ConsRep 1503 D

“We are seeing a vast increase in the amount of carbon dioxide reaching the atmosphere… The result is that change in future is likely to be more fundamental and more widespread than anything we have known hitherto.” UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher warns in a 1989 speech to the UN

Announcements 

FWC asks beachgoers to help survey spawning horseshoe crabs

Photos available on FWC’s Flickr site: https://flic.kr/s/aHsk9g2oJk

Suggested Tweet: Biologists at @MyFWC invite people to assist in horseshoe crab surveys at beaches! http://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/FLFFWCC/bulletins/f837c5 #Florida

As spring approaches, horseshoe crabs congregate to spawn along sandy beaches and shallow coastal waters throughout the state.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologists are asking the public to assist in the

FWC’s survey effort by reporting horseshoe crab sightings and other useful information.

Although horseshoe crabs mate year-round, spring is the peak season to see them aggregate on beaches and in bays.

Citizen scientists interested in contributing to the survey should have the best luck sighting horseshoe crabs around high tide

within three days of a new or full moon, March 20 and April 4 respectively.

The FWC asks people to report sightings by using the online form listed under “Horseshoe Crab Nesting Activity”

by going to MyFWC.com/Contact. You can also email findings to horseshoe@MyFWC.com or call the FWC at 866-252-9326.

Observers should note the number of horseshoe crabs they see and whether those horseshoe crabs are mating.

Mating crabs “pair up,” with the smaller male on top of the larger female.

Other male crabs may be present around the mating pair.

If possible, the observer should specify roughly how many horseshoe crabs are mating adults and how many are juveniles (4 inches wide or smaller).

Biologists are also interested in the date, time and location of your sighting as well as the habitat type.

Through Dec. 31, 2014, the FWC has received 3,097 reports since the survey program began in April 2002.

Although horseshoe crabs have been around for approximately 450 million years, their populations

have declined in recent decades due to overfishing and loss of habitat.

It takes female horseshoe crabs about 10 years to reach sexual maturity before they are able to lay about 80,000 eggs per year.

The eggs are an important food source for migrating shorebirds, and larger crabs are often consumed by loggerhead sea turtles.

The FWC is grateful when people report sightings.

If you see a horseshoe crab on its back, gently pick it up (holding both sides of the shell) and release it back into the water.

Simple actions like this help conserve the species and the countless other species that depend on it.

Support Wildlife Conservation When You Travel ‏

Planning a trip? Looking for somewhere to stay?

If you reserve your room through our Intercontinental Hotel Group affiliate link,

IHG will match 5% of your room rate and give it back to the Wildlife Foundation of Florida.

This program applies to IHG Hotels throughout the world!

So no matter where you are in the world YOU can support Florida’s wildlife!

Thanks for your support!

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission|3/16/15

The Mounts Botanical Garden of Palm Beach County Invites the Public to Eight Fun & Informative Horticultural Events in April:

* Season of Bamboo Trilogy, Part III – April 6

* Butterflies of South Florida & Native Plants – April 12

* Book Discussion Series – April 14

* Butterfly Fest – April 18

* Creating a Butterfly Garden – April 18

* Orchid Care 101: Repotting Your Orchid – April 19

* Spring Plant Sale – April 25-26

* Space Invaders: How to Deal with Invasive Plants – April 30

(West Palm Beach, FL – March 16, 2015)  The Friends of Mounts Botanical Garden will be hosting eight fun,

horticulturally informative and family friendly public events during April 2015.

New:  

Season of Bamboo Trilogy, Part III

The Art of Bamboo: 

An Evening with a Contemporary Master

Monday, April 6 – 6:30 to 9 pm

Exhibit Hall A

$30 for members; $40 for nonmembers

Speaker: Shouchiko Tanabe, Master Bamboo Artist

Shouchiko Tanabe is a fifth-generation contemporary bamboo artist.

After graduating from the Department of Sculpture at Tokyo University of the Arts,

Tanabe took part in a two-year training program at the Oita Prefectural Bamboo Craft and Training Support Center.

His renowned Tsunagari series of bamboo crafts utilize the inherent pliancy of bamboo,

while adopting the traditional methods of bamboo crafts passed down from mentor Tanabe Chikuunsai I.

This approach captures the essence of the medium in both concept and visual presentation,

evident by the many exhibitions showcasing his work overseas,

including Golden Week on Japanese Art (Seattle Asian Art Museum) in 2006,

New Bamboo Contemporary Masters (Japan Society in New York) in 2008, and Modern Master (Bayem Gallery, Munich) in 2012.

Butterflies of South Florida

& Their Connections to Native Plants

Sunday, April 12 – 10 am to noon

Exhibit Hall A

$30 for members; $40 for nonmembers

Speaker: Jeff Nurge, Florida Native Gardening & Native Choice Nursery

In this popular and visually captivating presentation,

learn how easy it is to attract local butterflies to your yard and have them stay year-round.

Our native plant expert and contributing writer for the Palm Beach Post’s column Native Roots

will describe in detail which native plants are suitable for this area and how to grow them successfully.

Mounts Botanical Garden Book Discussion Series

Tuesday, April 14 – 7 to 8:30 pm

Clayton Hutcheson Complex – Conference Room

FREE

In partnership with the Palm Beach County Library System,

this new series provides an opportunity for book and garden enthusiasts to meet together to

experience exciting fiction and non-fiction titles related to all aspects of gardening and horticulture. 

The featured book in April will be Florida Butterfly Encounters published by the University of Florida Press.

Butterfly Fest

Saturday, April 18 – 9 to 11 am

Mounts – Butterfly Garden

FREE for members; $5 for nonmembers

In collaboration with the Audubon Society of Florida and Atala-NABA

Celebrate butterflies with fun and educational activities throughout the Garden.

Butterfly walks led by interpreters will explore Mounts and feature the butterfly garden in partnership

with members of the South Florida Audubon Society and the North American Butterfly Association, Atala Chapter.

Master gardeners and NABA members will be on-hand to answer questions about how to attract butterflies

and other pollinators to your yard. Children in butterfly or insect costumes will receive a free gift while supplies last.

Creating a Butterfly Garden

Saturday, April 18 – 10 to 11:30 am

Clayton Hutcheson Complex – Conference Room

$20 for members; $30 for nonmembers

Speaker: Alan Chin Lee, Nature Photographer

Creating a butterfly garden is easy and fun if you know a few basics about butterflies.

Learn interesting facts about these beautiful “flowers of the air.”

Find out what plants our local butterflies need at all stages of their life cycle, including host plants and nectar plants.

This workshop includes a docent-led tour of our Butterfly Garden, and butterfly plants will be for sale.

Butterfly gardening is good for the environment and good for the soul.

Orchid Care 101:

Repotting Your Orchid

Sunday, April 19 – 10 am to 1 pm

Mounts Auditorium, Garden & Pavilion

$30 for members; $40 for nonmembers

Speaker: Sandi Jones, Broward Orchid Supply and Bonnet House Museum & Gardens

Spring Plant Sale

Saturday, April 25 – 9 am to 5 pm

Sunday, April 26- 9 am to 3 pm

Throughout the Garden

$10 per person

This annual Spring Plant Sale features over 80 vendors with an amazing assortment of quality plants and goods. 

This is a great opportunity to learn about the plants that grow well in South Florida and find something new for the garden. 

Rare and hard-to-find palms, orchids, begonias, bromeliads, fruit trees will be available for purchase at their booths. 

The PBC Wood Turners will be selling a large selection of beautiful wood turnings.

Space Invaders:

How to Deal with Invasive Plants

Thursday, April 30 – 5:30 to 7 pm

Mounts Auditorium

$20 for members; $30 for nonmembers

Speaker: Laurie Albrecht, UF/IFAS Cooperative Extension Agent

Discover how to protect your landscape from invasive plants while preserving native Florida flora.

In this free workshop, attendees will learn how to identify the area’s worst plant marauders

and find out the best methods for their removal and disposal.

They’ll also explore the devastating impacts prohibited plants can have on property, pocketbook, and Palm Beach County’s natural areas.

The workshop includes a hands-on identification segment.

Note:

To register for any of the events and workshops at The Mounts Botanical Garden of Palm Beach County, please call 561.233.1757. 

Events at Mounts are accessible to people with disabilities.

About The Mounts Botanical Garden of Palm Beach County:

With a mission to inspire the public, Mounts Botanical Garden is Palm Beach County’s oldest and largest botanical garden,

offering gorgeous displays of tropical and sub-tropical plants, plus informative classes, workshops, and other fun-filled events.

The Garden contains more than 2,000 species of plants, including Florida native plants, exotic and tropical fruit trees, herbs, palms, bromeliads and more. 

Mounts Botanical Garden is a facility of the Palm Beach County Extension Service, which is in partnership with the University of Florida and the Friends of Mounts Botanical Garden.

Located at 531 North Military Trail in West Palm Beach, The Mounts Botanical Garden of Palm Beach County is open Monday-Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

The suggested donation for entry to the Garden is $5 per person. For more information, please call 561.233.1757 or visit www.mounts.org .

Audubon of Southwest Florida

Join us for a morning of Bird Photography with Bob Blanchard, Wildlife Photographer, on Saturday, April 4, 2015, at 8:30 am.

Bob will conduct a beginning bird photography class at Bowditch Point Regional Park (http://www.leeparks.org/Facility_info?Project_num=0111)

This is a Lee County Park – please go to their website for more information on location and parking.

Vehicles with Lee County Parks passes park for free, otherwise there is a parking fee.

Bring your camera and be ready to learn!

Saturday, April 4th, 8:30 a.m.

Due to limited capacity, reservations for 20 people will be taken on a first come first served basis.

To reserve, please send an email including your name and phone number to audubon.southwest.florida@gmail.com 

FWC Bear Management Plan

Managed Species Black Bear for Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission information has recently been updated, and is now available.

http://www.myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/bear/

Of Interest to All

Fukushima Radiation Found in Sample of Green Tea from Japan

 Four years after the multiple explosions and melt-downs at Fukushima, it seems the scary stories have only just begun to surface.

Given that Japan’s authoritarian regime of Shinzo Abe has cracked down on the information flow from Fukushima with a repressive state secrets act, we cannot know for certain what’s happening at the site.

We do know that 300 tons of radioactive water have been pouring into the Pacific every day. And that spent fuel rods are littered around the site. Tokyo Electric power may or may not have brought down all the fuel rods from Unit Four, but many hundreds almost certainly remain suspended in the air over Units One, Two and Three.

We also know that Abe is pushing refugees to move back into the Fukushima region. Thyroid damage rates—including cancer—have skyrocketed among children in the region. Radiation “hot spots” have been found as far away as Tokyo. According to scientific sources, more than 30 times as much radioactive Cesium was released at Fukushima as was created at the bombing of Hiroshima.

Some of those isotopes turned up in at least 15 tuna caught off the coast of California. But soon after Fukushima, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration stopped testing Pacific fish for radiation. The FDA has never fully explained why.

But now a small amount of Fukushima’s radiation has turned up in green tea shipped from Japan to Hong Kong. This is a terrifying development, casting doubt on all food being exported from the region.

According to the New York Times:

“A sample of powdered tea imported from the Japanese prefecture of Chiba, just southeast of Tokyo, contained traces of radioactive cesium 137, the Hong Kong government announced late Thursday evening, but they were far below the legal maximum level.

The discovery was not the first of its kind. The government’s Center for Food Safety found three samples of vegetables from Japan with “unsatisfactory” levels of radioactive contaminants in March 2011, the month that nuclear reactors in Fukushima, northeast of Tokyo, suffered partial meltdowns following a powerful earthquake and tsunami.”

Should every meal you are served now be accompanied with a radiation monitor?

Harvey Wasserman|March 16, 2015

Rising seas bring heavy burden to Florida coastal economy.

Florida is a coastal state. Nearly 80% of its 20 million residents live near the coast on land just a few feet above sea level, and over a hundred million tourists visit the beaches and stay in beach-front hotels every year. The coastal economy in Florida is estimated to account for 79% of the state’s gross domestic product, a measure of direct revenue into the economy.

People living and working on the Florida coast face threats from hurricanes and storm surge, sometimes more than once a year. Scouring of beaches by wind and waves takes away sand, and beaches must be nourished with new sand, as often as yearly, in areas with high erosion. Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties now have problems obtaining near-shore, low-cost sand. This means that they will have to use considerably more expensive alternatives to native sand that may negatively impact sea turtles or beach plants, diminish the quality of the beach environment and have adverse impacts to local communities that pay for beach re-nourishment.

The threats aren’t reserved just for coastal residents. People in south Florida who live farther inland have homes and businesses on former wetlands that were drained in the middle of the 20th century. After a heavy rainfall, canals carry water to the sea. Should those canals fail, there would be massive flooding. Those canals also maintain a freshwater “head,” or buffer, that prevents salt water from intruding into the well fields that supply drinking water to the millions of residents.

In this precarious situation, how is sea-level rise affecting coastal Florida, and what can we expect in the future?

Inches matter

An important reality is that sea-level rise is not a future phenomenon. It has been happening slowly over the past decades, at about one inch every ten years. That’s a half foot since the 1960’s and already it is taking a toll. Areas of Miami now have flooding at high tide – a situation not observed in the past. The drainage system in south Florida is starting to fail. Flood control structures that take away rainwater by gravity sometimes cannot flow when the ocean side of the flood gates have a higher level of salt water than the upstream fresh water sides.

Why does one inch matter? When I lived in coastal Florida, one time a major rain event coincided with high tide, which made it difficult for water to quickly exit to the ocean. When water levels rose one half of an inch from the storm, my entire neighborhood flooded and water nearly entered my house. As we hastily tried to block all of the doors with tape and towels, it hit home what a difference one more inch of sea level would have meant – the difference between no damage and perhaps thousands of dollars of damage to our home. However, over many decades, we are looking at feet, not inches of rising sea levels.

What we know now

Three years ago, leading researchers convened at a climate change summit hosted by Florida Atlantic University, the research program Florida Sea Grant and the University of Florida to discuss the future of Florida under projected climate change and sea-level rise conditions. The picture these researchers paint is bleak. Between now and 2100, floods that happen every 100 years are projected to start happening every 50, then every 20, then every 5, until large areas of coastal Florida are under water.

These experts’ discussions considered such dire things as: how to strategically abandon large areas of the Florida Keys; how animals that now live in low-lying areas will move to higher ground when human populations are vying for the same territory; and even how to reconfigure Miami into a series of islands on a historical ridge along the southeast Florida coast, knowing that at some point, even those ridges will be part of the ocean.

A report by the Florida Oceans and Coastal Council, a body established by the state’s legislature and on which I serve, developed a comprehensive report on the probable and possible effects of sea-level rise on coastal Florida. Major findings of that report included:

  • Sea level is likely to rise by 20 to 40 inches by 2100. If there is major melting of polar and glacier ice, sea level could rise as much as 80 inches this century

  • During hurricanes, higher sea levels may boost storm surge, causing greater scouring of beaches and in the worst case scenario, inundation of barrier islands and loss of coastal properties

  • There will be increased pressure to armor shorelines with seawalls to protect buildings from waves, but at some point this may not be effective because of escalating costs and the porous rock that underlies most of Florida, which will allow sea water to seep under seawalls.

  • Rising seas will shift the beach inland, imperiling coastal roads, homes and businesses.

  • Rising seas will stress coastal infrastructure (buildings, roads and bridges) because salt water will affect structural integrity.

  • Saltwater intrusion will become more common in freshwater well fields near the coast. A sea rise of just six inches will require water conservation, waste water reuse, stormwater storage facilities and alternative water supplies including desalinization.

It now is widely accepted that climate change is causing an unprecedented rise in sea levels around the world, and that locations such as Florida, where huge infrastructure and large populations live right on the coast, are especially vulnerable.

As noted in the Oceans and Coastal Council report, the risks compel us to seek a more thorough understanding of the impacts, and provide current and future generations with the information needed to adapt. Ignoring climate change or dismissing it as ‘not settled science’ will only lead to more costly and complex decisions in the future and cause greater harm to our people and our economy.

Future communities

While the challenges presented by climate change and sea-level rise are great, challenges also bring opportunity.

As Florida seeks to adapt to the changing future, it is an opportunity for us to engage in vibrant discussions at the local, regional, state and federal levels about the nature of our communities, how we want them to look in the future, and how to achieve our goals. Engaging in such conversations will help us learn and work together for the best possible future for our communities.

Many communities around the state are already doing this. Southeast Florida has its Climate Change Compact, northeast Florida is working together under the Public Private Regional Resilience Initiative, southwest Florida and Punta Gorda as far back as 2009 developed the City of Punta Gorda Adaptation Plan. With such work, we can move towards a future which, while filled with challenges and different than the past, need not be only about loss, but also about what we can accomplish.

Professor Karl Havens|Director of Florida Sea Grant|University of Florida|March 16 2015

An Amazing New Pacific Island Emerges in Tonga

Planet Earth is constantly shifting and changing: oceans are created and destroyed; mountains are formed under the sea, but then lifted up to great heights. In general, we humans aren’t aware of these shifts, as they take place over millions of years. However, last month the people of Tonga experienced just how geologically dynamic the earth is, as an ongoing volcanic eruption under the ocean created a new cone-shaped island about 40 miles northwest of Tonga’s capital, Nukualofa.

Specifically, experts believe that a volcano exploded underwater and then expanded until an island formed.

Tonga is a Polynesian sovereign state and archipelago comprising 177 islands with a total surface area of about 290 square miles, scattered over 270,000 square miles of the southern Pacific Ocean. Fifty two islands are inhabited by its 103,000 people, and seventy percent of Tongans reside on the main island of Tongatapu.

The new island is about one mile long, eight tenths of a mile wide, and rises over 300 feet above the sea–and it is still growing.

You can see the first amazing photographs of this newly formed island by clicking here. They were taken by G.P. Orbassano, a local man who, along with two others, climbed to the peak of the new land mass earlier this month. Apparently the surface was still hot and the green lake in the crater smelt strongly of sulphur. “It was a perfect day, with fantastic views – bright blue sky and the sea was the same color as the sky,” Orbassano told Tonga’s Matangi Online.

Orbassano said he believed the island was high enough for it to remain for some time, and potentially attract tourists. “There are thousands of seabirds – all kinds, laying eggs on the island,” he said. This is by no means the first area to witness such an amazing event.

On November 20, 2013, an island of approximately 600 feet in diameter emerged 600 miles south of Tokyo, Japan, in the Ogasawara Islands. This new island, originally called Niijima, was created by volcanic activity along the western edge of the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire.’ A month later, NASA images revealed that the newly formed island had tripled in size. In fact, it kept growing so much that it “ate up” its neighboring island, Nishino-shima, which had formed in 1973. The two islands merged in December 2013. Since then, the island has started producing its own weather, and lava flows have transformed bays into lakes.

Another example of this amazing phenomenon happened recently in Pakistan. You may remember that the country experienced a devastating 7.7 earthquake in September, 2013. After the shaking stopped, the people of Gwadar, on the Balochistan coast, were amazed to see that three new islands had emerged from the Arabian Sea.

Earthquakes and volcanic activity clearly played their part in producing these dramatic changes. The newly emerging islands are also a stunning reminder that our planet is definitely alive, and always shifting!

Judy Molland|March 17, 2015

Amendment 1 Spending Plan Lands Mixed Reviews

Florida’s natural springs would get $50 million, the Kissimmee River is in line for $30 million, and a wastewater plan for the Florida Keys is up for $25 million, under a newly released House proposal that would help carry out a voter-approved increase in conservation dollars.

But there are few other clearly outlined projects in a $772.1 million proposal for next fiscal year released Tuesday by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee. The proposal is focused more on land management and water projects than on new land acquisitions.

The plan quickly drew mixed reviews from conservationists, whose reactions included that it was “a good starting point” for negotiations and that lawmakers disregarded the intent of voters who supported a constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 1, in November.

“The recommendation ignores what the voters thought that they were voting for, which was to put money into land acquisition for parks and wildlife habitat and trails,” said Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper, a lobbyist on environmental issues.

Among the House funding proposals were $191 million for debt service for the Florida Forever program, Everglades restoration and water-management districts; $100 million for Everglades restoration bonding; $91.6 million for management of state parks, greenways and wildlife management areas; $35 million for water farming; $25 million for beach restoration; $15 million for an agricultural project on the west side of Lake Okeechobee; and $800,000 for an increase in pay for Forest Service firefighters.

“There is some serious funding in there to solve some serious problems,” said subcommittee Chairman Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula. “We focused on the things that we think have to do with helping the environment, helping out ecosystems and providing for quality land management.”

The proposed spending plan is about $30 million more than state economists have projected will be available.

The Senate’s proposal for the Amendment 1 money will be released Thursday by the General Government Appropriations Subcommittee.

Sen. Alan Hays, a Umatilla Republican who is chairman of the subcommittee, said Tuesday he had only briefly seen the House proposal, but that he supports the idea of favoring land management over acquisitions.

“I think that’s a move in the right direction,” said Hays, who added that the Senate proposal may offer similar approaches.

The amendment, approved in November by 75 percent of voters, lays out for 20 years an increase in funding for land and water conservation.

The amendment requires 33 percent of the proceeds from a real-estate tax to go for land and water projects. The funding level is currently projected to generate $741 million in next year’s budget, more than $200 million above what lawmakers allocated for such uses in the current year.

Nearly $200 million of the House proposal falls under two categories — water resource development and fund shifts from the General Revenue Fund — that don’t fully indicate how that money will be used.

“That’s mystery money,” Draper said. “You might call that a reserve for lobbyist-driven water projects.”

More importantly, the budget is limited to the state’s springs and the area around Lake Okeechobee, he said.

“If you’re a voter from Tallahassee, outside the capital, or you’re in Miami, or in Orlando, this really doesn’t do anything for you,” Draper said.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, disagreed, saying the money will get spread statewide to maintain lands the state already owns.

The House proposal addresses the Kissimmee River, some cleanup in the Indian River Lagoon, and includes the Keys wastewater plan, but doesn’t break down further local projects for purchase or management.

Noticeably absent is any indication that there will be funding to buy U.S. Sugar land south of Lake Okeechobee.

Some South Floridians have recently called for the state to complete a 2010 deal to acquire 46,800 acres from U.S. Sugar, of which 26,100 acres would be used for construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir, which would aid in the shifting of water now going east and west to the south.

The deal, estimated at $350 million, must be completed by Oct. 12 or Florida would have to buy an additional 157,000 acres to get the land for the reservoir.

Albritton noted that U.S. Sugar has recently soured on the deal.

“For there to be an agreement consummated, everyone has to want to do it and agree on a price, and I don’t think U.S. Sugar is interested in selling,” Albritton said.

As with most of the Amendment 1 spending plan, spending on local projects must still get hammered out through negotiations with the Senate later in the legislative session.

Janet Bowman of The Nature Conservancy said she was encouraged with the plan enhancing land management, increasing from $5 million to $25 million the annual funding for the Rural and Family Lands program, while putting $105 million into programs that could result in land acquisitions.

“It’s a good starting figure going into conference,” said Bowman

Gov. Rick Scott has offered his own spending plans, some of which have drawn criticism.

While touting a desire to provide funding on a recurring basis for Everglades restoration and springs maintenance, Scott during the upcoming fiscal year wants $150 million for the Everglades, of which $122 million would cover work already under way. He also wants lawmakers to allocate $50 million for springs and $178 million for debt service on bonds tied to the Florida Forever and Save Our Everglades programs. Another $20 million would go for land purchases and restoration of the Kissimmee River.

Scott has drawn criticism for his proposal to use $7.6 million for state park ranger wages and $63 million to cover operating expenses at water-management districts and the Department of Environmental Protection.

JIM TURNER|NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA|March 17, 2015|Copyright Colin Hackley

Obama Calls On Federal Agencies To Reduce Emissions 40 Percent By 2025

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Thursday committing the federal government to cutting its own emissions 40 percent by 2025 and pledging to increase the amount of renewable energy used by federal agencies to 30 percent.

The executive order builds on a previous administration directive to cut emissions from federal agencies 28 percent by 2020, compared with 2008 levels. “We are well on our way to meet that goal,” Brian Deese, senior adviser to the president, said in a call with reporters Thursday. “That’s what’s motivating us today to chart out a new and even more aggressive goal going forward.”

The administration is also setting a goal of cutting the per-mile emissions from the agencies’ vehicle fleet 30 percent, it said. It estimates the total commitment across the federal agencies will save taxpayers $18 billion — funds that won’t be spent on energy.

Christy Goldfuss, managing director of the Council on Environmental Quality, said that by the end of 2014, the federal government had cut emissions 17 percent since 2008, putting it well on the way to meeting Obama’s earlier goal. Much of that has come through energy efficiency improvements in federal buildings and with the installation of renewables.

As of the end of 2014, renewable energy accounted for 9 percent of the federal government’s energy use, and Thursday’s directive wants to increase that to 30 percent by 2025. The Department of Defense has set its own goal of deploying 3 gigawatts of solar energy on its installations around the world by 2025.

The federal government is the single largest energy user in the United States, Goldfuss said, with 360,000 buildings and 650,000 vehicles. “Not only is our footprint expansive, our impact is as well,” she said.

The administration also argued that the push to reduce emissions in the federal government has effects across the private sector as well. To that end, the administration also released a scorecard to track emissions from major federal contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Dynamics, which the administration is also calling on to make reductions.

The White House estimates that with reductions from the agency and those of private suppliers, the administration can cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26 million metric tons in the next 10 years.

“These goals will make sure the federal government is leading by example and pushing the envelope on cutting emissions,” said Deese, adding that it will “demonstrate that we are going to stay on offense in pushing our clean energy and climate change objectives.”

Kate Sheppard|huffingtonpost.com|03/19/2015

PBS Newshour Zooms in on Piping Plover Efforts

Audubon scientists are banding Piping Plovers as they winter in the Bahamas to learn more about this tiny endangered bird.

It was only three years ago that researchers solved the mystery of where endangered Piping Plovers spend their winters, but already Audubon researchers are working, alongside Bahamas National Trust, to preserve the islands in the Bahamas these birds call home this time of year.

The small gray and white shorebird made it onto the endangered species list in 1986, when the population, once in the tens of thousands, dropped below 2,000 individuals. Today, the population has recovered to 8,000 birds, but the plover still faces threats, thanks to climate change, as rising seas might take over some of critical breeding grounds. Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change Report lists the Piping Plover as climate-endangered, meaning it might lose more than 50 percent of its current range by 2050, if global warming continues at its current pace. 

So what could help these vulnerable shorebirds? Protecting their winter habitat in Bahamas’ Joulter Cays is high on the list. A team of researchers led by Audubon and members of the International Alliances Program spent several weeks in the Bahamas this winter trying to learn more about the birds and develop ways to protect the critical habitat. They even managed to band 27 birds, with Bahamas-pink tags. 

Watch the video from PBS News.hour detailing the work: 

Department Of Interior Issues New Rules For Fracking On Public Lands

WASHINGTON — The Department of Interior released new rules for hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas on public lands in the United States on Friday, the first significant update to the regulations in three decades.

“Decades-old regulations don’t take into account current technology for hydraulic fracturing,” said Interior Sec. Sally Jewell in a call with reporters Friday. The new rules will require companies drilling on public lands to disclose the chemicals they are using to the Bureau of Land Management, will set higher standards for the storage of wastewater from the fracking process, and will require validation of well integrity.

There are 100,000 oil and gas wells on public lands across the U.S., according to the department, and 90 percent of those in operation use hydraulic fracturing, a process that uses a high-pressure stream of water, sand and chemicals to tap into oil and gas reserves. Friday’s final rule applies only to development on public lands, however, not to the much more prolific development of state and private land. The Bureau of Land Management oversees 756 million acres of public land across the country.

“It’s important that the public has confidence that it’s being done safely,” said Jewell. “I don’t think anybody would say it’s common sense to keep regulations in place that were created 30 years ago.”

Under the rules, companies drilling on public lands will need to disclose the chemicals they are using through FracFocus, an industry-sponsored website, and submit that information within 30 days of beginning the fracking operation. BLM Director Neil Kornze said that the rule does allow for “limited exceptions for disclosure” under trade secret laws, but that BLM will be able to access a listing of all chemicals in the event of a spill or other accident.

The Department of Interior said it received 1.5 million comments on the draft version of the rules, which were released in May 2013.

Complaints about the new rules came from all directions Friday. A group of five environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity, issued a statement calling the rules “toothless,” and argued that they give too much leeway for the further development of public lands in an era when climate change considerations should be pushing the U.S. away from fossil fuels.

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement that the regulation “lets industry off the hook.” “Rather than raising the bar, the Bureau settled for the lowest common denominator … Half measures aren’t a realistic response to the situation we face today,” he said.

But industry backlash has been just as swift. The American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s leading trade organization, criticized the rules as “duplicative.” “Despite the renaissance on state and private lands, energy production on federal lands has fallen, and this rule is just one more barrier to growth,” said Erik Milito, API’s director of upstream and industry operations, in a statement.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America and Western Energy Alliance announced they were filing a lawsuit in the federal district court in Wyoming to block the rules within minutes of their release. Their complaint calls the rules “a reaction to unsubstantiated concerns.”

In the call with reporters, Jewell argued that the rules are good for industry as well as the public. “We really are upholding the public trust here,” said Jewell. “There’s a lot of fear, a lot of public concern, particularly about groundwater and the safety of water supplies … I think the industry recognizes that thoughtful regulation can help them, because it reassures the public that we’re protecting them.”

The rules go into effect 90 days after publication in the Federal Register.

Kate Sheppard|huffingtonpost.com|03/20/2015

Obama Signs Executive Order to Cut Government Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 40 Percent

“As part of his commitment to lead by example to curb the emissions that are driving climate change, today President Obama will issue an executive order that will cut the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent over the next decade from 2008 levels—saving taxpayers up to $18 billion in avoided energy costs—and increase the share of electricity the Federal Government consumes from renewable sources to 30 percent,” said a White House statement. “Complementing this effort, several major federal suppliers are announcing commitments to cut their own GHG emissions.”

The new actions and commitments are expected to reduce GHG emissions by 26 million metric tons from 2008 levels by 2025. The administration is also releasing its Federal Supplier Greenhouse Gas Management Scorecard where the public can track GHG emissions for all major federal suppliers and their progress in reducing them. Together, these suppliers receive more than 40 percent of all federal contract dollars, more than $187 billion dollars, with Lockheed Martin, which already has and discloses emissions targets, leading the list at more than $32 billion.

The government itself spends more than $445 billion on goods and services, making the impact of this executive order even greater.

“The President’s action today will build on the federal government’s significant progress in reducing emissions to drive further sustainability actions through the next decade,” according to the White House statement. “In addition to cutting emissions and increasing the use of renewable energy, the Executive Order outlines a number of additional measures to make the Federal Government’s operations more sustainable, efficient and energy-secure while saving taxpayer dollars.”

Those measures include making sure that 25 percent of their energy comes from renewable sources by 2025, reducing energy use in federal buildings by 2.5 percent a year and reducing water intensity in federal buildings by 2 percent a year in the next decade, and reducing per-mil GHG emissions from federal vehicle fleets by 30 percent by 2015, including increasing the percentage of zero-emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles.

“Earthjustice applauds President Obama for issuing an Executive Order today that aims to make a significant cut in carbon pollution—the pollution responsible for climate change—from the government sector,” said Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice’s vice president of litigation for Climate & Energy. “The President recognizes that the federal government can lead the way in expanding our use of clean, renewable energy, a key step on the path to end our nation’s unnecessary dependence on fossil fuels that harm our health and the environment.”

The administration also hosted a roundtable today to bring together some large government suppliers to talk about their GHG reduction targets or make public their first-ever commitments to such targets. The White House release a detailed fact sheet explaining the actions they intend to take.

The companies participating in today’s roundtable include IBM, GE, Honeywell, SRA International, Humana, CSC, AECOM, Northrup Gruman and Batelle, among others. All revealed their GHG emissions reduction targets and other sustainability goals. IBM, for instance, announced two new goals. The company said it would reduce carbon emissions from its energy use by 30 percent over 2005 levels by the end of 2020, a reduction of 20 percent over its previous goal. And it said that it would get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and that these will be purchases directly matched to its operations, not offsets. Other companies announced similar goals.

Though the President’s executive order is a step in the right direction, Greenpeace points out that a policy banning coal, oil and gas extraction on public lands would have an even bigger impact on the climate crisis.

“It’s good to see President Obama call for more renewable energy to reduce carbon pollution from the federal government’s operations, but his administration needs to get serious about the federal government’s much bigger carbon problem—fueling the climate crisis by giving away our coal, oil and gas from federal lands and waters,” said Greenpeace climate and energy campaign director Kelly Mitchell.

“President Obama and Interior Secretary Jewell can take immediate steps that would have a real impact: rejecting Shell’s plans to drill for oil in the Arctic and putting a moratorium on the sale of federal coal. We also need a comprehensive plan to address the broader problems of federal fossil fuels and climate change, but our land, water, and climate are threatened by fossil fuel companies and outdated federal rules right now, and these are two immediate steps the Obama administration could take.”

Earlier this week, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell delivered a speech calling for “an honest and open conversation” about the federal coal program and climate change. According to a Greenpeace report, last year the federal coal program leased 2.2 billion tons of taxpayer-owned coal during the Obama administration, unlocking 3.9 billion metric tons of carbon pollution. The report also found that the average price per ton for those coal leases was only $1.03, while each ton will cause damages estimated at between $22 and $237, using the federal government’s social cost of carbon estimates.

A new report today from the Center for American Progress and the Wilderness Society provides new data, including that, “Federal lands and waters could have accounted for 24 percent of all energy-related GHG emissions in the United States in 2012.”

Last June, President Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unveiled their historic Clean Power Plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants—the country’s largest source of GHG emissions—cutting carbon emissions by 30 percent over 2005 levels by 2025.

Obama said then, “Right now, there are no national limits to the amount of carbon pollution that existing plants can pump into the air we breathe—none. We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury, sulfur and arsenic that power plants put in our air and water. But they can dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air.”

His announcement today of the government’s own actions demonstrates the importance of such goals, a rebuke to the dozen states suing the federal government claiming that the Clean Power Plan is illegal and a burden to the states.

Senate panel deals second blow to U.S. Sugar buy

A Senate proposal on how to spend Amendment 1 dollars released Thursday funds springs, Everglades and beach restoration.

But the item Treasure Coast officials and several environmental groups hoped would be there is missing: money to buy 46,800 acres from U.S. Sugar Corp. to move Lake Okeechobee water south and help reduce discharges into the St. Lucie River.

There was little expectation lawmakers would include the purchase in their plan after leaders, such as House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, said they oppose the purchase and U.S. Sugar said it would be a “waste” of taxpayers’ money. A House proposal released Tuesday doesn’t buy the land either.

Also missing in the $714.1 million proposal unveiled by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government is increased money for preservation land acquisition under the Florida Forever program, which received only $2 million, an 84 percent cut from last year, said Will Abberger, campaign manager for Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, a coalition of environmental and civic groups that sponsored Amendment 1. Another $20 million buys land for Kissimmee River restoration.

Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, a committee member who represents northern Indian River County said the Senate plan contradicts what 75 percent of voters had in mind when they approved the constitutional amendment last year.

Matt Dixon|Isadora Rangel|March 19, 2015

Calls to Action

  1. Protect the Southern Everglades and Florida Bay – here
  2. Stop Monsanto’s attack on GMO labeling – here
  3. Tell the Dept of Energy NO GE Trees or Crops for Energy – here
  4. Protect our lungs against dangerous smog – here
  5. Tell the Florida Legislature to buy critical land south of Lake Okeechobee – here
  6. Tell Jeb Bush It’s Time to Stop Attacks on Science – here
  7. Protect our national monuments, parks, and wilderness areas – here
  8. Tell the Brazilian government to cancel misguided dam project – here
  9. Tell Congress – Don’t Give Away Our National Forests – here
  10. Say NO to corporate welfare for Big Oil and YES to fighting climate change – here
  11. Ban Fracking on Public Lands – here

Birds and Butterflies

10 Plants for a Bird-Friendly Yard

Choose native plants like these to beautify your real estate and provide food for birds.

Looking to spruce up your yard this spring? Try growing more native plants – plants that naturally occur in the area where you live. Gardening with native plants has many benefits: They’re beautiful, they’re already adapted to your precipitation and soil conditions, and they don’t need artificial fertilizers or pesticides. Of course the biggest benefit might be that native plants are great for birds and other wildlife.

Native plants provide nectar for hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. They provide nourishing seeds and irresistible fruits for your feathered neighbors, and they offer places to nest and shelter from harm. They’re also a critical part of the food chain—insects evolved to feed on native plants, and by and large, backyard birds raise their young on insects, explains Douglas Tallamy, the author of Bringing Nature Home. Take the Carolina Chickadee: A single clutch of four to six chicks will gobble up more than 9,000 caterpillars in the 16 days between when they hatch and when they leave the nest. So thriving insects mean thriving birds.

The key is to pick the right plants for your area. Here are 10 great plants to get you thinking about the possibilities—but remember, there are thousands of native plants out there (more resources below).

Native Flowering Plants:

Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea spp.) Coneflowers are a tried-and-true garden staple, and wildlife are drawn to them, too.
Birds that love them: These beautiful blooms attract butterflies and other pollinators during the summer and provide seeds for goldfinches and other birds in the fall.
Where they’re native: Some of these species, like Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea pallida, are great native plants to grow in the plains states. Coneflowers grow well most places, so check for the species native to your region.

Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) Sunflowers may signify loyalty and longevity for people, but they mean food for many birds.
Birds that love them: Birds often use the sunflower seeds to fuel their long migrations.
Where they’re native: Helianthus ciliaris in the Southwest and central United States and Helianthus angustifolius in the eastern United States produce seeds in bulk.  

Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) Milkweed is best known for hosting monarch butterfly caterpillars, but they attract loads of insects that are great for birds, too. Bonus: the flowers are gorgeous.
Birds that love them: Some birds, like the American Goldfinch, use the fiber from the milkweed to spin nests for its chicks. Goldfinches, and other birds, also use the downy part of the seed to line their nests.
Where they’re native: It’s likely one or more species of milkweed is native to your area—try butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) in hot dry areas, while swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is great in wet areas or gardens.

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) The cardinal flower’s bright red petals resemble the flowing robes worn by Roman Catholic cardinals, after which it was named.
Birds that love them: While few insects can navigate the long tubular flowers, hummingbirds feast on the cardinal flower’s nectar with their elongated beaks.
Where they’re native: This moisture-loving plant is native across large portions of the country, including the East, Midwest, and Southwest.

Native Vines:

Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)  One of the top most well-behaved vines to plant in your garden, the multitudes of red tubular flowers are magnets for hummingbirds.
Birds that love them: This vine’s nectar attracts hummingbirds while many birds like Purple Finches and Hermit Thrushes eat their fruit. During migration, Baltimore Orioles get to the nectar by eating the flowers.
Where they’re native: Trumpet honeysuckle grows natively in the northeast, southeast, and midwest portions of the United States. The sweetly scented Japanese honeysuckle is actually an exotic invasive—but if you swap it with native trumpet honeysuckle, you’ll attract plenty of birds.

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinqefolia) The Virginia creeper, also known as woodvine, may be best known for its similarity to poison ivy, but its leaves are harmless to your skin. While people may intentionally avoid it, many birds rely on its fruit during the winter.
Birds that love them: It’s a key food source for fruit-eating birds, such as mockingbirds, nuthatches, woodpeckers and blue jays.
Where they’re native: Parthenocissus vitacea, a related species known as thicket creeper, is native to the American West while Parthenocissus quinqefolia can be found in the Great Plains and eastern United States.

Native Shrubs:

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) Showy flowers and fruit make buttonbush a popular choice in native gardens and along pond shores.
Birds that love them: In addition to beautifying a pond, they also provide seeds for ducks and other waterfowl. Their magnificent flowers also attract butterflies—and other pollinators.
Where they’re native: The buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis, is native to the wetlands of California and the eastern half of the United States.  

Elberberry (Sambucus canadensis) Elderberry is a versatile plant that has been used to make dye and medicine by people across the United States, as well as being a showy shrub for the landscape.
Birds that love them: Its bright dark blue fruits (which we use for jam) provide food for many birds within its range, including the Brown Thrasher and Red-eyed Vireo, and dozens of other birds.
Where they’re native: Sambucus canadensis is native to most of the eastern United States, while red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) is found in most states except for those south of Nebraska and those along the Gulf of Mexico.

Native Trees:

Oak (Quercus spp.) From southern live oaks to California black oaks, these large beautiful trees are a favorite for many people across the country—not to mention the great summer shade they provide. These trees are also an integral part of the food chain, so planting just one really helps your yard’s diversity.
Birds that love them: Similarly, many species of birds use the cavities and crooks of these trees for nesting and shelter. Birds are also drawn to the abundance of insects and acorns that are found on oaks—to learn more, check out Doug Tallamy’s work.
Where they’re native: If you want to plant an oak, be sure to plant one native to your area, such as the shumard oak in the Southeast or the Oregon white oak in the Pacific Northwest.

Dogwoods (Cornus spp.) Nothing says spring quite like a dogwood full of newly-bloomed flowers.
Birds that love them: Cardinals, titmice, and bluebirds all dine on the fleshy fruit of dogwood trees.
Where they’re native: If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you can grow native Cornus nuttallii and for those in the eastern United States, choose either the Cornus alternifolia or the Cornus florida.

By incorporating native plants into your landscape, you’re creating a sanctuary that benefits wildlife.

The 10 plants listed are a great starting point—they’re easy to grow, they’re great for birds, and most can be found at nurseries. Check your local Audubon Center or Native Plant Society for specific native plant sales, for these and a larger selection of the native plant palette!  

Once you’ve mastered the basics, here are a few resources to take you to the next step:

Online resources:

How to Buy Native Plants
Why Native Plants Matter
Plant Native
Wildflower Suppliers
Bringing Nature Home

Books:

Bringing Nature Home…Doug Tallamy
The Living Landscape….Doug Tallamy and Rick Darke
The American Woodland Garden….Rick Darke
Gardening and Propagating Wildflowers, Growing and Propagating Native Trees and Shrubs….William Cullina

Greg Mably|Mar 13, 2015|Additional reporting by Shannon Palus and Tessa Stuart.

Bird Flu Confirmed Further East

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed a deadly strain of avian flu further east than before, leaving poultry producers to worry that the disease could spread to high production states east of the Mississippi.

Wild birds can carry influenza with them as they migrate and while the disease doesn’t harm them, it can devastate commercial flocks. It destroyed a turkey flock last month at a farm in Minnesota, before turning up in Missouri and Arkansas.

The vast majority of turkeys and chickens in the U.S. are raised indoors. In states like Georgia, the country’s leading producer of broilers, their water source usually is a well, rather than pond or other open water.

Still, the disease obviously can spread despite those biosecurity measures. 

Minnesota confirmed its outbreak March 4, the first H5N2 found in the Mississippi flyway, a major bird migration route. The Missouri and Arkansas cases were confirmed last week week. Experts can’t know for sure whether the disease was spread by migrating birds – the sites in Minnesota, Missouri and Arkansas all share the Mississippi Flyway – or by workers who inadvertently carried the disease away from the farm. But producers are tightening biosecurity measures meant to keep the disease from spreading.

Other recent outbreaks of highly pathogenic strains in commercial turkey and chicken farms, backyard flocks and wild birds were along the Northwest’s Pacific Flyway. The first of those cases was confirmed at a mixed poultry farm in Oregon in December; since then nine other cases have been confirmed along the Pacific Flyway.

While the poultry industry has a strong program for testing and containing any influenza, states where a case is confirmed could take a financial hit. Dozens of countries have banned poultry imports from affected states.

People can contract some strains of avian influenza, but only by handling animals or eating undercooked meat.

Minnesota, Missouri and Arkansas followed rapid response protocols from the federal government and poultry industry. Once H5N2 was confirmed at the farms, all birds were killed and the farms within six miles were quarantined. Tests at nearby farms found no signs of other infected flocks.

“At least right now we’re breathing a little easier,” Missouri Department of Agriculture Director Richard Fordyce said.

Allison Floyd|March 16th, 2015

MILKWEED BUTTERFLIES OF NORTH AMERICA

While late-season ice storms seem to have cancelled spring in some parts of the U.S., the monarch butterflies know that the seasons are changing. Soon they will leave their winter roosts in the oyamel firs of Mexico and return to their breeding grounds, starting in Texas. As milkweed specialists — while adults nectar on a variety of flowers, their larvae only eat plants in the genus Asclepias — their future relies on finding milkweeds along the way.

But monarchs aren’t the only milkweed butterfly. There are four butterflies that occur in North America and share the same reliance on milkweed for their caterpillars. One, the Caribbean queen (Danaus cleophile), can be found only on the islands of Hispaniola and Jamaica. The other three, the monarch (Danaus plexippus), queen (Danaus gilippus), and soldier (Danaus eresimus), are more widespread and will be encountered on the continental mainland. Monarchs can be found across much of North America, while queens have a more southern distribution. The queen’s range starts in Central America and ends in the American southwest. The soldier butterfly’s heartland is smaller, occupying northern Mexico and the subtropical U.S. It’s possible to see all three species side by side in the southernmost parts of Texas and Florida, but even then, soldiers are the least common.

Because queens, soldiers, and monarchs are all very similar in appearance, it is important to be wise to their field markings before attempting to track them down. We have some tips to help you in your search.

Monarch Butterfly

Flashy and readily spotted, monarch butterflies can be found from South America to Canada, although in much smaller numbers recently due to habitat loss in much of North America. They are the only milkweed butterfly with a confirmed long-distance migration, and are much larger than both queens and soldiers. Easily distinguished by the combination of their size and bright orange coloration; black veins contrast boldly against orange on both upper and lower sides of their wings.

Queen Butterfly

Queen butterflies are smaller, more brown than orange, and lack the contrasting black venation visible on monarchs’ dorsal (top) side. They have two lines of white dots on the dorsal side of their forewing (leading wing), versus the single line observed in soldiers. Overall, their color is darker and duller than the monarch’s. Queens are quite common in the parts of southern Texas visited by Xerces staff, and are much more frequently found than monarchs along the coast there. They are more of a southwestern species.

Soldier Butterfly

Distinguishing between queen and soldier butterflies is more difficult than separating the two from the monarch, their larger cousin. Soldier butterflies are encountered less frequently than the other two — they are a veritable four-leaf clover in the field! Sometimes straying into southern Arizona, they primarily inhabit the subtropical areas of the U.S. and northern Mexico. They are differentiated from queens by the single (rather than double) line of white dots on their forewings, and have a dusky, dark patch in the middle of their hindwing. Overall, soldiers are a rich shade of chestnut.

Good luck in your search for butterflies this spring, and keep your eyes peeled for monarchs as they spread northwards over the next few months!

   Invasive species

Feds Ban Imports on Four Large Constrictor Snakes

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has just made it illegal to import four kinds of nonnative constrictor snakes — or sell them across state lines — by adding them to the list of “injurious” wildlife under a law called the Lacey Act. This should prevent widespread introduction of these exotic animals, which can be extremely destructive to U.S. ecosystems and our own native species.

In 2010 scientists identified nine snakes as posing an unacceptable risk of establishing invasive populations; two years later the agency said four of those species would be listed as “injurious”: Burmese pythons, yellow anacondas, and northern and southern African pythons. And now the Service has announced that it will list four of the remaining five snakes under the Lacey Act — the reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda and Beni anaconda.

Last summer the Center for Biological Diversity posed rule that identified numerous scientific studies documenting the risk posed by exotic constrictor snakes. About 30,000 Center supporters backed our efforts, writing to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to ask that the remaining snakes be listed as injurious. The Center — and the snakes that won’t be trafficked — thank you.

Read more in The New York Times.

Endangered Species

Conservationists Fight to Give Manatees Some Space From Us

Manatee viewing is a popular activity in Florida’s coastal waters, but our desire to get all up close and personal with them is causing the gentle giants unnecessary harm.

That’s the premise behind the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility’s (PEER) recent announcement that it intends to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for not providing enough protection to manatees, something they say is in violation of the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Refuge Administration Act.

Manatees were granted federal protection as endangered species decades ago, but even though their numbers have slightly rebounded they still face a number of threats: from boat strikes to susceptibility to sudden cold spells, and in addition to red tides which were responsible for killing a record number of manatees in 2013.

Under any other circumstance engaging with an endangered species would be off limits, but instead of acting to prevent harm or harassment under the laws intended to protect manatees, the FWS continues to issue permits to tourist operations that allow people to swim and interact with them at Florida’s Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge and other areas.

Now a growing number of tourists who want to enjoy close encounters through these “swim with” programs are encroaching on what limited habitat manatees have left. According to PEER’s notice, last year alone 265,000 visitors went to the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge–a refuge that was set up specifically to provide protection for manatees.

Even though people might not be intending to cause any harm, our continued and overwhelming presence (see video) is causing a number of problems from altering their behaviors and hindering their ability to communicate with each other, to causing them to flee when they are disturbed, which could send them into areas that are dangerously cold (see video).

“Five years ago, we served a similar notice but agreed to hold off suing because the Service promised to make improvements,” PEER Counsel Laura Dumais said in a statement. “In the succeeding years, the problems have only gotten worse and it has become clear that the Service has no intention of taking meaningful corrective action.”

The FWS did recently announce some changes, but PEER argues they’re not strong enough to provide meaningful protection. The organization isn’t trying to shut down opportunities to see manatees, or tourism in manatee hotspots, but it does want to see more respectful activities that offer a hands-off approach.

“People do not need to pet manatees to learn about or appreciate them,” said Dumais. “We aim to ensure that the Service can no longer avoid addressing this widespread, obvious, and illegal harassment of endangered marine mammals.”

According to a statement, the goals of the potential lawsuit, which is being supported by residents and eco-tourism professionals, are to ban “swim-with” programs and get a 10-foot buffer between manatees and us put in place across the state, to expand no-human-access sanctuary areas so that manatees would have unimpeded access to Crystal Springs and Three Sisters Springs throughout the winter, and to get all of Kings Bay, Three Sisters Springs and Homosassa Springs designated as critical manatee habitat.

The FWS now has 60-days to respond before PEER can move forward. Until then, we can be mindful that these lovable “sea cows” rely on warm water springs for their survival and don’t have any other options if they need to get away, but we have the option to respect them and their habitat and we should if we don’t want to see them disappear forever.

Alicia Graef|March 14, 2015

FWC News Release: Biologists tally a record high manatee count ‏

Photos available on FWC’s Flickr site: https://flic.kr/s/aHsk8cSyyN

Suggested Tweet: Break in cold spells results in record high #manatee count by @MyFWC and partners! http://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/FLFFWCC/bulletins/f834e7 #Florida

Biologists tally a record high manatee count

Warm temperatures and clear, sunny days between some of the coldest weather of the year assisted FWC biologists and partners in counting an all-time high number of manatees during this year’s statewide aerial survey.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reported a preliminary count of 6,063 manatees statewide. During the February count, a team of 20 observers from 11 organizations counted 3,333 manatees on Florida’s east coast and 2,730 on the west coast of the state. This year’s synoptic survey count exceeded the previous high count for 2010 by almost 1,000 animals.

“Manatees used warm-water sites and other winter habitat areas to cope with a strong cold front that recently moved through the region,” said FWC biologist Holly Edwards. “In many of the regions surveyed, warm, sunny weather caused manatees to rest at the water’s surface, which facilitated our efforts to count them in these areas. Calm waters and high visibility also contributed to the high count.”

“We were very fortunate to have near-optimal conditions for our survey this year,” said FWRI Director Gil McRae. “The high count this year is especially encouraging, given the large-scale mortality events that resulted in over 800 deaths in 2013.”

Aerial surveys are conducted annually, weather permitting, to provide researchers with a count of manatees visible in Florida waters at the time of the survey. Because researchers have no way to estimate the number of manatees that were not visible during these surveys, scientists consider these results a minimum count of the statewide population. While this year’s results do not mean that the manatee population grew by nearly 1,000 animals in a single year, they do tell researchers there are at least 6,000 manatees in Florida waters.

“Counting this many manatees is wonderful news,” said FWC Chairman Richard Corbett. “The high count this year shows that our long-term conservation efforts are working.”

You can show your support for manatees by purchasing a manatee license plate at BuyaPlate.com and a manatee decal at MyFWC.com/ManateeSeaTurtleDecals. Funds from the license plate and decal support manatee research and conservation.

For more information about manatees and synoptic surveys, visit MyFWC.com/Research, click “Research,” then “Florida Manatee.”

To report a dead or distressed manatee, call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission|3/16/15

Bats are harmed rather than helped by street lights

The bright lights of London could be affecting bats’ navigation and their success at feeding

New research at the University of Exeter and Bat Conservation Ireland has given the lie to the popular belief that streetlights are attractive to our common bat species because of the insect life they attract.

The study found that in fact bat activity was lower in street-lit areas than in dark locations with similar habitat.  And, in fact, the scientists have concluded bright lights are having a detrimental effect on bats.

Despite frequently being depicted as blind, bats have good eyesight that is adapted for low light conditions. 

Dr Fiona Mathews from the University of Exeter says: “When we walk out of a lit house into the dark, it takes a while for our eyes to adapt to the darkness. 

“The same is true in bats – they are dazzled by bright light and it takes time for their eyes to re-adjust.   This could affect their ability to navigate.   

“People rarely see bats, and when they do it is usually because they are silhouetted by a light. 

“Because clouds of insects accumulate around lights, there has been an assumption that the bats were getting an easy lunch. 

“However, it seems that their ability to hunt insects is reduced in the light.  So although a bat may be seen flying round and round a streetlamp, it may actually be struggling to catch anything.” 

The findings have important implications for conservation, overturning the previous assumption that common bats benefited from artificial lights for feeding.

The research, published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, found that the activity of soprano pipistrelle, noctule and serotine bats was similar or lower in areas with street lighting compared to dark areas.  

The only species for which lighting appeared favourable was Leisler’s bat, a species common in Ireland but rare in Britain.

An increase in the activity of our most common bat, the common pipistrelle, was only seen in locations where there was also a good amount of shelter from trees or hedgerows. 

Dr Mathews says: “What our work shows is that they are actually usually just as active, if not more so, in adjacent dark areas. 

“We already knew that lighting was bad news for rare species such as horseshoe bats.  Now we have demonstrated that, for the common species which are of vital importance to our ecosystem, lighting is not helpful.

“Over recent decades, the number of streetlights, and the brightness of lighting, has grown enormously.  We also use increasingly powerful lights to illuminate outdoor areas around our homes. 

“We urgently need to reverse this trend.”

The research analysed large-scale surveys conducted in Britain and Ireland, involving more than 265,000 bat calls at over 600 locations. 

The links between lighting and bats were explored at several spatial scales including car-surveys conducted by volunteers across Ireland, to shorter surveys conducted by bicycle, and detailed monitoring over multiple nights at specific sites. 

Dr Niamh Roche of Bat Conservation Ireland commented: “Leisler’s bat is considered very special in Ireland since its population here is of international importance, so it is good to know that this species at least may not be so negatively impacted by street lighting.

“Nonetheless, we are extremely concerned that, with just one out of our nine Irish species showing a positive association with street lighting, much more needs to be done to lessen negative impacts of lighting. 

“This can be achieved by considering lighting scheme designs more thoroughly from the planning stage.”

Mystery surge in starving sea lion pups washing up on Californian shores, as rescue centers struggle to cope with weight of numbers

Rescue centers are struggling to cope with a mystery surge in the numbers of starving sea lion pups which have washed up on Californian shores since January.

More than 1,100 starving and sick pups have been rescued from California’s beaches, as well as public bathrooms, behind buildings and along railroad tracks since the beginning of the year.

The number is almost five times higher than the 250 pups which would usually be expected in the key monitoring period between January and April – and no one knows why. 

Crisis: More than 1,100 sick or starving sea lion pups have washed up on Californian shores this year

  • More than 1,100 starving or sick sea lion pups rescued  since January
  • Rescue centers would usually expect to only see about 250 in the period
  • Situation so dire California’s SeaWorld has suspended its sea lion show
  • Famous attraction treating 400 pups in two specially constructed pools
  • Rising sea temperatures could be one cause of the surge in numbers

It’s not unusual to have some sea lions wash up each spring as the pups leave their mothers, but Keith A. Matassa, executive director at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, said they started getting calls in December.

His center, in Laguna Beach, is currently rehabilitating 115 sea lion pups.

On a recent day, over the course of two hours, five suffering animals came in. One was brought in by a police officer, three more came in with an animal control team and the fifth was called in by a couple walking along beach.

The last pup, at almost a year old, weighed just 23 pounds – a third of what it should have. It was so ill, staff had no choice but to put it down.

Matassa explained pups that should be gaining 20 to 40 pounds in a two-month period have put on just two pounds.

‘These animals are coming in really desperate. They’re at the end of life. They’re in a crisis … and not all animals are going to make it,’ he said.

An hour down the coast, the situation is so bad that SeaWorld, in San Diego, suspended its sea lion show so it can focus on rescue efforts.

The theme park has treated 400 pups – more than twice the number it would care for in a typical year – and constructed two temporary pools to house them.

Scientists aren’t sure what’s causing the crisis, but suspect that warmer waters from this winter’s mild El Nino weather pattern are impacting the sea lion birthing grounds along the Channel Islands off the Southern California coast.

The warm water is likely pushing prime sea lion foods – market squid, sardines and anchovies – further north, forcing the mothers to abandon their pups for up to eight days at a time in search of sustenance.

The pups, scientists believe, are weaning themselves early out of desperation and setting out on their own despite being underweight and ill-prepared to hunt.

‘They’re leaving with a very low tank of gas and when they get over here, they’re showing up on the beach basically … starving to death,’ said Justin Viezbicke, a coordinator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s California Stranding Network.

For rescue centers like Pacific Marine Mammal, that translates into round-the-clock, back-breaking work for dozens of volunteers who’ve arrived from all over the U.S. to help.

The center in one of Southern California’s premiere beach communities has rescued more than 213 pups since the beginning of the year and has treated ones that weighed as little as 14 pounds at eight-months-old.

Volunteers have been arriving from all over the U.S. to help with the escalating crisis.

Crates holding animals awaiting assessment are crammed into every corner, including the laundry room, as those already housed in communal pens barked and bleated in a deafening racket as mealtime approached.

Each incoming pup has its temperature taken and is weighed, measured and given a blood sugar test before the team decides if they can save it.

Most of them are so weak they barely resist. 

Those that make the cut are tube-fed a gruel of pureed herring, Pedialyte, vitamins and milk three or four times a day after starting out with a simple broth of hydrating fluids and dextrose.

Those that graduate to whole fish are playfully called ‘feeders’ and those that can once more compete for fish tossed into a pool are called ‘fighters.’

The goal is to get the pups strong enough to swim free again – but the volunteers who nurse them back to health may never know if they make it in the wild.

Only a handful will be fitted with expensive tracking devices. The rest are tagged with a number and fall off the radar unless they are rescued again.

‘The tricky part is we’re putting them back into the same environment that they just came from. And that’s going to be a challenge for them,’ Viezbicke said. 

Flora Drury|For Mailonline|16 March 2015

How Tchimpounga Is Saving Wild Chimpanzees ‏

The Jane Goodall Institute’s (JGI) Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in the Republic of the Congo has provided lifetime care for orphaned and rescued chimpanzees for over 20 years.

After two decades, JGI is now caring for over 150 chimpanzees in a sanctuary originally designed to hold only 30. Luckily, our recent island expansion project will create room for even more chimpanzees in need of rescue.

However, Tchimpounga has an even greater part to play in chimpanzee conservation rather than simply acting as a home for these vulnerable chimpanzees; specifically in regard to curbing the illegal bushmeat and exotic pet trades. Both of these markets for chimpanzees, alive and deceased, are contributing to the decimation of wild chimp populations.
To find out more about how Tchimpounga aids chimpanzee conservation efforts, check out JGI’s Chimpanzee Blog!

State continues to follow reckless path on wolves

After being given a do-over on managing the state’s small wolf population, Michigan politicians and bureaucrats are following a familiar path of reckless behavior with their effort to restore trophy hunting of the now-endangered animals.

Last November, Michigan voters sent policymakers a strong message by defeating Proposal 1 (naming wolves as a game species) and Proposal 2 (giving the politically appointed Natural Resources Commission the power to decide which species can be hunted). Proposal 2 was rejected in 69 of Michigan’s 83 counties and in all 15 congressional districts.

Six weeks later, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell restored federal protection (after a three-year hiatus) for the Great Lakes gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act, while chastising wildlife managers in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota for killing more than 1,500 wolves in “virtually unregulated” hunting and trapping.

The judge’s decision bans further wolf hunting and trapping in those three states for the foreseeable future. It also prohibits killing problem wolves in Michigan and Wisconsin that threaten livestock or domestic animals.

There is a pathway forward and a middle-ground on this controversial issue. The Humane Society of the United States and 21 other animal protection and conservation groups, including the Detroit Zoo and Detroit Audubon Society, have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to “downlist” gray wolves from endangered to threatened. This would retain federal protections for wolves, but also provide more flexible management so wildlife officials could kill or remove the occasional problem wolf.

Seventy-nine members of Congress sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell urging her to support the petition. And more than 50 world renowned wildlife biologists and scientists, including nine from Michigan, sent a letter to Congress urging members to oppose stripping federal protections from wolves. Presented with a reasonable compromise that would respect the will of Michigan voters who wanted wolf protection, but also provide practical assistance to farmers in the U.P. who are dealing with wolf conflicts, Michigan politicians turned a blind eye to it.

Sen. Tom Casperson, the state’s leading wolf hunt supporter, convinced his fellow Republicans to approve a resolution, full of inaccuracies and distortions, urging Congress to remove g ray wolves from the Endangered Species Act. Apparently the Upper Peninsula lawmaker’s cronies forgot about his five-minute apology speech in November 2013 for fabricating a story about wolves appearing “multiple times in the backyard of a daycare center” in the text of a similar resolution he authored in 2011.

T he Michigan Department of Natural Resources filed an appeal of the federal court ruling. DNR Director Keith Creagh said, “Returning wolf management to wildlife professionals … is critical to retaining a recovered, healthy and socially-accepted wolf population in our state” — conveniently forgetting the overwhelming vote of the people rejecting wolf hunting.

It’s obvious that Sen. Casperson and Director Creagh didn’t consult Michigan’s 12 federally recognized Indian tribes, who have the most experience in co-existing with wolves. The United Tribes of Michigan recently adopted a resolution opposing the removal of federal protections for wolves and calling on people to recognize their historical and ecological significance.

To these Native Americans, wolves are sacred animals who taught their ancestors the importance of families and how to hunt and forage for food.

It’s unfortunate our state officials thumb their noses at Michigan voters, reject practical compromises and problem solving on this issue and ignore wildlife experts, all in the name of trophy hunting and trapping a shy animal that is just beginning to recover from near extermination.

Jill Fritz|director|Keep Michigan Wolves Protected

How Honey Bees Can Alleviate World Hunger

Humans will miss more than the honey if bee die-offs continue

Bees have a lot going against them, most notably colony-collapse disorder, which many researchers now believe is the result of widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides. The great bee die-off caused honey production in the U.S. to decline by one-third between 2000 and 2011. But what would a life without bees actually look like?

Wild and managed pollinators like honey bees are essential to the production of 75 percent of the 115 major global crops. Take a moment and consider your life without another:

Avocado

Plum

Peach

Apricot

Coconut

Melon

Pumpkin

No juicy peaches in the summer time. No apricot marmalade on toast. No pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. These are the fruits that are especially reliant on pollination. Eliminate the bees, and crop yields dwindle. To make matters worse, these scrumptious plants are the primary source of vitamin A, iron and folate for billions of people around the world, according to a new study by the Royal Society. Declines in pollinator populations could mean more than just shrunken produce departments—it’s an issue of global malnutrition.

Areas already suffering from poor nutrition also happen to be areas dependent on bees and wild insects to pollinate their main food crops—talk about bad luck. Typically, it’s poor, tropical areas that are hit hardest. Bee population’s decline, fruit production drops, farmers are malnourished and less food is produced. “It’s a vicious cycle,” said Megan Mueller, the nutrition consultant who worked on the study. “It’s happening in areas that are already poverty stricken.”

Vitamin A deficiency, which can lead to blindness, is 30 percent more common in pollinator-dependent areas, such as Southeast Asia. Iron deficiency, particularly among pregnant women, is 15 percent more common in these areas and can lead to still-births and birth defects.

“A lot of people say, ‘Why can’t you just take a vitamin?’” said Emily Dobek, analyst for the study. Fresh fruits, such as mangoes, deliver not only vitamins, but also fiber and other nutrients. And vulnerable communities simply don’t have access to supplements—they eat what they grow.

“These are the people who have the least amount of flexibility and purchasing power,” said Becky Chaplin-Kramer, lead researcher of the study. They can’t just go to the store. Communities could plant more pollinator-independent crops like carrots, corn and potatoes, but in most places this isn’t as simple as it seems. “It has to do with culture, and people not wanting to give up their pumpkins,” said Chaplin-Kramer.

Communities that rely on native and traditional crops for their cuisine are reluctant to switch what they grow.

“We’re not going to feed the world on rice and corn alone,” Dobek said.

The problem is sticky with cultural complexity and regional economics. But the answer is tiny: bees. Beekeeping directly helps stabilize crop production. Managed colonies also strengthen wild pollinator populations by providing competition.

Chaplin-Kramer and Dobeck think more policy makers should regard bee conservation as an issue of environmental justice. Saving bees, whether by reducing pesticide use or donning a veil and starting a hive, unites conservation and public health strategies; and the benefits could be global.

Mikey Jane Moran|3/19/15

Wood Bison, North America’s Largest Land Mammal, Will Soon Return To Alaskan Wilderness

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska wildlife officials are preparing to release North America’s largest land mammal into its native U.S. habitat for the first time in more than a century.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Sunday plans to begin moving wood bison from a conservation center south of Anchorage to the village of Shageluk, the staging area for the animals’ release into the Innoko Flats about 350 miles southwest of Fairbanks.

A hundred wood bison will be released after they’re acclimated in a few weeks.

“This has been an incredibly long project — 23 years in the making,” biologist Cathie Harms said. “To say we’re excited is an understatement.”

Wood bison are the larger of two subspecies of American bison but did not roam in Lower 48 states. The smaller subspecies are plains bison, which were not native to Alaska but were introduced to the state in 1928, where they have thrived.

Bull wood bison weigh 2,000 pounds and stand 6-feet-tall at the shoulder. They feed on grasses, sedges and forbs and wider variety of other plants, including Alaska’s abundant willow.

Wood bison flourished for thousands of years in Alaska but disappeared in the 1800s or early 1900s. No one knows why.

The state had a strong interest in reintroduction as a source of food for subsistence hunters and as a game animal for sport hunting, but plans ran into a political snag.

In 2008, the state imported 53 wood bison from a national park in Canada, adding to a smaller herd that was held at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage.

However, wood bison are a threatened species and state officials worried that the federal government would designate their new home in the wild as critical habitat, requiring consultation with federal agencies before oil and gas drilling or other development could occur.

The problems were worked out. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013 declared that wood bison reintroduced in Alaska would be considered an experimental population not essential to the continued existence of the species. Wood bison will be managed by state wildlife officials and exempt from certain restrictions in the Endangered Species Act.

The bison will be flown in 20-foot containers that can hold seven adult cows in individual stalls or up to 17 younger bison. Two containers will be trucked Sunday to Anchorage and flown by commercial carrier for the hour flight to Shageluk. A C-130 from Lynden Air Cargo, one of the multiple corporate sponsors involved, can carry two containers each flight.

Half the initial herd moved will be adult cows. About 25 are pregnant.

The rest of the initial herd will be juveniles 2 years old or younger. Bulls will be barged to the area in summer.

The Fish and Game Department does not expect predators to be a problem. Canada has reintroduced five herds, Harms said.

“Wolves don’t seem to know what to do with them,” she said, and Alaska did not record a bear or a wolf killing a plains bison until nearly 30 years after they were introduced 87 years ago.

The state hopes to complete the flights by Tuesday but will proceed slowly if there are snags. Wood bison are very large, very powerful wild animals, Harms said.

“We’re making them do something they don’t want to do,” she said. “Calming agents” will be available to sedate bison if needed.

Once in Shageluk, the bison will be kept in pens several acres large before release in two or three weeks.

“When they’re in good shape, that’s when we’re going to start opening the door and letting them go,” Harms said.

DAN JOLING|AP|03/20/2015

Cornwall Has its First Pine Marten Sighting in Over 50 Years

A pine marten was recorded in West Country, an area where this animal was presumed as extinct, by a student with a night-vision camera. This is the first pine marten sighting in over fifty years.

The Cornwall student, Jack Merritt, had set up the camera near his home in Bude, and that is how he was able to spot the pine marten.

Merritt said of his rare pine marten sighting: “I knew I had captured something different. I had no idea of its significance to start with. I spoke to a few friends who had some suggestions but decided to send it to someone who may have a better idea of what it was all about.”

Merritt then sent the footage to a wildlife expert, Derek Gow, based out of Devon, to get the scoop on this infrequently seen critter, and that is when the little animal’s identity was revealed to him. It is clear that Merritt has caught the attention and excitement of the wild animal guru.

“It’s amazing. It’s definitely a pine marten,” said Gow. The wildlife specialist also expressed that he has no idea where it came from, but thinks that perhaps someone had deliberately moved pine martens from Scotland and released them in Cornwall. Gow explains, “That part of Cornwall is well suited for them – remote and very scrubby. People sometimes think they need coniferous forests but they don’t – that area would be fine for them.”

Pine martens are still found in Scotland, and it is believed that there are a few groups of them in the far north of England. The pine marten has been extinct in this particular southern Britain region and hasn’t been seen here since the 1960s. Pine martens belong to the mustelid category, the same family as mink, otter, badger, wolverine and weasel. They only weigh between one to three pounds, and primarily eat voles, but have also been known to eat mice, birds, flying squirrels, reptiles, rabbits, honey, insects, conifer seeds, worms, eggs and even berries.

Spottings like this one highlight the amazing progress that we’ve made in areas of preserving extinct and diminished population animals. This pine marten sighting can also be thought of as a hopeful sign that conservation is working. Due to wildlife conservation efforts, we are actually seeing endangered species numbers go up, when they were once dwindling. We’ve seen this recently, with some examples being the Indian tigers, the big cat populations in the eastern Serengeti, and interestingly with the beaver population led by Gow himself. Gow’s successful campaign allowed the West Country beavers to stay and thrive; they are now back when they were once considered extinct in the area.

We must continue to aggressively conserve and protect wildlife, eliminating illegal hunting, poaching and all other obstacles that these animals face. Eliminating criminal activity against these animals and also participating in wildlife conservation in an assertive way might mean that we’ll see a lot more of these promising cases.

Catherine Gill|March 19, 2015

Wild & Weird

Seattle Girl Befriends Neighborhood Crows, Making Bird Lovers Everywhere Jealous

In return for food, Gabi Mann gets some bizarre gifts from her feathered allies.

What if we could be friends with wild birds? Seattle-native Gabi Mann seems to have achieved that goal with one of the smartest species on the planet: the American Crow. Never mind that she’s only 8-years old. This imaginative kid has a unique relationship with her neighborhood corvids, as told in a story by the BBC News Magazine.

It all started two years ago, when Gabi began feeding local flocks of crows. At first it was haphazard—a dropped chicken nugget here, a crumb from a sandwich there. But the crows took notice, and soon enough Gabi’s hospitality went from being accidental to intentional. These days, Gabi’s crows perch nearby whenever she’s outside, hoping for a feast or even just a morsel. But the spirit of giving inhabits both the girl and the beast. Soon enough, the crows were showering Gabi with all sorts of loot.

Every day, Gabi leaves out food (mostly peanuts, which are a big hit) in the backyard for her groupies. In return, they leave her gifts—shiny baubles like polished sea-glass, and odder trinkets, like a rusty screw or tube of chapstick. In what could have been a coincidence or a lovely curiosity, the crows promptly returned a lens cap that Gabi had lost while taking some photographs (of a bird, naturally) in an alleyway. And so the plot thickened.

Crows, and all other members of the corvid family (which also includes jays, magpies, and ravens), are renowned for their intelligence. They’re known to be prodigious tool-users, and are more adept with tools than all other animals short of the great apes. Even their social behavior mirrors ours in some ways; they’ve been observed performing funeral rites for their deceased members of their murder (it’s the name for a group of crows—not sinister at all!).

Gift-giving isn’t uncommon among crows; John Marzluff, a professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington who studies the relationship between crows and people, said in an interview with the BBC, “I can’t say they always will [give presents], but I have seen an awful lot of things crows have brought people.” (Dead birds are one grisly example.) Sometimes those gifts aren’t entirely welcome: Gabi’s mother once had to throw out a rotting crab claw that the crows had so lovingly bestowed upon her daughter. But Gabi doesn’t seem to be perturbed by the oddities she receives; she keeps all her gifts carefully labeled and stored, treasuring them like precious jewels. “You may take a few close looks,” she said to the BBC reporter, “but don’t touch.”

Dan Nosowitz|Mar 02, 2015

Everglades

Everglades rescue plan lags far behind schedule

At halfway point, restoration projects for vast wetlands continue to languish

WASHINGTON – Fifteen years ago, officials in Florida and Washington announced a bold partnership to restore the Everglades by 2030. Today, with that ambitious effort to save one of the world’s ecological jewels nearing the halfway point, the finish line still appears decades away. None of the 68 projects originally included in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan has been completed, and only 13 have been authorized.

The project’s original price tag of $7.8 billion has nearly doubled and continues to rise.

The Great Recession is partly to blame for squeezing federal and state spending, and an increasingly fractious Congress has failed to pass bills authorizing water-related projects.

“There hasn’t been a sense of urgency,” said former Florida Gov. Bob Graham, a Democrat and former U.S. senator who cosponsored the restoration law.

The Everglades, the largest subtropical wetland ecosystem in the world, once stretched over 8 million acres — from the southern suburbs of present day Orlando down to the Florida Keys. As recently as the early 1900s, the southern interior “was a vast and foreboding swampland, largely inaccessible,” according to the South Florida Water Management District, the state agency that oversees the restoration.

That changed when hurricanes in the 1920s struck communities around Lake Okeechobee, prompting calls for drainage and flood-control measures designed to protect lives and property. By the 1940s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had begun designing the patchwork of canals and other “plumbing ” components that fostered massive growth in the region.

The Everglades began shrinking as human activity increased. Thanks mainly to expanded farming and creeping development, it has lost more than half its acreage.

There have been a few recent signs that the effort to get the plan back on course might be gaining momentum.

Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott unveiled a budget in January that includes $130 million for key components of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

And in November, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved amending the state’s constitution to require that the state devote one-third of certain real estate transaction fees to water conservation projects. One catch: The amendment doesn’t require that any of the revenue be spent on the Everglades specifically.

There’s also talk in Congress that bipartisan passage of a water bill last year could pave the way for a new water bill by 2016 that could mean hundreds of millions more in federal aid for Everglades restoration. Advocates say any real progress depends on the state’s willingness to exercise an option it holds to buy land owned by U.S. Sugar Corp. that’s considered vital to the project’s future. Those 46,800 acres are in addition to 26,000 acres the state bought from U.S. Sugar several years ago that already are being used for water quality efforts. The state must exercise the option by mid-October or lose control of the land, which is vital for the water storage capacity at the heart of restoration efforts.

It’s not clear whether Scott will exercise the option.

Ledyard King|USA TODAY|3/15/15

GOV. Scott: Tamiami Trail Project Will Help Move Water South

TALLAHASSEE – Governor Scott today announced that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection recently issued a permit to the Department of Interior’s National Park Service, Everglades National Park, for the construction of 2.6 miles of bridging and road raising along the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41) in Miami-Dade County. The project will deconstruct a section of the Tamiami Trail and replace it with a bridge so that water north of the road may flow into the Everglades, providing needed water to the Everglades National Park. This project will result in enhanced movement of water south from Lake Okeechobee.

Governor Rick Scott said, “Restoring the Florida Everglades and protecting Florida’s natural treasures is incredibly important to protect the natural beauty of our state. The Tamiami Trail project will help move more water south from Lake Okeechobee which directly benefits the Everglades, as well as the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries. On top of completing critical projects, we have proposed a dedicated source of revenue that will provide more than $5 billion for Everglades restoration over the next 20 years. This funding will ensure that future generations of Floridians can enjoy our state’s natural beauty.”

The Tamiami Trail currently inhibits water flowing south into Everglades National Park. By constructing bridges, water will be able to flow more naturally to the Park.

DEP Secretary Jon Steverson said, “This is a huge step forward in our efforts to restore the Everglades. Moving water south through the Everglades is critical for wildlife, and keeping it out of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries is vital to protecting these important waterbodies.”

The total cost of the 2.6 mile Bridge Phase of the project is estimated to be $144 million. Governor Scott has committed up to $30 million/year over three years or $90 million total for this project.

In addition to long term investments, the department is working with the South Florida Water Management District and local partners to take aggressive action on both coasts to improve the quantity, quality, timing and distribution of water in Florida.

Governor Rick Scott’s 2015-2016 “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget provides a total of $150 million for Everglades restoration, including $20 million for Kissimmee River restoration. The “KEEP FLORIDA WORKING” budget also creates a dedicated source of revenue for Everglades restoration that provides more than $670 million for ecosystem restoration over the next four years and more than $5 billion over the next 20 years.  This means that during the Governor’s second term alone, South Florida’s families will know the state has the ability to fund its share of the restoration of the Kissimmee River and the construction of the C-43 and C-44 reservoirs – projects that will provide almost 100 billion gallons of storage to protect Florida estuaries.

nataliarodriguez2015|March.17.2015

DEP Grants Permit for Rolling Meadows Restoration Project

TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued a permit to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) for the first phase of the Rolling Meadows Restoration Project. The project will restore about 2,000 acres of natural wetland habitat and reconnect hydrologic flows to Lake Hatchineha, ultimately restoring water flow into the Kissimmee River and helping restore Lake Okeechobee.

“Restoring the health of the Lake Okeechobee watershed is a challenging and important undertaking,” said DEP Deputy Secretary for Ecosystem Restoration Drew Bartlett. “Restoring the Rolling Meadows property is an essential step in promoting healthy water flow from the Kissimmee Lakes into Lake Okeechobee.”

The Rolling Meadows Restoration Project is part of a statewide effort to restore and protect Florida’s water quality. It is the first new restoration project to be permitted within the Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP), since the restoration plan’s adoption in December 2014. The Lake Okeechobee BMAP identifies a variety of projects to relieve the lake of large influxes of phosphorus-rich water.

“We have seen great success to date with Kissimmee River restoration and continue to focus efforts on this crucial area in the headwaters of the Everglades,” said Jeff Kivett, SFWMD division director of operations, engineering and construction. “We can now get to work on Rolling Meadows and its designed improvements to water quality and for additional water storage north of Lake Okeechobee.”

The Rolling Meadows Restoration Project is located on property that encompasses approximately 5,787 acres in eastern Polk County, bordered to the north by Lake Hatchineha, to the west by Catfish Creek and to the south by Camp Mack Road. It is part of the federally authorized Kissimmee Headwaters Revitalization Project, under the larger Kissimmee River Restoration Project that is being undertaken by the SFWMD in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The construction portion of project is scheduled to occur from May 2015 to July 2016.

nataliarodriguez2015|March.9.2015

Water Quality Issues

California only has one year’s worth of its water supply left, NASA scientist warns

Plagued by prolonged drought, California now has only enough water to get it through the next year, according to NASA.

In an op-ed published Thursday by the Los Angeles Times, Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, painted a dire picture of the state’s water crisis. California, he writes, has lost around 12 million acre-feet of stored water every year since 2011. In the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins, the combined water sources of snow, rivers, reservoirs, soil water and groundwater amounted to a volume that was 34 million acre-feet below normal levels in 2014. And there is no relief in sight.

“As our ‘wet’ season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions. January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows” Famiglietti writes. “We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too.”

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that one-third of the monitoring stations in California’s Cascades and Sierra Nevada mountains have recorded the lowest snowpack ever measured.

“Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing,” Famiglietti writes.

He criticized Californian officials for their lack of long-term planning for how to cope with this drought, and future droughts, beyond “staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.”

Last month, new research by scientists at NASA, Cornell University and Columbia University pointed to a “remarkably drier future” for California and other Western states amid a rapidly-changing climate. “Megadroughts,” the study’s authors wrote, are likely to begin between 2050 and 2099, and could each last between 10 years and several decades.

With that future in mind, Famiglietti says, “immediate mandatory water rationing” should be implemented in the state, accompanied by the swift formation of regulatory agencies to rigorously monitor groundwater and ensure that it is being used in a sustainable way—as opposed to the “excessive and unsustainable” groundwater extraction for agriculture that, he says, is partly responsible for massive groundwater losses that are causing land in the highly irrigated Central Valley to sink by one foot or more every year.

Various local ordinances have curtailed excessive water use for activities like filling fountains and irrigating lawns. But planning for California’s “harrowing future” of more and longer droughts “will require major changes in policy and infrastructure that could take decades to identify and act upon,” Famiglietti writes. “Today, not tomorrow, is the time to begin.”

Zoë Schlanger|Newsweek|13 Mar 2015

Designing Wetlands to Remove Drugs and Chemical Pollutants

Drinking water supplies around the world often contain trace amounts of pharmaceuticals and synthetic compounds that may be harmful to human health. One solution being tried in the U.S. and Europe is to construct man-made wetlands that naturally degrade these contaminants.

Rising high in the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California, the Santa Ana River flows westward through cities and towns with a total population of nearly 5 million. Along the way, it receives so much sewage that 90 percent of its flow during the dry summer season is effluent, which is cleaned again and again at several dozen wastewater treatment plants.

Near the end of its 96-mile course, the Santa Ana comes to a seeming standstill in the Prado Wetlands. Covering 425 acres, the wetlands site — designed by engineers — consists of a series of rectangular ponds, through which the river’s gentle flow is controlled by dam-like weir boxes. It takes about a week for water to traverse the wetlands, during which time cattails and other vegetation help remove nitrogen, phosphorous, and other contaminants.

Today, the Prado Wetlands, which are operated by the Orange County Water District, are part of a new project to remove a different kind of pollution: the residues of medical drugs and synthetic organic compounds, such as herbicides, that are found in small concentrations in rivers but that may affect endocrine activity, metabolism, and development in humans. A year-old pilot project at the Prado Wetlands channels river water through three ponds, each about the length of five Olympic swimming pools. Sunlight and bacteria degrade residues of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, sex hormones, and other drugs and man-made chemicals before the Santa Ana reaches Anaheim, 20 miles downstream. There the river provides the drinking water for 2.5 million people in northern Orange County.

Concern has risen about the potential danger that may come from drinking water tainted by small concentrations of pharmaceuticals that pass through our bodies and are flushed down the toilet, not to mention other synthetic compounds discharged by agriculture and industry. Research has shown that endocrine disruptors and antidepressants may harm reproduction in fish, and endocrine-disrupting compounds also have been linked to adverse health effects in humans. Scientists also fear that the persistence of antibiotics in the environment could promote the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Currently, there are no U.S. regulations for medical drugs under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and only a few for the residues from consumer products. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Contaminant Candidate List, which establishes what chemicals should be evaluated for possible regulation, in 2009 included several endocrine disruptors called estradiols, found in products such as birth control pills. The list also included erythromycin, an antibiotic. The European Commission placed two types of estradiols and a painkiller called diclofenac on a similar watch list in 2013.

As a result of growing concerns, scientists and government authorities in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere are experimenting with the use of so-called “constructed wetlands” to remove these pharmaceuticals and chemicals from effluent released by wastewater treatment plants.

Constructed wetlands have been used for several decades in the United States and Europe to remove nitrogen and other traditional pollutants from wastewater. In the U.S., roughly 250 constructed wetlands have been built to treat effluent from wastewater treatment plants, and in Europe thousands of constructed wetlands exist, mainly for treating wastewater from smaller communities.

”There are a lot of potential applications of this technology to give communities a more cost-effective treatment than traditional approaches,” says Larry Barber, a researcher at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

About 10 years ago, thanks to the development of sensitive detection methods, it became possible to measure trace levels of these compounds in surface water bodies such as rivers. Tests reveal that many of the compounds survive passage through wastewater treatment plants. The EPA is currently investigating how well facilities that treat drinking water remove pharmaceutical products, and whether retrofitting these plants with steps such as reverse osmosis could improve removal. But there are financial and practical drawbacks. Reverse osmosis systems are expensive, and constructed wetlands need tens to hundreds of acres to process large volumes of wastewater.

One of the early indications that constructed wetlands could help treat pharmaceuticals and other synthetic contaminants came from a study of nonylphenol, which is widely present in laundry detergents. Nonylphenol is an endocrine disruptor and has been shown to have potent toxicity in fish. When a research team led by the USGS was testing the ability of a small-scale wetlands system outside of Phoenix, Arizona, to diminish nitrogen levels in the wastewater treatment effluent, they noticed that nonylphenol and its breakdown products were also reduced, some by 90 percent.

Since those tests, the team has built a full-scale, 380-acre constructed wetlands at the site, called the Tres Rios Wetlands. It is one of the largest in the U.S. and provides water for irrigation and wildlife habitat. It also has three main ponds that remove chlorine, heavy metals, herbicides, nitrogen, and nonylphenol.

Numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of constructed wetlands in removing such contaminants. A 2004 study of the Prado Wetlands found that the site helped reduce levels of ibuprofen and organic chemicals found in pesticides and flame retardants. Scientists in Spain have reported that natural systems efficiently removed a number of anti-inflammatory drugs and pesticides.

Still, many compounds, including some estradiols and antibacterials, are more resistant to treatment in constructed wetlands, with their levels dropping by only about half. “In my mind you definitely want more than 50 percent removal, or why bother?” says David Sedlak, a professor of environmental science and engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.

Sedlak and his collaborators are behind the pilot project at the Prado Wetlands. Inspired by experiments showing that drugs are degraded by sunlight as they move down a river, they worked on developing a new type of constructed wetland design specifically to remove these compounds.
In typical constructed wetland designs, weedy aquatic plants are the focal point, because of the myriad ways they break down contaminants. But they also overshadow, literally, the contribution of sunlight. So about a year ago, Sedlak’s team started testing what they call open-water units at the Prado Wetlands. Now, before wastewater enters the series of cattail-filled ponds, it drifts through one of three large ponds over the course of a day or two. To prevent plant growth, engineers used a simple approach: They put down a tarp along the bottom of the ponds.

Although the researchers are still in the first phase of data collection, the new ponds at the Prado Wetlands seem to work as well as a similar pilot-scale system in Discovery Bay near San Francisco that has been operating for about seven years. Early data suggest that open-water units at Discovery Bay remove 90 percent of sulfamethoxazole, an antibiotic often resistant to removal in waste treatment plants. An unexpected benefit is that a layer of algae and bacteria that grows on the tarp-covered pond bottoms appears to bind and degrade compounds.

Ponds similar to open-water units will also be incorporated into the Brazos River Demonstration Wetland, a 12-acre site that engineers started building in January in Waco, Texas. Construction should finish later this year. The project marks the first constructed wetlands designed to optimize the breakdown of drugs while also removing traditional contaminants found in wastewater treatment plant discharge. Brazos will not rely solely on photo-degradation to remove compounds. Water will travel through weedy ponds to remove nitrogen and then through subsurface wetlands with very low oxygen levels to help strip out chemicals.

Barber, the USGS geologist who worked on the Tres Rios wetlands in Arizona and also helped design the Brazos site, hopes that what they learn will improve design of small constructed wetlands nationwide, as well as larger wetlands that treat wastewater treatment effluent.

