Conservation & Environment

Still Counting Gulf Spill’s Dead Birds

Posted by on May 11, 2014 @ 9:46 am in Conservation | 0 comments

After the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blew out in the Gulf of Mexico some 50 miles from the nearest land, responders were left to cope with a search area of nearly 40,000 square miles, as well as wind and currents that kept evidence of damage away from the more easily searchable coastline.

Patrollers recovered fewer than 3,000 dead birds. But some had suspected that many more were unaccounted for.

Now a team of scientists has tried to quantify the extent of damage inflicted on the gulf’s bird population from the oil spill caused by the explosion. Based on models using publicly available data, the studies estimated that about 800,000 birds died in coastal and offshore waters.

“Part of the reason they discovered so few carcasses is because the oceanographic currents for the most part moved them away,” said Jeffrey Short, a marine chemist and a co-author of the studies.

The findings are bound to be disputed. The science of calculating the number of birds affected in such a catastrophe remains imprecise, and studies by BP and the federal government are not yet publicly available for comparison.

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Survey says: Visitors to national parks don’t like noise

Posted by on May 10, 2014 @ 3:44 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

File this one under: Well, duh!

Talk about an unsurprising finding: Visitors to remote areas in national parks consider noise from helicopters or planes an unpleasant intrusion. That is the result of a study conducted jointly by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Park Service.

The visitor surveys were conducted in backcountry in four national parks: Bryce Canyon and Zion in Utah, Grand Canyon in Arizona and Glacier in Montana. Researchers questioned visitors about their reactions to noise from helicopters, general aviation and high-altitude commercial aircraft. The study looked at more than 4,600 responses.

Additionally, acoustical monitors recorded the noise, much of it from air tours specifically routing over the spectacular landscapes offered by the parks.

The study found that the deeper into backcountry visitors went, the more intrusive aircraft noise was. Those hikers reported they enjoyed the natural sounds of nature and were sensitive to sounds created by planes and helicopters.

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Karst Watersheds: Porous, Vulnerable, and Mysterious

Posted by on May 9, 2014 @ 9:42 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Karst watersheds are dotted with sinkholes, caves, sinking streams, and springs, making it very difficult to protect water quality or even know where pollutants are coming from or going. The Chapel Branch Creek watershed near the Town of Santee, South Carolina, is one such area.

In karst areas, belowground rocks are slightly soluble, so every time rainwater touches them, a few rock molecules dissolve and are carried away in the water, leaving behind channels and openings in the bedrock. Over time, these openings change the landscape significantly, causing the sinkholes, caves, sinking streams, springs, and other features collectively known as karst topography.

U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) scientists and collaborators from Clemson University and the College of Charleston recently completed a study of the watershed. “Although fairly small, the Chapel Branch Creek watershed is quite complex,” says Devendra Amatya, a research hydrologist with the SRS Forest Watershed Science unit. Amatya and his colleagues observed and modeled seasonal patterns of flows and nutrient loads in the watershed, and estimated total phosphorous loadings. The team also developed a model application in support of future total maximum daily load development in Chapel Branch Creek.

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Southeast ‘exceptionally vulnerable’ to climate change

Posted by on May 6, 2014 @ 8:49 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The White House has released the most comprehensive scientific assessment to date of climate change and its regional impacts, and it reports that the Southeast is “exceptionally vulnerable to sea level rise, extreme heat events, hurricanes, and decreased water availability.”

Unveiled May 6, 2014, the third U.S. National Climate Assessment was developed over the past four years with the help of hundreds of top U.S. climate scientists and technical experts, with input from the public and nongovernmental organizations. The White House called the assessment’s release a “key deliverable” of the Climate Action Plan released by President Obama last June.

“The contents confirm that climate change is not a distant threat,” says John Holdren, President Obama’s science adviser. “It is affecting the American people already.”

The assessment’s key concerns for the Southeast:


Pipeline builder says oil spills can be good for the economy

Posted by on May 5, 2014 @ 5:53 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Kinder Morgan wants to spend $5.4 billion tripling the capacity of an oil pipeline between the tar sands of Alberta and the Vancouver, B.C., area. Yes, the company acknowledges, there’s always the chance of a “large pipeline spill.” But it says the “probability” of such an accident is “low.” And anyway, if a spill does happen, it could be an economic boon.

“Spill response and cleanup” after oil pipeline ruptures, such as the emergency operations near Kalamazoo, Mich., in 2010 and in the Arkansas community of Mayflower last year, create “business and employment opportunities for affected communities, regions, and cleanup service providers,” the company argues.

