Conservation & Environment

Vandals Permanently Damage Mesa Verde National Park: ‘Why Do…People Do This?’

Posted by on Jul 26, 2017 @ 9:15 am in Conservation | 1 comment

Vandals Permanently Damage Mesa Verde National Park: ‘Why Do…People Do This?’

Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park is calling on visitors to rise to a higher standard after vandals left graffiti and litter throughout the park, even destroying cultural artifacts to do so.

“Why do you think people do this?” the park said in a Facebook post last week. “What do you think the intent is and what can we do as a culture to cut down on these occurrences?

“We are seeing a growing number of instances of intentional damage throughout NPS sites every year,” the post reads. “We are seeing more and more evidence of graffiti, vandalization, and intentional littering throughout Mesa Verde National Park.”

In one of the most recent cases, vandals scratched letters and shapes into prehistoric grinding slicks on the Petroglyph Point Trail, permanently damaging artifacts that have remained intact for thousands of years.

Other vandals rubbed their initials onto sandstone cliffs using prehistoric charcoal which a visitor dug up in an archaeological site along the Petroglyph Point Trail, destroying the charcoal.

Park officials are asking anyone who sees any vandalism or littering to report it to the nearest park ranger or to staff in the Chief Ranger’s Office.

“Thank you to all of the visitors who do visit with respect,” the post says. “Let us all leave no trace, educate others about proper stewardship of public lands, and enjoy these wonderful landscapes as they are.”



Energy efficiency is a huge money saver — but the Trump administration is against it

Posted by on Jul 25, 2017 @ 6:56 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Energy efficiency is a huge money saver — but the Trump administration is against it

There’s a draft study of the electric grid requested by Energy Secretary Rick Perry that found federal energy efficiency policies are in the process of saving U.S. consumers and businesses more than a half trillion dollars.

Meanwhile, the new administration is halting energy efficiency policies and gutting funding for energy efficiency improvements for American homes. Perry’s department is currently being sued by 11 states for stalling efficiency mandates for air conditioners and other high-energy products.

Back in April, Perry ordered a study from Department of Energy (DOE) staff to back up his claims that solar and wind power were undermining the U.S. electric grid’s reliability. But a July draft obtained by Bloomberg debunked that attack. Instead, the authors found that “the power system is more reliable today” than ever.

The study concluded a large fraction of America’s aging fleet of coal and nuclear plants are simply not economic to operate anymore.

The study has a long discussion of why coal and nuclear aren’t going to become economic anytime soon. For instance, it’s increasingly clear that, for the foreseeable future, natural gas prices will stay low — and that renewable sources of power like solar and wind will continue the stunning price drops they’ve seen in the past two decades, which have upended the global power market.

Read full story…


Whistleblower Case Shows How Trump Tries to Silence Environmental and Climate Science

Posted by on Jul 23, 2017 @ 6:41 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Whistleblower Case Shows How Trump Tries to Silence Environmental and Climate Science

For the first time since the Trump administration came to office and began dismantling the key science underpinnings of federal climate policy, a senior agency official has invoked the protections of the whistleblower law to publicly object to what he calls an illegal attempt to intimidate him.

The official, Joel Clement, had been the director of the Office of Policy Analysis at the Interior Department before he says he was arbitrarily reassigned to an obscure accounting post to punish him for speaking up about protections for native Americans in Alaska. He says that was ordered by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to force him to be quiet or quit—and to send a message.

Clement said his case is not an isolated example but part of a pattern. “It’s been a difficult few months for those of us on the inside. This administration has abused a long list of rules and procedures to purge scientists and experts that don’t agree with their political views. We need to work together strategically to end these abuses or the health and safety of more Americans will be at risk.”

Additionally, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a detailed report running through a long list of actions the advocacy group says shows the pattern at work. The selection of top officials who dispute the mainstream consensus on the urgency of climate action, the reassignments of career officials and outside advisors, the proposed budget cuts to dismantle climate and other science-related offices while others are left empty, the revisions to published web pages on the subject, and the attempts to roll back Obama era regulations and policies are all part of a common agenda.

