Conservation & Environment

National Park maintenance backlog totals $11.49 billion

Posted by on Mar 24, 2015 @ 9:00 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Like road-trippers with balding tires, Americans are loving their national parks into disrepair.

The National Park Service released a list of maintenance projects that have been postponed and put off for years. The backlog of 2014 projects nationwide totals $11.49 billion — up nearly $200 million since 2013.

Dave Nimkin, southwest senior regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, says this is the worst possible time to defer routine upkeep at the national parks. The parks’ centennial is next year.

“As we approach the centennial and are looking to show off the great resources this country has,” Nimkin said, “it is profoundly disappointing where the national parks are both in terms of operating shortfall and this now apparently sustained deferred maintenance as we head into the second hundred years.”

The problem can be traced to increased visitation, which strains park resources, and decreased federal spending. Close to 300 million people ventured into the parks in 2014, breaking a record of 287.2 million set in 1987.

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Park officials call wild hogs a huge problem in the Smokies

Posted by on Mar 23, 2015 @ 9:20 am in Conservation | 0 comments

If you love to hike in the Smokies, chances are you’ve seen many wild animals. But, there’s one animal that park officials are calling an unwelcome guest.

Bill Stiver knows how to read the land like most people know how to read a book. On Wednesday, he was following the tracks of wild hogs. Wild hogs can get up to 300 pounds and while Stiver says he doesn’t consider them dangerous to park-goers, he says they are a threat to the park itself. “Most people don’t even know that the wild hogs are here,” says Stiver.

When they eat, Stiver says they take food from the native park animals. Their rooting also tears up rare plant sources. “If 15 or 20 come through here they would just totally wipe this area out,” he says. So, Stiver doesn’t just track these animals, he traps them using a cage. “You put the bait inside, the hogs come in, the trigger hits and traps them,” he says.

Stiver estimates they remove 250 hogs from the park every year. While he says that is a lot, it’s not enough. He hopes to fully eradicate every hog from the park. Until that day, he’ll keep reading the land and searching for the park’s most unwelcome guest.



Bark beetles are killing forests — but they might be saving them, too

Posted by on Mar 21, 2015 @ 8:51 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Mountain pine, spruce, piñon ips, and other kinds of bark beetles have chomped 46 million of the country’s 850 million acres of forested land, from the Yukon down the spine of the Rocky Mountains all the way to Mexico.

Yellowstone’s grizzly bears have run out of pinecones to eat because of the beetles. Skiers and backpackers have watched their brushy green playgrounds fade as trees fall down, sometimes at a rate of 100,000 trunks a day.

Real estate agents have seen home prices plummet from “viewshed contamination” in areas ransacked by the bugs. And the devastation isn’t likely to let up anytime soon. As climate change warms the North American woods, we can expect these bugs to continue to proliferate and thrive in higher elevations—meaning more beetles in the coming century, preying on bigger chunks of the country.

In hopes of staving off complete catastrophe, the United States Forest Service, which oversees 80 percent of the country’s woodlands, has launched a beetle offensive, chopping down trees to prevent future infestations.

But more importantly, intriguing evidence suggests that the bugs might be on the forest’s side. Scientists are beginning to wonder: What if the insects that have wrought this devastation actually know more than we do about adapting to a changing climate?

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National Park Service Transportation Funding – Roads and Bridges

Posted by on Mar 20, 2015 @ 11:25 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The National Park Service currently receives $240 million through the Federal Lands Transportation Program within the federal surface transportation law. The NPS has estimated that it needs more than four times that amount per year through 2024 to restore its transportation systems into good condition and to meet growing visitor access needs. It is estimated to take $244 million to repair the Washington, D.C. Memorial Bridge alone. What is wrong with this picture?

With over 9,000 miles of roads and 1,400 bridges, the transportation system in our national parks is extensive – as it should be to provide millions of people access to our nation’s greatest natural, cultural, and historic treasures. From the Blue Ridge Parkway to the South Rim Road at the Grand Canyon to the Memorial Bridge in Washington, DC, the roads and bridges of our national parks are vital to the visitor experience.

In a transportation system so vast, it should come as no surprise that it is complicated and expensive to maintain. There are potholes to be filled, barriers to be replaced, bridges to be refurbished, and all the other wear and tear that comes with thousands of cars and buses traveling over the same surface every day. Ideally, regular maintenance would keep these facilities functioning at their best and decrease the need for major rebuilding efforts. Unfortunately, years of inadequate funding have kept the National Park Service from doing the short- and long-term maintenance necessary to keep the transportation system in the form visitors deserve to experience.

