Conservation & Environment

A new way to travel across the United States

Posted by on Dec 16, 2020 @ 6:30 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A new way to travel across the United States

The Great American Rail-Trail is the most ambitious biking initiative the country has ever seen. Stretching an extraordinary 3,700 miles from the nation’s capital across 12 states to the Pacific Ocean, west of Seattle, it’s an idea that’s been ruminating for 50 years.

The Rail-Trail will connect more than 125 existing multi-use paths, greenways, trails and towpaths. An official route was announced to the public in May 2019 by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), the Washington DC-based non-profit leading the effort, when the trail was already more than half completed.

“Determining the route was a 30-year journey,” said Brandi Horton, vice-president of communications at the RTC.

The trail is largely built atop or next to abandoned railway lines (hence the name) with surfaces ranging from crushed stone to smooth asphalt. These railbanks – abandoned railway corridors converted into trails – account for more than 24,000 miles of multi-use trails crisscrossing the US.

Once it is fully completed – estimated to be before 2040 – almost one in six Americans will live within 50 miles of the route, and it will offer an unparalleled experience of the country people can’t see from 36,000ft or through a car window.

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New access proposed for Graveyard Fields

Posted by on Dec 14, 2020 @ 6:33 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

New access proposed for Graveyard Fields

Major changes may be coming to to Graveyard Fields. A project is now open for public comment.

The National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service are partnering on this effort to improve access at the often-crowded trail system on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Haywood County.

Under the proposal, the nearby John Rock Overlook would be used as an additional access point for Graveyard Fields with a pedestrian crossing over the Parkway. The crossing would be planned with safety as a priority, connecting the overlook to a short, new trail constructed on Park Service lands that lead to Forest Service lands. The additional access at the overlook aims to better distribute use of the area and thereby improve visitor safety.

The proposed trail project is just one piece of the larger Graveyard Fields project, which is divided into four categories of work: heavy trail maintenance, trail relocation and construction, stream restoration and red spruce restoration.

For more information and to provide comments, visit www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=55665. The comment period is open through Dec. 21. Comments may also be mailed to: Pisgah Ranger District, USDA Forest Service, Attn: Jeff Owenby, 1600 Pisgah Highway, Pisgah Forest, NC 28768. Comments will become part of the project record and may be released under the Freedom of Information Act.

To learn about the U.S. Forest Service Graveyard Fields project connection with Blue Ridge Parkway lands, visit https://parkplanning.nps.gov/projectHome.cfm?projectId=98550.

 

As pandemic worsens, NPS faces growing load of infections

Posted by on Dec 13, 2020 @ 6:25 am in Conservation | 0 comments

As pandemic worsens, NPS faces growing load of infections

At the National Mall in Washington, at least four National Park Service employees have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days as the pandemic hit its highest level yet in the nation’s capital.

At Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, officials said they’ve had 28 confirmed cases within the park.

And in California, parks this week once again started closing campgrounds and other facilities in response to restrictions imposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

With the pandemic worsening, NPS is under growing pressure to step up its protections for employees as its caseload grows.

NPS officials have declined to disclose the specific number of cases, citing the privacy of employees, but a public health official told the NPS advisory board in September that about 150 staffers had tested positive since March.

The park service has declined to provide an updated number.

More employees have tested positive this year as most parks have remained open during the pandemic, complying with orders from both President Trump and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

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New park coming to Henderson County, NC

Posted by on Dec 12, 2020 @ 8:08 am in Conservation | 0 comments

New park coming to Henderson County, NC

Frank “Chief” Bell, Sr. was the founder of Camp Mondamin in Tuexedo, NC, one of the very first summer camps in Western North Carolina. Still managed by the Bell family, the camp is entering its 100th anniversary year in 2021. Not only did Camp Mondamin help four generations of children find their place in the natural world, it opened the way for the numerous summer camps in the region that connect kids with nature, strengthen our local economies, and keep land in a natural state.

Frank Bell was an intrepid adventurer who is the first person known to have paddled the famous Green River Narrows. He is remembered to this day by whitewater paddlers who go over “Frank Bell’s Rapid” on the French Broad River. This is where Bell and some campers braved the raging water and, in the process, destroyed their canoe.

The Bells founded Camp Mondamin for boys in 1921 and Camp Green Cove for girls in 1945. Over the years, they also led campers on far-flung adventures, including a canoe trip from Western North Carolina to the Mississippi.

