Conservation & Environment

National Park Superintendents stay mum during ‘blackout on news’

Posted by on Jan 19, 2019 @ 10:06 am in Conservation | 0 comments

National Park Superintendents stay mum during ‘blackout on news’

There’s an easy reason to explain why National Park Service superintendents have suddenly gone mum: They’re scared. That’s according to former National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis.

“In my conversations with folks that are in the field, there is an element of fear that has been conveyed down, that you’ll be punished if you speak out, certainly if you speak to the press,” Jarvis told a group of House Democratic leaders this week. In an interview, Jarvis said the Trump administration wants to keep superintendents silenced to prevent them from describing the widespread damage they’ve discovered in parks during the partial government shutdown.

“This is complete chaos, and superintendents know that — and they don’t want that word out,” said Jarvis, who led the Park Service for eight years under President Obama. “The [Trump] administration is trying to suppress any bad news.”

The issue has become a cause for consternation among the media and park advocates alike, who say they’ve effectively been shut out by the Park Service during the long shutdown.

“There’s no outreach at all — in fact, it’s just the opposite,” said Richard Ring, executive council member of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, testifying at a hearing called by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and leaders of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.

National Parks Traveler, a nonprofit media organization in Utah that covers the parks, called the situation “a blackout on news,” adding that top NPS officials in Washington are “keeping a tight clamp on the flow of information” by gagging the superintendents during the shutdown. “The parks should not be political pawns, and Park Service staff should be allowed to accurately describe how the parks and their resources are being treated,” wrote Kurt Repanshek, founder and editor-in-chief of the organization.

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Ice loss from Antarctica has sextupled since the 1970s, new research finds

Posted by on Jan 16, 2019 @ 7:04 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Ice loss from Antarctica has sextupled since the 1970s, new research finds

Antarctic glaciers have been melting at an accelerating pace over the past four decades thanks to an influx of warm ocean water – a startling new finding that researchers say could mean sea levels are poised to rise more quickly than predicted in coming decades.

The Antarctic lost 40 billion tons of melting ice to the ocean each year from 1979 to 1989. That figure rose to 252 billion tons lost per year beginning in 2009, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That means the region is losing six times as much ice as it was losing four decades ago, an unprecedented pace in the era of modern measurements. (It takes about 360 billion tons of ice to produce one millimeter of global sea level rise.)

The findings are the latest sign that the world could face catastrophic consequences if climate change continues unabated. In addition to more frequent droughts, heat waves, severe storms and other extreme weather that could come with a continually warming earth, scientists already have predicted that seas could rise nearly three feet globally by 2100 if the world does not sharply decrease its carbon output. Now there’s a concern the Antarctic could push that even higher.

That kind of sea level rise would result in the inundation of island communities around the globe devastating wildlife habitats and threatening drinking water supplies. Global sea levels have already risen 7 to 8 inches since 1900.

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Some Great Smoky Mountains National Park facilities reopen, but park is not back to normal

Posted by on Jan 15, 2019 @ 11:19 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Some Great Smoky Mountains National Park facilities reopen, but park is not back to normal

Locating an open public restroom in Great Smoky Mountains National Park should be easier starting this week but finding someone to suggest a good spot for a family hike or to replace a washed out trail bridge won’t be.

Workers are reopening limited facilities and in a few locations around the park that had been closed during the partial federal government shutdown, park officials announced Sunday, January 13, 2019.

They include restrooms at Smokemont Campground, located just off U.S. 441 about 5 miles north of the park entrance at Cherokee, and those at Deep Creek Picnic Area near Bryson City.

The changes that began Sunday are part of a National Park Service initiative to reopen some areas or facilities using revenue from user fees. That money ordinarily goes to enhance park facilities, additional visitor services or major maintenance projects.

Damage to parks, overflowing trash cans, litter and human waste have been reported in national parks around the country during the shutdown. People with two nonprofit groups that support the park say those problems appear to be less in the Smokies but there have still been issues.

