Conservation & Environment

Forest Service wants do-over after logging controversy

Posted by on Feb 8, 2015 @ 4:09 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The U.S Forest Service wants to hit the reset button on its planning process for Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests in North Carolina.

The agency is planning a new series of public meetings, tentatively scheduled for April, regarding its ongoing forest plan revision, which will guide management of the two forests for at least a decade, said Kristin Bail, supervisor of North Carolina’s national forests.

She said she hopes this next round of meetings will be marked by collaboration, rather than the controversy that has plagued the process since a draft copy was presented to the public in October.

That document indicated about 700,000 of the 1 million acres in the Pisgah and Nantahala were in management areas that would be open to logging, prompting a host of interest groups to declare that foresters were either destroyers or champions of their charges.

“We will use these meetings to ‘step back’ the public dialogue away from commenting on (and advocating for) what some believe was a specific proposal concerning the designation of management areas,” Bail said.

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Colorado River After the Pulse Flow

Posted by on Feb 7, 2015 @ 9:19 am in Conservation | 0 comments

In 2014 there was an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico that allowed for the release of water into the Colorado River Delta. Known as a pulse flow, it lasted from late March to mid-May last year. Scientists have now returned to the path of the historic pulse flow, a release of water designed to rejuvenate the delta that has been totally dry for decades.

By all accounts, the pulse flow’s most important outcome is that it actually happened. For so long, the forces against it seemed overwhelming. With western water such a scarce commodity, and so many entities drawing water from the Colorado River, a bi-national agreement seemed unlikely to gain any traction. But against these odds, an agreement was forged.

More than 105,000 acre-feet of water (equal to 34 billion gallons) was released in one large pulse flow between March 23 and May 18, 2014. That’s less than one percent of what would naturally flow into the delta without all the upstream diversions. Since it came as such a big surge over such a short time, the river channel and floodplain were inundated. Cottonwood and willow seeds filled the air. To everyone’s surprise and delight, the pulse flow temporarily re-connected the river with the Gulf of California.

Success was even beyond expectations. The pulse flow benefited existing vegetation throughout the surrounding area, well beyond designated restoration sites. There was a 43% increase in green vegetation in places the pulse flow inundated, and a 23% increase in the broader riparian area. Bi-national negotiations for another agreement will begin soon.

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White House budget includes $3 billion for national parks

Posted by on Feb 7, 2015 @ 8:58 am in Conservation | 0 comments

President Obama’s budget request for fiscal year 2016 — the centennial year of the National Park Service — includes $3 billion for the bureau’s critical conservation, preservation, and recreation mission. The budget boosts the National Park Service’s essential programs and operational needs by $432.9 million.

The president’s budget highlights the importance of investing in a historic effort to attract and host more visitors as well as leverage additional private philanthropy for the parks.

“In 2016, the National Park Service will celebrate its Centennial by inviting hundreds of millions of Americans to find their park by visiting a park and sharing their favorite park story,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “This budget will prepare the National Park Service to ensure that every one of those visitors has a wonderful and safe experience.”

It includes funding to put hundreds more seasonal employees in the familiar Green and Gray uniform to work to serve visitors. It also would provide $40 million in federal matching funds for NPS Centennial Challenge projects, which are designed to leverage partnerships with outside organizations to bring additional funding to support our national parks.

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Now BP and Shell will consider the cost of climate change when doing business

Posted by on Feb 6, 2015 @ 7:31 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

BP will support a shareholder resolution calling on the company to release information about how climate change could affect its business. It’s the second big win for climate-conscious investors this year: Shell agreed to support a similar resolution last week. Both the Shell and BP resolutions were submitted by a coalition of activist investor groups representing more than 150 major shareholders in Europe and America.

The resolution asked Shell and BP to reduce emissions, to invest in renewables, to provide transparency about bonuses that reward “climate-harming activities,” and to test how their business models would hold up if governments were to take action to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. These steps are good business, the resolution argues, “given the recognised risks and opportunities associated with climate change.”

Analyses suggest that in order to stay below the 2 degree level, much of the fossil fuel in the ground will have to stay there — including all of the oil remaining in the Arctic, which both Shell and BP are hoping to tap. If governments take more stringent action to confront climate change, these resources could end up stranded, despite the high value oil companies place on them.

