Conservation & Environment

NC Wildlife Success Story: American River Otter

Posted by on Jul 17, 2017 @ 9:08 am in Conservation | 0 comments

NC Wildlife Success Story:  American River Otter

Even as one of the most widely distributed mammals currently in the United States, the American river otter (Lutra canadensis lataxina) is an exciting sight for fishermen, boaters, and outdoor enthusiasts. With a playful nature (often times seen treading water to take in surroundings, or sliding down mud banks) partnered with the otter’s extreme curiosity, the American river otter commonly approaches boats and people on shore, despite their nocturnal nature.

The American river otter is considered an important aquatic predator due to its regulation of undesirable fish populations in marine and freshwater waterways ranging from slow moving, warm coastal streams and marshes, to rapid, cold moving mountain streams.

The American river otter is built for aquatic life. With short, dense waterproof fur, hind feet pads for traction on slippery surfaces, webbed feet and retractable claws, and whiskers highly sensitive to help capture prey in murky waters, the otter has a large appetite for fish and crayfish, and occasionally aquatic amphibians and crabs. They tend to cluster in groups of five to ten otters and inhabit dens along banks vacated by other animals.

In the early 1500’s, European settlers began trapping otters and exporting their pelts as a part of the high-end fur trade. As a result of the over-trapping and the 20th century’s wetland drainage and water pollution, the otter population began to decline By the late 1930’s, otters were nearly extinct in western North Carolina.

To restore the otter population, the North Carolina Resources Commission released 49 otters in the western part of NC from 1990-1995. As a result, the otter populations began to increase and have since been fully restored in North Carolina.

 

The Best Secret Spots in America’s National Parks

Posted by on Jul 15, 2017 @ 7:21 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

The Best Secret Spots in America’s National Parks

Each one of America’s 59 national parks has its well-known, must-see stops – for example, you probably aren’t going to hit Yellowstone without swinging by Old Faithful. While those sites became musts for a reason, they also have their drawbacks in the form of insane tourist traffic (and, sometimes, insane tourists) and not a whole lot of tranquility. And yet, sometimes they’re all a visitor sees.

During the centennial anniversary year of the park service in 2016, there was a couple who road tripped to all 59 national parks in an effort to cast a brighter light on the beauty of America’s greatest natural treasures.

Their goal was to explore as much as they could in short periods of time (59 parks in 52 weeks averages out to about six days per park, including travel time), and to give the smaller and lesser-known parks the same treatment we would give to the most popular parks in the system.

One of the best parts of the quest? They encountered plenty of unexpected surprises – out-of-the-way places that made them feel as though they were getting simultaneously closer to the parks and farther from the rest of humanity.

Here are 11 of those secret gems that should be on your next itinerary...

 

Pack it in, pack it out

Posted by on Jul 12, 2017 @ 9:14 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Pack it in, pack it out

Summer is the peak time for hiking all across the country. Not co­incidentally it also is the peak time for littering along trails.

Hiking has always been a popular pastime in a country rich with majestic forests, breathtaking views and well-maintained trails to suit just about any taste and fitness level.

But in recent years use of them has soared for a number of reasons, including publicity given to some trails, most notably the iconic long distance trails that was featured in popular books and movies; increased population; increased tourism and promotion of local hiking trails by communities eager to encourage visitors to linger longer.

Along with increased use has come increased litter: food wrappers; paper and plastic bags; Kleenex, paper towels and even toilet paper; plastic water bottles and food scraps.

Even people who otherwise are conscientious about following the “pack it in, pack it rule” argue that it’s all right to leave apple cores, orange peels, pistachio and peanut shells and other food scraps along hiking trails and at view points. One hiker debating this issue on social media maintained: “If it’s organic, it’s not littering.”

This is not true. Garbage is garbage, whatever form it comes in. If there’s any uncertainty about this, there’s a simple rule of thumb: “If I were at home, would I throw this on my living room floor?” If the answer is no, then it’s garbage.

While it’s true that organic items will eventually decay, there are grave misperceptions about how long this will take. Not only that, fruit waste are simply non-native food supplies for wildlife. In many cases, their digestive systems are not meant to handle an orange peel or nut shell.

