ConsRep 814 E

Announcements

The Effects of Noise Pollution on Wildlife: Marine Life and Birds

Tuesday, September 9, 10:30am-4pm

Westin Resort and Spa, 

321 North Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., 

Fort Lauderdale

The workshop is sponsored by the Japanese-American philanthropy, Michiko So Finegold Memorial Trust, organized by U.S.-based Quieter America, with the assistance of the South Florida Audubon Society and the South Florida Wildlife Center, and hosted by the U.S. Institute of Noise Control Engineering. 

Noise pollution matters. While wildlife and ecosystems cope with many pollutants and environmental stressors, recent research shows that noise has a greater impact than previously realized. One study documented noise as a major factor in the population decline of 234 species of birds and mammals near human infrastructure. The decline in abundance and change in animal behavior has also resulted in reduced plant growth and reproduction. International, national and local leaders will speak about the effects of noise on wildlife and ecosystems. Scientists Kyle Baker from NOAA, Jose Alicea-Pou from the University of el Turabo in Puerto Rico, George Frisk from Florida Atlantic University, and Catherine Ortega wildlife and riparian ecology researcher, will present leading research on the effects of noise on wildlife and ecosystems and how current policies exacerbate problems. Quiet-aviation pioneer Erik Lindbergh will speak about following his grandfather Charles Lindberg’s footsteps, and his pioneering first quiet-electric aircraft flight over the Grand Canyon, part of his own quiet flight initiative. Miccosukee activist / artist of the Otter clan, Houston Cypress will offer his unique, indigenous perspective.  There are still sponsorship opportunities available. We look forward to seeing you there!

Pre-registration is recommended. For further details and to register contact: Darlenenoiseworkshop@gmail.com

or phone at 970-224-2932 (please include your name, organizational affiliation, number of people attending, contact email address and phone number).

Sincerely,

Alena Alberani

Director Community Outreach Quieter America

outreachqa2014@gmail.com

Audubon Assembly 2014: Mac Stone Confirmed as Featured Speaker at Friday Lunch

Audubon is proud to announce that award-winning conservation photographer Mac Stone will be the featured speaker at the Friday luncheon at the 2014 Audubon Assembly.

As a former biologist at Audubon’s Everglades Science Center at Tavernier, Mac traveled to the most remote areas of the Everglades to collect his unique images.

With his camera, he explored Everglades National Park, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Fisheating Creek, and dozens of sites that few are permitted to visit.

His stunning photographs celebrate the innumerable facets of this ecological marvel while speaking to the importance of wilderness conservation and the need to protect this irreplaceable wetland.

From Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, from inside the bone-crushing jaws of an alligator to the storms that race across the blackwater backcountry,

Mac has captured all that natural Florida has to offer through his camera lens. You won’t want to miss his special presentation

 reserve your early-bird tickets now, while supplies last

As an added bonus, Assembly attendees will have a special opportunity to attend a book signing event showcasing Mac’s new book

- Everglades: America’s Wetland

featuring more than 240 striking photographs highlighting the natural beauty of the Everglades.

This year’s Audubon 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.

This 2014 Audubon Assembly is being held at the Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina.

Please note, you must book your hotel room by September 26, see below for more information.

Please stay tuned to the official Audubon Assembly website for updates on this event.

Audubon staff and chapter leaders are hard at work to ensure that this year’s Assembly will be inspire you to Make it a BIG YEAR for Florida’s land, water, and wildlife!

Do not miss Florida’s premiere conservation event!

Please consider migrating to the Assembly in flocks by sharing transportation in order to reduce global warming pollution.

To register by mail or by phone, contact Jonathan Webber at 850-222-2473.

Hotel Information: Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina

Click here to book your group rate online or call 1-800-775-5936 (mention you are with Florida Audubon)

and book by September 26, 2014 to reserve your room. Group rate is $119 a night.

Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach Resort & Marina

555 NE Ocean Boulevard

Stuart, FL 34996

Partners for Panthers

Please join us for a special announcement as long-time neighbors, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the Naples Zoo,

announce a joint partnership to help advance panther research efforts in Florida.

Monday, September 8, 2014 at 10:30 AM

Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Eaton Conservation Hall

1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples

In spite of great conservation strides over the past decades, Florida panthers remain at risk of extinction.

Florida panther recovery must be guided by sound science and supported by collaborative efforts in order to ensure that

future generations of Floridians have the privilege of sharing the landscape with this majestic creature.

Please confirm attendance by contacting Lisa Ball at 239.403.4224 or lisab@conservancy.org

Celebrate National Wildlife Day with Local Artist

NAPLES – The Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center will offer buy one, get one free admission in honor of National Wildlife Day on September 4.

This holiday was created in memory of famous conservationist and wildlife expert Steve Irwin,

and is celebrated each year to bring awareness to the growing number of endangered animals around the world.

Enjoy a live painting demonstration and guided tour of wildlife artwork in the art gallery with local artist Linda Soderquist.

Soderquist will also provide a lecture on gopher tortoises and sea turtles as well as sign copies of her Sea Turtle book.

Attendees will also have the chance to participate in naturalist-led discussions on snakes.

There will also be interactive exhibits where participants can discover the fragile species that thrive within the reserve and ways to preserve them for future generations

Buy one, get one free admission cannot be combined with other offers.

Learn more about Linda Soderquist

WHAT: National Wildlife Day

WHEN: Thursday, September 4, from 9:00 a.m – 4:00 p.m.

11:00 a.m. – 11:45 a.m. Slithering Snakes naturalist-led demonstration

12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. Painting Demonstration and “Watercolor Walk”

2:00 p.m. – 2:45 p.m. Sea Turtle and Gopher Tortoise lecture

WHERE: Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center

COST: Buy one adult admission for $5/get one FREE

RAMSAR – Wetlands for our Future

FGCU Professor Bill Mitsch, Eminent Scholar and Director of the Everglades Wetland Research Park, Florida Gulf Coast University, Naples, Florida,

was approved as Chair of the United States National Ramsar Committee at a meeting of the Committee held at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Arlington Virginia on May 8, 2014.

Suzanne Pittenger-Slear, President of Environmental Concern, St. Michaels, Maryland, was chosen as Vice-Chair and Ralph Tiner, Association of State Wetland Managers, was chosen as Treasurer.

Deborah Hahn of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Washington DC, was renewed as Secretary of the Committee.

Members of the United States National Ramsar Committee include representatives of United States nongovernmental organizations NGOs, both nonprofit and for-profit,

and local and state governmental organizations that have an interest in supporting the objectives of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

The Committee has as its mission to support the mission of the Ramsar Convention in the USA and to encourage and facilitate the development of wetlands of international importance in the USA and encourage their proper management.

he Convention on Wetlands, formally called the “Ramsar Convention” is an intergovernmental treaty that embodies the commitments of its member countries to maintain the ecological character of their

Wetlands of International Importance and to plan for the “wise use”, or sustainable use, of all of the wetlands in their territories.

Unlike the other global environmental conventions, Ramsar is not affiliated with the United Nations system of Multilateral Environmental Agreements,

but it works very closely with the other MEAs and is a full partner among the “biodiversity-related cluster” of treaties and agreements. It has its international headquarters in Gland, Switzerland.

http://www.ramsar.org/cda/en/ramsar-news-cop-logo-news/main/ramsar/1-26%5E26521_4000_0__ 

Vote Yes on Amendment 1

What is Amendment 1?

Amendment 1, the Water and Land Conservation Amendment, will appear on the November 4, 2014 ballot.

Amendment 1 will set aside 33 percent of Florida’s existing excise tax on documents (also known as the “documentary stamp tax” paid when real estate is sold) and

guarantee that these funds can be used only for conservation purposes, including keeping pollution out of Florida’s drinking water supplies, rivers, lakes, and coastal waters and protecting natural areas and wildlife habitat.

Only with dedicated funding for water and land conservation, management, and restoration will we be able to save our springs and restore our

Everglades so that future generations can enjoy Florida’s natural areas the way we have.

For more about Amendment 1, including when the measure will take effect and how it will benefit all Floridians, please visit our FAQ page.

Audubon Florida Advocate Naturalist Magazine – Summer 2014

Summer Edition of Audubon Florida Naturalist Magazine Now Available

Download your (free!) copy of Audubon’s popular conservation magazine.

FISH THE EVERGLADES AT FAKAHATCHEE STRAND

Calling All Kids!

You’re invited to a Free Fishing Clinic at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park.

Join us for a day of fun and hands-on learning experiences.

There will be field demonstrations from local fishing guides and experts as well as exhibits

and presentations from parks and agencies!

Participants will go through five skill stations: knot tying, tackle, angler ethics, casting and fishing.

After completing the stations and instructions, kids will receive a free rod and reel (thanks to

a generous grant from Fish Florida – limit 150-first come, first served).

Children must be accompanied by an adult.

Registration will be on-site the day of the event.

The Fishing Clinic will be held from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 20.

The location will be Harmon Lake which is next to the event field, and across from the ranger station

at the main entrance to Fakahatchee Strand.

Refreshments will be provided.

This event is sponsored by Fish Florida and the Friends of Fakahatchee, Inc.

For more information, visit www.floridastateparks.org/fakahatcheestrand  or call 695-4593.

Join us for the Everglades Coalition’s 30th Annual Conference! Send it South: Water for America’s Everglades

The Coalition’s Annual Conference seeks to raise critical, timely issues for in-depth debates in an open, accessible forum.

Community leaders and political figures come to discuss their positions, pledge their support and offer challenges to the community.

The conference is attended by decision-makers from federal, state, local and tribal governments, agency representatives, stakeholders and a vast array of public and private interests

including scientists, educators, contractors, conservationists, the media, students and the general public.

The conference is the largest annual forum to advance Everglades conservation and restoration.

The 30th Annual Conference – Key Largo, FL
January 8th, 9th,& 10th, 2015

- See more at: http://www.evergladescoalition.org/conference.html#sthash.W2BvoCfj.dpuf

Plenary Panel topics will be:

Plenary: Economics of the Everglades

Plenary: Federal Restoration Priorities & Funding Mechanisms

Plenary: Restoration of the Southern Everglades & Florida Bay

Plenary: State Water Quality, Storage & Southern Flow

Special Session: “Kissimmee to the Keys: Thirty Year Retrospective” will be a special

            conference event featuring an all-star panel of EVCO Hall of Famers to discuss the

           history and future of America’s Everglades

Of Interest to All

5 National Parks With Beautiful Fall Foliage

Autumn is my favorite time to visit our national parks. Not only are the summer crowds gone as families get their kids back to school, but fall is when the leaves start changing colors, offering awe-inspiring vistas brilliantly bathed in gold, scarlet, orange and more.

Most Americans live within a half-day’s drive of a national park. For a modest entrance fee, you can take a scenic drive to a spectacular look-out, or hike along a trail, often ending up at a lake, river or waterfall. Do this during the fall, and you’ll be doubly rewarded for your effort by the swirl of colors all around.

Of the 58 parks in the U.S. to choose from, those with the best color will be ones that contain deciduous or leaf-dropping trees, like maples, oaks, elms, and hickory. Many trees start changing color by mid-August, when the air gets cooler and the days get shorter. “Peak” season is usually in September and October. Most park websites will provide an update on the status of their leaf color so you can plan your visit.

Here are five national parks where you’ll find truly spectacular fall foliage.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia – This park sports 500 miles of trails, 101 of which are officially part of the Appalachian Trail system. Not interested in hiking? Cruise along Skyline Drive, and enjoy the peak of the Blue Ridge Mountains before you drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Acadia National Park, Maine – This is red maple leaf country, and there’s no mistaking it. You can go horseback riding, hiking, canoeing, or mountain biking. But be a little ambitious and trek up to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. You won’t be disappointed!

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming – Rather than scarlet-hued maples, this park flames with the bright yellow its millions of aspen trees turn in the fall. Hikes range from a simple walk out to a lake where you can fish, to the steep. Huff and puff your way to the top of a ridge, then sit down and enjoy the glow of this majestic landscape in autumn.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina – How can you beat the Smokies? In addition to breathtaking reds and scarlets, the sugar maples, scarlet oaks, sweetgum, red pale and hickories are shining with golds, oranges, and more. Remember the orange/red/yellow section of your Crayola crayon box? You’ll find most of those colors here in September and October.

Denali National Park & Preserve, Alaska – If you’ve always wanted to go to Alaska but feared summer’s big mosquitoes or winter’s smothering snow falls, autumn may be the perfect compromise. You’ll be rewarded not just with eye-popping leaf color, but possibly views of moose, caribou, and bears, too. Fall comes early to Alaska, so aim for late August and early September for the best color palette.

Diane MacEachern|August 22, 2014

Satellite Map Shows Fracking Flares in Texas and North Dakota Equal to Greenhouse Emissions From 1.5 Million Cars

Earthworks, a nonprofit which works to protect communities from the impacts of mineral and fossil fuel extraction and promote sustainable energy development, has released a new report showing that the flaring of natural gas waste in just two shale plays, or exploration areas, is the equivalent of an additional 1.5 million cars on the road. The flares occur when natural gas is burned rather than captured.

In June 2014, the Eagle Ford shale produced seven billion cubic feet per day, while the Bakken produced 1.3 billion cubic feet per day. Produced gas includes gas that is flared and gas that is captured for use. Above, flaring in the Bakken. Photo credit: Sarah Christianson

The report, “Up in Flames: U.S. Shale Oil Boom Comes at Expense of Wasted Natural Gas, Increased Carbon Dioxide,” accompanied by an interactive map by SkyTruth, a group that provides aerial evidence of environmental impacts. This map allows people to track flaring activity in the U.S. and around the world based on nightly infrared data collected by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite.

SkyTruth’s chief technology officer Paul Woods pointed to the potential impact of this map:

This new tool makes the scale and frequency of flaring more comprehensible and less abstract. Hopefully, enabling everyone to see where, when, and how often operators are flaring will create public pressure on government and industry to reduce the waste of this hard-won natural resource.

The report specifically looks at waste created in the North Dakota Bakken and Texas Eagle Ford development areas and how lax regulations and oversight enable this waste, a byproduct of fracking.

Among the study’s findings:

130 billion cubic feet of natural gas burned in the Bakken and Eagle Ford Shale has produced the equivalent of 1.5 million cars’ emissions of carbon dioxide.

$854 million in natural gas has been burned as waste in the Bakken shale play since 2010.

$854 million would pay for 5 kilowatt photovoltaic solar panel installations for almost every household in Fargo, North Dakota’s largest city.

North Dakota neither tracks how much companies pay in taxes on flared gas, nor independently tracks the volume of flared gas.

Texas does not require producers to pay taxes on flared gas.

The study’s author Dusty Horwitt said:

Burning natural gas as waste is costing taxpayers and the climate. States should enact tough new standards to prevent flaring, including requiring drillers to pay taxpayers the full value of any gas they flare.

Environmental watchdogs in North Dakota and Texas commented on the study’s findings.

“This report shows that North Dakota regulators simply aren’t doing their job,” said Don Morrison, executive director of nonprofit grassroots group Dakota Resource Council. “Instead they’re putting private profits ahead of the public interest. This isn’t our first oil boom, we know how to do it better.”

“The Railroad Commission is statutorily required ‘to prevent waste of Texas’s natural resources’,” said Earthworks Texas organizer Sharon Wilson. “I don’t see how the Railroad Commission isn’t breaking the law by allowing drillers to waste natural gas by flaring it off rather than capturing it.”

But Earthworks sees the wasteful burning of drilling byproducts as one part of the larger problem of fossil fuel exploration and extraction.

Earthworks energy program director Bruce Baizel said:

Flaring is just one of many problems associated with unconventional oil and gas development. Unfortunately, North Dakota and Texas’s inadequate oversight of flaring is representative of state oversight of fracking across the country. The ultimate solution to these problems is to transition away from fossil fuels entirely and towards renewables like wind and solar.

Anastasia Pantsios|August 22, 2014

Keewaydin Island Ranked as One of the World’s Top 10 Secret Beaches

Keewaydin Island, located within the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, was recently named by CNN online as one of the world’s “Top Ten Secret Beaches.”

Keewaydin Island, located off the coast of Naples, was selected for the list along with beaches in Kenya, Mexico, and Hawaii. This 1000-acre barrier island boasts a seven-mile long pristine beach with sugar white sand and glittering turquoise water. As CNN reports, the principal reason it has been a best-kept secret is it is only accessible by boat.

Rookery Bay Reserve manages 110,000 acres of lands and waters between Naples and Marco Island. Roughly 80 percent of Keewaydin Island is under state ownership, including the south end which is visited by more boaters than any other location in thereserve. Staff and volunteers educate visitors about the island’s wildlife and habitat, monitor beach-nesting birds and other species that reside there, and work tirelessly to keep the island clear of invasive species such as Australian pine.

“Keewaydin Island is an extremely valuable natural resource that, in its pristine state, helps bolster the local economy through tourism,” said Gary Lytton, the reserve’s director. “It is an honor that our reserve was recognized by this international news source for its captivating natural beauty.”

Keewaydin Island is not only known for its world-renowned beach, but is also home to a diverse array of wildlife. Deer, gopher tortoises and panthers are among the many species that inhabit this island, along with America’s national bird, the bald eagle.

Keewaydin Island draws the type of residents that enjoy a more relaxed life that is considered “off the grid.” There are no amenities on the island and very few homes. Most residents rely on solar panels, rain barrels and fish for dinner.

One of Keewaydin Island’s more famous residents is Vice President Joe Biden’s brother, who recently purchased property on the island. The Vice President and his wife, Jill, took a boat to the island this past New Year to ring in the holiday with their family.

To learn more about the research and resource management that takes place on Keewaydin Island by Rookery Bay Reserve, please visit rookerybay.org.

mburgerdep|Aug. 13, 2014

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 (Alt v. EPA, 4th Cir., No. 13-2534, appeal filed 12/23/13).

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

Regulators tried to hide threat of major nuclear accident ‏

Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has promised to reevaluate the threats earthquakes pose to U.S. nuclear reactors.

So why has the agency suppressed a report from one of their own inspectors about the Diablo Canyon reactors in California?

Yesterday, the Associated Press exposed an internal NRC report about the two 1960-era nuclear reactors at Diablo Canyon and dramatic new information about faults surrounding the plant. These faults are capable of causing an earthquake far larger than the reactors were designed to withstand.

This is a bombshell — there is no way that the NRC should allow these reactors to continue to operate given this new information.

More than a year ago the NRC’s own inspector recommended that, because of new seismic information, the reactors are no longer in compliance with their license and should be shut pending a public licensing review.

Incredibly, federal regulators have sat on this report for more than a year and have taken no action to protect the public from this threat.

We’re not going to let them get away with this inaction. Today, we are filing a petition with the NRC demanding that the agency shut down the reactors and keep them shut unless they can prove, publicly, that the reactors can withstand a major earthquake.

In addition to suppressing the document, the NRC has failed to follow its own rules to respond to a report like this within 120 days of its filing.

The bottom line is that these reactors could never be built now in the midst of these seismic faults. The NRC must act in the public interest and not in the interests of Diablo’s owner, Pacific Gas and Electric.

Please Write to NRC Chairman Macfarlane and demand that the NRC shut down the Diablo Canyon reactors.

Damon Moglen|Senior strategic advisor|Friends of the Earth|8/26/14

Industry Lobby Tries to Block Bill That Would Protect U.S. Waters from Plastic Microbeads

A bill working its way through the California legislature to ban plastic microbeads from cosmetics and other products made and sold in the state has encountered a snag.

5 Gyres’ campaign to ban plastic microbeads from personal care products, like face scrub and toothpaste, is driving change nationally. Image credit: 5 Gyres Institute

The bill, AB 1699, authored by 5 Gyres Institute and sponsored by Rep. Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, sailed through the other chamber of the legislature, the Assembly, in May. That action came a little less than a month before Illinois enacted such a ban in June becoming the first state to do so.

“Passing the Assembly floor is a big milestone for this bill,” Bloom said back in May. “I am proud that my colleagues support our efforts to ensure that our waters are clean. Getting plastic microbeads out of these products will eliminate a significant source of pollution.” Every year 38 tons of plastic microbeads are released into California’s environment.

Alas, that will have to wait a little longer. The bill failed to garner the needed votes in the Senate by a single vote, but the sponsors have been granted reconsideration, which means if they can get one of the absentee legislators to vote for it, it will pass the Senate and go back to the California Assembly for concurrence.

According to Marcus Eriksen of 5 Gyres Institute, plastics industry lobbyists worked hard to block it, wanting legislation more like the far from ideal bill that passed in Illinois. The Illinois bill leaves a loophole for plastic, like Polylactic Acid (PLA) the so-called biodegradable plastic that corn cups are made of. Unfortunately, PLA doesn’t biodegrade in the environment, it requires an industrial composting facility.

“The California bill is up against its first hurdle, explaining to lawmakers that the microbead bill that passed in Illinois is no shining example of good legislation,” said Eriksen. “It’s more industry-friendly than water, allowing plastic microbeads from fossil fuels to be replaced with plastic microbeads from other feedstock like plants. Chemically speaking it’s the same stuff, with the same problems, and doesn’t move us away from the status quo. California policymakers are sold bad information by the cosmetics lobby about naturally derived plastics, but without the facts about the environmental harm they cause.

“They’ve even gone so far as to say that our bill in California bans natural alternatives to plastic in order to try to kill the bill, which is an outright fabrication. In rhetoric they tell the press they’re committed to the environment, in practice they’re committed to preserving their bottom line.”

“If this bill fails, we all lose and are stuck with the precedent of a bad bill,” said Anna Cummins, 5 Gyres’ executive director. “5 Gyres is committed to the end goal—preventing toxic plastic beads from polluting our oceans and watersheds—and we will get there. If not at the state level, then city-by-city, which ultimately will be harder for companies that use plastic beads. We hope the business community will quit playing games with legislators and get serious about stopping the pollution they created.”

New York was the first state to propose a microbead ban. New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman introduced the Microbead-Free Waters Act there in February with 5 Gyres, presenting it to the legislature for action; it’s currently in limbo. And Ohio State Sen. Mike Skindell has introduced SB 304 which would ban microbeads in that state as evidence mounts of increasing micro-plastic pollution of the Great Lakes. But with the Republican supermajority in the Ohio legislature, the bill is unlikely to even get a hearing, says Skindell.

Unfortunately, that will likely be the same fate as that of a bill to ban plastic microbeads on a federal level, introduced by New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. in June.

Anastasia Pantsios|August 26, 2014

Switching products threatening our oceans, health and economy ‏

No one likes to be lied to. Yet Oceana found that 33 percent of 1200 seafood samples nationwide were mislabeled, where one fish was swapped out for another species.

In some cases, consumers received a cheaper, more readily available fish when they expected – and paid for – a more expensive, popular species. Oceana even found instances of high-mercury fish being labeled as species that are safe to consume.

In addition to the economic and health impacts on consumers, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a key driver of overfishing and threatens the livelihoods of many communities dependent on healthy fisheries. The entry of illegally-caught and fraudulent seafood into the supply chain depresses prices and unfairly competes with legally-caught seafood products, jeopardizing roughly a million jobs and $116 billion in sales each year.

In response, President Obama established a Task Force to Combat IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud to explore seafood traceability and other measures to fight this threat to our oceans, wallets and health.

As the second largest seafood market in the world, we in the U.S. have a great opportunity to make a global impact. Our government currently has the authority and ability to ensure that all seafood sold in the U.S. is legally caught and honestly labeled through a system of seafood traceability, proof of legality and improved consumer labeling.

Alex Bea|Oceana|8/26/14

Goodbye monarchs?

Monarch butterflies are on the brink. Over the past 20 years, the monarch butterfly population in North America has been slashed by over 90 percent. If monarchs were people, that would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio. We don’t have much time left before they’re wiped out for good.

Monarchs urgently need protection – the kind of protection that only a listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) can provide.

That’s why Center for Food Safety and Center for Biological Diversity—joined by Xerces Society and renowned monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower–have come together to file a groundbreaking legal action to compel the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to grant Endangered Species Act protection to monarch butterflies.

We have our work cut out for us, especially considering Monsanto and friends play a big part in this disaster.

That’s because the best way to save monarchs is to curb chemicals like Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, which is used abundantly on their genetically engineered crops. Roundup is a potent killer of milkweed, a major food source for monarchs. The dramatic surge in Roundup use has virtually wiped out milkweed—and as a result monarchs—in large portions of the U.S.

This is going to be an epic showdown to save monarchs. But the truth is we can’t do it alone. We need the help of concerned citizens like you to be able to stay in this fight and win.

Click here if you would like to contribute to this effort.

See a Video

On Calif. coast, biotoxins cause deadly sea lion seizures, seafood scare

An outbreak of algae-produced biotoxins that attack animal’s brains also poses a grave risk to humans

MORRO BAY, Calif. – Packed with large nets, wooden boards and a large crate, a dark blue truck scoured the edges of surfer-lined Pismo Beach late one morning earlier this month. Onlookers in the distance tipped them off to what they were searching for.

“I see a sea lion,” said Geno DeRango, the stranding coordinator at Marine Mammal Center’s San Luis Obispo Operations, as he quickly slipped on medical rubber gloves and began prepping a large syringe.

The truck came to a halt and the rest of DeRango’s crew suited up for the rescue – wooden boards in hand, two crew members crowded around a disoriented sea lion convulsing on the edge of the water while DeRango threw a net over it. The fourth crew member injected the sea lion with an anti-seizure medication before herding the animal into a large crate and loading it on the bed of the truck.

Concerned onlookers asked what happened to the sea lion as they took turns peering into the back of the truck. Heavy breaths and sounds of suffering bellowed from the cage.

DeRango explained that the rescue center got a call about a sea lion having repeated seizures on the beach and that they were taking the animal back to their rehabilitation center.

Peppa, the name given to the rescued sea lion, is like many of the animals crowding the six pens at the rescue center, which has brought in as many as 20 seizing sea lions a day in the San Luis Obispo area since June. Earlier this spring, its partner rescue center in Monterey experienced a similar boom. Of those rescued at both sites, half succumb to the seizures within days.

The culprit? Domoic acid, a deadly neurotoxin produced by algae, that appeared at record high levels along California’s Central Coast this spring and summer, closing fisheries and taking the lives of many marine mammals. But toxic algae isn’t just limited to California– this summer various toxic blooms have poisoned coastlines across America, including Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico.

While the algae in Monterey, produced by the Pseudo-nitzschia genus of phytoplankton, are a common occurrence along the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines and around the world, its production of domoic acid is not.

First discovered in 1987 when 107 people on Prince Edward Island fell ill after eating mussels harboring domoic acid, the algae occasionally produce this deadly toxin, which scientists believe is triggered by changing ocean conditions and surges of nitrogen into bodies of water.

Once produced by the algae, domoic acid quickly works its way up the food chain, first gobbled up by shellfish and plankton-eating fish, like sardines and anchovies, that harbor the toxin in their guts. Next in line are sea lions, brown pelicans, otters, whales and dolphins, all of which have been stranding in large numbers recently, or, in the case of pelicans, literally dropping dead out of the sky.

Once ingested, the toxin immediately attacks the brain by rapidly shrinking the hippocampus, causing loss of motor coordination, amnesia, violent seizures, vomiting, permanent neurological damage and even heart failure within two days.

But domoic acid also poses a grave risk to humans, which is why the California Department of Public Health closed certain fisheries up the coast in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties in April after high levels of the acid were reported by a team of marine scientists at University of California, Santa Cruz, that has been monitoring domoic acid for 14 years.

“The danger lies in the accumulation,” said Clarissa Anderson, one of the marine scientists in Santa Cruz tracking the growth of domoic acid events. “It’s not horribly toxic unless it accumulates at high levels.”

But Anderson says that concentrations reached dangerously high levels this spring all over the California coast, particularly in Monterey.

Monterey is the top agricultural area along the Central Coast as well as home to a suite of premier golf courses. It’s also been subject to a large coastal population boom, meaning more septic tanks and more lawns being fertilized. Combined, says Anderson, these activities result in more nitrogen running off into the Bay, altering the marine environment in a way that can lead to higher domoic acid concentrations.

Seasonal upwellings of ocean waters flush the Bay with nutrients, which could naturally trigger the algae to produce these blooms. But those upwellings usually diminish quickly, as do the nutrients that feed toxic blooms. However, constant pulses of nutrients coming from human activities, mostly from fertilizer application, allow the toxic blooms to persist.

Nationwide, agriculture is the top source of nitrogen added to water resources, and California is no different. The amount of nitrogen contained in fertilizer sold in California has increased by 800 percent since the 1940s, contributing to the hefty 800,000 tons of nitrogen used as fertilizer every year.

Even further up the coast, north of San Francisco, the aftermath of this rising nitrogen use has been unfolding at The Marine Mammal Center headquarters in Sausalito.

“These blooms are getting more frequent and larger every year and affecting more and more animals,” said Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary science at The Marine Mammal Center.

As the largest marine mammal hospital in the world, the Marine Mammal Center receives hundreds and hundreds of seals, sea lions and elephant seals every year, many of which are rescued from their satellite centers in Morro Bay and Monterey, as well as from independent rescue centers along the Pacific Coast.

But this year has been different.

“There are a lot of animals are being exposed to such high levels of domoic acid, that they’re dying on us. They’re not responding to treatment like they often have in the past,” Johnson said.

The Center has broken its animal admissions record this year, and the number of sea lions suffering from domoic acid has roughly doubled. But that number doesn’t include all of the sea lions that die before washing ashore, Johnson said. Nor does it account for all of the sea lion pups that will likely die without a parent. Many of the afflicted sea lions are lactating females still weaning their pups.

“If there are a few hundred or even a thousand sea lions affected by domoic acid right now, well there’s a few thousand pups that we’re probably losing,” Johnson said. “If this is happening over and over again, year after year, there is a fear that domoic acid may have a negative impact on the overall sea lion population.”

On July 11, the California Department of Public Health lifted its seafood advisory for Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties after combined monitoring efforts with Anderson’s team found levels had dropped back down to ones safe for human consumption. However the renewed surge in marine mammal strandings has left scientists puzzled.

“A lot of the animals that are stranding right now don’t tend to feed very far off shore,” Anderson said. “So the mystery is, where is the domoic acid that they’re acquiring? We’re not measuring it in the mussels and shellfish near shore.”

More research needed

In California, marine scientists are seeing more and more animals, like sea lions, affected by high levels of domoic acid. America Tonight

Part of the problem is that monitoring of domoic acid is limited to wharfs close to shore, but the fish harboring the toxins – and the algae producing the toxic blooms – may be living just offshore, where sampling tends to be either too expensive or too technically difficult to do regularly.

While Anderson believes that the Department of Public Health is doing a good job protecting humans from danger (no human illnesses have been reported this year), she thinks that more could be done to stop the sources of the problem.

“The California State Water Resources Control Board is doing a lot, but they are certainly susceptible to pressures of all the different interest groups that are involved,” she said.

The California State Water Board limits the amount of pesticides, nutrients and other pollutants discharged into surface and groundwater. While it has strict reporting requirements for pollutants like pesticides, nutrient reporting is interpretive and a 100-percent reporting system for agricultural fertilizer use has yet to be implemented.

Part of the reason why nutrient reporting is lacking is because determining the correct level of nutrients for water systems is very complex, said Rik Rasmussen, the fresh water quality standard program manager for the State of California.

“It’s not a simple thing as saying 10 is the right number. Or one is the right number, or zero is the right number,” said Rasmussen. “If we don’t have nutrients, we don’t have life.”

While nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium – three common ingredients in fertilizer – are the backbone of life, finding the right balance is tricky since every body of water reacts differently to nutrients, Rasmussen said.

This becomes even more of an uphill battle during drought. In years of low snowpack like in 2014, rivers and streams become warmer and run slower in the spring due little snow melt, which increases a water body’s sensitivity to additions of nitrogen. This then becomes even more complicated during El Nino, as is predicted to hit this fall, as heavy rainfall will likely sweep accumulated fertilizer from drought-stricken lands into nitrogen-sensitive waters.

“It’s a harder job for our scientists and engineers to write the correct levels in permits because it varies depending on the water body,” Rasmussen said.

So as regulators fine-tune the rules, and scientists try to crack the mystery of where the toxic algae are blooming, marine mammals continue to suffer.

Peppa, the sea lion rescued on Pismo Beach, succumbed to her violent seizures only three hours after her rescue. Cause of death: a severe dose of domoic acid toxicosis. Peppa was also found to be nursing.

“From being on the front lines and seeing how it affects negatively these animals, my biggest fear is if this happens all the time or if it’s everywhere on the West Coast,” Johnson said. “And if that happens, it’s going to affect all the fish and it’s going to close down fisheries and it’ll have a huge negative impact on everyone.”

Both Johnson and Anderson agree that research will be the key to better understand and prevent toxic blooms, which are anticipated to cost the U.S. up to $50 million each year in cleanup and job loss. But Anderson said what’s needed first is more funding for that research and more federal and state action.

Courtney Quirin|August 26, 2014

Massive Half-Mile-Long Crack Appears in Ground in Northern Mexico

Last week a video emerged of a giant fissure in the Northern Mexican desert, 3,300 feet long and up to 25 feet deep. Speculation centered at first around an earthquake, but the region is not known for seismic activity. I personally checked out the U.S. Geological Survey earthquake data because the Buena Vista Copper mine (the fourth largest in the world by output) is only about 150 miles north of the enormous crack, and earlier this month they spilled 40,000 cubic meters of sulphuric acid into two rivers during the worst spill in Mexico’s modern mining history. But I found no reports of tremors in the region and authorities were skeptical that this had anything to do with an earthquake.

Fast forward to Tuesday, Aug. 26, the Washington Post posted a story with this headline: Why no one should freak out about the giant crack that opened in the Mexico desert. The Post reports:

The chair of the geology department at the University of Sonora, in the northern Mexican state where this “topographic accident” emerged, said that the fissure was likely caused by sucking out groundwater for irrigation to the point the surface collapsed.

“This is no cause for alarm,” Inocente Guadalupe Espinoza Maldonado said. “These are normal manifestations of the destabilization of the ground.”

I’m sorry, no. These are not normal manifestations of natural activity, this the result of human activity run amok. Just because Cthulhu isn’t clambering out of the breach to wreak havoc on humankind does not mean we shouldn’t be alarmed by the fact we’ve sucked so much water out of the ground that the surface of the earth is collapsing.

Barely a month ago NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory warned of ‘shocking’ groundwater losses in the Colorado River basin, a major watershed to the north of Sonora with similar climate and landuse. Using gravitational data from the satellite-based Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) instrument, scientists found “the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater. That’s almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead. More than three-quarters of the total—about 41 million acre feet (50 cubic kilometers)—was from groundwater.”

NASA's measurements of groundwater based on gravity. Areas in red show a deficit in groundwater, blue indicates surplus. Image credit: NASA/JPL NASA’s measurements of groundwater based on gravity. Areas in red show a deficit in groundwater, blue indicates surplus. Image credit: NASA/JPL

The Washington Post also reports that cotton used to be a major crop, but intrusion of saltwater from the Sea of Cortez caused some areas to become unusable for agriculture. However, there is still plenty of large-scale agriculture as evidenced by the Landsat image below.

Hermosillo region of Sonora, Mexico, as seen by Landsat 8, on Aug. 17. Bright green rectangles in the middle of the desert are irrigated fields. However, around the green fields, there appear to many fields that are not being irrigated this season—seen as tan rectangles with a faint grid of roads in between parcels. The blue geometric shapes on the left appear to be salt-drying pans. Image credit: NASA/USGS via SkyTruthHermosillo region of Sonora, Mexico, as seen by Landsat 8, on Aug. 17. Bright green rectangles in the middle of the desert are irrigated fields.

However, around the green fields, there appear to many fields that are not being irrigated this season—seen as tan rectangles with a faint grid of roads in between parcels.

The blue geometric shapes on the left appear to be salt-drying pans. Image credit: NASA/USGS via SkyTruth

Groundwater reserves can take centuries to recharge, so industrial-scale extraction of water for big agriculture in the middle of the desert cannot continue forever. In the U.S., water managers are facing an uphill battle to control water use in the Colorado River Basin and from the Ogallala Aquifer which stretches from Texas to South Dakota. Factor in that hydraulic fracturing is permanently removing water from the hydrological cycle in some of the most drought-stressed regions of the West, and you have a serious problem.

To be clear, the entire southwestern U.S. is not necessarily about to fall in on itself all at once, but it is struggling to support large-scale agriculture, enormous demand for water from a revitalized onshore oil and gas industry, and a growing population. Maybe this chasm in the desert doesn’t herald the coming of Judgment Day, but perhaps we should be freaking out about our poor judgment.

David Manthos|SkyTruth|August 28, 2014

36 Eye-Opening Works Of Street Art That Are Fighting For The Planet

Saving Our Birds

ITHACA, N.Y. — THE passenger pigeon is among the most famous of American birds, but not because of its beauty, or its 60-mile-an-hour flight speed. Nor is it a cherished symbol of our great country. No, we remember the passenger pigeon because of the largest-scale human-caused extinction in history.

Possibly the most abundant bird ever to have existed, this gregarious pigeon once migrated in giant flocks that sometimes exceeded three billion, darkening the skies over eastern North America for days at a time. No wild bird in the world comes close to those numbers today. Yet 100 years ago this week, the very last pigeon of her kind died in her cage at the Cincinnati Zoo. Her name was Martha, and her passing merits our close attention today.

Mercilessly slaughtered by the tens of millions at breeding colonies in the North and at huge wintertime roosts in the South during the post-Civil War era, passenger pigeons were shipped by trainloads to dinner tables in homes and restaurants across the East. Their population fell from biblical numbers at midcentury to tiny, aimless flocks in 1890. By around 1900 the few birds that remained were all in captivity. The last male died in 1910, leaving Martha as a barren relic of past abundance.

JOHN W. FITZPATRICK|AUG. 29, 2014

Pink slime is heading to your dinner plate ‏

Pink slime is back. The ammonia-treated beef additive made from grinding together unused scraps of beef and connective tissue is starting to make a major comeback, with sales up three-fold since 2012.

Due to the recent spike in beef prices, suppliers have boosted their use of this cheap byproduct to keep prices low, but there’s one major problem: No laws or regulations exist to require food producers, restaurants, or grocery stores to label products containing pink slime.

We have the right to know what we’re putting in our shopping carts and in our bodies. As sales of this potentially dangerous substance continue to rise, we need to pressure the USDA to require mandatory labeling of pink slime.

While the food industry and the USDA claim that pink slime is safe for human consumption, the additive raises a number of health and safety concerns. The New York Times exposed in 2009 that, despite being treated with ammonia, three E. coli contaminations and four dozen salmonella contaminations occurred between 2005 and 2009.

What’s more, ammonium hydroxide is itself harmful to eat and can potentially turn into ammonium nitrate, a common ingredient in homemade explosives.

Major grocery store chains and restaurants, including McDonalds, Kroger, and Safeway, among others, have already said they will stop selling products containing pink slime. Cargill, one of the largest suppliers of the additive, has already agreed to voluntarily label its ground beef containing pink slime. But stores repackaging Cargill’s beef aren’t required to disclose to consumers the existence of pink slime in their meat.

Now it’s time for the USDA to mandate that companies, from the processing plant to the consumer, label beef containing pink slime so people know what they’re buying. Please sign the petition at # 8 in “Calls to Action” below.

Calls to Action

  1. Protect Appalachia’s Streams and Rivers From Mountaintop Removal Mining Pollution! – here
  2. Stop Seismic Blasting in the Atlantic – here
  3. Call for a Statewide Ban on Fracking – here
  4. Protect the Grand Canyon From Destructive Developments – here
  5. Demand a Cleanup Plan From Conowingo Damhere
  6. Tell President Obama’s Task Force you support seafood traceability – here
  7. Don’t Let The Wolverine Go Extinct – here
  8. Tell the USDA to label pink slime now – here

 

Birds and Butterflies

Birding Economics: Birding is Big Business 

Your birding and wildlife viewing dollars, if recognized as such, are a vote for conservation. They lobby local communities to conserve their resources not only for the health of their environment, but for the health of their economy.

Did you know?

  • In 2011, wildlife viewing activities generated more than $4.9 billion for Florida’s economy. In 2006, wildlife viewing activities generated more than $5.2 billion in Florida.  .
  • Nationwide, birding is big business: 46.7 million people observed birds around the home and on trips in 2011; there are nearly 72 million wildlife watchers in the U.S. Nationwide, the estimated economic impact of wildlife watching is $54.9 billion. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation)
  • Wildlife viewing in Florida supports 44,623 full- and part-time jobs. That is more jobs than the entire air transportation industry (35,268 jobs) statewide. (US Bureau of Economic Analysis)
  • Florida ranks in the top five in the U.S. for the number of residents who participate in all types of wildlife viewing, including trips away from home and feeding or viewing wildlife around the house. The 3.6 million wildlife watchers who live in Florida exceed the population of every metropolitan area in Florida except the Miami – Fort Lauderdale – Pompano Beach area with 5.7 million people.
  • In 2011, more visitors traveled to Florida to see wildlife than any other state. (ranked by total number of wildlife-viewing days, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation)
  • The number of nonresident wildlife watchers in Florida has grown each year since 2001, by 52% from 2001 to 2006 and by 11% from 2006 to 2011. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation)
  • The number of participants who make day and overnight trips away from home specifically to view wildlife grew substantially in the five-year period from 2006 to 2011 (22% increase).
  • Florida ranks second in the nation for the number of residents (1.4 million people) who take trips to view wildlife. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation)
  • In 2011, Florida residents who enjoyed viewing wildlife around their homes (3.3 million) outnumbered the population of 28 states. (U.S. Census Bureau)
  • The total spent annually in Florida for wildlife viewing is two and a quarter times greater than the value of the state’s annual orange crop harvest. ($1.2 billion in 2011, Florida Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services)
  • Travel-related spending associated with wildlife viewing in Florida has increased from $675 million in 2001 to more than $1.4 billion in 2011; the overall economic effect of wildlife-viewing travel (food, fuel, lodging, etc.) equipment and accessories in Florida was $2.7 billion in 2011.
  • Tax revenues in 2011 related to wildlife viewing in Florida amounted to nearly $285 million at the state and local levels and nearly $397 million at the federal level.
  • The 2013 Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival had an estimated economic impact of $1,286,492 in Brevard County; $416,000 in labor income was generated and more than $185,000 in government tax revenues was accrued.

(The Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival 2013: Economic Impact & Demographic Profile)

Outrage as Canada geese are rounded up for culling – by council contractor who claimed they were just being ‘relocated’

When Ian Carroll asked council contractors why they were herding Canada geese into a van at a park, he was not satisfied by their claim to be ringing the birds’ feet.

Mr. Carroll, 39, contacted the park ranger but remained unconvinced by his assurance the birds were being relocated to a country park – even after the ranger sent him a picture of them supposedly being released.

So the postman, who is a member of a local animal rescue group, lodged a Freedom of Information Act request with Sandwell Council, which finally admitted the geese had been taken away and ‘humanely’ killed.

Ian Carroll, 39, saw a council contractor herding Canada geese into a van at Victoria Park, Tipton, West Midlands

The park ranger told Mr. Carroll that the geese, pictured, were being relocated to a county park. He later sent Mr. Carroll a photo to prove it

The West Midlands authority has now admitted it removed and killed 220 Canada geese from parks in Tipton and West Bromwich in 2013 and 2014, using a licensed pest control firm.

The removals including the geese and goslings filmed by Mr. Carroll in Victoria Park, Tipton in summer last year.

Mr Carroll said yesterday: ‘I can’t believe they could lie to me like that. We still haven’t found out how they killed them. They could have been shot, gassed or had their necks broken.’

He added: ‘I have spent the last 17 years rescuing swans and wildfowl in Sandwell who have been maimed by other animals thugs. But this action by the council is worse than all of these incidents put together.

But Mr Carroll, a postman, did not believe the ranger’s explanation and sent a Freedom of Information request about the geese, pictured, to Sandwell Council, which is responsible for the park

‘The birds have been rounded up and killed during the molting season when they loose their flight feathers and were unable to get away.’

In large numbers Canada Geese can have a detrimental impact on their environment, producing large numbers of droppings which contain bacteria and phosphates blamed for polluting watercourses, and dispersing native species.

Councillor Maria Crompton said a total of 150 geese were culled from Victoria Park and Dartmouth Park in 2013. Seventy geese were culled from Victoria Park this year.

The West Midlands authority admitted it removed and killed 220 Canada geese from parks in Tipton and West Bromwich in 2013 and 2014, using a licensed pest control firm

The removals included the geese and goslings filmed by Mr Carroll in Victoria Park, Tipton in summer last year

She said: ‘I’m very sad we had to do this but people’s safety and public health are paramount.

‘We have done this as a last resort and as humanely as possible in response to repeated complaints and real concerns from park users, including parents of young children.’ She said the numbers of geese had ‘got out of control’, with more than 1,000 grazing in Sandwell’s parks.

In 2012 it emerged that more than 11,000 Canada Geese had been culled from parks by Stoke-on-Trent City Council over the previous two years.

Andy Dolan|Daily Mail|24 August 2014

Monarch Butterflies at A Record Low

MEXICO CITY (AP) – The number of Monarch butterflies wintering in Mexico plunged this year to its lowest level since studies began in 1993, leading experts to announce Wednesday that the insects’ annual migration from the United States and Canada is in danger of disappearing.

A report released by the World Wildlife Fund, Mexico’s Environment Department and the Natural Protected Areas Commission blames the displacement of the milkweed the species feeds on by genetically modified crops and urban sprawl in the United States, as well as the dramatic reduction of the butterflies’ habitat in Mexico due to illegal logging of the trees they depend on for shelter.

After steep and steady declines in the previous three years, the black-and-orange butterflies now cover only 1.65 acres (0.67 hectares) in the pine and fir forests west of Mexico City, compared to 2.93 acres (1.19 hectares) last year. They covered more than 44.5 acres (18 hectares) at their recorded peak in 1995.

Because the butterflies clump together by the thousands in trees, they are counted by the area they cover.

The decline in the Monarch population now marks a statistical long-term trend and can no longer be seen as a combination of yearly or seasonal events, experts say.

The announcement followed on the heels of the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which saw the United States, Mexico and Canada signing environmental accords to protect migratory species such as the Monarch. At the time, the butterfly was adopted as the symbol of trilateral cooperation.

“Twenty years after the signing of NAFTA, the Monarch migration, the symbol of the three countries’ cooperation, is at serious risk of disappearing,” said Omar Vidal, Omar Vidal, the World Wildlife Fund director in Mexico.

Lincoln Brower, a leading entomologist at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, wrote that “the migration is definitely proving to be an endangered biological phenomenon.”

“The main culprit is now GMO herbicide-resistant corn and soybean crops and herbicides in the USA,” which “leads to the wholesale killing of the monarch’s principal food plant, common milkweed,” Brower wrote in an email.

While Mexico has made headway in reducing logging in the officially protected winter reserve, that alone cannot save the migration, wrote Karen Oberhauser, a professor at the University of Minnesota. She noted that studies indicate that the U.S. Midwest is the main source of the butterflies coming to Mexico. “A large part of their reproductive habitat in that region has been lost due to changes in agricultural practices, mainly the explosive growth in the use of herbicide-tolerant crops.”

While some gardeners and activists in the United States have started a movement to plant small patches of milkweed, the effort is in its infancy. Extreme weather – extreme cold snaps, unusually heavy rains or droughts in all three countries – have also apparently played a role in the decline.

It’s unclear what would happen to the Monarchs if they no longer migrated. The butterflies can apparently survive year-round in warmer climates, but populations in the northern United States and Canada would have to face bitter winters. There is also another small migration route that takes the butterflies to California, but that has also registered declines.

The migration is an inherited trait. No butterfly lives to make the full round-trip, and it is unclear how they remember the route back to the same patch of forest each year, a journey of thousands of miles to a forest reserve that covers 193,000 acres (56,259-hectares) in central Mexico.

Inhabitants of the reserve had already noted a historic change, as early as the Nov. 1-2 Day of the Dead holiday, when the butterflies usually arrive.

“They were part of the landscape of the Day of the Dead, when you could see them flitting around the graveyards,” said Gloria Tavera, the director of the reserve. “This year was the first time in memory that they weren’t there.”

Losing the butterflies would be a blow for people such as Adolfo Rivera, 55, a farmer from the town of Los Saucos who works as a guide for tourists in the Piedra Herrada wintering ground. He said the butterflies had come later and in smaller numbers this year, a fact he attributed to a rainy winter. “This is a source of pride for us, and income,” Rivera said.

Butterfly guide Emilio Velazquez Moreno, 39, and other farmers in the village of Macheros, located inside the reserve, have been planting small plots of milkweed in a bid to provide food for the Monarchs if they decide to stay in Mexico year-round, which he said some do.

Sitting beside a mountainside patch of firs where the butterflies were clumping on the branches, Velazquez Moreno, a second-generation guide who has been visiting the butterflies since he was a boy, said “we have to protect this. This comes first, this is our heritage.”

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

Shifts In Habitat May Threaten Ruddy Shorebird’s Survival

An intrepid bird called the red knot migrates from the southern tip of South America to the Arctic and back every year. But changes in climate along its route are putting this ultra-marathoner at risk.

The federal government has proposed to list the red knot as threatened on the endangered species list, because of the risk of extinction the bird faces over its 9,300-mile journey, largely because of climate change.

“You know, this bird is facing any conceivable difficulty from Terra del Fuego [Argentina] all the way to the Arctic,” says Kevin Kalasz, a biologist who manages the shorebird project for the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife. Kalasz has studied red knots for more than a decade.

Other animals, from polar bears to butterflies, increasingly face analogous threats as climate change alters their habitat; saving these various species may take more effort — even sacrifices — from humans, according to scientists.

Global Warming Puts Crucial Red Knot Refueling At Risk

Biologists worry a changing climate could throw this critical rendezvous out of sync. The crabs and the birds have to arrive at the same time if the birds are going to make it to the Arctic to nest, and warming water temperatures could prompt the crabs to lay eggs before the birds arrive.

Meanwhile, rising seas and bigger storms are washing away the beaches, which make one of the biggest weight gains in animal kingdom possible, according to Kalasz.

“In a number of years, we could lose this very special place,” he says. “And if that were to occur, I’d feel a tremendous sense of loss.”

The changing climate is creating other risks for the red knot along its migration path, including in the Arctic where it nests.

“Warming in the Arctic, we know, is proceeding faster than other parts of the globe,” says Wendy Walsh, a senior biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That’s changing the landscape where red knots nest from barren tundra to a place with larger plants and even trees. The shift in habitat is sure to alter the behavior of predators, like foxes and falcons that eat chicks and eggs — but scientists do not yet know how, Walsh says.

Some Coastal Communities Oppose Listing Red Knots As ‘Threatened’

The Fish and Wildlife Service can’t do much about the changing habitat in the Arctic. What it can do is try to better protect the bird along the East Coast.

In places such as North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a strip of low-lying islands where some of the birds stop or even stay for the winter.

Bird projects like this one in Delaware indicate the number of red knots passing through has dropped by 75 percent since the 1980s.

But the local governments there and elsewhere along the bird’s path are nervous about the implications for people.

To protect other rare shore birds, stretches of beach already are closed during tourist season. Those closures mean that wonderful places to surf, fish and swim aren’t available for tourists, says Warren Judge, who chairs the Dare County Board of Commissioners in the Outer Banks.

“The red knot is just another bird that can land someplace and create another closure,” says Judge. “Our tourism is based upon [using] the beach. It’s very hard on the economy.”

Walsh, of the Fish and Wildlife Service, says it’s true: If the red knot goes on the endangered species list, some beaches could be closed briefly every year.

And that’s not all. Her agency could discourage communities from doing things such as building sea walls to protect themselves from rising seas and the big storm surges linked to climate change. Hard structures destroy beaches.

“This is totally understandable why humans would do this when they have valuable infrastructure and property and lives at stake behind the walls,” Walsh says, “but that is a threat to the red knot going forward.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expects to make its final decision in late September. That’s also when the birds will be making their fall migration from the top of the globe back to the bottom.

Elizabeth Shogren|July 28, 2014

Fall is the Time to See Raptors on the Move

The best time to see hawks, harriers, eagles, and other raptors is during their fall migration, which will soon be in full swing across the country. 

Raptors tend to fly known routes—which means folks can count on seeing large numbers of them as they head south.

Click here to learn more about raptors and their migrations.

Hawkwatch: the best places to see hawks

The best time to see hawks, harriers, eagles, and their kin is during the fall migration. We’ve chosen some of the top hawkwatch sites in North America. Click on a location for information about the site and species that can be seen there. Click on the name of a species to learn more about its migratory habits.

Hawkwatch Sites

                                            1. Chelan Ridge, WA
                                            2. Marin Headlands, CA
                                            3. Grand Canyon, AZ
                                            4. Manzanos Mtns. NM
                                            5. Corpus Christi, TX
                                            6. Smith Point, TX
                                            7. Hawk Mountain, PA
                                            8. Hanging Rock, WV
                                            9. Chimney Rock, NJ
                                            10. Cape May, NJ
                                            11. Turkey Point, MD
                                            12. Kiptopeke, VA
                                            13. Florida Keys, FL
                                            14. Hitchcock, IA
                                            15. Hawk Ridge, MN
About Hawkwatch

Every fall, millions of birds fly south to spend the winter in sunny places with mild climates and plentiful food. Most smaller birds migrate under the cover of darkness, stopping to fuel up on insects or seeds by day and using the stars to guide them at night. Hawks, by contrast, are diurnal migrants; they depend on currents of rising warm air to lift them to high altitudes where they glide on their broad wings without flapping, thereby conserving energy. During these flights, hawks use their keen eyesight to recognize landmarks, follow landforms that provide rising thermals, and steer a course to their ancestral wintering grounds. In some places these migrating hawks gather in huge numbers, and people gather to watch them with binoculars and data sheets in the phenomenon known as hawkwatch.

Counting hawks during migration is more than a competitive pursuit for list-oriented birders. The data collected at hawkwatches helps experts monitor the health of various ecosystems. Because hawks are top predators — that is, they occupy the top of the food chain — they’re very sensitive to changes that affect prey species. Comparing hawk numbers from year to year reveals trends that offer insight into the well-being of the environment in both the breeding and wintering areas.

But more than simply counting hawks, there’s the spectacle of it all. Standing atop a ridge on a crisp autumn day while hundreds of hawks circle and stream past is an unforgettable experience, which helps explain why people return to these sites day after day and hawkwatch programs across the country attract volunteers by the dozens. Visit any hawkwatch site, and you’ll find people who came one day out of curiosity and soon became regulars.

On the lookout for Florida’s rare upland birds

Ornithological question of the day:

Do American kestrels breed in Southwest Florida?

“That’s a good question,” said Keith Laakkonen,Fort Myers Beach’s environmental sciences coordinator. “During the winter, we see them quite a bit. They’re on every power line on every road in the area. Cape Coral and certain parts of Collier County are absolute hot spots for them.

“But during their breeding season, we’re not really sure. It would be helpful to know if these birds are breeding down here.”

To determine where kestrels breed, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is asking the public to be on the lookout for the small falcon species during its breeding season (May through June) and report sightings to FWC’s new Rare Bird Registry.

FWC also wants breeding season sightings of painted buntings, which don’t breed in Southwest Florida, and burrowing owls, which do.

Reported sightings will provide data that will help FWC scientist study and protect these species.

Populations of all three species are declining, said Karl Miller, lead researcher for FWC’s non-game bird program.

“They are disappearing because of habitat loss,” he said. “A lot of times, these critters occur in rural areas, which are not well-surveyed by other bird-monitoring methods. We can’t possibly cover all of the state, so we need people through this citizen-scientist program to help us.”

Although painted buntings winter in South Florida, they head to North Florida and along the east coast as far north as eastern North Carolina for breeding season, which runs May through July.

“They usually show up here around Oct. 10,” bird guide Vince McGrath said. “I show them off for the winter.”

With an estimated 1,000 breeding pairs, Cape Coral is the burrowing owl capital of Florida – burrowing owl breeding season is February through July.

Because much of the burrowing owl’s native habitat has been lost to development, the animals tend to dig their burrows in vacant lots in residential areas, but as houses are built on those lots, owls can be displaced.

“We’re concerned because we’re not seeing the numbers we used to see,” said Pasha Donaldson, past president of Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife. “There’s so much going on in Cape Coral, and we don’t know how all the building will affect the population of owls.”

Another Southwest Florida burrowing owl population center is Marco Island, where owls have dug burrows on 130 sites – 75 percent of the burrows are producing chicks, said Nancy Richie, a Marco Island environmental specialist.

“I’ve been monitoring burrowing owls here for almost 15 years, and this is probably the most productive year to date. When we had the big building boom in 2003 and 2004, we saw a the population dip a little bit. Plus, we were in a drought situation.

“Then the building slowed down, and we started getting rain, so there are lots of insects and frogs to eat. Now there’s plenty of food, and their able to propagate.”

As with Cape Coral, the future of Marco Island’s burrowing owls is uncertain.

“Marco will build out,” Richie said. “It’s inevitable. There are 1,200 undeveloped lots on Marco, and 90 percent of the nests are on undeveloped lots. Ultimately, this population will have to find nooks, crannies and niches to live in. As we lose empty lots, the population will go down.”

Programs such as FWC’s Rare Bird Registry provide good science, Laakkonen said.

“These things are really valuable,” he said. “The number of biologists and scientists in state agencies is limited. There is a large part of the public that really cares about nature, and a lot of them are birders. They may be observing species in places where the agencies aren’t aware of because they don’t have the resources to get out there and survey every scrap of Florida.”

Help Florida’s upland birds

To report sightings of burrowing owls, American kestrels and painted buntings, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Rare Bird Registry at myfwc.com. Here is a closer look at the birds:

* American kestrel

Distribution: Throughout most of North and South America

Size: Length 8-12 inches, weight 3-6 ounces

Habitat: In Florida, the kestrel is found in open pine habitats, woodland prairies and pastures

Diet: Insects, mammals, birds, lizards, snakes, amphibians

* Burrowing owl

Distribution: Throughout Florida

Size: Length 9 inches, wingspan, 21 inches

Habitat: Historically preferred open prairies in Central Florida, but birds moved mostly to South Florida as former habitat was converted to farm lands and commercial and residential development. Found locally in Cape Coral and Marco Island.

Diet: Moles, mice, insects, small birds, amphibians and reptiles.

* Painted bunting

Distribution: There are two painted bunting populations. The Eastern population breeds from eastern North Carolina to North Florida. The Western population breeds from Gulf Coast of the United States west to southern New Mexico; and north to Kansas, and south to northern Tamaulipas, Mexico. Eastern painted buntings spend the winter in southern Florida (from the Keys to Manatee, Orange and Brevard counties), the Bahamas, and on Cuba.

Size: Length 5.5 inches, wingspan, 8.5 inches

Habitat: The coastal Southeast population breeds in scrub communities, wooded back dunes, palmetto thickets, maritime hammocks, hedges, yards, fallow fields, and citrus groves.

Diet: Seeds most of the year, switching to mostly insects during breeding season.

Kevin Lollar|news-press.com

 Florida Panthers

Public sightings of Florida panthers, bears going strong, helping FWC biologists

When someone catches sight of a panther or black bear and reports it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the agency’s biologists may use that sighting to help research and manage those species.

Already, the public’s willingness to report where they see panthers and black bears in Florida is having a positive impact on what is known about where these large mammals live and reproduce in the state.

Based on two years of online public reporting of panther sightings and nearly one year of online reports of bear sightings, biologists know more about what areas of Florida provide viable habitat for these species.

A total of 1,537 Florida panther sightings were reported as of June 2014, of which 275 have been verified as panthers based on photos of the animal or its footprints. This includes the first verification of a panther sighted near the Green Swamp north of Interstate 4 in central Florida. Primarily, the verified panther sightings are in southwest Florida.

There also were a total of 2,257 Florida black bear sighting reports as of June 2014, with more than 500 of those reports containing uploaded photographs. Sightings of bears were reported in 59 of the state’s 67 counties.

The FWC continues collection of panther sightings at MyFWC.com/PantherSightings, and bear sightings at MyFWC.com/BearSightings. Here people can find information about the animals, including how to identify them, what to do or not do if they see one, and a Google map making it easy to pinpoint the sighting location.

“Someone’s excitement about seeing a Florida panther or black bear may translate into important scientific information if that sighting is reported to the FWC,” said Carol Knox, the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management section leader. “The FWC is pleased that so many people are making the effort to be citizen scientists and sharing their sightings of panthers and bears. By doing so, they are contributing to conservation of Florida’s largest land mammals.”

Soon, cooler weather will be on the way and more people will be resuming their outdoor pursuits.

“We hope people going outdoors to hunt, hike or pursue other recreational activities remember to share their bear sightings with us, particularly if it is a mother bear with cubs,” said FWC bear biologist Brian Scheick.

For a list of the many FWC wildlife sightings, surveys and hotlines in which citizen scientists are invited to participate, go to MyFWC.com/get-involved/citizen-science/.

Learn more about panthers at FloridaPantherNet.org and more about bears at MyFWC.com/Bear.

FWC recommends Collier County residents take steps to protect small livestock from panthers

Because of recent incidents of Florida panthers taking small livestock in Golden Gates Estates, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is cautioning Collier County residents to take the necessary precautions to properly shelter animals such as goats, sheep, calves, pigs, donkeys and chickens.

“The best way for people to protect small livestock is to keep them in a secure, fenced enclosure with a roof, especially at night,” said FWC panther team leader Darrell Land. “Panther depredations on animals in backyards can be prevented, and we encourage Golden Gate Estates residents to take the necessary steps to protect their animals from being taken by a panther or other predator.”

Similar safety measures should be taken to protect pets like dogs and cats, by keeping them indoors at night or in an outdoor panther-proof pen.

The FWC is investigating and monitoring depredations on so-called hobby livestock that recently have been concentrated in the area of 6th Street SE in Golden Gate Estates. However, panther depredations can occur throughout the area, and biologists encourage the community’s residents who live east of Collier Boulevard to take appropriate steps to protect their backyard animals from all predators roaming this semi-rural area. Predators include bobcats and coyotes as well as panthers.

“The FWC is alerting Golden Gate Estates residents that taking precautions today to protect their small livestock from panthers will have beneficial long-term effects by discouraging panthers and other predators from repeatedly coming back into their community looking for easy prey,” Land said.

People can learn more about living in panther country from the brochure, “A guide to living with Florida Panthers”. It reminds people, for instance, not to feed deer or other wildlife around their home, since that can attract panthers looking for prey.

Land, who has lived in Golden Gate Estates for more than 25 years, said wildlife is common in the area because its relatively large residential lots often include natural habitat areas. The community also is bordered on three sides by conservation lands, which include the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge to the east, Picayune Strand State Forest and Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park to the south, and Bird Rookery Swamp, part of the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed, to the north – all of which are regularly used by panthers.

If people have problems or concerns about panthers, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone. To report a panther sighting to the FWC, go to MyFWC.com/PantherSightings.

Additional information about Florida panthers is available at FloridaPantherNet.org.

  Invasive species

Check your chickee: New exotic bug may be chewing it up

The first thing Nancy Kilmartin noticed was the frass. That’s science-speak for caterpillar poop — little dark pellets baby butterflies or moths expel as they eat. And it was scattered in a dark drizzle under Manatee Park’s chickee when she inspected it this month after volunteer Alice Thrower told her it was looking odd.

Above the frass, the sabal palm-thatched roof of the structure was pocked with holes, ranging from buckshot to quarter-size. It was plain that something was chewing up the chickee, a traditional open log-frame structure built by Florida’s native Miccosukee and Seminole tribes.

But what? Every caterpillar Kilmartin, a senior program specialist, knew of favored live stuff — not dead, dry fronds.

After consulting with several biologists, horticulturist and The News-Press columnist Stephen Brown examined the roof, collected specimens and sent a sample to University of Florida entomologist Lyle Buss. He pegged the culprit as an Asian moth caterpillar: “Simplicia cornicalis.” Instead of going after clothing or crops, this moth prefers dead palm fronds.

Bad news for Southwest Florida, says Brown, where the countless thatched roofs shading docks, patios and parks are all potential caterpillar victims. He likens the chewing critters to cattle munching on hay, and expects the problem to worsen as the bugs spread.

Though this is the first official report of an infestation in Lee County, “It could be of major consequence to the parks and tourist facilities who use them for shade,” says Fort Myers environmental consultant Dick Workman.

Dormant during the day, the caterpillars keep themselves hidden among the thatch, emerging at night to eat. The dun-colored adult moths stick around to lay their eggs on the roofs, Brown says, and the cycle repeats, unless a lizard snags the moth first.

Should a homeowner discover an infestation, Brown recommends treating the roof with insecticide at night.

First spotted in Florida in 2006, the pest has made its way south from Louisiana, feeding on dead plants as it goes. It joins an ever-growing list of exotic invaders that have found a comfy niche in Southwest Florida — species like lionfish, Cuban frogs and fire ants.

“I don’t think they attack live, green leaves, but get onto the leaves after they have been cut and made into roofs,” Buss wrote in an email. He’s heard of them in Collier, Monroe, and Palm Beach counties, but this was the first report from Lee.

The Collier County Museum has a Seminole chickee at its downtown Naples campus that was recently refurbished, says spokeswoman Christina Apkarian, “But that was due to weather and normal wear and tear,” she says — not caterpillar damage.

The caterpillars were news to Brett Daly, who edits the Seminole Tribe’s paper, the Seminole Tribune. “That’s not something we’ve come across,” she says.

The only other Lee County property with at-risk roofs is Crescent Beach Family Park on Estero Island, which has three palm-thatched pavilions, says county spokeswoman Betsy Clayton.

“Most of our Lee County Parks & Recreation shade structures have fabric or metal roofs,” she wrote in an email. The county has started pricing treatment for the roof at Manatee Park in east Fort Myers, but has no estimates yet.

“We will proceed with getting bids from county-approved vendors and working to best remedy the situation at the park,” Clayton wrote. “That will help us determine how to proceed if we must do the same at other sites.”

Amy Bennett Williams|news-press.com|August 27, 2014

Endangered Species

Grizzly Bears in the North Cascades

The National Park Service this week took an important step toward recovering grizzly bears in the North Cascades in Washington state. The agency says it is beginning a three-year process to analyze options for boosting grizzly bear populations in the area, including the possibility of translocating bears and developing a viable population.

“We’re happy to see the Park Service begin the long-overdue conversation about bringing grizzly bears back to the North Cascades,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Grizzlies have lost more than 95 percent of their historic habitat in the lower 48 states so we welcome any step that brings them closer to returning to some of their ancestral homes.”

In June, the Center petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to begin returning grizzly bears to vast swaths of the American West. The petition identified more than 110,000 square miles of potential grizzly bear habitat, including parts of Washington, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado.

Today, there are roughly 1,500-1,800 grizzly bears in the continental United States, most of them in and around Yellowstone and Glacier national parks. The grizzly populations remain separated from each other, which impedes genetic exchange and limits their ability to expand into new areas.

The Northern Cascades ecosystem includes about 9,800 square miles in the United States and 3,800 square miles in Canada. A grizzly bear has not been spotted on the U.S. side since 2010.

“The Northern Cascades has the potential to host a viable grizzly bear population,” Greenwald said. “The same could be said for many spots scattered throughout the West. If grizzly bears are ultimately going to have a thriving, healthy population no longer threatened by extinction, they’ve got to be given a chance to return to some of the places they were driven out of years ago.”

Center for Biological Diversity|August 22, 2014

Read more at Center for Biological Diversity.

The California Drought is Making Life Pretty Rough for Bees

When it comes to food, the California drought has affected many things that we eat: berries, beer and avocados just to name a few. Now there’s yet another item to add to that list: honey.

Traditionally, California has been one of the top producers of honey. Now, however, with fewer crops on account of the drought, honeybees have had fewer places to forage, and they’re producing much less honey because of it. Since the drought began three years ago, honey production in California has fallen from 27.5 million pounds in 2010 to 10.9 million pounds in 2013, according to the AP reports. This year, things are expected to be even worse.

“Our honey crop is severely impacted by the drought,” Gene Brandi, a beekeeper in Los Banos, a farming town in California’s Central Valley told the AP.

That’s bad for business and it’s also bad for the honey consumer. There was already a worldwide shortage of honey, and the drought has helped pushes prices to an all-time high. “Over the past eight years, the average retail price for honey has increased 65 percent from $3.83 to $6.32 per pound, according to the National Honey Board,” reports CBS News.

To keep their bees alive, some beekeepers are having to supplement with sugar syrup or high-fructose corn syrup since there is a lack of the honeybees’ usual diet of nectar.

“Not only are you feeding as an expense, but you aren’t gaining any income,” beekeeper Mike Brandi told the AP. “If this would persist, you’d see higher food costs, higher pollination fees and unfortunately higher prices for the commodity of honey.”

While feeding the bees sugar keeps them alive, it doesn’t get the bees producing honey, and it doesn’t keep the bees as healthy; without the same nutrients as the pollen, keeping bees on a sugar diet makes them susceptible to diseases.

Given their current situation, that’s a bit of a slap in the face if you’re a honeybee. Bees have already been having a rough go of things, what with Colony Collapse Disorder and all. Have you seen the pictures of what your grocery store aisle would look like without bees? It’s pretty dismal. As pollinators, bees are essential to our food production, and without them we risk the threat of a global food crisis.

We need bees, and they need food; a good reminder of how interconnected our food systems truly are.

Anna Brones|August 28, 2014

One of Florida’s rare creatures; the smalltooth sawfish

Smalltooth sawfish are aptly named, having a long, flattened, toothed “saw” extending out from the head. They have 22 to 29 unpaired teeth on each side of the rostrum (saw); males typically have more than females. If completely lost, the teeth are not replaced; if only chipped and their bases are intact, the teeth will continue to grow as the fish grows. The saw is used for feeding and defense against sharks, their only known predators.

Smalltooth sawfish belong to a group of fishes called elasmobranchs, which includes all other rays and sharks. Smalltooth sawfish swim like sharks but are actually a type of ray, in part because their gill slits are on the bottom of their bodies, like stingrays. All elasmobranchs have a skeleton made of cartilage.

Smalltooth sawfish in Florida waters give birth primarily in April and May. Females can give birth to up to 20 young measuring 2 to 2.7 feet long. They can be found in a wide range of habitats, including mud bottoms, sand bottoms, oyster bars, red mangrove shorelines, docks, seawall-lined canals and piers. Juveniles, like the one pictured, will also travel many miles up rivers if freshwater inflow is reduced.

Smalltooth sawfish can grow up to 18 feet long and 700 pounds.

Because they are so rare – their population has declined by more than 95 percent – smalltooth sawfish are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. If a smalltooth sawfish is accidentally caught, it must be promptly released unharmed. It is illegal to actively attempt to hook or net one and possessing even a part of sawfish is a violation of rules.

Recovery efforts for this critically endangered species are in progress. Learn about what’s being done, and what you can do to support research efforts.

NOAA Lists 20 New Corals as Threatened Under the Endangered Species Act ‏

Yesterday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that 20 coral species will be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Fifteen of these coral species are in the Indo-Pacific and five are in the Atlantic/Caribbean. Including two previously listed coral species – elkhorn and staghorn – there are a total of 22 species that are now listed as threatened.

Coral species newly listed as threatened in the Atlantic/Caribbean:

* Pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus)
* Rough cactus coral (Mycetophyllia ferox)
* Lobed star coral (Orbicella annularis)
* Mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata)
* Boulder star coral (Orbicella franksi)

All seven of the threatened corals from the Atlantic/Caribbean are found throughout the wider Caribbean region, including Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The listed corals from the Indo-Pacific can be found in several areas, including Guam (4 coral species), Northern Mariana Islands (3 species), American Samoa (13 corals) and the US Pacific Remote Island Areas (3 corals).

Please click here for more information.  

A Win in Aspen: Tortoises From Art Installation Go to Sanctuary

The Aspen Art Museum has sent three tortoises to a sanctuary after thousands of Center supporters objected to their exploitation in an art exhibit by Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang. The exhibit featured three African sulcata tortoises, each with a pair of iPads stuck directly to its shell.

The move comes less than a week after the Center for Biological Diversity delivered a petition signed by more than 12,000 people opposing the controversial exhibit. Earlier this month, a nationwide boycott was led by Lisbeth Odén and by Andrew Sabin, a New York businessman and turtle conservationist.

We’re glad to see these tortoises heading to the sanctuary; they deserve a life without iPads glued to their backs. Thank you to all the people who spoke out against their mistreatment.

Three Southeast Flowers Get 2,500 Acres of Protected Habitat

Following the Center’s 757 species agreement, the Fish and Wildlife Service has protected 2,488 acres of critical habitat for three flowering plants in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee: Short’s bladderpod, fleshy-fruit gladecress and whorled sunflower.

The Center first petitioned the Service to protect these plants in 2004; they had been on a waiting list since 1999. The plants were finally protected early this month, and now they have protected habitat too. So far — under our landmark 2011 agreement to speed protection decisions for 757 species — 130 have gained Endangered Species Act protection, including the three flowers, and another 13 have been proposed for protection.

Habitat loss is the primary reason plants and animals become endangered, so protecting the last areas where these highly endangered flowers live will help make sure they aren’t erased by careless human activities.

Read more in the Tennessean.

Read more in our press release.

[Could there still be hope for receiving protected critical habitat for the Florida Panther?]

Wild & Weird

MIGRATION SEASON BEGINS…

…at least for the birds and Monarch butterflies that are already being seen assembling and moving south as summer fades into fall.

However, no large directional movements have been noted yet this year for our migrant dragonflies. As conspicuous and charismatic as dragonflies unquestionably are — zooming around freshwater habitats feeding, seeking mates, and defending territory on the wing — some aspects of their migratory behavior are still bewildering. Migration season is upon us, but when will these colorful denizens of the insect world make their movements obvious to us?

Few reports of migration flights have been seen in listserv inboxes or on dragonfly Facebook group pages so far this summer. By this time in both 2012 and 2013, Swamp Darners (Epiaeschna heros) had been seen in directional flights on the east coast, making an easy meal for Purple Martins. However, there have been numerous reports in the past few weeks of members of our top five migrant species seen in feeding swarms or as newly emerged tenerals. Are the Common Green Darners (Anax junius) and Black Saddlebags (Tramea lacerata) observed in local swarms merely residents feeding on a bounty of midges and mosquitoes, or are they migrants amassing their reserves for the long trek south? A report of hundreds of newly emerged Common Green Darners in mid-August in Milwaukie, WI is highly suggestive of a cohort destined for migration, as are the feeding swarms of Common Green Darners observed in separate incidents on August 17 and 20 in Ohio. One observer has remarked that the usual abundance of Common Green Darners around their pond in Quebec was reduced this year to only three tenerals seen on August 19. These teneral dragonflies are likely to be migrants and this report reflects a common complaint on many Facebook pages of reduced dragonfly numbers in 2014, especially in the east, leading us to wonder whether migration flights will be down as well this fall.

Although the most dramatic dragonfly migration flights are often seen along the coasts and the shores of the Great Lakes, inland observations are key to understanding the origins of these flights. Participating observers at Hawk Watch sites are perfectly placed to note coincident movements of dragonflies, as migrating raptors such as Mississippi Kites are often seen taking advantage of an in-flight meal of migrating Common Green Darners as they share a flight path south. Inland hawk observatories often witness large dragonfly migration flights; because these observatories are frequently located on ridge tops they are ideal vantage points to detect inland populations of dragonflies collecting along leading lines of not only mountain ridges, but lakes and rivers as well. Continuing observations will tell us more about how and when these dragonflies make their way to the coasts, and where they may be collecting in staging areas to rest and feed before the next leg of their southern flight.

Reports from the West Coast of small clusters of Variegated Meadowhawks (Sympetrum corruptum) may indicate just that — individuals coming together from sites further inland and resting or waiting for favorable winds or other environmental cues to send them on their way. Reports this month on the Northwest Odonata listserv from people at Oregon’s northern coast may indicate southward movement of small numbers of individuals as well as staging stopovers as these meadowhawks fuel up at Oregon beaches and coastal wetlands. Directional flights composed of only a few individuals can easily go unnoticed, but we are pleased to have multiple observers this year detecting these smaller movements and reporting their observations.

Because we know very little about where migration flights originate, we need your watchful eyes not only to detect directional movements of the migratory species, but also to note emergences and late-season tenerals around local ponds throughout North America. We hope you’ll spend some of your last days of summer (and even into fall) at your local wetland, pond, ridge top, or coastal beach making notable discoveries of our last dragonflies of the season on the wing.

MDP MISSION 

The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership is composed of dragonfly experts, nongovernmental programs, academic institutions, and federal agencies from the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Together, we are combining research, citizen science, and education and outreach to better understand North America’s migrating dragonflies and promote conservation of their wetland habitat. For more information please visit the MDP website.

 Join our e-newsletter list

Everglades

See the options SFWMD has for future water storage here

NOAA: Southwest Florida a ‘hotspot’ for wetland loss

Naples. Fla. – Southwest Florida has lost 148 square miles of land cover – an area 1 1/2 times the size of Cape Coral – to development and to changes in the region’s climate over the past two decades, a new government report shows.

Much of the land lost was wetlands, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and environmental experts say are vital to wildlife, help clean waterways, and mitigate flooding and storms.

When it comes to land cover loss, the region is “one of the most active in the country,” said NOAA physical scientist Nate Herold, who directs the mapping effort at NOAA.

The NOAA study, which was released this week, analyzed land cover in 29 coastal states, including those bordering the Great Lakes, from 1996 to 2010 to see how much forested areas and wetlands have shrunk.

“Although development is responsible for most of the changes, storms, drought and sea-level rising also all play a part,” Herold said.

Overall, NOAA found 8.2 percent of the nation’s coastal regions suffered a land cover decline during that period, totaling 64,975 square miles – an area larger than Wisconsin.

Lee County, with an 8.7 percent land cover loss, saw a bigger percentage loss than the national average. That includes losing 38 square miles of forested wetlands. With all land types included, new development gobbled up 54 square miles during the study period.

Herold says Lee “pops out as one of the hot spots for wetland losses,” along with the Tampa-Orlando corridor, coastal Los Angeles and coastal Alabama.