Read full story…


Planning a visit to Zion National Park? You might need to RSVP first

Posted by on Jul 22, 2017 @ 11:52 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Planning a visit to Zion National Park? You might need to RSVP first

This would be a first for a U.S. national park: requiring reservations to get in. But it’s an option that Zion National Park is considering to manage an overwhelming surge of visitors to its sweeping red-rock vistas and canyons in Utah.

Zion, which welcomed 4.3 million people last year, is weighing online reservations for those who want to explore its main canyon. National Park Service rangers struggle to cope with overcrowded tour buses and alleviate damage to Zion’s natural wonders, including soil erosion and human waste near trails.

People without reservations could pay an entrance fee and drive through the park, but they couldn’t stop to hike or picnic.

“We have to do something,” said park spokesman John Marciano. With limited budgets, Zion’s Park Service rangers routinely see long lines and plants trampled by visitors who also have cut some 30 miles of their own trails.

Zion isn’t the only U.S. national park with swelling numbers of tourists, and at least two national parks, in California and Hawaii, are testing more limited reservation systems for parking.

Overall, more than 330 million people visited U.S. national parks in 2016, a record. Visits were bolstered by the improving economy, cheap gas and marketing campaigns for the National Park Service’s 2016 centennial.

Read full story…


Join Park Rangers for Smokies Service Days

Posted by on Jul 21, 2017 @ 6:49 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Join Park Rangers for Smokies Service Days

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are excited to announce a new opportunity for the public to participate in service projects across the park. Park staff have coordinated ten Smokies Service Days on Saturdays beginning July 22, 2017 through October 28. Individuals and groups are invited to sign up for any of the scheduled service projects that interest them including unique opportunities to help care for park cemeteries, campgrounds, trails, roadsides, rivers, and native plant gardens.

This new volunteer program will help complete much needed work across the park and is ideal for those seeking to fulfill community service requirements including students, scout troops, civic organizations, visitors, families, and working adults with busy schedules. Each project will provide tasks appropriate for a wide range of ages. Volunteer projects will begin at 9:00 a.m. and last until noon on Saturday mornings. In addition, each project will be followed by an optional enrichment adventure to immerse participants in the abundant natural and cultural resources of the park.

Tools and safety gear, including gloves and high visibility safety vests, will be provided by park staff. Participants will be required to wear long sleeve shirts, long pants, closed-toe shoes, and bring water. Volunteers planning to stay for the optional enrichment activity must also bring a sack lunch.

Those interested in volunteering need to contact Project Coordinator, Logan Boldon, at 865-436-1278 or at least three days prior to the scheduled event date to register.

Service opportunities include:

July 22: Litter Patrol on the Spur
August 5: Gardening at Oconaluftee
August 12: Cemetery Rehabilitation at Elkmont
August 26: Campground Clean-Up at Elkmont
September 9: Campground Clean-Up at Smokemont
September 30: Trail Rehabilitation for National Public Lands Day
October 7: Farm Maintenance at Oconaluftee
October 14: Vegetation Management at Twin Creeks
October 21: Historic Preservation and Campground Clean-Up at Cataloochee
October 28: Litter Patrol and Stream Restoration at Deep Creek


Mountain Valley Pipeline: An Unnecessary Threat to the Appalachian Trail

Posted by on Jul 20, 2017 @ 12:46 pm in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Mountain Valley Pipeline: An Unnecessary Threat to the Appalachian Trail

The Mountain Valley Pipeline, spearheaded by EQT Corporation, is proposed to carry fracked natural gas for over 300 miles through the Virginia and West Virginia countryside, crossing over dozens of water sources, through protected areas and breaching the A.T. corridor. The pipeline will run parallel to the Appalachian Trail for over 90 miles and carve ugly gashes in the landscape that will be seen from 20 miles away.

