ConsRep 1603 C

It’s ironic that those who till the soil, cultivate and harvest the fruits, vegetables and other foods that fill your tables with abundance have nothing left for themselves.
Cesar Chavez

Announcements

  Editors Note

As some of you know, this blog began life as the monthly conservation report for the South Florida Audubon Society, for which I have been the Conservation Chair over the past 8 years. Effective immediately, I am stepping down from the Chair position to devote more time to instituting a wildlife policy for Broward County. The new Conservation Chair may or may not choose to continue this blog, but in any case, this will be my last post.

I have enjoyed immensely the opportunity to serve my appreciative readers and value greatly the positive feedback I have received from the readers of this blog. I wish all much success in the world of conservation and it has been a pleasure to be a portion of our environmental stewardship.

Grant Campbell|Director of Wildlife Policy|South Florida Audubon Society

Endangered Species

Bison coming ‘home’ to Montana reservation

BILLINGS, Mont. – Descendants of a bison herd captured and sent to Canada more than 140 years ago will be relocated to a Montana American Indian reservation next month, in what tribal leaders bill as a homecoming for a species emblematic of their traditions.

The shipment of animals from Alberta’s Elk Island National Park to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation follows a 2014 treaty among tribes in the United States and Canada. That agreement aims to restore bison to areas of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains where millions once roamed.

“For thousands of years, the Blackfeet lived among the buffalo here. The buffalo sustained our way of life, provided our food, clothing, shelter,” Blackfeet Chairman Harry Barnes said. “It became part of our spiritual being. We want to return the buffalo.”

The 89 plains bison, also known as buffalo, will form the nucleus of a herd that tribal leaders envision will soon roam freely across a vast landscape: the Blackfeet reservation, nearby Glacier National Park and the Badger-Two Medicine wilderness — more than 4,000 square miles combined.

Bison were hunted to near-extinction in the late 1800s as European settlers advanced across the once-open American West.

Most of the animals that survive today are in commercial herds, raised for their meat and typically interbred with cattle. The Blackfeet have a commercial bison herd established in 1972 that numbers more than 400 animals.

The lineage of Elk Island’s bison, which experts say are free of cattle genes, traces back to a small group of animals captured by several American Indians on Blackfeet land just south of Canada.

Those bison were later sold to two men, Charles Allard and Michel Pablo, who formed what became known as the Pablo-Allard herd. By the early 1900s, the Pablo-Allard herd was said to be the largest collection of the animals remaining in the U.S.

After U.S. officials rejected a sale offer from Pablo, the Canadian government purchased most of the bison. The animals were then shipped by train from Ravalli, Montana, to Elk Island, according to park officials and Western historians.

“They’ve made a big circle, but now they’re coming home,” said Ervin Carlson, a Blackfeet member and president of the Intertribal Buffalo Council.

The relocation comes as the restoration of genetically pure bison to the West’s grasslands and forests has gained traction. The efforts include the relocation of some genetically pure bison from Yellowstone National Park to two Indian reservations in eastern and central Montana.

The tribes — the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation and the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes of the Fort Belknap Reservations — are signatories to the 2014 treaty. But ranchers and landowners near the reservations have strongly opposed the tribes’ plans, driven by concerns about disease and the prospect of bison competing with cattle for grass.

Brucellosis, the disease found in Yellowstone’s bison herds, is absent from Canada’s Elk Island, according to the park’s superintendent, Stephen Flemming.

“The difficulty (with Yellowstone bison) is the stigma attached to them. In this case, the animals (coming from Canada) have never been exposed to brucellosis,” said Keith Aune with the Wildlife Conservation Society, which has been working with the Blackfeet on their bison program.

The Blackfeet will lend 20 of the Elk Island bison to the Oakland Zoo in California for a special exhibit slated to open this fall, according to tribal officials and the zoo’s president, Joel Parrott.

Offspring from the animals would be returned to Montana, and there are plans to promote eco-tours to the Blackfeet Reservation among zoo patrons.

“Bison historically are native California animals, too,” Parrott said.

MATTHEW BROWN|ASSOCIATED PRESS

Genetically Pure Bison Will Return to Montana After 100 Years in Exile

Next week, the Blackfeet Tribe will receive 89 buffalo calves that descended from Montana stock in a Canadian National Park

Walking Bison

A bison takes a stroll down the road in Elk Island National Park, Alberta (Paul Horsley/All Canada Photos/Corbis)

From now until April 4th, 89 American bison calves wait in quarantine. When the fateful day finally arrives, the group will be trucked over the Canadian border and released at a ranch along the Two Medicine River, the area of Montana their ancestors called home 140 years ago.

The genetically pure buffalo, Bison bison, are part of a plan by the Blackfeet tribe to restore the giant bovines to their reservations, bordered by the Lewis and Clark National Forest and Glacier National Park.

Back in 1872, Chris Peterson of Hungry Horse News reported that a Salish and Kootenai Warrior named Running Coyote was having trouble with his tribe. As an apology, he and several friends rounded up buffalo calves on Blackfeet land and brought them over the Continental Divide to the Salish and Kootenai as a gift. The apology didn’t really work out, and ranchers Charles Allard and Michel Pablo took charge of the bison herd, eventually growing it to 300 animals over the next 25 years.

Near the turn of the century, disputes over grazing rights meant the herd had to be sold. Teddy Roosevelt reportedly wanted the animals, but Congress wouldn’t release the funds. So Pablo sold the buffalo to the Canadian government, which shipped the animals to Elk Island National Park, outside Edmonton, Alberta, where the herd has stayed for over 100 years.

Now, according to Matthew Brown from the Associated Press, the bison are being repatriated as part of treaty between U.S. and Canadian tribes signed in 2014. “For thousands of years the Blackfeet lived among the buffalo here. The buffalo sustained our way of life, provided our food, clothing, shelter,” Blackfeet chairman Harry Barnes tells Brown. “It became part of our spiritual being. We want to return the buffalo.”

The tribe hopes that the calves will form the nucleus of a herd that could eventually include 500 to 1,000 free-roaming animals. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which tracks endangered animals, there are currently only 15,000 wild free-range bison in the North America out of the half of a million remaining animals. That’s a far cry from the 30 to 60 million buffalo that once roamed the continent and were wiped out by European settlers.

Not everyone is excited, however, about restoring the bovines to the natural landscape. Ranchers fear the buffalo will compete with cattle for grazing land and are afraid the animals will carry brucellosis, a bacterial disease that interferes with cattle reproduction. That’s one reason the National Park Service has culled hundreds of bison in Yellowstone National Park in recent years, to prevent them from leaving the park boundaries and mingling with nearby cattle.

“The difficulty [with Yellowstone bison] is the stigma attached to them. In this case, the animals [coming from Canada] have never been exposed to brucellosis,” Keith Aune with the Wildlife Conservation Society, which is working with the Blackfeet, tells Brown.

For the Blackfeet, the release is more than just an environmental triumph. Having free roaming buffalo in the area means a restoration of part of their traditional culture. “We’re releasing these animals back to the original landscape and back to management of the original people,” Aune tells Peterson. “This hasn’t been done anywhere else in the world.”

Jason Daley|smithsonian.com|March 29, 2016

White-Nose Syndrome Detected in Bats West of the Rockies for the First Time

The fungal disease, which has devastated bat populations in the Eastern U.S., has now shown up in Washington state

On March 11, a hiker near North Bend on the slopes of the Cascade Mountains in Washington state found a sick bat lying on the trail. He took the little brown bat, Myotis lucifugus, to the Progressive Animal Welfare Society where it died two days later.

At the time, a veterinarian at the clinic recognized that the bat had the signs of white-nose syndrome, a fungal infection caused by Pseudogymnoascus destructans—a diagnosis that the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department confirmed yesterday.

In the past 10 years, over 7 million bats in 25 states from New York to Nebraska have died from mysterious disease, but this is the first time the fungus has been recorded west of the Rockies, setting off alarm bells along the West coast.

“I think this is really bad,” Katie Gillies, director of the Imperiled Species Program at Bat Conservation International in Texas tells Darryl Fears at The Washington Post. “I really do think this is a big leap. Now we’re going to see it radiate from that new point. It’s like having breast cancer and finding that it’s metastasized.”

According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the white, fuzzy fungus grows on the nose, wings, and ears of bats as they hibernate during winter and can also damage skin tissue. The bats wake up more often during their long nap, burning through their limited fat reserves, which eventually leads to starvation. The disease can also cause wing damage, dehydration, and impaired circulation.

So far, researchers are not sure where the disease comes from, but they suspect it was transported from Europe on the gear of cavers. It is spread from bat to bat and through spores that can contaminate clothing, though the disease is not harmful to humans.

In the East, the disease has caused complete mortality of some bat colonies, and it has pushed the little brown bat, the most common bat in the U.S., to near extinction in New York and Pennsylvania. Many other bat species face catastrophic die-off rates over the next few decades.

According to the Seattle PI, authorities are sure that the affected bat comes from Washington and is not an eastern bat that lost its way because it is a subspecies of little brown bat that only occurs in the West. Eleven other species of bats in the state are also at risk from the disease.

Not only is the loss of bats bad for biodiversity, it also affects people. According to Fears, bats provide over $3 billion worth of insect removal to farmers annually, and one colony of 150 brown bats can eat enough cucumber beetles in a summer to prevent the hatching of 33 million rootworm larvae.

“The implications of losing our bat population can be potentially quite dire,” Washington Fish and Wildlife veterinarian Katie Haman said during a news conference. “The long term implications of catastrophic declines in our bat populations could be really hefty. Bats are incredibly important and the predictions from what we’ve learned in the Eastern ecosystem is that this could have really huge impacts.”

How the disease got to Washington and how long it has been in the state are not known. “This bat had the deterioration already, which suggests the fungus didn’t just get here this year,” Greg Falxa, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Fish and Game tells The Washington Post. “Who knows how it got here? Everything is speculation right now. We’re starting surveillance in that area.”

But Mollie Mattson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity has an opinion on how white-nose made it to the West. “This disease just made a jump of more than 1,000 miles, so it’s pretty reasonable to think this could be a human-caused transmission,” she says in a press release.

“What’s absolutely heartbreaking about this news is that there were obvious things wildlife and land managers could have done to stem the spread, including prohibiting nonessential cave access into public land caves. They could have passed rules requiring that no caving gear or clothing from WNS-positive states be allowed in caves in unaffected states,” she says. “This is a wake-up call for land managers in the West to do what’s needed to keep white-nose syndrome from spinning out of control before it’s too late.”

Jason Daley|smithsonian.com|April 1, 2016

The Perfect Crime: What’s Killing All the Bees?

Honey bee colonies have experienced widespread die-offs in a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Many beekeepers believe a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids are weakening their bees. Mega-corporations are making a killing off their pesticides—but are they also getting away with murder?

Court Overturns EPA Approval of Bee-Killing Pesticide

On September 10, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that EPA violated federal law when it approved sulfoxaflor without reliable studies regarding the impact that the insecticide would have on honeybee colonies. The Court vacated EPA’s approval, meaning that sulfoxaflor may not be used in the U.S. unless, and until, EPA obtains the necessary information regarding impacts to honeybees and re-approves the insecticide in accordance with law. Earthjustice represented the beekeeping industry writ large in this case.

Earlier in the year in another case, lead attorney Greg Loarie asked a California court to force the state Department of Pesticide Regulation to stop approving the use of neonicotinoids until it completes its review of the effects of these nicotine-derived pesticides on honey bees. Earthjustice represented Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, and Pesticide Action Network in this case.

1 In 2005, commercial beekeepers around the country started making an alarming discovery upon opening their bee boxes. A few males and a weakened queen bee were crawling around the comb, but the worker bees—the ones that forage in the flowers and supply the nectar that is the lifeblood to the colony—were gone.

While bee disappearances have occurred throughout the history of beekeeping, the mid-2000s events represented astounding losses, with researchers estimating that nearly one-third of all honey bees in America vanished.

2 In the eight years since scientists coined the phenomenon Colony Collapse Disorder, commercial beekeepers continue to see unprecedented die-offs leading them to speculate that something sinister has changed in the world of bees.

CCD has been attributed to a number of causes including mite infestation and pathogens, but for many beekeepers across the world, a primary suspect is a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. These chemicals came onto the market in the late-1990s and were approved in 2000 for application to corn, America’s #1 cash crop. It is now estimated that 90 percent of all corn seeds are coated with German agro-chemical manufacturer Bayer’s neonicotinoid pesticide. With the rise of the chemical’s use, there has been a steep drop off in honey production in the Corn Belt of the United States.

3 Neonicotinoids have largely replaced more toxic, but less systemic pesticides known as organophosphates. During die offs that involved organophosphates, dead bees were usually found in large numbers around the hive. But with CCD, there are hardly any bodies to be found—the majority of bees just disappear.

A growing body of studies show that neonics, even in low doses, impair bees’ ability to navigate. The foraging worker bees that come into contact with the pesticide may get disoriented, flying around until they eventually run out of gas, lost in the field. With a loss of worker bees bringing food back to the hive, the entire colony suffers.

4 Bill Rhodes is a Florida beekeeper and former pro-football player. Since the 1970s, Rhodes has been shipping bees across the country, migrating hives to Wisconsin, the Dakotas, out to California and back down to Florida. Chemical companies claim the neonics aren’t to blame for CCD and instead point to things like varroa mite infestation, starvation, and even beekeeper neglect.

5 A certain amount of colony loss per year is normal in the business. To make up for the lost colonies, a beekeeper will typically divide healthy colonies and coax them up to strength by introducing a new queen bee. Rhodes usually splits his colonies during the fall and says they’ve always bounced back to full strength continuing to produce the fall honey that keeps them going through the winter.

In 2005 when he split his colonies, he noticed his bees didn’t respond the same way. “They didn’t want to make any honey to speak of,” Rhodes says. “They didn’t want to expand. We went ahead and split them anyway and fed them supplemental feed, and the bees just never did squat. We thought, what in the world happened to these bees?”

6 Almond growers rely entirely on honey bees to pollinate their orchards. California, the state that produces nearly 82 percent of the world’s almonds, must import honey bees from other states for the bloom to sustain their $2.3 billion-a-year crop.

At the end of summer 2005, Rhodes was scheduled to ship 16 semi-truck loads of bees from South Dakota to California where they would work the almond bloom. Before shipping them, Rhodes’ foreman in South Dakota called him up and told him the bees were looking odd. Because Rhodes had contracts to fulfill, he went ahead and shipped them anyway.

7 Once in California, Rhodes went out to inspect the hives, marking them and returning within the week to check again. “The hive would look entirely different,” Rhodes said. “It was like something just had it by the throat and was just pulling the strength from it. We had no idea what it was.”

He later learned that a neonicotinoid chemical had been approved in 2004 for sunflowers. They were the last thing that bloomed in South Dakota before Rhodes moved his bees out of the state. Out of the 16 semi-truck loads of bees he sent to California in 2005, only two of them were fit for pollinating the almonds. Rhodes estimates it cost him between $800,000 and $900,000 that year in losses.

Anderson joined a group of commercial beekeepers, the Pollinator Stewardship Council and other beekeeping organizations in a lawsuit represented by Earthjustice to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to rubber-stamp the approval of sulfoxaflor, a neonicotinoid insecticide that shows extreme toxicity to bees.

On September 10, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the EPA’s approval of sulfoxaflor, concluding that EPA violated federal law when it approved sulfoxaflor without reliable studies regarding the impact that the insecticide would have on honeybee colonies. The Court vacated EPA’s approval, meaning that sulfoxaflor may not be used in the U.S. unless, and until, EPA obtains the necessary information regarding impacts to honeybees and re-approves the insecticide in accordance with law.

Earthjustice has also been asked to represent beekeepers in another case, taking on the neonicotinoids clothianidin and thiamethoxam, which have also shown to be highly toxic to bees.

9 Anderson spends the springtime in California when the nut and fruit trees are flowering. During the almond bloom in early spring about 1.6 million colonies, or half the nation’s honey bees, are actively pollinating the Golden State’s orchards. Anderson used to commit all his colonies to cherries after almonds, but because of the pesticide issues he’s been dealing with in Minnesota, he’s now decided to “rest” many of his bees, turning them out in natural forage areas and wildflowers to detox them.

10 Anderson keeps bees in both California and Minnesota and says the Midwestern bees are faring far worse. Not only are the crops in the heartland blasted with pesticides, but farmers have moved away from traditional crop rotation practices, instead planting vast expanses of mono-crops like corn or soybeans.

“The environment has become toxic and sick bees don’t make honey. Most of it is pesticide-related, but when you also just have a field of soybeans and dirt, or corn and dirt, or wheat and dirt, unless that particular crop is actively in bloom, you have a forage desert for pollinators.”

The environment has become toxic—and sick bees don’t make honey.

11 Bees have an electromagnetic charge turning them into little flying magnets, which carry and transfer pollen from flower to flower. This is how the trees reproduce. It takes about two hives, or 60,000 bees, to pollinate each orchard acre.

By some counts, pollinators such as bees and butterflies are responsible for one out of every three bites of food Americans eat.

Honey bees in particular are responsible for pollinating many of our super-foods: the berries, nuts, avocados, and many other colorful and nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables that make up the healthiest parts of our diet.

12 A healthy hive has 30,000 bees, 94 percent of which are the female worker bees.

The worker bee’s job is to go out to the flowers and gather nectar from the blossoms to bring back to the colony. The nectar mixes with an enzyme in the bees’ mouth and is deposited into the honeycomb in the hive. The nectar naturally has high water content, but the bees help to evaporate the excess water by fanning their wings over the honeycomb. Once the liquid turns into a thick syrup, the bees cap the hole with wax. During the long winter months when there are no flowers, the hive survives by feeding off the capped honey reserves.

13 Spotty, uneven brood pattern where the eggs are laid indicates a sick or aging queen bee. When a colony determines its queen is impaired, it will drive her out of the hive and try to replace her with a new queen.

The large contusion in the middle of the comb above indicates where the colony attempted to hatch its own queen bee, feeding the female larva copious amounts of a special food mixture called royal jelly that will help her develop ovaries for reproduction. Beekeepers prefer not to allow the colony to create its own queen because it slows down pollination and honey production. A beekeeper instead will examine the brood pattern in the honeycomb and root out a weak queen and replace it with a new queen cell.

Jeff Anderson says queen bees used to live as long as two to three years. Now they only last about six months.

14 To make up for lost hives, Anderson used to split about 25 to 30 percent of his colonies to keep his population stable. Since CCD, he’s had to split upwards of 110 to 130 percent of his hives, meaning he’s divided hives that have already been split once before in a given year.

A single beekeeper can manage about 1,000 hives when the hives are healthy, Anderson says. Since the emergence of CCD, now a beekeeper can only handle about 500 hives to keep them alive.

15 Anderson has enlisted several of his children to help him with the business. He inherited the beekeeping business from his father-in-law and had hoped his sons would take up the family trade, but he’s a realist about the future of the business. “Three of my boys are currently working for me. All three will tell you they are not sure they want to become owners of a bee business.”

Anderson has been beekeeping since 1976 and has never experienced the level of loss as he’s seen in recent years. Last winter, he lost 67 percent of his colonies. His typical winter colony loss prior to 2005 was about 6 percent.

16 Minnesota beekeeper Steve Ellis spent more than $20,000 in 2014 trying to save colonies that he’d shipped to California thinking they were healthy, but which quickly fell apart upon arrival to the West Coast.

He sent 450 weakened colonies to a specialist in southern California who was able to keep 280 of the colonies alive. However, only 40 of those colonies were fit enough to be used for pollination in almonds, meaning 90 percent represented a financial loss.

“I fell in love with beekeeping and I’m not ready to leave the marriage yet,” Ellis says. “But you do have to be a little bit on the practical side too. How many years of loss am I willing to bear with right now before I start to say maybe I’m going to have to cut back and become a hobbyist?”

17 Ellis likens the bees that are exposed to neonics to cancer patients. Even if they don’t die from the chemical, their immune systems are weakened enough to make them susceptible to other ailments.

“When bees come in contact with a lot of these chemicals, it makes them sick and it also makes them mad,” Ellis said. “It’s part of the disorientation. They’re jumpy. They sting more, which also kills them. It’s no fun to work bad bees. It’s just about the most depressing thing a beekeeper can do.”

18 Commercial beekeepers aren’t the only ones suffering from the impact of neonicotinoids. Erin MacGregor-Forbes is an urban beekeeper in Maine who runs a small-scale operation more for fun than profit. Her backyard beekeeping operation keeps the neighborhood pollinated and her 100 or so colonies produce between 7,000 to 10,000 lbs of honey each year, which she sells at stores locally.

19 While MacGregor-Forbes’ bees don’t face the same stress from toxic mega-farms, hers are susceptible to a different kind of threat: Pesticide-doused plants that people are unknowingly putting in their gardens.

Many of the plants available for sale at Home Depot, Lowes, or other garden supply stores have been treated with neonicotinoids. Lawn fertilizers also frequently contain weed-killing substances that persist in the soil for years. While bees don’t bother with grass, if a homeowner decides to build a garden or plant bee-friendly clover in tainted soil, the bees will be exposed.

“Homeowners are planting flowers in their yards thinking they’re helping bees and they’re basically planting poison plants,” she says.

Homeowners are planting flowers in their yards thinking they’re helping bees—and they’re basically planting poison plants.

20 Charles Walters and his wife Maxine, the 2013 West Virginia Beekeepers of the Year, keep about 250 hives and produce honey and beeswax products while also breeding queens for sale to small scale hobbyists. He avoids orchards and tries to keep his bees only on natural forage taking them up to New York State in the fall to feed on fields of goldenrod and aster. However, urban encroachment and increased use of systemic toxins like neonics in garden plants are always a worry.

“There’s only so much that we can control,” he says. “The more the population increases, of course you have more and more development. We are surrounded.”

21 Earthjustice is working on a number of pesticide-related cases to protect bees, the environment, and people who may be exposed to toxic chemicals. In addition to the successful lawsuit against EPA for approving sulfoxaflor, Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie has been developing a case with the help of pesticide researcher Susan Kegley to force the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to better regulate neonicotinoids. Earthjustice is also in court to take on other bee-killing pesticides, such as Valent U.S.A. Corporation’s Venom Insecticide and Mitsui Chemical Agro’s Dinotefuran 20SG.

“At the end of the day, the honey bee crisis is a human health crisis,” Loarie says. “If we can’t save bees, we can kiss goodbye the most nutritious part of the food pyramid. That’s just not an outcome we at Earthjustice are willing to accept.”

22 “The honey bees are great communicators of the insect world because they have figured out how to produce honey and also how to survive human manipulation,” says backyard Maine beekeeper Erin MacGregor-Forbes.

“Plants have hired bees to do their sexual reproduction and the bees have hired beekeepers to advocate for them and all the other wild species. Honey bees are building up a little system of advocates that other species of insects aren’t able to gather because they don’t communicate with us in the same way honey bees do.”  

Greg Loarie|Attorney|Earthjustice

Light-Up Fishing Nets Could Save Sea Turtles

New research shows attaching LED lights to fishing nets can keep turtles from becoming accidentally entangled

One of the many threats facing sea turtles, all species of which are categorized as threatened, is net fishing. Turtles can unwittingly become scooped up in fishing nets as bycatch.

Now, a team of scientists at the University of Exeter has discovered that attaching green LED lights to nets used by small-scale fisherman can reduce the number of green sea turtle deaths by 64 percent. The lights don’t seem to affect the number of fish caught, which means the intervention is less likely to be rejected by fisheries.

“Small-scale net fisheries are one of the most common fishing methods globally, and sea turtle bycatch in net fisheries is very high,” says Jeffrey Mangel, a Darwin Initiative research fellow based in Peru. “And yet very few solutions have been identified that can effectively reduce turtle bycatch in these types of fisheries.”

Many of these small-scale fisheries are in the developing world, which means any solution needs to be something inexpensive and easy to implement.

“The idea of using the lights comes from asking how we can change the behavior of animals, in this case sea turtles, in ways that can reduce their interactions with fishing gear,” Mangel says. “Animal behavior is driven in part by their senses—sight, smell, hearing—so in this study we wanted to see if by adding the light to the net, we could change turtle behavior and reduce their bycatch. And that seems to be the result.”

The study took place in a working fishery in Sechura Bay in northern Peru, which is home to multiple populations of sea turtles. Peru’s gillnet fishermen are estimated to set 100,000 kilometers of net each year, unintentionally killing thousands of sea turtles. The team used 114 pairs of nets, one with LED lights every ten meters along its floatline, and one unaltered to serve as a control. The control nets caught 125 turtles while the illuminated nets caught only 62.

Prior to the Peru study, initial trials on net illumination had been conducted by John Wang and Yonat Swimmer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Wang and Swimmer tested illuminated nets in Baja, Mexico, though not in an active fishery known for sea turtle bycatch.

In the Peru study, each LED light cost about $2, which meant the cost of saving a turtle was about $34. The team expects this price will go down if the LED nets are used on a larger scale.

The team’s next steps, which are already underway, are to test LED lights in other kinds of net fisheries. They’ll see whether combinations of different types of nets used with different types of target catch and different species of sea turtles will be effective. They’re also testing out different colors of lights to see if particular color wavelengths are more or less effective in reducing sea turtle bycatch and reducing effects on target catch. Additionally, they’re looking to see if light-up nets might reduce the bycatch of sea birds and small cetaceans such as dolphins. The team hopes light-up nets might be useful globally as an inexpensive solution to bycatch.  

“In an ideal world, net fisheries, like any other fishery, would be able to fish sustainably—both for their target catch species and for any incidental (or bycatch) species,” says Brendan Godley, a professor at the University of Exeter and a member of the team. “And in an ideal world, these fisheries would provide fishermen and fishing communities with sustainable livelihoods, that provide food and employment to these communities into the future.”

Emily Matchar|smithsonian.com|April 4, 2016

Two Appalachian Crayfishes Protected Under Endangered Species Act in Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va.— In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected two species of crayfish from Appalachia under the Endangered Species Act. The crayfishes have been lost from more than half of their ranges because of water pollution, primarily from coal mining. The Big Sandy crayfish is known only from the Big Sandy River basin in eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and southern West Virginia; the Guyandotte River crayfish is known only from the Guyandotte River basin in southern West Virginia.

“Protecting these two crayfishes under the Endangered Species Act will not only ensure their survival but will also protect streams and water quality that are important for people,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center and a native of southeastern Kentucky.

The Center and regional allies petitioned to protect the Big Sandy crayfish as an endangered species in 2010. The Guyandotte River crayfish, which was recently discovered to be a separate species from the Big Sandy crayfish, is now one of the most endangered crayfish in America, surviving only in a single county in West Virginia. Both crayfishes are sensitive to water pollution. The Big Sandy crayfish was first identified as being in need of federal protection in 1991.

The Big Sandy crayfish is known from Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties in Virginia, and from McDowell and Mingo counties in West Virginia. In Kentucky it is known from Floyd, Johnson, Lawrence, Pike and Martin counties. The Guyandotte River crayfish was known from Logan, Mingo and Wyoming counties in West Virginia, but survives only in Wyoming County. The crayfish are threatened by construction of the King Coal Highway and Coalfields Expressway, in addition to coal mining.

Today’s listing means that federal agencies will have to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service before funding or permitting any activity that could harm the animals, and it is now illegal for any person or corporation to harm the crayfishes or their habitat.

Crayfish are also known as crawdads, crawfish, mudbugs and freshwater lobsters. They’re considered a keystone animal because the holes they dig create habitat used by many other species, including fish. Crayfish keep streams cleaner by eating decaying plants and animals and are eaten, in turn, by fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, making them an important link in the food web. Because the Big Sandy and Guyandotte River crayfishes are sensitive to water pollution, they are indicator species of water quality.

In 2011 the Center for Biological Diversity entered into a landmark settlement agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service to expedite protection decisions for 757 imperiled species around the country. To date 146 species have gained protection under the agreement and another 34 have been proposed for protection.

One of the primary threats to the crayfish is mountaintop-removal coal mining. Recent scientific studies have concluded that pollution from mountaintop removal is harmful to fish, crayfish, mussels, amphibians and stream insects in Appalachia. Pollution from mountaintop removal is also associated with increased risk of cancer and birth defects in humans. More than 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia have been degraded by this mechanized form of mining, which employs far fewer people than other forms and perpetuates poverty by causing permanent and irreversible damage to the landscape.

Coal-field residents and allies are currently promoting the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, a federal bill that would place a moratorium on new mountaintop-removal permits until the federal government has completed and evaluated studies into health disparities in the region.

The Center for Biological Diversity

Wild & Weird

The London Underground Has Its Own Mosquito Subspecies

In any given year, over 1.3 billion passengers zip beneath London on its fabled Underground—the world’s first subway system. But something else lurks in the Tube’s quick-moving depths: a subspecies of mosquitoes that, the BBC’s Katie Silver reports, evolved inside the London Underground.

The appropriately-named Culex pipiens molestus came to be over the Underground’s 150-year history. Silver writes that it was first reported during World War II, when people who used Tube stations as bomb shelters learned that the depths held plenty of pests. Among the nuisances were mosquitoes with a nasty, irritating bite.

In 1999, an English researcher named Katharyne Byrne went underground to investigate further. When she compared Underground mosquitoes and compared them to others found in London houses, she learned that they were a distinct subspecies.

After ruling out migration from elsewhere in the continent, Byrne concluded that the London Underground was colonized by mosquitoes a single time, then achieved “reproductive isolation,” or barriers to reproduction with different species, in the subway tunnels.

The quick separation of mosquitoes into their own, subway-dwelling subspecies is an example of quick-moving speciation (the process by which animals evolve into distinct species). Darwin’s finches in the Galapagos are often cited as an example of lightning-fast speciation—since they’re so remote, they remain genetically isolated and adapt rapidly.

Silver reports that some scientists doubt the mosquitoes are really unique to the underground. In 2011, for example, a mysterious invasion of the mosquitoes was found in New York sewers.

More up-to-date research would need to be conducted to figure it out for sure. Consider this a call to would-be researchers whose interests include both long train rides and calamine lotion: Your future in Tube-related evolutionary research could be bright indeed.

Erin Blakemore|smithsonian.com|March 25, 2016

Everglades

SFWMD Adds Another Pump to Relieve Flooding in South Miami-Dade

To improve flood mitigation for families and businesses in the 8.5 Square Mile Area in South Miami-Dade County, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) began operating a second temporary pump adjacent to its S-357 flood control structure. Water levels in the area had been rising because of higher water levels in Everglades National Park, the result of emergency SFWMD operations to relieve flooding in Water Conservation Area 3 located in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Adding the second temporary pump doubles the pumping capacity adjacent to the S-357 structure, now moving water to the east at up to 42,000 gallons per minute. This increases flood mitigation for the 8.5 Square Mile Area while continuing to move clean water out of Water Conservation Area 3 and into Everglades National Park. Record January rainfall had caused major impacts to wildlife in the flooded conservation area.

To install the new pump, SFWMD crews from the Homestead, Clewiston and Okeechobee field stations installed 240 feet of pipe, an earthen bridge over the pipe and are preparing to construct a berm to block water from moving into the impacted area. With increased pumping capacity at the S-357 structure, these actions together will maintain water levels for residents while keeping clean water flowing into the park.

Water managers continue to closely monitor levels in the area and look for engineering options to provide additional flood mitigation if needed.

Corps of Engineers, partners, report on progress restoring America’s Everglades

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Significant progress has been made in restoring America’s Everglades over the past five years and a comprehensive report highlighting these efforts has recently been submitted to Congress.

The 2015 Report to Congress for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) was jointly submitted to Congress last week by the secretaries of the Army and the Interior. The report details the collaborative effort of participating agencies and their combined commitment to restore America’s Everglades.

“Progress is being made towards achieving the benefits for the natural system and the human environment envisioned in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP),” said Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. “The next five years hold the promise of even more tangible, beneficial change in the south Florida ecosystem and we look forward to continuing progress with the Department of the Interior, the State of Florida, and our other partners.”

Over the past five years, collaborative restoration efforts between federal and state agencies has resulted in a period of unprecedented progress towards restoring America’s Everglades. New construction starts, project completions, accelerated planning efforts, new investments in water quality and the passage of key congressional legislation are a few of the highlights of the 2010-2015 reporting period.

“This Report to Congress on the status of our efforts to restore the Everglades demonstrates Interior’s continuing commitment to work with its State, Tribal, local government and NGO partners to take action to restore this unique and fragile landscape,” said Michael J. Bean, Department of the Interior Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks and chair of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. “We are seeing significant progress and observing on-the-ground results for our environment. And we know that our investments are promoting economic benefits and coastal resiliency in the face of sea level rise and other challenges which will allow us to achieve, in our life-time our long-standing restoration goals.”

This is the third CERP report prepared for Congress and is required by the Water Resources Development Act of 2000. The report covers implementation progress between mid- 2010 and mid-2015 as well as activities planned for the next five years.

“Momentum remains strong in our continued efforts to restore America’s Everglades,” said Col. Jason Kirk, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District Commander. “In close collaboration with our State of Florida and federal partners, our Army Corps team is making great progress in the restoration of this National treasure.  We’re breaking ground on new components, completing components currently under construction, and planning for future increments of restoration.”

During this reporting period, major construction milestones were achieved. Construction on restoration projects and additional components began, including the Indian River Lagoon-South C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area project and the Picayune Strand Restoration Project’s Faka Union Pump Station. CERP projects were also completed during this timeframe, including the State-expedited C-111 Spreader Canal Western Project and the Melaleuca Eradication and Other Exotic Plants Research Annex, the first CERP project to be completed and transferred.

The CERP is the largest environmental program in history.  Upon congressional authorization in 2000, the federal government and the state of Florida entered into a 50/50 partnership to restore, protect and preserve water resources in central and southern Florida. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the lead federal agency and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is the lead state agency in this effort.

For additional information, and to view the 2015 CERP Report to Congress, visit: http://bit.ly/2015_CERP_RTC.

Miller, Jennifer S SAJ|3/30/16

Celebrate #EvergladesDay with us!

Happy Everglades Day!

Each year on April 7, we celebrate Everglades Day — a day that pays homage to Everglades champion Marjory Stoneman Douglas and honors the unique environmental and economic benefits of the nation’s largest subtropical wilderness.
For Everglades Day 2016, we’ve crisscrossed the state calling attention to Florida’s coastal communities that have been most impacted by stalled restoration progress and polluted Lake O discharges—Florida Bay and the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers. This year, we’re introducing a new annual tradition we’re calling the “State of the Everglades.” Watch the video below and join us in restoring a national treasure and protecting Florida’s water supply.

Watch Video

Water Quality Issues

Ten Things You Can Do to Help Coastal Water Quality

1. Fertilizer use. Rain and irrigation wash agricultural and lawn fertilizers off farm fields and yards into ditches and groundwater, which then makes its way into coastal waters. Stop using fertilizer and insist on strong local and state laws that limit fertilizer use. 

2. Sewage and Septage. Septic tanks and sewer systems are a huge source of nutrient pollution. Septic tanks in located in coastal sandy soils release almost all nitrogen from household wastewater. Treated sewage used for landscape irrigation and sewage sludge dumped on farm fields contribute huge amounts of pollution to coastal waters. Get rid of your septic tank and hook up to central sewer. Stop using reclaimed wastewater on your lawn. Ban land disposal of sewage sludge

3. Stormwater. As a result of ditching and draining wetlands for development and flood control, most stormwater flushes directly into coastal areas. Insist on building local stormwater treatment areas adequate to hold and treat rainy season water.  

    4. Lawns and landscaping can be designed to limit water pollution. Use plants that don’t require watering. Don’t use reclaimed water. Don’t use fertilizer.

      5. Citizen science. Informed citizens are the best protection against indifferent policy-makers. Get to know native ecosystems and how they function. Learn where your water comes from and where it goes when it leaves your property.

        6. Nitrogen oxide from transportation and power plant exhaust accounts for up to 25% of nitrogen pollution entering waterways. Drive a fuel efficient car, conserve energy, and support solar. 

          7. Manage growth. Conversion of natural areas to development is the major cause of damage to waterways. Live in existing and redeveloped neighborhoods. 

            8. Protect natural areas. Undeveloped and undrained land causes no pollution and no stormwater. Support Florida Forever and other programs to preserve green spaces to prevent drainage and development

              9. Protect wetlands. Swamps and floodplains retain floodwaters and filter pollution. Oppose development in wetlands, support a strong Clean Water Act, and oppose attempts to weaken laws that protect wetlands

                10. Funding for restoration. The Governor and Legislature cut water management agency budgets by 1/3 – in the process, many restoration projects were canceled or postponed. Amendment 1 approved by 75% of Florida voters 2014 is only partially implemented. Insist on restoring funding to the water management districts to work with local governments to control pollution from fertilizers, wastewater and stormwater.

                  Do these ten things and you will truly help to solve the problem.

                  Eric Draper|Executive Director|Audubon Florida

                  Great Lakes & Inland Waters

                  $77M project aims to cut farm runoff feeding Lake Erie algae

                  TOLEDO, Ohio – A federal program to reduce farm runoff in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana that helps feed harmful algae in Lake Erie will more than double in size, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday.

                  The addition of $41 million will provide an overall total of $77 million toward cutting phosphorus runoff in western Lake Erie over three years.

                  The USDA will work with farmers by developing plans including planting strips of grass or cover crops that help the soil filter pollutants.

                  Lake Erie continues to be plagued by algae blooms that produce the kind of toxins that contaminated Toledo’s water supply in 2014. The bloom that spread across the lake last summer was the largest on record, covering an area roughly the size of New York City.

                  Algae blooms — linked to phosphorus from farm fertilizers, livestock manure and sewage treatment plants — have been blamed for fouling drinking water and contributing to oxygen-deprived dead zones where fish can’t survive.

                  A study released last year by the University of Michigan Water Center said current efforts to keep phosphorus on fields are falling far short of results needed to achieve a 40 percent drop in runoff — a target set by the U.S. and Canada in February.

                  It suggested major changes would be needed to prevent harmful algae outbreaks, such as converting cropland into grassland and applying fertilizers below the surface instead of on top.

                  The USDA’s three-year project should reduce phosphorus by 640,000 pounds each year — about 7 percent of the phosphorus that comes from mainly agriculture sources in the western Lake Erie region.

                  The voluntary program will target farmers whose land is more vulnerable to runoff in northwestern Ohio, southeastern Michigan and northeastern Indiana.

                  “It’s a good step, but it’s not going to be sufficient to fix the problem,” said Jason Weller, chief of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

                  The farm industry along with state and local governments will need to put more funding toward solving the problem, he said.

                  A study released by the department on Monday said conservation efforts in the western Lake Erie region in 2012 cut phosphorus losses by 11.4 million pounds.

                  Farmers also have been using less phosphorus per acre while using methods to reduce runoff on 60 percent of acres in 2012, up from 45 percent between 2003-06, the report said.

                  JOHN SEEWER|ASSOCIATED PRESS

                  Wildlife and Habitat

                  Controversial Texas Rattlesnake Roundup Nets Largest Catch to Date

                  One of the world’s largest rattlesnake roundup bagged nearly 25,000 pounds of rattlers this year

                  Rattlesnake Roundup

                  Just a fraction of the nearly 25,000 pounds of diamondback rattlesnakes displayed at the 2016 Rattlesnake Roundup in Sweetwater, Texas. (Scott Fortin/Sweetwater Jaycees)

                  As towns go, Sweetwater, Texas is fairly small, with roughly 11,000 residents. But there’s one thing the area has a lot of: diamondback rattlesnakes. Every March for the last 58 years, tens of thousands of visitors have descended on the small town for the annual Rattlesnake Roundup. This year, the event outdid itself, bagging a record 24,262 pounds of wriggling rattlers.

                  Organized by the Sweetwater Junior Chamber of commerce, or “Jaycees,” the rattlesnake roundup began in as a way to curb rattlesnake populations during the late 1950s. At the time, local doctors were treating 50 people a year for snakebites and local cattle were constantly in danger of dying of suffocation from being bit on the nose, James Joiner reports for the Daily Beast.

                  But what began as a giant, community-wide rattlesnake cull eventually grew into a kind of county fair. In the years since, the Rattlesnake Roundup has become a hugely popular event, drawing more than 25,000 visitors and millions of dollars in revenue to Sweetwater each spring.

                  Over the course of four days, thousands of snakes are put on display in snake pits, butchered for meat, and sold to bidders who will turn their skins into everything from boots to belts to watch bands. Even the venom is collected and sold for research.

                  After the massive haul this year, there is some concern that the snakes not purchased will simply be let loose, reports Oliver Milman for The Guardian. Yet the Jaycees spokesperson Rob McCann disagrees: “There’s always a market for snakes,” he tells Milman. “There will be nothing left over, they will be processed for meat or made into wallets.”

                  While the previous record for most snakes caught for the Sweetwater roundup was 18,000 pounds in 1982, a typical year’s haul is usually about 4,000 pounds, Alecea Rush reports for KTXS News. Locals attribute this year’s catch to recent heavy rains.

                  “We had a lot more water in the year and that makes all our other little animals … bigger and better, and then the snakes are catching them too and it makes them a lot [healthier],” snake handler Terry “Hollywood” Armstrong tells Rush.

                  Unsurprisingly, the bloody tradition has its critics, many of whom argue that it decimates rattlesnake populations instead of controlling them. Animal rights activists and some herpetologists not only argue that the lack of rattlesnake catch limits have a negative impact on rattlesnake populations and that some methods used to catch them, like pouring gasoline into their dens, is inhumane and harmful to the environment, Milman reports.

                  “It’s about money,” local herpetologist Michael Price told Brandon Mulder for the Midland Reporter-Telegram last year. “It’s become such a tradition, and it brings in a tremendous amount of money to the community. That’s my biggest issue; it’s not about population control, and it’s not about safety. It’s about money, and it is what it is.”

                  In recent years, animal rights activists have tried to ban the controversial gasoline corralling technique, with little luck. The Texas Parks and Wildlife department nearly banned the technique in 2013, and officials are meeting again to discuss a possible ban this May. But regardless of whether the gasoline method is banned, the roundup’s defenders say they’ll stand behind the event.

                  “We’re not cutting the population any,” McCann told Mulder last year. “I’ve been hunting the same dens for 25 years—the exact same dens. I get from 10 to 20 every year from the same dens.”

                  Danny Lewis|smithsonian.com|March 25, 2016

                  Global Warming and Climate Change

                  Three Reasons Why the US-Canada Methane Commitment Matters

                  Yesterday, during the first official visit by a Canadian prime minister to the United States in 19 years, the two countries made a historic and precedent-setting announcement to curb methane emissions. In addition to pledging cooperation on implementing their emissions reduction commitments under the Paris Agreement, advancing clean energy, and preserving the Arctic, the two North American countries both committed to cutting methane emissions from their oil and gas sectors by 40—45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025 and to explore additional avenues for reducing methane emissions.

                  While at first glance this announcement may seem to have a particularly niche focus, it is critically important to helping solve the climate crisis in three key ways:

                  1. The announcement demonstrates continued momentum for internationally agreed-upon climate action.

                  Last December, a year of bilateral announcements and national emissions-reduction commitments culminated in the Paris Agreement, where the entire global community made a historic agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. It was an exhilarating moment – but now countries around the world must turn their attention to the hard work of implementing their plans and increasing the ambition of their commitments over time. 

                  This agreement between the United States and Canada is exactly the kind of inspiring, additive action we need to continue the momentum from Paris. The more joint announcements, the more ambition can be increased, the more countries expand their actions to include global warming emissions beyond carbon dioxide, the greater our chances become of winning the climate fight.

                  2. The new plan expands upon existing US EPA safeguards on methane.

                  Although carbon dioxide is the global warming pollutant with which most people are familiar, methane is nevertheless a highly potent greenhouse gas that, according to Environmental Defense Fund, is responsible for about a quarter of today’s global warming. The US and Canada are among the top-five largest emitters of oil and gas-sector methane in the world. And in the US alone, oil and gas operations leak enough methane to power millions of homes.

                  The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was already in the process of developing new rules to limit methane emissions from new oil and gas operations. The US and Canada’s announcement sets into motion a process for the EPA to not only look at new facilities, but also take action on existing sources of methane as well.

                  3. Canada’s national government is echoing the will of its people and provinces.

                  There is a reason we held a Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Toronto last year: Canada is a crucial player in the climate fight. In recent years, the country seemed to be on the wrong track at the national level, backing away from any leadership role on climate change. But courageous regional leaders like Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and local activists like our Canadian Climate Reality Leaders continued calling for stronger climate action as Alberta, traditionally a fossil fuel stronghold, elected a government that unveiled a plan for both an economy-wide carbon tax and a cap on pollution from oil sands last November. Today, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the national government has chartered a new course on climate action that better reflects the will of its people and regional leaders.

                  Coastal Cities Need to Radically Rethink How They Deal With Rising Waters

                  “Transitional architecture” is both a futuristic solution to sea-level rise and a hearkening back to older ways of living

                  An environmental engineer by trade, Paul Olsen has spent the last few decades helping people understand how rising seas threaten the places we live — even in a state that hardly thinks of itself as coastal.

                  “I still use Tangier as my closer,” Olsen says of one of Virginia’s most notable sinking islands in the Chesapeake Bay, which is home to a historic community of oystermen and helps illustrate his point: rising waters aren’t just a fear for the future. “It scares the hell out of people.”

                  If that doesn’t do the trick, Olsen invokes the memory of Holland Island, home to a thriving fishing community for a century until its last house succumbed to the bay in 2010.

                  “They failed to adapt, retreat or defend,” says Olsen who, after almost 30 years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is helping Virginia navigate rising seas as a program director at the state’s Old Dominion University. “Those are the three choices with sea-level rise.”

                  In San Francisco’s Bay Area, landscape architect Kristina Hill agrees on the options water-threatened communities must consider — but she might disagree on which ones are worth shoring up.

                  “I actually think what’s going to happen is we’re going to withdraw from a lot of places where there are small towns and vacation homes, because they won’t have the capital to do big projects,” says Hill, an associate professor at the University of California-Berkeley. The towns that need saving on Chesapeake Bay islands are smaller villages with populations of less than 300. According to Hill, moving earth to protect those towns isn’t the best use of public funds.

                  But for population centers like San Francisco, New York City, New Orleans and Norfolk, Virginia, she adds, architects are looking to adapt their structures, “to keep developing in a way that is ready for sea-level rise.”

                  Somewhere between retreating and building a giant wall to keep the waters at bay is a middle ground that acknowledges inevitably higher waters or periodically devastating storms — and builds with them in mind. In American cities dealing with rising seas, sinking landscapes and increasingly intense squalls, “transitional architecture” is one way to inhabit the treasured coastlines as long as possible.

                  The approach is already being implemented in parts of Europe where shutting water out isn’t an option for port cities that rely on shipping traffic.

                  In the Netherlands’ port city of Rotterdam, architects have begun building ultramodern homes on pilings in ponds. Rather than displacing water with new construction and exacerbating flooding, the new homes are accessible by earthen berms that create a honeycomb-like pattern of water-absorbing ponds.

                  And in HafenCity, a riverside district in Hamburg, Germany, the city is recruiting residents to modern apartment buildings, even though they are built outside the protection of the city’s main dike that prevents flooding. Instead of shielding the buildings from storm surges, architects designed them with parking garages on the first floors. Elsewhere in the city, they placed costly assets like metro stops on higher levels. Parks feature few trees and sturdy playgrounds built to withstand gushes of water during heavy rains.

                  “They call this ‘tiered development,’ because it’s set up in vertical layers,” Hill explains. “There’s a layer that can be flooded, one that’s protected and only in a huge emergency would be flooded and then a layer that would never be flooded.”

                  Though such water-minded cities look futuristic, the concept of structures built to withstand intermittent flooding isn’t new. David Waggonner, president of New Orleans-based Waggonner & Ball Architects, says that’s how residents of the Bayou used to build their homes, too. When the Mississippi River swelled beyond its banks, antebellum houses perched on brick pillars remained.

                  “Maybe it rained hard, but if it was masonry at the bottom and your principal living areas were above that, you could live on,” Waggonner says of the way things were. “You can learn a lot from the past, the way people built.”

                  Once builders, looking to populate the area quickly with new homes, moved from raised masonry to steel rods and sheetrock, “flooding became a bigger problem.”

                  In response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans and the federal government built an even bigger floodwall to defend the city for the next 100 years. But Waggonner says residents still would be wise to have a backup solution by building in a way that makes room for water or expects to take some into a ground level.

                  That’s the way homes were built before the advent of flood insurance, he says. Buildings perched on posts expected the waters to rise periodically. Residents used curved roofs and cisterns to store their rainwater locally for use after the storm.

                  “You need to know where you’re building, what the landscape is and has been,” says Waggonner. Otherwise, “you’re working against it.”

                  Cities in tidal areas and near flood-prone tributaries need to make room for rising water in ways both new and old if they want to continue living there, says Hill. That’s the essence of transitional architecture.

                  She sees solutions like New Orleans’ floodwall as “a dumbing down of the human ability to track and respond,” — blocking out water in a way that keeps it out of sight and mind until the next hurricane — and prefers solutions that encourage cities to work within their natural settings like those in HafenCity and Rotterdam.

                  Hill says many American cities will require a mix of defensive and adaptive structures to endure higher waters. One natural line of defense in a city’s arsenal is its wetlands.

                  In San Francisco’s Bay Area, wetlands are a subject of debate. Some argue that the development and highways that have filled them in over the years should be removed, returning marshes to their natural state.

                  Wetland restoration projects in northern parts of the Bay Area already have returned thousands of acres of former industrial salt ponds to marsh habitat. But imagine San Francisco’s iconic coastline highway giving way to lush bay grasses and fishing egrets — along with the city zoo and multi-million-dollar Sunset District homes.

                  Even after a city concedes that it already built where protective wetlands once were, “it’s difficult to pull up stakes and allow a wetland to take over,” says Hill, who advocates for wetlands being reconstructed out into the ocean rather than taking over developed areas.

                  It’s especially difficult to pull up stakes when those stakes involve national assets like shipping ports and the world’s largest naval base, as in Norfolk, Virginia. The Hampton Roads region where Olsen and these landmarks are based has seen water levels rise 14 inches since 1930.

                  Olsen is preparing for a future in which some of the naval base’s piers will be abandoned — and rebuilt elsewhere at $35 million apiece — and the Navy will have to double down on protecting the rest. The roads that carry military personnel to their vessels will need to be raised above flood levels, and some homes will need to be built on pilings or with flood vents to minimize damage to their foundations as the waters continue to rise.

                  If those waters continue to rise at a rate of six millimeters per year (about the thickness of an iPhone), the base and surrounding area will need to prepare for another foot of water in the next century.

                  “To an engineer, this [sea-level rise] is significant, especially when you put a Nor’easter on top of that,” says Olsen. “But it’s not so significant that we have to run on our heels. We have time to engineer solutions.”

                  Whitney Pipkin|smithsonian.com|April 7, 2016

                  Extreme Weather

                  Spring snow belts Great Lakes, Northeast

                  Winter is just refusing to let go.

                  Heavy snow pasted parts of the Great Lakes and Northeast on Sunday and into Monday, and whiteout conditions in New York state caused dozens of accidents.

                  A tour bus crashed Monday near the small Adirondacks town of Minerva, New York, causing several injuries, though none was reported to be life-threatening, according to the (Glens Falls) Post-Star newspaper.

                  Winter weather advisories remained in place Monday for parts of southern New England and New York state, the National Weather Service said.

                  Yet another round of wintry precipitation is expected for portions of the Upper Midwest and Upper Great Lakes on Tuesday, the weather service said.

                  No real signs of consistent spring warmth are forecast for the north-central and northeastern U.S. for the first half of April, according to AccuWeather. “It appears as though cold weather will continue through the middle of the month,” AccuWeather meteorologist Ed Vallee said.

                  USA TODAY

                  Genetically Modified Organisms

                  The ‘selfie-snapping, live-tweeting’ campaign to convince you GMOs are safe ‏

                  The world’s largest food corporations have spent hundreds of millions of dollars (some of it illegally) to avoid being required to label the genetically engineered ingredients in their products.

                  But with the July 1 deadline for complying with Vermont’s GMO labeling law on the horizon, a handful of the largest multinational food corporations have announced they will now label GMOs—not solely because they will be forced to, but because as General Mills claims, they believe “you should know what’s in your food and how we make ours.”

                  Have consumers won the GMO labeling battle? Have these food companies that so fiercely fought to keep labels off their products really split with the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the multi-billion-dollar lobbying group that is still trying to overturn Vermont’s law in the courts, and preempt it in Congress?

                  Or is there something more to these recent announcements than just the need to comply with Vermont’s law? As in, a strategy to lull consumers into complacency, while at the same time forcing Congress to give food companies what they’ve wanted all along—a free pass on labeling?

                  Read the essay

                  Energy

                  Enbridge assails spill study accuracy

                  Company: Oil volume assumptions unrealistic, valves would shut lines

                  Officials with Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge have responded to a new study on spill scenarios from Line 5, the company’s twin, 63-year-old, underwater oil pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac, saying the research “is based on unrealistic assumptions.”

                  Enbridge spokesman Ryan Duffy said the study’s model and illustrations “focus on an unrealistic volume of oil released.” The study, conducted by the University of Michigan Water Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory with support from the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation, reviewed 840 different weather and water current scenarios, as well as spill volumes of 5,000 barrels, 10,000 barrels and 25,000 barrels of light crude oil.

                  The study found that more than 700 miles of Great Lakes coastline — on both the Lake Michigan and Lake Huron sides, and in both the U.S. and Canada — are in a danger zone for potential contamination from a Line 5 oil spill, based on the scenarios examined.

                  “The worst-case discharge is approximately 4,950 barrels, which is significantly lower than the volume assumed in this study,” Duffy said. “There are automatic shut-off valves located on either side of the Straits of Mackinac that will shut down the flow of product into the line within three minutes if there is a drop in pressure.”

                  That presumes, however, everything works at it should — and it doesn’t always. A 1-year-old, double-layered pipeline with a “fail-safe” leak detection system ruptured in July 2015 near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, spilling 31,500 barrels of emulsion, a mixture of bitumen — a black, viscous mixture of hydrocarbons — sand and water. The automatic detection systems on the pipeline failed to work properly, officials with Nexen Energy, the company operating the pipeline, said.

                  And on Enbridge’s own Line 6B, a large oil transmission line running through southern Michigan, a rupture of the line in July 2010 first went undetected, then did not get a response from Enbridge employees for 17 hours — despite warning systems indicating a loss of pipeline pressure. It was only when a third party spotted and reported the massive spill underway in Talmadge Creek, near Marshall, that the line was shut down. All told, the creek and more than 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River were fouled with heavy diluted bitumen, prompting a cleanup that took more than four years and cost more than $1 billion.

                  The spill, as happened in Marshall, “related to a specific set of circumstances that would not occur on Line 5, especially given the company’s heightened safety procedures today,” Duffy said.

                  The model also doesn’t take into consideration that Enbridge and other responders would move quickly to contain and clean up any spill, he said. Light crude oil and natural gas liquids like propane are the products that flow through Line 5 every day, and because they are light, they would quickly rise to the surface in any spill, “allowing Enbridge and first responders to capture the oil through skimmers, boom and vacuum trucks,” he said. Natural gas liquids, he added, would in most cases evaporate.

                  But Enbridge’s own contracted marine spill responder and the leading Great Lakes spill response coordinator for the U.S. Coast Guard both told the Free Press last December that waves of 3-to-5 feet or larger could hamper or outright prevent a spill response out on the Straits in boats, due to safety concerns.

                  KEITH MATHENY|DETROIT FREE PRESS

                  Former Massey Energy COO Don Blankenship sentenced to a year in prison and a $250,000 fine.

                  When Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in our community exploded on April 5, 2010, killing 29 miners, the investigations began. In December 2015, former CEO Don Blankenship was convicted of conspiracy to violate safety laws, a misdemeanor. On April 6, 2016, he was sentenced to a year in prison plus a year of supervised release and ordered to pay a $250,000 fine. You can see all the details, including the reactions of the miners’ family members, here. Blankenship remains free for the time being and has appealed the conviction.

                  What do you think? If you’d like to tell Blankenship in your own words, you can participate in the Making One Year Count project and send him a letter.

                  Vernon Haltom|CRMW

                  Recycling

                  Click here to see 20 daunting photos that show why we should recycle responsibly

                  Environmental Links

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

                  Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

                  ConsRep 1603 B

                  “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”
                  Theodore Roosevelt

                  Of Interest to All

                  Audubon Chapters Receive $1 Million NFWF Grant to Launch Alabama Coastal Bird Stewardship Program with State of Alabama

                  Program will monitor and improve bird health in the aftermath of the BP Oil Spill


                   Earlier today, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced that it had awarded the state of Alabama and Birmingham Audubon Society, in partnership with Mobile Bay Audubon, a Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund (GEBF) grant of $1,465,000 to launch its Alabama Coastal Bird Stewardship Program.  

                  “Mobile and Baldwin County shorelines provide habitat critical to bird species of conservation concern that, with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, we will now steward to more robust populations,” said Suzanne Langley, Executive Director, Birmingham Audubon Society. “These same shorelines attract residents and tourists to watch birds and visit surrounding communities. While our staff and volunteers protect these birds, they will also educate the public about the value of Alabama’s natural treasures.”

                  The two-year program will direct the stewarding and monitoring of priority shorebird and waterbird populations across the Alabama coast, as well as conduct outreach to engage the public in protecting critical bird beach nesting sites. In response to the threats posed to bird populations by habitat loss and human alterations to ecosystems, Audubon’s Alabama chapters will train volunteers as citizen-scientists to monitor and protect sites at key nesting points throughout the year. Birmingham Audubon and Mobile Bay Audubon chapter members have monitored targeted conservation species and other coastal birds for decades at many of the sites that will be part of the Alabama Coastal Bird Stewardship Program. 

                  “The Alabama coast is vital for the conservation of birds across the Gulf,” said Audubon’s Vice President for the Gulf and Mississippi Flyway, Chris Canfield. “We couldn’t be more pleased to join in the partnership led by the State of Alabama and our Birmingham and Mobile chapters in launching this stewardship effort. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation continues to support the kinds of projects that can help make the Gulf, its wildlife and people whole again.”

                  The launch of Alabama’s Coastal Bird Stewardship program completes similar Audubon initiatives currently in operation across the Gulf in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. The GEBF was established by NFWF in 2013 to administer a total of $2.544 billion from early agreements between the U.S. Department of Justice and BP and Transocean over the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Through this fund, NFWF supports programs that work to address damages from the spill.  

                  Given the injury to hundreds of thousands of birds from the oil disaster as well as ongoing ecological and human threats, these Audubon programs and others across the Gulf Coast are crucial to guarding and stewarding the long-term health of bird populations there. See Audubon’s coastal bird stewardship program in action in the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-7O2vfEIG8

                  From Audu8bon Chapter Updates|March 16, 2016I

                  Record of Decision Signed for Acquisition of Florida Power & Light Company Land in Everglades National Park ‏

                  Dear Friends of Everglades National Park,

                  National Park Service (NPS) Southeast Regional Director Stan Austin has signed a Record of Decision (ROD) on March 16, 2016, approving the acquisition of a parcel of land owned by Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) in the East Everglades Expansion Area (EEEA) of Everglades National Park. The NPS will acquire fee title to the FPL property through an exchange for park property, as authorized by Congress in 2009 (P.L. 111-11).

