Conservation & Environment

North Cascades grizzly bear recovery work halted by Interior Department

Posted by on Dec 18, 2017 @ 6:46 am in Conservation | 0 comments

North Cascades grizzly bear recovery work halted by Interior Department

Work on grizzly bear recovery in the North Cascades Ecosystem has been halted even as the continental United States’ two largest grizzly populations near removal from Endangered Species Act protection.

North Cascades National Park Superintendent Karen Taylor-Goodrich told the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee on Wednesday that her staff had been asked to stop work on its environmental impact statement by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s office.

The order also stalls discussions with Canadian wildlife managers who oversee a similar grizzly recovery process in British Columbia, she said.

“We were in the process of evaluating public comment,” Taylor-Goodrich said of the stop order. “We’re in year three of the process and all the public scoping has been done. The draft EIS went out for public review in spring and we’ve received about 127,000 comments.”

The North Cascades Ecosystem includes the national park and large swaths of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie and Okanogan-Wenatchee national forests, totaling 9,800 square miles. It holds an estimated five to 10 grizzly bears, which the IGBC considers “the most at-risk grizzly bear population in the U.S. today.” The Canadian portion supports another six grizzlies.

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Arctic Temperatures Are Rising So Fast Computers Don’t Believe They’re Real

Posted by on Dec 16, 2017 @ 11:57 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Arctic Temperatures Are Rising So Fast Computers Don’t Believe They’re Real

320 miles north of the Arctic Circle, a weather station in America’s northernmost city of Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow), Alaska, has been quietly collecting temperature data since the 1920s.

Early this month, while preparing a report on U.S. climate, experts at the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) noticed something odd: They were missing data from Utqiaġvik for all of 2017, and some of 2016.

It turns out the temperatures recorded at Utqiaġvik over that time were warmer than had ever been seen before. So much so, in fact, that an automated computer system set up to police data and remove irregularities had flagged it as unreal and excluded it from the report.

Since 1979, the first year sea ice began being monitored by satellite, Utqiaġvik’s average temperatures from January through September have climbed 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit ― a change nearly twice as large as that seen in the lower 48 states. And in October, November and December, the temperatures have positively skyrocketed, with differences of 7.8, 6.9 and 4.7 degrees Fahrenheit respectively.

Those warmer temperatures mean the amount of Arctic sea ice in the area has drastically decreased, leading to yet more warming. And as that vicious cycle of warmer temperatures to less ice, to even warmer temperatures and even less ice, has repeated, the Utqiaġvik weather station did what it was supposed to do: It sent up a huge red flag that something must be broken.

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Here’s a $17 billion blueprint for how to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric grid

Posted by on Dec 16, 2017 @ 7:11 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Here’s a $17 billion blueprint for how to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric grid

Called “Build Back Better,” the plan focuses on providing immediate relief while also making the island’s energy infrastructure more resilient to future storms. That means fortifying the electric transmission system and bulking up defenses at power plants and substations.

The plan also envisions a Puerto Rico dotted with solar farms and wind turbines, linked by more than 150 microgrids. Of the 470,000 homes destroyed in Maria’s high winds, the report points out many could be built back with rooftop solar. New battery storage systems would allow hospitals, fire stations, water treatment plants, airports, and other critical facilities to keep the lights on without power from the grid.

Overall, $1.5 billion of the plan’s budget would go to these distributed renewable energy resources.

The plan was concocted by a bunch of industry and government groups working together, including the federal Department of Energy, Puerto Rico’s utility, several other state power authorities, and private utility companies. If enacted, it would take the next 10 years to complete.

With a $94 billion Puerto Rico relief plan in Congress right now, it’s actually possible that $17 billion of that could go to building a renewable, resilient energy system for the future.

Cite…

 

The Thorny Economics of Preventing Exotic Species Introductions

Posted by on Dec 15, 2017 @ 1:47 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The Thorny Economics of Preventing Exotic Species Introductions

What if we lose tree species we know, love, and need? It has happened before.

“Look at what happened to the American chestnut,” says U.S. Forest Service research forester Thomas Holmes. “Look at what’s happening right now to hemlock, redbay, and ash trees.” All three species, as well as many more, are threatened by non-native insects or pathogens.

Non-native insects, pathogens, plants, and animals have been arriving for hundreds of years. Most fail to become established, but some thrive and rampage through their new homes. These non-native species cause immense ecological and economic damage.

“Currently, homeowners and municipalities shoulder most of the costs,” says Holmes.