Recent research in Europe supports the idea that hybrid constructed wetlands — a combination of surface-level and subsurface ponds that do not freeze in colder climates — most effectively remove endocrine disruptors and other compounds. Environmental agencies in countries such as Denmark, Austria, and Germany currently provide guidelines and set standards for removal of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other contaminants in constructed wetlands. Researchers do not expect official guidelines on levels of drugs and other micro-contaminants until those substances are regulated.

Even without regulations, some communities are willing to invest in constructed wetlands, as evidenced by the Brazos site. “It’s about being proactive in terms of the right way to do water reuse,” says Barber.

carina storrs|3/17/15

Sao Paulo Could Run Out of Water by June

Yesterday we told you about a NASA scientist who estimates that the state of California has about one year left of water, which is bad, but not nearly as bad as São Paulo.

The water situation in São Paulo is so bad, that South America’s largest city will likely run out of water in June. As in about 2-and-a-half months from now.

That is the estimate set forth by Brazil’s own government.

According to Climate.Gov, the region is experiencing its worst drought in 80 years.

“The reservoirs that service the metro area of São Paulo and its 20 million residents were only at 8.9 percent of capacity during the middle of February, a shockingly low level.”

The Associated Press reported in January that the biggest problem may be the Cantareira water system. That system is the largest of six reservoirs that provide water to nearly one-third of the people living in the metropolitan area of São Paulo city.

“The water supply situation is critical and could become even more critical if the lack of rain and hot weather continue and effective demand management techniques are not created,” Mario Thadeu Leme de Barros, head of the University of São Paulo’s hydraulic engineering and environmental department, told the AP by phone in January.

Good news? Some rain at the end of February bumped them up to 11 percent.

As Climate.gov notes, low water levels are affecting more than just the drinkable stuff.

“The low water levels have also impacted electricity outputs, as hydroelectric dams simply cannot produce as much energy with reduced water flows.”

The government has announced a potential water rationing program to help stem the issue as well as announced planned blackouts to conserve electricity.

This year’s water issue is compounded as it’s actually the second year in a row that the region has faced severe droughts during what is normally considered their rainy season.

PRI notes that in August of 2014, the city turned off the water supply to area homes.

Residents were forced to use public taps, and “neighbors fought neighbors as dozens of people swarmed around the faucet. The outage went on for weeks, stretching into September.”

Eventually water trucks were called in to bring water to homes, but never to the city’s poorer neighborhoods and favelas. Elsa Barbosa, who lives in the favela of Chácaras Reunidas Ypê, told PRI that she eventually had to to use water from a disused old well. “We had to boil it a lot,” she said. “There were stomach aches and vomiting.”

This time, the drought has become so severe that some Brazilians have taken any rainstorm as an opportunity to bathe themselves. As RYOT reported in February, “when rain hit São Paulo, residents took to the streets to shower and clean their cars.”

What’s to blame for this drought? A mix of Mother Nature and humans.

Delcio Rodrigues, physicist with the Alliance for Water, told API that an unusually hot air mass above much of South America, paired with the fact that nearly 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest has now been deforested, was the perfect recipe for disaster.

Worst of all, none of this was a surprise. In fact, the Brazilian government released a warning six years ago predicting this exact scenario in this exact timeframe.

The warning’s solution to the issue then? Stop deforestation now. Perhaps this time, people will listen.

Stacey Leasca|RYOT |March 16, 2015

This post originally appeared on RYOT.

Water Hoarding Begins in Brazil as One of the World’s Largest Cities Runs Out of Water

The historic drought gripping South America’s largest nation is deepening, leading to rationing and forcing residents in one of the world’s biggest cities to hoard water.

As reported by Reuters, besides hoarding, Brazilians in Sao Paulo are drilling homemade wells and implementing additional emergency measures ahead of forced rationing that could lead to water being shut off at taps for as long as five days a week.

In Sao Paulo, a major metropolitan city of 20 million, the main water reservoir has fallen to just 6 percent of its capacity, and the peak of the rainy season has recently passed.

The drought is more heavily concentrated around Sao Paulo, but other cities in Brazil’s southeast, which is heavily populated, are also facing shortages and could eventually experience some rationing as well. Rio de Janeiro, a favorite tourist spot, is one of the cities that is facing less dire drought conditions.

As Reuters further reported:

Uncertainty over the drought and its consequences on jobs, public health and overall quality of life have further darkened Brazilians’ mood at a time when the economy is struggling and President Dilma Rousseff’s popularity is at an all-time low.

J. D. Heyes|naturalnews.com|March 15, 2015

World Could Have 40 Percent Water Shortfall By 2030, UN Warns

NEW DELHI (AP) — The world could suffer a 40 percent shortfall in water in just 15 years unless countries dramatically change their use of the resource, a U.N. report warned Friday.

Many underground water reserves are already running low, while rainfall patterns are predicted to become more erratic with climate change. As the world’s population grows to an expected 9 billion by 2050, more groundwater will be needed for farming, industry and personal consumption.

The report predicts global water demand will increase 55 percent by 2050, while reserves dwindle. If current usage trends don’t change, the world will have only 60 percent of the water it needs in 2030, it said.

Having less available water risks catastrophe on many fronts: crops could fail, ecosystems could break down, industries could collapse, disease and poverty could worsen, and violent conflicts over access to water could become more frequent.

“Unless the balance between demand and finite supplies is restored, the world will face an increasingly severe global water deficit,” the annual World Water Development Report said, noting that more efficient use could guarantee enough supply in the future.

The report, released in New Delhi two days before World Water Day, calls on policymakers and communities to rethink water policies, urging more conservation as well as recycling of wastewater as is done in Singapore. Countries may also want to consider raising prices for water, as well as searching for ways to make water-intensive sectors more efficient and less polluting, it said.

In many countries including India, water use is largely unregulated and often wasteful. Pollution of water is often ignored and unpunished. At least 80 percent of India’s population relies on groundwater for drinking to avoid bacteria-infested surface waters.

In agriculture-intense India, where studies show some aquifers are being depleted at the world’s fastest rates, the shortfall has been forecast at 50 percent or even higher. Climate change is expected to make the situation worse, as higher temperatures and more erratic weather patterns could disrupt rainfall.

Currently, about 748 million people worldwide have poor access to clean drinking water, the report said, cautioning that economic growth alone is not the solution — and could make the situation worse unless reforms ensure more efficiency and less pollution.

“Unsustainable development pathways and governance failures have affected the quality and availability of water resources, compromising their capacity to generate social and economic benefits,” it said. “Economic growth itself is not a guarantee for wider social progress.”

KATY DAIGLE|AP|03/20/2015

Great Lakes & Inland Waters

Sturgeon population estimated at 50,000

There are more lake sturgeon in the waters touching St. Clair County than in any other spot in the Great Lakes — and the population of the threatened species appears to be growing.

“Our best current estimate is in the 50,000-fish ballpark,” Mike Thomas, a fisheries biologist with the Department of Natural Resources in Harrison Township, said in an email.

He said the largest known spawning area in the Great Lakes is at Port Huron’s doorstep — the St. Clair River just south of the Blue Water Bridge.

“It is likely that this spawning site has been the critical habitat feature t hat has allowed this major sturgeon population to survive while most other sturgeon populations around the Great Lakes have been exterminated or greatly reduced in abundance,” he said.

The Blue Water Sturgeon Festival is May 30, during the sturgeon spawning run. The festival is in its third year.

“It’s unique to the area,” said Sherri Faust, environmental health educator at the St. Clair County Health Department and president of the Friends of the St. Clair River, the nonprofit that is host to the festival. “That’s what makes it so exciting and such a neat opportunity. Families should come down and see the sturgeon.

“We have more sturgeon here than any other place in the Great Lakes,” she said. “It’s a narrow window of time when they migrate through for spawning. That’s what we’re capitalizing on, the opportunity.”

The event includes demonstrations where people can touch a live sturgeon. The Huron Lady II will offer three sturgeon cruises, trolling a diver with a camera so people can watch live video of sturgeon. Seymour Sturgeon, the festival mascot, will be in costume.

“That’s the whole purpose of it,” said Jim Felgenauer, president of St. Clair-Detroit River Sturgeon for Tomorrow, one of the groups collaborating to produce the sturgeon festival. “To bring the sturgeon to the people.

“People who normally don’t get a chance to interact with the fish, to see the fish, are going to get an opportunity to view them up close.”

The sturgeon festival this year will include a 5K race and a 1K fun run. Runners who sign up today for the 5K can participate for $20. Proceeds will be split between the Friends of the St. Clair River and St. Clair-Detroit River Sturgeon for Tomorrow “We hope that brings more families down to the sturgeon festival that might not otherwise participate,” Faust said.

The 5K race and the 1K fun run are at 9 a.m. — an hour before the start of the sturgeon festival. Both runs start at Vantage Point and proceed south along the Blue Water River Walk. The price of the fun run will remain $10. The price of the race goes up to $25 after today and possibly to $30, Faust said, the day of the race. The price includes a T-shirt; fun run participants also get a medal.

Felgenauer said he expects about 5,000 people to attend the festival, which is in its third year.

“We like to bring people to Port Huron to spend money,” he said.

He started fishing for sturgeon in 2003. In all that time, he’s harvested one fish — the rest have been catch and release.

“We encourage fishing,” he said. “The best experience is when people catch one of these fish and get to handle and hold it. They typically don’t want to kill it.”

The sturgeon season is July 16 through Sept. 30. Felgenauer fishes in the lower St. Clair River most nights during those 77 days.

“We like to call Clay Township the sturgeon angling capital of the Great Lakes,” he said.

Thomas said the lower river and delta area has more lake sturgeon than any other area in the state, and local anglers have developed techniques targeting the big fish.

“As a result, more fishing effort for lake sturgeon takes place here than in any other waters of the state, and more lake sturgeon are caught and released here than in any other place in the state,” he said Catching a fish that weighs more than 100 pounds and is more than six feet long is the thrill of a lifetime, Felgenauer said.

“It’s pretty exciting when you have a six-foot fish three feet out of the water behind the back of your boat,” he said.

B ut he said sturgeon are more than an exciting gamefish.

“Everybody should care, and I’ll tell you why that is,” Felgenauer said. “They are considered a keystone species. If you manage for sturgeon, all the other fish will thrive.

“If the lake sturgeon goes bye-bye, that means we have something unhealthy happening in the environment, and we’re going to be affected by what that is.”

BOB GROSS|TIMES HERALD|3/15/15

Offshore & Ocean

Protected Pitcairn Seas Are 3 Times Size of U.K.

Today, the United Kingdom government announced the creation of the Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve, the largest fully protected marine park on the planet. Here, in one of the world’s most remote places, more than 322,000 square miles of South Pacific waters will be fully protected.
Why does it matter? Because large, highly protected marine reserves help counter the global effects of overfishing, pollution, and development.

Full story, facts, photos »

Two West Coast Marine Sanctuaries More Than Doubled in Size

After more than a decade of efforts to expand protection for California’s coastal ecosystems, the White House has announced approval of a plan that will more than double the size of two major marine sanctuaries in the region.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which just published the final rule, the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, located 42 miles north of San Francisco, will be expanded  from 529 square miles to 1,286 square miles, while the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary will be expanded from 1,282 square miles to 3,295 square miles of ocean and coastal waters that will include areas as varied as estuarine wetlands, rocky intertidal habitat, open ocean and shallow marine banks.

ca-map                                                                    Image Credit: NOAA

“We are thrilled to announce the expansion of two of our sanctuaries in California,” said Holly Bamford, Ph.D., acting assistant secretary of conservation and management and NOAA’s deputy administrator. “It’s important to conserve these special places that encourage partnerships in science, education, technology, management and community.”

Dubbed the “blue Serengeti” by scientists, these sanctuaries are home to an incredibly diverse array of species, including 25 endangered or threatened species, 36 marine mammals, more than 300 species of fish and more than a quarter million breeding seabirds, the largest colony of seabirds in the United States.

These sanctuaries have also been identified as some of the most nutrient-rich upwelling zones in North America, where nutrients from deeper, colder water come to the surface to support the numerous species who call them home.

Life there ranges from coral reefs, sea stars and tiny invertebrates, to some of the world’s largest animals. Some of the species who will now have an expanded haven to live and breed in, and to migrate through, include leatherback turtles, pacific white-sided dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, northern fur seals, northern elephant seals, Steller sea lions and harbor porpoises, in addition to a variety of whales including beaked, minke, blue, humpback, fin, gray and orca. This area is also believed to be home to the most significant population of great white sharks on the planet.

Previous legislative efforts brought by the state’s congressional representatives Senator Barbara Boxer and former Rep. Lynn Woolsey were thwarted by pushback from the oil and gas industry, but despite opposition these sanctuaries will now be permanently off-limits to offshore drilling and other disturbances. Boxer, who will retire in less than two years, told the San Francisco Chronicle the expansion will be one of her top legacies.

“This expansion is the outcome of a tremendous collaborative effort by government, local communities, academia and elected officials to provide additional protection for critical marine resources,” said Daniel J. Basta, director of the NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “It presents a bold vision for protecting the waters off the northern California coast for current and future generations.”

According to NOAA, the new boundaries will take effect after a review period of 45 days of a continuous session of Congress that began on March 12.

Alicia Graef|March 17, 2015

Humans Killed Nearly 3 Million Whales In The 20th Century

  It’s long been known that whales were seriously endangered during the 20th century, but new research shows just how close we came to wiping them out completely.

A study published in the March 4 issue of “Marine Fisheries Review” shows that, between 1900 and 1999, a staggering 2.9 million whales were killed commercially for food, oil or bone.

“Remarkably, despite the importance of industrial whaling to several economies and more recently as a symbol of human misuse of the world’s resources, there has until now been no attempt to estimate the total catch for the 20th century,” the study, entitled “Emptying the Oceans: A Summary of Industrial Whaling Catches in the 20th Century,” says.

Using current data from the International Whaling Commission, along with data from the USSR (which hunted whales illegally for 30 years) the researchers found that 276,442 whales were killed in the North Atlantic, 563,696 in the North Pacific and 2,053,956 in the Southern Hemisphere.

Researchers only counted whales killed industrially and found the numbers peaked in the 1960s and 1970s. (The number of whales killed for sustenance by native communities was a negligible amount in comparison.) Amazingly, the number of sperm whales killed between 1900 and 1962 was the same number of sperm whales killed in all of the 18th and 19th centuries combined. That record was then repeated in the decade spanning 1962 and 1972.

Howard Rosenbaum, the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Ocean Giants Program, told NBC News that the question facing researchers now is, “given the state of today’s oceans and the status of some whales, can depleted populations recover to their pre-whaling historical levels?”

According to the study, Southern Ocean blue whales are said to be at less than 1 percent of their pre-whaling numbers, and while no species was brought to extinction as a result of industrialized whaling, some subpopulations were completely destroyed (such as a community of humpbacks off the coast of South Georgia from 1904 to 1915).

Public opinion turned against whale hunting in the early ’70s. Judy Collins released “Whales and Nightingales,” an album featuring duets with Collins and the recordings of humpback whale songs, and Rex Weyler, then-director of Greenpeace, set a new agenda for conservation efforts.

“Saving the whales became the issue that we believed would introduce humanity to the idea of ecology and saving nature,” Weyler told NPR in December.

Other organizations joined Greenpeace, and by 1985, there was a moratorium on commercial deep-sea whaling.

Norway, Japan and Iceland still hunt whales for commercial reasons, and others for aboriginal sustenance.

Today, there are only about 500,000 whales left in the ocean.

“The total number of whales we killed is a really important number,” Stephen Palumbi, a marine ecologist at Stanford University in California, told Nature about the study’s findings. “It does make a difference to what we do now: it tells us the number of whales the oceans might be able to support.”

James Cave|The Huffington Post|03/18/2015

Wildlife and Habitat

Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition Completes 900+ Mile Journey at Gulf Islands National Seashore

The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition has been on the trail for 900+ miles and nearly 70 days. On March 19th, they will complete their epic journey which led the team through some of Florida’s most beautiful ecosystems including the Rainbow River Springs made famous by the recent congregation of hundreds of manatees.

The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition team welcomes you to join them as they complete their journey at Gulf Islands National Seashore — Fort Pickens at Battery Langdon Pavilion. Join the expedition team on Thursday, March 19 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. CDT as the team celebrates their final miles of their expedition. To RSVP to the finale, please click here.

Although the Glades to Gulf Expedition is almost complete, the work of Florida Wildlife Corridor is far from over. The passage of Amendment 1 and the awareness of the need for wildlife corridors is just the beginning.

In 2014, more than 93 million people traveled to see the natural beauty we have here in Florida. We are more than just beaches. Florida is home to coral reefs, oyster beds. dunes, marshes, swamps, hardwood hammocks, mangroves, pinelands and scrubs. With Florida becoming one of the most populated states in the country, the journey has not ended in connecting, protecting and restoring corridors of conserved lands and waters that are essential for the survival of Florida’s diverse wildlife.

To learn more about the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, the team members and the mission of the journey, please visit www.floridawildlifecorridor.org.

    Mallory Dimmitt|floridawildlifecorridor.org|3/16/15

    Suit Launched to Protect Pollinators, Frogs From New Pesticide

    The Center for Biological Diversity and other public-interest groups notified the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday of our intent to sue over its failure to protect a range of federally protected species — including bees, butterflies, amphibians and birds — from a powerful, newly approved insecticide called “flupyradifurone.”

    Even though the EPA recognized the chemical could harm endangered species, it didn’t consult with any wildlife agencies to protect those species. The insect poison could be particularly harmful to solitary bees that are often important crop pollinators — 4,000 species of which live in the United States.

    “This systemic insecticide makes a plant highly toxic to any birds, butterflies and bees that feed on it, but the EPA has turned a blind eye and approved it without considering how it will hurt imperiled wildlife like the endangered Karner blue butterfly,” said Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center’s new Environmental Health program. “It’s our government’s duty to investigate how dangerous insecticides might affect wildlife — not just rubberstamp their approval.”

    Read more in The Oregonian.

    Forestry

    This ecologist wants to plant a “pop-up” forest in Times Square

    Marielle Anzelone, a botanist and urban ecologist, wants to grow a forest in Times Square … overnight.

    Anzelone launched a Kickstarter campaign today, asking backers to help raise $25,000 by April 17 to transform a chunk of the glitziest block on Earth into a forest. The installation, which she’s calling PopUP Forest: Times Square, would feature shipping containers filled with trees, flowers, and soil, with the sounds of birds and other wildlife piped in from nearby woods.

    The goal, said Anzelone, is to put the spotlight on the thousands of acres of New York City that are not paved over, and need additional protection. “At the end of the day it’s about helping people see that nature exists in cities,” said Anzelone, “and its real nature, not necessarily weeds.”

    If the campaign makes its fundraising goal, the money will go toward creating a design and a prototype in Brooklyn. After that, she’ll seek sponsorship money to find the final project — and of course the green light from the Times Square Alliance board. (But hey, they have experience handling outlandish projects like this — after all, they’ve dropped a giant ball from a skyscraper every year since 1904.)

    If the project proposal is approved, the forest will pop up in June 2016, staying up for three weeks before being dissembled, its parts distributed around local parks and schoolyards. Anzelone hopes the final result will be “a crazy PR event for nature.”

    “Nature gets so little attention, but biodiversity loss is at the same crisis level as climate change,” she said. “I want to get people’s attention — and what’s one way to get attention? Grabbing public space, and setting up a forest in the most incongruous place imaginable.”

    Imagine: You’re heading to your office job in Manhattan when you glance up from your iPhone to see a full-grown forest where, yesterday, there was only a hundred-foot wristwatch ad. Instead of being barraged by horns, you’re serenaded by a springtime warbler.

    I don’t know about you, but I’d do just about anything to trade billboards for spruce trees on my morning commute.

    Liz Core|16 Mar 2015

    [The importance of urban forests cannot be over-emphasized.]

    Dog and Drones Battle Deadly Avocado Fungus

    In just a few weeks, redbay ambrosia beetles will be on the move in Florida, a major concern for the state’s multimillion dollar avocado industry. Florida International University researchers believe a combination of drones and dogs could be game-changers in the fight to stop a deadly fungus spread by these invasive pests.

    The beetles, which first appeared in the United States in 2000, carry the fungus Raffaelea lauricola, which causes a vascular disease in trees called laurel wilt. With devastating effects on avocado groves, more than 90 percent of trees die within six weeks of infection. 

    Detection is a major challenge. Diseased trees can begin to wilt within two weeks, and by the time symptoms are visible, the fungus has likely spread to nearby trees via root grafting. This is a particular problem in commercial groves, where trees are planted close together.

    As part of an FIU research program, three specially trained canines were recently deployed in a grove where the beetles were suspected. The dogs identified three infected trees, though the trees were not yet showing symptoms.

    FIU Provost and Executive Vice President Kenneth G. Furton and Biological Sciences Professor DeEtta Mills have developed the detection program, which couples drone surveillance with canine scent detection. Furton, a forensic chemist, has spent most of his career studying scent and canine detection. Mills, a forensic biologist, specializes in DNA research. 

    “This isn’t just a Florida problem,” Furton said. “From California to Latin America, there are growing concerns about how to respond to this aggressive disease.”

    FIU’s hunt begins with the drones. The vehicles carry thermal digital imaging instruments that search for stressed trees before symptoms are visible. However, the drones cannot identify the cause of the stress. That’s where the dogs come in.

    Canines have up to 50 times more olfactory receptors than humans and can be hundreds to thousands of times more sensitive to detecting odors. By using drones to isolate areas of concern, it provides manageable areas for a dog to search. The research team includes a certified dog trainer, drone operator and FIU graduate students.

    Of the recently deployed dogs, all alerted to the same three trees in the commercial grove during separate searches. Students from Mills’ lab conducted DNA tests on samples to look for the laurel wilt fungus. The DNA tests confirmed the trees were infected, meaning the dogs detected the pathogen much earlier than any other method available.  Currently, diseased trees must be removed, along with surrounding trees. More than 6,000 of Miami’s 74,000 avocado trees have been destroyed due to laurel wilt. But early detection could mean fewer surrounding trees would require extraction. In some cases, diseased trees could even be treated if the laurel wilt is detected early enough.

    The research is funded by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Furton and Mills believe the unique detection program could have far-reaching applications for the entire agriculture industry.

    Florida International University|March 18th, 2015

    Brazil: the fight is on to save millions of trees

    The Mundurukú people are fighting for their ancestral land

    The planned São Luiz do Tapajós dam looms over the future of millions of trees and numerous villages. The government of Brazil is pushing ahead ruthlessly to tame Amazônia’s rivers and generate cheap electricity for mines and aluminum smelters – a healthy environment and the rights of indigenous peoples are clearly lower priorities.

    The forests along the Tapajós river are among the most biodiverse in the world. If the dams are realized, it would be the death of the region as we know it.

    Reinhard Behrend|Rainforest Rescue|3/18/15

    [Please sign #8 in “Calls to Action” above.]

    Global Warming and Climate Change

    New documentary exposes the corporate-backed ‘experts’ who lie about climate change

    For Naomi Oreskes, professor of scientific history at Harvard, there’s no more vivid illustration of the bitter war between science and politics than Florida’s ban on state employees using terms such as “climate change” and “global warming”. No matter that the low-lying state is critically vulnerable to rises in sea level, or that 97% of peer-reviewed climate studies confirm that climate change is occurring and human activity is responsible, the state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, instructed state employees not to discuss it as it is not “a true fact”.

    In one sense, news of the Florida directive could not have come at a better time – a hard-hitting documentary adaptation of Oreskes’s 2010 book Merchants of Doubt is just hitting US cinemas. In another sense, she says, it is profoundly depressing: the tactics now being used to prevent action over global warming are the same as those used in the past – often to great effect – to obfuscate and stall debates over evolutionary biology, ozone depletion, the dangers of asbestos or tobacco, even dangerous misconceptions about childhood vaccinations and autism.

    Scott’s de facto ban is, she tells the Observer, “a grim state of affairs straight out of a George Orwell novel. So breathtaking that you don’t really know how to respond to it.”

    It is also a display of just the kind of prevarication and intransigence that Oreskes studied to establish her formidable scholarly reputation. Each argument – if that is the correct term – has followed a strikingly similar path, and in each case, scientists have been drawn into debates that have little to do with a sound-science, rigorous exchange of knowledge.

    Directed by Robert Kenner, best known for the hard-hitting Food, Inc., and backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, the Merchants of Doubt film exposes the tactics of climate change “experts”, who are often in the employ of think tanks funded by industries invested in maintaining the status quo.

    It’s a fascinating look at how overwhelming certainty acquired through rigorous scientific enquiry has been time and again upended and delayed by a small group of spin doctors. As one scientist points out in the film, they have to prove their case while their opponents only have to sow the seeds of doubt. Nowhere is that more keenly felt than in climate change, with a massive disconnect between public acceptance and the political will to act.

    “The scientific community feels it worked incredibly hard on this issue,” Oreskes says. “It has done exactly what it is supposed to do, which is study the question carefully from many angles, publish the results in peer-reviewed journals, explain it to the public and in reports. Yet it has gained no traction. Or worse – scientists are facing active attempts to deny, discredit, harass and, in some cases, sully their reputations.”

    The political split on the issue grew last week when secretary of state John Kerry warned climate-change deniers and obfuscators – presumably including 2016 presidential contender Jeb Bush (who accepts global warming but not that it is disproportionately caused by human activity) – that there is no time to waste on debating the subject. Fail to act, he said, and future generations will want to know how world leaders could have been “so blind or so ignorant or so ideological or so dysfunctional and, frankly, so stubborn”.

    As a historian of science, Oreskes is better-positioned than research scientists to challenge the situation. She recently suggested that the threat of climate change is so extreme, and time to curb its accelerating effects so short, that the scientific community should abandon its conservative, 95% confidence standard – which, she argues, is an unfair burden of proof that has no actual basis in nature. The science community is unlikely to back Oreskes in that opinion but her point is clearly made: there is no debate, and by entering the semantics of a debate, you’ve already lost.

    Yet the cost to moderate Republicans of bucking approved party thinking are well-known. The filmmakers visit Bob Inglis , a South Carolina congressman who lost his seat four years ago after being targeted by the Tea Party following a radio interview in which he said he believed humans were contributing to climate change.

    Oreskes’s study in Merchants of Doubt centered on a group of distinguished scientists, veterans of the cold war arms race, who came out in support of the tobacco industry and later cropped up opposing climate-change science. Since the research science on both issues is so clear, how could they be confused on the subject?

    “We found that they really believed they were defending the freedom, free-market capitalism, liberty and lifestyle they believe go with a laissez-faire economy,” says Oreskes. “It’s essentially a slippery-slope argument. If you allow the government to regulate tobacco or restrict the use of carbon-based fuels, it’s a step toward tyranny.”

    And that, Oreskes points out, goes back to Milton Friedman, and Freidrich von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom . “The original argument was authentic, if misguided. In recent years it has been cynically manipulated by the Tea Party and others supported by vested interests.” (Oreskes mentions Charles and David Koch, the industrialists who have already pledged to contribute $1bn toward influencing the 2016 elections.)

    In short, it’s a perversion of American notions of freedom, one that scientists are ill-equipped to counter. “The argument is, if you allow government to impose a carbon tax, then you’re going to surrender your liberty, personal freedom and individual choice,” says Oreskes. “That helps explain why this is such an American pathology. It plays into the cultural valences of individualism and choice.”

    At times, the argument has become entirely obfuscated and contorted by politics. It was, after all, George HW Bush who introduced the idea of carbon emissions trading . Liberals and Democrats opposed it. When it was found to work, and environmentalists embraced it, conservatives turned against it. That showed that Republicans have no serious interest in negotiating on this issue, says Oreskes. “They rejected their own principles!” [Emphasis added.]

    Clearly there’s more than enough blame to go round. In the US, one green advocacy group recently ran ads asking: “How many light bulbs does it take to change an American?”

    Oreskes comments: “If you tell people it’s about changing them, it’s not helpful. We need to say, ‘Look, this is a problem we could actually fix if we stopped being in denial about it.’” She argues that the media is also to blame. The idea of presenting balanced arguments – to give an opposing view – does not serve an issue such as climate change well, especially when social media has power to transmit discredited or perilous misconceptions. “Sometimes the evidence and the data are all on one side,” Oreskes points out.

    Last week she found herself on the receiving end of climate deniers’ outrage. Ninety-year-old Fred Singer, profiled at length in Merchants of Doubt, threatened to sue Oreskes and Kenner, following a pattern of response often used to raise the profile of climate contrarians.

    But it is becoming harder to imagine a happy conclusion. In her most recent book, The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From the Future , Oreskes and co-author Erik Conway imagine looking back on the world in 2093 from the year 2393. It’s a dismal view of floods, droughts, mass migrations and the depopulation of entire continents. In Merchants of Doubt Oreskes writes that industrial society has been “dining out” on fossil fuels for 150 years, and now we’ve equated ideals of freedom with the right to a lifestyle that those fuels permit.

    Even those who profess to be on the green side of the debate, including Hillary Clinton, are prevaricating on their opposition to the XL pipeline , designed to carry dirty tar sands oil into the US from Canada. Prevarication paid off for the tobacco industry, which profitably resisted science and government regulation for half a century, and it is paying off now for the oil industry. Rising temperatures are making previously inhospitable regions, including the Arctic, accessible to exploration and drilling.

    But it’s with no pleasure that Oreskes reports that the very groups that most detest regulation will ultimately see more of it when the consequences of inaction on climate change become unavoidable.

    “This story is riven with ironies, and that’s one of the most profound if we don’t get this situation under control.”

    Edward Helmore|The Guardian|14 Mar 2015

    Climate change is baking Alaska

    Earlier this winter, Monica Zappa packed up her crew of Alaskan sled dogs and headed south, in search of snow. “We haven’t been able to train where we live for two months,” she told me.

    Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, which Zappa calls home, has been practically tropical this winter. Rick Thoman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Alaska, has been dumbfounded. “Homer, Alaska, keeps setting record after record, and I keep looking at the data like: Has the temperature sensor gone out or something?”

    Something does seem to be going on in Alaska. Last fall, a skipjack tuna, which is more likely to be found in the Galápagos than near a glacier, was caught about 150 miles southeast of Anchorage, not far from the Kenai. This past weekend, race organizers had to truck in snow to the ceremonial Iditarod start line in Anchorage. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK.) tweeted a photo of one of the piles of snow with the hashtag #wemakeitwork.

    But it’s unclear how long that will be possible. Alaska is heating up at twice the rate of the rest of the country — a canary in our climate coal mine. A new report shows that warming in Alaska, along with the rest of the Arctic, is accelerating as the loss of snow and ice cover begins to set off a feedback loop of further warming. Warming in wintertime has been the most dramatic — more than 6 degrees F in the past 50 years. And this is just a fraction of the warming that’s expected to come over just the next few decades.

    Of course, it’s not just Alaska. Last month was the most extreme February on record in the Lower 48, and it marked the first time that two large sections of territory (more than 30 percent of the country each) experienced both exceptional cold and exceptional warmth in the same month, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. All-time records were set for the coldest month in dozens of Eastern cities, with Boston racking up more snow than the peaks of California’s Sierra Nevada. A single January snowstorm in Boston produced more snow than Anchorage has seen all winter. The discrepancy set off some friendly banter recently between the Anchorage, Boston, and San Francisco offices of the National Weather Service.

    Alaska is at the front lines of climate change. This year’s Iditarod has been rerouted — twice — due to the warm weather. The race traditionally starts in Anchorage, which has had near-record low snowfall so far this winter. The city was without a single significant snowstorm between October and late January, so race organizers decided to move the start from the Anchorage area 360 miles north to Fairbanks. But when the Chena River, which was supposed to be part of the new route’s first few miles, failed to sufficiently freeze, the starting point had to move again to another location in Fairbanks.

    On March 9, Zappa and her dogs set out on the 1,000-mile race across Alaska as one of 78 mushers in this year’s Iditarod. A burst of cold and snow are in the forecast this week, but for most of the winter, the weather across the interior of the state has also been abnormally warm. To train, many teams of dogs and their owners had to travel, often “outside” — away from Alaska. Zappa ended up going to the mountains of Wyoming.

    For Iditarod entrants, the warm weather can mean life or death. Last month, along the Iditarod route, a snow-mobiler had to be rescued after unknowingly trying to cross open water. A recent study said that Alaska’s rivers and melting glaciers are now outputting more water than the Mississippi River. Last year was Alaska’s warmest on record and the warm weather has continued right on into 2015. This winter, Anchorage has essentially transformed into a less sunny version of Seattle. As of March 9, the city has received less than one-third of its normal amount of snow. In its place? Rain. Lots of rain. In fact, schools in the Anchorage area are now more likely to cancel school due to rain and street flooding than cold and snow.

    Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Alaska’s recent surge of back-to-back warm winters comes after a record-snowy 2012, in which the National Guard was employed to help dig out buried towns. Then, about two years ago, something in the climate system switched. The state’s recent brush with extreme weather is more than just year-to-year weather variability. Alaska is at the point where the long-term trend of warming has begun to trump seasonal weather fluctuations. A recent shift toward warmer offshore ocean temperatures is essentially adding more fuel to the fire, moving the state toward more profound tipping points like the irreversible loss of permafrost and increasingly violent weather. If the current warm ocean phase (which began in 2014) holds for a decade or so, as is typical, Alaska will quickly become a different place.

    The Pacific Ocean near Alaska has been record-warm for months now. This year is off to a record-wet start in Juneau. Kodiak has recorded its warmest winter on record. A sudden burst of ocean warmth has affected statewide weather before, but this time feels different, residents say. In late February, National Weather Service employees spotted thundersnow in Nome — a city just 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle. “As far as I know, that’s unprecedented,” Thoman told me. Thunderstorms of any kind require a level of atmospheric energy that’s rarely present in cold climates. To get that outside of the summer is incredibly rare everywhere, let alone in Alaska.

    Climate scientists are starting to link the combination of melting sea ice and warm ocean temperatures to shifts in the jet stream. For the past few winters, those shifts have brought surges of tropical moisture toward southern Alaska via potent atmospheric rivers. This weather pattern has endured so long it’s even earned its own name: the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. The persistent area of high pressure stretching from Alaska to California has shunted wintertime warmth and moisture northward into the Arctic while the eastern half of the continent is plunged into the deep freeze, polar-vortex style.

    150311_FT_AlaskaMap.jpg.CROP.original-originalSlate

    The warm water is making its way north into the Arctic Ocean, where, as of early March, sea ice levels are at their record lowest for the date. The resurgent heating of the Pacific (we’re officially in an El Niño year now) is also expected to give a boost to global warming over the next few years by releasing years of pent-up oceanic energy into the atmosphere, pushing even more warm water toward the north, melting Alaska from all sides.

    That means Alaska’s weather, according to one Alaska meteorologist, is “broken.” Dave Snider, who reports statewide weather daily for the National Weather Service’s Alaska office in Anchorage, tweeted the sentiment back in mid-January. Snider emphasizes that this isn’t the official view of the National Weather Service, “of course.” Snider told me he made the comment “sort of in jest” but points to the nearly snow-free Iditarod start as evidence.

    Here’s another example he could have used: In early November, Super Typhoon Nuri morphed into a huge post-tropical cyclone, passing through the Aleutians very near Shemya Island on its way to becoming Alaska’s strongest storm on record. Despite winds near 100 mph, Shemya emerged relatively unscathed. A few days later, the remnants of that storm actually altered the jet stream over much of the continent, ushering in a highly amplified “omega block” pattern that dramatically boosted temperatures across the state and sent wave after wave of Arctic cold toward the East Coast. Barrow was briefly warmer than Dallas or Atlanta.

    The warm weather isn’t all bad news. The city of Anchorage has saved an estimated $1 million on snow removal this year and is instead pouring the money into fixing potholes and other backlogged maintenance issues. But getting around the rest of the state hasn’t been so easy.

    There are few roads in rural Alaska, so winter travel is often done by snowmobiles over frozen rivers. Not this year. Warm temperatures in February led to thin ice and open water in the southwest part of the state near Galena and Bethel. David Hulen, managing editor for the Alaska Dispatch News in Anchorage, has spent nearly 30 years in the state. He says the freeze-thaw cycle is out of whack, “changing the nature of the place.” Usually, things freeze in the fall and unfreeze in the spring; this winter, they’ve seen a nearly constant back-and-forth between freezing and thawing.

    That’s made it difficult for skiers and those enjoying other outdoor activities, like riding fat-tire bikes attuned to the snow. Julie Saddoris, of the Bike Me Anchorage Meetup, says attendance in her group is down this winter. Because of the lack of snow and ubiquitous slick ice, “riding conditions [are] very poor and hazardous,” she wrote in an email. Hulen agrees that it’s been frustrating. “I mean, what’s living in Alaska if it’s not cold and snowy?”

    Those are city problems. Meanwhile, along the state’s west coast, some native coastal villages are facing an existential threat, as sea levels rise in response to the warm water. Earlier this winter, the Washington Post’s climate reporter Chris Mooney visited Kivalina, one of the six villages considering plans to relocate due to climate change. “Here, climate change is less a future threat and more a daily force, felt in drastic changes to weather, loss of traditional means of sustenance like whale hunting, and the literal vanishing of land,” Mooney wrote. Another village, Newtok, is a bit further along in the relocation process, with construction on their new village — Mertarvik — already under way.

    The rapid change has brought U.S. Arctic policy to a crossroads. The United States is set to take over a rotating two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council next month — a mini-United Nations of the north — and has listed climate change as a top agenda item. At the same time, it’s also laying the ground rules for increased oil and gas exploration. In a warmer 21st century, Alaska may be more important than ever — which explains the increased pressure for a boosted military presence there.

    But for now, the most visible change is still in the shifting habitats of the fish, birds, trees, and animals. Permafrost still covers 85 percent of the state, but “almost everywhere, the depth of the active layer is increasing over the last few decades,” said Thoman. Since the active layer — the zone of soil above the permafrost that thaws out each summer — now penetrates deeper down, that means landforms are shifting, lakes are draining, and new forests are springing up.

    Patricia Owen is a biologist at Denali National Park and Preserve who studies grizzly bears. Last winter, warm weather brought blueberry blossoms earlier than normal. The blossoms then froze, making foraging for food more challenging for bears. Mother bears need to have good health in the fall to support their cubs during the long winter months of hibernation. Owen is seeing evidence of other changes within Denali: More episodes of freezing rain are having a big impact on sheep, which have to scrape through ice to eat. In low snow years like this one, wolves seem to suffer, since caribou and moose can escape more quickly. Studying these changes is difficult because the scientists don’t want to disturb the animals more than necessary. “It takes a while to really see the effect of some of these things,” Owen told me.

    Recent warming appears to have pushed Denali’s poplar forests across a threshold toward rapid expansion. Carl Roland, a Denali plant ecologist who has compiled a trove of repeat photographs around the park spanning decades of environmental change, says that what he’s seeing is “dramatic.” Still, says Roland, “it’s kind of a complicated story, because you have patches of the landscape that have remained pretty much exactly the same, and then you’ve got other patches that have gone off in this other direction.”

    Once the permafrost goes, Roland says to expect a “regime shift” in the park and across the state. The northward spread of tree-killing insects is also a “really big unknown” in interior Alaska. Last spring, a huge forest fire in a beetle kill area of the Kenai Peninsula sent smoke plumes hundreds of miles northward toward Fairbanks.

    For southern Alaska, fire season has been coming earlier in recent years, and 2015 looks to be no exception. Melvin Slater, a representative for the Alaska Fire Service, told me that the agency is making changes in response to the warm, nearly snow-free winter. “AFS will accelerate the availability of eight smokejumpers and a smokejumper aircraft by April 9, with an additional eight smokejumpers available by April 16,” Slater wrote in an email. That’s about 30 days earlier than normal. A few years ago, the Alaska Division of Forestry moved the start of the fire season up from May 1 to April 1 “as a result of climate change,” Tim Mowry, a division spokesman told me. The changes were intended to elicit “a sense of urgency,” Mowry says.

    But there’s a kink in these plans. Alaska government is strongly dependent on oil revenue — and falling fuel prices are forcing budget cuts to state agencies like the Division of Forestry.

    But for now, the Iditarod will continue. “Honestly, I’m thinking of moving, whether it be further north in Alaska or somewhere where they can guarantee snow,” Zappa said. “If you’re going to be a dog musher, you need snow. That’s the bottom line.”

    Eric Holthaus|13 Mar 2015

    This story was originally published by Slate and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration; this article is part of Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, New America, and Slate.

    Big news: CO2 emissions flatlined last year

    Solar, wind, and other renewables are making such a big difference in greenhouse gas emissions worldwide that global emissions from the energy sector flatlined during a time of economic growth for the first time in 40 years.

    The International Energy Agency announced Friday that energy-related CO2 emissions last year were unchanged from the year before, totaling 32.3 billion metric tons of CO2 in both 2013 and 2014. It shows that efforts to reduce emissions to combat climate change may be more effective than previously thought.

    “This is both a very welcome surprise and a significant one,” IEA Chief Economist and incoming IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a statement. “It provides much-needed momentum to negotiators preparing to forge a global climate deal in Paris in December. For the first time, greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling from economic growth.”

    Following an announcement earlier this week that China’s CO2 emissions fell 2 percent in 2014, the IEA is crediting 2014’s progress to China using more solar, wind, and hydropower while burning less coal. Western Europe’s focus on sustainable growth, energy efficiency, and renewables has shown that emissions from energy consumption can fall even as economies grow globally, according to the IEA.

    Global CO2 emissions stalled or fell in the early 1980s, 1992, and 2009, each time correlating with a faltering global economy. In 2014, the economy grew 3 percent worldwide.

    In the U.S., energy-related CO2 emissions fell during seven of the past 23 years, most notably during the recession of 2009, U.S. Energy Information Administration data show. Emissions in 2013 — the most recent year for which U.S. data is available — were higher than they were in the previous year, but 10 percent lower than they were in 2005.

    At the same time, the carbon intensity of the U.S. economy — CO2 emissions per dollar of GDP — has been trending downward over the past 25 years, according to the administration.

    Steven Cohen, executive director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, said the globe is starting to see the benefits of energy efficiency and the use of renewables, but those improvements may not last.

    “The decline in oil prices and the massive increase in fossil fuel use in China and India will push in the opposite direction in 2015,” he said. “We still need to develop a transformative renewable energy technology that is less expensive than fossil fuels and can match the reliability and convenience of fossil fuel technology. I believe we will develop such a technology, but the sooner the better. Our goal should be to drive fossil fuels from the marketplace.”

    The IEA will release a more detailed analysis of global energy-related CO2 emissions in a special energy and climate report to be released in June.

    “The latest data on emissions are indeed encouraging, but this is no time for complacency and certainly not the time to use this positive news as an excuse to stall further action,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in a statement.

    Bobby Magill|13 Mar 2015|Cross-posted from Climate Central

    How does climate activism differ in the U.S. and Germany?

    A survey of American climate activists by Grist inspired us to conduct our own survey on the priorities of German activists. Both surveys include a dozen or so leading figures of the climate movement in each country. Before comparing the two, let’s first look at what sticks out in each country’s survey.

    The causes of and solutions for climate change are highly complex, so it is not surprising that responses vary. Across the 15 answers from the United States, however, we identified the following common themes for priorities in 2015:

    1. Grow the climate movement: The top priority for American activists is building and strengthening the U.S. climate movement. It should not only become bigger, but also become more inclusive. More than half of the responses argued that the movement should go beyond tackling climate change and also address social justice and diversity.

    2. Fight fossil fuels: Many groups have joined the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline, against fracking, and against allowing oil and gas companies to drill on more land or off the coasts.

    3. Enforce existing climate policies: A number of respondents mentioned their support for President Obama’s plan to limit emissions from power plants — the main federal climate program — and called for it to be implemented in a strong and fair way. Only a couple called for new federal climate legislation, likely because the current Republican-controlled Congress would be sure to reject any such new proposal. A few also called for new aggressive policy at the state level, where there’s more of a possibility of success.

    U.S. word cloud

    The word cloud above shows how often issues were mentioned in U.S. responses. Other priorities noted include preparing for the next presidential election, working on energy efficiency, and making the U.N. climate talks in Paris a success. From a German perspective, one gap seems obvious: None of the U.S. activists talked about the role of nuclear power.

    The responses from the 11 German climate activists and researchers also ranged across the whole action toolkit for tackling climate change. But also here, clear priorities can be identified:

    1. Accelerating a coal phase-out: The top priority for German activists for 2015 is new legislation to speed up a phase-out of coal power, such as a climate action program, a new electricity market design, and the E.U.’s cap-and-trade program.

    2. Making the U.N. climate negotiations in Paris a success: Mentioned by more than half of respondents, a new climate treaty is the second highest priority for German activists.

    3. Expanding the energy transition beyond the power sector: Almost half of respondents called for the Energiewende, Germany’s shift to cleaner energy, to get going in the heating/cooling and transportation sectors.

    Germany word cloud

    Interestingly, the above word cloud made from the German responses also reveals the different governance levels that Energiewende activists have to navigate: German, European, and international.

    A comparison of the two surveys reveals a few salient differences:

    1. The American activists are fighting stronger opponents. The main natural resource left in Germany to exploit is lignite, the dirtiest form of coal. The passage of the Renewable Energy Act in 2000 enabled citizenry to compete with incumbent electric utilities profitably, thereby breaking the stranglehold on energy markets. Furthermore, money is not nearly as influential in German politics as in the United States. The U.S., on the other hand, is still home to very powerful oil, gas, and coal companies (the Germans never had enough oil or gas to bring forth big firms in those sectors). American activists therefore still fight the further expansion of fossil fuels. They have a much more uphill battle than their German colleagues, and this fiercer opposition must be kept in mind before we overly praise the Germans for what looks like greater progress on renewables. Simply put, the Germans have had weaker opponents.

    2. German activists have made up their mind on saying “Auf Wiedersehen” to nuclear power. The American public continues to debate the role of nuclear, and it is interesting that nuclear is not included in the U.S. responses. Only the executive director of the Sierra Club mentions that “nukes” are often more expensive than “clean energy” — a subtle indication that, at least for him, the latter does not include the former. The Germans, on the other hand, are vocal in rejecting a simple decarbonization strategy if nuclear is a part of it.

    3. U.S. activists set a greater focus on racial equality. Heavily emphasized by U.S. activists, this aspect was not mentioned at all in Germany. Why the silence? Germany is clearly multicultural today, the second biggest country for immigrants after only the U.S. In 2012, roughly 400,000 people moved to Germany, a trend that is expected to continue. Foreigners now make up nearly 10 percent of the German population. One possible reason that German activists aren’t focused on this: Dirty energy infrastructure is not disproportionately dumped on immigrants and minorities in Germany the way it is in the U.S.

    4. U.S. activists set a greater focus on the impact on the poor. Most German activists see energy poverty as a subset of poverty, which is a social issue. They therefore address energy poverty with social policy, not energy policy. In the midst of rising electricity prices, the Germans did not add coverage of power bills to welfare programs, which already cover heating bills, but rather implemented the country’s first nationwide minimum wage. The goal was to ameliorate the condition of the working poor in general. In addition, the budget for energy auditors who visit households was doubled this year. So Germany is reacting to energy poverty by giving citizens greater spending power and helping them reduce consumption.

    5. The German responses reveal a more international focus. Only a couple of U.S. responses mentioned the upcoming climate summit in Paris, while many more of the Germans highlighted it. The U.S. is largely free to design its own energy policy, with some coordination with Canada. In contrast, Germany physically borders on nine countries and has additional grid connections with Norway and Sweden. More importantly, as a member of the European Union, Germany is institutionally embedded in European federalism, so German policy makers and activists keep an eye on E.U. regulation, coordinate energy policy with other E.U. member states, and forge international alliances to pursue interests.

    6. German activists focus on new legislation, while U.S. activists focus on enforcing existing legislation and building a stronger movement. German activists’ biggest achievement has been the political consensus around the Energiewende on moving beyond fossil fuels and nuclear power. But it didn’t come overnight; it was hard work over many years. A strong movement came about by including faith groups, unions, farmers, and even manufacturers. This broad political consensus allows the German activists to focus on pushing through new or improving existing climate and energy legislation, both on the national and European level. German and European lawmakers are responsive and willing to act. In contrast, U.S. activists face a political roadblock in Congress. The 2010 climate bill was the last serious attempt in the United States to implement new comprehensive climate legislation on the federal level.

    Overall, the American activists have clearly identified steps that will make a difference. In several respects, the Germans have already taken such steps, so the success has been demonstrated. Several of the Americans in the survey talk about engaging with and protecting communities. One secret to the success of the German grassroots energy transition is that communities were the drivers. Ordinary citizens came together to create new energy cooperatives for their own wind, solar, and biomass projects when the energy sector and public officials showed little interest. But we should not oversimplify the matter by leaving the impression that the Germans are a decade or two ahead of Americans. In reality, activists in the two countries face quite different situations, particularly in terms of moneyed resistance.

    Finally, the question posed by Grist — “What should climate activists focus on this year?” – might have been posed differently if the idea had originated in Germany. Because Germany has a clear energy policy laid out through 2050 — the Energiewende — it is likely that the question in Germany would have been, “What should be done to speed up the Energiewende this year?” The U.S. is still debating fundamental directional issues, while the Germans are debating details about the direction already decided on. For instance, Americans argue about whether the Keystone XL pipeline is needed for domestic energy security. In contrast, the Germans are not debating whether they need coal power or not, but how specifically it can be phased out.

    Craig Morris and Arne Jungjohann|15 Mar 2015

    Obama: It’s ‘Disturbing’ That A Climate Change Denier Chairs Senate Environmental Committee

    President Barack Obama told Vice News in an interview released on Monday that it was “disturbing” that the chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works denied the existence of climate change.

    Obama was referring to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who threw a snowball on the Senate floor earlier this month to help make his case that climate change isn’t real. Even though Inhofe cited record low temperatures across the country as evidence that climate change was overplayed, the country has actually been experiencing a warmer than average winter.

    “That’s disturbing,” Obama said when Vice’s Shane Smith pointed out that the stunt would have been funny if it weren’t for Inhofe’s chairmanship.

    Inhofe, who wrote the book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, has also cited Scripture as part of his argument for why climate change isn’t real.

    Obama said he couldn’t fault people who were concerned about gas prices and that climate change was a difficult political issue address because it had no immediate payoff. But he also attributed some of the challenge to the influence that the oil and gas industry holds with elected officials.

    “In some cases, though, you have elected officials who are shills for the oil companies or the fossil fuel industry and there’s a lot of money involved,” he said. “Typically in Congress the committees of jurisdiction, like the energy committees, are populated by folks from places that pump a lot of oil and pump a lot of gas.”

    As president, Obama said that he hoped to get the country to get the country to see climate change “as a serious, immediate threat, not some distant vague thing.”

    Obama added that he recognized that even if he was able to secure international commitments on climate change and improve fuel and appliance efficiency standards, climate change would still be a big problem when he left office.

    “If I’m able to do all those things now, when I’m done we’re still gonna have a heck of a problem, but we will have made enough progress that the next president and the next generation can start building on it and you start getting some momentum.”

    The way that his daughters understood the science of climate change, Obama said, gave him hope that future generations would force politicians to take on the threat.

    “I guarantee you that the Republican party will have to change its approach to climate change because voters will insist upon it,” he said.

    Sam Levine|The Huffington Post|03/16/2015

    Florida Environmental Staffer Says He Was Reprimanded For Talking About Climate Change

    A Florida Department of Environmental Protection land manager says he was sent home and formally reprimanded for speaking about climate change and the Keystone XL pipeline at an inter-agency meeting last month.

    The Tallahassee Democrat reported on the disciplinary measures Thursday, following a complaint filed on the employee’s behalf by the Florida chapter of the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER.

    Bart Bibler, a land management plan coordinator, was served with an official reprimand “concerning his discussion of climate change, together with his position that the Keystone XL Pipeline would further aggravate this environmental problem,” according to the complaint filed with the DEP inspector general. Bibler was placed on personal leave, was told to stay out of the office for two days, and was “directed to seek what appears to be a mental health evaluation from his doctor to verify his ‘fitness for duty,'” the PEER complaint says.

    The sanctions against Bibler follow reports from former DEP staffers that Gov. Rick Scott (R) had barred state employees from using the words “climate change” or “global warming.” Scott has denied prohibiting the use of the terms.

    Jerry Phillips, the Florida PEER director, argued in the complaint that Bibler’s reprimand is emblematic of the state’s approach to climate change and “underlines the extent to which it demonstrates the fear that employees have in being made to appear as though they wish to discuss climate change or global warming.”

    Bibler was disciplined after a Florida Coastal Managers Forum on Feb. 27, according to the complaint. “[A]fter the meeting agenda had been largely discussed by every other participant, Mr. Bibler was asked to introduce himself and provide an agency update,” the complaint states. “He provided that update and also expressed his opinion that the Keystone XL Pipeline, if built, would further jeopardize the stability of our climate, which would also negatively impact the State of Florida.”

    Lauren Engel, DEP communications director, said in a statement Thursday that Bibler “was reprimanded for violating three DEP standards of conduct, including poor performance, insubordination and conduct unbecoming a public employee.”

    Engel said Bibler “engaged in personal political advocacy related to the Keystone XL pipeline,” even though the pipeline wasn’t on the meeting agenda. She said Bibler “failed to provide an accurate summary of the meeting” to his supervisor and “instead responded in a disrespectful and argumentative fashion by simply providing an attachment with the ‘Keystone XL Pipeline’ with a red circle and a cross through it.” She said the department’s leaders “respect all our employees’ personal beliefs,” but “expect them to perform their duties in an impartial and appropriate manner and to stay focused and engaged on job-related activities during work hours.”

    The complaint alleges that Bibler’s manager was upset about references to climate change in his written summary of the meeting. Bibler said he was asked to change the summary to exclude “any hot button issues, especially explicit references to climate change.” He refused, he said, “because it would have been untrue.” He said he added a symbol meant to express “Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline” in response to a request to change the summary.

    PEER has requested protection for Bibler under Florida’s Whistle-blower’s Act.

    Kate Sheppard|huffingtonpost.com|03/19/2015

    China, U.S. May Be Moving Closer To A Climate Deal

    BEIJING (AP) — A U.S. envoy for climate change said Friday that China and the U.S. are working more closely than ever ahead of a conference this year in Paris that raises hopes for a global plan to cut greenhouse emissions.

    Special Envoy Todd Stern told reporters in Beijing that he still expects hard negotiations between many countries in advance of the U.N. summit. But he told reporters there’s “a greater level of convergence on some very important structural issues” compared to the months before the last major U.N. climate summit, which ended without a significant agreement in 2009.

    With China emitting more greenhouse gases than any other country, and the U.S. a distant second, many are watching if the two countries can agree to a plan before the Paris meeting.

    “I think we’re on the same page on some issues, not every issue probably,” Stern said of the U.S. and China. “But we are working I think in a closer and more cooperative basis than we ever have before.”

    Similar bilateral meetings resulted in major announcements by both countries in November of landmark climate change plans, including China’s pledge to peak carbon emissions by around 2030.

    In response to a reporter’s question, Stern said he hadn’t seen any sign from his Chinese counterparts that they planned to advance that deadline, although some experts say China’s emissions need to peak much earlier to stave off major climate consequences.

    “We didn’t have any sense from within the (Chinese) government that there were views on their readiness to announce 2025 or 2020″ as a peak date, Stern said.

    He said Chinese and U.S. negotiators also hadn’t discussed how quickly, or even if, Chinese emissions would begin dropping after reaching their peak.

    Stern said the U.S. would like a Paris deal to set hard immediate carbon reduction targets and then a series of future reduction targets as well as pledges to generally move economies away from fossil fuels and other sources of carbon emissions.

    JACK CHANG|AP |03/20/2015

    10 Places You Have to Visit Before They’re Gone

    There are some places in this world that are uniquely beautiful, but are very likely to disappear soon. I comprised a list of the top 10 places you should visit before they’re gone.

    1. The Alaskan Tundra – The coldest biome in the world, Alaska’s Tundra is severely affected by global warming and is at risk of disappearing very soon.

    2. The Great Barrier Reef – At 500,000 years old,  it is the world’s most complex ecosystem, larger than the Great Wall of China, the Great Barrier Reef is slowly dying due to pollution and climate change.

    3. The Dead Sea – The lowest place on earth, the Dead Sea is also a natural wonder. Its water’s healing properties and renowned and its below-sea-level altitude makes it one of the only places people with psoriasis can get out in the sun without suffering. Sadly, with diversion of water from the Jordan River as well as industrial harvesting of the salt, the Dead Sea has been shrinking. Visitors today can see hotels and resorts that were once on the shoreline, now hundreds of meters away.

    4. Madagascar - World-famous for its lemurs, Madagascar has over 20 different species of lemurs and 80% of the flora and fauna on the island are unique to Madagascar. Sadly, the island’s entire eco system is being destroyed because of logging, poaching and land-burning (a way to clear land for farming). It is estimated that if nothing is done to stop this, Madagascar’s eco system will disappear in 30 years. 

    5. The Maldives – A Chain of roughly 1,900 islands in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives are a small taste of paradise. Most of the land in the Maldives is no higher than 5ft (1.5 meters), and with predicted rise in water levels, there is a great chance they’ll disappear in the next 10 years.

    6. Glacier National Park – Located in Montana, the park is losing its signature glaciers at an alarming rate. Where once there were 150 glaciers, nowadays there are 25 left with experts warning that they might be gone by the end of the decade. 

    7. Patagonia - The largest ice fields in the world after Antarctica and Greenland, are in Patagonia. A recent study found that about 90 percent of the mountain glaciers in the region are melting up to 100 times faster than at any time in the past 350 years, and at least a dozen glacier-fed lakes have vanished virtually overnight in the last five years alone.

    8. The Taj Mahal - One of the 7 wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal attracts over 3 million people every year. Sadly, due to air pollution and the crowds its white stone facade is slowly eroding. It has become so problematic that tourism officials are considering closing this monument to the public by 2020.

    9. Venice – With origins as far back as the 2nd century C.E., Venice is one of the most renowned cities in the world, made famous for its canals and gondolas. Venice makes this list because it’s still sinking. At a rate of 2 millimeters a year (0.02 inches), the city is likely to either sink slowly to its final rest under the Adriatic Sea, or crumble as the sea-water corrodes the foundations of the buildings. And if that wasn’t enough, scientists now discovered that the city is also tilting to the east…

    10. The Florida Everglades - The largest subtropical wilderness in America and the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere. With urbanization and water diversion, thousands of acres have disappeared, leaving the Everglades half the size it was a century ago. There is a national plan to save the Everglades, but whether it happens or not, only time will tell.

    Sasha K.

    Extreme Weather

    Cyclone hits Vanuatu islands ‘like a bomb’

    Cyclone Pam, possibly the worst cyclone in the Pacific’s history, slammed directly into the tiny South Pacific archipelago Vanuatu early Saturday, killing at least eight people and leaving thousands homeless, according to aid organizations.

    The sheer size of the devastation is only beginning to trickle out because almost all power and communications have been cut to much of Vanuatu, a string of 65 islands a quarter of the way from Australia to Hawaii.

    Its population of 267,000 is spread over the islands, with about 47,000 living in the capital, Port Vila.

    Save the Children’s Nicola Krey told CBS Radio News that she expects many homeless as rescue teams fan out across the archipelago.

    “Today we’ve only counted 1,500 people in an evacuation center in Port Vila,” she said. “That leaves tens of thousands of people unprotected from that type of storm.”

    Save the Children’s director, Tom Skirrow, told Reuters the conservative figure of eight dead so far came from the country’s National Disaster Management Office and was based on reports from hospitals and paramedic services.

    Oxfam, the international aid agency, said its staff in Vanuatu reported a “complete destruction of homes,” with three-story- high trees uprooted and small communities left with almost no homes standing.

    “We have no power or running water and are still not able to move around freely,” Collett van Rooyen, Oxfam’s Vanuatu director, reported. “The scale of this disaster is unprecedented in this country and the proud people of Vanuatu are going to need a lot of help to rebuild their homes and their lives.”

    UNICEF New Zealand Executive Director Vivien Maidaborn said the disaster “could potentially be one of the worst in Pacific history,” The New Zealand Herald reported.

    The huge cyclone, as hurricanes are called in the Pacific, hit Vanuatu dead center after a change of course to the west.

    Alice Clements, a spokeswoman for UNICEF in Port Vila, said, “It looks like a bomb’s gone off,” NZME News Service reported. “Tourists who have been to Port Vila wouldn’t recognize it.”

    Authorities in New Zealand are preparing for the storm, which is forecast to pass north of the country Sunday.

    Doug Stanglin|USA TODAY|3/15/15|Contributing: Associated Press

    Update: Pacific nation reeling from Cyclone Pam

    Vanuatu death estimates vary; destruction challenges communication, access to water

    Communities were in a shambles, communications remained near zero and access to clean water was a severe challenge Sunday on the Vanuatu archipelago, almost two days after Cyclone Pam blasted through the remote South Pacific island chain, the International Red Cross said Sunday.

    Estimates on the death toll varied widely, with some officials reporting at least six dead while unconfirmed reports put the death toll at more than 40. The immense devastation, damage to the communications systems and remote nature of the chain of 65 inhabited islands made damage assessments difficult. Pacific Red Cross chief Aurelia Balpe told The Australian that a pilot flew over the islands, reporting that on the southern island of Tanna, many buildings were destroyed. The southern end of the chain appeared to take the direct hit.

    “What he told me is that he could land — that was the first positive,” Balpe said. “But as they flew in and out they saw lots of trees uprooted and, what was most striking, all corrugated iron structures were destroyed as far as the eye could see.”

    CATEGORY 5 STORM

    Cyclone Pam, possibly the worst cyclone in the Pacific’s history, slammed into Vanuatu late Friday. Wind speeds of more than 165 mph made Pam a Category 5 storm.

    Vanuatu, about a quarter of the way from Australia to Hawaii, has a population of 267,000. About 34,000 live on Tanna and tiny nearby islands at the south of the chain.

    But the entire nation appeared to be devastated. The New Zealand Herald reported that 90 percent of homes in Port Vila, with a population of almost 50,000, were damaged or destroyed.

    “The immediate concern is for a very high death toll but also an enormous amount of destruction,” Sune Gudnitz, regional director for the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Assistance (UNOCHA), told Reuters.

    There were unconfirmed reports that 44 people had died in Panama province in the northeast of Vanuatu, UNOCHA said in a statement quoted by Reuters.

    Oxfam, the international aid agency, said its staff on the ground in Vanuatu reported a “complete destruction of homes,” with three-story-high trees uprooted and small communities left with almost no homes standing.

    “We have no power or running water and are still not able to move around freely,” Collett van Rooyen, Oxfam’s Vanuatu country director, reported. “The scale of this disaster is unprecedented in this country, and the proud people of Vanuatu are going to need a lot of help t o rebuild their homes and their lives.”

    Vivien Maidaborn, New Zealand executive director for the relief organization UNICEF, said early reports indicate the disaster “could potentially be one of the worst in Pacific history.”

    DIRECT HIT

    The huge cyclone, as hurricanes are called in the Pacific, hit Vanuatu dead-center after a last minute change of course to the west.

    Alice Clements, a spokeswoman for UNICEF in Port Vila, said the capital had been devastated.

    “It looks like a bomb’s gone off,” she told NZME News Service. “Tourists who have been to Port Vila wouldn’t recognize it.”

    John Bacon and Doug Stanglin|USA TODAY

    Update: Climate Change to Blame for Devastating Cyclone, Says President of Vanuatu

    You may never have heard of the republic of Vanuatu, an island nation located in the south Pacific. But, like many island nations, it’s on the front lines of climate activism because of its vulnerability to climate change.

    Just how vulnerable it is was demonstrated last week. Category 5 Cyclone Pam swept across Vanuatu on Friday with winds more than 200 mph, damaging or destroying virtually every building on the main island of Port Vila, wrecking most of its infrastructure and killing at least 10 people. The damage, death and injury toll is still being assessed, especially on outlying islands where communication is limited. Seventy percent of its population lives in these very poor remote areas, which already have minimal infrastructure. It’s said to be one of the worst disasters in the region’s history.

    unnamedTropical Cyclone Pam eventually grew to winds of more than 200 mph by the time it hit the islands that comprise Vanuatu. Image credit: @NOAASatellites.

    “This is a very devastating cyclone in Vanuatu,” Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale to Al Jazeera. “I term it as a monster, a monster. It’s a setback for the government and for the people of Vanuatu.”

    Lonsdale put out a call for humanitarian aid for the most basic necessities, including drinking water, medicine, clothing, eating utensils and other household items. Australia, New Zealand and the UK have already responded to his pleas.

    And in an interview with Associated Press, Lonsdale put the blame squarely on climate change.

    “Climate change is contributing to the disasters in Vanuatu,” he said. “We see the level of sea rise. Change in weather patterns. This year we have heavy rain more than every year.”

    Anote Tong, president of the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, whose existence is jeopardized by rising sea levels, which was hit by Cyclone Pam to a lesser extent, agreed, saying, “Climate change has exacerbated the severity of natural disasters and frequency, that’s worsening the impacts on different communities. I put forward this argument that climate change and disasters are so integrated and so related.”

    When the hurricane hit, Lonsdale and other Vanuatu government officials were in Sendai, Japan, attending the 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. They immediately headed home, where action was needed more than conversation.

    And World Bank vice president and special envoy for climate change Rachel Kyte told Agence France Press that those at the conference seemed not to connect climate policy and the growing number of extreme weather events such as Cyclone Pam.

    “I worry that a sense of urgency and a sense of shared ambition is not at the right level,” she told AFP at the Disaster Risk Reduction Conference. “It’s hugely ironic that this storm should hit Vanuatu while we are all here. If we truly care for those people, we have to respond. I think we have to hold ourselves accountable.”

    “I don’t think I would say climate change caused (Cyclone) Pam, but I would say the fact is in the past three or four years we’ve seen category fives coming with a regularity we’ve never seen before,” added Kyte. “And that has some relationship with climate change. It is undisputable that part of the Pacific Ocean is much warmer today than in previous years, so these storms are intensifying. We may have helped communities become resilient to the kinds of storms we experienced in the past, but resilience to a storm with wind speed of up to 300 kilometres per hour— that’s a whole new intensity.

    Anastasia Pantsios|March 16, 2015

    Vanuatu Islanders Running Out Of Food, Water After Cyclone

    TANNA, Vanuatu, March 17 (Reuters) – Residents of the southern Vanuatu island of Tanna said they were running out of food and basic supplies on Tuesday, after a huge cyclone tore across the South Pacific nation wreaking widespread devastation but not the heavy death toll initially feared.

    Relief workers were still battling to reach many of the islands pummel by Cyclone Pam’s gusts of more than 300 kph (185 mph) on Friday and Saturday.

    With communications cut off and reconnaissance flights revealing destroyed houses, shredded forests and damaged buildings, international aid agencies had been particularly worried about Tanna, which bore the full force of the storm.

    A Reuters witness on the island of 29,000 people, about 200 km (125 miles) south of the capital, said that while damage was extensive, it appeared most of the population had survived by sheltering in schools, churches and other sturdy buildings.

    “People sheltered in school buildings. We were helping one another,” Ropate Vuso, 67, told Reuters in Tanna township.

    “We are running short of food, water, shelter and electricity. We have no communications, we are still waiting for the people from parliament, the chief and the president, but still nobody is coming.”

    There were unconfirmed reports of four deaths in and around the main town of Tanna.

    Daniel Dieckhaus, an adviser for USAid, said hard-hit communities were showing remarkable resilience.

    “You can see them out there now, rebuilding with whatever they have,” he said.

    The United Nations said on Tuesday the official death toll from the cyclone was 11, revising down its earlier figure of 24, but many officials anticipate that number would rise once they are able to more thoroughly inspect the outer islands of the scattered archipelago.

    “The aerial reconnaissance flights confirmed significant damage in the southern islands, particularly Tanna island, where it appears that more than 80 percent of houses and buildings have been partially or completely destroyed,” Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told reporters in Canberra.

    HEALTH CONCERNS

    In Vanuatu capital Port Vila the clean-up was progressing after trees were uprooted and homes flattened, but there were worries about food scarcity and health after the main local food market was destroyed and the city’s hospital severely damaged.

    Bishop said Australia was sending a 20-strong emergency medical assistance team of doctors, nurses, paramedics and a pharmacist. They plan to set up a temporary ward in the car park of the damaged Port Vila hospital capable of treating up to 40 patients. Thousands are still staying in shelters overnight, with a 6pm-6am curfew in place to prevent looting.

    The majority of locals rely on foods sold at the downtown market such as taro, island cabbage, bananas, kumara and yams for their staple diet.

    Shops selling tinned food were open and stocked in the capital, but many locals do not have the money to buy them.

    “We have water, but the situation is very bad because people don’t have local food,” shop owner Colette Calvo said. “All they can eat is food like bananas that they pick up off the ground and they can get sick.”

    Australia, which has already sent five planes with personnel and humanitarian supplies, dispatched another three planes on Tuesday. It also began loading its emergency response ship HMAS Tobruk, which is capable of driving onto beaches, for possible deployment. A French navy ship was also being sent from nearby New Caledonia, while a U.S Marine Corps-based Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief team was also being made ready, Australian defense officials said.

    TOURISM HIT

    Formerly known as the New Hebrides, Vanuatu, one of the world’s poorest nations, is a sprawling cluster of more than 80 islands and 260,000 people, 2,000 km (1,250 miles) northeast of the Australian city of Brisbane.

    Perched on the geologically active “Ring of Fire,” it suffers from frequent earthquakes and tsunamis and has several active volcanoes, in addition to threats from storms and rising sea levels.

    Tourism, which accounts for about 40 percent of Vanuatu’s economy, has been badly affected, with Port Vila closed to cruise liners indefinitely.

    “We are keen to go back as soon as possible, given how important this industry is to the Vanuatu economy, but we won’t go back until the authorities give us the all clear,” said David Gray, a spokesman for the Australian arm of cruise company Carnival Corp.

    Almost 200 people, most of whom were Australian tourists or workers, were evacuated on two Australian military flights. Australia had another plane on standby on Tuesday to evacuate the elderly, the sick, pregnant women and children.

    Aid officials said the storm was comparable in strength to Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in 2013 and killed more than 6,000 people.

    Stephen Coates|Reuters|03/17/2015  (Additional reporting by Jane Wardell, Lincoln Feast and Colin Packham in Sydney, Gyles Beckford in Wellington; Editing by G Crosse and Will Waterman)

    Al Gore at SXSW: We Need to ‘Punish Climate-Change Deniers’ and ‘Put a Price on Carbon’

    The South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival is happening now in Austin, Texas. Running from March 9 to 22, it’s a massive film, interactive and music festival that is nearly 20 years old. The festival brings together designers, developers, investors, entrepreneurs and politicians for panels and discussions about technology and innovation.

    For the third time in the last few years, Al Gore, founder and chairman of the Climate Reality Project, spoke at the festival on Friday. Naturally, his interactive discussion focused on addressing the climate crisis. The former vice president focused on the need to “punish climate-change deniers, saying politicians should pay a price for rejecting ‘accepted science,’” said the Chicago Tribune.

    Gore said forward-thinking investors are moving away from companies that invest in fossil fuels and towards companies investing in renewable energy. “We need to put a price on carbon to accelerate these market trends,” Gore told the Chicago Tribune, referring to a proposed federal cap-and-trade system that would penalize companies that exceeded their carbon-emission limits. “And in order to do that, we need to put a price on denial in politics.”

    He called on the tech-minded SXSW crowd, which is dominated by Millenials, to harness technology to launch a grassroots movement to tackle climate change and call out climate deniers. “We have this denial industry cranked up constantly,” Gore said. “In addition to 99 percent of the scientists and all the professional scientific organizations, now Mother Nature is weighing in.”

    Years from now, Gore said the next generation will look back at us and ask: “How did you change?,” according to Macworld. “Part of the answer may well be that a group of people came to South by Southwest in Austin, Texas in 2015 and helped to make a revolution,” Gore said.

    Gore wanted these young, tech-savvy attendees to start a grassroots movement using social media like they did when “net neutrality was threatened or when the Stop Online Piracy Act threatened to blacklist websites that offered so-called illegal content,” said Macworld. That means signing petitions to fight climate change, utilizing social media to call out climate deniers in Congress and streaming the Live Earth Road to Paris concert on June 18, an event designed to draw attention to the climate talks in Paris this December.

    The former Veep even gave a nod to Pope Francis during his talk, showing a slide of the pontiff and saying “How about this Pope?” Pope Francis celebrated his two-year anniversary as Pope on Friday, riding a wave of popularity “that has reinvigorated the Catholic Church in ways not seen since the days of St. John Paul II,” said the Chicago Tribune. Gore said he was looking forward to the Pope’s highly anticipated encyclical on the environment which is due to be released in June or July. “I’m not a Catholic,” Gore said, “but I could be persuaded to become one.”

    Cole Mellino|March 16, 2015

    Arctic Sea Ice Hits Record Low Winter Maximum, Points To Evidence Of Long-Term Climate Change

    OSLO, March 19 (Reuters) – Arctic sea ice this year is the smallest in winter since satellite records began in 1979, in a new sign of long-term climate change, U.S. data showed on Thursday.

    The ice floating on the Arctic Ocean around the North Pole reached its maximum annual extent of just 14.54 million square kms (5.61 million sq miles) on Feb. 25 – slightly bigger than Canada – and is now expected to shrink with a spring thaw.

    “This year’s maximum ice extent was the lowest in the satellite record, with below-average ice conditions everywhere except in the Labrador Sea and Davis Strait,” the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said in a statement.

    A late season surge in ice was still possible, it said. The ice was 1.1 million sq kms smaller than the 1981-2010 average, and below the previous lowest maximum in 2011.

    With the return of the sun to the Arctic after months of winter darkness, the ice shrinks to a minimum in September.

    The U.N. panel of climate scientists links the long-term shrinkage of the ice, by 3.8 percent a decade since 1979, to global warming and says Arctic summertime sea ice could vanish in the second half of the century.

    “The majority of models point in the same direction – less ice,” said Sebastian Gerland, an expert at the Norwegian Polar Institute. And he said far less ice was surviving more than one winter – such ice is often thickest and most resilient.

    The U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization says 2014 was the warmest year since records began in the 19th century. Almost 200 nations have agreed to work out a deal in December in Paris to slow global warming.

    The Arctic thaw is disrupting indigenous hunting lifestyles in the Arctic while making the region more accessible. But low oil prices have discouraged exploration and tensions between the West and Russia have limited interest in Arctic shipping.

    “This new data on sea ice loss sends a clear message to the global community that the Arctic is unraveling, warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet,” Rafe Pomerance, chair of Arctic 21, a group of environmental groups, said in a statement.

    At the other end of the planet, the NSIDC said earlier this month that sea ice around Antarctica was the fourth-smallest for summer. Climate scientists say the apparently contradictory trend may be tied to changing winds and currents.

    Reuters|03/19/2015|Reporting by Alister Doyle|Editing by Tom Heneghan and Susan Fenton

    Genetically Modified Organisms

    MONSANTO LOSES GMO PERMIT IN MEXICO – JUDGE SIDES WITH THE BEES

    A number of countries around the world have now completely banned GM food and the pesticides that go with them, or have severe restrictions against them. This comes after the world has experienced a massive resistance against Monsanto and other biotech giants that manufacture GMOs and pesticides.

    It’s [the resistance] also a result of numerous studies that have emerged showing the environmental and health dangers that are associated with pesticides, as well as health dangers that could be associated with GMOs.

    The latest country to make headlines with regards to banning Monsanto products is Mexico, as a group of beekeepers was successful in stopping Monsanto from the planting of soybeans that are genetically modified to resist their Round-up herbicide.

    MONSANTO LOSES MEXICAN PERMIT

    Monsanto had received a permit to plant its seeds on over 250,000 hectares of land, which equates to approximately 620,000 acres. That’s a lot of land, and they managed to get the permit despite thousands of citizens, beekeepers, Greenpeace, Mayan farmers, The National Institute of Ecology and other major environmental groups protesting against it.

    According to The Guardian:

    “A district judge in the state of Yucatán last month overturned a permit issued to Monsanto by Mexico’s agriculture ministry, Sagarpa, and environmental protection agency, Semarnat, in June 2012 that allowed commercial planting of Round-up ready Soybeans. In withdrawing the permit, the judge was convinced by the scientific evidence presented about the threats posed by GM soy crops to honey production in the Yucatán peninsula, which includes Campeche, Quintana Roo and Yucatán states. Co-existence between honey production and GM soybeans is not possible, the judge ruled.” (source)

    Mexico is the fourth largest honey producer and fifth largest honey exporter in the world. 

    BREAKING-NEWS.CA|3/15/15

    GMO Science Deniers: Monsanto and the USDA

    Perhaps no group of science deniers has been more ridiculed than those who deny the science of evolution. What you may not know is that Monsanto and our United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are among them. That’s right: for decades, Monsanto and its enablers inside the USDA have denied the central tenets of evolutionary biology, namely natural selection and adaptation. And this denial of basic science by the company and our government threatens the future viability of American agriculture.

    Third Grade Science

    Let’s start with interrelated concepts of natural selection and adaptation. This is elementary school science. In fact, in Washington D.C. it is part of the basic third grade science curriculum.

    As we all remember from biology class, when an environment changes, trait variation in a species could allow some in that species to adapt to that new environment and survive. Others will die out. The survivors are then able to reproduce and even thrive under the new environmental conditions. For example, if a drought were to occur, some plants might have traits that allow them to survive while other plants in the same species would perish. The drought-resistant plants then become the “evolved” species, and they are able to reproduce in the drought environment.

    Obvious, you are thinking. But let’s explore how Monsanto’s top scientists and government regulators would have failed a third grade science class in D.C. and the dire consequences that it is bringing to us all.

    Biotech’s Dirty Little Secret

    First a little background. Since the early 1980s, Monsanto has endlessly hyped genetically engineered (GE) crops they claim could reduce hunger, reduce pesticide use, and survive droughts. In reality, no such “miracle” crops exist. No significantly greater yielding crops, no more effective drought resistance crops. And as for the claim of less pesticide use, behind this myth lies the “dirty little secret” of agricultural biotechnology. Namely, that GE crops actually add hundreds of millions of pounds of pesticides to our fields and crops, and create greater agrochemical residues on our food. Why? Because around 85 percent of all genetically engineered crops in the United States and around the world have been engineered to withstand massive doses of herbicides, mostly Monsanto’s Roundup. Usually, if toxic weed-killing chemicals such as Roundup come into contact with a crop they will destroy it as well as the weeds around it. But Monsanto scientists genetically engineered a cassette of bacterial and viral DNA into plants that allowed them to tolerate these herbicides. So the weeds are killed, but the crops remain.

    In the United States, more than 50 percent of all our cropland is devoted to GE corn, soy and cotton. They are commodity crops that feed cars, animals in industrial meat production and are used for additives like high fructose corn syrup. Almost none directly feeds people. So rather than feeding the hungry, this technology is about chemical companies selling more chemicals, a lot more chemicals. So as noted, each year 115 million more pounds of Roundup are spread on our farmlands because of these altered crops.

    Profits versus Science: Science loses

    If half of our nation’s cropland is doused year after year with a particular herbicide, that is a significant change in the environment. The accompanying problem of adaptation and selection has probably already occurred to you. Wouldn’t that massive increase in Roundup use over that huge a portion of our cropland cause some weed populations to develop resistance? Wouldn’t weeds with natural resistance thrive in this new environment? Wouldn’t these new “superweeds” eventually become a major problem for U.S. farmers, overrunning their crops?

    As government regulators were considering whether to approve these plants in the mid-1990s, they asked Monsanto just that question. No doubt considering the billions they were going to make selling more Roundup, this is a moment when Monsanto’s scientists seemed to find it convenient to their bottom line to deny basic evolutionary science. They stated, “Evolution of weed resistance to glyphosate (Roundup’s active ingredient) appears to be an unlikely event.” They also suggested that massive use of Roundup would lead to “no resistant weeds.” Independent scientists were aghast. They mocked Monsanto’s view that Roundup was somehow “invincible” from the laws of natural selection, and pointed out that the company’s scientists purposely ignored numerous studies that showed there would be weed resistance. But incredibly, despite the strong contrary evidence, the USDA regulators just nodded in science denying agreement with Monsanto.

    Of course, adaptation and natural selection did take place. As a result, in less than 20 years, more than half of all U.S. farms have some Roundup resistant “superweeds,” weeds that now infest 70 million acres of U.S farmland, an area the size of Wyoming. Each year we see major expansion of this “superweed” acreage. Texas has gone so far as to declare a state of emergency for cotton farmers. Superweeds are already causing major economic problems for farmers with a current estimate of $1 billion lost in damages to crops so far.

    Last year in a panel discussion with Robert Fraley, Chief Technology Officer for Monsanto and a founder of these herbicide tolerant crops, I confronted him. How could he and the other Monsanto scientists have claimed that natural selection would not take place? How could they ignore basic evolutionary science and clear contrary evidence? He just shook his head and said “You’re right, weeds have evolved resistance.” But apparently, Monsanto and their government regulators still haven’t learned this third grade science lesson. They’re denying science once again, and the stakes are even higher.

    “Agent Orange Crops” and More Science Denial

    Now Monsanto and Dow Chemical have received government approval to market new genetically engineered corn, soy and cotton, that are “stacked” with engineered DNA that make them resistant to Roundup as well as 2,4-D (one of the chief elements of “Agent Orange”). Monsanto has also gained approval from the USDA for the same three crops that can tolerate Dicamba. 2,4-D and Dicamba are older, more toxic herbicides than Roundup, and these companies are reverting to them because they have brought us to the point of peak herbicides. They simply don’t have any new ones, similar to the current crisis in antibiotics.

    But won’t the weeds simply become resistant to these herbicides as well? Not according to the science deniers at Monsanto and Dow Chemical. Despite predictions that their new crops will add hundreds of millions more pounds of these herbicides each year, they say not to worry. They claim — as they did 20 years ago — that natural selection will not happen; that it is extremely unlikely for weeds to survive simultaneous attacks from two or more different herbicides with different methods.

    Weed scientists have shredded this argument, noting that weeds in the past, through adaption, have done this and will almost certainly do it again. So in a few years we will be overrun with “superweeds” that are virtually indestructible by any known chemical. But by then Monsanto and Dow will have made billions selling their chemicals and can leave the “superweed” agronomic nightmare for others to solve. Nor will they have to deal with the other nightmares that could possibly occur: increased rates of cancer and diseases like Parkinson’s associated with exposure to these herbicides.

    A Better Way

    A science-based, and safer, way forward is to abandon this doomed-to-fail chemical arms race against weeds and use ecologically based weed control. There are proven organic and agroecological approaches that emphasize weed management rather than weed eradication, soil building rather than soil supplementing. Crop rotation and cover crops can return productive yields without ridding the land of genetic biodiversity, and could reduce herbicide use by 90 percent.

    So it’s long past due that our government required real and rigorous science when regulating GE crops. It’s time for them to say “no” to these herbicide-promoting crops, and prevent the looming agronomic disaster they will inevitably bring with them.

    In the meantime, the next time you read hear about “GMO science deniers” — think of 70 million acres of superweeds; think cancer, Parkinson’s and other diseases caused by this growing use of herbicides; think Monsanto and its enablers at the USDA.

      Andrew Kimbrell|Founder and Executive Director|Center for Food Safety|03/20/2015

    Energy

    Big Oil’s business model is broken

    Many reasons have been provided for the dramatic plunge in the price of oil to about $60 per barrel (nearly half of what it was a year ago): slowing demand due to global economic stagnation; overproduction at shale fields in the United States; the decision of the Saudis and other Middle Eastern OPEC producers to maintain output at current levels (presumably to punish higher-cost producers in the U.S. and elsewhere); and the increased value of the dollar relative to other currencies. There is, however, one reason that’s not being discussed, and yet it could be the most important of all: the complete collapse of Big Oil’s production-maximizing business model.

    Until last fall, when the price decline gathered momentum, the oil giants were operating at full throttle, pumping out more petroleum every day. They did so, of course, in part to profit from the high prices. For most of the previous six years, Brent crude, the international benchmark for crude oil, had been selling at $100 or higher. But Big Oil was also operating according to a business model that assumed an ever-increasing demand for its products, however costly they might be to produce and refine. This meant that no fossil fuel reserves, no potential source of supply — no matter how remote or hard to reach, how far offshore or deeply buried, how encased in rock — was deemed untouchable in the mad scramble to increase output and profits.

    In recent years, this output-maximizing strategy had, in turn, generated historic wealth for the giant oil companies. Exxon, the largest U.S.-based oil firm, earned an eye-popping $32.6 billion in 2013 alone, more than any other American company except for Apple. Chevron, the second biggest oil firm, posted earnings of $21.4 billion that same year. State-owned companies like Saudi Aramco and Russia’s Rosneft also reaped mammoth profits.

    How things have changed in a matter of mere months. With demand stagnant and excess production the story of the moment, the very strategy that had generated record-breaking profits has suddenly become hopelessly dysfunctional.

    To fully appreciate the nature of the energy industry’s predicament, it’s necessary to go back a decade, to 2005, when the production-maximizing strategy was first adopted. At that time, Big Oil faced a critical juncture. On the one hand, many existing oil fields were being depleted at a torrid pace, leading experts to predict an imminent “peak” in global oil production, followed by an irreversible decline. On the other, rapid economic growth in China, India, and other developing nations was pushing demand for fossil fuels into the stratosphere. In those same years, concern over climate change was also beginning to gather momentum, threatening the future of Big Oil and generating pressures to invest in alternative forms of energy.

    A “Brave New World” of tough oil

    No one better captured that moment than David O’Reilly, the chair and CEO of Chevron. “Our industry is at a strategic inflection point, a unique place in our history,” he told a gathering of oil executives that February. “The most visible element of this new equation,” he explained in what some observers dubbed his “Brave New World” address, “is that relative to demand, oil is no longer in plentiful supply.” Even though China was sucking up oil, coal, and natural gas supplies at a staggering rate, he had a message for that country and the world: “The era of easy access to energy is over.”

    To prosper in such an environment, O’Reilly explained, the oil industry would have to adopt a new strategy. It would have to look beyond the easy-to-reach sources that had powered it in the past and make massive investments in the extraction of what the industry calls “unconventional oil” and what I labeled at the time “tough oil”: resources located far offshore, in the threatening environments of the far north, in politically dangerous places like Iraq, or in unyielding rock formations like shale. “Increasingly,” O’Reilly insisted, “future supplies will have to be found in ultradeep water and other remote areas, development projects that will ultimately require new technology and trillions of dollars of investment in new infrastructure.”

    For top industry officials like O’Reilly, it seemed evident that Big Oil had no choice in the matter. It would have to invest those needed trillions in tough-oil projects or lose ground to other sources of energy, drying up its stream of profits. True, the cost of extracting unconventional oil would be much greater than from easier-to-reach conventional reserves (not to mention more environmentally hazardous), but that would be the world’s problem, not theirs. “Collectively, we are stepping up to this challenge,” O’Reilly declared. “The industry is making significant investments to build additional capacity for future production.”

    On this basis, Chevron, Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell, and other major firms indeed invested enormous amounts of money and resources in a growing unconventional oil and gas race, an extraordinary saga I described in my book The Race for What’s Left. Some, including Chevron and Shell, started drilling in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico; others, including Exxon, commenced operations in the Arctic and eastern Siberia.  Virtually every one of them began exploiting U.S. shale reserves via hydro-fracking.

    Only one top executive questioned this drill-baby-drill approach: John Browne, then the chief executive of BP. Claiming that the science of climate change had become too convincing to deny, Browne argued that Big Energy would have to look “beyond petroleum” and put major resources into alternative sources of supply. “Climate change is an issue which raises fundamental questions about the relationship between companies and society as a whole, and between one generation and the next,” he had declared as early as 2002. For BP, he indicated, that meant developing wind power, solar power, and biofuels.

