Conservation & Environment

Shell’s giving up drilling in the Arctic Ocean. Now what?

Posted by on Oct 3, 2015 @ 7:50 am in Conservation | 0 comments

On Sept. 28, 2015, Shell captured national attention when it announced that the exploratory well it drilled in hopes of extracting the first barrels of oil from Alaska’s Chukchi Sea was a bust. The company didn’t strike enough oil to make further exploration economically viable. Effective immediately, it’s backing out of the Arctic Ocean “for the foreseeable future.”

Environmentalists who spent the summer dangling off bridges and forming kayak blockades to protest Shell’s activities were overjoyed. “Here’s hoping Shell leaves the Arctic forever,” cheered Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

But even as green groups urge the oil industry to abandon its Arctic dreams, some analysts are predicting the world’s growing population will require an additional 10 million barrels of oil a day between 2030 and 2040. And Alaska’s politicians are determined to get a piece of the pie: Alaska’s Arctic is estimated to hold the largest unexplored reserves in North America, and the state derives 90 percent of its revenue from oil and gas.

In recent years, production in the Alaskan Arctic has fallen at a rate of 5 percent a year. If it continues to decline and the price of oil stays low, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that the Trans-Alaska Pipeline could be decommissioned as early as 2026. And if that happens, existing wells at Prudhoe Bay would be plugged and abandoned, sending the state’s economy into a death spiral. “It’s a huge disappointment,” Gov. Bill Walker said, of Shell’s announcement. “A really big disappointment.”

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Solar Company Announces Huge Step Forward In Efficiency

Posted by on Oct 3, 2015 @ 3:32 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Solar Company Announces Huge Step Forward In Efficiency

They are calling it the “most efficient rooftop solar module in the world.”

Residential solar company SolarCity announced that its Buffalo, New York “gigafactory” will be producing solar panels that are more efficient — and 30 percent more powerful — than its previous version.

This is good news for customers. Using more efficient, more powerful modules means homeowners will get more bang for their buck, so to speak. Installation costs go down. Hardware costs go down. SolarCity wins, too, of course.

Keith Emery, a scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, called the announcement a “very significant advancement, which should lower their cost, which should at the very least improve their profit — and I assume they will pass that on to their customers.” The module’s efficiency rate is comparable to other leading modules, Emery said.

Solar prices keep coming down. Average installed costs have fallen 9 percent since last year, according to the most recent report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. The cost of residential solar has dropped 50 percent in the past five years. Economies of scale will also help push costs down, Emery said.

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Duke energy’s coal ash problems quietly spread

Posted by on Oct 2, 2015 @ 2:56 am in Conservation | 0 comments

It’s no surprise that Duke Energy’s legendary coal ash problems don’t stop at the North Carolina border. As you may remember, Duke pleaded guilty to nine criminal violations of the federal Clean Water Act as a result of a massive coal ash spill in 2014 and mismanagement of dozens of ash ponds in North Carolina.

Duke’s crimes landed the company a $102 million fine and five years of probation. During the probation, Duke must complete environmental audits of all its coal plants—including those in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, South Carolina and Florida—and take cleanup action when problems are found.

Duke Energy is the nation’s largest electric utility, but until the plea deal it had been mum about water contamination at its other plants. This changed during a recent meeting with Indiana state regulators. In a power point presentation, Duke Energy catalogued a long list of coal ash problems at five Indiana coal plants.

Duke gave regulators the run-down of problems at the Gibson, Cayuga and Wabash River power stations, which included dangerously contaminated water in residential wells near both the Gibson and Cayuga plants and a 7-foot diameter corrugated metal pipe in need of repair running under the Wabash River ash pond—much like the one that burst at Duke’s Dan River Plant. Duke also identified four historic coal ash dumps that require cleanup at retired or converted coal plants.

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America’s wildfire crisis is getting worse. Here’s what Congress can do.

Posted by on Oct 1, 2015 @ 3:51 am in Conservation | 0 comments

We have reached a new fire normal, a clear signal that a changing climate will inevitably require an adjustment to how we manage our forests if we wish to maintain the benefits they offer, such as providing half of our nation’s water supply.

In response to this unprecedented wildfire risk, for the first time in its history, the U.S. Forest Service will spend more than half of its budget fighting fires this year – three times what they were spending just 20 years ago. By 2025, if nothing changes, nearly two-thirds of the Service’s budget will be spent on putting out fires.