In both Lee and Collier counties, roughly half of the development lost was from freshwater forested wetlands (which also accounted for the bulk of the overall wetland losses), and another third from former agriculture areas, NOAA said.

Collier lost less of its cover than Lee: 21 square miles of forested wetlands disappeared, and 35 square miles of all land types became new development.

But because Collier is nearly twice the size of Lee, and has substantial preserve areas, proportionally it lost less land cover.

In total, NOAA said, about 3 percent of Collier’s area changed during the period.

NOAA’s report noted that throughout the country, 642 square miles, or the equivalent of 61 football fields, is lost to development every day.

“But the southeastern quadrant of the country is especially affected because it isn’t as built out as some other regions of the country, such as the Northeast,” Herold said.

The Southeast also is heavily impacted by industries such as logging, which destroys trees but also replants them, Herold said. So over time, some of the land cover is replaced.

Local restoration and developer mitigation activities also allowed some Gulf Coast areas to gain modest-sized wetlands, Herold said, though the gains did not offset the losses.

Hurricanes, forest fires, tornadoes and other natural calamities also destroy land cover, but the effects tend to be localized, he added.

“But over time, these small impacts add up, making the cumulative effect more dramatic,” he said.

Local environmentalists say wetlands serve an important role in the ecosystem, serving as nurseries and breeding grounds for a variety of fish and birds, including the wood stork, a threatened species, and the bizarre two-toed amphiuma, a snakelike salamander.

But they also point to less obvious benefits.

Kevin Cunniff, research coordinator for Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve along the coast between Naples and Marco Island, said the area’s dominant mangrove wetlands produce leaf litter that blunts storm surges. The wetlands also capture sediments that otherwise would be carried inland during storms, effectively serving as land builders.

Jason Lauritsen, director of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary along the Lee-Collier line, said wetlands help prevent red tides by filtering pollution from water runoff; prevent floods by storing large quantities of water during storms; and help control temperatures, which can help prevent tornadoes.

Lauritsen also said the nation has been committed to a policy of no net loss of wetlands since the late 1980s. Supported by four successive presidential administrations, the federal policy seeks to restore wetlands that have been degraded and create new wetlands when building or farms supplant them.

“It was a fantastic idea, but NOAA’s study shows we are not meeting it,” he said.

June Fletcher|naplesnews.com|Aug 23, 2014

South Florida Flood Protection Project Approved

Addressing water quality and quantity continues to be a top priority for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. In a move to increase flood protection for south Florida residents, the department today issued a permit for the construction of a new levee system. This project is a cooperative effort between the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Indian Trail Improvement District (ITID).

The environmental resource permit is for the construction of a 6.25 mile levee system within the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area located in western Palm Beach County. The levee system improvement project consists of constructing a new levee within uplands and wetlands in areas which separate J.W. Corbett from the ITID M-O Canal.

In August 2012, Tropical Storm Isaac brought unprecedented rainfall to areas of central and western Palm Beach County resulting in widespread flooding. During post-storm evaluations conducted by the state, the ITID M-O Canal was identified as an area of critical concern because of localized slope failures, excessive seepage and the formation of boils. Under the direction of Governor Rick Scott, the SFWMD convened a multi-agency working group in September 2012 to develop a plan for strengthening the M-O Canal in an effort to meet current standards and to improve flood protection and safety to the residents in the surrounding areas.

“I’m excited about the effect this project will have on the local community,” said Jill Creech, director of DEP’s Southeast District. “The impact from Tropical Storm Isaac on the property owners in western Palm Beach County was huge. This project will help restore some peace of mind for residents should another significant weather event, such as Isaac, bear down on our community.”

The purpose of the project is to improve flood protection for the residents of the surrounding areas. In addition, the project will expand operational control of water levels as originally designed and permitted, which may attract additional endangered species to inhabit the area.

“The district moved historic amounts of water from the deluge caused by Tropical Storm Isaac and worked to shore up a key berm for better protection in an emergency situation,” said John Mitnik, SFWMD bureau chief of operations, engineering and construction. “We have engineered a new levee and are ready to initiate construction to help ensure the safety of residents for years to come.”

Phase one of the project is anticipated to be complete by January 2016. Phase two will follow and the levee should be complete by January 2018. The total cost of the project is estimated at $7.8 million.

mburgerdep|August 22, 2014

U.S. Sugar sees new opportunities for Hendry County in 43k-acre sector plan

The latest version of U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers’ 43,000-acre sector plan, which would divide portions of Hendry County into six different land-use areas.

The goal of the plan is to attract new people and businesses to Hendry County over the next 46 years.

CLEWISTON — A plan to develop roughly 43,300 acres of Hendry County over the next 46 years is currently in the works, led by the U.S. Sugar Corporation and Hilliard Brothers.

The Hendry County Board of County Commissioners OK’d an advancement of the over 43-thousand-acre sector plan at their last regular meeting, held on Aug. 26 in Clewiston City Hall.

The Sugar Hill Sector Plan would allow U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers to develop more than 43,000 acres of U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brother-owned land, the majority of which is located west of Clewiston surrounding Airglades Airport. The Sugar Hill plan does not, however, include the airport in its scope of development.

The Sugar Hill plan would divide the specified land into six land-use categories: long-term agriculture, employment centers, rural estates, mixed-use suburban, mixed-use urban and natural resource management.

The specifically planned divisions are a required aspect of the sector plan as mandated by state law. As explained by Mark Morton, director of strategic development and planning for U.S. Sugar, sector plans allow one or more landowners to take an holistic approach towards future development of large-scale areas of land. Sector plans are “very big picture,” he said.

The Sugar Hill plan is based on a 46-year time period, within which U.S. Sugar and Hilliard Brothers hope to attract new people and businesses to Hendry County by developing the land according to the six land-use categories.

The long-term agriculture division would maintain Hendry County’s agricultural efforts and consist of roughly 14,400 acres south of Clewiston and continuing east.

The employment center division would house the industrial and economic development projects that stakeholders hope to attract in the future. The division would be located near Airglades Airport to the west, northwest, northeast, south and southeast.

The mixed-use suburban area would contain housing developments where the community could “work, play and live,” according to Mr, Morton, and would be located south of the employment centers near the airport.

The mixed-use urban area would also contain housing developments, but would be located just west of Clewiston abutting the city limits.

The rural estates division would also provide areas for housing units, set at least one acre apart from each other.

Finally, the natural resource management areas would contain small patches of native plant species, including cypress trees and cabbage palms, intended to preserve the integrity of Florida’s land.

It is precisely this aspect of the project that has some groups worried about the effects of the plan’s implementation.

Julianne Thomas, who spoke on behalf of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said she was concerned about Everglades Restoration efforts and was interested in what the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) would have to say, though she admitted she was happy with some aspects of the project.

Rhonda Roth spoke on behalf of the Sierra Club and even accused U.S. Sugar of attempting to inflate land prices before they had an opportunity to sell it the state for Everglades Restoration.

Mr. Morton said the project’s intent was to raise Hendry County to the highest level of fiscal health.

Hearing all public comments, county commissioners voted to approve the transmittal of the sector plan to the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), with a motion made by Commissioner Don Davis and a second by Commissioner Mike Swindle.

Once in the hands of the DEO, it will be sent to several other agencies and may undergo more changes before being sent to Tallahassee for approval. Some of the agencies who will vet the project include the SFWMD and the Department of Environmental Protection.

If the plan continues to progress, stakeholders hope to have it adopted by the end of the year.

Melissa Beltz|The Clewiston News|August 28, 2014

Everglades restoration project has had modest impact, report shows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reuters|June 27, 2014|Reporting by Ian Simpson|Editing by Bill Trott

Water Quality Issues

Top 10 U.S. Cities Running Out of Water

Even as we watch the stunning footage of an overwhelmed Detroit drowning under massive rainfall, U.S. Drought Monitor shows other regions of the country parched and longing for more water. The organization releases weekly maps tracking the extent of drought in the U.S., ranking regions on five levels: “abnormally dry,” “moderate drought,” “severe drought,” “extreme drought” and “exceptional drought.”

-2

Its current map documents a huge swath of the western U.S., extending as far east as Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, suffering from drought conditions. It also shows patches of South, Midwest, upper Great Lakes region and even New England having a drier than normal summer, covering more than a third of the continental U.S.

But the areas of “exceptional drought,” the highest category, are localized in four states. California is by far the hardest hit, with 58 percent of the state under “exceptional drought” and 82 percent in the two highest categories. Nevada, Oklahoma and Texas also have patches of “exceptional” drought, surrounded by a sea of less intense drought.

So it’s not surprising that all of its top ten cities with a severe water shortage are in California, located mostly in its fertile Central Valley growing region. Bakersfield, which has seen explosive growth in the last 40 years, tops the list with 90 percent of the city under “exceptional drought.” Unlike most of the other cities in the top 10, it has enacted no water restrictions. The other cities in order of the severity of drought are Hanford, Salinas, Gilroy-Morgan Hill, Santa Maria, Merced, Santa Cruz, Madera, Visalia and Fresno.

With these cities supplying a large percentage of the nation’s produce—70 percent of its lettuce comes from Salinas—the impact should be felt in grocery stores across the country.

The water shortage in these cities also points out the absurdity of California-based bottled water companies sourcing their product from local spring and tap water, and processing it to ship out of state.

(NaturalNews) The U.S. Drought Monitor has released new data on U.S. cities that are running out of water — and believe it or not, the top 10 spots are all located in California. Some of the worst drought conditions on record have left much of the Golden State grasping for moisture wherever it can be found. But for these 10 cities, more than 75 percent of their land area is now marked by “exceptional” drought, the highest level on the chart.

10) Fresno, California. The Drought Monitor recognizes five levels of drought intensity: D0 is the lowest, categorized as “abnormally dry,” and D4 is the highest, categorized as “exceptional drought.” Based on the data, Fresno has had D4 conditions on over 75 percent of its land since the beginning of the year, and the entire city has been in an “extreme drought,” the second highest category, for all of 2014, so far.
9) Visalia, California. Like Fresno, Visalia is a leading agricultural region of California that grows specialty crops like fruits, nuts and vegetables. But the county in which it is located, Tulare, was forced to declare a state of emergency at the beginning of the year due to extreme drought conditions. The entirety of Tulare County has been in an extreme drought during this time, with 75 percent of it ranking in the exceptional category.
8) Madera, California. Conditions in the Central Valley town of Madera, population 78,000, have been similarly dire, prompting the county to restrict water usage outdoors. With more than 76 percent of its land marked by exceptional drought, conservation measures have had to be put in place to save water for growing grapes, almonds and various other nuts, which are a major component of the local economy.
7) Santa Cruz, California. Known for its “green” approach to living, Santa Cruz has implemented extreme water restrictions that subject residents to fines and other penalties for exceeding established water limits. This is because drought conditions took a dramatic turn for the worst, escalating from just half of the urban area experiencing a severe drought last year to nearly all of it experiencing an extreme drought this year.
6) Merced, California. Already an extremely dry area, Merced has been hit hard by the drought, clocking in at a measly one inch of rain during the entire year of 2013. Lake McClure, where much of the local water is drawn, has sunk so low that the local water district is having to relocate boats docked there — more than 78 percent of the area is experiencing exceptional drought conditions.
5) Santa Maria, California. For the first time ever, Santa Maria achieved exceptional drought conditions back in February. The area does, however, have better-than-average groundwater supplies.
4) Gilroy-Morgan Hill, California. Oddly enough, this area of Santa Clara County had not been recorded as being in either extreme or exceptional drought conditions at any point during 2013. But this year, nearly 80 percent of Morgan Hill is now at the highest level of drought, with a high risk of wildfires.
3) Salinas, California. The so-called “Salad Bowl of the World,” Salinas is now more than 85 percent engulfed in exceptional drought. This does not bode well for the nation’s food supply, as 70 percent of lettuce comes from Salinas.
2) Hanford, California. Another heavy agricultural area, Hanford saw a dramatic escalation of its drought conditions since the beginning of the year. Local farm workers are having a hard time staying employed because of drought-induced crop failures — more than 85 percent of the area is experiencing exceptional drought conditions.
1) Bakersfield, California. The U.S. city with the worst drought conditions overall, Bakersfield went from having no areas of exceptional drought last year to an astounding 90 percent this year. And yet, despite facing the biggest water shortages of all, Bakersfield has implemented no water restrictions whatsoever on its roughly half-a-million residents.

Anastasia Pantsios|August 14, 2014

Red Tide in the Gulf

A patchy bloom of Karenia brevis, the Florida red tide organism, has been detected this month in the northeast Gulf of Mexico offshore between Dixie and northern Pinellas counties.  In other regions sampled this week along the Florida Gulf coast, only three samples contained background concentrations of K. brevis.  No respiratory irritation or fish kills associated with this bloom have been observed alongshore or inshore of the west coast of Florida.  Additional samples analyzed throughout Florida this week did not contain red tide.

Satellite images from the Optical Oceanography Laboratory at the University of South Florida show a surface bloom extending between Dixie and northern Pinellas counties, but preliminary data collected this week during an offshore research cruise on the Florida Institute of Oceanography’s R/V Bellows between Levy and Pinellas counties revealed mixed algae blooms often dominated by non-toxic species in surface waters. Low to medium concentrations of K. brevis were found at several locations within this region, mostly in deeper waters. Data from samples collected this week will be available in reports next week, as FWC researchers returned from the cruise earlier today with water samples.

Fish kills and low oxygen in bottom waters have been observed in the offshore bloom area.

Forecasts by the Collaboration for Prediction of Red Tides show slow north movement of surface waters and little movement of bottom waters near the bloom patches in the next few days.

Please follow this link to the current statewide interactive Google Earth map:

The FWRI HAB group in conjunction with Mote Marine Laboratory now have a facebook page.  Please come like our page and learn interesting facts concerning red tide and other harmful algal blooms in Florida at:  http://facebook.com/FLHABs.

Tables and maps of sample results are attached. This information will be available shortly on our Web site: (http://myfwc.com/research/redtide/events/status/statewide/).

What Toledo’s Water Crisis Reveals About Industrial Farming

As you may have heard, about half a million people in the Toledo, Ohio area lost their municipal drinking water supply on Saturday because of possible microbial toxin contamination from Lake Erie. A combination of heavier spring rains, exacerbated by climate change, and runoff of phosphorus from fertilizer applied to crops is the likely cause. The good news is that farmers can adopt better practices to eliminate this problem. The bad news is that the agriculture industry, and the public policies that it lobbies for, work against these solutions.

A toxic microbe, or cyanobacteria (a.k.a. blue-green algae), has been causing big water problems in Lake Erie and other bodies of water around the country for the last several years. Scientific research pointed to the combination of agricultural and climate change as the cause of the historic 2011 toxic Lake Erie microbe “bloom” and subsequent dead zone. And research shows that farm pollution, which feeds the explosion of toxic microbe growth, especially from phosphorus fertilizer, has been increasing since the 1990s. Now, new research published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research has further solidified the connection between industrial ag, climate change, and an explosion of toxic algae.

While the most dramatic news this week is the city of Toledo’s move to shut down public water sources, there are other important impacts such as harm to commercial and sports fishing and recreation at the lake. After the microbes die, other bacteria consume them, using up much of the oxygen in large parts of the lake in the process. The resulting dead zones kill fish and other lake life, and harm fisheries. The toxins close down beaches, and the foul odors and bacterial slime often discourage beachgoers even in places where they remain open.

On Monday, several news sources reported that Toledo residents could once again drink from their taps, but the algae bloom continues. And the recent research cited above suggests that even if phosphorus levels were reduced enough to limit blooms, further reductions would still be needed to bring the dead zone in Lake Erie back to pre-1990s levels.

Dead zones like these are not unique to Lake Erie. Water pollution from phosphorus is harming Lake Winnipeg and many reservoirs. There are also about 400 global marine coastal dead zones, caused mainly by nitrogen fertilizer, including one in the Gulf of Mexico that is measuring the size of Connecticut this year and another large one in the Chesapeake Bay.

Yes, we can purify the water, but it costs millions of dollars and does nothing to help the lake itself. For that we need to get to the source.

Industrial Agriculture: Providing Band-Aids for Hemorrhages

Ironically, these toxic microbes are growing thanks to an agricultural practice that is widely touted as an improvement in the sustainability of industrial agriculture—conservation tillage and no-till farming. As their names imply, these are approaches to farming that require farmers not to plow the soil with tractors, but rather to leave it in place and kill weeds in other ways. They are often practiced in concert with the use of herbicides and genetically engineered seeds.

Genetic engineering is sometimes given credit for the adoption of no-till, but the practice actually started to become widely adopted years before genetically engineered (commonly known as GMO) crops were commercialized. Nonetheless, engineered herbicide-resistant crops made conservation tillage easier in many areas (until the advent of glyphosate herbicide resistant weeds, that is). So the tarnishing of no-till also diminishes one of the main purported benefits of GMO crops.

No-till usually reduces soil erosion, which is a very good thing. Many farmers and scientists also believed that it would reduce phosphorus pollution because that nutrient binds tightly to soil. So reduced erosion should also reduce the amount of soil washed into streams carrying bound phosphorus. Unfortunately, when phosphorus fertilizer is not plowed into the soil, it builds up at the surface, and from there it can be more easily washed off soil into streams and lakes. This is because this form of phosphorus, called dissolved reactive phosphorus, is not bound to soil. It is also more easily utilized by the toxic microbes in lakes and waterways.

What About Factory Animal Farms?

Industrial corn and soybean production are clearly linked to the problems in Lake Erie via fertilizers. But factory farming of livestock is also suspect. Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have a manure problem. Because so many animals are confined in such as small area, they often produce far more manure than can be applied to the surrounding farmlands without causing runoff. That means more nitrogen and phosphorus gets into streams.

When livestock farms were smaller, and more dispersed geographically, manure could be used to fertilize nearby crop fields in a balanced way, but today CAFOs are large and often located near one another. And it is simply too expensive to transport manure far enough to spread onto fields in amounts that won’t end up in streams or groundwater.

Although the role of CAFOs in the Lake Erie microbial blooms has not been quantified, Ohio has many CAFOs. And the overlap between the location of most Ohio CAFOs and the Maumee River watershed, the source of most of the phosphorus that causes the blooms, is striking.

Here are the maps side-by-side:cafos_ohio_water_maps

What Now?

We have the solutions to these problems. Agroecology, or farming that uses principles of ecology and includes organic, relies on organic sources of crop nutrients, and integrates livestock and crop production in ways that are much less likely to cause phosphorus or nitrogen pollution. It is possible to use too much manure on organic farms too. But the integration of crops and livestock works against pressure to overuse manure on too few acres, as with CAFOs. Organic farms also often rely on cover crops, which literally cover otherwise bare soil and absorb excess nutrients through their roots and can also make a big difference.

Collectively, these methods have been shown to greatly reduce nitrogen pollution. And preliminary data shows reduction in phosphorus runoff as well. We need more research to examine this further, and to learn how farmers can efficiently use these methods. We also need farm policies that reward farmers for adopting methods with multiple benefits for the environment, society, and public health instead of continuing to subsidize corn and soybean overproduction and pollution. Agroecology-based farming methods not only reduce water pollution, they reduce or eliminate pesticide use, and can reduce global warming emissions. And they have been shown to be profitable and highly productive.

The lesson from Lake Erie is that piecemeal fixes like no-till, though they have some important benefits, will not fix a system that is fundamentally broken. We need systematic change, not band-aids.

Addendum: The new paper on the sources of phosphorus pollution in Lake Erie, points to manure as an important source of phosphorus in the eastern part of the Lake, rather than the Maumee River basin in the western part of Lake Erie (Figure 13). The Maumee River Basin phosphorus is predominantly from agriculture sources, as noted in the blog post, but according to the paper, mainly from fertilizer (the post does note that fertilizer is the overall main source of agricultural phosphorus pollution). This does not affect the main points in the blog that agriculture, and no-till combined with heavier precipitation, are major sources of increased phosphorus entering the Lake since the 1990s. But it does strongly suggest that the correlation between CAFOs and the Maumee River basin is just that—a correlation and not a cause.

Doug Gurian-Sherman|August 5, 2014

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Life Discovered In Antarctic Lake That Hasn’t Seen Sunlight For Millions Of Years

Antarctica, the coldest place on Earth, teems with microscopic life. Tiny organisms dwell on the ice and live inside glaciers, and now, researchers confirm, a rich microbial ecosystem persists underneath the thick ice sheet, where no sunlight has been felt for millions of years.

Nearly 4,000 species of microbes inhabit Lake Whillans, which lies beneath 2,625 feet (800 meters) of ice in West Antarctica, researchers report today (Aug. 20) in the journal Nature. These are the first organisms ever retrieved from a subglacial Antarctic lake.

“We found not just that things are alive, but that there’s an active ecosystem,” said lead study author Brent Christner, a microbiologist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. “If you had to think up what would be the coolest scenario for an ecosystem in Antarctica, you couldn’t make this up.” [See Photos of Lake Whillans' Drilling Project & Microbial Life]

Cold, dark and alive

Antarctica has nearly 400 lakes trapped under its ice sheet. Some of them — like Lake Whillans — are connected by rivers and streams. Others are deep, isolated basins like Lake Vostok, where drillers have yet to successfully recover uncontaminated water samples. The new Lake Whillans discovery raises scientists’ hopes that these other hidden waterways also carry life.

“This is a landmark paper for the polar sciences,” said Martyn Tranter, a glaciologist at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the study. “This paper is bound to stimulate further calls for subglacial lake research.”

Drillers broke through to Lake Whillans in January 2013, after years of planning and more than $10 million spent by the National Science Foundation. The team, called WISSARD, used a custom hot-water drill with its own decontamination system. Within a day of pulling out the tea-colored water, tests done in a temporary lab confirmed the lake sparked with life. Researchers returned to the United States with 8 gallons (30 liters) of lake water and eight sediment cores from the lake bottom. Scientists at Montana State University, the University of Tennessee and other institutions parsed out the precious samples, growing cultures of different cell types and sequencing the DNA. The results show evidence for 3,931 species of single-celled life in Lake Whillans. [Video: Life Discovered in Subglacial Lake Whillans]

“We were surprised about the number of organisms,” Christner said. “It’s really not that different than the number of organisms in a lake on the surface.”

antarctic lake microbesBacteria cultured from water samples from subglacial Lake Whillans.

How life persists

Living without sunlight, all of the lake organisms rely on minerals in the water and lake muck for the energy needed to “fix” carbon dioxide, turning it into organic compounds. The most abundant microbe is an archaea that lives in the water (rather than mud) and oxidizes ammonium. When the archaea die, they become food for another group that oxidizes sulfur for energy, Christner said. The second most common group of microbes oxidizes iron. Yet another group of bacteria chomps on methane.

“These are opportunists that are using every available energy source,” Christner said.

Crushed under ice, Lake Whillans is not like a pond or lake at the surface. The environment is more like the deep ocean floor, which is cold and starved for nutrients, Christner said. The water’s muddy color comes from glacial flour — pulverized rock that is so fine it barely settles in liquid.

The oddly shaped pool is only 6.5 feet (2 m) deep and 23 square miles (60 square kilometers) in size. It sits on the side of a hill, trapped in an ice pocket by the weight of the ice above. The water temperature is only slightly below freezing, at 31.1 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 0.5 degrees Celsius). Antarctica’s stream network regularly fills and drains Lake Whillans like a bathtub on a five- to 10-year cycle.

The sea flooded Lake Whillans’ home more than once before Antarctica iced over. The lake’s ammonium and methane likely came from decomposing organic matter in these ancient marine sediments, the researchers said.

“This area is like southern Louisiana with a kilometer [half-mile] of ice over it,” Christner said.

antarctic lake microbesU.S. scientists successfully drilled into Lake Whillans, a subglacial expanse of water measuring about 1.2 square miles (3 square kilometers)

and hidden deep beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, they reported on Friday, Jan. 25, 2013.

Life on other planets?

The team would like to track down the origin of Lake Whillans’ life — whether it arrived from elsewhere, brought in by ice or rivers, or was trapped in place, in the old ocean sediments.

Only bacteria and archaea have been found so far, but the researchers have not thoroughly tested for more complex eukaryotic life, the kind of cells that make up animals such as the worms that dwell in Antarctica’s surface lakes. However, they did not expect to encounter such organisms, because the subglacial lake is energy-starved.

“It’s likely that different types of microbes inhabit different types subglacial lakes closer to the center of Antarctica, particularly those that are away from the former marine sediments that underlie big areas of Antarctica,” Tranter said.

The findings at Lake Whillans also provide a unique glimpse into how life may survive on other planets, such as within Mars’ ice cap or beneath the icy exterior of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

“I think this does strengthen the case for finding life on icy bodies,” Christner said.

Becky Oskin|LiveScience|08/21/2014

A Massive Acid Spill in Mexico Has Turned The Sonora and Bacanuchi Rivers Red and Toxic

A leak near the U.S. border leaves 20,000 people without water.

More than 10 million gallons of sulfuric acid from one of the world’s largest copper mines spilled into two major rivers—the Sonora and the Bacanuchi—in northern Mexico earlier this month, cutting the water supply of 20,000 people and closing 88 schools. Some locals even fear eating food.

“If [a cow is killed], we don’t know if we can eat it,” housekeeper and farm laborer Ramona Yesenia told AFP. “They say if the [cattle] drink just a little water [from the rivers], they get infected.”

Civil defense official Carlos Arias told The Associated Press that the spill in Sonora, Mexico, on Aug. 7 was caused by defects in new ponds that hold the acids used to filter metal. Residents discovered the reddened water, usually clear this time of year, the next day. Grupo Mexico, which operates the Buenavista copper mine, hadn’t told authorities.

Mine operators alerted the attorney general for environmental protection almost a full day after the leak, which was within the 24-hour filing requirement, according to Arturo Rodriguez, the agency’s head of industrial inspection. He said that careless supervision, rains, and construction errors seem to have resulted in the spill—noting that operators should have discovered the leak before a huge amount of sulfuric acid flowed into the rivers. Arias said the overflow has above-normal levels of arsenic and other pollutants.

Local Jesus Sabori told AFP that the water has become “more and more red every day…. It was only [Aug. 11] that they told us to keep our animals away.”

“We’re angry because they didn’t take the time to tell us either that the spill had happened or that they were cutting off our water,” said resident Israel Duran.

AFP reported that the mine’s executives blame “abnormal rains” for causing the acid to spill over from its tanks. They also claim to have notified the government by email, insisting that the acid is “not toxic in itself.”

Grupo Mexico’s international relations vice president, Juan Rebolledo, told a local radio station, “There’s no problem nor any serious consequence for the population, as long as we take adequate precautions and the company pours lime into the river, as it is currently doing.”

Lime, or calcium, will deacidify the Sonora and Bacanuchi rivers. “What you can’t get rid of are the heavy metals,” said Arias.

So far no serious injuries have been reported, but according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, short-term exposure to sulfuric acid may irritate the eyes, nose, and throat. Direct contact with skin and eyes will cause severe burns, and inhaling the vapor may result in tooth erosion, sore mouth, and trouble with breathing. Arsenic can cause cancer.

The Buenavista mine, which employs 9,000 people, hasn’t announced any plans to cancel or delay an upcoming expansion. By 2016, its output is expected to increase from 200,000 tons of copper to 510,000 tons.

Duran told AFP, “Even if [the mine] creates jobs, it would be better if they close it if they’re going to behave like this every time something happens.”

 Kristina Bravo|Assistant Editor|Take Part|August 24, 2014

Most Endangered’ River in the Nation

The organization American Rivers has distinguished the San Joaquin River of California with the dubious title of “most endangered” river in the nation. Since 2009 the stream has been celebrated as a path-breaking example of restoration—status that could now be threatened.

This artery of California’s Central Valley and important supplier of water to southern California begins in high Sierra wonderlands south of Yosemite National Park and in the breathtaking Evolution Valley of Kings Canyon National Park. Below the stunning park-protected headwaters and wilderness areas, the river and its tributaries are dammed 30 times. The San Joaquin is repeatedly impounded for hydropower as it plunges toward grassy foothills, diverted for irrigation in the Central Valley, finally ending in the Delta as a conduit of agricultural runoff and the second-longest river system in California.

The San Joaquin can claim to be the hardest working river in America; not only did diversions completely dry up a 63-mile middle reach for fifty years, but then the lower river’s polluted return-flows are pumped back upstream to be used yet again. The Water Education Foundation called this the “most impaired major river in the state.” A legendary migration of half a million salmon—nourishing Indians, sport anglers, wildlife and a robust commercial fishery at sea—was reduced from one of the most prolific anadromous runs in America to virtually nothing. But in 1988, the river’s prospects began to change.

When the federal Bureau of Reclamation acted to extend the San Joaquin’s overdrawn plight by rubber-stamping another 40-year extension of irrigation supply contracts, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other conservation groups appealed, and prevailed in court. With hard-earned consensus of all major parties in 2006, a legal agreement set new rules, contracts and appropriations to serve irrigation needs but also to re-nourish nominal flows in the desiccated reaches, to upgrade water quality, and to restore self-sustaining runs of salmon. With great fanfare, initial flows freshening the San Joaquin’s long-parched mid-section bubbled northward in 2009. Salmon—eager to return home for spawning even after the species’ half-century of absence—migrated upriver once again in 2012 and 2013. Restoration flows were recaptured downstream for farmers. Fishing derbies, salmon festivals and summer camps sprang to life in communities along the way as the newly formulated San Joaquin gained stature as America’s preeminent river to be reborn.

A panic-stricken response to the drought could put these gains in jeopardy. Earlier this year a bill passed the House of Representatives to undercut the San Joaquin’s negotiated settlement of two decades in the making. The Senate will not likely approve this edict, but the future of the restored lifeline remains vulnerable and depends on continuing support for the fish and wildlife gains of recent years.

Architects of the restoration accord anticipated the stress of this year’s drought, and specified that flows would not be released to the dewatered section in years of lowest runoff, such as 2014. Restoration biologists have trapped the progeny of 360 adult salmon that made it up the river to spawn this year and trucked them around the dried-up reach—a backup plan recognizing that compromises are necessary. Even this year, at the height of California’s worst drought, the restoration program is working. People from all sides have negotiated a truce that’s effective and promising.

If there’s hope that a nugget of California’s original wealth can be restored while sustaining modern day demands, that hope lies along the San Joaquin. The restoration started here is a promising historic achievement with a legacy that belongs to everyone. It should not be sacrificed to the cynical belief that a river is wasted if it serves some small remnant of native life, which once thrived to the benefit of all.

Tim Palmer|August 25, 2014

Offshore & Ocean

Oil from BP spill pushed onto shelf off Tampa Bay by underwater currents, study finds

The thick globs of BP oil that washed ashore on beaches along Florida’s Panhandle in 2010 never reached Tampa Bay, to the relief of hotel owners, restaurateurs, anglers, beachgoers and local officials.

But oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill, floating beneath the surface after being sprayed with dispersant, settled on a shelf 80 miles from the Tampa Bay region within a year of the spill’s end, according to a scientific study published this week.

There is some evidence it may have caused lesions in fish caught in that area, according to John Paul, the University of South Florida oceanography professor who is lead author on the study, published in Environmental Science & Technology. However, research is continuing on that question.

Tests of the samples from those areas on bacteria and other microscopic creatures normally found in that part of the gulf found that “organisms in contact with these waters might experience DNA damage that could lead to mutation,” the study reported.

The oil that landed on the shelf, which extends miles into the gulf, is likely to stay there a long time, Paul said.

“Once it’s in the sediment, it’s kind of immobile,” he said.

BP spokesman Jason Ryan said scientists working for the company, as well as various government agencies, had “conducted extensive sampling to identify, track and map oil in the water column over time,” and found no signs of BP oil on the shelf near the Tampa Bay area.

But Paul said the researchers looked for signs of the Deepwater Horizon spill on the shelf based on observations by a colleague, USF oceanographer Bob Weisberg.

Weisberg found a major upwelling — a swirling current of cool water from deep in the gulf — had begun in May 2010 and continued through the rest of that year. The upwelling could have caught hold of the underwater plumes of dispersed oil off the Panhandle and then pushed them southward onto the shelf that lies off the state’s west coast, he said.

“It made its way southeast across the bottom and eventually it gets to the beach,” Weisberg said. “A little bit probably got into Tampa Bay, and a little bit probably got into Sarasota Bay, and it exited the Florida shelf down around the Dry Tortugas.”

When he put forward his theory in 2010, Weisberg called for sampling to be done along the shelf to test whether he was right, but that proposal did not get any funding, he said.

Eventually, though, as part of a series of 12 trips into the gulf for their own research, Paul and his colleagues collected samples along the shelf, as well as closer to the site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster off Louisiana.

They found nothing in 2010, but when they went back in 2011 and 2012, they found what Weisberg had predicted. The oil did not reach the southern end of the shelf until last year. Water samples collected off the shelf were toxic to bacteria, phytoplankton and other small creatures, the report said.

The USF discovery shows that scientists continue to grapple with measuring the full impact of the disaster, which began with a fiery explosion aboard an offshore drilling rig on April 20, 2010.

The disaster held the nation spellbound for months as BP struggled to stop the oil. To try to break up the oil before vast sheets of it washed ashore on the beaches and marshes along the Gulf Coast, the company sprayed the dispersant Corexit directly at the wellhead spewing oil from the bottom of the gulf — even though no one had ever tried spraying it below the water’s surface before. BP also used more of the dispersant than had been used in an oil spill, 1.8 million gallons.

The Corexit broke the oil down into small drops, creating underwater plumes of oil, something no one had ever seen before in an oil spill. The discovery of the plumes raised questions about how they would affect sea life in the gulf.

Yet even before BP managed to shut off the undersea flow July 15, 2010, observers ranging from Time magazine to Rush Limbaugh said damage from the 4.9 million-barrel spill seemed far less severe than predicted. In the three years since, though, scientists have uncovered ongoing damage — deformed crabs, dying dolphins and other woes.

Getting this study published in a peer-reviewed journal was a long process, Paul said.

“Publishing anything about the oil spill is inherently more difficult than anything else because it’s so contentious,” he said.

BP agreed last year to pay $4 billion to settle criminal charges, including manslaughter, in connection the disaster, and rig owner Transocean settled civil and criminal charges for $1.4 billion.

BP is now locked in a civil court battle with the U.S. Justice Department and hundreds of businesses affected by the spill. If it loses, BP could face damages of $17.5 billion, although company officials have predicted the fines will be less than $5 billion.

Craig Pittman|Staff Writer|Tampa Bay Times|August 20, 2013

Plastics….a Serious Threat to our Oceans, Seas and Waterways

Plastics were invented in the 1800’s but its mass production began in the 1950’s and has since taken off around the globe. While it is possible to recycle most types of plastic, it is estimated that only about 25% of plastics are recycled worldwide.  A great deal of the plastic ends up in our oceans, seas, and waterways.  Research has shown severe impacts on our environment and our economy from this type of pollution.  Marine life such as sea turtles, whales, seabirds and other marine life are eating the plastic and dying. Scientists are looking at long term impacts of pollutants consumed by fish and their potential effects on human health.  It has become such an environmental concern that a little over a decade ago a science of marine debris began the study of garbage in our waters.  A recent study showed the global magnitude of this problem.

The Malaspina expedition of 2010 was a nine month research project to study the effects of global warming on the oceans and the biodiversity of the deep ocean ecosystem. Andres Cozar and his team were to study the small fauna living on the ocean surface. He was reassigned when plastic fragments kept turning up in water samples to assess the level of plastic pollution.  Using that data and the data gathered by four other ships he and his team of researchers completed the first ever global map of ocean trash.

Recently, Cozar’s work was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research team found a worldwide distribution of plastic on the surface of the ocean mostly accumulating in the convergence zones of the five subtropical gyres (an area of anti-cyclonic ocean circulation that sits beneath a region of subtropical high pressure).  Researchers estimated the total amount of floating plastic used in the manufacture of products like bags, food and beverage containers, kitchen utensils and toys, in open ocean between 7,000 and 35,000 tons, a lot less than the 1 million ton figure they had expected.  This included only floating debris and not plastic that may reside beneath the surface or on the ocean floor.  Cozar said,” the plastic is somewhere in the ocean life, in the depths, or broken down into fine particles undetectable by nets.”

There are some ways that individuals can make sure that plastics never reach our oceans.  Among them are recycling and picking up plastic litter, asking for a reusable water bottle, bringing your own reusable bags to the store and pressuring plastic producers to design packaging so that it is fully recyclable.

Preserving our Waters|Start 1|September 2014 Newsletter

‘Widespread methane leakage’ from ocean floor off US coast

A sonar image of a new methane plume is discovered off the US east coast

Researchers say they have found more than 500 bubbling methane vents on the seafloor off the US east coast.

The unexpected discovery indicates there are large volumes of the gas contained in a type of sludgy ice called methane hydrate.

There are concerns that these new seeps could be making a hitherto unnoticed contribution to global warming.

The scientists say there could be about 30,000 of these hidden methane vents worldwide.

Previous surveys along the Atlantic seaboard have shown only three seep areas beyond the edge of the US continental shelf.

The team behind the new findings studied what is termed the continental margin, the region of the ocean floor that stands between the coast and the deep ocean.

In an area between North Carolina and Massachusetts, they have now found at least 570 seeps at varying depths between 50m and 1,700m.

Their findings came as a bit of a surprise.

What is methane hydrate?

  • Methane hydrate is in the form of a 3D ice structure with natural gas locked inside
  • The substance looks like white ice, but it does not behave like it
  • If methane hydrate is either warmed or depressurized, it will break down into water and natural gas
  • The energy content of methane occurring in hydrate form is immense
  • In the Gulf of Mexico, gas hydrate resources have recently been assessed at more than 6,000 trillion cubic feet

methane plume

Source: US Department of Energy

“It is the first time we have seen this level of seepage outside the Arctic that is not associated with features like oil or gas reservoirs or active tectonic margins,” said Prof Adam Skarke from Mississippi State University, who led the study.

The scientists have observed streams of bubbles but they have not yet sampled the gas within them.

However, they believe there is an abundance of circumstantial evidence pointing to methane.

Most of the seeping vents were located around 500m down, which is just the right temperature and pressure to create a sludgy confection of ice and gas called methane hydrate, or clathrate.

The scientists say that the warming of ocean temperatures might be causing these hydrates to send bubbles of gas drifting through the water column.

They do not appear to be reaching the surface.

“The methane is dissolving into the ocean at depths of hundreds of metres and being oxidized to CO2,” said Prof Skarke.

Methane hydrates recovered in the Gulf of Mexico by the US Geological Survey

“But it is important to say we simply don’t have any evidence in this paper to suggest that any carbon coming from these seeps is entering the atmosphere.”

This research, though, does highlight the scale of methane that is under the waters.

Estimates suggest that these undersea sediments are one of the largest reservoirs on Earth, and contains around 10 times more carbon than the atmosphere.

Prof Skarke and his colleagues estimate that worldwide, there may be around 30,000 of the type of seeps they have discovered.

They acknowledge that this is a rough calculation but they believe that it could be significant.

While the vents may not be posing an immediate global warming threat, the sheer number means that our calculations on the potential sources of greenhouse gases may need revising.

The scientists also found abundant life around many of these seeps, but not perhaps as we know it.

The creatures they describe are termed chemosynthetic, meaning they derive energy from chemical reactions and not from the Sun as do photosynthetic organisms.

Others who have collaborated on the search for seeps say these discoveries are important.

“These are significant geochemically, as they and our research teams found perhaps one of the largest seeps yet discovered with very active methane bubbling and large amounts of frozen hydrates,” said Prof Steve Ross, from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

“These seeps are also significant biologically, as we have found unique chemosynthetic communities, huge range extensions and increased biodiversity.”

As to the energy potential of these new seeping sources, Prof Skarke is fairly pessimistic.

“There is no evidence to say that these clathrates are related to conventional gas reservoirs, so there is no evidence to say they are a recoverable resource.”

Matt McGrath|Environment correspondent|BBC News|24 August 2014

The research has been published in the journal “Nature Geoscience”.

Jamaican coral reefs get a helping hand

Jamaica may be known for its sun and sea, but under the waves the country is battling to rebuild its coral reefs. Manmade reefs have begun to see success after the island’s corals were decimated by disease and pollution.

The warm waters of the Caribbean Sea were once rich in biodiversity – they teemed with marine life, and many holidaymakers who go there still expect to see the soft corals, mollusks and fish they’ve seen on other reef dives.

But beneath the waves off the coast of Jamaica, there’s not much see. Only eight per cent of Jamaica’s coral reef is still alive, and many of the fish that once thrived there have disappeared.

For an island trying to reduce its dependence on food imports, that’s not an ideal situation. Fish is an important part of the local diet, and its disappearance from the ecosystem has changed nature’s balance – which has not only implications for fishing, but also tourism.

Like rainforests, coral can transform a nutrient-poor environment into a biodiverse wonderland

Some three decades ago, two types of coral were prominent across the Caribbean: But in 1980, Hurricane Allen – the worst storm to hit Jamaica in the past 100 years – smashed the reefs to smithereens. Everyone expected the corals to recover, but the storm ended up decimating the ecosystem.

Coral are the building blocks for marine life; it’s a habitat for herbivorous species like adult Parrot Fish who use it as somewhere to sleep, to provide protection and as a nursery.

But overfishing of algae-eating fish, and a mystery disease which wiped out the sea urchins that also grazed on the algae.

Coral and algae are in constant competition, and without these two grazers, there was nothing left to slow algae growth, which smothered most of the coral.

But there is some hope. Marine biologist Andrew Ross runs Seascape Caribbean, a firm helping to re-grow the island’s reefs bit by bit. He’s created an artificial reef made of metal, which has proven to be successful. Over the past nine months, it’s slowly become covered with coral.

He and his team do the work that algae-grazing species used to take care of. “Until the coral gets established, you have to pick it off by hand – there’s not enough fish on the structure to keep it going,” Ross told DW.

SeascapeCaribbean locates areas where the reef is recovering naturally. “We take very small samples from each of those corals, and we put them into a nursery and we grow them,” Ross said.

It takes from six to 12 months for the coral fragments to grow 10 times in size. At this size they’re then used to repopulate existing nurseries and start new nurseries. Any leftover coral is replanted onto the reef.

As the artificial reef grows, so does the fish population that feeds on the worms, snails and algae on the coral. But until then, if Ross and his team didn’t remove the algae by hand, the coral would die.

Snorkeling, free-diving and scuba diving are all thriving tourism activities where oceans offer coral

Since Jamaica is one of the most indebted nations on the planet, funding for Seascape comes from the private sector.

The local hotels understand how coral gardens help attract holidaymakers – by donating money to the coral projects, they are securing a future for their own businesses.

Caribsave, an environmental organization, is trying to work with the country’s 32,000 fishermen and women to help the islands’ reefs. Caribsave coordinator Michelle McNaught said the private sector has a vital role to play in educating the wider community.

Government funding, she said, “has to be prioritized with other things like education or justice – which is understandable. So private partnership is the way to go now,” McNaught told DW.

Globally, 75 percent of coral reefs are under threat from overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and acidification of the seas due to climate change. Peter Gayle from the University of the West Indies explained how a changing ocean PH level dissolves calcium carbonate, which makes up coral structures.

“It becomes less dense and is more susceptible to things like wave energies, and has a smaller chance to protect coastal areas from sea level change,” Gayle described. This can even become a vicious cycle, as more reefs die and become ever more susceptible to destruction.

Dayne Buddo, a lecturer at the UWI Marine Lab in Jamaica, said that despite the threats to coral reefs, things are thankfully improving.

“It’s not all doom and gloom, there are areas in Jamaica where I still enjoy diving, there’s a lot of coral and the fish are coming back – but it takes time,” Buddo said.

Often referred to as the rainforest of the seas, coral reefs are among the most diverse ecosystems in the world. One that Jamaica depends on so much for food, income and leisure – and with help, one that will recover and benefit the country in the process.

Author|Nick Davis|Negril, Jamaica|Editor|Charlotta Lomas|21.08.2014

Sewage flow to sea to cease — mostly

Broward County‘s practice of spewing treated wastewater into the ocean off Pompano Beach will diminish in coming years.

But the county no longer is required to cut off the flow completely in 2025.

Commissioners agreed at a recent budget workshop to devote $100 million to reducing the flow. Last year’s legislative changes relaxed requirements, allowing up to 5 percent of the wastewater flow to be dumped in the ocean after 2025.

The law also requires significant reuse of wastewater.

Broward’s ocean outfall is one of a few in South Florida.

Total savings to the county from the 2013 state legislative amendments: $455 million.

Brittany Wallman|Sun Sentinel|August 25, 2014

Our changing sea world

Global teams study effects of acidification, pH levels on coral

Mote Marine Lab on Summerland Key is working this month with an international team of coral ecologists researching the causes and effects of a major threat to corals throughout the world — ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification occurs with the lowering of oceanic pH levels due to increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Larger amounts of carbon dioxide in the air are making the world’s oceans more acidic, and in turn, reducing the amount of calcium and carbonate in the oceans. Corals need both to form their hard skeletons.

Coral ecologists with Mote and the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat, Israel, have partnered to test the effects of ocean acidification and rising sea temperature. The researchers gathered for two weeks at Mote’s Summerland Keys lab to further their research.

The ecologists focused on two species of coral found in the Florida Keys — Porites porites, commonly called finger coral, and Porites astreoides, commonly referred to as mustard hill coral.

Mote’s lab looked like a mini-disco tech as the two species of coral were exposed to bright red, blue and purple LED lights, mimicking differing scenarios of sunlight. The ecologists also altered the pH levels and temperatures in the water to create different environmental conditions that corals in the wild could be exposed to in the future if pH levels and temperatures continue to rise.

The researchers are also looking at the corals on a microbial level and researching several other physiological parameters of coral to see how ocean acidification is impacting them.

“We are looking at this at so many levels,” said Maoz Fine, a coral ecologist and expert in the field of ocean acidification at the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences. “That’s how we will understand how this system will respond to changing environmental conditions.”

The research could help Mote and other ocean conservation groups determine what species and genotypes of coral fare better against ocean acidification and other stresses. This would give them guidance on what types of coral to rear in the coral nurseries and replant back on the reef, said Emily Hall, a coral ecologist with Mote working on the ocean acidification study.

Mote, The Nature Conservation and the Coral Restoration Foundation have a half-dozen coral nurseries throughout the Keys, where they rear coral that is later planted on the reef or used for research purposes.

“This could allow Mote and others to focus its restoration efforts,” Hall said. “We can see what different species and genotypes do better or worse.”

Mote researchers plan to do similar work with Fine on Red Sea corals in December, Hall said.

“This partnership (with Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences) has allowed us to not only look at this with a global perspective, but also see how each of these reefs is responding to these changes,” Hall said.

TIMOTHY O’HARA|Citizen Staff|keysnews.com

Efforts to Restore Coral Habitats Stink – Literally

If, while looking for a new apartment, you happened upon a pungent neighborhood, you’d look for a home in another area, right? Well, fish and coral are no different. New research from the Georgia Institute of Technology shows that damaged reefs emit an unpleasant odor that fish and coral can smell; this scent subsequently drives the creatures to try to settle somewhere else.

Evolutionarily speaking, the odor has probably usually been a good thing. It keeps coral and fish from settling in unsafe environments. Alas, with the fishing industry and other human interference destroying so many reefs, having this scent drive away sealife from most areas is probably a detriment at this point.

This study likely explains why areas that marine biologists designate in the hopes of having a coral reef “recovery” aren’t especially successful. Evidently, fish can still sense that something smells fishy… I mean suspect, and flee the area. With the stench of “failed habitat” lingering, scientist intervention might not be enough to revive a degrading reef.

Coral reefs are a delicate ecosystem. Seaweed generally prevents coral from growing, which is why it’s great to have seaweed-eating fish frequent coral reefs. When the fish are not around to keep the amount of seaweed limited, old corals die out and new corals look elsewhere for a home. This seaweed, it turns out, also lets off a stinky scent, giving fish and coral yet another odorous reason to stay away from declining reefs.

One of the more discouraging findings of the study is that even coral larvae smell and make living choices based on the water’s scents. With studies showing that baby coral avoided the smelly water five times more than it went to it, that means that coral avoid this type of water even more than it does algae, which is toxic to coral. Obviously, that suggests that reviving old coral reefs will be a tricky task.

Fish are even pickier about the scent, apparently. Scientists looked at 15 different species of fish and found that each one greatly preferred taking up residence in less stinky water, sometimes by as much time as eight times more than they did in the smelly former reefs.

Fortunately, scientists won’t give up on trying to bring back dying reefs, they’ll just likely alter their tactics in light of this information. At the present, some experts believe the best tactic will be to clear certain parts of the ocean floor of seaweed and dead coral altogether in the hopes of preventing the water from being foul-smelling. With any luck, this will be just the adjustment necessary to achieve more success in restoring coral reefs.

Kevin Mathews|August 25, 2014

New Tool Can Measure How Sound Effects Marine Life

There are pros and cons to being land-dwelling creatures. A con is that we can’t really float around in the air like we can in water, so that’s kind of a bummer. A pro is that on land there is a significantly reduced chance of drowning, which is kind of awesome. I guess we probably evolved for the best.

However, for this land-lubber, spending so much time above sea level makes the ocean one big, blue mystery. What goes on under the surface? Who lives there? Mermaids? I have no idea. Sometimes, even though I know intellectually that the ocean is teeming with life, it’s easy to just view the wide expanse of water as…nothing. Anything we do out there doesn’t count. It’s the ocean. It’s not like we have an effect on anything.

Of course, we do have an effect. Pollution is obviously a big problem, so big in fact that it’s drawn the attention of the United Nations. But it’s not just trash that can muck up the oceans. Noise can, as well.

It’s weird to think of something as unavoidable as sound as having a negative impact on the natural world, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that it does, at least to some extent. Some birds go out of their way to nest in quieter locations. Plants are effected as well, but it’s not universally harmful. Of special concern are marine animals because of the reliance on sonar due to lack of light. As humans continue to expand our reach by developing off-shore, monitoring how our noise is impacting life below the surface is especially important.

A new tool developed by scientists at the University of St Andrews and SMRU Marine could help us monitor the situation. Called the Interim PCOD (Population Consequences of Disturbance) Model, it will help scientists predict how offshore development will affect five species: bottlenose dolphins, harbor porpoise, minke whale and harbor and grey seals. It was designed specifically to monitor marine animals off the coast of the United Kingdom and is being made available for free.

The ability to predict the impact of offshore development is becoming more and more important as offshore energy developments gain speed. According to the National Resources Defense Council, there are 53 offshore energy project in 10 European countries with nine more under construction. The UK hosts the largest offshore wind farm in the world with 100 turbines.

It’s important to remember that, just because something is better for the environment, like renewable energy, doesn’t mean it’s without its costs. If we’ve learned anything from the past century of economic development, it should be that our actions have consequences. As they say, the road to hell was paved with good intentions. We need to remain vigilant when developing new technologies so we can make sure not to do any more damage to fragile ecosystems.

Even though this tool has some predictive powers, it’s not operating off complete information. We actually know surprisingly little about how noise effects marine mammal behavior or their ability to survive. Developers did what they could to close the gaps in their knowledge, but a lot more study is needed to really come to grips with how the noise we make effects our water-dwelling friends.

Mindy Townsend|August 28, 2014

Wildlife and Habitat

Killing Alligators in a Wildlife Refuge?

Alligators are fierce and terrifying carnivores. They’re also fascinating animals that have been around since prehistoric times, playing a distinct and important role in the swampy ecosystems where they live.

Wildlife supporters and biologists want to keep alligators protected, which they have been as long as they’ve been on national wildlife refuges. But recently, the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge became the first refuge in the national system to allow recreational alligator hunting. Hunters are celebrating, but animal lovers are up in arms.

In fact, a Care2 member has started a petition drive to pressure the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages our federal refuges, to stop the alligator hunt.

Objections to the hunt focus primarily on the cruelty of it. Hunters can stalk the gators from the safety of boats and armed with something called a “bangstick.” That’s a pole that shoots a shotgun pellet or bullet into the animal’s brain. Though the shot might immobilize the creature, it may not kill it instantly, subjecting it to inhumane pain and torture until it dies. Advocates of hunting claim that the alligator population needs to be controlled. Plus, many hunters view the dead animals as trophies, and either stuff them from head to toe, or cut off their head to mount for display.

However, animal welfare supporters note that alligators are an “umbrella” or “keystone” species in the refuge. In other words, they are at the top of the food chain and provide an important biological link, not just in Loxahatchee, but in 150,000 acres of the northern Everglades ecosystem. Plus, thousands of people come to the refuge and the Everglades every year to get a glimpse of these remarkable gators. I’ve been there myself, and I can tell you, it is truly exciting to see an alligator in the wild.

Alligators are already widely hunted outside refuges, not only to make trophies, but also for their skin, which is  turned into leather for purses, shoes, belts, and boots, and meat. The animals are also being negatively affected by climate change as a substantial percentage of the freshwater habitat they depend on becomes increasingly contaminated by salt or brackish water brought on by sea level rise. Warming waters also are starting to affect the ability of alligators to reproduce. Like many other reptiles, the eggs alligators lay are very susceptible to the temperature of the water they’re laid in. As water heats up, the eggs are more likely to turn into males than females, upsetting the balance of nature that could lead to a decline in alligator populations.

Diane MacEachern|August 25, 2014

Forestry

African Farmers Are Creating Forest Gardens and “Planting it Forward”

In arid and degraded areas of Sub Saharan Africa, farmers who were barely able to provide for their families are now creating abundant forest gardens and “planting it forward” as they pass on successful techniques to their neighbors.

Working with agroforestry experts and volunteers from Trees for the Future, an Aid for Africa member organization, farmers in West Africa are turning small unproductive fields into veritable oases of fruits and vegetables.

One plant-it-forward scenario begins with Omar in Senegal. Thirteen years ago, he inherited about two acres (one hectare) of land with a few trees, shrubs and peanut plants. Income from this field was about $200 a year. Working with Trees for the Future, Omar began to add fast-growing trees with deep roots to improve soil quality and thorny acacia trees around the border to keep out grazing animals and harsh winds. Omar then intercropped vegetable plants and fruit trees. Within four years, Omar’s forest garden produced fruits, vegetables and tree products and an income of $1,000 a year.

Determined to spread his knowledge to others, Omar worked with Trees for the Future to provide seed and technical advice to his neighbor Keba, a 52-year-old peanut farmer who was struggling to make a living on land that was depleted from 50 years of peanut farming. Today, Keba’s land, which is surrounded by more than a thousand thorny bushes, produces a variety of crops including hot peppers, jujube berries and cashew nuts. In the past, he was lucky to earn $200 a year. Today, he earns that amount in a month from selling his hot peppers.

Keba too wanted to “plant it forward” and share his knowledge with another local farmer. The result—another thriving sustainable forest garden where there once was a degraded peanut field. Through example and word of mouth, farmers in the region continue to help each other find a better way to feed their families and rise out of poverty.

Trees for the Future has worked with more than 300,000 families throughout Africa and other parts of the world to help them return degraded land to sustainable production. John Leary, Trees for the Future’s executive director, has seen what happens when farmers “plant it forward.”

“In a place where difficulties abound, the worst thing to lose is hope. This farmer-to-farmer relationship of planting it forward brings cooperation, learning, teaching and hope…” he said.

Learn more about Trees for the Future and how they are working with African farmers to plant it forward.

Aid for Africa|August 23, 2014

More Than 90,000 Acres of Critical Tiger Habitat Will Be Logged

With fewer than 1,500 Bengal Tigers left in the wild, these magnificent cats are on the brink of extinction, and now the FDCM are threatening their survival by pushing plans to log some of the only precious natural habitat they have left.

The area due to be cut is so vital to the tigers that it was once earmarked to become a protected wildlife refuge. Care2 reader Mary Elizabeth heard about this alarming news and started a petition to fight back against this appalling decision and to help save the forest from being logged for profit.

Bengal Tiger Numbers Are Plummeting

Less than one hundred years ago, tigers prowled freely and abundantly all across the Indian subcontinent, but exploding human populations, particularly since the 1940s, have played a major role in their decline.

Through a combination of habitat destruction, poaching and human conflict, Bengal Tiger numbers have plummeted immensely in recent years, and at this rate they will be completely extinct in the wild within a few decades.

The Best Hope for Bengal Tigers

The Satpura forests of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra offer sanctuary for India’s remaining wild tigers. Consisting of several Tiger Reserves, all of which are connected by forest corridors, this green oasis is essential to the hope of the Bengal Tiger’s chance of survival.

The rocky and undulating terrain consisting of deep valleys, sandstone peaks and plunging waterfalls is covered in a blanket of thick teak forests which support much of India’s most endangered flora and fauna. It’s not just Bengal Tigers, either, that this paradise helps to protect: Sloth Bears, Indian Giant Squirrels and Crested Serpent Eagles are just some among hundreds of fascinating wildlife that takes refuge in the Satpura forests.

Giving home to many of the last of India’s tigers, The Satpura Landscape Tiger Program works tirelessly to conserve and protect this very important tiger range, but despite their best efforts, plans to log an unforgivable amount of this delicate area are being pushed ahead.

Critical Tiger Habitat Will Be Destroyed

Plans are in place to destroy 96,300 acres of a critically important forest ecosystem in the Indian state of Maharashtra despite the fact that the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) warned of the damage it will have on the endangered Bengal Tiger numbers.

Situated between the Pench and Nagzira tiger reserves, this area of dense forest is crucial for the tigers and their cubs as it allows them to travel from one reserve to another for breeding. If the logging plans were to be put into action, a huge area of forest would be cut and sold so that new bamboo and teak plantations could be grown on the land. Not only would this devastate the wildlife living in this beautiful and delicate ecosystem, it would also put the Bengal Tiger at even more risk.

Earlier this year, the NTCA warned planners of the danger posed to the tiger’s natural habitat, offering alternative solutions and locations for the logging plans, yet this fell on deaf ears. It is another case of commercial profits coming before environmental sustainability, and key decision makers continue to ignore advice from environmental agencies in regards to the importance of this stretch of forest.

Abigail Geer|August 22, 2014

Mangroves planted to protect Semarang’s new Ahmad Yani airport from coastal erosion

Dozens of schoolchildren and hundreds of university students and soldiers helped to protect Ahmad Yani International Airport in Semarang, Central Java, from coastal erosion by planting 10,000 mangroves on Maron Beach on Saturday.

Medicine producer PT Phapros donated the mangroves being planted. “We launched the ‘Go Green’ program by planting mangroves on Maron Beach, Semarang, in 2011. We have so far planted 380,000 mangroves in the area,” Phapros’ president director Iswanto said.
He said the program had been conducted in cooperation with Diponegoro University’s student community KeSEMaT who shared the company’s concern about mangrove preservation.

The planting, according to Iswanto, was also an attempt to educate younger generations to love nature and to develop their support for mangrove conservation.

“We have also conducted research by taking samples of mangrove products to see if they can be further developed for added value,” said Iswanto adding that the alkaloid content in the plant’s fruit and seeds might be able to be developed into a medicinal product.

Studies have revealed that Semarang’s northern coastal area has been experiencing erosion by up to 50 meters annually.

If nothing is done it is feared the erosion will cause problems at Ahmad Yani’s runway, which is located only about a kilometer from the beach.

The research also revealed that some 70 percent of the mangroves along Semarang’s coastline have been damaged due to the ignorance of local people who have cleared mangroves for the wood and converted the areas into fish ponds.

According to satellite data, mangrove forests in Indonesia cover an area of around 3.1 million hectares, the second-biggest in the world after Brazil. This accounts for 22.6 percent of the world’s total mangrove forests.

Separately, commander of the Military Regional Command (Kodam) IV/Diponegoro, Maj. Gen. Sunindyo who joined the planting on Saturday, said that he had commanded all the TNI (Indonesian Military) personnel assigned to coastal regions to plant and preserve mangroves.
“The TNI has fields in coastal regions such as in Cilacap, Pekalongan, Semarang, Kendal and Rembang,” he said.

He hoped that the private sector would participate in and care about the preservation of the environment by planting mangroves.

The cooperation between the private sector, local administrations, the TNI and police, he said, could be conducted like in a war zone, i.e. by establishing sectors.

It was reported earlier that the government planned to build a “floating” passenger terminal on a platform in the sea as part of the expansion project of the airport.

The airport operator PT Angkasa Pura I said that the expansion would allow the airport to accommodate up to 6 to 7 million passengers annually, up from 3.2 million as of the end of 2013.

Suherdjoko|The Jakarta Post|Semarang|Jakarta|August 25 2014

Logging McLaughlin Ridge: Watershed advocates say logging threatens city’s water source

Jane Morden and the Watershed Forest Alliance (WFA) have been fighting against logging at McLaughlin Ridge for close to half a decade now, but with city council’s unanimous decision on Monday night to support their efforts they may be one step closer to a solution.

Sarah Thomas, a volunteer with the WFA, presented the group’s concerns to city council and called on the city to support the WFA’s efforts to pause the logging at McLaughlin Ridge and have a conversation with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations as well as landowners Island Timberlands.

The company owns McLaughlin Ridge and is legally permitted to log the old growth trees located there. The area represents a few hundred hectares of the 250,000 ha that Island Timberlands owns.

According to Thomas, the McLaughlin Ridge old growth lands were identified by the province as areas that should be protected. However by 2004, the lands were removed from the Tree Farm License (TFL) and while promises were made to come to some agreement about how the lands would be protected, this never happened.

McLaughlin Ridge, which is about an hour southeast of Port Alberni, is home to a couple of hundred hectares of old growth Douglas Fir as well as the China Creek Watershed, the city’s main water source. Currently, the watershed meets Island Health’s 4-3-2-1-0 water requirements but the concern is that if the old growth is cut down, that might not be the case anymore.

“It’s important to protect [the China Creek Watershed] because you can always treat water but this costs a lot of money and it’s never as good as the original. We would like to make sure that nothing really bad happens to that water,” said Edna Cox of the Save Our Valley Alliance, a public education group.

“It’s designated a community watershed so we’re asked to stay out of the area and yet logging continues,” said Thomas at city council.

While the city does have other, secondary sources of water in Bainbridge Lake and Lizard Lake, China Creek is the best water source that Port Alberni has due to the filtration that the old growth up McLaughlin Ridge provides.

“The water comes down very, very slowly and it’s really well filtered [by the old growth]. If it comes of a bare slope or washes a lot of silt down then it’s not such high quality water,” said Cox.

If a lot of silt is washed down, the amount of sediments in the water increase, as does the turbidity.

“When there’s turbidity there’s a problem because you can’t even treat the water, it doesn’t help,” Cox said.

The old growth also helps keep the city’s water supply steady throughout the year. With the old growth there, the snowpack up on the ridge melts a little slower.

“The forest acts as a sponge so you don’t have all the water coming down in the spring melt and then no water in the summer.

“We’ve had low water conditions now for over a year; we didn’t have much of a snowpack last year either,” said Jane Armstrong, also from the WFA.

Armstrong is not sure what the future holds for Port Alberni’s water supply, but she thinks that with climate change happening that drought conditions will stick around and that instead of rain throughout the year, the watershed will be filled up by occasional huge downpours.

[“If this happens] the forest is a natural solution for helping to control the flow of water,” Armstrong said.

Clearcutting also has another, more immediate danger; landslides. In 2006, clearcuts in the Beauforts, followed by a large amount of precipitation, were thought to have caused landslides that affected Beaver Creek’s water and brought gravel in debris into people’s homes.

There’s a chance that clearcutting on McLaughlin Ridge could lead to the same.

While Island Timberlands is required to replant trees that they cut down—and states that they typically do so within nine months —the high elevation of McLaughlin Ridge means that it will be generations until those replacement trees are big enough to serve any purpose, says Morden.

“This area is at a higher elevation, we’re talking about a thousand metres up, so it’s not going to grow back at a fast rate. Up there, you can have a 20-year-old tree that’s not anywhere much above your waist, said Morden, “and when the roots start to decompose from the huge [old growth trees,] then your chances of landslides are going to increase.”

In an e-mailed statement, Morgan Kennah, Manager of Sustainable Timberlands and Community Affairs for Island Timberlands, said that they “have and continue to work cooperatively with the city to ensure water quality is maintained in China Creek. In cooperation with the Ministry of Environment, we have installed a continuous water quality monitoring station in the watershed to ensure we meet the applicable water quality objectives.”

However, Cox doesn’t think that this is good enough because while “drinking water is protected [that] protection will take precedence when there’s an imminent threat, when it’s basically too late.”

According to Coun. Cindy Solda, the issue has been brought up at the Association of Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC), the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) and the Alberni-Clayquot Regional District (ACRD) and that a main goal of these government-led bodies is to change the way private land is regulated.

“One main goal is to get private land and Crown to be the same… we want to have more say,” Solda said.

“[Water] is a human right, we really need to have water,” said Coun. Wendy Kerr, “the forest companies have to know that they don’t own that water, they’re only renting the space, nobody owns this planet but we need to start taking care of it now.”

With that, Kerr raised motions to give city council’s support to the WFA and support the organization’s request to pause the logging at McLaughlin Ridge as well as to request a meeting between council, the WFA, Island Timberlands and the provincial forestry ministry.

City council carried the motion to applause from meeting attendees.

Quick facts:

◆ The first cut done at McLaughlin Ridge was four to five years ago, with a large cut occurring in 2011. Jane Morden of Watershed Forest Alliance says 50 per cent of the old growth remains.

◆ Port Alberni gets its water from the China Creek Watershed, located an hour southeast of the city. McLaughlin Ridge is located at the northern edge of the watershed boundary.

◆ There are two water intake sources within the China Creek Watershed: a creek intake off of China Creek at the western edge of the watershed and a lake intake off of Bainbridge Lake, located slightly northwest of the watershed boundary.

◆ The city primarily uses the creek intake due to its marginally higher water quality. However, if anything were to happen to the creek intake water quality, the city could use the lake intake.

Those two water intakes represent the redundancy in the city’s water supply, which means that it is unlikely that the two sources would both be unusable at the same time, city engineer Guy Cicon said.

◆ Port Alberni’s water is treated with chlorine before being stored in reservoirs. The city is currently in phase one of upgrading their water facilities by adding UV disinfection at a cost of $4 million. There is also the possibility of later adding a filtration system at an additional $3 million.

Katya Slepian|Alberni Valley News|Aug 14, 2014

Global Warming and Climate Change

Symposium makes it clear: Action needed to combat rising seas

Recently, a daylong Sea Level Rise Symposium was held at Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach [hosted by The Arthur Marshall Foundation for the Everglades] with various speakers and panels stressing the importance of understanding the threats inherent in this scientifically recognized phenomenon.

Perhaps the proposed figure of sea level rise facing South Florida, that of up to 6 feet by 2100 and the attendant figure of 1 inch of sea level rise equaling the loss of 8 feet of shoreline, will resonate with residents who may be skeptical of its potential impact.

One has only to consider our own compromised shoreline, and the disproportionate proposed cost of fixing it, to realize that the problem will continue to escalate and our sand will only disappear regardless of how many cubic yards are dumped on designated “hot spots.”

Our entire shoreline should be considered vulnerable to sand loss, storm surge, saltwater intrusion into our shallow fresh water aquifer (which is our drinking water supply); and the impacts of stronger and more frequent storms and other weather-related problems. It should be obvious that the increase worldwide in cyclone, tornado and hurricane activity, and our own “1,000 year” storm this past January that resulted in the “drowning” of several private vehicles on the island, are warning signs of catastrophes to come.

Can anyone who has spent the summer here doubt that this is the hottest year on record? Proven global climate change continues unabated with ocean water expanding due to higher world temperatures, melting of glaciers and polar ice, and the root cause of high emissions of greenhouse gasses particularly from the burning of fossil fuels, according to the International Panel on Climate Change, which is made up of 700 scientists from around the world.

The South Florida Regional Climate Action Plan has been supported by the Board of County Commissioners. It is urged that the county’s mayors sign the Mayors Pledge and that the sea level rise data be incorporated into local comprehensive plans. To date, this is not being done relative to Palm Beach’s proposed $17 million plus beach renourishment project.

I urge Mayor [Gail] Coniglio to support the South Florida Mayors Climate Action Pledge and recognize the perils associated with the inevitable problem of sea level rise, especially as it pertains to the vulnerable South Florida shoreline, and before we all become, in the words of one symposium panelist, “sea-level rise refugees.”

Judy Schrafft|Palm Beach Daily News|August 24, 2014

Jet Stream Changes Driving Extreme Weather Linked Again To Global Warming, Arctic Ice Loss

California is suffering through its worst drought on record, while the East Coast sees off-the-charts flooding. Both types of extremes are worsened by global warming as scientists have explained for decades.

20140812_CA_trd

But in recent years you may have noticed a disproportionate increase in record-smashing extreme weather and suspected that’s also linked to global warming. A new study from a team of scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) says you’re right. The PIK release explains:

Weather extremes in the summer — such as the record heat wave in the United States that hit corn farmers and worsened wildfires in 2012 — have reached an exceptional number in the last ten years. Man-made global warming can explain a gradual increase in periods of severe heat, but the observed change in the magnitude and duration of some events is not so easily explained. It has been linked to a recently discovered mechanism: the trapping of giant waves in the atmosphere. A new data analysis now shows that such wave-trapping events are indeed on the rise.

A number of studies in recent years have linked this quantum jump in extreme weather to global warming and the warming-driven loss of Arctic ice (see here and here).

Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences has been at the forefront of this research. She explains her findings in this video.

A key point is that the path of the jet stream “typically has a meandering shape, and these meanders themselves propagate east, at lower speeds than that of the actual wind within the flow. Each large meander, or wave, within the jet stream is known as a Rossby wave.”

This new PIK study offers a specific mechanism for why we’re seeing this quantum leap in extreme weather — some Rossby waves are stalling out for extended periods of time: “the study shows that in periods with extreme weather, some of these waves become virtually stalled and greatly amplified.”

Why is this happening? Here things get a little technical, as befits a study titled, “Quasi-resonant circulation regimes and hemispheric synchronization of extreme weather in boreal summer.” But read on — our emerging understanding of why extreme weather has begun running amok may be one of the most important and consequential scientific findings in recent years:

We show that high-amplitude quasi-stationary Rossby waves, associated with resonance circulation regimes, lead to persistent surface weather conditions and therefore to mid-latitude synchronization of extreme heat and rainfall events. Since the onset of rapid Arctic amplification around 2000, a cluster of resonance circulation regimes is observed involving wave numbers 7 and 8. This has resulted in a statistically significant increase in the frequency of high-amplitude quasi-stationary waves with these wave numbers.

Note that the study doesn’t merely find that stalling Rossby waves lead to an increase in extreme weather events. It also leads to extreme heat events and extreme rainfall events becoming synchronized (as, for instance, has happened just last week).

Here’s what that increase since 2000 looks like:

Resonance

The number of planetary wave resonance events is shown as grey bars for each 4-year interval. While there used to be one or two events in a 4-year period, 2004-2007 saw three such events and 2008-2011 even five events. For comparison the red curve shows the change in Arctic temperature relative to that in the remainder of the Northern Hemisphere. Since 2000, the Arctic has warmed much faster than other latitudes [aka Arctic amplification]. Graph: PIK

Arctic amplification is the accelerated warming that occurs in the Arctic relative to the rest of the globe’s human-driven warming. A key reason it occurs is that as the more reflective snow and ice melt in the Arctic, darker land and ocean are exposed — and they absorb more solar energy. Other elements of Arctic amplification are discussed here.

Resonance regimes are associated with standing waves, which under the right condition can have a very large amplitude. Quasi-resonant means “almost resonant,” as scientist-blogger Greg Laden writes in his detailed explanation of the study, “and resonant means that instead of the meanders meandering around, they sit in one place (almost).”

What is the specific link between stalling Rossby waves and Arctic amplification? The study concludes, “We argue that recent rapid warming in the Arctic and associated changes in the zonal mean zonal wind have created favorable conditions for double jet formation in the extratropics, which promotes the development of resonant flow regimes.”

What’s a double jet stream formation? Wikipedia notes, “Jet streams can split into two due to the formation of an upper-level closed low, that diverts a portion of the jet stream under its base, while the remainder of the jet moves by to its north.” Last year, Popular Mechanics had a good discussion in its article, “How the Dual Jet Stream Sparks This Weird Summer Weather.”

Here is the jet stream from May/June 2012:

jetstream-2012

And here is the double jet stream from May/June 2013, a period of very unusual weather in Europe and the U.S. — “McGrath, Alaska, hit 94 degrees on June 17, four degrees warmer than Miami, which sits 4200 miles closer to the equator.” In the graphic, the two jet-streams are the (small) green band of wind surrounding the Arctic and the (larger) one over the United States.

jetstream-double-0613

We have much more to learn about “Recent Arctic amplification and extreme mid-latitude weather,” as made clear in a recent Nature Geoscience paper (with that title) written by several of the leading researchers in the field, including Francis. But the evidence is mounting that we have entered a new regime of extreme weather thanks to our as-yet unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gas.

Joe Romm|August 19, 2014

[See the Video  “Understanding the Jetstream”]

How does CO2 go from Permafrost into the atmosphere?

The vast reservoir of carbon stored in Arctic permafrost is gradually being converted to carbon dioxide (CO2) after entering the freshwater system in a process thought to be controlled largely by microbial activity.

However, a new study — funded by the National Science Foundation and published this week in the journal Science — concludes that sunlight and not bacteria is the key to triggering the production of CO2 from material released by Arctic soils.

The finding is particularly important, scientists say, because climate change could affect when and how permafrost is thawed, which begins the process of converting the organic carbon into CO2.

“Arctic permafrost contains about half of all the organic carbon trapped in soil on the entire Earth — and equals an amount twice of that in the atmosphere,”� said Byron Crump, an Oregon State University microbial ecologist and co-author on the Science study. “This represents a major change in thinking about how the carbon cycle works in the Arctic.”�

Converting soil carbon to carbon dioxide is a two-step process, notes Rose Cory, an assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Michigan, and lead author on the study. First, the permafrost soil has to thaw and then bacteria must turn the carbon into greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide or methane. While much of this conversion process takes place in the soil, a large amount of carbon is washed out of the soils and into rivers and lakes, she said.

“It turns out, that in Arctic rivers and lakes, sunlight is faster than bacteria at turning organic carbon into CO2,” Cory said. “This new understanding is really critical because if we want to get the right answer about how the warming Arctic may feedback to influence the rest of the world, we have to understand the controls on carbon cycling.”

“In other words, if we only consider what the bacteria are doing, we’ll get the wrong answer about how much CO2 may eventually be released from Arctic soils,” Cory added.

The research team measured the speed at which both bacteria and sunlight converted dissolved organic carbon into carbon dioxide in all types of rivers and lakes in the Alaskan Arctic, from glacial-fed rivers draining the Brooks Range to tannin-stained lakes on the coastal plain. Measuring these processes is important, the scientists noted, because bacteria types and activities are variable and the amount of sunlight that reaches the carbon sources can differ by body of water.

In virtually all of the freshwater systems they measured, however, sunlight was always faster than bacteria at converting the organic carbon into CO2.

Oregon State University|August 21, 2014

Read more at Oregon State University.

Earthquake, Drought and Wildfires Ravage California

 We probably can’t blame the earthquake that hit California’s Napa Valley this weekend on climate change. But it’s one more thing that the beleaguered residents of the so-called “Golden State” have to deal with. And while we can’t do much to address the fact that the state sits on geographical fault lines, other issues have a human element.

With its spate of natural disasters, some spurred by human action, California isn’t looking like such a “Golden State.”

The magnitude 6.0 earthquake, which occurred early Sunday morning, is the largest to hit the state since 1989′s Loma Prieta quake. It injured several hundred people.

The earthquake is understandably dominating the headlines coming out of California, while the fallout from the state’s record drought is being reported almost daily.

In East Porterville in the rural San Joaquin, several hundred homes have no tap water because their wells have dried up. That’s due to an exceptionally low flow in the Tule River, which fills the wells.

Volunteers and county workers are delivering bottled water provided by the county to these homes, but those deliveries are only a stop-gap solution. The area’s high poverty rate makes it difficult for residents to affordable ongoing solutions, such as digging new wells.

Tulare County has been hearing from residents about their diminished water supply since February, but the trickle of calls has become a gusher. The Fresno Bee reports that nearly 1,000 people are now impacted by the dry wells.

“I grew up here. I’ve never seen this many people out of water,” Tulare County District Five Supervisor Mike Ennis told the Fresno Bee.

Up in the state’s northwest corner in Trinity County, already threatened by salmon die-offs due to low water flow in the Salmon and Klamath rivers, a wildfire that started late Sunday afternoon is threatening homes in Weaverville. About 200 homes were evacuated as crews worked to build containment lines that had about 25 percent of the fire under control by this morning. But local officials said they were concerned about gusting winds and dry conditions causing the fire to flare up again.

The Redding, California newspaper the Redding Searchlight reports that four other wildfires are currently burning tens of thousands of acres in the area as well.

TckTckTck, the Global Call for Climate Action reports:

High temperatures and drought in the American West, both linked to climate change, lead to the dry conditions and tree deaths that enable more frequent and intense wildfires. The American wildfire season is getting longer, and the number of very large fires has doubled in California and many other states since the 1970s.

Anastasia Pantsios|August 25, 2014

Big Climate Problems in Big Sky Country

No matter how far you go on vacation, sometimes you can’t get away—especially if you write about science policy for a living.

I recently escaped the steamy confines of Washington, D.C., for the mountains of Montana for some sorely needed R & R. The last time I set foot in Big Sky Country was 10 years ago, when I attended a grizzly bear conference at a ranch just outside of Yellowstone National Park. And the first and only other time I visited the state was 35 years ago, when I backpacked in Glacier National Park.

From a climate perspective, things there have gotten worse.

The glaciers I marveled at on my backpacking trip have shrunk considerably, and even then they were a pale approximation of what they once were. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that there were approximately 150 glaciers in the area in 1850, and most of them were still there in 1910 when the park was established. In 1979, when I was fending off mosquitoes at the Continental Divide, the official National Park Service estimate was down to 75 glaciers, and now, according to the USGS, there are only 25 glaciers larger than 25 acres.