Conserving Carolina is so close to opening a new county park in southern Henderson County. Named in honor of summer camp pioneers Frank and Calla Bell, the new park comprises approximately 70 acres with beautiful waterfalls and rock outcrops. Just as the Bells introduced generations of children to the wonders of nature, this new park creates a place for us all to connect with the natural world.

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‘It’s everywhere’: Graffiti vandals at Zion National Park harm protected land

Posted by on Dec 10, 2020 @ 6:36 am in Conservation | 0 comments

‘It’s everywhere’: Graffiti vandals at Zion National Park harm protected land

As visitation at Zion National Park reaches record highs, park officials are asking for the public’s help as they grapple with a rising challenge: unprecedented levels of graffiti along the protected sanctuary’s most popular trails.

“We take this very seriously, and it’s becoming a huge problem for us,” chief ranger Daniel Fagergren says. “It’s everywhere.”

He says nearly every day at Zion, staff are finding words and shapes painted and drawn with mud, dirt, or pigment or even scratched on rocks or carved within moss. The vandalism has been found along the vast majority of hikes located in Zion Canyon, including The Narrows, Angels Landing, West Rim Trail, Emerald Pools Trails, and Kayenta Trail, and has been increasing since park officials first brought attention to the growing concern back in September.

According to Fagergren, the graffiti issues are twofold and both related to the coronavirus pandemic.

One reason behind the problem may be that thousands of first-time visitors from across the nation have flooded the park, including residents of major cities under strict restrictions, some of whom may not appreciate or understand the ethics of preserving and protecting public lands. He says September and October were both record-setting months for visitation. October saw a 30% increase in visitors compared to October of 2019, which was another record-setting year.

Fagergren said another part of the problem is that there have been fewer patrols keeping a sharp lookout for vandals, as he works to keep his own staff safe and prevent them from contracting COVID-19. While more acts of vandalism have slipped through the cracks as a result, he noted that graffiti is also contagious, spreading exponentially as more and more visitors see the vandalism and presume the acts are acceptable.

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Interior denies all of New Mexico’s proposed LWCF projects

Posted by on Dec 9, 2020 @ 6:53 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Interior denies all of New Mexico’s proposed LWCF projects

After cheering the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, which secured permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), New Mexico wildlife and conservation advocates were shocked to learn every single project proposed to the Department of Interior for LWCF funds was rejected.

The LWCF, created by Congress in 1965 to support public land management using offshore oil and gas royalties, received $900 million annually under the Great American Outdoors Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by Donald Trump in August. It marked just the second time since its creation that the program is fully funded.

Post-election, the Trump administration’s support for the LWCF seems to have dried up. The administration was about a week late in sending Congress a priority list of projects from across the country. The Act gave the Interior Department and the Department of Agriculture 90 days to submit a list of projects to receive funding from the LWCF in fiscal year 2021.

The USDA list includes projects that would add land to the National Forest Service, which sits under the USDA. The Interior Department list covers LWCF projects that would add land to the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and state parks. A draft list of proposed projects was developed in April in support of the legislation.

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‘Worst work in the world’: US park rangers grapple with tide of human waste

Posted by on Dec 4, 2020 @ 6:12 am in Conservation | 0 comments

‘Worst work in the world’: US park rangers grapple with tide of human waste

At national parks across the US, from the peaks of Denali in Alaska to desert backpacking destinations in Utah and Arizona, managers have struggled to deal with this inevitable byproduct of people eager to get outdoors, a desire that continues amid the pandemic. Unlike a discarded Clif Bar wrapper, human waste carries a slew of bacteria and pathogens when left unbagged or otherwise unaddressed.

Colorado’s Rocky Mountain national park has been hit especially hard. There, a surge in visitors meant toilet paper became a more common sight in wilderness areas. But the park is now known nationally for pioneering a solution used at other sites, including Mt Rainier.

Between 2016 and 2019, the 265,000-acre park near Denver saw a 40% increase in visitors hiking and climbing its woods and jagged peaks. In 2019, it was the third-most visited national park in the US.

Rangers were trekking to the toilets and finding repulsive conditions. At its worst, the solid matter would freeze and thaw repeatedly and rise above the seat. Rangers would have to dig the material from the chamber and load it into a five-gallon bucket, place the cargo on to a pack animal and ride down.

