Conservation & Environment

Instagram litter idea is picking up in Florida

Posted by on Jul 23, 2014 @ 7:31 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Florida transportation officials want your “selfies” as you pick up litter. The Florida Department of Transportation launched its new “Man vs. Litter Challenge.” Participants take pictures of themselves disposing of litter and upload them on Instagram. The entry that gets the most “likes” and is judged the most creative wins a gift card from selected vendors.

College students created the social media competition to help raise awareness. “We are delighted to be a part of the litter prevention education team,” Aniqua Hendricks, a freshman at Florida State University, said in a release. “Our goal is to involve more students from around the state and keep our paradise litter-free.”

The litter challenge is part of FDOT’s larger “Drive It Home … Keep Our Paradise Litter-Free” campaign. Participants in that drive carry a litter bag in their cars, make sure trash receptacles are properly covered, and embrace other small changes such as picking up one piece of litter a day.

To participate in Florida’s litter challenge:

• Follow @CleanFLroads on Instagram.

• Take a photo of the litter on state’s roadsides and take a photo of the person(s) picking up the litter and placing it in the trash can or bin. Photos can include selfies or a group shot.

• Submit the photos to the campaign via email (info@CleanFLroads.com); or via Instagram posting (@CleanFLroads) and hashtag it with #driveithome.

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Silver lining seen in Linville Gorge wildfire

Posted by on Jul 22, 2014 @ 8:44 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Surveying a landscape ravaged by wildfire eight months ago, U.S. Forest Service ecologist Lisa Jennings stops to inspect a stand of white pines left brown and shriveled by the flames. “That’s what we like to see,” she says of the species not native to the rugged slopes of Linville Gorge in Western North Carolina. “We’d like to get them out of here.”

But along the trail leading to the summit of Table Rock, the lush regrowth of other plants is clearly abundant. Fire-resistant species historically found in the gorge are getting a boost. “See this oak right here?” Jennings said. “It’s got a lot of char, but it’s still doing really good. If you had come here right after the fire, you wouldn’t see any of this green growth. It really is amazing.

“Immediately following the fire, it looked pretty stark. It was a very black landscape with a lot of ash. Shrubs were brown and wilted. There were black snags or dead trees in some areas.”

“The fire had a lot of beneficial effects, like creating and maintaining habitat for many of the rare, fire-adapted species in the gorge.”

There was an evaluation of rare plant species like that mountain golden heather, which only grows on the Grandfather Ranger District of the Pisgah National Forest. The plant will benefit from wildfire in the long run, she said. “Fire is really the only thing that will allow that population to be sustained because if removes the duff layer — the organic matter and binded roots above the mineral soil,” she said.

Following a major wildfire in another part of the gorge in 2007, the population of mountain golden heather increased by about 300 percent, Jennings said.

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The bend in the Appalachian mountain chain is finally explained

Posted by on Jul 19, 2014 @ 11:57 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The 1,500 mile Appalachian mountain chain runs along a nearly straight line from Alabama to Newfoundland—except for a curious bend in Pennsylvania and New York State. Researchers from the College of New Jersey and the University of Rochester now know what caused that bend—a dense, underground block of rigid, volcanic rock forced the chain to shift eastward as it was forming millions of years ago.

According to Cindy Ebinger, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Rochester, scientists had previously known about the volcanic rock structure under the Appalachians. “What we didn’t understand was the size of the structure or its implications for mountain-building processes,” she said.

When the North American and African continental plates collided more than 300 million years ago, the North American plate began folding and thrusting upwards as it was pushed westward into the dense underground rock structure—in what is now the northeastern United States. The dense rock created a barricade, forcing the Appalachian mountain range to spring up with its characteristic bend.

Ebinger called the research project a “foundation study” that will improve scientists’ understanding of the Earth’s underlying structures. As an example, Ebinger said their findings could provide useful information in the debate over hydraulic fracturing—popularly known as fracking—in New York State.

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Critics Skeptical of Claim that Coal Ash Cleanup Is Finished

Posted by on Jul 18, 2014 @ 11:15 am in Conservation | 0 comments

It’s the headline that has environmentalists and folks who live along the Dan River so fired up: “Duke Energy Completes Cleanup Work Along the Dan River.” In Rockingham County, they just don’t believe that, or they don’t understand it.

