Conservation & Environment

#BlackBirdersWeek takes on systemic racism

Posted by on Jun 4, 2020 @ 7:02 am in Conservation | 0 comments

#BlackBirdersWeek takes on systemic racism

Sheridan Alford’s love of bird-watching stems from a simple fact: “Anybody can do it.” Old or young, through expensive binoculars or with the naked eye (or ear), in a bucolic park or from a city window, anyone can connect to the avian world around them. Alford, a graduate student in natural resources at the University of Georgia, studies African American participation in bird-watching, trying to understand why some Black people engage in the activity and others don’t.

She’s also one of the co-founders of a social media push, #BlackBirdersWeek, which launched on May 31, 2020. The campaign was sparked by the viral video in which a white woman threatened a Black birder in New York’s Central Park, announcing that she was calling the police “to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”

“I think a lot of us identified with that scenario,” Alford said in a recent interview. In response, she and other members of a grassroots group, @BlackAFinSTEM, who work in science or related fields, decided to organize a week of social media prompts. They hope to boost visibility of Black nature enthusiasts, highlight the value of racial diversity and promote dialogue within the larger (and largely white) birding community.

Full story here…


The Trump Presidency Is the Worst Ever for Public Lands

Posted by on Jun 3, 2020 @ 6:53 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Trump Presidency Is the Worst Ever for Public Lands

Six hundred and forty million acres of land in the United States—about 28 percent of our nation’s total land area—are owned by the American people and managed on our behalf by the federal government.

The foundational principle of that management is called multiple use. Public lands are used for resource extraction, but that extraction must be balanced with ecosystem conservation, recreation, and the need to maintain these lands so that future generations of Americans can continue to make the most of them.

Public lands contribute to the federal government’s bottom line, reducing the amount of taxes all of us must pay to fund our government’s operation. They support industries like oil, gas, and outdoor recreation, and provide plant and animal biodiversity, helping to protect the environment we live in. In short, these wild places, where we camp, run, hunt, climb, and ride, contribute to our quality of life.

But… an analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress (CAP) calculates that the total area of public lands that have already lost protections during Donald Trump’s presidency, or which his administration is working to reduce protections for, amounts to almost 35 million acres. That’s nearly the size of the entire state of Florida.

“President Trump is the only president in U.S. history to have removed more public lands than he protected,” reads the analysis.

Read full story…


Representatives Case, Gabbard pursue first National Forest for Hawaii

Posted by on Jun 2, 2020 @ 6:29 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Representatives Case, Gabbard pursue first National Forest for Hawaii

U.S. Representatives Ed Case and Tulsi Gabbard jointly introduced in the U.S. House H.R. 7045, a measure to pursue creation of Hawaii’s first-ever National Forest.

The National Forest System comprises 154 national forests, 20 national grasslands and several other federal land designations containing 193 million acres. Its mission is to conserve land for a variety of uses to include watershed management, research, cultural site preservation, wildlife habitat management and research and outdoor recreation.

Case and Gabbard said “Our Hawaii National Forest Study Act would identify parcels of land that could later be incorporated into a National Forest that would fulfill the National Forest System’s mission. It would also help inventory how best to conserve and expand Hawaii‘s native koa, ohia and sandalwood forests. They can be conserved and expanded to lay the groundwork for establishment of a National Forest. This designation would also assist with federal resources for management and protection.“

Both members say Kaena Point, largely state-owned, is the perfect candidate for Hawaii’s first National Heritage Area given its truly unique cultural, historic and environmental heritage and qualities.



Paradise Falls Hiking Spot Closed Indefinitely After Crowds Leave Behind ‘Truckloads Of Trash’, Human Waste

Posted by on May 30, 2020 @ 6:35 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Paradise Falls Hiking Spot Closed Indefinitely After Crowds Leave Behind ‘Truckloads Of Trash’, Human Waste

  A scenic hiking destination in Thousand Oaks, CA has been shut down after visitors left behind large amounts of trash and human waste, authorities said.

