Conservation & Environment

European Union Agrees To Cut Its Emissions 40 Percent By 2030

Posted by on Oct 27, 2014 @ 8:40 am in Conservation | 0 comments

European Union Agrees To Cut Its Emissions 40 Percent By 2030

Turns out tough compromises and substantive problem-solving may be something national governments can still do.

On the subject of climate change, American politics has remained mired in gridlock after the failure of the national cap-and-trade bill in 2009. That has forced the Obama Administration to aim for a modest reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of 17 percent below their 2005 levels by 2020 — to be achieved through regulatory efforts grounded in unilateral and pre-existing executive authority.

However, the European Union showed America up, striking an initial deal to legally require its member countries to cut their GHG emissions 40 percent below their 1990 levels by 2030. It’s the first substantive offer from any member of the international community ahead of the United Nations climate talks that will be held in Paris in 2015.

The plan is for the 40 percent target to eventually be divvied up into individual and legally binding requirements for each E.U. member country, based on how much effort their economy can shoulder. Two other targets for 2030 were also agreed upon: to increase energy efficiency 27 percent and to get 27 percent of the E.U.’s power from renewable sources by that time. The efficiency target could also be updated to 30 percent, pending a review in 2020.

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Forest Lookouts: Deciding the future of WNC’s national forests

Posted by on Oct 25, 2014 @ 12:16 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Forest Lookouts: Deciding the future of WNC’s national forests

This story launches a Carolina Public Press in-depth reporting project about the future of the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests which are – for the first time in 20 years – undergoing an extensive re-planning process. Hiking through the national forests, paddling a river or fishing a stream, you can’t see the plan. But this process – which will ultimately oversee more than 1 million acres in 18 mountain counties using a process that has been largely untested on the East Coast – will have innumerable impacts on Western North Carolina’s residents, economies and environment.

In Forest Lookouts, Carolina Public Press will pull back the layers of bureaucracy to report on the plan’s players and leaders, analyze the plan’s inception and implementation, find what community leaders, elected officials and conservationists think are the biggest issues facing the forests and explore the best ways to manage the forest for future generations — all to help residents across North Carolina understand what’s going on and how to participate.

Look beyond the windshield and venture past the popular roadside attractions, and you’ll find find huge swaths of wild terrain and towering hardwoods, rare wildflower, sparkling streams, fish and wildlife in Western North Carolina’s two National Forests – the Pisgah and the Nantahala. A flourishing ecological system that emerged from renegade logging that nearly decimated the Southern Appalachians around the turn of the 20th century, the 1-million-plus acre public forests span 18 mountain counties. They are among the most biodiverse and beautiful places in the country. Known for their famous trails and peaks, the forests are also popular destinations for hikers, mountain bikers, boaters, naturalists, climbers, anglers and hunters.

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Dreaming of Giants: The Future of American Chestnut Restoration

Posted by on Oct 24, 2014 @ 8:25 am in Conservation | 0 comments

For almost a hundred years, foresters have dreamed of the American chestnut’s return. “As the 21st century unfolds, the chestnut restoration goal may be closer to reality,” says U.S. Forest Service Southern Reseearch Station (SRS) scientist Stacy Clark.

“Chestnut restoration will require an integrated approach that uses traditional breeding, advanced seedling technology, and forest management,” says Clark, research forester with the SRS Upland Hardwood Ecology and Management unit, and lead author of a new review article that evaluates restoration efforts thus far and offers recommendations for the future.

Two nonnative fungi that cause chestnut blight and ink disease essentially erased the American chestnut tree from the landscape by the early 20th century, and although new shoots continue to emerge from ancient roots, they eventually succumb to blight. Tree breeders have attempted to produce blight-resistant trees for decades, but research was largely unsuccessful until a backcross breeding approach using Chinese chestnut and modern biotechnology techniques became available.

Through a combination of traditional breeding and biotechnology, scientists at the American Chestnut Foundation are developing chestnut seedlings that are expected to have the blight resistance of their Chinese parents, but the appearance and ecological traits of their American parents.

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Cleaning Up The Chesapeake Bay Would Bring $130 Billion In Annual Economic Benefits

Posted by on Oct 21, 2014 @ 3:04 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Fully implementing an EPA policy that aims to clean up the Chesapeake Bay would result in billions of dollars in economic benefits, according to a new report.

