warmer decades, bumblebees tended to disappear from the southernmost and hottest parts of their range, but did not shift north. In some cases, the insects’ range had shrunk by as much as 300 kilometers.

Dramatic Losses

“Global warming has trapped bumblebee species in a kind of climate vice,” Professor Kerr says. “The result is dramatic losses of bumblebee species from the hottest areas across two continents.

“For species that evolved under cool conditions, like bumblebees, global warming might be the kind of threat that causes many of them to disappear for good.

“Unlike so many other species, bumblebees generally haven’t expanded into more northern areas. We may need to help these species establish new colonies to the north, and at continental scales.”

The finding is a clear indication that some naturally mobile species may not be able to adapt to climate change.

In recent decades, biologists have used animal and even plant migration to monitor climate change. Alpine species in Switzerland have been observed moving uphill, and in the UK, the butterfly range has tended to shift northwards.

In the latest study, the scientists looked at a range of factors that might limit bumblebee migration—things such as changes in land use, and pesticide prevalence, create problems for all wild species. But these factors seemed to play no significant part in limiting the creature’s range.

There is evidence that, where they can do, some species are moving uphill by as much as 300 metres, while still staying in the same latitude. But researchers do know that bumblebees don’t thrive in the extremes of heat that have been an increasing feature of recent decades.

“We don’t know for sure what is causing a stagnation at the northern end of things,” says Paul Galpern, a landscape ecologist at the University of Calgary, and a co-author of the report.

“Bees should be able to start new colonies in places they did not historically occupy. But we don’t know why this is happening so slowly that it looks like the ranges are not moving at all

“This all points to the fact that bumblebees are at risk, and the services that they provide are increasingly threatened by human-caused climate change.”

Important Role

Such creatures play an important role in temperate zone ecosystems. “Bumblebees pollinate many plants that provide food for humans and wildlife,” says Leif Richardson, a biologist at the University of Vermont, and also a co-author of the report.

“If we don’t stop the decline in the abundance of bumblebees, we may well face higher food prices, diminished varieties, and other troubles.”

Professor Kerr reinforces the message. “Pollinators are vital for food security and our economy, and widespread losses of pollinators due to climate change will diminish both,” he says.

“We need to figure out how we can improve the outlook for pollinators at continental scales, but the most important thing we can do is begin to take serious action to reduce the rate of climate change.”

Tim Radford|Climate News Network|July 10, 2015

Past Global sea levels have risen six meters or more with just slight global warming

Global sea levels have risen 6 meters or more with just slight global warming

Icebergs near Timiamuit, SE Greenland (left) and modern reef in the Seychelles (right) where fossil corals record global mean sea level 7.5 m higher than present during a previous warm period 125,000 years ago.

Credit: Anthony Long/Dan Zwartz

A new review analyzing three decades of research on the historic effects of melting polar ice sheets found that global sea levels have risen at least six meters, or about 20 feet, above present levels on multiple occasions over the past three million years.

What is most concerning, scientists say, is that amount of melting was caused by an increase of only 1-2 degrees (Celsius) in global mean temperatures.

Results of the study are being published this week in the journal Science.

“Studies have shown that both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets contributed significantly to this sea level rise above modern levels,” said Anders Carlson, an Oregon State University glacial geologist and paleoclimatologist, and co-author on the study. “Modern atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are today equivalent to those about three million years ago, when sea level was at least six meters higher because the ice sheets were greatly reduced.

“It takes time for the warming to whittle down the ice sheets,” added Carlson, who is in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, “but it doesn’t take forever. There is evidence that we are likely seeing that transformation begin to take place now.”

Co-author Peter Clark, an OSU paleoclimatologist, said that because current carbon dioxide, or CO2, levels are as high as they were 3 million years ago, “we are already committed to a certain amount of sea level rise.”

“The ominous aspect to this is that CO2 levels are continuing to rise, so we are entering uncharted territory,” Clark said. “What is not as certain is the time frame, which is less well-constrained. We could be talking many centuries to a few millennia to see the full impact of melting ice sheets.”

The review, which was led by Andrea Dutton of the University of Florida, summarized more than 30 years of research on past changes in ice sheets and sea level. It shows that changes in Earth’s climate and sea level are closely linked, with only small amounts of warming needed to have a significant effect on seal levels. Those impacts can be significant.

Six meters (or about 20 feet) of sea level rise does not sound like a lot. However, coastal cities worldwide have experienced enormous growth in population and infrastructure over the past couple of centuries – and a global mean sea level rise of 10 to 20 feet could be catastrophic to the hundreds of millions of people living in these coastal zones.

Much of the state of Florida, for example, has an elevation of 50 feet or less, and the city of Miami has an average elevation of six feet. Parts of New Orleans and other areas of Louisiana were overcome by Hurricane Katrina – by a surging Gulf of Mexico that could be 10 to 20 feet higher in the future. Dhaka in Bangladesh is one of the world’s 10 most populous cities with 14.4 million inhabitants, all living in low-lying areas. Tokyo and Singapore also have been singled out as extremely vulnerable to sea level rise.

“The influence of rising oceans is even greater than the overall amount of sea level rise because of storm surge, erosion and inundation,” said Carlson, who studies the interaction of ice sheets, oceans and the climate system on centennial time scales. “The impact could be enormous.”

The Science review is part of the larger Past Global Changes, or PAGES, international science team. A working group known as PALSEA2 (Paleo constraints on sea level rise) used past records of local change in sea level and converted them to a global mean sea level by predicting how the surface of the Earth deforms due to changes in ice-ocean loading of the crust, along with changes in gravitational attraction on the ocean surface.

Independently, Greenland and Antarctic ice sheet volumes were estimated by observations from adjacent ocean sediment records and by ice sheet models.

“The two approaches are independent of one another, giving us high confidence in the estimates of past changes in sea level,” Carlson said. The past climates that forced these changes in ice volume and sea level were reconstructed mainly from temperature-sensitive measurements in ocean cores from around the globe, and from ice cores.

Oregon State University Corvallis, OR|July 9, 2015

Our Oceans Are Reaching the Climate Change Tipping Point, Warn Scientists

Researchers are warning that our oceans are rapidly approaching a point of no return where climate change will drastically alter marine habitats and what life they can support. What could this mean for our future and how can we stave off the worst effects?

Publishing in the journal Science, researchers from the University of Queensland together with an international team of other scientists warn that increased carbon emissions in our atmospheres as well as other pollution is causing the acidification of our oceans and that we are rapidly approaching the point at which our aquatic eco-systems may undergo permanent change, which in turn could threaten the lives of many marine species and radically alter the make-up marine habitats. 

The researchers say that there has not been enough focus on climate change and its impact on our oceans, with recent data showing only a relatively small percentage of research publications are even talking about oceans in their wider coverage of climate change topics. This is curious given that oceans may absorb up to 90 percent of the excess heat and over a quarter of the carbon pollution that we’ve been creating as a result of our use of fossil fuels.

The researchers, building off last year’s IPCC assessment of climate change’s impact on our oceans, looked at two different scenarios: carrying on with our fossil fuel consumption as is, and taking steps to reduce it to agreed international goals. By comparing the scenarios (a more in-depth review can be found here) the researchers were able to show that if we do nothing or fail to meet our international targets, rising temperatures will lead to warmer and more stagnant waters. With a decrease in available oxygen, many marine species will struggle to thrive, and this may even lead to destruction of habitats like coral reefs which are already in decline. Habitat collapse could almost certainly lead to marine species die-out, particularly those that reside or depend on environments like coral beds, and in addition would likely imperil human communities that rely on fishing as part of their food supply and economy. Another issue for humans and in particular the fishing industry is that those fish that do not die-out will likely shift to other regions to escape the unfriendly changes in their habitats, again threatening food security and commerce.

Specifically, the study warns that any rise beyond the internationally agreed 2°C  of pre-industrial temperatures–which some evidence says will still be seriously problematic–could be devastating. 

The researchers say that after reviewing the data, there are four key conclusions that must be recognized:

First, the ocean strongly influences the climate system and provides important services to humans. Second, impacts on key marine and coastal organisms, ecosystems, and services are already detectable, and several will face high risk of impacts well before 2100, even under the low-emissions scenario (RCP2.6). These impacts will occur across all latitudes, making this a global concern beyond the north/south divide. Third, immediate and substantial reduction of CO2 emissions is required to prevent the massive and mostly irreversible impacts on ocean ecosystems and their services that are projected with emissions greater than those in RCP2.6. Limiting emissions to this level is necessary to meet stated objectives of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; a substantially different ocean would result from any less-stringent emissions scenario. Fourth, as atmospheric CO2 increases, protection, adaptation, and repair options for the ocean become fewer and less effective.

What does that mean? Coming ahead of the December climate summit in Paris it is a call that our political leaders attend with a mind toward real solutions. Specifically, we must reduce our emissions output if we are to stand any chance of staying under the 2°C cap. On that point, some researchers doubt we can actually get anywhere near that target and are projecting a rise that will be significantly higher, so we need to take a long and dispassionate look at what is actually achievable and go from there. Furthermore, it isn’t just enough to combat rising temperatures. As the above makes clear, we will also have to work to rebuild ocean habitats and help those fish and marine animals that we have endangered so they can begin to thrive again. We can do that by cutting down on other pollutants, stopping building work that would further change underwater ecosystems that are already feeling pressure, as well as studying in more detail climate change effects on ocean environments. It will mean tough decisions, like potentially cutting back fishing quotas in order to ensure the long term security of the industry, and more. But these are the hard choices that we will have to make if we are to even begin to help our ocean habitats survive. 

The scientists perhaps put it best when they say:

“In summary, the carbon that we emit today will change the Earth System irreversibly for many generations to come. The ocean’s content of carbon, acidity, and heat as well as sea level will continue to increase long after atmospheric CO2 is stabilized. These irreversible changes increase with increasing emissions, underscoring the urgency of near-term carbon emission reduction if ocean warming and acidification are to be kept at moderate levels.”

Lastly, this serves to emphasize that we can no longer afford to give any ground to man-made climate change deniers because, quite simply, we don’t have the time.

Steve Williams|July 9, 2015

Why the Earth’s past has scientists so worried about sea level rise

It’s one of the most important questions on the planet: How much are the seas ultimately going to rise, thanks to what we’re doing to the atmosphere with all our cars and power plants? Scientists are still struggling to find a clear answer to it.

But a new scientific analysis, just out in the journal Science by researchers led by Andrea Dutton of the University of Florida – and including a large team of scientists from the United States, Britain, and Germany – gives a pretty clear sense of what’s at stake. The new assessment compares the current state of the planet with three other warm periods from the Earth’s deep past that are, to varying degrees, comparable with where we may now be steering things.

And the punch line is that in each of these periods within the last 3 million years or so, the researchers estimate that sea levels eventually rose some 6 meters – equivalent to nearly 20 feet – higher than they are right now.

“We looked at these three different warm periods, because there’s no one time period that’s going to be a perfect analogue,” said Dutton. “We looked at several of the warmest interglacials, and for each of them, we’re finding at least 6 meters worth of sea level rise.”

It’s important to emphasize that the researchers are not saying we’re committed to this much long term sea level rise yet – just that if current emissions and warming continue, we could get there.

This may seem odd, given that while we read regular headlines about how the planet is losing ice – from mountain glaciers around the world, and from the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica – the consequent sea level increase seems terribly small, just a few millimeters per year.

Yet current sea level rise may be deceptive – the main factors behind it aren’t the really big ones. The current top drivers are thermal expansion of sea water as it heats up and the loss of glaciers around the world – including 75 billion tons of ice loss yearly from the Alaska region alone. That’s enough to cause sea level upticks of a millimeter or so per year, but when you think about the grand pageant of planetary history, it’s not the real story.

Far more consequential are the slow moving ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, which contain enough frozen water to raise sea levels by 20 feet and 200 feet, respectively. They have started to awaken – but only barely. Antarctica, for instance, is currently contributing well under a millimeter per year to rising seas. Greenland might be contributing one millimeter – but only one.

In past eras of planetary history, though, we know that the pair must have lost ice amounts measured in meters, not millimeters.

“Sea level is a relatively slow responding part of the climate system, and those 20 centimeters of sea level rise that we have seen in the last 100 years or so are clearly just a very small beginning of a much larger sea level rise, which will inevitably unfold,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, one of the study authors who is based at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “Because it takes a long time to heat up the oceans into the depths, and also it takes a long time, thousands of years, to melt big ice sheets.”

So which past periods are a good guide to the present in this respect? The researchers picked three analogues – each clearly imperfect, because none of them featured billions of fossil fuel burning humans. The current era is unique because unlike in the past, we’re in the driver’s seat. Still, past analogues – featuring climates that were the result of natural planetary changes and cycles – can be illuminating.

The first and most ancient analogue considered in the study is the so-called “Mid-Pliocene warm period,” about 3 million years ago – which contained several “interglacials,” or warm periods in between ice ages. Then, the researchers also considered two much more recent interglacials with less than exciting names: “Marine Isotope Stage 11,” which occurred around 424,000-395,000 years ago, and “Marine Isotope Stage 5e,” the most recent, around 129,000-116,000 years ago.

The state of the planet during these various periods has been painstakingly inferred based on a wide range of evidence, ranging from temperature records preserved in corals and sediments to climate and ice sheet models.

So what did these eras look like? Here are the crucial figures (all of which are characterized, not surprisingly, by considerable uncertainty):

Mid-Pliocene warm era: Average temperatures were some 2 to 3 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were quite close to today at around 400 parts per million. Sea levels were at least 6 meters (2o feet) higher than current levels – a “lower bound” – but could have been dramatically higher than that.

Marine Isotope Stage 11: Average temperatures were between 1 and 2 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels. Atmospheric carbon dioxide was less than 300 parts per million. Sea levels were 6 to 13 meters higher than present.

Marine Isotope Stage 5e: Average temperatures were 1 degree Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels (pretty close to today). Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were around or below 300 parts per million. Sea levels were 6 to 9 meters higher than present.

So what should one make of these possible analogues?

In some ways, it’s tempting to liken our situation to Marine Isotope Stage 5e – sometimes also called the “Eemian” period –  given the similarity in average temperatures. But the analogy has a critical flaw – the period was the way it was because of planetary orbital cycles, not carbon dioxide emissions, and the poles were considerably hotter than they are now (the temperature measurement most relevant to the fate of ice sheets).

“Apparently the Arctic at that time was a couple of degrees warmer than today (due to orbital forcing) which would have contributed to the Greenland mass loss,” explains Rahmstorf by email.

As a result, he thinks that currently, the mid-Pliocene is a better analogy for where we could be headed, given the comparable carbon dioxide levels. “In the Pliocene, global temperatures 1 – 2 °C warmer than present came with at least 6 m of rise,” Rahmstorf wrote. Thus, while we may not currently be committed to raising seas as much as occurred in these past periods, if we don’t get global warming under control, that could change.

Rahmstorf has previously published results suggesting that if we hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, we might thereby hold sea levels to 1.5 meters above where they were in the year 2000 by the year 2300. Warm things up by 2 degrees C, though, and you’d get a 50 percent chance of more than 2.7 meters, the study suggested, by 2300.

Other recent research, meanwhile, has similarly implied that for every degree Celsius that we warm the planet, we’re could be committed to 2.3 meters of sea level rise.

Much like Rahmstorf, Dutton agreed that we’re not committed to 6 meters – yet. However, she said, “we’re getting very close to where we see, repeatedly in the paleo record, something like 6 meters from that type of temperature change.”

There remains much uncertainty to this kind of analysis – especially when it comes to how fast sea level rise will happen going forward. “Rates of sea-level change for previous warm periods when sea level was higher than present range from highly uncertain to completely unconstrained depending on the time period, yet this is perhaps the most societally relevant information the paleo record can provide for predicting and adapting to future sea-level change,” noted the authors.

It’s a question that people around the world will depend on – and scientists still have a long way to go in answering it. But their current results tell you one big thing: While we may not yet be destined to see the seas of these past eras, what’s troubling is that we’re even making the comparison.

Chris Mooney|July 9

Extreme Weather

Death Toll Climbs as Weather Experts Link Pakistan Heatwave to Climate Change

Pakistan’s lack of preparedness in the face of increasingly intense weather events is being blamed for a growing death toll following what has been one of the most sustained heatwaves in the country since records began.

And weather experts say that the extreme heat—which lasted for much of the second half of June, and was felt most in the southern province of Sindh—is linked to climate change.

Ghulam Rasul, director general of the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), told Climate News Network that the intense heat was caused by an unusually persistent area of low pressure over the Arabian Sea off Pakistan’s coast.

“Usually, in summer, cool winds blow from the sea to land, and in winter the situation is the opposite,” he said. “This moderates temperatures in the port city of Karachi, but this summer, this didn’t happen.”

Climate Task Force

Pervaiz Amir, formerly a member of a special task force on climate change set up by Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, said: “The mortality from heatstroke could have been avoided had the Sindh provincial government responded to a heatwave forecast issued by the Pakistan Meteorological Department.”

Karachi, a city of nearly 20 million, was worst hit, with bodies piling up in the city’s morgues, and hospitals crammed with people suffering from severe heatstroke as daytime temperatures climbed to well over 40°C for extended periods.

About 65,000 heatstroke patients were treated at the city’s hospitals, and the death toll in southern Pakistan climbed above 1,200.

Chronic energy shortages—a common occurrence in Pakistan—added to the problem, and the heatwave came during Ramadan, the Muslim fasting period when people do not eat or drink during daylight hours.

Experts say Karachi has also suffered from what’s known as the urban heat island effect, with poor urban planning and a lack of green spaces making conditions even hotter.

Social workers say the majority of those who have died have been the poor and homeless. At one stage, Karachi’s cemeteries ran out of space for burying the dead.

Mohsin Iqbal, a climate scientist at the state-owned Global Change Impact Study Centre in Islamabad, says temperature increases in Pakistan are above the rise in average global temperatures.

Extreme Events

“This is leading to more extreme weather events, with floods and heatwaves becoming more intense and frequent in recent years,” he says.

Climate experts say weather patterns throughout the Asian sub-continent are changing, with more intense periods of heat, delays in the monsoon season and a greater incidence of drought conditions.

In April and May this year, many parts of India were hit by an intense heatwave, causing the death of more than 2,000 people.

AccuWeather, a global forecasting service, says delays in the arrival of monsoon rains and further hot periods are likely to exacerbate drought conditions in Pakistan and northwest India in July and August, threatening crop production across a wide swathe of land.

Saleem Shaikh|Climate News Network|July 6, 2015

5 Extreme Weather Events Impacting the Planet

Deniers will keep on denying apparently, but the signs of climate change are everywhere. As the planet has warmed up, severe weather events are happening in every corner of the globe, alerting us to the need for strong, immediate action.

1. Many parts of the world are suffering from extended heat waves. We’ve heard a lot about the heat waves blanketing India and Pakistan, which have claimed a high body count. Thousands of people in the region have died as a result. The situation has been exacerbated by the region’s high poverty—most of those dying have been the poor and/or homeless. Temperatures have soared as high as 122 degrees Fahrenheit in New Delhi.

“Let us not fool ourselves that there is no connection between the unusual number of deaths from the ongoing heat wave and the certainty of another failed monsoon,” India’s Earth Sciences Minister Harsh Vardhan told Reuters. “It’s not just an unusually hot summer, it is climate change.”

2. There’s been no dramatic death toll there, but Europe is also languishing under a heat wave, and temperatures there have set records in many places. Germany just set an all-time heat record of 104.5 degrees in the city of Kitzingen. Downtown Frankfort also had its hottest day on record, with a temperature of 102.2 degrees. Paris saw its second hottest day ever on July 1 when the temperature reached 103.5.

And players at this year’s Wimbledon might almost think they’re back at January’s Australian Open where scorching heat has impacted matches for years during that country’s peak summer season. On July 1, it reached 96 degrees at the nearest weather reporting station to the fabled tennis courts, but on-court temperatures were much higher. The temperature on Center Court was measured at more than 106 degrees.

Maybe those dangerously hot Australian matches have made the players take heat waves in stride, but top women players seemed unconcerned. “Yeah, it is going to be very hot,” said the world No. 1 ranked player and top seed Serena Williams. “But I don’t think I’ve ever played in 34, 35 degrees Celsius here. But I do in other countries. I just was training in Florida. It was like 42 degrees. I mean, this will be OK.” The world No. 4 player, Maria Sharapova, was similarly unconcerned. “It’s much warmer in my hometown of Longboat Key, Florida,” she said.

3. The wildfire season has started earlier than usual up and down the Pacific Coast of the U.S. and Canada with thousands of acres of drought-parched forests going up in flames. It’s not only starting earlier but lasting longer and producing larger and more numerous fires, thanks to a combination of warming temperatures, extreme drought and stronger winds. In California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Alaska, hundreds of fires are forcing the evacuations of thousands of people from their homes. Alaska, where temperatures have warmed twice as fast as the rest of the U.S., saw almost a tenfold increase in wildfires in the 2000s over the 1950s and 1960s. Fires in western Canada are so large and numerous that smoke is blanketing much of the western and midwestern U.S., leading to air quality warnings as far away as Colorado and Minnesota. The National Weather Service has reported some smoke as far east as the Atlantic Coast.

And experts fear that the 2015 season could be the worst yet.

“Climate change and misguided forestry policies have combined to present a landscape very vulnerable to devastating fires,” Dr. Wally Covington, director of the Ecological Restoration Institute at North Arizona University, told Climate News Network. “Since around 2000, we’ve seen more severe dry weather, matched with high winds throughout the western U.S. Intense firestorms are the result. Get in the vicinity of one of those and it’s like being near a blast furnace.”

4. Greenland’s ice sheet remained solid during its cool spring, but now that summer has arrived, it’s melting at a faster-than-normal rate for this time of year, with half its surface now liquid. Greenland might seem remote, but its ice sheet, the second largest glacial ice mass in the world, influences sea levels and how fast the Gulf Stream current moves. Although the temperatures in Greenland seem polar compared to Europe, those temperatures in the 30s and 40s are accelerating melt. The movements of massive hunks of ice are even causing earthquakes. “The earthquakes are not themselves destabilizing the ice sheet,” said Meredith Nettles of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. “But they are a marker of the fact that the ice sheet is getting smaller and retreating.”

5. The drought in California is well into its fourth year, and the state imposed unprecedented water-saving restrictions in June. While rich people whine about their lawns turning brown, debates rage about allocations for drinking, agriculture, fracking and bottled water companies. Actor Tom Selleck is being accused by the Calleguas Municipal Water District in Ventura County of stealing water from a public hydrant and having it delivered in truckloads to his house. While conservatives have blamed gays, abortion, immigrants and even environmentalists for the drought, scientists, looking at actual facts, are fingering climate change as a more likely culprit.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Global climate change affects a variety of factors associated with drought. There is high confidence that increased temperatures will lead to more precipitation falling as rain rather than snow, earlier snow melt, and increased evaporation and transpiration. Thus the risk of hydrological and agricultural drought increases as temperatures rise.”

Anastasia Pantsios|July 9, 2015

24 ‘large incident’ fires burning in Alaska ‏

Weekly Water and Climate Update

Last week, the highlight article was on 14 large fires burning in Oregon and Washington. The continuing hot and dry weather also has impacted Alaska. As of this morning’s report, there are currently 24 active fires burning in/near Alaska. Air quality advisories are in effect for the Central Interior.

Alaska set a new record for the earliest day with temperatures in the 90’s, when it hit 91 degrees in Eagle on May 23 (NOAA, www.climate.gov). The low winter snowpack and unusually warm temperatures in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska have increased the potential for wildfires this summer.

Genetically Modified Organisms

The Canary in the Organic Coal Mine

Organic Crops and Gardens Increasingly Contaminated by Persistent Herbicides

Nothing is more infuriating than first-hand accounts of “Big Ag” putting sustainable organic farmers out of business. Herbicide carryover in compost embodies this travesty in the same vein as chemical drift, GMO contamination, and the monopolies created when seeds and genes are patented.

Herbicide carryover (when persistent herbicides remain in compost, which then damages crops) may be initially hard to fathom, but occurrences are increasing due to the expanded use of certain persistent chemicals.

Here’s the calamity, for many family farmers, in a nutshell: broadleaf-specific herbicides sprayed on conventional pasture and hay fields pass unchanged through the digestive tract of farm animals, ultimately ending up in their manure, where the herbicides do not break down for many years, even when properly and thoroughly composted. When contaminated compost finds its way into garden soil, crops will suffer. When that garden is your livelihood, it is tragic.

Soil type and environmental conditions affect the length of time that persistent herbicides are active, but damage to crops from a single application of contaminated compost is commonly reported to last several years. Symptoms resemble diseases caused by plant viruses and nutrient deficiencies; therefore, the problem is often misdiagnosed by extension agents, agronomists, and other experts. Testing is expensive and doesn’t detect the small amounts of herbicide that crops react to. Highly susceptible cash crops include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, lettuce, beans, peas, spinach, carrots, and berries, among others.

In the last few years, herbicide carryover has garnered attention as gardeners, organic farmers, commercial composting companies, and extension agents learn to recognize the diagnostic symptoms on crops and understand how prevalent persistent herbicides in compost and irrigation water have become.

In fact, the problem of persistent chemicals contaminating farms has become so mainstream that the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) has been discussing the issue for the past year through a formal discussion document entitled “Protecting Against Contamination in Farm Inputs.” On February 24, 2015, the NOSB Crops Subcommittee released a “Contaminated Inputs Plan.” The plan considers various off-farm materials and addresses what contaminants might be present, whether they are of concern, and if they can be avoided. Unfortunately, this plan continues to place the burden on the farmer, not the contaminator. Nothing short of a ban on persistent herbicides by the EPA will prevent continued crop failures from these materials.

The NOSB plan to avoid contamination is nearly impossible to implement when contaminants arrive through irrigation water, or drift, and organic matter is sourced from multiple farms over many years. Currently, crop failures occur when inaccurate information regarding source material is relayed through the long supply chain (hay farmer to livestock rancher to composter to vegetable grower).

The NOSB proposal to require the farmer to conduct bioassay tests on compost to determine whether or not a contaminant may be present places an unrealistic burden on organic farmers given the time it takes for symptoms to develop, greenhouse space required, qualifications needed to properly diagnose symptoms, lack of uniformity in compost piles, and a continuous supply of varying source materials.

The suggestion that it is up to the farmer to prevent compost contamination is directly in line with the advice given by the chemical companies that profit from the sale of these persistent herbicides. In other words: it’s your problem, not mine.

Unacceptable Persistence

The EPA should never have approved herbicides that have the potential to persist for several years in the environment. Ironically, their ratings are designed to give potent, persistent chemicals the best EPA scores.

For example, chemicals are rated highly for requiring lower doses (i.e., highly potent) and less frequent applications (i.e., highly persistent). While low doses and fewer sprays sound good at first, chemicals that require low doses are more likely to cause damage to neighboring farms from drift. Chemicals that control weeds for a full season are more likely to contaminate other farms due to their persistence. Why chemicals receive the best environmental ratings for traits likely related to potency and persistence is counterintuitive.

Contamination events are still grossly underreported both in the U.S. and globally.  Farmers are not always qualified to know why crops are failing or showing reduced yields. Even scientific professionals often mistake symptoms from pathogens, nutrient toxicities, and herbicide damage without expensive, comprehensive testing. In addition, if farmers are able to determine that herbicide contamination has occurred, they may be unlikely to come forward due to potentially losing the ability to market their produce. If a system is in place to be compensated for financial losses due to herbicide carryover, farmers are much more likely to investigate and report when contamination has occurred.

Organic Farmers Should Have the Right to Clean Organic Matter

The incorporation of organic matter into the soil from a wide range of sources has been used to maintain soil fertility for over 10,000 years and is central to organic and sustainable farming. Incorporating organic matter and nutrients back into the soil prevents the need for synthetic fertilizers and mitigates pollution elsewhere. On- and off-farm inputs include compost, mined minerals, animal byproducts (fish, slaughterhouse waste), hay, mulches, and manures. Organic farmers provide a great benefit to society by recycling these waste products that will end up as hazards if not properly handled.

When organic matter becomes contaminated, humic acids and nutrients cannot be returned to the soil. Manure can contain other synthetic agrochemical residues that may not cause crop failures but still pose risks to consumers and the environment. Other contaminants include heavy metals, insecticide residues, and antibiotics. Herbicide contamination is perhaps “the canary in the coal mine” because of its direct impact on crop plants and farmer livelihood, but these other contaminants should not be discounted.

With the increase in the use of persistent chemicals, including herbicides and insecticides, organic farmers are no longer able to trust that organic matter inputs and irrigation water are free of these prohibited materials. Much like GMO contamination, it is nearly impossible for organic farmers to be clean of these materials once they are produced. Until persistent materials are banned, farmers should not be held responsible for contamination and should be compensated by the manufacturer of the herbicides for losses incurred.

Linley Dixon, PhD|June 30th, 2015

EPA Plans to Ban Controversial Pesticide

FRESNO, Calif. – Environmental and farm workers’ groups are cheering this week’s announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that it plans to ban agricultural use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos. The EPA banned the use of chlorpyrifos in homes 15 years ago.

The agency now acknowledges the chemical’s risk to drinking water from runoff, as well as to agricultural workers and residents exposed to pesticide drift.

Patti Goldman, a managing attorney with the law firm Earthjustice, says the decision is a “long time coming.” “It is the right thing to do,” says Goldman. “Chlorpyrifos is such a dangerous pesticide it should be banned across the board. We hope EPA will hang tough and see this through to the end.”

The EPA said it may allow some use in the future, but only if pesticide manufacturers offer meaningful mitigation plans.

Dow Agrosciences, the primary manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, says the pesticide has been extensively studied, is approved for use in 88 countries and degrades quickly enough to have what the company terms a “negligible” effect on runoff.

California also announced restrictions on the chemical’s use on Wednesday.

