The environment is everything that isn’t me. Albert Einstein
Become a Turtle Watch volunteer; 49 allotments available
To become a South Florida Audubon Society sea turtle hatchling rescue permitted volunteer in Broward County for the 2014 season (March to October), the following is required:
#1 Must be a minimum of 18 years of age
#2 Attend a 4-hour classroom training and obtain 90% or higher on the quiz and attend at least 1-hour on the beach training…..in April.
#3 Go out at least one night per 7-day week for a 4-hour shift MINIMUM
#4 Sign a commitment agreement in order to receive basic volunteer supplies at NO COST
#5 Promise to enjoy, have fun, interact well with other volunteers
#6. Educate yourself and be courteous to locals and visitors / tourists on the beach and educate them as to what is happening etc.
#7 Observe all rules and regulations on the MTP – Marine Turtle Permit issued by FWC to Doug Young and once trained with your name added. Our permits are MTP – 174 and MTP – 178.
If interested, email Doug Young, President
South Florida Audubon Society
firstname.lastname@example.org by April 7, 2014 for information or with questions.
Please include the following:
Full legal name
Date of birth
Next Greater Backyard Bird Count: Feb. 14-17, 2014
Take a look at the top winners and honorable mentions in the 2013 GBBC photo contest!
Tip: There are two ways to set up a GBBC account: Do it now through eBird or wait until Feb. 14 and create your account in this GBBC website. You can use the same login name and password for both projects.
Get Geared Up For the Great Backyard Bird Count!
Bird watchers around the world needed to gather crucial data
New York, N.Y. and Ithaca, N.Y.—From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, bird watchers from more than 100 countries are expected to participate in the 17th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), February 14–17, 2014. Anyone anywhere in the world can count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count and enter their sightings at www.BirdCount.org. The information gathered by tens of thousands of volunteers helps track the health of bird populations at a scale that would not otherwise be possible. The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada.
“People who care about birds can change the world,” said Audubon chief scientist Gary Langham. “Technology has made it possible for people everywhere to unite around a shared love of birds and a commitment to protecting them.”
In North America, GBBC participants will add their data to help define the magnitude of a dramatic irruption of magnificent Snowy Owls. Bird watchers will also be on the lookout for the invasive Eurasian Collared-Dove to see if it has expanded its range again. GBBC observations may help show whether or not numbers of American Crows will continue to rebound after being hit hard by the West Nile virus and whether more insect-eating species are showing up in new areas, possibly because of changing climate.
Last year’s Great Backyard Bird Count shattered records after going global for the first time, thanks to integration with the eBird online checklist program launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab and Audubon. Participants reported their bird sightings from all 7 continents, including 111 countries and independent territories. More than 34.5 million birds and 3,610 species were recorded—nearly one-third of the world’s total bird species documented in just four days.
“This is a milestone for citizen science in so many respects—number of species, diversity of countries involved, total participants, and number of individual birds recorded. We hope this is just the start of something far larger, engaging the whole world in creating a detailed annual snapshot of how all our planet’s birds are faring as the years go by,” said Cornell Lab director Dr. John Fitzpatrick.
“Canadian participation in the Great Backyard Bird Count has increased tremendously in recent years, and it’s wonderful to see this program growing globally,” said Bird Studies Canada President Dr. George Finney. “The count is introducing unprecedented numbers of people to the exciting field of bird watching.”
The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way for people of all ages and backgrounds to connect with nature and make a difference for birds. It’s free and easy. To learn more about how to join the count visit www.birdcount.org and view the winning photos from the 2013 GBBC photo contest.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is made possible in part by sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.
Agatha Szczepaniak, Audubon, (212) 979-3197, email@example.comPat
Leonard, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, (607) 254-2137, firstname.lastname@example.org; contact for photos
Dick Cannings, Bird Studies Canada, (250) 493-3393 (West Coast time), email@example.com
17th Annual Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival
The Brevard Nature Alliance is proud to assemble a prestigious group of nationally and internationally recognized naturalists, biologists, ornithologists, photographers, scientists, writers, historians and artists for the 17th Annual Festival. Additionally, the Alliance is fortunate to continue relationships with the many sponsors, partners and volunteers who support our event. Lastly, we could not present this premier event without the variety of bird species that come to us via the Atlantic Flyway and the plethora of wildlife and plants that make their home on Florida’s Space Coast.
The Festival focuses on the abundance and diversity of the natural world around us – from the Atlantic Ocean westward to the St. Johns River and surrounding wetlands. Educational emphasis is placed on the preservation and management of animals and their habitats, as well as the cultural heritage and historical venues to be found in East Central Florida. The theme of this festival will be about RAPTORS – interesting and intriguing birds of prey. We will be offering new classroom presentations, field trips and special events as well as having four outstanding Keynotes.
The Festival is dedicated to being more environmentally responsible by:
- Decreasing the amount of solid waste produced by the event by providing recycle receptacles for paper, metal, plastic & glass.
- Using paperless technology – Internet advertising, blogs, social media and electronic registrations. Festival on-site registrations, surveys and evaluations can be done by the registrant using our laptops and iPads.
- Disposing of solid and liquid waste in an environmentally responsible manner.
- Encouraging Exhibitors and Food Service vendors to help close the recycling loop by being more environmentally responsible. Selecting the Fairfield Inn as Host Hotel who is designated as a Green Hotel by meeting certain environmental standards and provides recycling receptacles for paper, metal, plastic & glass.
Thank you for attending the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival. Enjoy the Socials each day as they are your chance to meet and mingle with attendees, presenters, field trip leaders, sponsors, and exhibitors from around the world, as well as the Festival staff and volunteers. Be sure to visit Historic Downtown Titusville to stroll through the specialty shops, art galleries and enjoy a meal at one of our fine restaurants.
Learn about the Indian River Lagoon Paddle Adventure and get involved. Find out about all our education programs scheduled for 2014. http://spacecoastbirdingandwildlifefestival.org/
The Brevard Nature Alliance
Audubon Florida Invites You to a Special Presentation by
Dr. Douglas Tallamy
Whose book Bringing Nature Home has inspired gardeners and landowners around the nation to bring gardens to life with songbirds and butterflies
Stitching Landscapes Together for Migrating Birds
10:00 a.m., Friday, January 31st, 2014
Society of the Four Arts, Fitz Eugene Dixon Education Building
2 Four Arts Plaza Palm Beach, FL 33480
Palm Beach sits along one of the world’s great flyways for migratory birds. In the fall, winter and spring scores of species of beautiful songbirds pass through looking for places to rest and forage. Doug Tallamy makes a passionate and studied case for the role birds play in ecosystems and shows how we can stitch our fragmented habitats back together with native trees, shrubs and grasses. This inspiring and informative talk will give us a new way to look at our lawns, gardens and public places.
Doug Tallamy’s acclaimed book, Bringing Nature Home tells the fascinating story of the relationship between plants, insects and birds. His research has shown that the conversion of so much urban landscape deprives nature of its most vital links. He offers a compelling vision for replacing barren lawns with plants that support migrating songbirds. Dr. Tallamy helps people see the beauty in native plants and the role they play in bringing songbirds back to our lives.
Doug Tallamy is a professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware where he has authored 78 research articles and has taught Insect Taxonomy, Behavioral Ecology, and other courses for 32 years. Chief among his research goals is to better understand the many ways insects interact with plants and how such interactions determine the diversity of animal communities. His book Bringing Nature Home; How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens was published by Timber Press in 2007 and was awarded the 2008 silver medal by the Garden Writer’s Association. Doug was awarded the Garden Club of America Margaret Douglas Medal for Conservation in 2013.
Due to limited space, reservations are required for all Campus on the Lake lectures.
For more information please call (561) 805-8562 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .
For more information on Audubon’s Bird Friendly Communities Program call 407-644-0190.
Of Interest to All
Interior Secretary discusses estuary protection at Naples event
The Obama administration believes strongly in Everglades restoration and the protection of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said Friday.
Jewell made her comments at a short press conference during the 29th annual Everglades Coalition Conference at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club.
The issue with the estuaries is that during times of heavy rainfall, the Army Corps releases large amounts of nutrient-rich fresh water down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, which can cause massive algal blooms and fish kills and disrupt the balance of fresh and salt water.
“There is a significant effort among the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture to reduce flows in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie,” Jewell said. “These estuaries are so important, and this administration is very much aware of what’s happening down here.”
A key problem with Everglades restoration has always been the lack of funding for projects.
“You can look in the rearview mirror and say this administration has been enormously supportive of the Everglades,” Jewell said. “There are needs all over the country, and the Everglades have had more than many other parts of the country.”
Jewell was asked whether she had come to South Florida with a promise of money for Everglades restoration.
“If you look at what the Obama administration has supported, they have brought a lot of money,” she said. “I don’t have any money today because I don’t have a budget today. I’ve been in this job 8½months, and I started pretty much the day we implemented the sequester.
“People are expecting us to take care of these landscapes forever and protect these ecosystems, I don’t even have a budget to take me from one year to the next.”
Among the projects funded in part by the Department of Interior are an $81-million one-mile bridge on U.S. 41 in the Everglades, completed in March 2013, that allows water to flow more naturally south through the Everglades.
Planning for a $338 million 2.6-mile bridge is finished and ready for congressional authorization and funding.
“We have tremendous science and understanding about where we screwed up,” Jewell said. “It took generations to impact the landscape, and it will take generations to fix it.”
Kevin Lollar | news-press
Frack Away! Just Be Sure to Tell the EPA
What’s a little fracking between friends? Nothing to worry about, apparently, so long as you tell everyone about it. The EPA has just released some new rules about fracking in Southern California waters — a practice that has been quietly going on for decades — and the rule includes an interesting little sidebar. By interesting, by the way, we mean terrifying: it doesn’t say oil companies shouldn’t release fracking chemicals into the water, only that “…if there is a discharge of the fluids, [oil and gas companies should] report the chemical formulation with the quarterly discharge monitoring report.”
In other words: go right ahead and frack, and don’t worry about releasing chemicals into the environment, just be sure to tell your pals at the EPA about it…every three months, when you’re filing routine paperwork. Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, 300,000 West Virginia residents are without drinking water because a company didn’t think it needed to report a chemical spill in a timely fashion, illustrating how much we can rely on industry to look out for public safety.
What spurred the rule, and what does it really mean? Well, you’ll be glad to hear that the driving force was environmentalists and activists just like you. In coordinated protest, comment, and organizing, people from California and elsewhere along with groups like the Center for Biological Diversity pressured the EPA to regulate fracking in Southern California more closely.
In response to the public pressure, the EPA realized that it needed to adjust its regulations accordingly to speak to the concerns voiced by members of the public and environmental advocacy groups, as it notes in the new rules.
Environmentalists are concerned that the chemicals used in fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, could pose environmental and human health risks. Many are not well-understood, while oil and gas companies have remained very secretive about the compounds they use, claiming the need to protect industrial secrets. This makes it hard to study what is being used and how it’s affecting the environment, posing a particular problem when fracking operations leak, a concern no matter where installations are but particularly in the ocean, where there’s so much vulnerable territory to damage.
While fewer chemicals are needed in oceanic fracking operations, they’re still used, and they still leak. Advocates were hoping for a ban or moratorium on fracking, and at the very least, some tougher restrictions on chemicals and spills. What they got was more or less a polite request from the EPA to drop a line every now and then with a quick note if anything had been spilled, which is hardly ideal, especially since it means companies need to be honest about what they spilled, how much of it, when, and where — something many may be reluctant to do.
Furthermore, the rule applies only to new drilling jobs. Existing boreholes and equipment aren’t subject to the regulations, and can continue to be operated as they were before. This reduces accountability even further, making it that much more difficult to protect the environment from potentially hazardous chemicals, some of which will undoubtedly end up on beaches and in inhabited areas.
s.e. smith|January 14, 2014
Broward bald eagles produce chicks again
County’s only nest stands near busy road
The bald eagles of Pembroke Pines have some new beaks to feed.
Eggs hatched over the weekend at the only known bald eagle nest in Broward County, which stands in a patch of forest across from a townhouse development on busy Pines Boulevard, according to the group of bird enthusiasts who have watched over the nest in the past few years.
No one has seen the chicks, which typically don’t become visible for 10 days or so, and no one knows how many there are, although two is typical and three possible, said Ken Schneider, who frequently photographs and blogs about the nest.
But the eagles had been sitting on eggs for the standard 35 days, and on Saturday they displayed tell-tale changes in behavior: “tenting” their wings over the nest and tearing up bits of prey and feeding something – presumably some fuzzy-headed eaglets – low in the nest.
“Those are definitely signs, that’s definitely the behavior I look for to see if there are young,” said Michelle van Deventer, eagle plan coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “We’re getting reports of lots of eaglets around Florida, so the timing is right.”
Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis expressed pride at the latest crop of young eagles from the nest on city-owned land, which the city has declared an eagle sanctuary.
“There they are on a busy road and they’re not disturbed,” he said. “It’s amazing.”
Assuming all goes well, over the next few weeks the baby eagles will learn to fly, engaging in “branching,” in which they start to walk out on branches, and “helicoptering,” in which they stand there and flap their wings. Even after they start flying, they will depend on their parents for food, with the adults bringing home fish, cattle egrets, snakes and small mammals.
As summer approaches, the young will leave the nest and fly north on their own, heading for the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, Maine or Canada, where fish are more abundant at the surface than in Florida.
Like many human offspring who are old enough to fend for themselves, the young eagles may try to come home at about this time next year, but they will find a less than warm welcome. One or two juveniles – presumably grown eaglets who hatched last year – showed up in the past few days and were chased off by their parents.
“Mom and dad don’t exactly welcome them with open wings,” van Deventer said.
The Pembroke Pines eagles, which were discovered about seven years ago, are considered an indication of the recovery of a species that had almost disappeared from Florida. The primary reason for the species recovery is the banning of the pesticide DDT in 1972.
At that time, there were just 80 nesting pairs in the state. Today there are about 1,500, with the largest numbers in Osceola, Polk and Lee counties, as well as the Lakes region of central Florida and the Charlotte Harbor area, van Deventer said.
In Palm Beach County, 11 bald eagle nests were known to be active, according to surveys done in 2011 and 2012.
Although the species has recovered, the young eagles that hatched over the weekend still face a difficult road. Only about 20 percent survive to reach sexual maturity, which arrives at five years. Among the leading threats: other eagles defending their territory, being hit by vehicles and disease.
On Monday the eagles were clearly visible from the divider on Pines Boulevard just east of U.S. 27, as the male eagle sat in the nest, ate and groomed himself and the female flew around, visited the nest for a few minutes and then took up a post on a tree about 20 yards away. The nest, which is about six feet wide, stands about 50 feet up an Australian pine tree.
“This morning I saw a feeding,” said Al Griffin, who brought binoculars and a spotting scope. “The male was ripping prey apart and bending down in the nest and putting it down.”
Griffin and other eagle enthusiasts, working through South Florida Pine Eagle Nest Inc., are trying to raise money to mount a live video camera above the nest. They have named the male eagle Pride and the female Joy.
The female left her perch and flew in a wide arc over Pines Boulevard, flapping her wings and gaining speed as she headed north over the barrel tiled roofs of the Chapel Trail development. There were eaglets to feed.
“There she goes,” Griffin said. “She’s going hunting.”
David Fleshler, Sun Sentinel|January 13, 2014|
[A few years ago, an ad hoc committee was formed to deal with Eagles issues such as their safety and safety in the area for the general public. The committee has not met for quite a while but behind the scenes South Florida Audubon Society has been working to finalize sponsorship and install an Eaglecam so that the community and the world can view the activity of the adult Eagles and the eaglets each nesting season. As you know, the eaglets are only visible when they get a little older.
We hope to FINALLY have the Eaglecam installed for the Fall 2015 before the adult eagles return.]
Slaughter of the Innocents: Yes, Uncle Sam Is Really Planning to Kill 16,000 Prairie Dogs
Eagles and owls will also likely die in the pointless poisoning, biologists say.
Sometimes just trying to get along with a difficult neighbor can make us prisoners in our own homes. It can lead us to do things that go against our stated intentions and interests. That seems to be the situation right now for the Thunder Basin National Grassland, a 547,000-acre protected area in northeastern Wyoming.
The U.S. Forest Service, which manages the Grassland, has announced a plan to poison an estimated 16,000 prairie dogs and dramatically shrink the already limited area in which prairie dogs are tolerated. Thunder Basin officials intend to do it despite their declared plans to improve prairie dog habitat. Their method, moreover, is likely to kill a lot of other wildlife in the affected area and, incidentally, squander taxpayer dollars for nothing.
USFS is proposing the outlandish venture under pressure from neighboring cattle ranchers and politicians, particularly Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, and to appease “a dedicated few who cling to archaic, erroneous concepts” about prairie dog biology. The quote comes from Jason A. Lillegraven, a vertebrate paleontologist who has retired from the University of Wyoming but still finds himself dealing with dinosaurs.
Just five years ago, the same Thunder Basin managers set aside 85,000 acres as one of the last refuges in the American West where prairie dogs could not be poisoned, gassed, shot for target practice, set on fire, or otherwise harassed into extinction. The thinking then was straightforward: Only 2 percent of America’s prairie grasslands remain intact, and Thunder Basin represents one of the best remnants of that storied heritage. Meanwhile, black-tailed prairie dogs have lost an estimated 99 percent of their habitat.
Giving them a tiny scrap of land on which to survive seemed to make sense in part because so many other species that are emblematic of the American West depend on them: Their burrows provide homes for mountain plovers and burrowing owls, and the prairie dogs themselves are a favorite prey of golden eagles, ferruginous hawks, and swift foxes, among others. Thunder Basin has targets to increase populations of all those predators. It also ranks high up among the candidate sites for transplanting a population of endangered black-footed ferrets—and the ferrets cannot live if there aren’t enough prairie dogs for them to eat.
Nearby ranchers, on the other hand, regard prairie dogs as a menace on multiple counts and want them gone. So the new plan calls for killing any prairie dog within a quarter mile of private land.
Other prairie dog poisoning campaigns—and they are legion—have generally relied on zinc phosphide, which is fast-acting, with minimal risk of secondary poisoning to other species. But prairie dogs that survive a whiff of zinc phosphide may learn to steer clear of it.
The new plan calls instead for using the notorious anticoagulant Rozol. “Rozol makes creatures that ingest it bleed from every orifice and stagger around for the week or two or three it takes them to die, attracting predators and scavengers,” the environmental writer Ted Williams reports. “Whatever eats the anticoagulant-laced victim dies, too.”
Using Rozol requires lots of taxpayer-funded labor to monitor the area and pick up carcasses before scavengers can get to them. But in most cases the monitoring gets forgotten, says Williams. The unintended victims include “golden eagles, bald eagles, ferruginous hawks, owls, magpies, turkey vultures, badgers, swift foxes, coyotes, raccoons, red-winged blackbirds, wild turkeys, and almost certainly, ferrets.”
What’s the argument for killing prairie dogs? Ranchers sometimes cite the threat of plague—and the black death certainly sounds terrifying enough. But it typically affects fewer than 10 people each year in the United States, and if caught early, is easily treated with antibiotics. Victims tend to be wildlife biologists and hunters. In the rare cases where the victim hasn’t directly handled a sick animal, it’s generally because a free-roaming house cat has wandered into an infected prairie dog town. The way to prevent the problem isn’t by killing prairie dogs but by dusting prairie dog towns to minimize fleas.
The larger problem is that any prairie dog town is messy, a warren of burrow holes and bare earth. That can make a rancher feel like a sloppy land manager. Ranchers tend to refer to prairie dogs as invaders, though fossil evidence is clear that prairie dogs predate cattle ranchers by quite a bit (about 2 million years, or longer than humans have been a species).
The visual evidence also suggests to ranchers that the prairie dogs are eating grass that ranchers feel rightly belongs to their cattle, but the scientific evidence on competition with livestock is mixed. Pronghorn, elk, and bison actually prefer to graze in prairie dog towns, evidently because the prairie dog wastes make for vegetation that’s richer in nitrogen. And a 2013 study found that prairie dogs can make things better for livestock too, at least when it rains. Unfortunately, they make it worse in a drought, and it’s human nature that the credit you get for making a good thing better is not nearly proportionate to the blame you get for making a bad thing worse. The West has been enduring drought conditions for more than a decade, and that makes the prairie dog a handy scapegoat for desperate ranchers.
Is that reason enough for USFS managers to reverse every carefully laid plan for the protection of wildlife in an area that has, after all, been set aside largely for wildlife and recreation?
“I have a strong sense that they do not want to do this,” says Steve Forrest of Defenders of Wildlife. “They don’t have the budget for it, and they know in their hearts that it makes no sense.” Their own fact sheet says any gain in weight for livestock from getting rid of prairie dogs is worth less than the cost of proposed poisoning. “But when the governor of Wyoming speaks, they have to pay attention.”
The managers at Thunder Grass National Grassland declined to be interviewed for this article. They’re probably too embarrassed. But you can email district manager Tom Whitford at email@example.com.
Better yet, contact Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead here, or at 307-777-7434, and also let your own representatives in Congress know what you think.
Suzette Kimball to take over as director of the U.S. Geological Survey
She will provide scientific advice on natural resource management and climate change issues to the U.S. Department of the Interior.
President Barack Obama said Thursday that he will nominate Suzette Kimball, Acting Director, U.S. Geological Survey
Dr. Kimball was the Director of the Eastern Region in 2004 and became the Acting Associate Director for Geology in 2008.
Kimball joined the USGS as Eastern Regional Executive for Biology. In that position, she built many partnerships, helped shape programs, and led the establishment of the USGS Florida Integrated Science Center. She came to the USGS from the National Park Service in Atlanta, where she was Associate Regional Director.
She entered the National Park Service as a research coordinator in the Global Climate Change Program, became Southeast Regional Chief Scientist, then Associate Regional Director. She was assistant professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, co-director of the Center for Coastal Management and Policy and marine scientist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, and managed coastal morphology and barrier island studies in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
She serves on executive boards and many State and national committees, including the Consortium for Coastal Restoration through Science & Technology, the Council of Examiners of the National Association of State Boards of Geology, and the DOI Senior Executive Service Advisory Council. She was on the board of directors of the Coastal Society and has served as secretary of the American Geophysical Union’s Ocean Sciences Section.
She has authored numerous publications on barrier island dynamics, coastal ecosystem science, coastal zone management and policy, and natural resource exploration, evaluation and management. She has received the Presidential Rank Award and the Secretary of the Interior’s Meritorious Service Award.
Dr. Kimball has a doctorate in environmental sciences with a specialty in coastal processes from the University of Virginia, a master’s in geology and geophysics from Ball State University, and a bachelor’s in English and geology from the College of William & Mary.
Trinidad Oil Spills Leave State-Owned Energy Company Scrambling To Clean Up
At least 11 oil spills have crippled parts of Trinidad and Tobago, coating miles of beach with crude as the state-owned energy company scrambles to control what’s being called one of the country’s worst environmental disasters.
Petrotrin, Trinidad’s state-owned oil company, first responded to an oil spill near La Brea on Dec. 17, according to a report from the Trinidad Guardian. Over the past month, the company has confirmed at least 11 spills and was slapped with a $3.1 million fine from the country’s Environmental Management Authority last week, which the company’s president, Khalid Hassanali, called “harsh.”
Here’s where it gets weird.
The pipeline responsible for the first of the leaks at Petrotrin’s Point-a-Pierre facility, which resulted in an initial spill of more than 7,000 barrels, may not have undergone any inspections for the past 17 years, according to a confidential report commissioned by the company and obtained by the Trinidad Guardian. Of the other 10 leaks, Petrotrin has accused saboteurs of causing at least 2 while releasing a series of media releases praising what they describe as “significant progress” during clean-up efforts, saying the beaches would be clean one to two weeks after the spill.
Petrotrin did not return requests for comment in time for publication.
However, local officials have accused the company of trying to downplay the extent and size of the spill, according to the Trinidad Express. Two former energy ministers also came forward earlier this month, saying Petrotrin did know about the state of its aging infrastructure after a government audit was ordered in 2010.
“There was no question of sabotage, it was all a question of bad operations on the part of Petrotrin,” MP Paula Gopee-Scoon said. “It was a cover-up from day one.”
Petrotrin has since used the controversial dispersant Corexit 9500 to control the spill, used in record quantities by BP during 2010’s Gulf oil spill. Many scientists have said the chemical becomes far more toxic than oil alone when the two are mixed, harming marine life, but Petrotrin’s president has defended the use of the dispersant, saying “all the chemicals we are using are approved chemicals and we are using them in the approved manner.”
Petrotrin’s chairman denied the occurrence of any more spills in the region this week and insisted claims that oil had spread to neighboring Venezuela were false. But government officials have demanded the Minister of Energy commission an independent investigation into the cause of the spill “by people who don’t have anything to protect and no rear end to cover.”
Trinidad’s energy department approved a new national oil spill contingency plan in January 2013.
Nick Visser| Huffington Post | 01/14/2014
Study says U.S. can’t keep up with loss of ecologically-sensitive wetlands
Over a four-year span, the United States lost more than 360,000 acres of freshwater and saltwater wetlands to fierce storms, sea-level rise and booming development along the coasts, according to a newly released federal study.
The disappearance of so much grass and forest marsh on the edge of waterways is a disturbing sign that government projects to restore wetlands are failing to keep pace, environmentalists said, as storms intensify, the sea level creeps up and development paves the way for rising coastal populations.
Saltwater wetlands help buffer sea surges that cause flooding during powerful storms along the coasts – such as Hurricane Sandy last year – and freshwater wetlands soak up storm-water runoff that often causes sewers to overflow.
They also serve as nurseries for numerous species of fish and assorted marine life, while providing habitat for three-quarters of the nation’s waterfowl and migrating birds. Nearly half of endangered species depend on them to live.
“They are getting it from all directions,” said Tom Dahl, lead author of the study funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Study areas include the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the Great Lakes and other fresh inland waters.
In the Chesapeake Bay region, Maryland has lost 60,000 acres of wetlands since the 1940s because of population growth and farming, and in 1997 it launched a bid to restore them, according to the state’s Department of the Environment.
Virginia estimates that half of the wetlands that existed in the colonial period have been lost over time to farming and development. There is an ongoing effort in the state to restore and add to the 1 million acres that remain, according to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
Across the nation, wetlands have been converted to open water in some places and to mud in others. They include mangrove swamps, salt marshes, freshwater forested swamps, shrub depressions and wetlands floating on the edges of rivers.
The disappearance of marshes during the period covered in the study – between 2004 and 2009 – represented a 25 percent increase in the rate of loss in the same areas from the previous survey , which covered the six-year period between 1998 to 2004.
Storms and wetlands have waged an epic struggle on the coasts for eons. What’s relatively new, and detrimental to the wetlands, is an explosion of coastal residential and business development, along with coastal farming, that drain water from the wetlands or fill them with dirt for agriculture, parking lots, housing and retail stores.
As a result, sizeable chunks of wetlands die. Surviving wetlands are battered by rainwater runoff pouring from newly built surfaces such as driveways and roads, and much of that water is polluted with garbage, toxins and fine particle sediment. Wetlands can’t handle the added deluge.
“The plumbing of the whole system is altered,” said Dahl, a senior scientist for wetlands status and trends for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Darryl Fears |Reporter |Washington Post
If you’ve been paying attention to the state of the world’s climate, you may have been shocked to read that 2013 was the best year in human history.
In 2013, enough fossil fuels were burned so that carbon pollution levels hit the milestone of 400 parts per million. Scientists confirmed, again, that this is bad news for most of the residents of Planet Earth, with many plants and animals facing extinction. This carbon pollution trapped enough heat to help fuel heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods. The oceans grew in size as sea levels reached record highs this year — meaning any storm making landfall became even more deadly.
Some may say these are byproducts of progress, forging ahead with continued investment in the dirty fuels that release these long-trapped compounds into the atmosphere. But it’s not just indirect greenhouse effects — major population centers had to shut down for days at a time when choking smog reached levels that went well beyond the hazardous. The fossil fuels that once promised so much progress have turned on us.
Here are nine major reasons climate change — and the carbon pollution that drives it — helped make 2013 one of the worst years in human history.
1. Global CO2 levels hit 400 ppm for the first time in recorded history.
For the first time in recorded history, thanks to rampant burning of fossil fuels, CO2 levels in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million in May 2013. It’s a symbolic number — there is nothing fundamentally different about 399 ppm than 400 ppm other than that extra millionth of atmosphere. But just as we celebrate a new year, rue a birthday, or quail when gasoline hits $4 a gallon, the reader on an instrument in Hawai’i began with a 4 instead of a 3 for the first time ever. This instrument has helped record the data that forms the Keeling Curve, named after its originator.
“I wish it weren’t true but it looks like the world is going to blow through the 400 ppm level without losing a beat,” said Ralph Keeling, a geologist with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography which operates Hawaii’s Mauna Loa observatory. “At this pace we’ll hit 450 ppm within a few decades.” Keeling’s father, Charles David Keeling, started taking regular measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide at Mauna Loa in 1958. Back then, the lowest the CO2 readings ever got was 313 parts per million. The last time they were that low was in 1960. Though CO2 levels vary over the course of a year as plants grow and die with the seasons, the trajectory has been a steady increase through the industrial era. This is driven by fossil fuel use, and leads to catastrophic climate change.
2. It’s getting hotter, faster.
In September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fifth assessment report describing in detail what the world’s top scientists understand about climate change. Its conclusions? Scientists are more certain than ever (between 95 and 100 percent) that humans are causing the planet to heat up through greenhouse gas emissions. 1983-2012 was the warmest 30 years of the last 1400 years. The impacts of this planetary change are speeding up. This means that the globe, as a whole, is headed for 7°F worth of warming by 2100 if emissions continue unabated. Americans face a 9°F increase by then. Sea level rise is speeding up, dry areas are getting drier and we areas are getting wetter as the warmer atmosphere holds more moisture in it. The top ten feet of permafrost in the high northern latitudes is steadily melting, which is a problem because it holds twice as much carbon as the atmosphere does right now. The oceans are taking up greater and greater amounts of carbon dioxide, which portends acidified doom for many shelled aquatic creatures and anything that relies on them. The clarity of the report did not stop some outlets from ignoring, or getting it totally wrong. Some talked about a “slowdown” in warming that didn’t happen.
3. A huge number of animals and plants face extinction.
2013 offered sobering reminders that people aren’t the only ones impacted by climate change. The fourth IPCC assessment report projects that 40 to 70 percent of species could go extinct if earth warms by 3.5 °C, and a study this year found that many species could have to evolve 10,000 times faster to keep up with the expected climate change. Heavy rain in the Canadian Arctic is killing peregrine falcon chicks covered in down, and could contribute to a long-term decline in reproductive success in the population. As winters become warmer and shorter and the weather gets drier, pine beetles have wreaked havoc on forests across North America, from New Jersey to British Columbia. This year also saw more proof that migratory species in particular are threatened by climate change: a report from the National Wildlife Federation outlined the dangers migratory birds face from earlier and “false” springs, and another study found that one of the world’s great migrations — the long trek of millions of Christmas Island Crabs, requires meticulous timing that could be thrown off by changing weather patterns in the future.
With the oceans more acidic now than they’ve been at any time in the last 300 million years, scientists from the International Program on the State of the Ocean warned this year that the “next mass extinction may have already begun.” Multiple species of marine plankton, which make up the base of the ocean ecosystem, are at some of their lowest levels ever seen as the ocean warms, a decline that’s poised to throw the entire marine food web off balance. The acidification muddles some fish’s brains and makes it hard for shellfish to grow their shells. And rising water temperatures and ocean acidification are causing jellyfish populations to explode in oceans around the world — one Oregon fisherman says his boat has caught 4,000 – 5,000 pounds of jellyfish.
On top of that, Brazil announced this year that the rate of deforestation in the Amazon increased by 28 percent between August 2012 and July 2013; the oceans are still on the brink of collapse due to overfishing; and spills of various kinds killed thousands of fish and animals this year.
4. The world suffered deadly heat, drought, and wildfires.
Much of the U.S. may be in a cold snap now, but 2013 was marked by extremes in temperature and precipitation, conditions that fueled deadly wildfires around the world. November 2013 was the hottest November on record. This summer in China, the worst heatwave in 140 years brought temperatures that reached above 105°F. Australia experienced its hottest month on record in January, hottest September on record and multiple major wildfires after an early start to wildfire season. Wildfires have taken a major toll in the U.S. this year too — this year’s fire season didn’t break records in terms of number of fires or acres burned, but due to the tragic Yarnell fire that killed 19 Arizona firefighters, it was the deadliest for firefighters in 80 years. In June, Colorado experienced its most destructive wildfire in state history (which made the state’s “Biblical” flooding a few months later that much worse) and California was hit by its third-largest in state history, a fire that burned through 402 square miles. By August, thanks to budget cuts, the U.S. Forest Service was forced to divert $600 million from other areas to continue fighting fires.
For the past 13 years, much of the western U.S. has seen so little rain that scientists think the dry spell could be a “megadrought,” a trend that could continue for the next several years. The drought has wreaked havoc in many states — it helped exacerbate deadly wildfires in Colorado, Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon. The drought forced New Mexico ranchers to sell much of their cattle, driving livestock levels in many regions of the state to about one-fifth of normal levels. “It’s all changed,” John Clayshulte, a third-generation New Mexico rancher told the LA Times. “This used to be shortgrass prairies. We’ve ruined it and it’s never going to come back.” Though they were bad in 2013, these extreme events are likely to only become worse in the coming years.
5. Choking pollution shut down population centers.
When it comes to air pollution, China’s had a bad year. The world’s most populous nation imported more coal in 2013 than any country in history, and even though demand slowed in 2013, that still meant more than the 7.7 billion tons consumed in 2012. What happens when a country like China burns that much coal? In January, Beijing experienced its worst air pollution on record. Bloomberg compared the particulate matter in Beijing on that January day to an airport smoking lounge, and found that China’s air had nearly 30 micrograms per cubic meter more particulates than a smoking lounge. Since then, conditions haven’t improved in China. In October, air pollution nearly shut down the entire city of Harbin, forcing schools, roads and the airport to close. In some parts of Harbin, fine particulate matter reached levels of 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter — readings 40 times the level of 25 or less micrograms per cubic meter that the World Health Organization considers ideal for human health and more than three times the level of 300 that’s considered hazardous. And in December, extreme air pollution forced children and the elderly in Shanghai inside for at least seven days. These extreme cases of air pollution have made the Chinese government take note, however — it unveiled a plan to fight the pollution in September and doubled its renewable energy capacity this year.
6. Countries suffer disasters, but still commit to doing even less about emissions.
This year, Australia experienced its hottest month on record in January, hottest September on record and multiple major wildfires after an early start to wildfire season. But in September, Australians elected Liberal party leader Tony Abbott as their new prime minister, a man who, once in office, quickly got to work making good on his anti-climate change campaign promises. Abbott axed Australia’s Climate Commission, the group responsible for studying and providing information to Australians on how climate change is affecting the country, just a few weeks after he was elected. Abbott has vowed to eliminate the country’s carbon tax and also wants to cut the country’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation and Climate Change Authority, a group that provides advice to the government on carbon emissions reductions targets. Japan arrived at the 19th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Poland with bad news. Instead of committing to stronger emissions targets, or even just standing pat and announcing it would stay true to its current commitments, it told the world that it would cut its 2020 target from 25 percent to just 3.8 percent below 2005 levels. Japan has been hit with deadly typhoons that become more deadly as the sea level rises, and in August Tokyo recorded its warmest daily low temperature in modern history. And the best that the international negotiations to cut global emissions could muster was “modest progress,” with a hope for a big breakthrough in 2015.