“If you get out and go three inches deep in the sand, you’re in coal ash,” said Ben Adkins. Adkins lives just up the road from Draper’s Landing, a popular spot with fishermen and river lovers. He grew up here and talking to him, you can feel his love for the Dan River.

“It means everything to me,” Adkins said. “I mean this is where I come in the summer to cool off, fish, hunt for clams. I learned how to swim right over there. It was the first place I knew God was real. It makes me sick. I got a three-year-old boy that’ll never be able to come down here.”

Accompanied by Pete Harrison, with the Waterkeeper’s Alliance, Adkins used a PVC pipe to take core samples from the river bed and found 1-2 inches of a dark grey, shimmering substance buried under about three inches of brown, sandy sediment. “You can see here this dark colored stuff is pure coal ash,” said Harrison. “This is what taking responsibility looks like to Duke Energy.”

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Forest Fires In Northwest Canada Burning At ‘Unprecedented’ Levels

Posted by on Jul 17, 2014 @ 10:19 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

For the past few weeks, dry and warm weather have fueled large forest fires across Canada’s remote Northwest Territories. The extent of those fires is well above average for the year to-date, and is in line with climate trends of more fires burning in the northern reaches of the globe.

Of the 186 wildfires in the Northwest Territories to-date this year, 156 of them are currently burning. That includes the Birch Creek Fire complex, which stretches over 250,000 acres. The amount of acres burned in the Northwest Territories is six times greater than the 25-year average to-date according to data from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center.

Boreal forests like those in the Northwest Territories are burning at rates “unprecedented” in the past 10,000 years according to the authors of a study put out last year. The northern reaches of the globe are warming at twice the rate as areas closer to the equator, and those hotter conditions are contributing to more widespread burns.

The combined boreal forests of Canada, Europe, Russia and Alaska, account for 30 percent of the world’s carbon stored in land, carbon that’s taken up to centuries to store. Forest fires like those currently raging in the Northwest Territories, as well as ones in 2012 and 2013 in Russia, can release that stored carbon into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. Warmer temperatures can in turn create a feedback loop, priming forests for wildfires that release more carbon into the atmosphere and cause more warming.

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Deer declining across Colorado and West

Posted by on Jul 16, 2014 @ 8:16 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Bouncy, big-eared icons of the American West, deer are declining rapidly across Colorado and other states — forcing difficult decisions.

The causes vary from energy development to hard winters and aren’t always clear. But dwindling numbers already have driven cutbacks on deer hunting, reducing potential funds for land conservation.

State wildlife biologists are scrambling to reverse the declines. This is spurring scrutiny of intensifying oil and gas drilling on federally managed deer habitat.

The nation’s largest mule deer herd, located in northwestern Colorado, has decreased over the past decade by more than two-thirds — to 32,000 at latest estimate, down from 105,900 in 2005.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife data also show a statewide deer population decrease since 2005 by about 36 percent. Across the West, deer decreased by at least 10 percent.

“Mule deer are an indicator species. If mule deer herds are in poor health, it probably means the land itself is in poor condition and that a lot of other species are at risk,” National Wildlife Federation public lands policy director Kate Zimmerman said. “For example, sage grouse and mule deer occupy the same habitat for part of the year, and both are in trouble.

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Southeastern U.S. Jealous of Brazil’s Solar-Powered Sports

Posted by on Jul 14, 2014 @ 7:17 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

On June 14th, the first ever World Cup soccer match powered by solar energy was played. The 2014 World Cup wass more than an exhibition of premier soccer; it was an exhibition of premier solar energy, too. The world was being shown a blueprint of how to invest in low or zero-emission technologies. Accordingly, the United States, with our substantial sports culture, should be enthusiastic to jump on board with this innovative idea. Our Southeast region in particular has yet to take advantage of solar-powered sports, and should take a close look and evaluate the benefits of installing solar on our stadiums.