Margaret Reeves, senior scientist with the Pesticide Action Network, says a complete ban is necessary to protect rural communities. “California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation is finally stepping up to the plate. But those restrictions are very small, voluntary, and not enough,” says Reeves. Chlorpyrifos is widely used in California, particularly on almond, walnut, orange and alfalfa crops in the Central Valley. Studies have linked the chemical to health conditions, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, reduced IQ and poor cognitive development.

Suzanne Potter|Public News Service|CA

New GE rules in the works — finally!

We’ve been saying it for years: the rules governing genetically engineered (GE) crops, and how they get on the market, are broken. There are significant loopholes, insufficient transparency, and outdated practices that fail to account for today’s on-the-ground farming realities.

The White House agrees, at least in part. In a memorandum released July 2, the President called on the three agencies involved — U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — to fully review and update GE regulations. It’s about time.

As stated in a White House blog, the goals of the review and ultimate change are:

…to ensure public confidence in the regulatory system and improve the transparency, predictability, coordination, and, ultimately, efficiency of the biotechnology regulatory system.

Transparency? Efficiency? That sounds good. But with Monsanto, Dow and the rest of the Big 6 pesticide/biotech corporations pushing for even less oversight of their products, we’ll need to keep speaking up to protect farmers, local economies and rural communities.

This process won’t move quickly, but it’s finally in motion.

Long overdue

Regulations for GE products haven’t been revised since the 1990s, when RoundUp Ready crops were first coming onto the market. And we’ve learned quite a bit since then about the unintended consequences and likely fallout from herbicide-resistant GE crops — from the creation of “superweeds” to cross pollination and contamination of neighboring fields to harmful pesticides threatening the health of those living and working nearby.

The agricultural landscape has significantly shifted, with farmers increasingly trapped on the pesticide treadmill.

In the past 20 years, the agricultural landscape has significantly shifted, with farmers increasingly trapped on the pesticide treadmill. And more GE crops, engineered to be used with increasingly hazardous herbicides, are waiting in the wings for agency approval.

Just last year, despite outcry from hundreds of thousands of farmers, scientists and communities across the country, USDA and EPA rubberstamped Dow’s 2,4-D-resistant corn seed — a decision that ignored the biggest problems that will accompany widespread planting, like a dramatic increase in 2,4-D use and exposure.

Changes ahead?

There are many more details to be fleshed out in the new plan. And USDA was the first agency to get the ball rolling, opening up a public comment period last month even before the President made his announcement.

According to the White House, the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology is due for an update. Outlining the rules and roles of the three responsible agencies, the Framework was last amended in 1992 — and revising it would clarify the jurisdiction of USDA, EPA and FDA, which is sorely needed. Through a very siloed lens, each agency looks at a small piece of each GE seeds’ use, resulting in loopholes, outdated practices and an underestimated risk.

In addition to updating the Coordinated Framework, other expected actions include:

  • Creating a long-term strategy, following public input, to guarantee that the biotechnology regulatory system is capable of assessing risks associated with future biotechnology products. This will include directing support for research and science to inform these regulations, creating user-friendly tools for public awareness, and conducting periodic scans for new biotechnology products; and
  • Authorizing a third-party, independent analysis of the future landscape of biotechnology products that will identify new risks and frameworks for risk assessment to inform future policy making.

The regulatory review process is open to public input, and PAN will be staying engaged in this process, working to ensure the broken rules are actually fixed — not further weakened by industry interests.

Want to join us in taking a stand for farmers, local economies and communities? Stay tuned for opportunities to get engaged.

Pesticide Action Network|Jul 9, 2015

Energy

Secrecy over fracking chemicals clouds environmental risks, advocates say

Despite a report that links practice to contaminated drinking water, list of more than 1,076 chemicals used during fracking process remains unknown to public

The fracking industry must be compelled to provide far more detailed information to regulators if the public is to be accurately informed of any risks to the environment, advocacy groups say.

A report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last month found that hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas can lead, and has led, to the contamination of drinking water. It was the first time the federal government had admitted such a link.

The study, based on “data sources available to the agency”, found levels of any contamination to be small compared to the number of wells across the country, the EPA said.

But Gretchen Goldman, a lead analyst at the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union for Concerned Scientists, told the Guardian that the EPA’s study – which is now open for comment – was nothing “more than a literature review” and called for the industry to be required to divulge greater data.

Goldman says the EPA backed down from its initial promise to undertake prospective studies, which would have involved following a well site and testing its waters before, during and after fracking activities had begun. Such a study would have shed objective light on the fracking process and pushed scientific knowledge forward, she says.

Information shared by the industry for the report was very often done on a voluntary basis, the authors reveal, and even when companies were forced to share information through state regulations, they were still allowed to withhold details deemed crucial to their business.

One of the most notable elements of fracking that continues to be shrouded in secrecy, for instance, is the identity and mixture of chemicals that are injected into the ground through wells, together with water, at high intensity to fracture underground rocks and release oil or gas.

The chemical composition of such injections appears to vary from company to company and well to well.

Even if the EPA was able to compile a list of 1,076 chemicals used in the fracking process, the list is incomplete, with businesses involved in fracking able to cite some components as amounting to confidential business information, and therefore not subject to release to the public, the report indicates.

This means that the report is not void of influence from the oil and gas industry, Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said.

In the 998-page draft, the word “limitation” is used 76 times, “uncertainty” 43 times and “insufficient” – as it relates to insufficient information, data or evidence – is used seven times.

The EPA declined requests for interview about the fracking report.

Despite opposition from some groups, fracking is largely supported by the Obama administration. President Barack Obama has repeatedly described fracking as a transitional fuel, bridging a path away from fossil fuels and towards a clean energy future – something environmentalists say is both inaccurate and naive.

In 2005 lobbying efforts by the oil and gas industry proved successful, with hydraulic fracturing activities exempted from certain sections of the Safe Drinking Water Act, including permit application.

Last week another federal agency, the Bureau of Land Management, was temporarily blocked by a US district judge from putting into effect a new set of rules for fracking on federal public land.

The rules, which would have come into effect on 24 June, would have required oil and gas companies to reveal the chemicals they inject into the ground for fracking purposes, to meet construction standards when drilling wells, and to dispose of contaminated water safely.

But on Tuesday, judge Scott Skavdahl granted a stay to the new rules until 22 July, according to the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), which said the judge’s decision on a preliminary injunction sought by IPAA and other opponents of the rules was now expected in mid-August, Reuters reported.

IPAA and the Western Energy Alliance were joined by Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota and Utah in seeking to stop the new rules from taking effect.

Rose Hackman|New York5 July 2015

Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking – Oil and Gas Leasing on Public Lands

Royalty on Production, Rental Payments, Minimum Acceptable Bids, Bonding Requirements, and Civil Penalty Assessments

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is issuing this Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to solicit public comments and suggestions that may be used to update the BLM’s regulations related to royalty rates, annual rental payments, minimum acceptable bids, bonding requirements, and civil penalty assessments for Federal onshore oil and gas leases. As explained below, each of these elements is important to the appropriate management of the public’s oil and gas resources. They help ensure a fair return to the taxpayer, diligent development of leased resources, adequate reclamation when development is complete; and that there is adequate deterrence for violations of legal requirements, including trespass and unauthorized removal. Aspects of these elements are fixed by statute and beyond the Secretary’s authority to revise; however, in many instances they have been further constrained by regulatory provisions (e.g., minimum bond amounts) that have not been reviewed or adjusted in decades. The purpose of this ANPR is to seek comments on this situation and the need for, and content of, potential changes or updates to the existing regulations in these areas.

Specifically, the BLM is seeking comments and suggestions that would assist the agency in preparing a proposed rule that gives the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary), through the BLM, the flexibility to adjust royalty rates in response to changes in the oil and gas market. Absent near-term enactment of new statutory flexibility for new non-competitively issued leases, a future proposed rule would limit any contemplated royalty rate changes to new competitively issued oil and gas leases on BLM-managed lands, because the royalty rate that is charged on non-competitively issued leases is currently fixed by statute at 12.5 percent. The intent of any anticipated changes to the royalty rate regulations would be to provide the BLM with the necessary tools to ensure that the American people receive a fair return on the oil and gas resources extracted from BLM-managed lands.

In addition to the royalty rate, the BLM is also seeking input on: (1) How to update its annual rental payment, minimum acceptable bid, and bonding requirements for oil and gas leases, and (2) Whether to remove the caps established by existing regulations on civil penalties that may be assessed under the Federal Oil and Gas Royalty Management Act (FOGRMA). With respect to annual rental payments, the intent of any potential increase in annual payments would be to provide a greater financial incentive for oil and gas companies to develop their leases promptly or relinquish them, including for potential re-leasing, as appropriate, by other parties, and to ensure that leases acquired non-competitively provide a fair financial return to the taxpayer. With respect to the minimum acceptable bid, the intent of any potential changes is to ensure that the American taxpayers receive a fair financial return at BLM oil and gas lease sale auctions. With respect to bonding requirements, the intent of any potential bonding updates would be to ensure that bonds required for oil and gas activities on public lands adequately capture costs associated with potential non-compliance with any terms and conditions applicable to a Federal onshore oil and gas lease. The BLM’s existing regulations currently set bond minimums that have not been adjusted in 50 years. With respect to penalty assessments, the intent of the potential removal of the regulatory caps would be to ensure that the penalties provide adequate deterrence of unlawful conduct, particularly drilling on Federal onshore leases without authorization and drilling into leased parcels in knowing and willful trespass.

The anticipated updates to BLM’s onshore oil and gas royalty rate regulations and other potential changes to its standard lease fiscal terms address recommendations from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and will help ensure that taxpayers are receiving a fair return from the development of these resources. The anticipated changes to the royalty rate regulations will also support implementation of reform proposals in the Administration’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 budget

Alec Baldwin Helps Uncover 3,000 Square Miles of Oil Blanketing the Gulf Floor Since BP Disaster

Last week, BP reached an $18.7 billion settlement for civil lawsuits over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which was the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Yesterday on his radio show, Here’s The Thing, Alec Baldwin spoke with journalist and author Antonia Juhasz, who has covered the spill extensively. In 2011, she wrote Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill and this June she was featured in Harper’s Magazine for taking a submersible to the floor of the Gulf of Mexico.

What she discovered down there may surprise those who think the Gulf has completely recovered in the five years since the spill. In her exploration of the ocean floor, Juhasz got closer to the BP Macondo well-head than anyone had gotten since it was sealed five years ago. WYNC, which broadcasts Baldwin’s show, explains what Juhasz found:

Her story in the June issue of Harper’s Magazine details what she didn’t see down there—any vibrant sea life—as well as what she did see: a huge carpet of oil 3,000 square miles in size. And evidence indicates that companies are preparing to resume drilling in the region. Juhasz has been monitoring energy companies for over a decade, and has seen how routine spills have become, but as she explains to host Alec Baldwin, she still feels shock and anger over the ongoing impacts of these spills on the environment.

Listen to the interview here:

Congress Adopts David Jolly’s Amendment Cutting Off Oil Exploration in Eastern Gulf Until 2022

On Tuesday night, the U.S. House approved an amendment to the Interior Appropriations bill keeping the moratorium on drilling in the eastern Gulf until 2022 and preventing exploration efforts in that area until that time. Currently there is an effort in the U.S. Senate from U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., which would allow drilling up to 50 miles off the Florida Gulf Coast.

The amendment was offered by U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., and it had the support of members of the Florida delegation including Republican U.S. Rep. Curt Clawson and Democratic U.S. Reps. Gwen Graham and Patrick Murphy. 

Jolly took to the House floor on Tuesday to explain why his amendment was needed. 

“We can achieve energy independence without expanding drilling to the eastern Gulf of Mexico,” Jolly said. “And it is paramount that we take steps to continue protecting our pristine beaches, our fisheries, our marine sanctuaries, and coastal communities from the impact of drilling in the eastern Gulf and devastating events like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.”

“Recognizing the need for America to compete globally by having a ready supply of cost-effective energy, I still believe the risk of drilling in the eastern Gulf isn’t worth it, given what we saw recently with the BP disaster,” Clawson said on Tuesday after the amendment was approved.  “Because of the vast lands and the expanding technologies that our country offers, there are better, safer places to find America’s energy supply, without putting the wildlife, the shores and the communities of Florida’s Gulf Coast in danger.”

Early last month Jolly and Graham teamed up to offer a bill ensuring the current ban on drilling for oil in the eastern Gulf goes all the way through 2027. 

Back in May, Cassidy introduced the “Offshore Energy and Jobs Act of 2015” which would allow drilling up to 50 miles off the Florida Gulf Coast. Cassidy has cited studies which show, by 2035, the eastern part of the Gulf could generate a million barrels of oil a day.

“Developing oil and natural gas resources in the Gulf of Mexico could create more than 200,000 jobs, add more than $18 billion per year to the U.S. economy and strengthen our national security,” Cassidy insisted in May.  

Cassidy also fired back at criticisms from Florida politicians — including U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. 

“Florida is a part of the Gulf and their residents should benefit from the Gulf’s natural resources. Families across the nation, including in Florida, would hold jobs with better wages and better benefits that are created by expanding offshore energy production,” Cassidy said. “I don’t understand why anyone would deny Floridians, or anyone else, access to these jobs.”

Kevin Derby|July 8, 2015

To frack or not to frack? Commissioners consider the question

Resolution supporting ban on hydraulic fracturing coming before board

MARIANNA — After a presentation from a Tallahassee environmental advocacy group, city commissioners are considering adopting a resolution of support to ban the oil and gas extraction process of hydraulic and acidic fracturing across Florida.

By injecting a pressurized fluid mixture of water, sand and chemicals, underground rock formations are cracked, allowing oil and natural gas to flow through for extraction and collection. That hydro-fracturing process, commonly referred to as fracking, is viewed by some as a threat to the environment and public health. And an effort is on to ban the practice in the state of Florida.

Kim Ross, president and founder of ReThink Energy Florida, a member of the Florida Anti-Fracking Coalition, addressed city commissioners Tuesday night, advocating for the municipal government to sign a resolution of support for the statewide fracking ban, joining cities like Coconut Creek, St. Augustine and Tallahassee that have already done so.

Citing reports of groundwater contamination leading to flammable faucet water and birth defects in other areas, Ross urged city commissioners to consider the risks fracking poses to the Floridan aquifer, which serves portions of five states and has some of its most porous areas in Florida, and join the call for a statewide ban on fracking.

But not everyone was convinced.

Commissioner John Roberts was quick to say that he thought the issue was not the purview of city government. Acknowledging her sincerity about the topic, Roberts said it wouldn’t be difficult to find equally sincere and passionate people on the opposite side of the issue.

“I don’t think I have enough knowledge to say I’m for or against fracking,” Roberts said.

Mayor Travis Ephriam and Commissioner Rico Williams had a different view. Citing their concern for the sensitive ecosystems in areas like Blue Springs, they were in favor of formal consideration of Ross’ request.

A draft of the resolution supporting a statewide fracking ban will presented to city commissioners in the coming weeks and up for a vote during a future meeting.

 Angie Cook|Jul 9, 2015

Dirty Energy Firm to Dump Gas in Ecological Jewel

A coalition for a fossil-fuel-free future is up against an out-of-state energy firm’s gas storage project.

Let’s amend the famous line from Joni Mitchell’s “Yellow Taxi” to fit this moment in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. There, Big Energy seems determined to turn paradise, if not into a parking lot, then into a massive storage area for fracked natural gas. But there’s one way in which that song doesn’t quite match reality. Mitchell famously wrote, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” As part of a growing global struggle between Big Energy and a movement focused on creating a fossil-fuel-free future, however, the residents of the Finger Lakes seem to know just what they’ve got and they’re determined not to let it go. As a result, a local struggle against a corporation determined to bring in those fracked fuels catches a changing mood not just in the United States but across the world when it comes to protecting the planet, one place at a time, if necessary.

It’s difficult to imagine a more picturesque landscape, a more tranquil locale, a more bucolic garden spot than the Finger Lakes region. Each year, it draws tens of thousands of tourists to gaze at the waterfalls in Watkins Glen, to kayak and canoe in its deep waters, to dine in its farm-to-table restaurants and enjoy the homespun hospitality of its bed and breakfasts. Lush vineyards rustle on tree-studded hillsides. Wine Enthusiast magazine gave it top honors last year, calling it “one of the most vibrant and promising wine regions of the world.” There are fruit and vegetable farms and sugar maples, too. In 2013, the state’s maple syrup production ranked second only to Vermont’s.

The eleven Finger Lakes are among the wonders of the natural world. At 38 miles in length, Seneca Lake is the second longest of them, its 4.2 trillion gallons of water provide drinking water for 100,000 people. Its shallows are home to warm-water fish like smallmouth bass and yellow perch. Its deep waters play host to lake trout and Atlantic salmon and have created a unique microclimate in the surrounding region, neither too cold in winter nor too warm in summer, allowing agriculture to flourish.

Perhaps inspired by the ecological marvel that is their home, many of the Finger Lakes vineyards and vegetable farms rely on sustainable production methods. At the same time, wineries, hundreds of businesses, and individual families have begun converting from the use of fossil fuels to alternative energies. Tompkins County, adjacent to Seneca Lake, has even developed a solar energy program that has inspired similar efforts in counties across the state. A regional wind farm is scheduled to start operating in 2016. Clean and green seems to be the ethos of the region, but all that could change fast — and soon.

The Battle of Seneca Lake

There’s a battle brewing between the burgeoning clean-energy future embraced by this region and the dirty energy sources on which this planet has been running since the Industrial Revolution.  Over the last six years, Crestwood Midstream Partners, a Texas-based corporation, has been pushing to build a gas storage and transportation hub for the entire northeastern United States at Seneca Lake.  The company’s statements boast about setting up shop “atop the Marcellus Shale play,” a hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, hotspot.  It plans to connect pipelines that will transmit two kinds of fracked gas — methane and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) — probably from areas of the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.  These will be stockpiled in long-abandoned salt caverns, the remnants of a nineteenth-century salt-mining industry that capitalized on the remains of a 300-million-year-old ocean that once was here. 

Against the project, a motley coalition of farmers and vintners, doctors and lawyers, clean energy companies and reluctant do-it-yourself activists are focused on protecting this ecological marvel. Their goal: to guide the region toward a fossil-fuel-free future despite the deep pockets and corporate savvy of an out-of-state energy firm.

Crestwood is already storing 1.5 billion cubic feet of methane at the lake and has just won approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to add another half-billion cubic feet. In addition, Crestwood is intent on storing millions of barrels of two highly volatile liquefied petroleum gases, propane and butane, in the caverns. While FERC has jurisdiction over the methane part of the plan, New York State’s Department of Conservation governs the LPG part and its decision is pending. Although scientists warned about likely serious incidents of gas seepage or structural collapse in the salt caverns, FERC approved the methane storage part of the plan in May.

Crestwood’s plan would mean the full-scale industrialization of the lake’s shores near Watkins Glen, including a 14-acre open pit for holding brine (water supersaturated with salt) removed from the caverns upon the injection of the gas; a 60-foot flare stack (a gas combustion device); a six-track rail site capable of loading and unloading 24 rail cars every 12 hours, each bearing 30,000 gallons of LPG; and a truck depot where four to five semi-trailers would be unloaded every hour. As many as 32 rail cars at a time would cross a 75-year-old trestle that spans one of the country’s natural wonders, the Watkins Glen gorge, its shale sides forming steep columns down which waterfalls cascade.

The plan is riddled with accidents waiting to happen. Brine seepage, for example, could at some point make the lake water non-potable.  (From 1964 to 1984, when propane was stored in two of the caverns, the lake’s salinity shot up.)  That’s only the first of many potential problems including tanker truck and train accidents, explosions, the emission of toxic and carcinogenic organic compounds from compressor stations and other parts of the industrial complex, air pollution, and impacts on local bird species and animal life due to deforestation and pollution.

Salt caverns 1,000 feet or more underground have been used for gas storage since the middle of the last century and have a checkered history. A January 2015 analysis of Crestwood’s plan, based on documents by both independent scientists and an industry geologist, found 20 serious or extremely serious incidents in American salt cavern storage facilities between 1972 and 2012. Ten of these involved large fires and explosions; six, loss of life or serious injury; eight, the evacuation of from 30 to 2,000 residents; and 13, extremely serious or catastrophic property loss.

According to the report, if Crestwood’s proposal is approved, worst-case scenarios could include loss of life, loss of the lake as a drinking-water source, and temporary or even permanent evacuation of the local population.  “Most other regulated [industries] with a persistent serious to extremely serious facility incident rate of this magnitude would be shut down or else voluntarily discontinued, except in wartime,” writes the report’s editor, Rob Mackenzie, a medical doctor and fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives.

The Seneca Lake caverns where Crestwood plans to store LPG are also alarmingly unstable. One was plugged and abandoned a decade ago after an engineer concluded that its roof had collapsed during a minor earthquake in the 1960s.  What fell from the top of the cavern was no pebble. The chunk of rock weighed 400,000 tons and was four times the size of the U.S.S. Nimitz aircraft carrier. Another cavern lies beneath a rock formation that is subject to intermittent collapse and weakened by faults.

Nonetheless, Crestwood is proceeding with plans to store 600,000 barrels of liquid propane in the first cavern and 1.5 million barrels in the second. Geologist H.C. Clark, who authored a 2013 report on salt-cavern fragility, has charged both FERC and Arlington Storage, a Crestwood subsidiary, with making “an incredible error” in pushing the project forward.

Fighting the Good Fight

Hundreds of local businesses, organizations, and individuals opposed to the project have formed a coalition to block Crestwood’s plan, while 23 municipalities and five of the six townships surrounding Seneca Lake have also come out against the project. In April 2013, 12 demonstrators staged a “stand-in” outside a fenced Crestwood site and were arrested for trespassing. “My small, peaceful act of trespass was intended to prevent a larger, violent one: the trespass of hazardous chemicals into air and water and the intrusion of fracking infrastructure into our beloved Finger Lakes,” said biologist and writer Sandra Steingraber, a local resistance leader.

“All of us are 65 percent water by weight,” she told demonstrators and reporters. “Seneca Lake is the source of drinking water for 100,000 people. So 100,000 people are walking around [made up of] Seneca Lake. That’s their blood plasma, that’s their cerebral spinal fluid, that’s their exhaled breath on a cold winter day.”  With this in mind, Steingraber co-founded We Are Seneca Lake, a loose affiliation of people who have been facilitating citizen blockades at the site. All protestors sign and then, at the protest site, recite a pledge of resistance that concludes:

“I make this pledge to ensure the protection of Seneca Lake, which nourishes the vitality and enjoyment of the communities surrounding it; to prevent the destruction and poisoning of water, air, and food systems on which safety, health, and economic prosperity of our communities — and those of future generations — all depend. My abiding concern for the health and safety of my community compels me to take this action.”

The protests have had themes: an elf and Santa blockade during the 2014 Christmas season; a farm and food blockade in January 2015, which brought “foodies,” farmers, chefs, bakers, vintners, restaurant owners, and cookbook authors to Crestwood’s gates; a people of faith blockade; and another in honor of Pete Seeger.

In May, I attended a renewable energy blockade featuring employees from Renovus, a small, Ithaca-based renewable energy company. That firm’s president and employees drew attention to the dozens of jobs they had available, a dramatic contrast to the paltry eight to 10 that Crestwood says the storage project would create.

To date, according to Sujata Gibson, an attorney working pro bono for We Are Seneca Lake, there have been more than 270 arrests. Many protestors have been sentenced to 15-day terms for trespass, a violation-level offense that is not serious enough to constitute a crime in New York. Will Ouweleen, founding secretary of the Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition, was the first of several vintners to be arrested. “It wasn’t like I jumped up to be arrested,” he says. “It was a last resort after our concerns went unheard by our elected officials.”

Sixty people have had their charges dismissed in the “interests of justice,” a provision of New York criminal procedure law. Gibson calls those dismissals “a huge victory… They were dismissed by four different judges in four different courts, kind of a universal recognition of what justice really required in this circumstance.” Another 84 dismissal motions have been made and decisions on them are pending.

At the We Are Seneca Lake website, hundreds of statements by demonstrators, ages 19 to 90, including farmers, doctors, ministers, town councilors, a pastry chef, and a midwife, highlight their opposition to fossil fuels and support for a future world of renewable energy. “Muskrat Studio is my haven for creativity,” writes 68-year-old Barbara Peace of Ithaca, owner of the Muskrat, where poetry, fine art, photography, and sculpture are sold “for a reasonable price.”  Forty-four-year-old Sara Ferguson writes, “My son Lucian just turned six. He is the future. Fossil fuels are not the future. I’m a cancer survivor, and I don’t want to get sick again. I have a boy to raise.”

A Dirty Past or a Clean Future?

“One of the exciting effects of the protests,” Sujata Gibson told me, “is that they have energized our community to start looking for ways to become sustainable without the use of fossil fuels.” In 2013, for instance, nearby Madison County became the first municipality in New York State to initiate a solar energy program, Solarize Madison, with 35 home solar installations. The following year, inspired by Madison, Solarize Tompkins Southeast was launched in three Tomkins County towns — Caroline, Danby, and Dryden — to educate residents about solar energy and help many of them switch off fossil fuels and onto solar for electricity.

All three towns had earlier imposed bans on fracking within their jurisdictions. (Such town bans finally persuaded New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to declare a statewide ban on fracking in December 2014.) “What was really exciting,” says Don Barber, Caroline’s town supervisor, “was [that] people who were on the opposite sides of the fence regarding gas drilling [fracking] were on the same side of the fence when it came to this program.”

In 2014, Solarize Tompkins Southeast completed its work and a new organization, Solar Tompkins, was incorporated to conduct a countywide solar campaign. “If you put the two programs together,” says Jonathan Comstock, a researcher in horticulture at Cornell University and chair of the Solar Tompkins board, “we more than tripled how much residential solar there was in the county before.”

Much of the Solar Tompkins work has been to educate citizens countywide. Solar energy is a new concept for most people, Comstock points out. “The education, the community participation, [have given] people more confidence that this is something for everybody, not just some kind of elite few… Now we’re hoping that everybody who knows somebody who just went solar should [spur] a self-perpetuating educational process.”

By January, the installation of solar panels had begun for 400 Tompkins households, with competition among installers keeping prices relatively low. Solar Tompkins has launched another program, HeatSmart Tompkins, for installing ground- and air-driven heat pumps. About three-quarters of the region’s energy use goes to heating, mostly supplied by fossil fuels. Heat pumps, which can be powered by fossil fuels or renewable sources, are what Comstock calls “super-efficient.”

“Running on modest amounts of electricity,” he says, “they make it possible and practical to heat with renewably generated energy. They are a major step on the path to zero-carbon homes.”

Another regional renewable project soon to get off the ground is Black Oak Wind Farm. Local investors own the farm and no corporation is involved, says Comstock, himself a Black Oak shareholder. On the state level, New York’s Public Service Commission has launched a program, Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), which promotes more efficient use of energy including wind and solar power. “There are a lot of high-tech ways of improving the function of the grid that can accommodate a larger amount of these intermittent forces effectively,” says Comstock, “and hopefully that’s what the REV will do.”

A 2013 study by Marc Jacobson of Stanford University demonstrated that renewable energies could supply 100% of New York State’s needs by 2030. While this conversion might involve high initial costs, eliminating fossil fuels would more than make up for them over time. Commenting on renewable energy development in the state so far, especially in the Finger Lakes region, Jacobson wrote in an email: “I believe that every step to install wind, water, and solar… energy in New York is a step in the right direction in that it will replace conventional fuels, which currently cause over 3,000 premature air pollution mortalities per year and hundreds of thousands more illnesses per year in the state.” He added that renewable conversion “will create over 80,000 more jobs in the state than it will cost,” and that it will “stabilize energy prices because the fuel costs of wind, water, and solar are zero.”

Despite these developments and the growth of opposition to it, Crestwood’s expanded methane storage plan continues to move forward, while the company awaits a decision on liquefied petroleum gases. Meanwhile, other corporations continue building fracking infrastructure (including pipelines and compressor stations) in the state. The fate of renewable energy in New York depends in great part on a 2015 New York State Energy Plan, a draft of which, to the disappointment of critics, included increased reliance on natural gas, which means gas fracked from shale formations, and funds for bolstering the infrastructure needed for increased gas consumption.

As economist Janette Barth wrote, “It is foolish for New York State to encourage a build-out of a natural gas infrastructure that will last for 30 to 50 years when climate change is upon us, and increased production and use of shale gas are likely to detrimentally impact our environment, our health, and our economy here in New York State. There is a much better fossil-fuel-free alternative and [the plan] should focus on transitioning to this better fossil fuel-free energy system immediately.”

Many Finger Lakes residents are doing just that: focusing on clean energy technology while an out-of-state energy giant works to turn the tranquil shores of Seneca Lake into a hub for fracked gas storage.  It’s a battle whose outcome may offer a signal as to just where the region, the state, and perhaps the country are headed. “We’re in the middle of this climate crisis. Wind and solar are finally ramping up,” says Seneca Lake activist Sandra Steingraber. “In a few years, if we say ‘energy,’ the idea that it would come from fossil fuels might seem as crazy as if we said ‘telecommunications’ and people thought of the electric typewriter.”

Ellen Cantarow|TomDispatch|July 9, 2015

Thousands March in St. Paul to Protect Wildlife from Tar Sands

As we were just beginning to understand what a momentous day we had ahead of us, a bald eagle swooped over the gathering crowd at Lamberts Landing in St. Paul, Minnesota and then out over the Mississippi River in search of fish.

Such a sight would have been rare just years ago.  It told us of the progress we can achieve when people come together to protect wildlife.

bald eagle

Bald eagle skimming across the water. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Derek Brusse

Turning the Tide for Wildlife

In what may be remembered as a day the tide again turned in favor of wildlife, I was proud and humbled to march with over 5,000 people to demand a better future for wildlife at the Tar Sands Resistance March in St. Paul.  The message was simple: let’s build an energy future where wildlife and communities can thrive.  Let’s turn away from a risky future of extreme fossil fuels like tar sands that place our water, wildlife, communities and climate in peril.