Those aren’t the outrageous comments of a company executive shooting off his mouth while a reporter happened to be neaby. Those are quotes taken from an official document provided to the Canadian government in support of the company’s efforts to expand its pipeline.

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The men who poisoned Charleston’s drinking water now have a “new” business

Posted by on May 4, 2014 @ 9:40 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The men who poisoned Charleston’s drinking water now have a “new” business

Freedom Industries, the company whose chemical leak contaminated the tap water of 300,000 West Virginians, will cease to exist once it goes through bankruptcy, but that doesn’t mean its executives are out of the chemical business.

Lexycon LLC, a chemical company whose characteristics are strikingly similar to Freedom Industries, registered as a business with the West Virginia secretary of state about a month ago.

The companies share addresses and phone numbers, Lexycon was founded by a former Freedom executive and it has ties to at least two other current or former Freedom executives.

After the Charleston Gazette emailed former senior Freedom employees who now work for Lexycon, to ask if the new company was affiliated with Freedom, the two men’s names disappeared from the Lexycon website and a new phone number was listed in their place.

The companies’ descriptions of their businesses match, almost verbatim. Freedom Industries’ logo appeared on Lexycon’s exhibitor page on the Coal Prep [conference] website.

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Researchers Track “Gray Ghosts” Across the Southern Appalachians

Posted by on May 2, 2014 @ 8:43 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

People living in the Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States have long enjoyed a rich culture of storytelling. Often rooted in a deep connection to the natural world, stories from Appalachian folklore serve to entertain as well as to educate; sometimes, important life lessons emerge, especially from tales of demise.

A present-day ghost story from the southern Appalachians has captured the attention of U.S. Forest Service researchers who are using high-tech tools to follow the footprints of lost life.

The ghosts in this story are eastern and Carolina hemlock trees, which provide important ecosystem services in Appalachian forests, including cover for wildlife and cooling shade along streams. They’re being killed in increasing numbers by an exotic invasive insect, the hemlock woolly adelgid, which is native to Asia and is transported through forests by animals, wind, and, accidentally, by people. Often called gray ghosts because of their pale, skeleton-like appearance, the dead hemlocks are obvious across the mountain landscape.

Using a forest monitoring tool known as ForWarn, scientists are able to see just how devastating the hemlock losses have become across the southern Appalachians, where the hemlock woolly adelgid thrives in the warmer temperatures. Here, the hemlock woolly adelgid is killing trees much more quickly than in the more northern areas of the hemlocks’ range, sometimes in as few as four years after infestation.

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Cost Of Firefighting On Public Lands This Summer Expected To Run Nearly Half-A-Billion Dollars Over Budget

Posted by on May 2, 2014 @ 9:52 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Hot, dry weather and prolonged drought in some parts of the West have federal officials expecting to spend nearly $500 million more than they’re budgeted for fighting wildfires this summer.

According to a Congressionally-mandated report issued May 1, 2014, the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior are projected to spend over $470 million more than is available to fight wildfires this season. According to the report, the Forest Service and Interior may need to spend $1.8 billion fighting fires this year, while the agencies have only $1.4 billion available for firefighting.

“The forecast released today demonstrates the difficult budget position the Forest Service and Interior face in our efforts to fight catastrophic wildfire,” said Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie in a release. “While our agencies will spend the necessary resources to protect people, homes and our forests, the high levels of wildfire this report predicts would force us to borrow funds from forest restoration, recreation, and other areas. The President’s budget proposal, and similar bipartisan legislation before Congress, would solve this problem and allow the Forest Service to do more to restore our forests to make them more resistant to fire.”

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Carbon-dioxide levels haven’t been this high in at least 800,000 years

Posted by on May 1, 2014 @ 6:14 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The man-made greenhouse gases warming the planet hit another record high in April, 2014.

Since 1958, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii has tracked the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — the simplest measure of how humans are altering the Earth and warming the planet.

This “Keeling Curve” reached a new milestone in April: the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere remained above 400 parts per million for the entire month (an average of 401.25 ppm). That’s the first time that’s happened in recorded history.

What’s also relevant, climatologists note, is the speed of change — the Earth is blowing past 400 parts per million today much faster than it did in the past. That makes it more difficult for species to adapt to the accompanying temperature increases (including, for that matter, humans).

If emissions keep rising without end, the IPCC predicts that we could blow past 1,000 ppm by the end of the century. That would put us in extremely uncharted territory — with global average temperatures likely to rise at least 4°C (or 7.2°F) over pre-industrial levels by the end of this century.

