Conservation & Environment

House Republicans want to ‘repeal and replace’ the Endangered Species Act

Posted by on Dec 28, 2016 @ 2:28 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

House Republicans want to ‘repeal and replace’ the Endangered Species Act

After attempts to chip away at the law bill by bill, Utah Rep. Rob Bishop says he’d rather scrap the Endangered Species Act altogether.

The delta smelt, a tiny, silvery-blue fish hanging on for survival in California’s San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin estuary, is notorious among opponents of the Endangered Species Act. Efforts to help the smelt have contributed to farm closures, and water reductions for households and businesses, letting more water flow towards the smelt’s habitat. And yet since 1993, when the fish was listed as threatened, the smelt has only slid further toward extinction, making it an oft-cited example of how the ESA doesn’t work for people or fish, wildlife and plants.

Utah Congressman Rob Bishop is one of the House Republicans who has backed a bill to increase water storage in California and weaken protections for the smelt — prioritizing “people over ideology,” Bishop wrote last year. As chair of the House Resources Committee, Bishop has become a leader of a radical, anti-environmental movement in Congress. Their agenda includes transferring public lands from federal management to states and local governments, banning the creation of national monuments, and removing protections for existing monuments.

Bishop is even setting sights on bedrock environmental laws, leading a charge to completely repeal the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Since 1973, the ESA has enabled the federal government to recognize species as “threatened” or “endangered,” and to set rules and restrictions on human activity to protect and recover at-risk wildlife, fish, insects and plants. The act is considered a global beacon for preventing extinction, and environmentalists insist that the ESA rarely blocks development.

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Restoring the trampled land of Utah’s national parks

Posted by on Dec 28, 2016 @ 8:56 am in Conservation | 0 comments

“What is it about the desert?”

“For me, it’s always been the wide open spaces. You know, you’re very small, and so therefore any problems that you might have also feel really small. And so it’s really a place to put things in perspective,” park ranger Liz Ballenger said. “It’s restorative.”

But there are times when even the desert needs to be restored. The arches and cliffs haven’t gone anywhere, but after more than a century of cattle-trampling, beginning in the mid-1800s, vast stretches of land in the West still haven’t come back. Native grass doesn’t grow and wildlife can’t survive.

That’s why Canyonlands and Arches National Parks are involved in an innovative program using something called “con-mods.” “It’s short for connectivity modifier,” Ballenger explained.

It’s a big idea with lots of little parts: the X-shaped con-mods catch seeds and moisture, creating tiny “islands of recovery” that multiply over and over.

“We’re in Salt Valley [in Arches] now … one of the areas that’s really in need of restoration,” Ballenger said. “By having these islands of recovery out here on the landscape, we’re able to get perennial grass established into these systems again.”

So far, scientists say con-mods have a 90 percent success rate.

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The Arctic is showing stunning winter warmth, and these scientists think they know why

Posted by on Dec 25, 2016 @ 1:18 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Last month, temperatures in the high Arctic spiked dramatically, some 36 degrees Fahrenheit above normal — a move that corresponded with record low levels of Arctic sea ice during a time of year when this ice is supposed to be expanding during the freezing polar night.

And now this week we’re seeing another huge burst of Arctic warmth. A buoy close to the North Pole just reported temperatures close to the freezing point of 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 Celsius), which is 10s of degrees warmer than normal for this time of year. Although it isn’t clear yet, we could now be in for another period when sea ice either pauses its spread across the Arctic ocean, or reverses course entirely.

But these bursts of Arctic warmth don’t stand alone — last month, extremely warm North Pole temperatures corresponded with extremely cold temperatures over Siberia. This week, meanwhile, there are large bursts of un-seasonally cold air over Alaska and Siberia once again.

It is all looking rather consistent with an outlook that has been dubbed “Warm Arctic, Cold Continents” — a notion that remains scientifically contentious but, if accurate, is deeply consequential for how climate change could unfold in the Northern Hemisphere winter.