                  The land exchange was identified as the “NPS preferred alternative” in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the acquisition of the FPL property that was released for public review on December 3, 2015. The FPL parcel consists of about 320 acres within the boundaries of Everglades National Park. It is a linear north – south corridor approximately 330 feet to 370 feet wide and approximately 7.4 miles long. The parcel was purchased by FPL in the 1960s and early 1970s, prior to the park’s expansion, with the intention of supporting future power transmission lines. The NPS land to be conveyed in exchange for the FPL parcel consists of about 260 acres along 6.5 miles of the eastern boundary of the EEEA. The NPS will also convey a 90-foot-wide perpetual nonnative vegetation management easement to FPL adjacent to the entire length of the exchange corridor.

                  The land exchange will be subject to terms and conditions between NPS and FPL. For example, the United States will have the perpetual right to flood and submerge the exchange corridor, consistent with hydrologic restoration requirements. A key change in the selected alternative from the Draft EIS to the Final EIS is a commitment that FPL shall reconvey to the NPS all acreage in the exchange corridor that is determined to be unneeded by FPL to build transmission lines in accordance with the State of Florida final certification order related to transmission line siting. These commitments and conditions will be incorporated into a binding exchange agreement between the two parties.

                  The Record of Decision and the Final EIS can be reviewed and downloaded at the NPS website:

                  http://parkplanning.nps.gov/ documentsList.cfm?projectID= 37220

                  For further information, contact Brien Culhane, Chief  of Planning and Compliance at 305-242-7717 or brien_culhane@nps.gov.

                  Thank you for your interest in Everglades National Park

                  Sincerely,

                  Pedro M. Ramos

                  Superintendent of Everglades National Park

                  Nestlé is shameless. Absolutely shameless. ‏

                  Nestlé has been taking millions of gallons of water out of California’s forests, and now their lawyers are stonewalling our access to key documents needed to stop them.

                  Nestlé has been taking millions of gallons of water out of California’s forests, and we’re suing to stop them. For years, Nestlé has been illegally pumping up to 28 million gallons of water a year from the San Bernardino National Forest, virtually free of charge.

                  Last October, we sued to stop them — but now we’re being denied access to the documents we need to prove our case.

                  Based on the facts, this should be an open and shut case. But the lawyers on the other side are fighting us tooth and nail to drag it out — and in the meantime, Nestlé is STILL pumping water every day, devastating vulnerable plants and animals in the area.

                  We will NOT let Nestlé get away with taking our water, but the longer this goes on, the more our legal bills pile up. Will you donate to help make sure we have the resources to take on this fight and win?

                  Nestlé’s actions in the San Bernardino National Forest are just outrageous.

                  They’re taking water under a permit that required them to pay just $524 a year to the U.S. Forest Service — a permit that expired 27 years ago.

                  And recently we discovered that the forest service official who for years was responsible for reviewing Nestlé’s permit recently left to take a job at — yep, you guessed it — Nestlé.(1)

                  Maybe the lawyers on the other side are hoping that if they can drag the case out long enough, a nonprofit group like ours won’t be able to stick with it. If so, they have another thing coming — because Courage Campaign and our partners in this effort at the Story of Stuff will never back down from our defense of California’s water.

                  But to take them on and win, we’re counting on you, our members, to donate today.

                  Thank you for fighting for the future of our environment and our country.

                  Tim Molina|Courage Campaign|3/20/16

                  [If you would care to donate to Courage Campaigns fight for California’s water, please see item 1 in “Calls to Action” below.

                  Calls to Action

                  1. Donate to Courage Campaign’s legal fund and stop Nestlé from taking California’s water – here

                  Birds and Butterflies

                  A New Species of Butterfly Was Hiding in Plain Sight

                  The Tanana Arctic could be a rare butterfly hybrid—and it’s the first such find in nearly 30 years

                  Dorsal

                  The dorsal side of Oneis tanana, which could be the only butterfly species endemic to the Alaskan Arctic. (Florida Museum of Natural History — Photo: Andrew Warren)

                  It’s not every day a new species of butterfly is discovered—and it’s even less common for that species to have been hiding in plain sight all along. One lepidopterist’s sharp eye has revealed an entirely new species of Alaskan butterfly, something that hasn’t been discovered in 28 years.

                  The lepidopterist in question is Andrew Warren, the senior collections manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity. Warren, who dubs himself “AndyBugGuy” on Twitter, has also been called “Lord of the Butterflies” for his dominion over the gigantic 10-million specimen collection at the McGuire Center.

                  What Warren and his colleagues didn’t realize was that an entirely new type of butterfly was hiding in plain sight at the Center. One day, Warren was working with his collections when he noticed something off about a butterfly that had been categorized as O. chryxus, a rare Arctic butterfly most commonly spotted in the Rockies. This butterfly, which had been in the same collection for 60 years, didn’t look the same at all—it was bigger and darker, and had been collected near Tok in southeastern Alaska.

                  Warren sprung into action, working with colleagues to review the appearance of the butterfly and corroborate his find in Alaska. The team found a large number of additional specimens in private collections and at the University of Alaska’s Kenelm Philip collection, too.

                  It makes sense that the species was categorized as O. chryxus—it looks a lot like that butterfly. But it is also similar to O. bore, the white-veined Arctic, and there could be an intriguing reason: Warren and his team think that the butterfly is a hybrid of both species. In the past, both species could have mated and produced the new species.

                  Yet over time, O. chryxus and O. bore moved further and further apart. As the last age cooled down Beringia—a strip of land between Alaska and Asia that never became glaciated—the butterfly-friendly area became less hospitable. It appears that O. chryxus moved south to the Rockies and O. bore stayed in Beringia alongside the new species.

                  Looks aren’t the only thing that matters—the new species also shares mitochondrial DNA with O. bore. Next, Warren and his team want to sequence the new butterfly’s genome to figure out if it is indeed a hybrid and figure out why it was able to survive in the much harsher Arctic.

                  For now, they’ve named the new butterfly Oeneis tanana—the Tanana Arctic butterfly and published the results of their work in the Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera. With wings the color of a penny, large white specks on its underwings and a “frosty” look appropriate for the Arctic, the Tanana Arctic could be the only butterfly endemic to the Alaska’s Last Frontier.

                  Warren will head out to the Yukon-Tanana basin next year to look for the species in the wild. Who knows what else he might notice that others have missed?

                  Erin Blakemore|smithsonian.com|March 17, 2016 11:01AM

                  Washington D.C. Welcomes a New Baby Bald Eagle

                  With one chick hatched, there’s another still to come

                  baby eagle

                  (Screenshot courtesy of the American Eagle Foundation)

                  Washington D.C. birdwatchers have waiting with baited breath as a pair of bald eagles nesting at the United States National Arboretum cared for a pair of eggs. Finally, after weeks of watching, the eagles’ first chick saw light at 8:20 AM this morning, with its younger sibling expected to break out of its shell in the next few days.

                  Eagle enthusiasts have been keeping a close eye on the eggs since the first one was laid on February 3, but the real excitement began on Wednesday evening when it started showing signs of hatching. While it took over 24 hours for the hatchling to finally break free, conservationists were elated to see the baby eagle making moves right on time, Dana Hedgpeth reports for the Washington Post.

                  “This is a very special time in the nest,” Al Cecere, founder and president of the American Eagle Foundation, said in a statement Thursday. “To witness the up-close process of an eaglet breaking through its shell and being fed by its parents for the first time is wonderfully heartwarming.”

                  The new parents are no strangers to the Arboretum. The bald eagles, nicknamed “Mr. President” and “The First Lady,” first set up shop in its trees back in October 2014. They are the first bald eagles to nest in the area since 1947 and have raised one other eaglet during their time in the capital, Nathaniel Scharping reports for Discover. For now, the first eaglet to hatch will be named “DC2,” while it’s younger sibling gets the title “DC3.” Soon enough, however, the public will get an opportunity to come up with better names.

                  Meanwhile, there are plenty of opportunities for the public to check in on the baby eagles without having to travel all the way to Washington D.C., thanks to the American Eagle Foundation’s eagle cams (livefeed below), which provide a pair of close-up shots of the eagles in their nest. The cameras run 24 hours a day and are powered by a dedicated solar array. However, as Hedgpeth reports, setting them up was no easy task. Technicians had to be careful not to disturb the nest as they ran half a mile of fiber optic cable from the camera to a control box about 200 feet away from the tree.

                  While watching a baby eaglet hatch is an exciting thing, there are no guarantees for how the babies will do going forward. Mr. President and the First Lady are wild birds, and any number of things could still happen to the chicks, including being hunted by predators, hurt by a natural disaster, or just plain old sibling rivalry, the American Eagle Foundation warns on its website.

                  For now, with one eaglet successfully hatched, it’s time to see how it’s little sibling fares.

                  Danny Lewis|smithsonian.com|March 18, 2016

                  Endangered Species

                  SeaWorld Is Shutting Down Its Orca Breeding Program

                  But the orcas currently living in its parks will remain there for the rest of their lives

                  After several years of public scrutiny and criticism, SeaWorld announced that it is ending its orca breeding program. Because the theme park operator long ago stopped capturing orcas from the wild, the orcas currently at the parks will be the last generation to live at SeaWorld.

                  It has not been an easy few years for SeaWorld. After a series of high-profile protests following the 2013 premier of the documentary Blackfish, SeaWorld has fought against allegations of inhumane conditions and abusive treatment of its 23 captive orcas. Last November, the company announced that it will phase out its once-popular “Shamu Shows” by 2017—the same month that legislators in the California House of Representatives proposed a bill banning orca breeding throughout the state.

                  “Times have changed, and we are changing with them,” SeaWorld wrote in a statement. “We love our whales and so do many of our visitors and this is about doing the best thing for our whales, our guests, our employees and SeaWorld.”

                  While SeaWorld has denounced Blackfish as inaccurate and exploitative, since the documentary debuted the company has seen a dramatic drop in visitors to its flagship theme parks and watched as its value on the stock exchange was halved, BBC News reports. At one point, SeaWorld launched a multimillion dollar ad campaign to try and save its image, but eventually decided that phasing out its orca programs would be the best path.

                  But even though SeaWorld says the current generation of orcas housed at its parks will be its last, these whales will also spend the remainder of their lives in captivity, which could last as long as 50 years. Although some animal rights activists have pushed for SeaWorld to release its remaining orcas into sea pens or coastal sanctuaries, SeaWorld president and chief executive officer Joel Manby writes in an Op-Ed for the Los Angeles Times that releasing the orcas into the wild would be disastrous.

                  “Most of our orcas were born at SeaWorld, and those that were born in the wild have been in our parks for the majority of their lives,” Manby writes. “If we release them into the ocean, they will likely die. In fact, no orca or dolphin born under human care has ever survived release into the wild.”

                  Over the last 50 years, few captive orcas have been released into the wild, but most that were released have indeed met unfortunate endings. Whales and dolphins have very complex social and familial networks and do not readily accept new members into the pod without knowing a captive whale’s background. Because of this, it can be incredibly difficult for them to transition from captivity to the wild, particularly if they were reared in captivity.

                  One infamous and particularly tragic example is the 2002 attempt to rewild Keiko, the orca who starred in Free Willy. Keiko was captured from his native waters near Norway as a youth, and even though he spent several years in a sea pen before he was released into the wild, he never joined a new pod and died a year later, Kaleigh Rogers reports for Motherboard.

                  Danny Lewis|smithsonian.com|March 17, 2016

                  Iconic Grizzly Bear to Become More Vulnerable

                  This spring, as wildflowers bloom and snowy mountain peaks thaw, a 400-pound matriarch of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is expected to emerge from her den. With any luck, a fresh batch of cubs will accompany her, marking another successful year in one of the greatest conservation success stories ever told.

                  This famous bruin is Grizzly 399, a 19-year-old mama bear whose unmatched tolerance and infinite calm has made her world famous. Every year, millions travel to see the granite summits of Grand Teton National Park in northwestern Wyoming and many hope to catch a glimpse of 399, her cubs and other Yellowstone grizzlies.

                  Yet despite their popularity, these awe-inspiring creatures face a new challenge. Last week, in response to the historic success of recovery efforts put in place in 1975 under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to remove the grizzlies of Yellowstone National Park from the endangered species list. If the proposal moves forward, grizzly bears that roam outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks—including 399—could be targeted for sport hunting under state management.

                  Earthjustice has worked for decades to safeguard the Yellowstone region’s grizzly bears from habitat destruction, excessive killing and other threats—both to protect the grizzly bears themselves and because a landscape that is wild enough to sustain grizzlies is also wild enough to sustain the countless other wildlife species that make this region a special place.  Now we are busy reviewing the government’s new delisting proposal in detail to ensure that the Yellowstone region’s irreplaceable grizzly bear population is adequately protected. 

                  In the meantime, a coalition of conservationists, Native American tribes and researchers is voicing opposition to both delisting grizzlies and bringing back sport hunting of these magnificent creatures.

                  Jessica Knoblauch|Wednesday, March 09, 2016

                  Wild & Weird

                  Recently Discovered Spider Is Named After Physicist Brian Greene

                  About the size of the human palm, the “Brian” spider can swim and hunt fish

                  brian greene spider

                  The Queensland Museum

                  image: http://thumbs.media.smithsonianmag.com//filer/4d/bf/4dbff7b0-8614-4d64-8c45-7343dfaa5a4f/dolomedes_briangreeni_female_with_egg_sack.jpg__800x600_q85_crop.jpg

                  Columbia University researcher and professor Brian Greene is perhaps best known as a leading theoretical physicist and a proponent of string theory. Now, he has the honor of sharing his name with a recently-discovered species of water spider that can surf small waves and hunts small fish and toads.

                  The Dolomedes briangreenei, as researchers have named the spider, may not be a physics expert (or a Smithsonian Magazine columnist) like its namesake, but it does know a thing about waves, as the Australian Associated Press (AAP) reports. About the size of a human palm, the spider has the novel ability to swim and surf on the water’s surface, while using vibrations in the water to help hunt its prey.

                  “Physics is all about waves; understanding the universe is all about waves,” Greene said when the spider was presented to him at the opening of the World Science Festival in Brisbane this week, according to Mashable Australia‘s Geraldine Cremin. “With the announcement last month of humankind’s first detection of gravitational waves—ripples on the surface of space and time—I am particularly honored to be so closely associated with a spider that has its own deep affinity for waves.”

                  Because the spiders are such strong swimmers, they can catch prey up to three times their size, including small fish and toads. When disturbed, the spider can even dive and hide underneath the water for up to an hour before resurfacing, Erik Shilling writes for Atlas Obscura.

                  “These spiders sit there on the water and then all of a sudden an insect will hit the water and the spider races out to get it, grabs it, dives under the water and then swims back to the shore and starts eating it,” Robert Raven, Principal Scientist of Arachnology at Brisbane, Australia’s Queensland Museum, tells Cremin.

                  Researchers didn’t have to go far to find the “Brian” spider: as it turns out, the species is native to freshwater streams around Brisbane. In fact, it seems that the spider has long been a stealthy ally in the fight against pests like the infamous cane toad, the AAP reports. The researchers found that the palm-sized spider has a significant impact on managing the invasive toad in the region by hunting it for food. However, while it may be big, people have nothing to fear from this particular arachnid.

                  “I’ve been bitten by this spider and it’s not particularly dangerous,” Raven tells Cremin. “It just stung for a little while.”

                  The “Brian” spider will soon be on public, permanent display at the Queensland Museum.

                  Danny Lewis|smithsonian.com|March 11, 2016

                  The Discovery of a Tiny Tyrannosaur Adds New Insight Into the Origins of T. Rex

                  The horse-sized dino species had smarts and a keen sense of smell, setting the stage for the evolution of the enormous predator

                  There’s no dinosaur quite like Tyrannosaurus rex. The giant, flesh-eating “tyrant king” has dominated our imaginations for more than a century, snarling at us from museum halls and Hollywood blockbusters. But how did one of the biggest carnivores to ever walk the Earth get to live so large?

                  A new fossil find from Uzbekistan adds a crucial clue, underscoring the fact that this celebrated family of sharp-toothed dinosaurs didn’t always rule.
                  The new dinosaur, named Timurlengia euotica by National Museum of Natural History paleontologist Hans-Dieter Sues and colleagues today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), took a circuitous route to discovery. Back in 2012 Sues and study coauthor Alexander Averianov described a smattering of bones from the 90-million-year-old rock of Uzbekistan’s Kyzylkum Desert. The pieces were definitely those of a small tyrannosaur, Sues says, but the bones “did not have the unique features or a unique combination of features that would have allowed us to distinguish our animal from other tyrannosaurs.”
                  A braincase changed all that. The ancient skull piece, found in the same rock layer, showed that the Uzbekistan tyrannosaur was definitely something different from its relatives found elsewhere. Combined with the previously discovered pieces, which Sues and colleagues attribute to the same species, Timurlengia emerges as a pint-sized version of the charismatic dinosaurs that would come to terrorize the Cretaceous 20 million years later.

                  Timurlengia would have been a small, slender-limbed version of the ‘tyrant king’,” Sues says, albeit with a stature comparable to a modern horse. And while the fossils show that Timurlengia had some important differences from later, larger tyrannosaurs, such as teeth that were slimmer and better suited to slicing flesh than puncturing bone, Sues notes that details of the braincase and inner ear indicate that the small carnivore “had a keen sense of hearing and excellent eyesight” that would characterize the giant tyrannosaurs that came later.
                  Such a tiny terror is exactly what paleontologists have been expecting, says North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences paleontologist Lindsay Zanno. While noting that “the specimen itself is a great discovery,” Zanno points out that her team, the authors of the new study and others have established that tyrannosaurs stood in the shadow of larger carnivores for the early part of the Cretaceous, with Timurlengia continuing the trend. This is part of the broader goal of paleontology, Zanno says, establishing who lived where and when to then draw out larger evolutionary patterns.

                  For its own part, the dinosaur’s place in time makes Timurlengia so striking. Paleontologists know that the very first members of the tyrannosaur lineage split from their relatives in the Jurassic, about 170 million years ago. They were small, slender and had three claws on long arms.

                  The first truly giant tyrannosaurs—the species that set up the rise of T. rex—didn’t evolve until about 80 million years ago. At about 90 million years old, the much smaller Timurlengia represents a little-known time in tyrannosaur evolution and throws additional evidence to the idea that, despite their imposing title, tyrannosaurs stayed tiny for tens of millions of years before growing to snatch the title of apex predator.
                  So while the name “tyrannosaur” might remind us of 40-foot-long, 9-ton giants, for most of their history these dinosaurs lived on the margins of habitats dominated by relatives of Allosaurus and other types of carnivore. And this time period molded tyrannosaurs into what they’d eventually become. “The small early tyrannosaurs were competing with various other theropods,” Sues says, “and presumably their neurosensory capabilities evolved in that ecological context.”

                  Their sharp sense of smell and excellent eyesight didn’t let tyrannosaurs muscle out the competition, in other words. Instead these traits let them take over when extinction swept their rivals from the evolutionary stage. “When other mega-predators bowed out, tyrannosaurs were primed to pick up the slack,” Zanno adds. Tyrannosaurs had to get lucky before they could become the monstrous predators we adore.

                  Brian Switek|smithsonian.com|March 14, 2016

                  What Is a Tully Monster? Scientists Finally Think They Know

                   

                   

                   

                  The oddball fossil that puzzled experts for almost 60 years is probably an ancient fish akin to today’s bloodsucking lampreys

                  Tully Monster 3 

                  An artist’s rendering shows what a Tully Monster might have looked like 300 million years ago. (Sean McMahon)

                  The worm-like creatures writhed in the dark waters, fins twitching and eyestalks roving. Each one sported a long, pincher-tipped proboscis lined with tiny, needle-like teeth. When paleontologists found fossils of these ancient horrors trapped in stone, they named them Tullimonstrum gregarium, or Tully monsters.

                  For roughly 60 years, no one could say for sure what the strange beasts actually were. Paleontologist Eugene Richardson, who gave the species its name in 1966, was so unsure of the creature’s nature that he wasn’t confident sticking it within any known lineage beyond “animal.”

                  Now, an international team says they have at last cracked the mystery, and their answer overturns every other theory offered to date. Depending on who you asked, the Tully Monster could have been related to ribbon worms, snails, eel-like protovertebrates called conodonts or other ancient oddballs, like another nozzle-nosed creature called Opabinia. But based on studies of more than 1,200 fossil specimens, the researchers say the Tully Monster was really a vertebrate, specifically, a type of fish akin to modern lampreys. If they’re right, the fossil changes what we know about the history of these aquatic bloodsuckers.

                  “Instead of being a small, conservative lineage of bloodsucking fish, lampreys are inferred to have undergone a dramatic diversification, achieving some outlandish body plans and long forgotten modes of life,” says University of Manchester paleontologist Rob Sansom.

                  Found by the dozens in the roughly 300-million-year-old rock of Mazon Creek, Illinois, the Tully Monster was a tiny terror—the largest specimens stretch a little more than a foot long. But they have an outsized appeal to paleontologists, and have even been named the official state fossil of Illinois.
                  For decades the prehistoric whatsit remained a frustrating enigma, and was so weird that it even skirted the edges of myth. Some cryptozoologists became enamored with the idea that the legendary Loch Ness Monster was a supersized version of Tullimonstrum.

                  Yale University paleontologist Victoria McCoy says that she’s always had a soft spot for the Tully Monster, in part because the creature stood out as something very different from anything alive today. Given that there are thousands of specimens from a time when the major branches of animal life were already in place, she felt there was a good chance of solving the mystery.

                  As it happens, the key was staring paleontologists in the face all along. Although the weird eyestalks and flexible snoot are the most obviously bizarre features of Tullimonstrum, paleontologists were puzzled by what they previously interpreted as the “gut trace.” Other animals from the same rock have gut contents that are preserved as dark, mineralized sections, but the guts of the Tully Monster were different. It appeared as a lightly colored, flattened structure that ran from the eye stalks to the end of the tail. 

                  That was odd, because the gut should not continue past the end of the tail in both vertebrates and mollusks, McCoy noted. The pale line had to be something else. While McCoy was reading up on other Mazon Creek fossils, including fossil lampreys and hagfish, she realized that these vertebrates had the same structure: a notochord. This is what drew the mysterious creature into the vertebrate family tree.

                  “Lampreys are vertebrates,” McCoy says, “so the Tully was as well.”
                  From there, the stranger features of the Tully Monster started to fall into place. In addition to a notochord, “the Tully Monster also has large complex eyes, horny teeth, a tail fin with fin rays and a tri-lobed brain,” McCoy says. These features aren’t always unique to vertebrates, but they nevertheless fit with the new identification.

                  Likewise, recent research on how animals like modern lampreys decay showed that the worm-like “segments” of the Tully Monster are really slightly decayed muscles that match up with those of early fish. Suddenly all the pieces snapped into focus, allowing McCoy and her co-authors to finally identify the Tully Monster, as they report this week in Nature.
                  The result was “quite surprising and raises a lot of interesting questions,” says Sansom, who was not part of the research team. While the Tully Monster shows some traits in common with vertebrates, there are still some “extraordinarily bizarre” parts of its anatomy that are unlike any other vertebrate, he adds.

                  “There are currently no known mechanisms by which a jawless vertebrate could develop eyes on stalks or jaws on a long proboscis,” Sansom says, opening up mysteries about how the Tully Monster came to be. Given that the lamprey fossil record is sparse, further surprises might await in the rocks below.

                  For now, though, thanks to the efforts of McCoy and her colleagues, another oddball finds its place on the Tree of Life, matched to the greater vertebrate branch to which we also belong. But, as its scientific name implies, the creature is still worthy of the title “monster.”

                  Brian Switek|smithsonian.com|March 16, 2016

                  Water Quality Issues

                  Clean Water Win!

                  The verdict is in on a long fought-battle for water protection. On March 3, 2016, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear a water polluter’s appeal, thereby ensuring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will continue to be able to uphold and enforce the Clean Water Act.

                  This legal battle originally started in early 2014 centered around controlling pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. However, the State of Florida interjected itself to argue that US EPA has no authority to prevent nutrient pollution (such as hog manure from industrial scale animal feeding operations) — asserting it was solely up to the individual states. The State of Florida argued that regulation of nutrient pollution lies solely with the states, because states know how to prevent nutrient pollution, and will do a better job at it than EPA.

                  Given Florida’s abysmal record on adequately controlling pollution, we disagreed that states always stand up to the special interests to adequately protect their waters from nutrient pollution. We believed that this case would set a negative precedent nationwide that would hinder our efforts here in Florida to control the nutrient pollution fouling our waters so we decided to engage to defend EPA.

                  On behalf of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and several other environmental organizations, Earthjustice filed an amicus brief in the Third Circuit advocating that EPA should retain oversight to ensure states adhere to the federal Clean Water Act — telling the real story of what has happened in Florida, which is that far from being a shining success of a state being proactive in protecting its water resources, that Florida had failed its citizens, leading to unsafe water quality and toxic algae outbreaks across the State. The Third Circuit rejected the State of Florida’s argument, allowing the EPA oversight authority and protections for the Chesapeake Bay to remain in place. Just this week, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the polluters’ appeal which lays the matter finally to rest — ensuring EPA will continue to have oversight authority to uphold the Clean Water Act nationwide for controlling water pollution, including nutrient pollution in Florida.

                  Jennifer Hecker|Director of Natural Resource Policy|Conservancy of Southwest Florida

                  SFWMD Starts Filling New Reservoir With Lake Okeechobee Water

                  To help lower Lake Okeechobee and benefit the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, the South Florida Water Management District this week began emergency operations to send lake water directly into a new reservoir designed to capture excess stormwater.
                  Recent dry conditions lowered water levels in the new A-1 Flow Equalization Basin in western Palm Beach County, creating capacity for SFWMD to move 9.8 billion gallons of water from the lake directly into the Basin. A project in Governor Scott’s Restoration Strategies Plan to improve the Everglades, the Basin temporarily stores water for delivery to South Florida’s Stormwater Treatment Areas in a manner that optimizes their ability to clean water before sending it into Everglades National Park.

                  SFWMD

                  Lake Okeechobee and the Northern Estuaries: The High Cost of High Water

                  Audubon recommends actions to ending harmful discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.

                  There is an ecological crisis in the Lake Okeechobee watershed. Large quantities of water with high levels of nutrient pollution from Lake Okeechobee and local basins are being discharged through the fragile St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

                  The discharges have caused algae blooms to form, which negatively impacts native vegetation, fish, and coastal birds. Florida’s famously‐clear coastal waters have turned dark brown and green, driving away tourists, harming local businesses, and reducing home values. Scientists have also detected harmful bacteria in some areas, making the water dangerous for human contact.

                  There is no quick fix to solve this problem. Protecting the health of Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries requires long-term solutions that hold water in the right places at the right time to more closely replicate the balance of water levels in the historic Everglades.

                  Learn more about this issue and Audubon’s recommendations for comprehensive solutions by downloading our latest fact sheet. Please feel free to share online or distribute at your next Audubon Chapter meeting or community gathering. 

                  Celeste De Palma|Audubon Florida|Everglades Policy Associate

                  SFWMD Operations Exceed 24 Billion Gallons of Water Moved Under Extraordinary Conditions ‏

                  In an unprecedented response to record-setting January rainfall, the South Florida Water Management District has moved more than 24 billion gallons of clean water to relieve high-water levels in two critical locations:

                  • Water Conservation Area 3 – 21.5 Billion Gallons of Clean Water Moved to Date: On February 15, SFWMD began emergency operations to move water out of the vast wetlands in Miami-Dade and Broward counties after record rainfall left water levels too high for Everglades wildlife.
                    • Maximizing gate openings at the S-333 structure along the Tamiami Trail is sending 10,000 gallons of clean water per second to flow south out of the conservation area and into Northeast Shark River Slough in Everglades National Park.
                    • In March, SFWMD deployed temporary pumps to send an additional 129 million gallons a day out of the conservation area.
                    • Water being moved into Everglades National Park by the SFWMD is cleaner than it has been in generations. In the last three months alone, strict science monitoring shows nutrient discharges into the park ranging from 5 to 8 parts per billion on average.
                  • A-1 Flow Equalization Basin – 2.7 Billion Gallons of Water Moved into the Basin from Lake Okeechobee: To reduce harm to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries from the U.S. Army Corps’ Lake Okeechobee releases, SFWMD began emergency operations in early March to send lake water directly into this new reservoir.
                    • The recent dry conditions in March lowered water levels in the new A-1 Flow Equalization Basin in western Palm Beach County, creating capacity for SFWMD to move 9.8 billion gallons of water from the lake directly into the Basin.
                    • The A-1 facility is a project in Governor Scott’s Restoration Strategies Plan to improve the Everglades, temporarily storing water for delivery to South Florida’s Stormwater Treatment Areas and optimizing their performance to clean water before sending it into Everglades National Park.

                  Daily water levels in WCA-3 are available at:

                  Great Lakes & Inland Waters

                  Get the Facts: Back Pumping into Lake Okeechobee‏

                  Media outlets continue to falsely report that rare emergency pumping of water into Lake Okeechobee was orchestrated by farmers.

                  Pumping water into the lake from the south, known as “back pumping,” is used only in extreme emergency flooding situations by the South Florida Water Management District. Neither businesses nor farms have the authority or capability to pump water directly into the lake, as environmental groups such as the Sierra Club have incorrectly asserted in the media.

                  Here are the facts:

                  • The Florida Department of Environmental Protection permit and SFWMD Governing Board policy strictly limit pumping water into the lake only in extreme conditions to protect thousands of families and businesses living south of the lake.
                  • Back pumping is rare and is not the reason water is being discharged from the lake to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries — record rainfall is the cause.
                  • The emergency back pumping operation has been used only 9 times since 2008, four of which followed tropical storms.
                  • During the 96-hour back pumping operation triggered by the record rain this January, pumps moved 31,397 acre-feet of water.
                  • This 31,397 acre-feet of water pumped into the lake was less than 1 percent of the total volume water in the lake at the time.
                  • Projects that will reduce the need for emergency pumping and reduce harmful freshwater discharges to the estuaries are now operating or under construction:
                    • A-1 Flow Equalization Basin in western Palm Beach County began storing water (to be cleaned in Stormwater Treatment Areas) directly from the lake on March 11 to help lower levels and benefit the coastal estuaries.
                    • The 10,500 acre C-43 and 3,000 acre C-44 reservoirs in Hendry and Martin counties are now under construction to help capture excess stormwater flows.

                  South Florida Water Management District|3/15/16

                  Offshore & Ocean

                  Hundreds of Right Whales Are Returning to Cape Cod

                  Decades have passed since the endangered species regularly frequented Cape Cod

                  For centuries, North Atlantic right whales have traveled across the ocean to feed on the abundant plankton in Massachusetts’ Cape Cod Bay. But in recent years, as the endangered whales have dwindled to just over 500 individuals, few right whales have been spotted in the region. Now, scientists say the right whales have returned in record numbers this year, with about half of all right whales in the world swimming in the waters around the Cape.

                  “It’s rather extraordinary and somewhat mind-blowing,” Charles “Stormy” Mayo, senior scientist and director of right whale ecology at Provincetown, MA’s Center for Coastal Studies tells William J. Kole for the Associated Press.

                  Once hunted for their oil and baleen, right whales are now one of the most endangered ocean-dwelling species on Earth. According to the Center for Coastal Studies, there are only 526 individual whales still alive in the world, Steve Annear reports for the Boston Globe. While Cape Cod Bay was once a favorite feeding ground for the whales during their spring migrations, few have been seen in the bay up until the last few years.

                  “There has been a huge pulse in numbers in the past few years,” Amy Knowlton, a researcher with the New England Aquarium’s Right Whale Research Project, tells Kole. “Right whales are probably scouting for food all the time. Maybe when one of them finds it, they call their friends.”

                  After decades of spotting only a handful of right whales in the bay each year, scientists have been caught off-guard by the recent resurgence. Right now, there’s no clear reason for the whales’ return, although Mayo suspects it may be due to an influx of plankton caused by shifting ocean currents.

                  “They’re a little like cows in a field,” Mayo tells Kole. “They go away from places that are not good and go to places that are good.”

                  In recent years, scientists have spotted nearly half of all living right whales over the course of the spring, and this year is already on track for a new record. Researchers began getting reports of right whales in late February, and expect sightings to keep rising until late April or early May, Annear reports.

                  While right whales travel as far south as coastal Georgia and Florida in order to give birth during colder seasons, most of the time they tend to hang out in the western Atlantic Ocean, typically near the Gulf of Maine. In February, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association officially expanded the right whale’s “critical territory” off of the New England coastline by about seven times, in addition to adding thousands of square nautical miles to their protected breeding grounds in the south, Annear reports.

                  “They are a lot rarer than tigers, and elephants, and other big-time animals,” Mayo tells Annear. “Everyone who lives along the coastline is dealing with a nearly-extinct species. It’s a last-of-the-dinosaurs kind of thing.”

                  Danny Lewis|smithsonian.com|March 15, 2016

                  Court Rules BP Spill Restoration Funds Can’t Be Used to Build Luxury Hotel

                  When a polluting corporation wrecks the environment, we all want them to fix what they’ve broken, right? But using cleanup fine money to build a new beachfront hotel? We don’t think so.

                  A federal judge doesn’t think so either. Earthjustice recently won a victory in the U.S. Southern District of Alabama in a lawsuit we co-filed with Gulf Restoration Network against a group of Alabama and federal agencies.

                  Earthjustice sued when we found out that government officials earmarked million of dollars worth of British Petroleum ”natural resource damage restoration” money to build a new hotel and conference center in an Alabama state park. BP was ordered to pay the fines for its 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. It’s no problem that Alabama wants to build a hotel and conference center in Gulf Shores State Park (a facility like that stood there for decades until Hurricane Ivan wiped it out in 2004.) The wrong-headed part of this story is trying to use $58.5 million worth of BP “natural resource restoration” funds to pay for it.

                  In his ruling, Senior Judge Charles R. Butler, Jr. criticized the government for “circular logic” in allocating these funds “for possible use in a project that … was little more than an idea,” and emphasized that “[t]his case demonstrates the importance of providing a clear and meaningful analysis of alternatives.”

                  The Gulf’s natural resources took a major hit during the BP oil spill, and the ecosystem now needs our help. Some 600 miles of beach, dune and barrier island habitat were harmed in the catastrophe. Experts are still calculating, but so far, they say the region has lost more than four billion oysters, 50,000 birds and trillions of fish larvae. Certain whale and dolphin species were harmed so badly that populations are likely to take decades to recover—if they recover at all. And, about 600 turtles were found dead during the oil spill response.

                  That’s why it’s important BP cleanup  funds go to help those species and special places recover, and not towards building luxury hotels.

                  Jessica Knoblauch|Monday, March 07, 2016

                  Forestry

                  Found: The Biggest Collection of Ancient Oaks in Europe

                  The massive, old trees were hiding in plain sight in the woods of a spectacular mansion

                  Majestic and picturesque, England’s Blenheim Palace gives an entirely new meaning to the term “country house.” The Baroque English playground was the birthplace of Winston Churchill and is surrounded by lavish gardens planted by Lancelot “Capability” Brown, the inventor of modern landscape architecture. But it turns out there’s something else that’s special about the stately manor: As Megan Archer reports for the Oxford Times, it’s now thought to be the home of Europe’s oldest oak trees.

                  Archer writes that a tree researcher discovered at least 60 trees that date back to the Middle Ages on the property—some more than 900 years old. Aljos Farjon was investigating ancient oaks in England for his upcoming book when he stumbled across a cache of the oak trees deep within the woods that surround the manor.

                  Blenheim Palace would be spectacular even without the discovery of the hidden existence of Europe’s oldest trees. Unesco, which designated the palace as a world heritage site in 1987, writes that it is “a perfect example of an 18th-century princely dwelling”—a pad so luxurious that it is filled with priceless art and once even hosted its own riding school.

                  The history of the palace is one of ambitious architectural dreams and shaky finances. Queen Anne gave the 1st Duke of Marlborough, General John Churchill, her ruined royal manor after he felled French forces at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. The Duke used the land and the cash she gave him to build a gigantic palace studded with ostentatious displays of wealth and power—and landscaped to the nines. Brown used the natural woods surrounding the palace to create a pastoral masterpiece. He apparently left the old oak trees intact.

                  As the historic home of the Duke of Marlborough, Blenheim fell into disrepair until Consuelo Vanderbilt, an American heiress, married into the estate and financed its restoration with her own money. Nowadays, the spectacular manor hosts horse shows and more than 760,000 visitors each year. Today’s visitors come to see a site that offers a glittering look at British history, but the ancient trees hiding in Blenheim’s forests have seen even more of the past. The discovery shows that the sumptuous palace’s roots are just a bit deeper—and older—than anyone thought.

                  Erin Blakemore|smithsonian.com|March 10, 2016

                  Asia Pulp and Paper Has a Long Way to Go Before It Can Be Considered a Non-controversial Supplier

                  Lack of outcomes and legacy of environmental destruction, social conflict and murky corporate governance requires ongoing scrutiny and independent verification of progress

                  San Francisco, CA – On February 4th, the pulp and paper giant Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) marked the third anniversary of its landmark Forest Conservation Policy (FCP) with positive reports about its progress on improved forest and peatland management, land conflict and social issues, and landscape conservation and restoration.

                  However, the lack of improved outcomes on the ground for local communities, forests and peatlands and forest governance belies APP’s narrative that it has turned itself around and deserves to be rewarded.

                  Lafcadio Cortesi, Rainforest Action Network’s Asia Director, said,

                  “The legacy of twenty years of rogue operations is taking more time to address than APP wants paper buyers, investors, governments and industry watchers to know about.

                  “The company’s track record, and our experience over the past year, suggest that APP’s efforts will require a medium to long term time horizon to address the structural and practical changes required to achieve improved outcomes on the ground.”

                  Several events in 2015 coupled with ongoing land conflict issues demonstrate the immense challenges confronting APP and the long journey the company still must travel in order to remedy its history of harm and move away from being considered a controversial supplier:

                  • On 28 February 2015, Indra Pelani, a 22 year old community leader and farmers union organizer who was involved in a land dispute with APP subsidiary Wirakarya Sakti (PT WKS) was detained and beaten to death by company security guards in Jambi province.

                  • Several months later toxic smoke and haze from out of control fires caused a public health crisis and had crippling social and economic impacts in Indonesia and across the region. Despite legal obligations to manage fires, APP and suppliers experienced far more fires inside their concession areas than other companies or groups and have been subject to legal action and boycotts by governments, civil society and Singaporean supermarkets.

                  • In August, APP made the admirable commitment to set aside of 7,000 ha of peatlands for restoration in Riau and South Sumatra. And though the company reported the construction of more than 4,000 dams in November, the area still represents less than 1 percent of APP’s holdings in peatlands.

                  “Due in large part to a failure to adequately identify, delineate and set aside indigenous and community lands and land claims, APP has a continuing legacy of social conflict and inequity across its concessions. An evaluation of the company’s progress in implementing its commitments published by the Rainforest Alliance in 2015 found that several hundred social conflicts remain in APP concessions,” said Cortesi.

                  “APP has developed a system to inventory, classify and prioritize conflicts and is working with consultants to develop and implement action plans to resolve them. Yet the veracity and effectiveness of this system remain in doubt. APP has not disclosed the content of the action plans and has pushed back on suggestions from civil society that the development of such plans must ensure that communities’ chosen representatives are involved in plan development and that access to independent information and expert legal, financial, and other advice must be available to communities.

                  “It is still unclear whether this system has led to resolution of specific conflicts. And, even in the handful of conflict resolution cases that have involved third party mediation and civil society, a host of complaints have been lodged and irregularities been found. 

                  “Despite these concerns, APP is expanding its pulp and paper production capacity with its Oki Mill complex––projected to be among the world’s largest––in South Sumatra. It is of grave concern that APP is moving forward with this project prior to addressing the host of challenges that it is facing in existing operations and prior to demonstrating that it has sufficient long term wood supply for the project.

                  “These events and findings paint a picture of a company with a long way to go before it may be considered even a non-controversial company, let alone a socially and environmentally responsible one.

                  “Considering the ongoing reputational and material risks associated with doing business with APP, the company’s approach to defining its own targets and priorities and asking stakeholders  to take its word that it’s making progress is not sufficient. There is an urgent need for third parties to set independent, outcome based evaluation criteria for the company’s performance and to establish and carry out independent monitoring and verification procedures using these criteria.

                  Emma Rae Lierley|February 4, 2016

                  Global Warming and Climate Change

                  February breaks global temperature records by ‘shocking’ amount

                  Global temperatures in February smashed previous monthly records by an unprecedented amount, according to NASA data, sparking warnings of a climate emergency.

                  The result was “a true shocker, and yet another reminder of the incessant long-term rise in global temperature resulting from human-produced greenhouse gases”, wrote Jeff Masters and Bob Henson in a blog on the Weather Underground, which analysed the data released on Saturday.

                  It confirms preliminary analysis from earlier in March, indicating the record-breaking temperatures.

                  The global surface temperatures across land and ocean in February were 1.35C warmer than the average temperature for the month, from the baseline period of 1951-1980.

                  The global record was set just one month earlier, with January already beating the average for that month by 1.15C above the average for the baseline period.

                  Although the temperatures have been spurred on by a very large El Niño in the Pacific Ocean, the temperature smashed records set during the last large El Niño from 1998, which was at least as strong as the current one.

                  The month did not break the record for hottest month, since that is only likely to happen during a northern hemisphere summer, when most of the world’s land mass heats up.

                  “We are in a kind of climate emergency now,” Stefan Rahmstorf, from Germany’s Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research and a visiting professorial fellow at the University of New South Wales, told Fairfax Media.

                  “This is really quite stunning … it’s completely unprecedented,” he said.

                  Michael Slezak|The Guardian|3/14/16

                  Extreme Weather

                  Thousands flee as historic floods swamp South

                  Submerged roadways, backed-up sewers, stalled cars and flooded homes: The dramatic scenes in Shreveport, Louisiana, were being repeated Thursday in the South as historic flash flooding continued to pound the region.

                  Three people have been killed in Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana since the deluge began earlier this week, and the heavy rain promises not to let up for at least another day.

                  In all, some areas will receive 2 feet of rain by the time the storm winds down Friday, the National Weather Service said. In addition to Louisiana, the hardest-hit state, parts of Arkansas, western Tennessee and southern Illinois were also drenched by locally heavy rain Thursday, according to the weather service.

                  In Louisiana, 3,000 homes were under mandatory evacuations, FEMA said. At least 9,000 customers were without power, schools were closed in several parishes, and many roads were closed.

                  Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards called in the state’s National Guard to assist with rescues by boat and in big military trucks.

                  USA TODAY

                  Record flooding swamps Texas, La., Miss.

                  Rivers continued to rise to record levels Monday in parts of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, flooding thousands of homes.

                  Flood warnings were in effect across the region as many rivers remained dangerously high. Emergency officials said almost 5,000 homes in Louisiana were damaged by flooding, according to the Associated Press.

                  The flooding is the result of a slow-moving storm that dumped up to 2 feet of rain on the region last week. Though the storm is gone, a massive amount of water is still moving through swollen streams and rivers on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. At least four deaths have been reported in Louisiana, the AP said, and the National Guard has rescued nearly 3,300 people.

                  Flooding along the Sabine River, which forms part of the border between Louisiana and Texas, has been especially bad.

                  On Sunday, President Barack Obama declared a major disaster for Louisiana.

                  USA TODAY

                  Snowstorm may usher in spring in Northeast

                  Though the calendar says spring begins Sunday, winter won’t be going away quietly.

                  A snowstorm could hit portions of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast on Sunday.

                  As much as a foot of snow is possible in some areas, especially in New England, by the time the storm winds down Monday.

                  “If the storm develops to its full potential, then a blizzard could evolve in part of New England,” AccuWeather meteorologist Bernie Rayno said.

                  The rate of snow is also likely to ramp up significantly Sunday night near New York City.

                  Lesser amounts, on the order of 1-3 inches, could fall in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, AccuWeather said.

                  The storm could pose travel headaches, including flight delays and cancellations out of some major Northeast hubs later Sunday and into Monday, according to the Weather Channel.

                  Unseasonably cold temperatures are forecast for the weekend, according to WeatherBug. Highs will only be in the 40s across most of the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Upper Midwest.

                  USA TODAY

                   

                  Energy

                  Wind projects are put on hold

                  3 Sanilac townships stop development; a 4th might

                  In the space of about a week, three Sanilac County townships put a stay on wind energy development, and a fourth is considering the same possibility.

                  Marion Township, one of the future sites for a planned Exelon wind project, approved a moratorium on wind energy development March 3, halting any future wind projects for at least six months.

                  On Tuesday, voters in Argyle and Wheatland townships voted down their wind energy ordinances.

                  And, on Thursday, Roger Knight submitted a petition for a moratorium on wind energy development in Bridgehampton Township. A council member also made a similar motion.

                  The temporary halt to wind energy plans comes in the wake of a wind turbine collapse in neighboring Huron County, concerns about allowable setbacks and allegations of conflicts of interest in Marion and Bridgehampton townships — where some public officials voting on wind turbine-friendly ordinance changes also hold leases with Exelon and other wind energy companies.

                  Marion, Bridgehampton and Custer townships are poised to welcome a total of 68 new windmills as part of an Exelon wind farm project. Measuring about 499 feet in height, the windmills would generate about 150 megawatts of energy — enough to power about 44,000 average homes.

                  Kristen Otterness, spokeswoman for Exelon, said the company has received word of the moratorium in Marion Township.

                  “We’re evaluating the impact a moratorium may have on the Michigan Wind 3 project,” Otterness said in an email. “We’ll continue to work with the townships to develop a constructive approach to permitting wind generation facilities.”

                  Bridgehampton Township Supervisor Michael Haggerty said the township board on Thursday received a petition from Knight requesting a moratorium. He said board member Katherine Kelly also made a motion for a moratorium. “I know that (the board is) going to look at the possibility, because they requested the attorney to provide them with information on moratoriums,” Haggerty said. “He’s to provide that to the board at their April meeting.”

                  Haggerty said the township has received an application from Exelon for a special land use permit. He said the application is being reviewed by township engineers and hasn’t been placed on any agendas yet. Knight said, in addition to his petition for a moratorium, he also submitted signatures for a referendum on an ordinance amendment that would change the way the township notifies people of public hearings.

                  The referendum would put the issue to a vote by the residents in August, presumably stalling any board action on wind projects until after the August vote.

                  Knight said if the board chooses to act on a special land use permit anyway, he’d take them to court.

                  “Their options are pretty small at this point,” Knight said. “They’re either going to listen to the people or get litigated.

                  “We’re not saying we don’t want windmills. We’re saying you’ve got to change these setbacks.”

                  Supervisor Arnold McVittie said he recommended a six-month moratorium in Marion Township to the board March 3. The moratorium passed on a 3-2 vote.

                  “There seems to be some questions in regard to some of the items in our zoning ordinance and wind ordinance,” McVittie said.

                  “During that 6-month period, hopefully, we can work together and work them out. That’s the goal and it would be easier done with the moratorium in place.”

                  Jon Block, a Marion Township planning commission member, said signatures also were submitted in Marion Township for a referendum regarding a zoning ordinance amendment that would expand the township wind overlay district to accommodate the Exelon project.

                  Block said the issue will go to a township vote in August.

                  “We were given the time to do this the right way and we need to move forward as a community,” Block said.

                  “We want to write an ordinance that respects both participating and non-participating land owners.”

                  The stays on wind energy development come weeks after two turbines in Huron County failed.

                  On Feb. 19, a blade on a DTE Energy wind turbine in Sigel Township bent and wrapped around the nacelle of the turbine, flinging a 12-foot piece of blade about 120 yards from the base. The incident remains under investigation.

                  On Feb. 25, a 396-foot Exelon wind turbine in Elkton collapsed to the ground. Otterness said the company finished gathering data and material from the site and sent the information to an independent lab. “Based on preliminary information, we’re looking at the pitch system first, then we’ll continue to look at other systems,” Otterness said in an email. “The pitch system controls how the blades move back and forth.”

                  Land Conservation

                  Parks in Peril

                  Imagine visiting Grand Teton National Park to seek out its remarkable wildlife … and finding private mansions instead.

                  Or taking a deep breath of fresh air at Yosemite … and getting a lungful of harmful smog instead.

                  As the National Park System enters its second century, many of its crown jewels are at a crossroads. And it is up to us to determine which path they take.

                  NPCA has launched an urgent Parks in Peril campaign to rally the public and policy makers to protect nine of our most iconic parks from imminent threats like drilling, development, and pollution.

                  Already, we’ve scored a tremendous victory for one of these parks, helping stop construction of an ill-conceived mega-resort at the Grand Canyon’s doorstep.

                  To ramp up all of our work on the remaining eight parks in peril, we need to raise $30,000 by March 31. And we need your help to reach our goal.

                  One of our top priorities for this campaign is protecting the dramatic red rock landscapes of Arches National Park in Utah. If oil and gas companies are allowed to drill near park boundaries, scenic vistas could be dotted with pumps, air quality could be diminished, and large amounts of water could be removed from these already parched lands.

                  NPCA is urging the Obama administration to protect Arches—and all national parks that lie in the path of oil and gas development—by finalizing strong land use plans that preserve these lands for public benefit, not private interests.

                  But we can’t do it alone.

                  The clock is ticking for Arches … and for Biscayne National Park, Colonial National Historic Park, Glacier National Park, Mojave National Preserve, Yellowstone National Park, and other parks in peril across the country. Many of these parks are at a tipping point. So we must act fast!

                  With nearly 100 years of experience protecting the parks, unmatched parks advocacy expertise, and allies on both sides of the aisle in Congress, NPCA is uniquely positioned to safeguard these treasures of the park system. But we need your help to keep up the fight.

                  Please help us reach our $30,000 campaign goal—and assure the future of our beloved parks—by making a generous, tax-deductible gift today.

                  Thank you,
                  Theresa Pierno|President and CEO|NPCA

                  P.S. I know you imagine a better, brighter future for our parks than one of scenic vistas destroyed by oil wells, transmission lines running through wildlife habitat, and smoggy air.

                  Top Six Reasons to Keep the Grand Canyon Grand

                  When the U.S. Forest Service last week rejected an Italian investment group’s plan for a sprawling development near the south rim of the Grand Canyon, it was a rare victory for the natural world over the relentless onslaught of tract houses, beauty spas, parking lots and shopping malls. Here are six reasons to celebrate Earthjustice’s victory for Grand Canyon National Park and the delicate landscapes that surround it:

                  1. The lack of need for another shopping mall.

                    The 3 million square feet of commercial space planned for the tiny town of Tusayan was large enough to accommodate the gargantuan Mall of America. It would have brought traffic, parking, noise, air and water pollution, trash and nighttime lights to the raw windswept landscape. It would have defaced the surroundings of an extraordinary natural treasure, making much of the area just another strip mall. 

                  2. Havasu Creek and its amazing turquoise waterfalls.

                    The blue-green waters of Havasu Creek and the iconic Havasu Falls are spring-fed.  The developer never ruled out tapping into the aquifer and its finite water supplies that feed the creek in order to serve the 2,100 housing units, conference center and commercial space planned for the Tusayan development.  Lowering the aquifer’s—and thus Havasu Creek’s—waters would have threatened the source of life and culture for the Havasupai Tribe, which is centered in the town of Supai along the creek in the Grand Canyon.  Unsurprisingly, the tribe opposed the development.  Without all the development’s plumbing, the Havasupai’s sacred waters and gorgeous Havasu Falls are safe.

                    The sunrise. 

                  3. Thousands of hikers hit the trails in pre-dawn darkness to be surrounded by the silence and the jaw-dropping views as sunrise transforms the canyon from purple to crimson, orange and pink. Close to 40,000 people camp overnight in the spectacular setting. They go there expecting to be protected from the everyday annoyances of urban life.

                  4. …and the sunset.

                    More than 5.5 million visitors came to Grand Canyon National Park in 2015 and the adventurous ones took a cold beverage to the south rim at dusk to watch the rock walls reflect the fading light and plunge into darkness. The celestial show in the desert night sky also will be protected from the inevitable light pollution that would have been produced by the development at Tusayan.

                  5. California condors.

                    These majestic endangered birds have been making a small, tentative comeback in the Grand Canyon region. If you’re a lucky visitor to the park, you can see them soaring overhead. Let’s just say, the birds don’t come here looking for nightlife.

                  6. President Roosevelt’s remarkable vision.

                    A century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt called on the American people to preserve the incomparable Grand Canyon for future generations. “In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.” His comments are memorialized in the park on a plaque at Roosevelt Point.

                  Message received. The spirit of the father of America’s national parks is alive and well—for now.

                  Jessica Knoblauch|Wednesday, March 09, 2016

                  Recycling

                  Secrets to Yard Sale Success

                  Running out of room to store things you don’t really need anyway? Sell it off at a blow-out yard sale.

                  Summer is here, which probably means that the piles of clutter you discovered during spring cleaning are still, well, cluttering. Before you give in to the temptation to haul it all out to the dumpster behind your house, consider giving it a second life. You do what you can to recycle your paper and aluminum cans, so why not recycle your clothes, your old records, that vase your mother-in-law gave you three years ago, and the kids’ old toys—and make a little money while you’re at it?

                  Every day, Americans throw away an average of 4.5 pounds of garbage per person. Holding a yard sale can be your chance to keep reusable items in circulation. So gather your clutter and check out these easy steps to making your yard sale a smashing success.

                  Getting Started

                  The first step to throwing a great yard sale is assembling your merchandise. This is the time to go through your closets, cabinets, basements, attics, and cupboards. Make a night of it—have everyone in your household bring things down from their rooms and go through them together (to keep the peace, let the final decision to sell be up to the owner of the item). This will give you a chance to spend time together while reliving old memories stimulated by some of your belongings.

                  But watch out—once you unearth some of your old stuff from the depths of the closet, you may suddenly want to keep it. Before you put that long-unused item in the “keep” pile, ask yourself: How long have I lived with this in the closet? How often did I need it? How often will I use it now? Odds are, any item you dragged out of your closet will end up back there soon—why not give it a chance for a new life with someone else?

                  The More the Merrier

                  You probably aren’t the only household in your neighborhood looking to de-clutter your home. Check in with your neighbors and friends of the family to see if they want to join you and make it a multi-family sale. Live in an apartment? Check with fellow tenants—if you join forces and have a bigger sale, you’re likely to draw more potential buyers. Plus, tending to the yard sale is a great way to get to know your neighbors.

                  A Variety of Options

                  Even if you throw the best yard sale ever, no one will know about it if you don’t get the word out. The most effective way to advertise your yard sale is to place a listing in a local newspaper. Some local papers allow you to place a listing for free; others charge a fee. Keep in mind that the small cost of placing a classified in your daily paper may be worth the added exposure.

                  You can also hang up announcement flyers (on recycled paper) seven to ten days before the sale around your community. Online posting is also an option—Web sites like craigslist.org and garagesalehunter.com let you post ads for free.

                  On the day of the sale, make sure that large, bright signs are in the neighborhood to lead buyers to you. Instead of buying poster-board to make your signs, re-use pieces of cardboard from old boxes. (Make sure to take down the signs and flyers and recycle them when the sale is over.)
                  Cindy Skrzynecki, author of 50 Ways to Make the Most Money Having a Garage Sale, notes that “shoppers tend to equate the size of a sign with the size of a sale, so a few large, well-placed signs may draw more people to you than several smaller signs.”
                  When you have your sale could affect your buyer traffic. Skrzynecki says that holiday weekends or weekends that coincide with popular local events are excellent for holding sales, because “you’ll have virtually no competition and provide a fun activity for people who stay in town.”

                  Setting Up the Sale

                  How you set up your items could make the difference between selling them and hauling them back inside your house to darken your closets once more. Here are some tips to make your old stuff as attractive to buyers as possible.

                  The cleaner the better. Make sure your items are presentable. Yes, they’re all used, but you’re more likely to sell that old vase if a buyer can see that lovely shade of blue, instead of a thick layer of dust.
                  • Place items where people can see them. Arrange a display that is both catchy and organized. To get your items in your buyers’ view, use tabletops and bookcases when you can; if you’re short on tables, an upside-down bucket with an old piece of plywood on top will work just as well.
                  • Display clothing effectively. Put clothes on hangers if possible, rather than folding them in piles that will soon get messed up. They’ll be more attractive to customers and not as easy to miss.
                  • Does this thing work? Have an extension cord handy so people can test electrical appliances, and provide a measuring tape for furniture and other large items. You may even want to have a set of working batteries on hand for people to test items like flashlights or electronic games. But don’t feel limited to selling only working items. You might have a buyer who knows how to fix a broken blender, or who wants to take that old radio home for its parts. Just make sure to label items that don’t work.
                  • Ensure the price is right. Make sure all of your items are clearly priced: buyers will quickly tire of asking you the price each time they’re interested in an item, and odds are you won’t remember what you said from time to time. Write the price on a small sticker, and place it on the item. If you’re having a multi-family yard sale, use a different colored sticker for each family, take the stickers off as you sell items, and use the totals from the stickers to divide the profits at the end. If you’re unsure how to price your items, check out other yard sales in your area the weekend before. A little preparatory snooping will you help get ideas for pricing and for displaying things.
                  • Use creative labeling. Have some items you’re afraid won’t sell? Help buyers think up uses for them. “If you have a bookcase, mention its use as a boot rack in the mudroom or basement,” writes Sunny Wicka in her book Garage Sale Shopper (currently out of print). “Sales can actually be made solely by suggesting a novel use.” Spark the shopper’s imagination by combining art supplies—like old magazines, papers, markers, paints, and knick-knacks—on a table that’s labeled “Great for Art!” or by placing household items, crates, and blankets together with a label that reads “Going Away to College?”
                  • Prepare for early birds. If you’re lucky, your advertising will bring yard sale gurus flocking to buy your stuff. These are the pros who will arrive early (Be prepared!) and scour your sale for the best deals. You’ll be lucky to have these enthusiasts at your sale, but you’ve got to be prepared to bargain with them over prices. If such haggling makes you uncomfortable, just make it clear that prices are fixed with the placement of a few friendly signs.
                  Once the initial rush is over, do consider accepting bargain offers. Replace those “no haggling” signs with ones that say “willing to bargain” or “make an offer.” During the final hour of your sale, consider cutting prices in half.

                  Ready, Set, Sell!

                  Summer and early fall are the times for yard sales, so why not make yours the best on the block? Make it a place where people will have fun and want to hang around (more browsing time often means more purchases). Pull out that radio and play some upbeat music, set up a play area for children, and maybe even have a lemonade stand. Having cool drinks on hand will keep your shoppers refreshed and cheerful; also, if children are involved in the sale, staffing a lemonade stand will give them a chance to get in on the action.

                  If there is a shy artist or a clever craft-maker hiding inside of you, use your yard sale as an opportunity to share some of your homemade items with your community. Do you have a green thumb? Try filling old jars with pebbles and water and using them to sell plant cuttings of that philodendron in your kitchen, or sell some cut flowers from your garden. Invite your children to hand-paint a few clay pots and use them to sell herbs and other small plants. These personal touches will take your yard sale above and beyond.