The peer-reviewed report, published by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, analyzed the economic benefits of implementing the EPA’s Clean Water Blueprint for the Chesapeake Bay, a plan that sets a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for how much nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment can enter the bay each year, with the potential of cutting this pollution by 20-25 percent.

The report found that the economic benefits of the restored Chesapeake Bay would total nearly $130 billion each year — an annual increase of more than $22 billion from the $107 billion the bay’s ecosystem services are valued at currently. If the Blueprint were to be scrapped entirely, the annual benefits of the land would decrease by $5.6 billion.

The Chesapeake Bay has long been plagued by oxygen-free dead zones that kill marine life, due largely to the large quantities of agricultural pesticides that enter the bay from surrounding farms. The bay’s iconic blue crab, oysters and striped bass, play a significant role in the bay’s economy.

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CTNC’s Orchard at Altapass Project Receives State Funding

Posted by on Oct 15, 2014 @ 6:02 am in Conservation | 0 comments

CTNC’s Orchard at Altapass Project Receives State Funding

During a September, 2014 meeting in Raleigh, the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF) approved funding for 23 land conservation projects that will safeguard water quality, provide recreational opportunities, and preserve important cultural sites and wildlife habitat. This includes approval of Conservation Trust for North Carolina’s full request of $180,444 to place a lasting conservation easement on the Orchard at Altapass, a Blue Ridge Parkway treasure.

“The Clean Water Management Trust Fund took decisive action to conserve high priority natural lands that will protect drinking water supplies and clean air, preserve critical wildlife habitat, and expand recreational and cultural opportunities for North Carolina families,” said Executive Director Reid Wilson. “The trust fund’s approval for the Orchard at Altapass project means that we have secured all the funding we need to get the deal done.”

CTNC will now work with the landowners to protect the historic property from development. The land, at Parkway Milepost 328, lies within more than 2,500 acres that the Conservation Trust has already protected. It connects to other portions of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, and protection of the tract will expand public access to this challenging hike. The property is also a critical piece in CTNC’s efforts to protect clean mountain streams and a wide swath of healthy forests for wildlife.

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Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests Plan Revision Meeting Schedule

Posted by on Oct 14, 2014 @ 6:35 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests Plan Revision Meeting Schedule

The National Forests in NC will be holding the next round of public meetings this October and November to share information about the proposed Forest Management Plan, including potential management areas and desired conditions. The meeting will open with a presentation on significant issues, management areas, and the development of plan components. The Forest Service planning team will share some proposed desired condition statements and information about watersheds and recreation settings during an open poster session.

Each of the scheduled meetings will be from 4:30 to 7:30 pm, will follow the same agenda and present the same information and opportunity for review and comment. Public meeting dates and locations are as follows:

Pisgah Ranger District: October 21 at the Forge Valley Event Center in Mills River;
Forge Valley Event Center
8818 Boylston Highway
Mills River NC 28759

Nantahala Ranger District: October 28 at the Tartan Hall in Franklin;
First Presbyterian Church
Tartan Hall
26 Church Street
Franklin, NC 28734

Tusquitee Ranger District: October 30 at the Tri-County Comm. College
Tri-County Community College
Enloe Multi-Purpose Room
21 Campus Circle
Murphy, NC 28906

Appalachian Ranger District: November 3 at Mars Hill College, Broyhill Chapel in Mars Hill;
Broyhill Chapel, Mars Hill College
100 Athletic Street
Mars Hill, NC 28754

Cheoah Ranger District: November 6 at the Graham County Community Center in Robbinsville;
Graham County Community Center
196 Knight Street
Robbinsville, NC 28771

Grandfather Ranger District: November 13 at McDowell Tech. Comm. College
McDowell Technical Community College
William Harold Smith Building (#19); Room 113
54 College Drive
Marion, NC 28752

 

Autumn National Park Tours: Color At Every Turn

Posted by on Oct 12, 2014 @ 6:41 am in Conservation | 1 comment

Autumn National Park Tours: Color At Every Turn

Mattering little whether you start in the south and drive north, or start in the north and drive south; the fall finery that cloaks the Appalachian Range has few peers when the climatic conditions converge in mid-October.

