ConsRep 714 D

We learned that economic growth and environmental protection can and should go hand in hand. Christopher Dodd

Announcements

13th Annual Summer Internship Graduation Reception and Dinner: July 31, 2014

A favorite of new and old Marshall Foundation fans, the annual Summer Internship Graduation celebration gives you a chance

to meet our incredible team of six college students preparing for environmental science and engineering careers.

The 13th internship class has become a seamless, simpatico team that will offer you a fascinating snapshot of

their summer experiences in the Everglades and of their joint research project on sea level rise.

Enjoy a casual reception and light-hearted supper with the interns, their families, and Marshall Foundation friends.

You’ll love the water views from E.R. Bradley’s Beach Club at the Lake Worth Municipal Golf Course.

The event is free of charge for all of our 2014 Everglades Heroes.

For more information and to pre-register, please click here.

UPCOMING EVENTS 

Annual Cypress Seed Harvest and Photo Project

Date:  October 25, 2014

Location:  Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatachee Wildlife Refuge

River of Grass Gala

Date:  December 6, 2014

Location:  Lady Windridge Yacht, launching from Palm Beach

For more information about any of these events call the Foundation at 561-233-9004 or email info@artmarshall.org.

Save the date for 25th annual “Ding” Darling Days

Mark your calendars for this year’s “Ding” Darling Days birding and eco-festival at

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida, the week of Oct. 19-25, 2014.

Family Fun Day kicks off the week with free activities on Sunday, Oct. 19.

It features all-free refuge tours, live wildlife presentations, archery clinics, hot dogs, a touch tank and butterfly house, and kids’ nature crafts.

Muppeteer Jim Henson’s daughter, Heather Henson, with Ibex Puppetry,

will return with performances featuring life-size endangered animal puppets.

Conservation Art Day winds up the celebration on Saturday, Oct. 25, with visits from Federal Duck Stamp and Junior Duck Stamp winners and nature art workshops.

Free and discounted birding, biking, kayaking, paddleboarding, sea life boating, and interpretive presentations will fill the week between the two events.

The 25th annual “Ding” Darling Days celebrates the birthday of the refuge’s namesake, father of the Federal Duck Stamp program and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Jay N. “Ding” Darling.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS),

and Tarpon Bay Explorers cosponsor “Ding” Darling Days with generous support from the local community and businesses.

Visit www.dingdarlingdays.com

for updates on events, information on sponsoring “Ding” Days, or to sign up for e-mail update bulletins.

Contact Wendy Schnapp at 239-470-1877 or EcoErler@aol.com to become a sponsor.

Audubon Assembly 2014

Make It a BIG YEAR for Florida’s Land, Water, and Wildlife

By Florida Audubon (other events)
Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina

555 NE Ocean Blvd, Stuart, FL 34996

Fri, Oct 17 201412:00 PM— Sat, Oct 18 2014 3:00 PM

Audubon is proud to announce that Leslie Kemp Poole, author of Saving Florida: Women’s Fight for the Environment in the 20th Century will be this year’s keynote speaker!

Through nature-inspired walking workshops, inspiring speakers and thought-provoking learning sessions, this year’s Audubon Assembly

is designed to join together people of all ages and backgrounds in our common interest of protecting Florida’s remarkable natural resources.

  • Engage in informative learning sessions featuring leading guest speakers
  • Journey to local special places on field trips with those who know the area best
  • Learn cutting-edge conservation techniques for your home and community
  • Network with other Florida conservation leaders
  • Attend the evening banquet with our keynote speaker, Leslie Kemp Poole
  • And much, much more…!

This year’s Assembly is going to be the can’t miss conservation event of the year.

Do not delay – click here to register online to reserve the special early-bird rate.

Only a limited amount of these tickets are available.

Click here to get tickets

Of Interest to All

2 teens arrested for torturing a gopher tortoise

Officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) arrested two Clay County teenagers Friday morning on charges of torturing a gopher tortoise.

Danielle Susan Dionne, 15, and Jennifer Emoke Greene, 18, have been arrested on charges of felony cruelty to animals, a third-degree felony, and taking, harassing, harming or killing a gopher tortoise, a second-degree misdemeanor.

On July 15, the FWC received a tip about the torture and death of a gopher tortoise. FWC and Clay County Sheriff’s Office investigators immediately followed up on the information.

“We take these issues very seriously,” said Col. Calvin Adams, director of the FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement. “We appreciated the help from the public and our partners in working to protect our valuable natural resources.”

The FWC worked with the State Attorney’s Office of the Fourth Judicial Circuit to decide the appropriate charges related to the crime.

“We will not tolerate this behavior in the Fourth Judicial Circuit. We are committed to fully prosecuting those responsible for the torture and death of this vulnerable and threatened species,” said State Attorney Angela Corey.

If convicted, Greene faces up to five years in prison on the animal cruelty charge. The misdemeanor charge carries a penalty of up to 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

Dionne’s case will be prosecuted in the juvenile system. Due to this fact, there will be no further comment on her case.

FWC|July 25, 2014

Gov. Scott had stake in pipeline firm whose $3 billion venture he and his appointees backed

Upon his election in 2010, Gov. Rick Scott’s transition team included a Florida Power & Light executive who pitched his company’s plan to build a major natural gas pipeline in North Florida to fuel a new generation of gas-fired power plants in places like Port Everglades.

“The proposed project will need state regulatory and governmental agencies to understand and support this project,” said the proposal submitted by FPL vice president Sam Forrest.

Scott understood. In May and June 2013, he signed into law two bills designed to speed up permitting for what came to be known as the Sabal Trail Transmission — a controversial, 474-mile natural gas pipeline that’s to run from Alabama and Georgia to a hub in Central Florida, south of Orlando.

Five months later, the Florida Public Service Commission, whose five members were appointed by Scott, unanimously approved construction of Sabal Trail as the state’s third major natural gas pipeline. More approvals are needed from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which the governor oversees.

What wasn’t publicly known in 2013, however, was that the governor owned a stake in Spectra Energy, the Houston company chosen by Florida Power & Light that July to build and operate the $3 billion pipeline. Sabal Trail Transmission LLC is a joint venture of Spectra Energy and FPL’s parent, NextEra Energy.

BrowardBulldog.org’s review of financial records made public last month by Scott show that as of Dec. 31, his portfolio included several million dollars invested in the securities of more than two dozen entities that produce and/or transport natural gas — including some, like Spectra, with substantial Florida operations.

His stake in Spectra Energy was reported as being worth $53,000 that day.

Florida’s ethics laws generally prohibit public officials like the governor from owning stock in businesses subject to their regulation, or that do business with state agencies. A similar prohibition exists on owning shares in companies that would “create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict” between an official’s private interests and the “full and faithful discharge” of his public duties.

NEW CONCERNS ABOUT BLIND TRUST LAW

Scott’s investments in companies that do business in Florida raise fresh concerns about the operation of Florida’s so-called “qualified blind trust” statute — a law that allows public officials to veil their investment activity while affording them immunity from prohibited conflicts of interest.

Scott acquired his Spectra shares via his blind trust. Exactly when that occurred is not known, and Greg Blair, a spokesman for the governor’s re-election campaign, said in an email that Scott has “no knowledge of the investment because his decision to invest was made by a trustee of the blind trust.”

Blind trusts are supposed to eliminate conflicts of interest by “blinding” public officials and the public to the nature of their holdings. The law’s requirement that officials hand over control of an investment portfolio to a disinterested manager was intended to accomplish that.

But as BrowardBulldog.org reported in March, the governor’s blind trust was ineffective in keeping the governor’s assets secret. And Alan Bazaar, a trusted former employee of the governor’s private investment firm Richard L. Scott Investments, managed the blind trust.

“The Legislature makes it easy for officials to get away with conflicts of interest through loopholes in the ethics code,” said Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida, the nonpartisan research institute and government watchdog group. “Corruption has been institutionalized in Florida with flawed policies like blind trusts and political appointees issuing advisory opinions on what’s ethical.”

The governor, the Senate president and the House speaker appoint the members of Florida’s Commission on Ethics.

The governor’s financial interest in Sabal Trail’s builder, Spectra, is also fueling criticism from opponents of the controversial natural gas pipeline project.

“That’s very interesting,” said Susan Glickman, Florida Director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “It’s totally inappropriate that we have policymakers making important decisions where they have a financial stake in the outcome.”

“OUTRAGED AND DISHEARTENED”

Beth Gordon is a lawyer and former South Florida resident who now lives with her family on a 32-acre horse farm in Levy County, where Spectra wants to route Sabal Trail. She helped found Spectrabusters, a citizens’ group that’s fighting Sabal Trail.

“I’m outraged and disheartened by this news. I feel blindsided,” said Gordon, who like Scott is a Republican. “The governor’s interest is in getting these companies the permits they need and he’s not interested in the environment.”

The governor’s financial disclosure form, essentially a snapshot of his extensive holdings as of Dec. 31, shows that Scott also owns a $55,000 stake in another Spectra asset, DCP Midstream Partners. DCM is a natural gas limited partnership 50 percent owned by Spectra Energy.

Scott disclosed his portfolio last month after he closed his original blind trust, then immediately opened a new one and placed all of his assets back into it.

He did it “to ensure that there would not be the possibility of any conflict of interest,” spokesman Greg Blair said via email. “As a result, Gov. Scott has no knowledge of the current contents of the blind trust.”

The trustee of the new blind trust, however, continues to be New York’s Hollow Brook Wealth Management and its chief executive and longtime Scott friend Alan Baazar.

Neither the governor nor anyone on his staff agreed to be interviewed about his investments. Last month’s disclosure form marks the first time the governor has made public a list of his securities investments since he formed the blind trust in April 2011.

The maneuver served to insulate Scott from criticism about financial transparency amid his re-election campaign against former Gov. Charlie Crist. But it also revealed Scott’s large personal bet on natural gas and firms like Spectra and Energy Transfer Equity LP.

SCOTT’S STAKES IN OTHER FLORIDA PIPELINES

Energy Transfer is a publicly traded master limited partnership whose subsidiaries include a joint venture that owns Florida Gas Transmission. FGT is the state’s largest natural gas pipeline, transporting it from Texas through the Florida peninsula south to Miami-Dade.

Florida Gas Transmission is also a major state vendor. According to Transparency Florida, the state website where government spending information is posted, FGT was paid $28.4 million by the Department of Transportation for various construction services in 2013-2014.

Scott valued his stake in Energy Transfer as being worth $311,000 as of the end of last year. He likewise reported additional investments in a pair of entities owned by Energy Transfer, Regency Energy Partners LP and PVR Partners LP, totaling $400,000.

Scott’s investments in Spectra and Williams, an energy infrastructure company, also gave him a financial interest in Florida’s other major natural gas pipeline, Gulfstream, which runs from Alabama to Tampa Bay beneath the Gulf of Mexico. Those companies and their limited partnerships jointly own and operate Palmetto-based Gulfstream Natural Gas System LLC.

Scott’s disclosure form reported that in addition to his Spectra holdings he owned Williams shares worth $104,000, and a $71,000 ownership interest in a master limited partnership owned by Williams, called Access Midstream Partners.

In addition to the bills Scott signed to streamline permitting for natural gas pipelines, he likewise benefited the industry last year by approving another law that provides $30 million over five years to fund rebates to commercial fleet operators who buy, convert or lease vehicles that run on natural gas. The program, administered by Agriculture and Consumer Services boss Adam Putnam, offers applicants a maximum annual rebate of $250,000.

The Public Service Commission later approved several individual natural gas vehicle programs. PSC Commission Chairman Ronald A. Brise said the moves helped make “natural gas pricing more competitive with conventional motor fuels.”

The law also exempts natural gas fuel from state fuel, sales and use taxes for five years.

“They’re doing everything they can to build the market,” said Glickman.

Florida’s natural gas market is huge and growing. Nearly 68 percent of Florida’s electric generation, and more than 72 percent of FPL’s total energy, was fueled by natural gas in 2012, according to the Public Service Commission. Pipelines bring virtually all of that gas to Florida.

SABAL TRAIL TO POWER FPL PLANTS

The Sabal Trail underground pipeline is to run through 13 Florida counties. Documents state that it is intended to provide Florida Power & Light with a dedicated supply of natural gas for power generation needs and other purposes starting in May 2017.

Much of that new supply is to come from natural gas fracked from shale. It would flow to Florida from Sabal Trail’s connection to Williams’ Transco pipeline in Alabama.

Sabal Trail is to terminate at a new central Florida hub where it would connect to the state’s two other main natural gas pipelines, Florida Gas Transmission and Gulfstream. Another part of the new pipeline project that does not involve Spectra is the construction of a 126-mile, $550 million pipeline to run from Sabal Trail’s termination point in Osceola County to an FPL plant in Indiantown in Martin County.

“The primary factors driving this increased need are the three modernization projects currently in progress at FPL’s Cape Canaveral, Riviera Beach and Port Everglades natural gas plants to upgrade older, 1960’s-era steam combustion turbine generating units to modern, and more efficient combined cycle technology,” said the Public Service Commission’s October 2013 memorandum endorsing the pipeline projects.

Sabal Trail, however, has drawn significant opposition from both environmentalists who fear pollution and residents who consider the 36-inch steel pipeline a hazard and don’t want it anywhere near them.

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency sent a 17-page letter to FERC that questioned the need for Sabal Trail and suggested alternatives, like improved energy conservation measures, that would allow FPL to otherwise meet the power needs of its customers.

“U.S. electricity sales appear to have peaked in 2007,” the letter says.

FPL isn’t the only utility looking to generate electricity using natural gas imported via Sabal Trail.

Later this year, the Public Service Commission will consider plans by Duke Energy Florida to build a new, combined-cycle natural gas plant near Crystal River in Citrus County that would be a major customer of the new pipeline.

According to a Duke Energy press release, the project also requires certification under Florida’s Power Plant Siting Act. Certifications are issued by Florida’s siting board, which consists of the governor and Cabinet.

Dan Christensen|BrowardBulldog.org

Wal-Mart and Chik-Fil-A Want to Build on Endangered Florida Forest Lands

The South Florida Rocklands are home to the only true tropical forest on the U.S. mainland. One of the world’s rarest forests, it’s home to at least 137 species of trees and shrubs. As a result of population growth and land clearing in Miami and the Florida Keys, only two percent of the original habitat remains. Now a section of that land is being used for development of a Wal-Mart and a Chik-Fil-A.

Earlier this month, about 88 acres of this pine rockland was sold by the University of Miami to a Palm Beach County developer, and it’s not just a Wal-Mart and Chik-Fil-A that will call it home. The 158,000-square-foot Walmart will be joined by an LA Fitness center, a Chili’s restaurants and about 900 apartments.

There are more than 4,200 Walmart stores in the United States, and new ones continue to pop up regularly, adding to the list of more than 11,000 stores worldwide. The average size of a Wal-Mart Supercenter is 181,000 square feet , a little bigger than the new Walmart planned on the rocklands.

While the developer and the University of Miami have agreed to set aside 40 acres for a preserve, environmentalists and biologists are concerned.

“You wonder how things end up being endangered? This is how. This is bad policy and bad enforcement. And shame on UM,” attorney Dennis Olle, a board member of Tropical Audubon and the North American Butterfly Association, told the Miami Herald. Olle has written to Florida’s lead federal wildlife agent demanding an investigation.

Since there is so little of this rockland left, that makes it all the more essential to save what is left for the flora and fauna that call it home.

“Our listed plants are very rare, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that so little habitat remains. So we certainly place a great value on these species’ conservation,” Craig W. Aubrey, South Florida field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told the Miami Herald. “The butterflies that we’re evaluating are very rare, so any kind of loss to their population would certainly be concerning,” said Aubrey. The rockland provides habitat to several endangered species, including two rare butterflies that are expected to be protected this summer.

The development will only further exacerbate the fragmentation of the rockland. The largest section of Florida’s rockland exists in the Everglades, and is therefore protected, but most of the listed endangered species are found out of the park. Rockland that was previously connected has now been splintered into parcel, which makes each parcel a haven for native species. “That piece in particular is connected to one of the historically largest tracts remaining,” Sarah Martin, a biologist with the Institute for Regional Conservation, told ThinkProgress in reference to the 88 acres sold by the University of Miami. “So for them to start chipping away at it is kind of awful.”

Florida’s flora and fauna aren’t fairing well. As the Miami Herald reports, “according to a 2002 study by the Institute for Regional Conservation… only 23 percent of native plants are now considered safe. About 40 species grow only in the pine rocklands, which before developers arrived ran from Homestead north to the Miami River.”

If the development continues, those numbers are going to decrease even more. “Something needs to be done; otherwise, we have to accept that number is going to keep going down,” said Martin.

Anna Brones|July 21, 2014

DEP Invites Residents, Visitors to “Discover Florida Wild”

Florida is home to a variety of diverse outdoor activities and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is excited to announce the launch of “Discover Florida Wild,” a web portal allowing residents and visitors to explore a variety of outdoor activities offered by the state all in one place.

“This is a great way to encourage more Florida residents to enjoy the natural resources we work so hard to protect here in the state of Florida,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “Many state agencies offer unique recreational opportunities and partnering to create a website that helps connect the dots to make enjoying them easier for residents just makes sense.”

From hunting and fishing, to picnicking and beachgoing, the “Discover Florida Wild” gateway makes finding outdoor adventures easier than ever. Viewers can plan an adventure into the Everglades, explore the notion of camping at a state park or learn more about visiting one of three National Estuarine Research Reserves. The portal allows visitors to link to state agencies managing more than 700 natural springs, 825 miles of beaches and 10,000 miles of hiking, paddling, equestrian and biking trails.

“This new web portal provides a great starting place for people to plan their outdoor adventures on Florida’s public lands and waters,” said FWC Executive Director Nick Wiley. “Florida has a wide range of wild places just waiting for you and your family to explore and enjoy.”

Recreation managers represented on the site include the department’s Florida State Parks, Florida Coastal Office and five Florida Water Management Districts, as well as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Florida Forest Service, a Division of Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

“Florida’s state forests provide one million acres of recreation, from hiking and horseback riding to boating and geocaching,” said State Forester Jim Karels, director of the Florida Forest Service. “We are proud to be a part of this partnership that allows everyone in Florida to find an activity just right for them all on one great website.”

VISIT Florida, which markets the state for tourism, partnered with the agencies to design and host the portal on its site.

To plan your next adventure and enjoy more of Florida’s natural resources, check out www.discoverfloridawild.com

mburgerdep|July 16, 2014

Coal terminals, dredging putting Great Barrier Reef at risk, Senate inquiry told

The fast-tracking of coal terminals and dredging along Queensland’s coast was endangering the health of vital marine ecosystems, a conservation group has told a Senate inquiry.

The inquiry is examining state and federal government management of the Great Barrier Reef, holding hearings in Brisbane, Mackay and Townsville.

“We are very alarmed at the massive port expansion agenda for the Great Barrier Reef,” Australian Marine Conservation Society spokeswoman Felicity Wishart told a hearing in Brisbane today.

“There’s plans is for 100 million tons of dredging in the reef’s waters, which will cause long-term damage.”

Ms. Wishart said the Federal Government needed to beef up environmental protection laws.

“The Queensland Government has been focused on allowing expanded mineral exploitation near the reef, and we’re really concerned that they’re putting the mining sector over the fishing industry and the
tourism industry, so we want to see protection for the reef,” she said.

“It’s very important that the Federal Government tightens up its regulations.”

She said maintaining the reef was crucial to the state’s $6 billion tourism industry.

Resources Council says shipping critical to economy

The Queensland Resources Council came to the defence of the State Government, saying it had gone to great measures to protect the reef.

Speaking outside the inquiry, council CEO Michael Roche said emotive campaigns exaggerated any issued associated with industry.

“We have a very good system for protecting the reef, for regulating activities in the reef; just take the Abbot Point Port project and the dredging – that’s attracted 142 conditions from ministers and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority,” he said.

“We never hear about the fact that these projects are highly regulated, regularly monitored, and it’s simply not that case that activities such as ports and shipping are the big threats to the reef – far from it.

“The concerns are around water quality, the damage done by cyclones, the damage done by crown of thorns starfish, so let’s get some recommendations from this committee that focus on the real problems for the reef.”

Mr. Roche said dredging was vital to the state’s economic growth.

“Shipping channels are as important a part of the economic infrastructure of Queensland as our railways and our roads, so we simply need to have functioning ports,” he said.

“We are a trading nation, we are a trading state, we have $40 billion worth of exports flying out of our ports adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef.

“We make no apologies that our ports and our shipping channels are an essential part of the economic infrastructure of this state.”

Abbott Government treating reef like highway: Greens

Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters said current reef management was not addressing the core issues facing the Great Barrier Reef.

“What I’d like to achieve is for the senators from all the other parties to realize the peril the reef is under and change policy direction,” she said.

“Right now, the Abbott Government is treating the reef like a highway for coal ships and gas ships and like a rubbish tip for gas spoil, and of course they’ve just destroyed climate action last week in the parliament, so we need to turn around those policy pathways or we will lose the reef.”

Alyse Edwards|22 Jul 2014

TEPCO using secondhand tanks to store radioactively contaminated water

Roughly 20 or more of the water tanks holding radioactively contaminated water at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant are secondhand, it has been learned — a fact that plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) had not previously disclosed.

In August 2013, highly radioactive water was found leaking from one of the plant’s tanks. A TEPCO representative refused to comment on whether that tank was one of the used ones.

The secondhand tanks and the tank that leaked are all types assembled by bolting steel pieces together, known as “flange” models. TEPCO has said flange tanks can be used for five years. When questioned by Mainichi Shimbun, a representative for the utility commented, “We do not believe that used tanks have a shorter usable lifespan.”

However, an inside source with a Tokyo company that supplied TEPCO with the tanks told the Mainichi, “We don’t guarantee the tanks for five years as a company, and they are not made to be completely leak-proof in the first place.”

According to the source, TEPCO ordered tanks from the company in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake to store contaminated water, but since it would take too much time to make new ones, in around May 2011, the manufacturer supplied TEPCO with 20 to 30 used flange tanks — mud-storage tanks that it had been renting out to businesses such as construction firms.

Multiple private investigation firms have said that the tank supplier reported high profits for June 2011 as the nuclear disaster created heavy demand for its water tanks and enabled it to sell off “depreciated” tanks. The reference to the tanks as “depreciated” is believed to indicate that a considerable amount of time had passed since their manufacturing date. The flange tanks provided by the company after this point are thought to have been new ones.

In the August 2013 incident at the Fukushima plant, around 300 tons of contaminated water was found to have leaked from a flange tank. Criticism grew over the fact that this tank had been taken apart, reassembled and moved on the plant grounds before the leak occurred. At a news conference around this time TEPCO said that this tank and two others had been relocated, but it made no mention of secondhand tanks.

Since October 2012, the company has been creating and supplying TEPCO with welded tanks that are more resistant to leaks, but most of the flange tanks, including the secondhand ones, are still being used at the Fukushima plant.

It has also been learned from an inside source at the manufacturer that even after TEPCO started to use welded storage tanks, it continued to build new flange tanks for around a year. The source suggests that this was to save money, as it was not until September 2013 that the government decided to apply public funds to the tanks’ purchase. According to the source, welded tanks cost anywhere from two to three times as much as flange tanks.

TEPCO reports that as of April 22 this year there were 332 flange tanks and 552 welded tanks at the Fukushima plant. The utility plans to start replacing the flange tanks with welded tanks this coming September to prevent more leaks.

Mainichi Japan|July 23, 2014

Historic Vote Against Tar Sands Oil

Earlier this week, the South Portland, Maine City Council took an historic step forward to protect wildlife and communities from dirty tar sands oil.

In an exciting vote Monday evening, the Council overwhelmingly passed an ordinance that would prohibit toxic tar sands oil from being loaded onto tankers in this coastal port.

Over the past few years, the oil industry has been quietly advancing plans to ship Canadian tar sands from South Portland, which would include large industrial combustion towers that will spew toxic chemicals into the air, threatening the health of people and wildlife along South Portland’s scenic coast.

Last fall, when this issue was on the ballot, big oil spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat the will of the South Portland people—a town of about 25,000 people—but the voices for wildlife stood strong.

This week’s victory shows that the persistent efforts of tens of thousands of wildlife advocates like you who are saying NO to tar sands are paying off!

We congratulate South Portland in protecting their community and its wildlife from the impacts of dirty tar sands projects.

Andy Buchsbaum|Interim Executive Director||NWF Action Fund

 

State may expand punishment for wildlife feeders

State wildlife officials may increase punishments for people who feed wildlife after a Lake Mary lady was dragged from her garage during a black bear attack in April.

Last week the state attorney’s office charged Eugene Cifers, 63, Corey Zeak, 28, and Lori Clem, 29, for violating the state’s wildlife feeding rules, allegedly feeding the bears that attacked the woman. Zeak and Clem pleaded no contest. Cifers pleaded not guilty and will go before a judge in July.

Unlike transportation laws that allow prosecutors to punish people who commit crimes like vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving, the penalties for feeding wildlife are restricted to the act of feeding, not the aftermath. That may change, though.

“The person who pleaded not guilty (Cifers) lives next door to the woman who was attacked,” said Dave Telesco, with FWC’s bear division. “Our current feeding rule defaults to a secondary misdemeanor. Is it appropriate to attach something to it where an actual violation that leads to an attack could be pursued?”

Telesco and others at FWC are hosting a black bear information gathering meeting today in Naples to take public input on bear management strategies at a time when local reports of bears are skyrocketing. A similar meeting will take place in Lehigh Acres on Tuesday.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission killed the bears after DNA samples taken from one of the bears matched the samples from the clothing of the woman who was attacked. Zeak and Clem were sentenced to six months probation, a $200 fine and 25 hours of community service.

Black bears, the wilderness and you

Black bears numbered about 300 in the 1970s but have since grown to about 3,000 because of management practices and wildlife protection laws. Reports of bears in Florida have exploded in the past 15 years, from 404 in 1999 to 6,667 in 2013.

Black bears can inflict serious injury or death and should be avoided if possible. Wildlife officials say bear spray is the best defense.

Living with bears is nothing new for people like Franklin Adams, a Golden Gate resident and member of the Florida Wildlife Federation. As a hunter and native of South Florida, Adams has seen dozens if not hundreds of bears.

“They’re definitely has been a substantial increase” said Adams, who plans to attend the Naples meeting. “Saturday night we had one come through our place. Recently, three bears in a group came through the place at night. And the big, bad bear has to show his authority by knocking over a few chairs and breaking branches.”

Franklin said over the years he’s learned to adjust to bear habits, like their tendency to knock over bird feeders. Big males, he said, have broken outdoor furniture and torn down mahogany and cypress tress in his backyard. He’s moved the bird feeder to 9 feet off the ground and hung it with a steel cable to keep the bears away.

He said he’s never felt threatened by a bear, and that people who feed wildlife misunderstand the relationship between wildlife and human activities.

“So many people don’t realize there are bears, panthers or even deer,” Franklin said. “It’s kind of the Disney frame of mind. They don’t realize they’re wild creatures and that once you feed them, they become garbage bears.”

Black bear numbers

Reports called in to FWC by the public:

• 2004: 1,595

• 2005: 1,918

• 2006: 2,154

• 2007: 2,795

• 2008: 2,745

• 2009: 3,340

• 2010: 4,196

• 2011: 4,069

• 2012: 6,213

• 2013: 6,667

South Miami votes to block county over mosquito spraying in its city

South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard doesn’t care much for mosquitos, but he doesn’t want the spraying of them to kill butterflies and a rare Florida bat.

He and his fellow city commissioners agreed Tuesday to redefine the city’s designation as a “wildlife sanctuary.” By doing this, the commission puts the Miami-Dade County mosquito control division on notice — that it cannot spray broad-spectrum insecticides or biocides within the territorial limits of South Miami, just south of Coral Gables.

Commissioners also voted Tuesday on a related resolution calling for the city and the county’s mosquito control district to negotiate a mutually agreeable plan for controlling mosquitos here.

The commissioners took their second vote Tuesday night. The measure now becomes law in South Miami.

“We’ve got ourselves a scientist here,” Commissioner Bob Welsh said as the measure passed unanimously. “We better listen to him.”

Stoddard, a biology professor at Florida International University, said the city’s action is important to keep insecticides from destroying the food supply of the state’s rare mammals and insects, including the Florida bonneted bat. According to Stoddard, Miami-Dade County’s mosquito control division is spraying to kill adult-female salt marsh mosquitos; the toxins in the spray destroy the food supply for young bats.

“This ordinance provides us a tool to negotiate with mosquito control,” he said.

“In June, that’s when the young fledge [develop their wings to fly],” Stoddard said. “They are dependent on a large population of moths flying around. That’s the time of year we get salt marsh mosquitos and the mosquito control division of Miami Dade County comes out and sprays for mosquitos and kills them off.”

“[The spray] is somewhere between 400 to 4,000 times more toxic to butterflies than it is mosquitos.”

Research conducted at FIU has shown the insecticides, when used at the concentrations applied for by mosquito control, are deadly to insects such as the Florida atala butterfly, the Monarch butterfly, the Schaus swallowtail butterfly, and other arthropods and pollinators that reside in South Florida.

According to its public works website, Miami Dade County uses the insecticide Naled (Dibrom Concentrate) solely for aerial application. It is “effective in controlling adult salt marsh mosquitos” and is “somewhat irritating if droplets get onto the skin or in the eye,” according to the site.

Friday was the first aerial application of the Naled this year, said Chalmers Vasquez, the mosquito control operations manager for Miami-Dade.

Vasquez said that no aerial application was used last year. By contrast, in 2004, the county sprayed Naled more than 20 times.

“Dibrom hydrolyzes very quickly,” Vasquez said. “Between 24 to 48 hours there is no residue left.”

Spraying is necessary to control mosquitos, Vasquez added.

“We have a number of calls in the area, including South Miami, where the residents are screaming for mosquito control because they are being attacked by mosquitos.’’

There are fewer than 1,000 Florida bonneted bats in existence. U.S. wildlife managers added the bats to the endangered species list in November, after citing habitat loss and mosquito spraying as deadly threats.

Miami-Dade County uses Beechcraft-type airplanes that carry a 100-gallon tank of insecticide. The planes spray every 1,000 feet at 300 feet altitude, according to Vasquez.

Stoddard inquired about stopping the spraying, but was met with opposition.

“They wouldn’t stop spraying,” Stoddard said. “They said that under the Florida statute, they aren’t allowed to stop. I looked up the statute and found a provision in which you can negotiate a more nuanced mosquito control policy.

“It doesn’t make sense to be spraying on a large scale for adult mosquitos,” Stoddard added. “If you’ve got an outbreak of dengue fever in one block, does it make sense to spray around the block at that location and just try to knock it down? Yes it does. If you can nip an epidemic in the bud like that, go ahead and blast it. But to cover half a city, all you are doing is building a resistance.”

Vasquez says that he has not seen any signs of mosquitos building a resistance to the insecticides.

Stoddard cited older methods such as water control and less dangerous chemical approaches as alternatives. One chemical that could be used is Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which Stoddard says is not poisonous to most insects.

Vasquez contends the county needs to spray because of the volume of mosquitos blanketing the area.

“We have a high count of mosquitos,” Vasquez said. “We had 5, 10, 15 mosquitos per minute in our trap. That, coupled with the number of complaint calls, triggers the application of pesticide in the area.”

“We don’t apply the pesticides because they’re fun. We wait for the reason to do it.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 40,000 people in the United States have contracted the West Nile virus disease since 1999.

The first cases of Chikungunya fever acquired in the United States were reported on July 17 in Miami Dade and Palm Beach counties, according to the CDC. The virus rarely kills those infected but typically causes fever and severe joint pain.

“Having those number of mosquitos, like right now, people are scared,” Vasquez said. “We have cases of disease and we need to protect the people.”

Countered Stoddard: “The problem is that these are not selected for mosquitos, by any means, so they wipe out everything,” Stoddard said. “The insecticides typically knock out the mosquitos leaving the larvae to hatch out and make more. You have really used a big hammer on a small problem.”

ALEX BUTLER|The Miami Herald|07.23.14

Armed Bandits Demand ‘Water Tax’ From Drought-Plagued Indian Villagers

Water has become the central focus of an armed hostage situation as bandits demand a “water tax” from villagers in a drought-plagued region of northern India.

The bandits “are threatening to kill hundreds of villagers unless they deliver 35 buckets of water each day to the outlaws in their rural hideouts,” the Associated Press reported. The area where the conflict is underway is sometimes referred to as “bandit country.”

The demand “issued by bandit chieftains on cellphones a month ago is being extended to more villages,” the Hindustan Times reported this week. “The gang, active in Banda and Chitrakoot, is believed to have two dozen members armed with latest arms and ammunition.”

Nearly 30 villages have complied with the demands.

They alternate the burden of delivering the so-called “water tax” to the bandits, the AP reported, citing police. “Petrified by the circumstances, the villagers are “hauling water into the forests and mountain areas” in order to meet the demand, the International Business Times reported, citing a local charity worker.” Villages have pooled in their resources and [people] to fetch the water and supply it to the gang,” said Himanshu Gupta Atmiya, who works locally on drought relief, per the Hindustan Times.

Dry conditions in the region mean that compliance is a huge burden.

“Since most water bodies have dried up due to the severe heat and rain deficiency, the poor villagers – mainly women – have to trudge several kilometers to get the [bandits] their daily supply of water,” DNA India reported. Police officer Suresh Kumar Singh told the AP: “Water itself is very scarce in this region. Villagers can hardly meet their demand,” he said.

The bandits are trying to remain hidden from police.

“The gang does not stay anywhere for more than two nights. They keep moving to avoid being detected by the police teams combing the area,” a senior police official told DNA. Many villagers have been too terrified to speak up to authorities, according to DNA.

Sara Jerome|July 21, 2014

Calls to Action

  1. Support the Clean Water Rule – here
  2. Snowmobile rule threatens wildlands – here
  3. Prevent development on rare endangered forest lands in South Florida – here
  4. Give Kenai Brown Bears a True Refuge – here
  5. Help protect the world’s most beautiful and diverse places – Adopt a Coral Reef –  here
  6. Florida Manatees Need Their Space – here
  7. Do Your Part For Pets & Wildlife – here
  8. Protect America’s Rainforest From Old-Growth Logging – here
  9. Urge the Vikings and the MSFA to reverse course immediately and use safer glasshere
  10.  STOP THE NAVY’S ASSAULT ON WHALES – here
  11. Demand EPA Set Stricter Limits on Use of Roundup Herbicide – here
  12. Don’t let Exxon kill whales or otters – here
  13. Restore the equilibrium of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem – here

Birds and Butterflies

5 Amazing Facts that Will Make You Love Moths

When was the last time you sat down and appreciated the humble moth? I know moths, at least where I live, tend to be a little drab, but they’re actually fascinating creatures. Luckily, it’s National Moth Week, so you have an excuse to get outside and investigate moths in all their glory!

You can find an event in your area or you can set out some bait and see what shows up because, as the following facts show, moths are as diverse, strange and beautiful as any other insect.

1. Moths get bigger than you might think. And also smaller.

When I think of moths, I usually think of relatively small, winged insects. Maybe an inch long. But actually moths vary in size greatly. The Atlas moth is considered to be the largest moth, with a wingspan of about 10 inches. Lay your hands down side-by-side on a table so your thumbs are touching. The Atlas moth’s wingspan is a little bigger than that. It also has a surface area of 62 square inches. That is one enormous moth.

If moths can be super big, they can also be super small. Very super small. A yet to be described moth from the Democratic Republic of the Congo was discovered in 2012. It’s only 1 mm long with a wingspan of 2 to 2.5 mm. The length of this tiny moth is comparable to a typed period. We’re talking very, very small.

2. Moths helped show that natural selection actually happens.

Evolution is a scientific fact, and it just so happens that the humble moth helped illustrate the mechanism of evolution, by which I mean natural selection.

Peppered moths live all over the world and they come in light and dark varieties. In England in the 1950s, coal dust was getting all over everything, including trees. The trees in question naturally had white-ish bark. Thanks to a good coal-dusting, the bark was now black. The light peppered moths were then easier for birds to spot and therefore catch and eat. The population of light moths decreased while the population of black moths increased because their dark color was better camouflage. As Britain made air quality better, the trees went from black to white again, and black peppered moths became rarer and light peppered moths became common.  It’s hard to find a more stark example of how natural selection works than that.

3. Moths are masters of disguise.

No, I’m not just talking about how some people can’t tell the difference between butterflies and moths. There are some types of moths that are actually really good at disguising themselves as their scarier insect brethren. For example, both moths from genus Cosmosoma and from the family Sesiidae mimic wasps. These two types of moths have lost the scales on their wings so they look clear and have yellow stripes on their bodies. The Scarlet-bodied wasp moth, pictured above, is another example.They don’t look like the moths we’ve come to know and love. Moths don’t always mimic stingy insects to avoid predators, though. The Buff-tip moth looks suspiciously like a broken branch when it’s sitting still.

4. Some moths have no mouths and don’t eat.

It sounds weird but it’s totally true. While some moths do suck nectar and are important pollinators, others don’t have a mouth at all. For example, the Atlas moth mentioned earlier has no mouth, neither does the luna moth. As such, these gorgeous (and big) moths only live for a bout a week. Their sole function in this phase of their lives is reproduction.

5. There are nine times more species of moths than butterflies.

Even though butterflies get a lot more press, there are far fewer species than their similar cousins. There are about 17,500 known species of butterfly and, while that’s a lot, there are 160,000 known species of moth.

As you can see, moths are everywhere, and in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colors, so make sure to take some time this National Moth Week to appreciate them!

Mindy Townsend|July 20, 2014

Popular Pesticides Linked to Drops in Bird Populations

This is the latest in a string of studies suggesting that some pesticides impact birds as well as pollinators

Let me tell you about the birds and the bees: A family of pesticides called neonicotinoids has been linked with pollinator declines. While their involvement in bee colony collapse is hotly debated, ecologists are wondering: could neonicotinoids impact something further up the food chain?

A study published yesterday in Nature suggests that birds and bees may share a common enemy. Dutch researchers have found a correlation between bird population declines in the Netherlands and higher concentrations of the common neonicotinoid pesticide imidacloprid in surface water.

“There is an alarming trend between declines of local bird populations and imidacloprid in the environment, which needs serious attention to see what we want to do with this pesticide in the future,” says Hans de Kroon, a co-author and plant ecologist at Radboud University in the Netherlands. The researchers posit that the pesticide affects these birds by killing off their bug food supply.

Concerns have been raised about neonicotinoids’ affect on bees since the chemical first emerged on the pesticide scene in the 1990s. What makes them popular is the fact that they’re supposed to only harm insect pests keen to munch on plant leaves. In insects, the pesticide binds to specific receptors in the nervous system, ultimately killing the insect.

Because the chemical has a lower binding affinity to the same type of receptor in mammals, birds, and other larger animals, it’s also supposed to be less toxic and thus less dangerous to those species.

However, neonicotinoids’ harmless reputation is beginning to erode, as studies point to the pesticides having unintended consequences on pollinators, other insects and even some wildlife. For example, a 2013 study associated higher concentrations of neonicotinoids in polluted water to overall insect population drops in the Netherlands—not just drops in those that munch on or pollinate crops. While crops absorb some of the pesticide, the rest can seep into water and soil, where it can linger for almost three years before degrading. It’s here that unintended targets can pick up the pesticide, causing a wider population of insects die.

Given that overall populations of bugs show declines and farmland birds have been disappearing across Europe, de Kroon and his colleagues began to think more broadly. “Many species depend on insects during the breeding season for raising their offspring and for their own wellbeing,” says Caspar Hallmann, another co-author and plant ecologist at Radboud University. “So, if insects fall away from an environment then what about our birds?”

 

Across the Netherlands, the researchers selected common 15 farmland bird species, including the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) and the common starling (Sturnus vulgaris), all of which rely on insects as either their sole or primary food source. Thanks to an extensive data set kept by the Dutch Common Breeding Bird Monitoring Scheme, they were able to track the rise and fall of populations across the Netherlands from 2003 to 2010. Surface water quality measurements gave the researchers concentration data for imidacloprid from 2003 to 2009 in canals and waterways across the country. Mapping one data set against the other, they looked for patterns.

In areas with imidacloprid concentrations higher than 19.43 nanograms per liter, bird populations were in decline. The average rate of decline was 3.5 percent annually—that makes for more than a 30 percent decline over 10 years, notes de Kroon. The higher the imidacloprid concentration the more severely the bird populations dropped.

null As concentrations of imidacropids rose, local bird populations fell. (Graphic: Radboud University)

Pesticide use is hardly the only factor that could influence bird population health—habitat loss, bulb agriculture, greenhouses and other land use trends could all impact insect communities. So, the authors compared trends in those factors, too, but none matched up with population patterns as well as variation in pesticide concentration. “Locally some populations increase, some decline,” says Hallmann. “Imidacloprid [concentration] is by far the best explanatory variable for these trends.”

Just how, then, does the pesticide affect birds? The researchers hypothesize that the mechanism of this effect is through the food chain. Previous studies have shown that a significant blow to birds’ prey can send a population spiraling. “Food levels determine population size of insectivores but also their body condition, breeding success, etc.,” says Brigitte Poulin, an ecologist at Tour de Valat Research Center in France unaffiliated with this study. So rather than killing the birds directly, the toxin can work indirectly to malnourish birds.

But birds also might encounter neonicotinoids directly—catching an accidental spraying, eating a pesticide-covered seed, or even accumulating the toxin by eating pesticide laced insects (there’s no field evidence to support this, though). Some insect-eating birds also supplement their diets with seeds outside of breeding season, and a handful of studies have shown that eating seeds doused in neonicotinoids proved lethal to some birds after only a few days. Seeds treated with imidicloprid and other neonicotinoids are commonly used—not just in agriculture and but also in backyard gardening. And birds that drink nectar, such as hummingbirds, may face even different sets of risks and unknowns.

Though this study is the first to link bird population trends to neonicotinoid concentrations, it’s not the first to look beyond bees to birds. Last month, the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides, an international team of scientists convened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, published a report citing growing evidence of neonicotinoid’s harmful effects on birds, as well as other vertebrates such as fish and lizards.

This might all sound a bit familiar: a promising, popular pesticide kills insects with reverberations through local food webs that ultimately lead to the decline of birds. In the 1960s, ecologists noticed that though dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) was a great mosquito-killer, it had cascading effects on bald eagles and even humans. “We now have a new insecticide that we thought was doing everything right and it appears that it’s not—and that is a little bit of repeated history,” de Kroon reflects.

So, are neonicotinoids the new DDT? Yes and no. DDT impacted species through bioaccumulation and by mimicking estrogen, causing cancer. At the moment, there’s no evidence to suggest that either is at play with neonicotinoids.

Nevertheless, it’s a comparison ecologists favor, and neonicotinoids clearly have much more widespread affects on ecosystems than expected, as Dave Goulson, an ecologist at the University of Sussex points out in an editorial in Nature this week. Silent Spring author Rachel Carson “would undoubtedly think that we seem to have learnt little from our past mistakes,” Goulson writes.

Ecologists hope that the mounting evidence against neonicotinoids can spur regulatory action. To better assess environmental impacts, the EU has already instituted a two-year ban on the pesticides, which went into effect in December. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is reexamining neonicotinoids’ environmental impact at the moment and faces exceeding pressure from environmental groups to take them off the market.

Nevertheless, Bayer CropScience, the primarily manufacturer of imidacloprid, was quick to release a statement yesterday pointing out that the research shows a only correlation, rather than proving a “causal link,” between pesticide use and bird population declines. “Neonicotinoids have gone through an extensive risk assessment which has shown that they are safe to the environment when used responsibly according to the label instructions,” the company maintains.

The evidence may be circumstantial, but the Dutch team’s next step will be to pin down exactly how pesticides could be driving these bird trends to get some solid leads in this environmental whodunit.

Helen Thompson|smithsonian.com|July 10, 2014

All About Birdhouses (And Other Nesting Structures)

Maybe you have always wanted to put up a birdhouse but weren’t sure which species you could attract in your area. Or perhaps you have several already and are looking to branch out and help more birds in need. Either way, we have a new tool for you to help you become the ultimate nest box landlord.

Our new All About Birdhouses is your go-to source for updated, expanded, and beautifully designed information about birdhouses (also called “nest boxes”).

Use the Right Bird, Right House nest box selector to find out which birds you can target in your region and habitat. With 54 birds featured, from deserts to mountaintops, you are sure to find a bird that is looking for a home in your neighborhood. Discover species that you may not know, or find a plan for a home to attract your favorite raptor, songbird, or waterfowl. It’s easy, and we even show you which species are declining in your area. Think outside the box, too, and consider adding a nesting shelf, basket, or platform to your existing nest boxes. Download one or several free plans, and get information about how to successfully attract the species of interest.

Whether you plan to build your own or buy, don’t miss our Features of a Good Birdhouse infographic. This new graphic makes it easier to see the most important features of a safe nest box, and also introduces new advances in the state of the art. All this and more can be found in the new All About Birdhouses section, where you can find what you need to welcome more birds to your yard, no matter where you live.

Nestwatch|The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Read Audubon Center for Birds of Prey’s “Florida Raptor News” here

Native Milkweed Research Update

Every year as fall approaches, millions of monarch butterflies throughout eastern North America make their long-distance journey south to the mountains of central Mexico to overwinter. In Florida, we also have small resident populations that breed year-round in southern portions of the state. Many butterfly enthusiasts and gardeners plant milkweed in their landscapes to help provide needed food for monarch larvae.

Unfortunately, not all milkweeds are the same. Non-native Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias currasivica), by far the most common commercially available species and sometimes misidentified in the marketplace as native, has escaped from cultivation in many areas and can cause some problems for Monarchs. Because Tropical Milkweed grows throughout the year (weather permitting), it can enable monarchs to continue breeding well into the fall or winter, disrupting their normal migratory cycle. Prolonged breeding can also foster higher than normal infection rates by a lethal protozoan parasite, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, or OE for short. In fact, recent research indicates that such year-round resources could prolong exposure to parasites, elevate infection prevalence, and even favor more virulent parasite genotypes.

The simple answer to this potential problem is “go native.” An abundant and diverse supply of native milkweed species will contribute to an abundant healthy population of monarch butterflies. The challenge is finding one of our many native milkweed species in nursery production. [FANN growers offer Scarlet or Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Aquatic or White Milkweed (A. perennis) and Butterflyweed (A. tuberosa) in small quantities - usually, hundreds or less.]

The Florida Museum of Natural History and the Butterfly Conservation Initiative are trying to help by growing several milkweeds including Asclepias perennis, A. incarnata, A. humistrata and A. lanceolata for eventual retail sale as well as developing appropriate nursery propagation protocols. This effort complements the excellent work of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation to increase the availability of Florida native milkweed seed for monarch butterfly habitat restoration efforts. Finally, our three organizations are developing an informational brochure that emphasizes the importance of using native milkweed, features several Florida milkweed species and provides color photos of common butterfly larvae and their native Florida host plants. We hope to raise awareness and interest in using native plants in the landscape and help stimulate more native milkweed production.  see: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/wildflower/books.asp

Jaret C. Daniels, Ph.D.|Assistant Curator of Lepidoptera|University of Florida|IFAS|Assistant Professor of Entomology|Florida Museum of Natural History

  Invasive species

Deadly fungus spreads in Everglades, killing trees

MIAMI — A fungus carried by an invasive beetle from southeast Asia is felling trees across the Everglades, and experts have not found a way to stop the blight from spreading.

Then there’s a bigger problem — the damage may be leaving Florida’s fragile wetlands open to even more of an incursion from exotic plants threatening to choke the unique Everglades and undermine billions of dollars’ worth of restoration projects.

Since first detected on the edge of Miami’s western suburbs in 2011, laurel wilt has killed swamp bay trees scattered across 330,000 acres of the Everglades, a roughly 2 million-acre system that includes Everglades National Park. The fungus is spread by the tiny redbay ambrosia beetle, which likely arrived in this country in a shipment of wood packing material.

The same fungus also plagues commercial avocado trees and redbay trees elsewhere in Florida and the Southeast. While the state has been working with the avocado industry to mitigate the damage, there’s been no way to contain it in swamp bay or redbay trees. Experts say the best defense would be stopping invasive pests from crossing U.S. borders in the first place.

Hundreds of millions of redbay trees have succumbed across six states since 2002, said Jason Smith, an expert in forest pathology at the University of Florida.

“It’s amazing how much of an impact this one little tiny beetle that’s no bigger than Lincoln’s nose on a penny has done,” Smith said in a recent interview. “And it continues to spread.”

This summer, Smith will survey the national park for living swamp bay trees to collect samples in the hopes of propagating new trees resistant to the pathogen from their cuttings or seeds. The South Florida Water Management District, the state agency that oversees Everglades restoration, also plans to ramp up its monitoring and maintenance of the tree islands where swamp bays are found.

The damage is easily spotted from the air and from the highway that cuts across the Everglades. Gray skeletons of swamp bays that died in the pathogen’s first wave and newly dead trees that have turned dry and brown mar the dark green tree islands that dot the vast expanse of pale sawgrass.

Each tree island is losing up to half its tree canopy, said LeRoy Rodgers, the water management district’s lead invasive species biologist.

That’s worrisome because invasive plants may work their way into those open spaces — like weeds in a garden, but worse.

Old world climbing fern, melaleuca, Australian pine and Brazilian pepper are the invaders that particularly worry state and federal caretakers of the Everglades. Like the invasive Burmese pythons that are blamed for dramatic drops in the populations of native mammals in the wetlands, the plants have established a home in South Florida’s sunny and wet climate.

The exotic plants can transform sawgrass prairies into impenetrable thickets, and they fuel explosive fires that kill native plants adapted for less intense burns. They’re not a food source for native wildlife, and in coastal areas, their roots can disrupt the nests of endangered sea turtles. They’re so tenacious and difficult to remove that even if Smith finds a way to propagate swamp bays to replace the ones lost, the invasive plants could prevent them from taking root.

“We already have these problems with invasives that are almost too daunting. When you add laurel wilt to the mix, it’s only going to get worse,” said Tylan Dean, chief of biology at Everglades National Park.

Nonnative plants currently comprise 16 percent of the flora in the Everglades, according to a congressionally mandated restoration progress report published last month by the National Research Council.

Billions of dollars have been pledged for Everglades restoration projects that span decades, but those funds are mostly focused on restoring a more natural flow of freshwater through the wetlands south to the Florida Keys.

In spite of the disturbances they cause, invasive species haven’t been factored into Everglades restoration planning beyond treating invasive plants that spread during construction, and there’s little funding or manpower available to fight them back, according to the report.

“In Everglades restoration, we have a mantra: we want to get the water right,” Rodgers said. “But if we cannot deal with the invasive species, we can get the water right but not get the Everglades we thought we were getting.”

Jennifer Kay|Associated Press|July 25, 2014

Endangered Species

Bad news for the Birds & Bees

The culprit: a class of pesticides manufactured by Bayer and others called neonicotinoids (or neonics).

A terrifying new study has found that the exact same pesticides causing the massive global bee die-off are now killing birds as well.

The global bee die-off has been happening so fast that scientists are still scrambling to detect all the impacts. And now, this new study also finds that neonic pesticides are killing warblers, swallows, starlings and thrushes nearly as fast as the bees — at current rates, 35 percent of the bird population will disappear in just 10 years in the areas studied.

We need to get these toxic pesticides off the market before they cause a new “silent spring” — and our efforts are gaining momentum.

In Europe, there’s a moratorium on bee and bird-killing neonics. Ontario, Canada’s biggest province, is close to becoming the first major territory in North America to ban them as well.

But Bayer — one of the biggest producers of these toxic pesticides — has an army of lawyers suing to overturn Europe’s ban, and their million-dollar lobbyists are fighting to kill Ontario’s bee protection bill. 

Neonics aren’t supposed to harm birds in the amounts being used, but it turns out that they’re building up in the environment to levels that are poisonous for birds — and potentially mammals as well.

That’s why we’re fighting to ban neonics once and for all. With support from SumOfUs members around the world, our lawyers are helping defend Europe’s neonics ban from a Bayer lawsuit. Our activist beekeepers and campaigners have spoken out at Bayer’s annual shareholder meetings to pressure the company directly, as well as some of the largest garden retailers in the world. A new report from Friends of the Earth and SumOfUs has already pushed more stores to move towards banning neonics. And if we can win in Ontario, that will be the very first neonics ban in North America.

But no one can be sure how long the bees and birds can survive the onslaught of toxic pesticides, so we have to do more while we still can.

Paul Ferris|SumOfUs.org|7/23/14

Third wolf hunt petition approved, headed to Michigan Legislature

LANSING — A third wolf petition was unanimously approved by the state Board of Canvassers today and is headed to the state Legislature.

Supporters of the wolf hunt needed to collect 258,088 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. The Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management turned in 375,475 signatures and the Secretary of State found that 297,051 of those signatures were valid.

The Legislature has 40 days to either pass the initiative — which was spearheaded by a group supportive of the hunting of gray wolves in the Upper Peninsula — come up with a competing proposal, reject it, or do nothing.

If the Legislature passes the initiative, and they’ve already voted twice in the last two years to support a hunt, it automatically becomes law. If they reject it or do nothing, the initiative will appear on the November ballot along with two other anti-wolf hunting proposals which have already been approved for the ballot.

The Legislature is back in session on Aug. 13 and could bring the issue up then.

Activists opposed to the wolf hunt have turned in two petitions. After the first petition was turned in — which would repeal the first law passed by the Legislature in 2012 allowing for a wolf hunt — the Legislature passed another law which circumvented that petition.

The anti-wolf hunt forces turned in a second petition to repeal the second wolf hunt law passed by the Legislature. The third wolf hunt ballot question, which supports the hunt, is meant to preempt the second anti-wolf hunt petition.

The pro-wolf hunt initiative would give hunting-related decisions to the Natural Resources Commission, which has already approved and set a wolf hunt for three areas in the Upper Peninsula. The first wolf hunt was held in November and December and had a goal of killing 43 of the Upper Peninsula’s population of more than 650 wolves. The hunt resulted in 23 wolves being killed by hunters.

The anti-wolf hunt forces haven’t ruled out filing a lawsuit on the third petition.

Kathleen Gray|Gannett Michigan|Jul. 24, 2014

4 States Just Got a Little Bit Safer for Bees

Environmentalists have been warning about the problems associated with a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids (neonics) on pollinators and other wildlife, but now there’s some good news that comes with a decision from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to phase out these toxic chemicals on wildlife refuges in the Northwest and Hawaii.

Neonics can be used in sprays, but are often applied as a coating on agricultural seeds and when it is, it spreads throughout the plant as it grows making the whole thing poisonous to a variety of insects. Studies have shown that they can be lethal to honey bees, bumble bees and other species at high doses, but even a little bit can cause problems by making them more vulnerable to other stressors. They’ve also been linked to Colony Collapse Disorder and have recently been found to be harmful to aquatic invertebrates and birds.

That’s not just bad news for pollinators, it’s bad news for us and the wild animals who depend on them to help pollinate crops and other wild plants we all depend on for food.

Earlier this year environmental organizations petitioned the agency to ban both genetically engineered crops and neonics throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System over concerns about the dangers they pose to wildlife and protected species and because their use is inappropriate on land that’s supposed to be designated to protect wildlife and conserve habitats.

In a memorandum published by the Center for Food Safety earlier this month, the FWS acknowledged that neonics could have adverse effects on a “broad-spectrum of non-target species” and agreed that their use does not meet the intent of policies that are supposed to cause the least harm to wildlife and their habitats. The agency also noted that they’re not only potentially being used on agricultural crops that are grown on wildlife refuges, but that they may be getting introduced through plants used in restoration projects.

Kim Trust, the deputy regional director of the FWS, told the AP that the agency made the decision because it is concerned about the global decline in all pollinators.

As of now, refuge managers will be required to take other steps to avoid their use on close to 9,000 acres of land in Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon and Washington and should have neonics completely phased out by January 2016.

“We commend the Service for taking its first step to ban neonicotinoids in the Pacific region, and now we call on the agency to permanently institute this policy on wildlife refuges nationwide,” said Paige Tomaselli, senior attorney with Center for Food Safety. “Federal wildlife refuges were established to protect natural diversity. Allowing chemical companies to profit by poisoning these important ecosystems violates their fundamental purpose and mission.”

Alicia Graef|July 24, 2014

First the Bees, Then the Birds, and Now the Fish Are at Risk From a Particularly Toxic Pesticide

A new government study finds extensive contamination of rivers with neonicotinoids linked to bee die-off.

The United States Geological Survey has found widespread contamination of Midwestern streams and rivers with neonicotinoids, putting fish at risk from a class of insecticide implicated in the mass die-off of honeybees, which pollinate a third of the world’s food supply.

Neonicotinoids, also called neonics, account for 40 percent of the global pesticide market and are used extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe. Most corn and soybean crops grown in the American Midwest are treated with neonics. Scientific studies have documented that neonics can harm bees, birds, and other wildlife.

The new research adds to a growing body of scientific evidence that neonics are one of the most persistent, prevalent, and potentially toxic pesticides since DDT, which was banned in the U.S. in 1972.

Neonics are a so-called systemic pesticide that is absorbed into a plant’s roots, stems, leaves, flowers, pollen, and nectar. Farmers can spray plants with neonics, but seeds are now routinely treated with the nerve poison, meaning that as the plant grows the pesticide remains part of the flora.

Bees and other pollinators are at particular risk as they eat neonic-contaminated pollen and nectar. Several scientific studies have found that even nonlethal doses of neonics can weaken bees’ immune systems, making them vulnerable to disease and parasites.

USGS scientists collected 79 water samples from nine waterways, including the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, during the 2013 growing season. They focused on Iowa, a major grower of corn and soybean, and targeted three types of neonics: clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and imidacloprid.

In 2013, farmers applied 474,000 pounds of clothianidin, 156,000 pounds of thiamethoxam, and 110,000 pounds of imidacloprid to crops. Inevitably, irrigation water and rain storms washed the pesticides into nearby streams and rivers. Neonics dissolve quickly in water and can be carried far, according to the report. They also persist in the environment for years.

The researchers detected clothianidin in 75 percent of the waterways sampled, while thiamethoxam was present in 47 percent, and imidacloprid in 23 percent.

“This was the first broad-scale investigation of multiple neonicotinoid insecticides in waterways in the Midwestern U.S. and is one of the first conducted within the entire United States,” Kathryn Kuivila, the leader of the USGS research team, said in an email. “So one of the next steps is for toxicologists and ecologists to assess the consequences of these levels for the observed periods of time.”

So are fish in danger?

That depends on whose data you accept.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, clothianidin has chronic toxic effects on fish at concentrations of 1,100 nanograms per liter of water. The threshold for imidacloprid is 1,050 ng/l. (The EPA has not set a baseline for thiamethoxam.)

However, another study determined that imidacloprid becomes chronically toxic for fish at a far lower concentration—just 20 ng/l.

In Iowa, the USGS found maximum imidacloprid concentrations twice that—42.7 ng/l. Maximum clothianidin concentrations were 257 ng/l.

“We are planning future studies to look at the fate and potential effects of neonics in the environment,” said Kuivila.

But Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist at the Center for Food Safety, an advocacy group that has sued the federal government and the state of California over approval of neonics, said the time has come for action.

“As the body of evidence against neonicotinoids continues to grow, our government has fewer and fewer excuses for their inaction,” he said.” If meaningful action is not taken, we may be headed toward a second Silent Spring.

Todd Woody|July 25, 2014

How Scientists Are Trying to Save New England’s Rare Rabbits

Even though rabbits have a solid reputation for being prolific breeders, New England cottontails have been slowly disappearing from the landscape for decades. Now they’re in danger of disappearing entirely from some of the last places they can be found in Maine and New Hampshire.

They’re currently listed as endangered species in both states, while they’re waiting as candidates for needed protection under the Endangered Species Act.

In a study published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, scientists with the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station (NHAES) have found that over the last decade their populations have become even more isolated while their range has contracted by 50 percent.

The greatest cause for their decline has been habitat loss and fragmentation, which has been caused by maturing forests, development or naturally unsuitable habitat. These rabbits are known as habitat specialists, who rely on thicketed habitats made of shrubs and small trees that offer cover and protection from predators. Researchers believe restoring these types of habitats is the key to keeping these rare rabbits from going extinct.

“The New England cottontail is a species of great conservation concern in the Northeast. This is our only native rabbit and is an integral component of the native New England wildlife. Maintaining biodiversity gives resilience to our landscape and ecosystems,” said NHAES researcher Adrienne Kovach, research associate professor of natural resources at the University of New Hampshire.

To find out where these rabbits are, where they’re traveling to and how their genes are being spread, researchers studied DNA samples that were collected from the droppings of 157 rabbits in southern Maine and along the coast of New Hampshire between 2007 and 2009.

While they discovered their habitat is shrinking, and their populations are separated by distance and blocked by major highways and rivers, they also found that certain man-made landscapes, including the edges of railroads and roads, along with powerline rights-of-way, have provided a preferred habitat for these rabbits and have created important corridors for them to travel along. These corridors are critical for their dispersal, which helps keep them from competing for resources and suffering from the effects of inbreeding. They also concluded that underpasses and culverts, could be effective in helping these rabbits move across major highways.

The researchers now hope that getting wildlife managers and conservation efforts focused on protecting and restoring these landscapes will help New England cottontails recover, in addition to helping dozens of other species from birds and small mammals to reptiles who also rely on thicketed habitats.

“If we can restore more of this habitat in our landscape and work on creating a landscape that has a mosaic of different habitats, including mature forests and young forests, we know that it is going to help a lot of species,” said Kovach.

For more info about efforts to help New England cottontails, visit NewEnglandCottontail.org.

Alicia Graef|July 25, 2014

The Quest to Save the World’s Second Rarest Cat

With fewer than 100 Asiatic cheetahs in Iran’s wilderness, the time is now to save this ecological and cultural wonder.

Iran‘s Asiatic cheetah’s alarming low numbers are pushing them closer to extinction. The Asiatic cheetah is one of the last two remaining critically endangered large cats in the country. The country has already lost the Asiatic lion and Caspian tiger to extinction.

The Three P‘s That are Killing Iran‘s Asiatic Cheetah

Cousin to the African cat, the Asiatic cheetah’s territory used to spread from the Red Sea to India. As reported in the Associated Press, in Iran, their numbers have dropped from an estimated 400 in the 1990s to 50-70 cheetahs today.

According to Panthera, an organization dedicated to wild cat conservation, there are three major threats to Iran’s Asiatic cheetahs:

1) Poaching: Even though this cheetah is a lot tamer than other carnivores, some shepherds believe that the cats are competition or are out to eat their livestock. Some of the cheetahs lose their lives to sheep dogs. Ironically, shepherds are given permission to graze their animal flocks in natural cheetah habitat, and the cats die.

Poaching has also fueled the exotic pet trade where cubs are taken and sold. As reported in The Guardian, the illegal pet trade is devastating cheetah populations across the globe. While traditional medicine used to account for most of the cheetah smuggling, today, exotic pets like cheetahs are feeding desires of power, status and wealth.

2) Prey: The Iranian Revolution of the late 1970s created a time of unregulated hunting of many of the Asiatic cheetah’s natural prey. While regulations were eventually set, the illegal overhunting of cheetah prey hasn’t stopped.

3) Place: The cats are losing their natural habitats to human development, grazing land for livestock and farmland. Natural occurrences like droughts are also hurting their numbers.

The cheetahs also have first-world problems. Like the endangered ocelots in the United States, Asiatic cheetahs are frequent victims of passing cars.

The UN Steps in

Iran can’t afford to lose another wild cat, and the United Nations has stepped in to help. The two-phase Conservation of the Asiatic Cheetah Project (CACP) was born out of this partnership.

Phase I: According to National Geographic, CACP appointed five areas that would act as cheetah safe-havens. From 2001 to 2008, the areas would also include cheetah guards with new materials to better defend the cats, e.g. vehicles and motorbikes.

CACP also promoted the cultural significance of the wild cat to the masses through educational initiatives. Before CACP, most Iranians weren’t aware that there were cheetahs in their country or that they were the wild cats’ main custodians.

Phase II: Phase II was launched in the summer of 2010 and it is expected to end in December 2016. The second wave of CACP is working towards creating better management of the protected areas by creating financial sustainability and filling in those financial gaps. Another goal is to get the local private sector involved in promoting conservation and creating environmentally-friendly opportunities for locals in protected areas to reduce poverty and sustain their livelihoods.

CACP seems to be on the right track. A few of the successes include: implementing better grazing laws, obtaining land and water rights in cheetah protected areas, increasing cheetah research and promoting the cats to the public, e.g. Cheetah Day.

Reasons to Save the Asiatic Cheetah

With numbers so low, it’s really a no-brainer as to why Iran and the world should step in to save the Asiatic cheetah.

Besides being the right thing to do, the Asiatic cheetah can also fuel ecotourism and create an additional revenue stream in the country. As Nature World News reports, the endangered status of the cats could lure more tourists eager to catch a glimpse of the rare cat.

Saving the Asiatic cheetah is also an internal matter of cultural solidarity. The Asiatic cheetah used to be reserved for Iranian royalty. Emperors and kings used them to hunt gazelles. Today, sport royalty recalls the spirit of the endangered wild cat when Iranian soccer players sported the cheetah on their 2014 World Cup jerseys.

The Asiatic cheetah shouldn’t be reserved for a select few. Iran and the world should get to enjoy the wild cats for a long time. Let’s hope that conservation efforts pay off.

Jessica Ramos|July 23, 2014

Wild & Weird

Moose Drool Detoxifies Fungus

Saliva contains important substances that help us digest food. It also plays a part in keeping our mouths clean and healthy. Another newly discovered use? Making toxic plants less toxic. Not for us of course, but according to new research, moose and reindeer saliva can help can slow the growth of a toxic grass fungus, and subsequently make it less toxic for them, allowing the animals to graze on the grass without negative effects.

“Plants have evolved defense mechanisms to protect themselves, such as thorns, bitter-tasting berries, and in the case of certain types of grass, by harboring toxic fungus deep within them that can be dangerous or even fatal for grazing animals,” says York U Biology Professor Dawn Bazely, who worked with University of Cambridge researcher Andrew Tanentzap and York U researcher Mark Vicari on the project. These adaptations improve plants survival and reproduction.

In the case of red fescue grass, the plant hosts a toxic fungus called epichloë festucae. So when an earlier study showed that moose grazing and saliva distribution can have a positive effect on plant growth, researchers conducted a study to see if in fact moose saliva was “detoxifying” the grass before it was eaten.

Working in partnership with the Toronto Zoo, the team collected saliva samples from moose and reindeer. The saliva was distributed onto samples of red fescue grass carrying the toxic fungus, simulating the effect of grazing. They found that the application of saliva produced rapid results, inhibiting fungus growth within 12-36 hours.

“We found that the saliva worked very quickly in slowing the growth of the fungus, and the fungus colonies,” says Bazely. “In addition, by applying multiple applications of saliva to the grass over the course of two months, we found we could lower the concentration of ergovaline [the toxin produced by the fungus] between 41 and 70 per cent.”

Bazely says that because moose tend to graze within a defined home range, it’s possible that certain groups of plants are receiving repeated exposure to the moose saliva, which over time has resulted in fewer toxins within their preferred area.

“We know that animals can remember if certain plants have made them feel ill, and they may avoid these plants in future,” says Bazely. “This study the first evidence, to our knowledge, of herbivore saliva being shown to ‘fight back’ and slow down the growth of the fungus.”

The study is published in this month’s Biology Letters.

Read more at York University.

Why Seals Might Love Having More Wind Farms

New research reveals that off-shore wind farms are particularly useful for seals as they appear to act like artificial reefs, drawing in large groups of fish.

The study, carried out by researchers at St Andrews University in Scotland and published this month in the journal Current Biology, saw scientists track a group of seals in the North Sea using GPS devices. The purpose of the study was to look at whether man-made changes to the structural ocean environment are affecting marine predator behavior.

To explain that, the scientists highlight that whenever we make changes to the landscape for the purposes of building or reshaping a particular location, those changes can affect local wildlife. For instance, and for a not particularly green example, by creating a landfill, we may attract a variety of animals that can utilize the rubbish we have thrown out. Quite often, the concentrations of these foraging animals can affect change in predator animals, too. They will be drawn to these areas in order to hunt for those animals further down the food chain who are using the area for their own food and habitat needs.

This kind of change as a result of our reshaping the environment is well documented on-land, but until now the effect has not been tracked in marine environments.

Looking at the tracking data from two groups of harbor and grey seals, which are good candidates for this kind of research because they are apex predators, which have no known predators above them affecting their behavior, the scientists found that a number of seals from each group regularly visited off-shore wind farms, the Alpha Ventus farm off the German coast, and the Sheringham Shoal farm close to southeast England.

When looking at the tracking data, the researchers noticed that rather than just swimming through the wind farms, the seals appeared to be hunting. They could tell this by the fact that a number of the seals adopted grid-like movements around particular turbines, methodically searching for fish in patterns that have previously been observed as classic hunting behavior. This wasn’t a one-off either, with a number of seals repeatedly returning to the wind farms and displaying the same behavior. The seals were also shown to do the same around sub-sea pipelines, with the seals following along the line of the area up to ten times a day.

Steve Williams| Care2,|July 24, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate Care 2.

Water Quality Issues

California Couple Tries to Conserve Water, Ends Up Facing $500 Fine for Brown Lawn

As California’s severe drought deepens and officials look to reduce water consumption in every possible way, the state appears to be sending mixed signals as to which water-related activity is the most egregious.

The entirety of California is currently experiencing drought conditions and more than 80 percent of the state is classified as an extreme drought. Laura Whitney and her husband, Michael Korte, have been trying to conserve water in their Glendale, California home by cutting back on lawn watering, taking shorter showers, and doing larger loads of laundry. Now, they are facing a fine of up to $500 for not keeping their lawn green.

Survey results from the State Water Resources Control Board found that instead of achieving the 20 percent water reduction sought by Gov. Jerry Brown, water use actually jumped one percent this May, compared to the same period in previous years. As a result, the board voted unanimously this week to impose the first mandatory water restrictions on California residents. The regulations seek to curb water use among urban residents by banning wasteful outdoor watering, such as over-watering lawns, hosing down sidewalks or driveways, and washing cars without a shut-off nozzle on the hose. Violators could face a fine of up to $500.

“Our goal here is to light a fire under those who aren’t yet taking the drought seriously,” water board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus told the Associated Press after the vote.

On the same day the state approved the mandatory water restrictions, Whitney and Korte received a letter from the city threatening a fine for not sufficiently watering their brown lawn.

“Despite the water conservation efforts, we wish to remind you that limited watering is still required to keep landscaping looking healthy and green,” the letter reads. The couple were given 60 days to restore the lawn or be slapped with a fine ranging from $100 to $500, Reuters reported.

“My friends in Los Angeles got these letters warning they could be fined if they water, and I got a letter warning that I could be fined for not watering,” Whitney told the Associated Press. “I felt like I was in an alternate universe.”

According to the Contra Costa Water Board, lawn care is typically the single biggest water user for the average property and a 500-square-foot lawn can use more than 18,000 gallons of water per year. Among their tips for maintaining a lawn while in the midst of drought conditions: “Be willing to accept a less than lush lawn during the drought.”

Similarly, state water board Chairwoman Marcus told residents this week that “a brown lawn should be a badge of honor because it shows you care about your community.” However, Glendora City Manager Chris Jeffers told Reuters that Whitney and Korte’s lawn had deteriorated so severely, the city was receiving reports of a possible abandoned property.

Gov. Brown signed an executive order in April stating homeowners associations could not punish residents for scaling back on landscaping but the Associated Press notes that neither the order nor recent legislation awaiting the governor’s signature address fines imposed by city governments.

As California endures its third straight year of drought conditions, some in the state see a slow shift away from the water-guzzling traditional lawns that were once a symbol of wealth. “We’re on the cusp of change. It’s definitely here,” Kevin Carson, Northern California president for The New Home Co., told the Sacramento Bee earlier this year. Cities like Davis are insisting on drought-tolerant landscaping for new developments and others, like Sacramento and Roseville, instituted programs that pay residents to switch from grass to plants that use less water.

And according to Lisa Brown, Roseville’s water conservation manager, the program was a big hit with residents: “We had a line outside the door the morning we started.”

Kiley Kroh|ThinkProgress|July 21, 2014

DEP Adopts Plans to Improve Water Quality for Upper Ocklawaha River

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has adopted the second phase of a long-term restoration plan for the Upper Ocklawaha River. The restoration plan, known as a basin management action plan or BMAP, identifies strategies and projects that will be implemented over the next five years in order to improve the water quality of the Upper Ocklawaha River. Nutrient pollution, specifically excessive nitrogen and phosphorous, is the primary source of the water quality imbalance in the Upper Ocklawaha River and tributaries.

“It is encouraging to see improvements in the Upper Ocklawaha basin, and we can be proud of the improvements that have been made in the last few years,” said Tom Frick, director of the Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration. “There is more work to be done. DEP is committed to working with local stakeholders to achieve water quality restoration.”

The original restoration plan was adopted in 2007 and covered 10 different waterbodies in the Upper Ocklawaha River basin. The plan focused initially on pollutant load reduction by the restoration of former agricultural lands by the St. John’s River Water Management District, completion of the Nutrient Removal Facility that removes excess pollution from Lake Apopka by the Lake County Water Authority and construction of local government stormwater improvement projects.

Seven of the original 10 water bodies covered by the 2007 restoration plan have shown nutrient pollution reductions, achieving up to a 48-percent reduction in total phosphorous for Lake Beauclair and a 41-percent reduction for Lake Dora. Additionally, nine of the 10 waterbodies covered under the restoration plan have shown reductions in chlorophyll-a. Chlorophyll-a is used as an indicator of the amount of algae in a given water body. Excessive algal growth is frequently caused by nutrient pollution. This second phase of the restoration plan continues the department’s efforts to reduce nutrient pollution by focusing where further nutrient reductions are needed.

There are other factors in addition to pollution that are causing water quality imbalances within the five focus area waterbodies, such as lack of aquatic plant life and habitat for fish. One of the strategies over the next five years is to identify these factors and their role and influence on water quality and, as feasible, implement projects to remediate the issue.

mburgerdep|July 18, 2014

For more information about the Upper Ocklawaha River restoration plans click here.

Suwannee River Bounces Back from Prolonged Drought

Thanks to above-average rainfall earlier this year and ongoing conservation efforts by the Department of Environmental Protection, springs on Florida’s historic Suwannee River are bouncing back from prolonged droughts that impacted flow from 2006-2012.

In fact, one 50-mile portion of the river is now receiving more than three times as much groundwater from springs as was recorded during the height of the 2012 drought when record-low groundwater levels and river flows were recorded after back-to-back droughts starting in 2006.

Those are the findings recently reported by the Suwannee River Water Management District, which charts water flow and water levels on the Suwannee as well as many of the springs that feed the river.

“Seeing springs on the Suwannee River flowing at near-record levels is inspiring,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “We appreciate the great scientific work by Dr. Ann Shortelle and her team at the Suwannee River Management District to identify the most effective solutions to preserve and protect our precious water resources for years to come. I also want to thank local government, environmental stakeholders and the great staff at DEP for their terrific efforts.”

The district reports that a 50-mile stretch from the Suwannee River State Park to the city of Branford is now seeing a contribution of 1,500 million more gallons per day from groundwater flowing into the river via springs compared to 2012. That groundwater comes from many of the nearly 300 springs that feed the river daily.

“The flow of the Suwannee is doubling between Suwannee River State Park and Branford,” said Megan Wetherington, a senior professional engineer with the Suwannee River Water Management District. “That’s from all the springs along the river. We’ve been busy measuring flow at most of the popular ones, and it’s been great seeing all the people enjoying these beautiful resources.”

Wetherington said above-average rainfall the past two years has contributed to the increased water flow.

The Suwannee River Water Management District has been recording groundwater levels near the Suwannee for the past 30 years. The latest hydroconditions report shows overall groundwater levels rank near the 90th-percentile since the monthly measurements began.

In other words, only 10 percent of the measurements in the past 30 years have been higher than this latest report.

“The monitoring tells us that the springs’ conditions are at least back to where we were in 2005 – after two hurricanes in 2004 followed by a wet winter,” Wetherington said.

mburgerdep|July 18, 2014

To learn more about Florida’s springs, click HERE.

DEP Adopts Plan to Improve Water Quality for Orange Creek Basin

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has adopted a long-term restoration plan for Orange Creek basin. The restoration plan, known as a basin management action plan or BMAP, identifies strategies and projects that will be implemented by the department in conjunction with local governments over the next five years to improve the water quality of the Orange Creek basin. The BMAP covers eight waterbodies in the Orange Creek basin, which are impaired due to either excess nutrient pollution or high levels of fecal coliform bacteria.

“During the first phase of this restoration plan we have seen improvements in the health of these waterbodies,” said Tom Frick, director of the Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration. “The second phase of this BMAP will supplement the initial restoration strategies with the implementation of new projects developed with knowledge obtained during the past few years.”

The original restoration plan was adopted in 2008 and thanks to the efforts of local governments, St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD), Department of Health (DOH), Department of Transportation (DOT) and Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), substantial progress has been made. Sources of bacteria have been identified and remediated, and the amount of bacteria has declined in all impaired streams. Reductions have also been observed in chlorophyll-a, an indicator of the amount of algae in the water, which typically increases from excess nutrient pollution.

The new, second phase BMAP adds an additional 57 water quality improvement projects, including conservation land purchases and enhancements in stormwater runoff management. The new restoration plan also incorporates a new waterbody, Lochloosa Lake, which has the potential to positively impact the water quality in downstream Orange Lake.

One of the more significant projects identified in the second phase restoration plan is the approximately $2.5 million Sweetwater Branch/Paynes Prairie Sheetflow Restoration Project, a cooperative effort between local governments, the city of Gainesville Public Works, GRU, DEP, DOT, SJRWMD and others. The project will rehydrate wetlands by returning water flow to Paynes Prairie. The wetland treatment system created will remove nutrients from water in Sweetwater Branch, which discharges into Alachua Sink.

