Conservation & Environment

Montana Governor Allows Bison to Roam Outside Yellowstone

Posted by on Dec 28, 2015 @ 3:20 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Wild bison will be allowed to migrate out of Yellowstone National Park and stay in parts of Montana year-round under a move by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock that breaks a longstanding impasse in a wildlife conflict that’s dragged on for decades.

The Democratic governor’s decision likely won’t end the periodic slaughters of some bison that roam outside Yellowstone in search of food at lower elevations. But it for the first time allows hundreds of the animals to linger year-round on an estimated 400 square miles north and west of the park.

The move has been eagerly sought by wildlife advocates — and steadfastly opposed by livestock interests. Ranchers around Yellowstone are wary of a disease carried by many bison and the increased competition the animals pose for limited grazing space.

The governor expressed confidence that the livestock industry would be protected, and referred to his decision as a “modest expansion” of conditions under which bison can remain outside the park.

Supporters of the change said its significance was much greater, marking the first time in more than a century that bison would be allowed year-round in Montana: “It’s a historic step forward for bison,” said Stephanie Adams with the National Park Conservation Association.

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Video Shows Frightening Scale of SoCal Gas Leak

Posted by on Dec 27, 2015 @ 11:17 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Two environmental advocacy groups have released an aerial video of the ongoing natural gas leak that’s plaguing Porter Ranch, CA and it’s startling. This is known as the Aliso Canyon methane leak, the worst environmental disaster since the BP gulf oil spill.

The video, shot using a specialized infrared camera aboard a helicopter, released this week by the groups earthworks and the Environmental Defense Fund, shows a heavy plume of methane rising high above the leak from SoCal Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon well. Methane, the main component of natural gas, is colorless in the visible light spectrum, but does absorb some frequencies of infrared radiation. The Porter Canyon leak thus shows up as a dark plume in the video.

The groups also released the first-ever publicly viewable photos of the leak site, showing some of the damage from the mishap. As of Christmas weekend almost 70,000 metric tons of methane has leaked from SoCal Gas’s well, with an effect on the climate equivalent to the total annual pollution from all of California’s oil refineries.

SoCal Gas, which used the site to store natural gas in underground sandstone reservoirs, has told regulators that it doesn’t expect to have the leak stopped before March 2016.

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Can we save America’s largest parcel of wild, unprotected public land in the lower 48?

Posted by on Dec 24, 2015 @ 6:10 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Owyhee Canyonlands of southeast Oregon spans about 9 million acres along the Owyhee River, which carved the landscape’s dramatic contours over the course of millions of years. It is considered one of America’s most intact stretches of high desert, a type of dry landscape far above sea level that is characterized by stunning geology and diverse wildlife, and contains many culturally significant Shoshone and Paiute tribal sites.

Owyhee’s steep canyons and waves of sagebrush underscore the area’s stark separation from areas of human development (and illustrate the importance of protecting it). The odd and beautiful terrain also features hot springs, volcanic craters and Chalk Basin’s striped layers of lakebed sediment and igneous rock.

Greater sage-grouse and bighorn sheep roam a remote landscape of red-rock canyons and untamed rivers. This is one of the wildest stretches of land in the lower 48 states—but it is increasingly threatened by intrusions like mining and oil and gas operations.

Thankfully, a movement is gaining steam to permanently protect the Owyhee Canyonlands, which is thought to be the largest unprotected, undeveloped wildland in the continental U.S. “Owyhee is a singularly wild landscape offering outdoor recreation opportunities and vital habitat for hundreds of wildlife and plant species,” said The Wilderness Society’s Matt Keller. “We owe it to future generations to ensure that Owyhee is protected permanently and kept as rugged and pristine as possible.”

After years of hard work by The Wilderness Society and local leaders, a chunk of the broader Owyhee Canyonlands ecosystem was protected as wilderness on the Idaho side of the border in 2009. Now it’s time to finish the job.

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The ‘Unfolding Global Disaster’ Happening Right Under Our Feet

Posted by on Dec 22, 2015 @ 5:36 am in Conservation | 0 comments

With all that’s going on in the world — from record-breaking warm spells to rapidly melting ice sheets — it’s easy to ignore something so seemingly mundane as dirt. But scientists at the University of Sheffield’s Grantham Center for Sustainable Futures suggest that we ignore dirt at our own peril.

Nearly a third of the world’s arable land has been lost over the past four decades, according to a new report. Experts at the the University of Sheffield called this soil loss “an unfolding global disaster” that directly threatens the agricultural productivity of the planet.