    Browne, however, was eased out of BP in 2007 just as Big Oil’s output-maximizing business model was taking off, and his successor, Tony Hayward, quickly abandoned the “beyond petroleum” approach. “Some may question whether so much of the [world’s energy] growth needs to come from fossil fuels,” he said in 2009. “But here it is vital that we face up to the harsh reality [of energy availability].” Despite the growing emphasis on renewables, “we still foresee 80 percent of energy coming from fossil fuels in 2030.”

    Under Hayward’s leadership, BP largely discontinued its research into alternative forms of energy and reaffirmed its commitment to the production of oil and gas, the tougher the better. Following in the footsteps of other giant firms, BP hustled into the Arctic, the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico, and Canadian tar sands, a particularly carbon-dirty and messy-to-produce form of energy. In its drive to become the leading producer in the Gulf, BP rushed the exploration of a deep offshore field it called Macondo, triggering the Deepwater Horizon blow-out of April 2010 and the devastating oil spill of monumental proportions that followed.

    Over the cliff

    By the end of the first decade of this century, Big Oil was united in its embrace of its new production-maximizing, drill-baby-drill approach. It made the necessary investments, perfected new technology for extracting tough oil, and did indeed triumph over the decline of existing, “easy oil” deposits. In those years, it managed to ramp up production in remarkable ways, bringing ever more hard-to-reach oil reservoirs online.

    According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the U.S. Department of Energy, world oil production rose from 85.1 million barrels per day in 2005 to 92.9 million in 2014, despite the continuing decline of many legacy fields in North America and the Middle East. Claiming that industry investments in new drilling technologies had vanquished the specter of oil scarcity, BP’s latest CEO, Bob Dudley, assured the world only a year ago that Big Oil was going places and the only thing that had “peaked” was “the theory of peak oil.”

    That, of course, was just before oil prices took their leap off the cliff, bringing instantly into question the wisdom of continuing to pump out record levels of petroleum. The production-maximizing strategy crafted by O’Reilly and his fellow CEOs rested on three fundamental assumptions that, year after year, demand would keep climbing; that such rising demand would ensure prices high enough to justify costly investments in unconventional oil; and that concern over climate change would in no significant way alter the equation. Today, none of these assumptions holds true.

    Demand will continue to rise — that’s undeniable, given expected growth in world income and population — but not at the pace to which Big Oil has become accustomed. Consider this: In 2005, when many of the major investments in unconventional oil were getting under way, the EIA projected that global oil demand would reach 103.2 million barrels per day in 2015; now, it’s lowered that figure for this year to only 93.1 million barrels. Those 10 million “lost” barrels per day in expected consumption may not seem like a lot, given the total figure, but keep in mind that Big Oil’s multibillion-dollar investments in tough energy were predicated on all that added demand materializing, thereby generating the kind of high prices needed to offset the increasing costs of extraction. With so much anticipated demand vanishing, however, prices were bound to collapse.

    Current indications suggest that consumption will continue to fall short of expectations in the years to come. In an assessment of future trends released last month, the EIA reported that, thanks to deteriorating global economic conditions, many countries will experience either a slower rate of growth or an actual reduction in consumption. While still inching up, Chinese consumption, for instance, is expected to grow by only 0.3 million barrels per day this year and next — a far cry from the 0.5 million barrel increase it posted in 2011 and 2012 and its 1 million barrel increase in 2010. In Europe and Japan, meanwhile, consumption is actually expected to fall over the next two years.

    And this slowdown in demand is likely to persist well beyond 2016, suggests the International Energy Agency (IEA), an arm of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (the club of rich industrialized nations). While lower gasoline prices may spur increased consumption in the United States and a few other nations, it predicted, most countries will experience no such lift and so “the recent price decline is expected to have only a marginal impact on global demand growth for the remainder of the decade.”

    This being the case, the IEA believes that oil prices will only average about $55 per barrel in 2015 and not reach $73 again until 2020. Such figures fall far below what would be needed to justify continued investment in and exploitation of tough-oil options like Canadian tar sands, Arctic oil, and many shale projects. Indeed, the financial press is now full of reports on stalled or cancelled mega-energy projects. Shell, for example, announced in January that it had abandoned plans for a $6.5 billion petrochemical plant in Qatar, citing “the current economic climate prevailing in the energy industry.” At the same time, Chevron shelved its plan to drill in the Arctic waters of the Beaufort Sea, while Norway’s Statoil turned its back on drilling in Greenland.

    There is, as well, another factor that threatens the well-being of Big Oil: Climate change can no longer be discounted in any future energy business model. The pressures to deal with a phenomenon that could quite literally destroy human civilization are growing.  Although Big Oil has spent massive amounts of money over the years in a campaign to raise doubts about the science of climate change, more and more people globally are starting to worry about its effects — extreme weather patterns, extreme storms, extreme drought, rising sea levels, and the like — and demanding that governments take action to reduce the magnitude of the threat.

    Europe has already adopted plans to lower carbon emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 and to achieve even greater reductions in the following decades. China, while still increasing its reliance on fossil fuels, has at least finally pledged to cap the growth of its carbon emissions by 2030 and to increase renewable energy sources to 20 percent of total energy use by then. In the United States, increasingly stringent automobile fuel-efficiency standards will require that cars sold in 2025 achieve an average of 54.5 miles per gallon, reducing U.S. oil demand by 2.2 million barrels per day. (Of course, the Republican-controlled Congress — heavily subsidized by Big Oil — will do everything it can to eradicate curbs on fossil fuel consumption.)

    Still, however inadequate the response to the dangers of climate change thus far, the issue is on the energy map and its influence on policy globally can only increase. Whether Big Oil is ready to admit it or not, alternative energy is now on the planetary agenda and there’s no turning back from that. “It is a different world than it was the last time we saw an oil-price plunge,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven in February, referring to the 2008 economic meltdown. “Emerging economies, notably China, have entered less oil-intensive stages of development … On top of this, concerns about climate change are influencing energy policies [and so] renewables are increasingly pervasive.”

    The oil industry is, of course, hoping that the current price plunge will soon reverse itself and that its now-crumbling maximizing-output model will make a comeback along with $100-per-barrel price levels. But these hopes for the return of “normality” are likely energy pipe dreams. As van der Hoeven suggests, the world has changed in significant ways, in the process obliterating the very foundations on which Big Oil’s production-maximizing strategy rested. The oil giants will either have to adapt to new circumstances, while scaling back their operations, or face takeover challenges from more nimble and aggressive firms.

    Michael T. Klare|14 Mar 2015|Cross-posted from Tom Dispatch

    Legendary Coal Miner Says We Must Stop the Insane Practice of Mountaintop Removal

    With mountaintop removal mining on the ropes, as the last bank financiers ditch lending support amid new scientific research that demonstrates “solid evidence that dust collected from residential areas near mountaintop removal sites causes cancerous changes to human lung cells,” residents from across central Appalachia’s coal country are converging today on the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection headquarters in Charleston to demand an end to new permits.

    A day of reckoning is arriving in Appalachia.

    In the aftermath of last year’s world attention on the state’s handling of the coal chemical disaster on Elk River, and with the once invincible “dark lord” of mountaintop removal Don Blankenship facing criminal conspiracy charges, a renewed coalition of citizens groups called the People’s Foot movement is confronting state and federal agencies directly for their complicity in ignoring the growing and indisputable evidence on health damages from mountaintop removal mining.

    “Our politicians and all government agencies need to stop running from the truth that we are forced to live and die with everyday,” said Maria Gunnoe, the Goldman Prize recipient and an organizer with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in West Virginia. “The science shows that mountaintop removal kills people. Why is mountaintop removal still being permitted? Is it because we don’t matter or is it because someone’s financial status depends on us dying quietly one activist at a time?”

    The writing is on the wall—and in two dozen peer-reviewed scientific studies: Newspapers will one day feature stories about “wrongful death settlements with the coal companies—such as last summer’s $26 billion verdict against the tobacco companies for lung cancer—and criminal charges of negligent homicide by policymakers and politicians who have openly allowed such a health crisis to take place,” as I’ve noted before.

    No one knows this better than Stanley Sturgill, the legendary retired coal miner and mine inspector from Harlan County, Kentucky, who served 41 years in the mines.

    “I’m traveling from Harlan County, Kentucky because I want to lend (100 percent) my hand in support of trying to stop the insane practice called mountaintop removal mining,” Sturgill said. “This practice of coal mining is not only killing the folks down stream of these mines, but also the very miners that blast our mountains away. ”

    Now suffering with black lung disease, a preventable malady that still kills three coal miners daily, Sturgill has testified in hearings across the country, including the recent Climate March in New York City, occupied the Kentucky governor’s office, and been arrested on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC for simply requesting a meeting with his member of Congress to discuss the devastating impact of mountaintop removal operations on his community, his fellow miners and the environment.

    Sturgill’s statement at today’s People’s Foot rally puts the state of West Virginia, and the nation, on notice:

    Hello, my name is Stanley Sturgill and I am 69 years old. I’m a retired and very proud UMWA coal miner and federal coal mine inspector (MSHA) with 41 years of service to the coal industry.

    I fully support all of our miners, I work for their health and safety every day, but in no way, do I support the mining method of MTR, whether it’s scab or UMWA doing the mining. That’s why I plan to attend the “People’s Foot” rally in Charleston, WVA. I’m traveling from Harlan County, Kentucky because I want to lend (100 percent) my hand in support of trying to stop the insane practice called mountaintop removal mining. This practice of coal mining is not only killing the folks down stream of these mines, but also the very miners that blast our mountains away.

    I know coal bought politicians and King Coal don’t believe in science and scientific studies that prove mountaintop removal is killing people and they also refuse to stop this type of coal mining. So today I would like to let them know of one thing, there is no statutes of limitations on killing people, even the folks here in Appalachia.

    Jeff Biggers|March 16, 2015

    Researchers Discover New Material to Produce Clean Energy

    Researchers at the University of Houston have created a new thermoelectric material, intended to generate electric power from waste heat — from a vehicle tailpipe, for example, or an industrial smokestack — with greater efficiency and higher output power than currently available materials.

    The material, germanium-doped magnesium stannide, is described in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Zhifeng Ren, lead author of the article and M.D. Anderson Chair professor of physics at UH, said the new material has a peak power factor of 55, with a figure of merit — a key factor to determine efficiency — of 1.4.

    The new material — the chemical compound is Mg2Sn0.75Ge0.25 — is important in its own right, Ren said, and he has formed a company, called APower, to commercialize the material, along with frequent collaborator Gang Chen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and two former students.

    But he said another key point made in the paper is the importance of looking for materials with a high power factor, or output power density, in addition to the traditional focus on a high figure of merit, or efficiency, commonly referred to as ZT.

    “Everyone pursued higher ZT,” he said. “That’s still true. But the way everybody pursued higher ZT is by reducing thermal conductivity. We were, too. But the reduction of thermal conductivity is limited. We need to increase the power factor. If thermal conductivity remains the same and you increase the power factor, you get higher ZT.”

    Chart showing temperature-dependent thermal properties and ZT values.

    Thermoelectric materials produce electricity by exploiting the flow of current from a warmer area to a cooler area. In the germanium-doped magnesium stannide, the current is carried by electrons.

    “Pursuing high ZT has been the focus of the entire thermoelectric community …” the researchers wrote. “However, for practical applications, efficiency is not the only concern, and high output power density is as important as efficiency when the capacity of the heat source is huge (such as solar heat), or the cost of the heat source is not a big factor (such as waste heat from automobiles, steel industry, etc.)”

    Germanium-doped magnesium stannide has a fairly standard figure of merit, at 1.4, but a high power factor, at 55, the researchers report. That, coupled with a raw material cost of about $190 per kilogram, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Data Series, makes it commercially viable, they said.

    Ren, who also is a principal investigator at the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH, said several competing materials have lower power factors and also more expensive raw materials.

    The material was created through mechanical ball milling and direct current-induced hot pressing. It can be used with waste-heat applications and concentrated solar energy conversion at temperatures up to 300 degrees Centigrade, or about 572 degrees Fahrenheit, Ren said. He said typical applications would include use in a car exhaust system to convert heat into electricity to power the car’s electric system, boosting mileage, or in a cement plant, capturing waste heat from a smokestack to power the plant’s systems.

    Jeannie Kever|University of Houston|March 06, 2015

     

    China Targets Big Oil In Wars On Corruption, Pollution

    BEIJING — What do China’s “war on pollution” and campaign against corruption have in common? They’ve both placed China’s coal and oil empires in their crosshairs, and they’re firing away.

    Over the past two years anti-corruption squads have investigated dozens of high-ranking officials in coal and oil bureaucracies, with the latest detention announced Monday night: The vice chairman of China National Petroleum Corp., Liao Yongyuan, was placed under investigation for “serious violations of discipline,” Communist Party-speak for corruption. In China, the announcement of corruption investigations virtually guarantees an eventual conviction.

    When he assumed power at the end of 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to purge the Chinese Communist Party of rampant corruption, and he’s since executed an anti-corruption campaign that has decimated patronage networks ranging from the coal industry to the People’s Liberation Army. As that anti-corruption campaign continued to gather steam in 2014, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang responded to the putrid haze blanketing Beijing by publicly “declaring war” on air pollution.

    Though the parallel campaigns haven’t been explicitly linked by Chinese leadership, the drives to clean up China’s skies and the Communist Party leadership have both hit hardest in the country’s vast coal and oil empires. Over the past two years coal-rich provinces and CNPC, the fourth-largest company in the world by revenue, have respectively racked up some of the highest tallies of corruption detentions. At the same time, the central government has imposed strikingly ambitious targets for slashing coal consumption.

    China incinerates nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined, and fumes from low-quality gasoline contribute to air pollution that chokes the skies of northern China. Last year the mayor of Beijing described his own city as “unlivable” because of the pollution.

    China’s two major state-owned oil companies — Sinopec and CNPC (also known as PetroChina) — came in for a scathing treatment in a viral pollution documentary released earlier this month. The film, “Under the Dome” — which was largely blocked from the Internet by government censors after one week — accuses the firms of stymying pollution controls and milking their duopoly position for corrupt profits.

    The film was produced by former Chinese state television journalist Chai Jing, and China’s new minister of Environmental Protection compared it to Silent Spring, the book credited with helping launch environmentalism in the U.S. in the 1960s. In the film, an anonymous official with China’s main economic planning agency claims that the oil firms even threatened to cut off gasoline supplies if their demands weren’t met.

    “You can’t control them,” the official from China’s National Development and Reform Commission said. “Say you have an only child and this child is picking up some bad behaviors. As his mother, what can you do? All you can do is give him one good beating, but you can’t beat him every day.”

    This year corruption inspectors have vowed to deliver such beatings to corrupt officials at state-owned enterprises (SOEs), the bureaucratic and often monopolistic businesses that dominate key sectors like telecommunications, media and energy. SOEs intermingle government responsibilities and business functions, but they’ve also shown the ability to resist or twist directives from the central government. Monday’s investigation announcements included Liao from CNPC and Chairman Xu Jianyi from FAW, one of China’s largest state-owned automakers.

    “Each [SOE] tends to be a mini empire,” professor Dali Yang, who researches Chinese politics at the University of Chicago, told The WorldPost. “They have become very powerful vested interests in the Chinese system, so anti-corruption is not only useful in fighting against corruption but … makes it possible for Xi’s agenda, for the agenda of the Communist Party, to be carried out, to be obeyed.”

    Academics have long debated the true motivation for Xi’s corruption crackdown. Is it a move to clean up the party from within? A front for knocking off political rivals? A strategy to clear the way for ambitious reforms?

    “All of the above and then some,” said Yang.

    Just two years into office, Xi has already earned a reputation as the most powerful Chinese leader in decades. He has waged an extensive campaign to limit domestic dissent, and has put anti-corruption, major economic reforms and pollution alleviation at the center of his public agenda.

    2014 proved to be a landmark year for curbing both corruption and pollution. As coal-intensive industries slumped and strict pollution controls started to bite, China saw its first fall in both coal use and carbon emissions in over 15 years. China’s air was made marginally more breathable, but coal-dependent northern provinces fell into deep economic ruts. Coal powerhouse Shanxi province barely achieved half of its 9 percent growth target.

    At the same time, anti-corruption investigators had a heyday raking through Shanxi’s political circles: Last year the province reportedly ranked first in its percentage of high officials to be probed for corruption, with nearly one-third of the the province’s party committee coming under investigation. Last week, the governor of Shanxi said coal empires are deeply entwined with the province’s corruption cases.

    But no bureaucracy has proved as ripe for investigators as CNPC. According to Chinese media reports, more than 45 CNPC employees and officials have come under investigation. Online news portal Sina Finance reports that CNPC has even instituted a policy to deal with a wave of secret detentions: High-ranking employees all have designated back-ups who will take over duties if they have gone missing for a set period of time.

    Much of that activity has reportedly swirled around the patronage networks of Zhou Yongkang, the ex-security czar who last year became the highest-ranking official to come under investigation since the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949. Zhou spent decades rising through the ranks of China’s oil bureaucracy, serving as the Chinese Communist Party secretary of CNPC before climbing into the Politburo Standing Committee, the most powerful body in China.

    Anti-corruption investigators have spent over two years detaining and questioning many of Zhou’s associates, and on Monday, Liao became the latest in a long line of CNPC officials to fall. Liao had reportedly been nicknamed CNPC’s “Northwest Tiger” for his performance exploiting oil fields in China’s far western deserts.

    His dismissal came just weeks after the spread of the pollution documentary “Under the Dome,” in which the filmmaker argues that CNPC and Sinopec essentially set their own fuel standards, and that their duopoly breeds corruption and stifles innovation in cleaner-burning natural gas.

    At a press conference on Sunday marking the end of China’s annual National People’s Congress, The WorldPost asked Premier Li Keqiang if he agreed with the now-banned film’s depiction of Sinopec and CNPC as obstructing environmental reforms. Li didn’t mention the film or state oil companies in his reply, but called for continued vigilance in combating pollution.

    “No one should use his power to meddle with law enforcement in this regard,” Li said.

    Thirty-two hours later, the Chinese Communist Party’s anti-corruption commission issued a short notice on its website announcing that CNPC’s vice chairman had been placed under investigation.

    Matt Sheehan|03/17/2015

    Fracking opponents push statewide ban

    Activists gathered Tuesday at the Capitol to push for a bill that would ban fracking in Florida and speak out against legislation they say would lay the groundwork for the controversial form of natural-gas extraction to occur.

    Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando and sponsor of the bill (SB 166) that would ban the practice, said fracking would cause environmental damage and harm the tourism industry. Soto spoke during a news conference hosted by ReThink Energy Florida and the Sierra Club Florida.

    “When you look at the fact that we get our water from underneath the ground, the fact that tourism is a major, major employer — the biggest industry we have here — we can’t afford not only to have a spill or an issue here but even the perception that Florida is slacking in preserving our environment,” Soto said.

    The bill hasn’t been heard in committee yet, but Soto said Senate President Andy Gardiner committed to giving the bill “an up-or-down look.” Soto also said he could attach amendments to relevant bills for moratoriums, increased fines and public-notice requirements.

    “If we continue to stand up and we continue to protest, it puts a chilling effect on people wanting to come here,” he said. “So we’re not going to give up no matter what happens.”

    Hydraulic fracturing is a process in which water, sand and chemicals are injected under high pressure into rock formations to extract natural gas. Acid fracturing, used in places with porous limestone, employs acidic chemicals at lower pressure to release natural gas.

    On Tuesday, members of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee approved a measure (HB 1205) that critics say would set up a regulatory framework for fracking in Florida. Activists spoke out against the bill, which is supported by the oil and gas industry.

    Proponents say hydraulic fracturing is boosting domestic oil supplies and reducing the county’s dependence on foreign oil. But opponents say it causes great harm to the environment and people’s health.

    Dr. Ray Bellamy of Tallahassee, a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said fracking poses a grave risk to Florida’s groundwater supply at a time when the state is already facing a water crisis. He said millions of gallons of water can be used for just one fracking episode and that the back flow, roughly half of the water used, comes back contaminated with heavy metals, radioactive substances and carcinogens.

    “There are complaints in the thousands from people who feel their water’s been contaminated, their kids have been made sick and their farm animals have died,” he said.

    David Cullen, lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said regulation isn’t the answer.

    “We don’t think there is a regulatory regime that will protect Florida’s aquifers from contamination due to fracking,” he said. “And with the alternatives that are available now in terms of renewable energy and energy efficiency, we don’t need to put Florida’s residents and visitors at risk from water contamination.”

    Brian Lee, director of research and policy for ReThink Energy Florida, said he is aware of only one instance of fracking in Florida, which occurred in late 2013 in rural Collier County, not far from the Everglades. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection fined the Dan A. Hughes Co. $25,000 for violating its permit and ordered it to conduct groundwater testing after it used a procedure that critics called fracking.

    Lee, a Leon Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor, said regulations proposed in the House and Senate are inadequate because they wouldn’t have prevented the fracking episode. And while proposed fines for violations would go up under the House bill, Lee said they wouldn’t be cost-prohibitive for energy companies.

    “That’s why we need a ban,” he said.

    Jeff Burlew|Tallahassee Democrat|March 17, 2015

    San Leandro City Council Says No to Dangerous Oil Train Project

    San Leandro, Calif., became the latest city to oppose a proposed Phillips 66 oil train offloading facility in San Luis Obispo County when its city council unanimously passed a resolution Monday urging county supervisors to deny the project’s permit. The San Leandro Teachers’ Association and San Leandro Unified School District are also opposed.

    If approved the facility would bring mile-long oil trains, carrying 2.5 million gallons of crude, through densely populated areas nearly every day. Oil train traffic in the United States has increased more than 4,000 percent since 2008 — bringing with it a steep rise in derailments, spills and explosions, with more oil spilled in rail accidents in 2013 than in the previous four decades combined.

    “I look out my classroom door every day at the trains going by on the Capitol Corridor,” said schoolteacher Claudia McDonagh. “With the recent exploding derailments in West Virginia and Illinois it becomes easy to imagine one of those mile-long oil bomb trains coming off the tracks and into my classroom.”

    Read more in our press release.

    Center for Biological Diversity

    Federal Gov.’s Proposed 5-Year Offshore Drilling Plan

    By now most of you have heard about the Obama administration’s proposed 5-year plan for offshore oil and gas development, setting some areas in the Arctic Ocean off limits, but opening up a large chunk of the Atlantic Ocean for drilling along the East Coast off Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia.  Here’s the map:

    Map showing areas in Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean (orange) proposed for oil and gas development in draft 5-year plan. Atlantic drilling areas begin 50 miles offshore. Source:  BOEM

    And here is another interesting map, showing the cumulative oil slick “footprint” of BP’s 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico, superimposed on the Atlantic coast, assuming an out-of-control well located more than 50 miles offshore:

    Cumulative 2010 BP oil slick “footprint” overlain on Atlantic coast. Source: Center for American Progress.

    And here’s yet another map, showing the tracks of hurricanes along the Eastern seaboard from 2000 to 2013:

    Tracks of hurricanes in the western Atlantic Ocean from 2000 to 2013. Source: NOAA.

    In case you’ve missed our many posts on this topic, there is a continuous leak of oil in the Gulf of Mexico from the site of an oil platform that was knocked down by Hurricane Ivan more than 10 years ago. We’ve observed the slick at this location dozens of times since we “discovered” it in 2010, it’s been documented on over-flights by the Gulf Monitoring Consortium and others, and it’s been sampled by scientists from Florida State University. Our most recent observation of the leak at that site last month showed a slick about 13 miles long. At times the slick has been more than 20 miles long (big enough to span the Beltway, for you DC-area readers). Cumulatively, we now estimate this leak has spilled anywhere from 300,000 gallons to nearly 1.4 million gallons of oil.  
    Not a very comforting prospect for those who live along the coast where new offshore drilling is being contemplated.  By the way, you are encouraged to let the feds know what you think about this plan. 

    Go here to submit your comments.  The public comment period closes on March 30.

    Skytruth|February 25, 2015

    Land Conservation

    Ignoring Voter Intent

    As of today, both the Florida Senate and the House have released their draft budgets for Amendment 1 spending. Unfortunately, neither of them come close to what voters intended, which is renewed funding for the acquisition of parks and undisturbed natural areas. Instead, both proposed budgets provide millions to cover existing agency operating expenses and other spending that doesn’t meet the intent of the voters. This is starting to feel like the Lottery Amendment all over again.

    The Tampa Tribune summed it up well:

    “… for lawmakers and industry representatives to now proclaim that the state — where growth is back in the passing lane again — doesn’t need to preserve more land reflects a stunning disregard for Florida’s needs, Amendment 1’s language and the voters’ will.”

    So, what can you do? Call the Speaker of the House, Rep. Steve Crisafulli, and Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government, Sen. Alan Hays. Before the draft budgets progress to the next committee stop, they need to hear from you!

    Visit our action page to get their contact information and talking points.

    It only takes a few minutes to make the call. Every call is a reminder to our legislators that they are accountable to the voters. 

    We know how invested you are in seeing more money go toward protecting our environment and conserving the natural treasures we hold dear. That is the purpose of Amendment 1 and that’s why we need you to get on the phone and call these lawmakers to give them a piece of your mind.

    Call today and every day next week.

    They need to hear from us to know that we won’t take this blatant disregard for the voters’ will without a fight.

    South Florida Water Management District’s US Sugar Purchase and Options

    The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD)   closed on the purchase of land from the United States Sugar Corporation, providing 26,800 acres of strategically located property south of Lake Okeechobee for Everglades restoration, on Oct. 12, 2010. The $194 million acquisition placed 42 square miles of agricultural land into public ownership for the construction of water quality improvement projects that will bring meaningful environmental benefits to the famed River of Grass.

    Highlights of the acquisition include:  

    • Acquisition of 17,900 citrus acres in Hendry County to improve water quality in the C-139 Basin, where phosphorus loads have been historically high. This parcel, just west of thousands of acres of existing constructed wetlands, can be used for additional water storage and treatment facilities that would improve the quality of water flowing into the Everglades.
    • Purchase of 8,900 acres of sugarcane land in Palm Beach County to benefit the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge by expanding existing Stormwater Treatment Areas (STAs) and increasing water quality treatment for the S-5A Basin, just southeast of Lake Okeechobee.

    The agreement contains options to purchase another 153,000 acres for up to 10 years should future economic conditions allow. The options to acquire additional lands, which provide further opportunities to benefit the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, include:  

    • An exclusive 3-year option to purchase either a specifically identified 46,800 acres or the entire 153,000 acres at a fixed price of $7,400 per acre expired on Oct. 12, 2013.
    • A subsequent 2-year, non-exclusive option to purchase the approximately 46,800 acres at Fair Market Value expires on Oct. 12, 2015. U.S. Sugar can sell all or a part of the option property, but subject to a Right of First Refusal by the District.
    • A subsequent 7-year, non-exclusive option to purchase the remaining acres at Fair Market Value. U.S. Sugar could sell all or a part of the option property, but subject to a Right of First Refusal by the District.

    Documents relating to the U.S. Sugar acquisition are posted online at www.sfwmd.gov/riverofgrass

    Florida State Legislation Urged to “Trust the Voters”

    As the 2015 Florida Legislative Session kicks off, lawmakers have the important task of implementing Amendment 1, Florida’s Water and Land Conservation Amendment.

    Audubon Florida helped lead the petition effort and campaign to make sure the amendment was approved last November. Now, Audubon Florida is leading the effort at the Capitol in Tallahassee to make sure Legislators trust the voters’ decision. The ballot was crystal-clear: “Water and Land Conservation – Dedicates funds to acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands.”

    Audubon’s message to Legislators is simple:

    Trust voters by funding existing conservation programs, such as land acquisition, management, and Everglades restoration. Do not trust lobbyists who are arriving at the Capitol with shopping lists of projects that do not fit into the purposes of Amendment 1.

    This Legislative Session will be a fight for what Amendment 1 stands for. The Audubon community stepped up to get the Amendment on the ballot. They stepped up to help get out the vote. And now they need to step up again to make sure Florida’s Legislators trust the voters.

    Manage state land better AND buy more. It’s not either/or

    Rep. Steve Crisafulli suggests the state needs to take better care of its land before buying any more with Amendment 1 money.

    Amendment 1, approved by 75 percent of voters statewide in November, is expected to provide $757 million for water and land conservation programs in the coming year.

    Crisafulli, a Republican from Merritt Island, told House members during the opening day of the Legislative Session on March 3 that “stewardship is much more than ownership.”

    “Buying up land we cannot care for, that falls into disrepair or becomes a breeding ground for harmful invasive species, is not a legacy that I am interested in leaving,” Crisafulli said.

    But some environmentalists say that there doesn’t need to be a choice between buying and taking care of what the state already owns. A University of Florida professor who served on a state panel overseeing state lands said land management is being used as a political scapegoat.

    Crisafulli told reporters that the message coming from the state agencies is that better land management is needed before buying more.

    Nick Wiley, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, says he doesn’t quite put it in those black-and-white terms, though he also doesn’t disagree.

    “Taking care of the lands we have should be our first priority,” Wiley said.

    “I don’t think we’ve put it quite that, ‘Don’t get any more lands until we can do land management,’” he continued. “But If I had to make a choice, I would make that choice.”

    And he also explained that spending by his agency on land management was down about 40 percent from five years ago. It’s not because the Legislature cut spending, he said, but revenue from documentary stamp taxes was down during the economic decline.

    An annual state land management report shows that spending increased last year for visitor services and capital improvements, such as bathrooms and parking lots, while spending for resource management decreased by 14.4 percent.

    Florida had the largest land-buying program in the nation from 1990 until 2009, when its budget was slashed. With voter approval of Amendment 1 in November, environmental groups are pushing for more land-buying – in addition to improved land management.

    “We view Amendment 1 as an opportunity to address unmet (land management) needs,” said Janet Bowman, The Nature Conservancy’s director of legislative policy and strategies. “But that’s not to say they (state agencies) are doing a bad job.”

    Peter Frederick, who recently left the state Acquisition and Restoration Council after six years, said land management has become a political scapegoat. He is a research professor in the University of Florida’s Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation.

    The state agencies that manage parks, forests and other state lands need relief from budget cuts in recent years, Frederick said.

    Vehicles need to be repaired or replaced, he said. Many of the state jobs in land management are vacant. And he said those that are filled usually are low-paying, leading people out of state government into better paying federal jobs.

    “We need some money in the system,” Frederick said. “It has traditionally been squeezed by the legislature with, ‘We can do more with less.’ I think we are well beyond the breaking point.”

    Bruce Ritchie|editor,Floridaenvironments.com.|Mar 15, 2015|Column courtesy of Context Florida.

    State Purchases Conservation Lands in Washington County

    TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection closed on the acquisition of 348 acres of conservation lands in Washington County within Florida’s First Magnitude Springs Florida Forever project.

    The project, which cost $781,545, was ranked No. 1 in the Florida Forever Partnerships and Regional Incentives project category, and contains a third magnitude spring known as Brunson Landing Spring. It also includes two small unnamed seeps, which flow into Holmes Creek.

    Holmes Creek is primarily a spring-fed creek containing a total of 51 springs within a 25-mile radius. The acquisition will ensure greater spring protection, while maintaining the current public access for fishing, hunting, canoeing, kayaking, boating and hiking. The Choctawhatchee River Water Management Area and Glover Conservation Easement are adjacent publicly-owned properties.

    “Acquiring this land will help to protect the natural resources and water quality of Holmes Creek and the more than 50 springs that feed it,” said DEP Secretary Jon Steverson.

    “The District is proud to be a partner with the department and FWC toward the shared goal of protecting this important resource for Florida and its visitors,” said Brett Cyphers, the executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

    The Northwest Florida Water Management District will manage the property as part of the Choctawhatchee River Water Management Area in cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

    nataliarodriguez2015|March.17.2015

    Three Recreational Trail Projects to Begin

    TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Recreational Trails Program announces the execution of three contracts for the development and renovation of trails in south Florida. After being awarded competitive-grant funds during the 2014 submission cycle, these three projects can now begin construction.

    The Recreational Trails Program provides competitive-grant funds to local communities to renovate, develop or maintain recreational trails and trail-side facilities.

    “As the demand for affordable recreation and trail development continues to grow, we are pleased the Recreational Trails Program can help communities in south Florida build upon previous investments and expand their recreational trail systems,” said Rick Mercer, director of DEP’s Office of Operations.

    The three south Florida contracts are as follows:

    • The city of Deerfield Beach – Funding will be used to renovate 7,000 linear feet of trail and to extend the existing trail system at Johnnie McKeithen Park. Once complete, this system will enhance connectivity between the northern and southern annexes of the park and adjacent neighborhoods. Additional fitness stations are also being added along the trail.
    • The city of Fort Lauderdale – Funding will be used to construct the Snyder Park Bike Trail, which is being designed for intermediate-level cyclists to hone their skills before advancing to the more challenging existing trails at other parks. Project elements include construction of 1,800 linear feet of 6-foot wide, compacted rock bicycle trail, with signage and related support facilities.
    • The village of Royal Palm Beach – Funding will be used for the construction of 5,000 linear feet of 8-foot-wide concrete multi-use trail and the installation of benches and related support facilities. Once the “Commons Park Trail” is complete, residents of the surrounding neighborhoods will be able to access the project site by its connection to Bobbie Jo Lauter Park and the existing recreational trails system.

    The Recreational Trails Program is a federally funded assistance program of the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. A portion of the grant awards must be matched by the grantee. In Florida, the competitive-grant program is administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Land and Recreation Grants section within the Office of Operations.

    nataliarodriguez2015|March.10.2015

    Air Quality

    U.S. and Indiana Settle Clean Air Act Case with Muncie Smelter to Reduce Lead Emissions

    Chicago (March 16, 2015) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that Exide Technologies has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by the United States and the State of Indiana alleging Clean Air Act violations at the company’s lead smelter in Muncie, Indiana.  Exide Technologies has agreed to spend over $3.9 million to install state-of-the-art pollution control equipment to reduce harmful air pollution from the facility. The settlement will resolve claims that the facility’s failure to comply with national emission standards resulted in the release of excess lead in an area that does not meet the federal health-based air quality standard for lead.

    “This settlement will protect Muncie residents from excess lead emissions from the Exide Technologies smelter and prevent future violations of the Clean Air Act,” said EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman. “Exposure to lead can impair children’s health and their ability to learn.”

    “Addressing the complicated environmental and legal issues here required a carefully structured settlement agreement with this employer so that the public and nearby residents can be protected into the future. My office and our client the Indiana Department of Environmental Management worked closely with our colleagues at EPA in successfully bringing this case to a conclusion,” said Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, whose office represented IDEM in court as the state government’s lawyer.

    EPA expects that the actions required by the settlement will reduce harmful emissions of lead, particulate matter (soot), total hydrocarbons and dioxin/furans. The settlement also requires the company to pay a civil penalty of $820,000.  

    Lead and soot, the predominant pollutants emitted from secondary lead smelters, have numerous adverse effects on human health. Lead can affect almost every organ in the body, but is most detrimental to the nervous system. For children, lead exposure can result in permanent damage to the brain and nervous system, leading to behavior and learning problems, lower IQ, hearing problems, slowed growth and anemia. In adults, lead affects the nervous and cardiovascular systems, and causes decreased kidney function. Soot contributes to irritation of the airways, coughing and difficulty breathing, decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, irregular heartbeat, nonfatal heart attacks, and premature death in people with heart or lung disease.

    The settlement was lodged with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.  The consent decree will be available for review at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.

    Reducing Mercury Use for Your Family and Our Global Community

    At EPA, we work every day to reduce the use of mercury in products and processes, making them safer for you and your family. Lowering levels of mercury in our environment is important because at high levels, mercury can harm the brains, hearts, kidneys, lungs and immune systems of people of all ages. In the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children, high levels of methylmercury may harm the developing nervous system, making the child less able to think and learn.

    We’ve been making great strides in the United States – over the last 30 years, our domestic use of mercury in products has declined more than 97 percent. The use of mercury in industrial processes has also fallen drastically.  Unfortunately, large amounts of mercury are still used in products and manufacturing processes worldwide, even though there are effective alternatives available. This is important to us both personally and professionally, since we want to make sure that children at home and around the world are not exposed.

    Since mercury pollution has no boundaries, the United States joined the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global environmental agreement designed to curb the production, use, and emissions of mercury around the world. In addition to provisions to reduce and eliminate mercury use in a wide range of products and processes, the Convention calls for control of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and boilers, waste incineration, cement production, and non-ferrous metals production.

    Worldwide, one of the largest man-made sources of mercury pollution is artisanal and small scale gold mining. Although many of these miners use mercury, it is possible to safely and economically recover gold without it. Many are achieving high rates of gold recovery without mercury, benefitting their health, the health of their communities, and the environment.

    To help miners reduce their mercury use, last week we launched a new website describing techniques for gold mining not requiring mercury. With the Argonne National Laboratory, we have also developed and field tested a mercury vapor capture system for gold processing shops, which can be used to reduce a significant source of mercury emissions. EPA also leads the UNEP Global Mercury Partnership Products Area, which aims to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of mercury in products. The partnership has completed numerous global projects to improve and monitor data baselines, and to demonstrate mercury-free alternatives. For example, we have worked with Health Care without Harm and the World Health Organization to reduce the use of mercury-added instruments in health care facilities worldwide.

    We also want to address the remaining uses of mercury in the United States. To get started, EPA recently released the EPA Strategy to Address Mercury‐Containing Products. We will gather and analyze data about how mercury is used in products and certain processes in the United States, plan and prioritize additional mercury reduction activities, and take action to further reduce mercury use.

    Mercury can cause serious health challenges in the United States and around the world. Our efforts are leading to safer products and a cleaner environment for you, and for all the members of our global community.

    Marianne Bailey and Karissa Kovner|2015 March 17

    Transportation

    2014 was a record year for transit, but that’s not as rad as it sounds

    We Americans have beaten our own record for riding public transportation! Gold stars all around!

    Last year was a record year for mass transit ridership in the U.S., according to numbers released earlier this week by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). We took 10.8 billion trips in 2014, up from 10.65 billion rides in 2013.

    Pretty sweet right? Well, not really.

    That “record year” title is rather misleading, as Grist’s Ben Adler reported last year, after APTA made a similar claim. Why? Because the group is comparing 2014’s trips to ridership levels in 1956 … when there were roughly half as many people in the U.S. So public transit usage has really just gone from crap to mildly-better.

    But no. I’m not done raining on your public transportation parade! CityLab dropped yet another reality check earlier this week:

    APTA figures show 101.1 million new transit trips across the country from 2013 to 2014. We tally 98.2 million new trips from metropolitan New York alone—or 97 percent of the total.

    That’s right, all but 2 percent of our “progress” comes from just one metro area. And this has been true for a while. Last year, APTA reported that trips on public transit had increased by 115 million from 2012, but the Washington Post pointed out that New York City alone had 123 million trips: “In other words, transit use outside New York declined in absolute terms [in 2013]. This fact shows how crucial public transportation is to our largest city and how small a role it plays in most other Americans’ lives.”

    Still, we are actually getting better at this alt-transit thing. More from CityLab about the numbers from 2014:

    APTA says 18 local agencies set ridership records. Minneapolis light rail use jumped 57 percent on the strength of its new Green Line. Subway use increased in 8 of 15 cities (led by San Francisco’s 6 percent rise). Commuter rail increased 3 percent across the board, with huge bumps in Salt Lake City (16 percent) and Seattle (10 percent).

    Here in Seattle, nearly 70 percent of commuters are opting to get to work by means other than a car. Granted, it’s because traffic here is horrendous, but still, it’s something. And we’re doing this despite cheap gas prices, so maybe we do deserve a few gold stars!

    Still, it seems to me that outside the Big Apple, we have a long way to go in terms of actually using our cities’ modes of public transport. So do your sanity a favor and commit to using public transit more frequently. Besides, wouldn’t you rather be listening to Radiolab podcasts rather than another driver in the midst of a road-rage rant? Methinks yes.

    Ana Sofia Knauf|13 Mar 2015

    Solar Roadways: A Real Possibility, or Just a Pipe Dream?

    Few people question the value of renewable energy sources, as our world continues on a rampage of consumption and environmental damage. The problem with renewable energy is its viability. Methods such as wind turbines create unique hazards to wildlife, and dams require a large amount of money to create with only a handful of suitable places for them to be built.

    Solar energy offers a low-cost solution that can be applied anywhere the sun reaches, but it requires a large amount of area to become viable. This is where the proposal for solar roadways enters in. Solar roadways may be the way to overcome the land area requirement that solar energy needs, but are they truly a viable solution?

    The Idea behind Solar Roadways

    Solar roadways are much like normal roadways, save for the fact that they have solar panels built into the roads. This gives them a few unique advantages when compared to standard roads.

    For example, they are able to translate a large amount of photons into usable electrical energy. They can be constructed from materials that aren’t prone to cracking or creating potholes like current road materials are, and they can have lighted lane markers to help drivers at night.

    These types of roads could revolutionize renewable energy, but they still have a few distinct challenges to overcome.

    Dixie Somers|March 19, 2015

    Recycling

    8 Ways We Are Killing the Planet and Don’t Even Realize It

    You know an invention has its drawbacks when even the guy who invented it says he’s sorry he did so.

    That would be John Sylvan, inventor of the easy-to-use Keurig coffee maker—an invention deemed “the most wasteful form of coffee” on the planet.

    Sylan says he regrets the creation largely due to its severe ecological impact. The Keurig uses disposable plastic coffee pods, called “K-Cups,” which are not easily recyclable or biodegradable.

    “I don’t have one,” Sylvan said of the Keurig. “They’re kind of expensive to use. Plus it’s not like drip coffee is tough to make.”

    Convenience-obsessed America is the world’s largest coffee consumer. Nearly 85 percent of adults in America drink coffee. According to the National Coffee Association, nearly 1 in 5 adults drink single-cup-brewed coffee in a single day.

    Last year, Keurig Green Mountain sold a whopping 9.8 billion K-Cups—enough to circle the Earth more than a dozen times. Keurig says it wants all K-Cups to be recyclable by 2020, but by then it could be too late.

    Egg Studios CEO Mike Hachey created the viral video “Kill the K-Cup” last month, which highlights the fact that 13 billion K-Cups went into landfills last year.

    “Do you feel OK contributing to that?” Hachey asks.

    K-Cups are not the only culprits affecting the environment. America represents only 5 percent of the world’s population, but generates nearly a quarter of the world’s trash.

    Many everyday items that we take for granted have a significant impact on Mother Earth. Here are a few humble household supplies that hurt the environment more than you’d expect:

    1. Anti-bacterial soap

    Nearly 75 percent of anti-bacterial liquid soaps and body washes in the US include an ingredient called triclosan. Research shows that small quantities of triclosan persist after being flushed down the drain, and even after water is treated at sewage plants.

    These small quantities then end up in streams and other bodies of water. They can disrupt algae’s ability to perform photosynthesis and build up in fatty tissues of animals higher up in the food chain.

    2. Lawn mowers

    Mowing the lawn is actually terrible for the environment. According to a Swedish study, a lawn mower produces nearly the same amount of oily air pollution as a 100-mile car trip.

    “Lawn and garden equipment really does add to air pollution,” Cathy Milbourn, spokeswoman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told ABC last year. “People can reduce the impact it has by using [lawn equipment] in the early morning or in the late afternoon. Or perhaps not at all.”

    3. Tea bags

    Most of the tea brewed in America is made with tea bags, which means that an average tea drinker consuming 5 cups a day gets through about 13 sq meters of perforated paper every year.

    According to a report by Which? Gardening, teabags produced by the some of the top tea manufacturers—including Twinnings, Tetley and PG Tips—are only about 75 percent biodegradable.

    While most teabags are made with paper fiber, they also include plastic polypropylene—an ingredient that makes teabags heat-resistant but is not fully biodegradable.

    Whitney Kakos, the sustainability manager for Teadirect, says the use of polypropylene is an “industry-wide practice.” There are also the luxurious silken (basically plastic) tea bags. Supposedly of higher quality and visually appealing, these bags are actually harmful to consumers and contribute to landfill waste.

    4. Plastic bottles

    About 50 billion bottles of water are consumed every year, 30 million of which are consumed in the US alone. Nearly 1,500 water bottles are consumed per second in America. About 17 million barrels of oil are used every year to produce these bottles.

    The national recycle rate for PETs, or bottles made with polyethylene terephthalate, is only 23 percent—which means 80 percent of plastic water bottles end up in landfills. And even if we were on our environmentally best behavior, not all plastic bottles placed in designated containers are recycled because only certain types of plastic can be recycled in limited municipalities.

    5. Microbeads

    Found in everything from toothpaste to exfoliating face washes and body scrubs, microbeads actually wreak havoc on the environment.

    According to a recent study by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, these tiny pieces of plastic find their way down our drains through filtration systems to the ocean. Soaking up toxins like a sponge, they then contribute to the plastic pollution of water bodies, potentially starve coral reefs of proper food and negatively affect other marine organisms.

    6. Disposable razors

    According to the U.S. EPA, about 2 billion razors are thrown away every year. Although you can recycle the steel blades, your good ol’ disposable razor most likely makes its way to the landfill.

    Add that to the higher environmental cost of production using raw materials and the water used while actually shaving and you’ve got one of the most wasteful bathroom products around.

    7. Paper cups

    If you think your morning paper cup of coffee is recyclable and environmentally friendly, think again.

    Every year, Americans toss out more than 80 billion single-use cups, thanks to our morning coffee runs. These cups are also coated with low-density, heat-resistant polyethylene that is not biodegradable. In addition to these cups’ heading for a landfill and taking more than 20 years to decompose, the very process of making them is extremely harmful to the environment. Production consumes forests and large volumes of water, and expels dirty water.

    8. Wooden chopsticks from restaurants

    About 3.8 million trees are cut down to produce a staggering 57 billion disposable pairs of chopsticks every year, half of which are used within China. About 77 percent are exported to Japan, 21 percent to South Korea and 2 percent to America.

    But despite taxes levied in 2006 and warnings of government regulations to monitor production in 2010, disposable chopstick use, production and discard is on the rise and continues to devastate forests in China at an alarming rate.

    Hyacinth Mascarenhas|Mint Press News|March 10, 2015

    Miscellaneous

    Animal Activists Get Bull Running Booted From California

      Thanks to the efforts of the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), California will never again play host to the Great Bull Run.

    A Pamplona-style event, the Great Bull Run travels around the country to various venues, putting on an Americanized “running of the bulls.” Here’s what happens at a typical event.

    The Great Bull Run transports a group of three dozen bulls by truck from state to state to participate in these shows. That means that in addition to the noisy, scary run itself, they must endure the discomfort of being dragged around the country from event to event. Organizers set up a large fenced-in track and release as many as 35 bulls weighing as much as 1,500 lbs. each. Those huge, frightened animals speed down the course, encouraged along by riders on horses behind them. The assembled crowd screams and hoots all around.

    Participants line up along the fence, where run organizers urge them to run alongside the bulls, not in front of them. Do they listen? Not so much. Have they been drinking? For some, probably yes.

    Meanwhile, the bulls just run, clearly not understanding what all the surrounding furor is. The paying participants run with them and in front of them, trying to avoid being trampled and injured. Not everyone succeeds. All this happens multiple times at each event.  To see what a run is like from a participant’s point of view, watch this video taken at a 2014 event in Pennsylvania:

    After one such 2014 event in Alameda, California, PETA and ADLF joined forces to see if they could put a stop to this madness. In California, at least, they’ve succeeded.

    In March 2014 PETA and ALDF brought a lawsuit under the state’s Unfair Competition Law. In California, anti-cruelty laws prohibit causing bulls unnecessary suffering and forbid staging “bloodless” bullfights or similar exhibitions. PETA and ADLF asserted that the Great Bull Run violated these state laws.

    “As a bovine veterinarian, I can confirm that these bull runs are extremely stressful for the bulls and present substantial risk of injury to them, as well as an enormous public safety risk to the humans participating,” Dr. Holly Cheever, veterinarian and vice president of the New York State Humane Association, told the ALDF.

    Ultimately, the parties settled this case out of court. In exchange for getting the suit dropped, the Great Bull Run agreed not to bring its bull running event to California again.

    Oddly, the CEO of the Great Bull Run, Robert Dickens, is spinning this settlement as something of a victory for his company. He says the PETA and ADLF didn’t present any real evidence of animal abuse and “didn’t intend to win the suit. They simply wanted to waste our time and money in Federal Court — a game we were unwilling to play,” he told Reuters.

    Spin it any way you want, but this is a win for the bulls and we all know it. Animal rights advocates got what they wanted.

    Susan Bird|March 13, 2015

    Spider monkeys point to new understanding of hand dominance

    Spider monkeys aren’t the hook-handed primates scientists always believed they were.

    FIU psychologist Eliza L. Nelson has observed several of the lanky-armed monkeys using individual fingers to grab food.

    Previous work suggested the spider monkey hand operated like a hook. But in Nelson’s study the spider monkeys also were able to insert one or two fingers into a tube to grab a serving of peanut butter. It is the first time this type of independent digit control has been reported for this species.

    The unexpected observation occurred during Nelson’s research study evaluating measures of handedness – the tendency to use one hand more naturally than the other – in nonhuman primates. Spider monkeys’ hands are not like most other primates – they have four fingers and no thumb – making them an interesting model for studying grasping and motor function.

    “In this study, we used two popular measures that had never been administered to this type of spider monkey before,” Nelson said. “We collected a large number of data points on each measure to allow for analyses.

    Nelson’s team analyzed reach and coordination – both of which are particularly difficult for spider monkeys given their unique hand structure. Comparing results of both tasks is critical for understanding the evolution of hand-use preferences in primates.

    Contrary to predictions and previous findings, Nelson’s research shows multiple measures are needed to fully characterize the concept of handedness – the tendency to use one hand more naturally than the other. Nelson determined a single handedness test cannot effectively predict hand preference in nonhuman primates. The findings were recently published in the journal Animal Cognition.

    “When we’re thinking about measuring handedness in any species, including humans, measures should assess multiple components of hand function,” Nelson said. “Handedness is not unique to humans, and this kind of work in cognition helps us understand how the primate brain works and how it has changed over time.”

    Handedness is one example of hemispheric specialization – when a particular function is localized to one side, or hemisphere, of the brain. In the motor system, each hemisphere largely controls the opposite side of the body. It is important to understand patterns of how or why one hemisphere is dominant (lateralization) because a number of human disorders including autism, schizophrenia and developmental coordination disorder are associated with atypical lateralization.

    “By studying how the hands are used using easily measurable behaviors, we can learn about how the brain is organized and also how it has changed over evolutionary time,” Nelson said. “I hope to make an important case for standardizing measures in this field as well as fill a gap in our knowledge of handedness in primates.”

    Nelson is the director of FIU’s HANDS Lab focusing on motor skill research in children and nonhuman primates, specifically how the hands are controlled. Her work examines links between motor abilities and cognition including reasoning, communication and language. Nelson’s study was conducted at Monkey Jungle in Miami, Fla., with oversight from the DuMond Conservancy.

    Ayleen Barbel Fattal|03/13/2015

    Florida Park Service Volunteers Log 1.3 Million Hours to Help Visitors Enjoy Nature

    TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Park Service recognizes the invaluable contribution of the members of the Florida State Parks volunteer corps. More than 30,717 volunteers help with a variety of tasks, including picking up litter, landscaping park grounds and driving a tour boat. Last year, volunteers contributed 1,307,005.5 hours to the state park system.

    “Florida’s state parks and trails are fortunate to have the most passionate and dedicated volunteers. We thank our volunteers for their time and expertise in helping us manage, protect and interpret Florida’s natural and cultural resources,” said Donald Forgione, director of the Florida Park Service.

    At special events around the state, the Friends of Florida State Parks, Inc. have presented annual awards to individuals and groups whose volunteerism has made a significant impact in the past year.

    The 2014 winners are as follows:

    • Dr. Madeline Carr of Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, adult female volunteer of the year
    • Al Pendergrass of Silver Springs State Park, adult male volunteer of the year
    • Anna Reeves of Oscar Scherer State Park, youth female volunteer of the year
    • Justin Lee of Savannas Preserve State Park, youth male volunteer of the year
    • Friends of Silver Springs State Park, Citizen Support Organization of the year
    • Great Outdoors Adventure Day at Lovers Key State Park, special event of the year
    • Marine Railway Restoration and Replica Skiff Construction at the Barnacle Historic State Park, long-term project of the year
    • Event Tent and Parking Lot Lights Project at Dudley Farm Historic State Park, short-term project of the year
    • Maintenance Team at Silver Springs State Park, team of the year

    Last fiscal year, more than 27.1 million people visited Florida’s award-winning state parks and trails, generating nearly $2.1 billion in direct economic impact. Florida State Parks and Trails support 29,396 jobs for Floridians. For more information on Florida’s state parks and trails, click here.

    nataliarodriguez2015|March.6.2015

     

    Ecological engineering: a breath of life for marine ecosystems

    Low oxygen levels in the oceans can dramatically change the community of organisms that live there — but new techniques to re-introduce oxygen have given a breath of life to a Swedish fjord.

    Oxygen is essential for many life forms. But we don’t often give it the attention it deserves because we assume that it is always there. While oxygen is ubiquitous in our atmosphere, it is not necessarily the case for many bodies of water like rivers, lakes or even oceans. Here a lack of oxygen can result in significant impacts on the ecosystem like the killing of fish that subsequently float to the surface. But artificially oxygenating water can breathe new life, as we found recently while working with a fjord in Sweden.

    Lack of oxygen and the death of wildlife is a phenomenon that can be observed not only in lakes but also in marine environments – which might seem surprising given the mixing of water by ocean currents. Oceans generally contain oxygen – we call them “oxic” – but we easily forget that this has not always been the case.

    If we look back in Earth’s history the original oceans were without oxygen (anoxic) and had a significantly different water chemistry than today. With the advent of photosynthetic bacteria, the oceans became oxygenated over time. Initially the oxygen concentrations were fairly low (hypoxic) compared to present-day levels, but over time oxygen increased in the water and the atmosphere. This meant that hypoxic and anoxic areas were more and more on the retreat.

    Nowadays, areas with hypoxic and anoxic waters are re-appearing all around the globe, from the eastern Pacific (several places on the west coast of Canada, the US, Central America, Chile, and Peru), to the Bay of Bengal (India), the Arabian Sea, the Black Sea, the Baltic and the Namibian shelf.

    How do oxygen-deprived waters develop?

    Different mechanisms drive the development of hypoxic and anoxic waters in different regions and will result in different water chemistries. In areas with upwelling of cold water to the surface (for example off the coasts of Peru and Chile), nutrient-rich deep water is transported to the surface. This causes blooms of photosynthetic bacteria and algae to form. The increased organic carbon in the water serves as a nutrient source for other microbes, and they in turn lower the oxygen concentration by respiration, creating hypoxic water.

    In contrast, places like the Baltic have large and deep basins that have a naturally low frequency of water exchange (for example with the North Sea) and therefore receive little input of oxygen-rich water from outside. This often results in hypoxic conditions in these basins. In addition, non-treated waste-water, nutrient runoff from farmland and the dumping of organic waste increase the nutrient loading of Baltic waters. This results in blooms of photosynthetic bacteria and algae and, subsequently, the increased abundance of other bacteria which eat them. Their respiration draws down the oxygen concentration to a point where no oxygen is left.

    Obviously, really low levels of oxygen (or its total absence) will be harmful to fish and many other life forms. Additionally, microbial processes that don’t require oxygen take over in waters where there isn’t any, creating further problems such as massive decreases in available nitrogen. When huge blooms of toxic cyanobacteria form, it is more likely that toxins will come into contact with humans.

    Increasing surface temperatures in the oceans as a result of climate change will further decrease the oxygen content in surface waters, leading to the expansion of already known low to nil oxygen marine waters, and the formation of new ones. This is more than an ecological problem: the economy also suffers due to detrimental effects on fisheries, tourism and water quality.

    Are there solutions? Yes and no. In some regions there is no obvious way to address the challenge. In others, such as the Baltic, remediation is possible and several ways to solve the problem have been suggested. Reducing the input of nutrients into the Baltic, for example, would treat the cause of the problem, and initiatives to improve waste-water treatment have been introduced.

    Oxygenating the water

    But we can also treat the symptom itself. One idea is to oxygenate the water by increasing the frequency of naturally occurring inflows of oxygen-rich water from the North Sea with the help of wind-driven pumps in an ecological engineering project.

    Our Swedish colleagues tested this idea in a large-scale experiment in the Swedish Byford. Electrically-driven pumps were installed and the water column was mixed by pumping surface water to outlets in the basin that lacked oxygen. While the capacity of the pump was not high enough to introduce sufficient oxygen to completely oxygenate the basin, the disturbance of the water column triggered inflows of oxygen-rich water from a neighbouring oxygen-rich fjord. This resulted in a significant increase in oxygen throughout the water column, including the anoxic basin. Throughout this process we monitored the response of the bacterial community in the fjord using molecular methods.

    Testing the waters

    Our recent work shows that oxygen-requiring bacteria, initially only present in surface waters, could also be found in the deep basin after oxygenation. They replaced the community of anaerobic bacteria observed there previously, showing that oxygen had reached the depths of the fjord and was supporting life. Overall it became clear that the change of the bacterial community was similar to what could have been expected in a natural oxygenation event, such as the mixing of waters.

    Could ecological engineering to oxygenate anoxic marine zones be the solution for the future? Maybe. Reducing human inputs of nutrients into these zones is important, and these programs should be continued as they address the root of the problem. However, ecological engineering is another option to oxygenate certain marine zones. This will especially help in systems where large amounts of nutrients are stored in the sediments; these would take a long time to be restored naturally even if all further nutrient input were stopped immediately.

    But especially for the Baltic, the question is not only whether an oxygenation project is technically feasible or ecologically meaningful, but also whether it is economically viable and whether there is the political will to commit to a long-term project such as this.

    Alexander Treusch|Associate Professor at University of Southern Denmark|March 17 2015

    Bee Doctors: A New Way to Protect Fruit?

    When it comes to ministering to plants, who better than a bee?

    The hazards of spraying fungicides and pesticides on fruit and vegetables are well known: increased resistance to their efficacy by pests and weeds, expense of fuel, machinery and labor to apply them and the environmental hazards of runoff and spray drift.

    Over the last several years, European fruit farmers have discovered that putting a tray of a safe fungicide powder in front of a hive allows departing bees to get it on their bodies and deliver it more precisely to fruiting flowers than any spray.

    Finnish agricultural zoology professor Heikki M.T. Hokkanen first pilot-tested the process against one of the strawberry industry’s greatest nuisances, gray mold, at a strawberry farm in 2006. Gray mold has regularly destroyed between 10-20 percent of the Finnish strawberry crop, costing growers up to EUR 5 million.

    Hokkanen devised a beehive attachment—a so-called “two-way dispenser”—that he uses with a bio-control agent called Prestop-Mix, which was designed by Finnish firm Verdera Oy for fungus control and is approved by the European Union for use in organic farming. Hokkanen says the dispenser allows the bees to exit only through the opening that takes them through the microbial powder; the separate hive entrance at the top has no dusting of Prestop. Thus, he says, the bees do not transport the agent “in the wrong direction” (into the hive), but come in with clean feet, having rubbed off the product during their foraging.

    Since the pilot, researchers and fruit growers of greenhouse strawberries and raspberries, as well as orchard apples, pears and cherries in Europe and Australia have adopted or least tested the practice. They use products from both Hokkanen’s own company Aasatek Oy and Belgian bumblebee producer Biobest. Although figures on exactly how much less fungicide bee doctoring uses compared with chemical spraying were not immediately available, Hokkanen’s peer-reviewed paper on the pilot says the process is approximately one-third the cost of chemical control.

    Jouko Mönkkönen, the strawberry farmer in Leppävirta, Finland who piloted Hokkanen’s “bee doctor” test, says the practice has also improved his strawberry yields: “When I first started cultivating strawberries 20 years ago, we moved yields per hectare to about 5000 kilos. When the farm started bee farming 10 years ago, that increased yields to between 6,000-9,000 kg. Now, for the last four years, it has not gone below 10,000 kilograms [per hectare].”

    But it is the lessened environmental impact on the land that prompted the Finnish Government to subsidize its strawberry, raspberry and apple growers by 500 Euro per hectare if they switch to bee doctoring, says Dr. Katja Hogendoorn, a bee researcher at the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine.

    Hogendoorn organized the first demonstration of bee doctoring in Australia last fall with the Cherry Growers Association of South Australia at Lennane Orchards in Montacute. “Brown rot is caused by a fungus, which significantly impacts the $150-million Australian cherry industry through costs of applying fungicide, yield loss and fruit spoilage,” she says. She also used Hokkanen’s hives and Prestop.

    Using bees to deliver bio-agents that kill plant disease could clearly cause some to question whether the practice is safe for bees.  Hokkanen asserts that Prestop-Mix poses no risk to the bees and does no harm to the berries. Hogendoorn said she lost only one of 20 hives in her cherry orchard test to meat ants and that most of the hives were very heavy, indicating thriving populations.

    Both Hokkanen and Hogendoorn say tests have shown that honey from bee doctors contains no traces of the bio-agent or strange flavors.

    Biobest presented the bee-doctoring concept to the Bio-Pesticide Industry Alliance (BPIA) conference about 18 months ago. (Aasatek has no sales presence in North America.) However, Dominique Demers, sales manager for Biobest Canada & U.S., says it is only selling the dispenser for its commercial bumblebee hives, as no bio-pesticide in the U.S. is yet approved for use by either honeybees or bumblebees.

    A spokeswoman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division (BPPD) said it does not have any guidance on new technology to use bees to deliver biological agents that control diseases in fruit, and has received no application for its use. “If we receive a submission for this use, we will evaluate it under the standards of FIFRA (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act),” the agency said.

    Marsha Johnston|March 18, 2015

    Environmental Links

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

    Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

    ConsRep 1503 C

    “The Truly Healthy environment is not merely safe but stimulating.” William H. Stewart

    Announcements

    Two Final Chances For “Big Day Birding Adventures” At Everglades National Park

    The winter and early spring seasons are especially fine times to enjoy birding at Everglades National Park,

    and the staff has invited the public to participate in several “citizen science” activities to help count birds in the park.

    The final two “Big Day Birding Adventures” programs for this year will be held on March 14 and 28, 2015.

    Five sessions of the program have already been held in January and February, and a park spokesperson notes,

    “This is a great chance to go out with experienced park staff to count birds within the varied habitats of Everglades National Park.”

    No advance reservations are required, and anyone who enjoys birding is invited to meet at the Anhinga Trail parking area at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday March 14 and 28.

    The Anhinga Trail is in the Royal Palm area of Everglades National Park, about four miles past the Main Entrance to the park, and 15 miles southwest of the town of Homestead.

    The Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center is near the Main Entrance, and on the way to the Anhinga Trail parking area.

    You’ll find driving directions to the Visitor Center here, and a park map is available at this link.

    “This is a great opportunity for novice and experienced birders alike to observe and learn about the birds of the Everglades…

    and to explore the park’s diverse habitats:

    from freshwater marsh to pine Rockland to mangrove swamp to Florida Bay,” says park ranger Christi Carmichael.

    “We usually see around 60 species of birds, with a possibility of viewing such feathered wonders as Purple Gallinules, Roseate Spoonbills, and rare Short-tailed Hawks.”

    “The public is becoming increasingly involved in ‘citizen science’ activities,” says Carmichael.

    “Bird count data can help to show trends in bird populations around the world, so scientists and managers

    may decide if further research or conservation efforts are appropriate for particular species.”

    If you’d like to join in the activity, be prepared to drive your own car over 40 miles one-way to points of interest along the Main Park Road.

    The activity lasts about 6 hours and ends at Flamingo. Participants should pack a lunch and water and prepare for sun and mosquitoes.

    Some walking is involved.

    Count results will be posted on the park’s website and on Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s online bird database, eBird.

    If you need more information, call Christi Carmichael in the park at 239-695-3092.

    Florida Native Plant Society
    Join our friendly group at our free monthly meeting, 7 p.m. Wednesday,  April 1st  (first Wednesday, each month) at Moccasin Lake Nature Park: 

    2750 Park Trail Lane, Clearwater, for refreshments, plant sale, interesting talks and events.  727-322-3954.  

    The April topic will be Botany Projects in the Florida Park Service:

    the District’s herbaria; highlights of current field work (surveying, monitoring, exotics);

    a few of the challenges in conservation – by Rosalind Rowe, Environmental Specialist.  

    Announcing the 2015 Arthur R Marshall Summer Intern Program for interested parties!

    Replies to sip@artmarshall.org

    Everglades Summer Intern Program

    May 15 – July 31, 2015

    Application Deadline: March 30th

    Arthur R. Marshall Foundation & Florida Environmental Institute, Inc. For the Everglades
    A Hands-on grassroots.org

    www.ArtMarshall.org

    To Educate, Restore, Protect !
    1028 N Federal Hwy, Lake Worth, FL 33460
    Phone: 561-801-2165

    16th Annual Everglades Day

    Saturday, February 14
    Join us for Everglades Day, our all-day family festival, with activities for all ages. 

    This year’s theme is “Romance of the Everglades.”

    Enjoy tours, nature walks, bird walks, wildlife demonstrations, presentations, exhibits, games, kids’ fishing,

    kids’ archery, canoeing, music, dance, food trucks and much more!  All day free admission.  Details to follow!

    Friends and Family Spring Fling Folk Music Festival

    Saturday, March 22
    Location:  South County Civic Center, Delray Beach

    Enjoy the sounds of Rod MacDonald and his Big Brass Bed Band. 

    Details to follow!

    Travel to Costa Rica with Friends,

    March 28 – April 3, 2015

    ARTHUR R. MARSHALL LOXAHATCHEE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
    New Smartphone/Cellphone Self-Guided Tour

    The Friends are proud to announce our new self-guided tour that you can take using your smartphone or cellphone.

    Look for the signs along the Marsh Trail and at the boat docks and Butterfly Garden across from the Visitor Center –

    you can start your tour wherever you choose.

    You can learn about birds, butterflies, alligators, invasive species and much more!

    If you can’t come out to the Refuge right away, you can call 561-962-9451 and enter a topic number

    from 1 to 13 or visit http://myoncell.mobi/15619629451 and view all 13 videos.

    2015 Great American Arctic Birding Challenge Starts March 1!

    Birds from across the country migrate to the Arctic to nest—

    while they are still on wintering grounds or in migration, how many can your team find in your state?

    Join the Great American Arctic Birding Challenge to find the answer!

    The Challenge runs March 1-June 1, with teams of up to 6 birders competing across the country.

    So find a warbler expert, someone with supersonic hearing to identify those sparrow calls…

    or head out with your regular birding buddies.

    Get the official checklist, contest rules, and list of prizes here.

    Ms. Akiko Iwata, Renowned Landscape Architect to give seminar on April 16th at Tree Tops park

    Dear Friends, Colleagues, Veteran Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, and other Stewards of our Earth:

    As part of our Florida Master Gardener Training Course, on April 16th, we are honored to have Ms. Akiko Iwata,

    esteemed Landscape Architect, who will talk to us about her work and unique use of color, layering, hardscapes, texture and other factors to create landscapes that soothe the savage urbanite.

    Ms. Iwata is a recent conversion to Florida-Friendly Landscaping in the formal sense,

    yet her track record of sustainable landscaping spans her career.  A quick perusal on her Linked In page:

    https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=83743206&authType=NAME_SEARCH&authToken=wVV0&locale=en_US&trk=tyah&trkInfo=idx%3A1-2-2%2CtarId%3A1425927282959%2Ctas%3Aakiko+iwata

    will reveal that she has done fabulous work with the EDSA Corporation , whose principal web page

    http://www.edsaplan.com/ also has an impressive portfolio section http://www.edsaplan.com/en/Portfolio/Selected-Projects

    I am sure we will all be able to learn an immense amount from Ms. Iwata, who is sharing her knowledge in order to empower us

    to address sustainability in terms of improving quality of life for our urban populations’ constituency.

    It is my great pleasure to announce this and invite you to join us .

    As this is a “live” Master Gardener training class, I will first start with talk on general Florida-Friendly Landscaping Design principles,

    from 8 am to approximately 10:00 am, followed by a break, then Ms. Iwata’s lecture, questions and answers from 10:15  am to approximately 12:00 Noon.

    Come meet this talented individual who is so generous to enlighten us with landscape design above and beyond our imaginations! 

    See our newest Florida Master Gardener recruits as well as our indefatigable veteran Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists who unselfishly donate so much time to so many projects. 

    Come one, come all…

    Many thanks……   

    Pipoly, John|broward.org|3/09/15

    This month we’re celebrating Earth Hour 2015 and we want to ask you to participate.

    The world is facing a climate crisis. If we don’t act, then humans, wildlife and the planet will suffer.

    By turning off your lights for Earth Hour you’re helping us send a signal to world leaders that we want to fight climate change together and we must do it now.

    On Saturday, March 28, from 8:30-9:30 PM local time hundreds of millions of people, businesses and cities around the world will turn off their lights for Earth Hour.

    Take two easy steps to get involved:

    1. Tell us you’re turning off your lights. It’s important we know how many people are participating because we report this number to leaders across the globe as a show of support for strong climate action.
    2. Turn off your lights on Saturday, March 28, at 8:30 PM wherever you are and be a part of Earth Hour with millions of people around the globe, committing to a better future.

    We know you care about our planet as much as we do, so we hope you’ll join us and make this Earth Hour bigger than ever.

    Join the movement and make a commitment to protect the planet ►

    Of Interest to All
    Exposed monkeys were put outdoors

    More than 175 monkeys that were potentially exposed to a bioterror bacteria inside a major Louisiana research complex were returned to their outdoor cages before officials knew the deadly pathogen was on the loose from a lab accident.

    The new admission by the Tulane National Primate Research Center, in response to questions from USA Today, raises additional questions about contamination of the environment outside the massive research campus north of New Orleans. The bacteria, which is not found in the United States and can cause severe disease in people and animals, can live and grow in soil and water.

    “Some animals were released from the vet clinic early on, but the key thing is that all the animals have been traced,” Tulane spokesman Michael Strecker said.

    Testing of the 177 rhesus macaques is ongoing to determine whether they have been exposed to the bacterium, Burkholderia pseudomallei. The primate center is next to wetlands, a river and neighborhoods and across the street from a school.

    If infected, animals that become ill can shed the bacteria in their urine and feces, and the organism can colonize in soil and water, said Jay Gee, a research biologist and expert on the pathogen at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The colonies can spread to other areas if carried by water runoff when i t rains.

    Soil scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture are studying the bacteria’s ability to survive in North America, Gee said Thursday. USDA officials could not be reached for comment.

    T he USDA has previously said it is still studying whether the situation at Tulane’s primate center in Covington, Louisiana, poses a risk to agriculture. The CDC has said there is no evidence of a public health threat.

    T he veterinary clinic on the primate center’s 500-acre campus north of New Orleans is the focus of federal and state investigations as the likely place where five monkeys were infected or exposed to the bacteria in November or December. None of the monkeys were involved in experiments with the bacteria, and the pathogen should never have been in the clinic or anyplace else outside the high-security lab where Tulane was doing vaccine-development research.

    Officials do not know when or how the bacteria got out of the lab, despite weeks of investigation by the CDC and numerous state and federal environmental, agriculture and emergency management agencies.

    People and animals exposed to the bacteria can take several years to show signs of disease. Most of those exposed by contact with contaminated water or soil will never show signs of illness, Gee said, but the bacteria can hide for years in the body.

    Burkholderia pseudomallei can cause a wide range of symptoms, from fever to localized skin infections to deadly pneumonias. For those who develop disease, the fatality rate can be as high as 50percent. Successful treatment with antibiotics can be long and difficult in severe cases, said Henry Walke, CDC’s branch chief for special pathogens.

    Although a limited number of soil and water tests have not detected the bacteria outdoors, studies indicate too few samples were taken to detect what can be an elusive bacterium. Tulane has said it believes the soil testing was adequate because samples were taken in areas w here monkeys perch and their waste falls.

    ALISON YOUNG|USA TODAY|3/7/15

    Despite Protections, Miami Port Project Smothers Coral Reef in Silt

    MIAMI — The government divers who plunged into the bay near the Port of Miami surfaced with bad news again and again: Large numbers of corals were either dead or dying, suffocated by sediment.

    The source of the sediment, environmentalists say, is a $205 million dredging project, scheduled to end in July and intended to expand a shipping channel to make room for a new generation of supersize cargo ships.

    The damage to the fragile corals was never supposed to have happened. In 2013, federal agencies created a plan to protect the animals from the churn of sand and rock by placing them at a distance from the dredge site. It was a strategy intended to balance Miami’s economic interests with the concerns of environmentalists, who worry about the rapid deterioration of reefs across South Florida.

    Crucial to the plan was safeguarding the staghorn coral, a variety listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. But the vast majority of staghorn in the area was never relocated: Either it was missed during the initial 2010 survey by contractors for the Army Corps of Engineers, or it had spawned just as work began in 2013.

    The corps, the agency in charge of the project, did relocate 924 other, non-endangered corals.

    Florida and the Caribbean are rapidly losing their coral reefs, some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, and the damage has raised intense criticism of how the Army Corps of Engineers has managed the project.

    Environmentalists sued the corps in October, saying it violated the Endangered Species Act and the terms of a permit issued by the State Department of Environmental Protection.

    “We’ve seen profound and severe impacts to our reef just off of Miami; it looks like a moonscape,” said Rachel Silverstein, the executive director of Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, the lead environmental group bringing the lawsuit. “This damage stems from the fact that the corps and the contractors simply weren’t following the rules that were laid out for them when they started this project.”

    Reefs around the world have experienced drastic declines as a result of pollution, acidification and overfishing. Higher ocean temperatures, which can bleach coral and kill it, have also damaged reefs. Some coral near the port suffered from bleaching last summer. In certain areas of South Florida, 90 percent of the coral is gone.

    In Florida, coral reefs lure residents and tourists, who dive and snorkel to see their vivid colors and the tropical fish that they attract. Just as important, reefs serve as crucial wave buffers during tropical storms, protecting beaches and shoreline homes.

    A report completed last month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees endangered and threatened marine species, said 23 percent of the staghorn identified in the area by its divers in October was dead or dying. Another tract of nearby staghorn also appeared badly damaged but could not be fully surveyed.

    The damage has prompted the corps and other federal agencies to dissect what went wrong, the extent of the harm and how best to avoid a repeat of similar problems.

    A speedy review is especially important, environmentalists said, because Broward County, just north of here, is hoping to expand its shipping channel at Port Everglades, one of the country’s biggest ports and an area with considerably more staghorn than Miami. Environmentalists said they feared those plans repeated some of the mistakes in the Port of Miami dredging.

    “The Army Corps will really need to sit down and try to figure out what happened in this case so we can design some better responses in the future,” said David Bernhardt, NOAA’s division chief for protected resources in the southeast.

    The corps said it was possible that the Miami corals had been affected by the dredging, but it called the effects of the program “short term.” The corps defended its actions and said it had continually reported its concerns and findings to federal and state oversight agencies.

    “We are reporting all of these things,” said Susan J. Jackson, a spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers.

    The corps, she said, is abiding by the rules of the permit and increased its monitoring of the corals once it learned they were ailing. In addition, Ms. Jackson said, the corps has not been charged with any violations by enforcement agencies and has diligently worked to correct problems as they have arisen. Lessons, she said, are always learned.

    “We’re a learning organization,” Ms. Jackson said, adding that the corps was already better prepared for the Port Everglades expansion. “We take the lessons learned and apply them, not only to projects under execution, but to our future planning for projects.”

    The loss of coral near the Port of Miami is indisputable. Federal and state divers reported finding some colonies so buried by sediment that they were virtually invisible. The sediment, reports by several government agencies said, was having a “profound” and “long lasting” effect on many corals.

    Because coral needs light to survive, the cloudiness of the water has also worsened conditions. Divers reported difficulty seeing beyond five feet.

    Though the dredge being used protects the reef from scraping, it appears to have caused more sediment than anticipated.

    “Everyone was feeling the sedimentation issues would really be minor, so it sounded reasonable,” Mr. Bernhardt of NOAA said.

    Shortly before dredging began, the corps realized it had significantly undercounted the staghorn near the channel; there were at least 243 colonies, not 31. NOAA approved a plan to move the 38 corals closest to the dredge about 820 feet away from the channel.

    Things got worse from there. Underwater monitors created to measure the sediment did not work. The corps relied on divers to keep weekly tabs on the coral. Additionally, barges used to move the dredged material to shore were spilling or leaking sediment into the water.

    Federal and state environmental agencies both asked the corps to remedy the barge problems. In a December letter to the corps, the federal Environmental Protection Agency listed 49 violations. The state sent its own letters about violations. The corps responded that it would fix the problems but denied that they were violations.

    Last summer, NOAA, alarmed by the field reports, recommended the immediate relocation of the staghorns. After a delay, the corps paid NOAA to do the job in October. But half the dives were aborted, in part because the dredge was over the reef, making conditions dangerous. Divers managed to collect tissue from 77 percent of 205 ailing corals, though some had vanished or died.

    Whatever the cause, in this case local taxpayers will bear the cost of the damage, which will be determined after the project is completed.

    “I’m not quite sure that county taxpayers fully understand that they are on the hook for paying for this,” Ms. Silverstein said.

    LIZETTE ALVAREZ|MARCH 7, 2015

    Yet Another Oil Bomb Train Explosion Marks Fourth Derailment in Four Weeks

    Once again this weekend, we saw scenes of tanker cars strewn across the landscape on their sides emitting huge billows of smoke and fire. On Saturday a 94-car train carrying Alberta tar sands oil derailed two miles outside Gogama, Ontario, with at least 35 cars going off the rails and at least seven igniting. Five cars landed in the Makami River, prompting a warning to residents not to drink the water as well as to stay inside to avoid possible toxic effects from the fire.

    It follows fiery derailments of the so-called oil bomb trains carrying volatile crude oil that have occurred in Illinois, West Virginia and Ontario since the beginning of the year. In each of those cases, only about half a dozen cars derailed, making the Gogama derailment the biggest so far this year.

    Gogama is about 60 miles north of the remote, unpopulated area outside Timmins, Ontario where a derailment occurred Feb. 14. And while Gogama itself is remote, it’s not unpopulated: the town has almost 400 residents and the nearby Mattagami First Nation community, and it’s a major center of outdoor tourism. The tracks the train was traveling go through the town, raising the specter of another tragedy like the one that killed 47 people and leveled much of the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec in July 2013.

    “It’s frightening and nerve-wracking, especially after what happened in Quebec,” Roxanne Veronneau, owner of the Gogama Village Inn, told the Toronto Star. “People here are on pins and needles. The tracks run right through town. I’m sure that there’s going to be a lot of talk afterward that this shouldn’t be in the middle of our town.”

    Mattagami chief Walter Naveau told northern Ontario news outlet Village Media that he had met with representatives from CN, the company whose train derailed and wasn’t comfortable with their reassurances.

    “They’re saying it’s okay, and yet why are some of my band members feeling it in their chests and tasting it in their mouths?” said Naveau. “I’m very angry at CN right now, to put it mildly.”

    He said he was concerned about the potential impact of oil spilling into the river. “The water is coming our way and that’s going to harm our fish habitat and tourist habitat,” he said.

    “Anywhere you’re going to see a major spill of oil and chemicals onto the ground you’re going to see permanent contamination of the ecosystem nearby,” Adam Scott, climate and energy program manager for Canadian nonprofit advocacy group Environmental Defence, told Canada’s National Post. “They almost never are able to clean up all of the oil released in a spill like this and it’s much worse even when there’s a direct spill into a river because the oil gets moved down the river and the chemicals can spread.”

    Each derailment suggests we’re a little closer to another Lac-Mégantic—or worse.

    A recent study from the Center for Biological Diversity called Runaway Risks found that, with the 40-fold increase in rail cars carrying oil since 2008, 25 million people now live within a mile of tracks carrying these dangerous trains.

    “Before one more derailment, fire, oil spill and one more life lost, we need a moratorium on oil trains and we need it now,” said Center for Biological Diversity senior scientist Mollie Matteson. “The oil and railroad industries are playing Russian roulette with people’s lives and our environment, and the Obama administration needs to put a stop to it. Today we have another oil train wreck in Canada, while the derailed oil train in Illinois is still smoldering. Where’s it going to happen next? Chicago? Seattle? The Obama administration has the power to put an end to this madness and it needs to act now because quite literally, people’s lives are on the line.”

    While both Transport Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have proposed new safety regulations for oil trains, including phasing out the old puncture-prone DOT-111 oil tankers, many of the recent derailment fires, including the one in Gogama, involved the new and supposedly safer CPC 1232 cars. And the industry is lobbying for a longer time frame in which to phase out the old cars.

    “The cars involved in this incident are new models, compliant with the latest federal regulations, yet they still failed to prevent this incident,” said Glenn Thibeault, who represents the Gogama area in the Ontario legislature.

    “It’s basically guaranteed to happen again; this is not an isolated incident,” Scott told The Star. “So until something dramatic is done, we’re going to see this continuing over and over again.

    Anastasia Pantsios|March 9, 2015

    [Do you think its safe boss? “Yeah, go ahead and ship it.”]

    Canada To Propose Tougher Oil Tank Car Standards

    TORONTO (AP) — The Canadian government has proposed tough new standards for rail tank cars used to transport crude oil in response to a string of fiery crashes.

    The proposal, posted online Wednesday by Transport Canada, would require the cars to have outer “jackets,” a layer of thermal protection, and thicker steel walls.

    The requirements are tougher than the oil industry wanted. But the proposal doesn’t include electronically controlled brakes that automatically stop train cars at the same time instead of sequentially, which are opposed by freight railroads. Regulators said they will take that issue up separately.   

    Final regulations are expected by mid-May. U.S. officials have been working closely with Canada on the regulations and the White House is reviewing a draft proposal.

    There have been four oil train derailments in the U.S. and Canada since mid-February. A runaway oil train derailed in Lac-Megantic Quebec in 2013, killing 47 people.

    A U.S. Transportation Department analysis predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people if an accident happens in a densely populated part of the U.S.

    New standards were enacted after Lac Megantic, but safety officials on both sides of the border called for even stronger measures after fiery derailments continued to happen despite the new tank cars standards.

    The newest standard calls for a hull thickness of 9/16th of an inch, up from 7/17th of an inch and makes thermal jackets mandatory.

    “The proposed requirements are still subject to final approval,” said Zach Segal, a spokesman for Transport Minister Lisa Raitt. “We are working to have this done in an expedited manner.”

    Segal said Transport Canada is working in collaboration with the U.S and “wants this done and published as soon as possible.?” Segal said Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet will have final approval.

    The Transport Canada proposal is a “pretty clear indication” of what final regulations are likely to look like, said Ed Hamberger, president of the Association of American Railroads.

    “These are important protections to both help mitigate the potential for rupture of a tank car, as well as limiting the severity of an incident,” he said.

    The oil and rail industries want thinner tank walls — half an inch thick, instead of the 9/16ths-inch that regulators propose. The thicker the shell, the less oil a tank car can hold, and with about a half-million carloads of crude hauled by rail in the U.S. and Canada last year, the cost difference could add up.

    The tank cars in the recent accidents were built to a voluntary standard written by industry representatives in 2011 to answer criticism that cars used to transport flammable liquids were prone to rupture in an accident and spill their contents and ignite spectacular fires. But most recent accidents show that the newer cars — known as 1232s — also are prone to rupture, even at slow speeds. Trains involved in four recent accidents were traveling under 40 mph (64 kph).

    The White House budget office is reviewing a draft proposal for a sturdier tank car design, as well as other safety proposals. U.S. and Canadian officials have been working closely together to coordinate the regulations since the tank cars move back and forth across the border. Railroads and shippers have said if there were separate regulations in each country it could cause significant shipping delays and raise costs.

    The railroad association and officials from CSX, Norfolk Southern and Burlington Northern-Santa Fe argued against requiring the electronically controlled breaks in a meeting with White House officials last week, according to a document posted online by the government. They say the government has underestimated the cost of equipping tank cars with the brakes and overestimated the safety benefits. Railroads complain that electronically controlled brakes would cost them $12 billion to $21 billion.

    The oil industry has rapidly moved to using trains to transport oil, in part because of oil booms in North Dakota’s Bakken region and Alberta’s oil sands, and because of a lack of pipelines.

    Celebrating National Groundwater Awareness Week

    One of my favorite ways to travel is by bicycle. So, when I visited southern California last month, I jumped at the chance to ride along the San Gabriel River to see how Los Angeles County sustainably manages their drinking water supplies to support their growing population.

    A recent defining experience for communities in California, and many other regions of the county, has been drought of an intensity that hasn’t been seen in generations.  The severity of this drought has forced communities to address questions about their ability to meet their basic water needs.  A common theme for many has been the critical role of a reliable supply of ground water in their ability to survive and thrive into the future.

    I followed my ride along the San Gabriel with a visit to the extraordinary treatment facility operated by the Orange County Water District. Through a partnership with the Orange County Sanitation District, this facility takes highly treated wastewater and purifies it with a three-step advanced treatment process. This water is used to replenish their groundwater basin, preventing seawater intrusion and helping to supply drinking water to over 600,000 people.

    I also visited the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel in San Diego County, a small tribal community that is facing a diminished ground water supply. Chairman Perez and members of the Tribal leadership described their efforts toward water conservation, leak detection and repair, and identifying new drinking water supplies to support the needs of their Tribal members.

    Communities large and small are taking on the challenge of ensuring a reliable water supply.  Clean ground water will play a vital role in their long term solution, as it currently does every day for over 100 million Americans.

    These communities make clear that effective groundwater management will play a central role in keeping our communities healthy. During National Groundwater Awareness Week (March 8-14, 2015) let’s take time to celebrate all the great work across the country that is being done to protect our nation’s groundwater, so that communities can rely on this precious, limited resource now and in the future.

    Dr. Peter Grevatt|2015 March 11

    About the author: Peter Grevatt, Ph.D. is the director of EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water.

    Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

    Calls to Action

    1. Bats in Big Trouble – here
    2. Tell Bumble Bee, Star-Kist, and Chicken of the Sea to stop destructive fishing – here
    3. Help Protect Florida Panther Habitat – here
    4. Tell EPA to limit dangerous ozone air pollution – here
    5. Keep Chicken From China Out of School Lunches – here
    6. Tell Buckeye Florida LP to stop fouling Florida’s water – here

    Birds and Butterflies

    Creating a safer owl habitat

    Concern for burrowing owls living in the unstable sand under the sidewalk outside Cooper City’s Forest Lake Park recently prompted 80 volunteers to create six safe artificial nests.

    Utilizing a $2,000 grant from the Captain Planet Foundation, students and parents from Griffin Elementary School, members of the South Florida Audubon Society’s Project Perch program, Cooper City’s Green Advisory Board and city staff teamed up for the project.

    Volunteers dug into abandoned nests to create artificial nesting chambers and tunnels with PVC piping. White sand was spread at the entrance to attract owls. They surrounded the area with wooden fencing to protect the nests, and a sign was secured to the fence explaining what the owls eat, how they nest and their importance to the ecosystem.

    “These were once active burrows, but sometimes they were in compromised areas,” said Diana Guidry, chairwoman of the city’s green board who works for NatureScape Broward. “The PVC doesn’t collapse if a mower or a car goes over it. Hopefully, (the owls) choose these spots.”

    Residents expressed concern about the owls living underneath the sidewalk. Cars park in the swale, bicyclists, joggers and strollers use the sidewalk, and pesticides are sprayed along the concrete.

    “We want to entice the owls to move where they’ll be better protected,” said city arborist Jeanette Wofford. “We want them to feel secure in their nests.”

    Kelly Heffernan, avian biologist and founder of Project Perch, which works to protect burrowing owls, was thrilled with the volunteer turnout.

    “It’s great when an event can draw this many volunteers,” she said. “… Almost all of our owls live in parks, schools or airports because it’s the last green space.”