The Orange Creek Basin covers 425 square miles, mostly in Alachua County. The newly adopted BMAP strategizes restoration for Hogtown Creek, Tumblin Creek, Sweetwater Branch, Alachua Sink, Newnans Lake, Lake Wauberg, Orange Lake and Lochloosa Lake. Orange Lake and Loochloosa Lake are designated as Outstanding Florida Waters by the state of Florida, meaning these water bodies are worthy of special protection due to their natural attributes.

mburgerdep|July 17, 2014

For more information about the Orange Creek basin restoration plans click here.

Aging Water System in the U.S. is a Catastrophe Waiting to Happen

Water has been a major topic in the news for the past two months. California is in the midst of a severe drought that could easily see the state running out of water within 12-18 months and Detroit residents are left without water due to being unable to pay the high water bills. These situations have been created by a combination of problems including Mother Nature and politics. However, little attention has been given to one major cause: our nation’s aging infrastructure.

The oldest iron water pipes in the nation date back to the 1800s. They were designed to last at most 120 years. For many cities around the nation, their water system was installed in the 1920s with pipes expected to last about 100 years. For those with systems installed during WWII, the expected lifespan is around 75 years. While many newer constructions have updated systems, city water grids across the nation are flowing on borrowed time.

The system is already showing the strain.

The EPA notes that there are nearly a quarter of a million water main breaks each year. This averages out to about one break every two minutes. These breaks have led to mudslides in California and sinkholes in Florida. The breaks, as well as leaky pipes, waste millions of gallons of treated drinking water. For drought risk areas in the southwest, this puts a greater strain on water resources already exacerbated by the environment.

While the Federal government has provided some funding to repair the water system, most of the cost has fallen on state and local governments. This cost is eventually passed on to customers. In recent years, water rates have increased higher than the rate of inflation, just as household income has fallen. In a note of irony, as more customers participate in conservation efforts, either by force as in the case of drought stricken California or by choice to lower the expense, water companies are getting less revenue to maintain and upgrade the infrastructure.

This confluence of factors is highlighted best in the crisis facing Detroit.

The recent shutoffs to thousands of poor Detroit residents have caused an international outcry, including pleas to the United Nations to step in. The city has been in a steady state of decline for a decade, which has resulted in a mass exodus of the city’s population. Thousands of homes have been abandoned, demolishing the tax base. The city’s water infrastructure, built in the 1920s, is pressured by age, extreme winters and pipes that remain unused in empty homes. As a result, the water company has increased rates nearly 120 percent in the last decade to cover costs. Now thousands of poor customers and small businesses are forced to bear the brunt of the expense.

The current political climate runs on crisis. From the budget to infrastructure, the current Congress has been incredibly shortsighted in its dealings with the nation’s problems. Early next week, the Senate is expected to vote on a House bill to extend the Highway Trust Fund until May. It’s a temporary fix to a problem that is tied up in a myriad of political complications that essentially boil down to no one willing to take unpopular but necessary action to fix our aging infrastructure. If passed, the bill will keep funding flowing for current projects and, most importantly, keep the fund from going bankrupt prior to the midterm elections.

The bill does not address the nearly $1 trillion needed to repair and upgrade our nation’s water infrastructure, including the nation’s inland waterways and ports.

With millions of miles of pipes already long past their expected lifespan, and more reaching their expiration date in the coming decade, this is a catastrophe in waiting. It is also one that is entirely preventable. However, it will take the political will to take unpopular but necessary action.

Like with everything else, it will have to wait until after the next election…or perhaps the next one after that.

Crystal Shepeard|July 25, 2014

Water Saving Tips for Environmentally-Responsible Gardening

Whether you live in an area with abundant fresh water or drought conditions, every drop of fresh water is precious, and should never be squandered. By following these water conservation tips, you can water responsibly and maintain a healthy lawn and garden.

Collect Rainwater

Start by collecting rainwater. Placing a rain barrel underneath your downspout is a great way to save water for drier periods. A fine mesh screen will keep mosquitoes from laying eggs in the barrel. Another alternative is to attach a hose connection to your downspout to disperse rainfall as it happens.

This works especially well for watering plants close to the house that may not be getting the benefit of the rainfall.

Sweep, Don’t Spray

Don’t hose down your walks or driveway. Ever. If they need to be cleaned, sweep them with a stiff brush and let nature take care of the rest.
Add
compost or coir (coconut dust) to soil to improve its ability to retain moisture. Coir holds moisture well, wets easily, drains well, and decomposes more slowly than peat moss. Even better, coir is a renewable resource, while peat moss takes hundreds of years to form.

Mulch

Regardless of climate, a layer of mulch will help to keep your garden moist, with the added benefit of providing a barrier to weeds. There are many mulch materials available, with shredded bark currently being the most popular. Ensure your layer is at least 2 inches deep to retain water at the soil level.

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Water Early

When watering your lawn or garden, be sure to water early in the day, when the sun is lower and temperatures are cooler in order to minimize evaporation. Try not to water in the evenings, as damp foliage increases the chance of fungal disease in the plant. Be sure to provide more water for plants that are young or newly-planted. Older trees and shrubs with larger root systems are better able to withstand drier conditions. Lawns require about an inch of water a week.

Use a Rain Gauge

A rain gauge will give you a good idea of when to water. Be sure to water close to the ground. Drip or soaker hoses enable more water to reach the soil and less water to evaporate than sprinklers do. Don’t overwater your lawn or garden, as overwatering can cause a number of problems for your plants, including fungal diseases.

Upgrade Your Hose

If watering with a hose, ensure there are no leaky connections. You’d be amazed at how much water is wasted from a worn out hose washer. Not only will a new washer prevent leaks, but it will help to increase water pressure.


Select Your Plants

Choose drought-tolerant plants, which will thrive in dry soil, or, better yet, choose native plants, which are ideally suited to your soil and weather conditions. Naturescaping (also known as GreenScaping or Beneficial Landscaping) reduces water, energy, and chemical usage in the garden while attracting native species of birds and insects.

With any – or all – of the conservation methods provided, your garden should thrive without causing you any guilt.

Julia Girouard and Colin Dunn|July 20, 2014

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Rupture of Aging Tar Sands Pipeline Beneath Great Lakes Would Devastate People, Planet and Economy

Because the strong currents in the Straits of Mackinac reverse direction every few days, a rupture of the oil pipeline beneath the channel would quickly contaminate shorelines miles away in both lakes Michigan and Huron, according to a new University of Michigan (U-M) study commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation.

The Mackinac Bridge spans the Straits of Mackinac to connect the Upper and Lower peninsulas of the state of Michigan. Photo credit: University of Michigan

In one scenario examined in the study and accompanying animations, oil from a hypothetical pipeline break reached Mackinac Island and Round Island after 12 hours and Bois Blanc Island after two days. All three islands are in westernmost Lake Huron, just east of the straits.

Within 20 days of a spill in the Straits of Mackinac—which separates Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas and connects lakes Michigan and Huron—oil would spread as far west as Beaver Island in Lake Michigan, a distance of roughly 35 miles, and as far southeast as Rogers City in Lake Huron, a distance of about 50 miles, according to the computer-simulation study released today and conducted by hydrodynamics expert David Schwab of the U-M Water Center.

The area around the five-mile-wide straits is considered ecologically sensitive and is a major tourist draw.

“If you were to pick the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes, this would be it,” Schwab said. “The currents are powerful and change direction frequently. In the event of an oil spill, these factors would lead to a big mess that would be very difficult to contain.”

Just west of the Mackinac Bridge, two 20-inch underwater pipes carry 23 million gallons of crude oil daily through the straits. The 61-year-old pipeline is operated by Enbridge Inc.

Current speeds in the straits can reach one meter per second, transporting volumes of up to 80,000 cubic meters of water per second—more than 10 times greater than the flow over Niagara Falls.

Great Lakes researchers have known since the 1990s that currents in the straits tend to reverse direction every few days. In a 2013 paper in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, Schwab and colleague Eric Anderson of the federal Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor presented the first three-dimensional, high-resolution hydrodynamic model able to accurately predict those oscillating currents and their effect on lakes Michigan and Huron. They showed that currents in the straits affect flows more than 40 miles away in both lakes.

In his study for the National Wildlife Federation, Schwab used the combined-lake model to simulate the release of contaminants at various locations and depths within the straits. The simulations track the oil for 20 days following a 12-hour release.

The simulated releases occurred in August and September, months when temperature differences between upper and lower water layers would help disperse the oil. In the August release scenario, the average currents in the straits were initially eastward but changed direction every day or two.

In the September release scenario, average currents were initially westward but changed direction periodically throughout the tracking period. The westward flow carried oil into Lake Michigan during the first 24 hours. After 48 hours, oil released near the southern end of the straits was in Lake Huron and was impinging on the Michigan shoreline from Mackinac City halfway to Cheboygan.

“Any material released into the straits will go into both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, which would complicate containment efforts,” Schwab said. “Hopefully, these simulations and animations will be useful in understanding and preparing for potential impacts.”

The National Wildlife Federation said an oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac would devastate the local tourism industry as well as the area’s fish and wildlife. The best way to remedy the threat, according to the organization, is to replace the pipeline under the straits.

“An oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac would have devastating consequences for people, fish and wildlife, and the economy. It would be an unparalleled disaster for the Great Lakes,” said Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center. “This old pipeline needs to be replaced so that we can protect the Great Lakes from future spills.”

The U-M Water Center is a center of the Graham Sustainability Institute, which fosters sustainability through translational knowledge, transformative learning and institutional leadership.

Established in October 2012 with funds from the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, the Water Center engages researchers, practitioners, policymakers and nonprofit groups to support, integrate and improve current and future freshwater restoration and protection efforts.

University of Michigan|July 11, 2014

EPA Solicits Great Lakes Shoreline Cities Grant Proposals 

(Chicago – July 21, 2014) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced a solicitation for a second round of Great Lakes Shoreline Cities Grants.  EPA will award grants totaling up to $4.5 million to eligible shoreline cities to fund green infrastructure projects that will improve Great Lakes water quality.  

This year, shoreline cities with a population greater than 25,000 and less than 50,000 will be eligible to apply for green infrastructure grants of up to $250,000. Last year, EPA awarded Shoreline Cities Grants totaling just under $7 million to 16 cities with populations greater than 50,000. 

“This is an opportunity for more Great Lakes shoreline cities to obtain funding for green infrastructure projects,” said Region 5 Administrator/Great Lakes National Program Manager Susan Hedman.  “These GLRI grants will be used for green infrastructure projects that reduce urban runoff and sewer overflows that foul beaches and impair Great Lakes water quality.” 

Cities can use the grants to cover up to 50 percent of the cost of rain gardens, bioswales, green roofs, porous pavement, greenways, constructed wetlands, stormwater tree trenches and other green infrastructure measures installed on public property.  Detailed eligibility requirements are available at www.epa.gov/grtlakes/fund/shoreline/.
More information about the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is available at
www.glri.us.

Ohio pushes to end sediment dumping into Lake Erie

Ohio’s push to end dumping of mud, sand into Lake Erie could help more than just the water

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — There’s enough sand, soil and mud scooped out of Toledo’s and Cleveland’s harbors each year to fill the Indians’ ballpark to the top of its upper deck.

All the silt dredged to keep open the shipping channel in Toledo is dumped into Lake Erie while the sediment from Cleveland goes into disposal facilities that are filling up fast.

Ohio’s environmental regulators have wanted to stop the dumping since the 1980s. They’re now working with local and federal agencies to find new uses for the silt so that it no longer ends up in the lake.

Solving the question of what to do with it won’t be easy for a number of reasons. Those looking for solutions say some of their ideas could benefit farm fields, blighted neighborhoods, abandoned industrial land and the health of Lake Erie.

THE HISTORY

Dredging both harbors is necessary to keep shipments of grain, iron ore and other cargo flowing, supporting some 25,000 jobs. But Toledo’s long, shallow port requires more dredging than any of the other Great Lakes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been piling the silt from Toledo in the waters offshore since the 1980s over objections from environmental groups and state regulators.

The federal agency maintained that it was safe for the lake and the cheapest option, but algae outbreaks fouling the water in recent years led to renewed calls to stop the dumping. There’s no clear evidence that it’s contributing to the algae, but environmental groups suspect there’s some connection.

Then this year there was uproar when the Army Corps proposed disposing sediment from Cleveland’s harbor offshore, too. Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency pushed back and the Army Corps dropped the idea. At the same time, state lawmakers approved spending $10 million to research alternative uses for the silt.

THE SOLUTIONS

Several ports along the Great Lakes in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois have been using the silt for road construction projects, golf courses and topsoil.

Now that research money in Ohio is available, both Toledo and Cleveland are looking at what could work there.

State Sen. Randy Gardner, a Republican from northwestern Ohio who sought the research money, said it’s the first time Ohio has committed to finding a solution to open lake dumping.

Some of the research money is going toward a project in Toledo that will test whether the dredged material can be used to grow crops or raise the level of low-lying fields that are difficult to farm. It also will look at turning it into compost for gardens or landscaping.

Cleveland is seeking part of the $10 million to find out if it can capture some of the silt before it plugs the shipping channel and use it to fill the basements of abandoned homes after they’re torn down.

The project, which could begin this fall, has the potential to be self-sustaining and save dredging costs, said Jim White of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga Port Authority. The agency also is looking at using the silt to redevelop old industrial sites, something it already did a few years ago.

THE HURDLES

First, there’s the huge amount of silt dredged each year — enough to fill 70,000 dump trucks in Toledo.

That’s why there needs to be a combination of uses, said John Hull, head of Hull & Associates Inc., an environmental engineering firm in Toledo that has researched potential solutions.

The best long-term answer, he said, might be to put the material back on the farmland where it came from because it can handle the large volume dredged every year. Another is creating wetlands along the lake’s shoreline.

Another major obstacle is the cost of moving the sand, soil and mud from the harbors to the farm and industrial land where it could be used. Those studying the issue believe transport costs will mean the silt needs to be used close to the dredging areas.

The cost of turning the material into something usable and finding a market for it also are obvious questions.

Finally, the soil composition of the silt varies in each harbor, meaning what works in Cleveland might not work in Toledo, where the silt has less sand and isn’t as versatile as a commercial product, Hull said.

Despite the obstacles, Ohio’s political leaders believe that turning what’s now a waste product into something that can be sold is worth exploring.

“Why didn’t we do this before?” asked Gov. John Kasich this past week while in Toledo promoting the idea. “It’s a matter of priorities, and the lake is a priority for Ohio.”

John Seewer|Associated Press|July 20, 2014

Suwannee River Bounces Back from Prolonged Drought

Thanks to above-average rainfall earlier this year and ongoing conservation efforts by the Department of Environmental Protection, springs on Florida’s historic Suwannee River are bouncing back from prolonged droughts that impacted flow from 2006-2012.

In fact, one 50-mile portion of the river is now receiving more than three times as much groundwater from springs as was recorded during the height of the 2012 drought when record-low groundwater levels and river flows were recorded after back-to-back droughts starting in 2006.

Those are the findings recently reported by the Suwannee River Water Management District, which charts water flow and water levels on the Suwannee as well as many of the springs that feed the river.

“Seeing springs on the Suwannee River flowing at near-record levels is inspiring,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “We appreciate the great scientific work by Dr. Ann Shortelle and her team at the Suwannee River Management District to identify the most effective solutions to preserve and protect our precious water resources for years to come. I also want to thank local government, environmental stakeholders and the great staff at DEP for their terrific efforts.”

The district reports that a 50-mile stretch from the Suwannee River State Park to the city of Branford is now seeing a contribution of 1,500 million more gallons per day from groundwater flowing into the river via springs compared to 2012. That groundwater comes from many of the nearly 300 springs that feed the river daily.

“The flow of the Suwannee is doubling between Suwannee River State Park and Branford,” said Megan Wetherington, a senior professional engineer with the Suwannee River Water Management District. “That’s from all the springs along the river. We’ve been busy measuring flow at most of the popular ones, and it’s been great seeing all the people enjoying these beautiful resources.”

Wetherington said above-average rainfall the past two years has contributed to the increased water flow.

The Suwannee River Water Management District has been recording groundwater levels near the Suwannee for the past 30 years. The latest hydroconditions report shows overall groundwater levels rank near the 90th-percentile since the monthly measurements began.

In other words, only 10 percent of the measurements in the past 30 years have been higher than this latest report.

“The monitoring tells us that the springs’ conditions are at least back to where we were in 2005 – after two hurricanes in 2004 followed by a wet winter,” Wetherington said.

To learn more about Florida’s springs, click HERE.

Offshore & Ocean

Pacific Bluefin Tuna Population at Brink of Collapse

The mighty Pacific bluefin tuna is in a world of trouble, caught up in a trans-Pacific political battle over who’s to blame for driving the population to the brink of collapse and who’s responsible for bringing it back. The fish, loved by the Japanese for its deep red fatty meat and sought after by sport fishers from Baja California to New Zealand, has been decimated by decades of overfishing and an absence of responsible management. Today, the Pacific bluefin population had dropped to just four percent of its unfished size, with a steady decline over the last 15 years. And the most recent assessment shows even deeper signs of trouble.

Data collected by scientists with the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC) show that more than 90 percent of a fisherman’s bluefin tuna catch today is made up of the smallest fish: juveniles that haven’t had a chance to reproduce. And that’s not the worst of it. A recent scientific analysis found that the few adult bluefin remaining in the ocean are nearing the end of their lives, meaning they won’t be reproducing much longer. With few new fish entering the population, and fishermen catching those juveniles almost exclusively, this species is at a tipping point.

Pacific bluefin is fished predominantly by Japan in the west and Mexico in the east. South Korea and Taiwan also fish for bluefin, with U.S. commercial and recreational fishers catching a small amount as well. Commercially caught bluefin regularly sell for tens of thousands of dollars each, sometimes much more.

Watch a video

Amanda Nickson|The Pew Charitable Trusts|July 11, 2014

First-of-its-Kind Map Details Extent of Plastic in Five Ocean Gyres

When a research team set sail on a nine-month, worldwide expedition in 2010 to study the impact of global warming on Earth’s oceans, one of their projects was to locate the accumulations of plastic.

They found plenty. They explored the five huge gyres, which collectively contain tens of thousands of tons of plastic. The result was the creation of a compelling, first-of-its-kind map of this debris.

Print

These maps show the tens of thousands of tons of plastic garbage floating on the surface of the waters in the world’s oceans.

Map credit: National Geographic staff Jamie Hawk Source: Andrés Cozar, University of Cádiz, Spain

But in the process, they realized that the plastic in the gyres didn’t begin to account for the enormous amount of plastic that’s been manufactured since the mass production of plastic began in the mid 1940s.

In a National Geographic report, marine biologist Andres Cozar Cabañas, who was part of the Malaspina expedition led by the Spanish National Research Council, said:

“Our observations show that large loads of plastic fragments, with sizes from microns to some millimeters, are unaccounted for in the surface loads. But we don’t know what this plastic is doing. The plastic is somewhere—in the ocean life, in the depths or broken down into fine particles undetectable by nets.”

While there’s been considerable alarm raised about these gyres of floating plastic, the missing plastic could be having negative impacts we don’t yet know about. As National Geographic reports, the study of marine plastic debris is new, dating back only to 2004, when British marine biologist Richard Thompson concluded that most ocean debris is, in fact, plastic.

The discovery of the missing plastic raises a host of questions. Oceanographer Kara Lavender Law of the Cape Cod-based Sea Education Association, part of a team currently researching issues surrounding marine debris, told National Geographic:

“We are at the very early stages of understanding the accounting. If we think ten or a hundred times more plastic is entering the ocean than we can account for, then where is it? We still haven’t answered that question. And if we don’t know where it is or how it is impacting organisms, we can’t tell the person on the street how big the problem is.”

Among the possibilities: it’s being consumed by small fish that are eaten by larger fish caught for human consumption, such as tuna and swordfish, and ending up in the human food system. Or it could be finding its way into the ecosystem of the world’s least explored region, the deep ocean.

“Sadly, the accumulation of plastic in the deep ocean would be modifying this enigmatic ecosystem before we can really know it,” said Cozar.

Anastasia Pantsios|July 16, 2014

Florida officials oppose reopening of offshore oil exploration

ST. PETERSBURG — Elected officials and environmentalists in Florida reacted swiftly to the federal government’s decision Friday to reopen the Eastern Seaboard to offshore oil exploration using sonic cannons to find deepwater energy reserves.

The approval by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will allow oil companies to troll the continental shelf from Delaware to Florida blasting sound waves 100 times louder than a jet engine into the depths every 10 seconds.

The process can be harmful to whales, dolphins, turtles and other marine life, the bureau acknowledged, but members of Florida’s congressional delegation also are concerned about opening the door to offshore oil rigs in a state that depends on clean water for its multibillion-dollar tourism industry.

“I have significant concerns about this decision and this methodology and it simply reinforces my strong opposition to expanded exploration in the eastern gulf, including any future use of this technology in our waters,” U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, said in a statement Friday.

Several elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, have signed a letter to President Barack Obama opposing the agency’s decision.

“Expanding unnecessary drilling offshore simply puts too much at risk. Florida has more coastline than any other state in the continental United States and its beaches and marine resources support the local economy across the state,” the letter states.

Energy companies are preparing to apply for drilling leases in 2018, when current congressional limits are set to expire.

A federal moratorium on oil leases along the eastern Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast will remain in effect until 2022, and Tampa Bay area tourism leaders and environmental groups plan to push for it to be extended, said Phil Compton, of the Sierra Club’s St. Petersburg field office.

“We know the oil companies have no limits to their desire to extract oil in every location no matter what the cost to the local economy,” he said.

Compton’s group has more immediate concerns about seismic cannon blasting injuring or killing thousands of marine mammals according to the federal government’s own estimates. Arguing that endangered species could be harmed was the best hope environmental groups had for extending a decades-old ban against drilling off the U.S. Atlantic coast.

“The bureau’s decision reflects a carefully analyzed and balanced approach that will allow us to increase our understanding of potential offshore resources while protecting the human, marine, and coastal environments,” Walter Cruickshank, acting director of the Ocean Energy Management Bureau, said in a statement.

These sonic cannons already are in use in the western Gulf of Mexico, off Alaska and other offshore oil operations around the world. They are towed behind boats, sending strong sound pulses into the ocean every 10 seconds or so. The pulses reverberate beneath the sea floor and bounce back to the surface, where they are measured by hydrophones. Computers translate the data into high-resolution, three-dimensional images.

“It’s like a sonogram of the Earth,” said Andy Radford, a petroleum engineer at the American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas trade association in Washington, D.C. “You can’t see the oil and gas, but you can see the structures in the earth that might hold oil and gas.”

The surveys can have other benefits, including mapping habitats for marine life, identifying solid undersea flooring for wind energy turbines, and locating spots where sand can be collected for beach restoration. But fossil fuel mostly funds this research, which produces data held as energy company secrets and disclosed only to the government.

The bureau estimates that 4.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 37.5 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas lies beneath federal waters from Florida to Maine. Oil lobbyists say drilling for it could generate $195 billion in investment and spending between 2017 and 2035, creating thousands of jobs and contributing $23.5 billion per year to the economy.

The North Atlantic zone remains off-limits for now, apparently for political reasons. While some states have passed drilling bans, Virginia and the Carolinas requested the seismic surveys to grow their economies, bureau officials said Friday.

In any case, the area to be mapped is in federal waters, beyond the reach of state law.

The sonic cannons often are fired continually for weeks or months, and multiple mapping projects may operate simultaneously. To get permits, companies will need to have whale-spotting observers onboard and do undersea acoustic tests to avoid nearby species. Certain habitats will be closed during birthing or feeding seasons.

Still, underwater microphones have picked up blasts from these sonic cannons over thousands of miles, and the constant banging poses unavoidable dangers for marine life, scientists say. Whales and dolphins depend on being able to hear their own much less powerful echolocation to feed, communicate and keep in touch with their family groups across hundreds of miles. Even fish and crabs navigate and communicate by sound, said Grant Gilmore, an expert on fish ecology in Vero Beach.

“We don’t know what the physiological effects are. It could be permanent hearing damage in many of these creatures just by one encounter with a high-energy signal,” Gilmore said.

More than 16 communities from Florida to New Jersey passed resolutions opposing or raising concerns about the seismic testing and offshore drilling, including St. Augustine, where the local economy relies on beach tourism and fishing.

“Florida has already felt the devastating effects of an uncontrolled oil release with the Deepwater Horizon event of which cleanup efforts are still ongoing,” said John Morris, a county commissioner from St. Augustine. “Any oil spill, large or small, off the coast of St. Johns County would greatly affect the county’s economy.”

JOSH BOATWRIGHT|Tribune staff|July 19, 2014

Florida – UM-led research team contributes to the management of South Florida coastal environments

South Florida EcosystemA Florida-based marine research team has developed a unique formal process and modeling framework to help manage South Florida’s economically important coastal marine environments. The MARES project (Marine and Estuarine Goal Setting), led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) based at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, successfully integrated both ecosystem science and societal benefits into a marine ecosystem support tool to help improve decision-making by natural resource managers.

The research team published their findings in 15 research papers in a special issue of the journal of Ecological Indicators – Volume 44, entitled: “Tools to support ecosystem based management of South Florida’s coastal resources.” The results have been incorporated into the revised Guidance Document for the National Marine Sanctuaries’ Condition Reports and are being used by the Our Florida Reefs community working groups, the National Parks Service, NOAA’s Integrated Ecosystem Assessment efforts, and in undergraduate courses at Florida universities and colleges.

“One of the important aspects of this new suite of tools, which includes conceptual info-graphics, integrated ecosystem models and both human and ecological indicators, is that it’s exportable technology,” said Peter Ortner, UM Rosenstiel Research Professor and Director of CIMAS. “It can be applied directly to the management of other coastal ecosystems.”

A MARES program for coastal North Carolina is under consideration and a full-day workshop on MARES will be held at next December’s “Linking Science, Practice and Decision Making” conference in Washington, DC. The NOAA/Climate Program Office has recently announced an award to CIMAS applying the MARES framework entitled “Developing decision support tools for understanding, communicating, and adapting to the impacts of climate on the sustainability of coastal ecosystem services.”

South Florida has one of the most diverse ocean and coastal ecosystems in the United States, and is economically important to the local and state economy for tourism, commercial and recreational fishing, SCUBA diving, and other ocean-related jobs. The South Florida marine environment has degraded over the last century due to upstream and local human activity and coastal development. Sea-level rise and climate change are additional stressors that will put the long-term health of South Florida’s valuable coastal resources at further risk over the coming century.

The study team, which included over 50 researchers from academia, state and federal government, was comprised of ecological scientists as well as “human dimension” scientists, such as economists, sociologists, and cultural anthropologists to evaluate the societal aspects of ecosystem management and protection. The coastal region studied included the waters from Martin County south to the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas, the Southwest marine environment in the Gulf of Mexico from Lee County south to Florida Bay.

“Our large, collaborative team developed a conceptual modeling framework that explicitly focuses on the benefits humans receive from the ecosystem,” said Ortner. “The framework includes ecological indicators as well as human dimensions indicators to assess the level of services human society is receiving and wishes to continue to receive from the ecosystem, such as recreational opportunity and economic gain.”

The new conceptual framework allows natural resource managers to track how the ecological and human requirements are being satisfied and provides a flexible highly adaptive approach that allows for pubic involvement in the decision-making process. The MARES process is designed to reach a science-based consensus on the defining characteristics and fundamental regulatory processes of a coastal marine ecosystem that are both sustainable and capable of providing the diverse ecosystem services upon which our society depends. MARES was funded by the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science

Press Release|19 July 2014

Nearly 85 percent of the pink shrimp harvested in the United States comes from the west coast of Florida

Pink shrimp typically have a dark colored spot on each side between their third and fourth abdominal segments.

Pink shrimp is one of the three species of penaeid shrimp harvested in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Fisheries for brown, pink, and white shrimp are some of the most valuable fisheries in the southeastern United States. Nearly 85 percent of the pink shrimp harvested in the United States comes from the west coast of Florida. Prized for their sweet, tender meat, pink shrimp are caught fresh year-round, but are more abundant during winter months.

Shrimp are essentially an “annual crop” – most shrimp do not survive longer than 2 years. Although scientists monitor shrimp abundance to ensure the stock is healthy, abundance is not an important consideration for fishery managers as with other seafood species. Instead, managers consider historic harvest amounts and fishing rates in developing a management strategy for the fishery. They also look at the amount of surviving parents and environmental conditions, such as weather and water temperatures. As long as environmental conditions are favorable, shrimp are very productive and can rebound from low abundance one year to high abundance the next.

Although shrimp populations are fairly resilient to fishing pressure, commercial shrimp fisheries can impact the abundance of other species, including finfish and sea turtles. To reduce bycatch of finfish, shrimp trawlers must have bycatch reduction devices (BRDs), which are designed to retain shrimp but allow fish to exit the net. They must also comply with federal sea turtle conservation requirements, including using Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs). A TED is a grid of bars with an opening at either the top or bottom of the trawl net. The grid is fitted into the neck of a shrimp trawl. Small animals such as shrimp can pass through the grid, but it stops large animals such as sea turtles and they can escape through the opening, relatively unharmed.

Strengths: A new stock assessment, deemed to provide more precise estimates, was recently developed to assess the gulf shrimps. Once an overcapitalized fishery, shrimp fishing effort in the US Gulf of Mexico has considerably declined since the early 2000s. Current fishing mortality estimates are far below the overfishing limit; spawning biomass is at high levels and much above the limit that defines an overfished condition. Recent measures to reduce the bycatch of juvenile red snapper led to the mandated use of better performing bycatch reduction devices (BRDs) in federal waters. NOAA has issued new turtle excluder device (TED) performance standards that limits the otter trawl fleet to an overall 12% capture rate, which is monitored through bi-annual reviews of inspection records.

Weaknesses: The current observer coverage in the fishery is not sufficient to adequately quantify and characterize bycatch across the entire fishery. Even with better performing bycatch reduction devices in place, there are 2.5 pounds discards for every 1 pound of harvested shrimp. During 2010 and 2011 turtle excluder device compliance was lower than expected and may have led to excessive take of threatened and endangered sea turtles in the shrimp fishery. In 2012, compliance improved but the frequency of monitoring and enforcement is low. Despite the fact that most of the fishing takes place over resilient muddy and sandy bottoms, there is still limited data on the benthic impacts of shrimp trawling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Florida Bay, the 10,000 Islands and Caloosahatchee/Charlotte Harbor are important nursery habitats for the pink shrimp that will be enhanced with completion of CERP projects – Picayune Strand, C43 West Basin Reservoir, and CEPP to flow more  clean water to Florida Bay.  Some 4 million pounds of pink shrimp are landed at Ft. Myers in a “good” year.

Sustainable Fisheries Partnership| World Wide Web Electronic Publication

Devil Rays are deep divers!

Thought to dwell mostly near the ocean’s surface, Chilean devil rays (Mobula tarapacana) are most often seen gliding through shallow, warm waters. But a new study by scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and international colleagues reveals that these large and majestic creatures are actually among the deepest-diving ocean animals.

“So little is known about these rays,” said Simon Thorrold, a biologist at WHOI and one of the authors of the paper, published July 1, 2014, in the journal Nature Communications. “We thought they probably travelled long distances horizontally, but we had no idea that they were diving so deep. That was truly a surprise.”

Researchers utilized pop-up satellite archival transmitting tags to record the movement patterns of 15 Chilean devil rays in the central North Atlantic Ocean during 2011 and 2012. The tags, which stay on the animals for up to 9 months, also measure water temperature, depth, and light levels of the waters. Once the tags pop off, they float to the surface and beam data via the ARGO satellite system back to computers on shore.

“Data from the tags gives us a three-dimensional view of the movements of these animals, and a window into how they’re living in their ocean habitat—where they go, when, and why,” Thorrold added.

Devil rays, which can grow as large as four meters (13 feet) across, are ocean nomads travelling large areas of the ocean. Dive data from the tags showed individuals also routinely descended at speeds up to 6 meters per second (13.4 miles per hour) to depths of almost 2,000 meters (1.24 miles) in water temperatures less than 4 degrees Celsius (39.2 degrees Fahrenheit).

The deep dives generally followed two distinct patterns. The most common involved descent to the maximum depth followed by a slower, stepwise return to the surface with a total dive time of 60 to 90 minutes. The tagged rays generally only made one such dive during a 24-hour period. In the second dive pattern, individuals descended and then remained at depths of up to 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) for as long as 11 hours.

Chilean devil rays (Mobula tarapacana) are actually among the deepest-diving ocean animals.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution|July 21, 2014

Read more at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

This Floating Platform Could Filter the Plastic from our Polluted Oceans

“Plastic is an extremely durable material, taking 500 years to biodegrade, yet it’s designed to be used for an average of 5 minutes, and so it’s thrown away. Few know where this mass of junk will end up … in the oceans, killing and silently destroying everything, even us.”

Cristian Ehrmantraut has developed a prototype for a floating platform that filters the ocean and absorbs plastic. Located 4 km from the coast of Easter Island, close to the center of the mega-vortex of plastic located in the South Pacific, the tetrahedral platform performs a kind of dialysis, allowing the natural environment to be recovered as well as energy and food to be produced.

The idea for the project comes from a reality that, although few realize it, affects us all: the disposable culture and its principal actor — plastic

Since the 1960s, plastic has become a part of our daily lives, allowing us, among other things, to extend our lifespan. However, behind this remarkable reality lies an uncomfortable fact: plastic is an extremely durable material, taking 500 years to biodegrade, yet it’s designed to be used for an average of 5 minutes, and so it’s thrown away. Few know where this mass of junk will end up … in the oceans, killing and silently destroying everything, even us.

Today there are six mega-vortexes of floating plastic: five between the continents and a sixth close to the Arctic, which is similar in size to Brazil (8.5 million square kilometers) and is 10 meters thick. It is in this environment that Halobates – a wild insect that feeds on zooplankton – thrives. The insect has experienced such exponential growth, in fact, that it’s endangering the zooplankton, essentially eliminating the base of the oceanic food chain.

Internal System

In the center of the mega-vortex of the South Pacific is Easter Island. Tons of micro-plastic trash arrive with every wave (Special Report making it a strategic place to start cleaning the global oceans. Easter Island, which hosts over 50,000 tourists annually from all over the world, could well become the world’s referent for a new ecology, which, whether we like it or not, will be focused on cleaning up this disastrous mess for the next 1000 years. This effort will enlist architecture, which will not only have to sustainably produce energy without polluting, but also actively clean the environment.

Thus, the project, which would be located 4 km off the coast of Easter island, is a prototype for a floating platform that filters the ocean, absorbs plastic, and protects the island from this ceaseless attack.

Platform

The design of the sub-structure is based on the application of the M.E.F. logic, which is similar to the Sierpinski fractal, but in three dimensions in order to achieve the overall coordination of the small, prefabricated elements. Its tetrahedral shape is simple, clean, stable, and static.

At the conceptual level, interesting things also occur, such as the verticality of the space in its natural state; just by being submerged, it’s possible to see the sky from below sea level. Aspects of emergence at a non-invasive, horizontal level were also considered, which results in a volume no bigger than a freighter, with the habitable zone on the surface and the recycling zone underwater. Ocean water is directed toward the recycling zone via gravity filters that separate the water from the plastic, which is later processed into plastic bricks, tiles, or anything that could be used to improve the quality of life of those in need. The habitable zone also has gardens to produce food for its 65 workers, without having to resort to supplies from the Island. The roof is made from photovoltaic cells.

To capture the plastic and lure it to the platform, we developed a modular system of rolling barriers that use the waves to separate the living from the inert, all while producing energy and preserving the free passage of fish, boats, etc. Due to the the huge magnitude of ocean currents, a platform would be needed every several kilometers.

The ocean is dynamic, so it’s not necessary that the platforms move; eventually, all the water will pass through the same zone. A range of platforms operating systematically will cover hundreds of kilometers – a good start to fixing the disaster we’ve all collectively caused.

So let’s get to work.

Vanessa Quirk|Arch Daily|16 Jul2014

Save the Bluefin Tuna

The National Marine Fisheries Service opened a public process today to determine whether to prohibit fishing for Pacific bluefin tuna, which have suffered a 96 percent decline since large-scale fishing began. The action followed the Center for Biological Diversity’s rulemaking petition sent in April.

The Pacific bluefin population’s historic low triggered a requirement for new regulations to better manage overfishing by April 8, 2014, but regulators thus far have declined to take any steps to help the fish. Today’s request for comments is the federal government’s first step to spur action from the Pacific Fishery Management Council.

“This initiation of this important process provides a glimmer of hope in a sea of bleak news for Pacific bluefin tuna,” said Center Attorney Catherine Kilduff. “Saving Pacific bluefin tuna from the world’s insatiable appetite for sushi requires action at all levels, starting with protection in U.S. waters.”

In today’s notice the Fisheries Service considers adding Pacific bluefin tuna to a list of imperiled species that must be released immediately if caught. That list includes great white sharks and other species vulnerable to steep declines from fishing. U.S. sport-fishery landings now dominate American catches of Pacific bluefin tuna, eclipsing the once-vibrant U.S. commercial fishery.

Last week Mexico prohibited commercial and recreational fishing for bluefin tuna for the remainder of 2014 after countries’ collective catch reached the international 5,000-metric-ton limit for bluefin tuna. Fishing continues in U.S. waters because of exemptions negotiated by the U.S. delegation to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission. This month’s meeting of the commission failed to set future catch limits after the United States, Mexico, Japan, Korea and Chinese-Taipei could not agree on reductions.

Center for Biological Diversity|July 24, 2014

Read more at Center for Biological Diversity.

Whale washes ashore and dies during Navy war games in Hawaii ‏

Today a pilot whale washed up on the beach in Hanalei, Kauai, and soon died. Meanwhile, massive naval war games continue off the shore of the Hawaiian Islands.
In the words of marine biologists at the scene of the stranding, endangered sea turtles are showing up with their legs blown off, dead or simply disappearing…. 2,000 year old coral reefs are disintegrating into piles of rubble on the sea floor. And then, this morning, a dead whale. For every whale that washes up on the beach, it is thought that many more simply die at sea.

The US Navy and 22 foreign navies from around the world are continuing their war games in these beautiful waters. They are sinking ships (likely releasing toxic PCBs and asbestos into the ecosystem), detonating bombs,  and deploying high-intensity sonar which seriously disrupts marine mammal behaviors, permanently damages their hearing, and can drive them onto beaches to die.

NOAA says it will investigate this death… but if they follow previous patterns, they will not release the results until months, years or a decade down the road — most likely on a holiday weekend, when most people will have forgotten about it. This is a tragic outcome for whales & dolphins who deserve our protection.
We need your assistance now to bring this travesty to the public’s attention. We need to demand that the Navy use more simulation software for sonar trainings and deploy safer technologies that won’t destroy our natural world.

To learn the truth about how Navy sonar is killing whales, please check out Joshua Horwitz’s new book, WAR OF THE WHALES.
Big Thanks to Marine Biologist Terry Lilley for sharing this information and being a stellar protector of the Islands. To see his report from the scene of the stranding click here.

Meet the Town That’s Using the Ocean to Provide Heat to Low-Income Residents

DUINDORP, THE NETHERLANDS — When most people think of harnessing renewable energy from the ocean, the gigantic spinning blades of offshore wind farms are probably the first thing that come to mind. Or maybe it’s gracefully bobbing buoys capturing wave energy or dams that skim power off rushing tides. Very few people, however, think of the oceans as a vast source of renewable heat that can be used to keep homes warm and showers steaming. But that’s exactly what a growing number of seaside towns in northern Europe are doing, despite having some particularly chilly ocean water.

It should perhaps come as no surprise that the ocean can be used to climate control our homes. After all, the Earth’s oceans essentially climate control the entire planet. The more than 70 percent of the Earth that is covered by water serves as a kind of global thermostat. Oceans take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which helps to moderate temperatures, and they also emit heat from the sunlight they absorb. Clouds, too, which perform a variety of cooling and insulating functions to help regulate temperature on Earth, form from water evaporating off the ocean.

Harnessing just a tiny fraction of the heat stored in the world’s oceans has theoretically been possible for many years, but has only recently been put into practice. One of the first places in the world to draw on the ocean for residents’ heating needs is Duindorp, a small harbor town near the Hague in the Netherlands.

Being dependent on the ocean is nothing new for Duindorp — for decades, the small fishing village relied almost entirely on the water for its economic lifeblood. Fishing in the harbor has since declined, but now a new era of reliance on the ocean for energy has begun.

The project began nearly a decade ago, as 1,200 cramped fishermen houses dating back to 1915 were taken down in town to make room for 800 new homes that met modern standards for affordable housing in the Netherlands.

“Residents wanted their homes to be heated using renewable energy,” said Paul Stoelinga, senior consultant at Dutch environmental engineering firm Deerns International, which designed Duindorp’s current heating system. “But how to offer that for low-income residents was a problem. Technologies like solar panels were just too expensive and wouldn’t produce enough energy in this region.”

District heating using seawater turned out to be the most affordable solution, insuring no resident would have to pay more than the national average of €70 (about $94) a month for heat and hot water.

While deeply connected to the sea, Duindorp seems like an unlikely place to take advantage of heat in the oceans. The birds skimming over the choppy harbor are mostly cormorants, familiar cold-weather birds that proclaim the fact that the water here is hardly warm. For most of the winter, the temperature in the harbor is right around 35 to 40° Fahrenheit, although in summer it can climb to near 70° Fahrenheit.

The system is based on a district heating plan, which is quite common in Europe, but only recently starting to catch on in the U.S. District heating systems warm water at a central location and then distribute it through a system of underground pipes. None of the water in the pipes is used directly in homes, but the heat from the water is skimmed off and used to warm showers and floors.

The process is similar to the circulatory system in a person’s body. Blood gets oxygen from the heart and then delivers it through the body, returning de-oxygenated blood to the heart to start the process all over again. Likewise, the water in the pipes that services the neighborhood is heated at the central facility and then runs through town distributing heat and eventually loops back to the power plant to be heated up once again.

In the summer, creating warm water to flow through the district heating network of pipes is relatively straightforward. Intake pipes at the harbor draw in about 25,000 to 50,000 gallons of warm seawater every hour. An extensive series of filters throughout the intake system ensures that no sea life is sucked into the plant. That seawater is then used in a heat exchanger to heat freshwater for the pipes to around 54° Fahrenheit. The warmed freshwater is then sent out along a five mile network of insulated pipes that services the 800 homes in the new affordable housing neighborhood. At every house connected to the system, a 5 kWh-capacity heat pump raises the temperature of the water to between 110-150° Fahrenheit, to then be used for heating and warm water.

In the winter, the system is more complex.

“Just at the moment when you really want a hot shower and need heating in your home, that’s when the ocean is at its coldest,” said Stoelinga. “Sometimes just 2° Celsius. It’s a tricky contradiction, when you need the heat, its not there.”

During these chilly months, a heat pump is used to transfer heat from the seawater to the district heating system. Every home in the U.S. uses similar technology in refrigerators and air conditioners. Heat pumps don’t create heat, they merely transfer it from one medium to another. Heat pumps require a source of energy as they push heat against its natural gradient — heat naturally wants to flow from hot to cold until an equilibrium is reached. In a refrigerator, they push heat from a cold area, the inside of the fridge, to a warmer area, the kitchen. Unlike a typical fridge, the heat pump in Duindorp uses ammonia as the refrigerant. It’s extremely efficient, but also quite toxic, and not something any homeowner would want in their kitchen.

Much more water is needed in the winter, compared to the summer, to keep the system running. About 190,000 gallons of water is taken in every hour when the ocean is at its coldest and only a few degrees of heat can be transferred.

“You can’t get much heat out of water which is just a few degrees above freezing” explained Stoelinga, “so you need much more flow.”

Originally, Deerns planned to make the system 100 percent renewable by building two 1.5 MW wind turbines in the harbor to supply all of the energy needed to run the heat pump during the winter. Unfortunately, local zoning codes didn’t allow wind turbines to be built in the area, so the electricity needed to run the heat pumps, about 3 MW, is taken off the grid. The system is still extremely efficient, however, generating 15 kilowatt-hours of heat for every 1 kWh of electricity pumped into the system. This reduces carbon emissions by 50 percent when compared to conventional heating using natural gas.

Stoelinga explained that while district heating systems and heat pumps certainly aren’t new ideas, making the system run smoothly with an affordable price tag was a massive undertaking.

“I would say that about 80 percent of the engineering work we did at this site was dedicated entirely to battling the problem of corrosive seawater,” said Stoelinga. “We are dealing with huge volumes of very salty water in our mechanical systems every day and finding ways to cut down on how often we had to replace corroded components was by far the biggest challenge. ”

Now that solutions to that problem have been designed, Stoelinga says that seawater district heating is a promising alternative for any community near the shore. The system will be most cost effective in areas where new development is taking place. Since district heating depends on an underground network of pipes, retrofitting a community to run on a district heating system would add considerably to the price tag.

“This design would work especially well and cost even less if the community was near a large body of freshwater,” said Stoelinga. “If you don’t have to worry about saltwater ruining equipment, it’s much simpler.”

In the U.S., any town or city on the coasts, along the Great Lakes, or even near large rivers like the Mississippi could benefit from a similar system.

For Stoelinga, the next project is a seawater cooling system based on the similar principles for resorts in Aruba. In order to cool the resort, intake pipes will be built to collect the cold water deep in the ocean. That cold water can then be used in a heat exchanger to provide cold water in taps and air conditioning throughout the hotel.

Joanna M. Foster|ThinkProgress|July 25, 2014 This post originally appeared on ThinkProgress.

Gulf’s Dead Zone  to hold steady – NOAA

Scientists today predicted that the Gulf of Mexico’s “dead zone” will stick to its average size this year, while the Chesapeake Bay will suffer from one slightly larger than usual.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released the predictions, which came out of two projects funded through the agency. In a statement, NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan pointed to such models as a handy tool as the agency works with nonprofits to shrink such oxygen-free zones.

“These ecological forecasts are good examples of the critical environmental intelligence products and tools that NOAA provides to interagency management bodies such as the Chesapeake Bay Program and Gulf Hypoxia Task Force,” Sullivan said. “With this information, we can work collectively on ways to reduce pollution and protect our marine environments for future generations.”

“Dead zones” — called hypoxic because of their lack of oxygen — threaten fisheries and wildlife diversity. They emerge thanks to agricultural and wastewater runoff, which feeds nutrients to explosive algae blooms that suck up oxygen and snuff out marine life.

Researchers will measure the zones on a trip in the next few weeks. But today’s predictions come from models that show the influence of various factors — such as weather and oceanographic conditions — on the size of the oxygen-depleted areas.

The Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone is expected to cover an area as large as 5,708 miles, or the size of Connecticut, according to NOAA. That’s in line with the past 10 years. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 101,000 metric tons of nitrate dumped into the Gulf from the Mississippi River last month — a decrease of about 80,000 metric tons when compared to May 2013, which was above average likely due to a wet spring season last year.

The Chesapeake Bay could see a low-oxygen zone of 1.97 cubic miles in midsummer and an oxygen-free zone as large as 0.51 cubic mile in early summer, according to NOAA. Scientists used cubic miles as a measurement because of the bay’s shallow waters.

The bay saw an uptick in nitrogen, receiving 44,000 metric tons — up from 36,600 — from the Susquehanna and Potomac rivers between January and May, according to NOAA.

Emily Yehle|E&E reporter|June 24, 2014

The Plan to Prevent the Slaughter of Thousands of Whales

Public awareness of the awful atrocities committed against whales and dolphins has increased greatly in recent years, thanks in no small part to the ongoing work of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and the release of the 2009 documentary The Cove.

People were disgusted and appalled to discover that tens of thousands of dolphins and whales were being mutilated and slaughtered in one tiny fishing village in Japan every single year.

What is less well known, however, is that this is not an isolated incident, and atrocities just like Taiji are happening in other parts of the world as well.

The Taiji of the North

In the Faroe Islands, thousands of long-finned whales, dolphins and other small cetaceans are slaughtered every year. Many have termed the mass slaughter of these beautiful sea creatures as being the ‘Taiji of the North,” and this year Sea Shepherd has launched its biggest Faroe Island campaign to date. More than 500 Sea Shepherd conservationists have been directly involved in a campaign which not only seeks to directly prevent any animals from being murdered at sea, but also raises worldwide awareness of this disgraceful mass killing.

Each year, for hundreds of years, Faroes have taken part in a traditional activity known by locals as ‘the grind.’ Fishermen drive long-finned pilot whales towards the shore until they are close enough to be speared, pulled onto the beach, and have their spinal cords cut with a knife. In a single season more than 1,000 long finned pilot whales can be killed, in a massacre which leaves the waters blood red and the beaches scattered with dead bodies.

Operation Grindstop at Work

Operation Grindstop is combating the grinds with a multi-leveled plan, involving land and sea teams working in cooperation with each other. The 500 Sea Shepherd volunteers are covering 23 different landing bays, keeping watch to ensure that no whaling is taking place throughout the peak season from June to September. The onshore team are poised ready to take direct action to intervene should whales be driven towards the shore, and the offshore team are actively patrolling the coastline trying to deter whales from coming too close to danger.

As with all animal rights campaigns, direct action and intervention is only a part of the solution, and the Sea Shepherd volunteers working on Operation Grindstop are involved in global awareness campaigns, local education schemes and investigative work in an attempt to changes hearts and minds. Each day that goes by without a single killed whale is a victory for the team, and so far the operation has been a huge success in 2014.

Why Does the Killing Occur?

There are many cruel traditions around the world, and as a collective animal rights community, it is our job to raise awareness and put them to an end. This doesn’t mean vilifying those responsible for continuing age old practices, but instead showcasing the events and putting pressure on people not to support these actions.

An inside look into the issue in the Faroe Islands reveals that the situation is complex and contradictory. Many locals say it is an important part of Island tradition and culture, others claim it is essential for food, while others are opposed to it all together saying it is unnecessary in modern times.

Whatever the reason the islanders give for the continuation of this annual event, there can never be a justification for the annual slaughter of thousands of sentient beings. The animals can be thankful that the Sea Shepherd volunteers are watching out for them, and have so far prevented many deaths on the beaches of the Faroe Islands this year.

Abigail Geer|July 23, 2014

Wildlife and Habitat

Save 22 acres of Pine Rockland & Hammocks in Palmetto Bay

The Village of Palmetto Bay is proposing to change the land use and zoning for 22-acres of forest that include hardwood hammocks and imperiled pine rocklands, home to a variety of endangered and threatened species in South Florida, and critical habitat for migratory songbirds.

The proposed land use and zoning change would eliminate the legally binding zoning promise made to the area residents back in the 1980’s, when the original Burger King headquarters building was built on. Moreover, the 22 acres in question received a Parks and Recreation zoning designation in 2005 when Palmetto Bay first adopted a Comprehensive Master Plan. Why would “The Village of Parks” roll back protection of this forest and allow for its development?

Pine Rocklands are one of South Florida’s most productive and precious ecosystems. Found only in South Florida, and parts of the Caribbean, this unique and rapidly vanishing ecosystem provides critical habitat for a variety of endangered species, including but not limited to, the bald eagle, indigo snake, Florida bonneted bat, and two rare butterflies expected to earn protection this summer (Bartram’s Hairstreak butterfly and Florida Leafwing butterfly).

The issue: University of Miami recently sold 88 acres of imperiled Pine Rockland to RAM Realty Services for the construction of a massive shopping and residential complex. (Read more about this development here.) As part of the negotiation, of the 88 acres sold, 40 would be potentially set aside for conservation. The 88-acre parcel is one of the largest remaining Pine Rockland preserves left outside of Everglades National Park (see map below). To develop its current plan RAM still needs to acquire adjacent Pine Rocklands. It is hoping to buy 35 more acres under UM ownership.

With 2% of this habitat remaining in Miami-Dade County, it is deeply troubling that UM would be party to destroying it. Losing this globally imperiled habitat to build a Wal-Mart is tragic. We should be preserving, not developing, what little is left of our Pine Rocklands!

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) sent a letter to the developer asking it to stop any construction at this time (read the letter FWS sent to RAM here). We have a chance to preserve Pine Rocklands right now: Please sign our petition urging Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature to halt and/or prevent development on rare endangered forest lands in South Florida. Please sign #3 in “Calls to Action” above

Equally urgent, contact UM President Donna Shalala today! Ask UM to honor our Pine Rockland heritage. It is questionable for UM to sell endangered land for profit that it received as a gift from Miami-Dade County tax payers. Tell Shalala to preserve and protect UM’s remaining Pine Rocklands!   

Phone, mail or email Donna Shalala:

(305) 284-5155  dshalala@miami.edu

230J Ashe Administration Building
1252 Memorial Drive,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Coral Gables, FL 33146

Protect Wildlife: Keep cats indoors  

According to the American Bird Conservancy, the domestic house cat is one of the world’s most effective predators.

It is estimated that there are over 80 million feral cats in the United States, and each year, these cats kill hundreds of millions of birds and millions more other small animals.

Even well-fed cats continue to kill birds. The number of pet cats in the U.S. has increased threefold in the last 40 years and approximately 65% of these are roaming for some portion of the day.

These free roaming cats, added to the number of feral cats, total an estimated 140 million cats, which kill on average at least 1.4 million birds per day.

In some areas, cat predation has decimated local bird populations, and has led to the disappearance of some species.

While the Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) approach seeks to solve the overpopulation of feral cats, it does not address the loss of wildlife. A better approach would be to trap, neuter and relocate feral cats to enclosed sanctuaries or into a forever home. Cats released back into the street after being neutered have a much shorter life expectancy than healthy, indoor cats.

Please click here to read more about how you can become a responsible pet owner and help us protect wildlife.

Learn more about feral colonies and their impacts on birds, see the video

EPA blocks huge Alaska mine project with environmental restrictions

• Pebble mine decision protects state’s largest salmon fishery
• Copper and gold mine stood to affect Manhattan-sized area

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced a set of restrictions that will in effect prevent the development of a controversial copper and gold mine in Alaska which many said would have been disastrous for the state’s largest salmon fishery.

Pebble Mine, located in south-west Alaska near Bristol Bay, would have been one of the largest opencast mines in the world — more than a mile deep, the depth of the Grand Canyon. And the total impact of the mine – from the project itself to the huge waste ponds and piles it would have required – could take up an area the size of Manhattan, according to the EPA. That, the EPA’s regional administrator, Dennis McLerran, said on Friday, was unacceptable for the environment, for those who rely on the salmon in Bristol Bay for work, and for the Native community who have argued that the area is integral to their way of life.

“Bristol Bay is an extraordinary ecosystem that supports an ancient fishing culture and economic powerhouse,” McLerran said in a statement. “The science is clear that mining the Pebble deposit would cause irreversible damage to one of the world’s last intact salmon ecosystems.”

Pebble Partnership, the company set up by the two mining corporations that sought to develop the mine, along with the state of Alaska, sued the EPA in May claiming the agency was overstepping its legal authority by weighing in on the development.

The EPA’s decision on Friday could theoretically be affected by that lawsuit, but many consider the suit a long shot.

Supporters of the mine, who say the EPA is killing the potential for an economic boom in the state, saw Friday’s announcement as an all-out attack on states’ rights.

“The EPA is setting a precedent that strips Alaska and all Alaskans of the ability to make decisions on how to develop a healthy economy on their lands,” Senator Lisa Murkowski said. “This [decision] is a blueprint that will be used across the country to stop economic development.”

The agency’s decision does not rule out future development of the mine, but it sets environmental restrictions so burdensome that moving forward with the project would probably be financially untenable. While more action from Pebble Partnership and other supporters of the project is likely, those against the mine viewed the EPA’s announcement as a decisive win.

“This has been looming over us for a decade,” said Alannah Hurley, program manager for the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, which represents different tribal groups in the area. “For the tribal community, everything that makes us who we are was at stake. For the EPA to recognise that Bristol Bay is worth protecting is huge.”

Peter Moskowitz|theguardian.com|18 July 2014  

Mexico Welcomes First Mexican Gray Wolf Pups Born in the Wild in Decades

Wolf advocates are celebrating the confirmation of the first documented litter of Mexican gray wolves born in the wild in Mexico since they disappeared nearly three decades ago.

Without giving their exact location, Mexico’s National Commission for Natural Protected Areas confirmed the wolves were sighted in the western Sierra Madre mountains by a team of researchers and that the pups were doing well, according to the AP.

Mexican wolves, also known as lobos, once roamed vast portions of the Southwest and Mexico but were eradicated by the 1900s in the U.S. over conflicts with humans and livestock, while populations in Mexico dropped off. In 1976, they were listed as an endangered species and bi-national recovery efforts began the next year.

Mexico began releasing wolves in 2011, and released the parents last December in the hope they would breed.

“This first litter represents an important step in the recovery program, because these will be individuals that have never had contact with human beings, as wolves bred in captivity inevitably do,” the commission said in a statement.

In the U.S., the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) approved the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan in 1982, which recommended a captive breeding program and supported a goal of maintaining at least 100 wolves in their historic range, but progress since then has been slow and the agency’s lack of action has been criticized by those who want to see a successful recovery for this species.

The first 11 wolves were released in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in Arizona in 1998, but as of this January there were still only 83 in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico. Unfortunately, the few who are out there continue to face threats that range from a lack of genetic diversity, diseases, conflicts with livestock, being killed by humans and hostility from those who don’t want to see them return to their rightful place in the wild.

The FWS has recently proposed changes to its management plan that include both steps that would benefit them, but also changes that will make things worse.

Advocates for the lobo are urging the agency to immediately release more into the wild, allow them to expand their territory and stop capturing and returning those who wander outside current boundaries and to finish its long overdue recovery plan before it makes any official changes.

They’re also asking the agency to remove the “nonessential” designation from the population in the wild. The FWS claims that even if all the ones in the wild disappeared, it wouldn’t hinder recovery efforts because there are still many in the breeding program, but critics of that statement argue that the survival of those who have experience in the wild is critical to their future survival.

This August, the agency will release its draft Environmental Impact Statement and hold a public comment period, in addition to holding public hearings in both Arizona and New Mexico.

To find out more about the proposal and how you can help support Mexican gray wolf recovery, visit mexicanwolves.org.

Alicia Graef|July 22, 2014

Scientists blast Australian government’s moves to dismantle environmental protections

On Tuesday a prominent group of conservation scientists condemned the Australian government’s recent moves to eliminate protections for native ecosystems, cut research funding, backtrack on commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and step up persecution of individuals and organizations that speak out on environmental matters.

Convening in Cairns, Australia at its annual meeting, The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) issued a resolution in support of stronger laws for climate change mitigation and environmental protection in Australia.

“Australia has recently weakened or overturned decades of legislation designed to protect its sensitive natural ecosystems and species, as well as altered demonstrably effective climate-change mitigation strategies such as elimination of the carbon-pricing scheme,” stated the resolution. “The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation urges the Commonwealth Government to reconsider its stance on a financial penalty system to limit its greenhouse gas emissions, and that it implement a mandatory emissions-trading scheme.”

Noting that Australia has the world’s highest extinction rate among native mammals, ATBC said the Australian government was failing to take adequate measures to protect endangered wildlife, cutting funds for environmental law enforcement and allowing local governments and organizations to sidestep regulations designed to limit clearing of native vegetation.

The Government should not allow individual Australian states to weaken or overturn national legislation such as the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 given the recent trends for state governments to relax laws for vegetation clearing and to allow industrial activities such as logging, grazing, fishing and mining in ‘national’ parks and other protected areas,” said ATBC.

The group also urged the government to enforce a 2013 law that criminalized the import of illegally logged timber. The regulation, similar to the Lacey Act in the United States and FLEG-T in the E.U., has been hailed by scientists and environmentalists as a critical tool for cracking down on timber smuggling and illicit logging.

ATBC further asked the government to stop targeting environmentalists who criticize damaging industrial activities.

“[ATBC] implores the Commonwealth Government to abandon its attempt to remove the tax-deductible status of environmental groups and non-government organizations that work to protect Australia’s unique and threatened ecosystems and natural capital.”

TBC’s resolution was echoed by Senator Christine Milne, leader of Australia’s Green Party, who spoke at the meeting Tuesday morning.

“Australia is a rich country, yet we are behaving appallingly,” she said, noting several recent developments that undermine protection for the environment, including last week’s repeal of Australia’s carbon tax, a plan to dump dredge sludge in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the abolishment of the country’s $1 billion biodiversity fund, approval of mining projects in protected areas, and a failed attempt to remove 74,000 hectares of high conservation value forest from a World Heritage area in Tasmania for industrial logging.

“This would have set an appalling precedent for World Heritage properties around the world,” she said.

Milne called on scientists at the meeting to step up to fight for Australia’s embattled ecosystems.

“Now is the time to abandon reticence,” she said. “Now is the time to have courage and speak out.”

mongabay.com|July 22, 2014

Read more

First Nation Tribe Discovers Grizzly Bear “Highway” in Its Backyard

A new study reveals that more grizzlies live among Canada’s Heiltsuk people than they suspected.

Grizzly bears and aboriginal tribes in Canada have lived with each other for thousands of years. But one First Nation tribe, the Heiltsuk of British Columbia, was surprised to discover just how many bears a new study turned up in its backyard.

The Heiltsuk live near the Koeye watershed—69 square miles (179 square kilometers) of temperate forest on the central British Columbia coast—and they thought about a dozen grizzlies lived in their midst. But a scientific study, led by the Heiltsuk and published in late June in the journal Ecology and Society, found that the Koeye actually hosts at least 57. That’s not your average bear density.

By comparison, Yellowstone National Park is about 3,472 square miles (8,992 square kilometers) and hosts only about 150 grizzly bears.

“It was a bit of a shock to me,” says William Housty, lead author of the study and director of Coastwatch, the research arm of the Heiltsuk First Nation.

Not that it’s surprising that grizzly bears are drawn to the area. The river that drains Koeye Lake has pink, chum, sockeye, and Coho salmon, all tasty prey for bears. But neither Housty nor his colleagues expected to find nearly 60 grizzlies. (See: “Grizzly Bears Moving Into Canada’s Polar Bear Capital.”)

Living With Bears

For the study, the team collected hair samples from Koeye grizzlies by using wire snares baited with enticing scents, though no food. When a grizzly came to investigate and rubbed against the wire, it left behind a tuft of hair.

The study authors collected the hair samples between 2006 and 2009, and sequenced the DNA to get a handle on how many individual bears they had and to determine their gender. (Watch a video of a grizzly mom teaching her cubs.)

They were also able to track some of those bears as they wandered out of the Koeye watershed. Some of the grizzlies ranged for hundreds of miles, crossing into the traditional territory of other First Nations.

Being able to obtain scientific data to back up Heiltsuk traditional knowledge about grizzly bears has been important, says Housty. The Heiltsuk have been trying to get more say in the management of their resources, including grizzly bears and salmon, and they’ve realized that science is one way to do that.

“Even though we’re on the ground living with [grizzly bears and salmon],” explains Housty, “sometimes the final decision on their management comes from the government.”

He adds, “We wanted to show that we’re committed to dovetailing traditional knowledge and science to move toward managing our resources ourselves.”

What’s even more exciting about this study, says study co-author Chris Filardi, an ecologist with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, is that scientists and the Heiltsuk were able to carry out their survey in accordance with the laws of the Heiltsuk First Nation. One of the most important of those mandates was to not handle the bears or subject them to invasive procedures.

“You Can’t Ignore the People”

The scientific data have also been a boon to the Heiltsuk resource management department, Filardi says. “If they see their policies don’t make sense, it changes right away.”

And advances in extracting and analyzing DNA from animals are extremely important to conservation efforts.They help researchers figure out, for instance, how many animals are in a population, says Michael Sawaya, a carnivore ecologist with Sinopah Wildlife Research Associates in Missoula, Montana.

He also says that noninvasive methods like the hair sampling in the new study allow scientific studies to better align with cultural beliefs and practices of the local community.

“Oftentimes wildlife research focuses on the wildlife, which it should,” says Sawaya, who was not involved in the new research. “But you can’t ignore the people, especially in areas that are under threats or [are] on indigenous lands.”

Jane J. Lee|National Geographic|July 22, 2014

Forestry

The important role of community forests

Expanding and strengthening the community forest rights of indigenous groups and rural residents can make a major contribution to sequestering carbon and reducing CO2 emissions from deforestation, according to a new report. The World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Rights and Resources Initiative said that indigenous people and rural inhabitants in Latin America, Africa, and Asia have government-recognized rights to forests containing nearly 38 billion tons of carbon, equal to 29 times the annual emissions of all the world’s passenger vehicles. By enforcing community rights to those forests, the study said, governments can play a major role in tackling climate change. In the Brazilian Amazon, for example, deforestation rates are 11 times lower in community forests than in forests outside those areas. In areas where community forest rights are ignored, deforestation rates often soar. The report made five major recommendations, from better enforcement of community forest zones to compensating communities for the climate and other benefits their forests provide.

WRI and the Rights and Resources Initiative studied 14 forest-rich countries, including Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Nepal, Niger, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia.

In the Brazilian Amazon, deforestation rates are 11 times lower in community forests than in other forested areas.
other local communities currently have legal or official rights to 513 million hectares of forest, or about one-eighth of the world’s forest cover. But the report said those rights are frequently ignored by national or local governments, leading to severe deforestation. The report cited the example of three indigenous forest lands in the Amazon region of northwestern Peru. Despite supposed recognition of those rights, the Peruvian government allocated indigenous lands to mining and oil and gas drilling, leading to deforestation rates of 24 to 51 percent in those three community forest areas from 2000 to 2010.

In Papua New Guinea, the report said, all forests are owned by communities, but the Papuan government has given leases to private companies — often for oil palm plantations — on about 4 million hectares, an area the size of Switzerland. Indonesia, which has one of the world’s worst deforestation records, legally recognizes only 1 million of the 42 million hectares of forest reputedly controlled by local communities.

By contrast, Brazil, which has half of the world’s remaining tropical forests, is more rigorous about recognizing and protecting community forests, the report said. Roughly 300 indigenous territories have been legally recognized in Brazil, and protection of these areas, while not perfect, is far better than in some other countries, according to the report. That protection is crucial: The report noted that from 2000 to 2012, forest loss was 0.6 percent inside indigenous territories, compared to 7 percent outside.

Yale Environment360|July 25, 2014

Read more at Yale Environment360.

Rebuilding Kissama: war-torn Angola’s only national park affected by deforestation, but refaunation gives hope

Conservation organizations, government reintroducing wildlife from other countries

The story of Kissama National Park is one of perseverance, vision and disaster in waiting. The only functional national park in Angola, a country wracked by war for decades, Kissama (also called Quiçama) lost much of its wildlife, with that which is left still impacted by poaching and deforestation. However, a project is attempting to bring the park back to life.

Most of the lush forested areas of Kissama National Park occurs in its eastern portion, comprising about 200,000 hectares. Of this forest cover, nearly seven percent disappeared from 2001-2013, according to data from Global Forest Watch.

A 2010 report written by Roland Goetz, Director of the Kissama National Park at Kissama Foundation, raised concern about poaching and illegal harvesting of trees for building material and charcoal production. It underlines the urgent need for mitigation.
In the report, Goetz said Quiçama National Park is at a crossroads.

“Continuing as we have been is certain death for the park,” he said. “With decisive action to save the park in the next year, the Ministry of Environment can show the international conservation community that Angola in a leader in protecting the biodiversity of the planet.”

Illegal development is also a major threat to the park, including a housing development called Cabo Ledo and several roads.

Angola is one of Africa’s most biologically diverse countries, boasting a long Atlantic coastline, dense equatorial forests, rivers thick with mangroves, vast desert expanses, rolling savannah grasslands and high-altitude rocky outcrops.

Forests still cover 35 percent of Angola, but clearing along coastal regions is massive and has led to desertification as trees no longer exist to hold moisture in the soil. One of the primary drivers behind Angola’s deforestation is the wide use of wood as fuel as 80 percent of Angolans cook food over fire. In addition, timber is often sold and exported illegally.

Bringing wildlife back to Kissama

Forty years ago, Kissama was inhabited by an abundance of animals, including elephants (Loxodonta Africana) and the critically endangered giant sable (Hippotragus niger variani). Because of its plethora of wildlife, Kissama began as a hunting reserve, but was proclaimed a national park in 1975. That same year, the Angolan Civil War began, decimating most of its wildlife.

The war ended in 2002, but left lasting scars. Two-thirds of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed during the war, 15 percent of the population was killed, and 4.5 million people fled the country.

Angola used to have six national parks. However, during the civil war, most — including Kissama — were abandoned. Without adequate administration and management, the parks lapsed into degradation.

Kissama National Park was the only park to be reopened after the end of the war, and is now in the midst of restoration. In addition to improving the modest infrastructure of the park, it is also involved in a project called Noah’s Ark, in which wildlife is being reintroduced to the park from other areas of Africa.

Operation Noah’s Ark is run partnership between the Kissama Foundation and the Angolan government, and seeks to rehabilitate the park by importing elephants and other animals from game reserves in South Africa and Botswana.

Noah’s Ark began in earnest in 2000, when 16 elephants were flown in from South Africa to a 10,000-hectare, fenced, “soft release” area in the north of Kissama by collaborative team of conservation organizations and wildlife managers. One year later, more elephants, 12 zebras, 12 ostriches, 14 wildebeests and four giraffes were brought in.

While still a far cry from the estimated 4,000 elephants and 5,000 forest buffalo that used to roam Kissama, the Angolan government and conservation organizations involved in the reintroduction project believe these animals will help to re-build a prospering wildlife community in the park.

Disappearing forests

According to Tatiana Lukoki, an ecologist based at the Agostinho Neto University (Universidade Agostinho Neto), valuable forest is disappearing at an accelerating rate, despite attempts by park management and government to control deforestation and poaching. She said it’s hard to imagine a drive along the winding roads of the park without thinking of the disappearance of its iconic canopy.

“This is our country’s most accessible and well-stocked wildlife park.” Lukoki said. “It has a huge swathe of coastal savannah punctuated by gnarly baobab trees. It is also home to elephants, water buffalo, indigenous palanca antelopes and a precarious population of nesting sea turtles.”

The reserve is faced by excessive human pressure on its natural resources.

“Most of the population here lives below the poverty line and depends on the natural resources for their livelihoods,” Lukoki explained. “Firewood, charcoal, wood production, uncontrolled bush fires and illegal hunting are all contributing to the loss of biodiversity and degradation.”

While charcoal production is known to be causing some of the deforestation in Kissama, other drivers remain unclear. Conservationists highlight the need for more research on the status of the park.

According to the National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAP) 2007 report, the greatest threat to Kissama National Park and its wildlife continues to be poor institutional capacity. It states that although environmental control over the park has improved over the last decade, there is still a lack of trained field rangers to police it.

The construction of two national roads through the park has resulted in habitat fragmentation and development of shrimp farms, human encroachment, cultivation of palm oil plantations, livestock grazing and charcoal production, have all posed additional threats to the environmental integrity of Kassima National Park.

“What I see is that most nature reserves are becoming isolated or insularized because of a variety of disturbances beyond their boundaries,” Lukoki said. “The big question now is how many more trees can we expect to disappear and what is the time period.” She said that as the human populations of nearby areas and cities like Luanda have grown, the park has changed to “a piece of natural habitat that has become isolated in a sea of manmade habitat.”

Some environmentalists are proposing more careful management of lands adjacent to the park, as well as more involvement of local communities in its day-to-day management.

According to Goetz, community support is vital to the park in the long term.

“There is need to develop a plan to ensure communities within and near the park benefit from the park’s success,” he said. “There must be an integrated management system to reconcile biodiversity, tourism, and local community interests.”

Fidelis Zvomuya|mongabay.com correspondent|July 24, 2014

Global Warming and Climate Change

Obama allocates funds to help communities build climate adaptation

More extreme droughts, floods and wildfires — these are just some of the impacts of climate change that won’t just occur in the distant future to our great-great grandchildren, but are happening now. To address the changing climate’s current effects on communities in the U.S., President Barack Obama announced a plan to strengthen national infrastructure and help cities, states and tribal communities better prepare for and recover from natural disasters.

“Climate change poses a direct threat to the infrastructure of America that we need to stay competitive in this 21st-century economy,” Obama said last week at a meeting of the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. “That means that we should see this as an opportunity to do what we should be doing anyway, and that’s modernizing our infrastructure, modernizing our roads, modernizing our bridges, power grids, our transit systems, and making sure that they’re more resilient. That’s going to be good for commerce, and it’s obviously going to be good for communities.”

Obama unveiled over $260 million in federal funds to help communities build their climate adaptation and resilience. The U.S. Geological Survey and other federal agencies are dedicating $13 million to develop an advanced 3-D mapping tool of the country that communities can use to identify which areas and infrastructure are at risk from changing climatic conditions, the White House said in a statement. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will also be spending $236 million to improve rural electric infrastructure in eight states — an investment that will not only allow the deployment of smart grid technologies, but can also attract businesses and residents to these communities, according to the White House.

The USDA is also setting aside additional funding to safeguard drinking water in rural communities during droughts, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs will dedicate $10 million to provide climate adaptation trainings to tribes.

Alexis Petru|Triple Pundit|July 21, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Triple Pundit.

What Climate Change Could Mean for the Future of Hockey

The National Hockey League on Monday released a comprehensive report on the league’s environmental impact and how it plans to reduce it, saying that action on environmental issues is imperative for the league’s future growth. The report, which draws attention to the impact of climate change and other environmental factors on the growth and long-term outlook of the sport, is the first of its kind from any major sports league, the NHL said.

The NHL more than any other league depends on cold weather and clean water, not just in and around its arenas and outdoor events but also because many youth hockey players — the future talent for the league — learn to play the game on frozen outdoor ponds.

“Perhaps more than any other sport, hockey is impacted by environmental issues, particularly climate change and freshwater scarcity,” the report states. “The ability to skate and play hockey outdoors is a critical component of the League’s history and culture. Many of the NHL’s players, both past and present, learned to skate outside on frozen lakes, ponds and backyard rinks. The game of hockey is adversely affected if this opportunity becomes unavailable to future generations.”

“We believe that this effort is not only the right thing to do for the environment, but is also a core strategy for the long-term success of our League,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman wrote. “We have a vested interest in this cause. As a business, we rely on freshwater to make our ice, on energy to fuel our operations and on healthy communities for our athletes, employees and fans to live, work and play. Moreover, to continue to stage world class outdoor hockey events like the NHL Winter Classic, NHL Heritage Classic or NHL Stadium Series, we need winter weather.”

The NHL has previously highlighted its dependence on the environment and the potential threat of climate change in letters to members of Congress and at a press conference on Capitol Hill last year that was part of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-CA) bicameral task force on climate change.

Notably, the report discloses the NHL’s carbon footprint, which it calculates as nearly 530,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases each year. The vast majority of the league’s footprint comes from electricity to power its arenas and from team travel between games. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s emissions calculator, that is the equivalent of the yearly output of approximately 111,579 cars or 48,358 homes. The NHL says in its release that its emissions still pale in comparison to coal-fired power plants, the largest of which emits 23 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually.

The report details the efforts the NHL is taking to reduce that footprint. The league launched the NHL Green initiative in 2010 in partnership with environmental groups like the National Resources Defense Council, and it has since undertaken initiatives aimed at water and environmental restoration, like its Gallons for Goals and Hattricks for Trees programs that put money back into the environment based on goals scored in games. The report also highlights future plans to increase energy efficiency and carbon offsets while reducing waste and sets specific benchmarks for those efforts in the future.

Hockey fans, the report states, are already 11 times more likely to recycle than the average American adult, and 20 times more likely to pay for environmentally-friendly products and services. But the NHL hopes its Green initiatives and the Sustainability Report will inspire its fans and other people who see the league to do even more.

“At the NHL, we recognize that we have great responsibility for the way we conduct our business. As our revenues, TV viewership and attendance continue to rise, we are acutely aware of our influence on culture and society, especially with today’s youth. We have the power to promote, develop and support positive change,” Bettman wrote in the report.

“As a League, we are uniquely positioned to promote the environmental message. One of our great assets is our visibility. Millions visit NHL.com, NHL Network, and the many other high profile digital and social platforms each year throughout the League,” he continued. “In conjunction with our players and Clubs, who have enormous and passionate followings of their own, we can impress upon millions of fans just how important these environmental issues are.”

Travis Waldron|ThinkProgress|July 22, 2014 This post originally appeared on Think Progress.

Should we try to fight rising sea levels — or abandon the coasts?

The world’s sea levels are expected to rise 1 to 3 feet — or more — as the planet heats up in the coming century. The more greenhouse gases we emit, the bigger the rise, but we’ve already locked in at least some sea-level increase no matter what.

So what should the millions of people living in low-lying coastal areas do?

Broadly speaking, there are three ways to deal with sea-level rise. First, large coastal cities like New York or Boston or Tokyo will likely spend billions to erect dikes and other defenses to fend off the rising oceans. Second, some coastal infrastructure will have to be elevated.

But there’s a third option that rarely gets as much attention — retreat. In many areas, it may make more sense for residents and communities to flee inland rather than fight the rising seas.

In a recent paper in Climatic Change, Carolyn Kousky argues that there are inevitably going to be parts of the United States where dikes and artificial defenses against sea-level rise probably shouldn’t be built. Often, the barriers just won’t be worth the cost. In other regions, seawalls might create more problems than they solve — by, for instance, increasing coastal erosion or by destroying crucial wetlands.

For these areas, Kousky argues, “managed retreat” is probably the best option. But coastal communities will need to start planning ahead of time. In some places, that may mean restricting development in high-risk areas or not subsidizing reconstruction after hurricanes and other disasters. But there aren’t any easy policy options here — and in many places, the process could get messy and controversial.

The case for retreat

Obviously not every coastal city can retreat in the face of rising sea levels. We can’t just pack up and move New York City or Boston.

One study found that retreat was likely to be more cost-effective in about one-third of coastal sites

So highly populated areas will have to build defenses. That includes dikes, levees and bulkheads to protect against storm surges and flooding. In some areas, it will mean pumping sand to replenish beaches that are receding. In other areas, roads and buildings will need to be elevated. That’s all expected to cost billions of dollars per year.

For some less-populated coastal areas, however, hardening the shoreline won’t be worth it. One 1999 study surveyed 30 coastal areas around the United States and estimated that for one-third of them, retreat or partial retreat was a more cost-effective response to sea-level rise. (That said, no one’s yet done a rigorous analysis of what towns are worth defending and what not.)

