Conservation & Environment

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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The Cost of Clean Coal

Posted by on Mar 5, 2015 @ 9:16 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A Mississippi power plant promises to create clean energy from our dirtiest fuel. But it will come at a price.

On December 14, 2006, Barbara Correro was at home drinking tea, reading the paper. She had spent the past five years and most of her savings on a long-cherished retirement dream: a small mobile home on 24 acres of pine and hardwood forest, a large organic garden, and a pack of friendly dogs in rural Kemper County, Miss.

The acres once belonged to her grandmother, who kept cows and chickens, sold the hand-churned butter and eggs, and grew a bale of cotton every year to pay the taxes on the land. “It was hard work, and she was a good woman,” says Correro, a former oncology nurse with bright, quizzical blue eyes, a shock of white hair, and an unflinching voice.

By 2006, she’d built 27 raised beds, and was thinking about apple trees. And then, there it was, on the front page of the Kemper County Messenger: “Gasification plant would be ‘world’s largest’: Coal mine could be in future.”

Mississippi Power, the largest utility in the state and a subsidiary of Southern Company, one of the largest electricity producers in the country, had announced its intentions to build a $1.8 billion power plant fueled by Mississippi lignite coal, dug out of the ground right next to Correro’s homestead. By converting coal into synthetic gas, the plant would be much safer and cleaner than traditional coal-burning power plants. It would also (although this came out later) be designed to capture 65 percent of its carbon emissions.

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The Forest Health Advisory System

Posted by on Mar 5, 2015 @ 9:03 am in Conservation | 0 comments

As our nation’s forests grow older and denser they are at greater risk of attack by pests, which can devastate some of more cherished national wildlands. Healthy forests not only provide a beautiful setting for our outdoor activities, they are at lower risk for catastrophic wild fires, and are more resilient to changes in climate and to insect and disease attack.

To address myriad issues facing our nation’s aging landscapes, the U.S. Forest Service Forest Health Protection division recently developed the Forest Health Advisory System, a web-based application that highlights potential future activities of more than 40 major forest pests and pathogens across 1.2 billion acres of U.S. forest land.

Through a simple web interface on the front page of the web application, a user can create an advisory to explore a place of interest –national forest, national park, U.S. Fish and Wildlife unit, or tribal land.

The advisory includes background information on the survey status of the land, information about the most prevalent pests, potential risks and threats, layered maps showing potential loss of trees due to pests, and possible management strategies in relation to specific threats.

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Volunteers sought to adopt tree plot

Posted by on Mar 4, 2015 @ 6:28 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Smokies rangers are looking for tree-lovers who want to try their hand at science to adopt a tree monitoring plot on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

A training session will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, March 7, at Oconaluftee Visitor Center just north of Cherokee.

Volunteers will take data throughout the growing season to help researchers answer questions like “was spring early this year?” or “when will the fall colors peak?”

Volunteers will collect data on their assigned plots multiple times throughout the growing season.

Plots up for adoption are located near parking areas in the Deep Creek, Fontana, Oconaluftee, Purchase Knob, Cataloochee, Clingmans Dome, Newfound Gap and Davenport Gap areas of the park.

RSVP to Leah Nagel, 828.497.1945 or


Parks Looking For Youth Conservation Corps Applicants

Posted by on Mar 3, 2015 @ 8:39 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Parks Looking For Youth Conservation Corps Applicants

High school students interested in spending their 2015 summer in a national park and gaining valuable skills have at least three parks to consider for jobs with the Youth Conservation Corps. Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, and Joshua Tree National Park in California all are seeking applications for their YCC programs.

At Shenandoah, YCC enrollees work to maintain park trails, roads, buildings and campgrounds while learning about the national parks. This year’s 8-week YCC program begins Monday, June 15, and runs through Friday, August 7. Applicants for YCC crew member positions must be between the ages of 16 and 18 during the employment period. YCC enrollees work 40 hours per week and earn minimum wage. Additional program information and the current application can be obtained online from the park’s website.

