Conservation & Environment

Grand Canyon’s North Rim is remotely satisfying

Posted by on Aug 1, 2015 @ 2:50 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

These are sights you do not forget, no need for a smartphone or GoPro. The Grand Canyon constantly surprises and delights.

And it is at the North Rim, the less-visited but no less sublime national park outpost, where you can experience the Grand Canyon in its purest form – unless, of course, you have the temerity and back-country skills to camp out for days on the canyon floor.

Its remoteness is its appeal. Though the touristic hordes that gather each day at Mather Point on the South Rim can actually see the North Rim in the distance – it is, after all, only a 10-mile flight away for a red-tailed hawk – it’s a mind-numbing, often winding, 215-mile trip via automobile. But, once you arrive, there is little to distract you from an immersion in nature. Unlike the South Rim, there are no shuttle buses to ferry you to observation points, no swooping West Rim helicopter rides into the canyon, no railroad depot or a town with fast-food options just outside the park entrance.

Here, it’s just you and the elements. Sure, there is a lodge, literally at the end of the road, where you can spend the night.

But that’s it, pretty much. The rest is up to you.

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The most polluted US national parks

Posted by on Jul 31, 2015 @ 9:32 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The most polluted US national parks

The National Parks Conservation Association issued a report that found some of the country’s most popular national parks are plagued by polluted air and hazy skies — and are decades behind schedule getting rid of them.

The report flunked Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Joshua Tree and Yosemite in California — giving each park an F for routinely having unhealthful levels of ozone during the summer season, when millions of vacationers descend. The air quality at Sequoia and Kings Canyon was rated worst in the nation.

The advocacy group, using federal data from 2008 to 2012, assigned grades to each of the 48 national parks that the government has mandated must have the purest air in the nation. It assessed levels of haze and ozone — a lung-damaging pollutant in smog — and documented how each park had been affected by climate change, including rising temperatures and shifts in precipitation.

Three-quarters of the parks had ozone levels considered moderate or worse, the report found, and all 48 had been degraded by haze created by a stew of particles and gases that scatter light and limit visibility.

Under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional haze rule, states must restore the clarity of more than 150 national parks and wilderness areas to natural levels by 2064. Recent projections show many are off-track by decades. And loopholes have allowed coal-fired power plants and other polluters to get by with inadequate emissions controls and other mitigation measures, the report said.

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The West Is Still On Fire

Posted by on Jul 30, 2015 @ 10:42 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Just in time for peak tourist season, Montana’s Glacier National Park is on fire. As of July 28, some 3,200 acres of the park were engulfed by wildfire, which began a week ago and caused park officials to shut down three separate campsites throughout the park as well as close off the St. Mary Visitor Center. As of the 29th, the wildfire was 56 percent contained, and portions of the park that were previously closed have been reopened to the public — but firefighters are still working to contain the remaining portion of the fire.

The Glacier National Park fire is just another example of the disruption the 2015 wildfire season has already caused for Western states. Plagued by high temperatures, low snowpack, and continued drought, states from Alaska to California are in the midst of one of the earliest and most prolific fire seasons on record. As of the 28th, 34,995 large fires had burned over 5,569,671 acres in 2015 — almost 2 million acres above the 10-year average. And that’s not to mention Western Canada, which is even worse.

In Alaska alone, fires of all sizes have burned nearly 5 million acres, paving the way for the state’s worst fire season ever. Alaskan wildfires are particularly concerning because the state sits on vast tracts of permafrost — permanently frozen soil and water that contains more carbon than is currently contained in the atmosphere. Wildfires burn away the top layer of earth, whether that’s trees, brush, leaves, or other material that rests on a forest floor. But in Alaska, increasingly powerful fires not only strip away the top layer of organic material — they also burn organic matter underground, removing the protective layer of trees and pine needles that insulates the permafrost from the sun’s rays. Without that protective layer, heat from the sun has a much easier time turning permafrost from frozen organic matter to soupy organic matter that can release dangerous greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, into the atmosphere.

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New Report Reveals The Severe Economic Impacts Climate Change Will Have In The South

Posted by on Jul 29, 2015 @ 8:07 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Climate change is set to hit the Southeast United States hard.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Risky Business Project, a nonprofit that focuses on the economic impacts of climate change. The report, which focused on 12 states found that the increased heat and humidity that these states are expected to experience as the climate changes will put the region’s recent manufacturing boom at risk.