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Fortnite Creator is Buying Thousands of Acres of Forest to Stop It From Being Cut Down

Posted by on Jan 13, 2019 @ 6:41 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Fortnite Creator is Buying Thousands of Acres of Forest to Stop It From Being Cut Down

Creator of the online video game Fortnite, Tim Sweeney, has been captivating audiences for decades by developing intricate and interactive digital worlds for players. However, it is his work away from the screen that is currently grabbing attention from gamers and non-gamers alike.

Sweeney is best known for founding the video and 3-D software company Epic Games in the 1990’s. Epic Games has given us popular video game titles such as Unreal Tournament, Gears of War and, most recently, the massively popular game Fortnite. In addition to these popular gaming titles, the billionaire philanthropist has made good on his promise to protect undeveloped and bio-diverse land in the picturesque western Carolina mountains for future generations.

Since 2008, Sweeney has spent millions on conservation projects in his home state of North Carolina to protect and preserve its forest land. He has purchased nearly 40,000 acres over the last decade, making him one of the largest private land owners in the state. Sweeney has also donated money to several conservation parcel projects, including a 1,500 acre expansion to Mount Mitchell State Park.

In November 2016, Sweeney donated $15 million for a conservation easement to protect 7,000 acres of the The Box Creek Wilderness. The forest, located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, had been targeted by a company that wanted to carve up the land and run power lines through it.

Sweeney has a goal to eventually connect South Mountains State Park to Chimney Rock.

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Oceans Are Warming Faster Than Predicted

Posted by on Jan 12, 2019 @ 8:51 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Oceans Are Warming Faster Than Predicted

Up to 90 percent of the warming caused by human carbon emissions is absorbed by the world’s oceans, scientists estimate. And researchers increasingly agree that the oceans are warming faster than previously thought.

Multiple studies in the past few years have found that previous estimates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may be too low. A new review of the research, published this week in Science, concludes that “multiple lines of evidence from four independent groups thus now suggest a stronger observed [ocean heat content] warming.”

Taken together, the research suggests that the oceans are heating up about 40 percent faster than previously estimated by the IPCC. Since the 1950s, studies generally suggest that the oceans have been absorbing at least 10 times as much energy annually, measured in joules, as humans consume worldwide in a year.

While much of the human concern about climate change focuses on its effects over land—rising air temperatures, changes in weather patterns and so on—accurate estimates of ocean warming are deeply important to scientists’ understanding of global warming. Determining how fast the oceans are warming helps scientists calculate how sensitive the planet is to greenhouse gas emissions and how quickly it may warm in the future.

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Innovative Park Programs Help Tell Native American Stories to a New Generation

Posted by on Jan 10, 2019 @ 12:10 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Innovative Park Programs Help Tell Native American Stories to a New Generation

Designated by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906, Arizona’s Montezuma Castle National Monument became one of the first national monuments, preserving cliff dwellings in North America and showcasing the Sinagua culture’s ingenious use of the desert landscape to prosper for generations.

Sixty years later, Georgia’s Ocmulgee National Monument was added to the National Park System to celebrate the many different Native American cultures that comprise over 17,000 years of history at the park. These are just two of the many national parks across the country that interpret the history, culture, and contributions of Native Americans in the U.S.

For many students, a visit to a national park is a way to learn more about their culture and heritage. Saguaro National Park participated in Hands on the Land, a program focused on bringing Native American students to their local national park. During the 2017-2018 school year, more than 100 students from local bicultural schools for Tohono O’odham youth took part in the program.

While at the park, students partook in real life scientific research, collecting data from wildlife cameras to research five rare, small carnivore species native to the area. Along with wildlife programming, students also learned about the park’s biodiversity, famous saguaro trees, and the rich ties of the park’s history to their Tohono O’odham culture.

