Conservation & Environment

Forests Provide Clean Drinking Water for the South

Posted by on Jun 19, 2015 @ 8:51 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A recent report by the U.S. Forest Service shows that for over 19 million people in the South – roughly the population of Florida – clean water begins in the region’s national forests. The report provides information at a level not previously available on the amount of surface drinking water national forest lands provide to communities in the South.

The Forest Service Southern Region and Southern Research Station (SRS) worked together to produce the report’s analysis, tables, and maps, which include detailed data on public water system intakes, number of customers served, and percent of water originating on National Forest System lands for each of the 33 national forests managed by the Southern Region. The Southern Region manages over 13 million acres of forest land in the South, some 6 percent of total forest land in a region where most forests are privately owned.

“We identified specific communities and populations that depend on water originating from National Forest System lands and provided data quantifying the extent of that dependence,” said Peter Caldwell, research hydrologist at the SRS Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory. “In all, National Forest System lands in the South contribute 8 trillion gallons per year to the total water supply of these communities.”

The report illustrates the extent to which people in the South depend on forested lands to provide them with clean reliable sources of drinking water. A combination of federal, state, and private forests cover over 30 percent of the region’s total land area and provide 36 percent of total water yield. More than 2100 individual communities rely directly on national forest land for drinking water, including large population areas such as Houston, Atlanta, Knoxville, and Birmingham.

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21 of the world’s 37 largest aquifers losing water

Posted by on Jun 17, 2015 @ 12:11 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Drought-stricken California is not the only place draining underground aquifers in the hunt for fresh water. It’s happening across the world, according to two new studies by U.S. researchers, including NASA.

Twenty-one of the world’s 37 largest aquifers – in locations from India and China to the United States and France – have passed their sustainability tipping points, meaning more water is being removed than replaced from these vital underground reservoirs. Thirteen of 37 aquifers fell at rates that put them into the most troubled category.

“The situation is quite critical,” said Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of California Irvine-led studies’ principal investigator.

And it’s difficult to see it getting better soon. These groundwater reserves take thousands of years to accumulate and only slowly recharge with water from snowmelt and rains. Now, as drilling for water has taken off across the globe, the hidden water reservoirs are being stressed. Underground aquifers supply 35 percent of the water used by humans worldwide. Demand is even greater in times of drought. Rain-starved California is currently tapping aquifers for 60 percent of its water use, up from the usual 40 percent.

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The Weather Channel’s new climate change messages will surprise you

Posted by on Jun 16, 2015 @ 3:25 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Weather Channel’s new climate change messages will surprise you

The Weather Channel has gone hawkish on climate change. It has started web- and broad-casting short but blunt messages from “25 influential voices on climate change, security, energy and peace.”

The “Climate 25” features former Bush Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who warns that failure to take strong action on climate is “radical risk taking” for our economy. Unilever CEO Paul Polman talks about the $300 million in annual climate disruption costs hitting his company. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who explained why the Syrian civil war was “the revolution fueled by climate change.”

But the Weather Channel has focused on one particular target audience — conservatives. The Climate 25 include four retired generals or admirals, a former senior Pentagon official, and former CIA director James Woolsey. It includes former GOP Congressman Bob Inglis, former VP of the Heartland Institute Eli Lehrer, and two GOP EPA chiefs — William K. Reilly and Christine Todd Whitman, who directly tells Republicans, “it’s our issue.”

Why so many voices aimed at Republicans and conservatives? “We are not policy experts; we are scientists.” Weather Channel president David Clark told Slate. “We felt that we needed to give a stage to some of the more courageous voices on the right.”

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How did we get to this point, where our politics determines whether we trust scientists or not?

Posted by on Jun 15, 2015 @ 8:11 am in Conservation | 0 comments

By Katharine Hayhoe

New to Texas Tech, it was my first year as an atmospheric science professor. We’d just moved to Lubbock, the second most conservative town in the United States. A colleague asked me to guest teach his undergraduate geology course while he was out of town.