Paradise Falls in Wildwood Park has been overrun with crowds “in the hundreds” in the past two weeks as the weather has started warming up and residents cooped-up by COVID-19 look to get outdoors.

According to Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency (COSCA), rangers have collected “multiple truckloads of trash” left at the 40-foot canyon waterfall despite the presence of trash cans in the area.

The organization also cited issues involving human waste after “many used areas along the creek both upstream and downstream as a toilet.”

“COSCA has worked diligently to encourage visitors to be respectful of the environment and fellow visitors, and to obey posted rules, but many have not answered these calls,” a spokesperson said.

Paradise Falls will be closed starting Friday “until further notice.” The Thousand Oaks Police Department will be on site and will issue citations for anyone entering the posted closure area, according to COSCA.

Note: This can happen anywhere if we don’t behave. Please follow Leave No Trace principles. Be a good steward.



Microplastic pollution in oceans vastly underestimated – study

Posted by on May 27, 2020 @ 7:16 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Microplastic pollution in oceans vastly underestimated – study

The abundance of microplastic pollution in the oceans is likely to have been vastly underestimated, according to research that suggests there are at least double the number of particles as previously thought.

Scientists trawled waters off the coasts of the UK and US and found many more particles using nets with a fine mesh size than when using coarser ones usually used to filter microplastics. The addition of these smaller particles to global estimates of surface microplastics increases the range from between 5tn and 50tn particles to 12tn-125tn particles, the scientists say.

Plastic pollution is known to harm the fertility, growth and survival of marine life. Smaller particles are especially concerning because they are the same size as the food eaten by zooplankton, which underpin the marine food chain and play an important role in regulating the global climate. The new data suggests there may be more microplastic particles than zooplankton in some waters.

Another new study shows how microplastics have entered the food chain in rivers, with birds found to be consuming hundreds of particles a day via the aquatic insects on which they feed.

Microplastic pollution has contaminated the whole planet, from Arctic snow and mountain soils to many rivers and the deepest oceans. It is also being consumed and inhaled by people, and the health impacts are as yet unknown.

Read full story…


How to identify different types of bees

Posted by on May 24, 2020 @ 6:46 am in Conservation | 0 comments

How to identify different types of bees

When was the last time you were in your garden, saw a bee, grabbed it and squeezed it? Probably never, right?

Unless you’ve done that, there’s a good chance that if you’ve ever been stung it wasn’t by a bee, said Becky Griffin. And she would know. Griffin teaches classes on bees to children and adults through the Center for Urban Agriculture at the University of Georgia Extension’s Northwest District and is a certified beekeeper in Cherokee County, Georgia.

All U.S. native bees and honeybees, which are not native to North America, are capable of stinging, Griffin says. “But you would be hard pressed to be stung by one unless you accidentally smushed it or attacked its hive,” she adds. “Bees are truly not interested in people at all. They are interested in plants and flowers. If you’ve been stung, it was most likely by a wasp such as a yellow jacket.”

To understand why bees typically don’t sting, Griffin says it helps to recognize and understand the behavior of different types of bees.

Here is her take on the different types of bees — plus wasps, and a fly that mimics bees…


Conservation easement protects resources in Macon County

Posted by on May 23, 2020 @ 6:45 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Conservation easement protects resources in Macon County

  A recently conserved piece of land in Macon County, NC includes a federally significant marsh, a scenic view and a portion of the Nantahala River.

Mainspring Conservation Trust has conserved more than 205 acres in the Rainbow Springs area of the county’s western portion, and that land is now part of a larger node of privately conserved property that totals 2,619 acres and abuts the Nantahala National Forest.

The newly conserved land — which Mainspring Executive Director Jordan Smith called “one of the most ecologically significant and diverse areas within Mainspring’s entire region” — is owned by the Rainbow Springs Hunting and Fishing Club and was the last unprotected piece of land in the club’s ownership.