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EPA’s Cross-State Pollution Rule Upheld By Supreme Court

Posted by on Apr 29, 2014 @ 8:39 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

In a major anti-pollution ruling, the Supreme Court on April 29, 2014 backed federally imposed limits on smokestack emissions that cross state lines and burden downwind areas with bad air from power plants they can’t control.

The 6-2 ruling was an important victory for the Obama administration in controlling emissions from power plants in 27 Midwestern and Appalachian states that contribute to soot and smog along the East Coast.

It also capped a decades-long effort by the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that states are good neighbors and don’t contribute to pollution problems elsewhere. The rule upheld Tuesday was EPA’s third attempt to solve the problem.

The rule, challenged by industry and upwind states, had been cast by foes as an attempt by the Obama administration to step on states’ rights and to shut down aging coal-fired power plants. Opponents said the decision could embolden the agency to take the same tack later this year when it proposes rules to limit carbon pollution. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said the agency will be flexible and work with states on the first-ever controls on power plants for the gases blamed for global warming.

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Apple’s New Green Manifesto: Renewable Energy Is Ready to Become Mainstream

Posted by on Apr 29, 2014 @ 8:28 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Apple’s New Green Manifesto: Renewable Energy Is Ready to Become Mainstream

With the launch of Apple’s new environmental initiative, the world is once again buzzing with comments, critique and speculation on what the world’s biggest brand is doing. Apple’s bold move is an impetus for the private sector to move in the same direction. Renewable energy is ready to become mainstream, and those companies that fail to pick up on the trend will lose their competitive edge.

From the full-page ad in newspapers around the world, to the homepage placement of a powerful video narrated by Tim Cook himself, Apple is launching its first major manifesto in years, making the very public declaration that “environment” is a significant new string to the brand’s bow.

Apple has always had a razor-sharp eye for what people want, and has been a driving force of pop culture over the past several decades. Its decision to link its brand, along with its bedrock ideals of innovation and creativity, to the environment speaks volumes about what it thinks is important to its customers. If Apple perceives that people want it to incorporate robust environmental principles in its business models, then one thing is clear: industry laggards will not only continue to contribute to climate change and environmental degradation, but their brands, and ultimately their businesses, will decline as well.

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Follow the Honey: 7 Ways Pesticide Companies Are Spinning the Bee Crisis

Posted by on Apr 29, 2014 @ 8:14 am in Conservation | 0 comments

If you like to eat, then you should care about what’s happening to bees. Two-thirds of our food crops require pollination–the very foods that we rely on for healthy eating–such as apples, berries, and almonds, just to name a few. That’s why the serious decline in bee populations is getting more attention, with entire campaigns devoted to saving them.

A strong and growing body of evidence points to exposure to a class of neurotoxic pesticides called neonicotinoids—the fastest-growing and most widely used class of synthetic pesticides—as a key contrib­uting factor to bee declines. The European Union banned the three most widely used neonicotinoids, based on strong science indicating that neonics can kill bees outright and make them more vulnerable to pests, pathogens, and other stressors.

Enter the corporate spin doctors. Three of the leading pesticide corporations—Bayer, Syngenta, and Monsanto— are engaged in a massive public relations disinformation campaign to distract the public and policymakers from thinking that pesticides might have something to do with bee death and destruction.

Big Tobacco honed these strategies for decades, stalling action that resulted in millions of preventable deaths. Here are the seven tactics pesticide companies are using to spin the bee crisis:


How a Gulf Settlement That BP Once Hailed Became Its Target

Posted by on Apr 28, 2014 @ 8:21 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

How a Gulf Settlement That BP Once Hailed Became Its Target

Four years ago the Deepwater Horizon oil rig caught fire and exploded, killing 11 men, spewing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and staining, seemingly indelibly, the image of BP, the international energy giant responsible for the well.

Its reputation in free fall, the company set aside billions of dollars and saturated the airwaves with contrite pledges to make thousands of businesses and workers whole, from shrimpers to hotel owners to charter boat operators.

Four years on, BP is no longer on the defensive. In March, the federal government allowed the company, after a period of exile, to bid for oil and gas leases in the gulf. On April 15, 2014 BP announced the end of active shoreline cleanup with so much fanfare that the Coast Guard quickly reassured the public that the operation was far from over.

In an op-ed article this month in Gulf Coast newspapers, John Mingé, the chairman of BP America, highlighted the coast’s record tourism numbers, emphasized the $27 billion BP had spent and dismissed environmentalists skeptical of the gulf’s recovery as advocates using the spill “to raise money for their causes.”