The World Cup’s first solar stadium, Mineirão, is equipped with 6,000 rooftop panels. Only 10% of the energy produced is needed to power the stadium; the other 90% is sent back to the grid and distributed to local consumers. Several other World Cup stadiums have been outfitted with solar as well. Maracanã Stadium has mounted solar panels surrounding the outer ring of the stadium, which generate enough energy to power 240 homes a year. Arena Pernambuco has more than 3,600 panels mounted on the ground that will be fed into the local energy grid, and will be used to power 6,000 households when the stadium is not in use.

The remaining solar stadiums in Brazil —Estádio Nacional and Arena Fonte Nova—have similar installations that employ solar technology. With these stadiums being publicized through the media, solar energy and sustainable practices will be brought into awareness of millions of fans.

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Rupture of Aging Tar Sands Pipeline Beneath Great Lakes Would Devastate People, Planet and Economy

Posted by on Jul 13, 2014 @ 8:32 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Because the strong currents in the Straits of Mackinac reverse direction every few days, a rupture of the oil pipeline beneath the channel would quickly contaminate shorelines miles away in both lakes Michigan and Huron, according to a new University of Michigan (U-M) study commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation.

“If you were to pick the worst possible place for an oil spill in the Great Lakes, this would be it,” hydrodynamics expert David Schwab said. “The currents are powerful and change direction frequently. In the event of an oil spill, these factors would lead to a big mess that would be very difficult to contain.”

Just west of the Mackinac Bridge, two 20-inch underwater pipes carry 23 million gallons of crude oil daily through the straits. The 61-year-old pipeline is operated by Enbridge Inc.

“An oil spill in the Straits of Mackinac would have devastating consequences for people, fish and wildlife, and the economy. It would be an unparalleled disaster for the Great Lakes,” said Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center. “This old pipeline needs to be replaced so that we can protect the Great Lakes from future spills.”

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Pro Drilling Group Kills Plan for a New Colorado National Park

Posted by on Jul 11, 2014 @ 4:27 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

A more than century-old effort to transform the breathtaking Colorado National Monument into a full-fledged national park has been thwarted by a pro-fracking organization called Friends of the Colorado National Monument (FCNM).

And while the group sounds harmless enough, and professes to include hikers, bikers, ranchers, outdoor enthusiasts, and conservationists, its website includes little more than complaints about EPA air and water regulations, and the inability of the oil and gas industry to drill in national parks and the surrounding areas.

FCNM lead a petition fight against changing the monument’s status while decrying what they call “frackophobia.” The also complained that fracking is over-regulated and bemoaned the protests and legal proceedings that have taken place in Colorado in recent years. In fact, says Colorado has become “protest central when it comes to opposition to energy development.”

Democratic Senator Mark Udall and GOP Congressman Scott Tipton, both up for reelection in November, had backed the plan to change the monument to a national park in Congress. Udall says that residents seem evenly split on the plan. But after receiving a 2,500 signature petition against the plan from FCNM, Tipton backed down. Under congressional protocol, any measure to change the monument’s status would have to be supported by Tipton, whose district includes the monument.

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What’s the future for the Pisgah, Nantahala National Forests?

Posted by on Jul 11, 2014 @ 3:53 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

What’s the future for the Pisgah, Nantahala National Forests?

From the crags of Grandfather Mountain to the glow of Shining Rock; from the gape of Linville Gorge to the plunge of Looking Glass; Western North Carolina’s forests offer a trove of treasured destinations. These woods birthed the nation’s first school of forestry and continue to host the gauntlet of the Appalachian Trail. But what’s in store for the future of the forest?

On Thursday, July 10, 2014 the USDA Forest Service hosted a day-long information session aimed at reviewing and discussing the USDA Forest Service’s National Forests Plan Revision for the Pisgah and the Nantahala National Forests. The event, attended by more than 100 people, provided a forum on wildlife habitats, wild and scenic rivers, and ecological integrity in these two forest jewels of the Carolina crown.

Turnout matched enthusiasm as the attendees filled every seat. The hosts were even obliged to hunt down extra chairs in order to accommodate the forest conservationists, environmental-group representatives and wildlife enthusiasts who showed up to voice their opinions on a plan that will chart the course of the Pisgah and the Nantahala Forests for the next 15 to 20 years. All attendees had the opportunity to advocate for their respective causes, and none let that chance go to waste.