About 85 percent of the newly conserved property is within the viewshed of the Appalachian Trail and is visible from the Waterfall Byway and surrounding Nantahala National Forest lands. It has abundant aquatic resources and riparian habitat, including more than a mile of Nantahala River frontage. This project further protects these waters that are currently classified as Outstanding Resource Waters by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.



Smokies air quality ‘noticeably clean’ during pandemic

Posted by on May 21, 2020 @ 6:53 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Smokies air quality ‘noticeably clean’ during pandemic

The dark cloud created by coronavirus came with a silver lining: cleaner air and fresher streams.

“We’ve had really good days,” said Jim Renfro, the air quality program manager for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “It’s been pretty clean,” Renfro said. “Noticeably clean.”

There’s a reason the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park: it’s not only beautiful, it’s close to some major cities: Charlotte and Knoxville for examplek. With many of those cities quiet, Renfro said that will help make the Smokies less smoky.

“My guess is air quality along all fronts: ozone, particulate, the haze, acid rain, are all going to be better during this time, compared to the last five years,” Renfro said.

Industrial air filters that vacuum the air, even during the shutdown, are heading to labs now. “We’ve seen some preliminary data that shows that air quality has gotten better during this park shutdown,” Renfro said.

The park’s scientists spent the shutdown working with the Environmental Protection Agency.

“They’re (EPA) seeing 30-40% less in eastern United States ozone levels, rural ozone, including the park,” Renfro said.



Grant to bring new mountain bike and hiking trails to Foothills Parkway in Cocke County, TN

Posted by on May 17, 2020 @ 6:36 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Grant to bring new mountain bike and hiking trails to Foothills Parkway in Cocke County, TN

Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tennessee) announced a $500,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission will be used to design mountain bike and hiking trails along a section of the Foothills Parkway in Cocke County.

The goal is to transform an area along the stretch between Cosby and I-40 to help increase tourism and economic development in Cocke County.

“Cocke County is one of Tennessee’s most economically distressed counties, and these mountain bike and hiking trails will bring more of the 12 million visitors who come to the Smokies each year to Cocke County, which will increase tourism and economic development opportunities in the county,” Alexander said.

Alexander said he has worked with the state and fellow lawmakers to develop more trails in the underdeveloped section of the Foothills Parkway, saying those ideas will now become a reality.

“Cocke County is very grateful to the Appalachian Regional Commission for this award. We are so appreciative to the vision and foresight of Sen. Lamar Alexander, our state leaders, the Conservation Fund, the Cherokee National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This collective effort will benefit Cocke County for decades to come,” Cocke County Mayor Crystal Ottinger and Partnership President Lucas Graham said.



Watch for giant hornets

Posted by on May 15, 2020 @ 7:12 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Watch for giant hornets

The Asian giant hornet has yet to be detected in North Carolina, but the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is asking residents to keep an eye out and report sightings of the pest.

The world’s largest species of hornet, the insects measure 1.5 to 2 inches long and have an orange-yellow head with prominent eyes, and black-and-yellow stripes on their abdomens. They do not generally attack people or pets but are known to rapidly destroy beehives.

“There are many wasp and hornet look-alikes that are beneficial insects, so residents are asked to exercise caution before deciding to kill any large hornets,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.

Cicada killers and European hornets do occur in North Carolina and can be confused with the Asian Giant Hornet.

To report a suspected sighting, take a photo and submit it using the instructions at



The indigenous fight to stop a uranium mine in the Black Hills

Posted by on May 12, 2020 @ 7:12 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The indigenous fight to stop a uranium mine in the Black Hills

Regina Brave remembers the moment the first viral picture of her was taken. It was 1973, and 32-year-old Brave had taken up arms in a standoff between federal marshals and militant indigenous activists in Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Brave had been assigned to guard a bunker on the front lines and was holding a rifle when a reporter leaped from a car to snap her photo.

