Conservation & Environment

Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front is place of surprises

Posted by on Dec 29, 2014 @ 6:08 am in Conservation | 0 comments

In his book “This House of Sky,” Ivan Doig described them as a “steel-blue army of mountains, drawn in battalions of peaks and reefs and gorges and crags as far along the entire rim of the earth as could be seen.”

“Summit after summit bladed up thousands of feet as if charging into the air to strike first at storm and lightning, valleys and clefts chasmed wide as if split and hollowed by thunderblast after thunderblast,” Doig wrote.

The Rocky Mountain Front, a marriage of opposites between the plains and mountains, has been inspiring writers and regular folks alike forever. The wall of mountains stretches 110 miles in Montana, beginning at the south end of Glacier National Park at U.S. Highway 2 and continuing south to Highway 200 south of the Dearborn River.

“It’s just like a work of art that can’t be duplicated anywhere,” said Gene Sentz, 73, of Choteau, a longtime Bob Marshall Wilderness guide.

The 2014 Heritage Act adds 67,000 acres of new wilderness on the Front, the first new wilderness in Montana since 1983. Another 208,000 acres is designated “conservation management area.”

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Think Like a Deer: Award-Winning Video Aims to Reduce Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions

Posted by on Dec 27, 2014 @ 4:14 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Collisions between vehicles and wildlife are a big problem on U.S. roads. Each year, on average, 1-2 million collisions with large animals, especially mule deer and white-tailed deer, end in 200 fatalities, 26,000 injuries, and costs exceeding $1 billion. About a third of the collisions reported on rural roads are wildlife-related, and two-lane highways with speed limits exceeding 55 miles per hour are particularly problematic.

Deer see things differently in a highway situation. Instead of tracking movement by following objects with their eyes as people do, a deer’s eyes are stationary. This allows deer to detect movement from predators that may be lurking. So, to a deer, a car heading into its path may only seem like an object that’s increasing in size. Deer also see less detail than humans. And a deer’s keen night vision results from an ability to take in a lot of light, which makes headlights blinding.

U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station wildlife biologist Sandra Jacobson, a transportation ecology expert, wants to make roads safer for wildlife and people. She and partners at the agency’s Missoula Technology and Development Center have produced a video, “Avoiding Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions,” to do just that.

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EPA Just Saved Utilities a Lot of Money With Weak Coal Ash Regulation

Posted by on Dec 19, 2014 @ 7:48 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

EPA Just Saved Utilities a Lot of Money With Weak Coal Ash Regulation

When power plants burn coal, they’re left with a coal ash residue containing arsenic, mercury, lead, and selenium. Until today, there were no federal standards for utilities to dispose of it. Utilities produce more than 100 million tons of the stuff annually, and what’s not recycled into concrete is spread across the country in 1,400 dry and wet ponds. The problem, environmentalists say, is that the coal ash is sometimes dumped into unlined and open-air pits and seeps into the ground, gets picked up by the wind, and occasionally spills into rivers and streams.

For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency has set a minimum baseline for coal-ash disposal that leaves enforcement to states. Ponds will now have to be inspected regularly and monitored for groundwater contamination; those that are leaky will be shut down. New ponds will now have to be lined and located away from sensitive areas like earthquake zones and wetlands. Otherwise, the EPA doesn’t address what to do with inactive ponds. The EPA’s regulations would not have applied to Duke Energy’s Dan River site, where a closed-down pond leaked 39,000 tons of coal ash into the river in February.

Environmentalists hoped the EPA would label coal ash as a hazardous waste, requiring utilities to dispose of it in facilities that are lined and sealed and far away from bodies of water. They’ve been asking the EPA to set stricter requirements for years—ever since the coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee in 2008. The EPA labeled it as a solid waste instead, meaning coal ash ponds are subject to requirements similar to those controlling household waste.

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America’s Second-Biggest Form Of Waste Is About To Be Federally Regulated For The First Time

Posted by on Dec 18, 2014 @ 4:54 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The EPA has confirmed that on Friday, Dec. 19, 2014 it will release its first-ever regulations on the second-largest form of waste generation in the United States: coal ash.