But soil erosion isn’t just a problem for food security — which is expected to become even more pressing as the world’s population booms and land available for food production wanes. Soil erosion is also tied to the climate, as the world’s soils represent a massive carbon storage system, containing three times the amount of carbon that is currently in the atmosphere.

Plowed fields lose soil to erosion at a rate 10 to 100 times greater than soil formation, meaning that the Earth is currently losing valuable land faster than it can be naturally replenished. Replenishing topsoil naturally is not a quick process — it takes about 500 years to replenish just 2.5 cm of topsoil. According to the World Wildlife Fund, about half of the world’s topsoil has been lost in the last century and a half.

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Prominent Asheville Conservationist Dies in Climbing Accident

Posted by on Dec 21, 2015 @ 6:12 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Kayah Gaydish, a champion of the outdoors and expert rock climber from Asheville, North Carolina, died Sunday, December 20, 2015, after a 50-foot fall from a cliff in the Hidden Valley Lake area of Washington County, Virginia. According to a statement released by the Washington County sheriff’s office, the accident occurred around 4 p.m.

In addition to her love for rock climbing, Gaydish, who was 36-years-old, was a tireless advocate for conservation efforts in Western North Carolina. As a Linville Gorge Wilderness Ranger for a conservation organization called Wild South, she put in many grueling hours locating and removing invasive plants from the famed wilderness area. She also served as a board secretary for the Carolina Cilmber’s Coalition.

I did not know Gaydish personally, but her works for conservation in WNC were known by anyone who has strapped on a pair of hiking boots. She walked the talk. Out nearly every weekend on some kind of project to make the wild places better for everyone, she was unflagging in her efforts to improve the quality of outdoors recreation.

What hurts even more is that she was so young. Many folks who are involved in conservation, or trail maintenance, or other wilderness volunteer activities tend to be grey-haired and round-bellied. She was a bridge to the next generation coming up, and had been triggering an interest in those who can carry the message forward. She will be dearly missed by friends and family, and by the entire conservation community.

Read more here…

 

Updated December 22, 2015: From her friends at Wild South:

It is with great sadness that I report the loss of one of our beloved staff members, Kayah Gaydish. Kayah died on Sunday, December 20, in a climbing accident near Abingdon, Virginia. This remarkable young woman was the North Carolina Conservation Coordinator for Wild South and worked tirelessly as a wilderness advocate and volunteer for a variety of organizations. She was the epitome of a champion for the environment and is remembered as a smart, strong and compassionate person who was excellent at her two favorite things – being a mom and protecting the environment.

We are all grieving the loss of this talented friend and co-worker. A fund has been created and all of the money donated will go directly to the family to aid her two surviving teenage children. If you wish to make a contribution, you can visit www.youcaring.com/kayahgaydish.

 

Nicholas Named Forest Supervisor in North Carolina

Posted by on Dec 21, 2015 @ 11:46 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Regional Forester Tony Tooke is pleased to announce the hiring of Allen Nicholas as Forest Supervisor for the National Forests in North Carolina, headquartered in Asheville. Nicholas will oversee more than 1.25 million acres of public land stretched across four national forests. From the rugged and remote peaks of the Appalachians, to the tidal rivers and wetlands of the North Carolina coast, the National Forests in North Carolina embody a diverse and complex landscape representing one of the most heavily visited national forests in the country.

“I am very excited about Allen bringing his wealth of experience in natural resource management and public service back to the Southern Region,” says Tooke.” Allen’s skills in collaboration, team work, and forging strong partnerships will be beneficial to the talented group of employees and the wide-range of partners already in North Carolina.”

Allen currently is the Forest Supervisor for the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois. During his more than 30-year career in the Forest Service, Allen has worked in several roles, including: Deputy Manager at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, Administrative Officer at the Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests, and Acting Director and Acting Deputy Regional Forester in the Eastern Regional Office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“North Carolina’s national forests are home to some of the most pristine and picturesque tracts of public land available, and it’s a great honor to join this amazing team of talented individuals that manage these treasured resources,”said Nicholas.”I look forward to building on the collaborative efforts already underway between the staff in North Carolina and our regional leaders as we continue to work toward new and innovative ways to engage the communities we serve.”

Allen was born in Magnolia, Mississippi, and has a bachelor’s degree in forest resource management from Mississippi State University, and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Mississippi. He and his wife, Debra, have two daughters, Anna Lisa and Kelsey. Nicholas reports for duty in February, 2016.