She remembers thinking that an image of an armed woman would never make the papers — “It was a man’s world,” she says — but the bespectacled Brave, in a peacoat with hair pulled back, was on front pages across the country the following Sunday.

Brave had grown up on Pine Ridge, where the standoff emerged from a challenge to the tribal chair, whose alleged offenses included scheming to accept federal money for Paha Sapa, also known as the Black Hills. Brave’s great-grandfather Ohitika had helped negotiate the 1868 treaty preserving Lakota stewardship of the hills, but after white settlers found gold there, the lands were wrested away.

Today, Brave and other Lakota elders are staring down yet another encroachment on their historic lands: a 10,600-acre uranium mine proposed to be built in the Black Hills. The Dewey-Burdock mine would suck up as much as 8,500 gallons of groundwater per minute from the Inyan Kara aquifer to extract as much as 10 million pounds of ore in total. Lakota say the project violates both the 1868 U.S.-Lakota treaty and federal environmental laws by failing to take into account the sacred nature of the site. If the mine is built, they say, burial grounds would be destroyed and the region’s waters permanently tainted.

Read full story…


A California Utility Announces 770 Megawatts of Battery Storage. That’s a Lot.

Posted by on May 11, 2020 @ 6:46 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A California Utility Announces 770 Megawatts of Battery Storage. That’s a Lot.

Battery storage is a vital part of a cleaner grid because it helps to fill in the gaps left by the fact that wind and solar are intermittent resources. And, like wind and solar, the growth of battery storage is closely tied to a decrease in its costs.

The combination of high need and falling costs means we are seeing new projects on a scale we’ve never seen before, including a whopper announced in California.

The utility Southern California Edison said it will work with developers to build seven lithium-ion battery storage projects that add up to an eye-popping 770 megawatts, which is more than all of the battery storage projects commissioned in the country last year and enough to power a small city. The projects each use four-hour battery systems.

This is an important part of fighting climate change because the combination of renewable energy and battery storage can function much like a traditional power plant, capable of being dispatched when needed by grid operators during times of high demand, and replacing the functions that are now mostly carried out by natural gas power plants.

Southern California Edison says construction will be complete by August 2021, which is a quick turnaround, especially considering the size of the projects.

Read full story…


The world is on lockdown. So where are all the carbon emissions still coming from?

Posted by on May 9, 2020 @ 7:00 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The world is on lockdown. So where are all the carbon emissions still coming from?

Pedestrians have taken over city streets, people have almost entirely stopped flying, skies are blue for the first time in decades, and global CO2 emissions are on-track to drop by … about 5.5 percent.

Wait, what? Even with the global economy at a near-standstill, the best analysis suggests that the world is still on track to release 95 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted in a typical year, continuing to heat up the planet and driving climate change even as we’re stuck at home.

A 5.5-percent drop in carbon dioxide emissions would still be the largest yearly change on record, beating out the financial crisis of 2008 and World War II. But it’s worth wondering: Where do all of those emissions come from? And if stopping most travel and transport isn’t enough to slow down climate change, what will be?

Transportation makes up a little over 20 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. Electricity and heating combined account for over 40 percent of global emissions. Many people around the world rely on wood, coal, and natural gas to keep their homes warm and cook their food — and in most places, electricity still isn’t particularly green. Even with a bigger proportion of the world working from home, people still need the grid to keep the lights on and connect to the internet.

Manufacturing, construction, and other types of industry account for approximately 20 percent of CO2 emissions. Certain industrial processes like steel production and aluminum smelting use huge amounts of fossil fuels.

Read full story…


Nantahala and Pisgah Forest Plan Comment Period Extended

Posted by on May 7, 2020 @ 6:58 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Nantahala and Pisgah Forest Plan Comment Period Extended

The USDA Forest Service is extending the comment period for the proposed Nantahala and Pisgah forest plan and draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) by an additional 45 days.