7. Sea levels broke records, amplifying the effects of storms and floods.
In March of this year, global sea levels hit a record high, according to a report by the World Meteorological Association. One thing that many people don’t realize is that the primary reason sea levels have risen recently is because the ocean is warmer, and warmer water takes up more space than cooler water. So sea levels will rise no matter how much land ice melts (though there was plenty of that too). The IPCC report found that 90 percent of the trapped heat from 1971 to 2010 has gone into the oceans. Since 1901, the seas have risen 19 centimeters, or 7.5 inches, and they have been rising more and more quickly. Recently that rate has been 3.2 millimeters per year. Because of currents and local geographic actors, the rate of increase is different around the world, and the coastlines of the Philippines have suffered over three times the sea level rise as the global average. So when Super Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the island nation, flooding and storm surges were much worse than they otherwise would have been. At current rates, levels may hit 30 inches higher than they are now by the end of the century. This makes every storm riskier, from the the Gulf to the Mid-Atlantic, as the world saw last year when Super Storm Sandy hit. Rising seas also pose a danger to animals, with one out of six threatened or endangered species in the U.S. are at risk from rising seas.
8. Much of the world is doubling down on fossil fuels.
To stay on just the 2°C (3.6°F) warming path, the world will have to do even better than the 17 percent cut below 2005 levels that the U.S. and other developed countries have aimed toward in international negotiations. A study earlier this year found that developed countries will have to lower emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels at the end of the decade to stay below a 2°C rise. But global oil demand was higher than projected this year. The U.S. is stepping to the plate. Big Oil’s drive to make the U.S. the world’s top oil producer made some big strides in 2013. America now exports more oil than it imports, for the first time since 1995. What does this fossil fuel bonanza mean for regular people? Exploding oil trains. More exploding oil trains. Oil pipeline spills. More oil pipeline spills. Oil pipeline explosions. Oil barge spills. Leaky oil refineries. Earthquakes linked to fracking. Globally, the end result of all of this oil production is ever-rising global carbon dioxide emissions, which hit 36 billion tons in 2013.
9. We are woefully undercounting methane emissions.
Many people point to natural gas as the solution to rising carbon emissions because compared to oil and coal emissions, it releases less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The main ingredient of natural gas is methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. When burned, methane still releases CO2, just less than other fossil fuels do. The first bit of bad news is that this year, the IPCC reported that methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than originally thought. This means that compared to a molecule of carbon dioxide, a molecule of methane is about 34 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 100-year time scale — and 86 times more effective over 20 years. The second bit of bad news is that not all the methane gets burned, and much more of it leaks out of the natural gas production process than originally thought. The EPA, and others in the natural gas industry, pegged total leakage from natural gas production at around 1.5 percent. But several new studies this year suggest that leakage rates are actually more like 3 percent, or 6-12 percent, 9 percent, or even 17 percent. If that is true, it becomes harder to argue that natural gas is so much better for the climate than coal is. Again, coal emits more carbon dioxide (and other dangerous pollutants) than gas does, but if enough methane leaks before the gas can even be burned, that advantage dissipates. A 3.2 percent leakage rate is the threshold beyond which, at a certain point, gas is no better than coal for the climate. If these studies are true, then that appears to be the case, and natural gas is not the happy bridge to renewable fuels that many hoped it would be.
Read more and see photos
West Virginia Spill Exposes Disturbing Lack Of Data About Hazardous Chemicals
The 300,000 residents of nine West Virginia counties affected by last Thursday’s chemical spill are slowly starting to get notice that they can turn on their taps again. But many are still wondering why they didn’t have more information about the potential dangers in their own backyard.
As much as 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (also known as crude MCHM) spilled into the Elk River about a mile and a half upstream from where the West Virginia American Water utility draws its supply. The coal-cleaning chemical came from a storage facility owned by Freedom Industries and located in Charleston, the state capital.
Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, lives along the Elk River upstream from the spill. Even though she works on environmental issues and drives by the storage facility regularly, she said she had no idea that the tanks held chemicals. “They just look old and rusty,” Rosser told The Huffington Post. “I just couldn’t have imagined. If I knew, our organization certainly would have raised questions about this.”
“But we are in the same boat as the rest of the public, the water company and apparently our governor,” Rosser said. “No one seemed to be aware or care that this dangerous chemical was upstream from our largest drinking water intake in the state. It was a recipe for disaster.”
That seems to be the resounding complaint in West Virginia: No one knew. The chemicals were disclosed in a filing to the state last year, reporting that the facility could hold anywhere between 11.4 million and 63.5 million pounds of 10 different chemicals on a given day, including up to 1 million pounds of MCHM. The forms were filed in compliance with the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, a 1986 federal law designed to make sure plans are in place in case of an accident. MCHM was listed on the Tier II reporting form as a “hazardous” material under the Environmental Protection Agency’s classification system. But there doesn’t seem to have been a plan in place in case of an accident, as the Charleston Gazette has reported, and the public didn’t know the chemicals were there.
West Virginia lies in the heart of coal country, which means MCHM is likely kept in not insignificant quantities at storage and preparation facilities across the state. Moreover, after the chemical is used to wash the coal, the tainted wastewater is often injected into old mines or stored in above-ground impoundments.
Yet finding out where else such chemicals are stored in the state is difficult, environmental advocates say. The forms disclosing the chemicals are filed with the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. Communications director Lawrence Messina said the department keeps the past five years of filings, but most of them are on paper — because most of the roughly 9,500 facilities in the state that file these reports still turn them in that way. Electronic filing has only recently become an option, and the department itself does not offer a publicly available online database. Individuals can request a filing for a particular facility, presuming they know of its existence, and county emergency planners keep copies of the filings for their local sites. So some information exists, but there’s no easy way to search it by location or chemical.
Coal field activists warn that while the spill in Charleston is a big deal, many in the state could potentially be exposed to the chemical on a daily basis. “It’s a big emergency here based on the fact that 300,000 people’s water source was polluted, but the story here is that coal companies use this chemical and other chemicals in West Virginia every day,” said Bill Price, a West Virginia-based organizer with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) tried to put some distance between the coal industry and the spill. “This was not a coal company incident,” Tomblin said. “This was a chemical company incident.”
But Price said that’s not much of a distinction. “Let’s be honest, the reason it was stored in Charleston is its proximity to coal-producing areas,” said Price. And he added, “We don’t know where else this chemical may be stored.”
FGS Director Selected to National Research Council to Review Conservation Plan of Edwards Aquifer Authority
Last week, Dr. Jonathon Arthur, Director of Florida Geological Survey was selected to serve on the National Research Council Committee that is assessing the scientific aspects of the habitat conservation plan of the Edwards Aquifer Authority in Texas. He was chosen for this committee because of his experience in hydrogeology and hydrogeochemistry including aquifer storage and recovery. Dr. Arthur has been a member of several other committees including the NRC Committee on Sustainable Underground Storage of Recoverable Water and numerous committees related to the restoration of the Everglades.
“The Edwards Aquifer shares many characteristics of the Floridan, including karst and complex flow systems, as well as administrative controls similar to MFLs and alternative water resources such as aquifer storage and recovery,” said Dr. Arthur. “My participation in the committee will allow me to apply important information toward better understanding and protecting Florida’s karstic aquifers – our principal source of drinking water.”
The conservation plan is working to balance the aquifer while protecting threatened and endangered species, especially those that are only known to the area. Additionally, 2 million people in eight counties in and around San Antonio rely on the system for their drinking water.
Florida has five aquifer systems, but the Floridan aquifer is the major source of drinking water for the majority of the state. The Floridan covers most of the state from the western Panhandle all the way into south Florida, and is also the source for many of the springs in Florida.
Dr. Arthur hopes to bring back lessons learned from the review that can have a significant impact on relevant aspects of the aquifer systems in the state of Florida.
depdbilbow | January 15, 2014
New Method Allows Researchers to “Count” Fish Using a Glass of Water
What comes around goes around: fish DNA can go far and wide. Researchers are taking advantage of this in a new method to count fish.
Scientists have long looked for a faster, more efficient way of counting fish in large bodies of water. This is especially true with mounting pressure from invasive species such as Asian carp and northern snakehead, making the relatively new field of DNA sampling a valuable tool in preserving America’s lakes and rivers. In a study published in the Journal PlOS ONE on Wednesday, researchers say they have reached the next step in DNA identification techniques. According to the University of Washington (UW), this method would require as little as a glass of water.
“It might be unpleasant to think about when going for a swim in the ocean, but the water is a soup of cells shed by what lives there,” said Ryan Kelly, an assistant professor at UW and the lead author of the study.
Figuring out what kinds of fish live in a particular lake is critical to proper management by wildlife officials. In the past, discerning fish species and numbers can be time-consuming and at times, amounts to guesswork. Traditional methods of counting fish often involve netting, surveys, and other sampling techniques that allow biologists to make an educated guess. Oftentimes these estimates are highly accurate, but for very small populations, traditional methods do not work. In the case of Asian carp, where even a few fish could establish a colony, biologists turn to DNA sampling.
Kelly’s method involves using molecular probes called “primers” to distinguish between different species. Researchers tested the technique on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Open Sea tank. Holding more than 1.2 million gallons of water, the aquarium is one of the largest in the world and contains an abundance of fish species. Kelly and his team were successful in isolating the eight bony fish species in the tank and their abundance, although the method did not work for other creatures such as turtles or sharks.
“Clearly this is an effective tool in the wild when you know what you’re looking for,” Kelly said.
Researchers involved with the study say this new method is much quicker and less expensive than traditional methods, especially with the prevalence of DNA techniques used today. A $5,300 gene sequencing test in 2001 would cost just about six cents today. Kelly’s method takes it a step further by lowering the required material needed for analysis. In testing the Open Sea tank, researchers took only about two pint glasses of water.
“More efficient, more cost-effective, and more sensitive methods could thus revolutionize ecosystem assessments and improve the way in which we collect baseline ecological data about marine ecosystems and frame monitoring efforts,” researchers wrote in the published study.
Daniel Xu | January 16, 2014
Calls to Action
Protect Deep-Sea Creatures From Climate Change – here
Stop Monsanto’s secret plan to Kill GMO labeling – here
STOP THE PEBBLE MINE –here
Stop Illegal Mass Bird Slaughter – here
NO FRACKING IN FLORIDA – here
NO FRACKING-RELATED ACTIVITIES IN FLORIDA – here
TELL THE EPA TO KEEP FRACKING OUT OF FLORIDA – here
Please Keep the Ban on Dangerous GMO ‘Terminator Seeds –here
Protect the quiet shores of the Chesapeake Bay – here
Protect Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – here
Don’t let Monsanto and the GMA corrupt our democracy and kill GMO labeling – here
Make Animal Cruelty A Felony in All Fifty States – here
Tell Congress to Stop Targeting Our Public Lands –here
Keep Healthy Ozark Riverways – here
Don’t Let Climate Change Harm Puffins – here
Protect the Clouded Leopard – here
Stand Strong for Cleaner Fuel and Cleaner Air – here
Speak out for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – here
Stop Fracking in Florida – here
Help Save These Sea Turtles – here
Birds and Butterflies
Celebrity birders Don & Lillian Stokes return for private refuge birding tours
Nationally acclaimed bird authors, TV personalities, and longtime Sanibel Island winter residents Don and Lillian Stokes will again contribute their time and expertise to lead two fundraising birders tram tours of “Ding” Darling Refuge on the morning of Friday, Feb. 28.
Wildlife Drive is normally closed on Fridays, meaning tour participants will have the birds and the Stokes to themselves. Lillian Stokes will speak about and demonstrate bird photography on one of the trams, while her husband, on a second tram, will focus on the principles of bird identification.
Tarpon Bay Explorers, the refuge’s official recreation concession, will be donating the use of two trams. Together, they accommodate 80 passengers, so interested persons are encouraged to make reservations as soon as possible, because the Stokes’ past tram tours have filled up quickly.
The Stokes have authored 32 books in their Stokes Field Guides series, including their new best-seller, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, and have hosted a birding television show for PBS.
“The Stokes are veteran birding experts recognized throughout the country, and they have a huge following,” said Birgie Vertesch, Executive Director of the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge, which is organizing the tours.
“Thanks to their generosity and our partnership with Tarpon Bay Explorers, 100 percent of the proceeds from this fundraiser will benefit wildlife and education programs at the refuge.”
Cost for tour tickets are $75 each for a half-day tour that includes coffee and pastries in the Refuge Education Center starting at 7:30 a.m. and use of spotting scopes on the drive. To make reservations, email firstname.lastname@example.org
or call 239-472-1100 ext. 233.
Below is a schedule of special events planned by DDWS and the refuge for this fall and winter. For details visit www.dingdarlingsociety.org
Winter Refuge Programs – Jan. 5-April 20, 2014
Bi-Weekly Wednesday Film Series – Jan. 8-April 16, 2014
Weekly Friday Lecture Series – Jan. 17-April 11, 2014
Second Annual Trailgate Party – Feb. 21, 2014
Stokes Birding Tour – Feb. 28, 2014
Volunteer Awards Luncheon- Feb. 28, 2014
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and the State of Florida announced that Audubon Florida will be receiving a grant under NFWF’s new Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund (GEBF) to help restore coastal bird populations in the Florida Panhandle.
This funding will complement our existing coastal bird management in the region, allowing us to:
- post, monitor, manage and steward more beach-nesting bird sites;
- monitor passage and wintering birds to inform new protections;
- undertake a major restoration of the Panhandle’s largest seabird rookery island;
- install road mortality abatement measures at key nesting sites adjacent to busy surface roads;
- implement a monitoring and management program for rooftop nesting terns;
- team up with Florida Park Service researchers on a banding study of beach-nesting bird use and best management practices at District 1 parks;
- support SUNY research modeling Snowy Plover survival at Gulf Islands National Seashore as well as assessing roadkill mortality at the seashore; and
- provide critical education and outreach to boaters, law enforcement, beach professionals and others enlisting their help in protecting birds and their habitat.
Florida projects supported with this first round of GEBF funding are focused primarily on the Panhandle whose beaches were oiled during the Deepwater Horizon disaster. We are hopeful that success in these Panhandle projects will demonstrate what Audubon Florida has asserted in our vision for Gulf-wide restoration: This level of support for coastal bird management is effective, warranted, and should be funded perpetually, Gulf-wide from restoration dollars.
Audubon of Florida News Blog – Thu, 11/14/2013
The Pembroke Pines Eagles; Not Your Ordinary Team.
The bald eagles of Pembroke Pines are back – First nesting pair since 1970s gives birth to three chicks
Pembroke Pines — Wings extended to their full span, the bald eagle swept toward its nest. A fuzzy gray head popped up above the rim. It was lunch time.
The eagle settled into its home of sticks and grass, tore at some sort of prey with its yellow beak — oblivious to the cars and trucks rushing by on Pines Boulevard — and began gently feeding bits of food to its chicks.
The celebrated bald eagles of Pembroke Pines, the first nesting pair in Broward County since the 1970s, have returned, and in the past four weeks they have produced three eaglets.
A committee of conservationists and government officials is working to make sure the eagles are protected.
“We’re just absolutely excited the eagles have come back to our city,” Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis said Friday, standing in the traffic island of Pines Boulevard as the eagle fed its young. “It puts us on the map. It’s a great, great story for our city.”
Located about 200 feet south of Pines Boulevard just east of U.S. 27, the nest looks down on the barrel-tile roofs of a housing development across the street.
The 24 acres around the nest are owned by the city, and Ortis would not rule out eventually selling the land for development. But he said the city would make sure sufficient undeveloped land remained for the eagles to keep their nest. A draft amendment to the Pembroke Pines comprehensive plan would require the city to “protect and preserve bald eagle nesting sites” and to adopt an eagle sanctuary protection ordinance.
Conservationists said they are satisfied with the city’s response.
“The city has been totally cooperative with us,” said Doug Young, president of South Florida Audubon Society and chairman of the Eagle Sanctuary Steering Committee.
But Young and other conservationists are concerned about public safety, because a lot of people are stopping their cars and wandering into the road to watch the eagles.
The eagles, which successfully raised two eaglets last year, left for the summer, and returned to their Pembroke Pines nest in September, said Ken Schneider, a retired physician and member of South Florida Audubon, who blogs about the nest at http://www.rosyfinch.com.
They found their home battered to about half its size by wind and set to work building it up with sticks and grass.
Although most eagles produce two chicks, these produced three. The youngest is considerably smaller, and Schneider said it may not survive because its siblings were competing with it for food. But there are hopeful signs: “We’ve seen the mother actually reach with a morsel of food, bypassing the others, and feeding the little chick.”
And Lynda White, EagleWatch coordinator for Florida Audubon, said she’s optimistic about the smallest chick, saying young eagles grow so rapidly that the smaller sibling will generally grow big enough to hold its own. “He should be fine,” she said.
The city plans a contest among schoolchildren to name the three chicks.
The eagles prey mostly on fish, caught in nearby lakes and canals, although they also kill cattle egrets, white ibises and small mammals. One eagle brought a rabbit to the nest, Schneider said. And he saw one return with a 3-foot-long snake.
Like other eagles, these rob ospreys of fish they had caught. Schneider said he’s seen the angry osprey chase the eagle, but the eagle flies clear of its own nest for a while, reluctant to bring a large and irritated predator near its young.
Once an emblem of the decline of America’s wildlife, the bald eagle has made a remarkable recovery, largely due to the banning of pesticide DDT in 1972.
The bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list in 2007, although it remains illegal to harm them. In the past 24 years, the bald eagle population of Florida has grown 300 percent, with an estimated 1,340 active nests counted last year, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. A 2009 report listed one nest in Miami-Dade County, one in Broward and eight in Palm Beach County, most in the northwestern part of the county.
On Friday afternoon, people with binoculars and cameras gazed up at the adult eagles perched in a cluster of dead melaleuca trees next to the nest.
Marilyn Wilde, of Plantation, showed up with her husband Jay and a Nikon camera with a telephoto lens.
“We think it’s fascinating that we have a bald eagle nest right in our backyard,” she said.
David Fleshler, Sun Sentinel|February 22, 2010
Florida’s Invasive Burmese Pythons May Be Turned Into Handbags
A luxury designer hopes to source her pythons from the Sunshine State, which is desperate to get rid of them.
Florida’s Burmese pythons—can’t live with them, can’t let armed citizens kill them. Actually, the state of Florida did let armed citizens kill them for a short period of time, but it turns out, they weren’t very successful at it. The hard-to-hunt invasive species is still decimating the Everglades’ ecosystem. And after several failed attempts to curtail the growing population, one luxury handbag designer wants to use the slithering beasts as source material for high-end purses and pocketbooks.
Designer Camille Zarsky’s python handbags are a hot commodity, and according to FastCompany, her goal is to stop purchasing skins from Europe and instead start sourcing them from Florida’s Everglades, where the invasive Burmese python population is plentiful. The move would allow her collection to be crafted entirely on U.S. soil while also playing a small role in solving a critical ecological problem.
Estimates put Florida’s invasive Burmese python population at about 100,000. Chewing their way through the Everglades and its many native mammals, the snakes have no natural predator in the state. And they can reproduce at a prolific rate.
Zarsky’s aim, however, isn’t without its obstacles. She hasn’t been able to find a tannery in Florida that can dye and tan the skins in precisely the way her designs demand. And exporting them to Europe for that purpose, only to import them back again, would double the cost of her already expensive goods.
The python skin trade, the bulk of which is sourced from Southeast Asia, is a $1 billion–a–year industry that often operates illegally and unethically, threatening some species’ survival. Many of those illegally sourced skins end up in Europe as belts and bags for major fashion labels, according to the BBC.
If Zarsky’s Florida plan proves to be successful, she’d be able to verify her products were legally and ethically sourced, and the move could encourage other designers to follow suit. But her success may have one unintended consequence—anything that increases global consumer demand for the skins could potentially encourage a more robust illegal python trade.
There’s no question that something needs to be done to address Florida’s invasive python population. But it’s too soon to tell if must-have luxury handbags will play a role in the Everglades’ salvation.
Andri Antoniades|January 10, 2014
Fight against Everglades invaders gets boost
A growing arsenal of chemicals and insects is taking aim at invading weeds threatening to overwhelm the northern reaches of the Everglades.
About $18 million a year is already spent combating exotic plants that if left unchecked would smother South Florida natural areas that provide wildlife habitat.
On Thursday, the South Florida Water Management District approved boosting that spending by as much as $3 million a year.
That includes the district spending another $500,000 on increasing an army of specially-bred bugs that scientists use to go after the damaging plants taking root in the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in Palm Beach County.
“We will be able to do a lot more on refuge,” said Sylvia Pelizza, who oversees the refuge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We can control the spread.”
Australian pines, Brazilian pepper trees and melaleuca trees have long been the biggest exotic plant threats to South Florida’s natural areas. Now Old World Climbing Fern is becoming a growing nuisance to the native habitat within the wildlife refuge, considered the northern remnants of the Everglades.
The climbing fern, with fronds capable of growing 100 feet long, can smother trees and bushes – choking off breeding and feeding grounds vital to wildlife survival.
Originally found in Asia and Australia, Old World Climbing Fern is thought to have come to the U.S. as an ornamental plant. Now it’s thriving in Central and South Florida, threatening to spread out of control.
“Old World Climbing Fern is where we still have some issues,” Pelizza said. “It’s just a difficult species to deal with. … Its spores go everywhere.”
Herbicides have long been used to combat the imported plants that flourish because they have no natural enemies in South Florida.
Work crews are also hired to pull up in the invading plants by hand.
But increasingly, scientists are counting on strategically chosen insects to provide an alternative to chemical treatments and plant-by-plant removal. Those bugs could ultimately prove to be more effective in the long-term to curtailing nuisance plants, including climbing ferns.
“It covers everything,” the district’s Dan Thayer said about the invasive fern. “It makes it really hard to kill with herbicides.”
A mix of different insects are bred at a federal laboratory in Davie, intended to only take aim at the fast-spreading exotic plants.
The $500,000 infusion approved by the district Thursday is aimed at helping scientists harness the destructive powers of moths to try to combat the Old World Climbing Fern spreading across the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.
Beetles and flies have already proven effective in helping curtail the spread of melaleuca in the wildlife refuge. Now refuge managers are hoping that they can find insect suitable for a “bio-control” program targeting Old World Climbing Fern.
“It’s a very important project to try and save the [Everglades] tree islands in the refuge,” district Board Member James Moran said.
Andy Reid|Sun Sentinel|Dec 12 2013
Twenty Florida Panthers Dead In 2013 – Vehicles Primary Cause
Florida Panther Deaths Reduced In 2013
In the world of the endangered Florida panther, 2013 brought less mortality, a female panther successfully released back into the wild, and significant public participation in reporting panther sightings.
Twenty panther deaths were documented by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) in the past year, compared with the 27 panthers that died in 2012. Vehicle strikes continue to be the primary cause of mortality, with 15 panthers dying last year because they were hit while crossing highways compared with 18 in 2012. The birth of 21 panther kittens also was documented in 2013.
A brother-and-sister pair of panthers, rescued as kittens in 2011 and raised at the White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee, was returned to the wild in 2013. The female, released in January in Picayune Strand State Forest in Collier County, was documented last June to have given birth to a kitten. However the male, released last April in the Rotenberger Wildlife Management Area in Palm Beach County, died Jan. 4 due to unknown causes after being located a day earlier in a very lethargic state and then taken to a veterinary clinic. That was the second panther death recorded in 2014, after another panther was killed Jan. 2 due to a vehicle collision.
Meanwhile, a 9-month-old female panther kitten, found in Collier County last May with a fractured rear right leg probably caused by a vehicle collision, is recovering at White Oak and scheduled for release later this year.
Additionally, more than 1,100 panther sightings have been reported statewide since the FWC launched an online site in August 2012 enabling the public to report when and where they have seen a Florida panther or its tracks and upload photos: MyFWC.com/PantherSightings. Though only 5 percent of the sightings as of last August were verified as panthers, the FWC’s panther team considers public reports of panther sightings vital to the management of this species brought back from the brink of extinction.
“Forty years ago when the Endangered Species Act was passed, some people wondered if any panthers remained in Florida,” said Carol Knox, head of the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management Section. “Where once a sighting of a panther was almost unheard of, today, more and more Floridians and visitors are having the thrill of seeing and even photographing this elusive cat in the wild. This demonstrates the great progress Florida has made in conserving its panthers and the effectiveness of our partners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and others that work with the FWC on these efforts.”
“Despite the mortalities in 2013, the FWC is confident the Florida panther population continues to expand,” Knox said.
As for vehicle-caused panther fatalities, “People who slow down and drive carefully in rural areas, especially where panther crossings and speed zones are identified, can make a difference,” Knox added. “It is especially important to slow down and keep a careful lookout at dawn or dusk, when panthers are most likely to be on the move.”
In 2013, three panther deaths also were attributed to territorial aggression among panthers. Another panther’s cause of death was undetermined, and one died of an apparent gunshot wound.
Lawsuit Challenges Massive Mine Threatening Florida Panther, Other Imperiled Species, Camp Keais Strand
NAPLES, Fla.- Conservation groups filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking to halt a 970-acre limerock and sand mine in Collier County. The Hogan Island Quarry would be adjacent to the Camp Keais Strand, a significant wetland flowway that feeds downstream public wetland preserves and is a major wildlife corridor. Building the mine would have significant impacts on the Florida panther, wood stork, crested caracara, and eastern indigo snake.
The entire Hogan Island Quarry site is comprised of lands identified as essential to the survival of the Florida panther, with about half the site designated as “primary zone” habitat for the panther, making it a top priority for protection. The mining operation would destroy the habitat value of these lands forever and impair the use of the adjacent wildlife corridor. It would also add more than 1,000 vehicle trips a day onto rural roads that are already deadly for panthers and other wildlife.
“These Florida species have nowhere else to go,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida-based attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “As good stewards, we can’t degrade our beautiful, irreplaceable Florida environment any further.”
In addition to allowing the project to move forward despite serious impacts to the panther, the federal agencies failed to consider how the project would affect the threatened crested caracara and eastern indigo snake during their reviews.
“Much of the site should be protected as an agricultural buffer and listed species habitat,” said Alexis Meyer of the Sierra Club. “Protection of the existing habitat and restoration of agricultural lands back to natural lands, as has been identified by the scientific community for portions of this site, is needed, not this intensification to mining.”
Of added concern, the mine is but just one of several mine and residential developments in southwest Florida, including several in the same watersheds. In approving the mine, the Army Corps did not consider the cumulative effects of all of the projects on the panther, other wildlife, and water resources depended on by Floridians.
“Hogan Island Quarry is the first mining project we are aware of to go forward without regional cumulative review by the Corps,” said Jennifer Hecker, director of Natural Resource Policy for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “The agency needs to analyze the impact of this mine in concert with existing and future mining, including the more than 13,000 acres of proposed mining projects within just eight miles of the Hogan site. Without it, the panther will die a death by a thousand cuts.”
“The project is clearly not within the public’s interest,” said attorney Robert Hartsell, “and my clients are petitioning that the permit be invalidated in order for the Corps and Service to further evaluate the effects of the mine on the natural environment and require further avoidance and minimization of the project’s direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts.”
The three groups in the suit – Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club – are represented by Robert N. Hartsell, P.A., Davis & Whitlock, P.C., and the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Conservancy of Southwest Florida is a nonprofit grassroots organization focused on the critical environmental issues of the Southwest Florida region with a mission to protect the region’s water, land and wildlife. Visit http://www.conservancy.org for more information.
The Sierra Club is a national nonprofit organization of approximately 600,000 members dedicated to exploring, enjoying, and protecting the wild places of the earth. The Sierra Club webpage is located at www.sierraclub.org.
Affirming our All-American Conservation Values through the Endangered Species Act
Conservation of our precious natural resources used to be a defining American value. Across the political spectrum throughout the late 1960’s and ‘70’s, there was near universal agreement that we must conserve our air, land, water and wildlife for future generations. Indeed, many of our nation’s conservation laws were passed with the enthusiastic support of wide bipartisan majorities. This was especially true of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), signed into law 40 years ago this December 28th by Republican President Richard M. Nixon.
The ESA is the ultimate representation of America’s commitment to responsible stewardship. It underscores a fundamental recognition of our duty to conserve native wildlife for posterity. And that’s also why I’ve devoted most of my professional life to upholding, defending and strengthening it.
But my own reverence for wildlife and the special places throughout the country protected by the ESA isn’t the result of any professional position or title I’ve held. I grew up in a military family; I am the daughter of a U.S. Army officer and I lived on or near numerous military bases throughout my childhood. With such constant change, it was hard to maintain lasting friendships, and it was frustrating to constantly be making a whole new set of friends that I knew would be lost with the next move. But the thing that stayed consistent were the animals that I encountered — rabbits, foxes and deer in the fields, backyard birds and frogs in the local creek and fireflies each summer. Very early in my life, I found comfort and a connection to wildlife. I feel fortunate that I have been able to evolve my passion into a life-long mission and a career where I believed I could make a difference for this country’s imperiled wildlife.
The ESA is one of our most enduring and successful environmental measures. Examples of the ESA’s success in protecting species and their habitats are extensive: Bald eagles, peregrine falcons, gray wolves, Florida manatees, American alligators, grizzly bears, and black-footed ferrets have all been rescued from the brink of extinction.
Obviously, this kind of success takes decades to achieve, but the results of continued protection are undeniable. Sadly, since I started working with the ESA in the late 1970’s, I’ve seen a dramatic shift in the way our political leaders talk about conservation. It seems we have lost sight of the fundamental American values that united us across party lines 40 years ago. At that time, our leaders talked about the ESA and evoked the wonder, awe and reverence we shared as a nation for our amazing natural heritage. Today, way too many lawmakers seem quickly willing to undermine the ESA, which they falsely claim is burdensome and an intrusive federal overreach. In the last Congress, Defenders of Wildlife chronicled a record number of attacks on the ESA, and we’ve seen devastating new ones emerge in this current session.
After 40 important years of protecting America’s wildlife for future generations, we find ourselves at a familiar crossroads, similar to where our leaders stood when they originally passed the ESA.
We must ask ourselves again the same questions that were debated back then: what kind of nation do we want to be? Do we want to be a country that protects its wildlife and natural heritage? Will we sit back and passively watch as the worsening effects of climate change and increasing energy development across the landscape affect our wildlife in dramatic ways? Or, will we reaffirm our core American conservation ethic and once again rally behind the values that our leaders embraced forty years ago? The choice is ours. The decision will be felt for generations to come. Let’s hope our nation once again makes the right choice. The right choice is to uphold the conservation values and sense of responsibility to future generations that shaped the ESA 40 years ago. Future generations deserve nothing less.
Jamie Rappaport Clark |23 December 2013
Jamie Rappaport Clark is Defenders’ President and CEO
Good news for an extremely rare cat: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved a new recovery plan for Gulf Coast jaguarundis — felines with long necks, short legs and flattened faces. Never heard of ‘em? That may be because the closest known population of these small gatos is 130 miles south of the border in Mexico. Since 1976 they’ve been listed as endangered in the United States, and the last known cat in Texas died on a road in 1986.
The recovery plan’s goal is to support 500 animals among three interconnected populations — and if the science shows that reintroduction into south Texas is feasible, these cats could be back on the U.S. map. Jaguarundis disappeared here due to habitat loss from agriculture and residential development, but restoration projects underway for ocelots in Texas could help ease the other cats’ repatriation.
“Returning jaguarundis to the thickets and grasslands of the Rio Grande Valley to hunt for rodents and reptiles could help protect these fascinating and little-studied animals from extinction,” said the Center’s Michael Robinson.
Read more in the Houston Chronicle
Native Bees Important Pollinators for Blueberries
Honey bees are vital to agriculture, pollinating most fruit and crops.
So, as many researchers try to figure out why the country has lost half its honey bees – from 5 million managed colonies in the 1940s to 2.5 million today — North Carolina State University has been studying how farmers can maximize native bee species and minimize their need to ship in bee hives.
“Widespread concerns over the fate of honey bees and other pollinators have led to increased efforts to understand which species are the most effective pollinators, since this has huge ramifications for the agriculture industry,” said Hannah Burrack, an associate professor of entomology. “However, various research efforts have taken a wide variety of approaches, making it difficult to compare results in a meaningful way.
“We’ve developed a set of metrics that we think offers a comprehensive overview of pollination efficiency, which would allow researchers to compare data from different crops and regions.”
The research looked at four metrics. First is single-visit efficiency, which measures the number of seeds produced when one bee visits one flower. Second is abundance, which measures the number of each type of bee observed in a study area. Third is inclement weather behavior, which tracks how active a bee species is during cool, cloudy and/or windy weather. Fourth is visitation rate, or the number of flowers that a bee visits while foraging, and the amount of time it spends at each flower.
Specifically, graduate student and lead author Shelley Rogers assessed how well native bee species pollinated highbush blueberry crops in North Carolina. She found that small native bees were efficient in their first visits and were active during inclement weather. But the small native bees weren’t very abundant or appear to visit very many flowers.
“The perfect bee would produce a lot of seeds and visit a lot of flowers, even in poor weather – and there would be a lot of them,” Burrack says. “But as far as we know, the perfect bee doesn’t exist.”
That means a mix of bees might make up the best pollination plan, and the make-up of that group of bees would depend on conditions in the field. One day, extension agents or crop consultants might use data like the information collected at NC State to recommend a pollination plan for a farmer.
For instance, considering weather conditions during early spring and expected bloom date, a consultant might advise a farmer how to nurture certain native species, estimate how much of the crop those bees would pollinate and recommend how many other bees should be added to the mix to maximize yield.
“Honey bees are the work horses of pollination; no one is saying we don’t need them,” said David Tarpy, an associate professor of entomology and co-author of a recent NC State paper on the research. But 4,000 native species also can pollinate; studying those species strengths and weaknesses might allow farmers to rely more on native species.
“It is incredibly complicated because every crop is different, every region is different, every pollinator is different,” Tarpy said. “But this (research) is taking that first step to understand the different pollinators in a system and the pros and cons of each one.”
Experts have profiled individual bee species fairly well. They know how active individual bees are at certain temperatures, for example, but they still are learning how different species might work together in a community and how that would maximize pollination and yield.
“If it’s cold weather, bees don’t want to fly,” Tarpy explained. “So depending on the time blueberries are blooming, the farmer may need a mix of pollinators. The recommendation may be to foster ground-nesting bees and or supply wood for carpenter bees.”
“This highlights the importance of incorporating multiple metrics,” Tarpy said.
Researchers looking only at visitation rates or abundance might think the small native species are unimportant, but they actually appear to be important pollinators for blueberry growers, he said.
Snow Leopard Countries Pledge to Save Cats
Countries Converge in Kyrgyz Republic for New Global Initiative to Conserve the Snow Leopard and High-Mountain Ecosystems.
President Atambayev announces snow leopard recovery program to confront poaching, manage landscapes, assist mountain communities and address climate change threats.