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Climate change threatens uninhabitable conditions for the Middle East and North Africa

Posted by on Jul 11, 2017 @ 6:56 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Climate change threatens uninhabitable conditions for the Middle East and North Africa

Climate change means colder winters, heavy rains and lots of environmental hazards for many people. But for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), climate change means uninhabitable weather conditions, forced migration and loss of traditional income. It is a real threat that might make the region uninhabitable.

The MENA region is considered the world’s driest: it is the home to six percent of the world’s population yet it contains 12 countries that face extreme water scarcity – including Tunisia, Bahrain, Kuwait and Algeria.

According to The World Bank, the MENA region has less than two percent of the world’s water supply.

Climate change is already affecting the MENA region in dire ways, but it is expected that climate change will cause extreme heat to spread across more of the land for longer periods of time.

This will make some countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia uninhabitable because it will create humid heat conditions at a level incompatible with human existence.

It will also play a major role in reducing growing areas for agriculture – which is one of the most important sectors in the region.

The rising temperatures will keep increasing the pressure on crops and water resources, which will eventually lead to an amplified level of migration and risk of conflict.

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How biologists are working to keep the Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle off the endangered species list

Posted by on Jul 10, 2017 @ 9:08 am in Conservation | 0 comments

How biologists are working to keep the Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle off the endangered species list

Among exotic bugs facing mortal threats, few appear better set to survive than the Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle, an aggressive carnivore uniquely adapted to endure super-intense heat and some of the planet’s harshest scouring sand.

Its habitat within the wilderness of Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve already is protected from motorized recreationists and other perils.

“Other beetles should be so lucky as the tiger beetle,” said National Park Service biologist Fred Bunch, chief of natural resources at the dunes, who has observed the insects for 27 years.

But, depending on results of an upcoming U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey, this hairy, green-headed beetle with a violin-shaped mark on its back could be placed on the list of endangered species, requiring the ecological equivalent of emergency room resuscitation.

The uproars over endangered polar bears, rhinos, tigers and other charismatic big creatures have obscured a quieter emergence of growing numbers of bugs on the government’s roster of species going extinct. Today’s Endangered Species Act list of 1,447 animals includes 84 insects. Beyond bees and monarch butterflies, some of those most recently determined to be dwindling are beetles, such as the Northeastern Beach tiger beetle, a relative of the Great Sand Dunes beetle.

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World Unites Against Trump on Climate

Posted by on Jul 8, 2017 @ 1:12 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

World Unites Against Trump on Climate

At the conclusion of this year’s contentious G-20 summit, the countries released a communique on climate that placed Donald Trump starkly at odds with every other nation present. The communique noted that every country aside from the U.S. recognizes that the Paris agreement is “irreversible,” reaffirmed their “strong commitment” and will move “swiftly towards its full implementation in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”

The 19 nations—Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the UK and the European Union—represent the majority of the world’s economic output and population. The G-20 was Trump’s first major international summit since announcing that he would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement.

Donald Trump is learning the hard way that he cannot thwart the entire world on climate change and expect to continue with business as usual. Trump’s historically irresponsible decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement has left the U.S. isolated on the world stage.

The other 19 leaders of the world’s largest economies stood shoulder to shoulder in unified support for the Paris agreement. Given the choice between following Trump or standing strong for climate action, not a single world leader decided to back him. That’s unprecedented, and it shows how deeply unpopular and misguided Trump’s attack on the Paris agreement has been, and how much damage it has done to U.S. credibility and standing in the world.

Cite…

 

66 million trees planted in 12 hours in India

Posted by on Jul 7, 2017 @ 4:41 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

66 million trees planted in 12 hours in India

Armed with a variety of garden tools and toting buckets of water, a volunteer army in India planted more than 66 million trees in 12 hours as part of a record-breaking environmental pledge.

More than 1.5 million people gathered on July 2, 2017 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to plant saplings along the Narmada River in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

State Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced the news on Twitter. “By planting trees we are not only serving Madhya Pradesh but the world at large,” he tweeted.

In 2016, volunteers set a world record in Uttar Pradesh by planting more than 50 million trees in a day.

Representatives from Guinness World Records reportedly monitored the plantings and are expected to confirm the new record within a few weeks.

