Conservation & Environment

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. [email protected] 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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Trail clearing on North Shore another example that public are future to public lands

Posted by on Jun 25, 2017 @ 12:03 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Trail clearing on North Shore another example that public are future to public lands

Another spring work weekend on the Superior Hiking Trail reinforces a wider story: Some of Minnesota’s favorite footpaths are nothing without the sweat and commitment of volunteers.

The morning woke up dry and with promise. It was warming fast in the early sun, which set the North Shore’s boreal tree line in sharp relief against an almost bluebird sky. It was outdoors weather, and good thing.

In the early light and quiet of May 13, a few dozen or more people huddled up in the parking lot of the Clair Nelson community center off Hwy. 7 for the day’s instructions before grabbing maps, hard hats, loppers and hand saws. Then, in groups of four or five, they lit out for sections of the Superior Hiking Trail and almost eight hours of trail clearing.

This scene truly was the public in public land. Like the Kekekabic, Border Route and other well-known Minnesota footpaths in the region, the Superior trail survives — and thrives — on the backs of stewards like those who gathered over the course of three May weekends to help prepare it for hikers. It seems volunteer hands have never been more paramount.

All had arrived here at the behest of the Superior Hiking Association to burn their weekend clearing downed trees and brush from a section of the trail from the state’s Caribou River wayside down to Split Rock. Volunteers had cleared nearly 60 miles the previous weekend near Schroeder, and some of the same people would go on to work 56 miles near Grand Marais on Memorial Day weekend.

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Here’s the company that makes those National Park and Smokey Bear signs

Posted by on Jun 25, 2017 @ 7:59 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Here’s the company that makes those National Park and Smokey Bear signs

Everyone recognizes Smokey Bear, the lovable National Parks mascot who warns visitors about the dangers of forest fires. But where do those friendly anthropomorphic bear cutouts come from?

Today, we talk to the company that makes a lot of the signs that show up at the entrances to National Parks and Forests. About 25-thousand signs and markers last year, actually, all from their Parlin, Colorado-based workshop, including of course those iconic Smokey Bear cutouts.

Taylor Hefftner of Wood Product Signs and Rocky Mountain Aluminum told the story:

“In 1986, my mom, Deborah, was working for the Park Service. She became pregnant with me, decided to try to make signs out of the garage. It worked out really good and has grown to what it is today.

Smokey the Bear signs are one of the favorites. We get phone calls a lot. People calling “I want to buy a Smokey.” And there’s actually some rules in place because it’s a government item.

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From heatwaves to hurricanes, floods to famine: seven climate change hotspots

Posted by on Jun 24, 2017 @ 7:20 am in Conservation | 0 comments

From heatwaves to hurricanes, floods to famine: seven climate change hotspots

Seems like it could have been the edge of the Sahara or even Death Valley, but it was the remains of a large orchard in the hills above the city of Murcia in southern Spain last year. The soil had broken down into fine white, lifeless sand, and a landscape of rock and dying orange and lemon trees stretched into the distance.

A long drought, the second in a few years, had devastated the harvest after city authorities had restricted water supplies and farmers were protesting in the street. It was a foretaste of what may happen if temperatures in the Mediterranean basin continue to rise and desertification grows.

All round the world, farmers, city authorities and scientists have observed changing patterns of rainfall, temperature rises and floods. Fifteen of the 16 hottest years have been recorded since 2000. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions steadily climb. Oceans are warming and glaciers, ice caps and sea ice are melting faster than expected. Meanwhile, heat and rainfall records tumble.

The evidence for the onset of climate change is compelling. But who and where is it hitting the hardest? How fast will it come to Africa, or the US? What will be its impact on tropical cities, forests or farming? On the poor, or the old?

When it comes to details, much is uncertain…

 

California scores its first big environmental victory of the Trump era

Posted by on Jun 19, 2017 @ 11:52 am in Conservation | 0 comments

California scores its first big environmental victory of the Trump era

There was one revealing bit of testimony on Capitol Hill recently – from Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Pruitt told a House subcommittee that the EPA is not reviewing California’s lone-in-the-country authority to set air-quality standards tougher than those found elsewhere in the nation.

For months, California politicians, led by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown (D), have aggressively positioned the state as a bulwark against the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda – for example, striking their own climate pacts with Canada and Mexico.

Since January, one cause for concern among Democrats and environmentalists is a longstanding waiver, written into the 1970 Clean Air Act, that allowed California to impose its own emissions rules for automobiles.

When that federal air pollution law was drafted, smog so choked Los Angeles that California asked Congress and its one-time senator, then President Richard Nixon, to carve out room for the state to set even more stringent air-pollution rules for automobiles than was dictated by federal policy.

But the law simply allows such an exemption to be granted by the federal government – it doesn’t guarantee it. During his confirmation hearing in January, Pruitt suggested that that waiver may come under review. Now he has backed off.

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American Chestnuts in the Field

Posted by on Jun 18, 2017 @ 11:35 am in Conservation | 1 comment

American Chestnuts in the Field

By the 1950s, two non-native pathogens had killed almost all American chestnut trees. “There’s a lot of interest in breeding a chestnut that looks like American chestnut with the disease resistance of Chinese chestnut,” says U.S. Forest Service research forester Stacy Clark. “However, there hasn’t been much research on reintroducing disease-resistant trees to the forest.”

In cooperation with the University of Tennessee, scientists planted American chestnut, Chinese chestnut, and the hybrid chestnut in the Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky. The study was part of a larger Forest Service study designed to improve forest health and promote natural oak regeneration before non-native gypsy moths invade.

The scientists used three different silvicultural methods – shelterwood harvest, thinning, and midstory tree removal. The treatments created a gradient of light levels, from open canopy, to intermediate, to closed canopy.