October 23, 2013, Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic – President Almazbek Atambayev of the Kyrgyz Republic and officials representing 12 Central and South Asian countries outlined and endorsed an ambitious new global initiative in Bishkek today to protect and conserve critical ecosystems in high-mountain landscapes inhabited by the iconic but endangered snow leopard. Joining with conservation experts from around the world and the international donor community, the 12 nations* endorsed the Bishkek Declaration on Snow Leopard Conservation and the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Recovery Program (GSLEP).
“I deeply appreciate the fact that our initiative to organize a Global Snow Leopard Forum in Bishkek was supported by the range countries as well as by international and non-governmental environmental organizations. By endorsing the Bishkek Declaration on Snow Leopard Conservation and the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Recovery Program range countries are committing to scaling up joint snow leopard conservation efforts,” said Almazbek Atambayev, President of the Kyrgyz Republic, in his welcome address to Forum participants. “If we do not take decisive measures to protect the snow leopard today, we will forever lose this priceless animal, a true gift of nature. Today we are taking first steps. I am confident that together we will be able to achieve the goal we set – to protect our beautiful nature and the symbol of our mountains, the snow leopard.”
“It’s a great success that we’ve managed to secure a strong conservation commitment from all the snow leopard range countries. Now, it’s up to everyone involved to carry the momentum created here in Bishkek forward and secure the snow leopard’s future”, adds Brad Rutherford, the Snow Leopard Trust’s Executive Director.
Threats to the snow leopard and its high-mountain habitats are increasing. In addition to the problems of encroaching development and infrastructure, the species is vulnerable to poaching and also to persecution by herders due to snow leopard attacks on livestock. Experts estimate the worldwide population of snow leopards at between 3,900 and 6,400. Their fate depends on the sustainability and conservation of mountain-steppe and mountain tundra in the region.
The iconic cats are also likely to feel the effects of climate change over time. Retreating glaciers in Central Asia could increase the risk of droughts, and increased scarcity of water may impact pastures and the availability of food for both wild prey and domestic livestock.
The Global Forum is meant to sound the alarm about the increased threats to the survival of snow leopards and the critical ecosystems they inhabit, and also to initiate implementation of the GSLEP, a long-term, science-based global conservation strategy. It represents the first time the countries are working together in the region to protect a species.
GOALS OF THE FORUM
In the Bishkek Declaration, the 12 countries “pledge to ensure that snow leopards and the people who live among them thrive in healthy ecosystems that contribute to the prosperity and well-being of our countries and the planet.” At the Forum, delegations from the range countries and experts reached beyond this basic aspiration to set a solid and measurable goal by 2020 that would commit countries to work together to identify and secure at least 20 healthy landscapes of snow leopards across the cat’s range by 2020, or ‘Secure 20 by 2020.’
“Range countries’ investment in the conservation of the snow leopard will help achieve critical development outcomes in Central and South Asia, particularly in the sustainable management of scarce natural resources, as well as in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Conservation and strong regional cooperation will help local communities with alternative income-generating opportunities, drastically reduce poaching and the illicit trade in wildlife,” said World Bank Regional Director for Central Asia Saroj Kumar Jha.
Countries unanimously endorsed the comprehensive new global program today, promising a multifaceted approach across the snow leopard range to:
- Engage local communities in conservation, promote sustainable livelihoods, and address human-wildlife conflict;
- Combat poaching and illegal trade networks, including through transboundary collaboration and enforcement;
- Seek to manage habitats on a landscape level;
- Work with industry and enterprises that operate in snow leopard habitats;
- Establish a core Secretariat to coordinate conservation activities, monitor program implementation, and mobilize financial resources for the program
This week’s forum marks a milestone moment where all the countries expressed willingness to come together on national strategies and seek support from the international donor community toward a common agenda. A major starting point is collaboration on intensified scientific research and monitoring in snow leopard habitats, all of which are in remote regions where adequate baseline data are rarely available.
President Atambayev initiated the multi-country effort in 2012, reaching out to international organizations such as the World Bank, Global Environment Facility, and United Nations Development Program to help organize the high-level meetings and gain support from aid organizations and international donors to lend financial support to the 12 range countries.
Based on preliminary estimates from the 12 snow leopard range countries, the program in the first 7 years (2013-20) could cost US$150-200 million, though these figures are still being fine-tuned. Much of this cost will be borne by their governments, but international donors and multilateral development banks, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector are here to assist with possible financing for the program.
The Forum is hosted and organized by the President and Government of the Kyrgyz Republic, with organizational support, financing, and sponsorship from the Global Tiger Initiative, NABU, Snow Leopard Trust, United Nations Development Program, World Bank, Global Environment Facility, Snow Leopard Conservancy, USAID, WWF, and the Snow Leopard Network.
Permit to hunt black rhino in Namibia sells for $350,000
A permit to hunt an endangered African black rhino has sold for $350,000 at a closely watched auction that’s been criticized by wildlife and animal rights groups.
The Dallas Safari Club and the African nation of Namibia auctioned the permit Saturday to raise money for efforts to protect the black rhino.
Safari Club spokesman Steve Wagner confirmed the sale of the permit at the closed-door event. He declined to name the buyer.
The auction has drawn howls from critics, including wildlife and animal rights groups, and the FBI last week said it was investigating death threats against members of the club.
Ben Carter, executive director of the Safari Club, defended the auction. He said all money raised will go toward rhino conservation efforts. He also said the rhino that the winner will hunt is old, male and non-breeding — and that the animal was likely to be targeted for removal anyway because it was becoming aggressive and threatening other wildlife.
Carter added that wildlife experts say culling a herd is an acceptable habitat management practice.
“In most cases, this animal is detrimental,” Carter said. “He’s past his prime.”
But critics have questioned that logic. Officials from the Humane Society and the International Fund for Animal Welfare have said that while culling can be appropriate in abundant animal populations, all black rhinos should be protected, given their endangered status.
An estimated 4,000 black rhinos remain in the wild, down from 70,000 in the 1960s. Nearly 1,800 are in Namibia, according to the safari club.
Critics have also said any hunting of a rhino sends a bad message to the public.
“This auction is telling the world that an American will pay anything to kill their species,” Jeffrey Flocken, North American regional director of the Massachusetts-based IFAW, said earlier this week. “This is, in fact, making a spectacle of killing an endangered species.”
The auction took place Saturday night in downtown Dallas under tight security and behind closed doors. Organizers got their wish to at least break the previous high bid for one of the permits in Namibia, which is $223,000. The nation offers five permits a year, and the one auctioned Saturday was the first to be made available for purchase outside of Namibia.
The winning bidder could have come from anywhere in the world, and at least some bidders were expected to enter by phone.
About 40 protesters gathered early Saturday evening outside the convention center where the auction and a pre-auction dinner took place. They held signs and chanted. Most dispersed by just after 6 p.m.
Jim and Lauren Ries traveled with their children from Atlanta to protest the auction of the rare black rhino hunting permit in Dallas. Jim Ries said it was his son Carter, 12, and daughter Olivia, 11, who pushed for them to go and participate.
“We heard what the Dallas Safari Club was doing, and we thought it was just wrong that they were auctioning off to kill a black rhino, and we really got upset that they were thinking this,” Carter Ries said.
Jim Ries said his children are passionate about animal conservation and were working to help adopt cheetahs in Africa. The family started a nonprofit called One More Generation, dedicated to saving endangered species.
“There’s less than 5,000 black rhinos left on the planet,” the father said, “and if our kids ever want to see a rhino left in the wild, we can’t be pulling the trigger on every one we say is too old to breed.”
Safari Club director Carter said he and club members were deluged in the days before the auction by angry messages, including the death threats.
“It appears to be an orchestrated series from people who are strongly anti-hunting,” Carter said.
Poachers long have targeted all species of rhino, primarily for its horn, which is valuable on the international black market. Made of the protein keratin, the chief component in fingernails and hooves, the horn has been used in carvings and for medicinal purposes, mostly in Asia. The near-extinction of the species also has been attributed to habitat loss.
FWC, partners release dozens of sea turtles rescued from cold in northwest Florida waters
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and several partners returned approximately 50 sea turtles to the wild today in the Gulf of Mexico off Cape San Blas after the animals were rescued from last week’s cold water temperatures.
“It is very satisfying to be able to release these turtles following the exhaustive effort put in by rescuers last week,” said Dr. Allen Foley, FWC sea turtle biologist. “Our staff, partners and volunteers spent many hours braving cold conditions to search for and rescue these cold-stunned turtles.”
The sea turtles were rescued between Jan. 7 and Jan. 9, when water temperatures dipped below 50 degrees, causing cold-stunning. Cold-stunned turtles may float listlessly in the water or wash ashore, largely unable to move. In this state, they are susceptible to further effects from the weather, and to attacks by gulls that often involve eye injuries. Many of these turtles would die without human intervention.
Most of the turtles were found in St. Joseph Bay, while others were rescued near Crooked Island and in Big Lagoon in Escambia County. The affected sea turtles were mainly green turtles, but a few were Kemp’s ridleys. Both species are endangered. The rescued turtles were all taken to Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City to allow them to recover from exposure to the unusually low water temperatures.
A water-temperature-monitoring buoy in St. Joseph Bay allows biologists to predict when sea turtle cold-stunning may occur. Thanks to this, responders were ready with a plan of action for this event. There is no forecast of cold-stunning conditions returning to the area in the near future.
The turtles were tagged before their release to allow researchers to individually identify them if any are encountered again in the future. Biologists chose to release the turtles into the Gulf at Cape Palms Park on Cape San Blas because the water is warmer and turtles released in the area in the past have returned to St. Joseph Bay, which is a known feeding area.
The public is asked to report any stranded, injured or dead sea turtles to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on a cell phone. Florida residents can help support sea turtle research and response efforts by purchasing a sea turtle license plate at BuyaPlate.com or through their local tax collector.
Palm Oil Company Gets What it Deserves for Destroying Orangutans’ Home
An Indonesian court issued a big blow to a palm oil company for illegally destroying forest land in Sumatra’s protected Leuser Ecosystem, which provides critical habitat for orangutans and other endangered species.
In what’s being called a groundbreaking verdict, the court found palm oil company PT Kallista Alam guilty of illegally burning large areas of the Tripa peat forest in the province of Aceh and ordered it to pay roughly $30 million in fines. An estimated $20 million was allocated for restoration efforts. The court also confiscated land and will be charging a fine for every day the palm oil company delays repayment, reports the Environmental News Service.
In 2011 the government placed a two year moratorium on logging in certain areas, but PT Kallista Alam still got a palm oil concession permit that year that it shouldn’t have, which was later revoked. The attention that the company brought to the area and the continued destruction by several other companies garnered protests from around the world and calls for greater protection for the peat swamp forests of Aceh, which include Tripa, Kluet and Singkil.
The case against against PT Kallista Alam was brought by the Ministry of Environment, and environmentalists are applauding its effort and the ruling. They believe it will send a strong message to other companies and hope it will mean improvements in law enforcement efforts to stop deforestation and protect biodiversity in an area that’s vitally important for the future survival of critically endangered orangutans, along with other species including Sumatran tigers and elephants, Malayan sun bears and rhinos.
“This is a clear message to companies working in Aceh who think they can destroy protected forests and get away with it” said Muhammad Nur, Chairman of WALHI Aceh (Friends of the Earth Indonesia).
For orangutans, efforts to protect the the Tripa peat forests and Leuser Ecosystem could be their last hope. There are only an estimated 6,500 orangutans left in Sumatra who continue to face threats from deforestation, habitat fragmentation caused by roads, the pet trade and being killed as pests. Conservationists from Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP) estimate that as many as 100 of Tripa’s orangutans have been killed in fires so far.
“Tripa is one of only 3 remaining peat swamp forests left containing orangutans in Sumatra and its impossible to overstate the importance of protecting every last hectare of each of them,” said Dr. Ian Singleton, SOCP’s director, in a statement.
According to the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), nearly 90 percent of palm oil is now grown in Indonesia and Malaysia and the growing demand for it has caused the destruction of some of the earth’s most valuable rainforests and continues to do so.
International companies continue to put palm oil that has been produced at the expense of the Tripa peat forest and other areas on the market, while its use as a key ingredient in a variety of foods has made it virtually inescapable. This past September RAN called out major food companies, otherwise known as the Snack Food 20, for not ensuring that their palm oil was conflict free.
While advocacy groups and consumers continue to pressure companies to do the right thing, environmentalists are still working to get tougher protection for the earth’s irreplaceable rainforests.
The court ruling was a victory, but the Leuser Ecosystem is still in danger. The government is now under pressure to finalize a controversial and short-sighted spatial land use plan known as Qanun RTRW Aceh that would threaten Aceh’s protected forests by opening the door for palm oil and timber concessions, mining and the development of roads, which will fragment precious habitat, encourage development, cause more conflicts with wildlife and create more access to rare species for hunters.
Not only would this be a huge blow to orangutans and overall biodiversity, but it will also harm local communities. Environmentalists predict that further deforestation will lead to natural disasters that include more flash floods, landslides and erosion, in addition to destroying livelihoods that are forest-dependent and threatening the water supply that millions of people rely on for drinking and food production.
The plan also ignores the environmental and economic benefits that the Leuser Ecosystem provides. According to Graham Usher, Landscape Protection Specialist with the Swiss-based PanEco Foundation, “For Aceh alone these have been valued in excess of 400 million dollars per year, and the region’s contribution to mitigating climate change, through its carbon sequestration function probably stretches into billions of dollars.”
Environmental and animal advocacy groups including RAN, SOCP, the PanEco Foundation and Humane Society International, among others, are now urging the government to reject this plan, in addition to urging Aceh’s governor to protect the Leuser Ecosystem as a whole by supporting its nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Leuser Ecosystem was recently named one of the world’s most irreplaceable places and the international community is fighting to ensure that it gets the protection it deserves. Alicia Graef|January 15, 2014
Dozens of sea turtles rescued from the cold in northwest Florida
January 2014: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and several partners returned approximately 50 sea turtles to the wild this week following last week’s extreme cold snap in the US.
The sea turtles were rescued when water temperatures dipped below 50 degrees, causing cold-stunning. Cold-stunned turtles may float listlessly in the water or wash ashore, largely unable to move. In this state, they are susceptible to further effects from the weather and to attacks by gulls that often involve eye injuries. Many of them would die without human intervention.
Most of the turtles were found in St. Joseph Bay, while others were rescued near Crooked Island and in Big Lagoon in Escambia County. The affected animals were mainly green turtles, but a few were Kemp’s ridleys. Both species are endangered. The rescued turtles were all taken to Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City to allow them to recover from exposure to the unusually low water temperatures. They were then released in the Gulf of Mexico off Cape San Blas.
“It is very satisfying to be able to release these turtles following the exhaustive effort put in by rescuers last week,” said Dr Allen Foley, FWC sea turtle biologist. “Our staff, partners and volunteers spent many hours braving cold conditions to search for and rescue these cold-stunned turtles.”
A water-temperature-monitoring buoy in St. Joseph Bay allows biologists to predict when sea turtle cold-stunning may occur. Thanks to this, responders were ready with a plan of action for this event.
The turtles were tagged before their release to allow researchers to identify them if any are encountered again in the future. Biologists chose to release the turtles into the Gulf at Cape Palms Park on Cape San Blas because the water is warmer and turtles released in the area in the past have eventually returned to St Joseph Bay, which is a known feeding area.
Wild & Weird
Shark Species Thought to Be Extinct Found in Fish Market
After more than a century, the smoothtooth blacktip shark has been rediscovered
After his 1902 trip to Yemen, scholar and naturalist Wilhelm Hein returned with a variety of plants and animals, which he donated to the Vienna Museum. One of these specimens, a shark, sat unnoticed for more than 80 years. In 1985 it was identified as the first (and only known) specimen of Carcharhinus leiodon, the smoothtooth blacktip shark. Because no others had ever been found by scientists, Alec Moore, regional vice chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Shark Specialist Group’s Indian Ocean group, says that “some suspected it might be extinct or not a valid species.”
In 2008, during a Shark Conservation Society research expedition to Kuwait’s sharq fish market (the name is a coincidence, it means east in Arabic), Moore says that “amongst the many species of whaler shark was one which looked very similar, but different, to a couple of other species.” Later analysis revealed that although this specimen was more than 3,000 kilometers from where Hein caught his, this was a smoothtooth blacktip, the first new individual seen by scientists in over a century.
These sharks are currently considered “Vulnerable” to extinction by on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, an assessment that was made before their rediscovery by Dr. Moore and his team. More recent studies in fish markets throughout the region have located 47 additional smoothtooth blacktip sharks, greatly increasing what scientists know about this species with and reported in a 2013 paper in Marine & Freshwater Research. The new study included some of the first data on how large smoothtooth blacktips can grow, how many pups they can bear and their habitat usage as well as other information needed for an effective conservation and management plan in the future.
Shopping for species
Fish market surveys of the kind that resulted in the rediscovery of the smoothtooth blacktip are an increasingly common research tool that offers many advantages over traditional scientific field sampling. Julia Spaet, a researcher at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, says that “the resources dedicated by a fleet of fishermen will always outmatch any scientific efforts to assess abundances. In other words, the fishing industry is more efficient at finding sharks where there are not much left.”
These surveys are hard work. Researchers have to arrive before dawn, before the boats come in to land their catches. The species of interest have to be identified, counted, measured and sampled before they are sold to customers. When further study is required, researchers need to purchase the fishes themselves. This whole process can be, for lack of a technical term, disgusting. Moore says he “once made the mistake of climbing into a skip [waste bin] to sample a load of rays that had been festering in the sun; the response of my gastrointestinal tract to this was, as an understatement, memorably unfavorable.”
Surveys also offer challenges not faced by scientists who do field surveys, such as gaining fishermen’s trust. Moore says that “although sometimes bemused by what we are doing, they are generally very tolerant of weird foreigners poking around, and we’ve met some incredibly generous, funny and helpful people—we’ve even been given breakfast.”
Researchers have made many discoveries relevant to the conservation of threatened shark and ray species by studying the catches in fish markets in Kuwait, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Rima Jabado, a PhD student at United Arab Emirates University, was contacted by a fisherman who found an unusual looking shark, which resulted in the first scientific record of a sand tiger shark in United Arab Emirates waters. Jabado also found species with local legal protections for sale in markets, such as whale sharks and green sawfish, which she says shows “some species should be protected and managed locally and that there is a clear need for better enforcement of some of the current legislation.” Spaet agrees, noting that “in Saudi Arabia shark fishing is prohibited by law, yet we still find large numbers of sharks landed at the markets every day.”
In the meantime Moore has some advice for any shark-o-philes going on vacation: “Always go to the fish market with a camera, especially in tropical countries where there is little data—there is always the chance that you could find something new. Even if you don’t, fish markets in the early morning are amazing—lively places with real character and great food.”
Mountain Lion and Deer Fall on Surprised Snowmobilers
One mountain lion and his prey took a tumble onto some snowmobilers in South Dakota.
When Ryan Hansen and his fellow snowmobilers set out for a ride on December 27 near Spearfish, South Dakota, the only thing they expected to drop out of the sky was snow. Instead, the group was drawn into a struggle between predator and prey when a mountain lion and a terrified deer dropped off a slope and nearly onto Hansen. According to the Rapid City Journal, Hansen had to swerve to avoid the falling animals.
“You never imagine you would see a mountain lion, let alone one on the hunt and actually in the process of attacking an animal,” Hansen said.
Mountain lions have been a constant, if rarely seen, presence in South Dakota since the animal was first encountered by the Custer expedition of 1874. Sightings have been more common in recent decades, as the mountain lion population has grown. Capable of leaping more than 15 feet in a single bound and reaching speeds of 50 mph, mountain lions have a secure place at the top of South Dakota’s food chain. So much so that the animal began to reduce the deer population significantly, prompting the state to open a hunting season in 2005.
For Hansen and his friends however, seeing one in action was a rare treat. In the confusion of the fall, the snowmobilers initially thought two deer had been fighting.
“I’ve never seen a deer with a six-foot tail before,” said Jon Born. “Then I said, ‘Holy cow, that’s a mountain lion.’”
The deer was the first to regain its footing and quickly fled for the nearest cover. The mountain lion rose to give chase, and both were quickly out of sight for the snowmobilers.
Hansen said he regrets not being able to record the incident on film, but was awed by the experience.
Hunters in the state may get more chances to see a mountain lion, but the lack of snowfall is making it difficult. According to the Associated Press, 10 mountain lions have been harvested so far, with a quota of 76 animals and less than three months to go in the season.
Daniel Xu |January 15, 2014
Flying Dinosaur Footprint Found in India’s Jaisalmer: They Were ‘Short, Looked Like Ostrich’
The latest evidence of the presence of flying dinosaurs was found in Thaiat village in Jaisalmer district of the western Indian state, according to The Times of India.
“The new discovery by geological scientists have found fossils of two separate 160 million years old flying dinosaur [in] the area adjoining Kutch basin. This basin is known for its special geological conditions. These dinosaurs were short heighted and looked like ostrich,” said Professor Dhirandra Kumar Pandey of the University of Rajasthan.
The first footprint of flying dinosaurs was only 5cm long, belonging to a species known as Grallator which was no bigger in size than a hen.
The second footprint was big and three-toed, about 30 cm long, left by Eurontes Giganteus, which grew to about 6-7 meters, according to Professor Grzegorz Pienkowski from the Polish Geological Institute in Warsaw, one of the scientists who made the finding.
Bone fragments of the flying dinosaur were already recovered in the adjoining areas, said Pandey.
Scientists had also found numerous bone fragments of different species of dinosaurs in the region, which is distinguished by its special geological conditions.
Eurontes Giganteus, growing to about 6-7 meters, was longer than the biggest known recent crocodile, Pandey told the TNN. “It was not only longer, but much more dangerous and agile than crocodile, running fast on its two legs, grasping a prey with strong-clawed forelimbs and terrifying jaws, armed with sharp teeth. These teeth were some three times longer than teeth of the Indian tiger”, he added.
Eurontes Giganteus was probably more dangerous and agile than the biggest known recent crocodile, Pienkowski said. It ran fast on its two legs, grasping prey with strong-clawed forelimbs and also with the help of sharp teeth, which were three times longer than those of an Indian tiger.
Experts estimate that about 180 million years ago the area was a coastal zone with an encroaching Jurassic sea bringing soft sedimentary rocks in cycles, which had passed from non-marine to marine environments and then again deposited on the shore.
Geological observation of the basin by the international team of scientists unraveled the ancient environments in which these rocks were deposited.
The isolated stretch of Jodhpur highway is found to be rich in an outcrop of Jurassic rocks, which is expected to attract many geologists and paleontologists from all over the world to study the mysteries of Jurassic locked in this wasteland.
“Now scientists from all over the world in nearby areas of Jaisalmer & Kachh reason will conduct research on the origin and destruction of dinosaur in the Jurassic period at Mesozoic era and will try to solve the unsolved questions”, said Pandey.
The latest finding was discussed at the 9th International Congress on the Jurassic System, hosted by the University of Rajasthan.
Scientists from 32 countries including Denmark, France, Germany, Poland, Russia, Slovakia and UK carried out a research excursion in the Jaisalmer Basin as part of the Congress.
Divya Avasthy | IB Times|Wed, Jan 15, 2014
Rare natural hybridization results in a dolphin with genetic similarities to both the spinner and striped
January 2014: A newly published study on the clymene dolphin, a small, sleek marine mammal living in the Atlantic Ocean, shows that this species arose through natural hybridization between two dolphins species. In a molecular analysis including the closely related spinner and striped dolphins, scientists concluded that the clymene dolphin is the product a process that is common for plants, fishes and birds, but quite rare in mammals.
The study was conducted by to the Wildlife Conservation Society, the American Museum of Natural History , the Mote Marine Laboratory and the University of Lisbon.
“Our study represents the first such documented instance of a marine mammal species originating through the hybridisation of two other species,” said Ana R. Amaral, lead author of the study and research associate at the American Museum of Natural History. “This also provides us with an excellent opportunity to better understand the mechanisms of evolution.”
The classification of the clymene dolphin has been a longstanding challenge to taxonomists, who initially considered it to be a subspecies of the spinner dolphin. Then in 1981, thorough morphological analyses established it as a recognized distinct species. In the current study, researchers sought to clarify outstanding questions about the dolphin’s origin and relationships with rigorous genetic analyses.
Based on research conducted at the American Museum of Natural History’s Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, the authors examined the nuclear and mitochondrial DNA from skin samples obtained from both free-ranging dolphins by means of biopsy darts and deceased dolphins obtained through stranding events. Specifically, the team discovered that while the mitochondrial genome of the clymene dolphin most resembled the striped dolphin, the nuclear genome revealed a closer relation to the spinner dolphin. The findings reveal not only more about the species, but how natural hybridisation can create an entirely new species of mammal over time.
The clymene dolphin grows up to nearly 7ft in length and inhabits the tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Threats to the species include incidental capture as by catch in fishing nets, which in some parts of the range has turned into direct hunts for either human consumption or shark bait.
Does This Donkey Meat Taste Like Fox?
If you happened to pick up a package of “Five Spice” donkey meat at a Wal-Mart in China’s eastern province of Shandong recently, you may have gotten more than you bargained for: The world’s largest retailer is recalling the product after DNA tests confirmed it contained fox meat.
Authorities were tipped on the issue when a consumer — who’d purchased a whopping 1,600 packages of donkey at Wal-Mart — brought the meat to government inspectors after he noticed a strange taste.
Wal-Mart says it will reimburse customers who bought the “Five Spice” donkey, but it offered no explanation as to how the contamination occurred.
Read more at Business Week.
Governor Scott Celebrates $880 Million Plan for Everglades Restoration,
On May 28, 2013, Governor Rick Scott signed into law HB 7065, which provides $32 million, annually, in state funding for the Governor’s $880 million long-term Everglades restoration plan. The $32 million is an historic step forward in restoring America’s Everglades by improving water quality and water flow. The Governor signed the bill as part of a ceremony at the Florida Atlantic University Pine Jog Environmental Education Center in West Palm Beach.
Governor Scott said, “I was proud to work with state, local and federal officials to create the $880 million Everglades Restoration Plan, which will ensure we’re doing what it takes to protect and properly manage our nation’s most delicate natural treasure. In this session alone, we’ll invest $70 million for supporting the Everglades – and by signing HB 7065, we’ll provide $32 million in recurring dollars for the Everglades, which is a huge win for Florida’s environment.”
Senator Wilton Simpson said, “I was proud to work with Governor Scott to provide $32 million in annual funding to support Florida’s Everglades. These dollars will help protect, restore and create a more sustainable ecosystem for this natural treasure.”
Representative Matt Caldwell said, “Governor Scott did a great job in working with all stakeholders to create the $880 million Everglades restoration plan – and our job is now to fund it. By providing $32 million annually for the Everglades, we’re doing our part in supporting this world-renowned ecosystem, which provides limitless benefits to our state and nation.”
The goal of the Governor’s $880 million Everglades Restoration plan is to improve water quality and water flow throughout the Everglades. Improvements to the health of the Everglades ecosystem are important for fish and animal habitat as well as the health of the South Florida economy.
The plan is funded, in part, by a $32 million annual appropriation and is a partnership between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Water Management District, stakeholders in the Everglades Agricultural Area and all of South Florida to address water quality in the Everglades. The Water Management District has already achieved several milestones ahead of schedule.
The Governor’s landmark water quality plan includes:
- 6,500 acres of additional stormwater treatment areas, which are man-made managed wetlands that naturally remove phosphorus from water prior to the water being discharged into the Everglades
- 110,000 acre-feet of water storage capabilities in flow equalization basins, or reservoirs that work with the proposed and existing stormwater treatment areas to regulate flows and optimize treatment efficiency
- Other components of the plan include engineering projects in existing treatment areas and the modification of conveyance features necessary to move the water through the South Florida Water Management District’s massive flood control and water delivery features
The Governor’s plan was presented to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Fall of 2011. After coordination with EPA, the final plan was included in permits and orders issued by the Department of Environmental Protection in September of 2012.
DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard, Jr. said, “Governor Scott’s leadership has resulted in a major step toward improving and protecting one of our nation’s greatest natural resources. Protecting the health of the Everglades is essential to getting the water right, in terms of quality and quantity.”
South Florida Water Management District Chair Dan O’Keefe said, “Everglades restoration is critically important for South Florida, and the District thanks Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature for their ongoing support in restoring this national treasure.”
Eric Eikenberg, CEO, Everglades Foundation said, “We strongly support Governor Scott’s Water Quality Plan and recognize the priority he has placed on protecting and restoring America’s Everglades.”
Robert Coker, Senior Vice President, U.S. Sugar Corp. said, “The farmers within the Everglades Agriculture Area believe strongly in Everglades restoration and we appreciate Governor Scott’s leadership in developing a financially feasible plan to move forward.”
Pepe Fanjul, Jr., Executive Vice President, Florida Crystals Corp. said, “This bill represents the great partnership between agriculture, environmentalists and our state’s leadership in coming together to build upon the success we’ve had and to finally solve the important issue of Everglades restoration.”
Eric Draper, Executive Director, Audubon Florida said, “We commend the Governor’s leadership on the Everglades Water Quality Plan and getting the legislature to ratify the plan through House Bill 7065 endorses a good standard for Everglades water quality, provides the basis for funding the plan and will, in a short period of time, produce cleaner water going into the Everglades.”
Everglades project produces quick success
Getting pumped about saving the everglades
The blasts lit up the sky over the southern Everglades, with the glow visible from Miami. The testing of potential Apollo rocket engines by Aerojet Corp. never led to a winning design, and the plant was abandoned in the late 1960s.
But a long, deep canal constructed to barge the giant engines to Cape Canaveral remained, becoming a permanent wound in the side of Everglades National Park, sucking out water and ruining wildlife habitat all the way down to Florida Bay.
The need to address the damage done by the C-111 Canal has been one of the early priorities of the Everglades restoration, and a series of pumps, waterways and reservoirs completed one year ago to stop the leakage is already being hailed as a success.
“After only one year, we’re really encouraged,” said Caroline McLaughlin, program analyst for the National Parks Conservation Association. “We’re seeing the hydration of wetlands that will ultimately support the health and vitality of native wildlife.”
Underwater plants, which form the base of Florida Bay’s food chain, now cover five times the area they covered in 2008, said Jerry Lorenz, Audubon of Florida’s state director of research.
“Ultimately, in a few years it will translate into more fish productivity and more wading birds,” he said. “Along with wading birds will be game fish, alligators and crocodiles. We expect the whole ecosystem to respond.”
Tests so far show that Florida Bay is less salty. Taylor Slough has more water, allowing it to maintain the peat soil that’s a critical foundation of the Everglades.
“It was probably wet three months out of the year before,” said Kevin Kotun, the park’s chief of physical resources, who said the most recent project is one of a series that have helped the slough. “Now it’s wet 10 months out of the year. That means the water is staying in the marsh and not going down the drain.”
Before the project went in, Taylor Slough and Florida Bay were suffering. The peat soil at Taylor Slough was drying out and occasionally catching fire, Kotun said.
Florida Bay, which depended on Taylor Slough for fresh water, became saltier. Submerged plants disappeared, fish became scarcer and along with them went the wading birds, the flocks of roseate spoonbills, wood storks, anhingas, tricolored herons and the rest.
Researchers in 1978 counted 1,250 nesting pairs of roseate spoonbills; by 2005, there were less than 100.
The plan to reduce the damage from the canal is one component of the Everglades restoration, a series of projects intended to conserve water, remove canals and levees, clean water and restore the health of the Everglades that remains.
A series of earth moving projects began in early 2010, intended to create a nine-mile ridge of water between the park and the canal, forming a barrier to the loss of water from the park. Two pumping stations were built to send water west, with berms and canals put in to route the water. A 590-acre above-ground reservoir went in to the north, forming part of the barrier to leakage from the park.
All of this was much less than environmentalists wanted, many having pushed for the simply filling in the C-111, a plan that could have flooded the area’s farms.
“I thought that this was going to be a debacle,” Lorenz said. “My big objection is that it wouldn’t keep enough water in the slough to have a big enough impact, to make an ecological impact. But there’s great preliminary evidence that it’s working.”
He is cautious about declaring victory, saying the results reflect only a year of data.
“It’s all very preliminary,” Lorenz said. “But hopeful.”
David Fleshler| Sun Sentinel|January 12, 2014
Interior secretary tours Kissimmee Impressed with river restoration project, new wildlife refuge
SEBRING – Sally Jewell’s boat moved from the Lake Istokpoga boat ramp on Thursday morning to the point on the Kissimmee River where the Army Corps of Engineers had deepened, straightened and widened 50 years ago to reduce flooding. The U.S. Secretary of the Interior saw little wildlife, because 40,000 acres of floodplain below Lake Kissimmee had dried out.
The number of herons, egrets and wood storks on those long, dredged straightaways had been reduced by two-thirds. Largemouth bass in the river had also disappeared. After the 1960s, the river contributed about 25 percent of the nitrogen and 20 percent of the phosphorus flowing into the lake.
Then Jewell’s boat rounded a bend, where there were sandbars and weeds and birds by the flock. Here, the Corps tour showed how engineers in the 1990s reversed the environmental damage they had inflicted in the 1960s.
“It’s completely different,” said Jewell, a former banker and CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc. Two weeks after Ken Salazar resigned in April, she was confirmed by the Senate.
Jewell braved Central Florida rains and chilly temperatures on Thursday morning for another reason: as part of the Obama administration’s commitment to restore and protect the Everglades, she marked the progress and met with regional stakeholders like Lefty Durando, a cattle rancher in the northwest corner of Okeechobee County. This was Jewell’s second visit to the Everglades.
At the Durando Ranch, she met with ranchers and private landowners to discuss next step: the January 2012 establishment of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area. The purpose of the refuge is to conserve and restore habitat needed for more than 200 imperiled varieties of fish, wildlife and plants, and to clean the water that flows though rivers and canals from Lake Istokpoga on its way to Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades and the Atlantic Ocean.
On Friday evening, the secretary will keynote the 29th annual Everglades Coalition Conference in Naples.
Like other senior ranchers, Durando said he and his wife were looking for an exit strategy. The ranch would support the four members of his nuclear family, but he said but it wouldn’t support an extended family of 18.
Selling a conservation easement for the Everglades Headwaters Refuge was the perfect solution, and Durando encouraged other ranchers to do the same.
Paul Ebersbach didn’t have to be sold. The Avon Park bombing range’s chief of environmental flight looked over two poster-sized maps prepared by the National Wildlife Refuge Association.
“Here’s your interest area,” Ebersbach’s index finger circled 150,000 acres north of Lake Okeechobee. Two-thirds of the acreage, or 100,000 acres, will be protected through conservation easements purchased from willing sellers. With easements like the ones Durando will provide, private landowners will retain their land and the right to raise cattle or crops. The easements would ensure the land could not be developed.
In the center, the Air Force range was highlighted in green. “This is the biggest patch of green on the map,” Ebersbach said.
Independent of the refuge, the federal government has been buying conservation easements for decades around the Air Force base.
Why? Because it’s a training area for five military bases in South and Central Florida. And when the U.S. Navy anchors off Florida’s coast, carrier pilots also fly over, sometimes for their only opportunity to fire live bullets and drop dummy bombs before embarking with the fleet.
Interest area, to Ebersbach, means, “These landowners have said they’re interested sellers. So what are you (Jewell and the federal government) going to do about it? Where is the money to do it?”
Gary Pinnell | Highlands Today|January 10, 2014
Work resumes on stalled Everglades reservoir
An unfinished reservoir, which became a nearly $280 million, taxpayer-funded monument to Everglades restoration delays, is getting new life.