“While the Southeast is generally accustomed to heat and humidity, the scale of increased heat — along with other impacts such as sea level rise and storm surge — will likely cause significant and widespread economic harm, especially to a region so heavily invested in physical manufacturing, agriculture and energy infrastructure,” the report reads. “If we continue on our current greenhouse gas emissions pathway, the southeastern United States will likely experience significant drops in agricultural yield and labor productivity, along with increased sea level rise, higher energy demand, and rising mortality rates.”

The report recommends that the Southeast as a whole start investing more heavily in renewable energy, efficiency, and cleaner vehicles. Already, states in the region have taken some of these steps: earlier this month, for instance, the first major wind project in the South broke ground in North Carolina.

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13 Giant Companies Make Big Climate Pledges

Posted by on Jul 28, 2015 @ 10:16 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Thirteen giant companies joined the Obama administration’s Act on Climate initiative, announcing at least $140 billion in new low-carbon investment and more than 1,600 megawatts (MW) of new renewable energy, the White House said.

The pledge from Coca-Cola, Walmart, Apple, Google, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and other big-name companies comes in advance of the United Nations climate talks in Paris at the end of the year, and is meant to demonstrate industry support for strong carbon reduction goals.

“We recognize that delaying action on climate change will be costly in economic and human terms, while accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy will produce multiple benefits with regard to sustainable economic growth, public health, resilience to natural disasters, and the health of the global environment,” states the pledge, set to be announced at the White House with Secretary of State John Kerry.

This announcement is the first of two planned industry pledges, the White House said in a statement. A second round of companies is expected to make pledges in the fall.

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Public Land Under Siege: US Wilderness

Posted by on Jul 26, 2015 @ 6:14 am in Conservation | 0 comments

On the 26th of March 2015, the United States’ senate voted to pass SA 838, a budget amendment that constitutes the first step in allowing the transfer of certain types of federal land into the stewardship of individual states and paving the way for the sale of these lands to private concerns.

The amendment, proposed by Alaskan senator Lisa Murkowski, garnered 51 “yeas” against 49 “nays”. This occurred despite the fact that the amendment enjoys very little support by the constituents represented by such a vote. For what reasons would the US senate vote to remove federal protection on public land in favor of state control and eventual privatization?

The sale or lease of public lands represents a demonstrable economic gain to be made from ostensibly unused land, especially in a state such as Alaska, which happens to be rich in space and resources such as oil and gold.

A cursory glance at the map of federal land in Alaska and the western half of the continental United States reveals huge swaths of land that are protected under current law. Administration of these lands is not without cost and therefore the sale of these lands to private concerns represents an immediate economic boon. This type of rationale, however, reeks of short-sightedness and unsustainability.

Nevada leads the charge here, with a staggering 76 per cent of the state held by the National Forest Service and BLM. If you think that means little in terms of implications for the future use of the sun-burned Mojave, think again. A person only needs to climb one of the immaculate sandstone walls in Red Rock Canyon to catch a glimpse of an open-cut mine dominating the landscape of a nearby hillside.

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Fossil fuel companies impose more in climate costs than they make in profits

Posted by on Jul 25, 2015 @ 4:03 am in Conservation | 0 comments

It is fairly well understood by now that releasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere imposes an economic cost, in the form of climate change impacts. In most cases, however, those responsible for carbon emissions are not required to pay that cost. Instead, it’s borne mainly by the world’s poor and low-lying countries, and of course by future generations, as many of the worst impacts of climate change will emerge years after the emissions that drive them.

People sometimes refer to the unpaid cost of carbon pollution as a subsidy, or an “implicit subsidy,” to polluting businesses. Whatever you call it, though, it makes for an unsustainable situation, literally. It can’t go on.

As climate change gets worse and the chance to avoid harsh impacts dwindles, governments are getting serious about putting some sort of price on carbon emissions, whether explicit (a tax) or implicit (regulations). By next year, a quarter of the world’s carbon emissions will be priced in some way. Businesses that now emit carbon pollution for free (or cheap) will soon see their costs rise.

In other words, carbon pollution is a business risk. It’s a bubble that’s going to pop, probably soon.

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Earth’s Most Famous Climate Scientist Issues Bombshell Sea Level Warning

Posted by on Jul 23, 2015 @ 7:38 am in Conservation | 0 comments

In what may prove to be a turning point for political action on climate change, a breathtaking new study casts extreme doubt about the near-term stability of global sea levels.