The public review and comment period, which was previously scheduled for February 14 through May 14, will now end on June 29, 2020.

“Since we released the plan in February, we’ve had to make some changes to the ways that we engage with the public,” said Allen Nicholas, Forest Supervisor for the National Forests in North Carolina. “Most of our March open houses were canceled, so we’ve created new opportunities to ensure that everyone can learn more about the plan and ask us questions.”

Beginning May 18, 2020 and continuing through the end of the comment period, the forest website will feature a virtual open house. Similar to an open house meeting, information will be organized by topics such as recreation, wildlife, timber, and wilderness. In addition to the proposed plan and analysis, a full suite of supporting materials are already online, including a 2-minute introductory video, a visual Readers Guide, an overview presentation, detailed presentations, questions and answers on multiple topics, and interactive maps.

The planning team will answer public questions through conference calls. These do not require internet access to attend. To join, call 888-251-2949 or 215-861-0694 using access code 3889103# at the following times:

May 28, 6:30-8 p.m.
June 2, 7:30-9 a.m.
June 4, 5:30-7 p.m.
June 8, noon-1:30 p.m.

Questions may be submitted in advance by email to This email address is exclusively for submitting questions for the telephone question and answer sessions. Comments on the proposed plan must be submitted through the online commenting system or by mail. For more information, including how to submit a question or comment, please visit


National Park Service asks hikers to be mindful of nature after vandalism incidents

Posted by on May 5, 2020 @ 7:14 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

National Park Service asks hikers to be mindful of nature after vandalism incidents

As people head outdoors to escape cabin fever during this stay at home order, local trail systems are seeing more garbage and even vandalism. The National Park Service recently posted pictures on their social media, showing graffiti on trees and rocks. This was done on several parts of popular trails, throughout the United States.

NPS Chief of Interpretation and Visitor Services, Eve West, stressed this is not acceptable. She is encouraging people to be mindful in nature, or suggests being a virtual visitor.

“There are a lot of national park areas that have webcams set up,” West said. “If you go on our website, that is kind of a window into the world of national parks and all the virtual videos that are out there as well.”

West said if you do plan to visit any of the National Parks or Rivers, remember to follow ‘leave no trace’ policies, practice social distancing, and plan accordingly since most public restrooms are currently closed during the pandemic.

There are consequences and fines issued for littering and vandalism. #beagoodsteward


Public land managers discuss closure decisions and plans for re-opening

Posted by on May 4, 2020 @ 6:53 am in Conservation | 0 comments

While people nationwide are lamenting the loss of bars, restaurants, concerts, festivals and countless other aspects of community life amid the COVID-19 crisis, for many in Western North Carolina the deepest blow has been the loss of access to hundreds of thousands of acres of cherished public lands.

“We live in a very risk-averse society, and each agency is considering its mission in light of the current context,” said Andrew Bobilya, professor and program director for Western Carolina University’s Parks and Recreation Management Program. “I think they’re watching their peers, so to speak, worldwide and trying to make the best decision. But I think to a certain degree they don’t want to be the ones not being seen as supporting the initiative to reduce the spread of the coronavirus or put people in perceived inappropriate situations of risk.”

N.C. State Parks was the first public agency locally to implement closures in response to the virus, on March 16 announcing that park facilities such as visitor centers and campgrounds would close beginning March 17. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park wasn’t far behind, announcing the immediate closure of its visitor centers March 17. Closure of the visitor center in Asheville on March 18 marked the Blue Ridge Parkway’s initial COVID-related change. On March 22, the National Forests in North Carolina closed all front-country campgrounds.

However, land managers did not see these announcements result in decreased visitation or appropriate social distancing. “What we saw during March was actually increased visitation after other traditional spring break destinations closed, particularly beaches,” said Smokies spokesperson Dana Soehn. “We were actually seeing more people on our crowded trails and along roadways and overlooks.”