At Grand Teton, officials hope to enroll 15-25 short-term positions during this recruitment period, which ends March 20. The 2015 YCP program will span ten weeks from June 15 through August 21. Participants must be at least 16 years of age by June 15, and live locally as housing is not provided. Visit the park’s website for more information.

At Joshua Tree, there will be an eight-week-long YCC program that starts June 15. Youths between the ages of 15 and 18 are encouraged to apply. To be eligible, applicants may not reach their 19th birthday during the program. Selected applicants will earn the hourly California Minimum Wage. Work hours are Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., with every other Friday off. Application forms are available from Joshua Tree National Park Headquarters in Twentynine Palms. The application form must be returned or postmarked, no later than April 11.

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A Documentary About China’s Smog Is Going Viral, And It’s Not Being Censored

Posted by on Mar 3, 2015 @ 8:20 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Over the weekend in China, 175 million people — more than the entire population of Bangladesh — watched a newly released in-depth and well-produced documentary about the country’s debilitating smog problem. Produced by former Chinese news anchor and environmental reporter, Chai Jing, the 104-minute “Under the Dome” has caught the Chinese public at a moment of intense focus on the wide-ranging impacts of air pollution from coal-fired power plants and vehicle emissions.

In a country known for spiking any media that paints the government in a bad light, the documentary has not been firewalled. China’s new environment minister, Chen Jining, even praised it on Sunday, saying it reflected “growing public concern over environmental protection and threats to human health.” He also compared it to the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which is often credited with inciting the environmental movement in the U.S., especially when it comes to the use of pesticides.

China has 1.35 billion residents, and some 600 million of them are being affected by the pollution according to “Under the Dome.” A recent analysis by the Health Effects Institute estimated that the country’s smog was responsible for some 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010 alone.

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More Than Just Parks | Joshua Tree

Posted by on Mar 2, 2015 @ 8:45 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Jim and Will Pattiz are media professionals who have a passion for our national parks. Their More than Just Parks plan is to create short films for each of the 59 US National Parks to give people a completely unique viewing experience. They hope that this will encourage folks to get out there and have a one-of-a-kind experience of their own in our national parks. It is also their hope that these videos can help build a greater awareness for all of the breathtaking natural wonders protected by our national parks system.

MTJP | Joshua Tree is the culmination of more than two weeks spent exploring Joshua Tree National Park. They chose Joshua Tree as their 3rd in the series because of its unique landscape. Its immense boulder piles, colorful cactus fields, endless desert expanses, and unique Joshua trees make for a spectacular setting.


“Unnatural” Deaths in Yellowstone National Park – And How to Avoid Them

Posted by on Mar 2, 2015 @ 4:59 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Back in the early ‘90s, then Yellowstone National Park museum technician Lee Whittlesey had the killer idea to compile all the “unnatural” deaths—that is, those not caused by run-of-the-mill car accidents or heart attacks—that have occurred in Yellowstone through the years.

There were enough to fill a book, and so Whittlesey’s fascinating Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park hit shelves in 1995.

In 2014, Whittlesey released the second edition of the book, updated with more than 60 new tales of demise. Whittlesey, now the park historian, was interviewed discussing true threats, stupid visitors, and what just might be the scariest fate of all at Yellowstone.

Yellowstone is not Disneyland.

Read the interview…


Forty Years of Solitude

Posted by on Mar 1, 2015 @ 10:53 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Steven Fuller is Yellowstone’s longest-serving winterkeeper. He might also be the park’s last. His photography portfolio will, however, remain a monument to one of the world’s most unique jobs and also to Yellowstone itself.

“Most snow in our contemporary world is plowed, piled, fouled, and messed with as it falls or soon thereafter,” Fuller says. “Here in Yellowstone, I have the great pleasure of enjoying snow as the gods made it and as they intended that we should marvel at the perfection of their creation.”

In Steven Fuller’s neighborhood, there are a few sacred, unspoken rules his guests are expected to abide by: 1) Don’t deface the landscape, especially when it glitters with a patina of pure virgin snow. Carving artless ski tracks through its middle is almost considered an act of vandalism. 2) Don’t intrude into the space of other animals. 3) Listen more than you speak. 4)Bundle up and wear plenty of layers because even in an age of global warming, it still gets damn cold. Your host, after all, has little tolerance for frostbitten wimps.