Oaks, maples, beech, sweetgum, and hickories collaborate to dazzle you with hues of Cabernet, cranberry, orange, gold and rust, some of which are set against the greenery of pines and hemlocks. Creeping along the forest floor, sassafrass, Virginia creeper, and even patches of purple asters provide a colorful contrast to the showy overstory.

The challenge you face, though, is the traffic this festival of fall foliage attracts. Bumper-to-bumper conditions can clog the 105-mile-long Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park, the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, and even the 34-mile-long Newfound Gap Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

What to do? Strategies vary. Whether you’re staying just outside one of the parks, or lucked out with a room within, forgoe a driving tour and instead make incursions into the forests on foot, and avoid the most popular spots.

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This Methane ‘Hot Spot’ Is Huge, But It’s Nothing Compared To Our Other Methane Sources

Posted by on Oct 10, 2014 @ 6:41 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

A massive amount of the greenhouse gas methane is being released into the atmosphere from underground leaks of natural gas, producing a major U.S. “hot spot” that was previously unknown, according to satellite data released by scientists at NASA and the University of Michigan.

The 2,500 square mile hot spot — located near the Four Corners border of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah — is spewing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is 20 times more effective at causing global warming than carbon dioxide. The methane is likely not from fracking, NASA said, since the data analyzed is from 2003 to 2008, before the fracking boom. Instead, the scientists hypothesize that the leaks are coming from coalbed methane extraction, a process of getting natural gas from underground coal beds.

The discovery is important not only because it’s the largest concentrated spot of methane emissions in the United States, but also because it leaves questions as to whether there are other big hot spots that we’re unaware of.

The hotspot released an average of 590,000 tons of methane emissions into the atmosphere every year from 2003 to 2009. That’s a staggering amount — 590,000 tons of methane emissions is equal to almost 15 million tons of carbon dioxide, or the climate equivalent of adding 3.1 million cars to the road every year.

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Predators and profit coexist on Turner land

Posted by on Oct 9, 2014 @ 4:49 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Ted Turner has always known the status quo will never change unless you stand up and defy it. As a billionaire businessman he made his money the old fashioned way — by practicing fiscal conservatism and paying careful attention to the bottom line. It’s worth mentioning that he didn’t amass his fortune by defiling the environment. As an outlier, a technology disrupter and a maverick carrying the attitude of an underdog, Turner set out time and again — successfully — to prove naysayers wrong.

During the late 1980s Montana cattle ranchers told Turner it would be a mistake for him to replace beef cows on his ranches with bison. Cattlemen looked upon buffalo as an “exotic” species, even though the iconic Western behemoths had once been the most prolific native land mammals in the world. Across more than a dozen ranches Turner today has a bison herd that numbers more than 50,000.

He recognized early on that there was a karmic “rightness” about bringing bison back after settlers nearly annihilated all 35 million. As a species that evolved in the West over many millennia, Turner appreciates their competitive advantages over cattle. Bison need less coddling than beef cows (which are bred to be docile), can tolerate changing weather and climate better, don’t need to be fed huge amounts of hay to survive winters, don’t require being injected with growth hormones to fatten up, and are built by nature to better ward off predators.

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More than Timber

Posted by on Oct 9, 2014 @ 8:34 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Long before the technology to harvest timber existed, forest plants and fungi provided food, medicine, and other items. Today, edible and medicinal forest products, as well as decorative florals and specialty woods, are collectively known as non-timber forest products (NTFPs).

A new national assessment and synthesis, coordinated by the U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS), will identify strategies for conserving and managing NTFPs. The assessment is drawing from the expertise of many scientists and multiple disciplines, including anthropology, ecology, economics, and horticulture.

Forest plants and fungi are tremendously valuable to those who collect and use them – whether as food, for cultural and spiritual practices, or to earn extra income. In some communities, the cultural value surpasses the economic value, although NTFPs are economically valuable and contribute billions of dollars to the U.S. economy.