The study—written by James Hansen, NASA’s former lead climate scientist, and 16 co-authors, many of whom are considered among the top in their fields—concludes that glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica will melt 10 times faster than previous consensus estimates, resulting in sea level rise of at least 10 feet in as little as 50 years.

The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, brings new importance to a feedback loop in the ocean near Antarctica that results in cooler freshwater from melting glaciers forcing warmer, saltier water underneath the ice sheets, speeding up the melting rate. Hansen, who is known for being alarmist and also right, acknowledges that his study implies change far beyond previous consensus estimates.

“We conclude that continued high emissions will make multi-meter sea level rise practically unavoidable and likely to occur this century. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization.”

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Progress on Bipartisan Plan to Reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund

Posted by on Jul 23, 2015 @ 1:13 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Progress on Bipartisan Plan to Reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) announced a bipartisan agreement to permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The law’s current 25-year authorization expires on September 30, 2015.

“This is a huge step forward at a critical time because the program’s current authorization will expire in less than 70 days,” said Alan Rowsome, Senior Director of Government Relations for Lands at The Wilderness Society and Co-Chair of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition. “We are proud to endorse this agreement that would make America’s most important conservation program permanent. “However there is still a lot of work to do in order to pass legislation to make reauthorization and funding of the program a reality,” Rowsome added.

The bipartisan legislation would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund in a way designed to balance land acquisition with other conservation programs important to states and it would permanently reauthorize the Historic Preservation Fund, both set to expire this fall. It also creates a new National Park Maintenance and Revitalization Fund, to address the maintenance backlog at some of our nation’s most treasured public places.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund invests in local parks, trails, historic sites, and ball fields as well as American treasures such as Grand Canyon National Park. Over the past 50 years, the fund has supported protection of open spaces and heritage sites in virtually every county in the U.S., making it easier for Americans to enjoy the great outdoors. The program is funded with a small portion of royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling in public waters – not through taxation.

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EPA to study effects of Roundup on 1,500 endangered species

Posted by on Jul 21, 2015 @ 6:26 am in Conservation | 0 comments

300 million pounds of glyphosate are used in the U.S. each year, but its impacts are largely unknown.

For more than a decade, milkweed, that tall green plant with purple or orange flowers, has been rapidly declining in Midwestern states. Little research has been done on the abundance of milkweed in Western states, though many scientists suspect it may be struggling as well. That’s because Western monarch butterflies, which depend on milkweed for food and habitat, have declined by nearly 90 percent in the past two decades. Both of these troubling trends — the decline of milkweed in the Midwest and of monarch butterflies — have coincided with a rise in agricultural use of the herbicide glyphosate.

While the impact glyphosate has on milkweed and monarchs is well-known, the damage it does to other plants and animals is largely a mystery. Now, the EPA has announced it will spend the next five years studying the effects of glyphosate (more commonly referred to by its trade name, Roundup), atrazine, and two other commonly used pesticides on 1,500 endangered species.

Although Roundup has been around since the 1970s, its effects haven’t been broadly studied since 1993, when only 10 million pounds were used annually. Today, more than 300 million pounds are applied to U.S. fields each year.

This is the crux of the problem. Unlike atrazine, which is less prevalent but so toxic it can lead to sex changes in some amphibians, glyphosate has a volume problem, says Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director for the Center for Biological Diversity. The sheer prevalence of Roundup makes its plant-killing effects felt on a massive scale.

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English national park’s are brimming with nature’s riches

Posted by on Jul 20, 2015 @ 8:45 am in Conservation | 0 comments

English national park’s are brimming with nature’s riches

A stock-take of the 10 parks established to preserve the England’s natural riches shows how they have become vital sanctuaries for a wonderful array of threatened and rare plants and animals.

While the national parks cover only 10 per cent of England, they contain a high proportion of habitats such as heath, fen and ancient woodland that have been lost over the centuries.

The range and variety of landscapes and natural features found in England’s National Parks helps explain why they are so special. In Northumberland, for instance, we find the two cleanest rivers. The North York Moors has the largest interrupted area of heather moorland.

The Lake District is a stronghold for montane heath wildlife and the Yorkshire Dales has the country’s most extensive range of limestone specialist species. The Peak District is easily accessible to 16 million people living in the so-called Northern Powerhouse. Norfolk’s Broads support 11,000 species of which 1,500 are conservation priorities.