As we close in on rejection of the controversial and dangerous Keystone XL pipeline, it appears the U.S. State Department still hasn’t fully gotten the message.  Last Spring, it approved a behind-the-scenes illegal scheme to approximately double the amount of tar sands entering the Great Lakes region.  This is despite having promised to conduct a public permitting and review process before allowing any additional tar sands into the region.

Delivering a Message: Wildlife Can’t Afford Tar Sands Oil

On Saturday, 5000 people delivered a message.  Tar sands oil is all risk and no reward for the Great Lakes region.  The additional tar sands oil illegally approved by the State Department will almost certainly pass by the at-capacity refineries in the Great Lakes and head to the Gulf Coast, where it will be exported.  The tar sands oil already entering the region is currently sickening nearby communities and rivers.

Along the way, tar sands oil will inevitable spill, as it did in July of 2010 in Marshall, Michigan when a major pipeline burst.  This disastrous spill of almost impossible to clean up tar sands – the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history – still pollutes sections of a forty mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River.  It killed thousands of wildlife, including almost 65% of all small mammals injured by the spill.

Red tailed hawk. Photo by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Janice Sommerville

Red tailed hawk. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Janice Sommerville

This is not a future wildlife can afford.

After marching over a mile to the State Capitol, speaker after speaker spoke of hope and of a better future for our children, where we don’t have energy sacrifice zones for energy, but instead gain our power from clean energy that doesn’t imperil people and wildlife.  It voice grew louder than the next.

All the while, a red tailed hawk perched on the State Capitol dome encircled the crowed, drawing the crowd’s attention, reminding us of what we were there to protect.

Jim Murphy|6/9/2015

Latest fracking report should mean new regulations

The recently released U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 2015 Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water is like inkblots used in psychological testing. People see in them what they want to see and ignore what they do not. For example, Sierra Club issued a press release claiming that the assessment confirms that fracking contaminates drinking water while several local writers to the Naples Daily News proclaimed that the document gives fracking a complete bill of health.

In any case, since fracking regulations in Florida, where none currently exist, will almost certainly be reintroduced in the next Florida legislative session, it is important to understand the implications of the assessment.

Fracking is an oil/gas extraction process involving injecting water/chemical mixes under pressure to free oil/gas and allow them to flow up the well. In use since the 1940s, fracking was initially applied in vertical wells and only relatively recently i n horizontal ones. It is estimated that since 2011 between 25,000 and 30,000 wells have been fracked annually in the U.S. and that 9.4 million Americans live within a mile of a fracking site.

The assessment reports information on five aspects of the fracking process: water acquisition; mixing and storing chemicals above ground; injection of fracking fluid; bringing the injected water/chemical mix back to the surface; and waste water storage and disposal.

With regard to water needed for fracking, local draws are generally relatively low but can be as high as 6 to 10 percent of available water. Although it seems improbable that merely sourcing the water for fracking could damage water quality, where drawing water lowers pressure in aquifers, it can allow intrusion of undesirable elements like salinity.

The last four aspects all involve chemicals and generally are the most worrisome. Because of space limitations, the best that can be done here is to provide an extremely truncated version of what the assessment found about effects on water quality.

■ The finding most quoted by fracking proponents is that the assessment revealed “no evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the U.S.”
■ Nevertheless, the assessment did discover instances of impacts stemming from all four aspects while stating that such instances of pollution were “relatively small” compared to numbers of wells fracked. For example, surface spills were found in between 1 and 12 per 100wells.
■ The authors could not be more precise than “relatively small” because of insufficient data on most fracking operations. Changes in water quality often could not be proved because of absence of data before the fracking occurred. Furthermore up to 1,076 chemicals were used in different combinations, and in at least 70 percent of the wells not all chemicals were revealed.

It is hardly surprising that no widespread systemic impacts were found; it would have been shocking if they had been and fracking had not been stopped dead in its tracks. However the important question is whether absence of “widespread” impacts justifies a “no conditions” green light to fracking. How much risk to drinking water should the public incur? 0.5 percent; 1 percent, 10 percent? If air travel bore a 1 percent risk, most folks would stay on the ground. Also it should be remembered that no “widespread systemic impacts” were known about deep water drilling before the BP oil spill.

Given the potential of fracking for national energy independence, for cheaper energy and for cleaner transitional fuel (in the case of natural gas) than coal until the day when green alternatives replace fossil fuels, the assessment does not reveal a sufficiently smoking gun to justify banning the practice at this time. However, the risks exposed in the assessment seem high enough to require regulations to keep Floridians as safe as possible.

At a minimum these should include:

■ A moratorium on fracking until a detailed study of Florida geological and water conditions is completed to set the stage for appropriate regulations.
■ Requiring permits for all wells to be fracked.
■ Clearance with water management districts on amounts of water to be used.
■ Strict conditions on mixing, injection, withdrawal, and storage/disposal of wastewater.
■ Meaningful penalties for violations.
■ Advance release of information on all chemicals and their quantities with no exceptions.

Finally, it should be noted that the assessment does not cover other important issues relating to fracking, including air quality and pollution; earthquakes; ecological damage; and, most importantly, broader questions of energy policy.

Do we wish to promote natural gas only as a transitional fuel until renewables take its place? If so, how do we minimize the probabilities of getting locked into gas for too long by an overdeveloped infrastructure?

Alan Keller, Ph.D., had a 32-year international career dealing with interactions of population growth and the environment. He is conservation chair of Audubon of the Western Everglades and a member of the Board of Audubon Florida.

Land Conservation

Deseret plan for new metropolis draws mixed

Deseret plan for giant growth should nix proposal for building a dam, Florida officials say.

The biggest development ever planned in Florida would cause no “adverse impacts” to water, wetlands and wilderness in an enormous part of Osceola County, according to a brief statement by the state’s top environmental agency.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said in a one-page report it conducted a “detailed review” of a plan by Osceola and Deseret Ranches to host a decades-long rise of a Central Florida metropolis of a half-million residents within a 133,000-acre corner of the county.

However, other state agencies turned in significantly more detailed comments that raise a host of concerns about water supplies, transportation routes and population densities proposed for what is now ranchland southeast of Orlando International Airport.

The state’s Department of Economic Opportunity, which under Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers replaced the more potent Department of Community Affairs, is coordinating an ongoing, multi-agency review of the initiative.

Comments by various state agencies will be instrumental in the Department of Economic Opportunity’s writing of an overarching report that will be sent to Osceola County as a guide for further shaping its development plan.

The development plan already has generated controversy for setting aside far too little land for conservation, according to an independent review ordered by Osceola County. Deseret officials have said that before they react to that controversy they want the state review of the plan to play out.

While DEP raised no concerns about the development plan, other state departments singled out fundamental elements of the initiative as inappropriate or ill-advised. Among the concerns raised:

•St. Johns River Water Management District officials urged Deseret and Osceola to drop a proposal to get water by building a dam, which the agency said could cause significant harm to wetlands, the St. Johns River and two creeks bordered by wetlands.

•The St. Johns district warned of potential trouble, also highlighted by the smart-growth group 1000 Friends of Florida, in that the plan’s water strategy extends through 2080 and could be out of step with the region’s overall water strategy, which looks forward for only about half that time.

•Water district officials said significant natural features identified by the plan should include wetlands parcels that are less than 25 acres because they could link larger wetlands or could be arranged in clusters that are environmentally important.

•Florida Department of Transportation officials warned the plan envisions development too spread out and not as densely populated as needed to make public transportation viable, which could result in the need for additional road construction.

Although the independent review noted that protection of wildlife habitat was inadequate under the plan, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission raised few specific concerns overall and none over the proposal for building a dam.

Charles Pattison, policy director for 1000 Friends of Florida, said “I don’t think anybody can argue” that long-range planning isn’t a good idea.

But the challenge, Pattison said, is nailing down enough details and agreements now so that as development emerges it doesn’t undermine the region’s overall progress in managing its transportation, water and environment.

Charles Lee of Audubon Florida said DOT and St. Johns district remarks are much needed perspective for a plan that would promote sprawl at a high cost to the region’s environment.

He added that Florida’s top environmental and wildlife agencies are “missing in action” in the state’s review of the plan.

Kevin Spear|Orlando Sentinel

Welcome a New World Heritage Site! ‏

We are excited and proud to announce that San Antonio’s five Spanish colonial missions–four of them already protected in a national park–have been designated the first World Heritage Site in Texas.

This is awesome news and couldn’t have happened without steadfast advocacy from NPCA supporters over the years.

On July 5, 2015 in Bonn, Germany, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural World Heritage Committee voted to designate the five missions–including the Alamo–as a World Heritage Site. A World Heritage designation brings awareness to the “outstanding universal value” and “cultural significance” of these missions as they join the ranks of other important sites like the Great Wall of China, Stonehenge, and Egypt’s Giza pyramids. The designation makes the missions the 23rd World Heritage Site in the United States, many of which are also protected as national parks, such as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and the Statute of Liberty.

The naming of the missions as a World Heritage Site represents a decade of work between the community, public sector employees, civic leaders and elected officials at the local, state and national levels. The San Antonio missions represent our nation’s largest collection of Spanish colonial resources, and their new status as a World Heritage Site will further enhance the experience of visitors while vastly expanding the missions’ economic impact on the city of San Antonio.

Thank you for helping ensure these historic and cultural treasures are placed among Earth’s greatest landmarks.

Click Here to Learn More about San Antonio Missions National Historical Park!

Suzanne Dixon|Senior Director, Regional Operations|NPCA|7/07/15

Glades wilderness plan may limit hunters’ vehicles

Vast region of Everglades may be designated federal wilderness – Controversial proposal would restrict off-road-vehicles in parts of Big Cypress.

A western Everglades region more than eight times the size of Manhattan could receive the highest level of federal protection, under a report released Monday by the National Park Service.

Big Cypress National Preserve announced that a scientific review found that 188,323 acres of the preserve met the criteria for federal wilderness, a designation extended only to land that shows very little human impact.

It would restrict off-road-vehicles, used by generations of hunters to penetrate remote areas, and blamed by environmentalists for tearing up the land.

If it were up to the extreme enviros, they would fence it, lock the gate and throw away the key.- Mike Elfenbein, Charlotte County hunter

Any decision would require further administrative review and a vote by Congress.

Oil drilling is typically prohibited in federal wilderness. But that restriction would not affect the pending proposal by a Texas oil company to conduct seismic tests for oil, since that involves previously existing oil rights.

Hunters and environmental groups both denounced the results of the study. Hunters say a wilderness designation would violate the intent of the preserve’s creation in 1974, when it was made clear that hunters would continue to have access with the traditional vehicles used to get around on this challenging terrain.

“What the park service is doing is contrary to what was intended in 1974,” said Lyle McCandless, president of the Big Cypress Sportsmen’s Alliance.

John Adornato, Sun Coast Regional Director of the National Park Conservation Association, said he was “very disappointed” since the study left many environmentally significant areas off the list. It also allowed potential wilderness areas to be pierced by corridors for off-road vehicles.

The Park Service has abandoned its responsibility to protect Big Cypress Swamp. They’re leaving the central part of the preserve open to ORV trails.- John Adornato, National Park Conservation Association

“The report allows the Park Service to designate [off-road vehicle] trails in very sensitive wetland habitat,” he said. The Park Service has abandoned its responsibility to protect Big Cypress Swamp.”

The potential wilderness encompasses swamps and forests south of Interstate 75, south of Tamiami Trail and east of State Road 29, including habitat for endangered species such as the Florida panther and Cape Sable seaside sparrow.

The words of the Wilderness Act of 1964 have become famous in the environmental movement. Under the act, “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

This language echoes through the Big Cypress study’s descriptions of areas found eligible to be named wilderness. Of one area a few miles south of Interstate 75, the study states, “This is a large wild area that appears to have been primarily affected by the forces of nature where natural processes and conditions prevail…The imprints of man are few and there are outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive and unconfined recreation.”

But many hunters see the use of wilderness as simply the latest tactic in a campaign to get them out of Big Cypress.

“The ultimate extreme enviro agenda is to remove hunters and [off-road vehicles],” said Mike Elfenbein, a Charlotte County hunter and delegate of the Everglades Coordinating Council. “Ultimately they would like to see all of mankind removed from the area. If it were up to the extreme enviros, they would fence it, lock the gate and throw away the key. These lands are not “wilderness” and are not untrammeled by man in any way. They are bisected by two major highways, drained by canals, have been farmed, ranched, logged, drilled for oil, recreated upon and inhabited by man for centuries.”

Environmentalists say hunters already have access to the preserve via hundreds of miles of trails and that the preserve has a duty to protect its ecological integrity.

“The push and pull over how much motorized recreation to allow in the Big Cypress has been going on since the founding of the preserve,” said Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association. “But a wilderness evaluation is supposed to be independent of that feud.”

The preserve plans to schedule public meetings on the issue later this year before making a final recommendation.

David Fleschler|Sun Sentinel|7/8/15

$25 Million To Create More Nature Trails Goes Into Effect Today

$25 Million To Create More Nature Trails Goes Into Effect Today

Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation

Florida has done little to distinguish itself as a bike and pedestrian friendly state; in fact, it’s consistently ranked among the most dangerous in America for the two-wheeled set and for walkers.  

So it’s notable that among the hundreds of bills that went into effect this week is one that will funnel millions in state money toward new bike and pedestrian trails. But this is Florida, so the plan is not without controversy and detractors — even among biking advocates.

Senate Bill 2514-A requires the Department of Transportation to allot $25 million in annual funding for The Florida Shared-Use Non-motorized Trail Network, also known as SunTrail, which aims to create a statewide network of bicycle and pedestrian paths. The hope, lawmakers say, is to help Floridians now have a safer system of biking and walking trails that are physically separated from roadways.

Earlier this year, lawmakers proposed $50 million for SunTrail, with half coming from an existing motor vehicle tax and the other from Amendment 1, which was approved by voters to direct certain tax revenue toward land acquisition and land improvements on conservation lands. Amendment 1 funding proved to be too controversial during the budget process, though, and that plan eventually faltered. The funding, instead, will only come from a motor vehicle tax.

Some are applauding the move, like executive director of Audubon Florida Eric Draper. He says the trails will make nature more accessible for residents and tourists. “One of my favorite things is to travel through nature and get outdoors,” says Draper. “This will definitely do just that.”

However the funding does little to address arguably the biggest issue of bike safety: the lack of safe lanes for those daily urban commuters who ride bikes for day-to-day life. Draper hopes the government will look at ways to continue the expansion of off-road trails and find a solution to create more and safer city bike lanes as well.

“These trails don’t tend to be for people to get to work,” explains Draper. “They’re really just meant to be off-road connectors.”

There’s also plenty of disagreement about the trails themselves. Among the trails eventually proposed for a statewide circuit is the so-called River of Grass Greenway that would stretch across the Everglades. Environmentalists and Native American activists have all protested that plan.

But according to the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation, most of the SunTrail will follow abandoned railways, canal banks, scenic highways or utility transmission lines. The foundation would like the bridge the gaps between trails and use the creation of SunTrail to make exploring Florida’s nature safer for all.

Clarissa Buch|July 2, 2015

President Obama takes steps to protect 3 National Monuments

President Obama has taken action to protect natural wonders in California, Nevada and Texas as national monuments, to be treasured and enjoyed for generations to come.

Please send a quick thank you note to the president for his conservation leadership.

Berryessa Snow Mountain in California showcases the Inner Coast Ranges, rich with oak woodlands, clear creeks and fields of wildflowers. Southern Nevada’s Basin and Range National Monument features Native American heritage sites in a unique western landscape that is home to bighorn sheep, kit fox and ancient bristlecone pine. The third monument is Waco Mammoth, a wooded parkland in Texas that protects the nation’s only discovered fossil bed of a nursery herd of Pleistocene-era mammoths.

The Wilderness Society

Celebrate Our Newest National Monument! ‏


Here’s a riddle: What stands more than one story high, eats more in a day than what you might eat in four months, and is 68,000 years old? Answer: the Columbian mammoth, the newest star of the National Park System!

After years of hard work by the community to raise funds and build support for preserving this unique piece of natural history, today, President Obama declared Texas’s Waco Mammoth Site–the largest known concentration of Columbian mammoth fossils in North America–a national monument.

The new Waco Mammoth National Monument is truly an American treasure. In 1978, two Waco-area citizens discovered what would be the first of more than 24 Columbian mammoths ranging from 3 to 55 years old, all of which appear to have died in a single event.

Waco Mammoth provides a unique opportunity for the National Park Service to answer the riddle of how these prehistoric animals lived. Learn more about this fascinating site by checking out our recent interview with the site’s program coordinator.

Today’s designation represents the culmination of long-running efforts by the City of Waco, Baylor University, the Waco Mammoth Foundation, and the National Parks Conservation Association to protect this site and advocate for its inclusion in the Park System. Thanks to the work of these advocates, the site is now an educational and tourism destination, attracting more than 20,000 visitors a year from around the world, researchers and schoolchildren alike.

Please join us in celebrating the addition of Waco Mammoth to the National Park System

Katie Eucker|NPCA|7/10/15

 

Transportation

Record Breaking Solar Plane Soars From Japan to Hawaii

A Swiss man just used the power of the sun to fly from Japan to Hawaii non-stop, and no, he’s not a super hero.

Andre Borschberg piloted the solar powered single-seat Solar Impulse 2 on a record-breaking, five-day journey across the Pacific Ocean without using a single drop of fuel. Solar power means there’s no need for a fuel stop.

The plane touched down at a small airport near Honolulu on July 3 after a nearly 118-hour voyage from Nagoya, Japan, breaking the record for the world’s longest nonstop solo flight, according to his team.

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The previous record was set by American Steve Fossett, now deceased, who flew 76 hours in a specially-designed jet around the globe in 2006.

The AP explained, Borschberg flew the engineless Solar Impulse 2 without relying on fuel — its wings were equipped with 17,000 solar cells that powered propellers and charged batteries, and the plane ran on stored energy at night.

Imagine flying over the vast Pacific Ocean with no land in any direction for miles, in an aircraft that has never before flown that far without relying on fuel. There is no contingency strategy or emergency backup plan.

That giant leap took courage.

The Solar Impulse 2, which to be clear is not the first solar aircraft project ever, landed shortly before 6 a.m. on July 3 at Kalaeloa airport to a crowd of about 200 people, including media. As AP reported, Borschberg called the flight an extraordinary experience, saying it marked historical firsts for aviation and for renewable energy, adding “Nobody now can say that renewable energies cannot do the impossible.”

Borschberg and co-pilot Bertrand Piccard have been taking turns flying the plane throughout their around-the-world trip since taking off from Abu Dhabi in March. Piccard is up next, with a scheduled flight from Hawaii to Phoenix. Then the plane heads for New York.

Now that long distance solar flight has been achieved, are the days of carbon offsets behind us? And can private citizens expect solar powered flights in the near future?

Not so fast. There is still a long way to go before travelers can ride the rays to destinations of their choice.

Solar Impulse 2’s ideal flight speed is reportedly about 28 mph — more during the day when sun’s rays are strongest. That’s about half the speed cars drive on the highway—definitely not fast enough for air travelers, who are used to traveling on average 550-600 mph.

Also, the Solar Impulse 2 carbon-fiber aircraft weighs only about 5,000 pounds, and weight and weather are considered serious constraints.

Given all that, and the slew of technical challenges involved, clearly solar powered air travel is not commercially viable yet. But hopefully over time as technology evolves, solar powered planes will replace the fuel guzzling machines currently occupying our air space.

We may have a long way to go before solar powered flights land you where you need to go, so for now, let’s look at the bright side: A man just used sun power to fly for five days straight without using a single drop of oil. Shazam!

Watch the Solar Impulse 2 Hawaii landing here:

Tex Dworkin|July 7, 2015

Recycling

Why Hawaii’s Ban on Plastic Bags is a Big Deal

Plastic is notorious for being one of the worst substances for both our bodies and the environment. Many retail stores still use plastic bags to package everything from groceries to clothing, but the negative environmental impacts mean more and more major US cities are adopting a plastic bag ban.

As of July 1, 2015, Hawaii is the only state that has a statewide ban on plastic bags in grocery stores. The most populated island, Oahu, which houses the City and County of Honolulu, was the last to adopt the ban. While Hawaii now has restrictions on the bags across the state, the legislature was done on the county level rather than the state level.

Although California also originally voted to ban plastic bags statewide starting the same day, supporters of the plastic industry garnered enough signatures to put the ban to a referendum in November 2016. However, according to the Surfrider Foundation, many city and county bans and/or fees exist across the country.

As for Hawaii, according to the City and County of Honolulu Department of Environmental Services, stores that do not comply with the ban could face charges of anywhere from $100 to $1000 per violation per day. However, there are also several instances in which utilizing plastic bags is still allowed.

The official language of the ban from the City and County of Honolulu defines a “plastic checkout bag” as “a carryout bag that is provided by a business to a customer for the purpose of transporting groceries or other retail goods, and is made from non-compostable plastic and not specifically designed and manufactured for multiple re-use.”

This does not include plastic bags used to carry loose items such as produce and nuts within stores. The ban also does not extend to plastic bags used to wrap fresh meat or to transport flowers. Take out bags, newspaper bags used for deliveries, laundry bags and compostable bags that are specifically marked are also safe from the limitations.

Despite these loopholes, more cities and states are going towards a similar model in order to avoid contributing to the detrimental environmental effects of the bags.

Plastic bags are a particular target because of the difficulty in recycling them, the amount of time they take to break down and their overall impact on the litter, particularly in water habitats. The infographic below outlines why it’s so important for more cities and states to consider similar bans on the familiar plastic menace.

How Convenience is Killing Our Planet

Courtesy of Arte I

Ashlyn Kittrell|July 8, 2015

Miscellaneous

Top 10 Toxic Products You Don’t Need

  • Advertisers spent an astonishing $144 billion in 2011 to entice you to buy more and more stuff, so it’s not surprising that you have a home full of things you don’t need. Here’s a list of 10 toxic products you absolutely don’t need; you can get rid of them right away! Not only will your home be less cluttered, your health will improve by eliminating everyday items that contain toxic chemicals that contaminate your air, food and body.

1. Vinyl plastic: Vinyl is the worst plastic for the environment. Banned in over 14 countries and the European Union, PVC, also known as vinyl, is found in floors, wall coverings, and toys. Vinyl leaches phthalates (linked to hormone disruption) and lead (a potent neurotoxicant) — contaminating air, dust, and eventually you. Go PVC-free by reading packages and avoiding the #3 in the chasing arrows symbol (usually found on the bottom of a product).

2. Fragrance products: Chemical fragrances found in everyday products like air fresheners, dryer sheets, and perfumes can trigger asthma. Some of the chemicals mimic estrogen, a process that may increase the risk of breast cancer. For example, diethyl phthalate (DEP) is absorbed through the skin and can accumulate in human fat tissue. Phthalates are suspected carcinogens and hormone disruptors that are increasingly being linked to reproductive disorders. To be safe, choose fragrance-free products or use those scented with natural fragrances like essential oils.

3. Canned food: It’s probably shocking to find a food item on a toxic product list, but it’s no mistake. Food cans are lined with bisphenol-A (BPA). Most experts believe this is our main source of exposure to BPA, which has been linked to early puberty, cancer, obesity, heart disease, depression in young girls and much more. Many food brands have gone BPA free, including Campbell’s Soup. But beware: some companies have switched to BPS, BPA’s chemical cousin, which has been linked many of the same health effects. To be safe, opt for fresh, frozen, dried or jarred foods.

4. Dirty cleaners: Admit it: it’s a bit odd to wipe toxic chemicals all over your oven, floors, counters, and toilets to get them “clean.” Corrosive or caustic cleaners, such as the lye and acids found in drain cleaners, oven cleaners and acid-based toilet bowl cleaners are the most dangerous cleaning products because they burn skin, eyes and internal tissue easily. It’s simple and effective to use non-toxic cleaners or to make your own. You won’t miss the toxic fumes in your home either!

5. Pesticides: This is a huge category of products, but they deserve inclusion in their entirety because of how extremely toxic they are. They’re made to be. That’s how they kill things. But, solving your pest problem may leave you with another problem – residual poisons that linger on surfaces, contaminate air, and get tracked onto carpet from the bottom of shoes. There are so many non-toxic ways to eliminate pests and weeds. Next time, get on the offense without chemicals.

6. Bottled water: Americans buy half a billion bottles of water every week, according to the film The Story of Bottled Water. Most people buy bottled water thinking they’re avoiding any contaminants that may be present in their tap water. For the most part, they’re wrong. Bottled water can be just as, or even more, contaminated than tap water. In fact, some bottled water IS tap water – just packaged (in plastic that can leach chemicals into the water) and over-priced. Also, from manufacture to disposal, bottled water creates an enormous amount of pollution, making our water even less drinkable. Do yourself and the world a favor and invest in a reusable stainless steel water bottle and a water filter.

7. Lead lipstick: Can you believe lead, a known neurotoxin that has no safe level of exposure, is found in women’s lipsticks? A study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration discovered lead in 400 lipsticks tested, at levels two times higher than found in a previous FDA study. There is no safe level of lead exposure. Pregnant women and children are at special risk, as lead can interfere with normal brain development. To find a safe lipstick, as well as other personal care products like shampoo and lotion, check out the Skin Deep Database.

8. Nonstick Cookware: Studies show that perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which make products stain-and stick resistant, are linked to cancer and low birth weights. They are incredibly persistent and can now be found all over the globe, including in the bodies of polar bears. Not only are PFCs found in cookware, but microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes, some dental flosses, furniture and clothing. To steer clear of PFCs, avoid products made with Teflon or list ingredients beginning with “fluoro” or “perfluoro.”

9. Triclosan: This antibacterial agent is found in soaps, toothpastes, mouthwashes, deodorants, and even clothing. Studies have found triclosan may harm the human immune system, which makes people more likely to develop allergies, and reduces muscle strength in humans and animals. The FDA warns consumers to read labels for triclosan and recommends using plain soap to clean up. Instead of using antibacterial hand sanitizers made with triclosan, choose an alternative made with at least 60 percent alcohol.

10. Oil-based paints and finishes: There are 300 toxic chemicals and 150 carcinogens potentially present in oil-based paint, according to a John Hopkins University study. Still interested in coating your walls and furniture with this gunk? I hope not. Look for water-based options – ideally those that are low- or no-VOC. You could also explore natural finishes like milk paint and vegetable or wax-based wood finishes.What’s at the top of your list of toxic products you don’t need?

Margie Kelly|Communications Manager|Healthy Child Healthy World

84,000 Chemicals on the Market, Only 1% Have Been Tested for Safety

There are around 84,000 chemicals on the market, and we come into contact with many of them every single day. And if that isn’t enough to cause concern, the shocking fact is that only about 1 percent of them have been studied for safety.

In 2010, at a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health, Lisa Jackson, then the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), put our current, hyper-toxic era into sharp perspective: “A child born in America today will grow up exposed to more chemicals than any other generation in our history.”

Just consider your morning routine: If you’re an average male, you use up to nine personal care products every single day: shampoo, toothpaste, soap, deodorant, hair conditioner, lip balm, sunscreen, body lotion and shaving products—amounting to about 85 different chemicals. Many of the ingredients in these products are harmless, but some are carcinogens, neurotoxins and endocrine disruptors.

Women are particularly at risk because they generally use more personal care products than men: 25 percent of women apply 15 or more products daily, including makeup and anti-aging creams, amounting to an average of 168 chemicals. For a pregnant woman, the risk is multiplied as she can pass on those toxins to her unborn child: 300 contaminants have been detected in the umbilical cord blood of newborns.

Many people don’t think twice about the chemicals they put on their bodies, perhaps thinking that the government regulates the personal care products that flood the marketplace. In reality, the government plays a very small role, in part because it doesn’t have the legal mandate to protect the public from harmful substances that chemical companies and manufacturers sell in their products. Federal rules designed to ensure product safety haven’t been updated in more than 75 years. New untested chemicals appear on store shelves all the time.

“Under federal law, cosmetics companies don’t have to disclose chemicals or gain approval for the 2,000 products that go on the market every year,” notes Jane Kay in Scientific American. “And removing a cosmetic from sale takes a battle in federal court.”

It’s high time these rules are revisited. Not only have thousands of new chemicals entered the market in the past several decades, there is overwhelming evidence that the public is unnecessarily exposed to health hazards from consumer products. In 2013, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a report that found “robust” evidence linking “toxic environmental agents”—which includes consumer products—to “adverse reproductive and developmental health outcomes.”

Formaldehyde is a good example. It is a known carcinogen used as a preservative to kill or inhibit the growth of microorganisms in a wide range of personal care products, from cosmetics, soaps, shampoos and lotions to deodorants, nail polishes and hair gels. It is also used in pressed-wood products, permanent-press fabrics, paper product coatings and insulation, and as a fungicide, germicide, disinfectant and preservative. The general public is also exposed to formaldehyde through automobile tailpipe emissions. Formaldehyde has been linked to spontaneous abortion and low birth weight.

While the main concern about formaldehyde exposure centers around industrial use (e.g., industrial workers, embalmers and salon workers), the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, an independent panel of experts that determines the safety of individual chemical compounds as they are used in cosmetics, recommends that for health and safety reasons cosmetics should not contain formaldehyde at amounts greater than 0.2 percent. It’s a small amount, but the problem is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate the use of formaldehyde in cosmetics (except for nail polish), and companies aren’t required by law follow the Cosmetic Ingredient Review’s recommendations.

Empowering FDA to Protect Consumers

Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are trying to bridge this gap in federal oversight. Last month, they introduced the Personal Care Products Safety Act (S. 1014), a bill that seeks to protect consumers from toxins found in personal care products by strengthening the authority of the FDA, which oversees the cosmetics industry, to regulate the ingredients in those products.