    Dawn Pitti wanted her son, kindergartner Aiden Pitti Short, 6, to gain a greater sense of responsibility for the environment.

    “He learned about (burrowing owls) at school,” Pitti said. “Now when we come to this park, he’ll see he was part of building the owls’ habitats.”

    Jackie Albanese said the learning experience for her son, kindergartner Connor Albanese Wickett, 5, was paramount. “We weren’t aware the owls can’t dig through grass, so they were having trouble building their nests,” Albanese said. “It was neat for him to see what (the nests) look like on the inside and for us to take the time to help animals.”

    Jacqueline Sanchez, technology specialist at Griffin Elementary and adviser for the school’s environmental club, hopes the experience resonates with students. “The more we educate,” she said, “the more we can cohabitate.”

    By Fallan Patterson|Forum Publishing Group|MARCH 5, 2015, 1:15 PM

    National Wildlife Week: Cooper City Creates a Home for Burrowing Owls

    In late February, more than 40 families joined together at Forest Lake Park in Cooper City, Florida to create 6 artificial burrows for its resident burrowing owls. Many of the children attend Griffin Elementary School and along with Teacher Jacque Sanchez have championed for the burrowing owls on school property as well. Kelly Heffernan, founder of Project Perch, started off the event by reading a children’s book about making a difference for wildlife in your community. Habitat Stewards and City Arborist Jeannette Wofford organized teams to install the burrows, signage and fencing.

    Artificial Burrowing Systems have been in existence since the 1970s to help provide shelter for declining owl populations, since these small owls naturally live in open, treeless areas, which are in decline.

    These burrows are simple to create and install, and other parks in Florida can follow Forest Lake Park’s lead. Their burrow includes pieces of PVC pipe to help protect the burrows from collapsing under the weight of mowers and other heavy equipment that maintain public spaces.

    Residents can also create burrows in their own yards following these steps from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

    Cooper City is located in Broward County, which has been a Community Wildlife Habitat with NWF since 2005.  The county encourages its municipalities to do the same.  To date, 16 municipalities are registered or certified Community Wildlife Habitats. Burrowing owls are no strangers to the area. Portions of the movie “Hoot” were filmed in Broward County and Cooper City’s middle school celebrated the premier with a visit from cast and starring owls.

    Broward County was recently named a Great Place for Wildlife as part of the National Wildlife Week 2015 Celebration. Did your city make the grade?

    Jessie Yuhaniak|Wildlife Promise|0 3/9/2015

    GBBC 2015 Overview

    You did it!

    Once again participants from around the world set new records for the number of species identified during the four days of the Great Backyard Bird Count and for the number of checklists submitted.

    Total checklists: 147,265 (up 3,156)
    Total species: 5,090 (up 794)
    Estimated participants: 143,941 (up 1,890)

    Bad weather really had an impact on participation in the heavily populated northeastern quadrant of the United States and across Canada. Bitter temperatures, snow, and high winds produced a noticeable drop in the number of checklists submitted from those regions. Kudos to those who braved the elements to count (humans) and be counted (the birds)! And congratulations to our outstanding performers across the globe. Below are the Top 10 countries ranked by number of checklists submitted:

    Country

    Number of Species

    Number of Checklists

    United States

    671

    108,396

    Canada

    241

    10,491

    India

    717

    6,810

    Australia

    524

    812

    Mexico

    653

    425

    Portugal

    559

    303

    Costa Rica

    197

    193

    New Zealand

    126

    161

    Ecuador

    784

    138

    Honduras

    353

    133

    Read the 2015 GBBC summary on the website.

    Extinct Jerdon’s babbler found live and well in Myanmar

    A bird thought to have been extinct has been spotted by scientists alive and well in Myanmar, 74 years after the last sighting.

    Jerdon’s babbler was re-discovered near abandoned agricultural research station by a scientist from Wildlife Conservation Society National University of Singapore.

    Jerdon’s babbler (Chrysomma altirostre) had not been seen in Myanmar since July 1941, where it was last found in grasslands near the town of Myitkyo, Bago Region near the Sittaung River.

    The team found the bird while surveying a site around an abandoned agricultural station that still contained some grassland habitat. After hearing the bird’s distinct call, the scientists played back a recording and were rewarded with the sighting of an adult Jerdon’s babbler. 

    Over the next 48 hours, the team repeatedly found Jerdon’s babblers at several locations in the immediate vicinity and managed to obtain blood samples and high-quality photographs.

    At the beginning of the 20th century, the species was common in the vast natural grassland that once covered the Ayeyarwady and Sittaung flood plains around Yangon. Since then, agriculture and communities have gradually replaced most of these grasslands as the area has developed.

    The Jerdon’s Babbler in Myanmar is one of three subspecies found in the Indus, Bhramaputra, and Ayeyarwady River basins in South Asia. All show subtle differences and may yet prove to be distinctive species.

    “The degradation of these vast grasslands had led many to consider this subspecies of Jerdon’s Babbler extinct,” said Colin Poole, Director of WCS’s Regional Conservation Hub in Singapore.

    “This discovery not only proves that the species still exists in Myanmar but that the habitat can still be found as well. Future work is needed to identify remaining pockets of natural grassland and develop systems for local communities to conserve and benefit from them.”

    Record number of songbirds killed on British military base in Cyprus

    BirdLife Cyprus reports the numbers of trapped songbirds illegally killed on a British military base in Cyprus last autumn reached an estimated 900,000 birds – the highest level recorded in 12 years. 

    This is equivalent to almost 15,000 songbirds a day during the September-October migration period.

    Following this dramatic increase in bird deaths on the Dhekelia Sovereign Base Area, close to the tourist hotspot of Ayia Napa, the RSPB and BirdLife Cyprus are urging the authorities to continue the positive start made late last year to clamp down on the illegal trappers.

    Extensive areas of illegally planted avenues of acacia scrub have been allowed to be grown by criminals on MoD land. The acacia scrub attracts vast numbers of migrating songbirds, moving between Europe and Africa each autumn, and trappers use it as cover for their illegal activities. Removing the planted scrub prevents this.

    Small-scale trapping of songbirds for human consumption on Cyprus was practiced for many centuries, but it has been illegal on the island for 40 years.

    Unfortunately, organised crime now seems to be driving this illegal activity which is thought to be worth millions of Euros every autumn from the songbirds which are sold to consume illegally in the Republic of Cyprus.

    Dr Tim Stowe, RSPB’s International Director, says: “The report highlights the illegal trapping of songbirds on the British military base has escalated and we are urging the Ministry of Defence and the Base Area authorities to resolve it before this autumn’s migration.

    “Such extensive illegal activity requires all the Cyprus authorities to work together to combat it, and the Base Areas’ contribution should be zero-tolerance towards illegal bird trapping.

    “We were pleased that the Base Area authorities have started to remove acacia scrub last December.  We believe the scale of illegal trapping requires continuing and sustained action, and we’ll continue to offer our support.”

    Dr Clairie Papazoglou, Executive Director of BirdLife Cyprus, says: “Acacia isn’t a native plant in Cyprus, so the planting of extensive stands of this shrub by the trappers is a highly visible symbol of their flagrant disregard for anti-trapping laws.

    “In fact, you can see these plantations from space. By removing the acacia, the Sovereign Base Area authorities would send a clear signal that they will not tolerate the slaughter of birds on British bases.”

    The songbirds are trapped to provide the main ingredient for the local and expensive delicacy of ambelopoulia, where a plate of songbirds, such as blackcaps or robins, is served to restaurant diners. The illegality of the practice and the high profits are attracting the attention of organised crime gangs.

    Today, most trappers will use long lines of nearly invisible netting, known as mist nets. They attract birds into them on an industrial-scale by playing birdsong to lure them in.

    Traditionally, trappers had relied solely on lime-sticks, where stems of pomegranate are coated in a locally manufactured ‘lime’ and are then placed in trees and bushes.

    Passing birds become stuck on the lime-coated sticks where they fall easy prey to trappers.

    Whilst lime-sticks are still used in many areas, mist-netting between planted avenues of acacia has now taken the slaughter to a whole new level.

    Since 2002, the monitoring program has recorded over 150 different bird species which have become trapped in nets or on lime-sticks.

    Cyprus has two songbirds found nowhere else in the world: the Cyprus warbler and the Cyprus wheatear. Both of these songbirds are impacted by illegal trapping.

    California Birds are Flying Safer Thanks to New Building Standards

    San José is Stepping Up for the Birds

    There’s good news for northern California‘s birds! San José, the capital of Silicon Valley, is looking out for then by adopting bird-friendly standards for the city’s buildings.

    As reported in The Chattanoogan, San José is the fourth California city to adopt these building guidelines. San Francisco paved the way for helping birds in this way back in 2011, neighboring Oakland followed in 2013, and Sunnyvale joined in 2014.

    Creating these new building standards was a real collaborative effort. The San José Environmental Services Department (ESD), Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society (SCVAS) and the Loma Prieta Chapter of the Sierra Club got together to create the city’s official Bird-Safe Building Design Standards.

    The city’s location and commitment to wildlife made the new building guidelines a no-brainer. San José is situated smack-dab in the Pacific Flyway Migration Corridor. Two times a year, millions of birds will pass through the Corridor during migrations. The goal of the new standards is to reduce the number of (often fatal) collisions between birds and glass windows and the façades of buildings. The birds will “fly into reflections of trees and sky, or attempt to fly through transparent glass walls.” In San José, the frequent victims of these collisions are: Anna’s Hummingbird, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Lesser Goldfinch, Hermit Thrush, Varied Thrush, American Robin, and Cooper’s Hawk.

    Keeping the birds safe isn’t rocket science, so it’s hard to understand why more cities aren’t adopting bird-friendly building standards. It can be as easy avoiding large chunks of transparent or reflective glass, shutting off non-emergency lights at night and adding fritting–ceramic lines or dots on glass–on existing structures. For example, Facebook is decorating its new campuses with frit.

    This is Much More Than a Decor Issue

    But this is much more than a decor issue. The bird collisions campaign manager for the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), Dr. Christine Sheppard explains in The Chattanoogan that, “Without question, bird collisions are one of the most significant causes of bird mortality worldwide.” And these collisions are on the rise.

    The Washington Post reports that a 2014 survey found that, in the United States alone, between 365 and 988 million birds die from window collisions every year. That means that ten percent of all of America’s birds could be impacted. It also puts these collisions right behind stealthy feline predators as the “largest source of human-related menaces that kill birds directly.”

    Interestingly, most of the bird crashes don’t happen on giant skyscrapers. In fact, 56 percent of the bird fatalities happen on buildings between four and 11 stories tall, or low-rises. After these smaller buildings, residential homes that range between one and three stories tall account for 44 percent of bird deaths. Skyscrapers come in at one percent.

    The United States is home to “15.1 million low-rises and 122.9 million small residences, and only about 21,000 skyscrapers.” Overall, the black-throated blue warblers, ruby-throated hummingbirds, Anna’s hummingbirds, Townsend’s solitaires and golden-winged warblers are the most vulnerable species.

    How You Can Help the Birds

    If you care about the birds then there are a few ways that you can help at home or in the office. The Humane Society and Born Free USA  have compiled a list of tips on how to prevent these bird collisions and what you can do if you encounter an injured bird.

    Jessica Ramos|March 9, 2015

    Dumping dirty water threatens Bird Island

    Florida’s newest Critical Wildlife Area, a tiny bird island in the Indian River Lagoon near Sewall’s Point, has survived erosion, hurricanes and the curiosity of boaters and fishermen. Now it faces a challenge – again – from an early dumping of Lake Okeechobee’s murky water.

    The 1.5 acre spoil island, created from sand dredged from the lagoon’s bottom in the 1940s, remains a favorite gathering place for more than 40 different kinds of birds and a nesting choice for at least 15 bird species.

    Martin County’s Bird Island in some ways is even more popular than Pelican Island, the nation’s first National Wildlife Refuge in Indian River County.

    Why do birds love the island and keep coming back?

    Ecologist Greg Braun, speaking to about 140 Martin residents at a Florida Oceanographic Society lecture last week, cites location, plus continued help from environmental advocates, government and residents.

    Located too far from Sewall’s Point shores for such predators as raccoons to swim to it, the island at one point was stripped of all non-native trees and shrubs. Establishing healthy native plantings took years.

    Wind and waves eroded the shoreline, so Martin County, which leases the land from Florida, won grants to build a protective breakwater north of the island.

    When boaters and fishermen get too close to nesting birds, Braun said, determined Sewall’s Point residents use megaphones to yell “Stay away from the island!”

    The endangered wood storks, oyster catchers, roseate spoonbills and others, unaware of all the protective activity, continue to show up at the island, along with white ibis, ospreys, double-crested cormorants and magnificent frigatebirds. The wood storks and others return year after year.

    Nesting birds have faced other challenges, Braun said, such as marauding fish crows. These bird-world predators often strike when boaters or fishermen frighten parents away from nests, eating eggs or attacking hatchlings. Some birds get entangled in fishing lines.

    The 2004 hurricanes blasted Bird Island, and plantings of mature black and red mangroves and sea grapes were uprooted.

    And, while the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission posted polite “Please Keep Out” signs, many ignored them. Enforcement was difficult, Braun said. With no statute, for example, showing that chicks died because parents were frightened off nests was impossible to prove.

    Since the FWC has declared the island a Critical Wildlife Area, more penalties come into play, ranging from warnings and fines as high as $500 to seizure of boats and equipment.

    The effects of discharges from Lake Okeechobee, which surround the island with dirty, murky water, are easier to see, Braun said. “If you’re a bird that relies on seeing your prey, you’re going to leave the area, if you can. If you can’t see fish (to catch them to feed hatchlings), your chicks will die.”’

    Summer discharges of dirty lake water are less troubling to Bird Island residents than those in the spring, when nesting season is at its height.

    “This year is a problem,” Braun said, because so much water is being discharged now. “This may turn out to not be a good nesting season.”

    Helping nesting birds on this little island turns out to be one more reason the state should buy sugar industry land south of the lake. Storing and cleaning water there, before sending it to the Everglades, would let the island’s birds fish clean waters to feed their hungry hatchlings.

    Sally Schwartz|Context Florida|Mar 11, 2015

       Invasive species

    Lionfish could be putting more than 109,000 recreational fishing jobs and more than 64,000 commercial fishing jobs at risk.

    Invasive lionfish are a serious threat to Florida’s saltwater fishing industry — the second largest in the nation — and the thousands of jobs it supports, according to an economic commentary from Florida TaxWatch.

    Some 109,000 jobs tied to recreational fishing, and the more than 64,000 dependent on the commercial fishing industry, bolster the state economy, the report reveals.

    TaxWatch is a non-profit, non-partisan research institute devoted to protecting and promoting the political and economic freedoms of Floridians.

    Dominic M. Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, pointed out that Florida fishing also “provides local food and unique tourism experiences, which must be preserved as they are critical pieces of Florida’s diversified economy.”

    “By taking steps to control Florida’s lionfish population, the state is protecting valuable Florida resources and needed jobs,” he stated.

    Florida Fish Wildlife Conservation Commission, according to the report, is working to control the population of lionfish by encouraging lionfish removal from reefs around the state, promoting a lionfish reporting smartphone app, and prohibiting lionfish from being imported for aquariums.

    Ten lionfish derbies are planned this year starting in May throughout the state, including one in Pensacola, as a way to encourage spear-gun anglers to harvest the fish. The fear is the population is growing faster than the fish can be culled.

    The TaxWatch report, however, does not cite a specific economic study.

    Morgan McCord, spokeswoman for the Tallahassee-based TaxWatch, said the report is meant to only highlight issues impacting the state economy of which people should be aware.

    “It’s something we put out every month and topics range from lionfish to the impact of football collegiate play-off games,” she said. “It’s more intended to start conversations than start policy changes.”

    What makes the lionfish, native to Indo-Pacific waters, such a huge threat to the fisheries is they have no natural predators in Florida waters, their population is exploding exponentially, and they are competing with native fish, including grouper, for the same food source.

    Since the first one was documented in the Gulf off of Pensacola in 2010, lionfish are believed to now number in the tens of thousands off the coast and are found on nearly every reef — 200 of them — off our coast. They are also being reported in Santa Rosa Sound and other inland waterways.

    Rick O’Connor, Escambia County Sea Grant agent, is worried about the impact to the local economy from the invaders. He knows of no studies nationally or locally measuring those impacts.

    He said scientists studying the stomach contents of lionfish in the Northern Gulf are finding them full of the same bait fish that snapper and grouper rely on, which could potentially be depleting important commercial and recreational fish stocks.

    “A lot of (scuba) divers are reporting juvenile Mingo snapper are being consumed by lionfish, and we’re watching them to see if their numbers drop,” he said.

    How this translate to the volume of fish being caught by vacationers or commercial fishermen is unknown, he said.

    “We need an economist involved,” he said.

    Locally, O’Connor has not found an economist who has the time between other projects they’re working to measure what’s happening in the Pensacola Bay Area.

    He said he’s encouraged that TaxWatch is highlighting this issue, but at the same time he said it’s time for some sound research to be done to measure how this invasive species is or may in the future impact our economy.

    Kimberly Blair|pnj.com|March 8, 2015

    The dirty dozen: 12 of the most destructive invasive animals in the United States

    For some animals, there’s no such thing as a dog-eat-dog world. They rule.

    Animals from around the world that stow away in airplanes, ships and the luggage of some smuggler become almost bulletproof when they make their way into the American wilderness as invasive species. Why? They’re new here, and they don’t have predators to keep them in check. Animals that should be afraid of a vicious predator aren’t. Invasive species eat like kings.

    Living high on the hog, these marauders aren’t going anywhere. Unlike many native animals that are disappearing from North America — vaquita porpoises, monarch butterflies, bottlenose dolphin and such — invasive species are growing faster than wildlife and game officials can manage them. In many cases, authorities have given up any hope of eradicating them.

    Here are 12 of the most destructive invasive plants and animals in the United States, a dirty dozen. If it’s on this list, there’s a good chance that a government official in an office somewhere is trying to think of ways to kill it.

    Burmese pythons

    These long, lean eating machines are terrorizing the Florida Everglades. Humans don’t have much to fear, but native animals had better watch their backs. Alligators are being knocked off their perch as the swamp’s top predator. People ask why these snakes are such a problem. Why can’t experienced hunters walk into the Everglades and kill them? Burmese pythons from Southeast Asia are so stealthy that even experts with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have a tough time spotting them, let alone killing them. Since they were determined to be established and put the squeeze on the swamp in 2002, deer, raccoon, marsh rabbits, bobcats and possum have declined by as much as 99 percent in some cases, according to researchers for the U.S. Geological Survey.

    Emerald ash borer

    This bug’s march across the Midwest is not the kind of green movement that conserves nature. It ruins ash trees that provide durable wood used for flooring, bowling alleys, church pews, baseball bats and electric guitars. The bugs sparkle like a jewel with their glittery hide, but the nickel-sized holes they bore into trees are ugly, and the squiggly trails their larvae etch on the bark can make your skin crawl. They arrived in southeastern Michigan in 2002 from their native habitats in Russia, China and Japan. Since then, tens of millions of ash trees have been killed, and their numbers continue to grow.

    Nutria

    The official name comes off like some kind of vitamin drink, so Louisianans came up with another that sounds more fitting: swamp rats. Nutria don’t just look like rats with long tails and orange buck teeth, they breed like them. Female nutria give birth to litters of up to 14 then go back into heat in two days. Federal wildlife officials say there’s no hope of eradicating them from Louisiana, where they were imported from South America for their fur in the 1930s and grew out of control after being released when the industry died. A Chesapeake Nutria Eradication Program is working furiously to push them off the Del Marva Peninsula and wipe them out in Maryland and Delaware. Their endless digging on the banks of rivers rips up plants by the root, causing soil to erode, destroying native habitat for everything from muskrats to crabs to juvenile fish.

    European starling

    Starlings are little birds that travel in huge packs, and they are known for wreaking havoc. Birders don’t like it, but starlings are generally regarded as pests. Every year, the Agriculture Department’s division of Wildlife Service’s kills 4 million animals identified by residents across the country as a nuisance, and starlings are targeted the most — by far. Moving in flocks that resemble small black clouds, they descend on cities, towns and mostly farms, beaks aimed at the ground in search of food. Starlings are known to swarm toward feeding cattle to steal their food, needling and harassing the bigger animals until they back off. Since their introduction to the United States by Shakespeare enthusiasts in the 1890s, they have become arguably the most successful foraging bird in the country, with a population of about 200 million.

    Northern snakehead

    It’s called a snakehead. That dreadful name pretty much sums up the most feared fish in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, a sharp-tooth monster so scary that fishing tournaments are held not to eat, or fight it on the line, but solely to kill it. Snakeheads look like some weird cross between a python and an electric eel, and attempts to get large numbers of people to fish and eat it so that snakeheads don’t eat too many other creatures in the estuary have failed. Stories about how this fish from China and Korea ended up in the bay in the early 2000s vary. Some say a clueless aquarium dumped several in a tributary; others say someone carried them from a fish market. Whatever happened, female snakeheads, which are baby factories known to carry up to 100,000 eggs, took it from there and have now spread to Delaware and Virginia.

    Brown marmorated stink bug

    Here’s a quick thought, in 10 words: A stink bug is probably in your house right now. They don’t seem to mind that you’re there. They just need a place to rest through winter and crawl out in spring to mate and make millions more stink bugs. Stink bugs annoy because they swarm and smell like cilantro, but they don’t bite or carry disease. They’re not to be confused with the growing swarm of Asian kudzu bugs in Georgia, although their behaviors are similar. Stink bugs destroy fruits and vegetables and drive up produce prices. They first showed up in Allentown, Pa., in 1998 after crawling out a cargo ship that probably stopped in China, their native land. There, stink bugs aren’t a problem because small wasps lay eggs on their backs and the babies use them for a meal as they grow. With no wasps in the mid-Atlantic, they became marauders.

    Feral hogs

    They have razor-sharp teeth, curling tusks and are so hot tempered that they charge humans. Otherwise, feral hogs, wild pigs or big boars are just farm pigs gone wild. They’re established in 47 states, with massive populations in Texas, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, and a growing one in Virginia. In most of those places, experienced hunters have a green light to shoot them on sight. Here’s why: They cause about $1.5 billion in damage nationwide each year. They’re also an ecological nightmare that eats turtle eggs, wild turkey eggs and quail that nest on the ground. Acorns and chestnuts that are the next generation of trees go into their stomachs. Feral pigs were introduced to the United States from ships centuries ago, but the recent population boom, state game officials and biologists say, is largely the fault of hunters who imported wild pigs to hunt year round.

    Lionfish

    Lionfish are very pretty. That ends the positive vibrations that marine biologists give this animal. They are exotic gluttons that eat everything they can stuff in their mouths, and they are destroying life on the coral reef that serves as habitat for thousands of species of other fish. That’s how they earned the name Norway rats of the Atlantic. Lionfish are native to the Pacific Ocean, but they were widely traded for their looks and were first spotted near Miami in the mid-1980s before proliferating in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea near the turn of the century.

    Norway rat

    Norway rats have lived in the United States for so long that they’re like family. They were introduced in 1775 and are now everywhere, including Alaska and Hawaii, living under various aliases, including brown rats and sewer rats. Norway rats prefer to live near humans and they like choice meats, but really a rat will eat anything — eggs, young chickens, vegetables, garbage and wood. They’re a menace known to climb trees and skitter across thin branches to kill and eat wild chicks in their nests. They’re survivors, adept at avoiding things that eat them.

    Tegu

    Tegus look like little brown anolis lizards — on steroids. They’re muscular, fast and love eggs. They’re known to harass pets — some reports claim they have killed cats — and they invade homes. Tegus were brought to the United States as pets, and are still available for sale in some stores. They were released into the wild and have spread from the Florida Keys to the Florida Panhandle and are threatening to reach into southern Georgia. Like pythons, Florida officials have launched offensives designed to kill them. And also like pythons, those efforts have failed. There are now so many that Florida game officials have given up on the idea of eradicating them, and now only hope to manage the population.

    Asian citrus psyllid

    It’s a little farfetched, but this tiny bug could be the end of Florida orange juice. The Asian citrus psyllid carries a bacteria that goes by many names: huanglongbing, “yellow dragon disease” and “citrus greening.” But what people remember is that Florida orange growers, agriculturalists and academics compare it to cancer. Roots become deformed. Fruits drop from limbs prematurely and trees die. Half of all citrus trees in Florida, which provides 80 percent of the nation’s orange juice, are infected. The trees slowly die. Florida, which provides up to 80 percent of U.S. orange juice, has been hardest hit, but the psyllid and disease have been detected in Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and California, which provide most of the nation’s lemons. Psyllids were first detected outside Miami in 1998 and the bacteria was discovered near there in 2005. It spread to 31 other counties within two years.

    Brown tree snake

    Brown tree snakes are not in the contiguous United States. Be happy about that. Hundreds of thousands are in Guam, a U.S. territory, and are responsible for the decimation of birds there. Birds had no reason to fear an animal that didn’t exist until it was introduced accidentally in the 1950s. Brown tree snakes are so out of control that they’re known for causing power outages when they climb utility poles. Now that many of the birds are gone, the snakes have turned their attention to native lizards. Hawaii, 3,800 miles east of Guam, is on high alert to stop the poisonous, predatory snakes native to Australia and Indonesia.

    Darryl Fears|February 23, 2015

    Endangered Species

    What Can We Do to Save the Bees?

    Most of our favorite foods exist because of bees: Did you enjoy coffee this morning? Bees likely pollinated the coffee flowers. Eat an apple recently? You can thank a bee for that, too. 

    Part 1 of this series exposed the serious threats that are putting honeybees in danger. Wondering what we can do to save the bees? Read on!

    1) Garden Organically – Honeybees are very susceptible to pesticides and insecticides. In your own yard, choose organic means of pest control rather than toxic chemicals. Use companion planting techniques and disease-resistant seed varieties to reduce the need to spray more potent compounds in your garden or around your landscape.

    2) Avoid Neonicotonoids – “Neonics” are toxic chemicals that treat the seed before it’s planted. They essentially render the entire plant that grows out of that seed toxic to whatever insect feeds on it. Do not buy seeds treated with neonics, or plants that have been cultivated from them. Ask your garden center for help so you can avoid neonic plants, and encourage the garden center not even to carry them. Consult this chart from Beyond Pesticides, which lists common home and garden products containing neonicotinoids.

    3) Avoid Insecticidal Dusts – When bees collect pollen or nectar from a plant dusted with insecticide, they can carry the insecticide back to the hive, where it can cause serious bee kills within the hive for many months. If you must apply insecticides, do so in the late evening or very early morning when fewer bees will be foraging, and when it is not windy.

    4) Support Local Beekeepers – Local beekeepers are on the front lines of keeping honey bees alive. Support their efforts to reduce pesticide spraying in their area; drift from the spray can infiltrate their beehives and kill off the bees.

    5) Provide Water – Bees need lots of fresh, clean, unpolluted water to help them make their honey. Is there room in your yard or on your patio to add a small pond with a fountain or water filter to keep the water moving while providing lots to drink for the bees?

    6) Urge the U.S. EPA to Test Pesticides That Could Be Causing Bees to Die Off The Environmental Protection Agency should test any and all pesticides for the impact they could be having on beneficial insects like bees. Here is an explanation of how the EPA can intervene to protect honey bees. (And here’s a petition you can sign to urge the EPA to protect bees.)

    7) Plant A Variety of Blooming Plants – Choose clusters of plants that bloom at different times of the spring summer and fall to provide a steady source of pollen. Native plants like purple coneflower (Echinacea) and Chokecherry can be ideal.

    8) Get Involved in Your Community – Encourage your neighbors to care for trees, flowers and bushes organically. Identify fields that your city or town can leave un-mowed so that bees and other insects can feed on the pollen and nectar that will be available from weeds left to grow wild. Testify about the importance of protecting bees at your local city council or town hall meetings.

    9) Buy Honey From Local Beekeepers – Local beekeepers are on the front lines of keeping honeybees alive. Support their efforts by buying their honey! You can find it online, at farmers markets and in natural and whole foods stores.

    What Will Happen to the World If We Lose Bees?

    Honeybees do more than make honey, though that in itself is a spectacular feat. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that “out of some 100 crop species which provide 90% of food worldwide, 71 of these are bee-pollinated.” Like apples? Thank the bees for pollinating apple blossoms. Enjoy a steak? Thank the bees for that one, too, since bees pollinate the alfalfa that cows consume. Chances are, almost every food you eat exists because bees pollinated the plant they came from.

    As important as honeybees are, their populations should be a priority for protection. Instead, honeybees are dying out in alarming numbers. RevealNews reports that, since 2006, the percent of bees dying in their hives has jumped from an average 5 or 10 percent a year to 30 percent. About 10 million beehives, worth an estimated $2 billion, have been lost in the last nine years.

    Why? And what can be done about it? This two-part series will first, examine some of the reasons why honeybees might be dying, and then offer suggestions that could make a difference.

    Why Are the Bees Dying?

    Scientists and beekeepers have several theories about why honeybees are dying off.

    Not Enough Sperm for the Queens - Bees live in colonies, with one queen and many drones and worker bees. During winter, the queen lays eggs within each cell inside a honeycomb. Fertilized eggs hatch into females that become the worker bees. Their job is to forage for food and take care of the colony. Unfertilized eggs become drones or honey bee males. For any colony to survive, the queen must lay fertilized eggs and those eggs must become worker bees. There is only one queen per colony. She mates once, but it counts when she does, as normally she collects more than 5 million sperm, enough so she can fertilize eggs throughout her life. When a queen can no longer lay eggs, new queens become responsible for mating and laying honey bee eggs. One theory behind the collapse of  honeybee colonies is that the queen is not getting enough sperm from the male bee that she mates with. Another theory is that the queen is dying earlier than usual, which means she has less time to fertilize eggs. Either way, fewer fertilized eggs give rise to fewer worker bees that can help maintain the bee colony. If the queen dies out and is not replaced by a new queen, the hive will die out.

    Mites and Viruses – Many bee hives have been found to be infected by a tiny parasite called a varroa mite. Though these mites were once rare, they have gotten a foothold in many beehives and are wreaking havoc on bee colonies. The mites suck fluid from bees’ bodies, making the bees weak and compromising their immune systems. The mites also pass along viruses that can paralyze the bees. It is hard to kill off the mites without harming the bees, too, so this is a particularly vexing problem.

    Not Enough Food or Water For The Bees – Like other living animals, bees need food and water to survive. In their case, food comes from the pollen they collect from a variety of fruits, vegetables, and trees. They also need unpolluted water sources. Urban sprawl and industrial development are taking the place of fields that used to provide the plant variety that kept bees thriving. And as more farms are devoting themselves to just one crop, bees are finding that their diets are being whittled down to fewer and fewer nutritious options. In regions suffering from drought, annual flowers aren’t blooming in abundance, and perennials aren’t producing as much nectar.

    Pesticides – Neonicotonoids – Pesticides intended to kill other insects could also be killing bees. One type of pesticide, a neonicotonoid, is a systemic pesticide. It’s not sprayed on plants. Instead, seeds are treated with the chemical. As the plant grows, the pesticide infuses its plant tissue. If a bee nibbles on a plant grown from neonic-treated seed, it could be lethal.

    There’s a good chance that several of these threats are working together to take their toll on our honeybees. The question is, what can we do about them to keep honeybees alive?

    Diane MacEachern|March 5, 2015

    Bats in Big Trouble — Take Action ‏

    If ever a species urgently needed the lifesaving protections of the Endangered Species Act, it’s the four-ounce furballs we know as northern long-eared bats.

    A fungal disease called white-nose syndrome has swept through these bats’ colonies in 25 states and five provinces — and if we don’t act fast, they could disappear altogether.

    In the past, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended nothing less for these animals than the strongest protections the Act has to offer. But after industry pressure, the agency’s now considering downlisting the species to “threatened” and allowing logging, mining and drilling near bat colonies to continue.

    But that’s not how the Act works. If the science says northern long-eared bats are endangered, then the law says they must be protected from all threats — not just white-nose syndrome — because the disease has made them even more vulnerable to other losses. 

    Act now to urge the Service to jettison its “special rule” allowing for industry exemptions. It must set a course that will truly help these bats survive.

    Please sign #1 in “Calls to Action” above.

    Center for Biological Diversity|3/9/15

    New monkey species discovered in the Amazon Rainforest

    A new species of titi monkey has been discovered by scientists in Brazil. Titis are new world monkeys found across South America.

    These tree-dwelling primates have long, soft fur and live in small family groups consisting of a monogamous pair and their offspring. Rather touchingly, they are often observed sitting or sleeping with their tails entwined.

    After researcher Julio César Dalponte spotted an unusual looking titi monkey on the east bank of the Roosevelt River, whose coloration did not match any known species in 2011 a team of scientists supported by the Conservation Leadership Program decided to investigate.

    Over the course of a number of expeditions, the team recorded several groups of these unusual monkeys, whose ochre sideburns, bright orange tail and light grey forehead stripe set them apart from other known species in the genus.

    They have named Callicebus miltoni (or Milton’s titi monkey) in honor of Dr Milton Thiago de Mello, a noted Brazilian primatologist who is credited with training many of the country’s top primate experts.

    Because they are not able to swim or cross mountainous terrain, these monkeys are restricted to a small area, effectively hemmed in by a number of rivers and hills. This small range could put the species at risk from human activities, particularly because only around a quarter of this area is protected.

    “It goes without saying that we are really excited about this new discovery,” said researcher and CLP alumnus Felipe Ennes Silva.

    “It is always thrilling to find something new in the Amazon, as it reminds us just how special this rainforest is and how lucky we are to have it on our doorstep.

    “But it will take more than luck if we are to keep making scientific finds like this. The rainforest is under threat like never before, and it will take dedicated, hard work – not just by conservationists but by the government and every other sector of society too – to make sure that this forest ecosystem can continue to support a wide diversity of life and help regulate our planet’s climate.”

    Endangered tigers suffering through spread of canine distemper

    Big cats such as tigers and lions have been found to be suffering from infection by the canine distemper virus, which is closely related to the virus that causes human measles, reports the Cornell Chronicle.

    Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society, Cornell University and the University of Glasgow are urging swift action to address the crisis by developing control measures and a vaccine that is safe for the animals.

    Canine distemper virus strikes wild carnivores of all kinds, including Amur tigers which, according to Colin Parrish, a virologist and director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, are under particular threat because they number in the hundreds and many live in sub-populations of fewer than 25 breeding adults.

    Between 2007 and 2012, canine distemper contributed to the decline of one well-studied population of Amur tigers.

    Their numbers dropped from 38 to only 9, a reduction from which the group may not be able to recover says Parrish.

    Similarly, more than 1,000 lions in the Serengeti National Park disappeared in an outbreak of distemper that began in 1993 – a population decline of about 30 per cent.

    Studies show that in many cases, wild carnivores are not contracting the distemper virus directly from domestic dogs, but they are getting it from other wild animals that act as intermediaries.

    This makes controlling the virus exceedingly difficult, Parrish says, and efforts to vaccinate dogs or other wild carnivores may not offer protection for tigers or other large cats.

    A meeting held on 21 January explored options for vaccinating at-risk wild carnivore populations against distemper.

    Meeting participant Edward Dubovi, director of the virology laboratory at Cornell’s Animal Health Diagnostic Center, says because of this disconnect between dogs and animals like tigers and lions, “the most logical approach for protecting threatened carnivores from canine distemper virus may be to target the vaccine on the endangered species itself.”

    The situation is urgent, but current distemper vaccines haven’t necessarily been thoroughly tested in the wild species that need protection.

    While many vaccines appear to be safe, some may not be effective in generating long-lived immune defenses, Parrish says.

    The meeting discussed ways to test the safety and efficacy of distemper vaccines in captive animals, as well as developing innovative means of immunizing wild animals using oral or aerosol formulations planted in bait or on marking posts.

    Renaming the canine distemper virus may be in order, Parrish says, in part because the name is not a good reflection of its host range among carnivores; the virus can affect seals, tigers, bears and others.

    Also, the word “canine” can lead to management efforts that place too much emphasis on controlling the infection in dogs, when other wild animals carry the virus to infect other species.

    Andrew Allison, a postdoctoral fellow at the Baker Institute for Animal Health in Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, who also attended the meeting, says the time to act is now.

    “Rather than waiting for the possibility of future outbreaks and more extensive population declines to intervene, addressing the issue before it potentially causes irreversible impacts to tiger populations is likely the most important step,” he says.

    First steps taken in lynx reintroduction into the UK

    The Lynx UK Trust has announced a public consultation as a final stage in its preparations to formally request reintroduction licenses for the lynx to be brought back to England and Scotland.

    The lynx was wiped out by hunting and habitat loss around 500AD, but is now seen as a valuable missing link in the UK’s ecology, providing a natural control for species such as deer.

    Dr Paul O’Donoghue, Chief Scientific Advisor for Lynx UK Trust says, “People have talked about the reintroduction of lynx for the past 20 years but no tangible progress has been made.

    “Over the last year we’ve brought together an incredibly experienced team of international experts which puts us in a unique position to take this exciting project forward.”

    Three sites have been chosen as ideal trial-release locations, two in England and one in Scotland, after close consultations with the landowners.

    Tony Marmont, owner of Grumack Forest, one of the potential release sites, comments, “Lynx will have an extremely beneficial effect on our forest ecosystems, both directly and as ambassadors for wider conservation projects.

    “I also believe we should try to reintroduce an animal that humans made extinct here.”

    Consultation has begun and will seek to gauge public opinion whilst highlighting any specific concerns which will then be researched and addressed during the trial.

    If the license applications are successful, the trial will see the first lynx released onto privately owned land to be monitored 24 hours a day to see how they adapt and settle into the environment.

    This data will then be used to decide whether a UK wide reintroduction should be progressed.

    Lynx have been successfully reintroduced across numerous sites in Europe bringing a range of benefits such as improved conservation of forestry, improved balance of biodiversity, reductions in pest species and numerous economic opportunities for remote rural communities which have carefully developed eco-tourism around the presence of the cats.

    “We’re confident that we can achieve exactly the same thing here in the UK,” says O’Donoghue. “Forests around these islands struggle against an over-abundance of deer, which is a classic problem to emerge when you lack apex predators.

    “Wildcats and foxes can’t possibly control deer numbers, but lynx really can, and the economic possibilities for rural communities are incredible.”

    Responding to questions from farmers and other owners of livestock, such as sheep, O’Donoghue states: “As a very dedicated forest animal, lynx will rarely come across agricultural animals; predation on them has been rare in Europe. We will be putting a full subsidy programme in place to reassure farmers anywhere near the reintroduction sites.”

    In the coming months the University of Cumbria will carry out the consultation on behalf of Lynx UK Trust, speaking to the general public, landowners and other stakeholders to gauge levels of support for, or opposition to, the project.

    Dr Ian Convery, who will lead the consultation with Dr Billy Sinclair, says, “We are very excited about our involvement in this lynx reintroduction project.

    “There has been a great deal of interest and discussion in the UK concerning reintroductions over recent years, and it is hugely inspiring to see words translating into action.

    “There is compelling evidence that carnivore reintroductions benefit both the ecosystem and the economy; we expect the proposed lynx reintroduction in the UK will do likewise.”

    The initial public survey is available to all residents of the UK to fill out online via www.lynxuk.org

    Environmental group wants to stop people from swimming with the manatees

    An environmental group wants to stop all the “swim with the manatees” businesses that over the past 40 years have become the foundation of Citrus County’s tourism industry.

    Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed notice Monday that it intends to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over protections for the endangered animals. The suit, filed on behalf of four Citrus County environmental activists, calls for the federal agency to halt any program that lets humans get within 10 feet of a manatee.

    “People do not need to pet manatees to learn about or appreciate them,” PEER lead lawyer Laura Dumais said.

    But Diane Oestreich of Bird’s Underwater, which has been in the manatee ecotour business for 27 years, pointed to the increase in the number of manatees in Citrus County over decades as proof that humans petting and stroking and swimming beside manatees does not hurt them.

    As for PEER, she said, “These people so need to back off and get a life.” Ending the manatee swims would “severely damage our jobs and economy.”

    After Jacques Cousteau’s documentary on the manatees of Crystal River, Forgotten Mermaids, aired on ABC in 1972, tourists willing to pay for a chance to swim with the odd marine mammals began showing up in Crystal River.

    Since then, the manatee tour business has boomed in Citrus County. Because such tours were operating before the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, they were grandfathered in, and thus allowed to continue.

    Last year, more than 265,000 people snorkeled with, paddled near or just looked at manatees during tours of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, the Fish and Wildlife Service reported. Under such crowded conditions, one of PEER’s clients, Nature Coast Kayak Tours operator Tracy Colson, has ended tours of crowded Kings Bay because “it’s too stressful for the manatees, and it’s not a good experience for my customers.”

    Colson and others have made repeated complaints about tourists — and sometimes tour-boat operators — harassing the manatees. Videos posted to YouTube have shown a tour operator grabbing a baby manatee that had been trying to swim to its mother, then holding it up for his customers to take photos of it.

    In 2009, PEER petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to stop issuing commercial permits for swim-with-the-manatees tours, adopt rules forbidding swimming with manatees and expand the manatees’ critical habitat. The agency rejected the first two requests and said it was too busy to work on the third.

    The group filed a notice to sue then, but held off because the agency promised improvements, according to a PEER news release. But new rules that the agency recently imposed for manatee protection in the Crystal River sanctuary do not go far enough, the group contends. PEER represents local, state and federal scientists, law enforcement officers, land managers and other professionals.

    The notice filed Monday gives the Fish and Wildlife Service 60 days to negotiate a settlement with the environmental group before any suit can be filed. Agency spokesman Chuck Underwood said the wildlife service is “currently reviewing” the notice, and pointed out that the impact of the agency’s most recent rules is being monitored and they could be changed.

    Meanwhile, a libertarian group, the Pacific Legal Foundation, is suing the Fish and Wildlife Service to have manatees lowered from “endangered” to “threatened” on the federal species list.

    The foundation contends manatees should no longer be considered endangered because a February 2014 aerial survey counted 4,831 of them in Florida’s waterways, which is about 1,800 more than were counted in a 2001 aerial survey. The agency has agreed to consider the move.

    Biologists warn against relying on those aerial survey numbers as if they were human census records. They compare the process of counting manatees as they rise to the water’s surface to breathe to trying to count popcorn as it pops — you can’t be sure you’re seeing every one.

    CRAIG PITTMAN|Staff Writer|Tampa Bay Times|March 9, 2015

    Good News: The Catalina Island Fox is Rebounding From The Brink

    Once teetering on the brink of extinction, the Catalina Island fox has made such a strong comeback in the past decade that federal officials are now considering removing the fox from the endangered species list.

    The Catalina Island fox is one of the smallest species of fox in North America who can only be found on Santa Catalina Island off the coast of southern California. In 1999 they were nearly wiped out by a canine distemper epidemic that brought their numbers down from an estimated 1,300 to only 100 individuals.

    In 2000, the Catalina Island Conservancy, along with the help of the Institute for Wildlife Studies, initiated a $2 million recovery program that included captive breeding, vaccinations and relocations around the island. By 2004 there were 300 individuals, who were then granted federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

    Thanks to efforts to keep them from disappearing, today there are believed to be 1,700 foxes on the island whose growing numbers led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to announce this week that it’s considering removing them from the Endangered Species Act.

    While their comeback is fantastic news, their growing numbers are unfortunately leading to more conflicts with humans. With 1 million visitors to the island, which is only 76 square miles, there’s bound to be run-ins.

    “The recovery of the island fox is one of the great success stories of ecological restoration,” Dave Garcelon, president of the Institute for Wildlife Studies, told the LA Times. “But with no natural predators, this little fox is the king of beasts on Catalina — and that can get it into trouble.”

    According to the conservancy, last year 25 foxes died as a result of human-related activities–for example, being hit by cars is the main cause of death for this little fox. Of the ones who died last year, 21 were killed by motorists, but biologists believe more may have been injured by cars and died later away from roads. Signs have been put up to remind drivers to be vigilant when they’re on the road, particularly at times when foxes are most active, but accidents aren’t the only problem.

    Their attraction to trash is another major issue the conservancy is having to deal with. The organization is now raising funds for animal-proof trash and recycling containers it hopes won’t just discourage them from seeking out food from the island’s residents and visitors, but will also keep them from eating something that’s potentially hazardous for them and prevent them from getting trapped inside rubbish containers.

    “Recovering the endangered Catalina Island fox population so quickly is one of the great conservation success stories,” said John J. Mack, the Conservancy’s chief conservation and education officer. “The Conservancy is going to be engaged in active management of the foxes and many more species on this Island for generations to come because conservation work is never done, especially on an Island visited by nearly one million people each year. Humans have been a part of Catalina’s ecosystem for thousands of years, and the Conservancy is committed to becoming a leader in modeling conservation in a lived landscape. ”

    Hopefully, continued efforts to keep the island fox safe and educate the public about their place on the landscape will keep this species from ever returning to its precarious past.

    Alicia Graef|March 10, 2015

    Citizen Rangers Combat Snow Leopard Poaching in Kyrgyzstan

    Snow leopard poachers in central Asia will soon have a new enemy: better trained park rangers and eagle-eyed members of the general public. It’s all thanks to an aggressive new program headed up by the Snow Leopard Trust and the government of Kyrgyzstan.

    Worldwide, only about 3,500 to 7,000 snow leopards remain in the wild today. For some time now, those seeking to stop poachers from preying on the iconic big cat in Kyrgyzstan faced serious problems. Park rangers there lack funds and resources to do their jobs effectively.

    Worse, the poachers they’re fighting are often influential businessmen, politicians and other outside interlopers who are difficult to deal with. A project called the Citizen Ranger Wildlife Protection Program (CRWPP) aims to level the playing field.

    The keys to the program are incentives: money and recognition. When park rangers, local citizens or other community members apprehend poachers and report and file cases against them, the CRWPP rewards them with about $250 in cash and a public ceremony at which they receive a certificate.

    Recognition for these efforts means as much as the cash award. In fact, it’s probably the most important incentive of all. As the Snow Leopard Trust notes in its press release:

    National recognition raises social profile and respect for rangers while publicly celebrating and positively reinforcing community collaboration and best practices.

    Arrests and filling cause hassles and costs for poachers as an added deterrent, and placing cases on record is a critical first step towards stronger law enforcement.

    “Although it involves a cash reward, recognizing the rangers’ and community members’ effort is an even more important aspect of the program,” according to Dr. Charudutt Mishra, Science and Conservation Director for the Snow Leopard Trust.

    “Despite their limited resources, park rangers in protected areas as well as our partner communities work hard to stop these outside poachers – but their efforts too often go unrecognized,” said Dr. Mishra. “This project therefore will be a huge enabler.”

    The CRWPP began as a pilot program in 2014 in a limited area. Success with that program led the Snow Leopard Trust and its partners to expand the program in 2015 to all 19 of Kyrgyzstan’s nature preserves and state parks.

    A grant from from the U.K.’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund makes this expansion possible. That grant comes as a result of commitments agreed to at 2014′s London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade.

    “Park rangers are working hard under difficult circumstances to protect endangered wildlife in Kyrgyzstan,” noted Snow Leopard Foundation Kyrgyzstan director Kubanych Jumabaiuulu. “I’m very pleased that we’ll now be able to assist and empower them in their efforts across all 19 Protected Areas of the country.”

    The grant money will also provide a huge training boost for park rangers. INTERPOL has agreed to partner with the program to provide much needed high quality investigative and law enforcement training.

    Poachers beware. Those who protect snow leopards and their prey in Kyrgyzstan aren’t pussyfooting around. They’re out to stop you. They mean business. They have the means and they have the motivation.

    A lot more watchful eyes will be guarding the welfare of these beautiful big cats from now on.

    Susan Bird|March 10, 2015

    109-Year-Old is Helping Penguins Survive Oil Spills

    At 109 years old, Alfred Date is Australia’s oldest person, but his centenarian status isn’t stopping him from giving back to some of the country’s tiniest residents. Thanks to the superior knitting skills that Date has been honing for more than eight decades, countless little penguins have received brightly-colored sweaters to protect them from oil spills.

    Date’s knitwear designs range from superhero costumes, to tuxedos, to rainbow ombre, but the vivid garments do more than just make a fashion statement, the Philip Island Penguin Foundation uses sweaters donated by Date and others to help penguins whose naturally waterproof feathers have been damaged by oil. It was the staff at the nursing home where Date lives that first inspired him to participate in the foundation’s “Knits for Nature” program, reports The Telegraph.

    Penguins who come in contact with as little as a thumbnail-sized amount of oil can quickly die from starvation and exposure, according to experts from the Foundation. Putting the affected birds in sweaters, helps them stay warm and prevents them from accidental poisoning that could occur if they try to lick the slick substance off their feathers.

    It’s a strategy that’s proven to work. When more than 400 penguins encountered an oil spill in 2001, the sweaters helped keep 96 percent of them alive.

    Using his talents to help the estimated 70,000 little penguins that make their home on Philip Island in Victoria, Australia, is a mission that aligns perfectly with Date’s number one tip for living a long life: “Don’t just live for yourself, but try and be of help or service to somebody else.”

    Thanks to the largess of Date and other volunteers, the foundation says they now have plenty of knitwear for the penguins and no longer need sweater donations.

    So, Alfred Date, on this International Day of Awesomeness, we salute you and your penguin-saving knitting prowess!

    AgingCare.com|March 10, 2015

    Aquarium Rushes To Save Stranded Leatherback Sea Turtle

    Earlier this week, the South Carolina Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rescue Program was called in to treat an injured reptile in urgent need of care. The patient: A 500-pound leatherback sea turtle that had stranded itself on the Yawkey-South Island Reserve near Georgetown.

    This was the first time a leatherback had ever stranded itself in South Carolina alive. They’re a highly migratory species that usually swim far offshore, so when they’re sick or injured, they rarely make it.

    “Some turtles wash up and whatever’s going on is internal and … we can only give some theories,” Kelly Thorvalson, Sea Turtle Rescue Program manager, told The Huffington Post. “It could be a net, it could be some sort of algal bloom or toxin, it could be an intestinal impaction that caused a gas buildup. But whatever it is, sea turtles don’t strand unless something’s wrong… So without some sort of medical intervention, this turtle possibly could not survive.”

    The leatherback, nicknamed Yawkey in honor of the preserve where she was found, was taken to the rescue center’s hospital and discovered to have hypoglycemia.

    “She was very lethargic, we gave her antibiotics, fluid therapy, vitamin injections, that supportive care over several days,” Thorvalson said.

    Thankfully, the group’s quick action has helped Yawkey recover well and they’re planning to release her back into the wild on Thursday. Thorvalson told HuffPost it’s a logistical challenge to move such a large creature, but they’re thrilled that she’s recovered so well and it’s been an amazing opportunity to work with such a “dinosaur.”

    “Yawkey could not have come at a better time,” she said. “The word has spread that she’s here, and it really shows the level of care that we’re able to provide.”

    Should you come across a stranded animal in the wild, it’s important to remember that animals don’t strand themselves unless something is wrong. Immediately call your local stranding hotline (most states have a dedicated phone number), or your local police station and do not try to return the animal to the water.

    “It’s critical to get them into a stranding facility immediately — the few that are alive are usually close to death,” Thorvalson says.

    See Photos

    Nick Visser|The Huffington Post|03/12/2015

    Black Pine Snakes May Get 330,000 Acres of Critical Habitat

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed Tuesday to protect 338,100 acres of critical habitat in Mississippi and Alabama for black pine snakes, whose southeastern, longleaf pine forests have been reduced to less than 5 percent of their former glory by agriculture and pine plantations, fire suppression and sprawl.

    The snakes — proposed for Endangered Species Act protection last fall after a Center settlement — can grow up to 7 feet long and hiss loudly when encountered. They are harmless to humans and eat mostly rodents.

    “Designation of critical habitat is absolutely necessary for the survival of the black pine snake,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Collette Adkins, an attorney and biologist focused on the protection of rare reptiles and amphibians. “Like the red-cockaded woodpecker, gopher tortoise and dozens of other wildlife species in the Southeast, the black pine snake depends on longleaf pine forests. The South is losing its natural heritage through the destruction of this critically endangered ecosystem.”

    Read more in The Mississippi Press.

    [I’m still hoping against hope for critical habitat for the Florida Panther.]

    Wild & Weird

    Frogs That Freeze Solid

    Different animals use different strategies to survive winter. Some species migrate south, others grow thick coats, and some fatten up or stash food reserves. Many species hibernate or go dormant to get through the cold, lean winter.

    Amphibians are hibernators. Some species bury themselves at the bottom of ponds and others burrow into the leaf litter or even underground. Even so, amphibian species are less numerous the further north you go. Most species just can’t tolerate the deep cold and long duration of winters in extreme northern latitudes, even when hibernating.

    Wood frogs (Rana sylvatica) are an exception. They are the only North American amphibian species whose range extends into the Arctic Circle. They can do this because they have the ability to survive being frozen solid. Check out this video about these amazing frogs.

    Early Breeders

    This ability to survive freezing also allows them to emerge from hibernation before most other frog species–sometimes when there is still snow on the ground. This early emergence allows them to breed early in the year, which gives their tadpoles more time to develop into adult frogs.

    This is a big advantage, as wood frogs breed in temporary ponds called vernal pools that fill up with melted snow in late winter, but dry out completely by the end of summer. Tadpoles that don’t complete their metamorphosis before the vernal pools dry up don’t survive, so the longer they have to grow, the more will survive to adulthood.

    Attracting Wood Frogs

    Wood frogs can be found throughout the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast and Upper Midwest states, as well as Alaska and throughout Canada. They can survive in suburban and even urban areas if the right habitat exists for them. Here are some tips to attract wood frogs (or any amphibian) to your yard.

    • Install a Small Garden Pond. Allow some leaves to accumulate in the bottom of your backyard pond, and make sure it has a shallow area for wildlife to enter and exit. Add plants around the banks and don’t put fish in it. If there are wood frogs in the neighborhood, they may show up in the late winter to lay their eggs.
    • Leave Your Leaves. Wood frogs spend most of their time in the fallen leaves of the forest floor, where they hide from predators and lie in wait for insects, spiders and worms to feed upon. They also hibernate right in the this leaf layer. So if you have woods on your property, preserve them and don’t rake up all your leaves in fall.
    • Don’t Use Chemicals. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers can kill frogs or eliminate their prey.
    • Plant Natives. Frogs don’t eat plants, but they eat the insects and other small animals that do. Native plants support more insects than exotic ornamental plants. A good diversity of native plants in your garden will ensure that there is plenty of food for wood frogs.
    • Give Cover. Plants also provide cover where wood frogs can hide. Consider creating a brush pile too, which mimics the fallen woody debris naturally found on the forest floor.

    David Mizejewski|Wildlife Promise|3/5/2015

    Everglades

    To stop polluting rivers, buy land for reservoir

    Only two months into the New Year and already the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has started to release polluted water from Lake Okeechobee, resulting in water flowing into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, and the Indian River Lagoon, which is expected to continue over the coming weeks and months.

    Millions of Floridians are affected by the releases of this polluted water. Releases from Lake Okeechobee during the 2013 rainy season killed wildlife, depressed home values, hurt tourism and threatened the drinking water supply for eight million Floridians. Yet, since 2013, nothing has been done to address the problem. Nothing has been done to start sending Lake Okeechobee water south so that we can stop dumping polluted water into the estuaries. Today, water levels are even higher than we faced in January 2013 and we’re just one or two heavy rains away from re-living the “lost summer of 2013” disaster.

    Right now, the State of Florida, through the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), has the opportunity to buy land in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) – namely, a strategic 26,100-acre area just south of Lake Okeechobee – to build a reservoir that has been congressionally authorized, and is scientifically supported and approved by state and federal governments, as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).

    The bottom line is simple: when water levels rise in Lake Okeechobee, there is a tremendous fear that the aging Herbert Hoover Dike may breach. Due to this concern, the only option available today is to dump billions of gallons of polluted water to the east and west, which brings toxic algae, dead fish, job loss and other detrimental impacts to the local areas and the state of Florida.

    A reservoir in the EAA could store one foot of water off of Lake Okeechobee, and would not only aid in Everglades restoration, but would also reduce impacts to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers, and the Indian River Lagoon, which have been severely damaged by these polluted discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

    Florida voters made this solution possible with their overwhelming support of Amendment 1, which created a dedicated revenue source for the environment over the next 20 years. The Amendment specifically identified the goal of using the money collected to “purchase land in the Everglades Agricultural Area.” And, with the 2015 Legislative in session, lawmakers are busy deciding how to spend this Amendment 1 money.

    This is a historic opportunity. But, with an October 2015 deadline, the opportunity to buy the land and build a reservoir is slipping through our fingers every day. The Florida Legislature and SFWMD must take action now so that we can protect the Everglades and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. Because, if the state and the SFWMD decide not to take advantage of this opportunity to buy the land, we need to be asking what their plan is for water storage? We simply cannot afford to keep wasting water and killing fisheries; and, we do not have the option to wait until this year’s rainy season is upon us and the funds have been squandered.

    Seventy-five percent of Floridians showed their love of the Everglades and Florida’s environment in November and continue to stand united. We can’t afford to play politics. Legislators and SFWMD must act now before this option is completely off the table and Florida families are left facing a 2013-like crisis every year, and the drinking water for eight million Floridians and tourists is, again, in jeopardy.

    Eric Eikenberg|CEO|Everglades Foundation|Mar 10, 2015 |Column courtesy of Context Florida.

    Florida Everglades would be a winner, Louisiana coast a loser under proposed Obama budget

    For centuries, long before hotel resorts sprouted along the Florida Keys, Florida bay was a wonderland.

    The Everglades fed the blue green waters of the bay just enough fresh water to create a world-class estuary between the Keys and the mainland.

    “It’s in sick shape,” said Dr. Jerry Lorenz of Audubon Florida, as he took FOX 8 on a tour of the bay last April.

    The state of Florida, local water districts, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and environmental groups have worked for years on ambitious plans to rescue The Everglades.

    Just as man sought to improve on nature, building levees to tame the Mississippi River, he also rearranged nature’s plumbing in central and southern Florida.

    Historically, fresh water flowed south, beginning not far from Orlando, on a slow trek to the Gulf of Mexico, slower than the slowest Louisiana bayou.

    As cities and farms sprouted, sticking more and more straws into what Floridians proudly call their “river of grass,” the system starved for fresh water.

    “From that point on, things really deteriorated in Florida Bay,” Lorenz said.

    However, Florida has a jumpstart on rescuing this wonderland and friends in powerful places.

    Last week, President Obama proposed spending $195 million in the coming fiscal year for the Everglades through a series of projects aimed at restoring more of the nature water flow.

    At the same time, the Obama budget would scrap plans to share half-a-billion a year in offshore oil royalties with Louisiana and other gulf coast states beginning in fiscal 2017.

    Louisiana, home to much of the nation’s offshore oil and gas infrastructure, would tap into roughly one third of that money under the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA).

    Instead, the president’s proposal would sprinkle the GOMESA funding onto conservation programs around the country.

    “I mean, Chesapeake Bay and the Everglades don’t compare in terms of productivity,” said Jerome Zeringue, outgoing chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

    Zeringue noted Louisiana voters changed the constitution to dedicate the GOMESA funds solely to coastal restoration projects and hurricane protection.

    The state’s estimated $170 million annual take represents one-third to one-half of the anticipated funding for the state’s Coastal Master Plan, Zeringue said, and the largest continuing source of revenue.

    “What’s even more insulting is the fact that it’s even proposed,” Zeringue said.

    While many observers believe the Obama budget will meet an early death in the Republican-controlled House and Senate, the president may have opened up a discussion in cash-hungry Washington about the use of GOMESA funds.

    “When Louisiana loses guaranteed money, other states benefit with the chance to get that money,” said Tulane University Political Analyst Mike Sherman. “So, we’re going to see some strange coalitions probably on this one.’

    Geologists estimate Louisiana is at risk of losing another 1,700 square miles of its coastline in coming decades. However, the issue may have more to do with another kind of map, an electoral one.

    “Listen, most states in the country, we know how they’re going to vote for president in 2016,” Sherman said. “There’s just a few battleground states and then, there’s one super battleground. That’s Florida.”

    Even without Barack Obama on the ballot 2016, Sherman said electoral politics still matter in Washington.

    He believes the issue marks an early test for Louisiana GOP leaders, including Majority Whip Steve Scalise, the third-ranking republican in the House.

    “Do they have the clout to stop President Obama from taking away this dedication?”

    John Snell|fox8live.com|Mar 04, 2015

    Major Expansion of Water Storage Program

    New partnerships more than double the current storage capacity

    West Palm Beach, FL – In an ongoing effort to increase water storage to protect South Florida’s coastal estuaries and natural systems, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board  approved agreements that more than double the overall water retention capacity in its Dispersed Water Management program.

    The approved contracts will add a total potential of 95,812 acre-feet of storage to the program, or about 36 billion gallons annually. This is the equivalent of 1.5 inches of water in Lake Okeechobee, a 730-square-mile lake at the heart of South Florida’s water management system. The program currently has a retention capacity of 93,342 acre-feet across 43 sites.

    “Storing water on ranchlands has proven to be an effective tool in the District’s ongoing effort to protect the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Daniel O’Keefe. “Today’s action shows this agency’s commitment to the Dispersed Water Management program, and we support its continued expansion to protect South Florida’s natural systems.”

    In the largest storage contract, the District reached an agreement with Alico, Inc., on 35,192 acres of ranchland that will retain an annual average of 91,944 acre-feet of water from the Caloosahatchee River Watershed. This is an amount equal to approximately 34.5 billion gallons of water. This property also has the potential of sending water back into the Caloosahatchee River during the dry season.

    Along with the Alico property in Hendry County, the District also signed separate agreements for water storage and nutrient removal:

    • Rafter T, in Highlands County, for 1,298 acre-feet per year
    • Babcock Property Holdings, at the border of Charlotte and Lee counties, for 1,214 acre-feet a year
    • MacArthur Agro Research Center Component 1, in Glades County, for 620 acre-feet per year
    • MacArthur Agro Research Center Component 2, in Glades County, for 1,567 pounds of phosphorus removal per year
    • Adams and Russakis Ranch, at the border of St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties, for retention of 508 acre-feet per year
    • Bull Hammock Ranch, at the border of Martin and St. Lucie counties, for 288 acre-feet per year

    Dispersed Water Management Program

    The District’s Dispersed Water Management program encourages private property owners to retain water on their land rather than drain it or to accept and detain regional runoff for storage, or do both. Landowners typically join the program through cost-share cooperative projects, easements or payment for environmental services.

    Since 2005, the District has been working with a coalition of agencies, environmental organizations, ranchers and researchers to enhance opportunities for storing excess surface water on private and public lands. These partnerships have made thousands of acre-feet of water retention and storage available throughout the greater Everglades system.

    When water levels in South Florida are higher than normal during the annual rainy season, the District can utilize this storage while taking further actions to capture and store water throughout the regional water management system. Holding water on these lands is one tool to help reduce the amount of water flowing into Lake Okeechobee and/or discharged to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries during high water conditions.

    Managing water on these lands is one tool to reduce the amount of water delivered into Lake Okeechobee during the wet season and discharged to coastal estuaries for flood protection. Dispersed water management offers many other environmental and economic benefits to the region, including:

    • Providing valuable groundwater recharge for water supply
    • Improving water quality and rehydration of drained systems
    • Enhancing plant and wildlife habitat

    SFWMD

    Water Quality Issues

    Government Ignores Dangerous E. Coli Factory Farm Water Pollution

    Waste water full of excrement and urine is being dumped into the ecosystems of North Carolina, causing untold environmental damage and putting human health at risk, yet the local government seems completely uninterested in investigating the situation.

    Researchers found that nearly a quarter of water samples tested in the region contained unsafe amounts of E.coli and fecal bacteria, a direct result of the waste from huge scale factory farms.

    North Carolina produces more than 4 billion pounds of pork per year, making it the second largest pork producer in the U.S., after Iowa. In some regions, such as Duplin County, there are more pigs than humans, with farmers raising 2 million pigs each year in a region with a population of just 60,000.

    Despite the huge concentration of pigs in this region, government laws classify huge factory farm operations with thousands of pigs as “non-discharge facilities,” meaning that they are not regulated on the amount of sewage waste they produce, nor where they dump it.

    Inside the factory farms, the pig’s excrement and urine is washed out of the pens through holes in the floor, and piped in to huge open lakes on the property. As there is a constant need for more waste to be pumped out, water from the sewage lakes are sprayed onto the surrounding agricultural fields at a rate of hundreds of gallons per minute, and it eventually seeps through into the waterways. The water is also indiscriminately dispersed into the surrounding environment and people’s homes during the spraying process.

    Shocking Pollution Statistics

    From 2010 to 2011 a research team from the university of North Carolina and John Hopkins University conducted extensive testing in the waters of North Carolina, specifically testing the water upstream and downstream from fields near the state’s major factory farms. Due to the lax regulations on the treatment of waste from these farms, millions of tons of sewage water are ending up in the waterways, and the stats are from the study are extremely worrying.

    Out of 187 samples from Duplin County, over 40 percent were found to have fecal coliform and animal fecal bacteria counts exceeding safe water guidelines set by state and federal authorities. Almost a quarter (23 percent) of the samples tested were found to contain unsafe amounts of the E.coli bacteria, and around two thirds (61 percent) contained excessive amounts of Enterococcus.

    Why Would the Authorities Ignore the Issue?

    With such alarming readings being found in the county’s natural water systems, you might expect the government to be jumping into action to prevent the environmental and public health disaster from becoming any worse, but instead, they have done almost nothing about it.

    Drew Elliot from the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources said that the study “seems to be inconclusive.” His statement also claimed that, “The information presented provides an indication of overall water quality in these [waters]; however, it is not an indication of a discharge of waste.” When questioned on the issue further, the response was that it was difficult to determine the source of the contamination as fecal pollution could include “any warm blooded animals and failing septic or sewage collection systems.”

    It seems as if the large scale farming operations who are clearly responsible for this dangerous water pollution are being given a free pass from the authorities, who are refusing to accept the evidence presented to them by scientific researchers.

    The authorities are unwilling to stand up against the animal agriculture industry in order to protect our precious environment, and the health of our citizens, but we don’t have to. We can use our collective voices to say no to factory farming and boycott the animal agriculture industry all together.

    Abigail Geer|March 5, 2015

    Great Lakes & Inland Waters

    Mapping the Great Lakes’ Wetlands

    Fluorescent bands of color outline the Great Lakes on a new, comprehensive map of the region’s coastal wetlands. This publicly available map is the first of its kind on such a broad scale — and the only one to trump political boundaries. Both Canadian and US wetlands are shown along more than 10,000 miles of shoreline.

    The Great Lakes is an important focus of Michigan Technological University research. The coastal wetlands map is an extension of that focus, expanding on previous maps created through the Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI).

    Laura Bourgeau-Chavez, MTRI research scientist and the project leader for the wetlands map, says establishing standard methods was crucial.  “This is the first map to span the entire basin, and it’s important to have a consistent map over the entire area,” she says, explaining that inconsistencies impact data analysis and implementation of management strategies “if you don’t know the accuracy of the map or how it’s changing from one place to another.”

    Wetlands Changing

    And wetlands are dynamic systems — there is a lot of change naturally happening, although most comes from humans. “We’ve lost more than 50 percent of coastal wetlands in the Great Lakes over the past century,” Bourgeau-Chavez says. “The wetlands are very important because they serve as filtration as well as habitat — and a lot of them are being degraded.”

    Managing the remaining wetlands requires a 30,000-foot view.

    Although it’s more like a million-foot view, since the satellites used to map the wetlands orbit at about 200 miles above the earth’s surface. Satellite imagery and measurements are techniques collectively called remote sensing.

    “It’s studying something from a distance,” Bourgeau-Chavez says, adding that a lot of ground can be covered. “An example people are familiar with is using Google Earth, that’s remote sensing.”

    Bourgeau-Chavez and her team specifically used three-season PALSAR remote sensing data, which is a 23 cm wavelength Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR). SAR satellites are useful for measuring wetlands because the technique can distinguish flooded ground, vegetation’s vertical structure, soil moisture and the total mass of vegetation. All these wetland features can vary greatly between seasons, so the satellite data was collected in spring, summer and fall.

    Remote sensing can’t replace field reports, however. Mixed readings — overlapping pixels in the data — blurred some of the map’s boundaries, making vegetation type difficult to distinguish. With such an extensive map, field checking every point was impossible, but “we tried to get as many as possible within each mapped area,” Bourgeau-Chavez says. To do so, her team visited more than 1,400 separate field sites.

    Invasive Species

    Visiting the sites allowed the researchers to double check the predominant vegetation, which is important for tracking invasive species like Phragmites (common reed) and cattails. Following Phragmites monocultures in the Great Lakes initiated the wetlands mapping.

    In addition to keeping tabs on invasives, classifying different kinds of wetlands is a crucial map feature. For example, peatlands are an important wetland to separate out. The bogs are sometimes mined for peat, and they store large amounts of carbon.

    “An emergent wetland that doesn’t have any, or very little, peat at the surface is very different from a peatland with peat that is meters deep,” Bourgeau-Chavez says.

    Peatlands and other wetlands can be connected to water bodies even if they’re not directly on one of the lakeshores. To account for this water connectivity, the researchers mapped 6.2 miles inland, creating the map’s brightly colored band following the coast. Mapping inland also allowed the mapping team to see “the adjacent land that affects the quality of the water going into those wetlands,”  Bourgeau-Chavez explains.

    There are a lot of other factors considered in land use management in addition to monitoring urban and agriculture proximity, invasive species and different wetland types. A variety of uses were built into the mapping interface, and viewers can also request data by clicking a button below the map legend.

    So far, Bourgeau-Chavez says people have downloaded the data for everything from road building in Michigan to Lake Erie coastal restoration to research on grass carp.

    “We have a whole list of people, both from Canada and the US, downloading the data,” Bourgeau-Chavez says, adding that as the first comprehensive wetlands map of the Great Lakes, it has many applications.

    She also notes the map is part of a greater initiative to develop better science resources for the Great Lakes. While large, the map is only part of the picture — a picture that will keep expanding with more detailed satellite imagery and updates as the region’s wetlands change.

    Allison Mills|awmills@mtu.edu|March 6, 2015

    (Michigan Technological University (www.mtu.edu) is a leading public research university developing new technologies and preparing students to create the future for a prosperous and sustainable world. Michigan Tech offers more than 130 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering; forest resources; computing; technology; business; economics; natural, physical and environmental sciences; arts; humanities; and social sciences.)

    A world without rivers

    Imagine a world without rivers. No digging in with your raft paddle as you shoot rapids. No guiding a canoe quietly downstream. No diving into deep river pools or standing in the mist of a waterfall. No casting fly lines into flowing water or watching for birds like American Dippers hopping off rocks.

    No fresh water cascading from mountains and eventually out of your tap, onto your garden, or into your bathtub. Definitely NO FUN!

    It’s not a very enjoyable world. It’s not a very healthy world.

    But with increasing pressures caused by human influence, a changing climate, we are coming uncomfortably close to that world. While another snowstorm pummels the East Coast, California and much of the Western United States are suffering from a devastating drought. Ski resorts out west are closing from lack of snow and spring-like temperatures.

    According to a new study from the Cornell University, the University of Arizona and the U.S. Geological Survey, this drought threatens to leave our rivers in peril for years to come. Meanwhile, our thirst for water shows no sign of diminishing. Every year competition for a clean supply of water for drinking, cooking, bathing, farming, and sustaining life intensifies.

    And clean freshwater is not just critical for humans, but for fish and wildlife as well. Last year, a section of the Eel River in Northern California went dry. While other sections of the river have been known to go dry from time to time, this section at the mouth of the river has no known history of drying. This dry section created a barrier that prevented fish from migrating between the ocean and river, most likely a result of the drought and water withdrawals.

    Several hundred miles to the south in California’s Central Valley, the San Joaquin River (America’s Most Endangered Rivers in 2014) also went dry due to the drought and high demands of agriculture and human consumption.

    And the Truckee River, which starts at Lake Tahoe, has been reduced to just a trickle. Most years, thousands of people float down the Truckee River on inner tubes and rafts, but this year the rafting season was cut several months short. Also a very popular fly fishing spot, the low flows on the Truckee left anglers high and dry.

    Rivers are a crucial part of the natural world, and we depend on them for so many things. Yet we mistreat them. We suck them dry with water diversions or drown them with dams, destroying wildlife habitat and diminishing the recreational opportunities we have come to enjoy. Additional pressures, like the current drought, only exacerbate these pressures.

    Though we can’t control the drought, we can alleviate some of its impact on our rivers, increasing flows during the driest parts of the year.

    We can start by: Capturing rainwater and using it for irrigation, Timing our agricultural water diversions with high river flows Gardening with drought-tolerant native plants Restoring degraded meadows and forests to increase summer flows I will leave you with this final thought: this past weekend my friend and I went for a hike in the Sierra Nevada along what is usually a beautiful river. This year, there was no water to be seen.

    And while the colorful river rocks were beautiful, I think most people would agree crystal clear mountain water flowing over and swirling around those rocks would be even better.

    Austen Lorenz February 24th, 2015

    News Release: Public input sought on FWC permit request to restore 46 area lakes, water bodies ‏

    Contact: Greg Workman, 352-732-1225

    Photos available on FWC’s Flickr site. Go to: https://flic.kr/s/aHsk3fd2Vy.

    Suggested Tweet: Public can comment to @MyFWC permit request for #lake restoration in NE #Florida: http://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/FLFFWCC/bulletins/f76daf #habitat

    Public input sought on FWC permit request to restore 46 area lakes, water bodies

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has applied for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District to conduct restoration activities on 46 lakes and water bodies in the FWC’s Northeast Region.

    This permit is required pursuant to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. The request is part of an overall initiative in which the FWC is working with the Corps to obtain permits for routine restoration work in 95 lakes and water bodies throughout Florida.

    The public can review the request and comment on it through April 8 (see link below).

    The following water bodies within the FWC’s Northeast Region are included in the permit application:

    • Fox Lake, Lake Hellen Blazes, Sawgrass Lake, Little Sawgrass Lake, South Lake and T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area in Brevard County;
    • Lake Griffin and Lake Yale in Lake County;
    • Lake Eaton, Lake Jumper, Lake Weir, Little Lake Weir, Little Lake Kerr, Marshall Swamp and Ocklawaha Prairie in Marion County;
    • Johns Lake, Lake Apopka, and Lake Mann in Orange County;
    • Alligator Lake, Brick Lake, Coon Lake, Cypress Lake, East Lake Tohopekaliga, Fish Lake, Lake Center, Lake Gentry, Lake Hatchineha, Lake Jackson, Lake Kissimmee, Lake Lizzie, Lake Marian, Lake Tohopekaliga and Trout Lake in Osceola County;
    • Lake Jesup in Seminole County;
    • Guana Lake/Lake Ponte Vedra in St. Johns County;
    • Black Lake, Lake Deaton, Gant Lake, Lake Miona, Lake Okahumpka and Lake Panasofkee in Sumter County;
    • Blue Springs, Lake Ashby and Lake Macy in Volusia County;
    • St. Johns River in Indian River, Brevard, Seminole, Osceola, Orange, Lake, Volusia, Putnam, Marion, St. Johns, Clay and Duval counties.

    The FWC seeks a permit that would authorize all of its routine mechanical aquatic plant maintenance activities related to habitat restoration and navigation maintenance within these water bodies for a period of 15 years. The proposed maintenance techniques include mechanical harvesting and shredding of aquatic vegetation and use of earth-moving and tilling equipment on vegetated areas during dry conditions.

    The proposed restoration activities on lakes and other water bodies would improve habitat for fish and wildlife and provide outdoor opportunities for boating, angling and wildlife viewing.

    The Corps permitting process requires the opportunity for public comment. The Corps has published a Public Notice for the proposed work on its website at: http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/PublicNotices.aspx. To view the notice, click on the following file number to open the Public Notice: SAJ-2015-00644 (SP-SLR). If you would like to provide comments or have any questions regarding the Corps permit process, please follow the directions included in the Public Notice. Note that the Web address is case sensitive and should be entered as it appears above.

    Learn more about mechanical control of aquatic plants at http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/manage/control-methods/mechanical-control.

    Plastic pollution a growing concern

    Microbeads used in personal care products are in the Great Lakes. Michigan legislators will consider a bill to ban the sale of products containing microbeads.

    You might have them on the shelf in your bathroom and not even know it.

    Personal care products containing microbeads — plastic particles less than 1.24 millimeters, or about the size of fine-grained salt — are becoming an increasing concern in states that border the Great Lakes.

    The worry is they could concentrate harmful chemicals in the fish that people eat.

    “From a chemistry standpoint, it has me very concerned that what we’re doing as a society is conducting a long-term chemistry experiment on ourselves without anyone’s consent,”said Sherri Mason, a professor of chemistry at The State University of New York-Fredonia who was one of the first researchers to find microbeads and other plastics in the Great Lakes.

    Michigan lawmakers are considering a measure introduced in February by senators Steve Bieda, D-Warren, and Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, that would ban the sale of products containing microbeads.

    “There are alternatives the industry can go to,” Bieda said. “Why are they putting potentially toxic materials into our shampoo?”

    Microbeads and other plastics in the Great Lakes are a recent issue. Mason said she began thinking about freshwater plastics pollution in 2011.

    She said she was teaching a course aboard the tall ship USS Niagara on monitoring and measuring things in the environment.

    “I wondered if there’s plastic in the Great Lakes,” she said. “I was reading and teaching and was aware of the issue in the world’s oceans.”

    At that point, she said, there were about 10 years of research into plastics in the ocean, she said.

    “I was surprised nobody had looked,” Bieda said. “Nobody had looked in any of the freshwater systems.”

    Researchers in 2012 started looking at water samples for plastic. Studies have found up to 17,000 plastic particles per square kilometer in Lake Michigan. Lakes Huron and Superior had similar amounts of plastics.

    The 5 Gyres Institute in Los Angeles collaborated with Mason and brought its testing protocols to the Great Lakes. The group previously had done research into plastics in the world’s oceans.

    Anna Cummins, the institute’s executive director, said “2012 and 2013 was the first time we ventured into a large freshwater body. We had no idea we would find those microbeads.

    “It was a shock to see a sample from Lake Erie (in 2012) that had more plastic particles than most of our samples from oceans.”

    Of the plastic found in the samples, 20 percent consisted of microbeads, Mason said.

    “That caught our attention,” she said. “Plastic in the water that is perfectly round is not coming from something in the water. That is something that is being released into the water.”

    Microbeads are in products such as facial scrubs and toothpaste. They typically are too small to be removed from the waste stream by conventional waste water treatment technology, so they go down the drain and out to rivers and streams.

    “People are really surprised there is plastic in their face wash and in their toothpaste,” Mason said.

    She said researchers have examined the gastrointestinal tracts of 20 species of Great Lakes fish and have found plastic in all 20.

    “Smaller fish typically have less plastic, bigger fish that eat smaller fish typically have more plastic,” she said.

    This past winter, researchers examined the catches of anglers as they came off the ice.

    “For 100 different perch, we find on average 80 percent of them have plastic in them, and those plastic counts can vary from fish to fish,” she said. “On average, we find about eight pieces of plastic in each one of those fish.”

    The problem, she said, is the pieces of plastic pick up chemicals in the water — and the tiny pieces of plastic look like food to fish.

    “When the plastic gets eaten by the fish, those chemicals move into the fish,” she said.

    And people eat those fish, Mason said.

    “That’s what they feed their families with,” she said. “… You can tell them what’s in the fish,andthey’restillgoingto eat it.”

    Jennifer Caddick, a spokeswoman for the Alliance for the Great Lakes in Chicago, said there are alternatives to microbeads in personal care products.

    “Rather than using plastic as the scrubbing source in your facial scrub, they are using things like sand, ground-up almond shells and ground-up pumice,” she said.

    “There’s lots of natural alternatives,” she said. “If you don’t have to have plastic in there, there’s no need for it.”

    The alliance has started a campaign to rid the Great Lakes basin of products containing microbeads.

    Caddick said Illinois has a law phasing out microbeads; New York, Michigan and Indiana have legislation; and Ohio is considering a bill and Minnesota considered one.

    Legislation banning microbeads was introduced this past week in Connecticut. Legislation also is being considered in other states, including California.

    “Basically, every Great Lakes state has legislation or legislators are talking about legislation,” Caddick said.

    Some large companies, such as Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever and L’Oréal, have agreed to voluntarily phase out microbeads, she said.

    Cummins said her group took the results of its research to those manufacturers.

    “That’s what started this effort to phase them out,” she said.

    She said she is concerned, however, that manufacturers will look to insert a loophole in legislation allowing them to use biodegradable plastics.

    Bieda said he introduced a similar bill in July, but it was never addressed in committee, in part because of the election.

    The proposed legislation, SB 0158 would give manufacturers until 2019 to phase out plastic microbeads in their products.

    “It’s a very worrisome issue,” he said. “We need to preserve and protect the Great Lakes.”

    Bob Clegg, Port Huron city engineer, said removing the source would be more cost-efficient than to upgrade water treatment plants to filter out microbeads.

    “The best way to control it is source control,” he said. “If there a problem in a product, why spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to bring plants up to deal with it?

    … The more efficient way to address the issue is to see if you can prevent it from ever entering the waste stream.”

    BOB GROSS|TIMES HERALD|3/15/15

    Offshore & Ocean

    In Defense of the Octopus, 8 Extraordinary Facts About the Clever Cephalopod

    They’re not cuddly; they don’t have fluffy fur and big eyes and make us weak in the knees with cooing. Few swoon for the octopus. But if affection were commensurate with traits that are nearly supernatural in their power to wow, octopuses might be the world’s favorite animals.

    But alas, instead they inspire legends of sea monsters like Kraken and Lusca, and give form to fictional villains like Ursula and Doc Oc. They incite cringing, not fawning. So with that in mind, allow us to present some arguments for why we think the graceful and brilliant unsung undulating creatures of the sea should be revered rather than vilified.

    1. They are magicians

    Just like a magician uses smoke and mirrors to make things appear and disappear, so does the octopus – but rather than employing mechanical devices to perform its trick, the octopus uses biology. Using a network of pigment cells and specialized muscles in its skin, the common octopus can almost instantly assume the colors, patterns, and textures of its surroundings. The camouflage is so expertly done that predators pass without notice. Watch one in action here (shown in reverse), it’s astounding.

    2. They have the coolest escape mechanism

    Another trick worthy of a magician or something dreamed up by Q for James Bond is an octopus’ inky cloud that upon release, obscures an aggressor’s view and allows the cephalopod to slip away. And if that weren’t nifty enough, the ink – mostly a mix of pigment and mucous – also contains a compound that irritates the eyes and dulls an attacker’s sense of smell, making the escape artist even harder to follow.

    3. They’re Olympian in speed and agility

    When threatened, octopuses propel themselves by expelling water from their mantles, reaching speeds as high as 25 miles per hour. Whoosh. They also have agility that is a wonder to behold: They can squeeze their soft bodies into the teeniest of cracks and holes, making a circus contortionist look feeble in comparison.

    Watch this: Octopus Houdini escapes boat via tiny hole! And this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5DyBkYKqnM

    4. They’re smarter than the average bear

    CUNY biology professor Peter Godfrey-Smith says that octopuses are, “probably the closest we’ll get to meeting an intelligent alien.” While Aristotle called the octopus, “a stupid creature,” researchers say they have developed intelligence, emotions, and even individual personalities. The crafty cephalopod can navigate through mazes – and resist them if they’re not feeling cooperative. They, solve problems and remember solutions, and take things apart for fun. They can play fetch! They can unplug drains, disconnect wires, escape from labs and will even collect shells and other objects to build fortresses, or “gardens,” around their lairs.

    5. They have far-reaching brains

    This one is crazy: Two-thirds of an octopus’ neurons do not reside in their head, rather, in their arms. Which is to say, an octopus’ arms can take on a variety of independent tasks while their owner is attending to other matters. And if one of those arms becomes detached, researchers have found that the severed arm can crawl away on its own and even grab hold of food and direct it to where the mouth would be if the arm were still attached.

    6. They can regenerate lost limbs

    Lose one of those smart arms to a predator? No problem! The handy-dandy octopus can just grow a new one with no permanent damage. If only we were so lucky.

    7. They have a lot of heart(s)

    Yes, hearts – three of them in fact. Two work to transport blood beyond their gills, while number three keeps blood circulating for the organs. And oddly enough, heart number three shuts down when the creature is swimming, which explains why they are more prone to hiding than feeling quickly; swimming exhausts them.

    Watch this octopus steal a video camera and make a short film:

    8. They’re as old as the hills

    And maybe even older. The oldest known octopus fossil comes from a creature that lived 296 million years ago, during the Carboniferous period – it is displayed at the Field Museum in Chicago. It displays the classic eight arms and two eyes, and possibly an ink sac as well. As Smithsonian notes, “long before life on land had progressed beyond puny pre-dinosaur reptiles, octopuses had already established their shape for the millions of years to come.” In terms of seniority, they totally dominate us young’uns.

    Bonus: They defy common language

    You say octopi, I say octopuses? While octopi has become standard in common usage, it’s not etymologically correct. Octopi was borne out of the incorrect notion that the word comes from Latin; but in fact it comes from the Greek, októpus, meaning “eight foot.” Technically the plural is octopodes, but as the Grammarist points out, “octopus has been in English for centuries and is now an English word when English speakers use it, so there is no reason not to pluralize it in the English manner. Which would mean: octopuses.

     

    Melissa Breyer|TreeHugger|March 8, 2015

    The siren song of deep water: Ports race to accommodate post-Panamax ships

    Jacksonville, Florida, plans to deepen its shipping canal despite concerns over economic benefit and environmental risk

    JACKSONVILLE, Florida — Jacksonville is one of many U.S. ports racing to accommodate the huge post-Panamax ships that will begin traversing the expanded Panama Canal next year. The city is considering deepening its St. Johns River shipping channel from 40 to 47 feet to handle them.

    The $766 million project has environmentalists and fiscal conservatives pitted against business interests and politicians; the two sides disagree on essentially everything about the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) analysis of the project, including its cost, economic benefit and environmental harm.

    And, thanks to President Barack Obama’s 2012 We Can’t Wait initiative, which shaved seven years off the timetable, the project is proceeding at a greatly accelerated rate. Jacksonville’s mayor has appointed a port task force that is scrambling to figure out how to pay the city’s estimated $416 million share of the cost — the state could also provide funding but has thus far not committed to do so — in time for a September 2015 deadline.

    “The process is dysfunctional without the fast-tracking, and the fast-tracking just made it even more so,” said Lisa Rinaman of St. Johns Riverkeeper, a privately funded organization that aims to protect and promote the river, its wetlands and tributaries.

    Jacksonville is one of 10 ports on the East Coast that are proposing, in the process of or have recently completed projects to accommodate post-Panamax ships. The total estimated cost of these projects is $5.49 billion. While it is of little question that the national economy will benefit from having more deep-water ports — critics point out that shipping companies certainly will — local economic benefits are far from certain. Nevertheless, Jacksonville’s and other deepening projects are being sold to the public with promises of economic growth.

    The initiative has created the unlikely alliance of Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, a Democrat, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, who have repeatedly appeared together to laud port development. U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, a Democrat, and Ander Crenshaw, a Republican, are also behind the project.

    Jacksonville Port Authority (JaxPort) CEO Brian Taylor said that deepening is necessary to keep pace with the global shipping market. “If we do not deepen this harbor, we forgo these future opportunities,” he said.

    There is some merit to this argument. According to The Washington Post, as of 2013, post-Panamax ships accounted for 16 percent of the world’s container fleet but carried 45 percent of its cargo. By 2030 it is predicted that these ships will carry 62 percent of the world’s cargo.