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New San Gabriel Mountains National Monument to protect Southern California’s wild “backyard”

Posted by on Oct 8, 2014 @ 11:09 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Within an hour’s drive of millions of people, the San Gabriel Mountains offer an unconventional Southern California “backyard” — miles of wild terrain including majestic mountain peaks, clear rivers and countless recreational opportunities for urban communities that might otherwise not have access to nature. Now, thanks to President Barack Obama, this beautiful area will be a national monument.

The White House is expected to announce the monument on October 10 to protect these national forest lands, which make up more than 70 percent of Los Angeles County’s scarce open space. The presidential authority to designate a national monument falls under the Antiquities Act of 1906, a law used on a bipartisan basis for more than a century to protect cultural and natural landmarks.

The San Gabriel Mountains are popular for picnics, fishing, camping and nature-watching, but their great accessibility makes them vulnerable to wear and tear with limited staff and funding. National monument status will help preserve the area and improve visitor services, ensuring the forest can continue to provide more than one-third of L.A. County’s drinking water and serve as an outdoor recreation haven.

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How Fracking Just Got Worse for Your Health

Posted by on Oct 7, 2014 @ 5:59 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens—the nation’s authoritative public list of substances “known” or “reasonably anticipated” to cause cancer in humans—added four chemicals, making a total of 243 substances in its 13th Report:

1-bromopropane used as a cleaning solvent and in spray adhesives;
Pentachlorophenol, a complex mixture used as a wood preservative to treat utility poles;
Ortho-Toluidine, used to make rubber chemicals, pesticides, dyes, and some consumer products;
Cumene, found in fuel products and tobacco smoke.

Cumene is classified as “reasonably anticipated” to cause cancer. It’s also on the congressional list of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for oil and gas. It’s been listed as a Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency since 1990, so it’s been known to be bad for health for a long time.

And, cumene isn’t the only health hazard associated with fracking. Diesel particulate matter, nitrogen oxides (NOx), road dust, BTEX chemicals (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene) are all potential pollutants associated with fracking that pose health risks. Benzene is also a known carcinogen listed by the Report on Carcinogens (you can search the RoC for chemicals linked to cancer here), VOCs and NOx contribute to the formation of regional ozone which causes smog and is very harmful to the respiratory system. Particulate matter can cause respiratory problems including coughing, airway inflammation and worsening of existing respiratory illnesses such as asthma and COPD, and premature death.

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Louisiana is drowning, quickly

Posted by on Oct 7, 2014 @ 12:21 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Louisiana is  drowning, quickly

In just 80 years, some 2,000 square miles of its coastal landscape have turned to open water, wiping places off maps, bringing the Gulf of Mexico to the back door of New Orleans and posing a lethal threat to an energy and shipping corridor vital to the nation’s economy. And it’s going to get worse, even quicker.

Scientists now say one of the greatest environmental and economic disasters in the nation’s history is rushing toward a catastrophic conclusion over the next 50 years, so far unabated and largely unnoticed.

At the current rates that the sea is rising and land is sinking, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists say by 2100 the Gulf of Mexico could rise as much as 4.3 feet across this landscape, which has an average elevation of about 3 feet. If that happens, everything outside the protective levees — most of Southeast Louisiana — would be underwater.

In 50 years most of Southeastern Louisiana will be part of the Gulf of Mexico. The state is losing a football field of land every 48 minutes due to climate change, drilling and dredging for oil and gas, and levees on the Mississippi River. At risk: nearly all of the nation’s offshore oil and gas production, and millions of homes.

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Another 1,300-Year-Old Village Discovered in Arizona

Posted by on Oct 7, 2014 @ 9:51 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Archaeologists have uncovered a second ancient village in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park that is 1,300 years old.

The latest basket-maker village dates between 200 A.D. and 700 A.D., based on the types of pottery found, according to Bill Reitze, the park’s archaeologist. It was discovered this summer, following the first discovery last year of similar slab-lined pit-houses.

These are dwelling structures dug into the ground unique to the Southern Colorado Plateau and found throughout the park, but not often in these high concentrations, Reitze said.

Both of the large basket-maker sites are in neighboring, stabilized sand dunes less than a kilometer apart, Reitze said. The discoveries were made as part of an expansion project that has doubled the park’s size after Congress passed the Petrified Forest National Park Expansion Act of 2004.