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NC Wildlife Commission says no more red wolves

Posted by on Feb 4, 2015 @ 4:03 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission has publicly denounced the red wolf reintroduction in coastal counties, calling for the red wolves to be rounded up — despite being the only wild population of red wolves on the planet.

Last week, the Commission adopted two resolutions: one requesting that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service end the red wolf reintroduction, and the second asking the agency to capture and remove all the wolves and their offspring that have ended up on private land.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, which brought a lawsuit in 2012 opposing the Commission’s red wolf management, disagrees.

“Red wolves have lived — and thrived — on the current mix of private and public lands for 25 years, becoming one of the most successful predator reintroductions in U.S. history,” said Sierra Weaver, senior attorney with SELC. “Asking that the federal government declare ‘extinct’ the 100 red wolves that live in eastern North Carolina is a blatant attempt to remove from the wild one of our country’s most beloved animals.”

For its part, U.S. Fish and Wildlife released a 171-page evaluation of the program in November 2014 and is expected to release a decision on the program’s future early this year.

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Up close with the Smokies

Posted by on Feb 4, 2015 @ 3:55 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The Experience Your Smokies program is looking for applicants who want to get an insider’s look at park operations while getting some exploration into their lives as well.

Participants will attend five full-day sessions in locations throughout the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They’ll accompany park employees in activites ranging from wetland restoration to fish surveys to trail work.

“If you have ever wanted to be a park ranger or get a behind the scenes look at what goes on in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this is your opportunity,” said acting park Superintendent Clayton Jordan.

2015 sessions will be held Tuesdays, March 17, March 24, April 14 and April 28, and Saturday, May 9. Applications will be accepted through Feb. 27 and can be accessed at Friends of the Smokies Events Calendar or by calling 828.452.0720. The $50 cost goes toward program administration and materials.

Experience Your Smokies is a collaboration of GSMNP, Friends of the Smokies and the Great Smoky Mountains Association.

 

Carbon Accumulation by Southeastern Forests May Slow

Posted by on Jan 30, 2015 @ 8:05 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Carbon accumulation levels in the southeastern U.S. may be slowing due to forest dynamics and land use changes, according to findings of U.S. Forest Service researchers published in the journal Scientific Reports in January.

The study is the first to isolate the impacts of forest disturbances, such as fire, disease, and cutting, as well as the impacts of land use change using permanent monitoring locations across the Southeast, making it one of the most thorough carbon studies completed.

Researchers show that future carbon accumulation rates are highly sensitive to future land use changes. Land use choices that either reduce the rate of afforestation or increase the rate of deforestation are key factors in future forest carbon accumulation.

The aging of forests in the region was also a significant force behind potential slowing accumulation rates as growth rates are typically lower for older forest. The study found forests to be fairly resilient to natural disturbances caused by weather, insects, diseases and fires. These disturbances reduced carbon accumulation rates but the losses were compensated by subsequent regrowth and storage in dead material on the site.

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Improved access, mapping set to spur water recreation in WNC

Posted by on Jan 29, 2015 @ 9:15 am in Conservation | 0 comments

After more than a decade of hydropower relicensing negotiations and years more of permitting and construction, Duke Energy is finishing a slate of river accesses that will make the Tuckasegee one of the most accessible rivers in the Southeast. At the same time, a collective effort to create an interactive map showing where and how to recreate on Western North Carolina waterways — using a tool called Smoky Mountain Blueways — is wrapping up, further boosting WNC’s future as a Mecca for outdoors lovers of all skill levels.

Before Duke’s relicensing agreement spurred the development of more access points along the waterways from which it generates its power, there were only four places along the entire reach of the Tuckasegee which were built specifically to put in a canoe, kayak or raft. That number will soon reach 17, including reservoirs on the Tuckasegee.

There are just a few projects to finish up as spring approaches. Probably the most notable is the Pine Creek Access at Lake Glenville. There’s going to be a swimming area there — Duke drew down the reservoir so that crews could reconstruct the reservoir bottom to a more gradual slope — as well as a pump and haul toilet, picnic area, dock and handicapped-accessible walkway.