While Exmoor is home to 16 of England’s 17 species of bat, Dartmoor has the southernmost blanket bog in Europe. The New Forest has the most extensive area of lowland heath remaining in Europe and the South Downs contains 850 designated Local Wildlife Sites.

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Study Show High-Risk Areas for Lyme Disease Growing

Posted by on Jul 19, 2015 @ 4:14 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Study Show High-Risk Areas for Lyme Disease Growing

The geographic areas where Lyme disease is a bigger danger have grown dramatically, according to a new government study published this week. U.S. cases remain concentrated in the Northeast and upper Midwest. But now more areas in those regions are considered high risk. “The risk is expanding, in all directions,” said the lead author, Kiersten Kugeler of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are now 260 counties where the number of Lyme disease cases is at least twice what’s expected, given the size of each county’s population. That’s up from 130 a decade earlier, the report shows.

Lyme disease is most common in wooded suburban and far suburban counties. Scientists aren’t sure why high-risk areas are expanding, but it likely has something to do with development and other changes that cause the deer and ticks that carry the bacteria to move, Kugeler said.

Overall, 17 states have high-risk counties. The entire state of Connecticut, where the illness was first identified in 1975, has been high-risk for decades. Now, high-risk zones encompass nearly all of Massachusetts and New Hampshire and more than half of Maine and Vermont. Other states that saw expansion of high-risk areas include Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York along the Eastern seaboard, and Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota in the Midwest.

Some counties have dropped off the high-risk list, including those in Virginia, Georgia, Missouri and North Carolina where significant clusters were reported in the 1990s. Scientists now think those were a different condition caused by a different tick’s bite, Kugeler said.

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Idaho mining dispute raises questions about the future of wilderness

Posted by on Jul 16, 2015 @ 12:30 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A grandfathered mining claim has opened the doors to development in the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness.

“Nothing in this Act shall prevent within national forest wilderness areas any activity, including prospecting, for the purpose of gathering information about mineral or other resources, if such activity is carried on in a manner compatible with the preservation of the wilderness environment.” — The Wilderness Act

“Be it enacted… that all valuable mineral deposits in lands belonging to the United States, both surveyed and unsurveyed, are hereby declared to be free and open to exploration and purchase.” — General Mining Act of 1872

In 1984 — just a few months before he died from cancer — longtime Idaho Sen. Frank Church saw his name added to the 2.4 million acre wilderness he had spent his career trying to protect. The Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness is a craggy slab that cuts the Gem State in half, wound through by the classic whitewater of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Like all federally designated wilderness, it carries the highest form of land protection in the United States. There are no roads, and motors and machines aren’t allowed, except where grandfathered in.

When the Wilderness Act was created in 1964, its authors (including Frank Church) couldn’t overturn the 1872 Mining Act, so they allowed valid mining claims made prior to wilderness designation to continue. The Golden Hand deposit, on the western edge of the Frank Church Wilderness, was discovered in 1889, and a number of court cases over the past decade have determined that its latest owner — American Independence Mines and Minerals Co. — has the right to prove whether the long-dormant claim is still valid.

Less than a month after the Forest Service approved a plan that will bring jackhammers, dump trucks and drill rigs into the Frank — as well as suck up to 25,000 gallons of water per day from Coin Creek and construct 11 drill pads — a coalition of conservation groups sued, hoping to force the federal agency in charge to scale back.

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Land and Water Conservation Fund Protects Trail Experiences

Posted by on Jul 15, 2015 @ 9:10 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Land and Water Conservation Fund Protects Trail Experiences

Major national scenic trails such as the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Pacific Crest Trail traverse thousands of miles across our beautiful country. Hikers attempting a thru-hike or continuous hike of the trails travel through literally scores of national forests and national parks, and scattered parcels of private land. The private land along the trails is shrinking due, in large part, to the success of a federal conservation program.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is used to buy private land from willing sellers to enhance federal, state and local parks and public lands. The fund has been instrumental in protecting the corridor of land which the long distance trails travel through or near to ensure that the trail experience remains the same for the next generation.

In Washington state alone more than 9,000 acres along 500-mile stretch of PCT are currently privately owned. That number was once much higher. Over time private land owners have sold their property into public ownership, often using LWCF funds to make the transaction possible. Created in 1964 the Land and Water Conservation Fund is not funded by taxpayer money.