Local governments treat, cut down, and replace ailing street trees. Municipalities spend an average of $1.7 billion each year cleaning up after wood-boring insects such as the emerald ash borer.

Homeowners face similar challenges, and when trees die, property values decline. Each year, tree death from non-native insects and pathogens costs homeowners an estimated $1.5 billion in lost property values.

About 70 percent of non-native insects and diseases in the U.S. hitchhiked on live plants. Untreated wood packing material can also carry an unintended cargo – exotic wood-boring insects.

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Major financial institutions rebuke the Trump agenda, announce big steps away from fossil fuels

Posted by on Dec 14, 2017 @ 7:09 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Major financial institutions rebuke the Trump agenda, announce big steps away from fossil fuels

Two major financial institutions — one public, one private — announced that they would be significantly paring down their investment in fossil fuel projects, signaling a shift in the way financial institutions assess the risks associated with fossil fuels and climate change.

During the One Planet Summit taking place in Paris, France this week, the World Bank announced that it would no longer finance upstream oil and gas — meaning any projects that involve oil and gas exploration or production — after 2019, making exceptions only for extreme cases. Because the World Bank already has a commitment in place restricting support for coal-fired power plants and thermal coal mining, the announcement essentially means that the World Bank will cease financing of nearly all fossil fuel projects after 2019.

In a separate announcement, also made at the One Planet Summit, insurance giant Axa — which is based in France but does business all over the world — said that it would no longer invest in or insure tar sands projects or U.S. pipelines. Axa also said that it would quadruple its efforts to divest from companies that make at least 30 percent of their profits from coal.

“Both announcements signal a broader shift to the global finance community that the era of fossil fuels is ending and that there’s significant risk associated with investing in oil and coal, both reputational and financial.”

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U.S. national parks are drastically reducing free days in 2018

Posted by on Dec 13, 2017 @ 12:02 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

U.S. national parks are drastically reducing free days in 2018

Visitors to the America’s national parks will have far fewer free admission days to choose from in 2018.

National parks in the U.S. will sharply drop the number of days they allow visitors to get in for free, a move that was criticized by opponents of the parks’ plan to raise entrance costs at other times of the year.

After waiving fees 16 days in 2016 and 10 days in 2017, the National Park Service announced that it will have four no-cost days next year. They will be Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 15), the first day of National Park Week (April 21), National Public Lands Day (Sept. 22) and Veterans Day (Nov. 11.)

The move comes as the National Park Service is considering a steep increase in entrance fees at 17 of its most popular parks, mostly in the U.S. West, to address a backlog of maintenance and infrastructure projects. Visitors to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion and other national parks would be charged $70 per vehicle, up from the fee of $30 for a weekly pass. At others, the hike is nearly triple, from $25 to $70.

The Park Service didn’t explain why it was cutting back on free days. An Interior Department spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cite…

 

Make Sure You Are Drinking Clean Water

Posted by on Dec 12, 2017 @ 12:16 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Make Sure You Are Drinking Clean Water

Cases such as the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, demonstrate how tenuous our access to safe, clean drinking water can actually be—no matter where we live. In fact, thousands of potential contaminants can make their way into our drinking water, and the infrastructure across the U.S. can’t always keep up with water purification needs.

That’s a tough pill to swallow, because as everyone knows we need clean water to survive.

In order for us to stay healthy, it’s critical that our water is safe to drink. If we can’t always trust the safety of the water coming out of our taps, wells, or streams, then it’s up to us to make it secure. That starts with knowing which contaminants to look out for—and how to ensure you’re drinking safe water.

Contaminants can make their way into our drinking water in a number of ways. For example they can exist in the pipes that connect to our internal plumbing, so water gets contaminated on its way to our taps. They can also infiltrate our water sooner, in the form of industrial or agricultural run-off that gets into the water supply at the source and isn’t entirely removed during the treatment process. Finally in some cases, contaminants are naturally present in the environment prior to water even being collected.

My new friend Kara sends along the following infographic from Waterlogic to help us better understand contaminants and the steps we can take to protect ourselves both at home, and out on the trail.

 

 

A Trail Runner’s Paean to Bears Ears

Posted by on Dec 11, 2017 @ 11:44 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A Trail Runner’s Paean to Bears Ears

Ultrarunner Bryon Powell spends nine days exploring the monument under siege

The sun is still hidden below Owl Canyon’s south rim, and the cool October-night air lingers in the canyon bottom. I exit a hairpin bend and find myself facing a canyon wall.