                  Dealing With the Aftermath

                  Your tables are almost empty, your lemonade supply is drained, and the last car full of your old stuff is driving away. What to do with your leftover sale items? Arrange a charity donation pick-up at your home ahead of time. Some charities will arrange a pick-up time with you: simply call ahead and schedule the pick-up to move your unwanted, but still useful, items into needy hands.

                  If you find that you enjoy throwing yard sales, consider organizing charity yard sales in your community. Join forces with your local place of worship, neighborhood association, or school to help people recycle their old stuff while also making money for a worthy cause.

                  Recycle Electronics Responsibly

                  While you can easily donate many items that you don’t unload at your garage sale to your local Goodwill or homeless shelter, electronics may be trickier. If they’re unusable or close to it, they could end up in a landfill, where they’ll leach harmful chemicals into the environment. Even if you try to do the right thing and recycle them, some so-called “recyclers” may ship them to developing countries like China, where they’re dismantled by hand by workers who lack protective equipment, and they end up poisoning people and the environment abroad.

                  To see your electronics responsibly to the end of their useful lives, recycle them through a certified e-Stewards recycler. These companies are independently certified by the nonprofit Basel Action Network to ensure their e-waste is not exported to developing nations, disposed into landfills, or recycled using forced or child labor. Your local Staples store is an e-Stewards enterprise, or you can find other local e-stewards outlets here.

                  Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist|February 2016

                  Recycling Different Plastics

                  Adding Up the Numbers When You Recycle Plastic Products and Containers

                  Plastic is a versatile and inexpensive material with thousands of uses, but it is also a significant source of pollution. Some worrisome emerging environmental issues involve plastics, including gigantic oceanic garbage patches and the microbeads problem. Recycling can alleviate some of the problems, but the confusion over what we can and cannot recycle continues to confound consumers. Plastics are especially troublesome, as different types require different processing to be reformulated and re-used as raw material. To effectively recycle plastic items, you need to know two things: the plastic number of the material, and which of these types of plastics your municipality’s recycling service accepts. Many facilities now accept #1 through #7, but check with them first to make sure.

                  The symbol code we are familiar with—a single digit ranging from 1 to 7 and surrounded by a triangle of arrows—was designed by The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) in 1988 to allow consumers and recyclers to differentiate types of plastics while providing a uniform coding system for manufacturers.

                  The numbers, which 39 U.S. states now require to be molded or imprinted on all eight-ounce to five-gallon containers that can accept the half-inch minimum-size symbol, identify the type of plastic. According to the American Plastics Council, an industry trade group, the symbols also help recyclers do their jobs more effectively.

                  Plastic #1: PET

                  The easiest and most common plastics to recycle are made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and are assigned the number 1. Examples include soda and water bottles, medicine containers, and many other common consumer product containers. Once it has been processed by a recycling facility, PET can become fiberfill for winter coats, sleeping bags and life jackets. It can also be used to make bean bags, rope, car bumpers, tennis ball felt, combs, sails for boats, furniture and, of course, other plastic bottles. PET #1 bottles should not be re-purposed as reusable water bottles.

                  Plastic #2: HDPE

                  Number 2 is reserved for high-density polyethylene plastics (HDPE). These include heavier containers that hold laundry detergents and bleaches as well as milk, shampoo and motor oil. Plastic labeled with the number 2 is often recycled into toys, piping, truck bed liners, and rope. Like plastic designated number 1, it is widely accepted at recycling centers.

                  Plastic #3: Vinyl (V)

                  Polyvinyl chloride, commonly used in plastic pipes, shower curtains, medical tubing, vinyl dashboards, gets number 3. Once recycled, it can be ground up and reused to make vinyl flooring, window frames, or piping.

                  Plastic #4: LDPE

                  Low density polyethylene (LDPE) is used to make thin, flexible plastics like wrapping films, grocery bags, sandwich bags, and a variety of soft packaging materials.

                  Plastic #5: Polypropylene (PP)

                  Some food containers are made with the stronger polypropylene plastic, as well as a large proportion of plastic caps.

                  Plastic #6: Polystyrene (PS)

                  Number 6 goes on polystyrene (Styrofoam) items such as coffee cups, disposable cutlery, meat trays, packing “peanuts” and insulation. It can be reprocessed into many items, including rigid insulation. However, the foam versions of plastic #6 (for example, cheap coffee cups) pick up a lot of dirt and other contaminants during the handling process, and often just ends up being thrown away at the recycling facility.

                  Plastic #7: Others

                  Last are items crafted from various combinations of the aforementioned plastics or from unique plastic formulations not commonly used. Usually imprinted with a number 7 or nothing at all, these plastics are the most difficult to recycle. If your municipality accepts #7, good, but otherwise you will have to re-purpose the object or throw it in the thrash. Better yet, don’t buy it in the first place. More ambitious consumers can feel free to return such items to the product manufacturers to avoid contributing to the local waste stream, and instead put the burden on the makers to recycle or dispose of the items properly.

                  Earth Talk

                  Environmental Links

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

                  Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

                  COnsRep1603 A

                  “When the last tree has been cut down, the last river poisoned and the last fish caught, then the man will find that money can not be eaten. ” Apache Chief GERONIMO

                   

                  Announcements

                  Watch for Baby Sea Turtles!
                  Sea Turtle nesting season is here, March 1 through October 31, and Broward County’s Sea Turtle Conservation Program team is monitoring activity to maximize the hatchling survival rate.

                  The County oversees nesting activity for approximately 22 miles of shoreline, protecting sea turtle nests that are at risk due to predators, lighting and erosion, and assisting injured, stranded or distressed turtles.

                  A dark habitat is critical, and the presence of artificial light along a developed beach can deter the already endangered animals from building a nest, and draw disoriented hatchlings away from the safety of the ocean.

                  For more information, visit Broward.org/Natural Resources/BeachAndMarine and select “SEA SEA TURTLES”

                  Of Interest to All

                  Fracking Bill is Dead!

                  Last week the fracking bill SB 318 was voted down in the Senate Appropriations Committee and declared victory.  Well,it’s never over ’til it’s over.

                  An attempt to resurrect the bill this afternoon failed when its sponsor Senator Garrett Richter asked the Committee not to reconsider the bill.   

                  “I didn’t have the votes despite working all weekend to try to get Sens to flip,” a frustrated Senator Richter told a Miami Herald report after he pulled the bill.  “The opponents ‘got what they wanted.”

                  Under Senate rules, the bill can’t be brought back for consideration this year.  NOW IT’S DEAD!

                  It’s a tremendous victory for the thousands of concerned Floridians who called their Florida Legislators over the past month asking them to oppose this harmful bill.

                  Frank Jackalone|Senior Organizing Manager|Sierra Club

                  [In the time between now and next years legislative session, we must get as many state, county, municipal governments and local agencies as possible to ban fracking.]

                  Commissioners Ban Fracking in Broward County

                  BROWARD COUNTY, FL – County Commissioners unanimously banned any type of hydraulic and acid fracturing, known as “fracking”, to extract oil and gas from the ground in Broward County.  The vote comes as the Florida Legislature contemplates a series of bills that would stop local governments from regulating the practice.
                  “This is about protecting our water supply and environment,” said Commissioner Beam Furr, who brought the ordinance to the Commission for a vote.  “We’re discussing a ban on fracking today and at the same time state lawmakers are discussing taking away our authority to do so.  We must ban this now.”
                  Fracking involves the pumping of huge amounts of water, sand and chemicals into the ground using extreme pressure to recover oil and gas deposits.  Oil and gas companies are not currently required by federal or state law to disclose formulas used in fracking. 
                  “This is Tallahassee once again trying to take away the authority of local elected officials who represent the people who live in Broward County.  This is a critical issue for us.  If necessary, I’m in favor of pursuing appropriate legal remedies to enforce this ordinance,” said Broward County Mayor Marty Kiar. 
                  Dozens of people attended a public hearing to tell Commissioners they opposed fracking and spoke in favor of the ordinance to ban the controversial practice. An application to drill an exploratory oil well in the Florida Everglades, just west of the city of Miramar is currently under review by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 
                  Public and private water utilities across Broward County rely entirely upon groundwater sources, including the Biscayne and Floridan Aquifers for drinking water supplies.  The Floridan Aquifer alone is the source of drinking water for ten million residents.
                  Many of the chemicals used during the fracking process have resulted in thousands of documented cases of water contamination and adverse effects on human health and the environment in the United States. 

                  DATE: January 26, 2016
                  MEDIA CONTACT: Kimberly Maroe
                  Public Information Manager, Broward County Commission
                  PHONE: (954) 357-8053
                  EMAIL: kmaroe@broward.org

                  Calls to Action

                  1.   Tell Congress- Support the resolution for a just transition to 100 percent renewable energy – here

                  Birds and Butterflies

                  Annual Everglades Wading Bird Report Shows Decline in Key Indicator Species

                  Last week the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) released the annual South Florida Wading Bird Report, which showed another year of poor nesting efforts for key indicator species. Compared to the 10-year average, nesting by Wood Storks was down 36%, Snowy Egrets down 51%, and Little Blue Herons down 70%.

                  Audubon Florida science staff contribute to the report and conclude that this continued population decline for birds like Snowy Egrets and Wood Storks demonstrates the urgent need for Everglades restoration.

                  Destruction of wetlands and the diversion of water in the Everglades for flood control and water supply have reduced the amount of quality foraging habitat available to wading birds. Restoration efforts are underway that restore degraded habitat and expand the acreage of wetlands to improve conditions for wading birds and other Everglades wildlife. But these projects are not being constructed fast enough to stem the decline of key indicator species. It is necessary to accelerate construction before declines in wading bird populations become irreversible.

                  For more information on this important report, please click here to download Audubon Florida’s latest fact sheet.

                  Additional Coverage:

                  • Sun Sentinel
                  • Miami Herald
                  • Washington Times

                    Report Shows Average 2015 Nesting Season for South Florida Wading Birds

                    Wading bird populations in South Florida had relatively average nesting success in 2015 compared to the last 10 years, according to the annual South Florida Wading Bird Report released this month by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD).

                    Scientists documented an estimated 43,896 wading bird nests throughout South Florida during the nesting season from December 2014 to June 2015. While the number is in line with the 10-year average, it represents a 25 percent increase over the average for the past five years.

                    The moderate improvement was largely attributed to increased nesting by the white ibis, the most numerous wading bird species in South Florida. White ibis produced 28,139 nests, about 11,000 (64 percent) more nests than the five-year average and 32 percent more than the 10-year average.

                    “Our collaborative work with scientists at noted institutions produces this annual, comprehensive look at the health of important species in the Everglades,” said SFWMD Governing Board member Sandy Batchelor. “Continued progress with restoration projects is critical to improve essential habitat that will help wading birds flourish.”

                    Other highlights of the report include:

                    • Tricolored heron nesting efforts increased (1,148 nests) relative to recent years, with improvement attributed to increased nesting in Florida Bay.
                    • Roseate spoonbill nesting improved (365 nests) by nearly three times more than last year, although it is low when compared to the 30-year average.
                    • Great egret nesting (8,213 nests) was within 3 percent of both the 5- and 10-year averages.
                    • Wood stork nesting (1,469 nests) was down 36 percent from the 10-year average and down 32 percent from the 5-year average.

                    The wading bird report is prepared each year in partnership with: the SFWMD; the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve; Everglades National Park; the University of Florida, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary; Audubon of Florida’s Everglades Science Center; J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge; Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves; and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area.

                    More short-term conclusions and long-term trends from the report can be found in our news release. The full 2015 South Florida Wading Bird Report is also available on our website.

                  SOUTH FLORIDA WADING BIRD REPORT

                  Which bird are you? Take the quiz! ‏

                  Keeping Monarchs Migrating

                  Numbers continue to drop, but solutions are out there

                  Beloved for their beauty, monarch butterflies make a spectacular multigenerational 3,000-mile journey to Mexico every year when cooler weather signals the winter to come. But habitat loss from agriculture and urban development along their way are putting these majestic migrators at risk.

                  The North American monarch population has plummeted in recent years, from 1 billion in 1996 to 35 million today.

                  Monarchs are temperature-sensitive, making them vulnerable to climate change and weather fluctuations. With the decline in numbers, scientists worry that should a winter storm—like the one in Mexico in 2002 that killed up to 500 million (75 percent of the population)—happen again, there might not be enough survivors to reestablish a spring population.

                  You can help monarchs by planting native milkweeds in your yard. Ask your local garden center for “butterfly,” “swamp,” “common,” “purple,” “poke” and “whorled” milkweeds, and make sure they have not been treated with pesticides.

                  Fingers had pointed to deforestation of their winter habitat as one of the biggest problems, but Mexican officials have now virtually eliminated illegal logging, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Even so, the last two winters scientists recorded the lowest number of monarchs there since annual surveys began 20 years ago. Clusters of monarchs covered 45 acres of their Mexican wintering grounds in 1996, but now their clusters make up less than two acres.

                  Monarch numbers have dropped in tandem with rising use of glyphosate, an herbicide introduced in 1997 that kills plants without a genetically engineered immunity. This includes milkweed, the only food a monarch caterpillar eats. “Milkweed is a casualty of our choice to plant monoculture crops,” says Ya-Wei Li, Defenders’ senior director of endangered species conservation. He is working with Iowa State University to advise state agencies and other stakeholders on the best way to set up land conservation plans in Iowa, the heart of the butterfly’s breeding range, and other Corn Belt states.

                  “The continued use of herbicides on milkweed reduces the habitat for monarchs,” Li says. “But if Monsanto had never invented Roundup, there would’ve been something else thought up to eliminate monarch habitat so we could get as much corn and soybeans as possible.” 

                  He says that now the objective is to find solutions before it’s too late. “The farmers will still be there,” he says. “Defenders’ goal is to get the most conservation out of these places—to provide incentives for landowners and states to want to plant milkweed in migration corridors.”

                  A growing number of campaigns aim to do just that, including an initiative launched by President Obama last year aimed at seeding habitat along the Interstate Highway 35 “monarch flyway” from Texas to Minnesota.

                  Other important tactics include urging local and state governments to stop spraying and mowing along roadways and encouraging everyone to do their part by planting their own backyard butterfly buffet of native flowering plants. 

                  Native is the key word. A recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B found that plantings of non-native tropical milkweed in the South are causing monarchs to suffer higher rates of disease and parasitic infection. Tropical milkweed, unfortunately the species most commonly offered at nurseries, doesn’t die back like native milkweed. A waning food source signals the butterflies to move on for winter. When they don’t, scientists say, they do not experience “migratory escape” or “migratory culling” and infectious diseases can spread.

                  “The bottom line is that while we are proceeding with a sense of urgency, we also will use and develop sound scientific understanding to guide the development of cost-effective, productive monarch habitat,” says Sue Blodgett, chair of the Department of Entomology at Iowa State.

                  This leaves Li cautiously optimistic. “Some states are at the forefront—motivated and proactive—but we really need other states to step up.”

                  Heidi Ridgley

                  Wading Birds ‘Pay’ Alligators for Their Protection

                  It’s a give-and-take relationship: alligators may chow down on a few chicks, but they keep predators at bay

                  Scientists have long known that some bird species choose to nest near “protector” animals—creatures that aggressively chase away nest predators. For instance, tiny European fieldfares sometimes choose to nest near merlins, a falcon that grows territorial during breeding season. But these relationships often appear to be a one-way street. 

                  It turns out that many species of long-legged wading birds in the Everglades have a similar relationship with American alligators. But in this case, the benefits go both ways. Birds nesting above the gators get protection from nest predators and the alligators below snack on chicks that fall out of the trees, according to a recent study in PLOS One.

                  “We have known for some time that ibises, storks, spoonbills and herons seem to always have alligators underneath their nests,” says Peter Frederick, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Florida and one of the study’s authors, in a press release. “Alligators are serving as nest protectors – keeping raccoons out of the colony, which are otherwise devastating nest predators.”

                  To determine whether the gators received a tangible benefit from living near birds, the researchers captured, weighed and sampled the blood of 39 female alligators in southern Florida living near islands where large numbers of wading birds recently nested, according to Science Daily. They found that the alligators living near the bird colonies are about six pounds heavier than gators half a mile away, and blood tests show that that they were in better health overall.

                  Previous research also suggests that the species aren’t just meeting by chance. Wading birds seem to actively choose to nest over the alligators despite losing one or two chicks per year, which is within normal chick mortality, the study’s lead author Lucas Nell tells The Washington Post. This loss to the jaws below is a small price to pay to keep raccoons and possums away, which can devastate an entire rookery.

                  That’s not to say the birds and gators are on friendly terms. The giant reptiles will take down any bird that gets too close and actively whack trees with their tails to dislodge nestlings.

                  “They’re just taking advantage of what they know to be a food source. It’s less that they know they’re protecting the birds, and more that they know food can sometimes drop from on high,” Nell told the Washington Post. “It’s like keeping a murderer in your yard to keep out a cat burglar.”

                  Jason Daley|smithsonian.com|March 8, 2016

                  Endangered Species

                   Polar Bear Day 2016 Slideshow

                  Animal Traffickers Use Facebook to Boost Sales

                  There’s plenty to dislike about using social media to sell endangered species

                  It’s the living room of the world, a place where friends can reunite, catch up on photos and plan events. But in Malaysia, the site is being used to illegally traffic animals—and is opening up new markets for the clandestine sale of wildlife, Matt McGrath reports for the BBC.

                  A new report from TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, shows just how widespread the issue is in Malaysia. The group spent half an hour each day monitoring 14 Facebook groups in Malaysia over a period of five months. They discovered the sale of over 300 wild animals during that time—80 species in all. Eighty-six percent of the “for sale” posts involved animals whose sale is forbidden under CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.  

                  Animals from otters to bearcats and sun bears could be found on these illicit Facebook groups, TRAFFIC reports, and 40 percent of the animals were birds. Most were closed groups, and the organization writes that they contained nearly 68,000 members during the monitoring period. The animals appear to have been sold as pets.

                  Now, writes McGrath, the organization is working with Facebook and Malaysian authorities to stop the illegal online trade. Forty-three seizures have already been carried out in Malaysia alone.

                  But Malaysia is just the tip of the illegal online animal trade iceberg. In 2014, the International Fund for Animal Welfare found over 33,000 illegal animals and animal parts on sale on 280 websites over the course of just six weeks. It’s hard to monitor these often shady, ephemeral marketplaces—but to preserve at-risk species, governments and the public will have to give it a go.

                  There’s another way to fight illegal animal trafficking on social media: awareness. Perhaps as more people realize that their social media “living room” is becoming a marketplace for endangered species, they’ll speak out on behalf of species at risk of being sold.

                  Erin Blakemore|smithsonian.com|March 4, 2016

                   

                  The Superhighways of Wildlife Trafficking

                  In this modern day of travel and internet, the global trade in goods has grown exponentially – including both legal and illegal wildlife and wildlife products. Every single day, millions of products and shipments arrive in the United States on trains, planes, boats, cars and trucks. Ten years ago, the value of the illegal wildlife trade coming in to the United States could be estimated at $566 million, but today it is valued at over $2 billion – more than tripling in value. Our experts recently analyzed a decade of data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to discover where these items come from, where they end up and the route they take to get there.

                  Hair Highway: China to Anchorage

                  The most common illegal wildlife product found in the trade route from China to Anchorage, Alaska was hair products. These are items like paint brushes made with or from animal hair. The products in this route were made from badgers, otters, and weasels, but mostly from sables. Sables are a species of marten – a relative of otters and ferrets – that are found from Russia to Japan. Following a pattern that is seen in all the trade routes here, there is a geographical link between the country of export (China, in this case) and the animal used to make most of the main product. Sables are found throughout China and were the most common animal used to make hair products shipped from China to Anchorage. Sable fur can be various shades of brown and is thought to be the silkiest fur of all marten species. One of the unique features of sable fur is that it is smooth no matter which direction it is felt. Sable fur has been found in the fur trade for hundreds of years, and continues to be a prime target for hair products. Although sables are often farmed for their fur, some people believe that wild-caught sables produce the best product. As a result, commercial hunting still exists, and continues to impact wild populations of sables, including those in China where they are listed as endangered.

                  Medicinal Marketplace: China to San Francisco

                  The trade route from China to San Francisco, California is mainly used for illegal trade in medicinal products. But take that description with a giant grain of salt. “Medicinal products” covers a wide variety of things, including oils, powders, tonics and salves made from horns, claws, scales and gall bladders. There is rarely any scientific proof to show the effectiveness of these products or the medicines made from them. In this route, we found medicinal products made from all kinds of animals, from Saiga antelopes and tigers, to freshwater and sea turtles, and pangolins. However, the most common victim was seahorses. Seahorses have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years, and are thought to cure many ailments, including kidney problems, circulatory problems, abdominal pain and impotence. Seahorses also have low birth rates, and their populations are irregularly distributed, making all 50 species vulnerable to extinction. It is estimated that more than 20 million seahorses are harvested every year for medicinal purposes.

                  Shoe Shortcut: Mexico to Laredo

                  Yes, there is an entire wildlife trafficking superhighway dedicated just to shoes. Sadly, it’s not that surprising if you think about it. Many shoes are made of leather, and people don’t always go to the trouble to find out what kind of leather it is, what animal it came from, and if that species is in trouble. The shoes and boots using the route from Mexico to Laredo, Texas were made from a variety of animals, including crocodile, eel, elephant, ostrich, sea turtle and tegu. But the majority of the shoes and boots were made from caiman leather. A number of caiman species are found in Central and South America and throughout southern Mexico. Caiman leather is often used as a lower-quality substitute for other leathers, but is passed off as higher-quality for higher-prices. Some caiman species are as small as three feet long, meaning it would take a number of individual animals to make a pair of boots. Unfortunately, the low-cost, high-return of caiman leather makes them very susceptible to illegal trade.

                  Dead Animal Detour: Mexico to Nogales

                  Sometimes, the victims of wildlife trafficking make it into the U.S. intact, intentionally shipped whole for any number of reasons. This way, the animal could later be used for the meat, the skin, any number of parts, or for display after it is taxidermied. Sadly, dead animals were the most common illegal product found in the trade route from Mexico to Nogales, Arizona. The species discovered were all over the map, from armadillos, to doves, to iguanas, to starfish. But the most common type of animal was frogs – especially bullfrogs and Forrer’s grass frog. Forrer’s grass frog is native to Mexico and Central America, and is mostly sought after to eat. It is considered a delicacy by some, and is likely traded whole for this reason.

                  Wildlife trafficking, like legal trade, is complex and sophisticated. Just like other businesses, wildlife traffickers ship their products in the ways that make the most sense geographically, logistically and financially. And, just as other markets have expanded over the last decade – so has the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products. Understanding these trade routes is extremely valuable. It can help both authorities and consumers know what products tend to be illegal when they come from a specific country. You’ll probably be taking a closer look now before you buy any leather shoes shipped from Mexico, won’t you? This information also gives law enforcement officers a heads up about whether a particular shipment might need closer inspection, based on what it is and where it’s coming from. Armed with this information, we can all – authorities and average buyers alike – take extra steps to combat wildlife trafficking.

                  Rosa Indenbaum|International Policy Analyst|Defenders of Wildlife|24 February 2016

                  SFWMD Restoring Marshlands in Kissimmee Headwaters

                  Amid the headwaters of the Kissimmee River, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) has begun transforming an abandoned sod farm back to historic Lake Hatchineha floodplain.

                  “Re-establishing the historic Kissimmee River Valley continues to be a success story for Everglades restoration,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Daniel O’Keefe. “Vast areas of restored marsh and floodplain are providing significant environmental benefits while increasing our water management flexibility.”

                  Located in a spot where Lake Hatchineha once naturally overflowed its banks during wet times, the 6,000-acre Rolling Meadows property at the river’s headwaters in Polk County was a sod farm in the 1960s. The floodplain on the site just south of the lake was then dried out for flood control.

                  Following SFWMD approval of a construction contract in November, crews have begun the initial work to install new water control structures and update existing infrastructure so that water can once again flow onto Rolling Meadows. When finished, the project will help to restore wildlife habitat and will provide about 1,300 acre-feet of water storage, increasing water management flexibility to move and store water after Kissimmee River restoration is complete.

                  The $3.7 million project is being funded through a mitigation agreement between the SFWMD and the five utilities of the STOPR Group: City of St. Cloud, TOHO Water Authority, Orange County, Polk County and Reedy Creek Improvement District.

                  You can read more about the Rolling Meadows project and the restoration of the Kissimmee River in our news release.

                  Water Quality Issues

                  Annual Report Highlights Everglades Water Quality Improvement, State of the South Florida Ecosystem

                  West Palm Beach, FL – The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) this week released the 2016 South Florida Environmental Report detailing a year of science, engineering and environmental restoration progress to improve the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, the Kissimmee Basin and South Florida coastal areas. The 2016 report marks the 18th year of unified, streamlined environmental reporting by the two agencies.

                  “Water in the Everglades is cleaner today than it has been in our lifetimes,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Daniel O’Keefe. “The 2016 South Florida Environmental Report takes the public through restoration work that helped accomplish this goal, and it details the plans to continue making progress to improve South Florida’s environment.”

                  The 2016 report was released as the SFWMD is implementing several unprecedented actions to move water and provide flooding relief from record South Florida dry-season rainfall. These actions will be captured in next year’s report.

                  Spanning three volumes, the 2016 South Florida Environmental Report unifies dozens of individual reports. The volumes, plus an 8-page summary and highlights, provide extensive peer-reviewed research summaries, data analyses, financial updates and a searchable database of environmental projects.

                  Highlights in the 2016 report include:

                  • Everglades water quality continues to show signs of improvement. In 2015, overall, 90 percent of the Everglades is at or below 10 parts per billion of phosphorus.
                  • Over their 21-year operational period, Everglades Stormwater Treatment Areas have treated more than 16 million acre-feet of water and have retained approximately 2,000 metric tons of total phosphorus (TP). In Water Year 2015, with 57,000 acres of treatment area, the STAs treated 1.4 million acre-feet of water. They reduced both inflow TP load and concentration by 83 percent and prevented 138 metric tons of TP from entering the Everglades Protection Area.
                  • Best management practices (BMPs) continue to reduce nutrients. BMPs implemented under the SFWMD’s regulatory source control program reduced TP in agricultural runoff from 470,000 acres south of Lake Okeechobee by 79 percent in Water Year 2015, three times the amount required by state law. Source reductions through BMPs lessen the amount that must be captured in downstream STAs and improves the cost-effectiveness of capital projects to further decrease total phosphorus levels. The regulatory BMP program and Everglades STAs have prevented more than 4,860 metric tons of total phosphorus from entering the Everglades Protection Area since 1996.
                  • Implementation of the Governor’s Restoration Strategies initiative advanced in Water Year 2015. Work is proceeding on two of three massive flow equalization basins (FEBs), which will provide 105,000 acre-feet of additional water storage and are designed to attenuate peak stormwater flows prior to delivery to the Everglades STAs. Construction has started on several conveyance improvement features, as well as the first phase of expansion to STA-1 West.
                    • A-1 Flow Equalization Basin (a 60,000 acre-foot shallow storage impoundment west of U.S. Highway 27 in southern Palm Beach County) construction was completed in November 2015 (roughly one year ahead of its deadline), and operations have commenced.
                    • L-8 Flow Equalization Basin (a 45,000 acre-foot deep storage impoundment in Palm Beach County near Wellington) is completing construction and is now in operational testing.
                    • STA-1 West Expansion #1 (an additional 4,200 acres of treatment area in Palm Beach County near Wellington) design was completed in June 2015, and construction began in November 2015.
                    • Conveyance improvements (modifications to Structure S-5AS and construction of the new L-8 Divide Structure in Palm Beach County) are ongoing, with completion dates of September 2016 and September 2018, respectively.
                    • Mecca Shallow Impoundment in Palm Beach County is in design.
                  • Water managers moved excess water southward. In Water Year 2015, an uneven distribution of rainfall across the region left the Everglades STAs with available treatment capacity, and a concerted effort was made to send regulatory lake releases south from Lake Okeechobee. During that time period, roughly 585,000 acre-feet of water from the lake was released to the Everglades STAs. Importantly, this unprecedented amount — 43 percent of total annual flow to the STAs — helped manage lake levels and reduce freshwater discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. Efforts are underway to evaluate the effects of this management action on STA conditions and long-term performance.

                  These highlights and numerous other efforts featured in the 2016 South Florida Environmental Report continue to provide the scientific foundation of agency programs and projects that year after year are improving the entire South Florida region. The 2016 report covers environmental information for Water Year 2015 (May 1, 2014, through April 30, 2015) and project/budgetary information for Fiscal Year 2014-2015 (October 1, 2014, through September 30, 2015).

                  The 2016 South Florida Environmental Report is available to view or print at www.sfwmd.gov/sfer.

                  SFWMD to Deploy Emergency Pumps

                  The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) is working to deploy temporary pumps to boost the ongoing emergency effort to move water from record-setting rainfall out of flooded Water Conservation Area 3 in Miami-Dade and Broward counties and into Everglades National Park. SFWMD is utilizing the S-152 water control structure within the conservation area, which helps move more water out of the area though the temporary emergency pumps.

                  With support from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the pumps will send at minimum an additional 129 million gallons of water a day out of the conservation area. These operations will work in concert with maximum gate openings at the S-333 structure along the Tamiami Trail that are already moving about 850 million gallons a day to relieve the extraordinary natural phenomena impacting Everglades wildlife.

                  Since flood gate openings were maximized in February, more than 11 billion gallons of clean water have been moved from the conservation area through the L-29 Canal and into Northeast Shark River Slough in the park.

                  Water crisis could cost US $300 billion

                  The ripple effects of the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, could eventually prompt water suppliers to spend more than a quarter-trillion dollars on infrastructure upgrades faster than anticipated, a leading rating agency said Friday.

                  Fitch Ratings said in a note that utilities are stepping up education efforts to bolster public confidence while also evaluating their existing treatment protocols to ensure water quality. Significant investment in service line replacement could be coming soon, particularly if the federal Environmental Protection Agency quickly alters existing rules to make them more stringent in the wake of Flint, the rating agency said.

                  More than 6 million lead service lines exist across the country, according to estimates cited by Fitch. Many of these are located in the Northeast, Midwest and older urban areas.

                  “We believe the capital costs to replace these lines could exceed $275 billion,” Fitch said.

                  The EPA’s latest survey estimated the entire sector needs $385billion in water infrastructure improvements through 2030, and this estimate includes the costs only to partially replace lead pipes, according to the rating agency.

                  Fitch Ratings noted that if those costs are spread over a sufficient amount of time, they could be manageable. However, if those changes need to be implemented faster, it could cause financial stress for some water utilities. Those costs could eventually be passed on to consumers, said Andrew DeStefano, director for U.S. public finance at Fitch.

                  In its report Friday, Fitch cited a number of lawsuits filed against Flint and other government officials alleging that the water residents were using was unsafe as a driving factor for potential regulatory changes. The city had changed water sources in mid-2014, and the lawsuits argue that the newer source had higher corrosive properties that eroded the pipes, leading to highly elevated lead levels in the water. The city has been under a federal state of emergency since January.

                  At least a dozen lawsuits have been filed in local, state and federal courts on behalf of Flint residents who drank lead-tainted water for nearly two years. The complaints name a long list of state and local agencies and officials, from Gov. Rick Snyder to Flint city employees.

                  Separately, certain Chicago residents filed suit against the city, alleging that repairs by Chicago to its water system allowed dangerous levels of lead to enter the drinking water supply and that the city did not sufficiently notify residents that they might have been exposed.

                  The EPA currently regulates drinking water exposure to lead based on its Lead and Copper Rule, which seeks to minimize lead in drinking water primarily through corrosion control of lead pipes. Federal environmental protection officials are considering trying to strengthen the rule sometime this year or next.

                  Matthew Dolan|The Detroit Free Press

                  Great Lakes & Inland Waters

                  Revisions to pipeline permit raise questions

                  A Houston-based petroleum transport company says it has no intention of shipping crude oil under the St. Clair River in twin, 98-year-old pipelines — though it didn’t explain why its actions in seeking a revised permit would allow such shipments.

                  As statewide outrage grew over the possibility — and the fact that the public’s chance to comment has already passed, largely unnoticed — two Michigan members of Congress and the state’s two U.S. senators on Tuesday asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to delay plans to decide on Plains LPG’s revised permit.

                  Plains LPG officials issued a statement Tuesday saying they requested a U.S. State Department presidential permit to update the change of ownership of six pipelines that cross the U.S.-Canada border, under the St. Clair River, between Marysville and Sarnia, Ontario.

                  Two of the pipelines, built in 1971 and 1973, transport liquid petroleum gases such as butane and propane.

                  “Plains LPG has no intention to transport crude oil on these lines,” the company’s release states.

                  Four of the other pipelines “are inactive and have been taken out of service, including the two pipelines that were constructed in 1918,” the release states.

                  “The permit is just an ownership change; there’s no intent for moving crude on 98-year-old pipes,” Plains LPG spokesman Brad Leone said.

                  But a 2012 letter to the State Department from Plains LPG’s vice president stated the two 1918 pipelines were being preserved for possible future use, and that the company sought approval to use them as they were previously authorized — to ship crude oil.

                  The ownership change had already been addressed. The State Department granted a permit acknowledging Plains’ acquisition of the pipelines in 2014 and allowing for the shipment of “light liquid hydrocarbons” through all six lines under the St. Clair River and a seventh pipeline under the Detroit River.

                  It was Plains officials who came back to the State Department after the 2014 permit approval with correspondence from 1971, showing the state had agreed to the transport of “crude and other liquid hydrocarbons” on the two lines built in 1918 with the previous owner of the lines, Dome Petroleum, according to the State Department’s narrative summary on Plains LPG’s current revised permit request. The revised presidential permit under consideration now would expand its authorizations to allow for the shipment of crude oil under the river.

                  Under federal rules, if a company receiving a transfer of an existing permit intends to operate “essentially unchanged from that previously permitted,” the State Department “does not intend to conduct an environmental review of the application.”

                  The State Department makes an exception if information “is brought to its attention” that indicates the permit transfer “potentially would have a significant impact on the quality of the human environment.”

                  Officials in the State Department’s press office have not returned messages seeking comment.

                  The proposed permit revision, after it came to light in the Free Press’ story Sunday, had residents statewide doing a double-take, with many questioning how the process moved quietly along on the Federal Registry — a massive clearinghouse for federal regulations, proposed rules, public notices and executive orders — starting in mid-January. A 30-day public comment period on the proposal expired Feb. 24 with virtually no comments.

                  “How could no one be aware of a ‘public comment’ period?” asked Steve Lawson of Chesterfield Township.

                  As with the concerns on Line 5, Canadian oil transportation giant Enbridge’s twin pipelines underwater at the Straits of Mackinac, many are worried what a pipeline break and oil spill would mean for the lakes and a statewide economy dependent on them.

                  The St. Clair River pipelines are about 25 miles

                  upstream from Lake St. Clair; and from there, at the north end of Belle Isle, is the city of Detroit’s main water intake.

                  “This could make Flint’s problem look tiny,” said Michael Blahosky of Algonac.

                  In a letter to Kerry on Tuesday, Reps. Debbie Dingell, a Democrat from Dearborn, and Candice Miller, a Republican from Harrison Township, said concern for the environment and the Great Lakes should be the first priority when considering Plains LPG’s plan. They called the possible use of pipelines laid in 1918 to move crude oil “potentially precarious.”

                  “The perceived hastiness and lack of transparency with which this process is moving forward is concerning,” they added.

                  “(There) was a multitude of concerns from various individuals and organizations that they were unaware of the opportunity to provide feedback. These stakeholders — local residents, environmental groups, academics, local governments and industry — are sure to weigh in if given the opportunity.”

                  U.S. Sens. Gary Peters, a Democrat from Bloomfield Township, and Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Lansing, also sent a letter to Kerry urging him to reopen the public comment period to allow Michiganders to voice their opinions about a new permit for the 98-year-old twin pipelines.

                  “The limited number of public comments received on this regulatory matter is not indicative of a lack of interest by our constituents. It reflects a lack of time for members of our communities to sufficiently review the proposal and submit comments,” Stabenow and Peters stated.

                  Plains officials four years ago worked to expand allowable uses of the twin pipelines to include crude oil.

                  In a letter to the State Department dated June 15, 2012, that was part of its permit application, Plains LPG Vice President Lawrence Dreyfuss noted that the State Department in 1971 had acknowledged to the pipes’ then-owner, Dome Petroleum, that two of the St. Clair River pipelines had been originally authorized “for the purpose of transporting crude oil.”

                  “The pipelines currently are not transporting liquefied hydrocarbons, but are held in reserve to be used in the event of an increase in demand or as backup to the active pipelines discussed,” Dreyfuss’ letter states. “The two pipelines have not been abandoned, but are maintained under pressure with an inert gas and protected against corrosion with cathodic protection. As requested in the Dome Application, Plains LPG requests issuance of a presidential permit to allow these two pipelines to be used to transport liquefied hydrocarbons consistent with the terms of the original authorization.”

                  The twin 1918 lines received 5-inch liners “in the 1970s,” Leone said.

                  Brad Neilson of Northville, a frequent boater on Lake St. Clair, questioned Plains LPG’s explanation now.

                  “What business pursues a permit for something they’re not going to do?” he said

                  KEITH MATHENY AND TODD SPANGLER|DETROIT FREE PRESS

                  St. Clair River pipeline concerns

                  Owner says it won’t pump crude under river

                  She’s reluctant to talk about it, but Kay Cumbow, of Lynn Township, is the person who spotted a notice in the Federal Registry about the public comment period ending for a revised permit to ship crude oil under the St. Clair River in two 98-year-old pipelines.

                  “It was an accident,” said Cumbow, a long-time environmental activist, particularly with issues involving nuclear waste. “I was looking for something else. I didn’t find what I was looking for.”

                  She said she found it online during a massive snowstorm.

                  “When I saw there were comments due (Feb. 24) on other stuff, I thought I would just look through,” Cumbow said “I shipped it off to other groups because I don’t know pipelines.”

                  The Detroit Free Press ran a story about the pipelines on Feb. 28. Since then, Reps. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, and Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn have sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking that the deadline for comments be extended.

                  Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters also sent a letter to Kerry asking that the comment period be extended.

                  On Thursday, legislation passed that had been introduced in the Senate by Peters to reauthorize the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration through 2019.

                  Plains LPG, which is based in Houston, owns the two pipelines and four others that cross under the river between Marysville and Sarnia. The two pipelines built in 1918 cross the river in the approximate area where River Road curves west into Bunce Road, according to St. Clair County tax rolls.

                  Two of the pipelines, which were built in 1971 and 1973, according to information in a Wednesday Free Press story, transport liquid petroleum gases such as butane and propane.

                  Tom Konik, Marysville public safety director, said he called the Plains local service office on Fred Moore Highway in St. Clair after he found out about the Free Press story.

                  “Those pipelines, the pipelines in question haven’t been used since the 1980s and the new owner has no intention of using those lines,” he said.

                  Plains on Tuesday issued a statement saying the company had requested a U.S. State Department presidential permit to update the ownership of the pipelines. President Woodrow Wilson approved the original 1918 permit.

                  Four of the pipelines are inactive and, according to the release, “Plains LPG has no intention to transport crude oil on these lines.”

                  Konik said Plains has to “file with the federal government legal change of ownership. That’s what caused it to appear on the Federal Registry.”

                  “… All they are doing is saying ‘We now are the owners of these two pipelines,’ ” he said.

                  The statements, however, have not answered all concerns, not the least of which is how the public comment period for an international pipeline could go almost unnoticed.

                  “I think that there has to be a better mechanism for potentially interested parties to learn about pending applications,” said Patty Troy, U.S. co-chairwoman of the Bi-national Public Advisory Council for the St. Clair River Area of Concern.

                  “It took us totally by surprise as well.”

                  Areas of concern are spelled out under the Canada-United States Great Lakes Water Quality agreement as sites on the Great Lakes where environmental quality has been degraded and beneficial uses impaired. Just within the past two weeks, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality announced that it would ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the bi-national International Joint Commission to have the beach closings beneficial use impairment removed.

                  Troy is not comfortable with the company’s statement that it will not be transporting crude oil through the twin 1918 pipelines.

                  “No plans today doesn’t mean no plans tomorrow,” Troy said. “Plans change.”

                  If at some point in the future, plans did change, Troy said she would be concerned about the condition of the pipeline. She pointed to the spill of Enbridge Line 6B, which runs from Griffith, Indiana, to Sarnia, into the Kalamazoo River in July 2010. The company replaced the pipeline in 2013 and 2014, including under the St. Clair River.

                  “The concern is the condition of the pipeline, of course,” Troy said. “If the pipeline is compromised in any way, then we have contamination of a drinking water source for how many people, everybody downstream.

                  “And the habitat projects we have worked on so hard could be damaged by a pipeline leak.”

                  Liz Kirkwood, executive director of For Love of Water (FLOW) in Traverse City, said her group also was caught by surprise and is scrambling to find out more about the proposal.

                  “We are literally starting to do all the research right now,” she said. “We found out (Feb. 24) that the public comment period was closing.”

                  She said the group is concerned about “perceived hastiness and lack of transparency.

                  “That really is the issue — that and coupled with the fact that there are some serious questions at issue here,” Kirkwood said.

                  Like Troy, she has questions about what Plains intends to do, despite the company’s statements that it will not be using the nearly 100-year-old pipelines.

                  “What we’re hearing from the company, from their spokespeople, is this permit they claim is just an ownership change and they have no intent to transport crude oil,” she said.

                  “But that doesn’t track with their request, which is to go back to the original intent of the pipeline, which is to ship crude oil.”

                  In a letter dated June 15, 2012, to the State Department, Plains requests “issuance of a Presidential Permit to allow these two pipelines to be used to transport liquefied hydrocarbons consistent with the terms of the original authorization.”

                  Kirkwood said the letter and the company seem to be saying two different things and “you can’t take it at its face value.”

                  “The risks associated with transporting crude oil are very grave, particularly in aquatic environments,” she said.

                  Kirkwood said she thought the public comment notice was placed on the Federal Registry intentionally so it might escape notice.

                  “People are not typically reading the Federal Registry,” she said. “… I think there needs to be kind of a listserv, and people need to be aware of presidential permits.”

                  State Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, said he has concerns about the proposal.

                  “We drafted a Senate Resolution that should be ready the first of the week urging the Secretary of State to re-open the public comment period, and to ask the IJC to review the environmental impacts of the pipeline,” he said.

                  “We will be having conversations with the IJC reviewing their interest in it.”

                  BOB GROSS|TIMES HERALD

                  Wildlife and Habitat

                  Arctic Fact Sheet

                  It Might Be Impossible to Turn Back the Clock on Altered Ecosystems

                  “Rewilding” landscapes to return them to a natural state might sometimes be ineffective and even harmful

                  While it’s usually shrouded in fog, on a clear day two pictures emerge of Point Reyes National Seashore in California. 

                  In one landscape you’ll see an abundance of thigh-high coyote brush, purple bush lupine and hairy velvet grass waving with wind from the Pacific Ocean. The build-up of dead vegetation on the ground is thick enough that it has a trampoline-like feel when you walk on it, and though you may not be able to see them, deer mice, meadow voles and ground beetles are abundant in the understory.             

                  The second landscape is a little greener. More fresh seedlings sprout from the four-inch grass cover and less dead vegetation gathers on the ground. The rodents and ground beetles may not be as common in the large open spaces. Instead the compacted soil favors the carrion beetles, ants, spiders and pill bugs crawling about.

                  The difference? Tule elk, a species originally native to large parts of California, has been reintroduced to the second, greener area after being hunted to near extinction in the 19th century. Federal and state agencies collaborated to reintroduce the elk in the 1970s in an effort to “rewild” the seashore, or return it to its natural state.

                  Some people seem to think that ecosystems are fixed in time—with the ideal wildlife habitat dating to the pre-industrial age. To fix the problems we may have since caused via introducing invasive species or removing native wildlife, we just have to turn back the clock. But ecosystems aren’t like that. Humans have been altering habitats for thousands of years. Now some experts are beginning to think that rewilding is not only impossible but possibly harmful if ecologists aren’t able to untangle the many variables in these new, human-made landscapes.

                  Of the two areas in Point Reyes, “Is one better than the other? That’s a tough call,” says J. Hall Cushman, a professor of biology at Sonoma State University who has been tracking the ecosystem changes in Point Reyes due to elk reintroduction. He notes that there is a vast difference in reintroducing a species that has been absent for a few decades to a rewilding scheme in which a species that never lived in an area, or that has been gone for thousands of years, is reintroduced. 

                  He says that the elk have had a positive effect on the removal of invasive velvet grass. The lack of longer grass has also made it easier for land managers to conquer some invasive insects like Argentine ants and certain species of pill bugs. But then shorter plants, both invasive and native, thrive in the hoof-compacted earth. “In every single instance when you reintroduce a large animal that used to be in an area, it’s going to have a mixed bag of effects.”

                  The trouble is that the natural state of Point Reyes, whatever that was, was gone for good by the time the elk had been wiped out in the region.

                  “Grazers don’t deal with all plants equally. It could even exacerbate the increased dominance of some introduced plants in areas. That’s barely considered in any rewilding schemes,” says Daniel Simberloff, a professor of environmental science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Simberloff recently co-authored a study in Current Biology questioning the idea of rewilding and restoration, and one of his principal messages was this: You may be able to take an animal back to the same place, but you can’t take it back to the same time. 

                  To some extent, Cushman and other researchers tracking the return of the tule elk agree.

                  “You can’t take a piece out and expect it to be the same way it was when you put it back in,” says Brent Johnson, a research coordinator with Pinnacles National Park who worked with Cushman on tracking the elk. “The same can be said for the removal of species.”

                  Even removing an invasive species can sometimes go wrong. Federal, state and local organizations coordinated in the Invasive Spartina Project to remove 92 percent of cordgrass, an invasive grass that alters the physical structure and biological makeup of the tidal marshes around San Francisco Bay. But the federally endangered California clapper rail, a chicken-sized shorebird, had taken to nesting in the invasive cordgrass.

                  “They couldn’t continue the eradication of the invasive,” says Adam Lampert, an assistant professor at Arizona State University who studied the situation. “The main message is, you cannot remove invasive species too rapidly. Once established in a sufficiently large area, the local population becomes dependent sometimes on the invasive species.”

                  Another study showed that veeries, small songbirds found across the northern U.S., find successful nesting opportunities in invasive and introduced shrubs like Japanese honeysuckle in New York state forests. In Hawaii, the wattle-necked turtle is wreaking havoc on freshwater lakes in Kauai, but hunters have brought the reptiles to the brink of extinction in their native range in China and Vietnam, creating a conundrum for conservationists.

                  The situation has some scientists questioning the concept of rewilding.

                  “Often you can’t even tell what’s being talked about or what the goal of a project is,” says Simberloff. “It’s sold as a conservation mechanism, and often it doesn’t conserve biodiversity.”

                  He points out a number of these schemes that have had unintended consequences: Wolves reintroduced to parts of the United States and Europe have lowered the number of grazers through predation, which results in more berries growing for grizzly bears. But they’ve also hybridized with dogs that are now ubiquitous in these areas, irrevocably changing the gene pool of some wolf populations. An extreme case in North Carolina has seen the fledgling experimental red wolf population hybridizing with coyotes, worrying since it’s the only population of wild red wolves in the world. If this continues in an extreme form, the species could be bred out of existence.

                  Simberloff stresses that his message isn’t that reintroduction or restoration is always bad, but that the whole cascade of possible effects to an ecosystem needs to be considered rather than looking at things one- or two-dimensionally.

                  “We’re not saying [rewilding] should never be done. We’re saying that it requires a lot more systematic and comprehensive thought than seems to have gone into it in many cases,” Simberloff says.

                  Often, the human footprint in a given area is so large that it’s impossible to restore the original ecosystem. Instead of rewilding, we may be better off focusing efforts on so-called novel ecosystems, Simberloff says. The latter include everything from the plants and animals living on or around old human buildings to the wildlife adapting to cities, farms or other factors of the Anthropocene. They could even be engineered to provide humans with desired services.

                  “Start with what we have, not what we had,” he says.

                  Cushman, the California biologist, continues with the experiment he’s running, with around 24 plots excluding or including elk, and researchers will keep tracking the results. He says that the answer is going to be complex in any situation, but he so far believes the elk have had a net positive effect on the Point Reyes ecosystem. Tall and lumbering, with horns both jagged and curvaceous, the tule elk can cut an epic silhouette on the horizon, particularly when the backdrop is the Pacific Ocean. And beyond aesthetics, the elk are steadily removing the invasive velvet grass.

                  “Elk are greatly decreasing the abundance and cover of this exotic grass,” he says. “That’s a very positive effect of having elk in the system.”

                  Joshua Rapp Learn|smithsonian.com|March 8, 2016

                  Global Warming and Climate Change

                  Broward Climate Change Action Plan Approved

                  Climate change has been a key focal area for Broward County for the past seven years. In 2008, Broward passed a resolution that establishes a community-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction target of 80 percent below 2007 emissions by 2050.
                  In 2009, our Climate Change Task Force engaged hundreds of local experts and citizens to draft a Climate Change Action Plan. It was published in 2010 and we have been actively implementing the 126 recommended actions across all Broward County agencies. We have tracked our progress annually, and this year we are working to update the plan for the next five years so we can continue to make progress.
                  If you are interested in attending the next Task Force meeting, or learning more, visit the Task Force page.
                  Broward County became the first local government to create a stand-alone climate change element as part of our Comprehensive Plan. The Climate Change Element is a coordinated initiative consisting of 82 environmental policies that consider how the community will best adapt to and mitigate for the economic, environmental and social effects of climate change.
                  We are a proud partner of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact. The Compact is a joint commitment of Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach Counties to partner in mitigating the causes and adapting to the consequences of climate change.
                  In 2014, the Compact was designated a Climate Action Champion by the White House.
                  The Compact hosts an annual Regional Climate Leadership Summit.

                  The Broward County Commission passed the Climate Change Element into the Broward County Comprehensive Plan and also the Land Use Plan and the Priority Planning Areas Map Amendments. Climate change concerns and mitigation/adaptation strategies are now incorporated into the Broward County planning process.

                  View and download the policies:
                  Broward County Climate Change Element
                  Broward County Climate Change Element (Supporting Documents)
                  Broward County Land Use Amendment for Climate Change
                  Priority Planning Areas for Sea Level Rise Map

                   

                  How many times have we told you a story about climate deniers and defeatists? From Senator Inhofe tossing a snowball on the floor of the Senate, to the disappointing bi-partisan vote to legalize crude oil exports last December — it’s hard for climate activists to find much nice to say about our Congress these days.
                  Well hang on to your hats, I’ve got some unabashed GOOD news, and it comes straight from the U.S. House of Representatives. Late last year, in a show of solidarity with the Paris climate deal, Reps. Grijalva and Ellison, co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) introduced an ambitious climate-change resolution  calling for 50 percent clean energy by 2030 and 100 percent clean energy and zero carbon emissions by January 1, 2050.1

                  It’s no secret that too many of our elected representatives remain committed climate deniers and defeatists. After all, Big Oil and other polluters poured more than $27,626,080 into the 113th Congress, and now they are looking for a return on their investments.
                  It’s good to know there are still some honest members of Congress. This resolution will tell us which ones are on board with climate action, and who’s just paying lip service! The CPC resolution supports truly renewable energy. It calls for providing a just transition for workers who will be affected by the move towards renewables, and for trade deals to protect the environment. 

                  Setting these priorities will help us avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, and create millions of jobs. For example, shifting from landfills to recycling or composting will create 10 times more jobs than landfilling, while also reducing emissions. New renewable energy industries can provide opportunities for Americans who are unemployed or underemployed communities to work and receive the fair wages that have long eluded them. These solutions will deliver us the clean- energy revolution that our country desperately needs.

                  Extreme Weather

                  February breaks worldwide temperature record

                  Earth’s temperature soared to a record high last month, a whopping 1.5 degrees above average as measured by weather satellites.

                  That’s a huge amount in climate science, where records are often broken by tenths or hundredths of degrees. The level makes February the most unusually warm month ever recorded, scientists from the University of Alabama at Huntsville said.

                  Scientists blamed the warmth on a combination of man-made global warming and the near-record El Nino climate pattern.

                  “The record might have as much to do with an extraordinarily warm month in the Arctic as it does with warming caused by the El Nino,” said John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama.

                  Some areas in the Arctic experienced temperatures as much as 29 degrees warmer than average last month.

                  The data come from satellites, which measure the temperature of the atmosphere about 5 miles above the Earth’s surface and includes remote locations.

                  USA TODAY

                  Genetically Modified Organisms

                  The FDA Will Ban a Common Pesticide

                  Flubendiamide is used in about 200 crops like almonds and soybeans

                  Flubendiamide likely isn’t in your garden shed, but you’ve probably consumed products treated by the pesticide like almonds, tobacco or peanuts. Since 2008, it’s been used to keep pests like fruitworms and bollworms off of crops. But its days appear to be numbered, at least in the United States: NPR’s Dan Charles reports that the Environmental Protection Agency wants to withdraw its approval.

                  It’s an unusual move for the agency, writes Charles—and one that centers around the EPA’s practice of conditionally approving certain chemicals and pesticides pending further studies. On its website, the EPA explains that in some circumstances, it will allow the registration of pesticides after determining that “use of the pesticide would not significantly increase the risk of unreasonable adverse effects on people or the environment during the time needed to generate the necessary data.” The practice has been in place since the late 1970s, when Congress amended the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) to allow companies to register pesticides when more data is needed.

                  That’s what happened with flubendiamide when its conditional registration was granted in 2008. But since then, the pesticide has been subject to several risk assessments that found, in the words of an EPA report, “chronic risk to freshwater invertebrates.” With fresh evidence that flubendiamide may be dangerous to fish and the environment, the agency has announced that it intends to pull it from the market.

                  Though the EPA gave its manufacturers, BayerCropScience, LP and Nichino America, Inc., a chance to withdraw it voluntarily, the companies refused to do so. As a result, says the EPA, the agency will withdraw the pesticide’s registration. It has yet to announce what will happen with existing stocks of flubendiamide, but crops like soybeans, cotton, and tomatoes that are currently treated with the pesticide are still legal to sell.

                  It seems that Bayer won’t go down without a fight. Chemical Regulation Reporter’s David Schultz writes that the company takes issue with the EPA’s risk analysis and intends to challenge the ban—only the second time a company has done so since the 1980s. Will the manufacturer succeed, or will the pesticide be withdrawn? Have a handful of almonds and stay tuned.

                  Erin Blakemore|smithsonian.com|March 2, 2016

                  Scorecard: What Makes for Better Mayonnaise?

                  There’s a lot more to mayonnaise than meets the eye. With GMOs and factory farmed eggs in many conventional brands, you and your potato salad deserve better – which is why we’ve found several great alternatives you can use instead. 

                  Our updated GMO Inside mayo scorecard compares a number of leading brands, ranging from the very worst to the very best. Recently, Hellmann’s released an organic mayonnaise and an egg-less non-GMO sandwich spread, this updated version of our mayo scorecard reflects this new addition.

                  To learn more about what makes for better mayonnaise, see the scorecard below:

                  Download a PDF of the What Makes for Better Mayo? scorecard here.

                  Anna |March 2, 2016

                  Monsanto Given Legal Shield in a Chemical Safety Bill (The New York Times)

                  WASHINGTON — Facing hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits, the giant biotechnology company Monsanto last year received a legislative gift from the House of Representatives, a one-paragraph addition to a sweeping chemical safety bill that could help shield it from legal liability for a toxic chemical only it made.

                  Monsanto insists it did not ask for the addition. House aides deny it is a gift at all. But the provision would benefit the only manufacturer in the United States of now-banned polychlorinated biphenyls, chemicals known as PCBs, a mainstay of Monsanto sales for decades. The PCB provision is one of several sticking points that negotiators must finesse before Congress can pass a law to revamp the way thousands of chemicals are regulated in the United States.

                  “Call me a dreamer, but I wish for a Congress that would help cities with their homeless crises instead of protecting multinational corporations that poison our environment,” said Pete Holmes, the city attorney for Seattle, one of six cities suing Monsanto to help cover the costs of reducing PCB discharge from their sewers.

                  The House and the Senate last year both passed versions of legislation to replace the 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act, a law that the Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged had become so unworkable that as many as 1,000 hazardous chemicals still on sale today needed to be evaluated to see if they should be banned or restricted.

                  Democrats and Republicans—along with the chemical industry and even some environmentalists—agree that the pending legislation would be a major improvement over existing law.But from legal liability shields to state-based regulatory authority, the House and Senate versions have major differences to resolve. The remaining disputes revolve around the basics of pre-emption: Who gets to sue? And who gets to regulate the chemical industry?

                  A Monsanto spokeswoman said the company had received no special treatment from the House or the Senate.

                  “Monsanto does not consider either version of the bill, with respect to the effect on preemption, to be a ‘gift,’ ” the spokeswoman, Charla Lord, said.

                  Already, attorneys general and top environmental regulators from 15 states have written to leaders in Congress demanding changes.

                  “Our future work depends on striking the right balance to strengthen the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s abilities and funding, without limiting state powers in creating and enforcing needed protections,” said a letter, obtained by The New York Times, sent by the top environmental regulators in California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Washington and West Virginia.

                  Some of the most vociferous objections relate to the so-called Monsanto Clause. The provision does not mention the company by name, but between the early 1930s and 1977, Monsanto manufactured almost all of the 1.25 billion pounds of PCBs sold in the United States.

                  The chemicals were initially admired for their ability to prevent fires and explosions in electrical transformers and other equipment. But as the use of PCBs skyrocketed nationwide in products as varied as paints, pesticides and even carbonless copy paper, evidence mounted that they were contaminating the environment and potentially causing health problems including cancer and immune-system complications. The E.P.A. banned their production in 1979.

                  PCB litigation has surged in the last year as cities and school systems struggle to comply with directives from federal and state regulators to reduce PCB levels in sewer discharge and in caulk once used to construct schools. Separately, a group of individuals who received diagnoses of a form of cancer known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma sued Monsanto last year, claiming the company should pay damages.

                  The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, in a June report accompanying its version of the legislation, asserted that neither existing toxic chemical law nor any revisions pending in Congress should be seen as a way to “pre-empt, displace or supplant” the right to sue for damages in lawsuits like the ones filed against Monsanto.

                  The House also voted to preserve the right to sue if individuals or local governments believe they have been harmed by a chemical, regardless of future federal regulations of the substance. But a critical paragraph added to the House bill in late May made sure past regulatory requirements by the E.P.A. would continue to disqualify legal claims, and it specifically referred to the section of the 1976 toxic chemical law governing PCBs, giving Monsanto clearer authority in the future to ask judges to dismiss lawsuits filed against it.

                  Congressional aides involved in the drafting said the language was inserted at the request of Republican staff members at the House Energy and Commerce Committee. One Republican committee aide disputed any suggestion that this was a gift to Monsanto, but he said he was not allowed to discuss the issue on the record.

                  And Ms. Lord, the Monsanto spokeswoman, said the company did not ask for the change.

