Conservation & Environment

A Documentary About China’s Smog Is Going Viral, And It’s Not Being Censored

Posted by on Mar 3, 2015 @ 8:20 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Over the weekend in China, 175 million people — more than the entire population of Bangladesh — watched a newly released in-depth and well-produced documentary about the country’s debilitating smog problem. Produced by former Chinese news anchor and environmental reporter, Chai Jing, the 104-minute “Under the Dome” has caught the Chinese public at a moment of intense focus on the wide-ranging impacts of air pollution from coal-fired power plants and vehicle emissions.

In a country known for spiking any media that paints the government in a bad light, the documentary has not been firewalled. China’s new environment minister, Chen Jining, even praised it on Sunday, saying it reflected “growing public concern over environmental protection and threats to human health.” He also compared it to the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which is often credited with inciting the environmental movement in the U.S., especially when it comes to the use of pesticides.

China has 1.35 billion residents, and some 600 million of them are being affected by the pollution according to “Under the Dome.” A recent analysis by the Health Effects Institute estimated that the country’s smog was responsible for some 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010 alone.

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More Than Just Parks | Joshua Tree

Posted by on Mar 2, 2015 @ 8:45 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Jim and Will Pattiz are media professionals who have a passion for our national parks. Their More than Just Parks plan is to create short films for each of the 59 US National Parks to give people a completely unique viewing experience. They hope that this will encourage folks to get out there and have a one-of-a-kind experience of their own in our national parks. It is also their hope that these videos can help build a greater awareness for all of the breathtaking natural wonders protected by our national parks system.

MTJP | Joshua Tree is the culmination of more than two weeks spent exploring Joshua Tree National Park. They chose Joshua Tree as their 3rd in the series because of its unique landscape. Its immense boulder piles, colorful cactus fields, endless desert expanses, and unique Joshua trees make for a spectacular setting.


“Unnatural” Deaths in Yellowstone National Park – And How to Avoid Them

Posted by on Mar 2, 2015 @ 4:59 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Back in the early ‘90s, then Yellowstone National Park museum technician Lee Whittlesey had the killer idea to compile all the “unnatural” deaths—that is, those not caused by run-of-the-mill car accidents or heart attacks—that have occurred in Yellowstone through the years.

There were enough to fill a book, and so Whittlesey’s fascinating Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park hit shelves in 1995.

In 2014, Whittlesey released the second edition of the book, updated with more than 60 new tales of demise. Whittlesey, now the park historian, was interviewed discussing true threats, stupid visitors, and what just might be the scariest fate of all at Yellowstone.

Yellowstone is not Disneyland.

Read the interview…


Forty Years of Solitude

Posted by on Mar 1, 2015 @ 10:53 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Steven Fuller is Yellowstone’s longest-serving winterkeeper. He might also be the park’s last. His photography portfolio will, however, remain a monument to one of the world’s most unique jobs and also to Yellowstone itself.

“Most snow in our contemporary world is plowed, piled, fouled, and messed with as it falls or soon thereafter,” Fuller says. “Here in Yellowstone, I have the great pleasure of enjoying snow as the gods made it and as they intended that we should marvel at the perfection of their creation.”

In Steven Fuller’s neighborhood, there are a few sacred, unspoken rules his guests are expected to abide by: 1) Don’t deface the landscape, especially when it glitters with a patina of pure virgin snow. Carving artless ski tracks through its middle is almost considered an act of vandalism. 2) Don’t intrude into the space of other animals. 3) Listen more than you speak. 4)Bundle up and wear plenty of layers because even in an age of global warming, it still gets damn cold. Your host, after all, has little tolerance for frostbitten wimps.

Fuller sets these rules because he has a deeply evolved understanding of and appreciation for his habitat: the remote hinters of Yellowstone National Park. The front stoop of his pine-shingled cottage overlooks the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. His wild neighbors, which vastly outnumber those on two legs, include elk, moose, bison, and grizzly. Winter temperatures often dip well below zero, and upwards of ten feet of snow can bury his front yard, crisscrossed by hoof and paw prints.