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The Park Service’s centennial took a toll

Posted by on Dec 24, 2016 @ 6:43 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Park Service’s centennial took a toll

While flashing back to an impossibly busy summer, Kathleen Gonder describes Bryce Canyon National Park as if it had been under siege: “We’re scrambling just to be able to provide infrastructure — and that means the basics, like clean restrooms and parking,” said Gonder, who is chief of interpretation at the Utah park famous for its colorful, spike-like geological formations called hoodoos.

At 56 square miles, Bryce Canyon is among the smallest of the national parks, but it currently ranks 11th in visitation. More than 2.3 million people, and counting, have flocked to the park. Sixty percent of that traffic happened between June and September.

Bryce Canyon certainly was not alone. Its yearlong 100th birthday celebration exposed the National Park Service — at least major, visible parts of it — as a system bursting at the seams.

The agency’s 59 parks, which include national gems like Zion and Acadia, in Maine, are ahead of last year’s pace by 6.5 million visits, the equivalent of the population of Indiana. Thirteen of those parks already are over the 2 million mark in visitation.

Five national parks — Yosemite, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, and Glacier – have experienced increases of at least 500,000 visitors more than last year’s totals, according to preliminary figures.

But such problems are a product partly of the Park Service’s making. The immense marketing push of the centennial celebrations were helped by an improving U.S. economy, and a period of lower gas prices. The increased visitation, combined with a mounting deferred maintenance ledger now up to about $12 billion, has stressed Park Service infrastructure and staffing. The question will be whether 2016 was an anomaly or a semi-permanent shift for which the National Park Service needs to contemplate dramatic measures.

What falls through the cracks when a park is under siege by dramatically increased visitation? Bryce Canyon’s Kathleen Gonder was quick to answer: “The quality of the experience.”

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Obama’s Mad Dash to Protect the Environment

Posted by on Dec 22, 2016 @ 6:43 am in Conservation | 0 comments

President Obama and his top aides, who have ushered through an increasingly ambitious set of energy and environmental policies during his second term, have decided to flood the zone during his remaining month in office. For months, they had envisioned finalizing a set of regulations and other executive actions that would set the stage for Hillary Clinton’s presidency; now they face the prospect of a Republican successor who has vowed to revive the U.S. fossil fuel industry and eliminate two regulations for every one he adopts.

In many cases, that means exerting every federal lever still available to promote renewable energy, restrict drilling and coal extraction, and safeguard a handful of prized landscapes in the western United States.

The administration finalized a rule aimed at curbing accidental methane releases from oil and gas drilling on federal and tribal lands. Officials estimate the new methane rule—which compels reductions in gas flaring, more leak inspections, and the installation of new equipment in some operations—will cut annual emissions of the heat-trapping gas by 175,000 to 180,000 tons.

Just two days ago, it issued an indefinite plan for offshore oil and gas drilling that halts such decisions in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off Alaska, as well as in waters off the southeast Atlantic Coast.

On the other side of the ledger, the Interior Department finalized a rule just two days after the election that aims to expand wind and solar development on Bureau of Land Management–owned land by streamlining the permitting process and providing financial incentives for firms to bid on areas that have the best potential for generation capacity and the fewest conflicts with imperiled species.

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As Trump Signals Climate Action Pullback, Local Leaders Push Forward

Posted by on Dec 21, 2016 @ 12:19 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The incoming Trump administration appears determined to reverse much of what President Obama has tried to achieve on climate and environment policy.

In position papers, agency questionnaires and the résumés of incoming senior officials, the direction is clear — an about-face from eight years of policies designed to reduce climate-altering emissions and address the effects of a warming planet. The Republican-led Congress appears to welcome many of these changes.

But mayors and governors — many of them in states that supported President-elect Donald J. Trump — say they are equally determined to continue the policies and plans they have already adopted to address climate change and related environmental damage, regardless of what they see from Washington.