At that 2004 conference, I learned that global warming is making it harder to keep a key item in the grizzly bear pantry in stock. The bears like to feast on high-protein seeds from whitebark pine cones in the fall to fatten up before hibernation time, but the tree is being ravaged by the mountain pine beetle, which develops faster and survives winter more easily thanks to warmer temperatures.

To be sure, the beetles have been around for a long time, and they aren’t the whitebark pine’s only problem. The trees also have been suffering from white pine blister rust—a disease accidentally introduced via imported seedlings nearly a century ago—and fire pattern changes have enabled other tree species to invade their territory. But over the last 10 years, beetle outbreaks have intensified. According to a 2012 U.S. Forest Service study, they “are occurring more rapidly and dramatically than imagined a decade ago.” Since my last visit, the Forest Service estimates the beetle has killed more than 4.5 million whitebark pine trees in Montana alone.

This grim state of affairs prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to determine in 2011 that the whitebark pine is in “imminent” risk of extinction due to, among other things, global warming—the first time the federal government identified climate change as a contributing factor in a tree species’ demise. Budgetary constraints and more pressing agency priorities, however, have kept the tree off the endangered species list.

The fate of the Yellowstone region’s grizzlies, meanwhile, has teetered back and forth in recent years. In 2007, the FWS concluded that they had recovered sufficiently and took them off the threatened species list, which they had been on since 1975. Two years later, however, a federal district court in Montana put them back on, citing concerns about the whitebark pine. Regardless, the FWS is again considering delisting the roughly 700 bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, contending they are supplementing their diet with more meat.

If anyone gets climate in Montana, it’s scientists. During my recent visit I picked up a copy of the Missoulian, Missoula’s daily newspaper, and came across an op-ed titled “Climate change is a scientific reality.” Written by University of Montana entomologist Diana Six and five other Montana-based scientists, the July 30 column was essentially a public version of a letter they and 96 other scientists across the state sent to Montana’s governor and the state’s congressional delegation in late June.

The scientists cited some of the severe impacts global warming is already having on the state—including longer wildfire seasons and the aforementioned pine beetle—and warned that the consequences of doing nothing to curb carbon emissions would be dire indeed.

They also chastised Montana politicians for turning a blind eye to empirical evidence.

“Some of Montana’s political leaders continue to ignore the most basic scientific findings about climate change,” they wrote. “We hear them say: ‘I’m not a scientist so I cannot be sure.’ We are scientists and let us be clear: The scientific evidence that Earth’s climate is warming is overwhelming. We need to move from debate to solutions.”

One solution the scientists support is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent proposal to limit power plant carbon pollution. The draft plan requires Montana industries to cut carbon emissions 21 percent by 2030. Given that coal was responsible for 53 percent of the electricity generated in Montana last year and the state has the largest coal reserves in the nation, the proposal received a mixed reception among Montana pols. Their responses ranged from praising the EPA for a responsible, flexible plan to condemning the agency for making war on coal and Montana jobs.

In fact, coal jobs are few and far between in Montana. According to preliminary U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers for 2013, the coal industry employed only 1,116 people out of a total workforce of nearly 437,000. That’s an anemic 0.25 percent. Oil and gas jobs are even more scarce. Although there are four oil refineries in the state, only 761 Montanans worked in the industry last year. Agriculture and outdoor recreation are much more important to the state’s economy, and climate change is taking a toll on both. Droughts and wildfires are a growing problem for farmers and ranchers, and dead trees don’t do much to enhance the hiking experience.

Six and her co-authors also called on state officials to make Montana a hub for clean energy jobs. Given the latest news on that front, however, don’t count on that happening anytime soon.

Like 28 other states and the District of Columbia, Montana has a standard in place promoting renewable energy, such as wind and solar. Montana’s standard, which went into effect in 2008, requires the state’s two largest utilities and an electricity supplier to generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2015, a relatively modest goal. Late last month, a state legislative committee issued a draft report concluding that Montana’s standard has been an economic success. It created new jobs, bolstered rural county development, had a “negligible impact” on electric rates, and cut carbon emissions at the same time.

That’s the good news. The bad news? Despite the fact that the three companies have already met the 15 percent requirement—and the fact that Montana has the third best wind resources in the country that could meet more than 240 times the state’s current electricity demand—the legislative committee recommended that the renewable requirement remain at 15 percent.

You might call that a victory, considering some legislators wanted to drop the standard altogether. Jeff Deyette, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, calls it a missed opportunity.

“While Colorado, Minnesota and other states blessed with tremendous wind potential are forging ahead and ramping up their renewable energy targets, Montana is missing a golden opportunity to build on what it has already started,” said Deyette, the co-author of “Ripe for Retirement,” a 2013 study on aging coal plants. “I can see why Montana scientists are frustrated with their elected officials. Given what we know about global warming, legislators there are clearly putting the interests of the coal industry ahead of their own constituents.”

Elliott Negin|Union of Concerned Scientists| August 15, 2014

Dutch solution to Miami’s rising seas? Floating islands

A Dutch team wants to build lavish, off-the-grid homes on 30 floating islands on Maule Lake, an old rock mining pit.

The floating islands will be moored to telescope-like piers that keep them stable but allow them to rise and fall with changing sea levels.

Maule Lake has been many things over the years: industrial rock pit, aquatic racetrack, American Riviera. Now it is being pitched as something else entirely: a glitzy solution to South Florida’s rising seas.

In the land of boom and bust where no real estate proposition seems too outlandish — Opa-locka’s Ali Baba Boulevard connects to Aladdin Street in one of the more kitschy bids to sell swampland — a Dutch team wants to build Amillarah Private Islands, 29 lavish floating homes and an “amenity island” on about 38 acres of lake in the old North Miami Beach quarry connected to the Intracoastal Waterway just north of Haulover Inlet.

The villa flotilla, its creators say, would be sustainable and completely off the grid, tricked out to survive hurricanes, storm surge and any other water hazard mother nature might throw its way. Chic 6,000-square-foot, concrete-and-glass villas would come with pools, boathouses or docks, desalinization systems, solar and hydrogen-powered generators and optional beaches on their own 10,000-square-foot concrete and Styrofoam islands.

Asking price? About $12.5 million each.

If this sounds like a joke, think again. This, as the Dutch say, ain’t no grap.

“We’re serious people,” said Frank Behrens, vice president of Dutch Docklands, which has partnered with Koen Olthuis, one of Holland’s pioneering aqua-tects.

Still, it’s hard not to be skeptical.

“It’s both fantastic and fantastical,” said North Miami Beach City Planner Carlos Rivero, before adding, diplomatically, “This is quite a departure.”

Behrens won’t say exactly how much the company has invested so far but suggested it is enough to take the plan seriously.

“Look who I’m sitting next to,” he said during an interview, pointing to Greenberg Traurig shareholder attorney Kerri Barsh and Carlos Gimenez, a vice president at Balsera Communications and son of the county’s mayor, both hired to help ensure the project’s success. “This isn’t like, ‘Oh, let’s buy a lake and do a project and make money.’ It’s ‘Let’s buy a lake and show people what we’re capable of.’ ”

Together Dutch Docklands and Olthius’ firm, Waterstudio.NL, have completed between 800 and 1,000 floating houses in Holland along with 50 other projects including — if there were any question about their design chops —a floating prison near Amsterdam. The team is also constructing the first phase of a 185-villa floating resort in the Maldives — Behrens said 90 have already sold. Olthius also designed a snowflake-shaped floating hotel in Norway, floating mosques in the United Arab Emirates and even a floating greenhouse out of storage containers usually used by oil companies.

The team believes that by building an extreme example of a floating house in Miami, with every bell and whistle imaginable, it can open up a new American market to a way of building that has addressed rising waters in the Netherlands for a century.

“We chose Miami because we know this city is one of the most affected cities by sea-level rise,” Olthuis said by phone from Holland. “Once it’s done, you’ll see it’s a beautiful archipelago effect in the lake.”

So can you get a mortgage? Buy windstorm insurance? Declare a homestead exemption?

Yes, yes and yes, Barsh said. Practically speaking, the barge-like structures are considered houses, not boats, she said. A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision on a Riviera Beach houseboat that Barsh helped argue cleared the way by declaring floating homes real estate. After the victory, Barsh started talking to Behrens — they met through the Dutch Chamber of Commerce he founded in Miami in 2011 — about Dutch-style floating homes in the United States.

“Before, there was a lack of clarity,” Barsh said. The court decision “opened up an opportunity for this development to go forward.”

Barsh, who also represents rock-mining interests, says such projects could potentially provide a valuable way to reuse rock pits scattered throughout South Florida.

But what would it mean for the manatees that lumber through the saltwater lake, which is designated critical habitat?

Protections would remain in place, the team said. And the islands, with specially contoured undersides, could provide a habitat for sea life, Behrens said.

Still, making the project fit local laws could be tricky. In a preliminary review by the North Miami Beach city staff, Rivero raised questions as mundane as the need for parking. The city’s civil engineer wondered about stormwater runoff, among other things. And police say they would need a boat from the developer to patrol the islands. There’s one other thing: North Miami Beach’s rules for such developments so far apply only to land.

Luis Espinoza, spokesman for the county’s Division of Environmental Resources Management, said county officials would need to evaluate the islands for environmental impacts. And there’s the matter of taxes.

“If it’s a permanent-type fixture, then it will be assessed as property,” property appraiser spokesman Robert Rodriguez said.

Over the next 100 years, scientists predict climate change will alter water on a global scale. Seas will swell and coasts will shrink. Weather will become more extreme, with stronger hurricanes, harder rains and higher floods. Even routine tides will rise. And almost nowhere else will those effects likely be more dire than in South Florida, where beachfront highrises and marshy suburbs sit on soggy land kept dry by a complicated network of canals, culverts, pumps and other controls.

So solving the problems of coastal living in the 21st century could be lucrative.

“Here in Miami, it’s an artificial landscape, manipulated by mankind at a very high cost,” said Dale Morris, an economist with the Dutch Embassy in Washington, D.C., who is not connected to the Amillarah project. “So to think it can be maintained at no cost is nuts. I’m an economist. Nothing is free in this world.”

The floating islands, he pointed out, do nothing to solve larger climate problems for cities in South Florida, where flooding now occurs with normal high tides in Miami Beach.

Florida, like Holland, will have to tackle gradual sea rise in addition to event-related flooding like hurricane storm surges, Dutch landscape architect Steven Slabbers said at a recent workshop on resilient design in Miami.

“It’s an inexorable, decade-by-decade phenomenon,” he said.

Considering other Dutch designs — protective dunes tunneled out to hold parking, parks that become ponds and highways that float — a rock-pit-turned-floating-housing by using drilling rig technology might not seem so farfetched.

In recent months, the last new project on Maule Lake, Marina Palms, has shown that demand for lakefront property with Intracoastal access is high. Condos in the first of two buildings, which got the glam treatment this year on Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing Miami, sold out. But Maule Lake has not always been a twinkling star in the real estate firmament. It began life as a rock pit, when E.P. Maule moved from Palm Beach in 1913. Maule Industries would become the state’s largest cement manufacturing plant before falling into bankruptcy in the 1970s after it was purchased by Joe Ferre, whose son, former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre, managed the company.

“That area was rich in rock pits, quarries and concrete manufacturing,” explained historian Paul George, who said the rock pits pocked the largely industrial area well into the 1960s.

The porous limestone mines fill with water from the area’s high water table. The new lakes provided even more waterfront property to an area already rich with water views, creating a developer’s dream — and possibly an environmentalist’s nightmare.

In addition to worries about marine life, building on the lake may raise concerns about water quality and potential effects on the nearby Biscayne Bay aquatic preserve and the Oleta River, another protected ecosystem. There might also be a question of encroaching on some of the area’s rare open space.

“We have a history in South Florida of viewing open spaces as a pallet for more product to be built on,” said Richard Grosso, a Nova Southeastern University law professor and director of the Environmental and Land Use Law Clinic. “Florida’s always been a place where we’ve suspended the laws of nature and physics and people haven’t always taken into account that there’s a finite amount of space.”

Gimenez, the public relations executive who is also a land use attorney, said the Dutch team has already met with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about concerns. The team also plans to meet with neighbors. And while nothing has officially been submitted, he said no one has raised objections. The 7- to 13-foot-deep lake, he pointed out, is too deep to harbor much marine life or sea grass.

Gimenez also said floating islands are better than the alternative: filling the lake and building highrises. Once mined, rock pits are sometimes refilled with construction and demolition debris. Developers in Hallandale Beach, for example, are filling a 45-acre lake with debris to build an office park. Rivero, the planner, said a North Miami Beach ordinance prohibits the lake from being filled, although property trustee Raymond Gaylord Williams, who had the property listed with a local Realtor for $19.5 million, could challenge that.

But getting a variance from a county ordinance regulating waterways could be a feat, since so few are granted, said land use and environmental attorney Howard Nelson.

“Let’s face it, [what developer] wouldn’t rather replace a houseboat with a houseboat office,” he said. “All of a sudden you don’t have the bay anymore. You just have dock space after dock space after dock space with offices.”

Behrens, a former banker who grew up in Aruba and was CEO of a Miami-based Dutch distillery, said the team has been meeting with various regulatory agencies to size up the obstacles since 2013 and will resolve issues as they come up. They hope to have permits completed within the next year and a half, he said.

“It’s a step-by-step approach,” he said. “But we’re Dutch. …We know how to stay and how to make success.”

Jenny Staletovich|The Miami Herald|08.23.14

Extreme Weather

World’s Most Extreme Weather Events in Early 2014

Just two months into 2014, produced a parade of strange weather extremes around the world, from searing heat, to one of the coldest winters in decades, to flooding so severe it hasn’t been seen in more than a century.

Among the most bizarre was the lack of a winter in parts of the drought-stricken West, including California.

January was the warmest and driest on record in San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles. Only four other Januaries since 1878 had been completely dry in Los Angeles until January 2014.

Among the number of monthly records set, perhaps none stood out more than the ongoing record warmth in Sandberg, Calif., located in the mountains of northern Los Angeles County. Sandberg crushed the previous January record number of 11 days of 60-degree-plus warmth with 21 such days. In February, it surpassed the previous record number of 70-degree-plus days (four days), tallying seven such days through Feb. 25.

Instead of digging out from heavy Sierra snow and toting umbrellas, parts of the West were battling wildfires in January.

Perhaps the most bizarre of these was a pair of fires in the coastal range of northwest Oregon in late January, a typically wet and/or chilly location in mid-winter.

In mid-January, a campfire above Glendora, Calif. quickly roared out of control, fanned by Santa Ana winds and ongoing drought conditions, charring almost 2,000 acres and burning 15 structures.

Wildfires also burned in a few spots in northern California earlier this month, including one prompting the evacuation of Kimball Island in Solano County, and others in Marin and Humboldt Counties.

However, another pair of fires shocked us above and beyond those California events.

A pair of fires flared up along in the Oregon coastal range east of the town of Arch Cape, about 70 miles west-northwest of Portland on January 23. Fanned by winds estimated at 70 mph, the flames had burned around 120 acres as of January 24, according to a story by KGW News Channel 8 in Portland.

Average January precipitation and days with measurable precipitation compared to January 2014 (through January 24) in Seaside, Ore.

The coastal ranges of northwest Oregon are among the most reliably wet locations in the Lower 48 states during the winter months.

The graph at left shows average January precipitation and days with measurable precipitation at nearby Seaside, Ore. As you can see, two-thirds of January days typically have at least measurable precipitation. At least one inch of precipitation typically drenches the area 3-4 days each January.

By contrast, January 2014’s precipitation is a small fraction of the monthly average. This precipitation deficit stretches back to fall, as well.

Seaside picked up only 1.41 inches of precipitation in December and 5.86 inches in November. They average over 10 inches each month. Altogether, their deficit from October 1 – January 24 is over 25 inches.

Put simply, the dearth of precipitation since October has left soil moisture levels very low, virtually almost as susceptible to wildfires as their parched neighbors to the south.

Particularly within the last month or so, the Pacific storm track has taken a sharp northward detour into Alaska and northwest Canada, deflected by a massive omega block of high pressure aloft oriented along the West Coast.

Instead of a more typical parade of storms lashing the West with heavy rain and mountain snow, extended dry weather has been the rule this winter.

While it’s not unusual for a northward bulge of high pressure to periodically set up camp in the winter along the West Coast, it’s the persistence of this feature that has tipped the scales to an historic drought for California and significant drought for the rest of the Pacific Northwest.

This past week, with a center of high pressure aloft centered over the coast of British Columbia, coupled with a weak upper-level low off the northern California coast, strong, dry offshore winds buffeted the coastal ranges of northwest Oregon.

According to the story by KGW News Channel 8 in Portland, forestry officials believe these strong winds helped smoldering slash piles flare up into the pair of larger wildfires.

Going into the new week, it appears rain will return to the Pacific Northwest, and also seems likely to shift farther south into at least parts of drought-suffering California.

However, the omega block pattern mentioned earlier may only shift westward into the Pacific Ocean, instead of breaking down altogether. If so, a return to drier conditions may emerge in early February after this upcoming week’s rain.

So, fire crews will have to remain vigilant for wildfires in the West during the rest of 2014.

In February, two snow events blanketed one of the world’s most populous cities with significant snow in less than a week.

By the evening of Feb. 8, 11 inches of snow blanketed central Tokyo. According to Fuji TV, it was the heaviest snow in 45 years for Tokyo and in 60 years for the city of Kumagaya, northwest of Tokyo. Digital meteorologist Nick Wiltgen (Twitter) says the all-time calendar-day snow record was tied in Kumagaya (43 cm, or 16.9 inches).

The following weekend parts of eastern Japan, including parts of the Tokyo metro area, received another round of snow. Some smaller communities were essentially isolated by more than 3 feet of snow.

Atlantic winter storms are not out of the ordinary for western Europe, but what has taken place in parts of England this year is something not seen since the late 19th century.

With the exception of some intense wind-producing storms, it’s been the number and overall persistence of the Atlantic storms that tipped the scales to a major flood event in the south of England, among other locations.

England and Wales were drenched by their wettest December-January period since 1876-77, and their second wettest such period in the entire period of record, dating to 1766, according to the U.K. Met Office.

Then a succession of storms piled on in early-mid February bringing more flooding rain, wind-whipped waves and high winds.

As of mid-February, more than 5,000 homes and businesses were flooded, and 150 square miles of land were submerged, according to news reports. Prince William and Prince Harry were photographed tossing sandbags. Floodwaters cut off Devon and Cornwall from the rest of England on Feb. 8.

In addition to the rain, each storm’s waves have been destructive along the southwest coast of England and southern Ireland.

The Thames Barrier, built to protect central London from tidal flooding, was closed a record 18 times as of Feb. 16. River levels on the Thames reached flow rates not exceeded since prior to 1950, according to the U.K Met Office.

While California and other parts of the western U.S. have registered record highs and a lack of winter precipitation, that has not been the case in the Midwest and East.

In many parts of the Midwest, this has been the coldest winter since the late 1970s or early 1980s. In some locations, this may be a top three coldest winter on record. Some typically bitter cold locations are even breaking previous records for days with subzero cold.

Then there’s the snow.

This winter is already the record snowiest in Toledo, Ohio, and is the second snowiest season on record in Detroit, topped only by a winter during the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880-81.

While much of the central and eastern U.S. was shivering, Alaskans experienced their third warmest January in 96 years of record, according to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.

Homer, Talkeetna, King Salmon, and Cold Bay (no pun intended) all chalked up their record warmest January. On Jan. 27, Port Alsworth tied the all-time January record high for the state, topping out at an incredible 62 degrees, according to Rick Thoman of the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.

Among the impacts of this warm spell:

  • A closure of the Alyeska Ski Resort for two days.
  • A closure of Fairbanks International Airport on Jan. 23 due to freezing rain. 
  • Schools closed due to rain, not snow.

Warm air and a series of storms with heavy, wet snow, or even rain, triggered several large avalanches. One notable avalanche in late January buried part of the Richardson Highway in up to 30 feet of snow, cutting off access to America’s snowiest city, Valdez, Alaska.

Interestingly, a wind chill of 97 degrees below zero was observed at Howard Pass on Valentine’s Day, setting a new record cold wind chill for the state, previously held at Prudhoe Bay on Jan. 28, 1989 (-96F). The air temperature at that time was -42 degrees with a sustained wind of 71 mph.

Following Australia’s hottest year on record in 2013, a searing heat wave continued into mid-January 2014.

According to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, more than 10 percent of Queensland and almost 15 percent of New South Wales sweated through their record hottest days on Jan. 3.

Another potent heat wave cooked parts of southern Australia in mid-January, during the first week of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne.

Temperatures peaked above 41 degrees Celsius (just under 106 degrees Fahrenheit) for four straight days from Jan. 14-17, reaching a searing 43.9 degrees C (111 degrees F) on both Jan. 16 and 17.

On Jan. 14, Canadian tennis player Frank Dancevic fainted during his Australian Open match, claiming he saw Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s famous dog, in an hallucination. Players resorted to draping bags of ice around their necks to keep cool, and crowds thinned for the tournament’s opening rounds.

The heat was even too much for bats. An estimated 1,000 dead bats were found in Dayboro, just north-northwest of Brisbane, in early January.

First, Winter Storm Kronos brought a rare blanket of snow as far south as Louisiana, and sleet as far south as Harlingen, Texas and Pensacola, Fla. in late January.

That was only an appetizer.

Just days later, the confluence of temperatures well below freezing and thousands of vehicles compacting snow on untreated roads lead to a commuter apocalypse in both Birmingham, Ala. and Atlanta during Winter Storm Leon.

Commutes that normally take minutes took in excess of 20 hours for some and involved walking miles from abandoned cars. Some teachers and students were forced to stay at school overnight.

Leon also spread ice and sleet to the Gulf Coast, including the Florida Panhandle, and the Low country of South Carolina.

One more storm, however, would eclipse the ice from Leon.

Winter Storm Pax deposited an inch or more of ice in a swath from east-central Georgia into South Carolina, including Augusta, Ga. and Aiken, S.C. Pax was the second heaviest ice storm dating to 1947 in Wilmington, N.C.

Accumulated ice from Pax claimed the famed “Eisenhower tree” at the Augusta National Golf Club. Pax marked the first time since January 1940 that Columbia, S.C. saw snowfall for three straight days.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation used 33,300 tons of road salt, more than 2.3 million gallons of salt brine, and 12,700 tons of sand on roads for Winter Storms Leon and Pax combined.

In this case, it was a nightmarish commute for those in the Raleigh-Durham metro area on Feb. 12, while virtually all businesses and schools were closed in Atlanta.

Strangely enough, the week after Pax, Columbia, S.C. tied its all-time February high of 84 degrees. Augusta, Ga. warmed into the 80s two straight days on Feb. 19-20.

Also of note, Pax was the third heaviest snowstorm of record in both Blacksburg and Roanoke, Va. Eight states from western North Carolina to Vermont and Massachusetts had at least one location with 20 inches of snow or more.

Can we blame Global Warming?

It is difficult to attribute individual weather events to human-induced climate change, but several recent studies are suggesting the role that greenhouse gases played in weather extremes.

2003 European heatwave contributes to the deaths of about 70,000 people. In 2004, Peter Stott of the UK Met Office and colleagues found that global warming had doubled the likelihood of such an event (Nature, doi.org/c7hxpt).

2010 A heatwave, and smog from resulting fires in Russia, contribute to 56,000 deaths. In 2011 Stefan Rhamstorf of Potsdam University in Germany estimated that there was an 80 per cent chance that the heatwave would not have happened without global warming (PNAS, doi.org/dhnggk).

2011 Drought and extreme heat strike Texas. David Rupp of Oregon State University and his colleagues estimate that the conditions were 20 times as likely to occur in the late 2000s as in the 1960s, due to the added greenhouse gases (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, doi.org/j7r).

2011-2012 Thailand suffers severe floods, more than 800 people perish and damages are estimated at $45 billion. A study by Geert Jan van Oldenborgh of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute concluded that climate change was not to blame, but that development along the banks of the Chao Phraya river contributed to the disaster (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, doi.org/j7r).

2012 Floods in south-eastern Australia bring a sudden end to a 13-year drought that had afflicted the region. Two separate studies of the floods found no link to climate change (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, doi.org/vc3).

[It seems that the predictions made by scientists as early as twenty years ago that our weather patterns would be changing are actually fact.]

Genetically Modified Organisms  

The Problem with G.M.O. Labels

A few weeks ago, I stood behind a woman at a farmers’ market in the Hudson Valley. There was a wide selection of apples, a bit unusual so early in the year, and the woman asked the farmer if any were “G.M.O. apples.” He looked surprised and said no. She was not assuaged.

“How do you know?” she said sharply. ” How can you be sure?”

“He knows because genetically modified apples don’t exist,” I said. “There are none in the orchards and none in the stores.” She turned to me, squinted, and said, “Then don’t you think they should have a label saying so? That way we could at least eat them without worrying.”

Americans are spending a lot of time worrying about what is in their food. This is understandable, given that so much of it is laden with sugar, highly processed flour, and saturated fat. In polls, an overwhelming majority of respondents say they want foods with genetically engineered ingredients to be labelled, and most people add that they would use those labels to avoid eating such foods. Dozens of bills have been put before the legislatures of more than half the states. Vermont and Connecticut have already enacted labeling laws, and many more are likely to follow.

Who, after all, wants to stand in the way of transparency? As John Mackey, of Whole Foods, the temple of organic consumption in America, has said, “People have a right to know what is in their food.” He is right, of course. Yet there is another, equally compelling truth to consider: the overwhelming scientific consensus, based on hundreds of independent studies, demonstrates that foods containing currently available G.M.O.s pose no greater health risk or environmental concern than any other foods.

Americans demand labels, at least in part, because they are afraid. And they are afraid because of the kinds of assertions made by people like Vandana Shiva, an Indian activist whom I profiled this week in the magazine. Shiva and her allies talk constantly about dangers of G.M.O.s that are not supported by facts.

G.M.O. labels may be a political necessity, but they make no scientific sense. Most of the legislation that has been proposed would require a label that says something like “produced with genetic engineering.” Almost none of the labels would identify any specific G.M.O. ingredient in any particular food. In fact, the laws now proposed are so vague that many of the foods in a grocery store would have to carry a label. They would tell you how your food is put together, but not what it contains. How could that help anyone make a sound decision about his health?

All breeding—whether mixing varieties of apples or crossing types of orchids—modifies genomes. There is no other reason to do it. And all the food we eat has been modified in some way—either by nature or by humans. Conventional techniques, often simply a random mixing of genomes, are not necessarily safer than engineering. Nor is mutagenesis, a process in which mutations and variations are induced by radiation or chemicals.

Let’s concede that politics is going to trump science on this issue, and that labelling is inevitable. (And it is not necessarily wrong for concerns about openness to take priority over science.) But we need a uniform standard, regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, not dozens of them set by different state laws. So far, a federal standard has seemed unlikely—largely because officials at the F.D.A. have no desire to put labels on products unless there is a clear scientific reason to do so, as there is with tobacco. Warning labels on cigarette packs save lives. What can we expect to get out of such labels on engineered foods?

Activists speak loudly about consumer choice, but many of them want, ultimately, to ban the products of agricultural biotechnology. In the United States, that would be foolhardy and pointless—but not much more than that. What happens in this country, though, will affect the work of scientists everywhere. This kind of crop will be necessary to help feed the ten billion people that will inhabit this planet by the end of the century.

Since this kind of statement is often purposely taken out of context, let me be clear: genetically engineered products are not magic. They will not by themselves feed the poor or heal the sick. But the world needs crops that demand less from the environment and provide more nutrition, using less water, on the same amount of land. Without relying on progress and the advance of science, as we have for centuries, it’s simply not going to happen.

Michael Specter|August 20, 2014

[Eons ago when hunter/gatherers turned to farming and began crossing plants to achieve desirable characteristics, genetic engineering was born. I agree with Mr. Specter in that not all genetic engineering is bad – otherwise you wouldn’t be able to eat sweet corn unless you bought it at the farm and hurried home to cook it. However, as you will see next, a 2011 innovation in GMO corn allows it to produce it’s own insecticide, by splicing genes from insecticides with the corn’s genes. Personally, I think this is taking unwarranted liberties with our food supplies.

Many  of the cultivars we enjoy daily are cross-bred and produce no ill-effects. I am, however, against the type of genetic engineering that produces weed killer and/or insect resistance in foodstuffs, because we don’t know what, if any, long-term effects are associated with the new products. They have been approved for use without proper studies. This is simply a ploy to sell the modified seeds and improve the bottom line of the producers, who apparently do not care if there are any ill-effects associated with their products.

I would also appreciate knowing what happens to our foodstuffs when an animal gene is spliced into a plant and vice-versa. In that respect, GMOs should be labeled. It should be up to the consumer to decide whether not to consume an offered product.] Genetically modified corn has been engineered in a laboratory to produce pesticides in its own tissue

GMO Study: OMG, You’re Eating Insecticide…

Most Americans remain blissfully unaware (or don’t care) they are eating genetically-modified (GM) organisms every day. Passivity and blind faith in the USDA, FDA and EPA have largely contributed to this attitude. Perhaps that will change now that a new study reveals an insecticide produced in GM corn actually gets absorbed into the human body. 

If you haven’t been paying attention to your food lately, biotechnology giants such as Monsanto thank you for that. Because behind your back, they’ve succeeded in replacing 86% of US corn with their patented insecticide-producing “frankencorn”.

The industry name for this is “Bt corn” and the insecticide is actually produced inside the plant, so it is impossible to wash it off. This is accomplished by inserting genes from the bacteria Bacillus Thuringiensis into the corn.

Up until now, scientists and multinational corporations such as Monsanto and DuPont have spent billions in lobbying, campaign donations and “testing” in an attempt to convince world governments that GMOs are safe. In the case of Bt corn, they stated the insecticide produced within the corn posed no danger to human health because it was broken down in the digestive system.

Despite corporate assurances, many have been skeptical. Non-GMO advocates such as Jeffrey Smith from The Institute For Responsible Technology and the Organic Consumers Association have long been concerned about the potential impact this Bt toxin could have on human health.

Scientists from the University of Sherbrooke, Canada, proved the validity of these concerns when they detected the insecticidal protein, Cry1Ab, circulating in the blood of both pregnant and non-pregnant women. They also detected the toxin in fetal blood, suggesting that the toxin can be passed on to the fetus. The research paper has been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication in the journal Reproductive Toxicology.

Neither the women studied or their spouses worked in agriculture. All reported to be consuming a typical Canadian diet that is virtually identical to the American diet.

“Generated data will help regulatory agencies responsible for the protection of human health to make better decisions”, said researchers Aziz Aris and Samuel Leblanc.

Unfortunately, I don’t feel that our pro-GMO Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will pay attention to this research. I also doubt that our Deputy Commissioner of Foods Michael Taylor, who also happens to be Monsanto’s former vice-president, will pay this study much attention either. It doesn’t stop there. The revolving door is growing exponentially and the foxes have taken up residence in the hen house.

Are you pissed? You should be. We’ve let corporate interests turn us into poison-fed lab rats. It doesn’t end at corn either. 93% of both soy and canola are also genetically-modified. On top of that, Monsanto has acres of laboratories containing new mutant species awaiting to slip into your pantry. You’re probably wearing some of their Bt cotton right now. It comprises 93% of US cotton and 68% of Chinese cotton.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the uproar around Bt brinjal, a GM variety of eggplant, in India. When it was approved in 2009, a country-wide protest began and the Indian government applied a moratorium on its release.

Meanwhile, here in the US, GMO crops are getting approved left and right and most Americans still don’t even know what “GMO” even means.

Mutant Crops Drive BASF Sales Where Monsanto Denied: Commodities

Crop breeders increasingly are using radiation and gene-altering chemicals to mutate seeds, creating new plant varieties with better yields — all without regulation.

The United Nations’ Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture program has received 39 requests this year for radiation services from plant breeders in dozens of countries, the most since records began in 1977, according to program head Pierre Lagoda. The group in Vienna promotes developing more “sustainable” crops by irradiating them to resist threats like drought, insects, disease and salinity.

Mutation breeding, after booming in the 1950s with the dawn of the Nuclear Age, is still used by seed developers from BASF SE to DuPont Co. to create crops for markets that reject genetic engineering. Regulators don’t demand proof that new varieties are harmless. The U.S. National Academies of Science warned in 1989 and again in 2004 that regulating genetically modified crops while giving a pass to products of mutation breeding isn’t scientifically justified.

“The NAS hits the nail on the head and I don’t think that any plant- or crop-scientist will disagree,” said Kevin M. Folta, a molecular geneticist and interim chairman of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida. “Mutation breeding is absolutely the least predictable.”

The increase in mutation breeding raises questions of fairness and safety compared with genetic engineering, a regulated technique used by companies such as Monsanto Co. that involves transferring specific genes from one species to another. Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybean, a blockbuster product in the U.S. and Brazil, can’t be grown in the European Union, where national governments have cited concerns about risks to health and the environment.

In contrast, mutagenesis deletes and rearranges hundreds or thousands of genes randomly. It uses a man-made process that mimics with a greater intensity what the sun’s radiation has done to plants and animals for millennia, spawning mutations that sometimes are beneficial or hazardous to the organism.

The randomness makes mutagenesis less precise than St. Louis-based Monsanto’s genetically modified organisms, known as GMOs, the NAS said in a 2004 report. It’s the breeding technique most likely to cause unintended genetic changes, some of which could harm human health, the academy said.

Fewer Hurdles

Still, mutagenesis is gaining in popularity because it’s a far cheaper way to give crops new traits than the $150 million to $200 million that companies such as Monsanto pay to get a new GMO on the market. Mutant crops also face no labeling requirements or regulatory hurdles in most of the world.

“These difficulties in getting a GMO to the market, we don’t have it in mutation breeding,” Lagoda said in an Oct. 16 phone interview.

Breeders have registered more than 3,000 mutant varieties with Lagoda’s program, a partnership between the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Those varieties are just “the tip of the iceberg” because many breeders actively avoid revealing how they create new plants, Lagoda said.

This year alone, Lagoda’s program has gotten requests to help irradiate 31 plant species, ranging from sugar beets from Poland and wheat from the U.K. to rice from Indonesia and potatoes from Kenya.

Some of the program’s greatest successes have been in Asia. Lower labor costs there make it practical to sort through tens of thousands of plants to find a variety with the desired change. In Vietnam, mutant varieties of soy account for half of the crop and higher yields from mutant rice has made the country self-sufficient in that grain, Lagoda said. Vietnam is now using the technique to develop salt-tolerant rice, he said.

Mutant breeding was developed during World War II and promoted during the Cold War as a peaceful use of nuclear technology. It created thousands of new plant varieties by knocking out genes with X-rays and gamma rays as well as chemicals.

Atomic gardens, built around gamma-ray emitters, were popular among breeders in the 1960s and Japan still operates one. China began launching seeds into space in 1987 to take advantage of cosmic radiation and low gravity, developing more than 40 mutant crops with higher yields and better disease resistance, including varieties of rice, wheat and pepper.

Most of the world’s wheat, rice and barley are descendants of mutant varieties, according to Lagoda. Mutagenesis is used to give fruits and vegetables a new color and to make grains shorter and easier to harvest. In the U.S., mutagenesis was used to develop Star Ruby grapefruit and varieties of lettuce, beans, oats, rice and wheat.

BASF, the world’s biggest chemical company, is having success with its line of Clearfield crops. The German company made the crops tolerant of its Clearfield herbicide through chemical mutagenesis. It alters the crops’ DNA by dousing seeds with chemicals such as ethyl methanesulfonate and sodium azide, according to company filings in Canada, the only nation that regulates such crops.

“This has been a technique used for many decades without issue, without concern,” Jonathan Bryant, a BASF vice president said by phone.

BASF enlists the help of 40 seed companies, including DuPont Co. and Dow Chemical Co. in the U.S. and Switzerland’s Syngenta AG to sell Clearfield crops in markets that reject GMOs. Clearfield wheat, rice, lentils, sunflowers and canola are planted from Russia to Argentina and the U.S. without regulatory review.

DuPont Products Operating earnings at BASF’s agriculture unit rose 27 percent last year, partly because of higher demand in Eastern Europe for Clearfield herbicide and the mutant crops that tolerate it, the company said in its annual report. Its products are safe for consumers and the environment, said Nevin McDougall, a BASF senior vice president.

DuPont’s Pioneer seed unit created an herbicide-tolerant sunflower by exposing the seeds to ethyl methanesulfonate. The sunflowers are marketed as ExpressSun and are grown primarily in Russia, Ukraine and throughout Eastern Europe, said Paul Schickler, president of Pioneer, where plant breeders use both genetic modification and mutagenesis.

“There is not a black line between biotechnology and non-biotechnology,” Schickler said. “It’s a continuum.”

Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley agreed. Plant breeders for the past five years have had the ability to use molecular markers and sequenced genomes of corn and other crops to improve crosses, making conventional breeding more like genetic engineering, he said.

“For all practical purposes, breeding and biotechnology are converging,” Fraley said in an interview, adding that Monsanto uses mutagenesis “a little bit.”

Still, for some scientists there’s a clear distinction between mutagenesis and creating GMOs. The latter are more likely to be safe because regulators require breeders to document why any new proteins won’t cause health problems such as allergies, said Alan McHughen, a molecular geneticist at the University of California in Riverside.

Breeders who avoid genetic modification are simply trusted to rid their new plants of any hazards. That doesn’t always happen: Varieties of conventionally bred potatoes, celery and squash have been pulled from the market after breeders accidentally increased levels of naturally occurring toxins.

Whatever the risk borne by mutation breeding, it has a “microscopic” chance of creating a health hazard compared with the possibility of getting a food-borne illness such as salmonella, according to Wayne Parrott, professor of crop science at the University of Georgia in Athens.

“There are always unintended changes, but what we are worried about is hazardous unintended changes, and the probability of that is very, very low,” Parrott said by phone.

The NAS and other science groups have urged the U.S. to adopt a system more like Canada, where novel food traits are examined for safety regardless of the method used to create them. In the U.S., where only GMOs are required to pass through an approval process, the Department of Agriculture issued a memo this year verifying crops created through mutagenesis as acceptable even for organic farming.

“Any GMO on the market today is safer than anything that hasn’t gone through that safety regulatory step,” McHughen, a member of the National Academies who helped write the 2004 report, said by phone.

Despite that view, Monsanto — the world’s largest maker of genetically altered crops — faces not just regulation of its GMOs and bans in some countries, but also political hurdles that can delay product introductions for years, sometimes indefinitely.

In July, it withdrew applications for planting its seeds in the EU, which has approved only one application in two decades. BASF last year decided to move its plant-science division, which works on engineered crops, to the U.S. from Germany. Given the situation in the EU, breeders have little choice except to switch to mutation breeding, Lagoda said.

“The current regulations are a huge incentive to go back and do things the old way,” including mutagenesis, said Parrott of the University of Georgia. “Simply because, even though you may bring in a bunch of unknown genes and a lot of unknown changes, it’s not regulated.”

New Study Shows Glaring Differences Between GMO and Non-GMO Foods

New studies conducted by scientists independent of the biotech industry are showing glaring differences between genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their non-GMO counterparts.

“Substantial Equivalence” has benefited the GMO produce trade, allowing it to skip over regulations that would apply to other food products including uniquely processed foods, pharmaceuticals, pesticides and food additives, all of which require a wide range of toxicological tests and can be subject to legal limitations regarding safe consumption.

These findings contrast the principle of “Substantial Equivalence,” which has facilitated the approval of GMOs with virtually no protection for public health or the environment, reports the Permaculture Research Institute.

The substantial equivalence concept, introduced in 1993 by the Organisation for Economic Development (an international economic and trade organization, not a health body), states that if a new food is found to be mostly equal to an already existing food product it can be treated the same way as the existing product in respect to safety.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Japan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare typically base their GMO food safety regulations on substantial equivalence.

This faulty concept has benefited the GMO produce trade, allowing it to skip over regulatory requirements that would apply to other food products including uniquely processed foods, pharmaceuticals, pesticides and food additives, all of which require a wide range of toxicological tests and can be subject to legal limitations regarding safe consumption.

There are many good reasons for consumers to feel unprotected by these regulatory policies, considering how flexible and open they are to interpretation for the approval of just about any kind of GMO submitted.

“In practice, the principle allows the comparison of a GM line to any existing variety within the same species, and even to an abstract entity made up of ingredients from a collection of species,” wrote Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji in a Permaculture Research Institute post. “This means that a GM variety can have all the worst traits of many different varieties and still be deemed substantially equivalent.”

Independent assessments of substantial equivalence carried out across the world have shown how this practice is not only inadequate but untrustworthy, and the new studies confirm this. 

In April 2013, an Egyptian publication led by Professor El-Sayed Shaltout at Alexandria University, found that a type of Monsanto’s GMO corn showed substantial non-equivalence and toxicity when compared to non-GMO corn, 

A more recent study led by Thomas Bøhn at the Norwegian Centre for Biosafety tested scores of GMO and non-GMO soybeans, and found them not to be substantially equivalent. 

“Profiling technologies … allow the simultaneous measurement and comparison of thousands of plant components, in this case proteins, without prior knowledge of their identity,” wrote Sirinathsinghji. “These methods are now being employed by independent scientists to provide a more thorough, unbiased and global profile of GM crop composition for risk assessment.”

John Deike|February 20, 2014

Keep GMO foods off our plates ‏

The way we produce food in our country is broken. 

From genetically engineered ingredients hidden in products with no warning to consumers, to GMO crops engineered to withstand ever-increasing levels of Monsanto’s pesticides, to unnecessary, risky GMO salmon, the junk food and chemical industries are pouring millions into a future dominated by unhealthy, unsustainable, chemical-intensive, corporate-controlled industrial food production.

But I believe that the future of food can and must be local, organic, healthy and just.

Thanks to people like you, our work to build a healthy, sustainable food future is already gaining traction on several fronts. Consumers are sending a strong message that we don’t want these GMO foods on our plates, and food retailers are starting to respond.

Because of our work, the top two grocery chains, Kroger and Safeway, along with more than 60 other major supermarkets, have committed to not sell GMO salmon if it comes to market. What’s more, two of the largest apple buyers — McDonald’s and Gerber — have confirmed that they will not sell GMO apples.

Meanwhile, we’re making sure food companies reject GMOs 2.0 — produced via new “extreme” genetic engineering techniques called synthetic biology. This week Haagen-Dazs (owned by Nestlé and General Mills) and other companies confirmed to Friends of the Earth they won’t use unlabeled, virtually unregulated synbio “vanilla” flavoring, excreted by genetically engineered yeast, in their ice cream.

Even as some retailers and food companies are saying “no” to GMOs, the junk food and chemical companies profiting from them are not giving up. So if we don’t want to eat these foods, we have to make sure GMOs already on the market are labeled.

Big Food is spending big to fight GMO labeling initiatives across the country. Last year, they spent millions to blanket the airwaves with misleading ads, leading to the narrow defeat of labeling initiatives in Washington and California. Now, they’re at it again, fighting Oregon voters’ right to know what they are eating.

That’s why we’re on the ground right now in Oregon, reaching out directly to the public about the importance of labeling GMOs. If we can win in Oregon it will open the door to GMO labeling across the country.

Lisa Archer|Food and technology program director|Friends of the Earth

Energy

Fracking’s Chemical Cocktails

Fracking is once again in trouble. Scientists have found that what gets pumped into hydrocarbon-rich rock as part of the hydraulic fracture technique to release gas and oil trapped in underground reservoirs may not be entirely healthy.

Environmental engineer William Stringfellow and colleagues at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of the Pacific told the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco that they scoured databases and reports to compile a list of the chemicals commonly used in fracking.

Such additives, which are necessary for the extraction process, include:

-  acids to dissolve minerals and open up cracks in the rock;
-  biocides to kill bacteria and prevent corrosion;
-  gels and other agents to keep the fluid at the right level of viscosity at different temperatures;
-  substances to prevent clays from swelling or shifting;
-  distillates to reduce friction;
-  acids to limit the precipitation of metal oxides.

”Some of these compounds – for example, common salt, acetic acid and sodium carbonate – are routinely used in households worldwide.

But the researchers assembled a list of 190 of them, and considered their properties. For around one-third of them, there was very little data about health risks, and eight of them were toxic to mammals.

Industrial secrecy prohibits full disclosure

Fracking is a highly controversial technique, and has not been handed a clean bill of health by the scientific societies.

Seismologists have warned that such operations could possibly trigger earthquakes, and endocrinologists have warned that some of the chemicals used are known hormone-disruptors, and likely therefore to represent a health hazard if they get into well water.

Industry operators have countered that their techniques are safe, and involve innocent compounds frequently used, for instance, in making processed food and even ice-cream.

But the precise cocktail of chemicals used by each operator is often an industrial secret, and the North Carolina legislature even considered a bill that would make it a felony to disclose details of the fracking fluid mixtures.

So the Lawrence Berkeley team began their research in the hope of settling some aspects of the dispute.

Tim Radford|The Ecologist|August 22, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, The Ecologist.

5 Things You Should Know About Solar Panels Before Installing Them in Your Home

Solar panels are an energy saving home power solution that can help dramatically reduce both your power bill and your carbon footprint. Installing them is relatively simple and although their one-time installation cost may be high, long term prices for these panels are remarkably reasonable. Many commercial and residential dwellings use solar panels as part of their energy plan and use is only growing in popularity. This applies particularly to areas of the world where at least 6 hours of peak sunshine are available on a daily basis for large parts of the year.

However, even in less sun soaked places, panels can be installed and will still help reduce your power bill to some extent.

That said; let’s look over some important factors that you need to consider before installing a solar panel system in your own home or business. This is a fairly big decision and you need to have at least your basic facts straight if you want to go ahead with it.

1. Basic Considerations

As a first step towards setting up your own solar power system, you will need to calculate your approximate energy requirements and how much of that you can expect to cover with a solar array of whatever size you can afford. Your monthly and annual energy consumption can be easily found just by looking at your monthly electrical bills over a range of several months and calculating an average annual consumption.

If your energy bills are particularly high, then you might also consider ways in which you can lower them to some extent by cutting back on using electrical lighting unnecessarily, shutting off certain appliances and maybe buying less energy intensive home appliances. You may also consult a professional electrician on how you can optimize your electrical wiring and lighting locations at home to reduce your overall electricity consumption.

With your energy consumption calculated, you need to know how much peak sunlight you can expect for your particular region. This is going to vary greatly depending on where you live but generally speaking you should be able to count on at least a few hours of peak sunlight per day for half the year. Furthermore, to improve this, your panels should be installed on a southward facing surface for maximal sun exposure.

The average American home uses about 14,000 watt hours per day of electricity. You’ll want to cover as much of this as possible with your panel array.

2. How Much for How Much Energy?

So, given that the average home uses about 14,000 watt hours per 24 hour day in powering its main electrical and electronic devices (except the heating and cooking appliances), how much solar panel coverage will you need to almost completely meet the needs of your power consumption?

Well, modern PV (photo voltaic) cells generate about 70 miliwatts per square inch; this means that if you can get 4 hours of usable sunlight per day, you’d be receiving about 280 miliwatt hours per inch per day. With these quantities, you’d need to install at least 51,000 square inches of solar paneling; this amounts to 354 square feet of panels. These will provide you with an estimated 14,000 watt hours during their peak operating times under perfect conditions. However, since you won’t normally get perfect conditions and because the sun only shines for a fraction of each day, actual energy savings from such an array may be somewhat less than complete.

Nonetheless, these 354 square feet (assuming you live in a typical middle class home) will still drastically reduce your annual power bill by as much as 90%.

How much is your roof worth with solar panels?

Profit from your roof space: find local deals on solar in your area, eliminate your power bill, and join the solar revolution.

3. Equipment Requirements

Solar energy systems for homes don’t just consist of a series of glass panels. These are the most visible part of the whole arrangement, but hardly the only one. In addition to the numerous photo voltaic cells or modules, you will also have to install two other principal components. These are the electricity inverter unit, which turns the solar arrays DC current into the AC current that powers your home, and a battery cell unit, which can store extra energy for when there is no solar power coming to the PV cells in your yard or on your roof.

Certain modern PV solar panels actually have their own built-in micro inverters attached to each one of the individual cells. These are beneficial because they allow you to grow your solar array however you please without having to replace inverters to fit expanding or shrinking size requirements. They also allow for easier installation and lose less energy absorption ability under conditions of partial shade.

4. Cost

The most important question of all to the budget conscious green thinking homeowner; cost is a big reason why solar power isn’t more common in places where it’s not actually necessary. Even though prices have steadily been dropping as the home based solar energy market expands, PV arrays are by no means cheap even now.

An array such as our example above will probably cost you a minimum of $16,000 for the panels alone and another twice that for the inverter and battery storage system. Furthermore, the battery does have to be replaced every few years, adding to your costs. Micro-inverter based PV cells are going to save you some expense by removing the cost of a single inverter, but the individual cells are more expensive than normal PV modules.

A key cost reduction factor will be in the energy reduction measures you take. This means that before you even install your system, you should have switched to energy saving appliances, reduced the use of unnecessary lighting and decreased the number of unneeded electronics in your home. These cutbacks will allow you to reduce the size of your power bill before you even start with Solar panel installation.

5. Return on Investment

So, assuming you decide to set up a solar array of at least 354 square feet and manage to reduce your annual grid based power consumption by at least 90%, how long will it take you to earn back the investment? Well, let’s assume your overall installation costs amount to a total of $33,000 to $40,000 dollars for an array of 354 square feet or more. With such an installation you reduce an average annual power bill of $1500 by 90% and are left with an annual savings of $1350. You might even manage to attain complete electrical self-sufficiency, but given the realities of weather, electrical inefficiency and other factors, this is unlikely.

With $1350 saved each year, your $33,000 investment (at the lower end of the cost scale) will be able to completely pay for itself within a little over 20 years.

However, there are a few other factors that can shorten your ROI time rapidly. First of all, there is a federal tax credit available to homeowners that cover 30% of your solar array installation costs. In addition to this, there may be a number of annual or one time state tax and utility credits that you can take advantage of in your particular state. If you live in another country, similar programs may apply for your local jurisdiction and any of them will help shorten your ROI.

Finally, you should also bear in mind the inflating cost of grid based electricity, and this is rising at an annual rate of 5% in many places. What this means is that the amount you don’t pay to the utility company each year will more than likely grow, shortening the amount of time it takes you to pay for your initial solar array installation.

Greener Ideal|August 20, 2014

Third US Offshore Wind Lease Auction Goes to Italy-based US Wind

US Wind won an 80,000-acre parcel off the coast of Maryland with an $8.7 million bid. The land is estimated to have more than 1.4 GW of capacity.

Massachusetts, USA — The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) held its third auction of offshore wind leases yesterday, this time for prime U.S. federal waters off the coast of Maryland. Italian renewable energy company US Wind Inc. won the 80,000-acre parcel with an $8.7 million bid, well above previous auctions.

The area of interest was separated into two parcels, a North and South lease area located about 10 miles off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland. If fully developed, this land has the potential to support up to 1,450 MW of offshore wind capacity.

Sixteen companies expressed interest in the area and were qualified to compete, including familiar names from the previous two offshore auctions: Fishermen’s, Iberdrola, Sea Breeze, Orisol, Apex, Energy Management, SCS Maryland Energy, EDF, Dominion, Convalt, Bluewater Wind Maryland, Green Sail, Maryland Offshore Wind, RES America Developments, Seawind, and US Wind. Out of the sixteen, only three companies — US Wind, Green Sail and SCS Maryland — participated in a 19-round bidding process. 

Last year, BOEM held two offshore wind auctions. Deepwater Wind won the first auction for two parcels off the coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island with a $3.8 million bid. The 164,000-acre area holds an estimated 3.6 GW of potential. Dominion Virginia Power won the second auction for land 23 miles off the Virginia coast with a $1.6 million bid, which amounts to 2 GW of potential on 112,000 acres. BOEM also has a hand in facilitating the 454-MW Cape Wind project, which will likely be the first U.S. offshore wind farm, and the 30-MW Block Island Wind Farm, which is following close behind. Hoping to capitalize on these developments, the city of New Bedford, Massachusetts is constructing an offshore wind port to facilitate the construction and transportation of materials for the U.S. Atlantic coast.

In addition to federal support, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has promised a $1.7 billion, 20-year taxpayer subsidy for a 210-MW offshore wind farm at the site, the first subsidy created for a lease site. Once the project is commissioned, household electric rates will increase up to $1.50 per month and businesses will see a 1.5 percent monthly surcharge. The bill was signed into law after several years of debate, and coincides with Maryland’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which calls for 20 percent of its electricity to come from renewables by 2022. O’Malley hopes the law will not only help reduce emissions, but also boost the economy.

“We need a jobs agenda to match our climate challenge,” said O’Malley in a statement.  “Expanding renewable energy, like we’re doing here, will bring Maryland’s vision for clean energy one step closer to reality and clearly set our State apart on the country’s renewable energy landscape.”

US Wind has one year to send BOEM a site assessment plan, which describes how the company will evaluate wind resources at the site. It then has 4.5 years to submit a construction and operations (COP) plan, followed by an environmental assessment. Once approved, US Wind will have earned a 25-year term of operations.

“[Yesterday’s] results are a major achievement and reflect industry confidence as we strengthen our nation’s foothold in this new energy frontier,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in a statement. “The collaboration and thoughtful planning that went into this lease sale will serve as a model as we continue up and down the coast in our efforts to ensure wind energy is developed in the right way and in the right places.”

BOEM is scheduled to hold additional offshore wind lease auctions off the coasts of Massachusetts and New Jersey within the next year.

Meg Cichon|Associate Editor|RenewableEnergyWorld.com|August 20, 2014

Scientists Invent a Way to Generate Electricity From Your Home’s Windows

A transparent solar concentrator turns window glass and even smartphones into solar panels.

Forget putting solar panels on your roof—in the near future, you may be generating electricity from windows, skylights, or even your iPhone.

Researchers at Michigan State University have created a transparent photovoltaic material that can be placed over glass or any other clear surface. It’s not a new idea. Captivated by the notion of transforming glass-walled skyscrapers into giant solar power stations, scientists have spent years tinkering with solar films that can generate electricity.

The problem? Most of those materials carry a colored tint, which would make working in a building with such solar windows “like working in a disco,” in the words of Richard Lunt, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at Michigan State.

The breakthrough made by researchers led by Lunt was to create a material that is truly see-through. How? The luminescent solar concentrator they developed is composed of organic molecules that absorb wavelengths of sunshine invisible to human eyes, so the device could be made completely transparent. That collected sunlight is then shuttled to the edges of the plastic-like material, where it strikes thin strips of photovoltaic cells to generate electricity.

“The aesthetic quality of this approach is exceptionally high, which is key to many applications,” Lunt wrote in an email.

In other words, the neighbors aren’t going to complain if you install Lunt’s solar concentrators on your picture windows.

They probably wouldn’t even notice. The working prototype that Lunt’s team built looks like an unremarkable piece of clear plastic.

For now, though, the solar concentrator doesn’t produce much power. The prototype was less than 1 percent efficient at converting sunlight into electricity, according to a paper Lunt’s team published in the journal Advanced Optical Materials. Most conventional solar panels like those found on residential rooftops, on the other hand, are around 20 percent efficient.

The goal, Lunt said, is to make the material more than 5 percent efficient. That doesn’t sound like much, but imagine the electricity generated if, say, every window in Los Angeles or Houston was covered with luminescent solar concentrators.

He said it will probably be five or more years before the solar concentrators hit the market. But he and his colleagues have spun off a company called Ubiquitous Energy to commercialize the technology.

Expect to see it first on smartphones and other electronic devices. “It is natural to start with smaller and pricier products and then move toward larger-area applications,” Lunt said.

Todd Woody|senior environment and wildlife editor|TakePart|August 20, 2014

Study Finds 8 Fracking Chemicals Toxic to Humans

Fracking is once again in trouble. Scientists have found that what gets pumped into hydrocarbon-rich rock as part of the hydraulic fracture technique to release gas and oil trapped in underground reservoirs may not be entirely healthy.

Environmental engineer William Stringfellow and colleagues at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of the Pacific told the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco that they scoured databases and reports to compile a list of the chemicals commonly used in fracking.

Such additives, which are necessary for the extraction process, include: acids to dissolve minerals and open up cracks in the rock; biocides to kill bacteria and prevent corrosion; gels and other agents to keep the fluid at the right level of viscosity at different temperatures; substances to prevent clays from swelling or shifting; distillates to reduce friction; acids to limit the precipitation of metal oxides.

Some of these compounds—for example, common salt, acetic acid and sodium carbonate—are routinely used in households worldwide.

But the researchers assembled a list of 190 of them, and considered their properties. For around one-third of them, there was very little data about health risks, and eight of them were toxic to mammals.

Fracking is a highly controversial technique, and has not been handed a clean bill of health by the scientific societies.

Seismologists have warned that such operations could possibly trigger earthquakes, and endocrinologists have warned that some of the chemicals used are known hormone-disruptors, and likely therefore to represent a health hazard if they get into well water.

Industry operators have countered that their techniques are safe, and involve innocent compounds frequently used, for instance, in making processed food and even ice cream.

But the precise cocktail of chemicals used by each operator is often an industrial secret, and the North Carolina legislature even considered a bill that would make it a felony to disclose details of the fracking fluid mixtures.

So the Lawrence Berkeley team began their research in the hope of settling some aspects of the dispute.

Dr Stringfellow explained: “The industrial side was saying, ‘We’re just using food additives, basically making ice cream here.’ On the other side, there’s talk about the injection of thousands of toxic chemicals. As scientists, we looked at the debate and asked, ‘What’s the real story?’”

The story that unfolded was that there could be some substance to claims from both the industry and the environmentalists. But there were also caveats. Eight substances were identified as toxins. And even innocent chemicals could represent a real hazard to the water supply.

“You can’t take a truckload of ice cream and dump it down a storm drain,” Dr Stringfellow said. “Even ice cream manufacturers have to treat dairy wastes, which are natural and biodegradable. They must break them down, rather than releasing them directly into the environment.

“There are a number of chemicals, like corrosion inhibitors and biocides in particular, that are being used in reasonably high concentrations that could potentially have adverse effects. Biocides, for example, are designed to kill bacteria—it’s not a benign material.”

Tim Radford|Climate News Network|August 19, 2014

How Cutting Emissions Pays Off

Lower rates of asthma and other health problems are frequently cited as benefits of policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions from sources like power plants and vehicles, because these policies also lead to reductions in other harmful types of air pollution.

But just how large are the health benefits of cleaner air in comparison to the costs of reducing carbon emissions? MIT researchers looked at three policies achieving the same reductions in the United States, and found that the savings on health care spending and other costs related to illness can be big — in some cases, more than 10 times the cost of policy implementation.

“Carbon-reduction policies significantly improve air quality,” says Noelle Selin, an assistant professor of engineering systems and atmospheric chemistry at MIT, and co-author of a study published today in Nature Climate Change. “In fact, policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions improve air quality by a similar amount as policies specifically targeting air pollution.”

Selin and colleagues compared the health benefits to the economic costs of three climate policies: a clean-energy standard, a transportation policy, and a cap-and-trade program. The three were designed to resemble proposed U.S. climate policies, with the clean-energy standard requiring emissions reductions from power plants similar to those proposed in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

The researchers found that savings from avoided health problems could recoup 26 percent of the cost to implement a transportation policy, but up to to 10.5 times the cost of implementing a cap-and-trade program. The difference depended largely on the costs of the policies, as the savings — in the form of avoided medical care and saved sick days — remained roughly constant: Policies aimed at specific sources of air pollution, such as power plants and vehicles, did not lead to substantially larger benefits than cheaper policies, such as a cap-and-trade approach.

Savings from health benefits dwarf the estimated $14 billion cost of a cap-and-trade program. At the other end of the spectrum, a transportation policy with rigid fuel-economy requirements is the most expensive policy, costing more than $1 trillion in 2006 dollars, with health benefits recouping only a quarter of those costs. The price tag of a clean energy standard fell between the costs of the two other policies, with associated health benefits just edging out costs, at $247 billion versus $208 billion.

Audrey Resutek|MIT News|August 25, 2014

Read more at MIT News.

Verizon On Track to Be No. 1 Solar-Power Producer Among U.S. Comm. Companies

Verizon announced today that it will invest nearly $40 million to expand the on-site green energy program that it launched in 2013. This year, Verizon will install 10.2 megawatts of new solar power systems at eight Verizon network facilities in five states — California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. This investment nearly doubles the amount of renewable power generated by solar energy systems installed at six Verizon facilities last year.


To date, Verizon has invested nearly $140 million in on-site green energy. With the 2014 solar investment announced today, Verizon is on target to deploy upward of 25 megawatts of green energy upon completion of the new solar projects. The system will generate enough green energy to power more than 8,500 homes each year. Verizon’s total green-energy efforts are expected to offset 22,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, which is equivalent to taking nearly 5,000 passenger vehicles off the road each year.

“Our investment in on-site green energy is improving the quality of life in the communities we serve by reducing CO2 levels and reducing strain on commercial power grids, while increasing our energy efficiency,” said James Gowen, Verizon’s chief sustainability officer. “By almost doubling the amount of renewable, solar energy we’re using, we are making further progress toward Verizon’s goal of cutting our carbon intensity in half by 2020, in part, by leveraging the proven business case for clean-energy alternatives to the commercial power grid.”

With this announcement, Verizon is on track to become the No. 1 solar-power producer among all U.S. communications companies, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the U.S. trade association for companies that research, manufacture, distribute, finance and build solar projects domestically and abroad.

“Based on its existing solar power capacity and on-site generating systems, combined with its new solar energy expansion plans for 2014, it’s clear that Verizon is on a path to become the solar-power leader in the U.S. telecom industry,” said SEIA president and CEO Rhone Resch. “In fact, we project that Verizon will be among the top 20 of all companies nationwide in terms of the number of solar installations it operates, and one of the top 10 companies in the U.S. based on solar generating capacity.”

Verizon contracted with SunPower Corp. to design and install all of the solar systems. The new equipment, consisting of high-efficiency rooftop, parking-structure and ground-mounted solar photovoltaic systems, will vary from site to site.

Guest Author|Clean Techies|August 26, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate CleanTechies.

Cooling tubes at FPL St. Lucie nuke plant show significant wear

Florida Power & Light’s St. Lucie Nuclear Plant on Hutchinson Island, about 50 miles north of West Palm Beach, may be in trouble.

More than 3,700 tubes that help cool a nuclear reactor at Florida Power & Light’s St. Lucie facility exhibit wear. Most other similar plants have between zero and a few hundred.

Worst case: A tube bursts and spews radioactive fluid. That’s what happened at the San Onofre plant in California two years ago. The plant shut down forever because it would have cost too much to fix.

FPL says its plant is safe, the rate of wear is slowing and its customers’ multibillion-dollar investment in the plant is not in jeopardy.

“The bottom line is, these components are functioning within their requirements, and if they weren’t they would be removed from service,” said Michael Waldron, an FPL spokesman.

FPL is so confident in St. Lucie’s condition that it boosted the plant’s power. The utility acknowledged that will aggravate wear on the tubes, located inside steam generators.

Critics say that’s like pressing hard on the accelerator, even when you know the car has worn brakes.

“The damn thing is grinding down,” said Daniel Hirsch, a University of California at Santa Cruz nuclear policy lecturer. “They must be terrified internally. They’ve got steam generators that are now just falling apart.”

Nuclear power plants are like very expensive tea kettles. The reactor heats water. The steam generator turns hot water to steam, which powers a turbine, which makes electricity.

The steam generator also uses its thousands of alloy tubes to cool water, which is pumped back to cool the reactor. In that sense, the steam generators are a safety device.

“The tubes need to be very thin to transfer heat, and they need to be very strong to prevent a meltdown,” said Hirsch, who reviewed the tube problems at San Onofre and St. Lucie. “Steam generators are really critical to safety. It’s not a feature you want to play with.”

FPL, the state’s largest electric utility, brought the St. Lucie 2 plant online in 1983, about 50 miles north of West Palm Beach.

In 2007, FPL installed two new steam generators for $140 million, intending them to last until the plant’s license expires in 2043. Each generator contained about 9,000 tubes, which are 50 to 70 feet long.

In 2009, FPL shut down the reactor for routine refueling. An inspection found that the tubes were banging against the stainless steel antivibration bars, leaving dents and wear spots.

More than 2,000 tubes showed some wear in 5,855 separate places. (A tube can be worn in multiple spots.)

At that time – this was three years before San Onofre – it was by far the most wear found at the 20 or so similar plants with new generators, according to filings with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Salem 2 plant in New Jersey had 1,567 wear indications when first inspected, but no other plant had more than a few hundred. The typical plant had fewer than 20.

Aging steam generators near the end of their useful lives can develop significant tube wear, but to sustain thousands of wear indications just a couple of years after installation is unusual.

“St. Lucie is the outlier of all the active plants,” said Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer and frequent critic of the nuclear industry.

FPL turned the plant back on, telling the NRC in a subsequent report that the tube wear was within allowable levels. Federal regulators agreed that the plant was safe to operate, though they noted that the number of wear indications was “much greater” than in other steam generators of similar age.

In 2011, FPL again shut down the reactor and inspected the tubes. The wear had spread.

Affected tubes: 2,978, up 46 percent from 2009.

Worn spots: 8,825, up 51 percent.

A few months after the San Onofre leak, FPL inspected the St. Lucie plant. Again, the problem had spread. More than 3,745 tubes showed wear in 11,518 places, almost 1,250 more than at San Onofre 3.

In answers to questions from the Tampa Bay Times, the NRC said the plant has no safety issues and operates within established guidelines. That includes holding up under “postulated accident conditions.”

FPL insisted St. Lucie should not be linked to San Onofre from either a safety or financial standpoint.

“From an engineering perspective,” said Waldron, the FPL spokesman, ”you can neither make a comparison, nor can you assume an outcome because the two systems are so different.”

Southern California Edison, however, found plenty of similarities.

In its analysis of what happened at San Onofre, the company called St. Lucie “the next closest plant with a high number of wear indications.”

“Although a different (steam generator) design, the (antivibration bars) serve the same design function,” Edison wrote in its April 2, 2012, analysis. “So St. Lucie was used to determine similarities and potential actions.”

During hearings, Edison repeatedly pointed to St. Lucie as having the same problem, said Hirsch and Gundersen.

“I think the comparison is dead on,” Gundersen said. “All of the failure modes except for (tubes hitting each other)are identical. When the same problem popped at the two San Onofre plants, it suddenly became a cluster.”

Ultimately it’s not the number of instances of wear but the depth of wear that matters most.

Think of it this way: If hundreds of roof shingles all show minor wear, the home remains dry. But if a hole wears right through to the attic, water leaks into the living room every time it rains.

Inspectors measure the depth in percentages. One percent is very shallow; 100 percent equals a burst tube. The tube walls are 0.043 inches thick, about as thick as a compact disc.

Speaking generally, Michel J. Pettigrew, principal research engineer for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., said most tube wear stays shallow and doesn’t develop into anything significant.

“It is the wear indications greater than 20 percent of tube wall that are significant,” he said. “These should be monitored closely.”

When it closed, San Onofre 3 had 2,519 wear spots at least 20 percent deep into a tube wall. When last inspected in 2012, the St. Lucie plant had 1,920, the Times analysis found.

As for the deepest wear, FPL can correctly argue that San Onofre was in far worse shape. More than 280 wear spots showed at least 50 percent wear. At St. Lucie there were none.

When a wear spot reaches 40 percent deep, federal regulations require a utility to plug the tube. Plugging eliminates the possibility of a tube bursting but also renders the tube useless. Plug too many and the plant can’t produce as much power.

FPL had plugged only about 155tubes as of the last inspection, far less than the 807 at San Onofre 3.

But St. Lucie’s tubes are still in use, and some are still wearing down. The last inspection found 480 wear spots at least 30 percent deep, and 139 of those were at least 35 percent deep.

While not as severe as San Onofre, the depth of wear at St. Lucie exceeds other plants with replaced steam generators.

For instance, neither of the two plants at the Joseph M. Farley complex in Alabama had plugged any tubes as of their 2011 and 2012 reports. Same for Diablo Canyon 1 in California. Beaver Valley 1 in Pennsylvania and Comanche Peak 1 in Texas had plugged just one tube since the new steam generators began operating.

The last inspection of units 1 and 2 at the South Texas Project didn’t find a single wear spot due to antivibration bars, even though the steam generators are several years older than the ones at St. Lucie.

“We have not had any issues at all,” said Buddy Eller, a spokesman for South Texas.

In its response to the Times, FPL pointed to the big difference in the number of tubes with deep wear as a reason why its nuclear plant will be fine in the long run. The tubes at San Onofre 3 wore out in less than a year, while St. Lucie’s replacement steam generators have been running for seven years and the wear still is not as advanced, the company said.

FPL also emphasized that the wear at the St. Lucie plant is mostly contained to areas around the antivibration bars. There is none of the rapid tube-to-tube wear like at San Onofre.

Waldron, the FPL spokesman, said these numbers are not alarming.

“We have very detailed, sophisticated engineering analysis that allow us to predict the rate of wear, and we are actually seeing the rate of wear slow significantly,” he said.

For the last 16 months, however, St. Lucie’s tubes have been under more stress.

Near the end of 2012, FPL completed a $1.2 billion project to boost the power from both St. Lucie reactors by almost 12 percent. The more power the plant puts out, the harder the tubes work to do the dual job of creating steam and cooling the reactor.

FPL estimated the additional power could increase the rate of tube wear by up to 24 percent, according to an NRC review dated Jan. 27.

Joey Ledford, an NRC spokesman, said regulators reviewed the impact of the increased power at St. Lucie. They determined that FPL would only be allowed to “operate their steam generators if they could maintain tube integrity for the period of time between inspections.”

“The reference to 24 percent is more representative of an upper limit for potential wear during post-uprate operation and is not a prediction of the actual wear rate,” Ledford said.

But Dave Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, compared the power uprate to playing roulette.

“That would seem to be a gamble,” he said. “I don’t want (a leak) to be the indication I have a problem.”

“I’d have to agree that every steam generator has dents,” Gundersen said. “But the magnitude of what is going on at St. Lucie is off the charts. These guys are a hundred times worse than the industry average.”

Ivan Penn|Times Staff Writer|Tampa Bay Times|February 22, 2014 

Threat of Hydropower Dams Still Looms in Chile’s Patagonia

COYHAIQUE, Chile , Aug 26 2014 (IPS) – After its victory in a nearly decade-long struggle against HidroAysén, a project that would have built five large hydroelectric dams on wilderness rivers, Chile’s Patagonia region is gearing up for a new battle: blocking a quiet attempt to build a dam on the Cuervo River.

The dam would be constructed in an unpopulated area near Yulton lake, in Aysén, Chile’s water-rich region in the south. The aim is to ease the energy shortage that has plagued this country for decades and has prompted an accelerated effort to diversify the energy mix and boost the electricity supply.

However, the Cuervo River project is “much less viable than HidroAysén, because of environmental and technical reasons and risks,” Peter Hartmann, coordinator of the Aysén Life Reserve citizen coalition, told Tierramérica, expressing the view widely shared by environmentalists in the region.

The big concern of opponents to the new hydroelectric initiative is that it could be approved as a sort of bargaining chip, after the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet cancelled HidroAysén on Jun. 10.

Endorsement of the Cuervo River dam will also be favored by an Aug. 21 court ruling that gave the project a boost.

The Cuervo Hydroelectric Plant Project is being developed by Energía Austral, a joint venture of the Swiss firm Glencore and Australia’s Origin Energy. It would be built at the headwaters of the Cuervo River, some 45 km from the city of Puerto Aysén, the second-largest city in the region after Coyhaique, the capital.

It would generate a total of approximately 640 MW, with the potential to reduce the annual emissions of the Sistema Interconectado Central de Chile (SIC) – the central power grid – by around 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide.

Energía Austral is studying the possibility of a submarine power cable or an aerial submarine power line.

In 2007, the regional commission on the environment rejected an initial environmental impact study presented by the company.

Two years later, Energía Austral introduced a new environmental impact study, for the construction of a hydropower complex that would include two more dams: a 360-MW plant on the Blanco River and a 54-MW plant on Lake Cóndor, to be built after the Cuervo River plant.

“Cuervo appeared when HidroAysén was at its zenith, and the Cuervo River dam was a second priority for the Patagonia Without Dams campaign,” said Hartmann, who is also the regional director of the National Committee for the Defence of Flora and Fauna (CODEFF).

“In the beginning there was diligent monitoring of the project, from the legal sphere, but we ran out of funds and the entire focus shifted to HidroAysén as the top priority, and not Cuervo,” he added.

According to the experts, the Cuervo River plant would pose more than just an environmental risk, because it would be built on the Liquiñe-Ofqui geological fault zone, an area of active volcanoes.

For example, a minor eruption of the Hudson volcano in October 2011 prompted a red alert and mass evacuation of the surrounding areas. Mount Hudson is located “right behind the area where the Blanco River plant would be built,” Hartmann said.

“Energía Austral is doing everything possible not to mention the Hudson volcano, because it knows what it’s getting involved in,” he added.

In response to such concerns, the company has insisted that the plant “will be safe with regard to natural phenomena like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.” It adds that “the presence of geological fault lines is not exclusive to the Cuervo River.”

It also argues that in Chile and around the world many plants have been built on geological fault lines or near volcanoes, and have operated normally even after a seismic event.

The national authorities approved the construction of the Cuervo dam in 2013. But shortly afterwards the Supreme Court accepted a plea presented by environmental and citizen organizations to protect the area where it is to be built, and ordered a thorough study of the risks posed by construction of the plant.

However, on Aug. 21 the Court ratified, in a unanimous ruling, the environmental permits that the authorities had granted for construction of the dam. The verdict paves the way for final approval by the government, which would balance out its rejection of HidroAysén.

“The state is not neutral with respect to energy production; we are interested in seeing projects go forward that would help us overcome our infrastructure deficit,” Energy Minister Máximo Pacheco said in June.

And in July he stated that “Chile cannot feel comfortable while hydroelectricity makes up such a small share of our energy mix, given that it is a clean source of energy that is abundant in our country.”

Chile has an installed capacity of approximately 17,000 MW, 74 percent in the SIC central grid, 25 percent in the northern grid – the Sistema Interconectado Norte Grande – and less than one percent in the medium-sized grids of the Aysén and Magallanes regions in the south.

According to the Energy Ministry, demand for electricity in Chile will climb to 100,000 MW by 2020. An additional 8,000 MW of installed capacity will be needed to meet that demand.
Chile imports 60 percent of the primary energy that it consumes. Hydropower makes up 40 percent of the energy mix, which is dependent on highly polluting fossil fuels that drive thermal power stations for the rest.

Currently, 62 percent of the new energy plants under construction are thermal power stations. And 92 percent of those will be coal-fired.

Regional Energy Secretary Juan Antonio Bijit told Tierramérica that independently of Aysén’s enormous hydropower potential, “if we analyze the energy mix, it is highly dependent on thermal power, so the most logical thing would appear to be to increase supply in the area of hydroelectricity.”

He said the Aysén region “currently produces around 40 MW of energy, which only covers domestic consumption.”

But, he said, “we have significant potential” in terms of hydroelectricity as well as wind and solar power.

“The region’s capacity for electricity generation is quite strong,” he said. “However, we have to study how we will generate power, and for what uses.”

Bijit said the region’s contribution of energy to the rest of the country “should be analysed together with the community.”

“We can’t do things behind closed doors; we have to talk to the people,” he said. “That was done in a workshop prior to the decision reached on HidroAysén and now we are doing it with the Energía Austral project and others,” he said.

“The idea is that the people should be participants in what is being done or should be done in the field of energy,” he added.

Marianela Jarroud|Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez|Translated by Stephanie Wildes

Land Conservation

Three Southwest Florida projects are on the new Florida Forever priority list for the 2014-15 budget year:

Florida Forever is the state’s landmark environmental land acquisition program. The Florida Forever Priority List reflects the acquisition priorities of the portion of Florida Forever administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

These lands are proposed for acquisition because of outstanding natural resources, opportunities for natural resource-based recreation, or historical and archaeological resources.  The Acquisition and Restoration Council recommends and ranks projects on a proposed priority list that is submitted for approval to the Governor and Cabinet (acting as the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund, or BOT).

Florida Forever BOT project boundaries are maintained in GIS by the Florida Natural Areas Inventory.

Florida Forever Priority Projects

* Myakka Ranchlands in Sarasota County, with an estimated 11,239 acres that would be acquired by conservation easements. The project has been on the state list since 2007.

* Charlotte Harbor Estuary in Charlotte, Sarasota and Lee counties, with 6,874 acres projected to be acquired. The project has been a target of state land purchases since 1972.

* Terra Ceia in Manatee County, with 2,474 acres of potential purchases.

View the Florida Forever Priority List

View the Florida Forever Priority Projects on the Map Viewer

N.J. marshes are getting rebuilt with dredged material

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — On Ring Island, outside Stone Harbor, there is muck ado about something.


It is the pumping of dredge spoils onto the shrinking marshes, a pilot program undertaken by the Department of Environmental Protection that is designed to help build up wetlands and create bird habitat.

“It’s a beneficial re-use of dredge material,” said Dave Golden, chief of the Bureau of Wildlife Management for New Jersey Fish & Wildlife. “The concept is to increase coastal elevation. Subsidence, coupled with sea-level rise, has made some of our marshes vulnerable, and they are becoming open water. We’re losing habitat because there is too much water for the vegetation to be healthy.”

“Dredging the channels and the back bays of sediments and carting it off makes no sense,” said Lenore Tedesco, director of the Wetlands Institute, which has an unobstructed view of the dredging project taking place several hundred yards away. “This program is about keeping the material in the system. It shouldn’t be taken out of the system in the first place.”

Returning dredge spoils to the wetlands, whence they came, departs from the traditional method of storing the materials in a confined disposal facility (CDF), an option that is increasingly rare as state regulations become stricter. The lack of available space in CDFs has resulted in lagoons and back bays filling with silt, rendering them unnavigable at low tide, and has forced officials in coastal towns to seek alternatives to disposing of spoils.