The packed lecture hall was cavernous and dark. Many of the students were glued to their phones; others were slumped over, dozing. I began with the fundamental components of the climate system; I waded through the geologic climate record and ice core data; and finally, I explained natural cycles and the role of carbon dioxide—both natural and human-produced—in controlling Earth’s climate.

I ended my lecture, as many professors do, with a hopeful invitation for any questions. One hand immediately shot up. Someone had been listening—and cared enough to ask a question! I thought. The first student stood up. I looked encouragingly toward him. He cleared his throat. And then, in a loud and belligerent tone, he stated:

“You’re a Democrat, aren’t you?”

That was my baptism by fire into what has now become a fact of life across the entire country.

Over the last fifteen years, climate change has shifted from a respectably bipartisan issue to become the most politically polarized issue in the entire United States. Today, the best predictor of our opinions on climate change (Is it real? Is it humans? And should we do anything about it?) is not our familiarity with science, nor is it our level of education. It is simply where we lie on the political spectrum.

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With U.S. as a Model, China Envisions Network of National Parks

Posted by on Jun 14, 2015 @ 3:03 am in Conservation | 0 comments

More than 140 years ago, the United States government designated Yellowstone as the nation’s first national park — an untouched Western landscape of geysers, grizzly bears and soaring peaks. The national parks program eventually expanded to include more than 450 sites and has become one of the country’s greatest tourist draws.

Now China is trying to do with some of its natural spaces what the United States did during its own industrial boom. Chinese officials and a research center based in Chicago, announced a plan to undertake trial national park projects in nine provinces over the next three years.

In some spots in China where nature still thrives, like the popular Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou alpine parks in Sichuan Province, conservation efforts have become secondary to moneymaking ventures by tourism concession companies. Such areas are also often threatened by industrial pollution and construction.

But in December 2013, according to state news reports, Xi Jinping, the country’s president and head of the Communist Party, told a meeting of senior officials charged with making economic policy that China should move forward with a true national park system.

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The UN surprises everyone with a breakthrough deal to slow deforestation

Posted by on Jun 13, 2015 @ 6:26 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

A surprise deal emerged from United Nations climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany, this week: diplomats managed to reach a key agreement to compensate developing nations that agree to preserve their forests. And environmental and civil society groups had generally nice things to say about the deal.

Deforestation has a huge effect on climate change. Activities like slash-and-burn agriculture account for nearly 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN. Trees, of course, also play a key role in slowing climate change by pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere.

Historically, deforestation has been an especially vexing problem for environmentalists, raising the concern of climate hawks and conservationists alike. This week’s agreement straightens out some key details of an initiative — called Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD+ — that negotiators hope will provide developing, forest-rich countries with incentives to slow and eventually halt logging of forested land.

The details of REDD+ had been held up for years as negotiators tried to deal with a number of thorny issues, including how to work with indigenous communities to make sure they retain the rights to their land, understand the program, and don’t lose their economic livelihoods through it.

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National Forest fields 200,000 comments on Grand Canyon project

Posted by on Jun 13, 2015 @ 8:34 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Kaibab National Forest is sifting through more than 200,000 public comments that are mostly against an easement through the town of Tusayan that would help make a development near the Grand Canyon possible.

Stilo Development Group USA wants to build homes, retail shops, hotels, and cultural centers in the area. The easement would allow utilities to be installed and improved along roads managed by the Forest Service.

Kaibab spokeswoman Jackie Banks said the scope of a review of environmental impacts will be determined later this month, partially directed by the public comments.

Supporters of the project were in the minority. Long-time Tusayan resident John Dillon said in his letter to the forest service that the developer has reasonable access to its holdings, but that the environmental impacts study should be thorough.

“A full EIS will provide the greatest environmental protection to the Kaibab National Forest and Grand Canyon National Park,” he wrote. “It will also help to provide real and current answers to all the questions that have yet to be satisfactorily addressed by both the Town of Tusayan and the developer.”