There’s also going to be a hiking trail, 0.8 miles of steep downhill into the canyon that houses 120-foot High Falls. By all accounts, it’s incredible, especially during wildflower season. “You need to go to the High Falls Trail in March and April,” a spokesman said. “It’s drop dead spectacular,” calling the trail construction of harvested rocks “incredible.”

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Grand Teton National Park Crews Clean Up Spray-Paint Vandalism In Homestead Cabin

Posted by on Jan 28, 2015 @ 9:00 am in Conservation | 0 comments

An historic homesteader’s cabin at Grand Teton National Park that had been vandalized by someone armed with cans of spray paint has had the image removed, though more work needs to be done to restore the weathered patina nearly 100 years of exposure had created.

Park officials say that back in September a black and blue spray-painted depiction of a devilish creature wearing a crown was discovered by a park visitor on the inside wall of the Luther Taylor homestead cabin. The cabin is located along the Gros Ventre Road between Kelly Warm Springs and the eastern boundary of the park. Historic preservationists from both Grand Teton and the Western Center for Historic Preservation painstakingly removed the graffiti in mid-December, though evidence of the damage remains.

Restoration efforts began when six historic preservationists from the park and Western Center for Historic Preservation—an NPS Intermountain Region program based at Grand Teton—spent considerable time cleaning the cabin wall.

Unfortunately, the cleaning process also removed the 100-year-old gray patina from the logs. To remedy this problem and return the cabin wall to its historic appearance, park cultural resource specialists plan to use a wood product that will help accelerate the ageing process along with exposure to sunlight and moisture.

Anyone with knowledge of this act of vandalism is encouraged to call Teton Interagency Dispatch Center at 307.739.3301. Callers can remain anonymous.

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Rocky Mountain National Park celebrates a century of preserving nature

Posted by on Jan 26, 2015 @ 9:52 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Rocky Mountain National Park celebrates a century of preserving nature

One hundred years ago today, President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation that created Rocky Mountain National Park, which promoters called “America’s Switzerland,” a massive parcel of pristine wilderness that now includes more than 260,000 acres of panoramic vistas and alpine majesty. It’s one of the most popular attractions in Colorado, receiving its highest annual visitation ever in 2014, with more than 3.4 million guests.

Preserving this land, which includes 60 mountains taller than 12,000 feet, seems like a brilliant idea. But back in 1915, that legislative victory capped a bitter battle that pitted local citizens against powerful proponents of timber, mining, hunting and grazing. “There would have been no national park without the broad coalition of political and economic interests,” said James Pickering, historian laureate of Estes Park. The six-year fight required six bills presented to Congress, and five revisions of those bills.

The leader of the successful campaign was Enos Mills, a writer and nature guide who’s been dubbed “The Father of Rocky Mountain National Park.” These days, most people in Colorado have never heard of him. But his descendants still live near his old homestead in the Tahosa Valley. His great-granddaughter, 36-year-old Eryn Mills, gives tours of the cabin that he first built in 1885, and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Rocky Mountain National Park kicked off its centennial celebration in September, and will continue — with more than 150 events — until September 2015, when a ceremony will evoke the jubilance that took place a century ago. Back then “a crowd of 3,000 cheered to the telegrams of President Wilson and Interior Secretary Franklin Lane, read aloud by Enos Mills, master of ceremonies, for the dedication of Rocky Mountain National Park.”

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Obama Administration Moves to Protect Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Posted by on Jan 25, 2015 @ 11:40 am in Conservation | 0 comments

WASHINGTON, DC – President Obama’s Administration moved to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, widely considered one of the most spectacular and remote areas in the world. The Department of the Interior is releasing a conservation plan for the Refuge that for the first time recommends additional protections, and President Obama announced he will make an official recommendation to Congress to designate core areas of the refuge – including its Coastal Plain – as wilderness, the highest level of protection available to public lands. If Congress chooses to act, it would be the largest ever wilderness designation since Congress passed the visionary Wilderness Act over 50 years ago.

“Designating vast areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as Wilderness reflects the significance this landscape holds for America and its wildlife,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “Just like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of our nation’s crown jewels and we have an obligation to preserve this spectacular place for generations to come.”

Today’s action builds upon years of public engagement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revise the Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) and complete an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as required by law. The plan will guide the Service’s management decisions for the next 15 years.