Park chiefs poured time and resources into a solution. They settled on a nifty toilet product called ToiletTech. The system separates urine from solid waste, which creates cleaner excrement – and less work for rangers. Beneath the toilet seat, excrement lands on a small conveyor belt, while urine flows through a separate pipe and into a septic field.

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Oil and gas vets want to clean up the industry’s mess, one well at a time

Posted by on Dec 3, 2020 @ 7:04 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Oil and gas vets want to clean up the industry’s mess, one well at a time

There were more than 50,000 wells on state cleanup lists across the country in 2018, and states estimated there were somewhere between 200,000 to 750,000 more abandoned wells that weren’t in their records. If you include wells that are “idle,” meaning they may still have an owner but haven’t produced any oil or gas in years — and are at risk of getting thrust into state hands if their owners go bankrupt — the count reaches around 2.1 million, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

When wells are left unsealed, they can become pathways for oil, gas, or briny water to migrate into groundwater and soil. The equipment is a hazard for wildlife, livestock, and unsuspecting humans. But increasing attention is being paid to another risk — an unknown number of unplugged wells leak methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, 86 times more effective at heating up the planet than carbon dioxide over the first 20 years it’s in the atmosphere. At high enough concentrations, methane carries a risk of explosion, and it’s often accompanied by other chemicals that are dangerous to human health, like benzene, a known carcinogen linked to leukemia and low birth weights.

Money is at the heart of the abandoned wells problem. The number of wells has already ballooned far beyond what state budgets and manpower can handle, and experts say it’s on the verge of multiplying.

Nonprofits, founded by oil and gas industry insiders, have formed in recent years with a mission of raising funds to plug derelict oil and gas wells.

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Working Together Towards Chestnut Restoration

Posted by on Dec 2, 2020 @ 6:06 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Working Together Towards Chestnut Restoration

On November 3, 2020 about forty people from the USDA Forest Service and The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) gathered virtually. It was the second biennial plan of work meeting between TACF and SRS.

Since the 1990s, the two organizations have worked together on American chestnut (Castanea dentata) restoration. In 2017 and in 2019, they committed to a Biennial Plan of Work that strengthens the partnership.

At the meeting, foresters, researchers, and organization leaders shared the latest advances in genetics and breeding, restoration research, and disease screening.

Since 1983, TACF has been working to restore the American chestnut. Their science strategy is called 3BUR – a reference to chestnut’s three nutritious nuts in a spiky burr. TACF uses traditional approaches (tree breeding), integrated management approaches (biocontrol), and powerful new molecular tools (biotechnology).

Two major diseases decimated American chestnut: chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) and Phytophthora root rot (Phytophthora cinnamomi). Chinese chestnut is blight resistant. Chinese chestnut and American chestnut have been backcrossed – a breeding process that aims to recover the timber-type form of American chestnut while keeping Chinese chestnut genes for blight resistance.

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Wonders Of Sand And Stone: A History Of Utah’s National Parks And Monuments

Posted by on Dec 1, 2020 @ 6:59 am in Book Reviews, Conservation | 0 comments

Wonders Of Sand And Stone: A History Of Utah’s National Parks And Monuments

The southern half of Utah is canyon country, a land of aridity, sparse vegetation, and unique and scenically spectacular topography and geology. It is a land rich in sites of archaeological importance and parts of it are sacred to indigenous people. It is also mostly public land, owned by the American people, part of their national legacy, and for a century it has been contested terrain.

Frederick Swanson, in Wonders of Sand and Stone, tells the story of the century-long battles between those who would preserve large parts of this spectacular landscape and those who would dedicate them to “multiple use,” principally grazing, mining, dams, and oil and gas development.

The story begins early in the history of America’s national parks when Utah’s redrock country was virtually inaccessible except to a few intrepid explorers, prospectors, and reaches to the 21st century conflicts over Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

This century of struggle over public land use has led to five national parks and eight national monuments managed by the National Park Service; the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, also managed by the Park Service; and the recently diminished Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears monuments managed, if that is the appropriate verb, by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

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The Story Behind the Growing Number of Tribal National Parks

Posted by on Nov 30, 2020 @ 6:54 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Story Behind the Growing Number of Tribal National Parks

This week brought with it the announcement of a new national park, one which will eventually encompass 444 acres on the border of Nebraska and Kansas. The governing body setting this new park up isn’t the National Park Service, however; instead, it’s being established by the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska.