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Cradle of Forestry to Host Free Outdoor Activities on National Get Outdoors Day

Posted by on Jun 11, 2015 @ 2:00 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Cradle of Forestry to Host Free Outdoor Activities on National Get Outdoors Day

The Cradle of Forestry in America will celebrate National Get Outdoors Day, June 13, 2015, with outdoor skills demonstrations, activities and crafts. Admission to the site and all activities are free.

The USDA Forest Service is a National Get Outdoors Day partner. The campaign encourages Americans, especially youth, to seek out healthy, active outdoor lifestyles, connect with nature, and embrace their public lands. The Forest Service has an ongoing commitment to engage children with nature through various programs in support of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative and the First Lady’s Let’s Move! Outside campaign.

In this spirit, a variety of activities on June 13 will showcase outdoor adventure sports, traditional sportsmanship, and camp and trail skills in the Cradle of Forestry’s scenic setting. Activities include:

  • Archery with the NC Bowhunters Association
  • Still-water paddling with canoes and kayaks taught by Headwaters Outfitters
  • Interactive camping displays
  • Demonstration of Leave-No-Trace principles
  • Guided trail walks
  • Tree identification

For details and updates on the day’s activities call the Cradle of Forestry at 828-877-3130 or visit www.cradleofforestry.org. The Cradle of Forestry is located outside Brevard, NC on Hwy. 276 in the Pisgah National Forest, six miles north of Looking Glass Falls and four miles south of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Forest Service has also collaborated with the Ad Council to develop a national campaign of television, radio, printed and outdoor public service announcements to re-connect families with nature. Visit www.discovertheforest.org.

More than 80 Forest Service locations across the country will provide free recreational and educational activities as part of National Get Outdoors Day.

National Park Service kicks off zero-landfill pilot

Posted by on Jun 10, 2015 @ 6:46 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Three of America’s most iconic National Parks are getting a helping hand on their waste management practices from Subaru’s zero-landfill experts.

It’s unfortunate that some of our most beautiful places, our public lands, are also a place for one of our ugliest habits, wastefulness, to rear its head, but that may be changing, thanks to a partnership between Subaru, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), and the National Park Service (NPS).

According to the NPS, more than 100 million pounds of waste were generated in National Parks in 2013, with most of it coming from the 273 million annual park visitors. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, because it only accounts for the waste managed by the NPS, not the amount of waste generated through park concessioners, which provide food services, lodging, transportation, retail shops, and other amenities, and which is considerably more than the above waste figure. This waste takes a toll on the resources of the National Parks, including labor, finances, and equipment, and although some of it gets diverted from landfills through recycling, composting, reuse, or source reduction, it still adds up to a virtual mountain of waste, which is a shame considering that it comes from visitors who travel to our public lands for a taste of the beauty of nature.

Subaru has been a leader in zero landfill practices for more than a decade now, and the company freely lends its zero landfill expertise to other companies and organizations wishing to get a handle on their waste practices. This partnership with the NPCA is a logical extension of its corporate social responsibility initiatives, and could lead to not only better waste management practices in three of our most well-known national parks, but also to the development of “scalable zero landfill implementation plans” that can be adopted by other national parks in the near future.

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Here’s what it would take for the US to run on 100% renewable energy

Posted by on Jun 9, 2015 @ 1:57 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

It is technically and economically feasible to run the US economy entirely on renewable energy, and to do so by 2050. That is the conclusion of a new study in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, authored by Stanford scholar Mark Z. Jacobson and nine colleagues.

Jacobson is well-known for his ambitious and controversial work on renewable energy. In 2001 he published, with Mark A. Delucchi, a two-part paper on “providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power.” In 2013 he published a feasibility study on moving New York state entirely to renewables, and in 2014 he created a road map for California to do the same.

His team’s new paper contains 50 such road maps, one for every state, with detailed modeling on how to get to a US energy system entirely powered by wind, water, and solar (WWS). That means no oil and coal. It also means no natural gas, no nuclear power, no carbon capture and sequestration, and no biofuels.