In last month’s election, Seattle, Los Angeles and Columbus, Ohio, voted to expand mass transit. Portland, Ore., which many say is the most environmentally minded city in the country, began a new municipal waste program a few years ago, resulting in higher recycling and composting rates, and smaller amounts of trash headed to landfills. Miami Beach is raising roadbeds and building flood walls to hold back the rising seas.

California, led by the Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, has adopted a cap-and-trade program, which limits carbon dioxide emissions and sets up a market for companies to buy and sell carbon allowances. The state has set one of the nation’s most ambitious climate targets — to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Hawaii is planning to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

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Obama invokes 1953 law to indefinitely block drilling in Arctic and Atlantic oceans

Posted by on Dec 21, 2016 @ 7:17 am in Conservation | 0 comments

President Barack Obama on Dec. 20, 2016 moved to indefinitely block drilling in vast swaths of U.S. waters. The president had been expected to take the action by invoking a provision in a 1953 law that governs offshore leases.

The law allows a president to withdraw any currently unleased lands in the Outer Continental Shelf from future lease sales. There is no provision in the law that allows the executive’s successor to repeal the decision, so President-elect Donald Trump would not be able to easily brush aside the action.

The lands covered include the bulk of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in the Arctic and 31 underwater canyons in the Atlantic. The United States and Canada also announced they will identify sustainable shipping lanes through their connected Arctic waters.

Canada also imposed a five-year ban on all oil and gas drilling licensing in the Canadian Arctic. The moratorium will be reviewed every five years. “These actions, and Canada’s parallel actions, protect a sensitive and unique ecosystem that is unlike any other region on earth,” Obama said in a statement.

“They reflect the scientific assessment that, even with the high safety standards that both our countries have put in place, the risks of an oil spill in this region are significant and our ability to clean up from a spill in the region’s harsh conditions is limited.”

The action potentially tees up a battle that touches on hot-button issues: environmental protection, energy independence, climate change, and the scope of executive power.

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U.S. Interior Dept finalizes rule to protect waterways from coal mining

Posted by on Dec 20, 2016 @ 12:21 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The U.S. Interior Department on Dec. 19, 2016 finalized a contentious rule to protect streams and forests from the impact of coal mining, one of the Obama administration’s last major environmental regulations that the incoming Trump administration is likely to target.

The Stream Protection Rule, which the coal industry strongly opposes, updates 33-year-old regulations with stronger requirements for responsible surface coal mining. The Interior Department says the rule will protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests over the next two decades.

“This updated, scientifically modern rule will make life better for a countless number of Americans who live near places where coal is being mined,” said Joseph Pizarchik, director of the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which crafted the rule. Pizarchik said his office received over 150,000 public comments on the proposal.

The Stream Protection rule requires companies to avoid mining practices that could pollute streams and drinking water sources, restore streams, and promise to return mined areas to their original form. It also requires mining companies to replant these areas with native trees and vegetation in certain cases.

The rule also requires testing and monitoring of streams near coal mines before, during and after drilling to ensure that miners can detect increased levels of pollution.

Industry groups like the National Mining Association have been vocal opponents of the proposal, saying it places too much of a burden on mining companies.

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Canada’s 150th birthday gift to you: Free pass to national parks all year long

Posted by on Dec 20, 2016 @ 11:41 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Canada’s 150th birthday gift to you: Free pass to national parks all year long

On July 1, 2017, Canada turns 150 years old. Kicking off the festivities on New Year’s Day, the stewards of the country’s protected natural treasures, Parks Canada, has a gift for all: a free, multiuse pass to the country’s 47 national parks and national park reserves.

Parks and reserves, which indicate areas earmarked as national parks pending native land claim settlements, are located in every one of the country’s 13 provinces and territories from coast to coast to coast (Pacific to Atlantic to Arctic).