Specifically, by making significant revisions to the cosmetics chapter of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), the bill would require the FDA to review chemicals used in personal care products and provide clear guidance on their safety. In addition, S.1014 would require cosmetic manufacturing facilities to register with the FDA, require brand owners to submit ingredient statements every year, require the FDA to assess the safety of cosmetic ingredients at a minimum of five ingredients per year and give the FDA the authority to recall certain personal care products that threaten consumer safety.

“From shampoo to lotion, the use of personal care products is widespread, however, there are very few protections in place to ensure their safety,” said Sen. Feinstein. “Europe has a robust system, which includes consumer protections like product registration and ingredient reviews. In addition, the legislation has broad support from companies and consumer groups alike.”

The first set of chemicals that would be reviewed under S. 1014 includes:

  • Diazolidinyl urea (used in deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, bubble bath and lotion)
  • Lead acetate (used as a color additive in hair dyes)
  • Methylene glycol/formaldehyde (used in hair treatments)
  • Propylparaben (used in shampoo, conditioner and lotion)
  • Quaternium-15 (used in shampoo, shaving cream, skin cream and cleanser)

Several non-profit environmental and public health advocacy groups have supported the proposed legislation, including Environmental Working Group, Society for Women’s Health Research, National Alliance for Hispanic Health and Healthy Women. The bill, which involved discussions with the FDA as well as the personal care products industry, is also supported by numerous companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Revlon, Estee Lauder, Unilever and L’Oreal. Sen. Collins said that for manufacturers, the bill provides “regulatory certainty … enabling them to plan for the future.”

“While we believe our products are the safest category that FDA regulates, we also believe well-crafted, science-based reforms will enhance industry’s ability to innovate and further strengthen consumer confidence in the products they trust and use every day,” said the Personal Care Products Council, a national trade association for the cosmetic and personal care products industry, in a statement. “The current patchwork regulatory approach with varying state bills does not achieve this goal.”

Overhauling the Toxic Substances Control Act

Like the FDA, the EPA is similarly toothless when it comes to protecting the public from dangerous chemicals. Though it has the power to investigate some consumer chemicals through the Toxic Substances Control Act, the agency can act only if a chemical poses an “unreasonable risk” to public health—and that is difficult to prove. Since the TSCA was passed in 1976, the EPA has only tested around 200 of the 84,000 chemicals on the market. The law hasn’t undergone any substantial update since it was enacted.

In a 2011 paper published in the journal Health Affairs, Sarah Vogel, a program officer at the Johnson Family Foundation in New York City, and Jody Roberts, the associate director of the Center for Contemporary History and Policy at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, argue that the TSCA requires an overhaul:

The EPA’s ability to obtain safety information and set regulatory standards as outlined under the Toxic Substances Control Act has fallen far short of expectations. This is due to a combination of limitations in the statute and a series of events over the past thirty-five years, including reductions in the EPA’s budget in the 1980s, changing political leadership and shifting agency priorities, limited oversight by Congress, and successful challenges by the chemical industry to limit the EPA’s authority.

In March, senators David Vitter (R-LA) and Tom Udall (D-NM) made an official push for that overhaul when they introduced the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 697), a bill that seeks to update the TSCA. The bill would require the EPA to ensure that 25 high- and 25 low-priority substances will be addressed within five years of the bill’s enactment, while not conceding all oversight to the federal level: It also permit states to implement requirements that are identical to the federal requirements enacted by the EPA.

Also, before producing a new chemical or manufacturing an existing chemical for “significant new use,” the EPA would be required to say officially that the chemical in question would “likely meet the safety standard,” rather than simply letting the review period expire—which is the case under the current TSCA. Also known as the “Udall-Vitter” Toxic Substances Control Act reform bill, it is currently pending a vote on the Senate Floor.

“Americans are exposed to a toxic soup of more than 80,000 different chemicals, but we have no idea what the impact of those chemicals is on our bodies — or those of our children,” said Sen. Udall. “Current law has failed to protect Americans from dangerous carcinogens like asbestos, and Congress can’t afford to stand on the sidelines any longer.”

Sen. Vitter noted that “chemicals are used to produce 96 percent of all manufactured goods consumers rely on every day.”

Unlike previous unsuccessful attempts to reform the TSCA, S. 697 enjoys strong bipartisan support: 17 Republican senators and 17 Democratic senators have joined Vitter and Udall to co-sponsor the bill. However, it faces a challenge by a similar competing bill, the Alan Reinstein and Trevor Schaefer Toxic Chemical Protection Act (S. 725), introduced two days later by senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ed Markey (D-MA). Unlike S. 697, S. 725 currently has no Republican co-sponsors.

Supporters of S. 725, including the Environmental Working Group, Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and Safer Chemicals Safer Families, argue that the Udall-Vitter bill is “embraced by the chemical industry” and it “would take more than a century to analyze and regulate the 1,000 chemicals EPA has flagged for review on the grounds they appear to be particularly dangerous to human health.”

A stark difference between the two bills is that the Udall-Vitter bill doesn’t even mention asbestos, a known carcinogen that kills approximately 10,000 Americans every year and under current law, cannot be banned. The Boxer-Markey bill would require that all forms of asbestos be listed as a high-priority chemical substance, requiring the EPA to complete a safety assessment and determination for asbestos within two years of the bill’s enactment.

S. 725 “addresses asbestos, children’s cancer and other threats that toxic chemicals pose to our families, including cardiovascular disease, developmental disorders, respiratory disorders, neurological disorders, endocrine disruption and many others,” said Sen. Boxer. “Our citizens deserve nothing less than a bill that protects them—not chemical companies.”

Senator Markey called the nation’s current federal chemical laws “outdated and ineffective,” and said their bill would also “preserve vital protections like a state’s ability to clamp down on dangerous chemicals.”

“The fact that the Vitter-Udall bill will not even restrict, much less ban, the deadly substance that claims 30 lives a day is nothing short of a national travesty,” said Linda Reinstein, president and co-founder of Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. “Any senator who supports this industry proposal is in essence supporting the continuation of the toll asbestos has already had on millions of American families.”

The current prognosis for these three bills is fairly grim: GovTrack gives S. 697 a 15 percent chance of being enacted, S. 1014 a 3 percent chance and S. 725 a 1 percent chance. Whatever happens, it is clear that the current system in place to protect the public from dangerous chemicals is not working.

As America’s lawmakers review these bills, they would do well to consider the prescription of Lynn Goldman, dean of George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health: “It is far wiser and less expensive to prevent exposure to unsafe chemicals … than to have to treat the serious health problems that they can cause.”

Reynard Loki|AlterNet|July 6, 2015

5 Celebrities Busted as Part of #DroughtShaming

Californians reduced their overall water usage by 29 percent in May. This is impressive because it exceeds the mandatory 25 percent reduction set by Gov. Brown in April, which didn’t even take effect until June. Still, California needs to continue to reduce its water use amidst an epic drought.

So, some Californians have taken to drought shaming people—even their own neighbors—for what they see as profligate water use. A quick search on Twitter of “#droughtshaming” will reveal how common the practice is.

San Jose Mercury News reports that Southern California resident Tony Corcoran cruises wealthy communities like Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, looking for water wasters. He admits to posting more than 100 videos of water-wasters on YouTube—and he even includes their addresses. Corcoran is just one of many. Another California resident, Dan Estes, has designed a free app, DroughtShame, which records the time and place where people see water waste. And there are several other apps out there as well.

“I drought shamed the preschool next to my apartment,” Estes told Mercury News. “Timer was off on their sprinklers. Those things were on for five hours, and the sidewalk was a river. I was non-confrontational, but at the same time, public.”

Twenty minutes after he reported it, the sprinklers were shut off. But preschools wasting water aren’t the easy targets. What everyone really hates to see is the rich and famous hogging all the water. It just really seems to piss people off. 

So without further ado, here are five celebrities who have become targets of drought shaming:

1. Tom Selleck is the most recent celebrity to fall victim to drought shaming. The actor has been accused of taking water from a Ventura County water district fire hydrant for use on his ranch. “The Calleguas Municipal Water District filed a complaint against Selleck and his wife, Jillie, that says the couple has stolen water from the district in Thousand Oaks more than a dozen times,” reports KTLA 5 News. Selleck owns a 60-acre ranch with an avocado farm on part of the property.

2. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West haven’t been charged with stealing water from a fire hydrant (at least not yet), but their massive estate with a vibrant green lawn and what appears to be two swimming pools is enough to upset average Californians who feel the biggest water users need to cut back more than those whose water use pales in comparison.

3. Barbra Streisand was called out when aerial photos of her lush Malibu estate emerged on the Internet. In response, Streisand has let most of the lawn go brown, is installing a greywater system and rainwater cisterns, and she said she cut her water usage by more than 50 percent in the past few months, according to U.S. News.

4. Not even the beloved Oprah could avoid the fiery wrath of drought shamers. An article in Gizmodo, If We’re Going to Do Celebrity #DroughtShaming Let’s Do It Right, explains part of the problem in calling out celebrities, such as Oprah, is that people are using outdated photos of their property and have not looked into whether or not the celebrity in question has changed his or her habits during the drought.

5. Yes, that’s right. Californians even want the Playboy Mansion to face reality (at least when it comes to the drought).

As a bonus, I thought I’d throw in some rich people who aren’t famous, but have some awesomely bad responses to being called out for using too much of the state’s precious water resources. Steve Yuhas, a conservative talk radio host and resident of the uber wealthy community of Rancho Santa Fe, California, has made headlines for “throwing a big baby tantrum about drought cutbacks.” His community is part of the Santa Fe Irrigation District, the water district with the highest water use in the state.

The Washington Post reports:

People “should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful,” Yuhas fumed on social media. “We pay significant property taxes based on where we live,” he added in an interview. “And, no, we’re not all equal when it comes to water.”

Here’s another person it’s hard to feel bad for:

Gay Butler, quoted in the tweet above, is an interior decorator in Rancho Santa Fe, where the median income is $189,000. Butler says, “I think we’re being overly penalized, and we’re certainly being overly scrutinized by the world.”

Here’s her logic (via SF Weekly) for using all that water: “You could put 20 houses on my property, and they’d have families of at least four. In my house, there is only two of us, Butler said. So they’d be using a hell of a lot more water than we’re using.”

Hard to argue there … or is it?

Cole Mellino|July 9, 2015

Peabody Energy Asks Judge to Strike Lyrics of John Prine Song From Federal Lawsuit

Oh dear. Peabody Energy is foolishly going after the famous John Prine song, “Paradise” in federal court and asking a judge to strike song lyrics from federal court filings.

Here are the lyrics that cite Peabody’s role in strip mining Muhlenberg County in western Kentucky.

“And Daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County

“Down by the Green River where paradise lay?”

“Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking

Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away”

Peabody is picking on a great folk singer and a song that was released in 1971. The song has been covered by John Denver, Jimmy Buffet, John Fogerty and many others. Peabody’s stock price is down more than 85 percent over the last year, selling at less than $2 a share. It has been kicked out of the stock exchange because its stock has slumped so low. But apparently they have plenty of money to demand removal of John Prine song lyrics in federal court.

Have you ever seen a company better at demonstrating why they are very poor business managers? What a terrible way to spend the money of the few investors they have left. Share this unbelievable news if you are a big fan of Mr. Prine and support freedom of speech through the respected art of folk music.

Donna Lisenby|July 9, 2015

4 Brands Of Crayons Contain Asbestos, Report Finds

Several brands of crayons and toy detective kits have tested positive for asbestos, a known carcinogen, according to a report released this week by an environmental group that’s advocating for the government to crack down on the substance.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) Action Fund partnered with two independent laboratories to test for asbestos in crayons and children’s crime scene fingerprint kits purchased at national retailers. Four brands of crayons and two crime scene kits came back positive with trace elements of the substance — even though toy manufacturers have previously promised to make sure their products are free from the potentially harmful material.

Products that tested positive for asbestos were all manufactured in China and imported to the United States. The toys essentially contain microscopic asbestos fibers that children may end up inhaling as they use them.

The risk of asbestos exposure from the products tested — which include crayons marketed with the popular characters Mickey Mouse, the Power Rangers, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — is relatively low. But environmental researchers and health experts argue that children shouldn’t be around asbestos all, particularly since the government has acknowledged there’s no “safe” level of exposure.

“Asbestos in toys poses an unacceptable risk to children,” Dr. Philip Landrigan, a pediatrics professor at Mt. Sinai Hospital, explains in the EWG Action Fund’s report. Landrigan used to be a senior adviser to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on children’s environmental health.

Most people don’t become sick from low levels of asbestos, but prolonged exposure can lead to serious issues over time, according to the National Cancer Institute. Inhaling asbestos fibers can cause scar tissue in the lungs and may eventually increase the risk of breathing issues and lung cancer. When children are exposed from a young age, there’s more time for these effects to build and potentially influence their health decades down the line.

“Our goal is not to scare parents,” Sondra Lunder, one of the co-authors of the report, explained in an interview with Yahoo. “But our message is that asbestos will continue to be a problem until there are clear rules against it.”

Forty-four countries around the world have banned asbestos, but that list doesn’t include the United States. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) currently has no explicit ban on asbestos in crayons, and the nearly four-decade-old Toxic Substance Control Act relies on a high burden of evidence for regulation that has so far prevented the federal government from outlawing asbestos altogether.

A spokesperson for the CPSC told Scientific American that the agency is taking the new report “very seriously,” but “a lot of science will need to go into staff’s work to pass judgment as to whether regulatory action should taken.”

According to the EWG Action Fund’s report, federal regulators have been aware of the presence of asbestos in children’s toys since at least 2000.

Several U.S. lawmakers are pointing to the report’s findings to push for changing the current policies in this area. Sens. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), who have introduced legislation to make information about asbestos more transparent to U.S. consumers, said in a statement this week that the CPSC should issue an updated rule on the substance.

“Children’s playtime should be filled with fun, not asbestos,” the two senators said. “We need greater access to information about where asbestos is present in products children and families use every day.”

Tara Culp-Ressler|Jul 10, 2015

 

Environmental Links

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

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ConsRep 1507 A

We cannot command Nature except by obeying her. ~Francis Bacon

Announcements

Major announcement from Conservancy of Southwest Florida‏

Wednesday, we celebrated the planned expansion of the von Arx Wildlife Animal Hospital Outdoor Rehabilitation Area.

Dear Conservancy members and friends,

Wednesday, we celebrated the planned expansion of the von Arx Wildlife Animal Hospital Outdoor Rehabilitation Area.

More than 120 volunteers, staff and donors – along with Naples Mayor John Sorey and Collier County Commissioner Penny Taylor – gathered inside the Jeannie Meg Smith Theater.

Conservancy Board Chair Lynn Slabaugh, von Arx Wildlife Hospital Director Joanna Fitzgerald, Veterinarian PJ Deitschel and philanthropists Dolph and Sharon von Arx led the event. 

In the hours leading up to the celebration, Dolph von Arx was able to confirm with Florida Senator Garrett Richter that our grant application for $500,000 was approved by the state.

His announcement to the crowd, along with his matching commitment of $500,000, earned a well-deserved standing ovation! 

We are so pleased to share with you that construction costs are now 80 percent funded. 


Conservancy Board Chair Lynn Slaubaugh with major donors Sharon & Dolph von Arx

Joanna Fitzgerald and Dr. PJ Deitschel were again tremendous advocates and speakers. 

Everyone was moved by their heartfelt comments about the work at the wildlife hospital and how the outdoor facilities will improve the quality of care our patients receive.

Knowing that many of you are traveling and could not be with us, we would like to share a sample of the news coverage we received that day. 

NBC2 News | WINK News | Naples Daily News | The News-Press | Naples Herald

You can see an overview of the plans, renderings and photos on our website by clicking here.

Thank you for all you do to support the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. 

Sea turtle nests, skimmer chicks destroyed; FWC seeks information

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is seeking information about the identity of a man and woman responsible for knowingly driving an all-terrain vehicle through marked-off sea turtle and shorebird nesting areas – destroying five sea turtle nests and killing two black skimmer chicks. A third chick was injured and transported to a local wildlife rehabilitation center.

The incident occurred on Anna Maria Island between Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach on June 27 at about 10:30 p.m.

Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach police departments are also investigating.

Anyone having information about those responsible is urged to report it to the Wildlife Alert reward program anytime, day or night, by texting or emailing Tip@MyFWC.com or calling 888-404-3922. Those reporting wildlife and fisheries law violations may remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward upon the conviction of a violator.

Sea turtles, their eggs and their nests are protected under state and federal law. Under state law, destroying a sea turtle nest or eggs is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and/or five years in prison. Black skimmers are listed by the state as a Species of Special Concern.

For information on imperiled species and efforts to protect them, visit myfwc.com/imperiled species or call the FWC regional office in Lakeland at 863-648-3200.

FWC Marine Fisheries wants to hear from you at summer workshop series

Do you have ideas about how Florida’s marine fisheries should be managed?

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) wants to hear from you.

Whether you are a seafood aficionado who wants priority placed on getting fish to the dinner plate,

a recreational fisher who prefers to catch and release or a commercial fisher whose catch is destined for restaurants and homes around the state and beyond,

the FWC wants to know what marine fisheries issues concerned you.

This is your chance to let the FWC know what it is doing right, where you see opportunities for improvement, and what you think should be the state’s top priorities for marine fisheries management.

To gather this input and develop a better understanding of the public’s views on marine fisheries, the FWC will host several workshops across the state throughout the month of July.

The public is invited.

Groups that might be interested in participating include commercial and recreational fishers, wholesale dealers, those in the tourism industry, fishing guides, divers and concerned citizens.

At the meetings, staff will provide a brief presentation about statewide and regional fisheries management issues that are being worked on and

other potential issues that have been brought to our attention.

Then it will be your turn to fill in any gaps and let us know where you think the FWC should focus its efforts in the coming years.

Workshops are from 6 to 8 p.m. local time. Here is the schedule:

July 6:

  • Key West – Harvey Governmental Center, 1200 Truman Ave.
  • Naples – City Clerk’s Office, 735 8th St. S.

July 7:

  • Islamorada – Founders Park Community Center, 87000 Overseas Highway.
  • Punta Gorda – City Hall, Council Chambers, 326 W. Marion Ave.

July 8:

  • Coral Gables – Hyatt Regency Coral Gables, 50 Alhambra Plaza.  
  • St. Petersburg – Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, 100 Eighth Ave. SE, Karen A. Steidinger Auditorium.

July 9:

  • Jupiter – The River Center, Burt Reynolds Park, 805. U.S. Highway 1.
  • Crystal River – City Hall Council Chambers, 123 U.S. Highway 19.

July 13:

  • Pensacola – Sanders Beach-Corinne Jones Community Center, 913 South “I” St.

July 14:

  • Destin – Destin Community Center, 101 Stahlman Ave.

July 15:

  • Panama City – Gulf Coast State College, 2nd Floor Conference Room #232A, 5230 West U.S. Highway 98.

July 16:

  • Steinhatchee – Steinhatchee Community Center, 1013 Riverside Drive.

July 20:

  • Stuart – City Commission Chambers, 121 SW Flagler Ave.

July 21:

  • Fort Pierce – Garden Club of Fort Pierce, 911 Parkway Drive.

July 22:

  • Cocoa – Central Brevard Library, 308 Forrest Ave.

July 23:

  • Ormond Beach – City Hall, 22 South Beach St.

July 27:

  • Statewide Online Webinar.

July 28:

  • Carrabelle – City Hall, Cafeteria, 1001 Gray Ave.

July 30:

  • Jacksonville – Jacksonville Public Library: Southeast Library, 10599 Deerwood Park Blvd.

For information, visit www.MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater,” “Rulemaking” and “Public Workshops.”

JOIN THE XERCES SOCIETY  AT UPCOMING EVENTS THROUGHOUT THE U.S. THIS SUMMER

We hope you can join us at an event near you this summer! Xerces holds events in all 50 states and below is a list of upcoming events that we will be participating in. Many events require registration and some require a fee, so please check out the event details and reserve a spot soon if you are interested in participating. Please note that some events are not directly organized by Xerces, so registration and event questions may be handled by the hosting organization.   

NORTHEAST
Learn How to Attract Native Pollinators to Fields, Farms, and Orchards
Corning, NY
Thursday, August 27, 2015, 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Big Flats Plant Material Center
Click here for event details
MID-ATLANTIC
Save Our Monarchs
Hockessin, DE
Sunday, July 12, 2015, 12:30 PM – 3:30 PM
Mt. Cuba Center
Click here for event details
Migratory Dragonfly Short Course
Alexandria, VA
Saturday, August 22, 2015, 9:00 AM – 3:30 PM
Huntley Meadows Park
Click here for event details. Currently full, but you can add yourself to the waitlist.
SOUTHEAST
Native Meadow Tour: Buck Creek Serpentine Barrens
Cullowhee, NC
Wednesday, July 15, 2015, 1:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Cullowhee Native Plant Conference, Western Carolina University
Click here for event details
Common Native Bees Slideshow and Garden Foray
Chapel Hill, NC
Sunday, July 26, 2015, 2:30 PM – 4:30 PM
North Carolina Botanical Garden
Register by email to ncbgregistrar@unc.edu or phone 919-843-8524. Fee: $15 ($10 for NCBG members).
Click here for event details
Enhancing Diversity to Support Pollinators: Focus on Bees
Jamestown, NC
Tuesday, September 15, 2015, 7:00 PM
Sedgefield Garden Club, Griffin Recreation Center
Register by email to sedgefieldgardenclub@gmail.com or phone 336-420-5926.
Click here for event details
GREAT LAKES
Bumble Bee Survey at Pilot Knob Hill
Mendota Heights, MN
Friday, July 24, 2015
Pilot Knob Hill
Registration coming soon through Great River Greeening
Conservation Biological Control Short Course
Farmington, MN
Tuesday, July 28th, 2015, 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM
NRCS Farmington Field Office
Click here for event details
Pollinator Party: A Celebration of Bees
Minneapolis, MN
Thursday, July 30, 2015, 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Lyndale Park Gardens
Click here for event details
Bumble Bees of Minnesota
Brainerd, MN
Sunday, August 9, 2015, 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Northland Arboretum
Click here for event details
SOUTH CENTRAL
Official Summer Butterfly Count
Fort Worth, TX
Saturday, July 11, 2015, 7:30 AM – 2:00 PM CST
Fort Worth Nature Center
Please call 817-392-7410 with event questions
Click here for Nature Center info
PACIFIC NORTHWEST
Mussel Re-colonization Monitoring
Portland, OR
Friday, July 10, 2015, 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Westmoreland Park
Click here for event details
Mussel Survivorship Monitoring
Portland, OR
Monday, July 13, 2015, 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Westmoreland’s Union Manor
Click here for event details
Pollinator Passion Weekend
Everett, WA
Friday, July 24, 2015, 7:00 PM – 9:30 PM
WSU Snohomish County Extension
Click here for event details
Macroinvertebrate Training and Monitoring
Milwaukie/Portland, OR
Part 1: Thursday, August 20, 2015, 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Johnson Creek Watershed Council

Milwaukie, OR
Part 2: Sunday, August 23, 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM
Westmoreland Park
Portland, OR
Click here for event details. Currently full, but you can add yourself to the waitlist


Enter The 2015 FWF Photo Contest

The Florida Wildlife Federation is pleased to announce the launching of its new FWF Photo Contest. 

The FWF Photo Contest celebrates the enjoyment of taking photos in Florida’s great outdoors which promotes FWF’s mission to encourage citizens to participate in sustainable outdoor recreation.

Members, supporters and friends of Florida’s fish, wildlife and their habitats are encouraged to enter. 

Anyone over the age of 12 may enter the contest (with the exception of FWF staff members). 

Entrants have an opportunity to win $250 in cash, a tablet (Kindle Fire) and more! 

It has never been easier to capture images in Florida’s outdoors – Use your camera, smartphone, or tablet to document the wild world around you. 

Enter your most compelling nature images and photos of Florida today at www.snappiephoto.com.

Prizes

1st Place: $250 Cash

2nd Place: Kindle Fire ($99.00 value)

3rd-6th Place: An exciting book selection!

Plus the winning photos will be published in FWF’s newsletter and website!

Of Interest to All

Port Everglades wins approval to add cargo capacity

Channel deepening project would accommodate larger cargo ships

The Army Corps of Engineers approved a dredging plan to make Port Everglades deeper and wider after almost 20 years of reviewing the project and its environmental impact.

To service larger cargo ships, Port Everglades would deepen its main channels from 44 to 48 feet and would deepen and widen a stretch of the Intracoastal Waterway.

The project still requires funding from Congress to advance, but the port director, Steve Cernak, reportedly said Port Everglades will start immediately to design the project, using its own funds to do so.

The Corps of Engineers had been studying the project since 1996. Cernak told the Sun Sentinel that the design phase of the project would take two years and the construction phase another three years.

The project would cost $374 million and would create an estimated 4,700 construction jobs and 1,500 permanent jobs. Together with the expansion of the Panama Canal, deepening and widening Port Everglades would make it a more competitive export destination for Asian companies.

The project’s environmental impact has stirred controversy because it would destroy almost 15 acres of coral reef along the entrance channel to Port Everglades.

Cernak said a key element of the project design work will be environmental compensation for the coral destruction, according to the Sun Sentinel.

In a prepared statement, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson said, “This will allow the port to accommodate the bigger ships that will be coming through the expanded Panama Canal. And that will mean jobs and economic growth for the area. That said, we need to continue to be vigilant in applying the lessons we learned from PortMiami,”  which is dredging its main harbor channel from 42 to 50-52 feet.  

Mike Seemuth|Sun Sentinel|June 28, 2015

Environmentalists: Don’t Trust Army Corps on Port Everglades Dredging

After a decades-long approval process, a plan to deepen and widen Port Everglades was green-lit by the Army Corps of Engineers on Friday afternoon. Because the bigger port will accommodate bigger ships, local government officials are praising the expansion as an economic win, but environmental groups aren’t so enthusiastic. They are more concerned about the plan’s impact on coral reefs, seagrass, and mangroves — especially after it was discovered earlier this year that the similar PortMiami project unexpectedly destroyed large numbers of coral.

“This is the only barrier reef in the United States, and we’re dredging two ports 30 miles apart from each other without taking the proper precautions to make sure the reefs are safe,” Rachel Silverstein, executive director of Miami Waterkeeper, tells New Times.

Silverstein took over the nonprofit, which advocates for the watershed and marine wildlife, in June 2014. She remembers the PortMiami widening and deepening project was brought up as an issue her second day on the job. In the past year, she and her team have maneuvered to keep the project from moving forward until more studies are conducted on marine life — from researching the wildlife to conducting studies and sending concerned letters.

Officials tout the Port Everglades widening and deepening project because it will bring the county thousands of jobs (4,700 in construction and an additional 1,500 from the added cargo capacity) and $30 million in economic impact each year. Port Everglades is the third busiest cruise port and 11th busiest port for freight in the country. It is the leading port in Florida. The recently approved plans will deepen the main canals another eight feet (along with parts of the Intracoastal Waterway) to fit new models of supersized cargo ships from Europe and Asia. It is estimated to cost $374 million, paid through port user fees, federal appropriations, and state grants (not local taxes).

But earlier this year as PortMiami was dredged and expanded, government divers discovered that large numbers of coral were destroyed and smothered in sediment. The Army Corps of Engineers (the same group launching the Port Everglades plans) assured other government officials and environmental groups (like Miami Waterkeeper) that replanting the coral and wildlife would protect them from the underwater construction. But it was found that the Army Corps underestimated the amount of coral (particularly the endangered staghorn coral) in the area. As a result, those endangered species of coral were never moved from the impact area and replanted.

Now Silverstein’s team and other environmental groups fear that what happened at the Miami port project will repeat itself at Port Everglades. In multiple letters sent to the Army Corps and county officials, her team pointed out that more studies need to be conducted after the noted failure at the PortMiami project. “We’re writing letters reminding them they just had a disaster in Miami and they’re going to use the same methodology,” Silverstein says. “They didn’t change their plan at all.”

In letters and environmental studies, Silverstein’s team warns that the dredging impact area will exceed the estimated 150-meter area, that the Army Corps study underestimates the amount of coral and seagrass at risk (like in the PortMiami Project), and that the disposal plan for leaking dredging material is inadequate. However, their most damning point is that the Army Corps environmental impact studies should be deemed unreliable since failures of their PortMiami project studies led to the destruction of large numbers of endangered coral.

But the Army Corps maintains that it understands that coral reefs surrounding South Florida and the Caribbean are shrinking at record rates. In the approved Port Everglades project, the Army Crops plans to plant 103,000 nursery-raised corals in 18-acres of reef area. They also plan to relocate 11,500 existing corals and to restore sea grass and mangroves in West Lake Park. But, Silverstein points out, these plans have not been updated after the smothered coral was found in Biscayne Bay.

Silverstein and other environmental groups remain unconvinced. Silverstein’s group is leading a lawsuit against the Army Corps for violating the National Environmental Policy Act for the damage it caused to marine life in the Port Miami Project. Now that the Chief of Engineers report was signed, Silverstein is running out of options to contest the Port Everglades project but remains optimistic. The public can still bring forward a legal challenge.

“We definitely feel like the lessons weren’t learned, and we had to lose a whole reef in Miami. We want people to do better next time, but there has been no effort

Jess Swanson|June 29, 2015

Personal fireworks don’t mix with nesting shorebirds

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) asks the public to help protect beach-nesting shorebirds across the state this holiday weekend by giving them space and keeping personal fireworks off the beach.

Shorebirds are nesting on beaches along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida, with many still watching over flightless chicks during the busy Independence Day weekend. The snowy plover, least tern, black skimmer, American oystercatcher and Wilson’s plover are several of the state’s beach-nesting shorebird species that face conservation challenges and need people’s help to survive.