Ironically, this increased spending often comes at the cost of programs designed to prevent devastating megafires in the first place. Fortunately, there are two things Congress can do to improve the situation.

First, they can achieve one immediate fix by passing the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act. If passed, the act would fund the response to emergency fire disasters similar to how we fund responses to other natural disasters, such as hurricanes and floods.

Second, we need to step up to a new way of thinking about America’s forests by implementing the “National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy,” which was released in 2014 by the U.S. Departments of Interior and Agriculture.

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Arizona Trail Association receives State’s top Environmental Excellence Award

Posted by on Sep 29, 2015 @ 4:23 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Arizona Trail Association receives State’s top Environmental Excellence Award

The Arizona Trail Association (ATA) was given top honors at Arizona Forward’s 35th Annual Environmental Excellence Awards ceremony in Phoenix.

The ATA was awarded The Crescordia, the highest award given by Arizona Forward, for “their unique approach to fostering long-term environmental sustainability throughout the state” in addition to their Seeds of Stewardship program, encouraging youth engagement, environmental education and stewardship; their Gateway Community program, increasing tourism, business development and eco-linkages within 33 communities; health and wellness challenges for the business community; and supporting Warrior Hikers to “walk off the war” along the Arizona National Scenic Trail.

Arizona Forward initiated the Environmental Excellence Awards in 1980 to recognize outstanding contributions to the physical environment of Arizona’s communities. The awards serve as a benchmark for promoting sustainability, conserving natural resources and preserving the unique desert environment for future generations. To learn more, please visit


Water Source for Alberta Tar Sands Drilling Could Run Dry

Posted by on Sep 28, 2015 @ 8:43 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The source of water used for drilling in the Alberta tar sands could dry up in the coming decades, according to new research. The questionable future of the Athabasca River threatens the longevity of fossil fuel extraction in the world’s third-largest crude oil reserve.

Scientists at the University of Regina and University of Western Ontario in Canada looked at 900 years of tree ring data and found water levels have dwindled along the 765-mile river at various points throughout its history.

The analysis, published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows the waterway has shrunk over the past 50 years as global warming has melted the glaciers that feed it. It also found the region has experienced several droughts that have lasted more than a decade in the last few centuries. Such a drought could likely happen in the near future, the scientists said.

The Alberta tar sands, which cover 55,000 square miles in western Canada, are estimated to contain approximately 1.7 trillion barrels of bitumen, a sticky, thick form of petroleum that can be extracted through both surface mining and drilling. Water is used to separate the bitumen from surrounding sediment, as well as to create steam that heats the oil so it flows into production wells.

Tar sands projects are already threatened by a slump in oil prices, as well as pending global action to address climate change. Tar sands drilling is a prominent target of environmental groups and climate activists because the oil emits an estimated three to four times more carbon dioxide when burned than conventional crude. Its water use only adds to the environmental costs.

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China Will Pony Up $3.1 Billion to Help Poor Countries Fight Climate Change

Posted by on Sep 28, 2015 @ 5:31 am in Conservation | 0 comments

China followed up its promise to create the world’s largest cap-and-trade program with yet another significant climate policy announcement: It will commit to spending $3.1 billion to help developing countries slash their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.

China’s financial commitment, along with its new carbon market, are part of a comprehensive package of climate measures that were announced at a joint press conference featuring US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Washington, DC.

The new pledge, emerging from high-profile bilateral talks between the two countries, “is a game changer in international climate politics,” says Li Shuo, a climate policy analyst for Greenpeace. “It is a drastic increase from China’s previous finance commitments.”

“In terms of scale, 3.1 billion USD could even surpass the US pledge to the Green Climate Fund, which still faces a significant battle in the US Congress.”

Friday’s deal is “enormous in terms of the signal it sends to business and others investing in technology that the world has changed.”

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Cradle of Forestry Hosts Forest Festival Day and Woodsmen’s Meet

Posted by on Sep 25, 2015 @ 8:37 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Cradle of Forestry Hosts Forest Festival Day  and Woodsmen’s Meet

The Cradle of Forestry invites people of all ages to celebrate the heritage of western North Carolina during the annual Forest Festival Day on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015 from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. This is the Cradle’s largest event of the year.

This activity-filled, family event commemorates the traditions of mountain living and craft in a unique and beautiful setting. More than 100 forestry students, traditional craftsmen and exhibitors will be on site during the celebration. During the event, eight colleges will compete for a trophy in the 20th Annual John G. Palmer Intercollegiate Woodsmen’s Meet, organized by Haywood Community College in Clyde, NC.