Based on the best available science and extensive public comment, the Service’s preferred alternative recommends 12.28 million acres – including the Coastal Plain – for designation as wilderness. The Service also recommends four rivers – the Atigun, Hulahula, Kongakut, and Marsh Fork Canning – for inclusion into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

Currently, over 7 million acres of the refuge are managed as wilderness, consistent with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. However, more than 60 percent of the refuge – including the Coastal Plain – does not carry that designation.

Designation as wilderness would protect and preserve the refuge, ensuring the land and water would remain unimpaired for use and enjoyment by future generations. Only Congress has the authority to designate Wilderness areas and Wild and Scenic Rivers.

Recommendations for Wilderness or Wild and Scenic River designations require approval of the Service Director, Secretary of the Interior and the President. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released the revised comprehensive conservation plan and final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. While the Service is not soliciting further public comment on the revised plan/EIS, it will be available to the public for review for 30 days, after which, the record of decision will be published. At that point, the President will make the formal wilderness recommendation to Congress.

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge preserves a unique diversity of wildlife and habitat in a corner of America that is still wild and free,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “But it faces growing challenges that require a thoughtful and comprehensive management strategy. The incorporation of large portions of the refuge into the National Wilderness Preservation System will ensure we protect this outstanding landscape and its inhabitants for our children and generations that follow.”

The revised plan/EIS addresses a variety of issues, including the protection of wildlife populations and their habitats, opportunities for fish- and wildlife-dependent recreation, subsistence needs of local inhabitants, and other public uses. The plan also strengthens wildlife and habitat monitoring, as well as the monitoring of public use of the refuge so as to better respond to changing conditions on the landscape, particularly those associated with climate change.

The 19.8 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to the most diverse wildlife in the arctic, including caribou, polar bears, gray wolves, and muskoxen. More than 200 species of birds, 37 land mammal species, eight marine mammal species and 42 species of fish call the vast refuge home. Lagoons, beaches, saltmarshes, tundra and forests make up the remote and undisturbed wild area that spans five distinct ecological regions.

The refuge holds special meaning to Alaska Natives, having sustained their lives and culture for thousands of years. The Gwich’in people refer to the Coastal Plain of the refuge as “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins,” reflecting the area’s importance to their community, maintaining healthy herds of caribou and an abundance of other wildlife.

Read the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan…

 

National Park Service Starting Process To Establish Valles Caldera National Preserve

Posted by on Jan 24, 2015 @ 8:51 am in Conservation | 0 comments

It won’t happen overnight, but the National Park Service is starting the process to integrate Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico into the National Park System.

The national preserve was moved to the National Park Service from the U.S. Forest Service when President Obama signed into law the massive Defense authorization bill passed by Congress in late December. But that was all on paper. Now the Park Service needs to begin the process of staffing the preserve and generating a management plan.

Located in the Jemez Mountains of north-central New Mexico, the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve holds within its landscape one of three super volcanoes found in the United States. It is known for its rich geologic and cultural history, scenic beauty and abundant wildlife. The Valles Caldera National Preserve will be managed until mid-summer by the Valles Caldera Trust, a wholly owned government corporation overseen by a nine-member, presidentially appointed board of trustees.

Planning for the site’s operation by the National Park Service is under way in cooperation with the Valles Caldera Trust and will include significant public involvement.

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3-year effort mapping Smokies streams now complete

Posted by on Jan 23, 2015 @ 11:16 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

3-year effort mapping Smokies streams now complete

Great Smoky Mountains National Park geographic information system specialists and scientists in collaboration with scientists from Tennessee, North Carolina, and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), have completed a three-year stream mapping project. Park scientists used a combination of aircraft-mounted scanners and a Global Positioning System verification systems to re-inventory streams throughout the park.

Using this modern mapping technology, scientists determined the park contains 2,900 miles of streams. Of these, 1,073 miles of streams are large enough to support fish. Previously, using topographic maps, the scientists estimated there to be approximately 2,000 miles of streams in the park. A water feature is considered a stream if it exhibits the hydrologic, geomorphologic, and biologic characteristics of moving water at least part of the year.

Working with the USGS, the park incorporated the new stream data into the National Hydrography Dataset (NHD) which allows the researchers and the public real-time access to detailed information about streams across the nation. Park staff and research partners rely heavily upon the accurate information in the NHD to manage park water quality and aquatic ecosystem health.