“Fireworks launched too close or toward a nesting colony can cause adult shorebirds to flush off their nests and chicks to scatter, leaving the chicks vulnerable to predators, the elements and the potential of getting accidentally stepped on by beach-goers,” said Nancy Douglass, who works on shorebird conservation for the FWC. “Leaving personal fireworks at home and giving the birds space are ways that residents can still enjoy the beach while helping to keep shorebirds and their chicks safe.”

Ways to protect beach-nesting shorebirds this holiday weekend and beyond:

  • Leave personal fireworks, including sparklers, at home and attend an official fireworks display instead.
  • Keep your distance, whether on the beach or paddling watercraft along the shore. If birds become agitated or leave their nests, you are too close. A general rule is to stay at least 300 feet from a nest. Birds calling out loudly or dive-bombing are giving signals for you to back off.
  • Never intentionally force birds to fly or run. They use up energy they need for nesting, and eggs or chicks may be left vulnerable to the sun’s heat or predators. Teach children not to chase shorebirds and kindly ask fellow beach-goers to do the same.
  • Respect posted shorebird nesting areas. Avoid posted sites and use designated walkways when possible.
  • It is best not to take pets to the beach, but if you do, keep them on a leash and avoid shorebird nesting areas.
  • Keep the beach clean and do not feed wildlife. Food scraps attract predators such as raccoons and crows, which can prey on shorebird chicks. Litter on beaches can entangle birds and other wildlife.
  • Spread the word. If you see people disturbing nesting birds, gently let them know how their actions may hurt the birds’ chances for survival. If they continue to disturb nesting shorebirds, report their activities to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922), #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone, or by texting Tip@MyFWC.com.

For more ways to share the beach with nesting shorebirds, go to MyFWC.com/Shorebirds and download the “Share the Beach with Beach-Nesting Birds” brochure. Additional information can also be found at the Florida Shorebird Alliance website: www.flshorebirdalliance.org.

It’s too Hot for Spot!

The weather in South Florida has been extremely hot and humid. Not only is the excessive heat hard on people, but it is particularly dangerous for pets. Dogs and cats can quickly suffer brain damage or die from a heatstroke! To safeguard your pet:

  1. NEVER leave your pet unattended in a parked car for any period of time–even with the windows open!
  2. When driving with your pet, put the air conditioning on so cold air can circulate throughout the car. Open windows on a scorching summer day, only blow hot, humid air, which does not help to cool your pet.
  3. Bring your pet inside during the daytime.
  4. ALWAYS provide cool and clean water.
  5. If your pet does begin to overheat, contact your veterinarian right away–every second counts!

From Broward County Pet Press

Tell Duke Energy: Stop Killing Birds and the Laws That Protect Them ‏

Duke Energy was fined $1 million under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for the deaths of more than 150 birds, including 14 Golden Eagles.

Duke Energy appears to be the culprit behind the recent spate of attacks on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).

Duke Energy—the nation’s largest electric utility company—has launched a vendetta against the MBTA after being slapped with a $1 million fine for killing more than 150 migratory birds, including 14 Golden Eagles, at one of its wind farms in Wyoming.

The $25 billion company has hired a lobbying firm in Washington to help eviscerate the law. Last month, Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC)—who received $23,000 in campaign contributions from Duke—introduced two measures that would cripple America’s oldest and most important bird protection law.

One of Rep. Duncan’s measures, embedded in the appropriations bill for the Commerce and Justice departments, has passed the full House. Another is pending as a rider on the Interior Department appropriations bill. Together they would make enforcement of the 97-year old law impossible.

If these restrictions had been in place when the BP Blowout occurred in 2010, BP would not have been liable for the deaths of an estimated one million birds killed in that disaster.

Millions of migratory birds die from man-made causes each year on their semi-annual journeys. Many of these deaths can be prevented with good planning and cost-effective preventive measures. This is a moment when we should be strengthening the MBTA and other conservation laws, not striking them from the books!

Please join me in requesting that Duke Energy stand down from this vendetta.

Thank you for your steadfast support for birds and their habitats.

Tell Duke Energy to stand down from its attacks on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

David Yarnold|President & CEO|National Audubon Society

New Bill Would Require Animal Testing

As concern and disapproval over animal testing continues to grow worldwide, new legislation introduced into Congress proposes taking a step back from progress, requiring animal testing of cosmetics in the U.S.

Introduced by California Senator Dianne Feinstein, and co-sponsored by Maine Senator Susan Collins, The Personal Care Products Safety Act (S. 1014) serves to increase the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) regulation over chemicals used in personal hygiene products and cosmetics. Among S.1014’s new regulations, the safety act requires that five ingredients found in personal care products must be tested annually for consumer safety.

Without the U.S government currently requiring animal tested cosmetics, cosmetic companies can legally choose to perform product safety tests utilizing the many humane animal-testing alternatives available. If passed, this act would reverse all progress made within the U.S towards cruelty free cosmetics by requiring companies to perform tests on animals which are both physically and psychologically damaging.

Click here to learn more and take action.

Yellowstone warns of bison attacks

Bison have attacked four people at Yellowstone National Park so far this season, prompting the park to issue a reminder that visitors are responsible for their own safety and should stay at least 25 yards from wildlife.

In separate incidents, four people were injured after getting too close to bison, park officials said. In the first two incidents, visitors to the Old Faithful area were injured and flown by helicopter to hospitals.

On May 15, a 16-year-old Taiwanese girl was gored by a bison while posing for a photo near Old Faithful, CNN reported. On June 2, a 62-year-old Australian man was seriously injured after reportedly getting within 5 feet of a bison while taking pictures.

On June 23, an off-duty concession employee came upon a bison while walking off trail after dark in the Lower Geyser Basin area. And on Wednesday, a 68-year-old woman from Georgia encountered a bison near the Storm Point trail. As she passed the animal, it charged and gored her.

Four incidents in less than two months is a lot more than usual, Yellowstone spokeswoman Amy Bartlett told CNN.

“We usually have one to two incidents per year,” she said.

Nearly 5,000 bison live in Yellowstone, located mostly in Wyoming. It’s the only place in the United States where the animals have lived continuously since prehistoric times, according to CNN. With the July 4 weekend, U.S. national parks enter their busiest season, the network reported.

“Visitors should remember that while many of the bison and elk in the park may appear tame, they are wild animals and should never be approached,” Ye l l o w s t o n e N a t i o n a l Pa r k officials said. “Bison can sprint three times faster than humans can run and are unpredictable and dangerous.”

Park officials said visitors should stay at least 25 yards from all large animals, including bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose and coyotes, and at least 100 yards from bears and wolves.

“Visitors must give the animal at least 25 yards by either safely going around the animal or turning around, altering their plans, and not approaching the animal,” officials said.

Yamiche Alcindor|USA TODAY

 

Calls to Action

  1. Sign the petition calling for the protection of the Florida panther – here
  2. Demand justice for wild animal set on fire by tourist – here
  3. Save Endangered Wildlife From Rand Paul Attack – here
  4. Defend Bryce Canyon and Grand Staircase Escalante from the devastating impacts of a dirty coal strip mine – here
  5. Save Endangered Wildlife from Rand Paul Attack – here

Birds and Butterflies

Just Say No To Butterflies and Weddings

Now that it’s high season for weddings, it seems a good time to remind folks that releasing butterflies at weddings is generally a bad idea. 

From reading the news, it doesn’t sound like Will and Kate are doing it, but lots of folks probably will be releasing live butterflies at their weddings this spring.

It’s a way try to make the day special and connected to nature—and it sure seems more appealing than throwing rice or flower petals at the ceremony’s end. As one advertisement proclaims, the effect is “uniquely romantic, genuinely moving, and unforgettable.” Unfortunately, such releases also may be harmful.  And not just to the butterflies set free but to the other butterflies native to the location as well.

On one side of the debate are the people who breed butterflies for profit and those who want butterflies for their weddings. On the opposite side are the conservationists who consider the practice a form of environmental pollution.

The butterflies released at weddings more often than not come from the several dozen butterfly farms or ranches across the country. These establishments raise thousands of butterflies each year and ship them overnight in special containers with the insects either wrapped individually in small envelopes or packed together in a decorative box. A typical shipment will include anywhere from twelve butterflies to hundreds, with Monarchs and Painted Ladies being the most popular species.

At a cost of up to $10 per insect, not including shipping, live butterflies are certainly more expensive than rice or flowers. But the added expense doesn’t discourage some couples, especially when they hear that the butterflies released at their wedding will enhance the environment. The act can even be considered benevolent — that is, returning captive creatures to their natural habitat.

Conservationists, though, contest the claims made by butterfly breeders. Aside from a concern that the released butterflies will take food from the mouths of native butterflies, conservationists fear that released butterflies will introduce disease into their native counterparts and alter the native butterflies’ survival mechanism should the two populations interbreed.

Monarchs in Southern California, for example, don’t migrate to avoid a winter chill. So what happens when a Monarch raised in Southern California is released somewhere else? Will it know where to fly when fall arrives? And what will happen when its offspring face their first winter?

Among the organizations opposed to ceremonial butterfly releases are the American Museum of Natural History, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. Yet the practice seems only to be gaining in popularity. The best conservationists can hope for at this time is that, like most fads, this one soon loses its appeal.

So if you know anyone planning a wedding this spring or summer, please share the word.  Your local butterflies will thank you!

eNature|June 22, 2015

 Florida Panthers

Florida Panther Fights for Survival Again–This Time in Washington D.C.

The Florida panther has made a dramatic recovery. Whether it will continue to survive now depends on whether we protect its shrinking habitat.

There’s a small plane circling me a thousand feet up and its annoying noise makes it difficult for me to hear the Cape Sable sparrows I’m trying to census for my research. On these April mornings at sunrise, there’s usually nothing but bird songs here in the middle of the Everglades.

Then I understand why the plane is there: its crew are tracking a Florida panther carrying a transmitter and the animal must be close to me. What a thrill! This big cat almost went extinct, and did go extinct in Everglades National Park. It’s presence near me is wonderful—it’s back, testimony to a very successful and unusual conservation effort.

Whether the panther can survive in the long term is now the subject of a battle over a key provision of the law that has kept it alive–the Endangered Species Act.

florida-panther-picture.jpg

Photo by Stuart L. Pimm

Florida panthers once occurred across the southeastern U.S., but their range shrank as human settlement expanded. By the time it was declared a Federally Endangered species in 1967, only a few individuals remained in southwest Florida.

With such few individuals, soon every cat was related to each other. And with inbreeding came a variety of genetic problems that reduced the animals’ ability to reproduce. “The only solution was to bring in ‘new blood’–female panthers from Texas,” Sonny Bass of Everglades National Park told me. “It was very controversial, but it worked very well indeed.”

Bass and colleagues released eight Texas females in 1995. “Five bred, and now most of the panthers have a Texas ancestor,” Bass said. Their offspring spread more widely and recolonized Everglades National Park, including the animal near me as I did my survey. [Read the National Geographic News story about this: Texas Cats Help Triple Florida Panther Population.]

Bass should know. “In the early days of my panther work, I was in a small plane seven days a week tracking animals,” he said. Before and after the Texas introductions there was a major effort to find and radio-collar every cat and to follow its movements.

A lot of panthers–especially males–die on roads and at night. Five have been killed on the roads this year, a couple of dozen in each of 2007 and 2008.

As cats disperse looking for new territories they cross roads. Nothing in their evolution prepares them for cars traveling at high speed.

While some of the cats moved back into the National Park, most live in the western Everglades, in the region known as Big Cypress. They are generally more wooded.

Panthers in Immediate Jeopardy

It’s these cats that are in immediate jeopardy. There are many new towns planned–one to be called “Big Cypress”–part of the sprawl of new housing developers plan to build inland from Florida’s southwest coast.

Joe Browder is the long-term environmental leader who brought the land now called Big Cypress National Preserve back into the U.S. National Park system. He explained to me the reason why Sierra Club, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, and other groups have recently asked the Secretary of the Interior to assure that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service does not reject the groups’ petition to designate key areas in southwestern Florida as “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act.

“Secretary of Interior Salazar should designate critical habitat for the panther because designation not only defines those areas needed for the species to survive, but also provides some later opportunity to discourage developers from building in the wrong places. Designation is an essential first step to make the planning process effective,” Browder told me.

“Without designation, there’s a much higher probability that developers will build their roads and cities on lands the panthers need, so the open space in the planned development may make the real estate more attractive, but won’t protect the panther from traffic deaths and loss of prey.”

    “To escape extinction, the panther needs the right lands protected.”

As someone who studies species extinction–and how to prevent them–I share Browder’s concerns. The panthers in south Florida have had a miraculous initial recovery, with the help of some sexy Texans. But to escape extinction the panther needs the right lands protected, something that can be done and still leave developers room to build new communities.

The Florida panther is now the only large cat east of the Mississippi. The wild areas of Florida would be somehow just so much tamer were the last one to die in a head-on collision with a car on a Federal highway.

David Maxwell Braun|Stuart L. Pimm|National Geographic|June 6, 2009

Endangered Species

Madagascar’s lemurs cling to survival

The famous lemurs of Madagascar face such severe threats to their survival that none of them may be left in the wild within 25 years.

That stark warning comes from one of the world’s leading specialists in the iconic animals.

Deforestation and hunting are taking an increasing toll, according to Professor Jonah Ratsimbazafy, director of GERP, a center for primate research in Madagascar.

“My heart is broken,” he told the BBC, “because the situation is getting worse as more forests disappear every year. That means the lemurs are in more and more trouble.”

So far 106 species of lemur have been identified and nearly all of them are judged to be at risk of extinction, many of them critically endangered.

The habitats they depend on – mostly a variety of different kinds of forest – only exist in Madagascar.

“Just as fish cannot survive without water, lemurs cannot survive without forest, but less than 10% of the original Madagascar forest is left,” said Prof Ratsimbazafy, who is also a co-vice chair of the Madagascar primates section of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“I would believe that within the next 25 years, if the speed of the deforestation is still the same, there would be no forest left, and that means no lemurs left in this island.”

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Deforestation and hunting in Madagascar are taking a devastating toll on lemurs

The pressure to clear the forests comes from a rapidly growing but extremely poor population seeking to open up new farmland. At least 92% of people in Madagascar live on less than the equivalent of $2 a day.

A form of slash-and-burn agriculture known as “tavi” sees trees felled and undergrowth scorched to make way for fields of rice and other crops.

Video of one recent forest clearance shows an apocalyptic scene of an entire hillside of charred stumps and smoldering vegetation.

In one supposedly protected area I visited in eastern Madagascar, a sign announcing a prohibition on tree felling stood ignored amid new plantations of banana palms and maize.

Conservationists have long argued that slash-and-burn farming is needlessly damaging, leaving the soil unproductive after a few years, and that more intensive forms of cultivation would allow more forests to be left standing.

The government of Madagascar has recently confirmed that as much as 10% of the country is now earmarked in some way for wildlife – from national parks to what are called protected areas – but the rules are often not enforced at a local level.

Prof Ratsimbazafy said: “We have a struggle. Sometimes there is engagement on paper but sometimes it’s not in reality because on the ground there is still deforestation.”

He recalled how a new species of mouse lemur had once been discovered and identified in a forest only for that land to be “turned into a field of cassava” two years later.

The only long-term solution, according to Prof Ratsimbazafy, is to engage communities and persuade them that the forests – and the lemurs – have a value that is worth safeguarding.

In one protected area, Maromizaha, his organisation, GERP, is hiring local people to keep watch over the forest and to act as guides for tourists, making the point that the lemurs can worth more alive than dead.

It is also supporting new ventures in the local village including fish-farming and bee-keeping, and teaching new techniques for rice-growing that do not require constant expansion into the forest.

Nearby, a reserve known as Mitsinjo is run by a cooperative group set up by guides who encourage eco-tourism and ensure that the lemurs are safe – a model of management widely seen as promising.

But there is an additional threat to the lemurs that stems from persistent poverty and widespread hunger – a continuing demand for bushmeat.

Although it is illegal to kill lemurs, poachers are still setting traps for the animals or shooting them, either for their own consumption or to be sold to others.

There are no reliable estimates for the scale of the losses but in one vulnerable area it is thought that as many as 10% of the population of lemurs could be killed ever year.

A local NGO called Madagasikara Voakajy recently investigated the bushmeat trade and photographed lemurs being hunted, butchered and eaten.

The organisation’s director, Julie Razafimanahaka, told us that her researchers persuaded a hunter to allow them to observe him searching for the largest of Madagascar’s lemurs, the Indri, famous for their size and black, white and grey fur.

“My team met with the hunter and followed him in the forest and saw him using guns and shooting the Indris and bringing back five to the shops and small restaurants.

“Families were then cooking and eating them. That was very shocking.”

Taboos broken

Although in the past it has been taboo or what is called “fady” for local communities to eat lemurs, the increasing mobility of the population has brought in outsiders who do not care about old traditions.

In one gold-mining area, new arrivals persuaded local people to hunt Indri for them. And when the locals saw that breaking the taboo did not bring them bad luck, they too started eating the lemurs.

What had begun as a research project by Madagasikara Voakajy was quickly switched into a campaign to try to save the lemurs with an education campaign in schools.

According to Julie Razafimanahaka, a survey of opinion among children conducted after the campaign found a clear difference in attitude towards the lemurs.

“We have seen that children that have been educated are more aware of the protection status of the lemurs and they have a more positive perception so they would be sad if the lemurs were dying and they would be happy to see one.

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“Whereas children at schools where we didn’t do the education still thought lemurs were bushmeat – they thought they could eat them and most didn’t care if there were lemurs or not because they’re just like any animals.”

Meanwhile another study into lemurs came up with a finding that complicates the campaign to save the animals: children that were fed lemurs suffered less malnutrition than those that were not.

The most recent comprehensive survey of lemurs was published in 2013 by the IUCN, the Bristol Conservation and Science Group and Conservation International.

It concluded that 94% of lemur species were at risk – an increase from 66% only seven years earlier – and highlighted the urgent need to engage local people, foster eco-tourism and maintain a permanent research presence in the forests.

But the report also signaled that breeding colonies should be set up to ensure that the animals at least survive in captivity, if not in the wild, as a strategy of last resort.

David Shukman|Science editor|BBC News

Gombe Science Roundup

Next month, Dr. Jane Goodall and the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) will be celebrating a very special anniversary…the 55th anniversary of the moment Jane Goodall first stepped into the forests of Gombe and began her ground-breaking research and lifelong commitment to saving chimpanzees and the forests they call home.

The Gombe Stream Research Center in Tanzania is home to one of the longest running studies of chimpanzee behaviour in the entire world. Over the past 55 years, Dr. Goodall and the numerous scientists and students who have followed in her footsteps have documented the stories of Gombe’s incredible chimpanzee families. 

Now, even five decades after research at Gombe began, amazing findings are still coming to light.

You can read about Gombe by visiting JGI’s chimpanzee blog.

P.S. Stay tuned for more information about JGI’s Gombe Stream Research Center before Gombe’s 55th anniversary on July 14, 2015!

IUCN Red List update shows conservation successes and failures

The latest Red List update from the IUCN reveal both conservation successes and failures.

Conservation action has increased the populations of the Iberian Lynx and the Guadalupe Fur Seal, while the African Golden Cat, the New Zealand Sea Lion and the Lion are facing increasing threats to their survival.

The IUCN Red List now includes 77,340 assessed species, of which 22,784 are threatened with extinction.

The loss and degradation of habitat are identified as the main threat to 85 per cent of the species described on the IUCN Red List, with illegal trade and invasive species also being key drivers of population decline.

“This IUCN Red List update confirms that effective conservation can yield outstanding results,” says Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General. “Saving the Iberian Lynx from the brink of extinction while securing the livelihoods of local communities is a perfect example.

“But this update is also a wake-up call, reminding us that our natural world is becoming increasingly vulnerable.

“The international community must urgently step up conservation efforts if we want to secure this fascinating diversity of life that sustains, inspires and amazes us every day.”

Following 60 years of decline, the population of the Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) has increased from 52 mature individuals in 2002 to 156 in 2012.

The species has now moved from the Critically Endangered to Endangered category on the IUCN Red List.

“This is fantastic news for the Iberian Lynx, and excellent proof that conservation action really works,” says Urs Breitenmoser, Co-Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Cat Specialist Group.

“However, the job is far from finished and we must continue our conservation efforts to secure future range expansion and population growth of the species.”

While the Guadalupe Fur Seal (Arctocephalus townsendi), which was twice thought to be Extinct due to hunting in the late 1800s and 1920s, has now improved from the Near Threatened category to Least Concern, thanks to habitat protection and the enforcement of laws such as the USA Marine Mammal Protection Act.

However, several mammal species are facing increased threats from hunting and habitat loss, including the extremely reclusive African Golden Cat (Caracal aurata).

This species has moved from Near Threatened category to the Vulnerable category due to population decline.

The New Zealand Sea Lion (Phocarctos hookeri) – one of the rarest sea lions in the world – has moved from Vulnerable to Endangered, mainly due to disease, habitat modification caused by fishing, and accidental death as a result of bycatch.

The species has never recovered from the severe population depletion which occurred due to commercial hunting early in the 19th century.

Despite successful conservation action in southern Africa, the Lion (Panthera leo) remains listed as Vulnerable at a global level due to declines in other regions.

The West African subpopulation has been listed as Critically Endangered due to habitat conversion, a decline in prey caused by unsustainable hunting, and human-lion conflict.

Rapid declines have also been recorded in East Africa – historically a stronghold for lions – mainly due to human-lion conflict and prey decline.

Trade in bones and other body parts for traditional medicine, both within the region and in Asia, has been identified as a new, emerging threat to the species.

“It is encouraging to see several species improve in status due to conservation action,” says Jane Smart, Director, IUCN’s Global Species Program.

“However, this update shows that we are still seeing devastating losses in species populations.

“The IUCN Red List is the voice of biodiversity telling us where we need to focus our attention most urgently – this voice is clearly telling us that we must act now to develop stronger policy and on-the-ground conservation programs to protect species and halt their declines.”

from wildlife extra

New Pesticide Poisons Nectar — Save the Bees ‏

A new poison may kill bees by turning sweet nectar deadly, and the EPA is letting it come to market. Our lawsuit is the only thing standing in the way of this toxic threat to bees.

It’s called bicyclopyrone, or BCP — a dangerous new “systemic” chemical cocktail that uses a plant’s own circulatory system to pass poison directly into nectar and pollen. BCP is likely to make nectar deadly to bees, and to have potentially lethal effects on hundreds of endangered species. The EPA has acknowledged that BCP — sold as the weed killer “Acuron” by Syngenta — could kill bees. Despite the unprecedented drop in bee populations, they’ve given it the green light. That’s why we’re going to court.

But it doesn’t stop with this one killer. In the largest action of its kind, we’re also suing to have more than 50 dangerous pesticides reviewed for their effect on endangered species. We intend to force the EPA to do its job and protect pollinators from dangerous poisons.

We’re making progress. In one of the biggest victories over the chemical industry to date, we just reached a landmark agreement with the EPA to finally analyze how two of the most widely used chemicals in America, atrazine and glyphosate (better known as Monsanto’s Roundup), may hurt 1,500 endangered animals and plants.

But we still have a long fight ahead: There are more than 1,000 chemicals in circulation that have yet to be evaluated for their effect on bees. With an extinction crisis in full swing, we must save these tiny creatures that play such a crucial role in our environment and help to pollinate the world’s food supply.

Help us to protect bees from those who would turn nectar into poison. Please Give today.

Kierán Suckling|Executive Director|Center for Biological Diversity

UN General Assembly Will Negotiate Treaty to Protect the High Seas

After years of working through United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process, the 27 non-profits that make up the High Seas Alliance finally convinced the United Nations General Assembly to begin work on a treaty to better protect the High Seas and its marine biodiversity through a legally-binding treaty. The U.N. member states adopted the historic resolution on Friday, June 19, marking the shift to a new era of increased ocean governance of the High Seas.

Turtle Island Restoration Network is a member of the High Seas Alliance working to protect the High Seas. “This is an important step forward to protecting the marine biodiversity of the oceans,” said Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “It is way past time to stop the ‘wild west’ mentality that has allowed the oceans high seas to be exploited without control.”

The High Seas make up nearly 50 percent of the Earth’s surface and are comprised of the open ocean that lies outside of any country’s exclusive economic zone. The High Seas do not lie within the boundaries of any one country’s governance, and begin about 200 miles from a country’s shoreline.

For many decades, this zone has been subject only to the out-of-date U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which has not kept pace with technological developments like off shore oil and gas exploration or new fishing practices. The High Seas are sometimes compared to the ‘Wild West’ because they lack central governance and there is no protection of marine biodiversity within them.

“The High Seas are the heart of the ocean, and as such are in urgent need of increased protections,” said Joanna Nasar, director of communications with Turtle Island. “We look forward to the day when industrialization and fishing on the High Seas is regulated as it should be.”

The General Assembly’s resolution builds on recommendation from a U.N. working group on feasibility of a treaty. The resolution lays out a two year timeline for governments and panels to study and research options for the treaty, as well as a series of ‘preparatory committee’ meetings starting in early 2016 and reporting back to the U.N. in 2017. Given this timeline, a treaty could be expected in 2018.

Read the U.N. High Seas Resolution here (.pdf)

Joanna Nasar|Communications Manager|Turtle Island Restoration Network|June 22nd, 2015

Mangroves razed for boat show in Florida

MIAMI — New revelations that a long strip of protected mangrove trees were illegally razed amid preparations for the 2016 Miami International Boat Show has outraged Florida environmentalists.

The lost trees, critical to the marine ecosystem, were hacked away in mid-May by a Miami city contractor in advance of the five-day show expected to draw about 100,000 attendees and 1,500 boats.

Environmental activists said in a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers that staging the show in an environmentally sensitive region could violate a number of federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.

The federal agency is weighing permits for the boat show, slated to be held in February in Miami Marine Stadium.

“You’ve got sea grasses, corals, manatees, all sorts of protected birds,” said Mayra Peña Lindsay, mayor of nearby Key Biscayne, one of the show’s staunchest opponents.

The affluent city, on an island just outside Miami city limits, has hired a public relations firm to demand the National Marine Manufacturers Association move its event elsewhere.

But the city of Miami, which has agreed to replant the trees that could take more than five years to grow to full size, continues to support the boat show.

“It was an isolated incident,” said Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado.

The more than 300 feet of mangroves were razed from a beach abutting the Miami Marine Stadium, a historic yet long dormant seaside venue that once hosted ocean races and concert performances on floating stages.

Nonprofit organizations and the city of Miami have been working for years to revive the stadium, which was shuttered after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Miami agreed this year to spend $16 million on an extensive overhaul.

The boat show, celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2016, committed several million dollars to improving the structure.

“Boaters are some of the original conservationists,” said Ellen Hopkins, spokeswoman for the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

Reuters|June 29, 2015

[I wonder if they will treat it as an isolated incident the next time a home owner illegally trims his mangroves. I guess it is not illegal if the people that make and enforce the laws are the ones breaking them.]

Feds Halt Red Wolf Reintroductions, Stall Recovery Plan

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday that it’s dramatically downsizing the recovery program for endangered red wolves — stopping their reintroduction from captive-breeding facilities into the wild. Simultaneously the Service is conducting another review that could weaken the red wolf recovery program, despite input from independent scientists saying it needed expansion. Last year the Service also eliminated the program’s “recovery coordinator” position.

The red wolf — smaller than a gray wolf, but larger than a coyote, with tawny reddish fur — was declared endangered in 1973, and 17 wild wolves were captured for captive breeding. The subsequent reintroduction of captive-bred red wolves is considered one of the most innovative, successful programs to restore a critically endangered carnivore. Wolf releases began in North Carolina in the mid-1980s; the current population stands at about 112 wild wolves.

“Make no mistake, this is the Service abandoning endangered red wolves while they stand at the brink of extinction,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Brett Hartl. “The agency can dress it up in bureaucrat-speak, but there’s no avoiding the fact that the recovery program for the red wolf is being left to wither on the vine.”

Read more in our press release.

5,000 Acres Protected for Super-rare Las Vegas Butterfly

The Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday protected 5,214 acres of critical habitat in Nevada for a tiny, extremely rare butterfly — the Mount Charleston blue — of which fewer than 100 are known to remain, making it one of the most endangered butterflies in the world. It’s found only on the upper elevations of the mountain for which it’s named, about 35 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Mount Charleston blues are threatened by fire suppression and recreational development; they were first identified in 1928, and conservationists first petitioned for their protection in 2005 — but the species wasn’t protected till 2013, under the Center for Biological Diversity’s historic 757 species agreement. These butterflies are less than an inch long — the males iridescent blue and gray, the females a drabber gray-brown.

So far under the Center’s landmark 2011 settlement with the Fish and Wildlife Service, 142 species have gained Endangered Species Act protection and another 10 have been proposed for protection.

Read more in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

For Communities in Pakistan, Snow Leopard Brings Prosperity

Kashif Syed has just joined our Pakistan partner organization, the Snow Leopard Foundation, as Communications Coordinator. In his first report for us, he sheds light on why live snow leopards are once again considered to be valuable by communities in Chitral. Welcome to the team, Kashif!

Fareed, an elder from a community participating in snow leopard conservation in the remote area of Chitral located in Khyber Pakhtunkhaw, is committed to saving this elusive cat. He recalls a memory from three years ago when he witnessed this spirited and dignified creature. He explains that it looked at him with fearless and proud eyes and walked gallantly as it vanished in nearby mountains. Fareed declares that their community has always known that a snow leopard is only valuable if it is allowed to live.

a wild snow leopard in Pakistan

A wild snow leopard, caught on camera in Pakistan. Photo: Snow Leopard Foundation

The great Chitral, accessed via the Karakorum Highway (KKH, N-45), is home to many wild snow leopards. For those who have not yet travelled to Chitral, it is a grueling journey made better by stunning scenery as you follow the river and valleys. The Snow Leopard Foundation (SLF), with the assistance of local conservancies, government personnel and generous donors, puts its efforts to saving the snow leopard with the community’s support.