Fuller sets these rules because he has a deeply evolved understanding of and appreciation for his habitat: the remote hinters of Yellowstone National Park. The front stoop of his pine-shingled cottage overlooks the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. His wild neighbors, which vastly outnumber those on two legs, include elk, moose, bison, and grizzly. Winter temperatures often dip well below zero, and upwards of ten feet of snow can bury his front yard, crisscrossed by hoof and paw prints.

As far as anyone knows, no human has lived continuously and year-round in Yellowstone longer than Fuller. That includes, some historians say, Native Americans. This is Fuller’s fortieth consecutive season as a winterkeeper, a job—an existence—that is hermetic, to put it mildly.

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Jerk Street Artist Defaced Joshua Tree National Park

Posted by on Mar 1, 2015 @ 8:54 am in Conservation | 2 comments

After Casey Nocket traveled throughout the West to deface several national parks last year, a notable European street artist has been caught tagging Joshua Tree National Park.

André Saraiva, better known as just André, posted a photo to his Instagram account showing him having tagged a boulder with the ‘eyes’ of his trademark “Mr A” stick figure character. His photos revealed he was enjoying a trip in the park.

On Instagram, André replied, “This mr was made with love at friends privet back yard and not in your national park! [sic]” However, a thorough investigation revealed that the rock indeed was inside Joshua Tree, near the trailhead of the Contact Mine—confirmed by a reader in the area who took a photo and posted it on Facebook.

André locked his Instagram account and deleted the photo shortly after being called out, but it has been saved for posterity on another account.

Sadly, André is not the only person who has left their own mark on Joshua Tree. We are a graffiti-heavy park, unfortunately,” Jay Theuer told The Desert Sun. As the lead archeologist and cultural resource branch chief of Joshua Tree NP, he’s spent time and resources scrubbing the park of graffiti. “Once damage is done, it can’t always be reversed,” he added.

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New Browns Canyon National Monument Highlights Recreational, Ecological and Historical Importance

Posted by on Feb 27, 2015 @ 9:00 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Our National Forests contain countless special areas – landscapes with awesome vistas, habitat for key wildlife species, areas with boundless recreation opportunities, and grounds that hold important historic artifacts. Last week, President Obama recognized a part of our National Forest System that has all of these attributes and more when he designated Browns Canyon National Monument in Colorado.

Situated two and a half hours southwest of Denver, in the Arkansas River Valley, Browns Canyon is perhaps best known for its whitewater rafting and fly fishing opportunities. The landscape, however, holds so much more. Leaving the canyon’s class III-IV whitewater and hiking east, you pick your way through a dry pinon-juniper forest and maze of colorful rock outcroppings. As you climb higher, moving through Bureau of Land Management lands and onto the Pike-San Isabel National Forest, the rocky terrain gives way to ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests, scattered with stands of aspen.

With little visitation outside of the river corridor, wildlife viewing opportunities abound. The area provides habitat for bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk, mountain lions, bobcats, black bears, coyotes, red and gray foxes, and pine martens. Golden eagles, bald eagles, hawks, and countless other birds frequent the canyon. The area also hides evidence of historic peoples that used the area over 10,000 years ago.

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The Siberian crater saga is more widespread — and scarier — than anyone thought

Posted by on Feb 26, 2015 @ 11:39 am in Conservation | 0 comments

In the middle of last summer came news of a bizarre occurrence no one could explain. Seemingly out of nowhere, a massive crater appeared in one of the planet’s most inhospitable lands. Early estimates said the crater, nestled in a land called “the ends of the Earth” where temperatures can sink far below zero, yawned nearly 100 feet in diameter.

The saga deepened. The Siberian crater wasn’t alone. There were two more, ratcheting up the tension in a drama that hit its climax as a probable explanation surfaced. Global warming had thawed the permafrost, which had caused methane trapped inside the icy ground to explode. “Gas pressure increased until it was high enough to push away the overlaying layers in a powerful injection, forming the crater,” one German scientist said at the time.