Festival-goers can cheer as college forestry students compete during the Woodsmen’s Meet that has the flavor of an old-time lumberjack competition. Students will test their skills in a number of events including archery, axe throwing, crosscut sawing and pole felling. Spectators of the Woodsmen’s Meet are encouraged to bring a chair or blanket for comfort.

Due to the growing popularity of the event and the limited space for spectators, the Woodmen’s Meet is held in the open field at the Pink Beds Picnic Area. The larger space allows for increased safety of participants and spectators while at the same time providing a better view for those wanting to see all the action.

The Pink Beds Picnic Area and Pink Beds trailhead will be closed to non-event use for the day. The Pink Beds Trail can be accessed from FS Road 1206 via the Barnett Branch Trail and from the South Mills River gauging station area off Wolf Ford Road FS 476.

Traditional crafters and exhibitors will congregate along the trails. These include demonstrations of whittling, wood carving and turning, horse and mule packing, blacksmithing, primitive skills and creating corn husk dolls. Festival goers can learn to cut a tree “cookie” with a cross cut saw to take home.

Falconry demonstrations will be from 11:00 to 3:00. Old fashioned wagon rides will be offered from 11:00 to 2:00. For a complete list of activities, exhibitors and demonstrations during Forest Festival Day visit, or call the Cradle at (828) 877-3130.

Accents on Asheville will provide a shuttle between the Forest Discovery Center and the Pink Beds for those unable to walk the trail to the Woodsmen’s Meet. Hob Nob at the Cradle will sell food.

Forest heritage is a focal point of the festival, and the Cradle of Forestry is the birthplace of modern forestry in America. Dr. Carl Alwin Schenck, forester for George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate from 1895 – 1909, founded America’s first forestry school in 1898 and used the present Cradle of Forestry area as its summer campus. At that time the word “forestry” was a vague and new idea in this nation. Schenck encouraged his students and timberland owners to manage forests for the future. Forest Festival Day celebrates this heritage and our forest lands today.

Admission for this event is $6.00 for ages 16 and older; $3.00 for youth ages 4-15, and holders of America the Beautiful and Golden Age passes. Children under 4 years old are admitted free. The Cradle of Forestry is located four miles south of Parkway Milepost 412 on Hwy. 276 in the Pisgah National Forest, six miles north of Looking Glass Falls.


So what happens when America’s seniors find out what climate change means for their grandkids?

Posted by on Sep 24, 2015 @ 8:43 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Few things strike fear into the hearts of politicians like a disgruntled grandparent entering a voting booth. Seniors wield immense political power in the United States, a fact made plain by their voting record. In the 2014 midterm elections, a year of historically low voter turnout, nearly 59 percent of adults aged 65 and older pulled the lever on Election Day. Just 23 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds bothered to do the same. It’s numbers like these that have made Social Security and Medicare the third rail of American politics.

Recently, dozens of retirees descended on Capitol Hill to advocate for climate action. Organized by the Conscious Elders Network, the Grandparents Climate Action Day brought together seniors from around the country. Following a day of training, during which renowned NASA climatologist James Hansen spoke to those assembled, the gray-haired activists headed for the Hill. They urged their representatives to support the Clean Power Plan and they advocated for pricing carbon emissions using systems like cap and dividend.

Although casual observers of politics will note that common sense often carries little weight on Capitol Hill, lawmakers answer to political pressure. They answer to the threats of party leaders, to the pleas of rich financial backers, and to the angry letters of aggrieved constituents.

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Emerald Ash Borer and its Enemy Wasps

Posted by on Sep 24, 2015 @ 5:34 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Since emerald ash borer was first detected in Michigan in 2002, the non-native invasive beetle has killed tens of millions of ash trees across the U.S., and continues to infest new regions, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Within its native range in Asia, emerald ash borer is attacked by a variety of predators including several species of parasitoid wasps that specialize on the beetle’s eggs or larvae. Because these wasps are expected to play a role in maintaining low emerald ash borer populations in Asia, three species have been introduced into North America as biocontrol agents. “There is great interest in knowing how effective these introductions have been in reducing the population growth rates of emerald ash borer in North America,” says U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) scientist Michael Ulyshen.

In addition to the introduced biocontrol agents, some native wasps have also been shown to parasitize emerald ash borer larvae, and birds – especially woodpeckers – eat the larvae and pupae. From 2007 to 2010, the researchers released thousands of non-native predatory wasps in experimental release plots in forests of southern Michigan.