This program could be the solution to that problem.

“We need to dredge,” Tedesco said. “There has been a dramatic change in the historic way we dispose of spoils. This project is kind of an elegant solution to the problem, taking what we don’t want in lagoons and putting it where it is needed.”

Following lead of other states

Although it is a first in this state, the program is not untested.

Hoping to replicate the success Louisiana and Delaware have had in rebuilding wetlands through the use of dredge spoils, New Jersey Fish & Wildlife, the Nature Conservancy and Green Trust Alliance partnered in obtaining a $3.4 million Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Grant from the Department of the Interior.

On Ring Island, the federal funds are being used to create a black skimmer nesting habitat, an area about 1 acre in size and 4 to 6 feet high at its center, and to spray a thin layer of material, between 3 and 6 inches deep, over a 2-acre area to increase its height.

The money also is earmarked for a 2-acre, thin-layer project this fall and a 45-acre, thin-layer project next fall, both in Avalon; and a 45-acre, thin-layer project in Fortescue, Cumberland County, next fall. A marsh-edge restoration project spanning between one-half and three-quarter miles also is planned to take place next fall in Avalon.

The locations for the pilot project were chosen for a variety of reasons, Golden said. The DEP selected areas owned and managed by the Division of Fish & Wildlife and in close proximity to active dredging projects for which the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Transportation had funding in place.

More than 7,000 cubic yards of material will be returned to the marsh at Ring Island, with 2,000 cubic yards being sprayed in a thin layer and 5,200 cubic yards being used to build nesting habitat for black skimmers, which are partial to sandy nesting grounds, Golden said. The three projects scheduled for Avalon will total 75,000 cubic yards, and the one in Fortescue will total 50,000 cubic yards, he said.

“We are taking all the dredge materials they want to get rid of and, depending upon toxicity testing and the size of the sand grains, using it all,” Golden said. “This project strives to keep clean sediment in the system to provide resiliency to the environment.”

Giving nature a fighting chance

“The marsh is drowning,” Tedesco said. “If this project works, it’s an opportunity for the marsh to rebound and keep up with sea-level rise. Because the marsh is flat, 6 inches can make a big difference.”

She said 1 acre of marsh can absorb 1 million gallons of water, making the wetlands an invaluable component of the seashore environment.

Golden said thin-layer application of sediments to the marsh can benefit plants by increasing elevation.

“Spraying the material on the marsh is one way to mimic accretion,” he said.

It also can benefit shorebirds that rely on the vegetation in the marsh for nesting sites. In addition to black skimmers, Tedesco named willets, clapper rails, laughing gulls and northern harriers as species that are threatened by loss of habitat.

“These birds nest on the marsh or just above it,” she said. “High tides can drown their nests and wipe them out.”

“This is an example of a species living on the edge,” said Golden, pointing to two laughing gull nests situated deep in grass on Ring Island as he walked across the mucky marsh to the dredging site.

Both Tedesco and Golden said neighbors had expressed concerns about the project, mostly stemming from a lack of information before the dredge arriving on site.

“It’s a short-term inconvenience for a long-term impact,” Tedesco said. “The neighbors are going to have a front-row seat to a fantastic bird habitat and healthy marshes once this is done.”

CINDY NEVITT|Staff Writer| The Press of Atlantic City|August 23, 2014

Transportation

Following Elio Motors: the IAV Engines That Power the Three-Wheeler

A recent blog piece from Elio Motors got me thinking about the state of small displacement ICE development, and how newly innovative power plants can add value to the overall transportation segment. According to Elio’s manufacturing partner IAV,

“Internal combustion engine(s) will remain the chief source of propulsion for automobiles and light commercial vehicles for decades to come. (IAV is) hard at work on reducing fuel consumption and emissions from these engines while harmonizing product costs, quality and other product attributes consumers find important.”

Clearly an ability to create extended travel ranges, while satisfying today’s reduced carbon footprints by means of refined fuels, are not only possible, but more importantly logical, since measured North American oil and gas supplies have never been higher. That said, however, it’s ‘who’ gets from ‘here to there’ that typically makes the world of difference.

 

In the case of Elio’s decision to utilize IAV’s three-cylinder ICE, the move offers a host of overall value propositions that seem to be almost too good to believe. However, under the bonnet IVA’s little engine is quite remarkable technologically, and at the heart of this result is the German company’s core environmental mission,

“IAV provides engineering services to the automotive industry, carrying out innovative research and development projects and making new, eco-friendly drive concepts ready for mass production… through IAV’s engineering work, an important contribution is made to reduce fuel consumption and emissions, thereby realizing low CO2 drive concepts; for example, by permitting the use of regenerative energy sources on an increasing scale.”

Based in Berlin, the company was founded in 1983 by Dr. Hermann Appel in order to serve as a University research institute. However, from its inception the technologies developer has produced a number of impactful automotive-related systems including the aforementioned regenerative energy system, along with its 2009 quick-charger battery unit, and now the final configuration and roll-out of the Elio’s three-cylinder powerplant.

Along with Elio Motors, however, IAV produces engineering innovations for a host of other automotive brands including; VW, BMW, PSA Peugeot, Citroen, Fiat, Ford, GM and Toyota. IAV’s engineering value is being further enhanced by a number of major auto supply-chain providers including; Bosch, Delphi, Continental AG, and the ZF Group.

Video To learn more about this cutting-edge engineering enterprise please visit the company at IAV.

Rick Carlton|August 29, 2014

Recycling

California moves closer to banning plastic grocery bags

SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) – Prospects grew for a proposed California ban on plastic grocery bags on Thursday as the state Assembly broadly approved the prohibition after an earlier vote failed to garner enough support in the face of opposition from bag manufacturers.

A number of cities in California and other states, including Hawaii’s Maui County, have made it illegal for grocery stores to pack consumer purchases in plastic. But California’s ban, if it passes in the state Senate before a Sunday deadline, would be the first statewide bar.

The measure, which passed the Assembly by a 44-29 vote, would ban grocery stores from handing out single-use plastic bags with customer purchases, and would give local bag companies funds to retool to make heavier, multiple-use bags. Customers could purchase paper or compostable plastic bags for 10 cents.

Environmentalists have pushed for banning plastic bags, which are cheaper for supermarkets to use than paper bags, but create mountains of trash that is difficult to recycle. There is also concern that plastic pollution harms marine wildlife and waterways.

“We live in a throw-away society. We live a lifestyle that is ultimately not sustainable,” Democratic Assembly member Bill Quirk of Hayward said during debate. “The 10-cent fee will encourage people to use sustainable bags.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents grocery store workers, said it now supported the bill after taking a neutral stance earlier in the week because of concerns over how the 10-cent fee would be used.

Critics say plastic bag restrictions should be left up to local jurisdictions, and warn that a statewide ban would cost jobs and benefit only grocers. 

“The revenue doesn’t come up to the treasury to go to education or public safety,” said Assembly member Don Wagner, a Republican representing Irvine. “It’s a tax increase we impose to benefit local businesses.”

Joaquin Palomino|SACRAMENTO Calif.|Aug 28, 2014|Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Grant McCool

China Encourages Recycling by Trading Plastic Bottles for Free Transportation

China Encourages Recycling by Trading Plastic Bottles for Free Transportation

The general public would be a far more willing to recycle something like a plastic bottle if their doing so actually resulted in some value for them. Organizations like Recyclebank already use this reward to encourage positive environmental actions, but now a company in China is taking it a step further with instant gratification.

When a person deposits a recyclable plastic bottle into one of the recycling vending machines located throughout in Beijing, the person gets reimbursed for their bottle in the form of free transit on public transportation.

Watch the video to see how it works, and to hear the public’s reaction to the new pro-recycling idea.

Ian Andrew|August 27, 2014

Miscellaneous

The Truly Simple Way You Can Save Dragonflies From Extinction

A confluence of human actions and environmental changes have put many, many animal and plant species at risk. If you’re anything like me, hearing about the danger these species are in stings. Not necessarily because I feel the potential loss keenly, but because so often there’s nothing I can do about it.

Efforts to mitigate the loss of an endangered or threatened species are certainly worthwhile, but the effects of our actions can feel attenuated from the problem at hand. It gets me a little down to know that there has to be an enormous cultural and political shift in favor of sustainable development, even though I try my hardest to support such a shift with my time and money. I have nothing to feel bad about; I think it’s a normal reaction when confronted with an uphill battle.

So I love it when something simple comes along that makes it relatively easy to do the right thing and produces measurable results. A study partially funded by the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority found that simply not driving as fast could save thousands of endangered dragonflies.

The Hine’s emerald dragonfly is the only dragonfly on the federal endangered species list. The insect’s habitat originally spanned seven states. However, today you’ll only find the emerald dragonfly in four states. The largest population is found in Wisconsin, but they can also be spotted in Illinois, Michigan and Missouri.

The largest population of dragonflies have the unfortunate luck of living near a popular Wisconsin vacation site. Of the estimated 13,000 dragonflies in the area, about 3,300 are killed every year by summer drivers.

Now, no one is suggesting that you swerve for dragonflies. First, that’s dangerous. Second, it’s impractical. You have better eyes than I do if you can spot an insect more than a second before it hits your wind shield. But it turns out that just slowing down can save those little dragonfly lives.

Conservation biologist from the University of South Dakota Daniel Soluk and graduate student Amber Furness mounted cameras on a truck and drove around Door County, Wis., home to the largest population of Hine’s emerald dragonfly. They drove around at various speeds and determined that the emerald dragonflies don’t die if you hit them at lower speeds:

At speeds below 35 mph (56 km/h), Hine’s emerald dragonflies — and other kinds of dragonflies — survive their tumble over the hood, and fly away to live another day, Furness found. Faster speeds kill, according to Furness’ research, presented here Thursday (Aug. 14) at the Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting. The dragonflies are either killed on impact or they suffer severe shock and fall to the ground, and are run over by a second vehicle.

A speed limit of about 30 miles per hour could greatly reduce the number of this rare dragonfly that are killed every year. Actually, this speed limit wouldn’t even need to be a year-round thing. This particular species of dragonfly are only really active June through August.

Dragonflies may seem like small potatoes. However, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority has taken steps previously to mitigate dragonfly fatalities by raising a bridge span on Interstate 355. Dragonflies can’t collide with cars if the cars are too high.

It’s not that often that something as simple as a speed limit can really help conservation efforts. Given that dragonflies actually do play an important role in the ecosystem — they serve as water quality watchdogs, for example — hopefully this small action will go a long way.

Mindy Townsend|August 22, 2014

Weed blaster shows promise as alternative to herbicides

The method, gaining attention from organic farmers, uses grit such as corncob bits instead of chemicals to protect crops.

Frank Forcella is tackling the problem of weeds head-on.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture research agronomist in Morris, Minn., Forcella doesn’t spray pigweed and foxtail with herbicides to shrivel them.

He blasts them to smithereens with corncob grit.

The tactic is gaining attention from organic farmers who don’t use chemicals and from food companies seeking to market pesticide-free snacks and other products.

Forcella said the technology is experimental but shows promise. It uses an air compressor to spray gritty material on both sides of a crop that kills young weeds without harming corn or soybeans.

“It obliterates the weed, especially if it’s a small broad-leaved weed like Lamb’s quarters or pigweed that’s one to 3 inches high,” Forcella said. “The corn plants growing next to them are taller and thicker and can withstand the grit blast, but the weeds just disappear.”

Forcella uses mainly dried corncob bits but has had similar success with other gritty textures such as ground walnut shells, corn gluten meal and soybean meal. He and others from USDA’s Agricultural Research Service have been working on organically certified plots owned by the University of Minnesota at its West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris.

Initially, Forcella used an air compressor mounted on an all-terrain vehicle and sprayed the rows by hand. Collaboration with an engineer at South Dakota State University has now yielded a unit mounted on a tractor that blasts the weeds four rows at a time from eight nozzles. High-speed particles of grit shred the weeds at 100 pounds per square inch of compressed air.

“We point the nozzles at either side of a corn row and blast about a 4-inch band on either side of the row and within the row,” he said. Field trials typically hit the weeds twice: once when the corn is 4 to 6 inches high, and again when it’s about a foot tall. The technique is called “propelled abrasive grit management.”

“We’ve been getting season-long weed control of about 80 to 90 percent, which isn’t perfect, but most organic farmers would be happy with that amount of weed control,” Forcella said.

The “back of the envelope” cost is about five times what spraying an herbicide would cost per acre, Forcella said, but that price differential could shrink if the technology takes off.

Sam Wortman, assistant professor at the University of Illinois Department of Crop Sciences, said that abrasive weeding or blasting might have greater potential for other row crops that have higher value, such as fruits and vegetables. He heard Forcella present the idea at a conference in 2011.

Wortman used the technique on tomatoes last year and on peppers this season, and may expand to sweet corn, kale and broccoli in the future.

“In our initial work [with tomatoes], we were able to reduce the density of weeds by about 75 percent with just one application,” he said. “And the weeds that we didn’t kill we were able to reduce the overall height so that they wouldn’t become competitive with the crop.”

Wortman said tomatoes and peppers are often grown with plastic film or mulch, with seedlings planted into 4-inch square holes. So the weed blasting involves driving along rows and spot spraying the weeds that emerge in the “crop hole” next to the plants, he said, and that would otherwise probably need to be hand-pulled.

The process for tomatoes uses much less grit than the continuous spraying along corn and soybean rows.

“Some grit does hit the stem of the tomato plant, but as long as we’re not hitting the growing part at the top of the plant, then we don’t see any unacceptable levels of damage,” he said. One member of the research team is a plant pathologist who is monitoring any potential infections of the plants from soil-borne pathogens, he said.

Cost-effective treatment

Organic and smaller farmers are excited about the possibilities, Wortman said, because they could make their own blasting kits with an air compressor, applicator and cart for $2,000 to $3,000.

What’s most exciting to Wortman is the potential to piggyback weed blasting with fertilizing.

Organic farmers could use granular forms of fertilizer, such as corn gluten meal or soybean meal, to nourish their plants at the same time they’re blasting weeds, Wortman said. Those materials contain about 7 to 9 percent nitrogen, he said, whereas corncob and other grit are essentially inert.

The weed-and-feed treatment would also be cost-effective, Forcella said. “If we start using fertilizers that organic farmers are putting on those fields anyway, there’s really no added costs except for the machinery.”

Companies including PepsiCo are following the research closely, Forcella said, for the potential to make and market pesticide-free snack foods. Farmers often sign contracts with food processors, especially for organic products, he said, so the industry has a vested interest in new technology that can improve productivity and profitability on specific farms.

Forcella said there may be potential international interest as well. He hosted a researcher from Spain recently who is planning to test the technology in vineyards and olive orchards where weeds have become resistant to conventional herbicides.

Wortman and Forcella said the technology is still in its infancy, and that a huge amount of work needs to be done to determine whether it has potential to be deployed on farms.

“It’s not anything that’s wide-scale yet for sure, but we’re hoping,” Forcella said. “We never thought it would work, but it did work.”

TOM MEERSMAN|Star Tribune|August 25, 2014

Maine lobsterman catches rare blue lobster

SCARBOROUGH, Maine (AP) — A Maine lobsterman says one of his traps caught a one-in-two-million crustacean: a blue lobster.

WCSH-TV reports Jay LaPlante of the Miss Meghan Lobster Catch company caught the curious creature in Scarborough around 10:45 a.m. Saturday. LaPlante and daughter Meghan were hauling traps when she discovered the bright blue critter.

The story has a happy ending for the lobster. Meghan says she is naming it Skyler and donating it to the Maine State Aquarium, far from any dinner rolls or pats of butter. The aquarium says it has three other blue lobsters and an orange one.

LaPlante says it’s the first time he has caught a blue lobster.

From Associated Press

Is Industrialized Farming Making Our Fish Terribly Sick?

In three Pennsylvania river basins, boy fish have girl fish parts. They also have distasteful looking black blotches and open sores. Shockingly, this is nothing new. It’s happening in a lot of places.

This stomach-turning state of affairs has experts deeply concerned. The culprits behind this phenomenon are called estrogenic compounds. Scientists wish we’d do something about them — soon — because the problem seems to be growing.

The latest salvo in this battle comes from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). A report issued by USGS this summer finds that the prevalence of immature female eggs in the testes of male smallmouth bass in Pennsylvania’s Delaware, Susquehanna, and Ohio drainage areas “correlated with the percent of agricultural land use in the watershed above a site.”

Researchers believe high amounts of estrogenic compounds are washing down from farmlands into our waterways. They accumulate there, jacking up the estrogen content of the water, silt and sediment, causing biological changes to fish eggs and young adult fish.

USGS biologist Vicki Blazer was studying fish kills in the Potomac River watershed in 2003 when she found repeated instances of male fish carrying female egg cells. She wasn’t looking for it, but there it was.

A variety of organizations, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Delaware River Basin Commission, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the USGS began independent investigations in 2006 and continued through 2012.

During this period, Blazer and her colleagues studied smallmouth bass, white sucker and redhorse sucker in Pennsylvania. They found the same odd intersex fish problem, often coupled with disease indicators such as “red raised, eroded or mucoid lesions, black spot, leeches, [and] cloudy eyes” on external body surfaces and “small white spots, grubs, pale coloration, eroded, frayed” gills.

What surprised Blazer was the scope of the problem in the waters of Pennsylvania. “I did not expect to find it quite as widespread,” she told The Washington Post. Researchers also identified the intersex fish phenomenon in 2009 in the Columbia, Colorado and Mississippi river basins.

“Fish are a good indicator of the health of the aquatic environment,” Blazer told Philly.com. “They are always in it.” How bad can our surface water be if it’s actually changing gender indicators in fish? Pretty damn bad is a safe guess.

Where are these chemicals in our waterways coming from? Some undoubtedly enter the water in human sewage after being ingested in the form of pharmaceuticals like hormone replacements and contraceptive medication. However, scientists say about 90 percent of estrogenic compounds come from modern agricultural practices.

It appears the sheer volume of industrialized agriculture exponentially increases the estrogenic compounds being carried by stormwater into our rivers. It’s not that farmers are feeding these chemicals to their livestock, says the study.

Rather, it comes from veterinary pharmaceuticals, pesticides and herbicides. It also comes from the high volume of urine and manure excreted by livestock which naturally contain these compounds.

“Human waste is at least treated,” University of California, San Francisco professor Tracey Woodruff, who specializes in reproductive science, told Al Jazeera America. “Cows don’t use toilets, and a lactating pregnant cow, for example, produces a lot of estrogen.”

In addition to all that livestock pee and poop, we have to worry about fertilizer as well. Incredibly high volumes of manure end up spread over millions of acres of crops. Rain falls over all this manure and, once again, whatever’s in that poop ends up in our rivers. It’s giving male fish some female features and is apparently causing disease.

“We do think some of the same feminization chemicals are causing immunosuppression,” Blazer told Al Jazeera America. “And that disease is having an effect on the [fish] population.”

Concern over the environmental effects of industrialized agriculture and factory farming is nothing new. This latest report is simply additional evidence that we’re ruining our planet. We strive to produce ever greater quantities of meat and dairy, which ends up feeding only a percentage of the world’s population.

Add to this the deleterious effects of the harmful chemicals and millions of gallons of water used on the crops intended to feed all these meat-producing animals. Industrial agriculture cannot continue to grow without exacting a greater and greater price on the environment. Is it worth it?

Can we perhaps grow fewer crops and feed them to people instead of to livestock? Turning from a meat to a plant-based diet may hold the key to this problem, but it’s a change that many millions will need to embrace to make a difference.

Will we do it before circumstances force us to? Time will tell.

Susan Bird|August 25, 2014

What Does A Humpback Whale Really Eat For Dinner?

A video has received lots of attention around the internet since it appeared— and for good reason. 

It shows a surfer’s VERY close encounter with a humpback whale off the beaches of Santa Cruz, in Northern California. 

But it’s also interesting because it’s a great close-up view of how a Humpback feeds and the sort of marine life that makes up its diet.

Humpbacks are baleen whales and have no teeth. They feed by using the large plates of baleen (see photo to right) in their mouths to filter out shrimp-like krill and other small creatures from the water.  Plated grooves in the whale’s mouth allow water that was taken in to easily drain, leaving a mouth full of dinner.

But most folks don’t realize that baleen whales such has humpbacks also consume fish— mainly small schooling fish they hunt in same fashion as krill.

In the video you can clearly see lots of small prey fish scattering in all directions just before and as the whale breaches.  (Double click on the video if you want to see a bigger version of it).  You an also see the whale’s baleen plates and the water rushing from its mouth as it filters out its prey.

Humpbacks are energetic hunters, taking krill and small schooling fish such as herring, mackerel, pollock, and haddock.  They’re also quite clever and have been known to use a technique called bubble net feeding. 

A whale or group of whales swims in a shrinking circle blowing bubbles below a school of prey, encircling and confining the school in an ever-smaller cylinder.  The whales then suddenly swim upward through the ‘net’ with their mouths open, filtering huge quantities of water and capturing thousands of fish in one gulp.

It’s a pretty amazing thing to observe…

And one other fun thing to note in the video is all the seabirds following the whales as they feed.  These birds know that breaching whales panic fish and make them easy pickings for an alert bird.  Looking for flocks of seabirds working the ocean’s surface is time-honored way for fisherman to locate schools— and for whale watchers to find whales.

eNature|August 28, 2014

A global plan for road expansion that doesn’t cost the earth

the first major highway in the Amazon was initially just a razor-thin cut through the forest. Today, that narrow incision has grown into a 400-kilometer-wide slash of forest destruction across the entire eastern Amazon.

Roads are responsible for massive environmental damage around the world, writes Bill Laurance – yet they also bring huge benefits. His solution? A new atlas that shows where the ‘goods’ of roads outweigh the ‘bads’, so that developing countries can harness the prosperity new roads can bring, without the destruction.

“The best thing you could do for the Amazon is to blow up all the roads.” These might sound like the words of an eco-terrorist, but it’s actually a direct quote from Professor Eneas Salati, a forest climatologist and one of Brazil’s most respected scientists.

Many scientists share Salati’s anxieties because we’re living in the most explosive era of road expansion in human history.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that by 2050 we will have 60% more roads than we did in 2010. That’s about 25 million kilometers of new paved roads – enough to circle the Earth more than 600 times.

In new research published today in Nature, we’ve developed a global ‘roadmap’ of where to put those roads to avoid damaging the environment. Our maps are also available to the public on a new website.

Roads today are proliferating virtually everywhere – for exploiting timber, minerals, oil and natural gas; for promoting regional trade and development; and for building burgeoning networks of energy infrastructure such as hydroelectric dams, power lines and gas lines.

Security and development versus biodiversity

Even national security and paranoia play a role. The first major roads built in the Brazilian Amazon were motivated by fears that Colombia or the US might try to annex the Amazon and steal its valuable natural resources.

India’s current spate of road building along its northern frontier is all about defending its disputed territories from an increasingly strident China.

According to the IEA, around nine-tenths of new roads will be built in developing nations, which sustain the most biologically important ecosystems on Earth, such as tropical and subtropical rainforests and wildlife-rich savanna-woodlands.

Crucially, such environments also store billions of tons of carbon, harbour hundreds of indigenous cultures, and have a major stabilizing influence on the global climate.

‘Killer roads’ open up forests for logging, farms and hunting

Why are roads regarded as disasters for nature?

Far too often, when a new road cuts into a forest or wilderness, illegal poachers, miners, loggers or land speculators quickly invade – unleashing a Pandora’s box of environmental problems.

For instance, my colleagues and I recently found that 95% of all forest destruction in the Brazilian Amazon has occurred within 5 kilometers of roads. Other research has shown that major forest fires spike sharply within a few dozen kilometers of Amazon roads.

Notably, we also found that many Amazonian roads are illegal – for every kilometer of legal road, there were three kilometers of illegal roads.

The Congo Basin is reeling from a spree of forest-road building by industrial loggers, with over 50,000 kilometers of new roads bulldozed into the rainforest in recent years.

This has opened up the forest to a tsunami of hunting. The toll on wildlife has been appalling; in the last decade, for instance, around two-thirds of all forest elephants have been slaughtered for their valuable ivory tusks.

In Peru, a new highway slicing across the western Amazon has led to a massive influx of illegal gold miners into formerly pristine rainforests, turning them into virtual moonscapes and polluting entire river systems with the toxic mercury they use to separate the gold from river sediments.

The first cut is the cruelest

Many road researchers believe the only safe way to protect a wilderness is by ‘avoiding the first cut’ – keeping it road free. This is because an initial road opens up a forest to deforestation, which then spreads contagiously, like a series of tumors.

And that cancer quickly grows. An initial road slicing into a wilderness typically spawns a network of secondary and tertiary roads, allowing deforestation to easily metastasize.

For instance, the first major highway in the Amazon – completed in the early 1970s to link the cities of Belem and Brasilia – was initially just a razor-thin cut through the forest. Today, that narrow incision has grown into a 400-kilometer-wide slash of forest destruction across the entire eastern Amazon.

And yet, for all the environmental perils of roads, they are also an indispensable part of modern societies. Most economists love roads – seeing them as a cost-effective way to promote economic growth, encourage regional trade and provide access to natural resources and land suitable for agriculture.

How do we balance these two competing realities – between road lovers aspiring for wealth and social development, and road fearers hoping to avoid ecological Armageddon?

For those who want to know, a global roadmap

This vexing question has been the focus of a talented group of researchers I‘ve been leading over the past two years, from Harvard, Cambridge, Melbourne, Minnesota, Sheffield and James Cook Universities and the Conservation Strategy Fund.

Our scheme has two components. The first is a map that attempts to illustrate the natural values of all ecosystems worldwide. We built this map by combining data on biodiversity, endangered species, rare habitats, critical wilderness areas, and vital ecosystem services across the Earth.

We added in parks and other protected areas, as these are also high priorities for nature conservation.

The second component is a road-benefits map. It shows where roads could have the greatest benefits for humankind, especially for increasing food production.

Focusing on food is vital because, with continuing rapid population growth and changing human diets, global food demand is expected to double by 2050.

With roads, more food is grown, and reaches those that need it

Roads affect food because large expanses of the planet – especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and expanses of Asia and Latin America – are populated by small-scale farmers who produce much less food than they could if they had new or better roads.

Such roads could give them ready access to fertilizers, modern farming methods and urban markets to sell their crops.

In these regions most of the native vegetation has already been cleared, so intensifying farming shouldn’t have major environmental costs. In these contexts, new or better roads (along with other investments in modern farming methods) are a key way to help struggling farmers to boost their productivity.

A potential bonus of this strategy is that, as farming becomes more productive and rural livelihoods more prosperous, regions with better roads tend to act as ‘magnets’ – attracting people from elsewhere, such as the margins of vulnerable forests.

In this way, investing in better roads in appropriate areas can help to focus and intensify farming, accelerating food production while hopefully helping to spare other lands for nature conservation.

Conflict zones, but reasons to hope

By intersecting our environmental-values and road-benefits maps, we have estimated the relative risks and rewards of road building for Earth’s entire land surface – some 13.3 billion hectares in total.

In our map, green-toned areas are priorities for conservation where roads should be avoided if possible, and red-toned areas are priorities for agriculture.

Dark-toned areas are ‘conflict zones’ – where environmental and agricultural priorities are likely to clash. Light-colored areas are lower priorities for both environment and farming.

The good news is that there are substantial areas of the planet where agriculture can be improved with modest environmental costs.

But there are also massive conflict zones – in Sub-Saharan Africa, expanses of Central and South America, and much of the Asia-Pacific region, among others. These hotbeds of conflict often occur where human population growth is rapid and there are many locally endemic species – those with small geographic ranges that are especially vulnerable to intensive development.

A global plan for road expansion – in the right places

Our global roadmap is, admittedly, an exceedingly ambitious effort. Yet our hope is that our strategy can be incorporated with finer-scale local information to help inform and improve planning decisions at national and regional scales.

Our effort is a first step toward a vital goal: a global plan for road expansion. We’re not so naïve as to believe everyone will immediately adopt it, but such efforts are unquestionably a crucial priority.

There is precious little time to lose if we don’t want to see the world’s last wild places overwhelmed by an onslaught of roads, destructive development and the roar of fast-moving vehicles.

Bill Laurance|28th August 2014

Mount Polley: A wake-up call for Canada’s mining industry

When a tailings pond broke at the Mount Polley gold and copper mine in south-central B.C., spilling millions of cubic metres of waste into a salmon-bearing stream, B.C. Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett called it an “extremely rare” occurrence, the first in 40 years for mines operating here.

He failed to mention the 46 “dangerous or unusual occurrences” that B.C’s chief inspector of mines reported at tailings ponds in the province between 2000 and 2012, as well as breaches at non-operating mine sites.

This spill was predictable. Concerns were raised about Mount Polley before the breach. CBC reported that B.C.’s Environment Ministry issued several warnings about the amount of water in the pond to mine owner Imperial Metals.
With 50 mines operating in B.C. — and many others across Canada — we can expect more incidents, unless we reconsider how we’re extracting resources.

Sudden and severe failure is a risk for all large tailings dams — Mount Polley’s waste pond covered about four square kilometers, roughly the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park. As higher-grade deposits become increasingly scarce, mining companies are opting for lower-grade alternatives that create more tailings. As tailings ponds grow bigger and contain more water and waste than ever before, they also become riskier. The average height of a Canadian tailings dam doubled from 120 metres in the 1960s to 240 metres today. Alberta writer Andrew Nikiforuk likens increasing mining industry risks to those of the oil sands.

Open ponds of toxic slurry aren’t the best way to manage mining waste. Although there’s no silver-bullet solution, and more research funding on alternative technologies is needed, smaller underground mines are finding safer ways to deal with waste by backfilling tailings. Drying tailings or turning them to a paste before containment are two other options. Safer solutions cost more, making them less popular with profit-focused corporations. But surely B.C.’s $8-billion mining industry can afford to pay more for public and environmental safety.

The government allows the mining industry to choose the cheapest way to deal with waste, and companies often lack adequate insurance to cover cleanup costs when accidents happen. Imperial Metals admits its insurance will likely fall far short of what’s required to repair the damage at Mount Polley.
The mining industry and provincial and federal governments must do a better job of managing risks. But how can this happen when we’re facing unprecedented dismantling of Canada’s environmental regulations and decreased funding for monitoring and enforcement?

Although the B.C. government rightly appointed an independent panel of three top mining engineers to review the cause of the Mount Polley breach and report back with recommendations, the lack of an environmental or cultural perspective on the panel makes it unlikely we’ll see meaningful industry reform. And even the most thorough reviews remain ineffective without implementation commitments — a point made clear by the federal government’s failure to act on the Cohen Commission’s 75 recommendations on the decline of Fraser River sockeye.

Canada’s mining industry must also work more closely with First Nations, some of which are challenging industrial activity in their territories. The Tahltan blockaded Imperial Metals’ nearly completed mine in the Sacred Headwaters, and the Neskonlith Indian Band issued an eviction notice to an Imperial subsidiary, which proposed an underground lead-and-zinc mine in Secwepemc Territory in the B.C.Interior. With the Supreme Court’s Tsilhqot’in decision affirming First Nations’ rights to land and resources within their traditional territories, we’re likely to see more defending their lands against mining and other resource extractions.

The Mount Polley tailings spill threatens two of B.C.’s most valued resources: salmon and water. As one of the largest sockeye runs enters the waterways to spawn, we must wait to find out the long-term repercussions for Polley Lake, Quesnel Lake and aquatic life further downstream.

This disaster has eroded public trust in the mining industry and regulations governing it. If risks are too high and long-term solutions unavailable or too expensive, the only way to ensure that toxic tailings are kept out of our precious waterways and pristine landscapes may be to avoid mining in some areas altogether.

As the government rallying cry of “world-class safety standards” echoes in our ears, it’s time we lived up to our self-proclaimed reputation.

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Specialist Jodi Stark.

Environmental Links

Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

ConsRep 814 D

Maintaining healthy forests is essential to those who make a living from the land and for those of us who use them for recreational purposes. Cathy McMorris

Announcements

South Florida Audubon Society / Project Perch

South Florida Audubon Society is a Chapter of National Audubon and Florida Audubon.

South Florida Audubon Society / Project Perch$19. 

Buy a Shirt

All proceeds will be used to protect and nurture the burrowing owls in Southeast Florida while simultaneously teaching the students at local schools how to care for the owls. 

Funds will be used to install owl friendly fencing, artificial burrows and nesting chambers at schools and local parks.  Safe burrows save owls. 

Burrowing owls are a threatened species that suffer from lack of habitat and are living in marginal habitats like school yards.

Project Perch works closely with the Broward County Schools to create owl habitats that can serve as outdoor classrooms where children learn about environmental stewardship. 

The students want to become guardians of their owls but need help getting supplies for their owl projects.   

The Broward County Burrowing owl Cam, a 24 hour live web feed, allows everyone to enjoy some of the school yard burrowing owls. 

Please help our students create a real life HOOT!  Buy a t-shirt and help save an owl!

Aug 21, 2014 – Sep 10, 2014

All proceeds will be used to protect and nurture the burrowing owls in Southeast Florida while simultaneously teaching the students at local schools how to care for the owls. 

Funds will be used to install owl friendly fencing, artificial burrows and nesting chambers at schools and local parks. 

Safe burrows save owls. 

Burrowing owls are a threatened species that suffer from lack of habitat and are living in marginal habitats like school yards.

Project Perch works closely with the Broward County Schools to create owl habitats that can serve as outdoor classrooms where children learn about environmental stewardship. 

The students want to become guardians of their owls but need help getting supplies for their owl projects.    

The Broward County Burrowing owl Cam, a 24 hour live web feed, allows everyone to enjoy some of the school yard burrowing owls. 

Please help our students create a real life HOOT!  Buy a t-shirt and help save an owl!

www.facebook.com/BurrowingOwlCam

Started by Nancy Boyle – All Proceeds Benefit South Florida Audubon Society/Project Perch 

2014 Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival

The 2014 Florida Keys Birding & Wildlife Festival is Tuesday, Sept. 23, through Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. 

Save the date, we are currently working hard to get you a complete list of our events, please check back soon. 

If you have immediate questions, please contact us at flkeysbirdfest@gmail.com or phone 305-304-9625 for more information.

Now in its 16th year, the festival offers a variety of programs, field trips, workshops and speakers guaranteed to enthrall nature lovers of all ages.

Festival activities span the length of the island chain, from Everglades National Park to the Dry Tortugas,

and give participants a unique perspective on the terrestrial and marine habitats of this subtropical paradise.

The festival is anchored at Curry Hammock State Park, mile marker 56.2, which is also home to the annual Florida Keys Hawkwatch,

a citizen science effort that monitors the fall migration of raptors over the islands.

The 2014 Festival includes a fantastic selection of birding experts who will lead morning guided walks, mid-day workshops and evening presentations. 

The festival features field trips to Dry Tortugas National Park, the National Key Deer Refuge, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock State Park and other national, state and private natural areas.

Additional trips include kayaking and boating ecotours, history, natural history, botanical, photography and butterfly field trips.

Think of this event as a backstage pass to the natural wonders of the Florida Keys.

Advance registration is requested, as many trips have limits on participants.

Go to website for more info. http://keysbirdingfest.org/

Early Voting is Open

Vote Yes ON Amendment 1 to generate funding for land conservation

Arthur Marshall Foundation for the Everglades

Launching the Lady Windridge December 6th, Kudos to the Crew

Behind every great social occasion, there is a dedicated “crew” of volunteers who devote countless hours of valuable personal time gathering silent and live auction items,

perfecting event logistics, deciding on music and decorations, and most importantly, gathering their friends and colleagues to join them for the great occasion.

At the Marshall Foundation, we are extraordinarily blessed to have a dedicated crew of talented volunteers who are working tirelessly behind the scenes

to ensure that the 2014 Gala Cruise to be held December 6th on the flagship yacht, Lady Windridge, is an unprecedented success.

We are delighted to thank our wonderful volunteers publicly by recognizing them here.

Chair Bonnie Lazar; Honorary Chairs Thais & Matthew Piotrowski and Bernadette & Robert Shalhoub; Committee Members Laurel Baker, Carol Bloom, Connie Buico,

Christina Coenen, Joyce Cohen, Kathryn Fox, Barbara Fretwell, Leslie Garcia-Furey, Kimberly Goodyear, Kim Hanson, Mary Hart, Sandra Kaplan, Haylee Kaye,

Donna Kellman, Marti La Tour, Matthew Leger, Trish Lowry, Nancy Marshall, Barbara McDonald, Elaine Meier, Ann Paton, Judy Ramella,

Sheila Schwartz, Georgie Skover, Fritz Waldorf, Elaine Weber, Kate Wetherby, Jody White and Ellen Wolff.

Our crew joins us in encouraging you to “jump on board” for our challenge to save Florida’s most important and endangered resource – the Everglades.

We sincerely hope you will want to become an Everglades Hero this year.

When you give a gift of $1,000 or more to our Everglades education programs, you will be invited to attend the spectacular River of Grass Gala Cruise, December 6,

and your gift will be matched in full by the Batchelor Foundation.

Enjoy a fabulous night of great food, music and fireworks with friends and double the value of your contribution to Everglades education.

Have fun doing the right thing for our Everglades.

Click here to visit our website to become an Everglades Hero today!

Your Trash Could Be Our Treasure!

Clean out that Closet, Garage and Storage Unit

The Sawgrass Nature Center is having its huge multi-family, indoor

12th Annual “Trash to Treasure” Sale

Saturday & Sunday, September 13th and 14th

from 9 AM to 3 PM

910 University Dr. Coral Springs, Fl. 

in the former Office Max Store

(just to the right of Whole Foods, between Atlantic Blvd. & Ramblewood Dr.)

Donated items are greatly appreciated

(and can be dropped off at the store on the following dates & times)

Sat & Sun. August 30 & 31st 10:00AM – 3:00PM
Sat. & Sun. September 6 & 7th 10:00AM – 3:00PM

(Weekdays& evenings by appointment)

For additional information, please call the Center at (954) 752-9453.

Proceeds from the sale will benefit the Sawgrass Nature Center & Wildlife Hospital,

located at Sportsplex Park in Coral Springs. The SNC provides care for injured,

sick and orphaned wild birds, mammals and reptiles and provides environmental

education programs for children and adults.

Proposal to Remove or Transfer Ownership of Aids to Navigation in Everglades National Park

The United States Coast Guard wants to hear from you!

The USCG is asking for public comment related the removal of channel markers from Coot Bay to Little Shark River Entrance. The USCG is in the process of making a determination of transferring the markers to

National Park Service ownership as well as considering complete removal of markers in the backcountry from Coot Bay to the mouth of the Little Shark River

NOW IS THE TIME TO TELL THE COAST GUARD THAT YOU OPPOSE THE TRANSFER OF OWNERSHIP AND REMOVAL OF CERTAIN MARKERS!

Public Comment Period Closes: October 1, 2014

In recent years, the USCG has allowed the markers to fall into disrepair to the point where many regular visitors now avoid the channel due to the potential for submerged piles below the waterline increasing the potential for collisions.

Now that the markers have degraded to such a state, that the USCG, the agency responsible for their decline is e now attempting to discontinue service that has played a vital safety roll for all on water activities in the backcountry.

Those that are beginners fishing the backcountry, those that are enjoying the houseboats on an infrequent basis and those that canoe the Wilderness Waterway from Chokoloskee to Flamingo

depend on these markers to assist with confirmation of their location in this vast part of the Park. This is a boater and paddle craft safety issue

Please send comments to the email address above in support of the USCG continuing to maintain the markers from Coot Bay to the entrance of Little Shark River.

For more information please contact Trip Aukeman CCA Director of Advocacy at taukeman@ccaflorida.org

Bok Tower Gardens to host Florida Wildflower Symposium on Sept. 19-20

The Florida Wildflower Foundation is proud to partner with Bok Tower Gardens to bring the 2014 Florida Wildflower Symposium to the scenic Lake Wales attraction on Sept. 19 and 20.

The event includes field trips to natural lands, workshops, walks in the Gardens, and presentations by experts on wildflowers, native plants, butterflies and bees.

There is also a landscaping track for those who want to learn about using natives at home.

Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, will speak at the symposium banquet, to be held Friday, Sept. 19, at the Gardens.

Tallamy, who chairs the University of Delaware’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, will talk about the important roles native plants play in ecosystem health and our own well-being.

Cost for dinner is $35 for FWF and Bok Tower Gardens members, or $45 for non-members.

Symposium registration includes access to Friday field trips ($10 each), and admission to Bok Tower Gardens for Friday and Saturday activities.

Registrants attending Saturday also will receive a beautiful “La Florida: 500 Years in the Land of Flowers” poster ($10 value).

Cost to attend the event is $35 for FWF and Bok Tower Gardens members, and $45 for non-members, which includes a $5 donation to the Gardens.

Additionally, Bok Tower Gardens also will host “Wildflower Day” on Saturday, Sept. 20, which includes public events such as short films, a presentation by Doug Tallamy, walks in the Gardens, and book signings in the gift shop.

All “Wildflower Day” activities are included with Gardens admission, with the exception of Tallamy’s presentation, which costs $18 for symposium registrants and $20 for the general public.

Visit the Florida Wildflower Foundation website, www.FlaWildflowers.org, to learn more about Symposium and Wildflower Day activities, and to register.

Special hotel rates also are available.

Please join us in thanking our event sponsors.

Lisa Roberts

Executive Director

Florida Wildflower Foundation

225 S. Swoope Ave., Suite 110

Maitland, FL 32751

407-622-1606

Town Hall Meeting on Fracking Next Tuesday ‏

Join the Americans Against Fracking coalition for an important town hall Tuesday August 26th
Date: Tuesday August 26
Time: 8 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. PT
Call: 559-726-1200
Code: 776632
Between now and October 16, there are key organizing opportunities for us to get out and show the breath of our movement and the power in our ranks. In short, there is work to do, and we have potential to make great strides for our movement.
Please join as we discuss major events in our movement happening over the next month and a half – the People’s Climate March on Sept 21, the Global Frackdown on October 11 and October 16, when the comment period closes for the EPA carbon rules.
Speakers for the call will include Wenohah Hauter of Food & Water Watch, Sandra Steingraber, and Josh Fox.

Of Interest to All

Deep Dredge Silt Is Killing Our Coral After All, Admit State Inspectors

For years, Deep Dredge proponents have promised that the $220 million project wouldn’t kill off Biscayne Bay wildlife. Coral would be removed from harm’s way, they claimed, and water quality would be closely monitored.

Like the massive dredge barges themselves, however, those promises appear to be full of crap.

State inspectors released a study Monday showing that silt from the dredge has already killed many corals and had “profound” and “long-lasting” ecological effects on Biscayne Bay.

The report appears to confirm environmentalists’ worst nightmares.

In 2011, a coalition of activists filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers, the government agency overseeing the project. The environmentalists argued that not enough was being done to protect Biscayne Bay wildlife from years of dredging and underwater dynamiting.

“Once we inflict enormous environmental damage on the bay, we can’t go back,” local boat captain Dan Kipnis said at the time. “This could be a permanent setback to the bay as we know it.”

Kipnis and others weren’t able to stop the dredge, of course, but they were able to obtain more money for mitigation and greater monitoring.

Last month, however, Kipnis and his coalition (which includes marine biologist Colin Foord, Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, and the Tropical Audubon Society) filed a formal notice of their intent to sue the corps and its contractor once again — this time for improperly monitoring the dredge and for damaging the bay with its dirty plumes.

They provided New Times with evidence that silt from the Deep Dredge had spread across Biscayne Bay, burying coral under a deadly layer of dirt, sand, and bacteria.

The day the group filed its motion, the dredge ships disappeared from Biscayne Bay. The corps claimed that its main ship was struck by lightning and that the stoppage has nothing to do with damage from the dredge.

Either way, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection used the pause in dredging to investigate. This Monday, they sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers outlining numerous violations.

Silt from the dredge had spread far beyond the confines of the project. In some locations — including at least one artificial reef — corals were buried beneath up to 14 centimeters of dredge detritus.

Even corals that weren’t buried were at risk because of how dirty the water had become from the dredge.

“During this diving inspection, significant impacts to hardbottom beyond those that were permitted were observed,” the letter said.

In the accompanying report, photos show the damage already done by the dredge: corals broken by boulders errantly dropped by dredge ships; corals covered in bacteria or buried under silt; once-vibrant ecosystems now reduced to rubble.

“The corps and [its contractor's] continued manipulation, evasion, and total disregard for conditions defined in our settlement agreement and the DEP permit requirements is an affront to the citizens of South Florida,” Kipnis said of the study. “ACOE’s blatant bullying and suppression of calls by concerned citizens and environmental organizations for transparency and compliance during PortMiami’s Deep Dredge project borders on the criminal.”

Foord, an expert in corals, said he was shocked by the DEP’s photos.

“It is, in fact, far worse than we thought,” he said. “State-protected sea fan gorgonians are also being smothered in silt and then subsequently overgrown with cyanobacteria.”

Most troubling of all, Foord said, is that summer is corals reproductive period. Instead of a sea swimming with coral larvae, however, the DEP found that dredge silt had killed them all.

“The bigger question now is just how far away this silt extends north of the channel,” Foord said. “It is possible that there will be no larval recruitment for miles around the channel.

“The ACOE should be held accountable,” he said. “They need to immediately rectify the methods they are using to dredge, abide by the coral monitoring reports, and adhere to the conditions of their permit. If anyone else besides the federal government was causing this much impact to Florida’s coral reefs, that individual or group would be facing huge fines and potentially imprisonment. This in conjunction with the fact they simply dumped the legally required ‘mitigation reef’ boulders directly onto the natural existing coral is a shameful (easily avoidable) act that demonstrates the low levels of professional/scientific conduct the project is operating on.

The DEP study gives the Army Corps two weeks to respond. It ends on a halfway hopeful note: “A fast response to this issue may minimize long-lasting impacts.”

Kipnis has a bleaker prognosis.

“If the corps and [its contractor] can stall, hem and haw long enough, they will get the project done,” he said. “We will be left holding the bag, as Miami-Dade County ultimately is responsible for the damages and remediation as per the contact agreement between PortMiami and the corps.

“Something is definitely wrong with this system.”

Michael E. Miller|Aug. 20 2014

Leonardo DiCaprio gala raises $25 million for conservation

A star studded gala hosted by Leonardo DiCaprio in St Tropez, France raised more than $25 million for The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which is dedicated to protecting and preserving the world’s environment and wildlife.

Areas of focus include; land, oceans and species conservation, climate change and disaster relief, and recent grants from the Foundation has gone to protecting tigers in Nepal and working with with WWF, Frankfort Zoological Society, the Australian Orangutan Project, Kehati and Eyes on the Forest to save the largest remaining block of rainforest in Sumatra.

Guests at the event included: Bono, Marion Cotillard, Jared Leto, Joan Collins, Selena Gomez, Cara Delevingne, Petra Nemcova, Robin Thicke, Julian Lennon, Natasha Poly, Toni Garnn, Dean and Dan Caten, Joan Collins, Philippe Cousteau, Ashlan Gorse Cousteau, Alina Baikova, Caroline Scheufele, among many others.

In his opening speech Leonardo DiCaprio said: “Today we stand at the 11th Hour – facing a tipping point of environmental crises unprecedented in human history.  Not since the age of the dinosaurs have so many species of plants and animals become extinct in such a short period of time.

“We must now make an effort to protect the rich biodiversity that could allow nature to eventually recover. The good news is there are solutions to these massive problems. Efforts like tonight will start addressing them.“ 

Nanoparticles: Panacea or Pandora’s box?

Nanoparticles can be used to deliver vaccines, treat tumors, clean up oil spills, preserve food, protect skin from sun and kill bacteria. They’re so useful for purifying, thickening, coloring and keeping food fresh that they’re added to more products every year, with the nanofoods market projected to reach US$20.4 billion by 2020. Nanoparticles are the new scientific miracle that will make our lives better! Some people say they’ll usher in the next industrial revolution.

Hold on… Haven’t we heard that refrain before?

Nanotechnology commonly refers to materials, systems and processes that exist or operate at a scale of 100 nanometers or less, according to U.S.-based Friends of the Earth. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter — about 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. An FoE report finds use of unlabeled, unregulated nano-ingredients in food has grown substantially since 2008. Because labeling and disclosure are not required for food and beverage products containing them, it’s difficult to determine how widespread their use is. Nanoparticles are also used in everything from cutting boards to baby bottles and toys to toothpaste.

“Major food companies have rapidly introduced nanomaterial’s into our food with no labels and scant evidence of their safety, within a regulatory vacuum,” says report author Ian Illuminato, FoE health and environment campaigner. “Unfortunately, despite a growing body of science calling their safety into question, our government has made little progress in protecting the public, workers and the environment from the big risks posed by these tiny ingredients.”

Studies show nanoparticles can harm human health and the environment. They can damage lungs and cause symptoms such as rashes and nasal congestion, and we don’t yet know about long-term effects. Their minute size means they’re “more likely than larger particles to enter cells, tissues and organs” and “can be more chemically reactive and more bioactive than larger particles of the same chemicals,” FoE says. A Cornell University study found nanoparticle exposure changed the structure of intestinal-wall lining in chickens.

Like pesticides, they also bio-accumulate. Those that end up in water — from cosmetics, toothpaste, clothing and more — concentrate and become magnified as they move up the food chain. And in one experiment, silver nanoparticles in wastewater runoff killed a third of exposed plants and microbes, according to a CBC online article.

Their use as antibacterial agents also raises concerns about bacterial resistance and the spread of superbugs, which already kill tens of thousands of people every year.

The Wilson Center, an independent research institution in Washington, D.C.,recently created a database of “manufacturer-identified” nanoparticle-containing consumer products. It lists 1,628, of which 383 use silver particles. The second most common is titanium, found in 179 products. While acknowledging that “nanotechnologies offer tremendous potential benefits” the Center set up its Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies to “ensure that as these technologies are developed, potential human health and environmental risks are anticipated, properly understood, and effectively managed.”

As is often the case with such discoveries, widespread application could lead to unintended consequences. Scientists argue we should follow the precautionary principle, which states proponents must prove products or materials are safe before they’re put into common use. Before letting loose such technology, we should also ask who benefits, whether it’s necessary and what environmental consequences are possible.

Friends of the Earth has called on the U.S. government to impose a moratorium on “further commercial release of food products, food packaging, food contact materials and agrochemicals that contain manufactured nanomaterials until nanotechnology-specific safety laws are established and the public is involved in decision-making.”

The group says we can protect ourselves by choosing fresh, organic and local foods instead of processed and packaged foods and by holding governments accountable for regulating and labeling products with nanoparticles.

Nanomaterials may well turn out to be a boon to humans, but we don’t know enough about their long-term effects to be adding them so indiscriminately to our food systems and other products. If we’ve learned anything from past experience, it’s that although we can speculate about the benefits of new technologies, reality doesn’t always match speculation, and a lack of knowledge can lead to nasty surprises down the road.

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

Broward to dig deeper at Port

County will pay $18 million tab

The most expensive piece of real estate in Broward County must lie at the bottom of Port Everglades. That’s where officials are going to spend $18 million to buy an extra foot of clearance for ships.

Broward county commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to pick up that tab using public funds from Port Everglades business revenues.

Broward County‘s been trying for 18 years to win federal approval — and partial funding — to deepen the port so larger ships can do business there. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently delivered the disappointing news that it will recommend dredging to 47 feet, not the 48 feet the county had hoped for. The Corps said the county could still win approval for a 48-foot dredge, but the cost of that last foot would have to be borne by Broward.

The port channel is currently 42 feet deep.

Business giant Terry Stiles of Stiles Corp. was among those expressing frustration Tuesday with the delays of the federal government in approving a project he said would be “life-changing” for Broward.

“I think it’s a disgrace that our government isn’t taking it seriously to get this approved,” he complained.

Col. Alan Dodd, district commander with the Army Corps of Engineers, defended the agency, saying that approving the project, which requires the destruction of a massive acreage of coral reefs, meant “working through probably the most challenging environmental issue short of the Everglades that this district has taken on.”The Army Corps figures that for every $1 of the $370 million project, the nation will get $2.7 dollars in return over the next 50 years, Dodd said Tuesday. But the additional benefit of dredging to 48 feet instead of 47 is not great enough to justify the additional cost, he said.

Ports across the east coast are racing to dredge deeper in order to take on the larger ships that will be traversing an expanded Panama Canal. PortMiami is dredging to 50 feet, for example.

Broward Commissioner Tim Ryan said if the project isn’t approved by the end of the calendar year, Broward could miss the next deadline to be considered for federal funding.

Dodd said he would try to get the project through the review process by the end of December, but it could be as late as February 2015.

The county’s total share will be $183.1 million

Brittany Wallman|Sun Sentinel|August 12, 2014

[There is no guarantee that the Post-Panamax ships the Eastern Seaboard ports are courting will stop at any Florida port. Savannah is dredging to 50’ and is more centrally located, easier to access and has it’s overland infrastructure already in place. Cargo coming to Florida would have to be shipped by land some 450 miles just to leave Florida, which puts the cargo in the Savannah vicinity anyway. I believe the only cargo that will come to Florida is that which is destined for consumption in Florida. Broward County suffers no compunctions when it comes to wasting taxpayers’ money.]

Watch: Awesome expedition from 1934 ‏

Imagine bolting yourself into a huge cast iron ball and being tossed into the Atlantic Ocean. That was just another day in William Beebe’s life.

Beebe, a marine biologist, explorer, and our founding ornithologist, made history in August 1934 – 80 years ago – when he descended 3,028 feet off the coast of Bermuda in a deep diving sphere called the Bathysphere. At the time, it was the deepest dive ever performed by a human, and Beebe was able to observe a number of animals that had never before been seen alive.

To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the dive, we’re sharing his amazing story. Check out this historic footage of Beebe and his fellow scientists on expeditions conducted for the New York Zoological Society (now the Wildlife Conservation Society). You can also see the Bathysphere today at its home at the New York Aquarium!

Learn how our scientists at WCS are inspired by Beebe’s legacy and carry on in his footsteps. Pretty cool, right?!

Enjoy!

Wildlife Conservation Society

Toxic Algae Scare Prompts Backlash Against Farms

What do a no-drink order in Toledo and a backlash against factory farming have in common? A lot, as it turns out. Residents of Ohio’s fourth-largest city were advised for multiple days earlier this month to refrain from drinking their tap water because it had been contaminated by toxic algae. As residents struggled to deal with their contaminated water supply, the culprit behind the problem became readily apparent: factory farms. The Ohio Agriculture Advisory Council (OAAC) is proposing a regulatory crackdown that could forever change industrial farming practices in this Midwestern state.

The chain between factory farms and contaminated drinking water is a long one. It starts with confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where animals are kept in close quarters in order to maximize production. This generates a huge volume of waste, which is stored in massive lagoons like the one seen above. That waste isn’t treated, however, and when those lagoons overflow or contaminate groundwater, the result is a release of waste filled with a variety of potentially infectious organisms — and nutrients that algae and plants love to feed on.

This causes a phenomenon known as nutrient pollution (another culprit for nutrient pollution is fertilizer runoff from industrial agriculture), where waterways become choked by organisms that are growing out of control because they’re getting far more nutritional support than they usually do. They can out-compete native species and totally change aquatic environments. And they can cause drinking water contamination, which leads to large-scale no-drink orders like the one that just happened in Toledo.

While factory farming is bad news for a number of reasons (not least of which is animal welfare), this is a huge problem — and it’s one that is very poorly regulated. Limited restrictions on how waste is collected, controlled and treated exist, and inspectors are overstressed with demanding schedules, which leaves few opportunities for monitoring farms in their regions. As a result, farms can store manure in unsafe conditions with few repercussions. Despite multiple record-breaking waste spills in regions across the United States, regulators have been slow to act on the problem. CAFO operators aren’t required to treat their waste, and often pass the responsibility for cleanup on to government agencies and other parties, sometimes escaping without even a fine for their activities.

S.E. Smith|Care2|August 18, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Care2.

 Audubon Wins Settlement in Osceola County Land Use Plan Challenge

I am pleased to report the final outcome of Audubon’s challenge of the Osceola County Comprehensive Plan ( the litigation was filed in the name of the Florida Audubon Society, Inc.)  You may recall that in April, Osceola County suddenly voted to strip most of the meaningful policy from the “Conservation Element” of its comprehensive plan. Among other things, plan provisions providing for wetland protection, and the protection of important habitats such as scrub and sandhill were removed. Also, a policy was changed which appeared to open the way for the development of conservation lands previously purchased by the county, or the use of density allocations from county conservation lands to increase other developments in the county.

Charles Lee and our Kissimmee Valley chapter appeared at the County Commission meeting in April to argue against these plan changes, but they were adopted over our strong objections.

In an unusual, but necessary step for Audubon, we filed a petition for a formal administrative hearing. We were ably represented by environmental attorney Chris Byrd. We took this step because the repeal of these policies in the Osceola County plan appeared to us to be one of the most serious incidents of undermining county plan provisions since the elimination of the Department of Community Affairs in 2011. Without a state agency to challenge these changes they would have gone into effect had Audubon not stepped in. The deciding factor for us was the fact that Osceola County sits at the headwaters of the Everglades, and hundreds of thousands of acres of important wetlands and wildlife habitat in the Kissimmee floodplain were put at risk.

On Monday, August 18th the Osceola County Commission voted unanimously to agree to a stipulated settlement of Audubon’s litigation. The county agreed to essentially restore the policies that were removed in April. There were some stylistic and language changes, but on balance the essential provisions of the policies that had been stripped from the plan were restored.  After the case was filed, Charles Lee of our staff and attorney Chris Byrd met with Osceola’s attorneys and planning staff. Charles also cultivated interest in the case by the press, and several strong editorials and opinion columns in the Orlando Sentinel, which were reprinted in other newspapers around the state, criticized Osceola’s decision to severely weaken their comprehensive plan.

The county’s turn-around demonstrates what carefully developed strategy employing advocacy, litigate and media cultivation can achieve.

Eric Draper|Executive Director|Audubon FLORIDA|August 19, 2014

UGA Student wins National Water Quality Challenge Award ‏

ATLANTA – Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that James Wood, a Ph.D. candidate from the University of Georgia located in Athens, Ga., was one of seven undergraduate and graduate student winners for Phase 1 of the National Aquatic Resource Surveys (NARS) Campus Challenge.  The award was based on Wood’s proposal to assess major trends in river plants and measure the bioaccumulation of heavy metals in highly urbanized watersheds.
Announced in February, the NARS Campus Challenge encourages students to develop proposals for research projects that find innovative ways to use NARS data about the condition of the nation’s rivers, streams, lakes, and coastal areas.  The challenge recognizes exemplary research in the area of water quality and ecosystems.
“The National Aquatic Resource Surveys are helping our states and tribes effectively and accurately monitor the ecological condition of our surface waters, which in turn helps EPA better target program efforts to meet our Clean Water Act goals,” said Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Water Office. “These students are working to protect America’s surface water resources and bring to this challenge energy, innovative perspectives, and cutting-edge knowledge.”

The National Aquatic Resource Surveys are a series of statistically representative surveys conducted by state, tribal and federal partners about the condition of the nation’s waters using core indicators and standardized lab and field methods. In addition to providing national assessments of key water body types such as coastal areas, rivers and streams, lakes, and wetlands, NARS also helps to improve the states’ capacity for water quality monitoring and assessment.

The other winners of the Phase 1 awards are:

Anna Palmer, SUNY-Purchase, New York, for her proposal to use statistical analyses for assessing  socio-economic factors related to water quality;

Lauren Reuss, University of St. Thomas, Minnesota, for her proposal to develop a new system for identifying the condition of shallow lakes and factors that affect the quality of lake condition such as land use, lake size and depth;

John Lombardi, SUNY-College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry, Syracuse, New York, for his proposal to combine citizen science data with National Lakes Assessment (NLA) data.
Kelly Heber and Lain Dunning, Ph.D. candidates, MIT, Massachusetts, for their proposal to link between stakeholder communities and coastal ecosystem health;

Kevin Meyer, Ph.D. candidate, Iowa State University, Iowa, for his proposal to estimate land use effects on water quality using spatial econometrics;

Amanda Winegardner, Ph.D. candidate, McGill University, Canada, for her proposal to explore biological  diversity changes across the U.S.; and

The Phase 1 winners each received an award of $2000 for their proposals. After completing their proposed work, these students may apply for Phase 2 of the NARS Campus Research Challenge. The Phase 2 winners will be awarded $5000 each.

More information on the National Aquatic Resources Surveys Campus Research Challenge is available at:

http://water.epa.gov/type/watersheds/monitoring/nars-challenge.cfm

More information on the National Aquatic Resources Surveys is available at:

http://water.epa.gov/type/watersheds/monitoring/aquaticsurvey_index.cfm

NEWS RELEASE|Dawn Harris Young|EPA|August 19, 2014

Hempcrete Could Change How We Build Everything

People have been set on using the best materials when it comes to building houses, in regards to foundations, insulation, electricity, etc. and we would like to believe that our government and top corporations are in the business of using the best materials to build with as well as benefit the environment. Well, if this was true, the world would be using hempcrete.

So what is hempcrete? Hempcrete is a building material similar to concrete but with a few differences that are quite notable. First off, it incorporates hemp, using the shiv (inner stem of the plant) and a limestone base. It creates a negative carbon footprint, and is highly versatile. Hempcrete can be used as insulation, flooring, roofing, and even drywall. It is fireproof, waterproof and rot proof provided it is above ground. It is easier to make than concrete, as well as more durable. It is 3x more resistant to earthquakes as compared to regular concrete.

Limestone is the binder in hempcrete, and it does not need to be heated as much as conventional concrete mixture, reducing energy costs. Going back to the carbon aspect of it, hempcrete isolates carbon in its cellulose structure, meaning that the carbon inside the hemp plant does not release back into the atmosphere. A standard home made hempcrete can save up to 20,000 lbs. of carbon.

What really makes hempcrete a superior building material is that it is lightweight, breathable, and incredibly strong. When it’s used for exterior walls, it will let water in without damaging or rotting the material, and due to this, the moisture levels maintain with the absorbed water releasing as the temperature goes up, and this very fact eliminates the need for insulation as it is its own acting insulator. Hempcrete can simply just be used as a wall with no need to leave a gap for insulation. Now, since the lime is wrapped in cellulose, it takes a bit longer for the mixture to petrify but it makes up for being highly durable, over time the limestone will grow harder and turn back into rock petrifying completely. A wall of hempcrete will last thousands of years compared to 40-100 with conventional concrete, especially if it’s reinforced with steel (a self-destroying design might I add).

The other great thing about hempcrete is that if you mess up a batch, it acts as a great fertilizer, simply being returned to the soil. Hemp reaches maturity in 14 weeks and doesn’t take much to grow it, no major pesticides, or fungicides to maintain its health and its seeds are extremely healthy and rich in omega-3 oils. One can only wonder why we don’t already have this plant used in mainstream industries already. As a matter of fact, this was the country’s first major cash crop until a legal scare put the industry out due to its relative cannabis-sativa classified as a schedule 1 drug.

Hopefully, we will see this material used for our future generations as the world’s need for carbon reduction and durable supplies increases.

Austin Miller|August 18th, 2014

Oregon Rejects Key Permit for Coal Export Terminal

The state of Oregon stood up to dirty coal exports today by denying a key dock-building permit. This denial is a major victory for residents and climate activists who have waged a huge, high-profile campaign against coal exports. Oregon’s decision today shows that our state leadership values clean air, our climate and healthy salmon runs.

Hundreds of Oregonians gathered at a youth-led rally against coal export in March. Kids ages three and up spoke out against coal exports and demanded that Governor Kitzhaber protect their future from dirty coal.

Coal export proponent, Ambre Energy asked the Oregon’s Department of State Lands for permission to build a new loading dock to ship Powder River Basin coal down the Columbia River to ocean-going ships bound for Asia. Oregon said no, saying the coal export project “would unreasonably interfere with the paramount policy of this state to preserve the use of its waters for navigation, fishing and public recreation.”

As American use of coal declines, the Pacific Northwest is threatened by industry trying to maintain profits by exporting the coal that is too dirty to burn here. At its peak, Oregon and Washington faced six coal export proposals. Three proposals were withdrawn by the companies and today’s decision marks the first time a Pacific Northwest state agency formally rejected a coal export permit. Two coal export terminals remain on the table in Washington and face intense public opposition, led by Power Past Coal, an alliance of health, environmental, businesses, clean-energy, faith and community groups working to stop coal export off the West Coast.

The decision to place the protection, conservation and best use of the Columbia River above coal export deals a severe blow to Ambre Energy’s struggling proposal. In the spring of 2012, Australian-based Ambre Energy was described by The Australian as, “a small-time Queensland resources company … at risk of financial collapse.” Since then, Ambre has failed to succeed at any of its coal-related ventures in the U.S. or abroad. Today’s permit denial seriously challenges the company’s ability to continue their attempt to export coal in the U.S. and should be seen as a warning to other coal companies hoping to try exporting coal to eek out more profit from their dying industry.

Here’s how communities in the Northwest stood up to Ambre Energy:

  • More than 20,000 people contacted the Department of State Lands urging them to deny the permit to build a coal export dock.
  • Eighty-six elected officials from Oregon, Montana, Idaho and Washington urged Governor Kitzhaber and DSL to reject the dock permit.
  • Close to 600 Northwest businesses and business leaders expressed concern or outright opposition to coal export.
  • More than 3,000 medical professionals and public health advocates requested a denial of the Morrow Pacific project permit. Coal contains toxic pollution like lead and arsenic known to harm human health. In addition to dangerous diesel exhaust from trains, barges and ships, toxic coal dust will threaten air quality and worsen asthma, respiratory illness and other health problems.
  • One hundred sixty-five Oregon physicians voiced their concerns directly to Governor Kitzhaber in the Position Statement on Coal Exports from Concerned Oregon Physicians to Governor Kitzhaber.
  • And we rallied … we rallied like it was our job. Because protecting the river, salmon and health of our climate and community is our job.

Brett VandenHeuvel|Columbia Riverkeeper|August 18, 2014

State: Port Miami dredging damaging coral

State environmental inspectors say a $205 million project to deepen Port Miami is damaging sea life and smothering coral.

The Department of Environmental Protection warned the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week that the work violates state permits. The Corps was given two weeks to respond to Monday’s letter.

The Miami Herald (http://hrld.us/1qp8SJy) reports a local watchdog group also issued a similar complaint last month and threatened to sue in September if the work isn’t cleaned up.

The Corps, which is overseeing the project, told the Herald the letters are being reviewed.

Last month the state sent divers to inspect the area around the dredge. They found the edges of some coral colonies are already dying and smaller colonies are showing signs of stress.

The Associated Press|Aug. 20, 2014

Study Finds 8 Fracking Chemicals Toxic to Humans

Fracking is once again in trouble. Scientists have found that what gets pumped into hydrocarbon-rich rock as part of the hydraulic fracture technique to release gas and oil trapped in underground reservoirs may not be entirely healthy.

Environmental engineer William Stringfellow and colleagues at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of the Pacific told the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco that they scoured databases and reports to compile a list of the chemicals commonly used in fracking.

Such additives, which are necessary for the extraction process, include: acids to dissolve minerals and open up cracks in the rock; biocides to kill bacteria and prevent corrosion; gels and other agents to keep the fluid at the right level of viscosity at different temperatures; substances to prevent clays from swelling or shifting; distillates to reduce friction; acids to limit the precipitation of metal oxides.

Household use

Some of these compounds—for example, common salt, acetic acid and sodium carbonate—are routinely used in households worldwide.

But the researchers assembled a list of 190 of them, and considered their properties. For around one-third of them, there was very little data about health risks, and eight of them were toxic to mammals.

Fracking is a highly controversial technique, and has not been handed a clean bill of health by the scientific societies.

Seismologists have warned that such operations could possibly trigger earthquakes, and endocrinologists have warned that some of the chemicals used are known hormone-disruptors, and likely therefore to represent a health hazard if they get into well water.

Industry operators have countered that their techniques are safe, and involve innocent compounds frequently used, for instance, in making processed food and even ice cream.

But the precise cocktail of chemicals used by each operator is often an industrial secret, and the North Carolina legislature even considered a bill that would make it a felony to disclose details of the fracking fluid mixtures.

So the Lawrence Berkeley team began their research in the hope of settling some aspects of the dispute.

Real story

Dr Stringfellow explained: “The industrial side was saying, ‘We’re just using food additives, basically making ice cream here.’ On the other side, there’s talk about the injection of thousands of toxic chemicals. As scientists, we looked at the debate and asked, ‘What’s the real story?’”

The story that unfolded was that there could be some substance to claims from both the industry and the environmentalists. But there were also caveats. Eight substances were identified as toxins. And even innocent chemicals could represent a real hazard to the water supply.

“You can’t take a truckload of ice cream and dump it down a storm drain,” Dr Stringfellow said. “Even ice cream manufacturers have to treat dairy wastes, which are natural and biodegradable. They must break them down, rather than releasing them directly into the environment.

“There are a number of chemicals, like corrosion inhibitors and biocides in particular, that are being used in reasonably high concentrations that could potentially have adverse effects. Biocides, for example, are designed to kill bacteria—it’s not a benign material.”

Tim Radford|Climate News Network|August 19, 2014

Where Have All the Trees and Wetlands Gone?

More than 1,500 square miles of wetlands and 16,400 square miles of forest were lost between 1996 and 2011, much of them gobbled up by human development, according to a new analysis from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And the march goes on: Developments like parking lots, homes and commercial buildings consume, on average, the wetlands equivalent of 61 football fields every day.

The study notes that during this 15-year period the Northeast added more than 1,100 square miles of development — an area larger than Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and D.C. combined. Meanwhile the West Coast saw 4,900 square miles of forests cut, and the Southeast lost 510 square miles of wetlands.

There are some bright spots — some local restoration projects are paying off — but the NOAA report raises very serious concerns about wild places that are disappearing before our eyes.

Learn more in the report and see how your region fared.

[In 1995, President Bill Clinton signed an Executive Order that mandated “no net loss” of wetlands and called for the creation of an additional 100,000 acres of wetlands annually.]

University of Illinois studying bee venom as cancer treatment

Another reason to love bees: they might be able to help us fight cancer.

While venom isn’t usually known as a friendly thing, new research shows that venom from bees, snakes and scorpions could potentially be used to fight certain forms of cancer. While you wouldn’t go and inject someone with a dose of venom, which could have lethal effects, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that if they isolated specific proteins in the venom, these could be used in a safe way to block tumor growth.

“We have safely used venom toxins in tiny nanometer-sized particles to treat breast cancer and melanoma cells in the laboratory,” study author Dipanjan Pan of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said in a statement. “These particles, which are camouflaged from the immune system, take the toxin directly to the cancer cells, sparing normal tissue.”

Previous studies have shown the potential power of venom, but because of the potentially very dangerous side effects of venom injection – damage to nerve cells, for example – hat power couldn’t be properly harnessed. That’s what makes this new research so exciting.

The toxins in question are peptide toxins. The researchers made a synthetic version in the lab, then injected it into the tiny nanoparticles. “The peptide toxins we made are so tightly packed within the nanoparticle that they don’t leach out when exposed to the bloodstream and cause side effects,” Pan said.

Anna Brones|Care2|August 21, 2014

Read more at ENN Affiliate, Care2.

Calls to Action

  1. Stop exploding trains – here
  2. Tell the EPA- Fracking Chemicals Shouldn’t Be Secret – here
  3. Tell Walmart Developer- Stop Building on Priceless Habitat – here
  4. Tell EPA to Prevent a Mining Catastrophe in Alaska – here
  5. Protect Brown Bear Habitat From Toxic Mininghere
  6. Keep water on public lands in our rivers – here
  7. Ban fishing of the Pacific bluefin tuna immediately – here
  8. Tell Congress to protect tiger habitat – here
  9. Tell McDonald’s to Go Deforestation-Free – here
  10. Tell the USDA- No Apples Imported From China! – here
  11. Help End Poaching Of Africa’s Last Rhinos – here

Birds and Butterflies

Raven populations rise in US as they turn man-made structures to their advantage

Ravens have turned human interference in the landscape into a benefit

A new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), US Geological Survey (USGS) and Idaho State University (ISU) has revealed how man-made structures affect the nesting of a variety of avian predators.

The study took place on the sagebrush landscapes of the US Department of Energy’s Idaho site and surrounding areas in the state, locating nest sites for all four species over a three-year span.

Researchers compared common ravens, red-tailed hawks, Swainson’s hawks, and ferruginous hawks.

Overall, the analysis showed that energy transmission towers and other artificial substrates (e.g. mobile phone towers, billboards and buildings) are overwhelmingly preferred by ravens as nesting sites, and are not at all favoured by any of the three hawk species.

“Raven populations have increased precipitously in the past four decades in sagebrush ecosystems, largely as a result of fragmentation and development of anthropogenic structures,” said ecologist and study lead author Peter Coates.

“Our study shows that in addition to habitat fragmentation, the addition of human-made structures benefit ravens, whereas some species of raptors like the ferruginous hawk have been impacted and limited in nesting areas.”

Why the difference in nest selection between ravens and large hawks? The answer may be linked to the availability of preferred prey.

“Ravens are opportunistic foragers, eating just about anything, including carrion,” said co-author and USGS ecologist Kristy Howe.

“In addition, they tend to be highly intelligent birds that adapt quickly to changing environments and have been shown to transmit learned behaviors from one generation to the next.

“Conversely, hawks tend to be strongly territorial, intolerant of human disturbance, and prefer prey like jackrabbits that occupy similar habitats.”

Ravens were classed as an uncommon breeder within this area as recently as 1986. They are now the most pervasive predatory species nesting in this area, accounting for 46 per cent of nests among the four.

Transmission towers are the tallest objects in the study area. Nesting on or near them may afford ravens myriad advantages, including a wider range of vision, greater attack speed, and greater security from predators, range fires, and heat stress.

While this is good news for ravens, it could be bad news for sensitive prey species, including the greater sage-grouse.

Howe speculates on the study’s other implications and directions for future research: “Since ravens are important predators of young birds and eggs, and hawks are predominantly predators of adults, these landscape changes could shift ecosystem dynamics.

“Predation risk would now likely be greater for sage-grouse eggs and young, and correspondingly lower for adult sage-grouse and other prey species.

“This adds new insights for ecosystem managers who seek to understand the complex relationships between ravens, hawks, sage-grouse populations, and habitat changes.”

“Industrial development, wildfires, invasive plant species, and other disturbances are changing sagebrush landscapes throughout the western United States,” concluded Peter Coates.

“Our results shed light on how these avian predators might change with them.”

Read Audubon’s Top Ten Tips on Saving Shorebirds

New population of critically endangered parakeets found by young team in Brazil

A team of young conservationists in Ceará State, north-east Brazil, has discovered a small population of five grey-breasted parakeets  (Pyrrhura griseipectus). 

Fewer than 200 are known to survive in the wild, and all of them are in Ceará State. The team, employed by Brazilian NGO Aquasis, was granted a Conservation Leadership Program (CLP) Future Conservationist Award in 2012.

This award enabled the team to conduct several research expeditions to find new populations and improve knowledge about the parakeet’s range.

“Last year, as part of our CLP-funded project we found clues suggesting the presence of this species in an isolated mountain,” said Fabio Nunes, the project leader.

“It was only in March that we were able to confirm and document the finding.

“This discovery could be a new hope to add to the existing conservation efforts led by Aquasis and its partners.”

Usually, the grey-breasted parakeet lives in tropical forests, nesting inside tree hollows. Yet on this occasion, the five individuals were found in a nest located in a small cavity on top of a rocky mountain, above dry vegetation known locally as caatinga.

These rare birds face immediate threats from trafficking for the pet trade and habitat destruction. The newly discovered birds represent the third remnant population of 15 which were previously known to exist; the other two being in Serra do Baturité and Quixadá.

The discovery of new populations is excellent news, but the grey-breasted parakeet faces an uphill struggle.

Having been left in isolation for so long, the genetic make-up of the new population may be different enough to suggest that uniting populations could be problematic and risky.

The team is now writing a scientific paper to emphasize the importance of this discovery for the survival of the grey-breasted parakeet.

Future conservation efforts will focus on environmental education and direct species and habitat conservation activities, led by Aquasis and supported by CLP, BirdLife International among others.

Habitat loss is a major risk to penguin populations

All penguin species are continuing to be at risk from habitat degradation and loss a new study finds.

Populations have declined substantially over the past 20 years and in 2013, 11 species out of the total 18 were listed as ‘threatened’ by IUCN, two as ‘near threatened’, and the remaining five as ‘of least concern’.

The scientists examined different factors where human activity might interfere with penguin populations.

They found habitat loss, pollution, and fishing are the primary concerns, and future resilience of penguin populations to climate change impacts will almost certainly depend upon addressing these threats.

Dr Phil Trathan, Head of Conservation Biology at the British Antarctic Survey and the lead author of the study, said:

“Penguins and humans often compete for the same food, and some of our other actions also impinge upon penguins. Our research highlights some of the issues of conservation and how we might protect biodiversity and the functioning of marine ecosystems.

“Whilst it is possible to design and implement large-scale marine conservation reserves it is not always practical or politically feasible. However, there are other ecosystem-based management methods that can help maintain biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem.

“For example, the use of spatial zoning to reduce the overlap of fisheries, oil rigs and shipping lanes with areas of the ocean used by penguins; the use of appropriate fishing methods to reduce the accidental bycatch of penguins and other species; and, the use of ecologically based fisheries harvesting rules to limit the allowable catches taken by fishermen, particularly where they target species that are also food for penguins.”

Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary Gets Needed Upgrade

This summer, Audubon Florida’s Coastal Islands Sanctuaries installed another 425 feet of offshore breakwater at the Richard T. Paul Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary in Hillsborough Bay, south of Tampa.

The breakwater, created from large pH-balanced hollow concrete pyramids, intercepts waves and ship wakes, slowing erosion of the bird nesting habitats for the nearly 6,000 pairs of colonial waterbirds that nested on the Alafia Bank this spring and summer. The project was funded by a $250,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Shell Marine Grant, funds generated from oil recovered and sold by the government following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This installation is the second large-scale breakwater placed on the north shore of the Alafia Bank, adding to 800 feet installed in 2011.