Under the Paris Agreement, India agreed to spend $6 billion to reforest 12 percent of its land, increasing its total forest cover to 235 million acres by 2030, according to National Geographic.

Volunteers planted more than 20 different species of trees in two dozen areas along the river basin to increase the saplings’ chances of survival.

Cite…

 

More National Parks and Monuments Pushing Fee Increases At Direction Of Interior Secretary

Posted by on Jul 6, 2017 @ 11:44 am in Conservation | 0 comments

More National Parks and Monuments Pushing Fee Increases At Direction Of Interior Secretary

Every week, it seems like another park is asking the public for input on increasing its entrance fees. Turns out, there’s a simple explanation: The Interior Department is telling them to.

And at one park, Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, that means implementing two rate increases, ultimately doubling the cost of a seven-day vehicle pass, in just 12 months.

The National Park Service received direction in May that all parks not aligned with their designated fee group, based on park type, must begin civic engagement to raise fees to compliance by 2018, according to one park release. Another cited the Interior Department, and in particular Secretary Ryan Zinke, as the source: “All fee-collecting parks … have been instructed by the Secretary of the Interior to raise entrance fees to the full level of their assigned tier by January 1, 2018.”

In 2006, the Park Service developed a fee structure to standardize rates across the country. Four groupings were created based on park designation. However, in 2008, then-Director Mary Bomar imposed a moratorium that froze entrance fees at 2007 levels. That freeze continued until late in 2014.

Learn more here…

 

Interior Secretary Zinke’s latest gift to the oil and gas industry might be illegal

Posted by on Jul 5, 2017 @ 8:29 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Attorneys general from California and New Mexico filed a lawsuit July 5, 2017 over Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s postponement of the Bureau of Land Management’s methane waste prevention rule. The suit holds that the Interior Department’s failure to implement the rule will cost California taxpayers substantial royalty payments and furthers the Trump administration’s attack on public health.

BLM’s methane rule seeks to reduce the wasteful release into the atmosphere of methane — the primary component of natural gas — from oil and gas operations on public and tribal lands. Studies show the rule would save $330 million worth of taxpayer-owned gas annually and would result in $800 million in direct payments to the public over the next decade.

A ruling earlier this week by the U.S. Court of Appeals on a similar issue regarding an EPA methane regulation could provide a clue for where this lawsuit is going. In a 2–1 ruling, the court struck down an attempt by EPA to delay implementation of new emission standards on oil and gas wells, arguing that EPA could not delay an effective date even as they seek to rewrite the regulation.

The Interior Department announced in June it would delay implementation of BLM’s methane waste prevention rule and would, instead, rewrite the rule to be less “burdensome” to the oil and gas industry. This action treads on shaky ground because the rule was already finalized under the Obama administration, and the department is legally obligated to enforce it.

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Forest Service plan could fundamentally change hiking in Oregon’s wilderness

Posted by on Jul 5, 2017 @ 6:33 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Forest Service plan could fundamentally change hiking in Oregon’s wilderness

News that the U.S. Forest Service is proposing a way to limit the number of people entering Oregon’s wilderness areas didn’t come as a major surprise.

As the number of people hiking and camping in Oregon’s outdoors has skyrocketed, wilderness areas, often in fragile alpine environments, have been particularly hard-hit.

What did surprise many was the scope of a plan announced this month by Willamette and Deschutes national forests. They propose a system that would require a permit to hike or backpack in the Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, Three Sisters, Diamond Peak and Waldo Lake wilderness areas.

The goal is to limit crowds and damage by restricting numbers, officials said. But it would also represent a fundamental change in a state that, for the most part, allows people to recreate as they please on public lands.

Reaction to the news was mixed. Many who’ve watched places such as Jefferson Park and Green Lakes Basin get trampled were supportive of the proposal. But many pushed back against fees associated with the proposal. The cost of a permit would range from $6 to $12, officials said.

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Court Blocks E.P.A. Effort to Suspend Obama-Era Methane Rule

Posted by on Jul 4, 2017 @ 6:52 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Court Blocks E.P.A. Effort to Suspend Obama-Era Methane Rule

Dealing another legal blow to the Trump administration, a federal appeals court ruled on July 3, 2017 that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot suspend an Obama-era rule to restrict methane emissions from new oil and gas wells.