The Discovery Pass also offers free access to 171 national historic sites and national marine conservation areas. By the way, it’s the 100th anniversary of the parks agency (America’s National Park Service turned 100 in 2016).

Entry to Canada’s national parks usually costs around $7 per person. With the free pass, what things will you still have to pay for? Extra activities, such as tours or parking, normally require a separate fee. Camping costs also aren’t included.

The free Discovery Card is good from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2017. You order it online, hang it on your car’s rear-view mirror and show up at the park gate.

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Scientists confirm that warm ocean water is melting the biggest glacier in East Antarctica

Posted by on Dec 18, 2016 @ 7:19 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Scientists at institutions in the United States and Australia published a set of unprecedented ocean observations near the largest glacier of the largest ice sheet in the world: Totten glacier, East Antarctica. And the result was a troubling confirmation of what scientists already feared — Totten is melting from below.

The measurements, sampling ocean temperatures in seas over a kilometer (0.62 miles) deep in some places right at the edge of Totten glacier’s floating ice shelf, affirmed that warm ocean water is flowing in towards the glacier at the rate of 220,000 cubic meters per second.

These waters, the paper asserts, are causing the ice shelf to lose between 63 and 80 billion tons of its mass to the ocean per year, and to lose about 10 meters (32 feet) of thickness annually, a reduction that has been previously noted based on satellite measurements.

This matters because more of East Antarctica flows out towards the sea through the Totten glacier region than for any other glacier in the entirety of the East Antarctic ice sheet. Its entire “catchment,” or the region of ice that slowly flows outward through Totten glacier and its ice shelf, is larger than California. If all of this ice were to end up in the ocean somehow, seas would raise by about 11.5 feet.

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Solar capacity has increased 99% since last quarter

Posted by on Dec 16, 2016 @ 6:36 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The U.S. solar industry just experienced a quarter of record-breaking growth, with 4,143 megawatts of solar capacity added between July and September. That’s a 99 percent increase over the previous quarter, and a 191 percent increase over the same time period last year.

Those numbers come from a quarterly report issued by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and market analysis firm GTM Research. According to the report, an average of one new megawatt of solar generating capacity came online every 32 minutes between July and September. From the beginning of the year through September, new solar capacity represented 39 percent of all new electric generating capacity in the United States — second only to natural gas in terms of the share of new electric capacity.

Recent gains in the industry seem poised to continue: The report notes that the fourth quarter of the year is on pace to break the record-setting growth of the third quarter. Some of the boom can be attributed to uncertainty surrounding key federal tax credits supporting solar, which were set to expire in 2017. Companies looking to capitalize on these credits tried hard to push through solar projects in 2016 — but with Congress choosing to extend the tax credit, companies can now push some projects into 2017 or later.

And those gains, according to SEIA’s Kimbis, are likely to continue even after President-elect Donald Trump takes office. Trump has filled several top cabinet positions with people tied to the fossil fuel industry, and has promised to end federal spending on renewable energy research. But as long as federal tax credits for solar remain in place — something that passed with bipartisan support the last time it came up in Congress — the solar industry expects that market forces and state-level policies will have a larger effect on solar growth than federal policy.

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Proposed National Park System Addition in South Carolina

Posted by on Dec 15, 2016 @ 7:35 am in Conservation | 0 comments

National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis will be in South Carolina Thursday, December 15, 2016 at the invitation of U.S. Representative James E. Clyburn (D-SC) to hear comments on proposals to add Reconstruction Era sites in Beaufort County to the National Park System.

The Reconstruction Era began during the Civil War and lasted until the dawn of Jim Crow racial segregation in the 1890s and remains one of the most complicated and poorly understood periods in American History. During this period in the Beaufort area, some of the first African American soldiers were enlisted in the U.S. Army, the first African American schools were founded, early efforts to distribute land to former slaves took place, and many of the era’s most significant African American politicians came to prominence.