The proposed pipeline route would require the creation of a 125-foot swath up and down steep slopes in hazardous areas, which would destroy thousands of acres of pristine forest, visible for 60 miles away. Multiple iconic viewpoints in Virginia will be severely impacted, including Angels Rest, Kelly Knob, Rice Fields, and Dragons Tooth — some of the most visited and photographed locations on the entire A.T.

To accommodate the visual and environmental damage that would be caused by the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the U.S. Forest Service would also need to lower the Jefferson National Forest Management Plan standards for water quality, visual impacts and the removal of old-growth forest. Modifying the forest management plan will open the door for Mountain Valley Pipeline to destroy heritage landscapes and disregard public interests.

Situated on land that is unstable, crossing over a known and active seismic zone, the risk of severe erosion, landslides and pipeline failure are extremely high. Such instability also poses a high likelihood of natural gas leaks, which could poison the surrounding environment and contaminate the drinking water used by nearby communities.

Learn more here…


NC Wildlife Success Story: American River Otter

Posted by on Jul 17, 2017 @ 9:08 am in Conservation | 0 comments

NC Wildlife Success Story:  American River Otter

Even as one of the most widely distributed mammals currently in the United States, the American river otter (Lutra canadensis lataxina) is an exciting sight for fishermen, boaters, and outdoor enthusiasts. With a playful nature (often times seen treading water to take in surroundings, or sliding down mud banks) partnered with the otter’s extreme curiosity, the American river otter commonly approaches boats and people on shore, despite their nocturnal nature.

The American river otter is considered an important aquatic predator due to its regulation of undesirable fish populations in marine and freshwater waterways ranging from slow moving, warm coastal streams and marshes, to rapid, cold moving mountain streams.

The American river otter is built for aquatic life. With short, dense waterproof fur, hind feet pads for traction on slippery surfaces, webbed feet and retractable claws, and whiskers highly sensitive to help capture prey in murky waters, the otter has a large appetite for fish and crayfish, and occasionally aquatic amphibians and crabs. They tend to cluster in groups of five to ten otters and inhabit dens along banks vacated by other animals.

In the early 1500’s, European settlers began trapping otters and exporting their pelts as a part of the high-end fur trade. As a result of the over-trapping and the 20th century’s wetland drainage and water pollution, the otter population began to decline By the late 1930’s, otters were nearly extinct in western North Carolina.

To restore the otter population, the North Carolina Resources Commission released 49 otters in the western part of NC from 1990-1995. As a result, the otter populations began to increase and have since been fully restored in North Carolina.


The Best Secret Spots in America’s National Parks

Posted by on Jul 15, 2017 @ 7:21 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

The Best Secret Spots in America’s National Parks

Each one of America’s 59 national parks has its well-known, must-see stops – for example, you probably aren’t going to hit Yellowstone without swinging by Old Faithful. While those sites became musts for a reason, they also have their drawbacks in the form of insane tourist traffic (and, sometimes, insane tourists) and not a whole lot of tranquility. And yet, sometimes they’re all a visitor sees.

During the centennial anniversary year of the park service in 2016, there was a couple who road tripped to all 59 national parks in an effort to cast a brighter light on the beauty of America’s greatest natural treasures.

Their goal was to explore as much as they could in short periods of time (59 parks in 52 weeks averages out to about six days per park, including travel time), and to give the smaller and lesser-known parks the same treatment we would give to the most popular parks in the system.

One of the best parts of the quest? They encountered plenty of unexpected surprises – out-of-the-way places that made them feel as though they were getting simultaneously closer to the parks and farther from the rest of humanity.

Here are 11 of those secret gems that should be on your next itinerary...


Pack it in, pack it out

Posted by on Jul 12, 2017 @ 9:14 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Pack it in, pack it out

Summer is the peak time for hiking all across the country. Not co­incidentally it also is the peak time for littering along trails.