Dead ahead of me is a bright speck in the midst of broad shadow, the telltale sign of a rock window. “Nevills Arch?” I think. “No. Couldn’t be. Not yet.”

Nowhere on my maps, nor in my guidebook, is there mention of a rock window here. From the looks of it, this window is likely “open” only for a short time each day, while the light angles just so.

Nine days into my run across Bear Ears National Monument, I’ve only grown fonder of these daily discoveries, these surprise gifts that sparkle across the monument as densely as stars in the high desert sky.

Two months earlier, I limped from spring into summer overworked and overstressed. I desperately needed to rekindle my spirit. It just so happened that I had a brand-spanking-new national monument to explore in San Juan County, Utah, where I live. Bears Ears. You may have heard of it.

You may also know that Bears Ears National Monument has been under attack by Utah’s politicians since last December, when then-president Barack Obama declared its 1.35 million acres—which comprise one of the most culturally and spiritually significant landscapes for five Native American nations in the Southwest—a national monument, as explicitly authorized by the Antiquities Act of 1906.

Soon after coming to power, however, President Donald Trump and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke put Bears Ears and numerous other national monuments in their crosshairs.

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A Captivating Look at the “Big Four” North American Deserts

Posted by on Dec 11, 2017 @ 7:09 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

A Captivating Look at the “Big Four” North American Deserts

Ah, the desert: the “land of little rain”, the house of haboob and flash flood, the thirsty wilderness, the barren void wandered by nomads, exiles, spiritual seekers, bandits, prospectors, and UFO hunters—plus sidewinders, scorpions, tarantulas, and vultures, of course.

Taken collectively, the deserts of North America are still overshadowed sizewise by the Sahara—at 3.6 million square miles, the greatest (non-polar) desert in the world—as well as the Arabian, the Australian Outback, and several others. But in beauty, wilderness, and ecological uniqueness they hold their own with any desertscape on Earth.

We’re going to take a dusty, sandy, squinty-eyed look at the “Big Four” of North American deserts: the Great Basin, Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan, which together cover some 500,000 square miles—from the lonesome sagebrush backlands of Oregon and Nevada, down to the cactus groves of central Mexico.

There are various ecological and climatological definitions of “desert,” a rough-and-ready one being somewhere that gets 10 inches or less of annual precipitation. A more precise one calls a desert a place where evapotranspiration (evaporation plus the water given off by plants) exceeds precipitation.

The reasons for North America’s deserts mainly has to do with rain shadow-casting mountains, distances from moisture sources, and the permanent high-pressure zones of the subtropics.

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Should people pay to play in Pisgah National Forest?

Posted by on Dec 10, 2017 @ 3:12 pm in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Should people pay to play in Pisgah National Forest?

Patrick Scott walks 380 miles for work.

It’s not every day, but that’s how many miles curve, dip and roll through the Pisgah National Forest. If laid end to end, those trails would stretch from Asheville, NC to Montgomery, Alabama, and Scott, the forest’s Pisgah District trail program manager, must oversee them all.

The undertaking is daunting not just for the miles, but for the rapidly growing number of people who take to the trails to hike, mountain bike, rock climb, run, ride horses and use off-road vehicles.

Annual visitation reaches 4.6 million a year, leaving parking lots overflowing with vehicles and trails rutted and worn, with soil and sediment given free rein to run downill and pollute creeks and rivers.

Rehabbing, rerouting and caring for damaged trails comes with a price tag in the millions and would overwhelm the four rangers assigned to the Pisgah District. Trail work already ranks last on the list of priorities, Scott said.

The cost of upkeep has led again to the idea of paying to play in the forest, something that could affect all users or target uses with the greatest potential for causing damage, such as mountain biking and horseback riding.

“Bikes make ruts in the trail and horses make footprints that fill in with water,” North Carolina Horseman’s Council President Tom Thomas said. “One of our major things is to keep streams clean. To do that, we keep water off the trail.”

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Interior Department’s return to the ‘Robber Baron’ years

Posted by on Dec 9, 2017 @ 6:36 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Interior Department’s return to the ‘Robber Baron’ years

In 1921, President Warren G. Harding, R, at the behest of the oil barons who financed his election, appointed Albert Bacon Fall to be his secretary of the Interior. Fall had vowed not only to transfer all public lands to private interests, but also to abolish the Interior Department altogether. As a Cabinet member, he set out to dismantle the conservation ethos that Republican President Theodore Roosevelt had brought to Washington and to open federal fossil fuels and other resources to unfettered development, effectively handing the keys to Interior to his oil buddies. “All natural resources should be made as easy of access as possible to the present generation,” he once said.