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Does the National Park Service have a youth problem?

Posted by on Mar 19, 2015 @ 11:20 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Does the National Park Service have a youth problem?

In 2014, America’s national parks attracted a record-setting 292.8 million visits, but the typical visitor to the country’s biggest parks is edging closer to retirement age.

the average age of visitors to Denali is 57 years. In Yellowstone it is 54. But in the past decade, the number of visitors under the age of 15 has fallen by half.

It’s not just the visitors who are getting grayer. According to the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), half of the employees in park service leadership positions are scheduled to retire by 2016, which could lead to even more understaffing for the national parks. Right now, there is one park guide for every 100,000 visitors.

The aging park employee problem is even worse if you look beyond those near retirement age. Seventy-five percent of National Park Service employees are at least 40 years old and only 7% are 29 or younger.

So what’s not attracting the younger generation to having some of the most beautiful offices in the country?


Utility Company To Buy Coal Plant Just To Shut It Down

Posted by on Mar 18, 2015 @ 12:54 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Utility Company To Buy Coal Plant Just To Shut It Down

State utility Florida Power and Light (FPL) wants to buy an old coal plant in Florida just to shut it down, a move that it says would prevent nearly 1 million tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year.

FPL filed a petition with the state’s Public Service Commission last week to acquire the Cedar Bay Generating Plant in Jacksonville, which went into service in 1994. Upon buying the coal plant, FPL plans to immediately reduce the plant’s operations by 90 percent, and then phase it out of service completely over the next two to three years.

The reason it’s doing this, FPL has said, is simple: the plant is outdated, and shutting it down will save customers money — $70 million a year to be exact, according to the utility.

Some environmental groups praised the utility’s move. The Nature Conservancy said buying and shuttering the coal plant was an “innovative approach” in a statement for FPL, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) also issued a statement in support of FPL’s plan.

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Duke’s Asheville coal plant exceeding safe sulfur dioxide levels

Posted by on Mar 18, 2015 @ 4:41 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Duke’s Asheville coal plant exceeding safe sulfur dioxide levels

For the past several years, the Asheville Beyond Coal campaign has been speaking out publicly and building support for transition off of coal at Duke Energy’s Asheville coal plant. They have brought attention to the threat carbon emissions pose to our climate, as well as the coal ash pollution and its effects on our rivers and groundwater.

What we now know is that in addition to these threats, the Asheville coal plant is emitting air pollutants that are harmful to human health. Specifically, it is emitting higher than safe levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2), a pollutant that can trigger asthma attacks, airway constriction, and other respiratory problems. Sierra Club recently released two new reports that show the extent of the pollution and the most likely cause for this increased pollution.

Duke apparently has been running its pollution protection technology less and, at the same time, has switched to cheaper, higher-sulfur coal. The likely reason for these changes is to reduce the cost of running this plant, which is one of Duke’s most expensive to operate. In the years leading up to this increase in 2010, the coal plant was not exceeding this SO2 health standard. What our findings strongly indicate is that Duke has the option to emit less of this toxic pollutant from its plant, but is choosing not to in order to save on operating costs. Duke is choosing to save an extra buck, at the expense of human health.

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Blue Ridge Parkway Announces Temporary Road Closures for Routine Maintenance From Milepost 0 to 106

Posted by on Mar 17, 2015 @ 2:24 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Beginning Monday morning, March 16, 2015,and continuing for approximately one month, Blue Ridge Parkway maintenance personnel will be conducting road shoulder and ditch cleaning operations along Virginia sections of the Parkway.

Specific information regarding daily closures in these work zones will be available on the Parkway’s Real Time Road Map, found at here.

Effected sections will close at approximately 7:00 a.m. each weekday and re-open daily by 5:00 p.m. EST from Monday, March 16 to Wednesday, April 8, 2015. The road will be open on the weekend. Those who normally commute on the Parkway on Monday through Friday may want to find alternate routes.

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Trial program to remove feral hogs from SC national forest

Posted by on Mar 16, 2015 @ 11:43 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The problem with feral hogs in the Francis Marion National Forest has become so bad that the state and federal governments are paying three hunters to help remove them.

Feral hogs are found statewide and are considered one of the worst animal nuisance problems in South Carolina. The hogs are descendants of livestock that wandered off.