Work has resumed on a revamped, scaled-down version of the reservoir in southwestern Palm Beach County. The idea is to use 16,000 acres of former farmland to create a water storage and treatment area aimed at restoring flows to the struggling Everglades.
Finishing the new version of the reservoir — to be capable of holding 20 billion gallons of water — is expected to take another $60 million and be completed in 2016. The reservoir could hold enough water to cover 45,000 football fields 1 foot deep.
“It’s time to start building things,” said Blake Guillory, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District, which leads Everglades restoration for the state. “The South Florida Water Management District is focused on completing projects and getting them operational.”
Back in 2008, district officials initially blamed a lingering legal fight with environmentalists for the state stopping construction on the city-sized reservoir planned along U.S. 27.
But ultimately the unfinished reservoir was shelved as state and district officials pursued a controversial land deal with U.S. Sugar Corp. that led to reconfiguring Everglades restoration plans. That changed in December when work started again, this time on the new plan for a smaller reservoir.
On Thursday, state and federal officials gathered beside the sprawling worksite deep in sugar cane country to celebrate the return of construction crews and the new plans for the land.
“It’s a great step forward to [help] get the central part of the Everglades restored,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida. “This is one of the critical features to get that done.”
The old reservoir plans called for building 30-foot-tall embankments capable of holding 62 billion gallons of water about 12 feet deep. It was supposed to be finished in 2010.
Before work was stopped in 2008, construction crews spent nearly two years scraping away muck and blasting through limestone to create a foundation for the original reservoir. They also built a neighboring canal. The work cost South Florida taxpayers nearly $280 million.
Now, the new reservoir plans call for building 10-foot-tall embankments that can corral a pool of water expected to be about 4 feet deep. About 21 miles of levees are to be built along with at least a dozen water-control structures to move water in and out of the reservoir.
Creating a shallower structure enables growing cattails and other pollution-absorbing vegetation within the reservoir, expected to provide extra filtration before water flows into neighboring treatment areas for additional cleaning.
The district estimates that it could have cost about $400 million to finish the larger reservoir, instead of the about $60 million projected cost of the new plan.
While the reservoir delays added to the frustrations of slow-moving Everglades restoration efforts, state officials contend the added filtration of the revamped version will be better for Everglades water quality. They say the work that was previously done wasn’t wasted because it would have been needed for the new design anyway.
The Everglades Foundation joined Audubon Florida in endorsing the new reservoir design.
Environmentalists had raised concerns that too much of the water to be held in the larger reservoir would have ended up getting tapped to irrigate sugar cane fields, instead of replenishing the Everglades.
The smaller reservoir — called a “flow equalization basin” — can still provide storage and slowly deliver water as needed, enabling the neighboring stormwater treatment areas to operate more effectively, said Tom Van Lent, a scientist with the Everglades Foundation.
“It’s definitely a better approach,” Van Lent said. “This is the right plan.”
The new reservoir is one of the featured projects in Gov. Rick Scott’s $880 million plan to clean up Everglades water pollution and settle federal lawsuits over the state’s failure to meet water quality standards.
“We had almost a quarter of a century of litigation,” Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard Jr. said Thursday. “Now we are focused on getting the job done. We are taking the steps necessary.”
Andy Reid| Sun Sentinel|January 16, 2014
Water Quality Issues
Fla. Senate bill takes on water utilities
Water customers could petition the state’s Public Service Commission to shut down private, for-profit water and sewer utilities if a new bill sponsored by Pasco state Sen. Wilton Simpson wins approval in the Florida Legislature this session.
Simpson, R-Trilby, sponsored the Consumer Water Protection Act in October but said he has rewritten the bill, which is slated to go before the Senate Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities committee Tuesday.
“I wanted to file a bill to put the private utilities on notice,” Simpson said. “I want this to become law — it’s important that it does.”
Under the new provisions, the PSC could cancel a utility company’s certificate of authorization to operate a water or sewer system if 65 percent of its customers sign a petition. If the utility cannot prove it’s operating in the public interest, the PSC could place the system in receivership until it’s sold to another operator.
“This will give our consumers an option to get away from these utilities,” Simpson said. “It sets up a process to make sure the customers get a voice.”
The bill also allows the commission to issue fines and deny rate increases for utilities that don’t meet certain standards related to the taste, color, odor and corrosiveness of drinking water.
“It puts in the secondary water quality standards,” Simpson said. “It’s carefully worded, but it gives the PSC authority to deny rate cases.”
The commission approved a 20 percent rate increase for Utilities Inc. in November even though busloads of residents from New Port Richey’s Summertree neighborhood traveled to Tallahassee and testified for 10 hours about the poor quality of the drinking water.
The Altamonte Springs-based private utility, which provides service to 22 systems in five Florida counties, had asked for a 36 percent rate hike. The average Utilities Inc. customer in Pasco County pays about $85 a month for water and sewer service.
“It’s extraordinarily unfair to utility customers when private water companies are charging double the rates of government-owned utilities,” Simpson said.
An earlier version of the bill would have made it illegal for private companies to charge higher water and sewer rates than government-owned utilities in the same county. “I really liked the language in the earlier version, but considering what we’re asking the PSC to do, we wanted to be sure it’s something that is legal and can be enforced,” Simpson said.
Ann Marie Ryan, a member of the Summertree Water Alliance, said the homeowners’ group supports the bill but worries that the 65 percent threshold is too high for communities with a large number of seasonal residents.
Alliance members sent more than 500 letters to the PSC opposing the rate hike before the November hearing. “It will be very difficult to get 65 percent,” she said. But they still support Simpson’s bill, and several members will travel to Tallahassee this week to testify at the committee hearing.
“You have no idea how grateful we are to have him working for us,” Ryan said.
Should legislation pass that committee, the bill would proceed to the community affairs committee, chaired by Simpson, and then to the full Senate.
Laura Kinsler | Tribune Staff | January 12, 2014
Capital Corner: Judge rules in Conservancy case; candidate for Benacquisto seat
TALLAHASSEE — A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can lift remaining federal hurdles to allowing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to set new water standards within the state.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle this week supported the EPA’s modifications to a 2009 consent decree that had required the EPA to adopt numeric nutrient criteria for Florida’s waters unless the state did so first.
Environmental groups — including the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and the St. Johns Riverkeeper — opposed the modification and had sought to have the decree enforced.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said in a prepared statement that the ruling backed “Florida’s proven ability to manage its own water resource protection and restoration programs.”
The EPA and DEP reached agreements in November 2012 and March 2013 allowing the state agency to establish the new numeric nutrient criteria for 98.9 percent of the bodies of water in Florida.
In September, the EPA gave the state approval to include the estuaries across the Panhandle, Big Bend and Springs Coast to the list of previously permitted bodies for the state to set its own nutrient standards.
Benaquisto draws challenger
Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, has picked up a challenger if she follows through with seeking re-election this year.
Fort Myers Republican Thomas Mark LePine opened a campaign account this week to run against Benacquisto in Senate District 30, which includes parts of Charlotte and Lee counties. Benacquisto already had raised $491,812 for the campaign through the end of November.
However, Benacquisto is often mentioned by political insiders as a candidate for the Southwest Florida congressional seat now held by U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fort Myers.
Posted January 10, 2014
Florida’s water problems are no longer regional
TALLAHASSEE – Florida has a quandary when it comes to drinking water: Go the relatively cheap and nonintrusive route to preserve enough high-quality stuff to drink, or wait until “big government” has to do it.
Intergovernmental squabbles and Florida’s recent history of dealing with springs protection – such as requiring septic-tank inspections and then repealing them when homeowners complained – suggests Option 2 is on the horizon.
But it’s not too late to avoid some of the worst ramifications of water shortfalls, and Florida’s political leadership seems to be taking the problem seriously
State environmental officials are already pursuing two basic tracks: “nonregulatory,” focused on preserving water-recharge areas and developing alternative supplies, such as reused water; and “regulatory,” which would make consumption permits to drain aquifers harder to get; toughen water-use restrictions – and raise costs for everything related to supplying a swelling, thirsty population.
“The water issues in Florida historically have been viewed as someone else’s problems,” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam told a House natural-resources committee last week. “There is now not a single corner of the state that is not impacted by this.”
Front and center is the economic disaster in Apalachicola, which has seen its seafood industry decimated by Atlanta pulling more water from the river that supports the bay supplying 90 percent of Florida’s oysters.
The aquifer beneath Central Florida is almost at capacity, even as the region’s springs are being choked by development and nitrogen runoff.
“We know that we have a nutrient problem in our state,” Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vineyard told the panel.
And South Florida has been in disaster mode all summer because of Lake Okeechobee, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been releasing polluted flows into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers – fueling disgusting algae blooms that kill fish and foul the tourism economy.
Environmental groups have lambasted Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration for much of the last year for cuts to regulatory enforcement, the gutting of growth management and catering to businesses.
That said, there are multiple efforts in the works to tackle these problems.
Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi have taken the unusual legal tactic of asking the U.S. Supreme Court directly to intervene in the state’s fight with Georgia over Apalachicola Bay. The court is appointing a special master to consider the “original action.”
Florida sued in 1990 to stop Georgia’s increased water usage, spent more than $23 million in legal fees, “and we have less water than when we filed the lawsuit,” Vineyard said.
“Short of us invading Georgia, we weren’t going to get to a solution.”
Vineyard said agricultural groups and other stakeholders had pulled together to implement plans to reduce pollutants flowing off farmlands into the springs, and “you will see an improvement in water quality” because of it.
Lawmakers also have more than doubled the funding for springs protection: $10 million this year.
Scott during the summer touted the use of those dollars, matched by water-management districts, to put $36.8 million into springs-protection projects, with more than two-thirds of those dollars going to the Silver and Wekiva springs in Central Florida.
Scott has also pledged to push for more dollars to build two new water-storage and treatment plants around Lake Okeechobee. But those projects require federal funding – a dicey proposition given the federal government’s current dysfunction.
Aaron Deslatte|Capitol View|Orlando Sentinel| October 11, 2013
PORT ST. LUCIE — City Council is expected to vote next month on an ordinance to restrict the use of fertilizers and could join St. Lucie County and 60 other Florida municipalities that have already adopted similar measures to protect local waterways.
The council reached a consensus Monday night to ask staff to draft rules similar to the ones adopted by the county. Some council members, however, expressed concern about how the city would enforce tougher restrictions on fertilizer use.
Last week, St. Lucie County passed an ordinance that prohibits the use of fertilizers during the summer rainy season, which runs from June 1 through Sept. 30, and eliminates application of fertilizers within 10 feet if any body of water.
The ordinance is designed to limit nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into the Indian River Lagoon. The chemicals — key ingredients in many fertilizers — can spur algae blooms that shade and eventually kill sea grass.
If Port St. Lucie adopts similar rules, it will be the seventh Treasure Coast and at least the 12th Indian River Lagoon community to do so.
City Manager Jeff Bremer said it will be difficult for the city to control whether big-box stores, such as Lowe’s and Home Depot, sell fertilizer during the summer months.
Councilwoman Michelle Lee Berger asked the council to consider the ordinance and said the city can achieve compliance through education. She suggested the city could have classes to teach homeowners about the new proposed rules.
Councilwoman Shannon Martin supports the ordinance but said she wants staff to come up with an enforcement plan. She said it will be a challenge for the city’s Code Enforcement Department to inspect homes during the months in which fertilizers are banned.
“I just want to make sure we get enough education out there,” Martin said.
Port St. Lucie has received a lot of criticism from the public for not being up to date with environmental causes, Berger said, but the city has been on the forefront to reduce impacts to the St. Lucie River and the lagoon.
Berger said examples include the city’s efforts to switch from septic tanks to a sewer system in the 1990s and a $46 million bond to create the Eastern Watershed Improvement Project, which filters runoff water before directing it to the river.
“We are light years ahead for the amount of work Port St. Lucie has done,” she said.
Port St. Lucie approved a fertilizer ordinance in 2010, which established a “prohibited application period” during watch or warnings for a flood, tropical storm or hurricane, or during heavy rain. The ordinance, however, didn’t prohibit fertilizer use during the summer as the St. Lucie County one does.
Fertilizer industry leaders say the tougher restrictions are a bad idea because healthy turf grass that’s fertilized properly doesn’t leach and doesn’t have runoff.
Residents showed up at Monday night’s council meeting in support for the proposed fertilizer ordinance.
Gage Steffen, 12, said he likes to kayak in the North Fork of the St. Lucie but hasn’t been able to so lately because of water quality issues cause by Lake Okeechobee discharges.
“Please prove a strong fertilizer ordinance,” he said.
Resident Gayle Ryan said she moved to Port St. Lucie because of its waterways.
“We are not going to add jobs or snowbirds if we don’t clean up the water in Florida,” Ryan said.
RAINY SEASON BANS
Several counties and municipalities on the Treasure Coast and Brevard County have enacted or are considering fertilizer ordinances with rainy season bans (June 1 to Sept. 30 unless otherwise noted).
Counties: St. Lucie, Martin, Indian River
Municipalities: Sewall’s Point (June 1-Nov. 30), Vero Beach, Indian River Shores, town of Orchid, Rockledge, Satellite Beach, Palm Bay, Melbourne Village, Cape Canaveral
Municipalities: Fellsmere, Cocoa Beach, Titusville. Port St. Lucie is expected to consider an ordinance in February.
TAKEN NO ACTION
Stuart, Fort Pierce Isadora Rangel|January 13, 2014
Oysters could be pushed aside for water restoration
As the Senate continues to review a $220 million package to reduce pollutants out of Lake Okeechobee, scientific fixes to the system will take priority over longer-range research projects, the head of the Senate General Government Appropriations Subcommittee said Wednesday.
That could mean the package will continue to include the removal of muck from waterways in the Space Coast and Treasure Coast regions, water retention projects and steps to clean runoff from agricultural land, while proposals to improve oyster beds and seagrass in Southeast Florida are pushed aside for now.
“We’re not going to pay money to put any restoration efforts out there when we know they are likely to fail,” said Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, after his subcommittee meeting Wednesday. “If the current water environment is not conductive to that kind of growth, whether it be seagrasses, oysters, or any other type of thing, I’m not in favor of spending money in trying to establish that part of the habitat again. It’s wasteful. So let’s get the water chemistry right first and then put the proper organisms back in.”
Hays’ comment was the first potential change of course in the funding package that has been otherwise highly praised as lawmakers have started to place a greater emphasis on water quality issues.
Hays, along with Sens. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, continue to hammer out a separate package to protect Florida’s natural springs that could reach $380 million.
Meanwhile, Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, an advocate for St. Lucie estuary funding, said the House is working on a more comprehensive water package that looks at issues statewide, including impacts to the state’s natural springs.
Holding a press conference with other Treasure Coast lawmakers in the Capitol on Wednesday, Harrell called the Senate’s $220 million proposal a negotiating “starting point.”
“I know there is going to be considerable amount of money in the water issue,” Harrell said. “We will work closely with our Senate partners to make sure that aspects of the St. Lucie and Indian River Lagoon, Caloosahatchee endeavor are included in that massive bill. I don’t know what those numbers will be yet, but I’m pushing for as much money as possible.”
The House water proposal is being directed by Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, who is next in line to be House speaker.
Crisafulli has said he wants lawmakers to take a broader approach to the vast water problems that confront Florida.
Harrell on Wednesday also filed a memorial (HM 607) that asks the federal government to complete five key components that remain in Everglades restoration: Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands; the C-111 Spreader Canal; the Broward County Water Preserve Area; the Caloosahatchee River C-43 West Basin Storage Reservoir; and the Central Everglades Planning Project.
Florida House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, said the Democratic caucus will support the memorial, which is a non-binding resolution.
Hays’ subcommittee spent the afternoon listening to presentations on different aspects of the estuary-funding package from Treasure Coast officials and organizations including the South Florida Water Management District, Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Institute and Palm Beach County.
The waterway restoration package was spearheaded by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, as a response to impacts on the Caloosahatchee River and the St. Lucie Estuary from summer water releases from Lake Okeechobee overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard, while pointing to a bottle of dark colored water taken from the St. Lucie River, said the releases have resulted in “toxic” water that during the summer required Martin County health officials to issue a warning advising residents against coming into contact with sections of the local waterway.
“The most bio-diverse estuary in North America, home to thousands of animal species, thousands of plant species, hundreds of bird species, home to over 30 endangered species, and this is the state it’s in,” Heard said. “We know what the solution is; it’s a federal-state partnership.”
Stuart Mayor Troy McDonald added that “we should not have to endure polluted, dangerous, filthy water that is risking our health, our environment, and our economy.”
Provisions of Negron’s plan include; $40 million to speed construction of the state’s portion of a C-44 reservoir and stormwater treatment area for the Indian River Lagoon-South Restoration Project; $32 million for projects tied to ensuring that all surface water discharges into the Everglades Protection Area meet water quality standards; and a request for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to give the Department of Environmental Protection authority to regulate releases when the risk of Lake Okeechobee dike failure is less than 10 percent.
The plan also includes $90 million proposed by Gov. Rick Scott to redirect water south through the Everglades by bridging a portion of the Tamiami Trail. Money to bridge the trail was included as Scott announced Monday he was going to propose $8.8 billion for transportation projects in the next budget.
Negron has also requested $1 million to help revive the oyster reefs and seagrass beds in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.
The News Service of Florida|Jan. 15, 2014
Great Lakes & Inland Waters
Ships on Lake Superior battle ice
Ships using Lake Superior are having a tough time due to the worst buildup of ice in decades.
The National Weather Service started tracking freeze-ups in 1978, and says this is the second-fastest and thickest ice-up in 35 years, according to Wisconsin Public Radio News. Coast Guard Soo Vessel Traffic Director Mark Gill said this is the worst since 1989.
“Christmas Eve was the first sign of trouble,” Gill said. “It got to the point that we’re not able to take ships down there anymore because the ice is so thick that it’s pressed to the bottom.”
A trip from Duluth, Minn., to Gary, Ind., that normally would take three days now takes six to seven, Gill said.
The down-bound lane on the St. Mary’s River connecting Lake Superior with the lower lakes is closed. Gill said they use another measuring stick called “freezing degree days” — the number of degrees below freezing each day. He says they used to close the locks when that number reached 500.
“Using the old standards of closing the locks at 500 freezing degree days, we would have closed the locks the Monday before Christmas,” Gill said.
Many ships on the Great Lakes are tying up early for the winter, Gill said. The Soo Locks close Wednesday.
Associated Press |Jan. 11, 2014
Chemical spill shuts down much of West Virginia capital, leaves 300,000 without clean water
CHARLESTON, W.VA. — Schools and restaurants closed, grocery stores sold out of bottled water, and state legislators who had just started their session canceled the day’s business after a chemical spill in the Elk River in Charleston shut down much of the city and surrounding counties even as the extent of the danger remained unclear.
The federal government joined the state early Friday in declaring a disaster, and the West Virginia National Guard planned to distribute bottled drinking water to emergency services agencies in the nine affected counties. In requesting the federal declaration, which makes federal resources available to the state, state officials said about 300,000 people were affected.
Federal authorities are also launching an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the spill and what caused it, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said in a news release Friday.
Shortly after the Thursday spill from Freedom Industries hit the river and a nearby treatment plant, a licorice-like smell enveloped parts of the city, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued an order to customers of West Virginia American Water: Do not drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes with tap water.
The chemical, a foaming agent used in the coal preparation process, leaked from a tank at Freedom Industries and overran a containment area. Freedom, a manufacturer of chemicals for the mining, steel, and cement industries, said in a news release Friday that the company is working to contain the leak to prevent further contamination. President Gary Southern also said the company still does not know how much of the chemical spilled from its operation into the river.
Officials say the orders were issued as a precaution, as they were still not sure exactly what hazard the spill posed to residents. It also was not immediately clear exactly how much of the chemical spilled into the river and at what concentration.
The tank that leaked holds at least 40,000 gallons, said Tom Aluise, a state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman. “We’re confident that no more than 5,000 gallons escaped,” he said. “A certain amount of that got into the river. Some of that was contained.”
Agency officials do not know how long the chemical had been leaking, Aluise said in a telephone interview. There was a breach in a concrete wall that served as a containment area to prevent spills from leaving the storage site, he said.
“Our understanding is it’s not an especially toxic material. It’s not dangerous necessarily to be around,” he said.
According to a fact sheet from Fisher Scientific, the chemical is harmful if swallowed — and could be so if inhaled — and causes eye and skin irritation. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headaches, diarrhea, reddened skin, itching and rashes, according to a news release from the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
Freedom Industries will be responsible for cleanup at the site, Aluise said.
“I don’t know if the water is not safe,” water company president Jeff McIntyre said. “Until we get out and flush the actual system and do more testing, we can’t say how long this (advisory) will last at this time.”
McIntyre said the chemical isn’t lethal in its strongest form. Kanawha County emergency officials said the chemical is called 4-methylcyclohexane methanol.
State law requires companies to report any industrial accidents within 15 minutes; those who fail to do so can face a fine up to $100,000. It is not clear how much time passed before Freedom reported the chemical spill.
The emergency declaration involves customers in all or parts of the counties of Kanawha, Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam and Roane. State Department of Education spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said schools in at least five of the counties will be closed.
The smell from the spill was especially strong at the Charleston Marriott hotel a few blocks from the Elk River, which flows into the Kanawha River in downtown Charleston. The hotel notified guests Friday that they would be moved to another hotel in Huntington, about an hour’s drive away.
Even as the National Guard made plans to mobilize at an air base at Charleston’s Yeager Airport, many people — told to use water only for flushing toilets — weren’t waiting for outside help. For instance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was planning to deliver more than a million liters of water from nearby Maryland, but the first shipments were not expected to arrive until Friday night.
Once word got out about the governor’s declaration Thursday, customers stripped store shelves in many areas of items such as bottled water, paper cups and bowls. As many as 50 customers had lined up to buy water at a convenience store near the state Capitol in Charleston.
“It was chaos, that’s what it was,” cashier Danny Cardwell said.
State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey warned residents about price gouging on water, ice and other items, calling it “just plain wrong” to inflate prices and encouraging those who’ve seen such practices to report them to his office’s consumer protection division.
Although the governor noted that the water advisory extended to restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes and other establishments that use tap water, state public safety spokesman Lawrence Messina said Friday that he wasn’t aware of any hospitals closing and that medical centers “seemed to have adequate water supply, at least for the short term.”
The Charleston Area Medical Center hospital chain was getting help from an unaffected hospital in Hurricane, W.Va., to sterilize equipment. That chain, which includes CAMC General, CAMC Memorial and CAMC Women and Children’s Hospital, had canceled all elective surgeries, though emergency surgeries were to proceed, said Dale Witte, a spokesman for the hospitals.
Those hospitals have enough water to last at least 48 hours, and officials are working with authorities and other hospitals to address other water needs, Witte said. Of the system’s 6,000 employees, those who don’t deal directly with patients were told to stay home to minimize water use.
Witte said four patients were kept overnight for symptoms similar to what the chemical can cause, though it was not clear if those symptoms may have been caused by other issues given that it’s cold and flu season, Witte said.
At the Little India restaurant in Charleston, about 12 customers were asked to leave when bar manager Bill LaCourse learned about the shutdown notice.
Karlee Bolen, 16, of Charleston, said her family, including her parents, two sisters and brother, were considering the possibility of heading to her grandmother’s home in Braxton County, where tap water was unaffected, an hour to the northeast.
“I kind of want to shower and brush my teeth,” she said.
John Raby| Associated Press |Jan. 10, 2014
Lake Trout Make Comeback in the Great Lakes
Growing numbers of lake trout in Lake Huron have biologists optimistic about the fish’s future in the region.
The recovery of lake trout in Lake Huron means that very soon, wildlife officials will no longer have to stock the species in the lake. According to michiganradio.com, lake trout are rapidly regaining ground after decades of parasitism by sea lampreys and complications with alewives.
“I felt we were so completely stymied by one thing after another after another. The litany of challenges working against the reestablishment of a self-sustaining lake trout population seemed insurmountable,” said Jim Johnson, a researcher with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “But then, with the collapse of alewives, everything changed.”
The lake trout is the largest trout native to the Great Lakes and was at one time economically vital to the area’s commercial and sport fishing industries. That era of prosperity for the species was interrupted when sea lampreys devastated the trout population from 1935 to 1965. Lampreys, sometimes referred to as “lamprey eels,” feed by hooking onto fish and consuming their blood. They are considered an invasive species and became a major problem after waterway construction in the early 20th century allowed them to enter many rivers and streams.
Lampreys are known to be detrimental to fish species where they are introduced. According to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC), a single lamprey can kill up to 40 or more pounds of fish in its lifetime. In fact, when the GLFC was formed in 1955, one of its primary goals was to control the lamprey population in the Great Lakes. Thanks to the efforts of multiple agencies, a lengthy reduction program has shrunk lamprey numbers to about 10 percent of what they were in 1955.
After the severe reduction of sea lampreys, the lake trout in Lake Huron began to make a slow recovery. However, the fish were having problems reproducing. Biologists identified part of the to be related to alewives, which lake trout fed on. Alewives are a small saltwater fish that colonized the Great Lakes several decades ago when trout numbers were low. Due to the lack of predators, alewives multiplied. Alewives also cause problems for lake trout young and eggs, stymying their population growth.
As the number of alewives dwindled due to new predators such as salmon, the lake trout began making a speedier comeback. This is welcome news to anglers who prefer lake trout, which is a popular game fish and often praised for its taste.
“Oh yes. The end of stocking is in sight for the main basin of Lake Huron,” Johnson said.
Researchers are now working on making habitat more suitable for spawning lake trout.
Daniel Xu| January 12, 2014
Bill would spend $300M on Great Lakes restoration
TRAVERSE CITY — A spending bill crafted by congressional leaders would allocate $300 million to a Great Lakes cleanup that had been threatened with a deep cut during last year’s budget battle.
The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is an Obama administration program dealing with some of the lakes’ most serious environmental problems such as invasive species, loss of wetlands and other wildlife habitat, toxic pollution and runoff that causes algae blooms.
It has gotten around $300 million in most years since funding began in 2010. But last year, a House subcommittee proposed slashing the 2014 allocation to just $60 million, which Great Lakes advocates said would gut the program.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois says Tuesday that the compromise bill would provide enough money to continue momentum toward restoring the lakes.
Nevada Fishery at Sparks Marina Devastated by Mysterious Die-off
Wildlife officials say that Sparks Marina suffered a total fish kill.
Nevada wildlife officials are saying the entire fishery at Sparks Marina was lost because of die-offs starting in mid-December. The lake was stocked with nearly 100,000 trout, catfish, and bass.
“It looks like we lost the whole fishery,” Chris Healy, a spokesperson with the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW), told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “As to why, we don’t know.”
Officials suspect low oxygen levels in the lake may be responsible, although it has not been determined what caused this decline. Healy said testing at multiple locations around the lake showed there was not enough oxygen to support fish. According to the Associated Press, some experts speculate a cold snap could have caused lower-oxygen waters to rise and suffocate the fish. In any event, the die-off is devastating to the fishery and local anglers.
“We don’t know if any small fish have survived, but for all intents and purposes, the fishery doesn’t exist anymore,” Healy told the AP.
Sparks Marina opened to the public in 2000 but has been continuously stocked with fish since 1998. Just east of Reno, the 77-acre lake is a favorite with anglers, bikers, and boaters. More than three million gallons of water is pumped into the lake daily as a result of a naturally occurring aquifer.
Daniel Xu |January 16, 2014
Congresswoman hits feds on Asian carp issue
CLEVELAND — An Ohio congresswoman is publicly criticizing federal officials for not acting with enough urgency to keep harmful Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Toledo Democrat, took on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during a public meeting Thursday night in Cleveland. She said the Corps “has done this region a disservice in failing to make a firm recommendation about the best course of action,” The Plain Dealer reports.
The federal agency last week sent Congress a list of alternatives for shielding the Great Lakes from Asian carp, which could devastate native fish.
Two of the plans would place dams in the Chicago waterway system to seal off Lake Michigan from the carp-infested Mississippi River watershed.
About 100 people attended the meeting.
Associated Press| Jan. 17, 2014
Big Win for Clean Water: Clark County Agrees To Improve Salmon Habitat and Comply with Stormwater Pollution Laws
County agrees to comply with stormwater pollution laws, fund significant stream restoration in lieu of potential federal penalties
Vancouver, WA — Clark County Commissioners voted today to improve salmon habitat and reduce dirty stormwater pollution as part of a binding settlement agreement with neighborhood and conservation groups.
“This is a win for clean water and healthy salmon runs in Clark County,” said John Felton, chair of the Rosemere Neighborhood Association. “This is a good result for the community as a whole.”
Rosemere Neighborhood Association along with Columbia Riverkeeper and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center challenged Clark County’s violation of laws designed to protect salmon and reduce pollution. After the County lost several rounds of litigation, the County has agreed to take steps to correct the problem. Clark County agreed to comply with the Clean Water Act and to provide $3 million in funding to an independent third party, the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board, that will oversee projects to protect and restore Clark County rivers and streams harmed by stormwater pollution. The settlement will need to be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice and the federal court overseeing the lawsuit.
“This agreement means cleaner water and more salmon for the region as a whole,” stated Brett VandenHeuvel, Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeeper. “The County will now act to reduce polluted stormwater and invest in protecting salmon. It’s a win-win.”
Stormwater pollution, which is created when rain mixes with debris, chemicals, dirt, and other pollutants and flows into storm sewer systems and then into local waterways, is the number one source of water pollution in urban and developing areas in Washington state.
The settlement comes after a state appeals board found that the County’s stormwater program violated the law—the state appeals board’s decision was upheld by the Washington Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court. At the same time, a federal judge concluded that the County’s stormwater program violated the Clean Water Act and the Court blocked continued implementation of the County’s illegal stormwater program. The federal court ruled last June that the County was liable for violating federal law, exposing it to potentially millions of dollars in penalties and corrective action for projects that were built to inadequate standards.
Under the County’s disputed stormwater program, damage to rivers and streams from the stormwater pollution had shifted burdens to taxpayers, from developers, to pay for the impacts of urban stormwater runoff. Impacts range from flooding, property damage caused by erosion, and threats to the County’s drinking water supply.
Plaintiffs in the litigation were represented by attorneys Janette Brimmer and Jan Hasselman of Earthjustice
Wildlife and Habitat
Firearms Deer Season Tallies Drop Across Upper Midwest
Deer-kill numbers were down across the Upper Midwest during the region’s firearms seasons in late November and early December.
The deer hunting gods and/or state wildlife agencies didn’t single out individual states for slower firearms deer seasons in late autumn 2013.
No, deer hunting was tougher during November and early December’s firearms seasons across the Upper Midwest, with statewide kills falling short of 2012’s totals in all preliminary figures released by the agencies.
In Wisconsin, for example, the gun-season totals aren’t yet final, but the state’s nine-day firearms season produced 226,582 deer, a seven percent decline from 243,739 in 2012. The buck kill fell to 97,765 bucks, 15 percent lower than 2012.
Even so, the Badger state’s results were apparently tied for the region’s best with Minnesota. Consider:
- In Minnesota, hunters registered 142,927 deer during the 16-day gun season in most of the state and the first two days of the shorter season in its southeastern corner. That’s seven percent below the 153,224 deer registered during the same time in 2012.
- In Illinois, the combined kill from its two firearms seasons was 74,191, a 25 percent decline from 99,546 in 2012.
- In Michigan, the Upper Peninsula’s kill fell an estimated 15 to 20 percent, while the Lower Peninsula’s kill fell about 10 percent. The annual Mackinac Bridge Authority’s survey of deer on hunters’ vehicles showed a 34 percent decline, with 4,207 deer counted in November, down from 6,420 in 2012. Further, the bridge survey was 26 percent below 2011’s count, 5,731.
- In Iowa, the kill during the first of its two gun seasons fell an estimated 18 percent from 2012.
- In Missouri, another of the Midwest’s big whitetail states, the kill was 157,272, a 23 percent decline from 204,654 in 2012.
What’s behind the regional decline? Well, in Wisconsin, the U.P., and northeastern Minnesota, hunters often blame timber wolves for low deer numbers, and black bears for killing fawns. But those large predators aren’t a factor in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, or southern portions of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.
So, what plagued the region’s deer hunting if not four-legged predators? Weather during the firearms seasons received much blame. Brutal cold beset Wisconsin’s late-opening gun season (November 23). Kevin Wallenfang, the Wisconsin DNR’s big game ecologist, said hunters responding to the agency’s online wildlife survey during the first half of the season ranked weather as the poorest in the survey’s five-year history.
Iowa reported similar conditions during its early December hunt, as did Illinois during its second season, December 5-8.
In contrast, when Michigan’s gun season opened November 15, hunters in the Lower Peninsula endured unseasonably warm weather the first two days. On day three, winds up to 70 mph blew in, keeping most hunters out of the woods. In the days that followed, many Lower Peninsula hunters stayed home to deal with storm damage and no power to their homes.
Missouri also cited warm, windy weather for its November 16 opener, but a bigger factor was likely widespread deer die-offs caused by epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) in August and September. Illinois and Michigan’s Lower Peninsula also reported localized losses to EHD, which is linked to drought-driven increases in biting midge flies that spread the virus.
Farther north, the long 2012-13 winter and late-April snowstorms likely killed many young deer and old bucks in the northern forests of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota; and suppressed survival of fawns born to winter-weakened does in May and early June. Wildlife agencies cut or eliminated antlerless quotas across the upper Great Lakes in response, but only time replaces mature bucks.
Sales of hunting licenses, meanwhile, were mostly stable or down only slightly region-wide, so it’s hard to blame the downturn on lower hunting pressure. Wisconsin’s license sales (633,602) were nearly identical to 2012 (633,460), while Michigan reported a two percent increase to about 640,000, and Minnesota a slight decrease to about 460,000. Iowa’s sales were down about seven percent during its first firearms season.
In other words, those who didn’t like the deer hunting in late 2013 shouldn’t feel that they alone suffered. Maybe 2014 will bring better results.
Patrick Durkin |January 10, 2014
Good News for America’s Horses!
Here’s an important message from Senator Mary Landrieu — the driving force in the Senate for horse protection. 2014 is really shaping up to be the year of the horse!
To: Suzanne Roy
From: Sen. Mary Landrieu <MaryL_Landrieu@landrieu.senate.gov>
Date: Friday January 14, 2014 12:49:59 PM EST
Subject: ***Spread The Word: Ban on Horse Slaughter Reinstated
Last night, Congress passed a bill that included my provision to ban domestic horse slaughter once again in the United States.
Slaughtering horses is inhumane, disgusting and unnecessary.
My provision banned this cruel practice, and it also keeps our food supply safe from toxic meat and saves taxpayer dollars. However, the ban only lasts for one fiscal year.
As an equine enthusiast and someone who is deeply concerned about the serious health and safety risks posed by tainted horse meat, I am diligently working to pass a permanent ban on horse slaughter. There is no place for it in the United States. Last year, I introduced the bipartisan Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act. This legislation would permanently prohibit horse slaughter operations in the U.S., and end the current export and slaughter of more than 150,000 American horses abroad each year.
Snow leopards caught on camera in Uzbekistan for the first time
January 2014: Newly obtained camera trap images have provided the very first photographic evidence of snow leopards in the central Asian country of Uzbekistan.