    A 2013 economic assessment by Martin Associates — paid for by JaxPort —predicted that by 2035, deepening the channel will have created as many as 34,508 jobs and generated $10.8 billion to $12.7 billion in economic benefit. University of North Florida professor David D. Jaffee, who is an expert on the project, noted, however, that these jobs include related user jobs, which the assessment acknowledges are not dependent on JaxPort. These include manufacturing, wholesale and retail distribution jobs throughout the state in firms that receive and process cargo that arrives through the seaports.

    Jean-Paul Rodrigue, a Hofstra University professor and an expert in the field of transportation economics, said that cities, including three within 240 driving miles (Jacksonville; Savannah, Georgia; and Charleston, South Carolina) of one another, are gambling that deepening their ports will bring more cargo ships in spite of the fact that competition among them is a “zero sum game,” in which “whatever somebody gains is going to be at the expense of the other.” He added that, particularly considering the current slowdown of global economic growth, there is not likely to be enough of an increase of traffic to justify all those projects.

    “The bigger ships are not going to create by magic more business,” he said.

    Spending $416 million to deepen the shipping channel (federal funding of $350 million was secured in 2014) is a big gamble for Jacksonville, which is mired in a pension crisis and other financial woes. And there are questions about the project’s actual cost, which Jaffee and Rinaman believe will be much higher than estimated, saying the ACOE either did not include or underestimated costs of improving transportation and other infrastructure, raising bulkheads, combating erosion caused by the larger wakes of bigger ships and mitigating environmental harm. ACOE project manager Jason Harrah said its estimate includes infrastructural improvements but acknowledged it does not include costs of maintaining the shipping channel, which it estimates at $800,000 to $1 million annually.

    Controversy has recently arisen about the personal beliefs of the owner of the company the city hired to analyze the economics of the project, Xicon Economics. In his 2012 self-published book “Fall of a Nation: A Biblical Perspective of a Modern Problem,” Xicon owner Herbert M. Barber Jr. says Obama is “more anti-American than any 10,000 terrorists” and lumps Americans into two categories: “makers” and “takers,” the latter a broad category that seemingly includes stay-at-home moms, teachers, law enforcement, government workers and everyone who receives any form of government assistance. In his book Barber refers to racial integration as a “failed social experiment.” He recently defended himself in The Florida Times-Union, saying that criticizing him is a form of “Christian bashing” that “lends credence to my book.”

    After local media brought the book to the mayor’s attention, the mayor released a statement that said, “I strongly condemn the views expressed in the book. The author’s commentary fails to reflect the values of our community and seriously undermines his credibility. We will be working with the port task force members to ensure that these unfortunate comments do not cloud their important efforts.” Amid cries for the city to back out of its $60,000 contract with his company, Xicon submitted its economic assessment on Feb. 26, and the city informed the company that its services were no longer needed. But Jacksonville will pay Xicon for the assessment, which concluded that the project is financially and economically feasible, will cost $813 million and will create $3.9 billion to $7.8 billion of economic benefits.

    The environmental impact of the project is also hotly disputed.

    The ACOE’s environmental impact statement concludes that removing 18 million cubic yards of sediment to deepen 13 miles of shipping channel will have a minimal environmental impact. But Rinaman believes that deepening the river will increase salinity, disturbing the delicate balance of the ecosystem and causing potentially great and irreparable harm to wildlife and aquatic vegetation, including submerged grasses that help protect the region from flooding and provide food and nursery resources for many species, including blue crab and shrimp, which are vital to the local fishing industry, as well as dolphins, sea turtles and the endangered West Indian manatee.

    In an unconventional move, in January St. Johns Riverkeeper, Brown, the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and JaxPort reached a nonbinding memorandum of understanding in which Rinaman agreed not to sue to block the project if funding and authorization were acquired to undam the Ocklawaha River. She believes that undamming the Ocklawaha, the largest tributary of the St. Johns, will mitigate increased salinity.

    When the memorandum was announced on Jan. 10, it was the first anyone in neighboring Putnam County, the site of the dam and the Rodman Reservoir that it creates, had heard of it. The Rodman Reservoir is popular for outdoor recreation and bass fishing.

    Putnam County Commissioner Chip Laibl told The Palatka Daily News, “We’re outraged that a regional decision would be discussed without input from Putnam County.” While Congress or the Florida Legislature can authorize and fund undamming the Ocklawaha, supporters have vowed to fight to keep the dam for the reservoir’s recreational and economic benefits as well as its effect on property values along its shores.

    The St. Johns River already suffers from pollution, which in recent years has resulted in mass fish kills, a mysterious foam and algal blooms. During one such bloom in 2013, toxin levels 100 times higher than what the World Health Organization considers safe were found. Dredging and blasting, which is necessary to deepen the shipping channel to 47 feet, have the potential to exacerbate environmental problems.

    “The environmental risks [of deepening] are multifaceted,” said Rinaman.

    According to the Riverkeeper website, “blasting and dredging may increase the chances of saltwater intrusion of the [surficial] aquifer,” which the ACOE reports provides 5 percent of the city’s water. The ACOE holds that the risk of intrusion is low.

    Harrah said that the ACOE will monitor the project’s environmental impact during the anticipated four to six years it will take to complete and for one year after that — the port has agreed to monitor for 10 years after completion — and require additional mitigation if it finds any harm.

    But not everyone believes monitoring is a sufficient safeguard. Kevin R. Bodge, a certified coastal and port engineer with Florida coastal consulting company Olsen Associates, said, “I could tell you definitively that you could conclude from monitoring anything you want … You can never isolate the deepening from all the other things that are going on.”

    St. Johns Riverkeeper believes that the ACOE’s monitoring of the port of Miami deepening project in Biscayne Bay is evidence that it cannot be trusted to protect the St. Johns River. After finding that protected coral reefs were being suffocated by sediment to a much greater extent than predicted, Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper sued the ACOE. Only then did the ACOE intervene.

    “That’s the model you see. That’s what’s happening in Biscayne Bay … They do the very least they have to do to protect these resources, and then they may add some back in mitigation,” said Rinaman.

    Harrah acknowledged that the ACOE originally allotted for $80 million of environmental mitigation but reduced it to $3 million after determining that deepening the St. Johns River will have minimal environmental impact.

    A. Quinton White, the executive director of Jacksonville University’s Marine Science Research Institute and a member of the port task force, said that models like the one the ACOE uses to determine environmental impact are only as good as the data that go into them.

    “The water management analysis says that deepening will have greater effect [on salinity] … The [ACOE] uses the same model and gets the opposite result,” he said.

    In spite of the many questions and controversies associated with deepening the St. Johns River shipping channel, to many there is a sense of inevitability about the project that comes at least in part from the united front being presented by politicians and business interests who are convinced it will be a boon for Jacksonville’s economy.

    “Our community is getting shortchanged. Our river is getting shortchanged,” Rinaman said.

    Claire Goforth|March 9, 2015

    [If Jacksonville can get by with 47’ depth why do Port Miami and Port Everglades say they need 50’?]

    Recovery Plan: To Save Florida’s Corals, Cut Carbon Pollution

    Many of the world’s corals are in dire trouble — and their survival depends on what actions we take to save them. That’s why a new federal recovery plan for elkhorn and staghorn corals near Florida and in the Caribbean is so important: It calls for much-needed cuts to carbon emissions that are driving ocean acidification and increasing ocean temperatures.

    The plan, just released by the National Marine Fisheries Service, is a roadmap for saving the two corals, which were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2006 in response to a Center for Biological Diversity petition. The recovery plan — the result of a court-approved settlement between the Center and the Fisheries Service — identifies local, regional and global threats to the species, including climate change and ocean acidification, and details specific targets for alleviating those threats.

    “The clock is ticking to save these beautiful corals so I’m happy to see there’s finally a concrete plan to move them toward recovery,” said Shaye Wolf, the Center’s climate science director. “The plan rightly recognizes that we’ll need to manage local threats like near-shore pollution, but also address complex global threats like climate change.”

    Read more in our press release.

    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. [Source: AP]

    Wildlife and Habitat

    Alcoholic Russian Bears May Finally Get the Treatment They Nee

    Taken in as cubs, two bears have been living in a small trash-ridden cage at a restaurant in Sochi, Russia, for over 20 years. In an effort to help the bears, some local animal advocates notified Anna Kogan, founder of Big Hearts Foundation (BHF), an animal welfare organization that helps animal causes in Russia.

    BHF worked along with the Prosecutor General in Sochi to get the bears released and sent to a sanctuary and, on February 3, 2015, the court ruled in favor of the bears.

    The Story of Misha and Pasha

    Never receiving veterinary care and given inappropriate food–as well as alcohol by restaurant patrons–the two male bears, named Misha and Pasha, have become addicted to alcohol.

    Their life together has been one of abuse and neglect. The cage they were housed in does not permit them to perform normal bear behaviors like foraging for food and hibernation. Years of patrons parking directly in front of the cages at night time and flashing headlights in their eyes has caused one bear to become blind. Their emotional needs have been so thwarted they will physically fight each other, causing them both serious injuries. What a horrible life these innocent bears have been made to suffer!

    Kogan told Care2 that Misha and Pasha were given to the restaurant owner as cubs by a photographer. A common practice on Sochi beaches is for photographers to take pictures of tourists with baby wild animals like bears, lions, leopards and crocodiles. Then, when the season is over, the baby animals are usually killed.

    A Look to the Future

    The current plan is for Misha and Pasha to be transported to Liberty Bear Sanctuary (LBS) located up in the Carpathian Mountains above the town of Zarnesti in the Transylvania area of Romania. LBS was established in 1998 and has rehabilitated many abused bears since then. Some were baiting bears who were chained and secured to the ground while hunting dogs are made to attack them. LBS has even successfully rehabilitated other alcoholic bears at its sanctuary.

    The problem is, their transfer is currently held up due to the logistics of transporting the bears out of Russia to another country.

    BHF is looking to send the bears to Romania by boat across the Black Sea rather than flying them, so the move will be less stressful for Misha and Pasha.

    Kogan said after the February 3 court case ruling allowing Misha and Pasha to be removed from the restaurant owner, The Ministry of Natural Resources waited until the last possible appeal date of March 2 to appeal the ruling, citing lack of an appropriate place to house the bears and no funding available to accomplish it. The World Animal Protection organization has stepped up to assist with funding.

    For now, Misha and Pasha are still living in the tiny cage at the Sochi restaurant until an appropriate place can be found for them to live in Sochi and until transportation arrangements can be made for their move to Romania.

    About Big Hearts Foundation

    BHF is a UK-based non-profit organization with the goal of changing Russian animal welfare laws and teaching humane education.

    “Our charity lobbies and advises the Russian government on animal welfare law changes and improvement” Kogan told Care2. “We stay aware of all cruelty and issues going on in former USSR.”

    Kogan explained, “Many bear cubs end up in private hands in Russia after the hunts in spring – mothers are killed, cubs are left to starve. Sometimes they end up picked up by people unable to provide them with proper care, who hold them in cages next to their house or sell them to circus or traveling zoos. Our charity is helping build up a rehabilitation place in Russia for cubs to be returned back into the wild.”

    BHF is the only non-governmental organization that advocates for animal welfare in Russia. Animal cruelty laws in Russia are small, ineffective and virtually unenforced–basically, they’re nonexistent. BHF assists with rewriting legislation and advocating for change. It also promotes affordable spay/neuter programs and humane education.

    There is no doubt humane education is the most effective way to change societal attitudes toward animal welfare causes whatever the country. The earlier children are given an awareness of animals as sentient beings and taught empathy toward them, the better the world will become for the animals who suffer at the hands of humans.

    An innovative way BHF is working on this goal is having developed a humane cartoon series that will be seen on three Russian television channels.

    Megan Drake|March 6, 2015

    5 Reasons Why Women Make Great Leaders for the Animal Rights Movement

    International Women’s Day, which is this Sunday, is the perfect opportunity to honor how far women have come. Admittedly, women’s rights still has a way to go (as Patricia Arquette’s Oscar speech painfully reminded us). But women are also in a unique position — intrinsically and from experience — to lead one of the most pressing social justice issues of our time: the fight for animal rights.

    Why Animal Rights?

    Animal rights encompasses everything: health, the environment and our moral stance. Here is some evidence that our carnist culture is destroying us:

    • Factory farming is creating antibiotic resistant superbugs.
    • Farm fertilizers are largely responsible for our ocean dead zones.
    • Most of our water resources are going to the animals that we consume (even in times of drought).
    • We’re cutting down our trees — our second pair of lungs — to make room for livestock.
    • We’re feeding grains that could nourish the world’s hungry (870 million people) to livestock.
    • Experts fear that times of war, conflict and terror will come down to water and food scarcity.

    Saying we’re not going to use (for entertainment), abuse, eat, wear and experiment on animals is the ultimate rejection of speciesism — a system built on oppression, exploitation and violence.

    Why Women?

    In essence, oppression recognizes oppression. Women can help us heal, and here are a few reasons why, largely inspired by Feminists for Animal Rights:

    1. The gaze. While the entitled male gaze strips women of their identity to focus on her assets, the entitled carnist gaze strips animals of their identity to focus on how the animal tastes. Both require detaching the personhood from the body.

    For some perspective, in a short 2012 essay, user vegetarianmythmyth writes, “So often, I feel hunted, I walk down the street with the male gaze gauging me like a gun. I understand the deer’s predicament, her fear of men.”

    2. Language. Language is powerful because it reinforces what the gaze wants to see. Joan Dunayer writes a fascinating piece on how, “Just as sexist language demeans women and excludes them from full consideration, speciesist language demeans and excludes nonhuman animals. When we consign other animals to the category thing, we obscure their sentience, individuality and right to autonomy.”

    It isn’t a coincidence that when someone wants to attack a woman, they will resort to invoking an animal-related slur, e.g. the word that starts with “B” and rhymes with itch. And if the woman is overweight than she’s no better than a fat cow, an elephant, a “landwhale” or a “hamplanet.”

    If that doesn’t shock you, then how does “rape rack” (a common dairy industry term where cows are artificially inseminated) make you feel? Could it contribute to our rape culture of violence against all female bodies?

    3. Property. Like women, animals are property — objects — to be owned. While this is sadly true in some parts of the world today, the idea that women were property was a popular and accepted belief.

    Animals of all types are sold, bought and auctioned off every single day. I mean, in 2015, a progressive nation like France stepped up and said that animals are sentient beings, not furniture.

    4. Motherhood. Animals aren’t property because nonhuman mothers love and want to bond with their babies. Renee King-Sonnen, who went from a cattle rancher’s wife to a vegan animal sanctuary owner, felt that longing as she saw baby calves being driven off, “Mammas were running after the trailer. It just blew my mind. And then they cried for, like, a week or more.”

    Mother pigs are known to sing to their piglets while nursing. And we’ve heard about the strong bonds that orcas and their babies share.

    5. Culture. The good news is that women can put an end to this. As Phylicia Rashad says, “Where the women go, the culture goes.” It’s not a surprise that more women are rejecting animal cruelty by adopting a veg-friendly lifestyle. According to the Huffington Post, 79 percent of vegans are women and 59 percent of vegetarians are women. If veganism keeps its momentum, then by 2050 the United States could be vegan.

    But we need women to keep the momentum going, and it’s as easy as starting in the home. After all, we still do most of the cooking and cleaning anyway. Let’s fill those bellies, minds and hearts with compassionate choices, so that our children 1) have a planet to live on and 2) have a more compassionate world to live in.

    And to the men: we will always need your support.

    watch Videos

    Jessica Ramos|March 6, 2015

    South Florida National Parks Trust awards grants for habitat conservation

    The SFNPT announced $190,000 in new grants  to restore native habitat, protect wildlife and support visitor programs in South Florida’s four national parks. The new funding will create native habitat on an island in Biscayne Bay, restore the flow of fresh water in the Turner River in Big Cypress, protect nesting sea turtles in the Dry Tortugas and support ongoing visitor & volunteer programs in the Everglades.  The $190k includes grants of $33,535 to Everglades National Park to promote better stewardship of Florida Bay through community outreach, education and enhanced law enforcement.

    https://www.facebook.com/SouthFloridaNationalParksTrust

    Helicopter Gunner Wipes Out 19 Wolves in Idaho ‏

    We’ve learned that last month Wildlife Services, the animal-killing program in the federal Department of Agriculture, used a sniper in a helicopter to gun down 19 wolves in Idaho’s Lolo Pass.

    The Center for Biological Diversity and our partners have just filed suit to halt Wildlife Services’ war on wildlife in Idaho.

    Wildlife Services operates like a black-ops agency for wildlife, carrying out a secret war with little accountability. Considering itself exempt from most environmental rules, the program kills as many as 3 million native animals a year — in addition to wolves they destroy bears, beavers, otters, foxes, prairie dogs, coyotes, mountain lions, birds and other creatures. Over the past 15 years they’ve spent a billion dollars to wipe out wildlife.

    Wildlife Services are contract killers, always willing to do the dirty work of special interests, especially those in the meat industry and corporate agriculture. In Idaho they destroy wolves and other predators to appease ranchers and big-game hunters. They have no regard for maintaining the integrity of nature and no respect for the decades-old struggle to return wolves to their homes in the once-wild West.

    We must end their secret war on wildlife.

    Kierán Suckling|Executive Director|Center for Biological Diversity

    Here Are The Best 10 Cities To Live In If You Love Wildlife

    Do you live in one of the most wildlife-friendly cities in the country?

    A new list from the National Wildlife Federation ranks U.S. cities with the most park area and citizen engagement for protecting wildlife.

    “The common thread between these cities is that citizens are coming together for a common purpose — to create a community where people and wildlife can thrive,” NWF president and CEO Collin O’Mara said in a news release.

    The rankings were determined by comparing the percentage of parkland in each city, each city’s number of NWF Certified Wildlife Habitats per capita, and the number of schools per capita participating in two NWF outdoor learning programs.

    NWF’s Certified Wildlife Habitat program allows people to register their gardens or areas of their property as suitable places for animals. Along with proper food and water sources, the habitats must provide cover and places for wildlife to raise their young. Owners must also make use of sustainable gardening practices.

    10. New York, New York

    9. Charlotte, North Carolina

    8. Indianapolis, Indiana

    7. Albuquerque, New Mexico

    6. Seattle, Washington

    5. Washington, District of Columbia

    4. Baltimore, Maryland

    3. Atlanta, Georgia

    2. Portland, Oregon

    1. Austin, Texas

    Honorable Mention: Broward County, Florida and Los Angeles, California

    James Gerken| The Huffington Post|03/11/2015

    Federal Court Dismisses Nevada Cattlemen’s Anti-Mustang Lawsuit

    Court Grants AWHPC Motion to Dismiss Legal Action Seeking Roundup & Slaughter of Wild Horses

    Reno, NV (March 12, 2015) . . . Today, the U.S. District Court in Nevada Judge Miranda Du granted a motion by the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), author Terri Farley and photographer Mark Terrell to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Nevada Association of Counties (NACO) and local ranchers against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) seeking the removal of thousands of wild horses from public lands and the sale for slaughter of wild horses warehoused in government holding facilities. 

    The motion was granted “with prejudice,” which means it cannot be amended or refilled. Judge Du ordered the Clerk “to enter judgment in favor of Federal Defendants and Defendant-Interveners American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, Terri Farley, Mark Terrell, and Laura Leigh.”

    “We are pleased that the Court declined to allow these grazing interests to use the judicial system to revamp the priorities of the 1971 Wild Horse and Burros Act – to protect wild horses on the public lands as much as possible,” said Katherine Meyer of Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal, which represented AWHPC, Ms. Farley and Mr. Terrell in the case. 

    “This frivolous bid by cattlemen to roundup and slaughter America’s iconic wild horses to clear the public lands for commercial livestock grazing has now been soundly rejected by the federal court,” said Suzanne Roy, director of AWHPC. “Public lands management must reflect American values for wild horse and burro protection. The days of preferential treatment of ranchers who receive taxpayer subsidies to graze private livestock on public lands must come to an end.” 

    Filed on behalf of Nevada ranchers, who graze their private cattle and sheep on American public lands that they lease at well-below market rates, the NACO lawsuit sought to compel the BLM to immediately round up and remove more than 6,000 wild horses from Nevada public lands, conduct wild horse and burro roundups every two months in the state, and to “auction, sell or otherwise dispose of” the 50,000 wild horses and burros currently stockpiled in government warehousing facilities.

    According to AWHPC, the NACO lawsuit was part of a broader strategy by ranchers to use the courts to compel the BLM to remove an increasing number of wild horses from public lands and sell captured wild horses for slaughter. AWHPC has been granted the right to intervene in similar lawsuits in Utah and Wyoming.

    National opinion polls indicate that 80 percent of Americans oppose horse slaughter, 72 percent support protecting wild horses on public lands, while just 29 percent want public lands used for livestock grazing.

    For more information on this legal action, please click here

    The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) is a coalition of more than 60 horse advocacy, public interest, and conservation organizations dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage.

    Terri Farley,Mark Terrell|3/12/15

    Forestry

    Destruction of Carbon-Rich Mangroves Costs up to $42 Billion in Economic Damages Annually

    Globally Coordinated Action and Policy Interventions Required to Stem Loss of One of the Planet’s Most Threatened Ecosystems

    ATHENS – Mangroves are being destroyed at a rate 3 – 5 times greater than the average rates of forest loss, costing billions in economic damages and denying millions of people the ecosystem services they need to survive, according to a new report launched today by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

    The Importance of Mangroves: A Call to Action launched today at the 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans, describes how emissions resulting from mangrove losses make up nearly one-fifth of global emissions from deforestation, resulting in economic damages of some US$6 – 42 billion annually. Mangroves are also threatened by climate change, which could result in the loss of a further 10 – 15 per cent of mangroves by 2100.

    Found in 123 countries and covering 152,000 square kilometers, over 100 million people around the world live within 10 kilometres of large mangrove forests, benefiting from a variety of goods and services such as fisheries and forest products, clean water and protection against erosion and extreme weather events.

    UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “Mangroves provide ecosystem services worth around US$33 – 57,000 per hectare per year. Add to that their superior ability to store carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and it becomes clear that their continued destruction makes neither ecological nor economic sense.”

    “Yet, the escalating destruction and degradation of mangroves – driven by land conversion for aquaculture and agriculture, coastal development, and pollution – is occurring at an alarming rate, with over a quarter of the earth’s original mangrove cover now lost. This has potentially devastating effects on biodiversity, food security and the livelihoods of some of the most marginalized coastal communities in developing countries where more than 90 per cent of the world’s mangroves are found.”

    “By quantifying in economic terms the value of the ecosystem services provided by mangroves as well as the critical role they play in global climate regulation, the report aims to encourage policymakers to use the tools and guidelines outlined to better ensure the conservation and sustainable management of mangroves,” he added.

    The report argues that in spite of the mounting evidence in support of the multitude of benefits derived from mangroves, they remain one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet. The report describes financial mechanisms and incentives to stimulate mangrove conservation, such as REDD+, private sector investments, and the creation of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions for developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while increasing national capacity.

    Mangrove degradation and loss is predicted to continue into the future if a business-as-usual scenario prevails. The Importance of Mangroves: A Call to Action offers readers and especially policymakers many management and protection measures and tools that are available for use at national, regional and global scales to help ensure a sustainable future for mangroves.

    Policymakers, it says, should consider several of these, including integrating mangrove-specific goals and targets into the post-2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals agenda, as well as better coordination of global action on mangroves through the development of a Global Mangrove Commission, and the streamlining and coordination of Multilateral Environmental Agreements.

    Protecting these long-term reservoirs of carbon, and preventing their emissions from being released back into the atmosphere is, the report says, a sensible and cost-effective measure that can be taken to help mitigate climate change.

    Key Findings

    Ecosystem Services

    · By 2050, South-East Asia will potentially have lost 35 per cent of the mangrove cover it had in 2000, with associated negative ecological and socio-economic impacts.

    · Ecosystem service losses in South-East Asia from the destruction of mangroves has been estimated at more than US$2 billion a year over the period 2000 – 2050, with Indonesia predicted to suffer the highest losses at US$ 1.7 billion per year.

    Climate Change Regulation and Mitigation

    · Research is increasingly pointing to the role of mangroves as significant carbon storage systems, sequestering vast amounts of carbon – about 1,000 tons per hectare – over thousands of years, making them some of the most carbon-rich ecosystems on the planet.

    · One study carried out in the Potengi Estuary in Brazil on 1,488 hectares of mangroves found that the forest trees and sediments were retaining concentrations of heavy metals that would otherwise cost US$13 million to treat in a zeolite plant.

    Livelihoods

    · A large number of commercially important fish species such as snapper, mullet, wrasse, parrotfish, sharks and rays utilize mangroves during all or part of their lives, with the mangrove providing critical food, shelter and refuge functions.

    · It has been estimated that 30 per cent of the fish caught in South-East Asia are supported in some way by mangrove forests; a figure approaching 100 per cent for highly mangrove-dependent species including some species of prawn.

    · It was estimated that the annual average landing of mangrove-associated fish and blue crab in the Gulf is 10,500 tons, with an estimated total value of US$19 million to local fisheries.

    Extreme Weather Events

    · The complex network of mangrove roots can help reduce wave energy, limit erosion and shield coastal communities from the destructive forces of tropical storms, cyclones and tsunamis.

    · The mangrove-lined “hurricane holes” in the Caribbean have been a well-known safe haven for vessels for centuries, and of the 20-odd established hurricane holes recommended for boaters needing to ride out storms in the Antilles, 16 gain such a reputation because of the presence of mangroves.

    · In Vietnam, extensive planting of mangrove has cost of US$1.1 million but has helped reduce maintenance cost of the sea-dyke by US$7.3 million per year.

    Biodiversity Hotspots

    · Mangroves form the foundation of a highly productive and biologically rich ecosystem that is home to a spectacular range of species of birds, mammals, invertebrates and fish which help to support people through fisheries, tourism and cultural heritage.

    · The combination of clearance and degradation has meant that globally about 16 per cent of mangrove tree species and some 40 per cent of the animal species dependent on these ecosystems are now considered vulnerable and/or at risk of extinction. The mangroves of Australia are home to over 200 species of birds, and at least 600 different fish species are known to occur in mangroves across the Indo-Pacific region.

    Recommendations

    Policymaker guidelines for the improvement, management and protection of mangroves include the development of protocols to Regional Seas Conventions that promote protection and sustainable use of mangroves, and the implementation and enforcement of national laws and policies relevant to mangrove protection and management. Others include:

    · Create a Global Mangrove Fund to support “climate resilience” actions that conserve and restore mangroves, and protect the carbon stored within them;

    · Encourage mangrove conservation and restoration through carbon credit markets such as REDD+, the “Bio-Rights” mechanism and corporate and private sector investments;

    · Promote economic incentives such as Payments for Ecosystem Services as a source of local income from mangrove protection, sustainable use and restoration activities and ensure beneficiaries of mangrove services can find opportunities to invest in mangrove management and restoration planning;

    · Explore opportunities for investment into Net Positive Impact biodiversity offsets by the corporate and business sectors as a way to finance the protection and sustainable use of mangroves;

    · Ensure that mangroves are addressed in wider Marine Spatial Planning and policy frameworks.

    Access full report here

    Goodbye California Coastal Fog, Goodbye Redwoods

    In Southern California they call it the “June Gloom” — the gray layer of heavy fog that drapes itself across much of Los Angeles in late spring. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we just call it “summer”: The months-long cycle of overcast mornings and chilly evenings that supposedly* prompted Mark Twain to complain that “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” While coastal California’s summer fog has long annoyed residents and tourists alike, the regular rush of cool, wet air helps sustain coastal ecosystems, including the state’s iconic redwoods. Now, thanks to human development, that weather phenomenon is at risk.

    According to a story published last week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, coastal fog in the Los Angeles region is on the decline. In the last 60 years, according to researchers, summer fog in the LA area has decreased by 63 percent. The culprit? The so-called “urban heat island effect” — a phenomenon in which the ambient temperature of cities is much higher (especially at night) than in surrounding undeveloped areas because of all the heat that builds up in our streetscapes of concrete and asphalt.

    “We used cloud data from the last 67 years, and we can see that there have been huge declines in fog that have happened and that should continue happening,” says Park Williams, a researcher at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Williams based his findings on detailed, sometimes hourly, weather readings from Southern California’s many airports, and matched that against census data on population density to chart development across the region. He and his colleagues were then able to demonstrate a link between the heat island effect and the diminishment of coastal fog. “This is a really solid process that is going on, and we have enough confidence to predict that it will continue.”

    Beachgoers might be pleased by the findings. More sunny days, what’s not to like? But Williams and other scientists caution that most coastal California ecosystems — from chaparral slopes to the oak-studded prairie grasslands to the towering redwoods — have evolved to rely on water they get from coastal fog.

    Todd Dawson, a biologist at University of California, Berkeley, says that many coastal plants — not just trees, but also the understory of shrubs and grass — depend on the water they receive from fog drip. Coastal redwoods, for example, get up to one-third of their total annual water needs from fog. “You think that all of this water is coming from winter rainfall, and of course a lot of it does,” Dawson says. “But a lot of it also comes from fog, and that fog comes during a really important time, during the summer, the longest and warmest days of the year. The fog subsidy is really important for their ecology and their physiology.”

    Williams says that it would be useful to have a better understanding of the degree to which coastal fog sustains chaparral ecosystems, and whether a decrease in fog cover could be making such areas more flammable and prone to wildfires. “I don’t think that anyone is studying whether chaparral has become more flammable in the last 30 years,” he says, “but I would hypothesize that they have.” In short: less fog could mean more intense wildfire seasons.

    Williams’ current study only looked at Southern California. He says that he’s interested in extending his research into the San Francisco Bay Area, where more than 6 million people live in close proximity to some of the world’s most iconic redwood groves, such as Muir Woods National Monument. Biologist Dawson says, “The open questions is: OK, this is happening in Southern California, but what’s happening here in Northern California, where the coastal redwoods live?”

    Jason Mark|Earth Island Journal|March 10, 2015

    Global Warming and Climate Change

    In Florida, Officials Ban Term ‘Climate Change’ ‏

    The state of Florida is the region most susceptible to the effects of global warming in this country, according to scientists. Sea-level rise alone threatens 30 percent of the state’s beaches over the next 85 years. 

    But you would not know that by talking to officials at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency on the front lines of studying and planning for these changes.

    DEP officials have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

    The policy goes beyond semantics and has affected reports, educational efforts and public policy in a department that has about 3,200 employees and $1.4 billion budget.

    “We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’ ” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

    Kristina Trotta, another former DEP employee who worked in Miami, said her supervisor told her not to use the terms “climate change” and “global warming” in a 2014 staff meeting.

    “We were told that we were not allowed to discuss anything that was not a true fact,” she said.

    This unwritten policy went into effect after Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011 and appointed Herschel Vinyard Jr. as the DEP’s director, according to former DEP employees. Gov. Scott, who won a second term in November, has repeatedly said he is not convinced that climate change is caused by human activity, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. Vinyard has since resigned. Neither he nor his successor, Scott Steverson, would comment for this report.

    “DEP does not have a policy on this,” the department’s press secretary, Tiffany Cowie, wrote in an email. She declined to respond to three other emails requesting more information.

    Jeri Bustamante, a spokesperson with the governor’s office, wrote in an email that “There’s no policy on this.”

    But four former DEP employees from offices around the states say the order was well known and distributed verbally statewide.

    One former DEP employee who worked in Tallahassee during Scott’s first term in office, and asked not to be identified because of an ongoing business relationship with the department, said staffers were warned that using the terms in reports would bring unwanted attention to their projects.

    “We were dealing with the effects and economic impact of climate change, and yet we can’t reference it,” the former employee said.

    Former DEP attorney Byrd said it was clear to him this was more than just semantics.

    “It’s an indication that the political leadership in the state of Florida is not willing to address these issues and face the music when it comes to the challenges that climate change presents,” Byrd said.

    Climate Change Denial

    Climate change and global warming refer to the body of scientific evidence showing that the earth’s environment is warming due to human activity including the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. It is accepted science all over the world.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, established by the United Nations, wrote in a 2014 report for world policy makers: “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.” The report’s authors were scientists from 27 countries.

    Still, many conservative U.S. politicians say the science is not conclusive and refuse to work on legislation addressing climate change. This type of legislation, such as a carbon tax or policies to encourage more sustainable energy sources, could be costly to established industry.

    Among the skeptics is Gov. Scott. During his first campaign for governor in 2010, Scott told reporters who asked about his views on climate change that he had “not been convinced,” and that he would need “something more convincing than what I’ve read.” In 2014, he said he “was not a scientist” when asked about his views on climate change.

    In response, a group of Florida scientists requested to meet with Scott and explain the science behind the phenomenon. Scott agreed. The scientists were given 30 minutes.

    “He actually, as we were warned, spent ten minutes doing silly things like prolonged introductions,” geologist and University of Miami professor Harold Wanless recalled. “But we had our 20 to 21 minutes, and he said thank you and went on to his more urgent matters, such as answering his telephone calls and so on. There were no questions of substance ”

    Scott’s predecessor, Charlie Crist, had been proactive on climate change, forming a statewide task force and convening a national summit in Miami in 2007. But evidence the issue has fallen out of favor during the Scott administration is apparent.

    One example is the Florida Oceans and Coastal Council’s Annual Research Plan, put together by DEP and other state agencies. The 2009-2010 report, published the year before Scott was elected, contains 15 references to climate change, including a section titled “Research Priorities – Climate Change.”

    In the 2014-15 edition of the report, climate change is only mentioned if it is in the title of a past report or conference. There is one standalone reference to the issue at the end of a sentence that sources say must have slipped by the censors. “It’s a distinct possibility,” said one former DEP employee.

    Instead, terms like “climate drivers” and “climate-driven changes” are used.

    Orders From the Top

    Christopher Byrd said that he was warned not to use “climate change” and related terms during a 2011 staff meeting shortly after Gov. Scott appointed Vinyard as DEP director.

    “Deputy General Counsel Larry Morgan was giving us a briefing on what to expect with the new secretary,” Byrd recalled. Morgan gave them “a warning to beware of the words global warming, climate change and sea-level rise, and advised us not to use those words in particular.”

    Added Byrd: “I did infer from this meeting that this was a new policy, that these words were to be prohibited for use from official DEP policy-making with our clients.”

    Morgan did not respond to a request for comment.

    DEP dismissed Byrd in 2013. His termination letter states: “We thank you for your service to the State of Florida; however, we believe the objectives of the office will be accomplished more effectively by removing you from your position.” Byrd, now in private practice as an environmental lawyer in Orlando, said he was fired because he repeatedly complained the DEP was not enforcing laws to protect the environment.

    Although he disagreed with the policy, Byrd said he nonetheless passed the warning down to the various offices he worked with, including the Coral Reef Conservation Program at the Biscayne Bay Environmental Center in Miami.

    “As you can imagine with the state of coral reef protection,” Byrd said, “sustainability, sea-level rise, and climate change itself were words we used quite often.”

    The Coral Reef Conservation Program is where Jim Harper, a nature writer in Miami, was working as a consultant in 2013. He had a contract to write a series of educational fact sheets about how to protect the coral reefs north of Miami. Climate change was one of the issues Harper and his partner on the project, Annie Reisewitz, wanted to address.

    “We were told not to use the term climate change,” Harper said. “The employees were so skittish they wouldn’t even talk about it.”

    Reisewitz confirmed Harper’s story. “When we put climate change into the document, they told us they weren’t using the term climate change,” she said.

    Harper and Reisewitz completed the assignment as instructed.

    A year later, in November 2014, the Coral Reef Conservation Program held a meeting to train volunteers to use a PowerPoint presentation about the threats coral reefs faced. Harper attended the meeting, held at DEP’s Biscayne Bay office in Miami. Doug Young, president of the South Florida Audubon Society and a member of the Broward County Climate Change Task Force, also attended.

    Two DEP employees, Ana Zangroniz and Kristina Trotta, showed the presentation to the volunteers and then asked if anyone had a question.

    “I told them the biggest problem I have was that there was absolutely no mention of climate change and the affect of climate change on coral reefs,” Young said.

    He continued: “The two young women, really good people, said, ‘We are not allowed to show the words, or show any slides that depicted anything related to climate change.’ ”

    Young and Harper said they could not participate if climate change was not mentioned. “The women kept saying, ‘Work with us; we know you are frustrated,’ ” Harper said.

    On Nov. 19, 2014, the DEP’s Zangroniz wrote Harper and Young an email stating she had talked to her manager about their concerns.

    “Unfortunately at this time,” she wrote, “we can’t make any alterations or additions to the presentation. … If you do choose to continue as a volunteer, we would have to request that you present the information as is. If you choose to add in an additional presentation or speaker that addresses climate change and coral reefs, there would have to be a very clear split between the two.”

    Trotta left her position as a field and administrative assistant in January. She told FCIR that when it came to scrubbing the term “climate change” from projects, she was following orders. Those orders came from Regional Administrator Joanna Walczak during a staff meeting in the summer of 2014.

    “We were instructed by our regional administrator that we were no longer allowed to use the terms ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ or even ‘sea-level rise,’ ” said Trotta. “Sea-level rise was to be referred to as ‘nuisance flooding.’ ”

    When staff protested, Trotta said, “the regional administrator told us that we are the governor’s agency and this is the message from the governor’s office. And that is the message we will portray.”

    The order pained her, said Trotta, who has a master’s degree in marine biology, because she believes climate change is an imminent threat to Florida.

    Walczak declined to comment citing DEP policy.

    While state officials are still not using the terms ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming,’ any prohibition of the term “sea-level rise” seems to have ended. In a February press conference, Scott unveiled $106 million in his proposed budget to deal with the effects of rising oceans. But $50 million of that is for a sewage plant in the Keys, and $25 million is for beach restoration, which critics say is hardly a comprehensive plan to protect homes, roads and infrastructure.

    Wanless, the University of Miami professor, said the state government needs to acknowledge climate change as settled science and as a threat to people and property in Florida.

    “You have to start real planning, and I’ve seen absolutely none of that from the current governor,” he said.

    In Florida it will be hard to plan for climate change, he said, if officials can’t talk about climate change.

    “It’s beyond ludicrous to deny using the term climate change,” Wanless said. “It’s criminal at this point.”

    Tristram Korten|Florida Center for Investigative Reporting|Posted by: “Barbara Ruge|Broward Sierra Group”

    [I wonder if they will get their heads out of the sand when they start to smell the fumes from fracking.]

    Earthjustice, Florida Dems slam Rick Scott over ‘ban’ on ‘climate change’

    Democrats and some environmentalists blasted Gov. Rick Scott on Monday after a weekend news report that Florida Department of Environmental Protection employees had been banned from using the term climate change or global warming after he took office in 2011.

    The report by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting appeared in the Tampa Bay Times and was referenced in The Washington Post and The Atlantic. The report said the  policy was unwritten but was “distributed verbally statewide” through the department of 3,200 employees.

    The report said four former employees confirmed the existence of the policy. Scott’s office and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection denied there was such a policy.

    In a statement issued Monday, the nonprofit Earthjustice law firm said the “anti-science rhetoric” is dangerous for low-lying Florida, which it said has more to lose from the effects of sea-level rise than any other state.

    “This (is) like the governor saying that the 1969 Moon landing was faked and then telling state workers to never use the words ‘Moon landing,’” David Guest, managing attorney of Earthjustice’s Florida office, said in the written statement.

    The Florida Democratic Party cited the report in an email seeking donations.

    “Climate change is scientific fact,” the email said, “and Rick is misleading Floridians about how dangerous this problem is! Will you help us hold him accountable?”

    In response on Monday, John Tupps, deputy communications director for Scott, said only that there was no such policy.

    Lauren Engel, DEP communications director, added in reference to the story, “It is simply not true.”

    Scott had said before 2014 that he was not persuaded that climate change is real.

    In 2014, he responded to reporters’ questions about the issue by saying he’s “not a scientist.” And after a meeting with scientists in the governor’s office, Scott said he instead is focused on solutions.

    The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has a web page with links to documents related to sea- level rise but doesn’t refer to climate change.

    Florida law (377.601) states that the human and economic costs of climate change can be reduced through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

    The language was added in 2008 in HB 7135, a sweeping energy bill that passed unanimously. But major portions of the legislation, such as a proposed carbon emissions credit system, have been repealed by the Legislature.

    Bruce Ritchie|March 9, 2015

    Ban On ‘Climate Change’ Widespread Across Florida Government Under Rick Scott

    Florida’s ban on using the words “climate change” and “global warming” in official communications goes beyond just the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to other government agencies under Gov. Rick Scott (R), according to a new report by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

    FCIR previously reported that four former DEP officials had come forward about the unwritten policy.

    Now, employees who worked at other government agencies are speaking out, as well.

    Until last year, Bill Taylor was a manager at the Florida Department of Transportation’s office in Fort Lauderdale. He said that at a meeting in 2012 or 2013 — Scott took office in 2011 — “it was mentioned very casually that in our future dealings with the public, we were not to use the terms ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming.’ But it was OK to talk about sea-level rise, because for some projects that had to be taken into consideration.”

    A former employee at the South Florida Water Management District had a similar story.

    “It was widely known that you couldn’t put those words into a report,” the former employee told FCIR. “They just wouldn’t make it through the editing process.”

    A Florida scientist who co-authored a study about how climate change affects a certain marine food-borne illness told The Washington Post that the state Department of Health told her to excise every mention of “climate change” from her paper.

    Florida officials, including Scott, have denied that there’s any policy banning these words. The governor told reporters Monday that the FCIR report was “not true” although he refused to say whether he believes man-made global warming is a problem.

    Scott has been an outspoken skeptic of global warming, despite the fact that his state is at risk of losing its coastal communities to rising sea levels. A Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact paper has warned that water in the area could rise by as much as 2 feet by the year 2060.

    Last year, a reporter asked Scott whether man-made climate change “is significantly affecting the weather, the climate.” Scott tried to change the subject and replied, “Well, I’m not a scientist.”

    When asked by the Tampa Bay Times in 2010 whether he believed in climate change, Scott simply replied, “No.”

    FCIR noted that although the words “climate change” and “global warming” still slip through and make their way into government reports, there has been a “steep decline” in their use since Scott came into office.

    The state’s senior Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has a very different take on what climate change means for his state: Video

    Amanda Terkel|The Huffington Post|03/12/2015

    John Kerry Calls Out Florida’s Ban On Saying ‘Climate Change’

    Secretary of State John Kerry, challenging climate change deniers to face reality, not-so-subtly called out Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) administration on Thursday for banning the term “climate change” from all government communications.

    “We literally do not have the time to waste debating whether we can say ‘climate change,'” Kerry said in a speech hosted by the Atlantic Council. “We have to talk about how we solve climate change. Because no matter how much people want to bury their heads in the sand, it will not alter the fact that 97 percent of peer-reviewed climate studies confirm that climate change is happening and that human activity is largely responsible.”

    News of Florida’a ban, which also extends to the term “global warming,” came to light over the weekend in a report by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

    Scott in May declined to say whether he believed in climate change, but has said repeatedly that he is is not convinced by the science.

    Such thinking is far too prevalent in Washington, and politicians who ignore the facts will not be remembered favorably by those who will face global warming’s worst perils, Kerry said in his speech.

    “If we fail, future generations will not and should not forgive those who ignore this moment, no matter their reasoning,” Kerry said. “Future generations will judge our effort not just as a policy failure, but as a collective moral failure of historic consequence. And they will want to know how world leaders could possibly have been so blind or so ignorant or so ideological or so dysfunctional and, frankly, so stubborn.”

    Kerry called for transitioning away from “dirty sources of energy.” But, as Politico noted, he didn’t mention whether he would approve the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would link Canada’s oil sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The project, which needs State Department approval to cross an international border, has been awaiting Kerry’s decision since early February. He will hand his recommendation to President Barack Obama, who will make the final decision on the project.

    Environmental groups opposed to the pipeline said Kerry’s failure to mention it may be a positive sign.

    “While Kerry didn’t bring up Keystone, he sure brought up more and more reasons why it should be rejected,” Sierra Club legislative director Melinda Pierce told Politico. “And he’s absolutely right: Burning fossil fuels has long-term costs that have to be at the front of our minds when evaluating both the pipeline project and development of the tar sands.”

    Lydia O’Connor|The Huffington Post|03/12/2015

    The Rising Tide Within: From coastlines to the Everglades, researchers tackle sea level rise

    Under the streets of Miami Beach, seeping up through the limestone, water creeps into storm drains and pours into the streets. It happens once a year when the sun and moon align in such a way that gravity pulls at Earth’s water. The phenomenon is known as King Tide. It is the highest of high tides, and every year, it puts Miami Beach at risk of major flooding.

    FIU researchers were on-site during the latest King Tide event to collect and assess data. The efforts are part of a university-wide initiative to study, better understand and develop solutions for sea level rise. Plans are under way to create an institute dedicated to the interdisciplinary work being done at FIU, which includes collaboration among researchers from Arts & Sciences, Architecture and the Arts, Business, Law, Public Health and Social Work, Engineering, Hospitality and Tourism Management, as well as Journalism and Mass Communication.

    South Florida ranks as the world’s most vulnerable urban region in terms of assets exposed to the effects of sea level rise. FIU’s research is dedicated to developing and implementing solutions for the major environmental and economic challenges created by the rising seas.

    Beyond the Shoreline

    When King Tide arrived in October of 2014, all eyes were on Miami Beach and a new pump system that helped to keep the water off the streets — this time. But the manner in which the water traditionally invades is a stark reminder that when it comes to sea level rise, there is more to be concerned about than just the shoreline. The hidden danger is largely the water within. In South Florida’s case, that means the Everglades.

    “The greater South Florida ecosystem is predicated on the balance of freshwater and saltwater,” said Todd Crowl, researcher within the institute and director of FIU’s Southeast Environmental Research Center. “When that ecosystem hits its tipping point and an imbalance occurs, that’s when this whole
    thing collapses.”

    A natural region of subtropical wetlands, the Everglades is a complex system that features sawgrass marshes, cypress swamps, mangroves and marine environments. The Everglades is also the main source of freshwater for the Biscayne Aquifer, South Florida’s primary water supply. Beneath the river of grass, rising sea levels are pushing saltwater inward into the Everglades.

    This intrusion is already affecting South Florida residents  through a shrinking and tainted aquifer. Some communities, such as Hallandale Beach, can attest to the problem as underground wells have been closed due to saltwater, forcing communities to buy water from other sources.

    “Few people might make the connection between sea level rise and the water pouring out of their faucets,” said Evelyn Gaiser, a wetland ecologist and interim executive director of the School of Environment, Arts and Society. “We simply don’t have freshwater moving in at the rate we need it, but Everglades restoration provides a solution for that.”

    The River of Grass

    In 2000, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan was approved as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Water Resources Development Act. The 30-year plan provides a framework to restore and protect the water resources of Central and South Florida.

    Every two years, the National Research Council issues a report evaluating the progress of the plan. In the 2014 report, the authors raised concerns about slow progress, noting sea level rise is causing new concerns for the already troubled Everglades.

    “Climate change and sea level rise are reasons to accelerate restoration to enhance the ecosystem’s ability to adapt to future changes,” authors of the report wrote.

    Much of FIU’s work in the Everglades is based on research conducted within its Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research program, which studies how hydrology, climate and human activities interact with ecosystem and population dynamics in the Everglades. With 9 million residents in the greater South Florida region, long-term data will be the key to long-term solutions.

    Certainty in Uncertain Times

    One of the greatest uncertainties with sea level is just how high and how fast the seas will rise. Without that knowledge, it’s difficult to plan for how South Florida should adapt. Conservative projections suggest sea levels could rise by almost a foot by 2100, but some scientists believe that number will be closer to three feet.

    Earth and Environment Professor René Price, along with a team of international researchers, recently completed a study, based on historical data that identifies the timings at which accelerations might first be recognized.

    While she can’t say for sure today, Price knows a data-driven prediction about rate and height is near.

    “Our results show that by 2020 to 2030, we could have some statistical certainty of what the sea level rise situation will look like in 2100,” Price said. “That means we’ll know what to expect and have 70 years to plan. In a subject that has so much uncertainty, this gives us the gift of long-term planning.”

    Even with long-term predictions on the horizon, immediate action is still required as sea level rise is the reality today. Communication and collaboration among scientists, policy makers and community members are crucial in FIU’s efforts to not only study climate change but also to help define how South Florida responds to the rising seas.

    Hydrologist Henry Briceño spends much of his time in the community sharing what he and his students are working on and engaging policy makers in the issues they uncover.

    “It’s really not enough what we do in the lab and field. What we discover has to transcend the decision-makers,” Briceño said. “We have to take this crisis and turn it into an opportunity. South Florida has the opportunity to become a leader worldwide to tackle sea level rise. We have a way out. We can adapt. Humanity can deal with this and can prevail.”

    Evelyn Perez |03/05/2015

    Let’s not sacrifice freedom out of fear

    A scientist, or any knowledgeable person, will tell you climate change is a serious threat for Canada and the world. But the RCMP has a different take. A secret report by the national police force, obtained by Greenpeace, both minimizes the threat of global warming and conjures a spectre of threats posed by people who rightly call for sanity in dealing with problems caused by burning fossil fuels.

    The RCMP report has come to light as federal politicians debate the“anti-terrorism” Bill C-51. Although the act wouldn’t apply to “lawful advocacy, protest, dissent and artistic expression,” its language echoes the tone of the RCMP report. It would give massive new powers to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to prevent any person or group from “undermining the security of Canada,” including “interference with critical infrastructure” and the “economic or financial stability of Canada.” And it would seriously infringe on freedom of speech and expression. The new CSIS powers would lack necessary public oversight.

    The RCMP report specifically names Greenpeace, Tides Canada and the Sierra Club as part of “a growing, highly organized and well-financed anti-Canada petroleum movement that consists of peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists who are opposed to society’s reliance on fossil fuels.” The report downplays climate change, calling it a “perceived environmental threat” and saying members of the “international anti-Canadian petroleum movement … claim that climate change is now the most serious global environmental threat and that climate change is a direct consequence of elevated anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions which, reportedly, are directly linked to the continued use of fossil fuels.” It also makes numerous references to anti-petroleum and indigenous “extremists”.

    Language in the RCMP report and Bill C-51 leaves open the possibility that the act and increased police and CSIS powers could be used against First Nations and environmentalists engaging in non-violent protests against pipelines or other environmentally destructive projects.

    As University of Ottawa law professor Craig Forcese points out, with its reference to “foreign-influenced activities within or relating to Canada that are detrimental to the interests of Canada,” the anti-terrorism law could be used in the case of a “foreign environmental foundation funding a Canadian environmental group’s secret efforts to plan a protest (done without proper permits) in opposition to the Keystone Pipeline Project.” Considering that government ministers have already characterized anti-pipeline protesters as “foreign-funded radicals”, that’s not a stretch. The RCMP could consider my strong support for greenhouse gas emissions reductions and renewable energy as “anti-petroleum”.

    Combatting terrorism is important, but Canada is not at war, and we already have many laws — and enhanced police powers — to deal with terrorist threats. More importantly, the RCMP report fuels the legitimate fear that the new law could be used to curtail important civil liberties, affecting everyone from religious minorities to organized labor and First Nations to environmentalists.

    If, for any reason, someone causes another person harm or damages infrastructure or property, that person should —and would, under current laws — face legal consequences. But the vast majority of people calling for rational discussion about fossil fuels and climate change — even those who engage in civil disobedience — aren’t “violent anti-petroleum extremists.” They’re people from all walks of life and ages who care about our country, our world, our families and friends and our future.

    Canada is much more than a dirty energy “superpower”. Many people from different cultures and backgrounds and with varying political perspectives have built a nation that is the envy of the world. We have a spectacular natural environment, enlightened laws on issues ranging from equal rights to freedom of speech, robust social programs and a diverse, educated population. We mustn’t sacrifice all we have gained out of fear, or give up our hard-won civil liberties for a vague and overreaching law that, as Forcese and University of Toronto law professor Kent Roach point out, “undermines more promising avenues of addressing terrorism.”

    Pollution and climate change caused by excessive burning of fossil fuels are real threats, not the people who warn that we must take these threats seriously. And while we must also respond to terrorism with the strong tools already in place, we have to remember that our rights and freedoms, not fear, are what keep us strong.

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

    No, Climate Change Is Not Experiencing a Hiatus

    No, climate change is not experiencing a hiatus. No, there is not currently a “pause” in global warming.

    Despite widespread such claims in contrarian circles, human-caused warming of the globe proceeds unabated. Indeed, the most recent year (2014) was likely the warmest year on record.

    It is true that Earth’s surface warmed a bit less than models predicted it to over the past decade-and-a-half or so. This doesn’t mean that the models are flawed. Instead, it points to a discrepancy that likely arose from a combination of three main factors (see the discussion my piece last year in Scientific American). These factors include the likely underestimation of the actual warming that has occurred, due to gaps in the observational data. Secondly, scientists have failed to include in model simulations some natural factors (low-level but persistent volcanic eruptions and a small dip in solar output) that had a slight cooling influence on Earth’s climate. Finally, there is the possibility that internal, natural oscillations in temperature may have masked some surface warming in recent decades, much as an outbreak of Arctic air can mask the seasonal warming of spring during a late season cold snap. One could call it a global warming “speed bump.” In fact, I have.

    Some have argued that these oscillations contributed substantially to the warming of the globe in recent decades. In an article my colleagues Byron Steinman, Sonya Miller and I have in the latest issue of Science magazine, we show that internal climate variability instead partially offset global warming.

    We focused on the Northern Hemisphere and the role played by two climate oscillations known as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation or “AMO” (a term I coined back in 2000, as recounted in my book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars) and the so-called Pacific Decadal Oscillation or “PDO” (we a use a slightly different term—Pacific Multidecadal Oscillation or “PMO” to refer to the longer-term features of this apparent oscillation). The oscillation in Northern Hemisphere average temperatures (which we term the Northern Hemisphere Multidecadal Oscillation or “NMO”) is found to result from a combination of the AMO and PMO.

    In numerous previous studies, these oscillations have been linked to everything from global warming, to drought in the Sahel region of Africa, to increased Atlantic hurricane activity. In our article, we show that the methods used in most if not all of these previous studies have been flawed. They fail to give the correct answer when applied to a situation (a climate model simulation) where the true answer is known.

    We propose and test an alternative method for identifying these oscillations, which makes use of the climate simulations used in the most recent IPCC report (the so-called “CMIP5” simulations). These simulations are used to estimate the component of temperature changes due to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations and other human impacts plus the effects of volcanic eruptions and observed changes in solar output. When all those influences are removed, the only thing remaining should be internal oscillations. We show that our method gives the correct answer when tested with climate model simulations.

    Estimated history of the "AMO" (blue), the "PMO (green) and the "NMO" (black). Uncertainties are indicated by shading. Note how the AMO (blue) has reached a shallow peak recently, while the PMO is plummeting quite dramatically. The latter accounts for the precipitous recent drop in the NMO.Estimated history of the “AMO” (blue), the “PMO (green) and the “NMO” (black).

    Uncertainties are indicated by shading. Note how the AMO (blue) has reached a shallow peak recently, while the PMO is plummeting quite dramatically.

    The latter accounts for the precipitous recent drop in the NMO.

    Applying our method to the actual climate observations (see figure above) we find that the NMO is currently trending downward. In other words, the internal oscillatory component is currently offsetting some of the Northern Hemisphere warming that we would otherwise be experiencing. This finding expands upon our previous work coming to a similar conclusion, but in the current study we better pinpoint the source of the downturn. The much-vaunted AMO appears to have made relatively little contribution to large-scale temperature changes over the past couple decades. Its amplitude has been small, and it is currently relatively flat, approaching the crest of a very shallow upward peak. That contrasts with the PMO, which is trending sharply downward. It is that decline in the PMO (which is tied to the predominance of cold La Niña-like conditions in the tropical Pacific over the past decade) that appears responsible for the declining NMO, i.e. the slowdown in warming or “faux pause” as some have termed it.

    Our conclusion that natural cooling in the Pacific is a principal contributor to the recent slowdown in large-scale warming is consistent with some other recent studies, including a study I commented on previously showing that stronger-than-normal winds in the tropical Pacific during the past decade have lead to increased upwelling of cold deep water in the eastern equatorial Pacific. Other work by Kevin Trenberth and John Fasullo of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) shows that the there has been increased sub-surface heat burial in the Pacific ocean over this time frame, while yet another study by James Risbey and colleagues demonstrates that model simulations that most closely follow the observed sequence of El Niño and La Niña events over the past decade tend to reproduce the warming slowdown.

    It is possible that the downturn in the PMO itself reflects a “dynamical response” of the climate to global warming. Indeed, I have suggested this possibility before. But the state-of-the-art climate model simulations analyzed in our current study suggest that this phenomenon is a manifestation of purely random, internal oscillations in the climate system.

    This finding has potential ramifications for the climate changes we will see in the decades ahead. As we note in the last line of our article,

    Given the pattern of past historical variation, this trend will likely reverse with internal variability, instead adding to anthropogenic warming in the coming decades.

    That is perhaps the most worrying implication of our study, for it implies that the “false pause” may simply have been a cause for false complacency, when it comes to averting dangerous climate change.

    Michael Mann|February 27, 2015

    Carbon Emissions Stabilized In 2014; Shows Efforts To Combat Climate Change May Be Working

    Solar, wind and other renewables are making such a big difference in greenhouse gas emissions worldwide that global emissions from the energy sector flatlined during a time of economic growth for the first time in 40 years.

    The International Energy Agency announced Friday that energy-related CO2 emissions last year were unchanged from the year before, totaling 32.3 billion metric tons of CO2 in both 2013 and 2014. It shows that efforts to reduce emissions to combat climate change may be more effective than previously thought.

    “This is both a very welcome surprise and a significant one,” IEA Chief Economist and incoming IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a statement. “It provides much-needed momentum to negotiators preparing to forge a global climate deal in Paris in December. For the first time, greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling from economic growth.”

    Following an announcement earlier this week that China’s CO2 emissions fell 2 percent in 2014, the IEA is crediting 2014’s progress to China using more solar, wind and hydropower while burning less coal. Western Europe’s focus on sustainable growth, energy efficiency and renewables has shown that emissions from energy consumption can fall even as economies grow globally, according to the IEA.

    Global CO2 emissions stalled or fell in the early 1980s, 1992 and 2009, each time correlating with a faltering global economy. In 2014, the economy grew 3 percent worldwide.

    In the U.S., energy-related CO2 emissions fell during seven of the past 23 years, most notably during the recession of 2009, U.S. Energy Information Administration data show. Emissions in 2013 — the most recent year for which U.S. data is available — were higher than they were in the previous year, but 10 percent lower than they were in 2005.

    At the same time, the carbon intensity of the U.S. economy — CO2 emissions per dollar of GDP — has been trending downward over the past 25 years, according to the administration.

    The IEA will release a more detailed analysis of global energy-related CO2 emissions in a special energy and climate report to be released in June.

    “The latest data on emissions are indeed encouraging, but this is no time for complacency and certainly not the time to use this positive news as an excuse to stall further action,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in a statement.

    Bobby Magill|Climate Central|03/13/2015

    South Florida Lawmakers Take On Sea Level Rise

    It is time for the South Florida real estate community to understand that sea level rise is a reality that we will likely be dealing with increasingly over time. There may be an ongoing debate about the exact cause and nature of climate change, but there are two facts that are impossible to ignore.

    The first is that sea levels (including those in South Florida) have risen at least eight inches over the past century and are projected to rise at least another foot this century. The second is that more than two million people and one million homes sit within four feet of the local high tide line.

    In fact, South Florida has the fourth largest population vulnerable to sea rise in the world, according to a University of Miami study. This is not something that has been lost on our local governments or on our state legislature. In 2009 Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach Counties entered into the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact where those counties and many associated municipalities agreed to collaborate to develop a joint policy to promote federal and state action to address climate change impacts. The requested actions range from requests for increased funding for infrastructure projects to designation of areas that are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise.

    In response to the priorities highlighted in the Compact, in 2011 the Florida legislature added to Chapter 163 the term “adaptation action area” and authorized local governments to enact code provisions developing an adaptation action area designation. An adaptation action area is a designation within the local government’s comprehensive plan which identifies one or more areas that experience coastal flooding due to extreme high tides and storm surge and are vulnerable to the related impacts of rising sea levels for the purpose of prioritizing funding for infrastructure needs and adaptation planning.

    The City of Fort Lauderdale has instituted a pilot program to designate adaptation action areas and then implement public infrastructure projects to mitigate the risk of sea rise events posed to those areas.

    The first leg of the pilot program involved an outreach effort where city officials visited community associations and other citizen groups to explain the benefits of adaptation action areas and the reasons for creating them.

    The City is now embarking on “Phase 2” which is designation of these areas and implementation of public projects. Among the first projects arising from this new initiative is the installation of back-flow preventers in the Las Olas Isles community.

    There are multiple similar projects going on throughout South Florida, including the installation of pumps in Miami Beach to mitigate the “king tides” and backflow preventers in the South Lake community in Hollywood.

    Broward County has gone a step further by amending its comprehensive plan to recognize adaptation action areas. This means that when a property is considered for development, Broward County’s staff can take into account the vulnerabilities of the property to sea level rise events, and can recommend the construction of, or allocate resources toward, infrastructure necessary to mitigate that vulnerability.

    These developments should not be seen as a threat as much as an opportunity for developers and innovators. Developers who are willing and able to construct resilient projects that can mitigate the impact of sea rise events stand to do very well in the coming decades. Similarly, companies that create cost-effective infrastructure projects that can assist cities and counties in addressing sea rise issues will become a valuable resource.

     Mark Lynn|Mar 11, 2015

    Extreme Weather

    3 Connections Between Climate Change and Extreme Weather

    More than 98 inches of snow has fallen in Boston this season, while workers have spent about 170,000 hours plowing the streets and distributed more than 76,000 tons of salt on roadways. At the same time, much of the American West, Rocky Mountains, and Northern and Central Plains have experienced warmer-than-average temperatures. California, in the grip of an epic drought, had its fourth-driest January ever recorded with just 15 percent of average precipitation.

    So what is going on with this extreme weather, and what does it have to do with global climate change?

    Due to recent analytical advancements, climate scientists are now able to more accurately determine how climate change impacts the odds of an individual extreme event occurring.

    More research is planned in coming years to examine links between extreme weather and climate events and climate change, and global research already tells us a lot about the trends, including these three counterintuitive connections between climate change and extreme events:

    1. Record cold temperatures can still occur in a warming world.

    During 2014, cities in regions like the Midwest and Northeast endured record cold months. Zoom out to the state level, however, and three states (California, Nevada and Arizona) saw record warm annual temperatures in 2014, while none experienced record cold annual temperatures. The national average temperature was warmer than normal, and at the global scale, last year was more than just above average—2014 was the warmest year ever recorded.

    While portions of the eastern United States have faced historic snow totals and frigid temperatures this year, the opposite can be said for much of the western U.S.

    A growing body of research suggests that a contributing factor of this drastic east-west temperature contrast could be the accelerated warming taking place in the Arctic, which can have a weakening effect on the polar jet stream, a west-to-east river of wind in the atmosphere where cold Arctic air meets milder subtropical air in the mid-latitudes (e.g., the U.S.) of the Northern Hemisphere. A weaker polar jet stream creates more favorable conditions for a “wavy” north-south oriented path around the Arctic, which can increase the frequency of phases where Arctic air seeps south into regions like the eastern United States while warmer air protrudes north in the western half of the country.

    2. A warming planet can make some regions much snowier.

    The warmer the air is, the more water vapor it can hold. This additional moisture can bring more intense rain or snowfall. In addition, when sea surface temperatures are warmer than average (as they are currently in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean), the atmosphere becomes fueled with more moisture and energy.

    Precipitation amounts vary by region, but in the United States, all regions except Hawaii have experienced an increase in very heavy precipitation events since the late 1950s. However, snowfall has decreased in most parts of the country since recordkeeping began, in large part because more winter precipitation has come from rain instead of snow. Thus, temperatures play a significant role.

    Gradual warming is reducing the number of very cold days in many regions, but when temperatures are cold enough, the increased moisture can cause heavier snowfall events. In fact, the heaviest snowstorms occur when temperatures are just below freezing as opposed to when they are much colder (when available moisture is reduced)—conditions becoming more likely in mid-winter in a warmer world.

    3. Climate change can contribute to a double whammy of drought and extreme precipitation in the same location.

    As mentioned above, a warmer atmosphere can hold more water, fueling more intense rain and snow events. But at the other end of the spectrum, the warming climate can amplify conditions conducive to drought—like heatwaves, evapotranspiration and reduced soil moisture. The combination of these two extremes in one location can increase disasters like flooding and landslides, and recent history suggests parts of the United States may already be grappling with these double-whammy impacts.

    Since 2010, regions like the Midwest have been impacted by numerous extreme drought and flooding events that have each exceeded $1 billion in losses. Right now, California is in the midst of a drought that researchers have found to be its worst in at least 1,200 years. And while not found to have been caused by climate change, scientists have determined the drought has been driven by record warm temperatures and reduced precipitation. These prolonged warm and dry conditions were then met with an incredible deluge of rainfall in some areas of the state last December (San Francisco received more rain in a matter of days than it did all of 2013) causing flooding and mudslides, washing out roads and damaging homes.

    A Need for Action

    A growing body of evidence shows strong connections between climate change and extreme events, and impacts once thought of as a distant future threat are already occurring and widespread.

    As decision-makers scramble to keep trains and buses running among feet of snow, make plans to save infrastructure from flooding, and revise planning to contend with drought, it’s time they pause to acknowledge the role that human-induced climate change is playing in our changing weather—and commit to ambitious policy changes that reverse these trends.

    Kelly Levin and C. Forbes Tompkins|World Resources Institute|March 1, 2015

    Epic Drought Spurs California to Build Largest Desalination Plant in Western Hemisphere

    “The U.S. Drought Monitor shows nearly 40 percent of the state of California remains in exceptional drought, the highest level of drought and many communities are working to come up with long-term solutions as reservoirs and rivers continue to diminish,” says Jeremy Hobson of NPR’s Here and Now.

    On the show yesterday, Hobson discussed desalination as a solution to the drought with David Jassby, assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering at the University of California, Riverside and Sandy Kerl of the San Diego County Water Authority. There are currently 13 desalination projects under consideration along the California coast.

    Jassby explains how desalination works, why in the U.S. we rely on reverse osmosis rather than thermal-based plants and the environmental impacts of the process. Desalination has been proposed for years in the U.S., but has always been shot down for being too expensive and requiring too much energy. Now, “the first desalination plant in Carlsbad is coming online in 2016 or maybe even sooner,” says Jassby.

    The cost of desalinized water has come down significantly in recent years, making it “pretty comparable” to conventional water sources, according to Jassby. He expects that places that have “ready access to the ocean” and are water-stressed will employ desalination in the coming years. It’s already widely used in other parts of the world such as the Middle East, Australia and parts of Southern Europe.

    When the Carlsbad Desalination Project is completed this fall, it will be the largest desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere. Kerl of the San Diego County Water Authority, which is partnering with Poseidon Water on the project, explains why she believes the desalination plant is environmentally sound and also necessary for the state of California. The state’s recent snowpack survey reveals that the snowpack, a major source of drinking water for residents, is currently five percent of average, according to Kerl.

    Cole Mellino|March 10, 2015

    Blizzard On Hawaii Summit Delays Construction Of Thirty Meter Telescope

    HILO, Hawaii (AP) — Construction of one of the world’s largest telescopes is being delayed because of blizzard conditions on a Hawaii mountain summit.

    The Thirty Meter Telescope will be built near the summit of Mauna Kea. If not for the winter storm, construction preparations would be getting underway at the site of the $1.4-billion project, Sandra Dawson, telescope spokeswoman, told Hilo newspaper Hawaii Tribune-Herald ( http://ow.ly/Kae0Z ).

    The Mauna Kea access road was closed Monday because of snow and wind. Because of frozen weather gauges, it was difficult to estimate snowfall and wind speeds, said Ryan Lyman, meteorologist for the Mauna Kea Weather Center. He’s expecting up to 2 feet of snow and winds of 50 mph to 70 mph, with a break Tuesday and then snowing again Tuesday night. Conditions may improve to reopen the road by Friday or during the weekend, he said.

    “The winds are pounding,” he said. “Snow is all over the place.”

    When telescope construction can begin will depend on when the weather clears, Dawson said. “We have to do some re-planning based on the weather,” she said.

    Even though access to the construction site will be restricted, there are plans to accommodate protesters, Dawson said.

    Some oppose plans to build the telescope near the summit of a mountain held sacred by Native Hawaiians. Protests disrupted a groundbreaking and Hawaiian blessing ceremony last year.

    The telescope should help scientists see some 13 billion light years away for a glimpse into the early years of the universe. Astronomers say Mauna Kea is the ideal location for observing the most distant and difficult to understand mysteries of the universe.

    AP|03/10/2015

    One of Boston’s Snowiest Seasons in History

    This is now Boston’s second snowiest season on record. In the last 21 years, Boston has now had 4 of its top 5 snowiest seasons. (These counts cover the period from July 1 through June 30, to include snow in the fall and spring months.)

    1. 1995-1996: 107.6 inches
    2. 2014-2015: 105.7 inches
    3. 1993-1994: 96.3 inches
    4. 1947-1948: 89.2 inches
    5. 2004-2005: 86.6 inches
    6. 1977-1978: 85.1 inches
    7. 1992-1993: 83.9 inches
    8. 2010-2011: 81.0 inches
    9. 1915-1916: 79.2 inches
    10. 1919-1920: 73.4 inches

    For perspective, the average seasonal snowfall at Logan Airport is 43.5 inches. 

    February has obliterated the previous snowiest month on record in Boston.

    1. February 2015: 64.8 inches
    2. January 2005: 43.3 inches
    3. January 1945: 42.3 inches
    4. February 2003: 41.6 inches
    5. February 1969: 41.3 inches

    Winter Storms Juno and Marcus each made the top 10 heaviest Boston snowstorms, all-time.

    1. Feb. 17-18, 2003: 27.6 inches
    2. Feb. 6-7, 1978: 27.1 inches
    3. Feb. 24-26, 1969: 25.8 inches
    4. Mar. 31 – Apr. 1, 1997: 25.4 inches
    5. Feb. 8-9, 2013 (Nemo): 24.9 inches
    6. Jan. 26-28, 2015 (Juno): 24.6 inches
    7. Feb. 7-10, 2015 (Marcus): 23.8 inches

    8. Jan. 22-23, 2005: 22.5 inches
    9. Jan. 20-21, 1978: 21.4 inches
    10. Mar. 3-5, 1960: 19.8 inches

    In just over two years, we’ve had three of the top seven heaviest snowstorms in Boston. 

    Other records Boston has set during this stretch include:

    - Record 30-day snowfall: 94.4 inches from Jan. 24- Feb. 22, 2015, inclusive (previous record: 58.8 inches from Jan. 9 – Feb. 7, 1978). Incredibly, this 30-day total would be the third snowiest season!

    - Record snowfall for meteorological winter (December, January and February): 99.4 inches (previous record: 81.5 inches in 1993-94; of the 107.6 inches in 1995-96, only 79.4 inches came in December, January and February)

    - Record snow depth*: 37 inches on Feb. 9 (previous record: 31 inches on Jan. 11, 1996; * gaps in this dataset exist)

    - Fastest six-foot snowfall: 72.5 inches in 18 days from Jan. 24 – Feb. 10, 2015 (previous record: 73 inches in 45 days from Dec. 29, 1993 to Feb. 11, 1994)

    - Fastest 90-inch snowfall: 23 days from Jan. 24 – Feb. 15, 2015 (previous record: 78 days from Dec. 30, 1993 to Mar. 17, 1994)

    - Four calendar days with at least 12 inches of snow, a first for any snow season (previously, only two seasons had as many as two such days, in 1977-1978 and 1960-1961 seasons)

    - At least 0.5 inch of snow had fallen 6 straight days through Feb. 12, topping the previous such record stretch of 5 days in 1943. The record stretch of measurable snow (at least 0.1 inch) was 9 straight days ending on Mar. 10, 1916.

    - Most days with measurable snow in a month: 16 in February, topping the record of 14 days in March 1916, January 1923 and January 1994. It also breaks the record for the month of February, which was previously 13 days set in 1907 and 1967.

    - Finally, the Blue Hill Observatory in Milton, Massachusetts set an all-time snow depth record on the morning of February 15.

    - While not a snow record per se, part of the difficulty Boston has faced in dealing with the snow is the persistent cold weather, which has prevented any meaningful snowmelt. The city recorded 28 consecutive days with lows 20 degrees or colder from Jan. 25 through Feb. 21 (inclusive), breaking the all-time record of 27 consecutive days set Jan. 12 through Feb. 7, 1881.

    - Boston also failed to reach 40 degrees from January 20 through March 3, a record streak of 43 consecutive days. The previous such record streak of 42 straight days was set in the winter of 1968-1969.

    Jon Erdman|March 8, 2015

    Italian Village Gets 8 Feet Of Snow In 24 Hours, May Break Global Record

    Snow news is good news, unless you live in Capracotta. The Italian village may have just set a record for the most snow ever to fall in 24 hours.

    A storm on March 5 dumped just over 100.8 inches (or 8 feet, 4 inches) of snow there in 18 hours, reports the Italian weather website Meteoweb. The snowfall inundated the city and left some in the region without power and water.

    “It was a spectacle that took our breath away. In some parts of the village the snow was like a long white wall,” village mayor Antonio Monaco told the Italian news agency ANSA, as translated to English by the Telegraph.

    “It was tough but everybody pulled together and made sure that the old people who couldn’t leave their houses had the food and medicines that they needed.”

    Capracotta sits at an elevation of 4,662 feet in central Italy, just an hour and a half drive from the country’s eastern coast.

    CNN cautions the record isn’t official yet. Assuming the World Meteorological Association verifies the amount of snowfall, however, the storm would break previous records dating back to the 1920s.

    In 1921, a mid-April storm in Silver Lake, Colorado dropped 75.8 inches of snow in a day, setting a record for the most snow to fall in the U.S. in 24 hours. Over the course of 32 and a half hours, the storm ultimately deposited more than 95 inches of snow.

    Ryan Grenoble|The Huffington Post|03/11/2015

    Check out some photos

    ‘Unforgettable’ ice chunks dot Cape Cod shore

    This winter produced human- sized chunks of ice washing ashore on Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts.

    Eric Fisher, chief meteorologist for CBS Boston, called it a “once-in-a-generation” event because of New England’s weather conditions in 2015.

    Fisher said via email he’s never seen ice like this off Massachusetts.

    “It’s been an amazing winter with some unforgettable scenes. By most accounts, this is likely the most ice we’ve seen develop since the 1977-78 winter, and perhaps farther back than that.”

    He added, “It’s definitely a limited attraction. … The chunks are getting smaller and whatever gets stranded on the beach is melting away.”

    Twelve winter storms affected the U.S. from Jan.21 through March 5, the Weather Channel reports. Eleven of the storms struck New England with “at least light snow accumulations,” according to the Weather Channel. For Boston, this is the second snowiest season on record with 105.7 inches of snowfall, according to the Weather Channel.

    USA TODAY|3/12/15

    Snow Trucked in for Iditarod, Ski Resorts Remain Closed as February Experienced Most Extreme Weather in History

    A new report this week from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory finds that the rate of climate change, which has increased in recent decades, will increase even more in the 2020s. And Alaska, along with the rest of the Arctic, has been warming even faster with six degrees of winter warming as the loss of snow and ice cover triggers a feedback loop of further warming, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    Alaska’s rapid warming is very evident. It wasn’t enough that they moved the start of the Iditarod 300 miles further north this year to Fairbanks from the traditional start of Anchorage, which has had record low snowfall. They had to reroute the course again when the Chena river, a part of the new course, failed to freeze sufficiently.

    The ceremonial start of the race was still held in Anchorage, which as of March 9 received less than one-third of its average snowfall, according to Slate. So, the city had to truck in snow for the event. Sen. Lisa Murkowski tweeted about it with the hashtag “we make it work.” I think the planet begs to differ. In a Senate hearing last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders brilliantly grilled Alaskan leaders for not only failing to address climate change but advocating for increased production of fossil fuels, despite leading scientists saying we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground to prevent catastrophic climate change.

    A ski area outside of Juneau had to close temporarily due to lack of snow. They are still way below average, but they opened back up for the rest of the season. Boston received more snow in a single storm than Anchorage has seen all winter. 

    And it’s not just Alaska. As we all know, the drought-stricken West is having another exceptionally warm winter. Last month, the West cooked while the East froze. Ski resorts in California, Oregon and Canada closed due to lack of snow. One Southern Californian told me he had to use his air conditioning a few times this winter, while those of us in the East have had record snow and sub-freezing temperatures.

    This past February was the most extreme on record, marking the first time that one-third of the U.S. experienced exceptional cold while another third experienced exceptional warmth in the same month, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “All-time records were set for the coldest month in dozens of Eastern cities, with Boston racking up more snow than the peaks of California’s Sierra Nevada,” said Slate‘s Eric Holthaus. Meteorologists have even come up with a nickname for the phenomenon, “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge.”

    “It’s the weather-controlling polar jet stream—a fast river of wind in the upper atmosphere—that has been locked in an extreme pattern for the past few years,” explained Climatologist Bill Patzert of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Rather than circling in a relatively straight path, the jet stream has meandered in great north-south waves. In the west, it’s been bulging northward, arguably for the past two winters. Over frigid northern Canada, the jet takes a hard right turn and plunges into the upper Midwest and East Coast, plummeting temperatures and creating punishing ice and snow storms.”

    Cole Mellino|March 12, 2015

    Genetically Modified Organisms

    Is GMO Soybean Oil Healthier Than Non-GMO?

    University of California researchers studied how GMO soybean oil impacts our health and found that claims about the oil’s health may not be accurate.

    Soybean oil is in many of the processed foods on store shelves. It’s cheap, plentiful, and makes food taste good. Ninety percent of the soybeans produced in the U.S. are genetically modified, and a new GMO soybean has been marketed as producing healthier oil than its conventional counterparts.

    The new oil — DuPont’s Plenish – contains zero trans fats and it being marketed to restaurants and food producers as a way to offer zero trans fat food. The company website calls the oil “heart-healthy.”

    After testing by independent researchers at the University of California Riverside and UC Davis, though, it’s looking like this new soybean oil may not be as healthy as DuPont says it is. In lab tests, mice that ate Plenish oil were just as likely to develop obesity, diabetes and fatty liver as mice eating conventional soybean oil. The only benefit they found was the the Plenish mice didn’t develop insulin resistance.

    Senior investigator Frances Sladek, a professor of cell biology and neuroscience at UC Riverside, said, “While genetic modification of crops can introduce new beneficial traits into existing crops, the resulting products need to be tested for long-term health effects before making assumptions about their impact on human health.” (emphasis mine)

    This was the first study looking at the long-term health impacts of Plenish oil.

    Of course, direct impacts are only one part of how GMOs affect human health. We can’t ignore how these soybeans go from seed to bottle and indirectly impact our health along the way.

    Plenish soybeans — like other GMO soybeans in the U.S. — are engineered to also be tolerant to pesticides. In this Growers Guide from DuPont, the “Science Rules” section on page 11 talk about producing beans with a trans fat free profile that are still resistant to pests and herbicides.

    Since Plenish soybeans are engineered to be pesticide resistant, they are subject the same public health pitfall as all pesticide-resistant GMO crops. In the long term, they lead to farmers use more pesticides.

    There are two reasons that farmers growing GMO crops end up spraying more: they can, and then they need to. When pesticide-resistant crops first came on the scene, pesticide use did go down. But nature is resilient, and over time weeds and bugs have become resistant to pesticides like glyphosate. Farmers need to spray more to keep these superweed and superbugs at bay. And since you can saturate these resistant crops in pesticides without killing them, farmers can spray away without hurting their yields.

    At this point, biotech companies are having to create crops resistant to even more toxic pesticides, because conventional ones aren’t working well for so many farmers.

    All of those pesticides are bad news. They pollute ground water, contaminate soil, and make their way onto our dinner plates. Pesticide residues are linked to health concerns from lowered intelligence to autism.

    DuPont has created a cooking oil that doesn’t cause insulin resistance but is linked directly to obesity, diabetes, and fatty liver. It’s also linked indirectly to the myriad of health problems that come from exposure to pesticide residues. Is it worth it?

    Becky Striepe|March 7, 2015

    Insecticides that will never wash off ‏

    Did you know one of the goals of companies like Monsanto was to create crops that didn’t need to have insecticides sprayed on them?

    That sounds like a great objective… until you realize how they went about accomplishing it.

    The reason some GMO crops don’t require insecticides to protect them from insects is because they ARE insecticides. These plants have been engineered to produce the insecticide Bt. in every cell of the plant. When certain insects eat any part of a Bt.-producing plant, their stomachs rupture, and they die.

    These Bt. plants are living pesticide factories. They’re literally registered with the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, as pesticides.

    If Bt. ruptures the stomachs of insects, what do you suppose these crops are doing to you or your children? Is it possible that they could have an impact on your digestive tract or your bacterial balance? Monsanto wants you to believe that their crops are perfectly healthy. But I don’t suppose you’re the kind of person who believes everything Monsanto says.

    Getting informed about the realities of GMOs, and what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones, has never been more urgent.

    That’s why we put together your free GMO Survival Guide. You’ll get short videos like GMOs 101 with Jeffrey Smith and a brilliant dismantling of Monsanto’s lies from my dad, John Robbins, plus the Non-GMO shopping guide and app, a GMO music video, and more.

    Ocean Robbins|The Food Revolution Network

    Get your complimentary GMO Survival Guide here.

    Former Pro-GMO Scientist Blows The Whistle ‏

    In his decades-long career as a leading research scientist for the Canadian government, Dr. Thierry Vrain was paid to reassure the public that genetically engineered foods were safe to eat.

    But now, this insider is lifting the veil of deception and exposing the truth Monsanto doesn’t want you to know.

    Dr. Vrain says:
    “I refute the claims of the biotechnology companies that their engineered crops yield more, that they require less pesticide applications, that they have no impact on the environment and of course that they are safe to eat… The scientific literature is full of studies showing that engineered corn and soya contain toxic or allergenic proteins.”

    Find out about his startling conclusions, here.

    Check out his powerful essay here.

    Energy

    Inspectors Uncover Polluting Oil Wastewater Pits in Kern County

    Tossing a cigarette butt on the ground and heedlessly walking away is an environmental no-no, but energy companies in Kern County, Calif., are doing the equivalent of just that, only on an industrial scale. Environmental inspectors are finding massive illegal waste pits filled with byproducts of oil production, and they’re not secured, creating pollution in the already embattled county. Investigators estimate that some 300 pits in the county are operating without permits, polluting groundwater and creating a significant and potentially expensive environmental hazard. What might be even more scary, if you can imagine it, is the lax inspection and enforcement that allowed oil companies to rampantly construct pits — and the limited regulations surrounding the environmental requirements for wastewater pits.

    In the course of oil and gas production, particularly in the case of fracking, vast quantities of wastewater are produced. Theoretically, this water can’t simply be discharged, because it contains toxic byproducts like benzene. Oil companies are responsible for environmental remediation and disposal, but this is expensive — so many settle for digging out wastewater pits and just storing that water. That’s perfectly legal, as long as they get permits. Disturbingly, the laws for permits are quite lax — public officials aren’t picky about their position, for example, and they don’t even need to be lined or covered to prevent release of wastewater into the water table or the air.

    In terms of agricultural income, Kern County is the second-highest ranking county in the nation, illustrating the huge volume of crops grown there. Wastewater seeping into the ground creates serious potential risks for crop production, including blights and crop failures as well as issues for consumers who could get sick from benzene-soaked plants irrigated with contaminated water. Likewise, Kern County accounts for an estimated 80 percent of California’s oil production, illustrating the huge scale of the industry. Thus, in precisely the same county the state counts on for crop production, a highly polluting industry is also thriving, and it’s not behaving in an environmentally responsible fashion.

    Oil companies insist the pits were all legal or that they didn’t know about procedures they needed to follow. Some also add claims that no one can link the county’s pollution to unsecured oil pits, but farmers say otherwise. They claim to have smelled oil products around their farms, and some have identified signs of oil contamination in their irrigation supplies. They want action to increase environmental health and safety standards around oil wastewater pits, and to penalize the companies involved.

    The issue also raises another problem: Remediation. The county’s water quality officials are going to be left picking up the tab for identifying, cleaning up, and controlling unpermitted and polluting pits if they can’t explicitly link them to specific oil companies. Even if they can, they will likely spend years in court fighting expensive lawsuits to compel companies to pay, during which they’ll need to initiate cleanup operations regardless to prevent environmental damage. Similar issues can be seen across the United States, where industrial pollution creates an expensive problem for environmental agencies while its originators metaphorically skip town, profits in hand.

    Kern County is facing a lengthy investigation to evaluate each and every single oil pit to determine whether it has a permit and whether it is creating pollution. At the same time, the county needs to engage in environmental cleanup and chase down the oil companies who left their wastewater behind while it weighs the possibility of stricter health and safety requirements for future wastewater pits. Other regions of oil and gas production, meanwhile, might want to conduct a survey of their wastewater pits to see if they’re looking at a similar problem.

    s.e. smith|March 5, 2015

    Five Huge Advancements in Alternative Energy to Watch for in 2015

    The alternative energy industry continues to surge in the global marketplace, and technological advancements promise rewards for both consumers and investors.

    These innovations are normally brought about through improved renewable energy system efficiency and increased popularity for these systems in high growth, regional markets.

    Here are some of the top renewable energy innovations that will be in the spotlight throughout 2015.

    Marine Energy Technology

    On the heels of hydroelectric renewable energy comes an effective new form of water power known by some as offshore marine energy. Since ancient times, sailors have maintained a love/hate relationship with the sea. The same body of water upon which they made their livelihood was the same foe that could kill them mercilessly when they came into contact with powerful, storm-induced waves.

    Today, technological advancements can harness energy bound within the movement of ocean waves. Although the idea of producing energy from ocean currents is not original to offshore oil companies, these isolated oil rig crew members were some of the first to lend their voices for praise of the new technology.

    It was a company called Minesto, however, that spent several years researching and developing ways to convert low velocity ocean current into usable electric current efficiently. The company is scheduled to go into full production in 2015.

    Biofuel Development

    While many are adopting a plant-based diet for health reasons, energy producers are spying out plants as a new source of renewable, clean energy.

    Although there are mixed reviews on the ethical implications of producing energy with plants that could be used to feed the world’s growing population, there are more winning arguments for the use of these clean energy sources than there are for the opposition.

    Renewable energy companies are currently conducting research and development on plants like marine algae for their renewable energy projects because cultivating and harvesting these aquatic plants do not require the use of scarce land resources.

    Bio-Waste Energy Products

    Some biofuel energy companies are attempting to kill two birds with one stone by using waste products for energy production. The waste products can include anything from unused plant-based food to sewage.

    This form of alternative energy is attractive because it reduces waste products in landfills and it comes from an abundant renewable source.

    When the new gas is used by vehicles, its emissions are significantly less than vehicles that use diesel fuels. An example of a recent success story is the bio-bus developed by GENeco that runs from Bristol to Bath in the United Kingdom on gas made only from treated human waste and food waste.

    Landfill Gas to Energy

    Clearing landfills seems to be the secondary mission of many renewable energy projects. The lure of taking a mass of unwanted material and turning it into usable energy is just too strong.

    The organic matter in landfills decompose to produce methane gas that environmentalists claim contribute to global warming and poor air quality. United States-based renewable energy companies like LFG Technologies seek to turn the methane gas produced in landfills into usable energy, thereby reducing the amount of the gas that escapes into the atmosphere.

    2015 promises to be the year that these companies press on with more landfill gas projects across the nation.

    Offshore Wind Energy

    Marine energy is not the only source of power that energy companies seek to capture on the high seas.