Hiking has always been a popular pastime in a country rich with majestic forests, breathtaking views and well-maintained trails to suit just about any taste and fitness level.

But in recent years use of them has soared for a number of reasons, including publicity given to some trails, most notably the iconic long distance trails that was featured in popular books and movies; increased population; increased tourism and promotion of local hiking trails by communities eager to encourage visitors to linger longer.

Along with increased use has come increased litter: food wrappers; paper and plastic bags; Kleenex, paper towels and even toilet paper; plastic water bottles and food scraps.

Even people who otherwise are conscientious about following the “pack it in, pack it rule” argue that it’s all right to leave apple cores, orange peels, pistachio and peanut shells and other food scraps along hiking trails and at view points. One hiker debating this issue on social media maintained: “If it’s organic, it’s not littering.”

This is not true. Garbage is garbage, whatever form it comes in. If there’s any uncertainty about this, there’s a simple rule of thumb: “If I were at home, would I throw this on my living room floor?” If the answer is no, then it’s garbage.

While it’s true that organic items will eventually decay, there are grave misperceptions about how long this will take. Not only that, fruit waste are simply non-native food supplies for wildlife. In many cases, their digestive systems are not meant to handle an orange peel or nut shell.

Read full story…


Climate change threatens uninhabitable conditions for the Middle East and North Africa

Posted by on Jul 11, 2017 @ 6:56 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Climate change threatens uninhabitable conditions for the Middle East and North Africa

Climate change means colder winters, heavy rains and lots of environmental hazards for many people. But for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), climate change means uninhabitable weather conditions, forced migration and loss of traditional income. It is a real threat that might make the region uninhabitable.

The MENA region is considered the world’s driest: it is the home to six percent of the world’s population yet it contains 12 countries that face extreme water scarcity – including Tunisia, Bahrain, Kuwait and Algeria.

According to The World Bank, the MENA region has less than two percent of the world’s water supply.

Climate change is already affecting the MENA region in dire ways, but it is expected that climate change will cause extreme heat to spread across more of the land for longer periods of time.

This will make some countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia uninhabitable because it will create humid heat conditions at a level incompatible with human existence.

It will also play a major role in reducing growing areas for agriculture – which is one of the most important sectors in the region.

The rising temperatures will keep increasing the pressure on crops and water resources, which will eventually lead to an amplified level of migration and risk of conflict.

Read full story…


How biologists are working to keep the Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle off the endangered species list

Posted by on Jul 10, 2017 @ 9:08 am in Conservation | 0 comments

How biologists are working to keep the Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle off the endangered species list

Among exotic bugs facing mortal threats, few appear better set to survive than the Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle, an aggressive carnivore uniquely adapted to endure super-intense heat and some of the planet’s harshest scouring sand.

Its habitat within the wilderness of Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve already is protected from motorized recreationists and other perils.

“Other beetles should be so lucky as the tiger beetle,” said National Park Service biologist Fred Bunch, chief of natural resources at the dunes, who has observed the insects for 27 years.

But, depending on results of an upcoming U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey, this hairy, green-headed beetle with a violin-shaped mark on its back could be placed on the list of endangered species, requiring the ecological equivalent of emergency room resuscitation.

The uproars over endangered polar bears, rhinos, tigers and other charismatic big creatures have obscured a quieter emergence of growing numbers of bugs on the government’s roster of species going extinct. Today’s Endangered Species Act list of 1,447 animals includes 84 insects. Beyond bees and monarch butterflies, some of those most recently determined to be dwindling are beetles, such as the Northeastern Beach tiger beetle, a relative of the Great Sand Dunes beetle.

Read full story…


World Unites Against Trump on Climate

Posted by on Jul 8, 2017 @ 1:12 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

World Unites Against Trump on Climate

At the conclusion of this year’s contentious G-20 summit, the countries released a communique on climate that placed Donald Trump starkly at odds with every other nation present. The communique noted that every country aside from the U.S. recognizes that the Paris agreement is “irreversible,” reaffirmed their “strong commitment” and will move “swiftly towards its full implementation in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”

The 19 nations—Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the UK and the European Union—represent the majority of the world’s economic output and population. The G-20 was Trump’s first major international summit since announcing that he would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement.

