Conservation & Environment

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.

 

Turns out the U.S. oil boom was just a fairy tale

Posted by on Jan 15, 2015 @ 5:07 am in Conservation | 0 comments

With one quick drop in the price of oil, the shale oil boom is officially bust. In less than a week, 61 oil rigs across the United States closed up shop, according to the most recent rig count from Baker Hughes. The U.S. has 1,750 oil rigs still pumping, but that number is expected to fall by another 400 rigs by the time spring rolls around.

The whole episode is a wake-up call about just how much of a fairy tale North America’s oil boom really was. It was a fairy tale with real drills, sure — and since it was exempt from the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, it will continue to have real consequences for the people living near it. But when it costs Saudi Arabia $10 to get a barrel of oil and it costs shale oil operations around $65 to make that same barrel, it should have been obvious that America was only a titan of oil production because another country was letting us be.

The U.S. got the excitement of overtaking Saudi Arabia and becoming the biggest producer of oil in the world for a few months this summer. Then Saudi Arabia did what it always had the power to do and raised its oil output so that prices fell.

“Those who are producing the most expensive oil — the rationale and the rules of the market say that they should be the first to pull or reduce their production,” Suhail Al Mazrouei, oil minister for the United Arab Emirates, told reporters recently, sounding more than a little like an Econ 101 professor. “If the price is right for them to produce, then fine, let them produce.”

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Obama is cracking down on another climate villain: Methane

Posted by on Jan 15, 2015 @ 3:54 am in Conservation | 0 comments

This morning the White House announced a new plan to crack down on the oil and gas industry’s emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The move is the last major piece of President Obama’s domestic climate agenda, following in the footsteps of tougher standards for vehicle emissions and a sweeping plan to curb carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

Like the power plant plan, the methane standards will rely on the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate pollution under the Clean Air Act. The new rules will regulate the amount of methane that oil and gas producers are allow vent or leak from their wells, pipelines, and other equipment. Ultimately, according to the White House, the rules will slash methane emissions 40 to 45 percent by 2025. The proposal announced today is intended to be finalized before Obama leaves office, but it’s certain to take a battering along the way from congressional Republicans and fossil fuel interest groups.

Methane makes up a much smaller slice of America’s greenhouse gas footprint than carbon dioxide — the volume of methane released in a year is roughly 10 times smaller than the volume of CO2 — so the proposal might seem like small potatoes. But it’s actually a pretty huge deal, for a few reasons.

Here they are…

 

Senate to vote on whether climate change is happening

Posted by on Jan 14, 2015 @ 6:51 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said this week he will allow the Senate to vote on an amendment asking if they agree that climate change is impacting the planet. At his weekly press briefing, McConnell said “nobody is blocking any amendments” to legislation that would approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The GOP leader had promised to allow an open amendment process on the Keystone bill.

But a measure proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) had raised questions about whether he would stick to that commitment. The Sanders measure asks whether lawmakers agree with the overwhelming consensus of scientists who say climate change is impacting the planet and is worsened by human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Democrats believe the measure could be a tough vote for some Republicans, particularly GOP senators running for reelection in 2016 in states carried by President Obama in 2012. Sanders’s amendment is one of many Democrats are looking to tack on to the controversial bill, which Republicans are eager to send to President Obama’s desk. Other amendments from Democrats include a requirement for oil companies to pay into a spill cleanup fund, and to block exports of the oil shipped via the Canada-to-Texas pipeline out of the U.S.

Plenty of things that seem real might not be real, and vice versa. After all, the most important part of fighting existential threats is determining if they are real, preferably by simple majority. “Evidence” means jack until you put it to a vote.

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World Heritage Sites in the United States

Posted by on Jan 14, 2015 @ 1:11 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

World Heritage Sites in the United States

The United States is proud to preserve and protect its World Heritage Sites. There are a relatively small number of places on Earth that have been formally determined by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee to possess “outstanding universal value” to humanity for their exceptional cultural and natural significance. They have accordingly been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and are truly part of our shared heritage. This itinerary offers a glimpse of why they have been identified as having such universal significance and helps travelers discover these very special destinations.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is part of a new online travel itinerary from the National Park Service that highlights the 22 World Heritage Sites in the United States. The listings, which include such diverse areas as Yellowstone National Park, Independence Hall in Philadelphia and San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico, feature background information on these sites’ significance and interesting facts about them.

The World Heritage Sites in the United States Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary was produced by the National Park Service’s Heritage Education Services and the National Park Service’s Office of International Affairs in partnership with the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers.

 

New Analysis Shows West Virginia’s Chemical Spill Traveled Into Kentucky

Posted by on Jan 12, 2015 @ 4:45 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The chemical that contaminated West Virginia’s drinking water supply last year traveled father and lingered longer than had been previously recorded, according to a new study by U.S. Geological Survey researchers.

Published online in the journal Chemosphere, the peer-reviewed research shows that the chemical — 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol, also known as crude MCHM — was present at very low concentrations in Charleston, West Virginia’s tap water more than six weeks after the spill began on Jan. 9, 2014. The official tap water ban in Charleston was lifted five days later, with the Center for Disease Control saying concentrations of MCHM had reached an “appropriate” level of below 50 parts per billion. By Feb. 25, the researchers said Charleston’s tap water still measured crude MCHM concentration of 1 part per billion.

The researchers also say they detected crude MCHM in the Ohio River at Louisville, Kentucky, meaning the chemical traveled at least 390 miles downriver from the spill. Though prominent spill researchers have long speculated that the chemical traveled across state lines, the study’s leader author said that his represented, “as far as I know of, the first, reported, published-in-a-journal documentation of [crude MCHM] found there in the Louisville area.”

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