    The unobstructed wind that characteristically blows over open water is now a candidate to be the energy source for the latest renewable wind energy projects of many alternative energy companies. While solar energy has been the alternative energy of choice for some time, innovation in wind turbine technology enables an increased capacity for wind energy systems.

    When these higher capacity wind turbines are set afloat on offshore rigs, the opportunities for collecting substantial amounts of energy for use on land, on marine vessels or on offshore oil rigs are promising.

    These types of renewable energy systems are not the only energy trend that will be evident in 2015. The popularity of traditional (as well as innovative alternative) energy systems is spreading—even to developing nations that have opportunities to build infrastructure from scratch to accommodate these efficient, cost effective renewable energy systems.

    Dixie Somers|March 5, 2015

    SWFL legislators propose oil drilling changes

    A series of bills from two Southwest Florida legislators could shape the future of oil and gas regulations in the state, specifically the controversial technique called hydraulic fracturing.

    “As drilling techniques change we need to look at the regulations and make sure they’re adequate to protect the safety and well being of the public,” said Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, a sponsor of one of the bills.

    Four bills – three, 1205, 1207 and 1209, from Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, and one, SB 1468, from Richter – would reform drilling regulations in several ways, most importantly, explicitly legalize hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Florida. The practice is in a regulatory gray area under current law. There’s no outright ban on fracking, instead it’s considered a “work-over” procedure and only requires a driller to notify the state before proceeding.

    The proposed legislation would also require companies to disclose drilling chemicals to the state Department of Environmental Protection, raise the bond limit for drilling operations and raise civil penalties for violations. It would also establish a fund to finance any spill cleanup efforts as well as plugging and resealing old boreholes.

    “I’m optimistic we’re going to have a successful year passing this legislation,” Rodrigues said.

    Environmental advocates say the bills are a step in the right direction but don’t go as far as they should to protect natural resources and hold violators accountable.

    This issue is a central one to Southwest Florida. Collier County has been the epicenter of the drilling debate since 2014, when the DEP disclosed it fined a Texas-based oil drilling company for an “unauthorized extraction procedure” it used at a well site near the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

    The ensuing outcry from environmental groups and the Collier County Board of County Commissioners prompted the DEP to crack down on the Dan A. Hughes Co., eventually filing a lawsuit against the driller.

    The company has since ceased operations at its Collier-Hogan well and stopped all activity in the county.

    “What came out of that was the need to update and revise our statutes,” Rodrigues said.

    Last year, Rodrigues sponsored a bill that would have required companies to disclose all drilling chemicals to the state. The bill passed the House, but failed in the Senate.

    Rogrigues’ and Richter’s bills would require a company looking to frack to submit a list to the DEP of all the chemicals it planned to use. The public disclosure wouldn’t be complete, however. Companies would be able to request a trade secret exemption to public records laws.

    The agency would then forward the restricted list to fracfocus.org, a widely used drilling chemical disclosure website. This is a point of contention with environmental advocates, who don’t want an outside company to handle this information.

    “If we outsource this disclosure we don’t have the accountability of a public entity,” said Jennifer Hecker, director of natural resource policy for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, which has been deeply involved in the drilling discussion.

    The Conservancy is also concerned with the bills’ narrow definition of fracking – using at least 100,000 gallons of fluid to fracture rock in order to stimulate the production of oil and natural gas. There are other, similar well stimulation techniques, like acid fracking, that wouldn’t be included in this definition and could fall through the regulatory cracks, Hecker said.

    “It seems like semantics, but the definition is what determines what’s legal,” she said.

    Steve Doane|news-press.com|March 7, 2015

    http://www.news-press.com/…/swfl-legislators-prop…/24571011/

    Constitution Pipeline: ‘The Keystone Pipeline of Natural Gas’

    “This Constitution pipeline is about enriching a few billionaires by impoverishing the people of New York State,” Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. told Ed Schultz on MSNBC’s The Ed Show. “And the bullying that we’ve seen go along with this, the corruption—FERC is really a rogue agency, it’s a classic captive agency, it issued this permit illegally.”

    A popular movement is building against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), for its outrageous rubber-stamping of permits for expansion of the gas industry. Kennedy’s powerful indictment of FERC on national television last week was the latest manifestation of this hopeful, much-needed development.

    Kennedy was speaking about the Constitution pipeline, one of about eight interstate pipelines originating in or going through Pennsylvania (ground zero for fracking in the Northeast) that are currently in some stage of getting approval from FERC, which interstate gas pipelines need to do. And the approval process is essentially pro-forma. In the two and a half or so years that I’ve been actively involved with this movement, I know of none proposed that have been rejected. It’s the same with proposed export terminals. At a federal Court of Appeals hearing last year in Washington, DC it was stated in open court that 95 percent or more of such proposed pipelines are approved, with no disagreement from the FERC lawyers present.

    Some of the other pipelines which FERC will likely approve—barring the kind of organized people’s uprising we have seen around the Keystone XL pipeline—are: Penn East, Mariner East 2, Atlantic Sunrise, Atlantic Coast, Algonquin Incremental Market and Northeast Energy Direct.

    Virtually all of these pipelines are being built, in part, to ship fracked gas from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and possibly elsewhere in the Marcellus Shale region to gas export terminals that are being built or projects that are proposed, including in Nova Scotia, off the coast of NY/NJ and Cove Point in Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay.

    The leadership of FERC knows that they’ve got a problem. Here is how FERC Chair Cheryl LaFleur put it at the National Press Club on Jan. 27:

    “These groups are active in every FERC docket … as well as in my email inbox seven days a week, in my Twitter feed, at our open meetings demanding to be heard and literally at our door closing down First Street so FERC won’t be able to work. We’ve got a situation here.”

    Last week, at a meeting of the FERC Commissioners, there was reference a number of times to the problem of “environmental activists.” This was in reference to the planned expansion of the gas industry to replace expected coal industry retrenchment in coming years.

    Actually, it’s a lot more than “environmental activists” who are angry at FERC. One of the noteworthy aspects of this movement is the involvement of affected landowners, property owners, farmers, impacted communities, local elected officials and others who definitely don’t see themselves primarily as environmentalists.

    Who was Chair LaFleur referring to when she talked about groups “at our open meetings demanding to be heard, and literally at our door closing down First Street so FERC won’t be able to work?” She was referring to a network of groups and individuals a little more than a half year old, Beyond Extreme Energy.

    Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE) grew out of the (continuing) battle to prevent an export terminal from being built at Cove Point in Calvert County, Maryland. Ever since its first major action, a week of nonviolent direct action in November at the FERC headquarters in DC that disrupted their functioning, it has stayed active: canvassing and getting arrested in Calvert County; disrupting a meeting of financial analysts and potential Dominion investors in NYC; supporting fracktivists in Pennsylvania who were arrested chanting “Ban Fracking Now” at the inauguration of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf;  demonstrating at the inauguration of the new Maryland governor, who wants to open his state to fracking; and attending every monthly FERC commissioners meeting since November. At the January meeting Chair LaFleur, in an unprecedented move, adjourned it and cleared the room when we began speaking, one by one, about the human and environmental damage FERC’s decisions are having.

    Now BXE is getting organized for another week-plus of actions in DC at FERC. From May 21-29 we will let FERC and the country know that we are not going away and that we will not stop until they become something very different than what they are right now. FERC says that its mission is to provide “safe, efficient, sustainable” energy for the country. It is failing on all counts. FERC must fulfill its mission and make decisions based on what’s best for all of us instead of the fracked-gas industry.

    The issue of FERC is more than an issue for communities impacted by their decisions. It is a basic social justice issue, an issue of corruption of democracy.

    It is unquestionably an issue that the climate movement has to take up and do so now. The proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Clean Power Plan explicitly lists a shift from coal to natural gas as a way for states to meet the plan’s emissions reductions objective, which is ridiculous given that gas is a fossil fuel and given the extensive methane leakage associated with gas production, distribution and storage.

    The BXE actions in late May are coming at the right time. Let’s seize the time!

    Ted Glick|March 2, 2015

    Florida Power & Light aims to buy, close coal plant in Jacksonville

    Concerns about climate change and expanding supplies of natural gas raise doubts about burning coal to produce electricity.

    Florida Power & Light Co. announced Friday it wants to quickly purchase and then shutter a relatively modern coal-burning plant, saying the move would cut costs and cap “a very high emitter of carbon dioxide.”

    With 4.7 million customers and the biggest utility in Florida, FPL has an extended contract to buy power produced by Cedar Bay Generating Plant in Jacksonville. The 250-megawatt unit is one of 13 plants in Florida that burn coal.

    FPL proposes to purchase the plant from Cedar Bay Generating Co. for $520 million.

    At least one environmental group, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, applauded the move but also prodded FPL to pursue more solar energy.

    Coal has been under assault by environmentalists as a prime contributor to climate change. More recently, fracking has boosted supplies of natural gas, making it competitive with coal.

    Also a challenge to coal is the U.S. Clean Power Plan, which calls for reducing carbon emission from power plants by reducing coal usage.

    FPL said in its proposal to the Florida Public Service Commission that its fleet of generators, using natural gas primarily, produces electricity that’s less costly than Cedar Bay power.

    By shuttering the plant, FPL would cut costs by $70 million, according to the utility. FPL wants to finalize the deal by Aug. 31.

    “Customer savings will diminish if the closing is delayed,” the utility said.

    Once the deal is complete, FPL said it would operate the plant, which the utility said is “very well run and dependable,” at about 5 percent of its capability until next year.

    In 2017, as FPL’s proposed natural gas pipeline begins to bring natural gas into Florida, the Cedar Bay plant would be closed. That would cap more a million tons of carbon emissions annually, according to FPL, which would be like taking 182,000 cars off the road.

    Kevin Spear|Orlando Sentinel

    AWED Energy & Environmental Newsletter: March 9, 2015

    The Alliance for Wise Energy Decisions (AWED) is an informal coalition of individuals and organizations interested in improving national, state, and local energy & environmental policies. Our basic position is that technical matters like these should be addressed by using Real Science.

    It’s all spelled out at WiseEnergy.org, which is a wealth of energy and environmental resources.

    A key element of AWED’s efforts is public education. Towards that end, every three weeks we put together a newsletter to balance what is found in the mainstream media about energy and environmental matters. We appreciate MasterResource for their assistance in publishing this information.

    Some simply amazing articles this time, are:

    Dr. Carl Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit

    College Professor Turns Whistleblower on Global Warming

    Carmen Krogh’s Turbine Health Studies Synopsis

    Wind Energy Chronology: A Timeline

    New Study finds major error in climate models

    John Droz, Jr.|March 9, 2015

    Murray Energy Coal Mine Accident In West Virginia Leaves 1 Dead, 2 Injured

    March 9 (Reuters) – One miner was killed and two injured in an accident at a Murray Energy Corp coal mine in West Virginia, the company said on Monday.

    The accident took place late on Sunday at the Marshall County Coal Co’s Marshall County Mine near Cameron, West Virginia, said Murray Energy, the biggest privately owned U.S. coal company, in a statement.

    A manager was killed. Two other workers were hurt but conscious and they were taken to hospitals for observation, it said.

    WTRF-TV in Wheeling, West Virginia, quoted the state’s Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training as saying initial reports indicated that a roof and mine rib had fallen.

    One of the hospitalized miners has been released, the station said, citing the statement. The investigation is ongoing.

    The death was the first fatality this year in a West Virginia coal mine, the miners’ safety office said. There were five in 2014.

    U.S. Department of Labor numbers show that there were 16 coal mining deaths nationwide last year. The Marshall County fatality was the third this year.

    Reporting by Ian Simpson|Editing by Lisa Lambert|Reuters

    [It is bad enough that we use coal, the dirtiest form of fossil fuel; it is pathetic that loss of human lives is considered as part of the cost of doing business.]

    College Town Cuts Ties With TransCanada Over Keystone XL, Plans to Go 100 Percent Renewable

    The battle over building the Keystone XL pipeline is having an impact far from its proposed route. One of those places is the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, home to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a city of 100,000 known for its educated and engaged citizens.

    The city currently purchases the electricity that powers its municipal buildings from TransCanada, Keystone XL’s parent company. But now its city council has passed a unanimous resolution advising city manager Richard Rossi not to do business with the company once its current contract expires at the end of 2015 and to look at acquiring the city’s electricity from clean, renewable sources. The measure was sponsored by councillor Dennis Carlone.

    In the distinctive language of such resolutions, Policy Order 18 made clear what motivated the demand for change, stating:

    “Whereas: the City of Cambridge obtains electricity for municipal operations through a contact with TransCanada Corporation; and Whereas: TransCanada is the driving force behind Keystone XL, a proposal to create a 1,179-mile pipeline to deliver tar sands oil to the U.S.; and Whereas: Jim Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has stated that the Keystone XL pipeline would mean ‘game over’ for the environment, because exploitation of tar sands oil would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts; and Whereas: it has come to the attention of the city council that our contract with TransCanada is set to expire at the end of the year; now therefore be it Ordered: that the city manager be and hereby is requested not to enter into any future contracts to obtain electricity from TransCanada; and be it further Ordered: that the city manager be and hereby is requested to investigate the possibility of entering into an agreement to obtain up to 100 percent renewable power for all municipal electricity needs.”

    In an email to constituents, Carlone said, “Let’s end our dealings with TransCanada. The same logic that applies to the fossil fuel divestment campaign applies here—if TransCanada is going to continue with its business of extracting oil from tar sands, then we shouldn’t be buying our electricity from them.”

    Carlone was referring to the Divest Harvard campaign, in which hundreds of students and prominent alumni such as Natalie Portman, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Cornel West and Bill McKibben are pressuring the school’s administration to remove its endowment money from fossil fuel investments.

    The policy order came out of a series of discussions Carlone had with Mothers Out Front, a two-year-old Cambridge-based grassroots advocacy group describing themselves as “mothers, grandmothers, and other caregivers who can no longer be silent and still about the very real danger that climate change poses to our children’s and grandchildren’s future.” The group provided testimony at city council on behalf of the resolution.

    “Our organization has a strategy for creating a clean energy future but we need your help,” said Beth Adams, the mother of two young boys, in her testimony. “We are working on the ground to get individuals to weatherize their homes, conserve their energy and to switch to clean electricity. My family has made the switch, along with 100 other people in Cambridge including councillor Carlone. I am here tonight to ask for more bold climate action and leadership from the city of Cambridge to help us ensure a livable climate for our children and for future generations.”

    “I am extremely proud that we have this possibility for the city to take this bold step to say no to continuing our contact with TransCanada which is actual the corporation that has brought us tar sands and the Keystone XL pipeline which I’ve been protesting for several years now,” added Mothers Out Front member Rachel Wyon. “We have an opportunity now to close down that end of that contract and open a new contract in a new era with clean, renewable energy. We need for Cambridge to be a leader, not only for Cambridge, but for the state and for the nation.”

    TransCanada spokesperson Sharan Kaur minimized the company’s climate impact, telling the Boston Globe, “Regardless of the type of product we are transporting or the kind of energy we are producing, we will continue to do so safely and in an environmentally sustainable way.”

    Cambridge residents clearly don’t agree.

    “As a lifelong Cambridge resident and clean energy entrepreneur, I’m thrilled to see the city potentially making a real change in our energy supply,” said Eric Grunebaum. “I hope we can move towards the front of the pack of U.S. cities which recognize the grave risks that climate disruption and destabilization poses. It would be a great thing for Cambridge to use its buying power to spur new renewable power generation, while at the same time removing our financial support from TransCanada which has demonstrated itself to be a bad actor in the growing movement to reduce our dependence on planet-cooking fossil fuels.”

    Anastasia Pantsios|March 5, 2015

    Fukushima’s 4th Anniversary Brings Hope Amidst Radioactive Ruins as Renewable Energy Revolution Soars

    The catastrophe that began at Fukushima four years ago today is worse than ever.

    But the good news can ultimately transcend the bad—if we make it so.

    An angry grassroots movement has kept shut all 54 reactors that once operated in Japan. It’s the largest on-going nuke closure in history. Big industrial windmills installed off the Fukushima coast are now thriving.

    Five U.S. reactors have shut since March 11, 2011. The operable fleet is under 100 for the first time in decades.

    Ohio’s Davis-Besse, New York’s Ginna, five reactors in Illinois and other decrepit American nukes could shut soon without huge ratepayer bailouts.

    Diablo Canyon was retrofitted—probably illegally—with $842 million in replacement parts untested for seismic impact. Already under fire for illegal license manipulations and an avoidable gas explosion that killed eight in San Bruno in 2010, Pacific Gas & Electric has plunged into a legal, economic and political abyss that could soon doom California’s last reactors.

    Meanwhile, Germany is amping up its renewable energy generation with a goal of 80 percent or more by 2050.

    France—once nuke power’s poster child—has turned away from new reactor construction and is moving strongly toward renewables.

    Worldwide the Solartopian revolution is ahead of schedule and under budget. Predictions about its technological and economic potential are being everywhere exceeded.

    More than twice as many Americans now work in solar as in coal mines. As the head of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund recently put it: “We are quite convinced that if John D Rockefeller were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy.”

    Even America’s Tea Party has developed a green wing promoting renewables.

    Vital focus now centers on battery breakthroughs needed to escalate rooftop solar, electric cars and other post-nuke game-changers.

    But there’s plenty of bad news. The State Secrets Act of Japan’s authoritarian Abe regime renders unreliable all “official” information from Fukushima. Grassroots nuclear campaigners are under serious attack.

    At least 300 tons of radioactive water still pour daily into the Pacific Ocean. The utility wants to dump even more untreated outflow into currents that are already testing radioactive along the California coast. Details of fuel rod bring-downs and site clean-ups remain unknown.

    Thyroid damage rates are soaring among downwind children. Abe is forcing evacuees back into areas that are seriously contaminated. Fukushima’s owner (Tepco) is the #1 money funnel to his Liberal Democratic Party, which flips untold billions back to the utility.

    More than 128,000 petitioners asking that the world community take charge at Fukushima have been ignored by the United Nations since November, 2013.

    Throughout the world decaying reactors threaten our survival. Ohio’s Davis-Besse containment is literally crumbling.  Diablo Canyon is surrounded by 15 known fault lines, one just 700 yards from the cores. New reactor sites in Finland, France and Georgia show slipshod construction, substandard parts and corrupted supervision that would make them instant threats should they go on line.

    Citizen activism challenges all that. Today Solartopian activists will picket Japanese consulates worldwide.

    An evolving electricity boycott to “unplug nuclear” and a growing grassroots demand for green energy herald a new era of people power.

    Four years after the endless Fukushima disaster began, that renewable revolution defines our survival.

    It’s a fight we can’t afford to lose. It’s a victory we must soon embrace … with the utmost relief and joy.

    Harvey Wasserman|March 11, 2015

    Analysis of California’s Fracking Wastewater Reveals a Slew of Toxic Chemicals Linked to Cancer and Other Illnesses

    California is currently the only state that requires chemical testing of fracking wastewater and public disclosure of the findings. That’s good. What’s not so good is what the testing and disclosure reveal.

    The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has completed an analysis of data released by the state during the first year of new reporting requirements. It found that the high levels of the carcinogen benzene in California’s fracking wastewater isn’t the only thing Californians have to worry about from the state’s extensive oil and gas fracking operations and the injection of chemical-laced wastewater back into the ground once drilling is completed.

    The study, Toxic Stew: What’s in Fracking Wastewater, revealed the presence of hundreds of chemicals, including many linked to cancer, nervous system damage and reproductive disorders. Among the chemicals found in up to 50 percent of the samples were chromium-6, lead and arsenic, all linked to cancer and/or reproductive damage. The samples also contained thousands of times more radioactive radium than the goals set by the state, along with high levels of nitrate and chloride ions. And an another analysis last month by the Center for Biological Diversity found that 98 percent of the fracking wastewater samples tested exceeded federal and state water safety levels for benzene.

    “We have long suspected that California’s fracking wastewater was full of harmful chemicals, and the first publicly available data not only confirms our suspicions but reveals just how toxic this wastewater is,” said EWG senior scientist Tasha Stoiber, the report’s co-author.

    The study comes on heels of revelations that almost three billion gallons of fracking wastewater was illegally dumped last year into central California aquifers that supply drinking and farm irrigation water, leading to the shutdown of 11 wells in the state’s fracking capitol of Kern County. It also comes on the same day that the California legislature was scheduled to hold a hearing on the topic “Ensuring Groundwater Protection: Is the Underground Injection Control Program Working?”

    In September 2013, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 4, mandating that oil and gas extraction companies test and disclose of the chemical content of their wastewater. And while that law provided the unprecedented amount of information that EWG analyzed, it still fell short. For instance, Center for Biological Diversity found that 150 of the 479 tests performed reported no results for benzene. The EWG report drew a similar conclusion.

    “EWG’s report concludes that California’s reporting system is plagued by major flaws,” it said. “Many drilling companies failed to report full details of the chemicals their testing found, and records for some wells are missing altogether.”

    “As we reviewed California’s fracking wastewater data, it became clear that the first year of this reporting system is not fulfilling its promise of providing full and transparent information,” said Renee Sharp, EWG’s director of research. “There was too little oversight by the state and not enough communication with drilling companies, which led to massive gaps with missing or incomplete information.”

    Because such a high chemical content is being found in fracking wastewater in the single state where reporting is required, it opens the door to questions about the safety of wastewater being injected into wells in states where it’s not required, allowing extraction companies to exercise less concern for what might be leaking into local water supplies.

    “Our findings should be a wake-up call for other states where drilling operations may be inadequately regulated,” said Stoiber.

    The EWG analysis recommends that reporting requirements be strengthened to offer the public more complete information about how wastewater is disposed and what it contains, and that testing be done at every site where illegal injection has taken place. EWG is also asking that the state stop any wastewater injection that puts drinking and agricultural water at risk, even if it means shutting down oil and gas extraction operations at those locations.

    Center for Biological Diversity joined in that demand.

    “Cancer-causing chemicals are surfacing in fracking flowback fluid just as we learn that the California oil industry is disposing of wastewater in hundreds of illegal disposal wells and open pits,” said Center for Biological Diversity lawyer Hollin Kretzmann, who conducted that group’s analysis. “Governor Brown needs to shut down all the illegal wells immediately and ban fracking to fight this devastating threat to California’s water supply.”

    Anastasia Pantsios|March 10, 2015

    Researchers Discover New Material to Produce Clean Energy

    Researchers at the University of Houston have created a new thermoelectric material, intended to generate electric power from waste heat — from a vehicle tailpipe, for example, or an industrial smokestack — with greater efficiency and higher output power than currently available materials.

    The material, germanium-doped magnesium stannide, is described in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Zhifeng Ren, lead author of the article and M.D. Anderson Chair professor of physics at UH, said the new material has a peak power factor of 55, with a figure of merit — a key factor to determine efficiency — of 1.4.

    The new material — the chemical compound is Mg2Sn0.75Ge0.25 — is important in its own right, Ren said, and he has formed a company, called APower, to commercialize the material, along with frequent collaborator Gang Chen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and two former students.

    But he said another key point made in the paper is the importance of looking for materials with a high power factor, or output power density, in addition to the traditional focus on a high figure of merit, or efficiency, commonly referred to as ZT.

    “Everyone pursued higher ZT,” he said. “That’s still true. But the way everybody pursued higher ZT is by reducing thermal conductivity. We were, too. But the reduction of thermal conductivity is limited. We need to increase the power factor. If thermal conductivity remains the same and you increase the power factor, you get higher ZT.”

    Chart showing temperature-dependent thermal properties and ZT values.

    Thermoelectric materials produce electricity by exploiting the flow of current from a warmer area to a cooler area. In the germanium-doped magnesium stannide, the current is carried by electrons.

    “Pursuing high ZT has been the focus of the entire thermoelectric community …” the researchers wrote. “However, for practical applications, efficiency is not the only concern, and high output power density is as important as efficiency when the capacity of the heat source is huge (such as solar heat), or the cost of the heat source is not a big factor (such as waste heat from automobiles, steel industry, etc.)”

    Germanium-doped magnesium stannide has a fairly standard figure of merit, at 1.4, but a high power factor, at 55, the researchers report. That, coupled with a raw material cost of about $190 per kilogram, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Data Series, makes it commercially viable, they said.

    Ren, who also is a principal investigator at the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH, said several competing materials have lower power factors and also more expensive raw materials.

    The material was created through mechanical ball milling and direct current-induced hot pressing. It can be used with waste-heat applications and concentrated solar energy conversion at temperatures up to 300 degrees Centigrade, or about 572 degrees Fahrenheit, Ren said. He said typical applications would include use in a car exhaust system to convert heat into electricity to power the car’s electric system, boosting mileage, or in a cement plant, capturing waste heat from a smokestack to power the plant’s systems.

    Jeannie Kever|University of Houston|March 06, 2015

    Senators’ New GEO Act Addresses Geothermal Exploration Catch-22

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — Developers in the geothermal industry report a common challenge: they often must wait years for permits before they can even determine whether a site is worth the trouble. Something must be done to address this grueling Catch-22, the industry has been saying for years. The Energy Department’s Geothermal Technologies Office and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have also identified permitting as a major barrier to geothermal development in the U.S.

    With that in mind, Senators Dean Heller (R-NV) and James Risch (R-ID) have introduced S. 562, the Geothermal Exploration Opportunities Act (GEO Act) to expedite permitting for exploratory drilling for geothermal resources.

    In a keynote address at the February 24 State of the Geothermal Energy Industry Briefing, hosted by the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA), Senator Heller said he recognizes that working on federal lands is tough. Nevada, in fact, which hosts extensive geothermal and mining resources, is 85 percent federal land. “At a time when Nevada is playing a major role in the United States’ ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy, the last thing our geothermal entrepreneurs need is unnecessary bureaucratic red tape,” he said.

    “The legislation will simplify the review process for initial exploration activities and give developers the tools they need to unleash Nevada’s abundant geothermal potential,” Heller said in a statement.

    The GEO Act creates a new categorical exclusion (CX) from the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that allows developers to conduct exploration for potential geothermal resource sites on an expedited basis. NEPA would still be applied before leasing any lands and again if a company decides to develop a geothermal electric generating facility on the site. Also, the GEO Act provides for review in certain cases where there are “extraordinary circumstances.”

    Speaking at the event, Katherine Young, Senior Energy Analyst at NREL said, “Geothermal development projects can go through as many as six NEPA analyses.” Delays are caused by a variety of reasons, including competing priorities at agencies, lack of geothermal-specific funding, lack of training or inconsistencies at field offices, weather, fear of litigation, and more, Young said.

    A CX can be established administratively through agency rulemaking or legislatively through congressional action. Most agencies use information from past actions to determine whether a CX is appropriate, Young said.

    GEA Executive Director Karl Gawell said, “We look forward to working with Senator Heller and his colleagues in the Senate to promote enactment of this important proposal.

    “As a bill that addresses the industry’s issues with the permitting process, this measure would significantly lower the upfront cost of production in an industry that is considered capital intensive,” he said.

    The U.S. Geological Survey estimates nearly 90 percent of the geothermal energy potential in the nation is on federal lands. NREL estimates that approval for exploration activities takes between 18 to 24 months, and geothermal industry members have reported the process can take even longer than that.

    Doug Glaspey, President at US Geothermal said, “The team that started US Geothermal came to the geothermal industry from the mining industry, and one of our goals for success was to avoid Federal property if at all possible, because we knew how long it took to get through the permitting process.  Focusing on private property is one of the primary reasons we were successful and now have three operating power plants.

    “If geothermal exploration can get expedited treatment similar to the oil & gas and mining industries for the first phases of drilling, and we find out quickly whether there’s a commercial resource before we get into the lengthy permitting process, that will make a big difference to the development schedule and therefore cost for geothermal development,” Glaspey said.

    “Ormat Technologies supports the GEO Act, and we commend Senator Heller for tackling this hurdle to geothermal development,” said Josh Nordquist, Director of Business Development at Ormat Technologies. “Geothermal is uniquely affected by federal environmental compliance rules — a single location may require developers to carry out the NEPA exercise many times. The GEO Act would do a great deal to simplify the exploration process and shorten timelines without undermining environmental quality at project sites.

    “At the same time, it would reduce the labor burden on our friends at the Bureau of Land Management, who face an ever growing list of responsibilities. We look forward to working with Senator Heller to take this bill to the finish line,” Nordquist said.

    Similar legislation was introduced last year in the House of Representatives. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

    Leslie Blodgett|GEA|March 04, 2015

    Court Rejects Plan to Expand New Mexico Coal Mine

    In a crucial win for both people and wildlife, a federal judge has rejected an Obama administration plan to expand coal mining at the 13,000-acre Navajo Mine near the San Juan River in northwestern New Mexico. The plan would have allowed strip mining of 12.7 million tons of coal.

    The Center joined conservation and tribal allies in fighting the 2012 plan. Last week U.S. District Judge John L. Kane said the Office of Surface Mining’s assessment of the expansion ignored the toxic impacts of burning the coal at the nearby Four Corners Power Plant, one of the most polluting coal plants in the United States.

    “Coal pollution problems in the San Juan Basin are extreme. Air is polluted, water is poisoned, and endangered species are being driven to extinction,” said the Center’s Taylor McKinnon. “We won’t rest until these problems are solved.”

    Get more from Mining Technology.

    Land Conservation

    Tampa Bay legislator pushes overhaul of growth management laws

    A Pasco County state senator is proposing the biggest changes to growth management since the Legislature eliminated most state oversight of development in 2011.

    One bill filed by Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, would scrap the 45-year-old process that helped shape some of Florida’s largest developments. Another bill would streamline newer guidelines for the conversion of vast ranches and timber lands into housing projects and industrial hubs.

    The old rules are outdated, Simpson said, and some newer ones are overly complicated.

    But one critic, Audubon Florida’s Charles Lee, said the bills’ real goal is to “stomp on the head of any surviving vestige of growth management on the state level.”

    The 2011 changes to state growth management law encouraged the state’s largest projects to go through a process called sector planning.

    This process allows land owners to receive designations for uses such as housing, shopping and conservation on tracts covering more than 15,000 acres. Examples of proposed sector plans include Plum Creek in Alachua County, 133,000-acre North Ranch in Osceola County and U.S. Sugar’s 67-square-mile Sugar Hill in Hendry County.

    Simpson’s Senate Bill 832 reduces the detail required in these plans, calling them “long-term visions” instead and demanding only “general” descriptions of the roads and water lines needed to serve them and of the natural resources they could harm.

    As a result, said Lee and Charles Pattison, policy director of anti-sprawl group 1000 Friends of Florida, local governments will be asked to grant long-term development rights based on very little detail.

    It’s like trying “to pin Jell-O to the wall,” said Lee, who suspects the law is a response to the state’s unexpectedly sharp objections to Sugar Hill last year.

    “By taking out the specifics, it removes the footholds and handholds that reviewing agencies can base objections on,” he said.

    Simpson said his bill is designed to “clarify the timing” of when developers are required to provide detailed information about projects. The bill calls for that to come later, when local governments consider individual projects on smaller parts of these sectors.

    As chairman of the Senate Community Affairs Committee, Simpson said, he will be able to steer the bill’s progress and give weight to the concerns of environmentalists.

    “We expect to get a lot of discussion from all the stakeholders,” he said. “This is a starting point.”

    As for his bill to eliminate the older process of reviewing so-called developments of regional impact, or DRIs, Simpson said it won’t bring an end to the scrutiny of large projects. It will just strip that role from the state’s 11 regional planning councils, which since 1972 have reviewed DRIs such as Tampa Palms, Wiregrass Ranch in Pasco and the Gateway area of Pinellas County.

    As effective as this process might have once been, Simpson said, DRI review outlived its usefulness long ago. This same function is duplicated in local governments’ comprehensive plans, which must include arrangements for working with nearby cities and counties.

    Moreover, he says, developers have learned to avoid DRI review by, for example, dividing big projects into smaller chunks. And the rules are so full of exemptions, including for projects in the state’s largest counties, that they have deteriorated into the worst kind of bureaucratic roadblock: expensive, time-consuming and toothless.

    “It’s not at all binding,” he said.

    His Senate Bill 562 would instead put DRI-sized developments through the state “coordinated review” that applies to other major developments, including sector plans. This process allows state agencies to study and comment on plans.

    But the trigger in this process that lets these agencies object is very hard to pull, Pattison said.

    The bigger problem with Simpson’s plan, he added, is that it does nothing to replace the original function of DRIs — to invite nearby cities and counties to comment on plans big enough to pollute their environment or clog their roads.

    That regional perspective is not provided by the comprehensive plan requirement that Simpson cited, Jacksonville land use lawyer Bob Rhodes said.

    “It’s essentially the stepchild of the (1985) Growth Management Act,” said Rhodes, who once helped administer growth management for the sate and later served as an executive for development giant St. Joe Co. “It’s never been taken seriously by state review. It’s never been taken seriously by local governments.”

    Both he and Lee said the way to fix the weakness of DRI law is to beef up coordination between local governments.

    Dan DeWitt|Tampa Bay Times|March 7, 2015

    Miami-Dade County seeks to buy rare forest

    An endangered forest where a developer wants to build a Walmart has a new suitor: Miami-Dade County.

    Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Commissioner Dennis Moss said Friday the county would like to purchase 88 acres near Zoo Miami, hoping to derail plans by a Palm Beach County developer to build a shopping center on the land featuring the box store, an LA Fitness, restaurants and apartments. The development plans, announced last year, set off blistering protests from residents and environmentalists.

    “We feel it’s the right thing to do,” Gimenez said after announcing the purchase plans in a meeting with the Miami Herald editorial board.

    However, the deal hinges on whether the county can obtain money under Amendment 1, a state constitutional amendment to help buy endangered land now being haggled over in the Florida Legislature, Gimenez said. And it also depends on whether developer Peter Cummings wants to be courted.

    In a letter to Gov. Rick Scott on Friday, Gimenez and Moss asked for money — but not a specific amount — spelling out the significance of the property, which is part of the last, largest intact tract of rockland outside Everglades National Park and is home to a menagerie of endangered bats, butterflies and plants. Pine rockland, a globally imperiled forest, once covered 185,000 acres in the county, the letter said. It now grows in fragmented chunks on just 3,700 acres.

    Gimenez and Moss said the county has not yet approached Cummings, who paid $22 million for the land last year and has an option to buy about 50 more acres.

    Cummings, chairman of Ram Realty Services, did not respond to a message left on his cellphone or email late Friday.

    The county already owns a significant chunk of the tract, including the zoo property and Larry and Penny Thompson Park, as well as land where it hopes to build Miami Wilds, a controversial 70-acre amusement park. The remaining land is split among federal agencies, the University of Miami and Ram.

    Moss and Gimenez said that information about the rareness of the critical habitat, provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which is managing efforts to preserve the land, influenced their decision.

    “We should be in a position to try to acquire the Ram property, the Coast Guard pineland and any properties we don’t currently own and preserve them and be able to protect them,” said Moss, who conceded that Ram may not be a willing partner.

    “I don’t know if Ram would be interested. But at least that’s an alternative they can consider going forward as they take a look at their options,” he said.

    The Walmart project has drawn fierce opposition from neighbors and environmentalists, who staged protests and collected thousands of online signatures. Federal wildlife managers also rejected Cummings’ initial plans, saying they would almost certainly harm federally protected butterflies and bats, as well as four new species that were added to the Endangered Species List after he bought the property.

    Federal law doesn’t prevent developing privately-owned endangered land, but it does require Cummings to submit a critical habitat plan or risk incurring fines. An agency spokesman said this week Cummings has not yet submitted a new plan.

    If the county moves forward with the Miami Wilds project, it may face even bigger hurdles since plans include land now owned by the Coast Guard and rules for building on federally-owned endangered land are much stricter.

    Critics of both the Walmart development and Miami Wilds welcomed the decision.

    “I’m happy to see the county reacting to the people. It restores my faith that civic engagement does make a difference,” said Tropical Audubon executive director Laura Reynolds, who suggested UM, which obtained some of the land from the government for free, pitch in on the purchase. “They need to be helping out here.”

    Jenny Staletovich|MiamiHerald.com|03/06/2015

    Endangered and Drained in Polk

    Development Interests Attacking Environmental Land Buying

    Last  year Florida voters overwhelmingly voted to spend money to restore funding to the Florida Forever program to buy conservation land.

    You wouldn’t know that by reading the propaganda coming out of a group called the H2O Coalition, which is backed by Associated Industries, one of Florida’s longtime lobbying groups representing the state’s corporate establishment.

    In the latest mailing,  titled “Government Land Grabs Sparking Alarms,”  they  repeat the familiar complaint about the fact  there is already a substantial amount of public conservation land  in Florida and question why there’s a need to buy more.

    The answer is  simple.

    First, the government is not “grabbing” anything. All public land conservation land purchases  come only after negotiations, appraisals and that only occurs after there’s some consensus on whether the land is worth buying for conservation in the first place. Except in some isolate[d] instances involving inholdings, the purchases involve willing sellers.

    Second, any land that’s not protected by  conservation purchases or easements is in play for conversion to whatever use local officials can be persuaded to allow.

    As I’ve pointed out in this pace before, if you want to develop water supplies, fix inadequate sewer systems and perform other public works projects, there are other funding sources available for such projects. Tapping some of those sources would require the political courage and responsible fiscal management to  charge those who would directly benefit for this rather than plunder someone else’s trust fund.

    Instead, there’s an active move afoot to hijack the voters’ intent–the lottery analogy is coming up often these days–to use money intended for one purpose to pay for something else entirely.

    The decision will be a major test of the integrity of the Florida Legislature and other elected leaders in Tallahassee. It’s a real simple test. Who do you serve: voters or  corporate lobbyists?

    Tom Palmer|March 9, 2015

    Conservation Easement Incentive Act Passed in House

    In mid-February, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Conservation Easement Incentive Act, a bipartisan bill to make permanent a tax incentive for ranchers, farmers, and other landowners to commit their land to conservation instead of development. Landowners who donate the right to develop their lands through a conservation easement can maintain ownership while receiving a tax deduction. This incentive expired at the end of 2014.

    https://www.cbo.gov/publication/49933

    Air Quality

    A New Documentary On Chinese Pollution Goes Viral Despite Censorship

    A powerful new documentary from China is changing the way citizens are viewing the rampant issue of pollution inside their country. Created by a former journalist named Chai Jing, she narrates in the documentary that she was never terribly concerned about smog until she brought her baby home from the hospital.

    Chai Jing describes driving home and holding a handkerchief up to her infant daughter’s nose to try to stem the flow of smog into her young lungs. She says she realizes now how silly this was, but the responsibility of caring for this young life in a city full of poisons caused her fear that she had never felt before. She funneled this fear into creating Under The Dome, which chronicles how China’s industries are polluting the nation’s air with near impunity.

    Well produced and containing interviews from experts, government officials and citizens who have rarely seen a blue sky, the documentary shows a striking array of visuals. Scenes of deadly river run-off (and the subsequent dead fish heaping up on its shores) are mixed with almost unbelievable plumes of pollution billowing from factories. But what has caused this situation?

    The rapid growth of manufacturing plants and factories is almost certainly to blame, and it’s causing real problems for China’s citizens. In 2013, smog led to the closure of Harbin Airport, and real time tracking apps and websites detailing air quality have become popular features for those living in some of the hardest hit cities.

    This photo, entitled Haze in Shanghai, captures the deadly levels of smog within China.

    This photo, entitled Haze in Shanghai, captures the deadly levels of smog within China. Image credit: Galaxyharrylion.

    Information released by the US State Department showed that, “Beijing’s air-quality index has averaged above 100 for 1,632 days—or about four-fifths of the time—since April 2008. Based on Chinese standards, the air-quality index has averaged above 100 for 1,105 days—or a bit more than half of the time.”

    Instances of cardiovascular disease and lung cancer have skyrocketed in highly polluted areas of the country. Features within the documentary, which show viewers in graphic detail what air pollution does to a human lung over time, seemed to resonate deeply with the audience.

    The documentary has been seen by over 200 million people, and it’s caused a massive social debate inside China over what the Chinese government can do to crack down on the worst polluters. Although the government, which is known for heavy handed internet censorship, initially allowed the documentary to be shown on a number of sites, according to the Financial Times this has come to a roaring halt. According to their report, news outlets have been told not to publish articles relating to Under the Dome, news reports praising the documentary have been deleted at the Xinhua News Agency, and they’ve also asked other media houses not to republish any old works on the subject. Although the video is still accessible within China, the People’s Daily, the main site where the documentary was first aired, has also taken it down.

    In the documentary, which is now translated and on Youtube for the world to see, Chai travels to some of the cities in the US, like Los Angeles which once dealt with crippling smog. She looks at ways that government and people can work together to clean up their environment.

    There have been some promising new environmental policies from within China in recent years, though. A focus on different sources of energy and electric cars have all helped to a certain extent. However, government oversight in these sectors remains shaky and subject to corruption.

    Yet what might be most notable about Chai’s documentary on pollution is the level of understanding that it gives the viewer. Most within the country, she says–including herself–did not know the difference between fog and smog. Chai breaks it down into easily understandable visuals which help the viewer grasp what they are breathing on a daily basis. With this new information reaching hundreds of millions around the country, it will be interesting to see if the government responds to their citizens’ cries for help.

    Lizabeth Paulat|March 7, 2015

    Los Angeles Kids are Healthier Since Pollution Levels Have Dropped

    If you think adults have trouble breathing in Los Angeles, just imagine what the city’s infamous smog is doing to the bodies of local kids. Indeed, scientists discovered that kids in the city were at an increased rate of having underdeveloped lungs, but new academic research has shown that, fortunately, L.A.’s efforts to cut down on pollution has halved the number of cases of damaged lungs over a period of 20 years, reports USA Today.

    The study, now published in The New England Journal of Medicine, examined the lung health of over 2,000 kids starting back in 1994. Researchers at the University of Southern California found that, in the first five years of the study, 7.9 percent of Los Angeles kids tested as having “abnormally low lung function.” However, by the last five years of the study, just 3.6 percent showed the same problems.

    This data is important because L.A. has managed to reduce its pollution levels by 40 percent since the mid 1990s. Although there are currently more cars on the road than there were two decades ago, the city achieved this drop by enacting tougher emissions standards on its vehicles. The study strongly suggests that cleaning the air allowed kids’ lungs to develop properly. It’s not an exaggeration to say that protecting kids’ lungs today has an impact on their longevity, either. In general, people with healthier lungs live much longer, and also are less likely to have heart disease or respiratory illnesses.

    While most people with common sense won’t exactly be surprised by the study’s findings, it is the first research of its kind to offer substantial scientific evidence that reducing pollution has a positive impact on kids’ health. Previous studies have found that children in cities with lower pollution are healthier than those in smoggy cities, but USC’s research is the first to demonstrate how a single community’s efforts over an extended period of time can make a significant difference in public health. Hopefully, that will inspire other city officials to tackle this matter in their own backyards as well.

    Government and industry officials seem pleased with the current reduced rate of pollution, but some experts who have reviewed the study don’t think it should stop there. “The current report and other studies suggest that further improvement in air quality may have beneficial public health effects,” wrote James Ware and Douglas Dockery of Harvard’s School of Public Health.

    The study’s authors cautioned Los Angeles that settling for “good enough” may not be enough to even keep the improved state of kids’ health, however. Not only are more cars popping up in the city, but corporations, particularly those on the ports, are adding undue amounts of pollution to the air as well. Researchers mention other studies that shows pollution increases during periods of drought, which looks poised to plague California in the decades ahead. “We have to maintain the same sort of level of effort to keep the levels of air pollution down,” said senior author Frank Gilliland. “Just because we’ve succeeded now doesn’t mean that without continued effort we’re going to succeed in the future.”

    Kevin Mathews|March 7, 2015

    Moms Clean Air Force

    Transportation

    New Ford E-Bikes Alert Riders of Encroaching Cars Through Vibrating Handlebars

    Of all people and in all places, Ford unveiled two new e-bikes this week at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona.

    According to gizmag.com, the two prototypes, known as the MoDe:Me and the MoDe:Pro, will come with a 200 W motor with a 9 Ah battery. An electric pedal assist will allow for speeds of up to 15.5 mph.

    The MoDe:Pro, built for commercial use like courier deliveries can be stowed inside Ford’s commercial vehicles. While the MoDe:Me is easily folded up to afford greater space when riders transfer to public transit.

    The bikes are the result of a company wide competition aimed at creating a safer and more efficient e-bike journey.

    Ford has also created an iPhone app, the MoDe:Link, which can automatically trigger turn signals and provide haptic alerts in the handlebars.

    Colin Rabyniuk|March 6, 2015

    News Release: U.S. Responds to Galena Train Derailment ‏

    Chicago, Illinois (March 6, 2015) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is responding to the derailment of a BNSF freight train that occurred near Galena, Illinois on March 5th.  EPA is conducting air monitoring, taking water samples, assessing environmental damage and setting up booms to protect nearby waterways from oil leaking from the rail cars. So far, air monitors have detected airborne particles typically associated with fires but no chemicals.

    EPA has established a command post near the scene of the incident and is serving as the Federal On Scene Coordinator for federal agencies involved in the emergency response and coordinating work with state and local agencies.

    Phillippa Cannon|cannon.phillippa@epa.gov; |Heriberto Leon|leon.heriberto@epa.gov|March 6, 2015

    Updates on the EPA response will be posted on at: http://www2.epa.gov/il/galena-train-derailment

    Solar Impulse Plane Embarks On First Fuel-Less Flight Around The World

    The Solar Impulse 2, takes off from al-Bateen airport in Abu Dhabi as it heads to Muscat, on March 9, 2015, in the first attempt to fly around the world in a plane using solar energy. The first attempt to fly around the world in a plane using only solar power launched on March 9 in Abu Dhabi in a landmark journey aimed at promoting green energy. AFP PHOTO / MARWAN NAAMANI (Photo credit should read MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

    ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A Swiss solar-powered plane took off from Abu Dhabi early Monday, marking the start of the first attempt to fly around the world without a drop of fuel.

    Solar Impulse founder André Borschberg was at the controls of the single-seater when it took off from the Al Bateen Executive Airport. Borschberg will trade off piloting with Solar Impulse co-founder Bertrand Piccard during stop-overs on a journey that will take months to complete.

    The Swiss pilots say their aim is to create awareness about replacing “old polluting technologies with clean and efficient technologies.”

    The plane is expected to reach its first destination — Muscat, Oman — after about 10 hours of flight.

    Some legs of the trip, such as over the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, will mean five or six straight days of flying solo.

    The lightweight Solar Impulse 2, a larger version of a single-seat prototype that first flew five years ago, is made of carbon fiber and has 17,248 solar cells built into the wing that supply the plane with renewable energy. The solar cells recharge four lithium polymer batteries.

    The company says the plane has a 72-meter (236-foot) wingspan, larger than that of the Boeing 747, but weighs about as much as a car at around 2,300 kilograms (5,070 pounds).

    The plane in June made an inaugural flight of two hours and 17 minutes above western Switzerland, just two months after it was unveiled.

    After Oman, the plane will head to India, where it will make two stops, then to China and Myanmar before heading across the Pacific and stopping in Hawaii. Then it will head to Phoenix, Arizona, and New York’s biggest airport, John F. Kennedy International. The path across the Atlantic will depend on the weather and could include a stop in southern Europe or Morocco before ending in Abu Dhabi.

    The round-the-world trip is expected to end in late July or even August.

    Borschberg and Piccard say they want to push politicians, celebrities and private citizens to “confront the Conference on Climate Change of the United Nations, which will define the new Kyoto protocol in December 2015 in Paris.” All countries are supposed to present targets for a new global climate agreement that governments plan to adopt at the meeting.

    Solar Impulse supporter Prince Albert of Monaco was present at the Monaco control center during Monday’s takeoff.

    The UAE-based Masdar, the Abu Dhabi government’s clean-energy company, is a key sponsor of the flight. Additional sponsors include Omega, Google and Moet Hennessey, among others.

    AYA BATRAWY| AP|03/09/2015

    Houston Ship Channel Remains Closed After Ships Collide, Spill Chemical

    LA PORTE, Texas (AP) — Efforts to clean up one of the nation’s busiest seaports after a collision between two vessels on the Houston Ship Channel spilled a flammable chemical were expected to take at least several days, U.S. Coast Guard officials said Tuesday.

    About a 4-mile to 8-mile stretch of the ship channel remained closed as crews worked to deal with the gasoline additive that spilled after two 600-foot ships collided on Monday in foggy conditions.

    U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Brian Penoyer said the immediate goal is ensuring that there is no danger from the spilled additive — methyl tert-butyl ether or MTBE — as it is highly flammable and can be dangerous to people if inhaled in high doses. No injuries were reported from the collision.

    Three cargo tanks of the chemical on the Danish-flagged Carla Maersk were ruptured when it collided with the Liberian bulk carrier Conti Peridot. A cause of the collision has not been determined. The Carla Maersk, which remains in the channel, was carrying approximately 216,000 barrels of MTBE before the collision but officials were still trying to determine how much had been spilled.

    “We have to proceed step by step, making sure the flammability, the toxicity of this cargo is absolutely safe,” said Penoyer, commander of the Houston-Galveston Coast Guard District. “We need to recognize this is an enormously complex salvage operation. … We are driven by factors on the ground, not by a desired time frame. We all live here. We want to get back to business as usual. But we have to make sure people are safe.”

    Penoyer said officials have found no detectable concentrations of MTBE in the air in the shoreline communities around the spill since about midnight Monday and no sheens of the chemical have been found on the water.

    “This indicates to us the risk to the public from toxic vapors or flammability of this cargo is virtually nil,” he said.

    There were no shelter-in-place orders on Tuesday for communities near the 50-mile channel that connects the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of Houston.

    However, there was limited access into the Morgan’s Point area, a city of about 350 residents located 30 miles east of Houston and adjacent to Galveston Bay at the entry point to the ship channel. The limited access included the area around Barbours Cut Container Terminal on the ship channel and at least one road into Morgan’s Point, said Jeff Suggs, emergency management coordinator for the nearby city of La Porte.

    The Port of Houston, a major part of the ship channel, is home to the nation’s largest and one of the world’s largest petrochemical complexes. It typically handles about 70 ships per day, plus 300 to 400 tugboats and barges, and consistently ranks first in the nation in foreign waterborne tonnage, U.S. imports and U.S. export tonnage.

    The financial impact of the closure of the ship channel was not immediately known. But the Barbours Cut Container Terminal, run by the Port of Houston Authority, was closed on Tuesday due to the cleanup efforts.

    On Tuesday, there were 28 ships waiting to go into the Houston Ship Channel and 24 waiting to come out, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Andy Kendrick.

    Officials were also working to determine what kind of impact the spill might have on wildlife by taking and testing water samples, Penoyer said. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and other agencies were helping with this effort.

    JUAN A. LOZANO|AP |03/10/2015

    Miscellaneous

    Five Tips for Nesting Box Success

    As winter wanes and our thoughts turn to springtime, it’s time to think about nesting boxes for birds.  Many cavity nesting birds scout out and select nest sites starting in late February through May, so now is the time to begin making preparations.

    While you can purchase a nesting box from many stores (including from National Wildlife catalog), building your own is fun, educational, and often cheaper!  If you buy a nesting box, make sure it’s not just a decorative one, which might not be used or worse, result in nestling mortality or be occupied by invasive exotic birds such as starlings.

    Whether you decide build or to buy, follow the tips below to make sure that your nesting box is a success:

    1. Choose your tenant.  Different bird species have different nesting needs, so it is important to tailor the nest box to the species you want.  Bluebirds, chickadees, tree swallows, wrens, woodpeckers and even screech owls and wood ducks are all cavity nesters that will use a nesting box. On that note, make sure the species you want is actually found in your area! The National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Library has information on some of these nesters. Also, Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website is a great resource to learn about the ranges of birds.
    2. Quality first.  You don’t want to live in a cardboard box covered in dangerous materials, and your feathered friends don’t want that either.  The wood should be thick enough to insulate (5/8” minimum) and not treated with preservatives which may be toxic. Install drainage holes in the bottom and at ventilation holes the top so birds don’t try to raise their babies in a swamp.
    3. Location, location, location.  While various species have varying preferences for nesting box location, there are general guidelines that apply for all birds.  Make sure to place your box so that birds have a clear flight path to the entrance.  Avoid placing your box in direct sunlight, as that can make it too hot. The best position provides morning sunlight and shade in the afternoon. Make sure that it is at least 6 feet above ground to deter predators.
    4. Beef up the security.  Even if you do everything to make birds feel welcome, predators like raccoons, snakes, and domestic cats and invasive birds like house sparrows and European starlings can destroy your nest.  To prevent this problem, don’t include perches with your box.  Ensure that the entrance hole is no bigger than 1 1/8”, and if it is larger, check that box often to see if house sparrows have invaded.  If you notice problematic species in your area, attach a predator block to the entrance hole or a piece of metal flashing to the nest-box roof.  The predator block makes it so raccoons can’t reach in the box and grab the eggs or chicks, while the flashing prevents house sparrows from perching on the roof and deterring desired species.  It’s also recommended to install a baffle around the pole to keep out pesky predators and squirrels.
    5. Don’t forget to clean! Especially if you’ve used this nesting box before, make sure you’ve cleaned out last year’s nesting material as well as any critters that may have invaded over the winter. As soon as this spring’s birds head out, remove all nesting materials to make sure the nesting box remains pest free and increase the chances that another bird family might use it again.

    Keep these tips in mind, and remember that not all nesting boxes will always be a success.  Many birds prefer natural cavities in snags and logs.  But with some patience, luck, and careful observation, you can increase the chances that some lucky birds will call your backyard home.

    Darcy McKinley Lester|Wildlife Promise|3/26/2015

    4 Senators Tackle Overuse of Antibiotics on Farms With New Bill

    Four U.S. Senators are stepping up with legislation aimed at curbing the use of antibiotics used on farm animals in a seemingly never ending battle to get the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to do something about their overuse.

    Antibiotics are routinely given to healthy animals on farms in a nontherapeutic manner, or before they actually get sick, to compensate for filthy living conditions and to promote growth. The problem with this is that animals receiving low doses of antibiotics on a regular basis become reservoirs for bacterial growth that can result in antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

    These antibiotic resistant strains can than spread to us and they’re posing a serious health risk.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), at least two million people get infected with antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria every year and at least 23,000 people die as a result of those infections.

    Not only are these cases taking a serious toll on our health and well being, but they’re taxing our healthcare system. The CDC also estimates that antibiotic resistance adds $20 billion in excess health care costs, while costs for lost productivity may be as high as $35 billion annually.

    Despite the dangers and continued warnings about their overuse, about 80 percent of all the antibiotics sold in the U.S. continue to go to healthy farm animals who don’t need them.

    After repeated failed attempts to pass legislation that would curb their use, in December 2013 the FDA announced it would be implementing a voluntary program to phase out antibiotics in food production. The agency asked pharmaceutical companies to revise labels of antibiotics that are important for treating human diseases and remove growth promotion as a use, which would change their status from being available as over-the-counter products to requiring veterinary oversight.

    It was a nice step in theory, but it lacked the teeth to bring any type of meaningful change in the way antibiotics are used and left the door open to continue their regular use as long as no one says they’re being used to fatten animals up.

    This week Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, along with co-sponsors Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., reintroduced the Prevention of Antibiotic Resistance Act (PARA), in an effort to protect public health by restricting the use of antibiotics on farms.

    PARA would require drug makers to prove that antibiotics we need that are used on farms don’t contribute to antibiotic resistance, in addition to setting limits on how long they can be used. It would also require the FDA to withdraw its approval of antibiotics that are medically important for us and are at a high risk of abuse.

    “Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest public health threats we face and we need a comprehensive response to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics,” said Senator Feinstein. “While FDA took an important step to reduce antibiotic overuse in agriculture, we need to do more. Our bill would ensure that antibiotics approved to treat disease are not used inappropriately. I am pleased that farmers and veterinarians are working to adopt FDA rules and I hope they will collaborate on this important piece of legislation.”

    Alicia Graef|March 5, 2015

    New Initiative Aims to Get Kids Outdoors

    Having the opportunity to get outside and experience nature at a young age is more important ever – both for kids and for conservation!

    Many of us have fond memories of playing outside, exploring nature not far from our homes, or family outings to a state or national park. However, not every kid has these same opportunities. It’s alarming how little time children today spend outside. They rack up more than 53 hours of screen time each week but spend less than 4 hours playing outside.

    That’s why we’re excited about President Obama’s “Every Kid in a Park” initiative to connect kids and their families to the outdoors – no matter where they live. Read more in a blog by Rebecca Wadler Lase on our Web site.

    5 Ways Vertical Farms Are Changing the Way We Grow Food

    No soil? No problem. From Japan to Jackson, Wyoming, plucking fresh lettuce is as easy as looking up. Vertical farms have been sprouting around the world, growing crops in places where traditional agriculture would have been impossible.

    Vertical farms are multiple stories, often have a hydroponic system and some contain artificial lights to mimic the sun. These green hubs are attractive in a variety of ways since food can be produced with less water (since it just recirculates), creates less waste and takes up less space than traditional farming, ultimately leaving a smaller footprint on the environment.

    Additionally, the United Nations projects that the world’s population will reach 9.6 billion people by 2050, 86 percent of whom will live in cities. For swelling cities, these urban farms give city dwellers greater access to fresh, nutritious food-year round, reducing the distance it has to travel to get to forks. Here are five more reasons why the sky’s the limit with vertical farms.

    1. Vertical farms can defy any weather: In perpetually wintry Jackson, Wyoming, residents will soon be able to find fresh tomatoes, lettuce and other produce that’s not hauled in by delivery trucks. The Vertical Harvest farm is a three-story 13,500 square foot hydroponic greenhouse that will sit on a mere 30 by 150-foot plot adjacent to a parking lot. Utilizing both natural and artificial lighting (especially since the area is blanketed in snow most of the year), three stories of plant trays will revolve inside the building as well as the ceiling in a carousel-like system to maximize light exposure. The company aims to supply 100,000 pounds of year-round produce that’s pesticide-free, and will use 90 percent less water than conventional farming because it recycles its water.

    Construction of the $3.7 million greenhouse kicked off last November and has already pre sold crops to restaurants, grocery stores and a hospital. In the video below, E/Ye Design architects and Vertical Harvest co-founders Penny McBride and Nona Yehia talk about their innovative building and their mission to hire adults with developmental disabilities to spur local employment.

    2. Vertical farms are a great response to climate change: Urban farming has been touted by many as a solution to increasingly extreme weather caused by warmer global temperatures. In very parched California, the Ouroboros Farms in Pescadero employs an unusual group of farmers: Catfish. The farm uses an “aquaponics” system, where 800 catfish swim and dine on organic feed, and as they create waste, the crops above suck up this nitrogen-rich fertilizer. All this means no soil, pesticides or other toxins are required for the stunning variety of vegetables that are produced at the farm, from spicy greens to root vegetables. In case you’re wondering, nothing goes to waste; these fish are also sold as food. The farm also saves 90 percent less water than traditional farming.

    “I honestly believe [aquaponics] is the evolution of farming,” Ken Armstrong, the founder of Ouroboros Farms, said in the video below, “because of its ability to grow faster and more densely with fewer resources it will be the methodology of growing in the future.”

    3. Vertical farms adapt to disaster: We previously featured Japanese plant physiologist Shigeharu Shimamura, who converted an abandoned, semiconductor factory into the world’s biggest indoor farm, Mirai. Shimamura built the farm in 2011 in response to the food shortages caused by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan, and sparked the Fukushima nuclear disaster which irradiated much of the region’s farmland.

    At 25,000 square feet, the farm can yield up to 10,000 heads of lettuce a day. That’s 100 times more per square foot than traditional methods, and uses 99 percent less water usage than outdoor fields.

    A press release said that the building is powered by special General Electric LEDs that “generate light in wavelengths adapted to plant growth. While reducing electric power consumption by 40 percent compared to fluorescent lighting, the facility has succeeded in increasing harvest yields by 50 percent,” and meant that Mirai was able to offset the cost of pricy LEDs. Watch how it all works:

    4. Vertical farms are becoming more advanced: It’s only the beginning for vertical farms in terms of technology. At the New Buffalo, Michigan branch of Green Spirit Farms, some plants grow under pink-tinted LED lights which “provide the correct blue and red wavelengths for photosynthesis,” according to Harbor Country News. It’s so efficient, the farm can currently grow 10 tons of lettuce in only 500 square feet of space. Green Spirit Farms president Milan Kluko also told New Scientist that he and his colleagues are developing a smartphone or tablet app that can adjust nutrient levels or soil pH balance, or sound an alarm when a water pump is malfunctioning, for example. “So if I’m over in London, where we’re looking for a future vertical farm site to serve restaurants, I’ll still be able to adjust the process in Michigan or Pennsylvania,” he said.

    5. Vertical farms are saving lives: Vertical farms are being used beyond food. In fact, they’re being used to aid human health. Caliber Biotherapeutics in Bryan, Texas is home to the world’s largest plant-made pharmaceutical facility. This 18-story, 150,000 square foot facility contains a staggering 2.2 million tobacco-like plants stacked 50-feet high, that will be used for making new drugs and vaccines. Because the indoor farm is so carefully monitored and tightly controlled by technicians, these expensive plants are shielded from possible diseases and contamination from the outside world.

    Barry Holtz, the CEO of Caliber, told NPR that the facility is also efficient when it comes to water and electricity: “We’ve done some calculations, and we lose less water in one day than a KFC restaurant uses, because we recycle all of it.”

    Lorraine Chow|March 10, 2015

    Jupiter’s Moon Ganymede Has a Salty Ocean with More Water than Earth

    A salty ocean is lurking beneath the surface of Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede, scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have found.

    The ocean on Ganymede — which is buried under a thick crust of ice — could actually harbor more water than all of Earth’s surface water combined, according to NASA officials. Scientists think the ocean is about 60 miles (100 kilometers) thick, 10 times the depth of Earth’s oceans, NASA added. The new Hubble Space Telescope finding could also help scientists learn more about the plethora of potentially watery worlds that exist in the solar system and beyond.

    “The solar system is now looking like a pretty soggy place,” Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary science, said during a news teleconference today (March 12). Scientists are particularly interested in learning more about watery worlds because life as we know it depends on water to thrive. [See amazing photos of Ganymede]

    Scientists have also found that Ganymede’s surface shows signs of flooding. Young parts of Ganymede seen in a video map may have been formed by water bubbling up from the interior of the moon through faults or cryo-volcanos at some point in the moon’s history, Green said.  

    Scientists have long suspected that there was an ocean of liquid water on Ganymede — the largest moon in the solar system, at about 3,273 miles (5,268 kilometers) across — has an ocean of liquid water beneath its surface. The Galileo probe measured Ganymede’s magnetic field in 2002, providing some data supporting the theory that the moon has an ocean. The newly announced evidence from the Hubble telescope is the most convincing data supporting the subsurface ocean theory yet, according to NASA.

    Scientists used Hubble to monitor Ganymede’s auroras, ribbons of light at the poles created by the moon’s magnetic field. The moon’s auroras are also affected by Jupiter’s magnetic field because of the moon’s proximity to the huge planet.

    When Jupiter’s magnetic field changes, so does Ganymede’s. Researchers were able to watch the two auroras “rock” back and forth with Hubble. Ganymede’s aurora didn’t rock as much as expected, so by monitoring that motion, the researchers concluded that a subsurface ocean was likely responsible for dampening the change in Ganymede’s aurora created by Jupiter.

    “I was always brainstorming how we could use a telescope in other ways,” Joachim Saur, geophysicist and team leader of the new finding, said in a statement. “Is there a way you could use a telescope to look inside a planetary body? Then I thought, the aurorae! Because aurorae are controlled by the magnetic field, if you observe the aurorae in an appropriate way, you learn something about the magnetic field. If you know the magnetic field, then you know something about the moon’s interior.”

    Hunting for auroras on other worlds could potentially help identify water-rich alien planets in the future, Heidi Hammel, executive vice president of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, said during the teleconference. Scientists might be able to search for rocking auroras on exoplanets that could potentially harbor water using the lessons learned from the Hubble observations of Ganymede.

    Ganymede Interior Cross-Section

     This cross-sectional illustration shows the interior of Jupiter’s largest moon Ganymede, based on theoretical models, in-situ observations by NASA’s Galileo orbiter, and Hubble Space Telescope observations of the moon’s magnetosphere. Image released March 12, 2015.
    Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI)

    Astronomers might be able to detect oceans on planets near magnetically active stars using similar methods to those used by Saur and his research team, Hammel added.

    “By monitoring auroral activity on exoplanets, we may be able to infer the presence of water on or within an exoplanet,” Hammel said. “Now, it’s not going to be easy — it’s not as easy as Ganymede and Jupiter, and that wasn’t easy. It may require a much larger telescope than Hubble, it may require some future space telescope, but nevertheless, it’s a tool now that we didn’t have prior to this work that Joachim and his team have done.”

    Jupiter’s moons are popular targets for future space missions. The European Space Agency is planning to send a probe called JUICE — short for JUpiter ICy moons Explorer — to Jupiter and its moons in 2022. JUICE is expected to check out Europa, Callisto and Ganymede during its mission. NASA also has its eye on the Jupiter system. Officials are hoping to send a probe to Europa by the mid-2020s.

    NASA will also celebrate the Hubble telescope’s 25th anniversary this year.

    “This discovery marks a significant milestone, highlighting what only Hubble can accomplish,”  John Grunsfeld, assistant administrator of NASA’s Science Mission, said in the same statement. “In its 25 years in orbit, Hubble has made many scientific discoveries in our own solar system. A deep ocean under the icy crust of Ganymede opens up further exciting possibilities for life beyond Earth.” 

    Miriam Kramer|Space.com Staff Writer|March 12, 2015

    It’s time to end the grisly trophy hunt

    Watching grizzly bears catch and eat salmon as they swim upstream to spawn is an unforgettable experience. Many people love to view the wild drama. Some record it with photos or video. But a few want to kill the iconic animals — not to eat, just to put their heads on a wall or coats on a floor.

    The spring grizzly kill starts April 1 and extends for several weeks, followed by a second fall season. By year’s end, several hundred will have died at the hands of humans, close to 90 per cent shot by trophy hunters — many of them foreign licence-holders, as the B.C. government plans to enact new regulations to allow hunters from outside B.C. to take 40 per cent of grizzlies slated for killing. The government also plans to allow foreign interests and corporations to buy and run guide-outfitting territories previously run only by B.C. residents. Local hunting organizations say the new rules put them at a disadvantage.

    According to the Vancouver Observer, hunting guide associations donated $84,800 to B.C. political parties from 2005 to 2013, 84 per cent to the B.C. Liberals.

    In the controversy over regulatory changes, we’ve lost touch with the fact that the grizzly trophy hunt is horrific, regardless of whether bears are killed by resident hunters or big-game hunters who pay thousands of dollars for the chance to kill a bear here — often because it’s illegal in their home countries.

    Grizzlies once roamed much of North America, from Mexico to the Yukon and from the West Coast through the prairies. Habitat loss and overhunting have since shrunk their range by more than half. In Canada, 16 subgroups are on the brink of extinction, including nine in south-central B.C. and Alberta’s entire grizzly population.

    Just how many bears reside in B.C. is in dispute. The government claims more than 15,000 grizzlies live here, but Raincoast Conservation Foundation science director Chris Darimont, a University of Victoria conservation biologist, puts the number closer to the government’s earlier estimate of 6,600 — before it doubled that in 1990 based on a single study in southeastern B.C.’s Flathead area.

    According to a Maclean’s article, in 2000, the government “suppressed the work of one of its own biologists, Dionys de Leeuw, for suggesting the hunt was excessive and could be pushing the bears to extinction. De Leeuw was later suspended without pay for having pursued the line of inquiry.” The government then pursued a five-year legal battle with groups including Raincoast Conservation and Ecojustice to keep its grizzly kill data sealed.

    Allan Thornton, president of the British Environmental Investigation Agency, which has studied B.C. grizzly management since the late 1990s, is blunt about the government’s justification. “The British Columbia wildlife department does not use rigorous science,” he told the Vancouver Observer. In 2004, the European Union banned imports of all B.C. grizzly parts into member countries after its analysis found the hunt to be unsustainable.

    Even the economic case is shaky. Studies by the Centre for Responsible Travel and Raincoast Conservation conclude revenue from bear-viewing is far higher than revenue from grizzly hunting.

    Grizzly population health is an indicator of overall ecosystem health, and bears are important to functioning ecosystems. They help regulate prey such as deer and elk, maintain forest health by dispersing seeds and aerating soil as they dig for food, and fertilize coastal forests by dragging salmon carcasses into the woods. Hunting isn’t the only threat. Habitat loss, decreasing salmon runs, collisions with vehicles and other conflicts with humans also endanger grizzlies. Because they have low reproduction rates, they’re highly susceptible to population decline. Hunting is one threat we can easily control.

    According to polls, almost 90 per cent of B.C. residents oppose hunting grizzlies for trophies, including many First Nations and food hunters. Scientists say it’s unsustainable. The Coastal First Nations coalition has banned grizzly hunting in its territories, but the government doesn’t recognize the ban. The Raincoast Conservation Foundation has bought hunting licenses in an attempt to reduce bear kills on the coast.

    Simply put, most British Columbians — and Canadians — are against the grizzly trophy hunt. It’s time for the government to listen to the majority rather than industry donors and ban this barbaric and unsustainable practice.

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

    In Memoriam

    Eugenie Clark, longtime Sarasota resident and founder of Mote Marine Aquarium and Laboratory, passed away at the end of February at the age of 92

    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 1503 B

    Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them. ~Bill Vaughn

    Announcements

    The 14th Annual Big “O” Birding Festival

    March 11-16, 2015

    Explore with Us!

    2015 Host Hotel: Port LaBelle Inn

    1563 Oxbow Drive, LaBelle, FL 33935

    Phone to make hotel reservations at : 863-675-4411

    For Hendry County Accommodations and Attractions go to:

    http://www.visithendrycounty.com

    The Big “O” Birding Festival is a Hendry County event organized to showcase the migratory and resident birds located in rural South Central Florida.

    We’re home to more than 250 species of birds, including Limpkins and migratory Swallow-tailed Kites plus Painted Buntings which pass through during October and April.

    New this year will be trips to Audubon’s Lake Okeechobee Sanctuary

    which is only accessible by airboat and photo workshops with Don Hamilton.

    Nine Great Florida Birding Trail sites are within the region:

    Dinner Island Ranch and Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest, and Spirit of the Wild which are Wildlife Management Areas,

    and Stormwater Treatment Area #5 (STA5) in Hendry County, and Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area—East & West in Glades County.

    Expect to see ducks including Fulvous Whistling-Ducks and Mottled Ducks;

    shorebirds like Black-necked Stilt; waders such as Roseate Spoonbill,

    Wood Stork and Least Bittern; and specialty raptors including Crested Caracara, Snail Kite, and Barred Owl.

    Come and help us search for South Florida’s specialty birds.

    Tour Descriptions 2015

    Guides and Presenters Biographies 2015

    Guides and Presenters Schedule

    ARTHUR R. MARSHALL LOXAHATCHEE NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

    Guided Bird, Butterfly and Wildflower Walks

    Every Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.  

    Join our volunteer naturalist for an early morning nature walk and see how many birds and other critters you can spot. 

    Learn about our migratory and year-round residents of the Refuge and their habitat. 

    Your guide will discuss the marsh ecology, answer your questions and identify the birds, butterflies, plants, reptiles and anything else you might find along the way.  

    Meet in the Marsh Trail parking lot.
    Roving Naturalist on Cypress Swamp Boardwalk

    Every Tuesday, 1:30 p.m – 3:00 p.m.
    Every Saturday, 9:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. 

    A volunteer naturalist will be strolling around the Cypress Swamp Boardwalk, answering questions and discussing flora and fauna of the swamp.

    Roving Naturalist on Marsh Trail
    Every Saturday, 9:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.

    A volunteer naturalist will be strolling around the Marsh Trail, discussing the marsh ecology, answering questions and identifying birds, butterflies, plants, reptiles and anything else you might find along the way.

    *** Programs subject to change, for more information on any of the activities and programs, please call the Visitor Center at (561) 734-8303 or the Administration Office at (561) 732-3684.   

    Ding’ Darling lectures

    Admission is free to the lectures, which are sponsored by The Sanibel Captiva Trust Company and “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS), as part of the latter’s 14-week Friday Lecture Series.

    Funding for this program was also provided through a grant from the Florida Humanities Council with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

    Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed do not necessarily represent those of the Florida Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

    Future events are listed below; all lectures include two presentations at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

    As usual, Wildlife Drive is closed on Friday, but visitors are welcome to enjoy the free Visitor & Education Center and the recreational

    opportunities at Tarpon Bay Explorers, the refuge’s official concessionaire located at its Tarpon Bay Recreation Area.

    For more information on the lecture series, call 239-472-1100 ext. 241 or visit www.dingdarlingsociety.org/lectures.

    UPCOMING “DING” DARLING LECTURE SERIES EVENTS

    (*Book-signings will follow all starred presentations)

    March 6 –  Sarah Adams, “Memories of My Grandfather, Ansel Adams”

    *March 13 – Author Frederick “Fritz” Davis, Banned: A History of Pesticides and the Science of Toxicology

    *March 20 – Author Marie Read, Into the Nest: Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting, and Family Lives of Birds

    *March 27 –  Peggy Macdonald, Marjorie Harris Carr: Defender of Florida Environment

    April 3 –  Jeremy Conrad, “Sea Turtles”

    April 10 – Jerry Lorenz, “The Beauty & Science of Roseate Spoonbills”

    As a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, DDWS works to support J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s mission of conservation,

    wildlife and habitat protection, research, and public education through charitable donations and Refuge Nature Shop proceeds.

    To support DDWS and the refuge with a tax-deductible gift, visit www.dingdarlingsociety.org or contact Birgie Miller at 239-292-0566, 239-472-1100 ext. 4, or dingdarlingsociety@gmail.com.

    More Than Just a 95th Birthday: a Continued Legacy and Bright Future for Our Everglades! 

    “No one really knew if Einstein was correct in his theory (of relativity) — not even he was absolutely certain of its validity — until that bomb went off at Alamogordo,” Art wrote. “My bomb is the Kissimmee ditch restored!”

    95 years ago today the man with the plan for the Everglades, Arthur R. Marshall, was born… and if he were alive today he sure would have a lot to celebrate!

    A major study at the University of Florida presented today to the Florida State Senate confirms the plan Art formulated to repair the Everglades and protect the future of Florida’s major water source.

    “The Marshall Plan” states:  Effective repair requires restoration of sheet flow (as a means of moving water south) to the greatest possible extent from Kissimmee Lakes to Florida Bay. 

    Its purpose is to recover an array of vital natural resources now disappearing from the region – resources of extreme importance to present and future Floridians and to the nation at large.

    Our 2015 Arthur R. Marshall Foundation summer interns will honor Art’s legacy and further the University of Florida’s research with a special in-depth study starting in May. Our interns are YOUR advocates.

    FUKUSHIMA+4
    An Update on the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster with Japanese and U.S. Experts
    NIRS Telebriefing Monday March 9, 2015
    8 pm (Eastern Daylight Time)

    Please join us on Monday, March 9, 2015 for a special NIRS Telebriefing on the ongoing consequences of the Fukushima nuclear disaster that began in March 2011.

    Speakers:
    Akira Kawasaki, Executive Committee Member, Peace Boat, Japan
    Aileen Mioko Smith, Director, Green Action, Japan
    David Lochbaum, Nuclear Engineer, Union of Concerned Scientists
    Tim Judson, Executive Director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service, will moderate.

    Four years into the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, we will gather together to mark the suffering of those displaced from their pre-Fukushima lives, the widespread contamination and the impact on energy policy both in Japan and here in the USA.

    Registration is required to participate. Please go here to register.

    Evenings at the Conservancy – Elam Stoltzfus, Filmmaking in Florida ‏

    The Evenings at the Conservancy Speaker Series continues in March with a presentation by Elam Stoltzfus, an award-winning film producer.

    He will share stories about his journeys across Florida, people he interacted with and film projects featuring the wilds of our great state. 

    This interactive visual presentation includes a vast collection of video clips, behind the scenes of creating a film, and images. 

    There will be opportunities to interact with Elam, ask questions and learn more about the landscapes and habitats of Florida.

    The presentation will be on Tuesday, March 10 in the Jeannie Meg Smith Theater, located inside Eaton Conservation Hall, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. with an opportunity for questions and answers. 

    The event is open to the public and all Conservancy members are encouraged to attend. We will also be serving free wine, beer and food throughout the evening.

    The lecture series frequently sells out. We encourage you to reserve your seat quickly.

    To attend, please pre-register for the event by emailing Kelsey Hudson at kelseyh@conservancy.org or by calling 239.403.4228.

    The Evenings at the Conservancy lecture series is sponsored by Arthrex and Vi at Bentley Village.

    Members: FREE
    General Admission: $10

    Don’t miss these future Evenings lectures:

    April 14
    Charles Sobczak – “The Human Footprint”

    May 12
    Conservancy Director of Natural Resource Policy Jennifer Hecker – “Oil Drilling and Water”

    Batfish Bash for the Bay
    Saturday, March 14, 2015

    The 6th Annual Batfish Bash for the Bay is going to be another great event, thanks to our generous sponsors and amazing auction item donors.

    Bidders can select from many exciting NEW travel opportunities, gift packages, and unique experiences during the live and silent auctions.
    This year we are having a special raffle and other fun ways to show your support for our programs.

    Proceeds benefit research and student education. Check out the auction preview.
    Event tickets are still available!

    Don’t miss out on this fun, casual evening at Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center. Event details and registration

    Using wetlands to prevent phosphorus and nitrogen pollution in downstream wetlands, lakes, rivers, and coastal waters: 

    The MOM River Basin/Gulf of Mexico/Laurentian Great Lakes/Florida Everglades Challenge

    by Dr. William J. Mitsch

    Everglades Wetland Research Park, Director

    Florida Gulf Coast University

    Thursday, March 5, 2015

    3:00 PM – 4:00 PM

    time for questions following talk

    Krome Center Training Room

    Everglades National Park

    This seminar will also be broadcast live via WebEx,

    please register here in advance. 

    Florida Panther Refuge Open House Announcement

    Reservations for the Items in Red are REQUIRED

    Activities in Red can be reserved online from

    March 16th at 9:00am to March 20th at 3:00pm

    at this website: 

    RESERVE ACTIVITIES HERE
    (https://floridapanther.eventbrite.com)

    Free Tickets for Tours in red become available through the site at 9:00am on March 16th.

    Please remember to refresh your page if you are on the site at 8:59am.

    You May Only Reserve ONE Guided Walking Tour Activity Per Person.

    Please decide on your ONE walking tour time in advance and sign up for only that one tour.

    (Signing up for multiple activities takes spaces away from others. You will be contacted to pick only one. Please be considerate!)

    Please plan ahead for reservations and have one member of your party carry out the registration.  

    (Having multiple members of the same party reserving the same number of tickets takes spaces away from others. Please be considerate!)

    Activity reservations are carried out online through the site above.

    If you have any questions or issues during the process, please call (239)-657-8001 ex. 0   or email molly_duvall@fws.gov

    Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission LAW Captive Wildlife Update ‏

    The Captive Wildlife Rule Review Public Meetings will continue next week in Jacksonville and Orlando. The Jacksonville meeting will be on March 11, 2015 at the Hilton Garden Inn Jacksonville/Orange Park from 4:00pm to 8:00pm. The Orlando meeting will be on March 12, 2015 at the Hampton Inn & Suites Gateway/Orlando Airport from 4:00pm to 8:00pm. This series of statewide rule review meetings will give the public the opportunity to provide feedback on current rules for captive wildlife and recommendations for regulations. Our staff will be present to receive recommendations and answer questions. Anyone interested in regulations for captive wildlife in Florida is welcome to attend. Please see the attached flyer for more information regarding the meetings and the locations where they will be held.

    If you are unable to attend a meeting but would like to submit rule recommendations, there are several ways to submit your recommendations. Recommendations can be submitted online at http://myfwc.com/license/captive-wildlife/ by clicking on the “Submit Recommendations for Captive Wildlife Rule Review” link, by email to CWRuleReview@MyFWC.com, or by completing the Rule Review Feedback Form on our website and submitting it by mail or fax. These forms may be mailed to the Captive Wildlife Office at 620 South Meridian Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32399 or faxed to 850-921-6283.

    For questions about the meetings or submitting rule recommendations, please contact us by email at CWRuleReview@MyFWC.com; by mail to the Captive Wildlife Office at 620 South Meridian Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32399; or by phone at 850-488-6253.   

    Of Interest to All

    Avoiding BPA? Meet the Controversial New Plastic Label

    If you’re avoiding BPA because of its endocrine-disrupting properties, there’s a new plastic label that you may want to keep on your radar: EA free. But it’s controversial.

    More and more consumers are shopping for BPA (bisphenol-A) free plastic as evidence mounts that BPA is bad for our health. This endocrine disruptor leaches from plastic into our food and drink, and it’s linked to a slew of health problems including breast cancer, intestinal inflammation, and obesity.

    BPA isn’t the only endocrine disruptor used in plastic manufacturing. In fact, many BPA free plastics contain BPS (bisphenol-S), which is just as harmful to our bodies, if not more so. BPS disrupts brain cell growth and may cause hyperactivity. Not exactly something that you want in your baby bottle or sippy cup.

    Companies that produce EA free plastic claim that their products are safer, because they don’t leach any endocrine disrupting chemicals. Right now, the EA free label is embroiled in controversy.

    The Battle Over EA Free Plastic

    There are two companies claiming that they’ve cracked the code for producing EA free plastic: Eastman Chemical and PlastiPure. And they just finished duking it out in court after PlastiPure’s marketing materials began questioning whether Eastman Chemical’s “Tritan” plastics are really EA free.

    Eastman Chemical claims that Tritan is free of chemicals that behave like estrogen in the body. Chemicals that mimic estrogen are a major category of endocrine disruptors. When EA free began to gain some popularity among consumers, Eastman Chemical slapped an EA free label on its Tritan products.

    The PlastiPure company website explains that BPA and phthalates are only two of hundreds of chemicals that mimic estrogen in our bodies and says that their EA free plastic doesn’t contain these chemicals. They specifically say that their plastics are certified EA free.

    PlastiPure’s certification comes from a company called CertiChem. Both PlastiPure and CertiChem were founded by professor of neuroscience (and savvy business man) George Bittner. Bittner says he started both companies because he believes strongly in the importance of producing safer plastics.

    When Eastman Chemical got wind that PlastiPure’s new marketing materials were throwing shade on their EA free claims, they took PlastiPure to court. A federal jury ruled in Eastman Chemical’s favor, and an appeals court upheld the ruling back in December.

    What began in the courtroom has evolved into a battle of scientific papers. PlastiPure and CertiChem began testing BPA free plastics, including Eastman Chemical’s Tritan, to try to prove that Tritan is not really an EA free plastic. Here’s one of the papers they released (pdf alert).

    At this point, any plastic claiming to be truly EA free seems a little bit dubious. Eastman Chemical says that they’ve debunked PlastiPure’s claims about Tritan, but they also point to tests that they conducted themselves. Bittner and PlastiPure come off seeming like the good guys here, but can you trust a chemical company with millions at stake that’s also basically certifying itself?

    The idea of EA free plastic is definitely exciting, but before we can really trust those labels there needs to be some evidence from researchers who aren’t being paid by a chemical company. In the meantime, going plastic free as much as possible seems to be the safest choice for consumers.

    Eat Drink Better|February 26, 2015

    Port Everglades multimillion-dollar expansion gets OK

    Rep. Lois Frankel warns that ships will bypass South Florida unless Port Everglades digs down to 48 feet.

    Port Everglades promoters Friday crossed one of the last hurdles in their 18-year quest to acquire $190 million of federal dredging money to create jobs and compete for shipping business along the East Coast.

    The dredging project is headed for final approval by federal engineers, a crucial step to begin design work this spring and start construction by 2017.

    An array of local and state officials implored the Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works Review Board to give the green light to widening and deepening the port to serve a new generation of super-sized cargo vessels.

    With a raise of hands, the board voted without dissent to recommend the project, sparking a round of applause from a meeting room full of Florida officials and observers.

    “Congratulations. You got unanimous concurrence with moving forward,” Board Chairman John Peabody said. “But you’re not done yet.”

    The board’s decision will be submitted for 30 days of comment from state and federal agencies before it is included in the chief of engineer’s report. That will trigger the port to begin planning and designing the massive project.

    Broward County officials, who oversee the port, say the project will allow them to fully serve cargo vessels that will pass through a widened Panama Canal. Some larger ships already steer clear of the port or come in lightly loaded to avoid scraping bottom.

    “We are concerned that a delay now would mean the larger freight ships are going to pass us by and take away all those jobs that we need in Florida,” U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, told the board.

    The project is expected to generate about 5,862 short-term construction jobs, about 1,500 permanent jobs around the port and as many as 135,000 spinoff jobs across Florida.

    Port Director Steve Cernak touted the port as a “proven powerhouse for international trade, travel and investment,” handling 42 percent of Florida’s trade with Latin America and the Caribbean.

    But he warned that the port must expand to keep up with Florida’s growing population and to attract larger and larger ships. “We have seen the cascading effect, long expected, with larger vessels coming in light loaded,” he said.

    The dredging will deepen the port entrance channel to 48 feet. The Jacksonville District of the Corps would only agree to dig to 47 feet, but port and county officials decided to pay $18 million for an additional foot.

    The total cost is estimated at $374 million, with Uncle Sam providing $190 million and port revenue paying the rest, supplemented by state contributions.

    A water-projects bill approved by Congress last year allows Broward County to finance the early planning and design work and then be reimbursed when Congress passes another water bill.

    “I’m thrilled this important project for a major South Florida economic engine is back on track and has taken the next step toward reality,” U.S.Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz,” D-Weston, said after the board’s vote.

    Federal spending is justified because the port’s expansion would improve navigational safety, reduce transportation costs and generate $31 million a year of economic activity, Alan Dodd, district commander of the Corps’ Jacksonville District, told the board.

    The expansion plan, in the works for 18 years, has been slowed by a shifting federal review of the environmental and economic impact.

    The construction will displace mangrove trees, coral beds and sea grass. Replacement trees already are being grown in West Lake Park south of the port. And the county has agreed to create an artificial reef of boulders offshore and to transplant corals to replace those lost at the port entrance.

    “I learned a lot about patience through this process,” Cernak said while thanking the board. “And I learned to be more engaged.”

    William E. Gibson|Washington Bureau|Sun Sentinel

    [Chances are pretty high that Post Panamax ships will bypass Florida ports with or without the expansion because the land transportation to transfer goods out of Florida will be much higher than shipping to a more centrally located port would be.]

    State Park to Commemorate 150th Anniversary of Battle of Natural Bridge

    TALLAHASSEEThe Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park will host the annual reenactment of the Battle of Natural Bridge on March 7 and 8.

    Natural Bridge is recognized as the site of the second largest Civil War battle in Florida. In addition to being a historic landmark, the park also features distinct natural characteristics. The park is named for a natural bridge formed by the St. Marks River as it flows underground.

    During the final weeks of the Civil War, a Union flotilla landed at Apalachee Bay planning to capture Fort Ward (located at San Marcos de Apalachee Historic State Park) and march north to the state capitol. With a timely warning, volunteer Confederate soldiers from the Tallahassee area met the Union forces at Natural Bridge and successfully defended against three major attacks. The Union troops were forced to retreat to the coast and Tallahassee remained the only Confederate capitol east of the Mississippi not captured by the Union.

    As part of the sesquicentennial commemoration, the historic march of the Union troops will be re-created from their naval landing at the St. Marks Lighthouse to Natural Bridge on Friday, March 6 around 1 p.m.

    Saturday will feature a skirmish at 3 p.m. The full battle will be reenacted on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Both events will take place on the site of the original battlefield, which was acquired by the state in 2009.