Now, however, researchers fear there are more craters than anyone knew — and the repercussions could be huge. Russian scientists have now spotted a total of seven craters, five of which are in the Yamal Peninsula. Two of those holes have since turned into lakes. And one giant crater is rimmed by a ring of at least 20 mini-craters.

One potential disaster relates to the explosions themselves. No one has been hurt in any of the blasts, but given the size of some of the craters, it’s fair to say the methane bursts are huge. Researchers are nervous about even studying them.

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Duke Energy pays for dodging coal ash problems

Posted by on Feb 26, 2015 @ 11:23 am in Conservation | 0 comments

After Duke Energy reached a plea agreement over its mishandling of coal ash that spilled into the Dan River, Duke CEO Lynn Good said in a statement, “We are accountable for what happened at Dan River and have learned from this event.”

What Duke Energy has learned is that it’s expensive to be cheap. The giant utility put off the cost of properly storing the millions of tons of coal ash its coal-burning plants produce. The result was regular leakage at most of Duke Energy’s storage sites at 14 power plants in North Carolina and a pipe break at one site that spilled an estimated 39,000 tons of toxic coal ash into the Dan River.

Now Duke hopes to resolve a federal criminal investigation into violations of the Clean Water Act by pleading guilty to nine misdemeanor violations and agreeing to pay $68.2 million in fines and restitution and $34 million for community service and mitigation. On top of those costs, the utility also expects to spend $1.3 billion to excavate and close five coal ash storage sites in North Carolina and South Carolina.

If money talks, Duke Energy has gotten a heck of a lecture about its environmental misbehavior.

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National Park Service Map Shows The Loudest, Quietest Places In the U.S.

Posted by on Feb 25, 2015 @ 8:56 am in Conservation | 0 comments

There’s a new map created by the National Park Service’s (NPS) Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division that shows where the country’s loudest—and quietest—places are located. Not surprisingly, the loudest spots are clustered around cities, while the quietest are relatively wild–but the map also shows that even some rural locations have fallen victim to sound pollution.

The map represents 1.5 million hours of sound data from 546 park sites around the country. After recording sound levels at the sites using sound meter gauges, the NPS scientists used computer modeling to extend their findings across the entire country. The quietest places on the map, like Yellowstone Park in Wyoming, have a background noise level of less than 20 decibels—a noise level similar to that of the areas before European colonization. Urban areas, represented on the map in yellow, have background noise levels much higher—sometimes upwards of 60 decibels.

Sound pollution does more than disrupt a hiker’s sense of solitude in National Parks—it can alter the Park’s wildlife. According to CityLab, certain species have been shown to avoid noisy places, and sound pollution can disrupt certain animals’ mating cycles. But sound and light pollution don’t have to permanently alter the U.S.’s wildest areas. “Unlike many other forms of environmental degradation,” Fristrup told CBS News, “sound and light offer opportunities for rapid improvement.”

See the map…


Leaving Only Footsteps? Think Again

Posted by on Feb 23, 2015 @ 9:29 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Over the last five winters, scientists have been trapping and fitting GPS collars to wolverines in Idaho and Wyoming while also affixing them to snowmobilers and backcountry skiers. Then they’ve tracked the movements. Preliminary findings show that wolverines move faster and more often on weekends when people are playing in their mountain habitat. That may mean trouble for these animals during the brutal winters of the high Rockies, where every calorie counts.

When we think of injuring nature, it is easy to point an accusing finger at mining companies and their strip mines or timber barons and their clear-cuts. But could something as mellow as backcountry skiing or a Thoreauvian walk in the woods cause harm, too?

More and more studies over the last 15 years have found that when we visit the great outdoors, we have much more of an effect than we realize. Even seemingly low-impact activities like hiking, cross-country skiing and bird-watching often affect wildlife, from bighorn sheep to wolves, birds, amphibians and tiny invertebrates, and in subtle ways.

Impacts from outdoor recreation and tourism are the fourth-leading reason that species are listed by the federal government as threatened or endangered, behind threats from nonnative species, urban growth and agriculture.

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