The road maps show how 80 to 85 percent of existing energy could be replaced by wind, water, and solar by 2030, with 100 percent by 2050. The result is a substantial savings relative to the status quo baseline, in terms of energy costs, health costs, and climate costs alike. The resulting land footprint of energy is manageable, grid reliability is maintained, and more jobs will be created in renewables than destroyed in fossil fuels.

Learn how here…

 

This is crazy, but there is actually good news about climate change

Posted by on Jun 9, 2015 @ 8:36 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Here’s something rare in climate reporting: a bit of good news. Or, more accurately, not disastrous news.

China has long exerted an outsize role in global climate change, not simply because it’s by far the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gas, due largely to its enormous population, its rapid growth, and its reliance on dirty coal — but also because of China’s influence over global politics as a hold-out in international climate deals.

Now the reigning heavyweight contributor to global warming might be slimming down a bit.

China’s greenhouse gas emissions are likely to peak, and then begin to taper, around 2025, according to a new report. That’s five years ahead of a promise made by China’s leader, Xi Jinping, in November 2014, as part of China’s historic climate accord with the United States.

The new analysis, released by the London School of Economics, says China’s emissions “could peak even earlier than that” and begin to fall rapidly thereafter, holding out a tantalizing possibility: The world could stay within the internationally agreed-upon limit of 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) of warming above pre-industrial levels, according to the authors. That limit is seen by scientists as a crucial threshold to stay within to prevent some of the most dangerous impacts of climate change. It’s also a limit world leaders hope to enshrine in an international agreement in Paris later this year.

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Reservation System Proposed at Arches National Park

Posted by on Jun 7, 2015 @ 8:06 am in Conservation | 0 comments

More people are visiting Arches National Park every year, and the park superintendent is proposing a reservation system during the busy season to ensure they don’t have to turn people away. But the idea is fiercely opposed by the business community in nearby Moab, Utah, who rely on tourists and fear the system would be confusing and lead to fewer impromptu visits.

The issue flared up again Memorial Day weekend when the state highway patrol closed the park entrance because of overcrowding and dangerous traffic conditions.

Visits to Arches and nearby Canyonlands national parks rose 20 percent last year and will likely surpass 1.5 million this year, said Kate Cannon, the parks’ superintendent. That’s up from 1 million five years ago. Cannon is proposing a reservation system for visitors to avoid having to turn people away during the busiest time of year.

“I would say that level of visitation is beyond our current capacity,” she said. “We would give visitors certainty so they would know before they got here that they would get into Arches National Park.”

The park is already getting ready to start charging higher fees in the busy season from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in hopes of spreading out the crowd, Cannon said.

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The rewilding plan that would return Britain to nature

Posted by on Jun 6, 2015 @ 3:03 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The rewilding plan that would return Britain to nature

The UK has lost almost all its native wildlife, especially its forests and big animals. Rewilding would bring back everything from beavers to bears.

Britain once looked very different. In place of sheep-strewn fields and treeless uplands, there were vast natural forests, glades and wild spaces. Within them, wolves, bears and lynx roamed the land. The first Britons lived alongside woolly mammoths, great auks and wild cows called aurochs.

All that is now gone. Humans chopped down the trees to make space for farms, and hunted the large animals to extinction, leaving plant-eaters to decimate the country’s flora. Britain is now one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t have top predators.

No matter how much we may think England’s green and pleasant countryside is “natural”, it is a pale shadow of what once was – and what could be again.

If some conservationists have their way, parts of the UK could be restored to a truly wild state. This “rewilding” would bring back animals and plants that have been lost, and allow them to roam freely. In these new wild spaces, people could reconnect with animals and plants in a way no park or zoo could ever manage. But it’s also a hugely controversial idea.

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The Coal Boom Choking China

Posted by on Jun 6, 2015 @ 7:08 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Chinese miners last year dug up 3.87bn tons of coal, more than enough to keep all four of the next largest users – the United States, India, the European Union and Russia – supplied for a year.

The country is grappling with the direct costs of that coal, in miners’ lives, crippling air pollution, expanding deserts and “environmental refugees”.