“There are not a lot of national parks that have the opportunity to get bigger like this to protect sites and produce future research,” Reitze said. “A lot of archaeology happens in response to development. What makes this unique is new sites are discovered, research [is] being done and all these sites are being protected, all at once.”

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Feds override NC on draining coal ash dumps

Posted by on Oct 4, 2014 @ 11:23 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Federal environmental officials spurred North Carolina regulators to reverse a policy allowing Duke Energy to drain massive amounts of polluted wastewater from its coal ash dumps directly into the state’s rivers and lakes, according to documents.

The Southern Environmental Law Center released documents showing that the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources on Aug. 28, 2014 quietly signed off on Duke’s plan to start emptying liquids from all of its 33 coal ash dumps across the state through existing drain pipes at the facilities.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency responded with a lengthy memo on Sept. 16, expressing concern that Duke’s draining would likely violate its water quality permit. Duke’s state wastewater discharge permits require the company to test the water discharged from its pipes for levels of toxic materials twice a year.

A spokesman for the state environmental department, said the agency was simply following an Aug. 1 executive order from Gov. Pat McCrory directing it to move ahead with the closure of Duke’s ash pits. The state’s letter directed Duke to drain the ponds only down to the depth where the ash has settled.

However, state legislators in McCrory’s own party have openly questioned his handling of the issue, approving legislation in August that creates a new state commission to oversee the closure of Duke’s ash dumps. McCrory has threatened to sue over the law because he won’t be allowed to appoint a majority of the seats on the nine-member panel, which he claims violates the state Constitution.

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More coal ash disasters in waiting

Posted by on Oct 4, 2014 @ 8:51 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Late last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency quietly released inspection reports of coal ash ponds at 26 plants in 11 states. At eight plants, the agency found toxic lagoons in poor condition, encompassing almost a third of all the sites. These coal ash ponds lacked proper maintenance and/or routine safety analyses to ensure prevention of another disaster like the massive spills at the TVA Kingston plant in 2008 and Duke Energy’s Dan River Plant in North Carolina last February.

These latest inspections are the EPA’s 12th round of published reports. After the largest toxic waste spill in U.S. history in Tennessee in 2008, the EPA initiated dam inspections to assess the condition of the nation’s 1,070 coal ash ponds. To date, the EPA has conducted more than 550 inspections. This latest round confirms the alarming conclusions of hundreds of prior inspections—approximately 25 percent of the nation’s largest toxic lagoons are in “poor” condition. The EPA found less than half of these coal ash impoundments in “satisfactory” condition. Yet this deeply disturbing news has triggered no alarms and even less action.

The EPA continues to identify significant problems at coal ash dams nationwide, but no federal rule requires that the problems be fixed. All fixes are voluntary, and to make matters worse, the EPA conducts no follow-up on its inspections. When and how the problems are fixed is totally up to each utility. Without oversight, communities near potentially deadly toxic lagoons are in grave danger.

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Next Dust Bowls: Southwest, Central Plains, Amazon, Europe For Centuries

Posted by on Oct 3, 2014 @ 11:57 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The unprecedented drought in California will become commonplace for the Southwest, Central Plains, and much of the currently inhabited and arable land around the world in the second half of the century — if humanity stays anywhere near our current path of carbon pollution emissions. Several recent studies spell this out in great detail.

These latest studies confirm a large and growing body of scientific literature that dates back to a 1990 NASA analysis, “Potential evapotranspiration and the likelihood of future drought.”

Dr. Benjamin Cohen of Columbia, a top drought expert and the lead author of the recent study warns we are headed into a “fundamental shift in Western hydro-climate.” This drying includes the Central Plains, one of the breadbaskets of the world. Given the rapidly growing population of the West, is there enough water for everyone there? He said “we can do it,” but only “if you take agriculture out of the equation.” Ouch!

The 1930s Dust Bowl was the best analogy to what’s coming. The U.S. Geological Survey does project it will get dustier, but we don’t know yet whether it will get as dusty as it did in the 1930s when deeply flawed agricultural practices worsened the problem.
We do know it will get much, much hotter than the 1930s Dust Bowl. And that the droughts will last much longer than one decade.

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