Conservation & Environment

Why Artists are Heading to National Parks and Monuments

Posted by on Mar 31, 2018 @ 1:34 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Why Artists are Heading to National Parks and Monuments

When the sun rises at Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), it slowly peaks out from behind Eagle Cliff, casting a pink-orange morning glow onto the pine-flecked slopes of the Continental Divide. The William Allen White Cabin, once owned by the eponymous Pulitzer Prize–winning writer, has a front-row seat to the grandeur.

Inside, the scene is just as special: The newspaper editor’s rolltop desk and a few rocking chairs are arranged in front of a huge stone fireplace. It could all be yours—if you’re one of the lucky writers, musicians, photographers, or painters selected for RMNP’s artist-in-residence program when it returns from a yearlong hiatus (the cabin is currently undergoing renovations to make it even more spectacular) in 2019.

Given that the concept of artist residencies was born when renowned bronze sculptor Augusta St. Gardens retreated to rural New Hampshire in 1885 to sculpt in the serenity of nature, perhaps it’s not surprising that a host of artist-in-residence programs have sprung up at national parks and monuments. RMNP established the first in Colorado in 1984, and today, more than 50 residency programs—each with its own requirements, fees, and timelines­—exist in national parks across the country.

These programs offer artists the chance to get away from the outside world. And although the national park experiences might not financially rival the stipends that come with residencies at many museums and universities, the scenic inspiration is unparalleled.

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Pisgah Ranger District seeks public input on proposed recreation project

Posted by on Mar 31, 2018 @ 9:18 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Pisgah Ranger District seeks public input on proposed recreation project

The Pisgah National Forest will be holding an open house on Tuesday, April 10, 2018 from 5-7 p.m. at the Pisgah Ranger Station to discuss a proposed project to increase the sustainability of recreation.

“The project is not intended to address all possible improvements on the Pisgah Ranger District, but includes timely projects that consider the social, ecological, and economic elements of sustainable recreation,” said Dave Casey, District Ranger. “This includes construction of connector trails, re-routing trails, trail head modifications, change of authorized trail use, select roadside campsite closures, watershed improvements, road decommissioning, and heavy trail maintenance.”

The proposed changes to the trail system fit within the larger trail system goals below:

  • Reduce erosion and sedimentation associated with trails
  • Reduce trail user conflicts
  • Create beginner trail user and loop opportunities
  • Maintain clean/safe trails
  • Increase education about responsible trail use
  • Increase support of and recruitment of volunteers and partnerships

Public input will help to evaluate the proposed actions and identify potential issues. Comments for the project can be submitted by attending the open house on April 10 or by submitting them online here.

Comments can also be submitted by visiting the Pisgah Ranger Station from 9:00 am-4:30 pm or mailed to Pisgah Ranger District, USDA Forest Service, Attn: Jeff Owenby, 1600 Pisgah Highway, Pisgah Forest, NC. Comments will become part of the project record and may be released under the Freedom of Information Act.

To be most useful, please submit comments within the official 30-day scoping period which ends April 27.


Fire funding fix comes with environmental rollbacks

Posted by on Mar 30, 2018 @ 5:18 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Fire funding fix comes with environmental rollbacks

Congress accomplished something unprecedented last week: They passed a bipartisan solution to a knotty budget issue that has hobbled the U.S. Forest Service’s ability to do restoration and fire-prevention work in Western forests. The $1.3 trillion federal spending package included a long-sought funding fix for wildfire response. Starting in 2020, the Forest Service will be able to access over $2 billion a year outside of its regular fire suppression budget.

As recently as 1995, the Forest Service spent only 16 percent of its budget on fire. In 2017, though, wildfire suppression costs ate up more than half the agency’s budget, exceeding $2 billion. Because its fire budget rarely matched the true costs of increasingly explosive fire seasons, the agency was then forced to raid other programs to pay for firefighting. Such “fire borrowing” robbed funding from watershed restoration projects, invasive species programs and initiatives to reduce fire risk.

The fix in the spending bill should end, or at least greatly reduce, fire borrowing. But some conservation groups question whether the fix was worth the compromises included in the bill, which could undermine environmental protections for forests and wildlife. The bill includes two riders that concern them.

The first will allow logging projects less than 3,000 acres in size to move forward with little environmental review, so long as the goal of those projects is to reduce heavy fuel loads that increase fire risk.

A second provision could delay habitat protections for newly listed threatened and endangered species. It targets a 2015 ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which determined that the Forest Service is obligated to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when new species are listed to evaluate whether its management plans might harm the species.