From culture to science to volunteerism, Native Americans are active stewards, teachers, and participants in national parks, preserving the heritage and history that make this land so remarkable. Programs like these ensure that more people learn this important layer of the American experience.

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‘It Belongs to All of Us’: Volunteers Help Clean Up National Parks in Shutdown

Posted by on Jan 9, 2019 @ 3:49 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

‘It Belongs to All of Us’: Volunteers Help Clean Up National Parks in Shutdown

The government shut down over two weeks ago, leaving nine departments’ operations affected, about 800,000 workers without pay, and some national parks closed to visitors. Other parks were open with limited staffing, or thanks to help from states, but the National Park Service has warned that “access may change without notice.” As the shutdown continues, edging closer to becoming the longest such one on record, several volunteer groups across the country have decided to help clean up trash in national parks.

“All of these National Park Service people are unable to do their job through no fault of their own.”

15 people showed up in Yellowstone to clean on Saturday, but then a local businessman posted about the effort on Facebook and about 40 people showed up on Sunday.

They pulled trash out of the bathrooms, swept the floors, cleaned the toilets and replaced bottles of hand sanitizer. Some volunteers brought supplies from home or bought them along the way.

Other national parks have also received attention from cleanup groups across the country. Dozens of volunteers with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, a Maryland-based organization that regularly organizes community service cleaning efforts across the country, were mobilized for cleaning efforts in Joshua Tree National Park, Everglades National Park, the National Mall, and Independence Hall in Philadelphia and Cuyahoga Valley National Park, according to Salaam Bhatti, a spokesman for the association.

Grassroots outdoors lovers have banded together to pick up trash in the Smokies and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Those who are taking it upon themselves to help their beloved parks in time of need are thankful for the opportunity to live so close.

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Oregon experts warn of invasive species that hitched a ride on North Carolina Christmas trees

Posted by on Jan 8, 2019 @ 6:54 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Oregon experts warn of invasive species that hitched a ride on North Carolina Christmas trees

While families celebrate the New Year, many are getting rid of their Christmas trees this week. With that comes a warning from the Oregon Department of Forestry about an invasive insect that could pose a problem if you don’t dispose of your tree the right way.

Experts say roughly 8,000 Fraser Fir trees shipped from North Carolina to big box stores on the West Coast had elongate hemlock scale, an invasive species not native to the Northwest.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture found the pest and ordered the infested trees destroyed, but not before some had been shipped to big box stores all along the West Coast. The fear is that when Christmas trees are left for weeks or months in a yard or dumped in a park or the woods, eggs laid on them will hatch and the pest may escape into nearby trees.

According to a new release from the Oregon Department of Forestry, if the elongate hemlock scale does get established in Oregon, it could be bad news for the state’s timber economy.

The pest attacks not only hemlocks, but several conifer species native to Oregon, like true firs, spruce and Douglas-fir. The scale feeds on the underside of the needles, creating a yellowish-brown waxy layer that is present year-round.

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Park Service takes ‘extraordinary step’ of dipping into entrance fees to bolster operations at popular sites

Posted by on Jan 7, 2019 @ 6:42 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Park Service takes ‘extraordinary step’ of dipping into entrance fees to bolster operations at popular sites

The National Park Service will take the unprecedented step of tapping entrance fees to pay for expanded operations at its most popular sites as the federal government shutdown threatens to degrade some of the nation’s iconic landmarks.

Under a memorandum signed by the Interior Department’s acting secretary, David Bernhardt, park managers will be permitted to bring on additional staff to clean restrooms, haul trash, patrol the parks and open areas that have been shut during the more-than-two-week budget impasse. In a statement, National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith acknowledged that the administration’s practice of keeping parks open but understaffed has become unsustainable at some of its most beloved sites.