                  But by November, Monsanto was clearly aware of the provision. Arguing before a federal court in Texas, a lawyer representing Monsanto cited the House language to say that certain of the legal claims against the company’s past PCB business should be dismissed.

                  “The House bill specifically exempts PCBs,” ensuring that protection from lawsuits would continue “after the passage of the new law,” the lawyer argued, even though the provision remained locked in negotiation.

                  The House provision is now drawing protests from local officials suing Monsanto to try to recover costs associated with PCB cleanups, and from lawyers who are trying to collect damages for individuals with health problems linked to PCB exposure, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

                  “Taxpayers and public entities would be left holding the bag to pay hundreds of millions of dollars if not billions of dollars cleaning up Monsanto’s PCBs,” said John Fiske, one of the lawyers representing the six cities suing to collect money from the company to help cover cleanup costs. Monsanto has not yet argued that the cities are barred from suing, but Mr. Fiske says he is certain that if the legislation passes, the company will make that argument.

                  Ms. Lord says Monsanto bears no responsibility for cleanup costs in cities like Seattle, San Jose and San Diego.

                  “PCBs served an important fire-protection and safety purpose,” she said in a written statement. “If these products were improperly disposed of, Monsanto is not responsible.”

                  And A. Elizabeth Blackwell, the lawyer representing Monsanto who cited the House language in the Texas lawsuit, says the provision would merely preserve the protection the company believes it already has against claims brought under state law.

                  “The claims are currently pre-empted,” she said. “It can’t make them any more pre-empted. So how can it be helpful?”

                  Monsanto registered to lobby on the chemical safety legislation last July, just after the House passed its version.

                  The Democratic state attorneys general from California, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington are mainly concerned with the power that states will retain to regulate chemicals once the revised law passes.

                  They argue that the Senate version would block states from taking action on potentially hazardous chemicals for as long as four years while the E.P.A. reviewed them for possible regulation. That, the attorneys general say, could create roadblocks for state reviews already underway on products such as flame retardants in furniture cushions and methylene chloride, a chemical used in paint strippers.

                  “It could really slow down the pace of progress in the states,” said Ken Zarker, a manager at the Washington State Department of Ecology, which has its own chemical testing and regulation program.

                  The House bill presents a different issue: It would prevent a state from regulating a chemical if the health risk the state agency was targeting was different from the risk the E.P.A. had already acted on, the attorneys general say. For example, an E.P.A. regulation targeting a cancer threat from a cleaning product could block state officials from regulating the same product to protect consumers from respiratory illnesses.

                  Despite such concerns, Democrats and Republicans — as well as environmentalists and state officials — want legislation passed this year to replace the current law, which was rendered all but unenforceable by a 1991 court ruling.

                  That ruling left chemical regulation a patchwork of inconsistent state rules and national efforts by retailers like Target and Walmart to curb the sale of some products under pressure from environmental groups.

                  That hodgepodge has left few satisfied with the status quo.

                  Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado and one of the lead House negotiators on the legislation, said: “We need to give security to consumers, so they know that dangerous chemicals will be regulated, and certainty to the industry, so it knows how chemicals it sells will be treated.”

                  Eric Lipton|GMO Inside|March 1, 2016

                  Monsanto stock is tanking.

                  Monsanto is hitting the panic button and we need to finish them off!

                  Earlier this week, the Senate Agricultural Committee voted 14 to 6 to advance a dangerous bill, known as the DARK Act, that preempts states from passing common sense GMO labeling laws and is an absolute ‘wrecking ball’ to the Vermont law to label GMOs, which will go into effect July 1st of this year if we can stop Monsanto.

                  Ironically, at the same time that Monsanto and America’s largest food companies are attempting to trample states’ right in order to protect their bottom line, the New York Times reported that last year Monsanto did exactly the same thing when an “unknown” Congressman inserted a provision that specifically exempts Monsanto from legal liability from major lawsuits for the clean up of Monsanto’s highly toxic and cancer-causing PCBs, which Monsanto manufactured exclusively from 1930 to 1979, when they were banned.

                  This is essentially a Get-out-of-Jail-Free card for Monsanto, exempting them from BILLIONS of dollars of legal liability from lawsuits for damages that have been filed in several major cities, including Seattle and San Diego and a lawsuit filed last year from individuals seeking damages for diagnoses of a form of cancer known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

                  The great news is that Monsanto’s stock is TANKING and Wall Street seems no longer willing to prop this toxic chemical company up!

                  Now, more than ever, we need to make sure we win GMO labeling in America once and for all. And if we do, Monsanto knows this is the beginning of the end for them!

                  Monsanto lobbies Europe for Glysophate

                  Despite alarming evidence of health dangers, the European Commission is rushing to approve weedkillers like Monsanto’s deadly Roundup for another 15 years.

                  The world’s top cancer experts are scratching their heads in disbelief. According to the World Health Organisation, the chemical contained in Roundup can cause cancer. It’s so pervasive that it is found everywhere: in our bread, our tampons, and even in breast milk.

                  But it’s not too late to stop the decision.

                  Government officials are voting on Monday in Brussels. France has already said it will oppose the re-approval of glyphosate.

                  But lobbyists from Monsanto, Syngenta and Co. are out in full force to make sure other countries vote for its approval.

                  Brussels is swarming with lobbyists working for the biggest corporate bigwigs. There are 1071 lobbyists for each EU Commissioner. You do the math. We need your help now to help us raise the concerns of people in Europe and around the world like you and me. We can’t let the lobbyists win this one.

                  France has banned the sale of Monsanto’s Roundup to amateur gardeners after a report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) ruled that the pesticide is “probably carcinogenic.”

                  Monsanto has called the WHO’s report “junk science” — a pretty alarming dismissal of the leading authority on world health. But we expect nothing less from the agro-chemical behemoth, which has done nothing but treat any science that exposes the reckless dangers of its products with contempt.

                  Paul, Anne, and the team at SumOfUs

                  Energy

                  The Size of the California Methane Leak Isn’t the Scariest Part of the Story

                  The Aliso Canyon leak doubled Los Angeles’ methane emissions—and it’s just one disaster we were lucky enough to find

                  The first time Stephen Conley flew through the plume of natural gas hovering above Aliso Canyon, California, he knew the situation was bad. He couldn’t see the methane or ethane pouring out from the old well, but he could smell the rotten-egg odor of the mercaptan added to natural gas to warn people of leaks. “It was nasty,” he recalls.

                  And then there were the readings from his plane’s scientific instrumentation. Conley has flown his specialized research plane over the sites of many oil and gas leaks in the past. In normal, leak-free air, he usually detects about 2 parts per million (ppm) of methane. Over a leak, that might go up to 4 or 5 ppm. But the air over California in November had levels of 50 ppm a mile from the leak site.

                  “That’s when I first got this idea that, holy crap, this is a big leak,” says Conley, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California, Davis, and Scientific Aviation.

                  Now, analysis of Conley’s data reveals that by the time the leak had been plugged, just over 107,000 tons of methane and 8,000 tons of ethane had been released from Aliso Canyon. That’s the equivalent of the greenhouse gas emissions from half a million cars, spewed into the air near Los Angeles over the span of 16 weeks.

                  “On the scale of the control efforts that have been put in place to minimize greenhouse gas emissions, it rolls that back years,” says study co-author Thomas Ryerson, a research chemist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

                  Though methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and the Aliso Canyon event was a “monster” emitter, the event highlights an even bigger problem, Conley says. There are hundreds of natural gas storage facilities like this one around the country, and there’s nothing in place to monitor these facilities for leaks or respond to them quickly.

                  “Even if each one is leaking [a little bit], that’s a big number,” Conley warns.

                  The Aliso Canyon leak came from a natural gas storage facility that had started out its life in 1954 as an oil well. In 1973, that well was converted into natural gas storage, a common practice for U.S. energy companies that need a place to store the fuel near towns and cities.

                  On October 23, residents of the nearby town of Porter Ranch reported smelling a gas leak, and Southern California Gas Company discovered the leak at Aliso Canyon. Two weeks later, Conley was tasked by the California Energy Commission, for whom he had been working under contract, to fly through the plume above the leak and map out where and how much methane and ethane were being emitted.

                  Conley and his team made 13 flights through the plume between November 7, two weeks after the leak began, and February 13, two days after the leak was plugged.

                  Because the natural gas had been stored in an old oil well, it also contained small amounts of substances, such as benzene and toluene, that wouldn’t normally be found in a natural gas pipeline, says Ryerson. Other scientists led by Donald Blake of the University of California, Irvine, collected samples of the gas down on the ground and analyzed it back in the lab. Combining that data with Conley’s measurements of methane and ethane gave the researchers “the DNA of the leak,” Ryerson says.

                  The team confirmed that efforts to stop the leak had been successful, though 3 percent of the natural gas stored in the facility had been lost by that time. The data also showed that the Aliso Canyon event released enough methane to make this the largest leak in history in terms of climate impact, Conley and his colleagues report this week in Science. Only one previous event, at Moss Bluff, Texas in 2004, released more natural gas, but most of that burned off in a huge fireball.

                  The leak also released some 2.5 tons of benzene, a carcinogen, into the atmosphere, they found. That sounds like a lot, but cars and other sources emit about a thousand times more every year, Ryerson says. Individuals who were in the way of the plume may have been exposed to more worrying amounts of the substance, but for now there’s no way to know.

                  Southern California Gas Company has stated that it will mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions caused by the leak. Francesca Hopkins, an Earth systems scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has some ideas about how they can do that.

                  While at UC Irvine, she led a study that mapped out methane emissions across the LA Basin using a white Ford Transit van equipped with a snorkel and a host of scientific equipment. As they report in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, her team found methane leaking from compressed natural gas fueling stations, gas-fired power plants, landfills—even ones that had been closed for 50 years—and, of course, cows.

                  Plugging up those “fugitive leaks” could be part of the gas company’s mitigation efforts, Hopkins says. And targeting methane leaks could bring a far bigger bang for the buck than carbon dioxide emissions, she says. While methane has a shorter lifespan in the atmosphere, it is also a far more potent greenhouse gas and one that has an economic value, since lost methane is essentially wasted fuel. Luckily, methane is also a lot easier to get rid of because it can be burned.

                  Conley notes that this one leak’s overall contribution to climate change is just a drop in the bucket. That’s because there’s already so much carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases being released around the globe. For his team, the real issue is how to prevent such massive leaks from happening more often and becoming a bigger climate threat.

                  “Nobody really knows yet what caused Aliso to happen,” Ryerson says. If it had happened in a spot more distant from where people live, it might not have been noticed for a lot longer. Even then, the team was only able to measure the magnitude of the event because Conley was already under contract to the state.

                  Scientists were also available to map the plumes from two previous oil and gas disasters—the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and a natural gas leak in the North Sea in 2013—and provide key information for stopping the events. But Ryerson and Conley both note that the three situations were largely due to luck.

                  “There is no standing capability for a quick-response airborne chemical measurement” of a disaster, Ryerson says. They argue that some sort of “grab-and-go package” should be developed to get scientists to a site within hours rather than weeks or months.

                  “We’ve been lucky three times in a row,” Ryerson says. “We should do something to be ready for the fourth.”

                  Sarah Zielinski|smithsonian.com|February 26, 2016

                  Florida drops bill to open fracking in the Everglades after public outcry

                  Opponents of the oil industry-backed fracking bill say it would have threatened the environment and south Florida’s drinking water

                  Environmentalists in Florida are celebrating the failure of an oil industry-backed bill they say would have opened a pathway to fracking in the ecologically sensitive Everglades wetlands.

                  State lawmakers unexpectedly dropped the measure in a hearing in Tallahassee on Tuesday, just as they were about to begin debate on the controversial, high-pressure drilling practice, bowing instead to a groundswell of public opinion.

                  More than 40 local authorities around Florida had already passed ordinances or resolutions banning fracking for oil and natural gas on their lands, a power they would have been forced to cede to a single state agency had the bill become law.

                  Seismologists’ warnings about hydraulic fracturing and wastewater disposal divide residents, politicians and companies in Colorado and Oklahoma, while temblors increase around the region

                  Read more

                  “It’s a very good day for democracy, and a good day for the Florida Everglades,” said Kim Ross of Floridians Against Fracking, a grassroots alliance of activists that helped organize numerous rallies in recent months, including a 100-strong protest at the capitol building on Tuesday.

                  “The people of Florida voted close to 80% to say they didn’t want fracking,” Ross said, adding that the bill “really awakened a sleeping giant”.

                  “This is only a small part because the Everglades needs so much more,” she added. “There are all kinds of water and pollution issues. But for today at least this is a great and wonderful moment.”

                  The bill’s sponsor, Republican state senator Garrett Richter, had presented the measure as one that brought more safeguards to residents, in part through a $1m study by the Florida department of environmental protection. The study would have examined the mechanics and chemicals of hydraulic fracking, and the possible effect on drinking water, and Richter said it would have guided new rules to govern the industry. He also argued there would have been a moratorium on exploratory drilling, at least until the study was complete and the rules drawn up.

                  But opponents insisted that no study was needed to see the threat that heavy drilling poses to Florida’s porous and fragile limestone bedrock – and to the underground Biscayne Aquifer, the only source of fresh water for more than three million south Florida residents.

                  Conceding defeat, Richter said that fracking in Florida was determined by the low price of oil, and promised that the issue would surface again. “When prices go up oil companies will produce more oil to meet demand, and that’s when we’ll see fracking again in this state,” he said.

                  “This bill was a well-intended piece of legislation,” Richter added. “I’d hoped to give our regulators more statutory tools to do their job, I wanted to see a stronger and more effective set of laws. This is a controversial subject, controversy will continue, and I dare say will draw even more concern when oil supplies drop and prices go up.”

                  Ross meanwhile told the Guardian that the death of the fracking bill in the state senate was a victory for common sense, and the continuation of the campaign to better protect the Everglades and Florida’s other natural resources.

                  “We have to keep working until we get what we truly want, a ban on fracking in Florida and a renewable energy infrastructure so we are less dependent on fossil fuels,” she said.

                  Richard Luscombe|Miami|1 March 2016

                  Congress calls for 50 percent clean energy by 2030 and 100 percent clean energy and zero carbon emissions by January 1, 2050

                  How many times have we told you a story about climate deniers and defeatists? From Senator Inhofe tossing a snowball on the floor of the Senate, to the disappointing bi-partisan vote to legalize crude oil exports last December — it’s hard for climate activists to find much nice to say about our Congress these days.

                  Well hang on to your hats, I’ve got some unabashed GOOD news, and it comes straight from the U.S. House of Representatives. Late last year, in a show of solidarity with the Paris climate deal, Reps. Grijalva and Ellison, co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) introduced an ambitious climate-change resolution  calling for 50 percent clean energy by 2030 and 100 percent clean energy and zero carbon emissions by January 1, 2050.

                  It’s no secret that too many of our elected representatives remain committed climate deniers and defeatists. After all, Big Oil and other polluters poured more than $27,626,080 into the 113th Congress, and now they are looking for a return on their investments.

                  It’s good to know there are still some honest members of Congress. This resolution will tell us which ones are on board with climate action, and who’s just paying lip service! The CPC resolution supports truly renewable energy. It calls for providing a just transition for workers who will be affected by the move towards renewables, and for trade deals to protect the environment. 

                  Setting these priorities will help us avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, and create millions of jobs. For example, shifting from landfills to recycling or composting will create 10 times more jobs than landfilling, while also reducing emissions. New renewable energy industries can provide opportunities for Americans who are unemployed or underemployed communities to work and receive the fair wages that have long eluded them. These solutions will deliver us the clean- energy revolution that our country desperately needs.

                  Drew Hudson|Environmental Action

                  Windmill collapse probe is ongoing

                  No timetable set for Exelon’s investigation

                  An investigation is ongoing into why a wind turbine built to withstand arctic cold and hurricane winds collapsed in a Huron County field last week.

                  Kristen Otterness, a spokeswoman for Exelon, said security will be on site around the clock in Elkton for the next couple of weeks while the company continues its investigation.

                  “We don’t have an estimated time for when the full investigation will be complete,” Otterness said in an email. “We know this is important to the community and will share information as it becomes available.”

                  The 396-foot windmill fell between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. Feb. 25 in a field in Elkton. The turbine was part of Exelon’s Harvest I wind project.

                  No one was injured in the collapse. Otterness said setbacks between occupied structures and wind turbines vary, but they generally are more than twice the tip height of the turbine.

                  After the collapse, Exelon stopped all turbines in the Harvest I wind project for a short time to perform external visual inspections.

                  Otterness said the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and county emergency management were notified when some oil leaked from the turbine.

                  “This specific turbine model is designed to withstand arctic weather conditions, and has successfully withstood hurricanes,” Otterness said in an email. “We believe this is an isolated, turbine-specific event and not a larger fleet wide issue.”

                  Deb Elliott, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said Pigeon and Bad Axe, located west and east of Elkton, received 6 to 7 inches of snow that day. Elliott said estimates put the wind speed at 40 to 45 mph, with isolated gusts of 50 mph. Chante Condit-Pottol, a spokeswoman for the turbine manufacturer, Vestas, said service technicians and experts are working closely with Exelon to determine the cause of the V82-1.65 MW turbine collapse. Condit-Pottol said V estas has manufactured other wind turbines in Michigan and the U.S.

                  “This is the first (Vestas) turbine collapse in the U.S.,” Condit-Pottol said in an email. “Vestas has installed 55,000 turbines globally, and incidents such as this are very rare.” The Elkton turbine collapse came about a week after a blade broke on a DTE Energy wind turbine Feb. 19 in Sigel Township, also located in Huron County.

                  The blade bent and wrapped around the nacelle of the turbine, flinging a 12-foot piece of blade about 120 yards from the base.

                  DTE Energy regional manager Ron Chriss said GE, the manufacturer of the turbine, will be on site this coming week to make repairs and investigate the cause.

                  “We’ll begin the removal process of the failed blade on Tuesday,” Chriss said. “We should have that complete on Tuesday.”

                  Chriss said a third party has been hired to lead the investigation and determine the cause of the failure. “They’ll continue their work in the field once the turbine blade is secure,” Chriss said. “They’ll probably be in the field next Thursday.

                  “Our goal is to have the cause identified by the 90-day mark.” The breaks happened in the midst of controversy over the growing wind energy business in the Thumb. On Tuesday, residents in Argyle and Wheatland townships in Sanilac County will be asked to vote on zoning ordinance changes favorable to wind farms. In Marion and Bridgehampton townships, residents have gathered signatures for a referendum to slow site plan approvals for an Exelon wind farm. Exelon has plans to install 68 windmills that each measure about 499 feet in height across three townships: Marion, Bridgehampton, and Custer. According to the company, the project would be able to generate about 150 megawatts of energy — enough to power about 44,000 average homes.

                  The project has been controversial. Residents have alleged board members have clear conflicts of interest, making ordinance changes favorable to the wind farm while holding leases with Exelon and other wind energy companies.

                  BETH LEBLANC|TIMES HERALD

                  Recycling

                  Think your plastic is being recycled? Think again.

                  [A change in China’s policy has US recyclers scrambling for new solutions to an old problem.]

                  Think those plastic items you carefully separate from the rest of your trash are being responsibly recycled? Think again. U.S. recycling companies have largely stayed away from recycling plastic and most of it has been shipped to China where it can be processed cheaper. Not anymore. This year China announced a Green Fence Policy, prohibiting much of the plastic recycling they once imported:

                  For many environmentally conscious Americans, there’s a deep satisfaction to chucking anything and everything plasticky into the recycling bin—from shampoo bottles to butter tubs—the types of plastics in the plastic categories #3 through #7. Little do they know that, even if their local trash collector says it recycles that waste, they might as well be chucking those plastics in the trash bin.

                  “[Plastics] 3-7 are absolutely going to a landfill—[China’s] not taking that any more… because of Green Fence,” David Kaplan, CEO of Maine Plastics, a post-industrial recycler, tells Quartz. “This will continue until we can do it in the United States economically.”

                  U.S. recyclers are scrambling to come up with a solution now that China is drastically cutting back on their top import from the U.S.:

                  China’s demand for low-cost recycled raw materials has meant waste shipments from Europe, the US, Japan and Hong Kong have arrived thick and fast, with scrap becoming the top US export to China by value ($11.3bn) in 2011.

                  China controls a large portion of the recycling market, importing about 70% of the world’s 500m tons of electronic waste and 12m tons of plastic waste each year. Sudden Chinese policy changes therefore have a significant impact on the global recycling trade, which puts pressure on western countries to reconsider their reliance on the cost-effective practice of exporting waste, a habit that’s reinforced by a lack of domestic recycling infrastructure and a lower demand for secondary raw materials.

                  China’s Green Fence policy just might spur the U.S. government and recyclers into much-needed innovation:

                  Historically, higher labor costs and environmental safety standards made processing scrap into raw materials much more expensive in the US than in China. So the US never developed much capacity or technology to sort and process harder-to-break down plastics like #3 through #7.

                  Green Fence might be a chance to change that, says Mike Biddle, CEO of California-based recycling company MBA Polymers. “China’s Green Fence offers a real opportunity to the US government and recycling industry to step up its efforts on recycling and catalyze a strong domestic recycling market in the US,” Biddle said at a recent webinar on Green Fence.

                  Some U.S. recycling companies are applauding the news:

                  The policy also has leveled the playing field by allowing large-scale companies that have invested additional money in pollution control and recycling services to operate at a more equal and fair-cost level, according to Kathy Xuan, CEO of full-service recycler Parc Corp. of Romeoville, Ill.

                  With China taking a harder look at the plastic waste it imports, U.S.-based recyclers are looking for opportunities in the changing global market.

                  Parc has doubled production in the last six months, Xuan said in a July 2 webinar hosted by the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. of Washington.

                  The opportunity for big change (and big profits) is there. Let’s hope the U.S. government and recycling companies don’t throw away the opportunity to lead the way.

                  Jen Hayden|Sep 18, 2013

                  Environmental Links

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

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                  ConsRep 1602 C

                  “We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
                  Henry David Thoreau

                  Announcements

                   

                  Of Interest to All

                   

                  Calls to Action

                  1.   Please urge your U.S. Representative to support and cosponsor the Albatross and Petrel Conservation Act – here
                  2. Keep Fracking out of Florida – here
                  3. Tell Administrator Gina McCarthy  it’s  time for action on neurotoxic organophosphate (OP) pesticides – here
                  4. Stop-slaughter of rare-mountain-lions – here
                  5. Contact your Senators today. Ask them to reject Sen. Roberts’ bill that would Kill GMO Labeling. – here
                  6. Save the Last Coral Reef in North America – here [If you sign only one petition this year, please make it this one.]

                  Birds and Butterflies

                  Where Do Maine’s Atlantic Puffins Go for the Winter?

                  Audubon scientists tracked breeding puffins from Maine to finally learn where they pass the colder months—in a maze of underwater canyons and mountains southeast of Massachusetts.

                  Steve Kress spent more than 40 summers off the rocky coast of Maine, uncovering every detail about Maine’s breeding Atlantic Puffins and their ecology. But there was one mystery he just couldn’t get to the bottom of. “[The puffins] are only on land for about four months; most of the time they’re at sea,” says Kress, who is the founder of Project Puffin and was credited with bringing the birds back from the brink of extinction in Maine during the 1970s using unique conservation techniques. The fact that the birds were hiding out for more than half the year was baffling to him and his fellow scientists.

                  Now, after years of trying to trace the puffins’ trail, Kress and his team have finally tracked the birds to an offshore paradise on the U.S. Continental Shelf, southeast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. 

                  Geolocators lead to a startling discovery.

                  Back in 2009, Kress and other researchers at Audubon’s Seabird Restoration Program started hunting for clues to where their neighborhood puffins were swimming off to every August. They attached geolocators to birds from the colonies at Maine’s Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge and Matinicus Rock and tried to track them. After two failed rounds between 2009 and 2013—one due to concerns over faulty data, and the other because of a manufacturing glitch—researchers ran a third attempt over 2013 and 2014 that finally yielded some hard-won information about the birds’ winter retreat.

                  Geolocators on the puffins’ legs record light levels from the different places they go, revealing their general winter itinerary. Photo: Stephen W. Kress

                  The data, gathered last spring from 19 puffins that returned to their burrows on the two islands, showed that the birds embark on an adventurous route that takes them to two main locations. They start by swimming north through the fish-rich waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Kress explains, spending about a month in Canada before veering south to overwinter in waters about 200 miles off the coast of Cape Cod.

                  Their final destination is an epic, underwater landscape: home to New England’s famed “coral canyons,” which go deeper than the Grand Canyon, and huge submerged mountain ranges that stretch for hundreds of miles along the ocean floor. The biodiverse zone is populated with impressive swathes of cold-water coral, kelp forests, whales, dolphins, a plethora of fish species—and as we now know, Atlantic Puffins, which are probably benefiting from some quality foraging in the area. “The canyons must be supporting a food web that extends up through the water column to the surface,” says Tony Diamond, a wildlife ecology professor at the University of New Brunswick who is conducting similar research on the puffins of Machias Seal Island in the Gulf of Maine. 

                  New facts provide ample cause for protection.

                  Each geolocator only weighs a few ounces. Its data can only be recovered by retrieving the device from the puffin once it returns to its breeding grounds in Maine. Photo: Stephen W. Kress

                  The discovery comes at the perfect time, too. In September of last year, scientists and conservationists began advocating for a Marine National Monument around the coral canyons and seamounts near Cape Cod. If approved, it would be the first marine monument in the U.S. side of the Atlantic, and would protect the region against potential future threats like dredging by fishing vessels, undersea mining, and oil drilling. “It comes back to this: We need to do as good a job as possible protecting the habitats where [puffins] both nest and winter,” says Kress. “They already have enough issues from climate and shifting food chains.”

                  Kress’s current research shows that warming seas in the Northeast are threatening the availability of forage fish for puffins, meaning there’s less food available for chicks during breeding season. That could be causing young to fledge before they’ve gained enough weight, reducing their chances of survival. By tracking more birds throughout the year, scientists can figure out where the parents are searching for food, and if those locations are shifting over time. This summer, the Seabird Restoration Program will be using GPS tags—which are more precise than geolocators—to study the birds’ foraging habits in greater depth.

                  As tagging technologies grow more sophisticated, a clearer picture of the puffins’ winter homeland will emerge—along with cues on how to protect them. “Given that this species spends most of its time at sea, we need to develop the tools to protect them at sea, as well on land,” Diamond says. “Even well-known birds, like puffins, are still revealing secrets about how and where they live,” adds Gary Langham, Audubon’s chief scientist.

                  Secrets are thrilling, but when it comes to conservation, finding the answers pays off in a big way. 

                  Emma Bryce|February 12, 2016

                  Birders have blast along St. Clair River

                  Event offers wonders of the Blue Water Area

                  Monica Laney was decked out in bird watching gear, binoculars and a camera with telephoto lens hanging around her neck.

                  “Birds are pretty cool,” said the Chesterfield township resident.

                  She was among about 75 people who showed up Saturday for the Friends of the St. Clair River Watershed Winter Bird Blast in Port Huron.

                  “I come up to look at the birds,” she said, scanning the St. Clair River north of the Blue Water Bridge. “I wanted to come and learn more about what I was seeing.

                  “It’s neat. I’m glad to see such a turnout at an event like this,” she said. “It shows support for the lakes and the community and the birds.” Sheri Faust, president of the Friends group, said one of the goals of events such as Saturday’s Bird Blast is to educate people about the resources where they live.

                  “This is a great way to get people out when normally they might not be outside,” she said.

                  Tom Dennis, of the Blue Water Audubon Society, briefed participants about what birds to expect. Because the tour was along the St. Clair River, most of the birds were waterfowl — but there were some raptors including a bald eagle on the Canadian side.

                  “Our goal is to get people interested in the unique natural features of the Blue Water Area,” Dennis said.

                  “If they want to become a Blue Water River Walk steward, that’s fantastic, but if they just learn to appreciate the natural features of the Blue Water Area, we’ve accomplished our mission.”

                  Kirsten Lyons, stewardship director for the Friends, said the more people learn about the places where they live, the more they want to protect those places.

                  “We do this to connect our community to our water resources,” Lyons said. “The best way to do that is to get them out there looking at our wildlife.”

                  BOB GROSS|TIMES HERALD

                  Agami Herons’ Full Mating Ritual Photographed for the First Time

                  A couple’s trek to a hidden lagoon in Costa Rica leads to a cache of new details about a glorious, yet understudied bird.

                  The Agami Heron is a superb-looking bird, in part due to its swanky mating ensemble—a feathery white comb over, ombre neck plumes, and a hot-crimson facemask. But the species favors the steamy overgrowth of Central and South America, and is notoriously hard to find (no one even knows where this mysterious bird spends its winters). As a result, very few people have seen its extraordinary habits or photographed it in the wild—until now.

                  It all started when heron biologist Jim Kushlan and wildlife photographer Kirsten Hines heard about a rare colony of Agamis at the Pacuare Reserve in Costa Rica, back in 2011. After a series of conversations with the reserve’s manager and caretaker, Kushlan and Hines were finally able to secure permission to visit at the height of breeding season last May. What resulted from their trek—thanks to Hines’s photography skills—is the first full documentation of this elusive species’ breeding behavior.

                  After arriving at the private eco-reserve by boat, Kushlan and Hines immediately launched into an eight-day heron study. With the help of long-time caretaker Danilo Herrera and his sturdy old canoe, the duo counted 266 Agami Heron nests plus two chicks—all holed up on a tiny island in the Pacuare lagoon. They were lucky to find the birds at all. Three years ago, an impish spider monkey used a fallen tree to cross over to the nesting grounds. Once there the animal destroyed multiple nests, causing the entire colony to flee and relocate for the season. But spider monkeys are now exiled from the island—Herrera makes sure to cut up any makeshift bridges he notices during his patrols—and the birds are back and thriving.

                  Though Agamis are easily disturbed, the Pacuare birds are used to Herrera’s presence and therefore, are more forgiving to humans. During their stay, Kushlan and Hines even led a group of local high school students to the bird blind to watch the herons. The teens were captivated by the glamorous birds, Hines says, but were also very respectful of their shy ways.

                  The trip marked the second time Kushlan had encountered the species (the first time was by flashlight in the dead of the night in Ecuador), but it was Hines’s first, and the birds made quite an impression. “The Agami Herons were stunning, more brilliant than any of the images I’d seen,” she wrote on her website. “This was a special opportunity, and that was exactly why we were here.”

                  As soon as Hines spotted the heron’s headdress (which she likens to a punk rocker’s wig and Einstein’s hair), she started snapping away from behind a bird blind. Her timing was impeccable; at one point, a young female and male faced off in a fascinating courtship act, while on the other end of the blind, a chick called out to its father for food.

                  A male heron about to stab a displaying female away. Note her submissive posture and red lores (the skin between the eye and the beak—the color indicates she’s eager to mate); the male’s lores are still yellow. Photo: Kirsten Hines

                  Unlike most birds, both sexes of Agamis boast the same fancy plumage around mating season. The only way to tell them apart, Kushlan says, is by the male’s larger beak and body. And unlike many other species, it’s the female that has to win the male’s heart. Courtship starts when a male chooses a nesting site and starts displaying around it. This catches the eye of a female—and if she’s interested, she’ll come over and start dancing: shaking her plumes, rocking on her legs, turning bright red in the face, and bowing from time to time. The males then counter—and they can get aggressive, snapping and even stabbing the females with their razor-sharp beaks to try and rebuff them. “It’s very hard on the female,” Kushlan says. The process may go on for days, until the male finally accepts the partner and they start building a nest.

                  The herons’ courtship has never been described in such detail before. And thanks to Kushlan’s expert eye and Hines’s elaborate photos, the findings will be published in the journal Waterbirds in early June. The paper, which complements ongoing research on an even larger Agami colony in French Guiana, imparts new information on the birds’ nesting, feeding, and parenting habits, and how they react to disturbances around them. It also points out the discrepancies between the breeding males and females; for example, the female will hold the red in her lores for hours, unlike the male. 

                  Kushlan and Hines hope that their work will draw more scientists to Costa Rica for long-term monitoring; every new detail can help strengthen the IUCN’s conservation plan around the Agamis. Through their experience they realized that well-managed, privately owned land can be valuable to both local inhabitants and migratory animals. “Private endeavors like this can have a continent-wide effect on a species,” Kushlan says. He and Hines urge birders to visit the reserve and see its special tenants firsthand (Hines gives the place a glowing review on her online travelogue).

                  As for the intrepid husband and wife, they’re now back in their home state of Florida, preparing to scout out another wily waterbird: the Zigzag Heron, a little-known species which nests in the Amazon, right alongside its regal Agami cousin.

                  Purbita Saha|January 29, 2016

                  Invasive species

                  A Ban on Salamanders Is Just Part of the Fight Against This Deadly Fungus

                  Scientists are deploying a variety of weapons as new clues emerge about the fungal diseases killing off amphibians

                  Species of all types are disappearing around the globe, but no group may be more threatened than amphibians. One recent analysis found that 43 percent of amphibian species are on the decline and nearly a third are officially threatened. Scientists have also counted 168 species that have gone extinct in the wild, and more than half of those extinctions have occurred in the last few decades.

                  One big factor has been Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a fungal disease also known as chytrid that was virtually unknown two decades ago. Since its discovery, scientists have witnessed mass die-offs of amphibians, especially frogs, around the world, sometimes happening overnight.

                  Now, a related fungal disease is spreading among salamanders, B. salamandrivorans, or Bsal, and scientists are racing to apply what they have learned about chytrid to prevent this new threat from devastating amphibians in North America.

                  Amphibians are an integral part of the ecosystem, providing a link between the aquatic and terrestrial worlds, Karen Lips, who studies the animals at the University of Maryland College Park, said this week at the 2016 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, D.C.

                  Amphibians are key predators of insects—many of which can transmit diseases such as Zika and dengue to humans—and they serve as meals for other creatures. When frogs disappear, “there are big impacts on pretty much all aspects of the ecosystem,” from water quality to snake abundance, says Lips, who has seen the effects of chytrid on amphibians in Panama.

                  The animals have also become key in research on limb regeneration. That makes amphibian declines, which may be even worse than reported, especially worrisome, Lips says. So researchers around the world are jumping in to find out as much as they can about the attacking fungi.

                  “The discovery of these two diseases has changed the way we think about pathogens,” says Ana Longo, of the University of Maryland College Park and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. When chytrid first appeared, scientists were reluctant to believe that a single pathogen could be so dangerous to more than a single species.

                  While studies have since shown that it’s possible, scientists they have also discovered that there are several kinds of Batrachochytrium. Some appear to be endemic in certain regions, such as Brazil, Switzerland and Korea, and amphibians there are able to tolerate the fungus.

                  But two other versions have spread widely, largely due to the pet trade. These invasive fungi are mostly responsible for the mass die-offs of frogs and other amphibians in the wild. 

                  Scientists have also recognized that the chytrid epidemic began decades earlier than they thought. By studying amphibians in natural history collections, they have been able to see that declines in some species, such as the Yosemite toad, occurred around the same time as the arrival of chytrid in a particular region.

                  “Museums are giving us a view of the past that may help us interpret the status of present-day populations,” says Vance Vredenburg, an amphibian ecologist at San Francisco State University.

                  One big takeaway so far is that the fungus may not actually doom all frogs, as scientists once feared. Many factors can interact to determine whether a population­—or an entire species—survives. For instance, while chytrid thrives in cooler climates, the local climate and ecology can influence the spread of the disease and amphibian susceptibility.

                  Interactions with the other microbes living on an animal’s skin may also play a role, along with the response of its immune system. Some researchers are now working on probiotics that might help a frog fight off a chytrid infection. And zoos, including the Smithsonian National Zoo, are raising animals that have gone extinct in the wild, such as the Panamanian golden frog, with plans to eventually reestablish lost populations once they figure out how to control the fungus. 

                  Such efforts are giving scientists a head start for tackling Bsal, a disease that was first officially described in 2013. Thought to be native to Asia, this fungus arrived in the Netherlands via the pet trade and spread through Europe from there. The disease has not yet been found in North America, but it could be a huge problem if it makes the leap across the Atlantic.

                  “The threat of the new salamander-eating chytrid fungus is something we should all be very concerned about, because the Appalachian region is the world’s major biodiversity hot spot for salamanders,” says Brian Gratwicke, a conservation biologist at the National Zoo. “We have a responsibility do everything we can to preserve them as an important feature of the continent’s biodiversity.”

                  The U.S. Geological Survey has developed a rapid-response plan for handling suspicious salamander deaths, and herpetologists would love to see any dead salamanders people find. The National Zoo has also teamed up with a citizen-science project, the Amphibian Survival Alliance, to test pet salamanders for the fungus. In the meantime, researchers are hoping to apply the lessons they are learning about chytrid biology to Bsal.

                  But for now, the best way to keep U.S. salamanders safe is to keep Bsal out of the country. To that end, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service implemented a ban earlier this year on the import and interstate trade of 201 salamander species that could transmit Bsal.

                  “We know that there’s no treatment,” Lips said, “so it’s pretty obvious that the only thing that is going to give us any amount of time to come up with a solution or treatment … is to keep it out as long as possible.”

                  Sarah Zielinski|smithsonian.com|February 13, 2016

                  Endangered Species

                  “Mermaid Ivory” Stirs Controversy Over How Extinct Species Are Studied

                  The carved bones of marine mammals highlight the squishy regulations around their trade and what that means for science

                  The Steller’s sea cow was almost extinct by the time German naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller first laid eyes on the plump marine mammal. The species that would bear his name once ranged throughout the North Pacific, but by the time of Steller’s visit in 1741, the last population was sequestered around Russia’s Commander Islands. The species was hunted into extinction before the close of the 18th century.
                  Then, a discovery complicated this classic story of extinction. In 2014, George Mason University biologist Lorelei Crerar and her coauthors announced that a hidden population of Steller’s sea cow bobbed through the waters around St. Lawrence Island, west of the Alaskan coast, up until about 1,000 years ago.

                  Why this second pocket went extinct wasn’t clear—in their report in Biology Letters, the researchers proposed that a brief uptick in temperatures called the Medieval Warm Period could have made the kelp the marine mammals ate harder to find, or that Inuit hunted them into extinction. Either way, the discovery of this “hidden” population added a new wrinkle to the animal’s tragic tale.

                  Now the study is making waves for a very different reason: It highlights the squishy state of regulations surrounding “mermaid ivory,” the colorful name for the bones of marine mammals carved into sculptures, and what that means for scientific research.

                  For their work, Crerar and her coauthors used bone specimens bought at knife shows and on Ebay. The bone dealers assured them that the samples came from St. Lawrence Island. The team’s initial intention was to detect whether protected marine species were being illegally traded under the banner of mermaid ivory, says study co-author Chris Parsons. Their genetic analysis identified some of the samples as Steller’s sea cow, and those bones were dated at about 1,000 years old, which Crerar and Parsons deem a serendipitous result.
                  But not everyone is sold on the idea that the sea cows inhabited the waters around St. Lawrence Island way back when. In a response article published this month in Biology Letters, marine mammal experts Nicholas Pyenson, James Parham and Jorge Velez-Juarbe question where these critical sea cow bones came from and, more broadly, how commercially purchased specimens are used in studying the past.

                  “While I certainly hope that the material did come from St. Lawrence Island, we have no basis, given the current facts, to affirm this geographic placement with confidence,” says Pyenson, of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Location is just as important as anatomy or tatters of genes in examining where species used to live. Even though it was not Crerar and colleagues’ intention to conduct a paleontological study, Pyenson and his coauthors are dismayed that there is no concrete evidence for where the bone samples came from.

                  A bone sold as mermaid ivory is stripped of its context and can only give you scant anatomical details, Parham says. “Because the fossil record is so incomplete already, any time we lose attendant data, the science suffers.” Promises from bone dealers are not sufficient, he adds. “In science, you should not really pick and choose which merchant to believe.”
                  Complicating matters, this species falls through a regulatory loophole.

                  “The specimens in question fall outside of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, because Steller’s sea cow is extinct. And because these specimens are not technically fossils either, they fall outside of the Paleontological Resources Protection Act,” says Pyenson. That means dealers can legally buy and sell the bones without having to worry much about documenting their origins. And that makes the original study problematic, Pyenson says.

                  “I think their broad conclusions would be interesting and relevant to a more complex extinction scenario if we did have such traceability,” he says. “But what confidence do we have that the isotopic and DNA results can be tracked to actual physical vouchers, given these issues?”

                  Pyenson and his coauthors are also concerned that the 2014 study grated against the standards of paleontology and other biological disciplines. The bones used in the 2014 study were held in a private collection, which was put in a George Mason University collection last December. That means the original specimens were privately held at the time they were formally described.

                  When important specimens are in private hands, the owner may deny access to scientists for any reason they like, the trio point out. “And then there’s always the question of what will happen to those specimens beyond the lifetime of the owner,” says Velez-Juarbe of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.

                  Reiterating that their initial findings were a happenstance that came out of a different project, the authors of the 2014 study dispute these arguments. In a published reply to Pyenson and his colleagues, Crerar says that the samples were not hard to access.

                  “All 200 of the bones are at George Mason University,” she says, with the exception of five that are currently at the Smithsonian, and she says that other researchers have already examined the collection. And while Crerar would also like to know more about where the bones came from, she has not yet visited St. Lawrence Island and talk to the people who dig the bones from middens.

                  Parsons adds that he is “dumbfounded by the furor over the samples,” especially because the sea cow samples “are tiny fragments that aren’t really recognizable as bones or carvings.” He likens them to genetic tissue samples, which are not always stored in museum collections.

                  Still, archiving genetic samples has rapidly become a scientific standard for biologists, and museums and zoos around the world are building huge collections of frozen tissues, says Parham of California State University.

                  While the tricky nature of mermaid ivory may not be resolved any time soon, there is some hope for resolving the mystery of the St. Lawrence Island sea cows. Middens likely to harbor more sea cow bones have previously been excavated on the islands, and their fully documented contents are now being cared for at museums, say Pyenson, Parham and Velez-Juarbe.

                  “Could there be Steller’s sea cow already in museum collections at Fairbanks?” Pyenson wonders. “I’m going to go and find out.”

                  Brian Switek|Smithsonian.com|February 15, 2016

                  Hunters Become Conservationists in the Fight to Protect the Snow Leopard

                  A pioneering program recruits locals as rangers in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, where the elusive cat is battling for survival

                  MAR2016_J12_SnowLeopards.jpg High in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, scientists and hunters are unlikely allies in an effort to protect the endangered snow leopard before it vanishes. (Panthera)

                  image: http://thumbs.media.smithsonianmag.com//filer/ba/59/ba596ed3-125b-4df2-9e2c-e3f5cee1c054/mar2016_j12_snowleopards.jpg__800x600_q85_crop.jpg

                  To reach the Tien Shan mountains from the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, you head east until you hit the shores of a vast freshwater lake called Issyk Kul, and then you turn southeast, in the direction of the Chinese border—a drive of about ten hours, if the weather is good and the roads are clear. The week I made the trip, last winter, in the company of a snow leopard scientist named Tanya Rosen, it took considerably longer. There was rain in Bishkek, and snow on the plains. Every 20 miles or so, we slowed to allow young shepherd boys, stooped like old shepherd men, to drive their sheep from one side of the ice-slick road to the other. In the distance, the mountains loomed.

                  “Kyrgyz traffic jam,” the driver, Zairbek Kubanychbekov, a Kyrgyz staffer with Panthera, the American nonprofit where Rosen is a senior scientist, called out from behind the wheel. Rosen laughed. “You’ll get used to it,” she told me. “I remember one of the very first things I decided when I came to Central Asia was that I wouldn’t allow myself to get annoyed or angry at the pace of travel here. Because if you do, you won’t have any time for anything else. I surrendered.”

                  Rosen, who is 42, was born in Italy and raised in what was then Yugoslavia. She speaks six languages fluently, another two passably, and her accent, while vaguely European, can be hard to place. In another life, she worked as a corporate lawyer in Manhattan, but in 2005, frustrated with her job, she and her husband separated and she moved to Grand Teton National Park and then to Yellowstone, to work for the U.S. Geological Survey with grizzly bears while earning a master’s degree in social ecology from Yale. An interest in big-clawed bears gave way to an interest in big-clawed cats, and for the past half decade, Rosen has spent almost all her time studying Panthera uncia, or the snow leopard, an animal whose life in the wild, owing to its far-flung habitat and fundamentally elusive nature, remains little known.

                  In Tajikistan, Rosen and her colleagues at Panthera helped to set up a network of pioneering community-run conservancies—areas controlled and policed not by government rangers but by local people. The programs were a success—recent surveys showed snow leopard counts inside the Tajik conservancies climbing up. Now she was pushing north, into neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where, except in a single nature reserve called Sarychat-Ertash, little research has been done. So much remains unknown that scientists debate even the size of the snow leopard population itself: Some thought there were a thousand cats in the country, others put the number at 300.

                  As we hurtled toward the Tien Shan, Rosen ran down the list of what she hoped to accomplish: persuade Kyrgyz hunters and farmers to set up new conservancies; install camera traps to get a rough measure of the snow leopard population in key areas, which could be used as a base line to monitor fluctuations in the years to come; and, if she got lucky, maybe even manage to get a radio collar on an adult snow leopard, allowing her team to track its movements, map its range and learn more about how it interacts with prey and its environment.

                  Our first destination was a hunting camp high in the Tien Shan, where the owner, a man named Azamat, had reported seeing snow leopards in the surrounding peaks. Azamat had invited Rosen to stay a few days and set up a handful of camera traps. We’d pick up Azamat in his village at the foot of the mountains and continue for another hundred miles up to the camp.

                  We drove for nine hours straight, past mosques with minarets of sapphire blue, tombs of twisted tin and the occasional dolorous camel. The road narrowed to dirt and reverted back to concrete; we descended only to climb again. I sat in the back seat, next to Naryn, Rosen’s year-old taigan, a Kyrgyz cousin of the Afghan hound. Taigans can be trained to kill wolves, but Naryn, with her gentle, citrine eyes, seemed to have acquired her master’s reserved temperament: She spent her time curled up atop the gear—the better to keep an eye on the rest of us.

                  Near the shores of Lake Issyk Kul, we stopped to spend the night, and the next day we added another passenger to the already-overstuffed car: Azamat, the owner of the hunting camp. Azamat was dark-haired and absurdly handsome, with little English and a passion for Soviet weaponry; the lock screen on his cellphone, which he showed me immediately after we met, was a glossy photograph of his favorite scoped automatic rifle.

                  At 12,200 feet, the sage of the plains gave way to the middle reaches of the mountains, and the only other vehicles were trucks from a nearby gold mine. All around us was an ocean of unbroken snowpack; without sunglasses, it hurt to even open your eyes. At 15,000 feet, according to the altimeter on my satellite phone, the air began to feel painfully thin; my vision clouded at the corners with a gray haze, and my head throbbed.

                  Before I came to Kyrgyzstan, Rodney Jackson, the head of an American nonprofit called the Snow Leopard Conservancy, told me that the reason so few scientists chose to specialize in the feline—as opposed to, say, the tiger—is that tracking snow leopards is an intensely physical endeavor: Altitude hurts, and so does the punishing amount of travel involved. Not everyone wants to spend weeks at a time in the mountains, fending off the nausea and the pain of mountain sickness. I was starting to see what he meant. I swallowed a Diamox pill, a prescription medicine to minimize the effects of altitude, and slumped lower into the bench seat.

                  Rosen shouted: Ahead, a pack of long-horned argali sheep, a favorite prey of the snow leopard, were watching us approach. But before I could get my binoculars focused, they scattered, flecking the slopes with hoof prints. Four days after leaving home, I’d arrived at last in snow leopard country.

                  The snow leopard is a deceptively small beast: Males are 95 pounds, give or take, and light through the back and torso. They stand little more than 24 inches tall. (Female snow leopards are smaller still.) And yet as the late naturalist Peter Matthiessen, who wrote his most famous book about the snow leopard, once noted, there are few animals that can match its “terrible beauty,” which he described as “the very stuff of human longing.”

                  Although snow leopards will descend to altitudes of 2,500 feet, they are most comfortable in steep and rocky mountains of 10,000 feet or higher, in the distant reaches of terrain historically inhospitable to man. It is no accident that in so many cultures, from Buddhist Tibet to the tribal regions of Tajikistan, the snow leopard is viewed as sacred: We must climb upward, in the direction of the heavens, to find it.

                  And even then, we may not sense its presence. Save for the pink nose and glimmering green or blue eyes, its camouflage is perfect, the black-speckled gray pelt a good blend for both snow and alpine rock. In Kyrgyzstan, I heard stories of experienced hunters coming within yards of a snow leopard without being the wiser for it; the next morning, following the path back to their cabin, the hunters would see tracks shadowing their own.

                  Although packs of wolves or even a golden eagle may bring down an unprotected cub, the same spring-loaded haunches that allow an adult snow leopard to jump distances of close to 30 feet, from mountain ledge to mountain ledge, make the animal a devastating killer.

                  Data from the Snow Leopard Trust suggest that the cat will bring down an animal every eight to ten days—ibex or bharal or long-horned argali sheep, whichever large ungulates are nearby—and can spend three or four days picking apart the carcass. Tom McCarthy, executive director of Snow Leopard Programs at Panthera, says he has collared more than a few of the animals in Mongolia with split lips and torn ears: an indication that some of the snow leopard’s prey will fight back. But it’s also possible that male snow leopards “smack each other around,” McCarthy says, in tussles over mountain turf.

                  Female snow leopards will breed or attempt to breed once every two years, and their home ranges may partially overlap. Pregnancy lasts about 100 days; litters can range from one cub to five, although mortality rates for snow leopard cubs are unknown—the harsh climate, it’s thought, may claim a significant number. Once her cubs are born, a female snow leopard will guard them for a year and a half to two years, until the young leopards are capable of hunting on their own.

                  The life of a male snow leopard is lonelier. He might stay with a female for a few days while they mate, but after that he’ll typically return to hunting and defending his territory in solitude. In Kyrgyzstan, he is often referred to, with reverence, as “the mountain ghost.”

                  And yet the snow leopard’s remote habitat is no longer enough to protect it. At one time, thousands of snow leopards populated the peaks of Central Asia, the Himalayan hinterlands of India, Nepal, Mongolia and Russia, and the plateaus of China. Today, the World Wildlife Fund estimates that there are fewer than 6,600 snow leopards in the wild. In some countries, according to the WWF, the numbers have dwindled to the point that a zero count has become a real possibility: between 200 to 420 in Pakistan and 70 to 90 in Russia.

                  The primary culprit is man. Driven by the collapse of local economies in the wake of the Soviet Union’s dissolution, and enticed by the robust market for snow leopard parts in Asia, where pelts are worth a small fortune and bones and organs are used in traditional medicines, over the past few decades poachers have made increasingly regular forays into the mountains of Central Asia, often emerging with dozens of dead leopards. Cubs are illegally sold to circuses or zoos; WWF China reports that private collectors have paid $20,000 for a healthy specimen. The poachers use untraceable steel traps and rifles; like the leopards themselves, they operate as phantoms.

                  As the human population expands, the snow leopard’s range has shrunk in proportion—villages and farms crop up on land that once belonged exclusively to wild animals. In Central Asia, a farmer who opens his corral one morning to find a heap of half-eaten sheep carcasses has plenty of incentive to make sure the same snow leopard doesn’t strike again. Meanwhile, snow leopard habitat is being chipped away by mining and logging, and in the future, McCarthy believes, climate change could emerge as a serious threat. “You might end up with a scenario where as more snow melts, the leopards are driven into these small population islands,” he says.

                  McCarthy points out that the loss of the snow leopard would mean more than the loss of a beautiful creature, or the erasure, as in the case with the Caspian tiger, which vanished in the mid-20th century, of a link to our ecological past. Nature is interlocked and interdependent—one living part relies on the next. Without snow leopards, too many ungulates would mean that mountain meadows and foliage would be chomped down to dirt. The animal’s extinction would forever alter the ecosystem.

                  In recent years, much of the work of organizations such as the WWF, Panthera and the Snow Leopard Trust has centered more on people than the cats themselves: lobbying local governments to crack down on poaching; finding ways to enhance law enforcement efforts; and working with local farmers to improve the quality and safety of their corrals, because higher fences means fewer snow leopard attacks on livestock and so fewer retaliatory shootings.

                  “There’s a temptation to think in terms of grand, sweeping solutions,” Rosen told me. “But, as with all conservation, it is less about the animal than it is getting the best out of the human beings who live alongside it.”

                  Jackson says that the primary challenge is one of political will. “I’m convinced that in places where anti-poaching laws are strict, like Nepal, things have gotten markedly better,” he told me. “People have seen the cultural incentive in having the cat alive. And they’ve watched people get prosecuted for poaching, and they’re wary of messing with that.” But activists and scientists like Jackson have been working in places like Nepal for decades.

                  By comparison, Kyrgyzstan is a new frontier.

                  Azamat’s hunting camp turned out to be a cluster of trailers sheltered to the east by a stone cliff and to the west by a row of rounded hills. There was a stable for the horses used by visiting hunters, a gas-powered generator for power and wood stoves for heat. Ulan, a ranger acquaintance of Azamat’s, had arrived earlier in the day with his wife, who would do the cooking.

                  We ate a wordless meal of bread and soup and threw our sleeping bags on the bunks in the middle trailer. The stove was already lit. I was sore from the drive, jet-lagged, dehydrated from the elevation. Underneath my thermal shirt, my lungs were doing double-duty. I flicked on my headlamp and tried to read, but my attention span had disappeared with the oxygen. Finally, I got dressed and stepped outside.

                  The night was immense; the constellations looked not distant and unreachable, as they had back on earth, but within arm’s length. By my reckoning, it was 300 miles to the nearest middle-sized town, 120 miles to the nearest medical clinic and 30 miles to the nearest house.

                  At 5:30 a.m., Askar Davletbakov, a middle-aged Kyrgyz scientist who had accompanied us to the camp, shook me by the shoulders. His small frame was hidden under four layers of synthetic fleece and down. “Time to go,” he said. He had a camera trap in his hand. Rosen had brought along ten of the devices, which are motion-activated: A snow leopard passes by the lens, and snap, a handful of still images are recorded onto a memory card. Later, the camera is collected, and the data is uploaded to a Panthera computer.

                  We’d hoped to set out on horseback, but the ice in the canyons was too thin—the horses might go crashing through to the river below—so instead we drove out to the canyon mouth and hiked the rest of the way on foot. It was minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit, and colder with the wind. Through the ice on the river I could see sharp black fish darting in the current. Naryn howled; the sound filled the canyon. Resting totemically in the snow up ahead was the skull of an argali sheep torn into pieces by a pack of wolves. The job had not been finished: Clumps of flesh still clung to the spinal column, and one buttery eye remained in its socket.

                  Nearby, we found the first snow leopard tracks, discernible by the pads and the long tubular line that the tail makes in the snow. A snow leopard’s tail can measure three and a half feet; the cats often wrap themselves in it in the winter, or use it as a balancing tool when traversing icy slopes. I knelt down and traced my finger over the tracks. “Very good sign,” Rosen said. “Looks fresh. Maybe a few hours old.”

                  Zairbek removed a camera trap from his pack and climbed up a gully to set it. The process was onerous: You need dexterity to flip the requisite switches, but even a few moments without gloves was enough to turn your fingers blue. Three hours after we’d left camp, we’d traveled two miles and set only four traps.

                  The canyon narrowed to the point where we were forced to walk single file; the ice groaned ominously underfoot. I watched Ulan, a cigarette in hand, testing the ground with his boot. The accident, when it happened, gave me no time to react: Ulan was there, and then he was not. Azamat pushed past me, got his hands under Ulan’s armpits, and hauled him out of the river. The hunter was soaked through to his upper chest; already, his face was noticeably paler. We set the remaining traps as quickly as we could, in caves and in cascades of scree, and turned back home, where Ulan, with a mug of hot tea in hand, could warm his legs in front of the stove.

                  We ate more soup and more bread, and drank large glasses of Coca-Cola. While in the mountains, Rosen consumes the stuff by the gallon—something about the caffeine and sugar and carbonation, she believes, helps to ward off altitude sickness. I wondered aloud, given the difficulty of just the past couple of days, whether she ever felt overwhelmed. Surely it would be more comfortable to continue to study the grizzly, which at least has the sense to live closer to sea level.

                  Rosen considered this for a moment, and then she told me a story about a trip to Central Asia a few years back. “I was tired, I was sore,” she said. “We’d been driving all day. And then, from the window, I saw a snow leopard a few hundred yards away, looking back at me. Just the way it moved—the grace, the beauty. I remember being so happy in that moment. I thought, ‘OK, this is why I’m here. And this is why I’m staying.’”

                  One afternoon, Rosen took me to visit a man named Yakut, who lived in a small village in the Alai Valley, close to the border of Tajikistan. Yakut is slight and balding, with a wispy gray goatee. As a young man in the 1970s, he’d traveled to Russia to serve in the Soviet Army; afterward he had wanted to stay in Moscow and enroll in a university there—there were plenty of opportunities for an ex-military man. But his father forbade it—Yakut was the only boy in the family—and he returned to the village, married and took over the family farm. In the summers, he hunted. He’d killed a lot of animals: ibex, wolves, bears, argali sheep.

                  In the summer of 2014, Rosen approached Yakut and other hunters in the village to make an offer: Allow Panthera to assist in establishing a local-run conservancy in the Alai. Unlike the National Park Service in the United States, or the zapovednik system in Russia—top-down institutions, where the government designates the protected land and hires rangers to police it—the community-based conservancy model is premised on the belief that locals can often be better stewards of their land than the federal government, especially in fractious areas like Central Asia.

                  Rosen, with the assurance of local law enforcement and border guards, promised the villagers of the Alai that in addition to helping set up the conservancy, they would assist in negotiations with the government for a hunting parcel, where they could charge visitors a fee to hunt animals like sheep and markhor, a large mountain goat. At the same time, the locals would monitor wildlife populations and carry out anti-poaching work.

                  Wealthy Kyrgyz city-dwellers and foreign tourists will pay tens of thousands of dollars to bring down an argali sheep. A month earlier, the villagers had registered the conservancy and elected Yakut as its head. Yakut received us at the door to his hut in a watch cap and olive military fatigues—a habit left over from his army days. His home, in the manner of many Kyrgyz dwellings, was divided into three chambers: a hallway for boots and gear; a kitchen; and a shared room for sleeping. We sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor. The television, tuned to a station out of Bishkek, burbled along agreeably in the background.

                  Yakut’s wife appeared with bread and tea and old plastic soda bottles filled with kumiss, an alcoholic delicacy made from fermented mare’s milk. The first gulp of kumiss came shooting back up my throat; it had the consistency of a raw oyster, and the taste of sour yogurt and vodka. I tried again. It was no better, but this time it went down. Yakut beamed.

                  I asked him what had made him agree to chair the conservancy, whether there was an appeal besides additional income for the village. “I used to go up into the mountains and see a snow leopard almost every other day,” he said. “Now, months and months can go by before I see a single track. The animals have started to disappear.” He explained that the other week, he and his fellow villagers had stopped a group of young hunters with bolt-action rifles who appeared to be headed onto the land, possibly in search of snow leopards. Perhaps they’d be back, but probably not—it would likely be more trouble than it was worth to attempt another incursion.