The 8,000-lb concrete pyramid units were lowered into place by a large crane mounted on a barge. The pyramids’ hollow structure and overlapping placement dissipate wave energy, creating a quiet shoreline to protect the island from erosion, which has been toppling bird nesting trees. Oysters and barnacles readily attach to the pH-neutral pyramids, providing habitat for fish and crabs.

The Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary, owned by The Mosaic Company and leased to Audubon for management as a bird sanctuary, is a critically important bird nesting site for 16 species of birds, including Brown Pelicans, herons and egrets, White and Glossy Ibis, Roseate Spoonbills, and American Oystercatchers.

Audubon Florida News Blog|August 14, 2014

500,000 Acres Proposed for Protection of Rare Western Cuckoos

One of the West’s most endangered birds is getting important habitat protected. Following the Center for Biological Diversity’s historic 757 species agreement and a 1998 petition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed last Thursday to set aside 546,335 acres as federally protected “critical habitat” for the yellow-billed cuckoo in nine western states, from California to Wyoming.

Also called the “raincrow” because its song is often heard just before thunderstorms, this bird has a sunshine-yellow beak it uses to gobble grasshoppers, cicadas and even spiny caterpillars. First identified as needing protection in 1986, it wasn’t formally proposed for a place on the endangered species list till last October, though its population has been devastated by dams, grazing, water withdrawals and more. A final decision on protections is due this fall.

“This is an important victory, not just for yellow-billed cuckoos but for rivers and streams across the West,” said the Center’s Michael Robinson.

Read more in the Albuquerque Journal.

5 Things You Can Do to Help Monarch Butterflies Migrate

Monarch butterflies are on the move. In one of Nature’s most spectacular events, billions of these wonderful insects are starting to migrate from many parts of the U.S. and Canada down to the California coast and Mexico.

The entire process is amazing. First, they emerge from their cocoon (called a chrysalis). Immediately, they start feeding so they can fatten up enough to withstand their journey. Most monarchs will fly around 3,000 miles to their winter breeding grounds, and they’ll need food and shelter as they go. Ultimately, they’ll end up congregating in swaths of forests. Butterflies coming from west of the Rocky Mountains will alight in coastal California. Those coming from east of the Rockies will find their way to central Mexico. There they’ll stay, carpeting the trees, until next spring.

Though this process has been going on for eons, this past century has been very tough on monarchs, and their numbers are taking a toll. In Mexico, the area of forest monarchs occupied last winter shrank to just 1.65 acres. That’s almost 50% less than what it was the previous year, reports National Wildlife Federation, and far lower than the 45 acres monarchs filled during the mid-1990s. In California, says NWF, the number of monarchs wintering along the coast has declined by nearly 90 percent since the mid-1990s.

Why the decline in population? Monarchs are just as susceptible to climate change and extreme weather events as we all are, but they face additional threats as well. The more fields are planted with genetically-modified crops, the bigger the impact seems to be on all kinds of pollinating insects, butterflies included. Intensive farming to grow corn and soybeans for bio fuels, illegal logging, and suburban sprawl are eating up butterfly habitat, too.

Fortunately, you can make a difference. Here’s how:

1) Plant milkweed bushes that are native to your region. Milkweed acts as a host plant for monarch caterpillars and provides nectar for adult monarchs as well as other pollinators. You can figure out which milkweed is native to your area here. You can probably find milkweed plants ready to transplant into your yard or garden at your local garden center. Otherwise, order transplant “plugs” or seeds online.

2) Grow other native plants that bloom during the migration season. Butterflies need nourishment throughout their migration path. They get that nourishment from the nectar in flower blooms. Again, check with your garden center or county agricultural extension service for recommendations. Asters, goldenrods, sunflowers, and blazing stars are late bloomers that will help quench a monarch’s thirst.

3) Garden organically. Monarchs and many other insects and birds are highly susceptible to pesticides, especially “systemic” pesticides like neonicotinoids. Instead of spraying insecticides widely, can you remove them by hand? I often use my garden gloves to wipe pests off stems and leaves, and to crush larger bugs. I don’t worry about getting rid of every pest. My goal is to keep their populations under enough control that they don’t get out of hand and the flowers can still bloom. Why not give that approach a try?

4) Get your community involved. Many towns and cities have done a great job protecting their trees. Why not do the same for milkweed? Encourage your friends and neighbors to plant milkweed bushes on their own property as well as in community spaces. Set up a Facebook or Pinterest page so people can post pictures of the monarchs that visit their milkweed plants.

5) Choose GMO-free corn and soybean products. Shift your spending to oils and other processed foods that are not made from corn or soybean products grown from the genetically modified seed that seems to be harming monarch butterfly populations.

Diane MacEachern|August 15, 2014

6 Fascinating Facts About the Misunderstood Magpie

Magpies are often maligned as pests, but they’re actually quite interesting birds that are usually overlooked for both their beauty and their intelligence. Here are six interesting facts about magpies.

1. Magpies Don’t Like Shiny Things — They’re Scared of Them. Magpies have a reputation as thieves out to steal your shiny jewelry or take ornaments from your garden, but new research shows that objects that are shiny probably repel magpies who don’t much like the look of them. The myth seems to have built up without much science to back it up, but the truth could actually be useful. Magpies are capable of wrecking crops by digging for grain, berries and other food, so along with other bird-scaring measures, the use of shiny materials in fields might help keep the magpies away and our crops safe from being upturned and trampled.

2. Magpies Will Eat Almost Anything, Including Bird Eggs and Chicks. While their natural diet is quite broad, including insects, mice and other small rodents, grain, berries and other fruit, magpies have been known to steal other birds’ eggs and even young chicks.

In addition, they’ve adapted rather well to suburban living and will often eat leftover scraps and other food bits put out for them, though for their health it’s probably better that you give them proper bird food so as to ensure they don’t eat anything that might be poisonous.

3. Magpies Are Closely Related to Crows, Jays and Ravens. Though they may look quite a bit different at first glance, magpies belong to the bird family corvidae, a group that includes crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws and jays, as well as lesser recognized members like treepies, choughs and nutcrackers. As such, they are among the most intelligent family of birds recognized by modern science. Which leads us to our next fact:

4. Magpies Recognize Themselves in Mirrors. European magpies have demonstrated the remarkable ability to recognize their own reflections in mirrors, something that was once thought to be a defining characteristic belonging only to humans. This might not sound that amazing, but out of countless species tested, only four ape species, bottlenose dolphins and Asian elephants have demonstrated this ability.

Scientists tested the magpies by placing a colored mark on their necks (which did not hurt or cause skin irritation). Then when placed in a cage with several mirrors, the birds were filmed scratching at  their necks after looking at their reflections. With everything else controlled for, this could only mean that magpies had recognized themselves in the mirrors, and not just that, but had differentiated between what was their normal physical state and their now marked plumage.

You can watch a video of that here.

For a really nerdy aside: scientists believe that self-awareness in birds and certain mammals may be an example of convergent evolution, which is where unrelated species evolve particular characteristics through different means. Another example of convergent evolution, and perhaps one of the best, is our very own set of eyes.

5. What is a Group of Magpies Called? There are several names given to a group of magpies, but perhaps the most descriptive is “a parliament.” The birds have earned this title as a result of their often appearing in large groups in the Spring, looking stately and cawing at each other.

6. To The End of the Tail. Our last fascinating fact relates to one of the defining features of a magpie. While they share some similarities with their corvid family, the magpies possess an extremely long tail. In fact, a magpie’s tail is often roughly the same length as its entire body. Why magpies have such long tails is still debated but it may be that it gives the magpie, who isn’t a particularly strong, though still capable flier, the ability to make swift turns while in the air. This would allow the magpie to evade larger predator birds and make up for its rather average flying abilities.

Steve Williams|August 20, 2014

Save the monarch butterflies

Monarch butterflies are so beautiful and fragile — and right now they’re dying at the hands of an unsurprising villain: Monsanto.

Monsanto makes big profits off convincing farmers to douse their fields with a pesticide called Roundup. Then they make even more cash when the farmers have to buy GMO seeds resistant to Roundup’s poison — seeds only Monsanto makes.

But as Roundup booms, it’s wiping out plants like milkweed, the only food monarch butterfly larvae can eat. Milkweed is now gone from at least 100 million acres of crops. And monarch butterfly populations are crashing. Scientists know this is no coincidence, but Monsanto will never raise a finger to protect monarch butterflies. The only way to save monarch butterflies is to get the government to step in — and step in quickly, before it’s too late.

Monarch butterflies are beloved by many. If you live in certain parts of the United States, you may have seen the gorgeous display of their 2,500 mile migrations from Canada or the States, all the way south to Mexico. It’s truly unforgettable.
But unless we step in, monarch butterfly migrations will just be a distant memory — another natural wonder that Monsanto will crush in their pursuit of bigger and bigger profits.

If we speak out together, we’ll be too big and too outspoken for our leaders to ignore. Otherwise, the prospects for monarch butterflies look dim — this year’s monarch migration was at a record low. It’s the third straight year of steep declines.

Scientists are sounding the alarm, but their words won’t be enough against Monsanto’s deep pockets. To save the monarch butterflies, we must speak out, and we have to do it now.

Nathan Empsall|SierraRise Senior Campaigner

 Florida Panthers

Eastern Collier habitat plan in works, so is new push for Town of Big Cypress

NAPLES, Fla. – A coalition of eight large landowners has been drafting a habitat conservation plan for eastern Collier County that some critics say could spell trouble for endangered Florida panthers.

Going by the acronym ECMSHCP, the Eastern Collier Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan could be submitted to federal environmental reviewers as early as this fall.

The habitat plan amounts to a kind of master federal permit that would set the rules for what would get preserved and what would get paved across 177,000 acres in eastern Collier County, including habitat for protected species, for the next 50 years.

Backers of the habitat plan say it will improve the otherwise piecemeal preservation that comes with individual permit reviews, but opponents worry that it would allow too much growth and maybe even push Florida panthers over the brink as their growing population runs out of room to roam.

“We have, of course, grave concerns about that,” said Jennifer Hecker, natural resource policy director for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Naples.

At least one development proposal, the Town of Big Cypress, has been on hold since 2010 waiting for the habitat plan, but landowner Collier Enterprises has been talking with county officials about “potential timelines” for reviving the town plans, Collier Enterprises Vice President Patrick Utter said.

“There’s not a set schedule,” Utter said last week.

Collier Enterprises unveiled plans in 2006 to build 25,000 homes in a new town and scattering of smaller villages on 8,000 acres of farmland surrounded by 14,000 acres of preserve east of Golden Gate Estates between Immokalee Road on the north and Interstate 75 on the south.

In 2007, the company submitted plans for a first phase of the project — 9,000 homes, offices, shops, light industrial space, a golf course, a hotel, a hospital and civic buildings and parks — around a town center that would be created at an intersection of Oil Well Road and a new extension of Randall Boulevard.

Utter said it’s too early to say how the plans might change, if at all, but this much has changed: The law signed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011 to abolish the Department of Community Affairs, which reviewed local growth, also exempted towns like Big Cypress from having to get additional approvals as a Development of Regional Impact.

Now, Big Cypress only needs approval akin to a local rezoning under Collier County’s landmark Rural Lands Stewardship Area plan, which was adopted in 2002 after a slow-growth order by then- Gov. Jeb Bush and the Cabinet.

The landowners proposing the habitat plan are Alico Land Development Corp., Barron Collier Partnership, Collier Enterprises, Consolidated Citrus LP, English Brothers, Half Circle L Ranch Partnership, Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd. and Sunniland Family Partnership.

The habitat plan would cover a host of species including panthers, alligators, wood storks, red-cockaded woodpeckers, scrub jays, crested caracaras, snail kites, bonneted bats, eastern indigo snakes and gopher tortoises.

Besides putting the Town of Big Cypress on the drawing board, the Rural Lands planning document also set in motion plans by the Barron Collier Cos. for Ave Maria University and a companion town that is built on 5,000 acres next to Big Cypress.

The rural lands plan, which allows landowners across some 200,000 acres around Immokalee to earn development rights to build in less sensitive areas by preserving natural land, overlaps with the Habitat Conservation Plan.

The habitat plan, to be reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, amounts to the federal permitting mechanism for a panther protection plan devised by a coalition of environmental groups and large landowners to build on the county growth plan.

The panther plan proposed to create two panther travel corridors, cap development at 45,000 acres, preserve 102,000 acres and set up new mitigation requirements for development in panther habitat.

The plan also proposed new fees on mitigation credits and real estates sales in eastern Collier County that would raise an estimated $150 million to buy panther habitat for preservation and to pay for habitat restoration and wildlife crossings.

How much of the panther plan ends up in the habitat plan proposal remains to be seen, but environmental groups on both sides of the issue are eagerly awaiting the details.

“We’ll be looking at it very closely to see where development will be, what land will be preserved and how,” said Nancy Payton, Southwest Florida field representative for the Florida Wildlife Federation, which was among the groups that worked on the original panther plan.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, which has opposed the panther plan, went to court to ask a judge to order the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate 3 million acres of critical habitat for the panther in South Florida, including in Collier and Lee counties. A judge refused.

The critical habitat designation the Conservancy sought would have added a new permitting hurdle for projects by requiring that they not “result in the destruction or adverse modification of habitat” for the panther.

“We’re waiting to see what the HCP says, but I think it’s safe to say, if it tracks the (panther plan) we’ll have substantial concerns with it,” said Hecker, the policy director with the Conservancy.

In the works already for years, the habitat plan likely will take years more before federal regulators decide whether to sign off on it.

“I would say we’re safely a couple years out from a permit decision at this point,” said Craig Aubrey, supervisor of the Fish and Wildlife Service South Florida field office in Vero Beach.

Eric Staats|Aug 11, 2014

Basic Facts About Florida Panthers

Florida panthers once prowled and flourished in woodlands and swamps throughout the Southeast. When European settlers arrived in the 1600s, the clear-cutting, building and other human activities that destroy, degrade and fragment habitat began, and the fear and misconceptions that led to panther persecution took root. Today, the panther is recognized as Florida’s official state animal but it is one the most endangered mammals on Earth.

Proportionately, panthers have the largest hind legs of any cat, allowing them to leap up to 15 feet vertically and 45 feet horizontally.

Panthers are an umbrella species: Protecting them and the vast, unspoiled, wild territory each one needs to survive—an average of 200 square miles for a single male—protects many other plants and animals that live there. At the top of the food chain, these cats help keep feral hog numbers in check and deer, raccoon and other prey populations balanced and healthy.

Florida panthers primarily eat white-tailed deer, but they will also hunt feral hog, rabbit, raccoon, armadillo, birds and other animals.

Estimated at 100-180 adults and subadults in south Florida, the only known breeding population.

Panthers historically ranged across the southeastern United States including Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and parts of Tennessee and South Carolina. Now, the breeding population of Florida panthers is found only in the southern tip of Florida, south of the Caloosahatchee River. In recent years, young male panthers have traveled north into central and northeast Florida, and one even dispersed to west-central Georgia near the Alabama border. Females do not roam as widely and none have been documented outside of south Florida in decades.

While the Florida panther is large, it is more closely related to small cats — like lynx and housecats — than to other big cats — like lions and tigers.

Panthers are habitat generalists, which means they use a variety of habitat types, including forests, prairies and swamps. They are solitary and territorial animals that travel hundreds of miles within their home ranges. Panthers are mostly active between dusk and dawn, resting during the heat of the day. Males have a home range on average of 200 square miles and females about 75 square miles.

Panthers are usually quiet, but they do communicate through vocalizations that have been described as chirps, peeps, whistles, purrs, moans, screams, growls, and hisses. Females signal their readiness to mate by yowling or caterwauling.

Rarely do all kittens survive. Kittens are born with dark spots that soon fade away as they become adults. They stay with their mother for up to two years.

Rescued Florida Panther Kitten Moves to New Residence at Wildlife Park

Yuma, now healthy and growing stronger, will reside in Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Park Service today celebrated Yuma, a Florida panther kitten, and his move to his permanent habitat at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. They were joined by officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Yuma arrived at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park on April 3 of this year. Yuma is a Native-American word that means “son of the chief.” As a one-week old kitten, he was discovered barely alive on Jan. 23 by Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission biologists checking on the den of a female panther in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Naples. The kitten had apparently been abandoned, was dehydrated and non-responsive. He received emergency care at Animal Specialty Hospital in Naples and rehabilitative care at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa.

“It is an incredible honor to have Yuma at the Wildlife Park,” said Clif Maxwell, district chief for the Florida Park Service. “While we are saddened he cannot be returned to his natural habitat, this will provide visitors to Homosassa Springs the opportunity to view one of Florida’s rarest and most iconic endangered species. We are very proud to add Yuma to the Homosassa family and will enjoy watching him grow.”

Since he cannot return to the wild, he will live at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, where he will serve as an ambassador for his species. Park staff and volunteers have been preparing this exhibit for the rambunctious panther kitten for the last seven months.

It is estimated that only 100 to 160 adult panthers remain of the species. Most of them are located in Lee, Collier, Hendry, Dade and Monroe counties. By 1995, only 20 to 30 panthers remained in the wild. That year, eight female Texas cougars were relocated to the area to restore genetic viability. The biggest threat to Florida panthers is loss of habitat.

Florida panthers are considered an umbrella species. Many plants and animals benefit from its protection and the protection of its habitat. Panthers prowl the same woods as black bear, coyotes, bobcats, white-tailed deer, wild hogs and many smaller mammals. Many varieties of birds, reptiles and amphibians live side-by-side with panthers. Rare tropical plants flourish in the south Florida wilderness where panthers roam. By protecting habitat for panthers, we protect our environmental heritage and health, and provide a wildlife legacy for our children and generations to come.

mburgerdep | August 22, 2014

  Invasive species

Floridians Would Tax Selves to Fight Invasive Species

Floridians would likely support a 1 percent sales tax bump to prevent and eradicate disruptive invasive species, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences public opinion survey shows.

The survey also shows that residents say they’re not as up to speed on endangered and invasive species as they would like to be.

An online survey in July of 515 Floridians found respondents believe environmental conservation is an important issue and ranked it sixth of 10 public-interest topics: well behind the economy and health care, but ahead of immigration and climate change.

For the second annual survey on endangered species, researchers from the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education, or PIE Center, included questions about invasive species, said Alexa Lamm, the center’s associate director.

The last decade has seen the state struggle with a growing number of non-native species that can wildly disrupt the ecosystem, including the Burmese python, the Argentine black and white tegu lizard and lionfish from the Indo-Pacific.

Florida has 121 animal and plant species listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, including Florida panthers, American crocodiles and aboriginal prickly-apples.

Jack Payne, UF’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, said as someone whose research centered on wildlife and conservation, the issues are close to his heart.

“I’m thrilled that the people of Florida want to know more about the animals and plants in our state that are imperiled,” Payne said. “That’s what UF/IFAS Extension is for — educating the public on topics critical to the state’s future.”

In the survey, 55 percent of respondents said they would support a 1 percent increase in the state’s sales tax rate to fund prevention and eradication efforts for invasive species. But their support only goes so far, with just 18 percent willing to support a 5 percent sales tax increase for the same purpose.

UF wildlife ecology and conservation professor Frank Mazzotti, one of the state’s scientists on the front lines of the invasive species battle, said if Floridians were ever to approve better funding for his research team’s work, he’d fight in this precise order: prevention, early detection and rapid response, containment, and long-term management.

Ecologists use a term called “the invasion curve” to illustrate why he’d choose that order. The more time a species has to become established and the larger an area it becomes established in, the more expensive control costs will be.

“Keeping them out in the first place is always your best bet,” Mazzotti said. “It’s time to stop playing Dutch boy and the dike.”

To mount such a funding effort would take education, however. Fewer than 15 percent of the survey’s respondents considered themselves highly or extremely knowledgeable about threats to endangered species, how to prevent endangerment or even which species are currently endangered.

Sixty-two percent of the survey’s respondents said they were either not knowledgeable or only slightly knowledgeable on the invasive species topic, with many suggesting they don’t know what types of invasive species are living in Florida or what they can do to prevent invasive species from entering the state.

“It’s interesting that this is one of the topics Floridians have the least amount of knowledge about, but the most passion for,” said Lamm, an assistant professor of agricultural education and communication.

The PIE Center will host a free webinar on the endangered and invasive species topic at 2 p.m. Aug. 20. Register in advance at http://www.piecenter.com/endangered.

Lamm will moderate and Steve Johnson, an assistant professor in wildlife ecology and conservation, will offer insight.

Besides endangered and invasive species, PIE Center survey topics have included public perceptions about water quality and quantity, immigration, food safety, food security and genetically modified organisms.

Mickie Anderson|University of Florida|August 19th, 2014

Lionfish-reporting app successful, plus 250 users sporting new lionfish shirts

See or catch a lionfish? Report it. That’s what many lionfish hunters have been doing, thanks to the new Report Florida Lionfish app. Released to the public May 28, the app has been downloaded by more than 2,500 people. The first 250 to successfully report their lionfish catch or sighting received an interactive Lionfish Control Team T-shirt. The logo on these shirts is designed to come to life on your smartphone.

In addition to the app, data can also be submitted online at www.MyFWC.com/Lionfish by clicking on “Report Lionfish.”

Lionfish are an invasive species that negatively impact Florida’s reefs and wildlife.

The Report Florida Lionfish app includes educational information on lionfish and safe handling guidelines, as well as an easy-to-use data-reporting form so divers and anglers can share with the FWC information about their sighting or harvest. App users also can take and share a photo of their catch. These photos may be used in future publications or social media efforts. (Samples shown here: Kyle Huber with his lionfish, and Glen Hoffman’s big catch.)

The FWC will use the data to help identify sites where targeted lionfish removal might be most beneficial. All data will be available to the public and shared with other groups and agencies collecting this kind of information.

Several users have submitted ideas on how to improve the app, and the FWC is looking into implementing those changes, including allowing users to submit using a photograph that is already on their smart device and adding fields for smallest and largest catch.

Learn more about the new app, T-shirt and interactive logo by watching a video online. Missed your opportunity to receive a Lionfish T-shirt? These shirts will also be given out at various lionfish-related events, such as derbies, across the state.

Learn more about lionfish at www.MyFWC.com/Nonnatives; click on “Marine Life.”

The Lionfish Threat to Florida Reefs

Lionfish are native to reefs in the Indian and Pacific oceans and are a popular aquarium fish in the United States. Unfortunately, the release of perhaps as few as a dozen of these pet fish into the Atlantic Ocean during the late 1980s has resulted in a critical lionfish threat to Florida reefs.

Lionfish can decimate the biodiversity of a reef by simply reproducing faster and eating more than the native species. One female lionfish can produce as many as two million eggs in a year. This results in a lionfish density that can be as high as 200 adults per acre. Each of these fish will eat almost anything that it can fit its mouth around, including other fish and crustaceans, and their prey has no innate fear of them.  These factors can combine to reduce the population of a reef by 70 to 90 percent.

A crucial aspect of the lionfish threat to Florida reefs is their consumption of species that have a particular role in maintaining the health of the reef. The mudfish, for example, is an algae eater that helps to prevent damage to the reef from algal overgrowth. Without it, coral reefs are in danger of being overgrown with algae, rendering the symbiotic algae living within them to photosynthesize and flourish.

Perhaps the most serious concern about the lionfish threat to Florida reefs is that the lionfish population is proving very difficult to control. The fish have no natural predators and are not susceptible to most of the parasites that are common in the Florida waters. They typically do not bite hooks, and since they live in reefs or wreckage debris they cannot be caught with large nets. The only reliable means of harvesting the fish is to spear them one at a time.

Tournaments and derbies with rewards for harvested lionfish have become popular in some areas, as well as campaigns to encourage restaurants to serve, and patrons to eat the fish. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission now allows divers to use a rebreather when hunting lionfish, with the hope that this will stimulate divers of all types to play a larger part in helping to conserve the reefs.

Endangered Species

Demand for shark fin falls by more than half

Campaigning by conservation charities seems to have made an impact on the shark fin market as a new report reveals demand for fin has fallen by 50-70 per cent.

It follows news back in April that the number of shark fin products imported into Hong Kong last year dropped by over a third.

The report, carried out by WildAid, compiles public opinion surveys, surveys from shark fin vendors and traders in the markets of Guangzhou, China (the current center of China’s shark fin trade) and surveys of shark fin price data from Indonesian shark fishermen, as well trade statistics and media reports.

It found there had been an 82 per cent decline in sales reported by shark fin vendors in Guangzhou over the last two years and a decrease in prices (47 per cent retail and 57 per cent wholesale).

So far 24 airlines (including Philippine Airlines and Air New Zealand), three shipping lines, and five hotel groups have officially banned shark fin from their operations and 85 per cent of Chinese consumers surveyed online said they gave up shark fin soup within the past three years

“Demand reduction can be very effective” says Peter Knights, Executive Director of WildAid. “The more people learn about the consequences of eating shark fin soup, the less they want to participate in the trade. Government bans on shark fin at state banquets in China and Hong Kong also helped send the right message and this could be a model to address issues, such as ivory.”

An estimated 100 million sharks are killed yearly with up to 73 million sharks used for their fins, primarily to supply the market in mainland China. Some shark populations have declined by up to 98 per cent in the last 15 years and nearly one third of pelagic shark species are considered threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Read the report HERE

Citizen Scientists Saving Snow Leopards

Nomadic herders work to help an endangered species and conserve Asia’s High Mountains

Atop the windy, frozen steppes of Mongolia’s Khar Us Lake National Park, Byambatsooj guides his herd through the rocky canyons of Khovd Aimag’s Jargalant Khairkhan Mountain. An outsider might think he is lost or wandering aimlessly. But Byambatsooj knows the mountain inside and out: every cliff and spring, where to find each kind of plant, and the locations favored by rare species like argali (the Asiatic bighorn sheep), Siberian ibex, and Altai snowcock, the primary diet of local snow leopards.

This knowledge, combined with his respect for snow leopards—the spotted phantoms of the mountains—makes him the ideal “citizen scientist,” able to put his skills and passion to use protecting the grasslands and mountain both he and the snow leopard call home.

Empowering Local Communities to Protect Wildlife

This region that Byambatsooj knows so well endures some of the world’s harshest winter weather. As climate change intensifies, the frequency of livestock-killing winter snow disasters, known as “dzud” in Mongolian, is increasing. Such disasters can have a huge impact on Byambatsooj’s community and their pastoral way of life as well as on local wildlife. If Byambatsooj and his community fail to adapt to climate change impacts, one of planet’s last remaining nomadic cultures could disappear forever along with the endangered snow leopard.

However, WWF has found a way to protect the snow leopard while also benefiting nomadic herders. As part of the USAID-funded Conservation and Adaptation in Asia’s High Mountain Landscapes and Communities (AHM) project, local herders like Byambatsooj are now being trained and equipped to collect basic data on the remote mountains they know better than anyone else.

WWF-Mongolia has trained Byambatsooj and seven other local herders to conduct snow leopard sign and prey species surveys and to use automated camera traps for monitoring snow leopards. Camera traps play a critical role in monitoring snow leopards and other wildlife as cameras can be left at a location for several months at a time.

Photos obtained from camera traps enable scientists to estimate how many individual snow leopards inhabit a mountain, track where their travel routes, and provide insight into movement of their prey species. While the cameras are self-contained, they do need to be regularly checked to make sure they are working.

Enter the nomadic herders. Byambatsooj, the youngest herder to be trained, is responsible for maintenance and data retrieval from seven camera traps. The data he collects benefits both wildlife and herders because it helps WWF study the snow leopard population and develop methods for reducing livestock kills by snow leopards. And since he began capturing images of Jargalant Khairkhan’s snow leopards, he is even more motivated to protect snow leopards and their prey.

“We never hunt the snow leopard, even if they attack our livestock,” said Byambatsooj, adding “we are very happy for the involvement of local herder communities in this action. We are all obliged to care for and safeguard the camera traps placed on the mountain,”

Furthering international conservation

In addition to addressing environmental issues in a way that benefits both local communities and ecosystems, the Asia High Mountains project is also working to build transnational dialogue on snow leopard protection and other environmental issues. WWF hopes that by empowering local residents like Byambatsooj, the project will inspire others to work for the protection of Asia’s high mountain landscapes.

Sarah Ruggiero|July 15, 2014

See the snow leopard photos

A Comeback for the Blue Iguana

What do golden lion tamarins, red wolves and, now, blue iguanas all have in common? In addition to sharing a flamboyant fashion sense, these animals are all examples of species brought back from the brink of extinction by captive breeding programs.

For the five-foot blue iguana, which lives exclusively on Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean, this summer marks a milestone. To date, more than 500 iguanas have been released into the wild, and iguanas are now breeding in the wild at three distinct conservation sites.

Paul Calle, director of zoological health at the Wildlife Conservation Society, performs health inspections on the iguanas on Grand Cayman Island before they are released into the wild. He said he now handled more iguanas in a single afternoon than used to exist in the world just a few years ago.

Once widespread throughout the island, the blue iguana population declined precipitously in the last decade as the species, unaccustomed to heavy predation, fell victim to an invasion of stray dogs, feral cats and rats. Iguanas that escaped becoming lunch often ended up as roadkill as they continued to sunbathe on increasingly busy streets. By 2002, there were only 12 blue iguanas left in the wild.
“They almost became extinct without anyone even noticing,” Dr. Calle said. “We were studying how to best breed them in captivity and then, suddenly, we realized that it was already almost too late — we needed to get started right away.”

Today, there are at least 600 blue iguanas living in three protected areas across the island thanks to the breeding program, which helps give juvenile iguanas a head start by protecting them for their first two vulnerable years of life, when they are still small enough to make them easy prey.

“The program is on the brink of becoming unnecessary,” said Dr. Calle, who estimated that in just two or three more years, the population will have reached the conservation goal of 1,000 individuals living in the wild and the captive breeding program will be shut down.

In addition to being the rare endangered-species success story, the blue iguana is also becoming something of a mascot for reptile conservation.

Fred Burton, director of the Blue Iguana Recovery Program, explained that generally people just weren’t that interested in reptiles. “Countries have national flowers and national birds, but when have you ever heard of a national lizard?” he said.

But the very personable blue iguana, with its striking appearance and gentle demeanor, is helping people warm up to these coldblooded creatures.

Blue iguana conservation has also helped save large tracts of habitat on the island from development.

“People can get behind saving the habitat of the blue iguana,” Mr. Burton said. Consequently, unglamorous scrubland that no one highly values but that is important from an ecological standpoint is being set aside and protected.

Asked why he was so fond of the blue iguana, Dr. Calle replied: “They really are blue. I know that’s not shocking, but it is when you see it for the first time. Blue is such a rare color in the natural world, and the males get even bluer during the mating season.

JOANNA M. FOSTER| July 21, 2011 “Not to mention the way they look you straight in the eye and take interest in everything you’re doing,” he said. They really are both beautiful and smart.”

Lawsuit Seeks to Halt Construction of U.S. Military Airstrip in Japan That Would Destroy Habitat of Endangered Okinawa Dugongs

Marine base threatens survival of manatee relative

Dugongs are gentle marine mammals related to manatees and have been celebrated as “sirens” that bring friendly warnings of tsunamis. Recent surveys have only been able to conclude that at least three dugongs remain in Okinawa.

Basic respect demands that the United States make every effort not to harm another country’s cultural heritage. U.S. and international law require the same.

American and Japanese conservation groups today asked a U.S. federal court to halt construction of a U.S. military airstrip in Okinawa, Japan that would pave over some of the last remaining habitat for endangered Okinawa dugongs, ancient cultural icons for the Okinawan people. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, is the latest in a long-running controversy over the expansion of a U.S. Marine air base at Okinawa’s Henoko Bay. Preliminary construction on the base began earlier this year.

Dugongs are gentle marine mammals related to manatees that have long been revered by native Okinawans, even celebrated as “sirens” that bring friendly warnings of tsunamis. The dugong is listed as an object of national cultural significance under Japan’s Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, the equivalent of the U.S. National Historic Protection Act. Under this act and international law, the United States must take into account the effect of its actions and avoid or mitigate any harm to places or things of cultural significance to another country.

“Our folktales tell us that gods from Niraikanai [afar] come to our islands riding on the backs of dugongs and the dugongs ensure the abundance of food from the sea,” said Takuma Higashionna, an Okinawan scuba-diving guide who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Today, leaving their feeding trails in the construction site, I believe, our dugongs are warning us that this sea will no longer provide us with such abundance if the base is constructed. The U.S. government must realize that the Okinawa dugong is a treasure for Okinawa and for the world.”

The Japanese Ministry of the Environment has listed dugongs as “critically endangered,” and the animals are also on the U.S. endangered species list. In 1997, it was estimated that there may have been as few as 50 Okinawa dugongs left in the world; more recent surveys have only been able to conclude that at least three dugongs remain in Okinawa. Although the Defense Department acknowledges that this information is “not sufficient,” and despite the precariously low dugong population even under the most conservative estimates, the Defense Department has authorized construction of the new base.

The Nature Conservation Society of Japan reported earlier this month that it had found more than 110 locations around the site of the proposed airstrips where dugongs had fed on seagrass this spring and summer.

“Okinawa dugongs can only live in shallow waters and are at high risk of going extinct. These gentle animals are adored by both locals and tourists. Paving over some of the last places they survive will not only likely be a death sentence for them, it will be a deep cultural loss for the Okinawan people,” said Peter Galvin, director of programs at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Today’s legal filing, which supplements a suit filed in 2003, seeks to require the U.S. Department of Defense to stop construction activities on the new airstrip until it conducts an in-depth analysis aimed at avoiding or mitigating harm the expansion will cause for the Okinawa dugong. In April 2014, the Defense Department concluded that its activities would not harm the dugong, but that conclusion did not consider all possible effects of the new airstrip and ignored important facts. In addition, the department excluded the public, including local dugong experts, from its analysis.

For years, many locals have protested and opposed the base-expansion plan for Okinawa, where 20 percent of the island is already occupied by U.S. military.

Today’s lawsuit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the U.S. organizations Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network; the Japanese organizations Japan Environmental Lawyers Federation and the Save the Dugong Foundation; and three Japanese individuals.

“Basic respect demands that the United States make every effort not to harm another country’s cultural heritage. U.S. and international law require the same,” said Earthjustice attorney Martin Wagner. “The Defense Department should not allow this project to go forward without making every effort to understand and minimize its effects on the dugong. That means fully understanding the state of the entire Okinawan dugong population, how it depends on the seagrass beds around the proposed airstrip, and how construction and operation of the base might harm it. To ensure that no relevant information is excluded, the process and all related information must be fully open to the public.”

Martin Wagner|Managing Attorney|Earthjustice|July 31, 2014

Idaho Suspends Wilderness Wolf-Killing Plan In Face of Court Challenge

Victory: State Fish and Game Department will not kill wolves in Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness during 2015-16 winter

As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act this September, we are relieved that the Frank Church Wilderness will be managed as a wild place, rather than an elk farm, for at least the coming year.

Faced with a legal challenge by conservationists and an imminent hearing before a federal appeals court, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (“IDFG”) has abandoned its plan to resume a professional wolf-killing program in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness during the coming winter.

In a sworn statement submitted to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on July 24, 2014, IDFG Wildlife Bureau Chief Jeff Gould stated that IDFG “will not conduct any agency control actions for wolves within the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness before November 1, 2015.” IDFG had previously advised the court that the program could resume as early as December 1, 2014.

A professional hunter-trapper hired by IDFG killed nine wolves in the Frank Church Wilderness last winter and state officials in February announced plans to kill 60 percent of the wolves in the Middle Fork section of the wilderness over a period of several years in an effort to inflate wilderness elk populations for the benefit of commercial outfitters and recreational hunters.

“As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act this September, we are relieved that the Frank Church Wilderness will be managed as a wild place, rather than an elk farm, for at least the coming year,” said Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso, who is representing conservationists challenging the wilderness wolf-killing program. “Now we must make sure that wilderness values prevail for the long term.”

Earthjustice is representing long-time Idaho conservationist and wilderness advocate Ralph Maughan along with four conservation groups—Defenders of Wildlife, Western Watersheds Project, Wilderness Watch, and the Center for Biological Diversity—in the lawsuit challenging the wolf-killing program. The conservationists argue that the U.S. Forest Service, which is charged by Congress with managing and protecting the Frank Church Wilderness, violated the Wilderness Act and other laws by allowing and assisting the state wolf-killing program in the largest forest wilderness in the lower-48 states.

In a separate sworn statement filed with the Ninth Circuit on July 24, the Forest Service committed to providing the conservationists with notice by August 5, 2015 of any plans by IDFG to resume professional wolf-killing in the Frank Church Wilderness during the 2015–16 winter, as well as “a final determination by the Forest Service as to whether it concurs with or objects to such plans.”

“IDFG’s announcement now gives the Forest Service the chance to play out its mission—its obligation to protect our irreplaceable Frank Church Wilderness for the American people and for all its wildlife against an effort to turn it into a mere elk farming operation on infertile soil,” said Maughan, a retired Idaho State University professor who was a member of the citizens’ group that drew up the boundaries of the Frank Church Wilderness 35 years ago.

“We are pleased to see this truce in Idaho’s wolf reduction efforts in the Frank Church for a full year,” said Suzanne Stone, Defenders’ regional representative who has worked nearly three decades to restore wolves in Idaho. “The Frank Church is both the largest forested wilderness area and a core habitat for gray wolves in the western United States. Wolves belong here as they have made the ‘Frank’ truly wild again. Ensuring healthy wolf populations here is critical for the recovery of wolves throughout the entire northwestern region.”

“It is hard to imagine a decision more inconsistent with wilderness protection than to allow the hired killing of wolves,” added Travis Bruner, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “Today, some relief for wild places flows from the news that IDFG will not continue that odious operation this year. Next we will see whether the Forest Service will take action to protect the Frank Church Wilderness from such atrocities in the future.”

“It’s time for the Forest Service to stand with the vast majority of the American people by taking the necessary steps to protect wolves in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness for the long-term, not just the next 15 months,” stated George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch. “Wolves are the epitome of wildness.  Their protection is key to preserving the area’s wilderness character.”

“We’re glad Idaho’s wolves are rightly getting a reprieve from the state’s ill-conceived predator-killing plan, at least for a year,” said Amy Atwood, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re also happy to see the Forest Service agree to be more transparent about any future decision to allow Idaho to kill wolves in the Frank Church.”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had scheduled an August 25, 2014 court hearing to address the conservationists’ request for an injunction to prevent IDFG from resuming its program of professional wolf killing in the Frank Church Wilderness during the coming winter. IDFG commenced the program in December 2013 without public notice but abruptly suspended the program on January 28, 2014 amidst emergency injunction proceedings before the Ninth Circuit. Since then, the conservationists have continued to press their case for an injunction before the Ninth Circuit, which led to the scheduled August 25 court hearing.

Because IDFG has abandoned the 2014–15 professional wolf-killing program in the wilderness, the conservationists have agreed to forego the scheduled court hearing, but they renewed their call for the Forest Service to fulfill its legal duty to protect the Frank Church Wilderness.

Timothy Preso|Managing Attorney|Earthjustice|July 29, 2014

Let’s Start Caring About Seagrass Like We Care About The Rainforest

The rainforest gets a lot of attention. There are many Save the Rainforest campaigns, and while there is certainly much more work to be done to ensure that we do what we can to stop deforestation, there’s no denying that it’s definitely a part of our collective environmental conscience. Seagrass, on the other hand, is a different story.

When was the last time you saw a Save the Seagrass initiative? Probably never. Seagrass deserves just as much attention as the tropical rainforest, because it’s disappearing just as quickly, to the tune of two soccer fields an hour.

Why is seagrass so important? It plays an essential role in the lives of juvenile fish, providing them with a habitat in which they can thrive. For example, a new study shows that seagrass contains higher fish abundance than adjacent sand. This has a big impact when we’re thinking about commercial fishing. As the report’s abstract explains, “Although fisheries are of major economic and food security importance we still know little about specific juvenile habitats that support such production. This is a major issue given the degradation to and lack of protection afforded to potential juvenile habitats such as seagrass meadows.”

If we don’t protect those areas of seagrass, those fish in turn will have a harder time surviving. “When you start to lose these habitats you’ll see smaller juveniles and smaller fish stocks,” Dr. Richard Unsworth, lead researcher on the study, told the BBC.

Seagrass deserves as much attention as some of the other sensitive environments that have taken the headlines in terms of environmental causes. “The rate of loss is equal to that occurring in tropical rainforests and on coral reefs yet it receives a fraction of the attention,” Dr. Unsworth said.

Seagrass is up against a lot. It’s facing the problems of ocean acidification, coastal development and degraded water quality, and the problem is being felt around the globe. Part of a complex ecosystem, the loss of seagrass has many impacts beyond just fish. As a 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences stated:

“Losses of seagrass meadows will continue to reduce the energy subsidies they provide to other ecosystems such as adjacent coral reefs or distant areas such as deep-sea bottoms, diminishing the net secondary productivity of these habitats (14). Seagrass losses also threaten the future of endangered species such as Chinook salmon and the habitat for many other organisms. Seagrass losses decrease primary production, carbon sequestration, and nutrient cycling in the coastal zone .”

Ultimately, with the current rate of seagrass loss, we’re looking at serious environmental and economic consequences. “If the current rate of seagrass loss is sustained or continues to accelerate, the ecological losses will also increase, causing even greater ill-afforded economic losses,” wrote the authors of the NAS report.

Maybe it’s time we paid a little more attention to protecting seagrass.

Anna Brones|August 15, 2014

Cargo Ships Get on Board Plan to Help Save Endangered Blue Whales

In good news for whales, a number of global shipping companies have agreed to participate in a trial program that won’t just help save endangered whales from deadly ship strikes off the coast of California, but will help keep our air cleaner.

Thanks to a new pilot incentive program, which was created and implemented by the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District, NOAA’s Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and the Environmental Defense Center, six different shipping companies passing through the Santa Barbara Channel will be paid $2,500 per trip to slow down to 12 knots, down from typical speeds of 14 to 18 knots, through October.

Ironically, 2,500 is the same number of endangered blue whales believed to be left in the wild in that part of the Pacific, many of whom are traveling through the 130-mile stretch from Point Conception to Los Angeles right about now where they come to feed on krill every year.

Unfortunately, the areas where endangered blue whales come to feed also overlap with some of the busiest shipping lanes in the U.S.  With an estimated 5,000 ships passing through the channel every year, ship strikes have become a big threat to blue whale recovery. The severity of the problem was highlighted in 2007, when the deaths of three blue whales were confirmed as a result of ship strikes in the area, while another two were found dead of unknown causes. With so few left, it was enough for NOAA to declare the deaths “unusual mortality events.”

According to the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, the potential for collisions is also a problem for other species of whales. Thousands of gray whales migrate through the area, along with endangered humpback and fin whales, while orcas will occasionally make appearances throughout the year.

Supporters of the program hope that each boat that slows down will give whales time to move and decrease the risk of a collision. Several whales are known to be killed every year, but wildlife officials aren’t sure of the exact number because many strikes go either unnoticed or unreported.

The program won’t just help keep whales safe, it’s also expected to be beneficial to us. The program is also timed to coincide with the time of year the area sees the highest amount of air pollution. According to a statement, emissions from these ships account for more than 50 percent of ozone-forming nitrogen oxides in Santa Barbara County. The program’s backers believe slowing speeds will help reduce the amount of smog-forming air pollution.

“Few people realize that ships off our coast, especially those moving at faster speeds, are a risk to endangered whales and the quality of the air we breathe,” said Kristi Birney of the Environmental Defense Center.

After conservation groups tried other legal avenues that would have required shippers to slow down, the creators hope working collaboratively through the voluntary incentive program will help protect both whales and the environment.

According to a joint statement from the organizations behind the trial, the response so far has been positive with more offers to participate than they could fund. Right now the program has enough money to pay for 16 low-speed trips through a grant from the Santa Barbara Foundation. They’re currently seeking additional funding to expand the program.

Alicia Graef|August 15, 2014

8 Ways to Help Orangutans in Honor of World Orangutan Day

In Malay, the word orangutan translates to “the person of the forest.” Perhaps that’s why many feel a special bond to the only Asian great apes. The Indianapolis Zoo’s Vice President of Conservation and Life Sciences, Dr. Rob Shumaker​, puts it best: “Look into the eyes of an orangutan, and a sentient being looks back.”

Orangutans are sentient beings, so how must they feel when their family members are killed, when their babies are separated from their mothers and when their homes are burned to the ground? The World Wildlife Fund highlights how endangered orangutans are the victims of ongoing habitat loss from palm oil, agriculture and (il)legal logging. They are also the easy targets of hunters and illegal wildlife traffickers who turn baby orangutans into pets because of their large size and relatively slow movement.

We’ve already seen how these threats have affected orangutans. We’ve seen a homeless orangutan heartbreakingly tell us through sign language not to buy palm oil in order to save the orangutan’s habitat. We’ve seen a baby orangutan named Tri nursed back to health after being found on a palm oil plantation. We’ve also seen Pelansgi, another young male orangutan, get the gift of freedom after he was mutilated — and eventually amputated — while trying to escape a snare.

In honor of World Orangutan Day, the Twycross Zoo is letting human redheads in for free, but I think we can do better. I think orangutans deserve better, too. Here are a few ways that we can really help critically endangered orangutans who desperately need us:

Adopt an orangutan — You can help an orangutan in need by adopting an orangutan. You’ll get updates to see how your child-orangutan is doing and the progress he or she is making.

Help save their habitat — There are programs that support the men on the ground fighting to protect the forests that the orangutans call home. Keep in mind that we’re losing six percent of the world’s forests every single year.

Plant a tree — There are programs running in Sumatra and Borneo that will plant a tree for you. Not only will you help combat deforestation and give wild orangutans a home to go to, but you’re also helping the environment because trees reduce our CO2 emissions.

Buy palm oil free — Palm oil is a major driving force behind deforestation and orangutan displacement. Some brands are making it easier than ever by labeling palm oil free products. If you can’t buy palm oil free, then please, at the very least, buy sustainably sourced palm oil.

Volunteer — Okay, this might be a stretch for most of us, but there are programs where you can travel and volunteer to work with orangutans. Organizations working to protect our great ape cousins need volunteers with all types of skill sets. They need volunteers in construction, veterinary care and communications. If you have the means, skills and desire, then this could be a unique and rewarding opportunity.

Stay connected — If you find an organization that aligns with you, then stay connected by subscribing to their email list and staying in touch via social media. The Orangutan Project, Save the Orangutan and The Orangutan Foundation International are all places to start.

Take an ecotourEcotourism is driving conservation efforts everywhere. It helps the locals financially and health care wise. It also encourages locals to protect the endangered animals that they call neighbors.

Watch and share documentaries — Get informed by watching films like Born to be Wild 3D and Green. Once you know the truth, then share it as much as you can.

Jessica Ramos|August 19, 2014

We Asked, And You Delivered!

Recently, Save the Manatee Club sent out an action alert for donations of powdered milk replacer formula from our Amazon Wishlist, to feed orphaned manatee calves in Belize, and we are happy to report that we have received over 500 pounds of milk so far! This has been our most successful action alert for formula and it came at just the right time!

Thanks to our generous donors, we have collected over 500 pounds of powdered milk replacer formula from our Amazon Wishlist, to feed orphaned manatee calves in Belize!

These generous donations will help feed young manatees until they are old enough to eat aquatic plants. In our alert, we introduced you to a small orphaned manatee named Mitch, and we are happy to report that Mitch is doing well! He is putting on weight and no longer requires 24-hour in-water care as he has grown strong enough to come up to the surface to breathe without assistance.

After we sent our first action alert, Wildtracks received yet another orphaned manatee calf. The newest addition, Lucky, is also very tiny and extremely weak, and his addition brings Wildtracks up to having an unprecedented five manatees in its care. Lucky’s arrival has made your donations even more urgently needed, and words alone cannot convey our heartfelt appreciation for your extreme kindness.

Your sustained support and donations allow us to be more effective in assisting manatees and our international partners. We appreciate your concern for manatees and your support of our efforts to help them thrive throughout their range.

With your compassion and generosity, we are making our world a better, safer place for manatees! 

With my deepest gratitude,

Katie Tripp|Ph.D.|Director of Science and Conservation|Save the Manatee Club

Sea Turtles Saved From Deadly Fishery Across 25,000 Square Miles

In response to a lawsuit by the Center and allies filed July 10, the National Marine Fisheries Service barred California’s swordfish drift gillnet fishery from operating on 25,000-plus square miles of the Pacific from July 25 through Aug. 31. The move will prevent endangered loggerhead sea turtles from becoming entangled and drowning in the fishery’s mortal snares.

The Center for Biological Diversity and other groups sued the Fisheries Service because it hadn’t implemented the closure for that swath of ocean, the “Pacific Loggerhead Conservation Area,” even though it’s required to do so in El Niño climate conditions, when warm weather draws the turtles into the area.

Loggerheads enter the Conservation Area in search of pelagic red crabs to eat, and drowning in gillnets is one of the primary threats to their survival. The nets form vast underwater walls that capture dolphins, seals, sea lions and even whales, in addition to loggerheads.

Green Turtle success story

More than 70 years after major turtle nesting beaches became protected on the remote UK overseas territory of Ascension Island researchers are now reporting a boom in population numbers.

Scientists from the University of Exeter and Ascension Island Government Conservation Department report that the number of green turtles nesting at the remote South Atlantic outpost has increased by more than 500 per cent since records began in the 1970s.

As many as 24,000 nests are now estimated to be laid on the Island’s main beaches every year, making it the second largest nesting colony for this species in the Atlantic Ocean.

Lead author, Dr Sam Weber, said: “The increase has been dramatic. Whereas in the 1970s and 80’s you would have been lucky to find 30 turtles on the Island’s main nesting beach on any night, in 2013 we had more than 400 females nesting in a single evening”.

The scientists’ report comes as Ascension Island Government announces that it is committing a fifth of the territory’s land area to biodiversity conservation. New legislation enacted by the Island’s Governor, Mark Capes, on the 28th of July creates seven new nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries that include the Island’s three main turtle nesting beaches, along with globally-important seabird colonies that are home to more than 800,000 nesting seabirds.

Staff|Click Green|July 30, 2014

Read  more at ENN Affiliate, ClickGreen.

Nesting Implications for the Northern Gulf Loggerhead

After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, a massive response to protect beaches, wetlands, and wildlife occurred. Nonetheless, because of the spill, extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats were reported and many studies have been conducted to quantify the affects of the oil spill on specific species.

One study in particular which started in the wake of the spill looks at the nesting loggerhead sea turtles in the northern Gulf and how their feeding areas have been not only affected by the Deepwater Horizon spill, but by commercial fishing operations, and areas used for oil and gas extraction.

The study, which is the largest to date on Northern Gulf loggerheads, examined 59 nesting females, a small and declining subpopulation of loggerheads that is federally classified as threatened.

“With such a large sample of the nesting females, we’re finally getting the big picture of when, where and how females that nest in the northern Gulf of Mexico rely on off-shore waters to survive. This information is critical for halting and reversing their declines,” said USGS research ecologist Kristen Hart, the lead author of the study.

All of the turtles tracked in the study remained in the Gulf of Mexico to feed, and a third remained in the northern part of the Gulf.

“These results show how important the Gulf of Mexico is to this group of loggerheads — they stay here throughout the year, not just during the nesting season,” said USGS research biologist Meg Lamont, a co-author on the study.

The study also revealed specific parts of the Gulf where females feed and spend most of their time. It is believed that an individual turtle will return to these specific feeding areas throughout her life.

Lamont explains, “People think of nesting beaches as their homes, but they don’t really spend much time there. They only migrate to the nesting beaches to lay eggs. The rest of their adult life is spent foraging at sea.”

The next step for USGS scientists Hart and Lamont is to track these nesting Gulf loggerheads long enough to test whether they do indeed re-visit the same feeding areas throughout their life, as they suspect. This would help pinpoint important feeding sites of long-term and high traffic use — in essence, their home ranges.

“Locating long-term feeding areas will really open up new possibilities for the conservation and management of these amazing creatures,” said Hart.

The study, “Migration, foraging, and residency patterns for Northern Gulf of Mexico loggerheads: Implications of local threats and international movements” is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Allison Winter|ENN|July 31, 2014

Read more at USGS Newsroom.

FWC recovers 299 sea turtle eggs from poacher

Nearly 300 sea turtle eggs were returned to the beach and reburied Friday after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) caught a man poaching them from a beach in St. Lucie County.

James Odel McGriff, 55, of Riviera Beach, was arrested and booked into the St. Lucie County jail.

“We take these matters very seriously,” said Capt. Jeff Ardelean, a supervisor in the FWC’s West Palm Beach office. “Stopping those who attempt to poach and commercialize our endangered species is one of our highest priorities.”

Friday night, a concerned citizen called the FWC after she saw what looked like a man stealing sea turtle eggs at the Diamond Sands beach off A1A. She was able to provide a description of the man and his vehicle.

FWC officers and investigators responded and talked with the man. After using a K-9 to track where he had been, they located a disturbed sea turtle nest and a backpack full of sea turtle eggs.

This was not the first time McGriff had been caught for poaching turtle eggs. In 2002, he was arrested after selling 12 eggs to an undercover officer and possessing 27 dozen pre-bagged eggs for sale.

“We are committed to stopping those who intentionally take advantage of our state’s fish and wildlife resources,” Ardelean said.

The FWC is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on this case and federal charges are pending.

Sea turtles are among the oldest creatures on earth. All five species in Florida are either endangered or threatened. The Marine Turtle Protection Act stipulates that it is illegal to injure, harm, harass, capture or attempt to capture any marine turtles, eggs or nests. If you know of or suspect any violations, call FWC’s Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-3922 or text Tip@MyFWC.com. For more information on how you can help protect sea turtles by visiting www.MyFWC.com/SeaTurtle

U.S. EPA Serving as On-Scene Coordinator in Emergency Response to Ohio River Oil Spill ‏

CHICAGO (August 19, 2014) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is serving as the Federal On-Scene Coordinator for the emergency response to an oil spill that occurred last night when approximately 3500 gallons of diesel fuel was released into the Ohio River from Duke Energy’s Beckjord power plant. Twenty-four hour operations are underway to contain and clean up oil along a 12 mile stretch of the Ohio River immediately upstream from Cincinnati.

“U.S. EPA, the U.S. Coast Guard and Ohio EPA quickly mobilized and are taking a series of steps to minimize the damage this spill does to the Ohio River and surrounding communities,” said U.S. EPA Incident Commander Steven Renninger. “U.S. EPA is on the scene to ensure the leaked oil is contained and cleaned up as quickly and effectively as possible.”

U.S. EPA has established a unified command with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Pierce Township. U.S. EPA is directing response efforts carried out by Duke Energy. Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, U.S. EPA has the responsibility for inland oil spills.   

Boom was deployed in the Ohio River to contain the spill. Sheen extends approximately 12 miles from Duke’s plant down the Ohio River toward Cincinnati. The U.S. Coast Guard closed 15 miles of the river to vessel traffic.

As a precaution, the Greater Cincinnati Waterworks and the Northern Kentucky Water District each closed drinking water intakes on the Ohio River. The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission is conducting water sampling on the river.

For updates on the response to this oil spill, go to www.epa.gov/region5/newsevents/duke-energy-spill/

Francisco Arcaute|Phillippa Cannon|Tue 8/19/14

Elusive European wildcats found hiding out on Mount Etna

A healthy population of European wildcats has been discovered living in the forest surrounding Mount Etna, an active volcano in Sicily, researchers say.

The rare, elusive wildcats typically avoid people, making them difficult to study. By tallying the cat’s numbers across Europe, researchers hope to understand how urgently the animals need outside protections, such as habitat safeguards, said Stefano Anile, the study’s principal investigator and an independent wildlife researcher in Sicily.

The study is among the first to show how many European wildcats live on Mount Etna. During his survey work using heat- and motion-sensing cameras and DNA analysis of fresh wildcat scat, Anile found that roughly 14 wildcats live in an area of 4 square miles.

Over a period of four months, Anile used 18 remote cameras to photograph the wildcats, examining the markings on their fur coats to tell them apart. He placed the remote cameras on paths frequented by the wildcats and their kittens. Each station included two cameras to capture images of both sides of the cat.

The researcher also used a genetic analysis of scat samples to determine the number of wildcats and their sexes.

“To get the best information, you really need to combine these different methods, because they give you different information,” said Andrew Kitchener, principal curator of vertebrates of National Museums Scotland, who was not involved in the research.

Both Kitchener and Anile are members of a newly formed consortium called EUROWILDCAT, a collaboration of scientists working to raise awareness and answer basic research questions about wildcats, such as how the animals interact with one another and behave around domestic and feral cats as wildcat habitat shrinks.

The European wildcat is more distantly related to the domestic cat than the wolf is to the dog, Anile said. Domestic cats likely descended from the wildcat family in the Near East at around the time of agricultural development, a 2007 study in the journal Science reported. In contrast, the European wildcat, another branch of the wildcat family, has stayed wild.

Just like some domestic cats and their abandoned relatives, or feral cats, European wildcats are extremely cautious around people.

“The few times you can spot it, you can definitely see that they don’t want to share anything with you,” Anile said. “They are wild animals. They want to do their business and stay as much as they can away from humans.”

The trained eye can tell wild and domestic cats apart, Kitchener told Live Science. Wildcats look like large tabby cats that have thick, bushy tails with a black tip. A black stripe runs down the middle of their backs and stops at the tail. For domestic cats, that stripe continues down the tail.

European wildcats also have thicker and wavier stripes on the backs of their necks, unlike the domestic tabby, which often has four thin stripes on its neck.

Despite these differences, European wildcats have started mating with domestic cats across Europe, with documented cases in Scotland and Hungary. The new study did not find any evidence of hybridization in the genetic samples; other research has shown lower hybridization levels between European wildcats and domestic ones in France, Spain, Portugal and Germany than in the rest of Europe. But the trend is still worrying, researchers say.

“That’s why there’s been a group of organizations in Scotland that have been developing a Scottish wildcat conservation plan with the aim of trying to preserve the wildcat,” Kitchener said.

One way of doing that is to protect the wildcat’s habitat, which is disappearing as urban areas expand.

“We live on this beautiful island, and the wildcat is one of the last wild predators that we have,” Anile said. “I don’t want this beautiful area to be full of a network of roads and other buildings.”

Laura Geggel|Staff Writer|Journal of Zoology|August 18, 2014

The study was published in the August issue of the Journal of Zoology. [See photos of the European wildcat on Mount Etna]

Win for Orcas in the Pacific Northwest

Oregon Governor Kitzhaber just made a landmark decision to protect orcas and many more wildlife in the Pacific Northwest from dirty coal.

Yesterday, the Governor rejected a permit for the Port of Morrow coal export terminal proposed for Boardman, Oregon.

This decision severely hinders any progress on this dangerous project! While the governor’s decision can be appealed, it would take years—and building a coal dock cannot begin without this permit.

Over the past few years, the coal industry has quietly advanced plans to ship U.S. coal to foreign markets from ports along the west coast. This week’s victory shows the power of the tens of thousands of wildlife advocates like you who are speaking out to stop dirty coal!

We congratulate Governor Kitzhaber in protecting habitat for wildlife like orcas from the impacts of dirty fossil fuel projects.

Adam Kolton|Executive Director|National Advocacy Center|8/19/14

Despite Threats, Feds Deny Protection for Montana Grayling

In 1994 the Fish and Wildlife Service said Montana grayling, a relative of salmon and trout, warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act. That conclusion was reaffirmed in 2010. On Tuesday, though, the agency reversed course and said the fish wouldn’t get any federal protection at all.

It’s the fourth time in a month the Fish and Wildlife Service has reversed plans to protect endangered species, including denial of protection for the wolverine and two Rocky Mountain plants.

Once found throughout the upper Missouri River drainage above Great Falls, Mont., native populations of Montana grayling have been reduced to a few spots, including a short stretch of the Big Hole River. A key factor in their range decline is stream dewatering — the Big Hole slows to a trickle nearly every summer.

“Fish need water to survive,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Noah Greenwald. “And excessive water withdrawals are immediately threatening the survival of the grayling.”

Read more in the Missoulian.

Scorecard: Wyoming Plan Fails to Protect Greater Sage Grouse

The Bureau of Land Management’s latest plan for managing parts of Wyoming fails to follow more than two dozen recommendations by government scientists to protect greater sage grouse, according to a new scorecard released by the Center and allies this week.

The Center for Biological Diversity is leading an effort to hold the BLM accountable for protecting these showy birds and more than 300 other sensitive species as the agency finalizes a series of land-management plans governing activities like oil and gas drilling across more than 60 million acres of western public lands. We’ll be releasing a scorecard — with a pass or fail grade — for each of the upcoming plans.

“Federal scientists have identified very specific steps for protecting greater sage grouse from development in the West, including restraining oil and gas exploitation. The question now is whether the Obama administration will follow those steps,” said the Center’s Randi Spivak.

Read more in the Houston Chronicle.

Africa Faces Unsustainable Levels of Ivory Poaching

When it comes to illegal wildlife trade, one thing has always puzzled me … Why is the demand for ivory so high? While I may not come across the black-market demands or understand the cultural or historical needs for these rare animal teeth, one thing is easy to see – populations of the African elephant are declining.

Despite multiple national and international bans on ivory trade and raised awareness, poaching continues. And sadly, according to new research, an estimated 100,000 elephants were killed for their ivory between 2010 and 2012.

While the number of elephants remaining in Africa is uncertain, these losses are driving declines in the world’s wild African elephants on the order of 2-3% a year.

The study, published in PNAS, provides the first verifiable estimation of the impacts of the ongoing ivory crisis on Africa’s elephant populations.

Researchers drew on data and experience from an Africa-wide intensive monitoring program. The most thoroughly studied site was Samburu in northern Kenya where every birth and death over the past 16 years has been recorded in a long-term monitoring project co-founded by Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology and George Wittemyer of Colorado State University, for Save the Elephants. The work is done in association with the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Wittemyer, the lead author on the paper, says: ‘Our data has become the most sensitive barometer of change during this poaching epidemic. We needed to quantify the scale of killing and figure out how to derive rigorous interpretation of poaching rates.’

The researchers determined illegal killing in Samburu began to surge in 2009. This surge was directly correlated to a more than quadrupling of local black-market ivory prices (the poacher’s price) and tripling in the volume and number of illegal ivory seizures through Kenyan ports of transit. The data also show that the destination of the illegally trafficked ivory increasingly shifted to China.

The team used the intensive study of the Samburu elephants as a ‘Rosetta stone’ to translate less detailed information from 45 elephant populations across Africa to estimate natural mortality and illegal killing rates to model population trends for the species.

Allison Winter|ENN|August 20, 2014

Read more at the University of Oxford.

Tuesday, Fish and Wildlife Service Plays Politics With Wolverine Survival

Conservation Groups Decry Withdrawal of Proposed Endangered Species Act Listing

MISSOULA, MONT. — Bowing to political pressure, today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) formally withdrew its proposal to list wolverines under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), despite the species’ small population and serious threats to its continued existence. Only 250 to 300 wolverines call the contiguous U.S. home, living in small populations scattered across the West. Scientists unanimously acknowledge the greatest threat to the species’ survival in the U.S. is habitat loss resulting from climate change.

Following the Service’s announcement, a coalition of conservation groups will take steps to initiate a federal lawsuit challenging the wolverine listing decision. The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) will send the government a formal notice of their intent to sue and public records request on behalf of the coalition.

“The Service is improperly prioritizing political appeasement over science in the wolverine Endangered Species Act listing decision,” said Drew Kerr, carnivore advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “The Endangered Species Act requires listing decisions be made on the basis of best available science alone.”

After reviewing wolverine population data, the Service’s scientists and an independent panel unanimously identified climate change impacts on the species’ habitat as the primary threat to its continued existence. To den and rear their young, wolverines rely on deep, high-elevation snow pack long into the spring and summer. Scientists largely agree climate change will increasingly affect snowfall patterns throughout wolverine range over the next 75 years, reducing available habitat by up to 63 percent.

Service Director Dan Ashe’s decision to withdraw the proposed listing not only goes against the recommendations of his own agency’s scientists, but also the law, Supreme Court precedent, and Obama administration Executive Order 13563. The ESA mandates species listing decisions be based solely on the best available science. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that in making listing decisions, species should be afforded the benefit of the doubt.

After rampant politicization of the ESA listing process under the George W. Bush administration, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum and Executive Order directing administrative agencies to reprioritize science-based decision-making. The withdrawal of the proposed wolverine listing flouts these edicts by prioritizing natural resource extraction and industry profits over the wellbeing of a rare native carnivore.

“This is another example of the Service and Director Ashe caving to political pressure from the special interests preventing sound wildlife management in the western states,” said Western Environmental Law Center’s Rocky Mountain office director Matthew Bishop. “It is obviously time for the Service to employ the precautionary principle and protect a clearly imperiled species before it’s doomed to extinction.”

In February 2013, the Service acknowledged climate change is “threatening the species with extinction.” According to scientists, snowpack in wolverine habitat will decrease; the only uncertainty is precisely how much snow will disappear and exactly where snowfall will decline most. In July, a leaked memo from Service Region Six Director Noreen Walsh to biologists in the agency’s Montana field office relied on that sole area of uncertainty to call for the proposed listing’s withdrawal.

“The Service knows the house is on fire, but is deciding to wait until it is absolutely certain which room will burn first before doing anything to put out the blaze,” said Nick Cady, legal director for Cascadia Wildlands. “The degree of certainty the administrators want before protecting wolverines is ridiculous and illegal.” 

Wolverines, hardy and solitary members of the weasel family, traverse huge, high-elevation territories. Tenacious hunters capable of taking much larger prey than their medium stature would suggest, wolverines also scavenge carrion as they cover vast distances through boreal forest and over snowcapped mountain ranges. American wolverines reside mostly in the Northern Rockies and Cascades, where small populations rely on individual dispersers to maintain healthy genetic diversity. Adolescent males disperse farthest, with breeding females holding smaller territories closer to their birthplaces. In recent years, a single male settled in Colorado, and confirmed sightings place wolverines in Oregon, northeast Utah, and southwest Wyoming. It remains unclear whether these intrepid wolverines are establishing new territories and breeding populations, or simply passing through.

Wild & Weird

Curious Marmot Interrupts Greenpeace Video With Most Adorable Photobomb Ever

Wild animals have had some hilarious reactions to discovering cameras set up to watch them, and one curious little marmot in Montana who decided to step into a project dedicated to protecting its home is no exception.

Members of Greenpeace USA had set out to make a time-lapse video of a stunning valley in Glacier National Park to raise awareness about climate change and how it’s impacting the park’s shrinking glaciers and alpine tundra. Instead, they got something that’s arguably even better – a kiss from a marmot.

Writing on Facebook, the group said, ‘Though we didn’t capture the time-lapse video of Glacier National Park that we intended to, we captured something much cooler…Marmot Love.’

Even though the adorableness factor of the video is off the charts, the underlying message is sobering. The video was intended to be part of the organization’s campaign to ‘Keep our coal in the ground,’ which is raising awareness about climate change and the problems with the federal coal leasing program, in addition to raising opposition against the Department of the Interior (DOI) and Bureau of Land Management for auctioning off our public land for coal mining.

Writing in the video’s description, the organization stated: “In Glacier National Park, global warming is melting glaciers and shrinking the alpine tundra environment as treelines move higher up the mountains. Shrinking tundra threatens marmots and other animals that live up high in these mountains.”

At the end of July, the organization took to the skies with an airship in Montana during the Magic City Balloon Festival, to highlight the trouble that comes with mining and exporting coal from the West and to raise awareness about plans for the expansion of several mines in the state.

While the Obama Administration is trying to address climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and the problems burning coal causes by reducing its use here, the U.S. is still extracting and selling it abroad, which is undermining global efforts to curb carbon pollution.

According to Greenpeace, the DOI just sold 8 million tons of coal at 36 cents a ton from public lands in Colorado, despite attempts by environmental organizations to stop it over concerns that it would be exported. Soon the agency will try again to expand the Decker coal mine in Montana, which will unlock as much carbon pollution as 14 million cars a year.

Wherever it’s burned, our use of coal is fueling climate change. Greenpeace hopes to help stop the use of the one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet by getting Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to issue a moratorium on coal leases that will force companies that are taking advantage of taxpayers and destroying our environment to be stuck in the domestic market, where the use of coal is being rejected.

Now Greenpeace is urging us all to call on Jewell to help ensure a future for marmots and the other creatures who call our national parks home, and to ensure these national treasures are around for future generations, by keeping coal in the ground.

Watch the Video

Alicia Graef|August 15, 2014

36 random animal facts that may surprise you

From immortal jellyfish and death-defying tardigrades to proposing penguins and voting bovines, here are three dozen randomly interesting facts about our planet’s impressive array of animal life.

Earth is home to about 1 million known animal species, each one representing an ancient tome of biological trivia. Much of this random knowledge gets lost in the ether, leaving us to speculate about things like dinosaur divorce rates or amphibian dance moves. But we still catch an awful lot, providing us with plenty of interesting — if not always actionable — facts about our fellow fauna.

The list below is a tribute to such trivia. From extinct penguins to newly identified wasps, these tidbits reflect the depth of our own species’ curiosity about nature — and our skill in shedding new light on it. As you peruse these facts, imagine all that went into discovering each one. We embrace their randomness here, but most hail from a robust body of knowledge about the animal in question.

So without further ado, here are 36 random animal facts that may interest you:

1. A type of “immortal” jellyfish is capable of cheating death indefinitely.

2. Octopuses have three hearts.

3. Butterflies can taste with their feet.

4. Cats and horses are highly susceptible to black widow venom, but dogs are relatively resistant. Sheep and rabbits are apparently immune.

5. Sharks kill fewer than 10 people per year. Humans kill about 100 million sharks per year.

6. Wild dolphins call each other by name.

7. Young goats pick up accents from each other.

8. Humpback whale songs spread like “cultural ripples from one population to another.”

9. Tardigrades are extremely durable microscopic animals that exist all over Earth. They can survive any of the following: 300 degrees Fahrenheit (149 Celsius), -458 degrees F (-272 C), the vacuum of space, pressure six times stronger than the ocean floor and more than a decade without food.

10. Horses use facial expressions to communicate with each other.

11. Elephants have a specific alarm call that means “human.”

12. Squirrels can’t burp or vomit.

13. Less time separates the existence of humans and the tyrannosaurus rex than the T-rex and the stegosaurus.

14. There’s a place on Earth where seagulls prey on right whales.

15. Owls don’t have eyeballs. They have eye tubes.

16. Animals with smaller bodies and faster metabolism see in slow motion.

17. Dogs’ sense of smell is about 100,000 times stronger than humans’, but they have just one-sixth our number of taste buds.

18. The extinct colossus penguin stood as tall as LeBron James.

19. Male gentoo and Adelie penguins “propose” to females by giving them a pebble.

20. Azara’s owl monkeys are more monogamous than humans.

21. Barn owls are normally monogamous, but about 25 percent of mated pairs “divorce.”

22. A group of parrots is known as a pandemonium.

23. Polar bears have black skin.

24. Reindeer eyeballs turn blue in winter to help them see at lower light levels.

25. A human brain operates on about 15 watts.

26. Warmer weather causes more turtles to be born female than male.

27. African buffalo herds display voting behavior, in which individuals register their travel preference by standing up, looking in one direction and then lying back down. Only adult females can vote.

28. If a honeybee keeps waggle dancing in favor of an unpopular nesting site, other workers head-butt her to help the colony reach a consensus.

29. Honeybees can flap their wings 200 times every second.

30. The claws of a mantis shrimp can accelerate as quickly as a .22-caliber bullet.

31. A single strand of spider silk is thinner than a human hair, but also five times stronger than steel of the same width. A rope just 2 inches thick could reportedly stop a Boeing 747.

32. A supercolony of invasive Argentine ants, known as the “California large,” covers 560 miles of the U.S. West Coast. It’s currently engaged in a turf war with a nearby supercolony in Mexico.

33. The recently discovered bone-house wasp stuffs the walls of its nest with dead ants.

34. By eating pest insects, bats save the U.S. agriculture industry an estimated $3 billion per year.

35. Fourteen new species of dancing frogs have been discovered in 2014, raising the global number of known dancing-frog species to 24.

36. A sea lion is the first nonhuman mammal with a proven ability to keep a beat.

Russell McLendon|Aug 19, 2014

Is there really plankton clinging to the outside of the space station?

A Russian official says that cosmonauts have collected evidence of sea plankton on the outside of the International Space Station.

A Russian official claims that samples collected by cosmonauts show evidence of sea plankton on the outside of the International Space Station, news agencies are reporting.

Cosmonauts on the orbiting outpost have allegedly discovered trace amounts of sea plankton and other microscopic organisms living on the outside of the station, exposed to the vacuum of space, according to a news story quoting space station official Vladimir Solovyov.

However, NASA has not confirmed the reports. “As far as we’re concerned, we haven’t heard any official reports from our Roscosmos colleagues that they’ve found sea plankton,” NASA spokesman Dan Huot said. Roscosmos is Russia’s Federal Space Agency. [5 Bold Claims of Alien Life]

Recommended: Are you scientifically literate? Take our quiz

The unconfirmed claims — reported by ITAR-TASS — were reportedly the result of a long-term study done using specialized equipment by Russians on the station, according to the news agency.

Although the cosmonauts did sample the outside of the space station and a window on one of the modules this week, they were not necessarily looking for traces of microbes, according to NASA.

“I’m not sure where all the sea-plankton talk is coming from,” Huot told Space.com. “The Russians did take samples from one of the windows on the Russian segment, and what they’re actually looking for is residues that can build up on the visually sensitive elements, like windows, as well as just the hull of the ship itself that will build up whenever they do thruster firings for things like re-boosts. That’s what they were taking samples for. I don’t know where all the sea plankton talk is coming from.”

It’s possible that the plankton, if confirmed, could be a contaminant launched into space with the space station module, said NASA scientist Lynn Rothschild.

Previous studies have found that microorganisms can survive in outer space.

For example, tardigrades — a microscopic invertebrate found all over the world — can dehydrate and fall into a hibernation that allows them to survive in space, Rothschild said. Tardigrades (also called “water bears”) are part of a group classified as “extremophiles” — organisms that can survive in even the harshest environments.

“Note that there is a long history of U.S. and European missions proving that microbes could survive in low Earth orbit for extended periods of time,” Rothschild told Space.com via email.

Researchers have also discovered microbes in Earth’s upper atmosphere. In 2013, scientists reported that they found a large number of many kinds of microorganisms in the atmosphere 5 to 10 miles (8 to 16 kilometers) above the planet’s surface, according to Space.com sister site Live Science.

Bacterial life has even been found 24.8 miles (40 km) up into the atmosphere, according to a 2013interview with Tina Santl Temkiv, an environmental chemist at Aarhus University in Denmark, by Space.com’s sister site Live Science.

NASA officials keep an eye on bacteria growing inside spacecraft. Biofilms — colonies of bacteria — grow on the interior of the International Space Station, and scientists are working to understand how the microgravity environment affects their growth. Astronauts grew bacteria in fake urine during a flight of NASA’s space shuttle Atlantis and found that it grows strangely when compared to biofilms of the same species cultivated on Earth.

“The unique appearance and structure of the P. aeruginosa biofilms formed in microgravity suggests that nature is capable of adapting to nonterrestrial environments in ways that deserve further studies, including studies exploring long-term growth and adaptation to a low-gravity environment,” Cynthia Collins, who led the study, said in a 2013 NASA statement. “Before we start sending astronauts to Mars or embarking on other long-term spaceflight missions, we need to be as certain as possible that we have eliminated or significantly reduced the risk that biofilms pose to the human crew and their equipment.”

Miriam Kramer|Staff Writer|SPACE.com|August 21, 2014

Water Quality Issues

In Florida, Toxic Algae is a Year-Round Fight

A toxic algae outbreak that recently caused officials in Toledo, Ohio to ban citizens from drinking tainted city water for several days, grabbed headlines around the world. For those of us living here in sunny Florida, these noxious green slime outbreaks are now a year-round occurrence.

A water plant that is supposed to serve 30,000 people along Southwest Florida’s Caloosahatchee River, near Fort Myers, has been repeatedly shut down over the years because toxic algae makes the water unsafe.

The main thing to realize is that these outbreaks are preventable. At Earthjustice, we have been in court for 15 years, fighting to get enforceable, numeric limits on the main culprits in these outbreaks—sewage, manure and fertilizer. We have taken our case to the state capital in Tallahassee and all the way to Washington, D.C.

We are fighting for common-sense control of these pollutants. That means using fertilizer in a targeted way on plant roots, and not broadcast spraying it over the land, where most of it is wasted when it runs off into waterways. Several South Florida communities have passed laws that prevent people from fertilizing their lawns during the rainy season, because what they end up fertilizing instead are our public rivers and lakes. These local laws are a great step forward in solving a pollution problem.

But agricultural pollution is the biggest culprit. Despite proven ways to reduce this pollution, agricultural corporations have bitterly fought even the most modest proposed restrictions on their behavior. A few years ago, we watched as lobbyists for agricultural corporations, and their political friends in Congress, actually held the entire budget of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hostage until they got lawmakers to remove language that would have enforced stronger limits on this pollution in Florida.

A big polluter like an industrial plant would be fined if it spilled toxic materials into a river. But that’s not true for Florida agricultural operations. Florida allows them to use voluntary goals called “best management practices.” All the corporation has to do is say it is implementing a plan to control pollution, and it is exempt from monitoring. It’s as if you were allowed to speed on the freeway so long as you gave the highway patrol a speed-limit compliance plan.

How many times are we going to have to watch green slime wreck our drinking water, our swimming holes and our beaches? We need to demand that American leaders hold polluters accountable. Every day, factory farms send fertilizer and manure into our public waters, when they could be controlling this pollution on-site.

Everyone should be required to meet specific pollution limits, and they should face consequences if they exceed those limits and trash our water. That’s what the Clean Water Act intended. It’s the fair thing to do for those of us who depend on clean water. And that’s every one of us.