It is already in the tales of these mystic valleys that the snow leopard, which is locally called purdum, actually brings wealth and happiness if it tries to harm your animals. Members of the community even call their children names like Purdum Khan in tribute to the species.

This creature brings vaccinations for our animals and allows the opportunity for enterprise, livelihood, mastering of skills and employment for the women. It gives education to our children, enables us to grow food and above all PROSPERITY to the communities.

These realizations encourage the local people to shift their behaviors and attitudes towards snow leopards.

Khurshid Ali, SLF office head in Chitral, said, “One reason for the emergence of leopards and other wild animals from their original habitats, into areas inhabited by people, is the shrinking of the habitats due to the pressure of the increasing human population. This can lead to clearance of forests for farming and timber-cutting. More can be done about this particular problem. A more humane view of the leopards has to be taken as they leave their areas not because they are killers but because they are hungry.”

Our SLF Director in Islamabad, Dr. Ali Nawaz, committed to strive to do our best to protect Pakistan’s estimated 200- 420 endangered snow leopards.

Through a community-based conservation approach, we are helping the women in local families increase their families’ quality of life by training them to make traditional handicrafts, such as beautifully embroidered cotton napkins.

These products are then sold nationally and internationally which increases a family’s household earnings.

Reducing livestock loss to disease helps herders and communities tolerate living with predators.

In a typical year a herder family will lose ten times more livestock to disease than to snow leopard attacks. Successful results from our livestock vaccination programs go a long way to provide an environment that is receptive to our conservation efforts.

As we follow the footprints of the snow leopard, we as conservationists can recognize the basic needs of the communities, and how they are closely associated with the wellbeing of this magnificent endangered creature.

Kashif Syed|SLF Pakistan|Communications Coordinator|July 1, 2015

Rare Red Wolves Suffer Another Tragic Loss as Feds Scale Back Recovery

Just a week ago, wolf advocates came out in force criticizing the authorized killing of an endangered red wolf mother and now wildlife officials have dealt them another blow with an announcement that they will be stopping reintroductions until the a review of the recovery program is completed.

Red wolves once roamed vast portions of the southeast, but were essentially wiped out by the 1960s due to habitat loss and rampant predator control programs. In 1973 they were declared an endangered species and efforts began to restore them through a captive breeding program. In 1987 releases began in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in the hope that they would lead to the return of the species in the wild.

Since then, their range has expanded to include 1.7 million acres covering five counties in northeast North Carolina – the only state where they now exist. Today, even with decades of protection they are still considered one of the rarest mammals in North America and one of the most endangered canid species in the world.

One would think the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) would be doing everything in its power to ensure the survival of this species, as it is required to do under the Endangered Species Act, but instead it has allowed them to continue to die and is working against progress to save them.

Last week the agency authorized the killing of a wolf mother on private property, despite knowing she was showing denning behavior. The whereabouts and condition of any pups she may have had are now unknown.

“The loss of this mother wolf is yet another blow to the highly endangered red wolf,” said Red Wolf Coalition, Inc. executive director Kim Wheeler. “It’s a blow not just to that pack, but to the entire population. That mother’s remaining puppies are in danger now, and her future puppies will never be born. In a small population like this one, that’s a significant loss.”

Following the death, conservation organizations called on the FWS to take actions that will ensure the survival of this species, but this week the agency served up yet another blow with an announcement that it would be scaling back the recovery program and stopping any further reintroductions of captive wolves into the wild until it completes a review and assesses “the feasibility of recovery for the species.”

Cindy Dohner, the agency’s Southeast regional director, told the Charlotte Observer that allowing them to go extinct in the wild is “one of many possibilities.”

“More study of the red wolf recovery program is not needed ― we know how to recover and restore red wolves to the landscape,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “What is needed right now is real leadership from the Fish and Wildlife Service to reintroduce more wolves in more places in the Southeast ― and for the agency to stop appeasing radical right-wing elements in North Carolina that despise wildlife and want to see the Endangered Species Act repealed.”

Last year an independent review that was conducted at the request of the FWS already concluded they need to expand and update the program to save red wolves, not cut it back, but state wildlife officials still pushed for measures that would end the recovery program and require the FWS to remove wolves released on private lands and now federal officials are moving towards giving up on them and allowing more to be killed.

It would be a tragedy to see these wolves disappear from their rightful place on the landscape because of intolerance and inaction on our part and a hit to endangered species who the FWS is entrusted with protecting, not abandoning.

Alicia Graef|July 2, 2015

Wild & Weird

Scientists in Antarctica photographed a new species of crab. It’s extraordinary he even exists.

View image on Twitter

Don’t hassle the ‘Hoff’ crab http://mnatu.re/14Kt5Cf Learn more about the hairy-chested crustacean.

That’s Kiwa tyleri. Otherwise known as the hairy yeti crab. A brand-new, newly officially identified species.

Well, new to us. He’s been around a while. Which is astonishing because he lives in conditions that would mean instant, terrifying death to nearly any other creature on planet Earth.

Douglas Main of Newsweek explains:

“This crab prefers temperatures between 95 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit, but finding water that meets these conditions isn’t easy. To do so, the animal must hunker down very close to the mouths of hydrothermal vents, which spew out water as hot as 715 degrees. Due to the high pressure and frigidity of the surrounding water, though, the temperature quickly drops off, [lead author Sven] Thatje says. So they must spend their lives in a delicate balancing act, for if they get too close to the vent they will be scalded, but if they stray too far they will freeze.”

There are quite a few species of yeti crab out there, but Kiwa tyleri is the first bad enough to make its home in the icy Southern Ocean.

If he takes just a few steps in one direction, he gets toasted to death by the vent. If he takes just a few steps in the other, he’s instantly exposed to some of the coldest water on Earth.

Needless to say, he has to be very careful.

Eric March

125 pound Alligator Snapping Turtle

FWRI researchers captured amazing underwater footage of North America’s largest freshwater turtle after sampling and releasing a 125-pound male alligator snapping turtle in the Suwannee River! The team had previously marked quite a few juvenile snappers at a particular location on the river, and they were hoping to recapture some of them and collect growth data. Researchers checked the traps the next day and found 15 alligator snappers which was a record catch for the group!

Extreme Heat Triggers Sex Change in Lizards

Climate change may cause gender switching. Now, there’s a line to motivate conservative politicians to cut carbon pollution.

Let me explain. A team of ecologists has proven that temperature, not just genetics, plays a role in determining the sex of Australian bearded dragons. Their findings were published today in the journal Nature.

This study is coming out at just the right time, when public figures like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox have triggered a nationwide reassessment of what makes a person male or female. The discussion doesn’t map perfectly onto the reptilian world, but it is relevant. In humans, it has long been assumed that chromosomes dictate biological sex. Women have two X chromosomes, and men have one X and one Y. (Variations exist, like XXY and XYY, but these are rare enough to be considered anomalies by the medical community.) Since chromosomes determine biological sex in humans, it would seem logical that they do the same job in other vertebrates.

The genetics initially supported this assumption. Bearded dragons, for example, have two sex chromosomes, Z and W. Individuals with one of each are always female. All male dragons are ZZ, buthere’s where it gets tricky—not all ZZ dragons are male. There are ZZ males and ZZ females.

Herpetologists have speculated for years that temperature plays some role in determining whether a ZZ individual hatches as a male or female. The new study, however, is the first to prove that the temperature at which eggs incubate is one (although perhaps not the only) environmental factor. Geneticists refer to this phenomenon as a “temperature override.” This feature is not unique to bearded dragons: several other reptiles, as well as some amphibians and fish, also have temperature overrides. But it is not the norm, and it was previously considered a lower evolutionary trait that existed only in creatures perceived as primitive. Biologists now concede that temperature overrides have disappeared and reappeared several times over the course of evolutionary history.

The complexities of temperature-sensitive sex determination are fascinating, and become more so when climate change enters the equation. For complicated reasons that you can learn about here, evolutionary mathematics requires that most animal species maintain a roughly one-to-one ratio of males to females. This presents a problem for bearded dragons, since even a one-degree Celsius increase in temperature can skew the ZZ hatchlings strongly toward female. To account for this, the species temporarily produces fewer ZW individuals (which, remember, are all female)—thus lowering the total number of females and keeping the population in gender balance.

What happens, though, if the global temperature rises by two degrees or more—a very likely outcome within the next century? Very few ZZ males will hatch. To keep the population in balance, bearded dragons will have to stop hatching ZW females altogether. This raises two problems. First, the W chromosome could cease to exist, with unknown consequences for bearded-dragon genetics. Second, even without a single ZW female, the proportion of ZZ females may be so high that the overall population skews overwhelmingly female. A species with too few males quickly goes extinct.

And it may not just be bearded dragons—every other species with a temperature override could be under threat.

This scenario isn’t a certainty. Some fish have shown the ability to adapt to ever-warmer waters by recalibrating their temperature override mechanisms. But it’s not clear how many species can pull off this trick, and how many generations it would take.

I doubt that the possibility of losing bearded dragons will move intransigent politicians to take action on climate change. They’re already ignoring grave threats to human health and economic prosperity. But maybe the prospect of entire species whose genetics have decoupled from their gender would give them the willies. If only they subscribed to Science

Brian Palmer|onEarth|July 2, 2015

To Stop Mosquito Bites, Silence Your Skin’s Bacteria

Texas scientists tricked mosquitoes into skipping a blood meal by modifying the way bacteria talk to each other

Evening picnics in a park, sunset beers by a lake and warm nights with the windows open are just some of the delights of midsummer. But as dusk falls, one of the most infuriating creatures on the planet stirs: the mosquito. Outdoor activities are abandoned in an ankle-scratching frenzy and sleep is disturbed as we haplessly swat at the whining source of our torment.

Of course, all these discomforts are nothing compared to the damage mosquitoes do as transmitters of diseases such as malaria, dengue or yellow fever. According to the World Health Organization, mosquito-borne yellow fever alone causes more than 30,000 deaths annually.

But now, in the on-going battle between human and mosquito, we might just have gained the upper hand. Scientists at Texas A&M University believe they have found a way to outsmart the bloodsuckers by tricking them into deciding not to bite us, and their main allies in this ruse are the billions of bacteria that live on our skin.

Bacteria “talk” to one another using a chemical system called quorum sensing. This cell-to-cell communication is used to control or prevent particular behaviors within a community, such as swarming or producing biofilm, like the formation of plaque on our teeth. To start a conversation, bacteria produce compounds that contain specific biochemical messages. The more of these compounds that are produced, the more concentrated the message becomes, until it reaches a threshold that causes a group response. Behaviors are more likely to occur as the message gets “louder”—and that makes it easy for other organisms to eavesdrop on the bacterial chatter.

“Even people respond to quorum-sensing molecules,” says Jeffery K. Tomberlin, a behavioral ecologist at Texas A&M. “For example, if something is decomposing, there are quorum-sensing molecules that are released in that process that tell us it is not a good environment.”

Enter the mosquito. Previous work suggests that factors such as the volume of carbon dioxide we exhale, body temperature, body odor and even the color of our clothes may influence how attractive we are to the bloodthirsty insects. According to Tomberlin, mosquitoes can also hack into bacterial communication systems using chemoreceptors on their antennae, rather like World War II code-breakers intercepting an encrypted transmission: “Their radar system is extremely sensitive and can pick up these messages that are occurring. And they have the equipment that allows them to interrupt those messages,” he says.

Evolutionarily speaking, quorum sensing has always occurred in nature, and mosquitoes have evolved the ability to perceive these communications pathways via natural selection. Mosquitoes benefit from this hacking by gleaning information about the quality of a blood host and being selective about who they target. But the bacterial communication pathways continue to evolve, resulting in a race between competing organisms—on one side, bacteria are producing messages, and on the other, mosquitoes are trying to interpret them.

“Your opponent is always changing the encryption of their code. You have to break that code, and your survivorship depends on it,” says Tomberlin. Knowing that microbial communication can affect mosquito attraction, Tomberlin and his colleagues at Texas A&M—including Craig Coates, Tawni Crippen and graduate researcher Xinyang Zhang—have now shown that humans may be able to hack the hackers and influence whether mosquitoes decide to bite us.

Staphylococcus epidermidis is one among more than a thousand bacterial species commonly occurring on human skin. The team used a mutant form of S. epidermidis, in which they deleted the genetic mechanism that encodes its quorum sensing system. With the bacteria’s biochemical pathways disrupted, the mosquitoes’ “surveillance equipment” could no longer eavesdrop.

The team then carried out a series of experiments using blood feeders, which were covered in sterile cloth treated with either the silenced mutants or unmodified wild-type bacteria. The team compared the feeders’ attractiveness to the female Aedes aegypti mosquito, the main transmitting agent for yellow fever.

The blood feeders consisted of a culture flask sealed with a paraffin film that the mosquitoes could penetrate. A millimeter of rabbit blood was injected between the film and the culture flask, and warm water was pumped through the flask to keep the blood at average body temperature. The team placed feeders inside transparent plastic cages containing 50 mosquitoes and left them in the cages for 15 minutes. They recorded the insects’ behavior on video, allowing them to count the number of feeding mosquitoes at each minute.

The team tested different scenarios, such as placing blood feeders treated with either wild-type or mutant bacteria in separate cages, then putting both types of bacteria in the same cage at the same time. When given a choice, “twice as many mosquitoes were attracted to the wild type on the blood feeder rather than the mutant on a blood feeder,” Tomberlin says. 

Based on these findings, which are currently being prepared for submission to PLOS One, the team believes that inhibiting bacterial communications could lead to new methods for deterring mosquitoes that would be safer than harsh chemical repellents such as DEET. This could have important implications for reducing the spread of mosquito-borne diseases such as yellow fever. “Bacteria are our first line of defence, and we want to encourage their proliferation. However, we may be able to produce natural repellents that will allow us to lie to mosquitoes,” says Tomberlin. “We might want to modify the messages that are being released that would tell a mosquito that we are not a good host, instead of developing chemicals that can be harmful to our bacteria on our skin, or to our skin itself.”

Tomberlin notes that manipulating bacterial conversations may have many other applications, and that these are being actively studied in other institutions. In terms of health applications, blocking communication between bacteria in the lungs of patients with cystic fibrosis could lead to new treatments for the disease. And in the energy industry, inhibiting quorum sensing could reduce oil pipeline corrosion caused by microbes.

Researchers such as Thomas K. Wood of Pennsylvania State University, Rodolfo García-Contreras of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico and Toshinari Maeda of the Kyushu Institute of Technology are leaders in quorum sensing research. According to Wood, efforts to manipulate bacterial communication need to account for the microbes’ sophisticated counter-espionage techniques: “We are also trying to understand how bacteria evolve resistance to the new types of compounds designed to stop bacteria from talking,” he says.

So now, for mosquitoes and for science, the code-breaking race is on.

Karen Emslie|smithsonian.com|June 30, 2015

Say ‘Hello’ to the Centipede From Hell

What lurks below? A wild array of creatures adapted to survive in the dark vaults of life underground, some known to science, many not. Now a new species can be added to the “known” list: Geophilus hadesi, a centipede named after Hades, the God of the underworld. Living more than half a mile beneath the surface of the Earth, the Hades centipede takes the prize for being the deepest underground dwelling centipede thus far discovered.

Found at 3,600 feet (1,100 meters) below ground by members of the Croatian Biospeleological Society in caves of the Velebit Mountains of Croatia, the area plays home to an impressive array of subterranean diversity in some of the deeper caves on the planet. The area’s Lukina Jama–Trojama cave system is currently ranked as the 15th deepest cave in the world.

Centipedes are carnivores and are often found in caves, but members of the order to which the Hades centipede belongs, geophilomorphs, are generally only found in caves on occasion. Species from this order who spend their entire lives in a cave setting are extremely rare. In fact, there are only two; the Hades centipede and its predecessor, the Persephone centipede. (Aww.)

And while we can assume the name was selected for the depth of the critter’s home, quite frankly, its wonderfully adapted attributes add to the mood. It boasts super elongated antennae, trunk segments and leg claws (leg claws!). Not to mention powerful jaws tricked out with poison glands and long curved claws enabling the strongest of grasps to tightly secure its prey. It’s a one of the fiercest predators to reign in the dark abyss.

“When I first saw the animal and its striking appearance, I immediately realized that this is a new, hitherto unnamed and highly adapted to cave environment species,” says Pavel Stoev, the lead author describing the discovery. “This finding comes to prove once again how little we know about the life in caves, where even in the best prospected areas, one can still find incredible animals.”

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger

Melissa Breyer|TreeHugger|July 4, 2015

Everglades

Picayune Pump Station Delivers First Gallons of Water for Restoration

Naples, FL – Rising out of the flat Everglades landscape in southwest Florida, a massive new pump station has begun sending the first gallons of water to help restore 55,000 acres in the Picayune Strand. Restoration of this area is a joint effort between the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

“Sending water into an area that was left dry and unnatural by long-gone development is another sign of our restoration progress,” said SFWMD Executive Director Blake Guillory. “Work in the Picayune Strand has been an ongoing partnership that is producing visible results.”

The Merritt Pump Station, officially designated as S-488, is the first of three pump stations to be completed for restoring Picayune wetlands and wildlife habitat and also to improve the health of downstream estuaries in the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

The pump station, located in Collier County’s Big Cypress Basin, was completed by the Army Corps in September. It can pump 810 cubic feet of water per second to provide both flood control for communities north of Picayune and sheetflow south needed for environmental restoration.

Work to allow this sheetflow of water to move south across a broad expanse of the landscape was completed in 2006, when numerous culverts were constructed under U.S. 41 to allow water movement.

“The Picayune Strand Restoration Project continues to serve as an example of what can be accomplished when we work together,” said Col. Alan Dodd, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District Commander. “In October, the Corps and our partners at the South Florida Water Management District celebrated the completion of the Merritt Pump Station. Now, we are seeing restoration in action.”

Additionally, work to plug 10 miles of the Merritt Canal was completed this month, spreading water across the landscape, rehydrating the area south of Interstate 75 and north of U.S. 41, between the Belle Meade area and the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park.

Scientists expect to see beneficial changes in local vegetation and wildlife habitat begin to emerge as early as this year.

Manatee Protection

Approximately 300 manatees currently use the Port of the Islands Basin as a warm water refuge during the colder months of the year. Scientists believe this refuge was created by freshwater discharged from the current canal system in Picayune Strand.

Unfortunately, restoration efforts that will enhance wildlife habitat in the region will reduce freshwater flow into this specific area.

In April, the SFWMD approved a contract to construct a new manatee refuge that is compatible with restoration efforts. Work will include creation of three deep pools, 100 feet in diameter and about 20 feet deep. Construction of the refuge began on June 25 with clearing of the site, and work is scheduled to be complete in April 2016.

Picayune Strand Background and Restoration Goals

Southern Golden Gate Estates was originally designed and marketed as the largest suburban development in the country in the late 1960’s. The developer dredged 48 miles of canals, built approximately 270 miles of shell-rock roads and sold thousands of lots before going bankrupt.

Florida and its federal partners set out to restore the region to a more natural state. The objective is to restore and enhance wetlands in Picayune Strand and adjacent public lands by reducing over-drainage, and to improve the water quality of coastal estuaries by moderating the large salinity fluctuations caused by point discharge of freshwater from the Faka Union Canal.

Authorized by Congress in 2007, the Picayune Strand Restoration Project became the first Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan project to begin construction.

Restoration will help connect publically owned and protected lands in the area, including:

  • Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve ~75,000 acres
  • Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge ~26,000 acres
  • Collier-Seminole State Park ~6,500 acres
  • Big Cypress National Preserve ~730,000 acres
  • Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge ~35,000 acres

Completed Restoration Work

To date, the Picayune Strand Restoration Project has reached several milestones, including:

  • Prairie Canal Plugging and Road Removal (SFWMD): This included backfilling and plugging 7 miles of the Prairie Canal using fill from spoil along the canal and removing 65 miles of roads to restore the natural historical grade.
  • Tamiami Trail Culvert Construction (SFWMD): Work included installation of 9 culverts under the Tamiami Trail to help restore overland flows in the Picayune Strand.
  • Merritt Pump Station and Road Removal (USACE): Pump Station construction started in February 2010 and was completed in September 2014. Work included plugging 10 miles of the Merritt Canal.

Scott vetoes money for controversial water-farming projects

Florida legislators, some of whom got helicopter rides and hefty donations to their political action committees, approved millions of taxpayer dollars for a water-farming project that critics compared to corporate welfare.

Now Gov. Rick Scott has wiped it out with the stroke of his pen.

Last week, Scott vetoed a $4.5 million water-farming appropriation in this year’s budget. He did so, according to his veto letter, because “water storage projects are more appropriately supported” by the state’s five water management districts — not by the taxpayers of the entire state.

When the South Florida Water Management District first launched its water-farming project in 2005, it used money from the taxpayers of its own 16-county area. The project paid ranchers to hold back excess rainwater from filling up Lake Okeechobee, which is surrounded by an unstable dike. When the lake gets too full, the excess is dumped into estuaries on each side of the state, causing algae blooms and fish kills that hurt the economy.

The agency sees water farming — sometimes known as “dispersed water” — as a way to create a series of “reservoirs” without the expense of building anything permanent. Water farming is also considered a better alternative than buying U.S. Sugar land south of the lake to create a flow-way that mimics the way the Everglades’ original River of Grass ran through South Florida, since the sugar giant doesn’t want to sell.

However, an audit last year by the water district’s inspector general found that paying the ranchers and farmers for water farming costs the taxpayers far more than holding that water on public land. As for helping with Lake Okeechobee’s high water levels, scientists say water farming stores just a fraction of the water that’s needed to be effective.

Originally, the water-farming project was designed to help small, mom-and-pop farming operations stay in business. But last year, the water district was set to award a $120 million, 11-year water-farming contract to Alico, one of the state’s largest agriculture corporations.

Just then, though, the money ran out. The only alternative: ask the Legislature to pay for it using money from all taxpayers. So Alico went to bat for the program with state legislators in 2014, taking legislative leaders on four-hour helicopter rides around Lake Okeechobee and then donating thousands of dollars to their political action committees. The legislators responded by handing over $13 million, enough to launch the Alico contract and keep the program going another year. Further lobbying this year led to the $4.5 million that would continue to keep it afloat — until the governor’s veto quashed that appropriation.

The South Florida Water Management District is reviewing its options, spokesman Randy Smith said.

“The veto item does not identify specific projects but will require the district to review all dispersed water and water-farming projects that are dependent on state funding and determine how to move forward,” Smith said.

So far, the water district’s board has rejected buying the U.S. Sugar property, despite strong encouragement from environmental advocates who see it as a way to spend money raised through Amendment 1.

Meanwhile, Alico, which has already started its water-farming project, “will continue to advocate for dispersed water storage projects,” its CEO, Clay Wilson, said in a statement after the veto.

A spokeswoman for Scott did not respond to a question about whether news reports on Alico’s water-farming lobbying persuaded him to veto the money. Alico has contributed $229,500 to Scott’s fundraising committee since 2013.

Craig Pittman|Staff Writer|Tampa Bay Times|July 1, 2015

Reservoir in the works

The Caloosahatchee Reservoir is becoming a reality after the South Florida Water Management District put the initial phases of construction up for bid this week.

An Everglades restoration project, the reservoir will one day hold 170,000 acre-feet of water, or about 55 billion gallons. The idea is to capture stormwater run-off from the Caloosahatchee River watershed, store that water and then release it back to the river when needed.

Work in this first phase includes demolishing farm features like buried pipes and irrigation pump stations; constructing seven above-ground 56 foot tall mounds to support future structures; moving about 1.8 million cubic yards of fill dirt; and preparing the foundation of the site for a 16-mile dam that will surround the reservoir.

The district has pumped more than 4 million gallons of water since 2012, water that would have flown down the Caloosahatchee and its estuary.

The reservoir is being built on about 10,000 acres of former farm land and is expected to cost nearly $600 million.

Compiled by Chad Gillis|News Press

Picayune pumping

Pump stations at Picayune Strand – likely to be the first Everglades restoration project online – will soon start moving water as the state and federal government continue work aimed at moving water south of Tamiami Trail.

Picayune Strand was once the site of one of Florida’s great swampland scams. In the 1960s, developers pitched Southern Golden Gate Estates as the largest community in the United States.

Hundreds of lots were sold, largely to Europeans who’d been shown the land during the dry season. The problem was that the developers never provided infrastructure – no water or power lines.

The state and federal government spent years tracking down and buying out the owners through an eminent domain project. Agencies have since removed 65 miles of roads and canals, filled ditches and rebuilt flow ways.

The pumps are located in the Big Cypress Basin in Collier County and will be capable of pushing 810 cubic feet per second of water.

Re-plumbing Picayune is expecting to improve wildlife habitat and conditions in the Everglades system, although less freshwater will be flowing through Port of the Isles. That means the 300 or so manatees that winter at Port of the Isles may need to find another winter refuge.

Compiled by Chad Gillis|News Press

Water Quality Issues

Options to Reduce High Volume Freshwater Flows to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Estuaries and Move More Water from Lake Okeechobee to the Southern Everglades

An Independent Technical Review by the University of Florida Water Institute –FULL text of the report

States Sue over Waters of the U.S. Rule

As the new Waters of the U.S. rule became official on Monday, North Dakota and 12 other states sued the federal government in U.S. District Court in Bismarck, challenging expanded federal jurisdiction over some state waters. The rule is set to take effect on Aug. 28, barring court intervention.

Meanwhile, Texas’ attorney general filed a similar lawsuit in district court there, saying that the rule “vastly expands (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) jurisdiction, threatening the ability of states and private property owners to use their own land.” Louisiana and Mississippi have joined that lawsuit.

Waters of the U.S. or WOTUS defines what land must comply with the Clean Water Act and therefore is subject to oversight by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. While federal officials claim the rule only clarifies which property has always fallen under Clean Water Act requirements, farming groups have said that WOTUS added hundreds of thousands of acres to the land under federal control.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem called WOTUS “unnecessary” and “unlawful,” saying the rule does nothing to improve water quality in North Dakota and other states. The state sued in U.S. District Court on Monday, the same day that the rule was officially published in the Federal Register.

“We’re taking the lead,” Stenehjem said. “We’re the most agricultural state in the country, so it just seemed like a logical place.”

A dozen other states joined the lawsuit, including Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, South Dakota and Wyoming. Other states may join the lawsuit, while groups with interests in agriculture, manufacturing or energy might sue on their own.

“The EPA’s new water rule is not about clean water – it’s about power,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said. “This sweeping new rule is a blatant overstep of federal authority and could have a devastating effect on virtually any property owner, from farmers to ranchers to small businesses. If it moves forward, essentially anybody with a ditch on their property would be at risk of costly and unprecedented new regulations and a complicated web of bureaucracy. Texans shouldn’t need permission from the federal government to use their own land, and the EPA’s attempt to erode private property rights must be put to a stop.”

While many critics of WOTUS point to the Obama administration and worry the federal government is expanding its reach, the issue isn’t strictly partisan. Three of the states that sued on Monday are led by Democrat governors.

Agriculture advocates worry that the rule, as it is written, would make intermittent streams and ditches subject to environmental protection laws, creating bureaucratic red tape for farmers.

“I fear that, potentially, we would just get bogged down in paperwork and regulatory issues to do everything that we do. And, so much of what we do on farms and ranches is time sensitive. Things need to be done on time and weather is a factor in that. I can see this being very problematic in that respect,” said Steve Nelson, president of Nebraska Farm Bureau.

The U.S. Senate and House both passed bills that would force EPA rewrite WOTUS and chambers have blocked funding to implement the rule in the 2016 fiscal year.

Any legislative solution, however, faces a threat of presidential veto.

Allison Floyd|June 30th, 2015

8 Major Cities Running Out of Water

Earlier this year, an obscure United Nations document, the World Water Development Report, unexpectedly made headlines around the world. The report made the startling claim that the world would face a 40 percent shortfall in freshwater in as soon as 15 years. Crops would fail. Businesses dependent on water would fail. Illness would spread. A financial crash was likely, as was deepening poverty for those just getting by.

The UN also concluded that the forces destroying the world’s freshwater supply were not strictly meteorological, but largely the result of human activity. That means that with some changes in how water is managed, there is still time—very little, but enough—for children born this year to graduate from high school with the same access to clean water their parents enjoyed.

Though the UN looked at the issue across the globe, the solutions it recommended—capturing rainwater, recycling wastewater, improving sewage and plumbing, and more—need to be implemented locally. Some of the greatest challenges will come in cities, where bursting populations strain systems designed to supply far fewer people and much of the clean water available is lost to waste and shoddy, centuries-old infrastructure.

We’ve looked at eight cities facing different though representative challenges. The amount of water in the Earth’s atmosphere is more or less fixed, meaning that as populations and economies grow, what we have needs to be clean, available, and conserved. Economies, infrastructure, river systems and climates vary from place to place, and the solutions will have to as well. Here is how eight of the world’s major cities are running out of water, and trying to save it.

TOKYO

Tokyo shouldn’t have a water problem: Japan’s capital enjoys average precipitation similar to that of Seattle or London. But all that rainfall is compressed into just four months of the year, in two short seasons of monsoon and typhoon. Capturing and storing so much water in such a short period in an area four times as dense as California would be a challenge anywhere. One weak rainy season means droughts—and those are now coming about once every decade.

Betting on the rain will be a precarious strategy for the world’s most populous city and its suburbs, home to more than 30 million people. When the four rivers feeding Tokyo run low, crisis conditions arrive fast. Though efficient, 70 percent of Tokyo’s 16,000-mile-long plumbing system depends on surface water (rivers, lakes, and distant snowpack). With only 30 percent of the city’s water coming from underground aquifers and wells, there are not enough alternative sources to tap during these new cyclical droughts.