Desire for change contends with fears that cutting back on familiar technology could dent employment or slow growth, and efforts to cut consumption do not always mean a clampdown on mining.

This is the third installment in the Guardian’s ongoing “carbon bombs” series: investigations into giant fossil fuel projects from around the world that are super-charging global warming, or that have the potential to do so.

This deep-dive into China’s ravenous use of coal is eye-opening not only because it explores the long-lasting impact of burning coal on the nation’s health, but also because it illustrates the country’s outsized impact on global climate change through coal-related emissions.

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The EPA Just Released A Long-Awaited Study On Whether Fracking Causes Water Pollution

Posted by on Jun 6, 2015 @ 12:45 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Environmental Protection Agency released a draft assessment of its long-awaited study on the impact of hydraulic fracturing — also known as fracking — on drinking water resources in the United States. The report found that although fracking has, to date, been carried out in a way that has not led to widespread and systematic impacts on the country’s drinking water, the process creates several key vulnerabilities that could potentially undermine the health of drinking water in the United States.

“From our assessment, we conclude there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources,” the report’s executive summary reads. “We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”

In a statement to the press, EPA science advisor and deputy assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development Thomas Burke called the study “the most complete compilation of scientific data to date,” noting that over 950 sources of information from published papers, technical reports, and data from various interest groups were included in the assessment.

Industry groups were quick to tout the report as proof of fracking’s safety, while environmental groups claimed that the report was hampered by a lack of available information and watered-down by oil and gas interests.

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Vandalism on national forests all too common; do this if you see it

Posted by on Jun 5, 2015 @ 8:53 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Vandalism on federal lands isn’t limited to hoodlums and miscreants these days, it’s becoming commonplace, according to information provided by the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest of northeast Oregon.

Recently, an outraged visitor on the Deschutes National Forest watched as a family of three etched their names into a railing at Tumalo Falls. A photo of the trio in action – in which the daughter flashed a peace sign – went viral on the internet.

Vandalism on large and small scales is a constant problem on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, and visitors suffer the consequences. Repairing and replacing damaged facilities eats up funds that could be used for maintenance or improvements, according to the forest.

Damaging a federal resource carries a fine of $5,000 and up to six months incarceration, plus the cost of repairing or replacing the damage.

What should you do if you see someone vandalizing federal lands? You don’t have to confront someone to take action. Get a good description of the location, the nature of the vandalism, individual(s) and their vehicle(s), and report it to Forest Service personnel or local law enforcement. A picture is worth a thousand words, so if you can take pictures inconspicuously, do so.

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Peak Sand, Climate Change, And The Coastal Property Bubble

Posted by on Jun 4, 2015 @ 11:40 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Taxpayers are propping up wildly-inflated coastal property values. At some point, we’ll stop doing that, and coastal property values will crash. Unless they have already crashed because Miami gets hit by its equivalent of Superstorm Sandy. Or because the smart money pulls out of coastal real estate ahead of time after realizing that our climate inaction has made the crash inevitable — due to a combination of faster-than-expected sea level rise and ever-worsening storm surges.

The main prop is the National Flood Insurance Program, which covers $484 billion in Florida property alone, “often at below market rates,” as Reuters has explained. Florida state officials denying the reality of climate change does not help either.

But a recent study, “Climate Adaptation and Policy-Induced Inflation of Coastal Property Value,” points out that taxpayer-subsidized beach sand replenishment programs are also inflating the bubble. The researchers found “that a sudden removal of federal nourishment subsidies, as has been proposed, could trigger a dramatic downward adjustment in coastal real estate, analogous to the bursting of a bubble.”

How big a crash would the subsidy removal trigger? “Values could erode by as much as 17 percent in towns with high property values and almost 34 percent in towns with low property values,” in parts of New Jersey and North Carolina, one author explained. The crash would be bigger if we waited a decade before removing them.

Just how big are these subsidies? The study explains, “Between 1995 and 2002, the U.S. federal government spent $787 million on beach nourishment and has historically subsidized two-thirds of total nourishment costs to coastal communities.”

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