The Francis Marion trial program has sparked complaints from other hunters who want a chance to hunt hogs as well. But DNR’s position is that the object is to remove the animals, not just hunt them as recreation which doesn’t do enough to reduce the hog population.

State law has removed most prohibitions on shooting or trapping the animals statewide. But the pigs are prolific and a single female can produce as many as 30 piglets per year.

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American Express Announces $5 Million Grant to Increase Volunteering in America’s National Parks

Posted by on Mar 15, 2015 @ 10:21 am in Conservation | 0 comments

American Express Announces $5 Million Grant to Increase Volunteering in America’s National Parks

American Express (AXP) and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today announced a multi-year partnership to increase volunteerism in National Parks and Public Lands. The $5 million grant over four years from American Express will help the Department of the Interior (DOI) and National Parks Service (NPS) build volunteer coalitions to preserve and sustain America’s public lands.

This partnership directly supports Secretary Jewell’s recent commitment to increase volunteerism from 322,000 to one million annually by 2017. The DOI is the steward of 20 percent of the Nation’s lands, including national parks, national wildlife refuges, and other public lands. Secretary Jewell has focused on volunteerism as a means of maintaining these public lands around the U.S. that have financial requirements that cannot always be met by government funding alone. In today’s era of governmental budget austerity, volunteerism is more important than ever in maintaining these American assets.

The National Park Service works hand-in-hand with communities to engage people of all ages and backgrounds in meaningful and mutually beneficial volunteer opportunities. As articulated in its five-year strategic plan the NPS identified increased volunteer engagement as a key strategy to connect communities to their parks, and ensure their continued vibrancy and relevancy.

“Magnificent landscapes and our strong volunteer ethic are part of what makes America so special and unique,” Secretary Jewell said.

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We’re finding out what’s in fracking wastewater, and it ain’t pretty

Posted by on Mar 14, 2015 @ 5:54 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

On so many issues, California is the green leader, showing other states how it should be done better. But better is not necessarily the same thing as flawless. Right now, California is doing a better job of regulating fracking than any other state that allows it — but, of course, many local activists would rather the state just banned it, as New York has.

The federal government doesn’t require fracking companies to disclose the chemicals they use in their operations, and it has failed to produce data on the safety of fracking. Five years after the U.S. EPA announced plans to study fracking’s effect on drinking water, industry resistance has thwarted the effort. It’s up to states to require fracking operations to disclose what chemicals they are using and to find out if those chemicals are getting into the public water supply when frackers inject their wastewater underground.

In 2013, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a law requiring disclosure of chemicals used in fracking and setting up monitoring for air and water quality near unconventional drilling sites. No other state has adopted as comprehensive a system for finding out what’s actually in fracking wastewater.

The found a carcinogenic soup full of volatile organic compounds that have been associated elsewhere with an array of unpleasant health effects. From the report:

Petroleum chemicals, heavy metals and radioactive elements, plus high levels of dissolved solids, are among the pollutants found in fracking wastewater samples tested under the new disclosure program.They include benzene, chromium-6, lead and arsenic — all listed under California’s Proposition 65 as causes of cancer or reproductive harm. Nearly every one of the 293 samples tested contained benzene at levels ranging from twice to more than 7,000 times the state drinking water standard. The wastewater also carried, on average, thousands of times more radioactive radium than the state’s public health goals consider safe, as well as elevated levels of potentially harmful ions such as nitrate and chloride.

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The Forest Service needs better policies before giving water away to bottling companies

Posted by on Mar 13, 2015 @ 9:38 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Forest Service needs better policies before giving water away to bottling companies

National forests support some of the most pristine groundwater and springs in the country – at least that’s what the most successful water bottling companies advertise. Current policies leave these springs exposed to exploitation, especially during droughts, which are becoming more intense, like in California.

Strawberry Creek arises from the ground in San Bernardino National Forest, providing access to one of the only areas where fishing is allowed in the San Jacinto Mountains. Cherry Lake in the Stanislaus National Forest, supplies water to San Francisco residents and supports a substantial trout population. Big Springs in the Shasta Trinity National Forest, where the Sacramento River originates, is a major source of water for California residents. Oxbow springs in Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon, is a source of water for salmon hatcheries and drinking water to downstream communities.

Pristine waters like these are hard to find, and are now or will be used by water bottling companies to pump tens to hundreds of million gallons of water a year out of the springs and aquifers that support them.