The 2-to-1 decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is the first major legal setback for Scott Pruitt, the E.P.A. administrator, who is trying to roll back dozens of Obama-era environmental regulations. The ruling signals that President Trump’s plans to erase his predecessor’s environmental record are likely to face an uphill battle in the courts.

A number of other E.P.A. actions to undo regulations it inherited, including a rule on landfills and another on chemical spills, are likely to receive close scrutiny from the courts because of this ruling.

In upholding green groups’ efforts to end the E.P.A.’s 90-day stay over parts of the regulation, the appeals court ruled that the agency’s decision was “unreasonable,” “arbitrary” and “capricious.” The agency, it said, did not have authority under the Clean Air Act to block the rule.

The judges said the agency would have to undertake a new rule-making process to undo the regulation.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

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Introducing Femelschlag

Posted by on Jul 3, 2017 @ 11:58 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Introducing Femelschlag

Visitors to the Cradle of Forestry (located near Brevard, NC in Pisgah National Forest) learn about the Biltmore Forest School – the first school of forestry in North America. It was started in 1898 by Carl Schenck. A native of Germany, Schenck brought German forestry concepts to the United States. It is fitting that today in Pisgah National Forest, researchers are looking to bring a German forestry practice to Pisgah National Forest in an effort to restore oaks.

In 2017 researchers are cutting quarter-acre and one-acre gaps in a 150-acre section of the forest. Forest Service research scientist Tara Keyser is leading this work. The gap cutting technique is called “femelschlag.”

“All of our silviculture techniques come from central Europe,” Keyser explains. “Femelschlag is one of those techniques. It has been practiced as long as forestry.”

The work addresses a big problem facing Southern Appalachian forests – a lack of young oaks. “You can walk miles in an Appalachian forest and not see a head-high oak seedling,” says Keyser. Oaks are being out-competed by other species, particularly yellow poplar.

“A tree is not a tree. There are some trees that are really important because of their role and the niche that they fill,” she says. “On that scale an oak is more important than a poplar. Acorns are an important food source for wildlife.”

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Retiring Blue Ridge Parkway superintendent reflects on 37 years with the National Park Service

Posted by on Jun 30, 2017 @ 11:44 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Retiring Blue Ridge Parkway superintendent reflects on 37 years with the National Park Service

Mark Woods will retire as superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway on July 3, 2017, but on July 4 he’ll don the flathat one last time as grand marshal of the Lake Junaluska Fourth of July Parade.

Woods was still in college when he started working for the Park Service, knowing he wanted to do some type of conservation work but not exactly sure what form that would take. He started out as a summer seasonal, doing resource management work at ninety six National Historic sites, and it didn’t take long for him to see a future with the national parks.

“I loved it,” he said. “I realized the Park Service offered really so much you could do, from history to natural resource issues, firefighting, law enforcement, and I just realized it was a career I wanted to pursue.”

After resource management, Woods got into the Park Service’s law enforcement branch. He also held jobs in interpretation and education before taking his first superintendent post at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, in Greensboro. From then, he went on to become superintendent at Virgin Islands National Park, Cumberland Gap National Seashore, Natchez Trace Parkway and, in 2013, the Blue Ridge Parkway.

In total, he’s worked at nine different parks, as well as a number of shorter-term detail assignments and stints as associate regional director and deputy regional director for the Park Service’s regional office in Atlanta.

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Global sea level rise accelerates since 1990, study shows

Posted by on Jun 29, 2017 @ 6:29 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Global sea level rise accelerates since 1990, study shows

The rise in global sea levels has accelerated since the 1990s amid rising temperatures, with a thaw of Greenland’s ice sheet pouring ever more water into the oceans, scientists said in a new report.

The annual rate of sea level rise increased to 3.3 millimetres (0.13 inch) in 2014 – a rate of 33 centimetres (13 inches) if kept unchanged for a century – from 2.2 mm in 1993, according to a team of scientists in China, Australia and the United States.

Sea levels have risen by about 20 cms in the past century and many scientific studies project a steady acceleration this century as man-made global warming melts more ice on land.