As far as anyone knows, no human has lived continuously and year-round in Yellowstone longer than Fuller. That includes, some historians say, Native Americans. This is Fuller’s fortieth consecutive season as a winterkeeper, a job—an existence—that is hermetic, to put it mildly.

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Jerk Street Artist Defaced Joshua Tree National Park

Posted by on Mar 1, 2015 @ 8:54 am in Conservation | 2 comments

After Casey Nocket traveled throughout the West to deface several national parks last year, a notable European street artist has been caught tagging Joshua Tree National Park.

André Saraiva, better known as just André, posted a photo to his Instagram account showing him having tagged a boulder with the ‘eyes’ of his trademark “Mr A” stick figure character. His photos revealed he was enjoying a trip in the park.

On Instagram, André replied, “This mr was made with love at friends privet back yard and not in your national park! [sic]” However, a thorough investigation revealed that the rock indeed was inside Joshua Tree, near the trailhead of the Contact Mine—confirmed by a reader in the area who took a photo and posted it on Facebook.

André locked his Instagram account and deleted the photo shortly after being called out, but it has been saved for posterity on another account.

Sadly, André is not the only person who has left their own mark on Joshua Tree. We are a graffiti-heavy park, unfortunately,” Jay Theuer told The Desert Sun. As the lead archeologist and cultural resource branch chief of Joshua Tree NP, he’s spent time and resources scrubbing the park of graffiti. “Once damage is done, it can’t always be reversed,” he added.

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New Browns Canyon National Monument Highlights Recreational, Ecological and Historical Importance

Posted by on Feb 27, 2015 @ 9:00 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Our National Forests contain countless special areas – landscapes with awesome vistas, habitat for key wildlife species, areas with boundless recreation opportunities, and grounds that hold important historic artifacts. Last week, President Obama recognized a part of our National Forest System that has all of these attributes and more when he designated Browns Canyon National Monument in Colorado.

Situated two and a half hours southwest of Denver, in the Arkansas River Valley, Browns Canyon is perhaps best known for its whitewater rafting and fly fishing opportunities. The landscape, however, holds so much more. Leaving the canyon’s class III-IV whitewater and hiking east, you pick your way through a dry pinon-juniper forest and maze of colorful rock outcroppings. As you climb higher, moving through Bureau of Land Management lands and onto the Pike-San Isabel National Forest, the rocky terrain gives way to ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests, scattered with stands of aspen.

With little visitation outside of the river corridor, wildlife viewing opportunities abound. The area provides habitat for bighorn sheep, mule deer, elk, mountain lions, bobcats, black bears, coyotes, red and gray foxes, and pine martens. Golden eagles, bald eagles, hawks, and countless other birds frequent the canyon. The area also hides evidence of historic peoples that used the area over 10,000 years ago.

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The Siberian crater saga is more widespread — and scarier — than anyone thought

Posted by on Feb 26, 2015 @ 11:39 am in Conservation | 0 comments

In the middle of last summer came news of a bizarre occurrence no one could explain. Seemingly out of nowhere, a massive crater appeared in one of the planet’s most inhospitable lands. Early estimates said the crater, nestled in a land called “the ends of the Earth” where temperatures can sink far below zero, yawned nearly 100 feet in diameter.

The saga deepened. The Siberian crater wasn’t alone. There were two more, ratcheting up the tension in a drama that hit its climax as a probable explanation surfaced. Global warming had thawed the permafrost, which had caused methane trapped inside the icy ground to explode. “Gas pressure increased until it was high enough to push away the overlaying layers in a powerful injection, forming the crater,” one German scientist said at the time.

Now, however, researchers fear there are more craters than anyone knew — and the repercussions could be huge. Russian scientists have now spotted a total of seven craters, five of which are in the Yamal Peninsula. Two of those holes have since turned into lakes. And one giant crater is rimmed by a ring of at least 20 mini-craters.

One potential disaster relates to the explosions themselves. No one has been hurt in any of the blasts, but given the size of some of the craters, it’s fair to say the methane bursts are huge. Researchers are nervous about even studying them.