 

Slow-motion methane disaster

Posted by on Dec 20, 2015 @ 4:10 am in Conservation | 0 comments

In the hills above suburban Los Angeles, a man-made natural disaster of sorts has been unfolding for nearly two months. One can’t see it or hear it, and it’s not leaving a trail of dead animals and plants in its wake. It’s potentially catastrophic, nonetheless.

On October 23, 2015 workers at the massive Aliso Canyon subterranean natural gas storage facility north of the L.A. suburb of Porter Ranch, CA noticed that one of their old wells was leaking. When the usual fixes didn’t take, the workers surmised that the leak must be originating far underground, near the natural gas reservoir, itself. And fixing that would be a long, drawn out challenge. Two months has gone by, and the leak is still leaking. Big time.

And since it began, the leak has been emitting methane at a rate ranging from 36,000 to 58,000 kilograms per hour, according to the California Air Resources Board. That adds up to a total of some 62,000 metric tons of methane emitted as of Dec. 16 — about four times what had been lost nationwide in natural gas transmission pipeline “incidents” all year. And the number keeps growing.

Not long after the disaster began, residents of Porter Ranch were able to smell the rotten-egg odor of the mercaptons, which are added to natural gas in order to make it detectable. The additives caused some folks to suffer from burning eyes, nausea, headaches and other health issues, forcing dozens to leave their homes.

The long-term impacts might be even more serious. Natural gas is mostly made up of methane, which is about 87 times more potent in terms of global warming than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period.

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Omnibus Budget Boosts Funding for National Parks

Posted by on Dec 17, 2015 @ 3:19 am in Conservation | 1 comment

Below is a statement by John Garder, Budget Director for the National Parks Conservation Association, on the fiscal year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill announced December 16, 2015 that includes significant increases in funding for national parks.

“The deal released today clearly shows that congressional appropriators and leadership recognize that our national parks need and deserve an increase in federal resources, and we commend them for reaching such a promising agreement. These are unquestionably the best funding levels for parks we have seen in years, and will be critical for providing needed rangers and making needed repairs in preparation for the expected influx of visitors for next year’s Centennial of the National Park Service.

“It is no small feat that this bill is largely free of additional damaging policy riders that would have harmed our parks’ air, water, and wildlife. While we are concerned this bill includes some policy provisions that could harm our parks, this bill makes critical investments, including a badly needed increase in park maintenance funding. We appreciate that the Administration has pushed for both keeping out damaging policy riders and boosting park funds.

“The bill extends the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s funding stream for three more years, and also provides a robust funding level that will protect many parks throughout the country from the threat of development.”

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And more information…

 

Five new studies that change our understanding of permafrost

Posted by on Dec 16, 2015 @ 3:07 am in Conservation | 0 comments

On July 16, 2007, a rare bolt of lighting touched down on a remote, lake-studded expanse of tundra about 350 miles south of the Arctic Ocean. It had been a hot, dry summer, and the tundra ignited into what would eventually become its largest blaze in 5,000 years. Over the next three months, the Anaktuvuk River Fire scorched an area the size of Cape Cod. Its scar was visible from space.

In its wake, scientists flocked to the burned tundra to find out how plants, wildlife and soils respond to an ecological regime that’s likely to become the new normal: a hotter, drier and more fire-prone Arctic.

Now, the results from those studies (and numerous others) are beginning to trickle in. And while some are of limited interest to those of us below the Arctic Circle, discoveries about thawing permafrost have the potential to impact people and environments the world over. That’s because permafrost — the frozen soil that can stretch as much as 650 meters below the tundra’s surface — contains a third of the planet’s land-based carbon.

Until recently, relatively little was known about the repercussions of thawing permafrost. Today, as its role in global carbon cycles grows increasingly apparent, a slew of studies are transforming our understanding of the north’s frozen soil.

Here are five of the most notable…

 

Chimney Rock State Park gets bigger

Posted by on Dec 15, 2015 @ 8:19 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 1 comment

Chimney Rock State Park just got bigger. The Nature Conservancy recently transferred 536 acres to the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation, expanding the state park to 6,200 acres.

By connecting existing parcels of state park land, the acquisitions will provide a land base for future trail development and protect high-quality natural areas, conservationists say.

“When we started putting this park together, what we had were a handful of large tracts that were scattered thoughout the Hickory Nut Gap Gorge,” said Charlie Peek, public information officer for the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.

Since 2007, the state has been working with the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, the Nature Conservancy and other organizations and trusts to tie the tracts together.