Ryan Zinke, the current Interior secretary, likes to compare himself to Roosevelt. Yet he far more closely resembles Fall. Fall’s easy-access creed is reflected in Zinke’s systematic evisceration of environmental protections, a crusade clearly laid out in the Interior Department’s recently leaked four-year strategic plan, and in its “review” of department actions that allegedly “burden domestic energy.” The former, from which all mentions of the “climate” have been stricken, provides a blueprint for private exploitation of public lands, while the latter provides an extensive list of the energy-specific rules now on the chopping block.

The extent of the planned rollbacks is overwhelming, affecting every agency under Interior, from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. Within the Bureau of Land Management alone, Zinke is working to abolish, delay or weaken 10 rules and land-use guidance policies.

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Utah Parks Set Attendance Records Once Again

Posted by on Dec 8, 2017 @ 11:45 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Utah Parks Set Attendance Records Once Again

With a month to spare, Zion National Park has set a new record for visitation this year, heightening concerns about overcrowding just as park managers consider a controversial fee hike and requiring visitors to go through an online reservation system.

The park had counted 4,365,946 visitors through the end of November, representing nearly a 5 percent increase over last year’s record numbers. Since 2010, the park has seen visitation increase nearly 70 percent.

Zion wasn’t alone among Utah parks in drawing record numbers of crowds.

Nearby Bryce Canyon National Park was at 2.5 million visitors through November, already eclipsing last year’s record of 2.4 million. Capitol Reef had already set its new record as of the end of October, at 1.1 million visitors. Both have seen the number of visitors more than double over the past decade.

Arches and Canyonlands national parks have only reported their visitation through October, but both were on pace to eclipse last year’s record visitation as well, with Arches at 1.4 million visitors and Canyonlands at 695,148.

The National Park Service’s own analysis suggested that the five national parks and other national monuments attracted more than $1 billion in direct visitor spending, including nearly $500 million spent in southwestern Utah at Zion and Bryce Canyon.

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In Staten Island, hiking the wild path of Richmond Creek

Posted by on Dec 8, 2017 @ 6:36 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

In Staten Island, hiking the wild path of Richmond Creek

Stretching over five miles from its furthest tributaries in the Staten Island Greenbelt to its mouth in Fresh Kills, Richmond Creek flows through many layers of hidden history. Its waters pass by toxic landfills and old mill remnants, a historic town museum, a manmade mountain of rubble, a vast Boy Scout camp, and an abandoned tuberculosis hospital.

Along its entire course, the creek is a fascinating blend of natural and engineered landscapes, simultaneously operating as a stormwater drainage system and a wildlife sanctuary for several rare aquatic species. Staten Island’s only population of northern two-lined salamander live along its banks, while its waters host New York City’s only population of blacknose dace and the first beavers to appear in the city in over 100 years.

Wandering through Richmond Creek’s teeming ecosystems today, it is surprising to consider that just 20 years ago, this was one of New York City’s most contaminated waterways, polluted by raw sewage from backed-up septic systems.

“Bacterially speaking, it was just horrific,” says Robert Brauman, the construction project manager for the Staten Island Bluebelt, which began working to improve the creek in the 1990s. “Parts of it were almost like an open sewer, and you could smell the urine.”

Although the scars from centuries of human interference are still readily apparent all along Richmond Creek, it has now been transformed into one of the most pristine waterways in New York City, thanks in part to the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) unique Bluebelt program, which brought a new sewage system to the area.

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Rockefeller and the secret land deals that created Grand Teton National Park

Posted by on Dec 6, 2017 @ 11:52 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Rockefeller and the secret land deals that created Grand Teton National Park

The audacious plan was hatched in secret. In the 1920s, John D. Rockefeller Jr. — son of the Standard Oil founder, ardent conservationist and one of America’s richest men — agreed to surreptitiously acquire thousands of acres of breathtaking scenery around Jackson Hole, Wyo., and donate them to the federal government for a national park.

At the behest of Horace Albright, the future director of the National Park Service, Rockefeller formed a company called the Snake River Land Co. to buy up property around the Snake River. Rockefeller knew that if word got out that he was interested in acreage there, the price would skyrocket.