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Duke Energy pays for dodging coal ash problems

Posted by on Feb 26, 2015 @ 11:23 am in Conservation | 0 comments

After Duke Energy reached a plea agreement over its mishandling of coal ash that spilled into the Dan River, Duke CEO Lynn Good said in a statement, “We are accountable for what happened at Dan River and have learned from this event.”

What Duke Energy has learned is that it’s expensive to be cheap. The giant utility put off the cost of properly storing the millions of tons of coal ash its coal-burning plants produce. The result was regular leakage at most of Duke Energy’s storage sites at 14 power plants in North Carolina and a pipe break at one site that spilled an estimated 39,000 tons of toxic coal ash into the Dan River.

Now Duke hopes to resolve a federal criminal investigation into violations of the Clean Water Act by pleading guilty to nine misdemeanor violations and agreeing to pay $68.2 million in fines and restitution and $34 million for community service and mitigation. On top of those costs, the utility also expects to spend $1.3 billion to excavate and close five coal ash storage sites in North Carolina and South Carolina.

If money talks, Duke Energy has gotten a heck of a lecture about its environmental misbehavior.

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National Park Service Map Shows The Loudest, Quietest Places In the U.S.

Posted by on Feb 25, 2015 @ 8:56 am in Conservation | 0 comments

There’s a new map created by the National Park Service’s (NPS) Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division that shows where the country’s loudest—and quietest—places are located. Not surprisingly, the loudest spots are clustered around cities, while the quietest are relatively wild–but the map also shows that even some rural locations have fallen victim to sound pollution.

The map represents 1.5 million hours of sound data from 546 park sites around the country. After recording sound levels at the sites using sound meter gauges, the NPS scientists used computer modeling to extend their findings across the entire country. The quietest places on the map, like Yellowstone Park in Wyoming, have a background noise level of less than 20 decibels—a noise level similar to that of the areas before European colonization. Urban areas, represented on the map in yellow, have background noise levels much higher—sometimes upwards of 60 decibels.

Sound pollution does more than disrupt a hiker’s sense of solitude in National Parks—it can alter the Park’s wildlife. According to CityLab, certain species have been shown to avoid noisy places, and sound pollution can disrupt certain animals’ mating cycles. But sound and light pollution don’t have to permanently alter the U.S.’s wildest areas. “Unlike many other forms of environmental degradation,” Fristrup told CBS News, “sound and light offer opportunities for rapid improvement.”

See the map…


Leaving Only Footsteps? Think Again

Posted by on Feb 23, 2015 @ 9:29 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Over the last five winters, scientists have been trapping and fitting GPS collars to wolverines in Idaho and Wyoming while also affixing them to snowmobilers and backcountry skiers. Then they’ve tracked the movements. Preliminary findings show that wolverines move faster and more often on weekends when people are playing in their mountain habitat. That may mean trouble for these animals during the brutal winters of the high Rockies, where every calorie counts.

When we think of injuring nature, it is easy to point an accusing finger at mining companies and their strip mines or timber barons and their clear-cuts. But could something as mellow as backcountry skiing or a Thoreauvian walk in the woods cause harm, too?

More and more studies over the last 15 years have found that when we visit the great outdoors, we have much more of an effect than we realize. Even seemingly low-impact activities like hiking, cross-country skiing and bird-watching often affect wildlife, from bighorn sheep to wolves, birds, amphibians and tiny invertebrates, and in subtle ways.

Impacts from outdoor recreation and tourism are the fourth-leading reason that species are listed by the federal government as threatened or endangered, behind threats from nonnative species, urban growth and agriculture.

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CMLC To Host Headwaters State Forest Presentation Feb. 26

Posted by on Feb 23, 2015 @ 2:27 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Join Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, for a presentation featuring the Headwaters State Forest. Learn how the 8,000-acre conservation project at the East Fork Headwaters got its start, the history of the property, and how its benefits will impact residents and visitors of Transylvania County, NC. Project stakeholders will give an update on the current status of acquisition at North Carolina’s newest State Forest as well as plans to complete the project.