One topic that didn’t make the itinerary, yet was discussed in an ad hoc gathering, was the state’s controversial inquiries into oil and fracking leases — some on Forest Service lands. During an impromptu meeting of 12 conference-goers that materialized during the lunch break, Forest Supervisor Kristin Bail said that oil exploration is not part of the forest management plan because no one has approached her regarding the subject.

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Congress must fix broken funding system for managing wildfires

Posted by on Jul 10, 2014 @ 6:17 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

As the costs of fighting wildfires continue to balloon, underfunded U.S. Forest Service programs have been forced to pull money from important conservation programs to keep on top of both wildfire suppression and mitigation. Now, years into the problem, the Forest Service, and our wildlands, may soon get some help—if Congress does the right thing.

Wildfire management costs have increased from 13 percent of the Forest Service budget in 1991 to almost 50 percent today. To keep up, the Forest Service is forced to divert funds from popular and effective programs like the (already cash-strapped) Land and Water Conservation Fund, Legacy Roads and Trails program and National Landscape Conservation System—in addition to programs specifically intended to reduce the cost and severity of future wildfires, through actions like removing dead wood that acts as fuel for fire and managing invasive species that kill trees and make them more likely to burn.

Once conservation programs have been sapped, the agency must rely on Congress to pass emergency funding bills to replenish them. In short, this “robbing Peter to pay Paul” cycle leaves the government scrambling to responsibly manage forests and, perversely, increases the chances of future catastrophic wildfires.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park provides high school interns with unique opportunities

Posted by on Jul 10, 2014 @ 12:07 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Getting paid to hike, handle endangered animals and protect Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s wildlife and fauna for six weeks during the summer is the type of opportunity most go their whole lives only dreaming about. For the chosen few of GSMNP’s high school internship program, however, these experiences are more than dreams: they’re everyday realities.

Not only are these fortunate East Tennesseans getting a firsthand look at these unique experiences, they are doing it all as high school students. They are the “cream of the crop” when it come to environmental science and ecology, according to GSMNP Ranger of Education Emily Guss.

This unique opportunity is and will remain all-inclusive to all of the different East Tennessee counties and schools as Park Ranger Emily Guss provides these student interns with the best education and experience that the Park has to offer.

“What we try to do is give them all an opportunity to try a bunch of different things,” Guss said. “The bulk of it is I’m trying to give them variety and give them as much of an even experience as possible, but as we get closer to the end, if there are some that really have a certain interest in something, we try to allow them to job shadow for at least a day, either during or after their internship time.”

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Chevron Admits The Truth: Oil Shale Will Use Huge Amounts Of Western Water

Posted by on Jul 9, 2014 @ 1:06 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

One of the largest oil companies in the world has been forced in court to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about one of the key environmental impacts of developing oil shale in the arid West. Namely, it will consume an enormous amount of water in a region where drought and climate change are already stressing available water supplies.

Chevron USA, in legal filings in a case brought by the conservation group Western Resource Advocates, has admitted that to meet a goal of developing a half million barrels of oil from sedimentary rock in northwest Colorado it would need 120,000 acre feet of water a year. That’s enough to meet the needs of 1 million people per year.

“This legal case puts to bed the argument of whether current oil shale plans will use large quantities of water,” said David Abelson, a policy advisor to Western Resource Advocates.

“Now the debate for decision makers is whether allowing oil shale development to use enormous quantities of water in a strained Colorado River Basin is acceptable.”

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Forging a forecast: NASA, Duke project aims toward better weather forecasts in the Smokies

Posted by on Jul 9, 2014 @ 11:47 am in Conservation | 0 comments

It’s no secret that an accurate weather forecast is hard to come by in the Smokies. But after two months of intense measurements at more than 100 stations around the region, scientists working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration are crunching data that could change that.

“I think we’ve made an important contribution to understand the hydrology and the water cycle of the Smokies,” said Ana Barros, professor of earth and ocean science at Duke University and principal investigator on the Smokies project.

Since 2007, Barros’ lab has been steadily building up its slate of science-grade monitoring stations, which include rain gauges, disdrometers to measure raindrop size and vertically pointing radars to look at how the clouds are organized at different levels of the atmosphere. These instruments, located on both public and private land throughout the Carolina Smokies, have been automatically recording data since October and will continue to do so through the coming October.