In November and December of 2013, a team of rangers and biologists led by Bakhtiyor Aromov and Yelizaveta Protas, in collaboration with global wild cat conservation organization, Panthera, and WWF Central Asia Program, conducted a snow leopard camera trap study in the Kizilsu area of Gissar Nature Reserve, on the border of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Images taken through the study have confirmed the presence of at least two individual snow leopards in the region, along with other large predators – lynx and bear – and an abundance of prey animals, including ibex, wild boar, and hare.
Today, the snow leopard is classified as endangered, with as few as 3,500-7,000 individuals remaining in 12 countries across Asia. For years, snow leopards have been reported in this area of Uzbekistan but, until now, their presence has only been confirmed through traditional surveys and very rare visual encounters.
Panthera’s Snow Leopard Program Executive Director, Dr Tom McCarthy, stated: “It is very exciting to document snow leopards within the Gissar Nature Reserve in Uzbekistan using camera trap technology. Panthera has provided over 300 camera traps through partnerships such as this to better document the range of this elusive and endangered cat of central Asia’s mountains. With an improved understanding of their range and numbers we have a better chance to save them.”
Situated on the western edge of the Pamir mountain range, the Gissar Nature Reserve serves as the largest protected area in Uzbekistan, strictly guarded by border patrols and reserve rangers, with visitors allowed only for scientific research. The reserve protects several species of rare and endangered animals, including the snow leopard, lynx, Himalayan brown bear and otter, which are listed in the Red Book of Uzbekistan and the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
Formerly part of the great Silk Road and Soviet Union, the reserve has more recently been home to armed conflicts resulting from the dissolution of the USSR and formation of newly independent states in the 1990s. Fortunately, this strife resulted in even stricter protection for the reserve.
Alexandr Grigoryants, Executive Director of the State Biocontrol Agency of the Republic of Uzbekistan, commented: “The State Biocontrol Agency of the Republic of Uzbekistan is particularly focused on the protection and increasing the numbers of rare and endangered fauna in Uzbekistan. Thanks to the hard work of the reserve employees, and with the active help of state protection officers and international conservation organizations, such as WWF, UNDP, Panthera and others, the population numbers of endangered animals in Uzbekistan will increase.”
The confirmed presence of snow leopards in Uzbekistan, in the westernmost part of the species’ range, and the availability of prey as confirmed through this study’s camera trap images, provides hope for the survival of this endangered wild cat in Uzbekistan and throughout its range. [See photos of some of the wildlife of Uzbekistan]
Florida Black Bears Surprisingly Active This Winter
Florida wildlife officials are warning residents that bears are surprisingly active this winter, especially in the central regions of the state. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) received more than 500 bear complaints last December, which is much higher than usual.
“The numbers give us a trend,” said FWC bear expert Mike Orlando. “The thing I think is going on [...] is that bears aren’t entering winter lethargy or hibernation because there is available food.”
Black bears are not true hibernators. Instead, biologists say that the animals enter a period of “winter lethargy” where the animals retreat into dens during the colder months. Black bears in colder climates enter deeper states of lethargy, in which they sleep longer and are less likely to be woken up. Bears in the warmer Florida climate, however, are relatively light sleepers and have been known to become active should an animal or human pass their den. Like true hibernators, black bears reduce their movement in winter due to the lack of food.
Last December marked an unusually high number of bear-human conflicts in Florida. The month started off with the brutal mauling of a 54-year-old woman on December 2, which biologists are calling the worst bear attack in the state’s history. Other complaints involved bears strolling through residential neighborhoods, likely looking for food. Bears are not reluctant to break through doors or fences in order to scrounge an easy meal, especially if such tactics paid off in the past. FWC officials say residents should always practice good trash management and keep discarded food in secure containers. Wildlife officials estimate there to be around 3,000 black bears currently living in the state.
Daniel Xu |January 10, 2014
First Case of CWD Found in Pennsylvania Since 2012
CWD has been detected in many states across the United States affecting species of deer, elk, and moose.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission recently announced that a whitetail deer in the state was found positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD), the first time the disease has been reported in the state since 2012. The deer, which was retreieved after being struck by a vehicle in November, was revealed to carry the disease on December 24.
CWD is an infectious disease that can be transmitted among deer, elk, and moose. The disease attacks the brain of adult animals and is always fatal. As of yet, there is no known cure or method to test live animals. Wildlife agencies consider CWD to be a major threat to the health of cervid populations.
“It’s not as if we hope to find CWD positives as we continue our ongoing surveillance,” Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe said in a statement. “But the fact is that each test result that comes back – positive or negative – gives us a clearer picture of how prevalent the disease is, and monitoring for CWD is an important part of our efforts to manage its spread.”
The disease was first discovered in Pennsylvania on a captive facility in 2012. Since then, three more CWD-positive deer were taken by hunters and subsequently tested by the Game Commission. The state took measures to prevent the spread of CWD and to more closely survey the state’s deer population. Wildlife officials say they do not expect this new discovery to significantly impact hunters, as special rules already apply for regions with known CWD outbreaks.
“That’s a point that shouldn’t be lost,” Roe said. “While we will continue to monitor for CWD and keep a watchful eye on test results, the simple fact CWD has been detected in Pennsylvania shouldn’t keep anybody from enjoying deer hunting, or venison from healthy deer, as they always have.”
To help contain the disease, the Game Commission advises hunters to:
- Do not shoot, handle, or consume an animal that appears sick.
- Wear rubber or nitrile gloves when field dressing.
- Bone out the meat from your animal.
- Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.
- Wash hands and instruments after field dressing.
- Ask your deer processor to process your meat individually, without meat from other animals, or process your own meat.
- Have your animal processed in the area of the state where it was harvested so high risk body parts can be properly disposed of. It is illegal to bring these parts into the state from areas listed in the PGC Parts ban, or to take them out of any Pennsylvania DMA.
- Transport out of any Pennsylvania DMA, or bring back to Pennsylvania only low-risk materials: meat without the backbone, skull plate with attached antlers if no visible brain or spinal cord material is present, tanned hide or raw hide with no visible brain or spinal cord material present, cape if no visible brain or spinal cord material is present, upper canine teeth if no root structure or other soft material is present, and finished taxidermy mounts. If you plan to hunt in CWD positive areas, and want to avoid transporting parts that are banned, take a moment to view this video.
- Don’t consume high-risk body parts. Normal field-dressing, coupled with boning out a carcass, will remove most, if not all, of these body parts. Cutting away all fatty tissue will remove remaining lymph nodes.
- Have your animal tested, and do not consume meat from any animal that tests positive for the disease.
Daniel Xu| January 11, 2014
On the Brink of a World Without Large Predators
Scientists looked at 31 predator species and found 75 percent of them are in decline—including leopards, cheetahs, polar bears, tigers, giant otters, and multiple wolf species. January 13, 2014 By Richard Conniff
Everybody knows the haunting tune and those words: “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight.” The song is a reminder of the power of the wilderness and of the awe it can make us feel even across oceans and at the other end of the earth. What West Africa’s lions are facing today, though, is the big sleep—that is, extinction.
Researchers who spent six years scouring protected areas in the 11 West African nations where lions were once at home found evidence of fewer than 250 surviving adult lions. Think of it this way: That’s smaller than the high school student body in my small town in New England, distributed across an area longer than the distance from Portland, Maine, to Jacksonville, Fla.
It’s not just West Africa: Lion populations are in dramatic decline across the continent. In Kenya, where they are the symbol of national strength and an essential factor in the tourist economy, biologists have predicted that lions will disappear from the wild within just 15 years. Continent-wide, the rapidly dwindling population is down to about 35,000 lions in 67 isolated pockets.
Until the new study, published in the journal PLOS One, scientists had paid hardly any attention to West Africa’s distinctly different lions, which are more closely related to a remnant subspecies in India than to lions in eastern and southern Africa. They began the research for the new study in 2006, following pug marks through the forest, monitoring camera traps, and occasionally playing sounds of a lion roaring and listening for a response, almost always in vain. If it was a jungle out there, it was a largely empty one.
The study concludes that West Africa’s lions are in a “catastrophic collapse,” hanging on in just five nations. The news is even worse than that sounds: Almost 90 percent of the lions live in a single trans-frontier population on the shared borders of Benin, Niger, and Burkina Faso, making them highly vulnerable to political upheaval, poaching, or an outbreak of disease. The other surviving lions are in Nigeria and Senegal. In some of these countries, parks exist on paper only, without staff or budget.
The discouraging news about lions came in the same week as another study showing a dramatic decline in almost all of the largest carnivore species worldwide. The authors of that paper, published in Science, looked at 31 predator species and found three-quarters of them are in decline, including leopards, cheetahs, polar bears, tigers, giant otters, and multiple wolf species. The usual killer is loss of habitat from rapidly expanding human populations, combined with persecution by humans.
“Globally, we are losing our large carnivores,” said lead author William Ripple, an ecologist at Oregon State University. “Many of these animals are at risk of extinction, either locally or globally. And, ironically, they are vanishing just as we are learning about their important ecological effects.”
Over the past few decades, scientists have turned up increasing evidence that losing top predators can cause entire ecosystems to collapse, with humans among the potential victims. The 1926 eradication of wolves from Yellowstone National Park, for instance, caused the elks on which they preyed to proliferate, turning the park into a glorified ranch, nibbled down to dirt in many places. The loss of wolves changed not just the look of the land but the quality of streams and the ability of other species to survive there. Biologists refer to those knock-on effects as “a trophic cascade.”
But since reintroduction of the wolves in 1995, Ripple’s research has shown that elk numbers and behavior have changed, aspen and willow have grown back on the banks of creeks, birds and amphibians have returned, and even fish have benefited from the ponds created by beavers.
Trophic cascades are now taking place worldwide, according to the new study. Though people in West Africa kill lions to protect their livestock, for instance, that has allowed olive baboons, a prey species, to expand—causing the strategy to backfire. “Among large mammals,” the new study reports, “baboons pose the greatest threat to livestock and crops and they use many of the same sources of animal protein and plant foods as humans in sub-Saharan Africa. In some areas, baboon raids in agricultural fields require families to keep children out of school so they can help guard planted crops.” That is, they would have been better off with the lions.
Some studies also suggest that loss of predators, and the resulting increase in rodents and other prey species, can put humans at risk of disease. About 60 percent of all human diseases originally came from animals—as do 75 percent of emerging diseases such as Lyme disease and Ebola. The scientific evidence is mixed so far, but in ridding ourselves of the nuisance of predators, humans may turn out to have made a deadly mistake.
The new study sees hope, surprisingly, from Europe, one of the first places on the earth where humans hounded big predators into oblivion. A recent paper by the Zoological Society of London found that lynx, golden jackals, brown bears, and wolverines are all on the rebound there. That success has largely depended on the abandonment of marginal lands by small farmers and herders in Europe—while in much of the developing world, the opposite is still under way. A key step to change that is to reduce human population growth, which the study describes as “one of the most insidious threats to carnivores.”
The London biologists conclude, “It will probably take a change in both human attitudes and actions to avoid imminent large-carnivore extinctions. A future for these carnivore species and their continued effects on planet Earth’s ecosystems may depend upon it.”
They’re not alone: Our survival may hang in the balance.
Richard Conniff|January 13, 2014
Often touted as low-impact, remote oil roads in the Amazon are, in fact, having a large impact on frogs living in flowers in the upper canopy, according to a new paper published in PLOS ONE. In Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park, massive bromeliads grow on tall tropical trees high in the canopy and may contain up to four liters of standing water. Lounging inside this micro-pools, researchers find a wide diversity of life, including various species of frogs. However, despite these frogs living as high as 50 meters above the forest floor, a new study finds that proximity to oil roads actually decreases the populations of high-living frogs.
“Our findings of significantly reduced frog abundance and occupancy along the Maxus oil road were somewhat unexpected to us, as this is a road of minimal width and there is primary forest right up to the edge of the right of way with small forest clearings limited to a very few sites within our study area,” explains lead author Shawn McCracken with Texas State University-San Marcos. The research is one of the first to examine how oil roads may affect canopy species.
The Ecuadorean government and oil industry have both argued that oil roads inside the park are vigorously managed and have little impact on the surrounding environment, as opposed to those elsewhere in Ecuador which have opened up vast areas of the Amazon to settlers and subsequent deforestation.
But, the scientists found that frog populations inside the bromeliad species Aechmea zebrina were extremely sensitive to any impact whatsoever: the number of bromeliad-frogs were cut in half in low-disturbed forests as compared to untouched forest. Moreover, bromeliads were nearly twice as likely to contain frogs in undisturbed forests as opposed to low-disturbed.
“During the time between our initial surveys in high-impact disturbed forest and our return to sample bromeliads the Via Auca was being widened and paved,” says co-author Michael Forstner also with Texas State. “We can only speculate that this disturbance and the increased human pressure enabled by road improvements, eliminated the few Aechmea zebrina communities persisting near the roadway.”
The findings take on a new urgency as Ecuador is moving to allow more oil drilling inside Yasuni National Park, after dropping its Yasuni ITT-Initiative. This ambitious initiative which would have left three remote blocs in the park (Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini) untouched by oil development if the international community agreed to pay half the revenue for the untapped oil: $3.6 billion. Proponents touted the initiative as a bold way to mitigate climate change, conserve biodiversity, and safeguard indigenous people, while some critics labeled it as a new form of “blackmail.” However, funds raised for the initiative would have gone into a United Nations Development Program for funding renewable energy and other select community development projects. But last year, Ecuadorean President, Rafael Correa, said he was dropping the initiative as funds weren’t rolling in fast enough.
“The world has failed us,” Correa said at the time. “I have signed the executive decree for the liquidation of the Yasuni-ITT trust fund, and with this, ended the initiative.”
Correa has said that exploratory drilling will begin this year in the remote ITT blocs. However, activists in Ecuador are working on having a national referendum on the issue. Correa has come out against such a referendum, while his administration has recently shuttered a well-known local NGO, Fundación Pachamama, for its opposition to oil drilling in indigenous areas.
Notably, scientist have dubbed Yasuni National Park as likely the most biodiverse place on the planet. It currently holds the record for the most amphibian species found in a single landscape: 150. To better protect these amphibians as well as the hundreds of thousands of other species found in the park, the scientists say that Ecuador should take another look at how to exploit the oil lying beneath.
“Based on these results, we recommend that natural resource development treat rainforest habitat as an offshore system where roads are not used, employ industry best practice guidelines, and current access roads be protected from colonization and further deforestation,” the scientist write.
Jeremy Hance|mongabay.com |January 14, 2014
Avian Cholera Affects California Waterfowl, Creates a Smelly Predicament
Over 200 birds have fallen prey to the first outbreak of avian cholera in the Bay Area.
Officials say more than 200 ducks and other birds have died because of an outbreak of avian cholera at a popular bird-watching spot in the San Francisco Bay Area. According to NBC News, laboratory technicians at a local US Fish and Wildlife office confirmed the bird deaths were a result of cholera on Monday, but authorities were already working on a solution. Officials expect the process will turn a few noses.
Avian cholera is caused by a bacteria that can be found in soil and water. Cholera affects domestic birds such as chickens, but are more commonly found in wild birds and waterfowl in particular. On average, infected animals die within six to 12 hours of contracting the bacterium.
“To mitigate what we can, we have heavy equipment ordered and coming in to try and keep the area as fresh as possible, but it is going to smell,” said South Bayside System Authority Manager Dan Child.
That means draining the seven-acre pond in Redwood City. CBS San Francisco reported the pond was once a part of the local wastewater treatment plant but had been intentionally flooded 15 years ago. The new pond naturally attracted large numbers of waterfowl, which in turn drew bird watchers. Over the years, a thick layer of bird excrement had been building on the bottom of the pond. Residents are already reporting nauseating odors as teams work to suction out the water.
“This has been a bird sanctuary for 15-plus years and the birds do their duty out there,” he said. “And there’s going to be an accumulation of bird droppings that we’re afraid are really going to cause some odors.”
Child expects the pond will be dried and refilled by fall at the earliest.
Daniel Xu | January 16, 2014
SLIDESHOW: Meet the Penguins
Climate change is hitting home everywhere—including my own back yard, which was ravaged last year by Superstorm Sandy. But I was far from home when I really began to understand how global warming is disrupting the rhythms of life for creatures big and small.
Distressing headlines out of Antarctica this month brought it all back to me. Researchers reported that warmer temperatures are melting the traditional breeding grounds of emperor penguins, forcing at least one colony to climb 100-foot walls of ice and driving them farther from the sea, their only source of food.
This report reminded me of my own visit to Antarctica, when I witnessed another penguin species straining to adapt in a warming world.
This Monday is Penguin Awareness Day—what better time to celebrate these magnificent birds and learn about all they’re struggling to overcome?
More than a year after my journey to Antarctica, my mind is still filled with astonishing images of an aquamarine world of ice, snow, and water—and the incredible animals that make their home there.
I had up-close views of Adélie penguin rookeries—charming birds that swim like porpoises, paddle like ducks and wobble upright onto the beach like drunken wedding guests. Their nesting grounds were full of noise, motion, life. But science tells a more troubling story.
Adélie colonies on the Antarctic Peninsula are dwindling as the number of breeding pairs drops and the average weight of the fledglings falls. Many underweight fledglings go off to sea and never return.
Like emperor penguins, they are struggling to adapt. Adélies need to hunt from the sea ice, and that ice is disappearing from the Peninsula in summer, so the Adélie populations are shifting south, to bays that used to be too icy in summer but now have the right mix of ice, open water, and snow-free beach. But there is a limit to how far the Adélie can move: They need winter light to hunt, and below the Antarctic Circle, it is just too dark for that.
Unless humans stop pumping millions of tons of climate pollution into our thin atmosphere, climate change will unrelentingly hunt down these birds. Even more troubling: the Adélie and emperor penguins aren’t alone. There are 16 species of penguins, each facing their own threats and struggling to adapt in a race for survival.
To honor Penguin Awareness Day, we’ve compiled a slideshow that combines stunning photography of these amazing birds with the details of their efforts to survive.
Please take a moment to view our penguin slideshow and share these stories with your friends and family.
Thank you for your activism and support,
Eric Pooley|Senior Vice President, Strategy and Communications| Environmental Defense Fund
Wolf Packs Targeted by Idaho Eradication Plan
Seven wolves dead as Earthjustice seeks restraining order
Despite enacting the world’s first and best endangered species law, our hatred toward the wolf continues to loom large in some parts of this country. Consider Idaho, where the wolf lost its endangered species listing in 2011 and faces hostile measures.
During the past two weeks, Earthjustice has been in court asking a federal judge to halt Idaho’s unprecedented program to kill two wolf packs deep within the largest forested wilderness area in the lower-48 states. These wolves live on federal land, miles and miles away from ranches and civilization. As of Friday, seven had been killed by a hunter-trapper hired by the state.
Idaho’s goal is to grow elk populations for outfitters and recreational hunters. To that end, the state’s Department of Fish and Game sent its hunter-trapper deep into the 2.4-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to exterminate the Golden and Monumental packs. The U.S. Forest Service, which is responsible for preserving the wilderness on behalf of the American people, literally opened the door for the extermination program by providing use of a Forest Service cabin to support wolf extermination activities.
The Golden Pack and Monumental pack wolves are featured in the second half of “River Of No Return,” a film featured in the Nature series on PBS that can be viewed for free online. It offers a compelling depiction of the animals and the wilderness environment that we are fighting to preserve in this case.
With a wider angle lens, we’re also in court to challenge the federal government’s premature removal of Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in Wyoming, a state that now allows shoot-on-sight killing of wolves in more than 80 percent of its area.
Since the government’s 2012 delisting of wolves in Wyoming, 130 wolves have been killed, including numerous wolves that normally reside in Yellowstone National Park but occasionally cross the park boundary into Wyoming, where they fall under the jurisdiction of a state with a track record of hostility toward wolves. Among the wolves killed is one known as 832F, who was the alpha female of a frequently watched pack long studied by Yellowstone wolf researchers.
For more than 20 years, Earthjustice has been fighting to protect wolves and their native ecosystems. Last December, Earthjustice and our coalition partners delivered nearly one million letters to the Department of Interior, urging the Obama administration to not delist wolves nationally. The proposed rule is under consideration now. Those of us that find the cruelty of Idaho, Wyoming and other wolf-killing states intolerable will be watching.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
Kari Birdseye|January 17, 2014
Global Warming and Climate Change
Solar Geoengineering: Weighing Costs of Blocking the Sun’s Rays
With prominent scientists now calling for experiments to test whether pumping sulfates into the atmosphere could safely counteract global warming, critics worry that the world community may be moving a step closer to deploying this controversial technology.
In 1991, Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted in one of the largest volcanic blasts of the 20th century. It spat up to 20 million tons of sulfur into the upper atmosphere, shielding the earth from the sun’s rays and causing global temperatures to drop by nearly half a degree Celsius in a single year. That’s more than half of the amount the planet has warmed due to climate change in 130 years.
Now some scientists are thinking about replicating Mount Pinatubo’s dramatic cooling power by intentionally spewing sulfates into the atmosphere to counteract global warming. Studies have shown that such a strategy would be powerful, feasible, fast-acting, and cheap, capable in principle of reversing all of the expected worst-case warming over the next century or longer, all the while increasing plant productivity. Harvard University physicist David Keith, one of the world’s most vocal advocates of serious research into such a scheme, calls it “a cheap tool that could green the world.” In the face of anticipated rapid climate change, Keith contends that the smart move is to intensively study both the positive and negative effects of using a small fleet of jets to inject sulfate aerosols high into the atmosphere to block a portion of the sun’s rays.
Yet even Keith acknowledges that there are serious concerns about solar geoengineering, both in terms of the environment and politics. Growing discussion about experimentation with solar radiation management has touched off an emotional debate, with proponents saying the technique may be needed to avert climate catastrophe and opponents warning that deployment could lead to international conflicts and unintended environmental consequences — and that experimentation would create a slippery slope that would inevitably lead to deployment. University of Chicago geophysicist Raymond Pierrehumbert has called the scheme “barking mad.” Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki has dismissed it as “insane.” Protestors have stopped even harmless, small-scale field experiments that aim to explore the idea. And Keith has received a couple of death threats from the fringe of the environmentalist community.
Clearly, there are good reasons for concern. Solar geoengineering would likely make the planet drier, potentially disrupting monsoons in places like India and creating drought in parts of the tropics. The technique could help eat away the protective ozone shield of our planet, and it would cause air pollution. It would also do nothing to counteract the problem of ocean acidification, which occurs when the seas absorb high levels of CO2 from the atmosphere.
Some worry that solar geoengineering would hand politicians an easy reason to avoid reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And if the impacts of climate change worsen and nations cannot agree on what scheme to deploy, or at what temperature the planet’s thermostat should be set, then conflict or even war could result as countries unilaterally begin programs to inject sulfates into the atmosphere. “My greatest concern is societal disruption and conflict between countries,” says Alan Robock, a climatologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
As Keith himself summarizes, “Solar geoengineering is an extraordinarily powerful tool. But it is also dangerous.”
Studies have shown that solar radiation management could be accomplished and that it would cool the planet. Last fall, Keith published a book, A Case for Climate Engineering, that lays out the practicalities of such a scheme. A fleet of ten Gulfstream jets could be used to annually inject 25,000 tons of sulfur — as finely dispersed sulfuric acid, for example — into the lower stratosphere. That would be ramped up to a million tons of sulfur per year by 2070, in order to counter about half of the world’s warming from greenhouse gases. The idea is to combine such a scheme with emissions cuts, and keep it running for about twice as long as it takes for CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere to level out.
Under Keith’s projections, a world that would have warmed 2 degrees C by century’s end would instead warm 1 degree C. Keith says his “moderate, temporary” plan would help to avoid many of the problems associated with full-throttle solar geoengineering schemes that aim to counteract all of the planet’s warming, while reducing the cost of adapting to rapid climate change. He estimates this scheme would cost about $700 million annually — less than 1 percent of what is currently spent on clean energy development. If such relatively modest cost projections prove to be accurate, some individual countries could deploy solar geoengineering technologies without international agreement.
The idea of solar geoengineering dates back at least to the 1970s; researchers have toyed with a range of ideas, including deploying giant mirrors to deflect solar energy back into space, or spraying salt water into the air to make more reflective clouds. In recent years the notion of spraying sulfates into the stratosphere has moved to the forefront. “Back in 2000 we just thought of it as a ‘what if’ thought experiment,” says atmospheric scientist Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science, who did some of the first global climate modeling work on the concept. “In the last years, the thing that’s surprising is the degree to which it’s being taken more seriously in the policy world.”
In 2010, the first major cost estimates of sulfate-spewing schemes were produced. In 2012, China listed geoengineering among its earth science research priorities. Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s summary statement for policymakers controversially mentioned geoengineering for the first time in the panel’s 25-year history. And the National Academy of Sciences is working on a geoengineering report, funded in part by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
Solar geoengineering cannot precisely counteract global warming. Carbon dioxide warms the planet fairly evenly, while sunshine is patchy: There’s more in the daytime, in the summer, and closer to the equator. Back in the 1990s, Caldeira was convinced that these differences would make geoengineering ineffective. “So we did these simulations, and much to our surprise it did a pretty good job,” he says. The reason is that a third factor has a bigger impact on climate than either CO2 or sunlight: polar ice. If you cool the planet enough to keep that ice, says Caldeira, then this dominates the climate response.
But there are still problems. Putting a million tons of sulfur into the stratosphere each year would probably “contribute to thousands of air pollution deaths a year,” Keith acknowledges. Because solar geoengineering doesn’t affect the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, ocean acidification would continue unabated. And sulfates would alter atmospheric chemistry toward formation of ozone-destroying chlorine compounds, which could lead to a moderate increase in skin cancers or ultraviolet damage to plant life. Sulfates would also make the sky a little whiter than usual and sunsets more dramatic, scientists say.
Basic physics shows that warming from sunlight boosts the planet’s water cycle more than warming from carbon dioxide. This is because sunlight adds more energy to the system, like turning up the heat on a stove under a pot of water, while carbon dioxide simply puts a lid on the pot. So counteracting greenhouse warming by reducing sunlight would likely make the planet drier — models predict a 1 percent reduction in rainfall for every degree Celsius of warming counteracted, says Axel Kleidon of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany. “When you try to fix one problem you create other problems,” says Kleidon, who opposes pursuing such techniques.
The Geoengineering Model Intercomparison Project (GEOMIP) recently looked at how solar alterations might affect regional climate patterns. It concluded that the tropics would be over-cooled and the poles under-cooled. While the project concluded that solar radiation management would likely protect more than 90 percent of the globe from the serious changes in rainfall predicted from climate change, summer monsoons might start to dry up, requiring a change in agriculture or water storage systems to adapt to the new climate.
The upshot is that things would get better for some people and worse for others, though the details are hard to predict. Rice production might go down in China because of water cycle changes for example, but could increase because of increased carbon dioxide to feed the plants, says Caldeira. Despite the drop in sunshine, crop productivity would probably increase worldwide because of higher atmospheric concentrations of CO2.
Because sulfates only remain in the atmosphere for a few years, a geoengineering program could be stopped at any time if unanticipated disaster ensues. But then the temperature would race upward as the planet readjusts to the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. If geoengineering were used to counteract 2 degrees C of warming over 50 years, for example, that 2 degrees of warming would come back quickly once the geoengineering stops. And there is no governance system at present to oversee if and how a program should start or stop. A group called The Solar Radiation Management Governance Initiative has held a few workshops in recent years to discuss these questions.
Such concerns have led some people to take a hard-line stance against any kind of geoengineering. This started with environmental organizations like ETC Group protesting against iron fertilization of the seas — an idea meant to stimulate phytoplankton growth and so suck up carbon dioxide from the air, which controversially interferes with the base of the ocean’s food chain. This led to a 2008 Convention on Biological Diversity moratorium against iron fertilization, which in 2010 was expanded to any geoengineering.
These agreements are non-binding, but still have influence, even on apparently harmless experimentation. When the Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE) research group attempted to run a small field experiment in 2011 to spray water into the air from balloons as a way of testing a stratospheric delivery system, protestors forced the group to stop. This irritates Caldeira. “I think it’s very dangerous to tell scientists that an experiment with no risk in itself cannot be performed because we don’t like what it might lead to,” he says.
To date, no solar geoengineering field trials have taken place, aside from a study or two looking at the idea of seeding more reflective clouds. Keith argues that some experiments would be good to test the risks and efficacy of such a strategy, and he has proposed a meeting of researchers to hash out a list of suitable work that should be done. He and his colleagues are currently planning experiments that would inject less than a hundred kilograms of aerosol material into the stratosphere in order to investigate some of the ensuing chlorine chemistry. They haven’t yet gotten to the stage of an official proposal.
But Robock argues that while modeling and indoor experiments should be pursued, outdoor field trials are problematic. “You can’t see a climate response unless an experiment is so large as to actually be geoengineering,” Robock says.
Keith concludes that it “makes sense to move with deliberate haste towards deployment of geoengineering,” so long as early work supports the theoretical promise of the technique. Caldeira is less bullish, saying, “Climate change is not going to extinguish us as a species. Geoengineering will always be a decision, not a necessity.”
Nicola jones|freelance journalist
Climate fail: Geoengineering would cool planet, but screw up rainfall patterns
For decades, scientists have been grappling with the consequences of climate change and working toward viable solutions. Climate engineering, also known as geoengineering, is the most controversial possible solution.
Currently, one of the most talked about geoengineering ideas is Solar Radiation Management (SRM), which intends to block shortwave solar radiation, thus cooling the Earth to offset rising temperatures. In other words, SRM may be one way in which global temperatures could be artificially stabilized. But a new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, finds that while SRM-style geoengineering may succeed in cooling the Earth, it would also disrupt precipitation patterns around the world.
One popular SRM idea is to fire sulfates into the atmosphere, simulating what happens during a volcanic eruption, when plumes of debris are emitted into the atmosphere and effectively act as shields against solar radiation. However, large volcanic events are often accompanied by negative effects on local and even global environmental systems. For instance, the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines weakened the water cycle and depleted the stratospheric ozone layer above the Arctic pole for two years.
Climate change is generally expected to increase global precipitation because the heat trapped near Earth’s surface leads to higher rates of evaporation. But using SRM is expected to decrease rainfall. Therefore to better understand what rainfall may look like in the future under various scenarios, scientists led by Simone Tilmes of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) manipulated 12 of the world’s leading climate simulation models via the Geoengineering Model Intercomparison Project (GeoMIP).
Model accuracy is important, and those used by this team were vetted against past observations and shown to correctly predict previous long-term climatic observations. However, their accuracy diminished when used for more specific weather events.
“For instance, over the last 100 year period, most of the models showed the observed temperature increase;” said Tilmes, “however there are still uncertainties in the details”Climate models cannot predict specific weather phenomena, but they can predict that for instance, hurricanes become stronger, rainfall extremes increase, and that can be compared if we have long observational records.”
The team began by setting global CO2 levels at an extremely high level: 1,120 parts per million (ppm) or four times the pre-industrial level of around 280 ppm. This level is on the extreme side of projections for the end of this century. Bobbie Edwards| MONGABAY.COM| January 15, 2014 Read more from our affiliate, MONGABAY.
For carbon footprints, it’s location, location, lifestyle
Where and how you live makes all the difference in personal climate-change impacts
Attention city dwellers: there’s consolation for your cramped apartments and crowded subway cars. Your carbon footprint might be a quarter the size of those of your suburban counterparts, with their green lawns, separate kid rooms, and drives to get groceries and coffee.
But don’t be too smug, because the biggest cities also tend to have the most carbon-intensive suburbs, essentially wiping out the climate benefits achieved by many metropolitan areas, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley.
“Many U.S. cities have become leaders on climate protection within their urban core, but more needs to be done to integrate the suburban halo,” said Daniel Kammen, a professor of energy at the university.
Suburbs account for about 50 percent of the carbon footprint contributed by households in the United States. That makes sense, given suburbs hold about half the U.S. population.
30 tons of carbon, minimum
Household carbon footprints bottomed out at about 30 tons of carbon air emissions per household per year–about 35 percent the national average–for those living in urban areas with a density of 50,000 people per square mile or higher (Manhattan, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, holds about 69,000 residents per square mile). But when the suburbs in a city’s metropolitan area were added to the mix, cities had no advantage in carbon footprint over the national average, researchers found.
The study was published last month in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
Household carbon footprint is an estimate of the greenhouse-gas emissions resulting from transportation and household energy use as well as consumption of food, water, and other goods by U.S. households. The typical U.S. household dumps 48 tons of carbon emissions into the air, either via direct emissions–such as driving a car–or indirect emissions such as wastewater treatment or growing crops.
U.S. households are responsible for about 20 percent of annual global emissions yet make up only four percent of the total global population. In the 25 biggest American cities, urban dwellers may have up to a 50-percent smaller carbon footprint than the average U.S. household, while those living in distant metropolitan suburbs–up to 45 miles away–may have a carbon footprint up to four times higher than those living in the city proper and twice as high as the U.S. average.
“Policy and planning tools tend to focus on trips to work,” said Scott Bernstein, founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a Chicago-based nonprofit focused on sustainable development. But work commutes account for one out of five suburban car trips taken, Bernstein said.
The other four are for things like food shopping, visiting friends, and going to the doctor.
A bigger impact, according to Bernstein: build everyday amenities such as shops and offices closer to suburban homes.
Transportation-related emissions may be a major driver in greenhouse-gas emissions, as suburbanites tend to drive more than their urban counterparts. But it’s not the whole picture, Kammen said. Higher incomes and larger household size, at least in some suburbs, spawn more consumption.
And more consumption means a bigger carbon footprint.
Suburbs with larger homes, more vehicle emissions, and higher incomes may be ideal candidates for a combination of energy-efficient technologies, including solar power systems and electric cars, the researchers wrote.
Lindsey Konkel|Jan 9, 2014
Climate change rattles mental health of Inuit in Labrador
‘Grief, mourning, anger, frustration’ over environmental changes
Researchers studying the mental health and well-being of Inuit populations in coastal Labrador say rising temperatures are having damaging psychological effects on people in traditional communities.
In an interview airing on CBC Radio’s Quirks & Quarks on Saturday, Dr. Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, who has been working in partnership with Inuit communities in Nunatsiavut since 2009, describes intense feelings of isolation among people there following temperature changes that have caused disruptions in how the ice and snow are interacting.
“The North Labrador Coast is one of the fastest-changing and fastest-warming areas anywhere in the world,” she told host Bob McDonald. “In particular, rising temperatures have led to a real decrease in sea ice.”
There were strong emotional reactions to that loss among all 120 people interviewed by researchers behind the community-based Inuit Mental Health Adaptation to Climate Change project.
The feelings included “a sense of grief, mourning, anger, frustration, sadness, and many people said they also felt very depressed about not being able to get out there on the land,” Cunsolo Willox said.
Wildlife and vegetation have changed, with caribou and moose moving further north, and traditional berries have been failing to grow when they have in the past.
“In some cases, they’re getting less snow than before, which makes it very difficult to travel inland by Ski-Doo or by dog team,” added Cunsolo Willox, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Healthy Communities at Cape Breton University.
She and her colleagues interviewed people in the communities of Nain, Hopedale, Postville, Makkovik and Rigolet, and their work is run in partnership with the Rigolet Inuit Community Government. The majority of those interviewed are Inuit.
“People describe themselves as land people, as people of the snow and the ice, and would say that going out on the land and hunting and trapping and fishing [is] just as much part of their life as breathing,” Cunsolo Willox said.