“He was willing to pay fair-market prices for the land, but not Rockefeller prices,” said Park Service spokesman Andrew White. The federal government had created several national parks in the early 20th century, White said, and the philanthropist “didn’t want the optics that this was the federal government coming in and taking more land.”

The agents Rockefeller hired to do the buying told landowners only that they were representing someone who wanted the land for conservation purposes. It left locals thinking that perhaps the buyer was interested in expanding an elk preserve that had been created in 1913.

But by 1930, a year after Congress had established Grand Teton National Park, word had gotten out about the purchases, and Wyoming residents were furious.

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Pilfered artifacts, three suicides and the struggle over federal land in Utah

Posted by on Dec 6, 2017 @ 7:10 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Pilfered artifacts, three suicides and the struggle over federal land in Utah

For decades, the empty desert region at the junction of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico — known as the Four Corners — was a free-for-all for treasure hunters looking to pick the region clean of Native American artifacts.

Then on the morning of June 10, 2009, federal agents arrived in force in Blanding, Utah.

Just as the morning light was creeping in on the tiny town, more than 100 agents reportedly fanned out. They pounded on doors at eight houses in town, while other members of the FBI and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) executed similar raids across the region. Twenty-three men and women were scooped into custody, the fruit of a 2½-year investigation.

The locals, accused of pilfering ancient artifacts from the surrounding desert, were charged with violating the federal Archaeological Resources Protection Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Authorities recovered more than 40,000 artifacts, some dating to 6,000 B.C.

The federal sting — dubbed Operation Cerberus by authorities — would prove to be the match igniting long-simmering tensions across the region.

For Native American groups, the raid was the first step in a much-needed crackdown on looting in a unique archaeologically-rich region. Concern about the illegal artifact trade was instrumental in the Obama administration’s decision in December 2016 to designate the area targeted by the operation as the Bears Ears National Monument, named for a pair of buttes that resemble the ears of bears.

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Forest Service closes in on plan to protect Oregon wilderness areas from overuse

Posted by on Dec 5, 2017 @ 6:57 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Forest Service closes in on plan to protect Oregon wilderness areas from overuse

After eight months and more than 500 comments from Oregonians, the U.S. Forest Service is closing in on a proposal that could protect central Oregon’s most scenic areas from overuse.

The Forest Service kicked off the project in the spring by holding public meetings to gauge interest in changing the way trails and campgrounds in five popular wilderness areas, spanning up to 530,000 acres in the Deschutes and Willamette national forests, are managed. Today, officials are optimistic a decision for the project — known as the Central Cascade Wilderness Strategies Project — will be released by summer.

According to a document released in May, visitation to the five most-used trails in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area increased by between 249 and 878 percent between 1991 and 2016. The increase has led to additional trash, tree damage and soil erosion in the wilderness areas.

At the end of May, the Forest Service released a proposal for the affected wilderness areas, which discussed creating a limited entry permit system for certain day-use areas and all overnight campers in wilderness areas, along with imposing restrictions on campfires above certain elevations.

The Forest Service will incorporate public comment to come up with specific alternatives, and draft an environmental assessment by next spring. A separate, parallel public planning process, focused on the logistics of a fee and permit structure in wilderness areas, will begin in the spring of 2018.

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Trump scales back two huge national monuments in Utah, drawing praise and protests

Posted by on Dec 4, 2017 @ 3:03 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Trump scales back two huge national monuments in Utah, drawing praise and protests

President Trump announced that he is drastically scaling back two national monuments established in Utah by his Democratic predecessors, the largest reduction of public lands protection in U.S. history.

Trump’s move to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments by more than 1.1 million acres and more than 800,000 acres, respectively, immediately sparked an outpouring of praise from conservative lawmakers, and protests from activists outside the White House and in Utah. It also plunges the Trump administration into uncharted legal territory since no president has sought to modify monuments established under the 1906 Antiquities Act in more than half a century.

His decision removes more than 2 million acres from the two sites, which potentially could now be leased for energy exploration, ranching, or opened for specific activities such as motorized vehicle use.

A series of rallies that opponents began over the weekend continued as Trump came to the Utah Capitol, where demonstrators were gathered before Trump arrived. Against the backdrop of the dome and snowy grounds, they chanted “LOCK HIM UP!” and lofted signs reading “Fake President” and “Pussy Grabber.” Roughly 5,000 people have protested there since the weekend.

Conservation advocates and tribal representatives have for months been preparing legal briefs that aim to block the monument changes in federal court.

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