What’s more, building seawalls can frequently do a fair bit of damage to coastal ecosystems — for one, they can destroy crucial wetlands by preventing them from migrating inland.

These wetlands are often invaluable: they help protect coasts from storms, shield freshwater supplies from the encroaching oceans, and underpin the food chain for nearly two-thirds of US commercial fisheries in the Atlantic. Studies have found that some wetlands will be able to survive by migrating inland if sea levels rise relatively slowly (at a rate of 7 millimeters per year or less) — but only if those wetlands have some place to go.

Hence the case for managed retreat. “For many coastal areas,” Kousky notes, “retreat will be either preferred or required.”

Why managing retreat isn’t easy

Kousky’s paper lists a variety of ways that communities could retreat from the coasts — though most of them are likely to be difficult and controversial:

1) Restricting development in high-risk areas: This is one obvious option — why build in areas that are soon likely to find themselves underwater? One 2009 study noted that, based on current plants, 60 percent of Atlantic coastal regions that sit less than 3 feet above sea level is set to be developed eventually (see map). Does that make sense?

Maryland

Land use and likelihood of shore protection along the Maryland coast. This map shows lands within 5 m above spring high water. (Titus et al, 2009)

The drawback, of course, is that restricting development is costly and controversial — and it can be difficult to calculate when it’s worth doing.

What’s more, many coastal states haven’t yet started to think this through. New York’s Sea Level Rise task force has recommended drawing up maps to identify the parts of New York most at risk from sea-level rise. By contrast, North Carolina’s legislature has banned state agencies from taking climate projections for sea-level rise into account.

2) Better information: It would also help if individuals and homeowners had better information about how the rising oceans will actually affect different areas. It’s often tough to visualize how a foot or two of sea-level rise might influence things like storm surges or flooding. Right now, detailed maps like these aren’t widely available (though the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is working on one — and Climate Central has some handy maps here).

3) Moving public infrastructure: Meanwhile, a great deal of public infrastructure will have to move inland — though this isn’t cheap. Kousky notes that San Francisco is currently moving a highway and parking lot inland, along with various conservation measures — but at a cost of some $350 million. (The argument in favor is that inaction would be even pricier.) Likewise, NASA is planning to move some of its coastal facilities and launch pads inland.

4) Dealing with private property rights: The trickiest part is how to deal with existing private houses. One possibility would be to leave their fates up to the market — as sea levels rise, property values will plummet and people will naturally move inland.

Congress tried to pare back flood insurance subsidies in 2012 but backed down after an outcry

There are two problems with that. For one, the United States doesn’t currently leave these sorts of development decisions entirely to “the market.” Governments at all levels play a hand in promoting coastal development — by, for instance, funding projects to harden the shoreline or by subsidizing federal flood insurance. (Congress tried to pare back those flood insurance subsidies in 2012 but then reversed the move after a widespread outcry.)

And even if these subsidies vanished tomorrow, it may not always be ideal to let people dot the coast with private seawalls at will — since that can increase coastal erosion or damage wetlands that offer broad public benefits.

One proposed idea here are “rolling easements” — a conservation policy in which private property is transferred to the public as sea levels rise, allowing wetlands to migrate inland. Kousky notes that Texas has experimented with policies like this but they’re controversial — and have been challenged in courts.

5) Using natural disasters to relocate inland: Kousky notes that local communities could think a lot more broadly about how and when to rebuild after hurricanes, floods, and other coastal disasters. After Hurricane Sandy, for instance, New Jersey offered to buy out some 1,300 flood-damaged homes in high-risk areas (at a cost of up to $300 million). The downside? This tends to be risky, and not everyone wants to leave.

In the end, the paper is pretty clear that none of these options will be simple. Kousky notes that sea-level rise is a “wicked problem” that’s not easily amenable to policy solutions. But right now, relatively few states are even thinking seriously about the problem — which means that simply broaching the topic is a good first step.

Brad Plumer|May 22, 2014

Preparing for a Changing Climate – Resiliency and Brownfield Reuses

Shuttered strip malls, boarded main streets, abandoned gas stations and a host of other potentially contaminated sites – many of these are the focus of communities assessing and cleaning brownfields with the help of EPA’s Brownfields Grant funds. This year, communities selected to receive revolving loan fund, cleanup grants and area-wide planning grants are being asked to consider climate as part of their analysis, cleanup, and revitalization planning.

The National Climate Assessment released by President Obama this May confirmed what scientists have been telling us for years – the climate has already changed. Take a look, because the Assessment lets you examine vulnerabilities in your home region.

Brownfields grantees are asked to look at proposed site vulnerabilities. Is the historic school, railroad spur, mill, foundry, mine, or other type of brownfield close to areas where wildfire or flooding risks are likely to increase? What contaminants have been found? What reuses are proposed? Armed with the answers to these questions and information that is available on www.climate.gov, brownfields communities are embarking on important steps to make their communities more resilient. EPA has developed a checklist to help communities consider climate change and factor it into brownfields cleanup activities and revitalization planning.

svi

But we can’t stop there. Our experiences have shown that the most vulnerable – children, elderly, those that are disabled and poor with few resources – are likely to be hardest hit and experience the most difficulties in evacuating from threatened areas. Our colleagues at the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) developed a Social Vulnerability Index for public health agencies and emergency responders to help identify and map vulnerable populations for public health and emergency responders to consider in planning.

Brownfields grantees, in the course of their area-wide planning, assessment, and cleanup may want to consider vulnerable communities nearby and additional planning steps that can make these communities better prepared or more resilient, more energy and water efficient, and therefore less dependent on other operations. This is particularly important where evacuation or other systems may be vulnerable.

Communities have used brownfields grants to clean sites now serving as fire departments, police stations and health clinics, veterinarian offices, food banks, and warehouses for food storage. Once brownfields are cleared, communities could focus on dual reuse functions, contributing to the redundant systems needed in emergencies that help meet daily needs for food and water, shelter, jobs, and social contact.

Hardened shelters in less vulnerable areas that allow people to bring service animals or pets may ensure evacuation orders are heeded. If located near health clinics or veterinary services, everyone at the shelter may get to see the doctor.

A former brownfield that will eventually serve as emergency headquarters or marshal restoration in underserved areas could house transitional uses and serve as a location for food trucks or mobile health services. Other short- or long-term reuses may include warehouses with solar panels for backup power, or broadband and wireless ‘hotspot’ access to support communications, or a space for small businesses often hardest hit by emergencies.

Finally, revitalized brownfields can serve as mixed-use redevelopment areas that offer resilient, livable locations that ease congestion, allowing residents to work near home while meeting essential living needs with amenities and security.

Resources:

It’s Official: USA is #1 at Climate Change Denial

Kevin Mathews|July 25, 2014

Extreme Weather


Why You’re Feeling So Hot And Miserable

It’s Not The Humidity, It’s The Dew Point That’s Making It Stifling

LABELLE, FL. — You’ve been able to take the summer heat all through June and the beginning July, but this week you’re feeling miserable outside of an air-conditioned building. Why is that? The temperature, the humidity?
Most people think high humidity is why they feel miserable. Well, that’s not exactly they truth of the matter.
It’s not just the humidity that making you feel stressed. Relative humidity numbers actually are the highest early in the morning when the air is more saturated with moisture, as the sun obviously hasn’t been able to burn off that moisture. But mornings are often very pleasant feeling. So what’s going on here?
It’s really the dew point that’s causing the discomfort our body feels, the the abnormally high “heat index” numbers we see on weather reports.
The body is normally at about 98.6 degrees, so if the temperature of the air is well below that, it’s able to use the skin and perspiration and any breeze blowing across the skin to keep one feeling cool. But, as the temperature rises, the “dew point” of the air also rises significantly, (that being the temperature at which if would rain or fog if the temperature fell to that point.)
A temperature of 90 degrees, and a dew point of 55 to 60 would feel comfortable, but when the dew point reaches 70 to 75, a typical situation in South Florida, you’re feeling pretty bad! The higher the dew point the more humid it is, and your body is not able to cool itself down to meet the increased air temperature without more cooling breezes or evaporating moisture from the skin to keep the body comfortable

Summer Dew Points And How You Feel (courtesy of Washington Post)

Below 55          Dry (Pleasant)

55-60               Hint of humidity (Still comfortable)

60-65               Moist (Tolerable)

65-70               Sticky (Becoming unpleasant)

70-75               Muggy (Gross)

Above 75         Sultry (Oppressive and unbearable)

Some of the consistently highest dew points in the U.S. are found along the Gulf Coast and in Florida. When dew point reaches the 70s that’s when your body has a rough time keeping cool, and feels more uncomfortable as the dew point climbs.

The solution to staying comfortable (if you’re not able to lower the dew point by going inside an air-conditioned space) is to find a way to cool the skin even when the dew point has risen. Start with fans blowing on yourself if inside a not air-conditioned space.

When outside go to a shady place with a breeze blowing on your skin. Patting bit of water on your skin, allows cooling evaporation to take place, lowering your body’s unpleasant feeling considerably.

When to shut or open the windows in a space that’s not air conditioned?  A personal guideline for open vs. closed windows is to close them when the temperature is above 78 degrees or the dew point is above 57.

To find your current Heat Index, or how hot your body feels go to your favorite online weather service or try the National Weather Service’s weather prediction service to calculate your own.
Florida Heat Index Map –
Where It Feels Really Hot

To Calculate The Heat Index – “How Hot Your Body Feels”  from the National Weather Service.

Don Browne|July 20, 2014

Genetically Modified Organisms

Monsanto’s Stinging defeat ‏

Two months ago today, voters in Jackson County, Oregon – led by local farmers – voted overwhelmingly to ban genetically engineered crops because they can contaminate other farmers’ crops.
This landslide victory in Jackson County was a huge rebuke for the corporations that spent BIG to defeat the measure.

The big chemical companies like Monsanto that profit from selling genetically engineered food don’t want to be embarrassed again — which is why they’re doubling down to fight GMO labeling efforts in Oregon. If Oregon farmers voted to ban genetically engineered crops, then we should at least be able to label the food products that contain them.

Jackson County is proof that when grassroots activists come together, nothing can beat us. Monsanto and other Big Food corporations spent nearly $1 million to protect genetically engineered crops in a single county, but their war chest was no a match for grassroots power.
The momentum from Jackson County is what makes me sure that we’ll be able to stand up to Big Agribusiness this November. Today is a reminder that the only way we’ll be able to win this is to come together now.

Andy Darkins|Campaign Manager,|Oregon GMO Right to Know

Monsanto Visits Local School for 47 Minute Propaganda Presentation

As if the mis-education of our youth wasn’t already a huge issue, guess what your tax dollars are now paying for? Monsanto is visiting local schools to tell twelve year olds all about the ‘good’ they are doing in the world as an ‘agricultural leader.’ As NaturalBlaze puts it, we’re not mentioning this to ‘attack’ schools for allowing Monsanto to ‘infiltrate’, but rather to let you know that Monsanto could very well be coming to a school near you.

One parent filmed his son when he returned from school recently to report that Monsanto had taken over his gym class, showed a power point presentation and passed out a deck of playing cards to students with the Monsanto logo emblazoned on it. Each card had a contrived fact on it, one stated, “the US produces 30% of the world’s soybeans.” Obviously there were no cards that told the truth about what Monsanto does – namely illegally profiting by taking over seed production all over the world and sewing genetically altered crops that require ever-increasing amounts of cancer-causing glyphosate to grow.

The father asked his son if the Monsanto representative had said anything about the chemicals that they were spraying on our food. The son said, “nope.” The father then asked if the representative told them about how Monsanto does business throughout the world. Again the child responded with, “nope.” Monsanto told children at his school that they created jobs for people and that they helped to feed the world.<

Monsanto also told a fable to children about how one farmer tried to get rid of Monsanto seed and the stuff they spray on their crops and that it caused him great trouble. Additionally, the company warned against saving heirloom, organic seed, though this particular term wasn’t used.

When this child’s parent tried to contact the school about the uncanny way in which the Monsanto Corporation was trying to brainwash his child, he was referred to his child’s handbook. It turns out that the school’s principal was actually the one who set up permission for Monsanto to speak to the children:

“The intro to my seventh grade school handbook/homework planner alerted us expressly that we were Human Resources for that state and that during school hours we belonged to the state and school.”

While the principal was apologetic about allowing Monsanto to speak to the children since the company is a ‘vilified entity’ he could not assure the parent that more propagandizing would not continue.

Similarly, the Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI)  has launched the “Biotechnology Basics Activity Book” for kids. With the intent to be used by ‘agriculture and science teachers’, the activity book spreads absurd lies about GMO crops — even going as far as to say that they ‘improve our health’ and ‘help the environment’.

Christina Sarich|Natural Society|July 21st, 2014

Could This Genetically Modified Insect Save 600,000 Human Lives a Year?

A Call to Fight Malaria One Mosquito at a Time by Altering DNA

Every year, malaria-carrying mosquitoes kill more than 600,000 people, most of them children. Over the centuries, people have battled those mosquitoes in numerous ways, like draining swamps, spraying insecticides and distributing millions of bed nets. And yet malaria remains a menace across much of the world.

In papers published Thursday in the journals Science and eLife, scientists and policy experts propose fighting malaria in a new way: by genetically engineering the mosquitoes themselves.

A new technology for editing DNA may allow scientists to render the insects resistant to the malaria parasite, the authors contend. Or it might be possible to engineer infertility into mosquito DNA, driving their populations into oblivion.

The new technology could potentially be used against a wide range of other species that are deemed a threat, like invasive predators, herbicide-resistant weeds and bat-killing fungi.

Although research on this procedure, known as Crispr, is in its infancy, the authors of the new papers say it warrants a public discussion right now. Using the approach to genetically engineer wild species could be a boon to humanity on some fronts, but it could also lead to a broad spectrum of unplanned ecological harm.

“Rather than just running off and immediately let this thing loose, we should start having conversations about this,” said George Church, a Harvard geneticist and a co-author of the new papers.

Crispr is a system of molecules that allows scientists to alter DNA with exquisite precision. Researchers design the molecules so they attach to DNA at a specific location. They then slice out the DNA there — whether an entire gene or a snippet of one — and then prompt a cell to replace it with a new segment designed by the scientists.

Although the technology is just a couple of years old, researchers are already using it to alter the DNA of cells and lab animals. Some experiments also hint that doctors may someday be able to use it to treat genetic disorders. They could replace faulty genes with working versions.

But recently, Dr. Church and other Crispr experts began to wonder if the technology had another possible use: as a weapon against our natural enemies.

Here’s how it might work against malaria. In a lab, scientists would insert a package of genes into mosquitoes. The package would include a gene for a protein that makes the mosquitoes resistant to malaria parasites. The package would also contain genes for Crispr molecules.

The scientists would release these engineered mosquitoes into the wild, where they would mate with their normal counterparts. Each parent would pass down its DNA to its offspring. The Crispr genes would produce their molecules inside the mosquito’s cells. They would then alter the cells from within.

The Crispr molecules would target a gene in the other parent’s DNA passed down to the offspring, which they would replace with the resistance gene. Now the new mosquitoes would carry two copies of the malaria-resistance genes instead of one.

When those mosquitoes mated, they would pass those engineered genes to their own offspring in turn. From one generation to the next, Crispr could spread the resistance genes with remarkable speed.

In theory, it might take just a few years for a whole population of mosquitoes to become resistant. The malaria parasite would be unable to survive in enough mosquitoes to last.

There’s precedent for this approach. Some genes have naturally evolved the ability to spread quickly by making extra copies of themselves. In 2003, Austin Burt of Imperial College London proposed mimicking this biology to fight insect-borne diseases. Since then, several research groups have started testing engineered mosquitoes.

Crispr may drastically accelerate this research. Scientists can quickly synthesize packages of genes, and Crispr ensures they make copies accurately and efficiently.

And unlike previous methods, Crispr can potentially work in just about any species of animal, plant or fungus.

In their eLife paper, Dr. Church and his colleagues explore how they might harness Crispr’s versatility. As farmers use herbicides to kill weeds, for example, some weeds inevitably evolve ways to resist the chemicals. It might be possible to use Crispr to rewrite the weed genes, returning them to their vulnerable state.

Dr. Church and his colleagues have started experiments in his lab with yeast, nematodes, and mosquitoes, to see if Crispr can indeed spread genes through a population.

“In a year or two, we could be doing field trials if there was a general consensus this was a good idea,” he said.

Jennifer A. Doudna, a Crispr expert at the University of California at Berkeley who was not involved in the papers, said she thought Dr. Church might be painting too rosy a picture. “Realistically, it’s not going to go as easily as they make it sound,” she said.

If scientists tried to engineer a species, she said, mutations might remove the stretch of DNA that the Crispr molecules used as their target. They would be unable to make extra copies of their gene.

Alison A. Snow, an ecologist at Ohio State University, also had doubts about how effective some of the methods could be. She said that the idea of making resistant weeds vulnerable “seems naïve to me.”

Dr. Snow said that more than 25 species of weeds are resistant to a single herbicide, known as glyphosate. Even if scientists could introduce Crispr genes into all those species, the weeds might evolve new ways to resist glyphosate. Or they might be replaced with other species that quickly evolve resistance.

But Dr. Doudna said that with enough time, scientists could make the technique work, at least in some species. “On longer time scales, the potential is very real,” she said.

In their Science paper, Dr. Church and his colleagues called for a conversation about how to judge the risks of the technique and what regulations should be put in place.

Dr. Snow agreed, saying, “We need to discuss this now, because it’s right on the horizon.”

Dr. Snow says she worries that engineering wildlife with Crispr could lead to ecological havoc. If scientists attacked an invasive species in a country where it’s causing trouble, the species might deliver the genes to its original habitat. Back home, the species may have an important role in its ecosystem.

Another danger arises from the ability of closely related species to interbreed. A harmful species might pass on Crispr genes to a harmless one, taking it down as well.

“It’s an emerging technology that’s extremely risky,” Dr. Snow said.

Dr. Church and his colleagues don’t deny that Crispr could pose risks to wildlife, but they have come up with ideas about how to defend against those risks. Scientists might be able to reverse a Crispr campaign by releasing a second package of genes. The second package would replace the original one, removing the harmful gene.

In their Science paper, Dr. Church and his colleagues argue that risks can be reduced by coming up with regulations for the technology. They sketch out a series of steps that should be taken before approving each Crispr campaign, like preparing reversal genes and monitoring wild populations for any unplanned spread of the genes.

While Dr. Church is hopeful about the uses of Crispr, he doesn’t see regulations as getting in the way of progress. “The thing that really slows things down,” he said, “is making a big mistake.”

Carl Zimmer|JULY 17, 2014

[Sometimes genetic modifications can be beneficial. A number of insects have been modified either to self-eradicate or to attack an invasive species, which, to paraphrase Martha Stewart, I think is a “good thing”. Some foodstuffs have been modified to produce improvements in the produce such as the ‘'”Chico” tomato which was designed to grow to a uniform size, to ripen at the same time and toughened up enough to withstand mechanical picking; sweet corn, has also been modified to produce sweeter corn that has a longer shelf life, both of which happened some few years ago and have engendered no ill effects and, again, meet my personal approval.]

GMO labeling law lands allies

MONTPELIER — Two advocacy groups are looking to help defend the state against an industry group lawsuit against Vermont’s GMO labeling law.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group and the Center for Food Safety say they have filed papers to formally move for party status in the lawsuit against Act 120, which was signed into law in May by Gov. Peter Shumlin. It requires the labeling of food with genetically engineered ingredients.
The two groups want to intervene on behalf of the state to assist in defending the law. Both groups are being represented jointly by lawyers from CFS and the Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the largest group of food manufacturers in the country, as well as the Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association and National Association of Manufacturers, filed suit against the law about a month after it was signed. The state’s response to the suit is due Aug. 8.

The food industry has poured tens of millions of dollars into anti-labeling campaigns in other states, according to the groups.

“Corporations don’t get a veto in the state of Vermont,” said George Kimbrell, a senior attorney for CFS who will serve as the lead attorney for VPIRG and CFS. “We will vigorously defend this legally sound and important law, which is critical to our members and our mission.”
Paul Burns, executive director of VPIRG, said his group is prepared to contribute resources to help the state defend the law.

“Vermonters take their food seriously, and this law gives them the information they need to make informed purchasing choices,” Burns said. “VPIRG will do whatever we can to defend the GMO labeling law from corporate bullies who would rather keep consumers in the dark about what’s in their food.”
Falko Schilling, VPIRG’s leading advocate for GMO labeling, said it is unclear exactly how much the legal effort will cost.

“I can’t put a figure on that at this point,” he said. “We’re basically putting forward whatever resources we can. We’re going to have to raise some resources, I believe, to mount a strong defense.”

Attorney General Bill Sorrell has said Assistant Attorney General Megan J. Shafritz, chief of the attorney general’s civil division, will serve as the lead attorney for the state. The litigation team defending the law will include in-house attorneys Jon Alexander, Kyle Landis-Marinello and Naomi Sheffield. It will also employ attorneys from the Washington, D.C., firm Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber LLP, which struck a $1.465 million contract with Sorrell’s office.

Sorrell told lawmakers the legal effort could cost the state as much as $8 million if it loses the case.

Vermont’s law, set to take effect in July 2016, is seen as a key battle in whether or not food companies will be required to label products with genetically modified ingredients. Two other states, Connecticut and Maine, have passed food labeling laws that are contingent on other states passing similar legislation. And Oregon has a ballot initiative on the November ballot.

Mary-Kay Swanson, executive assistant to Sorrell, who was out of state Tuesday, said the state is not opposing intervention by VPIRG and CFS, but the court will decide if they meet the legal standard for party status. She said the state is planning to mount a strong defense regardless.

“There’s no question that the state will vigorously defend this law and that we have the resources and expertise at our disposal,” she said. “In no way will this case be hindered by us having to pinch pennies.”

Schilling said both VPIRG and CFS can help boost the state’s defense of the law if they are granted party status.

“This is an issue that we have been involved with … and we have a long history of working on and we feel we can bring a lot of things to the table,” Schilling said. “That’s why we’re pushing to intervene. We believe the law is constitutional and believe it will be upheld.”

Neal P. Goswami|VERMONT PRESS BUREAU|July 23,2014

Monsanto is Messing With Animals’ Sperm

Animals exposed to the commonly-used pesticide Roundup are more likely to have an impaired sperm structure, suggests new research from the University of Caen, France.

The scientists investigated the effects of Roundup after an eight day exposure in adult animals. They found a significant difference in the expression of a compound called aromatase in the testis of animals.  Aromatase is an enzyme involved in a key step in the synthesis of estrogens in the body.  They also found a reduced expression of genetic material in sperm, and a change in hormonal balance (male hormone to estrogen balance) and the resulting quality of sperm.  The scientists concluded that “The repetition of exposures of this herbicide could alter the mammalian reproduction.”

Roundup is a glyphosate-based pesticide developed and sold by Monsanto. Earlier research in the journal Entropy linked the chemical pesticide to other health problems, including gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer, and Alzheimer‘s disease.  The Entropy study showed that glyphosate impairs the functions of enzymes in the body that are essential to detoxification as well as increases the damaging effects of other environmental toxins and foodborne chemical residues.  The scientists who conducted this study indicated that glyphosate residues are found in common foods eaten regularly, including corn, soy, wheat and sugar.

Monsanto is not just the developer of the herbicide Roundup; it also created the genetically-modified seeds that have been altered to withstand being sprayed by Roundup.  For years, environmentalists, consumer groups and plant scientists from several countries have warned that our current heavy use of glyphosate is causing problems for plants, people and animals.

Earlier research found that glyphosate is linked to infertility, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer. Meanwhile, the US Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a review of glyphosate and has set a deadline of 2015 for determining if glyphosate use should be limited.

Roundup isn’t the only Monsanto-created pesticide that has been in the news for possible toxic effects. The company lost a court battle two years ago after a judge ruled it was guilty of chemical poisoning. Paul Francois, a French farmer, sued Monsanto after he suffered neurological problems including memory loss, headaches, and stammering after inhaling another of the company’s chemical pesticides known as “Lasso.”

Perhaps that is why the most common Google search term linked to “Monsanto” is “Monsanto evil”?

Michelle Schoffro Cook|July 24, 2014

Doctors Warn of Super-Toxic GMO Threat

This could be the worst GMO ever!

We already know there are lots of health threats related to genetically engineered crops, including the extreme rise of pesticides found in the food you eat. But a new GE seed/pesticide combo could make things much worse, potentially causing lifelong, irreversible, and expensive health problems for children and adults. 

In an attempt to protect the American public from this new threat, a contingency of prominent doctors, scientists, and business leaders this week urged federal lawmakers to pressure the Obama Administration to keep this potent new GMO/pesticide threat out of America fields (and our bodies). 

During a Congressional briefing, the public health experts and business leaders asked Congress to reject Dow AgroSciences’ request to approve Enlist Duo, a new toxic herbicide mix consisting of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup weedkiller, and 2,4-D, a component of the Agent Orange defoliant chemical used during the Vietnam War. (Do you really want that sprayed on your food? Remember, our country converted war chemical factories into pesticide-making plants after World War II.)

Dow Chemical has a long history in both industries, and the agricultural branch of the corporation is asking both the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow Enlist II to be sprayed on our food crops like genetically engineered corn and soy.

Those opposing Dow’s toxic new formula at the Congressional briefing included Philip Landrigan, MD, dean for global health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Catherine Thomasson, MD, of Physicians for Social Responsibility, John P. Wargo, PhD, of Yale University, Doug Gurian-Sherman, PhD, of the Center for Food Safety, and Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm and the advocacy group Just Label It. “Exposures to herbicides in early life can lead to disease in childhood or disease later on in adult life or even old age,” said Dr. Landrigan. “Herbicide chemicals can also cross from mother to child during pregnancy and prenatal exposures that occur during the nine months of pregnancy are especially dangerous.”

The increase in pesticide use is another clear threat. “2,4-D already is permitted by EPA to remain as residues on over 300 different forms of food,” said Wargo, Ph.D., professor of environmental health and politics at Yale University. “Spraying millions of additional acres with these chemicals will increase their contamination of soils, surface and groundwater, and foods bearing their residues. If applied by aircraft, sprays will drift to adjacent lands, potentially endangering those who reside, go to school or work nearby.”

In June, 35 doctors, scientists and researchers, including Dr. Chensheng (Alex) Lu of Harvard School of Public Health and Dr. Raymond Richard Neutra, a retired division chief of the California Department of Public Health, also sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy urging her to deny Dow’s application.

3 Fast Facts on Glyphosate

• The review, recently published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, examined 44 papers to see how 80 active ingredients in 21 different chemical classes impacted farmers’ risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The International Agency for Research on Cancer researchers found that exposure to glyphosate doubled a person’s risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. That’s problematic, since the chemical is now so heavily used it’s winding up in the rain!

• In 2009, French researchers published a scientific paper in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology showing that low levels of four glyphosate formulations used in Roundup—levels far below what’s allowed in agriculture; levels on par with what’s in our food—all kill human umbilical, embryonic, and placental cells within 24 hours.

Glyphosate isn’t just an herbicide; it’s registered as an antimicrobial agent in the U.S., too, thanks to its ability to wipe out a wide variety of pathogenic organisms. The problem is harmful pathogens like Clostridium botulinum, Salmonella, and E. coli are able to survive glyphosate in the gut, but the “good guys” in your digestive tract, protective microorganisms, bacillus and lactobacillus, for instance, are killed off. This could set your digestive tract up for a nightmarish situation, including “leaky gut,” where the protective gut lining is compromised, allowing bacteria and toxins to escape into your bloodstream.

3 Fast Facts on 2,4-D

• Americans are already exposed to 2,4-D in herbicides applied to lawns, turf grass, and other non-agricultural sites. Exposure to the toxic defoliant has been linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease, as well as damage to the immune, thyroid, and reproductive systems. A weed-killing chemical that’s classified as a hormone disruptor by the European Union, 2,4-D has been dubbed a “probable carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

•”The risks of approving a new 2,4-D mixture are clear,” says Mary Ellen Kustin, senior policy analyst at the Environmental Working Group. “If approved, the use of 2,4-D would increase three-to-sevenfold by 2020, according to the USDA. The risks are too great and benefits too few to jeopardize public health and the environment.”

• 2,4-D has been shown to vaporize and travel up to half mile into neighboring fields and gardens, where it has the potential to annihilate non-targeted plants. It outright kills or deforms beloved crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, grapes, and other cash crops.

Energy 

U.S. Ranks Near Bottom Globally in Energy Efficiency

WASHINGTON, Jul 18 2014 (IPS) – A new ranking has lauded Germany for its energy efficiency, while condemning the United States for lagging near the bottom.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a non-profit here, called the U.S. economy’s inefficiency “a tremendous waste” of both resources and money, in a scorecard released Thursday. Looking at 16 of the world’s largest economies, the rankings use 31 metrics to measure efficiency-related measures within each nation’s legislative efforts as well as the industrial, transportation and building sectors.

“The most important kilowatt hour is the one you don’t have to produce.” — Mark Konold

“A country that uses less energy to achieve the same or better results reduces its costs and pollution, creating a stronger, more competitive economy,” the ACEEE’s report begins. “While energy efficiency has played a role in the economies of developed nations for decades, cost-effective energy efficiency remains a massively underutilized energy resource.”

Though Germany produced the highest overall score- with 65 out of 100 possible points- and came in first in the “industry” sector, China had the top-scoring assessment in the “buildings” category, Italy had the most efficient “transportation” sector, and France, Italy and the European Union tied three-ways in the “national efforts” division.

Rachel Young, an ACEEE research analyst, told IPS that the U.S government has taken important recent steps to limit carbon emissions, particularly from existing power plants. But she recommends much broader actions.

The U.S. needs to “implement a national ‘energy savings’ target, strengthen national model building codes, support education and training in the industrial sector, and prioritize energy efficiency in transportation,” she says. Doing so, Young suggests, would not only reduce emissions but also save money and create jobs.

ACEEE’s focus has traditionally been on improving energy efficiency in the United States. But the new scorecard’s broad emphasis – on how energy efficiency makes for both an environmentally and financially wide investment – can be applied to international economies as well.

The Worldwatch Institute, a think tank here, is one of the many international development-focused organizations that have adopted this approach.

“We think that energy efficiency is one of the fastest ways that countries can get more mileage out of their energy usage,” Mark Konold, the Caribbean project manager at the Worldwatch Institute, told IPS. “The most important kilowatt hour is the one you don’t have to produce.”

Citing the Caribbean, West Africa, Central America and South America as prime examples, Konold says energy efficiency can be a wise economic investment for governments and individuals alike.

“Especially in island countries, which face disproportionately large energy bills, energy efficiency can go a long way in terms of reducing [an individual’s] financial burden,” he says. “Something as simple as window installations can make buildings in these island countries more efficient.”

Paradigm shift?

Worldwatch and others increasingly consider energy efficiency a key element in the sustainability agenda.

Konold, who recently co-authored a study on sustainable energy in Jamaica, believes it is critical to examine the return on investment of energy-efficient practices. Doing so, he says, can help determine which cost-effective energy models should be implemented in developing nations.

Such recommendations are particularly relevant given the international community’s growing focus on efficiency issues.

The United Nations and the World Bank, for instance, recently established the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative to help “promote [a] paradigm shift” towards sustainability in developing countries. As one its three objectives, SE4ALL mandates “doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency”.

“There is a growing realization that energy efficiency is the lowest-cost energy and greenhouse gas emission option,” Nate Aden, a research fellow the climate and energy program at the World Resources Institute, a think tank here, told IPS. “This is especially important for developing countries that are trying to address energy access while also addressing climate change.”

Part of this new focus is specifically due to the SE4ALL initiative, Aden says. Further,  he believes that the programs other two goals – doubling the share of renewable energy and providing universal energy access – are “consistent and complimentary” with energy efficiency.

“For example, in India, there’s a lot of discussion about the appropriate choices going forward, given that you have hundreds of millions who still lack access to energy,” Aden says. “You have to ask what the right choice is in terms of not only producing low-carbon emissions, but also in bringing energy to people.”

Aden also spoke enthusiastically about the “unique perspective” that private companies may take on energy efficiency, pointing to the efficiency efforts of Phillips, a U.S.-based lighting company. Aden believes that the ACEEE’s call for more energy-efficient practices will help make companies “able to plan effectively and be well-positioned from the supplier side” of energy.

Cultural change

While actions by the international community will clearly be important in implementing energy-efficient strategies from the top down, some are also emphasizing the need for cultural change at the individual level.

“A huge chunk of this issue is education and awareness-building,” Worldwatch’s Konold says. “And once we start to spread the message that individuals can better their own situation, that’s when we start seeing a change,”

He says there is a profound lack of awareness around energy in many countries, pointing to a phenomenon he refers to as “leaving the air-conditioning on with the windows open”. But Konold emphasizes that individuals can indeed make broad, substantive impact if they adopt more energy-saving behaviors in their homes.

This sentiment was echoed by the ACEEE’s Young, whose report pointed out that Americans are particularly guilty of energy-wasting behaviors, consuming roughly 6.8 tons of oil equivalent per person. This put the U.S. in second to last place in terms of individual energy consumption, only beating out Canada, where estimated oil consumption was 7.2 tons.

Based on this phenomenon, Young believes that individuals should “take advantage of incentives offered by their local utilities and governments to learn more about what they can do to reduce energy waste”, and to check out the ACEEE website, which “has dozens of consumer tips on improving energy efficiency.”

Julia Hotz|Reprint|Jul 18 2014

U.S. Becomes Biggest Oil Producer After Overtaking Saudi Arabia

A report issued recently by Bank of America declared the U.S. has now surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer. The daily output average for the first quarter of 2104 exceeded 11 million barrels, a significant increase from the previous quarters’ (Sept-Dec 2013) average of 7 million barrels, according to the International Energy Agency.

The expansion of domestic oil production in the U.S. has been significant under President Obama, supported by his “all of the above”—or rather the American Petroleum Institute’s “all of the above”—energy strategy which has overseen a four-fold increase in drilling rigs under his administration.

News of the surge in U.S. oil production was reported almost concurrently with the release of another news item: global climate scientists have again reported historically high levels of atmospheric carbon. As reported by Climate Central, June 2014 was the third month in a row in which carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere topped an average of 400 parts per million—a level not seen on Earth in at least 800,000 years.

Dr. Pieter Tans, a senior climate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said, “As long as human society continues to emit CO2 from burning fossil fuels, CO2 in the atmosphere and oceans will continue to increase … It is urgent that we find a way to transition to non-carbon fuels as our source of primary energy.”

Despite these warnings, Obama’s “all of the above” policies have in fact supported the increased development of key fossil fuel production sectors:

  • Obama has approved new offshore drilling permits for the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic Ocean and (reversing a decades-long moratorium) off the East Coast.
  • Coal exports have risen to record levels under the Obama administration.
  • U.S. oil exports, banned for more than 40 years, are now being loosened by the Commerce Department, providing U.S. oil companies the opportunity to target lucrative markets in Europe and Asia, also spurring the economic incentive to increase production as well as consumption.

The increase in U.S. oil production also helps accommodate a surge of growth in U.S. oil consumption. In 2013, U.S. oil consumption rose by more than 390,000 barrels per day from its levels in 2012, up to more than 18 million bbd. For the first time since 1999, the use of oil in the U.S. rose more rapidly than in the rest of the world. These trends in both oil production and consumption stand in direct opposition to the warning calls from the scientific community about the consequences of increased burning of fossil fuels. This, from the most recent National Climate Assessment Report:

“The amount of (global) warming projected beyond the next few decades is directly linked to the cumulative global emissions of heat-trapping gases and particles. By the end of this century, a roughly 3°F to 5°F rise is projected under a lower emissions scenario, which would require substantial reductions in emissions and a 5°F to 10°F rise for a higher emissions scenario assuming continued increases in emissions predominantly from fossil fuel combustion.”

“The amount of future climate change … will still largely be determined by choices society makes about emissions.”

President Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy—in stark contrast both to his climate rhetoric and, more importantly, to the warnings of the world’s leading climate scientists —indeed supports the continued production and consumption of the principal fossil fuel sources of man-made greenhouse gas emissions at a tragically wrong time in history.

Our nation’s ‘achievement’ in becoming the world’s #1 oil producer—at the very time atmospheric levels of carbon continue to rise at historic, dangerous levels—represents nothing less than the huge climate change failure of Obama’s “All of the above” energy strategy.

Here are some of President Obama’s quotes on climate change and the need to move beyond oil:

“Someday, our children, and our children’s children, will look at us in the eye and they’ll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safe, more stable world?” —President Barack Obama, June 25, 2013

“I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing.” —President Barack Obama, June 25, 2013

“The next generation will not be held hostage to energy sources from the last century. We are not going to move backwards. We are going to move forward.” —President Barack Obama, June 2, 2010

EPA Says Duke Energy Finished Cleaning Toxic Coal Ash Spill. But Did They?

Less than two months after it was instructed to clean its coal-ash mess from North Carolina’s Dan River, Duke Energy has completed the job.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Duke both announced the cleanup’s completion this week. In February, Duke reported that it spilled 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash into the river near Eden, NC. Based on those numbers, the spill was the equivalent of 413 to 677 rail cars of wet coal ash being poured into a public drinking water source. However, the company has since decreased its estimate down to 39,000 tons.

Duke only dredged about 2,500 tons of coal ash that had been found against a dam in Danville, VA, the Associated Press reported. Though the company only recovered a small portion of its spill, a coordinator said recent testing showed that concentrations of toxic metals were below federal limits and comparable to pre-spill levels.

“We continue to do some monitoring and will base our decisions for actions on the data collected,” the EPA’s on-scene coordinator Myles Bartos Bartos said. ”But I don’t think there will ever be a removal again in the river. I think it has been adequately removed.”

Duke making its own announcement didn’t sit well with Waterkeeper Alliance, especially an attorney who has reason to believe the announcement came far too soon.

“This arrogant announcement from Duke Energy is the ultimate insult to the people North Carolina and Virginia whose river has been devastated by the company’s toxic ash spill,” Waterkeeper Alliance attorney Pete Harrison—who conducted testing on the Dan River after the announcement—said in a statement.

“Worse yet, Duke doesn’t even acknowledge the fact that there’s still a public health advisory declaring that the river is not safe to fish and swim in. Duke’s celebratory announcement that it ‘completed’ the clean-up threatens to mislead the public into think the danger has passed.”

Coal ash, which contains arsenic, mercury and more, made its way into the river after a pipe collapsed at a waste dump, turning the river gray for about 70 miles.

As a result of the spill, the EPA decided the company had to:

  • Perform a comprehensive assessment
  • Determine the location of coal ash deposits
  • Remove deposits along the Dan River as deemed appropriate by EPA, in consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service

“Protection of public health and safety remains a primary concern, along with the long-term ecological health of the Dan River,” EPA Regional Administrator Heather McTeer Toney said before the cleanup

Care2 Causes Editors|July 20, 2014| This post was written by Brandon Baker and originally appeared on EcoWatch.

Don Lieber|DeSmogBlog|July 20, 2014

Japan Bank Sets Aside $2 Billion for Clean Energy

Shinsei Bank Ltd., a lender for Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s clean-energy projects in Japan, plans to provide as much as 200 billion yen (US $2 billion) in loans for renewable developments.

“We’ve found our niche in supporting companies that are entering the solar market as an innovator,” Tsukasa Makizumi, an executive officer and general manager of the specialty finance division of the bank, said in an interview.

Shinsei is among lenders increasing financing for clean energy projects in Japan as the country expands generation capacity from sources such as solar and wind after introducing an incentive program two years ago.

The bank served as an arranger of loans for a 40-megawatt solar-power station in Ibaraki prefecture and a 16-megawatt wind farm in Yamagata, both sponsored by Goldman’s Japan Renewable Energy Co. It also provided financing for developers such as Renova Inc.

The country’s solar market will become one of the largest in the world in terms of added capacity this year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Shinsei’s policy is to provide project finance rather than corporate, Makizumi said.

“That is the only business strategy that works for us,” Makizumi said. “Even though we try to compete with megabanks, they provide corporate finance for projects whose size, spread and profitability are completely different.”

The bank has committed to fund about 250 megawatts of solar projects, according to the official. That is expected to increase to about 300 megawatts, worth about 75 billion yen in lending, later this year.

Shinsei targets a total 150 billion yen to 200 billion yen in loans for renewables projects in Japan by March 2016, Makizumi said. “That is not an impossible target” after locking in 75 billion yen of commitments in about 18 months, he said.

The bank is also looking at wind, biomass and geothermal projects as it wants to diversify lending targets, Makizumi said.

Large-scale solar will “probably peak out this year or next,” he said. “Clean energy in Japan has been skewed toward solar. We, as a provider of financing, need to consider different energy sources.”

Makizumi said the bank may provide lending for a Dutch offshore wind farm and a U.K. biomass project.

Chisaki Watanabe, Emi Urabe and Tesun Oh|Bloomberg|July 16, 2014

Are Offshore Wind Farms the Future of Atlantic City?

Yesterday, feds announced they’ll lease nearly 344,000 acres off the South Jersey coast for commercial wind energy.

south-jersey-offshore-wind-940x540

New Jersey Wind Energy Area

The Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced yesterday the proposed sale of commercial wind energy leases for nearly 344,000 acres off the South Jersey coast as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

BOEM proposes to auction the Wind Energy Area as two leases: the South Lease Area (160,480 acres) and the North Lease Area (183,353 acres). The Wind Energy Area begins about seven nautical miles off the coast from Atlantic City. A map of the Wind Energy Area can be found by clicking here.

Analysis performed by the Department of Energy suggests that the area, if fully developed, could support up to 3,400 megawatts of commercial wind generation which could power around 1.2 million homes.

Following the July 21, 2014, publication in the Federal Register of a “Proposed Sale Notice,” there will be a 60-day comment period ending September 19, 2014 (you’ll be able to submit comments starting July 21st at regulations.gov under docket No. BOEM-2014-0029).

Comments received or postmarked by that date will be made available to the public and considered before the publication of the Final Sale Notice, which will announce the time and date of the lease sale.

The Proposed Sale Notice also provides detailed information concerning the areas available for leasing, the proposed lease provisions and conditions, auction details (e.g., criteria for evaluating competing bids and award procedures) and lease execution.

According to the South Jersey Times, the announcement could also be a boon for Paulsboro, N.J., right across the Delaware River from the airport.

The announcement by the feds may prove beneficial for the Port of Paulsboro, where a company could end up building components for wind turbines.

In 2013, representatives from the state government met with former governor Jim Florio and investors in a major wind energy project — Atlantic Wind Connection — at the Port of Paulsboro to discuss the possibility of the port becoming a construction site for wind energy converter platforms.

The port has been vacant for more than a decade and “the wind turbine news has been one of the few glimmers of hope for the site in recent years,” the paper reports. So perhaps this is the future of Paulsboro: Wind turbine boom town.

Of course, not everyone is a fan. The Courier-Post reports:

[T]he closest locations of some of those lease blocks — within seven miles of beaches — gives pause to David Mizrahi, vice president of research for New Jersey Audubon, who’s done extensive research on the potential effects of wind turbines on migratory birds.

“I see that as a problem,” said Mizrahi, who did studies when the Atlantic County Utilities Authority built its monumental 380-foot-high onshore turbines in Atlantic City. He’s concerned that locations closer to shore could harm migratory birds. According to an 2013 article on Smithsonian.com, between 140,000 and 328,000 birds die each year from collisions with wind turbines.

Brian Howard|July 18, 2014

[I believe wholeheartedly in alternative forms of energy, but siting is a major consideration. The Atlantic Migratory Flyway utilizes the entire Eastern Seaboard, and extends into the ocean a considerable distance. As long as the windfarms are located far enough off shore to clear the flyway, the area is prime wind energy territory.]

Why Doesn’t The Sunshine State Use More Solar Energy?

As far as solar energy goes, the Sunshine State is third in the country for potential — and 18th in actual installation.

In Florida, there’s no financial assistance for installing solar panels on your roof. Solar energy users can only take a federal tax credit.

Florida Power and Light powers the state using mostly natural gas. Out of all the energy FPL provides, only 0.06 percent comes from solar energy.

The only way to get solar panels installed on your roof is to call an independent contractor.

A Miami-based company called Mr. Solar is keeping busy installing more solar energy for homeowners and businesses, says CEO Brian Gillis.

“Their goal is to reduce their electric bill and do it in a manner that is cost effective,” says Gillis.

Gillis says business could be better, though, if the state and the utilities were more involved with solar energy.

Florida doesn’t have many policies in place to make solar energy happen on a large scale. In 2006, the state started a rebate program for installing solar panels, but ended it when it became too popular.

In this year’s legislative session, the state scrapped the program off the books entirely. Some people were still waiting for their rebates when the program ended.

Florida Power and Light still offers some rebate programs, but the wait list is long and the funds are limited.

Buck Martinez, director of FPL’s Office of Clean Energy, says Florida is doing solar energy the best way it can right now.

“We’re not doing as bad as people think we are,” says Martinez. “But I think we’ll have an opportunity to advance as the price continues to come down.”

Martinez also says despite it being the Sunshine State, Florida’s climate also poses a challenge.

“I think in the state of Florida our challenge is the amount of rainfall and the amount of cloud coverage we have,” says Martinez. “Obviously Florida has good potential. It’s not great potential.”

Some solar energy advocates say FPL could get around the rain and clouds by building solar plants across the state. The would grab energy from a sunny area while it’s cloudy in another.

James Fenton researches solar energy at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He argues solar energy is not only possible in Florida, but it’s not as expensive as most people think.

“Alternative energy is always alternative until it’s cheaper,” says Fenton. “We’re now getting to the point where it’s getting cheaper. When people start to understand that, then you can find a way to fix the policy to take advantage of that.”

Solar energy is being used at the utilities level around the world now, bringing down the cost. Also, the technology is getting better, making solar power easier to use.

Meanwhile, fossil fuels are getting more expensive.

Gillis says most people don’t know solar energy is getting cheaper. He even goes to schools to teach children about solar energy.

“I think a lot could change if people were more educated on what solar power is,” he says. “And how it works and a little bit more information on the feasibility of it.”

Keeping Up with Energy Storage

New Hampshire, USA — Solar and energy storage are a match made in heaven and a new report from the Solar Electric Power Association, “Electric Utilities, Energy Storage, Solar: Trends in Technologies, Applications and Costs,” takes a deep dive into the energy storage sector. The report uses information from the Department of Energy’s Global Energy Storage Database to analyze 215 distributed generation energy storage projects developed by or in partnership with utilities.

“Electric energy storage (EES) has the potential to provide services to the grid, utilities, and downstream customers by improving power quality, reliability and adding needed capacity. EES should enable more solar to be installed on the grid while reducing the operational impacts of this variable resource,” the report says. 

Terry Allison, a senior engineer at American Electric Power, said to SEPA researchers, Miriam Makhyoun and Mike Taylor, “Storage is absolutely necessary and it’s getting cheaper.”

According to a recent report from Navigant Research, the annual energy capacity of advanced batteries for utility-scale energy storage applications will grow from 412 megawatt-hours (MWh) in 2014 to more than 51,200 MWh in 2023, at a compound annual growth rate of 71 percent.

The highest growth and volume of sales of advanced batteries over the next 10 years will occur in Asia Pacific, according to the report.  Power grids in the region are relatively immature, and the grid infrastructure still needs much work in many countries.  This provides an enormous opportunity for the use of batteries on the grid as one method to balance the load with generation.

“While there are several chemistries suitable for large energy storage installations for the grid, the clear leader is lithium ion and its sub-chemistries,” said Sam Jaffe, principal research analyst with Navigant Research.  “Lithium-ion manufacturers have raced ahead in building manufacturing facilities, giving them considerable advantages in the ability to meet large-volume orders and utilize economies of scale in order to bring prices down.”

The report, “Advanced Batteries for Utility-Scale Energy Storage”, analyzes the global market for advanced batteries for large-scale grid applications. 

In related news, the first grid-scale iron-chromium redox flow battery was recently used to commission EnerVault’s long-duration energy storage system.  In May, the California Energy Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) dedicated EnerVault Turlock, the first grid-scale iron-chromium redox flow battery deployed in the world. EnerVault designed and manufactured the long-duration, grid-scale energy storage system in Silicon Valley with a combination of private funding and research and development grants from the DOE and the Energy Commission.

Long-duration energy storage systems are emerging as the lynchpin to efficient operations for resilient grids as aging conventional power plants are replaced by higher levels of solar and wind, according to EnerVault. Interconnected to the distribution grid, EnerVault Turlock is co-located with a dual-axis tracking solar photovoltaic system in an almond orchard in California’s Central Valley.

EnerVault’s system is a 1-MWh, 250-kW system that was manufactured in partnership with New-York based Ascension Industries, who built the first prototype.  NORAM, a specialized engineering and process design firm, worked with EnerVault to scale production and commercialize the system, which is designed to continuously deliver full rated power for up to four hours.

EnerVault is promoting the wide-scale use of energy storage to enable the expanded use of renewable energy, make fossil fuel power plants more efficient, reduce the costs of grid infrastructure, and increase the reliability of electric service to commercial and industrial users. The company targets applications with demand for large amounts of energy and said that its approach is ideal for supporting renewables, peak shifting in commercial and industrial facilities, or enabling operation and increasing fuel efficiency in micro-grids.

In the same month, on the same coast, Seattle, Washington-based UniEnergy Technologies (UET) announced commercial availability of its grid-scale energy storage system, called the Uni.System.  The company said its system is modular, factory-integrated (including power conversion), and “plug & play,” comprised of five 20’ standard containers requiring only a concrete pad and interconnection that provides 500 kWAC of power for 4 hours, with power up to 600 kWAC and energy up to 2.2MWhAC.

The product uses a new generation of vanadium electrolyte that was initially developed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory with support from DOE’s Grid Storage program, said UET President and CEO Gary Yang, who believes that the product is a breakthrough because it has “double the energy density and much broader operating temperature range.”

Yang said that traditional vanadium redox flow batteries have advantages such as “superior safety, unlimited cycle life, long duration, and full use of the battery from 0 to 100 percent state of charge” but in addition to those benefits, the Uni.System is fully containerized and includes “integrated electrolyte tanks, field-proven large-scale stacks, and optimized controls and power electronics.”

The Uni.System helps integrate renewables onto the grid by providing buffering capabilities – both short and long duration – to smooth the intermittent nature of wind and solar power.  It also supports smart grids and micro-grids and meets other utility needs, according to the company.

Speaking of integrating with the grid, S&C Electric Company recently announced its new PureWave SMS-250 Storage Management System, the latest in S&C’s portfolio of solutions to integrate energy storage to power systems. By providing a new building block with which to integrate energy storage to the grid, this new 250-kW storage management system offers more flexibility in how energy storage is implemented while also maximizing economic requirements, according to the company.

The product is currently in use in Field, British Colombia. The system, owned by BC Hydro, integrates a 1-MW sodium-sulfur battery bank to the power grid so that it can provide up to seven hours of back-up power should the power grid experience a disruption. The system also provides peak shaving on a daily basis.

Field is a remote mountain community that relies on a single 55-km overhead distribution line to deliver power from the substation in Golden, B.C. to the town. In this mountainous terrain, heavy forestation, difficult access, and adverse climate conditions result in frequent faults affecting reliability, according to S&C. The company said that the energy storage system alleviates this problem by automatically transferring Field’s electric load to battery power when the grid is disrupted.

On the technology front, Somerset, NJ-based NEI Corporation said that it is developing a lithium-ion battery where the electrolytes are dissolved in water instead of an organic solvent. The aqueous-based lithium-ion battery has the potential to eliminate the risks associated with lithium-ion batteries, where the organic solvents are highly flammable, according to NEI. In addition, aqueous-based lithium-ion batteries have the potential to significantly reduce cost, measured in terms of $/kWh, the company said.

The company explained that while the concept of a lithium-ion cell using a water-based electrolyte has been known and studied, a major limitation is the narrow electrochemical stability window for water, which restricts the cell voltage. For example, the electrochemical stability window for water is within the range of 0 to 1.25V; electrolysis of water occurs outside this voltage range. In contrast, organic solvent-based electrolytes are stable up to at least 4V. The lower the cell voltage is, the lower the energy density is, and consequently, water-based lithium-ion batteries have had low energy densities.

However, scientists and engineers at NEI Corporation have recently developed new materials concepts that can overcome the voltage stability issue of water-based lithium-ion systems. The innovations pertain to the composition and morphology of the materials used in the lithium-ion cell. The aqueous-based technology is being developed with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program.

The company said that it is now looking to partner with a battery manufacturer to co-develop, test and qualify the water-based lithium-ion batteries.

Energy storage solutions are set to play a larger role in the German electricity market at solar generation continues to increase. German solar photovoltaic generation peaked at around 15 GW on 11 May 2014 – a record high that caused prices to sink briefly into the negative. “Balancing supply with demand in the grid presents operators with a significant challenge and leads to market price fluctuations. That is where storage solutions come into play,” said Tobias Rothacher, renewable energies manager at Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI).

While politicians and the media have focused largely on smart grids as a solution, a quiet revolution has been taking place in the photovoltaic industry, said GTAI.

“Many solar installations will have paid for themselves in the next couple of years and some will soon reach the end of their 20-year feed-in tariff contract,” said Rothacher, who advises and supports international companies planning to invest in Germany. With modern and cheaper battery technology now available, these owners are able to store excess power during the day instead of feeding it into the grid at low prices and buying it back at night when it is more expensive. This helps to reduce grid fluctuations and with feed-in tariffs set to fall this summer, it makes even more economic sense.

Market research company EuPD expects sales of solar power storage systems to rise in Germany to 100,000 units in 2018, up from 6,000 in 2013. It is a development that has not gone unnoticed by politicians with the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Sigmar Gabriel calling for battery technology to be returned to its position as a leading German industry.

“A number of factors are coming together that will lead to a boom in PV energy storage solutions in Germany,” Rothacher said.

To help meet that need, German company Sonnenbatterie GmbH presented its “eco” battery in Munich at Intersolar. The company uses lithium-iron-phosphate technology coupled with “high-quality” electronic components, according to the company to produce what it said is a compact wall-mountable design that it sells at “highly attractive pricing.”

The basic version of the Sonnenbatterie eco has a capacity of 4.5 kWh. The system is wall-mounted and can be expanded modularly up to a maximum storage capacity of 13.5 kWh. As with previous generations of its products, the company said that the Sonnenbatterie eco is a ready-to-use complete system that includes intelligent energy management, online access via an app or the internet and pre-configured connections for additional applications, such as back-up power, heat pumps or CHP.

“In combination with a PV system, an operator can benefit from up to 80 percent self-consumption at constant production costs, which are already significantly below current electricity prices,” according to Christoph Ostermann, CEO. He said that the lower price reflects the economies of scale that the company was able to capitalize upon.

Saft also launched what it said is the world’s first long-term warranty extension option for domestic lithium-ion energy storage modules. The company said that its storage systems ensure the effective grid integration of solar PV at all levels from enhancing domestic self-consumption through to megawatt-scale installations that support the operation of large PV generation plant as an integral element of power networks.

Saft is now offering a warranty extension of up to 15 years for Synerion Storage Systems integrated into Bosch’s BPT-S 5 Hybrid intelligent energy management and storage solution.

In extended cycling in particular, Saft batteries maintain a high capacity, even after more than 7,000 charge/discharge cycles, according to the company. Saft’s domestic scale ESS solutions are based on its Synerion Li-ion battery modules, each of which delivers around 2 kWh energy and up to 4 kW power.

The Bosch BPT-S 5 Hybrid system, launched in 2012, integrates a solar inverter, an energy management system and Saft’s Synerion modules.

Trojan Battery is trotting out its new lines of deep-cycle batteries that featuring “Smart Carbon” technology, which addresses the impact of partial state of charge (PSOC) on cycling batteries in renewable energy (RE), inverter backup and remote telecom applications.  Smart Carbon is designed to enhance life and performance of Trojan batteries operating in PSOC.

Smart Carbon is a proprietary Trojan formula that provides improved performance when the batteries operate in PSOC, enhancing overall battery life in off-grid and unstable grid applications where the batteries are under charged on a regular basis, said Trojan. Along with increased life in PSOC, Trojan’s Smart Carbon provides improved charge acceptance and faster recharge in PSOC applications.

With batteries now being one of the most expensive components of RE, inverter backup and remote telecom systems, it is critical to maximize the life of the battery bank in order to reduce total cost of ownership.   Trojan understands that batteries used in these systems are regularly cycled at PSOC due to the intermittency of solar generation, an unstable grid or to minimize operating costs of a hybrid Charge-Discharge-Cycle (CDC) system.  Operating at PSOC can quickly diminish the overall life of a lead acid battery, which results in frequent and costly battery replacements.  

Trojan chose to add Smart Carbon first to its deep-cycle flooded batteries because flooded technology is the most widely used in off-grid and unstable grid applications globally due to its cycling performance, ability to withstand harsh conditions, widespread availability and economical price point.  

“Trojan’s engineering team has spent more than five years in research and development experimenting with many types of carbon to ensure the right formula to successfully address PSOC,” said Bryan Godber, senior vice president of global market development at Trojan Battery.  “While most carbon additive research has focused on VRLA batteries for start-stop automotive applications, Trojan’s focus has been on the addition of carbon to deep-cycle flooded batteries for stationary applications in off-grid and unstable grid locations.

Jennifer Runyon|Chief Editor|RenewableEnergyWorld.com|July 22, 2014

Report Exposes European Lobby Groups Who Ensure Expansion of Shale Gas

The shuffling of lobby dollars that keeps fossil fuel-friendly policies on the books for the benefit of huge corporations and their legislative pals isn’t specific to the U.S.

A new report from Friends of the Earth Europe aims to expose Shell, Total and ExxonMobil, along with groups like BusinessEurope and OGP, to reveal what it calls a “thick web of lobbying activity.” The report says public relations and law firms, paid-for scientific reports, and even members of Parliament have all been used to advance fracking for shale gas around the continent.

“The legislative process has been taken hostage by private interests,” Antoine Simon, a shale gas campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said in a statement. “They have created a climate of industry-funded misinformation that sells shale gas as a responsible resource—this could not be further from reality. The European Commission needs to put the interest of people and planet before the profits of big oil companies, by re-opening the debate on shale gas regulation.”

This graphic explains how money flows in Europe to keep fossil fuel-friendly laws on the books. Graphic credit: Friends of the Earth EuropeThis graphic explains how money flows in Europe to keep fossil fuel-friendly laws on the books. Graphic credit: Friends of the Earth Europe

The report hopes to reignite the discussion of stronger shale gas industry regulation within the European Commission and increased lobbying transparency. At the very least, FOE Europe hopes for a moratorium on fracking, similar to those passed in the U.S. by the New York Assembly and in cities like Los Angeles.

In the meantime, the organization seeks to explain who is making contributions to keep a practice with proven health risks alive. Here is a visualization of the tangled web of gas companies and lobbyists in Europe. Each line shows membership, affiliation or financial contributions from energy companies to lobby groups in Brussels who represent their interests. Europia, European Union of the Natural Gas Industry and European Federation of Energy Traders are among the names included.

Graphic credit: Friends of the Earth EuropeGraphic credit: Friends of the Earth Europe

“An underground offensive by the oil industry has managed to silence well-founded concerns about the dangers of fracking,” Simon said. “It has side-stepped the growing body of evidence on the environmental, economic and health risks of shale gas development, and undermines Europe-wide opposition from citizens to the unconventional fossil fuel.”

Land Conservation

Liberia – communities join to fight the palm oil land grab

Liberia’s Jogbahn Clan is at the forefront of efforts to resist the grab of Indigenous Peoples’ land and forests for palm oil plantations. But according to the country’s President, they are only ‘harassing and extorting’ international investors.

If we lose our land how will we live? We are in Africa, we live by our crops. Palm plantations can’t help us!

“They refuse to talk to us about our land business. Because we are standing here, are we not people? We are somebody.”

So spoke Elder Chio Johnson defiantly looking through the tall iron gates of Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO) / Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad (KLK’s) office in Grand Bassa County, Liberia.

His Jogbahn Clan had come to deliver a petition signed in solidarity by over 90,000 people to tell the UK and Malaysian palm oil companies that they must stop grabbing the Clan’s land. However the companies refused to speak with the community.

EPO also thwarted efforts to present the petition in London, when they refused a meeting. Attempts to doorstop their London premises proved futile – the office appears to exist only in the form of a brass plate.

A source of inspiration

Even though the companies refused to speak with the communities the story of their struggle is now known all over the world with signatories for the petition coming from across the globe.

Their story has also been a source of inspiration for communities all over Liberia who like the Clan are facing dispossession from their land by agribusiness corporations that will replace their sustainable communities with mono-cultural plantations to produce certified ‘sustainable’ palm oil for the global market.

The fight many communities are facing in protecting their land is a fight for their very survival.

Last month Liberian communities affected by all four major palm oil companies; Equatorial Palm Oil / Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad, Golden Veroleum Liberia (Golden Agri-Resources), SIFCA / Maryland Oil Palm Plantation (Wilmar / Olam) and Sime Darby came together for the first time to discuss agriculture concessions as a national issue.

Different companies, one shared experience

These companies are European (UK), Asian (Malaysian, Indonesian and Singaporean) and African (Côte d’Ivoire) with considerable European financing. The focus was on creating a space for these diverse communities to share their experiences.

The same narrative of exploitation is playing out all over the country; the companies’ names were interchangeable. Bringing the communities together in this way laid the foundations for connecting their separate struggles.

Chio Johnson offered advice to the other communities, urging them to stay united in the face of the companies’ divide and rule tactics. “Land is life, it is too valuable to lose”, he warned.

Solomon Gbargee, a youth representative gave a stirring speech recounting the Clan’s struggle so far and urged all the communities to stand together in their resistance of the companies:

“If we lose our land how will we live? We are in Africa, we live by our crops. Palm plantations can’t help us!”

A solidarity network is formed

Communities impacted by Wilmar’s operations described resisting land clearances and the destruction of their property. When they objected to paltry compensation for destroyed crops they were told by their politicians: “If you want to get nothing, take to the streets” – where communities who continue to protest face assault and arrest.

Deyeatee Kardor, Jogbahn Clan’s chairlady called on women to lead the struggle. “Because I stood up to the company people accused me of being a man but I carry the spirit of a thousand women”, she proclaimed.

“For those of us under struggle with a palm company we must remain strong. My land is my land, your land is your land, your forest and bushes are your bank. Don’t get tired. We cannot agree to leave our land.”

Communities shared advice and support and these exchanges led to the development of a community solidarity network to provide a platform to work together.

Now communities are ‘harassing and extorting investors’

In her ninth Address to the Nation in January 2014 the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, characterized community resistance to large scale concessions on their land as “harassment and extortion of investors”.

“Agriculture remains the key sector of the economy for local employment creation, poverty reduction, food security and income generation, as over 60 percent of the population depends on this sector for livelihood.

“Food security is listed as a national priority, but we must admit that there has been under-investment by both the public and private sectors. Only massive investment can fix this under-performing sector so that it can play the vital role of delivering inclusive economic growth, environmental sustainability and long-term poverty reduction.

“Our scarce budget resources cannot do this, given the many other priorities, so we will need to attract investment from the private sector. At the same time, the private sector will not respond if there is continued harassment, extortion and unreasonable community demands.”

Her statement somehow failed to recognise that investors are primarily interested in the production of export cash crops – which does nothing to increase food security in Liberia. Indeed it achieves the very reverse, as land used for local food production is comandeered to produce commodities for global markets.

The result of community resistance, she later claimed, is to undermine Liberia’s economic growth and harm “the renewed confidence that Liberia is still a good destination for investment”.

Earlier this year she voiced support for the Jogbahn Clan’s struggle against EPO – as reported by The Ecologist. But her promises have come to nothing.

Voices of dissent stifled – but not yet silenced

The prevailing narrative of Liberia for so long was that of a country ravaged by a long and bloody conflict. The current narrative is one of ‘Liberia Rising’ – a country that has dusted off the ashes of the war and plans to be a middle income country by 2030 through a development path focused on Foreign Direct Investment.

Within this narrative the voices of communities affected by palm oil have been silenced.

But even if the Liberian government refuses to acknowledge agricultural concessions as a fraught national issue it is being viewed as such internationally.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, the industry body for the palm oil sector, undertook a mission visit to Liberia. This was the first of its kind to address the high volume of complaints lodged by communities in Liberia against Golden Veroleum Liberia and Equatorial Palm Oil.

However the vast number of complaints lodged to the RSPO by Liberian communities without satisfactory resolution shows the inherent weaknesses of such industry created voluntary mechanisms.

The ‘breadbasket’ narrative – ‘production must increase!’

The voices of affected communities are also absent from the current prevailing ‘breadbasket’ narrative which argues that feeding the world requires investment in large scale agriculture to make Africa’s ‘unproductive’ land productive.

A widely reported study, ‘Food appropriation through large scale land acquisitions’, shows how 300-550 million people could be fed if land “marginally utilized because of lack of modern technology” was subjected to high-tech commercial agriculture, compared to the “190-370 million people [that] could be supported by this land without closing of the yield gap.”

But it also draws attention to the fact that the increases in food production would not bring benefits to the countries, or communities, whose land was used in this way:

“These numbers raise some concern because the food produced in the acquired land is typically exported to other regions, while the target countries exhibit high levels of malnourishment. Conversely, if used for domestic consumption, the crops harvested in the acquired land could ensure food security to the local populations …

“These investments in agriculture often occur without the ‘informed consent’ of current land users, with no consideration of the societal and environmental impacts of the conversion from subsistence farming to large scale commercial agriculture, and without ensuring that the profits are shared with the local communities (ILC International Land Coalition 2011). For these reasons the process is often referred to as ‘land grabbing’.”

So the study does address the fact that the crops set to be produced on this grabbed land are not to grow food for subsistence and local markets but for cash crops for export – to support the Global North’s unsustainable overconsumption of biofuels, animal feed and processed goods, not to feed the hungry and malnourished people of the Global South.

Yet its fails to consider another dimension of ‘efficiency’ – it’s not just about production per hectare, but also about production per unit of input resources – such as energy, water, pesticide, herbicide …

Land as a human right

And its conclusion is astonishingly – indeed disgracefully – weak: “While there are some pros in the increase in agricultural production that could result from large scale investments, some measures should be in place to ensure that the benefits are shared with the local populations.”

This is an entirely inadequate reflection of the reality that hunger in the world today is a political and economic artifact – and not the result of a shortage of food production.

Nor does it represent the truth that land is much more than an ‘economic factor of production’ – but is the root of the culture, livelihood and spirituality of those millions of people worldwide that depend on their land to survive.

Nor does it acknowledge that the right of Indigenous Peoples to remain on their historic land is a fundamental human right, essential to their survival and dignity. This right is strongly maintained in Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which states (Article 7):

“The peoples concerned shall have the right to decide their own priorities for the process of development as it affects their lives, beliefs, institutions and spiritual well-being and the lands they occupy or otherwise use, and to exercise control, to the extent possible, over their own economic, social and cultural development. In addition, they shall participate in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of plans and programs for national and regional development which may affect them directly.”

So any land-grab of indigenous territory, such as that of the Jogbahn Clan, is in fact a severe breach of international humanitarian law. How on Earth could this essential fact escape the notice of the distinguished academic authors?

Only small scale, sustainable agriculture can feed the world

The former UN Special Rapporteur to the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter argued in The Ecologist that shifting to large‐scale, highly mechanized forms of agriculture will not solve hunger but make it worse.

Poverty and hunger will be addressed by ensuring communities have access to land and resources and are supported in small scale agriculture. Smallholder agro-ecological farming and small-scale food production can ensure the sustainable use of resources and sustainable livelihoods. It can also out-perform industrial commodity production.

70% of the world is fed by smallholder farmers like the Jogbahn Clan. The Clan countered the unproductive land argument better than any academic paper could when they presented all the crops they produced on their land to the visiting RSPO delegation. “This is why we will not give up our land”, said Chio.

Though the Jogbahn Clan continues to face the threat of the imminent clearing of their land, they will keep resisting.

And given the rousing calls of “Community Action” made by the communities when they came together to form the solidarity network they will not be alone but alongside other communities in Liberia and in solidarity with communities resisting land grabs worldwide.

Jacinta Fay & Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor|18th July 2014

Wisconsin Tribes Urge EPA to Use Clean Water Act to Stop Gogebic Taconite Mine

The Wisconsin Federation of tribes has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to use the 404 C portion of Clean Water Act to stop mining activity by Gogebic Taconite (GTAC) in the Penokee Mountains located on the edge of the Bad River Ojibwe Reservation.

Tribes in Alaska successfully used a similar tactic to halt silver and gold mining earlier this year near Bristol Bay, noted Mike Simonson in an article in the Ashland Daily Press.

Section 404c of the Clean Water Act protects treaty rights, aquatic resources, fisheries, wildlife, subsistence and public uses of public waterways. In the May 27 letter, signed by the Bad River, Red Cliff, Lac Courte Oreilles, Lac du Flambeau, St. Croix and Sokoagon Ojibwe Bands, tribes maintain that mining activities by GTAC will threaten the health of the western Superior Basin and Bad River Watershed.

According to Mark Anthony Rolo, Communications Director for the Bad River tribe, this issue has been added to the agenda of the annual EPA Region 5 Regional Tribal Operating Committee meeting next month in Traverse City, Michigan.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, long time supporter of GTAC’s plan to build the large open pit iron ore taconite mine near Lake Superior, is “crying foul,” according to an editorial in the Capital Times. Walker “hopes the EPA will not step in to evaluate the environmental effects of the project before other state and federal agencies are given the opportunity to act on any permits for the project.”

He further expressed concerns that the EPA might politicize the process of evaluating the mine.

Bad River Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins said, “Gov. Walker has done everything he can to grease the skids for this out of state mining company to get their law then their mine. We washed our hands of him. Unfortunately now he is trying to interfere with the tribes sovereign relationship with the federal government. Walker’s comments characterizing the treaties and trust responsibility as “politics” is just another example of why Bad River has gone to the federal level.”

Bob Seitz, Director of External Affairs for GTAC, expressed surprise about the tribes’ request for EPA evaluation of the mining process.

“We are following and trust the science and experts in this process. The experts at the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers do a good job of protecting the environment; their process if rigorous,” he said.

Asked if GTAC is concerned about EPA’s possible involvement with the mine he said, “We are concerned about anything that would block the process of gathering science and data. We are working with state and federal authorities to ensure they have everything they need to make a good decision.”

There have been differing claims regarding the presence of asbestos and sulfite in the rocks at the proposed mining sites and the possibility that the mining process would release these poisonous contaminants into the environment.

Last week, GTAC filed a license renewal with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that includes plans for six new drilling sites in a four-mile area east of the town of Mellen in eastern Ashland and western Iron counties.

According to a WDNR press release the department has 10 days to review and issue a response to the application.

The mining controversy has attracted national and international media attention. On Friday, the Bad River community viewed the premier of a documentary episode of Al Jazeera’s America’s Fault Lines series, “Wisconsin’s Mining Standoff,” according to Rolo.

The 30-minute investigative film “tells the story of how GTAC and its allies wielded money and power to influence the law, and goes behind the scenes with the burgeoning movement to resist the mine. It explores the potential harms the mine might bring, from asbestos exposure to acid runoff into the waterways in the area,” according to the organization’s press kit.

Mary Annette Pember|7/16/14

Governor Scott Announces Almost $16 Million Investment for Coast to Coast Connector Project

Governor Rick Scott today announced the 11 new projects that will be funded this year to help advance the Coast to Coast Connector, which will provide a safe and continuous multi-use trail from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic. The Department of Transportation will invest $15.9 million to complete 11 phases of separate trail segments in nine counties. This new funding is in addition to the more than $26 million that has already been invested by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for the Connector project over the next five years.

Governor Scott said, “This $15.9 million investment will help to complete 11 sections of the Coast to Coast Connector which will help to bring more tourists to our state, and create jobs for families in our state. Our tourists increasingly desire new ways to explore this beautiful state and the Coast to Coast Connector will do just that as the only trail in America connecting the Gulf to the Atlantic.”

Brevard County

  • Brevard Co. Line to Aurantia Road – $5.6 million
  • Canaveral Ave to Max Brewer Causeway and Max Brewer Causeway to Atlantic Ocean – $100,000

Hernando County

  • Suncoast Trail to existing Good Neighbor Trail – $1 million

Lake County

  • SR 33 to Silver Eagle Road – $1.5 million

Lake/Sumter County

  • Van Fleet State Trail to Villa City Road – $1.3 million

Orange County

  • Seg 1 ‐ Hiawassee Rd to Pine Hills Road – $530,000
  • Seg 2 ‐ Clarcona‐Ocoee Rd to Seminole Co. Line – $1.1 million

Pasco County

  • Pinellas/Pasco Co. Line to North of SR 54 – $460,000

Pinellas County

  • East Lake Rd/Keystone Rd intersection to the Pinellas/Pasco Co. Line – $3.9 million

Seminole/ Volusia County

  • Wayside Park over US 17/92 Bridge and US 17/92 Bridge over Spring to Spring Trail – $100,000

Sumter County

  • Withlacoochee State Trail to Van Fleet State Trail – $350,000

When complete, the Connector is expected to be over 250 miles and will link communities between St. Petersburg and Titusville into a major destination route that will allow residents and visitors to explore Central Florida by bicycle or foot. An estimated 75 percent of the trail corridor is already developed and open to the public or funded for construction.

FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad said, “With the projects announced today, we will be moving forward this year on virtually every gap within the Coast to Coast Connector. FDOT is pleased to play such an instrumental role with our state and local partners to help advance this ambitious trail project. It will provide an exceptional experience and safe transportation route for our residents and visitors.”

FDEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. said, “FDOT continues to be a great partner in the statewide trail effort. We are very excited that the Connector project will be the first of many efforts to complete the Florida Greenways and Trails Priority System.”

Senator Andy Gardiner, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development, has been a strong advocate for the Connector and was instrumental in setting aside the new funding.

Senator Gardiner said, “It is very rewarding to see the combined efforts of so many come together to help close the gaps in the Coast to Coast Connector. These projects represent a significant step forward for this exciting effort.”

The Connector is a collaborative effort of many agencies and organizations, including the eleven Central Florida metropolitan planning organizations that signed a joint resolution last summer making the trail project a regional priority.

Along with more than nine other long distance corridors, the Connector is a state priority in the 2013-17 Florida Greenways and Trails System Plan (Plan), developed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Greenways and Trails, the lead entity for statewide trail planning. The plan outlines the vision for the Florida Greenways and Trails System, defining the role of the system in advancing Florida’s economy, tourism, health, transportation, recreation, conservation and quality of life.

President & CEO of VISIT FLORIDA Will Seccombe said, “Florida is an incredibly diverse destination with so much more to see and do than our visitors often realize. Stretching from Tampa Bay to the Space Coast, the Coast to Coast Connector will offer a unique opportunity for them to discover some of the Sunshine State’s most scenic greenways and trails.”

FDOT will supervise development of the remaining Connector gaps, and local governments or other managing agencies will be responsible for operation and maintenance of the completed trail segments.

mburgerdep|July 21, 2014

Amendment aims cash at conservation efforts

TALLAHASSEE – For Florida environmentalists, the fate of the Wekiva-Ocala Greenway is emblematic of why they are taking the fight over preserving green spaces to the voters this fall.

Amendment 1 on the November ballot sounds like a godsend for green groups. If passed, the constitutional question could steer $700 million or more to conservation projects next year, and more than $1.3 billion annually within two decades.

But the reality of the amendment may be in the eyes of the Legislature, which would have broad authority to decide what types of projects could qualify for the money.
Environmentalists say the amendment was spurred by projects such as the Wekiva-Ocala Greenway, which have price tags putting them out of range. Florida policymakers through the decades have devoted $183 million to assembling the jigsaw-like pieces of the threatened 80,000-acre natural landscape of springs, swamps, uplands and rivers connecting Orlando to Ocala National Forest.

But first came the Great Recession, drying up Florida’s documentary-stamp tax on real-estate transactions, the traditional source of cash for many conservation efforts. The Legislature responded by scrapping spending on land purchases.

Then in 2013, when bonds used to make environmental purchases were paid off, the Legislature rerouted $140 million that could have otherwise gone to conservation into road-building. Suddenly, the thought of finishing projects such as Wekiva, which still needs about $32 million to buy the remaining 25,000 acres, felt like a pipe dream.

“We just realized that when the next set of environmental bonds are paid off, the Legislature was just going to steal that money and put it into development subsidies,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida, which has been pushing the Wekiva project for years.

The amendment is designed to force lawmakers to steer 33 percent of net doc-stamp taxes into the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

That money would have to be spent on buying, restoring or managing “wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; beaches and shores; outdoor recreational lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites.”

Right now, doc-stamp taxes are split under a formula that steers more than $2 billion into a grab bag of programs for land conservation, parks, hunting grounds, water management, transportation, invasive-plant control and affordable-housing projects. Supporters say the redirection of more money into the land-buying fund won’t hurt other projects because the revenue source – real-estate transactions – is projected to consistently grow for the next two decades.

“This is a pie that’s increasing out into the future,” said Will Abberger with The Trust for Public Land, one of the main financiers of the amendment.

But state economists required to review its impact noted last year the amendment “may result in reductions to existing programs,” depending on how lawmakers decide to shift funds. For instance, they could provide level funding for many of the same programs out of the land-buying trust fund.

This year, lawmakers steered at least $637 million into water- and land-protection programs that could have fallen under that definition, including money for Everglades and Indian River Lagoon cleanup; land management; springs protection; beach and inlet protection; lake restoration; and petroleum-tank cleanups.

“There is nothing in the amendment that requires us to prioritize specific water or land projects,” said incoming House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican who would help oversee implementing it should it pass. “The wording is so broad that it will depend on how legislators will direct those funds in the future.”

His Senate counterpart, incoming President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, has conceded the amendment overwhelmingly appears poised to garner the 60 percent voter approval needed to pass, and “we will evaluate all the options” for carrying it out.