CBC News| Jan 10, 2014
Emperor Penguins Climb Cliffs to Avoid Climate Change
When an animal species depends on sea ice for a good part of its life cycle, what are they going to do when that sea ice starts to melt and disappear due to climate change? Well for some colonies of emperor penguins, it appears the only solution is to move away from that melting sea ice – even if it means climbing up the very steep sides of floating ice shelves to find safer breeding sites.
The new behavior – described this week in the journal PLoS One – was observed in four of the 46 known emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica. These birds normally “tend to breed on the sea ice because it gives them relatively easy access to waters where they hunt for food,” lead research Peter Fretwell of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) said in a press release. But with sea ice at reduced levels around Antarctica lately, Fretwell and his fellow researchers observed four groups of penguins which did not follow this normal behavior.
According to Fretwell, the sea ice in some locations in 2011 and 2012 was not strong enough to support the normal breeding colonies. “The sea ice did not form until a month after the breeding season began,” he said. “During those years the birds moved up onto the neighboring floating ice shelf to raise their young.” Two colonies moved during both years, while the remaining two each only moved one year.
It wasn’t an easy journey. Fretwell called it “a very difficult maneuver” which required the penguins to climb 30 meters (nearly 100 feet). Considering that emperor penguins are rather ungainly — or, as Fretwell puts it, “clumsy” — on land, that’s quite a feat.
While the news that the penguins had to abandon their normal breeding sites is disturbing, the researchers do point out a silver lining: the fact that they moved means they “may be capable of adapting their behavior” to fit a newly warming world.
Co-author Barbara Wienecke of the Australian Antarctic Division said that “these new findings are an important step forward in helping us understand what the future may hold for these animals, however, we cannot assume that this behavior is widespread in other penguin populations. The ability of these four colonies to relocate to a different environment — from sea ice to ice shelf — in order to cope with local circumstances, was totally unexpected. We have yet to discover whether or not other species may also be adapting to changing environmental conditions.”
The behavior was observed via satellite and probably would not have been noticed without that eye in the sky. Another co-author, Gerald Kooyman of the Scripps Institution, said “it is likely that there are other nuances of the emperor penguin environment that will be detected sooner through their behavior than by more conventional means of measuring environmental changes.”
Kara|January 12, 2014
Inhofe Admits He Only Denies Climate Science Because He Doesn’t Like the Solutions
Capitol Hill’s Denier in Chief, Sen. Jim Inhofe, slipped up and admitted the real reason why he pretends climate change doesn’t exist:
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) told WABC-AM that he was initially intrigued when former Vice President Al Gore began warning about human-induced climate change but became skeptical after discovering that environmental regulations might prove costly to business.
Climate science deniers don’t like the solutions, so they attack the science.
The reasons why they don’t like the solutions may vary – they most often represent an oil or coal state like Sen. Inhofe does, or it may simply conflict with their anti-regulatory ideology in general as in the case of someone like Sean Hannity or Scott Brown.
It’s no different than when cigarette companies rejected science connecting smoking with cancer: Their real objection was to the implications, not to the methods. Science denial almost always has nothing to do with science.
Because once you accept the science and admit there’s a problem, you then have to discuss to how to solve it. Frank Luntz and his fellow Republicans recognized this years ago and planted their heels in the ground on debating the science on an endless loop.
More than a decade later, the US media is still allowing deniers to play that same ignorant game, pretending the actual truth can never be discerned. Reporters even go to great lengths to portray deniers as interested in science, even when those same deniers say otherwise.
Reporters then pretend they don’t understand why trust in the media has plummeted.
TheGreenMiles|Jan 13, 2014
New Research Uses Popular Literature to Study Climate Change
Walden Pond isn’t just the site of Henry David Thoreau’s two-year stint in which he documented a more simple, natural life, it is now the subject of a climate change study that shows how leaf-out times of trees and shrubs have changed since the 1850s.
As a result of Thoreau’s observations, researchers at Boston University have revealed that the leaf-out times of trees and shrubs at Walden Pond are an average of 18 days earlier than observed by Thoreau in the mid 1800s.
“By comparing historical observations with current experiments, we see that climate change is creating a whole new risk for the native plants in Concord,” said Boston University Professor Richard Primack. “Weather in New England is unpredictable, and if plants leaf out early in warm years, they risk having their leaves damaged by a surprise frost. But if plants wait to leaf out until after all chance of frost is lost, they may lose their competitive advantage.”
However, not all plants respond in the same way, the result of which is that native species eventually may be threatened and lose competitive advantage to more resilient invasive shrubs such as Japanese barberry, according to a study published in the new edition of New Phytologist.
“We started to wonder if all trees and shrubs in Concord are equally responsive to warming temperatures in the spring,” says Caroline Polgar, a graduate student with Primack. What she found was surprising. “All species — no exceptions — are leafing out earlier now than they did in Thoreau’s time,” she said. “On average, woody plants in Concord leaf out 18 days earlier now.”
“Our current observations show that plants in Concord today are leafing out earlier than in Thoreau’s time in response to warm temperatures,” she said. “However, the experiments show that as spring weather continues to warm, it will be the invasive shrubs that will be best able to take advantage of the changing conditions.”
ENN Staff|January 13, 2014
Read more at Boston University.
Lost Microbes are Eroding Amazon’s Ability to Capture Carbon
As the trees go, so do the microbes.
Beneath the lush forests of the Amazon is a whole different level of diversity that new research says may be one of the keys to understanding how to stem the global impacts of deforestation.
The Amazon rainforest is known as one of Earth’s hotspots for diversity. It contains at least 40,000 plant species, 5,500 animal species and 100,000 insect species. These have been a great source for the discovery of new medicines, with at least 120 approved for use. Despite its great plant and animal diversity, it is one of the least understood ecosystems for its microbial diversity. There are 100 million microorganisms in a single gram of forest soil, making them the largest repository in the world of novel genes.
These microbes are essential to nutrient recycling. They decompose dead organic matter, through a process called mineralization, releasing mineral nutrients that plants absorb through their roots, allowing the forest to grow. As trees grow, they capture carbon dioxide from the air through the process of photosynthesis, and, in the Amazon, this process occurs at impressive levels. Owing to its size, the forest absorbs 1.5 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere every year – making it the largest terrestrial sink of this greenhouse gas.
Large amounts of nitrogen are needed to achieve the Amazon’s role as a carbon sink. In the rainforest, that comes primarily from the natural process of nitrogen fixation performed by microbes called diazotrophs. They break apart molecules of nitrogen that is essential for all living things. But, up until now, no one has looked at how the function of these microbes changes when a rainforest is converted to a pasture, something that is happening at an alarming rate in many parts of the Amazon.
In work published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, we found a surprisingly large shift in microbial community composition when rainforests became pastures, confirming earlier studies. This may have major implication on how nutrients are cycled in the new ecosystem.
Any changes to the nitrogen cycle are likely to affect the carbon cycle and the forest’s capacity to sequester carbon dioxide. The process of deforestation is causing an addition of 1.6 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere per year, substantially increasing greenhouse gases.
While these findings reinforce the toll deforestation is having, they also offer some hope.
Our examination revealed that approximately 50% of Amazon’s abandoned pastures are going through secondary forest formation. It is a process that happens mostly by chance, and when it happens diazotrophic communities tend to return to similar composition of the former forest.
The results imply that there is still time to conserve the immense genetic diversity of microbes as sources of new antibiotics and absorbers of carbon dioxide. Also, using our results, we can start devising new methods to aid the recovery of disturbed ecosystems – imagine a cocktail of microbes added for ecosystem restoration.
If nothing else, our research makes one thing clear: in the Amazon, the invisible microbes do as much as the now-disappearing trees to help our environment. Jorge Rodrigues|University of Texas Arlington|January 10, 2014
House Republicans Pick Climate Skeptic To Head Environment Subcommittee
WASHINGTON — House Republicans selected Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), who is on the record questioning whether humans are causing climate change, to head of the Science Committee’s environment subcommittee.
Schweikert will replace Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), who moved to the House Appropriations Committee. He said he plans to use his new post to target the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda.
“Too often, this Administration has tried to bypass Congress and impose its will on the American people through regulatory fiat,” Schweikert said Thursday in a statement, The Hill reported. “We have a responsibility to provide a check-and-balance to ensure there is fairness and openness in the process and that taxpayers are not being subjected to onerous and unnecessarily burdensome rules and regulations.”
A main component of the Obama administration’s environmental work is new limits on power plants’ greenhouse gas pollution. Schweikert has argued that the idea of man-made global warming may be “folklore.”
“Understanding what part of climate change is part of a natural cycle and what part has human components is the first step,” he said as a candidate in 2008. “Our elected officials must be careful to react to facts and not folklore.”
In a Facebook post last year, however, Schweikert seemed to indicate that reducing carbon dioxide emissions might be a good thing — while bashing President Barack Obama’s efforts to do so. He wrote on June 25:
In light of Obama’s ‘climate change’ speech today, I would like to REMIND him that at the time of its expiration, the Kyoto Protocol mandated that developed nations reduce their CO2 output by an average of 5.2%. Though we never ratified the Kyoto protocol, our country was able to REDUCE CO2 through new technology in the private sector, NOT top-down, economic crushing government mandates.
The Kyoto Protocol is the international treaty on climate change that took effect in 2004, which the United States declined to join. A significant portion of the reduction in emissions that the U.S. has achieved since then is due to rising consumption of natural gas, which is noted in a blog post that Schweikert linked to in his post. That, and the recession.
Schweikert will have good company in Science Committee leadership. Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is also a climate change denier.
Democrats criticized the appointment.
“Every time we think congressional Republicans have proven they’re completely out of touch with reality, they go and outdo themselves,” said Josh Schwerin, press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “By putting a climate change denier in charge of a subcommittee on the environment, congressional Republicans are further cementing the fact that their only real priority is protecting special interests and their big oil backers.” Kate Sheppard|huffingtonpost.com|01/16/2014 [I like to stay away from political reports, but here we go again, stacking the deck against the environment.]
California Has Driest Year Ever — And It May Get Worse
SAN FRANCISCO — The shore of California’s Lake Oroville hasn’t looked this way in modern history. Cracked dry mud shatters the canyon floor, and buoys rest 10 feet up the side of a shale hill. The remains of two vehicles — crashed long ago — rise from the mud like shipwrecks at low tide. The lake is only 36 percent full.
To the north, Lake Shasta also is only 36 percent full. Farther south in the heart of Central Valley, San Luis Reservoir is at a dismal 30 percent capacity. The story is the same at Bass Lake, Lake Tahoe and Folsom Lake, where Muslims recently held a prayer service for rain.
For California, 2013 was the driest year since the state started measuring rainfall in 1849, before it was a state, according to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, or UCAR, a consortium of 75 schools. Low rainfall has shattered records in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Shasta and on up to Eugene, Ore.
And if rain doesn’t fall soon, the worst may be yet to come.
“As impressive as the 2013 rainfall records are, those who watch California weather will be even more focused on what happens over the next several months,” UCAR wrote this week in an analysis. “[And] the 2013–14 water year is off to a rotten start.”
The Sierra snow pack, where the state gets about a third of its water, was 84 percent below average as of Jan. 10.
Meteorologists say the reason behind the low precipitation is a massive zone of high pressure nearly four miles high and 2,000 miles long that has been blocking storms for more than a year. Meteorologist Daniel Swain has dubbed it “The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge.”
“It’s like the Sierra — a mountain range just sitting off the West Coast — only bigger,” Bob Benjamin, a forecaster with the National Weather Service, told the San Jose Mercury News. “This ridge is sort of a mountain in the atmosphere. In most years, it comes and goes. This year it came and didn’t go.”
The consequences may be grave.
“Each day that passes without meaningful precipitation is another day when our long-term deficits grow measurably larger,” wrote Swain.
Though lawmakers have been pushing, California Gov. Jerry Brown has not yet officially declared a drought. At a press conference on Monday, Brown indicated he would soon.
“It’s coming within the next few days,” said Brown at the press conference. “But don’t think that a letter from the governor’s office is going to affect the rain.” Robin Wilkey|The Huffington Post|01/15/2014
Deniers Be Warned: You’re Paying for Global Warming Like Everyone Else
It’s easy for climate change deniers to ignore the science behind global warming. If you’re not a farmer whose crops have been decimated by our country’s interminable drought, or if you haven’t lost your home to a frankenstorm, choosing to believe that climate change is made up or unproven can help you feel insulated from its consequences.
But a new video from Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project proves that whether you believe in the science or not, global warming is not only affecting your daily life, it’s costing you dearly.
The Price of Carbon is the latest in a series of videos from the environmental advocacy organization. It details how taxpayers—not big industry—have been footing the bill for our ecological downward spiral. While the U.S. fiscal budget crisis is terrifying, it’s the continued carbon budget crisis that should be enough to send taxpayers into a full-blown panic.
Extreme weather events over just the last two years have proven to be outrageously expensive—both in terms of lives lost and dollars wasted. In addition to 1,107 tragic fatalities, up to $188 billion in damage was caused by the severe weather crises of 2011 and 2012.
And it’s getting worse. In 2012, 3,527 monthly weather records were broken for heat, rain, and snow in the U.S. Amazingly, 34,008 daily high temperature records were set or tied throughout 2012, compared to just 6,664 daily record lows—a ratio of five-to-one.
So far, Hurricane Sandy alone resulted in a $65 billion bill, and that came during a time when the country was already reeling from severe budget cuts. As a nation, we’re struggling to keep our children fed, let alone survive a continuing assault on our environment. And yet, American citizens continue to pay.
Why aren’t Big Oil and Big Coal—the very industries causing the pollution—picking up the tab? Taxpayers haven’t demanded it yet. That’s the point of The Price of Carbon—to spark a dialogue and incite a movement where individuals insist that those destroying the environment are the same ones paying to clean it up.
In addition to sharing The Climate Reality Project’s videos, readers can also make use of Reality Drop, the group’s recently launched social media tool that empowers individual news readers with the ability to challenge climate change deniers.
We’re falling into a black abyss, where our financial and environmental crises are increasingly entangled and the results explosive. Until we demand accountability from the industries causing it and from those denying it, our downward spiral will quicken.
Andri Antoniades|March 20, 2013
8 World Leaders and their Stance on Global Warming
1. Xi Jinping, Vice President, China
You may be surprised to hear what China’s next president had to say about climate change this past September. According to the China Association for Science and Technology, while Vice President Xi Jinping was in attendance at the country’s annual Science Popularization Day he told those gathered that, “The global climate change is deeply affecting human beings’ living and development. Our country, now in a stage of fast industrial and urban development, is facing obvious environmental pressure. The whole society should continue to intensify the campaign of saving energy and reducing emission of greenhouse gases in a deep-going way and put into effect the national scheme for the climatic change.” Party propaganda, or will deeds follow words?
2. David Cameron, Prime Minister, Great Britain
Britain’s Prime Minister seemed to be on the side of environmentalists when he was elected in May 2010. He called for political consensus on climate change and The Guardian noted that the day after assuming office, “he declared his ambition to lead the ‘greenest government ever.’ ” But in an opinion piece published last month, The Guardian observed that, “Since then, though, the prime minister has said very little publicly either on climate change or on wider environmental issues. The vacuum left by his silence has been filled by others in his party who seem determined to manipulate the debate around climate and energy policy for their own political ends.” The newspaper called on Cameron to reassure the country that he hasn’t gone cold on climate change.
3. Julia Gillard, Prime Minister, Australia
In September 2011, the Australian Prime Minister introduced the first of 18 bills to Parliament that she said would establish the government’s carbon price regime. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, “Gillard said the Parliament had been debating climate change for decades and most Australians now agreed the world was warming. That was caused by carbon pollution and the best way to make the polluters pay was to put a price on carbon.” But in March of this year, Green Blog stated that, “Pro-coal, pro-gas Australian PM Julia Gillard has an appalling record of climate change inaction falsely dressed up as the opposite.” They then provided 16 reasons, which can be found here, to support their claim.
4. Jacob Zuma, President, South Africa
Speaking at the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in the South African coastal city of Durban in 2011, the country’s president said climate change is “a matter of life and death” for most people across the developing world and Africa.” The Environment News Service noted that Zuma went on to say, “Africa’s vulnerability does not only stem from climate change impacts such as the rise in the sea level, severe droughts and floods. Africa is more vulnerable because of poverty which limits the ability of most African nations to cope with the impact of climate change.”
5. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister, Canada
Inside Climate News reported last month that Canada’s official position on climate change is that it’s real and requires an aggressive response. But they went on to note that Prime Minister Stephen Harper “has weakened some environmental regulations, including fast-tracking permit reviews of oil sands pipelines and mines.” And in October, The Vancouver Sun said that Harper’s newly-selected head for Environment Canada gave the following answer when asked by a parliamentary committee to explain climate change: “Wow. Umm. They didn’t tell me I’d have to answer questions like that when I took this job.”
6. Ricardo Martinelli, President, Panama
Speaking to the U.N. General Assembly in September, Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli said that his country’s growth “is based on free market principles, respectful to the environment and to social standards as well as free enterprise initiatives, and has a strong commitment to social inclusion. This has allowed us to significantly reduce unemployment and extreme poverty, without compromising the richness of our environment…Panama will keep advocating that the international community work on an institutional multilateral structure that reinforces the right of all people to have a planet with an environment that allows the development of a healthful and peaceful life.”
7. Angela Merkel, Chancellor, Germany
The German Chancellor delivered the keynote speech at the third Petersberg Climate Dialogue which took place in Berlin in July. Deutsche Welle reported that she said, “I emphatically believe in climate change.” They also noted that, “She does not want to waste time with various interpretations of various studies, time which could be better spent on discussions of climate change.” Merkel also called for clear goals in the reduction of carbon emissions, saying “There must be no more cheating.”
8. Barack Obama, President, United States
While it’s safe to say that environmentalists were cheered by the fact that the president won re-election, that’s not to say everything is hunky dory. On December 6, various news outlets reported that former Vice President Al Gore criticized Obama’s lack of action on the subject of climate change. “Our democracy has been hacked,” said Gore. “And when the large part of polluters and their ideological allies tell the members of Congress to jump, they do say, ‘how high?’ And we need leadership in the executive branch as well.”
Genetically Modified Organisms
Genetically Engineered Crops: Coming to a Store Near You?
Consumers fight for protections and labeling
This month, Maine became the second state in the nation to require labels on food that contains genetically engineered (GE) ingredients. The state’s decision is part of a growing, nationwide effort to assert the right of consumers to know what they’re eating. Currently, more than 26 states are considering proposals to require labeling of altered foods, including Hawaii, where Earthjustice is pushing for laws requiring labeling of GE products.
Despite support from 9 out of 10 Americans for labeling, the USDA recently made it even more likely that the next generation of GE corn and soy will soon be on the market—unlabeled and without any restriction or oversight whatsoever.
Are GE crops more nutritious or better tasting? Do they grow with less water or have higher yields? No on all accounts. Most GE crops to date have been created solely to resist herbicides. The most popular have been Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” crops, which tolerate the Roundup herbicide with glyphosate, its active ingredient. These crops offer consumers no benefit, but they allow farmers to freely douse their fields with herbicides without killing the crop. This convenience resulted in half a billion additional pounds of toxic herbicide being sprayed on U.S. fields between 1996 and 2011.
Increased herbicide isn’t the only problem brought by these crops. When the same herbicide is sprayed on a field repeatedly, a few naturally resistant weeds survive, reproduce and eventually take over. Now, more than 60 million acres of U.S. cropland are infested with glyphosate-resistant weeds. Industry’s solution to this problem was just to genetically engineer crops to resist a different, more toxic herbicide: 2,4-D.
These new corn and soy varieties, known by the trade name “Enlist,” are engineered by Dow Agrosciences to resist the effects of the herbicide 2,4-D, and other herbicides. If 2,4-D sounds familiar, that’s because it’s infamous for being a major component of Agent Orange, the Vietnam War-era defoliant. The herbicide itself is toxic to the liver in small doses, is associated with higher risk of Lou Gehrig’s disease, malformed sperm, and possibly non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s currently not approved for use on lawns and gardens in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Kuwait and the Canadian provinces of Québec and Ontario. Meanwhile, the USDA acknowledges that allowing these crops on the market will likely more than triple use of 2,4-D in the U.S.—an increase of tens of millions of pounds per year.
In addition to increased use of a toxic herbicide, these new crops carry all the same problems as the old ones. Just as Roundup-resistant crops produced millions of acres of glyphosate-resistant weeds, constant use of 2,4-D on fields of these crops will inevitably lead to 2,4-D-resistant weeds, further escalating the cycle of weed resistance and chemical use. Wildlife living in and around croplands will see 2,4-D drifting into their habitats, threatening their existence. Biodiversity will continue to drop as monocultures of corn and soy dominate the landscape. Neighboring organic and conventional farmers will risk damage from drifting herbicide, and will have to test their crops for transgenic contamination or risk losing their GE-sensitive markets. Contamination will continue regardless, since it can and does happen in so many ways, from cross-pollination to all kinds of human error. And with industry fiercely resisting the labeling of GE products, consumers will continue to be denied the right to know what they’re eating.
Yet the USDA, instead of being more alert to these issues and seeking to ameliorate them, tries harder and harder to avoid dealing with them. It refuses to look at impacts of transgenic contamination or higher 2,4-D use on people, plants, or wildlife. Worse, it takes the position that these are not its responsibility, although it’s USDA’s approval that’s causing these impacts. As for the herbicide’s effects, the USDA says that’s the EPA’s problem, but it remains to be seen whether the EPA will restrict this program in any way. And as far as the USDA is concerned, farmers and consumers are on their own if they want to avoid buying, selling, growing or eating GE products.
Left with little assistance from the federal government, states are taking it upon themselves to protect their communities from GE foods and their herbicides. Recently in Hawaii, the Kauai County Council passed an ordinance requiring disclosure of pesticide use, buffer zones around sensitive areas, and disclosure of GE crops being grown. The ordinance was passed following several incidents where students at a local school fell sick after pesticide spray drifted into the school yard. Upon the ordinance’s passage, three multinational agrichemical companies—Dow, DuPont, and Syngenta—sued the Council. Earthjustice testified in favor of the ordinance and now is preparing to go to court to intervene on behalf of community groups to defend the county law and Kauai’s residents.
If you’re concerned about the impacts of allowing a new generation of GE crops to grow freely, support our fight by submitting comments on the USDA’s Environmental Impact Statement at http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=APHIS-2013-0042-0050.
Sen. Dave Koehler to push GMO food labels bill
In November, Washington became the latest state to reject a ballot proposal that would have required labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients.At the same time, Maine and Connecticut have passed laws requiring labels on genetically engineered foods. However, their laws won’t go into effect until other states in the Northeast also adopt GMO labeling laws.
Against that backdrop, an Illinois lawmaker said he will pursue legislation this year requiring labels on foods with genetically modified ingredients.I’m dealing with this strictly as a consumer right-to-know bill,” said Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria. “I’m not saying yea or nay to the health risks. I’m saying consumers have a right to know and they can make up their own mind.”
Koehler’s Senate Bill 1666 would require that foods containing genetically modified ingredients (usually referred to as GMOs, for genetically modified organisms) carry a label that says as much. The specific ingredients don’t have to be identified, only that GMOs are present.
Koehler, who is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, introduced the bill nearly a year ago. Since then, it has picked up 12 co-sponsors, including Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.
Koehler did not push to pass the bill last spring. Instead, he held a series of hearings over the summer to get input from both supporters and opponents.
“There was some good information on both sides,” Koehler said. “I think the two sides are pretty well entrenched. It (the hearings) didn’t sway anybody’s opinion.”
That would include the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association that represents a number of food manufacturers in the state.
“We’re strongly opposed to it,” said Mark Denzler, the IMA’s vice president and chief operating officer. “Genetically modified food is safe. There’s not been a single scientific study that’s proved otherwise. I think 70 percent of food has been genetically modified. It’s been used for decades.”
Koehler, though, said he is intentionally steering clear of the debate about whether GMOs are safe.
“I’ve been very careful not to weigh in on the science because I’m not qualified to do that,” Koehler said. “I understand there are vast differences of opinion on whether it’s healthy or not.”
In fact, Koehler’s bill contains a lengthy introductory section under the heading of “legislative findings.” It sets out a series of statements that it says are the findings of the General Assembly about genetically altered foods.
“The genetic engineering of plants and animals often causes unintended consequences,” begins one section. “Mixing plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes through genetic engineering in combinations that cannot occur in nature may produce results that lead to adverse health or environmental consequences.”
Another section states, “United States government scientists have stated that the artificial insertion of genetic material into plants via genetic engineering can cause a variety of significant problems with plant foods. Such genetic engineering can increase the levels of known toxicants or allergens in foods and create new toxicants or allergens with consequent health concerns.”
Denzler said another concern is that the labeling is “going to greatly increase the cost.” He said a study done in California showed a family’s average grocery bill would increase by up to $450 a year because of the added cost of labeling.
He cited a large, private-label food manufacturer in the Metro East area.
“If Illinois were to pass a law that all the food here has to be labeled genetically modified and other states don’t do it, the company down there will have to set up two separate production lines,” he said. “They’ll have to set up two separate facilities to store product that’s coming in. You essentially double the cost of running your lines.”
Moreover, the manufacturer would have to track the source of the ingredients used in his products to determine whether they had been genetically modified, Denzler said.
“People can already do this right now if they want to,” he said.
That’s just the approach General Mills is taking with its announcement that original Cheerios will not contain any GMOs. Anti-GMO groups hailed the development as a breakthrough in their efforts to control genetically modified foods. Some critics, though, called it a largely empty gesture because original Cheerios have always contained almost no GMOs.
Koehler said he thinks the argument about added costs is overblown.
“I think that’s the same argument you heard when Ralph Nader first talked about seatbelts,” Koehler said. “It’s always the argument, and it’s the argument they used to defeat the proposition in California and the same they used to defeat the proposition in Oregon. Have nutrition labels added to the cost? I don’t put a lot of stock in the argument. I think it is used as a scare tactic.”
Denzler said the cost factor would be mitigated if a federal standard were set that applied to all states.
“Don’t do something that’s going to put an onus on Illinois manufacturers,” he said.
“Will they support us in asking the feds to do this?” Koehler countered. “I think the answer is a resounding no. I just don’t see Congress being able to handle this.”
Doug Finke|GateHouse Media Illinois |Jan. 12, 2014
Supreme Court Issues Decision in Landmark GMO Lawsuit
The US Supreme Court has denied organic and GMO-free farmers their day in Court against Monsanto – leaving them unable to challenge the company’s patents or seek redress for GMO seed contamination.
The US Supreme Court has issued a decision in the landmark federal lawsuit, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al v. Monsanto.
Farmers were denied the right to argue their case in court and gain protection from potential abuse by the agrichemical and genetic engineering giant, Monsanto.
The decision also dashes the hopes of family farmers who sought the opportunity to prove in court that Monsanto’s genetically engineered seed patents are invalid.
Monsanto cannot sue if crop contamination is less than 1%
Daniel Ravicher, Executive Director of the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) and lead counsel to the plaintiffs in OSGATA et al v. Monsanto, said:
“While the Supreme Court’s decision to not give organic and other non-GMO farmers the right to seek preemptive protection from Monsanto’s patents at this time is disappointing, it should not be misinterpreted as meaning that Monsanto has the right to bring such suits.”
“Indeed, in light of the Court of Appeals decision, Monsanto may not sue any contaminated farmer for patent infringement if the level of contamination is less than one percent.
“For farmers contaminated by more than one percent, perhaps a day will come to address whether Monsanto’s patents may be asserted against them. We are confident that if the courts ever hear such a case, they will rule for the non-GMO farmers.”
Farmers had sought Court protection under the Declaratory Judgment Act that should they become the innocent victims of contamination by Monsanto’s patented gene-splice technology they could not perversely be sued for patent infringement.
Food Democracy Now |via The Ecologist|January 15, 2014
Continue reading at ENN affiliate, The Ecologist.
Toxicology Expert Speaks Out About Roundup and GMOs Hot
His agriculture research is focused on the epidemiology and control of soil-borne plant pathogens, with specific emphasis on microbial ecology, cultural and biological controls, and the physiology of host-parasite relationships.
His research over the past few decades has led him to become very outspoken against genetically modified organisms (GMO) and genetically engineered (GE) foods and the use of Roundup in agriculture in general.
He’s really one of the best scientists we have in the GMO movement for documenting the dangers of genetically engineered foods.
“I appreciate the opportunity to share a little bit of my research and the research of many other scientists who are expressing concern; recognizing that we’ve missed the boat in much of this discussion and much of the process, because it’s really a food and health safety issue that we’re dealing with here,” he says.
Three Things You Need to Know About GMOs
There’s a lot of confusion about the basic validity of concerns about genetically engineered (GE) foods. Many have been deceived into thinking that there’s really no difference between GE foods and conventional fare, and all these worries are just paranoid fear-mongering.
According to Dr. Huber, the following three facts are some of the most important that everyone needs to understand about GMOs:
1. Despite what the media and so-called “experts” proclaim, there are NO peer-reviewed scientific papers establishing the safety of GMO crops. According to Dr. Huber, so far, no one has been able to establish that there’s a safety factor to either the genetically engineered proteins (i.e. the foreign proteins produced by the genetically modified plant) or the chemicals we’re consuming in ever larger quantities as a result of the genetic engineering process.
There are, however, both clinical and peer-reviewed scientific papers showing the hazards of GMO crops, including harmful secondary effects.
“A group of us met with top USDA administrators. They assured us that they based all their decisions on peer-reviewed science. When we asked them if they would share any of that, they were unable to produce any,” he says.
2. Epidemiological patterns show there’s an identical rise in over 30 human diseases correlated with our increased usage of glyphosate and the increased prevalence of genetically engineered proteins in our food.
3. Genetically engineered foods, as well as conventional crops that are heavily sprayed with glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup), have lower nutrient density than organic foods. They also contain high amounts of pesticides with documented harmful health effects, along with novel, highly allergenic, proteins.
Dr. Mercola [Dr. Don Huber is likely the leading GMO expert in the world.]
Is Monsanto Using 4-H to Brainwash Your Children About GMOs?
Monsanto is boasting its partnership with 4-H programs by giving a shout-out to “National 4-H Week.”
This is not the first time Monsanto has used its clever propaganda to influence our nation’s youth. The Council for Biotechnology Information widely circulated a Biotechnology Basics Activity Book for kids, a disturbing and brightly colored obvious intent to ‘educate’ the children.
4-H is the country’s largest youth organization with more than 6 million members in 80 countries around the world, involving children from elementary school age through high school.
The organization is extremely influential to children, impacting their intellectual and emotional development through their numerous programs and clubs. Unfortunately, Monsanto is using its partnership with 4-H as a vehicle to worm its way into your child’s mind in order to influence her developing beliefs and values.
Children are like little sponges, soaking up everything they see and hear, which makes them particularly vulnerable to being sucked in by propaganda.
And the effects could be life-long—at least they’re intended to be. Indeed you’d be hard-pressed to convince an adult, who from childhood was taught the merits of genetically engineered foods, that there’s anything wrong with such alterations of the food supply.
If your child is involved in 4-H, it would be wise to monitor the messages she’s getting, given this organization’s corporate sponsors and alliances.
4-H is really the perfect vehicle for Big Ag to manipulate an entire generation, using tactics not that different from the youth indoctrination strategies employed by political extremists in order to gain children’s trust and then “groom” them however they wish.
Think about it—what better way to control the future of our food system than to brainwash 6.8 million impressionable youth into believing that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are safe and beneficial, if not the answer to all the problems of the world?2
4-H Volunteers are Being Trained by Monsanto
The 4-H Youth Development Organization was originally set up by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to train the rural youth of America in hands-on skills like agriculture and raising animals, including the promotion of responsible animal husbandry and the cultivation of food resources in a responsible, ethical way.
The 4-H emblem, a four-leaf clover, is supposed to symbolize four actions (head, hands, heart, and health) as stated in their pledge:
“I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”
However, as noble as their original vision is, it remains vulnerable to the influences of its funders. Just as the USDA and other government agencies have a carefully crafted and well established revolving door arrangement with industry, 4-H is increasingly in the grips of the corporations that fund it—specifically, the agricultural, biotech, and junk food industries.
Offshore & Ocean
Death Returns to Taiji: 24 Bottlenose Dolphins Butchered at the Cove
The deaths represent the largest one-day kill since late November, when 54 striped dolphins were slaughtered.
Another day, another senseless dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan.
The waters of the village’s notorious inlet, spotlighted in 2009 by the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, ran red with blood yesterday as local fishermen killed 24 bottlenose dolphins.
“Many of these dolphins suffered terribly for a great length of time before actually dying,” says Melissa Sehgal, senior leader for Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardian campaign, from the ground in Taiji. She leads a team of 12 volunteers that monitor the six-month drive hunt, which involves everything from counting the dead to helming cameras that live-stream the killings.
The 24 dolphin deaths represent the largest one-day kill since Nov. 23, 2013, when 54 striped dolphins were slaughtered, she says. A total of 459 dolphins have been killed this season.
Each year beginning Sept. 1 and ending sometime in March, around 30 fishermen from the small town, population 2,000, lure luckless pods of whales and dolphins from the open ocean into a narrow bay bordered by steep, rocky cliffs. There, they separate the younger ones worth selling to aquariums in Japan and around the world.
The rest are impaled with harpoons and butchered. Their toxic, mercury-rich meat is then sent to dining tables across East Asia.
Prior to the release of the film, the town’s fishermen were annually killing around 1,600 dolphins, a fraction of the country’s annual quota of 20,000 dolphins and small whales, such as pilot whales.
But the worldwide media exposure that surged in the wake of the Academy Award and increased pressure from activist organizations such as Sea Shepherd and Cove star Ric O’Barry’s Save Japan Dolphins combined to lower the kill count each subsequent season. During the 2012–2013 season, roughly 900 dolphins were killed.
“When our team arrived in Japan, the government was force-feeding dolphin meat with toxic loads of mercury to thousands of schoolchildren and had a plan to expand this scheme to unsuspecting communities all over the country,” the film’s director, Louie Psihoyos, said last fall. “That’s not happening anymore.”
But, as TakePart reported in September, that silver lining has had a dark cloud.
As demand for dead dolphins dropped, demand for live ones skyrocketed, with each fetching $150,000 or more. This, critics say, is the economic underpinning of the entire enterprise. Remove it, and the business collapses.
Around 250 dolphins were caught for captivity during the 2012–2013 season—a sharp increase from the 50 captured in 2011–2012. This season, 88 have been corralled, destined for a life in show business.
Even in the largest aquarium facilities, captive dolphins have access to a fraction of 1 percent of the swimming area available to them in their natural environment—the open ocean. Some wild dolphins can swim up to 100 miles a day hunting for food.
“Japan claims the slaughter is a cultural tradition,” says Sehgal. “But in fact it’s really a cover-up to reap the financial rewards from the live-captive dolphin trade, which funds the slaughter.”
She estimates that the 13 dolphins captured yesterday represent “more than a-million-dollar haul for the Japanese government.”
Asked what people can to do stop the killings, Sehgal was quick and to the point: “Don’t ever visit a marine park again—over time, that will definitely bring an end to this slaughter.”