The NHD data is accessible via The National Map at http://viewer.nationalmap.gov/viewer/ and re-mapped streams within the park can be seen at http://www.nps.gov/npmap/park-tiles/#10/35.6032/-83.4659.

 

Here Are All the Senators Who Do and Don’t Believe in Human-Caused Climate Change

Posted by on Jan 22, 2015 @ 9:12 am in Conservation | 0 comments

United States Senators stood up for what they believed in finally—and it wasn’t pretty. During a debate over construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, intended to carry oil from Canada to the United States, the Senate voted on an amendment—just for show, really—on whether climate change “is real and not a hoax.” Easy question—everyone said yes, it’s real. (Well, not everyone. Good job, Senator Roger Wicker, Republican from Missouri. You do not believe science.) But then Brian Schatz, Democrat from Hawaii, decided to push the issue. He introduced another amendment adding that human activity was a significant contributor to the aforementioned climate change. And the Senate voted again.

The results? Ahem. Fifty US senators affirmed that they indeed do believe that the activities of human beings contribute to climate change. OK. But 49 senators—fully half the upper house that represents our grand republic—do not. So, hey, you go out there and burn whatever carbon you want to? Not sure what to make of that. But we thought you might want to know just which representatives have absolved you of your responsibility to the planet.

So here’s the list—of the senators who think climate change is some other species’ problem, and then the senators who wish we’d maybe do something about it.

 

Prescribed Burn Planned for Pisgah’s Grandfather Ranger District

Posted by on Jan 20, 2015 @ 4:57 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The U.S. Forest Service plans to conduct a 255-acre prescribed burn in the Grandfather Ranger District, Pisgah National Forest, by Friday, Jan. 23, 2015. The agency will conduct the one-day burn near the Avery County-Caldwell County line, northwest of the Globe area near Anthony Creek.

The Forest Service is conducting the burn as part of the Grandfather Restoration Project, a 10-year project designed to restore 40,000 acres of the Grandfather Ranger District. The project is restoring fire-adapted ecosystems by enhancing conditions for a variety of native plants and wildlife, controlling non-native species and protecting hemlocks against hemlock woolly adelgids.

The safety of the public and firefighters is the highest priority during a prescribed burn. The public is asked to heed signs posted at trailheads and roads and to stay away from burn areas and closed roads and trails.

 

Could Duke Energy’s coal ash be headed to a mine near you?

Posted by on Jan 18, 2015 @ 7:47 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A Duke Energy contractor is seeking permission from North Carolina regulators to move millions of tons of coal ash from existing dumpsites at the utility giant’s power plants and place it in abandoned clay mines in Lee and Chatham counties.

But should the plan win state approval over the objections of local governments, environmental advocates worry that it could lead to dumping of coal ash in scores of former clay mines across the state. The waste left over after burning coal to generate electricity, coal ash contains potentially dangerous levels of toxins including arsenic, lead, thallium, and radioactive elements.

The dumping permits are being sought by Charah Inc., a coal ash services company based in Louisville, Kentucky. The permit applications indicate the coal ash would be moved from Duke Energy sites in North and South Carolina.

The quest to move the coal ash comes in the wake of last year’s 39,000-ton spill into the Dan River from a retired Duke Energy coal-fired power plant in Rockingham County near the Virginia border. Most of the company’s current coal ash dumpsites are located along rivers and other waterways and are leaking pollution to both surface and groundwater supplies, creating an urgent need to find safer storage solutions.

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Ancient Trees: Portraits Of Time

Posted by on Jan 16, 2015 @ 2:15 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Beth Moon, a photographer based in San Francisco, has been searching for the world’s oldest trees for the past 14 years.

She has traveled all around the globe to capture the most magnificent trees that grow in remote locations and look as old as the world itself.

“Standing as the earth’s largest and oldest living monuments, I believe these symbolic trees will take on a greater significance, especially at a time when our focus is directed at finding better ways to live with the environment” writes Moon.

Sixty of Beth Moon’s duotone photos were published in a book titled “Ancient Trees: Portraits Of Time.”

Here you can have a sneak preview of the book, full of strangest and most magnificent trees ever.