The move, which some critics said could be illegal, shows the extent to which the Trump administration’s decision to keep the national park system open to visitors is straining its capacity and potentially exposing public lands to long-term damage. During such shutdowns under the Clinton and Obama administrations, the Park Service chose to block access to its sites rather than leave them open with a skeleton staff on board. Trump officials chose the opposite course, and as trash has begun to mount and key habitat has been imperiled, the administration is struggling to manage the problems.

Congressional Democrats and some park advocates question whether the park-fee move is legal, because the fees that parks collect under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act are expressly designated to support visitor services instead of operations and basic maintenance.

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A writer’s retreat: GSMA offers writing residency in the Smokies

Posted by on Jan 5, 2019 @ 7:09 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A writer’s retreat: GSMA offers writing residency in the Smokies

Steve Kemp moved to the Great Smoky Mountains in 1987 for what would become a 30-year career with the Great Smoky Mountains Association, and following his 2017 retirement GSMA is looking to honor his contributions to the organization through a new writer’s residency.

“There is a specific skill in writing in a way that engages the reader and inspires curiosity and passion in the reader, and that’s what we want to be able to cultivate,” said Laurel Rematore, executive director of GSMA, “because we’re in the business of helping people to connect with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, connect on an emotional level so they will take care of it.”

Kemp is exceptionally good at that kind of writing, Rematore said, making it fitting that the new program will be called the Steve Kemp Writer’s Residency. Out of those applying, one writer will be chosen to live in park employee housing near Park Headquarters — located outside of Gatlinburg — from March 3 to April 13, 2019.

“It’s access, and it’s the opportunity to focus, focus without being concerned about outside deadlines or requirements,” said Rematore. “I think oftentimes artists are looking for inspiration, and what better inspiration than to come and immerse yourself in this place for six whole weeks?”

The selected writer will have more opportunity available to him or her than just the chance to sit in a cabin for six weeks. The writer will spend time with Kemp to “get a flavor of his view of things,” said Rematore, have access to park archives and personnel and have the opportunity to host events and be published in GSMA works.

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Five Ways to Make the Outdoors More Inclusive

Posted by on Jan 4, 2019 @ 6:40 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Henry X. Finney came home to Virginia to sort out his future. He didn’t know what he would do, or how he would support his young family—until one day he saw a uniformed park ranger. Instantly, the next chapter of his life unfurled before him. He would be a ranger, and spend his career in the outdoors.

“He said, ‘Great, a government job, let me go apply,’” recalled Carolyn Finney, his daughter and the author of Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors. “This was in the 1950s in Virginia, and they told him, ‘Sorry, we don’t hire Negroes.’”

Finney recently shared this anecdote in a room full of prominent outdoors experts and advocates, who had gathered for a brainstorm session in New York City to discuss the lack of diversity in the outdoors. “I can’t imagine how he felt hearing that after fighting for his country,” she added. But her father’s tale only partly explains the issue, which is a thorny and multifaceted one.

According to the most recent National Parks Service survey, about 78 percent of those who visit federal parks are white. Meanwhile, African Americans, Latinos, women, and members of the LGBTQ community often report feeling unwelcome or unsafe in outdoor spaces. Moreover, the outdoors industry workforce—which includes everyone from park rangers to retail sales associates—has minimal representation from these groups.

At the New York brainstorm session, panelists worked through these problem areas and discussed possible solutions. Here are the main ideas and action steps that emerged from the meeting, and from subsequent conversations with outdoors experts from around the U.S.

 

Chronic wasting disease found in Tennessee

Posted by on Jan 2, 2019 @ 9:00 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Chronic wasting disease found in Tennessee

Chronic wasting disease has been preliminarily detected in western Tennessee, increasing the threat to deer and elk in Western North Carolina.

Tennessee initiated its Chronic Wasting Disease Response Plan after white-tailed deer in Hardeman and Fayette counties — which border the Mississippi state line — tested positive for the disease in preliminary results. Tennessee is the second state bordering North Carolina to detect the disease, with Shenandoah and Frederick counties in Virginia, which border West Virginia, confirming cases.