Navy Training and Testing Activities Imperil Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles in Waters off Hawaii and Southern California
Today, a coalition of conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, amended their complaint in a case filed in Hawaii federal court last month that challenges a 5-year plan by the U.S. Navy for testing and training activities off Hawaii and Southern California. The operations include active sonar and explosives, which are known to cause permanent injuries and deaths to marine mammals and sea turtles.
The amended complaint adds the Navy as a defendant, claiming that the Navy and National Marine Fisheries Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act when they relied on a legally defective environmental impact statement to give the green light to the Navy’s plan, which the agencies admit will cause nearly 9.6 million instances of harm to whales, dolphins and other marine mammals—including 155 marine mammal deaths and over 2,000 permanent injuries—and will kill up to 85 critically imperiled sea turtles.
“The government refused to take a serious look at any alternatives that would reduce harm to marine animals by placing biologically important areas off-limits to military sonar and training,” said Miyoko Sakashita, Oceans Director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “An open vetting of alternative approaches for the Navy to accomplish its training is the only way to prevent needless harm to whales, dolphins, seals and turtles—and that is precisely what the law requires.”
The amended complaint further claims that, in authorizing the Navy’s training and testing, the Fisheries Service violated its legal duty under the Endangered Species Act to protect endangered whales and turtles from extinction and under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to prevent harm to marine mammal populations.
“The Fisheries Service basically issued a blank check to the Navy, allowing it to kill scores of marine mammals—including endangered whales—and critically imperiled turtles, with no meaningful limits to ensure these species will not be pushed closer to extinction,” said David Henkin of Earthjustice. “The law requires the Fisheries Service to protect these animals, not force them to play Russian roulette.”
“The Fisheries Service knows very well that the death of 17 endangered leatherback or loggerhead sea turtles would be disastrous for the survival and recovery of either species,” said Susan Millward, Executive Director of Animal Welfare Institute. “But that’s precisely what they are allowing the Navy to do here.”
“The Fisheries Service is on record saying that bottlenose dolphins in the waters off Hawaii Island can withstand the loss of less than one animal per year due to human activities,” said Dr. Marsha Green, Ocean Mammal Institute’s president. “They then turn around and hand out a permit that lets the Navy kill nearly ten times that number. It’s completely unacceptable.”
“We are not asking the Navy to stop all training,” explained Conservation Council for Hawaii’s Marjorie Ziegler. “We’re simply asking the Navy and Fisheries Service to live up to their legal responsibilities and avoid needless harm to whales, dolphins, seals, turtles and other marine animals.”
The original lawsuit was filed on December 16, 2013. Earthjustice represents Conservation Council for Hawai’i, the Animal Welfare Institute, Center for Biological Diversity and Ocean Mammal Institute in this matter.
Earthjustice|Monday, December 16, 2013
David Henkin, Earthjustice, (808) 599-2436, ext. 6614
Marjorie Ziegler, Conservation Council for Hawaii, (808) 593-0255
Susan Millward, Animal Welfare Institute, (202) 337-2332
Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 632-5308
Marsha Green, Ocean Mammal Institute, (610) 670-7386
St. Lucie Inlet Dredging Project update
Jacksonville, Fla. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District announced today that dredging operations continue without delays on the St Lucie Inlet Navigation Project. The work is in response to impacts from Hurricane Sandy’s passage in 2012, and is 100% federally funded under the Flood Control and Coastal Emergency (FCCE) program.
The Corps awarded the $6,465,000 project contract to Cashman Dredging & Marine Contracting Co, LLC in July. Cashman started dredge operations in mid-November. The dredge is operating 24 hours per day with a mid-February 2014 anticipated completion date.
Cashman is dredging 200,000 cubic-yards of sand from the inlet and the adjacent settling basin, barging the beach quality material via the Intracoastal Waterway, and then placing it on the beach at the Hobe Sound National Preserve.
River-herring restoration booming
Millions of dollars in federal, state and private money have created a small boom in state-of-the-art, fishway construction projects on many Rhode Island rivers and streams.
Fish ladders are being put in, dams are coming down. And on the coast, in the port of Galilee in Narragansett, fishermen are working with scientists in new ways to come up with river-herring-avoidance programs.
River herring were vital to Native Americans and once supported a large commercial fishery. In 1969, East Coast landings reached 140 million pounds. In 2011, according to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, 2 million pounds were landed by states without moratoriums – Maine in particular. Since 2006 Rhode Island (along with Connecticut, Massachusetts, Virginia, and North Carolina) has enforced a moratorium on river-herring harvest to help replenish supply after years of over-fishing.
River herring live in the sea but, like salmon, use rivers and streams for spawning. Each spring many people come to enjoy watching the herring run. The fish, which average 10-12 inches long as adults, have become a symbol of conservation after they nearly disappeared from some local runs. In Rhode Island the major river-herring runs are: Gilbert Stuart, in Narragansett, Nonquit in Tiverton and Buckeye Brook and Gorton Pond, in Warwick.
In 2000, the R.I. Division of Fish and Wildlife counted 290,000 river herring at the Gilbert Stuart run. Last year, they counted 100,000, comparatively low but still above previous years.
“In 2005, the population crashed,” said R.I. Division of Fish and Wildlife freshwater biologist Phillip Edwards. “They crashed in all our runs. Gilbert Stuart only passed 8,000 fish that year.”
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the interstate agency responsible for river-herring management, has listed river herring as a depleted stock across their entire range, the Carolinas to Maine. In 2011, The Natural Resources Defense Council filed a petition with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration to list river herring under the federal Endangered Species Act. During the inquiry that followed, NOAA determined there wasn’t enough stock data to warrant such a listing.
Why the low numbers? Habitat degradation, climate change, pollution, predation by cormorants and seals and decades of over-harvest all have contributed, according to researchers. And the bycatch – the incidental take – of river herring in the commercial trawl fisheries has also been blamed.
Runs the past few years have been better in Rhode Island, showing a more positive trend, according to Edwards.
“They’re still way below where we’d like to be seeing them,” he added. “But things do look better.”
In Rhode Island, rivers seeing the most restoration work are the Blackstone, the Ten-Mile, the Woonasquatucket, the Pawtuxet and the Pawcatuck.
“There is a big surge in construction projects for fish passage right now,” said Christopher Fox, executive director of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association. “Plenty of red tape to cut through – but things are happening.”
The Pawcatuck River fishway restoration in 2010 included the first (permitted) removal of a Rhode Island dam, the dam at Shannock Falls. Then, slightly upstream, at Horseshoe Falls, a new fish ladder was completed in 2011. The final dam at Kenyon Mill came down last September.
“The total budget of all three projects was $4 million,” Fox said. “Of that $4 million, $2.8 million came from President [Barack] Obama’s stimulus package. The other two big funders were NOAA and [the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council]. Over the last five years, nearly $10 million has been invested in statewide fish-passage restoration work. In the coming few years, with work that is on the table, that number should hit $20 million.
Fuss & O’Neill, an engineering consulting firm in Providence, and Maryland-based KCI Technologies both worked on the design and engineering of the Pawcatuck fishway project.
During the Industrial Revolution, the Pawcatuck River powered manufacturing. But what may have helped 19th-century Americans certainly slowed the migration of river herring, eels, salmon and shad. The Pawcatuck River begins at Worden’s Pond and terminates in Little Narragansett Bay off Westerly’s Watch Hill. The entire 28-mile river has likely been impassable to river herring since the mid-1700s, according to Fox.
“Because of this fishway work,” said Edwards, “the Pawcatuck will be completely connected to the sea … helping not only river herring and shad, but also the ‘resident’ fish, like bass and trout.”
To re-establish the Pawcatuck herring run, the R.I. Department of Environment Management has trucked in fish from other runs, like the Middleboro run in Massachusetts and the Saugatucket in South Kingstown. Over the last two years, the efforts have released approximately 6,000 river herring into Worden’s Pond. Edwards expects to see the first fish returning to spawn in 2015.
“The goal,” Edwards said, “is to have a self-sustaining population of river herring returning each spring. We hope this run eventually could produce tens of thousands of fish.”
Young fish spawned in Worden’s Pond will imprint the “smell” of the Pawcatuck in their memories, their physiology. Fishermen have long believed river herring will smell the freshwater of their natal streams.
“Each run, each river and stream has to function properly to restore these populations,” said Jim Turek, staff member of NOAA’s Restoration Center in Narragansett. “The fish get fed on by every predator out there.”
Another key part of the river-herring restoration is happening in Narragansett’s Point Judith. But while millions of dollars have been spent restoring rivers, very little funding has been available for the study of river herring at sea.
During the winter two kinds of herring swim off our coasts.
One is the river herring. The other is sea herring. Unlike the river herring, the sea herring spends its entire life cycle in the ocean. Sea herring, which arrive in our waters from the north and east each winter, support a large, year-round fishery from Maine to New Jersey, about 100,000 tons, according to the New England Fishery Management Council.
In Galilee, about 10 small-scale, single-net trawlers harvest roughly 6,000 to 7,500 tons per year, according to landing reports from the fishery council.
The trouble is that both these herring can be found together – and a trawler’s net catches both. No one has figured out how to engineer a net that selects one but not the other. How this interaction of the two fish can be avoided is one of the hot topics in New England fisheries conservation work.
“I’m getting more and more calls about the whole river-herring and sea-herring story,” said John Hoey, Director of NOAA’s Fisheries Northeast Cooperative Research program. “It’s making for some very interesting work – coming up with ways to try and be predictive, to try and figure out where and when river herring might be.”
On any given day, December into February this winter, you might run into fishery scientists from the University of Massachusetts School of Marine Science and Technology and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. You might find a Cornell University fishery biologist, a NOAA study-fleet computer programmer – all of them will be in Galilee working in collaboration with the fishing industry on the so-called River Herring Bycatch Avoidance Program.
“We are working very closely with the Rhode Island herring boats,” Hoey said. “We need them and they need us. This is modern cooperative fishery management – in its infancy.”
Jimmy Ruhle, who comes up to Rhode Island every winter from North Carolina on his trawler the Darana R, said he doesn’t target river herring. “We do all we can to minimize mortality and get away from them. If we work together as a fleet we can do this,” he said. “But all it would take, like in any business, is one or two bad players.”
Next year, NOAA will likely impose a river-herring bycatch cap – which some hope will serve as an important accountability measure in the sea-herring fishery – according to the New England Fishery Management Council. If the cap is reached the sea-herring fishery could be shut down off Rhode Island. The cap amount for southern New England sea-herring bottom trawlers will be 89 tons.
“I’m all for the bycatch-avoidance program, but I have my doubts,” said Save The Bay Baykeeper Tom Kutcher. “We need to be careful on this. One or two bad tows on the big … boats out of New Bedford could wipe out a whole run of river herring.” John Lee |Contributing Writer|12/30/13
Bills that would require companies that engage in hydraulic fracturing to disclose the chemicals they use and allow an exemption from public records for “trade secrets” passed their first committee stop on Tuesday despite Democratic opposition.
Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting large volumes of water, sand or other materials and specialized chemicals into wells under enough pressure to fracture the formations holding the oil or gas, according to the Congressional Research Service. The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a study to determine the potential affects of “fracking” on drinking water.
HB 71 and HB 157 are similar to bills that passed through House committees last year before facing national opposition. This year the bills are continuing to generate numerous emails in opposition, some Democratic lawmakers said.
“My email box has been completely jammed with people writing in with their concerns about fracking,” Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, said Tuesday during a meeting of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee. The subcommittee passed both bills by 8-4 votes, with four Democrats voting against each time.
Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero and sponsor of both bills, said he was motivated to file legislation because of news reports in 2012 that reflected oil and gas industry interest in fracking in Florida.
Rodrigues said his bills do not allow or encourage hydraulic fracturing in Florida as some opponents claim. He said Florida law already allows the practice although it is not being done now.
“This is a disclosure bill,” he told the subcommittee. “This is not a fracking bill.”
Environmental groups said the bills would prevent the public and doctors from learning about chemicals that could poison drinking water, citing a chemical spill in a West Virginia river last week that forced 300,000 people to rely on bottled water. Some opponents argued that hydraulic fracturing should be banned rather than requiring disclosure.
Last year, Rodrigues’ bills passed the same subcommittee without opposing speakers or votes before running into Democratic opposition in later committee stops. Environmental groups later began raising concerns and CREDO Action, a national activist network on liberal issues, alerted members asking them to oppose the bills.
In 2013, HB 743, the disclosure bill, passed the House 92-19 but wasn’t taken up by the Senate. The trade secrets exemption bill, HB 745, died without a final floor vote after Democrats questioned the exemption of trade secrets from disclosure.
Rodrigues said the Florida Department of Environmental Protection would determine whether companies’ claims of trade secrets met the requirements of state law. He also said he’s not sure why the bills failed last year and he doesn’t plan to do anything different this year.
“My plan is to do the same thing last year, which is to be open to all parties and all members to receive their concerns and see if we can draft amendments to address their concerns,” he said after the meeting.
Sierra Club representative David Cullen said his group opposes both bills.
Stephanie Kunkel, representing Clean Water Action, said her group also opposes the bills but supported the disclosure bill last year after it was amended to require concentrations of chemicals to be disclosed. The requirement is not included in this year’s bill.
Rodrigues said after the meeting that he wanted to start this year with the same bill that he started with last year, which was modeled after Texas legislation without the requirement for concentrations.
“We put that (concentrations requirement) in the bill last year,” Rodrigues said. “It’s quite possible we will see that in the final product this year as well.”
Bruce Ritchie| 01/14/2014
The federal Environmental Protection Agency seems poised over the next few days to lower the Renewable Fuels Standard requirement for 2014 – over the objections of some biofuels advocates – by nearly 3 million gallons.
The Energy Independence and Security Act passed by Congress in 2007 requires more and more ethanol and other biofuels in the market each year. But as cars become more efficient and Americans use less gas, experts warn that it’s not possible to funnel enough ethanol into the market next year to meet the requirement.
Current law would force the fuel industry to soak up 18.15 million gallons of ethanol in 2014, but EPA is considering lowering that mandate to 15.21 million gallons, according to a report leaked to the media last month. At that level, only about 13 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol would be blended into the nation’s gasoline supply, according to Reuters, down from 13.8 billion this year and 14.4 billion required by law for 2014.
“The devil is in the details. However, it is clear that if the EPA does what is implied … the RFS moves from being unworkable to quite manageable,” Purdue University energy policy specialist Wally Tyner wrote in a report “The Biofuels Renewable Fuel Standard – EPA to the Rescue.”
Federal officials have been open to reducing the requirement for biofuels in the past. In August, EPA slashed the 2013 requirement for cellulosic biofuel use to just 6 million gallons, far below the 14 million proposed earlier that year and the 1 billion gallons a year required in the 2007 law.
And even federal officials who testified before a Congressional subcommittee about the biofuels standard in late June said consumers won’t absorb the amount of ethanol the law mandates in coming years.
“The RFS program is not projected to come close to achievement of the legislated target that calls for 36 billion gallons of renewable motor fuels use by 2022,” said Adam Sieminski, the administrator for the Energy Information Administration of the energy department.
Both biofuels producers and gasoline refiners are waiting anxiously for EPA’s decision, which could come any day. If EPA lowers the standard for 2014, the decision likely will be challenged.
“Groups within the biofuel industry are fully committed to challenging the rule in court if the EPA changes how it implements the standard,” Paul Winters of the Biotechnology Industry Organization told Reuters. “We want to see the targets continue to be set at the highest-achievable level.”
Several agricultural economists have predicted that farmers and ethanol manufacturers can meet the need in 2014 if the RFS is dropped to the 15-million-gallon range. This year’s corn crop is a near record in lots of states after tough years of drought.
But petroleum sellers argue that fuel with more than 15 percent ethanol can damage an engine. That limits the amount of biofuel that can be sold.
Under the current RFS, the energy industry would have to blend 20.5 billion gallons of biofuels into gasoline in 2015 and 22.25 billion gallons in 2016. His calculations would reduce those totals to 16.58 billion in 2015 and 17.3 billion the following year.
Allison Floyd|November 15th, 2013
Former U.S. Sen., Fla. Gov. Bob Graham part of Cuba oil drilling mission
Former U.S. Senator and Florida Gov. Bob Graham is part of an American contingent traveling to Cuba on Monday to explore the communist nation’s oil drilling plans.
Graham, the keynote speaker at the Everglades Coalition conference at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club on Saturday evening, said he will be joining about a dozen others, including prominent offshore oil industry experts, for the trip, which is being coordinated by the Council on Foreign Relations.
At least four exploratory wells drilled off Cuba’s northern shore over the last two years have come up dry, but the island nation’s goal is to attain energy self-sufficiency by tapping into the 4.6 billion to 9.3 billion barrels of oil believed to be offshore.
“It’s very important for the nation, and particularly important for Florida that any drilling done in that area be done at a very high standard of safety and with the capability to respond if there is an accident,” Graham said Saturday afternoon, while relaxing at the hotel’s beachfront restaurant.
“The reason for the trip,” he said, “is to talk to the Cubans, try to better understand what their plans are, what their capabilities are, and, frankly, how the international community … can cooperate in a way to ensure that Cuba drills at the highest level of international safety standards.”
Graham was co-chair of the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling established by President Barack Obama after the April 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The commission’s other co-chair, William K. Reilly, a former EPA administrator, is also part of Monday’s trip, Graham said.
The trip is being coordinated by Julia E. Sweig, a senior fellow at the CFR, Graham said. They are expected to return to the U.S. on Friday.
The U.S. has a two-pronged policy on Cuba – an economic embargo and diplomatic isolation. Graham, a supporter of the embargo, said he knows there are those who feel any contact with Cuba is tacit support for the country’s communist regime. But ensuring Cuba’s oil drilling is done safely is in the best interest of the U.S., he said. “The consequences of failure are not going to be on Havana, but are going to be on South Florida. The nature of the currents are going to carry the oil to the northeast and then to the north,” he said.
Graham said he had not seen an itinerary for the trip, and didn’t know exactly who in the Cuban government they will be meeting with. “I’m confident that they’re not sending us down there to meet with people who don’t have some ability to affect the decisions” of the government or private sector, he said.
Conversations about Cuba’s human rights abuses would likely be “sidebar discussions,” said Graham, who said he hoped to experience the flavor of the island during his first trip there. “I went to the Soviet Union before the end of the Cold War, and I’ve been in China, a lot of sensitive places,” he said, “and I feel I’m sophisticated enough to know when I might be propagandized.”
During his speech at the Everglades conference, Graham said 2013 was the year that Floridians became aware of how serious the state’s water problems are.
“Now we’re transitioning from awareness to action; what should we be doing about it,” he said.
Included in his prescription: developing a state water plan; restricting activities that lead to pollution, including over-fertilizing lawns; and focusing on water consumption.
Ontario Wind Energy Production Doubles Over The Past Four Years
A new report from Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) shows that the production of wind energy in the province has doubled over the past four years.
In the Electricity Data report released on Jan. 8, the IESO confirms the annual production of wind energy in Ontario has risen from 2.3 TWh to 5.2 TWh between 2009 and 2013. Citing data from the IESO and the Ontario Ministry of Energy, the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) says this means that in 2013, Ontario wind farms produced electricity equivalent to the power needs of close to 550,000 average Ontario homes.
Robert Hornung, CanWEA president, says the IESO believes the contribution of wind energy to Ontario’s electricity supply will increase even more significantly in the next couple of years as new wind projects come online.
He adds that governments across Canada and in advanced economies around the world appreciate the importance of blending increasing amounts of wind energy in the electricity supply because of its economic and environmental benefits.
“The 100 communities across Canada that host wind energy operations, developments and businesses, as well as Ontario’s Long Term Energy Plan (LTEP), recognize that wind energy is a proven, reliable and cost-competitive energy solution that drives economic diversification, environmental sustainability and rate-base value,” Hornung says.
NA Windpower |January 10 2014
Mexico passes landmark oil reform: boon or bane?
The government argues the historic shift will lower prices and boost output. But many Mexicans associate privatization with cronyism and declines in services.
Mexico’s Congress on Thursday overwhelmingly voted to open up the country’s oil and gas sector to private investment in the biggest overhaul of the industry since it was nationalized in 1938. After a whirlwind final passage through Congress, President Enrique Pena Nieto’s bill will offer companies the chance to operate oil wells, commercialize crude and partner with state oil giant Pemex as Mexico seeks to revive flagging output. Facing down accusations they were betraying their homeland to foreign oil majors, Mexico’s two biggest parties approved a series of changes to the constitution that could radically transform the fortunes of the world’s No. 10 oil producer.
The bill, approved overnight, would promote foreign investment and allow private companies to explore and exploit petroleum deposits – tasks previously reserved for Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, as the state oil agency is known. It must be ratified by state assemblies, approval that is expected.
Energy reform has been enthusiastically supported by international investors and Mexico’s business class, who are expected to sink billions into an industry lacking the capital and outside expertise to develop promising shale gas projects and drill in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. President Enrique Peña Nieto argues the reform will lead to lower prices for ordinary Mexicans, create jobs, and reverse declines in Mexico’s dwindling reserves – all while keeping state control over the petroleum.
But opponents, including former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, call the measure “treasonous,” as state ownership of oil has come to symbolize sovereignty and self-respect for many Mexicans, who consider oil nationalization in 1938 a seminal moment in making the modern Mexico. Stories of past privatizations as failing to provide promised improvements pose a further challenge to acceptance.
“There’s this experience that private players end up being as bad or corrupt as the public sector,” says Aldo Muñoz Armenta, political science professor at the Autonomous University of Mexico State.
David Agren| Correspondent| December 12, 2013
Rights Versus Resources in the Amazon
Tar sands, hydraulic fracking, deep water drilling. All are examples that we are living in the age of extreme oil. With most major reserves of traditional crude found or tapped, the industry is encroaching into some of the most geologically-complicated, environmentally-risky and socially-conflictive terrain than ever before. As the price of crude hovers at $100, companies are eager to get at what was once impossible crude, much to the peril of people and the planet.
In some cases, this means pursuing non-conventional sources of oil, once technologically or financially out of reach, but now lucrative, despite being more energy intensive to extract than the final crude produced. In other cases, this means attempting to access “shut in” reserves – oil fields trapped by local resistance or above-ground ecological importance.
There is no greater example of this clash than what is playing out in the forests of Ecuador’s Amazon. There is a new oil boom underway, fuelled by the country’s rising debt, China’s energy demands, Ecuador’s leftist government’s plans to finance its “citizen’s revolution”, and the massive increase in public spending with expanded drilling.
Enbridge replaces 461-foot section of oil pipeline that fell
At a federal regulator’s request, Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge removed and replaced a 461-foot section of oil pipeline after it fell into a ditch when a crane holding it toppled on its side Jan. 8 in Ceresco in Calhoun County.
The homeowner on whose property the incident occurred and another eyewitness said Enbridge employees on-site proceeded to connect the dropped pipe to already-laid line within about an hour, after what they described as a less-than-thorough evaluation of potential damage.
Those witnesses, homeowner Dave Gallagher and John Bolenbaugh, an activist opposed to Enbridge’s oil transport in Michigan who is making a documentary about the company, recorded video of the incident. They said the pipeline dropped “no less than 20 feet” and that crews never lifted it to inspect its underside for punctures or chipped protective coating that could lead to early corrosion.
“They put the pipeline in about 40 minutes afterward,” Gallagher said. “Three on-site inspectors said the pipe was fine.”
The section is part of Enbridge’s new Line 6B, a 36-inch pipe running nearly 300 miles from Indiana to Marysville, Mich., where it crosses the St. Mary’s River and oil transport continues into Canada. The new line will allow Enbridge to move more than 500,000 barrels of oil per day through Michigan.
Incidents such as the Jan. 8 crane mishap have some already nervous area residents along the pipeline more wary. It was the existing Line 6B that leaked in July 2010 near Marshall — less than 10 miles from Gallagher’s home on E Drive South — causing the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history and requiring a more than $1-billion cleanup of the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek tributary that still is not complete.
Bolenbaugh captured the tumbled-over crane and dropped pipe on video.
Gallagher called the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and inspectors from the agency were there Monday, he said.
Administration spokesman Damon Hill responded to requests for an interview with an e-mailed statement, confirming Gallagher contacted the agency.
“PHMSA did contact the operator regarding the incident and Enbridge is replacing the section of line where the accident occurred,” Hill said.
Enbridge spokesman Jason Manshum also responded to requests for an interview with an e-mailed statement. He said the pipe during the crane incident remained two to three feet above the ground until dropping into the bottom of the ditch, and that the pipe “was lifted out of the ditch” for inspection by several Enbridge personnel — an account that differs from Gallagher and Bolenbaugh’s.
Manshum said pipeline administration officials suggested the pipe section be removed and replaced.
“Enbridge is confident in the initial assessment of the pipe’s integrity — an assessment that was made by three on-the-ground inspectors the day of the situation,” he said. “Nonetheless, to dispel any concerns or doubts about the integrity and safety of the pipe, the company has made the decision to remove and replace the section of pipe involved in the Jan. 8 situation.”
The pipe will now undergo further review to check for damage, Manshum said. “Enbridge is confident this testing will determine that no damage occurred to the pipe or welds,” he said.
Beth Wallace, Great Lakes Regional Coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation noted that the administration’s own statistics show nine engineers have spent 79 days in-office and 113 days out-of-office overseeing Enbridge’s Line 6B remedial work since the 2010 oil spill. The wildlife federation has been critical of Enbridge’s cleanup of the Marshall oil spill and its ongoing expansion of tar sands oil pipelines.
“PHMSA’s time spent overseeing this project is extremely disappointing,” she said. “The ongoing disregard for landowners by Enbridge is widespread and systemic. There needs to be leadership stepping in and requiring more oversight of this company. It’s not only an issue for landowners, it’s also a worker safety issue.”
Gallagher, who has endured ongoing Line 6B installation work on his property around 10 feet from the back of his home since July, said the Jan. 8 crane tip-over raises questions.
“Who knows how many times this has happened before — how many times the homeowner wasn’t home to see this happen, or it happened out in the woods somewhere out of sight?” he said.
Bolenbaugh said he believes Enbridge’s reaction to the incident would have been different, save for one key factor.
“I got it on videotape,” he said. “They got caught this time.”
Keith Matheny |Gannett Michigan|Jan. 15, 2014
Prickly Pear Cactus: Nuisance or Bioenergy Opportunity?
In much of west Texas, the iconic Prickly Pear cactus — with its plum-like fruit and forbidding spiked pads — is at best considered a nuisance, and at worst a downright hazard to livestock. But in most of the rest of the semi-arid world — from Mexico and Chile, large swaths of India and South Africa, as well as Spain and Morocco — Opuntia ficus-indica (Prickly Pear) is used in dye-making, as feed for livestock, and, little by little, as feedstock for anaerobic biogas production.
The beauty of this hardy, drought-resistant cactus, which can tolerate surprising bouts of cold weather, is that it can be grown on veritable desert-like wastelands, where conventional crops would wither and die.
“Opuntia pads have 8 to 12 percent dry matter which is ideal for anaerobic digestion,” said Axel Tarrisse, managing partner in Zoe Biotech, a two year-old Marseille, France-based agricultural and environmental tech company.
Tarrisse notes that with a rainfed climate, there’s no need for extra irrigation or extra water to facilitate the anaerobic digestion process. In fact, with only 300 millimeters of precipitation per year, he says, Opuntia can produce 12,000 kilograms of dry matter feedstock and still retain enough moisture to facilitate biogas production.
By some estimates, Prickly Pear cactus pads degrade five to ten times faster than manure. Thus, only 4 hectares of the Opuntia crop can produce an estimated 800 cubic meters of biogas per day. Although the cactus is native to semi-arid regions with stifling hot temperatures, it can also survive and even thrive in mountainous areas that can have temperatures as low as minus 15 degrees Celsius.
“The world has millions of hectares of land prone to drought and desertification,” said Tarrisse. “Opuntia helps create a vegetative cover, which enhances soil regeneration and improves the infiltration of rainfall back into the soil.”
The idea of using Opuntia feedstock to generate methane-based biogas first took root in Chile. Although the process had been observed as early as 1984 in the lab, its commercial application was actually first realized by environmental engineer Rodrigo Wayland Morales, the owner and current manager of Elqui Global Energy in La Serena, Chile.
As a student in Chile looking for a thesis project, Morales realized that throughout Chile’s centrally-located Coquimbo region, there were hundreds of tons of the cactus pads being discarded annually. Such waste was primarily a byproduct of the cochineal insect, which feeds on the cactus and, in turn, is the source of commercial crimson dyes used in some food coloring.
Morales secured $50,000 USD in financing for the first biogas cactus project in Chile’s Elqui Valley. Morales says he’s been working on the idea for more than a decade. Mexico produces hundreds of thousands of tons of Opuntia per year. Thus, since 2009 has been consulting with Mexican industry in turning a portion of their rich cactus bounty into bioenergy.
Morales notes that Opuntia digesters are not only much smaller, but also much less expensive than those used for anaerobic biogas production from manure. He says his company currently has turnkey cactus biogas projects in both Mexico and India. But for more than a decade, his company has been also consulting with current and potential Opuntia biogas clients in Chile, Brazil, Ecuador, and Colombia.
Although Morales’ home country of Chile has a stated goal of generating at least 10 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by the year 2022; at present, Opuntia is not a part of that mix.
“Chile could desalinate sea water and grow the cactus in the desert,” said Morales. “I imagine the Atacama Desert with cactus; producing the energy that our country needs.”
Tarrisse says that it’s possible to garner as much as 2.5kwh of methane from 1kg of dry Opuntia.
This bio-methane, he says, can be turned into electricity in combined heat and power systems where waste heat can be used in the heating or cooling process. There’s also the option, he says, of using this bio-methane to charge electric vehicles; or compressing or liquifying it for use in natural gas vehicles. It can even be purified for injection into existing natural gas grids.
Depending on the planting density, Tarrisse says that Opuntia can grow to maturity in as little as one to three years. It can then be mechanically harvested and chopped before being transferred to anaerobic digesters where methanogenic bacteria consume release a 50-50 biogas mixture of methane and carbon dioxide.
Tarrisse says the biggest challenge is finding the right investors who really appreciate the idea of creating dedicated biomass plantations on degraded land.
Northeast Brazil arguably has the most potential for Opuntia bioenergy production of any region in the world.
Today, some 5,000 square kms is already under cultivation in Brazil for use as a fodder for livestock.
Increasing this same cultivated area to 75,000 square kms would by some calculations potentially generate enough liquid bio-methane to replace 15 percent of the European Union’s annual consumption of fossil natural gas. But this would require an estimated investment of $10 billion and at least ten years of development.
Tarrisse says many farmers who had previously grown cactus for livestock feed are indeed willing to grow Opuntia for biogas. He maintains that farmers currently growing Opuntia in South Africa would be more than willing to establish hundreds, even thousands, of hectares of the cactus for energy conversion. But the trouble is, as Tarrisse admits, currently in South Africa, there are no investors willing to fund such a project.
While the state of Texas is also not pursuing Opuntia as feedstock for biogas production, Wayne Hanselka, retired range manager with Texas A&M University’s Agri-Life Extension Service, says west Texas ranchers would likely welcome the harvest of the cactus on their lands, just to get it off their hands.
Opuntia also currently grows freely across large areas of Australia.
Even so, Andrew Lang, an Australian agricultural scientist and World Bioenergy Association board member, says it is generally considered a nuisance “Down Under,” a perception that still lingers from the early 1900s when Opuntia “spread over vast areas” of Australia’s inland farm country.
As Lang notes, Opuntia is already well established in Australia. “So, nothing is stopping someone from establishing it at scale if they wanted to try,” said Lang. “But we have other possible biomass sources, including eucalyptus, that produce well in lower rainfall zones.”
But unlike a lot of current biomass feedstocks, sliced Opuntia pads can also easily be cooked up and folded in with the morning eggs. “Sauté it,” advises Hanselka, “and it tastes something like green beans.”
Bruce Dorminey| Correspondent |January 14, 2014
Sunshine State Buying More Than a Billion in Coal
A new report says Florida power producers spent $1.3 billion in 2012 on imported coal.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – $1.3 billion dollars. That’s how much Florida power producers spent to import coal from other states in 2012 alone. A report released this week by the Union of Concerned Scientists highlighted that cost and the benefits of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar. Ulla Reeves, high-risk energy program director, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said the state’s economy could benefit by reallocating the investment in coal. “The utility companies are sending money out of state to support a dirty industry. Those are dollars that could be saved and kept at home in Florida to support cleaner, more sustainable energy sources for the future,” Reeves said. The report says the amount of coal imported into Florida decreased by 35 percent from 2008 to 2012, but its cost has increased to more than $88 a ton – one of the highest prices in the nation. The report, “Burning Coal, Burning Cash,” ranked Florida fifth in the nation in terms of its dependence on imported coal. According to the report, Florida ranks 34th in the country when it comes to energy-efficiency savings, and renewable energy supplied just 2 percent of the state’s power in 2012. Reeves said the state has plenty of room for improvement. “Florida’s energy-efficiency potential remains largely untapped, so we have a lot of room to grow in energy efficiency and in solar and wind,” she said. The report and additional information are available at www.ucsusa.org.
West Virginia’s Water Crisis: As Predictable As It Was Preventable
On Thursday, Jan. 9, more than 7,500 gallons of a highly toxic chemical used to process coal spilled into the Elk River — just upstream of a drinking water intake serving more than 300,000 people in West Virginia. No alarm was raised until residents noticed a strange smell coming from their taps. Reports of health effects have been alarming, even after residents were given the all-clear to use their water again. Our Appalachian Water Watch team quickly arrived on the scene to assist others who were taking water samples, so critical in the immediate aftermath of such a disaster.
When the spill made national headlines, many of us thought immediately of the much bigger, longstanding problems with water pollution and politics in Appalachia that never get enough attention from the media — and how these chronic problems actually set the stage for this disaster.
Water polluted by the poorly regulated coal industry is an everyday fact of life for many in the coal-bearing parts of Appalachia, not just a one-time emergency. In addition to the severe pollution caused by mountaintop removal mining, waste from coal washing — a process that involves the chemical spilled last week — is routinely stored behind earthen dams across the region and pumped into empty underground mine shafts. Residents of Prenter, W.Va., south of Charleston, experienced years of skin rashes and tooth decay from contaminants in their wells linked to this practice. In fact, as my colleague Matt Wasson described in an article on Huffington Post, this continual contamination and destruction of groundwater by irresponsible mining and coal processing is why many West Virginians have been forced for years to stop using their well or local municipal water and rely on water piped in from what is know as the Charleston area’s “Chemical Valley.”
This disaster came about not as the result of a single mistake or oversight, but a systemic failure of regulators and policymakers to place public health above the interests of coal and chemical corporations that stretches back decades. It was as predictable as it was preventable.
Amidst the inevitable lawsuits, finger-pointing and government investigations, one thing remains clear: it will take a lot more than just a few tweaks of local, state and federal policies to truly ensure that West Virginians and other residents of Appalachia’s coal country can use and enjoy their water resources without fear of falling ill, or worse. It will take a major shift of political power away from the coal industry and to the people of Appalachia.
Washington D.C.’s Sewage Will Soon Generate Electricity
When the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority was first planning to build its Blue Plains wastewater treatment facility back in the 1930s, it seemed logical to choose a site that would minimize the cost of pumping water uphill. That’s why the facility, which today serves over 2 million people in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia and treats around 370 million gallons of wastewater a day, is located at the lowest point in all of the District of Columbia.