Most of Florida’s Republican leadership has taken a hands-off approach to the amendment, refusing to endorse it but also avoiding being too critical. “I recognize the importance of conserving our natural resources, but I’m concerned about writing the budget into our state constitution,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

But others say the real positive from the measure would be a two-decade prohibition on lawmakers’ raiding the environmental trust fund for other government expenses.

“This is simply stating that we need to get a little help with our discipline,” said Sen. David Simmons, an Altamonte Springs Republican. “It’s not my preference to do it this way. At the same time, I’m a realist.”

Aaron Deslatte|Tallahassee Bureau Chief|Orlando Sentinel|July 23, 2014

Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, Amendment 1 (2014)

The Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, Amendment 1 is on the November 4, 2014 ballot in the state of Florida as an initiated constitutional amendment. The measure, upon voter approval, would dedicate 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

The Land Acquisition Trust Fund would be expended to acquire and improve conservation easements, wildlife management areas, wetlands, forests, fish and wildlife habitats, beaches and shores, recreational trails and parks, urban open space, rural landscapes, working farms and ranches, historical and geological sites, lands protecting water and drinking water resources and lands in the Everglades Agricultural Areas and the Everglades Protection Area. The fund is designed to manage and restore natural systems and to enhance public access and recreational use of conservation lands.

The leading organization campaigning for the initiative is Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, Inc.

Air Quality

This Laundry Detergent Turns Your Clothes Into Smog-Eating Machines

A group of designers and scientists has made the wash cycle more eco-friendly.

There’s a new weapon in the fight against eye-watering, lung-clogging, planet-warming air pollution: your clothes.

As improbable as it sounds, a project from a group of London-based researchers is out to make your pants and shirts the new frontier of sustainable fashion. With their effort, called Catalytic Clothing, the researchers have formulated a laundry detergent that uses the same kind of technology that’s behind smog-eating billboards, sidewalks, and buildings. The detergent coats clothes in tiny particles of titanium dioxide. The additives then attract smog pollutants and catalyze their oxidation, producing a safe by-product.

How much air can clothes washed with the special detergent purify? According to the project’s website, if the air or clothing moves quickly enough, one square meter of fabric can suck 0.5 grams of nitrous oxide—a pollutant emitted by cars—out of the atmosphere a day. (A light-duty vehicle releases about 0.017 grams of nitrous oxide per mile.)

“If you were to unravel the fibers in clothing and set them out as a single surface, we’re all wearing the equivalent of a tennis court,” London College of Fashion professor Helen Storey told Fast Company. “The other advantage is that we walk around in pollution, and that movement is an aid. It allows more air to be purified.”

Catalytic Clothing is in talks with a large laundry manufacturer to get the product to market. To make an impact, Storey said that all detergents would have to incorporate the catalyst in their products. But getting consumers to buy them could pose a problem. The cleansers need to be unscented, and individuals may find little personal gain from eschewing their spring meadow detergents.

“You personally don’t benefit,” Storey said. “The person behind you benefits. So one of the other challenges for the industry is how to market altruism. We’re used to marketing something that makes you more beautiful or cleaner or better fed. The idea of marketing something where someone else benefits more than you do is a challenge.”

Kristina Bravo|Assistant Editor|TakePart|July 23, 2014

Transportation

ALL ABOARD FLORIDA MOVES FULL STEAM AHEAD WITH UNVEILING OF WEST PALM BEACH STATION DESIGN PLANS

Today marked another exciting milestone as Palm Beach County Mayor Priscilla A. Taylor and West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio joined All Aboard Florida executives to reveal designs for All Aboard Florida’s new West Palm Beach station. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) in association with Zyscovich Architects, the downtown West Palm Beach station unveiling is the latest in a series of recent announcements made by All Aboard Florida as the project continues to move forward.

The West Palm Beach station will be located between Datura and Evernia Streets, with City Place and the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts Center to the south, and the government center district and Clematis Street to the north.
This strategic location will act as a new gateway into the city and Palm Beach County. It will also strengthen links to the existing Tri-Rail and Amtrak stations and connect with the neighborhood’s vehicular trolley and pedestrian networks, creating a new transportation hub for the West Palm Beach area.

“We are excited at what our vision of the future holds for West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County,” said P. Michael Reininger, President and Chief Development Officer of All Aboard Florida. “Passenger rail has been integral to the history of Florida, and we have arrived at a point in time where it will once again take on a transformational role – creating connectivity, representing a unique collaboration between the private and public sectors, and stimulating job creation and economic impacts.”

Economists estimate that All Aboard Florida will add more than $6 billion to Florida’s economy over the next eight years, including $333 million in economic impact for Broward County through 2021.  Nearly 1,200 jobs will be created in Palm Beach County through the construction of the station and the rail line.

For additional information, please visit our website to view the full press release, fact sheet and the unveiling slide show and video, which are to be uploaded soon.

All Aboard Florida Team

Obama Administration Proposes Stricter Rules for Crude Oil Trains to Halt Derailments

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced details Wednesday of a proposal to make crude oil transportation safer, in a bid to prevent more derailments and the threats that accompany them.

The proposal would phase out older DOT 111 tank cars that ship packing group I flammable liquids, a category that includes most Bakken crude oil. Retrofitting the tank cars to comply with new standards is the only way that wouldn’t be phased out.

Other elements of the proposal include braking controls, lower speed laws and a testing program for mined gases and liquids.

The“Safety is our top priority, which is why I’ve worked aggressively to improve the safe transport of crude oil and other hazardous materials since my first week in office,” DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “While we have made unprecedented progress through voluntary agreements and emergency orders, today’s proposal represents our most significant progress yet in developing and enforcing new rules to ensure that all flammable liquids, including Bakken crude and ethanol, are transported safely.”

The proposal is subject to 60 days of public comment. The proposal is based on an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in September that received more than 150,000 comments. Here are some highlights of Wednesday’s proposal:

  • Carriers would be required to perform a routing analysis for high-hazard flammable trains (HHFTs) that would consider 27 safety and security factors and select a route based on findings of the route’s analysis.
  • HHFTs that contain any tank cars that don’t meet enhanced tank car standards would be required to choose one of three speed restrictions: A 40-miles-per-hour maximum speed restriction in all areas; a 40-mph speed restriction in “high-threat urban areas”; or a 40-mph speed restriction in areas with populations of 100,000 or more.
  • All HHFTs would be equipped with alternative brake signal propagation systems. Depending on the outcome of the tank car standard proposal and implementation timing, all HHFTs would be operated with either electronic controlled pneumatic brakes, a two-way end of train device or distributed power.

More crude oil was spilled from rail cars in 2013 than in the previous four decades combined. The trend continued this year with derailments like one that spilled thousands of crude oil gallons into the James River in Virginia.

The DOT in February issued an emergency order requiring all shippers to test product from the Bakken region to ensure the proper classification of crude oil before it was transported by rail.

Brandon Baker|July 23, 2014

Recycling

Cigarette butt recycling comes to the Big Easy

New Orleans partners with TerraCycle to launch the first large-scale public cigarette butt recycling campaign in the U.S.

Now that New Orleans has found a solution to its where-to-tinkle-with-dignity-during-Mardi Gras dilemma, the historic Louisiana city has set out to conquer a specific type of waste that blankets city streets and sidewalks during its debauched colorful Fat Tuesday celebrations. And no, we’re not referring to plastic baubles and beads but to something you might commonly see dangling out of parade-goers mouths while they get their laissez les bons temps rouler on: cigarette butts.

Launched in partnership with the merry — and reality show-friendly — band of waste solution specialists at New Jersey-based TerraCycle, New Orleans’ cigarette butt recycling initiative is the first citywide tobacco waste recycling scheme to be launched in the United States and the second in North America following Vancouver, B.C.

Specializing in the recycling/upcycling of undesirable and difficult-to-recycle waste items, TerraCycle debuted its pioneering Cigarette Brigade program in Canada — and the U.S. shortly thereafter — in 2012 and also worked with officials in Vancouver to launch that city’s non-biodegradable butt-recycling campaign which was the first of its kind in the entire world.

To be clear, the recycling of cigarette butts, one of if not the most pervasive types of out there, won’t be a only-during-Mardi Gras type of deal in New Orleans. A total of 50 permanent cigarette butt recycling receptacles will be eventually installed throughout the city center as part of the pilot; the first were installed at a downtown intersection (Lafayette St. and Tchoupitoulas St.) yesterday. Each receptacle is labeled: “Recycle Your Butts Here.”

For the scheme, the New Orleans Downtown Development District will work with TerraCycle to ensure that the discarded cellulose acetate stubs are collected regularly and shipped off to the company’s recycling facilities where the filters are shredded, zapped of biotoxins, and melted down into plastic pellets. Any non-plastic waste such as tobacco and paper will be composted.

As Albe Zakes, TerraCycle’s VP of Global Marketing and Communications, relays to the Associated Press, the pellets will be recycled into products that are used for industrial purposes such as pallets and plastic lumber. “We don’t make any consumer products from this material, mostly because of the stigma around butts,” he explains.

The Downtown Development District will be paid $4 for every pound of cigarette waste it ships off to TerraCycle. This is a potentially lucrative arrangement considering that Downtown New Orleans is home to a number of bars (smoking inside of freestanding bars is also permitted), clubs, and Harrah’s Casino. It’s also near the French Quarter. Kurt Weigle, president and CEO of the District, tells the AP that a one-day butt cleanup effort held downtown in 2011 yielded a staggering 7,000 discarded cigarette butts.

This is a huge move and it’s fantastic to see a city like New Orleans, a city famous for its let-your-hair-down-and-go-wild attitude, be the first in the U.S. to embrace cigarette butt recycling. This isn’t to say that a cloud of Pall Mall smoke permanently hovers above the Big Easy but it’s certainly not the most puritanical town on the map. People visit New Orleans to soak in the atmosphere — and that often means eating copious amounts of fabulous food, drinking, gambling, and being naughty. Smoking comes with the territory.

It would be excellent to see initiatives such as the one in Vancouver and now, New Orleans, be instituted in other cities. Apparently, this is very much a possibility as Zakes, noting that TerraCycle has collected 25 million cigarette butts since the end of 2012, tells the AP that the company is in talks with officials to bring butt recycling schemes to Toronto, Sydney, Phoenix, Tokyo, and Atlantic City.

The Times-Picayune|Tue, Jul 22, 2014

Miscellaneous

New research compares environmental costs of livestock-based foods

Trust me, no one loves a nice, big, juicy steak more than me and while I have no immediate plans of becoming a vegetarian, I am a little concerned about the resources and costs it takes to produce the proteins of our favorite meals. From the land that is used by livestock to the supplies and energy it takes to raise these animals for our consumption, it is evident that environmental resources take a toll. But what is the real cost?

New research at the Weizmann Institute of Science, conducted in collaboration with scientists in the US, calculates these environmental costs and compares various animal proteins to give a multi-perspective picture of what resources are really being used.

The team looked at the five main sources of protein in the American diet: dairy, beef, poultry, pork and eggs. Their idea was to calculate the environmental inputs — the costs — per nutritional unit: a calorie or gram of protein.

The inputs the researchers employed came from the US Department of Agriculture databases, among other resources. The environmental inputs the team considered included land use, irrigation water, greenhouse gas emissions, and nitrogen fertilizer use.

When the numbers were in, including those for the environmental costs of different kinds of feed, the team developed equations that yielded values for the environmental cost for each food.

The winner? Or should we say, the protein with the biggest footprint? Beef. Which does not come as a surprise. Researchers calculated that in total, eating beef is more costly to the environment about ten times on average — than other animal-derived foods.

Why? For one, cattle require on average 28 times more land and 11 times more irrigation water. They are responsible for releasing 5 times more greenhouse gases, and consume 6 times as much nitrogen, as eggs or poultry. Interestingly, poultry, pork, eggs and dairy all came out fairly similar. Dairy production is often thought to have low environmental impacts, however, that the price of irrigating and fertilizing the crops fed to milk cows — as well as the relative inefficiency of cows in comparison to other livestock — jacks up the cost significantly.

Besides changing the way we think about our diets, researchers hope this study will help inform agricultural policy. Models based on this study can help policy makers decide how to better ensure food security through sustainable practices.

The findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Allison Winter|ENN|July 22, 2014

Read more at the Weizmann Institute.

Lawsuit Seeks to Protect Hudson River Wildlife From Oil Trains

Two years ago hardly any highly explosive crude oil was being shipped by rail along the Hudson River in New York. Now about 3 billion gallons a year go through, mostly from the Bakken fields around North Dakota. But the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Coast Guard haven’t updated their spill-response plans to protect people and wildlife living along the river. So this week the Center for Biological Diversity sued the EPA and the Coast Guard to spur them to get their plans up to snuff.

At least 17 endangered and threatened species call the river home, including Atlantic sturgeon, sea turtles and piping plovers.

“With little public scrutiny or input, there’s been a massive increase in transport of highly flammable crude oil by rail and barge, which puts communities, rivers and wildlife in danger,” said the Center’s Mollie Matteson. “We have to take immediate action to make sure these rare and marvelous creatures aren’t casualties of a reckless industry.”

Get more from the Courthouse News Service.

Suit Launched to Save 14,000 Acres of Condor Habitat

Precious habitat for one of the world’s most endangered birds, the California condor, is in imminent danger. The Center and American Indian allies have filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its approval of a so-called “habitat conservation plan” that would allow the destruction of 14,000 acres of federally protected, key condor habitat in Tejon Ranch, California’s largest privately owned swath of non-timber land and a biodiversity hotspot. Destruction of the habitat has been approved for the construction of a resort development called Tejon Mountain Village.

For more than a decade the Center has been the most uncompromising environmental group in the fight to save Tejon Ranch and its condors from destruction.

“Tejon Ranch is critical to the survival of California condors, but only if it’s not turned into tennis courts, swimming pools and parking lots,” said the Center’s Adam Keats. “Rather than enabling sprawl development, the Fish and Wildlife Service ought to be doing everything it can to protect the few pieces of remaining condor habitat that are left.”

Read more in our press release.

New Poll Shows Support for Carbon Tax

The concept of a national carbon tax is a hard sell for most people these days. According to a recent poll, only 34 percent of U.S. respondents said they would support taxing fossil fuels like oil, gas or natural gas.

But support for a carbon tax changes dramatically when it comes to scenarios in which the funds are either reimbursed to taxpayers or used to fund renewable energy projects. The 798 respondents were surveyed for each question according to their political affiliations in order to determine what resonated with each of three specific political groups (Republican, Independent and Democrat). The poll was conducted by the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion and the University of Michigan Center for Local, State and Urban Policy this year.

Sixty percent of those surveyed gave thumbs-up to the more creative form of a carbon tax where it is then used to fund renewable energy. Half (51 percent) of those who identified themselves as Republican said they would support a tax that was then reused for greener purposes. An estimated 54 percent of Independents and 70 percent of Democrats said they would support the idea as well.

Stats also showed that respondents weren’t really as worried about getting their money back as about seeing the funds go to a useful “green” purpose. A lower number (56 percent) overall of those questioned said they would support a carbon tax if the money were reimbursed to them. As to political leanings: 43 percent Republican-identified respondents said yea to this idea; 52 percent of Independents and 65 percent of Democrats said this was also a good way to approach carbon taxation.

Jan Lee|Triple Pundit|July 24, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Triple Pundit.

Three Blind Pinnipeds: Treating Blindness in Seals and Sea Lions

Whether sick, injured, or just young and hungry, all of our patients need help. But the blind seals and sea lions we treat require lots of special care.

Blindness in seals and sea lions is not as uncommon as you might think. It can be the side-effect of having big eyes and big teeth—two things that don’t necessarily go well together. Having large eyes is a great adaptation for seeing in dark water, but the cornea (the clear outer covering of the eye) can be easily damaged.

Winky, California sea lion
While none of the species we care for are at much risk for putting their own eyes out, they can definitely cause trauma to each other. This is likely what happened with a few young California sea lions we’ve treated in the last few months, including Winky, a juvenile male who had enough trauma to one of his eyes that his cornea essentially popped.

When this happens, the eye can shrink down and become non-functional—a condition called “phthisis bulbi” (pronounced like “thesis bulb-eye”). Once the eye has shrunken down, it is no longer painful and can be left alone in most species. Luckily, this was the case for Winky. He remains in our care while we assess some of his other health issues, including pneumonia and a flipper wound.

Encumberance, California sea lion
There are many causes of eye trauma in the patients that we treat. Bullets, falling (or other types of blunt trauma) and even whiskers (called “vibrissae”) can cause damage to a seal or sea lion’s eyes. Once the cornea is damaged, it is easy for infection to set in—especially in species that spend so much time in the water.

If an animal’s eye is non-visual but infected or painful, we can perform an enucleation, a procedure in which the eye is removed. This was the best option for Encumberance, a California sea lion pup that was admitted to our hospital on May 18 with a severe infection in one of his eyes.

After his infected eye was removed, Encumberance began to improve. After six weeks in our care, he was released at Chimney Rock in Point Reyes National Seashore. How we treat eyes depends on the type and depth of damage, and we often consult with an ophthalmologist when we’re diagnosing and treating eyes.

Our friends at Animal Eye Care in Fremont, California, generously provided their services to help us care for Encumberance and many of the other blind animals we’ve treated this year.

Solar, northern elephant seal
Trauma isn’t the only cause of blindness, and one patient in our care right now is an interesting example of that. Solar is a northern elephant seal that was blind when he was rescued by the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center at the end of March and brought to The Marine Mammal Center for rehabilitation.

During his admit exam, our veterinary experts noticed white spots in the middle of his eye. On closer investigation, they realized this was his pupil. The pupil is the space in the iris where light enters the eye. The lens, located behind the iris, refracts and helps direct the light rays toward the retina, the back edge of the eye where light is received and translated for the brain.

Usually the pupil appears black because light passes through it and not enough of the light rays reflect back for us to see. In Solar’s case, the pupil appeared white, indicating that the light wasn’t getting to the retina because the lens wasn’t clear.

This condition is known as cataracts, and Solar was suffering from it in both eyes, rendering him completely blind.

But luckily for Solar, in cases like this, blindness can be a reversible process.

We brought Solar to Animal Eye Care where Dr. Patricia Smith removed the cataracts via a process known as “phacoemulsification,” in which sound waves are used to break down the clouded lens of the eye. Once the lens is broken down, light is able to reach the retina and vision may be restored.

After the surgery, Solar needed special care to ensure his eyes healed properly. In addition to pain medication and antibiotics, he received eye drops four times a day. At first, these drops were administered through a special catheter tube inserted directly into his eye. After a few days, these tubes came out, and our animal care experts had to patiently wait for Solar to open his eyes before they could deliver his eye drops.

Solar’s recovery following his surgery has been a slow process, and this may be because his brain first had to learn “how” to see. When an animal is born with cataracts, as we suspect Solar was, its brain doesn’t know how to interpret input from the eyes. It may take some time before the brain learns what to do with these visual signals. In some cases, the animal may never learn to see, even if its eyes are working, because the brain no longer has the pathways to understand any information from the eyes.

Although it took Solar quite a while before he was able to see, it’s now clear that his cataract surgery was a success. He is able to track his caregivers when they enter his pen, and he eats the fish offered to him in the pool.

For Koret Foundation Veterinary Intern Greg Frankfurter, Solar’s case reminded him of one of the first patients he treated at The Marine Mammal Center: an elephant seal named Cappy, who also suffered from cataracts in both eyes.

Cappy’s vision was restored after a successful cataract surgery just like Solar’s, and he was released back to the ocean last October, four months after arriving at the Center for treatment. Since then, he has been spotted several times and seems to be doing quite well in the wild.

Dr. Frankfurter and our veterinary team consulted Cappy’s patient records as they developed a treatment plan for Solar, building on what they had learned to provide the very best care possible. Although Solar is still on the road to recovery, we have high hopes that he will follow in Cappy’s footsteps and eventually be able to return to his ocean home.

As for Dr. Frankfurter, his year-long internship sponsored by the Koret Foundation comes to a close much like it began: helping a blind elephant seal find his way in the world.

“During my year here at The Marine Mammal Center, I’ve been exposed to more patient cases, more diseases and more treatment methods than I ever expected,” he says. “It’s been a fantastic hands-on clinical experience.”

Inspired by the challenges he saw here at the Center, Dr. Frankfurter plans to create a nonprofit organization focused on developing new technology for wildlife conservation professionals.

The Marine Mammal Center|Fort Cronkhite|Sausalito, CA

EPA Appeals District Court Ruling to Exempt Farmyard Runoff From Discharge Permits

The Environmental Protection Agency has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to review a district court ruling that said the agency can’t require farmers to obtain Clean Water Act discharge permits for agricultural stormwater runoff from farmyards.

The Dec. 23 appeal by EPA follows an Oct. 23 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia holding that stormwater runoff from litter and manure is exempt from National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting requirements under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act (Alt v. EPA, 2013 BL 218814, N.D. W.Va., No. 2:12-cv-00042, 10/23/13; ).

The environmental groups Food and Water Watch, Potomac Riverkeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance, Center for Food Safety and the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, which intervened on behalf of the EPA, also filed separate notice of appeal Dec. 20 of the ruling.

The district court ruled that litter and manure washed from “the farmyard to navigable waters by a precipitation event is an agricultural stormwater discharge, and, therefore, not a point source discharge, thereby rendering it exempt from the NPDES permit requirement of the Clean Water Act.”

Lawsuit Filed in 2012.

At issue was a 2012 lawsuit filed by West Virginia poultry grower Lois Alt against the EPA, challenging the agency’s authority to regulate livestock farms under the Clean Water Act by interpreting regulations in ways that treat ordinary agricultural stormwater runoff as “process wastewater,” effectively making all areas of poultry farms regulated production areas.

In particular, the district court said the areas between poultry houses are clearly not animal confinement areas and that manure and litter in the farmyard “would remain in place and not become discharges of a pollutant unless and until stormwater conveyed the particles to navigable waters.”

Alt challenged the basis for the EPA administrative order against the Eight is Enough broiler operation near Old Fields, W.Va., that threatened penalties as high as $37,500 a day for not obtaining an NPDES permit.

EPA could not be reached for comment on the appeal.

However, Scott Edwards, co-founder of the Food and Water Justice, a project of Food and Water Watch, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 23, “We believe that the court completely misapplied well-settled law in exempting the Alt pollution discharges from the Clean Water Act.”

Edwards said, “The court has, in effect, given these highly polluting, yet sorely under-regulated facilities, an even greater license to pollute. Not only does the law require permits for the kinds of pollution that Alt admits is coming from her operation, but the deteriorating conditions of our waterways demands it.”

Ellen Steen, general counsel for the American Farm Bureau Federation, which intervened on behalf of Alt in the case, told Bloomberg BNA in a Dec. 23 e-mail, “If EPA wishes to persist in its unlawful application of the Clean Water Act, we are pleased to take the matter to the appellate court. We are confident the Fourth Circuit, too, will decide this case in favor of Mrs. Alt.”

Amena H. Saiyid|Daily Environment Report|December 24, 2013

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 714 C

People blame their environment. There is only one person to blame – and only one – themselves. Robert Collier

 

Announcements

Wildlife Gala

The 17th annual gala of the Sawgrass Nature Center is sure to be a great time and an important event for the Center.  This is the major fundraiser for the SNC.

Guests will nibble on scrumptious hors d’oeuvres, feast on a fabulous buffet dinner and sample an incredible variety of desserts baked by our famous Baker Bees.

After sipping on our signature cocktails, wild bidding ensues for the fabulous silent and live auction items.

If you would like to sponsor the event, place an ad in the souvenir program or donate an item for the auction, please call Dotty at 954-752-9453.

Upcoming Events

June 9th – August 15th: Camp Wild Summer Camp
July 15 - Fundraiser at Sweet Tomatoes, Coral Springs – 5 to 8 pm.
July 25th: Volunteer Orientation 1:00 – 2:00 pm at SNC

August 10th: Volunteer Orientation 1:00 – 2:00 pm at SNC

Nature Explorers
for kids ages 3 – 5 years
every Wednesday 10am

Be Kind to Animals
all ages
every Sunday at 11am

Floridians urged to guard against mosquitoes

MIAMI (AP) – State health officials are warning Floridians to protect themselves against mosquitoes.

The biting bugs can carry debilitating diseases and pose an elevated threat to public health during the state’s rainy season.

Officials are urging people to drain water from their garbage cans and gutters and cover their skin by wearing shoes, socks and long pants. Mosquito repellant is also encouraged.

Health officials say residents of Pinellas County should be aware of the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus, which has made its way to the Caribbean from Africa, Asia and islands in the Indian Ocean.

They say travelers to those regions could carry the virus back to the United States and infect local mosquito populations.

The Florida Department of Public Health has confirmed at least 18 cases of imported chikungunya in the state.

Andrew Murphy|Jun 16, 2014

Save the date for 25th annual “Ding” Darling Days

Mark your calendars for this year’s “Ding” Darling Days birding and eco-festival at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida, the week of Oct. 19-25, 2014.

Family Fun Day kicks off the week with free activities on Sunday, Oct. 19. It features all-free refuge tours, live wildlife presentations, archery clinics, hot dogs, a touch tank and butterfly house, and kids’ nature crafts.

Muppeteer Jim Henson’s daughter, Heather Henson, with Ibex Puppetry, will return with performances featuring life-size endangered animal puppets.

Conservation Art Day winds up the celebration on Saturday, Oct. 25, with visits from Federal Duck Stamp and Junior Duck Stamp winners and nature art workshops.

Free and discounted birding, biking, kayaking, paddleboarding, sea life boating, and interpretive presentations will fill the week between the two events.

The 25th annual “Ding” Darling Days celebrates the birthday of the refuge’s namesake, father of the Federal Duck Stamp program and Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Jay N. “Ding” Darling.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS), and Tarpon Bay Explorers cosponsor “Ding” Darling Days with generous support from the local community and businesses.

Visit http://www.dingdarlingdays.com for updates on events, information on sponsoring “Ding” Days, or to sign up for e-mail update bulletins. Contact Wendy Schnapp at 239-470-1877 or EcoErler@aol.com to become a sponsor.

As a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, DDWS works to support J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s mission of conservation, wildlife and habitat protection, research, and public education through charitable donations and Refuge Nature Shop proceeds.

To support DDWS and the refuge with a tax-deductible gift, visit www.dingdarlingsociety.org or contact Birgie Miller at 239-292-0566 or director@dingdarlingsociety.org.  

2nd Annual Sea Level Rise Symposium
Friday, July 25, 2014
8am-3:30pm
Oxbridge Academy of the Palm Beaches
3151 N. Military Trail, West Palm Beach, FL 33409
Light breakfast and catered lunch included
CEU credits available for educators
www.artmarshall.org/portal/annual-sea-level-rise-symposium
Students and teachers FREE first 100 to register online!

Of Interest to All

Mauling victim: Lake Mary neighbor who fed bears a ‘whack-a-doo’`

A neighbor who lived two doors from a Lake Mary woman mauled by a bear in April had been feeding the animals for at least two years, according to the victim’s sworn statement to investigators.

Terri Frana, 44, mauled April 12 outside her home on Brackenhurst Place, told Florida wildlife investigators that Eugene D. “Doug” Cifers was a “whack-a-doo” who regularly fed bears. Other witnesses, including Frana’s mother, her husband and others, also told authorities that bears would regularly visit Cifers’ home for food.

State wildlife officials have repeatedly warned residents that feeding bears can make them dangerous because they lose their fear of humans.

Cifers, 63, a board member of the Maitland-based Save the Manatee Club and a former member of the Audubon Florida board, has pleaded not guilty after being charged with feeding bears. He could not be reached for comment Thursday, when the witnesses’ statements were released by the Seminole-Brevard County State Attorney’s Office.

According to wildlife investigators, however, Cifers told them he does not feed bears.

Frana suffered multiple wounds in the attack and needed dozens of stitches on her scalp. Wildlife officers eventually euthanized seven bears after she was mauled.

In her statement to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation investigators, Frana said she tried to avoid Cifers, who she said would show her photos and videos of himself feeding the animals.

Witnesses also told investigators that Cifers had names for each of the several bears that visited his home in the Carisbrooke gated community. And he often videotaped his encounters with the animals.

Authorities released a video Thursday that they say shows Cifers kneeling in front of a bear to feed it. Witnesses said that Cifers showed other videos of his wife feeding bears from her hand while she sat in a lounge chair, according to the report.

Dale Cree, who provided photos to authorities, said Cifers told him, “I’ve raised them since they were babies.”

In her statement to investigators, Helen Leive, Frana’s mother, recalled Cifers stopping her one Saturday as she was driving away, saying, “Oh, you must see this,” as he showed her three bears eating and drinking from planters in his backyard.

“Are you out of your mind?” she told Cifers.

Leive said she reminded Cifers that bears have fangs and claws. But Cifers assured her that the bears were harmless.

Kevin Connoughton, a sanitation worker, also talked to state investigators. He said a man at Cifer’s house would feed sunflower seeds to the animals. He witnessed this numerous times. During one encounter, he said, the man told him he fed them so “they won’t get into everybody’s trash.”

“He asked the man what he was doing,” FWC’s report stated, and “the man said the Mother bear was in the back yard, and he was feeding the baby bears because the baby bears were a little more aggressive and the only way to keep them out of the garbage was to feed them.”

In the week after Frana’s attack, FWC official Greg Workman stated, he met a man and a woman near Cifers’ home who were upset that several bears had been put down. Workman said the man smelled of alcohol, and the woman explained that the couple had raised one of the bears from a cub, according to the report.

Cifers was among three Seminole County residents charged by state wildlife officers with illegally feeding bears, a misdemeanor.

Cory Zeak, 28, and Lori Clem, 29, pleaded “no contest”. They were each fined $200 and placed on six months probation.

Martin E. Comas|Staff Writer|Orlando Sentinel|July 10, 2014

Say Goodbye to d-CON!

It is finally time to start saying goodbye to d-CON, a highly toxic rat poison, and that farewell can’t come soon enough for imperiled wildlife. A recent agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the pesticide’s manufacturer, Reckitt-Benckiser, ensures that d-CON will finally be taken off the shelves. The agreement also brings to an end a long-running effort to force the company to do the right thing and stop selling the product – an effort that Defenders of Wildlife has been a part of for some time.

The battle over rodenticides goes back to 1998 when the EPA initially proposed steps to protect children, wildlife, and pets from accidental ingestion of rat poisons. But in 2001, in the face of industry opposition, EPA withdrew the requirements. In 2008, the EPA moved forward with regulations, urging rat poison manufacturers to shelve some of their products voluntarily due to unreasonable risks to children, wildlife, and pets, but Reckitt-Benckiser refused to implement the new protections. EPA then issued another order in 2013 cancelling the products’ registration – a move that prohibits the sale of these super-toxic rat poisons without tamper-resistant packaging. Reckitt-Benckiser demanded an administrative hearing to challenge this common-sense precaution. At this point, it was clear the industry was determined to bully the EPA into allowing them to continue the sale of these dangerous substances, which posed a threat not only to children and pets, but to native wildlife as well. In April 2013, Defenders and our allies joined the fight against these substances to support the EPA’s case and provide our expertise on the impact to wildlife.

Meanwhile, the State of California recently took its own action against d-CON products, banning retail sale of that and other anti-coagulant rodenticides in the state starting in July. Not surprisingly, Reckitt-Benckiser also challenged these rules in state court and Defenders again intervened to prevent the company from overturning these new protections.

The state’s new restrictions sought to protect wildlife, pets, and children from accidental poisonings, which have been documented in at least 25 species of wild animals in California, including mountain lions, hawks, endangered San Joaquin kit foxes, and northern spotted owls, as well as numerous cats and dogs. According to data from the EPA, each year up to 10,000 children are accidentally exposed to rat poisons in their homes. Anticoagulant rodenticides, such as d-CON, interfere with blood clotting, resulting in uncontrollable bleeding, leading to death, and second-generation anticoagulants are especially hazardous. Rats and mice often eat these slow-acting poisons over several days, causing the toxins to accumulate at many times the lethal dose in their tissues, which in turn poisons predators, the innocent victims, when they prey on the weakened rodents. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife tested nearly 500 wild animals between 1995 and 2011, and their study found second-generation anticoagulants in more than 70 percent of wildlife tested, including eagles, hawks, owls, foxes, bobcats, and mountain lions.

After all this fighting, it’s great news that EPA and Reckitt-Benckiser have finally reached an agreement to limit these super-toxic poisons nationwide. As with any significant stride, it won’t happen overnight – the company agreed to stop producing the super-toxic rat poisons by the end of 2014, and to replace them with safer products by March 2015. Shortly after the announcement, Reckitt-Benckiser also dismissed their challenge to the California regulations.

At the end of the day, elimination of these products is a huge win for wildlife, people and pets. Defenders and our conservation allies will continue to watchdog the issue to hold Reckitt-Benckiser accountable and make sure the company follows through with its agreement.

Anne Russell Gregory|Conservation Law Coordinator|Defenders of Wildlife|30 June 2014

Missouri Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Halt All EPA Regulations

For one Missouri lawmaker, fighting individual Environmental Protection Agency regulations — like the recent rule on carbon emissions from power plants — isn’t enough.

Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) introduced a bill on Wednesday that would halt all EPA rules that are currently in the works and prompt a review of all previous EPA regulations. H.R. 5034, titled the Stop the EPA Act, would also require Congress to approve all previous and new regulations that cost $50 million or more. Under the bill, any that aren’t approved by Congress won’t become law.

“My legislation will give the American people a voice in the regulator’s room when the President and the EPA try and go around Congress,” Graves said in a statement. “EPA aggression has reached an all-time high, and now it must be stopped.”

Graves’ legislation was prompted by the EPA’s “Waters of the United States” proposal, which aims to clarify what streams and rivers are under the jurisdiction of the federal government, under the Clean Water Act. It’s also aimed at the EPA’s new rule on carbon emissions from power plants, a proposal that multiple other lawmakers have attempted to undermine or overturn in recent months. House Republicans introduced an EPA funding bill this week that would block the agency’s new power plant rule, and nine states have signed on to coal company Murray Energy’s lawsuit against the agency, claiming that the new rule constitutes EPA overreach.

The EPA has long been the target of attacks from industry and lawmakers, however.

Take asbestos. On Thursday morning, the House side of the U.S. Capitol was shut down due to a possible spill of asbestos that occurred while workers were cleaning out the hazardous material from the building.

Something fell during “asbestos abatement work” at the Capitol overnight, prompting the closure of the House side of the building. Hazardous material response teams and Environmental Protection Agency investigators are conducting testing at the scene to determine whether or not the material that fell exposed the area to asbestos.

Breathing in asbestos fibers, which can be found in old insulation, flooring, roofing, paint and fabrics, can cause lung disease and lung cancer. The EPA has taken multiple regulatory actions against asbestos use over the last few decades, including banning it from pipe insulation and sprays. The agency banned most products containing asbestos in 1989, but two years later, that rule was overturned after outcry and a lawsuit from the asbestos industry and product manufacturers, who said the ban would cause “death by regulation” to the asbestos industry. That’s the same claim coal companies and lawmakers from coal-producing states are making about the EPA’s new power plant rule: that the EPA is waging a War on Coal, and that its regulations will hasten the demise of the coal industry.

“The Obama EPA has waged an all-out War on Coal, promulgating a series of rules and regulations seeking to eliminate the United States coal industry, and the very good jobs, and low cost electricity, which it provides,” Murray Energy said in a release after filing its lawsuit against the EPA. “Indeed, the lives and livelihoods of entire families in many regions of America are being destroyed.”

Though not as immediately hazardous as asbestos, coal, too, poses a danger both to the miners are at risk of black lung disease and to the Americans whose risk of respiratory illnesses and a range of other health effects goes up as exposure to pollution increases.

Katie Valentine|ThinkProgress|July 13, 2014

This post originally appeared on Think Progress

Some Common Poisonous Plants and Plant Parts

Vegetation helps sustain life. We eat many plants, herbs and so forth in our daily diet. But, we must remember to be choosy. Some plants, trees or shrubs are potential killers of man. Some part of the ornamental plants or flowers in your yard may contain deadly poison. Many poisonous plants are so common and seemingly innocuous you do not suspect their toxic qualities.

For example, who would expect that the beautiful oleander bush-grown indoors and outdoors all over the country-contains a deadly heart stimulant, similar to the drug digitalis?

It is easy to be deceived by plants…one part may be edible while another is poisonous. The following chart lists some of the more common poisonous plants.
 

PLANT

TOXIC PART

SYMPTOMS

Hyacinth, Narcissus, Daffodil

Bulbs

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. May be fatal.

Oleander

Leaves, branches

Extremely poisonous. Affects the heart, produces severe digestive upset and has caused death.

Dieffenbachia (Dumb Cane), Elephant Ear

All parts

Intense burning and irritation of the mouth and tongue. Death can occur if base of the tongue swells enough to block the air passage of the throat.

Wisteria

Seeds, pods

Mild to severe digestive upset. Many children are poisoned by this plant.

Golden Chain

Bean-like capsules in which the seeds are suspended

Severe poisoning. Excitement, staggering, convulsions and coma. May be fatal.

Daphne

Berries

Fatal. A few berries can kill a child.

Rosary Pea, Castor Bean

Seeds

Fatal. A single Rosary Pea seed has caused death. One or two Castor Bean seeds are near the lethal dose for adults.

Larkspur

Young plant, seeds

Digestive upset, nervous excitement, depression. May be fatal.

Monkshood

Fleshy roots

Digestive upset and nervous excitement.

Autumn Crocus, Star of Bethlehem

Bulbs

Vomiting and nervous excitement.

Lily-of-the-Valley

Leaves, flowers

Irregular heart beat and pulse, usually accompanied by digestive upset and mental confusion.

Iris

Underground stems

Severe-but not usually serious-digestive upset.

Foxglove

Leaves

Large amounts cause dangerously irregular heartbeat and pulse, usually digestive upset and mental confusion. May be fatal.

Bleeding Heart

Foliage, roots

May be poisonous in large amounts. Has proved fatal to cattle.

Rhubarb

Leaf blade

Fatal. Large amounts of raw or cooked leaves can cause convulsions, coma, followed rapidly by death.

Laurels, Rhododendrons, Azaleas

All parts

Fatal. Produces nausea and vomiting, depression, difficult breathing, prostration and coma.

Jasmine

Berries

Fatal. Digestive disturbance and nervous symptoms.

Lantana Camara (Red Sage)

Green berries

Fatal. Affects lungs, kidneys, heart and nervous system. Grows in the southern U.S. And in moderate climates.

Yew

Berries, foliage

Fatal. Foliage more toxic than berries. Death is usually sudden without warning symptoms.

Wild and cultivated cherries

Twigs, foliage

Fatal. Contains a compound that releases cyanide when eaten. Gasping, excitement and prostration are common symptoms.

Oaks

Foliage, acorns

Affects kidneys gradually. Symptoms appear only after several days or weeks. Takes a large amount for poisoning.

Elderberry

All parts, especially roots

Children have been poisoned by using pieces of the pithy stems for blowguns. Nausea and digestive upset.

Black Locust

Bark, sprouts, foliage

Children have suffered nausea, weakness and depression after chewing the bark and seeds.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit

All parts, especially roots

Like Dumb Cane, contains small needle-like crystals of calcium oxalate that cause intense irritation and burning of the mouth and tongue.

Moonseed

Berries

Blue, purple color, resembling wild grapes. May be fatal.

Mayapple

Apple, foliage, roots

Contains at least 16 active toxic principles, primarily in the roots. Children often eat the apple with no ill effects, but several apples may cause diarrhea.

Mistletoe

Berries

Fatal. Both children and adults have died from eating the berries.

Water Hemlock

All parts

Fatal. Violent and painful convulsions. A number of people have died from hemlock.

Buttercups

All parts

Irritant juices may severely injure the digestive system.

Nightshade

All parts, especially the unripened berry

Fatal. Intense digestive disturbance and nervous symptoms.

Poison Hemlock

All parts

Fatal. Resembles a large wild carrot.

Jimson Weed (Thorn Apple)

All parts

Abnormal thirst, distorted sight, delirium, incoherence and coma. Common cause of poisoning. Has proved fatal.

Treat unknown plants with respect, and teach your children to do the same.

Chart reprinted from materials provided by the Texas State Department of Health and the National Safety Council

    Gombe Stream National Park: Five Decades of Research

On this day in 1960, Dr. Jane Goodall made her first footsteps in what is today Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park. To this day, the pioneering research Dr. Goodall started more than five decades ago continues and is now known as the longest study of wild chimpanzees, and perhaps of any wildlife, ever.

Observing chimps from the time they are born until they reach old age has opened a window into the incredible world of chimpanzee life. Indeed several of the chimpanzees being tracked by researchers today are the same chimpanzees that Dr. Jane Goodall met 54 years ago when she first arrived at Gombe. With the perspective given to us from this research, we as human beings have come to  an even  greater understanding of our own psychology.

The second smallest national park in Tanzania, Gombe is under threat of deforestation. Living in what could be considered a forest ‘island’, Gombe’s chimpanzees live in isolation from other chimpanzee communities due to deforestation and the unsustainable use of lands surrounding the national park.

For more than two decades now, the Jane Goodall Institute has used its community centered approach to work with communities living near Gombe to improve the lives of people and families so that they can become our partners in conservation.

This approach is now being replicated across the Congo basin, and supports the Jane Goodall Institute’s 30 year goal to protect 80% of remaining wild chimpanzees and their habitat. And it all started at Gombe.

There is no place in the world like the Gombe Stream Research Center.

Hughes Co. shuts down Collier Hogan well

NAPLES, Fla. – State officials said Tuesday they are filing suit against the Dan A. Hughes Co. to shut down its operations permanently at the disputed Collier Hogan well site.

But the Hughes Co. said it already has shut it down until further notice — an action local drilling opponents hailed as a long-awaited victory.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard said in a statement that it’s clear the Hughes Co. “has not taken seriously the department’s demands to protect Collier County families or Florida’s natural resources.”

He said the suit, to be filed in circuit court in Collier County, would seek additional financial penalties above the $25,000 already levied in an April consent order agreement, and to “shut down all the operations at the Collier-Hogan site.”

The Hughes company would be held “accountable” for its actions, Vinyard said.

DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said the lawsuit would proceed regardless of the Hughes Co.’s “shutting in” the well. She added the shut-in doesn’t negate the consent order the DEP signed with Hughes Co., nor absolve the company of its obligation to comply with it.

A shut-in well is defined as one producing or capable of producing, but that has been closed down.

But the Texas-based Hughes Co. said it had come to the decision to cease operations at the well independently, and “not due to any request or demand from any third party,” company spokesman David Blackmon said in a statement.

The company also filed a formal response with the DEP to the demands in a July 3 letter from Vinyard.

Blackmon said the Hughes Co. “has done everything it could to work cooperatively with the department despite the severely restricted communication it has received from the DEP in recent weeks.”

He added the company believes its response satisfies all of the demands contained in the July 3 letter, except the demand that Hughes appear at the Collier County Commission meeting on July 8.

The company said it decided not to appear “when it was made clear it had no invitation from the board itself to speak.”

Blackmon reiterated that the company believes it hasn’t violated any state laws and had fully satisfied its commitments under the consent order with the DEP regarding the well, which was the subject of an unauthorized injection procedure at year’s end.

In a later statement, Blackmon said the DEP knew of the shut-in operation and had personnel on site when it happened.

He also said the Hughes Co. would mount a “vigorous defense” against the lawsuit.

Tom Jones of Collier Resources Co., the owner of the well site property, said in a statement that while the company cannot speak to a legal matter between the Hughes Co. and DEP, “we are doing everything in our power to be transparent and assure the public that no action taken by any of our lessees has done harm to Collier County’s water resources or environment.”

He reiterated the company’s offer to pay for water testing and modeling in coordination with county commissioners, and its promise that its lessees would use only traditional drilling techniques, “until a time when DEP issues clear regulations on exploration techniques that are used throughout the country but may be new to Florida.”

Meanwhile, drilling opponents were delighted with the news that Hughes effectively was leaving Southwest Florida.

“It’s fantastic,” said Karen Dwyer of the Stonecrab Alliance citizens group.

“It points to a sea change of the attitude of Floridians about the environment,” said Don Loritz, vice president of citizens group Preserve our Paradise, adding he didn’t expect such a result a year ago, when residents started to protest a proposed — and now scuttled — Hughes Co. well near Golden Gate Estates.

“It’s the best outcome we could have hoped for,” said Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, which has been objecting to the impact of drilling on the endangered panther. “But there’s still work to be done.”

He added the DEP still needs to take another look at the environmental effects of other oil drilling leases in the area, such as the seismic testing described in another lease.

“The DEP has had its hands full with Dan A. Hughes,” he said.

Jennifer Hecker, director of natural resources for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said the DEP needs to be responsible for addressing remedial actions specified by the Conservancy and by Collier commissioners in their petition to pull the Collier Hogan permit.

She said the DEP needs to make sure that groundwater monitoring, well testing, and other actions take place to protect the area’s drinking water from chemicals that were used during the unauthorized workover procedure.

She also contended that by filing a suit, the DEP has lost its main leverage against the Hughes Co., which was the threat of pulling the permit.

Hughes Co.’s leaseholds likely will be released to other drillers, she said, and there is no guarantee that similar unauthorized operations won’t occur in the future.

“Overall, this highlights the need to fix Florida’s laws about extreme extraction,” she said.

June Fletcher|Jul 15, 2014

Testing the effects of  Naled insecticide

Watch video of researchers trying to find out the impact of Naled a (mosquito insecticide) on non target species. Video by Andrew West/news-press.com

Just after dawn Friday, and nine hours after the Lee County Mosquito Control District sprayed a county preserve near Bunche Beach with the insecticide Naled, David Ceilley looked into a series of cages and counted dead peacock butterflies.

Preliminary report: About 25 percent mortality.

“They did better than I thought they would,” said Ceilley, a senior ecologist for Johnson Engineering. “It’s too early to tell what this means. We have a lot of data to analyze.”

Ceilley and researchers from FGCU had placed six cages, each containing 11 butterflies, in mangrove and marsh habitat at the preserve Thursday night as part of a project to test the effects of Naled on non-target species, including insects, amphibians and fish – the mosquito district has been spraying Naled from aircraft to kill adult mosquitoes for about 15 years.

Funding for the $120,000 study comes from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the mosquito district is providing labor and equipment.

“We know the effect on non-target species: They’re still there,” said Jonathan Hornby, deputy director of the mosquito district. “But it needs to be properly demonstrated, so we can show people who think there is an effect on non-target species that there is or is not or the severity. If there is, we need to know the recovery time of non-target species.”

On July 7, the researchers, which included FGCU undergraduate and graduate students, placed various kinds of insect traps in mangrove habitat and marsh habitat at the preserve and a control site in the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve then documented all insect species caught in the traps on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Simply put, the idea was to determine what species occur at the site and how abundant each species is before and after spraying Thursday – the control site was not sprayed.

The district sprayed the preserve at 10:30 p.m. Thursday, and 15 researchers were on site two hours to check the traps and butterfly cages.

“It was fun out here last night,” Win Everham, professor of marine and ecological sciences and the study’s principle investigator, said Friday after dawn. “We had a bunch of people come out, and I was thinking, ‘It feels like there should be a keg, and we should build a bonfire.’ It was cool.”

Of particular interest in the study is the effect of Naled on commercially important species (honeybees) and endangered species (two Florida butterfly species are federally listed as endangered, the Miami blue and Schau’s swallowtail; the study is using peacock butterflies because they’re commercially available, and they’re natives of Southwest Florida).

Beehives and butterfly cages were placed in marsh habitat and mangrove habitat at the preserve and control sites (caged butterflies are also being kept at Ceilley’s home as a second control to check for mortality from shipping).

“If they only die (in the preserve), that could indicate spraying killed them,” Everham said. “If they only die in the marsh, that could indicate the mangrove foliage intercepted enough naled to protect the insects. If they die everywhere, it would indicate a problem with our experimental design.”

When bees die in a hive, workers called mortuary bees remove them.

In addition to finding one dead bee at a hive Friday morning, FGCU senior Solveig Poynter saw a mortuary bee flying away from the hive with a dead bee.

“At first I thought they were wrestling,” she said. “It was exciting to see the bee carry the other one away. I’ll be back later to see if there’s a delayed reaction to the insecticide as they go out looking for nectar.”

Every day this week, the researchers will sample both sites for dead insects and return two weeks after spraying and one month after spraying.

After that, the data must be analyzed.

“People expect science to be black-and-white,” Everham said. “We won’t know anything until the experiment’s done and we look at what we’ve got and can say what’s significantly different, what’s just different and what might be the factors that control that.”

Kevin Lollar|news-press|July 14, 2014

Naled Facts

EPA has assessed the risks of naled and reached an Interim Reregistration Eligibility Decision (IRED) for this organophosphate (OP) pesticide. Provided that risk mitigation measures are adopted naled fits into its own “risk cup”– its individual, aggregate risks are within acceptable levels. Naled also is eligible for reregistration, pending a full reassessment of the cumulative risk from all OPs.

Used mainly to control mosquitos and to control insects on a variety of agricultural crops, naled residues in food and drinking water do not pose risk concerns. Naled may no longer be used in and around the home by residents or professional applicators. However, residents can be exposed as by-standers from wide-area mosquito control applications. Sergeant’s, the sole end-use registrant for pet collars, is voluntarily cancelling all of its naled products. With mitigation limiting homeowners’ and children’s exposure naled fits into its own “risk cup.” With other mitigation measures, naled’s worker and ecological risks are also will be below levels of concern for reregistration.

EPA’s next step under the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) is to complete a cumulative risk assessment and risk management decision encompassing all the OP pesticides, which share a common mechanism of toxicity. The interim decision on naled cannot be considered final until this cumulative assessment is complete. Further risk mitigation may be warranted at that time.

EPA is reviewing the OP pesticides to determine whether they meet current health and safety standards. Older OPs need decisions about their eligibility for reregistration under FIFRA. OPs with residues in food, drinking water, and other non-occupational exposures also must be reassessed to make sure they meet the new FQPA safety standard.

The naled interim decision was made through the OP pilot public participation process, which increases transparency and maximizes stakeholder involvement in EPA’s development of risk assessments and risk management decisions. EPA worked extensively with affected parties to reach the decisions presented in this interim decision document, which concludes the OP pilot process for naled.

Uses

  • An insecticide, naled is used primarily to control adult mosquitos. It is also registered to control blackflies, and leaf eating insects on a variety of fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
  • Annual domestic use is approximately 1,000,000 pounds of active ingredient, with approximately 70% used in mosquito control and approximately 30% in agriculture.

Health Effects

  • Naled can cause cholinesterase inhibition in humans; that is, it can over-stimulate the nervous system causing nausea, dizziness, confusion, and at very high exposures (e.g., accidents or major spills), respiratory paralysis and death.

Risks

  • Dietary exposures from eating food crops treated with naled are below the level of concern for the entire U.S. population, including infants and children. Drinking water is not a significant source of exposure.
  • The only remaining residential risks have been addressed by the voluntary cancellation of naled pet collar products.
  • EPA also has risk concerns for workers who mix, load, and/or apply naled to agricultural sites, and for black fly control.
  • Acute and chronic risks are of concern for fish and other freshwater organisms. 

Read more

EPA| 738-F-02-007|January 2002

Smart Move: Disney Drops Faroe Islands Whaling Site From Cruise Route

Disney Cruise Line announced a last-minute itinerary change to one of its cruise routes, making a noted detour around the Faroe Islands, where hundreds of whales are killed in drive hunts each summer. The move has been applauded by whale activists, who say Disney is leading the way in making responsible decisions like avoiding areas where whaling is practiced.  

Disney is modifying their 11-Night Copenhagen to England journey to include a stop at Kirkwall, Scotland rather than Torshavn, Faroe Islands. The cruise embarks on June 29, 2015 aboard the liner Disney Magic. Disney sent a letter to all passengers announcing the change last week.

No information has been released as to the reasoning behind the schedule change, but it’s likely that passengers — many of which are traveling with children — would be disturbed to see the slaughter, which happens on the beaches and usually fills the harbor with red water. Animal rights advocates criticize hunts like these for being cruel and unnecessary, because the level of mercury in pilot whales makes them unfit for consumption. In 2011, 726 whales were slaughtered.

You can learn more about the Faroe Islands whale slaughter here and sign a petition to stop it here

Despite a decades-old international moratorium on commercial whaling, Japan, Norway and Iceland continue to kill thousands of whales every year under the guise of “scientific research” and banner of “tradition.” Join us in demanding that these defiant whaling nations put an end the deadly practice once and for all. 

Melissa Cronin|29 April 2014

Cheetah smuggling driving wild population to extinction, report says

Rising demand for luxury pets in the Gulf states taking gruesome toll as two-thirds of snatched cubs are dying en route

The rising trade in cheetahs for luxury pets in the Middle East is helping to drive critical populations of the wild cats to extinction, according to new research. The report also reveals the gruesome toll of the trade, with up to two-thirds of the cheetah cubs being smuggled across the war-torn Horn of Africa dying en route. However, the nations at both ends of the trade have now agreed that urgent action is needed.

Cheetahs, famous as the world’s fastest land animal, have lost about 90% of their population over the last century as their huge ranges in Africa and Asia have been taken over by farmland. Fewer than 10,000 remain and numbers are falling. There is an ancient tradition of using trained cheetahs as royal hunting animals in Africa but, more recently, a growing demand for status-symbol pets in the Gulf states has further reduced populations.

Cheetahs are unusually easy to tame, especially as cubs, and the report found instances in Gulf states of the big cats riding as car passengers, being walked on leashes and even being exercised on treadmills. Other evidence showed cheetahs pacing around living rooms and tussling with their owners, including young children.

“This whole trade had not been appreciated by the public or by the conservation world,” said Nick Mitchell, who contributed to the report for the Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), the first comprehensive overview of the cheetah trade. “If we do not act now on the trade and land-use change, then we can be certainly losing sub-populations in a few years.”

Cheetahs do not breed easily in captivity and the Gulf pet trade is supplied by animals snatched from wild in the Horn of Africa. The distinct sub-species living there numbers about 2,500. The animals are trafficked by boat from Somalia to Yemen and then by road into the Gulf states including Saudi Arabia. “Huge number of cheetahs appear to die in transit,” said Mitchell, who is the eastern African co-coordinator of the Rangewide Conservation Program for Cheetah and African Wild Dogs, a joint project of the Zoological Society of London and the Wildlife Conservation Society. “For sure, we are talking about very poor people in the Horn of Africa and they are not too worried about the welfare of the animals.” Seizures of cheetah cubs often number 30 cubs, with 50-70% dying en route. There is also a demand for cheetah-skin shoes in Sudan, where they are considered to confer high-status.

Even more threatened is the cheetah sub-species in Iran, where just 40-100 survive and may also be endangered by the pet trade. Another seriously threatened sub-species lives in north and west Africa, numbering fewer than 250. Here the main threat is from demand for skins for clothing and for bones and body parts used in traditional medicine and magic rituals.

The largest surviving cheetah population – about 6200 – is in Southern Africa. Trophy hunting, costing $10,000-$20,000 (£6,000-£12,000) per animal, is allowed in Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, totaling over 200 kills per year. In South Africa, about 90 live captive-bred cheetahs are exported a year to zoos, although conservationists worry that illegal animals could be passed off as these legally-traded cheetahs.

. The South African government says it is moving towards creating cheetah stud books to enable DNA profiling.

Mitchell said he was “cautiously optimistic” that a new Cites working group, set up in response to the report’s revelations, would curb the illegal trade in cheetahs with better law enforcement. “The countries were told ‘you cannot ignore it: this is being monitored’,” he said

David Morgan, head of science at Cites, said: “Middle eastern countries spoke up very clearly and this has been a positive development. Qatar, the Emirates, Kuwait all recognized the problem.”

Morgan said the demand for endangered species, including big cats, was showing a trend from “health to wealth”, i.e. a growing emphasis on status symbols over traditional medicines. “Many Asian countries still want the trade in medicinal products, but the more show-off element seems to be rising,” he said. “It comes with the rising economies of these countries and that drives up demand. But there are so very few animals left in the wild that they cannot afford a big rise in demand.”

The recent Cites summit, which ended on Friday in Switzerland, also acted on the elephant poaching crisis. “Thailand has been given a last warning.” Morgan said. “They have been put on notice that they have to put their house in order or there will be consequences.” Unless it acts on its domestic ivory trade, a key part of the ivory chain from Africa to China, Thailand will be barred from trade in all wildlife covered by the international Cites agreement, including the lucrative orchid and cacti trades.

Interpol estimates the illegal wildlife trade to be worth $10-20bn a year, the fourth most lucrative black market after drugs, people and arms smuggling. It is already at a scale where it harms people and nations, especially in Africa, with Cites secretary general John Scanlon telling the Guardian in 2013: “It increasingly involves organised crime syndicates, and in some cases rebel militia. This poses a serious threat to the stability and economy of affected countries and robs them of their natural resources. They must be stopped.”

He said: “The UN security council have linked the Lord’s Resistance Army to ivory smuggling in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while al-Qaida’s al-Shabaab group has been linked to illegal ivory in Somalia.

Damian Carrington|The Guardian|15 July 2014

Hot cooling canals threaten shutdown of Turkey Point

“Rising water temperatures and severe algae blooms in cooling canals have threatened to force the shutdown of two nuclear reactors at Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point plant over the last few weeks.”

……”In a June 27 letter to the South Florida Water Management District, an FPL manager asked for emergency withdrawals of up to 30 million gallons a day of cooler water from a brackish section of the underground Biscayne Aquifer – source of most of Miami-Dade’s fresh water – to avoid shutting down its two reactors and a natural gas plant.

That same day, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection agreed to allow FPL to pump up to 14 million gallons a day but from a deeper source, the Floridan aquifer. DEP also approved the utility’s plan to dump herbicides, including copper sulfate and hydrogen peroxide, for up to 90 days to kill algae boosted by the warmer water.

The NRC, meanwhile, is still evaluating FPL’s request to increase the cooling canal temperature limits for operating the reactors.

“What they’ve run into more recently is (temperatures are) trending higher than historical averages,” said NRC spokesman Roger Hannah. “It is very warm because most plants in the country, and I don’t know specifically for all plants, but most plants would have temperatures much lower.”

High water temperatures, an algae bloom and a spreading underground saltwater plume may not appear related but they do highlight the complexity of operating a plant that depends on cool water in steamy South Florida.

Jenny Staletovich|Miami Herald|07.16.14

Read more

Calls to Action

  1. EPA, Stop Texas From Dousing Farms With  Pesticides! – here
  2. Tell Congress: Protect U.S. Communities From Fracked Gas Exports – here
  3. Tell the Obama administration to honor its promises and let science – not politics – decide what’s “endangered”here
  4. End the Faroe Islands’ Whale Slaughter – here
  5. Expand Ocean Habitat for North Atlantic Right Whales –  here
  6. Stop Cormorant Slaughter – here
  7. Please ask Secretary Jewell and Director Ashe to make protecting and recovering critically endangered Florida panthers a top priority – here 

Birds and Butterflies

Guarding the Military Macaw

Military macaws are large birds, reaching up to 30 inches from beak to the tip of their tail feathers.

The military macaw (Ara militaris) is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN and has been endangered in Mexico since 1991. It was once widespread throughout Mexico from the states of Sonora (neighboring Arizona) south to Guerrero on the Pacific side, and from Tamaulipas and Nuevo León (neighboring Texas) south to Queretaro and Oaxaca on the eastern side. Today, this bird only exists in very small, fragmented areas isolated from one another because habitat destruction and capture for the pet trade have eliminated the populations from wide areas of several Mexican states.

The most recent field survey of the military macaw in Mexico estimated a population as low as 3,072 individuals in seven aggregated populations. The second largest of these populations occurs in the states of Nayarit and Jalisco in the Pacific, which also harbors the largest nesting population. The military macaw nests high up in large trees in rain and temperate forests, but hunting and trapping have decimated many nesting populations, and cornered them into nesting in inaccessible cavities in canyon walls in some parts of Mexico.

Capture of this species is illegal – in fact, no capture has been allowed for the past 35 years. Nevertheless, the military macaw is still one of the most sought after parrot species in Mexico for the illegal pet trade. It is the fourth most seized species by the Environmental Enforcement Agency (similar to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and it is the most seized of the endangered parrot species in Mexico. Although a total trade ban was decreed for all 22 Mexican parrots in 2008, the situation has not changed for the military macaw; in fact for many years the annual seizure trend has been climbing, proving that illegal trade in this species has not been abated.

The military macaw is sought after because of its large size and colorful plumage. It is the cheapest of all macaws native and foreign, legal or illegal, being offered for sale in Mexico, with prices ranging from as low as $100 US dollars up to $500 dollars. In some cases, the price of a military macaw is even lower than the price for an Amazona species of half its size, like the endangered yellow-headed or yellow-naped parrots.

Poachers illegally capture these birds as nestlings, juveniles and adults, but one of the biggest problems this species faces is loss of nesting trees when poachers cut them down to reach the nestlings more easily. Adequate nests for this large species are in very short supply in rain or temperate forests, which means the majority of breeding pairs do not nest during the breeding season. Adult breeding pairs of military macaws must wait many years before a nest becomes available for them. The destruction of a nesting tree affects the whole population, reducing the number of breeding pairs nesting in a given year and the number of new young macaws being hatched.

Defenders of Wildlife partnered with a team of scientists working in the Bahia de Banderas region in the state of Jalisco on the Pacific coast in a program to monitor nests of the military macaw. Our purpose was to study their breeding, but most importantly to dissuade poaching. The presence of our investigators around the nesting tree area, taking notes of the coming and going of the macaw parents, was enough to convince would-be poachers to stay away. The nest monitoring program for the 2013-2014 season was successful and no monitored nest was poached. The project monitored a total of 14 nests, from which 15 macaw chicks survived the nesting season. One of the successful nests had been poached constantly for the last ten years, and this is the first time it has produced chicks that left the nest on their own!

Of other nesting sites that have been studied in Western Mexico, this one is now the most productive of them all, making it the most important nesting site for the military macaw. And all because of the protection we were able to provide for the nests.

We are accompanying this project with a very extensive on-the-ground environmental and information campaign by distributing posters, comic and coloring books for children, which convey information on the species, its plight and the many ways communities can benefit economically by helping to keep them safe. Municipal authorities have joined the program, and are distributing posters while local NGOs are providing lectures in schools for children using our comic and coloring books.

We are also providing the area with its own quick bird ID guide to promote birdwatching projects that in turn provide income to the local landowners where the nests are. We are hoping to fund this program for several years until the local communities fully understand and accept the importance of helping this species survive and thrive amongst them, so that they can all benefit from this beautiful and magnificent macaw flying free in the sky.

If you visit Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco to enjoy its beaches, do hire a bird watching tour to see the military macaws. Your money will help fund conservation programs in the area.

Juan Carlos Cantu|Manager of Mexico Programs|Defenders of Wildlife

Five Top Spots for Birding in Florida 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decline in birds, not just bees, linked to neonicotinoid pesticides

Pesticides likely affect birds by causing a decline in insects they use to feed their young

It’s not just the bees that are harmed by controversial crop pesticides called neonicotinoids – the birds are also disappearing in places where there are high concentrations of the pesticide in the environment, a new study suggests.

The study led by researchers at Radboud University in the Netherlands compared concentrations of the neonicotinoid pesticide imidacloprid measured in lakes and other surface waters around the Netherlands to local changes in 15 farmland bird species from 2003 to 2010.

They found that in areas where concentrations of the pesticide were more than 20 nanograms per liter, populations of birds such as barn swallows, tree sparrow and common starlings fell 3.5 per cent a year, compared to the average population trend for their species. They published their findings in the most recent issue of the journal Nature.

“Neonicotinoids were always regarded as selective toxins. But our results suggest that they may affect the entire ecosystem,” said Hans de Kroon, a co-author of the paper, in a news release from Radboud University.

Neonicotinoid pesticides have been used since 1995 in the Netherlands and are also commonly used in North America. They are typically coated on agricultural seeds for crops such as corn and canola to protect the plants from insect pests such as aphids. Studies showing harmful effects of the pesticides in bees have prompted the European Commission to introduce a partial, temporary ban on three kinds of neonicotinoids, including imidacloprid, in Europe.

Neonicotinoids act as a neurotoxin for insects, but previous studies have shown they’re not very toxic to birds. Because of that, the Dutch researchers think the decline in birds is probably due to pesticides unintentionally killing off the insects they rely on to feed their young during the breeding season.

However, they said they can’t rule out the possibility of other ways the pesticide may be affecting birds, such as through direct ingestion. According to a study published by Environment Canada researcher Pierre Mineau in 2013, at a single kernel of imidacloprid-treated corn can kill small and “blue jay-sized birds,” and sicken larger ones. However, in the Dutch study, all the birds either ate exclusively insects or fed their young exclusively insects during the breeding season.

Other factors tested

In a video posted by Radboud University, de Kroon said his team “looked very thoroughly” for other possible factors besides neonicotinoid pesticides that could explain the results.

“Our analysis shows that based on our data imidacloprid was by far the best explanatory variable for differences in trends between areas,” he added.

The researchers discovered the trend by looking at bird count data along with data about imidacloprid concentrations in waterways collected by the local water boards. While many bird species started declining before farmers started using imidacloprid in 1995, local differences in their decline didn’t appear until after that time.

In an analysis piece accompanying the paper in Science, University of Sussex biologist Dave Goulson, who studies bees and other insects, noted that only five per cent of imidacloprid applied to crops is actually taken up by the crops themselves. The rest blows away or gets washed into waterways, and may get taken up by other plants.

A number of other researchers have previously suggested that neonicotinoids could be having a negative effect on birds, including Mineau and University of Saskatchewan biologist Christy Morrissey.

CBC News|Jul 14, 2014

Entomologist: 3 butterflies native to Florida have become extinct

An entomologist has searched the past 6 years for 3 species of Florida butterflies and, unable to find them, believes them extinct. Entomologist Marc Minno says it brings to 7 the number of North American species believed extinct.

Minno conducted his lengthy survey for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. He told Reuters Monday that the loss of the 3 species is a harbinger of something troubling.

“It’s indicating there are major problems, environmental harm to Florida,” Minno said. “And this is an indication that quality for people is also degrading, and people should be worried about that,”

Previous to his survey and conclusions, 4 butterfly species in the U.S. were extinct; Minno says confirming these 3 newly-found-to-be extinct species marks the first time a species has become extinct in the country in the past 55 years. The 3 newly-declared extinct butterfly species are the Florida Zestos Skipper, the Rockland Meske’s Skipper, and the Keys Zarucco Skipper.

Marcus Hondro|Apr 30, 2013

Going Deep

Gannets are the bird world’s Olympians, capable of plunging a hundred feet through the air, then slicing through the ocean to chase down fish. 

The wind blows a low glinting light over the white chop of the sea, spouts of water kicking straight up in the air. Hundreds of Northern Gannets, with six-foot wingspans, gather above the frothy ocean before tucking in their wings and dropping from the sky, hitting the water like white arrows. The birds cloud the air, dozens diving each second as if pulled from above toward some invisible vortex on the seafloor. It’s amazing they don’t collide with one another. Once they hit the water they don’t stop; they tunnel below it like a cormorant or loon, chasing down fish. These pursuits can last from five to seven seconds, occasionally more than 10, and take the birds down as far as 70 feet. The gannet’s plunge is almost three dives in one: the dive from the air, the slice into the water, and then the third dive, when they turn submariner.

Northern Gannets breed only in a few large colonies on rock cliffs, in fewer than 40 places in the world. They range across Quebec, Newfoundland, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence in North America, and from Brittany north to Norway in Europe. Their homes are remote, storm-tossed, and, at times, almost vertical, some nests held to the cliffs only by the bird’s own dung. You could build a poem just from the names of these great craggy rocks on both sides of the Atlantic: Bass Rock, Gullcliff, Bird Rock, Little Skellig, Sula Sgeir, Ailsa Craig. The largest of the single-island colonies, Bass Rock, holds more than 50,000 nests, and while there is something wild and singular about a gannet’s dive, the bird’s life, both in the air and on the ground, is a crowded one. We humans, upon seeing gannets plummet, usually reach for a metaphor and come up with words like “arrows,” “knives,” even “lawn darts.” But the similes are more consistent upon seeing their rocky homes: Almost everyone comes away from the experience saying that it looks as if the rocks were covered with snow.

To breed among thousands of neighbors is tricky, and violence can break out at any moment, particularly between males, with sword-like bills stabbing. But what may at first look like a great blob of birds is actually ordered by an elaborate system of spacing and ritual, including courteous bows and not-so-courteous bites, and beautiful gestures like “sky-pointing,” when a gannet points its bill upward to indicate its imminent departure to its mate. It turns out that even gannets need their space, and if you measure the distance between nests, you will find exactly two for every 10 square feet.

Like many seabirds, northern Gannets are attentive parents, guarding and feeding their single chick for up to 90 days. But when they cut the cord they really cut the cord. One day the young, which have never flown and have hardly moved from the nest, waddle to cliff ‘s edge and take a great plunge into uncertainty. At Bass Rock, they leap off the ledge and glide down to the water more than 100 feet below. According to Bryan Nelson’s classic The Gannet: “Unable to rise from the water because of their excessive weight and still without fully developed wing muscles, they begin a southward migration to middle Atlantic regions.” That is to say, they begin their first migration by swimming south, developing the strength to fly along the way.

Northern gannets are the largest member of the Sulidae, a family that includes the Cape Gannet in southern Africa; the Australasian Gannet of New Zealand, Tasmania, and southern Australia; and, more famously, the boobies, which fill the gannet niche in the warmer waters close to the equator.

There are of course some threats to gannets. I remember walking through the dunes on Cape Cod after a nor’easter and finding several gannets with broken necks, a surprisingly vulnerable part of the anatomy for a creature that makes its living falling from the sky. It is also worth noting that while oiled pelicans were the media stars of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the first avian fatality was a gannet that had not yet migrated back from its winter home. Imagine diving into a pool of oil.

More depressing, and certainly more peculiar, is the northern Scottish tradition of hunting and eating “guga,” the Scots’ name for gannet chicks. “The chicks are killed with a stick, decapitated, singed in fire, and then pickled–producing a delicacy that has been enjoyed by islanders for hundreds of years,” reports The Independent. There might be a way to twist this into sounding honorable and old-fashioned were it not for a newer tradition: In 2013 the social wing of Scotland’s Ness football club staged its first “world championship” for eating pickled guga.

But the gannet population is a healthy one, a million birds and growing by most accounts. And while few humans will ever visit a gannet colony, each winter the birds make it easy on us, flying south in great numbers and giving us a chance to witness their aerobatics. It is a show that shouldn’t be missed. When a single gannet dives it is a wildly impressive feat, but when hundreds of them plummet headfirst, one after another, it leaves the watcher breathless. Excitement is too weak a word; giddiness may work better. The birds search the waters from the sky in great symphonic swoops, lifting, pausing, and readjusting before letting gravity do its work, though sometimes supplementing gravity with a couple of power strokes before finally piercing the boiling sea. Though they can descend straight down, they will often follow a particular fish, banking and angling and even corkscrewing through the air. The gannets hit the water with a great thud and send up an impressive splash. Watching them once as they dove, I suddenly saw humpback whales hunting for the same group of fish, and the birds’ splashes and whales’ spouting became almost indistinguishable.

They are the kings of two realms, and if, during the first part of their headlong descent, they look like circus high divers, then during the last they cut through the watery world like heat-seeking torpedoes zeroing in on a target. My field guide calls gannets “gluttons,” able to consume 10 herring or four large mackerel consecutively, which supply their nonstop internal engines. They dive so much because they need more fish, and they need more fish because they dive so much.

Gannets are cold-weather birds, and you can see them close to shore on bracing days, days of whitecaps and wind and purple clouds, days when the thought of plunging into water leads to involuntary shivers. But once, on a calmer, warmer day in North Carolina, I had the chance to see a gannet dive from a fish’s point of view. Due to the mild weather, I was able to conduct an experiment that I would never have thought possible. I walked to the edge of the water, stripped down to my boxers, and swam out to where the birds were diving.

Numb legs were a small price to pay for a new perspective. I now had a front-row seat, just two dozen feet away. I could feel the gannets hit the water with a great slicing violence. The birds shot into the surf, using gravity and a last thrust of the neck to spear through the surface. Then they disappeared from sight. I knew that gannets could dive from more than 100 feet in the air and reach speeds of 40 miles an hour, but I had never felt those facts like I did that day. I watched the birds plunge and wondered: What does it feel like, that moment of contact and immersion, entering into the dark wetness and immediately giving chase to animals who know only a liquid realm? What skill to both dive with Olympian grace and swim well enough to overtake fish! If I’m honest, it made me a little jealous. Imagine the sheer athletic joy of it. Imagine being equally at ease in both worlds.

Watch the Gannets Dive

David Gessner|Audubon Newsletter|July-August 2014This story ran as “Going Deep” in the July-August 2014 issue. 

 Florida Panthers

Ask USFWS and the Department of Interior To Give Panthers Room To Roam!

Florida panthers once prowled and flourished in America’s southeastern woodlands and swamps, but today fewer than 160 remain.

Florida panthers once prowled and flourished in America’s southeastern woodlands and swamps, but today fewer than 160 of these majestic cats remain in a tiny remnant of their historic range. And that habitat is shrinking every day — gobbled up by subdivisions and commercial development.

We’re in a race against time. As panther habitat becomes more and more fragmented, it will be increasingly difficult for these creatures to stay out of harm’s way.

  Invasive species

Exotic Pet Amnesty Days

Become part of the solution to our non-native animal problem.

The outlook for Florida’s native ecosystems can seem grim as we hear more about the spread of non-native animals, and so many cases where it seems we are unable to control or exterminate populations once they’ve become established. Unfortunately, this is often a sad reality due to our sub-tropical climate, interconnected wetland habitats, and highly-mobile human population, among other factors. While it appears many unwelcomed non-native animals are here to stay, one of our greatest tools for protecting our state is helping prevent new releases.

The majority of non-native animals threatening our native species are former pets who have either accidentally escaped or been intentionally released. In an effort to reduce the latter, FWC organizes Exotic Pet Amnesty Days where pet owners who can no longer care for their exotic pets can surrender them to willing adopters. From snakes and turtles to hedgehogs and parrots, to date this program has helped re-home over 1,900 unwanted pets that might have otherwise been released into our neighborhoods, parks, or canals, and has helped educate the public about the problems created by releasing non-native animals.

Helping with this amnesty program is a great way to be part of the solution to our non-native animal problem. Audubon members and other friends are needed to volunteer at or help sponsor or organize events in their community. Pet lovers can also help by signing up to become adopters.

Information on all aspects of this program can be found online, or by contacting Exotic Pet Amnesty Program coordinator, Liz Barraco, at 954-577-6409 or Liz.Barraco@MyFWC.com.

Invaders in Recent News:

  • Despite efforts to eradicate Gambian pouched rats (a giant species that can reach up to 9 pounds) on Grassy Key in the Florida Keys, the populations appears to be persisting and the public’s help is needed to report them to FWC. More details can be found in this article from the Miami Herald.
  • A research team from University of Florida has used remote cameras to document Argentine tegus stealing eggs from native Florida reptiles, confirming that they are a potential threat to our native turtles, alligators and crocodiles. More details can be found in this news release from UF.
  • In an effort to reduce the damage done to Florida reefs and wildlife by lionfish, this month FWC launched a new smartphone app for reporting lionfish seen or caught in Florida waters. The app also provides educational and safe handling information for these spiny, venomous fish. More details can be found on FWC’s website.

Invasive Species Spotlight: Bullseye Snakehead

Bullseye Snakehead are a large, elongate fish (looking similar to our native bowfin) with sharp teeth and the ability to breathe air. Native to southeast Asia, these ambush predators are bottom-dwelling, feeding primarily on small fish and crustaceans but able to eat a wide variety of prey including turtles, amphibians and snakes.

In Florida, the snakehead population appears to currently be isolated in Broward County, although they have the potential to succeed throughout the southern half of peninsular Florida, if introduced. In the Everglades CISMA’s recent Non-Native Fish Round Up, one winning fisherman returned over 60 pounds of snakeheads. Fishermen should refrain from re-releasing all non-native fishes and should be particularly careful to avoid spreading non-native fish, invertebrates and aquatic vegetation to new locations.

Audubon encourages the use of IveGot1 to report sightings of snakeheads and all other non-native fishes to help track their spread.

While visiting Florida’s Special Places, help early detection and tracking efforts by reporting any non-native species you see online or using your smartphone (call 1-888-IVE-GOT-1 if you have a live animal in front of you).

How a 12-Year-Old Girl’s Science Project Changed the Way Scientists See Lionfish

Lauren Arrington was in the process of trying to figure out her sixth grade science project when she noticed a lionfish while fishing in the Loxahatchee River in south Florida. Lionfish had been spotted in Florida as early as 2010 and have since spread to many of its waters. Surprised to find it, the 12-year-old wanted to see if a dead lionfish’s spikes would still be venomous. Her father discouraged her from the idea, unwilling to be a human test subject. The daughter of two scientists began to wonder how the lionfish was surviving in the river and decided to do some investigating.

The results of her experiment would end up in a science journal and change the way scientists are dealing with a pervasive lionfish invasion in non-native waters.

A native of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the lionfish is relatively harmless in its natural habitat. Its prey consists of other marine animals in its environment. With a stomach that can expand to 30 times its normal volume, it can consume creatures that are up to half its body size and is only limited to prey that can fit into its mouth. Other species that include the lionfish as part of their diet include sharks, groupers, large eels and humans. The beauty of the lionfish’s long mane-like spikes makes it a favorite in exotic aquariums and belies their venomous nature.

For decades, however, the lionfish has been on a path of destruction pushing our earth’s waters to the brink of an ecological disaster.

The intentional release of lionfish from home aquariums has put them into non-native waters in the Western Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Prolific breeders with the ability to release up to 2 million eggs per year, the lionfish population has increased exponentially in just a few decades. They feed on marine animals that keep coral reefs healthy, as well as their eggs and offspring.

Devouring the marine life in their environment is something a lionfish does really, really well.