                  “My hope,” Yakut continued, “is that one day, maybe when my grandchildren are grown, the snow leopards will start to return.”

                  Outside, the sky was low-bellied and dark. Yakut gestured to the wall of his shed, where a wolf carcass hung. He and a cousin had trapped and killed it just the other day. The belly had been slit open and stuffed with hay to preserve the shape. Rosen, noticeably upset, turned away.

                  As she later told me, building community-based conservancies involved trade-offs: Some animals would be protected, but others would still be hunted. You knew that going in, but it didn’t mean you had to like it.

                  That night, we slept on the floor of a hut owned by the head of a nearby conservancy. Tossing and turning in my sleeping bag, I listened as Rosen, on the other side of the room, spoke by phone with her 11-year-old daughter, who was living with her father in New York. (Rosen divorced her first husband and has since remarried.) The conversation started in Italian, broke into English, and ended with a series of ciaos and blown kisses. Last year, Rosen’s daughter joined her mother for a few weeks in the field, and Rosen hoped she’d visit Kyrgyzstan again soon. But in the meantime they would be apart for nearly half a year. The separation, she told me, was the single toughest part of her job.

                  The most successful government conservancy in Kyrgyzstan, alongside Sarychat-Ertash, is Naryn, less than a hundred miles north of the Chinese border. Rangers, despite being paid the equivalent of $40 a month, are well-known for their commitment to the land. A few years ago, the director single-handedly created a museum devoted to indigenous animals, and he has poured the resulting funds (along with proceeds from a nearby red deer farm) directly back into the reserve.

                  I traveled to Naryn with Rosen, Askar and Zairbek to meet with the Naryn rangers. It had been a month or so since Rosen had been in touch with the team, who had set a series of Panthera-purchased camera traps in the surrounding hills, and she was keen for an update.

                  Our horses were a few hands taller than ponies but more nimble than the average American thoroughbred, with manes that the rangers had tied up in elaborate braids. Rosen grew up riding—as a teen she’d competed in dressage, and had briefly contemplated a career as a professional equestrian—and she was assigned a tall stallion with a coat that resembled crushed velvet. I was given a somnolent-looking mare.

                  I locked my left foot in the stirrup and swung myself up over the saddle, which was pommel-less, in the manner of its English counterpart, and set atop a small stack of patterned blankets. The horse shimmied, nosed at the bit, sauntered sideways across the road and was still. Hanging from the saddle was a tasseled crop, which could be used if my heels failed.

                  We set off in midafternoon, following a narrow track into the hills. The higher we climbed, the deeper the snow became, and at periodic intervals the horses would fall through the top crust with a terrified whinny, pinwheeling their legs for traction. Then their hooves would lock on firm ground and they’d surge forward, in a motion not unlike swimming, and their gaits would once more level out. Soon my mare’s neck and withers were frothed with sweat.

                  Approaching 10,000 feet, we were suddenly greeted by a flood of horses, saddleless and without bridles, coursing down the opposite slope in our direction. Our mounts grew skittish, and for a moment it looked as if we’d be driven backward off the cliff, but at the last moment a Kyrgyz cowboy appeared from the east, clad in a leather jacket and a traditional peaked Kyrgyz hat, and cut the horses off before they could reach us.

                  I listened to Zholdoshbek Kyrbashev, the reserve’s deputy director, and Rosen speaking in Russian; Zairbek, riding next to me, translated in his beginner’s English. Zholdoshbek believed there were at least a dozen snow leopards in the reserve—although the photo evidence was scant, the rangers had found plenty of scat. Rosen promised to try to provide the rangers with more cameras. Next they discussed the possibility of trapping and collaring some of the local bears, in order to get a better understanding of their behavior and movements. “It’s a great idea—but you’ll be careful,” Rosen chided him.

                  Zholdoshbek nodded, and smiled shyly. Like all the Kyrgyz scientists and rangers I met, he clearly liked Rosen immensely, and more than that he seemed to trust her—there was no guile to her, no arrogance. I thought of something that Tom McCarthy, of Panthera, had told me. “You look back to the 1980s, the early 1990s, and you could count the number of people studying the snow leopard on two hands,” he said. Now there were hundreds around the world, and, he went on, “Tanya has become one of the most prominent figures—she’s just absolutely superb at what she does: At the politics of it, at the fieldwork. She’s smart, but she’s always listening.”

                  The sun was now almost extinguished. We wheeled in a circle along the slope and descended into a valley. In the distance, a scattering of rocks materialized; the rocks became houses; the houses became a village. We dropped in on Beken, a veteran ranger at the reserve. He was a large man, with a face creased by the sun and wind and hands the texture of a catcher’s mitt. As we talked, his 5-year-old daughter climbed into his lap and, giggling, pulled at his ears.

                  Beken kept talking: He had many plans for the reserve. He wanted Naryn to become an international tourist attraction. He wanted more red deer. He wanted a bigger staff. And above all, he wanted to ensure that the snow leopard would never disappear from this land, which had been the land of his grandfather and father, and would be the land of his daughter.

                  “The snow leopard,” Beken said, “is part of who we are.”

                  It took two days to drive back to Bishkek. The highway was full of curiosities: telephone poles topped by storks’ nests; a man with what appeared to be a blunderbuss, taking aim at a scattering of songbirds. After a week in the mountains, the Irish green of the pastures looked impossibly bright, the Mediterranean blue of the Naryn River incandescent.

                  In Bishkek, with its unlovely Brutalist architecture, a fresh rainstorm arrived; the rain turned to pellets of ice. In the markets, vendors ran for cover. Behind us, shrinking in the Land Cruiser’s side-view mirrors, were the Tien Shan, wreathed in fog.

                  A few weeks after I returned to the United States, I heard from Rosen, who had sad news: Beken, the ranger at Naryn, had been retrieving a memory card from a camera trap when the river swept him away. His colleagues found him weeks later. He left behind his wife and children, including the young daughter I had watched yank at his ears. It was stark evidence of the dangers, and the cost, of the work Rosen and her colleagues choose to do.

                  Then, in the fall, came happier news: Working with the Snow Leopard Trust and its local affiliate, the Snow Leopard Foundation, Kyrgyzstan, Rosen and her team at Panthera had set ten snares in the canyons of the Sarychat-Ertash Reserve. “For weeks nothing happened,” Rosen wrote to me. “But on October 26, the transmitter attached to one of the traps went off. At 5 a.m., the team picked up the signal and within one and a half hours reached the site.”

                  There they found a healthy female snow leopard. The scientists darted the cat and attached a collar fitted with a satellite transceiver. It was the first time a snow leopard had ever been collared in Kyrgyzstan—a development that will shed light on the animal’s habits and range, and its relationship with the local ecosystem. Does the Kyrgyz snow leopard wander more widely than its counterparts in Nepal and elsewhere? Does it hunt as often? How frequently does it come close to human settlements?

                  Already, Panthera has found that the leopard is a mother to three cubs, who have been captured on camera traps. For now, Rosen and her team are calling the leopard Appak Suyuu, or True Love.

                  Matthew Shaer|Smithsonian Magazine|March 2016

                  First twins born to habituated gorilla family in the Central African Republic

                  Gorillas Malui and Makumba with their twins

                  © Nick Radford

                  Still too young to be named, the most recent additions to the gorilla population in the Dzanga-Sangha Protected Areas (DSPA) complex in the Central African Republic (CAR) are nevertheless making a name for themselves—as the first twins ever to be born to the area’s habituated gorillas.

                  The infants were first spotted at Bai Hokou at the end of January, clinging to their mother, Malui—with their father, the resident silverback Makumba, standing protectively nearby.

                  The gorilla habituation and research program has been running in Dzanga-Sangha since 1998, so the birth of the twins have caused quite a stir.

                  “These are the first twins ever recorded in Dzanga-Sangha and their birth is an incredible moment for everyone who has worked so hard to habituate and conserve these gorillas over the past 16 years,” said David Greer, the leader of WWF’s African great apes program, who worked in Dzanga-Sangha for over eight years.

                  The DSPA is co-managed by the CAR government and WWF, which habituates gorillas for tourism and research through its Primate Habituation Program.

                  Apart from being the major source of employment for local people, the program plays a vital role in the DSPA’s management strategy by generating much-needed revenue and strengthening the vital links with the community.

                  The project employs over 80 eco-guards for continuous surveillance of the area and actively supports the sustainable use of natural resources.

                  “These tiny twins are a sign of success in Dzanga-Sangha, but gorillas continue to face serious threats from poaching, disease and habitat loss across Central Africa and their futures are far from secure, which is why WWF is working with governments and partners throughout the region to protect them and their forest habitat,” Greer said.

                  Although multiple sets of twins have been recorded for eastern gorillas, it seems to be a rare occurrence for western gorillas. Another set of western gorilla twins was recorded in Mbeli Bai in northern Congo last year and both are still going strong.

                  Hopefully, the same will be true of Malui’s twins in a year’s time.

                  WWF|February 08, 2016

                  Major ivory trafficking network broken up in the Democratic Republic of Congo

                  In a significant blow to the illegal ivory trade in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), authorities dismantled a major ivory trafficking syndicate thanks to a law enforcement supported by WWF and partners.

                  The Congolese authorities seized approximately 66 pounds of ivory tusks and ornaments on Feb. 4 and arrested a number of traffickers, who remain in police custody.

                  With thousands of elephants poached each year, this crackdown represents a major step forward in stopping wildlife crime.

                  “WWF congratulates the DRC government for successfully breaking up this ivory trafficking network,” said Bruno Perodeau, WWF-DRC conservation director. “This crackdown shows that ivory traffickers can no longer count on impunity for their crimes in this country, and demonstrates that with determination, we can be successful in the fight against wildlife crime, even in DRC.”

                  The Congo rainforest, home to the African forest elephant, is the world’s second largest rainforest – two thirds of which are found in the DRC, where elephant poaching continues at an industrial scale. If poaching is not stopped, the species could all but disappear from the DRC in the near future, following in the footsteps of several other iconic species, such as the Northern White rhino.

                  Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)—a treaty that regulates international trade in wild flora and fauna—requested the DRC provide an action plan for combatting wildlife crime and the ivory trade in 2014. And last March, CITES recommended certain commercial sanctions with the DRC because it didn’t finalize the action plan within the agreed timeframe.

                  Faced with the threat of these sanctions, the DRC has started to act on wildlife crime, completing and using the action plan and cracking down on a key ivory trafficking network.

                  As many as 30,000 elephants are killed for their ivory every year. To end this tragedy, WWF focuses on zero poaching efforts, reducing demand for ivory parts and breaking trafficking links. Along with governments, communities, and supporters like you we can put an end to wildlife crime.

                  WWF|Februry11, 2016

                  Alarming rhino poaching rates reported in Southern Africa

                  South Africa announced its first decrease in rhino poaching since 2007, but an increase in the number of rhinos killed in neighboring countries offsets this slight improvement.

                  The South African government confirmed 1,175 rhinos were lost in the country in 2015—slightly down from 1,215 in the previous year.

                  Unfortunately, at least 130 rhinos died at the hands of poachers in neighboring Namibia and Zimbabwe during that same period—up nearly 200 percent from the previous year.

                  “As governments like South Africa continue to ramp up efforts to stop wildlife poaching, these numbers remind us of the urgency to swiftly address this crisis across all fronts,” said Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of wildlife conservation for WWF. “Although South Africa remains the epicenter for the rhino poaching epidemic, criminal networks appear to be expanding their reach across the region, and the problem is ultimately rooted in demand for rhino horn in Asia, most notably in Vietnam.”

                  Though poachers still focus primarily on South Africa, the uptick in figures from Namibia and Zimbabwe suggest that criminal networks are expanding their reach in the region—targeting rhinos in previously secure areas. South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe are home to nearly 95 percent of all remaining African rhinos.

                  We need to act now

                  Wildlife crime is the most immediate threat to wild rhinos, elephants, and tigers. Demand for rhino horns—along with elephant ivory and tiger products—runs rampant in parts of the world, particularly in Asia.

                  WWF emphasizes that stopping rhino poaching requires not just a law enforcement response, but also involvement of local communities around protected areas.

                  Together, we need to commit to long-term demand reduction efforts to protect rhinos.

                  WWF|January 21, 2016

                  Black-Footed Ferrets

                  Once thought to be globally extinct, black-footed ferrets are making a comeback. For the last thirty years, concerted efforts from many state and federal agencies, zoos, Native American tribes, conservation organizations and private landowners have given black-footed ferrets a second chance for survival. Today, recovery efforts have helped restore the black-footed ferret population to nearly 300 animals across North America. Although great strides have been made to recover the black-footed ferret, habitat loss and disease remain key threats to this highly endangered species.

                  Black-footed ferrets are one of the most endangered mammals in North America and are the only ferret species native to the continent. Their recovery in the wild signifies the health of the grassland ecosystem which they depend on to survive.

                  black footed ferret pops head up

                  © Clay Bolt / WWF-US

                  More Photos

                  Clay Bolt|WWF|February, 2016

                  Sir Richard Branson Stands Against Rhino Horn

                  Sir Richard Branson Nailbiter campaign

                  Sir Richard Branson and other celebrities deliver a “nail biting” message against rhino horn consumption. Photo credit: WildAid

                  With rampant poaching threatening the survival of Africa’s rhinos, an all-star team of Chinese celebrities and global wildlife ambassadors led by Sir Richard Branson is speaking out against the sale of rhino horn — by chewing on their own fingernails.

                  Why? Rhino horn is primarily made of keratin, a protein also found in human nails and hair. In recent years, international criminal syndicates who peddle rhino horn in countries such as China and Vietnam have marketed the product as a medicinal panacea when ground into powder form and ingested. Such uses include a recreational drug, an aphrodisiac and even a cancer cure.

                  The celebrities in the new Mandarin- and English-language campaign from African Wildlife Foundation and WildAid put to rest such claims. “Keratin. That’s all it is. No different or more a medical remedy than your fingernails,” WildAid ambassador Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group, said of rhino horn. “So with a dwindling rhino population, why kill off one of our planet’s greatest species for no reason?”

                  Mr. Branson is joined in the new campaign by Vietnamese-American actress and WildAid Wildlife Champion of the Year Maggie Q; Li Bingbing, China’s top actress; and Chinese celebrities such as actor/singer Jing Boran, fashion photographer Chen Man and actor Chen Kun.

                  “Rhino horn won’t cure cancer or a headache, but the rhino poaching epidemic in Africa does have a cure, and it involves people not buying rhino horn,” said Dr. Patrick Bergin, African Wildlife Foundation CEO. “Sir Richard and other campaign celebrities are delivering the message, and now we need citizens in China and Vietnam to be part of the solution.”

                  A Vietnamese version of the “Nail Biters” campaign starring some of the nation’s biggest celebrities is also underway. Vietnam is the world’s largest rhino horn market and the focus of a multiyear effort by African Wildlife Foundation and WildAid to educate consumers and persuade them not to buy, gift or consume rhino horn.

                  In China, Mandarin-language campaign ads are already on display in Beijing Capital International Airport as well as a towering billboard in Chongqing’s Central Square, seen by tens of thousands of people daily. WildAid has secured additional, extensive billboard space in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, while PSAs will be broadcasted on several national TV networks and video screens in bullet trains. The campaign will also be heavily promoted via Chinese social media networks.

                  “Rhino horn’s luxury cache among a privileged few is the root cause of the poaching crisis raging in Africa,” said WildAid CEO Peter Knights. “This campaign seeks to deflate rhino horn’s allure and expose it for what it is: fraud.”

                  In 2012, WildAid and African Wildlife Foundation launched the “Say No to Rhino Horn” campaign in partnership with the Vietnamese nonprofit organization CHANGE to reduce rhino horn demand in China and Vietnam, the world’s leading consumers of rhino horn. The campaign has three primary goals: raise awareness of the rhino-poaching crisis, support Vietnamese lawmakers in strengthening enforcement efforts and measurably reduce demand for rhino horn.

                  WildAid has leveraged its extensive pro bono media network in Asia, which in 2014 was worth nearly $200 million in donated airtime from media partners, to bring this message to millions of people each week, using influential ambassadors such as artists, CEOs and doctors, as well as international ambassadors such as the Duke of Cambridge (Prince William), David Beckham, Yao Ming and Sir Richard Branson. The campaign uses strategies from previous WildAid campaigns that have shown measurable results in reducing consumer demand for wildlife products such as shark fin. 

                  Studies show the campaign is yielding results in China: According to surveys conducted by an independent research firm, the percentage of those who believe that rhino horn has medicinal effects has dropped by nearly a quarter, from 58% percent in 2012 to 45% percent in 2014. About half of the Chinese public knows that rhinos are killed for their horns, a 52% percent increase in awareness since 2012.

                  Mr. Branson has been an active ambassador for rhino conservation, both globally and in China and Vietnam. In September 2015, he hosted a dinner in Ho Chi Minh City with some of Vietnam’s top CEOs, all who signed a pledge in which they committed to never buy, use or gift rhino horn. “Listening to 25 of the country’s leading entrepreneurs around the table, I quickly learned how much the issue has already become part of a national conversation — one that has caused great embarrassment for a country of 90 million people that is rapidly entering the global market,” Branson wrote of the event.

                  “But change is difficult to come by, stifled by a lack of interest in conservation issues and also by insufficient enforcement. On the upside, as I learned over dinner, younger Vietnamese seem to understand the seriousness of the problem and no longer wish to be associated with these harmful habits,” Branson wrote.

                  In 2014, over 1,200 rhinos were killed in South Africa, which has the highest concentration of the species left on the planet. Early estimates on 2015 poaching numbers indicate that the crisis continues.

                  > See the video

                  AWF|January 12, 2016

                  Wild & Weird

                  Why Do Beluga Whales Blow Bubbles?

                  The animal’s whimsical pastime offers insight into the mammalian brain

                  MAR2016_I07_Phenom.jpg

                  Beluga whales blow bubbles. (Hiroya Minakuchi / Minden Pictures / Corbis)

                  image: http://thumbs.media.smithsonianmag.com//filer/0b/a8/0ba806b4-815a-4f76-8022-811822c3d326/mar2016_i07_phenom.jpg__800x600_q85_crop.jpg

                  When it comes to quirky animal behaviors, few are more charming than 2,000-pound beluga whales blowing delicate bubbles. But why do they do it? To find out, researchers spent eight years gathering data on 11,858 “bubbling events”—the most comprehensive study of this form of cetacean creativity.

                  As they observed belugas at Marineland Park near Toronto, the biologist Michael Noonan and his students discovered a kind of bubble semantics. The whales often expelled big bursts of bubbles through their blowholes when they were startled. Pairs released bubble streams as they swam side by side—apparently in a spirit of companionship, unlike the aggression shown by bubbling humpback duos. The belugas also blew bubble rings, but apparently not when they had more serious things to do: Males rarely did it during the spring breeding season. “That’s when they’re busy patrolling the pool, cruising for females,” Noonan says. In summer, males again blew bubble rings, swatting to change their shapes and swimming through them as if they were hoops. “This is a species that makes its own toys,” says Noonan.

                  Whimsical behavior isn’t unique to belugas. Apes, dogs, birds, reptiles and even spiders play, according to a recent issue of the journal Current Biology devoted to the subject. But animal play usually takes the form of tugging, chasing or wrestling—activities that might help develop survival skills down the line. In contrast, a mammal has every reason not to exhale underwater. “When you’re a breath-holding animal,” says Noonan, “you can hardly think of anything more precious than air.”

                  One possible explanation is that the belugas are bored. In the wild, they cover vast distances and dive into deep trenches. At a marine park, they’re confined to concrete pools. “Captive animals are deprived of a lot of normal stimuli,” says Gordon Burghardt, a professor at the University of Tennessee and the author of The Genesis of Animal Play. “So you often see them engaging with their environments in ways they wouldn’t normally do.”

                  But Noonan, an expert on animal cognition at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, thinks there’s more to it than that. He argues the whales might be blowing rings for much the same reason that people dance or draw: to engage with the world and express their innate curiosity about it. “We’re mammals and they’re mammals,” Noonan says. “That doesn’t mean their mental lives are identical to ours. But until proven otherwise, I think we can assume we are more similar than we are different.”

                  Jennie Rothenberg Gritz|Smithsonian Magazine|March 2016

                  Everglades

                  Environmental documents for transfer and deauthorization of the Ten Mile Creek project available for 30-day public and agency review

                  The Environmental Assessment (EA) and Draft Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for transfer and deauthorization of the Ten Mile Creek Water Preserve Area project are now available for public and agency review.  Comments will be accepted through March 18, 2016. 

                  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working closely with the State of Florida to execute an agreement that will transfer the Ten Mile Creek project to the State of Florida. Once the project is transferred to the State it will no longer be Federally authorized. The Environmental Assessment has been completed and has determined that no significant impacts are anticipated as a result of transferring and deauthorizing the project.

                  The Environmental Assessment and Draft FONSI are available at: http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Portals/44/docs/Planning/EnvironmentalBranch/EnvironmentalDocs/Draft_10_Mile_Creek_EA.pdf

                  Comments will be accepted through March 18, 2016 and can be sent electronically to: lisa.e.aley@usace.army.mil, or mailed to:

                  Lisa Aley
                  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District
                  P.O. Box 4970
                  Jacksonville, FL 32232-0019

                  Additional information on the Ten Mile Creek project available at: http://bit.ly/TMC_WPA.

                  Miller, Jennifer S SAJ|2/18/16

                  Water Quality Issues

                   SFWMD Emergency Operations in Water Conservation Area 3

                  To relieve flooding and dire conditions impacting Everglades wildlife, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) today opened water control gates to move water out of Water Conservation Area 3 (WCA-3).

                  Maximizing gate openings at the S-333 structure along the Tamiami Trail will allow about 10,000 gallons of clean water a second to flow south from the WCA into Northeast Shark River Slough in Everglades National Park.

                  The WCA, spanning Broward and Miami-Dade counties, has been inundated with record rainfall, including:

                  • The wettest January on record since recordkeeping began in 1932
                  • The wettest November through January, the first half of the dry season, since recordkeeping began in 1932
                  • 6-8 inches of rain directly over the WCA in one 24-hour period in January

                  This record rainfall and increased stormwater flows into the wetland resulted in the WCA rapidly rising to its highest level since 1994. The current level is approximately 11.41 feet, which is more than a foot too high.

                  At this extremely high level, wildlife loses critical food sources and safe habitat and cannot survive prolonged flooding conditions.

                  Emergency gate operations will lower the WCA level as rapidly and as safely as possible. The rate at which water levels fall is highly dependent upon daily rainfall.

                  Once the level becomes safe for wildlife, water managers will once again have flexibility to move water south from Lake Okeechobee, through water-cleaning wetlands, and into the Water Conservation Areas, helping to protect the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

                  Daily water levels in WCA-3 are available at:

                  The SFWMD is also taking action to protect urban and agricultural areas bordering the increased flows to Shark River Slough. This includes connecting the Richmond Drive Seepage Collection Canal at Southwest 168th Street to the C-357 Canal.

                  This will provide additional protection for the area just west of the L-31 North Canal in Miami-Dade County’s 8.5 Square Mile Area.

                  The SFWMD’s action follows the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission orders that allowed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ease regulatory restrictions on operations to make this speedy response possible. This followed a request from Governor Rick Scott to the Corps.

                  SFWMD

                  Environmental documents for temporary emergency deviation to alleviate high water levels in Water Conservation Area 3A available for 30-day public and agency review

                  Environmental documents for temporary emergency deviation to alleviate high water levels in Water Conservation Area 3A available for 30-day public and agency review

                  The Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for a temporary emergency deviation to alleviate high water levels in Water Conservation Area 3A (WCA- 3A) are now available for public and agency review.  Comments will be accepted through March 18, 2016. 

                  In response to a request made by Florida Governor Rick Scott for a deviation from the Corps’ Water Control Plan in WCA-3A, the Corps has initiated a temporary deviation for 90-days to raise water levels in the L-29 Canal in order to allow more water to flow from WCA-3A to Everglades National Park.

                  The L-29 Canal runs along the north side of the Tamiami Trail (US Hwy 41) between Water Conservation Area 3A and Everglades National Park. The WCA-3A Water Control Plan limited those levels to elevation 7.5 feet (NGVD). The deviation raises the levels as high as elevation 8.5 feet, which would allow more water to flow from WCA-3A to Everglades National Park.

                  The Environmental Assessment and FONSI are available at: http://www.saj.usace.army.mil/Portals/44/docs/Planning/EnvironmentalBranch/EnvironmentalDocs/WCA_3ADade_EA.pdf

                  Comments will be accepted through March 18, 2016 and can be sent electronically to: melissa.a.nasuti@usace.army.mil, or mailed to:

                  Melissa Nasuti
                  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District
                  P.O. Box 4970
                  Jacksonville, FL 32232-0019

                  This EA and FONSI is for an emergency purpose.  A supplemental National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) document will be completed to supplement this EA and FONSI, providing additional discussion of the actions proposed as appropriate.  Completion of the draft document is expected by the end of February, upon which members of the public will receive an additional 30 day comment period.

                  Additional information on the Water Conservation Area- 3 High Water Deviation available at: http://bit.ly/WCA-3_Deviation.

                  Miller, Jennifer S SAJ|2/17/16

                   

                  SFWMD’S Lake Okeechobee Operating Plan

                  The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) today requested that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers follow the 2008 Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule and reduce discharges from the lake to levels identified in the plan.

                  Currently, releases by the Corps exceed amounts called for in the operating plan. SFWMD has requested discharges be reduced according to the plan to 2,800 cubic feet per second (cfs) in the St. Lucie River (a 50 percent reduction) and 6,500 cfs in the Caloosahatchee River, starting this Friday.

                  Lowering the discharge amounts will reduce the adverse ecological impacts to the estuaries while achieving reasonable water management goals for the lake. 

                  SFWMD\February 18, 2016

                  South Florida’s Tourist Season From Hell

                  February and March are the prime times for tourists to come to Florida for a respite from cold winter weather. So imagine the panic that people who run fishing charters, paddle board concessions, beachfront hotels and restaurants are feeling as dark agricultural swill gushes from the state’s center to the east and west coasts, killing marine life.

                  “It’s brown, it stinks, it’s cold,” a tourist from New Mexico told a TV reporter in Fort Myers.”It doesn’t look very appealing to get into to go swimming in.”

                  The scuzzy water that’s wrecking this year’s tourist season comes courtesy of Big Sugar and other agricultural operators around Lake Okeechobee, which sits in the state’s sparsely populated center roughly between Palm Beach on the east coast and Fort Myers on the west coast. It’s America’s second biggest lake, and thanks to ridiculously permissive policies, it’s become a private dumping ground for mega-agricultural operations. These corporations pump the public’s water from the lake to irrigate their fields, then send the water; polluted with fertilizer and other farm chemicals, back into Lake Okeechobee.

                  Because heavy winter rains have raised the lake level and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dike around the lake is old and weak, South Florida water managers have been releasing some 70,000 gallons of polluted lake water per second into two rivers which lead out to the coasts: the Caloosahatchee, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico, and the St. Lucie, which empties into the Indian River Lagoon and then into the Atlantic.

                  “I just call it the black curtain because everything on one side is perfectly clear and all the dark water looks like a curtain was pulled on the waterway,” Charter Captain Mike Wilson told reporters in Fort Myers.

                  The pollution has caused outrage so fierce that an angry mob gathered to shout down Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam as he arrived at a local Economic Development Council meeting at a high-end resort along the Atlantic beachfront.

                  Local politicians on both coasts are demanding that Florida Gov. Rick Scott declare a state of emergency to compensate businesses for their losses, and several mayors are traveling to Washington, D.C., to urge Florida’s representatives to take action. A throng of people crowded onto a southwest Florida causeway to protest the assault on their Florida way of life.

                  It is an environmental tragedy that we here at the Earthjustice Florida office have been intimately involved with for decades. For more than two decades, we’ve been filing lawsuits from various angles to stop this heartbreaking situation from happening.

                  Ever since water officials opened the flood gates to let the polluted water out of the lake on Jan. 30, people have been sounding the alarm.

                  “The dead ocean creatures and red tide have had an immediate impact on my business,” an innkeeper on Southwest Florida’s beautiful Captiva Island told his local NBC station.

                  “How many people will never come back because of this?” a protester told a WINK TV reporter in Southwest Florida. “Can’t go swimming, can’t go fishing, boating’s gone down the tubes.”

                  “My business has been devastated by this,” a commercial fisherman on the St. Lucie River told WPTV.

                  Feeling the pressure, Gov. Rick Scott asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to break from its usual practices and drain Lake Okeechobee south into the Everglades instead of out to the coasts, and the Corps complied. As you can imagine, that approach is certainly raising serious questions. Remember, American taxpayers are paying billions to clean up the Everglades, and the federal government sued Florida decades ago for failing to keep agriculture’s polluted runoff out of Everglades National Park.

                  The solution has nothing to do with moving the water around. It’s about cleaning it up. And that’s where Florida and the federal government have continually been falling down on the job. Only a month ago, the state legislature passed a law that eliminates pollution permits for agricultural operations around Lake Okeechobee. You read that right – no permits. Instead, these multinational corporations get to work on the honor system. Agriculture Secretary Putnam was the one who shepherded that sham of a law into being.

                  We’ve tried to attack this mess on several fronts over the years. We filed legal actions to stop agricultural operations from pumping their pollution back into the public’s lake. We sued the government for using taxpayer-funded pumps to move the pollution around.  We filed legal actions to compel government to set numeric limits on the amount of fertilizer, sewage, and manure allowed in water.  Each of these actions spawned massive backlashes from industry and from government that reached all the way to Washington, D.C., and beyond. We’re still in court, attacking the regulatory framework that makes an environmental disaster like this possible.

                  It’s heartening for us to see the citizens rising up, taking their video cameras out to document the damage, holding their leaders to account and joining together to challenge this broken system.

                  Can it be any plainer that these giveaways to corporate polluters have got to stop? If they don’t, Florida’s tourist season will be a memory.

                  David Guest|February 17, 2016

                  High rains in Everglades

                  Unusually strong rains have once again threatened the dike around Lake Okeechobee, leading to major discharges of polluted water east and west from the lake and ensuing environmental damage. The dire situation prompted U.S. Senator Bill Nelson to call for the state legislature to fund projects to stop Lake Okeechobee discharges. Recently speaking in the Treasure Coast, Nelson was quoted as saying, “I wish you all would kick them in the shins. If you did, you’d see some land acquisition south of the lake.”

                  Since the beginning of 2016, more than 40 billion gallons of dirty Lake Okeechobee water has been released eastward into the St. Lucie River. That water, plus drainage from canals in Martin and St. Lucie counties and local runoff, has pushed the salt out of the estuary and created a plume of black water pushing through the St. Lucie Inlet and out into the Atlantic Ocean.  The discharges are killing the estuary’s oysters and sea grasses in an area already suffering ecological calamity.

                  Our Florida legislators need to focus on this catastrophe now.

                  Preston Robertson and Jay Liles

                  Offshore & Ocean

                  Can Underwater Resorts Actually Help Coral Reef Ecosystems?

                  A Los Angeles company is designing artificial reefs to boost local economies and marine habitat

                  Dubai, known for such modest ventures as the Burj Khalifa and the artificial Palm Jumeirah islands, is on the verge of building yet another one: the fabricated ruins of an “ancient” pearl-trading city, submerged just off its shores in the waters of the Persian Gulf.

                  Half adventure park, half marine sanctuary, the Pearl of Dubai will be the first-of-its-kind artificial reef, built to attract diving dollars from tourists, but also to encourage the return of once-abundant species whose populations are flagging.

                  Reef Worlds, a Los Angeles-based company, is at the helm of the Pearl project, as well as two other developments in the planning and design stage in Mexico and the Philippines. Company founder Patric Douglas says the idea grew organically out of his previous work with Shark Diver, the excursion company he founded not only to popularize shark diving, but also to educate divers on the plight of sharks in oceans worldwide. He hopes to do the same thing for decimated coral reefs.

                  In the immortal words of Kevin Costner, build it and they will come. Though artificial reefs have been used for centuries as defensive structures, breakwaters and to attract fish, the typical reason modern reefs are built is to increase available habitat for coral and fish. Divers come as a consequence, but the reefs weren’t built for them.

                  Artist Jason deCaires Taylor creates underwater installations with sculptures made from highly detailed casts of real people. He recently completed a project in Lanzarote, Spain, and his installation in Cancun, Mexico attracts thousands of divers every year. As part of its statewide initiative to increase reef real estate off its shores, Florida sank an entire aircraft carrier, the USS Oriskany. And the half-acre Neptune Memorial Reef site in the waters off Miami, inspired by the lost city of Atlantis, is designed to eventually accommodate the cremated remains of people interested in a different kind of burial at sea.

                  Reef Worlds’ take on artificial reefs adds a new paradigm: their installations are designed first for customers with credit cards, and then for ones with real fins. Primarily intended to provide tourists with a new adventure-based experience, and in places where they are already present in great numbers, Douglas hopes the increased traffic will create a positive feedback loop. By making reef ecosystems more accessible to more people, a large part of the goal is to drive a greater demand for conservation of those natural resources.

                   

                  The Pearl of Dubai is the fabricated ruins of an “ancient” pearl-trading city. (Reef Worlds)

                  image: http://thumbs.media.smithsonianmag.com//filer/14/02/1402aab5-0b72-4e21-950d-8edcf603eed4/temple-sketch.jpg__600x0_q85_upscale.jpg

                  Diving is big business, and coral reefs a big part of it. A 2013 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report pegs the economic value of all coral reefs in the United States and its territories at $202 million dollars annually, with half of that figure accounted for by tourism dollars. Douglas thinks this kind of buying muscle can be built up around the world, creating not only a novel and authentic adventure experience but also a powerful tool for restoring critical ocean habitat.

                  Gone are the days when a visitor to a Caribbean resort can walk out on a near-shore snorkeling tour and see coral reefs teeming with life. Today, that excursion usually involves a lengthy boat ride. But hotels at tropical resorts are still trying to one-up each other in the battle royale for tourism dollars: the swimming-pool wars of the 1980s and 1990s gave way to full-blown water parks like Bermuda’s Atlantis, yet the resorts themselves seemed to completely ignore their offshore assets, Douglas observed. 

                  “My team and I were lamenting that at every hotel resort we went to in the Mediterranean and Mexico, the near-shore reef system was just gone, like a nuke went off,” Douglas says. “So the question became, what can we do to rehabilitate that, and what’s the tourism angle? All of these resorts are 200 feet from the ocean, but have nothing to do with the ocean.”

                  Douglas, a self-described “environmentalist masquerading as a developer,” says coastal resort hotels are uniquely positioned to grow their business by developing recreational opportunities in the water, but also to defend the natural resources there. By motivating local residents to help protect the reefs, they can help tourism grow and increase incomes for everyone involved.

                  “This is a major question: how do you stop the local fishermen from making a living?” Douglas says. “You can’t pay them not to fish, especially when they’re dirt poor and they need to go out and scavenge whatever they can get. But I’ve been to enough of these hotels to know that most of the people in the community are working there, and when you explain to them what the reef [can do for tourism], they’ll tell their family, don’t fish there. It’s not good for us or the community.”

                  The network Douglas imagines is grand: at each of the first three planned properties, the reef territory will cover a five-acre plot with a mixture of open ocean floor and full-sized structures for exploration. Buildings will be constructed in a way to maximize fish and coral habitat; for the “Gods of the Maya” project in Mexico, full-scale replicas of Mayan stelae and other sculpture will not only showcase the country’s cultural heritage, but also provide plenty of nooks and crannies for critters.

                  To build these underwater resorts, Reef Worlds translates computer-based designs into full-scale, hand-finished foam blocks, which are then used to cast the molds for the final structures. Once on site, the molds are filled with a mixture of coral and basalt rock substrate, cured and submerged.

                  In Dubai, Douglas says the client initially wasn’t as concerned with the ecosystem restoration component as they were about simply having something to boost diving tourism in the country. But after being convinced that supporting the return of the brown spotted reef cod, a delicacy known locally as hamour, would also encourage divers to come swim with the popular fish, they asked Douglas to “Swiss cheese” the designs of the underwater city to give baby cod a place to hide and thrive. Reef Worlds is planning the release of two million baby hamour into the Dubai reef as part of the project.

                  Yet while revenue is the reason for the projects, it relies upon public passion to create the demand to protect them in the long term, Douglas says. 

                  “Once people have a more authentic experience, and engage with a reef on a fundamental level, it changes their whole focus and attitude,” Douglas says. “It’s cool to say that you went underwater and saw fish, but it’s important to learn why it’s there, and that it’s a replacement for what was once there. You’re now in participation to make it right, and make it better—even though it doesn’t make up for what was once there.”

                  Keith Mille is a fisheries biologist who has worked in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s artificial reef section for 14 years, overseeing the planning and construction of reef projects in the state. As public properties, Florida’s reefs are open for recreational fishing and diving, but are also used in research. Mille explains that man-made reefs often work best as a diversion to take pressure off of natural reefs.

                  That is a trend, statue-type deployments that are more focused on attracting people than fish,” he says. “But there’s a dichotomy there. If you’re improving fishing opportunities, sometimes the outcome of that is reduced biomass and increased fishing pressure. But on the other hand, by directing fishers and divers to an artificial reef site, you could potentially reduce traffic to more sensitive areas for an overall net benefit.”

                  But Mille notes that artificial reefs aren’t an adequate substitute for appropriate fisheries regulations for the protection of sensitive marine habitat.

                  Douglas, whose Shark Divers company created the Shark-Free/Shark Friendly Marinas Initiative, argues that prior to charging people to go dive with sharks, the idea of shark protection areas in the Pacific equivalent to the Australian continent was unimaginable.

                  “Unfortunately, there’s a very strong abhorrence for anything that’s for-profit,” Douglas says. “Who would have thought that in 2003 when we were yelling about sharks being killed that we’d have so much shark sanctuary today? But people who had been diving, who came home and put their pictures on the Internet and opened the minds of a thousand of their friends, drove all of it. To save a thing, you have to put money into it, and the best way to do that is charge people to go see it.”

                  Estimated to cost around $6 million to build, the Pearl of Dubai project will include numerous “ruins” of buildings, dive-helmeted statues, avenues and trading markets to explore, including a large semi-enclosed coliseum that could be used for underwater meetings or weddings. Douglas says he expects construction to begin later this year. 

                  Michelle Z. Donahue|smithsonian.com|February 23, 2016

                  Wildlife and Habitat

                  What Killed 13 Bald Eagles in Maryland?

                  Officials want information on the strange die-off of a clutch of majestic birds

                  Bald Eagle

                  In Maryland, 13 bald eagles will soar no more. (Patrick Frischknecht/robertharding/Corbis)

                  image: http://thumbs.media.smithsonianmag.com//filer/c1/bf/c1bf058e-5142-43e0-a2d4-ce8e70ba0c58/42-81465105.jpg__800x600_q85_crop.jpg

                  Bald eagles are soaring symbols of national pride and sacred meaning—so prized that killing them or even taking any portion of their body, nest or eggs is illegal under federal law. Now, report Dana Hedgpeth and Julie Zauzmer for The Washington Post, the death of 13 bald eagles near a Maryland farm has sparked a mystery—and a reward for anyone who can provide information on their demise.

                  Hedgpeth and Zauzmer write that the eagles were discovered by a hunter in a field in Caroline County near the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Their bodies were intact, but they were all dead. It’s the biggest die-off of bald eagles in the state in 30 years, they write, and one that’s sparked quite the mystery.

                  Officials believe that the eagles may have been poisoned. George Lettis of WBAL-TV reports that the eagles had no sign of external trauma, but could have eaten a poisoned mammal or been exposed to a pesticide. However, the land owner insists there was nothing in his field that would poison the birds. The eagles are being taken to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Oregon lab for investigation.

                  In a release, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service writes that information leading to a conviction will be rewarded with $2,500 from the Service and additional rewards of up to $5,000 from the Humane Society of the United States and the Human Society Wildlife Land Trust and $2,500 from the Phoenix Wildlife Center, Inc., which rehabilitates raptors in the area.

                  People with information on the eagles’ deaths may walk away with a large reward, but if a person is responsible for tampering with the bird, they will face an even larger fine. Both the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Acts have maximum fines of $250,000 and up to two years of imprisonment for a felony conviction of tampering with a bird. In addition, people who violate state, U.S. and tribal laws with by transporting or selling the birds can face hefty fines and imprisonment under the Lacey Act.

                  Contrary to popular belief, bald eagles are not endangered species. They were removed from the list in 2007 after a significant population pickup due to restoration efforts. But that doesn’t mean they’re invulnerable to things like poison or predators. If you have information on the Maryland eagles, call Special Agent John LaCorte with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement in Cambridge, Maryland, at 410-228-2476, or the Maryland Natural Resources Police Hotline at 800-628-9944.

                  Erin Blakemore}smithsonian.com|February 24, 2016

                  How to Save the Monarchs? Pay Farmers to Grow Butterfly Habitats

                  A novel conservation effort aims to fund a habitat exchange to protect the iconic butterflies from extinction

                  iStock_000018547104_Large.jpg

                  (GomezDavid / iStock)

                  image: http://thumbs.media.smithsonianmag.com//filer/a5/8d/a58daf6f-8ef2-4300-becd-be7273748aab/istock_000018547104_large.jpg__800x600_q85_crop.jpg

                  Once the passenger pigeon was the most abundant bird in North America, numbering in the hundreds of millions, if not billions. It would take several hours for flocks to pass a single spot, their wing beats so loud it was hard to carry on a conversation. But by the late 1890s they were gone from the wild, and less than 20 years later, totally extinct. Could monarch butterflies see the same fate?

                  These important insects once numbered a billion strong just 20 years ago, too, but in the last few years their numbers have plummeted. In 2013 to 2014, there were around only 33 million; the next year they rebounded a bit and were estimated at about 56.5 million; and this year they are expected to have an even larger number. Even so, the precipitous drop has led some to call for the insects to be added to the Endangered Species List. The problem has to do with the loss of habitat for monarchs that overwinter in Mexico and the California coast then migrate north in the early spring making their way to Canada. These pollinators rely on milkweed—the only plant they will lay their eggs on—and flowers that provide nectar for food.

                  “These are the kinds of plants typically found in native prairie, roadsides, in the middle of farms. But in the last 20 years farming has changed,” says Eric Holst, the associate vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) working lands program. “It’s become a much more intensive activity, herbicide technology has allowed farms to be much more weed free. That provides benefits to farmers, but it has an unintended negative effect on populations of butterflies and other pollinators.”

                  There are a number of efforts underway to try and reverse the drop in monarch numbers, including the USDA asking farmers to volunteer portions of their land to establish milkweed habitat. But EDF, which brings a market-driven approach to environmental issues, is introducing another way, called a habitat exchange. It’s sort of a stock exchange—or maybe more accurately a carbon market—where landowners, farmers and ranchers get paid for restoring or improving monarch habitat either by entities like corporations or government agencies that need to mitigate their impact to wildlife, or by organizations and individuals who are interested in protecting monarch habitat.

                  “It’s a venue to connect buyers and sellers of conservation services,” says Holst. He says the idea started in the early 2000s in an unlikely place: The Army base at Fort Hood, Texas. The base was negatively impacting the habitat of the golden cheeked warbler, a threatened bird species, and needed to find a way to offset it. The Environmental Defense Fund worked with Texas A&M University, ranchers near the base and the Army and devised the first habitat exchange. Ranchers, by enhancing the warblers’ habitat on their properties, created conservation credits that the Army purchased, offsetting the loss of habitat on the base. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made sure the deal met all the requirements needed. It was a win-win that led EDF to develop similar programs for other protected species like the lesser prairie chicken, the greater sage grouse and the Swainson’s hawk in California. The exchanges are under review by various regulatory agencies to ensure that they comply with government requirements.

                  In the case of the monarch, the plan is to develop the habitat exchange before the insect finds its way onto the Endangered Species List—which EDF thinks of as a last resort, since common application of the law doesn’t create strong enough incentives before a listing decision is made. They want to create an environment in which farmers consider habitat building the same as any other crop they grow. The first step is creating a “habitat quantification tool” that allows biologists to place a numeric value on the quality of habitat, much like an appraiser would value a piece of property. Holst says they are doing that now and will be field testing the tool in April. They’re also building a “war chest” of potential buyers made up of companies, government agencies and individuals willing to invest in monarch conservation.

                  “We’re proposing to launch an exchange that would create an economic, financial stimulus, so that farmers and ranchers throughout the monarch range would have a financial incentive to preserve monarch habitat. Hopefully enough habitat can be created and enhanced to avoid listing the species,” says Holst. “A lot of the politics around wildlife right now involves the idea that the federal government is out to get ranchers and farmers. We want to turn that on its head. We think tools like habitat exchanges can create an environment where farmers and ranchers see wildlife as an asset rather than a liability.” 

                  The goal is to formally launch the monarch habitat exchange by the end of 2017. Besides field testing, EDF will be starting some pilot conservation projects this summer. While they are not actively soliciting participation right now (Holst says they have already identified their key pilot program sites), you can find out more and contact EDF here

                  Andrew Amelinckx|Modern Farmer|smithsonian.com|February 24, 2016

                  Thousands of Blacktip Sharks Are Hanging Out on Florida’s Coast Right Now

                  Experts say they’re not dangerous, and are easy to spot

                  If

                  you’re planning on escaping winter for a little Florida sun, you may have some company on the beach—approximately 10,000 to 12,000 blacktip sharks.

                  In an aerial video captured by Stephen Kajiura, a professor of biological sciences at Florida Atlantic University who researches the migrating sharks, the ocean is filled with tiny black dots hovering just off the shore for 80 miles, from Miami to Jupiter Inlet. Each of those dots is a blacktip shark. You can check it out on Instagram, too.

                    Much like your grandparents, the sharks migrate to Florida every winter and for much the same reason—to bask in the warm coastal waters and pig out on the fresh local fish.

                    In an interview with Live Science, Kajiura said that the current estimate of finned visitors is probably “a gross underestimate” of how many sharks actually are lurking in the ocean, because it only includes the ones that are visible in the shallow waters. “We see lots more sharks on the other side of the plane, so there’s a lot more out there that we’re simply not counting in the survey,” Kajiura said.

                    While the idea of thousands of feeding sharks sounds daunting (or at least a good excuse to stay inland and, say, finally visit Pittsburgh), shark researchers claim that tourists have nothing to worry about. According to Kajiura, “they’re not curious types,” and typically have little interest in people. Exercise common sense and perhaps avoid wearing reflective watches or jewelry (which might be mistaken for the sharks’ prey) just to be sure.

                    Kajiura thinks the sharks are a great addition to the roster of activities that Florida has to offer tourists. “You can literally sit on the beach and you can watch the blacktips jumping and spinning and splashing back into the water,” Kajiura said. “They’re not out to get you,you’re not part of their diet, so you may as well go to the beach and enjoy the phenomenon.”

                    The sharks are expected to stick around the Florida coast until mid-to late March, and then head north.

                    Video

                    Melissa Locker|Travel + Leisure|smithsonian.com|February 26, 2016

                    Global Warming and Climate Change

                    How Will Native Americans in the Southwest Adapt to Serious Impacts of Climate Change?

                    A drying landscape and changing water regime are already affecting tribal lands

                    dried waterhole

                    The ground cracks as a waterhole on Navajo lands in Arizona dries up. (Michael Weber/imageBroker/Corbis)

                    image: http://thumbs.media.smithsonianmag.com//filer/40/36/4036c853-a640-4ed4-a70e-533f55f7c04e/42-51058272.jpg__800x600_q85_crop.jpg

                    Around the world, indigenous peoples are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. That is true, too, in the United States. Coastal native villages in Alaska have already been inundated with water due to melting permafrost and erosion, and the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians of Louisiana recently announced plans to resettle on higher ground after losing 98 percent of their lands since 1950 to rising sea levels.

                    But leaving traditional lands is not an option for many Native Americans. In some ways, they have the same migration opportunities as anyone, but these peoples often have a profound relationship with the land and leaving it can mean losing traditional native culture, Derek Kauneckis, a political scientist at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, said this past weekend at the 2016 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, D.C. He and three other experts presented their research in a symposium on “Climate, Water and the American Indian Farmer.”

                    Scientists are trying to identify how these tribes will be affected by climate change, and how they can not only adapt to that change but even thrive in the face of it, Kauneckis says.

                    For those tribes living in the American Southwest, that means dealing with warmer temperatures, longer droughts and decreasing water supplies, notes Maureen McCarthy, executive director of the Academy for the Environment at the University of Nevada, Reno. 

                    The southwest region is shifting into a drier pattern as wet weather systems have become rarer, scientists recently reported in Geophysical Research Letters. And researchers reported last year that the western United States could face a megadrought by the end of the century. But an even bigger problem is that as temperatures rise, more precipitation is falling as rain instead of snow. Normally winter precipitation builds snowpack in the Rockies that feeds streams in warmer months when rain is scarce. When the snowpack is smaller than average, there can be less water available. New patterns in storms and extreme weather can result in catastrophic flooding—water that is not useful. And rising temperatures also means that more of that water is lost to evaporation, leaving even less for people to use.

                    Already these conditions are affecting Native American tribes in different ways, says Karletta Chief, a hydrologist at the University of Arizona and a member of the Navajo nation. A loss of soil moisture on Navajo lands in northeastern Arizona, for instance, caused sand dunes to inundate homes, she notes. And the Hualapai of Arizona had to sell much of their livestock during the most recent drought.

                    While these problems face everyone in the Southwest, Native American communities have unique vulnerabilities. One of these is a complex system of land ownership, notes Loretta Singletary, an economist at the University of Nevada, Reno. On these “checkerboard lands”—where patches of land may be owned by tribes, individual tribal members or non-Native Americans—it can be difficult to know who has authority to act and make decisions about land and water.

                    In addition, many Native American lands have been divvied up into parcels that now, generations after they were established, have dozens of heirs that all have interest in the land. Decision-making becomes inefficient, Singletary says, and it can be impossible to manage the land’s resources sustainably.

                    But other laws dating to the 1800s, those dealing with water, may be an advantage for Native Americans in the Southwest. “Water means something totally different west of the Mississippi,” McCarthy says. “Water is a valuable commodity.”

                    Unlike in the eastern United States, water laws in the region are based on two basic principles: “First in line, first in right,” McCarthy quips, and “use it or lose it.” The older a claim is, the more water that user gets, she explains. And those who don’t make use of all of their rights can lose them.

                    A 1908 Supreme Court decision, known as the Winters Doctrine, established that Native Americans have some of the oldest water rights in the United States. However, most of the communities have yet to have those rights legally quantified, something that usually requires litigation, Singletary notes. Plus, water laws usually reserve water only for agriculture. Other uses, such as providing drinking water or keeping streams and lakes full enough for fish, aren’t considered. This is a “major challenge” for these communities, she says.

                    Several communities rely on the 121-mile-long river, fed by snowpack melting into Lake Tahoe.

                    Managing water is incredibly important in these communities. “To us, water is sacred,” Chief says. But many Native Americans lack access to clean water, including some 40 percent of Navajo. Chief herself didn’t live in a place where water came out of a faucet until she went to college. People may travel up to 40 miles away to fill up huge drums that will last a few weeks. Others may have wells, but these are often drawing from shallow aquifers that are the first to dry up in a drought.

                    Native Americans, with their long history, can be a rich source of traditional knowledge on past environmental conditions and how to survive in difficult times, Chief notes. In California, for instance, the U.S. Forest Service is working with tribal members to reinstitute traditional burning practices for better fire and land management in the face of drought. Scientists are now starting to work with native communities to draw on that knowledge and develop adaptation strategies for the future, such as diversifying crops and the local economy, conserving water and providing better education for the younger generation.

                    The Native Waters on Arid Lands project, for instance, is bringing together researchers, native communities and government officials to address water issues for sustainable agriculture. Another project is looking more closely at issues faced by the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe in Nevada, which depends on water from the Truckee River.  

                    The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian is also collaborating with the Indigenous Peoples’ Climate Change Working Group, a national consortium of tribal colleges that is working to ensure that tribal knowledge of changing landscapes and climates is a part of education and research programs, notes Jose Barreiro, the museum’s assistant director for research.

                    “Tribes have been resilient,” Chief says. “They have been able to survive different challenges with the environment through adaptation, and so there is opportunity for them to continue doing so.”

                    Sarah Zielinski|smithsonian.com|February 22, 2016

                    Sea Levels Are Rising More Quickly Than in the Last Two Millennia

                    Here are five things to know about the rising tide

                    When scientists warn about climate change, they often use sea levels to illustrate the catastrophic effects of surging greenhouse gases. But just how much have human activities affected Earth’s sea levels? According to four new studies published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the answer is dramatic indeed. the studies found that within the last 2,000 years, the sea levels rose more quickly than ever before.

                    “This isn’t a model,” one of the studies’ directors tells Warren Cornwall at Science. “This is data.” Each study emphasizes the effects human activities have on sea levels, and together they paint a sobering vision of a future with even higher seas. Here’s what you need to know about the new research:

                    Even small temperature changes make ocean levels rise 

                    It’s tempting to think that small changes in temperature don’t make a big difference, but an analysis of global sea-level change over the past 3,000 years suggests otherwise. The study, which looked at a global database of sea-level reconstructions, concluded that sea level rises in the 20th century were faster than the last 27 centuries that preceded it.

                    After their initial data analysis, the researchers made a computer model that could project sea level backwards and forwards in time. They found that if global warming hadn’t bumped up by just 0.36 degrees Fahrenheit (0.2 degrees Celsius) during the 20th century, sea levels would have risen by just over one inch instead of about 5.5. In the future, the rise could be even more astonishing: One projection shows sea levels rising by 20.5 to 51.6 inches, and another shows sea levels rising by 9.4 and 24 inches.

                    Those numbers are scary—but match other scientists’ conclusions

                    Could such dramatic sea level rise calculations really be real? All signs point to yes. Another paper comes to nearly the same conclusion on the amount of sea level rise, and makes nearly the same projections on future sea level surges. This team’s models projected a rise of anywhere between 11 and 51.6 inches using a combination of past sea level and temperature measurements—numbers that look eerily familiar given the first study’s projections.

                    Ice sheets are sensitive to carbon dioxide levels

                    Okay, so the oceans seem to respond to even small temperature bumps. But what about ice sheets, which could contribute to sea level rise if they melt? It turns out they are quite sensitive, too. A third study shows that during the mid-Miocene period, when carbon dioxide levels were extremely similar to those that scientists project for the coming years, the ice responded dramatically to tiny shifts in carbon dioxide. In fact, the ice seemed to ebb and flow in sync with carbon dioxide levels.

                    Researchers use phrases like “highly sensitive” and “vulnerable” to refer to ice sheets’ responses to rising carbon dioxide. And they warn that given rises in current atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and projected increases, “reconstructions such as this one…imply an element of inevitability to future polar warming, Antarctic sheet retreat, and sea level rise.”

                    Scientists are getting better at simulating ice sheet levels

                    The final paper in the suite shows a big advance in simulating just how ice levels ebb and flow. The researchers from the third paper were able to come up with a new way to model how ice behaves—a model that could prove useful in future projections.

                    Bottom line: Brace yourself for rising sea levels 

                    The data from the four papers lines up with another report just published by Climate Central, an independent organization of scientists and journalists devoted to reporting on climate. When that group ran the numbers on hourly water level records from U.S. tide gauges since 1950, they found that sea levels changed with global temperatures—and can almost certainly be attributed to human-caused climate change. They estimated that if not for climate change, a good three quarters of U.S. coastal flooding wouldn’t happen at all.

                    Can humans change the rising tide? Probably not: Other studies have found that even if carbon dioxide levels were stabilized, sea levels would continue to rise. But the seeming inevitability of rising seas is no reason to throw in the towel: Given the other severe consequences of even small jumps in temperature and carbon dioxide—famines and floods come to mind—it’s still worth it to keep reducing emissions.

                    Erin Blakemore|smithsonian.com|February 23, 2016

                    As Oceans Warm, Little Penguins Are Left Hungry

                    The world’s smallest penguin is struggling to find fish in warmer waters

                    Little Penguin

                    (Marc Dozier/Corbis)

                    image: http://thumbs.media.smithsonianmag.com//filer/9c/dd/9cdd3306-1fd8-4660-9eaa-f539abb577e1/42-58029973.jpg__800x600_q85_crop.jpg

                    Australia’s little penguins aren’t as well-known as the koala or the kangaroo, but they are cute enough to go head-to-head with these icons of the outback. In recent years, scientists have grown concerned about the world’s tiniest penguin as their populations have steadily declined. Now, a new report suggests that rapid changes in the ocean’s temperature may be partly to blame as the warmer waters make the little penguin’s preferred prey more scarce.

                    The little penguin, also known as the “fairy penguin,” is the world’s smallest penguin, weighing roughly two pounds and standing less than a foot tall. Found in southern Australia and New Zealand, the little penguins feed mainly off of small fish and ocean-going creatures, like sardines, anchovies, and krill. Normally, the little penguin’s prey thrives off of nutrients and plankton stirred up by the East Australian Current each spring, but in recent years these waters have grown warmer, driving away the temperature-sensitive little fish and leaving the little penguins struggling to find food, Devin Powell reports for National Geographic.

                    “We’re seeing that warm years are quite bad for the penguins, and it’s not hard to see that if the temperature keeps going up, things might get worse,” Carroll tells Powell.

                    While scientists aren’t sure why the East Australian Current is heating up, it’s happening fast. Overall, the current’s temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1950s, which suggests that it could be a result of climate change, Emily DeMarco writes for SFGate. Yet, the powerful annual current is warming two- to three-times faster as the ocean’s surface, according to Carroll.

                    That might be enough to change the migration patterns of the penguins’ prey—influencing when the little fish show up in the area and how long they stick around.

                    “It’s really important that we understand what might happen to these ecosystems as these systems change,” Carroll tells DeMarco.

                    To figure out how the little penguins were coping with the changes in their environment, DeMarco and her colleagues monitored little penguins as they hunted over the course of three  breeding seasons from 2012 to 2014. The researchers strapped GPS trackers to the tiny penguins backs along with accelerometers, devices that measured their body movements (and the reason your smartphone knows that you’ve turned it on its side), which let them know when their subjects were just swimming around or when they were on the hunt, Powell writes.

                    The movement data showed that the penguins often avoided warmer waters, where they might find more fish. And during years when the water was warmer overall, the penguins ended up catching less fish altogether.

                    While some predators adjust their own hunting patterns to match their prey’s, the little penguins are too small to travel very far. During breeding seasons, the penguins only travel up to 15 miles a day, making it difficult to find new hunting grounds, DeMarco writes.

                    Vanishing prey isn’t the little penguin’s only problem: the penguins are also a favorite food for animals like seals, foxes, cats and dogs. But with oceanic temperatures in eastern Australia projected to rise up to nine degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, the penguins may be left hungry with increasing frequency.

                    “I wouldn’t say which factor [threatening penguins] is the most important,” conservation biologist Dee Boersma, who wasn’t involved in the study, tells Powell. “But climate change is going to be a big problem for penguins.”

                    Danny Lewis|smithsonian.com|February 26, 2016

                    Extreme Weather

                    Winter storm hits East Coast with snow, ice

                    A winter storm Monday delivered a snowy, icy mess from Georgia to Maine, canceling flights, snarling road travel and threatening power outages across the region.