Local community leaders and elected officials including Congressman Clyburn are proposing that five sites in Beaufort County be included in the National Park System. Congressman Clyburn introduced model legislation on May 26, 2016, to establish the Penn School – Reconstruction Era National Monument.

Director Jarvis will join local leaders for a visit to Penn Center, Brick Baptist Church, and other historic sites from the Reconstruction Era in the area. A local historian and representatives from each of the sites under consideration will provide background and historic information regarding each of the sites.

Bus Tour: 09:30 AM – 11:45 AM Penn Center, 16 Penn Circle West, St. Helena Island, SC

Public Meeting: 12:00 P.M – 2:00 P.M. Brick Baptist Church, 85 Martin Luther King Drive, St. Helena Island, SC.

Public notice…

 

The Arctic just received its annual report card, and it’s not good

Posted by on Dec 14, 2016 @ 12:34 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The world’s air conditioner is on the fritz. Unprecedented, record-breaking warmth in the Arctic this year triggered declines in sea ice, snow, the Greenland ice sheet and a remarkable delay in the annual freeze of sea ice in the fall. Overall, the Arctic experienced its warmest year ever recorded.

“Rarely have we seen the Arctic show a clearer, stronger or more pronounced signal of persistent warming and its cascading effects on the environment than this year,” said Jeremy Mathis, director of NOAA’s Arctic research program, which released its annual Arctic Report Card on December 13, 2016.

Even more worrisome: The trends are deepening and show no signs of letting up anytime soon. “All signs point to continuing on this trajectory,” Mathis said.

Changes in Arctic climate have now seeped into the winter months, instead of just the summer, Mathis said. “It’s not just the loss of sea ice in the summer, it’s year-round now,” he said.

New research also suggests polar bear numbers are dwindling as the Arctic sea ice melts, and their population could drop by a third over the next 35 years.

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Time’s Running Out to Get Limited-Edition Collectibles for NPS Centennial

Posted by on Dec 13, 2016 @ 1:14 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Time’s Running Out to Get Limited-Edition Collectibles for NPS Centennial

Every day, we all use and enjoy our national parks, creating fond memories of hiking, swimming, camping, and exploring with family and friends. In fact, nothing is more American than our national parks. For a limited time only, the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS) Commemorative Coin Program honors the NPS and its first century of protecting, preserving, and sharing some of our nation’s greatest natural, historical, and cultural resources. The NPS commemorative coins provide all Americans with a way to preserve and collect symbols of these national treasures to last a lifetime. 

But time is running out to get the limited-edition coins that celebrate and commemorate the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary. The American people have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own a piece of the parks, but they must purchase these coins by the end of this year.

In addition to being a unique centennial collectible, the gold, silver, and clad coins are works of art that capture the wonder of America’s national parks and our country’s rich history and culture. The coins’ designs, emblematic of the NPS 100th anniversary, include iconic park images, including Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome, and Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful geyser.

When people purchase the limited-edition NPS coins, a percentage of their purchase goes directly to the National Park Foundation (NPF) to help preserve, restore and enhance the parks, protecting their legacy for generations to come. These proceeds will fund necessary projects such as building new trails, restoring historic buildings, and protecting wildlife across the national park system.

This program will help NPF continue its efforts to protect America’s treasured places, connect people from all backgrounds to them, and inspire the next generation of park stewards. By purchasing these coins, Americans are directly contributing to the strong future of our national park system for generations to come, allowing people to celebrate our national heritage – now and into the future.

This limited time offer allows Americans to own a piece of history. While we celebrate the past by purchasing the coins, we can also help preserve the land for the future.
People from various geographies, backgrounds and beliefs can come together in their love for our parks and the powerful connection they have to these beautiful, iconic outdoor spaces.

Americans have a civic responsibility and honor to support our National Parks, and can do so, for a short time only, by purchasing the commemorative coins through the United States Mint’s online catalog.