The program is the February edition of CMLC’s Speaker Series – held monthly across the land trust’s service area of Henderson and Transylvania counties. It will be held in Brevard at the Transylvania County Main Branch Library from 6-7:30 p.m. The event is co-sponsored by the N.C. Cooperative Extension. It is free and open to the public.

CMLC conserves land and water resources to benefit the quality of life of residents and visitors in Henderson, Transylvania, and surrounding North Carolina counties. Since 1994, the land trust has protected more than 28,000 acres of naturally significant lands in our mountains.


U.S. Launches Effort To Monitor Global Air Pollution From Embassies

Posted by on Feb 21, 2015 @ 10:59 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The U.S. Department of State and the EPA announced their intent to launch a new partnership to monitor air pollution at embassies, consulates and other diplomatic missions around the world. Secretary of State John Kerry and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy attended the signing ceremony, which highlighted the links between local air pollution and global climate change.

In speaking about the new air quality monitoring program, Kerry said the goal is to increase awareness of the health risks of outdoor air pollution as well as to create partnerships on air quality with other nations. He said technical experts from the U.S., with experience monitoring, improving, and meeting air quality standards, will help build this capacity through training and exchanges with host governments.

U.S. embassies in China have been monitoring air pollution for several years as heavily urbanized and industrialized cities like Beijing struggle through crippling bouts of air pollution that have caused schools to close and severely limit outdoor activity.

With air pollution monitoring on the rise in China, India — which has some of the most polluted cities in the world — is next up for the State Department and EPA program, with monitoring operations planned in the next few months.

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Noise in the National Parks

Posted by on Feb 19, 2015 @ 9:58 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Global warming, clean water, and growing global population are some of today’s most pressing environmental issues. That list should be updated, it seems, as noise and light pollution have become major global concerns.

Both noise pollution and light pollution have actually been pressing issues for a while, though they haven’t received the attention of other environmental causes. That may change, however, with a set of new studies and reports on background noise and light from cars, airplanes, and other sources both in parks and around the country.

“The Park Service regards both the night sky environment and the natural sound environment as physical resources that must be protected under the [National Park Service] Organic Act of 1916,” says Kurt Fristrup, a senior scientist at the Park Service’s Division of Natural Sounds and Night Skies. The Organic Act explains that all resources must be left “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Increases in “this ubiquitous sensory pollution that is noise pollution” can have significant negative effects on the natural environment, says Cal Poly biologist Clinton Francis, whose work takes advantage of the fact that some natural gas wells employ “very noisy” pumping systems to study a variety of effects on species distribution, animal behavior, and community-level ecological processes. For example, the Western Scrub Jay distributes a “foundational” southwestern seed of the Piñon Pine tree group, but it appears as if “noise pollution is causing a large-scale decline in Piñon Pine seed dispersal.”

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New Conservation Easement Act Aims to Save Lands from Development

Posted by on Feb 19, 2015 @ 4:58 am in Conservation | 0 comments

For outdoorsmen, the term “private lands” typically means acres of fish and wildlife habitat, and trails closed to public use. That term has taken on new meaning in recent months as members of Congress have signed on to support the call by special interests to sell off public property to states and private industries.

But there is another story to private lands that benefits fish, wildlife, and outdoorsmen. And there is actually a bi-partisan initiative underway in Congress that will strengthen it.

This is the private land trust conservation movement – the act of private landowners placing permanent conservation easements on acres of their property. Rather than grow condos or row crops or hand these acres off to heirs, they are giving perpetual protection to forests, streams, meadows, and swamps that provide homes for fish and wildlife.

According to the Land Trust Alliance, which represents roughly 1200 of the estimated 1700 private land trusts, about 13 million acres of private lands have been preserved this way over the last 10 years – a pace that continues at about 1 million acres a year.

The Conservation Easement Incentive Act of 2015 (H.R. 641) would make tax incentives for land trusts permanent. It is contained in the larger America Gives More Act of 2015, which last week rolled through the House on a 279-137 vote. The odds look equally favorable in the Senate, but outdoorsmen shouldn’t take anything for granted.