Seedling survival and growth were tracked until 2012. “We also compared chestnut seedlings to other trees and shrubs,” says Schweitzer. “Our goal was to see how well chestnut competes for growing space and sunlight.”

Natural American chestnut sprouts can survive on the shady forest floor for decades, waiting for a disturbance to send some light their way, but it is not known how planted seedlings will perform. Their unique combination of shade tolerance and quick growth means managers might be able to use a range of silvicultural strategies to restore the species.

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The Dutch Have Solutions to Rising Seas. The World Is Watching.

Posted by on Jun 17, 2017 @ 6:30 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Dutch Have Solutions to Rising Seas. The World Is Watching.

Like cheese in France or cars in Germany, climate change is a business in the Netherlands. Month in, month out, delegations from as far away as Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City, New York and New Orleans make the rounds in the port city of Rotterdam. They often end up hiring Dutch firms, which dominate the global market in high-tech engineering and water management.

That’s because from the first moment settlers in this small nation started pumping water to clear land for farms and houses, water has been the central, existential fact of life in the Netherlands, a daily matter of survival and national identity.

No place in Europe is under greater threat than this waterlogged country on the edge of the Continent. Much of the nation sits below sea level and is gradually sinking. Now climate change brings the prospect of rising tides and fiercer storms.

From a Dutch mind-set, climate change is not a hypothetical or a drag on the economy, but an opportunity. While the Trump administration withdraws from the Paris accord, the Dutch are pioneering a singular way forward.

It is, in essence, to let water in, where possible, not hope to subdue Mother Nature: to live with the water, rather than struggle to defeat it. The Dutch devise lakes, garages, parks and plazas that are a boon to daily life but also double as enormous reservoirs for when the seas and rivers spill over.

You may wish to pretend that rising seas are a hoax perpetrated by scientists and a gullible news media. Or you can build barriers galore. But in the end, neither will provide adequate defense, the Dutch say.

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Federal judge rejects Dakota Access Pipeline permits, calls for do-over

Posted by on Jun 16, 2017 @ 6:30 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Federal judge rejects Dakota Access Pipeline permits, calls for do-over

In a dramatic turnaround, a federal judge has ruled that permits to complete the Dakota Access Pipeline must be reconsidered, and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has demanded the flow of oil through the pipeline be stopped.

Completion of the controversial pipeline was stopped by the Obama Administration last December, with a call for an environmental-impact statement to assess risks.

However, the judge wrote in his ruling, “As we all know, elections have consequences, and the government’s position on the easement shifted significantly once President Trump assumed office on January 20, 2017.”

President Trump called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue the permits, which it did shortly after he took office. Completion of the pipeline swiftly followed, as contractors drilled under a lake formed by a dam on the Missouri River, to hook up the two ends of the pipeline. The flow of oil began June 1.

But on Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg for the District of Columbia said in a 91-page decision that the Corps did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on the tribe’s fishing rights, hunting rights, or issues of environmental justice when it issued the permits needed to complete the project. The Corps must now reconsider those aspects under the judge’s demand that the agency substantiate its decision to issue the permits.

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Trump tells mayor of island literally sinking into the ocean ‘not to worry about sea level rise’

Posted by on Jun 15, 2017 @ 7:12 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Trump tells mayor of island literally sinking into the ocean ‘not to worry about sea level rise’

President Donald Trump’s supporters have been the subject of countless stories just since election day on the fact that they seemingly “vote against their economic interests.” But few stories note that they voted against their existential interests as well.

Trump’s refusal to accept the scientific consensus on the reality and urgency of climate change poses a serious threat to communities across the U.S. currently grappling with its effects. The latest example involves a tiny island, Tangier, that voted overwhelmingly for the president and its mayor, a vocal Trump supporter.

Tangier is an island in the Chesapeake Bay so low-lying that a mere 83 acres can support its inhabitants. The island is vanishing so rapidly that “the Army Corps of Engineers says that erosion and sea level rise alone will make this historic crabbing community uninhabitable in as little as 20 years.”

Trump called a shocked Mayor Eskridge, who said the president explained he “had to call” such a strong supporter. Trump added, “You’ve got one heck of an island there.”

The subject of the call then turned to the island’s fate. Trump “said not to worry about sea-level rise,” Eskridge explained. “He said, ‘Your island has been there for hundreds of years, and I believe your island will be there for hundreds more.’”

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The Shifting Window of Growing Seasons

Posted by on Jun 14, 2017 @ 1:01 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The Shifting Window of Growing Seasons

When winter comes to an end, it’s no mystery that warming temperatures and spring rains bring new life. Wildlife emerges, flowers bloom, and brilliant green leaves begin to fill the ground and the forest canopy—all part of their seasonal cycle known as phenology.

Observers know those green leaves don’t appear at the same time every spring, nor do they begin to fade away at the same time every fall. U.S. Forest Service and Park Service researchers now have a better understanding of the variation in the timing of spring and autumn across a diverse mountain landscape in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Research ecologists analyzed changes in vegetation greenness — or land surface phenology — from satellite-based data collected daily between 2000 and 2015. The monitoring still continues.

“The Great Smoky Mountains National Park supports rich vegetation communities and other biodiversity due to complex terrain and ample rainfall, though seasonal variation in temperature and precipitation is considerable from year to year,” says Norman. “We examined the influence of seasonal weather variation as well as forest cover types, topography, and disturbance history on the Park’s land surface phenology.”

The researchers determined that the timing of spring vegetation greenup and autumn browndown in the Park can vary by about 2 and a half weeks each year. In general, spring warmth accelerates vegetation greenup. Early autumn warmth delays browndown.

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