With the help of her father Lauren captured a few to take home to observe. She was aware of the lionfish invasion and decided to see in what conditions the lionfish could survive. She called her experiment Understanding the Limits of Lionfish Invasion. The hypothesis was that lionfish needed a certain amount of salinity in their environment. Scientists measure water salinity by the amount of salt found in 1000 grams of water. So if there is one gram of salt in 1000 grams of water, the amount of salinity would be expressed as 1 part per thousand, or 1ppt.

The salinity of the area where Lauren found the lionfish is part of the Jupiter inlet that connects to the Atlantic Ocean and averaged the same ocean salinity of 35 parts per thousand.

For two weeks, Lauren observed the lionfish’s food intake and stress levels as she reduced the salinity of the water. She believed that because of their natural ocean habitat, it would be unable to survive with a salinity of less than 13 parts per thousand. However, when that level was reached, there was no change in their behavior. She continued to lower the levels until she reached a salinity of 6 ppt. The lionfish survived.

Lauren had discovered that lionfish can survive in freshwater.

Her experiment got the attention of researchers at Florida International University and North Carolina State University. Due to the rules of the science fair, Lauren didn’t take the salinity any lower out of fear that the fish would die. Other researchers took the salinity to zero, discovering that the lionfish could tolerate a minimum of 5 parts per 1000 – generally the lowest salinity of most freshwater bodies.

The discovery is significant because scientists have not thought to look for the dangerous predator in freshwater areas until now. This completely human-made threat of the lionfish to ecosystems and commercial fishing is now much greater than previous believed. They can be a threat in the freshwaters where fish nurseries are kept and feed on the eggs and juvenile fish. They could also be feeding on any number of freshwater species not previously known to be in danger.

Not to mention, there are no natural predators for the lionfish in any of these areas.

In response, the state of Florida has banned the import of live lionfish into the area as of August 1, 2014. They have also expanded the areas where people can legally spear the lionfish with a permit. Harvesting of the fish is also being allowed as part of the effort to reduce the population. Researchers have also put out an alert to be on the lookout for the fish in previously unexamined waters.

Lauren’s research has since been peer reviewed three times. The results of the expanded study by Dr. Craig Layman, Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Fellow at North Carolina State University, and Zachary Jud, a graduate student at Florida International University, was published this year in the journal Environmental Biology of Fishes. Lauren’s research was cited and credited with the initial discovery.

Not bad for a 12-year-old whose research project earned her third place in a sixth grade science fair

Crystal Shepeard|July 13, 2014

USDA Announces First Citrus Greening Funding Allocations

United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Tuesday more than $1.5 million in funding to expand bio-control efforts to fight Huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening. This action is the first designation of funds by the Huanglongbing Multi-agency Coordination Group (HLB MAC Group) since it was established by Vilsack in December.

“Citrus greening poses a significant threat to the citrus industry and the thousands of jobs that depend on it. It could also further drive up fruit and juice prices if we don’t act,” said Secretary Tom Vilsack. “USDA is committed to fighting and beating this destructive disease.”

The funds announced Tuesday have enabled USDA to sign cooperative agreements with Florida (Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services), Texas (Texas Citrus Pest and Disease Management Corporation), and California (Citrus Research Board and California Department of Food and Agriculture) to coordinate the fight against citrus greening. These joint efforts will significantly increase the production of the parasitic wasp known to control populations of Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), the pest that spreads citrus greening in citrus trees.

Florida, Texas and California have developed biocontrol expansion plans that factor in regional elements in order to quickly bolster biocontrol production and release. This will expand the ability to control the ACP on a larger scale, especially in urban areas where citrus trees grow in yards as well as organic orchards. USDA’s efforts surrounding biocontrol date back to 2009.

Secretary Vilsack created the HLB MAC Group last December to foster greater coordination among federal and state agencies in responding to citrus greening. The Group includes representatives from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), as well as State departments of agriculture and the citrus industry. The HLB MAC Group serves to coordinate and prioritize Federal research with industry’s efforts to complement and fill research gaps, reduce unnecessary duplication, speed progress, and more quickly provide practical tools for citrus growers to use.

Previous USDA research funding to fight HLB includes commitments of approximately $1.5 million in each of the past three fiscal years by ARS in addition to NIFA steadily awarding increased grants from $878,000 in FY 2009 up to $10.4 million in FY 2012. Since 2006, the USDA has cumulatively invested more than $300 million on research efforts and actions associated with citrus health and combating citrus greening.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also announced today the appointment of 3 individuals to serve on the Citrus Disease Subcommittee, a subcommittee of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics (NAREEE) Advisory Board’s Specialty Crop Committee.

In 2011, the Secretary established the Citrus Disease Research and Development Advisory Committee as a permanent committee within the NAREEE Advisory Board to study the scope and effectiveness of research, extension, and economics programs affecting the citrus industry as it directly relates to citrus disease particularly citrus greening. The Agricultural Act of 2014 formally codified the Citrus Disease Subcommittee, which is composed of 9 members and operates under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Research, Education, and Economics (REE) Mission Area.

Each of the 9 Citrus Disease Subcommittee members must be a producer of citrus from Florida (5 representatives), California or Arizona (3 representatives), or Texas (1 representative). Each member serves a 2-3 year appointment. Terms for members overlap so that approximately one-third of the Subcommittee is replaced and/or reappointed each year.

The following members have been appointed to a 3-year term to expire on September 30, 2016:

  • David F. Howard, Vice President, Graves Brothers Company in Vero Beach, Florida;
  • Matthew McLean, CEO and Founder of Uncle Matt’s Organics in Clermont, Florida; and
  • Justin D. Brown, Vice President and General Manager, D Bar J Orchards, Inc. in Orange Grove, California.

The Citrus Disease Subcommittee advises the Secretary of Agriculture on citrus research, extension, and development needs, engages in regular consultation and collaboration with USDA, and provides recommendations for research and extension activities related to citrus disease.

The new members of the Citrus Disease Subcommittee will start work almost immediately when the subcommittee holds its first meeting beginning at noon on Monday, May 19 and Tuesday, May 20, 2014, at the NIFA Waterfront Center, 800 9th Street, SW, Washington, DC. Members will begin with a brief orientation session and an overview of current USDA research activities related to citrus greening. The members will then develop recommendations and vote on the priorities and agenda of the Emergency Citrus Disease Research and Extension program.

The meeting is open to the public, but those interested in attending must register by contacting Shirley Morgan-Jordan at Shirley.Morgan@ars.usda.gov or calling (202) 720-3684. A public comment period will be available at the end of each meeting or interested individuals may provide written comment for the public record if it is postmarked by May 30, 2014.

USDA|May 14th, 2014

For more information on the USDA MAC Group, please visit: www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?navid=citrus

Invasive Burmese pythons beginning to hatch

Burmese python eggs are hatching in parts of Southwest Florida. The Conservancy Science and Research Team and Florida Fish and Wildlife need your help to locate and capture these snakes.

There is no reason to be alarmed. But we do need people to be informed and alert so they can report sightings of this nonvenomous constrictor.

Adult female pythons that have been sitting on their eggs for the past two months and they will often leave their clutch a few days before they hatch.

They can travel a good distance searching for food and water and will typically be seen crossing roadways where they can be observed with greater frequency.

Hatchlings will typically show up on the roads soon after, often moving at night. They are usually found dead on the roads from vehicle strikes early in the morning.

Very few hatchlings have been reported north of Tamiami Trail and most pythons are spotted well away from the urban areas of Naples.

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.

It’s very important to note that Florida has many beneficial native snakes that are often misidentified as small pythons.

We absolutely do not want you to go out and start killing snakes that you believe to be a Burmese python. Instead, the best approach is to use the contact information below if you think you’ve spotted one.

What can you do?

If you spot a snake and you’re unsure what type it is, check the FWC website http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives/ for more information on non-native species.

Please keep a lookout for pythons on the roadways for the next few weeks. Take photos and a GPS location and report to the Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System webpage at www.ivegot1.org. And if you search “Ivegot1″ in the App Store, you can even download it right onto your phone!

If you’re standing in front of a large invasive snake, call 1-888-IVE-GOT1.

The geographic data helps researchers document the Burmese pythons’ expansion into new areas.

If you are interested in assisting the Conservancy over the next few weeks with night time road-cruising surveys, please contact Ian Bartoszek by email.

Please remember pythons are not a direct threat to humans but they are a considerable ecological threat to Florida’s native wildlife species.

Watch a short Video

Endangered Species

BRING BACK THE POLLINATORS!

Bees are undoubtedly the most abundant pollinators of flowering plants in our environment. The service that bees and other pollinators provide allows nearly 70 percent of all flowering plants to reproduce; the fruits and seeds from insect pollinated plants account for over 30 percent of the foods and beverages that we consume. Beyond agriculture, pollinators are keystone species in most terrestrial ecosystems. Fruits and seeds derived from insect pollination are a major part of the diet of approximately 25 percent of all birds, and of mammals ranging from red-backed voles to grizzly bears. However, many of our native bee pollinators are at risk, and the status of many more is unknown. Habitat loss, alteration, and fragmentation, pesticide use, and introduced diseases all contribute to declines of bees.

The Xerces Society advocates on behalf of bees. We are working with scientists and citizen monitors to understand the status of declining bumble bees and other rare species. We also work with lawmakers on legislation that encourages pollinator-friendly habitat restoration. Xerces Society staff consult with farmers, homeowners, and land stewards to restore the landscape for the benefit of bee pollinators.

Learn more about our Pollinator Conservation program. 

110 Research Chimps from Notorious Lab Retire to Sanctuary

It was a long and difficult road, but 110 former laboratory chimpanzees are now living the good life, far from the cages and experimentation that dominated their existence for decades.

The last of these lucky primates, ranging in age from 1 to 50, have arrived at Chimp Haven, the organization announce on July 2. There they will spend the remainder of their lives in comfort, able to play and interact with other chimps. It’s a joyous time for them after years spent locked away and tormented as government-funded research subjects.

Chimp Haven, a 200-acre facility located in Keithville, La., is the designated National Chimpanzee Sanctuary. Since 1995, it has provided permanent lifelong sanctuary for chimpanzees retired or rescued from biomedical research, the entertainment industry and private owners.

A Two-Year Journey From a Lab to a Life Worth Living

The bumpy road to sanctuary for the began in 2012, when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) decided to retire 110 of its research chimps from the now notorious New Iberia Research Center (NIRC).

Initially the NIH’s plan was to send only 10 chimps to Chimp Haven and the other 100 to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio. While they would not have been used further for active research in Texas, living in that facility wasn’t exactly the type of “retirement” most people wanted for these chimps.

It was simply an unacceptable outcome in the opinion of Chimp Haven’s president and CEO, Cathy Willis Spraetz.

“When we learned that all of the chimpanzees would not be retired to Chimp Haven, we felt they were being robbed of what was promised to them in the [Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection] Act, signed into law in 2000 and reauthorized in 2013,” Spraetz said in a press release.

The CHIMP Act provided that government-owned chimpanzees no longer needed for research would be retired to the National Chimpanzee Sanctuary, not sent to live in a lab.

Chimp Haven wanted to take in all of the NIRC chimps, but as of late 2012 didn’t have the facilities to care for so many. It needed to expand substantially to be able to house and properly care for them. In addition to the normal needs of chimpanzees, Chimp Haven has to be prepared to handle a variety of significant and permanent health conditions such as HIV and hepatitis affecting many of the chimp residents.

The group began an aggressive fundraising campaign called the Road to Chimp Haven. Its ambitious goal: to raise $5 million to cover construction and initial care expenses.

Generous donations from the National Anti-Vivisection Society, the American Anti-Vivisection Society, the New England Anti-Vivsection Society, the Humane Society of the United States and animal activists Bob Barker and Anita Hirsh enabled Chimp Haven to realize its dream. According to Chimp Haven:

Since the start of construction last year, six play areas have been completed which enabled the sanctuary to complete the transitioning phase for the chimpanzees. Currently, several bedrooms and one large open play ground are nearing completion which will allow more room for future growth.

Thanks to over 8,000 Care2 petition signatures and the many animal organizations and activists who raised funds and lobbied hard for these chimps, the NIH changed its mind. It agreed to retire all 110 of its NIRC chimpanzees to Chimp Haven.

“It was necessary to devise a plan that would offer a safe and caring atmosphere, one where these chimpanzees can live the rest of their lives in large social groups and determine on their own how they will spend their days, ” Spraetz said. “We, along with many others, felt that environment could only be achieved at Chimp Haven and thank NIH for reconsidering the plans for these chimpanzees.”

Undercover Work Revealed Disturbing Practices at New Iberia Lab

In 2009, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) placed an undercover investigator inside the New Iberia Research Center for nine months. Watch this video to see what HSUS revealed about how NIRC treated these chimps and other primates:

“In no lab I have visited have I seen so many chimpanzees exhibit such intense fear. The screaming I heard when chimpanzees were being forced to move toward the dreaded needle in their squeeze cages was, for me, absolutely horrifying,” renowned primate expert Dr. Jane Goodall told HSUS.

Thankfully, for the federally funded NIH chimps now living at Chimp Haven, this nightmare is over.

“We are thrilled that this great day has finally arrived,” Spraetz said. “Many organizations and individuals have worked tirelessly to ensure these chimpanzees would have a new beginning in a sanctuary environment. Our dreams have finally been realized for these amazing animals.”

The work isn’t done, however. “Because of the generosity of our donors, we have made great strides for these beautiful animals,” Spraetz said. “However, the public’s help is needed to close the $2 million funding gap that still remains and must be earmarked for their daily care for the remainder of their lives.”

This was one more wonderful step towards completion of NIH’s plan to retire 300 laboratory chimps. The bad news, however, is that the New Iberia Research Center is still up and running and still experimenting on primates. Only the federally funded chimps owned by the NIH were retired from that lab.

A heartbreaking 230 chimpanzees, along with other primates, are still owned by NIRC or others. They remain at that facility, suffering daily. When will their day of freedom arrive?

Susan Bird|July 14, 2014

Sad News for Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks, But There is Hope!

It’s not really the kind of “first” you want to be: The peculiar-looking but oddly beautiful scalloped hammerhead shark has just become the first shark species to be added to the US Endangered Species List.

Sphyrna lewini, as they’re known, are coastal to semi-oceanic sharks with a number of extremely vulnerable subpopulations. The move to classify them as endangered is in response to lobbying from several animal welfare groups who hoped to secure additional protections for these amazing creatures before it’s too late.

You see, the sharks are caught on a double-edged sword because of their habits; they tend to school closely together in large groups, which may be a useful adaptation for them, but it doesn’t work out so well in areas with active fisheries. Scalloped hammerheads of all ages and sizes are a common bycatch, which poses a serious risk to maintaining healthy populations because it’s difficult for the majestic animals to reproduce at replacement rate when their ranks are continually being thinned. Furthermore, and like other shark species, scalloped hammerheads are also targeted for their fins, which are considered a delicacy in China.

In response to growing concerns about the dwindling populations of scalloped hammerheads in the Eastern Atlantic and Eastern Pacific oceans, groups including Friends of Animals and WildEarth Guardians filed petitions with the National Marine Fisheries Service. Costa Rica and Ecuador also applied pressure to increase protections for these sharks before it’s too late. After considering the case and looking at the numbers, the agency agreed that the sharks were in need of stronger legal protections, and it took the important step of listing them as endangered, joining the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in its assessment of the threats facing scalloped hammerheads.

The US Endangered Species Act is the toughest piece of wildlife protection legislation in the world — like some of the very animals it aims to protect, it has serious teeth. Listing these sharks doesn’t just send a clear message that the US is concerned about their populations. It also entitles them to more legal protections, including: restrictions on the sale, trade, or ownership of scalloped hammerheads and products derived from them; closer monitoring of fisheries; harsher penalties for bycatch injuries; and more.

Shark advocates are pleased by this victory, which will make it easier to protect scalloped hammerheads, but they’re also concerned.

Hammerheads in general are a very fragile shark species (“fragile” and “shark” aren’t words you expected to encounter in the same sentence, were they?) and some fear that relatives of the scalloped hammerheads are also rapidly on the way to endangered status themselves, or possible extinction. Advocates also stress that while the endangered classification in the US provides legal protections here and on goods trafficked through the US (a nation which has been aggressively cracking down on trafficking in endangered species), global action is necessary to protect all sharks, including the scalloped hammerhead.

Sadly, without an international commitment to conservation, these mysterious, beautiful, almost unearthly creatures could vanish forever.

s.e. smith|July 14, 2014

Help wolverines get the protection they deserve

In Hollywood and in sports, wolverines symbolize fearlessness, strength, and determination. But in America’s wildlands, wolverines are fighting a losing battle against politics.

A leaked memo revealed that the Obama administration may overrule the conclusions of federal wildlife biologists and deny the last 250-300 wolverines in the lower 48 states Endangered Species Act protections. This decision has more to do with politics than science.

Though celebrated in pop culture, there are fewer than 300 wolverines still hanging on in the lower 48 states – and only 3 in Oregon. [0 in Michigan, “The Wolverine State”.] Last year, federal wildlife officials proposed Endangered Species Act protection for wolverines after finding that climate change is rapidly shrinking the snowy habitat they need to survive. These tenacious animals have also been hit hard by logging, off road vehicles, and other forms of habitat destruction.

Ignoring these facts, Montana and Wyoming – the same anti-wildlife states that demanded removal of endangered species protections for gray wolves – voiced their objections. The Obama administration now appears ready to bow to these states’ demands and overrule the recommendations of US Fish and Wildlife scientists.

When Obama took office, he promised he would put a stop to political interference in endangered species conservation. In 2009, the President promised that “…the work of scientists and experts in my administration, including right here in the Interior Department, will be respected. For more than three decades, the Endangered Species Act has successfully protected our nation’s most threatened wildlife, and we should be looking for ways to improve it, not weaken it.”

Last week’s leaked memo contradicts that promise. 

Wolverines are tough, but not tough enough to survive the politics of Washington, DC – and they need our help. President Obama needs to hear loud and clear that Americans want wolverines and other endangered species protected, not driven to extinction. Sign the petition to protect wolverines and tell President Obama to honor his promises to keep politics out of endangered species conservation!

You can help wolverines get the protection they need. Please sign #3 in “Calls to Action” above.

Quinn Read|Wildlife Coordinator|Oregon Wild

Grizzly Bears to Benefit From Closing Costly, Anachronistic Federal Sheep Station in Idaho

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Asked to Follow Through With June Proposal to Close 99-year-old USDA Facility

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo.— Conservation groups sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack today urging him not only to follow through on his proposal to close the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Sheep Experiment Station, west of Yellowstone, but to permanently end sheep grazing on more than 50,000 additional acres of public lands that provide important habitat corridors between the national park and Idaho for lynx, wolves and grizzly bears.

“We fully stand by Secretary Vilsack’s decision to shutter the sheep station,” Said Bryan Bird, Wild Places Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “It a relic of federal government subsidies for the livestock industry and the majority of Americans value Western public lands for wildlife and recreation not as a feed lot for a fading industry.”

As part of the plan, the organizations asked that the sheep station’s 48,000 acres be transferred to the nearby Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, and that an additional 56,000 acres grazed by the station on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands be permanently closed to livestock.

“This is great news for Yellowstone’s beleaguered wildlife,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Closing this anachronistic and wasteful USDA facility will provide safer habitat for wolves, grizzly bears, bighorn sheep and other sensitive animals that are part of the fabric of our national identity.”

The Sheep Experiment Station was founded in 1915, during President Woodrow Wilson’s administration, to conduct research aiding the sheep industry. But as noted in Secretary Vilsack’s decision letter, “the unit no longer has the critical mass of scientists.” Furthermore, the sheep station had conducted no environmental review of its activities, as the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act requires for all major federal activities, until it was sued by the Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project in 2007. Since that lawsuit was settled in 2008, the sheep station has missed multiple deadlines to document its effects on wildlife, even as other federal and state agencies repeatedly expressed concerns with those impacts.

“The livestock industry needs to face the fact that times have changed,” said Travis Bruner, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “The American public values wildlife corridors and ecological function over economically irresponsible government sheep ‘experiments.’ We applaud Secretary Vilsack’s decision and hope he will stand strong in the face of special interest pressure to reconsider.”

The sheep station grazes its namesake livestock close to the world’s largest aggregation of bighorn sheep, which are at risk from diseases spread by their domestic counterparts. 

The sheep station also isolates genetically lynx, wolves and grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park, because the station includes lands such as the Centennial Mountains that form a corridor of habitat between Yellowstone and the wildlands of central Idaho. In 2009 another branch of the USDA, Wildlife Services, killed the eight-member Sage Creek Pack of wolves due to depredations that began with the killing of a single sheep from the sheep station. 

In 2012 a radio-collared grizzly bear disappeared, and his cut-off collar was later found lodged under a rock in a stream flowing through the sheep station. Telemetry data and a law-enforcement report revealed that the bear and sheep were in the same place at the same time, and an empty .308-caliber rifle cartridge, which matches the rifles issued to the sheepherders, was recovered from the sheepherders’ camp. The report also says that sheepherders killed two black bears in the same area in 2012.

Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians and Gallatin Wildlife Association filed a lawsuit in June challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion for the sheep station, which erroneously states that no grizzly bear/human encounters have occurred. The groups have documents released through a Freedom of Information Act request that state grizzly bears have chased sheep herders in the past.

“There is no amount of sheep research that can justify putting human lives at risk,” said John Meyer of Cottonwood Environmental Law Center.

WildEarth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity, Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, Western Watersheds Project, Gallatin Wildlife Association and Yellowstone Buffalo Foundation, signed the letter to the secretary of agriculture. 

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Rare Lynx From Traps in Idaho

Increase in State-permitted Fur Trapping Leads to Illegal Trapping of Wild Cats

BOISE, Idaho— Five conservation groups filed a lawsuit today against the governor of Idaho and other state officials to halt trapping that harms and often kills Canada lynx, one of the rarest cats in the United States. The lawsuit charges Gov. Butch Otter, the director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and members of the state Fish and Game Commission with violations of the Endangered Species Act resulting from state permitting that leads to trapping and killing of lynx, a threatened species numbering as few as 100 animals in Idaho.

The state has failed to take any action to correct its destructive illegal activities despite repeatedly being alerted to the violations by the organizations filing today’s lawsuit, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, Friends of the Clearwater, WildEarth Guardians and the Western Environmental Law Center.

“With lynx being pushed to the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states, it’s shameful that Idaho officials have just sat idly by for years,” said Amy Atwood of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Idaho can’t just ignore federal law and go on condoning the trapping of this rare and magnificent cat.”

Under the Endangered Species Act, trapping of a lynx is illegal, regardless of whether the cat is killed, injured or released. Any agency permitting such trapping is also liable under the Act. Canada lynx are now under unprecedented threat from recreational and commercial trapping in Idaho. With a dramatic increase in fur prices, especially for bobcat, at least three incidents of lynx being unintentionally trapped have been  confirmed in just the last two years.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game can develop a conservation plan with measures to minimize incidental trapping of lynx and receive a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Such a plan would include restrictions on body-crushing and steel-jaw traps and snares, reporting requirements, and a daily trap check requirement throughout lynx habitat. Similar lawsuits in Minnesota and Maine have led to such restrictions.

“Idaho officials need to understand that a healthy Idaho population of this mountain cat is critical, not just to lynx survival here, but across the western United States,” said Travis Bruner, executive director of the Western Watershed Project. “We have to maintain a healthy breeding mix between Rockies and Canadian populations, and Idaho sits at the crossroads.”

Last year the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed more than 26 million acres of critical habitat across six states for the Canada lynx, which faces ongoing threats from habitat destruction and reduced snowpack from climate change.

“Lynx are a key part of what makes Idaho a world-class destination for viewing wildlife,” said Gary Macfarlane, ecosystem defense director at Friends of the Clearwater. “Sitting by while Idaho’s mountains and forests lose their last lynx would take away some of the richness that makes our state so special.”

Lynx are medium-sized, long-legged cats, ranging up to 24 pounds. They are generally nocturnal and well adapted to hunting snowshoe hare at high elevations.

“Idaho’s backwards approach to wildlife management proves the need for strong federal laws like the Endangered Species Act to ensure the survival and recovery of our most imperiled wildlife, including the Canada lynx,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. “The state is flouting federal law and disrupting functioning ecosystems by permitting cruel trapping of keystone species like wolves, bobcat and lynx.”

The lawsuit, which was filed today in federal district court in Boise, can be read here.

Bethany Cotton|June 30, 2014

Court Decision Protects Colorado Backcountry From Coal Mining, Safeguards Climate

Conservationists Force Agencies to Take a New Look At Carbon Pollution Impacts

Gunnison County, CO — A federal court ruling today rejected federal agencies’ approval of Arch Coal’s plans to bulldoze roads through 1,700 acres of Colorado’s backcountry, finding that carbon costs were illegally ignored when approving expanded coal mining.

U.S. District Court Judge Brooke Jackson issued a 36-page ruling that held that the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management inappropriately overlooked the cost of carbon emissions associated with more coal mining and coal combustion, violating federal law.

The decisions approved the expansion of the West Elk coal mine, which is located near Colorado’s iconic West Elk Wilderness Area in an area called the North Fork Valley. The decisions authorized Arch Coal to bulldoze roads and drill methane venting wells in the Sunset Roadless Area, a remote, pristine forest area next to the West Elk Wilderness and near the town of Paonia, Colorado.

Earthjustice, on behalf of the High Country Conservation Advocates, WildEarth Guardians, and Sierra Club filed suit in federal court last year to overturn Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service decisions approving bulldozing 6 miles of road and nearly 50 drilling pads in the Sunset Roadless Area’s aspen and spruce forest to permit underground coal mining below. The roadless area is in the Gunnison National Forest of western Colorado about 15 miles southeast of Paonia, next to the West Elk Wilderness.

“Today’s court ruling will ensure that Federal agencies take the hard look that the law requires at environmental harms before bulldozing roads throughout the Sunset Roadless Area,” said Alli Melton, Public Lands Director for High Country Conservation Advocates.  “Pristine forests, such as the Sunset Roadless Area, are part of Colorado’s natural heritage and can’t be replaced.  They provide substantial benefit to our local economies, hunting and angling alone brings in over $1 billion to the Colorado economy.  Clean air and clean water are essential necessities for our quality of life and for ensuring the West Elks remain a world-class recreation destination for years to come.  Requiring these values and benefits to be considered is another step to ensuring balanced public land management that supports diverse, resilient local economies.”

The area Arch Coal plans for road and drilling pad construction provides habitat for the threatened lynx, is crossed by the Sunset Trail (a backcountry hiking and horseback riding route), and provides a valuable link between the West Elk Wilderness Area and lower-elevation forests along the North Fork of the Gunnison River. 

The court’s decision halts for now Arch Coal’s plan to begin exploring for coal, which involves building 6 miles of road and scraping 10 drilling pads in the heart of the Sunset Roadless Area.  Arch hoped to begin drilling as early as next week. 

In analyzing the environmental impacts of expanded coal mining, the feds initially found that the carbon pollution costs could be more than $1 billion annually. However, in approving the new mining, the feds scrapped this analysis, effectively finding that the costs of carbon would be $0. Today’s ruling rejected that analysis as arbitrary.

The Court found that the feds failed to take into account the impacts of global warming from expanded coal mining, both in approving Arch Coal’s plans and in approving the Colorado Roadless Rule, a rule that carved out protections of roadless areas in the North Fork Valley in order to accommodate more coal mining. The Court held that the Forest Service looked at the benefits to the local economy but ignored the global costs of climate change.  The Court stated: “It is arbitrary to offer detailed projections of a project’s upside while omitting a feasible projection of the project’s costs.”

“This decision means that agencies can’t bury their heads in the sand when confronting the very real impacts of climate change,” said Ted Zukoski, attorney with Earthjustice. 

In addition to finding that the feds failed to take into account carbon costs before approving more coal mining, the court also found the Forest Service and BLM failed to consider the impacts of road construction to those who use the roadless area for recreation, and failed to consider limiting the total amount of road construction.

“This mine expansion was a lose-lose-lose proposition,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director. “We stood to lose our backcountry at the expense of our climate. Thankfully, the feds will have to take into account the costs of carbon pollution before approving more coal mining.”

The Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service decisions challenged in the lawsuit authorized the leasing of 10.1 million tons of coal under 1,700 acres of the Sunset Roadless Area, which would expand Arch’s West Elk Coal Mine. At current production rates, the leasing would keep the West Elk Coal Mine operating for about 3 years.  Without the leases, the mine would still continue to operate for at 8-10 more years.  The Colorado Roadless Rule’s decision lifting the ban on road construction paved the way for decisions that could result in as much as 347 million additional tons of coal to be mined in Colorado.

“BLM’s federal coal leasing program has a massive impact on our climate and public health, affecting the waters we use, the air we breathe, and the wild areas we enjoy.  For years, BLM has been telling the public that its individual coal leasing decisions–even those approving hundreds of millions of tons of coal–have no impact on our climate. This decision means that just saying there’s no impact doesn’t mean there’s no impact,” said Roger Singer, Senior Organizing Manager with the Sierra Club in Colorado.

Although the West Elk mine is underground, the coal seams are some of the gassiest in the nation, which requires Arch to drill natural gas wells above the coal seams to vent explosive methane gas. 

The methane gas vented by Arch coal is not only a valuable product (natural gas), it’s also a powerful global warming pollutant.  According to the Forest Service, the planned methane venting will release the equivalent of 1.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, equal to the greenhouse gas emissions from 250,000 passenger vehicles.

A spaghetti-web of roads and pock-marks of well pads for the existing West Elk mine adjacent to the expansion area can be easily seen on Google maps.  To view Google images of existing methane venting above the West Elk coal mine, click here >>

The Court enjoined any road construction in the roadless area, and asked attorneys for all parties to discuss how the agencies should proceed in light of the decision.

Photos of the Sunset Roadless Area, as well as damage outside the area from coal mining, can be downloaded here

Jeremy Nichols|June 27, 2014  

First Shark Species Listed Under the Endangered Species Act

Four Populations of Scalloped Hammerhead Shark Gain Much Needed Protections

Washington, DC – In response to a 2011 petition by WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals, today the National Marine Fisheries Service (Fisheries Service) listed four populations of scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because of severe threats posed by human exploitation. Shark species worldwide are dwindling in the face of heavy fishing pressures; sharks are killed for their meat and fins, which are used in highly controversial shark-fin soup. Sharks are also accidentally caught and killed in the course of fishing operations targeting other species. Experts consider fishing the greatest threat to all sharks.

“It’s sobering that we must begin adding shark species to the endangered species list,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Our oceans are in serious trouble and this is only the first step toward protecting and restoring the ocean ecosystems these amazing carnivores call home.”

Most sharks, including the scalloped hammerhead, play an important role in maintaining oceanic ecosystems as apex carnivores. Ecosystem stability and biodiversity, main goals of the ESA, can seriously suffer from the removal of a top predator. Scalloped hammerheads can be grouped into six distinct populations distinguished by genetics, geography, and behavior. The ESA allows populations to be listed in the same way as an entire species or subspecies as long as they are distinct and significant. This allows for the protection of important genetic variation and unique behaviors that might otherwise be lost. The listing rule protects the Central and Southwest Atlantic Distinct Population Segment (DPS) and the Indo-West Pacific DPS as “threatened” and the Eastern Atlantic and Eastern Pacific DPSs as “endangered.”

“The listing of the scalloped hammerhead is an important indication that the human exploitation of marine species has taken its toll.” said Michael Harris, director of Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program. “In fact, nearly half of all marine species worldwide face the threat of extinction as a result of anthropogenic action, including destructive fishing methods, pollution, climate change and ocean acidification. It is about time that our government took action to protect hammerheads; now they should do the same for the many species still awaiting review under the ESA.”

Listing species under the Endangered Species Act is a proven effective safety net for imperiled species: more than 99 percent of plants and animals listed under the Act persist today. The law is especially important as a bulwark against the current extinction crisis; plants and animals are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct if not for ESA listing. Listing species with a global distribution can both protect the species domestically, and help focus U.S. resources toward enforcement of international regulation and recovery of the species.

Taylor Jones July 3, 2014

Are wolverines back in Utah?

The last time anyone saw one of these critters in Utah was 35 years ago when a roadkill carcass was found along U.S. Highway 40 east of Vernal.

But last winter a motion-sensing camera, one of four rigged on the Uinta Mountains’ north slope, captured 27 images of a wolverine sniffing around an empty bait station, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR).

The find, made in the Blacks Fork drainage in Summit County, was announced Wednesday, one month before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to decide whether to list this rare predator under the Endangered Species Act. The animal was largely eliminated from its range in the lower 48 states by the early 20th century, due to trapping and poisoning campaigns targeting predators.

Although wolverine tracks have been confirmed in the Uintas in recent years, DWR officials aren’t ready to say whether wolverines have re-established a presence in Utah’s northern mountains. This is because wolverines have home ranges up to 1,000 square miles and males are known to roam for miles outside those ranges.

“It could be an animal that passed through the area and has since moved on, never to be seen again,” mammals conservation coordinator Kim Hersey said.

Utah State University wildlife biologist Mike Wolfe also cautioned against rushing to conclusions. He suspects lone male wolverines have been passing unnoticed through Utah for years, pointing to photographs of tracks taken by one of his graduate students.

To prove the species has re-established itself, “you need to have multiple sightings in a relatively small area in a short time frame,” said Wolfe, a professor emeritus. “The best thing would be where you had a female with cubs.”

News of the photos still excited conservationists.

“I am ecstatic. It proves the return of the wolverine to Utah and the Uinta Mountains and it will have an impact on motorized recreation and logging in the Uintas,” said Kevin Mueller, Southern Rockies conservation manager for WildEarth Guardians. “No matter how you cut it, those are additional impacts to a species that is extremely sensitive to disturbance.”

He argued the wolverine photographs provide new and significant information that should give the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest pause before signing off on a timber harvest proposed on 4,400 acres in the Smith Fork, the drainage immediately to the east of Blacks Fork. A decision is expected to be issued as early as Thursday.

Brian Maffly|The Salt Lake Tribune|Jul 02 2014

As Rhinos Die, CITES Hands Out Certificates

CITES is currently meeting again. Discussions on the fate of our rhinos are taking place as you’re reading this.

As poachers kill, and rangers fight, CITES is talking. While the slaughter continues, CITES is handing out certificates.

Looking at the CITES agenda, some of the recommendations on the rhino are as follows:

*Mozambique should develop a national rhino horn action plan, with timeframes and milestones, and submit this to the Secretariat by 8th August 2014.

*Mozambique is requested to submit a comprehensive report on progress in the implementation of its national rhino action plan, and on any other action taken… to be submitted to the Secretariat by 31st January 2015.

*Viet Nam is requested to provide a further comprehensive report on actions taken…including, in particular, by providing an update on the implementation of the Prime Minister’s Directive On strengthening the direction and implementation of measures for controlling and protecting endangered, rare and precious wild animals, and a detailed update on update on arrests, seizures, prosecutions and penalties for offences related to illegal rhinoceros horn possession and trade in Viet Nam…to be submitted to the Secretariat by 31st January 2015.

And what happens if they don’t receive these reports? Or if the reports are showing these countries are failing? Non-compliance will be met with….what?

It is time to enact sanctions against the offending parties. Our wildlife deserves better than “talk”. It is time for action, swift and decisive action. There isn’t time for anything else.

Rhino Girl|July 10, 2014 

Wild & Weird

So is there a Loch Ness Monster in Siberia?

A Moscow scientist is calling for a new scientific expedition to solve the mystery of a huge ‘monster’ claimed to be living in remote Lake Labynkyr in Siberia.

Known as ‘Russia’s Loch Ness Monster’, the accounts of the creature in Yakutia predate the Scottish claims yet in many ways are similar.

Intriguingly, too, there are theories that Labynkyr – which has unusual cracks on its 60 to 80 meter deep floor  – is connected by underwater channels to another lake, Vorota, where monster sightings have also been recorded, including by respected Soviet geologist Viktor Tverdokhlebov, an academician not given to hyperbole.

Associate Professor of Biogeography Lyudmila Emeliyanova revealed to The Siberian Times that on her own scientific mission to Labynkyr she recorded ‘several seriously big underwater objects’ with sonar readings. 

She is not the only researcher to have done so.  

‘It was our fourth or fifth day at the lake when our echo sounding device registered a huge object in the water under our boat,’ she said.

‘The object was very dense, of homogeneous structure, surely not a fish nor a shoal of fish, and it was above the bottom. I was very surprised but not scared and not shocked, after all we did not see this animal, we only registered a strange object in the water. But I can clearly say – at the moment, as a scientist, I cannot offer you any explanation of what this object might be.’

The readings were repeated and she became convinced there was more than one large living object in the pure waters.

‘I can’t say we literally found and touched something unusual there but we did register with our echo sounding device several seriously big underwater objects, bigger than a fish, bigger than even a group of fish.

‘This is why I fully support the idea of a new trip there and extra research.

‘I would love to take part in another visit to this lake. I know how to organize it and know enough good local people who can help on the spot. It is a hard trip I must say but it is definitely worth doing it again. This mysterious and very deep lake still has some secret to tell us.’

Freshwater Labynkyr, some 5,000 km east of Moscow, is mysterious for another reason, too. It is only around 60 kilometers from the settlement of Oymyakon – the coldest inhabited place on Earth – yet, astonishingly, the lake does not freeze over completely in winter, in contrast to virtually all lakes in the region. The ice that does form, unusually, can be too thin to walk on.  It is not uncommon to driver cars on lakes in Yakutia in winter: but not Labynkyr.

One unproven theory is that Labynkyr, where much of the rock is volcanic, is warmed slightly from below by a fissure in the Earth’s crust.

Dr Emeliyanova, from the Biogeography Department of the Geographical Faculty of Moscow State University, is struck by historical accounts of monsters in Labynkyr and Vorota and believes they are credible.

They date from the late 19th century, while accounts of the Loch Ness monster are usually held to have emerged in the 1930s.

On the basis of ‘sightings’ there has been speculation that Labynkyr and Vorota might be inhabited by a school of ichthyosaurs, prehistoric marine reptiles resembling dolphins or sharks, or plesiosaurs, a popular theory concerning ‘Nessie’ in Scotland which is often depicted with a long neck.

Another version has speculated that relic killer whales could have become marooned in Labynkyr. Some accounts even suggest the ‘creature’ makes a hideous primeval cry as it attacks its prey.

‘Personally, I do believe that when the information about something strange circulates among local people for so many years, it just can’t be groundless, it means something is there,’ she said. ‘I know the local people very well – they are ingenuous but they do not lie,’ she said previously.

Now she adds: ‘I have been on a dozen expeditions to this region and I can say I know the character of local people quite well. They are emotional – but are not intended to show their emotions and they are very true and honest by nature, often more honest than is necessary. This is why I am not ready to reject all these stories.’

For her another factor is how the stories of monsters in Yakutia relate solely to these two lakes out of more than 800,000 across this giant region.

‘There are many lakes in Yakutia and around the Indigirka River, hundreds of them, big and small, their shores are more or less populated, but all the talk is about Labynkyr and Vorota lakes, and it has gone on for many dozens of years. It makes us think about it. And these stories about the local monster are older than those about the Loch Ness monster.’

Even so, she insisted of her 2002 trip: ‘I did not go there to chase the lake monster: as a biogeographer I was interested mainly in that very territory, I wanted to visit and study it.

‘But, of course, I was curious to see the place which has so many legends and stories. I did not suppose we could really find something there simply because we did not plan to spend there enough time. Our stop by the lake was just for 12 days.

‘As a scientist I know this is not enough to locate and study some unknown creature. I can put it like this, however. I believe there is a mystery in this lake because there is no smoke without fire.

‘I am sure that numerous legends which exist and circulate for many years just can’t be groundless. I read many different legends but the account below is what I heard with my own ears.

‘Several fishermen who visit this lake from time to time say they experienced the following when fishing from a boat in this lake: during quiet, and not windy, weather when there were no disturbances in the lake, some strange waves coming from under the water suddenly heavily shook their boats.

‘It was as if a big body was moving under the water and producing waves which reached the surface and shook the vessel.’

She explained: ‘These stories shook me up, for instance, about a boat which was lifted by something or somebody. Two fishermen were fishing in the middle of the lake in late Autumn, they were in a 10 meter long boat when suddenly the bow began to rise as if somebody was pushing it from under the water.

‘It was a heavy boat, only a huge and strong animal can do such a thing. The fishermen were stuck by fear. They did not see anything, no head, no jaws. Soon the boat went down.’

Another account of an entirely separate trip to the lake in August 2006 – where researchers used a Hummingbird Piranha MAX 215 Portable fish-finder – produced results echoing her findings. Images are available from this trip – some are shown here – but the identities of those who took part are hidden.

‘The conditions were ideal – clear cold fresh water, no big waves, stone bottom without plants there, no engine on the boat, soft and slow moving – all this means there were almost no problems for the scanning,’ claimed one of those present.

‘Often the device showed the long chain of big fish some 4 meters above the bottom of the lake, when the depth was about 30-45 meters.

‘The further we went away from the shore, the deeper the lake was, at one moment there was no fish registered for a long period long, the screen was dead. But all of a sudden it blew up with signals about a huge shoal of fish, just like a cloud.

‘Let me say a word about local fish – all kinds of fish here are predators, the bottom of the lake is ‘dead’, stones with sand, very cold near the bottom, no plants. Fish-predators just cannot swim all together making such a huge shoal, anybody familiar with Zoology will understand what I mean.

‘This is why it meant nothing else but the huge swimming object with some air inside.

‘We went twice above the object, it was at the depth of 30 metres (where the floor was 50 metres below). The upper ‘fish’ was at a depth of 25 metres, the lower ‘fish’ at 32 metres. It suggests the object was seven metres wide. What was it? We can’t say.

‘I switched off the ‘Fish ID’ and we watched just pure scanning…..soon we registered a ‘shadow’ some 15-17 meters under our boat, it was about 6.5 meters long. It was pretty clear, it was not a fish and not a tree. There cannot be fish that big, and a log would have been registered in a different way. How can it swim under the water?

‘The most active ‘shadows’ or ‘bodies’ were registered in certain parts of the lake when the depth was 42 to 60 metres.’

‘The next shadow; the width of the object is about 70 cm, and although the screen shows its silhouette differently to how we imagined, my mind vividly paints a picture of a beast, swimming across the echo device scanning ray.

‘Another object was ‘caught’ at the depth of 20 meters. It was definitely a live creature – look at the density! – but of a smaller size, like 2.5 meters.

Perhaps another giant fish. Or a baby of our monster?’

Pictures here show the some of the images seen on the scanning device, including sketches (drawn on the screen in red) to show how the ‘monster’ might look.

On another amateur trip to explore the lake, in 2000, Russian traveler Vladimir wrote: ‘There was a signal from our echo sounding device, something was moving around our net with fish, something very big, seven to ten meters, it is hard to say because we did not know the speed of the object.

‘And our nerves are not made of iron, there were two of us in the rubber boat, far away from the shore… we did not want to find it out, just got away from there…

‘There were interesting trails on the water as if something big enough is swimming not very deep and playing in the water… There is a strange island there. It is in the middle of the lake and lots of broken nests of the sea gulls. The gulls were just crushed alive when they were asleep and did not have a chance to fly away. Some birds were eaten, some just left there… Who did it?

‘In my humble opinion… there are four or five big animals in this lake, not more. If people do not rush there, maybe they will survive.’

In the 1960s, there are accounts of ‘a monster with a long neck coming up out of the lake making an eerie sound’. Some versions say it was lizard-like.

In Soviet times and before, the lake was almost inaccessible. Today that is changing. Travel companies in Yakutsk, capital of Yakutia or the Sakha Republic, are already offering private trips to visit the lake, enabling people to carry out their own monster hunts.

This perhaps gives an added urgency to Dr Emeliyanova’s plans to reach the lake and explore it in a fully scientific way: yet funds, so far not found, are needed to support this venture.

She emphasized: ‘Apart from the legends about this monster, this lake is quite mysterious itself, for instance distances are hard to measure there.

‘Probably it is diffraction of light but still – I mean when you are sailing in a boat and you clearly see the shore is quite far away, in a minute you all over a sudden get there and hit the ground…. One shore is just drift sands. One of the islands on the lake sometimes is not visible, like a mirage in the desert, it comes and goes.

‘There is an amazing fact, too, that this lake is never totally frozen, not  what you would expect as it is not far from the Pole of Cold.

‘But this is the fact, the lake is never fully covered by ice. If it had been fully covered, we could have closed this story about the monster forever. It could not survive.

‘The question is – why it is not completely frozen? Probably because of its depth, I can suppose, too, it is somehow warmed from the bottom but it is not really my part of science and would like to give you the opinion of some colleague here rather then my suggestion. I met scientist in Yakutsk who told me they registered the depth of 80 meters in Labynkyr lake.’

There is also ‘an absence of plants there… it is another mystery.

‘There are 13 fish species in the lake.  Of course they eat one another but not all of them, some would need plants for food, yet these appear to be absent.’

While she has conducted no research on it, she said that ‘some scientists believe that this lake is connected with other lakes on the same plateau, at least with Lake Vorota, via some underground tunnel system’.

Accounts of strange creatures in the lake – often called the ‘Labynkyr Devil’ – have been passed down from generation to generation.

One one version the monster is of dark grey color with a huge mouth and ‘distance between its eyes is just as the size of raft made of ten logs’. The legend says that this animal is aggressive, it can attack people and animals, it can leave the water and go on the shore.

A more recent ‘sighting’ involved a party of geologists some of whom went fishing on the lake. ‘Suddenly those in the boat started screaming – apparently they saw a huge head of some creature. Others, who were waiting for them on shore, started shooting, and scared the creature away’.

Some years ago Itogi magazine analysed the sightings and concluded: ‘Comparing the stories we can say that it is 9-10 metres long, 1.2-1.5 metres wide, its jaw is huge, up to one-third the size of its body, looking like a huge beak with lots of teeth, and there is a sort of bone-made horn on the top of the animal. The creature was met either in Labynkyr or in Vorota lake – locals believe these lakes are connected to each other with the help of  underground passages.’

Grasping for mundane theories to explain what the creature might be – if not a leftover from the Jurassic Age that somehow defied both extinction and the Ice Age – some have suggested an abnormally huge and well-fed pike.

Yury Gerasimov, head of the Ichthyology Department of the Institute of Biology of Freshwater of the Russian Academy of Sciences, is dubious. ‘I have never come across such a big pike and I highly doubt they can exist.

‘If we trust the stories about this ‘Devil’, there must be about 1.5 metres between its eyes. It means the length of its body must be about 7-8 metres.

‘Pike do not live so long in order to reach such a big size. There are two factors that help fish to grow – nutrition and comfortable water temperatures. Even if nutrition is perfect there, surely the temperatures are not that high. So in my opinion the view about a huge pike is a fantastic one.’

Another Russian traveller Sergei Karpukhin, a former geologist who once spent 35 days alone at Labynkyr, questions two basic premises of the monster theory. If these monsters were to survive down the ages, there must be sufficient of them to reproduce. There would also need to be connections to other lakes, something he disputes.

‘A little pack of them, like male/female plus several cubs is not enough,’ he said.  ‘To survive this population must have such a number of animals that the lake would be swarming with them.

‘Or at least there should be such number of them, that they would not go unnoticed – given the description of them being quite big, and the lake is not that large.

‘I even think that there will need to be more creatures in the neighbouring lakes which the Labynkyr ones can be in contact with. Only then they can survive.

‘Now the Labynkyr Devil defenders would, I know, refer to Lake Vorota, some 20 km away from Labynkyr. This is where Tverdokhlybov saw that mysterious creature. Here the legend has some extra bits to it, that allegedly the lakes are connected with some underground canals. I will argue this from a position of a geologist: it is possible to have two connected lakes. BUT, when the lakes of karstic origin. There must be some carbonaceous stones,  which can be dissolved by water.

‘But there aren’t any. The stones there are all volcanic.’

The Siberian Times reporter|18 September 2012

Everglades

The L-8 and C-51 Reservoirs

The L-8 reservoir. previously called the Loxahatchee Reservoir,  is a rock mine that has been converted to a below-ground reservoir. 

The reservoir  turned old rock mines west of Royal Palm Beach into a 24 billion-gallon reservoir that collect stormwater that otherwise gets drained out to sea for flood control. The SFWMD approved the $64 million pumps needed to pull water from 40′ in September  of 2012.  The project is part of the State’s $880 million water quality plan for the Everglades.  The reservoir will eventually become one of three Flow Equalization Basins in the restoration strategies plan, providing 99,000 acre-feet of storage for delivery of consistent flows needed to optimize performance of the region’s Stormwater Treatment Areas.

Existing canals operated by the South Florida Water Management District and Lake Worth Drainage District would then be used to move the water south, supplementing drinking water well fields in Palm Beach and Broward counties.

Core Mission Values

The reservoir will be able to capture excess water in the wet season to improve year-round flows to the Grassy Waters Preserve, the Loxahatchee Slough, and the Loxahatchee River.

This reservoir adds capacity to help manage regional water supply through seasonal fluctuations and improve the hydroperiods of regionally significant wetland systems.

Other Resource Value

The site falls within a wildlife corridor that is being established to connect the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area to the north with the stormwater treatment areas and National Wildlife Refuge to the south.

C-51 Reservoir

Water agencies in Southeast Florida have been working together to develop a regional water supply that is sustainable and affordable. The C-51 Reservoir – named after its primary water source, the C-51 drainage canal – has emerged as the leading candidate to meet these requirements. It is calculated that the reservoir could meet the future raw water demands for Palm Beach and Broward Counties for the next 50 years.

Occupying 2,200 acres of the PBA property, the C5-1 Reservoir, when implemented, could store up to 61,000 acre-feet of raw water. The initial phase would hold approximately 16,000 acre-feet and supply 35 million gallons per day (MGD) of raw water to participating utilities. Phase Two will add an additional +-45,000 acre-feet of water storage.

While serving as a municipal water supply, the reservoir will be capable of capturing storm water which is currently lost to the Lake Worth Lagoon estuary. It is expected that elimination of excess freshwater discharges to the brackish Lake Worth Lagoon will provide immense environmental benefits through water quality improvement. The reservoir would also serve to assist with flood control and Everglades restoration efforts. Comparable to the Loxahatchee Reservoir project, completed in 2007 and renamed the L8 Reservoir, the C-51 Reservoir sits on adjacent property and carries similar geological features and environmental benefits.

L-8 Reservoir can capture, store and deliver +- 45000 acre feet to improve performance of the STAs

C-51 Reservoir could capture and store  +-75000 acre feet of water from the C-51 Basin for regional water supply

National Research Council Releases 2014 “Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades”

The National Research Council released a new report assessing progress towards Everglades Restoration. This independent review stresses the need to re-invest in restoration efforts, noting that the ecosystem continues to be in peril. Insufficient funding and delays in project authorization have slowed the pace of restoration efforts, leaving this unique habitat cutoff from the freshwater flows that keep the Everglades healthy. View Audubon’s summary of the Report here.

Audubon urges state and federal decision-makers to heed the Review’s call to reinvest in science and monitoring, complete the Central Everglades Planning Project and accelerate restoration efforts in the face of rising seas and other impacts of climate change.

Everglades|July 11, 2014

Read More

Everglades restoration is a gamble, but it’s necessary if South Florida is to survive, everyone agrees.

Millions of people consider South Florida home today because thousands of miles of canals, levees and dams were built in the early 20th century to drain the Everglades and make way for neighborhoods, golf courses, malls, condos and farms.

But that monumental engineering feat also turned what was once a clear, shallow sheet of freshwater flowing freely from Lake Okeechobee to the Florida Bay into a toxic stew, slowly ruining the habitat for plants and animals in one of the Earth’s most diverse ecosystems.

It reduced the size of the Everglades by half, leaving fewer wetlands to filter water clear and more farmland and yards to fertilize. That means too little water during droughts and too much during the wet season; aquifers and wells, which provide much of the region’s drinking water, not being sufficiently recharged; and salt water creeping inland without a robust flow of fresh water underground to hold it back.

Unless Florida re-plumbs the massive drainage system and restores clean water to the once soggy region, the long-term likelihood that there will be enough water to drink, irrigate crops, fill swimming pools and make

golf courses green is doubtful.

In other words, scientists, bureaucrats and farmers agree, the Everglades must be restored if South Florida is to survive.

“When you consider that 90 percent of the people in South Florida get their drinking water from the Biscayne Aquifer and the Everglades recharges the Biscayne Aquifer… the Everglades touches the lives of everyone by sustaining the water supply of the lower east coast,” said Ernie Barnett, assistant executive director at the South Florida Water Management District who has spearheaded restoration efforts for 25 years.

   A natural solution

The envisioned fix, in the works now for nearly 40 years, is to build tens of thousands of acres of shallow wetlands south of Lake Okeechobee and then use “green technology” – plants that thrive on high levels of nutrients – to clean polluted water from farms and urban areas before the water flows to the Everglades. These shallow reservoirs, the largest man-made wetlands in the world, have required massive land purchases and extensive engineering.

   The problem is it’s a big, expensive gamble.

Even with the best minds using the most advanced science and engineering to model what will likely happen, no one can guarantee that backfilling canals, re-routing water and building city-sized water storage and treatment areas will work on such a massive scale.

Take projects such as the A-1 Reservoir, about 35 miles west of Boca Raton, and the Ten-Mile Creek Water Preserve, near Fort Pierce. The projects were intended to help the Everglades by providing storage that would enable water managers to control flows for a consistent and reliable supply of water to keep the ecosystem properly hydrated. Taxpayers spent $300 million on the two projects. Neither worked. Both sit idle today, although water managers hope to salvage the A-1 Reservoir site with a shallow-water storage area.

Even so, progress has been made.

Five constructed wetlands, called stormwater treatment areas, are complete and have retained 3.4 million pounds of phosphorous, according to the water management district, the state agency overseeing restoration.

Already, 14 miles of the once meandering Kissimmee River, straightened by the Army Corps of Engineers during the 1960s to provide flood control, have been restored to its slow, winding path north of Lake Okeechobee. When complete in 2015, the natural flow will be restored to another 16 miles of the river. Already wetlands have emerged and populations of wading birds, ducks and large-mouth bass are up.

And with the completion of a bridge over the Tamiami Trail in Miami-Dade County this year, a flow path was opened to allow more water into Everglades National Park.

  Slow, fraught with problems

But there’s no denying that the several decades of Everglades restoration has been a slow and often invisible process. Most efforts have focused on logistics

, litigation, scientific research and negotiating land deals, and so many projects have been revised and so many deadlines missed that no one knows exactly when the restoration will end and how many billions of dollars it will cost.

In 1994, the projected completion date was 2006. In 2003, the completion date was pushed back to 2016. Construction timelines now show the restoration will be complete in 2025 and will cost $8 billion.

Little wonder. Restoration of the Everglades, after all, is the world’s largest environmental restoration project ever attempted, rivaled in size only by efforts to re-plumb the marshes of Mesopotamia, part of the fertile crescent believed by anthropologists to be one of the birthplaces of civilization. Saddam Hussein drained those wetlands in the 1990s to punish its rebellious residents, and now several non-governmental environmental groups in Iraq hope to restore the wetlands.

   Part of ’70s enviro wave

Early efforts to protect and restore Florida’s water resources, including the Everglades, coincided with a wave of environmental consciousness that swept the country in the 1970s. The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, harnessed the energy of the antiwar movement.

Besides Watergate, the birth of Microsoft and the end of the Vietnam War, the 1970s saw the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, passage of the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the founding of Greenpeace and interest in restoring the Everglades.

In 1976, Congress approved the first Everglades-related restoration project when it authorized the Army Corps to undo a project it had finished just five years earlier. The straightening of the slow, meandering Kissimmee River was a well-intentioned effort to control flooding north of Lake Okeechobee, but its effect was devastating as it allowed polluted water from crops, dairy farms and cattle ranches to wash quickly into the river, destroying wildlife habitat and contaminating the lake – the liquid heart of the greater Everglades.

Although it took the Corps just 11 years to channelize the river, it has taken more than 36 years to restore the bends and oxbows, a lag time that would be repeated over and over with other restoration projects.

Meanwhile, the population, especially in South Florida, exploded. In 1980 the state’s population was 9.7 million. By 2000, it had jumped to 15.9 million. Today, 19.3 million people call Florida home, each using between 80 and 100 gallons of water every day.

As waterfront property became more scarce, developers gobbled up land farther west, taking

out swaths of the wetlands and prairies to build new towns in what once was the Everglades. Undeveloped lands that once absorbed rainwater and recharged aquifers were paved over. A web of canals captured nutrient-laden water from backyards, citrus groves and more than 400,000 acres of sugarcane fields

and dumped it into larger canals, which carried it to Lake Okeechobee and other waterways that flowed directly into the Everglades.

Politicians spent much of the early 1980s passing legislation to protect water and restore the Everglades. A succession of Florida governors put partisan squabbling aside

and built momentum for the cause. For example, Gov. Bob Graham, a Democrat, unveiled his Save Our Everglades plan in 1983. Republican Gov. Jeb Bush championed restoration with an annual commitment of $200 million during his term.

Still, most of the progress was on paper and phosphorous levels continued

to climb. Fed up with the slow progress, Dexter Lehtinen, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, sued the water management district on behalf of the federal government in 1988.

The lawsuit, which continues today, accused Florida of failing to enforce its water quality standards in the Everglades. It also established a new costly front: the courtroom. Other lawsuits followed, including one filed by the Miccosukee Tribe, who hired Lehtinen after he left his government position.

More state and federal agencies, environmental groups and sugar growers found themselves mired in the costly litigation. By mid-2011, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection had spent $3.8 million on private lawyers, including one who billed $585 an hour.

A federal judge became so fed up that in April 2011 he issued a scathing order demanding progress in meeting limits on phosphorous pollution.

“None of the governmental agencies involved directly told the public the hard truth: we have not solved the problem, we do not know for sure when the problem will be solved, and we do not know if the Everglades will survive by the time we can meet the 10 parts per billion standard (if at all),” U.S. District Judge Alan S. Gold wrote.

Gold’s frustration and that of another federal judge resulted in an agreement in 2012 between state and federal agencies and environmental groups on how and when the phosphorous limits would be met. If the standard of 10 ppb of phosphorous is found to be exceeded in the Everglades, growers could face stricter methods for controlling phosphorous-rich fertilizers used on crops or the government could be forced to build more filtering wetlands.

Some say this standard came into play this summer in a way that shows that despite a century of efforts to drain, chop up and re-route the greater Everglades, it remains one system.

Billions of gallons of water from Lake Okeechobee and storm-water runoff in the Treasure Coast have been flushed into St. Lucie Estuary and Caloosahatchee River this summer, killing sea grasses, oyster beds and leaving the water unsafe for swimming.

Environmentalists say the district won’t allow more water south from Lake Okeechobee because it fears violating the 10 ppb standard in the Everglades and it doesn’t want to flood crops. The district says its storage areas south of the lake can’t take any more water until other restoration projects are complete. The Army Corps, responsible for the releases into the river and estuary, says it has been forced to release water because lake levels are so high they threaten the dike surrounding the lake.

Although restoration cannot bring back the Everglades to its original state, Barnett envisions a “Xerox reduction – an Everglades with a smaller footprint that functions like the original Everglades did.”

Unlike other construction projects paid by taxpayers, such as dams and highways, if the Everglades is successfully restored, there will be nothing to see but vacant, wet land and water splashing from your tap.

“We’re deconstructing,” said Barnett. “We want to get it to where you don’t see what was done to the Everglades. That’s the ultimate goal.”

Christine Stapleton|Staff Writer|Palm Beach Post

Sugar industry accused of dodging Everglades clean-up costs

Florida taxpayers have been left shouldering most of the $2 billion Everglades water pollution cleanup cost, despite a constitutional amendment passed by nearly 70 percent of voters that calls for the sugar industry to pick up its share of the tab.

While South Florida sugar-cane growers excel at providing the sweet ingredient for everything from cakes to candy bars, polluted phosphorus-laden runoff from sugar-cane fields has damaging consequences on the Everglades.

About 62 percent of the polluting phosphorus that flows toward the Everglades comes from water draining off farmland dominated by sugar cane, according to state environmental records.

But just 12 percent of the $2 billion cleanup expense has been paid by special taxes on those sugar-cane growers and other farmers south of Lake Okeechobee. That means other property taxpayers have had to dig deeper into their wallets to pay to tackle the unnaturally high phosphorus infusion that is a prime focus of Everglades restoration.

A “Polluter Pays” amendment to the Florida Constitution that voters approved in 1996 was supposed to force the sugar industry to at least cover its share of cleaning up damage to the Everglades. But some say state leaders have failed to fully enforce the measure.

That means “it shifts the burden of cleaning up the Everglades to taxpayers,” said Dave Cullen, Sierra Club lobbyist. “Everybody else’s [share] gets bigger.”

The taxpayers’ share of the Everglades cleanup gets even bigger under Gov. Rick Scott‘s $880 million water pollution cleanup plan. Last year, state lawmakers agreed to keep charging Everglades restoration fees paid by sugar-cane growers and other farmers south of Lake Okeechobee at existing levels for 10 years longer than once planned. But lawmakers haven’t been willing to increase those fees, even as the public cleanup costs increase.

Environmental advocates contend that the sugar industry’s political muscle continues to allow it to avoid having to pay a share of Everglades restoration proportionate to its responsibility for pollution problems.

“You have a major industry that is saying, ‘We are so powerful we don’t want to pay for our pollution treatment. … Taxpayers, you are going to pay for it. Tough luck,'” said Albert Slap, board member for the Friends of the Everglades environmental group. “It stood Polluter Pays on its head.”

Sugar industry advocates, as well as top state leaders, maintain that sugar-cane growers are paying enough for Everglades restoration.

They point to those special fees that sugar growers pay, improved farming practices that reduce pollution as well as the industry’s economic impact on the state as evidence of the benefits that the sugar industry delivers. Sugar producers also pay property taxes, in addition to those special fees, that help fund Everglades restoration.

“In the environmentalists’ eyes, no one is ever paying their fair share,” said Barbara Miedema, vice president of the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida. “And however much money they are throwing at Everglades restoration is never enough.”

Natural flow of water disrupted

Draining parts of South Florida to make way for farming and development shrunk the Everglades to half its size, siphoning away water that once naturally flowed from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. Worsening the problem, polluted stormwater washing off farmland and urban areas threatens what remains of Everglades habitat.

That stormwater brings high levels of phosphorus, found in fertilizer, animal waste and the natural decay of soil.

Unnaturally high levels of phosphorus that come from polluted stormwater runoff fuel the growth of cattails, which forces out sawgrass and other natural habitat vital to the survival of the Everglades.

“It chokes out native plant communities,” said Melissa Martin, ecologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who works in the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, the northern reaches of the Everglades. “It’s not as good habitat for wildlife such as wading birds and alligators. … They can’t move through it as well and hunt in it as well.”

The state and federal government are in the midst of a multibillion-dollar effort to clean up Everglades water pollution and get more water flowing in Florida’s famed River of Grass.

That work has included turning thousands of acres of former sugar-cane fields into stormwater treatment areas aimed at removing phosphorus. Reservoirs also are planned to hold onto more stormwater to replenish the Everglades. Long term, the goal is get more Lake Okeechobee water flowing south like it did before South Florida farming and development got in the way.

The public costs of those restoration efforts grew in 2013 when the Florida Legislature approved the $880 million plan, without increasing the “Agricultural Privilege” tax, the special fees levied on sugar-cane and other growers south of Lake Okeechobee to help pay for it.

Andy Reid|Sun Sentinel|June 15, 2014

Love the Everglades Movement

There is only ONE Everglades in the world and it is Dying. 

Although efforts by federal, state, and local governments are underway to mitigate the legacy of destruction brought on by past follies, there is much more that needs to be done quickly before it is too late.

We the residents of South Florida are joining together in a unified voice to make our mantra heard: “We LOVE THE EVERGLADES. The Everglades must be saved, and we will pool our efforts to make sure this is SO.”

This movement is intended to bridge the talents, imaginations, and energies of the diversity that makes up South Florida. Activists, Artists, Teachers, Politicians, the Clergy, Business, Media, and basically any and every one the world over are welcome to join our movement, Love the Everglades.

Our movement will manifest itself through a series of events, actions, workshops, prayers, as well as excursions into the heart of the Everglades. Our aim is to revitalize Community Participation so together we can contribute to a Global Action geared toward protecting and revitalizing this sacred land.

Join us in our efforts and help spread the word: The Everglades is DYING along with 67 endangered species.

“What are YOU doing to save the Everglades?” — Marjory Stoneman Douglas

SUMMER SYMPOSIUM

July 26-27

The goals of the Love the Everglades Movement (LTEM) are to restore the Everglades ecosystem and will focus on the following issues:

  • advocate for the urgency of cleaning up the water;
  • advocate for the solution of the L-28 Interceptor Canal;
  • support the cost-effective plan of clearing out existing culverts to allow water flow underneath the Tamiami Trail with the installation of swales on the south side;
  • advocate for Respect of Miccosukee Sovereignty;
  • integrate a Spiritual approach;
  • connect with as many people, communities and organizations as possible;
  • continue the excursions (Field trips to the Everglades);
  • host educational workshops; 
  • and mobilize communities for peaceful, non-violent direct actions.

LTEM will be hosting an educational and action planning symposium starting at 9:30 a.m. at the Miccosukee Resort on Saturday, July 26, and at FIU at 1 p.m. on Sunday, July 27.

For information, email EvergladesActNow@gmail.com or visit http://www.lovetheeverglades.org

Water Quality Issues 

Caloosahatchee reservoir project clears hurdle

State water managers voted Thursday to move forward with a water plan for the Caloosahatchee River reservoir, a necessary step if the project is to be authorized and funded by Congress.

During a meeting in Fort Myers, the South Florida Water Management District governing board voted unanimously, 8-0, to set aside all waters pumped into the reservoir as well as rain that falls on the compound for the Caloosahatchee and its estuary.

The Caloosahatchee reservoir, also called C-43, is expected to hold 170,000 acre-feet, or 55 billion gallons. Water would be pumped from the river to the reservoir during periods of heavy rain and then released back to the river during dry spells. The reservoir will not capture excess flows from Lake Okeechobee. The plan would essentially make waters used in the reservoir system off-limits to farming and residential uses.

Thursday’s vote was not final as a public hearing, and a second vote must take place. The hearing will likely be in April and the vote in June. The South Florida Water Management District includes 16 counties.

Board members passed the measure without comment.

Mike Baldwin, a member of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge support group on Sanibel, pleaded with the governing board to find some way to hold back fresh water during the rainy season. Water quality issues, he said, aren’t going to magically go away.

“They’re real, they’re alarming and they’re adverse social and economic issues,” Baldwin said before inviting water district board members to tour Sanibel during the summer months. “If you haven’t had the opportunity to lift your child or grandchild over a 2-foot pile of drift algae while they’re on their way to swim or paddle, I encourage you to do that.”

Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane asked district managers to find as much water storage as possible in the Caloosahatchee watershed, which stretches from Lake Okeechobee to Sanibel and includes lands on the north and south banks.

“I started getting phone calls from Germany: ‘What’s wrong with your beaches? The water looks like root beer,’ ” Ruane said.

The Caloosahatchee River is regularly plagued with water quantity issues — too much fresh water during the rainy season flushes out the estuary and fuels algae blooms. Too little water during the dry season allows saltwater to creep up the river and kill off tape grass and other marine organisms.

The river was connected to Lake Okeechobee a century ago as way to drain and develop South Florida. Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann, a former district governing board member, said the Everglades restoration will be a challenge for possibly another century.

“It took 100 years to mess it up, and I understand that it’s going to take another 100 years (to restore the Everglades),” Mann said. “And we’ll never get it just right.”

Governing board members also agreed to ask Congress for nearly $100 million in additional funding for the Picayune Strand restoration, the first major Everglades restoration project. If approved, costs will increase from $522 million to $619 million.

Brad Cornell, with the Audubon Society, said the increase is needed as labor and material costs have increased since the project was approved.

“We would have ended up spending $500 million on restoration over the last 30 years and not see all the benefits,” Cornell said. “It’s within our grasps. It’s just a few short years away.”

Chad Gillis|Feb. 13, 2014

State wants to deny water permit, says it’s harmful to Silver Springs

State regulators recommended Tuesday that a Canadian billionaire and rancher be denied his request to pump more than 1 million gallons a day from the Floridan Aquifer because it would harm one of the state’s early tourist attractions, Silver Springs in Marion County.

The St. Johns River Water Management District is set to vote next month on a permit sought by Frank Stronach to irrigate his Sleepy Creek Lands to raise cattle on grass.

“The request for a new allocation of 1.12 [million gallons a day] of groundwater in that location would contribute to cumulative harm to the ecology of Silver Springs and the Silver River,” the district announced on its website.

Ranch spokeswoman Allison North Jones said in an emailed statement that the district’s technical report shows that Sleepy Creek Lands had met necessary criteria for a permit.

But the district adopted new methodology showing there “is not one more allocable drop of water to be had in the area around Silver Springs,” Jones said. “This staff finding doesn’t just impact Sleepy Creek Lands but impacts every water user in the area including all of the residents of the City of Ocala.”

The recommendation to deny the permit comes as a rare move for the agency, which has granted controversial water permits in recent years.

After Stronach first applied for a permit in 2011, then seeking 13 million gallons a day, environmentalists statewide rallied to protect Silver Springs.

“This is really surprising,” said Karen Ahlers, director of Florida Defenders of the Environment and a key opponent of the ranch. “But I don’t think it’s over because there is a lot riding on this.”

Also skeptical was the St. Johns Riverkeeper group, whose director Lisa Rinaman said the announcement appears to ignore an existing legal challenge in the matter. “We question the motives and jurisdiction of the district,” she said.

Kevin Spear|Orlando Sentinel|July 15, 2014

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Tribes meet with EPA to fight Lake Superior iron mine

SUPERIOR, WIS. — The six tribes of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Federation will meet with federal environmental officials next month to outline their objections to Gogebic Taconite’s mining plans in the Lake Superior region.

The tribes sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency at the end of May asking officials to invoke a section of the Clean Water Act to stop Gogebic’s mining exploration in northern Wisconsin. Wisconsin Public Radio News (http://bit.ly/1oQCGOB ) says the EPA and tribes have a meeting scheduled Aug. 16 in Traverse City, Mich.

Bad River Chairman Mike Wiggins says the state’s mining laws don’t protect the environment. He says EPA intervention would allow federal regulators to gather information at the proposed site.

Gogebic spokesman Bob Seitz says the company wants to continue exploring the mining site.

Port Huron Times Herald|Jul. 18, 2014 

Offshore & Ocean

Some property owners say no to beach renourishment for land rights

Property owners at Silver Sands Condos on St. Pete Beach are being excluded from beach renourishment because they won’t sign a permanent easement that would grant the public access to their land.

ST. PETE BEACH — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has begun a $16.1 million beach renourishment project in Pinellas County that excludes a few property owners who refuse to sign a perpetual easement.

“Approximately 20,000 cubic yards of sand was omitted from the project due to a lack of easements from less than a dozen parcels,” said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson Susan Jackson.

The two sections of beach that will not receive that $340,000 worth of fresh sand are the northern tip of Sunshine Beach in Treasure Island and part of Upham Beach in front of the Silver Sands Condos in St. Pete Beach, according to Dr. John Bishop, the Pinellas Coastal Management coordinator and the Corps. Bishop said those areas were excluded before the bid for the beach renourishment project went out.

St. Pete Beach Mayor Maria Lowe said she worries if that section of Upham Beach in front of Silver Sands is not renourished, the natural attrition of sand that moves south to the beach in front of the hotels could be compromised.

“It becomes a private property owner’s consideration versus the public property need in having this sand for the community as a whole,” she said.

Attorney Richard Zacur, who represents Silver Sands, wrote in a letter to Lowe that the Master Association has always worked with all authorities for beach renourishment, but steadfastly refuses to give away its property in the form of a permanent easement.

“I don’t know any land owner who would want to give away their property,” he said.

The permanent easement would extend from the Silver Sands private property beach signs to the seawall and requires public access to that land, according to Zacur.

“That land is not needed for current beach renourishment at all,” he said. “Once you give it away, you’re never going to get it back.”

Zacur said for the past 25 years Silver Sands has allowed beach renourishment through a temporary easement and is willing to sign another one, but Jackson said federal law prevents the Corps from accepting it. The attorney also pointed out that two thirds of the Silver Sands condo owners would have to approve the perpetual easement and the overwhelming majority have already said, “absolutely not.”

Lowe said she understands why the property owners do not want to sign a perpetual easement.

“Once that easement is given, that becomes a public access area and they don’t want to give away their property,” Lowe said. “Which is a very reasonable consideration on the part of the private property owner. The other side of that is, without that easement, they do not get the beach renourishment now or after a catastrophic event where potentially the surge would take away some of this vegetated area.”

Jackson said this is the first year the Corps has required a perpetual easement. In the past, a temporary easement was acceptable, but the Corps updated their policy to come in line with a 1986 law that prohibits Federal participation in costs assigned to benefits to privately owned shores where the use of such shores is limited to private interests, according to Jackson.

The Corps spokesperson said requiring perpetual easements is something that should’ve been part of the process all along. It came to the Corps’ attention after the federal government made a huge investment in post-Hurricane Sandy restoration and had to ensure funding went to those projects that benefited the public.

Lowe said she hopes U.S. Rep. David Jolly can help alleviate the situation before the beach renourishment begins Aug. 3.

“We have contacted Mr. David Jolly in order to ask his assistance in looking at and reviewing the Water Management Act language, to see if there’s a way we can even remove or alter the perpetual easement needs to a temporary easement need,” she said. “I don’t know how quickly that can be done and we are on the clock.”

Jolly said this was first brought to his attention last week at a meeting with the Pinellas Council of Mayors.

“We have followed up with the City of St. Pete Beach and will be working closely with the mayor and staff in the coming days and weeks to resolve the issue,” he said.

In Treasure Island, the lack of fresh sand on the northern tips of Sunshine Beach should not be much of a problem, according to city manager Reid Silverboard.

“There is already a fairly decent sandy beach in front of their properties,” he said. “When we looked at it, we did not think that it would have any significant impact on the project.”

Even so, Reid said he still tried to get those five property owners who live north of 126th Avenue to sign the perpetual easement.

“We wrote them several letters,” he said. “I’ve had several conversations with a few of the owners there.”

Sunshine Beach homeowner Don McLendon said he didn’t even read the paperwork because there’s already plenty of sand between his house and the water.

“I just don’t think we needed it,” he said. “There’s never been water in this living room. I don’t think it will matter one way or the other. … That beach line is going to be where it is regardless of what the Army Corps of Engineers does.” 

The Corps has already skipped that section as it began the beach renourishment project on Sunshine Beach last week.

Josh Rojas|Reporter|Bay News 9|July 12, 2014

Tension over environmental concerns forced Port Authority to seek full study of channel widening project

MOBILE, Alabama — The letters started going out around the end of March, about four months after some Dauphin Island residents met at the International Trade Center to discuss widening of the Mobile Bay ship channel.

The Alabama State Port Authority had plans to expand the channels’ width to 550 feet and some were leery of its effect on the island. 

The two groups jostled before over coastal erosion concerns. Some believed the beach’s diminishment was caused — at least, in part — by dredging maintenance in the Bay.

The spat resulted in a lawsuit against the state that was settled in 2009. So when the issue came up again, the Port Authority convened a meeting.

Officials from the Army Corps of Engineers; the town of Dauphin Island; the Dauphin Island Property Owners Association; and Mobile Baykeeper each attended. After the Corps completed a review of the initial project, the widening plans were moved south — right at the mouth of the Bay.

Residents were no more relieved. They felt the issue merited broader evaluation.

“The dredging practices of the Corps, I believe, are the root cause of the continued erosion that has occurred on the south shoreline of Dauphin Island,” Stan Graves, a resident who attended the meeting wrote to the Corps in April, “and that is adversely affecting one of my properties.”

Two crucial problems

The Port Authority is under pressure to expand the ship channel, make way for larger ships carrying a growing amount of cargo. Vessels that sail down the 5-mile wide path everyday must to do so one at a time. The widening project will change that, resulting in increased productivity.

The Port of Mobile’s competitors are all preparing for the opening of the Panama Canal in early 2016. Now as deep as 45 feet in some areas, the channel is deep enough to hold some of these ships depending on the tonnage they carry. These ships have docked at the container terminal in Mobile already. But the industry standard (about 55 feet) is deeper.

Barrier islands are struggling to stick around in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Decades of hurricanes and now, sea level rise threaten to take them under. But there could be one other reason: dredging.

The Port Authority rejects the idea as having no “basis in science.”

“The problem is, they don’t have any science on their side,” Jimmy Lyons, the Port Authority’s executive director, told a local news station recently.

Residents like Glen Coffee said he’s just cherry-picking research. “There is a whole bunch of science that he has chosen to ignore.”

Coffee, a former Corps employee, points to a 2007 study by the U.S. Geological Survey, linking land loss on several barrier islands to storms, rising seas and a shortage of sand to replenish the coastal areas.

Sand is lacking because some of it is being swept into the ship channel. The widening project — depending on which group is right — could exacerbate the situation.

“Sand supply is the only factor contributing to barrier island land loss that can be managed directly to mitigate the losses,” said Robert A. Morton, in his conclusion of the USGS study, “by placement of dredged material so that the adjacent barrier island shores receive it for island nourishment and rebuilding.”

Letters thwart plans

After leaving the meeting on Nov. 25, Laura Martin, president of the property owner’s association, obtained a copy of the limited re-evaluation report conducted by the Corps. The report is smaller in terms of the scope of what it requires the agency to do. And no public input is necessary.

It revealed what she called “very serious concerns…over the manner in which the Mobile District of the Corps is complying with the National Environmental Policy Act…,” Martin said in her March 31 letter to the commanding officer of the Corps in Mobile.

The last comprehensive study of the Bay was in 1986. Given the history of controversy, or at least the speculation about erosion, why not go for the full study? Martin wrote a letter on the group’s behalf, a 6-page explanation of what they believed was going wrong.

Soon followed letters from other residents; the Mobile Bay Audubon Society, the Mobile Baykeeper and the Mobile Bay Sierra Club were also sent to the Corps in support of their position.

“We’re not against them widening the ship channel,” said Joe Mahoney, chair of the Sierra Club.