“It’s critical to link up the properties that we already had,” Peek said. “Importance is not always measured by total acreage at this point for Chimney Rock State Park.” Buying the smaller properties like the 536 acres would remove the gaps, Peek said, and secure the park for natural resource management as well as trail and other recreation development projects.

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Oregon Is The Latest Target Of Right-Wing Effort To Get Rid Of National Forests

Posted by on Dec 15, 2015 @ 4:54 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A draft bill recently released by U.S. Representative Greg Walden (R-OR) proposes to dispose of hundreds of thousands of acres of national forest land in Oregon’s Klamath River Basin so that it can be clear-cut or auctioned off to the highest bidder.
The proposal,
which is the latest in a series of attempts by right-wing politicians to seize or sell-off national public lands, is so controversial that observers say it could spark a renewed water war in Rep. Walden’s home state of Oregon.

The Klamath Basin, a 15,000-plus square mile river basin spanning regions of both Oregon and California, has long been the site of fierce disputes over the allocation of scarce water supplies and the collapse of fisheries and wildlife habitat.

Over the past several years, however, a wide range of stakeholders — including farmers, tribes, landowners, conservationists, and national, state, and local governments — engaged in a collaborative process aimed at resolving the decades-long Klamath water crisis and restoring economic stability and environmental integrity to the basin. These negotiations resulted in three bipartisan agreements which seek to remove four hydroelectric dams along the Klamath River, promote water quality and wildlife restoration, and provide local farmers, businesses and communities with economic stability and certainty.

“The draft bill [Congressman Walden] released today leaves out dam removal and instead replaces it with a giveaway of public lands,” Josh Saxon, Councilman of the Karuk Tribe, said in a statement. “Communities in the basin left partisanship at the door to hammer out a solution. Mr. Walden must do the same.”

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What the funding fight means for national parks

Posted by on Dec 13, 2015 @ 9:40 am in Conservation | 0 comments

What the funding fight means for national parks

Conservatives and conservationists are clashing over the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a 50-year-old program that Congress let expire on September 30, 2015.

The fund uses royalties from offshore oil drilling to help purchase and develop outdoor recreation areas. It’s led to the creation of tens of thousands of small projects like parks, beaches, trails, hunting and fishing areas, and baseball fields, in addition to funding bigger conservation projects in national parks and wildlife refuges.

Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, is the most vocal critic of the law. Bishop has proposed a new law that would significantly reduce money for federal land acquisition. That has environmentalists worried about pending LWCF projects under federal land agencies like the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

LWCF funds would help, for example, acquire 44 acres of private land within Saguaro National Park outside of Tucson, Arizona, to protect it from development. The money would also go toward obtaining unprotected areas at Olympic National Park in Washington to prevent nearby private properties from discharging sewage in the park’s Lake Quinault.

Environmental groups argue that Bishop is distorting the facts when he describes the fund as a guise for the government to collect more land. According to the Wilderness Society, 99% of Interior Department projects using LWCF funds are used to protect inholdings – lands that are already within the boundaries of a national park or wildlife refuge.

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Beaver dams can last centuries, 1868 map shows

Posted by on Dec 13, 2015 @ 4:14 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Beaver dams can last centuries, 1868 map shows

Beavers aren’t just busy — they’re swamped. But while building and maintaining a marsh can take time, it’s apparently worth the investment. The rodents’ ecosystem-shaping homes have long been known for their durability, and a recent study offers unique evidence that individual beaver dams can persist for centuries.

That evidence comes via an 1868 map commissioned by Lewis H. Morgan, a prominent American anthropologist who also worked as a railroad director. While overseeing a rail project through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the 1860s, Morgan came across something that amazed him: “a beaver district, more remarkable, perhaps, than any other of equal extent to be found in any part of North America.”

Morgan went on to study these beavers for years, resulting in his 396-page tome “The American Beaver and His Works.” Published in 1868, it included a map of 64 beaver dams and ponds spread across roughly 125 square kilometers (48 square miles) near the city of Ishpeming, Michigan. And now, almost 150 years later, a fresh look at Morgan’s map has revealed that most of the beaver dams are still there.

Other research has hinted at even longer resilience. A 2012 study, for example, found that some beaver dams in California date back more than 1,000 years. One of those dams was first built around 580 AD, making it older than China’s Tang Dynasty or the earliest-known English poetry. Later evidence shows the same dam was in use around 1730, when beavers apparently made repairs to it. It was finally abandoned after suffering a breach in 1850 — some 1,200 years after its initial construction.