The confirmation of a quickening rise “highlights the importance and urgency” of working out ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to protect low-lying coasts, the scientists wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change.

A thaw of Greenland’s ice sheet accounted for more than 25 percent of the sea level rise in 2014 against just 5 percent in 1993, according to the study led by Xianyao Chen of the Ocean University of China China and Qingdao National Laboratory of Marine Science and Technology.

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Smokies Park Recruits for July 6th Litter Pick-Up at Deep Creek and Smokemont

Posted by on Jun 28, 2017 @ 12:34 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Smokies Park Recruits for July 6th Litter Pick-Up at Deep Creek and Smokemont

Great Smoky Mountains National Park seeks volunteers to help care for campgrounds and picnic areas after the July 4th, 2017 Holiday. The maintenance staff does a fantastic job providing clean and safe spaces for visitors to enjoy our amazing National Park; but increased visitation on holiday weekends can be overwhelming.

As the Trails and Facilities Volunteer Coordinator, Adam Monroe would like to lead a crew of 10 people to lend a hand with litter pick up in the Deep Creek and Smokemont areas of the Park. This is a great opportunity to make a difference in an easily accessible part of the Park.

Thursday, July 6th, 2017 all volunteers will meet at 9:00 a.m. in the Deep Creek Picnic area and begin the litter pick up. If time allows volunteers will move on to the Smokemont area to finish out the morning. The workday will end at 12:00 noon.

Adam will provide directions and safety equipment including litter grabbers and gloves. Please be prepared for changing weather conditions and dress appropriately for work. Youth Volunteers (under 18) must be accompanied by a responsible adult. Participants should be able to walk along uneven terrain and carry light loads.

Please contact Adam Monroe to sign up. Adam_Monroe@nps.gov or call 828-497-1949.

 

Llama trekking guide works to defend the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument he campaigned to create

Posted by on Jun 28, 2017 @ 7:21 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Llama trekking guide works to defend the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument he campaigned to create

Stuart Wilde has spent a couple hundred days each year of the last 25 trekking into the canyons along the Rio Grande, where burnt-black volcanic rock soars for hundreds of feet overhead. Often, pack teams of rescued llamas trail him, and he’s pointing out petroglyphs for tourists hiking along.

These desert canyons descend from the gnarled piñon and prickly pear at the rim, into an increasingly verdant landscape laced with ponderosa pines and frequented by great blue herons and bighorn sheep. The natural landscape is riddled with Native cultural sites, remnants from Spanish settlers and conquistadors, even traces of settlements from Dust Bowl-era homesteaders.

“You can’t have a natural experience in Rio Grande del Norte without having a cultural experience,” he says.

For four years, he’s been able to say that his work—showing people the place itself, as well as driving loops around the Enchanted Circle’s highways near Taos to talk about the area’s historic and biological significance—helped secure the gorge protections for generations to come.

That preservation came into question at the end of April, when the president announced a sweeping review of national monuments from the last 20 years, including Rio Grande del Norte, designated by former President Barack Obama in March 2013.

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Forests and oceans seem to be absorbing a lot less CO2

Posted by on Jun 27, 2017 @ 7:06 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Forests and oceans seem to be absorbing a lot less CO2

On the best days, the wind howling across the rugged promontory at Cape Grim, Tasmania has not touched land for thousands of miles, and the arriving air seems as if it should be the cleanest in the world.

But on a cliff above the sea, inside a low-slung government building, a bank of sophisticated machines sniffs that air day and night, revealing telltale indicators of the way human activity is altering the planet on a major scale.

For more than two years, the monitoring station here, along with its counterparts across the world, has been flashing a warning: The excess carbon dioxide scorching the planet rose at the highest rate on record in 2015 and 2016. A slightly slower but still unusual rate of increase has continued into 2017.

Scientists are concerned about the cause of the rapid rises because, in one of the most hopeful signs since the global climate crisis became widely understood in the 1980s, the amount of carbon dioxide that people are pumping into the air seems to have stabilized in recent years, at least judging from the data that countries compile on their own emissions.

That raises a conundrum: If the amount of the gas that people are putting out has stopped rising, how can the amount that stays in the air be going up faster than ever? Does it mean the natural sponges that have been absorbing carbon dioxide are now changing?

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