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal disease that affects deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer and moose. Symptoms can include drastic weight loss, stumbling, listlessness and other neurological symptoms. There are no treatments or vaccines available.

The N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission has a Chronic Wasting Disease Response Plan to guide its short-term efforts should the disease be detected in North Carolina or within 30 miles of its borders. Agency biologists conduct statewide deer sampling each year and attempt to sample all deer that show possible symptoms or die of unknown causes.

North Carolina now has a new rule prohibiting the importation of deer carcasses and specific carcass parts from anywhere outside North Carolina. The rule states that anyone transporting carcass parts into the state must follow processing and packaging regulations, which allow only the importation of specific products.

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States are out of money to keep national parks safe during shutdown

Posted by on Jan 1, 2019 @ 6:27 am in Conservation | 0 comments

States are out of money to keep national parks safe during shutdown

We are now 11 days into this partial government shutdown, and our beloved national parks are really feeling the hurt.

These shutdowns are not without consequences. Key scientists had holiday plans canceled and are being forced to work without pay. The Violence Against Women Act was allowed to expire. Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency ran out of money. Many communities’ disaster relief funds have been held up in political limbo. And while President Trump refuses to back down on his demand for border wall funding, holiday tourists are wreaking havoc on some of our national parks.

National Park Service staff are among the roughly 800,000 federal workers affected by the shutdown. Even though rangers are on furlough, tourists are still visiting these protected areas– with potentially disastrous consequences.

The problems go beyond a lack of toilet paper in the park potties. In Texas’ Big Bend National Park, trash is piling up, which conservationists fear could attract bears and lead to them become permanently habituated to human food. At Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, dozens of cars were seen entering the park despite the lack of park staffing. In California’s Joshua Tree National Park, the Los Angeles Times reports that tourists have strung Christmas lights on the park’s fragile namesake trees.

A few park-heavy states, like Arizona and Utah, have dealt with the shutdown by trying to keep their parks fully staffed with state funds paid directly to the federal government. But today, Utah’s state funding to keep Arches, Canyonlands, and Zion National Parks running with minimal staffing ran out. So too a charity group’s staffing of visitor centers at Great Smoky Mountains. Those funds are now gone as well.

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A Year Stronger: Appalachian Trail Successes in 2018

Posted by on Dec 31, 2018 @ 12:05 pm in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

A Year Stronger: Appalachian Trail Successes in 2018

2018 was a big year for the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). Despite several major weather events and three partial government shutdowns, 2018 was filled with multiple Trail milestones and the long-awaited completion of several ongoing projects. Thanks to the hard work of conservancy staff, volunteers, members, communities and supporters of the A.T., the Trail will enter 2019 ready for another year of adventure and inspiration. Here’s a look at just some of the things you helped make possible throughout 2018:

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy collaborated with partners to add nearly 28,000 acres of open space surrounding the Appalachian Trail, including nearly 3,000 acres of scenic forestland in southwestern Virginia in coordination with the Virginia Department of Forestry and more than 200 prime hillside acres in Dutchess County, New York.

The ATC completed numerous special Trail projects — repairing and rerouting the Trail, felling hazardous trees, and improving overnight sites. Several of these have been multi-year endeavors, including a Trail relocation on Sinking Creek Mountain in central Virginia — this project alone took 3 years, 136 volunteers and 4,477 hours of hard work to accomplish.

The final step was placed on the Trail at Bear Mountain in New York, a multi-year project placing a whopping 1,298 stone steps for an exceptional redesign and rebuild one of the most popular locations on the entire A.T.

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Ten Grim Climate Scenarios If Global Temperatures Continue to Rise

Posted by on Dec 30, 2018 @ 7:18 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Ten Grim Climate Scenarios If Global Temperatures Continue to Rise

The summer of 2018 was intense: deadly wildfires, persistent drought, killer floods and record-breaking heat. Although scientists exercise great care before linking individual weather events to climate change, the rise in global temperatures caused by human activities has been found to increase the severity, likelihood and duration of such conditions.