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Stunning drops in solar, wind costs mean economic case for coal, gas is ‘crumbling’

Posted by on Mar 30, 2018 @ 6:32 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Stunning drops in solar, wind costs mean economic case for coal, gas is ‘crumbling’

Prices for solar, wind, and battery storage are dropping so rapidly that renewables are increasingly squeezing out all forms of fossil fuel power, including natural gas.

The cost of new solar plants dropped 20 percent over the past 12 months, while onshore wind prices dropped 12 percent, according to the latest Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report. Since 2010, the prices for lithium-ion batteries — crucial to energy storage — have plummeted a stunning 79 percent.

Solar and wind plants — which are increasingly being built with battery storage — are eating into the utilization of existing coal and gas plants, making them far less profitable. For instance, the super-efficient combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plants that have been popular in recent decades, were designed to be used at full power between 60 percent and 90 percent of the time. But their actual utilization rate (also called the “capacity factor”) has been plummeting in recent years, and is now close to a mere 20 percent.

Globally, coal, and especially gas, are in even tougher shape. That’s because most places in the world don’t have cheap natural gas from fracking like the United States does.

Also, the biggest new power markets are in developing countries, which don’t have as expansive of an electric grid, again making distributed renewables relatively more attractive. But those countries often have a lot of relatively inexpensive undeveloped land in very sunny places.

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Dam removal projects restore WNC waterways

Posted by on Mar 28, 2018 @ 1:49 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Nonprofits, community groups and government agencies throughout Western North Carolina are now working to remove a legacy of outdated dams. Although challenging, the process offers benefits for the wildlife, safety and recreation potential of the area’s waterways.

Ecology provides the primary impetus for most dam removal projects. At the most basic level, eliminating these barriers allows native species to reach previously inaccessible habitats. “We have the highest freshwater species diversity in the country right here in the southeastern U.S.,” says Jason Farmer, fisheries biologist for the Cheoah Ranger District of Nantahala National Forest. “We now manage our streams to give those species the greatest opportunity to persist and expand into other areas.”

Even when a species is already present both above and below a dam, removal can strengthen the health of the population through recombining genetically separate groups. Farmer says that this was the case for the hellbender salamander in Santeetlah Creek. When the Forest Service removed the dam, the two once-fragmented populations began mixing to mate. The additional diversity reduces inbreeding and improves the hellbender’s prospects in the area.

A small dam removal project can run anywhere from $15,000 to $150,000. About 75 percent of that total accounts for the actual dam demolition and stream restoration, while the remaining 25 percent covers the necessary design, engineering and permitting.

One of the largest expenses is the removal of the sediment that accumulates behind the dam over the course of its lifespan. Heavy equipment is usually necessary to dredge loads of muck from the streambed, and toxic waste disposal may be required for sediment associated with industrial dams. In especially vulnerable environments, endangered species surveys and relocation tack on further costs.

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UN reports see a lonelier planet with fewer plants, animals

Posted by on Mar 26, 2018 @ 12:08 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

UN reports see a lonelier planet with fewer plants, animals

Earth is losing plants, animals and clean water at a dramatic rate, according to four new United Nations scientific reports that provide the most comprehensive and localized look at the state of biodiversity.

Scientists meeting in Colombia issued four regional reports on how well animal and plants are doing in the Americas; Europe and Central Asia; Africa; and the Asia-Pacific area. Their conclusion after three years of study : Nowhere is doing well.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem was about more than just critters. It is about keeping Earth livable for humans, because we rely on biodiversity for food, clean water and public health.

What’s happening is a side effect of the world getting wealthier and more crowded with people. Humans need more food, more clean water, more energy and more land. And the way society has tried to achieve that has cut down on biodiversity. Man-made climate change is getting worse, and global warming will soon hurt biodiversity as much as all the other problems combined.

If current trends continue, by the year 2050 the Americas will have 15 percent fewer plants and animals than now. That means there will be 40 percent fewer plants and animals in the Americas than in the early 1700s. Nearly a quarter of the species that were fully measured are now threatened.

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So Many Cacti Are Getting Stolen From Arizona’s National Park, They’re Being Microchipped

Posted by on Mar 25, 2018 @ 10:04 am in Conservation | 0 comments

So Many Cacti Are Getting Stolen From Arizona’s National Park, They’re Being Microchipped

Visiting America’s national parks will forever change you. The remarkable beauty that these vast areas have to offer is almost impossible to truly describe — which is why people are often tempted to take a piece of the park home with them in the form of a plant, rock, or something more precious. But it should go without saying you should never, ever vandalize or steal from a national park.