Both native enemies and introduced parasitic wasps play important roles in suppressing emerald ash borer populations. Non-native parasitic wasps can help prevent widespread ash tree death in newly infested forests, and the scientists recommend that they be released as soon as the presence of emerald ash borer has been detected. The non-native wasps also keep emerald ash borer populations low in forests that have already been invaded.

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National Public Lands Day 2015 on the BRP

Posted by on Sep 23, 2015 @ 3:13 am in Conservation | 0 comments

National Public Lands Day 2015 on the BRP

For lovers of the Blue Ridge Parkway, every day is public lands day. But on September 26, 2015 why not make it official with a volunteer project?

National Public Lands Day is billed as the nation’s largest, single-day volunteer effort for public lands.

Last year, more than 175,000 volunteers and park visitors celebrated at more than 2,100 public land sites in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Along the Parkway, the Roanoke chapter of FRIENDS of the BRP plans a work day at Chestnut Ridge Overlook starting at 9 a.m.

The Asheville chapter is hosting an environmental group from Montreat College installing fire rings and doing maintenance at Mount Pisgah campground.

Visit the FRIENDS website for more chapter information.

Also, this Saturday, September 26, celebrate National Public Lands Day by heading to a national park to play, learn, serve, or work. The 22nd annual event will feature free admission to every National Park Service site, as well as special activities and volunteer work projects across the country.


Keep Jumbo Wild

Posted by on Sep 22, 2015 @ 4:33 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Deep in the wilds of British Columbia lies a rugged valley – cherished alpine backcountry that deserves permanent protection. At the headwaters of the Columbia River, Jumbo Creek cascades out of deep snowpack, past crumbling glacial ice, wildflowers, and grizzly tracks. The Jumbo Valley has long been revered for its beauty, and to the Ktunaxa Nation, it is known as Qat’muk, home of the grizzly bear spirit. Part of an important international wildlife corridor, the Jumbo Valley is one of only two areas in North America where bears can freely roam between Canada and the U.S.

But, for nearly 25 years, local people First Nations, conservationists, backcountry skiers and snowboarders have fought a proposed large-scale ski resort deep in the Purcell Mountains of British Columbia. After two decades of opposition, what more will it take to keep Jumbo wild for good?



More than half of Senate urges reauthorizing Land and Water Conservation Fund

Posted by on Sep 22, 2015 @ 1:11 am in Conservation | 0 comments

More than half of Senate urges reauthorizing Land and Water Conservation Fund

More than half the members of the U.S. Senate are urging chamber leadership to pass a bill reauthorizing a federal conservation program before it expires at the end of the month. Fifty-two senators, including 12 Republicans, signed a letter from Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) calling on Senate leadership to push a Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) bill this month.

The lawmakers said the Senate should consider passing even a temporary authorization for the program if a deal can’t immediately be reached on extending the program long-term.

“We urge the inclusion of a short-term reauthorization of the LWCF in the coming days before the program expires on September 30, and seek your commitment to work with us to achieve permanent authorization and consistent funding of the LWCF in any legislation poised to become law this year,” the senators wrote in their letter, dated Sept. 17. “We must act quickly to renew this program, and we look forward to working with you toward that end.”

The LWCF, a $300 million federal program that pays for land acquisition and recreation projects on federal land, traditionally wins bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. But House Republicans are looking to reform the program this year before reauthorizing it. The fund’s charter expires on Sept. 30.

“Investments in LWCF support public land conservation and ensure access to the outdoors for all Americans, in rural communities and cities alike,” the group wrote. “Lasting authorization and consistent funding of the LWCF will help ensure that the Fund plays the strongest possible role in revitalizing local communities.”



New Smokies Chief Ranger Announced

Posted by on Sep 21, 2015 @ 3:15 am in Conservation | 0 comments

New Smokies Chief Ranger Announced

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash announced that Steve Kloster has been selected as the new Chief Ranger. Prior to this position, Kloster was the Tennessee District Ranger, as well as serving as interim Chief Ranger during several temporary assignments totaling 27 months. Kloster succeeds Clayton Jordan who was recently selected as Smokies Deputy Superintendent in April.