“We just want to make sure everybody dots their i’s and crosses their t’s so years from now we don’t say ‘hey why didn’t we check that out?’ “

The full Environmental Impact Statement will surely cost more, but Port Authority officials hope it deters a more unfavorable outcome. The study was last pegged at $1.3 million, and the overall cost was as much as $15 million. 

“Rather than fight what was sure to be a legal challenge by some of the residents or even a larger environmental group, the Port Authority decided to ask the Corps to perform the EIS,” Judy Adams, Port Authority vice president for marketing, said in an email.

“Given the EIS is a much lengthier and costly study, the Port Authority decided to look at the entire project in terms of widening and deepening.”

The full review could take as long as three years to complete, pushing the channel expansion efforts past the tentative 2016 opening of the Panama Canal. Paying for the project will be split 50-50 between the state and federal governments.

Given the amount of work associated with the full study, Corps spokesman Pat Robbins said even “three years is pretty quick.”

Michael Finch II|July 12, 2014

A new vision for Port of Wilmington

When a group of longshoremen visited an undeveloped lot just south of the Delaware Memorial Bridge last week, they looked out over the grassy landscape to the choppy river and saw the future: an expanded Port of Wilmington capable of luring trade away from Philadelphia and other areas and landing as many as 4,000 new jobs.

Marching in lock-step with the waterfront workers is New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon, who sees the 176-acre site in Riveredge Industrial Park in New Castle as the perfect location for a public-private venture to expand the port to the south, making it capable of handling the newest generation of large-capacity container vessels.

The ambitious concept, which maritime experts estimate would cost $400 million to $600 million for the first phase, envisions capitalizing on the existing rail near the properties to tie the Riveredge operation with the Port of Wilmington and the former General Motors assembly plant on Boxwood Road near Newport.

The Boxwood location, the former Fisker Automotive site that Gordon has said the county is offering to buy, would serve as a central location for the distribution to retailers of goods and products by rail or highway.

Gordon calls the vision a “no brainer” that would create needed high-paying middle-class jobs. The existing port on the Christina and Delaware River, which had 367 vessel calls in 2013, is estimated to support 5,200 families both directly and indirectly.

‘In a good spot’

Although Gordon said the county would play a “supportive role,” it has already made a $9 million offer on the 141-acre Boxwood site, most recently part of an unsuccessful plan to revive the former GM site as a Fisker automobile plant.

“From everything I’ve seen, it would be one of the most productive ports on the East Coast. The ships would be able to come directly from ocean to the port and not have to travel up river. It would save a lot of money and a lot of time,” Gordon said.

Supporters see a project that would involve a partnership between private investors and government, similar to redevelopment of the Wilmington Riverfront. But Gordon said the lion’s share would be private money from investors.

The next step is to get an economic impact study done, which Gordon estimates would cost about $75,000. Gordon said he supports going to New Castle County Council for money to help pay for the study.

Still, it’s important that the state get behind the project, Gordon said.

Gov. Jack Markell said he hasn’t been briefed on the project, but is “always interested in hearing more.”

Chuck White, owner of White Realty, which represents Riveredge, has attended most of the private meetings for the past three weeks. He said everyone involved so far has been receptive to the idea.

“We’re in a good spot,” White said.

Connecting the sites

Delaware Economic Development Director Alan Levin, chairman of the Diamond State Port Corp., which owns and operates the Port of Wilmington, declined last week to comment on the expansion proposal.

“I am unaware of any plans for this proposed facility,” he said.

The expansion idea calls for a single large pier, or dock, at Riveredge with seven or more berths for ships, said Ronald “Kimoko” Harris, business agent with International Longshoremen’s Association Clerks and Checkers Local 1883, whose members work to load and unload cargo.

There would be six or more large container cranes that could work on the mega container ships. Harris said container work is the highest-paying cargo for longshoremen. The site has enough space to accommodate warehouses.

Access to I-295 is right outside Riveredge Industrial Park. The rail line that runs through Riveredge would be connected to the old Port of Wilmington. While the existing Port of Wilmington has one pier on the Delaware River, most of the operations are on the Christina River.

The rail system at the Port of Wilmington connects to the Boxwood Road plant, connecting all three sites by rail.

“It’s a perfect place. The rail head is already there,” said William Ashe Jr., president of ILA Local 1694.

A lot of the cargo that comes into the Port of Wilmington is bulk and break bulk, which means it does not come in a container, Harris said.

Longshoremen at the port, who handle about 5 million tons of cargo annually, are among the highest-paid blue collar workers in the country, said James McNamara, director of public relations with the ILA in North Bergen, N.J.

“It’s very common to make more than $100,000 because there’s a lot of overtime, nights and weekends,” McNamara said.

Eugene Bailey, executive director of the port corporation, said he’s heard no details about the New Castle development, but “anything to expand our capabilities to do business, we’re always interested in that.”

Also interested is Nick Ferrara Jr., president of Parkway Gravel, which has owned of Riveredge Park for 20 years.

“It’s a heck of an idea,” Ferrara said. “They have my interest.”

Challenges remain

Not that there aren’t significant challenges, both in terms of the implementation of a development plan and questions of market demand for another pier.

In terms of the physical development, Markell questioned what the implications would be around the state Coastal Zone Act, which is designed to protect the natural environment of the coastal zone areas by prohibiting new heavy industry that doesn’t conform to the law.

A decision on whether a new facility would be allowed under the act would need to come from the Delaware Division of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, experts say.

The Delaware River also would have to be dredged to allow for the building of new berths.

“Anytime you are talking about creating port facilities, the biggest problem is permitting,” said Jeff Bross, chairman of Duffield Associates, which did work on the Port of Wilmington’s auto berth project on the Delaware River that opened in August 2002. “The main thing is permitting for dredging for the docks, both state and federal.”

Ed Voigt, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Philadelphia district, which regulates construction on waters and wetlands in the United States, said the permitting process depends on location, site conditions and other factors. When a developer has firmed up preliminary plans, the corps works with the applicant to adjust plans if necessary. He said the corps approves more than 90 percent of applications.

“We’re not rubber-stampers. This reflects that fact we try to work with applicants so that their final application is one that we can legitimately approve,” Voigt said. “The corps welcomes applicants discussing their plans before they begin the formal application process.”

Jeff Bergstrom, building official and fire marshal for the city of New Castle, said he could not comment on the development because no plans have been submitted with the city.

“It’s a beautiful location. There’s infrastructure for a wide variety of industrial uses. The property owner, the state and the city have spent a great amount of money to make the infrastructure available for industrial uses,” Bergstrom said.

Political issues

There could also be political push-back.

“I understand dreaming big, but I don’t see it – not in my lifetime and I’m 58,” said New Castle County Councilman George Smiley, co-chairman of finance committee. Smiley said he worked at the Port of Wilmington while with Volkswagen of America. “I think you’ll see Santa Claus come down your chimney first.”

Smiley said the state and federal governments should spearhead such a project, not the county.

“I’ll offer moral support, but I’m not interested in putting county taxpayer dollars out,” Smiley said.

Sen. Robert Marshall, D-Wilmington West, who sponsored legislation to prevent the privatization of the port by the Markell administration, said he believes it’s a great idea, but “the devil is in the details.”

“It’s positive. It’s people thinking about tomorrow. I think there would be serious public policy considerations as to protecting and preserving blue collar jobs and creating a significant number of new $15- to $50-an-hour blue collar jobs,” Marshall said. “It’s a great idea. A couple thousand jobs would be a miracle.”

Rep. Dennis E. Williams, D-Talleyville, said the General Assembly just allocated $250,000 in state money to the application process for permits to build on the Delaware River at the existing Port of Wilmington. Williams said he’s concerned about sending mixed messages to shippers or investors if there’s not a coordinated vision.

He said he thinks it’s a good idea to develop a comprehensive long-term plan. Williams said the port is the last big blue-collar industrial employer in the area.

“Maybe this summer is a good time for all parties to meet and discuss the long-term vision for expansion on the Delaware River north and south of the bridge,” Williams said.

Larger ships

The expansion discussion comes as the shipping industry is being transformed with the advent of a new global fleet of mega-ships that can carry almost double the containers of the previous generation of ships.

These mega-vessels have a capacity of 7,500 to 12,000 container units as measured by the standard 20-foot container (TEU), according to Ed Zimny, principal Paul F. Richardson Associates Inc. in Holmdel, New Jersey, maritime advisory company that has done work for the port. The older generation vessels could handle 6,000 to 9,000 20-foot equivalent container units, he said.

By the end of 2016, there will be more than 770 container ships of over 7,500 TEU, compared to 628 ships today, said HJ Tan of Alphaliner, a shipping research company in Singapore.

The larger ships will require larger, more modern terminals, according to a May article in the Journal of Commerce.

To accommodate these larger ships, the Panama Canal has been undergoing an expansion that is the largest canal project since it was constructed. The widening, scheduled for completion in early 2016, will allow for the passage of vessels that can carry up to 13,000 TEUs, according to Canal de Panama website.

The expansion will mean a larger share of ships will be able to travel the canal fully loaded, according to a 2012 study by Vickerman Associates.

But to handle these large cargo ships, port terminals need huge ship-to-shore gantry cranes on foundations able to support the heavier loads, Zimny said.

Jean-Paul Rodrique, a professor of global studies and geography at Hofstra University, said the Panama Canal expansion has generated a kind of frenzy among ports, whose operators fear they won’t be able to service the shipping lines.

“The problem is there’s a fair amount of expansion projects using Panama Canal expansion as a trigger. The truth is the decision by shipping companies has very little to do with the ports. These are decisions by shipping companies to suit their [business] purposes,” he said.

There already is more cargo capacity than is being used because global trade is not going up, Rodrique says.

“People think the Panama Canal is the light at the end of the tunnel for many ports, which it’s not,” he said. “If it’s a private company that is willing to make a bet, be my guest. But if it’s state or federal, you have to be careful.”

A growing market

But Gordon is a believer.

He thinks an expanded port in New Castle would be at capacity “the day it opened.” The county-funded economic impact study should provide some answers, he said.

“That study is going to come back and show there’s enough investors on Wall Street that would pay for it,” Gordon said.

With the shifting of the world’s manufacturing center to Southeast Asia, including Vietnam and India, there could be “dramatically more” westbound traffic through the Suez Canal to the East Coast of the United States, the Vickerman study says.

Tan, who said global shipping demand is expected to grow by 3 percent to 8 percent annually, said he does not see any over-capacity issues at East Coast ports.

“You can draw a straight line right across from the Suez Canal to the Port of Wilmington,” Zimny said. “We’re a consumer nation. Delaware is positioned nicely between Norfolk and Newark N.J. The [expansion proposal] makes all the sense in the world.”

Rodrique agreed the Suez Canal is a “very interesting wild card” in the shipping industry as manufacturing shifts to Southeast Asia. He said the rule of thumb seems to be if the cargo is west of Singapore, ships will go to the East Coast ports. If it’s east of Singapore, they’ll use the Panama Canal.

Strong business

Wilmington and Philadelphia also have developed a strong business in handling fruit, he said.

Customers at the port have changed over the years. Opened in 1923, the deep-water port first supported the shipbuilding industry and railroad car manufacturing along the Christina. By 1976, Volkswagen of America selected the Port of Wilmington as their auto hub for imports to North America.

Along the way, there was continued expansion and improvements, including the creation of cold storage facilities for fruit. The state bought the port from the city in 1995 and the Diamond State Port Corp. was created to manage and operate the port.

In 2002, the port’s first berth on the Delaware River was completed. More recently an attempt was made to lease the port to Kinder Morgan, the largest independent terminal operator in North America, which would mean the state’s role would be as landlord. The plan met with fierce opposition from labor and lawmakers who felt the move would hurt blue-collar employment. Kinder Morgan dropped its bid in March.

The Kinder Morgan deal put the spotlight on an asset that often is overlooked, Williams said.

“The port is now a high-profile item for the General Assembly. We realize the importance of the jobs and its status as the big blue-collar industrial employer,” Williams said.

He sponsored a bill that passed in June that will increase the Diamond State Port Corp. board by two members to provide additional oversight by the General Assembly.

Crucial jobs

To the longshoremen and Gordon, the creation of more high-paying jobs is the answer to some of Wilmington’s ills.

“I grew up in the city and I’ve never seen it so bad,” said Joe Carson, president of Local 1883.

He and others believe unemployment and crime are “all linked together.”

Gordon said it crucial to save and promote these kinds of jobs for the long-term health of New Castle County and the state.

“This is about livable wages. You need jobs where people can afford to support their families, buy homes and buy cars,” he said.

No matter what, experts said development would have to happen quickly.

“Time is of the essence. But if everyone pulls on the rope together it’s a huge economic development opportunity,” said Bross of Duffield Associates. “I think it has potential for success.”

Landowner Ferrara sums it up: “It’s gotta get life quickly.”

Maureen Milford|The News Journal|July 12, 2014

Endless erosion battle a matter of money

TREASURE ISLAND — Every four years or so, the beach a block away from Gwenda Barnitz’s home disappears into the Gulf of Mexico.

“Since I’ve lived here, it washes away underneath all of the entrances to the beach. You have a staircase that’s hanging out over nothing,” said Barnitz, a 28-year resident of Sunset Beach at the narrow southern tip of Treasure Island.

In fact, Sunset Beach and the island’s northernmost beach, Sunshine Beach, have been eroding rapidly for at least as long as people have lived here, and, for more than 40 years, heavy machines have shown up every few years to pump millions of cubic yards of sand from the ocean back onto the diminished shore.

Since the first federal beach renourishment project in 1969, about $25 million in today’s dollars have been spent on Treasure Island alone to fight a natural process that’s been happening for ages on barrier islands, researchers say.

This summer, a combination of federal, state and local money totaling $16 million will be spent to pour a half-million cubic yards of sand along these slender beaches in Treasure Island, as well as Upham Beach and Pass-a-Grille Beach to the south on Long Key.

And it will all have to be done again and again and again — indefinitely — until the money runs out, people move out or sea level rise drives everyone out to seek higher and drier ground.

A few coastal scientists and fiscally conservative politicians point to the apparent futility of the billions spent across the nation in the past 50 years to stop sand from doing what it’s naturally inclined to do.

But the majority maintain that although renourishment may not stop the sea forever, the perpetual investment in protecting homes, businesses and a multibillion-dollar tourism industry, not to mention lives, is well worth the cost.

“We have infrastructure and we have an economy that depends on healthy beaches, and, frankly, we have public safety that depends on healthy beaches,” said U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores.

“I would challenge anyone to defend the notion that 10 years ago we should have let the waters wash over Gulf Boulevard and put all of the first floors of our hotels underwater.”

In the late 1960s, it was obvious that several Pinellas County beaches were in trouble.

On the upper end of Long Key, waves lapped against a seawall on Blind Pass channel, and the beach to the south had vanished.

On the north side of the dredged waterway, the swath of sand called Sunset Beach essentially was gone, a phenomenon that was occurring along several channels up and down the county’s barrier islands.

Although the federal government had invested in coastal projects including seawall construction and beach renourishment for many years, Treasure Island’s 2-mile, $1.4 million project in 1969 was the first in Florida for the long-running federal program administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In the 45 years since, the corps has returned more than a dozen times and pumped 3 million cubic yards of sand back onto the beach from offshore shoals and nearby channels.

Treasure Island’s erosion problems are among the worst in the state, but its sand losses and replacement costs pale in comparison to those of other beach destinations.

An estimated $140 million in today’s dollars has been spent over the years to restore 12.3 million cubic yards of sand at Miami Beach, and New York’s Rockaway Beach has required $216 million and 29 million cubic yards, according to research compiled by Western Carolina University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines in Cullowhee, North Carolina.

“We’re talking about billions of dollars, approaching tens of billions” nationally, said coastal geologist Rob Young, the university program’s director, noting that damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2010 has driven federal renourishment spending to all-time highs.

A good deal of erosion occurs naturally on barrier islands, which had been reshaped by storms, tides and sea level changes many times before the age of hotels and condominiums.

Digging out and modifying navigational channels between the islands has accelerated the process, so beaches on either side of waterways such as Johns Pass and Blind Pass have become particular problem spots.

On Florida’s Gulf Coast, a river of sand naturally drifts north to south, but the flow is interrupted by these widened gaps between the islands. The only reason all this movement creates an issue is that people have built permanent homes or hotel towers on or near impermanent sands.

“Obviously, if we didn’t put any houses there, we wouldn’t have any erosion problems. The sand would just move around,” said Ping Wang, a coastal geology professor at University of South Florida.

Maybe if developers had fully appreciated this phenomenon, they would have stayed away or concentrated construction in the middle of the islands, where large amounts of sand tend to collect over time, creating wider, more stable beaches.

Restrictions for building on or near sand dunes have become tighter over the years and after more study, meaning the towers along Blind Pass couldn’t be built today.

Researchers such as Young aren’t sure those limits are strict enough.

“We have understood all of this very well for the past 20 years, and the idea we would still be putting stuff in harm’s way and that the state would still allow high-rises on barrier islands is just nuts,” he said.

It’s not only a matter of scientific knowledge about shifting sands, but financial responsibility, he said.

“In the 18th and 19th centuries, coastal communities moved back from the coast all the time. They knew the risk. They were living in their primary homes. They were entirely financially responsible for themselves and their communities,” Young said.

As long as the government bears most of the cost for restoring eroded beaches, people will continue to live there, blithely unaware of the billions of federal dollars it takes to prevent them from being washed away, he said.

Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency have raised similar arguments, suggesting after big disasters such as Hurricane Katrina or Sandy that some coastal communities should not be rebuilt.

Faced with $24 billion in debt, the FEMA-run National Flood Insurance Program slowly is increasing federal premiums on properties at high risk for flooding to better reflect their true risk.

Most efforts to discourage living by the water or to encourage people to move out have not been well-received.

“Most folks at the coast, when you suggest that, they just laugh at you,” Young said.

Though sustaining beach development is expensive, the alternative isn’t economically desirable, says Harry Simmons, president of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association, which lobbies to protect coastal communities.

“I don’t see people picking up condo buildings and moving them away, so I think protecting them is the solution,” said Simmons, longtime mayor of tiny Caswell Beach, North Carolina.

“What you’re talking about is abandoning them and letting them fall into the ocean, and the cost of that is going to be even greater than the beach nourishment projects.”

The Army Corps of Engineers tends to agree.

In the aftermath of storms like Sandy, the corps must weigh the costs versus benefits of rebuilding devastated communities, and the federal government has the option of buying out the properties if reconstruction costs are too high, said Jackie Keiser, of the Army Corps’ Jacksonville district office.

“Right now, the value of real estate in most coastal areas is incredibly high, so it doesn’t make economic sense to buy it out,” said Keiser, who studied coastal geology at USF before joining the corps.

Nowhere in the nation is that value higher than in Florida, where a 2013 study by the corps concluded the total amount of tax revenue generated annually by beach tourists, $6.2 billion, is about 100 times the amount spent statewide on beach renourishment each year.

Beach tourists spent an estimated $71.8 billion in 2012 and support the state’s No. 1 industry in terms of jobs, according to the study.

That’s why recently elected Congressman Jolly has taken up predecessor Bill Young’s mission in Washington to keep renourishment dollars flowing into Pinellas. The federal government typically foots 60 percent of the bill for beach projects, and the state and county contribute 20 percent each.

This government money is not “pork,” nor is it a waste of taxpayers’ money; it’s a public investment, Jolly said.

Beach towns in New Jersey with wide, well-nourished beaches withstood Sandy’s wrath much better than those with depleted shores, he said.

“If we don’t invest in it, then we’re investing on the backside and we get none of the benefits because all of the taxpayer dollars then are going to recovery,” Jolly said.

Though some politicians from inland states have criticized government funding for beach restoration, Jolly said there generally is an atmosphere of support in Washington for continuing these projects well into the future.

How far into the future it will make economic and practical sense to keep resisting the ocean is another matter.

Whether from the gradual rise of sea levels or a slow tightening of federal budgets, Pinellas County leaders anticipate this odd method of expanding the beach may no longer be viable one day.

The county’s tourism agency puts aside $2 million to $3 million a year from bed tax collections for beach renourishment. But as revenue from the 5 percent tax on hotel stays accumulates, commissioners have contemplated putting more money aside in the event federal funding dries up.

Beaches, not movie star dolphins such as Winter or famous Spanish painters such as Salvador Dalí, are the main reason people come to the area. In the county’s most erosion-prone spots, those white, sandy beaches could be gone within years without a sand infusion.

If it weren’t for the giant yellow T-groin barriers placed in the ocean and consistent renourishment, Upham Beach could wash away entirely within a decade, says Andy Squires, the county’s coastal manager.

“They’d still have beaches. It’s just the beach would be in a different place,” Squires said.

JOSH BOATWRIGHT|St. Petersburg Tribune staff|13, 2014

The Gulf Coast saved its dying seagrass … why can’t we?

Florida’s west coast waters lend lessons for Brevard

In 2011, the Indian River Lagoon collapsed.

Sixty percent of the seagrass — a critical source of both food and shelter for marine animals — perished under an unprecedented green algae “superbloom.” That was followed by mass manatee, dolphin and pelican die-offs.

Meanwhile, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the state’s other three waters in the National Estuary Program are thriving.

Despite periodic algae blooms and decades of problems similar to the lagoon’s, seagrass in Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay and Charlotte Harbor have rebounded to record levels, spawning fish and other marine life population booms.

Can the Indian River Lagoon — North America’s most biologically diverse estuary — benefit from lessons learned cleaning up those waterways?

Those West Coast waters have one huge advantage over the Indian River Lagoon: Gulf of Mexico tides flush pollution from more open estuaries. Here, a near-land-locked lagoon has few inlets for its excesses to escape.

Still, many lagoon advocates point to factors beyond flushing. They say the three Gulf Coast national estuaries offer examples of how the lagoon region ought to tackle similar woes. Mainly, they cite stricter limits on fertilizer use and lobby for the same restrictions here. Science to measure whether those ordinances have made a major difference is pending.

But that’s not the only step our region is trying to emulate from the other three estuary programs. Officials with those programs say strong partnerships among key industries, avoiding political “turf battles,” creative public education campaigns and weaning off septic tanks saved their marine jewels.

“I think it is more difficult for you guys because you have a watershed that spans such a large area,” said Nanette O’Hara, public outreach coordinator for the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. “I think the secret to our success is that we haven’t spent a whole lot of time pointing fingers at each other and assessing blame. I think we just tried to emphasize that everybody is part of the problem and needs to be part of the solution.”

Easy to identify

It is easy to identify the problem here: Algae blooms killed 47,000 acres of seagrass since the 2011 “superbloom.” Subsequent “brown tide” algae blooms the past two summers hampered any recovery.

But what remains unknown is what sparked those blooms.

Some environmental advocates have said the causes are clearly manmade.They blame fertilizer, septic tanks, development, muck buildup, doubling the drainage basin for farming and housing, and re-channeling freshwater to the lagoon, to name a few.

The Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program has embarked on several studies to gauge the relative roles of those stresses on the lagoon.

But fertilizer, by far, has occupied center stage over the past year.

Many believe the nitrogen and phosphorous in fertilizer that help grass grow has been washing into the lagoon and feeding the algae blooms.

In response, cities have been adopting fertilizer ordinances, some with rainy season bans and others falling back on the minimum set of state-recommended rules, which allow for wet season fertilizing, but not when rain is forecast.

Those who support stronger rules point to studies that show lawns survive just fine without fertilizing during rainy months. Opponents — most who have connections to companies that make fertilizer or treat lawns with fertilizer — say depriving grass of nutrients when it’s most able to absorb them, during peak growing season, can result in more nitrogen and phosphorus running off the weaker grass and roots when applied other times of the year.

This month, Cape Canaveral, Titusville and Cocoa Beach all plan to consider rainy season fertilizer bans, and Brevard County plans a workshop in March to reconsider enacting a rainy-season ban and other rules stricter than they passed a year ago.

Many cite the seagrass successes on the Gulf Coast as reason for stricter ordinances here. But most of those rules have only been in place for the past several years, after decades of sewer and stormwater projects had already vastly improved water quality.

More than 2.3 million people live in the three counties bordering Tampa Bay: Hillsborough, Manatee and Pinellas.

As population and wastewater discharges surged, by the 1970s as much as 80 percent of the bay’s seagrass had died. Federal and state laws over the following two decades significantly cut sewer plant and industrial waste discharges.

Much of the water quality improvement happened voluntarily. Rather than have the state force nitrogen limits on the region, in 1996 stakeholders formed the Tampa Bay Nitrogen Management Consortium — an alliance of local governments and industries bordering the bay — to enact their own limits. Since the 1990s, the consortium invested more than $500 million in projects to reduce nitrogen pollution.

The plan included 100 projects, such as stormwater, industrial wastewater and sewer system improvements, that cut nitrogen by more than 130 tons per year.

Fertilizer rules came later. Florida Department of Environmental Protection published its first model ordinance in 2003, but municipalities didn’t enact their own ordinances until four years later, most of them in Southwest Florida, triggered by recommendations from the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council.

Ultimately, some 50 local governments enacted rainy season bans. Lawn care companies feared the new rules would put them out of business.

As in Brevard, the Gulf Coast’s fertilizer rules gained momentum after successive bad algae blooms. Most Gulf Coast communities began enacting strong fertilizer rules in 2007, after red tides had hit the Sarasota and Charlotte County areas the two previous years. Local governments created ordinances that include rainy season “blackout” periods in the summer, typically starting June 1 or July 1 and running through Sept. 30 or Oct. 1. They also required “slow-release” nitrogen and low or no phosphorous fertilizers.

By 2010, seagrass had recovered to 1950 levels.

A $200,000 study is designed to discover what effect the fertilizer regulations around Tampa Bay have had on water quality.

The study will compare nitrogen concentrations in stormwater ponds in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee counties, which regulate fertilizer to different degrees.

Pinellas bans fertilizer sales in the summer. Manatee, like Rockledge, Satellite Beach and several other Brevard cities, bans fertilizer use during summer months. Hillsborough County two years ago balked at the prospect of a rainy season ban but includes other strict provisions.

The study in the Tampa Bay region will sample several ponds during wet and dry seasons and survey homeowners to see whether the ordinances and educational efforts altered their fertilizer use and other lawn practices.

Many lagoon advocates are awaiting those results, which are expected in the spring.

“Everybody in Indian River Lagoon (region) has been asking,” said O’Hara, of the Tampa Bay National Estuary Program, which is leading the study.

While the scientific predictions flesh out, some of the dire forecasts for businesses failed to materialize, Gulf Coast estuary program officials say, while the strict fertilizer rules paid ecological dividends.

“They take it seriously” Lisa Beever, director of Charlotte Harbor Estuary Program, said of citizens’ compliance with the fertilizer rules. “Having good information to them available is really important, because people want to do the right thing.”

For some, the stricter regulations meant more business.

“It’s been controversial here, locally, but business opportunities have developed around it,” said Mark Alderson, director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.

That included businesses that devised new formulations of fertilizers that use micronutrients, instead of nitrogen and phosphorus.

“From our standpoint, fertilizer ordinances are very cost effective,” O’Hara, of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, said.

That’s no reason to keep lawn-care businesses and residents from applying fertilizer for a quarter of the year, threatening livelihoods and property rights, says Jason Steele, of the law firm Smith & Associates, which represents Florida Partnership for Sustainable Greenspace, a conglomerate of fertilizer, real estate and other associated industries.

He points to a 2009 state law that says municipalities can only go stricter than the state-suggested ordinance if they provide scientific proof the tougher measures are needed.

Local governments may be opening themselves up to lawsuits from the fertilizer industry to undo the stricter ordinances, Steele said. “It is blatantly unfair for them to go after the low-hanging fruit here because perceptually people think fertilizer is affecting the Indian River Lagoon,” Steele said. “It’s a bad idea to pass a law that’s unenforceable.”

Last year, Melbourne agreed and balked at a stricter ordinance.

Conservationists worry other cities will, too, if legislators try as they have in past years to pass an even stronger law to prevent local governments from adopting rules stricter than the state’s recommendations.

Inadequate stormwater systems, septic tanks and leaky sewer lines are the bigger problem, Steele says.

The Sarasota region aggressively attacked the sewer issue. Since 1998, the region has been expanding sewer systems, paying for the work by raising local utilities fees and through grants. “The entire community, including our congressional delegation, worked really hard on getting some of the federal money to offset the costs on the citizens,” Alderson said. “It’s all prioritized … We’re only about 65 percent done.”

Troy Rice, director of the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, says the lagoon program has been taking some pointers from the other coast, such as how to conduct successful education campaigns about lawn care practices.

“They’re not really doing anything unique over there that we’re not aware of,” Rice said. “It’s not an issue that they did some magical thing that created a bunch of seagrass over there.”

More than any other factor, nature trumped the best laid restoration plans here, he says.

“They didn’t have the algae bloom that we had in 2011,” Rice said of Tampa Bay. “This summer they could have an algae bloom that covers their bay.”

He said summertime fertilizer bans help improve water quality, but are no panacea. Nothing is.

“We’re not going to see any immediate changes overnight,” Rice said. “Everybody always wants to find the magic bullet. It just doesn’t exist.”

Jim Waymer|FLORIDA TODAY| Jan 12, 2014

Sea Shepherd takes fight to the airwaves

Sea Shepherd takes fight to the airwaves with Sea Shepherd Radio

Sea Shepherd Australia has launched an online radio station to raise awareness about the conservation work it does for the world’s oceans.

Music from artists including Red Hot Chili Peppers, Aerosmith, Queens of the Stone Age, Robert Plant as well as Australians such as Xavier Rudd, John Butler and Missy Higgins, all previous supporters of Sea Shepherd, will play on the station. In addition, news updates on its frontline conservation work and features on ongoing Sea Shepherd operations will be broadcast.

The Sea Shepherd Radio App, which can be downloaded for free from the App Store and Google Play, is a collaboration between advertising agency The Works and audio content agency The Honorable Society.

Jeff Hansen, Sea Shepherd Australia’s Managing Director said: “Sea Shepherd always had great support from musicians here and across the globe and Sea Shepherd radio features many of them and more. The station also aims to raise awareness of the plight of oceans worldwide and our work to defend them, through education, empowerment and direct action.”

“With Sea Shepherd radio you can listen to some great music, hear the latest campaign news and support our work defending oceans worldwide,” added Adam Burling Sea Shepherd Radio Manager. “It’s a station with sounds of the sea and the sounds of musicians who care as much for the oceans as we do.”

Android App:
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=au.com.seashepherdradio

Apple App:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sea-shepherd-radio/id881417804?ls=1&mt=8

Sea Shepherd Australia|16 July 2014

Coastal wildlife paradise declared biosphere reserve in Argentina

Conservationists are celebrating the announcement that UNESCO has dubbed Argentina’s Península Valdés a biosphere reserve under the Man and Biosphere Program (MBA). A hatchet-shaped peninsula that juts out into the Southern Atlantic Ocean, the world’s newest biosphere reserve is home to a hugely-diverse collection of both terrestrial and marine wildlife.

Southern right whales that swim within meters of shore, schools of dusky dolphins, huge colonies of Magellanic penguins, rookeries of South American sea lions that bustle with activity, orcas that beach themselves to capture pups and southern elephant seals that huddle in thousands on lonely sandy beaches,” said Senior Conservation, William Conway, with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). “This is the wildlife that makes Península Valdés on the coast of Patagonia so special, one of the world’s great natural wonders.”

In fact, the peninsula houses the world’s largest breeding colony of southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) in South America and is home to 4,000 southern right whales (Eubalaena australis), about one third of the total breeding population. On land, the reserve supports abundant populations guanacos (Lama guanicoe), the rabbit-like Patagonian mara (Dolichotis patagonum), and Darwin’s rhea (Rhea pennata), the latter two which are listed as Near Threatened.

Its designation as a biosphere reserve means that the Península Valdés reserve becomes a part of a global network to test new sustainable management ideas in order to better-harmonize environmental protection with human needs and economies. Moreover, the designation adds Punta Ninfas, just to the south of the peninsula, to the protected area. Home to southern elephant seals, South American sea lions (Otaria flavescens), imperial cormorants (Phalacrocorax atriceps), and Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus)—considered Near Threatened—this point is currently imperiled by urbanization and a proliferation of off-road vehicles, according to the WCS.

The President and CEO of WCS, Cristián Samper, says the Península Valdés has “greater concentrations of wildlife than any other area on the entire coast of Patagonia,” and that the park’s designation as a biosphere reserve “is the culmination of years of hard work by many great partners.”

See Photos 

Jeremy Hance|mongabay.com|July 15, 2014

Surge could do serious damage here

A new report indicates storm surge could damage thousands of homes in this region.

Southwest Florida has more residential real estate at risk from storm surge damage than almost any other metropolitan area in the country, a new report shows.

If a major hurricane were to strike here, it would cost nearly $43 billion to rebuild the homes destroyed by the storm and subsequent surge in the region, according to data from housing researcher CoreLogic.

Statewide, more than two million homes could be impacted and cost nearly $500 billion to replace.

The area hasn’t faced a direct hurricane strike in nearly a decade. But because of explosive new home development and the region’s high flood exposure, the potential impact to coastal properties has escalated.

The trend is felt across Florida, which has by far more homes at storm surge risk than any other state — many of which lack protection from insurance coverage.

“We continue to live in a Sarasota bubble where we have not been impacted by a big storm in recent memory,” said Roger Pettingell, a luxury real estate specialist with Coldwell Banker on Longboat Key. “That keeps people’s minds off it.”

In all, there are 227,821 homes in the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton metro area that are within storm-surge risk zones.

Of those, 41,006 homes are designated in the “extreme” risk zone, meaning that they would be impacted by all hurricane category levels, according to CoreLogic.

If a hurricane were to strike, it would cost a combined $42.96 billion to rebuild those homes. That value represents the estimated cost of labor and materials to replace a home that has been completely destroyed.

Only six other cities in America have more real estate at risk — and a higher overall replacement value — than Southwest Florida.

That’s largely because of the high number of multimillion-dollar estates and luxury condominium towers on the region’s barrier islands.

But local real estate experts question CoreLogic’s replacement cost figure.

Pettingell, for one, contends that because many high-end residences are built with storm-resistant material and are on higher elevations, it is unlikely even the most vicious storm would cause almost $43 billion in home damage.

In Charlotte County, there are an estimated 93,299 properties at risk from storm surge. Those homes would cost an estimated $19 billion to replace following a storm, according to CoreLogic.

“It’s mostly those stretching to be on the waterfront and buying an older house,” Pettingell said. “They’re the ones who’re most concerned because they’re already at the top of their price range.”

Walls of water

Storm surge occurs when high winds and low pressure combine to cause water to amass inside a storm as it moves over water.

When a storm moves ashore, that force sweeps over land.

Because of its speed and power, storm surge can significantly increase the overall impact from hurricanes.

While scientists have predicted an usually quiet storm season this year, CoreLogic researchers say the report serves as a reminder that the risk of significant damage to Florida homes is a constant threat.

“We don’t care about how many storms or the severity. If it hits the wrong place, it can do tens of billions of dollars in damage, and those values can add up pretty dramatically,” said Thomas Jeffery, senior hazard scientist with CoreLogic. “A hurricane can come ashore and mostly cover a metro region, so it’s important homeowners look at their coverage, and make sure they have enough because they could be on the hook.”

CoreLogic examined homes along the coastlines of 19 states and the District of Columbia, from Texas to Maine. The researcher used Federal Emergency Management Agency flood zone information and data from Marshall & Swift/Boeckh to determine replacement values.

The report identified 6.5 million U.S. homes at some risk of storm surge damage, with a total replacement value of nearly $1.5 trillion.

More than $986 billion of that amount — or just under two-thirds of the total — is concentrated within 15 metro areas, however, including the Sarasota-Bradenton area.

Florida tops the list for the highest number of homes at risk of storm surge damage, with nearly 2.5 million residences at various risk levels and $490 billion in potential exposure to damage — nearly one third of the national total.

About $166 billion worth of Florida real estate was flagged as “extremely risky.”

CoreLogic’s analysis also showed the reasons storm surge exposure varied for state to state.

Florida and Texas were among the top five states for the number of properties at risk primarily because to their extensive coastlines.

Louisiana and New Jersey have smaller coastal areas, but both states have low elevation that allows storm surge to extend farther inland.

Outside FEMA zones

The new report comes amid debate between Congress and real estate professionals over the solvency of the federal government’s flood insurance plan.

In March, Congress passed a bipartisan bill that unwinds some of the changes brought about by the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. The measure amended provisions slated to hike premiums in many parts of the country, including Southwest Florida.

Many homeowners who live outside FEMA flood zones don’t carry flood insurance because they’re not required to do so.

Virginia Beach has the highest ratio of homes at risk from storm surge not in a FEMA flood zone, at 86 percent. That was followed by Philadelphia, at 85 percent, and Jacksonville at 76 percent, according to CoreLogic.

About 63 percent of the homes in Sarasota-Bradenton at risk for storm surge are not currently required to obtain flood insurance.

That could leave Florida potentially in tremendous debt if a storm hits, said Don Brown, a Florida insurance agent, former state legislator and insurance lobbyist.

“Some people have made the decision that they’ll take their chances and keep their head in the sand,” Brown said. “It’s no secret now that we have more exposure in Florida than any other state, and in many cases, we won’t be able to replace the damage at these costs.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

Facts
BY THE NUMBERS:

• 227,821 homes in the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton within storm-surge risk zones
• Those local homes would cost $42.96 billion to rebuild
• 41,006 Sarasota-Bradenton homes are designated in the “extreme” risk zone, meaning they would be impacted by all hurricane category levels
• 63% of the risky storm surge homes in Sarasota-Bradenton are not required to obtain flood insurance
• 6.5 million U.S. homes have some risk of storm surge damage, with a total replacement value of nearly $1.5 trillion
• Florida has the highest number of homes at risk, with nearly 2.5 million residences worth $490 billion

 Wildlife and Habitat

First phase of largest Tampa Bay restoration project complete

$7.5 million project restored 843 acres in Terra Ceia Preserve State Park, the largest in Tampa Bay

TERRA CEIA — What was once a land of failed subdivisions and invasive pepper fields is now 843 acres of restored habitat at Terra Ceia Preserve State Park.

The project is the largest ecosystem restoration project completed in Tampa Bay, and public officials celebrated the first phase completion on Monday.

So far, 843 acres of the 1,800-acre Terra Ceia Isles tract have been restored as part of the $7.5 million first phase. In all, the Terra Ceia Aquatic Preserve is about 22,000 acres.

As part of the celebration, Ed and Gail Straight of Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation on Bradenton Beach released rescued screech and barred owls and a wood stork.

“The wetland restoration of this magnitude is truly special for those

of us who live here and who love the natural beauty of this area,” Manatee County Commission Chairman Larry Bustle said as mullet jumped out of the man-made lake behind him. “Wetlands not only improve that natural beauty, but are also a natural filter system for this environment and help improve the water quality of our pristine bays.”

The land was co-acquired by the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for $1.5 million in 1995, which is included in the first phase price. Of that, 117 acres include freshwater and estuarine habitats and 726 are coastal upland habitats.

“I have to congratulate the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which partnered with DEP and others to get this land back into public ownership, which is very much a focus of the department right now,” said Drew Bartlett, deputy secretary for water policy and ecosystem restoration for DEP. “And to make sure we get the right land that protects our aquatic resources.”

One area once featured rows for farming gladiolus and Brazilian peppers, prompting crews to plug about 30 artesian wells used in the farming operations, straddling Interstate 275, U.S. 41 and Tampa Bay. Other areas were once struggling housing developments that never got off the ground, prompting the state to buy the land at a foreclosure auction in 1995. After the water district paid $1.5 million for the property, DEP acquired it for $750,000 in 1998.

“When we got the land, it needed some fixin’,” Bartlett said.

The land is now a network of trails, wetlands, bird habitats, native palms and mangroves and contains more than 75 unmarked heritage sites where visitors could stumble upon Indian mounds and fossil sites.

County Commissioner John Chappie was impressed with how much was fixed.

“Anything we can do as a community for restoration of the ecosystem, especially in coastal communities, is so important,” Chappie said. “We build on what we have. … Whether it is SWFMD, DEP, or the county, it’s a great reflection of the type of environmentally conscious community that goes above and beyond to protect our coastal community.”

Carlos Beruff, president of homebuilder Medallion Home and SWFMD’s governing board chair, celebrated the nature preserve that was once abandoned homes and overgrown weeds. The district has impacted about 4,000 acres and created about 38,000 acres of public land through its land management practices, and sold surplus lands to help fund restoration projects like the one in Terra Ceia, he said.

“Over time, part of the mission of the district is to take those truly surplus properties and put them back into the taxpaying economy, and taking those dollars and segregating these type of properties, which are really important to the ecosystem,” Beruff said.

In 2012, the district was approached by developers, Slip Knott LLC, to swap 77 acres of state land for 663 acres of Rattlesnake Key and submerged lands called the Knott-Cowen Tract for a resort called Skyway Preserve, but that deal died. The state also listed 13 acres of the Terra Ceia Preserve on a surplus sale list in 2013, but that was also removed.

Work began in 2002 on eight smaller phases through 2013 to make up the first phase of the overall project.

“It’s all been removed, leveled out and it’s all been replanted with native fauna,” said Kevin Kiser, Terra Ceia Preserve State Park manager.

Phase I is really never complete. Controlled burns are needed to maintain the forestry, and park officials continue to weed out invasive species that creep up.

“It’s going to always need maintenance because those exotics are near impossible to be eradicated,” Kiser said.

Second phase

The water district is requesting $4.75 million from the state for a second phase of the project and continues to estimate the cost of the project. The second phase will include restoring 233 acres of upland and wetland habitats inside a 408-acre tract.

Freshwater and tidal wetlands habitats were also created and, in some cases, switched to stop the agricultural runoff from the property.

“Some of them were saltwater and now they’re freshwater because when agriculture was going on here, they dug ditches to drain the property,” Kiser said. “So what we wanted to do was to cut the ditch blocks off to create more freshwater recharge areas so that water would not run out into the bay.”

The entire park, which lacks facilities, is open to the public, and by foot only, Kiser said. Cars can park outside as long as they don’t obstruct the gates, he said, and at a historic Bishop Harbor boat ramp.

The water district oversaw parts of the project through its Surface Water Improvement Management Program, with which DEP manages the park and helps oversees the controlled burns.

More work still needs to be done. Permits are being processed to install permanent boat ramps at Bishop Harbor, off of Moccasin Wallow Road and the historic 1905 Haley Mansion continues to be renovated, though no state funding was granted this year to continue the mansion restoration efforts, Kiser said.

“The inside still needs lots of help,” Kiser said.

While the mansion serves as offices for several state departments and is not open to the public, some officials envision it to double as a visitors’ center one day for the park.

“It’s a possibility. We don’t have a slated use for it as yet,” Kiser said. “Right now it’s just office space until we get our shop facilities built.”

State agencies have not approached Manatee County for funding to help with additional phases for the mansion restoration, according to officials from both the water district and DEP.

CHARLES SCHELLE|May 12, 2014|Sara Kennedy, government reporter, contributed to this report.

Forestry

Downturn in shade-grown coffee putting forests, wildlife, people at risk

Shade-grown coffee is disappearing, and so is the biodiversity that comes with it

Shade-grown coffee is regarded as a form of permaculture, in which coffee is grown under a canopy of native trees in full to moderate shade cover. This allows native vegetation to persist, thereby reducing the impact of agriculture on the natural landscape. While production of shade-grown coffee surged in recent decades, it is now experiencing a decline. A recent study, published in Bioscience, analyzed the situation, finding that the growth of consumer demand and changes in coffee agronomy has caused coffee production and management to change drastically.

Coffee is grown in tropical locations around the world, with Vietnam currently one of the top producers. Between 1990 and 2010, this country alone increased cultivated area “by 731 percent, yields by 45 percent and total production by 1,102 percent,” according to the study conducted by researchers with various U.S. institutions. Overall, coffee cultivation in Asia has risen significantly since 1990.

However, land used to cultivate shade-grown coffee has decreased by 20 percent globally since 1996, with rapid conversion to sun-grown coffee. In total, only 24 percent of the total cultivation belongs to shade practices. There are a variety of reasons why farmers, both large-scale and small-scale, are making the change. These include development of coffee varieties that are more tolerant of sun exposure in effort to combat fungal diseases that are problematic in shady areas, as well as to increase production.

“To the extent that smallholders are intensifying their production and thinning out shade trees (we have seen some evidence for this in parts of Nicaragua and elsewhere), it is often with the goal of planting more coffee bushes per unit of area and increasing coffee yields in the short term,” coauthor Christopher Bacon told mongabay.com. “However, we know that this would decrease the yields of other non-timber forest products such as firewood, fruits, and medicinal plants all gathered from shade coffee farmers.”

According to Bacon, incentives encourage farmers to intensify production by shifting away from shade-grown practices.

“The incentives for this are highly context dependent and could include the availability of longer-term credit, three to five years in some cases, and government and business led programs promoting the intensification of coffee production, technical assistance, and the introduction of newer crop varieties,” he said. “ Higher coffee prices since 2005 could also influence this decision.”

Several other factors add to the degree of complexity in coffee management trends. According to the study, five of the most important are cultivar origin, disease resistance, yield trends, socioeconomic drivers behind livelihood decisions and economic shifts driving market trends.

There are two main coffee bean species: Arabica (C. arabica) and robusta (C. canephora). Diseases, in particular by fungi, are difficult to mitigate. Leaf rust is the most common problem and can persist even in crops of high-yielding and disease-resistant beans. The move towards sun-grown coffee is driven in part by the commonly held assumption that sun exposure prevents fungal infections. However, some studies have suggested that shade coffee is better at fighting disease than is sun-grown coffee as canopy cover may cause difficulty in fungal spore dispersal.

Coffee-growing regions around the world (ha = hectares) with proportions of product cultivated via the different methods. Courtesy of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The shift towards sun-grown began in the 1970s when coffee research institutes started being influenced by yield-focused government incentives. Programs were created to support more intensified practices along with subsidies for pesticide use. However, the authors argue that it as-yet remains unclear whether or not sun coffee produces considerably higher yields in comparison to shade-grown.

Transition to sun coffee is further influenced by livelihoods and cultural history. Although small-scale producers are more likely than large-scale producers to continue with the traditional shade-grown method, many are still moving towards sun coffee. For farmers whose sole incomes come from coffee production, sun-grown may seem more financially appealing.

Yet, many farmers also depend on non-coffee forest products, such as firewood, that are often byproducts of shade-grown methods. The authors highlight the difficulty farmers frequently have receiving profits when coffee pickers and laborers are handed the lowest paycheck. Even with specialty coffees being sold at higher retail values, this doesn’t necessarily lead to more revenue for farmers. Worryingly, some farmers still suffer from problems such as seasonal hunger.

The report includes some encouraging developments, such as the expansion of fair trade and eco-labeling schemes. An estimated 10 percent of coffee sold in 2007 had at least one sustainability certification attached to it. The Bird Friendly certification program is an example of a scheme that upholds the highest standards, including organic certification of more than ten shade tree species. Both fair trade and organic certification have been shown to provide farmers with more access to credit and technical support. However, cost issues may arise for coffee producers who are required to pay fees in order to join certification schemes, and a direct link to increased food security is not always present.

Shade coffee is arguably more sustainable, but it also makes an important contribution to biodiversity. Shade trees provide habitat for a variety of animals and plants. According to Bacon, “…shade coffee farms have significantly more shade trees, ants in the shade trees, wasps in the shade trees, ants (on the ground), and beetles on the coffee.

“From my own research in Nicaragua and other studies throughout the region we also know that there are hundreds of orchids (likely thousands of species of orchids and other [plants that grow on trees]) conserved in the shade trees grown above the coffee and nearly [all] orchids are endangered,” he said. “The trees, the biomass and all the associated biodiversity directly linked to shade trees are lost with the conversion from shade to sun coffee.”

Shade coffee systems also play a role in preserving connectivity within forests, especially fragmented areas. Providing corridors for animals such as migratory birds and pollinators (e.g., butterflies) is crucial for a healthy, functioning ecosystem. Shade systems are additionally beneficial for curbing environmental shifts from climate change. Landslides occurring after hurricanes are mitigated by habitats with high tree density and diversity that are provided by shade systems. Even so, increasing temperatures due to global warming could force coffee production to higher, cooler elevations, which may lead to deforestation in these areas.

The situation is complex, the incentives behind management decisions are numerous and the local and global drivers behind coffee production remain diverse. The study concludes by suggesting that certification schemes should be improved by providing incentives and discounts to small-scale farmers who are otherwise unable to qualify for these programs. The authors also believe that various institutions should be required to investigate existing schemes and oversee new members to ensure successful sun-to-shade transitions for noncertified farmers. Diversification of farming practices could lead to more government involvement through a support framework and policy making, which may in turn result in more properly addressed health and hunger issues.

However, food security is not necessarily reachable by sustainable coffee production. According to Bacon, “…[there is a] need for follow-up research concerning possible trade-offs and synergies between carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation and farmer livelihoods (especially food security) in smallholder managed shade coffee landscapes…at certain estimated thresholds (thresholds are difficult to identify and depend on the scenarios developed) increasing carbon-storage efforts (potentially to receive carbon sequestration payments) could negatively impact food crops and household food security.”

Bacon also believes more research is needed to better understand the impacts coffee growing has on small farmers, and how to improve their situation.

“Given my recent research documenting seasonal hunger among smallholders in shade coffee landscapes, it is important to develop future research analyzing these questions,” he said. “It is also possible that dynamic smallholder cooperatives could play an important brokering role in navigating the transactions costs associated with ecosystem service compensation schemes.”

Since 1989, governmental policy has decreased its jurisdiction over coffee production on both local and global scales. The authors suggest that governments should become more active in supporting farmers. Payment for ecosystem services provided by shade growing practices is one option they recommend, although it can be difficult to measure the full impacts from this kind of method. The study further suggests a multifaceted approach to support, which could come from several institutions including local, regional and national cooperatives. Farmers who are already engaged in sustainable practice should be provided with appropriate incentives and infrastructure to continue their management.

Many people can influence changes in management trends and coffee production, including consumers. Sustainably grown coffee is possible on a much larger scale than is happening now and requires a better understanding of socioeconomic factors, diversification of coffee farms and improvements of the reward and certification systems for ecosystem services. Refining relationships between the people involved on every level of coffee production may allow not only increased transparency, but also enhancement of coffee production worldwide.

Nika Levikov|July 11, 2014|Citations: Jha, S., Bacon, C. M., Philpott, S. M., Méndez, V. E., Läderach, P., & Rice, R. A. (2014). Shade Coffee: Update on a Disappearing Refuge for Biodiversity. BioScience, 64(5), 416-428.

Success! Tasmanian Forests Won’t Be Open to Logging

Tasmania’s old growth and high conversation value forests are a UNESCO World Heritage site, and no wonder: They constitute over 1 million hectares and are one of the last expanses of temperate rainforests in the world. The forests are also home to many iconic species, more than a few of which — the swift parrot, the loggerhead turtle, the Tasmanian devil — are endangered.

You’d think every single one of us would be doing all we can to preserve such a precious resource. But last year, the Australian government proposed a “minor modification” to the boundary of the Tasmanian wilderness. The administration of Prime Minister Tony Abbott wanted to delist as a World Heritage Site a huge swathe — 74,000 hectares — of the forests and open them up for logging. The previous Labor administration had added  172,500 hectares of forest to be protected; the Abbott administration claimed a good share of these had been degraded by logging or were the site of plantations and, therefore, should not be given special status.

Had the Abbott administration been able to go through with its plans, Australia would have been only the second developed country (the other being Germany) to have sought to remove a site, or part of a site, from World Heritage Status.

At its annual meeting in June in Doha, the Unesco World Heritage Committee labeled the Australian government’s proposal “feeble.” The proposal was said to be “extremely sparse in the material that has been provided” and not comparable in “quality to the clearly argued position in the proposal for additions that were made last year.”

In the Guardian, world heritage expert Alec Marr said that the World Heritage Committee had seen through “the deception of the Australian government’s efforts” and commended “the high quality science and professionalism of the advisory bodies.”

World heritage sites such as these Tasmanian forests are places that are important to and belong to everyone (not corporations), irrespective of where they are located. They have universal value that transcends the value they hold for a particular nation. No matter your political views, these forests must protected and defended vigorously.

Many of us may never have the chance to travel around the globe and the see rare creatures and the one-of-kind plants that live only in Tasmania’s forests. But that doesn’t mean we value them any less. Signing Abby’s petition was a way for each of us to state how much the continued existence of those hectares of trees and fauna and wildlife means for all of us, everywhere.

The Tasmanian rainforests are far from the only still-pristine ecosystems that face imminent threats. In Australia, we need to take action to stop a highway extension from being constructed through the Beeliar wetlands and to fight against legislation that would impose mandatory jail terms for environmental protesters.

Kristina Chew|July 10, 2014

On track to ‘go beyond the critical point': Sri Lanka still losing forests at rapid clip

Human-elephant conflicts on the rise, some conservation initiatives planned by government

In 1983, Sri Lanka became embroiled in a 26-year-long civil war in which a rebel militant organization fought to establish an independent state called Tamil Eelam. The war took an enormous human toll; unknown numbers disappeared and millions more were displaced. Economic development stagnated in the rebel-held north and east of the country, while foreign investment shied away from the country.

During the latter half of the war, between 1990 and 2005, Sri Lanka suffered one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world as government soldiers burned vast tracts to flush rebels out of their forest strongholds. As a result, the country lost about 35 percent of its old growth forest and almost 18 percent of its total forest cover.

The conflict ended in 2009, and while deforestation has slowed somewhat, Sri Lanka is still losing forest cover at a fast clip. Global Forest Watch figures show 49,652 hectares were lost between 2009 and 2012.

Sri Lanka, a small island nation located off the southern tip of India, has the highest biodiversity in all of Asia, and is regarded as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Together with India’s Western Ghats, the region once had nearly 200,000 square kilometers (77,000 square miles) of important wildlife habitat, of which less than seven percent remains intact today. Because of its isolation and tropical climate, Sri Lanka is home to many unique species and subspecies found nowhere else, such as the purple-faced langur (Trachypithecus vetulus) and the Sri Lankan elephant (Elephas maximus maximus), both of which are listed as Endangered by the IUCN.

People displaced by the war returned to their old homes to find the jungle and wildlife had taken over. When they cleared the land and started to farm, elephants lost secondary forest habitat. In response, the giant herbivores helped themselves to nutrient-rich cultivated crops, leading to escalating conflicts between farmers and elephants.

“The government ought to have had a conservation plan overlapping with the resettlement plan,” wildlife biologist Manori Gunawardena told mongabay.com. “Much of the loss suffered by people and elephants could have been minimized.” Belatedly, the administration is now working on such a plan.
The families of returning refugees had also grown over the past three decades and they needed more land. The government has marked zones for settlement and is creating infrastructure such as roads and railways, leading to further deforestation. For instance, between Vavuniya and Trincomalee, the 48,451-hectare
Padaviya Forest Reserve shows telltale signs of deforestation. In 2013, 12,900 hectares – more than a quarter of the reserve – were handed over to the Sri Lanka Mahaveli Authority for human resettlement.

In May 2014, environmentalists accused the government of illegally seizing almost 1,000 hectares from forested areas in the Northern Province for resettlement.

Additionally, individuals themselves have also cleared forests and created homesteads. Some of these are illegal, such as settlements in Wilpattu North Sanctuary.

In one case, the administration opened to the public a dirt road running through Wilpattu National Park in the country’s northwest. When challenged by environmentalists, officials claimed it was the Old Mannar Road that had been in use before the war. However, Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL) filed a case in 2011, providing evidence the Old Mannar Road was previously defunct and replaced by forest, with a new road created by the Sri Lankan military to facilitate movement of its forces during the war. While the road cannot be surfaced with asphalt until further judicial orders, people continue to use the road.

In the hilly center of the country, expansion of cardamom cultivation threatens the Knuckles Forest Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the south, forest clearance for growing tea endangers the Kanneliya Forest Reserve.

But of more immediate concern are the concessions granted to agricultural companies to grow bananas, soya, and corn near forests. Environmentalists threatened to sue Dole Food Company for clearing more than 200 hectares of Somawathie National Park to grow bananas, its biggest fruit crop. Although the company abandoned this plantation in November 2011, it has other holdings near the forests of Chunnakkadu, Lunugamvehera, and Buttala. The company was also accused of clearing 1,214 hectares of Lunugamvehera National Park.

Dole is just one of Sri Lanka’s many banana growers. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, more than 50,000 hectares – nearly one percent of Sri Lanak’s land area – were used for banana cultivation in 2000, a number that has likely only increased as the industry expanded from small-scale family farms to large, industrial plantations.
Energy projects are also taking a toll on Sri Lankan forests. Right on the edge of Ruhunu National Park (popularly called Yala), an area inhabited by several herd of elephants, United Dendro Energy Private Limited clear-felled 500 hectares of forest land without getting the necessary approvals. In this freshly cleared area, the company planted rows of Gliricidia (Gliricidia sepium) saplings. Once mature, the trees will be harvested and ground into wood chips to feed a supposedly sustainable energy project. Other dendro-power companies intercrop Gliricidia with rubber trees and rice on agricultural land.

Perhaps the most egregious case of deforestation involves the area near the Mattala International Airport, Hambantota. In 2006, the Department of Wildlife drove 250 elephants out of a 60,000-hectare forest slated for development. The animals were herded into the nearby Lunugamvehera National Park and their exit blocked by electric fences. However, the elephants had difficulty acclimating to the move, and many calves and adults died of starvation as they paced the fence looking for a way out instead of looking for food. Half of their once-forest home was replaced with irrigated banana fields, tsunami rehabilitation settlements, a flashy international conference center, and the new international airport.

In the other half, around 300 to 400 elephants remained. However, growing influxes of people led to mounting conflicts as the elephants became accustomed to human presence and lost their fear. Formerly shy, retiring animals were now quick to lose their temper with any farmers who had the temerity to chase them.

To see how the elephants were moving through their habitat, biologists Prithviraj Fernando and Jennifer Pastorini tracked two bulls and seven cow elephants using satellite transmitters. They found some ranged right up to the walls of the airport, and their data has been used to set up protected areas for the animals.

“We have identified important areas for elephants in the south,” Fernando told mongabay.com. “This informs management and development decisions so detrimental effects on elephants can be minimized. Based on elephant tracking data, the government has recognized approximately 300 hectares as the first Managed Elephant Reserve outside protected areas.”

Additionally, Fernando and Pastorini advise local communities where to erect electric fences to guard settlements and crops from elephants.

On June 19, 2014, the Minister for Environment and Renewable Energy, Susil Premajayantha, announced plans to increase the country’s forest cover to 35 percent by the year 2020. However, he did not mention whether this will be done though reforestation or plantation expansion.

“At this rate of deforestation, our forest cover will go beyond the critical point when it will affect everything,” Rukshan Jayawardene, a conservationist based in Colombo, told mongabay.com. “We can already see the changes in the wet zone [on the west coast of the country], which has little forest cover left.

“Forests are the common resources of this country and can never be replaced. The current developments will squander them in a few years.”

Present and proposed conservation areas in northern Sri Lanka.

Janaki Lenin|mongabay.com correspondent|July 15, 2014

Odisha loses 9 sq. km of mangroves in two years

It is believed that the prawn mafia backed by powerful politicians denuded mangroves to set up shrimp farms, alleges an environmentalist

Odisha has lost 9 sq. km of mangroves forest between 2011 and 2013, says the biennial assessment of Forest Survey of India (FSI).

Mangrove forest covered an area of 213 . km in four districts in 2013, compared to 222 sq. km in 2011.

Of 213 sq. km, 82 sq. km was found to be a dense mangrove, while 88 sq. km was moderately dense. The survey found 43 sq. km. as open mangrove.

Kendrapara has largest area (183 sq. km) covered under mangrove forest followed by Bhadrak with 21 sq. km. Jagatisnghpur and Balasore have 7 sq. km and 2 sq. km area of mangrove forest. Kendrapara also boasts of having all 82 sq. kms of very dense mangrove forest under its jurisdiction.

Between 2011 and 2013, Kendrapara lost 4 sq. km, while mangrove denudation in Bhadrak and Balasore was 2 sq. km each. The FSI report says Puri district is left with no mangrove forest. Puri lost 1 sq. km during this period.

FSI reports that ,. km.

“The latest report released by the Centre has come as a shock for us. It is believed that active prawn mafia backed by powerful local politicians denuded mangroves for conversion into illegal shrimp farms,” said Biswajit Mohanty, an environmentalist.

During the past 24 years, ever since FSI started estimating green cover, Odisha added merely 14 sq. km of mangroves, which is touted as bio-shield against cyclonic storm.

“Despite announcements by the State government that massive mangrove plantation drive would be taken up after Super cyclone in 1999, it has miserably failed to conserve existing mangrove forests. Huge funding support from the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Program funded by World Bank and Central government’s cyclone restoration funds could not help increase the area of mangroves,” Mr. Mohanty further said.

Staff Reporter|The Hindu

Global Warming and Climate Change

Climate Change Adjustments Must Be Fast And Major, U.N. Panel Says

A new report from the United Nations’ panel on climate change says major action is needed, and fast, if policymakers want to limit global warming to acceptable levels.

There’s an international target to control climate change: keeping the global temperature rise to just 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — that’s 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change now says it’s technically possible to meet that goal. But doing so will require rapid, large-scale shifts in energy production and use.

Greenhouse gas emissions will have to drop 40 to 70 percent by 2050 — and then drop even more, to nearly zero by the end of this century — the report says.

The trouble is, emissions have actually been increasing. The panel notes that emissions grew more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the previous three decades.

A graphic from the new U.N. report charts human-caused greenhouse gas emissions from 1970-2010. The area on the right breaks down estimates for 2010.

A graphic from the new U.N. report charts human-caused greenhouse gas emissions from 1970-2010. The area on the right breaks down estimates for 2010.

A graphic from the new U.N. report charts human-caused greenhouse gas emissions from 1970-2010. The area on the right breaks down estimates for 2010.

U.N. IPCC 2014 Report

Reversing that trend would require a huge shift toward energy sources like wind, solar or nuclear power, plus a slew of other changes, like increasing the energy efficiency of buildings and slowing deforestation.

“That’s not going to happen on its own. Public policies are going to be required. That’s the key message,” says Harvard University’s Robert Stavins, an economist and expert on climate agreements who worked on the report. “What’s really striking and what’s new about the report is that policy is addressed much more comprehensively than previously.”

Another part of the report addresses so-called “geo-engineering” technologies that could possibly manipulate the atmosphere and artificially cool the planet.

“It’s quite controversial. It’s controversial among environmental advocates, it’s controversial among scientists, and it’s certainly controversial among governments,” says Stavins. “But research is clearly needed.”

The report doesn’t recommend specific policies; instead, it maps out the options. It says that delaying action will make it much harder to bring greenhouse gas emissions down.

“What this report means is that there are very key choices for governments and business and citizens to make, and that the timing of action is absolutely vital,” says Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy programs at the World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C. “If we wait, we will close off opportunities to avoid the impacts and we’ll make it a lot more expensive.”

Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, countries are currently negotiating a new agreement that’s scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015, says Morgan, who notes that each country will have to put an offer on the table about what they’ll do to tackle the problem.

Nell Greenfieldboyce|April 13, 2014

The Plot to Keep Climate Change Denial Alive

The number of people who outright dismiss manmade climate change may be getting smaller, but by no means is the surviving group getting any less smaller. Recently, hundreds of climate change deniers gathered for the Ninth International Climate Change Conference in Las Vegas to figure out how to keep environmental regulations at bay.

Bloomberg Business week’s Abe Streep went to the Mandalay Bay to attend the ICCC. (Does it remind you of another acronym? Perhaps the IPCC, or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a more legitimate scientific expert on global warming? Surely, it’s a coincidence.) His published account is simultaneously amusing and horrifying, but definitely worth checking out.

Amongst the highlights:

  • Willie Soon, an astrophysicist backed by the American Petroleum Institute, who believes that the sun has “natural warming cycles.”
  • Kilez More, an Austrian rapper, who led the crowd in a song about not accepting climate change.
  • Just about every speaker, according to Streep, made a never-ending slew of Al Gore jokes, too.

Though an event like this one inevitably attracts some crackpots, that doesn’t negate the power that a conference holds. Look at a list of some of the event’s sponsors and you’ll see organizations like the Illinois Coal Association, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Ayn Rand Institute. Whether or not these groups legitimately believe in the science being presented, it’s an attitude they can get behind and benefit from keeping alive.

The remarkable thing is that attendees of this conference really aren’t that unified. Each of them has his or her own theory on what is occurring: some speakers outright denied global warming, while some were admittedly just skeptical. Some said the sun was heating the earth, some said the earth was actually cooling. Ultimately, however, even if they can’t seem to agree on what the mitigating factors are, they love to reach the same conclusion: the threat of manmade climate change has been blown out of proportion.

The Heartland Institute, a group that regularly represents private interests of ill repute, organizes the ICCC. In the 90s, Heartland worked for big tobacco, developing campaigns that attempted to discredit studies that showed that smoking was unhealthy. The intention was never to convince everyone that smoking is actually safe. Instead, the purpose was to confuse people just enough to establish some deniability so that tobacco could continue to make profits with fewer restrictions. It’s easier for people to turn a blind eye when they can pretend that a problem isn’t necessarily definitive.

That’s precisely what’s at play at the ICCC, as well. Groups like the Heartland Institute don’t have to present a winning case that climate change is patently false. They just have to plant enough doubt in enough people’s minds to disrupt meaningful attempts at reform and regulation. The longer they can perpetuate the myth and convince people that a debate is occurring, the longer fossil fuel corporations will be able to rake in profits… Not to mention, the sooner the world’s entire population will be in a lot of trouble.

Kevin Mathews|July 14, 2014

Neverglades: Sorry Michael Grunwald, South Florida IS drowning

Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning.

In many child drownings, adults are nearby but have no idea the victim is dying. Here is what to look for.

One of the most useful articles published online is “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning.” The author is Mario Vittone, a 20-year Coast Guard veteran and an expert on drowning and sea survival.

It is a must-read for anyone with children headed to the beach this summer. I was reminded of that article by a pointless semantic dust up over a powerful piece last Friday in the U.K. Guardian, “Miami, the great world city, is drowning while the powers that be look away.” The article quotes Dr. Harold Wanless, chair of the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Miami:

“Every day we continue to pump uncontrolled amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, we strengthen the monster that is going to consume us. We are heating up the atmosphere and then we are heating up the oceans so that they expand and rise.
There doesn’t look as if anything is going to stop that. People are starting to plan in Miami but really they just don’t see where it is all going.”

Thus one of the great cities of the world faces obliteration in the coming decades. “It is over for south Florida. It is as simple as that. Nor is it on its own,” Wanless admits.

We would have a serious chance at stopping this if we took the advice of many top climatologists and launched a World War II scale effort to rapidly bring CO2 emissions to near zero and then worked hard to pull CO2 out of the air (to bring us back to 350 parts per million of CO2 in the air – from the current level of 400 ppm). Failing that, we could stabilize near 450 ppm, keeping total warming as close as possible to 2°C, which would, at the very least, slow sea level rise dramatically.But the forces of denial and delay – and their enablers in the media – have put the first option (which is arguably the most sane

and moral) outside the Overton window. And they have made the second option all but untenable politically – even though study after study has concluded it could be achieved at virtually no net cost.

The grim fate for South Florida in a world of uncontrolled CO2 emissions is neither very controversial scientifically nor even very new.

Last June, Jeff Goodell had a piece in Rolling Stone, “Goodbye, Miami: By century’s end, rising sea levels will turn the nation’s urban fantasyland into an American Atlantis. But long before the city is completely underwater, chaos will begin.”

The latest research “suggests that sea level could rise more than six feet by the end of the century,” as Goodell noted, and “Wanless believes that it could continue rising a foot each decade after that.”

And that was before recent research on the collapsing West Antarctic ice sheet and the accelerated melting of Greenland made clear we are headed toward the high end of sea level rise projections this century and beyond.

Worse, South Florida rests atop “a vast and porous limestone plateau” (think Swiss cheese). That means you can’t save it with conventional sea walls and barriers.

So, hasta la vista, south Florida. Oh, and hasta la vista, Everglades, which will eventually need to be renamed the Neverglades.

Rather than trumpeting this reality, Michael Grunwald, TIME’s senior national correspondent – and a Miami resident – has decided to write a piece attacking the Guardian mostly on semantic grounds:

Well, we’re not actually drowning. We do get damp every now and then, but it’s hard to see how some modest sunny-day flooding in my neighborhood at high tide justifies The Guardian headline that’s been generating so much buzz: “Miami, the great world city, is drowning while the powers that be look away.”

Hmm, if the waters are rising around you and your current course of action must inevitably lead to your total inundation and death, is that “drowning”? As purely semantic questions go, I suppose it might have some interest to linguists and journalists. As existential questions go, however, everyone in Miami needs to understand that the city simply is not going to exist unless we immediately start ignoring the do-nothing and do-little crowds.

As Wanless told the Guardian: “The next two or three feet of sea-level rise that we get will do away with just about every barrier island we have across the planet. Then, when rises get to four-to-six feet, all the world’s great river deltas will disappear and with them the great stretches of agricultural land that surrounds them. People still have their heads in the sand about this but it is coming. Miami is just the start. It is worth watching just for that reason alone. It is a major US city and it is going to let itself drown.”

Ah, but what does Wanless know, he’s just a leading expert on sea level rise and chair of the science committee for the Miami-Dade Climate Change Advisory Task Force.

In Vittone’s article on drowning, he quotes Dr. Francesco Pia’s description of what drowning actually looks like – from the Coast Guard’s “On Scene” magazine (emphasis in original):
Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help….

Drowning people cannot wave for help.

That sounds an awful lot like South Florida.

Joe Romm|ThinkProgress.org| July 14, 2014

Sea level rise calls for preparedness, not politics

New climate change studies just released brought new interest in how sea level rise will impact on our coastal cities and communities. That’s good, whatever your thoughts on this hot-button issue.

Why? Because the first step in being prepared is being aware – and any coastal manager or resident who knowingly ignores a potential threat to the community and interests is not being a good steward for those interests. Saying it could happen is not necessarily saying it will – but to deny even the chance of catastrophe is a fool’s game.

The good news is that, in cities from Miami to Manhattan, Seattle to Old Saybrook, people are looking at how vulnerable their community could be if seas start to rise more rapidly. In some areas, this is not an abstract interest. For instance, some areas of Miami Beach and Honolulu flood at slightly higher than normal high tides today, a problem that calls for action – especially when this flooding is a new development in the past decade.

Other cities, particularly those with major infrastructure within the tidal or storm surge zone, are looking at the lessons of coastal catastrophes such as Sandy to see what steps could be taken today to make this infrastructure withstand whatever tomorrow has in store. Given the price tags some cities could be facing, starting this process early is wise… since it’s always easier to adapt over time than to make up for lost ground all at once when trying to recover from a coastal disaster.

What’s the key to being prepared? Looking at your vulnerabilities today so they don’t become liabilities tomorrow.

  • Look at coastal areas that are prone to trouble in normal conditions – low spots that flood quickly; hot spots that erode quickly; vital infrastructure such as roads, utilities and public areas that are most likely at risk in any storm or weather event. What can you start doing today that will make them safer tomorrow?
  • Look at properties that are most vulnerable or have made your repetitive-risk list thanks to multiple damage claims. Can you plan to do something that will lower that risk, or can you work to move those structures away from future risk (or eventually remove them altogether)?
  • Look at your community. Does it have a realistic view of coastal conditions, a desire to proactively address problems (coastal and otherwise)? Or does it lurch from crisis to crisis, addressing problems only when they become nearly unmanageable or major threats to public safety? Smart communities anticipate disaster (as much as possible, of course), rather than allowing a crisis to set the local agenda. How? By being prepared.

When it comes to sea level rise, pundits and policy makers may have the luxury of debating or delaying because it is abstract issue for them, but people with something at stake – such as coastal residents and managers – had better be prepared for whatever might be ahead.

That doesn’t mean coastal interests should embrace the worst case scenario – whatever this week’s iteration of that looks like. Nor does it mean those who care about the coast should let their ideologies override their interests, so their opinion about sea level rise closely follows their voting record.

It means you have to keep an open mind and an adaptable attitude, to be willing to respond to what you see and what can scientifically be proven in a way that keeps you and your community ahead of the game in preparations. And it means looking for weakness and vulnerabilities before they put people at risk, and doing the necessary thing even if it’s not politically easy.

This information is provided by the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association. For information, to change your email address or to unsubscribe from this list, contact us at exdir@asbpa.org. A complete collection of Beach News Services articles is available for media access online at http://www.asbpa.org/news/newsroom_beachnews.htm

Florida seawall rule changes a threat to sea turtles

 The federal government’s decision last week to designate 685 miles of beach along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts as critical habitat for loggerhead sea turtles — including most of Sarasota County and Longboat Key in Manatee — was hailed by some as a historic effort to save an imperiled species.

A critical-habitat designation provides extra protection for natural environments deemed essential to an animal’s survival, and the size of the land and sea areas covered in the loggerhead rule is unprecedented.

But just as greater federal oversight of loggerheads is being extended, Florida officials are talking about repealing a state rule aimed at saving sea turtles that puts limits on seawall construction.

The idea that the state would make it easier to build seawalls in habitat recognized as critical to loggerheads is “very discouraging,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a St. Petersburg attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that sued the government to get the critical-habitat designation.

“Seawalls are not the answer” to beach erosion problems, Lopez said, adding that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection shouldn’t “bend over backwards to take the easiest path to environmental destruction.”

Florida has 300 miles of beaches covered by the new critical-habitat designation.

A section of the state’s administrative code governing construction seaward of the mean high-water line states that “coastal armoring structures shall not be constructed in federally designated critical habitat for marine turtles.”

That rule was meaningless until last week, because the federal government had never designated critical habitat for sea turtles. Now it appears that new seawall construction in the most critically eroded areas — those where water is lapping up to where a seawall might be proposed — is off-limits along vast stretches of Florida’s coast, at least temporarily.

Although scientists say limiting seawall construction is important for protecting turtle habitat, restrictions on the structures are often opposed by property owners.

DEP officials are reviewing the seawall prohibition.

“No final determination has been made on the repeal of this provision at this time,” DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller wrote in an email to the Herald-Tribune on Monday.

Miller did not respond to questions about why DEP officials are considering doing away with the turtle protection, or how the provision originally became part of state law.

The Herald-Tribune learned about the possible repeal from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials, who said their DEP counterparts talked about rolling back the seawall prohibition when federal officials reached out to inform them that substantial stretches of Florida coastline would soon be designated critical turtle habitat.

“We have coordinated with DEP in letting them know what was happening” with the critical-habitat designation, said Ann Marie Lauritsen, the sea turtle recovery coordinator for the Wildlife Service’s Southeast region.

“Their response was this was a rule that would be revised.”

The federal government has no say on seawalls, because no federal permits or funding are involved, but Lauritsen said discouraging the structures is a good idea:

“They’re a line in the sand and they have a tremendous impact on turtles. They can still nest on beach nourishment if done correctly but with seawalls they lose” access to a beach.

The fallout from the critical-habitat decision illustrates the ongoing tug of war between environmental advocates and economic interests.

The loggerhead has been listed as a threatened species since 1978, but it took nearly four decades for critical habitat to be officially identified.

Such designations can be controversial, with some landowners concerned about restrictions on their properties.

Environmental groups had been petitioning for the loggerhead habitat protection since 2007 and finally sued in 2013. The groups reached a settlement with the government which led to the protection of 84 percent of loggerhead nesting areas.

The sweeping decision — which also designates roughly 300,000 square miles of foraging and breeding waters as critical for the turtles — is the largest critical-habitat designation in the history of the Endangered Species Act and a conservation milestone, said Lopez, of the Center for Biological Diversity.

But the practical implications of the designation remain unclear.

The seawall prohibition in state law is one of the more tangible protections tied to the announcement.

Federal officials charged with safeguarding critical habitat say they are already taking steps to protect loggerheads, so the designation will have minimal impact.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region spokesman Chuck Underwood said it would “result in very little change to the public.”

That sentiment was echoed by Nakeir Nobles, a spokeswoman for the Jacksonville office of the Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for permitting beach renourishment projects and other coastal activities, such as dredging, that can be harmful to sea turtles.

Seawalls block turtles from accessing nesting areas. They also erode the beach on either side of wherever they’re built, further reducing loggerhead nesting habitat.

Banning new seawalls seaward of the mean high-water line would not stop construction of the structures. Experts say new seawalls mostly are placed landward of the high-water line in an attempt to protect property before beach erosion brings the water all the way up to the structure.

But any type of prohibition on seawalls across much of Florida could be extremely controversial. Beachfront property owners have long battled with local governments and environmental groups over the structures.

The issue has been hotly debated in Sarasota County on numerous occasions over the years as beach erosion put waterfront structures in peril.

County leaders have generally taken a tough stance on seawalls because of their impact on surrounding properties.

Howard Berna, an environmental supervisor with Sarasota County, said the last seawall permitted was on Casey Key in 2009 to protect four properties.

The County Commission has denied three seawall applications in the last year. None of the requests were for structures seaward of the mean high-water line, Berna said.

Sarasota County has nine criteria for deciding whether a seawall permit is warranted. They do not mention turtle habitat. The state has final say on the permits.

While few seawall permits would likely be affected by the state rule, Lopez said repealing it would send the wrong message, and the DEP should not be “crossing a good law off the books.”

“We need to be coming up with smarter ways of doing things,” she said.

Zac Anderson|July 14, 2014

Economist Says Best Climate Fix A Tough Sell, But Worth It

We often talk about climate change as a matter of science. But the biggest questions are really about money. How much would it cost to fix the problem — and what price will we pay if we don’t?

The man who invented the field of climate economics 40 years ago says there’s actually a straightforward way to solve the problem. William Nordhaus has written a book that lays it out in simple terms.

Nordhaus has been at Yale University since 1967. Now 72 years old, he has silver hair and a warm demeanor. His ideas about climate change, he says, date to 1974, when he was a research scholar in Austria doing energy research and happened to share an office with a climatologist, who told him, ” ‘This is where energy research is going to be going,’ ” Nordhaus remembers. “I said, ‘Well, OK, tell me about it.’ And that’s how it started.”