David Guest|Wednesday|August 06, 2014

Bacteria-Powered Electric Bugs Could Monitor Water Quality in Developing Countries

Access to clean drinking water is a crucial issue for many people living in developing countries. Testing water for pollution usually involves collecting samples and taking them back to a lab. More high tech solutions include mass spectrometry — a very sensitive process that requires expensive specialist equipment — to detect toxins in water supplies, but that can’t be used for routine water monitoring and is too expensive and complex for using in developing areas.

Looking to find a better solution, researchers at the University of Bath along with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory at the University of the West of England have designed an inexpensive sensor using 3D printing that is powered by bacteria and can be placed directly in rivers and lakes to continually monitor water quality.

The University of Bath explains, “The sensor contains bacteria that produce a small measurable electric current as they feed and grow. The researchers found that when the bacteria are disturbed by coming into contact with toxins in the water, the electric current drops, alerting to the presence of pollutants in the water.”

“We found that when we injected a pollutant into the water there was an immediate drop in the electric current they produced. The drop was proportional to the amount of toxin present and the current is recovered once the toxin levels fell,” said Dr. Mirella Di Lorenzo, Professor of Chemical Engineering at Bath.

That means that pollution levels can be monitored in real time without any more special equipment or experts needed for analysis.

The device is able to detect even very small quantities of pollutants. In testing, the researchers detected tiny concentrations of cadmium at quantities far below accepted safe levels.

Megan Treacy|TreeHugger|August 16, 2014

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger.

Florida Conservation Coalition Calls on Public to Support Clean Water Act Rules

Congressman Southerland’s Bill, H.R. 5078, Muddies the Water

In the face of attacks by the Florida Farm Bureau and a narrow group of elected officials, the Florida Conservation Coalition calls on the citizens of Florida to support the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule to protect Florida’s water resources.

The Clean Water Act prevents activities that would harm the nation’s rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands and coastal waters. As required by the Act, EPA regulations protect water quality, help to prevent flooding and limit the impact of droughts. However, federal court decisions have made it essential that the EPA clarify which waters must be protected. 

Legislation proposed by Congressman Steve Southerland and supported today by the Florida Department of Agriculture, the Farm Bureau and other industry groups would prohibit adoption of an important new rule being proposed by EPA in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide this clarity. The legislation would also shut down the public comment process, denying the public the opportunity to voice its position on the proposed rule.

This effort by Representative Southerland and others to keep the Clean Water Act rules muddy is not in Florida’s best interest. Clarifying that streams and their wetlands are protected but uplands are not regulated brings certainty to landowners and assures protection of Florida’s most important natural resources.

The proposed rule actually excludes regulation of most dry ditches, the subject of the Farm Bureau’s objections. All historical exclusions and exemptions for agriculture are preserved, and the proposed rule provides exemptions for many farming, timber and other land-use activities. 

“Southerland’s legislation is a misguided reaction to the proposed rule.  This legislation intervenes in the middle of the public commenting process and raises suspicion that the industry groups demonstrating today do not want to allow citizens to voice their support of our natural resources. Clean water depends on clear standards,” said Vicki Tschinkel of the Florida Conservation Coalition and former Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 

It is especially important that Floridians support EPA’s efforts to protect wetlands which are an integral part of many Florida waterbodies. They are essential to human life in Florida, providing safe drinking water, flood protection for our homes and roads, and our food supply.  In addition, wetlands are vital to the health of Florida’s waters; to wildlife which depend on them for food and habitat; and to our fisherman, tourists and all citizens who depend on the productivity of our estuaries, Atlantic and Gulf.  There is nothing more central to Florida’s economy than the health of our water resources.

Despite the political fracas created by the Farm Bureau, EPA’s proposed rule does not increase or decrease regulation of farming or other activities. The rule simply makes clear the boundaries between flowing waters, wetlands and uplands.

“We are puzzled by the fierce reaction against something that only seeks to provide needed clarity to the Clean Water Act. The proposed rule does not regulate any new types of waters that have not historically been covered under the Act.  Clarity of these regulations is desperately needed to protect our precious, yet deteriorating waters and to stop endless litigation,” said Tschinkel.

The Coalition encourages Floridians who value healthy wetlands and a strong economy to express their opinion of H.R. 5078 to their congressman.

The Florida Conservation Coalition (FCC) is composed of over 50 conservation organizations and thousands of individuals devoted to protecting and conserving Florida’s land, wildlife and water resources. The first priority of the Coalition is to protect and preserve Florida’s waters.

Founder and Chairman, Bob Graham; Vice-Chairmen, Nathaniel Pryor Reed & Lee Constantine

Student Develops Inexpensive Solar Lens To Purify Polluted Water

Deshawn Henry, a Civil Engineering sophomore at the University of Buffalo, spent his summer developing a solar lens using inexpensive supplies from a hardware store that can clean 99.9% of pathogens in a liter of water in about an hour.  The research project is practical and inexpensive, with the potential to be widely implemented and save lives.

Over one billion people around the world lack consistent access to clean water, leading to the death of a child under the age of 5 every single minute. Many water treatment options are expensive.

The device itself has a rather humble appearance, with a six-foot-tall frame of 2x4s topped with a lens constructed of plastic sheeting and water, which focuses down onto a treatment container for the water. This simplicity of design and the inexpensive nature of the building materials means that many living in impoverished areas would be able to obtain the technology and provide clean water for their families.

The lens is able to magnify sunlight and heat a liter of water to about 130-150 degrees Fahrenheit in about an hour. As the sun changes position in the sky, the treatment container for the water needs to be adjusted in order to stay under the focal point of the lens. This heating process eliminates about 99.9% of pathogens found in the water, leaving it clean and drinkable.

“The water lens could have a huge impact in developing countries,” Henry said in a press release. “Millions of people die every year from diseases and pathogens found in unclean water, and they can’t help it because that’s all they have. Either they drink it or they die.”

The design of the lens came with a bit of trial and error. While more water would be able to magnify more sunlight, the thicker plastic needed to hold the heavier amount of water was more opaque, which diminished the effect. Thus, it was important to strike a balance and find what would be most practical in the system. However, the issue of water loss is one that has not been made entirely clear. A lid could potentially diminish the efficiency of the lens, but leaving it off could result in more water evaporating than can be used to effectively clean the water.

All in all, not bad for a summer project.

“I have seen how intense research activities can inspire UB students and educate the next generation of innovators,” added James Jensen, the professor who supervised Henry’s project over the summer. “Deshawn’s work would allow a family in sunny regions to treat drinking water without having to expend energy or rely on imported technologies.”

Though the summer semester is over, Henry is not giving up on his project. Currently, his design that cleans a liter per hour is only enough to meet about one third of the demand for a family of five. He hopes to continue working and develop a larger lens that would be able to clean the amount of water needed.

Lisa Winter|August 18, 2014

8,000 Gallons of Oil Spill Into Ohio River From Duke Energy Coal Plant

This one’s not a big one in the scheme of things. But to those impacted—especially in Ohio, where algae bloom recently caused the water supplying nearly a half million people in the Toledo area to be undrinkable for several days—it’s bad news. Monday morning, reports the Columbus Dispatch, the Coast Guard closed down a 15-mile length of the Ohio River after Duke Energy’s W.C. Beckjord Station outside Cincinnati dumped approximately 8,000 gallons of oil into the river, according to a Coast Guard estimate.

The Dispatch said that it was unclear if the spill was contained or if it had any impact on wildlife or drinking water, and a company spokesperson said that they were “still assessing the situation,” adding that drinking water intake from the river had been closed down. Duke called the spill a “routine transfer of fuel oil.”

That is likely small comfort to the three million people who get their water from the river, stretching from Illinois to Pennsylvania and running along Ohio’s southern border. And many in the area no doubt have fresh memories of a 10,000-gallon spill that contaminated a football field-sized area in the Oak Glen Nature Preserve near Cincinnati in March.

It might be good news to them that Duke Energy Ohio expects to retire all six coal-fired units at the nearly 60-year-old plant by the end of this year, thanks to new Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

Ohio-based Sierra Club organizer Neil Waggoner said of Monday’s spill:

This is yet another example of dirty fossil fuels putting us at risk. We pay with our health. We pay for the dangerous cleanup with our tax dollars. At the same time that Duke Energy was spilling oil in our river, it’s also asking the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to bail out its old, polluting coal plants by passing extra costs on to its customers. If utilities in Ohio invested these dollars in clean energy, we could breathe easier, have safe water and power our lives without suffering the dangers of refineries and coal plants.

Anastasia Pantsios|August 19, 2014

Toxic Algae Scare Prompts Backlash Against Farms

What do a no-drink order in Toledo and a backlash against factory farming have in common? A lot, as it turns out. Residents of Ohio’s fourth-largest city were advised for multiple days earlier this month to refrain from drinking their tap water because it had been contaminated by toxic algae. As residents struggled to deal with their contaminated water supply, the culprit behind the problem became readily apparent: factory farms. The Ohio Agriculture Advisory Council (OAAC) is proposing a regulatory crackdown that could forever change industrial farming practices in this Midwestern state.

The chain between factory farms and contaminated drinking water is a long one. It starts with confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where animals are kept in close quarters in order to maximize production. This generates a huge volume of waste, which is stored in massive lagoons like the one seen above. That waste isn’t treated, however, and when those lagoons overflow or contaminate groundwater, the result is a release of waste filled with a variety of potentially infectious organisms — and nutrients that algae and plants love to feed on.

This causes a phenomenon known as nutrient pollution (another culprit for nutrient pollution is fertilizer runoff from industrial agriculture), where waterways become choked by organisms that are growing out of control because they’re getting far more nutritional support than they usually do. They can out-compete native species and totally change aquatic environments. And they can cause drinking water contamination, which leads to large-scale no-drink orders like the one that just happened in Toledo.

While factory farming is bad news for a number of reasons (not least of which is animal welfare), this is a huge problem — and it’s one that is very poorly regulated. Limited restrictions on how waste is collected, controlled and treated exist, and inspectors are overstressed with demanding schedules, which leaves few opportunities for monitoring farms in their regions. As a result, farms can store manure in unsafe conditions with few repercussions. Despite multiple record-breaking waste spills in regions across the United States, regulators have been slow to act on the problem. CAFO operators aren’t required to treat their waste, and often pass the responsibility for cleanup on to government agencies and other parties, sometimes escaping without even a fine for their activities.

S.E. Smith|Care2|August 18, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Care2.

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Why It Makes Sense to UN-dam a River

There was a time – especially in the 19th and 20th centuries – when nothing seemed to make more sense to community planners than to dam up their local rivers. Because rivers flow constantly, they seemed to provide an endless source of energy. That energy was first tapped to power mills, but later, dams of all sizes were built to convert that flowing power into electricity.

Dams were also the technology that people turned to to control floods and manage water supplies.  By collecting river water and then releasing it on demand, it was possible to reduce flooding during storms or in the spring, when people living in mountainous regions had to contend with snow melt that would send rivers overflowing their banks.

But dams have had several significant downsides. For one, they make it difficult for fish like salmon and steelhead trout to reach their spawning grounds. Salmon famously swim upstream to spawn. But when they encounter dams that block their paths, their spawning runs come to a halt. Wildlife biologists have tried to build fish ladders to allow the animals to bypass the dam. Or, they trap the salmon and move them above the dam to continue their journey. Both approaches are expensive and have had mixed results.

Speaking of expense, many dams are so aged that the cost to repair them has become exorbitant. As other renewable energy sources like wind and solar gain ground, and as energy conservation gets increasingly more effective at reducing power demands, dams look less and less appealing.

Dams also flood scenic areas that often teem with wild animals and plants, or canyons notable for their archeological artifacts.

Finally, an unanticipated impact of building dams has been the effect they often have on the river’s ecology. Behind the dam, the water reservoirs intended to provide drinking water or a place for boating and swimming often have become silted up with mud, sand and gravel. Below the dam, the river beds are sorely lacking in these same materials, becoming little more than a muddy wasteland.

Dismantling a dam can take many forms. Some communities opt to literally blow theirs up. Others take a slower approach and unbuild a dam piece by piece or section by section. However it is done, by and large, scientists seem to be pleased with the results. Though the movement to remove dams is still relatively recent, research shows that native fish populations are bouncing back pretty quickly once a river is restored. So are the river beds and banks.

The moral of the story may be: Mother Nature knows best

Diane MacEachern|August 17, 2014

5 Ways to Help the Mighty Colorado River

From the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California, the Colorado River flows through some of the world’s most majestic landscapes.

Spanning seven U.S. states and two in Mexico, she supplies drinking water to nearly 36 million people, irrigates more than 4 million acres of farmland, and provides power to the region’s cities. This western lifeline also supports a thriving $26 billion recreational economy.

Over the last 15 years, a changing climate, booming populations and rapidly growing demands have taken a toll on this iconic river and its tributaries. In fact, the river has not regularly reached the sea in decades.

Hope for the River

When it comes to water issues in the West, progress is slow and conflicts are common. Farmers, cities, businesses, recreation and wildlife all depend on a healthy river. Balancing all of these needs is the trick – every one of them is valid, and yet there just isn’t enough water to go around.

In spite of these challenges, I continue to believe there is hope for the river.

An historic event this past March buoyed my optimism: I saw water flow into the Colorado River Delta for the first time in decades.

This formerly lush and green expanse of land is located along the U.S.-Mexico border and had been bone dry for decades. The area symbolized the very issues we face throughout the River’s vast Basin – not enough water to meet growing needs and maintain the river’s health.

Amid conflict and struggles, the U.S. and Mexico signed an agreement in November 2012 to begin to restore the Colorado River Delta. This showed the world we were able to reach solutions for our communities and the environment in spite of water scarcity.

What You Can Do

Everyone who depends on the Colorado River can help. There are five simple things you can do to help us keep the river healthy for generations to come:

1. Shorten your daily shower by two minutes and you’ll save up to 150 gallons per month.
2. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth and save up to 150 gallons per month.
3. Run your clothes washer and dishwasher only when they are full and save up to 200 gallons a month.
4. Fix that leaky faucet or running toilet and save up to 300 gallons per month.
5. Use water-wise and drought tolerant plants and water them in the early morning or evening to reduce evaporation.

Together, we can bring hope to one of the world’s most iconic rivers.

Taylor Hawes|The Nature Conservancy|August 17, 2014

Water Releases from Lake Powell to Lake Mead to Increase, USBR Says

BOULDER CITY, Nev. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will increase its water releases from Lake Powell to Lake Mead in Water Year 2015, following the recent completion of its monthly operational study.

The release will increase from 7.48 million acre-feet (maf) in Water Year 2014 to 8.23 maf in the coming year, the agency said, with Lake Mead operating under normal conditions in Calendar Year 2015. Water users in the Lower Colorado River Basin and Mexico will also receive their full water orders.

The projections are used in accordance with the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead to determine the amount of water released from Powell to Mead each year.

The 2007 Interim Guidelines allow water managers to plan ahead for varying reservoir levels along the Colorado River with a “greater degree of certainty about annual water deliveries”, Reclamation said. The guidelines also “define the reservoir levels that would trigger delivery shortages and specify reduced delivery amounts in the Lower Colorado River Basin.”

HydroWorld.com reported in July that Lake Mead — impounded by Hoover Dam — had dipped to its lowest levels since the 1930s after Reclamation forecast lower water releases into the lake in August 2013 due to what is now being called a 15-year drought.

The bureau said runoff in the Upper Colorado River Basin was 94% of average in 2014, compared to 47% in 2013 and 45% in 2012. Despite the increased runoff, however, Reclamation said the elevation of Lake Mead is projected to continue to decrease in the coming year, falling from its current 1,080 feet.

The 2007 Interim Guidelines dictate Reclamation will perform another review of conditions at Lake Powell and Lake Mead in April 2015, at which point the releases from Powell could be increased to 9.0 maf for Water Year 2015.

Reclamation said its long-term hydrologic models show the first chance for reduced water deliveries into the Lower Basin are in 2016.

Michael Harris|August 19, 2014

Original article

Israeli Scientists Protect Coral by Taking Rainforests Underwater

Efforts have been underway for some time now to find a way to save the world’s coral reefs. Coral, which is often thought of incorrectly as a marine plant, perform an essential symbiotic role in our oceans that often benefit other organisms. Their incredible diversity allows them to replicate in a variety of environments and makes them essential to the world’s oceans. Home to more than 800 types of coral, the world’s coral reefs alone support the existence of more than 4,000 species of fish, many of which provide essential food for human populations. Other coral communities, such as those in the Red Sea, are also essential to marine life.

So, finding a way to stem the decline of coral has been a priority for marine scientists for the past several decades – at least since the late 1990s when scientists attempted unsuccessfully to replant coral in the Great Barrier Reef. According to the World Resources Institute’s 2011 report, Reefs at Risk Revisited, 75 percent of the world’s coral reefs face extinction from climate change, coastal development, pollution and overfishing.

And they are more than a form of marine animal. Often likened to the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, “coral reefs are harbingers of change,” the WRI states. The increasing extinction of coral is a clear indicator of the future of the world’s oceans.

The good news is that after years of research, scientists in Israel may have found a way to repopulate coral reefs. Dr. Baruch Rinkevich, senior scientist at Israel’s Institute of Oceanographic and Limnological Research, and Dr. Shai Shafir, chair of the department of Natural Science and Environmental Education at Oranim Academic College, have developed a means by which to regrow coral and replant it in its natural habitat.

“We grow corals on mid- water nurseries in the Red Sea,”  Shafir explained in a recent interview. At the present time the coral is being grown individually in the nurseries and then replanted “one by one” in the communities in the Red Sea.

Shafir refers to coral as “’the rain forest of the sea.’” Like trees, they root themselves in the earth’s floor, becoming a natural habitat for other species. The coral reforestation not only helps regenerate coral communities, but they also provide a vibrant marine ecology for those around them.

“Basically, what we’ve done here is copy the forestry concept,” Shafir said, “and the idea is really taking hold around the world because you can use it almost anywhere.” In fact, the idea has shown so much success that the Jewish National Fund has gotten behind the project, which has opened doors for a new angle on marine reforestation. Shafir said the North American Friends of the IOLR have also been instrumental in promoting and funding their work.

The concept of regrowing and replanting declining species has been around for a while in terms of kelp reforestation, but not in terms of successful replanting of coral beds. It’s an idea that will benefit not just marine areas around Israel, but also worldwide.

“It’s not just about conservation, but also about active restoration,” Shafir said, who noted that the team are also working on an idea that would allow groups of coral to be grown in “carpets” or squares that could then be integrated into the marine setting. The process is still in research stage, however.

Coral replantation techniques dovetail with another form of reforestation called passive restoration, which has been in the works for years and takes much longer to accomplish. Marine protective areas, which are seen throughout the world and take decades to recover, fulfill this purpose. Active restoration, however, takes just two years to start.

Its success, and of course the speed of reforestation however, will still depend heavily on aspects of human habitat: whether we can find the impetus and mechanisms to halt climate change, marine encroachment and, of course, overfishing.

Jan Lee|August 20th, 2014|Gratitude is extended to Dr. Shai Shafir and Dr.  Baruch Rinkevich for additional information and photos.

FIU to study nitrogen loads, Caloosahatchee wetlands

The South Florida Water Management District voted last week to set aside $200,000 of property taxes to study nitrogen in the Caloosahatchee River.

Called “Bioassays for Determining Dissolved Organic Nitrogen Bioavailability to Primary and Secondary Production in the Caloosahatchee River Water Column,” the project is a two-year agreement with Florida International University. Researchers at FIU will study the costs and effectiveness of wetlands and restoration projects used to reduce nitrogen loads in the river.

Nitrogen occurs naturally in the ecosystem, but the nitrogen loads FIU will study come mostly from Lake Okeechobee releases and stormwater run-off in the Caloosahatchee River watershed. Nitrogen is used by farming operations and as fertilizer for golf courses and residential areas. Tons of the nutrient are released into the river each year — which can provide fuel for algal blooms such as cyanobacteria and Karenia brevis, the organism that causes red tides in our region.

Nitrogen also provides fuel for drift algae that covers sea grasses, eventually gathering in clumps called “rolling moss” by some locals.

 Chad Gillis|news-press.com|August 22, 2014

Offshore & Ocean

UF/IFAS Research Findings Shed Light on Seagrass Needs

Seagrass beds represent critical and threatened coastal habitats around the world, and a new University of Florida study shows how much sunlight seagrass needs to stay healthy.

Loss of seagrass means fish, crabs and other animals lose their homes and manatees and sea turtles lose a source of food. Nutrients, such as phosphorous, may prevent seagrass from getting the sunlight it needs to thrive. Nutrients may come from many sources, among them fertilizers used in agriculture, golf courses and suburban lawns, pet waste and septic tank waste.

Scientists often use seagrass to judge coastal ecosystems’ vitality, said Chuck Jacoby, a courtesy associate professor in the Department of Soil and Water Science and co-author of a new UF study that examines light and seagrass health.

“By protecting seagrass, we protect organisms that use seagrass and other photosynthetic organisms that need less light,” said Jacoby, a faculty member in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

When nutrient levels are too high, microorganisms in the water, called phytoplankton, use these nutrients and light to grow and reproduce until they become so abundant that they block sunlight seagrass needs to survive, said Zanethia Choice, a former UF graduate student who led the investigation.

“Seagrass can cope with short-term light reductions, but if those conditions last too long or occur too frequently, seagrass will deteriorate and ultimately die,” Choice said. “Good water clarity is vital for healthy coastal systems.”

Choice studied seagrass beds in a 700,000-acre swath off the coast of Florida’s Big Bend.

Choice, now a natural resource specialist with the U.S. Forest Service in Mississippi, conducted the study as part of her master’s thesis, under the supervision of Jacoby and Tom Frazer, a professor of aquatic ecology and director of the UF School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Choice combined 13 years of light and water quality data and two years of seagrass samples from habitats near the mouths of eight rivers that empty into the Gulf of Mexico.

Seagrass off the Steinhatchee, Suwannee, Waccasassa, Withlacoochee, Crystal, Homosassa, Chassahowitzka and Weeki Wachee rivers constitutes part of the second largest seagrass bed in Florida. The largest bed is in Florida Bay, between the Everglades and the Florida Keys, Jacoby said.

Choice wanted to see how much light was needed to keep the seagrass in this region healthy. She found different seagrass species needed varying amounts of light, ranging from 8 to 27 percent of the sunlight at the water’s surface.

The UF/IFAS study will give water resource managers, such as the state Department of Environmental Protection, water-clarity targets they can use to set proper nutrient levels for water bodies, Jacoby said.

Reducing nutrient levels can promote the health of seagrass and coastal waters. For example, concerted efforts to reduce nutrients flowing into Tampa Bay over the past 20-plus years resulted in a 50 percent reduction in nitrogen, a 50 percent increase in water clarity and a return of lost seagrass, according to a study conducted by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

Unlike Tampa Bay, there is no evidence that elevated nutrient levels in Choice’s study area have led to loss of seagrass. UF researchers are trying to make sure nutrients do not pollute the seagrass beds off the coast of the Big Bend, and they hope their results will guide managers as they strive to prevent any damage.

The study of seagrass light requirements is published in this month’s issue of the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Brad Buck|Friday, April 18th, 2014

Mercury in Seafood: How Much Is Too Much?

Toxicologists have a saying: “The dose makes the poison.” In other words, there is no such thing as “toxic” or “non-toxic”—it always depends on how much of a substance you consume.

So what’s a toxic level of mercury in your diet? This has long been a concern, because many fish contain measurable levels of mercury, which can cause profound neurological disease and death if consumed in sufficient amounts. The issue gained new urgency last week when a study in the journal Nature showed that mercury concentration at the ocean surface has tripled since the beginning of the industrial era.

How does mercury get into fish, anyway?

In the 19th and 20th centuries, factories dumped massive amounts of methylmercury—the most dangerous form of mercury, bonded to carbon and hydrogen—directly into waterways. The most infamous example occurred in Japan in the 1950s and ’60s, when industrial mercury poisoned more than 2,000 people who ate fish from Minamata Bay. (The neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning is called “Minamata disease” after the tragedy.)

Mercury dumping has been a problem in the U.S., too. I grew up a few miles from New York’s Onondaga Lake, where the Allied Chemical Company disposed of as much as 20 pounds of mercury per day in the mid-2oth century. “America’s most polluted lake” is still recovering.

Mercury can also take a less direct route to the sea. Burning fossil fuels releases mercury into the air—around 160 tons per year in the U.S. The mercury settles to the ground, where rains eventually wash it to the ocean. There, elemental mercury turns into methylmercury. Scientists aren’t quite sure how this conversion occurs, but it probably involves the metabolism of a small but abundant living creature. When that creature is eaten by bigger creatures, the methylmercury travels up the food chain, collecting in animal tissue in larger and larger amounts. That’s why predators like tuna have troubling levels of mercury—they eat a lot.

Credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institutution

Credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

What are the effects of mercury exposure?

Cases of mercury poisoning go back thousands of years. Mercury probably killed the first Chinese emperor, Qin Shi Huang, in 210 B.C.E. at the age of 39. He believed mercury pills would grant him immortality (oops). But Mercury doesn’t just kill. It can first drive a victim to insanity. The phrase “as mad as a hatter” harkens back to Victorian England, where mercury was used in haberdasheries. (Mercury inhalation is still a problem in many workplaces.)

Mercury’s notoriety as a poison derives from these instances of acute exposure. Diagnosing these cases is clinical child’s play. The symptoms—like numbness in the extremities, weakness, and a narrowing of the field of vision—are well known, and they appear soon after exposure. The challenge for toxicologists is sussing out the more subtle effects of lower doses of mercury, like the ones you might get from eating fish.

Fetuses and small children, for example, are extremely sensitive to mercury. Exposure to mercury in the womb can affect cognitive development, impair memory and attention, and slow language acquisition, even when the doses are too low to cause any observable symptoms in the mother.

Chronic, low-dose exposure in adults could also be a concern. Some doctors believe that trace levels of mercury contribute to heart disease and high blood pressure, though the evidence for this is currently inconclusive. These claims are based on a small number of studies conducted on discrete populations living in remote areas. In addition, the precise mechanism that would link low-dose mercury to heart disease isn’t fully understood.

So how much is too much?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends consuming a daily maximum of 0.1 micrograms of mercury for each kilogram of your body weight. That would limit a 176-pound adult (the national average) to 8 micrograms of mercury each day.

What does that mean in terms of cans of tuna or pieces of sashimi? Well, you’ll need a species-by-species chart of mercury concentration to figure that out. The amount of mercury in certain types of fish varies greatly. For instance, the average adult could eat 13 ounces of fresh salmon per day while staying under the EPA recommended maximum. You should avoid swordfish, though—eating just 0.14 ounces, a mere forkful, would put you over the limit.

table

If you don’t want to break out your calculator and metric system conversion charts, use this handy seafood calculator from Natural Resources Defense Council (which publishes OnEarth) for an estimate of your weekly mercury consumption.

These calculations can be helpful, but there are caveats. Not all scientists agree with the EPA’s mercury limits, and many more would add the proviso that they represent an extremely rough guess at what constitutes a safe level. In addition, the recent Nature study shows that oceanic mercury levels are on the rise, and existing research suggests that trend may continue for centuries. As increasing mercury concentrations travel up the food chain, the amount of fish you’ll be able to consume while staying within the EPA’s “safe zone” will decrease over time.

The federal government (and the fishing industry, naturally) don’t recommend avoiding fish altogether. Almost immediately after I received notification of the Nature study, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Twitter account recommended increased fish consumption for pregnant women. (My colleague Jason Bittel has more details about the new federal fish-eating guidelines.) It’s tough, with all the conflicting advice, to know for sure what to do.

Promising developments?

But there’s hope! Last November, the U.S. joined the Minamata Convention on mercury. If enacted, this international agreement would prohibit new mercury mines, regulate the industrial use of mercury and reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Now for the bad news. Although 100 countries have signed on, the U.S. is the only nation that has gone through the official legal processes required to accept the convention. It will take 49 others before the agreement goes into force. So after budgeting a few years for that, plus a century or two before ocean mercury levels actually begin to drop, maybe you should leave the swordfish to your distant descendants.

Brian Palmer|OnEarth | August 14, 2014|This article was originally posted in Natural Resources Defense Council’s OnEarth.

July Ocean Temperature Hits Record High—Again

Last month, Earth’s ocean surfaces tied the previous record for the hottest July during the 130 years the U.S. government has been compiling data.

The National Climatic Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that the average temperature was 62.56 degrees Fahrenheit, 1.06 degrees above the 20th-century average. The ocean surfaces also reached that temperature in July 2009. It’s the third straight month this year that ocean surface temperatures set a record.

The NOAA reported:

Much warmer than average and record warm temperatures were prevalent in every major ocean basin, particularly notable across parts of the Arctic Seas between Greenland and northern Europe, the southern Indian Ocean, and the western equatorial Pacific Ocean. Neither El Niño nor La Niña conditions were present across the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean during July 2014. Temperature departures from average in this region, a major indicator of the conditions, cooled slightly compared with the previous month.

Other July statistics from the NOAA:

The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for July 2014 was the fourth highest on record for July, at 1.15°F above the 20th-century average of 60.4°F.

The global land surface temperature was 1.33°F above the 20th-century average of 57.8°F, marking the 10th warmest July on record.

The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the January–July period (year-to-date) was 1.19°F above the 20th-century average of 56.9°F, tying with 2002 as the third warmest such period on record.

Anastasia Pantsios|August 18, 2014

Why Trashed Beaches Are Expensive

One would assume that the economic cost of polluted beaches comes from having to clean them up, but in fact there’s another aspect involved: the recreational costs.

A new economic report by NOAA’s Marine Debris Program looking at Orange County found that because the cleanliness of a beach is of top concern to beachgoers, they will drive farther to find a less polluted one. That means a higher economic cost in terms of gas, tolls, parking, and more. In fact, according to NOAA, if the amount of trash on Orange County beaches was cut in half, the savings of residents could add up to $67 million during the summer. Even cutting the amount of trash by 25% would mean a large amount of savings, to the tune of $32 million.

“This study shows that beachgoers are worried about marine debris and will seek out cleaner beaches for recreation at a cost,” said Nancy Wallace, Marine Debris Program director. “Reducing or eliminating marine debris from our beaches is critical, because littered shorelines are costing people more than we anticipated. We can use these kinds of data to prioritize beaches for debris prevention and removal activities.”

As the report pointed out, this isn’t just a problem that California is dealing with; the economic loss associated with beach pollution is a national issue. “Given the enormous popularity of beach recreation throughout the United States, the magnitude of recreational losses associated with marine debris has the potential to be substantial,” wrote NOAA in a statement.

To cut those losses, we not only need to put more beach clean up efforts in place, but of course deal with the problem of polluted beaches before they get to that point. That means taking steps to prevent pollution in general, and in particular, work hard to get rid of single-use plastics.

Organizations like Surfrider and the Rise Above Plastics campaign are making the link between plastic and pollution very clear, and highlighting why we need to work hard to not only refuse single-use plastic items like bags and silverware, but also petition to ban them, so that there are simply less of them to end up in the ocean and on our beaches.

Ending beach pollution means eliminating products that pollute in the first place.

Anna Brones|August 18, 2014

Invisible threat: Microplastic contamination discovered on bottom of Sydney Harbour

The bottom of Sydney Harbour has been contaminated by widespread microplastic pollution which could be entering the food chain, scientists say.

Professor Emma Johnston from the Sydney Institute of Marine Science said the microplastics, or fragments of plastic less than five millimeters long, represented the “emergence of new contaminants in our harbors and waterways”.

In the first study of its kind, 27 sites were tested across the harbour, with researchers discovering up to 60 microplastics per 100 milligrams of sediment.

The environmental effects of the contaminants are largely unknown, but there have been moves to ban their use in products overseas.

Professor Johnston said some of the microplastic contamination was coming directly into the harbour.

“For example when we wash our fleecy jackets in the washing machine, lots of particles of microplastics, thin threads, come off and enter our waterways,” she said.

“But there are also microplastics from facial scrubs and there are breakdown products from macro debris, like plastic bags or plastic bottles.”

A PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales, Vivian Sim, said several hotspots were identified and the worst-affected area was in the pristine-looking waters of Middle Harbour.

“Something interesting is going on here, but we’re not sure what,” she said.

Nicole Chettle|22 Aug 2014

Seven new artificial reefs crucial to Martin County’s economy

After completing a $150,000 project, Martin County will have seven new artificial reef sites within the South County reef area offshore. Construction is expected to start this month.

“The artificial reef program been going along since the ’70s,” said Kathy FitzPatrick, Martin County’s coastal engineer. “For the last 15 years, the county has taken over the program … And there are a lot of different benefits, including an economic benefit to people who never go into the water.”

The project is the result of a community effort between a local group of fishermen and fishing enthusiasts, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, educational institutions, concerned citizens and the county that has made a long list of diving and fishing sites within the county at offshore reef sites including the Donaldson, Ernst and Sirotkin reef sites. Each of these sites contain artificial reefs deployed over the past several years.

In addition, the county has nearshore reef sites in the ocean between the Stuart and Jensen public beach parks.

Currently, the county is collecting at least 3,500 tons of secondary-use concrete material for the artificial reef project, which according to FitzPatrick, is a great way to keep concrete out of the landfill. Construction workers can drop concrete off at the Martin County Transfer Station, 9101 S.W. Busch St. in Palm City just off State Road 714, at no charge.

Creating these concrete reefs is helpful in several ways, according to FitzPatrick.

“Natural reefs have a lot of pressure,” she said. “Some of the reefs we build are more attractive, and there’s a lot of neat things to swim through. That takes fishing pressure off the (natural) reefs,” she said. “Some reefs target the fisheries themselves … Habitat to fish on one end, and another where we put a ship to be a fishing destination.”

It’s also important to maintain that resource because it part of a larger ecosystem, FitzPatrick said.

“Martin County sits at the northern end of the Florida Coral Reef track. We have the last vestiges of that Florida track, and that is a resource we want to protect. We are very involved in the Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative.”

Through the South County reef site, there will be three artificial reefs on the east side and four on the west side. One hope is to track the lionfish on the natural reef versus the artificial reef. FitzPatrick said they would like to go out periodically and monitor what fish are appearing on the reefs, but it’s all a matter of funding — something they don’t have for that portion of the project.

Increasing fishing habitat is good for the community, FitzPatrick said.

“There really is a lot of different benefits, including an economic benefit to people who never go into the water,” she said. “One out of 10 jobs is connected to the waters of Martin County.”

The MCAC Reef Fund is a group of concerned citizens, sport fishermen and overall fishing enthusiasts who support these projects, raising money through an annual tournament, said John Burke, an investment adviser who is now president of the fund. The group calls itself the MCAC because the anglers club originally supporting the event closed about three years ago.

“Fishing is so important to a community like Stuart because of the tackle stores and charter boats and on and on … It is a big infrastructure, and it is vitally important to have habitat to flourish.”

The organization supports a lot of causes similar to the county’s goals. About two months ago, the organization got a $2,500 grant from West Martin to help try to address the growing lionfish population, which depletes the fish resource.

“They are like vacuum cleaners in the amount of fish that they eat, and they propagate like bunny rabbits. They really have made an enormous explosion of growth up and down the coast,” Burke said.

Building more habitat like the county’s newest project can help address these concerns, he believes.

“Natural reefs are in peril between water quality attacking them and other ecology issues (like the lionfish),” he said. “It helps to have the artificial reef.”

Michelle Piasecki|Palm Beach Post|Aug. 20, 2014

DEP Awards $10 Million for Critical Indian River Lagoon Restoration

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) awarded $10 million in grant funding to Brevard County today for the removal of up to 350,000 cubic yards of muck in the Indian River Lagoon and its tributaries. The project is a priority of Governor Scott and members of the Florida Legislature who appropriated the funds for this lagoon restoration project and many others during the 2014 Legislative Session.

“Governor Scott and Florida’s legislative leaders are committed to improving the health of the Indian River Lagoon,” said DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard Jr. “Restoring this unique and treasured water body is a top priority among our state’s leadership and the department is proud to partner with Brevard County to improve lagoon water quality.”

Created by decades of runoff, erosion and nutrient loading, the accumulated muck deposits within the lagoon are damaging to seagrass beds, contribute to algal blooms and create bottom conditions that are not conducive to healthy marine life.

The Brevard County project is also expected to remove up to 672 tons of total nitrogen and 144 tons of total phosphorous contained within the muck deposits. This project joins other lagoon restoration efforts already underway including a $10 million Eau Gallie River muck removal project, $746,000 for water quality monitoring sensors throughout the lagoon, more than $12 million in water quality restoration grants and millions more in support to local lagoon organizations focused on raising awareness of lagoon health.

“This is a critical point in lagoon restoration where state, federal and local partners realize we have to get started now with projects that will work,” said Ernie Brown, Director of Brevard County Natural Resources Management. “This project serves to bring strong science about muck removal to the conversation while making real progress, and DEP has been a fantastic partner in getting this project expedited.”

Brevard County staff aims to have some dredges in the water by January 2015 with full deployment and active operations among all dredging resources by July 2015.

“The ecological health of the Northern and Central Indian River Lagoon and the Banana River are central to our way of life throughout this beautiful region,” said Senator Andy Gardiner. “These restoration efforts are and will continue to be a significant priority of the Florida Legislature and I want to thank Senator Altman for his leadership on this issue.”

“Communities up and down the Space Coast rely on the lagoon to strengthen their local economies and support their quality of life,” said Senator Thad Altman. “It’s critical we remove these sediments from our waterways and get the Indian River Lagoon on a pathway to health.”

The Indian River Lagoon is a diverse, shallow-water estuary stretching across 40 percent of Florida’s east coast from Ponce de Leon Inlet in Volusia County to the southern boundary of Martin County. Widespread algal blooms appeared in the lagoon in 2011 when temperatures dropped significantly. This was followed by brown tide blooms in 2012 and 2013. Approximately 47,000 acres of seagrasses were lost, a reduction of about 60 percent of the lagoon’s total seagrass coverage. Removing excessive nitrogen and phosphorus in the lagoon is important to help prevent these events from occurring in the future.

Dredging projects, water quality monitoring and support for local lagoon awareness organizations are all part of a larger, multi-agency effort to improve the health of the lagoon. The St. Johns Water Management District, the South Florida Water Management District, DEP, Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, local governments and educational institutions are individually and collectively working to identify additional opportunities to speed the lagoon back to ideal health.

mburgerdep | August 22, 2014

The dark side of Hawaii’s aquarium trade

Hawaii’s salt-water aquarium trade is lucrative – but depends on the constant, scarcely regulated collection of wild fish, writes Elizabeth Claire Alberts. With 98% of fish in the trade taken from the wild, and high mortality rates from the moment of collection, Hawaii’s coral reefs are experiencing a daily massacre.

Not only do fish die as they are captured and transported, but they don’t live long in captivity, often dying from fin rot or septicaemia … the aquarium trade demands a constant, insatiable supply of reef wildlife.

On 8th May 2014, environmentalist Rene Umberger dove off the Kona coast in Hawaii to document two scuba divers using dip nets to collect tropical fish from a coral reef site.

As Umberger filmed from a distance of 10 metres, one of the fish collectors, Jay Lovell, swam up to her and ripped the air supply from her mouth. (see video below)

If Umberger hadn’t been an experienced diver, the incident could have been fatal.

Umberger and her dive partners filmed the attack and gave the footage to state investigators. However, it took nearly three months for Lovell to be charged with second-degree terroristic threatening.

The attack was probably an anomaly, but it created a huge amount of public awareness about the multi-billion dollar aquarium industry.

The aquarium trade is a worldwide problem, but Hawaii has one of the most poorly managed systems. While fish collecting is legal in Hawaii, environmentalists argue that the collectors can easily exploit laws, and that scientists need to properly research the trade’s detrimental effects on the marine environment.

Umberger’s assault also points to the dark side of the aquarium trade. If collectors resort to violence to avoid being filmed, one must ask: what are they trying to hide?

The aquarium trade is responsible for reef decline

Around the world, coral reef systems are in a state of crisis. They are threatened by ocean acidification, temperature variation, and sea level rise.

Dr. Ku’ulei Rodgers of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology explains that Hawaiian reefs also face numerous local problems like sedimentation, agricultural runoff, overfishing, and of course – fish collecting.

Aquarium trade supporters, however, often downplay the impacts of fish collecting, arguing that it’s impossible to know which issue is responsible for reef degradation. Umberger, Director of the environmental group For the Fishes, states that it’s actually quite simple to discern if extraction has caused reef decline and depleted fish populations:

“You just need to look at what happens when collecting pressure is removed. For yellow tangs, their populations nearly doubled within four years of area closures in West Hawaii.”

The effects of fish collecting can also be understood when examining specific areas suffering from algal growth, Umberger explains:

“If fish collectors remove all herbivores in those areas, the algae wins. On Maui, since the state enacted a no-take herbivore zone where the effluent is having large impacts, things seem to be getting a bit better.”

According to aquarium collection reports from Oahu – Hawaii’s most populated island – fish populations are plummeting. In fact, one study has concluded that the aquarium trade has stressed fisheries in Oahu to the point of collapse. [The Commercial Marine Aquarium Fishery in Hawai‘i, 1976-2003, William J. Walsh, Stephen S.P. Cotton, Jan Dierking and Ivor D. Williams]

Environmentalists believe that other fisheries around the Hawaiian islands are not far behind.

Read More

Wildlife and Habitat

Popular Fla. nude beach causing problem for wildlife
Passage Key is a popular hotspot for nudists located between Anna Maria Island and Egmont Key.
For 50 years, the small island has been a federally protected habitat for nesting birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says there are a number of rare species there ranging from royal terns, to black skimmers, to oystercatchers. 

A spokesman for the FWS says in 2006, the island became completely submerged because of Hurricane Alberto. But in the past few months, the sandbar returned – along with birds, and nudists.

The island has been popular for nudists recently, with reports of more than 200 nudists on the small island. The FWS claims this is disrupting rare birds and scaring them off. ?

A FWS spokesperson says it is a federal crime to walk on the island, saying nudists are allowed to wade in the water off-shore, but are prohibited by law from being on the island.

Federal officials monitor Passage Key on the weekends, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission helps with monitoring during the week. However, the island is remote and it’s impossible to patrol the island seven days a week.

Federal officials urge tourists and nudists to stay off the island. Signs have been posted urging nudists to follow the law and stay off the beach, but officials say more needs to be done to stop the nudists from bothering these nesting birds.

Dozens of different kinds of species nest there this time of year. Bird nesting season lasts from April to late August.

The spokesman for the federal agency says in the spring, FWS officials will discuss what changes need to be made to better protect the nesting birds.

Punishments for disrupting the habitats vary depending on the rarity of the bird species. Some offenders could be issued fines or given jail time.

John Rogers|Aug 14, 2014

Black bear curriculum teaches kids about wildlife, meets Florida education standards

Giving schoolchildren a chance to learn all about Florida black bears is a great way to teach them about wildlife, while sharpening their skills in reading, math, science and problem solving.

For that reason, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has updated its Florida Black Bear Curriculum, and put it online for the first time at BlackBearInfo.com.

The revised Florida Black Bear Curriculum is free, easy for teachers to use, and meets the new Florida Standards for educational curricula.

The curriculum offers 10 lessons on topics such as “The Black Bear Necessities” and “Oh Where, Oh Where is the Florida Black Bear?” and includes hands-on activities such as mapping and role-playing. There are also videos for students to watch such as the FWC’s “Living with Florida Black Bears.”

“The Florida Black Bear Curriculum takes children’s curiosity about black bears into the classroom, where learning about black bears can improve kids’ skills in basics like reading, math, science and problem solving,” said Sarah Barrett with the FWC’s black bear management program. “Whenever FWC staff talks to kids about Florida black bears, the response is overwhelmingly positive because kids are eager to learn and ask great questions about bears.”

With more encounters today between people and bears in Florida than in the recent past, it is increasingly important for children to learn about the state’s bear population.

The Florida Black Bear Curriculum was designed for children in grades 3-8 and has been in use since 1999, when it was created as a joint project of the FWC and Defenders of Wildlife.

Florida teachers who register on the Florida Black Bear Curriculum website can gain access to additional information, particularly in regard to how the material fits the Florida Standards.

But anyone is welcome to go to BlackBearInfo.com and take advantage of the educational material there.

Why Our Future Depends on Spider Conservation

How much do you know about spiders? The superhero Spider-Man is awesome, but the role of actual spiders in diverse ecosystems around the world is just as captivating.

“If spiders disappeared, we would face famine,” declares Norman Platnick, who studies arachnids at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, where a live spider exhibit opened in July. “Spiders are primary controllers of insects. Without spiders, all of our crops would be consumed by those pests.”

Just to clarify: although insects and spiders are often grouped together, they belong to different animal groups. Spiders are arachnids – technically Class Arachnida, which includes ticks, mites, and scorpions. The most obvious way to distinguish insects from spiders is to count their legs. Insects have six legs, while arachnids have eight.

The importance of spiders to agriculture may be well known, but did you know that the spiders on one acre of woodland alone consume more than 80 pounds of insects each year? Clearly, those insect populations would explode without their spider predators.

That’s what Platnick is talking about.

Aside from chemical control, predation is the only way to limit herbivorous pests. And spiders are excellent at this task. Spiders are particularly crucial in organic farming, which relies heavily on biological pest control.

A few more fascinating facts about spiders:

*  Spiders were around more than 300 million years ago, long before dinosaurs walked the Earth.

*  Only about 50 percent of known spider species make webs. Others hunt their prey or burrow underground.

*  You are unlikely to be bitten by a spider, since they are very shy. They generally prefer to run away rather than bite.

Scientists are also exploring other ways in which spiders could be helpful to humans. That’s because a spider’s venom contains hundreds of different chemical compounds, some of which may be medically active.

So researchers are testing many of these chemicals. At Yale, scientists are examining whether chemicals in the venom of the Australian funnel-web spider could be used to improve pain-control medications. At the University of Buffalo, a researcher is working on healing muscular dystrophy patients with a compound in the venom of a South American spider. In Seattle, a doctor is working on a project that involves a scorpion-venom concoction that makes brain tumors glow.

Then of course there is spider silk: spiders make many different kinds of silk in their webs, each with a property, such as toughness, flexibility, stickiness. Perhaps this too could have important uses in the future.

There are indeed many unknowns about spiders.

“Scientists have identified almost 45,000 different spider species,” says Platnick, “and that’s at best one-half of what actually exists. When we lose a spider species, we may lose a compound that could have cured epilepsy. We may lose a silk that could have produced a strong and lightweight material.”

But Platnick is most concerned about the vital importance of spiders to agriculture since, like many animals, spiders are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation of habitat, as well as by introduced species. Spiders may often be overlooked in conservation planning, just because they are so small.

That is a huge mistake, Platnick believes. For him, it is quite simple: without spiders, our crops will be eaten by insects and we humans will starve.

Spiders have been fascinating writers for a long time: remember Shelob, Tolkien’s giant evil spider in “The Lord of the Rings”? Or E.B. White’s Charlotte the spider?

So look kindly on the next spider you see; our future depends on these eight-legged creatures.

Judy Molland|August 19, 2014

Dolphins & Whales Squeal, But Why?

Dolphins and whales have their own “Happy” song, according to scientists who have translated the animals’ high-pitched sounds as squeals of delight.

Researchers at the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego originally thought the sounds were signals that food was present. But, when dolphins and beluga whales emitted the same squeals after a successful training mission, scientists interpreted the sounds as “whoops” of triumph, according to U.S. cetacean expert and author Dr. Sam Ridgway.

Ridgway has spent over 50 years studying and training cetaceans, and rewarding them with fish treats. After his wife suggested that the squeals reminded her of delighted children, Ridgway wondered if the sounds could be expressions of delight.

Ridgeway and his colleagues then analyzed past recordings of dolphins and whale experiments and found a connection between the squeals and the release of dopamine, the brain chemical associated with pleasure.

“We think we have demonstrated that (the victory squeal) has emotional content,” says Ridgway in an article in the current issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Lisa Kaplan Gordon|August 19, 2014

Is Your Sunscreen Harming Dolphins and Whales?

Researchers find that two common sunscreen ingredients are toxic to tiny animals that are a food source for fish and whales.

Many of us wear sunscreen to protect our skin. But when that sunscreen washes off in the ocean, it can harm marine life.

A new study shows that two common ingredients in sunscreen—microscopic particles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide—can combine with ultraviolet sunlight to cause toxic effects in phytoplankton, a food source for small fish, shrimp, and whales.

Given the growth of coastal tourism and the sun care–product market, it’s a timely and important issue, according to David Sánchez-Quiles, a researcher at the University of the Balearic Islands in Spain and coauthor of the study.

“Coastal tourism is, in many countries, among the fastest-growing areas of contemporary tourism,” he said in an email. “And the global market of sun care products has increased an average of seven percent per year over the last five years.”

Here’s what happens: When sunscreen slides off swimmers’ skin into the sea, the tiny particles—also known as nanoparticles—of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide react with ultraviolet light to create hydrogen peroxide. When hydrogen peroxide accumulates at higher levels, it puts a damper on phytoplankton growth though it doesn’t harm human. Because larger marine animals feed on the microscopic algae, it could also affect their available food supply.

Hydrogen peroxide is also produced from titanium dioxide nanoparticles that accumulate in beach sediments, said Sánchez-Quiles.

The researchers collected coastal seawater samples from the Mediterranean Sea off Palmira Beach, a popular swimming area on Spain’s Majorca Island. They first measured the levels of UV sunlight and hydrogen peroxide. Then they tested the effect of three sunscreens on phytoplankton by immersing the products in seawater samples exposed to UV sunlight.

Sunscreens with nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide generate more hydrogen peroxide than sunscreens without them, according to Sánchez-Quiles. The major contribution comes from titanium dioxide, he added.

So what can concerned swimmers and surfers do? The bad news is that most sunscreens contain these nanoparticles, despite “non-nano” labels on some products, according to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization.

But you can reduce their impact by using cream-based sunscreens instead of spray versions, because the spray products are more water-soluble, Sánchez-Quiles said.

“Environmental scientists and cosmetics companies must work together to compromise between human and environmental health,” he said. “More ecotoxicological analysis, as well as better labeling of sunscreens, can also help to address the issue.”

Kristine Wong|August 21, 2014

Forestry

Norway puts $1.6B into rainforest conservation

Since 2008 Norway has been the single largest foreign donor to tropical forest conservation, putting more than 10 billion Norwegian Krone, or $1.6 billion, toward programs in several countries under its International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI). But how effective have those funds been in actually protecting forests? A new assessment by the country’s Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) concludes that the program is indeed having an impact despite an inauspicious start.

Norway burst onto the rainforest conservation scene in 2007 when it pledged to allocate up to NOK3 billion per year from its aid budget for programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The concept, known as REDD+, aims to offer performance-based incentives for environmental stewardship, rather than the traditional conservation model, which often funds projects that lack concrete measures of success.

Norway’s first major country-level commitment was a billion dollar pledge to Brazil. That was followed by similar agreements with Guyana, Tanzania, and Indonesia, as well as funds for civil society and initiatives run by the U.N. and the World Bank.

But while the dollars committed were substantial, there have been open questions about the effectiveness of various programs, especially in sectors and countries rife with poor governance and corruption. For example, deforestation in Indonesia has remained stubbornly high — even increasing by some measures — despite Norway’s money.



Norway has pledged a billion dollars to both Brazil and Indonesia, representing 60 percent of its pledges to date. But while Brazil has received some $720 million in disbursements, Indonesia had gotten only $30 million due to lack of capacity and readiness as well as a later start to the program.

However the new report claims “considerable progress” in three critical priority areas: including forests in a new new international climate regime, establishing the infrastructure needed for performance-based compensation for reducing deforestation, and promoting natural forest conservation.

“The evaluation points out that the initiative has made considerable progress. In general positive results have been achieved in the three climate change goals,” said Ida Hellmark, an adviser in Norad’s Evaluation Department, in a statement. “The initiative has been crucial for the international work on setting up systems to reduce deforestation. With regard to the development goal, the initiative has assisted in mapping forest areas, thus clarifying who has the right to use the forest.”

“Better governance has been achieved by mapping the land and the activities that take place in the forests and by identifying who owns them. Civil society has played a significant role in the work on anti-corruption measures, illegal tree felling and the rights of indigenous people.”
Another bright spot has been the substantial drop in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon since 2008, part of a continuing decline in forest loss in the region over the past decade.

Nonetheless, the report finds some areas for improvement. For example, it notes that money given to the U.N. and World Bank has not been well-spent to date.

“The multilateral organizations are ineffective and badly coordinated,” stated Norad. “The multilateral organizations are also increasing the number of countries they support even though many of the countries that have already received support show little progress. The cause of the lack of progress should therefore be analyzed before more new countries are included.”

The report also concludes that results-based financing may not work in some countries, while uncertainty about REDD+ financing could jeopardize the whole concept of payment for performance.

The lack of certainty over results based REDD+ funding is regarded as the single greatest risk to progress yet there has been a lack of attention to the cost of systems in relation to national capacity and the likely levels of REDD+ finance available to sustain them,” states the report. “Readiness activities have so far been overly focused on start-up costs, with insufficient attention given to running costs and whether these will be affordable by partner countries given the likely level of rewards to be earned.”

mongabay.com|August 19, 2014

Running to reforest: communities, NGOs work to save Ugandan reserve in the midst of massive deforestation

Ugandan forest managers stress the importance of public support and participation in conservation efforts

Stung by massive loss of forest cover in Bugoma central forest reserve, part of a vast chimpanzee habitat in the western part of Uganda, seven private local and international organizations in the east African country have joined hands to raise awareness of forest issues and money for reforestation efforts — by launching a conservation-themed quarter-marathon.

The maiden 10-kilometer run (with a five-kilometer option for those who’d rather run a bit less) is named ‘”Run for Nature” and will take place on September 7, 2014. Organizers say they expect to raise at least 20 million Uganda shillings (about $7,800) from participation fees.

Constantino Tessarin, the coordinator of the Bugoma forest conservation campaign, said the proceeds from the run will be invested in “the first reforestation exercise of Bugoma central forest reserve after many years in which no such exercise took place.”

“We intend to invest in reforesting degraded areas by planting indigenous trees and important species which are so much needed in the ecosystem to sustain the chimpanzee population and other animals,” he said.

At a press conference in Kampala about the event, Tessarin said the idea was born in February, after a public lecture at Kyambogo University in Kampala that revealed the extent of the degradation, illegal logging and deforestation taking place in Bugoma forest.

“We decided to work together to take action against all this destruction and because we feel that the private sector and the civil society can play a vital role in helping forest conservation,” he said. “Bugoma forest conservation campaign decided to make steps in different directions: promoting awareness about forest conservation with public events; working on research and preparation of a long term conservation project for the forest and the surrounding communities; planning eco-tourism development to improve on conservation and job creation in the area.”

Bugoma Forest Reserve provides important habitat for eastern chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii), which are currently listed as Endangered by the IUCN. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Tessarin said the 2014 run will be the first of what they expect to be an annual event. They hope to tempt participation with prizes, including a holiday package at a local lodge and a game drive at Murchison Falls National Park.

Organizers of the run, which has been endorsed by National Forestry Authority (NFA) of Uganda, include the Kyambogo University Environmental Management Association (KUEMA), Uganda Wildlife Society, Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Trust, Green Bio Energy Ltd, Destination Jungle Ltd, and Green Organisation Africa Ltd.

Bugoma forest, which comprises 41,144 hectares, is ranked 12th out of 65 central forest reserves considered to be of biodiversity importance in Uganda. Located in western Uganda’s wildlife migratory corridor that also includes the River Kafu basin, Bugoma has 267 species of trees, 18 mammals, 278 butterflies and 221 bird species.

Of the mammals in the forest, according to NFA, primates are most abundant, with an estimated chimpanzee population of 580. It also has a large number of black and white colobus (Colobus species), Ugandan mangabey (Lophocebus ugandae), red-tailed monkeys (Cercophithecus ascanius), blue monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis), as well as a small population of bush elephants (Loxodonta africana), golden cats (Profelis aurata) and side-striped jackals (Canis adustus).

Data from Global Forest Watch shows that between January 2001 and December 2012, a 62,254-hectare area that contains Bugoma forest lost 5,747 hectares of forest cover – in other words, the region around lost about nine percent of its tree cover in just 12 years. Some areas directly bordering the reserve have lost upwards of half their forest cover. Nationally, Uganda lost approximately 365,000 hectares of forest over this time, representing 1.5 percent of its total land area.

Presenting the findings of a survey they carried out in April, Laster-Stoney Ogola, a project officer with Uganda Wildlife Society, said the major causes of the massive deforestation in Bugoma forest include limited community awareness of their role in forest management and conservation, and insufficient funding for forest patrolmen. Others include failure by forest authorities to tame illegal forest activities such as logging and poaching, and conflicts between forest managers and communities regarding resource ownership and benefits.

“The government and, in particular Bugoma forest managers, need to address these factors to be able to enhance community participation in the forest management and conservation,” he said.

The 40 respondents to the survey recommended five actions that need to be implemented in order to conserve the forest. They included increasing the human resource capacity charged with the management of the forest, sensitizing communities about their roles in forest management and protection, restoring degraded parts of the forest by planting indigenous tree species and putting up clear forest boundary markings.

According to Ogola, the respondents also called on the government and forest conservation enthusiasts to “provide benefits to communities, including establishing socio-economic, ecologically beneficial conservation enterprises such as ecotourism, tree seedlings for on-farm planting, small businesses and others, to encourage their participation in forest management and protection.”

The Spokesperson for NFA, Gilbert Kadilo, said Bugoma forest “has come under immense pressure” from encroachers. He said the agency does not have the capacity to monitor, on its own, activities in all of the 506 central forest reserves under its care.

“The job of managing these resources is no small job. There are immense challenges that we face,” he said. “We should not leave these things to the government. Much as we say the management of NFA is investing in forest conservation, the role of the wider public cannot be over-emphasized.”

Benon Herbert Oluka|mongabay.com correspondent|August 21, 2014

Why We Need to Help Save Longleaf Pine Forests

At one point in time, longleaf pine forests in the United States stretched 90 million acres, from Virginia to Texas–but fire suppression, agriculture and development combined to devastate this critical ecosystem.

For decades, longleaf pines, which can reach 100 feet tall, have been harvested for their high-quality timber and replaced by faster growing loblolly and slash pines. But thanks to a diverse group of public and private interests, including The Nature Conservancy, the acreage of longleaf forests and longleaf-dominated forests has rebounded from record lows to increase for the first time in more than 40 years.

Longleaf forests now cover 3.3 million acres nationwide, up from a low of 2.8 million acres. Similarly, the acreage of longleaf- dominated forestland has increased to 4.2 million acres, up from 3.9 million acres. While these gains may seem small, this upward trend illustrates the importance of strong science, and smart, collaborative conservation.

Restoring the health of longleaf pine forests is critically important in a state like Texas. Mature stands of longleaf pine provide ideal nesting and foraging for the imperiled red-cockaded woodpecker, as well as the Bachman’s sparrow, eastern wild turkey, bobwhite quail and 67 other species of birds. The tree’s seeds, which contain 25 percent protein, provide an important food source for a number of small mammals.

In a bid to continue this upward trend of longleaf pine forest restoration, The Nature Conservancy recently helped secure an easement on 4,784 acres of Texas longleaf forestland in an area known as Longleaf Ridge. Located north of Jasper, Texas, the easement is adjacent to the Conservancy’s 132-acre Little Rocky Preserve. Both tracts protect longleaf pine forests and all that they encompass–hillside pitcher plant bogs, American beech slope forests and spring-fed streams.

We are also restoring longleaf pines in the Big Thicket region of East Texas. At our 5,654-acre Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary, efforts to re-establish stands of wet and dry longleaf pine savannahs (using tools such as reforestation and fire management) are creating open-floor forests with diverse grasses, forbs and wildflowers that offer myriad benefits to birds and wildlife. That preserve is open to the public for hiking, photography and bird watching– it is Site #17 on the Upper Loop of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail and is included in the Top 500 Birding Places by the American Bird Conservancy. Visitors can also rent canoes and kayaks from local vendors.

The Nature Conservancy|August 22, 2014

Global Warming and Climate Change

Kellogg Wants Suppliers to Report Carbon Emissions

Kellogg said Wednesday it will step up efforts to reduce planet-warming emissions in its supply chain as part of a broader initiative designed to be more environmentally friendly.

Under the plan, the Battle Creek-based food products manufacturer will require key suppliers such as farms and mills to measure and publicly disclose their greenhouse gas outputs and targets for reducing them. The company said it will report annually on those emissions and include climate and deforestation policies in the company’s code of conduct for suppliers.

Kellogg Co. will strengthen cutback requirements for its own plants, building on a 2008 pledge to reduce emissions 15 percent to 20 percent, said Diane Holdorf, chief sustainability officer. It also pledged to join Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy, a coalition that supports legislation that favors cleaner energy and a low-carbon economy.

“Not only is it what our customers and stakeholders expect of us … but we want to hold ourselves accountable,” Holdorf said.

The announcement drew praise from Oxfam International, a group pushing the food and beverage industry to reduce carbon emissions.

“Climate change is putting hundreds of millions of people at risk of hunger and threatening everything from coffee and cereal to wine and chocolate,” spokeswoman Monique van Zijl said. “Kellogg is joining a growing list of companies that are putting the weight of their brands behind climate action.”

In addition to the measures on climate, the cereal maker also known for products such as Pringles potato chips and Keebler cookies announced a series of green performance goals to reach by 2020 that include a 50 percent increase in use of low-carbon energy and establishing water-reuse projects in 25 percent of its plants.

Kellogg will boost to 30 percent the number of plants sending no waste to landfills and use more efficient packaging, with all timber-based packaging materials being recycled or coming from sources certified as sustainable, Holdorf said.

JOHN FLESHER|Environmental Writer|AP|Aug 13, 2014

How Will Man-Made Climate Change Affect Our Food Supply?

A new study attempts to give some concrete predictions on just how seriously the global food supply will be impacted by man-made climate change in the next 20 years, and the results are eye-opening.

The research by Stanford University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research says that the possibility of a slow-down in crop production in the next 20 years as a result of natural climate change is relatively low. However, while still remaining low, when you introduce man-made climate change, which under a moderately conservative estimate could lead to a temperature increase of 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), the risks of a reduction in staples like corn and wheat are much higher, with a 10 percent chance that the rate of corn yields will slow, while wheat is predicted to suffer a 5 percent slowdown.

In all, the researchers calculate the risk of a production slowdown due to crop failure to be about 20 times higher than natural climate change patterns would predict — and if that’s just in the next 20 years, what about in the future?

To arrive at this conclusion the researchers, writing this month in the journal Environmental Research Letters, took current figures of crop yields and predictions on future crop yields, as well as data on supply and demand ratios, and plugged all that into our best climate models so that they could track of how the warming temperatures might impact food production. They found that supply and demand for crops has kept a roughly even pace when looked at globally. However, when man-made climate change is factored in, and as above, the potential for a shortfall rises significantly.

It’s important not to let these predictions go unqualified though. The risk is still relatively low, but what the scientists point out is that this problem isn’t going to go away if we don’t act now.

“Climate change has substantially increased the prospect that crop production will fail to keep up with rising demand in the next 20 years,” Claudia Tebaldi, co-author of the study, is quoted as saying. “We can’t predict whether a major slowdown in crop growth will actually happen, and the odds are still fairly low. But climate change has increased the odds to the point that organizations concerned with food security or global stability need to be aware of this risk.”

Of course, this all hinges on how fast global temperatures will rise. It may be that this problem doesn’t emerge for several decades, but unless we plan for it, the problem will be serious.

The researchers believe that in order to deal with this risk, we could implement a strategy of planting wheat and corn in cooler regions. At the moment that’s not been happening quickly enough to combat warming temperatures, but a concerted effort now could forestall future problems. Perhaps most interestingly of all on this topic, when the researchers added in data to their climate models on strategies like using different crop varieties or changing how we grow crops, these did not offset the reduced yields that were predicted, and as such the researchers believe that new strategies will be needed.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization recently published a document (pdf) predicting that global production of major crops will increase by 13% by 2030. Previously, demand has kept pace with this but, due to a number of factors including global population rise coupled with the rise of new consumer powers like China, the margin has tightened more than ever before. The UN believes that man-made climate change makes that narrow margin potentially disastrous if the world doesn’t take action now.

As a result, global powers should start seriously considering how both the supply and pricing of crops will be affected if global temperature rises have the impact predicted here. Given that the US House has just seen two amendments introduced that would, as one Representative put it, limit spending on pursuing “a dubious climate change agenda” and block federal money from being used on such initiatives, there is still a lot of work needed to convince our legislators that not only is action and serious consideration of climate change important, but also vital if we don’t want to see widespread famine and serious economic turmoil in the future.

Steve Williams|July 30, 2014

Mysterious Siberian crater attributed to methane

Build-up and release of gas from thawing permafrost most probable explanation, says Russian team.

A mystery crater spotted in the frozen Yamal peninsula in Siberia earlier this month was probably caused by methane released as permafrost thawed, researchers in Russia say.

Air near the bottom of the crater contained unusually high concentrations of methane — up to 9.6% — in tests conducted at the site on 16 July, says Andrei Plekhanov, an archaeologist at the Scientific Centre of Arctic Studies in Salekhard, Russia. Plekhanov, who led an expedition to the crater, says that air normally contains just 0.000179% methane.

Since the hole was spotted in mid-July by a helicopter pilot, conjecture has abounded about how the 30-meter-wide crater was formed — a gas or missile explosion, a meteorite impact and alien involvement have all been suggested.

But Plekhanov and his team believe that it is linked to the abnormally hot Yamal summers of 2012 and 2013, which were warmer than usual by an average of about 5°C. As temperatures rose, the researchers suggest, permafrost thawed and collapsed, releasing methane that had been trapped in the icy ground.

Other researchers argue that long-term global warming might be to blame — and that a slow and steady thaw in the region could have been enough to free a burst of methane and create such a big crater. Over the past 20 years, permafrost at a depth of 20 metres has warmed by about 2°C, driven by rising air temperatures1, notes Hans-Wolfgang Hubberten, a geochemist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Potsdam, Germany.

Hubberten speculates that a thick layer of ice on top of the soil at the Yamal crater site trapped methane released by thawing permafrost. “Gas pressure increased until it was high enough to push away the overlying layers in a powerful injection, forming the crater,” he says. Hubberten says that he has never before seen a crater similar to the Yamal crater in the Arctic.

Larry Hinzman, a permafrost hydrologist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and director of the International Arctic Research Center, says that such craters could become more common in permafrost areas as the region heats up.

In Siberian permafrost, large deposits of methane gas are trapped in ice, forming what is called a gas hydrate. Methane remains stable and frozen at certain temperatures, but as the permafrost warms, and its internal strength decreases, it may be less able to withhold the build-up of sub-surface gases, he says, leading to a release.

But such gas hydrates normally occur at depths of at least 100 metres, says Carolyn Ruppel, a geophysicist in charge of the gas hydrates project at the US Geological Survey in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The depth of the Siberian crater is not known. When Plekhanov and his team tried to measure its depth with a video camera tied to a 50-meter rope, the camera did not reach the bottom. But the video footage suggests that the depth to a pool of water at the bottom of the crater is around 70 metres, Plekhanov says. The water could add considerably to that dry depth, he adds.

To confirm what caused the crater, Plekhanov says that another visit is needed to check the methane concentration in air trapped in its walls. That will be difficult, however: “Its rims are slowly melting and falling into the crater,” Plekhanov says. “You can hear the ground falling, you can hear the water running, it’s rather spooky.”

Since the crater was reported, local reindeer herders have noted a similar but smaller hole nearby. Although the hole is yet to be confirmed, scientists worry that the release of trapped methane could threaten local industry and communities. “If [a release] happens at the Bovanenkovskoye gas field that is only 30 km away, it could lead to an accident, and the same if it happens in a village,” says Plekhanov.

To avoid such an event, the Russian team has now suggested drilling holes into the permafrost to release the pressure artificially. But Hinzman says that it would be extremely difficult to do so, if not impossible, as one would have to know exactly where the build-up was in the first place.

Katia Moskvitch|31 July 2014

The ‘pre-Holocene’ climate is returning – and it won’t be fun

A string of events earlier this year provided a sobering snapshot of a global climate system out of whack, writes Peter Fisher. Could it represent the end of a rare 10,000 year island of stability in global climate? If so, we had better get used to it. The Earth may never be so comfortable again …

The calm and tranquil Holocene has now been replaced by the Anthropocene – heralding a return to a volatile and destructive climate. Truly, we have awakened an angry beast from its slumber.

A string of events earlier this year provided a sobering snapshot of a global climate system out of whack.

Europe suffered devastating floods, Britain’s coastline was mauled, and the polar vortex cast a US$5 billion economic chill over America.

Meanwhile, an abnormally mild winter in Scandinavia disrupted bears’ hibernation; while Australia was ravaged by fires and record-breaking heat.

These happenings give us an idea of what life must have been like in the lead-up to the Holocene Epoch, living on the brink of seismic change, amid a series of abrupt climate shifts.

The beast awakes

As the archaeologist Steven Mithen wrote in his book After the Ice:

“People were thin on the ground and struggling with a deteriorating climate … massive ice sheets had expanded across much of North America, Northern Europe and Asia. The planet was inundated by drought, sea level had fallen to expose vast and often barren coastal plains.

“Human communities survived the harshest conditions by retreating to refugia where firewood and foodstuffs could still be found.”

Since then, we have been lulled into a false sense of security by the ensuing 10,000-odd years of peaceful, stable climate during the Holocene itself. This has allowed us to tame crops and livestock, and to come together to form communities, villages and, ultimately, cities.

But the calm and tranquil Holocene has now been replaced by the Anthropocene – heralding a return to a volatile and destructive climate. Truly, we have woken an angry beast from its slumber.

From ice age to rapid warming

When the last ice age began to teeter 14,700 years ago, meltwater began to pour into the oceans, raising levels by up to half a meter per decade. The sea moved inland like a slow tsunami.

But after a hesitant couple of millennia of warmer conditions, the cold was back with a vengeance, turning western Asia and Europe into ice empires. This event, dubbed the Younger Dryas, derived from the collapse of the ice walls on Lake Agassiz in North America, sending freshwater flooding into the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans.

As a result it cut back the Gulf Stream, returning the planet to cool and dry conditions in a matter of decades, with the average Northern Hemisphere temperature plummeting by 7oC.

These cold conditions lasted for about 1,400 years. Then, just as rapidly, the warm and wet conditions returned, marking the beginning of the Holocene about 11,700 years ago.

Stable era

Since then, the world’s climate has remained remarkably stable – boring, even. The relatively static shorelines have made farming, fishing, towns and cities possible.

Humans have got used to thinking that this is a natural state of affairs. But, as James Hansen has declared, “it’s our relatively static experience of climate that is actually exceptional.”

Of course, there have been divergences from the norm, although these have thankfully been few and far between. One was 5000 years ago, when the Sahara went from a land of hippos and giraffes to desert in a mere 100-200 years.

That event was caused by gradual changes to the Earth’s orientation towards the Sun. It shows us that even when the forces are gradual, the climate may not always respond gradually but instead can move in juddering, unpredictable shifts.

At about the same time, seismic change was happening in our own midst, with the eruption of Mount Gambier sending an ash plume up to 10 km high – an event that would have partially obscured the Sun.

Eruptions like this were the main cause of climate variability in the Holocene, causing cooler, drier episodes such as the ‘Mediaeval little ice age‘.

Things are different now

Now, however, carbon dioxide has reached levels not seen for at least 3 million years, and fossil fuel emissions have become the dominant driver of the changes to our climate. In a world potentially several degrees warmer than the one that spawned our civilization, we had better ready ourselves for some surprises.

This isn’t alarmism; it’s just sensible risk management. Retired US Navy Rear Admiral David Titley, now head of Penn State’s Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk, pointed out that governments still spend money on defence, despite the declining number of people killed worldwide in war.

He told the US Congress that “we rightly invest in our security and defence as one component of hedging against unknown or unlikely security risks”. Inaction on climate change violates that same fundamental risk-management principle.

What’s nature ever done for us?

Of course, nature will carry on regardless, albeit savaged. As the MIT physicist and humanities professor Alan Lightman has noted, “tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions happen without the slightest consideration for human inhabitants.”

Yet if we turn our backs on nature, while at the same time climbing the population hill to nine billion, we will create a horrid future for humanity’s survivors, with ongoing wild species extinctions and a world polluted by human-invented chemicals.

Some have predicted that, within just two or three centuries, we could be alone except for pets, chickens, livestock, and an unknown suite of microbes and freeloaders such as mice and cockroaches.

For a sneak preview of this ‘biosimplification’, look no further than the swathes of European countryside where there has been a crash in bird populations – no songs, no glimpses of plumage, just an eerie silence – as a result of the wholesale ripping up of hedgerows, draining of wetlands and ploughing over of meadows robbing farmland birds of their homes and sustenance in order to boost farming production.

That would leave us living in a drab, crummy landscape where surviving native plants cower in small niches away from the weeds; zoos exhibit a lost fauna; and biophilia is reduced to watching carp.

It’s surely a trajectory that’s worth getting off.

Peter Fisher|Adjunct Professor|Global, Urban and Social Studies|RMIT University|16th August 2014

An Undeniable Link: Glacial Melt and Man-Made Climate Change

While many of our politicians continue to deny man-made climate change is a reality, new figures reveal that human-caused climate warming may be the single biggest driving force behind recent glacial melt.

There’s a reason why we have the phrase “a glacial pace.” Everything about glaciers is slow, so even though we know they are melting due to the warming climate, it’s hard to get a fix on just how rapid that melting process is, when it began in earnest and, crucially, whether man-made climate change can be shown to have exacerbated the melting, and to what extent.

Now researchers from Canadian and Austrian university and publishing this month in the journal Science Express have been able to conduct a systematic analysis of data on glacial melt that is collected as part of the Randolph Glacier Inventory (RGI) initiative. The researchers say that glaciers actually provide a very neat way of looking at climate change because their responses are so slow to manifest. As a result, the researchers could, and with some accuracy, estimate the state of the glaciers as far back as 1851, and then begin to calculate the speed of glacial melt from there, adjusting for known reasons why melting may have slowed or sped up other than natural causes or what we’d call man-made climate change.

The figures showed that man-made climate change could be tracked over several decades, exacerbating standard melting patterns. What’s more, over the past couple of decades there has been a sharp upturn in glacial melt that the researchers believe is consistent with our modern manufacturing boom. In fact, they believe they can say that man-made global warming, and mainly the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal for energy, may be responsible for as much 69 percent of the glacial melt between 1991 to 2010.

To put that in more solid terms, the researchers were able to create a rough estimate for just how much ice is melting every year. They think that around 295 billion tons of ice melts every year due to human-linked climate change compared to just 130 billion tons related to natural causes.

Still, due to the way in which these figures were calculated based on estimates, there is a sizable margin for error on this and we do have to take that into account. Taking just the 1991 to 2010 figure as an example, the human contribution to glacier melt may be as low as 45 percent, or it could even be as high as 93 percent, but the researchers believe that the evidence suggests the 69 percent figure is probably closer to the real value. What isn’t in dispute here is the contribution of man-made climate change which, even at the lower end of the spectrum, remains considerable and worrying.

The research did turn up some surprises, however. When the researchers dug down into area-specific glacier melt, they found that man-made climate change may not have an effect on every area. For instance, they could see clear signs of human-contribution to melting in areas like Alaska, western Canada and Greenland, among many others. Yet some areas like the Andes gave figures that meant the researchers couldn’t link glacial melt to human influence with high confidence.

The researchers stress that they need to make improvements to their various climate models and to their data analysis methods to improve their confidence in all these figures, but the research has been welcomed by other climate scientists who are quoted as saying this makes “perfect sense,” with non-affiliated researcher Richard B. Alley of Pennsylvania State University telling Mashable:

“Warming melts glaciers, whether the warming is caused by natural or human causes. And because glaciers are slow thermometers, even if humans were to quit warming the climate, the glaciers will lose more mass in the future as they ‘catch up’ with the warming that has already occurred.”

So what does this mean for our understanding of the glacial melt problem? Well most importantly it highlights the need to redouble our efforts to find alternative energy sources so as to cut our reliance on fossil fuels. We’re unlikely to be able to stop the glacial melt now, but this research makes clear that what we do today will be important for the situation our children and their children face in the years to come.

Steve Williams|August 18, 2014

World’s Largest Ice Sheets Melting At Fastest Rate Ever Recorded

Greenland and Antarctica are home to the two largest ice sheets in the world, and a new report released Wednesday says that they are contributing to sea level rise twice as much as they were just five years ago.

Using the European Space Agency’s CryoSat 2 satellite, the Alfred Wegener Institute from Germany has found that western Antarctica and Greenland are losing massive amounts of ice.

“Combined, the two ice sheets are thinning at a rate of 500 cubic kilometers per year,” said glaciologist Dr. Angelika Humbert, one of the authors of the AWI study, in a press release. “That is the highest speed observed since altimetry satellite records began about 20 years ago.”

The report, published in the online magazine The Cryosphere, says the CryoSat 2 satellite measured over 200 million elevation data points in Antarctica and 14.3 million in Greenland to track the loss of ice mass over the last several years. “When we compare the current data with those from the ICESat satellite from the year 2009, the volume loss in Greenland has doubled since then,” said Humbert. “The loss of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has in the same time span increased by a factor of three.”

Somewhat encouragingly, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is gaining mass. However, those gains are very modest and don’t make up for the loss of ice in West Antarctica and Greenland. Greenland is losing 350 cubic kilometers of ice annually, mostly from its southwestern coast, and accounts for almost 75 percent of the total volume lost each year. Together, the flows from Antarctica and Greenland could cover the entire Chicago land area with 600 meters of ice each year.

The glacier melting the fastest among those measured was the Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland and the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica. The Jakobshavn Glacier is descending into the ocean at a rate of 46 meters — or half a football field — each day. Last year, a chunk of ice twice the size of Detroit broke off the tip of the Pine Island Glacier.

Robert Bindschadler of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center recently contributed to a similar study for the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “Rising sea level is widely regarded as a current and ongoing result of climate change that directly affects hundreds of millions of coastal dwellers around the world and indirectly affects billions more that share its financial costs,” he said in a press release. By 2100, ice melt from Antarctica alone could add up to 37 centimeters, or more than 14 inches, to global sea levels.