When it is is finalized, the rule is expected to include requirements on how coal ash should be disposed, how existing coal ash pits should be cleaned up, whether coal ash should be designated as a hazardous material, and who should be responsible for enforcing the rules.

Coal ash is a byproduct of coal burning, and often contains chemicals like arsenic, chromium, mercury, and lead. After producing it, coal companies sometimes dispose of it by dumping it into ditches, and filling those ditches with water. Those ditches, called coal ash ponds or lagoons, are often unlined, meaning the coal ash comes in direct contact with the environment.

There are more than 1,400 coal ash sites in the United States, most of which are located in close proximity to lakes and rivers due to the vast quantity of water needed to burn coal for power.

Right now, coal ash ponds are federally designated as nonhazardous, and enforcement over them is left to the states. Environmental groups hope that will change under the new rule. Among other things, they want the material to be officially designated as hazardous; they want to require companies to clean up existing unlined pits immediately; and they want the federal government, not states, to enforce the rules.

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What One Wolf’s Extraordinary Journey Means for the Future of Wildlife in America

Posted by on Dec 18, 2014 @ 11:59 am in Conservation | 0 comments

On Feb. 5, 2014, the world’s most famous wolf woke up somewhere along the Oregon-California border, very likely in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, a landscape of Alpine forests and grassland valleys. For the better part of a year he had been making his home in this place where the Cascade, Klamath, and Siskiyou mountains converge.

It was cold that day, in the upper 20s or lower 30s depending on his altitude. Still, it was plenty warm for a gray wolf, which can sleep comfortably at 40 below. Known as OR7—the seventh wolf to be fitted by Oregon wildlife officials with a location-transmitting collar—the wolf likely rose, shook off whatever snow may have fallen on his coat overnight, and sniffed around for anything new and exciting. In the still morning air, he could pick up a scent from nearly two miles away.

After getting a cool drink from a mountain stream, OR7 probably left his mark on a tree stump, just as he’d done thousands of times since setting out on the long, quixotic trek that took him from his birthplace in northeast Oregon and carried him over mountain ranges, across rivers and highways, and around the dangerous edges of civilization. Dispersing wolves tend to set up shop about 60 miles from their birth pack’s territory; OR7 was more than 500 miles from home. He’d been even further, deep into California, where he became the first wolf in nearly a century to take up residence in the state, staying for more than a year before settling down here in Oregon’s southern mountain ranges.

Since leaving home in September 2011, OR7 didn’t have much to show for his travels. Sure, he’d become an important symbol: His trek through lands that could form new wolf territories—lands conservationists would like to see protected and traditional Western lobbies would like to see exploited for hunting, ranching, and resource extraction—has added fire to the battle over the future of wolves in the West. It’s a battle framed at the extremes: Some wish to end livestock grazing on public lands altogether, others see the return of wolves as an ominous threat to be addressed by any means necessary.

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WNC’s National Forests at crossroads

Posted by on Dec 17, 2014 @ 7:46 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

On Oct. 21, 2014 the U.S. Forest Service unveiled draft management area boundaries that put 692,700 acres — about 69 percent — of Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest in management areas that make “timber production, for the purposeful growing and harvesting of crops of trees to be cut into logs” the “primary or secondary use of the land.”

Today, the Nantahala-Pisgah is one of the jewels of the National Forest system, receiving more than seven million visitors annually and playing a key role in Western North Carolina’s $2 billion tourist economy.

People still love the forest for the water, wildlife, scenery, wood, plants and recreation it provides. Timber harvests for the last 12 years have been sustainable, averaging less than 800 acres annually, and there is an opportunity to increase that number while doing ecologically beneficial work.

Yet, the divisions of the “timber wars” of the ’80s and ’90s still persist.

When WNCA saw the proposal to add 163,000 acres to the “suitable timber base” and the 200,000 acres of trail corridors, backcountry areas and rare species habitat that remain unprotected, WNCA and its partners sounded the alarm.

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Take a Walk on a Leaky Uintah Basin Oil Well With a Whistleblowing Oil and Gas CEO

Posted by on Dec 15, 2014 @ 9:07 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Three separate and very interesting things have happened over the past few months, and what makes them even more interesting is the timing, and the fact that they all happened within such a short period.