Some people, it seems, didn’t get that memo. And it’s become such an issue that rangers at Saguaro National Park in Arizona have been forced to put microchips in some of the park’s famed Saguaros, a variety of cactus that is capable of growing more than 40 feet tall and can live upwards of 200 years.

“It’s ironic that we set aside great places like Saguaro National Park and people think that they can just come take the iconic cactus for which the park is named,” says Kevin Dahl, a program manager for the National Park Conservation Association in Arizona. Dahl added that stealing the plants has become a lucrative business as a Saguaro can be sold for as much as $100 per foot.

According to officials, a number of the cactus plants have been microchipped. However, they note that while the chips can identify a stolen plant, they cannot track them. But they are hopeful this new technique will deter thieves in the future.



Kolob Canyons at Zion to Close for Construction Projects

Posted by on Mar 24, 2018 @ 7:30 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Kolob Canyons at Zion to Close for Construction Projects

Access to portions of the Kolob Canyons District of Zion National Park will be restricted due to a construction project beginning May 1, 2018. The project involves reconstructing sections of the road, repaving the entire road, and adding accessible parking, sidewalk, and toilet facilities.

All of Kolob Canyons Road, the Visitor Center, and parking lot off of Interstate 15, will be closed to all traffic during the seven month project. The Taylor Creek Trail, the Timber Creek Overlook Trail, Lee Pass Trailhead and other areas served via the Kolob Canyons Road will not be available to the public.

Overnight permitted hikes will be drop off / pick up only, from April 15 through April 30, 2018. No vehicles or hiking will be permitted inside the closure beginning May 1, 2018.

Construction engineers and Park officials have determined that closing these areas during the project will be safest for visitors and workers, as well as expediting the work, so the area may open at the soonest possible date.

Visitors will be able to access the La Verkin Creek Trail and hike to the Kolob Arch via the Hop Valley Trail. Visitors may access the Hop Valley Trailhead from the Kolob Terrace Road. Overnight trips require a permit. There are many surrounding State Parks, Forest Service and public land scenic areas to consider as alternatives to Kolob Canyons during this closure.


Omnibus spending bill would increase funding for national parks and wildfire suppression

Posted by on Mar 23, 2018 @ 12:19 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Omnibus spending bill would increase funding for national parks and wildfire suppression

The spending bill passed by the House and Senate on March 22, 2018 would increase funding the National Park Service needs to address its nearly $12 billion maintenance and repair backlog.

Under the proposal the Park Service would receive a 9 percent increase to its budget. The measure includes about $160 million to make repairs that would help growing numbers of visitors do everything from navigate challenging trails to have better access to restrooms. It could allow expensive transportation projects to begin soon.

The proposed funding contrasts sharply with the 8 percent cut proposed by the Trump administration, which provided $99 million for repairs.

In addition to more funding for the Park Service, the bill would provide new funding to the U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department to fight wildfires.

It would keep the nearly $1.4 billion the agencies use while allowing them to draw from billions of dollars in new disaster-relief funding when wildfires morph into monsters such as two fires last year outside San Francisco and Los Angeles. In past fire seasons, the Forest Service was forced to borrow money from programs meant to prevent fires, manage forests and improve recreation to pay for more firefighters and equipment as fires grew larger and more plentiful.

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Smokies Park Recruits Trail Volunteers

Posted by on Mar 23, 2018 @ 9:08 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Smokies Park Recruits Trail Volunteers

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced several volunteer workdays beginning April 5 through April 28, 2018 along heavily-used trails and nature loops as the park prepares for the busy summer season. These opportunities are ideal for people interested in learning more about the park and the trails program through hands-on service alongside experienced park staff.

Volunteers will help clear limbs and debris that have fallen over the winter months along with helping repair eroded trail sections. Workdays will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. in North Carolina on April 5, April 7, and April 19 and in Tennessee on April 12, April 21, and April 28. Prior registration is required.

Please contact Trails and Facilities Volunteer Coordinator Adam Monroe at 828-497-1949 or for workday details and to register. Interested volunteers can also contact Monroe to learn about additional volunteer opportunities throughout the year including the ‘Adopt-a-Trail’ program and the Trails Forever ‘Working Wednesdays’ opportunities on Rainbow Falls Trail beginning April 25 through August 29. These opportunities are perfect for those with busy schedules who would like to volunteer once a month.

For the April trail workdays, volunteers must be able to safely hike while carrying tools up to 4 miles per day and be prepared to perform strenuous, manual labor. After receiving proper training, participants will be expected to safely use hand tools such as shovels, rakes, loppers, and hand picks. Minimum age of participants is 16. Those under 18 must be accompanied by a responsible parent or guardian.