As Chief Ranger, Kloster will oversee up to 75 people in the Resource and Visitor Protection Division who perform law enforcement duties, emergency medical services, search and rescue operations, campground fee collection, dispatching, and backcountry operations. Kloster brings a wealth of experience to the position after serving in the Smokies since 1988 as a Park Ranger, Backcountry Ranger, and Cosby Area Supervisor at diverse park locations including Abrams Creek, Greenbrier, Cosby, and the Little River District.

“Steve’s broad field experience, extensive institutional knowledge of the park, strong community partner ties, and demonstrated ability to work well with colleagues across divisional lines makes him a great asset to both the Resource and Visitor Protection Division and the management team,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash.

Kloster has served as the Operation Section Chief for the National Park Service Eastern Incident Management Team at commemorative special events and emergency incidents across the southeast. He has also served as the Incident Commander in major search and rescue operations in the park.

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With 765 wilderness areas, some are bound to have odd names

Posted by on Sep 20, 2015 @ 5:52 am in Conservation | 0 comments

America’s hundreds of protected Wilderness areas have names as varied as their landscapes, with wide-ranging origin stories to boot.

Names matter. The word “wilderness” still wrongly carries connotations of danger, desolation, even abandonment (consider the way we use it in popular idioms). This was all the more true in 15th- through early-20th-century America.

The Wilderness Act, 50 years old in 2014, was a monumental piece of legislation, but also a broadside against that misguided understanding; suddenly, the mightiest nation on earth was officially endorsing the idea that the “wild” could be valuable and restorative, and should therefore be preserved. Today, some form of this belief is self-evident to most Americans.

The individual Wilderness areas that sprung from that law have carried a truly diverse array of names, from Absaroka-Beartooth to Zion. Typically, the pieces of land encompassed by these designations are identified with beloved wilderness champions, indigenous legends, native animals or descriptions of the landscape itself.

Sometimes, the name is something more obscure altogether, an ancient jumble of syllables or an out-of-place adjective. Like wilderness itself, these titles beckon the curious and, once explored, often defy expectations.

Here are a few of the more unique names, along with their origin stories…


California’s Historic Drought Is Now Officially Even More Historic

Posted by on Sep 19, 2015 @ 3:33 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

It’s been at least half a millennium since California has been this dry.

The snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains — which provides nearly a third of the state’s water supply — is the lowest it has been in 500 years, according to a new study published in Nature Climate Change.

The researchers compared blue oak tree rings during known time periods of precipitation, snowpack, and temperatures — beginning in 1930 — and found that the data accurately reflected snowpack levels. They then looked at rings going back 500 years to chart California’s historic snowpack supply. The findings revealed the “exceptional character” of California’s ongoing, four-year drought. As of April 1, 2015, the Sierra Nevada snowpack was only 5 percent its historical average, the researchers found.

It’s not that California has never had this little rain, explained Soumaya Belmecheri, lead author of the study and a post-doctoral research associate at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. It’s that the high temperatures have combined with the drought to reduce snowpack. “What is different is the record high temperatures that exacerbated or made this drought more severe,” Belmecheri said.

High temperatures affect the quality of precipitation — whether water falls as snow or rain — and whether the snowpack has a chance to stick around. “The snowpack is like a reservoir. It’s a water bank,” Belmecheri said. “If this kind of drought in California is expected to become more common in the future, you can imagine all the impacts it will have for water in California.”

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The Forest Service just had to divert another $250 million to fight wildfires

Posted by on Sep 19, 2015 @ 4:19 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Top administration officials wrote Congress this week to urge it–once again–to change the way it budgets for firefighting in light of the disastrous wildfire season in the western United States.

The Agriculture Department just informed lawmakers this week that it will have to transfer $250 million to fighting the forest fires now raging, which brings this fiscal year’s emergency spending total to $700 million. Unlike other disaster spending, caused by tornadoes and hurricanes, the federal government must stay within existing budget constraints and divert money from other programs to pay for firefighting.

In a letter to 16 Senate and House members, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, and White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan wrote that the current funding method is no longer sustainable. The administration has proposed allowing agencies to bust their discretionary budget caps when fire suppression exceeds 70 percent of the 10-year average, but Congress has yet to approve the budgeting change.

“With the dramatic growth in wildland fire over the last three decades and an expected doubling again by mid-century, it only makes sense that Congress begin treating catastrophic wildfire as the natural disaster that it is,” the three wrote.

In order to pay for additional firefighting expenses, Agriculture and Interior have been diverting funds that ordinarily would go toward recreation, research, watershed protection, rangeland management and forest restoration.

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