Road to reopening…


Toxic microplastic hotspots are accumulating on the ocean floor in record levels

Posted by on May 1, 2020 @ 7:16 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Toxic microplastic hotspots are accumulating on the ocean floor in record levels

Scientists from the U.K. have discovered the highest level of microplastics ever recorded on the seafloor, with up to 1.9 million pieces of plastic covering just one square meter at the bottom of the ocean.

The harmful plastic debris has been pulled down by powerful deep-sea currents that transport and concentrate the pollutants within huge sediment accumulations, which researchers coined microplastic hotspots.

The hotspots are a deep-sea equivalent of so-called garbage patches created by currents on the ocean’s surface.

“Almost everybody has heard of the infamous ocean ‘garbage patches’ of floating plastic, but we were shocked at the high concentrations of microplastics we found in the deep-seafloor,” said Ian Kane, a researcher at the University of Manchester and a co-author of the study published in the journal Science.

Microplastics are pieces of plastic waste that measure less than five millimeters long, or often much smaller, and are deemed invisible water pollutants. Toxic chemicals from microplastics have been found to hurt animals such as insects and marine species by blocking their digestive systems.

The tiny plastics come from sources such as textiles and clothing as well as items such as plastic bottles that break down into smaller pieces over time. The waste is not filtered out in domestic wastewater treatment plants in cities and farms, and as a result it runs right into rivers and oceans.



Some Perfectly Outdoorsy Things to do in the Black Hills of South Dakota

Posted by on Apr 30, 2020 @ 9:23 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Some Perfectly Outdoorsy Things to do in the Black Hills of South Dakota

One of the great things about road tripping around America is that there is always more to discover. One of the the regions of the U.S. that may really blow you away is the Black Hills of South Dakota. Explorations will take you through vast windswept prairies, up pine-forested mountains, and around jagged rock formations carved by elements over millions of years.

The Black Hills region also features enticing outdoor adventures, a plethora of wildlife, and jaw-dropping scenery around every bend. If you haven’t added the Black Hills of South Dakota to your target list, do it now.

To encourage you to start planning your outdoor adventures in the Black Hills, Back Road Ramblers has created a list of some of their favorite things to do in the Black Hills region with a strong emphasis on getting outside.

The most important thing to know before heading to this beautiful spot is that the area was originally owned, and is still inhabited by the Lakota people. In fact, treaties made between the US government and the Lakota in 1851 and 1868 ensured that the Black Hills would remain as native territory. In 1877, the land was confiscated by the United States, an action that was condemned by the U.S. Supreme Court more than a century later.

The Lakota people consider the Black Hills to be sacred and are continuously working to reclaim their land. Outdoor enthusiasts and visitors to the Black Hills region should be aware of this struggle and walk respectfully on the land.

OK, see the suggestions…

You can also check out my trail reports from the Black Hills here…


Buncombe seeks permanent federal protection of 16,000 acres

Posted by on Apr 28, 2020 @ 7:11 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Buncombe seeks permanent federal protection of 16,000 acres

The Buncombe County Commission unanimously passed a resolution that asks the U.S. Forest Service to recommend permanent federal protection for a 16,000-acre area near Asheville within Pisgah National Forest.

The proposal requests broader, more lasting protections than the U.S. Forest Service’s Proposed Land Management Plan for Pisgah and Nantahala national forests, which was released Feb. 7, 2020. The draft plan, scheduled to be finalized in 2021, will oversee the management of the region’s two national forests for the next two decades.

The Buncombe proposal would expand protection in Shope’s Creek, the Big Ivy watershed near Barnardsville and portions of the Craggy Mountains in northern Buncombe County.

Advocates of the proposal say the area is one of the wildest and most ecologically extraordinary portions of Pisgah National Forest.

In February, the groups proposed to the Forest Service that an area be protected as the Craggy Mountain Wilderness and National Scenic Area, encompassing 16,000 acres, and its boundaries include 8,693 acres recommended as federal wilderness.

Read full story…