Despite some scientific interest in climate change at the time, the topic “was zero on the intellectual Kelvin scale in economics,” Nordhaus says. “There was nothing at that point.”

He started to grapple with the basic problem: Climate change was looming because people were burning cheap fossil fuels.

Carbon dioxide is now building up in the atmosphere faster than ever, and each extra ton increases the risk of sea level rise, shifting climate and other changes that are likely to cost a huge amount of money to address in the future.

Right now, nobody pays for that, and it wasn’t even clear what the price should be until Nordhaus started running the numbers.

“When we did our first calculations, they actually spun out these ‘shadow prices,’ ” he says. “And I remember looking at them and trying to think … what in the world does that mean?”

The shadow prices, he realized, actually represented the cost of putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And with that, climate change suddenly became a problem that could be attacked with the tools of economics.

“Actually from an economic point of view, it’s a pretty simple problem,” he says.

If people would simply pay the cost of using the atmosphere as a dump for carbon dioxide, that would create a powerful incentive to dump less and invest in cleaner ways to generate energy. But how do you do that?

“We need to put a price on carbon, so that when anyone, anywhere, anytime does something that puts carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, there’s a price tag on that,” he says.

His colleagues say that inspiration — now taken for granted — makes Nordhaus a prime candidate for a Nobel Prize. A lot of his work has been figuring out how big a price we should pay, and what form it should take.

It could be a carbon tax — preferably in place of other taxes. Or it could be a cap-and-trade system, where polluters buy and trade the rights to put carbon in the air. California and Europe are putting policies like this in place.

“We have to be grown-ups, I think. There are lots of things we do where the investments come way, way in the future. Educating 4-year-olds — that’s an investment that goes way into the future, as well.

William Nordhaus, climate economist

“The real point of the pricing is not to gouge people, not to extract resources from people. It’s to tilt the playing field in such a way that people, firms, government — everybody moves toward carbon-free or low-carbon activities,” he says.

Nordhaus has laid out how to do this in his book, Climate Casino. The not-so-subtle point of the title is that we’re gambling with our future if we don’t do anything about climate change. And Nordhaus knows that the challenge isn’t the economics — it’s human behavior.

His studies show that it makes economic sense to start paying the price now, even though the benefits would be decades away.

“That’s a pretty tough one,” he admits. “We have to be grown-ups, I think. There are lots of things we do where the investments come way, way in the future. Educating 4-year-olds … that’s an investment that goes way into the future as well.”

But for such a plan to affect climate, at least half the planet needs to cooperate, he says, or it will be all pain and no gain.

Nordhaus is hardly a saber rattler on this subject. Though he sees the potential for very serious problems down the road, he still says that some climate change can actually be good for agriculture — at least up to a point. And he says we shouldn’t do any more to address climate change than makes economic sense, even if that means letting the planet warm more than the international target of 2 degrees Celsius.

His calm approach has at times infuriated environmental activists, who are dismayed at the pace of global action.

“What can I say about calm?” he replies when asked about that. “I like to think of the economics as a cool head in the service of a warm heart, and that’s my approach to this.”

People who have been dubious about climate change have, over the years, quoted Nordhaus’ work to argue that it doesn’t require urgent action. But lately, urgency has been creeping into Nordhaus’ voice.

“At some point you move from ‘calm’ to ‘concerned,’ ” he says. “I’m not at ‘panic,’ but there are some pretty deep concerns about what’s going on — particularly at the slow pace of the steps that countries are taking to deal with climate change.”

The numbers he details in his book argue that the world can actually afford to take the steps we need to rein in climate change — provided that we make smart choices about how to do it.

Richard Harris|February 11, 2014

Warning for Caribbean countries as sea level continues to rise

ST GEORGE’S, Grenada (CMC) — Director of the Environmental and Occupational Health Track of the Public Health Department of St George’s University is predicting a bleak future for the Caribbean amid concerns that the rate of sea level rises beyond the anticipated three millimetres mark.

Hugh Sealy, who is also chairman of the board of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) said sea level rise for the Caribbean is inevitable regardless of what decisions are taken now.

“No matter what we do about the future of the CO2 (Carbon dioxide) we put in the atmosphere; even if we pull all the CO2 out of the atmosphere now, we still face a one meter sea level rise in the Caribbean.”

He said if this rate continues as being projected, the islands of the region will see major losses along their coastlines by the year 2050.

“Don’t forget the rate of sea level rise is increasing. We were two decades ago at one and a half millimeters per year; we’re now at three millimeters per year. In two decades time we could be at six millimeters.”

Sealy, who is attending the first ever Caribbean Symposium for Innovators in Coastal Tourism, said the sea level rise is not taking place in isolation and that changes to the weather pattern were also having an immediate and devastating effect on the economy.

“You’re going to have stronger hurricanes which are going to mean that storm surge is going to be worse; you’re going to have salt water intrusions into your ground water aquifers so your fresh water supply is going to be impacted.

“Your agricultural productivity is going to go down. Your yields from your nutmegs are going to get less as the temperatures get hotter and as you get more soil erosion,” Sealy said adding “you’re going to lose a lot of tourism assets; a lot of coastal assets. Seaports would be lost airports would be lost.”

Sealy said that for small economies like Grenada, more that 50 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would have to be spent to replace lost and damaged infrastructure as a result of the effects of climate change.

He said the time to act to mitigate the inevitable effects of climate change is now and urges entrepreneurs in the tourism and hospitality industry to begin now to lobby regional governments to take defensive action.

“This is bigger than you. This has to be done on a national scale,” Sealy said.

Meanwhile, a United States-based water resource planning expert is proposing the establishment of a yachting trail in the south eastern Caribbean to improve the yachting experience on the Windward Islands.

Professor emeritus in the College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University Glenn Haas outlined his proposal at the symposium which ended last Friday.

The proposed trail would be a free web-based trail of information and services that yachters and other travellers would use to experience and enjoy the Windward Islands.

Haas said In addition to providing a number of services that would facilitate travel by yachters, the trail will enhance community benefits from authentic interactions of the yachting community with local citizens and communities.

It will also engage the yachting community in the conservation and protection of marine resources and protected areas; serve as a financial engine for National Conservation Trust(s) and their conservation of protected areas and increase government efficiency; reduce costs and leakage and provide additional employment, he added.

“This trail will attract the yachting community because it would be a status symbol to say they have floated, they have boated this trail,” Haas suggested.

Jamaica Observer|July 14, 2014   

Extreme Weather

Polar Vortex: It’s Baaack (Or Is It?)

You say potato, I say Polar Vortex.

But whatever we call it, unusually cold air is predicted to blanket the Upper mid-West and Northeast next week, driving summer temperatures down 10 to 30 degrees below normal.

Sounds frosty, but it really means highs in the 60s and 70s and lows in the 40s and 50s, a welcome cool-down for many areas during the height of summer.

Some weather forecasters are calling the cold snap a polar vortex, that bitterly cold air that traveled south from the Arctic last winter, setting cold temperature records throughout the U.S.

But others say the pattern change is not polar vortex redux, but rather will result from weather patterns closer to earth.

Whatever you call it, Minneapolis is expecting temperatures in the 60s and 50s during Tuesday’s Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game at Target Field.

Unfortunately for the West, summer will remain summer next week. Seattle, Wash., will suffer some of the hottest temperatures of the year, around 90. And Death Valley, Calif. will be smacked with 123 degrees on Wednesday.

Lisa Kaplan Gordon|July 12, 2014

Gov. Rick Scott to talk about climate change

MIAMI (AP) – Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday his administration would be “happy to meet” with 10 scientists from Florida universities who want to talk about climate change, a subject he has been reluctant to address.

A letter from the scientists was delivered to Scott’s office Tuesday. Scott and other Republicans have been skeptical of global warming and the governor has worked with the GOP-controlled Legislature to dismantle climate change initiatives.

When a federal report earlier this year highlighted Florida – and Miami in particular – among the parts of the country most vulnerable to global warming and rising sea levels, Scott said: “I’m not a scientist” when asked about it.

In a statement about the letter, Scott said he was “focused on solutions we can implement to protect our land, water and families.”

We have made environmental restoration a top priority – investing record amounts in the Everglades and Springs projects all across Florida, even many that were not prioritized by the previous administration,” he said.

During an unrelated bill signing event in Key Biscayne Wednesday, Scott told The Associated Press that much of his own family continues to live in Florida and that he hopes to preserve it for his grandchildren.

“I want to make sure this is a place where we’ll have a pristine environment that we all can enjoy,” Scott said.

The letter was signed by experts in marine systems, atmospheric sciences and other climate change-related fields at the University of Miami, Florida State University, Eckerd College and Florida International University.

“We are scientists and we would like the opportunity to explain what is at stake for our state,” the scientists wrote.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given Florida a target of cutting its carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 38 percent by the year 2030, as part of the Obama administration’s effort to reduce emissions nationwide by nearly a third over the next 15 years.
Florida will choose how to meet that goal, and the scientists wrote that they hoped to provide Scott with the latest climate science as the state prepares those plans.

“Those of us signing this letter have spent hundreds of years combined studying this problem, not from any partisan political perspective, but as scientists – seekers of evidence and explanations,” the letter said.

The letter’s delivery was first reported by the Miami Herald.

Scott, who is running for re-election, has worked to dismantle climate change initiatives put into place by his predecessor and current opponent, Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist.

Florida’s other top Republicans, including possible 2016 presidential candidates U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush, also have challenged climate science.

The letter comes as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy lead a statewide “What’s your plan, Gov ?” campaign seeking energy alternatives and transparency as state agencies work to meet the federal carbon pollution standards.

Jennifer Kay|WINKnews.com|July 17, 2014

Genetically Modified Organisms

Big Chemical Companies are Counting on Misinformation to Keep the Public in the Dark About GMO Labeling

Make no mistake: The big chemical companies fighting tooth and nail against GMO food labeling aren’t just hoping to keep the public misinformed about this issue – they’re counting on it.

That’s why we’re fighting back, each week, with a GMO Labeling Fact Check. This week, we’ll explore the claim that transparent labeling will increase the cost of food.

THE CLAIM: Labeling genetically engineered products will increase the price of food.

THE VERDICT: FALSE

THE FACTS: The big chemical companies that profit from selling genetically engineered foods have spent millions trying to confuse voters with the false claim that labeling genetically engineered foods will raise prices and hurt consumers. But according to Consumers Union, the parent organization of Consumer Reports, that just isn’t the case.

The truth is that food companies routinely change their labels for all sorts of reasons without increasing cost. In fact, even the incredibly small cost conferred to consumers from a new price tag is bigger than the cost of disclosing if a product is genetically engineered on a label.

What’s more, labeling the genetically engineered foods that are exported to any of the 64 countries that already require labeling has not increased the cost of our food. Many American foods companies sell their products in those countries and disclose genetically engineered ingredients on their labels without incurring any additional costs. If they can provide that information to their customers in Europe, Japan and Australia, they can do the same here in Oregon.

Oregon Right to Know

Americans Are Too Stupid For GMO Labeling, Congressional Panel Says

WASHINGTON — It’s pretty rare that members of Congress and all the witnesses they’ve called will declare out loud that Americans are just too ignorant to be given a piece of information, but that was a key conclusion of a session of the House Agriculture Committee this week.

The issue was genetically modified organisms, or GMOs as they’re often known in the food industry. And members of the subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture, as well as their four experts, agreed that the genetic engineering of food crops has been a thorough success responsible for feeding the hungry, improving nutrition and reducing the use of pesticides.

People who oppose GMOs or want them labeled so that consumers can know what they’re eating are alarmists who thrive on fear and ignorance, the panel agreed. Labeling GMO foods would only stoke those fears, and harm a beneficial thing, so it should not be allowed, the lawmakers and witnesses agreed.

“I really worry that labeling does more harm than good, that it leads too many people away from it and it diminishes the market for GMOs that are the solution to a lot of the problems we face,” said David Just, a professor at Cornell University and co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs.

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) agreed with Just and asked him, “What is the biggest drawback? Is it the ignorance of what the product is, just from a lack of education?”

“It is ignorance of the product, and it’s a general skepticism of anything they eat that is too processed or treated in some way that they don’t quite understand,” Just said.

“Even using long scientific-sounding words make it sound like it’s been grown in a test tube, and people get scared of it,” Just added.

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) agreed with another witness, Calestous Juma, an international development professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, that political leaders had been cowed by misinformed populaces into bending on GMOs, especially in the European Union, where Juma said hundreds of millions of euros have been spent on studies that have found GMOs safe.

“It’s obvious that while the science in the EU in incontrovertible about the health and safety benefits of genetically modified hybrid crops, that because of politics, people are afraid to lead, and inform consumers,” Schrader said.

Juma cited an extensive report by the European Commission. (There is at least one controversial group that disagrees with him.)

Certainly, there is misinformation about GMOs, as highlighted in a New York Times feature on a Hawaiian ban of most GMOs. But entirely missing from the hearing was any suggestion that there are real concerns about the impact of genetically engineered food, such as the growth of pesticide-resistant “super weeds,” over-reliance on single-crop factory farming, decreased biodiversity, and a lack of a consistent approval process. (Read more pros and cons here.)

The issue may soon gain fresh relevance on Capitol Hill, where a measure backed by Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) to stop states from requiring GMO labeling could get marked up as early as September. The bill also would allow genetically engineered food to be labeled “100 percent natural.”

The idea of the bill brought Ben and Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield to Capitol Hill Thursday to push back, along with Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who backs labeling.

Greenfield told HuffPost that labeling is a simple, inexpensive matter of letting people know what’s in their food, and letting them decide what they want to support and eat.

“This idea that consumers will be scared away — the label will be a very simple thing, a few words on a container saying something like ‘may be produced with genetic engineering.’ It’s not scary,” Greenfield said.

mike mcauliff|huffington post|07/10/2014

Monsanto’s Herbicide Linked to Fatal Kidney Disease Epidemic: Could It Topple the Company?

Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup has been linked to a mysterious fatal kidney disease epidemic that has appeared in Central America, Sri Lanka and India.

For years, scientists have been trying to unravel the mystery of a chronic kidney disease epidemic that has hit Central America, India and Sri Lanka. The disease occurs in poor peasant farmers who do hard physical work in hot climes. In each instance, the farmers have been exposed to herbicides and to heavy metals. The disease is known as CKDu, for Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown etiology. The “u” differentiates this illness from other chronic kidney diseases where the cause is known. Very few Western medical practitioners are even aware of CKDu, despite the terrible toll it has taken on poor farmers from El Salvador to South Asia.

Dr. Catharina Wesseling, the regional director for the Program on Work and Health (SALTRA) in Central America, which pioneered the initial studies of the region’s unsolved outbreak, put it this way, “Nephrologists and public health professionals from wealthy countries are mostly either unfamiliar with the problem or skeptical whether it even exists.”

Dr. Wesseling was being diplomatic. At a 2011 health summit in Mexico City, the United States beat back a proposal by Central American nations that would have listed CKDu as a top priority for the Americas.

David McQueen, a US delegate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who has since retired from the agency, explained the US position.

“The idea was to keep the focus on the key big risk factors that we could control and the major causes of death: heart disease, cancer and diabetes. And we felt, the position we were taking, that CKD was included.”

The United States was wrong. The delegates from Central America were correct. CKDu is a new form of illness. This kidney ailment does not stem from diabetes, hypertension or other diet-related risk factors. Unlike the kidney disease found in diabetes or hypertension, the kidney tubules are a major site of injury in CKDu, suggesting a toxic etiology.

In addition to Central America, India and Sri Lanka have been hit hard by the epidemic. In Sri Lanka, over 20,000 people have died from CKDu in the past two decades. In the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, more than 1,500 have been treated for the ailment since 2007. Given the rarity of dialysis and kidney transplantation in these regions, most who suffer from CKDu will die from their kidney disease.

In an investigation worthy of the great Sherlock Holmes, a scientific sleuth from Sri Lanka, Dr. Channa Jayasumana, and his two colleagues, Dr. Sarath Gunatilake and Dr. Priyantha Senanayake, have put forward a unifying hypothesis that could explain the origin of the disease. They reasoned that the offending agent had to have been introduced into Sri Lanka within the last 30 years, since the first cases appeared in the mid-1990s. The chemical also needed to be able to form stable complexes with the metals in hard water and to act as a shield, protecting those metals from metabolism by the liver. The compound would also need to act as a carrier and be able to deliver the metals to the kidney.

We know that political changes in Sri Lanka in the late 1970s led to the introduction of agrochemicals, especially in rice farming. The researchers looked for likely suspects. Everything pointed to glyphosate. This herbicide is used in abundance in Sri Lanka. Earlier studies had shown that once glyphosate binds with metals, the glyphosate-metal complex can last for decades in the soil.

Glyphosate was not originally designed for use as an herbicide. Patented by the Stauffer Chemical Company in 1964, it was introduced as a chelating agent. It avidly binds to metals. Glyphosate was first used as a descaling agent to clean out mineral deposits from the pipes in boilers and other hot water systems.

It is this chelating property that allows glyphosate to form complexes with the arsenic, cadmium and other heavy metals found in the groundwater and soil in Central America, India and Sri Lanka. The glyphosate-heavy metal complex can enter the human body in a variety of ways. The complex can be ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Glyphosate acts like a Trojan horse, allowing the bound heavy metal to avoid detection by the liver, since the glyphosate occupies the binding sites that the liver would normally latch onto. The glyphosate-heavy metal complex reaches the kidney tubules, where the high acidity allows the metal to break free of the glyphosate. The cadmium or arsenic then damages the kidney tubules and other parts of the kidneys, ultimately resulting in kidney failure and, most often, death.

At this point, this elegant theory advanced by Dr. Jayasumana and colleagues can only be considered hypothesis-generating. Further scientific studies will need to confirm the hypothesis that CKDu is indeed due to glyphosate-heavy metal toxicity to the kidney tubules. For the present, this may be the best explanation for the epidemic.

Another explanation is that heat stress may be the cause, or a combination of heat stress and chemical toxicity. Monsanto, of course, is standing behind glyphosate and disputing the claim that it plays any role whatsoever in the genesis of CKDu.

While the exact cause of CKDu has not been proven conclusively, both Sri Lanka and El Salvador have invoked the precautionary principle. El Salvador banned glyphosate in September 2013 and is currently looking for safer alternatives. Sri Lanka banned glyphosate in March of this year because of concerns about CKDu.

Glyphosate has had an interesting history. After its initial use as a descaling agent by Stauffer Chemical, scientists at Monsanto discovered its herbicidal qualities. Monsanto patented glyphosate as an herbicide in the 1970s, and has marketed it as “Roundup” since 1974. Monsanto retained exclusive rights until 2000, when the patent expired. By 2005, Monsanto’s glyphosate products were registered in more than 130 countries for use in more than 100 crops. As of 2013, glyphosate was the world’s largest selling herbicide.

Glyphosate’s popularity has been due, in part, to the perception that it is extremely safe. The Monsanto website claims:

Glyphosate binds tightly to most types of soil so it is not available for uptake by roots of nearby plants. It works by disrupting a plant enzyme involved in the production of amino acids that are essential to plant growth. The enzyme, EPSP synthase, is not present in humans or animals, contributing to the low risk to human health from the use of glyphosate according to label directions.

Because of glyphosate’s reputation for both safety and effectiveness, John Franz, who discovered glyphosate’s usefulness as a herbicide, received the National Medal of Technology in 1987. Franz also received the American Chemical Society’s Carothers Award in 1989, and the American Section of the Society of Chemical Industry’s Perkins Medal in 1990. In 2007, he was inducted into the United States’ Inventor’s Hall of Fame for his work on the herbicide. Roundup was named one of the “Top 10 Products That Changed the Face of Agriculture” by the magazine Farm Chemicals in 1994.

Not everyone agrees with this perception of glyphosate’s safety. The first “Roundup resistant” GMO crops, soybeans, were introduced by Monsanto in 1996. The same year, the first glyphosate resistant weeds began to emerge. Farmers responded by using increasingly toxic herbicides to deal with the new super weeds that had developed glyphosate resistance.

In addition to the concern about the emergence of super weeds, a study in rats demonstrated that low levels of glyphosate induced severe hormone-dependent mammary, hepatic, and kidney disturbances. Recently two activist groups, Moms Across America and Thinking Moms Revolution, asked the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to recall Monsanto’s Roundup, citing a host of adverse health impacts in their children from the herbicide, including failure to thrive, leaky gut syndrome, autism and food allergies.

Glyphosate is no ordinary herbicide. Besides being the most used herbicide on earth, it is also the central pillar of Monsanto’s temple. Most of Monsanto’s seeds, including soy, corn, canola, alfalfa, cotton, sugar beets and sorghum, are glyphosate resistant. As of 2009, Monsanto’s Roundup (glyphosate) products, which include its GMO seeds, represented about half of Monsanto’s yearly revenue. This reliance on glyphosate products makes Monsanto extremely vulnerable to research challenging the herbicide’s safety.

Glyphosate-resistant seeds are engineered to allow the farmer to drench his fields in the herbicide to kill off all of the weeds. The glyphosate resistant crop can then be harvested. But if the combination of glyphosate and the heavy metals found in the groundwater or the soil destroys the farmer’s kidneys in the process, the whole house of cards falls apart. This may be what is happening now.

An ugly confrontation has been unfolding in El Salvador. The US government has been pressuring El Salvador to buy GMO seeds from Monsanto rather than indigenous seeds from their own farmers. The US has threatened to withhold almost $300 million in aid unless El Salvador purchases Monsanto’s GMO seeds. The GMO seeds are more expensive. They are not adapted to the Salvadoran climate or soil.

The only “advantage” of Monsanto’s GMO seeds is their glyphosate resistance. Now that glyphosate has been shown to be a possible, and perhaps likely, cause of CKDu, that “advantage” no longer exists.

What is the message from the United States to El Salvador exactly? Perhaps the kindest explanation is that the United States is unaware that glyphosate may be the cause of the fatal kidney disease epidemic in El Salvador and that the government sincerely believes that the GMO seeds will provide a better yield. If so, a sad mixture of ignorance and arrogance is at the heart of this foreign policy blunder. A less kind interpretation would suggest that the government puts Monsanto’s profits above concerns about the economy, environment and health of the Salvadorans. This view would suggest that a tragic mix of greed and callous disregard for the Salvadorans is behind US policy.

Unfortunately, there is evidence to support the latter view. The United States seems to be completely behind Monsanto, regardless of any science questioning the safety of its products. Cables released by WikiLeaks show that US diplomats around the world are pushing GMO crops as a strategic government and commercial imperative. The cables also reveal instructions to punish any foreign countries trying to ban GMO crops.

Whatever the explanation, pressuring El Salvador, or any country, to buy GMO seeds from Monsanto is a tragic mistake. It is foreign policy not worthy of America. Let’s change it. Let’s base our foreign and domestic policies on human rights, environmental stewardship, health and equity.

Jeff Ritterman, M.D.|Truthout| 10 July

Major Study: Monsanto GMO Corn Can Cause Damage to Liver and Kidneys, and Severe Hormonal Disruption

Key study has passed through three peer reviews.

A scientific study that identified serious health impacts on rats fed on ‘Roundup ready’ GMO maize has been republished following its controversial retraction under strong commercial pressure. Now regulators must respond and review GMO and agro-chemical licenses, and licensing procedures.

A highly controversial paper by Prof Gilles-Eric Séralini and colleagues has been republished after a stringent peer review process.

The chronic toxicity study examines the health impacts on rats of eating  a commercialized genetically modified (GM) maize, Monsanto’s NK603 glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup.

The original study, published in Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) in September 2012, found severe liver and kidney damage and hormonal disturbances in rats fed the GM maize and low levels of Roundup that are below those permitted in drinking water in the EU.

However it was retracted by the editor-in-chief of the Journal in November 2013 after a sustained campaign of criticism and defamation by pro-GMO scientists.

Toxic effects were found from the GM maize tested alone, as well as from Roundup tested alone and together with the maize. Additional unexpected findings were higher rates of large tumors and mortality in most treatment groups.

Criticisms addressed in the new version

Now the study has been republished by Environmental Sciences Europe. The republished version contains extra material addressing criticisms of the original publication.

The raw data underlying the study’s findings are also published – unlike the raw data for the industry studies that underlie regulatory approvals of Roundup, which are kept secret. However, the new paper presents the same results as before and the conclusions are unchanged.

The republication restores the study to the peer-reviewed literature so that it can be consulted and built upon by other scientists.

The republished study is accompanied by a separate commentary by Prof Séralini’s team (also published on The Ecologist) describing the lobbying efforts of GMO crop supporters to force the editor of FCT to retract the original publication.

The authors explain that the retraction was “a historic example of conflicts of interest in the scientific assessments of products commercialized worldwide.”

“We also show that the decision to retract cannot be rationalized on any discernible scientific or ethical grounds. Censorship of research into health risks undermines the value and the credibility of science; thus, we republish our paper.”

Paper subjected to extraordinary scrutiny and peer review

Claire Robinson, editor of GMOSeralini.org, commented: “This study has now successfully passed no less than three rounds of rigorous peer review.”

First the paper was peer reviewed for its initial publication in Food and Chemical Toxicology, and according to the authors it passed with only minor revisions.

The second review involved a non-transparent examination of Prof Séralini’s raw data by a secret panel of unnamed persons organized by the editor-in-chief of FCT, A. Wallace Hayes, in response to criticisms of the study by pro-GMO scientists.

In a letter to Prof Séralini, Hayes admitted that the anonymous reviewers found nothing incorrect about the results, but argued that the tumor and mortality observations in the paper were “inconclusive”, and this justified his decision to retract the study:

“A more in-depth look at the raw data revealed that no definitive conclusions can be reached with this small sample size regarding the role of either NK603 or glyphosate in regards to overall mortality or tumor incidence. Given the known high incidence of tumors in the Sprague-Dawley rat, normal variability cannot be excluded as the cause of the higher mortality and incidence observed in the treated groups.”

“The rationale given for the retraction was widely criticized by scientists as an act of censorship and a bow to the interests of the GMO industry”, says Robinson.

“Some scientists pointed out that numerous published scientific papers contain inconclusive findings, including Monsanto’s own short (90-day) study on the same GM maize, and have not been retracted. The retraction was even condemned by a former member of the editorial board of FCT.”

Now the study has passed a third peer review arranged by the journal that is republishing the study, Environmental Sciences Europe.

Let the critics carry out their own studies

Dr Michael Antoniou, a molecular geneticist based in London, commented, “Few studies would survive such intensive scrutiny by fellow scientists.

“The republication of the study after three expert reviews is a testament to its rigor, as well as to the integrity of the researchers. If anyone still doubts the quality of this study, they should simply read the republished paper. The science speaks for itself.

“If even then they refuse to accept the results, they should launch their own research study on these two toxic products that have now been in the human food and animal feed chain for many years.”

Dr Jack A Heinemann, Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics, University of Canterbury New Zealand, said: “I applaud Environmental Sciences Europe for submitting the work to yet another round of rigorous blind peer review and then bravely standing by the process and the recommendations of its reviewers, especially after witnessing the events surrounding the first publication.

“This study has arguably prevailed through the most comprehensive and independent review process to which any scientific study on GMOs has ever been subjected.”

‘Significant biochemical disturbances and physiological failures’

The study examines the health effects on rats of eating Roundup-tolerant NK603 genetically modified (GM) maize (from 11% in the diet), cultivated with or without Roundup application, and Roundup alone (from 0.1 ppb of the full pesticide containing glyphosate and adjuvants) in drinking water. It found:

  • “Biochemical analyses confirmed very significant chronic kidney deficiencies, for all treatments and both sexes; 76% of the altered parameters were kidney-related.
  • “In treated males, liver congestions and necrosis were 2.5 to 5.5 times higher. Marked and severe nephropathies were also generally 1.3 to 2.3 times greater.
  • “In females, all treatment groups showed a two- to threefold increase in mortality, and deaths were earlier.
  • “This difference was also evident in three male groups fed with GM maize.
  • “All results were hormone- and sex-dependent, and the pathological profiles were comparable.
  • “Females developed large mammary tumors more frequently and before controls;
  • “the pituitary was the second most disabled organ;
  • “the sex hormonal balance was modified by consumption of GM maize and Roundup treatments.
  • “Males presented up to four times more large palpable tumors starting 600 days earlier than in the control group, in which only one tumor was noted.
  • “These results may be explained by not only the non-linear endocrine-disrupting effects of Roundup but also by the overexpression of the EPSPS transgene or other mutational effects in the GM maize and their metabolic consequences.
  • “Our findings imply that long-term (2 year) feeding trials need to be conducted to thoroughly evaluate the safety of GM foods and pesticides in their full commercial formulations.”

The paper concludes: “Taken together, the significant biochemical disturbances and physiological failures documented in this work reveal the pathological effects of these GMO and R treatments in both sexes, with different amplitudes.

“They also show that the conclusion of the Monsanto authors that the initial indications of organ toxicity found in their 90-day experiment were not ‘biologically meaningful’ is not justifiable.

“We propose that agricultural edible GMOs and complete pesticide formulations must be evaluated thoroughly in long-term studies to measure their potential toxic effects.”

Regulators must take these results seriously

Dr Heinemann commented: “The work provides important new knowledge that must be taken into account by the community that evaluates and reports upon the risks of genetically modified organisms, indeed upon all sources of pesticide in our food and feed chains.”

According to Patrick Holden, Chief Executive of the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) the study highlights the inadequacy of current safety testing:
“The most obvious deficiency relates to the fact that the current approval process is based on animal feeding trials of only 90 days, a totally inadequate duration when one considers that chronic diseases in animals and humans do not usually manifest until mid-life.”
A second deficiency, he added, relates to the newly emerging science of epigenetics – which demonstrates that endocrine systems can be seriously disrupted by the presence of chemical residues at concentrations as low as a few parts per billion.

“This turns on its head the logic of an approval process based on MRL (maximum residue levels), since it is becoming increasingly apparent that these chemicals have patterns of non-linear response.”

An ‘urgent review’ of pesticide licensing is needed
Given these concerns, said Holden, “there is a strong case for an urgent review of the regulatory process for licensing both the herbicide Roundup and the neonicotinoid class of insecticides. A fundamental review of the entire process for licensing agricultural chemicals is required to ensure that in future the public interest is better served.”
Professor Pete Myers, Chief Executive of Environmental Health Sciences and scientific advisor to the SFT points out that only “the tiniest fraction of agricultural chemicals” have been studied for health effects by independent scientists:

“Over the last two-decades there has been a revolution in environmental health sciences that suggests the proportion of diseases attributable to chemical exposures is far bigger and more significant than previously understood.

“The tools we have available to us to say what is safe and not safe are deeply flawed. They are not based on two decades of development in the fields of endocrine disruption and epigenetics, but instead on tests developed in the 1950s.

“They do not reflect the complexity of mixtures, or the way in which chemicals interact.”

Oliver Tickell|The Ecologist|July 9, 2014

Ben & Jerry’s Co-Founder Goes to DC in Support of GMO Labeling

Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield joined members of Congress and pro-GE labeling advocacy groups on Capitol Hill today to protest a House bill that would deny Americans the right to know about genetically engineered (GE) ingredients in their food.

“I came to Washington to stand up for transparency in our nation’s food supply,” said Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of the iconic Vermont-based ice cream company, which supports labeling GE food. “I hope legislation that would keep consumers in the dark never sees the light of day, so states can continue to demand more information about their food.”

The bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), would block both the federal Food and Drug Administration and individual states from requiring labels on food that contains GE ingredients. It would also allow food companies to label GE food “natural.” The bill is supported by the Big Food industry’s main trade and lobbying arm, the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Critics of the bill have dubbed it the DARK Act – the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act.

“When Big Food lobbyists lose in the court of public opinion they go to the halls of Congress,” said Colin O’Neil, director of government affairs at Center for Food Safety. “Food companies expect us to be loyal customers, but they seemingly go to any length to keep us in the dark. It is time we say enough is enough.”

Greenfield and the pro-labeling advocates delivered to lawmakers the names of more than half a million people who oppose Rep. Pompeo’s bill and urged them to support competing legislation introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) that would require a federal label on GE foods. Chef and Craft Restaurants’ owner Tom Colicchio helped collect more than 250,000 names through Food Policy Action’s website and CREDOMobilize.com.

“The overwhelming majority of Americans want GE foods to be labeled,” said Colicchio, a founding board member of Food Policy Action. “As a chef and father, I want to know what I’m serving my customers and kids, and the majority of Americans want honest information about the food on their tables. Food Policy Action will be scoring co-sponsorship of the Pompeo bill in our annual scorecard and urging the public to hold lawmakers accountable for it come November.”

“People want to know if their food has been genetically engineered or contains GE ingredients,” said Jason Rano, Environmental Working Group’s director of government affairs. “Unfortunately, some policymakers in Washington are on the wrong side of this issue, and 500,000 people are calling on them to reverse course.”

“Americans should be allowed to decide whether or not they purchase and consume foods containing genetically engineered ingredients—a right that folks around the world in more than 60 countries already have,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “But big corporations are fighting to keep GE foods under wraps—and keep consumers in the dark. Shame on the representatives that are complicit in this effort.”

Earlier this year, Vermont became the first state to enact a mandatory GE labeling law. Last year Connecticut and Maine both passed laws to mandate GE labeling, but they have yet to take effect. More than 70 bills and ballot initiatives were introduced in more than 30 other states in 2013 and 2014.

“GE labeling laws have been gaining widespread support across the country in the last two years,” said Violet Batcha, communications and social media manager for Just Label It. “The pressure is on the federal government to do what 93 percent of Americans want and label GE foods.”

Center for Food Safety|14 Jul, 2014

Energy

Estero begins preparation to fight fracking

Two controversial subjects (fracking and rock mining)dominated much of Friday’s discussion during the Estero Council of Community Leaders meeting and sparked an impromptu exchange between two opposing state House candidates.

Both are volatile issues in Southwest Florida, involving a planned oil exploration project that Collier County is opposing in state administrative court and threatened lawsuits by firms that want to mine lime rock in Lee County.

“I think both issues are threats to our water supply,” said Estero resident Jane Moran, following the meeting.

The fracking issue was raised during state Rep. Ray Rodrigues’ recap of this past legislative session.

Rodrigues, R-Estero, when asked by Democrat opponent Charles Messina whether he thinks fracking is safe, said he hasn’t taken a position. “I’m open. I haven’t seen enough data on either side.”

Messina, of Pine Island, said he especially opposes acid fracking, a method of injecting acids and water underground to split up rock to extract oil. “This is not a safe practice,” he said.

Rodrigues said he has tried to be proactive by introducing bills for the past two years that would require oil companies to disclose exactly what chemicals they are pumping underground.

“This bill would have the most strict disclosure requirements in the country,” Rodrigues said. However, he said because some chemicals involve trade secrets protected by federal law, disclosure of these substances would be made available to state regulators, but would not be made public.

Unfortunately, Rodrigues said his bill hasn’t been passed by the Legislature, but he’ll keep trying.

“Fracking is permitted under state law. The question is are we going to regulate it or not?” Rodrigues said. He said there’s a potential for fracking operations to spring up in Lee, Hendry and Collier counties.

Messina said Rodrigues’ bill is insufficient. If elected, he said, he’d call for a state moratorium on fracking while more stringent state regulations are explored.

However, Phil Douglas, the environmental director for the ECCL, said there is a more serious threat to the local environment than fracking.

Rock mining “is a much more serious (issue) than fracking in Lee County” regarding the water supply, Douglas said.

This is especially true of the area on Corkscrew Road east that has been the subject of lawsuits for years.

So far, “we’ve won every lawsuit” opposing mining, Douglas said.

However, mining companies are threatening to file lawsuits under the state’s Bert Harris Act, claiming the mining ban infringes on their property rights, Douglas said.

He said the ECCL is prepared to join with Lee County in fighting this action.

In other business, Roger Strelow, the council’s community planning director, said work is progressing planning the transition of Estero from county government to city government should voters approve an incorporation referendum in November.

That includes what services the village should contract with Lee County for, the hiring of a city manager and staff and securing flood insurance rates, Strelow said.

“We want to nail down the nuts and bolts of government so that the (village) council can pick right up and run with the ball next March,” after the members are elected, he said.

Denes Husty III|Special to The News-Press|July 12, 2014

A New Vision For Saltwater Fisheries Management

https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr4742

Congress is currently revising the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conversation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), the law that governs our nation’s marine resources. Recreational saltwater anglers and the sportfishing and boating industries are intensifying efforts to ensure that their social, conservation and economic priorities are well represented in the legislative process. Read the entire article and follow this issue.
http://asaf.convio.net/site/MessageViewer?dlv_id=6469&em_id=1663.0

Good management requires good data.  Record your catch and your releases!

Fracked Gas Exports Mean More Fracking, More Climate Change and More Pollution
Protect Your Drinking Water From Fracking

When I’ve spoken with folks from Dimock, Pennsylvania — one of the towns most torn apart by fracking — they’ve told me they would give anything to get their clean water back. In spite of their protests, however, the fracking continues. And now, our federal agencies are working on policies that would promote the export of fracked natural gas and raise the demand for fracking in the U.S. All this so that the oil and gas industry can profit even more as local families continue to suffer the consequences of fracking.

As federal agencies are approving export facilities like Cove Point in Maryland, they are setting a precedent for future approvals. But the analyses they are basing their policies on are all wrong. The Department of Energy recently released a flawed report on emissions from fracked natural gas, which fails to look at the full impact fracking is having on our climate.

In addition to harming local communities, more drilling rigs will also accelerate global climate change — which we simply cannot afford. Because methane (a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide) leaks out unmanageably during the drilling process, fracking is as bad as coal when it comes to climate change.

When writing new policies around gas exports, our federal agencies need to consider the real impacts that fracking will have on our climate and on people in Dimock and other affected areas.

We’re making progress in this fight. If it weren’t for supporters like you, federal legislation to allow fracked gas exports would almost certainly have passed by now. An export bill has already passed through the House of Representatives, but because of intense pressure from concerned citizens, the Senate has yet to bring this bill up for a vote. Now, we need to put the pressure on our federal agencies, asking them not to change the rules in any way that would promote the export of fracked gas.

Jill Pape|Online Organizer|Food & Water Watch|7/12/14

Enbridge wrapping up oil spill cleanup

Project will end this summer

COMSTOCK TWP. — Cleanup efforts following the leak of about 800,000 gallons of crude from an underground pipeline in western Michigan are nearly complete, according to the Canadian oil company that owns the pipeline.

Contaminated soil is expected to be removed from the Morrow Lake delta near Comstock Township in Kalamazoo County by mid- to late summer, Enbridge Inc. spokesman Jason Manshum told the Kalamazoo Gazette.

After the cleanup, crews will continue restoring riverbanks this fall.

Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered Enbridge to dredge sections of the Kalamazoo River to remove sediments tainted by oil from the massive spill.

The leak was discovered in the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek near Marshall in July 2010. Oil flowed about 35 miles before it was contained. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board determined the rupture was caused by cracks and corrosion, and the agency faulted Enbridge for failing to take steps that might have prevented it.

The state said last month in a public health assessment that there’s no long-term harm to people’s health from coming into contact with chemicals in the river’s surface water during wading, swimming or canoeing. But contact with the oil sheen in the river might cause temporary effects such as skin irritation.

Enbridge is replacing and enlarging the line, part of a $2.6 billion project to boost the flow of oil to refineries in the eastern U.S. and Canada.

“We’re bringing in soils and native plants and trees to make a nice green space like it would look if there had never had been a spill there,” Manshum said.

The company will conduct periodic environmental monitoring, he added.

Associated Press|Jul. 12, 2014

ExxonMobil’s New Guinea Nightmare

How a US government loan enabled an environmentally destructive project plagued by lethal landslide, police repression and civil unrest.

Monday, January 23, 2012, was a routine day for 15-year-old Jackson Piwago. Like every other weekday, his father met him after school, and the two walked hand in hand back to their home in Tumbi, a small village in the remote, mountainous Hela Province of Papua New Guinea. There, at the foot of the Gigira Mountain Range, Jackson went about his chores: looking after the family’s pigs, collecting firewood, fetching water and cooking sweet potatoes. He chatted with some of his father’s nine wives, as well as his many brothers and cousins. As on most evenings, dinner was boisterous and joyful.

Then, just as he did every night, Jackson fell asleep alongside his father, using his dad’s arm as a pillow. Jokoya Piwago, a prominent Ware tribal chief, recalled that night vividly in a recent conversation. He remembered his son imploring him, “Please, Daddy, buy me the bicycle that I need to go to school and come back…. Buy me a bicycle tomorrow.”

Jokoya paused and said, “That’s the last word that he spoke to me.”

Jokoya Piwago rose at sunrise on January 24. He was running late for work, and his ride was waiting outside. He woke up Jackson, then jumped into the car, shoes in hand. Minutes later, three loud, rapid-fire cracks filled the air. To some, it sounded like the discharge of an AK-47 rifle. Other villagers said it sounded more like a thunderclap. No one could find words to describe the sound that immediately followed.

It was the sound made by 2 million tons of boulders, limestone, water, mud and trees roaring down from the top of Tumbi Mountain. It was the sound of homes being buried by the landslide, which after only a few minutes had created a debris field a kilometer long, several hundred meters wide and 100 meters deep.

At least twenty-seven people sleeping in their homes died instantly, according to a lawsuit filed by the victims’ families. Twelve of them, including Jackson, were in Jokoya’s family. A precise death count is unknown—no bodies were ever recovered.

The landslide emanated from a quarry operated by a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, Esso Highlands Limited. Since 2010, EHL had been mining limestone for the construction phase of Papua New Guinea’s $19 billion Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project. The quarry—which, according to local residents and a former member of the country’s Parliament, had been mined sporadically by other operators for several decades without incident before ExxonMobil’s arrival—was part of a massive endeavor that involved drilling wells for gas extraction and the construction of hundreds of miles of pipeline, storage facilities, processing plants and even an airstrip. The limestone was destined primarily for construction of a nearby airport that would be used to fly in heavy equipment and supplies. ExxonMobil has trumpeted the “multiple benefits” that locals would receive from the project, including jobs for “around 10,000 Papua New Guineans” and “more than 650 million kina [about $300 million] invested in community and infrastructure projects.”

The LNG project, which has been vexed since its inception by civil unrest and huge cost overruns, was made possible in large part by American taxpayers, in the form of a $3 billion loan in 2009 from the Export-Import Bank of the United States—at that point, the largest loan by the bank in its seventy-five-year history. This massive government loan to the ExxonMobil-led project was issued despite sharp rhetoric from the Obama administration on climate change. Indeed, the loan was approved by the administration just four days before the president delivered his address to the December 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. “As the world’s largest economy and the world’s second-largest emitter, America bears our share of responsibility in addressing climate change,” Obama said then. “That is why we have renewed our leadership within international climate negotiations, and worked with other nations to phase out fossil-fuel subsidies.”

The PNG LNG loan was hardly the only exception to the president’s stated position. Since Obama took office, the Export-Import Bank has invested more than $27 billion in fossil-fuel endeavors, while lending less than $2 billion to clean-energy projects.

Ian T. Shearn|April 30, 2014|This report was produced in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute with additional support from the H.D. Lloyd Fund for Investigative Journalism and the Fund for Investigative Journalism. Project Word provided administrative support. Research assistance: Nick Sexton, Shruti Banerjee and Hannah Rappleye. Special thanks to Dr. Kristian Lasslett, of the International State Crime Initiative, for his valuable research assistance.

Sen. Nelson hears oil and gas drilling concerns

SOUTHWEST FLORIDA – As millions of dollars have been spent to restore the Florida Everglades – there are fears now that more damage could be on the horizon.

Opponents of oil and gas drilling fear further damage if drilling is permitted.

The issue has the attention of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, who flew into Southwest Florida today to hear the concerns.

A group of opponents says that Florida’s oil and gas drilling laws are old, outdated and need to be changed. They claimed during a meeting Monday that the government is failing to protect them.

“It could destroy our water and our Everglades,”  opponent Karen Dwyer of Stone Crab Alliance, said, referring to the drilling known as fracking.

A company has leased 230,000 acres of property in the Big Cypress National Preserve for seismic testing. The testing calls for sending strong vibrations deep into the earth to detect the presence of oil or gas.

“We’re dealing with laws that are decades old. They have not kept pace with these new extreme extraction techniques. We really need an overhaul of oil and gas regulations,” Dwyer said.

If gas or oil is detected the fear is that companies could begin drilling.

“We’re hoping that he’ll actually call or recommend a ban on all extreme extraction included but not limited to fracking,”  said Dwyer.

However Senator Nelson isn’t prepared to go that far saying: “That’s an issue that you will have to ask a later time when we know more about the potential harm. “

Sen. Nelson assured residents he will protect their interest as well as the state’s.

“We’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars in restoring the Everglades. We certainly don’t want something like this to mess that up,” said Nelson.

Pamela Duran lives near a proposed oil drilling site in Collier County and has fears of contaminated drinking water and unsafe driving conditions if oil rigs use local roads for travel.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida predicts more accidents if fracking is permitted.

“They use more water, more chemicals. They use more pressure which could affect our geology here,” Jennifer Hecker, CSWF said.

Hecker said a seismic testing permit is under review by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Nelson’s meeting comes on the heel of an announcement on Friday in which a Texas drilling company said it would abandon plans of drilling in Golden Gate Estates.

Nelson said he will take all of the information gathered back to Washington where he plans to get the EPA involved. 

Dave Elias|Chief political reporter|Jul 14, 2014

24 Anti-Fracking Activists Arrested in Washington at First Ever FERC Sit-in Protest

Twenty-four anti-fracking activists were arrested Monday morning in Washington D.C. in protest of proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals in the U.S., according to environmental groups tweeting from the scene.

The protest centered on Cove Point, an export terminal that could be constructed in Maryland, about 50 miles from the White House.

The “Stop Cove Point” protest marked the first-ever sit in at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The protest was in response to the gas industry’s applications to FERC to build as many as 14 LNG export terminals, two already approved. The sit-in came just one day after more than 1,000 people rallied from the U.S. Capitol to the doorstep of FERC. Environmental groups say FERC dismissed evidence about the harmful impact of fracking and pipeline infrastructure on nearby homes and overall climate change. A decision on Cove Point—the first proposal on the East Coast—could come as soon as this August.

Virginia-based energy giant Dominion Resources wants to build a massive $3.8 billion LNG facility in Lusby, MD that would pipe fracked gas from the Marcellus shale to southern Maryland, liquefy it and export it to be burned in Japan and India. FERC’s conditional approval of the facility, which came back in September, would allow the facility to export up 0.77 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day.

The comment period for the project ended in June, with more than 150,000 comments in opposition.

The protest and rally both called on FERC and President Barack Obama to take a look at the evidence and put a halt to Cove Point. The difference between the two was a group of activists on Monday willing to go to jail for their beliefs.

“With LNG exports, the only things Americans get are terrifying new health and safety threats, worsening climate instability, and higher heating bills, all so that the gas industry can make bigger profits from fracking us,” Dr. Sandra Steingraber, a New York-based biologist, author and science advisor to Americans Against Fracking, said in a statement.

More than 40 national, state and community-based groups endorsed Sunday’s rally. Organizing groups included Berks Gas Truth, Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Energy Action Coalition, Environmental Action, Earthworks, Food & Water Watch, Greenpeace, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, Waterkeepers Chesapeake and 350.org.

“Any project that makes climate change significantly worse has no place on a livable planet, from Cove Point to Keystone XL,” Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, said at Sunday’s rally.

“No matter what FERC decides in the near-term, the people will triumph in the long-term. We’ll keep fighting until wind turbines and solar panels crisscross our coastlines, and LNG facilities like Cove Point are defunct monuments to a dinosaur industry.”

Brandon Baker|Care2 Causes|July 14, 2014

  Texas oil company retreats from Western Everglades Oil Exploration

State officials reported on Friday that the Dan A. Hughes Co. of Texas has withdrawn its application for an exploratory oil well near the Golden Gate Estates at the western edge of the Everglades.

The company is still pumping oil at a production site about 10 miles away, known as the Collier-Hogan well, near Naples.

But the retreat from the Golden Gate site appears to be a partial victory for environmental groups and homeowners who opposed expansion of drilling close to neighborhoods and environmental refuges. Opponents fear the drilling will jeopardize wildlife and drinking water supplies.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which has been putting pressure on the company to disclose its plans to the press and public, said it received notification that the Hughes Co. was withdrawing its application for the Golden Gate well. DEP officials said the company has lost the public’s trust and had failed to appear at a Collier County Commission meeting on Tuesday meeting.

  “There are still many existing demands we have of Dan A. Hughes in order for them to continue their operations at the Collier-Hogan site,” DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. said on Friday.
Both well sites have been controversial.

The Golden Gate site is next to a panther refuge, and the company was seeking permission from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to dig an injection well to store toxic wastewater.

The Collier-Hogan well drew protests when the company used acidic fracturing to blast open rock to extract oil, which critics say is akin to the controversial practice of fracking. DEP ordered a halt to the unapproved practice, and the Hughes Co. paid a $25,000 fine.

The company was taken aback by a harsh letter from DEP last week demanding answers and a series of actions by July 15 to reassure the public. Hughes spokesman David Blackmon called the agency’s statements “quite extraordinary given the constant and open dialogue the company has been engaged in with the DEP at multiple points of contact over the last several months.”

William E. Gibson|Washington Bureau|Sun Sentinel|July 11, 2014

FPL busy on new $1.2 billion Port Everglades plant

A year after FPL demolished its 1960s oil-fired power plant at Port Everglades, the new $1 billion-plus, natural-gas plant rising at the site is on track to be operational in 2016.

One year after demolishing its 1960s oil-fired plant at Port Everglades known for its red-striped stacks, Florida Power & Light Co. has cleared away the debris and completed about 10 percent of its new $1.2 billion plant that will be fueled by cleaner and cheaper natural gas.

On Tuesday, about 400 workers were busy at the massive construction site. Some were digging to lay work on drains. Others ran heavy equipment to move massive panels for the steam-turbine system. And still others placed rebar in grids that will be become part of concrete foundations.

FPL plans to open the high-tech plant in 2016, producing up to 1,277 megawatts of electricity, or enough power for some 260,000 households. That’s a bit more power than the older facility.

But the new plant will use 35 percent less fuel, saving millions yearly in fuel costs. It also will be cleaner, producing 90 percent less air emissions and about half the carbon dioxide, officials said.

“We’re on schedule,” construction director Tom Young said Tuesday at the site. “This project is like parking your old car that got 10 miles per gallon and driving a new one that gets 50 miles per gallon.”

For FPL, the Broward County plant is the third of its kind after $1 billion-plus ventures at Cape Canaveral and Riviera Beach. That previous experience helps, project manager Dennis Donhue said.

“There are lessons learned, like how all the equipment goes together,” Donahue said. “You know which pieces to place in first, second and third to create an efficient process, so you don’t have to move the machinery around. And for scheduling, you make sure you get the right things in the right order.”A veteran in plant construction, Donahue marvels how quickly this constriction will be done. He recalls in the 1980s that building a smaller, 750-megawatt plant took five years. This bigger plant will take only two years.

“Everything now is a lot more modularized,” Donahue said. Many large parts come pre-assembled nowadays, when decades back, even turbines were broken down into small pieces and had to be mounted together from scratch, he said, “kind of like an erector set.”

Today’s plants also use different materials, such as lightweight plastic pipes laid underground instead of heavy iron ones that were tougher to transport and lasted only half as long, officials said.

The scale of materials needed is enormous. The project will use 30,000 cubic yards of concrete, enough to fill 200 of the shipping industry’s 40-foot containers, Young said.

The concrete and steel recycled from last year’s July 16 demolition weighed about 60 tons. It took six months to clean up that rubble.

And that tonnage pales next to the 1,500 tons of structural steel needed for the plant, Young said.

At peak construction next spring, more than 900 people will be working at the site.

But once the plant starts up, most operations will be computerized, requiring little staff. “They will run this job with maybe six or seven operators a shift,” less than half the number in the older plant, said Young.

The new emissions towers also will be more compact: just 149 feet tall, or less than half the 340-foot height of the candy-striped stacks that long served as a Fort Lauderdale landmark.

Doreen Hemlock|Sun Sentinel|July 15, 2014

Something is wrong at FPL’s Turkey Point Nuclear Plant

Florida Power and Light’s water quality problems at its Turkey Point nuclear facility are well established by the record of inaction and the failure of the state of Florida to stop FPL’s hyper-saline coolant water traveling underground, in the direction of Homestead and Florida City population centers, from the Turkey Point cooling canal system (CCS).

Now there is another issue, requiring extraordinary measures to keep the nuclear reactors working. Apparently, severe algae blooms in the plant’s cooling canals are threatening the plant operation. In the last few weeks, a flurry of correspondence between the South Florida Water Management District and Biscayne National Park have disclosed anxiety about the solutions proposed by FPL and accepted by the state without public input: the massive application of chemical treatment and the emergency use of deep aquifer water to cool down the water before it enters Biscayne National Park.

In its original plans for the two nuclear reactors, FPL had intended to dump its very hot, saline coolant water directly into Biscayne National Park. A lawsuit and intervention by environmental groups resulted in an important FPL concession to water quality concerns. The nuclear facility is required to operate hundreds of miles of cooling canals under an agreement with the state agency, the South Florida Water Management District.

Part of the agreement is the assurance by FPL to monitor and to mitigate any performance failures of the cooling canals. Although FPL successfully maintains its “good neighbor” marketing program to the public, it has been less than truthful about significant problems in containing the canals’ hyper saline water.

According to its website FPL is a really good environmental steward, “About nine-tenths of the Turkey Point property remains in its natural state of mangroves and fresh water wetlands. There are more than 60 known species of birds and animals that inhabit the property. Of these, 17 are endangered. The endangered American crocodile enjoys a favorable habitat in the plant cooling canal system. We protect the crocodile and conduct research by counting crocodile nests annually to record population changes. More than 3,000 crocodiles have been marked and released, and FPL is committed to continuing protection of the species while encouraging ongoing public education. This program and the plant’s unique habitat for crocodiles has attracted national attention by CNN Headline News, Disney and National Geographic.”

“… We are concerned about water quality in the Turkey Point cooling canals and the apparent ongoing trend in decreasing water quality. We would like to know the status of investigations and negotiations that may be in process to evaluate the issues associated with poor water quality in the cooling canals. We would like to see further investigation and review by a multi-agency technical team to understand the apparently broad poor water quality trends, their source, and potential solutions. Given that the cooling canal area has hydrologic connections to surrounding groundwater and thus surface waters, including Biscayne National Park, we see this as a critical water quality issue for the Park. We believe that this phenomena and any resulting actions by Florida Power and Light with respect to addressing water quality on site at the Turkey Point Power Plant site, including treatment to plant structures, should be reviewed by the regulatory agencies responsible for oversight. These agencies would include but not be limited to Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), Miami-Dade County Regulatory and Economic Resources (RER), U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”

On July 11th, the South Florida Water Management District responded in its typical style of scrubbing bad news: first, decline to admit there is any data revealing environmental problems then acknowledge extraordinary measures are being taken to address the problems that might have sprung up from nowhere: “A review of several years’ worth of data collected under the monitoring program has not indicated any adverse impacts to the waters of Biscayne Bay from the CCS (FPL cooling canal system). As your staff is aware, monitoring data has shown that hypersaline water from the CCS has migrated westward at depth in the groundwater. (EOM italics) The Department and the SFWMD have put FPL on notice that abatement measures must be implemented and we anticipate issuance of an Administrative Order in the near future to address these issues. (EOM note: foot-dragging by FPL and the corporation’s refusal to substantively correct violations of its agreement with the state has gone on for many years.)

FPL recently has reached out to a number of agencies for assistance, including the Department, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and SFWMD, regarding a recent increase in CCS water temperature, which has been exacerbated by the presence of algae blooms in the canal. Agency staff inspections of the facility in response to reports of the current algae bloom indicate the bloom is limited to the CCS itself. It is not unusual for wastewater treatment ponds to exhibit algae growth in the hot summer months–hot weather and lack of rainfall likely have contributed to the bloom.

The current severity of the bloom and its potential impact on FPL’s ability to generate electricity for South Florida required immediate actions to be taken. To that end, on June 27 the Department approved FPL’s request to use a combination of copper sulfate, hydrogen peroxide and bio-stimulants (copper sulfate blend) in the CCS to address the current algae bloom; which are commonly used to treat algae blooms in aquatic systems. … Also on June 27, the SFWMD supported FPL’s request to temporarily use groundwater from the Floridan Aquifer that had previously been permitted for use as process and process cooling water, to decrease the temperature in the CCS. (EOM emphasis) This support was memorialized in an amendment to Turkey Point’s site license, issued by the Siting Coordination Office. … FPL will continue to evaluate the causes of the recent algae bloom and CCS temperature increase, and will identify, develop, and implement a more long term solution.”

It is remarkable for the state to first admit that FPL is failing to meet its obligations in the first instance with respect to groundwater violations — while completely avoiding why it has failed to enforce against the corporation — and then to immediately take the corporation’s side in assuring that the corporations will be responsible sometime in the future on problems with the cooling water in the canal system itself.

The use of Floridan aquifer water is of particular concern because Miami-Dade County has dumped billions of gallons of scarcely treated municipal wastewater into the Florida aquifer only a few miles away through so-called “injection control wells”. The South Dade Wastewater Treatment facility — only a few miles from Turkey Point — takes the torrent of used water filled with human discharges, water from cruise ships, waste from industrial and hospital applications, from mortuaries to kitchens to satisfy demands for low-cost growth for construction and the massive development of population centers while maintaining a scrim of environmental responsibility. At the bare minimum, FPL and the state of Florida should report to the public exactly the water quality statistics and data from the use of Floridan water and regularly update the public on the FPL emergency.

CNN and news organizations should also report this issue in the context of FPL’s ambitions to build two new nuclear reactors at the lowest-lying, most climate-change threatened area of coastline in the nation. Although the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ought to consider the new permits — due for consideration by 2016 after an EIS is completed — in the context of severe problems with the operation of the existing nuclear reactors at Turkey Point, so far these issues have been segregated as though they were in their own cooling canals waiting for the critics to melt away.

gimleteye|July 14, 2014

Gulf Stream gold: Mining green energy from Atlantic currents

Scientists hopeful for renewable potential from sea turbines, environmentalists concerned about impact on marine life

gulf stream turbine test

A rendition of the experimental test configuration to be deployed to measure effects of turbines on a marine environment. FAU / SNMREC

The Gulf Stream meanders clockwise from the Gulf of Mexico, past the mid-Atlantic coast toward Europe. It is one of the most powerful currents in the world, and it is full of life.

Many species of pelagic fish, endangered marine turtles and other marine organisms roam the relentless conveyor belt of warm blue water unhindered, flowing beyond the shores of Florida. Their travels were relatively unhindered — until now.

Landbound humanity is hoping to capitalize on the Gulf Stream’s fast-flowing waters, eyeing them as a potential source of endless power and a possible solution to Florida’s energy needs. A pilot project to test a variety of electricity-generating turbines right in the middle of the Gulf Stream has been given the go-ahead in the form of a five-year lease to Florida Atlantic University (FAU). The lease covers 1,000 acres right in the flow of the current.

The environmental upside is obvious. It is believed the Gulf Stream has the potential energy — from a clean and renewable source — to supply Florida with 35 percent of its electrical needs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

However, there is also concern that there might be an ecological downside. According to a detailed report issued last summer by BOEM, the environmental impact would be minimal. But no one wants to take any chances as the global quest for clean energy aims to bring full-scale commercial deployments of devices, turbines and cable-to-shore systems in the ocean. Many believe it still remains uncertain how life in the current will respond if the industry takes off in a big way and suddenly turbines become a common part of the underwater world.

So the FAU project is aimed at finding out exactly how marine life might react, and prove if it is possible to generate power from the ocean current. “Because there is so little known in certain areas, there is a tendency for everybody to protect everything at all costs when the data may say something else,” said Susan Skemp, executive director of FAU’s Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center (SNMREC).

One area of research looks at how schools of fish approach the structures. After all, neither the fish nor the turbine companies want any marine life caught up inside the machines’ whirring parts. “It may indicate that the fish are naturally curious, but once they get within a certain distance of an operating system, they may be repelled by it and may move away from it, so that’s all part of the research,” Skemp said.

FAU’s project is going to be a serious test bed for a whole new industry. The scheme is trying to bridge the gap from lab to market by encouraging private companies to launch their turbine prototypes from FAU research vessels, which will be moored for weeks at a time, collecting measurements of ocean conditions. Three floating test berths will be connected to buoys anchored to the ocean floor. So far, the center has nondisclosure agreements with over 40 private companies, but “six to 10 have prototypes that are ready for field testing,” said Gabe Alsenas, program manager of SNMREC.

Companies are lining up for offshore testing, which is to take place later this year. That’s when FAU plans to prove that its 5,000-pound turbine will generate electricity. “What is realizable will depend on the systems that are built, and also what environmental regulatory processes we need to have in place,” said Skemp.

But environmentally, very little is known about life from the seafloor to the surface. SNMREC hopes that by deploying these single-device prototypes, it will be more able to predict how an array of permanent industrial equipment in the water column would put the ecosystems at risk.

One company that has already signed an agreement with FAU is Minesto, a Swedish firm that has produced electricity from its prototype, called Deep Green. The unit resembles an underwater kite and a turbine that is tethered to the ocean floor. While the current lifts the kite, a rudder is supposed to guide it in a trajectory shaped like a figure 8. A quarter-scale model is currently undergoing sea trials in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland.

“Theirs is a tidal system, and they haven’t done it with ocean currents yet. So they will have to revise the design to make it applicable to this type of system,” said Skemp.

A distinctly different design would use a combination of small turbines encased in a large honeycomb-shaped device made of Kevlar and carbon fiber. Bruce Heafitz, CEO of Ocean Current Energy, said the lightweight turbines would have much lower maintenance costs than their competitors. “We’ll suspend this honeycomb structure from the ocean floor and bring it up to the top, where the current is equivalent to 200-mile-an-hour wind force,” said Heafitz.

But even as the focus is on designing the most efficient turbines — which undoubtedly produce “clean” renewable energy — the emphasis on environmental protection is also key. “Environmental groups really do support what we’re doing in terms of renewable energy, because it’s green and clean. But they are concerned about any ancillary affects to corals, marine species, and we’re trying to alleviate those fears in terms of development,” said Camille Coley, associate director of SNMREC.

Several years ago, when wave energy farm proposals were contemplated in California, the research and tracking of gray whales as they migrated past the San Francisco shoreline helped provide key information.

In Florida’s waters, all 16 populations of marine turtles are on the endangered species list, yet their lives remain mostly a mystery.

Jeanette Wyneken, an FAU marine biologist, is heading up a long-term, systematic study of marine sea turtles to answer basic questions about how these protected animals use the Gulf Stream.

“We need to know what is normal. And it’s complicated, to say the least. These species take 25 years to mature, and we have to look at variations in population over 10 years. Water temperature is a major factor in determining the sex ratio of the population — not only that, but climate and seasonal effects too,” said Wyneken.

Many believe the best approach to avoid negative environmental impacts will be some sort of adaptive management system as described by a 2009 U.S. Department of Energy report. As projects expand from small to commercial-scale developments, repeated evaluations of monitoring results will be crucial.

Skemp, who spent nearly three decades in the aerospace industry before heading SNMREC, said the state of ocean current technology is comparable to where space research was decades ago.

“We’ve got to be able to answer that question: What will be the interactions between the developer’s hardware and the marine ecosystem?” asked Skemp. “We don’t have the answers yet.’’

Patricia Sagastume|July 14, 2014

Land Conservation

Envisioning Profit in Environmental Good Works

Equity Firm Restores Louisiana Marshland to Earn Credits It Can Sell

ABOARD THE DREDGE BUTCHER, OFF THE LOUISIANA COAST — All day and all night, this ship off a knob of Louisiana at Alligator Bend sucks up silt from the floor of Lake Borgne and pumps it through a half-mile of fat steel pipe. At the other end, a slurry gushes noisily out into what was until recently a stretch of open water. New land is rising here, forming mud flats that will soon be covered with waving spartina grass.

This is the unglamorous, mucky — and, to be honest, smelly — work that goes into restoring the fragile marshlands that help protect southern Louisiana from hurricanes and that provide a haven for wildlife.

What is most interesting about this project, however, is who is paying the bills. While the state government has developed a detailed master plan for wetlands restoration in the region, and money has been promised from the federal government and the BP settlement of the 2010 oil spill, this project is getting its funding from a private equity firm. The company, Ecosystem Investment Partners, intends to profit from its good works by selling environmental restoration credits to private developers and government agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers, which need them to offset environmental damage done by their projects.

Such mitigation banks have been allowed for two decades under provisions of the Clean Water Act, but private-sector work tends to be done on a small scale to offset the effect of a single project — say, by placing a frog pond next to the new Wal-Mart — and it tends to be unconnected to any larger environmental purpose. This project is remarkable for its ambition and scope: The company has raised $181 million from investors for this and other projects, and has bought 16,500 acres of this swamp. It could spend, by some estimates, $30 million here.

“They are doing it at a scale that has never been attempted before,” said Val Marmillion, managing director of America’s Wetland Foundation, a nonprofit conservation group that receives some funding from oil companies.

It is essential work. In the last 80 years, coastal Louisiana has lost wetlands roughly the size of Delaware. And this fragile isthmus that Ecosystem Investment Partners is restoring is a “critical land form,” said Ann Redmond, an environmental consultant who helped develop the Louisiana master plan and who has consulted with Ecosystem Investment Partners. This land bridge, which has lost nearly a quarter of its wetlands since 1932, separates Lake Pontchartrain, which borders New Orleans, from Lake Borgne and the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico beyond.

“Anything that can be done to ensure that that land form doesn’t continue to degrade will be important” to protect against storms and to ensure that Lake Pontchartrain does not become too salty, Ms. Redmond said. So this stretch of wetlands, which is alongside Route 90 near what is known as the Chef Menteur Pass, has been targeted for restoration in the Louisiana master plan.

Wetlands loss is caused by a number of factors, including hurricanes, oil and gas exploration, and sea-level rise. Rebuilding it requires some precision: Put in too little dirt, and subsidence — a gradual sinking of the land — and rising oceans will erase it. Put in too much, and you end up with dry land that supports shrubs and scrub — a different environment.

The process of making money out of restoring wetlands is complex, but it comes down to straightforward market principles. A policy developed under the first President George Bush calls for “no net loss” of wetlands, so when developers and government agencies tackle projects that drain or fill wetlands, they need to offset the damage either by restoring an equivalent amount of wetlands or by buying the credits from the restoration work done by others.

The current phase of the Chef Menteur project, a 508-acre chunk, will ultimately be worth 508 credits under the federal system. Ecosystem Investment Partners can negotiate the value of each credit with the buyers, with the price depending on factors that include the availability of other projects in the same area, the ability of the potential buyer to do its own mitigation projects and how badly the buyer needs the credits.

A federal rule issued in 2008 established a preference for any entity that damages wetlands, including the government, to use mitigation banking over doing the work itself — in part because specialists are more likely to do a better job and to tie the work to broader environmental goals. The preference could encourage private-sector involvement. That is where Ecosystem Investment Partners and similar groups come in, taking on the work and allowing the builders to focus on their projects.

But the field has yet to really take off because, as a recent paper from two Yale-trained researchers put it, the work can be expensive and financially risky, while the size of projects has tended to be too small to attract institutional investors like pension funds and university endowments. Nick Dilks, managing partner of Baltimore-based Ecosystem Investment Partners, declined to say how much the company hoped to earn from the project. However, he said, “We have to generate a competitive return to attract investors.”

On a bright morning recently, Mr. Dilks sat at the front of an airboat, the screamingly loud, fan-propelled craft that can glide along the brackish water or hop up on the land to slide over marsh grass. Airboats are needed in this place, where the land and water form a blended patchwork.

The slurry that flows out of the pipe deposits 14,250 cubic yards of sediment a day with a rumbling that can be felt through the soles of the shoes of anyone who teeters along the top of the pipe. When the slurry has shells in it, the pipe rattles and pings, making a “Kapew! Kapew!” sound. It is clear that the land is, in fact, rising, though the loose, slippery silt is difficult to build up. “It’s like stacking mayonnaise,” Mr. Dilks said.

Across the way, the long arm of a “marsh buggy” excavator plunges deep in the muck, and the sucking resistance of the marsh as the machine draws out the bucket threatens to tip over the floating platform. But the operator is practiced at his craft, and swings the bucket over to deposit the load along a berm that channels the flow of the water and the deposit of the silt. These marsh buggies have long been used here to create the channels for oil exploration that have torn up the wetlands. “Now it’s the opposite — we’re using them to fill in the channels we made,” said Murray Starkel, managing director of the company.

As for the smell, Mr. Dilks suggests that the gray-black froth is redolent of “a nice glass of Guinness,” which may mean that he needs to find a better class of pub. The odors include a hint of well-trodden cow pasture after a churning rain.

Who puts money into the risky proposition of restoring swamps for profit? One of the investors is the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a nonprofit based in Cambridge, Mass. Katie Lincoln, the chief investment officer for the group’s half-billion-dollar endowment, said she put $10 million into Mr. Dilks’s company not as an environmental do-good project but as an investment that she expected would generate returns. “This is not a charity for us,” she said.

Some of the credits become available when the restorer commits to the project, but the full measure of credits will not be accessible until the project has been completed and has proved successful for five years. Mr. Dilks acknowledged that his company was taking on risk that extended over several years — but said calculating risk was part of what investment fund managers like himself were paid to do. Still, he said, “if you don’t have patient, long-term capital behind you, it’s really hard.”

Mr. Dilks added that he preferred that calculated risk to the alternative. “If we wait 40 years for the money to dribble in for restoration,” he said, “it’ll be gone.”

Land conservation and water quality go together

As Lee County works to comply with the Clean Water Act, it is important to understand the value of improving water quality in our rivers and coastal estuaries for drinking, fishing, swimming and our multibillion-dollar tourism and real estate-based economy.

Rather than criticize the restoration of our waterways as a punitive unfunded federal mandate, so often decried by elected officials, a more thoughtful approach would be to accept the responsibility of cleaning up our waterways in our own backyard.

The highest priority to enhance water quality is to determine the source of pollutants and to that end, Lee County has implemented a number of programs and procedures to reduce contamination to ground and surface waters.

Over the past several decades, the county pushed for conversion of septic tanks to central sewers, the use of reclaimed wastewater for irrigation versus direct outfall into the Caloosahatchee River and the adoption of the fertilizer ordinance. In addition, the construction of filtration marshes and purchase of land under the Conservation 20/20 and Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed programs to store and filter stormwater runoff.

Unfortunately, the greatest source of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which are the catalyst for harmful algae blooms, including red tide and toxic blue-green algae, is the polluted water released from Lake Okeechobee that flows down the Caloosahatchee and into our coastal estuaries.

The nutrients enter Lake Okeechobee from surrounding agricultural drainage.

There are several ways that the Lee County commission could substantially reduce the cost to Lee County taxpayers in meeting the total maximum daily load requirements imposed by federal mandate to clean up our waterways:

• Collaborate with Florida League of Cities, Florida Association of Counties and legislative delegation to support legislation to implement the 1996 Polluter Pays constitutional amendment that requires those primarily responsible for pollution around Lake Okeechobee to clean up their pollution. The Legislature has deferred implementation of this public mandate, thereby placing the financial burden of restoring impaired waters on the backs of the taxpayers.

• Coordinate with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to support a basin management action plan for Lake Okeechobee to include Nitrogen.

• Coordinate with congressional and legislative delegation to support acquisition of 50,000 acres between the north New River and Miami canals and south of Lake Okeechobee for storage, treatment and conveyance of water to the Everglades, thereby, alleviating the massive discharge of polluted water released from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee.

In violation of the public trust, the Lee County commissioners voted to raid the Conservation 20/20 trust fund in the 2013-14 fiscal year to balance the budget. The board is now considering further evisceration of the 20/20 program by changing the focus of a land conservation program to a water quality program.

Prior to the shortsighted decision by the commissioners in 1991 to repeal the Water Conservation Utility, the county had a program in place to fund maintenance and restoration of waterways that would ensure compliance with state and federal water quality standards.

The Lee County commission should consider the most cost-effective and resourceful means of reinstituting the water conservation utility versus undermining the Conservation 20/20 program to comply with water quality mandate.

A potential source of funds for local water quality projects could be the repeal of the Okeechobee levy, which is paid by Lee County taxpayers for the South Florida Water Management District to provide drainage and irrigation of the sugar cane fields south of Lake Okeechobee. Lee County taxpayers pay in excess of $30 million annually and the return on the investment is polluted water, fish kills, and harmful algae blooms, including red tide.

Certainly, the more conservative and responsible approach would be to redirect the funds for local beneficial use.

Ray Judah|July 16, 2014 (Ray Judah is a former Lee County commissioner.)

Scott: Let Voters Decide On Conservation Amendment

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Gov. Rick Scott said it was “the right thing to do” for the Cabinet on Tuesday to approve the sale of four closed jails and three other sites to raise money for future land preservation.

However, when asked after the Cabinet meeting whether he would support or oppose an amendment in November that would cement funding for land conservation into Florida’s Constitution, Scott avoided directly answering the question.

“All the amendments, the public has the opportunity to vote, just like I do,” Scott replied. “So we’ll see how it comes out.”

For some conservationists, the stance by Scott isn’t necessarily bad.

Eric Draper, Audubon Florida executive director, said he’d prefer Scott to remain “ambivalent” on the issue. An alternative is to join the chorus of legislators who have already criticized the amendment as an improper constraint on the budget.

“That’s a winning message for us, let the voters decide,” Draper said.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has argued that “legislating via constitutional amendments” doesn’t work. And Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, contends the amendment will shift too much land into state control.

The proposed amendment, backed by a group called “Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, Inc.,” seeks to set aside 33 percent of the state’s documentary stamp tax revenues — fees paid when real estate is sold — for 20 years to acquire conservation and recreation lands, manage existing lands, protect lands that are critical for water supply and restore degraded natural systems.

The amendment, which requires approval from 60 percent of voters to pass, could generate $10 billion over its life, the group says.

Draper, along with other conservationists, backed the Cabinet’s action on Tuesday. Still, they continue to say the funding remains.

The idea for the amendment was spawned as funding diminished for the Florida Forever program. Florida Forever, which uses bonds backed with revenue from the documentary stamps, authorizes lawmakers to spend up to $300 million a year for preservation.

The last year funding approached that mark was in 2008.

During the 2012 session, state lawmakers set aside $20 million for land conservation and established a surplus land-sale program within the state Department of Environmental Protection.

This year lawmakers included $12.5 million for the purchase of land to protect springs and water resources, or to provide military land buffering, as part of the $77 billion budget Scott signed June 2.

The budget also includes a line for up to $40 million to also be spent on Florida Forever, with the money to come from the sale of non-conservation lands.

Scott and the Cabinet — Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi — on Tuesday approved the sale of sites in Monroe, Volusia, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Hendry and Broward counties. Those sites include the former Broward, Glades, Hendry and Hillsborough correctional institutions, which were closed as part of a consolidation in 2012.

The sales are expected to fetch the state $27 million, which would bring the sale of non-conservation land this year to nearly $44 million. It’s not clear if the additional $4 million can be spent in the budget year that begins July 1.

Jim Turner|The News Service of Florida|June 17, 2014

It shall be the policy of the state to conserve and protect its natural resources and scenic beauty. Adequate provision shall be made by law for the abatement of air and water pollution and excessive and unnecessary noise and for the conservation and protection of natural resources.

Article II, Section 7(a), Florida Constitution. [Should it not be the duty of our Governor to honor and enforce Florida’s constitution?]

Air Quality

 Settlement Opens Door for Clean Energy at Colorado Coal-fired Power Plant

Tri-State Generation Agrees to Air Pollution Controls at Craig Plant

Denver—New hope for clean air was inked today in a settlement agreement filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit that committed Tri-State Generation and Transmission to installing state of the art air pollution controls to reduce haze pollution from the company’s 1,300 megawatt Craig coal-fired power plant in northwestern Colorado.

“We applaud Tri-State for acknowledging and supporting the need to ensure air pollution from the Craig coal-fired power plant is controlled,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director.  “For our health and environment here in Colorado and throughout the West, this is a big step forward and opens the door to real solutions for curtailing coal pollution.”

The agreement was reached after WildEarth Guardians and the National Parks Conservation Association filed suit in early 2013 against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over its approval of a Colorado plan meant to curtail haze pollution in several National Parks and Wilderness Areas.  The plan allowed the Craig Generating Station to forego installing up-to-date pollution controls required by the Clean Air Act.

Studies have found the Craig Generating Station causes and contributes to excessive haze pollution in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness Area, and the Flat Tops Wilderness in western Colorado, marring these areas scenic vistas.  In Rocky Mountain National Park, visibility is 90% worse than natural background levels due to haze pollution.

The Craig Generating Station consists of three massive coal-fired boilers, two of which are nearly identical and were built in 1979 and 1980, and a third that was built later in the 1980’s.  The power plant is one of the largest sources of nitrogen oxide emissions in Colorado. 

Nitrogen oxides not only form haze, but also create particulate pollution and ground-level ozone (the key ingredient of smog), and damage human respiratory systems.

Colorado’s plan required stringent pollution controls on one of coal-fired boilers at the Craig Generation Station.  The agreement filed today ensures that the two oldest coal-fired boilers at the Craig Generating Station are both retrofitted with the most stringent nitrogen oxide emission controls by 2021.  Pollution controls for the third unit will be reassessed by 2018.

All told, the settlement will reduce nitrogen oxide pollution additional 2,500 tons annually, equal to taking 273,000 cars off the road (according to the EPA, an average passenger vehicles releases 18.2 pounds of nitrogen oxides annually). 

“Tri-State’s commitment to clean air is to be commended,” said Nichols.  “This compromise ensures greater protection for our iconic landscapes, more pollution cuts, and stronger protection for our clean air.”

Jeremy Nichols|July 10, 2014

Asthma Cases Increase as Cities Continue to Ignore Federal Ozone Standards

“The majority of people living in Dallas, TX, have never breathed legally clean air, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.”