Other springs in national forests across the country have been tapped for use by bottled water companies, including Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin, Ocala National Forest in Florida, Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee, Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia, Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina, and Sumter National Forest in South Carolina. Information on the consequences is hard to come by.

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Land, Ocean Carbon Sinks Are Weakening, Making Climate Action More Urgent

Posted by on Mar 12, 2015 @ 11:14 am in Conservation | 0 comments

We are destroying nature’s ability to help us stave off catastrophic climate change. That’s the bombshell conclusion of an under-reported 2014 study, “The declining uptake rate of atmospheric CO2 by land and ocean sinks.”

Based on actual observations and measurements, the world’s top carbon-cycle experts have determined that the land and ocean are becoming steadily less effective at removing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This makes it more urgent for us to start cutting carbon pollution ASAP, since it will become progressively harder and harder for us to do so effectively in the coming decades.

The ocean and the land (including vegetation and soils) are carbon “sinks” that currently absorb more than half of all human-caused carbon dioxide emissions. Scientists have long been concerned that these sinks will become increasingly ineffective at absorbing CO2 — because of global warming itself. That would mean a greater and greater fraction of human-caused carbon pollution would stay in the air, which would speed up climate change, causing even more CO2 to stay in the air — an amplifying feedback. And that in turn means humanity will have to work harder and harder in the future to keep CO2 and methane from accumulating in the air.

For instance, the defrosting permafrost and the resultant release of carbon dioxide and methane (CH4) turns part of the land sink into a source of airborne greenhouse gases.

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Parks Canada To Return Plains Bison To Banff National Park

Posted by on Mar 10, 2015 @ 7:27 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Plains bison, an icon of wild landscapes, will be returned to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, in an effort to bring the “missing link” back to the park’s wildlife ecosystem. The decision, announced last week, will both support Canada’s National Conservation Plan and also bring a better balance to the park’s ecosystem.

Through their grazing and physical disturbance of vegetation and soil, bison helped create and maintain the patchwork of meadows, grasslands and other open habitats upon which they, and many other animals and plants, depend. Reintroducing bison is an important step toward restoring the full diversity of species and natural processes to Banff’s ecosystem.

Parks Canada is working off a 5- to 6-year plan that will involve a “soft release” approach that will start in year three with bringing 30-50 plains bison (all certified free of brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis) from Elk Island National Park to a pen in the backcountry of Banff National Park’s Panther River Valley. The gate to the pen will be left open early in the spring of the fourth year to allow the bison to roam into the valley on their own. They eventually might be allowed to move into the Red Deer and/or Cascade River valleys.

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Florida Isn’t The Only State Where Officials Censored The Term ‘Climate Change’

Posted by on Mar 10, 2015 @ 6:34 am in Conservation | 0 comments

It may have seemed surprising when four former employees of Florida’s state Department of Environmental Protection said they were forbidden to use the words “climate change” and “global warming” in any official communications.

But as it turns out, the alleged practice is not unusual — at least in states with governors who do not accept the scientific validity of human-caused climate change. In fact, two states were accused of implementing a very similar practice with their environmental conservation agencies last year.

The most recent accusation came in September, when a former employee of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources told the Allegheny Front that he was explicitly ordered to remove references to “climate change” from the agency’s website. The orders, he said, came from members of then-Gov. Tom Corbett’s(R) administration.

A few months prior to that, WRAL News revealed that The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was removing links and documents about climate change from its website. In that case the agency defended the practice, saying that the state lacked “clear regulatory responsibility” to deal with global warming.

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Explosion razes North Dakota fracking waste disposal facility

Posted by on Mar 9, 2015 @ 10:32 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A fire so massive that it could not be approached by firefighters erupted after an explosion at an oil waste disposal site north of Alexander, North Dakota. McKenzie County Emergency Manager Karlin Rockvoy said the only thing to do at first was watch the fire burn itself out.

The explosion occurred at approximately 3:30 a.m. on March 7, 2015. Emergency responders from both Williston and Alexander, ND established a perimeter around the site to ensure the safety of anyone in the area. Five employees at the facility escaped unharmed, one of whom reported jumping out of the way just in time.

Firefighters were able to get the flames under control by midmorning, though the cause of the explosion is still unknown.

The complex, which undertook the treatment and disposal of oilfield waste, was completely destroyed during the incident. Rockvoy reported that any damage caused by the explosion was contained by a surrounding embankment.

The waste disposal site was owned by Tervita, a company which specializes in dealing with industrial waste.