                    In the Deep South, where heavy rain brought the risk of flash floods, a few tornadoes were reported.

                    Nearly 1,050 flights had been canceled nationwide as of 2 p.m. EST, with the heaviest disruptions coming in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, according to FlightAware.

                    Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C., saw the most cancellations, AccuWeather said. Roads were also closed in North Carolina, the Weather Channel said.

                    Overall, the weather could have less of an effect than a typical Monday because schools and many workplaces were closed for the Presidents Day holiday.

                    The most disruptive and dangerous aspect of the storm was ice and freezing rain, according to AccuWeather. A vast area from the southern Appalachians to the Northeast could see ice accumulations up to a quarter-inch, the National Weather Service warned.

                    USA TODAY

                    US weather forecasts get upgrade

                    New computer promises more accurate analysis

                    RESTON , VA. In a nondescript office building here, one of the world’s most powerful weather supercomputers quietly hums on a 24/7 mission to analyze billions of pieces of data that ultimately will tell you whether you need a sweater or sunscreen when you leave the house.

                    Forecasts, critical not only for your wardrobe choices but for ship captains, airline pilots and shipping companies, depend on sophisticated data crunching and computer models, but three years ago European forecasting models delivered a blow to the U.S. weather apparatus. The European weather models accurately predicted the path and strength of the devastating Hurricane Sandy that hit the New Jersey coastline and caused $65 billion in damage.

                    Now, the U.S. is on the rebound with this monumental supercomputer that collects, processes and analyzes billions of observations from weather satellites, weather balloons, airplanes, buoys and surface stations from around the world to help meteorologists make better forecasts.

                    The brand-new Cray supercomputer — designed, owned and operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — processes 3quadrillion calculations per second. You’d need about 12,500 high-end laptops to get close to that kind of power. Still, the supercomputer is merely the 18th fastest in the U.S. and 42nd fastest in the world, said David Michaud, director of the office of central processing at the National Weather Service, which is part of NOAA.

                    NOAA’s purchase of the school-bus-size device stemmed partly from competition from the top European weather model. It predicted Sandy’s now infamous and unusual left hook in 2012 days before the top American model.

                    The one-two punch pushed the U.S. to invest $44.5 million to develop better forecasts. The U.S. chose Seattle-based Cray to build its new supercomputer. The company is a leading maker of supercomputers worldwide and supplied the ones used by European weather agencies. NOAA installed the Reston computer and its backup twin in Orlando, a safe distance away in case of a natural disaster, late last year.

                    Together, they provide a tenfold increase in computer power over previous systems and put American forecasting systems back on par or even above European ones, said University of Washington meteorologist Cliff Mass. “It’s a huge improvement over what they had.”

                    Doyle Rice|USA TODAY

                    At least 6 die in 2 days of storms

                    30 tornadoes are reported in 4 states across the South

                    Severe weather pelted the East Coast on Wednesday, killing at least three people in Virginia and raising the two-day death toll to six after the system pounded the Deep South a day earlier.

                    At least two of the deaths occurred in Waverly, Virginia, after a possible tornado hit the town southeast of Richmond on Wednesday afternoon, according to the Associated Press.

                    The worst of the severe weather was expected to hit eastern portions of Virginia and the Carolinas, according to the Storm Prediction Center. Tornado watches were posted from South Carolina to New Jersey, meaning conditions were favorable for tornadoes to develop.

                    Several North Carolina public school systems closed early in advance of the storms, Accu- Weather reported.

                    At least three people were killed Tuesday night as strong storms and tornadoes blasted through the southern U.S. The Storm Prediction Center received about 30 reports of tornadoes in four southern states.

                    On the back end of the system, a snowstorm pounded parts of the central U.S. and created airline havoc Wednesday, with snow reported from Michigan to Arkansas, including blizzard conditions in Illinois and Indiana.

                    The National Weather Service in Chicago warned of “horrible travel conditions” in northwestern Indiana and east-central Illinois. Several locations had recorded a half-foot of snow as of midafternoon.

                    Nationwide, more than 1,500 flights were canceled by early Wednesday afternoon. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport canceled more than 750 flights alone, a figure that accounts for about one-third of the entire day’s schedule at the airport.

                    Gusty winds will accompany the rain and snow from the storm, AccuWeather said. The combination of wind and precipitation will result in poor visibility for motorists.

                    In the Deep South, survey teams from the weather service began investigating the damage Wednesday to determine how many tornadoes formed.

                    One person died in Lamar County, Mississippi, during the severe weather. Two others died when a suspected tornado slammed into the Sugar Hill RV Park near Convent, Louisiana.

                    A possible tornado destroyed 24 units and damaged six others at the Moorings Apartments in Pensacola, Florida, Escambia County officials said.

                    More than 20,000 Georgia customers were without power.

                    Doyle Rice|USA TODAY

                    Death toll rises from brutal storm system

                    Tornadoes leave path of destruction across South, East

                    WAVERLY , VA. Rattled residents in communities across the South and East picked through rubble Thursday after a line of vicious storms and tornadoes blasted through the region, killing eight people, injuring dozens and destroying scores of homes.

                    Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses from the Deep South into New England lost power as the furious front touched off at least six tornadoes in Florida and winds over 80 mph in Massachusetts.

                    Two men and a 2-year-old child died Wednesday in this rural, southeastern Virginia town of 2,500 when a tornado tore through their mobile home. The tornado had winds estimated at 100-110 mph and was rated as an EF-1 by the National Weather Service, which conducted a damage survey Thursday morning.

                    About 120 miles to the west, another man was killed and seven injured when a tornado swept through a section of Appomattox County, state police said.

                    One person was killed by a falling tree in Darlington, South Carolina. On Tuesday, tornadoes killed two people in Louisiana and one in Mississippi.

                    Greg Carbin, a meteorologist with the weather service, said he expects the final tally of tornadoes for the two days to exceed 30.

                    “I’m just shocked for seeing … the debris and everything flying up,” Waverly resident Desmond Gardner said. “Big ball of fire from the power lines and debris smacking against my car as I was sitting in it. And I heard that I lost a good friend today, so my prayers go out to their family.”

                    Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency and began visiting the state’s most battered communities Thursday.

                    The tornadoes were the state’s first deadly February twisters on record, according to meteorologist Harold Brooks of the National Severe Storms Laboratory.

                    “Tornado events in the Mid-Atlantic are incredibly unusual” for this time of year, Carbin said.

                    In Tappahannock, about 45 miles northeast of Richmond, Timothy Williams told the Associated Press that he was about to go for a drive with a friend when the storm hit.

                    “It picked the car right off the ground and put it right back on the ground,” said Williams, 44. Dozens of injuries were reported in the area.

                    After two wild days of fierce storms in the southern and eastern U.S., the weather calmed down considerably Thursday. No severe weather was expected Thursday or for the next several days, the Storm Prediction Center said.

                    Snow was the story in the Midwest, where schools closed in several states. Some areas braced for more than a foot of snow, along with thousands of flight cancellations.

                    The South and East were in recovery mode. Around Washington, D.C., thousands were without power, according to utilities Pepco and Dominion Power.

                    The quick-moving storm swirled north into Pennsylvania at about 50 mph late Wednesday, knocking down trees and wires along the way.

                    “This whole area got hit hard with this storm,” Saul Schmo-litz, a lieutenant with Union Fire Company, said at the scene of a downed 40-foot pine tree in East Manchester Township.

                    Wind gusts were recorded at 52 mph at York Airport in Jackson Township, said Craig Evanego, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in State College. York County saw more straight-line wind damage, Evanego said. The National Weather Service had not verified reports that a tornado formed.

                    WVEC-TV, Hampton-Norfolk, Va| John Bacon|USA TODAY|Contributing: Doyle Rice, USA TODAY; York Daily Record; WUSA-TV, Washington, D.C.; Associated Press

                    Genetically Modified Organisms

                    True or False? Extinction Is Forever

                    Researchers’ efforts to clone the vanished Tasmanian tiger highlight the quandary of reviving long-gone creatures

                    [In 1997, Scottish scientists announced that an adult sheep named Dolly had been successfully cloned. Dolly proved that DNA from an ordinary animal cell could generate a virtually identical copy.
                    Dolly’s legacy has led to technology that has the potential to bring back extinct creatures like wooly mammoths and Tasmanian tigers.]

                    “Danger,” says the sign on the door of a laboratory at the Australian Museum in Sydney: “Tasmanian Tiger, Trespassers will be eaten!” The joke is that the Tasmanian tiger—a beloved symbol of the island state that appears on its license plate—has been extinct for nearly seven decades. But researchers behind that door are working to bring the animal back to life by cloning it, using DNA extracted from specimens preserved decades ago. Among other things, the work raises questions about the nature of extinction itself.

                    The Tasmanian tiger’s Latin designation, Thylacinus cynocephalus, or “dog-headed pouched-dog,” makes it redundantly clear that the marsupial’s feline nickname is a misnomer. It comes from the dark striping on its back that runs nearly shoulder to tail. The animal had large, powerful jaws, which secured the predator a place atop the local food chain. Females carried their young in backward-facing pouches.

                    Thylacines, once spread throughout mainland Australia and as far north as New Guinea, were probably outcompeted for food by the dingoes that humans introduced to the area some 4,000 years ago, says Australian Museum director Mike Archer, founder of the cloning project. Eventually, thylacines remained only on the dingo-free island of Tasmania, south of the mainland. But with the arrival of European settlers in the 1800s, the marsupial’s days were numbered. Blamed (often wrongly) for killing livestock, the animals were hunted indiscriminately. The government made thylacines a protected species in 1936, but it was too late; the last specimen reportedly died in captivity the same year.

                    The Australian researchers set out to bring the animal back partly to atone for humanity’s role in its extinction, Archer says. The idea took root 15 years ago when he saw a pickled thylacine pup in the museum’s collection. “It jarred me and started me thinking,” recalls the 58-year-old paleontologist and zoologist, who received his undergraduate degree from Princeton University and his doctorate from the University of Western Australia. “DNA is the recipe for making a creature. So if there is DNA preserved in the specimen, why shouldn’t we begin to use technology to read that information, and then in some way use that information to reconstruct the animal? I raised the issue with a geneticist. The response was derisive laughter.”

                    Then, in 1996, Dolly the sheep burst onto the scene and, suddenly, Archer says, “cloning wasn’t just a madman’s dream.” Dolly proved that DNA from an ordinary animal cell—in her case, a ewe’s udder—could generate a virtually identical copy, or clone, of the animal after the DNA was inserted into a treated egg, which was implanted in a womb and carried to term. Archer’s goal is even more ambitious: cloning an animal with DNA from long-dead cells, reminiscent of the sci-fi novel and movie Jurassic Park. The challenge? The DNA that makes up the chromosomes in which genes are bundled falls apart after a cell dies.

                    Researchers working with Don Colgan, head of the museum’s evolutionary biology department, extracted DNA from a thylacine pup preserved in alcohol in 1866, and biologist Karen Firestone obtained additional thylacine DNA from a tooth and a bone. Then, using a technique called polymerase chain reaction, the researchers found that the thylacine DNA fragments could be copied. The scientists next have to collect millions of DNA bits and pieces and create a “library” of the possibly tens of thousands of thylacine genes—a gargantuan task, they concede. Still, an even greater obstacle looms, that of stitching all those DNA fragments together properly into functioning chromosomes; the scientists don’t know how many chromosomes a thylacine had, but suspect that, like related marsupials, it had 14. But no scientist has ever synthesized a mammalian chromosome from scratch. If the Aussie scientists accomplish those feats, they may try to generate a thylacine by placing the synthetic chromosomes into a treated egg cell of a related species—say, a Tasmanian devil, another carnivorous marsupial—and implant the egg in a surrogate mother.

                    Such cross-species cloning, as the procedure is called, is no longer fantasy. In 2001, Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) of Worcester, Massachusetts, succeeded in cloning, for the first time, an endangered animal, a rare wild ox called a gaur. This past April, scientists from ACT, Trans Ova Genetics of Sioux Center, Iowa, and the Zoological Society of San Diego announced they had cloned a banteng, an endangered wild bovine species native to Southeast Asia, using a domesticated cow as a surrogate mother. Meanwhile, researchers in Spain are trying to clone an extinct mountain goat, called a bucardo, using cells collected and frozen before the species’ last member died in 2000. Other scientists hope to clone a woolly mammoth from 20,000-year-old specimens found in Siberian permafrost.

                    Many scientists are skeptical of the thylacine project. Ian Lewis, technology development manager at Genetics Australia Cooperative Ltd., in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, Australia, says the chances of cloning an animal from “snippets” of DNA are “fanciful.” Robert Lanza, ACT’s medical director and vice president, says cloning a thylacine is beyond existing science. But it may be within reach in several years, he adds: “This area of genetics is moving forward at an exponential rate.”

                    In Australia, critics say the millions of dollars that the thylacine project will cost would be better spent trying to save endangered species and disappearing habitats. One opponent, Tasmanian senator and former Australia Wilderness Society Director Bob Brown, says people might become blasé about conservation if they’re lulled into thinking a lost species can always be resurrected. The research “feeds the mind-set that science will fix everything,” he says.

                    Another concern touches on the great nature-nurture quandary: Would a cloned thylacine truly represent the species, given that it would not have had the chance to learn key behaviors from other thylacines? For some carnivores, says University of Louisville behavioral ecologist Lee Dugatkin, “it’s clear that young individuals learn various hunting strategies from parents.” And a foster parent might not fill the gap. Dugatkin asks whether a cloned Tasmanian tiger raised by a surrogate Tasmanian devil would just be a devil in tiger’s clothing.

                    Luba Vangelova|Smithsonian Magazine|June 2003

                    Report: Multiple pesticides, magnified harms

                    A new report by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) reminds us that we have a lot to learn about the risks of exposure to multiple pesticides at a time. Hmmmm. “Exposure to multiple pesticides at a time” — isn’t that what we face in the real world? Yes, it is. Read on.

                    The researchers, who work with UCLA’s Sustainable Technology & Policy Program, looked specifically at exposures to three fumigant pesticides: Telone (or 1,3-dichloropropene), chloropicrin, and metam sodium. Here’s what they found:

                    1. Some California residents are exposed to all three pesticides, either all at once or over a period of time;
                    2. These pesticides can interact in ways that increase risks to human health; and
                    3. California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is not assessing the risk of cumulative exposure — which it is, in fact, required to do.
                    Drifting and dangerous

                    Fumigant pesticides are highly toxic chemicals that are used to manage pests in the soil. In California, because we have such a diversity of what are called “specialty crops,” we use a lot more fumigants than the rest of the country. Many specialty crops are highly lucrative — some examples are strawberries, lettuce, stone fruits and grape vines — and fumigants allow the planting of the same crop in the same field year after year.

                    Applied as a gas or liquid, fumigants are used at very high volumes and are vaporized (or volatilize) readily. These two factors contribute to the strong propensity of these pesticides to drift off-target.

                    Drift into nearby fields, homes, schools and communities is the main route of people’s exposure to fumigants. Every year in California, many farmworkers and residents fall ill from acute exposures to fumigants, as indicated by the state’s Pesticide Illness Surveillance Program. Unlike many pesticides, residues remaining on our food are not an issue with fumigants. These pesticides are so volatile; they’re not likely to stay on food by the time it gets to market.

                    Not all mixtures are created equal

                    The researchers point to a number of ways the three fumigants might be interacting, including cumulative effects, additive effects and interactive effects. What does it all mean?

                    We experience cumulative exposures in the real world — exposure to a milieu of chemicals in our environment, day after day. These cumulative exposures can lead to mounting effects, which can be either additive or interactive. Here’s where it gets interesting — or scary, depending on how you look at it.

                    Additive effects come into play when two or more chemicals combine to elicit an effect greater than exposure to one chemical alone. “Interactive” effects happen when two or more chemicals interact to increase or reduce a toxic effect. Our best understanding of interactive effects is based on pharmaceuticals, and the potential for some drugs to antagonize and/or synergize with each other.

                    Oh yes, and then there’s cancer risk

                    Yes, there is evidence that all three of these fumigants are carcinogenic. Evidence of other effects has also been reported, including developmental toxicity, reproductive toxicity, and neurotoxicity. Yet another way fumigants might impact us is by using up a detoxifying enzyme, glutathione, which we all have in our bodies. When the enzyme gets depleted, we have to make more — and meanwhile the fumigants remain in our body longer, and may cause additional harm.

                    And finally, these fumigants have physical properties that indicate they could attack DNA directly or inhibit the activity of enzymes that control important processes such as DNA repair and maintenance of DNA’s stability, which could also increase risk of carcinogenicity. Here at PAN, we call chemicals that can cause toxic effects like these “bad actors.”

                    We know fumigant drift is happening at levels that increase risk of cancer. Last fall, we conducted a Drift Catcher project with a community partner in Watsonville, California to monitor for chloropicrin. Even though the levels we found in the air were relatively low, they were still sufficient to increase cancer risk for children and families in nearby homes.

                    Watsonville is one of the biggest strawberry growing regions in the country, and fumigants are used in many fields every year. During application season, exposure to multiple fumigants — like those highlighted in UCLA’s study — is highly likely.

                    Protecting human health in the face of uncertainty

                    You’ll note that I’ve used the words “might,” “possible,” and “potential” a lot here. This is because there is still much that we don’t know, and the new report identifies several data gaps. Knowing this, how do we reduce uncertainty? And what can and should DPR do now to reduce health risks in California communities?

                    We can reduce uncertainty by collecting more and better data, and using it. Approaches for identifying interactive effects and, more broadly, cumulative risks have been developed by U.S. EPA, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and the European Food Safety Authority. It’s quite a challenge to assess cumulative exposures, but DPR can and should use these guidelines to give it a try.

                    Meanwhile, DPR officials need to consider this new evidence of interactive effects — and then take steps to protect public health. We’ve long known from air monitoring data that fumigants drift in the air. With this new report, we know a bit more about the potential of these chemicals to interact with each other, posing more of a health hazard than was previously thought.

                    As DPR takes a closer look, they will likely find good reason to put more protective buffer zones in place around schools and other sensitive sites — and maybe even good reason not to use some of these pesticides. This would be very good news for Californians’ health. It should also trigger measures to protect farmer livelihoods, including financial support for alternative approaches that don’t rely on such hazardous pesticides.

                    Emily Marquez

                    Energy

                    More info requested on nuclear waste site

                    Decision pushed back by Canadian government

                    Canada’s federal government wants more information about a proposed nuclear waste repository in Kincardine, Ontario, on the shores of Lake Huron.

                    According to a news release, Catherine McKenna, Canada’s minister of Environment and Climate Change, has requested additional information and further studies on the environmental assessment for the proposed Deep Geologic Repository Project for low and intermediate level radioactive waste in Kincardine.

                    “I’m so geeked,” said Elizabeth Zimmer- Lloyd, a Port Huron resident and member of the Great Lakes Environmental Alliance. “Oh my God, I’m so happy.

                    “I knew this was going to happen.”

                    Ontario Power Generation had proposed to prepare a site, and construct and operate a facility for the long-term management of low- and intermediate level radioactive waste at the Bruce nuclear site, within the municipality of Kincardine, according to the news release.

                    The deadline for a decision on the proposal had been pushed back 90 days to March 1 from its original Dec. 2 deadline.

                    According to the release, OPG has been asked to provide the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency by April 18 with a schedule for fulfilling the information request.

                    M McKenna will contact the Canadian Joint Review Panel, which is tasked with reviewing the proposed nuclear waste facility, at a future date, regarding its role in the review of the additional information and studies.

                    In a statement released Thursday afternoon, the OPG said the company is “committed to conducting further technical, environmental and economic studies into its proposed deep geologic repository, as requested by the Federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

                    “OPG understands the sensitivity of decisions around nuclear waste and respects the Minister’s request for further information to inform a science based decision.”

                    The company said McKenna has requested three studies:

                    » An updated analysis of potential combined environmental effects of the OPG low- and intermediate level repository site and a potential Nuclear Waste Management Organization site located close to the proposed site.

                    » An updated list of the company’s commitments to mitigate any identified effects from the project.

                    » A study into the environmental effects of alternate sites.

                    The release said OPG “maintains that a deep geologic repository is the right answer for Ontario’s low and intermediate-level waste, and that the Bruce site is the right location. OPG is confident that further studies will confirm this.”

                    Zimmer-Lloyd said OPG has not looked at other sites.

                    “They have placed all their bad nuclear eggs in one basket,” she said, “We have kind of won the battle, but we haven’t won the war.”

                    She said her group is not anti-Canada or anti-industry.

                    “We are pro-water,” Zimmer-Lloyd said. “We are pro-be-responsible with your industry. Don’t make the environment and the people who rely on it, don’t make them an expense of making money.”

                    She said storing “over 200,000 cubic meters of nuclear waste within a mile of 21 percent of the world’s fresh water … is not thinking common sense but dollar sense.

                    “More than 40 million people rely on this water daily.”

                    The proposal has been met with widespread opposition from Michigan residents and politicians.

                    “Canada is a big country,” Zimmer-Lloyd said. “They have a ton of places there where it is not near drinking water, where it is not near populated places, where they can place it at.”

                    BOB GROSS|TIMES HERALD

                    The Size of the California Methane Leak Isn’t the Scariest Part of the Story

                    The Aliso Canyon leak doubled Los Angeles’ methane emissions—and it’s just one disaster we were lucky enough to find

                    The first time Stephen Conley flew through the plume of natural gas hovering above Aliso Canyon, California, he knew the situation was bad. He couldn’t see the methane or ethane pouring out from the old well, but he could smell the rotten-egg odor of the mercaptan added to natural gas to warn people of leaks. “It was nasty,” he recalls.

                    And then there were the readings from his plane’s scientific instrumentation. Conley has flown his specialized research plane over the sites of many oil and gas leaks in the past. In normal, leak-free air, he usually detects about 2 parts per million (ppm) of methane. Over a leak, that might go up to 4 or 5 ppm. But the air over California in November had levels of 50 ppm a mile from the leak site.

                    “That’s when I first got this idea that, holy crap, this is a big leak,” says Conley, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California, Davis, and Scientific Aviation.

                    Now, analysis of Conley’s data reveals that by the time the leak had been plugged, just over 107,000 tons of methane and 8,000 tons of ethane had been released from Aliso Canyon. That’s the equivalent of the greenhouse gas emissions from half a million cars, spewed into the air near Los Angeles over the span of 16 weeks.

                    “On the scale of the control efforts that have been put in place to minimize greenhouse gas emissions, it rolls that back years,” says study co-author Thomas Ryerson, a research chemist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

                    Though methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and the Aliso Canyon event was a “monster” emitter, the event highlights an even bigger problem, Conley says. There are hundreds of natural gas storage facilities like this one around the country, and there’s nothing in place to monitor these facilities for leaks or respond to them quickly.

                    “Even if each one is leaking [a little bit], that’s a big number,” Conley warns.

                    The Aliso Canyon leak came from a natural gas storage facility that had started out its life in 1954 as an oil well. In 1973, that well was converted into natural gas storage, a common practice for U.S. energy companies that need a place to store the fuel near towns and cities.

                    On October 23, residents of the nearby town of Porter Ranch reported smelling a gas leak, and Southern California Gas Company discovered the leak at Aliso Canyon. Two weeks later, Conley was tasked by the California Energy Commission, for whom he had been working under contract, to fly through the plume above the leak and map out where and how much methane and ethane were being emitted.

                    Conley and his team made 13 flights through the plume between November 7, two weeks after the leak began, and February 13, two days after the leak was plugged.

                    Because the natural gas had been stored in an old oil well, it also contained small amounts of substances, such as benzene and toluene, that wouldn’t normally be found in a natural gas pipeline, says Ryerson. Other scientists led by Donald Blake of the University of California, Irvine, collected samples of the gas down on the ground and analyzed it back in the lab. Combining that data with Conley’s measurements of methane and ethane gave the researchers “the DNA of the leak,” Ryerson says.

                    The team confirmed that efforts to stop the leak had been successful, though 3 percent of the natural gas stored in the facility had been lost by that time. The data also showed that the Aliso Canyon event released enough methane to make this the largest leak in history in terms of climate impact, Conley and his colleagues report this week in Science. Only one previous event, at Moss Bluff, Texas in 2004, released more natural gas, but most of that burned off in a huge fireball.

                    The leak also released some 2.5 tons of benzene, a carcinogen, into the atmosphere, they found. That sounds like a lot, but cars and other sources emit about a thousand times more every year, Ryerson says. Individuals who were in the way of the plume may have been exposed to more worrying amounts of the substance, but for now there’s no way to know.

                    Southern California Gas Company has stated that it will mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions caused by the leak. Francesca Hopkins, an Earth systems scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has some ideas about how they can do that.

                    While at UC Irvine, she led a study that mapped out methane emissions across the LA Basin using a white Ford Transit van equipped with a snorkel and a host of scientific equipment. As they report in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, her team found methane leaking from compressed natural gas fueling stations, gas-fired power plants, landfills—even ones that had been closed for 50 years—and, of course, cows.

                    Plugging up those “fugitive leaks” could be part of the gas company’s mitigation efforts, Hopkins says. And targeting methane leaks could bring a far bigger bang for the buck than carbon dioxide emissions, she says. While methane has a shorter lifespan in the atmosphere, it is also a far more potent greenhouse gas and one that has an economic value, since lost methane is essentially wasted fuel. Luckily, methane is also a lot easier to get rid of because it can be burned.

                    Conley notes that this one leak’s overall contribution to climate change is just a drop in the bucket. That’s because there’s already so much carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases being released around the globe. For his team, the real issue is how to prevent such massive leaks from happening more often and becoming a bigger climate threat.

                    “Nobody really knows yet what caused Aliso to happen,” Ryerson says. If it had happened in a spot more distant from where people live, it might not have been noticed for a lot longer. Even then, the team was only able to measure the magnitude of the event because Conley was already under contract to the state.

                    Scientists were also available to map the plumes from two previous oil and gas disasters—the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and a natural gas leak in the North Sea in 2013—and provide key information for stopping the events. But Ryerson and Conley both note that the three situations were largely due to luck.

                    “There is no standing capability for a quick-response airborne chemical measurement” of a disaster, Ryerson says. They argue that some sort of “grab-and-go package” should be developed to get scientists to a site within hours rather than weeks or months.

                    “We’ve been lucky three times in a row,” Ryerson says. “We should do something to be ready for the fourth.”

                    Sarah Zielinski|smithsonian.com|February 26, 2016

                    Land Conservation

                    Celebrating wetlands and their role in supporting communities worldwide

                    Our wetlands are essential for life, they’re home to a variety of wildlife, help prevent flooding, store carbon dioxide to regulate climate change and protect our coastlines.

                    But did you know that more than a billion people make a living from wetlands across the world? Wetlands provide livelihoods, from fishing and eco-tourism, to farming and drinking water for communities. WWF is working to support some of the world’s most vital wetlands and the communities that depend on them across Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

                    Manuel Barbosa is among those relying on healthy wetlands to support himself and his family.

                    Barbosa, a small-scale farmer in Brazil, inherited land and a love for nature from his father. He grows fruit and vegetables and also raises dairy cattle on his small farm, all for his family’s own consumption. He feels his greatest achievement is the contribution he has made to the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, by supporting a new Pact to conserve its headwaters. Part of this Pact is the conservation of the stream—Queima Pé—that runs through his property and provides clean water to the 90,000 people who live in his community called Tangará da Serra.

                    “People need to understand that protecting springs guarantees water for everybody, because the water from the spring flows into the stream, which flows into the river and feeds the whole region,” Barbosa said. “Water is everything. Water is life. The same water that I drink, that quenches the thirst of my cows, is the same water that supplies the town and its businesses and which people use to drink, shower and wash.” In 2015, the Pact’s partners, including WWF-Brasil, helped to improve water filtration into the land and minimize erosion and sedimentation run off from roads through activities such as contour planting—a method of planting across a slope, following the curves of the land—and the restoration of forest around the source of the stream.

                    “Thanks to contour planting, when it rains now, the water can infiltrate properly into the soil and consequently feed the spring and stream,” Barbosa said. “My pastures have improved, but the main thing is that it ensures there is plenty of clean water in the stream.”

                    WWF|February 02, 2016

                    Miscellaneous

                    New Species of Prehistoric Flower Discovered Preserved in Amber

                    Rare fossil may be an ancient relative of the potato

                     

                    108837_web.jpg(

                    George Poinar, Jr., courtesy of Oregon State University)

                    image: http://public.media.smithsonianmag.com//filer/17/89/17894dfc-0718-47eb-93a9-e7e7e2a5134d/flower3.jpg

                    The delicate structures of flowers rarely fossilize, but the sticky resin of trees can capture these dainty specimen, preserving them for tens of millions of years. Scientists recently found two of such fossils, which turned out to be a new species that may have been a poisonous predecessor to modern plants like coffee and potato.

                    Scientists discovered the pair of rare fossil flowers in a mine in the Dominican Republic, according to a new study published this week in the journal Nature Plants. Dubbed Strychnos electri, these tiny beauties belong to a group of flowers called asterids, which includes such varied members as coffee, potatoes, peppers, sunflowers, and the poisonous strychnine tree, Annalee Newitz writes for Ars Technica.

                    “The specimens are beautiful, perfectly preserved fossil flowers, which at one point in time were born by plants that lived in a steamy tropical forest with both large and small trees, climbing vines, palms, grasses and other vegetation,” study author and Oregon State University researcher George Poinar, Jr. said in a statement.

                    The two flowers are very tiny, about a centimeter long apiece. But while Poinar and his colleagues know the plants are somewhere in the ballpark of tens of millions of years old, they are still not clear on exactly how old they are, Mary Beth Griggs writes for Popular Science. While researchers can date fossils preserved in rock by analyzing where it was found and the radioactive decay of certain elements contained in the rocks around them, amber is harder to to date because it is made from fossilized tree resin.

                    In order to figure out how old these fossilized flowers were, Poinar had to rely on other life forms found alongside the amber-encased specimens, particularly a couple of common single-celled organisms called foraminifera and coccoliths. Because the evolutionary paths of these tiny animals are distinctive and well-known, scientists often used them to date fossil specimens by proxy, Newitz writes.

                    However, in this case the tests were somewhat inconclusive: each test gave different results, suggesting that the flowers were fossilized anywhere between as early as 45 million years ago and as recently as 15 million years ago.

                    Poinar may not know exactly how long ago Strychnos electri thrived, but it’s possible it was somewhat poisonous.

                    “Species of the genus Strychnos are almost all toxic in some way,” Poinar said. “Some are more toxic than others, and it may be that they were successful because their poisons offered some defense against herbivores.”

                    Today, there are about 200 species of Strychnos plants, some of which are the sources of some of the world’s deadliest poisons, like strychnine and curare. It’s impossible to know if or how poisonous Strychnos electri was, but Poinar hopes this discovery will help shed new light on what the America’s forests were like millions of years ago, long before North and South America were joined by a land bridge, Newitz writes.

                    “Specimens such as this are what give us insights into the ecology of ecosystems in the distant past,” Poinar said in a statement. “It shows that the asterids, which later gave humans all types of foods and other products, were already evolving many millions of years ago.”

                    Danny Lewis|smithsonian.com|February 17, 2016

                    Hubble telescope spots ‘supermassive’ black hole

                    NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured a photo of a distant galaxy that’s home to one of the most massive black holes astronomers have ever discovered.

                    The black hole is located 300 million light years away in the center of the Coma Cluster of the galaxy NGC 4889, which is the brightest galaxy in the newly released photo, according to a statement from NASA.

                    The “supermassive” black hole is 21 billion times the size of the sun. To put that in perspective, the black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy has a mass 4 million times that of the sun, scientists say.

                    Black holes are defined by NASA as “a region of space having a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape it.”

                    When matter is pulled into a black hole, it creates energy. By blowing outward in all directions, black holes play a part in regulating what’s around them.

                    And while NGC 4889’s black hole had quite the appetite when it was active, researchers conclude it “has stopped feeding and is currently resting after feasting on NGC 4889’s cosmic cuisine.”

                    USA TODAY

                    We Finally Know How Much the Dino-Killing Asteroid Reshaped Earth

                    The impact that wiped out large dinosaurs also dumped hundreds of feet of debris in the ocean off the Yucatán peninsula

                    iStock_000045898948_Large.jpg

                    An artist’s rendering of Chicxulub, the asteroid believed to have wiped out large dinosaurs and reshaped parts of the world. (Elenarts/iStock)

                    image: http://thumbs.media.smithsonianmag.com//filer/ec/40/ec408f4b-cd71-4d42-a399-56afc88dc185/istock_000045898948_large.jpg__800x600_q85_crop.jpg

                    More than 65 million years ago, a six-mile wide asteroid smashed into Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, triggering earthquakes, tsunamis and an explosion of debris that blanketed the Earth in layers of dust and sediment.

                    Now analysis of commercial oil drilling data—denied to the academic community until recently—offers the first detailed look at how the Chicxulub impact reshaped the Gulf of Mexico. Figuring out what happened after these types of impacts gives researchers a better idea of how they redistribute geological material around the world. It also gives scientists an idea of what to expect if another such impact were to occur now.

                    The Chicxulub impact, which wiped out large dinosaurs and giant marine reptiles, created a global layer of debris that is now part of the geologic record. Geologists refer to this layer as the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary, because it marks the switch between these two geologic time periods.

                    “It is truly a tree ring for the Earth, because how we define time geologically is by extinction events,” says Sean Gulick of the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics in Austin. “Everywhere on Earth this layer marks exactly the time when the mass extinction happened.”

                    The boundary can be less than a tenth of an inch thick in areas far from the impact site. But in the Gulf of Mexico, researchers weren’t able to say for sure just how much sediment and debris the impact threw around the region—until now.

                    The new analysis shows that the Chicxulub impact mobilized nearly 48,000 cubic miles of sediment across the gulf. It wiped out the contours of the bottom of the gulf, covering everything from the Yucatán to the Caribbean in hundreds of feet of debris.

                    “This deposit was literally laid down in a matter of days and weeks,” says lead author Jason Sanford, previously of the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics and now working as an exploration geologist for Chevron.

                    To create this new picture of the asteroid’s effects in the gulf, Sanford and his colleagues used a combination of data on rocks and sediment gleaned from 408 drilling wells that penetrated up to 35,000 feet into the seafloor, as well as seismic data. Seismic vibrations sent into Earth’s crust are reflected back toward the surface and can give scientists a three-dimensional view of the subsurface.

                    But the team’s comprehensive view wouldn’t have been possible without the commercial drilling data, and obtaining it was a major achievement. When David Kring, of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, discovered and named the Chicxulub impact site in 1991, he immediately started talking to oil companies about gaining access to their Gulf of Mexico data. Because the region was a valuable oil resource, the conversations went nowhere. 

                    “For over 20 years I have been hoping that somebody would be able to get hold of that data,” says Kring, who was not involved in the study. “So I am ecstatic that this group at the University of Texas has been able to do that.”

                    Using these datasets, the team was able to probe up to 50,000 feet below sea level to determine the thickness, volume and nature of the boundary layer in the gulf region. As they report in a recent paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, the scientists found that the volume of material moved by the Chicxulub impact dwarfed that of the next biggest instantaneous deposit—the Nuuanu debris flow in Hawaii—by two orders of magnitude.

                    “It was always going to be big numbers,” Kring says. “It is not that scientists didn’t think that those kinds of slump deposits existed in the past, but this paper quantifies those numbers basin wide, which is an important next step.”

                    Further afield, the boundary layer consists of fine grains of sediment, but closer to the impact site, the layer consists of hundreds of feet of sand, gravel, cobble and even boulders. Sanford and his colleagues showed that when the asteroid slammed into Earth, the impact set off earthquakes that shook loose rocks and boulders and whipped up tsunamis that carried in debris from as far away as what are now Texas and Florida. 

                    “That’s why the layer can be hundreds of meters thick,” Gulick says. “It is full of everything falling down the hill, tsunami deposits and also the stuff that fell out of the sky.”

                    The Chicxulub impact released as much energy as a hundred terratons of TNT, beyond a billion times the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

                    “The atomic bomb, the most powerful earthquake—these are already events that we have difficulty conceiving of,” Sanford says. “It was a constant exercise in trying to keep our minds open to what’s possible in terms of the amount of sediment, the amount of energy and the speed at which things happen.”

                    Jane Palmer|smithsonian.com|February 25, 2016 1:00PM

                    Environmental Links

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

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                    ConsRep1602 B

                    I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority. E.B. White, 1977

                    Announcements

                    2016 Birding Seminar March 4th & 5th

                    Join local, national and international experts for two days of exploring the science and value of the birds of Southwest Florida and beyond.

                    University of Florida IFAS/Lee County Extension and Conservation 20/20 invite you to the:

                    Friday, March 4, 2016 – Field Trips*

                    Cape Coral Burrowing Owl Exploration: Included in registration

                    8 a.m. – 10 a.m.

                    San Carlos Bay/Bunche Beach Preserve, Bird Habitat: Included in registration

                    2 p.m. – 4 p.m.

                    Estero Bay: Wading Bird Boat Trip: $6.00 in addition to registration

                    2 p.m. – 4 p.m.

                    * Must be registered for seminar to participate in field trips

                    Saturday, March 5, 2016 – Seminar Florida Gulf Coast University 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Cost: $30.00 Topics include: * The Evolutionary History of Birds

                                                       * Annual Journey of the Swallow-tailed Kite

                    * Birding hotspots of SWFL

                                                                                                 * Roseate Spoonbills in Florida Bay: A Pink Canary in a Coal Mine

                                      * Wood Storks in Southwest Florida

                                                                                                                      * The endemic Florida Scrub-Jay: flagship of a unique and declining habitat

                          * Red Cockaded Woodpeckers

                                                                                   * Sharing the beach with Florida’s Shorebirds and Seabirds

                                              * Inland Sparrows of the Southeast For a

                    registration

                    Of Interest to All

                    Zika virus: Five things to know

                    The Florida Department of Health has confirmed that two Lee County residents tested positive for the Zika virus after traveling abroad. The World Health Organization recently called the Zika outbreak a public health emergency.

                    • Florida has nine confirmed cases of Zika infections, including two in Lee County. All were infected outside the country, according to the Florida Department of Health. None of the infected Floridians were pregnant.
                    • Though the Zika virus is usually transmitted through mosquito bites, there have been cases of transmission through sexual contact. Texas public health officials reported the first such U.S. case on Tuesday.
                    • Though researchers are examining a possible link between the virus and birth defects, a Zika infection usually causes a mild illness lasting a few days. Symptoms include a rash, fever and joint pain.
                    • The Centers for Disease Control has recommended that pregnant women postpone traveling to countries where Zika transmissions are ongoing. This includes Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
                    • There are no medications or vaccines that can treat or prevent a Zika infection. The CDC recommends that those infected get plenty of rest, drink fluids to prevent dehydration, take acetaminophen to relieve fever and pain. (Note: Don’t take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs until dengue is ruled out.)

                      Hundreds Gather Across Florida for Have a Heart, Save Our Parks Rallies and Protests

                      Events held at 11 State Parks from Tallahassee to Miami

                      (Tallahassee, FL) On Saturday, February 13, hundreds of Sierra Club supporters and concerned citizens gathered at 11 State Parks across Florida to enjoy the award-winning state parks and protest wide-sweeping changes to the park system proposed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

                      “Florida’s wonderful state parks are under attack by the Scott Administration and lawmakers who want to sell them off to the highest bidder or give them away to private landowners,” said Rocky Milburn, Sierra Florida Executive Committee member. “Today Floridians from Tallahassee to Miami are standing up to defend our public lands from this unprecedented threat.”

                      Sierra Club supporters gathered at 11 State Parks across Florida to marvel at the parks’ pristine beauty and enjoy the natural habitat. Events were held at Blue Springs State Park in Orange City, Fort George Island State Park in Jacksonville, Fort Pierce Inlet State Park in Fort Pierce, Hillsborough River State Park in Thonotosassa, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park in Fort Lauderdale, Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka, Wakulla Springs State Park in Wakulla, Fort Clinch State Park in Fernandina Beach, Oleta River State Park in North Miami, Festival of Trees at the Cultural Plaza, Lake Worth, and Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park in Sanderson.

                      The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is proposing legislation this session that would implement widespread changes to Florida law dealing with state parks.  HB 1075/SB 1290 as drafted would change the standards for managing public lands, and could result in opening state parks to hunting, timbering or grazing or being repurposed for recreation such as golf courses, RV parks or worse. The bill could also allow a private landowner who owns land adjacent to state lands or state parks to take ownership of the public land, thereby removing public access to state lands. These activities would disrupt and destroy the parks’ value as tourist destinations, public recreation sites and pristine examples of preserved natural Florida. Further, DEP has changed the land management plan review process to limit public input.

                      “We must do everything we can to enjoy our pristine parks before it’s too late,” said Milburn. “Or the next time we show up to our state parks we may see hunting signs, trees harvested, or worse, no trespassing signs.”

                      State Parks in Peril

                      FACT SHEET


                      Why are protests taking place today?

                      Florida’s state parks are facing threats on all fronts, from expanding their uses to include hunting, timbering and cattle grazing to allowing private individuals the ability to manage parks.

                      What are the specific threats?

                      The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is proposing legislation this session that would implement widespread changes to Florida law dealing with state parks.  HB 1075/SB 1290 as drafted would change the standards for managing public lands, and could result in opening state parks to hunting, timbering or grazing or being repurposed for recreation such as golf courses, RV parks or worse. The bill could also allow a private landowner who owns land adjacent to state lands or state parks to take ownership of the public land, thereby removing public access to state lands. These activities would disrupt and destroy the parks’ value as tourist destinations, public recreation sites and pristine examples of preserved natural Florida. Further, DEP has changed the land management plan review process to limit public input.

                      Why would this affect all parks and not just certain ones?

                      From Pennekamp State Park in the Keys to Wakulla Springs State Park in the Panhandle, all parks would be subject to being sold to the highest bidder for profit, or handed over to private land owners to be managed. Everything in the bill, HB 1075/SB 1290, would apply to any park in the state.

                      What can be done to protect the parks?

                      Members of the public should call their Florida State Representative and Senator to urge them to oppose HB 1075/SB 1290, which will most likely be voted on in the General Government Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday, 2/17 at  10 a.m. and in the House State Affairs Committee Thursday, 2/18 at 8 am.

                      Visit our blog and FB page: www.sierraclubfloridanews.org and www.facebook.com/sierraclubfl

                      Frank Jackalone|SIERRACLUB

                    Calls to Action

                    1. Demand Mandatory Labeling of GMOs–Not Voluntary Labeling or QR Codes –  here
                    2. Tell EPA’s Neil Anderson- Ban Monsanto’s Roundup Now – here
                    3. Tell Your Senator to Support Additional Funds for Parks and Land Conservation – here
                    4. Tell Yahoo to ban the ivory trade – here

                    Birds and Butterflies

                    These Birds Spend Winter Practicing Their Love Songs for the Ladies

                    Some migratory species may spend their time in Africa getting ready to woo mates in the spring

                    42-67163616.jpg

                    A great reed warbler croons at his breeding grounds in the Netherlands. (Birdphoto/NIS/Minden Pictures/Corbis)

                    image: http://thumbs.media.smithsonianmag.com//filer/aa/45/aa458413-bc8a-409b-aa54-4f4d37978d83/42-67163616.jpg__800x600_q85_crop.jpg

                    Like guys practicing their pick-up lines before going to the bar, great reed warblers practice their mate attraction songs in Africa before heading to their northern breeding grounds, a new study finds.

                    Great reed warblers are well-studied birds that spend their summers in Europe and Asia. They’re not exciting birds to look at—both males and females are a drab brown—but the males sing elaborate songs to attract females.

                    “They are probably the warbler species that sings most,” says Dennis Hasselquist, an animal ecologist at Lund University in Sweden. To lure a female warbler, the males sing from sunrise to sunset, a concert that can last for 21 hours at Hasselquist’s study site in Sweden.

                    When the male succeeds, the pair will mate, and he sticks around for a few days singing a short territorial song to ward off other males. Then he starts up again, trying to lure another female into his harem. A real avian Casanova can catch four or five mates in a single breeding season, but “20 percent of males can sing and sing for weeks and not get any females,” Hasselquist says. 

                    What happens in Africa, though, is less well known. Singing can be a costly activity for a bird—it takes up valuable energy, consumes time that could be used for finding food and might attract a predator. So while it’s worth it for a bird to sing in Europe where it has to find a mate, it might be better to keep quiet while vacationing in the south, where no breeding takes place.

                    Despite the cost, though, some 62 percent of all the bird species that migrate south from Eurasia sing on their winter grounds in sub-Saharan Africa.

                    Marjorie Sorensen, an ecologist now at Goethe University in Germany, was in Zambia when she noticed that great reed warblers were among this winter chorus, singing with plenty of vigor and energy. “It’s not a very pretty song, to be honest,” she says. “It’s very harsh, kind of creaking.” And loud, she says. Very, very loud.

                    warbler.jpg

                    A great reed warbler in Zambia. (Marjorie Sorensen)

                    image: http://public.media.smithsonianmag.com//filer/57/4d/574dd18b-9e28-446e-981e-24a378ac873f/warbler.jpg

                    Scientists had suspected that Eurasian birds might be guarding territory with their winter trills, but “no one has really tested this,” Sorensen says. And she suspected that there might be other reasons for the winter tunes. She and her colleagues knew that during the breeding season, song behavior is linked to testosterone. Perhaps, they thought, the birds that sang were those that still had some of this hormone left in their system. Or maybe the birds were practicing for the spring.

                    Sorensen and her team began by capturing and tagging great reed warblers at their study site in Zambia, a local cattle farm and nature reserve where the birds were hiding in six-foot-tall reeds. The researchers took blood samples to analyze testosterone levels and recorded songs the birds sang.

                    None of the 21 marked females were heard to croon, but almost half of the 43 males sang. Tellingly, the vocal males belted versions of the mate attraction song rather than the shorter territorial defense tune.

                    The singers didn’t have higher testosterone levels than the birds that stayed silent. But their African tunes were a bit different than what warblers sing in Europe, the researchers found. The songs were longer and less repetitive, with the birds switching quickly between syllables, the team reported January 26 in American Naturalist.

                    “What we think is, on the wintering grounds, males that have the most energy and resources may be able to expend some of that on singing,” Sorensen says. That practice may pay off if a male is able to add more syllables to his song. “For great reed warblers, the more syllables a male has in his repertoire, the more appealing he will be to a prospective female.”

                    Hasselquist notes that great reed warblers, which can live for more than a decade, have been known to change their songs from year to year, adding a few syllables each time. “I have no idea why they do that,” he says, but it’s possible that they’re learning over the winter. 

                    and her team then expanded their analysis to include 57 songbird species that migrate from Eurasia to Africa. The ones that spent the most time singing in winter were those in which males produce the most complex breeding songs but have the most drab plumage. For species with flashier feathers and simpler songs, Sorensen says, practice might not be as critical.

                    Bruce Byers, who studies songbird vocalizations at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, says that he’d like to see more information about how frequently and intensely the birds sing in Zambia. The speculation that the winter singing serves as practice for breeding-season singing seems plausible, he says. But it’s also possible that there are other functions for the tunes, or that the winter crooning serves no essential function at all.

                    Plus, if practice is really important for plain birds, why do half the great reed warbler males forgo singing, wonders Robert Montgomerie, an evolutionary biologist at Queen’s University in Canada. “Like any good study,” he says, this one “posed more questions than it answered.”

                    Sarah Zielinski|smithsonian.com|February 3, 2016

                    The Surprising Way Birds Are Trying To Dodge Climate Change

                    New research shows that some birds are moving faster than ever to keep up with shifting climates. Here’s where they’re going.

                    We humans have our ways of coping with climate change: We’ll put down sandbags, escape pods, and even heat siphons to keep our homes from slipping away. But what about birds? How are they surviving bizarre rain patterns, extreme temperatures, and freak weather events?

                    Brooke Bateman has the answer to that. The post-doctorate ecologist from the University of Wisconsin, who once deciphered movements of Australian animals, wanted to figure out how breeding birds in North America were dealing with the havoc brought on by climate change. “How far and fast is climate change happening . . . that’s what I needed to know,” she says. With the help of scientists from Wisconsin and Australia, Bateman wove together climate data with location data for 285 North American species, and built models to show how rainfall, temperature, weather, and other variables affected every species’ distribution for every month of every breeding season from 1950 to 2011. (“I made a lot of models,” Bateman says.) Using the models as a reference, she then drew predictions on where the birds are ending up. The final results were published in Global Change Biology in December.

                    What do the models reveal?

                    There are two major curveballs in this study: First, birds are moving faster than we think, and second, they’re going places where we don’t suspect. Previous estimates had breeding ranges shifting by an average of .4 miles a year, but Bateman’s work proves that some species are moving at twice that speed, up to as much as 3 miles a year. The quickest drifters include meat eaters, insect eaters, and species that forage high up in the canopy or at the bottom of the forest floor (they’re probably stalking their prey to new spaces). Birds that are staying put include woodpeckers, hummingbirds, plant eaters, and non-migrants.

                    The direction of these movements is also unexpected. While the majority of the species are flying northward (as predicted), more than a quarter of them are creeping westward—specifically to Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota. The Tufted Titmouse, for example, is expanding into the Midwest and finding its niche in human-dominated landscapes. Hooded Warblers are moving in that direction as well, but they’re more used to living in the thick forest understory, so adapting to the grasslands and wide-open plains will be a lot more difficult for them.

                    How does this study fit in with other related research?

                    In the continued saga of birds and climate change, findings like these can “help to complete the story,” Gary Langham, Audubon’s chief scientist, says. While the Audubon Birds and Climate Change Report (released in 2014) predicts how breeding and wintering ranges may shift and shrink over the next century, Bateman’s models take a deeper look at what’s causing the birds to relocate right now. And the snapshots from the past 60 years show that birds are already moving thanks to global warming. The responses, Langham says, are idiosyncratic: The birds aren’t just moving northward, and they’re not all magically adapting to their new surroundings.

                    The study’s present-day, species-specific approach is also important because it highlights which birds need the most help. For instance, Bateman’s models show that the Florida Scrub-Jay’s thin slice of habitat is being squeezed even more tightly. The Audubon Climate Report’s models point out that there will be other climate-suitable patches in California for these birds; but the jays probably won’t be able to find their way out there, Langham says. So rather than leaving species to adjust—or go extinct—on their own, humans will have to step in and give them a hand, by slowing down the pace of climate change and preserving critical landscapes. 

                    Why is this helpful for conservation?

                    In Bateman’s perspective, birds have three options: They can move, stay and adapt, or stay and be wiped out. Knowing which option a species will choose can help conservation groups, like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (one of Bateman’s collaborators), pick out a rescue strategy. “We can put our money in places that have multiple species, and build connectivity between where the birds are and where they will be,” Bateman says. Unfortunately, birds and people tend to love the same landscapes: In the study, areas that gained the most species were also hot spots for development. Saving these lands through acquisition is crucial, Bateman says.

                    The study also offers some foresight on which spaces need to be preserved for current and future generations of birds. Survival isn’t the only thing species have to worry about when moving to a new breeding spot: “The big question is, can they create the next successful generation there?” Langham says. If they can’t, humans might need to step in. “Heroic efforts [by people] could buy at least 10 more generations of birds,” Langham says, “and that could be the difference in them being around.” 

                    For National Audubon Society|Purbita Saha|January 25, 2016

                    Early Results from the 116th CBC

                    It’s all about El Niño!

                    While the 116th Christmas Bird Count field season has concluded, the data entry season is still in full swing! As of early February over 1600 counts have been completed online and are viewable to the public through the Current Year’s Results reports in the CBC website, with at least another 1000 expected to come in before it’s all said and done.

                    While it’s still too early to draw any major conclusions regarding the 116th CBC results, clearly a driving factor in the season was the weather effects of the major El Niño event in the Pacific Ocean. These events drive continental weather in North America, and significant varying effects were experienced by CBC participants across the continent. In the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, absurdly mild conditions both prior to and during the CBC season led to unusually pleasant days in the field, but (for many counts) unusually few birds tallied. Species diversity was near normal, but bird numbers were very low as mild conditions provided open water and a nearly complete lack of snow cover, and thus birds were spread across the countryside rather than being concentrated in the “usual” protected spots. Waterfowl lingered north in record numbers, adding spice to the northern counts but causing comment on the lack of ducks and geese to the south.

                    Meanwhile in other regions, El Niño resulted in major storms across the Southeast, south-central regions, mountainous regions, and Pacific Coast. While the snow and rain in the west will have a major positive effect on mitigating the severe drought there, it had a major negative effect on the ability for CBC participants to count birds—or even conduct their counts. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the final results of the 116th Christmas Bird Count.

                    Despite all the “interesting” weather, some astounding birds were tallied on Christmas Bird Counts across the continent (and beyond!). Two Eurasian thrush species were tallied in the western regions—a Fieldfare at Missoula, Montana, and a Redwing on the Victoria, British Columbia count. Further afield, a new first-ever CBC record was a surprise Eurasian Marsh-Harrier at Bermuda!

                    From Audubon.org

                    Florida Panthers

                     

                    Invasive species

                     

                    Endangered Species

                    Obama Administration Weakens Critical Habitat Protections for Nation’s Endangered Species

                    New Regulation Allows Widespread Destruction of Habitat, Increasing Risk to Plants, Animals From Death-by-a-Thousand-Cuts

                    WASHINGTON- A new regulation finalized today by the Obama administration will put hundreds of endangered plants and animals at greater risk of extinction by dramatically reducing protections for their designated critical habitat. The regulation green-lights development, logging, mining and other destructive activities in critical habitat for endangered species as long as these activities aren’t determined to impact the entirety of a species’ designated critical habitat. The regulation, however, does nothing to ensure that many projects combined do not drive species to extinction from death-by-a-thousand-cuts. 

                    “This regulation is a big step backward for protection of our country’s endangered species,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Given that habitat destruction is the leading cause of species endangerment and extinction, this regulation makes no sense and is a big disappointment from the Obama administration.”

                    Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies must avoid destroying or adversely modifying areas designated as critical habitat for endangered species in actions they permit, fund or carry out, including thousands of development, logging, drilling, mining and other projects every year. The new regulation limits this protection by prohibiting only those federal actions that impact all of a species’ designated critical habitat. 

                    “This regulation is nothing more than a giveaway to powerful special interests like the oil and gas, timber and mining industries,” said Hartl. “You can’t protect and recover endangered species without protecting the places they live.”

                    It is already extremely rare for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stop projects to avoid adverse modification of critical habitat. A recent study in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences determined that in the past eight years, only 0.0023 percent of federal projects were stopped to protect endangered species, compared to the 1970s through the 1990s when approximately 1 percent of projects were stopped. This new rule will make it even less likely that the Service protects habitat for species.

                    The administration also issued a policy today that allows the Fish and Wildlife Service to exclude areas from critical habitat based on, in many cases, vague promises from landowners to conserve habitat. 

                    Over the past five years, the Obama administration has enacted several other administrative changes to the Endangered Species Act that collectively weaken its effectiveness, including a policy that drastically limits which species get protection in the first place, a final rule that gives federal agencies carte blanche to ignore cumulative impacts of multiple activities on endangered species, and a proposed rule that would dramatically curtail the rights of ordinary Americans to participate in the implementation of the Act. 

                    “With these policies, rules and regulations, the Obama administration has weakened the Endangered Species Act more than any administration since the landmark law was passed in 1973,” said Hartl.

                    The Center for Biological Diversity

                    Wild & Weird

                    Here’s Why It’s So Hard to Smash a Cockroach

                    Scientists chased and crushed cockroaches—and their results could one day save lives

                    For people bent on destroying cockroaches, the act of actually squashing them can feel like a game of Whac-a-Mole. The little critters are maddeningly good at running, and once they do get smooshed, they often stand up and scuttle away. Now, writes Elizabeth Pennisi for Science, new research reveals why—and the results could help scientists build better robots.

                    In a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers describe just how much weight cockroaches can take before succumbing to force. They put cockroaches through a grueling obstacle course of tunnels that got smaller and smaller, filmed them with a high-speed camera, and even crushed the cockroaches under different weights.

                    What they found was a surprising combination of agility and flexibility. Cockroaches compressed their bodies between 40 and 60 percent while traversing the tiny corridors, showcasing what researchers call “an unexplored mode of locomotion—‘body-friction legged crawling.’”

                    Pennisi explains how it works:

                    The roach first inspects the opening with its antennae. Then it jams its head through, follows with its front legs, and begins pulling the rest of its body into the breach. The back legs splay but continue to push. In about 1 second, it emerges on the far side unscathed.

                    The team also found that cockroaches’ exoskeletons allowed them to withstand weights up to 300 times their own body weight in small crevices and a whopping 900 times their body weight in other situations. That flexible, strong exoskeleton seems to be the secret to both their invulnerability to squashing and their ability to scuttle off when chased or threatened.

                    Not content to simply chase and crush cockroaches, the team also designed a soft robot modeled on roaches. It’s not the first cockroach robot, but it could one day save lives. The origami-style robot can swiftly squeeze through cracks—a skill that could help future first responders get a view of unstable or dangerous terrain without endangering humans.

                    Then again, the ability to navigate tight spaces and scurry away without harm could give surveillance activities or dastardly parties a leg up. Perhaps in the future, the cockroaches you’ll really want to crush will be robotic ones.

                    Erin Blakemore|smithsonian.com|February 11, 2016

                    Returning black-footed ferrets to the wilds of the Northern Great Plains

                    With WWF’s help, black-footed ferrets gain new ground

                    On September 23, 2015, 15 black-footed ferrets were released into a prairie dog colony in the waning Montana daylight. Just before, WWF biologists Kristy Bly and Jessica Alexander, along with partners from the Fort Belknap Fish and Wildlife Department and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, had carefully gathered the ferrets—snug in their pet crates—from the back of a nondescript transportation van and carried them out into a landscape pocked with prairie dog holes.

                    Saving rare species from extinction requires extraordinary measures. For the black-footed ferret, it has taken a combination of captive breeding, habitat protection, disease mitigation, and reintroductions to bring it back from the brink. But continuing that recovery will be attainable only if we continue to address the primary threats to their survival: prey and habitat loss (ferrets feed mainly on prairie dogs and live in their burrows), and sylvatic plague (an introduced disease that is lethal to ferrets and prairie dogs both).

                    Ferrets were first reintroduced on Fort Belknap in 1997, but an outbreak of sylvatic plague swept through the release sites in 1999 and decimated their population. Since then, prairie dogs have rebounded, new plague management tools have been put in place, and WWF and its partners have released 67 ferrets on the reservation—a steadily growing population living under the partnership’s watchful eye.

                    World Wildlife Fund

                    Water Quality Issues

                    Rare public tension over Senate plan to slash state park funding for water project

                    A fight over polluted waters ignited a rare public battle of wills on Wednesday between some of the top Republican leaders in the Florida Senate as they worked on a new state budget.

                    Sen. Joe Negron, who is set to become Senate President next year, muscled an amendment into the state budget, over the objections of the current budget chairman and former Senate President Tom Lee, that would slash proposed funding for state park improvements by 30 percent. That money would then be redirected to a water project aimed at stopping hundreds of millions of gallons of polluted water from flowing into the St. Lucie and the Caloosahatchee rivers.