Sequentially speaking, the second and most recent thing that happened, is that a midwife in the highly conservative oil patch community of Vernal, Utah in the Uintah Basin observed something — a ghastly discovery that apparently no state or federal agencies, nor even the local TriCounty Health Department had yet observed– dead babies, and way too many of them.

Newsweek broke the story about Donna Young and the apparent cluster of stillborn Uintah Basin babies, and it turned out that the midwife of 19 years had put two and two together after experiencing the first stillborn birth in her nearly two decades of practice — then subsequently noticing abundant newborn graves in the local cemetery.

She then began to do her own research by tracking infant obituaries in the local Uintah County paper, and what she found turned out to be very shocking indeed. Upon further examination, her observations revealed the stark fact that the heavily fracked and drilled Vernal area had just witnessed an elevation in infant deaths — rising from numbers that closely resembled the national average back in 2010, to a number six times that by 2013.

The Uintah Basin has undergone a massive boom in oil and gas development in the last several years — a boom that like the explosion in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale has lead to an increase in oil production by hundreds of percent, in just a few short years.

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House Republicans Voted Against the Environment More Than 500 Times in the Past Four Years

Posted by on Dec 12, 2014 @ 7:13 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The House of Representatives will end its legislative session this week having recorded at least 234 votes against the environment in two years. According to a December 1, 2014 count by the minority staff on the Energy and Commerce committee, the House floor held 551 anti-environment votes over the four years since Republicans took control—including votes on bills and amendments that weakened Environmental Protection Agency regulations, opened lands to coal and oil, made changes to the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, approved the Keystone XL pipeline, and more. The report also includes times Republicans rejected pro-climate and environment amendments from Democrats. The EPA was the major target for the 113th Congress, with 145 votes to restrict EPA rulemaking and funding.

Since 2010, Democratic control of the Senate meant much of the GOP’s agenda had little chance of becoming law. That will change in January, and this report serves as one of the best previews of what the next Congress will plan for the environment. Both House Speaker John Boehner and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have promised to renew legislation approving the Keystone pipeline, rolling back the EPA’s cap on carbon pollution from power plants, the ozone rule, and others.

Senate filibusters and President Barack Obama’s veto pen still stand in the way, but Republicans plan on using must-pass appropriations bills to raise the stakes of these negotiations.

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We have the technology to make invisible pollution visible

Posted by on Dec 12, 2014 @ 6:47 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Out of sight, out of mind. This certainly applies to methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.

That’s because methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas and the primary constituent of natural gas, is invisible to the naked eye.

And it’s one reason methane emissions, while a significant threat to our environment, don’t get the attention they should from policymakers or the public when compared to, say, conspicuous oil spills.

But we have the technology to make the invisible visible. A video shows that fugitive methane emissions look very much like an oil spill in the sky. The footage comes from FLIR, a maker of optical gas imaging cameras and one of the largest companies in the methane mitigation industry.

The company participated in a recent briefing on Capitol Hill intended to educate policymakers on the negative environmental implications of methane emissions. People were gasping as they watched plumes of methane leaking from well sites, processing plants and valves – pollution that was now visible through the infrared camera.

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NC’s ongoing coal ash regulatory disaster shows urgency of EPA action

Posted by on Dec 11, 2014 @ 5:49 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

It’s been 10 months since a pipe broke beneath a coal ash waste pit at a shuttered Duke Energy power plant in North Carolina, sending 39,000 tons of toxic waste into the Dan River, a drinking water source for downstream communities in Virginia and North Carolina.

One might think that 10 months would have been enough time for the company and North Carolina state regulators to ensure that the coal ash pits at its 13 other power plants across the state were secured and not putting other water sources at risk – but one would be wrong.

Last week, environmental watchdogs announced they had found “massive coal ash pollution leaks” coming from Duke Energy’s Buck Steam Station near the city of Salisbury in central North Carolina. Their tests show the leakage contains health-threatening levels of toxic metals including arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, and selenium. The pollution is contaminating the Yadkin River, which joins with the Uwharrie to become the Pee Dee; the Yadkin-Pee Dee is a drinking water source for communities in North and South Carolina.

How toxic is the pollution? The level of cancer-causing arsenic found in the leakage was triple the legal limit, and the level of neurotoxic barium was 6,000 times the health protection standard.

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