But the investigation rose above ground level. An airplane flew 70,000 feet in the air, so high in the stratosphere that the pilots had to wear spacesuits, to observe the clouds from above. A smaller plane flew right through the clouds to observe the varying characteristics of water and ice particles suspended in them.

The airplanes flew everywhere but focused especially on two sites, Maggie Valley Sanitary District and Purchase Knob, that were furnished with an even more complete set of monitoring equipment than the other sites during an intensive observation period in May and June. Those instruments included a trailer that measured the concentration of aerosols — nanoparticles suspended in the air — and an array of large radars to record the weather patterns from the ground.

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Weak coal ash bill an affront to North Carolinians

Posted by on Jul 8, 2014 @ 4:38 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The author is a former N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources manager.

Environmental advocates who collectively speak for a large number of N.C. residents are outraged by the weakness of the proposed bill to address the state’s coal ash mess, its failure to protect residents and the mockery it is making of the Clean Water Act.

The bill has been touted as the first state-level legislation in the country to deal with toxic coal ash. As one state senator rightly noted, it would “set the standard for the rest of the country on coal ash.” Yet changes the N.C. House of Representatives has made to an already weak Senate bill would set the standard egregiously low.

In February, 2014 Duke Energy’s negligence thrust NC into an unwanted national spotlight and debate over toxic coal ash when one of its facilities spilled tons and tons of ash into the Dan River – the third-largest such spill in U.S. history. Millions of Americans concerned about clean water have been waiting to see how North Carolina would respond.

Back then, elected leaders seemed eager to line up and promise cleanup and reform. Now, however, what is seen are broken promises: Band-aid solutions that may sound good but do nothing to address the underlying wounds of coal-ash-contaminated water, grand rhetoric that serves only to buy a few votes and a general abdication of elected officials’ obligation to uphold the public trust.

The current bill, SB 729, is rife with weakened timelines and eases cleanup requirements in favor of Duke Energy instead of demanding swift and comprehensive remediation of all polluting sites.

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To Improve Accuracy, BBC Tells Its Reporters To Stop Giving Air Time To Climate Deniers

Posted by on Jul 7, 2014 @ 4:47 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Reporters for BBC News are being directed to significantly curb the amount of air time they give to people with anti-science viewpoints — including people who deny climate change exists — in order to improve the accuracy and fairness of the network’s news coverage, according to a report released by the BBC’s governing body.

The BBC Trust’s report was designed to assess the network’s impartiality in science coverage, in other words, whether it is staying neutral on critical issues. In order to be neutral when covering science, however, the BBC noted it needs to avoid “false balance,” a fallacy that occurs when two sides of an argument are assumed to have equal value. “Science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views but depends on the varying degree of prominence such views should be given,” the report said.

The type of “false balance” news segment that the BBC is now actively trying to avoid is one that is fairly common in American network news’ climate change coverage. It involves putting one person who is well-versed on climate science next to a person who denies climate science, and having them debate.

Editorially, this type of debate makes the network look like it’s being balanced, giving equal opportunity to opposite viewpoints. However, because 95 to 97 percent of climate scientists agree that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are causing the planet to warm, that balance is false, giving disproportionate time to a viewpoint that is widely rejected in the scientific community.

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Prescribed Burn Planned for Avery County, NC

Posted by on Jul 7, 2014 @ 1:34 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The U.S. Forest Service plans to conduct a prescribed burn July 8, 2014 on about 550 acres in Avery County, located on the Grandfather Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest.

The Forest Service will conduct the one-day prescribed burn near Roseboro Rd. (FSR 981). According to the Forest Service the burn will help reduce woody debris and hazardous fuels that could contribute to high-severity fires. It will also help reduce the frequency of destructive fires that could threaten communities, as well as promote healthier, more diverse and more resilient forests. The agency will conduct the burn as part of the Grandfather Restoration Project in cooperation with the N.C. Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy.

No roads or trails will be closed. Visitors should heed all signs and be aware of smoke on Roseboro Rd. Signs and personnel will be in place warning forest visitors. The burn will be visible from the Blue Ridge Parkway.