Donald Trump is learning the hard way that he cannot thwart the entire world on climate change and expect to continue with business as usual. Trump’s historically irresponsible decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement has left the U.S. isolated on the world stage.

The other 19 leaders of the world’s largest economies stood shoulder to shoulder in unified support for the Paris agreement. Given the choice between following Trump or standing strong for climate action, not a single world leader decided to back him. That’s unprecedented, and it shows how deeply unpopular and misguided Trump’s attack on the Paris agreement has been, and how much damage it has done to U.S. credibility and standing in the world.



66 million trees planted in 12 hours in India

Posted by on Jul 7, 2017 @ 4:41 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

66 million trees planted in 12 hours in India

Armed with a variety of garden tools and toting buckets of water, a volunteer army in India planted more than 66 million trees in 12 hours as part of a record-breaking environmental pledge.

More than 1.5 million people gathered on July 2, 2017 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to plant saplings along the Narmada River in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

State Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced the news on Twitter. “By planting trees we are not only serving Madhya Pradesh but the world at large,” he tweeted.

In 2016, volunteers set a world record in Uttar Pradesh by planting more than 50 million trees in a day.

Representatives from Guinness World Records reportedly monitored the plantings and are expected to confirm the new record within a few weeks.

Under the Paris Agreement, India agreed to spend $6 billion to reforest 12 percent of its land, increasing its total forest cover to 235 million acres by 2030, according to National Geographic.

Volunteers planted more than 20 different species of trees in two dozen areas along the river basin to increase the saplings’ chances of survival.



More National Parks and Monuments Pushing Fee Increases At Direction Of Interior Secretary

Posted by on Jul 6, 2017 @ 11:44 am in Conservation | 0 comments

More National Parks and Monuments Pushing Fee Increases At Direction Of Interior Secretary

Every week, it seems like another park is asking the public for input on increasing its entrance fees. Turns out, there’s a simple explanation: The Interior Department is telling them to.

And at one park, Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, that means implementing two rate increases, ultimately doubling the cost of a seven-day vehicle pass, in just 12 months.

The National Park Service received direction in May that all parks not aligned with their designated fee group, based on park type, must begin civic engagement to raise fees to compliance by 2018, according to one park release. Another cited the Interior Department, and in particular Secretary Ryan Zinke, as the source: “All fee-collecting parks … have been instructed by the Secretary of the Interior to raise entrance fees to the full level of their assigned tier by January 1, 2018.”

In 2006, the Park Service developed a fee structure to standardize rates across the country. Four groupings were created based on park designation. However, in 2008, then-Director Mary Bomar imposed a moratorium that froze entrance fees at 2007 levels. That freeze continued until late in 2014.

Learn more here…


Interior Secretary Zinke’s latest gift to the oil and gas industry might be illegal

Posted by on Jul 5, 2017 @ 8:29 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Attorneys general from California and New Mexico filed a lawsuit July 5, 2017 over Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s postponement of the Bureau of Land Management’s methane waste prevention rule. The suit holds that the Interior Department’s failure to implement the rule will cost California taxpayers substantial royalty payments and furthers the Trump administration’s attack on public health.

BLM’s methane rule seeks to reduce the wasteful release into the atmosphere of methane — the primary component of natural gas — from oil and gas operations on public and tribal lands. Studies show the rule would save $330 million worth of taxpayer-owned gas annually and would result in $800 million in direct payments to the public over the next decade.

A ruling earlier this week by the U.S. Court of Appeals on a similar issue regarding an EPA methane regulation could provide a clue for where this lawsuit is going. In a 2–1 ruling, the court struck down an attempt by EPA to delay implementation of new emission standards on oil and gas wells, arguing that EPA could not delay an effective date even as they seek to rewrite the regulation.