But the 150-acre facility, on the banks of the Potomac River, is now confronting the downside of what was once a strategic siting decision — the entire facility is extremely vulnerable to the flooding predicted by future sea level rise.
So while the existence of human-caused climate change is alternatively debated, scoffed at and ignored elsewhere in the nation’s capital, the D.C. Water Authority is investing millions into projects to protect a city’s water from sea level rise, storm surge, and the type of destruction brought by Superstorm Sandy.
D.C. Water isn’t alone. Across the country there are a handful of water and sewer utilities that are going above and beyond meeting basic requirements, choosing instead to invest in infrastructure and research to become more efficient, more self-sufficient, and more resilient to climate change.
Construction has already begun in D.C. on a 17.2 foot-high sea wall designed to protect the plant from a 500-year storm surge that could otherwise flood D.C. with raw sewage. The sea wall will cost an estimated $13.2 million and is expected to be completed in 2021.
D.C. Water is also investing $450 million on an on-site digester that will transform its daily 120 tons of treated solid waste into enough natural gas to keep the plant running even if extreme weather knocks out power to the area.
Biosolids once sent to surrounding farms for use as fertilizers, will now stay on site and be processed by 4 anaerobic digesters. An anaerobic digester is essentially just an airtight tank filled with a special mix of bacteria, similar to what you’d find in the stomach of a cow. When organic waste goes into the digester tanks, the bacteria devour it and produce a biogas, which is mostly methane. The methane drawn off the four digester tanks will power three turbines that together can generate up to 10 megawatts of clean electricity. D.C. Water estimates that it will save $10 million each year on its electricity bill after the system is completed this summer. The digesters will also help reduce the overall carbon footprint of the facility.
“At the turn of the century, we looked at wastewater just as a public health issue, it was all about keeping people from getting sick” said Lauren Fillmore, Senior Program Director at the nonprofit Water Environment Research Foundation. “And then in the 1970s, with the Clean Water Act, we started dealing with everything else in the water besides pathogens that was damaging the environment. Now, we are just starting to look at wastewater management as really water resource recovery.”
Longer term, there are also plans being considered to install 50 acres of solar panels on top of the Blue Plains treatment plant. The solar panels could generate an additional 8 megawatts of electricity. D.C. Water is currently the largest consumer of electricity in the District.
Elsewhere in the country, the Philadelphia Water Department is using heat recovery technology and anaerobic digesters to reduce its reliance on the grid. In Gloversville-Johnstown, N.Y., a small wastewater treatment plant not only uses a digester to generate energy from its own biosolids, it takes the waste byproducts of a yogurt producer nearby and generates energy from them too. There are similar projects at wastewater facilities in Sheboygan, Wis., Ithaca, N.Y., and Oakland, Calif.
“In terms of climate readiness, it doesn’t get any more basic than protecting water,” said Fillmore. “And D.C. Water is really leading the nation in making the most of the opportunities preparing for the future provides, to become better at what they do.”
Joanna M. Foster|ThinkProgress|January 17, 2014
Water and Land Legacy makes it to ballot in November
The Water and Land Conservation Amendment will be on the November 2014 ballot. Generations of Floridians will be able to see some of Florida as it is now.
Here is a letter from the Florida Water and Land Legacy:
We are thrilled to announce that the Water and Land Conservation amendment has qualified for the 2014 ballot. This monumental achievement was possible only because committed volunteers and active organizations banded together to create this incredible coaltion of EnviroHeroes. Week after week, month after month, you came out to collect a total of a quarter million signatures from Florida voters. Even in times of doubt, you persevered. We owe this success to your hard work and effort. We humbly thank you. This victory is yours!
We expect to receive our amendment number in early February! We will continue to keep you posted at every step of the way, and we invite you to keep up with the campaign on our Facebook page as well.
Making the ballot calls for CELEBRATIONS! We’ve been reaching out to our volunteer coordinators statewide to help us plan celebrations throughout the month of February. They are a great opportunity for volunteers to reconnect and celebrate the hard work of so many individuals! It’s also a great way to start getting everyone’s minds around the task for 2014: educating Floridians about the amendment and why they should vote for it come November!
So far, we have confirmed celebrations in these counties: Alachua (and surrounding), Bay, Brevard, Broward, Citrus, Collier, Duval, Lee, Levy, Leon, Manatee, Orlando, Osceola, Sarasota, Seminole and Volusia.
We want everyone to be part of this celebration, so if your county is not listed and you’d like to help coordinate a gathering in your area, please contact Laura, (850) 629-4656 or email@example.com.
We want to honor this ground-breaking achievement made possible through an incredible commitment of time, energy and passion by our volunteers, donors and supporting organizations. You all have shown incredible faith and fortitude in the face of a seemingly insurmountable feat. We praise and salute you!
Victory Plan for 2014
We know that volunteers are anxious to get started on winning the water and land vote in November. We also want to keep you posted on what we are doing at campaign headquarters to further this critical cause. We are in the midst of campaign planning, and have begun to conduct statewide polling to ensure that we understand what aspects of the amendment resonate most with Floridians. These results will influence our campaign strategy moving forward and inform decisions on how to appeal to Florida’s broad and diverse population.
By mid-March, we plan to have campaign literature and materials ready to share with volunteers and supporting organizations. We’ll need your help finding events and opportunities across the state to get our message to VOTE YES out to voters! We will also be looking for volunteers and members of endorsing organizations to give presentations at local club and group meetings, such as Rotary and Kiwanis. If you’d like to be a speaker for the campaign or know of a speaking opportunity that we should be aware of, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We will continue to put out a bi-weekly e-newsletter and periodic conference calls to keep you updated on the campaign plan, progress and how you can help! Please be on the lookout for newsletters and invitations for the calls.
And lastly, we will continue to make appeals to you all for financial support. None of this would be possible without the generosity and fortitude of donors, both large and small. We understand that everyone’s capacity to give is unique, but we encourage everyone who cares about this issue and Florida’s environment, to consider making a financial contribution to the campaign. To ensure that Florida voters go to the polls in November ready to VOTE YES on the Water and Land Conservation Amendment, we must run a top-notch campaign and that takes significant financial resources in a state as big and diverse as ours!
Making the ballot is a huge accomplishment, and we are both ecstatic and proud that so many people and organizations came together, in unity, to ensure clean water for people and wildlife and to protect the myriad of natural wonders that make Florida special! We have a lot of work ahead of us, but now we really know what we can do when we work together – we will win in November with your continued dedication!
Will, Pegeen, Aliki, and Laura
Park Seeks Comment on Draft EIS for Acquisition of FPL Land in East Everglades Expansion Area
Dear Friend of Everglades National Park:
I am pleased to announce the availability of the Acquisition of Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) Land in the East Everglades Expansion Area (EEEA) Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS). The Draft EIS addresses options for National Park Service (NPS) acquisition of FPL land in the EEEA to facilitate hydrologic and ecologic restoration of Everglades National Park. We also invite you to attend a public meeting to be held as follows:
Date: February 19, 2014 Time: 5:30 to 8:30 pm
Location: Florida International University-Stadium Club
11310 Southwest 17th Street, Miami Florida, 33199
The Stadium Club is located within the FIU Football Stadium between gates 2 and 3.
This public meeting will provide an opportunity for you to learn about the purpose and need for federal action, proposed alternatives, issues, and the decision-making process. It will include a presentation and displays about the proposed action and the EIS process and provide for comments to be recorded in a public hearing format. NPS and project staff will be there to answer questions and listen to comments.
NPS acquisition of the FPL property, or a flowage easement on the property, is needed to support the mission of the park and is vital to long-term protection of the park for ecosystem restoration purposes. The FPL property (a 320 acre, 7.4 mile corridor in the EEEA) is needed to support the goals of restoring the Northeast Shark River Slough and to fulfill the purposes of the Modified Water Deliveries project and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Public Law (PL) 101-229 (December 13, 1989) articulates that the Everglades is both nationally and internationally significant and sets forth specific goals and objectives for acquisition of properties in this area. Acquisition of FPL’s property through an exchange of lands with NPS is also authorized by Public Law 111-11 (March 2009).
In June 2011, we conducted public scoping to obtain your input on the alternatives to be considered and issues to be addressed in the Draft EIS. After carefully considering more than 39,000 comments from the public, we evaluated a number of acquisition alternatives. The Draft EIS addresses the potential impacts from the acquisition of FPL land in the park, as well as the indirect impacts that could result from the subsequent construction and operation of transmission lines that could be built by FPL either inside or outside the park as a result of the land acquisition alternative selected. The alternatives are described in detail in Chapter 2 of the Draft EIS, and Chapter 4 details the impacts of implementing the alternatives.
• Under alternative 1a, the No-Action Alternative, the NPS would not take action to acquire FPL property within the park or a flowage easement on it. There would be no change in status of the FPL lands in the park, and this alternative assumes that FPL would not construct transmission lines. This is the alternative that all other alternatives are compared to in the EIS impact analysis.
• Under alternative 1b, the NPS would not take action to acquire FPL property within the park or a flowage easement on it. Although it represents the same land acquisition option as alternative 1a, this alternative assumes that FPL would construct transmission lines on its existing land in the park.
• Under alternative 2, the FPL corridor would be acquired directly by purchase or through the exercise of eminent domain authority by the United States. This alternative assumes that FPL would likely acquire a replacement corridor east of the existing park boundary and the transmission lines would be built outside of the park.
• Under alternative 3 or 4, the NPS would acquire fee title to the 320 acre FPL corridor through an exchange for park property (alternative 3) or an easement on that property (alternative 4). The exchange corridor would consist of 260 acres along 6.5 miles of the eastern boundary of the EEEA. Under alternative 3, the boundary of the park would be adjusted to remove the lands conveyed to FPL out of federal ownership. Under Alternative 4, the NPS would retain ownership of the 260 acre corridor and grant a utility easement to FPL. The construction scenario associated with these alternatives assumes that FPL would build the transmission lines in the exchange corridor and meet the terms and conditions agreed to in the exchange.
• Under alternative 5, the NPS would acquire a perpetual flowage easement on FPL’s property within the EEEA through purchase, condemnation, or donation by FPL. FPL would retain ownership of its corridor in the park during the term of the easement and could seek permits to construct transmission lines there. The construction scenario associated with this alternative would be the same as for alternative 1b.
The Draft EIS does not identify a preferred alternative and the NPS wants to obtain public input on the alternatives under consideration to help inform this important decision. A preferred alternative will be identified and announced in the Final EIS scheduled for completion in the autumn of 2014.
The Draft EIS is available for review and comment at: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectID=37220 (then go to the “Open for Comment” link).
We would appreciate receiving any comments you may have by Tuesday, March 18, 2014, the end of the public comment period, directly through the online link above. You may also comment via mail to: Everglades National Park FPL Project Planning Team, Attn: Morgan Elmer (DSC-P), P.O. Box 25287, Denver, CO 80225-0287; or by hand delivery to Park headquarters, at 40001 State Road 9336, Homestead, FL 33034-6733.
A limited number of paper copies and compact disks (CDs) of the Draft EIS are also available upon request by contacting Everglades National Park at 305-242-7700.
Thank you for your continued interest in Everglades National Park.
Dan B. Kimball
Brien F. Culhane
Chief, Planning and Compliance
Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks
40001 State Road 9336
Homestead, Florida 33034
Pebble Mine Could Devastate Alaska’s Bristol Bay Region, EPA Finds
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A government report indicates a large-scale copper and gold mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region could have devastating effects on the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and adversely affect Alaska Natives, whose culture is built around salmon.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday released its final assessment of the impact of mining in the Bristol Bay region. Its findings are similar to those of an earlier draft report, concluding that, depending on the size of the mine, up to 94 miles of streams would be destroyed in the mere build-out of the project, including losses of between 5 and 22 miles of streams known to provide salmon spawning and rearing habitat. Up to 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds and lakes also would be lost due to the mine footprint.
“Our report concludes that large-scale mining poses risks to salmon and the tribal communities that have depended on them for thousands of years. The assessment is a technical resource for governments, tribes and the public as we consider how to address the challenges of large-scale mining and ecological protection in the Bristol Bay watershed,” EPA regional administrator Dennis McLerran said in a statement.
The battle over the proposed Pebble Mine has been waged far outside the state’s borders, with environmental activists like actor Robert Redford opposing development. Multinational jewelers have said they won’t use minerals mined from the Alaska prospect, and pension funds from California and New York City pressured London-based Rio Tinto, a major shareholder of mine owner Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., to divest last year.
The Bristol Bay watershed produces about 46 percent of the world’s wild sockeye salmon, and salmon are key to the way of life for two groups of Alaska Natives living in the region, Yup’ik Eskimos and the Dena’ina. The report said the response of Native cultures to any mining impacts was unclear, though it said it could involve more than the need to compensate for lost food and include some degree of cultural disruption.
EPA initiated the review process in response to a request in 2010 from tribes and others in the region concerned about the impact of the proposed Pebble Mine on Bristol Bay fisheries. The report, however, is not meant to be about a single project.
Some see the mine as a way to provide jobs in the region, but others fear it would disrupt or devastate the local way of life. A citizens’ initiative scheduled to appear on the August primary ballot would require legislative approval for any large-scale mine in the region.
Supporters of the EPA process hoped it would lead the agency to block or limit the project, while opponents saw it as an example of government overreach and feared it would lead to a preemptive veto.
EPA has said its goal with the watershed assessment is to get the science right. In the report, EPA said the assessment will inform possible future government actions.
EPA said the report is not an in-depth assessment of a specific mine but a study of the possible impacts of reasonably foreseeable mining activities in the region. The agency said it drew on a preliminary plan published by Northern Dynasty Minerals and consulted with mining experts on reasonable scenarios.
The president of Northern Dynasty Minerals, in November, said if it appeared EPA was moving to take preemptive steps to in any way restrict permitting, the company would probably launch the permitting process on its own without waiting for a new partner.
The Pebble Partnership has called the mine deposit one of the largest of its kind in the world, with the potential of producing 80.6 billion pounds of copper, 107.4 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum over decades.
While EPA focused on the effects of one mine, the agency, in its report, said it’s possible that several mines could be developed in the watersheds studied, each of which would pose risks similar to those highlighted in the report.
The report also found that polluted water from the mine site could get into streams through runoff or uncollected leachate, even with the use of modern mining practices, raising in-stream copper levels that could affect salmon. It noted that culvert blockages or other failures could impede fish passage and that failure of a tailings dam —where mining waste is stored— could be catastrophic though the probability of such a failure is considered quite low.
The Clean Air Act saves millions of lives — both human and animal — from diseases caused by polluted air. But this bedrock law can’t do its job unless it’s enforced, and at the moment, in several states (plus Puerto Rico), that’s not happening. The EPA failed to develop air-quality plans to reduce soot — dangerous particulate pollution from coal-fired power plants and other sources — in Alaska, Iowa, Puerto Rico and Washington. So the Center has filed a notice of intent to sue if the agency doesn’t clean up its act.
Soot pollution, called “particulate matter” by the EPA, certainly comes in small units: It’s made up of tiny particles about 30 times smaller than the width of the average human hair.
But in fact its size is part of what makes it so dangerous: Soot’s microscopic particles can lodge deep in the lungs, posing serious health risks to humans and wildlife. It also hurts ecosystems and creates regional haze, fouling scenic vistas in cities, national parks and wilderness areas.
Read more in the San Francisco Chronicle
All Aboard Florida Kicks Off in High Gear, Addressing the Tourism Industry’s Finest
All Aboard Florida’s President and Chief Operating Officer Don Robinson addressed the international and domestic tourism trade Wednesday for the first time, sharing details on All Aboard Florida and its history-making impact on the state’s tourism future during the 38th annual Florida Huddle, the state’s longest-running tourism symposium.
By offering a new, express, intercity passenger rail system, All Aboard Florida will encourage more in-state tourism leading to greater opportunities for promoting Florida’s many offerings in exciting new ways through creative packaging, visitor programs, promotions, and other cross-marketing endeavors.
“All Aboard Florida will change the tourism landscape and how Florida residents and visitors travel throughout the state’s major destinations by providing an unmatched hospitality-driven experience – from on-board Wi-Fi, dining and entertainment, to service options designed to meet a variety of passenger wants and needs,” said Mr. Robinson. “In addition, All Aboard Florida will drive tourism growth for the rail’s four destination markets by helping each expand their appeal to new customer segments.”
Florida continues to break tourism records, experiencing a rise of 2.3 percent year over year. In 2012, more than 91 million visited the state, and more than 72 million visitors in the first three quarters of 2013. Those numbers are expected to keep growing, which is why an intercity passenger rail system connecting two of the states most visited and populated regions is so important.
The 38th annual Florida Huddle was held January 14-16, 2014 at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach. Florida Huddle brings together every region of Florida’s tourism industry under one roof for a three-day convention to facilitate meetings with tour operators and wholesalers, spotlight destinations and attractions, and forecast travel trends for the coming year.
All Aboard Florida Team
Please visit our website for more information and share this email with interested parties so they can receive updates from All Aboard Florida. Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Oil Train Safety Issues Were Known Before Recent Crashes, NBC Investigation Shows
Several recent deadly and destructive derailments have drawn greater attention to using railroads to ship crude oil, but a new NBC News investigation found that federal regulators have known about the risks for some time.
Overloading trains and mislabeling tanks are among the problems that officials flagged months before the deadly crash at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec in July 2013 according to U.S. government report obtained by NBC. It’s unclear if the report was shared with Canadian railroad regulators.
A team of hazardous materials inspectors with the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration visited dozens of rail facilities in North Dakota in the fall of 2011 and again in June 2012. The officials found overloaded tank cars to be a “major problem,” and noted that it was caused by the fact that many of the truckers who transport the crude from well sites to the trains lacked the ability to effectively measure the weight of the load entering the tank cars.
Inspectors said there is a regional shortage of rail tank cars. Their reports even cited one company that transloads oil from trucks into trains that was found shipping the product in tank cars that weren’t up to code. Pressure on the loading company to ship the oil, according to the report, “was more than the risk of failure in transportation or discovery by FRA.”
During a second round of visits to facilities in North Dakota in 2012, inspectors discovered that some companies had also mislabeled the oil as less flammable than it really was. NBC explains:
Companies handling relatively dangerous crude were shipping it under labels meant for more stable, less flammable crude, inspectors found. Paperwork at the facilities showed the companies were dealing with crude designated as Packing Group I or II, designations for high or moderate risk materials.
But inspectors noted the oil was going out as Packing Group III — the lower-risk designation often used for traditional, heavier crude. Inspectors noted that the designation could “affect the selected emergency response and even the type of package required or tank car in this case,” regulators wrote.
The Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued an alert on January 2 stating, “recent derailments and resulting fires indicate that the type of crude oil being transported from the Bakken region may be more flammable than traditional heavy crude oil.”
North Dakota has seen a boom in oil and gas production from the Bakken formation, which underlies part of the state (along with portions of Montana, Manitoba and Saskatchewan). More than 10 percent of U.S. oil production now comes from this rock formation and the hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil produced every day in North Dakota exceed the capacity of existing pipeline infrastructure. Many oil producers have turned to rail to ship their crude to refineries. Most U.S. oil pipelines run north-south, but the Bakken producers’ light crude usually fetches a higher price at markets on the east or west coast, InsideClimate News explains.
Over 99.99 percent of hazardous material rail shipments reach their destinations safely, according to the railroad industry, but the oil-by-rail boom has brought several notable, and fiery, crashes in recent years.
In July 2013, a 72-car oil train from North Dakota derailed and exploded in the small town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec killing 47 people and setting off a debate on railroad safety.
Another train derailment in North Dakota last month spilled about 400,000 gallons of crude.
There have also been numerous other incidents involving a class of rail tank car known as DOT-111. The DOT-111 — a giant, black, pill-shaped tanker that can carry 34,500 gallons of oil, chemicals, fuel or other liquids — represents 69 percent of all U.S. rail tank cars. Accidents are not unheard of for these cars, and the federal government has known about the DOT-111’s “inadequacy” for transporting certain materials since at least 1991.
In September, the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration announced it was seeking public comments for a new set of rules to improve the safety of railroad tank cars.
The Association of American Railroads — an industry trade group representing major freight carriers, Amtrak and some commuter railroads — announced in November that it supports efforts to improve the puncture resistance of new DOT-111s, make retrofits to older tank cars and phase-out those cars that cannot be retrofitted, among other changes.
“The industry, if they are motivated, can undertake preventative steps that will enhance the safety of the movement of these materials across the country,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said this week following a closed-door safety meeting with oil and railroad executives, according to the Associated Press. James Gerken|The Huffington Post | 01/17/2014
CES: Ford demos solar-powered plug-in car
LAS VEGAS — In the future, you’ll be able to recharge your electric car for free — using only the sun.
That’s Ford’s vision, at least. At the Consumer Electronics Show here, Ford is showing off a prototype of a solar-powered plug-in hybrid. The company has designed a system that will allow the car to use the sun to fully recharge its batteries in eight hours, given the amount of sunlight seen in a typical American city.
The car is basically a standard C-Max Energi plug-in onto which the company has affixed some of SunPower’s highest-efficiency solar panels, the X21s. They work in tandem with the car’s own sensors and a specially designed canopy that helps direct sunlight to the panels.
While the SunPower panels are among the most efficient on the market, they only convert about 21 percent of sun energy into electricity. As such, they aren’t enough to fully recharge the C-Max’s 8 kWh during the day. In fact, over the course of eight hours, the panels on the C-Max would only be able to replenish about 1kWh of energy, said Ford’s Mike Tinskey, Ford’s global director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure.
So, the company has designed an aluminum canopy to hold acrylic magnifying lenses that would concentrate sunlight onto the solar panels. The lenses would essentially increase the amount of sunlight hitting the panels eight times, allowing them to fully recharge the car’s battery in eight hours.
Well, they would, if the sun stayed stationary in the sky for that full time. But it doesn’t, of course. So Ford’s solar recharging system envisions using the car’s sensors and capability for autonomous movements to continually, but gradually, reposition the car during the day so the optimum amount of sunlight is hitting the solar panels. The car would move in 1-inch increments, moving about 7 feet during the course of the day to follow the sun.
For now, the system is simply a prototype. Ford hasn’t committed to building the car or the canopy. And the company is wrestling with how to address serious questions concerning its feasibility, Tinskey said.
In particular, the company needs to show that the system will be robust enough to handle potentially dangerous weather events, such as hailstorms. The company also needs to figure out how to protect people from being harmed by the solar concentrator. And it’s still working on the business model.
Showing that the system is robust shouldn’t be difficult, Tinskey said; the solar panels are the same as those that are already mounted on the roofs of homes, so they’re already built to withstand things like hail. And Ford has some ideas on how to protect people from the solar rays. One possible solution would be a system that would electrically change the transparency of the lens when the canopy detected people or animals nearby.
In terms of the business case, the canopy is designed to be relatively low cost, and, by providing free power, could potentially save consumers significant money on their electrical bills, argued Tinskey. It also could make a lot of sense in areas of the world whose electrical grids are underdeveloped or as a greenhouse gas-saving measure in areas that generate electricity from carbon-spewing coal. And, the system could prove a relatively low-cost alternative for companies exploring options for allowing their employees to recharge their electric cars.
But he acknowledged that the system won’t be practical for all consumers. They’ll have to have a sufficient space for their cars to move and track the sun. And the car will have to be able to move in an east-to-west direction.
Those and other to-be-resolved issues are “why we’re calling this a concept,” Tinskey said. He added, “We want to start the discussion.”
Popularity of plug-in vehicles on the rise
Good news for those living at the intersection of manufacturing and environmentalism. Here in the U.S., sales of plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles almost doubled between 2012 and 2013 with an 84 percent jump to 96,600 of the vehicles sold. That’s 49,000 plug-in hybrids (like the Volt) and 47,600 pure battery powered plug-in vehicles sold.
Michigan resident and a guy concerned with environmental and sustainability issues, I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the auto industry. On one hand, auto emissions are a main source of greenhouse gasses and the international thirst for oil, as gasoline production accounts for almost half of our oil use. On the other hand, friends, family, neighbors and the community depend very notably on income from the auto-manufacturing sector.
The foundry just a few hundred feet from where I grew up employs hundreds of good folks with good paying jobs and benefits. They manufacture parts for car companies, both foreign and domestic. So when things are going well for the auto industry, the local economy does decent. But when the domestic auto industry is in a slump, the economy pretty much collapses. There was about a 10-year stretch until the recent auto rescue when the Michigan economy was in a free-fall and lost almost a million jobs in a decade. WUMP. And believe me, you could see it every day in the news: companies and mom-and-pop shops closing; layoff reports; and boarded-up windows at malls and local retail spaces.
I definitely cheer the resurgence of the auto industry as it puts people and manufacturers back to work. And I even admit that I kind of like the smell of the foundry air when I happen to be at the hardware store near my old neighborhood.
Eric Justian| Triple Pundit|January 13, 2014
Read more at ENN affiliate Triple Pundit.
U.N. Study: Worldwide E-Waste Expected to Grow by a Third
End-of-life electronics worldwide are expected to increase by 33 percent in just five years, reaching 65.5 million metric tons annually by 2017, according to a recent study (PDF) from Solving the E-Waste Problem (StEP) Initiative, a U.N.-backed alliance.
To put that startling figure in perspective, that much e-waste could fill a line of 40-ton trucks end to end on a highway straddling three-quarters of the equator.
While most of these used products are destined for disposal, gradually improving efforts in some regions are diverting some of it to recycling and reuse.
StEP graphically portrayed the escalating global e-waste problem in a first-of-its-kind online interactive map. Presenting comparable annual data from 184 countries, the map shows the estimated amount of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE — anything with a battery or a cord) put on the market and how much resulting e-waste is eventually generated.
By providing a better sense of anticipated e-waste quantities, the initiative is expected to help governments and companies plan e-waste management.
The map shows, for example, that almost 48.9 million metric tons of used electrical and electronic products were produced last year — an average of 43 pounds (comparable to eight red clay bricks) for each of the world’s 7 billion people.
“Although there is ample information about the negative environmental and health impacts of primitive e-waste recycling methods, the lack of comprehensive data has made it hard to grasp the full magnitude of the problem,” Ruediger Kuehr of the United Nations University, and executive secretary of the StEP Initiative, said in a news release.
“We believe that this constantly updated, map-linked database showing e-waste volume by country, together with legal texts, will help lead to better awareness and policy making at the public and private levels.”
The StEP e-waste world map database shows that in 2012, China and the United States topped the world’s totals in market volume of EEE and e-waste. China put the highest volume of EEE on the market in 2012 — 11.1 million tons, followed by the U.S. at 10 million tons.
However, the world’s two biggest economies were far apart when it came to the amount of annual e-waste per person. The U.S. was highest among major countries (and seventh overall), with each American responsible for an average 65.6 pounds of high-tech trash. That was almost six times higher than China’s per capita figure of 11.9 pounds.
For more information on e-waste around the world, check out the StEP E-Waste World Map Mary Mazzoni| 01/14/14
The Importance of E-Cycling
Why Recycle Electronics?
You’ll help decrease the amount of toxins such as lead, mercury and cadmium that enter the environment. Valuable natural resources such as gold, copper and nickel are recovered in the e-cycling process and returned to market in new products. It takes less energy to recover and recycle natural resources than to mine them from the earth, reducing the use of fossil fuels and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. People love their electronic devices, until those devices stop working or become obsolete. Those formerly state-of-the-art gadgets suddenly become expendable.
If tossed in the garbage, electronics can become toxic to people and the environment.
“The fastest growing waste stream is electronics,” said Angie Ransom with Electronic Recyclers International. “Electronics contain all kinds of different hazards – like TV screens that are CRT material. There’s lead in the glass of CRT.”
Lead, cadmium, and mercury are some of the hazardous components from electronic gadget that can seep into and contaminate groundwater.
Ransom says proper disposal of electronics can be helpful in many ways.
“Number one is recovering valuable commodities. So, by recycling electronics, we’re able to recapture plastics, glass, metals and send them to smelters to be reused and put into new electronics or other things like car bumpers or park benches or anything else,” she said.
Fewer than half of U.S. states ban e-waste from their landfills. Nevada does not, so recycling electronics becomes a conscious choice for local consumers.
“We want to discourage residents from putting things on the curb,” said Tracy Skenandore with Republic Services. “Your TVs, your computers, your laptops, your monitors, save those and make sure you’re disposing of them responsibly and properly. Unfortunately, if you do put them at the curb, they do end up going to the landfill.”
Because the process of deconstructing and recycling electronics – especially televisions – can be tedious and costly, green recycling companies are hard to find. Skenandore says if residents have the option, they often recycle.
“At the heart of recycling, I think is feeling that you’re doing the right thing for the environment,” she said. “You’re protecting our local environment. You’re keeping our community clean and green, and you’re doing the right thing.” Please recycle responsibly, Before you toss, see if you can reuse or repurpose your electronic devices or pass them on to someone who can use them. Many retailers and manufacturers offer e-cycling programs. For a list of participants, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or research by zip code at Earth 911. Rechargeable Batteries:
Click here for information about the disposal of rechargeable batteries. Regular Household Batteries:
Common household alkaline batteries, such as AA and D, are safe to dispose of in your regular garbage. The Federal Battery Act of 1996 prohibited the use of mercury in household batteries, resulting in an alkaline battery that is no longer considered toxic by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Ancient Rock Art in Texas Yields ‘Surprising’ New Finds
New technology is providing unexpected insights into some of the most distinctive rock art in the American West, archaeologists say.
The canyonlands of Texas’ Lower Pecos River are home to thousands of grand, colorful pictographs — depictions of people, animals, spirits, and often inscrutable symbols — painted in caves as much as 4,000 years ago.
But recent research is yielding new impressions of the ancient glyphs, revealing for example that prehistoric artists who painted in different styles used different ingredients for their pigments.
What’s more, new dating techniques suggest that a signature style of Lower Pecos rock art may have persisted thousands of years longer than had been thought.
Dr. Karen Steelman, a specialist in archaeological chemistry at the University of Central Arkansas, came upon these findings with her colleagues while studying the pictographs of Seminole Canyon State Park in southwest Texas.
Although many of the park’s images had been analyzed before, Steelman’s team brought a new technology to the task: portable X-ray fluorescence (pXRF).
Using a handheld pXRF device, which looks something like a state trooper’s radar gun, the archaeologists were able to scan rock paintings on site and get immediate readings on the chemical makeup of the pigments used to make them.
With support from the archaeology nonprofit SHUMLA, the team used this technology on different styles and sizes of pictographs in order to compare results.
In Seminole Canyon’s Black Cave, for instance, the scientists analyzed giant tableaux painted in what’s thought to be the region’s earliest style, known simply as the Pecos River Style — featuring colorful, towering human-like figures sporting headdresses, holding staffs, and flanked by animals or shamanic symbols.
But the same cave also bears pictures made in a simpler, smaller-scale style known as Red Linear — portraying stick-like figures of people and animals in more quotidian scenes, like hunting parties or fertility rites.
Blake de Pastino| Jan 09,2014
New Pumpout Boats Help Keep Waterways Clean
Martin County’s recent purchase of two new pumpout boats through the Florida Clean Vessel Act Grant Program will help keep sewage waste out of local waterways. For years, Martin County has provided the free, on-call service that pumps sewage out of anchored or docked recreational boats in the St. Lucie River or Indian River Lagoon then unloads the waste into a sanitary sewer system. The job just got easier with the acquisition of two 23-foot pumpout vessels, each equipped with a 420-gallon waste storage tank, built specifically for the job by Marine Boatbuilders Co. in Warwick, R.I.
The pumpout vessels make it convenient for recreational boaters to safely dispose of sewage. The Clean Vessel Act of 1992 banned the discharge of raw sewage into fresh water or within coastal salt-water limits and also established a grant program for states. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Sustainable Initiatives administers the Clean Vessel Act grants for pumpout facilities, pumpout vessels and for boater education. A $150,000 grant from the Department helped Martin County purchase the vessels for $200,000. The Department helped the City of Punta Gorda acquire a similar pumpout vessel earlier in 2013.
For more information about the Clean Vessel Act and efforts in Florida to reduce sewage entering waterways, click here.
depdbilbow | January 13, 2014
FWC names Lee Lawshe 2014 Officer of the Year
He has rescued a man missing for days in a swamp, apprehended a suspect during a manhunt, caught people illegally harvesting redfish, trespassing and harming gopher tortoises, and helped with a murder investigation. And all of that was just in 2013.
For his exceptional performance, Officer Lee Lawshe was named the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Officer of the Year. Lawshe, who works in St. Johns County, will represent the FWC throughout 2014 at various events.
“The number of cases Officer Lawshe has been involved with is truly impressive,” said Col. Calvin Adams, director of the FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement. “But while his accomplishments are great, it is his attitude and humble demeanor that set him apart.”
In addition to the cases mentioned above, and others, Lawshe reached nearly 3,000 different people in 2013 through hunter education classes, elementary school demonstrations, fairs, parades and other events.
“He uses outreach events to educate children and adults about conservation and to spread the message about what the FWC does,” said Lt. Ben Allen, Lawshe’s supervisor.
Lawshe doesn’t limit his positive influence to official events, though. He uses countless interactions with the public each day to make a difference in his community and the state.
“His efforts lead to better protection of Florida’s people and natural resources,” Adams said.
Lawshe’s hard work also helps make public lands a better place to hunt, fish and recreate. He has addressed complaints from the public about illegal fishing activity at Guana Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and deer poaching on Relay WMA. He has also caught people placing bait on public lands.
“Lawshe is also called upon frequently by other law enforcement agencies for his skills at working in the woods and his hard-working nature,” Allen said.
In 2013, Lawshe assisted the Florida Highway Patrol in finding a driver who had fled a traffic accident and was hiding in the woods, helped the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office apprehend a suspect during a manhunt in a wooded area, searched for evidence in the woods regarding a burnt vehicle case and helped recover a body in a murder investigation. He has also instructed two local SWAT teams in man-tracking.
“We’re fortunate to have Officer Lawshe on our team,” Adams said. “The whole state of Florida is fortunate to have him. He not only provides exceptional service on a daily basis, but he sets an example for others as well.”
Lawshe comes from a long line of outdoorsmen. After serving in the U.S. Army, his passion for the outdoors led him to pursue a career with the FWC. He began work in Martin County in 2008 and now lives in St. Johns County with his wife and two sons.
We are proud to announce that the theme of Earth Day 2014 is Green Cities.
Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. As the urban population grows and the effects of climate change worsen, our cities have to evolve.
It’s time for us to invest in efficiency and renewable energy, rebuild our cities and towns, and begin to solve the climate crisis. That’s what the Green Cities campaign is all about.
Over the next two years Earth Day Network will mobilize a global movement to accelerate the transition to green cities. With your support, we will push government officials to improve energy efficiency, advance renewable energy, and implement green building practices. We will educate the public and transform our communities through on-the-ground projects. And we will advocate for healthy, green schools for our children.
The first step is ensuring that our communities are powered by renewable energy—not fossil fuels—and have clean air. That’s why we are calling on the UN to support an international ban on new coal power plants.
Visit the Green Cities website to learn more about the campaign and find other ways to participate.
We’ve come to an important crossroads. We can continue on our current path, or we can choose a future of more sustainable cities, cleaner water and air, and a better quality of life. Help us make the right choice.
Thanks for your support.
-The Earth Day Network Team
See 8 Incredible Animal Migrations
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