The Japanese government has so far proved forward-thinking, developing one of the world’s most aggressive programs for capturing rainwater. In Sumida, a Tokyo district that often faces water shortages, the 90,000-square-foot roof of Ryogoku Kokugikan arena is designed to channel rainfall to a tank, where it’s pumped inside the stadium for non-potable use.

Somewhat more desperate-seeming is a plan to seed clouds, prodding the environment to do what it isn’t doing naturally. Though tested in 2013 with success, the geo-engineering hack is a source of controversy; scientists debate whether the technique could produce enough rain to make much of a difference for such a large population.

MIAMI

Though most Americans’ concern with water shortage in the U.S. is firmly focused on California at the moment, a crisis is brewing in the last place you’d figure: South Florida, which annually gets four times as much rain, on average, as Los Angeles and about three times as much as San Francisco.

biscayne

As a result of a 20th-century project to drain nearby swamps, water from the Atlantic Ocean began seeping in to the Biscayne Aquifer, Miami’s main source of freshwater. Infographic credit: YouTube

But according to the U.S. Geological Survey, the essential Biscayne Aquifer, which provides water to the Miami–Dade County area, is falling victim to saltwater intrusion from the Atlantic Ocean. Despite the heavy rains replenishing the aquifer year-round, if enough saltwater enters, all of it will become unusable.

The problem arose in the early 20th century, after swamps surrounding the city were drained. Osmosis essentially created a giant sucking effect, drawing the Atlantic into the coastal soils. Measures to hold the ocean back began as early as the 1930s, but seawater is now bypassing the control structures that were installed and leaking into the aquifer. The USGS has made progress mapping the sea water intrusion, but ameliorating it seems a ways off. “As sea level continues to rise and the demand for freshwater increases, the measures required to prevent this intrusion may become more difficult [to implement],” the USGS noted in a press release.

LONDON

London faces a rapidly growing population wringing every last drop out of centuries-old plumbing. Water managers estimate they can meet the city’s needs for the next decade but must find new sources by 2025—even sooner than the rest of the world, by the U.N.’s measure. London’s utility, Thames Water, looked into recycled water—aka “toilet-to-tap”—but, being English, found it necessary first to politely ask people if they’d mind.

At least four urban districts in California use recycled water, which is treated, re-treated, and treated again to be cleaner than conventional supplies before being pumped into groundwater or other supply sources. The so-called “yuck factor” could be an impediment to this solution spreading to London and elsewhere.

CAIRO

Five thousand years ago, an ample water supply and a fertile delta at the mouth of the Nile supported the growth of one of the world’s great civilizations. Today, while 97 percent of Egypt’s water comes from the great river, Cairo finds itself downstream from at least 50 poorly regulated factories, agricultural waste, and municipal sewage systems that drain into it.

Though Cairo gets most of the attention, a UNICEF-World Health Organization study released earlier this year found that rural areas to the city’s south, where more than half of Egyptians live, depend on the river not just for irrigation and drinking water but also for waste disposal. Engineer Ayman Ramadan Mohamed Ayad has noted that while most wastewater discharged into the Nile upriver from Cairo is untreated, the river’s enormous size has historically been sufficient to dilute the waste to safe levels (and Cairo’s municipal system treats the water it draws from the river). Ayad argues, however, that as the load increases—with 20 million people now discharging their wastes to the Nile—this will no longer be possible. The African Development Bank recently funded programs to chlorinate wastewater before it’s dumped in the river, but more will need to be done.

On the demand side, more than 80 percent of the water taken from the Nile each year is used for irrigation, mostly the inefficient method of just flooding fields, which loses significant amounts to evaporation. Two years ago, initial steps were taken to modernize irrigation techniques upriver. Those programs have yet to show much progress, however.

SÃO PAULO

When it rains in Brazil, it pours. In São Paulo, where in an average year it rains more than it does in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, drains can’t handle the onslaught, and what could be the source of desperately needed drinking water becomes instead the menace of urban floodwater.

With the worst drought in a century now in its second year, São Paulo’s reservoirs are at barely a quarter of capacity, down from 40 percent a year ago. Yet the city still sees heavy rainstorms. But reservoirs outside the city are often polluted and are too small even at capacity to supply the metropolitan area of 20 million. Asphalt covering the city and poor drainage lead to heavy floods on city streets after as little as a quarter-inch of rain. It’s hard to believe a drought is under way if your house is ankle-deep in water, so consumers haven’t been strident about conservation. The apparent paradox of flooded streets and empty reservoirs will likely fuel an ongoing debate over proposed rationing.

BEIJING

Poor air quality isn’t the only thing impinging Beijing citizens’ ability to enjoy a safe environment. The city’s second-largest reservoir, shut down in 1997 because of pollution from factories and agriculture, has not been returned to use.

Ensuring the cleanliness of its water is even more crucial in China than elsewhere, as there is little it can afford to lose: With 21 percent of the world’s population, China has only 6 percent of its freshwater—a situation that’s only going to get worse, as it’s raining less in northern China than it was a century ago, and glaciers in Tibet, once the largest system outside the Antarctic and Greenland and a key source of drinking water in the country’s south and west, are receding even faster than predicted. The UN Environment Program estimates that nationally, Chinese citizens can rely on getting just one-quarter to one-third of the amount of clean water the rest of the world uses daily.

Hope emerged, however, from a 2013 study from Montreal’s McGill University, which found that an experimental program targeting farmers outside the capital showed promising results over nearly two decades. The vast Miyun reservoir, 100 miles outside Beijing, had seen its reserves reduced by nearly two-thirds because of increasing irrigation demands—while becoming polluted by agricultural runoff. Revenue from a tax on major water users in Beijing was spent paying farmers upstream from Miyun to grow corn instead of rice, which requires more water and creates more runoff.

Over the following 15 years, the study authors wrote, “fertilizer runoff declined sharply while the quantity of water available to downstream users in Beijing and surrounding areas increased.” Farmer income was not significantly affected, and cleaner water downstream led to higher earnings for consumers in the city despite the tax.

BANGALORE

Earlier this year, a report by India’s comptroller and auditor general found that the southern city was losing more than half its drinking water to waste through antiquated plumbing systems. Big losses from leaks aren’t uncommon—Los Angeles loses between 15 and 20 percent—but the situation in Bangalore is more complicated. A technology boom has attracted new residents, leading to new housing construction. Entire apartment blocks are going up faster than local officials can update the plumbing to handle additional strain on the water and sewage systems.

Bangalore’s clean-water challenges illustrate a dynamic that’s repeating itself across the world’s second-largest nation. India’s urban population will grow from 340 million to 590 million by 2030, according to a 2010 McKinsey study. To meet the clean-water needs of all the new city dwellers, the global consulting firm found, the government will have to spend $196 billion—more than 10 percent of the nation’s annual GDP. (McKinsey has a potential financial interest in India’s infrastructure, so its numbers may be inflated).

In Bangalore, they’re already behind schedule. The newspaper The Hindu reported in March that a 2002 plan to repair the existing system and recover the missing half of Bangalore’s freshwater had yet to be implemented.

MEXICO CITY

Gravity always wins. At more than 7,000 feet above sea level, Mexico City gets nearly all its drinking water by pumping it laboriously uphill from aquifers as far as 150 miles away. The engineering challenge of hauling that much water into the sky adds to the difficulty of supplying more than 20 million residents through an aging system. Mexico City’s public works loses enough water every second—an estimated 260 gallons—to supply a family of four for a day, according to CONAGUA, Mexico’s national water commission. CONAGUA estimates that between 30 and 40 percent of the capital’s potable water is lost to leaks and spills. The good news is that leaks can be fixed.

Water quality remains a worry, however. Unsurprisingly, companies selling bottled water have done very well in Mexico. The economy growing around the lack of potable water has attracted companies such as Coca-Cola and France’s Danone, whose Bonafont (“good spring”) brand is advertised in Mexico as a weight-loss aid. (Toting a bottle will help you “feel thinner anywhere,” according to a popular television ad).

Meanwhile, disputes over who will get access to underground supplies have turned violent: In February 2014, residents of the town of San Bartolo Atepehuacan, on Mexico City’s outskirts, clashed with police over a waterworks project they feared would divert local springs to the city’s business district. At least 100 people were injured and five arrested as the disturbances continued for more than three months.

Marc Herman|TakePart|July 2, 2015

Florida Joins Lawsuit Against EPA to Protect State Waters from Federal Overreach

Attorney General Pam Bondi on Tuesday made Florida the 17th state to join in a bipartisan lawsuit challenging the federal government’s attempt to seize regulatory control over large categories of state waters. 

The joint lawsuit, filed in a federal district court in Georgia, is one of multiple lawsuits across the country filed by attorneys general in response to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ adoption of the final Clean Water Rule: Definition of Waters of the United States, which, insist the 17 states, would supplant Florida’s constitutional right to govern much of its own state waters.

“Clean water and environmental protection issues are critical in our state and Florida is better suited than the federal government to establish the regulatory rules necessary to protect our unique waterways. We cannot allow Floridians to bear the brunt of these types of costly and burdensome federal regulations, which would have a significant negative impact on local government, business and households all across our state,” said Attorney General Bondi.

The actions are a coordinated challenge to the EPA rule issued May 27 that defines the jurisdiction of the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over rivers, streams, lakes or marshes. It was meant to clarify which waters are protected by the anti-pollution provisions of the 1972 Clean Water Act.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam testified before Congress in February to voice his concerns regarding the EPA’s proposed, federal government-expanding regulations.

Putnam said Tuesday, “I thank Attorney General Pam Bondi and the other attorneys general for their leadership in defending states’ rights and holding the Obama administration accountable for its federal overreach.
“The unconstitutional expansion of the EPA’s jurisdiction over the Waters of the United States not only infringes on states’ authority, but also it threatens the sound environmental protection programs we have in place today.
“The far-reaching consequences of this power grab are not limited to the agriculture industry, which could face federal jurisdiction over ditches that are miles from the nearest navigable water.
“The consequences extend to our state as a whole. Florida is a unique and diverse state, and arbitrarily expanding federal oversight to remote wetlands would undermine our strong wetlands protection and stormwater management regulatory programs we currently have in place. Diverting local, state and federal funds to marginal waters could dismantle environmental protection programs statewide.”

The EPA said in a statement: “To clearly protect the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources, the agencies developed a rule that ensures waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined, more predictably determined, and easier for businesses and industry to understand.”

The Clean Water Act grants federal regulatory authority over navigable waters. But the definition of “navigable” is disputed.

The question produced a confusing 2006 Supreme Court decision in Rapanos v. U.S. that held wetlands near ditches or manmade drains emptying into navigable waters are not “waters of the U.S.,” explained Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell in a statement.

The new EPA rule would extend federal jurisdiction over tributaries that may be natural, man-altered or man-made, including canals and ditches, said the complaint filed in Texas.

The rule fails to account for duration of water flow — which suggests, as the Texas lawsuit states, federal agencies can assert jurisdiction over “dry ponds, ephemeral streams, intermittent channels and even ditches.”
Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi filed a joint lawsuit in a Houston federal court, asserting that the EPA’s final rule is “an unconstitutional and impermissible expansion of federal power over the states and their citizens and property owners.” While the EPA has the authority to regulate water quality, the suit says Congress has not granted the EPA the power to regulate water and land use.
That lawsuit claims that “the very structure of the Constitution, and therefore liberty itself, is threatened when administrative agencies attempt to assert independent sovereignty and lawmaking authority that is superior to the states, Congress, and the courts.”
In a separate case, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming are seeking to have the rule overturned. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem called the rule “unnecessary” and “unlawful,” according to the Associated Press.
According to the Hill, these cases are the first examples of states suing to block the rule, though the rule has faced opposition from states, businesses, farmers, and Republicans since it was first proposed in April 2014.

Associated Industries of Florida President and CEO Tom Feeney released his own statement regarding Bondi joining a legal challenge to the EPA’s “Waters of the U.S.” rule.
“… (The attorney general) has rightfully recognized the dangerous federal overreach by regulators through the EPA’s development of the ‘Waters of the U.S.’ (WOTUS) rule governing Florida’s water bodies.  This rule amounts to a Washington power grab that puts the property rights of Floridians at risk and one that is not based on sound science.
Florida has been a success story in working with the EPA on water rules that are reasonable and effective, having jointly developed a set of Numeric Nutrient Criteria (NNC) that are still in effect today. Unlike the NNC developed earlier this decade, WOTUS is a step too far and will penalize Florida businesses, restrict property rights, and hold Florida water users to a draconian standard.
On behalf of Florida’s business leaders who rely on access to clean and abundant sources of water every day, we thank Attorney General Bondi for standing up for our state. We are hopeful that this lawsuit can help achieve a workable outcome that is beneficial to all parties involved.”

Nancy Smith|June 30, 2015

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Corps finalizes environmental report on planned dike repairs

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District has concluded that no significant impacts to the environment will result from a proposal for additional embankment repairs on Herbert Hoover Dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee.

The finding is contained in an environmental assessment report prepared by the Corps this spring.  It focused on a proposal to extend embankment repairs in a six-mile area between Lake Harbor and Belle Glade on the south side of the lake.  A draft document was made available for a 60-day public review, which ended in May. 

“This finding clears the way for additional investigations and detailed design work to begin,” said Tim Willadsen, Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation project manager.  “Our goal is to be in a position to award a contract on these embankment repairs in 2017.”

The proposed work would complete repairs in what’s known as Common Inundation Zone A, which runs the length of the dike between Lake Harbor and Port Mayaca.  If construction started in 2017, it would likely take between two and three years to complete the work.  The proposed repairs are in addition to the ongoing work to replace 26 water control structures around the dike; 16 of which are current under contract with construction on the remaining 10 expected to start at various points over the next three years.

“These additional repairs would help realize the full benefits of the work we completed from 2007 to 2013 between Belle Glade and Port Mayaca when we installed a partially penetrating cutoff wall in the dike,” said Willadsen.  “This is all part of an investment that has exceeded $500 million over the past eight years.”

The final environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact can be viewed at the following website: http://1.usa.gov/1Fn2sBy.

For more information on the Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation project, please visit the Jacksonville District website at http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/CivilWorks/LakeOkeechobee/HerbertHooverDike.aspx.

john.h.campbell|usace|6/17/15

Boundary Waters Scofflaw Found Guilty (Again)

A Lake County judge in Minnesota recently found Barney Lakner of Ely, MN guilty of six charges related to an illegal snowmobiling incident in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), including a felony count of fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle. The county prosecutor argued, “‘If you’re planning to stop, you don’t speed up when you see emergency lights, you don’t turn around 180 degrees, you don’t ram a cop and you don’t take off toward the most treacherous ice you saw that day.'”

Lakner faces up to three years and a day in jail, but this won’t be his first time. He spent three years in jail following a 2007 incident where he and others illegally entered the BWCAW via motorboat and terrorized campers with firearms.

 Read more.

Offshore & Ocean

Bellingham Marine completes work on Florida waterfront project

The city of Fort Pierce, Fla., held a ribbon-cutting ceremony June 13 to celebrate the completion of its $30 million waterfront redevelopment project and National Marina Day.

The restoration and hazard mitigation project included the construction of 13 islands and a new marina and floating wave attenuator in the city’s outer basin designed to protect the region from hurricanes and storms.

Bellingham Marine was hired as the design/build general contractor to design and manufacture the new concrete floating docks, floating wave attenuator and gangway systems.

“This was a complete turnkey project,” Kevin Thompson, general manager of Bellingham’s Southeast Division, said in a statement. “We self-performed everything from the top of the gangways down, including all utility work; the only work we did not do was the pile driving.”

In 2004 hurricanes Frances and Jeanne destroyed the slips in the city’s outer basin and damaged many of the slips in the inner basin.

What followed was a 10-year process. Funding could not be accessed to rebuild the outer basin until a plan to protect them was approved and permitted. The city explored a number of options and decided on an island concept.

The bulk of the funding for the nearly $31 million project was provided through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the city’s insurance proceeds from the hurricanes. The state provided $3 million in disaster funds.

“A special thanks to all the firms and individuals involved — Tetratech, Moffatt & Nichol, Bellingham Marine and Hal Jones; we were blessed to have some of the industry’s greatest visionaries and best talent working on our project,” said Ed Seissiger, engineering project manager for the city of Fort Pierce.

“It was a long, and at times, challenging journey to get to where we are today, but we are extremely proud of what the team has accomplished and all that has been created for the city as a result of our efforts.”

“Others in Florida have done rubble islands as a form of storm surge protection, so we knew the concept was viable, but we wanted to create lagoon habitat, as well as provide habitat for shore birds on the islands; we wanted something that would not only protect the marina and the city’s waterfront, but enhance marine life,” Seissiger added.

In December 2010 the city received the final approval needed from the Army Corps of Engineers to start construction of the islands. The islands sit about 700 feet offshore; the largest of them is about 14 acres and the smallest is one-tenth of an acre. The islands will provide juvenile fish sanctuary; mangroves and oyster shells were planted to attract birds, oyster larvae, fish and other marine life.

Pilot Whales Brutally Slaughtered in Yet Another Horrific Faroe Islands Grind

Yesterday morning approximately 20-30 wonderful creatures were swimming in the cold Northern waters enjoying life in the company of their small family group.

It was a beautiful Monday morning; the seas were calm and the skies were blue.

faroe

Twenty to 30 pilot whales were brutally slaughtered in the Faroe Islands yesterday morning. Photo credit: Sea Shepherd / Rosie Kunneke

Though most civilized people in the world would view this as a beautiful thing, watching a pod of these unique creatures swimming gracefully through the sea, a small group of thugs on the shore nearby gazed over the water with murderous intentions in their heart.

The call was issued to kill. The police closed the tunnels. The Sea Shepherd ship Brigitte Bardot was patrolling approximately 25 nautical miles to the south but quickly raced to the site where the whales were spotted. However, the vessel was unable to proceed through the entrance of the fjord, which was being guarded by the Danish Navy vessel Triton. The thugs were unleashed with huge hooks and sharp knives.

The pilot whales were driven to shore and massacred as the police blocked the path of any interference.

The bodies were hoisted onto the dock by a crane as each animal was disemboweled, unborn fetuses ripped from their mothers’ wombs. The bodies were decapitated one by one. One supporter of the slaughter sent me a message saying, “We could show ISIS a thing or two about decapitation, you whale-loving bastards.”

As the mutilations continued, Sea Shepherd volunteers were surrounded by Faroese police officers charged with the duty of preventing any interference with the slaughter.

Paul Watson |Sea Shepherd| June 30, 2015

MWK Surveys Coral Damage Near Dredging ‏

Our recent patrol on the reefs near the PortMiami channel reveals widespread dredging damage

This week, we surveyed the north side of the PortMiami shipping channel, which extends across the three reefs that run north-south off the east coast of Miami Beach. These reefs protect our coastline from storms and erosion and support our diverse marine life. We found that dredging sediment, kicked up by giant barges during the PortMiami expansion project, have smothered and killed large swaths of our coral reefs, including some federally protected coral species. Through our lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, we were able to save some of these corals by forcing the Army Corps to move them to a safe location.

But we were not able to save all of them—and those corals the Army Corps did not move, unfortunately, have suffered severe damage.  Because the governmental agencies charged with protecting our reefs are refusing to document the ongoing devastation of the reefs, our surveys are crucial to holding the Army Corps and their contractors accountable for the damage.

Rachel Silverstein |Miami Waterkeeper

GREAT news for the Great Barrier Reef!

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee put pressure on Australia to deliver on its promise to restore the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

More than 500,000 WWF Activists called on world leaders to defend our shared natural heritage. Now an end to Great Barrier Reef dumping is imminent.

A full ban on dumping in the reef’s World Heritage waters should come into force within months!

The committee recognized Australia’s plans to prevent highly destructive industrial activities that could have damaged the reef. Our effort and your involvement worked!

Sara Thomas|Online Advocacy Manager|World Wildlife Fund

Wildlife and Habitat

After a Long Absence, Lions Are Returning to Rwanda

Conservationists are cheering the return of lions to Rwanda after a long absence as part of a plan they hope will restore balance in the ecosystem and help promote tourism to the area.

According to the conservation group African Parks, the genocide in 1994 that took hundreds of thousands of human lives also brought about the disappearance of the the last lions in the area, who were poisoned by cattle herders over fears of conflicts after parks were left unmanaged.

Now in partnership with the Rwanda Development Board, African Parks is working to translocate seven lions from reserves in South Africa to the Akagera National Park, who are scheduled to arrive this week in what park officials are calling a “ground-breaking conservation initiative for both the park and the country of Rwanda.”

The group of new lions includes five young and sub-adult females and two young males who African Parks says were chosen based on their reproductive potential and their ability to contribute to social cohesion.

After arriving, they will be quarantined in a specially built enclosure and monitored for two weeks before being fully released into the wild. Even though the park is fenced in, they will still be fitted with satellite collars so park managers can be monitor them and reduce the risk of them breaking out into neighboring communities.

“It is a breakthrough in the rehabilitation of the park under the public private partnership between the Rwanda Development Board and African Parks. Their return will encourage the natural balance of the ecosystem and enhance the tourism product to further contribute to Rwanda’s status as an all-in-one safari destination,”  said Ambassador Yamina Karitanyi, the Chief Tourism Officer at the Rwanda Development Board.

Expanding their presence in the wild won’t just promote biodiversity in Rwanda, but give disappearing populations of these iconic big cats an extra foothold.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified African lions as a vulnerable species years ago, but the updated Red List that came out this month has confirmed they continue to face a serious risk of extinction.

According to the IUCN, the species as a whole has declined by an estimated 42 percent over the past 21 years, while populations in West Africa are now listed as Critically Endangered.

While they face the threats of habitat loss, a loss of prey, development, hunting and conflicts with us, along with a lack of political will and funding to save them, the trade in their parts has also grown over the past few years and has led to an increase in poaching and commercial hunting.

Conservationists in the U.S. are pushing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to finalize a rule that would protect them under the Endangered Species Act in an effort to limit the trade in their parts and import of trophies, along with helping to promote funding and conservation efforts in range states.

Alicia Graef|July 1, 2015

Would-Be Rhino Poacher Caught Before He Had a Chance to Kill

It brought me immense pleasure to tell you about the apprehension of the first two fugitives from Interpol’s Most Wanted Environmental List which first launched in October 2014.

Similar arrests have taken place since, including the arrest of Nepal’s top wildlife criminal Rajkumar Praja who was caught in Malaysia. He’s the ringleader of a rhino poaching network in Nepal and was the subject of a global INTERPOL environmental fugitive operation. Information exchanged between the INTERPOL National Central Bureaus in Nepal and Malaysia led to his arrest by the Royal Malaysian Police in January 2015, and now Praja is due to serve a 15-year sentence for rhino poaching and trading internationally in rhino horns.

Continuing with the good news for those who appreciate justice for wildlife criminals, another rhino poacher has been nabbed, and this time authorities apprehended the criminal before the crime was committed.

South African National Parks announced earlier this week that Mozambican National Elliot Manzini was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition with the intention to kill rhino, and illegally entering Kruger National Park (KNP) with the intention to poach rhino.

In case you’re wondering, the heaviest sentencing to date for a South African rhino poacher is 77 years of jail time. The culprit: Mandla Chauke, who was arrested in 2011, also at Kruger National Park, after he and two other poachers shot and killed three rhinos.

When Manzini was arrested in May by South African National Parks (SANParks) Rangers, he was in possession of a .458 rifle and ammunition. Unfortunately two of Manzini’s companions fled back into Mozambique, but hopefully in time they too will be caught and held accountable for their inhumane actions.

SANParks welcomed the sentencing, and KNP Managing Executive Glenn Phillips commended the courts for imposing the lengthy jail term, stating:

“We are happy that the courts have rewarded the hard work done by the Rangers, our Environmental Crime Investigative Unit and the South African Police. The sentencing will also help to lift the morale of all men and women in uniform who constantly have to react to dangerous situations involving rhino poaching.”

Well said, Phillips. Dealing with poachers can be extremely dangerous business for rangers, many of whom risk their lives to protect animals.

If you’ve ever been to South Africa’s Kruger National Park, where Manzini was caught, you know that it is a wildly special place. Animals large and small roam free, but apparently not free from harm.

While the world needs national parks to provide a safe haven for wildlife and ensure that future generations of unique species survive, poachers continue to pose a direct, serious threat to their survival, even in protected areas like Kruger. As I explained before, to poachers, rhinos are worth more dead than alive because their horns can fetch as much as $250,000 in underground markets.

Of course, you can’t put a price on one’s life.

There’s no telling how many animals Manzini may have illegally killed in his lifetime, but hopefully his capture will prevent him from harming rhinos in the future.

While catching this poacher before he had the chance to kill may be good news, there are so many illegal wildlife killers out there, on the loose, and although rhino populations may be growing healthily overall, some subspecies are still listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Poaching poses a serious threat to rhinos, as Dr. Joseph Okori, head of WWF’s African Rhino Program, explains:

“The African rhino is under serious threat from poachers who have intensified their search of rhino for their horns since 2007, driven by growing market demands in Asia. The rhino poaching trend is extremely worrying. If it is not stopped, the world could lose African rhinos. This is a tragedy we do not want to contemplate.”

Rangers and other officials are using everything in their means to stop poachers in their tracks, including drones, but it’s difficult and risky work for wildlife protectors on the ground, so INTERPOL is seeking the public’s support in locating international fugitives.

If you want to help officials nab would-be poachers before they have a chance to kill, familiarize yourself with INTERPOL’s Infra Terra Most Wanted Persons list before you head to national parks like Kruger. Of course, never confront a suspected poacher yourself. Leave that to the professionals. Instead, if you have information about any of the people listed, send an email to INTERPOL’s Fugitives Unit.

How gratifying would that be to help catch a known wildlife criminal who is on the run from justice?

Tex Dworkin|June 30, 2015

Hidden Florida: Amazing wildlife beyond the tourist attractions

Beyond the popular theme parks and glitzy beach resorts, Florida is teeming with spectacular wildlife. From majestic birds to prehistoric-looking reptiles to elusive predators, a venture deep into the wild uncovers a side of the Sunshine State few visitors get to see.

To help call attention to the state’s biodiversity — and spotlight efforts to preserve and protect it — a team from the Florida Wildlife Corridor, with support from the National Geographic Society, recently undertook an ambitious 70-day, human-powered trek. The Glades to Gulf expedition went from the headwaters of the Everglades near Orlando to Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola, hiking, paddling or biking through more than a thousand miles of deep wilderness.

See the slideshow above for amazing images from the voyage, and learn more about the expedition at FloridaWildlifeCorridor.org.

Ben Abramson|USA TODAY|June 15, 2015

Global Warming and Climate Change

Big Money, Big Politics, and Big Infrastructure: Florida’s Saga Illustrates Climate Change’s Deep Challenges

Investigative journalists reported earlier this month that top appointees at Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection and other state agencies ordered employees not to use the terms “climate change” or “global warming” in official communications. Politically coded euphemisms such as “climate drivers” and “climate variability” were to be used instead. “Sea-level rise” was to be replaced with “nuisance flooding.” The news swiftly went viral, with commentators noting the irony of such censorship occurring in Florida – essentially ground zero for climate change in the Global North.

Banning words does nothing, of course, to ward off the very real impacts of climate change, but the Orwellian move does illustrate one of the chief obstacles to preparing proactively for climate change. The dynamics at play in Florida – massive infrastructure projects with unintended consequences, intensifying effects of environmental change, and political resistance – are a microcosm of what makes adjusting to climate change such a vexing societal challenge.

A Perfect Storm

Florida has 8,400 miles of tidal shoreline and more than 75 percent of Floridians live in coastal counties. Southeastern Florida, in particular, is “uniquely vulnerable,” thanks to a perfect storm of environmental factors, development patterns and infrastructural legacies.

A microcosm of what makes adjusting to climate change such a vexing societal challenge

As a subtropical peninsula located within a major Atlantic hurricane alley, South Florida is already subject to extreme climate variability and unpredictability, which global warming will exacerbate. The pace of sea-level rise in the region is above the global average and appears to be accelerating. The U.S. Army projects a rise of three to seven inches by 2030 and 9 to 24 inches by 2060. Some 2.4 million people live less than four feet above the high-tide line, and highly porous limestone bedrock undermines the effectiveness of physical barriers, like those employed by the Netherlands.

These environmental vulnerabilities are amplified by dense urban development within the coastal zone, from Miami to Palm Beach. A 2008 OECD study ranking cities’ vulnerability to coastal flooding placed Miami first in financial assets and fourth in population exposure.

The final element of southeastern Florida’s vulnerability trifecta is infrastructural. Intense urban and agricultural development is a recent phenomenon here, made possible by a massive flood-control system built in the 1950s. Historically, almost the entire southern third of the peninsula was part of the greater Everglades ecosystem: a 3-million-acre marsh that was inundated for months every year. Now, a vast network of canals, levees, pump stations, and gates swiftly removes floodwaters and discharges them into the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico at an average rate of 1.7 billion gallons a day. This system has successfully carried out its mission for half a century, but with disastrous unintended consequences for both natural systems and people.

The Achilles Heel

Climate change is altering the calculus of an already-daunting hydraulic system. Some 6 million residents draw their potable water from the shallow Biscayne Aquifer, but decades of flood control have lowered the water table, allowing seawater to intrude. Several cities have had to move wells further inland, and sea-level rise is accelerating this process. If nothing changes, the region will increasingly have to rely on costly and energy-intensive desalination for drinking water.

The canals that discharge floodwaters from urban areas into the Atlantic are gravity-driven – that is, they flow downhill. As sea level rises above canal stages, pumps must be installed to keep flow moving. These can cost up to $70 million each plus fuel. According to a study by Florida Atlantic University, just three to nine inches of sea-level rise would incapacitate 70 percent of coastal floodgates.

maps_flow_pre_drainage1map_flow_managed1

A system of canals and levees have changed flows out of Lake Okeechobee (South Florida Water Management District)

The lowest-lying areas already experience “sunny-day flooding,” when high tides push seawater through storm drains into the streets. Miami Beach recently spent $15 million on two underground pumps, which successfully prevented street flooding during last fall’s biannual king tide. These were merely the first installment in a $300-500 million plan to install 80 more pumps by 2020, along with other structural measures such as raising streets and sidewalks. Yet this plan is designed to accommodate only six inches of sea-level rise; beyond that, city leaders place their faith in “human innovation.”