    On Sunday at 1 p.m., the Anna Jackson Chapter 224 United Daughters of the Confederacy will celebrate their annual pilgrimage to the site with a brief ceremony and the laying of a wreath honoring the original participants of the battle.

    During the two-day event, period merchants will sell souvenirs at an authentic period camp. Food and beverages will be for sale, courtesy of the Tallahassee Elks Lodge. The Natural Bridge Historical Society, Inc. and the park’s Citizen Support Organization will be available to answer questions about the battle and its historic context.

    Other activities during the weekend include prearranged school tours on Friday, living history demonstrations interpreting civilian and military life during the 1860s, historic presentations by volunteers from the John G. Riley Center/Museum of African American History and Culture, and demonstrations from the Ladies Soldiers’ Friend Sewing Society.

    A donation of $3 per adult and $1 for children 6 and under is requested for admission to the event. All proceeds help to maintain and preserve the park.

    The Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park is located six miles east of Woodville on the Natural Bridge Road, just south of Tallahassee.

    For additional information, please contact Rob Lacy at 850-922-6007 or Rob.Lacy@dep.state.fl.us.

    WHAT:  Annual Battle Reenactment

    WHERE:        Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park
                          7502 Natural Bridge Rd.
                          Tallahassee, FL 32305

    WHEN:          Saturday, March 7, 2015
                          Battle Skirmish at 3 p.m.

                          Sunday, March 8, 2015
                          Battle Reenactment at 2:30 p.m.

    nataliarodriguez2015|March.02.2015|March 2, 2015

    Senate Attempt To Override Obama’s Keystone Veto Fails

    WASHINGTON — The Senate tried, but failed, to override President Barack Obama’s veto of legislation authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline on Wednesday.

    The measure drew 62 “yes” votes, with nine Democrats joining Senate Republicans in voting to override the veto. A two-thirds majority, or 67 votes, is needed to override a presidential veto. The Senate’s original vote on the legislation in January yielded 62 “yes” votes as well.

    Obama vetoed the bill last week, arguing that the bill “conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest — including our security, safety, and environment.”

    Because the proposed pipeline crosses an international border, the State Department is tasked with taking the lead on the decision about whether to grant a permit for the project. The department’s consideration process is ongoing.

    The Keystone veto was the third of Obama’s presidency.

    Senate Republicans, and some Democrats, have criticized the the president for taking too long to render a decision on the pipeline, leaving would-be builder TransCanada in the lurch.

    “He’s been studying for over six years. Over six years! And he vetoed it because we cut his review process short,” said Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) in a floor speech Wednesday.

    Obama has not clarified when he intends to issue a final decision on whether to grant Keystone a permit. He told Reuters this week that a decision could come in “weeks or months,” and stated rather nonspecifically, “I think it will happen before the end of my administration.”

    Senate Keystone supporters vowed that this would not be the last time the subject is debated on the floor. “This is coming back,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), adding that it would likely come up again in the context of infrastructure or energy legislation.

    “If we don’t win the battle today, we’ll win the war, because we’ll find another piece of legislation to attach this to,” said Hoeven before the vote.

    Kate Sheppard|huffingtonpost.com|03/04/2015

    The Democratic Women’s Club of Florida, Inc. Plans Demonstration March Against Seismic Testing

    Tallahassee, FL – The Democratic Women’s Club of Florida, Inc.’s President Dr. Maureen McKenna announced today that members of the Democratic Women’s Club of St. Johns, along with local environmental groups, have planned a demonstration march against seismic testing off the coast of Florida on Saturday, March 7, 2015.  The march will begin at 11:30 a.m. on the east side of the Bridge of Lions and will proceed across the Bridge to City Hall.  Mayor Nancy Shaver has invited U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and other officials in Florida to take part.  Dr. McKenna stated, “Seismic testing causes devastating effects to the fragile ecosystems along our coast.  Not only is seismic testing a threat to sea life, but also threatens industries such as commercial and recreation fishing and coastal tourism.”  Seismic testing uses air guns to shoot extremely loud blasts of compressed air every ten seconds through the ocean and miles into the sea floor in an effort to locate oil and natural gas deposits.  Testing can take place for months on end.  Dr. McKenna continued, “The dangers of seismic testing needs to come to the forefront and we believe that by holding a demonstration march we can raise awareness in our communities.”

    Twenty-six municipalities in eight states have passed Resolutions opposing air gun blasting and offshore drilling.  The City of St. Augustine, City of St. Augustine Beach, and St. Johns County, along with seven other Florida coastal cities, have passed Resolutions opposing this testing/blasting and subsequent offshore drilling.  More than two hundred elected officials, including U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and eleven other members of Congress from Florida, have written President Obama, asking him to reverse the decision to allow the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to issue permits for oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic.

    For more information on the march, please contact the Democratic Women’s Club of St. John’s County’s President, Mary Lou Woods, at (904) 461-5408.  For more information about the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida, Inc, please visit our website online at http://www.dwcf.org/.

    Judy Meyers|Phone: (727) 967-4257|Email: jmeyers_region5@outlook.com

    10 National Parks you Probably Never Heard of

    Grand Canyon. Great Smoky Mountains. Yellowstone. Yosemite. You’ve heard of, or maybe even traveled to, our nation’s most popular national parks, from Acadia’s rock beaches to Rocky Mountain’s snow-capped peaks. But the United States is home to 59 national parks, many of which are off the beaten path.

    Avoid the crowds, cars, and noise of the popular parks — famously called “National Parking Lots” ­­by Edward Abbey — and get your dose of the great outdoors at one of these lesser-known national park destinations.

    1. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

    Tucked away in Colorado’s southwestern corner, the sheer scale of this 48-mile-long canyon takes most visitors by surprise. Sculpted by the Gunnison River over 2 millions years, the canyon walls are nearly 2,000 feet tall, with near-vertical drops down to the river. Trails along the north and south rims wind through pinyon-juniper forests and gambel oak thickets typical of the Colorado Plateau. Hiking within the canyon is limited to experienced rock climbers willing to make their own route — there are no maintained trails to the bottom and crumbling rock makes the climbing difficult. Even if you’re not a climber, the views from the rim alone are worth a trip. Don’t miss the much-photographed painted wall, it’s the tallest cliff in Colorado at 2,250 feet high.

    2. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

    The park is famous for its vast quantities of petrified wood, often in massive pieces that still look like tree trunks on a forest floor. These fossilized trees date back to the Late Triassic period, more than 200 million years ago. Petrified wood isn’t the only fossil found here — paleontologists have uncovered several fossils of dinosaurs and other dinosaur-like animals. While the red, grey, and cream-colored rocks of the park may look like a barren desert, in between the mesas lies a grassland ecosystem. Visitors should watch for herds of pronghorn antelope, which are a common sight within the park. Geocachers can test their skills searching for three hidden geocaches, while history buffs can drive part of historic Route 66, which runs through the park.

    3. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

    This 27,000-acre park protects the largest intact stand of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the entire southeast. Because much of this forest was spared when industrial logging swept throughout the southeast, visitors can catch a glimpse of the ancient forests seen by early explorers. In fact, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto passed through the area in the 1540s. Congaree is especially famous for its trees. More than 75 different species are found within the park’s borders, including several champion trees — the tallest or largest of their species. Ancient bald cypress trees tower above winding waterways and sloughs, which are best explored by canoe or kayak. More than 30 miles of trails cross the park, too, but lookout for creeks and occasional flooding.

    4. Great Basin National Park, Nevada

    Just across the border from Utah, this park captures the best of the basin and range topography that covers much of Nevada. Dominated by sagebrush, the Great Basin ecosystem is under threat from invasive cheatgrass. Native to Europe, Asia and Northern Africa, cheatgrass spreads quickly, is extremely flammable, and is difficult to eradicate. The park also contains Wheeler Peak, one of the state’s tallest mountains. An 8.6-mile long trail to the summit offers a tough hike and outstanding views. Hiking on the mountain also offers a chance to see one of the oldest living organisms on earth — the bristlecone pine. One of these trees, nicknamed Prometheus, was cut down as part of a scientific study in 1964. Researchers later discovered that the tree had 4,900 growth rings, meaning that it was nearly 5,000 years old. (Bristlecone pines grow so slowly and in such harsh conditions that they don’t always grow a ring each year.) At the time, it was the oldest living bristlecone pine ever identified.

    5. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

    Lassen Volcanic is a geology enthusiast’s dream: bubbling mud pots, boiling pools of water, steaming ground, and volcanic vents are found throughout the park. You can also find all four types of volcanoes: shield, plug dome, cinder cone, and composite. As its name suggests, this park is powered by volcanic activity deep beneath Lassen Peak. The southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range, Lassen Peak forms part of a chain of volcanic hotspots around the entire Pacific Rim. Visitor’s needn’t worry about being caught in an eruption: the last one occurred in 1915, and the hotspot only erupts every few thousands years.

    6. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

    Capitol Reef’s brilliant rock layers, spires, canyons, and arches are part of the Waterpocket Fold, a fold in the Earth’s crust nearly 100 miles long. Called a monocline, this geological formation is named after the pools of water that form throughout the rocks when rainwater erodes the sandstone. Pinyon-juniper forests are home to a wide variety of desert animals, including desert bighorn sheep and canyon bats, the smallest bats in North America. You might also catch a glimpse of the ring-tailed cat, a long-tailed relative of the raccoon that lives throughout the desert southwest. In many parts of the park, the soil is covered with a thin, crunchy, black crust. Called a biological soil, this crust is actually full of cyanobacteria, fungi, lichens, mosses, and algae. Horseback riding and pack trips are allowed inside the park, but check the list of approved trails before you saddle up.

    7. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

    About 265 million years ago, this national park was at the bottom of a vast tropical sea. The dramatic limestone formations visitors see today are actually a fossilized reef, which stretched 400 miles along the ancient seashore during the Permian Era. The park’s most recognizable feature is El Capitan, a towering cliff named for the Capitan limestone found in the park. Trails through the foothills offer a glimpse of the Chihuahuan desert ecosystem, with desert-dwelling plants like yucca, agave, and dramatic ocotillo. Other trails into the park lead to McKittrick Canyon, where a creek feeds an unexpectedly lush deciduous forest, famous for its fall color.

    8. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

    The tallest sand dunes in North America aren’t found at the beach. This national park has 30 square miles of undulating dunes, which formed about 440,000 years ago when winds piled sand from an ancient lake bottom into 750-foot tall dunes along the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. While the dunes may look barren, hundreds of animal species call the park home. Entomology enthusiasts should keep an eye out for the predatory Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle, one of six insect species endemic to the dunes. Great Sand Dunes National Park also includes mountains, alpine tundra, and wetland habitat called sabkha. These wetlands are fed by fluctuating groundwater, which leaves behind white alkali deposits, which are similar to baking soda. When you’re sick of hiking, try your skill at sandboarding and sand sledding on specially designed boards.

    9. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

    Nearly 70 miles off of Key West, the seven small islands that form Dry Tortugas National Park are the very end of the Florida Keys chain. You won’t find crowds here, as the park is only accessible by boat or plane. The ruins of Fort Jefferson dominate the park’s skyline. Built in the 19th century to protect the nearby shipping channel through the Gulf of Mexico, the fort’s construction was delayed by the Civil War, and then later abandoned. Offshore lies a network of thriving coral reefs, where snorkelers and divers can see multitudes of fish, sea turtles, and the occasional American crocodile. Surprisingly, the park is also a renowned birding hotspot. While few species reside year round, these small islands provide critical resting habitat for colorful neotropical songbirds migrating across the Gulf of Mexico between North and South America.

    10. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

    Anchored by three lakes, this park is a labyrinth of waterways, peninsulas, and islands spanning 340 square miles of Minnesota’s northern border. In fact, 40 percent of the park is water; the rest is forested with rock outcrops scraped clean by glaciers about 10,000 years ago. Voyageur’s forests are unique ­­— the park lies at a transition point, where southern boreal forests of jack pine and spruce meet northern hardwood forests of maple, ash, and elm. Beavers are common along the waterways, while moose and gray wolves are spotted occasionally. The park is also home to a healthy population of bald eagles, and scientists band eagle chicks hatched in the park to help monitor the ecosystem’s health. Don’t let the northern snows deter you — winter activities include cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice fishing.

    Eager for more? Check out this interactive map from the National Park Service listing every national park, seashore, historic site, monument, and preserve.

    Justine E. Hausheer|Science writer|The Nature Conservancy|January 26, 2015

    Freight Train Carrying Crude Oil Derails Near Illinois City

    GALENA, Ill. (AP) — A freight train loaded with crude oil derailed in northern Illinois on Thursday, bursting into flames and prompting officials to suggest that everyone with 1 mile evacuate, authorities said.

    The BNSF Railway train derailed around 1:05 p.m. in a rural area where the Galena River meets the Mississippi, according to company spokesman Andy Williams. The train had 103 cars loaded with crude oil, along with two buffer cars loaded with sand. A cause for the derailment hadn’t yet been determined. No injuries were reported.

    Only a family of two agreed to leave their home, Galena City Administrator Mark Moran said at a news conference late Thursday, adding that the suggestion to evacuate was prompted by the presence of a propane tank near the derailment.

    The derailment occurred 3 miles south of Galena in a wooded and hilly area that is a major tourist attraction and the home of former President Ulysses S. Grant. The Jo Daviess County Sheriff’s Department confirmed the train was transporting oil from the Northern Plains’ Bakken region.

    Earlier in the day, Moran said 8 tankers had left the track. But Williams said at the news conference that only six cars derailed, two of which burst into flames and continued to burn into the night.

    Firefighters could only access the derailment site by a bike path, said Galena Assistant Fire Chief Bob Conley. They attempted to fight a small fire at the scene but were unable to stop the flames.

    Firefighters had to pull back for safety reasons and were allowing the fire to burn itself out, Conley said. In addition to Galena firefighters, emergency and hazardous material responders from Iowa and Wisconsin were at the scene.

    The derailment comes amid increased public concern about the safety of shipping crude by train. According to the Association of American Railroads, oil shipments by rail jumped from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to 500,000 in 2014, driven by a boom in the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota and Montana, where pipeline limitations force 70 percent of the crude to move by rail.

    Since 2008, derailments of oil trains in the U.S. and Canada have seen 70,000-gallon tank cars break open and ignite on multiple occasions, resulting in huge fires. A train carrying Bakken crude crashed in a Quebec town in 2013, killing 47 people. Last month, a train carrying 3 million gallons of North Dakota crude derailed in a West Virginia snowstorm, shooting fireballs into the sky, leaking oil into a river tributary and forcing hundreds of families to evacuate.

    The ruptures and fires have prompted the administration of President Barack Obama to consider requiring upgrades such as thicker tanks, shields to prevent tankers from crumpling, rollover protections and electronic brakes that could make cars stop simultaneously, rather than slam into each other.

    In a statement, the Federal Railroad Administration said it was sending investigators to the Illinois derailment site and that the agency will conduct a “thorough investigation,” to determine the cause.

    BNSF spokesman Michael Trevino said railroad employees were on the scene and additional personnel were headed there.

    Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner also put state personnel and equipment at the ready for deployment.

    The train’s destination wasn’t immediately known.

    Calls to Action

    1. Save Bald Eagle Habitat from Destruction – here
    2. Demand Justice for the Murder of Costa Rican Sea Turtle Conservationist Jairo Mora – here
    3. Create wildlife reserves to protect the habitat of the endangered Peruvian tern. – here
    4. Protect the Tamanawas Falls Wilderness proposal from new roads and logging – here
    5. Tell Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to protect the home of bowhead whales – here
    6. Tell Confluence Partners to keep its hands off the Grand Canyon – here
    7. Tell the EPA to not let oil and gas delay on dispersants – here

    Birds and Butterflies

    New Research Links Bee-Killing Insecticide to Monarch Butterfly Deaths

    (Beyond Pesticides, February 27, 2015) New research from the University of Minnesota presents some of the first evidence linking the bee-killing insecticides known as neonicotinoids to monarch butterfly deaths. The study finds that milkweed plants, which monarch butterflies need to survive, may also retain neonicotinoids from nearby plants, making milkweed toxic to monarchs.

    Monarch population numbers have fallen by 90% in less than 20 years. This year’s population was the second lowest since careful surveys began two decades ago. The critical driver of monarch decline is the loss of larval host plants in their main breeding habitat, the Midwestern Corn Belt. Monarchs lay eggs exclusively on plants in the milkweed family, the only food their larvae will eat.

    University of Minnesota entomologist Vera Krischik, Ph.D. fed butterflies milkweed plants treated with the neonicotinoid insecticide known as imidacloprid in amounts that might typically be found on backyard plants. While adult monarchs and painted lady butterflies were not affected, which, according to Dr. Krischik, indicates the ability of the adults to detoxify, the larvae of both species of butterflies died.

    During the course of the study, larvae fed on the treated plants for seven days.

    “For the monarch, nobody was left that were feeding on the treated plants,” said Dr. Krischik, whose research has been accepted for publication by a scientific journal.” For the painted lady (butterflies), there were a few scattered larvae that made it to the end of their feeding period.”

    Dr. Krischik says her research shows a potential risk to monarchs when neonicotinoids are used in backyard plants near milkweed plants. She did not look at the impact of much lower insecticide rates used in farm fields.

    “I would say if you’re using it in your backyard and you’re applying this to a rosebush right next to the milkweed, the risk is high,” she said.

    Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced plans to conduct a year-long status review of the monarch butterfly to determine whether the species is eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). FWS is taking this action as result of an August 2014 legal petition filed by health and environmental groups that presented substantial information indicating that listing under the ESA may be warranted. In November 2014, Beyond Pesticides joined over 200 environmental groups and businesses in a letter asking for federal protection for monarch butterflies in the wake of shocking declines. FWS has also pledged $3.2 million as part of a new campaign to save the imperiled species.

    The decline of monarch habitats is not the only environmental effect linked to the pervasive use of highly toxic herbicides and insecticides. For example, the emergence and spread of glyphosate-resistant “super weeds” is strongly correlated with the upward trajectory of herbicide use, according to a study conducted by Charles Benbrook, Ph.D. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup formulation, is one of the most widely used conventional pesticide active ingredients in the U.S. And, similar to monarch butterflies, honey bees and other wild bees have also been experiencing a drastic decline in numbers that has been linked to the prevalent use of neonicotinoids.

    Critical to the survival of monarchs, other pollinators, and organisms essential to ecological balance is the large-scale adoption of organic farming practices. Beyond Pesticides supports organic agriculture as effecting good land stewardship and a reduction in hazardous chemical exposures for workers on the farm. The pesticide reform movement, citing pesticide problems associated with chemical agriculture, from groundwater contamination and runoff to drift, views organic as the solution to a serious public health and environmental threat. To attract beneficial insects like monarchs and protect their habitats in your own backyard, there are several steps you can take. Like any other living organisms, pollinators need food, water, and shelter in order to thrive. For more information, see Managing Landscapes with Pollinators in Mind and Hedgerows for Biodiversity: Habitat is needed to protect pollinators, other beneficial organisms, and healthy ecosystems. You can also visit the BEE Protective Habitat Guide and Do-It-Yourself Biodiversity for more ways in which you can protect our pollinator friends.

    With one in three bites of food reliant on bees and other insects for pollination, the decline of honey bees and other pollinators due to pesticides, and other man-made causes demands immediate action. For more on this and what you can do to protect pollinators, visit Beyond Pesticides’ BEE Protective webpage.

    Thanks for Making GBBC A Success!

    The Great Backyard Bird Count wrapped up on Monday the 16th and while data is still coming in, it looks like we’ve had another record year for number of participants and checklists. Thanks for all that you do to promote the count, and be sure to check out the summary of the 2015 GBBC results.

    Protect Fones Cliff, a nationally important habitat for bald eagles, from being destroyed by real estate development

    Fones Cliff is a natural geologic formation that runs along the east of the Rappahannock River in Virginia. The cliff is a distinctive white color and can be seen from miles away. Fones Cliff has an abundance of natural resources and is located in an Important Bird Area of global significance. However, the one thing everyone notices about the cliff is that it is home to hundreds of bald eagles. Fones Cliff should be nationally recognized as one of the main settlements of bald eagles on the East Coast. Unfortunately, the area is being threatened by real estate development projects and proposed strip mines.

    Not only has Fones Cliff become important to the survival of the bald eagle, it is also a resting area for many other species as well. Not only do the eagles settle there, they also go there to rest after their migratory flights. Habitat destruction will eventually lead to the deaths of bald eagles and other species of birds. Please help preserve the bald eagles of Fones Cliff and their home.

    The bald eagle is our national symbol for freedom, and we need to think twice about destroying one of their main habitats. America must fight back and tell Congress and the President that we need to preserve a healthy ecosystem and the wild life that depends on it.

    Sign # 1 in “Calls to Action” above.

    Pressure for Federal Protection of Monarch Butterfly Grows As Public Comment Period Closes

    WASHINGTON— More than half a million people called on the government to protect the monarch butterfly today, as the public comment period on protecting monarchs under the Endangered Species Act closed. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now has nine months to determine whether to propose protections for the iconic orange and black butterfly which has declined by 90 percent in the last 20 years. The agency’s review of the monarch was spurred by a legal petition filed in August by the Center for Food Safety, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Xerces Society and renowned monarch scientist Dr. Lincoln Brower, all of whom submitted comments today renewing their call for the agency to list the monarch butterfly as threatened. In December the Service announced a positive initial finding on the petition and determined that Endangered Species Act protection for monarch butterflies may be warranted, triggering a one-year status review. The petition has been resoundingly supported by monarch experts, legislators, and the public.

    “Our petition is a scientific and legal blueprint for creating the comprehensive protection that the monarch so direly needs,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety. “It’s imperative that we protect monarchs now, before it’s too late.”

    Last month the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it will provide a total of $3.2 million to support monarch conservation projects. While this is a good start, that total falls far short of the funding that would be required to restore enough monarch habitat to ensure the butterfly’s future.

    “The money the government has pledged sounds like a lot, but the truth is it isn’t even enough to restore 1 percent of the habitat that’s been lost,” said Tierra Curry, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re at risk of losing an animal that’s as American as apple pie and nothing short of Endangered Species Act protection will guarantee that we save the monarch.”

    More than 40 leading monarch scientists and ecologists and more than 200 organizations and businesses sent letters to the agency urging federal protection for the monarch in November. Support from the general public has also been widespread, with over half a million signatures delivered in person today to FWS.* Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) has led a Dear Colleague letter in Congress in support of the ESA petition.

    “ESA protection and the benefits that it will bring may be the only way to save the monarch and its astounding migration,” said Sarina Jepsen, Endangered Species Program Director at the Xerces Society.

    As detailed in a new report from Center for Food Safety, the butterfly’s dramatic decline is being driven in large part by the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest, where most monarchs are born. The vast majority of genetically engineered crops are made to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, a potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s only food. The dramatic surge in Roundup use with Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in Midwestern corn and soybean fields. In the past 20 years it is estimated that these once-common iconic orange and black butterflies may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat — an area about the size of Texas — including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds. 

    The population has declined from a recorded high of approximately 1 billion butterflies in the mid-1990s to only 56.5 million butterflies this winter, the second lowest number ever recorded, after a slight rebound that is likely attributable to favorable weather during their breeding season. The overall population shows a steep and statistically significant decline of 82 percent over the past couple of decades. In addition to herbicide use with genetically engineered crops, monarchs are also threatened by global climate change, drought and heat waves, other pesticides, urban sprawl and logging on their Mexican wintering grounds.

    Monarchs need a very large population size to be resilient to threats from severe weather events and predation. Nearly half of the overwintering population in Mexico can be eaten by bird and mammal predators in any single winter; a single winter storm in 2002 killed an estimated 500 million monarchs — 8 times the size of the entire current population.

    The Fish and Wildlife Service must next issue a “12-month finding” on the monarch petition that will propose protection under the Endangered Species Act, reject protection under the Act or add the butterfly to the candidate waiting list for protection.

    George Kimbrell|Center for Food Safety|Tierra Curry|Center for Biological Diversity|Sarina Jepsen, The Xerces Society|March 2nd, 2015

    Panama bird paradise saved from destruction

    Panama Audubon Society (BirdLife in Panama) is celebrating after winning a hard-fought effort to reverse the Panama government’s 2012 decision to withdraw protected status for the Bay of Panama Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA), a site of international importance for migratory birds Birdlife International have reported.

    Its protected status had been pulled because of short-term economic pressure for urban and resort development, including hotels and golf courses. At the same time, regulations on mangrove cutting had also been relaxed.

    The legislative bill to reinstate full protection of the Bay of Panama was signed by Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela on February 2th 2015, World Wetlands Day. The new bill also includes recognition by law that the protected area is part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.

    “Many of the people that helped us in so many ways were at the signing ceremony”, said Panama Audubon Society’s Rosabel Miró in her correspondence. “Among those fighting shoulder to shoulder with us were NGO’s, community associations, business associations, politicians, allies from government institutions – they were celebrating, hugging us and smiling with us.”

    Under the new Panama government, spearheaded by President Juan Carlos Varela, the outlook for the site appears positive. “The protected area, the Bay of Panama wetlands, not only belongs to our country, but belongs to the world, so we must show that we are able to maintain it, so we can enjoy its natural wealth and future generations continue to receive its many benefits”, commented government representative Emilio Sempris, part of Panama’s National Environmental Authority (ANAM).

    “Through BirdLife we are part of a partnership that works for you when you need it the most”, finishes Miró in her message to BirdLife. “Even though our Partners can be geographically far far away we always felt somehow protected. We never felt alone. Thank you all. We really appreciate it.”

    Mountain birds are better problem-solvers than lowlanders

    The mountain chickadee is better at working out problems than its relatives that live at lower levels

    Living high up on an inhospitable mountain can make you mentally sharper. That’s what Dovid Kozlovsky and his colleagues at the University of Nevada in the US learned with mountain chickadees (Poecile gambeli), a North American bird from the tit family.

    Those birds that live at higher altitudes are better problem solvers than the same species living in lower regions.

    Previous research showed that mountain chickadees living at harsher high elevations have bigger hippocampi, the part of the brain which plays an important role in memory and spatial navigation.

    These chickadees also have far superior spatial memory. This helps them to be better at remembering where they hid food away for a later occasion.

    Animals living in challenging or unpredictable environments such as deserts or snowy mountain peaks are generally thought to have enhanced mental abilities.

    These include being better able to solve problems and not shying away from inspecting new things.

    To understand if this is also true for mountain chickadees, Kozlovsky and his colleagues caught 24 young birds in the Sagehen Experimental Forest in California that had not yet experienced a winter. 

    Their findings are published in Springer’s journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

    Twelve birds were caught at a site around 1,800m above sea level, while another dozen were captured 600m higher.

    Studies to test the birds’ problem-solving skills and their reaction to new objects were then conducted at the University of Nevada.

    The researchers first watched what happened when members of the two groups were confronted with a clear test tube plugged with a wad of cotton and with a waxworm inside.

    Members of the higher elevation group were able to work out how to remove the plug much more quickly than their counterparts from the lower region.

    The researchers also tested if the birds would readily investigate and feed from a feeder that looked very different from the one that they were used to.

    None of the birds in either altitude groups were inclined to do so. In fact, they all displayed similar degrees of neophobia, almost fearfully steering clear of the unknown object.

    They did so even though the new feeder was baited with waxworms, one of their favorite meals.

    According to Kozlovsky and his colleagues, this shows that problem solving and the ability to innovate and try new things do not necessarily go hand in hand in mountain chickadees.

    “Enhanced problem-solving ability might be associated with living in harsher environments either via natural selection or by the animal’s adaptability to different environments,” Kozlovsky hypothesizes.

    “However, differences in problem-solving ability are not necessarily associated with differences in neophobia.”

    Which Hawks Just Can’t Resist A Crowded Birdfeeder?

    It’s a distressing but all to common sight on winter days and we often hear from our readers who have witnessed it….

    This is the time of the year to see hawks attacking and eating birds at bird feeders.

    The typical scenario is a flock of songbirds quietly eating at feeders, when all of a sudden, a hawk swoops in and panics the birds into flight. A talented hawk may capture one of the songbirds in its talons, and then fly to a nearby tree to eat its prey.

    Some hawks learn that even if they miss on the first pass, a bird may fly into a window in panic, and make an easy prey on the hawk’s second pass.

    Many people are shocked at the sight of a hawk eating a songbird. Yet, it is all part of the balance of nature. Hawks have to eat, too, and a bird feeder is the perfect place to find their food.

    There are two species of hawks responsible for most of the predation on feeder birds: the Cooper’s hawk and the slightly smaller Sharp-shinned hawk.

    Except for size, they are almost identical in appearance. The larger Cooper’s has a slightly rounded tail, while the sharpie has a square tail. Both have long tails and short wings for pursuing small birds through trees and bushes.

    Both species are found throughout most of the continental United State, although the Cooper’s is probably the most commonly encountered.  The Sharp-shinned hawk’s range extends high into northern boreal forests of Canada while the Cooper’s tends to stay in the lower latitudes.

    As with all hawks, these two are protected by state and federal laws, and cannot be harmed or harassed.

    So, the solution is to live with them, as we live with other bird feeder problems, such as gluttonous squirrels and bully European starlings. It’s just a slice of life in the backyard habitat.

    eNature|March 04, 2015

    500,000 People Call on Feds to Save Monarchs

    This Monday, when the deadline hit to submit public comments on federal protection for monarchs, more than half a million people — including you, our supporters — had called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to place the butterfly on the endangered list. More than 40 leading monarch scientists and 200-plus organizations and businesses have also sent letters urging federal protection.

    The Center for Biological Diversity and allies originally petitioned to protect this iconic orange-and-black butterfly in a highly lauded petition last summer; in December the Service said protection under the Endangered Species Act may be warranted, triggering a one-year review of its status.

    In the past 20 years the monarch may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat, and its population has dropped from about 1 billion butterflies in the mid-1990s to 56.5 million this winter. Its decline is being driven by the use of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest, where most monarchs are born. These crops are usually resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, a potent killer of milkweed — the monarch caterpillar’s only food. The butterfly is also in danger from climate change, drought, heat waves and development.

    Thank you for speaking out for monarchs. Read more about our work to save these backyard favorites.

     Florida Panthers

    New Litters 2014

    Date Handled

    Mother

    Father

    Age of Litter

    # Males

    # Females

    Kitten IDs

    Location

    10/12/14

    FP226

    Unk

    12 days

    0

    2

    K435, K436

    Big Cypress National Preserve – Addition Lands Unit

    9/22/14

    FP219

    Unk

    3 weeks

    0

    3

    K432, K433, K434

    Private Property

    8/15/14

    FP162

    Unk

    12 days

    2

    1

    K429, K430, K431

    Big Cypress National Preserve

    6/24/14

    FP222

    Unk

    9 days

    1

    2

    K426, K427, K428

    Private Land

    5/31/14

    FP221

    Unk

    2-3 wks

    1

    1

    K424, K425

    Big Cypress National Preserve

    5/07/14

    FP229

    Unk

    2 weeks

    2

    1

    K421, K422, K423

    Big Cypress National Preserve – Addition Lands Unit

    4/30/14

    FP213

    Unk

    3 weeks

    1

    2

    K418, K419, K420

    Private Property

    4/15/14

    FP217

    Unk

    6 days

    1

    1

    K416, K417

    OK Slough State Forest

    4/10/14

    FP162

    Unk

    28-35 days

    2

    1

    K413, K414, K415

    Big Cypress National Preserve- Turner River Unit

    3/29/14

    FP215

    Unk

    3 weeks

    1

    1

    K411, K412

    Private Property

    3/22/14

    FP178

    Unk

    2.5 wks

    1

    1

    K409, K410

    Big Cypress National Preserve – Bear Island Unit

    3/13/14

    FP220

    Unk

    3.5 wks

    1

    2

    K406, K407, K408

    Big Cypress National Preserve

    1/23/14

    FP195

    Unk

    7 days

    1

    0

    *UCFP205

    Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge

    *This kitten was found cold and unresponsive and was removed to permanent captivity.

    It was given”UCFP” identification instead of”K” #

    14. Males, 18 Females

    New Litters 2015

    2/01/15

    FP224

    Unk

    17 days

    3

    1

    K337, K338, K339, K40

    Private property

     
    Depredation information can be viewed at: http://www.floridapanthernet.org/index.php/pulse/
    People can protect pets and other backyard animals from panthers and other predators by following the advice available at:

    Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 3/04/15

    Help Save the Florida Panther

    We’re protecting critical habitat for this extremely endangered animal… and you can help.

    Watch a video about how we’re helping to protect Florida panthers.

    Florida panthers are among the most endangered animals on the planet. Get the facts on the plight of panthers and how you can help. See the infographic.

    The Florida Panther is one of the most endangered mammals on the planet. Less than 160 cats remain in the wild. Most live around Okaloacoochee Slough, including the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, near Naples. Panther do roam north of this area (one was seen in Georgia) but they haven’t bred or established home ranges north of the Caloosahatchee River. This is a critical obstacle to the panthers’ survival.

    Panther must extend their range beyond the confines of their current territory to prevent extinction. Otherwise, as Doria Gordon, the Conservancy’s director of conservation, says, “The Florida panther will will remain endangered and at critical risk.” The Conservancy is working to protect Florida panther and you can help.

    Why is panther habitat expansion so critical?

    Their current habitat is simply too small and fragmented for the population to grow to a healthy and sustainable level. Panthers have reached maximum capacity within their home range, and, because they are solitary and territorial, panthers require large areas to hunt, breed and den successfully. Males defend territories of 200 square miles and a single female will establish her home range of 75 square miles within a male’s territory.

    Envision an area the size of Hillsborough County sustaining only 5 panthers. Miami–Dade County, one of the largest in the state, would provide home to 10 panthers. This may seem daunting at first but the good news is that large, undeveloped stretches of land still remain within the state’s interior and protecting these lands may mean the difference between extinction and survival for the Florida Panther. Donate today to help.

    What is being done to help Florida Panther survival?

    The Nature Conservancy is leading an effort to protect panther habitat by establishing links to connect existing green spaces. We’ve protected thousands of acres of prime panther habitat already within the Greater Everglades and land protected on the Caloosahatchee River has made the outlook brighter. Protected only hours before foreclosure, this land purchase secures a highly used passage for panther crossing the Caloosahatchee River and looking for new habitat. Without this property, extinction was a near certainty but with this link permanently intact, the Conservancy is determined to build on this foundation, by protecting and restoring key links north of the river up into central Florida.

    How can you help Florida Panthers?

    Our goal is to ensure permanent protection for 7,300 acres of prime panther habitat, which will link existing green spaces and panther habitat. To do this, we will need to raise $8 million dollars. We plan to leverage that with $21 million dollars of public conservation funding. This will allow us to permanently protect lands that link existing green spaces and create a larger protected home range for panthers to expand and grow.

    What Other Threats Do Florida Panthers Face?

    Beyond limited habitat, panther are threatened by disease, continued habitat loss, collisions with vehicles and aggression between panthers that fight over limited territory. Any combination of these factors can result in extinction of Florida Panthers.

    Fun Facts about Florida Panthers

    Did you know…?

    • And you thought your mother loved you.
      Panther mothers remain with their young for about one and a half to two years.
    • A Florida panther would beat your high school track star any day…
      Panthers can leap more than 15 feet and can run 35 miles per hour for short distances.
    • …but not compete in a heavyweight boxing match.
      Males weigh around 120 pounds and are 7 ft long from nose to end of tail. (Panther’s tails are 2/3 of their body length.) At birth, the cubs weight just four to eight ounces! That’s less than a one-month-old house cat.
    • Who says venison and bacon aren’t a delicacy?
      Panthers’ diet includes deer and wild pigs.
    • Learn more facts about Florida panthers.

      Invasive species

    Invasive Rock Pythons Slowly Encroaching on Florida Everglades

    The Northern African Python, also called an African rock python or simply a rock python, continues to threaten the Everglades, prompting the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to increase efforts at locating and removing the invasive snake before its population grows too big to handle.

    So far, rock pythons are believed to be confined to a single county. This has made seeking out the invasive species easier for the FWC and its partners but they can’t be complacent unless they want another snake population rivaling the Burmese python’s. To ensure that none have ventured beyond the Bird Drive Recharge Area in the western portion of the Miami-Dade County, the FWC is scheduling surveys, taking advantage of the weather.

    “Snakes often bask in open areas on sunny days during cool winter weather,” explained Jenny Ketterlin Eckles, a biologist with the FWC.

    This would make spotting rock pythons easier because they would be more out in the open.

    In their native land Africa, rock pythons can grow up to 20 feet in length. In Florida, they are smaller at an average of 10 feet in length but still pose a great threat to local wildlife.

    Aside from the Everglades National Park, the FWC and its partners will also be surveying parcels of land that have not been searched before. They will also be reaching out to landowners and residents in the area to facilitate canvassing.

    It’s still unclear how rock pythons got to Florida but it is possible that some were dumped illegally in the state or accidentally escaped from their owners. They were first spotted in 2001 but surveillance and removal efforts didn’t start until 2009.

    The FWC listed rock pythons as a conditional species in 2010, making it illegal for any individual to acquire the snake in Florida for personal use. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the snake as an injurious reptile species in 2012, making it illegal to transport the rock python across state borders. Rock pythons also can’t be imported into the United States without the necessary permits.

    Rock pythons look a lot like Burmese pythons but feature less-defined scale patterns on their backs. It’s easiest to tell them apart by looking at their bellies–rock pythons have markings of black and white while Burmese pythons have white undersides.

    To help the FWC in tracking the rock python’s activities, residents in the area are advised to report sightings immediately.

    Dianne Depra|Tech Times|January 30, 2015

    FWC begins research study to help manage lionfish in the Florida Keys

    Researchers target five habitat areas in the Florida Keys to assess lionfish populations to help develop a management plan for the invasive species.

    If you fish, dive or conduct other aquatic activities in Florida, you may have encountered a lionfish. Its exotic, zebra-like appearance is hard to miss, and biologists aren’t overlooking the negative impact this invasive species is having on Florida’s marine life. The lionfish is a non-native predatory reef fish that feeds on native Florida fish and competes with them for food. Because they have no known predators in Florida waters, lionfish are spreading rapidly. Biologists and fisheries managers are well-aware, and the FWC recognized the importance of controlling the lionfish population and the difficulties associated with managing an exotic, invasive species in a marine environment.

    A large-scale lionfish eradication has been proposed in recent years, but results from past lionfish studies determined that wiping the species out completely may not be possible even with substantial financial resources. Population control is the next viable option, so in 2013 the FWC began a research study funded by the Conserve Wildlife Tag program to study the species in five selected reef habitats in the Middle Florida Keys.  For the project, researchers identify key habitats affected by lionfish and study the impact of lionfish on local fish populations. The study’s goal is to provide managers with guidelines to prioritize locations for lionfish management and inform stakeholders of effective control strategies. 

    Project scientists selected five different reef habitat types representative of the Florida Keys for targeted removal efforts. At these habitat sites, researchers are assessing the rate of re-colonization after lionfish are removed, as well as changes in the number of native species. To do this, researchers use monthly visual assessments. The team first performs an initial visual assessment before removing any lionfish. Following the initial assessment, researchers remove all lionfish from the targeted habitat sites. Subsequent monthly visual assessments will allow researchers to document newly settled lionfish and determine how quickly the species re-colonizes these habitats. Additionally, by maintaining a lionfish-free environment through systematic monthly removals, researchers will be able to determine whether lionfish have negatively affected the numbers of native species. Researchers believe that fewer lionfish in these habitats will result in an increase in native fish.

    In another aspect of the project, scientists use acoustic tracking technology and video monitoring to observe lionfish behavior and movement patterns.  Movement and behavior data will provide fishery managers with more accurate community structure information and enable scientists to determine how often lionfish migrate between adjacent sites.  By determining how often lionfish venture to and from adjacent sites, and how far they venture, scientists will be able to accurately estimate the true home range of lionfish.

    Learning more about lionfish will increase our capacity to effectively manage this fish and its negative effects. Instead of a short-term fix, researchers and managers are working together to develop a long-term plan for effective, sustainable management of lionfish.

    To view more photos on lionfish research, visit our flickr set.

    Endangered Species

    Wild Giant Panda Population on the Rise

    It’s good news for the furry black and white bear that has come to symbolize wildlife conservation. China announced the results of its Fourth National Giant Panda Survey, which WWF supported with financial and technical expertise.
    Here are the numbers:

    • 1,864 estimated minimum population of wild pandas
    • 16.8% increase in wild panda numbers over the past decade

    “The rise in the population of wild giant pandas is a victory for conservation and definitely one to celebrate,” said Ginette Hemley, Senior Vice President of Wildlife Conservation at WWF. “WWF is grateful to have had the opportunity to partner with the Chinese government to contribute to panda conservation efforts.”

    See panda photos + read more  ►

    The World’s Rarest Big Cat Is Making a Comeback

    Conservationists and wildlife lovers are celebrating the news that things are starting to look up for the Amur leopard, who is believed to be the rarest big cat in the world.

    In 2007, there were estimated to be just 30 of these critically endangered leopards left in the wild, but a recent census has found that their numbers have more than doubled in less than a decade.

    There are now believed to be at least 57 Amur leopards in Russia’s Land of the Leopard National Park, while an additional 8 to 12 leopards were counted in adjacent land in China.

    According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which announced the results of the census, park rangers and scientists from the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences set up camera traps throughout the 650,000 acre park to count these elusive cats. They gathered an estimated 10,000 photos, allowing them to count and identify individual leopards by their distinctive markings.

    While their numbers are still low, their advocates believe the increase is a positive sign these leopards can yet fully recover with continued conservation efforts.

    “Such a strong rebound in Amur leopard numbers is further proof that even the most critically endangered big cats can recover if we protect their habitat and work together on conservation efforts,” Dr. Barney Long, who leads Asian species conservation for WWF in the U.S., said in a statement. “There’s still a lot of work to be done in order to secure a safe future for the Amur leopard, but these numbers demonstrate that things are moving in the right direction.”

    The establishment of the Land of the Leopard National Park along the border of China and Russian Far East in 2012 is being hugely credited for helping these cats along the road to recovery. Not only does the park provide a safe haven for Amur leopards in an estimated 60 percent of their remaining habitat, but it encompasses all of their breeding grounds.

    “The national park became the main organizational force for leopard protection and research,” said Yury Darman, head of WWF Russia Amur Branch and a member of the Supervisory Board of The Amur Leopards Center.

    Conservation efforts in the area and establishment of the park are also benefiting another rare big cat, the Amur Tiger, who is otherwise known as the Siberian tiger. The good news for Amur leopards follows more for these endangered tigers who were once also pushed to the brink, before Russia became the first country to offer them full protection.

    Just last week, footage from WWF camera traps was released that showed a tiger family playing about 20 miles from the Russian border. According to the organization, it’s the first video evidence of these tigers in China. Before seeing this, the only evidence of their presence was their footprints.

    Going forward, conservationists now hope to see the establishment of a nature reserve that spans both Russia and China, which would allow these rare big cats to travel safely across the borders between the two.

    Alicia Graef|February 26, 2015

    Are India’s Growing Tiger Population Numbers Too Good to Be True?

    Recently, India’s national tiger census gave us some good news: the tiger population was up 30 percent. However, a new study of the methods used to make that count suggest that those figures can’t be supported.

    As we previously reported here at Care2, India’s latest census of tiger numbers appeared to show a 30 percent rise in the country’s tiger population, which would mean that over the past four years alone India’s tiger population increased by around a third. To put that in some real-world context, the census put India’s tiger population at 1,706 in 2011. By 2014 the census suggested that there may be as many as 2,226 tigers–that’s still not an ideal level but it does put the tigers in a much better position and moves them a little further away from the danger of population collapse.

    That figure was met by jubilation from many conservation groups, after all tigers are one the most threatened species in the world today. The Indian government, too, said that this was “proof” that India’s sometimes criticized approach to biodiversity was working. However, it now seems those numbers might be too good to be true.

    Research by scientists at the University of Oxford suggests that the statistical model that was used to count tigers isn’t suitable to accurately predict overall tiger numbers. Due to the fact that it’s unfeasible to try to count every individual tiger, scientists will often employ statistical models to try to estimate the number of tigers in any given area. They can use a variety of methods to do this, but the aim is always to produce a conservative estimate based on reliable data. The method used for this latest population sample did not do that.

    The precise method that was used is called an index-calibration. Using this approach, agencies estimate overall populations by combining small data from expensive on the ground monitoring–for instance via using camera traps which are highly accurate–and less reliable measures like counting tiger tracks. Obviously, the success of this approach depends on the quality of information, and it seems in this instance the quality just wasn’t there.

    University of Oxford researchers tested the model by using it to suggest figures of tiger populations in smaller geographical areas and compared that to tiger fieldwork data which is based on sightings and careful tracking. Publishing in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, the researchers found that the model the Indian government had used has a poor success rate at predicting tiger numbers accurately.

    To be clear, the Oxford team is not suggesting there hasn’t been a rise in India’s tiger numbers, but the team does say that the particular population figures the Indian government has derived from its census can’t be supported. One of the key areas the researchers found lacking was that India’s government appears to have used data from over 10 years ago where population densities were put at 12 to 16 tigers per 100 square kilometers in some regions. Given that other models have shown that the tiger population in those areas has never been that high, we can see why this use of unreliable data could and probably did bias the results.

    Dr. Ullas Karanth, co-author of the research, is quoted by the Guardian as saying: ”This study exposes fundamental statistical weaknesses in the sampling, calibration and extrapolations that are at the core of methodology used by the government to estimate India’s numbers, thus undermining their reliability.”

    The Indian government has defended the study as being the best method currently available. Conservationists don’t appear bothered about pointing fingers on this, though. Instead, they stress that getting an accurate figure on tiger populations is the most important thing. Globally, tigers remain one of the most threatened species, and in order to properly address that conservationists need to know what conservation methods are working.

    Overall, tigers have lost almost 93 percent of their habitats due to deforestation and continue to be dogged by poachers who sell tiger body parts most often for so-called traditional medicines, but also trade in their furs.

    It’s important to stress that India does appear to have been successful in stabilizing its tiger population, at least to some degree, but to truly know whether Indian tigers are bouncing back and bucking a global downward trend, we’ll need more reliable information than the census can provide.

    Steve Williams|February 26, 2015

    Tiny Oregon fish a first

    The Oregon chub will be the first fish to ever be removed from endangered species status. This tiny minnow exclusive to Oregon suffered a major decline throughout the 20th century as damming and other landscape engineering diminished their habitat. The introduction of non-native bluegill and bass also contributed to driving the tiny fish to the brink of extinction. However, thanks to projects across the state and the efforts of federal and state wildlife biologists, the chub has been able to recover from its meager population of 1,000 in 1993 to 140,000 today.

    Murder of Costa Rican Sea Turtle Conservationist Jairo Mora Goes Unpunished

    On the evening of May 31, 2013, Jairo Mora Sandoval, a young sea turtle conservationist, and four foreign volunteers—three Americans and one Spaniard—were working to working to protect leatherback sea turtle nests on Moin Beach in Costa Rica, from poachers.  Sadly, that never happened. The group stopped to remove a log blocking the roadway and was kidnapped by masked men. 

    Mora, 26, was brutally murdered and died from asphyxiation after being dragged behind a truck. The four female volunteers were sexually assaulted, but managed to escape with their lives. 

    Seven men were arrested for their connections to the murder, and the sexual assaults, but this January, nearly two years later, they were found not guilty in the Costa Rican courts due to incomplete evidence, mishandling of evidence, and an ineffective investigation. Since the murder, there has been no sea turtle protection on Moin Beach.

    FWC News Release: Do not disturb Florida’s nesting sea turtles ‏

    It can be thrilling to watch a sea turtle crawl onto the beach at night and dig a large hole in the sand to lay dozens of eggs. Just remember that “Do not disturb” is the best behavior to follow when observing a nesting sea turtle.

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) asks people not to get too close, shine lights on, or take flash photos of nesting sea turtles.

    Spring is the beginning of sea turtle nesting season in Florida. From now through the end of October, thousands of sea turtles will land on Atlantic and Gulf coast beaches to lay their eggs. With Florida hosting one of the largest loggerhead nesting aggregations in the world, this becomes an opportunity for residents and visitors to play an important role in conserving these long-lived reptiles. People can help by taking turtle-friendly precautions on the beach.

    “Take care when you’re on a Florida beach at night and do not disturb the nesting sea turtles,” said Dr. Robbin Trindell, who leads the FWC’s sea turtle management program. “People can help save threatened and endangered sea turtles by giving them enough space and privacy to safely and successfully lay their eggs. It’s as simple as keeping your distance and avoiding shining lights or taking flash photos of the nesting sea turtles.”

    Loggerheads, leatherbacks and green turtles are the primary species of sea turtles that nest in the Sunshine State. Loggerheads had another good nesting year in 2014 with 86,870 nests recorded statewide.

    “Conservation actions of Floridians and visitors to the state may have contributed to the general upward trend in sea turtle nest numbers in recent years. That’s wonderful news for the sea turtles,” said Trindell. “However, these species still face significant threats during their long-distance oceanic migrations. Whatever we can do to help our sea turtles will make a difference.”

    Ways to protect nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings:

    • Remain at a distance from nesting sea turtles and hatchlings.
    • Remove chairs, canopies, boats and other items from the beach at night, because they block the movement of turtles and hatchings.
    • Turn off or shield lights along the beach, in order to prevent hatchlings from getting confused and going toward lights on land instead of the salt water, where they belong.
    • Use red LED flashlights on the beach at night, adjust cell phone screens to dark mode and don’t take flash photos.
    • Fill in holes that people dug in the sand during the day, so nesting sea turtles and hatchlings don’t fall in and get stuck there at night.
    • Correctly dispose of fishing line, so it won’t entangle sea turtles and other animals.
    • Remember it is illegal to harm, harass or take sea turtles, their eggs and hatchlings, including getting too close to a nesting female.
    • Report sick, injured, entangled or dead sea turtles to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline, 1-888-404-3922 (FWCC).

    Support Florida’s sea turtles by purchasing the “Helping Sea Turtles Survive” license tag at BuyaPlate.com. Tag funds go toward sea turtle research, rescue and conservation efforts. People also can donate $5 and receive an FWC sea turtle decal. For decals or to learn more about sea turtles, go to MyFWC.com/SeaTurtle.

    To see 2014 statewide nesting totals, go to MyFWC.com/Research, then click on “Wildlife” and “Sea Turtles” and then “Nesting.”

    Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission|3/02/15

    Study finds reasons for coral reef collapse and gives pointers for the future

    A new study has found that La Niña-like conditions – cooler sea temperatures, greater precipitation and stronger upwelling – in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Panamá were closely associated with an abrupt shutdown in coral reef growth that lasted 2,500 years. 

    The study, conducted by Georgia Institute of Technology in the US suggests that future changes in climate similar to those in the study could cause coral reefs to collapse in a similar way.

    The researchers identified La Niña-like conditions at the study site in Panama, during a period when coral reef accretion stopped in this region around 4,100 years ago.

    They collected a reef core and then used the corals within the core to reconstruct what the environment was like as far back as 6,750 years ago.

    They compared the core to surrounding environmental conditions before, during and after the 2,500-year hiatus in vertical accretion.

    “We saw evidence for a different climate regime during that time period,” says Kim Cobb, an associate professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech.

    “The geochemical signals were consistent with a period that is very cool and very wet, with very strong upwelling, which is more like a modern day La Niña event in this part of the Pacific.

    “Investigating the long-term history of reefs and their geochemistry is something that is difficult to do in many places, so this was a unique opportunity to look at the relationship between reef growth and environment

    “This study shows that there appears to have been environmental triggers for this well-documented reef collapse in Panama.”

    The study was sponsored by the Geological Society of America, the American Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution’s Marine Science Network and published in the journal Nature Climate Change. 

    The global coral reef landscape is now characterized by declining coral cover, reduced growth and calcification, and slowdowns in reef accretion, attributed to climate change.

    The new study provides data to assist scientists in understanding how changes in the environment trigger long-term changes in coral reef growth and ecosystem function, which is a critical challenge to coral-reef conservation.

    “Temperature was a key cause of reef collapse and modern temperatures are now within several degrees of the maximum these reefs experienced over their 6,750 year history,” said Lauren Toth, the study’s lead author.

    Future climate change, similar to the changes during the hiatus in coral growth, could cause coral reefs to behave similarly, the study authors suggest, leading to another shutdown in reef development in the tropical eastern Pacific.

    “We are in the midst of a major environmental change that will continue to stress corals over the coming decades, so the lesson from this study is that there are these systems such as coral reefs that are sensitive to environmental change and can go through this kind of wholesale collapse in response to these environmental changes,” Cobb said.

    Future work will involve expanding the study to include additional locations throughout the tropical Pacific.

    “A broad-scale perspective on long-term reef growth and environmental variability would allow us to better characterize the environmental thresholds leading to reef collapse and the conditions that facilitate survival,” Toth said.

    “A better understanding of the controls on reef development in the past will allow us to make better predictions about which reefs may be most vulnerable to climate change in the future.”

    Turn down the lights: Destin implements turtle-safe lighting

    The Emerald Coast beach line is the seasonal home not only to snowbirds and tourists, but also to several species of sea turtles, who take to the land each year from April through November. The animals come to shore long enough to nest on the sandy beaches and lay their eggs before returning to the sea.

    In recent years however, development along the water line has led to trouble for the turtles. Often, when new hatchlings attempt to trek back to the Gulf, they are misguided by bright lights coming from the shore, as they mistake the lights for their honing beacon, the moon. In order to address this problem, the city of Destin has been working since 2013 to implement turtle-safe lighting along waterfront properties, and has now reached the final stages of accomplishing full compliance.

    “In our land development code there is a whole outdoor lighting section detailing the marine turtle conservation areas,” said City Community Development Director Ken Gallander. “We have a whole set of standards to improve the nesting habitat so that it is not polluted by lighting.”

    The code states that turtle-safe lighting requirements include; ensuring that light is not directly visible from the beach; that only low wattage bulbs of 50 watts or lower are used; that parking lot lights are shielded by directing light downward; and that reflective materials are removed from beach line-of-sight.

    In late 2013, the city received a grant and began the West Destin Beach Nourishment Project. The grant, which included state and federal dollars, required the city to follow state regulations for all properties within marine turtle conservation zone.

    “Our code enforcement officers worked with a beach nourishment consultant and began with Holiday Isle on the west end of our beaches,” said Gallander. “The numbers that came out were 171 lighting violations, but all of those were brought under compliance by the property owners.”

    Once the west end of Destin was completed, city officials focused on the area from Pelican Beach east to the county line.

    Savannah Vasquez|February 27, 2015

    More Than 100 Animals Rescued From Mexican Politician’s Squalid Private Zoo

    When a conservative Mexican politician has a private zoo behind his home, you expect the worst. Unfortunately, as investigators discovered, you wouldn’t be wrong.

    After getting complaints from visitors to a private menagerie, officials from Mexico’s Federal Environmental Prosecutor’s Office, PROFEPA, decided to investigate. They raided the Club de los Animalitos zoo in the city of Tehuacan in late February 2015.

    That zoo is owned by Mexican politician Sergio Gomez Olivier, a member of Mexico’s National Action Party.

    Officials found an astounding number of exotic animals living in appalling squalor. Five African lions, 15 Bengal tigers, a camel, three bison, two grizzly bears, nine jaguars, five pumas, seven leopards, and various types of birds and primates reportedly lived crammed together in Gomez’s dirty little zoo.

    In many cases, those cramped cages were stacked on top of one another, allowing the urine and feces of the animals at the top of the stack to fall down onto the animals below. The close quarters also made the animals more aggressive, reportedly resulting in injuries due to fights.

    All told, about 240 animals lived this way. Authorities confiscated 101 of them during the raid, citing their shabby living conditions and lack of adequate care. The zoo reportedly had no veterinarian on staff. The living enclosures provided poor to no ventilation, even during the hot Mexican summers.

    “[T]here is no safety for the visiting public and the animals themselves, due to the lack of a barrier separating one from the other,” noted PROFEPA in a statement. “It is possible to access the wildlife specimens simply by sticking a hand into the enclosure.”

    Complaints about this private zoo aren’t new. Animal lovers have been worried about it for years. Watch a two-part 2011 video report about the Gomez zoo here:

    Private zoos are often badly run, poorly managed and an out-and-out danger to the animals they house. This one seems no different. Unfortunately, these places flourish in places where the rich and powerful can get their way. It must be a bit of a thrill to show off your own personal white tiger or grizzly bear to your friends and constituents.

    When will people learn that exotic and wild animals are not meant to be penned up for the personal amusement of humans? Will the menagerie of Sergio Gomez Olivier be shut down for good? What will happen to the rest of the animals?  Only time will tell.

    At least now authorities are listening to the complaints of those who know those animals are suffering. That’s a big step in the right direction.

    Susan Bird|March 2, 2015

    Baby Tortoises Born On Galapagos Island For The First Time In A Century

    For the first time in more than one hundred years, researchers have found newborn baby tortoises on the tiny Galapagos island of Pinzón. It’s a major win for a population that has struggled after being nearly decimated by human impact.

    “We found ten tiny, newly hatched saddleback tortoises on the island early last month,” wrote a trio of researchers in the January 15th issue of the journal Nature. “There could be many more, because their size and camouflage makes them hard to spot. Our discovery indicates that the giant tortoise is once again able to reproduce on its own in the wild.”

    Whalers and invasive rats devastated the species when they arrived aboard ships in the 17th and 18th centuries; the rats then spent more than a century preying on the island’s hatchlings, according to the Galapagos Conservancy.

    The tiny turtle find validates more than 50 years of conservation efforts, which have included growing hatchlings in captivity until they are large enough to be released without falling prey to rats, as well as a push to eradicate the rodents. The arid island was finally declared rat-free in 2012.

    The newborn tortoises are proof that the campaign to eliminate black rats on Pinzón has had a huge positive impact, according to Dr. James Gibbs, one of the researchers on the survey project and a professor at State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

    “This new bunch of ‘little guys’ is one of the important results of the rat eradication campaign,” Gibbs explained on the Galapagos Conservancy blog shortly after the discovery in December, “tangible proof that with dedication, hard work, support, and heart, conservation efforts can effect positive change.”

    Since The Galapagos National Park was established in 1959, writes Gibbs, the tortoise population has rebounded from 100-200 “very old individuals” to a current population estimated at “well over 500.”

    Ryan Grenoble|The Huffington Post|03/03/2015

    Enforcement Needed on Gillnet Ban to Save Vaquitas From Extinction

    First some tentative good news on vaquitas, extremely rare porpoises in the Gulf of California pushed to the brink of extinction via drowning in fishing nets: The Mexican government has proposed a two-year ban on the use of gillnets in the northern Gulf. This follows legal action by the Center seeking trade sanctions to protect the small porpoises, which could vanish by 2018 without drastic help.

    But there’s a big wrinkle. The ban isn’t going to work unless there’s a lasting commitment to rigorously enforce it and halt illegal fishing; and two years’ ban, beginning in April, isn’t long enough to recover vaquitas. Fewer than 100 individuals are left in the world, and half their population disappeared in the past three years. Staving off extinction will require heroic measures.

    “We’re pleased that Mexico’s finally moving forward with a long-overdue gillnet ban, but there are few indications government officials will see that it is actually implemented or maintained,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Brendan Cummings.

    Read more at The New York Times’ Dot Earth.

    Northwest Seabird Wins Again

    A rare Pacific Northwest seabird called the marbled murrelet won this week in yet another attempt by the timber industry to strip its Endangered Species Act protections. On Monday a judge rejected the industry’s fifth appeal of federal protections for the murrelet’s old-growth forest habitat along the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California.

    The marbled murrelet is a shy, robin-sized bird that feeds at sea but nests only in old-growth forests along the Pacific Coast, each female laying an egg every year on a large, ancient, moss-covered branch. In 1992 the Fish and Wildlife Service protected marbled murrelets in the three states as a threatened species; the timber industry has been fighting that decision for 15 years in court, but to no avail. This week the court again dismissed industry’s lawsuit as frivolous.

    “We know what we need to do to save the marbled murrelet,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Noah Greenwald, “and that’s protecting the last coastal old-growth forests in Washington, Oregon and California.”

    Read more in our press release.

    4 Million People Demand Obama Administration to Protect Bees from Toxic Insecticides

    Today, a coalition of more than 125 conservation, beekeeping, food safety, religious and farming advocacy groups rallied in front of the White House and delivered more than four million petition signatures calling on the Obama administration to put forth strong protections for bees and other pollinators.

    Representatives Earl Blumenauer and John Conyers reintroduced the Saving America’s Pollinators Act, which would suspend the use of four of the most toxic neonicotinoids until the U.S. EPA conducts a full review of their safety.

    The rally coincided with both a D.C. metro ad campaign, and Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and John Conyers’ (D-MI) reintroduction of the Saving America’s Pollinators Act, “which would suspend the use of four of the most toxic neonicotinoids until the Environmental Protection Agency conducts a full review of their safety,” said Friends of the Earth.

    Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides that are known to have acute and chronic effects on honey bees and other pollinator species, and are considered a major factor in overall population declines. Twenty-nine independent scientists conducted a global review of 1,121 independent studies and found overwhelming evidence of pesticides linked to bee declines.

    Concerned citizens refuse to sit idly by as pollinator species plummet. The action today followed a letter on Monday drafted by the coalition urging President Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to “take swift and meaningful action to address the impacts of toxic pesticides on pollinator species.” While the European Union passed a two-year moratorium on three of the most widely used neonicotinoids, the U.S. government has done very little.

    “The EPA plans to wait until 2018 before reviewing the registration of neonicotinoids. But America’s bees cannot wait three more years. Neither can the thousands of farmers that rely on pollinators,” said Representative Conyers. “Our honeybees are critical to ecological sustainability and to our economy. I am urging all of my colleagues to please protect our pollinators and support the Saving America’s Pollinators Act.”

    President Obama announced the creation of the Pollinator Health Task Force this past June and recommendations are expected later this month. “Given the historic decline in the population of pollinators—bees, butterflies and birds—it is critical that the president and White House Task Force show forceful leadership in addressing all factors contributing to the crisis, with the suspension of neonicotinoid insecticides being a critically necessary action,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, who spoke at today’s rally.

    Advocates remain hopeful that the task force will take a strong stance, but they worry that federal agencies might do more of the same—voluntary farming management practices, insignificant pesticide label changes and weak state pollinator plans, according to Friends of the Earth. Given the EPA’s continued registration of pesticides that are known to be highly toxic to pollinators, there’s reason for concern.

    Forward-thinking businesses that employ triple bottom line principles understand what’s at stake. “Business leaders nationally recognize the importance of pollinators to the well-being of the economy, people, and ecosystems,” said Fran Teplitz, Co-Executive Director, Green Business Network and Bryan McGannon, Deputy Director, American Sustainable Business Council. “Businesses committed to sustainability support strong federal action to protect pollinators from pesticides linked to their decline; now is the time to act.”

    The four million signatures were collected by Avaaz, Beyond Pesticides, the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, CREDO, Earthjustice, Environment America, Food and Water Watch, Food Democracy Now!, Friends of the Earth U.S., Green America, MoveOn, Organic Consumers Association, Pesticide Action Network, Save Our Environment, TakePart and Toxic Free North Carolina.

    Cole Mellino|March 4, 2015

    FWC moving forward with comprehensive approach to reducing conflicts with bears

    In response to rapidly increasing conflicts and several incidents where bears seriously injured people, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is building on its long-standing, proactive approach to bear management. At its Feb. 4 meeting in Jacksonville, the FWC approved a plan to move forward with a variety of tools to manage bears and help reduce human-bear conflicts.

    “Our multipronged approach focuses on maintaining bear populations at healthy levels while ensuring public safety,” said Commissioner Brian Yablonski. “However, this is not something we can do on our own. There has to be an element of getting the community to police itself, since food attractants are the vast majority of the problem.”

    The Commission provided staff guidance to move forward on several issues. Staff were directed to refine changes to the Bear, Fox, and Raccoon Feeding Rule 68A-4.001(3), and the Bear Conservation Rule 68A-4.009. Detailed information on the proposed amendments will be posted at MyFWC.com/Bear.

    The Commission also expressed support for policy changes including more aggressive removal of conflict bears and additional options for the public and law enforcement agencies to haze bears.

    “We are taking a more aggressive approach to conflict bears in neighborhoods and will continue to partner with counties, municipalities and homeowner associations to reduce conflicts by securing bear attractants like garbage,” said FWC Chairman Richard Corbett. “Properly securing garbage and other attractants is the single most important action for reducing conflict situations with bears.”

    The Commission also asked staff to move forward with developing specific plans for a limited bear hunt in certain parts of Florida. Hunting alone is not likely to reduce human-bear conflicts in urban and suburban areas. However, in other states, hunting has proved to be an effective measure for managing bear populations and can help more direct measures of reducing conflicts such as securing attractants and removing conflict bears.

    “Many of the bear conflict issues we are facing, particularly comprehensive waste management, go far beyond the ability of the FWC to handle alone,” said Dr. Thomas Eason, director of the FWC’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation. “We all must share in the responsibility to manage human-bear conflicts effectively to achieve sustainable coexistence.”

    If you would like to provide comment regarding bear-related topics discussed at the Commission meeting, visit MyFWC.com/Bear. This link will also provide information about Florida black bears and how to avoid conflicts with them.

    Please report any threatening bear behavior to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

    Honey Girl Has a Pup and Sea Lion Update ‏


    Hawaiian monk seal Honey Girl has given birth to her ninth pup and it’s a girl! And she’s the first monk seal pup born in 2015. This pup is truly a miracle, considering Honey Girl was near death just two years ago when she was rescued from a beach on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

    Honey Girl’s mouth was swollen as a result of a fishing hook lodged in her cheek, and she had been unable to eat for weeks. Veterinary staff from The Marine Mammal Center removed the hook and nursed Honey Girl back to health before releasing her back to the wild.

    Thanks to help from the public, Honey Girl got a second chance at life and is now able to help contribute to the continued survival of her endangered species.

    The Marine Mammal Center|enewsletter@tmmc.org|3/06/15 

    Wild & Weird

    Watch Orderly Hermit Crabs Line Up Biggest To Smallest, Swap Shells In ‘Conga Line’

    Everglades

    Florida Crystals: Environmentalists Could ‘Derail’ Everglades Restoration

    Florida Crystals Corp. is pushing back against an environmental coalition seeking to attach the purchase of U.S. Sugar property south of Lake Okeechobee to voter-approved Amendment 1, saying such an effort could “derail” ongoing Everglades improvement projects. Florida Crystals sent out a statement Friday afternoon criticizing the Everglades Trust’s earlier announcement that the organization will continue to urge lawmakers to support the sugar-land buy.

    “The state cannot allow the Everglades Foundation to once again derail restoration,” Florida Crystals Vice President Gaston Cantens said in a release. “It was only a short time ago that the Foundation coerced a Florida governor into stopping meaningful projects in order to waste restoration dollars on needless land acquisition. The state has more than 100,000 acres already in public ownership for Everglades restoration. It’s time to stay the course and use that land for restoration work.”

    Florida Crystals instead wants the state to follow the $880 million long-term Everglades restoration plan (HB 7065) approved by Gov. Rick Scott and legislators in 2013, which steers $32 million a year toward cleaning up water run-off from South Florida farms. The Everglades Trust wants lawmakers to designate about $350 million to purchase 46,800 acres, including 26,100 acres to be used for construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir.

    The state has until Oct. 12 to sign off on the deal or would have to buy an additional 157,000 acres to get land for the reservoir. The agreement, which took two years to complete, was signed by former Gov. Charlie Crist in 2010. The trust considers the deal the only option immediately available to send and store water from Lake Okeechobee south through the Everglades. The money would come from the voter-approved constitutional amendment, expected to generate about $757 million this year for land and water maintenance and preservation. Lawmakers will have to divvy up the money during the 60-day regular session that begins Tuesday

    Randall|THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA|February 28th, 2015

    $2 Billion plan to restore Everglades stuck in Congressional limbo

    The plan aims to reverse much of the 20th-century draining of the Everglades.

    In the 20th century the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers drained much of Florida’s Everglades to prepare the wetlands for development. At the dawn of the 21st century, Congress directed the corps to reverse much of that work and restore the Everglades to a more natural condition.
    It’s proving to be a very slow process.

    Last week, the corps approved a central element of the restoration plan: a $2 billion series of engineering projects designed to collect water around Lake Okeechobee, in the center of the Everglades, and channel it south into the rest of the wetlands. The corps had hoped this Central Everglades Planning Project would be approved and funded by Congress quickly.

    But Congress is operating on its own schedule. On May 22—the day before the corps took action—the Senate passed and sent to President Obama a bill funding water projects nationwide. Although it includes some money for the Everglades, it was passed before the Central Everglades Planning Project was finalized.

    Now it could take years before Congress passes another water bill—it’s been seven years since the last one—and projects that are critical to the restoration of Florida’s famous swamplands could face long delays.

    Proponents of restoration argue that more urgency is needed. Dawn Shirreffs, senior policy adviser for the Everglades Foundation, an advocacy group, hopes the corps’ approval of the Central Everglades Planning Project will spark Congress to revisit the issue sooner.

    The corps concurs. “We’re at a key point for gaining and keeping momentum,” says Kim Taplin, its Central Everglades branch chief.

    A River of Grass

    Florida’s coasts were among the first places explored by Europeans in the 1500s, but the newcomers were reluctant to venture far into the seemingly endless, swampy interiors. The vast expanse of subtropical wetlands—the saw grass marshes, mangrove forests, and dense stands of tropical hardwood trees called hammocks—were not fully charted until the 1940s, long after the rest of the East Coast was mapped.

    The idea to drain the Everglades was brought up as early as 1837. But it wasn’t until the 1930s that engineers began a 40-year effort to build 1,800 miles of canals. That construction, mostly done by the corps, included projects that diverted water from Lake Okeechobee.

    Named after a Creek Indian word meaning “big water,” Lake Okeechobee was the heart of the Everglades. In the centuries before engineers arrived, the lake would flood its banks and the excess water would follow a gently sloping grade south in what is called a sheet flow.

    This created a 60-mile-wide “river of grass” that became the iconic image of the Everglades.

    But unpredictable flooding wasn’t good for development. Lake Okeechobee was dammed in the 1930s, and canals were built to direct excess water to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic.

    Land speculation came in waves, with developers putting ads in Northern newspapers touting South Florida’s warm temperatures during the winter months. Buyers purchased swampy lots sight unseen.

    Depleted Aquifers

    The population in Florida, much of it concentrated in the south, swelled from two million before World War II to six million in 1965. The state prepared more new lots for homes in the 1960s than the rest of the country combined.

    The draining worked too well. In dry years no water at all flowed south to the Everglades and the aquifers it replenishes. This includes the 4,000-square-mile Biscayne Aquifer, which serves as the main water source for much of South Florida.

    As populations swelled and the Everglades diminished, salt water seeped into depleted aquifers. In the 1970s, after an especially dry year showed how precarious the water situation had become, Florida governor Reubin Askew said that the southern part of the state could become “the world’s first and only desert which gets 60 inches of annual rainfall.”

    A 30-Year Plan

    The fight to save the Everglades was already well under way by then. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, an activist and journalist, wrote in 1947 that the region was in its “11th hour.” Douglas identified the wetlands as a unique place worth saving, not a wasteland to be paved over.

    The activism of Douglas and others slowed development and allowed the creation of Everglades National Park, but the depletion of wetlands continued. One of every three Floridians relies on the Everglades for water, yet the wetlands today are half the size they were at the beginning of the 20th century, and they continue to dry up.

    Concern has been growing. In the 1990s local residents, farmers, environmentalists, and people from hotels and other businesses involved in tourism banded together to help persuade Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers to act.

    In 2000 Congress passed a 30-year plan to save the Everglades. It’s the biggest and most expensive restoration ever attempted: a $12 billion scheme to backfill canals, create reservoirs, eradicate invasive species, and improve water quantity and quality in an 18,000-square-mile area that covers 16 counties, from Kissimmee to the Keys, and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.

    The project was lauded as proof that large-scale ecological damage can be reversed. But a 2012 study from the U.S. National Research Council pointed out that the first projects—including storm-water treatment plants and the redirection of a river to its original path—were addressing issues only on the peripheries of the wetlands.

    So the corps, with input from a wide variety of groups, including environmental organizations, bass fishermen, and property owners, worked on a plan to restore the central part of the ecosystem.

    The result was the Central Everglades Planning Project, which will redirect water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades, backfill 19 miles of canals, and restore the sheet flow to one million undeveloped acres, among other things.

    A Dire Situation

    The project is considered more vital than ever, in part because another factor has gained importance in recent years: climate change, which poses a severe threat to South Florida’s coastlines.

    The latest National Climate Assessment report, on May 5, painted a dire situation.

    Sea levels on Florida’s coasts have risen five to eight inches since the 1960s. Canals built in Miami to discharge storm water to the Atlantic have been closed because the ocean would rush in if they were open. And Miami Beach floods during high tides when the moon is full.

    Everglades restoration, by adding fresh water to the area, will help prevent salt water from intruding on the aquifers. The project will also stave off peat collapse (when normally damp soil dries out and loses volume), which lowers elevation and lets the ocean encroach inland.

    Jayantha Obeysekera, the chief hydrological modeler for the South Florida Water Management District, calls the restoration “one of the best strategies for climate change and sea level rise.”

    A corps study shows that on a 50-to-100-year time line that takes into account climate change, land loss in South Florida will be up to 50 percent less with Everglades restoration than without it.

    And the plan could still be tweaked to improve that ratio.

    Conflicting Concerns

    Eric Bush, the corps’ policy chief overseeing the Central Everglades plan, said discussions are under way about how to reset priorities with climate change in mind.

    But the discussions aren’t easy, because different parties have conflicting concerns. Environmentalists want more water for the wetlands, for instance, but water also needs to be diverted to residential purposes to accommodate further growth.

    If previous discussions on Everglades restoration projects are any indication, compromising on climate change will be tricky. “I like to say the Everglades is a full-contact sport,” Bush says.

    And as debate continues—in Florida and in Washington, D.C.—progress is excruciatingly slow. To date, only one of 68 projects listed in the overall restoration plan has been completed. Other work will proceed, but much of the restoration depends on future funding.

    Congressman Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, issued a statement that supported revisiting the water bill every two years.

    “It is vital that Congress immediately begin work on the next [water] bill as promised,” says Shirreffs, the adviser with the Everglades Foundation. “We desperately need authorization of CEPP to begin moving clean water south, to protect the Everglades and provide critical relief to the coastal estuary communities.”

    Jackie Snow|National Geographic|May 30, 2014

    Next phase of Lake Okeechobee dike repairs proposed

    Another 6.5 miles of dike repairs are planned for Lake Okeechobee’s troubled dike.

    The Army Corps of Engineers remains behind schedule on rehabbing Lake Okeechobee’s dike.

    Finishing work to strengthen another section of Lake Okeechobee’s troubled dike could still be five years, and about $85 million, away.

    New rehab plans unveiled Thursday by the Army Corps of Engineers call for building another 6.5 miles of wall through the southern portion of the dike relied on to protect lakeside communities and South Florida farmland from flooding.

    Lake Okeechobee’s 143-mile dike is susceptible to erosion and considered one of the country’s most at risk of failing. In addition to posing a public safety risk, concerns about the reliability of the dike threaten to send home insurance prices soring in lakeside communities.

    “We are trying to keep the process moving,” Lt. Col. Tom Greco, Army Corps deputy commander for South Florida, said about repair plans. “We are trying to do everything as quickly as possible.”

    The new repairs announced Thursday are a continuation of slow-moving efforts to shore up the southeastern portion of the dike, stretching through western Palm Beach County. That portion of the dike is considered the area most vulnerable to erosion and at risk for a breach. Adding the wall is intended to block lake water that seeps through or passes below the earthen dike, which can lead to erosion.

    The Army Corps since 2007 has already spent $500 million on dike rehab efforts focused on the southeastern side of the lake. Yet federal officials acknowledge that much more needs to be done.

    A study in the works since 2012 to gauge the progress made so far and to lay out the plan for repairing the rest of the dike remains incomplete, Army Corps officials said Thursday. They now aim to finish the study by 2016.

    In the meantime, local officials continue to call for more federal money to help get the dike repairs done faster.

    “Our western communities are at risk,” Palm Beach County Mayor Shelley Vana said. “The corps is not getting this done fast enough.”

    The next phase of rehab proposed Thursday calls for building another 6.5 miles of wall through the earthen dike, between Belle Glade and John Stretch Memorial Park, at a cost of about $75 million.

    The wall would reach down to about 38 feet deep. Construction would start in 2017 and could last until 2020, according to the Army Corps.

    In addition, the Army Corps plans to spend about $10 million closing gaps left in portions of the previous wall construction. That could also start in 2017.

    Also, the Army Corps is in the midst of replacing the dike’s 32 culverts, which is now expected to last until 2021.

    Flooding threats from farming and development invading the Everglades led to building Lake Okeechobee’s dike in the 1930s to stop water that once naturally flowed south.

    In the wake of New Orleans’ levees failing after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, dikes and levees across the country got more federal scrutiny.

    Repairing Lake Okeechobee’s Herbert Hoover Dike is the Army Corps’ largest levee rehab project, and work has been slowed by funding delays and design problems.

    In 2012, the Army Corps completed five years of construction on 21 miles of a reinforcing “cutoff” wall built through the middle of the dike between Port Mayaca and Belle Glade. That wall reaches as far as 70 feet deep and cost about $10 million per mile to build.

    The announcement of the new phase of dike rehab comes just three days after concerns surfaced that previous work on the dike could pose a risk to drinking water supplies near the lake.

    The U.S. Geological Survey Tuesday issued a report showing that the depth of the reinforcing wall already built through the dike appears to have allowed more saltwater from deep below ground to mix with shallower freshwater supplies.

    That increase in saltwater could foul drinking water wells and also harm nearby farmland, though no damage has emerged yet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

    The next phase of construction calls for installing walls only about half as deep and that shouldn’t reach the saltwater level, according to Tim Willadsen, Lake Okeechobee dike rehab manager for the Army Corps.

    The Army Corps maintains that the next phase of repairs could allow the dike to be rated trustworthy enough to potentially avoid or roll back spikes in insurance costs, expected from new flood zone maps being prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

    Local officials have called on FEMA to hold off on new flood zone evaluations to allow time for more dike repairs.

    And while talk resumes about Lake Okeechobee dike rehab work to come, more consequences of dike safety concerns kick in on Friday. That’s when the Army Corps plans to start draining more lake water west into the Caloosahatchee River and east into the St. Lucie River to ease the strain on the dike.

    Dumping lake water through the rivers and out to sea helps protect South Florida from flooding. But the draining also wastes billions of gallons of water each day that could replenish the Everglades and boost South Florida drinking water supplies.

    Also, discharging large amounts of lake water the east and west into normally salty estuaries can kill coastal fishing grounds and fuel toxic algae blooms that make waterways unsafe for swimming.

    Andy Reid|Sun Sentinel|February 26, 2015

    Water Quality Issues

    Koch Industries and Others Spend Millions to Gut Clean Water Act Protections

    Americans like the Clean Water Act (CWA), which was passed in 1972 to clean up the country’s waterways polluted by decades of industrialization and weak regulation, because they like having access to safe drinking water as well as clean water for activities like swimming, boating and fishing. It seems like a no-brainer. So it was no surprise when the general public submitted more than 800,000 comments during the public comment period last year in support of President Obama’s plan to restore CWA protections to the country’s small waterways.

    Money talks loudly in Congress, and it’s being spent to drown out the voices of citizens who want clean water. Image credit: Environment America

    However, a new report from Environment America, Polluting Politics: Political Spending by Companies Dumping Toxics in our Waters, shows opponents to the CWA are spending significant amounts of money to act against the public interest.

    “Year after year, polls show that more Americans are concerned with the pollution and quality of our waterways more than any other environmental issue,” the report begins. “And after toxins in Lake Erie left 400,000 Toledo, Ohio residents unable to drink the water coming out of their taps last August, the need to protect our waterways is clear and present.”

    But, the report says, “Corporations and industry groups that oppose restoring Clean Water Act protections can drown out the voice of the average voter by spending enormous sums on election campaigns and lobbying.”

    The report reveals that currently, half of the U.S.’s lakes, rivers and streams are unsafe for fishing, swimming and drinking, and that 206 million pounds of toxic materials are dumped in our waterways each year. Polluting Politics ties some of the polluters to investments in political candidates who might work to minimize CWA protections.

    “As it turns out, the same companies that are polluting our waterways with toxic chemicals are also polluting our politics with their spending,” said report author Ally Fields, clean water advocate at Environment America.

    What these companies want is to stave off regulations that would limit the discharge of industrial chemicals from fracking and agricultural runoff (especially from factory farms), and restore wetlands and protect them against development. Those are regulations the public likes and wants. But to a large degree, the public interest has been trumped by several U.S. Supreme Court decisions since 2006 that have left half the country’s waterways—which provide drinking water for a third of Americans—vulnerable to toxic pollution. And these big spender have swooped in to try to exploit those loopholes.

    The report revealed that AK Steel Holding Corp, the top water polluter, dumped 19,088,128 pounds of toxics into waterways in 2012. And in 2014 it spent $739,752 on lobbying to try secure its ability to keep on polluting. Industrial foods company Tyson Foods, the second biggest water polluter with 18,446,749 pounds dumped, spent $1,163,838 on lobbying. The U.S. Department of Defense was the third largest waterway polluter at 10,868,190, but does not spend money on lobbying. But chemical company Cargill, checking in at fourth, spent about $1,300,000 to allow it to keep dumping more than 10,600,000 pounds of toxic materials into U.S. waterways.

    cwachart

    Those top polluters were not the biggest spenders though. That honor went to the number six polluter, Koch Industries, a notorious source of large campaign contributions to industry-friendly candidates. It dumped 6,657,138 pounds of toxics in 2014. Last year, it spent a whopping $13,800,000 on lobbying, with another $7.7 million spent in last year’s elections, according to Polluting Politics. Given the Koch brothers’ propensity for pouring campaign money into 501 (c) 4 groups that don’t have to reveal their funders, the amount was likely much more.

    Another outsized spender was chemical company DuPont, which dumped about 5,500,000 pounds of toxics and spent nearly $9,300,000 to protect its right to do so. According to the report, the top 10 companies were responsible for almost 100 million pounds of toxics in public waterways—as well as $53 million on lobbying and $9.4 million in campaign contributions. And the three top polluting industries—energy/natural resources, agribusiness and construction—spent more than $237 million on campaign contributions in the 2014 elections. Meanwhile, industry groups such as the American Petroleum Institute and the American Farm Bureau, spent tens of millions more on lobbyists who were frequently well-connected former government officials.

    “It’s clear that our nation’s polluters have deep pockets, but hundreds of thousands of Americans have raised their voices in support of doing more to protect our waterways, from the Chesapeake Bay to Puget Sound,” said Fields. “It’s time for Congress to listen to citizens, not the polluters, and let the EPA finish the job to protect our waterways.”

    Anastasia Pantsios|February 27, 2015

    Oil industry’s toxic wastewater threatens California water supplies

    It’s California’s other water problem – and, like the drought, it poses a profound threat to our future. Every year the state’s oil industry produces some 130 billion gallons of wastewater. But where do oil companies put this dirty fluid, and how dangerous is it to human health?

    We got some answers recently, and they raise troubling new questions about Gov. Jerry Brown’s support for fracking and his administration’s failure to protect California’s water from oil industry pollution.

    Newly revealed documents and media investigations show that state regulators allowed the oil industry to drill more than 2,400 illegal injection wells for wastewater disposal or oil production into protected California aquifers, including some with water clean enough to drink or irrigate crops.

    These illegal injection wells are scattered across the state, from central Monterey County down to Kern and Los Angeles counties.

    A handful were shut down last summer. But many others, state officials now admit, are still shooting oil industry wastewater into underground water resources that should be protected. That violates state law and the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

    The bad news doesn’t stop with injection wells. The oil industry also dumps wastewater into open pits – and Central Valley water officials recently revealed that at least 383 of these sumps lack permits or oversight. Most wastewater pits are unlined and uncovered, so they can leak into the ground and emit dangerous air pollution.

    Finally, my organization analyzed hundreds of tests done by oil companies and found that flowback fluid from fracked wells in California contains benzene at levels as high as 1,500 times the federal limits for drinking water.

    Average benzene levels were about 700 times the federal limit for drinking water, and 98 percent of operators who bothered to test for benzene found a level over the limit. Cancer-causing chromium-6 was also present in fracking flowback at levels up to 2,700 times the recommended limit set by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

    Fracking flowback fluid, it’s important to note, is commonly dumped down waste injection wells like those revealed to be illegally dumping into protected aquifers with drinkable water.

    Up to half of all new wells in California are fracked, according to the California Council on Science and Technology. As fracking expands, so will the oil industry’s toxic wastewater problem.

    How are public officials responding to this cascade of disturbing news?

    The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board plans to take up to two years to inspect and begin regulating the vast number of unpermitted wastewater pits. The board refuses to ban this inherently dangerous form of wastewater disposal.

    State oil regulators, meanwhile, want to slowly phase out the industry’s use of illegal wastewater injection wells. The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources proposes to let most illegal oil industry injection wells continue operating in protected aquifers until 2017.

    Oil officials will also seek exemptions for many affected aquifers, which would give oil companies free rein to further contaminate these water resources.

    To justify this outrageously slow and inadequate response, state officials are even distorting history.

    State oil supervisor Steve Bohlen claims the illegal underground injection problem developed over decades and can’t be solved overnight. But an Associated Press analysis found that 46 percent of these illegal wells were permitted or began injection in the past four years – under Gov. Brown, who fired two officials in 2011 for not approving underground injection permits quickly enough to suit oil companies.

    As California grapples with a devastating drought, Gov. Brown needs to face facts. Our water-starved state can’t afford to let the oil industry use our aquifers as garbage dumps.

    Gov. Brown should take emergency action to shut down every illegal injection well and illegal waste disposal pit immediately to avoid further damage to our precious water supplies.

    And given the disturbing news that fracking produces vast quantities of flowback fluid full of cancer-causing chemicals, the governor must also rethink his position on fracking. The best way to protect California’s water from contaminated fracking wastewater is to ban this inherently dangerous practice.

    Hollin Kretzmann|Center for Biological Diversity| for the Sacramento Bee|02/21/2015.

    Put water needs before political interests

    I disagree with Rep. Katie Edwards’ Feb. 21 Point of View, “Stay the course on Everglades projects,” and her opposition to exercise the state’s contractual option to buy 46,000 acres of U.S. Sugar land.

    Decades of science have shown that storing large volumes of water south of Lake Okeechobee — in and around the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) — is the only way to re-create the natural water-storage role this area played before we drained and decimated the Everglades. Her call to “stay the course,” with just the currently planned restoration projects, ignores the fact that the current lack of a major water-storage project has, for years, been the single greatest flaw in the existing restoration plan.

    That flaw exists because of the power of U.S. Sugar and others in the industrial agricultural industry that have opposed restoring the water-storage function in the EAA in favor of the current approach — under which the public subsidizes the artificial drainage of their land and the cleanup of their pollution.

    Edwards’ argument against buying this land for this critical water-storage need overstates the progress that has been made on pollution cleanup by existing projects; ignores the remaining, and massive, water-quantity needs; and fails to acknowledge that land — previously bought by the public — plays a dominant role in pollution cleanup.

    It takes land to do these projects, and you usually need to buy that land to use it. The existing projects cited by Edwards will have only minimal impact on the crisis in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries. Anything that is done — other than taking the water we now dump into the estuaries, storing it south of Lake O, and replenishing the Everglades with it — is window dressing.

    That water must go somewhere other than the estuaries. It needs to go south — to become the water source for the Modified Water Deliveries Project that Edwards discussed.

    As long as Florida politicians continue to put the desires of a small number of politically powerful interests over the future water-supply, flood-protection and ecosystem-restoration needs of South Floridians, the plan to restore the Everglades will be dangerously inadequate.