The Interior Department announced in June it would delay implementation of BLM’s methane waste prevention rule and would, instead, rewrite the rule to be less “burdensome” to the oil and gas industry. This action treads on shaky ground because the rule was already finalized under the Obama administration, and the department is legally obligated to enforce it.

Read full story…


Forest Service plan could fundamentally change hiking in Oregon’s wilderness

Posted by on Jul 5, 2017 @ 6:33 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Forest Service plan could fundamentally change hiking in Oregon’s wilderness

News that the U.S. Forest Service is proposing a way to limit the number of people entering Oregon’s wilderness areas didn’t come as a major surprise.

As the number of people hiking and camping in Oregon’s outdoors has skyrocketed, wilderness areas, often in fragile alpine environments, have been particularly hard-hit.

What did surprise many was the scope of a plan announced this month by Willamette and Deschutes national forests. They propose a system that would require a permit to hike or backpack in the Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, Three Sisters, Diamond Peak and Waldo Lake wilderness areas.

The goal is to limit crowds and damage by restricting numbers, officials said. But it would also represent a fundamental change in a state that, for the most part, allows people to recreate as they please on public lands.

Reaction to the news was mixed. Many who’ve watched places such as Jefferson Park and Green Lakes Basin get trampled were supportive of the proposal. But many pushed back against fees associated with the proposal. The cost of a permit would range from $6 to $12, officials said.

Read full story…


Court Blocks E.P.A. Effort to Suspend Obama-Era Methane Rule

Posted by on Jul 4, 2017 @ 6:52 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Court Blocks E.P.A. Effort to Suspend Obama-Era Methane Rule

Dealing another legal blow to the Trump administration, a federal appeals court ruled on July 3, 2017 that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot suspend an Obama-era rule to restrict methane emissions from new oil and gas wells.

The 2-to-1 decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is the first major legal setback for Scott Pruitt, the E.P.A. administrator, who is trying to roll back dozens of Obama-era environmental regulations. The ruling signals that President Trump’s plans to erase his predecessor’s environmental record are likely to face an uphill battle in the courts.

A number of other E.P.A. actions to undo regulations it inherited, including a rule on landfills and another on chemical spills, are likely to receive close scrutiny from the courts because of this ruling.

In upholding green groups’ efforts to end the E.P.A.’s 90-day stay over parts of the regulation, the appeals court ruled that the agency’s decision was “unreasonable,” “arbitrary” and “capricious.” The agency, it said, did not have authority under the Clean Air Act to block the rule.

The judges said the agency would have to undertake a new rule-making process to undo the regulation.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Read full story…


Introducing Femelschlag

Posted by on Jul 3, 2017 @ 11:58 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Introducing Femelschlag

Visitors to the Cradle of Forestry (located near Brevard, NC in Pisgah National Forest) learn about the Biltmore Forest School – the first school of forestry in North America. It was started in 1898 by Carl Schenck. A native of Germany, Schenck brought German forestry concepts to the United States. It is fitting that today in Pisgah National Forest, researchers are looking to bring a German forestry practice to Pisgah National Forest in an effort to restore oaks.

In 2017 researchers are cutting quarter-acre and one-acre gaps in a 150-acre section of the forest. Forest Service research scientist Tara Keyser is leading this work. The gap cutting technique is called “femelschlag.”

“All of our silviculture techniques come from central Europe,” Keyser explains. “Femelschlag is one of those techniques. It has been practiced as long as forestry.”

The work addresses a big problem facing Southern Appalachian forests – a lack of young oaks. “You can walk miles in an Appalachian forest and not see a head-high oak seedling,” says Keyser. Oaks are being out-competed by other species, particularly yellow poplar.

“A tree is not a tree. There are some trees that are really important because of their role and the niche that they fill,” she says. “On that scale an oak is more important than a poplar. Acorns are an important food source for wildlife.”

Read full story…