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Groups propose recreation areas on WNC national forests

Posted by on Dec 12, 2015 @ 9:31 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

The federal government should create two national recreation areas in Western North Carolina and designate nearly 110,000 acres of national forest land as wilderness, a coalition of more than 30 environmental and outdoor recreation groups says.

The groups released a joint position statement this week calling for the designations to be part of the long-range plan for Nantahala and Pisgah national forests, which take in parts of virtually every county in WNC. The U.S. Forest Service is revising plans for the forests.

All of the recreation and wilderness areas would require approval by Congress, but proponents say getting them included in the forest plan expected to be adopted in 2017 or 2018 would be a vital first step in that process.

Pisgah National Recreation Area would include Mount Pisgah, Looking Glass Falls, Shining Rock Wilderness, Graveyard Fields, the Cradle of Forestry and other scenic areas located on 115,573 acres between Brevard and Waynesville.

Grandfather National Recreation Area would cover 57,400 acres in Avery, Burke, Caldwell and Watauga counties and include upper Wilson Creek, Harper Creek and Lost Cove.

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A Summer at Grand Teton National Park

Posted by on Dec 11, 2015 @ 6:34 am in Conservation | 0 comments

This past summer, Christina Adele Warburg landed her dream job: Park ranger at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Christina lived and worked at Grand Teton’s Moose Entrance Station, welcoming people to the park. Now she’s sharing her experience and some great insider travel tips for anyone looking to plan a trip to Grand Teton.

Unless you have lived it, it can be hard to understand how truly wonderful it is to spend a summer at Grand Teton.

It’s driving to the post office and seeing wolves eating a moose carcass off the side of the road. It’s waking up at 2 am to an elk bugling a few feet outside your window. It’s hanging around a campfire with your co-workers — people who become your family. It’s every second of your free time being filled with hikes, wildlife, lakes, rivers, stars and friends.

It’s taking away all the distractions of life and learning what really matters. It’s waking up every morning, looking at the peaks and still not being used to the beauty. It’s hearing the same question over a hundred times a day for months on end, and being so happy you don’t mind answering it again. It’s not knowing what else is happening around the globe because your whole world is the park.

It is living life amplified – that’s what Grand Teton is like.

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Scientists Reveal ‘Leapfrog’ Migration in Golden Eagles

Posted by on Dec 10, 2015 @ 8:49 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A bird with the wingspan of an NBA player seems like it’d be pretty hard to miss. Yet the iconic Golden Eagle has proved so elusive in eastern North America that scientists are only now defining its range and coming up with population stats in the region.

Todd Katzner, a research wildlife biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, says there are a few thousand Golden Eagles that breed in remote portions of Canada—Quebec and Labrador—and winter in the Appalachian Mountains. His latest study, published today in The Condor: Ornithological Applications, shows that within this group, the eagles that breed the farthest north generally spend the winter farthest south, with some migrating all the way to Alabama and Georgia. In doing so, they “leapfrog” over the birds in the middle, which go only as far south as Pennsylvania and New York. (A few don’t even make it out of Canada.)

The study speculates that this leapfrog pattern is the result of a trade-off. Golden Eagles in Pennsylvania and New York, for instance, face harsher winters. But on the other hand, they have an easier migration and might also get the first crack at favorable breeding territories in the spring.

Eastern Golden Eagles are believed to be geographically and possibly genetically distinct from the much larger population of Golden Eagles that spans almost all of western North America. Before the 1930s scientists didn’t realize that this species lived in the East at all, and many birding field guides still don’t mention the smaller population.

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Olympic National Park Can’t Possibly Afford Its Visitor, Infrastructure Needs

Posted by on Dec 7, 2015 @ 9:29 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Olympic National Park Can’t Possibly Afford Its Visitor, Infrastructure Needs

More and more people are visiting national parks, media channels are flooding consumer publications with features on the parks, congressional interest seems higher than ususal, and yet parks are struggling to get by, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.

The parks advocacy group points to Olympic National Park as just one example of the funding struggles pulling at the National Park System. According to the group, Olympic “receives only approximately 60 percent of the funds it needs to adequately serve visitors, maintain roads and trails, and protect internationally recognized natural resources.”

The report comes as members of Congress work to strike a spending deal to provide funding for our national parks and other federal programs and agencies with a looming December 11 deadline, and as the National Park Service rapidly approaches its 100th anniversary in 2016, an NPCA release notes.

In a special report, Park on the Edge, NPCA officials say years of inadequate funding “have led to Olympic National Park’s $133 million buildup of maintenance needs for trails, visitor centers and other facilities – contributing to the more than $11 billion backlog across the National Park System.

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