    RICHARD GROSSO|FORT LAUDERDALE|March 3, 2015

    Editor’s note: Richard Grosso is a professor of law — and director of the Environmental and Land Use Law Clinic — at the Shepard Broad Law Center of Nova Southeastern University.

    HB 7003 Passes, Falls Short on Protecting Florida’s Water

    House water bill falls short on springs protection, conservation, and Lake Okeechobee cleanup. 

    Audubon worked to educate legislators and to improve HB 7003 before it was rushed through the House earlier this week. But the bill is favored by legislative leaders who claimed it was “modernizing” water law. In fact, it continues the decades long practice of dumping polluted water into the Caloosahatchee and Indian River Lagoon estuaries.

    The bill also has springs provisions that fall short of a better bill (SB 918) in the Senate.

    Audubon will work in the Senate to fix the problems listed below:  

    HB 7003 Weakens and Delays Lake Okeechobee and Estuary Cleanup

    Florida’s largest lake suffers from decades of pollution and neglect. The lake also discharges polluted water to the Everglades and to coastal estuaries. State agencies committed 2000 to clean up Lake Okeechobee by 2015, but little has been done little to meet water quality standards. The bill:

    • Deletes an existing 2015 deadline for meeting water quality standards and offers no deadline for meeting the cleanup goal.
    • Repeals and existing law that requires that discharge into the Lake Okeechobee at 35 different points including from sugarcane farms meet water quality standards.    
    • Sets aside an existing rule that allows state agencies to require that discharges meet water quality standards and adopts an ineffective plan.
    • Adopts a phosphorous pollution control program that relies on activities (BMPs) that have not been shown to meet water quality standards.

    HB 7003 Does Not Advance Real Springs Restoration

    Many of Florida’s world class springs are suffering from reduced flows and excess nutrients. This bill:

    • Lacks deadlines for the adoption of minimum flows and levels (MFLs) for Priority Florida Springs.  Without MFLs water management districts lack the ability to gauge the cumulative impact of water withdrawals.
    • May delay adoption of MFLs by requiring that recovery or prevention strategies be adopted at the same time.
    • Lacks deadlines for achieving water quality goals for impaired springs.
    • Lacks deadlines for restoring spring flows that have fallen below MFLs.
    • Allows pollution to continue to be introduced in springsheds from sewage sludge, hazardous wastes, new septic systems and wastewater disposal facilities which only treat effluent to minimum standards and animal feedlots.

    Please stay tuned next week for opportunities on how you can take action. 

    Audubon Advocate

    Great Lakes & Inland Waters

    DEP Adopts Restoration Goals for Four Lakes in The Peace River Basin

    TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has adopted water quality restoration goals to reduce nutrient pollution in four Polk County lakes within the Peace River Basin – Lake Bonny, Lake Hollingsworth, Lake Lena and Deer Lake. The restoration goals, known as total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), specify the pollutant reductions necessary to restore the waterbodies to health.The scientifically-derived restoration goals will act as the target and driving force for the development of a long-term restoration plan.

    “We have developed these restoration goals using site-specific data and a careful study of the waterbodies,” said Tom Frick, director of the Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration. “Adopting these goals allows us to craft the best possible restoration plan.”

    These waters have been identified as impaired by nutrient pollution, or an abundance of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous in the water. Nutrient pollution can cause rapid algal growth, which can in turn lead to other complications such as habitat smothering or a depletion of oxygen in the water. Nutrient pollution can come from a variety of sources including stormwater, wastewater and farming activity.

    Lake Bonny and Lake Hollingsworth are located in the city of Lakeland, while Deer Lake is located in the western area of Winter Haven and Lake Lena is located in Auburndale. The lakes are host to several public parks and popular recreational destinations for activities like walking, boating and bird watching.

    For more information on the TMDL program, please click here.

    Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition Explores Apalachicola Oysterbeds

    The Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition spent time in the oysterbeds in Florida over the past week with Apalachicola Riverkeeper. 

    In Florida, oysters are important part of our ecosystem and our economy. According to the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, oysters generate more than $20 million in annual revenue and employ 2,500 people who harvest, process and distribute shellfish.

    Unfortunately, there are fundamental threats to the survival of oysters and their environment. Those fundamental threats include loss of life-sustaining fresh water, loss of floodplain and wetland habitat, pollution and unrestrained human growth and development.

    The river and its state are not solely derived from the surrounding area. The freshwater flow of the Apalachicola River begins many miles away in the Appalachian Mountains. The development of areas upstream, like Atlanta and beyond, leads to increases in point-source pollution (from industries and wastewater treatment plants) and non point-source pollution (from urban development. Also, reservoirs established upstream of the Apalachicola River to meet the needs of growing communities causes severe limitations on freshwater flows coming into the river. Luckily, the Apalachicola River Blueway was designated as a State Paddling Trail by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection allowing for people to visit and paddle the magnificent scenery of one of Florida’s wildest rivers.

    To read more about the Apalachicola River and the Apalachicola Riverkeepers, please visit their website at www.apalachicolariverkeeper.org.

    EPA Awards 15 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Grants Totaling Over $8 Million to Combat Invasive Species
    CHICAGO – (March 5, 2015) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced the award of 15 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grants totaling more than $8 million for projects to combat invasive species in the Great Lakes basin.

    “These Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grants will be used to target aquatic and terrestrial invasive species in the Great Lakes basin,” said Region 5 Administrator/ Great Lakes National Program Manager Susan Hedman. “The projects will also help to prevent the introduction of new invasive species that pose significant risks to the Great Lakes ecosystem.”

    Since 2010, EPA has funded more than 80 GLRI projects totaling over $50 million to combat invasive species.

    The latest EPA invasive species grant recipients are:

    • Illinois Department of Natural Resources ($999,725) will work with partners (Forest Preserves of Cook County, Chicago Park District, Illinois Nature Preserve Commission and The Nature Conservancy) to control invasive plants in the Millennium Reserve which is located along the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan. Twelve sites — totaling almost 300 acres of wetlands, prairies and savannas — will be restored. The project will also provide work experience through the city’s Greencorps program.
    • Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission ($999,648) will work with public and private landowners to remove at least 1,500 acres of phragmites along the shores of Green Bay on Lake Michigan. The project will identify and prioritize removal sites and provide training to landowners on methods to control phragmites.
    • Upper Peninsula Resource Conservation and Development Council ($964,922) will collaborate with local and regional partners to restore 800 acres of coastal shoreline and wetlands in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (in the Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Superior watersheds) by treating invasive phragmites. The council will also train local groups to detect new infestations and assume stewardship for long-term control efforts.
    • Milwaukee County Department of Parks, Recreation and Culture ($635,000) will collaborate with the Milwaukee Conservation Leadership Corps/Student Conservation Association, the Great Lakes Community Conservation Corps, the Alliance for the Great Lakes and the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute to remove plant invasive species from 32 ecologically diverse natural areas encompassing 1,300 acres of critical wildlife habitat in the Lake Michigan basin. The project will also provide educational opportunities for students in grades 6-12 and for college students.
    • Lorain County, Ohio, ($634,889) will implement a project to control at least 30 acres of invasive plant species (particularly phragmites) and to restore habitat in the Black River Watershed and two smaller tributaries to Lake Erie. About 10 seasonal employees will be hired for this project through the Black River Civilian Conservation Corps.
    • Wayne County Department of Public Services ($634,756) and partners which include a student conservation corps will implement an integrated pest management program for invasive species along the Rouge River and on county property in the Detroit River watershed. The project will control phragmites, Eurasian milfoil, buckthorn, garlic mustard and other invasive species on 250 acres in the Lake Erie basin.
    • The Nature Conservancy ($622,594) will deploy work crews to eliminate invasive species (including phragmites, Japanese stiltgrass, glossy buckthorn and wild carrot) from about 400 acres of priority lands in Michigan’s Oak Openings Region and Ohio’s western Lake Erie watershed. Removing invasive species from this globally rare ecosystem will benefit plants, animals and natural communities.
    • Cuyahoga River Community Planning Organization ($534,230) will work with the Crooked River Cooperative Weed Management Area Partnership to identify and remove invasive plants (including phragmites, cattails, purple loosestrife, Japanese stiltgrass and hydrilla) from about 1,800 acres in the Cuyahoga River watershed, which drains into Lake Erie. A regional team will work with local partners to improve public awareness of invasive plants in this watershed.
    • Paul Smith’s College of Arts and Sciences ($491,090) and the Lake Ontario Headwaters Integrated Control Program will coordinate activities in western Adirondack Park to protect the headwaters of Lake Ontario from aquatic invasive species. Teams will remove invasive plants from 200 acres along four Adirondack waterways. In addition, five boat launch sites will be staffed with boat inspectors.
    • Wisconsin Tribal Conservation Advisory Council ($472,920) will use a conservation corps model to control numerous invasive plant species at several sites, spanning about 640 acres over 100 river miles in the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior basins. The project also provides education to tribal youths and adults on preventing the spread of invasive species.
    • The Nature Conservancy ($364,630) will work with private landowners in the Lake Erie basin to control invasive plants on 500 acres of land adjacent to the Grand River and its tributaries (including wetlands). This project will control invasive species such as phragmites and Japanese knotweed, and will create five seasonal jobs.
    • The Nature Conservancy ($254,517) will provide assistance to private landowners in the western Lake Erie basin to manage invasive plant species on their property. This project will promote the transition from government’s wide-scale approach to treating and controlling invasive species to an approach that is landowner-led and property-based.
    • Friends of the Cedarburg Bog ($197,119) will implement a project to control buckthorn in over 600 acres of the Cedarburg Bog near Milwaukee. The bog is an example of the high-quality wetland communities — once common to the southern Lake Michigan watershed –which are now threatened by a growing population of invasive glossy buckthorn.
    • Alger Conservation District ($187,462) will use chemical, biological and manual methods to control invasive species (including purple loosestrife, Japanese knotweed and garlic mustard) on 130 acres of land in the central portion of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the Lake Michigan and the Lake Superior basins. The project will also provide outreach to landowners on long-term strategies to control invasive species.
    • West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission ($153,314) and local partners will implement a project to control phragmites and purple loosestrife on about 50 acres shoreline wetlands near Muskegon Lake and Bear Lake in the Lake Michigan basin. Residents and landowners will also be trained on methods to control invasive plants.

    GLRI funding is also used to support efforts to prevent Asian Carp from establishing populations in the Great Lakes. To date, GLRI has contributed $115 million to the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee and Great Lakes states for this work.

    Since 2010, EPA has funded more than 690 Great Lakes restoration and protection projects totaling over $560 million. For more information about the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, visit www.glri.us.

    Anne Rowan|epa.gov; Peter Cassell|epa.gov|3/5/2015

    Virginia Volunteers Work to Save Our Streams

    Citizens in every state have the right to know whether their streams are safe for swimming, fishing, playing, and as sources of drinking water. Through the League’s Virginia Save Our Streams program (VA SOS), volunteers monitor water quality across the state and educate the public about how their actions affect waters in their communities.

    In 2014, VA SOS volunteers monitored 119 sites on 79 streams across the state, taking samples during 298 monitoring events. Thirty-seven percent of the samples indicated unacceptable water quality.

    The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) relies on volunteers to provide the most accurate picture of stream health across the state and uses this data in reports to Congress. The data are also used by volunteers locally to identify pollution problems and evaluate the success of stream restoration projects.

    If you or someone you know lives in Virginia and would like to become a VA SOS volunteer monitor, please visit the Virginia Save Our Streams Web site. Want to know more about water quality monitoring? Visit the Save Our Streams national Web page.

    Isaak Walton League Asks USDA for Accuracy in Wetland Determinations

    At the end of February, the League submitted comments on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) proposed changes to how it identifies wetlands on agricultural land in Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas.

    The 2014 Farm Bill requires USDA to improve the efficiency and accuracy of wetland determinations – the process of analyzing and formally determining whether a wet area meets the definition of a “wetland” – using new technologies. The proposed changes would allow the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to use remote methods to identify wetlands, such as aerial imagery and USDA’s Soil Survey.

    The four states where this off-site method would be used make up the majority of the Prairie Pothole Region, which is responsible for 50-80 percent of the continent’s annual duck production. Unfortunately, aggressive draining of wetlands for agriculture and industry have diminished the number of wetlands in this region by half, making wetland conservation more critical than ever.

    We are generally supportive of reducing the need for time-consuming onsite visits that have some farmers waiting more than a year for official wetland determinations. However, the League’s comments raised concerns that NRCS methods – such as using aerial imagery captured in the dry summer rather than the wet spring – could fail to capture seasonal or temporary wetlands that are critical to wildlife, water quality, and flood protection. Mistakes like this would put this already endangered landscape at further risk of wetlands being converted to agricultural production.

    Along with submitting our own comments, the League teamed up with more than 30 other conservation organizations to demand more critical evaluation and field testing of off-site wetland determination methods before they are implemented.

    Read more about the issues surrounding these controversial off-site methods in the sign-on letter to Jason Weller, chief of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    Offshore & Ocean

    12 Terrifying Facts About Jellyfish and Why They’re Taking Over

    Some say that cockroaches, those survivalists par excellence, could inherit the earth. If they do, it’s likely they will be joined by jellyfish populating the oceans or whatever might remain of them. As scientist Lisa-ann Gershwin details in her book, “Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean,” jellyfish in vast (really vast) numbers are now showing up all over the world, from the Black Sea to the coasts of Britain, Israel and Brazil.

    Jellyfish blooms are a lot more than a nuisance to beachgoers not inclined to swim in waves teeming with gelatinous blobs and tentacles that can sting and poison. What’s going on now, as Tim Flannery writes in reviewing Gershwin’s book in the New York Review of Books, is nothing less than the jellification (a term used even by scientists) of the ocean with far-reaching consequences and in no small part due to human activity.

    Fossils of this gelatinous marine animal are the oldest ever found. The notable upsurge in their numbers is a very recent development and downright alarming for several reasons.

    1. For all that they lack backbones, a heart, blood, a brain or gills and are about 95 water, jellyfish can kill. The box jellyfish, Chironex fleckeri, has a bell (the jellyfish’s head) that’s about a foot across, attached to 550 feet of tentacles. 76 people have died from contact since with the box jellyfish since 1884. As Flannery writes, “if just six yards of tentacle contact your skin, you have, on average, four minutes to live — though you might die in just two.”

    2. Jellyfish are invertebrates but some, such as box jellyfish, can hunt medium-sized fish and crustaceans. The ox jellyfish does have some unique features that set it apart from other jellyfish: it has eyes with retinas, corneas, and lenses and a brain that can learn, remember and direct complex behaviors (like swimming 21 feet per minute.)

    3. Get enough jellyfish together and they can bring down a ship. That’s just what happened in November of 2009, when a net of gigantic jelly fish (the largest was 450 pounds) capsized a Japanese trawler and knocked its crew of three overboard. Millions of jellyfish also caused a major coal-fired power plant in the Philippines to shut down in December of 1999. They’ve also been clogging up the cooling systems of nuclear power plants in Japan and India since the 1960s.

    4. Jellyfish are intrepid travelers. Stowed away in the ballast water of ships, jellyfish have made the journey from the U.S. east coast to the Black Sea and been responsible for the vanishing of anchovies and sturgeon in Bulgaria, Romania and Georgia. Jellyfish eat the eggs and young of anchovies as well as the same food of adult anchovies, who then starve to death.

    5. A 30,000 square mile “curtain of death” now exists off the coast of southern Africa. In 2006, a biomass of 13 million jellyfish far exceeded the 3.9 million tons of fish.

    6. Jellyfish have been around since about 550 million years ago. As indeed “survivors of an earlier, less hospitable world,” they can thrive in conditions that other species would find challenging or deathly. For instance, thanks to having a low metabolic rate, their oxygen requirements are low.

    7. Accordingly, jellyfish — including those only found in tropical waters such as the box jellyfish and its smaller cousin, the Irukandjis – are poised to extend their ranges as the ocean warms up and oxygen levels decline, “thanks” to phosphorus and nitrogen from agriculture and industrial human activities. Those two substances and whatever else is in fertilizer runoff from farms are now filling our oceans, to jellyfish’s benefit.

    8. Jellyfish add to the carbon content of the ocean via the feces and mucus they release into the water and due to their feeding on copepods and plankton. The latter creature helps to take carbon dioxide out of the oceans and atmosphere by consuming carbon-rich food at the surface and then expelling it as pellets that fall to the ocean floor. With jellyfish eating so many of them, the amount of “carbon reducing” creatures has been severely reduced.

    9. Jellyfish can be male, female or hermaphrodites, and some can reproduce all on their own. One type, Mnemiopsis, starts layings eggs at the tender age of 13 days and can soon lay more than 10,000 a day.

    10. Jellyfish “can eat anything, and often do,” Gershwin notes. They can eat a lot (ten times their body weight in food), too, and are even by nourished just by absorbing “dissolved organic matter through their epidermis.”

    11.  That said, jellyfish can get by fine without eating; their bodies become smaller but remain in proportion. One type, Turritopsis dohrnii, could be called immortal. After it dies, some cells leave its rotting body and recombine into a polyp, a small creature like a sea anemone which, after affixing itself to a stable surface, develops into a stack of small jellyfish.

    12. They sting and they can be poisonous, but — the last “terrifying fact” about jellyfish I’ll note — you can eat them. Not the box jellyfish but some types, including rhizostomes, are harvested by the Japanese, Chinese and others in Asia. The tentacles can be dried and stored for weeks and then cured with vinegar and cooked or eaten raw.

    21,000 tons of jellyfish are harvested a year and consumed mostly in China and Japan; Gershwin suggests that eating at least some jellyfish could help control their numbers.

    Flannery is dubious about jellyfish as the next big culinary trend. Figuring out how to stem the global jellification of the ocean should be our concern first and foremost. Gershwin urges us to take action, push for policies and legislation to protect our oceans and keep them hospitable for all the creatures of the sea and not just millions of jellyfish.

    Kristina Chew|February 26, 2015

    How the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is Destroying the Oceans and the Future for Marine Life

    Twice the size of Texas, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch stretches for hundreds of miles across the North Pacific Ocean and is one of the most frightening examples of just how much human activity is violating the planet.

    Spanning from the West Coast of North America to Japan, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of the Eastern Garbage Patch, near Japan, and the Western Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California. In other words, it is absolutely colossal. And scarier still as oceanographers and ecologists recently discovered that about 70 percent of marine debris actually sinks to the bottom of the ocean, so what we do know about the amount of waste in the ocean is likely just the very tip of the iceberg.

    We are only just beginning to understand the true scale of just how much the planet is suffering as a result of marine debris. The contents of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have been described as a toxic “plastic soup,” for which we have provided all the ingredients. As new research surfaces linking plastic debris to marine species extinction, the consequences of our waste are clearly becoming more and more devastating. But before we delve further into this horror story we must first understand how we created this monster in the first place.

    We are Feeding a Cancer in the Ocean

    According to the National Geographic about 80 percent of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from land-based activities in North America and Asia and the other 20 percent comes from boats, offshore oil rigs, and large cargo ships. The majority of this 20 percent, about 705,000 tons, is fishing nets.

    The trash gets trapped between two main gyres that act as a whirlpool and collect this trash. Greenpeace has published an animation that explains how this all works.

    The trash then accumulates because many plastics are non-biodegradable and do not wear down. Instead, they only break into tinier and tinier pieces creating the “plastic soup” mentioned earlier.

    For us, the most frightening aspect of all of this is just how quickly this monster has grown in a relatively short period of time.

    Plastic was initially mass-produced in the 1940s and in 1957 the single-use plastic bag first appeared in the U.S. with bottled water only entering the mass market in the mid-1980s. So, it seems that in just half a century we have managed to create the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But that is not the scary thing. It is estimated that by the year 2050, we will see yearly plastic production quadruple to a disturbing one hundred million tons. Just how big could the Great Pacific Garbage Patch get? This monster is growing and we are the ones filling its gut.

    A Catastrophe for Wildlife

    We have watched many wildlife and environmental films that have filled us with sadness, anger, disbelief … but none have shaken us to the core more than a new film, still in production, called “Midway: Message from the Gyre.” And so far we only have the trailer to really go on. The trailer alone is one of the most tragic pieces of film we have ever witnessed and it is with great apprehension that we look forward to when the full length it is finally released. Check out the trailer below.

    “The viewer will experience stunning juxtapositions of beauty and horror, destruction and renewal, grief and joy, birth and death, coming out the other side with their heart broken open and their worldview shifted.”

    The trailer powerfully shows the scale of the problem and suffering caused to wildlife as a result of marine debris. The albatrosses mistake plastic pellets for fish eggs and feed them to chicks, which die of starvation or ruptured organs. The photography of Chris Jordan shows this better than any words can properly describe. Have you ever seen a more tragic example of our impact on the natural world?

    But it is not just birdlife that suffers. Marine debris can be very harmful to all marine life. Sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish which they then mistakenly eat.

    Many marine mammals are especially at risk from “ghost gear” with abandoned fishing gear turning oceans into death traps for sea animals.

    World Animal Protection highlight that around 640,000 tons of gear is discarded annually resulting in at least 136,000 seals, sea lions and large whales being killed each year. Animals that fall victim to ghost gear become entangled. Some, the “lucky ones,” may either drown within minutes. The unlucky victims can endure long, slow & painful deaths that can last for months and years, suffering from debilitating wounds, infection and starvation.

    Even the smallest creatures in the sea are affected. Microplastics and other trash block sunlight from reaching plankton and algae below the surface. In a previous article, we highlighted the importance of plankton to the ecosystem as an important source of food for other sea creatures but also as ecological sponges for carbon. So it goes without saying that the impacts of the plastic soup can have enormous unseen impacts to the planet.

    How You Can Help End This Monstrosity

    Every piece of plastic discarded is directly feeding this monster in the ocean which is acting like a cancerous clot determined to destroy every living thing in its path. We have to act to stop this. So what is the chemotherapy for this manmade cancer?

    Check out the Sea Change campaign from World Animal Protection and do everything you can to spread to the word and support them. Share the Midway trailer with your friends, family and contacts. Check out this list of ten things you can do to help save the ocean. And most important of all, purge plastic from your life. Click here to learn how.

    Along Cuba’s Coast, The Last Best Coral Reefs in the Caribbean Thrive

    The enduring image of Cuba is of a country locked in a time warp, with 1950s American sedans cruising the streets, colonial-era buildings in disrepair, and six decades of strict state control over the economy and a U.S. embargo keeping development at bay.

    This frozen-in-amber quality also applies to many of the marine ecosystems surrounding the Caribbean’s largest island, with tremendous benefits for Cuba’s aquatic life. While coral reef cover has declined by 50 percent throughout the Caribbean in recent decades, Cuba has managed to retain some of the most pristine and biodiverse coral reef environments on earth. A lack of coastal development, limited tourism, relatively small amounts of runoff flowing into the sea, tight controls on commercial fishing, and the establishment of extensive marine protected areas have all combined to give Cuba the most remarkable coral reef environments in the Caribbean.

    In a new book, Reef Libre, photographer and diver Robert Wintner — known as “Snorkel Bob” — has documented the beauty of Cuba’s coral reefs. Many of the photographs were taken in the crown jewel of Cuba’s marine reserve system — the 840-square mile Gardens of the Queen National Park, or Los Jardines de la Reina. Located 60 miles off Cuba’s southern coast, the park encompasses a 30-mile-long barrier reef ecosystem where an astonishing assemblage of underwater life — elkhorn coral, scores of species of tropical fish, 500-pound Goliath grouper, and large numbers of sharks — continues to thrive.
    As Wintner notes, the key question now is how Cuba’s coral reef environments will fare as the country reestablishes diplomatic relations with the United States and faces an inevitable boom of tourism and coastal development. The government has vowed to protect 25 percent of the nation’s waters as marine reserves. But it remains to be seen whether Cuba can escape the rampant coastal development, overfishing, and other problems that have taken such a heavy toll on coral reefs elsewhere in the Caribbean.

    Fen Montaigne|02 Mar 2015

    View the photo essay.

    UF report: Major challenges facing coastal estuaries

    A University of Florida report released Monday confirms what many Floridians have been saying for decades: The Everglades are a complicated water control system with myriad ecological and engineering shortcomings.

    The report was requested in 2013 by politicians such as Joe Negron, R-Vero Beach, after record flooding from Fort Myers to St. Lucie that year caused environmental damage and crippled local tourism.

    The problems and possible solutions have been available but there has been a lack of follow-through on the part of the agencies that manage the system, mostly the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to the report.

    “In spite of the repeated demonstrated need for large volumes of water storage, very little new storage has been designed or constructed in the system,” the report reads. “In the Caloosahatchee watershed, it is estimated that approximately 400,000 acre-feet of storage is needed, but currently only one 170,000 acre-feet surface reservoir is being designed, and state and federal funds for its construction have not yet been appropriated.”

    The report recommends accelerated funding, complete existing projects, use deep well injection for disposal of excess freshwater, and consider operational changes in Corps of Engineers management protocols.

    The 143-page report should be used as a basis for future development and lake management, some environmentalists said.

    “I think that anything and everything we do today should use this information as a backdrop to decision making,” said Linda Young with the Florida Clean Water Network. “Sadly, I don’t see that happening.”

    The report points mostly to the watersheds as the cause for excess freshwater and nutrients. In 2013, when water was flowing into Lake Okeechobee from the north at six times the rate it could be discharged, more than half of the water flowing to the Gulf of Mexico came from lands on the north and south of the river.

    “The estuaries have real problems, but that report says 80 percent of the problem is local,” said Judy Sanchez, spokeswoman for U.S. Sugar Corp. “That’s where 80 percent of the solution should come from.”

    The report says 70 to 80 percent of freshwater, on average, in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers come from the watershed, not Lake Okeechobee. Sixty-five to 80 percent of pollutants come from the Fort Myers area as well. So fixing all of Lake Okeechobee’s problems would only cut down a portion of the freshwater issues here and in St. Lucie.

    People who live in those areas, Sanchez said, should take care of their own problems before pointing at the sugar industry.

    “They’d be better served by pushing for additional money to fund the reservoirs,” Sanchez said. “(People on the coasts) need to look a little closer to home. It’s hard to look in the mirror and say ‘I live in south Florida and I’m part of the problem.’”

    Connect with this reporter: ChadGillisNo1on Twitter.

    By the numbers

    •400,000: Acre-feet of water storage needed for Caloosahatchee watershed

    •65-80: Percentage of nutrient load that comes from the watershed

    •2008: Year Army Corps last reviewed Lake Okeechobee management protocol

    •45: Percent of outflow from lake that goes to Caloosahatchee

    •200: Aquifer storage and recovery wells needed to fix water quality issues

    •10: Parts per billion of phosphorus is the maximum for legal discharge

    SOURCES: University of Florida, South Florida Water Management District

    Chad Gillis|news-press.com|March 2, 2015

    Hillsboro, Deerfield to get tons of new beach sand

    Truckers will make nearly 3,000 trips between Broward and a mine to deliver sand

    In what’s being billed as Deerfield Beach’s largest beachfront renourishment project in recent memory, thousands of truckloads of sand will rumble down to the shoreline starting next week.

    The cost of the $2.1 million project is being split three-ways: between the state, Hillsboro Beach and Deerfield Beach at $700,000 each. Both Hillsboro Beach and Deerfield Beach will benefit from replenished beaches washed away from erosion.

    About 24,000 cubic yards of beach-compatible sand will be placed on Deerfield Beach’s public beach from Southeast Seventh Street south to Southeast 10th Street. An additional 24,000 cubic yards will go to Hillsboro Beach, which doesn’t have beach public access.

    And officials say it’s greatly needed: “There’s no beach at the north end of town due to damage from Superstorm Sandy,” said City Clerk Jean-Marie Mark.

    The mayor said although the storm didn’t come ashore here, it caused damage anyway. “And we had just done a renourishment, so it was like ‘oh my God,’ ” said Hillsboro Beach Mayor Claire Schubert. “At high tide the ocean is up to the seawall. We’re very excited about [the project]. It was an effort to get it through.”

    Construction equipment will be placed on the beach within days in preparation for the sand, which comes from the Ortona Sand Mine, just southwest of Lake Okeechobee, owned by E.R. Jahna Industries Inc.

    Sales and marketing spokesman Adell Jahna said trucks will make a total of 2,900 trips back and forth between the mine and the cities, about 100 miles apart. He said the 70,000 tons of sands will take two months to deliver. Many truck drivers will make about two trips a day.

    At the mine, a dredge sucks sand from the bottom of an artificial lake 180-feet deep that had been carved from pasture lands. Jahna said the sand is cleaned and the grains sized to request. Numerous places in South Florida, from Palm Beach County to Key West, have used sand from the mine.

    Deerfield Beach city spokeswoman Rebecca Medina said there will be some temporary road closures along Ocean Way throughout the project.

    She also said sea turtle monitors will be on-site each morning to mark any sea turtle nests that might have sprung up overnight so officials can relocate them.

    Lisa J. Huriash|Sun Sentinel

    Wildlife and Habitat

    Starving Sea Lion Pups

    Sick and starving sea lion pups are washing up on California beaches at startling rates … for the third year in a row.

    The rescue centers that nurse these animals back to health are completely overwhelmed. David Bard, operations director at the Marine Mammal Care Center, just told the LA Times: “This is a circumstance that all [marine mammal] rehab centers are facing as they reach the physical limits to the number of animals that they can safely and realistically treat.”

    In 2013, Environment California launched a Sea Lion Rescue campaign and raised $44,000 to save Pacific wildlife and help our friends at the California Wildlife Center. This year, Environment America and Environment California members are jumping in again in efforts to raise another $44,000 for today’s sick pups and the people taking care of them.

    Today, Victoria Harris, board president of the California Wildlife Center, told me that at this time last year, they had only 6 animals. Now, they’re at 58.

    3 Fascinating Family Structures in the Animal World

    Family: it’s a strange and wonderful thing. Somewhere between the first heartbeat and the last breath, our family plays a significant role in shaping who we become. Much like humans, other animals form bonds (short- or long-term) for different purposes in their lifetime, including mating and parenting.

    Here is a showcase of three wildlife species with very different family structures — some that resonate with us, and some that do not:

    Until death do us part

    In nature, it’s seldom a tale of “until death do us part.” Research has shown that about three to five percent of mammal species practice monogamy and few birds, fish and amphibians make this commitment. Although representatives of this mating style are few, those that do practice it include iconic native species like bald eagles, beavers, wolves and swans.
    For trumpeter swans, it starts with an elaborate courtship ritual involving head bobbing, echoing calls and a graceful water dance. Once paired, these birds mate for life and produce four to six cygnets in a breeding season. It is all family time for the first year, with adults teaching life skills like migration and foraging to their young until they return to the breeding grounds.

    It takes a pack to raise a child

    Human families take all forms but perhaps the wolf’s family life is more comparable to that of a nuclear human family. The family structure of the eastern wolf (also known as Algonquin wolf) is made up of an alpha (breeding) male and female parenting the pack with other members taking on communal care of the young. This cooperative social structure enables the wolves to travel larger distances, hunt bigger prey and protect their territory. The wolves’ haunting howling is a vital communication strategy to keep tabs on who’s where, to alert others of intruders and form social cohesion.

    Premeditated foster care

    One common backyard bird species, the brown-headed cowbird, is reviled by many for its parasitic behaviour. These birds can lay up to 40 eggs per season but they don’t hatch or raise their chicks! Instead, they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests and let them do the heavy lifting of parenting. The maternal instinct of many birds, including some of our smallest warblers, is so strong that they raise cowbird chicks as their own. This is despite the fact that the young bird may be twice the size of their young and can push other nestlings from the nest. However, records also show some surrogate mothers recognize the foreign eggs and will puncture or throw them out. Call that snide or smart, but this nesting strategy seems to work for this crafty species.

    Today, wildlife families are faced with many of the same hardships we face and more; from locating food to finding a mate and securing the best place to raise a family. Conservation organizations like the Nature Conservancy of Canada are working to protect ecologically significant lands and are giving animals a fighting chance to thrive in an increasingly fragmented landscape. For example, successful reintroduction programs have brought back trumpeter families to many wetlands in places such as southern Ontario. Through the landscape-scale protection of habitat and the creation of wildlife corridors, wolves will also have a better chance of keeping their families thriving in wild where there is room to roam.

    The Nature Conservancy of Canada|March 4, 2015

    Find out how you can help a family in the wild at www.natureconservancy.ca.

    Nature in the City: Wildlife Returns to Greater Chicago

    Thirty years ago, this was all improbable — perhaps impossible. Now, wildlife is returning to the shores of the Great Lakes, even into the heart of the great city of Chicago. Although it’s home to nearly 10 million people, greater Chicagoland also houses more wildlife than at any time in recent history. The city and its suburbs are being rewilded.

    Ecological impoverishment has a long and sad history in this country, including the greater Chicago region. When white settlers first arrived in the Great Lakes region, the area had an abundance of deer, coyote, fox, otter, beaver, and a smattering of bobcats, wolves, and elk, too. In the early nineteenth century, there was more than enough wildlife; settlers could trap beaver, muskrat, and otter for fur, go hunting for sport, and have more than enough to feed themselves. In time, though, the city and its hinterland swelled in population, with little to no change in the every man for himself hunting policy. By the turn of the last century, white-tailed deer, by far the most abundant large animal here, was extirpated in the region.

    But now the pendulum is swinging back toward ecological health. In the absence of any real predator, deer have overpopulated the area. In 1957, the first modern, regulated hunting season for the animal began. By the 1990’s, the deer had so capitalized on the available habitat and lack of predators that professional culling became necessary, though controversial.

    It seemed, for a bit, that Chicago area residents had only to deal with the deer. Then the coyotes started to appear.

    In 2000 the Urban Coyote Research program began to study the increasing reports of coyote sightings in suburban Dundee, located northwest of the city center. The project has since evolved into a full-fledged monitoring of the Chicagoland coyote population. Unbeknownst to researcher Stan Gehrt when he started, there are more than 2,000 coyotes living in metropolitan Chicago.

    Reasons for the coyote’s success are multifaceted. An urban environment presents an escape from hunting pressures typically found in rural areas. The city also provides an incredible amount of food waste that can be exploited — as well as a surprising amount of shelter, including, for one coyote in the summer 2010, the chill of an air-conditioned Quizno’s.

    Coyotes are currently the apex predator in Illinois, in contrast to their pre-settlement role as a mesopredator one notch below wolves. The coyotes have enjoyed the benefits of a phenomena known as “mesopredator release,” in which a smaller predator that has stopped being preyed upon by a larger predator has less pressure on its population. In turn, the coyote has become physically larger in urban areas, and is able to hunt basically without fear of being hunted.

    But coyotes may not enjoy free reign at the top of the food chain for long. Cougars are also making a tentative comeback in the region. In 2008, a mountain lion was shot in a Chicago neighborhood, right next to a preschool. Since 2002, there have been at least four shootings of mountain lions in Illinois. Along the wealthy North Shore, an area that boasts an extensive network of forested ravines and Lake Michigan shoreline, rumors of mountain lion sightings pop up every year. Most of these are probably common house cats mistaken for mountain lions, and there are likely mistaken bobcat sightings as well. Bobcats have also surged in population in recent decades.

    A lot of this wildlife comeback is attributable to the fact that greater Chicagoland — however urbanized and industrialized it is — actually has a significant amount of habitat capable of supporting coyotes, bobcats, deer, otters (and maybe one day, bears, cougars, and wolves, as well). In the early part of the last century, city residents began to escape to the newly constructed suburbs, emboldened by the popularity of the railroads and the new automobile. It was around this time that Forest Preserve Districts — a peculiar political institution dedicated to preserving open space on a county-wide scale — were established.

    The Cook County District, sharing territory with the city of Chicago, was established in 1916 with 500 acres of land. Today, the District preserves 69,000 acres, or 11 percent, of the county. In the region as a whole — from southwestern Michigan to southeastern Wisconsin —some  500,000 acres of forest and prairie are preserved in some fashion.

    What is being done with these protected areas is the remarkable story of Chicago conservation. In the 1970’s, volunteers began doing work along the North Branch of the Chicago River, restoring the natural vegetation by removing overgrown brush and replanting prairie and savanna vegetation. Since then, bird species have come back in troves. Sandhill cranes and bluebirds now nest throughout the area, and whooping cranes fly over every year.

    The movement to restore Chicagoland’s native prairie vegetation is successful in no small part due to its volunteer-based nature. On almost any given weekend, volunteers are busy across the region clearing garbage from streams, ripping overgrown buckthorn from forests, and removing invasive species from riverbanks. These weekend events, though still niche in the area, are becoming more and more commonplace — symptomatic, perhaps, of a culture growing into its home. There is the Illinois Mycological Association, the Illinois Native Plants Society, Chicago Wilderness, park and forest preserve districts the region over, and a few highly successful land trusts throughout the area, all working hard to create conditions amiable to native flora and fauna.

    The efforts range from fairly easy work — cutting out invasive white and yellow sweet clover with machetes — to more sophisticated endeavors such as restoring meanders back to channelized prairie streams and, during the spring and fall, conducting lots of prescribed prairie burns. The people involved range from high schoolers to retirees, and many work in sectors unrelated to the work at hand.

    Tangible successes have come from all of these efforts. Riverfront views have opened up for the public, erosion has been lessened as agricultural fields are converted to second-growth prairies, and lotus plants have begun to bloom in Chain of Lakes state park,

    In the last decade, rewilding has become one of the most potent ideas in the conservation movement, a way to pivot from simply preserving wild landscapes to restoring them. But for the Chicago wilderness community it has become more than an intellectual exercise in imagining thousand-mile long corridors with species brought back from extinction. To those of us who make our home in the Chicago area, rewilding is the act of rooting down in this community, branching out to each other to make our homes beautiful and to honor the past — and hoping that one day, Bear and Cougar and Otter and Whooping Crane also come around to see what we’ve built for them.

    Jason Halm|Earth Island Journal|March 3, 2015

    This post originally appeared in Earth Island Journal.

    [With very little of their natural habitat left, animals have no choice to rewild themselves. However, they are not encroaching on our territory; they are merely reclaiming some of their own that they lost to us.]

    Forestry

    Emergency Use of Bee-Killing Pesticide Approved for Florida Citrus

    Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted Florida citrus growers an emergency exemption to use the bee-killing pesticide clothianidin to control Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP), a pest that causes “citrus greening,” a devastating citrus plant disease. Clothianidin, which is not currently registered for use on citrus, is part of a class of neurotoxic, systemic insecticides called neonicotinoids, which have been implicated in global honey bee declines and suspended in the European Union. “EPA needs to assist in stopping the deadly use of pesticides that harm bees, butterflies, and birds with sustainable practices, rather than imperil pollinators with its decisions,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, a health and environmental advocacy group. He continued, “We understand the immediate chemical needs of chemical-intensive agriculture for increasingly toxic and persistent chemicals, but urge EPA to help stop the treadmill, lest it allow irreversible harm to the environment, biodiversity, and human health.” Beyond Pesticides is urging EPA to require that growers adopt a management plan in order to apply clothianidin. “Ultimately, EPA should be requiring growers to adopt integrated organic systems to manage pests, as a part of an emergency permit,” said Mr. Feldman. Read Beyond Pesticides’ open letter response to EPA.

    Honey bees in Florida, researchers say, contribute to the productivity of several groups of citrus fruit, including many orange and grapefruit varieties. Through their pollination services and foraging in citrus fruit, bees and other pollinators will be exposed to the contaminated pollen and nectar in the trees’ flowers, as the systemic clothianidin translocates throughout the treated trees. Bees are exceedingly common in citrus groves, from which they produce a high quality honey crop. Citrus greening has caused significant difficultly between beekeepers and citrus farmers who are combating the spread of the psyllid with toxic chemicals. Back in 2013, one of Florida’s largest citrus growers, Ben Hill Griffin, Inc., was fined $1,500 after a state investigation found that the farm illegally sprayed pesticides, resulting in the death of millions of managed honey bees.

    According to the University of Florida, there are approximately 6,000 acres of certified organic citrus in Florida that does not permit the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, including clothianidin. Farm operations that are USDA certified organic avoid the use of toxic chemicals by implementing holistic management systems plans. Matt McLean of Uncle Matt’s Organic is one such grower, with over 1,000 acres of organic citrus, his family will be joining Beyond Pesticides’ at the 33rd National Pesticide Forum in Orlando in April, to discuss benefits of growing organic, and efforts to combat citrus greening without toxic chemicals. Additionally, USDA announced last summer that it would broaden its use of tiny parasitic wasps, Tamarixia Radiata, to combat citrus greening disease.

    Pollinators continue to face dire threats to their survival. Bees, butterflies, and others have seen drastic population declines over the last several years due to habitat loss and widespread pesticide use. Pesticides also pose a greater threat to ecosystems and biodiversity, according to a meta-analysis by a group of global, independent scientists. EPA, tasked with regulating pesticides and protecting the environment from harm, has thus far failed to sufficiently act to protect pollinators from dangerous pesticides. In fact, just last month EPA approved yet another bee-toxic pesticide, flupyradifurone, following other recent and questionable bee-toxic pesticide approvals like sulfoxaflor, which was approved for registration despite warnings from concerned groups and beekeepers.

    EPA issued the 2½ year emergency permit to allow clothianidin without subjecting its decision to any public comment. Beyond Pesticides is party to a lawsuit challenging EPA’s failure to adequately review and restrict clothianidin.

    Beyond Pesticides|February 26, 2015)

    BLM at a crossroads: clearcutting or restoration? ‏

    The BLM is at a crossroads: some folks in the agency are trying to find ways to thin second-growth forests, restore damaged watersheds and reduce the impacts of logging roads, while others want to “regenerate” ancient forests and punch more logging roads through the mountains.

    You might remember that Congress failed to pass legislation last year that would shape the management of our BLM forests in Western Oregon. Now BLM is moving ahead with their own plans. KS Wild expects a draft plan to be released late this spring detailing management for 2.6 million acres of public forests, many right in southern Oregon’s Rogue, Applegate and Illinois Valleys.

    At stake is the fate of our ancient forests, a decision about returning to widespread clearcutting, and management direction for Oregon’s streams and salmon habitat. Some of the best remaining ancient forests are found on these lands and provide important sources of cool, clean water.

    Currently, the Grants Pass Resource Area of the Medford BLM is proposing the Lower Grave Timber Sale that calls for “regenerating” old native forests, constructing new logging roads, logging rare wildlife habitat and Riparian Reserves. 

    There is a better way. Please send a quick letter to the BLM asking them to protect and restore these public lands instead of exploiting and harming forests and watersheds that belong to us all.

    Morgan Lindsay|KS Wild|2/26/15

    Without its rainforest, the Amazon will turn to desert

    Mainstream climatologists predict a 15% fall in rainfall over the Amazon if it is stripped of its rainforest. But the ‘biotic pump’ theory, rooted in conventional physics and recently confirmed by experiment, shows that the interior of a forest-free Amazon will be as dry as the Negev desert. We must save the Amazon before it enters a permanent and irreversible desiccation.

    It is not – as described in climatological models – the mass circulation of air which drives the hydrological cycle, but the hydrological cycle which drives the mass circulation of air.

    Imagine being in one of the wettest rainforests in the world with three outstanding physicists concerned with the thorny question as to how is it conceivably possible for the rainfall to be as high, if not higher, thousands of kilometers inland than it is at the coast.

    Indeed, Leticia, in the Colombian Amazon, on the border with Brazil and Peru, some 4 degrees south of the equator and 3,000 kilometers inland from the Brazilian equatorial coastline, gets more rain during the course of the year than the island of Fernando Noronha stuck out in the equatorial Atlantic Ocean and right in the path of the Intertropical Convergence Zone and the Atlantic Trade Winds.

    How can that possibly be when the coast has been left far behind and rainfall, in the progression of the air mass from East to West, is constantly depleting the air of moisture, such that there should be an exponential decline of air moisture as one traverses inland? On that count, Leticia should be more a desert than a place of luxuriant biodiverse forest.

    Well, I was lucky to have the answer straight from the very scientists who, as theoretical physicists, had conjured up an intuitively sound and logical explanation, however much it went against the grain of the thinking behind the generation of the best known climate models.

    Finally – a theory that holds water

    Indeed, I was with Victor Gorshkov and Anastassia Makarieva, both from the Institute of Nuclear Physics in St Petersburg, and with Germán Poveda of the Medellín campus of the National University of Colombia.

    We were scrambling our way over the intertwining foot-holding roots of the Chocó rainforest, straddled along Colombia’s Pacific coastline, in pursuit of those exquisitely-colored poison arrow frogs which get their name from the blowpipe darts used by the Embera-Katío Indians of the region.

    We weren’t there to capture the frogs, just to see them in their glory, intense spots of color against the drab brownish coloration of the humus bedded on the forest floor or perched conspicuously on the dark bark of a tree.

    And, after some four hours of energetic clambering up and sliding down the slithery slopes on which the forest is rooted, we did indeed come across half a dozen or so of the tiny creatures. Seeing the frogs there in full display and with no attempt to hide made us realize that we were in a healthy rainforest.

    The frogs get the precursors to their deadly heart-stopping poison from insects which themselves have fed on toxic leaves and, for the frogs to have their chemical protection from predators, the forest has to have its biodiversity intact.

    No question, the Colombian Chocó with its plethora of species is one of the most terrestrial biodiverse regions in the world and how beautifully it is situated with the Pacific Ocean just a stone’s throw away.

    We were there, without electricity, without internet, without a host of tourists; we were in a sanctuary which gave us peaceful hours to reflect, to observe and to feel the omnipresence of the natural world.

    Germán Poveda, a member of the IPCC and full professor in the Geosciences Faculty of the Universidad Nacional, had invited the two Russians to Medellín to give a three-day course on their biotic pump theory.

    He also presented some of the latest evidence that the theory not only holds water but provides a better explanation than any other in accounting for climate processes involving convection by which air flows upwards, against gravity, and so sucks in air flowing over the surface to replace it.

    It is hydrology that drives circulation!

    In essence, Gorshkov and Makarieva claim both from their theory and from world-wide observations that the condensation of water vapour at cloud-forming altitudes brings about a sharp reduction in local atmospheric pressure such as to generate an implosion of sufficient strength as to suck up air from the surface.

    That upwards-directed flow necessarily leads to air moving horizontally over the surface to fill the partial vacuum, and hence the idea that the trade winds, skimming over the surface of the Atlantic Ocean on their way from Africa to equatorial South America, are sucked in as a result of cloud formation over the Amazon’s rainforests.

    Above, where the clouds form, the easterly jet stream, associated with the Earth’s spin Coriolis Force, adds its own suction to the process, such that the implosion of air as the water vapour condenses in cloud-forming can better suck upwards rather than downwards so generating the convection which we so readily see from satellite imagery.

    That process, according to the biotic pump theory, explains large-scale convection. And even if heresy to say it, the theory dictates that it is not – as described in climatological models such as the GCMs, the General Circulation Models – the mass circulation of air which drives the hydrological cycle, but the hydrological cycle which drives the mass circulation of air.

    If we accept the theory, the great tropical Hadley Cell Air Mass Circulation is therefore driven by the processes of convection which take place over the 6 million square kilometer Amazon Basin, the ‘fuel’ for that convection being contingent on the high rate of water vapour pumping from the closed-canopy vegetation.

    Without the forest doing its work, we would have the Amazon Desert

    And, were the forest to disappear, then according to the theory, moisture would no longer be sucked in and, given the natural fall-out rate of rainfall, some 600 kilometers from evaporation to precipitation, the land would dry out and in all likelihood turn to desert.

    Were that the case it would be a disaster of momentous proportions, not just dwarfing the likely changes resulting from global warming but indeed compounding them.

    As it happens, during the past 30 years of growing concern over the consequences of human-induced climate change, we have tended to ignore the hydrological role of rainforests and instead have focused on the potential release of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane into the lower atmosphere when a forest is razed and burnt.

    Certainly, when deforestation was at its worst during the latter part of the 20th century as much as one quarter or more of the total of greenhouse gases released from all human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels, came from forest destruction across the tropical belt, from the Americas, across to Africa and on to South-East Asia.

    We cannot deny that an increase in greenhouse gases must lead to more solar radiation in the form of heat being trapped at the Earth’s surface where the density of gases is highest.

    But while deforestation has always been of considerable concern, not least among biologists and ecologists, climatologists have been adamant that the surface winds will keep blowing with the same general patterns prior to any deforestation and that rain will still get deposited in the deep interior of continents such as South America or Africa, especially along the equatorial tropics.

    Not quite ‘business-as-usual’, but the contention is that equatorial countries, such as Colombia, to the West of the Amazon Basin, will still get a substantial part of their rains derived from the tropical Atlantic Ocean, some 3,000 kilometers away, courtesy of the Trade Winds and the Walker Circulation which blows along the seasonally moving equator in what is known as the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ICTZ).

    A reassuring prediction – no great change

    That somewhat reassuring conclusion is predicted as a result of various theoretical studies, including those from the UK’s prestigious Hadley Centre, which state that the consequences of widespread deforestation of the Amazon Basin, in all some six million square kilometers, combined with human-induced climate change, could cause a reduction in rainfall of around 12% to 15% in the Central and Western reaches of the Amazon.

    No-one doubts that the recycling of precipitated water through vegetative evapo-transpiration will reduce significantly, by a half or more, when the forest has gone, yet, the general belief is that the surface prevailing winds, as exemplified by the Trade Winds and Walker Circulation, would continue to blow and carry the ocean-derived moisture with them.

    Under such circumstances the rainforest would transform to savannah, much like that naturally found in Brazil’s Mato Grosso, but not to the extent of becoming desert. For the great majority of climatologists, such an extreme consequence of deforestation is unthinkable, for the very fact that it does not fit their models.

    But those models do not include the biotic pump theory of convection and therefore could possibly be dangerously deficient in their analytical predictions of the impacts both of global warming and in particular of deforestation.

    Not that the accepted circulation models predict a benign consequence of Amazon deforestation: even a 15% reduction in rainfall constitutes a staggering amount, much more in fact, than would be needed to water the entire British Isles many times over.

    But what if the hydrologists and climatologists are wrong?

    What if the loss of rainforest were to have a devastating impact on the flow of surface winds such that they would no longer blow across the continental interior? What would happen to the rains then?

    The biotic pump theory, based on standard physics, purports to show that surface winds are sucked in from regions where the condensation of atmospheric water vapour is relatively low to those regions where it is substantially higher.

    The inference is that heavy cloud formation is more likely to occur over regions where water vapour generation is high, such as exemplified, par excellence, by the tropical rainforest which, through evapotranspiration from its leaves, pumps up more than double the quantity of water vapour per surface area when compared to the same latitude ocean.

    On that basis, the high rate of condensation at cloud level, from some 2.5 kilometers altitude to 5 kilometers, brings about a sharp, well defined pressure change as the water vapour transforms into liquid water and ice.

    The very notion that the surface convection of humid air is largely the result of the pressure change resulting from condensation is not one to be readily countenanced by hydrologists and consequently climatologists.

    For them, it would mean they had left an important mechanism out of their models. Moreover they insist that, even though theoretically the pressure change is a reality, it would be substantially secondary in its effect on the lower atmosphere to the release of heat – latent heat – when water vapour changes from being a gas to become liquid or even solid.

    Certainly the latent heat release, some 600 calories per gram of water vapour when it transforms to liquid and 80 calories more per gram when ice is formed, makes the air lighter and less dense where that transformation occurs.

    That less dense, slightly warmer air will rise and thereby slow the temperature reduction caused by the chilling of air as it expands (the environmental lapse rate) and will push cloud formation and water vapour condensation higher.

    Hydrologists and meteorologists also take it as read that, following any perturbance including condensation and latent heat release, the lower atmosphere will settle into a state of hydrostatic equilibrium.

    In short, the vast majority of such scientists – I suspect many without properly studying the physics – repudiate what has become known as the ‘biotic pump theory’ and more or less assign it to the rubbish heap of conceptually flawed theories.

    Without the Amazon forest, Leticia would be as dry as the Negev

    However, Gorshkov and Makarieva have stuck to their guns, invoking fundamental physics as related to gases in the lower atmosphere and making reference to the differences between intra-continental rainfall when a river basin is well-forested compared to those with negligible forest cover.

    Firstly they point out that the lower atmosphere cannot be in hydrostatic equilibrium when the surface atmosphere contains sufficient water vapour for condensation to occur, that being a destabilizing process given the composition and pressure change as water vapour in its ascending reaches saturation at the dew point.

    Secondly, they show that when forests are absent rainfall levels decline exponentially as one proceeds from the coast into the continental interior. That is in sharp contrast to intra-continental regions where forests cover the land, even as much as 3,000 kilometers from the ocean; there rainfall levels remain as high, if not higher than measured at the coast.

    Leticia, in the Colombian Amazon is a case in point: it is some 2,500 kilometres from the coast and the prevailing winds and yet its annual rainfall is higher at 2,500 mm than that at Belem, near the Brazilian coast.

    In taking that idea to its logical conclusion, Makarieva and Gorshkov refer to the dire consequences of widespread deforestation inland of the coast. If Colombia’s neighbouring country, Brazil, were to deforest the swathe of native trees and vegetation all the way back to the Atlantic, Leticia would receive annually some 20 mm of rain, no more than can be expected in the Negev Desert in Israel.

    That contention, disturbingly extreme, goes hard against the grain of climate model predictions. Not surprisingly, the rejection of the biotic pump theory has become a matter of creed, the claim being that it does not fit the facts and is based on a faulty interpretation of atmospheric dynamics.

    The biotic pump is pulling the trade winds backwards over Colombia

    So, what evidence do we have in the real world that the biotic pump theory is not just a misguided application of standard physics relating to gases, but better represents actual phenomena?

    One telling example relates to the wettest equatorial rainforest in the world – the Chocó rainforest along Colombia’s Pacific Coast. The puzzle is: how can the Chocó get as much as 12 metres of rain a year when the prevailing winds, therefore the Pacific Trade Winds, essentially move in the opposite direction, away from South America and towards Indonesia?

    Our host and companion in our Chocó adventure, Germán Poveda, points to an extraordinary phenomenon: a portion of the Pacific Trade Winds, from both hemispheres, suddenly reverses direction and flows back over the Chocó to the Magdalena Valley in the central part of Colombia, where it clashes with the flow of air from the Amazon Basin that has passed over the Eastern Andes.

    Colombia’s rainfall patterns and turbulent weather in that region are determined by that encounter between the two streams of air.

    Poveda, recognised internationally for his contribution to hydrology, has few doubts that the sudden, sharp reversal of the streams of air over the Pacific Ocean is primarily a consequence of the biotic pump in action with the rainforest pumping more water vapour into the surface atmosphere than anywhere else.

    According to theory, that evapo-transpired water vapour provides the fuel for cloud formation and in consequence the sharp pressure change which follows the condensation of water vapour. It is that condensation which sucks back a portion of the westerly Trade Winds.

    Nonetheless, the actual physical proof that condensation leads to surface airflow needs to be shown: that the physics underlying the biotic pump theory is not just correct, but that it is the force majeure driving atmospheric processes over contiguous rainforests, such as in the Chocó, the Congo, the Amazon Basin and seasonally, once temperatures rise and the sun shines, over the great boreal forests of Russia and the far North.

    The solution: laboratory experiment

    To seek answers and in the face of much skepticism, I therefore devised a way to experiment. The results show that the general physics used by Makarieva and Gorshkov to underpin the biotic pump theory is absolutely correct and that, in general terms, a corresponding surface airflow is induced when a sufficiently high rate of condensation is achieved.

    The experimental set-up consists of two 5 metre high columns connected at the top and base such as to form a doughnut-like structure. The central ‘hole’ is used as a laboratory. The area throughout is 1 metre squared.

    A double layer of copper condensing coils have been wound around the perimeter of the right hand column, just below the connection with the upper connecting ‘tunnel’. The ‘condensing coils’ cover a surface area of some 1.6 square metres and are connected to an ‘outside industrial refrigeration compressor with its own operating switch in the laboratory, some 4 metres away from the columns.

    The airflow data is obtained using a 2-D ultrasonic Gill anemometer, placed in the top connecting tunnel where it meets the right column. The anemometer is 25 cm away from the top of the condensing coils.

    In addition, three rotronics humidity sensors are deployed, one within 5 cm from the top condensing coil; one 1 metre from the base of the right hand column and the third, 1 metre from the base of the left hand column.

    Two barometric sensors are used, one close to the top of the condensing coils and the other 1 metre from the base of the left-hand column. Thermocouples are deployed at various strategic points in both columns and the connecting tunnels. The sensors are either connected directed via USB ports (with serial / USB connector cables when necessary) and through using a Novus (Brazil) data logger.

    The physics used to determine the results are standard. From the temperature (Kelvin), barometric pressure and relative humidity we can employ the Clausius-Clapeyron equation to determine the partial pressure of water vapour in the enclosed atmosphere at any moment during the experimental process.

    Hence, knowing that water boils at 373 K when the atmospheric pressure is 1013.25 hPa (hectopascals and millibars) and, knowing the relative humidity and the temperature at any one moment from the logged sensor data, we can determine the partial pressure of water vapour (in hectopascals) as it changes at the point of condensation during the course of an experiment.

    We can then relate our findings and compare them, at least in the form they take, with the measurements of airflow as determined by the anemometer.

    It must be emphasized that the anemometer measurements, which include the directionality as well as velocity of airflow, are totally independent of the measurements of temperature, relative humidity and barometric pressure which together provide the necessary data to calculate the partial pressure of water vapour and the changes undergone.

    The theoretical velocity of air at any one moment can be obtained from the partial pressure and air density changes, using Newton’s kinetic energy equation.

    Experimental results: the biotic pump is confirmed

    The results are unequivocal: the calculations of partial pressure change and of airflow velocity match extraordinarily well the actual airflow as measured with the anemometer. Moreover, the directionality once condensation gets under way is always in a clockwise direction.

    Critics of the conclusion that it is the rate of condensation of the water vapour which drives the airflow circulation during any one experiment follow the inherent belief that the airflow is actually driven by changes in air density.

    Their reasoning goes that the cooling of the air when passing over the cooling coils makes the air more dense, which it undoubtedly does, and that the cool, denser air sinks and so forces the clockwise flow that we see measured by the anemometer.

    Fortunately, straightforward basic physics enables the experimenter to calculate not just the partial pressure change at the point of cooling, but also the air density change at that point in comparison to the air density further down the column.

    What we find is that the kinetic energy of the partial pressure change as water vapour condenses is at least 3,000 times greater for the same volume of air compared to the kinetic energy from the air become cooler and denser.

    Without exception, all the experiments, with different initial temperatures and humidity, show that the airflow results practically 100% from the condensing of water vapour and minimally from the air density change.

    Those results, currently from some hundred different experiments, indicate that the biotic pump theory has to be correct. Those concerned with scaling issues must realize that the macro physics involved in the experimental set-up is precisely the same as needs to be employed in the grander scale of the lower atmosphere.

    Finally, at the end of each experiment we can gather the rain which falls from the condenser coils, as they warm, and compare the amount with that calculated theoretically from the total change in the partial pressure of water vapour.

    The actual and theoretical coincide within a few grams: a nice proof that the physical theory behind the biotic pump theory accords well with reality.

    In effect, a high rate of condensation of water vapour in the enclosed atmosphere of the experiment results in a process of convection which is surely comparable, although on a vastly different scale, to the mechanism which sucks in the surface air from over the ocean as a consequence of the high rate of evapotranspiration from the rainforest.

    Coincidentally, the rate of condensation achieved in the experimental set up is of the same order of magnitude per unit area as that calculated to occur over the Amazon Basin – hence some 20 hectopascals drop in water vapour pressure.

    I would suggest that scale is not an issue and what we obtain in the laboratory reflects reasonably well what we can expect in the lower atmosphere when there is a good covering of closed-canopy vegetation to pump up water vapour through its evapotranspiration.

    Large scale deforestation is a global catastrophe in the making

    The striking conclusion is that a simple experimental set-up has given us the proof that the general physics underlying the biotic pump theory of Anastassia Makarieva and Victor Gorshkov is essentially correct.

    As such we can confirm that the consequences of wholescale deforestation, by whatever means, are likely to be far more severe in terms of intra-continental rain patterns than are currently predicted in climate models.

    The hydrological consequences of deforestation are therefore far more important than greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the same deforestation.

    Climate modelers, who, to date have studiously ignored the biotic pump theory when forming their complex circulation models, should indeed be worried that they have got the fundamentals wrong and that it is hydrology which drives the major air mass circulation rather than the other way round.

    We destroy the world’s rainforests at our peril for it is those very ecosystems which give us climate stability and enable our civilizations to flourish.

    I have offered to host any physicist, including climatologists, who would like to use my experimental set-up to see for themselves the biotic pump principle in action.

    As of now no-one has taken up my offer, not even from the nearby Met Office. I am waiting.

    Peter Bunyard|2nd March 2015

    Global Warming and Climate Change

    Why Climate Change Could Lead to New Diseases

    Climate change isn’t just a problem for the globe. It’s also a public health crisis, and one that may come home to roost in your own back yard.

    A growing number of medical researchers, scientists, epidemiologists, and related professionals are concerned about the implications of climate change, habitat degradation, and more when it comes to the evolution of the next big disease, whether it’s an existing virus that blows up in the right conditions or a brand new disease that we’re totally unprepared for and won’t know how to deal with. Ebola, as it turns out, may be the warning sign of what’s to come.

    The mechanisms through which diseases evolve and are transmitted across populations are complicated, and understanding them is ongoing work. Climate change appears to be a potential major player on the stage, though, mainly because it threatens animal habitats. When animals are pushed out of their known regions and begin straying, they don’t come alone: They also bring bacteria and viruses along for the ride. While not all organisms can easily make the leap between species, many can, and as they do, they spread like wildfire into populations that haven’t been exposed before, whereby they run the risk of becoming zoonotic diseases, transmissible from animals to humans.

    In viruses, this process can take time and evolution. Bacteria and parasites, however, will happily make a quick leap between species. That spells trouble for humans who may not have been exposed to certain infectious diseases yet, or have only been exposed on a small scale. Imagine the introduction of European diseases to the New World, an event that proved catastrophic. Now multiply that across the globe as diseases move, adjust to new living quarters, and make their own way. If that sounds like a nightmare, it should.

    We’re not just talking dramatic diseases like Ebola, which can cause a stupendous loss of life and require substantial resources. Other issues can include so-called “nuisance diseases” that, while not necessarily fatal in most cases, do require dedicated resources and can present challenges that we will have to manage. Such conditions could become more widespread and more expensive with time, requiring steps like the development of new medications, isolation of herds to prevent the spread of parasites, and more. With climate change driving all of these measures, they could snowball, becoming a new way of life.

    Finding the best angle to reach people with when it comes to talking about climate change can be a challenge. In some cases, a fundamental stumbling block has to be overcome before any conversation is possible, as climate change denial is still a significant social problem. But once people do accept that the issue is real, it can be extremely challenging to motivate them to actually act before it’s too late and to examine their role in climate change management.

    New revelations about the movement of infectious disease in humans and the populations of animals we live with could become another incentive to open up conversations about climate change and what actions we should take. For example, while someone might be skeptical about how coastal flooding could affect her, she might care a great deal about the infectious diseases stalking her herd of beloved horses.

    s.e. smith|February 26, 2015

    Al Roker Tells Larry King: Snowstorms Are Due to Climate Change

    It’s almost taboo for TV weather forecasters to connect the extreme weather patterns we’ve been seeing to climate change. And if they’re not ignoring it, it seems that too many of them are openly denying it.

    One TV weather anchor who’s sticking with the scientific consensus and not the denier community is long-time NBC Today show forecaster Al Roker. Maybe that’s why he was one of a small group of meteorologists invited to the White House to meet with President Obama and top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials in May to discuss the release of the National Climate Assessment report.

    He reiterated his beliefs this week in an interview with host Larry King on Larry King Now.

    “We’ve been in a pattern now where five weeks in a row, there’s been a storm that comes up and re-forms off the Mid-Atlantic/New England coast and dumps a ton of snow,” said Roker. “Boston as of this point is number two snowiest winter.”

    “Is this all part of climate change?” asked King.

    “I think it is,” Roker replied.

    “You can’t point to any one event and say this is climate change,” Roker continued. “But what climate change opens the door for and allows for are more extreme swings of weather. So while you’ve got this ongoing drought out in California, there’s been almost no snowpack, no snowfall in the Sierras, it barely has rained, yet you’ve got monumental forest fires. Here in the East you’ve got brutal cold. Yet globally January was the warmest month on record. So there’s all these swings that are happening. Climate change makes that more possible.”

    What’s behind it, King asked.

    “You’ve got greenhouse gases building up, you’ve got melt at the polar ice cap,” said Roker. “Everything’s connected. And when you start changing that balance, nature doesn’t like an imbalance.”

    Anastasia Pantsios|February 25, 2015

    Rising seas threaten rare Everglades plants

    MIAMI Rising sea levels and invasive species increasingly threaten rare plants in Everglades National Park that have not yet recovered from damage caused by orchid collectors long ago or attempts to drain the swamps, according to a 10-year survey released Monday.

    The report by the Institute for Regional Conservation concludes that the unique plants native to South Florida may be lost despite multibillion-dollar efforts to restore the wetlands. Other studies of the Everglades’ natural resources have reached similar conclusions.

    Plant biodiversity needs to be prioritized as highly as natural water flows and controlling exotic animals such as Burmese pythons, researchers said.

    “In fact, achieving the goal of protecting this unique and diverse ecosystem requires it,” the report says.

    The park commissioned the private, Delray Beach-based nonprofit for the study of 59 plant species to help adjust management plans for the park, said Tylan Dean, the park’s chief of biological resources.

    The trees, shrubs, vines, ferns, orchids and herbs studied represent about 8 percent of the park’s native plants. Sixteen of the species studied may have already vanished from the park, researchers said.

    Seven species of orchids, grasses and shrubs were found to be doing better than previously documented. However, researchers discovered they had previously overestimated the number of cowhorn orchids in the park and now consider that plant to be critically imperiled.

    Collectors in the early 1900s badly depleted Florida’s orchid populations, and that threat may be revived because of the Internet. Social media posts with geographic data lead more people to specific blooms, according to the report. Researchers frequently found orchid enthusiasts along trails that developed during the flowering season.

    “We want to point out that this kind of technology is available now. Will people abuse that info? So far, the evidence is they are not, but we should pay attention,” said George Gann, the institute’s chief conservation strategist.

    Rising seas along the park’s extensive coastline and competition from invasive species such as Brazilian pepper are complicating the recovery of plant populations still suffering from decades-old damage in a complex, remote ecosystem, according to the report.

    Funding and legal challenges have long stalled the progress of Everglades restoration. Some environmental advocates fear that by the time water flows are fixed in the wetlands, the Everglades will have lost the attributes that make them unique.

    A congressionally mandated progress report published last year by the National Research Council recommended adjusting Everglades restoration projects to account for climate change and invasive species management.

    The rare plants report will help the park prioritize the most vulnerable species, not just the charismatic blooms like the popular orchids, said park botanist Jimi Sadle.

    “Any of the species that have coastal distribution entirely or in part are going to be a priority in the face of imminent sea level rise,” Sadle said.

    One plant that rises to the top of his list: the big sandbur, a pale green grass found only in the park on islands in Florida Bay. The report recommends long-term seed storage for the sandbur, based on its limited range in the park.

    “Those island populations are under 50 centimeters (19.6 inches) in elevation,” Sadle said. “If we’re going to focus on something, it’s going to be a species that’s that vulnerable.”

    JENNIFER KAY|The Associated Press|March 2, 2015

    Biden: Denying Climate Change ‘Like Denying Gravity’

    Vice President Joe Biden took a strong stance against climate change deniers in an interview with VICE founder Shane Smith.

    The interview is part of VICE’s documentary series, which airs on HBO and is premiering its third season on Friday. The first episode, titled “Our Rising Oceans,” will focus on sea level rise.

    “It gets to the point where you can’t look anyone in the eye seriously and say, well, it’s nothing having to do with manmade,” he said.

    Reacting to members of Congress who deny climate change is real, Biden said, “It’s almost like denying gravity now… the willing suspension of disbelief can only be sustained for so long.”

    Alana Horowitz|The Huffington Post|03/06/2015

    Extreme Weather

    California’s Huntington Beach Turned White By Hail

    HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (AP) — The beach at Southern California’s “Surf City” has been turned white by a dumping of hail from a fast-moving storm.

    The National Weather Service says at least an inch of icy pellets coated the sand at Huntington Beach after the system roared ashore Monday morning.

    Brianna Burkhart, who works at Duke’s restaurant on the city pier, says the sky suddenly turned dark and then opened up.

    She says when it was all over the beach was completely white and it looked like it had snowed.

    It’s the second winter storm to hit the area in several days. Over the weekend a smattering of hail was reported to the north on Venice Beach.

    Plane pilots reported seeing funnel clouds over the ocean about 25 miles off Redondo Beach.

    AP|In Huffington Post|03/02/2015

    New Round Of Snow Could Push Boston To Season Record

    BOSTON (AP) — After cold and snow that set February records, southern New England entered March with another round that could push Boston over its 20-year-old snowfall record.

    With 102 inches, Boston needs 5.7 more to break the 1995-1996 record of 107.6.

    Snowfall of 4 to 6 inches was expected by early Monday across the area, with up to 8 inches in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Less snow is expected in northern Massachusetts and New York state, and on Cape Cod.

    “We have come this far, we might as well break the record,” said William Babcock, National Weather Service meteorologist in the Taunton, Massachusetts office. “We have a couple of storms to push us over the record. Once that is done we won’t complain if we don’t get any more snow.”

    Since it’s early March, “we still have plenty of time,” he said.

    The snow Sunday into Monday will be wetter than those earlier in the season, continuing the concern about potential roof collapses.

    “If you have flat roofs, it is certainly going to add to the weight,” Babcock said.

    Elsewhere, heavy snow was expected in the central Rockies and Great Basin and heavy rain was predicted in parts of the Southwest. Snow was falling from the Ohio Valley into the Northeast, with freezing rain in the Mid-Atlantic.

    RECORD COLD

    February 2015 was one for the record books in the Northeast.

    The Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University says Buffalo, Syracuse, Binghamton and Ithaca, New York, shivered through their coldest months ever.

    The average temperature was 10.9 degrees in Buffalo, beating the 1934 record of 11.4. The monthly average was 9.0 in Syracuse, 12.2 in Binghamton and 10.2 in Ithaca.

    February record lows were also set in Hartford, Connecticut, at 16.1; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania at 20.9; and Portland, Maine at 13.8.

    BLIZZARD, AVALANCHE WARNINGS

    Weather forecasters in Colorado issued blizzard and avalanche warnings as Pacific moisture continued to bring snow and strong winds to the Continental Divide on Sunday. The storm was expected to last through Monday, with another storm expected Tuesday. The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for Wolf Creek Pass and the Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued avalanche warnings for the South San Juan, Sangre de Cristo and Gunnison areas. The avalanche danger in southern Colorado has been increased to high.

    MISSOURI DEATHS

    Authorities reported three people, including one child, died in weather-related incidents in Missouri.

    Two people were killed when a driver lost control on a snow-covered highway in Lebanon on Saturday when the car skidded into a tractor-trailer stopped because of an earlier crash on Interstate 44. The 20-year-old driver survived, but both passengers were ejected and killed.

    In Nevada, Missouri, a boy died after falling through an ice-covered farm pond. Emergency crews rushed to the scene Saturday morning after a caller said three children were in the pond, according to fire officials. A bystander pulled one boy from the pond, and another boy was able to get out on his own,

    Illinois and Indiana got 8 inches or more of snow Sunday from the same weather system.

    MICHIGAN TOT HOSPITALIZED

    A 3-year-old Lansing, Michigan, girl was hospitalized in critical condition after getting stuck overnight outside her family’s apartment during frigid weather that marked the end of one of the coldest Februaries on record in Michigan.

    According to police, the girl was treated for severe hypothermia. A relative found the girl on a sidewalk in front of the apartment complex about 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Lansing police Sgt. Joe Brown told the Lansing State Journal (http://on.lsj.com/1M0N4PH). The temperature was 5 degrees at the time.

    CALIFORNIA STORM

    Crews worked to clean up a mudslide that shut down a stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway northwest of Los Angeles early Sunday. The area received between a quarter-inch to half an inch of rain overnight, the weather service said. The threat of showers will linger until Monday morning when the cold low-pressure system moves out.

    MARATHON CANCELED

    Winter weather over the last few days in North Texas prompted organizers of the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth to cancel the race. The marathon, along with a 50K ultra marathon — both of which had been set for Sunday —were canceled. The half marathon, however, was held Sunday morning.

    Heidi Swartz, Cowtown executive director, said the safety of runners, volunteers and spectators was the top priority.

    SNOW DELAY FOR HERNANDEZ

    The weather is again delaying the murder trial of former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez.

    The court has delayed Monday’s start until 10:15 a.m. There already have been 5.5 snow days since jury selection began in the trial Jan. 9.

    Hernandez is charged with the 2013 killing of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd, who was dating his fiancée’s sister.

    TRUCK FALLS THROUGH ICE

    A pickup truck drove onto a frozen river in New Jersey early Sunday, spun around repeatedly and then plunged through the ice, police said, and rescue teams found a dead dog but no people inside.

    Later, the driver, who owned the dog, and a passenger turned themselves in, state police said. They were in custody and were being questioned, but police had not said whether they would face criminal charges including for the death of the dog, which apparently drowned.

    The passenger had gotten out of the truck just before the driver took it out onto the ice, police said.

    AP|In Huffington Post|03/02/2015

    3 Connections Between Climate Change and Extreme Weather

    More than 98 inches of snow has fallen in Boston this season, while workers have spent about 170,000 hours plowing the streets and distributed more than 76,000 tons of salt on roadways. At the same time, much of the American West, Rocky Mountains, and Northern and Central Plains have experienced warmer-than-average temperatures. California, in the grip of an epic drought, had its fourth-driest January ever recorded with just 15 percent of average precipitation.

    So what is going on with this extreme weather, and what does it have to do with global climate change?

    Due to recent analytical advancements, climate scientists are now able to more accurately determine how climate change impacts the odds of an individual extreme event occurring.

    More research is planned in coming years to examine links between extreme weather and climate events and climate change, and global research already tells us a lot about the trends, including these three counterintuitive connections between climate change and extreme events:

    1. Record cold temperatures can still occur in a warming world.

    During 2014, cities in regions like the Midwest and Northeast endured record cold months. Zoom out to the state level, however, and three states (California, Nevada and Arizona) saw record warm annual temperatures in 2014, while none experienced record cold annual temperatures. The national average temperature was warmer than normal, and at the global scale, last year was more than just above average—2014 was the warmest year ever recorded.

    While portions of the eastern United States have faced historic snow totals and frigid temperatures this year, the opposite can be said for much of the western U.S.

    A growing body of research suggests that a contributing factor of this drastic east-west temperature contrast could be the accelerated warming taking place in the Arctic, which can have a weakening effect on the polar jet stream, a west-to-east river of wind in the atmosphere where cold Arctic air meets milder subtropical air in the mid-latitudes (e.g., the U.S.) of the Northern Hemisphere. A weaker polar jet stream creates more favorable conditions for a “wavy” north-south oriented path around the Arctic, which can increase the frequency of phases where Arctic air seeps south into regions like the eastern United States while warmer air protrudes north in the western half of the country.

    2. A warming planet can make some regions much snowier.

    The warmer the air is, the more water vapor it can hold. This additional moisture can bring more intense rain or snowfall. In addition, when sea surface temperatures are warmer than average (as they are currently in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean), the atmosphere becomes fueled with more moisture and energy.

    Precipitation amounts vary by region, but in the United States, all regions except Hawaii have experienced an increase in very heavy precipitation events since the late 1950s. However, snowfall has decreased in most parts of the country since recordkeeping began, in large part because more winter precipitation has come from rain instead of snow. Thus, temperatures play a significant role.

    Gradual warming is reducing the number of very cold days in many regions, but when temperatures are cold enough, the increased moisture can cause heavier snowfall events. In fact, the heaviest snowstorms occur when temperatures are just below freezing as opposed to when they are much colder (when available moisture is reduced)—conditions becoming more likely in mid-winter in a warmer world.

    3. Climate change can contribute to a double whammy of drought and extreme precipitation in the same location.

    As mentioned above, a warmer atmosphere can hold more water, fueling more intense rain and snow events. But at the other end of the spectrum, the warming climate can amplify conditions conducive to drought—like heatwaves, evapotranspiration and reduced soil moisture. The combination of these two extremes in one location can increase disasters like flooding and landslides, and recent history suggests parts of the United States may already be grappling with these double-whammy impacts.

    Since 2010, regions like the Midwest have been impacted by numerous extreme drought and flooding events that have each exceeded $1 billion in losses. Right now, California is in the midst of a drought that researchers have found to be its worst in at least 1,200 years. And while not found to have been caused by climate change, scientists have determined the drought has been driven by record warm temperatures and reduced precipitation. These prolonged warm and dry conditions were then met with an incredible deluge of rainfall in some areas of the state last December (San Francisco received more rain in a matter of days than it did all of 2013) causing flooding and mudslides, washing out roads and damaging homes.

    A Need for Action

    A growing body of evidence shows strong connections between climate change and extreme events, and impacts once thought of as a distant future threat are already occurring and widespread.

    As decision-makers scramble to keep trains and buses running among feet of snow, make plans to save infrastructure from flooding, and revise planning to contend with drought, it’s time they pause to acknowledge the role that human-induced climate change is playing in our changing weather—and commit to ambitious policy changes that reverse these trends.

    Kelly Levin and C. Forbes Tompkins|World Resources Institute|March 1, 2015

    Blizzard Conditions Hit Parts Of Upper Midwest

    MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A fast-moving storm dumped several inches of snow across the Upper Midwest on Tuesday, making travel treacherous in some areas and leading to at least several traffic-related fatalities.

    The storm dropped up to 6.5 inches of snow in western Minnesota, while far eastern South Dakota got 3 inches. But blizzard warnings for Minnesota and South Dakota were lifted.

    Meteorologist Jim Taggart with the National Weather Service in Chanhassen, Minnesota, said the state has seen about half its usual snowfall this season. But the quick-hitting storm could be winter’s last blast for the region, said Minnesota Public Radio meteorologist Paul Huttner. Forecasts call for high temperatures above freezing this weekend and into next week.

    TOUGH TRAVELING

    Snow turned the morning commute in the Twin Cities into a slippery mess. The State Patrol reported 150 crashes and nearly 30 vehicles that slid off roads or spun out by midafternoon. A state trooper’s squad car was struck and badly damaged on I-494 near Concord in South St. Paul, Minnesota, while that trooper was investigating a crash.

    Authorities closed a slippery stretch of Interstate 94 in central Minnesota for a time due to numerous accidents. The driver of an SUV was killed in a multivehicle crash on the freeway, the State Patrol said.

    One person died in a crash on Highway 41 in Brown County of northeastern Wisconsin. At least four school buses got stuck in traffic behind the crash scene.

    The storm forced officials to temporarily close the Apostle Islands ice caves to tourists. Around 12,000 people have visited the ice caves along the south shore of Lake Superior since they opened over the weekend. But the National Park Service said high winds and blowing snow could make the ice leading to the caves unsafe.

    BOSTON TRANSIT

    The Boston-area transit system is considering ways to compensate customers for weeks of weather-related delays and breakdowns as the area has received 8½ feet of snow.

    A Massachusetts Bay Transportation official said Tuesday the options include a week of free fares, which he estimated would cost the agency $6 million. Other possibilities include rebates or discounts for monthly pass holders, or letting customers with monthly passes use them for another month.

    The Massachusetts Department of Transportation board will vote next week on whether to approve any of the plans.

    Officials estimated the cost to the transit system of the winter storm cleanup is $36.5 million to date.

    WASHINGTON WOES

    The mid-Atlantic region braced for another shot of snow, sleet and freezing rain in time for the evening rush hour. A winter weather advisory was effect in the Baltimore and Washington areas.

    The federal government in the Washington region was open, but workers were given the option of taking unscheduled leave or teleworking. Several school systems canceled evening events and a few closed early.

    ST. PATRICK’S PLEA IN BOSTON

    Organizers of Boston’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade say the event will go on as planned March 15, despite the 8 ½ feet of snow that has fallen on the city this winter — but they are asking for help in clearing the route.

    Brian Mahoney, commander of the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, is asking unions, businesses and residents to help shovel snow. He said it would be impossible to postpone the parade.

    The city is just short of surpassing its 20-year-old snowfall record. Sunday’s snowfall brought the city’s total to 103.9 inches. It needs 3.7 inches more to break the 1995-1996 record of 107.6. Snow forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday could tip that total over the edge, according to Frank Nocera, a NWS meteorologist in Taunton, Massachusetts.

    PRAIRIE PROBLEMS

    Many schools from the eastern Dakotas to western Minnesota delayed classes or closed for the day. South Dakota’s Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist warned it would be “a dangerous spring storm.”

    “Just another day in South Dakota,” said Jessica Martin, who works at the Crossroads Truck Stop in the eastern South Dakota town of Colman. “We’re way ready for spring.”

    Heavy snow and gusty winds also struck much of Wyoming, causing road closures and prompting transport officials to warn against all but essential travel across much of the state. Three people were killed in a three-vehicle crash north of Casper, Wyoming, on Monday night as the storm blew into the state, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.

    Icy roads were making travel treacherous in Iowa and Nebraska, leading to at least one fatal traffic accident in Omaha. Rain and freezing rain remained in the forecast for both states.

     

    El Nino Finally Arrives, But It’s Weak, Weird And Late

    WASHINGTON (AP) — A long anticipated El Nino has finally arrived. But for drought-struck California, it’s too little, too late, meteorologists say.

    The National Weather Service on Thursday proclaimed the phenomenon is now in place. It’s a warming of a certain patch of the central Pacific that changes weather patterns worldwide, associated with flooding in some places, droughts elsewhere, a generally warmer globe, and fewer Atlantic hurricanes. El Ninos are usually so important that economists even track them because of how they affect commodities.

    But this is a weak, weird and late version of El Nino, so don’t expect too many places to feel its effects, said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the weather service’s Climate Prediction Center. He said there may be a slight decrease in the number of Atlantic hurricanes this summer if the condition persists, but he also points out that 1992’s devastating Hurricane Andrew occurred during an El Nino summer, so coastal residents shouldn’t let their guard down.

    There’s about a 50 to 60 percent chance the El Nino will continue through the summer, NOAA predicts.

    Ever since March 2014, the weather service has been saying an El Nino was just around the corner. But it didn’t quite show up until now. Meteorologists said the key patch of the Pacific was warming but they didn’t see the second technical part of its definition — certain changes in the atmosphere. Halpert said he didn’t know why this El Nino didn’t form as forecast, saying “something just didn’t click this year.”

    “What we’ve learned from this event is that our definition is very confusing and we need to work on it,” Halpert said.

    Last year, some experts were hoping that El Nino would help the southwestern droughts because moderate-to-strong events bring more winter rain and snow to California — even flooding and mudslides during 1998’s strong El Nino. But this El Nino arrives at the end of California’s rainy season and is quite weak, Halpert said.

    “This is not the answer for California,” Halpert said.

    The U.S. Southeast may see some above average rainfall, which is typical for an El Nino, Halpert said.

    This is the first El Nino since spring of 2010.

    Allan Clarke, a physical oceanography professor at Florida State University, said as far he’s concerned, El Nino has been around awhile and the weather service didn’t acknowledge it. But he agrees that this doesn’t look like a strong one.

    That fits with the pattern the last 10 years, when El Nino’s flip side, a cooling of the central Pacific called La Nina, has been more common. From 2005 to 2014, there have been twice as many months with a La Nina than with El Nino, weather records show. More than half of the time, the world has been in neither.

    SETH BORENSTEIN|AP|In Huffington Post|03/03/2015

    Genetically Modified Organisms

    Global Day of Action Takes on GE Trees in Brazil

    Yesterday, 3 March 2015, Global Justice Ecology Project helped organize actions on four continents at Brazilian consulates and embassies as part of the Emergency Global Day of Action to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees. The actions were held to demand the government of Brazil reject an industry request to legalize genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus trees there.

    Tomorrow, on 5 March 2015, The Brazilian Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio), which regulates GMOs in Brazil, will meet to decide on a request by FuturaGene to legalize the commercial development of their genetically engineered eucalyptus trees.

    “CTNBio does not have sufficient scientific research on the serious impacts that approval of GE eucalyptus trees could cause to render a decision,” stated Winnie Overbeek, International Coordinator of World Rainforest Movement. “They only held one single public hearing on the issue back on September 4, 2014, in Brasilia, which clearly showed the insufficiency of the existing studies. Existing non-GE eucalyptus plantations are already causing serious conflicts over access to land, and living conditions of communities surrounded by them have been destroyed. Approval of GE eucalyptus trees will worsen these problems,” he concluded.

    FuturaGene claims their GE eucalyptus will bring environmental and socio-economic gains, but the Campaign to STOP GE Trees maintains these claims are in contradiction with the documented harms and impacts of existing industrial tree plantations .  The Campaign insists that the insertion of GE eucalyptus in the industrial plantation model will not alleviate but only worsen the impacts on the environment, biodiversity and indigenous and local communities.

    If this request is approved, it will be an unprecedented decision, with potential social and environmental impacts not only for Brazil but around the world.

    “We are at a critical juncture for stopping GE trees,” said Anne Petermann, International Coordinator of the Campaign to STOP GE Trees. “Industry requests to legalize GE trees are not just being decided in Brazil, but in the US also. And companies in other countries would like to develop GE trees. Today’s day of action shows once more that people around the world reject genetically engineered trees and Brazil must also.”

    In November 2014 scientists, foresters, agronomists, Indigenous Peoples and other experts from six continents met in Asunción, Paraguay to discuss the problem of genetically engineered trees. They recently finalized the Asunción Declaration, which calls for the outright rejection of all GE trees, including those in field trials. This declaration was also submitted to CTNBio as part of the global day of action.

    In the US, a similar request to the USDA from GE tree company ArborGen to legalize their GE eucalyptus trees is currently pending.

    Global Justice Ecology Project coordinates The Campaign to STOP GE Trees, an international alliance of organizations mobilized to protect forests and biodiversity and to support communities threatened by the dangerous release of genetically engineered trees into the environment.

    GMO Pesticide Propaganda Machine Continues to Bamboozle

    Media Silence Deafening as 2,4 D Herbicide-Tolerant GMO Crops Cleared for Planting in UN’s “International Year of Soils”

    The recent February 13th issue of Science magazine opens with an editorial titled “Give Soils Their Due” abridged in relevant part:

    “We are not paying enough attention to the world’s soils, a ‘nearly forgotten resource’ and our ‘silent ally,’ 33% of which are in a state of degradation. We can’t breathe, eat, drink, or be healthy without sustainably managing soils. So in recognizing 2015 as the International Year of Soils, the United Nations (UN) is focusing global attention on the increasing pressures on soils and their ripple effect on other global challenges.

    …Exploration of soil’s unique habitats reveals numerous microbes and invertebrates that contribute to life-sustaining services such as cleansing water, regulating pests, and cycling nutrients … we must improve the functioning of soil biota as part of our long-term commitment to a sustainable future.

    …The water we drink depends on maintaining soils that store, filter and cleanse water. Although the soil-clean air-clean water-human health linkage has led to air and water regulations, they do not address the cause of the impacts: the mismanagement of soil.”

    Clearly, the Earth’s soil is a living membrane crucial for long-term human and ecological health. Just as clearly, the pesticide-intensive model of industrial agriculture which saturates crops and soil in pesticides, and pollutes surrounding water and ecosystems, is a primary reason soil biota are in bad shape. One would thus expect that more agricultural scientists and scientific journalists would be sounding the alarm about the pesticide industry’s new 2,4 D herbicide-tolerant