Globally, 2018 is on pace to be the fourth-hottest year on record. Only 2015, 2016 and 2017 were hotter. If humankind carries on its business-as-usual approach to climate change, there’s a 93 percent chance we’re barreling toward a world that is 4 degrees Celsius warmer by the end of the century, a potentially catastrophic level of warming.

In 2017, more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries co-signed their names to an updated — and even bleaker — version of a 1992 manifesto that predicted depletion of freshwater sources, overfishing, plummeting biodiversity, unsustainable human population growth. All are even worse now.

“We have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century.”

But they stressed that, “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out.”

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EPA Runs Out of Funds as Government Shutdown Drags On

Posted by on Dec 29, 2018 @ 3:58 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

EPA Runs Out of Funds as Government Shutdown Drags On

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ran out of funds on Friday, December 28, 2018.

The EPA had carryover funds to keep up normal operations when the shutdown began Dec. 21, but those funds have run out. What that means is that more than 700 workers considered “essential’ will have to work without pay, while more than 13,000 other employees will be furloughed. Furloughed employees were instructed to change their voice mails, enable out-of-office emails and complete their time cards. All travel for furloughed employees is canceled.

The shutdown could also impact EPA activities that normally protect the nation’s environment and public health. Here are some activities the shutdown could impact, according to the agency’s contingency plan.

  1. The cleanup of Superfund sites
  2. Inspections of drinking water systems
  3. Inspections of hazardous waste management sites and chemical facilities
  4. Reviews of pesticides

In the case of Superfund sites, the EPA will evaluate them to see which pose the greatest public health risks if cleanup efforts are delayed.

Meanwhile, the Interior Department has been in shutdown mode for a week, and that has already taken a toll on national parks. Most parks have remained open but unstaffed, and that has led to a build up of trash and a spike in illegal activities.

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On Little White Oak Mountain, A Would-Be Neighborhood Is Now a Public Park

Posted by on Dec 25, 2018 @ 2:07 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

On Little White Oak Mountain, A Would-Be Neighborhood Is Now a Public Park

This mountain once slated for development is now being turned into a public park. The town of Columbus, North Carolina, originally approved the construction of 687 homes on a 1,068-acre parcel on the south side of Little White Oak Mountain, 40 miles southeast of Asheville, near Lake Lure.

The development stalled after the economic slump in 2008, and Conserving Carolina, a land trust serving part of Western North Carolina and the Landrum area of South Carolina, purchased the property in 2016 for $2.375 million. This fall, Conserving Carolina transferred 600 acres of the mountain parcel to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to expand the Green River Game Lands, and 300 acres to Polk County for a local park, where a 10-mile multi-use trail system is being planned.

The 900 acres of new public land extend from the ridgeline of Little White Oak Mountain down to Polk County Middle School and the Polk County Recreation Complex near Highway 108. The new land designation will help protect 13 miles of streams in the Green River watershed, as well as the endangered wildflower, the white irisette.

The 2,343-foot summit of the mountain is now part of the 14,331-acre Green River Game Lands. Although no trail development is planned for the game lands portion of Little White Oak Mountain, the area will be open to hiking, hunting and fishing.

The new county park, which covers the lower portion of the mountain, is slated for 10 miles of multi-purpose trails. In addition to welcoming hikers and hunters, the trails will be the first built in Polk County with mountain bikers in mind, and officials hope they will offer cyclists an alternative to popular regional destinations like DuPont State Forest.

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Great Smoky Mountains Association Commits to Funding Park Visitor Centers During Government Shutdown

Posted by on Dec 22, 2018 @ 7:29 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Great Smoky Mountains Association Commits to Funding Park Visitor Centers During Government Shutdown

During the extended government shutdown in October 2013, the public’s access to Great Smoky Mountains National Park was nearly non-existent. This time, however, if a government shutdown goes into effect at midnight on December 21, Great Smoky Mountains Association is committed to creating a different reality for park visitors during the upcoming holiday week.