Another study published in the journal Science this month shows that in the last 20 years, human-caused climate change has become the primary driver of glacial melt.

Jonathan Feldman| The Huffington Post|08/21/2014

Extreme Weather

Annapolis, Baltimore lead nation for rise in flooding events

‘Nuisance’ events occurring 10 times more often than 50 years ago

Tuesday’s flooding may have been extreme, but it wasn’t unfamiliar for much of the region.

The low spots are well known: Compromise and Dock streets in Annapolis, Caroline and Thames streets in Fells Point. After a good rain and a high tide, they’re under water.

For Maryland’s two largest cities on the Chesapeake, flooding that once occurred just a day or two in any given year is increasingly common — more so than anywhere else in the country, according to a recent federal study.

So-called “nuisance” floods overwhelm storm drains 10 times as frequently as they did half a century ago — growing to nearly 40 days a year in the state capital and 13 days a year in Baltimore.

The data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could boost pushes in Maryland and other coastal states to adapt to rising sea levels and sinking land, protecting businesses and historic sites from damage and losses. But many of those affected by flooding weren’t surprised by the region’s distinction, accepting most flooding events just as scientists described them — as nuisances.

“If it rains really hard and the wind’s blowing just right, the street outside will flood and you’ll have to close the club,” said Stephen Olsen, an assistant manager at the Fleet Reserve Club on Compromise Street in Annapolis. “It’s been doing it for years.”

The NOAA study looked at data from 2007-2013 and compared it with data from 1957-1963, at tide gauges from Boston to Mayport, Fla., on the Atlantic coast; Key West, Fla., to Port Isabel, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico; and Seattle to La Jolla, Calif., on the Pacific coast.

What qualifies as a “nuisance” flood varies from gauge to gauge, depending on the slope of shoreline and the presence of any man-made barriers. In parts of New York and New Jersey devastated by superstorm Sandy, for example, it takes a rise of nearly 20 inches above normal high tide levels to cause nuisance flooding. But in Annapolis, perhaps not coincidentally with its ranking, it only takes about half of that.

The researchers say it’s because rising sea levels means it takes less rain and smaller tide surges to cause flooding.

We’re seeing a very drastic change in the frequency of these events,” said William Sweet of NOAA, one of the authors of the study. “Any increase in the mean sea level is only going to increase the frequency and the severity.”

NOAA’s data shows mean sea level is rising by about three and a half millimeters each year in Annapolis, and slightly less, 3.25 millimeters, in Baltimore.

Other cities that have seen dramatic rises in flooding include Atlantic City and Sandy Hook in New Jersey; Philadelphia; Port Isabel, Texas; Charleston, S.C.; Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; and Norfolk, Va.

While some might question whether the results reflect better reporting of flood data and impacts, Sweet said it accounts for the effects of outlier storms, increases in impervious surfaces and any sinking or rising of shorelines.

“I think it’s important for these communities to start looking at their current situations and ask, ‘Can we really get a handle on the situation?’ so at least they’re ready and they’re aware,” Sweet said.

A report last year from a panel of scientists urged Maryland to plan for sea level rise of up to 2 feet in the next 40 years, prompting officials to urge coastal communities to adjust building codes and zoning.

In Annapolis, such efforts are underway. The Army Corps of Engineers visited historic sites in the city’s downtown flood plain last week as it prepares a report evaluating vulnerabilities and suggesting protective measures, said Lisa Craig, the city’s director of historic preservation.

“It’s been visible to everyone,” Craig said. “It’s an issue that no one discounts.”

City officials routinely deliver a flatbed truck full of sand for businesses along Dock Street to fill up bags before significant storms. An inflatable bladder wraps around Market House on City Dock to protect its shops.

Once or twice a year, the flooding laps on the doorsteps of Armadillo’s, a restaurant and bar on Dock Street, manager John O’Leary said.

“We just kind of deal with it. It doesn’t cause any structural damage typically,” O’Leary said. “If it were to come up a few more inches each time, that would be different story.”

But it does mean lost revenue for the restaurant and lost wages for its staff, he said.

In Fells Point, damaging floods have been limited to hurricanes like Isabel in 2003, but nuisance floods are more common — particularly this year. Rainfall at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, the point of record for Baltimore, reached 8.6 inches in April, a tenth of an inch shy of a record dating to 1889.

Tuesday’s rainfall of more than 6 inches at BWI was the second-heaviest single-day rainfall there on record. Rain is more than 10 inches above normal there so far this year.

Scott Dance|The Baltimore Sun|August 12, 2014

Genetically Modified Organisms

Farmers, Environmental Groups Defend Moratorium of GMO Crops on Hawaii ’s Big Island

Groups seek to intervene as biotech firms attempt to roll back regulations on genetically engineered crops

A coalition of local farmers and environmental groups today filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit to defend a Hawaii County ordinance that imposes a moratorium on the expansion of genetically engineered (GE) crops on the Big Island. Sustainable agriculture nonprofit, Center for Food Safety (CFS), and three Hawaii‘i Island farmers asked the court permission to join as defendants in a biotech industry lawsuit challenging the County of Hawaii ’s Ordinance 13-121. The ordinance regulates GE organisms to prevent their environmental and economic harms, such as contamination of organic and conventional crops and wild plants and associated pesticide use. The coalition is jointly represented by counsel from CFS and Earthjustice.

“Hawaii County, like every county, has the right to protect its farmers and native environments from genetically engineered crops,” said George Kimbrell, CFS senior attorney. “Having GE-free zones is critical for the sustainable future of U.S. agriculture, and to protect Hawai‘i’s unique ecosystems.”

The lawsuit, driven largely by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the world’s largest trade association for the biotech industry representing companies like Monsanto, seeks to dissolve the county’s 2013 ordinance to open the island up for the expansion of genetically engineered crop production. These herbicide resistant crops result in intensive pesticide use, which threatens public health, contaminates water, and harms wildlife and neighboring crops. Most GE crops also threaten transgenic contamination of non-GE crops, which has already caused several billion dollars in damage to growers.

“Hawai‘i is one of the most biologically diverse, as well as spectacularly beautiful, places in the world, but the chemical companies have been turning the islands into experimental laboratories, unleashing a fountain of pesticides and genetically engineered material into the air, land and waters,” said Paul Achitoff, Earthjustice managing attorney based in Honolulu. “We stand with the people of Hawai‘i Island who are trying to protect their island from being transformed into another toxic waste dump.”

Hawai‘i County passed Ordinance 13-121 in December 2013. It restricts any future growing of GE crops in the county in order to protect farmers from transgenic contamination and instead “preserve Hawai‘i Island’s unique and vulnerable ecosystem while promoting the cultural heritage of indigenous agricultural practices.” However, the regulations do not apply to GE papayas, which existed on the Big Island before the ordinance was passed.

“In Hawaii we believe that our seeds, crops, and foods should remain free of contamination from genetically engineered plants,” said Big Island farmer and agricultural educator, Nancy Redfeather.

“Ordinance 13-121 protects me and farmers like me. In Ordinance 13-121, the island/Hawai’i County Council properly acted to protect the life and the health of the lands and our communities, now and for future generations, and we cannot let these corporations take away those vital protections.”

CFS and Earthjustice are also helping to defend the Kauai‘i County ordinance regulating pesticides and GE crops from a challenge filed by biotech industry, represented by the same attorneys challenging the Big Island’s ordinance.

GE crops are widely grown on most of the Hawaiian Islands—Kauai‘i, O‘ahu, Maui, and Molokai‘i. Hawai‘i’s climate, which allows for growing three or more crops per year, makes it attractive to growers, and consequently Hawai‘i has become a world center of experimental GE seed production. Some of the acreage is devoted to experimental crops that companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta grow to determine whether their genetic modifications produce a marketable product before seeking government approval to commercialize them. Other fields are then used to produce the commercial seed in quantity for export to other states.

Most GE crops are created to be resistant to the effects of herbicides, such as Monsanto’s Roundup, allowing growers to douse their fields without harming their crop. It has been shown that these herbicide resistant crops result in increased use of herbicides, with consequent health impacts, water contamination, harm to wildlife, and harm to neighboring crops from drift. Most GE crops also threaten transgenic contamination of non-GE crops, which has already caused several billion dollars in damage to other growers.

Paul Achitoff|Managing Attorney|Earthjustice|August 1, 2014

Brazil Farmers Say GMO Corn No Longer Resistant to Bugs

The Association of Soybean and Corn Producers of the Mato Grosso region said farmers first noticed in March that their genetically modified (GMO) corn crops were less resistant to the destructive caterpillars that “Bt corn”—which has been genetically modified to produce a toxin that repels certain pests—is supposed to protect against. In turn, farmers have been forced to apply extra coats of insecticides, racking up additional environmental and financial costs.

The association, which goes by the name Aprosoja-MT, is calling on Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and Dow companies to offer solutions as well as compensate the farmers for their losses. In a release posted to the Aprosoja-MT website, spokesman Ricardo Tomcyzk said farmers spent the equivalent of $54 per hectare to spray extra pesticides, and that the biotech companies promised something they didn’t deliver, “i.e. deceptive advertising.” (via Google Translate)

But Monsanto, et al are unlikely to accommodate the farmers. According to Reuters, “seed companies say they warned Brazilian farmers to plant part of their corn fields with conventional seeds to prevent bugs from mutating and developing resistance to GMO seeds.”

Earlier this year, a similar problem arose in the U.S., when scientists confirmed that corn-destroying rootworms had evolved to be resistant to the GMO corn engineered to kill them.

The industry response to such loss of efficacy is not to encourage biodiversity, but to further modify the organisms, according to the nonprofit GM Watch.

The case of Brazil is an example for an overall trend showing that nearly twenty years after the start of commercialization of Bt crops, there are problems in several countries growing this kind of genetically engineered crop. Industry tries to tackle this issue by commercialization of so called “stacked events” that produce several different Bt toxins. The best known example is Monsanto’s SmartStax maize that produces six different Bt toxins.

Another unintended outcome is almost certainly an increased use of pesticides, as has already happened in Mato Grosso.

Deirdre Fulton|Common Dreams|July 30, 2014

U.S., Brazil Nearing Approval of Genetically Engineered Trees

The U.S. and Brazilian governments are moving into the final stages of weighing approval for the commercialization of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, moves that would mark the first such permits anywhere in the world.

The Brazilian government is slated to start taking public comments on such a proposal during the first week of September. Similarly, U.S. regulators have been working on an environmental impact assessment since early last year, a highly anticipated draft of which is expected to be released any day.

Despite industry claims to the contrary, critics warn that the use of genetically engineered (GE) trees would increase deforestation. The approvals could also spark off a new era of such products, which wouldn’t be confined solely to these countries.

“If Brazil and the United States get permission to commercialize these trees, there is nothing to say that they wouldn’t just export these products to other countries to grow,” Anne Petermann, the executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP) and the coordinator of the Campaign to Stop GE Trees, a network that Wednesday announced a new global initiative, told IPS.

“These GE trees would grow faster and be more economically valuable, so it’s easy to see how current conventional plantations would be converted to GE plantations – in many parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia. Further, both Europe and the U.S. are currently looking at other genetically engineered trees that bring with them a whole additional range of potential impacts.”

While the United States has thus far approved the use of two genetically modified fruit trees, the eucalyptus is the first GE forest tree to near release. Similar policy discussions are currently taking place in the European Union, Australia and elsewhere, while China has already approved and is using multiple GE trees.

The plantation approach

The eucalyptus is a particularly lucrative tree, currently the most widely planted hardwood in the world and used especially to produce pulp for paper and paper products.

In the United States, the trees would also likely be used to feed growing global demand for biofuels, particularly in the form of wood pellets. In 2012 alone, U.S. exports of wood pellets increased by some 70 percent, and the United States is today the world’s largest such producer.

U.S. regulators are currently looking at two types of eucalyptus that have been genetically engineered to withstand frosts and certain antibiotics, thus allowing for plantations to be planted much farther north. The company requesting the approval, ArborGen, says the introduction of its GE seedlings would quadruple the eucalyptus’s range in the United States alone.

ArborGen has estimated that its sales could see 20-fold growth, to some 500 million dollars a year by 2017, if GE trees receive U.S. approval, according to a comprehensive report published last year by the Washington-based Center for Food Safety. Likewise, Brazilian analysts have suggested that the market for eucalyptus products could expand by some 500 percent over the coming two decades.

Yet the eucalyptus, which has been grown in conventional plantations for years, has been widely shown to be particularly problematic – even dangerous – in monoculture.

The eucalyptus takes unusually high levels of water to grow, for instance, and is notably invasive. The trees are also a notorious fire hazard; during a devastating fire in the U.S. state of California in the 1990s, nearly three-quarters of the blaze’s energy was estimated to come from highly combustible eucalyptus trees.

In addition, many are worried that approval of the GE proposals in the United States and Brazil would, inevitably, act as a significant boost to the monoculture plantation model of production.

“This model has been shown to be very negative for local communities and nature, expelling and restricting the access of people to their territories, depleting and contaminating water sources – especially in the Global South,” Winifridus Overbeek, coordinator of the World Rainforest Movement, a global pressure group, told IPS from Uruguay.

“Many of these plantations in Brazil have hindered much-needed agrarian land reform under which hungry people could finally produce food on their own lands. But under the plantation model, most of the wood produced is destined for export, to attend to the ever-increasing paper demand elsewhere.”

Overbeek says Brazilian peasants complain that “No one can eat eucalyptus.”

More wood, more land

Despite the rise of digital media over the past decade, the global paper industry remains a behemoth, responding to demand for a million tons of paper and related products every day. That amounted to some 400 million tons of paper used in 2010, according to the World Wildlife Fund, and could increase to 500 million tons per year by the end of the decade.

A key argument from ArborGen and others in favor of genetically engineered trees, and the plantation system more generally, is that increased use of “farmed” trees would reduce pressure on native forests. Indeed, ArborGen’s motto is “More Wood. Less Land”.

Yet as the world has increasingly adopted the plantation approach, the impact has been clear. Indonesia, for instance, has allowed for the clear-cutting of more than half of its forests over the past half-century, driven particularly by the growth of palm plantations.

According to U.N. data, plantations worldwide doubled their average wood production during the two decades leading up to 2010.  But the size of those plantations also increased by some 60 percent.

“While it sounds nice and helpful to create faster-growing trees, in reality the opposite is true. As you make these things more valuable, more land gets taken over for them,” GJEP’s Petermann says.

“Especially in Brazil, for instance, because we’ve seen an intensification of wood coming from each hectare of land, more and more land is being converted.”

In June, more than 120 environmental groups from across the globe offered a vision on comprehensive sustainability reforms across the paper sector, traditionally a key driver of deforestation. That document, the Global Paper Vision, encourages users and producers to “refuse fibre from genetically modified organisms”.

“Theoretically, arguments on the benefits of GE trees could be true, motivated by increasing competition for wood resources,” Joshua Martin, the director of the Environmental Paper Network (EPN), a U.S.-based umbrella group that spearheaded the vision document, told IPS.

“But ultimately this is an attempt to find a technological solution – and, we feel, a false solution given the dangers, both known and unknown, around this experimental use. Instead, we advocate for conservation and reducing consumption as logical first steps before manipulating nature and putting natural systems at risk of contamination.”

Carey L. Biron|IPS|Aug 20 2014|Edited by: Kitty Stapp

Truth in seafood labeling

Do you prefer that your Salmon come from wild-caught sources, or that if farm raised it comes from Scotland instead of Thailand? How accurate ARE those labels at the fish counter? The University of Hawaii took a look at this recently. They were assessing the levels of mercury in fish offered for sale that were mislabeled.

Their study took measurements of mercury from fish purchased at retail seafood counters in 10 different states show the extent to which mislabeling can expose consumers to unexpectedly high levels of mercury, a harmful pollutant.

Fishery stock “substitutions” – which falsely present a fish of the same species, but from a different geographic origin—are the most dangerous mislabeling offense, according to new research by University of Hawai’i at Mānoa scientists.

“Accurate labeling of seafood is essential to allow consumers to choose sustainable fisheries,” said UH Mānoa biologist Peter B. Marko, lead author of the new study published in the scientific journal PLOS One. “But consumers also rely on labels to protect themselves from unhealthy mercury exposure. Seafood mislabeling distorts the true abundance of fish in the sea, defrauds consumers, and can cause unwanted exposure to harmful pollutants such as mercury.”

The study included two kinds of fish: those labeled as Marine Stewardship Council- (MSC-) certified Chilean sea bass, and those labeled simply as Chilean sea bass (uncertified). The MSC-certified version is supposed to be sourced from the Southern Ocean waters of South Georgia, near Antarctica, far away from man-made sources of pollution. MSC-certified fish is often favored by consumers seeking sustainably harvested seafood but is also potentially attractive given its consistently low levels of mercury.

In a previous study, the scientists had determined that fully 20 percent of fish purchased as Chilean sea bass were not genetically identifiable as such. Further, of those Chilean sea bass positively identified using DNA techniques, 15 percent had genetic markers that indicated that they were not sourced from the South Georgia fishery.

In the new study, the scientists used the same fish samples to collect detailed mercury measurements. When they compared the mercury in verified, MSC-certified sea bass with the mercury levels of verified, non-certified sea bass, they found no significant difference in the levels. That’s not the story you would have expected based on what is known about geographic patterns of mercury accumulation in Chilean sea bass.

Roger Greenway|ENN|August 19, 2014

WSJ: Monsanto expects 2014 approval for new GMO soy seeds ‏

Here’s a frightening headline from this morning’s Wall Street Journal: “Monsanto Expects 2014 U.S. Approval for New Soybean Seeds.”

Even more chilling? What makes these seeds new and different is that they’ve been genetically engineered to be resistant to an even broader range of pesticides – meaning Big Ag will be able to dump even more, and even stronger, pesticides on our food.

This news makes our fight to label genetically engineered food more important than ever.

It’s no wonder that that Monsanto and other big chemical companies are pulling out all the stops to defeat Measure 92: Without labeling, we’ll have no way of knowing whether Monsanto’s new pesticide-drenched crops are ending up on our kitchen tables.

It’s not right – we deserve to know what’s in the food we eat and feed our families. Passing Measure 92 would be a huge victory for Oregon consumers and for labeling advocates nationwide.

The Yes on 92 team|8/21/14

Glyphosate Herbicide Sales Boom Powers Global Biotech Industry

According to a new market report published by Transparency Market Research, the global glyphosate herbicides market was valued at USD 5.46 billion in 2012 and is expected to reach USD 8.79 billion by 2019, growing at a CAGR of 7.2% over the forecast period from 2013 to 2019. In terms of volume, the global glyphosate market demand was 718.6 kilo tons in 2012.

Glyphosate demand has witnessed a momentous growth in the past two decades, notably after the introduction of Roundup Ready, glyphosate tolerant GM crops by Monsanto, in 1995. Rising demand of glyphosate tolerant GM crops in countries such as the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, India and China among others are expected to incite glyphosate demand for GM crops such as soybean, maize, cotton and canola (rape seed) among others.

GM crops accounted for 45.2% of the total glyphosate demand in 2012. Furthermore, glyphosate demand for conventional crops has been increasing, substantially, as a result of growing unsustainable global agricultural activities.

Increasing adoption of glyphosate tolerant GM crops mainly in the emerging economies of Asia Pacific and Latin America is expected to boost the market for glyphosate over the next six years. Additionally, the rising demand for no tillage farming systems is in turn expected to fuel glyphosate market. However, quick evolution and emergence of glyphosate resistant weeds along with stringent regulations over the use of agrochemicals, especially in Europe, is expected to fetter market growth over the forecast period.

Asia Pacific, riding on the high growth in countries such as China and India, is anticipated to be the fastest growing market over the forecast period of next six years. Growing adoption of herbicide tolerant GM crops in the region is one of the major reasons for the rising demand of glyphosate in Asia Pacific. The region accounted for more than 30% of the global glyphosate demand in 2012 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.0% between 2012 and 2019.

North America is expected to be the highest revenue generator, owing to higher priced specialized glyphosate products available in the market as compared to low priced generic products available in Asia Pacific.

The glyphosate market is concentrated with top four players holding more than 50% share. Some of the key manufacturers of glyphosate include Monsanto Company, Nufarm Ltd., Syngenta AG., DowAgroSciences LLC, E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, Zhejiang Xinan Chemical Industrial Group Company, Ltd., Jiangsu Good Harvest-Weien Agrochemical Co., Ltd. and Nantong Jiangshan Agrochemical & Chemicals Co., Ltd. among others.

The development of scientific studies showing glyphosate’s possible health risks to humans and damage to the environment could harm the image and global markets of the top four players mentioned above over the next 5 years.

Health risks

Laboratory and epidemiological studies have already confirmed that Roundup and glyphosate pose serious health and environmental hazards, including possible endocrine (hormone) disruption, cell death, DNA damage, cancer, birth defects, and neurological disorders.

Some of these toxic effects are observed at low, realistic doses that could be found as residues in food and feed crops and in drinking water.

People are exposed to glyphosate though contaminated food, water and air, often as a result of the herbicides application to fields. This is not only the case in rural areas, where ‘Roundup Ready’ GM crops are grown on a large scale. Glyphosate-based herbicides are widely used by municipal authorities on roadsides, pavements, and in public parks and school grounds. It is also widely used by home gardeners.

Roundup and glyphosate and their residues have been detected in testing in breast milk, pregnant women’s blood, urine, rain, food and groundwater.

Not enough safety tests

Roundup and other glyphosate herbicide formulations as sold and used have been found in studies to be more toxic than the isolated ingredient, glyphosate. However, only glyphosate alone is tested in long-term safety tests for regulatory authorisations. This is a fundamental problem affecting all pesticide authorisations.

The ‘safe’ dose for Roundup exposure set by regulators is not based on up-to-date objective evidence. So, current regulations do not protect the public.

The chemicals used in the GM model of farming are toxic, and the model of farming itself is unsustainable and damaging to the environment – with an increase in herbicides significantly increasing pollution and health risks for citizens, and contributing to biodiversity loss.

The only people who stand to gain from this model are those that produce the herbicide-resistant crops and the chemicals required to grow them.

Sustainable Pulse|Aug 21 2014

The Full Report ‘”Glyphosate Market for Genetically Modified and Conventional Crops – Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast 2013 – 2019″: www.transparencymarketresearch.com

Energy

Harnessing High-Altitude Wind Energy

Researchers have discovered that the world’s energy needs could easily be met by harnessing the power potential of high-altitude winds.

Developers in an emerging field known as airborne wind energy envisage using devices that might look like parachutes or gliders to capture electricity from the strong, steady winds that blow well above the surface in certain regions.

While logistical challenges and environmental questions remain, scientists at NCAR, the University of Delaware, and the energy firm DNV GL have begun examining where the strongest winds are and how much electricity they might be able to generate.

Their key finding: winds that blow from the surface to a height of 3,000 meters (nearly 10,000 feet) appear to offer the potential to generate more than 7.5 terawatts—more than triple the average global electricity demand of 2.4 terawatts.

Among the areas where such winds are strongest: the U.S. Great Plains, coastal regions along the Horn of Africa, and large stretches of the tropical oceans.”This type of research could prove critical if airborne wind energy takes off. The growing industry now includes more than 20 startups worldwide, exploring various designs for devices that could be tethered to ground stations and then raised or lowered to capture the most suitable winds at any point in time.

“From an engineering point of view, this is really complicated,” said NCAR scientist Luca Delle Monache, a co-author of a new study examining these issues. “But it could greatly increase the use of renewable energy and move the U.S. toward the goal of energy independence.”

To estimate the potential of airborne wind energy, Delle Monache, with Cristina Archer at the University of Delaware and Daran Rife at DNV GL, turned to an NCAR data set known as Climate Four Dimensional Data Assimilation. It blends computer modeling and measurements to create a retrospective analysis of the hourly, three-dimensional global atmosphere for the years 1985—2005.

The research team looked for various types of wind speed maxima, including recurring features known as low-level jets. Such jets can be ideal for energy because their speed and density is as high or higher than jets at higher elevations that would be beyond the reach of tethered wind devices. They also blow more steadily than winds captured by conventional wind turbines near the surface, potentially offering a more reliable source of energy.

ClickGreen Staff|ClickGreen|August 14, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, ClickGreen.

[Again, I can’t stress enough, the fact that proper siting is key to environmentally sound wind energy production. Unfortunately,  bird migration routes sometimes coincide with these higher wind areas.]

Rail oil tankers, victim of U.S. safety rules, also unwanted in Canada

WASHINGTON/CALGARY (Reuters) – Thousands of oil train tankers soon to be deemed obsolete in the United States are unlikely get a second life in Canada’s oil sands industry, undercutting a U.S. government forecast that the costly cars will continue in use in the energy sector.

If thousands of obsolete tank cars are scrapped, it could add hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of the proposal, industry officials said – unwelcome news for regulators trying to craft a safety plan that does not add crippling costs to industry.

Regulators on both sides of the border are contemplating rules to prevent oil train accidents like the July 2013 Lac Megantic disaster in Quebec, in which a runaway train loaded with fuel from North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch derailed, killing 47 people.

Those plans would modernize the current U.S. fleet of roughly 90,000 tank cars with puncture-resistant shells and other costly upgrades that government and industry sources expect to cost more than $3 billion.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has said the transition will be eased with about 23,000 existing cars going into service to cart Canadian oil sands crude – a molasses-like fuel, bitumen, that is less flammable than ordinary crude oil.

“No cars will retire as a result of this rule,” the DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said in its oil train proposal released in July.

But industry experts said it is not feasible to simply retrofit the older cars to the specifications needed to carry oil sands, making it likely thousands of cars will be scrapped.

“We don’t anticipate we will see the cars here,” said Julie Puddell, investor relations manager of Keyera Corp, which operates a loading terminal in Edmonton, Alberta, with Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP.

While the general purpose cars can be used to transport bitumen diluted with a light fuel called condensate, many oil sands shippers prefer specialty-built tank cars with internal heating coils, because heat stops the bitumen from solidifying while in transit and makes it easier to unload at refineries.

Industry sources say adding heated coils to a standard tank car – which can have a useful life of forty years or more – would have prohibitive costs.

“There are ways to retrofit, but it could make them even more expensive than a new-build,” Puddell said.

A spokeswoman for Cenovus Energy Inc, Canada’s No. 2 oil producer which aims to ship 30,000 barrels per day of oil by rail by year-end, said the company was focused on leasing new heated and coiled cars.

And Valero Energy Corp has ordered more than 2,900 heated tank cars for delivery in the next twelve months to take bitumen to its St. Charles, Louisiana refinery and elsewhere.

Between rail and barge deliveries, the largest U.S. independent oil refiner expects to be receiving more than 55,000 bpd of bitumen from Canada by mid-2015. A Valero spokesman said the company principally relies on heated cars to move the fuel.

A U.S. Transportation Department official said the agency’s proposal was open to amendment following a public comment period that ends on Sept. 30.

“Regulators are academic when they write these rules. They always underestimate costs,” said Larry Bierlein, a veteran hazardous materials lawyer and former hazmat counsel to the Department of Transportation.

“That will become clear as the industry digests this proposal and prepares for the political push-back,” Bierlein said.

Patrick Rucker and Nia Williams|WASHINGTON/CALGARY|Aug 14, 2014

U.S. Coal Exports America’s Carbon Footprint Around the Globe

In June, the EPA released its plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. The emissions guidelines propose “state specific rate based goals” to address greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel power plants. This is just one of a series of efforts on behalf of the Obama Administration to take the lead on global climate change. The coal industry fought unsuccessfully to stop the regulations. As a result, many of the nation’s more than 600 coal and oil-powered plants have gone offline, with many more expected to be retired by 2016.

With the cost of coal increasing as the price of natural gas has decreased (largely due to fracking), America has reduced, though not eliminated, its reliance on coal powered energy over the last six years. Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind continue to be added to the grid, but still provide a small part of our energy. Nevertheless, America has made significant strides in reducing the carbon dioxide emissions that are the cause of the planet’s global warming.

That is, reducing emissions here in America.

During the same period that U.S. consumption of coal fell, coal exports increased. For most of the world, coal still remains the cheapest form of energy and the U.S. has a large recoverable source. Several countries buy American coal including the UK, Italy, Germany and China. The Netherlands coal imports also get distributed to many other European nations, extending the reach throughout the continent.

Germany has been lauded for its investment in solar power in recent years. Still, it’s not enough to keep up with growing energy demands. Germany has been bringing more “clean coal” power plants online, having built five since 2008. Unlike in the United States, access to natural gas isn’t as easy and still remains very expensive for many countries. Coal is cheap and easily attainable. Australia and Indonesia remain the largest coal exporters, while Germany imports almost 50 percent of its coal from the United States.

Germany’s carbon dioxide emissions have increased significantly at the same time.

America’s largest client is China, which purchased 7.8 million tons of American coal in 2012. China accounts for nearly half of the world’s coal consumption as it tries to meet the demands of its population and growing cities. All around the world, nations are dealing with increased energy demands and don’t have enough of their own natural resources or, as in the case of China, the infrastructure and technology to access them to meet the demand. The American coal industry is more than happy to oblige.

We still consume far more coal than we export, but it’s not for a lack of trying. Geography has been a huge impediment to shipping. West Virginia is a large exporter of coal, where the Appalachian Mountains provide metallurgical grade coal to China and other nations. They have strong competition from Australia, however, which can ship for much cheaper.

Major companies are seeking ways to establish railways that head to the Pacific, where they wish to build new export terminals. The idea is to make it easier to ship to China in the hopes to become the largest supplier of the nation’s coal. Plans for shipping ports along the Pacific coast are in various stages of development, largely along the Oregon and Washington coasts. However, the plans have received a lot of pushback from environmentalists and tribes, as well as local and state governments.

The only ones not fighting them is the federal government.

The Obama Administration has authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate the impact of the proposed export terminals on climate change. Thus far, however, they have refused to do so. This has frustrated state governors in both Oregon and Washington, leading to them developing their own evaluation processes with mixed results.

The effects of emissions of coal exports aren’t just felt in other nations but in America as well.

The shipping of the coal along railways still spews ash into the air, causing health problems for anyone living along the routes. The burning of coal in power plants in China and other Asian nations emits the carbon dioxide into the air, which travels to the west coast of the United States. Carbon dioxide contributes to the rise in sea levels around the globe and the severe weather linked to global warming. Residents living along the coasts are already feeling the impact through property damage and losses caused by rising waters and intense storms.

Proving once again that climate change isn’t just local problem and requires a global commitment – no matter who is leading the charge for change.

Crystal Shepeard|July 30, 2014

Hot cooling canals threaten shutdown of Turkey Point nuclear power plants

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.

The utility and federal regulators say there isn’t a public safety risk but the canal temperatures, climbing to 94 to 99 degrees, have come within one degree of a federal limit that would mandate an expensive shutdown at a time when power demands are soaring. The hot water has also stoked the spread of algae through the 168-mile long canal system, which has helped keep temperatures high and reignited concerns about the power plant’s impact on water quality in Biscayne Bay.

In a letter last month to state regulators, the company asked to control the algae with herbicides and to cool the canals with daily injections of millions of gallons from an underground reservoir that supplies Miami-Dade County’s drinking water — requests that drew questions from Biscayne National Park and environmentalists. FPL has also asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to raise the 100-degree operating limit to 104 degrees to keep the reactors on line.

“The urgency in all of it is that we’re in the summer. Demand on the grid is very high and we have to make sure we can service our customers,” said FPL spokeswoman Bianca Cruz.

In an effort to address concerns, FPL on Wednesday outlined its plans during a meeting of federal, state and local agencies overseeing restoration of Biscayne Bay.

Worries over damage to the bay, now protected in a national park, have dogged the plant since FPL dug the sprawling canal system in the 1970s after environmentalists sued to stop billions of gallons of hot water from being pumped into the bay. Environmentalists also worried that a recent $3 billion overhaul of the plant, which allows FPL to generate up to 15 percent more power, could worsen the inland creep of an underground plume of saltwater that threatens drinking water well fields in South Miami-Dade County.

But Matt Raffenberg, FPL’s environmental services director, said Wednesday that the overhaul, called an uprating, had not caused the jump in temperatures and was not harming the bay.

“There are things going on in the cooling canals we’re trying to manage,” Raffenberg said. “But in terms of impacts to Biscayne Bay, we don’t see data suggesting the cooling canals are affecting bay water.”

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.

“With a big industrial facility next to the park, you’ve got be concerned, said Biscayne National Park superintendent Brian Carlstrom. “I’d rather be on the side of erring with an abundance of caution than be on the response side of trying to mitigate an environmental catastrophe.”

Last month, George McHugh, the park’s chief of administration, wrote federal, state and local officials asking for an investigation into the “broad poor water quality trends, their source and potential solutions.”

Worsening salt water intrusion, which can alter native coastal habitat, is the biggest threat.

A U.S. Geological Survey mapping the leading edge of the plume earlier this year showed the biggest advance since 1995 in Florida City, just northwest of the sprawling grid of canals. In 2009 and again in 2011, water managers and environmentalists worried that tapping the aquifer to cool canals would worsen saltwater intrusion.

The chemical request also raises concerns, said Julie Dick, an attorney for the Everglades Law Center.

“When they’re doing things on an emergency basis, it makes it hard for all the responsible agencies to deal with all the issues. There should be more forward thinking,” she said. “These aren’t necessarily benign chemicals being applied and additional monitoring is needed.’’

Mining companies just west of Turkey Point have also argued that saltier water from the sprawling canal system, which is heavier than freshwater, has sunk deep within the aquifer and migrated west, threatening their business as well as drinking water wells.

“When they were originally conceived and designed in the late 60s and early 70s, they were supposed to theoretically operate in a way that the salinity in the canals was going to mimic what’s in the bay,” said Ed Swakon, president of EAS Engineering and a consultant for Atlantic Civil, which operates a large mine just west of the canals. But over the years, salt built up, he said, making the water heavier and forcing it deeper underground.

At some 70 feet below the surface, he said, “it begins to spread like an inverted mushroom.”

FPL maintains salt water intrusion issues have existed since the 1940s and its canals have not played a part in the spreading plume.

“The canals are definitely a closed system,’’ Cruz said. “They don’t touch any other source of water.”

But on Wednesday, Scott Burns, a chief environmental scientist with the water management district, said tests conducted in recent years indicate underground water is creeping west. And in a letter last month, Justin Green, chief of DEP’s office that permits power plants, said FPL has been “put on notice” about the creeping plume. DEP and the water management district, he said, are drafting an order to deal with it, which will include pumping water from the Floridan Aquifer, deep below the Biscayne.

“When we increase pumping, that will reduce salt seepage and stabilize the system,” Burns said.

But Phil Stoddard, mayor of South Miami and a longtime critic of Turkey Point’s nuclear operations, worries drawing more water from the lower aquifer will make things worse.

“All the crap we’ve thrown into the Floridan is going to end up in the Biscayne Aquifer heading toward the drinking water,” he said. “The green slime is absorbing heat and heating up the water. The problem for FPL is hot water doesn’t do such a good job of cooling the pipes.”

Jenny Staletovich|The Miami Herald|07/16/2014

Major Federal Court Ruling Will Help Transition Grid to Renewables

On Friday the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. upheld the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Order No. 1000, which eliminates many obstacles in the way of modernizing the electrical transmission grid.

More than 40 states, industry groups,and utility companies had filed the challenge to the order saying that the federal government had overstepped its authority. But environmental groups came to its defense, since the order not only brings order and economic savings to grid construction and upgrades but eases the move from fossil fuels to clean energy sources. The groups, represented by Earthjustice and Natural Resources Defense Fund, include Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, Conservation Law Foundation and Union for Concerned Scientists.

Order 1000 creates requirements for regional planning and cooperation between the owners of transmission companies on the funding of new investments in the grid to make upgrades more efficient and economical. It also opened the door to new entrants into the arena of building and owning transmission facilities by eliminating existing  companies’ rights of first refusal.  As with the unbundling of electric generation and transmission starting in the ’90s, which opened generation to new companies, the order increases competitiveness on the transmission side. Among other things, this would help guarantee that the infrastructure exists to meet states’ clean energy mandates.

Earthjustice attorney Abigail Dillen said:

“We are thrilled that the court validated these crucial reforms that will help us build the 21st-century clean energy grid. We have an aging grid that needs billions of dollars worth of renovations and the question is how that money will be spent—on the smart grid technology that can hasten reliance on more clean energy or on masking tape and chewing gum solutions that keep us wedded to fossil fuels.  With the Obama administration’s newly announced Clean Power Plan, we must undertake transparent, forward-looking regional transmission planning to ensure we have the infrastructure in place to meet state clean energy mandates.”

Anastasia Pantsios|August 19, 2014

Native Americans Launch ‘Love Water Not Oil’ Ride To Protest Fracking Pipeline

Winona LaDuke, executive director of Native environmental group Honor the Earth, launched the “Love Water Not Oil” horse ride this week to draw attention to the group’s continued opposition to the Enbridge Sandpiper pipeline. It would carry fracked oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale oil fields through the Sandy Lake and Rice Lake watersheds in northern Minnesota. The area is not only rich in recreational fishing facilities but it is also home to vast fields of wild rice or manoomim, a Native American staple.

The ride began at Rice Lake on Aug. 18 and concludes at Big Bear Landing on the White Lake Reservation on Rice Lake on Aug. 27, where there will be a powwow and gathering. During the ride, which anyone is free to join, the group plans to raise awareness of the pipeline and its impact on both surrounding Native communities and local landowners.

The group says:

This is the only land that the Anishinaabe know, and we know that this land is good land, and this water is our lifeblood. One-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water supply lies here, and it is worth protecting. Our wild rice beds, lakes and rivers are precious—and our regional fisheries generate $7.2 billion annually and support 49,000 jobs. The tourism economy of northern Minnesota represents $11.9 billion in gross sales (or 240,000 jobs).

Honor the Earth asserts that a single leak could spew up to 20,000 gallons of fracked oil per minute.

“This would cause irreparable damage to an extremely biodiverse and intact ecosystem,” said LaDuke. “Enbridge chose a bad path. The people of Minnesota love their water more than oil and they are standing up against the pipeline.”

The group points to another spill caused by the Enbridge Corporation, the same company proposing the Sandpiper project. In July 2010, a pipeline break dumped 1.5 million gallons of tar sands crude oil into the Kalamazoo River system in Michigan, causing the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history and one of the costliest. That spill still has not been completely cleaned up.

“For us on the White Earth reservation in northwestern Minnesota, it is the Sandpiper which threatens our community and our way of life,” said Honor the Earth. “The Sandpiper line of fracked oil will cross pristine ecosystems and facilitate the creation of a national sacrifice area in western North Dakota. This land and this water are precious, and they are endangered.”

Partnering for the “Love Water Not Oil” tour is  oil and gas analyst Shane Davis of Colorado’s Fractivist.org, who has been documenting the fracking industry there.

“Fracked oil is a last-ditch effort and poses a significant radioactive threat to the environment and human health,” he said.

Anastasia Pantsios|August 19, 2014

No One Wants You to Know How Bad Fukushima Might Still Be

Last month, when the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) announced it would move forward with its plan to construct an “ice wall” around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant’s failed reactors, it seemed like a step backwards. In June, the utility company in charge of decommissioning the plant—which was ravaged by a tsunami in March 2011—indicated that its initial attempt at installing a similar structure had flopped. Its pipes were apparently unable to freeze the ground, despite being filled with a -22°F chemical solution.

Similar techniques have been successfully used by engineers to build underwater car tunnels and mine shafts. But Dr. Dale Klein, an engineer and expert on nuclear policy, isn’t so sure it’ll produce the same results on a project of this magnitude. He says that although freezing the ground around reactors one through four might help corral the water that’s being used by TEPCO as a coolant, there’s little technical understanding of how the natural water sources surrounding the plant might respond. “As the water comes down the mountains towards the ocean, it’s not clear to me that [TEPCO] really know how it is going to move around that frozen barrier,” he said in an interview with VICE.

“But it has to go somewhere,” he continued. “It’s such a complicated site and problem, and I don’t know if they fully understand that yet.”

It’s worrying to hear doubt from someone like Klein, whose expertise ranges from politics to pedagogy. He was appointed to chair the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission by President Bush in 2006 and, after stepping down in 2009, he served as the organization’s commissioner in 2010. Now, in addition to being associate director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas, he’s part of an international TEPCO advisory panel and visits Japan three to four times a year to work with officials as they struggle to helm a largely ad hoc clean-up effort.

Aside from TEPCO’s unwillingness to consider other engineering solutions, his main point of criticism about Japan’s largest utility company is rooted in one that countless others have voiced since the earthquake (and subsequent tsunami): a suspicious disregard for keeping the public informed.

“When rumors start circulating, TEPCO needs to come forward right away and say, ‘This is what we know, this is what we don’t know,’ rather than staying silent,” Klein said. “They give off the perception that they’re covering up something, when that isn’t what they’re doing at all.”

But it’s hard to give TEPCO the benefit of the doubt when misinformation, lying, and a sub-par approach to safety culture have been central to this quagmire since before the natural disasters. While it’s rarely constructive to point fingers in a time of crisis, it’s worth noting that TEPCO has been reprimanded by the Japanese government, international scientists, peace-keeping organizations, global media outlets, and both anti- and pro-nuclear advocates for its unwillingness to disclose key details at a time when they are desperately needed. Coupled with the unmitigated radiation still pouring into Pacific waters, this helps explain why a Japanese judicial panel announced in late July that it wants TEPCO executives to be indicted.

This negligence can be traced back to the Fukushima plant’s meltdown. Just three months after the plant was crippled, the Wall Street Journal came out with a report culled from a dozen interviews with senior TEPCO engineers saying its operators knew some reactors were incapable of withstanding a tsunami. Since the Daiichi plant’s construction in the late 1960s, engineers had approached higher-ups to discuss refortifying the at-risk reactors, but these requests were denied due to concerns over renovation costs and an overall lack of interest in upgrading what was, at the time, a functioning plant. In 2012, it came to light that one such cost-cutting measure was the use of duct tape to seal leaking pipes within the plant.

A year after the Wall Street Journal report, TEPCO announced that the Daiichi plant’s meltdown had released 2.5 times more radiation into the atmosphere than initially estimated. The utility cited broken radiation sensors within the plant’s proximity as the main reason for this deficit and, in the same statement, claimed that 99 percent of the total radiation released from the Daiichi plant occurred during the last three weeks of March 2011. That last part turned out to be untrue—a year later, in June 2013, TEPCO admitted that almost 80,000 gallons of contaminated water had been leaking into the Pacific Ocean every day since the meltdown. As of today, that leak continues.

This year marked the disaster’s third anniversary, but new accounts of mismanagement and swelling radiation levels continue to surface. In February, TEPCO revealed that groundwater sources near the Daiichi plant and 80 feet from the Pacific Ocean contained 20 million becquerels of the harmful radioactive element Strontium-90 per gallon (one becquerel equals one emission of radiation per second). Even though the internationally accepted limit for Strontium-90 contamination in water hovers around 120 becquerels per gallon, these measurements were hidden from Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority for nearly four months. As a response, the national nuclear watchdog agency censured TEPCO for lacking a “fundamental understanding of measuring and handling radiation.”

And last month, TEPCO told reporters that 14 different rice paddies outside Fukushima’s exclusion zone were contaminated in August 2013, after a large piece of debris was removed from one of the Daiichi plant’s crippled reactors. The readings were taken in March 2014, but TEPCO didn’t publicize their findings until four months later, at the start of July—meaning almost a year had passed since emissions had begun to accumulate at dangerous levels in Japan’s most sacred food.

The list, unfortunately, goes on. This is merely the abridged account of TEPCO’s backpedalling and PR shortfalls. It begs many questions, but the most perplexing one is: Why? Why has a crisis that is gaining traction as the worst case of nuclear pollution in history—worse, emission-wise, than Hiroshima, Nagasaki, or Chernobyl—being smothered with internal censorship? If omission of information isn’t intentional, like Dr. Klein suggests, why haven’t these revelations led to a stronger institutional effort to contain Fukushima and reduce the chance that irregularities go unnoticed or unreported?

When I asked past Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Helen Caldicott these questions, she was quick to respond: “Because money matters more than people.”

Dr. Caldicott was a faculty member at Harvard Medical School when she became president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, an American organization of doctors against nuclear warfare, climate change, and other environmental issues, in 1978. The organization, along with its parent body the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985, a year after Caldicott left.

Last September, Caldicott organized a symposium at the New York Academy of Medicine entitled, “The Medical and Ecological Consequences of Fukushima,” and has a book coming out on the issue this October. Her expertise on the subject is founded on academic research, but also her lifelong role as a doctor practicing preventative medicine in the nuclear age.

“Japan produces parts for nuclear reactors, like reactor containment vessels,” she said in an interview with VICE. “They’re heavily invested in nuclear power, even though they actually have access to nine times more renewable energy than Germany.”

Although Caldicott says what separates Fukushima from Chernobyl is the continuous leakage of radioactive material, in her eyes they’re unified by an institutionalized effort to keep the veil from lifting. “The Japanese government took three months to tell the world that there had been three meltdowns, even though the meltdowns had taken place in the first three days,” she said. “They’re not testing the food routinely. In fact, they’re growing food in highly radioactive areas, and there are stories that the most radioactive food is being canned and sold to third-world countries.”

“Some doctors in Japan are starting to get very worried about the fact that they’re seeing an increase in diseases but they’re being told not to tell their patients that the diseases are related to radiation,” she continued. “This is all because of money. Bottom line.”

The money she refers to isn’t only rooted in Japan’s export of nuclear reactor parts, or the fact that the economy is starting to reclaim its reign over Japan’s national consciousness. It’s threaded throughout a history of collusion and secretive deals that extend beyond TEPCO’s record. Late last month, a long-term vice president of the Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO), which sourced nearly 50 percent of its electricity from nuclear power sources like Fukushima before the 2011 accident, revealed to Japanese reporters that the company’s president donated approximately $3.6 million to seven different Japanese prime ministers and other political figures between 1970 and 1990. The amount officials received was based on how much their incumbency profited the nuclear and electric energy sectors.

And if it’s not money that lies beneath these multi-faceted attempts at obscuring information about Fukushima, it’s the fear of mass hysteria. When it was revealed that the United Nations-affiliated pro-nuclear group International Atomic Energy Association made a deal with local government officials in Fukushima to classify information that might stoke public concern (like, observers speculate, cancer rates and radiation levels), civilian fears of a cover-up campaign crept out of the mischief associated with conspiracy and into the gravity of a situation that feels more and more surreal.

Despite these efforts, plenty has come to light. As of August 2014, we know that radiation levels around the Fukushima area continue to rise, even after three years of containment attempts. We know that doctors have found 89 cases of thyroid cancer in a study of less than 300,000 children from the Fukushima area—even though the normal incidence rate of this disease among youths is one or two for every million. We know that Japanese scientists are still reluctant to publicize their findings on Fukushima due to a fear of getting stigmatized by the national government.

We also know that US sailors who plotted a relief effort in Fukushima immediately after the disaster have reportedly been experiencing a well-up of different cancers, that monkeys living outside Fukushima’s restricted zone have lower blood cell counts than those living in other parts of northern Japan, and that the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War’s thorough critique of a recent Fukushima report by the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Radiation shows how the international community is severely underestimating the effects of the crisis.

Whether or not TEPCO’s ice wall will be as successful as the company’s lead engineers expect is ultimately dependent on trial. But Dr. Klein, Dr. Caldicott, and others have their own ideas of what should have been done, and what might still need doing in the near future.

“I would like to see them try external pumps a bit more to see if they can slow the inflow of water,” said Dr. Klein. This would involve placing mechanical pumps upstream from the water sources and away from the plant, to collect and contain the water before it passes over the damaged reactors. “Before the accident occurred, they were moving about 27,000 gallons of water a day around the site.”

“The problem is that TEPCO has hardly invited in the international community to help to try and solve the problem,” says Dr. Caldicott. “A huge company like [Florida-based engineering group] Bechtol, which makes reactors and is a very good engineering company, should have been invited in by the Japanese government to try and propose a way to deal with these problems in an engineering fashion.”

At the same time, she recognizes that it’s not only up to Japan. “There should be an international consortium of global experts from France, from Russia, from the United States, and Canada, putting their heads together with the Japanese and working out solutions,” she said.

Others believe that Japan needs to look northwest, towards the Kremlin. Chernobyl gave Russia and Ukraine a level of experience in handling nuclear failures that stands apart from most of the world.

But even though the ecological effects of Fukushima continue to be hotly debated by scientific organizations and the public, Dr. Klein wants to take a step back from the conversation in order to move towards the endgame. “I’d like to see a completely safe operation. It’s complicated,” he concedes, “but we need to help support the Japanese clean-up efforts whenever we can.”

Johnny Magdaleno|Aug 19 2014

Big Oil is poisoning my community ‏

Every day, Big Oil poisons the air in my community and communities across the country.

I live in Port Arthur, Texas, home to four major refineries, four chemical plants, two petcoke facilities and an international chemical waste incineration facility.

To say our air is polluted would be an understatement. Each year, tons of legal and illegal emissions from refineries are released into the air we breathe, poisoning it with toxic chemicals and known carcinogens.

The impact on my community is impossible to miss. There are a disproportionate number of people suffering from respiratory issues like bronchitis and asthma, and many are on dialysis and/or suffering from cancer. One out of every five households have someone in it who must undergo breathing treatments or must use a nebulizer just to breathe properly.

People living in close proximity to large industrial polluters face a myriad of health and quality of life challenges, which threatens the overall resiliency of our communities. And all across the country, those residing nearest to these industrial polluters tend to be among the more vulnerable sectors of society, such as racial and ethnic minorities, and low income families.

Why must our communities continue to be used and dumped on just so these corporations can make billions? While Big Oil makes record profits, our communities get left with dilapidated infrastructure, more health issues, and not enough good jobs. To add insult to injury, we’re stuck with the burden of increased medical bills after being exposed to these polluting industries year after year.

For far too long, the oil industry has treated the air we breathe as an open sewer for their toxic pollution. Enough is enough.

Thanks for being a part of this movement,

Hilton Kelley|Executive Director & Founder |Community In-power and Development Association Inc.|8/21/14

Land Conservation

EPA Proposes Protection for Bristol Bay

Draft plan would protect world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery from potentially destructive impacts of proposed Pebble Mine

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a proposal to protect the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, Alaska, from the potentially destructive impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine.

The EPA estimates the proposed mine would be nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon, cover an area larger than Manhattan and fill a major football stadium up to 3,900 times with mine waste, threatening one of the most productive marine ecosystems in the world. Home to rivers that witness the salmon runs of over 30 million each year, Bristol Bay produces nearly 50% of the world’s wild sockeye salmon.

This news is a big milestone for Alaskans and for thousands who have raised their voice on this issue. The bay provides millions of dollars in jobs for commercial fisherman and supports 31 Alaska Native Villages who source salmon for their food, livelihoods and income.

“Everyone who is concerned about the future of Bristol Bay knows that allowing an immense, open-pit mine in its headwaters needlessly risks the economic and environmental well-being of the entire region” said Margaret Williams, managing director of Arctic programs. “Today’s announcement from EPA reconfirms that the federal government knows that too. EPA’s decision gives us hope that the salmon-rich rivers flowing into the Bay will continue to support people, nature and vibrant Alaskan economies.”

The next steps in the process include public consultation on the proposal. The EPA is seeking comments on its plan and will hold public meetings and consult with village tribes in steps towards a ‘Recommended Determination’. The EPA has only used its 404(c) authority under the Clean Water Act only 30 times over 42 years, on projects with significant impacts on ecologically rich and valuable waters.

Laura Margison|July 18, 2014

DEP issues construction permit for new Corbett levee system

In a move to increase flood protection for south Florida residents, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has issued a permit for the construction of a new levee system.

This project is a cooperative effort between the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Indian Trail Improvement District (ITID).

The environmental resource permit is for the construction of a 6.25 mile levee system within the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area located in western Palm Beach County. The levee system improvement project consists of constructing a new levee within uplands and wetlands in areas which separate J.W. Corbett from the ITID M-O Canal.

Under the direction of Governor Rick Scott, the SFWMD convened a multi-agency working group in September 2012 to develop a plan for strengthening the M-O Canal in an effort to meet current standards and to improve flood protection and safety to the residents in the surrounding areas.

“I’m excited about the effect this project will have on the local community,” said Jill Creech, director of DEP’s Southeast District. “The impact from Tropical Storm Isaac on the property owners in western Palm Beach County was huge. This project will help restore some peace of mind for residents should another significant weather event, such as Isaac, bear down on our community.”

The purpose of the project is to improve flood protection for the residents of the surrounding areas. In addition, the project will expand operational control of water levels as originally designed and permitted, which may attract additional endangered species to inhabit the area.

“The district moved historic amounts of water from the deluge caused by Tropical Storm Isaac and worked to shore up a key berm for better protection in an emergency situation,” said John Mitnik, SFWMD bureau chief of operations, engineering and construction. “We have engineered a new levee and are ready to initiate construction to help ensure the safety of residents for years to come.

“Phase one of the project is anticipated to be complete by January 2016. Phase two will follow and the levee should be complete by January 2018. The total cost of the project is estimated at $7.8 million.

DEP|August 18, 2014

Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working to conserve the natural resources and rural way of life in the Kissimmee River Valley. Our partners in this effort include the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Department of Defense, The Nature Conservancy and the National Wildlife Refuge Association.

As part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar accepted a 10-acre donation of land in south-central Florida to officially establish the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area – conserving one of the last remaining grassland and longleaf pine savanna landscapes in eastern North America.

If fully realized, the refuge and conservation area will span 150,000 acres north of Lake Okeechobee. Two-thirds of the acreage, or 100,000 acres, will be protected through conservation easements purchased from willing sellers. With easements, private landowners would retain ownership of their land, as well as the right to work the land to raise cattle or crops. The easements would ensure the land could not be developed in the future.

650-Acres of Conservation Land Approved for Acquisition by ARC

Today the Acquisition and Restoration Council (ARC) voted to amend the existing boundary line of the Charlotte Harbor Flatwoods Florida Forever Project to include Bond Ranch, a 650-acre parcel. This step enables the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of State Lands to move forward with the acquisition of the parcel. Acquisition of conservation land is generally limited to Florida Forever project boundaries.

DEP’s Division of State Lands worked with the South Florida Water Management District and the Trust for Public Land to fast-track the boundary amendment to place it on today’s ARC agenda. The division will partner with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), which has committed $1.5 million for acquisition of the parcel.

“Adding the Bond Ranch parcel to the Charlotte Harbor Flatwoods project will augment the current restoration efforts for Charlotte Harbor and the Caloosahatchee River watershed,” said Kelley Boree, director of DEP’s Division of State Lands. “I appreciate our partners recognizing the importance of this acquisition happening quickly and in concert with FDOT’s I-75 widening project.”

Bond Ranch is vital in the multi-phased regional hydrologic restoration effort. The restoration initiative will not only restore the original flow of water across Charlotte County and into Charlotte Harbor, but will also reduce the flow of excess water south into Lee County and the Caloosahatchee River watershed. The reduction will result in better flood protection for North Fort Myers as well as reducing nutrient loads to the Charlotte Harbor Estuary.

This parcel is integral to the success of the Charlotte Harbor Flatwoods Initiative, a multi-agency, multi-year effort to return this watershed’s waterflow to its historic westward direction. Multiple local, state and federal agencies are participating in this initiative that covers approximately 90 square miles and five sub-watersheds. Acquisition of the parcel, which is adjacent to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area, will also result in immediate increased wildlife habitat.

ARC is a 10 member group of representatives from various agencies with land conservation experience tasked with the responsibility of evaluating conservation lands for possible state acquisition and management. Along with the addition of Bond Ranch, ARC voted to update five management plans and considered five proposals for possible addition to the December 2014 Florida Forever list. For more information on specific items from today’s meeting, click HERE.

mburgerdep|Aug. 15, 2014

Air Quality

NASA reports unknown source of banned ozone-destroying compound

NASA research has revealed the Earth’s atmosphere contains an unexpectedly large amount of an ozone-depleting compound from an unknown source decades after the compound was banned worldwide.


Carbon tetrachloride (CCl4), which was once used in applications such as dry cleaning and as a fire-extinguishing agent, was regulated in 1987 under the Montreal Protocol along with other chlorofluorocarbons that destroy ozone and contribute to the ozone hole over Antarctica. Parties to the Montreal Protocol reported zero new CCl4 emissions between 2007-2012.

However, the new research shows worldwide emissions of CCl4 average 39 kilotons per year, approximately 30 percent of peak emissions prior to the international treaty going into effect.

“We are not supposed to be seeing this at all,” said Qing Liang, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study. “It is now apparent there are either unidentified industrial leakages, large emissions from contaminated sites, or unknown CCl4 sources.”

As of 2008, CCl4 accounted for about 11 percent of chlorine available for ozone depletion, which is not enough to alter the decreasing trend of ozone-depleting substances. Still, scientists and regulators want to know the source of the unexplained emissions.

For almost a decade, scientists have debated why the observed levels of CCl4 in the atmosphere have declined slower than expectations, which are based on what is known about how the compound is destroyed by solar radiation and other natural processes.

“Is there a physical CCl4 loss process we don’t understand, or are there emission sources that go unreported or are not identified?” Liang said.

With zero CCl4 emissions reported between 2007-2012, atmospheric concentrations of the compound should have declined at an expected rate of 4 percent per year. Observations from the ground showed atmospheric concentrations were only declining by 1 percent per year.

To investigate the discrepancy, Liang and colleagues used NASA’s 3-D GEOS Chemistry Climate Model and data from global networks of ground-based observations. The CCl4 measurements used in the study were made by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Earth System Research Laboratory and NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Model simulations of global atmospheric chemistry and the losses of CCl4 due to interactions with soil and the oceans pointed to an unidentified ongoing current source of CCl4. The results produced the first quantitative estimate of average global CCl4 emissions from 2000-2012.

ClickGreen Staff|ClickGreen|August 21, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, ClickGreen.

Recycling

Can Berkeley Become the First City to Recycle 100 Percent of Its Garbage?

The California community that pioneered recycling is looking for new ways to achieve its zero-waste goal.

Berkeley, the California city that pioneered the modern recycling movement, set itself an ambitious goal a few years back: Stop sending trash to landfills by 2020. But even in one of the nation’s most environmentally self-conscious communities, that’s proving a tough task.

That’s the message from a recent report from the city auditor’s office. With five years to go, it found Berkeley is in danger of falling short of its zero-waste target even though the city of 115,000 has already slashed the volume of recyclable garbage sent to landfills by 75 percent. That challenge, and how the city responds to it, offers lessons for residents of other communities around the United States that are attempting to cut pollution and minimize their carbon footprint by achieving zero waste.

If any community should be able to recycle its trash away, it’s Berkeley. The city on San Francisco Bay started the United States’ first curbside recycling program in 1973 and now offers pickup of food waste in addition to the recyclables and garden trimmings most other towns pick up these days.

Even here, people still toss cans in the trash or sort their recyclables improperly, which can cause whole batches of recycled materials to be rejected and end up in landfills.

That’s partly because the city gets about 14,000 new residents each fall, as incoming freshmen arrive at the University of California’s Berkeley campus from around the world. It can take time for those new Berkeleyans to learn how to recycle their trash properly.

“In the past, Berkeley took a leadership role in waste reduction,” says Ann-Marie Hogan, the city auditor and author of the zero-waste report. “Now, more and more cities are following suit, and it’s time for us to take a leadership role again.”

Without broader public awareness of trash issues, she said, the city will be stuck at its 75 percent landfill diversion rate.

“There have to be changes in consumer behavior,” said Hogan. “If you throw a newspaper in the newsprint recycling bin with the plastic bag still on it, for instance, that goes to the landfill. And there are choices you can easily make while shopping that will reduce the amount of unrecyclable trash you generate.”

Hogan says the city will need to use both carrot and stick to change people’s behavior by enacting incentives to reduce, reuse, and recycle, and disincentives aimed at curbing more wasteful habits.

Berkeley is no stranger to incentive programs. In past decades, the city and its residential curbside recycling contractor, the Ecology Center, held a series of “Cash for Trash” lotteries to encourage recycling. (Disclosure: [Chris Clark]I worked at the company from 1990 to 1997.)

Crews would select a residence at random, examine the contents of its garbage can on collection day, and award a cash prize to the residents if the can held nothing that could have been recycled. Residents’ participation in the recycling program jumped dramatically.

Educating Berkeley residents about recycling at home is crucial, said Ecology Center Executive Director Martin Bourque, but it’s only part of the picture.

“If we’re going to get to zero waste,” said Bourque, “we’ve got to divert more of Berkeley’s commercial and industrial waste too, as well as boosting composting rates.”

A ban on businesses discarding compostable matter in regular trash that took effect July 1 is likely to help, he said.

Bourque is also concerned about a waste stream that may never get to the landfill in the first place: single-use plastic take-out containers and other items that often end up in nearby San Francisco Bay.

“Berkeley has banned Styrofoam take-out containers, as well as single-use plastic bags, and we’re working now to extend that to things like lids and straws,” Bourque said. “They may not account for a lot of tonnage, but it’s vital to keep them from blowing into the bay.”

Whether the trash in question ends up in a landfill or lining a beach, it’s going to take work to coax Berkeley to eliminate it entirely.

One idea: scale back trash pickup to every two weeks while maintaining weekly curbside recycling and food waste pickup. That would encourage residents to recycle more rather than let potentially recyclable garbage pile up in their kitchens and garages.

Biweekly trash pickup would save the department an estimated $500,000 a year, which could be spent on public outreach and education about recycling.

It would also seriously boost the city’s compost pickup program, because residents would almost certainly choose to put out their decomposing leftovers in the organic waste bin rather than keep them in the house for an extra week as they waited for trash day.

Sometimes a moldy carrot makes an excellent stick.

Chris Clarke|August 13, 2014

7 Easy Steps to a Plastic-Free Kitchen

Plastics are so passé. They’re usually made of petroleum and chemical additives that can disrupt our reproductive systems and cause learning disabilities in kids. They’re sold as “indestructible” but break into tiny pieces that float in rivers, lakes and oceans until birds, fish and turtles swallow them thinking they’re food. Plastic bags and bottles create unsightly litter that just doesn’t go away.

Yet, we still use it, especially in our kitchens, one of the easiest places in our house to give plastic the heave-ho in favor of greener options.

Here are 7 ways you can get started:

1) Use reusable bags. Reusable cloth, jute or recycled fiber bags last for years and eliminate the need for plastic shopping bags. Many communities now charge a nickel for every plastic bag a shopper uses, which has been enough to convince people to bring their own bags.

2) Buy fresh, unpackaged food. One of the biggest sources of plastic in a kitchen is all the plastic that food comes wrapped in. This is especially true if you’re buying pre-packaged food that’s supposed to be convenient – but ultimately just creates a lot of trash. In addition to reusable shopping bags, get a set of reusable mesh produce bags. For bigger fruits and vegetables like apples, oranges, pears, eggplant and onions, you can skip bags altogether.

3) Choose glass jars rather than plastic. You can find tomato sauce, condiments, olives, peppers, soups, spices and more in glass, rather than plastic.

4) Use glass storage containers. Glass jars and dishes with lids are very effective storage containers – they don’t leach chemicals into food, they’re durable, and you can easily see what’s inside them. I re-use glass tomato sauce jars and juice bottles. I also prowl yard sales and thrift stores for glass dishes with lids that I can buy for a couple of dollars at most.

5) Make your own soda. A big source of plastic in the kitchen comes from soda bottles. We haven’t bought soda since we got a counter-top carbonation machine. We simply filter a jug of water (which takes about a minute), pour the water in the bottle that fits the machine, pull a lever to add carbon dioxide to the water (another minute at most), and add whatever flavor we choose.

6) Make your own bottled water. Single-use water bottles are another significant source of kitchen plastic. That dandy carbonator you got for making soda is also great for bubbling up a bottle of filtered water.

7) Replace plastic utensils with stainless steel, wood, and silicone. I primarily use stainless steel or silicone spatulas when I’m frying and sautéing and wooden spoons when I’m baking.  I have glass 1 cup, 2 cup and 4 cup measuring pitchers and aluminum measuring cups and spoons in a variety of sizes. I also use glass and aluminum mixing bowls. Look for these and other non-plastic kitchen tools in the pots and pans section of your grocery store or in the kitchen utensils section of a department store.

Diane MacEachern|August 16, 2014|

5 Best Reusable Water Bottles

Reusable water bottles are the bomb when it comes to reducing throwaway plastic and saving water. It’s estimated that as much as two gallons of water might be wasted for every gallon that’s bottled in a factory, so filling up at home, at work, or on the go is a great way to save this precious resource. Plus, one reusable water bottle can eliminate the need to buy and trash literally hundreds of single-use containers – containers that actually never really biodegrade. Do the math. If you buy three plastic bottles of water every week, that’s 156 bottles you throw away in a year. In five years, that amounts to almost 800 water bottles – and that’s just you. Now multiply that number times the billions of people who are buying plastic water bottles. No wonder that, in the U.S. alone, more than 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away … EVERY DAY!

There are plenty of reusable water bottles on the market, but not all bottles are created equal. I prefer those that are either glass, stainless steel, or aluminum. They last longer than plastic bottles and don’t leach Bisphenol A, or BPA, into the water. Unless it says otherwise, a conventional plastic water bottle contains BPA, a compound that has been linked to a variety of worrisome health problems, including increased risk of cancer, obesity, early onset puberty, and diabetes. “BPA-free” bottles do exist, but at some point, those will wear out, and then you’re still left with a plastic bottle to dispose of. Better to use steel, aluminum or glass, all of which can be recycled over and over and over again.

These 5 reusable water bottles work great and are easily available in grocery and hardware stores or online.

The bkr (as in, beaker) – The bkr is a glass bottle; it comes in either 16 ounces or 32 ounces. The upside of glass is that it leaches nothing into the liquid, so whether it’s water, juice, milk or wine, your beverage will taste exactly like it’s supposed to. The downside of glass bottles, of course, is that they could break. However, the bkr is protected with a full-body sleeve made of silicone that also provides a good non-stick grip for the bottle. If you’re a fashionista or you just like variety, buy one bottle but a few different sleeves, which come in a variety of colors.

Kleen Kanteen These insulated stainless steel bottles and to-go mugs keep contents hot up to 6 hours and cold a lot longer. They have nice wide mouths, though you can get tops with straw attachments and sippy-cup tops for kids. You’ll love the colors and fun designs, too.

Square Clean Bottle – If you have to buy a plastic water bottle, this might be the one to consider. Though it claims to be BPA-free, what I really like about it is that it unscrews on the bottom as well as the top, so it’s easy to wash out (hence the name Clean bottle).

Aladdin Insulated Mason Jar - OK, to be fair, this is not a water bottle per se. But it is a great alternative to a plastic bottle if you’re hanging around your house or heading out on a road trip. Imagine a regular mason jar, like the one you might use for canning fruit or tomato sauce, only double wall insulated to reduce condensation when you fill it with iced tea, lemonade or something stronger. Now, add a handle, plus a lid that has a hole in the middle that’s big enough for a Slurpy-sized straw to fit through. Voila.

Lifefactory – This clever company was a pioneer in developing glass bottles with silicone sleeves you could take anywhere. Now they make casserole dishes, wine glasses, baby bottles, and food storage containers all protected by their signature stylish silicone sleeves.

By the way, the cost of these bottles ranges from $9.99 to a little more than $40. However, think back to the original calculation we did on how many throwaway bottles you buy in a year. Even if it’s only one a month, for 52 a year, if each of these throwaways costs at least a bottle, you’ll spend over $50/year. Even the most expensive reusable bottle is cheaper than buying throwaways.

One more tip: at home, rather than buy big bottles of water for a party or picnic, I keep several glass bottles with stoppers on hand, like the one pictured above. I then filter water in a handy pitcher, fill up the bottle, and I’m good to go.

Diane MacEachern|August 10, 2014

Can We Make Clothes Entirely from Recycled Cotton?

You may have noticed “organic cotton” on your t-shirt label, but what about “recycled cotton”?

In the United States, we produce around 14.3 million tons of textile waste per year, and about 50% of that could be recycled. While we know how to recycle cotton, making a garment solely out of recycled cotton fibers has been a different story; recycled cotton has most often gone to filler material for carpeting. Recently, however, a company in Sweden revealed the first garment made entirely from 100% recycled cotton.

“The scalability of this process is enormous,” Henrik Norlin, business development manager at re:newcell, the company that made the pioneering material, told The Guardian. “The technology allows us to recycle all materials that contain cellulose.”

Cotton accounts for around a a third of the world’s textile consumption, which means that the potential for using recycled fibers instead of virgin ones is huge.

The problem is that sometimes we get so excited about the prospect of recycling that we lose sight of an even more essential way to deal with waste: consume less. Just because we are able to recycle a garment does not mean that we should consume more garments. If anything, the ability to make a garment out of 100% recycled cotton should be an entry point for getting us to the discussion of the fashion industry at large and our own levels of consumption.

Recycling may not even be the best way to deal with cotton textile waste. Recycling textiles can involve dangerous materials, and once you’ve made a recycled fiber, it may not be as easily recyclable the next time around. If we wanted a full circle approach, composting might be an even better option. However, ”the dyes are a problem, which is why we need innovation in dyes,” Lewis Perkins, senior vice president of the San Francisco-based Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, told the Guardian. “But in the future we could even add valuable nutrients to clothes, which would benefit the soil when we compost them.”

But composting cotton certainly isn’t as sexy as recycling it, and doesn’t give us new garments to wear, which means you won’t hear from any of the fashion companies arguing for that option any time soon.

Re:newcell’s new garment is certainly an exciting innovation, and it paves the path for other companies to invest in similar technologies. Imagine a world where we all wore garments from recycled cotton. Ultimately, however, we can’t just think about what our clothes are made of. We also have to think about how much we’re consuming, and how to reduce that consumption.

Anna Brones|August 19, 2014

Miscellaneous

8 Scary Cleaning Chemicals to Avoid

The average household contains about 62 toxic chemicals, say environmental experts. We’re exposed to them routinely — from the phthalates in synthetic fragrances to the noxious fumes in oven cleaners. Ingredients in common household products have been linked to asthma, cancer, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption and neurotoxicity.

Manufacturers argue that in small amounts these toxic ingredients aren’t likely to be a problem, but when we’re exposed to them routinely, and in combinations that haven’t been studied, it’s impossible to accurately gauge the risks. While a few products cause immediate reactions from acute exposure (headaches from fumes, skin burns from accidental contact), different problems arise with repeated contact. Chronic exposure adds to the body’s “toxic burden” — the number of chemicals stored in its tissues at a given time.

No one can avoid exposure to toxic chemicals altogether, but it is possible to reduce it significantly. In the following pages, experts weigh in on the worst toxic offenders commonly found in household cleaning products, and offer ways to swap them for healthier, safer options.

1. Phthalates

Found in: Many fragranced household products, such as air fresheners, dish soap, even toilet paper. Because of proprietary laws, companies don’t have to disclose what’s in their scents, so you won’t find phthalates on a label. If you see the word “fragrance” on a label, there’s a good chance phthalates are present.

Health Risks: Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors. Men with higher phthalate compounds in their blood had correspondingly reduced sperm counts, according to a 2003 study conducted by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Harvard School of Public Health. Although exposure to phthalates mainly occurs through inhalation, it can also happen through skin contact with scented soaps, which is a significant problem, warns Alicia Stanton, MD, coauthor of Hormone Harmony (Healthy Life Library, 2009). Unlike the digestive system, the skin has no safeguards against toxins. Absorbed chemicals go straight to organs.

Healthier Choice: When possible choose fragrance-free or all-natural organic products. Beth Greer, author of Super Natural Home, recommends bypassing aerosol or plug-in air fresheners and instead using essential oils or simply opening windows to freshen the air. Besides causing more serious effects like endocrine disruption, “Aerosol sprays and air fresheners can be migraine and asthma triggers,”  she says. Also consider adding more plants to your home: They’re natural air detoxifiers.

2. Perchloroethylene or “PERC”

Found in: Dry-cleaning solutions, spot removers, and carpet and upholstery cleaners.

Health Risks: Perc is a neurotoxin, according to the chief scientist of environmental protection for the New York Attorney General’s office. And the EPA classifies perc as a “possible carcinogen” as well. People who live in residential buildings where dry cleaners are located have reported dizziness, loss of coordination and other symptoms. While the EPA has ordered a phase-out of perc machines in residential buildings by 2020, California is going even further and plans to eliminate all use of perc by 2023 because of its suspected health risks. The route of exposure is most often inhalation: that telltale smell on clothes when they return from the dry cleaner, or the fumes that linger after cleaning carpets.

Healthier Choice: Curtains, drapes and clothes that are labeled “dry clean only” can be taken instead to a “wet cleaner,” which uses water-based technology rather than chemical solvents. The EPA recently recognized liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) as an environmentally preferable alternative to more toxic dry-cleaning solvents. Ask your dry cleaner which method they use. For a safer spot remover, look for a nontoxic brand like Ecover at a natural market, or rub undiluted castile soap directly on stains before washing.

3. Triclosan

Found in: Most liquid dishwashing detergents and hand soaps labeled “antibacterial.”

Health Risks: Triclosan is an aggressive antibacterial agent that can promote the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. Explains Sutton: “The American Medical Association has found no evidence that these antimicrobials make us healthier or safer, and they’re particularly concerned because they don’t want us overusing antibacterial chemicals — that’s how microbes develop resistance, and not just to these [household antibacterials], but also to real antibiotics that we need.” Other studies have now found dangerous concentrations of triclosan in rivers and streams, where it is toxic to algae. The EPA is currently investigating whether triclosan may also disrupt endocrine (hormonal) function. It is a probable carcinogen. At press time, the agency was reviewing the safety of triclosan in consumer products.

Healthier Choice: Use simple detergents and soaps with short ingredient lists, and avoid antibacterial products with triclosan for home use. If you’re hooked on hand sanitizer, choose one that is alcohol-based and without triclosan.

4. Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or “QUATS”

Found in: Fabric softener liquids and sheets, most household cleaners labeled “antibacterial.”

Health Risks: Quats are another type of antimicrobial, and thus pose the same problem as triclosan by helping breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They’re also a skin irritant; one 10-year study of contact dermatitis found quats to be one of the leading causes. According to Rebecca Sutton, PhD, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), they’re also suspected as a culprit for respiratory disorders: “There’s evidence that even healthy people who are [exposed to quats] on a regular basis develop asthma as a result.”

Healthier Choice: You don’t really need fabric softener or dryer sheets to soften clothes or get rid of static: Simple vinegar works just as well. “Vinegar is the natural fabric softener of choice for many reasons,” explains Karyn Siegel-Maier in her book The Naturally Clean Home (Storey Publishing, 2008). “Not only is it nontoxic, it also removes soap residue in the rinse cycle and helps to prevent static cling in the dryer.” White vinegar is your best choice for general cleaning; other types can stain.

Alternatives to chemical disinfectants abound, including antibacterial, antifungal tea-tree oil. Mix a few drops of tea-tree oil and a tablespoon of vinegar with water in a spray bottle for a safe, germ killing, all-purpose cleaner. Add a couple of drops of lavender essential oil for scent.

5. 2-Butoxyethanol

Found in: Window, kitchen and multipurpose cleaners.

Health Risks: 2-butoxyethanol is the key ingredient in many window cleaners and gives them their characteristic sweet smell. It belongs in the category of “glycol ethers,” a set of powerful solvents that don’t mess around. Law does not require 2-butoxyethanol to be listed on a product’s label. According to the EPA’s Web site, in addition to causing sore throats when inhaled, at high levels glycol ethers can also contribute to narcosis, pulmonary edema, and severe liver and kidney damage. Although the EPA sets a standard on 2-butoxyethanol for workplace safety, Sutton warns, “If you’re cleaning at home in a confined area, like an unventilated bathroom, you can actually end up getting 2-butoxyethanol in the air at levels that are higher than workplace safety standards.”

Healthier Choice: Clean mirrors and windows with newspaper and diluted vinegar. For other kitchen tasks, stick to simple cleaning compounds like Bon Ami powder; it’s made from natural ingredients like ground feldspar and baking soda without the added bleach or fragrances found in most commercial cleansers. You can also make your own formulas with baking soda, vinegar and essential oils. See “DIY Cleaners” on page 5 for a list of clean concoctions.

6. Ammonia

Found in: Polishing agents for bathroom fixtures, sinks and jewelry; also in glass cleaner.

Health Risks: Because ammonia evaporates and doesn’t leave streaks, it’s another common ingredient in commercial window cleaners. That sparkle has a price. “Ammonia is a powerful irritant,” says Donna Kasuska, chemical engineer and president of ChemConscious, Inc., a risk-management consulting company. “It’s going to affect you right away. The people who will be really affected are those who have asthma, and elderly people with lung issues and breathing problems. It’s almost always inhaled. People who get a lot of ammonia exposure, like housekeepers, will often develop chronic bronchitis and asthma.” Ammonia can also create a poisonous gas if it’s mixed with bleach.

Healthier Choice: Vodka. “It will produce a reflective shine on any metal or mirrored surface,” explains Lori Dennis, author of Green Interior Design (Allsworth Press, 2010). And toothpaste makes an outstanding silver polish.

7. Chlorine

Found in: Scouring powders, toilet bowl cleaners, mildew removers, laundry whiteners, household tap water.

Health Risks: “With chlorine we have so many avenues of exposure,” says Kasuska. “You’re getting exposed through fumes and possibly through skin when you clean with it, but because it’s also in city water to get rid of bacteria, you’re also getting exposed when you take a shower or bath. The health risks from chlorine can be acute, and they can be chronic; it’s a respiratory irritant at an acute level. But the chronic effects are what people don’t realize: It may be a serious thyroid disrupter.”

Healthier Choice: For scrubbing, stick to Bon Ami or baking soda. Toilet bowls can be cleaned with vinegar, and vinegar or borax powder both work well for whitening clothes. So does the chlorine-free oxygen bleach powder made by Biokleen. To reduce your exposure to chlorine through tap water, install filters on your kitchen sink and in the shower.