Volunteers will need to wear boots or sturdy closed toed shoes, long pants and appropriate layers for cold and inclement weather. Volunteers should bring a day pack with food, water, rain gear and any other personal gear for the day. The park will provide instruction, necessary safety gear, and tools for the day.

For more information about the volunteering in the park, please visit the park website at


Hurricane Harvey’s toxic impact deeper than public told

Posted by on Mar 22, 2018 @ 7:22 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Hurricane Harvey’s toxic impact deeper than public told

More than a half-year after Hurricane Harvey flooded America’s largest corridor of energy and petrochemical plants, records show the storm’s environmental assault was more widespread and severe than authorities publicly acknowledged.

Piecing together county, state and federal records, The Associated Press and Houston Chronicle catalogued more than 100 Harvey-related toxic releases — on land, in water and air — in metropolitan Houston, America’s fourth-largest city.

Most were never publicized. Only a few were investigated by federal regulators [The EPA and state officials took 1,800 soil samples after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Scott Pruitt’s EPA: post-Harvey, soil and water sampling has been limited to 17 Superfund sites and some undisclosed industrial sites.]. State officials say they have investigated 89 incidents but have announced no enforcement actions.

Some 500 chemical plants, 10 refineries and more than 6,670 miles of intertwined oil, gas and chemical pipelines line the corridor. Nearly half a billion gallons of industrial wastewater mixed with storm water surged out of just one of these chemical plants.

The storm compromised chemical plants, refineries, and pipelines along Houston’s petrochemical corridor, bringing contaminated water, dirt, and air to surrounding neighborhoods. Carcinogens like benzene, vinyl chloride, and butadiene were released. In all but two cases, regulators did not inform the public of the spills or the risks they faced from exposure. Many affected plants are repeat environmental offenders.

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National Park Service warned lease sale could harm national monument in Utah

Posted by on Mar 21, 2018 @ 6:54 am in Conservation | 0 comments

National Park Service warned lease sale could harm national monument in Utah

The Bureau of Land Management disregarded a request by the National Park Service that it hold off leasing 17,000 acres of public land in Utah because of concerns that drilling there could harm Hovenweep National Monument’s views and air, groundwater and sound quality.

All 13 parcels were sold online as part of a broader sale, with the lease prices ranging from $3 to roughly $91 an acre.

According to an Oct. 23, 2017 letter, the Park Service outlined concerns about future oil and gas drilling activities on not just Hovenweep, but also three other sites under its jurisdiction in southern Utah: Arches and Canyonlands national parks and Natural Bridges National Monument.

The parcels in the southeast part of the state also lie near Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, although that is across the border in Colorado.

“The visiting public expects high-quality experiences across federal land, and we are concerned that continuing to offer parcels for oil and gas exploration and development in proximity to our parks will be detrimental to those experiences,” wrote Kate Cannon, superintendent of the Park Service’s Southeast Utah Group.

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Graphene is the most conductive material on earth; it could charge a cell phone in just five seconds.

Posted by on Mar 20, 2018 @ 6:40 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Graphene is the most conductive material on earth; it could charge a cell phone in just five seconds.

Measuring one million times less than the width of a human hair, graphene is harder than diamonds and 200 times stronger than steel. Small, strong, and flexible, it is the most conductive material on earth and has the potential to charge a cell phone in just five seconds or to upload a terabit of data in one. It can be used to filter salt from water, develop bullet-stopping body armor, and create biomicrorobots.

These incredible properties have captured the attention of scientists and industry specialists around the world, all seeking to harness graphene’s potential for applications in electronics, energy, composites and coatings, biomedicine, and other industries.

Derived from graphite, the same graphite used in pencils and many other common use products, graphene is, as you would expect, one of the most expensive materials on the planet. This is because the process of chemically peeling off, or exfoliating, a single layer of graphene from graphite ore is cost-prohibitive on an industrial scale.

However, US Forest Service Scientist Dr. Zhiyong Cai and his research team have developed a more cost-effective way to produce graphene from lignin rather than graphite. Considered a low-value byproduct of the paper making industry, lignin makes the cell walls of plants rigid and woody but is also an abundant source of renewable carbon.

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Former Senator’s Wyoming Ranch Purchased for National Forest

Posted by on Mar 19, 2018 @ 12:10 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Former Senator’s Wyoming Ranch Purchased for National Forest

The Bridger-Teton National Forest has acquired a sprawling former ranch that had been the largest remaining private inholding along the Upper Gros Ventre River valley in northwest Wyoming.