But perhaps nothing has been as drastic as the company’s change in attitude toward the process it helped set up in 2012 to settle hundreds of thousands of economic damage claims. In full-page newspaper ads, interviews and a gusher of court filings, BP officials have insisted that their good intentions are being hijacked by greedy lawyers and underhanded claimants.

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General Electric To Invest $1 Billion A Year In Renewable Projects

Posted by on Apr 28, 2014 @ 5:09 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

General Electric Co.’s Energy Financial Services has invested about $10 billion in 17 gigawatts of renewable power since 2006, when the unit was formed. Now, GE has announced the unit plans to invest more than $1 billion a year in clean energy projects, such as wind and solar.

EFS Chief Executive Officer David Nason told Bloomberg News that renewable power is EFS’s fastest-growing energy market. “We see renewable energy providing very significant returns going forward,” Nason said. “We have a robust pipeline in the U.S. for the next couple of years.”

While GE’s core business is oil and gas infrastructure, the company is looking to invest in solar and wind because these forms of energy employ GE equipment such as wind turbines and power inverters. GE owns part of the 550-megawatt Desert Sunlight solar farm, which is being built using GE power inverters. Wind farms under construction or completed across the U.S. and in other countries like Ireland use more than 4,400 GE wind turbines.

About $8 billion of GE’s $10 billion in renewable energy investments to date are in 12 gigawatts of wind farms, with most of the rest of the $2 billion going towards 1 gigawatt of solar power projects. These investments span 16 countries and 28 states.

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Muddying The Waters Over Redesignating Colorado National Monument As A National Park

Posted by on Apr 27, 2014 @ 6:48 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Muddying The Waters Over Redesignating Colorado National Monument As A National Park

Discussions in western Colorado to have Colorado National Monument redesignated as a “national park” have spawned a proposal, in the form of draft Senate legislation, that has drawn concerns from the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

Foremost, the document calls for creation of a “park advisory committee” that would advise the Interior secretary on how the renamed park would be managed. Among the members proposed to be on this committee would be a representative from the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

The retirees do not oppose redesignation of Colorado National Monument, writing that its nearly 1,000 members believe “that Colorado National Monument’s extraordinary resources and experiences are worthy of the additional national and international status that comes with the designation ‘national park.'”

However, the retirees noted that the draft document being circulated “omits essential provisions that would assure preservation and enjoyment of the park’s resources and values, while including other provisions that would undermine long-term management and protection and create more of a local park than a new unit of the National Park System.”

As for the proposed advisory committee, the Coalition wrote that, “(T)he composition of this advisory committee, moreover, does not pass the ‘red face test.’ It overwhelmingly represents local interests, some of which are not even park-related. Why should the Western Slope Oil and Gas Association have a representative on the park advisory committee?”

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A Partnership to Help the Tallest Residents in Yosemite Park

Posted by on Apr 27, 2014 @ 1:07 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

A Partnership to Help the Tallest Residents in Yosemite Park

In an otherworldly grove of cinnamon-colored giant sequoias, workers in June will jackhammer an old mistake: a road and parking lot that impinge on the hallowed forest.

The $36 million project, which includes dismantling a gift shop, removing a tourist tram and adding elevated walkways in the grove, will improve visitors’ experiences while better protecting some of the oldest, largest and most beautiful organisms on earth, said Dean Shenk, a supervisory ranger at Yosemite National Park.

The National Park Service will contribute about $8 million to the project, and the Federal Highway Administration will spend another $8 million for an improved road to the grove and an expanded parking lot at Yosemite’s southern entrance. The bulk of the cost, $20 million, will be covered by the Yosemite Conservancy, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco.

Philanthropic organizations known for lending a helping hand are funneling millions of dollars into the nation’s major national parks, making infrastructure improvements, building trails and providing volunteers who sometimes perform jobs previously done by park rangers.

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Living near trees, green spaces reduces stress, study shows

Posted by on Apr 26, 2014 @ 1:40 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

If you’re in need of a little stress relief, it might be waiting just outside your front door.

A new study from the University of Wisconsin in Madison reveals that people who live near trees and green spaces report lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression than those in more concrete- and asphalt-lined neighborhoods.

Researchers collected health survey data from 2,500 Wisconsin residents, then paired the data with satellite images showing how much vegetation was in residents’ neighborhoods. The results: People who lived on blocks with less than 10 percent tree canopy were more likely to report feeling stressed or down.

The findings were true regardless of race, age, income level, marital status or education. “A poor person living on a logging road in (a national forest) was more likely to be happy than a wealthier person living on a treeless block in Milwaukee,” the researchers said.

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