The Ioway Tribal National Park “will overlook a historic trading village where the Ioway people bartered for buffalo hides and pipestones with other tribes during the 13th to 15th centuries.” When it’s completed, Ioway Tribal National Park will join a growing number of tribal national parks across North America.

It’s worth mentioning here that this isn’t an exclusively American phenomenon. Similar parks have been established in other countries where Indigenous populations faced warfare, oppression and relocation in the name of colonialism. Booderee National Park, located on the east coast of Australia, is owned by the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community and jointly managed by Parks Australia and the Indigenous community there.

There is another factor in the establishment of tribal national parks: making sure that history is conveyed accurately and that visitors to sacred sites behave appropriately while there. The website for Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park mentions that several areas within Antelope Canyon can only be visited with a tour guide — something that helps keep the stunning landscapes protected for future generations.

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20 signs that the climate crisis has come home to roost

Posted by on Nov 28, 2020 @ 7:03 am in Conservation | 0 comments

20 signs that the climate crisis has come home to roost

Global warming isn’t the only reason the West is burning. The growing number of people in the woods has increased the likelihood of human-caused ignitions, while more than a century of aggressive fire suppression has contributed to the fires’ severity. In addition, unchecked development in fire-prone areas has resulted in greater loss of life and property.

Yet, it’s impossible to deny the role a warming planet plays in today’s blazes. “Something’s happening to the plumbing of the world,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

You only have to step outside for a moment and feel the scorching heat, witness the dwindling streams, and choke on the omnipresent smoke to know that something’s way off-kilter, climate-wise.

1. Lewistown, Montana, (70 degrees Fahrenheit) and Klamath Falls, Oregon, (65 degrees) set high-temperature records for the month of February.

2. California had its driest February on record.

3. In April, parts of southern Arizona and California saw the mercury climb past 100 degrees Fahrenheit for multiple days in a row, shattering records.

See lots more records like these…

 

Federal money coming to WNC public lands

Posted by on Nov 27, 2020 @ 6:38 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Federal money coming to WNC public lands

Public lands in Western North Carolina are set to get a chunk of the $9.5 billion approved for deferred maintenance projects with the ratification of the Great American Outdoors Act. The National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service both released project lists last week.

Hailed as the largest single investment in public lands in the nation’s history, the bipartisan act dedicates up to $9.5 billion over five years to address the much larger maintenance backlog on federal lands, as well as $900 million per year to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has for the past 50 years protected land for parks, wildlife refuges and recreation nationwide. The law requires that half of the money received from energy development revenues on federal lands and waters go toward these programs, not to exceed $1.9 billion in any fiscal year.

Nationwide, the Forest Service has a deferred maintenance backlog of $5.2 billion, while the Park Service’s stands at $12 billion. As of 2018, the last year for which figures are available, the backlog in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was worth $235.9 million, and the Blue Ridge Parkway carried a backlog of $508.1 million.

The funds will go to agencies under both the Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture, each of which is handling the process of prioritizing and carrying out the projects in a different way.

See details…

 

The UK will get more national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Posted by on Nov 26, 2020 @ 6:43 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The UK will get more national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Some of the UK’s most breathtaking landscapes will be turned into national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) to help protect the country’s rich biodiversity, the government has announced.

As part of their 25-year Environment Plan, the project is expected to restore the equivalent of 30,000 football pitches into wildlife-rich habitats, clean up pollution, create areas of woodland, and restore wetland.

While there are currently 15 national parks around the UK — including the South Downs in Sussex, New Forest, Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales — these ambitious plans will see more come to pass over a period of 25 years, giving everyone the chance to soak up nature.

Brilliantly, too, there are also hopes this scheme will help provide shelter for species such as the curlew, nightingale, horseshoe bat, pine marten, red squirrel and wild orchids.

Cite…

 

DPS Crew Discovers Mysterious Monolith From Air In Remote Utah Wilderness

Posted by on Nov 25, 2020 @ 6:08 am in Conservation | 0 comments

DPS Crew Discovers Mysterious Monolith From Air In Remote Utah Wilderness

The Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter was assisting Utah Division of Wildlife Resource officers counting bighorn sheep when the crew spotted something mysterious from above.

“One of the biologists is the one who spotted it and we just happened to fly directly over the top of it,” said pilot Bret Hutchings. “He was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, turn around, turn around!’ And I was like, ‘what.’ And he’s like, ‘There’s this thing back there – we’ve got to go look at it!’”

The crew circled back and landed the helicopter to take a closer look. They couldn’t believe their eyes. Tucked in a red rock cove was a shiny metal monolith protruding from the ground.