The $3 million purchase of the 990-acre property roughly 30 miles east of Jackson was recently announced by the U.S. Forest Service and The Trust For Public Land.

The land had been donated to the trust in 2014 by former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, a four-term lawmaker and businessman turned philanthropist from Wisconsin. It includes more than 2.5 miles of frontage along the Gros Ventre River and six tributaries.

Bridger-Teton Forest Supervisor Tricia O’Connor said the purchase would protect backcountry areas from future development and allow for their use by the general public.

Money for the deal came from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and represents the largest land conveyance to the Bridger-Teton in years.

“It’s been a once-in-a-career type of project, to be able to work with folks like Herb Kohl on such a high-quality property like that,” said Chris Deming, the Trust for Public Land senior project manager. “It really is the largest and most pristine inholding in the Upper Gros Ventre.”

The $3 million is being put into a “land-action fund” that will support protection of open space in Jackson and beyond, with priority going to projects in the Gros Ventre valley.



Easter Island Is Eroding

Posted by on Mar 16, 2018 @ 6:41 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Easter Island Is Eroding

The human bones lay baking in the sun. It wasn’t the first time Hetereki Huke had stumbled upon an open grave like this one.

For years, the swelling waves had broken open platform after platform containing ancient remains. Inside the tombs were old obsidian spearheads, pieces of cremated bone and, sometimes, parts of the haunting statues that have made this island famous.

Centuries ago, Easter Island’s civilization collapsed, but the statues left behind here are a reminder of how powerful it must have been. And now, many of the remains of that civilization may be erased, the United Nations warns, by the rising sea levels rapidly eroding Easter Island’s coasts.

Many of the moai statues and nearly all of the ahu, the platforms that in many cases also serve as tombs for the dead, ring the island. With some climate models predicting that sea levels will rise by five to six feet by 2100, residents and scientists fear that storms and waves now pose a threat like never before.

Similar fates are faced by islanders throughout the Pacific Ocean and along its margins, in places like the tiny Marshall Islands that are disappearing under the sea and the sinking megacity of Jakarta, where streets become rivers after storms hit. Kiribati, a republic of coral atolls north of Fiji, may be uninhabitable in a generation. Their residents may become refugees.

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Lack of snowpack leaves the West hung out to dry

Posted by on Mar 15, 2018 @ 7:09 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Lack of snowpack leaves the West hung out to dry

The lack of snow across the West this winter points to a parched summer ahead.

In California, Colorado, and across the Southwest, the snowfall has ranked among the lowest on record. The last four months have also been among the warmest throughout most of the region. Parts of eight states are already under “extreme” drought conditions.

Snowy, chilly winters are critical when it comes to recharging the West’s mountain snowpack, the source of water for rivers and reservoirs during the increasingly long and hot summer days. Less snow in the mountains, in other words, means less water for everybody living below.

Some 40 million people in seven states depend on water from the Colorado River, and at this point, spring storms across the river’s wide drainage area would need to produce snow at more than 300 percent of the typical rate just to get back to normal for the season.

In the river’s main storage spot, Lake Mead just south of Las Vegas, Nevada, water levels are on track to fall so low that they would trigger the first-ever official shortfall late next year, according to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Water rationing would be the next step.

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At Bears Ears, Trump and Zinke ignored everyone but industry

Posted by on Mar 14, 2018 @ 7:09 am in Conservation | 0 comments

At Bears Ears, Trump and Zinke ignored everyone but industry

In April 2017, Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said of former President Barack Obama and the newly designated Bears Ears National Monument: “In making this unilateral decision, our former president either failed to heed the concerns of San Juan County residents, or ignored them completely.”

If Hatch were an honest man, he would say exactly the same about President Donald Trump’s drastic shrinkage of the monument late last year. Documents recently released by the Department of Interior show that when drawing the new boundaries, Trump and his Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, ignored not only the pleas of five Native American tribal nations, but also proposals from local county commissioners and the state of Utah.

That’s just one of the takeaways from a trove of documents regarding the Trump administration’s multi-monument review that the Interior Department coughed up to the New York Times.

During his review last year, Zinke specifically asked for information on mineral extraction potential within the monuments. Uranium mining has long been dormant in the Bears Ears monument due to low prices, and only three of the 250 oil and gas wells drilled within the monument have yielded significant quantities of oil or gas. Nevertheless, industry has nominated some 63,657 acres within the national monument for oil and gas leases since 2014. With the new boundaries drawn to exclude even areas with only marginal potential for oil, gas or uranium, those leases could now go forward.

Here are eight nuggets gleaned so far from the tens of thousands of documents…