 

Pick of Exxon CEO for Secretary of State clarifies why Putin wanted Trump elected

Posted by on Dec 12, 2016 @ 11:24 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Pick of Exxon CEO for Secretary of State clarifies why Putin wanted Trump elected

While Donald Trump may not be able to destroy global climate action and the landmark 2105 Paris climate deal all by himself — as he pledged to do during the campaign — he probably could do that with help from Russia and the trillion-dollar oil industry.

So much is explained by Trump’s Secretary of State choice. Media reports now say it will be Rex Tillerson, CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil, which had made a $500 billion oil deal with Putin that got blocked by sanctions after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Stalling the biggest oil deal ever did not just “put Exxon at risk,” as the Wall Street Journal reported in 2014. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow explained last week this deal was so big it was “expected to change the historical trajectory of Russia.”

This deal could explain why Putin appears to have interfered in U.S. elections in favor of a Trump victory. It was always a little puzzling that Putin seemed to so admire a guy who had pledged to fully open the on-shore and off-shore spigots of U.S. domestic oil (and gas) drilling. After all, the end result of those policies would inevitably be a lower price for oil and gas, which compose the single biggest source of revenue for Russia. But for Putin, little matters more than enriching coffers right now.

If the sanctions are lifted — something a new Secretary of State could help make happen — it would pay off big time for Russia, and Exxon as well. Putin has never liked the Paris climate agreement, because it would mean a large fraction of Russia’s fossil fuel reserves would remain in the ground, rather than bubbling up to provide vast revenue for the Kremlin, and a near endless money barrage with which to rebuild Russia into a military superpower once again.

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New Study Details Recreationists’ Harmful Effects On Wildlife

Posted by on Dec 11, 2016 @ 12:16 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Newly published research by scientists at Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Colorado State University (CSU), and University of California-Berkeley finds that human recreation activities in protected areas are impacting wildlife, and more often than not, in negative ways.

Nature-based, outdoor recreation is the most widespread human land use in protected areas and is permitted in more than 94 percent of parks and reserves globally. Inspiring an estimated eight billion visits per year to these areas, outdoor recreation is typically assumed to be compatible with conservation. Increasingly, however, negative effects of recreation on wildlife are being reported.

The authors reviewed 274 scientific articles published between 1981 and 2015 on the effects of recreation on a variety of animal species across all geographic areas and recreational activities.

More than 93 percent of the articles reviewed indicated at least one impact of recreation on animals, the majority of which (59 percent) were negative. Hiking, for example, a common form of outdoor recreation in protected areas, can create a negative impact by causing animals to flee, taking time away from feeding and expending valuable energy.

Among the negative impacts observed were decreased species diversity; decreased survival, reproduction, or abundance; and behavioral or physiological disturbance (such as decreased foraging or increased stress). Negative effects were documented most frequently for reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.

Positive effects of recreation on wildlife were most often observed on birds in the crow family and mammals in the rodent order. These effects included increased abundance and reduced flight responses.

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Petrified Forest National Park: Ancient and Spectacular

Posted by on Dec 11, 2016 @ 9:48 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The area is the only national park that includes a part of the historic U.S. Route 66. Welcome to the Petrified Forest National Park.

The word “forest” may mislead visitors. The park is in a desert. And the word “petrified” which can mean “afraid” may scare visitors away.

But fear not. “Petrified Forest” gets its name from the trees that have, over millions of years, turned to stone. That natural process is called fossilization.

Much of the Petrified Forest formed from tall trees called conifers. They grew over 200 million years ago near waterways. During floods, water forced the trees to be pulled up from the ground. Over time, the wood from the trees became petrified.

The Petrified Forest National Park is one of the natural wonders of Arizona. It sits within the Painted Desert. The desert looks like an artist’s canvas. Brilliantly colored mudstones and clays cover the land as far as the eye can see. They contain bentonite, a clay that is the product of changed volcanic ash.

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