                    Negron said the polluted water flooding from Lake Okeechobee into his home region along the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon needs to be addressed by the Legislature.

                    “I feel on behalf of my community, I can’t vote for a budget today that I haven’t addressed an underlying emergency situation that doesn’t just affect my community, but also affects southwest Florida,” Negron said.

                    Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, objected to Negron’s push, saying he supports the idea of Negron’s project, but was opposed to him taking money from the state parks to do it. Hays is the chairman of a budget subcommittee that has jurisdiction over funding of the state park system.

                    “I just don’t like this amendment because you just overpowered the state parks,” Hays said.

                    Hays asked Negron to withdraw the amendment and he would help him find the money elsewhere in the budget before the full spending bill makes it to the floor of the Senate for a vote next week. But Negron refused to yield, saying he needed the item in the budget, but would be happy to help Hays find replacement money for the parks later.

                    “You seem to be determined to jam it on there,” Hays said.

                    Negron’s amendment would take $6.7 million out of the state parks facility improvement fund. That would cut the proposed funding in the budget from $22.5 million to $15.7 million. That $6.7 million, combined with another $750,000 redirected from elsewhere in the budget, would be shifted to a water storage project that would keep billions of gallons of polluted waters from flowing from Lake Okeechobee.

                    Other key senators jumped to Hays’ defense. State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said Negron’s project qualifies as an emergency but “we need to respect the committee process.” Lee, a Brandon Republican, also sided with Hays, saying the subcommittee process was designed to “protect the least of us from the most influential” and that the committee should reject Negron’s idea because it had not been fully worked through Hays’ committee.

                    Negron responded to the criticism saying he submitted the project to Hay’s committee earlier in the process and it didn’t get the funding it needs, so he’s using the amendment process legitimately to get it done.

                    He had his own group of supporters including Sens Garrett Richter, R-Naples, and Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Ft.Myers, who both applauded Negron’s plan as a way to bring relief to southwest Florida from pollution coming from the Caloosahatchee River.

                    Negron ultimately won. His amendment passed on an 11-6 votes. Those opposing the measure included Lee, Hays, Latvala, Senate Rules Chairman David Simmons, Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano and the health budget subcommittee chairman Rene Garcia.

                    Typically such open drama over the budget are rare, as evidenced by that fact that 49 other budget amendments were proposed Wednesday with very little public discussion on any of them. The scrum over Negron’s amendment took more than 15 minutes of debate to resolve.

                    Jeremy Wallace|Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau|February 3, 2016

                    The White House Wants To Spend $300 Million On A Water Revolution

                    The amount is small, but the government is finally showing that it’s interested in real solutions to our massive water problems—in Flint and everywhere else.

                    Imagine a world in which desalinated water, instead of being five or 10 times the cost of water from a river or lake, was just as cheap as any other supply. Suddenly desalination would be the solution for lots of water problems, from cities to farms to oil fields.

                    Imagine a world in which data about how much water people are using isn’t five years out of date before it’s available, but arrives in real time—just like data about energy use.

                    It’s an effort to bring some zest, some disruption, and some creativity to what has been one of the dustiest sectors of the economy for almost a century.

                    Imagine a world, in fact, in which companies, universities, and governments invested in new water technology in ways that matched investments in computing, or biotechnology, or cancer research—and and gave us new, more effective ways to tackle problems from the California drought to the lead-poisoned water in Flint, Michigan.
                    In its last 11 months in office, the Obama Administration wants to lay the groundwork for that kind of water innovation, hoping to jumpstart new investments, new technologies, and most of all a new attitude.
                    On Tuesday, President Obama’s White House will do something that, apparently, no previous president has ever done: It will submit a budget with a section devoted to spending money specifically on water innovation. The water innovation section will be two pages, two pages in what will likely be a four-volume document topping 2,000 pages.

                    But it’s an effort to bring some zest, some disruption, and some creativity to what has been one of the dustiest sectors of the economy for almost a century.

                    “In the United States, the investment in R&D for clean energy is 50 times the investment in R&D for water,” says Ali Zaidi, associate director for natural resources, energy, and science in the Office of Management and Budget. “It’s going to take a lot to turn that around.”

                    In fact, in the U.S., the most visible water innovation for most people in the last two decades has been the blossoming of competing brands of bottled water.

                    In advance of the Obama Administration’s formal budget submission on Tuesday, Zaidi shared the specifics of the water innovation budget with Fast Company, in an effort to make sure water didn’t get overlooked in the larger budget discussions.

                    In the United States, the investment in R&D for clean energy is 50 times the investment in R&D for water.

                    Among seven specific elements that total $267 million, the White House is proposing two big new ideas. First, to create a hub of research into desalination technology, in an effort to dramatically lower the cost of desalination, to ultimately make it no more expensive than taking water from a lake or a river. At the moment, there is no research center devoted to that kind of water innovation. And the administration is proposing to quickly develop new prediction techniques, that will provide much more precise forecasts of floods and droughts, to allow for better management of their impact.
                    The water innovation budget lands in Congress at a moment when a single water issue—the unfolding crisis of lead-poisoned water in the city of Flint—has gotten more attention than any water issue in years. The question is whether public concern, and public attention, to the problems of Flint’s water system can be translated into support for thinking in new ways about the U.S. water system.
                    In fact, the administration’s proposals do not include the word “infrastructure” at all. The federal budget has money in it to help cities replace existing, and aging, water infrastructure, although not nearly the amounts communities need.

                    Until we spend on 21st-century water ideas, in other words, we’re never going to solve our 21st-century water problems.

                    The Obama Administration wants to get beyond pipes and pumps, to bring to water supply and water conservation a taste of the innovation that has swept through not just energy, but medicine or telecommunications.
                    “In the 20th century, the federal government spent literally billions of dollars building big dams, big irrigation systems, big water projects,” says Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute and one of the nation’s leading water experts. “Until we spend billions of dollars on water-efficiency technology and better water management, until we spend on 21st-century water ideas, in other words, we’re never going to solve our 21st-century water problems.
                    “In that sense, I do think what the White House is proposing is an effort to shift the way we spend money on water in the right direction.”

                    Even something as simple as data about water use—in cities, in watersheds, by farmers—is painfully hard to get. Far from being “real time,” water use information often isn’t available until months or years after the water has been used. The U.S. Geological Survey does a study of water use nationwide every five years that is the bible of water data—but it comes out five years after the cover date. The 2010 report on U.S. water use was only just released last year.
                    In addition to the new “integrated water prediction (IWP)” capability the White House wants about flooding and droughts, it is proposing all-new money so the U.S. Geological Survey can provide real-time water-use data during droughts, so communities can better manage what water they have, like electric utilities do during periods of high demand.

                    In Flint, a city of 100,000 people, simply fixing the water system so it doesn’t poison residents is expected to cost between $500 million and $1 billion.

                    In fact, the White House is bringing more imagination and visibility to its water efforts than actual dollars. The White House conducted a high-profile water roundtable in December, and is gearing up for a White House Water Summit on March 22, the first event of its kind.
                    But the amounts on the two-page water innovation budget—a quarter-billion dollars, with about $70 million in new money—are modest. Just two water technology and infrastructure companies—Xylem and Pentair—together spend more than $200 million a year on R&D.

                    More vividly, in Flint, a city of 100,000 people, simply fixing the water system so it doesn’t poison residents is expected to cost between $500 million and $1 billion.
                    In contrast, the White House’s proposed desalination R&D center would kick-off with $25 million in funding. The point, says Zaidi, isn’t the scale of the dollars, it’s the ideas—a focus on making desalination cheaper, efforts to make real-time data about water use the standard, money to help farmers grow as much food as they do now with less water.
                    Given the challenges of an all-Republican Congress, it’s possible that smart proposals with small price tags stand a better chance of making it through than grandiose ones. “These are new things the federal government hasn’t focused on before,” says Gleick. “Not to be clever with words, but, even if it’s a drop in the bucket—it’s a beginning.”

                    Charles Fishman|02.08.16

                    Great Lakes & Inland Waters


                    Beware of dirty water: Locks opening to the “max” Friday

                    STUART (CBS12) — A record rainfall amount measured in the region, that water managers say is seen once in a quarter century from an unnamed storm.

                    The Army Corps of Engineers and water managers are trying to move that water away from Lake Okeechobee, that has risen in depth to 16.25′ this week.

                    The gates open wider tomorrow to allow the maximum levels of releases in Stuart from Lake Okeechobee, it can be as high as 5 billion gallons daily, but engineers say it’s likely to be closer to 4 billion. Regardless, the amount of water is nearly twice as much water than is being released now.

                    “Even with the discharges that started last week, the lake continues to rise,” said Col. Jason Kirk, Jacksonville District Commander. “With additional rain in the forecast, we believe we must further increase flows to reverse the upward trend of the lake.”

                    The billion plus gallons flowing now in Stuart is just the opening act.

                    The Army Corps of engineers announced today they’ll increase the flow here at a rate 3 times this volume.

                    The announcement read in part, “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District will further increase flows from Lake Okeechobee this weekend in an effort to stem the rise in water level brought about by recent heavy precipitation. Starting Friday (Feb. 5), the Corps will remove specific target flows and release as much water as practical through Moore Haven Lock (S-77) located on the west side of the lake, and the Port Mayaca Lock (S-308) located on the east side of the lake. The lake stage is 16.25 feet, the highest since Dec. 12, 2005. Depending on runoff and other factors, the Corps could achieve flows from the lake up to 9,300 cubic feet per second (cfs) in the Caloosahatchee basin and up to 7,600 cfs in the St. Lucie basin.”

                    It’s sending plume that now extends miles south in the ocean and soon will travel even farther.

                    “The snowbirds haven’t seen this. This is new for them,” said Kenny Hinkle, President of Bullsugar.org, an organization fighting to send the water south. Hinkle says tourists can’t ignore the impact. The water from the canals from Fort Pierce to Jupiter south runs black.

                    “Now they are going to be here and this is their time to spend on the water and go boating and enjoy beautiful Florida and this is what they are finding,” Hinkle said.

                    South Florida Water Managers at their meeting Thursday showed the panel why all this pumping and dumping is necessary. A map outlined the region hit by a once in a quarter century rainfall.

                    That’s our entire region. The 2-day total raised the Lake elevation by 10 inches to the highest since 2005

                    James Erskine with the Water Resource Advisory Committee, said “storage is needed north of the Lake. Storage is needed south of the lake.”

                    Their map shows the red gates are pumping water south and east at the maximum levels, and every gate is red heading east west and south. Not one drop pumped into Treasure Coast and Palm Beach County waterways and canals is filtered, and its laden with chemicals and fertilizers.

                    When the dirty water comes, the salinity on the lagoon drops. With the announcement they will increase the discharges, scientists say all those oysters we’ve been bagging as a community to clean our river are all going to die within a week.

                    But, with the lake at over 16 feet the Army Corps Engineers have their duties to protect and manage the Lake, and their hands are tied.

                    Jana Escbhach|February 4th 2016

                    Gold mine spill dumped 3 million gallons into river

                    DENVER – A 3 million gallon spill from a southwestern Colorado gold mine last year might have dumped more than 880,000 pounds of metals into the Animas River, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Friday.

                    Some of the metals reached the San Juan River, which the Animas joins in New Mexico, but most settled into the Animas riverbed before that, the EPA said in a preliminary report. Utah officials have said some contaminants reached their state, but Friday’s report didn’t address that. The report didn’t identify the metals but said researchers were looking at cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel and zinc. Tests done after the spill also found arsenic and lead in the wastewater. The EPA said most of the metals consisted of small particles and came from Cement Creek, a tributary that carried the water from the mine.

                    DAN ELLIOTT|ASSOCIATED PRESS

                    Forestry

                    A Historic Conservation Agreement Will Protect Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest

                    It’s a victory for First Nations, loggers, and environmentalists

                    When it comes to preserving natural treasures, time is of the essence. But some hard-fought conservation battles prove well worth the wait. It took a decade, but a landmark agreement announced Monday will protect one of Canada’s most magnificent stretches of land: The Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia.

                    The BBC reports that the deal, which resulted from ten years of negotiations between conservationists, forestry companies, 26 First Nations and Canadian officials, will protect 85 percent of the Great Bear Rainforest from logging and put standards in place for logging activities in the other 15 percent. The announcement of the deal, which is being upheld as a model for how groups with often conflicting goals can work together to protect land, was preceded by chanting and drumming by native groups instrumental in the conservation victory.

                    The Great Bear Rainforest is the world’s largest uninterrupted tract of temperate rainforest—a lush, green and untarnished landscape packed with animals and plants that covers roughly 12,000 square miles of British Columbia. In the 1990s, environmental groups coined the name to refer to the area, which has been a bone of contention among First Nations who claim sovereignty there, environmental groups clamoring to protect the land and its native species, and loggers eager to mine its vast timber.

                    Among highlights of the agreement is its protection of the spirit bear. Also known as the Kermode bear, this rare white ursa is sacred to many First Nations and is the official mammal of British Columbia. Hunting of both Kermode and grizzly bears will be illegal under the new agreement.

                    The deal was contentious and lengthy, but it’s being heralded as a win-win for all sides. In a report for Reuters, Julie Gordon writes that the agreement, which “marries the interests” of all three groups, will enter law later this year. Who says that victory is always to the swift?

                    Erin Blakemore|smithsonian.com|February 3, 2016

                    Extreme Weather

                    ‘Polar vortex’ is back with bitterly cold temps

                    For the third winter in a row, the “polar vortex” is on the march, dipping southward from the North Pole to drive a blast of bitter cold, ice and snow that could disrupt travel from Georgia to New England.

                    The National Weather Service says the unusually cold air mass will settle over much of the central and eastern U.S. this weekend, bringing the coldest weather of the winter season from the Great Lakes to New England.

                    Wind chill warnings — including possible “life-threatening” temperatures — were in effect Saturday for a large part of the Northeast and New England, with readings as low as 30 below zero expected in some parts of upstate New York. Actual temperatures will hit highs in the single digits and teens and fall to subzero lows across much of upstate New York and New England, the NWS said.

                    In Pennsylvania, first responders battled snow and 15degree temperatures Saturday at the scene of a multivehicle pileup on I-78 about 90 miles northwest of Philadelphia. At least one person and possibly as many as three were killed, PennLive.com reported

                    USA TODAY

                    Energy

                    ARE THE KOCH BROTHERS BEHIND FLORIDA’S RUSH TO FRACK?

                    Time is of the essence to stop them!

                    As one legislative committee after another votes for pro-fracking bills, the obvious question becomes: “Who are these people listening to?” Certainly not the 65 local governments that support a statewide ban on fracking in Florida; certainly not the Florida Physicians for Social Responsibility who oppose fracking; certainly not the thousands of citizens that have called, sent emails and shown up at legislative meetings to oppose the pro-fracking bills, SB318 and HB191.

                    There are no ordinary citizens showing up to testify in favor of these bills. Even the paid lobbyists don’t always show up. So why are so many legislators, mostly Republicans, hell-bent on paving the way for fracking all across our state? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Florida’s aquifers are way too fragile and permeable to be filling them with the toxic chemicals that fracking requires. Never mind that fracking is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Our water supplies are too inadequate in much of the state RIGHT NOW for us to encourage a new industry/technology that consumes enormous amounts of water. These are facts that aren’t even debatable.

                    After mentally connecting a few obvious dots, I surmised that the Koch Brothers could be a logical, mythological powerful force behind all this. After all it is well known that they are deeply invested in the fracking business in many other states and Canada. Some media sources reported that they were very influential in the adoption of North Carolina’s pitifully weak fracking laws.

                    I started doing a little digging. When I googled fracking and the Koch Brothers, it took me to an announcement by Georgia-Pacific, a wholly-owned Koch company, stating that GP chemicals would ramp up production of proppant resin, a critical component of natural gas fracking. Hmmm . . . interesting.

                    Then I read up on GP’s proppant products, which are used to coat the base materials used for fracking (sand, ceramics and bauxite) and I see that it is made from tall oil and a slew of other chemicals, including Phenol-formaldehyde.  Tall oil is a by-product of Kraft pulp mills which would otherwise get burned int he mills’ boilers to produce energy.

                    Koch owns two pulp/paper mills in Florida and between them they produce a lot of tall oil. Surely it’s worth more as a component of their proppants used for fracking than it is as a waste product to be burned in a boiler. So Koch would profit from fracking in Florida in at least two ways: 1) they would expand the demand for fracking fluids; and 2) they could use more of their tall oil from their pulp/paper mills.

                    I have no proof right now, that Koch Industries is leaning on the Governor or the legislators who are pushing these extremely costly bills forward, but I will not be at all surprised when I do find proof that these notoriously self-serving billionaires are behind this.

                    There is still time for you to make your voice heard. Contact your State Senator today and tell him/her that fracking is just too dangerous for Florida. Here’s a few good reasons why:

                    • Between 2005 and 2009, the 14 leading hydraulic fracturing companies in the United States used over 2,500 hydraulic fracturing products containing 750 compounds.  More than 650 of these products contained chemicals that are known to be or are possible human carcinogens, regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, or listed as hazardous air pollutants. However, very few fracking fluids are subject to drinking water standards in the Safe Drinking Water Act.
                    • Florida’s geology does not provide “confinement,” i.e., injected fluids do not always remain in the zone where they are placed. DEP’s regulation of sewage injection has brought us this lesson. DEP let private consultants claim that sewage would be confined to the zone of injection for years, and ultimately sewage was detected in underground sources of drinking water. EPA concluded in a Federal Register notice that confinement in Florida’s underground aquifers was lacking. Of course then EPA created a special rule for Florida so the practice could continue until today and probably forever.
                    • An assertion that all fracking fluids remain in the subsurface after injection is false.  Between 10 and 90% of the injected fluids comes to the surface with “produced water.”  The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed with this fact. What remains below will be in a free-flow from one aquifer to another.

                    Linda Young|Executive Director|Clean Water Network of Florida|Feb 2, 2016

                    Methane leaks – they just keep going and going

                    Fracked Gas company knew its wells were failing a year before the Porter Canyon leak started. It’s been six months since the leak began, and State and Federal officials are now suing SoCal gas as a result. But where’s the EPA?

                    Southern California Gas Co. knew its fracked gas storage wells were failing more than a year before the leak began at its Aliso Canyon unit on the outskirts of Los Angeles, and even warned state regulators of the risks.1 But because there are virtually no rules governing methane leaks for existing fracked gas infrastructure, they did nothing.

                    Now, there is more pressure on SoCal Gas than there is inside that leaking gas well as local and state officials demand accountability. Last week, the California Assembly grilled officials on what they knew and when. This week the local air pollution control agency and the California Attorney General (Kamala Harris, famous for taking on an #ExxonKnew investigation) sued the company on behalf of everyone in the state who, well, breathes.2 California’s senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein,  have been outspoken in demanding a stronger federal role in plugging the fracking leaks. Even President Obama’s administration got in on the action as the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued an advisory rule late yesterday .

                    Here’s the thing, none of those actions will stop the leak — estimated by our friends at the Environmental Defense Fund, to now be at greater than 91 million metric tons of climate-wrecking fracked gas leaked.3 Nor will most of them do a thing to stop the next leak, which is absolutely sure to happen given that the EPA has still not issued rules to limit methane leaks from new or existing gas infrastructure. The EPA is the one agency with the power to protect us all from leaks like Porter Ranch, and it’s about damn time they did so. Sign here if you agree and tell EPA to plug ALL the fracking leaks.

                    The strongest action so far from Obama’s team has been yesterday when PHMSA issued an advisory and called on fracked gas infrastructure owners to “review their operating, maintenance and emergency response activities.” But if you want to know just how weak these PHMSA rules are, just ask the spokespeople for the fracking and oil industry: The American Petroleum Institute (API), which praised the advisory saying, “It is these types of actions, not regulatory overreach, that serve the best interest of safety and economic growth.”

                    If API is for it, you can be sure that these rules will do nothing to slow the pace of fracking leaks that pollute our climate, foul our air and devastate communities from coast to coast. It’s really imperative that we make these changes now. In addition to the ongoing disaster at Porter Canyon, there’s a massive build out of fracked gas infrastructure going on around the country — so much so that some fracked gas companies have even begun to wonder if we’re “over-piped” already with fracked gas infrastructure.

                    But as long as they’re making money, even a little, it’s clear the frackers will just keep drilling, building and leaking with abandon. It’s going to take sweeping action from Obama’s team – like we’ve seen on reducing global warming pollution from power plants, or blocking coal leases on federal lands — to make a dent.

                    Drew Hudson|Environmental Action|2/03/16

                    Bill Nelson Threatens to Block Energy Bill in Effort to Prevent Drilling Off Florida’s Coast

                    On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., took to the Senate floor to warn his fellow senators that he would do all he could to oppose a proposal from U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., to end the no-drilling zone extending at least 125 miles off of the Florida coast into the Gulf of Mexico.

                    Nelson said the following in his remarks:

                    Mr. President, I have raced to the floor simply because it has come to my attention that there are some senators that are utilizing this energy bill, which is an energy bill for a very valued purpose, a purpose of energy efficiency, and they’re utilizing this for their own purposes in proposing amendments that ultimately will threaten the environmental integrity off of Florida’s coast and will threaten the United States military in its ability to maintain the largest testing and training area for the United States military in the world, which is the Gulf of Mexico off of Florida.

                    Mr. President, I want to refer you to a map of the Gulf of Mexico. And I want to show you everything — here is the tip of Florida. This is Pensacola. This is Naples. Tampa. Down here is the Florida Keys; Key West. Everything in yellow, the Gulf of Mexico, in law until 2022, is off-limits to drilling. It happens to be a bipartisan law that was passed back in 2006, cosponsored by my then-fellow senator from Florida, a Republican, Mel Martinez, and the two of us put this in law. Why? The drilling is over here: everything to the west.

                    Well, the first reason is where is the oil? The oil is off where Mother Nature had the sediments coming down the Mississippi River for millions of years, and they were compacted into the Earth’s crust and it became oil. And the oil deposits are off of Louisiana, Texas, a little bit off of Mississippi, and Alabama.

                    There really isn’t much oil out here. But why in addition did we want this area kept from drilling? Well, take a look at that. That’s a marsh in Louisiana as a result of the gulf oil spill several years ago. We certainly don’t want this in Florida, but, Mr. President, if you notice, off of Louisiana, there are not many beaches. Off of Mississippi, there are not many beaches. Off of Alabama, not many beaches. But what do you think Florida is known for? Its pristine beaches all the way from the Perdido River, which is the Florida-Alabama line, all the way down the coast, all the way to Naples, and then, Mr. President, not only the Keys, but up the East Coast of Florida. Florida has more beaches than any other state. Florida has more coastline than any other state, save for Alaska, and Alaska doesn’t have a lot of beaches.

                    People come to Florida in large part not only because of Mickey Mouse, but also because of our beaches. And when they saw this oil on the white, sugary sands of Pensacola Beach that had turned black as a result of that gulf oil spill, which was way over here, but it did drift to the east and it got as far as Pensacola. A little bit more got as far east as Destin. A little bit more, just a few tar balls on Panama City beach. But when the people of America saw those white, sugary sand beaches black from oil, they assumed that that had happened to the entire coast of Florida, and as a result, people didn’t come. For one whole season.

                    So what happened to Florida’s economy? What happened to the dry cleaners and the restaurants and the hotels that all are so welcoming of our guests, our visitors who didn’t come? You get the picture of what happened to our economy. And I’m speaking of this as the senator from Florida, but now let me speak as the senator who is the second ranking democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

                    Mr. President, this area is known as the “Military Mission Line.” Everything east of that line, indeed almost all of the Gulf of Mexico, is the largest training and testing area for the United States military in the world. Why do you think that the training for the F-22 is at Tyndall Air Force Base at Panama City? Why do you think that the training for the new F-35 joint strike fighter, both foreign pilots as well as our own, why do you think that’s at Eglin Air Force Base? It’s because they’ve got this area. Why is the United States Air Force training test and evaluation headquarters at Fort Walton, Eglin Air Force Base, because they have got 300 miles here that they can test some of my — our most sophisticated weapons. And you talk to any admiral or general, and they will tell you you cannot have oil-related activities when we are testing some of our most sophisticated weapons.

                    This is a national asset, and it is key to our national defense. So for all those reasons, Senator Martinez and I put in law this is off-limits up until the year 2022, but now comes a law, sneaky amendments on this energy bill giving additional revenue sharing to these states and upper states on the Atlantic seaboard, giving them the states financial incentive to get a cut of the oil revenue. What do you think that’s going to do to the government of the state of Florida in the future as an excuse to put drilling out here? As well as to put drilling off the east coast of Florida.

                    Mr. President, when I was a young congressman, I faced two secretaries of the interior who were absolutely intent that they were going to drill on the east coast of the United States from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, all the way south to Fort Pierce, Florida. And the only way way back then — that was back in the early 1980’s, in the mid 1980’s — the only way that we were able to get that stopped, which this young congressman had a hand in doing, was to explain you can’t have oil rigs off of Cape Canaveral where we’re dropping the first stages of all of our military rockets that are so essential for us to get assured access into space in order to protect ourselves with all of those space assets.

                    And of course, in the early 1980’s, I could talk about what was going to happen for 135 flights of the space shuttle. You can’t have oil-related activities where the first stages, the solid rocket boosters on the space shuttle are going to be landing by parachutes in the ocean, because you were going to threaten the launch facilities for the United States military as well as NASA if you put oil-related activities out there.

                    And so, too, in another two years we will be launching humans again on American rockets, some of whose first stages will still be crashing into the Atlantic and whose military defense payloads continue to launch almost every month and those first days. And those first stages splashdown out in the Atlantic.

                    And yet an amendment that is suspected to be offered by a senator here is going to give incentive in the future, all the more pressure to try to put oil out there.

                    Mr. President, ever since this senator was a young congressman, I have been carrying this battle. This senator supports oil drilling. This senator supports where it’s environmentally sound fracking in shale rock, because look what it’s done for us. But there are times when there is trade-off, and in this case, there is not going to be a trade-off, in the first place, because there’s not any oil; in the second place, because it would wreck the economy of Florida with our tourism and our sugary white beaches. But in the third place, it would threaten the national security of this country, if you eliminated this as our largest testing — test and training evaluation center.

                    And I can tell you, Mr. President, this senator is not going to let that happen. Mr. President, I yield the floor

                    Bill Nelson|February 4, 2016

                    Land Conservation

                    Scientists: Wetlands need protection

                    Wetlands are not well-understood, but they’re some of the most valuable lands in Florida: They filter our drinking water, provide wildlife habitat and protect coastal areas from the devastating effects of hurricanes and tsunamis.

                    But these systems are increasingly being lost to development, and they need more protection here in the Sunshine State and around the world.

                    Those were some of the sentiments from a group of water quality scientists who met in Naples Tuesday, World Wetlands Day.

                    “Coastal wetlands went off the charts (in terms of economic value),” said William Mitsch, director of Florida Gulf Coast University’s Everglades Wetlands Research Park. “That’s our mangroves and the salt marshes farther north. Why did they go off the charts? Two reasons: the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. (Those events) showed how extraordinarily valuable wetlands are and, conversely, how extraordinarily the damage can be to human beings when you don’t have the coastal wetlands to protect us.”

                    International Wetlands Day grew from an science convention held in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971. The network of scientists and governments that participate in the wetland monitoring program now includes 2,227 individual sites and most countries.

                    Florida and the United State should add more to its list of 38 if government agencies want to protect drinking water supplies and coastal development, Mitsch said.

                    “Mexico has 142, Denmark has 43,” he said. “Denmark is the size of Ohio, and Ohio has one (Ramsar site). We’re just off scale by two order of magnitudes, I think.”

                    There are various legal and scientific definitions of wetlands, but generally a wetland is an area that holds or discharges water and can be anything from a river to a seasonal prairie that only holds water for a matter of days each year.

                    “A lot of people don’t really appreciate wetlands and all the services they provide to us,” said Jason Lauritsen, director of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. “They don’t understand how important they are to our quality of life – whether it’s spending time at the beach, fishing, swimming or just drinking clean water. Wetlands have a role in making sure (drinking water) is cheap and available.”

                    Lauritsen described some of the ecological impacts of wetland losses in and around places like Corkscrew Swamp, one of the most popular birding and wildlife preserves in Southwest Florida.

                    “When you lose wetlands disproportionately, you impact wildlife disproportionately as well,” he said. “So certain species dependent on certain wetland types are gone from the landscape. So if we’re going to preserve the species we need to have a good scientific understanding of how wetlands function.”

                    CHAD GILLIS|NEWS-PRESS.COM

                    Caring for our Land, Air and Water: Preserving Precious Natural Resources for Tomorrow

                    As careful stewards of the land, American farmers, ranchers and forest landowners are leaders in innovation, risk management and adaptation, embracing their duty to conserve and protect our natural resources. It was true when the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) was established in the years when sweeping dust storms ravaged the Midwest during the Dust Bowl. It was true when the Forest Service was founded at the turn of the twentieth century to manage forest resources and guard against massive wildfires. And it remains true today as climate change, pests and disease contribute to rising risk of wildfire and challenge a growing population’s food, fuel and fiber needs.

                    Throughout the Obama Administration, USDA has generated thousands of critical partnerships to address these challenges while enrolling a record number of acres in conservation programs. Major initiatives launched since 2009 include the Forest Planning Rule, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Working Lands for Wildlife, and the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program. Our expert staff work with partners to create voluntary, incentive-based solutions for conservation that also provide regulatory certainty and predictability for producers and landowners.

                    Seventy-percent of the nation’s land is owned and tended to privately. And as we begin to feel the growing impacts of a changing climate, farmers, ranchers and landowners have willingly stepped up to meet this challenge. With USDA’s support, they work to implement voluntary practices that clean the air we breathe and the water we drink, prevent soil erosion and create and protect wildlife habitat. Since 2009, USDA has invested more than $29 billion to help producers make conservation improvements, working with as many as 500,000 farmers, ranchers and landowners to protect land and water on over 400 million acres nationwide.

                    At the same time, USDA’s Forest Service is supporting a multi-pronged approach to sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s 193 million acres of public forests and rangeland. Between 2011 and 2014, despite record drought, longer fire seasons and more than half of its budget spent fighting wildfire, the Forest Service and our partners increased the pace and scale of forest restoration by 9 percent.

                    Conservation on Private Working Lands

                    Voluntary conservation by farmers and ranchers also builds productive and sustainable working lands. USDA support — leveraged with historic outside investments — helps support producer incomes and reward them for their good work.

                    Tom Vilsack|Secretary of Agriculture

                    Miscellaneous

                    Mark Walters becomes new chair of Sierra Club Florida

                    Sierra Club Florida has passed the torch to a new chair: Winston “Mark” Walters from Miami. Walters, who has served in local, state and national roles since the 1990s, takes the helm from Debbie Matthews, who served in the role for four years, but will stay on as chair of the Group Advisory Council.

                    Walters, a brain and spinal researcher at University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, was introduced by a friend to the Club’s Inner City Outings Program, now called Inspiring Connections Outdoors (ICO).  When he got there, “I saw that 95 percent of the kids were black and there were no other black adults. I considered it an obligation,” said Walters, a Jamaican native.

                    For many of the kids, he said, it was the first time they had been kayaking or snorkeling. At the end of a weekend trip to Myakka, he recalls a child saying he didn’t want to go home. He wanted to stay out there. “That was priceless to me.”

                    “I think it has changed a lot of their lives.” Some kids, he said, are now in college and volunteering. Others have kids of their own.

                    Mark has been an ICO volunteer ever since, serving at the chapter level and on the ICO national steering committee.  “It’s what I love. It’s where I came into the Club. I see just how valuable it is.”

                    Mark said one of his chief goals is to keep the chapter functioning efficiently, especially in light of recent environmental attacks by the State of Florida. “A few people with resources end up dictating to us what our landscapes should look like,” he said.

                    “These are going to be tough fights. We can see that already. I just want to make sure the chapter has the resources to support all of our volunteers in those fights. So many things are happening politically, and we are right in the fray.”

                    He says he is dismayed by the “overall disregard the current legislature has for the will of the voters,” including the raiding of Amendment 1 funds for non-conservation purposes. He also was critical of the recent bear hunt and “the way they cavalierly went on with it,” and the DEP’s plans to allow cattle grazing and oil drilling in our state parks. “That doesn’t belong there,” he said. “These are our property. These are our parks. “

                    Despite the challenges, he believes the Sierra Club will prevail. “We have awesome volunteers. We’re going to do it.”

                    On Climate Change: 

                    “Primary is education. We need to educate more people in the role of climate change and to put the right infrastructure in place. I have an 8-year-old, and I am worried about what kind of world she’s going to have to live with. What we do now is what they will inherit.  Sierra Club must continue to speak truth to power and put pressure on our elected officials to do what needs to be done.”

                    On the importance of local nature: 

                    “We subscribe to nature as big nature. We think of it as a national park. There are lots of places, if we broaden our scope. I spend a lot of time in my kayak. We have access to the ocean. The issue is not enough people are educated about the wealth of what’s available.”

                    Nothing demonstrates this more to Walters than Virginia Key, a natural island in Biscayne Bay, just a few minutes from downtown Miami. Sometimes Walters picks up his daughter in Miami’s Brickell neighborhood, a high-density patch of skyscrapers, and drives out to Virginia Key.

                    “Virginia Key has to be my favorite right now. It’s right here in the middle of the city, but you can feel like you’re miles away.”

                    Sierra Club says farewell to Debbie Mathews as chapter chair (but she’s not going anywhere.

                    Debbie Matthews steps down as chapter chair after serving four years, but she will continue to serve as Group Advisory Council (GAC) Chair.

                     

                    Environmental Links

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

                    Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

                    ConsRep 1602 A

                    I thank you God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”    –E.E. Cummings

                    Announcements

                    The next GBBC is February 12-15, 2016

                    www.BirdCount.org

                    REMINDER: GREAT BACKYARD BIRD COUNT WEBINAR

                    This year’s Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) will take place February 12-15, 2016, and we encourage all chapters to participate in and promote this fun, free, accessible citizen science event. 

                    On January 6, join us for a webinar discussing how your chapter can use the GBBC to connect your community with your local birds while supporting conservation.

                    Use this link to join from your computer, tablet, or smart phone: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/367716965

                    United States +1 (408) 650-3123
                    Access Code: 367-716-965

                    Of Interest to All

                    Bill to Regulate Fracking Gets Green Light in House

                    Fracking inched one step closer to becoming a reality in Florida Wednesday when the Florida House of Representatives passed a pro-fracking bill by a vote of 73-45.

                    HB 191, sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, would prohibit localized counties from banning fracking, a drilling process which recovers oil and gas from shale rock. 

                    The bill would also require the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a study on the impact fracking would have on Florida. The department would then write rules regulating fracking after the study had been completed. Regulations would begin in 2017.

                    Drillers would need to obtain permits before beginning fracking. Anyone violating the legislation would be fined $25,000 a day per violation. Fracking supporters say the process is good for the economy since it increases oil production, driving down gas prices and giving gas security in countries where fracking is allowed. 

                    Republican lawmakers onboard with the legislation said the proposal was just a way to regulate the industry, since fracking is already allowed in the Sunshine State. 

                    But environmentalists and opponents of the bill say fracking could have dire consequences for the people of Florida, putting millions of lives at risk as a result of the process. They say fracking would be harmful for people and the environment, potentially posing health problems by contaminating groundwater.

                    “It should be called the Anything For Money bill,” said Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton. 

                    Slosberg and House Democrats slammed the bill, citing fears for their constituents’ and their families’ lives.

                    “There are many things about this bill that disturb me,” said Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale. “As a parent, I have a responsibility to protect my family, as we all do.”

                    The bill’s supporters, however, said the legislation was merely a regulatory bill and another example of a controversy state lawmakers face as just another part of their jobs. 

                    “The controversies we face…aren’t new,” said Rep. Rodrigues, alluding to the introduction of electricity, modern cars and the Kennedy Space Center as some examples of environmental issues the Florida Legislature has tackled and passed, changing the lives of average Floridians for the better.

                    Ultimately, the bill passed on party lines. The bill’s passage was four years and 17 committee meetings in the making.

                    Associated Industries of Florida Senior Vice President of State and Federal Affairs Brewster Bevis chimed in on the legislation, applauding state lawmakers for voting to approve it.

                    “By working in good faith with concerned citizens and third parties, we believe that the final product of HB 191 both appropriately empowers the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to properly regulate the onshore oil and gas industry, and also ensures the protection and preservation of Florida’s environment,” he said.

                    The bill still needs to pass the Senate and be signed by Gov. Rick Scott before it becomes law.

                    Allison Nielsen|January 27, 2016 

                    SFWMD Took Necessary Emergency Action to Provide Flood Protection

                    The South Florida Water Management District’s primary responsibility is to provide flood protection for everyone within the agency’s 16-county service area. This week, the District took necessary action to fulfill that mission for thousands of families and businesses around Lake Okeechobee.

                    On Jan. 27, South Florida experienced its wettest January day in 25 years. Glades communities south of the lake saw particularly intense short-term rainfall – 6 inches in 24 hours – overwhelming the local flood control system. As a result, water managers “back pumped” water into Lake Okeechobee to provide necessary relief.

                    The SFWMD Governing Board essentially ended the routine practice of back pumping into the lake years ago, except under emergency conditions clearly defined by a Florida Department of Environmental Protection permit. In fact, there have been only eight other back pumping events using the permitted process since 2008. Today, this truly is a rare occurrence.

                    This winter is proving challenging for water managers who must balance flood control with protecting vital ecological areas such as the Caloosahatchee Estuary. In January, the region well exceeded its record rainfall total for the month, including more than six times the historical average for the Caloosahatchee Basin alone. District water managers have already maximized the amount of water that can be sent south to the Everglades or stored in regional or dispersed water management projects, prompting the extraordinary actions taken this week.

                    More water storage capacity is clearly needed to protect both South Florida’s residents, businesses and visitors and the environment. The District continues to work toward long-term solutions, such as construction of the C-43 Reservoir. The best way to help is by supporting either Governor Scott’s proposed budget or the “Legacy Florida” bill filed in the Florida House to provide a long-term, dedicated funding source to complete these critical projects.

                    Mitch Hutchcraft|Governing Board Member|South Florida Water Management District

                    A Short History of Groundhog Day

                    Punxsutawney Phil is part of a tradition with roots that extend back thousands of years

                    As the sun rose on Groundhog Day today, the region’s top furry forecasters all agreed that an early spring is on the horizon. While modern meteorologists may put more faith in weather satellites and statistical data than whether or not a big rodent saw its shadow, Groundhog Day wasn’t always a silly tradition: it’s actually rooted in the movements of the sun and dates back thousands of years.

                    Most ancient civilizations relied on the sun and the stars to tell them when to start planting crops, harvesting, or prepping for the cold winter ahead. This reliance on celestial cues evolved into traditions captured by holidays that have survived to this day, in particular those celebrated by the ancient Celts.

                    These days “Celt” is most often used to refer to people from Ireland, Scotland, parts of Britain, and Brittany in France (as well as a basketball team). At one point, though, groups of Celts lived all over continental Europe from Turkey to Spain. While it is unclear exactly how much modern Celts are related to the Iron Age civilization, the culture notably left its mark on the calendar, as several of their major holidays have survived in some form into modern times. 

                    For the Celts, their four major seasonal holidays were known as “quarter days,” as they celebrated the equinoxes and solstices that signaled the beginning of a new quarter of the calendar year. There was Yule, which fell on the winter solstice and was incorporated into Christmas; Ostara on the spring equinox, celebrating the return of spring and inspired many Easter traditions; Midsummer on the summer solstice, marking the longest day of the year; and the harvest festival Mabon, which took place on the fall equinox. 

                    But they also celebrated “cross-quarter days” that marked the midpoint between quarter days – one of which fell right around February 2, Tim Joyce writes for Q13 Fox News.

                    At the time of year when we celebrate Groundhog Day, the Celts celebrated a holiday called Imbolc (pronounced em-BOLG). Imbolc fell right between the winter solstice and spring equinox, and was often considered a time for initiations as well as predicting the weather, according to EarthSky.org. By this time of year, no matter how well-prepared they were, food became scarce and people looked to traditions for signs of relief.

                    As Joyce writes:

                    One of the legends is that on Imbolc, the creator (in their cultures personified as an old woman) would gather her firewood for the rest of the winter. According to the story, if she wished to make the winter last a good while longer, she will make sure the weather on Imbolc is bright and sunny, so she can gather plenty of firewood. Therefore, people…believed if February 2nd is a day of foul weather, it means that the creator was asleep and winter is almost over.

                    Over the centuries, people began to look for signs of the weather in all kinds of animals, from snakes to groundhogs. Ancient Germanic people, for example, would watch to see if a badger was spooked by its shadow, according to EarthSky.org. When British and German immigrants first came to the United States, they brought their traditions with them, including the celebrations that evolved into Groundhog Day.

                    Groundhog Day isn’t the only cross-quarter holiday that has stuck to the modern calendar: May Day, which many now celebrate in honor of workers around the world, falls on the midpoint between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. Halloween also has roots in Samhain, the Celtic day of the dead – the last cross-quarter holiday of the year, Joyce writes.

                    These days, most people know better than to trust a skittish groundhog with predicting the weather. Experts say that groundhogs like Punxsutawney Phil and Staten Island Chuck are only right about 30 percent of the time. But when you’re in the midst of a long, cold winter, sometimes a little levity is in order.

                    Danny Lewis|smithsonian.com |February 2, 2016

                    Calls to Action

                    1. Keep Polar bear’s birthing grounds safe from Big Oil’s allies – here
                    2. Block the DuPont/Dow merger – here
                    3. Tell the U.S. EPA that You Want Cleaner Air for our Southwest National Parks – here
                    4. Tell Legislators to Object to Surplusing of State Lands – here
                    5.  
                    6.  

                    Birds and Butterflies

                      Southwest Florida Eagle Cam

                    Wings Over Florida 

                    Wings Over Florida is a free listing recognition program open to bird watchers of all skill levels. We award full color certificates at seven levels, starting at 50 species for the Northern Cardinal Level.

                    Join us for a morning hike to enjoy winter birds at Chinsegut. We will look for the beautiful Yellow-throated Warbler, listen for the mellow coo of the Common Ground-Dove and marvel at the magnificent Sandhill Cranes. This field trip is perfect for beginner and intermediate level birders. Families and children are welcome.

                    Title: Wings Over Florida birding field trip

                    Leaders: Andy Wraithmell and Whitney Gray

                    Date: Saturday February 20th 2016

                    Time: 8am to 12pm

                    Meet: 7:55am at Chinsegut Conservation Center

                    Places: 20 

                    Fee: $10 per person donation to Wildlife Foundation of Florida (mail in a check to reserve spaces please).

                    Chinsegut Conservation Center

                    23212 Lake Lindsey Road

                    Brooksville, FL 34601

                    (352) 754-6722

                    For more information about Wings Over Florida CLICK HERE

                    Loaner binoculars will be available. Checklist and application form for certificate will be provided.

                     

                    Invasive species

                    Argentina Battles a Plague of Locusts, Surging After Mild Winters

                    Farmers and officials are racing to get massive swarms under control

                    Argentine farmers are struggling to fight off the largest plague of locusts the South American country has seen in more than half a century. After several mild and rainy winters, locust populations surged at the end of 2015, leaving officials and farmers desperate to find ways to protect the country’s crops. But despite their best efforts, it might be too little, and too late, to eliminate the swarm.

                    Locusts have been a thorn in Argentine farmers’ side for generations. One of Argentina’s oldest agricultural programs is a government project designed to fight locusts that was founded in 1891. While farmers have turned toward modern pest control methods over the years, some farmers still resort to traditional methods, like burning large bonfires, to drive off the insect swarms, Jonathan Gilbert reports for the New York Times. Nevertheless, over the last five years, the agricultural agency Senasa has reported increasing locust populations, culminating in the massive locust swarms reported throughout the country.

                    “It is a national scourge which directly affects crops, grazing fields and natural forests, and could be much worse if not controlled in the next 20 or 25 days,” Juan Pablo Karnatz, secretary of the local agricultural group Confederación Rural Argentina, tells Diego Yañez Martínez for the newspaper La Nación.

                    Farmers have had a few lucky years relatively free of locusts. But the country has had several unseasonably warm and wet winters, perfect for the destructive insects to breed. Once locusts hatch, they can quickly grow up to two inches long and devour two to three grams of food every day. A recent outbreak last June saw a cloud of locusts about three miles wide and six miles long consume almost six square miles of crops in just a few days, Kari Paul writes for Motherboard. So far, the locusts reported are too young to fly, but fumigators only have about 10 days to kill them before the insects grow strong enough to travel.

                    “It’s the worst explosion in the last 60 years,” Diego Quiroga, Senasa’s chief of vegetative protection, tells Gilbert. “It’s impossible to eradicate; the plague has already established itself. We’re just acting to make sure it’s the smallest it can be and does the least damage possible.”

                    Experts say the warm weather contributed to the locusts’ resurgence, but there isn’t enough information available for scientists to determine whether or not it is a result of climate change.  Many farmers blame Senasa for its lax spraying policies under former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Gilbert reports.

                    Right now, fumigators are trying to hunt down clutches of young locusts before they can fly and swarm, but if the locusts become airborne, the government will be forced to rally aircrafts to spray them with pesticides from above—a more complex operation.

                    “We don’t know exactly where we’re at,” Karnatz tells Gilbert. “We may have contained some pockets, but it’s not a definitive victory.”

                    Danny Lewis|smithsonian.com |January 27, 2016

                    Endangered Species

                    Rare White Giraffe Survived Her First Year

                    The 15-month old calf has so far survived possible predation from lions, leopards, hyenas and human poachers

                    Almost one year after her first sighting, wildlife biologists were thrilled to spot a beautiful giraffe calf with unusual coloring in Tarangire National Park, according to the Wild Nature Institute’s blog. 

                    The calf, called Omo after a popular brand of detergent, is leucistic, meaning she lacks much of the pigment carried by a typically-colored giraffe. Unlike albino animals, Omo does have some color: her mane is rusty-red, the tuft of her tail black and her eyes are the dark pools of most giraffes, fringed by long, pale lashes. Albinism, caused by complete pigment loss, is marked by very pale eyes that appear pink or red because of blood vessels showing through, writes Liz Boatman for Berkeley Science Review. Leucism is low pigment, which is why Omo’s eyes are still dark, and the faint pattern of a giraffe’s spots still speckles her sides. 

                    “Omo appears to get along with the other giraffes, she has always been seen with a large group of normally colored giraffe, they don’t seem to mind her different coloring,” ecologist Derek Lee, founder of the Wild Nature Institute, tells Mark Molloy at The Telegraph

                    Already the strikingly-colored creature has survived her first 15 months—the most dangerous time for young giraffes that can fall prey to lions, leopards and hyenas. Now she faces a new danger that may dog her for the rest of her life: human poachers. 

                    Unusually colored animals can become a target for poachers and hunters simply because of their appearance. An albino roe deer, living in the U.K. allegedly prompted one German hunter to offer more than £5,400 (roughly $7,655 at the time) for the animal, The Independent reported in 2009.

                    Albino corn snakes fetch a higher price than their typically colored peers and seven albino alligators were stolen from a zoo in Brazil, according to The Independent. Horrifically, some poachers have even attacked human children with albinism for body parts they can sell to witch doctors, writes Andrew Malone for The Daily Mail

                    Omo is only the second white giraffe spotted in Tarangire over the last 20 years, Lee tells Sam Wood of Philly.com. If she can survive to maturity, at four years of age, there is a chance that she would pass her unique coloring on to her offspring.

                    Marissa Fessenden|smithsonian.com |January 27, 2016

                    Wild & Weird

                    Can A Groundhog Tell Us If The End Of Winter Is Near?

                    Tuesday is Groundhog Day and groundhogs are receiving A LOT of media attention.  And Punxsutawney Phil is preparing to deliver his forecast early that morning

                    We’ve received a number of inquiries about this furry, kind-of-cute rodent from readers.

                    Groundhogs clearly aren’t related to pigs or hogs—so what exactly are they?

                    The groundhog (also known as a woodchuck or Eastern Marmot) is actually a large, ground-dwelling rodent and is part of family of ground squirrels known as marmots.

                    Groundhogs are lowland creatures and are common in the northeastern and central United States, found as far north as eastern Alaska and south as the northern half of Alabama. (see range map to right).

                    If you live in the western U.S., particularly in rocky and mountainous areas, you’re probably familiar with the the groundhog’s cousins such as the yellow-bellied and hoary marmots. 

                    Can They Really Chuck Wood?
                    The name that many use for the animal, “woodchuck”, is derived from the Native American Algonquian tribe’s name for the animal, “wuchak”.

                    So despite the tongue-twister we’ve all heard (as well as that GEICO ad a year or two back!), it’s name has nothing to do with throwing around pieces of wood, even though it’s a great image….

                    Digging Life
                    These busy rodents are great diggers and hikers can often find their dens by looking for disturbed earth.  Their short, powerful limbs and curved, thick claws are ideally suited for digging the extensive excavations they are known to create. 

                    Groundhogs have two coats of fur—a dense grey undercoat that is then covered by a longer coat of banded guard hairs, which provide its distinctive “frosted” appearance.

                    They are good swimmers and excellent tree climbers and can do both while escaping predators. When threatened, groundhogs generally retreat to their burrows but the animal can tenaciously defend itself or its burrow using its two large incisors and front claws.  That said, groundhogs are pretty easy prey for predators such as coyotes, foxes, bears and even large raptors.  Young groundhogs are also preyed upon by snakes.

                    What Do Groundhogs Eat?
                    Groundhogs are mostly herbivorous, consuming wild grasses and other vegetation such as berries and agricultural crops.  On occasion, they’ll also eat grubs, insects, snails and similar small animals. Groundhogs don’t need open water to drink and can hydrate themselves by consuming leafy vegetation.

                    Individuals often “stand alert” in an erect posture on their hind legs when not actively feeding. This is a commonly seen behavior and easily observed.

                    So How Can They Predict The End Of Winter?
                    Unlike many rodents, groundhogs are true hibernators and are rarely, if ever, active or seen during the winter.  They often build a separate “winter burrow”, which extends below the frost line and stays at a steady temperature year round, allowing the animal to avoid freezing during the winter’s cold months.

                    It’s this trait of sleeping through the winter that led to the folklore that a groundhog’s behavior can predict when winter will end.

                    Since a groundhog sleeps through the entire winter, the reasoning is that the winter must be ending if he’s willing to stay out and about once he or she has been awakened on February 2nd.

                    It’‘s a pretty shaky premise and the poor creature is probably so dazed from being rudely awakened that he has no idea what the temperature is.

                    How Accurate Are A Groundhog’s Predictions?
                    Groundhogs are among our longest hibernators, often settling down as early as October and remaining in their burrow until March or April.

                    So no matter what our furry prognosticators may appear to tell us on Groundhog Day, it’s a pretty safe bet that just want to go back to sleep, regardless of the weather!

                    eNature|January 31, 2016

                    Everglades

                    Everglades restoration bill unanimously passes House committee

                    A bill that would fund Everglades restoration efforts with up to $200 million a year cleared the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Thursday with a unanimous vote.

                    “Today we are making great strides toward finishing a task that is important to all Floridians,” committee chair and Bartow Republican Rep. Ben Albritton said. “By protecting the Everglades, we not only improve one of our greatest resources, we also secure the water resources needed to provide for Florida’s expanding population.”

                    HB 989, sponsored by Republican Reps. Gayle Harrell and Matt Caldwell, would get the money from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, the destination for the 2014 land conservation amendment funds. The bill caps the Everglades’ share at 25 percent of the fund’s annual collections or $200 million, whichever is less.

                    “With the implementation of this legislation, we will ensure the state’s future funding for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and the Long-Term Plan, as well as provide significant funding for the Northern Everglades,” Caldwell said.

                    Under the bill, dubbed the “Legacy Florida” program, the South Florida Water Management District would get $32 million each year off the top to use for its Long Term Plan and the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program. The bulk of the rest would head to projects in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

                    “By creating the ‘Legacy Florida’ program, we are taking the necessary steps to complete the decades-long restoration that will ensure Florida’s River of Grass will be enjoyed by generations to come,” Harrell said.

                    The bill now moves to the House Appropriations Committee, its last scheduled stop before the chamber floor. The Senate version, SB 1168 by Republican Sen. Joe Negron, has yet to be heard in committee.

                    SFWMD Board Awards Contract to Continue Corkscrew Restoration

                    On Jan. 14, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board renewed its commitment to restoring the vast and ecologically diverse habitat of the Southern Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW) Project in southwest Florida.

                    The Board approved a $2.9 million construction contract to restore the natural hydrology and ecology on more than 1,000 acres of the project. This contract will involve removing 10 miles of roads cut through the area in the past, removing several spoil piles, plugging or filling drainage ditches to allow the area to naturally flood again and degrading existing berms previously built in the area.

                    The restoration construction contract is just the latest investment by Florida to restore this unique area near Bonita Springs. The 60,000 acres that make up CREW span both Lee and Collier counties. It is an area where, for centuries, floodwaters naturally flowed in sheets across the pristine landscape. It is also home to panthers, snail kites, wood storks, dozens of different species of wildflowers like the buttonbush and horned bladderwort. The CREW property includes a 5,000-acre marsh as well as Flint Pen Strands, the Bird Rookery Swamp and several hiking trails.

                    Development eventually blocked much of the natural flow of water with roads, agricultural ditches and homes; however, the state has been buying, preserving and restoring the land for years. A series of floods in 1995 led the District to create a comprehensive restoration project to restore the ecosystem while protecting nearby residents from flooding. To date, Florida and the U.S. Department of the Interior have invested nearly $40 million in the restoration of this critical ecosystem.

                    Water Quality Issues

                    Emergency  pumping  to Lake O started

                    A state environmental agency gave a presentation in Fort Myers on Thursday on cleaning up the Caloosahatchee River while another state agency pumped polluted farm water into Lake Okeechobee, which drains into the river.

                    If water management in Florida seems confusing, that’s because it is. The Army Corps of Engineers manages the Lake Okeechobee release protocol, but the South Florida Water Management District operates the pumps.

                    The district announced Thursday around 2 p.m. that it had declared an emergency the day before at 6 p.m., while the Army Corps was, ironically, taking public input in Clewiston on how to best protect areas around the lake from flooding.

                    How are these toxic releases possible?

                    “I’d call the water management district since they operate the pumps,” said John Campbell, an Army Corps spokesman.

                    Shortly after that phone call between The News-Press and Campbell, the Army Corps sent out a press release saying it was going to lower the amount of lake water flowing to Fort Myers. Levels had been at 5,000 cubic feet per second, which is well beyond the ideal maximum level of 2,800 cubic feet per second. So the water releases were “lowered” to the maximum level.

                    Those types of discharges kill sea grass and oyster beds and can disrupt the marine food chain. But the water pumped back into Lake Okeechobee on Thursday from farms has far higher nutrient levels than the lake itself, which has been in violation of federal standards for decades even without the pollution loads from farms surrounding the lake.

                    “This set of releases is going to include polluted water from the Everglades,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida. “This is not the water that’s coming down the Kissimmee River and into Lake Okeechobee.”

                    Recent studies have shown that exposure to bacteria can increase chances of diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

                    These releases increase the frequency and duration of harmful algal blooms, which, in turn, can cripple the tourism and real estate industries.

                    “In the lake we already have (excess nutrients) for phosphorus, and as far as I know they’ve never gotten down to where the phosphorus loading was down to (meet federal requirements),” said Rick Bartleson, a former district water quality scientist who now works at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. “The only time they can say they did (meet the federal standards) was a hurricane year when it blew away their sensor.”

                    Bartleson collects water quality samples in the river and estuary and reports his findings to the state Department of Environmental Protection, which gave Thursday’s presentation in Fort Myers, and other agencies.

                    “This is adding more phosphorus to the lake, which already doesn’t meet the standards,” he said. “They’re never going to meet the (federal standards) by back pumping.” Back pumping is taking water used to irrigate farms and pumping it back into the lake. The practice virtually stopped a decade ago because of environmental concerns.

                    Once famous for its plethora of blue crabs and massive tarpon, the Caloosahatchee River today suffers from excessive nutrients (which feed potentially harmful algal blooms), unacceptable fecal coliform levels, turbidity and low levels of dissolved oxygen.

                    DEP’s Kevin O’Donnell told a crowd of two dozen people Thursday that “in the east portion of the Caloosahatchee we have a nutrient problem. In the central portion … it looks like there is a lot of insufficient information (about the nutrients).”

                    “It’s reasonable to assume that if it continues for very long we would certainly be a recipient of elevated pollutant levels,” said John Cassani, with the Southwest Florida Watershed Council.

                    Bartleson said future damages here will depend on how long the district pumps farm water into the lake.

                    “The more back pumping they do, the more water that’s coming out of the lake, the higher our phosphorus and total suspended solids will be in the estuary,” Bartleson said. “In the estuary, phosphorus supports harmful algal called cyanobacteria.” Cyanobacteria, in large amounts, can produce a deadly toxin that causes illnesses in aquatic species and humans.

                    The district put out a press release 22 hours after the pumping started which stated:  “To protect the lives and property of approximately 50,000 people surrounding Lake Okeechobee, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) initiated emergency pumping of water into the lake following the wettest January day in 25 years across the entire SFWMD. Belle Glade, Pahokee, South Bay and Canal Point received some of the heaviest rainfall, with 6 inches in a 24 hour period. Rising water levels from this intense rain necessitated the rare pumping event, which began about 6 p.m. on January 27. Pumping operations, in coordination and accordance with permits issued by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, will continue as needed.”

                    Extreme Weather

                    2015 Crushed Global Heat Records: Three Things You Should Know

                    We hate to sound like a broken record, but we keep breaking heat records. Any way you slice it, last year was warm. Unusually so.

                    NOAA and NASA have both confirmed what scientists have been predicting for months: 2015 was globally the hottest year ever recorded (and the direct temperature records date back to 1880). But what else did scientists determine about the state of the climate in 2015? Here’s what else you need to know.

                    1. 2015 Crushed 2014

                    Not only was 2015 the warmest year on record globally, it beat the previous record, set in 2014, by a wide margin. The average temperature (over land and ocean surfaces) was 1.62°F (0.90°C) above the 20th century average, a full 0.29°F (0.16°C) above the previous record set in 2014.

                    That might not seem like much, but it’s the widest margin by which the global average annual temperature record has been broken – ever.

                    2. It Wasn’t All Due To El Niño – But It Played A Part

                    The planet is warming because of manmade carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases emitted from human activities like burning fossil fuels. The planet has warmed about 1.4°F (0.8°C) since 1880 and in 2015 this warming trend continued unabated.

                    On top of this human-caused warming, an El Niño event began last year and continues into the present. El Niño refers to the natural condition where ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific near the Equator warm to levels above the long term average. The 2015/2016 El Niño rivals the one from 1997/1998 as the strongest since record-keeping began (in terms of ocean surface temperatures above the long-term average).

                    El Niño events are a result of complex circulations in the ocean and atmosphere. They occur roughly every four to seven years and have a big impact on weather patterns globally. El Niño events can cause short-term spikes in average global temperatures, but they are not behind the long-term warming we’ve experienced over the past century. An increasing body of research suggests that strong El Niño events might happen more frequently as our planet continues to warm and our climate changes.