“I’d say it’s probably between 10 and 12 feet-high,” Hutchings said. “We were kind of joking around that if one of us suddenly disappears, then the rest of us make a run for it.”

Hutchings said it didn’t look like it was dropped into the ground from above. It was firmly planted there.

That said, the crew decided it didn’t appear there was any scientific purpose to it. Hutchings said it looked as if it was manmade – perhaps more of an art form than any kind of alien lifeform.

Cite…

 

Waterfall Keepers of North Carolina

Posted by on Nov 24, 2020 @ 6:14 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Waterfall Keepers of North Carolina

Announcing Waterfall Keepers of North Carolina, the only organization dedicated to the state’s resplendent falling water.

Waterfalls are among the few natural wonders that excite all five of our senses at once. We feel the spray against our skin. We hear the calming sound of the falling water. We smell and taste the moisture in the air. And, of course, we see the sublime beauty. Waterfalls give us so much.

Let’s pick up the trash, clear the trails, and protect the plants and animals that live in the waterfall environment. Let’s help make everyone’s visit safe and rewarding. Let’s get the kids involved. Let’s use the healing power of waterfalls to help people who are down.

WKNC has created the perfect way for waterfall lovers to make a difference. Become a Keeper. Keepers pledge to visit “their” waterfall four times a year to pick up trash and report on trail conditions when they visit.

The first annual Waterfall Sweep of North Carolina will be on March 20, 2021. Volunteers will visit waterfalls across the state to clean up litter and perform minor trail maintenance.

Learn more here…

 

Microplastics found at the highest point on Earth as the glaciers around Mount Everest’s death zone melt

Posted by on Nov 22, 2020 @ 6:18 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Microplastics found at the highest point on Earth as the glaciers around Mount Everest’s death zone melt

Microplastics are one of the most harmful side effects of humans using the planet, and they’re increasingly being found in hard to reach planes.

After being detected in the deepest point on the Earth, the Marina Tech, microplastics have now been found near the Earth’s highest point — the death zone of Mount Everest.

It’s called the ‘death zone’ because that’s where the level of oxygen is insufficient to sustain human life over an extended period. It is defined as any area located over 8,000 meters above sea level. Last year, at least 11 people died in Mount Everest’s death zone within a week when the trail was opened up.

Samples collected from near the summit and the valley below revealed substantial quantities of polyester, acrylic, nylon, and polypropylene fiber — materials commonly used in manufacturing outdoor clothing, tents, and climbing ropes — according to data collected on a Mount Everest expedition consisting of 10 research teams.

Using the same data, another study points out that the glaciers around Mount Everest have thinned by more than 100 meters since the 1960s. More worryingly, the rate of ice mass loss has consistently been getting faster over the last six decades.

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Conserving Carolina reaches deal to buy rail line for Ecusta Trail

Posted by on Nov 19, 2020 @ 5:22 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Conserving Carolina reaches deal to buy rail line for Ecusta Trail

Hendersonville, NC-based land conservancy Conserving Carolina has reached an agreement to buy the railroad line from Hendersonville to Brevard, marking a major leap forward in plans for the 19-mile Ecusta Trail.

In a move that was crucial, the Henderson County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday authorized a $7 million bridge loan that will make the sale possible. Conserving Carolina had been negotiating the purchase for months with Kansas-based Watco, the railroad owner that operates shortline freight lines in Western North Carolina as Blue Ridge Southern Railroad.

“This project has been a longterm vision of this board for many years,” John Mitchell, the county’s director of business and community development said. About two years ago, the Board of Commissioners authorized a Greenway Master Plan. “This corridor is owned for the most part fee simple,” making it easier to convey. Watco signaled “a couple of years ago,” he said, that it was willing to sell the line. County officials and the Friends of the Ecusta Trail turned to Conserving Carolina as the buyer.

The announcement of the acquisition of the rail line came 15 months after the state Board of Transportation kicked off a string of good news for the Ecusta Trail. In August 2019 the North Carolina Board of Transportation awarded a $6.4 million grant toward the purchase of the rail corridor. In August of this year, the French Broad MPO awarded $5 million to support construction for the first 5¾ miles of the greenway. The Henderson County Tourism Development Authority has earmarked $500,000 from the county lodging tax to support the trail and the Transylvania County Tourism Board of Directors voted in March to set aside $100,000 for the project.

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