That shocking truth is from Cherelle Blazer, a Dallas resident and environmental scientist. She’s referring to the ground-level ozone (or smog) levels in Dallas. Ground-level ozone robs hundreds of thousands of Americans with asthma and other respiratory ailments of quality of life. It sends thousands of children to emergency rooms each year and costs us billions in healthcare costs, lost productivity and premature deaths. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently knee-deep in the process of updating our national ozone standards, and thousands of lives hang in the balance.

“We have an epic problem,” says Cherelle of the smog levels in Dallas, which are well above levels considered safe to breathe by the EPA. “There is a reason asthma rates in Dallas average between 18 and 20 percent while the rest of Texas is around 9 percent. Dallas has a true triple threat of pollution—families’ health is threatened by the largest concentration of cement plants to the Southeast, coal plants to the southwest, and shale gas drilling to the west. This has created the conditions for Dallas to have some of the worst air in the country.”

Cherelle sees the effects of that terrible air pollution first-hand. Her eight-year-old son and her husband both have asthma and must take medicine regularly. Even she and her daughter, who are both healthy, wheeze on bad air days, she says.

“It is expensive, very inconvenient, time consuming, sometimes heart-breaking, and it can be really scary,” says Cherelle. “But we have learned to live with it like so many families. Unfortunately packing the nebulizer everywhere [my son] goes has become a way of life.”

There are many sleepless nights when her son’s chest hurts because his airways are constricted. Her family, like thousands of others, has to watch closely for bad air alert days when the air is unsafe to breathe.

“It’s the chronic stress of watching that—knowing the ozone standard is arbitrarily high and those warnings don’t even mean anything,” she explains. “It could technically be a ‘good air day’ and the ozone level will still cause asthma attacks because the current standard is not based on current science. It makes no sense at all and it’s really unfair because families can’t even protect themselves when they think they are doing everything right.”

Cherelle has her own environmental consulting firm and works with local environmental and public health groups to get stronger smog standards in Texas and at the federal level via the EPA.

In late June, she joined other activists who traveled to Washington, D.C., for meetings with lawmakers and the EPA to discuss smog pollution and the harm it’s causing in their communities. They made the case for a strong standard, explaining that “the best public health studies we have all say that anything above 60 parts per billion will cause respiratory illness.”

This is an environmental justice battle, as she knows all too well. Cherelle has seen that fight since she was a child growing up in New Orleans in an area known as “cancer alley.” She watched friends and family members die from many different diseases, and that inspired her career in environmental science.

“I was too young to have this acute awareness of pollution in my environment and what it was costing the people I loved most,” said Cherelle. “I felt empowered to change that reality. There are lots of children struggling to grow up in environmental justice communities with that same awareness. I see them everyday all over North Texas and I am helping them in every way I know how.”

Cherelle is truly an inspiration—I’ll let her powerful words close out this column with a call to action:

“Everyone needs clean air. You can’t do anything if you can’t breathe. That concept is so basic it becomes lost on people. Children can’t learn and pay attention in class when they are struggling to breathe. They can’t play, they can’t go outside and explore. The world is no longer a magical place for a child who is fighting just to stay in it. Every time we set a clean air standard that is not protective of health we are literally ripping their childhood away from them.

“Meanwhile, Texas is number one in the country for air pollution but we are also number one in clean energy production! This tells me that bad air in Texas is a choice. We could absolutely be cleaner but it takes a strong smog standard to spur innovation, push businesses to adopt cleaner practices, and empower politicians and communities to demand better.

“There is a personal cost millions of families know all too well: every time I have to pull out the breathing machine because my son has little league practice, every time I have to go pick up his medications from the pharmacy, every time my husband and I sit down to do the budget and factor in the cost of his asthma medications, every time my son’s asthma gets out of control and we have to take him to the hospital and we know that huge bill is coming… I get angry because this is not our doing but it has become our problem and it shouldn’t be.

“People want energy but they don’t want it with a side of death and sickness. They don’t want it at any cost! I can’t run a business that poisons everyone around me and neither can energy companies and other polluting industries. They don’t get a pass. It is time for the full cost of doing business to rest squarely on the shoulders of the largest polluters. The people least equipped to pay—the public—have carried industries’ burden for decades and is being crushed under the weight of that cost. We should all demand that EPA shift that bill over to industry.”

Care2 Causes Editors|July 15, 2014 (This post was written by Mary Anne Hitt and originally appeared on EcoWatch)

Transportation

The Little Thing Our Cities Can Do to Inspire Millions More People to Bike

Protected bike lanes help riders feel less exposed to danger, and are also appreciated by drivers and pedestrians, who know where to expect bicycles.

You can see big changes happening across North America as communities from Fairbanks to St. Petersburg transform their streets into appealing places for people, not just cars and trucks.

“Over the past five years we’re seeing an infrastructure revolution, a rethinking of our streets to accommodate more users—busways, public plazas, space for pedestrians and, of course, bike lanes,” says David Vega-Barachowitz of the National Association of City Transportation Officials. “More protected bike lanes is one of the most important parts of this.”

Protected bike lanes separate people on bikes from rushing traffic with concrete curbs, plastic bollards or other means— and sometimes offer additional safety measures such as special bike traffic lights and painted crossings at intersections.  Protected bike lanes help riders feel less exposed to danger, and are also appreciated by drivers and pedestrians, who know where to expect bicycles. Streets work better when everyone has a clearly defined space.

The Continuing Evolution of Bicycling

Protected bike lanes are standard practice in the Netherlands, where 27 percent of all trips throughout the country are made on bicycles. That’s because more women, kids and seniors along with out-of-shape, inexperienced riders feel comfortable biking on the streets. Dutch bike ridership has doubled since the 1980s, when protected bike lanes began to be built in large numbers.

American communities, by contrast, paint bike lanes on the street, often squeezed between parked cars and busy traffic. With just a white line dividing bicyclists from vehicles, it’s no surprise that only a small percentage of Americans currently bike for transportation.

“Conventional bike lanes have not worked well to get new people on bikes— they serve mostly those already biking,” says Martha Roskowski, vice president of local innovation for PeopleForBikes. “It’s time to evolve the bike lane.”

Nearly two-thirds of Americans would bicycle more if they felt safer on the streets, reports the Federal Highway Administration. Protected bike lanes, along with public bike share systems, are two of the best ways to get more people out on bikes, according to a growing chorus of transportation leaders.

Protected lanes have recently popped up in more than 30 communities across the U.S. from Munhall, Pennsylvania, to Temple City, California, with many additional projects set to open later this year.

Bicycling Goes Mainstream

Montreal is North America’s pioneer in protected lanes. Inspired by Dutch, Danish and German examples, the city established a network of protected lanes that now covers more than 30 miles. The idea began to stir Americans’ imaginations in 2007 when New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan launched plans to tame the city’s mean streets. New York has since built 43 miles of protected lanes, with measurable results in safer streets and rising bike ridership.

New York’s first protected lanes provoked fierce opposition from a few people, but Paul White of the local bike and pedestrian advocacy group Transportation Alternatives says the public debate has now shifted to “Where’s mine? How come that neighborhood has safe streets and we don’t —don’t my kids matter as much as theirs?”

Chicago aims to catch up with New York, and has recently opened 23 miles of protected lanes. San Francisco has built 12 miles so far. “Wherever we can, we try to put in protected bike lanes,” stresses Seleta Reynolds, former Section Leader of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency who oversaw installation of many of San Francisco’s protected bike lanes. Reynolds was recently tapped by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to head the City’s Department of Transportation.

Other leaders in the field are Austin, Texas, with 9 miles and Washington, DC with 7 miles, including a highly visible route down Pennsylvania Avenue leading to the U.S. Capitol, which has tripled the number of people riding bikes on the street. More protected bike lanes are planned or under construction in all of these cities.

This year more than 100 cities submitted proposals to PeopleForBikes to be part of the Green Lane Project, a competitive fellowship which offers cities financial, strategic and technical assistance valued at $250,000 per city to build or expand protected bike networks during a two-year period. Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Seattle were selected in March to be the second round of Green Lane Project cities.

Just released research on protected bike lanes in five of the first-round Green Lane Project cities (Chicago, San Francisco, Austin, Washington D.C. and Portland) shows why so many communities are eager to follow their lead.  The federal Department of Transportation-funded study found an increase of ridership from 21 to 142 percent on streets featuring protected lanes in the first year, with an average increase of 75 percent. Meanwhile evaluation of protected bike lanes by the city of New York found that traffic injuries declined for all road users (not just bicyclists) by an average of forty percent.

Beyond the White Stripe

What about the conventional bike lanes painted on the pavement — that simple white stripe we’ve grown used to? “They are the camel’s nose in the tent for growing bike use,” because they legitimize bicycling as transportation in the eyes of prospective riders and remind motorists to share the road, says Randy Neufeld, director of the SRAM Cycling Fund.

“Conventional bike lanes can work very well on a two-lane street with light traffic and slow speeds,” notes Roskowski. “But they are not enough for busy streets and fast traffic, which need an extra degree of separation between bicycles and motor vehicles.”

That’s the logic embraced by Dutch traffic engineers, which has doubled the number of bicyclists in the Netherlands. According to the Dutch Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic, physical separation of bicyclists from motor vehicles is recommended for any urban street with more than two lanes or where the speed limit exceeds 50 km per hour (31 mph).

One problem with conventional bike lanes is that they raise expectations beyond what they can deliver. “Cities all over the country painted stripes on busy streets, and when these lanes attract only a modest increase in bicyclists, city officials conclude there is only limited interest in bicycling,” notes PeopleForBikes president Tim Blumenthal. “A lot of people just won’t venture out on busy roads without a greater level of protection from traffic. That’s where protected bike lanes come in.”

Protected Bike Lanes Benefit Everyone, Not Just People Riding Bikes

“We are at a turning point in how we think about bikes,” explains Roskowksi. “This change is being driven by cities preparing for the future. Mayors, elected officials, business leaders and citizens want their cities to be resilient, sustainable and attractive, and they realize bikes and protected bike lanes can help achieve that. These new bike lanes make the streets safer for everyone and improve city life for people who will never even get on a bike.”

Here are key benefits of protected bike lanes enjoyed by the entire community:

  • Attract and Keep a Talented Workforce: Richard Florida, originator of the Creative Class strategy for urban prosperity, contends that safe, convenient bike lanes are important to communities that want to attract entrepreneurs and sought-after workers in creative fields—not just young hipsters, but those with kids too. “Traffic-free bike paths become especially important to them,” Florida said about young families in the New York Daily News.
  • Expand Economic Opportunities: Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel vowed to build 100 miles of protected bike lanes in his first term as part of a strategy to attract high-tech firms to the city. In Austin, Texas, Cirrus Logic, a computer company, moved from the suburbs to downtown two years ago because the area’s bike trails and plans for protected lanes made the firm “more attractive as an employer,” explains PR director Bill Schnell. “We can’t just pluck anybody for our jobs. The people we want are mostly younger, and biking is part of the equation for them.”
  • Boost Local Businesses: A study of protected bike lanes on 9th Avenue in New York City showed a 49 percent increase in retail sales at businesses on the street. Another study in San Francisco found 65 percent of merchants on Valencia Street reporting that protected bike lanes were good for business.  A study done in Portland shows that customers arriving on bike buy 24 percent more at local businesses than those who drive.
  • Make the Streets Safer for Everyone: Not only are fewer bicyclists involved in accidents on streets with protected lanes, but pedestrians and motorists are safer too. A study of Columbus Avenue in New York City after protected bike lanes were added found a 34 percent decline in overall crashes.
  • Saving Municipalities Money: Building protected bike lanes to move more people is “dirt cheap to build compared to road projects,” says Gabe Klein, former transportation commissioner in Chicago and Washington, D.C. Cities of all sizes find that protected lanes can serve more people using existing infrastructure without the economic and environmental costs of widening streets.
  • Reduce Tension Between Bicyclists and Motorists: “If you actually give bicyclists a designated place in the road, they behave in a way that’s more conducive for everyone getting along,” explains Jim Merrell, campaign manager for the Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance. He points to recent findings that bicyclists stop for red lights 161 percent more often at special bike signals on the city’s new Dearborn Avenue protected lanes.  And a study of protected lanes on Chicago’s Kinzie Street shows that half of cyclists report improved motorist behavior on the street.
  • Ease Traffic Congestion:  Chad Crager, interim Bicycling Program Manager in Austin, calculated that the city’s ambitious network of protected lanes will create significantly more street capacity downtown if only 15 percent of commuters living within three miles of downtown switch from cars to bikes and just seven percent of those living three-to-nine miles.
  • Decrease Pollution & Curb Climate Change: A person traveling four miles to work and four miles back on a bike every day instead of a car means 2000 pounds less carbon each year (which translates to a five percent reduction, downsizing the average Americans’ carbon footprint) as well as reductions in other pollutants fouling our air, according the Worldwatch Institute.

Jay Walljasper|AlterNet|July 11, 2014 

VW to build new SUV in Tennessee, add 2,000 jobs

NASHVILLE, TENN. — Volkswagen plans to build a new seven-passenger SUV at its factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, adding about 2,000 factory jobs as it tries to reverse U.S. sales that have fallen for the past two years.

The German automaker announced Monday that it will invest $600 million to expand the factory and set up a new research center that will employ about 200 engineers. The research facility will coordinate products for North America to quickly include customer feedback into planned and existing models, the company said.

The announcement comes after months of political wrangling over the role of organized labor at the factory, which now employs about 2,400 workers and makes only one model, the Passat midsize car.

Production of the new SUV, based on the CrossBlue concept vehicle unveiled in Detroit last year, is scheduled to start at the end of 2016. It gives VW an entry into an important segment of the U.S. market — the family people hauler.

ERIK SCHELZIG and TOM KRISHER|Associated Press|Jul. 14, 2014  

Miscellaneous

Those Insecticides We’re Told Aren’t Killing Bees Are Also Hurting Birds

Despite many politicians being in complete denial about the mounting evidence of a connection between certain insecticides and the collapse of bee populations, new research shows that those same insecticides are probably indirectly leading to bird die-offs, too.

A new study published this month in Nature looks at data from the Netherlands which the researchers say shows a sharp decline in certain bird populations in areas where insecticides known as neonicotinoids were used the most.

Neonicotinoids are among the new wave of insecticides that have been developed in the past 50 years. They were supposed to be revolutionary for the farming industry and were billed as less damaging for the environment and wildlife. However, study after study has linked them to a decline in pollinators and even to bee Colony Collapse Disorder, while a 2013 examination of peer reviewed literature called for tighter restrictions on neonicotinoid use as, used in the concentrations and amounts that we see on farms today, the scientists concluded there is enough evidence to suggest that these insecticides are harming bees and other insects who aren’t supposed to be targeted.

Concerns have also been raised about the wider impact on wildlife beyond our pollinators. While neonicotinoids are billed as not being as toxic to mammals, and in particular birds of prey, scientific literature has suggested an unintended impact: by killing insects that the mammals eat, they may be driving down certain sensitive populations, and that’s precisely what the study from the Netherlands found.

Interestingly the researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands started their research not by exploring the impact of neonicotinoids, but by looking at two different data sets, one of bird counts, and the other of surface water measurements of the most common neonicotinoid, and through this the scientists were able to track the decline in bird numbers during the period of 2003 to 2010 while leaving the door open for other possible causes of bird population decline.

They found that there may be several factors contributing to the fall in numbers, such as an intensification of farming which often means uprooting bird habitats, like digging up hedges or dismantling barns.

Still, the researchers found that the presence of imidacloprid, one of the leading neonicotinoids, is incontrovertibly impacting birds and may be the main cause of bird decline in the region. They found that if ground water had just 20 nanograms of neonicotinoid per liter, there was a 30 percent fall in bird numbers during the study period–and what’s more, some areas had pollution levels that was 50 times higher than that figure.

In total, the researchers found that 14 out of 15 common insect-eating bird species, like barn swallows, tree sparrows and starlings, had suffered sometimes dramatic population declines.

Research similar but not identical to this has been dismissed in the past because it didn’t control for other factors, but this research did, yet the pattern still emerged. That is why lead researcher Hans de Kroon believes its time to take this problem seriously because, if neonicotinoids are indirectly harming birds, they’re probably harming other wildlife that prey on insects, too.

David Gouslon of the University of Sussex, who wasn’t involved in this study but did write a separate commentary, says this research is convincing. He tells the Guardian: “The simplest, most obvious, explanation is that highly toxic substances that kill insects lead to declines in things that eat insects. … This work flags up the point that this isn’t just about bees, it is about everything. When hundreds or thousands of species or insect are being wiped out, it’s going to have impacts on bats, shrews, hedgehogs, you name it. It is pretty good evidence of wholesale damage to the environment.”

Goulson also highlights that unlike the Netherlands, the UK (and much of Europe) isn’t monitoring neonicotinoid pollution. The UK agency responsible for overseeing matters dealing with the environment and wildlife, called Defra, remains stalwart that the research isn’t overwhelming and that, at the moment, there isn’t compelling evidence to show a definite link between neonicotinoids and harm to wildlife.

Defra says that these kinds of pesticides are safe when used as recommended and points to the admittedly (usually) rigorous short-term trials carried out by neonicotinoid producers. The problem though is precisely that they are only short-term trials. Manufacturers haven’t used longer-term systematic trials but if they did, scientists say the data would show the harms neonicotinoids can create over longer periods of time.

It was hoped that this message was, at last, getting through, when in 2013 the EU imposed a two-year suspension of three neonicotinoids, but it emerged the suspension is largely toothless because the EU is failing to track data during this time, and a two year suspension is unlikely to give any meaningful data anyway.

We have to be clear that this latest study implies a link and not causation, but because this adds to a wider body of data that all suggests a link, the evidence for probable causation is growing ever more formidable. All this leads us to ask: how much scientific data do we need, and how many impartial experts need to speak out, before our politicians will act?

Or perhaps the better question is, how many animal populations have to collapse before our governments see fit to do something and actually tackle the issue of neonicotinoids?

Steve Williams|July 13, 2014

Rodenticides are Killing California Hawks

The sight of a hawk seated casually on a phone pole, sweeping across a field, or diving down for prey is awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, that rodent dinner might be the majestic creature’s death thanks to the widespread use of rodenticides across the US.

Many of these poisons are designed to act slowly, encouraging rats and mice to bring poisoned bait back to their nests so that the whole colony is killed off, not just a single individual. The problem is that as long as those living rodents are strolling around, they’re appealing to raptors — in addition to housecats, bobcats, and a variety of other creatures.

In the 1960s, the publication of Silent Spring and a growing pile of evidence convinced the US to move towards banning DDT, a chemical that was once widely sprayed to cut down on insect populations. The problem with DDT was that it also affected other species, specifically raptors, who experienced egg shell thinning as a result of DDT exposure. Their populations dipped, and only recently have they started to show signs of recovery, illustrating how long the effects of environmental pollution can linger.

But in recent years, researchers have started noticing a problem: raptors are dying for no particular reason, in regions with no obvious signs of chemical pollution–until the scientists dug a little deeper and started exploring the use of rodenticides in the area. One of the most commonly used classes of rodenticide in the US are anticoagulants, which work slowly over time. They can also end up poisoning animals that eat the targets for the poison, like rats and mice. The scientists noticed a connection between raptor populations dipping in states like California and use of rodenticides in agricultural facilities, food storage facilities, and marijuana operations.

The problem isn’t limited to California, though. Urban raptor populations are particularly badly affected because of their location in the heart of cities, which attract rats, and which in turn encourages people to put down poison. Numerous urban raptor families have died as a result of poison exposure, a heartbreaking experiences for their fans and the researchers who study them.

In fact, necropsies have shown that rat poison is the most common cause of death for hawks, above power line collisions and car accidents. Urban raptors, as well as their rural brethren, could be helping to deal with the explosion of rats and mice drawn to compost piles, home gardens, and more, but instead, they’re being killed off.

In multiple states, activists are working to change this. Lobbying in California forced the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to ban a number of rodenticides in the state, making it impossible for consumers to walk into stores and buy them. Unfortunately, they’re still available to commercial customers like exterminators, who often turn to these poisons because they’ve proved effective in the past and they’re inexpensive. Lobbying on the issue is only making slow progress in some communities as exterminators and chemical manufacturers oppose changes to dealing with pest infestations, but advocates argue it’s critical to protect hawks.

That’s not just because they’re intrinsically beautiful, although of course that’s a very good reason. Protecting hawks also allows them to do what they do best: killing prey, and ensuring that a predator vacuum doesn’t develop. Hawks provide a great means of steady control for rat and mouse populations, and they do it entirely for free, which is an excellent deal.

Can advocates revive the regulatory climate of the 1960s (DDT was banned in 1972) and encourage the government to do the right thing? Many animal lives may depend on it.

s.e. smith|July 13, 2014

Federal funds for citrus greening

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) – Federal agriculture officials said Thursday that they are allocating millions of dollars toward research to solve problems caused by the devastating citrus greening bacteria that threatens Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry.

United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told The Associated Press in a statement that $25 million in funding comes from the 2014 Farm Bill. Another $6.5 million will be sent to projects through a group formed to combat greening.

Florida’s citrus growers have been the hardest-hit in the U.S. – experts say virtually all of the state’s groves are infected – and researchers are working furiously to come up with a vaccine or cure. Growers warn that if a solution isn’t found, Florida’s iconic crop could be lost.

“USDA is committed to the fight against citrus greening, including making major research investments to counter this destructive disease,” Vilsack said in the statement. “The citrus industry and the thousands of jobs it supports are depending on groundbreaking research to neutralize this threat.”

Vilsack said the 2014 Farm Bill provides $25 million per year for a total of $125 million of the USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative funding toward citrus health research over the next five years.

Priority will be given to projects that span several states.

While key citrus-growing regions like California and Texas haven’t been as affected by greening, growers, researchers and experts are also working on a cure in an attempt to stave off the devastating disease.

In Florida, the orange crop – which is mostly used for juice – is approaching its lowest harvest in decades. Experts blame greening.

The Florida Citrus Commission met this week and said the 2013-14 Florida citrus season will probably end with the lowest orange crop in 29 years at 104.3 million boxes. Fruit size during this season was also near a record low – which is also attributed to trees weakened by greening.

Greening first enters the tree via the jumping plant lice known as Asian citrus psyllid. The lice suck on leaf sap and leave behind bacteria. The bacteria starve the tree of nutrients, leading to sour fruit. The tree eventually dies.

“Citrus production in Florida may be at a 30-year low, but we’re not ready to throw in the towel. We’ll use every tool in our toolbox to fight citrus greening and save Florida’s signature crop. A $9 billion industry that supports 75,000 jobs is at stake, and we can’t afford to lose,” said Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam.

Recently, University of Florida researchers said they’ve found a possible treatment for greening, but caution that it could be years before it could become commercially available to growers.

The team from UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences said that it has discovered a chemical that kills the citrus greening bacteria.

TAMARA LUSH|June 12, 2014

The Soil Pollution Crisis in China: A Cleanup Presents Daunting Challenge

Chinese officials are only starting to come to grips with the severity and extent of the soil pollution that has contaminated vast areas of the nation’s farm fields – by one estimate more than 8 percent of China’s arable land.
But one thing is already clear: The cost and complexity of any remediation efforts will be enormous.

Luo Jinzhe made the thousand-mile journey, most recently this April, to plead for action with the Bureau for Letters and Calls, the first stop for petitioners in the capital, and the Ministry for Environmental Protection, only to be told to go home and wait for the local government to take care of her complaints. She has yet to hear from any of them.

For Luo and her neighbors, the first sign of a serious problem in Shuangqiao was on June 28, 2009, when Luo Bolin, a worker at the Xianghe Chemical Factory, died of cadmium poisoning. When he died, his left leg was marked by large purple contusions; he was only 44. The list of cadmium-related deaths in Shuangqiao has since grown longer, and evidence is mounting of a national pollution crisis that has contaminated China’s soil and food crops and threatens to overwhelm efforts to put it right.

The Xianghe Chemical Factory, where Luo had worked, opened in 2004, on a site just 50 meters from the Liuyang River. The Liuyang flows directly into the Xiang River and is celebrated in Chinese Communist mythology as the symbol of an historic milestone in the party’s long struggle for power. It was here, in September 1927, that Mao Zedong led the first armed Communist revolt, the brief Autumn Harvest Uprising, and set up the short-lived Hunan Soviet, an episode still commemorated in songs in praise of the river.

The factory employed 50 Shuangqiao villagers and produced an annual total of 3,000 tons of powdered and pellet zinc sulphate, an animal fodder additive. In 2006, apparently without government approval, it began to produce indium, a rare metal more valuable than gold, but the processing of which produces cadmium as a by-product. Starting in April 2008, the villagers of Shuangqiao began to notice small, but troubling changes: The local well water began to taste oddly of rust, Mrs Luo recalls, and saucepans used to boil water changed color.

On June 27, 2009, the day before Luo Bolin’s death, the government of Liuyang municipality suddenly closed the factory and arranged health checks for more than 3,000 villagers who lived within 1.2 kilometers of the plant. Five hundred were found to have high levels of cadmium in their bodies, and another four were to die during the government investigation. Shuangqiao became known nationwide as a “cadmium village.”

Luo Jinzhi has collected what she believes to be a still-incomplete list of the names of the dead in Shuangqiao and the neighboring villages of Dongkou and Puhua, starting with Luo Bolin. In all, she says, she has identified 26 deaths from cadmium-related illnesses between 2009 and 2013.
Although the government paid compensation of between $1,600 and $9,000 to the victims’ families, it has never admitted a link with cadmium or other metals that have affected the villagers. In December 2008, for example, Luo Jinzhi’s five-year-old nephew began to have breathing difficulties and became listless. He was found to be suffering from lead poisoning, and 14 more cases in children had been identified by March 2009.

When the deaths began, the villagers began to protest. On July 29, 2009, hundreds of them went to the township government to complain that the factory’s cadmium pollution still threatened their lives. The next day, thousands surrounded the government building, and Chen Run’er, the party secretary from the provincial capital, Changsha, had to be called in to address them. He promised the villagers that their complaints would be investigated, but on August 5, the Liuyang authorities ordered in hundreds of police with dogs. The confrontation finally ended when the head of the plant, Luo Xiangping, was arrested, the factory was permanently shut down, and the director and a deputy director of the Liuyang Environmental Protection Bureau were fired.

Although the factory has now been shut for good, the pollution is still affecting the village. The nearly 10-acre site that the shuttered business occupied is surrounded by a six-foot wall. Behind it lies a large pile of toxic sludge. When it rains, contaminated water seeps from the sludge into the Liuyang River, just 50 meters away. Around the plant, 659 acres of land have been polluted with cadmium, and any crops grown there are contaminated. The villagers believe that moving elsewhere offers their only guarantee of safety, and they have asked Luo Jinzhi to negotiate their relocation with the township government.

Liu Bo — who is coordinator of the liaison office of the EU-Asia Environmental Support Chengde Project, a European Union-funded group focusing on urban river pollution — investigated the factory site in January this year. He, too, concluded that “the pollution is continuing to do harm,” damaging the local land and soil and threatening the Liuyang River basin. The basin includes Changsha, as well as the Xiang River, the source of drinking water for some 20 million people.

Hunan Province is an important center for heavy metal production. In 2011 the province’s 1,003 non-ferrous metal companies produced 2.66 million tons of ten different metals — the third highest production in China and worth $60 billion. Several years ago, the government said it hoped to turn Hunan’s Xiang River into the “Rhine of the East”: beautiful, clean and prosperous.

But in a report to an NGO conference in January this year, Chen Chao, an official with the Hunan Non-Ferrous Metals Management Bureau, admitted that the Xiang basin also had nearly 1,000 sludge sites or tailings stores, which contained 440 million tons of solid waste that is contaminated with lead, mercury, and cadmium. Chen Chao’s report revealed that Hunan accounts for 32.1 percent of China’s emissions of cadmium, 20.6 percent of arsenic emissions, 58.7 percent of mercury emissions, and 24.6 percent of the lead, in its wastewater, tailings, and waste gases.

The scale of this ecological disaster is daunting, and the potential scale and cost of any remediation or cleanup effort is mind-boggling. According to a geochemical survey conducted by the Ministry of Land and Resources between 2002 and 2008, 794 square miles in the area is polluted by heavy metals, an area that stretches from Zhuzhou, on the Xiang River, to Chengjingji. The survey report revealed that the area’s rice and vegetables — as well as reeds and mussels in its waterways — all contained elevated levels, mostly of cadmium.

Liu Shu — who is chair of the Shuguang Environmental Protection Organization, an NGO founded in 2013 in Changsha that works on soil pollution — has investigated soil pollution in Zhuzhou, Changsha, and Xiangtan. Her group found cadmium levels 49.5 times the limit in soil samples taken from the vicinity of a smelting plant in the municipality of Changning. At another site, an industrial park by the Xiang River in Henghan County, they found levels 331 times the limit.

Liu is concerned, too, about the deep-rooted social conflict between local people and government that soil pollution has caused — conflict that she predicts will worsen if not resolved. In the case of the Xianghe factory, Liu and her team noted, the villagers continue to hold out for compensation and relocation.

The township government has offered the Xianghe victims a share of the $1.37 million that they raised in an auction of the chemical company’s assets, but only on condition that the villagers seek no further compensation from the company or the government. With 659 acres of village land no longer fit to grow food, the villagers are struggling to make a living. When the government offered to pay them the market price for the rice that could have been grown on their land, some accepted the offer.

For Luo Jinzhi and many other villagers, however, this is not a long-term solution. The share of the compensation for villagers who live close to the factory is only $600, and it is $250 for those living further away. It is not enough to finance a new life, and the villagers remain determined that the government should also relocate them.

The government, meanwhile, has put its faith in soil remediation. Yonkers Environmental Protection company is one of China’s few listed soil remediation companies that is approved by the Ministry of Environmental Protection for remediation work. The company won the contract to clean up the Xianghe Chemical Factory site and, as early as August 2012, it announced that the site had been cleaned to standard.

The villagers are skeptical, however. In September 2012, they sent a soil sample to Nanjing University’s Centre of Modern Analysis. Concentrations of 6.89 milligrams (mg) of cadmium per kilogram (kg) were found in a sample taken from the sludge pile, and 93.8 mg / kg in a sample taken from a nearby field. According to China’s Soil Environment Quality Standards, cadmium levels in Liuyang should be no higher than 0.3 mg per kg. One sample was found to breach that by a factor of 300.

Although the government has not officially recognized these results, villagers question the effectiveness of the remediation. The 300-fold difference between the two samples, they say, is because. Yonkers treated the land within the factory site, but not the surrounding land, where their polluted rice fields lie. Relations between the villagers, the government, and the company are now so strained that remediation work has stalled.

In January 2014, Liu Bo, the coordinator of the EU project, wrote to Xu Shousheng, the provincial party secretary, supporting the villagers’ complaints that “pollution has not been effectively controlled.” Liu found the limited range of techniques that Yonkers had applied had failed to address the range of pollutants — including cadmium, zinc and arsenic — on the site. He also recommended that remediation should include the surrounding fields and the entire river basin.

Hunan is only one of many provinces in China that have suffered heavy metal pollution. Incomplete figures from the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) revealed that that in 2006, 24.7 million acres of arable land was polluted, 8.3 percent of China’s total. But the government has been slow to understand the seriousness of the problem. It was not until this February that the Ministry of Agriculture ordered a series of remediation trials that aim to give priority to safe management of farmland and to experiment with crop adjustment, as well as possible compensation mechanisms in cases where land or produce have been badly contaminated.

Many officials admit, however, that China’s heavy metal soil contamination is an enormous challenge. Last year, Zhuang Guotai, the head of the MEP’s Department of Nature and Ecology Conservation, told a conference of market-listed environmental protection companies, “In comparison with efforts to clean up air and water pollution, we’ve hardly got started with soil. But once the market is opened up, soil remediation will be on a far bigger scale than either air or water cleanup.”

If the scale of China’s soil pollution is unprecedented, remediation, too, must be large-scale. Zhuang admitted however, that, as well as legislative and technological difficulties, funding for soil remediation was the biggest challenge,

If the scale of China’s soil pollution is unprecedented, remediation, too, must be large-scale. Zhuang admitted however, that, as well as legislative and technological difficulties, funding for soil remediation was the biggest challenge, as total cleanup costs could eventually reach $1.6 trillion. A private industry body, the Jiangsu Institute of the Environmental Industry, has predicted that between 2014 and 2020 China’s soil remediation market could be worth nearly $110 billon.as total cleanup costs could eventually reach $1.6 trillion. A private industry body, the Jiangsu Institute of the Environmental Industry, has predicted that between 2014 and 2020 China’s soil remediation market could be worth nearly $110 billon.

For now, however, financing for these projects is tight. In 2013 the Chinese government launched 42 soil remediation trials, but only two involved funding of more than $16 million. Funding for the 16 projects unveiled so far totals about $96 million, almost entirely from government subsidies.

Chen Nengchang, a soil remediation expert with the Guangdong Institute of Eco-Environment and Soil Sciences, does not believe these numbers mean much, beyond that fact that money is being spent. China’s soil problem, he said, is not only one of pollution but also soil quality and erosion, and improving soil quality with increased organic matter and better pH levels is particularly urgent. On moderately polluted land, he argues, planting non-food crops would eventually clean the soil.

Other experts, however, continue to grapple with the combination of the scale and severity of soil pollution. Liu Yangsheng, the secretary of the China Association of the Environmental Protection Industry’s Heavy Metals and Environmental Remediation Committee, has said that immature technology, lack of funding, and unclear evaluation standards mean that restoration of heavy-metal polluted soil will be an ongoing struggle. Because of the severity and extent of heavy metal pollution in China, he said, expensive techniques are unlikely to be widely applied, while techniques from overseas that may be effective for small plots of land are of limited use in China.

Recent research findings have brought some rays of hope to China’s beleaguered soil. The Foshan Jinkuizi Plant Nutrition Company claims to have developed a soil remediation technology specifically designed for China’s heavy-metal polluted soil: a microorganism that can change the ionic state of heavy metals in the soil, deactivating the pollutants so they do not harm crops. The company claims that the method is cheap, convenient, easy to use, does not produce any secondary pollution, and is already in commercial production and use.

HE GUANGWEI|14 July 2014

Should Dow Chemical be allowed to add to the load of toxic chemicals assailing the global public?

The Environmental Protection Agency, which is reviewing Dow’s application, says that the chemical, known as 2,4-D, drifts easily through the air and sometimes kills not just weeds but also crops beyond the fields where it is sprayed. It is banned in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and some areas of Canada.

If sprayed in fields, the EPA says that trace amounts could end up in food and drinking water – but in such small quantities that it would not pose a threat to public health. Enlist combines this component with glyphosate, the chief ingredient in long-used Roundup.

Garry Hamlin, a spokesman for Dow, said. “The idea that this product is anything like Agent Orange just doesn’t hold up. That had a unique contaminant, and it was phased out of use in the U.S. in the 1980s because of those concerns.”

But, critics argue, Dow has made false safety claims in the past

Dow’s Dursban insecticide was a widely used household pesticide for decades until numerous health concerns led the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to phase out certain uses in 2000 because of risks found with the active ingredient, chlorpyrifos. In 2010 an Indiana family was awarded more than $23 million for medical problems their children suffered after pesticides, including Dursban, were applied to their apartment.

The study concluded that there was a “need for more investigation into possible human health effects.”

Dow AgroSciences announced approval for Enlist by Canada and Japan, but it was left to Carey Gillam (Reuters) to point out:

“Dow has not yet won China’s approval for import of Enlist crops, and Dow officials said they may go ahead with commercialization in the United States even without Chinese approval. Such an approach could jeopardize some U.S. grain sales to the world’s second-largest economy. A similar scenario involving a biotech corn developed by Syngenta has caused shipments of U.S. corn to be rejected by Chinese importers”.

Ian Panton|GM free Cymru

The Aquatic Preserve Society

Working for water

Florida aquatic preserves aren’t as recognizable as the award-winning state park system. You can paddle, fish or cruise these waters, and be unaware of their protected status and value to the region.

That could change: The Aquatic Preserve Society – a new, statewide citizens support organization – is forming. It will be a nonprofit group; details are still being fleshed-out. Goals will include improving public awareness, while gaining leverage to keep Florida’s aquatic preserves in tip-top shape.

Nine of Florida’s 41 aquatic preserves have their own support organizations, said Pine Island resident Liz Donley. She’s a founding member of the Aquatic Preserve Society and president of the Friends of the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves, a citizen support organization for the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves and Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park.

Donley hopes a statewide support organization will:

* Increase volunteer service at preserves throughout Florida;

* Support preserves that don’t have their own friends group;

* Help identify and secure funding to preserve and protect these waters; and

* Make sure protections for aquatic preserves aren’t weakened.

There’s a lot of work to do: Florida’s aquatic preserves encompass more than 2.2 million acres.

“Aquatic preserves are free, and open 24-7,” Donley said, adding that, “as the state budget has tightened, there’s less staff

to manage more (submerged) lands.”

The new statewide group could help recruit more volunteers, including citizen-scientists such as Terry Cain, president and founding member of Estero Bay Buddies.

Cain has a college degree in marine science, and works in land stewardship for Lee County Parks & Recreation. Her volunteer service on behalf of Estero Bay includes leaving home before sunrise one day a month to take water quality samples.

Estero Bay, designated as an aquatic preserve in 1966, was the state’s first, and became a model for Florida and the nation.

Volunteers perform water-quality tests at 46 Southwest Florida locations stretching from Venice south to Fort Myers Beach.

Twenty-nine employees work to protect and manage Florida’s aquatic preserves.

Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t have a volunteer count. However, Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve alone benefits from a pool of about 80 volunteers, said Melynda Brown, a state-employed environmental specialist.

Water monitoring at Gottfried Creek, a tributary of Lemon Bay in Charlotte and Sarasota counties, detected a high level of fecal coliform, a potential health hazard and an indicator septic tanks in the area are leaking.

State officials and others are now exploring solutions, Brown said, adding: “We have more than 15 years of invaluable data. with which to assess water quality status and trends.”

Brown added that Charlotte Harbor’s CSO or friends group lends support by finding money for additional staff training and informative field trips for the volunteers, as well as organizing days to rid the area of such wildlife-hazards as discarded monofilament fishing line.

On Estero Bay, Cain said she gives her time out of concern for quality of life and for the economy: “People come here for clean air and clean water.”

There’s no economic impact estimate for aquatic preserves statewide. However, a 2012 report by economist Richard Weisskoff looked at the Estero Bay watershed and found that nearly $1.2 million in tourist spending annually is related directly to the aquatic preserve.

He broke the numbers down even further, suggesting that 18,974 jobs are sustained by the Estero Bay basin’s preserve lands.

What makes aquatic preserves stand out from other waters? Mainly, it’s the monitoring – and the regulatory protections.

For example, if someone applies for a permit to build a dock jutting into an aquatic preserve, it won’t be granted simply because the addition poses no harm to the waters or to the buffer land: “There has to be a public benefit associated with it,” Donley said.

Although many environmental scientists get active in aquatic preserve support groups, Donley thinks there’s room in the statewide organization for such people as fishing guides and even non-expert beach-lovers.

“Any new member of (the Aquatic Preserve Society) should have a passion for the environment,” said Brian Powers, DEP special projects planner, who’s compiling a list of interested persons. “Specialized degrees will not be necessary.”

If you’re interested in joining a local aquatic preserve’s citizens support organization or the statewide Aquatic Preserve Society, contact: Brian Powers, special projects planner, Department of Environmental Protection, brian.powers@dep.state.fl.us

Florida’s aquatic preserves: www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/sites/

Congress Has Actually Done Something Good for Animals

If you grew up reading James Herriot and dreaming of becoming a veterinarian making mobile calls to help animals in need, you might ultimately have been put off due to the tough restrictions vets face–but that might be about to change.

Federal law currently means that veterinarians face strict limitations on the scope of their practice, including the medications they travel with and the procedures they are allowed to perform. Controlled substances can’t be carried beyond a veterinarian’s licensed premises, which means vets can’t legally conduct mobile spay/neuter clinics, offer at-home euthanasia for animals at the end of a pet’s life, or perform minor surgical procedures on farm calls. Congress, however, is setting out to change this situation with legislation known as the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act.

Under the act, veterinarians would be able to legally carry controlled substances in their kit bags and away from their premises, which would expand their options when it comes to safely and legally providing care to their clients. As it stands now, veterinarians looking to provide mobile care must do so while fearing DEA reprisals for their work, even when they’re involved in disaster response or attempting to provide compassionate care to animals. Being forced to travel without anesthetics and other controlled substances also means that veterinarians who do offer mobile care — like the majority of large animal vets — can’t use the full array of options available to them.

For years now veterinarians have protested this policy, arguing that they have demonstrated their ability to responsibly and effectively handle restricted medications. Drug management protocols in place at veterinary clinics across the US can also be easily adapted to tracking and monitoring the use of drugs offsite, allowing veterinarians to ensure drugs aren’t being abused or inappropriately utilized. Veterinarians today are also deeply committed to providing the best possible care for their patients, and to remaining within the law while doing so. The new legislation simply recognizes the fact that veterinary medical care can’t always be limited to a fixed clinic site, and would allow veterinarians to offer more well-rounded mobile service.

The Senate passed its version of the bill in January, and now the House is following suit. This brings the matter to the desk of the President, who needs to finalize it with his signature. Numerous professional groups in the American veterinary community are supporting the bill, along with farmers and animal welfare organizations who all express concern about animal health and welfare. With the successful passage of the act, veterinarians will be able to legally carry, track, and handle controlled substances beyond their registered offices and to the clients who need them.

This isn’t just good for veterinarians who want to do their jobs and care for animals while respecting the law. It will also benefit the DEA, which will no longer need to invest energy and time in investigations of veterinarians who are simply extending basic care to their patients. Instead, the DEA could focus on larger drug enforcement issues, including working with veterinarians concerned about the abuse of veterinary drugs like ketamine and buprenorpine.

s.e. smith|July 15, 2014

Charla Nash Speaks Out to End the Primates as Pets Industry

Charla Nash, who survived a brutal attack by a chimpanzee, appeared in Washington D.C. last week to appeal directly to lawmakers and the public in an effort to gain support for legislation that would crack down on keeping nonhuman primates as pets.

In 2009 Nash lost most of her face, her hands and later her eyes as the result of an infection from when she was attacked by Travis, a chimpanzee who was purchased in Missouri and transported to Connecticut where he was kept as a pet by her friend and employer, Sandra Herold.

“What happened to me must never happen to anyone again,” Nash said at press conference.

The legislation she’s supporting, the Captive Primate Safety Act, would make it harder for people to keep chimpanzees and other monkeys by amending the Lacey Act to add nonhuman primates to the list of animals who can’t be bought or moved across state lines as pets.

The bill was re-introduced by Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick and co-sponsored by Earl Blumenaur and is getting widespread support from a number of animal advocacy organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Born Free USA, the Jane Goodall Institute, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the ASPCA, which are all now urging Congress to act swiftly to pass it.

While there are a patchwork of state laws and regulations dealing with primates as pets, people can still get them online, at auctions and from out-of-state dealers, which animal advocates believe makes federal legislation necessary to cover the gaps.

Supporters hope the bill will protect the public from another terrible incident like Nash’s and reduce the potential spread of diseases, including tuberculosis and herpes-B.

“Non-human primates should not be sold or traded anywhere in the United States because they are unsafe to humans and they cannot be humanely cared for,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, who is supporting the Senate version, said at a news conference. “Wildlife should be kept in the wild.”

According to the HSUS, more than 270 people, including 86 children, have been injured by captive primates since 1990, while many more incidents are believed to have gone unreported.  Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies waste resources dealing with incidents and cruelty cases.

Supporters of the legislation hope that it will also protect primates from a host of problems that come with private ownership affecting their welfare. These problems range from being torn from their mothers as infants and then suffering from mutilations like having their teeth removed, to being kept in conditions that don’t meet the needs of what are highly intelligent and social animals.

Backers of the bill also hope that it will prevent animals who become too expensive, or too large or difficult to handle, from being kept in isolation, dumped or ending up back in the exotic pet trade.

The bill was first introduced in 2005, but never made it through both the House and Senate. Hopefully, having to confront what happened to Nash and her resulting campaign will compel Congress to push the bill through this time.

Alicia Graef|July 15, 2014

Environmental Links

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

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ConsRep 714 B

“The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun.” Ralph Nader

Announcements

Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge seeks Public Input

An open house meeting has been scheduled at the

Comfort Inn & Suites (2nd floor Conference Room),

3860 Tollgate Blvd, Naples,

Wednesday,July 16, between 5 and 8 p.m. to give the public an opportunity to speak with

managers and biologist about their ideas for future refuge management.

For information about current management goals and objectives, visit the website: www.fws.gov/refuge/Florida_Panther/

To engage in the discussion happening now, visit www.floridapantherplan.com

GEER 2015 – Greater Everglades Ecosystem Restoration (GEER) Science Conference

CALL FOR SESSION PROPOSALS

The GEER 2015 Program Committee seeks proposals and organizers for Dedicated Sessions. We expect Dedicated Sessions on a wide range of topics to comprise the bulk of oral presentations,

and to relate to the overall conference theme – “Science in Support of Everglades Restoration.”

The Program Committee will suggest topics, but looks to the  science community to assist in GEER program development by proposing and organizing sessions.

Potential session topics are provided on the Topics Page, but we encourage proposals on other topics, as well.

Proposals are due  Friday, August 29. 

For guidelines and specifications on preparing and submitting a proposal online, visit the GEER web site at:

http://conference.ifas.ufl.edu/GEER2015/call_sess.html

Register now for the 4th Annual Southeast Florida Reef Cleanup! ‏

Help clean marine debris from the reef during the 4th Annual Southeast Florida Reef Cleanup.

This event takes place in partnership with local dive businesses, and consists of separate cleanup days in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Martin Counties.

Many thanks to the participating dive businesses and divers for making the June 28th Palm Beach County Reef Cleanup a success!

Now the Miami, Martin, and Broward County Cleanups are right around the corner:

4th Annual Southeast Florida Reef Cleanup:

Miami-Dade County – Sunday, July 20, 2014

To help clean up the reef, gloves and catch bags will be available to borrow and all participants will receive a pair of sea snips to keep.

RJ Diving Ventureswww.rjdiving.com

Time: Check-in at 12:15pm; boat departs at 1:00pm

Location: Miami Beach Marina, 300 Alton Road, Miami Beach, FL

Register: Call – (305) 861-6277; or email info@rjdiving.com

Cost: $50 ($20 discount for cleanup divers)

Martin County (part of the 7th Annual Treasure Coast Waterway Cleanup and Peck’s Lake Reef Dive Cleanup)- Saturday, July 26, 2014

To help clean up the reef, gloves and catch bags will be available to borrow and all participants will receive a pair of sea snips to keep.

Hosted by the Marine Industries Association of the Treasure Coast

For more information or to register, visit www.TCWaterwayCleanup.com

There are several locations throughout Martin County:

Jim Graham Boat Ramp, 8555 SE Gomez Ave., Hobe Sound, FL 33455

Jensen Beach Boat Ramp, Indian River Drive, Jensen Beach, FL 39457

Leighton Park Boat Ramp, 2701 SW Cornell Ave., Palm City, FL 34990

Stuart Causeway Boat Ramp, SE Ocean Blvd., Stuart, FL

Sandsprit Park Boat Ramp, 3443 SE St. Lucie Blvd., Stuart, FL 34997

Broward County – Saturday, August 2, 2014

To help clean up the reef, gloves and catch bags will be available to borrow and all participants will receive a pair of sea snips to keep.

American Dream Dive Charterswww.scubafortlauderdale.com

Time: AM Trip – Check-in at 8:00am; boat departs at 8:30am

Location: Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina, 88 Portside Drive, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 

Register: Call Greg – (954) 394-1488

Cost: $50 (cash or check only). Equipment and tanks extra (call for details).

South Florida Diving Headquarters & Force-Ewww.southfloridadiving.com ~ www.force-e.com

Time: Check-in at 7:15am; boat departs at 8:00am

Location: Fish City Marina, 2621 N. Riverside Drive, Pompano Beach, FL 

Register: Go online: www.force-e.com, choose ‘Events Calendar’ – August 2 – 4th Annual Southeast Florida Reef Cleanup.

Call – (954) 783-2299 or (954) 943-3483

Email – info@southfloridadiving.com

Cost: $55. Includes a 2-tank dive trip (tanks are separate). Courtesy of South Florida Diving Headquarters and Force-E,

all participating divers are also invited to a FREE BBQ on the dock following the cleanup, where there will be food, music and giveaways!

Looking for more ways to get involved? All members of the community are encouraged to speak up for the future of southeast Florida’s coral reefs

by getting involved in the OUR FLORIDA REEFS Community Planning Process.

There are many ways to participate – visit www.ourfloridareefs.org to get started!

Additional information:

For more information about the 4th Annual Southeast Florida Reef Cleanup, contact Karen Bohnsack (karen.bohnsack@dep.state.fl.us; (305) 795-1204)

or one of the dive businesses directly to register.

 

Murphy pushes plan to use Ten Mile Creek as reservoir for lake runoff

Water district offers to fix failed 2001 reservoir before rainy season hits St. Lucie Estuary again

Efforts to revive and rebuild a botched 550-acre reservoir that could relieve harmful dumps of polluted runoff into the St. Lucie Estuary got a bump on Monday from Rep. Patrick Murphy.

Murphy, D-Palm Beach Gardens, sent a letter to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army Corps of Engineers, and to Blake Guillory, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, urging the corps to hand-over the project to the district.

“Recent heavy rainfall resulting in local run-off into the St. Lucie waterways has emphasized the need to pursue all possible long and short-term solutions,” Murphy wrote. “Water storage in the Ten Mile Creek structure is an important tool that can soon be utilized with cooperation between the corps and SFWMD.”

The project was a partnership between the corps and district. The corps finished building the reservoir in 2006 but the shallow-water reservoir was declared too unstable to store water. Since then, it has become a weed-choked hole in the ground as the corps pursues legal action against the    the engineering firm hired by the corps to design the reservoir.

Guillory was the project manager for the engineering firm that oversaw design and building of the Ten Mile Creek reservoir.    Guillory has said he did not become manager until late in the project and that it had a long history of problems. In April, Guillory asked the corps to end the partnership with the district and allow the district to fix the reservoir alone.

In exchange for fixing the reservoir, the district wants the corps to accept a settlement in a long-standing dispute over sharing the costs of other projects, such as the restoration of the Kissimmee River. Guillory estimated the district can fix the reservoirs for less than $1 million. In a letter dated June 16, the corps indicated that it is “prepared to entertain a formal request from the SFWMD concerning the Ten Mile Creek Project.”

Murphy has been pushing the corps and district to reach an agreement to finish the reservoir since last summer’s heavy rains dumped polluted water into the estuary, causing extensive damage to plants and wildlife. In protests and public hearings last year about the estuary’s problems, critics pointed to the abandoned reservoir as a project that could have lessened the damage, and they urged officials to find a way to fix it.

Christine Stapleton|Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Of Interest to All

Residents From Across Florida Create Support Organization for Aquatic Preserves

A new statewide citizen support organization (CSO), the Aquatic Preserve Society, has been formed to promote the protection of Florida’s 41 aquatic preserves.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Coastal Office has long made use of the volunteerism and fundraising capabilities of citizen support organizations from around the state. These CSOs work in conjunction with regional staff to hold events and provide operational support throughout the year.

“We are very excited to see how the Aquatic Preserve Society develops,” said Kevin Claridge of the Florida Coastal Office. “CSO groups have been instrumental in our efforts across the state, and we look forward to adding more strength and stability to this network.”

After gathering a list of nominees to create this new CSO, a two-day meeting was held in April to gauge interest in the concept. This meeting was designed to determine the wants and needs of the existing CSO network, as well as solicit feedback from the group. As a result of this meeting, the group decided a statewide CSO could vastly increase the effectiveness of the existing network and enhance awareness of aquatic preserves.

During the April meeting, participants performed various visioning and brainstorming activities that established both short- and long-term goals, along with a name for the statewide CSO. Some of the main goals included fundraising and improving the overall support for the existing network.

The Aquatic Preserve Society has now gained the Florida Nonprofit Status and is currently working on filing internal documents with both the IRS and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The next big steps for the statewide organization will be to draft bylaws and a memorandum of agreement with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Upon completion and signing of the memorandum of agreement, the Aquatic Preserve Society will become an official CSO for the Florida Coastal Office.

The Florida Coastal Office is eager to have a support system for all 41 of its aquatic preserves. Several of the existing CSOs have shown support for the Aquatic Preserve Society and are ready to positively shape the new organization.

Aquatic Preserves are sovereign submerged lands protected under the Aquatic Preserve Act of 1975. There are 41 aquatic preserves in Florida totaling about 2.7 million acres. The preserves protect bird rookeries, fish nurseries, freshwater springs, salt marshes, mangroves and sea grass meadows. Some preserves contain cultural heritage sites of civilization that lived there for a time. While the preserves protect the beauty and landscape, visitors are encouraged to enjoy swimming, fishing, boating and paddling in designated areas.

Anyone interested in becoming a member or looking for information should contact Brian Powers at Brian.powers@dep.state.fl.us.

mburgerdep|June 27, 2014

Caribbean Coral Reefs “Will Be Lost Within 20 Years” Without Protection

Major report warns that loss of grazing fish due to pollution and overfishing is a key driver of region’s coral decline.

Most Caribbean coral reefs will disappear within the next 20 years unless action is taken to protect them, primarily due to the decline of grazers such as sea urchins and parrotfish, a new report has warned.

A comprehensive analysis by 90 experts of more than 35,000 surveys conducted at nearly 100 Caribbean locations since 1970 shows that the region’s corals have declined by more than 50 percent.

But restoring key fish populations and improving protection from overfishing and pollution could help the reefs recover and make them more resilient to the impacts of climate change, according to the study from the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the United Nations Environment Program.

While climate change and the resulting ocean acidification and coral bleaching does pose a major threat to the region, the report—Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012—found that local pressures such as tourism, overfishing and pollution posed the biggest problems.

And these factors have made the loss of the two main grazer species, the parrotfish and sea urchin, the key driver of coral decline in the Caribbean.

Grazers are important fish in the marine ecosystem as they eat the algae that can smother corals. An unidentified disease led to a mass mortality of the sea urchin in 1983 and overfishing throughout the 20th century has brought the parrotfish population to the brink of extinction in some regions, according to the report.

Reefs where parrotfish are not protected have suffered significant declines, including Jamaica, the entire Florida reef tract from Miami to Key West, and the US Virgin Islands. At the same time, the report showed that some of the healthiest Caribbean coral reefs are those that are home to big populations of grazing parrotfish. These include the US Flower Garden Banks national marine sanctuary in the northern Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda and Bonaire—all of which have restricted or banned fishing practices that harm parrotfish.

The Caribbean is home to 9 percent of the world’s coral reefs, but only around one-sixth of the original coral cover remains. The reefs, which span 38 countries, are vital to the region’s economy and support the more than 43 million people, generating more than $3 billion annually from tourism and fisheries and much more in other goods and services.

According to the authors, restoring parrotfish populations and improving other management strategies could help the reefs recover. “The rate at which the Caribbean corals have been declining is truly alarming,” said Carl Gustaf Lundin, director of IUCN’s global marine and polar program. “But this study brings some very encouraging news: the fate of Caribbean corals is not beyond our control and there are some very concrete steps that we can take to help them recover.”

Reefs that are protected from overfishing, as well as other threats such as excessive coastal pollution, tourism and coastal development, are more resilient to pressures from climate change, according to the authors.

“Even if we could somehow make climate change disappear tomorrow, these reefs would continue their decline,” said Jeremy Jackson, lead author of the report and IUCN’s senior adviser on coral reefs. “We must immediately address the grazing problem for the reefs to stand any chance of surviving future climate shifts.”

Jessica Aldred|Jul. 6, 2014

COURT UPHOLDS FLORIDA’S NET BAN

Today, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal issued an opinion upholding the net ban amendment…again. CCA Florida once again led the charge to support the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) regulations implementing the Constitutional Amendment that was passed by 72% of the voters in 1994.

The same small group of commercial gill netters that have filed one lawsuit after another were rebuffed in the appellate court after finding a sympathetic judge at the circuit court level. The three judge appellate panel held that the trial judge, “…erred in determining [the netters] claims were not barred by [past legal precedent]“. They also held that the judge was wrong to allow the gill net season to open while the case was pending in the appellate courts. “This is a big win for all recreational anglers and CCA Florida will continue to be the outspoken advocate and protector of the Constitutional Amendment which has protected Florida’s marine fisheries and the multibillion dollar economic value of fisheries to Florida’s economy,” said CCA Florida Chairman, Fred Crabill.

Last October, Florida waters were again open to the slaughter of illegal gill nets for six days, reminiscent of pre 1994 Florida where use of these nets devastated our near shore and inshore waters crushing recreational fishing for Redfish, Trout, Snook and other fishes. The net ban has had dramatic effect on bringing bait back to our near shore waters, with the resulting increase in catches of pelagics like sailfish and cobia along the coast.

But, the fight may not be over. It will be up to the netters whether or not to file an appeal at the next level, the Florida Supreme Court. While legal scholars doubt the success of such an appeal given the reasoning by the First District Court of Appeals, stranger things have happened in the courts where gill nets are concerned. After all, no one dreamed that the same gill net interests that have pushed this fight for twenty (20) years would find a willing judge last year.

“CCA Florida would like to thank FWC, Attorney General Pam Bondi and especially Assistant Attorney General, Jonathan Glogau for their tireless efforts on this case and for protecting Florida’s saltwater fisheries,” said CCA Florida Executive Director, Brian Gorski.

CCA Florida will continue to monitor the case and file legal briefs if the matter is appealed. Lawyers representing CCA in the current appeal were pleased with the results but wary of what may come next… perhaps a trip to the Supreme Court.

For the full First District Court of Appeals opinion click here

The Lowdown On Chikungunya, The Mosquito-Transmitted Virus You Should Know About

Beware of mosquitos. In some places, they could be carrying a very unpleasant virus with symptoms similar to dengue fever.

Chikungunya, which was previously limited to countries in the Eastern Hemisphere, has made headlines in the United States as cases of the virus have been reported in the country.

Reports of the virus, which is characterized by persistent joint pain, have cropped up in at least 27 states from Massachusetts to Texas, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Florida has the majority of the 129 reported cases in U.S. states and territories, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Health officials say the virus has been identified in travelers who recently visited the Caribbean. Chikungunya first appeared in the Americas in late 2013 on St. Martin. In December, the CDC issued a travel advisory for the island, warning tourists to be wary of local mosquitos that may carry the viral disease. Since the start of the new year, the virus island-hopped to other countries in the Caribbean, including the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

“Right now, we are worried about chikungunya in the U.S.,” Roger Nasci of the CDC told NPR. “In fact, we expect that over the course of the next months or years — as this virus spreads through the American tropics, and we see more travelers coming into the U.S — we will see local transmission.”

For those infected by a bite from a virus-carrying mosquito, symptoms such as fever and joint pain appear within three to seven days, according to the CDC. Other signs of illness — a rash, headache or muscle aches — may also appear and tend to last about a week.

However, patients may feel pain in their joints for months, or even years, after the initial infection. Chikungunya is fatal in only the most extreme cases. While there is no medication to treat chikungunya, patients can ease symptoms with pain-reliving drugs and by drinking fluids to ward off dehydration.

Those who believe they may have contracted the viral disease should contact their doctor.

Sara Gates|The Huffington Post|07/08/2014

State geologists preparing map of sinkhole-prone areas

TALLAHASSEE — State geologists are well on their way to creating a statewide map showing where sinkholes are most likely to form.

Last year, Florida got more than $1 million in federal money for a three-year study. A pilot in Columbia, Hamilton and Suwannee counties ended this May.

Professionals with the Florida Geological Survey visited about 230 locations, sampling and studying the land.

Their fieldwork contributed to a “relative vulnerability” map that’s so far proven 93 percent successful in the pilot area in predicting where sinkholes will form, geologist Clint Kromhout said.

“The ultimate desire is to have a statewide map to reduce the risk of loss of life and property,” he said.

The predictions will be for general areas, such as a neighborhood or other section of a county; science can’t predict where and when individual sinkholes will occur.

The Florida Geological Survey and Florida Department of Emergency Management are collaborating on the study.

Alan Baker, another state geologist, said the map will offer another tool in the toolbox of emergency planners, especially after a big storm, when sinkholes often develop.

“They’re prepared for floods; they’re prepared for downed power lines,” Baker said, but the sinkhole vulnerability map will provide even more preparation, this time for ground collapse.

Tropical Storm Debby was the inspiration for the current study. Heavy rains from the 2012 storm caused dozens of sinkholes, especially in Hernando County.

Sinkholes are a particular threat for many Tampa Bay residents. The area’s three counties are known as “Sinkhole Alley.”

For example, of all sinkhole damage reported in the state from 2006-10, two-thirds came from Hernando, Hillsborough and Pasco counties, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

Not every hole in the ground is a “sinkhole,” however.

Late last month, St. Petersburg police said a hole in a roadway was because of a problem with a stormwater line.

Other voids fit the description.

Sinkholes are common in Florida because of porous rock, such as limestone, that stores water underground.

Over time, acid in the water dissolves the rock, creating a void. When the earth above the limestone gets too heavy, it can cave in, forming a sinkhole.

In April, a sinkhole in The Villages was filled in between two residences, then appeared to start opening again.

In November, a sinkhole swallowed parts of two Dunedin houses and forced several other homes to be evacuated.

In August, part of a three-story villa at Summer Bay Resort in Clermont, west of Orlando, was swallowed by a 100-foot sinkhole; no one was reported hurt.

And in February 2013, a Seffner man died when a sinkhole opened under his bedroom as he slept. The body of 37-year-old Jeff Bush was not recovered.

The most famous sinkhole recently was not in Florida but in Kentucky.

In February, a 60-foot deep sinkhole opened under the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, collapsing the floor and swallowing eight of the vehicles, including one donated by a Pasco County man.

The museum was closed at the time and no one was injured, but the value of the cars alone was estimated at $1 million.

Its board has decided to preserve part of the sinkhole as an attraction because news of the collapse boosted attendance to the struggling museum by 60 percent.

This legislative session, a measure failed that would have created a sinkhole repair program for policyholders of Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

Its purpose: Ensure that sinkhole damage is fixed properly and within a reasonable time. Citizens, a nonprofit government corporation, is the insurer of last resort for Florida homes in sinkhole-prone areas.

Lawmakers were concerned over homeowners getting a payout for a sinkhole but not using the money to repair the damage. Sinkhole claims also have stoked a number of lawsuits against the insurer, by customers upset over bad repairs or ones that took too long.

Under the bill, sinkhole fixes would have had to be done by a contractor picked from a pool of bonded and insured repair companies approved by Citizens.

A version passed the House, but died in the Senate, where some lawmakers worried such a program wouldn’t be effective.

James L. Rosica|Scripps/Tribune Capital Bureau|TCPalm|July 6, 2014

Former Legislator Beth Kerttula named White House Director of Ocean Policy

JUNEAU — Alaska’s Beth Kerttula, who left the Legislature earlier this year for a Stanford fellowship in ocean policy, has been tapped to become the new ocean policy director for the Obama White House.

The Palmer native represented Juneau in the House of Representatives for 15 years, the last seven as leader of the Democratic minority. She left for Stanford University, her alma mater, in January to serve as a visiting fellow at the Center for Ocean Solutions.

News of Kerttula’s White House position came from Stanford this week.

“Beth will bring her wisdom, boundless energy and sense of humor to her federal post,” said Meg Caldwell, executive director of the Center for Ocean Solutions, in an email to staff announcing Kerttula’s departure.

Her new job will be as director of the National Ocean Council, Caldwell said.

That group, made up of top federal officials from relevant agencies, is responsible for implementing the president’s national stewardship policy for oceans, coasts and the Great Lakes. It works to involve coastal communities in issues involving marine planning, responding to ocean acidification, resource development and more.

Reached in Washington, D.C., Thursday, Kerttula referred questions about her new job to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which declined public comment.

Prior to her legislative service, Kerttula was an assistant attorney general and worked with the coastal zone management program, which gives local communities input in federal coastal actions. The program was rolled back during the administration of Gov. Frank Murkowski and ended under Gov. Sean Parnell.

Parnell spokesperson Sharon Leighow said the governor was in Fairbanks today, and she did not know if he was aware of Kerttula’s new position.

Former Alaska Attorney General Bruce Botelho called the appointment “very exciting.” Botelho worked with Kerttula on coastal zone issues when he headed the Department of Law.

“I think she’s a perfect fit — a combination of her experience with coastal management and her role as an elected official who understands the nature of politics,” Botelho said.

At Stanford, Kerttula helped bring together Center for Ocean Solutions experts and researchers while delivering their information to legislators and policymakers, Caldwell said. She expects that to continue.

“Engaging the broader research community will be increasingly needed as the National Ocean Policy is implemented, and Beth will be able to rely on a network of scholars and researchers from diverse fields to inform the nation’s ocean policy work,” Caldwell’s email said.

In Alaska, Kerttula supported President Barack Obama’s candidacy, leading to tension between her and then-Gov. Sarah Palin, the vice-presidential nominee of Obama’s opponent, Sen. John McCain. Kerttula and Palin had previously worked together on oil tax policy and similar issues. But they had differing views on issues such as oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Kerttula was one of the few political leaders, and possibly one of the few Alaskans, to oppose oil drilling there.

Pat Forgey|alaskadispatch.com|9 Jul 2014

NRA’s Lead Ammo Bill Defeated in Senate

A Senate bill died this morning that included an NRA-backed provision to block the Environmental Protection Agency from protecting people and wildlife from lead poisoning. Thank you to all who answered our urgent plea earlier this week to fight this disastrous measure.

The so-called “Sportsmen’s Bill of 2014″ would have been a serious blow to a years-long effort to finally get the EPA to get lead out of hunting ammunition. Although lead has long been known to be an extremely toxic substance — so dangerous that we no longer allow it in paint, toys or gasoline — incredibly, thousands of tons of it still enter the food chain every year from lead ammo.

Millions of birds like loons, cranes, eagles and condors — and even bears, panthers and wolves — are dying painful deaths from lead poisoning.

We’re happy to see the bill defeated, though the NRA will no doubt try again.

Learn more about our work to get the lead out.

Center for Biological Diversity

Dan A. Hughes Co. dropping plans for Estates-area exploratory well

Dan. A. Hughes Co. will not drill at this Golden Gate Estates area site after all, the property’s land owner has announced.

NAPLES, Fla. – Opponents of oil drilling in Southwest Florida were jubilant Friday over news that the Dan A. Hughes Co. no longer will be drilling in Collier County, except at the controversial Collier Hogan well.

Collier Resources Co. said Friday that it and the Dan A. Hughes Co. had agreed to terminate their oil drilling leasing relationship, which covers about 115,000 acres in the county.

“That’s tremendous,” said Don Loritz, vice president of the citizens group Preserve our Paradise, which filed an administrative challenge to another well the Hughes Co. planned to drill near Golden Gate Estates.

That well no longer will be drilled, even though Hughes already had received approval from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

It was fiercely opposed by nearby residents and environmentalists, who worried about hydrogen sulfide leaks, drinking water pollution, noise, traffic and threats to the endangered Florida panther.

“I’m pretty damned happy right now,” said Matthew Schwartz, who also had filed an administrative challenge to the Golden Gates Estates-area well.

His challenge was combined with that of Preserve Our Paradise and nearby resident Thomas Mosher. Their petitions were heard in February by state Administrative Judge D.R. Alexander, who recommended to the DEP that the permit be allowed.

Now that the Golden Gate Estates area well has been halted, prime panther habitat will be protected, Schwartz said. But other threats to wildlife remain, he added, because more than 335,000 acres in Southwest Florida have been leased to other drillers for seismic testing.

While celebrating the agreement, some drilling opponents remained skeptical.

“I feel there may be something else going on that hasn’t been revealed,” Mosher said.

Attorney Ralf Brookes, who represented both Preserve our Paradise and Mosher in the administrative hearings, said fracking remains a concern in Southwest Florida, considering reports that the Collier Hogan well is producing good quality oil.

If that attracts other drillers, “it could change the landscape of the county,” he said.

The Hughes Co. performed an unauthorized injection technique on the Collier Hogan well in late 2013 to enhance oil production.

That resulted in a consent order with the DEP that called for, among other items, groundwater testing to see if any pollutants were introduced into the area’s aquifers.

The Collier Hogan well permit is being challenged by some environmental groups, including the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

Jennifer Hecker, the Conservancy’s director of natural resources, said while it is positive news that the Hughes Co. won’t be pursuing more drilling in the county, “we have to make sure we’re not swapping one bad operator or project for another.”

Collier Resources announced the lease termination agreement in a letter to Collier County commissioners, who are pursuing their own administrative challenge to the Collier Hogan well. They are asking for a revocation of the consent order and the well’s permit.

While applauding the agreement for Hughes to not pursue any new drilling, Commissioner Georgia Hiller criticized both state lawmakers and the DEP for not providing better oversight.

“But for the DEP’s failure to have already made a determination whether this type of drilling is safe or unsafe and but for the failure of our state Legislature to make that same determination, we would not be in this situation today,” she said.

DEP spokeswoman Tiffany Cowie said neither the Hughes Co. nor Collier Resources notified the DEP of their agreement.

“We learned about it through the media,” she said.

In a statement, DEP said it would still hold the Hughes Co. accountable for meeting nine demands it made with a July 15 deadline before considering consequences, which include pulling the permit on the Collier Hogan well.

“There are still many existing demands we have of Dan A. Hughes in order for them to continue their operations at the Collier-Hogan site,” DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard said in the statement. “We will be prepared to take action after the July 15 deadline, in accordance with what they have chosen to do or not to do.”

DEP’s demands included attending a meeting of the Collier commissioners on July 8, which the Hughes Co. skipped, as well as holding a media tour on July 15.

Hughes Co. spokesman David Blackmon said the scheduled media tour of the Collier Hogan well on July 15 has been postponed.

However, he released a statement regarding the lease’s relinquishment which said the company would cease oil and gas exploration in Southwest Florida.

“We make this announcement with the knowledge that our activities in the region have caused no harm to the environment and have been fully compliant with Florida law,” the statement said.

Hughes Co. also said it would work with DEP on details related to ongoing operations and fulfilling provisions of the consent order at the Collier Hogan well.

“Respect for the law is our core operating principle,” the company said.

Meanwhile, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida is planning to meet with county officials, environmental groups and the media on Monday to discuss expanded drilling near the Everglades and whether it poses water quality issues the Environmental Protection Agency should consider.

“The Colliers’ decision (Friday) is only part of a broader picture,” Nelson spokesman Ryan Brown said.

June Fletcher|Jul 11, 2014|Staff Writer Greg Stanley contributed to this story

Conservancy response to Collier Resources announcement to terminate some of Dan A. Hughes’ mineral rights leases 

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida thanks the Collier County Commission, our members, partner organizations and community supporters who helped accomplish today’s milestone and will continue to support Collier County’s legal effort to bring about meaningful enforcement and remediation to protect Collier County citizens and our water resources.

Collier Resources announced on Friday that the company and Dan A. Hughes Co. agreed to end their oil drilling leasing relationship. The only exception is the controversial Collier Hogan well.

“We are supportive of this decision,” said Robert Moher, president and CEO of Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “However this situation boldly highlights the broader legal and regulatory deficiencies that must be rectified in order to prevent future inappropriate oil drilling and extreme oil extraction techniques.”

“We also must not lose site of the lack of oversight and enforcement by our state regulatory agency of existing laws, as well as remediation necessitated by Hughes previous unauthorized fracking-like activities still need to be rectified,” Moher continued.

“While this is a step in the right direction as the Conservancy continues to advocate for further investigation and monitoring of water quality in the drilling sites,” said Jennifer Hecker, Conservancy of Southwest Florida Director of Natural Resources. “The Conservancy continues to be concerned with any proposed drilling using new or extreme extraction techniques in Southwest Florida.”

“We are especially concerned that Hughes Collier Hogan well remains active. We and Collier County continue to urge DEP to immediately revoke the permit as well as undertake all of the necessary remediation we have outlined in our respective petitions for protecting Collier’s drinking water supply sources,” said Hecker. 

 

Calls to Action

  1. Help Make Recycling Healthy – here
  2. Help spread the word about GMO labeling ‏ – here
  3. It’s time to ban the bomb trains – here
  4. Help Preserve the Grand Canyon’s Watershed – here
  5. Tell Congress: fix broken wildfire funding, support conservation – here
  6. Help save our manatees – here
  7. Tell Congress to Oppose Harmful Fisheries Bill – here
  8. Stop Mass Killing of Mute Swans – here

Birds and Butterflies

Adorable Puffin Chick Will Ruin Your Plans For the Day

Bird enthusiasts are celebrating the arrival of a puffin chick who hatched just days ago and has since captivated viewers who are getting a glimpse of its first few days of life thanks to a camera that was set up in a puffin burrow on Seal Island off the coast of Maine.

Thanks to the National Audubon Society’s Project Puffin and Explore.org, we can watch this fluffy little puffling being raised by its parents, Phoebe and Finn, who will share parenting duties until this little one is ready to take off on its own. According to Project Puffin, this little newcomer has been dubbed Pal by fans who’ve been watching because Puffins Are Love, and because they were hoping for a friend for a chick who was born last year they had named Hope. The big event was recorded for those of us who missed it.

Considering all the effort that has gone into helping Atlantic puffins recover in Maine over the last 40 years, the arrival of a new chick is especially exciting.

These puffins were once abundant off the coast, but were overhunted for food, eggs and feathers and had essentially disappeared by 1900. In 1973, Dr. Stephen Kress, the founder and director of Project Puffin, set out to help them make a comeback by relocating chicks from Newfoundland to Eastern Egg Rock, hoping that they would eventually return to breed where they hatched.

The first puffin chicks returned the summer of 1977. According to Project Puffin, as of last year, there were an estimated 1,000 pairs of puffins nesting on five Maine islands.

Still, as Care2′s Beth Buczynski noted in an article earlier this month, the plight to save Atlantic puffins from disappearing is far from over. Because they only lay one egg each year and don’t typically breed until they’re five years old, they remain vulnerable.

Even though efforts to help them recolonize parts of Maine have been successful, they’re now facing a food crisis as a result of climate change, which is affecting two staple fish they need to feed their young: hake and herring.

With the shortage, puffin parents have been catching and trying to feed butterfish to their babies, but the fish are too big for them to eat, which has resulted in many babies starving to death. Researchers noticed the problem in 2012, when the percent of puffins raising a chick on Seal Island dropped by more than half down to 30 percent. Numbers for 2013 weren’t any better, with only one pair out of 10 successfully raising a chick.

The potential for further increases in ocean temperatures, ocean acidification and a rise in sea level, which could flood their island homes, have also raised concerns about their future survival.

In a recent interview, Dr. Kress said it’s too early to tell how these puffins are doing this year, but they should have a better idea by mid-July.

In the meantime, Project Puffin is asking people who tune in to the puffin burrow cam to help researchers see what kinds of fish the parents are bringing back to help them track what this pair is doing and to take and post snapshots of the parents feeding Pal.

For more info on efforts to help ensure a future for puffins, visit Project Puffin. To watch Pal and other bird and puffin cams in Maine, visit Explore.org.

Alicia Graef|July 5, 2014

Audubon Releases Guide to Helping Hooked Pelicans

Hooked waterbirds often die of entanglement or starvation.

Tampa, FL – It is an all too common sight on Tampa Bay and the surrounding area – pelicans with fishing hooks and line caught in their throats or tangled around wings, legs, or bodies. Hooked birds are at severe risk of entanglement as they roost, causing slow, painful deaths. When adult birds die they leave chicks orphaned in nests, to succumb to predation and starvation. But there are steps that fisherman and others can take to save hooked birds instead of just “cutting the line.”

Tampa Audubon, Manatee County Audubon Society, and Audubon Florida have produced a new informational brochure to give citizens the information they need to help. “What to Do If You Hook a Pelican” is a user-friendly guide that is a must-read for all Tampa Bay’s fisherman and anyone else who enjoys time on or near the water.

“Anyone can use this set of instructions to save the life of a pelican,” states Sandy Reed, Tampa Audubon Society Vice President. Using simple tips and photographs, the brochure demonstrates easy-to-follow steps for fishermen and members of the public to safely handle and release a hooked bird without causing further injury.

The brochure also provides guidelines that fishermen can follow to reduce the probability that they will hook birds in the first place. “Feeding pelicans or herons increases the chance that the birds will become entangled,” says Mark Rachal, Audubon Sanctuary Manager.

“The Wildlife Commission staff report that the major killer of Brown Pelicans in Florida is entanglement in fishing gear,” explains Ann Paul, Audubon’s Tampa Bay Regional Coordinator. “We encourage fishermen to learn how to release a hooked bird. Fishermen who deal with sharks or saltwater catfish will find it relatively easy to unhook or untangle a bird that they have accidentally caught.”

“Pelicans are synonymous with fishing on Florida’s coasts,” says Lori Roberts, Manatee County Audubon Society Board Member, “and the goal of fishermen is to catch fish. By providing sport fishermen with a handy guide on how to safely rescue pelicans in distress, rather than simply cutting their fishing line and leaving a bird painfully hooked or entangled to die, Audubon hopes to protect these iconic birds. No one deliberately intends to injure a pelican. This brochure will prepare fishermen to help each other and the bird when someone accidentally hooks or entangles a pelican.”

Brochures can be obtained by calling Audubon’s Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries’ office at 813-623-6826. The brochure can also be downloaded from  the Tampa Bay Water Atlas (wateratlas.org), and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program’s (tbep.org) websites.

The guide was developed by Audubon chapters and staff in collaboration with the Florida Park Service and the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers. It was partially funded by the Frank E. Duckwall Foundation

The Glass Butterfly

This beautiful butterfly, named ‘Greta oto‘ but nicknamed the ‘glass butterfly’ opens to each side 6 cm of incredibly beautiful, and completely transparent, wings. A close look at the glass butterfly’s wings will show you that through the veins running across its wings, you can see a perfect image. Most butter