Denali’s squeaky-clean air best among all U.S. national parks

Posted by on Mar 9, 2015 @ 9:20 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Fairbanks air turns bitter every winter as Alaskans fill it with wood smoke and other things, but just down the road Denali National Park has the clearest air measured among America’s monitored national parks.

Scientists at Colorado State University have taken a close look at Denali air as captured near the park entrance. A monitor there pulls air through a set of four filters, getting samples every third day. A park employee then mails the filters to the Lower 48.

Scientists studied the particles less than 2.5 micrometers in size trapped at the Denali station from 1988 to 2013. It takes dozens of specks that size to bridge the width of a human hair, but they combine to reduce visibility and are small enough to make it past our noses into our lungs. Due to its temperature inversions and 100,000 people staying warm in the subarctic, Fairbanks has a problem with a buildup of particle matter. Denali is squeaky clean by comparison, but Bian found a few invaders that drifted through the gates.

Bits of burned tundra and trees show up in the filters in summertime, especially years such as 2004, when wildfires burned an area in Alaska the size of Vermont. Sea salt from the northwest coast and other areas finds its way to the park in winter, when there are high winds, low temperatures and some open water.

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Environmental problems on hiking trail to cost Georgia county six figures

Posted by on Mar 8, 2015 @ 10:52 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

After a three-year dispute with the state environmental agency, Walker County officials will be in the clear once they absorb one last hit. It’s going to hurt. Like, $100,000 worth of pain. Maybe worse.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division first alerted Walker County in 2012 that there were problems with the construction of the Durham Trail, a hiking route that crosses Rock Creek on Lookout Mountain. EPD officials said the county never told them they were working near the creek, breaking state law.

“If they had [requested a permit] up front, we probably would not have approved what they originally built,” said Bert Langley, EPD director of compliance. “They wouldn’t have installed it.”

In September 2013, more than a year after the EPD first learned of the problem, the agency punished Walker County. They would have to correct all the problems they created, like dumping dirt in the water and re-routing the creek stream in a way that stopped trout from swimming upstream. And the county would have to finish its solution in one year.

The county chose to build a walking bridge over the stream. That way, people could still use the Durham Trail without harming the water. Problem is, the county missed its deadline.

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Consecutive harsh winters hammer hemlock-killing insect

Posted by on Mar 7, 2015 @ 10:24 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

After one of the coldest months on record in East Tennessee, many people are more than ready for some warm weather. But the especially frigid winter has been a life-saver for some of the mightiest trees in the forest.

This winter’s sub-zero temperatures in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have devastated the once unstoppable Hemlock Woolly Adelgid. The adelgid is an invasive insect from Asia that has killed millions of hemlock trees in the eastern United States. They first arrived in the Smokies in 2002.

“You know adelgids have been devastating in the Southeast,” said Jesse Webster, a biologist with the National Park Service who has coordinated the efforts to fight the adelgid in the Great Smoky Mountains. “We’re not just losing this one species of tree. We’re losing all of the associate species, the hundreds of species that rely on this tree.”

Scientists have worked non-stop to save any hemlocks they could. Their efforts are the reason many hemlocks are still alive at campgrounds and other locations in the Park as they were doomed for eradication as the adelgid flourished in the warm Tennessee climate. After more than a decade of taking it on the chin, the last two winters Mother Nature finally helped fight back with a stone-cold combination.

“We know the adelgids start to die when it reaches 3 degrees. We had the really long freeze in 2014 during the polar vortex with the temperature far below zero. That killed 80 to 90 percent of the adelgids in the park. Then this year we had another prolonged cold snap. One night it was -23 at the top of Mount LeConte. We believe that will result in another 80 to 90 percent mortality rate for any of the insects that survived last year. It is really going to help with Hemlock Woolly Adelgid control.”

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Horace Kephart Days 2015

Posted by on Mar 6, 2015 @ 12:13 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Join in a celebration of the life and works of Horace Kephart author, outdoorsman, and a founding father of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park at The Schiele Museum of Natural History in Gastonia, NC on Friday & Saturday, May 14-15, 2015.

Kephart wrote the classic study of Appalachian mountain culture (Our Southern Highlanders, 1913) and the encyclopedic guide to outdoor living (Camping and Woodcraft, 1906). Explore a living history demonstration of camping in the early 20th Century style.

Saturday’s activities include presentations by researchers and scholars, including the author’s great-granddaughter Libby Kephart Hargrave.

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