The fund collects roughly $900 million annually in royalties from offshore oil and gas leases. However, the fund has only been fully funded once in the program’s history, leaving recreation projects across the country without funding. Those dollars are then reinvested in the conservation of lands adjacent to national parks, trails, wildlife refuges and national forests, preserving these public resources for generations to come.

Unless Congress reauthorizes it, the 50-year-old program will expire on September 30, 2015.

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Something’s Changing in North Carolina: First Major Wind Project in the South Breaks Ground

Posted by on Jul 15, 2015 @ 3:10 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Big news from North Carolina – wind company Iberdola and retail giant Amazon broke ground on a new wind farm in northeastern North Carolina that’s not only the first major wind farm in the state, but the first major wind project in the South.

It’s an empty field now, but this area in northeastern North Carolina will soon be home to some towering wind turbines that will provide 208 megawatts of clean energy – enough to power 60,000 homes – and Amazon will buy that electricity to help meet its goal of being 100 percent powered by renewable energy.

This wind farm is being built in part of North Carolina’s Pasquotank and Perquimans Counties known as “the desert” because it’s a huge area of open, flat land “couldn’t be more perfect for a wind farm.”

North Carolina is already home to a strong clean energy industry, with more than 32 companies and 50 facilities involved in the wind industry supply chain alone. “We have been making clean energy components for turbines that have been sent to Iowa, Texas, and places all across the globe,” said Molly Diggins, state director of Sierra Club North Carolina. “With this infrastructure, it makes sense for us to build wind energy projects right here in North Carolina.”

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How Big Water is trying to stop the National Park Service from cleaning up plastic bottles

Posted by on Jul 14, 2015 @ 10:41 am in Conservation | 0 comments

How Big Water is trying to stop the National Park Service from cleaning up plastic bottles

The National Park Service thought it had a good strategy for reining in the discarded water bottles that clog the trash cans and waste stream of the national parks: stop selling disposable bottles and let visitors refill reusable ones with public drinking water.

But Big Water has stepped in to block the parks from banning the plastic pollutants — and the industry found an ally on Capitol Hill to add a little-noticed amendment to a House spending bill that would kill the policy.

As environmental groups and local officials campaign for a sales ban to reduce park waste and carbon emissions, the titans that manufacture Deer Park, Fiji, Evian and 200 other brands of water packaged in disposable plastic have mounted a full-court lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill to stop the Park Service’s latest effort at sustainability.

“We must be a visible exemplar of sustainability,” Jarvis wrote. “When considered on a life-cycle basis, the use of disposable plastic water bottles has significant environmental impact compared to the use of local tap water and refillable bottles.” The impact is magnified in remote parks, which pay a premium for litter removal and waste disposal, he wrote. “We came to realize we were in a sea of plastic water bottles. The garbage cans at some parks were overflowing.”

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Conservationists Want You to Stop Building Rock Piles

Posted by on Jul 14, 2015 @ 5:08 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Cairns have a long history and purpose, one that newer stacks sometimes subvert.

The Gorham Mountain Trail at Acadia National park winds up through a forested mountain slope before bursting out onto one of the granite-boulder covered summits for which the park is famous. But once you get up there, following the loop back down would be tricky if it weren’t for rock stacks built by Waldron Bates — they feature a long flat rock supported by two legs and a smaller rock pointing in the direction of the trail.

For centuries, humans have been building such markers. But many trail aficionados have one thing to say to people building stone piles in the wilderness now: Stop. There is an annoying plague of rock stacks balanced carefully atop one another in wilderness areas throughout the United States.

These piles aren’t true cairns, the official term for deliberately stacked rocks. From middle Gaelic, the word means “mound of stones built as a memorial or landmark.” There are plenty of those in Celtic territories, that’s for sure, as well as in other cultures; indigenous peoples in the United States often used cairns to cover and bury their dead. Those of us who like to hike through wilderness areas are glad to see the occasional cairn, as long as it’s indicating the right way to go at critical junctions in the backcountry.

Pointless cairns have been a problem at Acadia, Aislinn Sarnacki writes for Bangor Daily News. Visitors have knocked down the Bates cairns and even built their own. That’s a problem Darren Belskis, supervisory park ranger, told Sarnacki. “They’re very important,” he says. “If you make your own cairn, it leads people in the wrong direction, and it could get people in trouble. So come out and enjoy the cairns, find them all, but please don’t disturb them.”

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