Recent stories in The New York Times, National Geographic, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, and other high-profile outlets have drawn attention to the problems of seawater intrusion and coastal flood protection in southeastern Florida, but none have delved into the broader vulnerabilities of the flood-control system. The system’s lynchpin is the vast and shallow Lake Okeechobee, which serves as a multi-purpose reservoir. It is the primary site for storing floodwaters during wet periods but also supplies water for nearby agricultural irrigation. These two functions are at cross-purposes. Ensuring adequate water supply for dry years requires keeping more water in the lake, but higher levels mean less capacity for retaining floodwaters. This operational dilemma is particularly vexing in a subtropical setting already subject to unpredictable climate extremes – and lined up for more.

“A grave and imminent danger”

In southeastern Florida, climate change is expected to bring more droughts, but also more severe storms. Global reinsurance firm Swiss Re predicts annual storm-related losses in the area “to reach $33 billion by 2030, up from $17 billion in 2008.” A major hurricane striking an urban area would inflict staggering costs. The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 caused around $1 billion-worth of damage, according to The Economist (inflation adjusted). “Were it to strike today the insured losses would be $125 billion.”

A less widely recognized threat is the integrity of the 143-mile dike, built in the 1930s and 1950s, that encloses Lake Okeechobee. The lake now holds much higher water levels than the earthen berm was designed for, and an independent technical review in 2006 concluded that structural inadequacies and internal erosion render it “a grave and imminent danger,” with a one-in-six chance of failing in any given year. According to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, if a Category 4 or 5 hurricane were to hit Lake Okeechobee, the dike would certainly fail, forcing the evacuation of nearly 3 million people, while putting hundreds of miles of evacuation routes under two feet or more of water for weeks. Dike repairs are underway but not scheduled for completion until 2021. Until then, the dike remains “a gun pointed at South Florida,” according to one of the authors of the 2006 review.

Political Roadblocks

The only way to combat seawater intrusion is to retain more of the floodwater currently discharged to tide and use it to recharge the aquifer. Additional retention capacity would also greatly reduce the risks and trade-offs of Lake Okeechobee management. A multi-billion dollar state-federal program launched in 2000 seeks to do just that, but has yet to produce a viable strategy. The failure is due, in part, to the technical challenges of large-scale water storage in South Florida. The flat topography means there are no river canyons to dam. The heat subjects surface impoundments to large losses from evapotranspiration. The porous bedrock causes underground water seepage. And the unpredictable climate greatly complicates operational decision making.

But another key constraint is political. Highly influential agribusinesses have been largely unwilling to sell needed lands to the state, and the state has been unwilling to compel them through condemnation. At present, the governor and legislature are resisting calls to take advantage of a rare opportunity to buy available land.

Miami-Dade County SLR

Sea-level rise could inundate large swathes of Miami-Dade County (Peter Harlem/Florida International University)

The water-storage dilemma is one example of how politics stands in the way of proactive climate adaptation in Florida. Property insurance is another. The simplest and least costly way to reduce climate vulnerability is to discourage development in high-risk areas. It has long been recognized that subsidizing insurance in flood zones, as both the state and federal governments do, perversely encourages such development, often underwriting multiple rounds of re-building storm-flattened beachfront communities. Congress finally passed a law sharply reducing federal subsidies in 2012, but repealed the reforms two years later in the face of bipartisan backlash. In Florida, where heavy hurricane losses have led most private insurers to pull out, state programs offering below-market rates are now the largest insurers. According to Reuters, Florida leads the nation in the value of property covered by the National Flood Insurance Program. A single hurricane, thus, could bankrupt the state.

Nevertheless, according to a disaster-impact analyst quoted in Rolling Stone, “There is no serious thinking, no serious planning, about [climate adaptation] going on at the state level.” Governor Rick Scott was elected in 2010 as a climate-change denier and has made national headlines since by steadfastly refusing to discuss the issue, repeatedly stating, “I am not a scientist.”

Fortunately, given the lack of state and federal leadership, some of the most powerful tools for steering development are wielded by local governments. Southeastern Florida’s four counties recently joined forces to create a regional climate change compact that is encouraging municipalities to rewrite land-use regulations and building codes in order to “discourage new development or post-disaster redevelopment in vulnerable areas.” It remains to be seen how many will take up this challenge.

Meanwhile, Miami Beach, the most vulnerable municipality of all, is pursuing precisely the opposite strategy, actively promoting more high-end real estate. Twelve luxury condo towers are currently under construction, with another 20 proposed since 2011, largely by cash-rich South American developers “more concerned by currency instability in their home countries than encroaching saltwater,” as The Washington Post’s Danielle Paquette writes. In one of the most profound ironies of the Florida climate saga, the costs of new pumps and other defensive measures are motivating city officials to continue pro-growth policies in order to increase property-tax revenues.

Preparing for the Unspeakable

Local officials are generally more open to discussing climate change than employees of state agencies, but there is one word they rarely utter in public: “retreat.” The Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact has been lauded by the White House as a national leader in climate action, but at its sixth annual summit in October 2014, amidst much discussion of pumps and other structural flood- and storm-protection fixes, I heard only one reference to the R-word, by an architecture professor who noted that it is never discussed because it is “too scary.”

“There’s going to be a lot of throwing money in the ocean”

Local officials have the regulatory authority to discourage development in, and even promote retreat from, vulnerable areas. But as long as developers believe they will find buyers for their properties, they are likely to resist any efforts to curb growth – and local politicians are often unduly influenced by such developers.

At the state and national level, as long as leaders continue to deny the existence of climate change, they are unlikely to press local officials to do more, or use the tools at their own disposal, such as insurance reform.

Unless the political landscape shifts substantially, the costs of climate change will eventually force a retreat – managed or otherwise. Unfortunately, vast sums will have been sunk by then into short-term fixes, devalued real estate, and avoidable expenses like desalination, leaving society with less capacity to adapt to the no-longer deniable realities of an altered climate.

Perhaps the most disturbing take-away from Florida’s experience is an extrapolation: If changing our way of thinking is such a challenge in the world’s richest democracy, how can we expect others to do better?

In the words of the University of Miami’s Hal Wanless, “there’s going to be a lot of throwing money in the ocean before we realize it’s time to move on.”

Katrina Schwartz|March 31, 2015

10 Coastal Destinations Most at Risk From Sea Level Rise

Many of the U.S.’s loveliest national parks—favorites for tourists, families and recreational athletes—lie along its shores. They attract millions of visitors a year and they are under threat from rising sea levels caused by climate change.

Just ahead of the two-year anniversary of the announcement of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, as well as the heavy summer tourist season, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell released a study, Adapting to Climate Change in Coastal Parks: Estimating the Exposure of Park Assets to 1 m of Sea-Level Rise, compiled by the National Park Service and Western Carolina University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines. It looked at 40 parks in the contiguous 48 states considered most threatened and found that more than $40 billion in park infrastructure and historic and cultural assets is at risk of being damaged by rising sea levels. And those comprise only a third of those considered at risk—the study is ongoing and an analysis of an additional 30 parks will be released later this summer.

“National Park Service (NPS) coastal units contain the last remaining large stretches of relatively undeveloped shorelines in the nation,” says the study. “These parks contain a wide range of natural resources, cultural resources and recreational facilities. The parks also contain infrastructure providing access to each unit. Over the next century (and beyond), more NPS resources will be exposed to and threatened by rising ocean waters. Numerous coastal units, particularly low-lying barrier parks, are already dealing with sea-level rise (SLR) threats to resources and assets.”

Most endangered are the low-lying barrier parks on the country’s southeastern Atlantic seacoast. The cost of rebuilding or replacing historic structures such as lighthouses and tourist centers at North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina alone is estimated at nearly $1.2 billion—without even factoring in loss of lands and tourist income.

Ten NPS national seashores listed most at risk are popular destinations for millions of Americans including some of its most visited and beloved beach areas.

They include:

1. Assateague (Maryland/Virginia)

2. Cape Cod (Massachusetts)

3. Fire Island (New York)

4. Cape Hatteras (North Carolina)

5. Cape Lookout (North Carolina)

6. Canaveral (Florida)

7. Cumberland Island (Georgia)

8. Gulf Islands (Florida/Mississippi)

9. Point Reyes (California)

10. Padre Island (Texas)

Other popular parks under threat include Redwood National Park in California, Florida’s Everglades National Park and Maine’s Acadia National Park, as well as heavily visited urban parks such as Gateway National Recreation Area and the Statue of Liberty National Monument in New York City and Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco.

“Many coastal parks already deal with threats from sea-level rise and from storms that damage roads, bridges, docks, water systems and parking lots,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “This infrastructure is essential to day-to-day park operations, but the historical and cultural resources such as lighthouses, fortifications and archaeological sites that visitors come to see are also at risk of damage or loss.”

Up and down the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, national parks and seashores are at risk. Image credit: National Park Service

Up and down the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, national parks and seashores are at risk. Image credit: National Park Service

And rising sea levels aren’t the only threat to these parks. As Hurricane Sandy showed, the bigger and more destructive storms connected to climate change can wreak havoc on the coastal parks as well. That storm closed the State of Liberty for eight months.

“When we look back at Hurricane Sandy, a quick reassessment of the methodology in this report suggests that we were conservative in labeling an asset as ‘high exposure’,” said NPS lead scientist on coastal geology Rebecca Beavers. “Although reality may deal even more harsh circumstances as Sandy illustrated, information from this report provides a useful way to help determine priorities for planning within coastal parks.”

“Coupled with sea level rise, big storms have that extra volume of water that can damage or destroy roads, bridges and buildings, and we saw what that looks like—again—with Hurricane Sandy in 2012,” added Jarvis.

The study concludes with a call to action, saying that it hopes to “bring attention to the serious need for broader guidance related to climate change adaptation.”

“Climate change is visible at national parks across the country, but this report underscores the economic importance of cutting carbon pollution and making public lands more resilient to its dangerous impacts,” said Jewell. “Through sound science and collaboration, we will use this research to help protect some of America’s most iconic places—from the Statue of Liberty to Golden Gate and from the Redwoods to Cape Hatteras—that are at risk from climate change.”

Anastasia Pantsios|June 29, 2015

Scientists Baffled Over Unprecedented Warming of Ocean Off Atlantic and Pacific Coasts

Oceanographers are puzzled by an accelerated burst of warming sea that threatens the fisheries of the American Atlantic coast.

Meanwhile, off the U.S. West coast, scientists report that they have been baffled by a mysterious “blob” of water up to 4°C warmer than the surrounding Pacific, linked to weird weather across the entire country.

Jacob Forsyth and research colleagues from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts report in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans that the ocean off the US north-east continental shelf has been warming at unprecedented levels for 13 years.

Their findings came after analysis of data from sensors—called bathythermographs—dropped 14 times a year from the container ship Oleander, which for 37 years has travelled between New Jersey and Bermuda. Each detector takes the temperature of the water column as it sinks up to 700 meters.

Startling discovery

What they were startled to discover was an unexplained, and unprecedented, rise in the water temperatures that may be linked with an equally mysterious sea level anomaly: sea levels are going up, but they are going up faster off the north-east coast of the U.S. than almost anywhere else.

“The warming rate since 2002 is 15 times faster than from the previous 100 years,” says Glen Gawarkiewicz, a WHOI senior scientist and one of the authors of the report.

“There’s just been this incredible acceleration to the warming, and we don’t know if it’s decadal variability or if this trend will continue.”

To make sure of their perspective, the authors compared their analysis with surface data from the Nantucket lightship and other such installations along the coast, from 1880 to 2004. The new study shows that the warming is not just confined to surface waters.

Although there must be some link with the steady rise in atmospheric temperatures because of global warming as a result of human-made carbon dioxide emissions, the oceanographers suspect there may also be another explanation, so far undiscovered.

Off the Pacific coast, meteorologists have been scratching their heads over the appearance in 2014 of a “remarkably” warm patch—1,500 kilometres across in every direction and 100 metres deep—that could be linked to “weird” weather across the continental US that has seen heat and drought in the west and blizzards and chills in the East.

High pressure ridge

Nicholas Bond,  a research meteorologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, and colleagues report in Geophysical Research Letters that what they have called “the blob” was linked to a persistent high pressure ridge, linked in turn to a calmer ocean during the last two northern hemisphere winters.

The blob plays a sure role in the West Coast weather. Air sweeping across it picks up heat, and this results in warmer temperatures and lower snowpack in coastal mountains—which certainly stoke up the conditions for drought.

A second study in Geophysical Research Letters links the warm Pacific puzzle to the big freeze in the eastern states in 2013 and 2014.

Once again, there doesn’t seem to be a direct connection with climate change, but it raises the specter of changes to come.

“This is a taste of what the ocean will be like in future decades,” Dr Bond says. “It wasn’t caused by global warming, but it’s producing conditions that we think are going to be more common with global warming.”

Tim Radford|Climate News Network|June 28, 2015

‘Snail’s Pace’ in Climate Talks, Weak Pledges Frustrate UN Chief

The secretary general of the United Nations is frustrated with the pace of negotiations for what’s intended to be a crucial agreement limiting global warming.

Climate change pledges submitted so far from the world’s leading economies won’t be enough to keep the planet from warming dangerously, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Monday in New York.

Proposals to reduce heat-trapping emissions need to be “a floor, not a ceiling,” he said.

The global increase in temperatures will exceed 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) under the national pledges already submitted to UN, Ban said. That’s the goal scientists and the UN have set to avoid the worst effects due to global warming.

The proposals submitted to date “will not be enough to place us on a 2-degree pathway,” Ban said.

Without any changes to global emissions, the world is on track to warm by 4 degrees Celsius or more, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Climate Change Janos Pasztor said earlier this month.

World leaders have five months to go before a meeting of almost 200 nations in Paris that’s intended to seal a new global pact to cut planet-warming carbon emissions. If successful, the agreement would be the first ever to require both developed nations like the US and growing economies like China to address climate change.

“The pace of UN negotiations are far too slow,” Ban said. “It’s like a snail’s pace.”

The U.S., the world’s biggest historic source of greenhouse gases, pledged earlier this year to cut its emissions by as much as 28 percent by 2025. The European Union has promised a 40 percent cut by 2030. Several other major economies, including Australia and Japan, have yet to submit climate plans to the UN.

Alex Nussbaum|Bloomberg|June 29, 2015

New Florida law requires consideration of SLR impacts in coastal planning

A law signed by Governor Rick Scott on May 21, 2015 includes a requirement that the mandatory redevelopment component of the coastal management elements of comprehensive plans include “development and redevelopment principles, strategies, and engineering solutions that reduce the flood risk in coastal areas which results from high-tide events, storm surge, flash floods, stormwater runoff, and the related impacts of sea-level rise.”

This should mean that local governments now must consider SLR in development and redevelopment.

Additional information and links to the published law are available at https://www.flseagrant.org/news/2015/06/new-law-includes-sea-level-rise-in-coastal-planning/

[And here we thought that sea level rise didn’t exist.]

Alaska’s Rapidly Melting Glaciers: A Major Driver of Global Sea Level Rise

The glaciers of Alaska are melting and retreating: the chief cause is climate change and the loss of ice is unlikely to slow, according to a new study by U.S. scientists.

Alaska’s Columbia Glacier is almost 20 kilometers shorter than it was in 1980 Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Wikimedia Commons

Alaska’s Columbia Glacier is almost 20 kilometers shorter than it was in 1980. Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Wikimedia Commons

They calculate that the frozen rivers of the Pacific coast of America’s northernmost state are melting fast enough to cover the whole of Alaska with 30 centimeters of water every seven years.

Since Alaska is enormous—it covers 1.5 million square kilometers and is the size of California, Texas and Montana put together—this adds up to a significant contribution to sea level rise.

“The Alaska region has long been considered a primary player in the global sea level budget, but the exact details of the drivers and mechanisms of Alaska glacier change have been stubbornly elusive,” said Chris Larsen, a geophysicist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and lead author of a study in Geophysical Research Letters.

Taxonomy of change

Scientists from the University of Alaska and the U.S. Geological Survey analyzed studies of 116 glaciers in the Alaska region over a 19-year-period to estimate the rate at which ice melted and icebergs calved.

They used airborne lidar remote sensing technology and other techniques, historical data and a global glacier inventory to establish a kind of taxonomy of glacier change.

The Columbia Glacier in Prince William Sound had retreated more than 19 kilometers because of iceberg calving and had thinned by 450 meters in height since 1980. But, unexpectedly, tidewater glaciers—those that end in the ocean—seemed to make comparatively little contribution to sea level rise.

“Instead we show that glaciers ending on land are losing mass exceptionally fast, overshadowing mass changes due to iceberg calving, and making climate-related melting the primary control on mountain glacier mass loss,” Larsen said.

Big contributor

He and his colleagues calculated that Alaska is losing ice at the rate of 75 billion metric tons a year. Such research is just one more piece of careful cross-checking in the great mosaic of climate research: another systematic confirmation that overall, glaciers are not losing ice in response to some natural cycle of change of the kind that occasionally confuses the picture for climate science.

The agency at work is largely global warming as a response to the steady rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide as a consequence of the burning of fossil fuels.

Mountain glaciers represent only one percent of the total ice on the planet: the other 99 percent is found in Greenland—which is melting fast—and in the great frozen continent of Antarctica, where ice mass is being lost at an increasing rate.

But although the mountains of the temperate and tropic zones bear only a tiny percentage of the planet’s ice, their melting accounts for almost a third of the sea level rise currently measured by oceanographers, and this melting will go on to become a big contributor to the sea levels later this century.

Across the border in Canada, glaciologists have warned that the country will lose a huge volume of flowing ice, and while one team has confirmed that air pollution rather than global warming long ago began to strip Europe’s Alps of their glaciers, in general mountain peaks are warming faster than the valleys and plains below them.

Geophysicists and glaciologists have established that the glaciers of the tropical Andes are at risk, and in the Himalayan mountain chain glaciers seem to be in inexorable retreat with consequences that could be devastating for the many millions in the Indian subcontinent and in China who rely on seasonal meltwater for agriculture.

Glaciers are by definition hard to study—they are high, cold and in dangerous terrain—and such research is inevitably incomplete: the scientists, for instance, excluded glaciers smaller than three square kilometers. But together these small patches of flowing ice account for 16 percent of Alaska’s glaciated landscape. The 116 glaciers in the survey together added up to only 41 percent of the state’s glaciated area.

But the pattern established by the Fairbanks team suggests that melting will accelerate with climate change. “Rates of loss from Alaska are unlikely to decline, since surface melt is the predominant driver, and summer temperatures are expected to increase,” said Dr Larsen.

“There is a lot of momentum in the system, and Alaska will continue to be a major driver of sea level change in the upcoming decades.”

Tim Radford|Climate News Network|June 30, 2015

How Walruses Are Helping in the Fight Against Climate Change

Climate change has already made life difficult for a lot of species, not the least of which is the walrus. Due to the melting ice, walruses are rapidly losing their natural Arctic habitat. Although things look bleak for walruses at the moment, the good news is that the marine mammal is simultaneously helping to fight against climate change by inadvertently blocking oil drilling.

Later this month, Shell was set to move forward on opening new rigs in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwestern coast. Now, the oil corporation has been dealt a last minute blow: at least one of their drilling sites cannot be constructed in order to protect the walruses.

Shell thought it was in compliance with federal regulations, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service objected. Shell planned for two of its drilling sites to be situated just nine miles apart from each other. However, the government agency says that it requires that these stations be a minimum of 15 miles apart to safeguard walruses.

As scientists have previously discovered, walruses are frightened by the presence and loud noises of oil drilling. They’ve observed some walruses take dangerous leaps off rocks when startled by drilling sounds, which is why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to enforce a 15-mile buffer. If the sites are too close, walruses will have little room to escape the unpleasant noise.

Given that Shell has already spent billions “exploring” the area for future oil drilling, this is undoubtedly a setback for the company. A Shell spokesperson indicated that it would verify the legality of this regulation, but also intended to comply with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s rule.

Environmental groups have complained that the U.S. government seems to be doing what it can to help Shell expedite the drilling process — even the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management with the Interior Department gave its approval — so this walrus curveball is a welcome impediment. The hope is even small obstacles might stall the drilling long enough that other agencies will have the time necessary to find other reasons that Arctic drilling is not in compliance with environmental and ethical policy.

While pro-business advocates are predictably unimpressed with altering Shell’s plans to cater to walruses, walruses certainly deserve to catch a break. The animal, which traditionally resides on icebergs in small numbers have started coming to shore because of a lack of ice available to lounge on, sometimes gathering 10,000 at a time. The risk of disease and stampede are increased in this proximity, so this new habitat is not a healthy alternative.

Although the walrus rule won’t prevent Shell from drilling off the Alaskan coast altogether, even reducing the number of oilrig sites is a positive step. If the walrus – and many of the earth’s creatures, honestly – are to have a fighting shot at surviving, carbon emissions need to be reduced, which starts with most of the world’s remaining oil supply remaining below the surface.

Kevin Mathews|July 2, 2015

10 Iconic Places That May Disappear Due to Climate Change

Sometimes it’s hard to fully comprehend the devastating consequences climate change will wreak on our planet until you think about what we stand to lose if global warming is left unchecked.

Fortunately, recent reports are here to help show what we stand to lose. The U.S. Department of the Interior just released a report highlighting the national parks most at risk from sea level rise and Seeker Network recently made a video exposing which country could be the first to go completely underwater due to climate change. Top Media has also put together a video to highlight 10 iconic places—from glaciers to one of the most beautiful cities in the world—that may disappear due to climate change, air pollution, deforestation and just general wanton destruction of our home, planet Earth.

Watch here, to find out which places might disappear in our lifetime if climate change continues unabated:

Cole Mellino|June 29, 2015

Once Hailed As Solution to Climate Change, Carbon Capture and Storage ‘Is Not Happening’

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is backed by governments and the International Energy Agency (IEA) as one of the best methods of reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and saving the planet from overheating.

One of the much-heralded solutions to climate change which its supporters believe could enable the world to continue to burn fossil fuels looks likely to be a failure. Photo credit: Shutterstock

One of the much-heralded solutions to climate change which its supporters believe could enable the world to continue to burn fossil fuels looks likely to be a failure. Photo credit: Shutterstock

The problem is that despite this enthusiasm and the fact that CCS (also called carbon sequestration) is technically possible, it is not happening. It is cheaper and easier to build wind and solar farms to produce electricity than it is to collect and store the carbon from coal-powered plants’ emissions.

For years CO2 has been used by injecting it into old oil wells to extract more fuel, but the cost of building new plants just to store the gas is proving prohibitive.

Hundreds of plants were expected to be up and running by 2030, but so far none has been built. Despite this, the IEA and governments across the world are relying on CCS to save the planet from climate change.

For example, official policy in the UK still envisages up to 50 industrial plants and power stations using CCS being linked to CO2 pipelines which would inject the gas into old oil and gas wells, removing it from the atmosphere forever.

But research by Mads Dahl Gjefsen, a scientist at the TIK Centre of Technology, Innovation and Culture at the University of Oslo, Norway, says pessimism prevails within the industry about the future of carbon capture and storage in both the U.S. and the European Union (EU).

Cost too high

Collecting liquid carbon dioxide by pipeline from large plants powered by coal is designed to allow steel, cement and chemical industries to continue to operate without making climate change worse.

But the cost is proving so high that plants are not being built. This is partly because the penalties imposed by governments in the form of a carbon tax or charges for pollution permits are so low that there is no incentive for carbon capture.

Another problem is that the technology for removing carbon from fossil fuels, either before or after combustion, uses 40 percent more fuel to achieve the same amount of power.

In conferences designed to promote the technology enthusiasts wonder how long they can continue, despite the “fine promises” that it was this technology that would save the oil and gas industry, Gjefsen says.

He gives the example of Norway, which has invested billions of kroner in the research and development of CCS. In 2007 the former prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, said that CCS would be “Norway’s moon landing.”

However, a full-scale treatment plant at the industrial site at Mongstad never came to fruition. The technology proved too energy-intensive and costly for large-scale use.

No takers

Four years of study and talking to industry insiders and environmental organizations, some of which have backed CCS, show the arguments for carbon capture differ from country to country, but in none of them is the technology taking off, he reports.

Gjefsen says that in America the major political restrictions on emissions never materialized. The only way that sufficient incentives could be provided to hasten the development of CCS is if emission cuts were imposed and the polluter made to pay.

In the EU, emission quotas were so generous that it was difficult to finance CCS because the price of carbon was so low.

Despite the fact that the technology is not being developed, the official position of governments remains that it is part of the solution to climate change.

They all accept the IEA estimate that to achieve a 50 percent cut in global CO2 emissions by 2050 (widely believed to be equivalent to limiting the increase in global temperature to two degrees Celsius), CCS will need to contribute nearly one-fifth of emissions reductions, across both power and industrial sectors.

The IEA has also estimated that by 2050 the cost of tackling climate change without CCS could be 70 percent higher than with it. The message from EU estimates is similar: 40 percent higher without CCS by 2030.

Paul Brown|Climate News Network|July 2, 2015

Report: Florida Leads in Cutting Carbon Pollution

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida has a big role to play in combating global warming, according to a new report released on Tuesday. Analysts for the nonprofit group Environment America examined the total reductions in carbon pollution projected, by state, for the next ten years.

They found the Sunshine State will cut more carbon than all but six others – mostly as a result of federal rules to clean up power plants and improved fuel-efficiency for cars.

Julian Boggs, Environment America’s global warming outreach director, says Florida could be doing even more, depending on the state’s political climate. “We hope that folks reach out to the governor and state legislature, and urge them to take urgent action on climate change,” says Boggs. “After all, Florida is under enormous threat from sea-level rise.”

The report says states like Florida should be doing more to promote solar and wind power, and the use of electric cars, public transportation and light rail.

Boggs criticizes elected officials who say they’re not sure about humans’ role in climate change, or aren’t supportive of such efforts as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. “At minimum, we ask that folks like Governor Scott and Senator Rubio step out of the way and stop trying to block progress,” Boggs insists. “At least let the EPA and local cities continue to move forward to reduce emissions.”

He describes the report as intended to raise public awareness, ahead of an international conference on climate change in Paris this December.

Suzanne Potter|Public News Service – FL

[Even though global warming and climate change don’t exist in Florida, the effects will certainly be significant. There are some things we can’t change, but we should do everything in our power to eliminate the anthropomorphic obstacles to global warming reduction.]

Extreme Weather

Unrelenting rain leads to Midwest flooding

Water has closed roads and swamped farmland

ST. LOUIS — A wet June turned worse after strong weekend storms drenched the Midwest, strengthening worries that already-serious flooding won’t go away anytime soon.

It seems to be unrelenting: More rain is forecast for later this week in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, “possibly a lot,” National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs said Monday.

“It’s a very wet late spring, early summer, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon,” he said.

Buyouts since the massive flood of 1993 have removed thousands of homes from the floodplains of the Midwest, but the flooding has closed hundreds of roads and swamped thousands of acres of farmland.

Parts of Missouri saw nearly 2 inches of rain over the weekend. St. Louis has received 13.1 inches of rain this month, 9 inches above normal and setting a June record with two days left in the month. It’s also the second-wettest of any month since official record-keeping began in 1874; in first place is 14.78 inches in August 1946.

Flood-weary towns scrambled to protect themselves. In southeast Missouri, dozens of people fled Dutchtown and Allenville as the Mississippi River neared a crest of 12 feet above flood stage. In northeast Missouri, the Fabius River spiked 10 feet above flood stage, topping sandbags on a levee and forcing about 100 residents of a mobile home park to evacuate in Taylor.

The storms also brought severe weather, with three tornadoes touching down Sunday about 70 miles northwest of St. Louis and a possible one in a St. Louis suburb.

Other rivers were overflowing, too. The Illinois River was around 10 feet above flood stage at several points in central Illinois, flooding roads and a few businesses in places like Beardstown, Meredosia and Peoria. The town of Peru called off its July Fourth fireworks show because of the flooding. And in southern Illinois, the Ohio River was climbing toward an expected crest 7 feet above flood stage Saturday at Cairo, drenching farmland in that area.

Northwest Indiana has been hit particularly hard during June. Agriculture experts said last week the state’s corn and soybean crop has already been reduced by nearly $300 million. That was before up to 4 inches of weekend rain caused rivers and creeks to flood and prevented storm sewers from emptying into them, resulting in street flooding in Muncie, Portland and other communities.

The Wabash River was so high in Lafayette, Indiana, over the weekend that it blocked access to a hospital. The river was still more than 10 feet above flood stage Monday after dropping a foot from its crest Sunday.

And in southwest Michigan, the overflowing Kalamazoo River drenched Stryker Field, home of the minor-league Kalamazoo Growlers. It’ll be several days before the field dries out, and the cost of the damage is not yet known. Flood warnings were issued for several waterways in southern Michigan.

JIM SALTER|ASSOCIATED PRESS

June 2015 Smashes Heat and Rainfall Records in U.S.

June has been a crazy weather month. Then again, so were the first five months of the year. Globally, it’s shaping up to be the hottest year on record by far. It’s not just heat either. Some parts of the U.S. have recently seen record rainfall. May was the wettest month ever recorded in the U.S., and many places had record rainfall for the month of June.

June saw record heat and dry conditions in the West and record rainfall in the central and eastern U.S. Photo credit: The Weather ChannelJune saw record heat and dry conditions in the West and record rainfall in the central and eastern U.S. Photo credit: The Weather Channel

Mashable’s Andrew Freedman reports there’s a “h