8. Sodium Hydroxide

Found in: Oven cleaners and drain openers.

Health Risks: Otherwise known as lye, sodium hydroxide is extremely corrosive: If it touches your skin or gets in your eyes, it can cause severe burns. Routes of exposure are skin contact and inhalation. Inhaling sodium hydroxide can cause a sore throat that lasts for days.

Healthier Choice: You can clean the grimiest oven with baking-soda paste — it just takes a little more time and elbow grease (see recipes in “DIY Cleaners” on page 5). Unclog drains with a mechanical “snake” tool, or try this approach from the Green Living Ideas Web site: Pour a cup of baking soda and a cup of vinegar down the drain and plug it for 30 minutes. After the bubbles die down, run hot water down the drain to clear the debris.

If a cleaning product at your supermarket proclaims itself “green,” “natural” or “biodegradable,” that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s nontoxic. In 2010 the environmental consulting firm TerraChoice Group produced a report called “The Sins of Greenwashing.” In it the group found more than 95 percent of so-called green consumer products had committed at least one “greenwashing sin,” like making an environmental claim that may be truthful but unimportant. “CFC-free,” for example, is a common one, since CFCs are banned by law. Donna Kasuska of ChemConscious offers this advice: “When gauging ecological claims, look for specifics. ‘Biodegradable in three to five days’ holds more meaning than “biodegradable” as most substances will eventually break down with enough time.”

Despite Industry Opposition, Scientists Report Formaldehyde Causes Cancer

While an industry group has tried to confuse the issue and stall action on it, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) issued a report on Aug. 8 which concludes that formaldehyde causes at least three types of cancers.

The lobby group for the chemical industry, the American Chemistry Council, latched onto NAS criticisms of a 2011 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report on formaldehyde to try to convince Congress that the EPA and the Department of Health and Human Services findings were wrong and should be reviewed by the NAS, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

So they did—not only upholding the conclusions but strengthening them.

American Chemistry Council president/CEO Cal Dooley released a statement, “The Safety of Formaldehyde is Well-Studied and Supported by Robust Science,” in which he said, “We are perplexed as to why today’s report differs so greatly from the 2011.”

But it’s not really all that perplexing.

In 2011, Congress asked the NAS to review the EPA draft assessment, not the dangers of formaldehyde itself. And the NAS found the report to be too long, repetitive and lacking in explanation. The chemical industry latched onto this to try to block studies of other possible toxic chemicals and action on potential regulations.

The new NAS report said that formaldehyde, which can be present in common households items such as clothing, wooden furniture and beauty products, is conclusively a cause of rare forms of cancer of the bones, head & neck and nasal passages.

While the American Chemistry Council said the NAS “misses an opportunity to advance science,” Jennifer Sass, a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, had a different take. In a blog report she wrote:

What makes this NAS review novel is not the cancer findings, because those had already been identified by various international and national government scientific assessments. No, this review was politically motivated, the result of a campaign by the chemical industry and its allies in Congress to protect formaldehyde and styrene, another common chemical linked to cancer. Part of that effort has been a vicious attack on government scientific assessments, to distort and discredit any evidence linking toxic chemicals to diseases, disabilities or death.

Scientist Richard Denison at the Environmental Defense Fund, agreed, writing in that group’s blog, “One can only hope that this sorry episode and waste of public resources will help to expose the narrow self-interest of the industry, which for years it has deceptively sought to wrap in a mantle of sound science.  Now we know whose science is sound, and whose isn’t.”

Anastasia Pantsios| August 18, 2014

Big Oil and their Russian buddies are at it again

Turns out Exxon really DOES hate America! Now they’re working with a sanctioned Russian oil company to open a drilling rig in the Arctic.

We can’t make this stuff up. Exxon has just announced plans to partner with Rosneft, a massive Russian oil company that’s been the target of U.S. sanctions, on a $700 million oil well in the Arctic

It’s not enough that Exxon and friends are wrecking our climate, polluting our oceans, and taking $20 billion of our tax dollars to do it — now the biggest oil companies in the world are flouting U.S. sanctions.

Of course, Exxon is also ignoring the fact that there’s essentially no way to contain an oil spill in the Arctic. And of course Big Oil and their Big Russian buddies are totally ignoring climate change and the need to divest from fossil fuels immediately.

But this latest outrage makes it personal. Putin went as far as to sing the praises of Exxon, calling it “Russia’s old and reliable partner.”

But there’s a chance that we can use bad news to do something good for the planet. A lot of people in Congress want to send Russia a stronger message over the Ukraine.

And President Obama is about to head to the U.N. for a big round of talks on what world leaders can do to stop global warming. One of the most important ideas, endorsed by former heads of the U.N. and many international experts, is to end state subsidies of fossil fuel companies.

Drew Hudson|Environmental Action|8/19/14

01:20 PM

Turning Jellyfish into Sustainable Medical Products

In a United Nations report released in May, scientists worldwide were called upon to join the war on jellyfish. According to the report, jellyfish have overwhelmed the marine ecosystem as a result of the overfishing of more competitive species, consuming fish eggs and larvae of weaker specimens and creating what the report called a “vicious cycle.” So how can this cycle be stopped?

In order to prevent imminent marine disaster, Prof. Shahar Richter and his research team at Tel Aviv University have been successful in converting the plethora of jellyfish for more useful purposes. They devised a method of turning jellyfish into a resource that could be used in the paramedical, hygiene and perishable-product industries for the creation of environmentally safe medical treatments, advanced bandages, and other plastic products.

The jellyfish’s triple threat

According to another recent report, a bloom of jellyfish, spanning four square miles, devoured 100,000 salmon at a fish farm in Northern Ireland, causing damages of $1.5 million. And even though 450,000 tons of jellyfish are fished every year for the East Asian food industry, jellyfish consumption is far from effective in reducing or controlling the rapidly reproducing creatures’ population growth.

“Jellyfish cause damage in three major areas,” Richter told the website Haaretz. “First, they clog up and paralyze atomic or electric power stations and desalination plants. In fact, they spell disaster for any facility that uses sea water. This happens in many places, including Korea, Japan, Sweden and India.”

Second, jellyfish have had a dramatic impact on the world fishing industry, snagging and blocking fishing nets with their massive size. The third industry to come under jellyfish attack is tourism. While jellyfish on Mediterranean shores cause painful burning at worst, the species off Australia’s shores are deadly, requiring the closure of beaches for extended periods.

NoCamels Team|NoCamels|August 20, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, NoCamels.

Arctic insects and spiders can survive colder temperatures than thought

Arctic bugs can survive in frozen ground as cold as -27°C, scientists have revealed.

It is the first time higher-order invertebrates such as spiders, flies and beetles have been found coping in direct exposure to such cold temperatures. Previous lows were between just -5°C and a little below -10°C.


The research, published in the Journal of Thermal Biology, suggests they may be more resilient to climate change than first feared.

Throughout winter, snow cover acts like a thick blanket over polar ground, insulating the soil below from the extremes of the atmosphere above.

But over the coming decades, climate change is expected to trigger a major reorganization of snowfall across the polar regions. This has led to concerns that key invertebrates, essential to Arctic ecology, could be exposed to temperatures beyond their survival capabilities.

‘There has been this prevailing view, almost a dogma, that invertebrates survive winter better under snow cover,’ says Professor Pete Convey, of NERC’s British Antarctic Survey, who led the research. ‘But this has never really been put to the test in real-world conditions.’

Alex Peel|Planet Earth online|August 20, 2014

Read more at Planet Earth online.

Environmental Links

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

Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

ConsRep 814 C

“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do. “Wendell Berry

Announcements

FALL MIGRATION HAS BEGUN!

But it’s August!

Sure is, but the birds don’t pay attention to our seasons, they have their own agenda to follow.

One of the species that we all love has started to head south already…the Ruby-throated Hummingbird…,

their migration begins in July and typically ends in October.

Peak numbers occur in Florida around mid-August.

Wash out your feeders, hang ‘em near the windows and wait for the action.

You don’t have a feeder?

Our affiliate partner, Duncraft has a great choice of hummingbird feeders AND they give back 10% of every sale to the Wildlife Foundation of Florida.

The funds are used to support the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. http://www.wildlifefoundationofflorida.com/birding

For more information on feeding hummingbirds
http://www.rubythroat.org/feedinghintsmain.html

For more information on Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/ruby-throated_hummingbird/id

 Everglades Coalition Conference

30th Annual Conference – Key Largo, FL

January 8th, 9th, & 10th, 2015

The Coalition’s Annual Conference seeks to raise critical, timely issues for in-depth debates in an open, accessible forum.

Community leaders and political figures come to discuss their positions, pledge their support and offer challenges to the community.

The conference is attended by decision-makers from federal, state, local and tribal governments, agency representatives, stakeholders and

a vast array of public and private interests including scientists, educators, contractors, conservationists, the media, students and the general public.

The conference is the largest annual forum for debate of Everglades conservation and restoration.

http://www.evergladescoalition.org/conference.html#sthash.5Z82pWpk.dpuf

13th IWA International Specialist Conference on Watershed & River Basin Management

9-12 September 2014

San Francisco, CA, USA

Website: http://www.iwa2014sanfrancisco.org/

The 13th IWA Special Conference on Watershed and River Basin Management will be held 9-12 September 2014, in San Francisco, California, USA. 

The conference will be hosted by the Ecological Engineering Research Program at the University of the Pacific (www.eerp.org) and will address cutting edge issues related to sustainable watershed management,

with a special focus on emerging issues related to climate change. Conference topics will include climate change,

delta and estuary ecosystems, environmental impact of large water projects, harmful algae blooms, irrigated agriculture and more are planned.

Themes for the meeting include:

                                      • Climate change and impacts on watershed management
                                      • Delta and estuary ecosystems
                                      • Hydromorphological pressure and impact issues in river basin management
                                      • Managing watersheds across political boundaries
                                      • Flood control, management and risk assessment
                                      • Managing watersheds affected by wildfires and reducing wildfire threats to watersheds
                                      • Irrigated agriculture water management and the role of soil management on watersheds
                                      • Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) management
                                      • Effects of hydraulic fracturing and mining on water quality
                                      • European Union Water Framework Directive
                                      • Urban planning to protect watershed resources
                                      • Managing eutrophication and harmful algal blooms
                                      • Monitoring of biological elements, pelagic organisms and fisheries
                                      • New results in monitoring and assessment
                                      • New tools, technologies and economic opportunities in watershed management
                                      • Processes for societal consultation and participation

Contact: 

Conference Chair

Professor William T. Stringfellow

Director, Ecological Engineering Research Program

3601 Pacific Ave.

Stockton, CA 95211

Conference Organizer

Chelsea Spier

Email: iwa2014wrbm@gmail.com 

Phone: (+1) 209-946-2595

The registration site for the 13th IWA specialist conference on watershed and River Basin Management in San Francisco Sept 9-12, 2014 is now open. 

To register for the conference, please follow this link.

The conference is bringing leading water experts from all over the word to San Francisco this September. Currently, individuals from over 30 countries are planning on attending.

The conference is unique in that it is a mixture of water managers, scientists, and technical experts.

There will be a focus on discussing implementation of science and technology in water-basin policy and management.

The conference is organized into sessions addressing the most critical water management issues of our times.

The impact of climate change on watershed management is a globally critical issue and will be a strong theme of this conference. 

We will have an especially strong session on tools and technologies for watershed scale management.

Other sessions will address water-energy nexus, managing watersheds across political boundaries, flood control,

harmful algae blooms, irrigated agriculture, urban planning to protect water resources and more.

Temperince Morgan as the new executive TNC director in Florida.

The Nature Conservancy is pleased to announce Temperince Morgan as the new executive director in Florida.

A Florida native, Morgan is a scientist by training and has spent the last 17 years working on conservation and water issues in Florida,

most recently as the division director for Everglades policy for the South Florida Water Management District.

Morgan will oversee all aspects of the Conservancy’s work in Florida, including protecting critical linkages and springsheds,

increasing the resilience of our coastline and securing water for people and nature.

Arthur Marshall Foundation for the Everglades

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.

Of Interest to All

Icequakes triggered by earthquakes

In 2010, a powerful magnitude-8.8 earthquake struck off the coast of central Chile, rocking much of the country and producing tremor as far away as Argentina and Peru. But a new study suggests its effects were felt even farther away – in Antarctica. In the wake of the Maule temblor, the scientists found, several seismic stations on the frozen continent registered “icequakes,” probably due to fracturing of the ice as the planet’s crust shook.

Earthquakes are already known to affect Antarctica’s ice shelves, thanks to the tsunamis they can spawn. Tsunami waves can propagate for great distances across the ocean; if the waves reach Antarctica’s ice shelves – the floating platforms of ice surrounding the continent—they can push and pull on the ice, promoting fractures and ultimately helping large chunks of ice break off, or calve.

But whether earthquake seismic waves, traveling through the ground, can chip away at Antarctica’s ice sheet – the ice piled on top of the continent – remained an unanswered question. Zhigang Peng, a geophysicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, found the answer by accident while studying effects of the Chile quake in South America. His team was looking for surface waves – shallow seismic waves that travel along the planet’s crust rather than going deeper into the mantle. Surface waves come in two basic types: Love waves, which shake the ground from side to side; and Rayleigh waves, which move in a rolling motion, compressing and expanding the ground as they travel. Both types of surface waves can in turn trigger numerous micro-earthquakes, called tremor.

Peng didn’t initially intend to look at signals from Antarctic seismic stations, but data from a few somehow sneaked onto their research list. And when his team looked for the surface wave signals at those stations, “we found something very interesting,” Peng says. “We started to find tiny seismic signals that we believe are associated with ice cracking.”

Carolyn Gramling|Science|August 11, 2014

Read more at Science.

The Wilderness Society Photo Contest is Here

Next month marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Wilderness Act, and here at The Wilderness Society, we’re excited to announce a great way to celebrate this landmark.

Written by The Wilderness Society and passed with our support, the act revolutionized wilderness protections — and has made it possible for Americans to safeguard nearly 110 million acres (and counting!) of our most pristine wildlands.

To mark this occasion, we want to see the lands that you love! Share your photos of the amazing outdoor spaces and wild places you enjoy across the United States.

Click here to enter the contest

Four first place winners will receive a copy of National Geographic photographer Peter Essick’s breathtaking keepsake book, The Ansel Adams Wilderness, which features stunning images of the California Sierra Nevada wilderness area named after one of our nation’s most revered naturalists. Runners up will receive our #WeAreTheWild t-shirt.

In addition, the winning entries will be featured in a special edition collection of 50th anniversary note cards celebrating the beauty of our wild landscapes.

Share your photos today. We can’t wait to see them!

Cathy Grams|Director of Membership|The Wilderness Society

Nestlé — not so sweet anymore? ‏

Nestlé is selling California’s water despite the state’s record-breaking drought — and profiting. 

Nestlé — beloved provider of chocolate chip cookies and candy bars — is bottling California’s water, selling it, and profiting while the state suffers from a scorching, record-breaking drought.

California is in a water crisis. The state has already lost $1 billion in agricultural revenue and residents are being urged to reduce their water consumption by 20 percent.

But Nestlé doesn’t seem to care. They can continue gulping down California’s water without oversight because their plant sits on a Native American reservation.

Grant, we are fuming. To date, Nestlé has refused to acknowledge concerns about the water they are taking. They’re trying to ignore the outrage, but you know what they can’t ignore? 50,000 Nestlé consumers just like you and me demanding action. They’re not taking this situation seriously, but together we can show them they don’t have a choice.

One of the craziest things about this situation is the sheer hypocrisy we’re seeing from Nestlé’s leadership. In a recent statement, Nestlé’s chairman and former CEO claimed that the world is “running out of water” and that water scarcity is “much more urgent” than climate change.

Then the company said, “We proudly conduct our business in an environmentally responsible manner that focuses on water and energy conservation.”

What fairy tale land must they be living in for this to make sense?

There is nothing environmentally responsible about depleting an entire ecosystem’s water supply during a three-year drought. And to claim that water scarcity is one of the world’s most pressing issues at the same time is absolutely abhorrent.

We can’t let this stand — we must stop Nestlé before they take all of what little water California has left. Join us in telling Nestlé to match their words with action and immediately stop profiting at California’s expense.

Last year, when over 45,000 LCV members joined with activists from around the country to demand that Target and Walmart take action to remove products with dangerous toxic chemicals from their shelves, both companies did so. We know that these large corporations — always concerned about their profits — will pay attention to their customers. But only if enough of us speak out.

Kristin Brown|Director of Digital Strategy|League of Conservation Voters

[Please sign the petition at #3 in Calls to Action below.]

Bottling Water from Drought Stricken Areas

The bottled water industry has grown exponentially the past few decades despite the fact tap water in the United States is generally safe. Never mind the fact bottled water producers have had more than their fair share of safety issues: bottled water has become accepted by consumers. While companies such as Nestlé insist they are taking responsibility for water stewardship and recycling, they also bottle their water at dubious sources, including those in drought stricken regions.

In fact, much of the bottled water produced in the U.S. comes from areas affected by drought. As an article recently posted on Mother Jones illustrates, four of the most popular bottled water brands—Aquafina, Dasani, Arrowhead and Crystal Geyser—come largely from California. True, farming takes up the lion’s share of water in the state, and bottled water in the grand scheme of things is not parching California on its own. But at a time when California is struggling to provide residents, industry and farmers adequate supplies of water, more citizens are asking why it is bottled here and shipped out of state.

Part of the problem is regulation, or lack of it. While most states monitor and restrict groundwater use to ensure they are not depleted, California lacks any such laws. The state’s legislature is finally starting to address this oversight, but even if the legislation in current form is passed, the state will long be in danger if the current drought conditions do not improve. Agencies in charge of groundwater basins will not have to issue sustainability plans until 2020, and those plans would not have to be fully implemented until 2040, according to the Washington Post. Over half of the bottled water churned in California and ending up in PET bottles is groundwater, through the bottling companies prefer the more exotic term, “spring water.”

Whether it is spring water, groundwater, or water coming from other municipal supplies, the point is that the state could be using this water for far better use than allowing the beverage companies to bottle it and mark it up to sell it at obscene profit margins. Despite the bottling industry’s bizarre claims that bottled water production is “ironically” low compared to that of processing other beverages, it still takes almost 1.7 liters of water to produce a liter of bottled water.

Leon Kaye|Triple Pundit|August 12, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, Triple Pundit.

Gulf oyster harvest has nose-dived since BP spill

Gulf Coast oyster harvests have declined dramatically in the four years since a BP PLC oil well blew wild in the nation’s worst offshore oil disaster. Even after a modest rebound last year, thousands of acres of oyster beds where oil from the well washed ashore are producing less than a third of their pre-spill harvest.

Whether the spill contributed to the decline is part of an ongoing study; hurricanes, overfishing and influxes of oyster-killing fresh water had already put pressure on the industry.

“To the extent that oyster populations are down, data from government studies have indicated it is likely due to other conditions,” Geoff Morrell, a BP senior vice president, said in a statement.

The millions of gallons of oil that spewed into the Gulf caused fishing grounds to be closed for fear the oil and the chemical dispersant used to break it up would make seafood inedible, either by direct ingestion of the substances by marine life or by tainting the food chain. More visible were the oil-covered dolphins, birds and other sea life that either died in the oil or required rescue and scrubbing to clean away the oil.

But whether the spill crippled spawning and swimming oyster larvae that had not yet settled onto oyster beds isn’t yet known, said Thomas Soniat, an oyster biologist at the University of New Orleans.

A BP “white paper” states that Louisiana biologists did not find any oil on the oyster beds they checked in 2010, 2011 or 2012. The paper also said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s checks on oysters after the spill either found no hydrocarbons or levels far too low to cause health problems.

Louisiana’s 2010 assessment of oyster stocks, cited as a source, noted that oil wasn’t found on beds that were always submerged, even in areas where oil hit nearby shorelines.

Regardless of the cause, the harvest is way down, and prices are way up as a result.

Louisiana has historically accounted for about half of the Gulf oyster harvest and about a third of U.S. production. The state has more than a dozen naturally producing public oyster bed areas along its coast, occupying more than 1.6 million acres of Gulf bottom.

Louisiana’s public reefs typically would produce anywhere from 3 million to 7 million pounds of oyster meat a year. In 2010 and 2011, production dropped to barely 2 million pounds, then nosedived to just 563,100 pounds in 2012 before rising to 954,950 pounds last year.

Mississippi and Alabama, where some oil washed ashore during the spill, also had very poor oyster production since 2010.

“It’s pretty disturbing,” said Chris Nelson, owner of Bon Secour Fisheries Inc., an Alabama-based dealer that buys oysters from all five Gulf Coast states.

Nelson noted that Louisiana oyster prices before Hurricane Katrina were $25 or less per sack. Prices climbed to about $30 after hurricanes Katrina, Gustav and Ike, and shot up to more than $40 per sack after the oil spill.

Prices now range from $45 to $62 per sack, depending on quality — and that’s “with many oysters being sold in smaller-sized sacks,” Nelson said.

STACEY PLAISANCE|The Associated Press|Aug. 12, 2014|Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey contributed to this report from New Orleans.

More Than 163 Acres of Conservation Land Donated to State of Florida

The state of Florida is accepting a major land donation from Calusa Pines Golf Club, LLC, an affiliate of Indian Hill Partners. The move will preserve wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities in Collier County. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of State Lands, acting on behalf of Governor Scott and the Board of Trustees, accepted the donation of the more than 163 acres of valuable conservation land on the north border of Picayune Strand State Forest.  The parcel is valued at $400,000, and also includes $1,000 per acre for management. The donation is part of Indian Hill Partners’ efforts to offset any impacts to the environment caused by future planned developments.

“Indian Hill Partners and its affiliates are pleased to donate this 160-acre tract of land to the state for incorporation into the Picayune Strand State Forest,” said Managing Member Christopher Johnson. “I see the donation of this property as a win-win for the state and Indian Hill. The property is surrounded by the state forest and will fill one of the many missing links in these conservation lands, providing wonderful habitat for many listed species in perpetuity.”

The Picayune Strand is located in western Collier County, approximately 2 miles east of Naples. The forest provides opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, camping, hunting, fishing and bird watching. It also provides prime habitat for Florida panthers, as well as habitat for black bears, bald eagles, wood storks, fox squirrels and swallow-tailed kites, and is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail.

“We applaud the generosity of the Indian Hill Partners for their land donation to the state of Florida,” said Kelley Boree, director of the Division of State Lands. “This donation will provide additional habitat for wildlife and increased recreational opportunities for the visitors to Picayune Strand for years to come.”

The Florida Forest Service will manage the tract as part of the Picayune Strand State Forest in cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the South Florida Water Management District.

mburgerdep|July 30, 2014

Massive tailings pond breach at Mount Polley Mine

Last Monday August 4th the unthinkable happened. A massive tailings pond breach at Mount Polley Mine in the Caribou region of BC sent ten million cubic meters of waste water and almost five million cubic meters of mud and contaminated slurry rushing out into the natural environment. Tons of arsenic, mercury, lead, selenium, phosphorus and other heavy metals gushed into a local fish-bearing creek and two lakes.

The breach is one of the world’s largest tailings pond accidents! The clean-up cost is conservatively estimated at $200 million, not to mention the cost of compensating local businesses, residents and First Nations in the area. Of great concern is the fact that Imperial Metals, the company that owns and operates the mine, has just $15 million in “interruption of business” insurance—an amount far too low to address the serious environmental impacts of this incident.

The magnitude of this catastrophic collapse has raised many serious questions:

Why did the tailings pond, over 4 km in diameter, contain up to five times the amount of effluent it was originally intended to store?

How much did the BC government know about the structural integrity of the tailings pond and when? Preliminary reports show that former employees and contractors raised serious concerns about the dam to both Imperial Metals and the BC government years earlier.

What role did government cutbacks play in this incident? Environmental laws, both federally and provincially have been severely weakened over the past decade, and government oversight of industry has declined dramatically in a move towards “results-based” oversight which places heavy emphasis on the ability of industry to “self-regulate.”

BC has nineteen operating mines and numerous closed mines—many with similar tailings ponds. How safe are these “ponds” and do other mining companies have enough insurance to cover the cost of a catastrophic breach should it occur?

Imperial Mines has pursued plans for two mines in the pristine wilderness of Clayoquot Sound, BC—one of Canada’s most iconic wilderness areas. This west coast region is of global ecological significance, with First Nations and other communities that rely on a clean, healthy environment. A disaster like Mount Polley would have absolutely devastating impacts—yet another reason for a mining moratorium in the Sound.

Join me in demanding that the BC government commission an independent investigation of the Mount Polley breach, an immediate province-wide inspection of large tailings ponds and an increase in government resources for oversight of all mining activities. Please sign the petition at #6 in Calls to Action below.

Study: Keystone’s Carbon Pollution Way Worse Than Once Thought

A new study finds that the Keystone XL pipeline could produce four times more global warming pollution than the State Department estimated earlier this year. The pipeline, designed to deliver dirty tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in Texas, would increase world greenhouse gas emissions by up to 121 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, according to the study. The State Department said previously that, at most, it would increase it by 30 million tons (still unacceptable, of course).

And if that wasn’t enough, consider this: Right now, the Obama administration isn’t even calculating the cumulative climate costs of projects like Keystone and the Alberta Clipper pipeline expansion, which would double the amount of dirty tar sands oil piped across Canada and Minnesota. This week, the Center joined a coalition of groups calling for a true accounting of these dangerous projects.

“The Obama administration can’t pretend these fossil fuel projects happen in isolation. Keystone XL and the Alberta Clipper expansion will have significant climate impacts and, together with fossil fuel development happening around the country, will push us deeper and deeper into the climate crisis,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Marc Fink.

Southeast could become an overdeveloped ‘megalopolis’ in the next half century

New research from the U.S. Geological Survey warns that the entire region could become one big megalopolis by 2060.

Giant urban sprawl could pave over thousands of acres of forest and agriculture, connecting Raleigh to Atlanta by 2060, if growth continues at its current pace, according to a newly released research paper from the U.S. Geological Survey.

“We could be looking at a seamless corridor of urban development,” said Adam Terando, a research ecologist with the USGS and an adjunct professor at North Carolina State University who was the study’s lead author.

The development will engulf land from North Carolina to Georgia, and possibly spread to Birmingham, Ala., “if we continue to develop urban areas in the Southeast the way we have for the past 60 years,” he said.

Combining USGS demographic modeling with North Carolina State’s High Performance Computing Services and analyzing the data for six years, Terando and his five co-authors estimated that urbanization in the Southeast will increase by up to 190 percent.

It will nearly mirror the decades-old development of the Northeast corridor, from Washington to Boston, Terando said, and in Florida from Jacksonville to Miami. “I would say that’s definitely a future that the study is pointing toward,” he said.

Land cover change metrics shows projected urbanization for 200 model simulations for the study region and twelve ecoregions. Abbreviations are as follows: BR – Blue Ridge, CA – Central Appalachians, IP – Interior Plateau, MACP – Mid Atlantic Coastal Plain, MAP – Mississippi Alluvial Plain, MVLP – Miss. Valley Loess Plains, P – Piedmont, RV – Ridge and Valley, SP – Southeastern Plains, SCP – Southern Coastal Plains, SFC – South Florida Coastal Plain, SA – Southwest Appalachian. (Terando et. al/PLOS One)

Development on that scale would result in losses of 15 percent of agricultural land, 12 percent of grasslands and 10 percent of forests, the study said. It would take the form of tract housing developments, business centers and thousands of miles of paved roads.

The research paper was published last month in the journal PLOS One. Its co-authors include Jaime Collazo and Alexa McKerrow, also researchers at USGS, and Curtis Belyea and Rob Dunn, researchers at North Carolina State.

“The upshot is that . . . climate change isn’t the only story in the Southeast,” Terando said. “There are large-scale human impacts on our environment . . . the way we develop.”

Over the past 60 years, the southeastern United States population has grown 40 percent faster than in the rest of the country, and it shows no signs of stopping. A megalopolis is as scary as it sounds — one giant sprawl of unbroken urban development spanning several major cities. According to USGS, the entire corridor from Raleigh to Atlanta could be paved over for roads, housing and businesses. One thing a megalopolis doesn’t include: wildlife habitat.

In a region that already faces extreme weather and threats of sea-level rise from climate change, the further loss of habitat and increased emissions from more people and more roads would endanger the health of both human and wild inhabitants. But it doesn’t have to be that way. By addressing population growth, urban planning and wildlife conservation now, the Southeast can still take a detour from this mega-disaster.

Darryl Fears|August 9, 2014 

Mine proposal draws hundreds at Alaska hearing

Hundreds of people turned out in Anchorage to comment on a proposal that would severely restrict development of a massive gold-and-copper mine in the Bristol Bay region.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Hundreds of people turned out in Anchorage to comment on a proposal that would severely restrict development of a massive gold-and-copper mine in the Bristol Bay region.

The proposal, made by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month, effectively would bar the type of project the mine’s owner, Northern Dynasty Minerals, has discussed.

The agency is hosting public meetings in Alaska this week, though written comments can be submitted through Sept. 19.

People on both sides of the issue testified about their love of salmon during Tuesday’s hearing, the Alaska Dispatch News reported.

But mine opponents said the project, near the headwaters of a world-premier sockeye salmon fishery, posed too great a threat. Some pointed to the partial failure of a tailings dam in British Columbia that sent contaminated slurry into a lake.

Others said the project should be allowed to move through the permitting phase before action is taken that could curtail development.

Tom Collier, CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, which is working to advance the project, said it was “ludicrous” to hold a public meeting so soon after releasing a lengthy technical report.

“This hearing is much more about show than it is about substance,” he said.

EPA’s review of whether to impose restrictions on development, through a rarely invoked process under the federal Clean Water Act, could take a year. The agency’s regional administrator, Dennis McLerran, said he was taking notes from the testimony and said the proposal could be modified.

Pebble supporters, though, fear the EPA is on track to preemptively veto the project.

The Pebble Partnership and state of Alaska have sued, saying the EPA overstepped its authority. The agency has asked a federal judge to toss the case.

At Tuesday’s hearing, tribal leaders, religious leaders, fishermen and environmentalists spoke in support of the EPA.

Mary Ann Johnson, who grew up in Naknek on Bristol Bay, said village residents can’t depend on the state to look out for them.

Several legislators also testified, some in support of the EPA’s actions, some against.

“I’m just a working stiff like everybody else around here. I’m not a lawyer,” said Rep. Pete Higgins, R-Fairbanks, a dentist by trade. “This is not about tribes. This is not about Pebble mine. This is about government overreach.”

The Pebble deposit is on state land.

Deantha Crockett, executive director of the Alaska Miners Association, said she regularly takes calls from potential financiers wondering if investing in mining in Alaska is a safe bet. “And I don’t know what to say to them,” she said.

Everett Thompson, a commercial fisherman from Naknek and Bristol Bay Native Corp. shareholder, urged the EPA to stay tough.

“I believe it to be arrogant to say fishing and mining can coexist,” he said.

The Associated Press|August 14, 2014

United Nations Climate Summit September 23

This fall, a group of young people between the ages of 13-21 will attend the United Nations Climate Summit and ask the world’s leaders what they’re going to do about climate change.

The search is on to find them.

Climate change threatens our planet, the world economy, and our lives — and it will impact young people the most. It’s only fair that they get a chance to demand answers and action from the leaders who are responsible for protecting their future.

In an email yesterday, Vice President Gore asked for young persons to submit a video asking a Why? or Why not? question about climate change. Share this link with every young person you know — or if you’re between 13-21 years old, submit one yourself.

The winners will fly to New York City to attend the U.N. Climate Summit on September 23 and have their question asked on the world’s stage.

We’ve already received many smart and insightful questions — check them out:

I hope you’ll help us engage young people around the world in this project.

Ken Berlin|President & CEO|The Climate Reality Project

Report Finds 34 Pesticides in Tea From India

Tea anyone? I’m a self confessed “queen of tea”–preferably green and, if I can get it, especially green chai. All the healthy properties of green tea spiced with the flavors and traditions of India, one of the world’s greatest tea inspirations and an important tea producer.

But I wasn’t so sure about my green chai after I read the new report “Trouble Brewing” released today by Greenpeace India.

The report reveals the systematic presence of mixtures of multiple pesticides, many classified as highly or moderately hazardous by the World Health Organisation (WHO), in tea grown and sold in India as well as exported abroad [1] by leading international and national brands such as Tetley, Lipton and Twinings. These brands belong to companies like Tata Global Beverages, Hindustan Unilever and Twinings, among others.

Practically all the samples taken from packaged tea purchased on the Indian market over the last year contained residues of at least one pesticide, and more than half of them contained “cocktails” of more than 10 different pesticides, including one sample, which contained residues of 20 different pesticides!

Overall a total of 34 different pesticides were found including the highly hazardous monocrotophos (the pesticide linked to the Bihar mid-day meal tragedy when 23 school children died from acute poisoning due to misuse of pesticide containers) and neonicotinoid insecticides such as imidacloprid (associated with reproductive or developmental impacts in animals, as well as affecting bees and other beneficial insects).

It appears that 23 of these 34 pesticides are not even registered for use in the cultivation of tea in India. The research also uncovered the frequent presence of DDT, despite the fact that it is no longer registered for use in agriculture in India and was banned in such applications as long ago as 1989. Although it is still in use for control of disease carrying insects and may be present as a contaminant of other pesticides.

This is in fact not completely unexpected. These findings are similar to previous Greenpeace investigations on pesticides—in Chinese tea (2012) and in Chinese herbal products (2013).

However, close to 60 percent of the samples also contained residues of at least one pesticide above the Maximum Residue Levels set by the EU (EU-MRLs), with almost 40 percent of the tea samples exceeding these levels by more than 50 percent.

That’s a little worrying seeing as India is responsible for supplying just over 11 percent of world tea exports; with top export markets for Indian tea including Russia, U.S., UK and Germany.

As the report points out, it’s really not clear why these big brands are still supporting tea farming that is stuck on the old outdated pesticide treadmill when—especially in places like India—alternative ecological pest control practices are already being used very successfully, saving farmers money and getting away from dependence on costly and environmentally destructive chemicals.

Ecological pest control and farming can grow tea without relying on toxic chemicals that contribute to our intake of pesticides and potentially expose us and tea workers to completely unnecessary health risks.

Ecological farming makes full use of natural functions and the diversity of nature. It not only makes environmental sense but can make sure tea farms—and farmers—are here to stay in changing markets and climates.

It’s really about time the big brands got their act together and moved the tea sector into ecological tea farming. They should push their own supply chains and the large tea estates to urgently phase out pesticides and shift to ecological tea cultivation.

Tea companies should also help to ensure government bodies in India develop support systems and funds for small tea growers (already responsible for 26 percent of Indian tea cultivation) to move away from pesticides.

Unilever already agreed to some of Greenpeace India’s demands. Will other tea companies follow their example and clean our chai (tea) too?

Melissa Shinn|senior ecological farming campaigner|Greenpeace International.

Calls to Action

  1. Help save the world’s rarest dolphin from extinction – here
  2. Close the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, ID – here
  3. Tell Nestlé to stop bottling water straight from the heart of California’s record-breaking drought – here
  4. 96 elephants are killed every day in Africa. You can help stop it – here
  5. Tell Congress to protect tiger habitats – here
  6. Prevent another Mount Polley disaster – here
  7. Save Our Parks From Fracking – here
  8. Say No to Genetically Engineered Treeshere
  9.  

Birds and Butterflies

South Florida butterflies win federal protection

Two South Florida butterflies won federal protection as endangered species Monday, with wildlife managers planning to scorch their former habitats with fire to clear the way for the return of the plants they eat.

The Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak and Florida leafwing butterflies once ranged as far north as Broward and Palm Beach counties. Today they pollinate and lay eggs only in isolated pine rocklands in extreme South Florida, with the Florida leafwing found only in one section of Everglades National Park.

They join other South Florida butterflies, such as the Schaus swallowtail and Miami blue, as species struggling to survive the loss of habitat and other threats, from mosquito spraying to disease. Of the 160 butterfly species in Florida, about 20 have declined significantly, with most of those found in South Florida, said Mark Salvato, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We have butterflies from a variety of habitats becoming imperiled in South Florida,” he said. “By blinking out, they’re telling us that something is wrong in these habitats.”

Monday’s announcement came as part of the settlement of a lawsuit with the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson, Arizona-based environmental group that had gone to court against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over delays in deciding whether to protect species under the Endangered Species Act.

“This is an important victory for these two struggling Florida butterflies,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida attorney for the Center. “This designation should help protect the rare and disappearing pine rocklands that are important habitat for a host of Florida species.”

The government announced that it would designate 11,539 acres in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties as critical habitat for the Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak and 10,561 acres for the Florida leafwing. Most of the land is already under federal control, such as parts of Everglades National Park and the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge.

The primary reason for the two butterflies’ decline is the loss of pine rockland habitat to development and an absence of fire in the habitat that remained. Without fire, either caused by humans or by lightning, fast-growing vegetation will crowd out the pineland croton plants on which these insects depend for food.

The three-inch Florida leafwing, which looks like a dead leaf when its wings are closed, has vanished from 96 percent of its historical range. The one-inch Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak is gone from 93 percent of its range. Both butterflies had only been discovered in the 1940s.

The best way to restore them to some of their old habitat is with fire, Salvato said, using prescribed burns in places such as Everglades National Park, Big Pine Key and various patches of pine rocklands under the control of the Miami-Dade and Monroe county governments. His recovery outline will be ready in two months or so, he said, and will set out prescribed fires as the key step in returning the butterflies to lands on which they used to live.

“First and foremost, we need to get habitat restoration going,” he said. “These butterflies occur exclusively in pine rockland habitat, and there’s not much of that left. Everywhere their habitat is, it’s degraded. The first thing is prescribed burns. That’s going to be the big one.”
Once habitat is restored, they will consider reintroducing the butterflies to their old territory, possibly through captive breeding, he said.

Other reasons for their decline include parasites, disease, butterfly collectors and the use of pesticides for mosquito control. Most recently, a new Walmart has been announced for some of the land in southern Miami-Dade County used by the Bartram’s hairstreak. Federal wildlife officials are in talks with the developer.

A future threat is sea-level rise, since both species live only at low elevations. But Salvato said that if land managers act quickly, they can save both butterflies.

“I’m pretty optimistic,” Salvato said. “The population in the Everglades of the Florida leafwing is doing well. The hairstreak has a number of populations. It’s something to work with.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service butterfly announcement|David Fleshler|Sun Sentinel|August 11, 2014

They claim the California Gnatcatcher doesn’t even exist! ‏

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

The delisting petition sponsored by these developers relies on recent research claiming that the California Gnatcatcher is not a genetically unique subspecies. But a number of avian experts say that the referenced study isn’t nearly enough to overturn more than a hundred years’ worth of research to the contrary. They point out that the new study does not analyze enough genes to make that determination and that it downplays plumage variation among the three subspecies that can only be explained by genetic differences.

The fact that the California Gnatcatcher is a distinct subspecies worthy of protection was confirmed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 1993, and there’s nothing in this latest petition that casts doubt on that determination.

Not only is the California Gnatcatcher a magnificent bird worthy of protection, it is also emblematic of the rich coastal sage scrub of southern California, an enduring remnant of our wild coast that is now one of the most endangered habitat types in North America. Some researchers estimate that as little as 10 percent of California’s original coastal sage scrub habitat remains today.

But we are working to change this. For example, we are leading the way on cutting-edge coastal sage scrub restoration at our Starr Ranch Sanctuary. Our science and policy teams are fighting proposed development in Orange County and Los Angeles County Important Bird Areas that host California Gnatcatchers and other wildlife.

Audubon California|8/12/14

Africa’s Vultures Threatened By An Assault on All Fronts

Vultures are being killed on an unprecedented scale across Africa, with the latest slaughter perpetrated by elephant poachers who poison the scavenging birds so they won’t give away the location of their activities.

When they arrived at South Africa’s Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, André Botha and his companions found that an elephant had died just inside the reserve’s fence. But instead of vultures and other scavengers tussling for their piece of the ecological bonanza, there was only eerie silence. The carcasses of 37 African white-backed vultures lay in the grass around the elephant.

Botha, the co-chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) vulture specialist group, knew the whole story with one glance. The elephant carcass had been poisoned to kill the vultures that would come to feed on it. The heads of 29 of the vultures had been cut off to be sold for traditional African medicine. The eight vultures with their heads still intact showed that the poisoned elephant continued to kill after the poacher departed, starting what could have been a significant vulture slaughter if Botha had not intervened.

It is the story, with some variations, of vultures all over Africa. In July 2013, roughly 600 vultures died after scavenging a dead elephant that had been poisoned near Namibia’s Bwabwata National Park. In the savannahs of East Africa and southern Africa, there has been an estimated 50 to 60 percent decline in vultures. In the West African countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, four species of large vultures declined 98 percent outside of protected areas over 35 years, according to Jean-Marc Thiollay of France’s Laboratory of Ecology and Evolution in Paris.

Ralph Buij, a researcher with the Netherlands’ Alterra Wageningen University and Research Center, discovered similar population declines in another West African nation, Cameroon. In addition to the killing of vultures, factors such as habitat loss and declines in the wild ungulates on which vultures often feed are taking a toll. “Even the most common vulture species has declined 44 to 55 percent compared to 1970,” says Buij.

The reasons behind the killing of African vultures are far different — and often more malevolent — than the steep and widely publicized declines of vulture populations in India, Pakistan, and Nepal. There, vultures have been accidently poisoned after feeding on the carcasses of cattle treated with the veterinary anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac, which is highly toxic to them. Five of the Indian subcontinent’s vulture species declined 95 percent from 1993 to 2000, according to BirdLife International. The loss of so many vultures has had major consequences, with cattle rotting in the streets, an upsurge of wild dogs, and an increase in rabies.

Sharp declines continued on the subcontinent through 2007, a year after India, Pakistan and Nepal banned the manufacture of the drug. Those countries now encourage the use of an alternative drug that is safe for vultures and also have created captive breeding programs. Since 2008, Indian vulture populations have leveled off or even increased slightly.

Vultures in Africa are being poisoned for several different reasons, both purposely and accidently. Recently, some of the more nefarious killers have been big game poachers, who have sharply intensified the slaughter of elephants for their ivory and rhinoceroses for their horns, which are valued in Asia for their purported medicinal purposes. In the past three or four years, the poachers have realized that circling vultures are tipping off the authorities to their crimes, so they poison them. Carbofuran, purple grains that are intended as an insecticide, is the most commonly used poison.
“Poachers will kill an elephant and poison the carcass to remove vultures from the environment,” says Botha. “It’s rampant in East Africa right now.”

All over the world, farmers protect their livestock by killing carnivores. In Africa, the favored method is poison. “In Kenya, we got our first wind of this situation when the poisoning of lions, leopards, and hyenas became a big issue again,” says Kenya-based Darcy Ogada, assistant director of Africa programs for The Peregrine Fund. Farmers set out livestock carcasses salted with poison. “Vultures come in by the hundreds and die by the hundreds,” she said. The vulture deaths far outnumber the carnivores that the farmers intended to kill.

Poisoning vultures for traditional African medicine also is taking a toll. When Buij investigated why the vultures of Cameroon were disappearing, he found that the demand for vulture parts for traditional African medicine in Nigeria was so strong that it had nearly wiped out several species. Nigerians were turning to the neighboring countries of Cameroon, Niger,

Benin, Chad, and Sudan to buy vultures, most of which are killed by poisoning, according to Buij.

The use of vultures in traditional medicine is limited mostly to West Africa. Vultures are believed to bring luck and to be able to see the future, says Buij. The vultures’ clairvoyance is associated with their heads, making that body part particularly valuable. Sales are strong when there is a large lottery jackpot. South Africa also has a tradition of using vultures in traditional medicine and vulture heads also are prized, Botha says.

Buij found that in Cameroon, while the heads of the vultures were sent to Nigeria, the meat of the birds was eaten locally. In Nigeria, a quarter of the vultures sold were intended as food.

In Africa, using chemical poisons to kill wild animals for the bushmeat trade and for use in traditional medicine is common, according to Ogada. Sometimes the cause of death is hidden from the consumer, but in some places poisoned bushmeat and traditional medicines are knowingly consumed — perhaps, she says, drawing on a history of hunting with arrows dipped in plant-based poisons.

There are no easy solutions to the problem of poisoned vultures in Africa. In April, the Vulture Conservation Foundation; the government of Andalusia, Spain; and Working Dogs for Conservation organized a conference so that scientists from around the world could discuss the African vulture crisis and see first-hand the workings of Andalusia’s comprehensive anti-poisoning program.

Spain is one of Europe’s vulture hotspots, home not only to European species, but also vultures that migrate from Africa. Its culture of farmers and hunters poisoning predators was so ingrained that it threatened several wildlife species, particularly eagles and vultures. To protect these species, Andalusia has over the last decade strengthened its laws against poisoning, started prosecuting poisoners, and raised fines as high as 200,000 Euros (about $270,000.) The group that investigates wildlife poisonings in Andalusia includes two teams of dogs trained to sniff out poisons in carcasses and food left as bait. Investigators are taught to recognize the symptoms of poisoning in the field and to carefully collect evidence. A forensics lab uses liquid and gas chromatography to screen for more than 100 poisons.

“We have some experience and luckily managed to reduce the impact of poison by about 60 percent in ten years, but this is a very hard job,” says Iñigo Fajardo, who represented Andalusia’s anti-poison program at the conference. Fajardo and many others would like to see similar programs protecting Africa’s vultures. But is such a program practical in the developing world?

“I believe the legal system is the strongest practical way of addressing poisoning, and I believe we need it even in third world countries,” says Martin Odino, a researcher affiliated with the National Museums of Kenya who works as an independent researcher on bird poisoning issues.

Odino advocates giving Africans an economic incentive to conserve wildlife, such as hiring locals to scout for poachers and lead bird-watching tours, a tactic he has tested with some success in Kenya. To date, most of the work to conserve vultures in Africa has focused on documenting the decline. Unlike India, in Africa there were few baseline population studies to compare with recent surveys. One of the first international organizations to take interest in African vultures was the U.S.-based Peregrine Fund. Munir Virani, Africa program director for the fund, has created a program to mentor Masai youth about the ecological value of vultures. He is also working in Kenya to install lights to deter lions and other predators from killing livestock, as vultures are the most common victims when livestock owners retaliate by poisoning the predators.

Hopes for curbing wildlife poisoning and saving vultures are highest for countries that have relatively stable governments, such as Kenya, or where the country is relatively wealthy, such as South Africa. In fact, when Botha investigated the vulture poisoning in the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, his team was soon joined by the police, who gathered two vulture carcasses as evidence and recorded the sex and species of the rest.

To prevent further poisoning, the group piled dry wood on the elephant carcass, lit a fire, and burned the elephant to ashes.

But even governments that might be able to spare some resources to prevent the extinction of African vultures lack the political will, says Ogada. Often it takes pressure from outside Africa to create a change. For example, she says, little happened to curb lion poisonings until about five years ago, after the U.S. television news program, “60 Minutes,” aired a report.

However, for a bird that may range across countries and even continents, success in one country is not enough. Botha reports that when the 600 vultures were poisoned last year in Namibia, people noticed fewer vultures in the southern Kalahari of South Africa, hundreds of miles away. “Poison,” says Fajardo, “has neither eyes, nor heart, and does not respect boundaries.”

madeline bodin|11 Aug 2014|in Biodiversity Africa

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.

Invasive species

Invasive lionfish threaten Gulf of Mexico ecosystem

GALVESTON, Texas – It sounds like something from a horror film: A beautiful, feathery-looking species of fish with venomous spines and a voracious appetite sweeps into the Gulf of Mexico, gobbling up everything in its path. Unfortunately for the native fish and invertebrates it’s eating, this invasion isn’t unfolding on the big screen.

In recent months, news has been spreading of lionfish, a maroon-and-white striped native of the South Pacific that first showed up off the coast of southern Florida in 1985.

Most likely, someone dumped a few out of a home fish tank. With a reproduction rate that would put rabbits to shame and no predators to slow its march, the fish swept up the Eastern seaboard and down to the Bahamas and beyond, where it is now more common than in its home waters.

“The invasive lionfish have been nearly a perfect predator,” says Martha Klitzkie, director of operations at the nonprofit Reef Environmental Education Foundation, or REEF, headquartered in Key Largo, Fla. “Because they are such an effective predator, they’re moving into new areas and, when they get settled, the population increases pretty quickly.” The lionfish population exploded in the Florida Keys and the Bahamas between 2004 and 2010.

As lionfish populations boomed, the number of native prey fish dropped.

According to a 2012 study by Oregon State University, native prey fish populations along nine reefs in the Bahamas fell an average of 65 percent in just two years. Lionfish first appeared in the western Gulf of Mexico in 2010; scientists spotted them in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, a protected area about 100 miles off the Texas coast, in 2011.

Now scuba divers spot them on coral heads nearly every time they explore a reef. So far, significant declines in native fish populations haven’t occurred here, but the future is uncertain. “It’s kind of this impossible battle,” says Michelle Johnston, a research specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Galveston, who manages a coral reef monitoring project at the Flower Garden Banks. “When you think how many are out there, I don’t think eradication is possible now.”

Lionfish are fascinating, beautiful creatures. Two nearly identical species are found in the Gulf. They grow to about 18 inches and have numerous venomous spines. Their stripes are unique, like those of a zebra. They hover in the water, hanging near coral heads or underwater structures where reef fish flourish. Ambush predators, they wait for prey fish to draw near, then gulp them down in a flash. The fish mature in a year and can spawn every four days, pumping out 2 million eggs a year. They live about 15 years.

In the South Pacific, predators and parasites keep lionfish in check. But here, nothing recognizes them as food – those feathery spines serve as do-not-touch warnings to other fish.

The few groupers that have been spotted taste-testing lionfish have spit them back out, Johnston says.

In the basement of the NOAA Fisheries Science Center on the grounds of the old Fort Crockett in Galveston, Johnston sorts through a rack of glass vials. Each one contains the contents found in the stomach of a lionfish collected in the Flower Garden Banks. She points to a fish called a bluehead wrasse in one jar. “This little guy should still be on the reef eating algae, not here in a tube,” she says.

Other jars contain brown chromis, red night shrimp, cocoa damselfish and mantis shrimp, all native species found in lionfish bellies. “The amount of fish we find in their guts – it’s really alarming. They’re eating juvenile fish that should be growing up. They’re also eating fish that the native species are supposed to be eating.”

Lionfish can eat anything that fits into their mouth, even fish half their own size. They eat commercially important species, such as snapper and grouper, and the fish that those species eat, too. They’re eating so much, in fact, that scientists say some are suffering from a typically human problem – obesity. “We’re finding them with copious amount of fat – white, blubbery fat,” Johnston says.

They can adapt to almost any habitat, living anywhere from a mangrove in 1 foot of water to a reef 1,000 feet deep. They like crevices and hidey-holes but can find that on anything from a coral head to a drilling platform to a sunken ship. They can handle a wide range of salinity levels, too.

Their range seems limited only by temperature – so far they don’t seem to overwinter farther north than Cape Hatteras, N.C. – and their southern expansion extends to the northern tip of South America, although they are expected to reach the middle of Argentina in another year or two. “As long as they have something to eat, they’ll be there,” Johnston says. The impacts of their invasion could become widespread, scientists warn.

In the Gulf, lionfish are eating herbivores like damselfish and wrasse – “the lawnmowers of the reef,” Johnston calls them – that keep the reef clean. “When you take the reef fish away, there’s not a lot of other things left to eat algae,” she says. That creates a phase shift from a coral-dominated habitat to an algae-dominated one. “When you take fish away, coral gets smothered, the reef dies, and we lose larger fish. It’s a snowball effect of negativity.”

Pam LeBlanc|Austin American-Statesman (MCT)|June 8, 2014

 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

Endangered Species

  Maui’s Dolphin Facing Extinction

The Maui’s dolphin is a critically endangered subspecies of the Hector’s dolphin, also known as the ‘Hobbit’ dolphin & is the smallest & rarest of all dolphin.  Their habitat is found only on the west coast of the North Island, NZ.

It is estimated that only 55 Maui’s dolphin exist & numbers appear to be declining. Gill netting & trawling have caused the demise of these dolphins from approximately 1874, in the 1970s to just 55.

Seismic exploration by oil companies are blasts on the ocean floor ! The blasts have a terrible impact on dolphins and whales. They suffer from “acoustic impact” created by the loud and frequent sound waves. Their ear bones explode, their organs fill up with painful air bubbles (decompression sickness), they become deaf and can no longer fish. They are in constant terrible pain until ultimately they die.

Three thousand square kilometers of the marine sanctuary of the Maui’s dolphin habitat is to be opened up for oil exploration (seismic testing). Despite evidence from the scientific community that seismic testing (involving multiple underwater explosions) is a death sentence to dolphins and other cetations,  Conservation minister Nick Smith & Energy Resources minister Simon Bridges continue on their course to wipe out Maui’s Dolphin. The NZ government is refusing to protect the small population of these dolphin.

Please sigh the petition at #1 in Calls to Action

Chinese Traditional Medicine Threatens Turtle Populations

For thousands of years turtles have been used in Chinese traditional medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments and diseases. Originally published in the journal Radiata and recently republished HerpDigest David S. Lee and Liao Shi Kun write, “[In Chinese culture] turtles are symbolic of long life, personal wealth, fertility, strength, and happy households.”

Despite a lack of scientific evidence demonstrating a causative link between turtle consumption and medicinal benefits, many people in China believe they provide benefits such as maintaining youthful beauty in women and improving sexual function in men. Because of these beliefs and their symbolic importance, turtles have been highly sought after for more than 3,000 years. However, in recent years, China’s economy has changed in a way that has become increasingly threatening to the country’s wild turtle populations.

The most common species used are the yellow pond turtle (Mauremys mutica), the Chinese three-striped box turtle (Cuora trifasciata), the yellow-margined box turtle (Cuora flavomarginata), the Chinese big-headed turtle (Platysternon megacephalum), Reeves’ turtle (Mauremys reevesii), the red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) and Chinese soft-shell turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis). Many of these species — including the Chinese three-striped and yellow margined box turtle and the Chinese big-headed turtle — are either extinct or are dangerously close to it in the wild.

In traditional medicine, every last part of the turtle is consumed, including their turtle meat, as well as their skin, heads, eggs, shells and even their blood, urine, and bile. The eggs, blood and bile are all added to wine to provide particular cures, whereas the skin and head are eaten alone. The shell can either be ground into powder or boiled in water, and the urine is used as drops in the ear or consumed as a beverage.

These various concoctions are believed to cure coughs, prolapse of the rectum, deafness, cancer and everything in between. The wide variety of uses as well as the simple fact that they can be transported and kept alive for long periods of time post-capture has made turtles highly desirable ingredients for traditional medicine.

Erin Crandall| MONGABAY.COM|August 11, 2014

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, MONGABAY.COM.

Government Program Threatens Grizzly, Wolves and Other Wildlife

Despite thousands of citizen’s voices calling for closure of the sheep experiment station, the livestock industry is kicking and screaming to retain one of many federal handouts—a subsidy that leads to dead Grizzly bears in the Northern Rockies. The Grizzly needs your voice now.

The Secretary of Agriculture proposed to close a government-sponsored facility in Idaho that has been a massive waste of taxpayer funds and a death trap for grizzly bears.

But the western livestock industry enlisted powerful allies in Washington D.C. to prevent the U.S. Department of Agriculture from closing the Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, ID.

Direct conflict with grizzly bear and wolves has made the Sheep Station the subject of continuous litigation and controversy. The Sheep Station has significant impacts on other wildlife as well including coyotes, fox, mountain lions and wolves. Two entire packs of wolves have been shot, trapped and aerially gunned down because of conflicts with the domestic sheep in the area.

Once over 50,000 strong in the lower forty-eight states, the grizzly bear is now a threatened species that roams less than two percent of its historic range. Federal biologists have identified the Centennial Mountains of southwest Montana and eastern Idaho as the best linkage habitat between Yellowstone National Park and unoccupied wilderness areas in Idaho. 

The U.S. Sheep Experiment Station allows sheep to graze in the heart of this important Grizzly travel corridor and has had a reckless license to kill native wildlife. It’s time to bring an end to this institution and re-wild the lands that have been a death trap for Grizzlies for decades.

We must support Secretary Vilsack’s proposal to close the Sheep Station. This is where the legendary Grizzly belongs—it’s not a place for heavily subsidized public lands ranching.

Those of us who love the great wild places of the west, and the bears that make the Northern Rockies so special, must stand up now. Tell the USDA Agricultural Research Service not bend to pressure from the livestock industry. This is one tremendous chance to re-wild the Northern Rockies.

Please sign # 2 in Calls to Action above

Bryan Bird|Wild Places Program Director|WildEarth Guardians

U.S. denies protections for wolverines, outrages conservationists

SALMON Idaho (Reuters) – U.S. wildlife managers on Tuesday denied federal protections for rare wolverines, outraging conservationists but pleasing Western states that opposed adding the reclusive but feisty member of the weasel family to the endangered and threatened species list.

Last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed applying Endangered Species Act safeguards for the estimated 300 wolverines left in the Lower 48 states, most of which inhabit the high country of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

The service had said global warming was reducing mountain snows the animals use to dig dens and store food.

But on Tuesday federal wildlife managers said there was “insufficient evidence” that climate change would harm wolverines, which resemble small bears with bushy tails and which are known for their ferocious defense of their young.

“After carefully considering the best available science, the Service has determined that the effects of climate change are not likely to place the wolverine in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future,” Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Gavin Shire said in a statement.

The decision was welcomed in states such as Montana, which will determine next year whether to reinstate a limited wolverine trapping season that was suspended in 2012 after a lawsuit by conservationists.

Listing would have banned trapping of wolverines, which are prized for their fur, and imposed restrictions on snowmobiling and other winter recreation in areas inhabited by the solitary creatures.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Tuesday’s decision was part of a disturbing trend by the Obama administration of managing imperiled wildlife based on pressure by states and industry instead of science.

“All of the science points to the wolverine being in serious trouble. The Service’s own biologists said global warming was pushing the wolverine toward extinction and urged listing,” he said.

Laura Zuckerman|Aug 12, 2014|Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler

Law that would allow wolf hunt to continue passes Michigan State Senate

LANSING — The issue of hunting wolves in the Upper Peninsula intersected with the historic flooding in Detroit Wednesday as the state Senate passed a citizen-initiated law that will allow the hunt to continue.

But the fact that the Senate dealt with the wolf hunt on its only day of session in August, instead of critical issues like improving Michigan’s roads and other critical infrastructure in the wake of the flooding this week, drew the ire of Democrats.

“Democracy is one of the founding principles of our nation, but you continue to treat people like your subjects, rather than your bosses,” said Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing. “It’s not as if we don’t have serious work we could be doing here today. Metro Detroit is literally underwater. Our roads are still falling apart. But on the one day you bother to show up for work this month, you ignore all that and come here to take away the rights of the people to vote again.”

On a mostly party-line vote of 23-10, the Senate passed the citizen-initiated legislation that would give control of what species of animal can be hunted to the Natural Resources Commission. The legislation, which was spearheaded by the Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management which collected enough signatures to put the issue before the Legislature, is intended to circumvent a ballot proposal pushed by Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, which would have stopped the wolf hunt.

“The Michigan legislative sportsmen’ caucus considers this the number one priority this year,” said state Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville. “One in six Michiganders hunt or fish. As their representatives, we must ensure public policy decisions are based on sound science, not partisan politics or emotions.”

And Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, one of the biggest supporters of continuing the wolf hunt, said supporting the legislation was about protecting Michigan’s hunting heritage.

“The U.S. Humane Society has been backing this all along,” he said, noting the organization that bankrolled the two petition drives to stop the wolf hunt. “They’re misleading about their true intentions. This is about taking away our hunting privileges.”

But Democrats said it was about taking away the Michigan residents’ right to vote on the issue.

“You’re giving a small special interest group their way instead of letting the issue go on the ballot,” said Sen. Coleman Young, D-Detroit. “It is a tried and true Republican tactic to take issue out of hands of voters when they need to guarantee a victory.”

He cited other examples of the Legislature acting to co-opt ballot proposals, including: repealing the emergency manager law, only to have a new law passed by the Legislature; passing a minimum wage hike to $9.25 an hour to circumvent a ballot initiative that raised the rate to $10.10 per hour; and passing a citizen-initiated bill to require women to buy a separate rider to their health insurance if they wanted abortion coverage after two governors had vetoed similar bills.

The bill still has to go to the House of Representatives, which expect to take it up on Aug. 27. If they pass the legislation, it will automatically become law. If they reject it or do nothing, the issue will go on the November general election ballot. The last time the House took up the issue of allowing the hunt, it passed with bi-partisan support.

Keep Michigan Wolves Protected director Jill Fritz urged the House to reject the legislation.

“The voters can be trusted, and should be allowed to hear the arguments from both sides and make an informed judgment this November,” she said in a statement. “We call on House members to end this abuse of power, and restore respect for the democratic process by letting the people vote.”

The first wolf hunt was held in November and December last year 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.

Kathleen Gray|Gannett Michigan|Aug. 13, 2014

Feds Cave to Pressure, Abandon Plans to Protect Wolverines

Despite serious threats from global warming, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week overturned the recommendations of its own scientists and withdrew its earlier proposal to protect American wolverines under the Endangered Species Act.

There are only 250 to 300 wolverines left in the lower 48 states, primarily in the Northern Rockies. Global warming in the next 75 years is expected to wipe out 63 percent of the snowy habitat they need to survive.

On Tuesday, though, top officials at the Fish and Wildlife Service said they will no longer pursue plans to protect wolverines. There’s been no new science casting doubt on the strong scientific consensus supporting a 2013 proposal to give wolverines federal protection. But the proposal came under intense opposition from states like Montana and Idaho.

“Global warming has put wolverines firmly on the path toward extinction in the lower 48, so it’s really alarming to see the Obama administration cave to political pressure like this,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Noah Greenwald. “This is the moment when wolverines need our help the most, and the agency is turning its back and walking away.”

Elephant poaching soars as Sumatran forests turn into plantations

Reported kills for 2014 in Riau Province reached 22 by June, surpassing 2013 numbers by 63 percent

There has been a spike in elephant deaths in Sumatra this year, and conversion of rainforest to plantations is one of the main causes, according to the Indonesian Elephant Conservation Forum, or FKGI. The number of Sumatran elephants (Elephas maximus sumatranus) poached in the province of Riau so far this year is staggering, with 22 reported kills in the first six months of 2014 compared to 14 for the entirety of 2013.

FKGI – a group comprised of several NGOs and individuals promoting conservation of elephants and their habitat — said conversion of natural forest to industrial forest such as timber plantations has split open the ecosystem and provides hunters easy access to elephant areas.

The Sumatran elephant is protected by Indonesia’s Law No. 5/1990 on Sustainable Natural Resources and Ecosystem Conservation. Due to a rapidly diminishing population, in 2011 the IUCN changed the status of the subspecies from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered – just one rung above extinction.

The ivory trade is thought to be the main motive of the recent spate of elephant deaths, with WWF Indonesia reporting most carcasses were devoid of tusks. Unlike African elephants that grow tusks regardless of sex, only male Asian elephants have tusks.

The group said that 18 out of 22 elephant corpses were discovered near Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper’s (RAPP) concession area. The company is a subsidiary of APRIL, the pulp & paper division of the Royal Golden Eagle (RGE) Group, a conglomerate owned by Singapore-based businessman Sukanto Tanoto.

“The corpse of the [last] elephant was found in an acacia plantation just 50 meters from the main logging road and not far from a RAPP security checkpoint,” FKGI head Krismanko Padang said in a press statement.

Four other dead elephants were found in Hutani Sola, Balai Raja Elephant Training Center, which is the concession area of the firm Arara Abadi.

Security posts set up by timber plantation companies have been loose and unable to inspect people passing through the checkpoints, FKGI added.

“From the information we gather, hunters’ car often enter the plantation area but the security officers could not stop them,” Krismanko said.

To address the situation, FKGI called for industrial forest companies such as RAPP to play a more active role in protecting elephants roaming their concession by showing more responsibility, as well as pursuing poaching cases and determining the perpetrators and the motives behind the killings.

In the last decade, at least 142 elephants have been killed by poison or gunfire, but only a single case has been brought to court. That happened in 2005 in Mahato, Rokan Hulu district, and the perpetrator was sentenced to 12.5 years in jail for poaching, possessing a firearm and defying authorities.

Elephant deaths have also occurred at Tesso Nilo, one of the last remaining lowland rainforests on Sumatra, which has been designated the Center for Elephant Conservation by the Forestry Ministry. The deaths occurred in the concession areas of Rimba Peranap Indah, Siak Raya Timber and Arara Abadi in the Tesso Nilo forest block.

The head of Riau Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) said investigation of elephant deaths is difficult. This is due to a lack of available funds and human resources, as well as the difficulty in finding witnesses, as the places where killings take place are often very remote.

“We are not making excuses but the reality is our human resources and funds are very limited. There are still other problems we need to tackle such as forest fires, illegal logging and forest encroachment,” said Kemal Amas, head of BKSDA.

According to Krismanko, attempts have been made to reach out to RAPP, with a request to RAPP management to convene and discuss the deaths. However, the request was denied by a company representative, who said they were unavailable due to the Islamic Eid holiday.

“It goes to show that Sumatran elephant death is not a priority for RAPP,” Krismanko said. “So let RAPP’s image become bad in the eye of the people and consumers. Their commitment is questionable.”

Sunarto, a species specialist from WWF, said plantation firms whose area is part of elephant range should be active in conserving elephants and be willing to allocate space for their movements.

“The government should give incentives and appreciation to companies and people who helped save elephants,” Sunarto said. “The government must also enforce the law on those involved in damaging the habitat and even worse those who hunt and kill this highly intelligent and sociable animal.”

Originally written for Mongabay-Indonesia by Zamzami; translated into English by Olivia Rondonuwu|August 14, 2014

Read more

Red tide impacts on Kemp’s ridley sea turtles

The Kemp’s ridley turtle is one of the most endangered sea turtle species but it also happens to be the most common in the bays and estuaries of Southwest Florida.

Turtles inhabiting these vital feeding grounds are at risk during the episodic blooms of the toxic algae Karenia brevis, commonly known as “red tide”.

Conservancy scientists, in collaboration with Mote Marine Laboratory, have been conducting the first research of its kind with wild, free-swimming Kemp’s ridleys during these harmful algae blooms (HABs).

Satellite telemetry was used to track the movements of ridleys during consecutive red tide bloom. The red tide event of 2011-12 primarily occurred offshore and alongshore the barrier islands of Charlotte Harbor, during which telemetered Kemp’s ridleys remained within Pine Island Sound.

The red tide event of 2012-13 occurred offshore/alongshore but a severe bloom also developed within Pine Island Sound. Telemetered ridleys responded with greater movements within the estuarine complex and/or moving to offshore waters.

Turtles appear to be able to detect the harmful algae and subsequently respond by avoiding areas with high concentrations of toxin.

Blood samples collected from Kemp’s ridleys indicated toxin levels in the turtles were higher during or immediately after these red tide events compared to those captured between the events. The fact that turtles tested positive when red tide was no longer detected in our area suggests the harmful effects may persist in the estuarine/marine environment for months.

The toxin levels in the blood of free-swimming turtles were below those of turtles that were found immobilized from red tide exposure and this suggests there is a threshold level at which the signs of exposure become evident. Read the full study here.

Lastly, diet studies showed that free-ranging Kemp’s ridleys in Charlotte Harbor feed on spider crabs and stranded turtles recovered alongshore during red tide events had fed on tunicates (sea squirts). Tunicates are known to filter red tide algae from the water and incorporate high concentrations of toxins in their tissues.

Previous studies in the Ten Thousand Islands found tunicates in the diet of ridleys in this area and the habit of consuming tunicates during a red tide bloom may put these turtles at risk.

Hundreds of rhinos to be evacuated from Kruger National Park

Nearly 500 rhinos could be moved from South Africa’s Kruger National Park to save them from poachers if plans are approved, say the country’s Department of Environmental Affairs.

More than 80 per cent of the world’s population of African rhino – some  21 000 –  live in South Africa (93 per cent of Africa’s white rhino and 39 per cent  of Africa’s black rhino), including 9,600 white rhinos in Kruger.

Known as a stronghold Kruger is therefore heavily targeted by poachers with a record 606 (out of a total of 1004) rhinos killed during 2013. The news is not good for 2014 either with 351 rhinos being poached since January.
The animals will be moved to other less-known and lesser-targeted parks, both national and private, in a hope this will spread the risk and help create other rhino strongholds across the country.

The rhino population in South Africa was rescued from the brink of extinction in the early 1900s. At the time, the rhino population in the Kruger National Park was locally extinct.

Since the start of the relocation of 351 rhino from the Hluhluwe-uMfolozi game reserve in KwaZulu-Natal to the Kruger National Park 50 years ago, the Kruger rhino population had increased to  its present numbers.

The report from the South African Department of Environmental Affairs  said: “Our previous experience has shown that biological management, which includes translocations, has resulted in the growth of rhino numbers in South Africa. The complimentary approach of strategic relocations from the Kruger National Park and the creation of rhino strongholds will allow the total rhino population size of South Africa to continue to grow.

“Translocated rhinos contribute to the creation of alternative strongholds, which are areas where rhinos can be cost-effectively protected while applying conservation husbandry to maximize population growth.

“This approach allows the offsetting of poaching in the short to medium term, while also expanding rhino range and improving overall.” 

Wild & Weird

Everyone Can Calm Down: These Little Sea Rafts are Normal

California’s beaches are turning purple with the bodies of dead sea creatures, and members of the public as well as the media are panicking. What’s going on? Is the world coming to an end? What’s happening to cause this unprecedented bloom, and is it a sign of something more sinister?

Actually, no — though the increased media attention and public concern are unusual, there’s nothing weird about these particular beach visitors.

They look like jellyfish, but these marine organisms actually aren’t — not that it makes much of a difference to many people walking on beaches along the West Coast of the United States. By-the-wind sailors (also known as Sea Rafts, or Velella velella) are washing ashore in droves, and some media outlets, as well as members of the public, are wondering where they came from and what’s driving them on to shore. No, it’s not an alien invasion, although you might be forgiven for thinking so when you see beaches covered in the tiny blue-purple animals.

The life of Velella velella starts in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, when hundreds of creatures get together to form a colony, creating what’s known as a hydrozoan, and these creatures are carried by wind patterns (hence their common name) to cluster in mass colonies off the shores of the West Coast. Such blooms are in fact common, especially in the summer, and some organisms do wash on shore, but usually not in such unprecedented numbers, or this late. Social media, however, are exploding with reports of the tiny creatures, but in fact, scientists say, the perfectly earthly visitors have a reasonable explanation.

Doctor Rick Mooi, responding to a query from the San Jose Mercury News, said that:

“[Strandings] are common, happen to a certain degree pretty much every year, and have been happening for a long time, probably even long before there were humans here to notice it. Some years there are more washing up than in other years, this just seems to be a good year for it…[They are] also not a special indicator of ‘something wrong’ with the ocean or its ecosystems. Stuff happens, and this just seems to be a good year for Velella to wash up (but not a good year for those particular Velella, of course).”

So go the facts of life; Velella velella are being blown ashore by winds, which are highly variable, because they live at the mercy of the wind, moving by means of the sails embedded into their bodies. Unfortunately for them, once they get on shore, they can’t catch a ride back out to the ocean, and they dry out quickly. Like many marine organisms, their bodies don’t retain water because they’re surrounded by it, and they have no evolutionary reason to do so. Even the wind patterns associated with their movement on shore aren’t necessarily a precedent for something ominous, because wind patterns do change, and aren’t necessarily linked with climate change or other environmental events.

In the meantime, beachgoers might want to avoid handling these dying beach residents. In addition to being a bit unpleasant to touch, they also carry a venom that can irritate mucous membranes. While accidentally stepping on or touching a by-the-wind sailor isn’t going to result in a painful episode, handling them and thoughtlessly touching the eyes, nose, or mouth might result in an unhappy experience. For those who do come into contact with a by-the-wind sailor, it’s a good idea to wash thoroughly with cool water and soap, and those who notice irritation should contact a doctor.

The situation is a classic example of a normal environmental phenomenon blown out of proportion by concerned members of the public and media trafficking on what seems like a good story. When something seemingly unusual happens in the environment, it may have a lot of explanations — and not all of them are sinister. Sometimes, all it means is that you never noticed that particular iteration of the natural world before.

s.e. smith|August 12, 2014

Everglades

DEP PERMIT FOR THE L-8

Critical water storage and treatment will be bolstered by latest construction effort

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Office of Ecosystem Projects issued a permit to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) today to construct the L-8 Divide Structure, a key component of  strategies to restore south Florida ecosystems. The L-8 Divide Structure will assist the movement of stormwater into the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin providing much needed water storage and, when necessary, directing water from the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin south to designated stormwater treatment areas.  

“The department and the South Florida Water Management District continue to make progress on Governor Scott’s strategies to restore south Florida’s ecosystems,” said DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard. “This project is another significant step forward for the region as we work to increase our water storage and water treatment capacity and move cleaner water south, where it will ensure proper nourishment of Florida’s Everglades.”

The L-8 Flow Equalization Basin will use a 53-foot-deep reservoir capable of storing approximately 45,000 acre-feet of water, or the equivalent of 22,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water. The below-ground reservoir was a former rock mine site located in central Palm Beach County. The location’s unique geology allows for deep, below-ground storage, reduces water loss through seepage and minimizes levee safety concerns. The L-8 Flow Equalization Basin consists of seven interconnected cells that will be utilized to manage basin stormwater. During storm events and other peak flow times, the reservoir will act as a storage feature. During dry periods, the reservoir will deliver flows for optimized treatment prior to those flows entering the Everglades.  

Other project elements such as the construction of a permanent discharge pump station and the inflow feature are already underway and on schedule for completion by Dec. 2016. The construction of embankment protection features is also nearing completion. Total project cost for the L-8 Flow Equalization Basin and associated projects is $75.5 million, with $35 million spent to date. Construction of the L-8 Divide Structure is scheduled for Aug. 2014 through Oct. 2016. The total project cost for the divide structure is $5.6 million. When completed, the L-8 Equalization Flow Basin will store up to 15 billion gallons of water so it can be treated and moved south to the Everglades.

The  water quality plan includes:  

  • 6,500 acres of additional stormwater treatment areas, which are man-made managed wetlands that naturally remove phosphorus from water prior to the water being discharged into the Everglades;
  • 110,000 acre-feet of water storage capabilities in flow equalization basins or reservoirs that work with the proposed and existing stormwater treatment areas to regulate flows and optimize treatment efficiency; and
  • Other components of the plan include engineering projects in existing treatment areas and the modification of conveyance features necessary to move the water through the SFWMD’s massive flood control and water delivery features.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection|July 10, 2014

Lake O reservoir project on hold

FORT MYERS, Fla. – A major water project designed to clean up the coastline is on hold.

The C-43 Reservoir will help reduce the number of Lake Okeechobee releases into the Caloosahatchee River.

“The idea is we would pull the water out of the river, store it in this small reservoir and then during the dry season when there’s some water left in the reservoir if there’s some water left we can release it into the estuary when it needs it,” Phil Flood with the South Florida Water Management District said.

The reservoir will be located in Hendry County.

While waiting on all the federal money to come through, the South Water Management District says it plans on starting with a smaller reservoir that would store between 8,000-11,000 acre-feet of water.

But that construction is on hold until the end of rainy season.

“We can utilize the property that we have right now for storage in the interim in the event we need to pump water out of the river,” Flood said.

John Scott, the Co-Founder for the Clean Water Initiative of Florida, says he’s okay with pushing the project back.

“It’s not like it’s a solution that’s going to make the problem go away tomorrow,” Scott said. “I mean as long as we get it done before the next dry season I think we will be okay.”

And because the C-43 reservoir doesn’t offer a way to clean the water before releasing it, Scott says he will continue to push for a more comprehensive solution.

“We’ve got to get the water south,” Scott said. “We have to be able to really put a major dent in this problem.”

Sara Belsole|Aug 8, 2014

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

Corps releases Central Everglades report for public, state and agency review

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District has released the revised final report for the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) for public, state and agency review today.

A notification has been published in the Federal Register announcing the availability of the report for its required 30-day review.

“All of the recommended revisions to the report have been completed and approved and we’re now moving forward with public, state and agency review,” said Jacksonville District commander Col. Alan Dodd. “The release of this report is a significant milestone for CEPP and reflects the extraordinary efforts of so many to successfully address complex issues and produce this quality report.”

The report is available on the project’s Web page at: www.bit.ly/CentralEverglades_CEPP

Comments will be accepted through Sept. 8, 2014. They can be submitted electronically to: CEPPcomments@usace.army.mil

or mailed to:

Dr. Gretchen Ehlinger
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
P.O. Box 4970
Jacksonville, FL 32232-0019

The goal of CEPP is to capture water lost to tide and re-direct the water flow south to restore the central and southern Everglades ecosystem and Florida Bay. The Corps is jointly conducting this planning effort in partnership with the South Florida Water Management District.

Everglades report shows restoration progress, needs

An Everglades restoration progress report released Tuesday identifies signs of success as well as a long, expensive to-do list to save Florida’s fading River of Grass.

Florida and the federal government are in the midst of a decades-long, multibillion-dollar effort to protect what’s left of the Everglades — unique wetlands that provide important animal habitat and also boost South Florida’s water supply.

The 2014 Everglades “status report” from state and federal officials finds that initial efforts to restore animal habitat and water flows are working, but that more work is needed to get more water moving south.

“There is some pretty significant evidence being submitted here that Everglades restoration is working,” said Eric Draper, Audubon Florida executive director. “We are seeing improvements.”

The report comes from the Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District, the federal and state agencies charged with leading Everglades restoration.

The report focuses on Everglades conditions during the past five years and the findings of studies of restoration work now under way. The idea is to compile results that scientists and policy makers can use to determine what to do next.

It is also used to update Congress on restoration progress and to try to build support for the federal and state funding needed to keep it going.

“They look at all of the data [we] have compiled. … It helps them get a more focused look at what’s going on,” said Jenn Miller, spokeswoman for t