                    The bottom line? El Niño makes temperatures change from year to year, but in the long run, the Earth is steadily warming and it’s due to human activity.

                    3. Fifteen of the 16 Hottest Years on Record Globally Have Occurred After 2000

                    Of these 16 years, 1998 was the only one that occurred in the 20th century – and like 2015, 1998 was a strong El Niño year. While climate scientists don’t expect every year to be record warm (due to these natural fluctuations), there is already evidence to suggest this time next year we’ll be writing about 2016 being the new hottest year on record. The writing is on the wall: as humans continue to burn fossil fuels, our climate will change.

                    As atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe told the Associated Press, “It’s getting to the point where breaking record is the norm. It’s almost unusual when we’re not breaking a record.”

                    See videos

                    Click here to read more highlights from NOAA’s State of the Climate Report.

                    Palm Beach County sugar cane crop hit hard by wet weather

                    Belle Glade — Unprecedented January rains have flooded the sugar cane fields around Lake Okeechobee, damaging Palm Beach County’s signature crop and wiping out millions of dollars worth of vegetables.

                    “Some fields have received 12 inches of rain in January. We are in uncharted territory,” Barbara Miedema, spokeswoman for the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida in Belle Glade, said Thursday. “We are in a low field of lettuce right now. It’s completely ruined.”

                    In comparison, the historical annual average rainfall for the period from the start of harvest in mid-October to January 27 going back to 2009 is only 8 inches.

                    The Glades area’s agricultural industry is on track to experience the wettest January on record. The weather impacts on the Florida sugar cane industry reach from field preparation all the way through the harvesting and milling functions and could cost the industry millions, the Cooperative, U.S. Sugar Corp. and Florida Crystals Corp. officials said jointly Thursday.

                    The bulk of the state’s more than 400,000 acres of sugar cane is grown in Palm Beach County.

                    Although the extent and impact of the damage won’t be known until all the cane is processed in the spring, the harvesting season could be the longest ever. When the muck fields are wet, harvesting equipment cannot be brought in.

                    The cane crop is usually wrapped up by April, but harvesting is expected to continue into May.

                    The industry’s four sugar mills that normally run 24/7 have been forced to shut down off and on for an average of 16 days each due to the severe weather.

                    “Industry-wide, it costs millions of dollars for every day you are shut down, said Clewiston-based U.S. Sugar Corp. spokeswoman Judy Sanchez. “You have to close out all the processes that are under way and shut those down. You won’t have any cane coming in to take its place.

                    “The El Niño weather has adversely affected agriculture, particularly vegetables and sugar cane. It’s not just standing water in the fields delaying our harvesting and processing, the water is damaging our crops and sugar yields, both this year’s crop and next year’s crop,” Sanchez said.

                    Ron Rice, Palm Beach County extension service director, said, “It’s a nightmare for the mills. The best thing for a mill is to keep it supplied 24/7. When you start having these disruptions, it does not start back up in the same condition. It takes a while to get the whole system rolling and humming along again.”

                    When cane stays in the field past its ideal harvest date, it deteriorates and its sugar accumulation curve starts to drop, Rice said. Ultimately, the amount of sugar the cane yields declines.

                    Fields of young plant cane are in standing water and are most likely ruined, which affects the next three years’ crops. Wind and rain have also flattened the cane, making it “lay over” and become more difficult to harvest, the sugar companies said.

                    Wet weather also means the cane brings more mud into the process, which causes increased wear and tear on equipment, added West Palm Beach-based Florida Crystals’ spokeswoman Marianne Martinez. A longer cane grinding season will also result in less time off-season to repair equipment.

                    Sweet corn, green beans, lettuce, radishes, celery, parsley and other crops are also grown in the Glades and rotated with sugar cane. Those crops, less hardy than sugar cane, have been hit hard.

                    Sweet corn, the Everglades Agricultural Area’s largest vegetable crop, has experienced a 50 percent loss to date. The planting season runs for about four more weeks, so the full acreage might not be planted. The EAA has an eight-week period to sell the spring sweet corn crop.

                    EAA growers together market more than 7.5 million 50-ear boxes of sweet corn in the spring, or nearly 1 million boxes a week.

                    “Sweet corn has only a short storage life, so once you miss that window, it’s a loss,” Martinez said.

                    Florida’s sugar industry

                    In the 2014-15 season that ended in April, Florida Crystals Corp., the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida and U.S. Sugar Corp. produced 1.845 million tons of raw sugar, up from 1.7 million tons in 2013-14.

                    Sugar cane is planted on approximately 440,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area. Most of the production is in Palm Beach County, but sugarcane is also grown in Hendry, Glades and Martin counties.

                    The Florida sugar industry employs more than 14,000 people, has an annual income over $800 million, and a total direct and indirect value of over $2 billion.

                    Energy

                    29 Oil Train disasters between JAN. 19, 2013 and NOV. 8, 2015

                    1. Tilley, Alberta, JAN. 19, 2013: A Canadian Pacific freight train collides with a crude oil tanker near Tilley, Alberta, resulting in a fire that engulfs the tanker and locomotives. [Source]

                    2. Paynton, Saskatchewan, JAN. 24, 2013: A CN Rail train collides with a road grader and derails. An estimated 28,000 gallons of crude is spilled from four cars. One death resulted from the collision. [Source]

                    3. Parkers Prairie, MN MARCH 27, 2013: A mile-long Canadian Pacific train carrying crude oil from Canada derails. An estimated 20,000–30,000 gallons is spilled. [Source]

                    4. White River, Ontario APR. 3, 2013: A Canadian Pacific Rail train derails, spilling an estimated 16,500 gallons of light sweet crude. [Source]

                    5. Jansen, Saskatchewan MAY 21, 2013: A Canadian Pacific Rail mixed freight train derails, spilling an estimated 24,000 gallons of crude. [Source]

                    6. Calgary, Alberta JUN. 27, 2013: A Canadian Pacific Rail freight train carrying petroleum distillates derails after a bridge fails. Emergency personnel rushed to save train from falling into river. No injuries or spills reported. [Source]

                    7. Lac-Megantic, Quebec. JULY 6, 2013: 47 people are killed and nearly the entire downtown area is destroyed, when a runaway Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train derails, spilling 1.6 million gallons of crude oil and exploding in the tiny town of 6,000 residents. [Source]

                    8. Gainford, Alberta OCT. 19, 2013: A Canadian National Railway train carrying crude and propane derails near Edmonton, Alberta’s capital. No crude was spilled, but an explosion and fire resulted from leaked propane. About 100 nearby residents were evacuated and a major highway was closed. [Source]

                    9. Aliceville, AL NOVEMBER 8, 2013: A Genesee & Wyoming train carrying North Dakota crude derails near Aliceville, exploding and burning for more than 18 hours. About 748,800 gallons are thought to have spilled, including into surrounding wetlands. Four months later, oil was still oozing into the water. [Source]

                    10. West Nyack, NY DEC. 6, 2013: A CSX oil tanker collides with a truck at a railway crossing and both burst into flames. The driver of the truck was seriously injured. No spills reported. [Source]

                    11. Cheektowaga, NY DEC. 10, 2013: Five CSX oil tankers derail. The train was en route to Philadelphia from Chicago. No injuries or spills reported. [Source]

                    12. Casselton, ND DECEMBER 30, 2013: A BNSF Railway crude train crashes into another train, causing a massive explosion and leading to the evacuation of 1,400 nearby residents. An estimated 400,000 gallons of crude are spilled. [Source]

                    13. Plaster Rock, New Brunswick JAN.7, 2014: A Canadian National Railway train with DOT-111 cars carrying Western Canadian crude derails, sparking a large fire. Approximately 150 people are evacuated from their homes for three nights. No injuries reported. [Source]

                    14. Philadelphia, PA JANUARY 20, 2014: A CSX train carrying crude oil derails on the Schuylkill Arsenal Railroad Bridge in Philadelphia, causing the closure of a nearby busy expressway. No crude oil was spilled. [Source]

                    15. New Augusta, MS., JAN. 31, 2014: Thirteen cars of a Canadian National Railway train transporting North Alberta crude derails. 90,000 gallons of product were spilled and a dozen nearby homes were evacuated. [Source]

                    16. Winona, MN FEB. 3, 2014: A Canadian Pacific Railway train leaks 12,000 gallons of crude along 68 miles of tracks. The spill is reportedly due to a valve or cap mishap. [Source]

                    17. Frank, Alberta, FEB.14, 2015: A U.S.-bound Canadian Pacific train carrying Alberta tar sands derails. Fortunately, no oil is reported spilled. [Source]

                    18. Lynchburg, VA APRIL 30, 2014: A CSX train carrying crude oil derails in Lynchburg, setting off a 200-foot high fireball and prompting the evacuation of some 300 people. 30,000 gallons are spilled, including into the nearby James River. [Source]

                    19. Albany, NY APR. 30, 2014: Thirteen CSX DOT-111 crude tankers derail at the Selkirk Rail Yard. No spills or injuries reported. The derailment occurred the same day the state government touted an “inspection blitz” of oil trains that was conducted the previous week. [Source]

                    20. Estevan, Saskatchewan MAY 8, 2014: Four Canadian Pacific tankers carrying crude derail. No spills are reported. [Source]

                    21. LaSalle, CO MAY 9, 2014: A Union Pacific 100-car train en route to New York derails, spilling 5,300 gallons of Niobrara crude. Months later, groundwater tests conducted by the EPA showed toxic levels of benzene at the site. [Source]

                    22. McKeesport, PA JUN. 7, 2014: A CSX train derails over the Youghiogheny River. Twelve cars are involved, including one that contained light crude. No spills are reported. [Source]

                    23. Winnipeg, Manitoba JUN. 20, 2014: Two Canadian National Railway DOT-111 tankers carrying crude derail in the Symington Rail Yard. No injuries or leaks reported. [Source]

                    24. Mount Carbon, WV FEB. 16, 2015: 26 cars of a CSX train carrying 100+ cars of Bakken crude oil derail. Nearly 20 cars ignite, resulting in explosions and plumes of thick black smoke. Fires burned for days. One home was destroyed, and one car fell into Kanawha River. Drinking water intake pumps serving nearby Montgomery were closed. The train was traveling from North Dakota to Yorktown, VA. [Source]

                    25. Galena, IL MAR. 5, 2015: A BNSF train carrying 103 cars filled with Bakken crude oil derails near the Mississippi River, resulting in thick plumes of smoke and fires that burned for days. [Source]

                    26. Gogama, Ontario MAR. 7, 2015: A 94-car CN train carrying Alberta crude to eastern Canada derailed. Numerous cars catch fire. Oil spills into the Mattagami River System. [Source]

                    27. Heimdal, ND MAY 6, 2015: A 109-car BNSF train carrying crude oil derails in central North Dakota. Five to ten cars reportedly explode and burst into flames. The nearby town of Heimdal is evacuated. [Source ]

                    28. Culbertson, MT JULY 17, 2015: A BNSF train carrying 106 cars of crude oil traveling from North Dakota to Anacortes, Washington, derails. An estimated 35,000 gallons of crude spilled. No injuries or explosions were reported. [Source]

                    29. Watertown, WI NOV. 8, 2015: A 110-car Canadian Pacific train, carrying Bakken crude oil in 109 cars, derails near the downtown area on its way to Pennsylvania. 13 cars jump the tracks, with one car punctured. Hundreds of gallons of crude oil spilled. Dozens of homes were evacuated. [Source]

                    http://earthjustice.org/features/map-crude-by-rail?s_src=MoveOn.org_ThankYou_CBR&utm_source=crm#

                    Land Conservation

                    SFWMD Starts Work to Return Citrus Grove Back to Historic Everglades
                    The project will restore wildlife habitat and provide an array of ecosystem benefits

                    West Palm Beach, FL — Work to restore a former citrus grove back to Everglades habitat is set to begin with a construction contract approved this week by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD).

                    Known as the Sam Jones/Abiaki Prairie C-139 Annex Restoration Project, the approximately 15,000-acre site in Hendry County will be restored to an expansive wet prairie system with scattered cypress domes, tree island hammocks and sloughs. The restoration effort is designed to attract wildlife back to the site, including hares, turkeys, hawks, eagles, bobcats, black bears and panthers and benefit the groundwater, surface water and water supply of the area.

                    “Returning this land back to its former nature will bring vast benefits for wildlife and overall Everglades ecology,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Daniel O’Keefe. “As the site is adjacent to our treatment wetlands, restoring it will help connect natural areas across an expansive region.”

                    JMS Construction Services, the lowest responsive and responsible bidder, was awarded the approximately $1.5 million contract. This initial phase of construction entails site preparation, including:

                    • Removal and replacement of existing infrastructure such as metal pipes
                    • Removal of 247 8-inch diameter drainage culverts
                    • Abandonment of 15 irrigation wells
                    • Demolition and removal of associated concrete pads and piping

                    Legacy Florida

                    This week, the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee passed HB 989 by Representatives Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) and Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres), the Legacy Florida legislation. This bill will direct recurring funding of $200 million per year or 25% of the Amendment 1 allocation, whichever is less, to fund Everglades projects that implement the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration (CERP) Plan, the Long-Term Plan, the final Lake Okeechobee Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP), and the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program. This will provide a reliable, sustainable and much-needed source of funding. 

                    Representative Harrell spoke about the importance of dedicating funding to accomplish Everglades restoration, a national treasure. Audubon Everglades Policy Associate Celeste De Palma testified in support of the bill. We will continue to actively support the passage of this landmark legislation.

                    For more information, please click here to read coverage from the Tampa Bay Times

                    Senate recommends $3.6 billion for environmental agencies in 2016-17 budget

                    Florida environmental agencies will have about $3.6 billion to spend in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, based on recommendations from the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government.

                    Put together by Umatilla Republican Sen. Alan Hays, the Committee released its budget recommendations Thursday, reports LobbyTools.

                    Among other things, Hays’ budget provides $1.5 billion to the Department of Environmental Protection, $1.7 billion to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service, $384.8 million to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and $41.9 million to the Department of Citrus.

                    The Senate’s proposal confirms a 4 percent budget increase requested by the DEP and Gov. Rick Scott, but only $82 million for Everglades restoration, which was less than contained in both the DEP budget ($176 million) and Scott’s plan ($151 million.)

                    According to LobbyTools, Hays’ budget recommendation matches DEP and Scott with $50 million for springs restoration projects, while increasing land acquisition spending significantly over what was requested. The Senate budget plan devotes $82.6 million to land acquisition, compared to only $63 million suggested by the DEP and Governor.

                    However, the Senate budget seeks to give Florida Forever $22.3 million, about the same amount asked for by Scott and the DEP. Also, $50 million would be allocated for water projects statewide. Local governments had already requested nearly $700 million for various water projects.

                    FDACS’ budget also includes about $2.8 million for implementing agriculture best management practices statewide, as well as eight additional staffers for the Office of Water Policy and a line item that would increase the pay for firefighters.

                    Phil Ammann|January 28, 2016

                     

                    Environmental Links

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

                    Posted in Of special interest | Leave a comment

                    ConsRep1601 D

                    The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. Chinese Proverb

                     

                    Announcements

                    Corkscrew Swamp “After Hours”

                    Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary’s boardwalk and nature center are transformed into a festival atmosphere when our popular After Hours event returns for the season on January 22, 5:30 until 9 p.m.

                    Stroll through an ancient forest under a full moon on guided or independent boardwalk tours, listen to Florida folk music, learn about Seminole arts and crafts, participate in an educational seminar,

                    shop for unique, nature-themed gifts in our nature store, and enjoy refreshments in our tea room.

                    This month’s event is themed “Full Moon of the Wolf: Traditional Seminole Legends and Art,” spotlighting the culture and history of Seminole and Southeastern native people. 

                    Pedro and Brian Zepeda, members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, will demonstrate their art and craft in our nature center and lead a presentation in our classroom from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

                    There is no additional charge beyond the regular admission of $14 per adult; $6 for college students with ID; $4 for children 6 to 18 years old,

                    free for children under six, and $10 for National Audubon Society members who present their ID card. 

                    Admission is good for two consecutive days, so come back and enjoy the boardwalk in the daylight hours on Saturday.

                    For more information and directions, call the Sanctuary at 239-348-9151 or visit  www.Corkscrew.Audubon.org

                    Loxahatchee Friends Annual Membership Meeting

                    Sunday, January 31, 1:00 p.m.

                    Join the Friends for our annual membership meeting in the Visitor Center auditorium, followed by wine and cheese on the pavilion.

                    17th Annual Everglades Day

                    Saturday, February 20, 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

                    Join us for Everglades Day, our all-day family festival, with activities for all ages. This year’s theme is “Songs of the Everglades,” in recognition of next year’s 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty.

                    Enjoy tours, nature walks, bird walks, wildlife demonstrations, presentations, exhibits, games, kids’ fishing, kids’ archery, canoeing, music, dance, food trucks and much more!

                    All day free admission. Details to follow!

                    Everglades Day Volunteers Needed!

                    Anyone interested in volunteering to help on Everglades Day is asked to attend one of two volunteer orientations at the Visitor Center:

                    Thursday, February 4, 5:30 p.m. or Saturday, February 6, 10:00 a.m.

                    Of Interest to All

                    Corkscrew restoration project gets $2.9 million boost

                    About $2.9 million will go to restore more than 1,000 acres within Southern Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem project.

                    The South Florida Water Management District announced last Thursday the sum would cover a construction contract with tasks that include degrading about 10 miles of roads, plugging or filling unnecessary ditches and canal drainage systems and degrading existing berms within the project area, according to the water management district.

                    “This project is the essence of restoration,” said Rick Barber, governing board member of the water district, in a written statement. “Taking out roads and plugging ditches will continue a transformation back to a more natural environment while also maintaining flood control by providing water storage for nearby residents.”The Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem, known as CREW, is a 60,000-acre watershed that spans Lee and Collier counties and has a 5,000 acre marsh at its headwaters and the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, the water management district said.

                    Restoring wetlands by undoing human alterations to historic water flow would likely translate to flood protection for downstream residents in Bonita Springs, said Peter Cangialosi, environmental director for the nonprofit Estero Council of Community Leaders.

                    “The wetlands hold the water back and lets it out like a sponge,” Cangialosi said.

                    Water that is held can soak into the ground and replenish local drinking water supplies, too, which impacts the entire region, he said.

                    South Florida Water Management District said in its announcement that the agency has acquired about 4,000 acres for this project, cleared exotic vegetation form more than 2,500 acres and removed roads and plugged agricultural ditches on more than 600 acres.

                    “To date, the (water district) and state have invested more than $32 million to conserve the lands, with the U.S. Department of Interior contributing another $7 million to the restoration effort,” the announcement states.

                    Maryann Batlle|Naples Daily News

                    Calls to Action

                    1. Stop the Sell-off of Vital Bird Habitat – here
                    2. Meet 9 penguin species and learn what they’re facing – here
                    3. ‏ Tell Congress to support the Paris Agreement – here
                    4. Tell the USDA, don’t suppress bee science – here
                    5. Demand strong and complete protections from methane pollution now – here
                    6. Ban ivory around the world – here
                    7.  

                    Birds and Butterflies

                    Where did all of the birds fly away to?

                    Christmas count down by about 5,500 from average

                    Someone forgot to tell the birds that people were looking for them on Dec. 20.

                    Members of the Blue Water Audubon Society saw fewer individual birds but slightly more bird species during the annual Christmas Bird Count.

                    Counters also saw some unusual birds including, for the first time, sandhill cranes. The long-legged waders were on the Canadian side of the count.

                    Janet Fox, the coordinator of the local count, said the weather might have had something to do with the lower numbers of individual birds.

                    “Well, it could have been,” she said. “All in all it wasn’t a bad day. It was just one of those, I don’t know, the birds weren’t out that day. Some days are just like that. The birds weren’t there.”

                    She said members of the count circle tallied 73 species, which was slightly more than the average of 70 since 1966, and about 11,500 individual birds, which was about 5,500 birds below average.

                    “We really had low numbers of the smaller birds,” she said.

                    Birds such as titmice, nuthatches, chickadees and native sparrow species weren’t out in numbers, Fox said, “We had good numbers of European starlings, not that we really want that, but we had it,” she said.

                    Counters tabulated three red necked grebes, waterfowl that are not common in the area.

                    “It’s the first time we’ve had them on our count,” Fox said. “They have been seen around the last few years, just a few, but usually on the Canada side of the river. It was unusual to spot them on this side of the river.”

                    The last time red necked grebes were found in the Christmas Bird Count was in 1978, she said, She said some early morning birdwatchers found eastern screech, great horned, barred and snowy owls.

                    “A nice variety — we had two parties going out owling and that really helped,” Fox said.

                    She noted that eastern screech owls are common in the area, despite rarely being seen.

                    “They are definitely out there, and people often don’t see them when they’re roosting during the day because they blend right in.”

                    She said participants also spotted several other birds of prey including bald eagles, red-tailed hawks and kestrels.

                    “We had six (kestrels) this time which is pretty good,” she said. “That’s a good number for us for kestrels.”

                    Bird watchers counted few waterfowl compared to previous years — for example, in 2014, participants counted 3,421 long-tailed ducks.

                    “Our waterfowl numbers were very low compared to other years,” Fox said. “We’ve had other years when the river has been open and the lake has been open but it has been so much warmer, that it’s my guess that they didn’t have to move here to feed. They didn’t need to come here. They may show up here later.

                    “Usually we would have several thousand individuals (waterfowl) and we didn’t come close to that this year.”

                    Data collected during the bird count by people in the Western Hemisphere is tabulated by the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. It is used to track long-term population and migration trends

                    BOB GROSS|TIMES HERALD

                    Project  FeederWatch eNews

                    Migratory Dragonfly Partnership Survey

                    Invasive species

                    Report Florida Keys reptiles, amphibians to FWC

                    Biologists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) need your help evaluating the status of reptiles and amphibians via online submissions.

                    Observations should include a photo of the animal and the location and date of the sighting. Species of particular interest are the Florida Keys mole skink, Key ringneck snake, rim rock crowned snake, brown snake, ribbon snake, red rat snake, and the Lower Keys populations of the striped mud turtle. Public participation will help scientists better understand the current distribution and population status of these species in the Florida Keys.

                    Persons submitting sightings can include photos on the reporting web page to help document the target reptile species, and FWC scientists will identify submitted photos of unknown reptile and amphibian species.

                    “Public reports of these cryptic reptiles, from residents and visitors alike, are essential in aiding our efforts at assessing their current status,” said Jonathan Mays, FWC research biologist. This information will be used to develop a more comprehensive study and to determine whether populations in the Keys are distinctive from those on the mainland.

                    To submit sightings of native reptiles and amphibians in the Florida Keys to FWC, visit MyFWC.com/Get-involved/ and select “Citizen Science” then “Sightings.” Sightings of nonnative species can be reported to FWC’s Exotic Species Reporting Hotline at 888-Ive-Got1 (888-483-4681) or online at IveGot1.org.

                    Cold Snap Helping Python Hunters In First Week Of Everglades Hunt

                    A dip in temperature may be giving hunters an early edge in a state-sanctioned hunt for elusive Burmese pythons in Florida’s Everglades.

                    Since the second Python Challenge began a week ago, snake hunters have turned in 39 of the invasive species, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

                    The first month-long python hunt on state lands in 2013 netted 68 of the snakes, with the longest measuring over 14 feet long.

                    The beginning of this year’s hunt coincided with a cold snap. Chilly weather can drive the tan, splotchy snakes from the wetlands, where they’re extremely hard to spot, into the open as they seek warmth.

                    “Cooler temperatures on sunny days is kind of a good situation for finding pythons because they’re more likely to be on levies and roads sunning themselves,” commission spokeswoman Carli Segelson said Friday.

                    A cold front over the last week pushed temperatures across South Florida into the lower 50’s at night, which is below normal, said Chuck Caracozza, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami.

                    Another cold front that is driving a blizzard toward much of the East Coast will cause temperatures here to plunge into the 40’s, with a wind chill in some inland areas in the upper 30’s, he said.

                    Over 800 people have registered for this year’s python hunt, which ends Feb. 14.

                    No additional information about the pythons caught so far was immediately available, Segelson said.

                    During the hunt’s opening weekend, a wildlife commission officer caught a 16-foot-10-inch python in a narrow stretch of state land just west of Homestead, in the Miami suburbs, that is open for the competition.

                    “I’m sure some of the people registered for the Python Challenge were disappointed that one of our officers took such a big one, but obviously he had to take advantage of the situation and remove an invasive snake,” Segelson said.

                    Individuals and teams registered for the hunt are competing for cash prizes, while they snakes they catch are turned over to researchers.

                    In an average year, only about 200 pythons are caught in Florida, even though tens of thousands may be slithering through the wetlands. The pythons’ natural camouflage makes them difficult to find, even for researchers who blame them for enormous losses in native mammal populations.

                    The population of Burmese pythons likely developed from pets released into the wild, either intentionally or in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. They can grow to be more than 20 feet long and have no natural enemies in Florida other than very large alligators, humans or cold weather.

                    Record cold temperatures killed hundreds of pythons in the Everglades in January 2010 but, to researchers’ dismay, large numbers of the snakes still thrived.

                    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

                    Endangered Species

                    A New Approach by USFWS Over Wind Energy Avian Issues

                    In December of 2014, just six months after obtaining the first eagle take permit for a wind project, EDF Renewable Energy (EDF RE) completed negotiations over, and subsequently signed, an agreement (Agreement) with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that exempts eight of EDF RE’s wind projects from liability for the past take of birds protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA). The Agreement also exempts the projects from enforcement of future avian mortalities in exchange for EDF RE’s diligent pursuit of BGEPA take permits for each project. As the first known agreement of its kind in the wind industry, it may serve as a roadmap for wind farm operators seeking to avoid criminal enforcement.

                    Andrew Bell and Svend Brandt-Erichsen  

                    Water Quality Issues

                    New Water Law Will Affect Everyone Who Uses Water in Florida

                    On January 14, 2016, the officers of the Legislature presented CS/CS/SB 552 to Governor Scott for signature. More famously known as the “Water Bill,” this 134-page page marvel of compromise proves that it is still possible to pass controversial legislation in Florida today, even if it takes two years to do so. And, indeed, there is something in the law of interest to every homeowner, land developer, institutional user, farmer, utility, governmental unit and environmentalist, including plans for the allocation of limited water resources, development of new water projects, protection of Florida springs and regulation of discharges to impaired waters.

                    Origins

                    To understand the Water Bill, one needs to know the origin of much of it. Simply put, significant portions of Florida do not have enough water reserves from traditional groundwater sources to sustain continued growth. This dilemma has sparked the need to promote or even require development of alternative water supplies and to adopt additional limitations on withdrawals from traditional groundwater sources. Alternative water supplies include innovative solutions that do not involve withdrawal of water from traditional groundwater sources. Such solutions include implementation of graywater, stormwater and brackish water projects to augment existing sources.

                    In addition to the threat of diminishing water supplies, continued concern for Florida’s premier springs brought about the creation of a new regulatory category to afford them special protection, together with associated development limitations and remediation plans. Additional protections have also been afforded to help remediate impaired water bodies throughout the state, but particularly the ecosystems in south Florida.

                    Finally, the Bill addresses the multiple existing programs for protection of the South Florida natural environment, some quite outdated, to clarify who’s on first and what’s on second by creating lead agency responsibility for various regulatory programs and identifying Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) as the definitive tool for problem solving and regulation to protect/restore impaired waters.

                    Key Elements

                    Set forth below is a compilation of the key provisions of the Bill:

                    Effective Date

                    • The  law will take effect July 1, 2016.

                    Springs Protection and Minimum Flows and Minimum Water Levels for Florida Waters

                    • A new protected class of waters is created: the Outstanding Florida Spring (OFS). OFSs include all historic first magnitude springs and their associated spring runs and the following: De Leon, Peacock, Poe, Rock, Wekiwa and Gemini Springs, and their spring runs. If a minimum flow or minimum water level (MFL) has not been adopted for an OFS by July 2017 (2026 in Northwest Florida), emergency rulemaking will be used to adopt this protection. The MFL is the limit at which further withdrawals would be significantly harmful to the water resources or ecology of the area. Recovery and prevention strategies will also be adopted for any OFS not meeting the adopted MFL. (For those familiar with the import of this nuance: rules adopted for this purpose are not subject to the requirement that rules be ratified by the Legislature if they do not pass the adverse impact/regulatory costs criteria of the Administrative Procedures Act.)
                    • The Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is made responsible for designating priority focus areas (areas where the aquifer is generally most vulnerable to pollutant inputs) for each OFS. Priority focus areas set the stage for prohibitions and protections under the new law.
                    • Maintaining or restoring MFLs is a concern for all waters, not just the OFSs. In fact, the Bill provides that whenever an MFL is adopted or revised for any water body that falls below or is projected to fall below the MFL within 20 years, a recovery and prevention strategy (development of alternative water supplies or other actions) will have to be developed simultaneously.
                    • By July 1, 2016, FDEP must begin assessment of every OFS for which an impairment determination has not yet been made under existing law. Concurrent with adoption of a total maximum daily (pollutant) load (TMDL) for the OFS, a BMAP shall be developed with a nutrient TMDL. (A TMDL is the load that a water body can assimilate without violation of water quality standards.) Where nitrogen pollution from onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems constitutes at least 20% of the nonpoint source nitrogen pollution or where remediation is necessary to achieve the TMDL, the BMAPs will include onsite sewage treatment and disposal system remediation plans. Local governments will be required to adopt a model fertilizer use ordinance unless one is already in place.
                    • OFS BMAPs must include identification of each point source (discrete conveyance such as a pipe) or category of nonpoint sources (such as stormwater), including urban and sports turf and agricultural fertilizers, onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems (such as septic tanks), sewage treatment plants, animal wastes and stormwater facilities. An estimated allocation of pollutant load must be provided for each point source or category of nonpoint sources with target dates for achieving the TMDL. While this may sound like everyone will have a right to continue to pollute as previously authorized, there is no guarantee that the allocation will not result in a reduction of allowed discharge. In fact, the latter is most likely the case where an OFS is presently impaired by nutrient pollution. It is recognized in the Bill that onsite sewage treatment systems may need to be corrected or connected to central sewage systems in priority focus areas. Subject to available funding, the cost may be provided.
                    • Activities prohibited within a priority focus area are: New domestic wastewater facilities with permitted capacities above 100,000 gallons per day (unless they meet advanced waste treatment standards); new onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems on lots of less than 1 acre, if in conflict with a remediation plan; new hazardous waste facilities; land application of domestic wastewater biosolids not in accordance with an FDEP approved plan; new agriculture operations that do not implement best management practices (BMPs) or other necessary measures.

                    Pilot Water Projects

                    • Development of alternative water supplies for water-starved areas is encouraged through provision for pilot projects to be undertaken by the three largest water management districts: St. Johns, South Florida (SFWMD) and Southwest Florida. However, the Districts are precluded from distributing or selling water to the project participants. This assures those presently in the business of distributing or selling water that the districts will not become their competitors and encourages a partnering of those users and self-suppliers with the districts in these projects.

                    Central Florida Water Initiative

                    • The ongoing collaborative work of stakeholders and regulating agencies known as the Central Florida Water Initiative (CFWI) is recognized and affirmed. The CFWI is directed to adopt a single, multidistrict regional water supply plan, including needed recovery or prevention strategies and a list of water supply development or resource projects; provide a single hydrologic planning model; and develop uniform rules (that define harm, provide a consistent process for permit review, establish conservation goals for consumptive use permits and provide conservation goals consistent with the regional water supply plan, including a goal for residential per capita water use for each consumptive use permit). Rulemaking must be initiated by the end of this year. However, as an aside, much work has already been done in these topic areas, including adoption of the regional water supply plan, and activity will continue to surge forward in the coming months.

                    Regulation of Water Supply

                    • Any new consumptive use permit or renewal that authorizes withdrawals of 100,000 gallons or more per day from a well with a diameter of 8 or more inches will be monitored for water usage.
                    • Preferred water supply sources may be identified for users for whom access to new water supplies is not technically or financially feasible.
                    • It is not inconceivable that existing permits will be reassessed in the future for “over-allocation.” In such case, the legislation states that no allocation will be modified where water use was reduced due to implementation of water conservation measures. Specific examples are provided for agricultural uses.
                    • Water farming (water storage or water recharge for pay) is encouraged by affording priority consideration to public-private partnerships that store or treat water on private lands to improve water quality and assist with water supply or minimize nutrient loads and maximize conservation. Water farming became a useful tool when it was recognized that Florida discharges much of its freshwater to the ocean. This tool became particularly important as waters from the Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee were discharged to the ocean through the St. Lucie Estuary and concerns were raised that these discharges could cause imbalances to salinity of estuarine waters.

                    South Florida Environmental Programs

                    • Various existing environmental programs are brought under the umbrella of the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Protection Program and the Lake Okeechobee BMAP is identified as the program element designed to achieve the TMDL for the Lake. The Lake Okeechobee Basin encompasses not just the areas around the lake but travels up the Kissimmee River as well. The legislation requires development of milestones toward achieving the TMDL for the lake. Because the Bill identifies the BMAP as the means of achieving reductions in nutrient pollution, it requires SFWMD to amend the outdated Chapter 40E-61, F. A. C., to make it consistent with the Water Bill. The Rule will now provide for a monitoring program for those who opt to show compliance through monitoring instead of implementation of BMPs.
                    • Lead agencies are designated as follows for the implementation of the Lake Okeechobee programs: SFWMD – hydrologic improvements; Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – agricultural practices; and FDEP – water quality protection.
                    • In addition to regional projects, much of the implementation of the BMAP will come from implementation of BMPs, both for agricultural and non-agricultural sources of stormwater runoff. Rulemaking can be expected for the adoption of non-agricultural, non-point source BMPs, as there has already been rulemaking to adopt agricultural BMPs. The legislation provides that where water quality problems are detected for nonagricultural nonpoint sources despite the appropriate implementation of adopted BMPs, FDEP and the District shall institute a reevaluation of practices and the rules will be revised to require implementation of the modified practices within a reasonable time period. Might this involve retrofitting of existing urban stormwater systems? Stay tuned.
                    • Programs similar to the Lake Okeechobee plans are provided for the Caloosahatchee River Watershed and the St. Lucie River Watershed. Existing programs are realigned to make them consistent with their corresponding BMAPs.
                    • In a tidbit for the regulated community, the existing doubling up of permitting for the outfalls structures around Lake Okeechobee was dropped by FDEP. SFWMD will continue to obtain a permit from FDEP for its own outfalls.

                    Enforcement

                    Provision for enforcement and verification of BMAPs and management strategies was provided in a new section providing that BMAPs are enforceable pursuant to DEP’s currently existing suite of enforcement options from warning notices to criminal fines.

                    Other BMAP Changes

                    • Each new or revised BMAP in the state will now include appropriate management strategies available through existing water quality protection programs to achieve the TMDL, which may provide for phased implementation; a description of BMPs adopted by rule; a list of projects in priority ranking with cost estimates and completion dates; the source and amount of financial assistance; and the estimated load reduction from each project.

                    Additional Items of Interest

                    • A database of conservation lands suitable for public access and recreation will be made available electronically to the public.
                    • Self-suppliers (those who produce their own water) will join local governments, government-owned and privately owned utilities as entities qualifying for technical assistance with water resource development.
                    • The water management district annual reports to the legislature will include specifics about water quality and water quantity projects intended to implement BMAPs with priority rankings, cost, source, benefit and level of impairment of the water body involved.
                    • Water management districts are directed to promote expanded cost-share criteria for additional conservation practices, such as soil and moisture sensors and other irrigation improvements, water-saving equipment, water-saving household fixtures and software technologies that can achieve verifiable water conservation.
                    • FDEP must adopt a water quality classification to protect surface waters used for treated potable water supply. The criteria will be the same as those presently in use for Class III waters.
                    • FDEP must establish standards for the collection and analysis of water quantity, water quality and related data.

                    Silvia Alderman 

                    Hopes For Stronger Water Bill Evaporate

                    A major overhaul of Florida’s water policy is headed toward Gov. Rick Scott’s desk. It says water pumped through pipes narrower than 8 inches doesn’t have to be metered.

                    Sponsors of a major rewrite of the state’s water policy are claiming victory after easy passage during the first week of the legislative session. But critics are asking Governor Rick Scott for a veto. They say the bill will do little to protect Florida’s freshwater springs, Lake Okeechobee or the Everglades.

                    The bill passed in the first week of session because House and Senate leaders are eager in an election year to claim environmental street cred. On the Senate floor Friday, President Andy Gardner described it in historic terms.

                    “This has been a good week for the residents of the great state of Florida. These bills, the water bill and others, we’re changing lives with that.”

                    But critics say the bill doesn’t measure up — literally.

                    One provision says water doesn’t have to be metered if it’s flowing through a pipe narrower than eight inches in diameter. That language was added by business lobbyists, says Bob Palmer, an executive committee member of the Florida Springs Council.

                    “Can they afford 200, 300 bucks a year to actually tell the citizens of Florida how much water they’re sucking out of the ground? I think they can. But apparently somebody thought that was too much of a burden so they inserted that huge loophole.”

                    The Springs Council and more than 100 other groups sent a strongly worded letter to Gardner and his House counterpart earlier this year. The letter recommended a dozen changes.

                    House Democrat Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach tried to add some of the changes when the bill reached the floor. Many of the changes were deceptively simple.

                    One would have required regulators to set a regional limit on water withdraws. The current piecemeal permitting approach makes it too hard to protect springs from over pumping, Pafford said.

                    “Permits are analyzed individually, cumulative effects are discounted, actual data on water flows are ignored in favor of model predictions. There’s an inherent bias towards granting permits for economic reasons.”

                    Pafford also wanted to require anyone pumping more than 100 thousand gallons of water a day from a well to install meters. Many Florida farmers estimate the amount of water they withdraw by the electricity their pumps use.

                    The amendments died. Sponsors said that after more than three years of negotiations, it was time to vote.

                    The bill focuses on three main areas. It orders regulators to set minimum flow levels for the state’s 39 major freshwater springs.  It sets guidelines for a regional water supply plan for Central Florida. And it sets guidelines for cleaning up Lake Okeechobee and the Northern Everglades.

                    Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is frustrated with the critics. Mainstream environmental groups like Audubon of Florida and The Nature Conservancy were key players, he says.

                    “It’s a broad-based coalition. It’s not the end of the work that needs to be done on water policy. But it’s an important step forward.”

                    Cris Costello, a regional organizer for the Sierra Club, wants lawmakers to get back to work this session while water is still on everyone’s mind. She says the bill focuses on tapping new water sources and ignores an obvious solution.

                    “Conserving water at the local level other rather than going to other basins to move water from one basin to another.”

                    Costello complains the bill is still based on a “best management practices” philosophy that mostly lets polluters police themselves.

                    Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper says the bill falls far short of landmark reform. However, he says the greens who stayed at the table prevented a wholesale attack on existing protections.

                    Businesses, farmers and most of the public would be up in arms if the bill made the most important changes needed to clean up and protect Florida’s water supply, Draper said.

                    “We would put significant restrictions on all fertilizer use. We would hook up almost all septic tanks to central sewer systems. We would eliminate the practice of applying any sewage products onto the landscape, such as disposing of a sludge, or using wastewater for landscape irrigation…”

                    Meanwhile, critics calling for a veto should brace themselves. Scott is scheduling a bill signing ceremony for Thursday.

                    Jim Ash

                    President Vetoes Bipartisan Resolution to Kill WOTUS

                    It was no surprise to anyone yesterday when President Obama vetoed a congressional resolution that would have killed the administration’s “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule that redefines the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. But it was a huge disappoint to farmers and ranchers.

                    In his statement to congress, Obama defended his action, saying, “We must protect the waters that are vital for the health of our communities and the success of our businesses, agriculture, and energy development.” 

                    The President added that he believes the resolution “seeks to block the progress represented by this rule and (would) deny businesses and communities the regulatory certainty and clarity needed to invest in projects that rely on clean water.”

                    Many farmers, ranchers and other landowners have opposed WOTUS from the start, believing that the restrictions will hurt rather than help them. Of even greater concern to the group is the fact that the rule gives the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers what the ag community feels is overreaching and unnecessary jurisdiction over farms and ranches.

                    Newly-elected American Farm Bureau Federation president, Zippy Duvall told Growing America that everyone involved in agriculture is confounded by the Obama decision, especially in light of wellspring of support against the rule at every level.

                    “The president’s veto is salt in the wounds of farmers and ranchers. We remain mystified as to why he continues to support this fatally flawed rule,” said Duvall. “Ninety-two members of Congress, 22 states, numerous cities and counties and dozens of industry groups have all stood up and said no to this rule. Courts have ordered the rule temporarily halted because of the harm it will cause. But, somehow, the president and the EPA just keep pushing. But we won’t stop either. We will not rest until this rule is gone.”

                    State officials are echoing Duvall’s sentiments. In Georgia, GFB president, Gerald Long, expressed his regret to Growing America. “The resolution received bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, so the president’s veto is disappointing,” Long said. “We had hoped for a legislative solution.” 

                    Long’s associate, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner, Gary Black, voiced an even stronger commitment to the farmers and citizens of his state, saying, “This frontal assault on private property rights must stop and we will continue to work towards thwarting this blatant overreach of the federal government.”

                    Growing America also spoke to Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, who aired similar frustrations. “Rather than work with stakeholders,” Northey said, “the President’s veto prevents the opportunity to work together on a new rule we can all support.”

                    WOTUS extends to government agencies what the American Farm Bureau Federation has called “almost unlimited authority to regulate, at their discretion, any spot where water collects on a farm, ranch or piece of land.”

                    To clarify, WOTUS redefines “navigable” bodies of water to include everything from dry streambeds to ditches, farm ponds and other occasionally or seasonally wet areas.

                    Despite efforts on Capital Hill, neither the Senate nor the House could find the necessary wording to write a veto-proof resolution. There’s no question that the veto will be viewed by Republicans as another example of the divisive atmosphere that exists between the parties.

                    The WOTUS rule became effective in August 2015, but legal challenges have kept it hold mode as the courts consider how to respond.

                    In another party line action, the White House blocked Republicans from using the fiscal 2016 so-called “omnibus spending bill,” essentially tying their hands should the courts lift the hold.

                    Lynne Hayes|Growing America|January 21st, 2016

                    Offshore & Ocean

                    Study: Man-Made Heat In Oceans Is Surging, Has Doubled Since 1997

                    “The changes we’re talking about, they are really, really big numbers.”

                    WASHINGTON (AP) — The amount of man-made heat energy absorbed by the seas has doubled since 1997, a study released Monday showed.

                    Scientists have long known that more than 90 percent of the heat energy from man-made global warming goes into the world’s oceans instead of the ground. And they’ve seen ocean heat content rise in recent years. But the new study, using ocean-observing data that goes back to the British research ship Challenger in the 1870s and including high-tech modern underwater monitors and computer models, tracked how much man-made heat has been buried in the oceans in the past 150 years.

                    The world’s oceans absorbed approximately 150 zettajoules of energy from 1865 to 1997, and then absorbed about another 150 in the next 18 years, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

                    To put that in perspective, if you exploded one atomic bomb the size of the one that dropped on Hiroshima every second for a year, the total energy released would be 2 zettajoules. So since 1997, Earth’s oceans have absorbed man-made heat energy equivalent to a Hiroshima-style bomb being exploded every second for 75 straight years.

                    “The changes we’re talking about, they are really, really big numbers,” said study co-author Paul Durack, an oceanographer at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California. “They are nonhuman numbers.”

                    Because there are decades when good data wasn’t available and computer simulations are involved, the overall figures are rough but still are reliable, the study’s authors said. Most of the added heat has been trapped in the upper 2,300 feet, but with every year the deeper oceans also are absorbing more energy, they said.

                    But the study’s authors and outside experts say it’s not the raw numbers that bother them. It’s how fast those numbers are increasing.

                    “After 2000 in particular the rate of change is really starting to ramp up,” Durack said.

                    This means the amount of energy being trapped in Earth’s climate system as a whole is accelerating, the study’s lead author Peter Gleckler, a climate scientist at Lawrence Livermore, said.

                    Because the oceans are so vast and cold, the absorbed heat raises temperatures by only a few tenths of a degree, but the importance is the energy balance, Gleckler and his colleagues said. When oceans absorb all that heat it keeps the surface from getting even warmer from the heat-trapping gases spewed by the burning of coal, oil and gas, the scientists said.

                    The warmer the oceans get, the less heat they can absorb and the more heat stays in the air and on land surface, the study’s co-author, Chris Forest at Pennsylvania State University, said.

                    “These finding have potentially serious consequences for life in the oceans as well as for patterns of ocean circulation, storm tracks and storm intensity,” said Oregon State University marine sciences professor Jane Lubchenco, the former chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

                    One outside scientist, Kevin Trenberth, climate analysis chief at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, also has been looking at ocean heat content and he said his ongoing work shows the Gleckler team “significantly underestimates” how much heat the ocean has absorbed.

                    Jeff Severinghaus at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography praised the study, saying it “provides real, hard evidence that humans are dramatically heating the planet.”

                    Associated Press01/18/2016

                    New Rule Allows for First Aquaculture Development in US Federal Waters

                    NOAA has filed a final rule which will implement the US’s first comprehensive regulatory program for aquaculture in federal waters.

                    The new rule will allow NOAA Fisheries to issue permits to grow species such as red drum, cobia, and almaco jack in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico for an initial period of 10 years.

                    “As demand for seafood continues to rise, aquaculture presents a tremendous opportunity not only to meet this demand, but also to increase opportunities for the seafood industry and job creation,” said Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., NOAA administrator.

                    “This is all about managing and expanding seafood farming in an environmentally sound and economically sustainable way,” explained Michael Rubino, director, NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture.

                    “The permit process we’ve laid out accounts for the region’s unique needs and opens the door for other regions to follow suit.”

                    The new rule was welcomed by the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA). Tim Scates, a farmer from Carmi, Ill., ISA director and representative to the Soy Aquaculture Alliance (SAA), stated: “Allowing carefully managed aquaculture in the Gulf of Mexico will provide a market for our soybeans and a domestic source of sustainable fish. Aquaculture operations can replace marine-based fishmeal with soybean meal, a proven, renewable protein alternative.”

                    There was opposition to the new rule however from some consumer, environmental and sustainable fishing and farming organisations.

                    In a press release, the groups claim that the Gulf of Mexico has changed significantly in the 11 years that it took to finalize the rule, with the effects of oil spills and hurricanes of fish populations and the environment still emerging.

                    The groups are now collectively analysing their legal options to challenge the new regulations.

                    http://www.thefishsite.com/newsletter/

                    Florida Bay in Crisis

                    This summer, the Florida Bay ecosystem suffered fish kills and seagrass die-offs that researchers haven’t seen in decades. These harmful conditions are the result of extremely high salinity levels created by drought combined with too little water flowing through the Everglades and into Florida Bay.

                    Audubon’s Everglades scientists, who monitor the health of Florida Bay, say the key to reversing this ecological crisis is speeding up Everglades restoration. Restoring the flow of freshwater to the Everglades will rebalance the salinity levels of Florida Bay and allow seagrasses and forage fish to rebound. In turn, this will mean more food for Roseate Spoonbills and other wading birds that nest on the mangrove islands that dot the Bay.

                    Rainfall from the last few months has brought salinity levels in the Bay back down to a healthier range and may help slow any additional ecological damage. But significant damage has already occurred and it is unclear if algae blooms or other ecological problems may still loom on the horizon. Audubon scientists continue to monitor conditions in the Bay and are working with Audubon’s policy team to advocate for the restoration efforts needed to repair the Bay.

                    Once constructed, the C-111 North Detention Area (more info below) will help, but additional projects that prioritize moving more water into Florida Bay are needed to better protect and restore its waters and wildlife and prevent another salinity crisis.

                    From Audubon Advisory

                    Southeast Florida Coral Reefs Health Update

                    During the summer and fall of 2015, the Florida Reef Tract experienced widespread coral bleaching and an unprecedented level of coral disease. In coordination with many partners, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coral Reef Conservation ..

                    Program conducted a significant response effort to better understand the prevalence and impacts of these stressors. Learn more here. White Bar

                    CRCP and SEFCRI Partner with the US Coastguard to Reduce Impacts to 600 Acres of Coral Reef Habitat

                    Through a Coral Reef Conservation Program, (CRCP), Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative (SEFCRI) and United States Coast Guard (USCG) partnership that began in 2008, a proposal to reconfigure the Port Miami Commercial Anchorage has taken a major step forward. After several years of collaboration with Port officials and users, the potential new design will not only reduce impacts to reef resources but also improve the safety of vessel traffic. Read more here.

                    Global Warming and Climate Change

                    Monroe County Commission to discuss sea level rise 

                    The Monroe County Commission will meet Tuesday to further plan and prepare for an issue that could make living in the Florida Keys more difficult in some areas, if not impossible in others, in the future.

                    The commission will discuss the topic of sea level rise and global climate change and how to prepare for it.

                    The County Commission will meet all day Tuesday to discuss sea level rise predictions and mitigation efforts in the Florida Keys and how the county can reduce its own carbon footprint in effort to minimize the causes of sea level rise. The commission will meet at 10 a.m. at the Marathon Government Center, 2798 Overseas Highway.

                    The low-lying Florida Keys is one of the most vulnerable communities in the country when it comes to sea level rise, ranking third, behind two coastal towns in North Carolina, according to a University of Georgia study. As much as 36 percent of the population in the Keys could be displaced by rising seas by 2060 if no changes are made to current infrastructure, the study states.

                    From the destruction of property to impacts on the water supply, sea level rise has been identified as one of the biggest issues facing South Florida in the future. This fall’s king tides gave Keys residents and visitors a taste of what the future could hold. 

                    The Florida Keys has experienced nearly 9 inches of sea-level rise in the past 100 years. County-contracted climate change experts predict from 3 to 7 inches of sea-level rise by 2030, and 9 to 24 inches of sea-level rise by 2060.

                    “I can honestly say that the Keys are the most unique and vulnerable community I have worked with,” said County sea level rise consultant and attorney Erin Deady, who has worked a dozen other Florida counties and cities on sea level rise and sustainability projects. “These decisions are not going to be easy and you are going to have to approach them differently in different parts of the Keys. The decisions made in the Upper Keys are going to be different than in the Lower Keys.”

                    The county has embarked on several initiatives in the past several years to prepare for sea level rise, such as raise roads and county facilities such as fire stations to lift them out of flood zones.

                    Following the fall king tides, the county has embarked on pilot programs in Key Largo and Big Pine Key to mitigate flooding from tidal influences, county sustainability coordinator Rhonda Haag said.

                    At the same time, it has reduced its energy consumption by roughly 20 percent in recent years and plans to reduce it another 20 percent, Haag said.

                    “We have to remain to be in the forefront in the planning and preparing because we are an island community,” Haag said.

                    TIMOTHY O’HARA|Citizen Staff|keysnews.com

                    Extreme Weather

                    2015 was officially the warmest year. 2016 will likely be hotter.

                    Why shattering temperature records is our new normal. Mashable

                    Epic blizzard makes way across East Coast, South

                    Heavy snow, winds, freezing rain blast much of nation

                    WASHINGTON A potentially historic snowstorm whipped by gale-force winds began hammering the Mid-Atlantic coast Friday, threatening to shut down big Eastern cities for days with more than 2 feet of snow, widespread power outages and impassable roads.

                    More than 85 million people — roughly 1 in every 4 Americans — in at least 20 states were under blizzard, winter storm or freezing rain warnings Friday from Arkansas to the Carolinas to New York City and extreme southern New England, according to Weather.com.

                    Air and road travel is expected to grind to a halt for much of the weekend. Airlines canceled more than 6,000 flights for Friday and Saturday across the nation by midday. Philadelphia International Airport announced it would be closed Saturday. All major airlines issued waivers for the weekend, allowing passengers to rebook onto earlier or later flights to avoid the storm.

                    Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia and parts of other states all declared states of emergencies.

                    Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe called out another 200 National Guard troops Friday to supplement the 500 already at work because of the large volume of calls to state agencies.

                    At least five people died in storm-related crashes in Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina, the Associated Press reported. Officials warned residents to stay off roads as the blizzard made its way up the East Coast.

                    In Washington, the bull’s-eye of the storm, the federal government shut down at noon, as the first flakes began to fall. The region could see up to 2 1 ⁄ 2 feet of snow, and white-out conditions are likely.

                    “This is a major storm, it has life-and-death implications, and all residents of D.C. should treat it that way,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said Friday.

                    Blizzard warnings were in effect Friday morning for the big cities of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast as snow and ice fell across portions of the South, Ohio Valley and Appalachians.

                    The storm could rival the biggest snowstorms on record in Washington, D.C., potentially topping the city’s all-time biggest snowfall of 28inches Jan. 27-29, 1922. Philadelphia is forecast to receive up to 20 inches, while New York City could see 6-12 inches.

                    As the East Coast waited for the brunt of the monstrous storm, the system left misery in its wake in the South. In Nashville, the storm was on track to dump as much as 8 inches of snow, the most in Music City since 2003.

                    In a battle of plow versus snow in Asheville, North Carolina, the snow was taking the upper hand.

                    “The call I got this morning was that we were not able to keep up with the snow enough to open up the city’s roads, so we closed down except for emergency and road crews,” said Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, according to the Citizen-Times.

                    In Washington, the city’s entire rail and bus system will be closed Saturday and Sunday. In New York City, 1,000 track workers will be deployed to keep the subway system moving, and 79 trains will have “scraper shoes” to reduce icing on rails.

                    The only upside of the storm in the nation’s capital was the green light from the U.S. Capitol Police for sledding on Capitol Hill, which only became permissible after an act of Congress.

                    Doyle Rice and Doug Stanglin|USA TODAY

                    Expert: Blizzards twice as frequent in past 2 decades

                    Increase linked to sunspot cycles, better reporting

                    Snowstorms like the historic blizzard that lashed the East Coast this past weekend might be more numerous than they used to be.

                    The number of blizzards each year has doubled in the past two decades, according to preliminary research by geographer Jill Coleman at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.

                    From 1960 to 1994, the United States averaged about nine blizzards per year. But since 1995, the average is 19 blizzards a year, she said. The increase could stem from better reporting and monitoring of the storms, among other theories, Coleman said.

                    Overall since 1960, more than 700 blizzards have occurred in the U.S., excluding Alaska and Hawaii.

                    For a snowstorm to be classified as a blizzard, it must meet these criteria: heavy or blowing snow, sustained winds of 35 mph, and visibility of one-quarter mile or less — plus all three conditions must persist at least three hours. Washington, D.C., met those three conditions Saturday, according to data compiled by Capital Weather Gang.

                    Coleman said there’s a chance the increase in blizzards could be tied to sunspot cycles. Her research found blizzards tend to increase during periods of low sunspot activity.

                    “Sunspot-minimum periods tend to coincide with more frequent polar outbreaks in the Northern Hemisphere that could increase the likelihood for blizzard occurrence,” Coleman said. “However, sunspot activity is only a small component in explaining the frequency of blizzard occurrence.”

                    The number of sunspots visible waxes and wanes with a roughly 11-year cycle, NASA said. Sunspot activity was low in the mid-1990s and mid-2000s and is low again now.

                    Brad Anderson, a meteorologist from Lincoln, Nebraska, not associated with Coleman’s research, agreed that blizzards appear to go in cycles, noting that there were lots of blizzards in the 1970s but fewer in the 1980s. He said blizzard frequency can be linked to changes in large-scale climate patterns in the ocean and the atmosphere.

                    Coleman’s research is preliminary and undergoing review in a peer-reviewed journal. More investigation is needed to determine other reasons for an increase in the number of blizzards, she said. More blizzards are also occurring outside the traditional season of October to March, her research found. There were three more blizzards per year from April to September in the past two decades, as compared to 1960-94. Most “out-of-season” blizzards occurred in the northern Plains.

                    Blizzards have been reported in all months except September and August, but most occur in December, January, February and March.

                    While big blizzards that hit the East Coast make the news, most occur in the sparsely populated northern Plains and upper Midwest, especially in the Dakotas and Minnesota.

                    Only six states have never recorded a blizzard: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee, Coleman said.

                    “Sunspot-minimum periods tend to coincide with more frequent polar outbreaks in the Northern Hemisphere that could increase the likelihood for blizzard occurrence.”

                    Doyle Rice|USA TODAY

                    Land Conservation

                    State Lands

                    HB 1075 passed the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee this week amid significant opposition from environmental advocates. The bill is lengthy and is largely a reorganization of state lands statutes. However, it contains some troubling provisions. 

                    Eric Draper testified on behalf of Audubon, and expressed concerns with the numerous surplus lands provisions in the bill, as well as the provisions on land swapping, changes in the standard for managing land, and a significant policy shift contained in the bill that would include “pipes and pumps” in the Florida Forever Act and Amendment 1. 

                    We have met with the bill’s sponsor, State Affairs Committee Chairman Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres), who was very gracious and open to a continuing dialogue. We also continue to meet with Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) staff, House and Senate staff, and members of the Legislature to communicate our concerns and work toward solutions on this legislation. The companion, SB 1290 by Senator Wilton Simpson (R-New Port Richey), has not yet received a hearing.

                    Audubon Advocate|January 22, 2016

                    Miscellaneous

                    RAN’s Latest and Greatest ‏

                    Here is to the new year full of hope for our planet. We are ready and we sure hope you are joining us for the action packed ride. Rainforest destruction and climate change are top of mind for us and we will need you to join us every month and make corporations stand up and notice people-power. This month we’ve got a a curated wrap of 2015 and action you can take now to kick 2016 into high gear.

                    President Obama has one year left to Keep It in the Ground

                    This month, the Obama administration announced a moratorium on new coal leases on public lands—and applied a climate test to the practice of coal mining! That’s a huge step. Now it’s time to keep ALL fossil fuels in the ground.

                    Take Action

                    The End of Coal is in Sight

                    2015 was a year of astonishing progress in cutting big bank financing for coal mining. In just six months, four of the six biggest U.S. banks committed to cut financing for coal mining: Bank of America, Citi, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo. That’s remarkable progress in a very short time. You made it happen. Thank you!

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                    The Year In Review: Rainforest Free Pulp and Paper Campaign

                    Rainforest Free Pulp and Paper Campaign Text: What an incredible year for our work on pulp and paper in Indonesia! We had some incredible successes, one heartbreaking setback and many powerful moments. Here’s a glimpse behind the scenes of RAN’s pulp and paper work this year.

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                    2015 In Review: Exposing Spin and Driving Innovation In the Palm Oil Industry

                    Last year, we witnessed a wave of paper commitments to cut the destruction of rainforest and peatlands, and the exploitation of local communities and workers, from the supply chains of the biggest snack food companies and palm oil giants in the palm oil industry. A year later, it is clear that our role in driving the much-needed transformation in this controversial sector has never been more important.

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                    Driving Change to the Forest Floor

                    Celebrating 30 years of challenging corporate power, 2015 was a pivotal year for Rainforest Action Network. This year proved to be a unique moment in RAN’s forest program history, as we deepened the work from recent years past to drive real change to the forest floor.

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                    Thank you for taking action for people and planet!

                    Rain Forest Action Network

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