“We know many people plan a trip to the Smokies during the holidays. Businesses in the surrounding communities also depend on visitors to stay in their hotels and eat at their restaurants,” GSMA CEO Laurel Rematore said Friday afternoon, December 21. “We want to do what we can to ensure visitors have access to park information, and in the event of a shutdown we know we can do that by keeping the park’s visitor centers open during this busy period.”

As the potential for a government shutdown began to appear on the horizon late last week, Rematore went to work with NPS officials to find a way to temporarily staff in-park visitor centers independent of federal funds, thus ensuring the Smokies would remain available to visitors who wish to connect with their public lands during this holiday season.

It has been determined that GSMA would cover costs associated with visitor center staffing, restroom cleaning and trash hauling should they be needed due to a shutdown. With these services in place, a visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park may not look and feel exactly as anticipated, but at least a minimum of visitor comforts and information would remain available at three park visitor centers: Sugarlands near Gatlinburg, Tenn., Cades Cove near Townsend, Tenn., and Oconaluftee near Cherokee, N.C.

Even so, visitors and community leaders should be aware that there’s a clock on GSMA’s funding; it would expire at sundown on Tuesday, January 1, 2019.

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How Native American tribes are bringing back the bison from brink of extinction

Posted by on Dec 20, 2018 @ 6:34 am in Conservation | 0 comments

How Native American tribes are bringing back the bison from brink of extinction

On 5,000 hectares of unplowed prairie in north-eastern Montana, hundreds of wild bison roam once again. But this herd is not in a national park or a protected sanctuary – they are on tribal lands. Belonging to the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of Fort Peck Reservation, the 340 bison is the largest conservation herd in the ongoing bison restoration efforts by North America’s Indigenous people.

The bison – or as Native Americans call them, buffalo – are not just “sustenance.” The continent’s largest land mammal plays a major role in the spiritual and cultural lives of numerous Native American tribes, an “integrated relationship.”

Only a couple of hundred years ago, 20 million to 30 million bison lived in vast thundering herds across North America. They were leftover relics of the Pleistocene and one of the few large mammals to survive the Ice Age extinction.

But less than 400 years after Columbus’ direful voyage, white settlers pushed their way west into Native American territory in so-called manifest destiny. And the US government made the fateful decision to cripple the Native Americans through whatever means necessary. One of these was the bison: the government viewed slaughtering the great herds en-masse as a way to starve and devastate Native American tribes.

Within just decades, the bison went from numbering tens of millions to within a hair’s breadth of extinction.

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The Future of Forests & Water in the NC Piedmont

Posted by on Dec 18, 2018 @ 9:22 am in Conservation | 0 comments

We’re all downstream from something. A new modeling study by the U.S. Forest Service shows that forests make very good upstream neighbors.

The research focuses on the Yadkin Pee-Dee River Basin in central North Carolina. Senior research ecologists have been studying this area because of its projected rapid population growth and forest loss. Its urban area is likely to double in the future – some land use change models forecast a Piedmont Megalopolis that fully connects Atlanta and Raleigh by 2060.

The loss of forested land can lead to urban stream syndrome: more flash floods, more sediment and nutrients in the runoff water, and lower water levels in stream beds.

Climate change is bringing larger and more frequent droughts and floods to the region – conditions that exacerbate urban stream syndrome and portend water shortages.

The researchers examined how land use conversion from forest to urban would affect streamflow in 28 of the Yadkin Pee-Dee’s smaller watersheds (or subwatersheds).

Using the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model and four paired climate-land use change scenarios (the same ones used for the Southern Forest Futures Project), they compared projections of streamflow, base flow – low streamflow between rainfall events, and peak flow – the highest streamflow of the season.

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