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National Park Service Centennial to Include Youth Outreach, Backlog Reduction

Posted by on Feb 18, 2015 @ 9:48 am in Conservation | 0 comments

National Park Service Centennial to Include Youth Outreach, Backlog Reduction

The White House used the FY2016 budget request to outline plans to keep parks relevant to an increasingly urban and diverse nation and to invite all Americans to help support their parks. The requests include $20 million annually to transport over a million urban youth to national parks and public lands, with dedicated youth coordinators to welcome them and their families, and a significant increase in the National Park Service (NPS) Centennial Challenge program, which leverages federal spending at least 1:1 with contributions and partner funding and helps reduce the large NPS deferred-maintenance backlog.

A goal of the National Park Service’s Centennial in 2016 is to keep parks relevant to an increasingly urban and diverse nation. According to the American Recreation Coalition, “Every Kid in a Park will strive to ensure that every 4th grader in the nation has a meaningful experience in a park or other public lands setting beginning in the fall of 2015.” Federal and state park and recreation agencies will host the visits, designed to be both fun and educational.

The recreation community has also expressed great concern over a backlog in deferred maintenance of NPS visitor infrastructure now estimated to total nearly $12 billion. The President’s proposal outlines a strategy to end the non-transportation component of that backlog within 10 years, partly through increased appropriations and partly by inviting support from individuals, organizations and corporations.

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There’s a scary amount of plastic in the ocean. Here’s who put it there.

Posted by on Feb 17, 2015 @ 10:05 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Marine scientists have long known that plastic pollution in the ocean is a huge problem. The most visible sign of it is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an accumulation of waste (actually spanning several distinct patches) floating in the ocean. It’s at least twice the size of Texas and can be seen from space. This pollution has an incalculably lethal effect on everything from plankton to whales.

So just how much plastic is there? A study in Science put out some pretty horrifying numbers: In 2010, the study finds, between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons (that’s about 10.5 billion to 28 billion pounds) of plastic entered the oceans — the median of those estimates is 1.3 times the weight of the Great Pyramid at Giza.

If we want to crack down on all that plastic, knowing where it all comes from could be as important as knowing how much there is. That’s the main idea behind this study. A team of scientists set out to calculate how much plastic every one of the world’s 192 coastal countries dumps into the ocean. To do it, they combined data on each country’s per-capita waste generation, the size of the population living within 50 kilometers of the ocean, the percentage of waste that is plastic, and the percentage of plastic waste that is “mismanaged” (defined as “either littered or inadequately disposed”).

Here’s the list…


Forests Provide Clean Drinking Water for the South

Posted by on Feb 17, 2015 @ 9:56 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A recent report by the U.S. Forest Service shows that for over 19 million people in the South – roughly the population of Florida – clean water begins in the region’s national forests. The report provides information at a level not previously available on the amount of surface drinking water national forest lands provide to communities in the South.

The Forest Service Southern Region and Southern Research Station (SRS) worked together to produce the report’s analysis, tables, and maps, which include detailed data on public water system intakes, number of customers served, and percent of water originating on National Forest System lands for each of the 33 national forests managed by the Southern Region. The Southern Region manages over 13 million acres of forest land in the South, some 6 percent of total forest land in a region where most forests are privately owned.

The report illustrates the extent to which people in the South depend on forested lands to provide them with clean reliable sources of drinking water. A combination of federal, state, and private forests cover over 30 percent of the region’s total land area and provide 36 percent of total water yield. More than 2100 individual communities rely directly on national forest land for drinking water, including large population areas such as Houston, Atlanta, Knoxville, and Birmingham.

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Apple Pay Will Get You Into National Parks Starting In September

Posted by on Feb 14, 2015 @ 9:21 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Apple CEO Tim Cook announced during a White House summit on cybersecurity that Apple Pay is partnering with the federal government for some financial transactions.

While reaffirming that Apple does not track Apple Pay data, Cook said the service will be available for many government-related transactions starting in September. This includes paying for admission into national parks, receiving benefits like Social Security payments and expenses for government employees.

Cook also pledged to work more closely with the White House to protect privacy. “Security and convenience can work in harmony. This is a world of greater privacy and a world where criminals find it much more difficult to carry out their crimes. No single company or organization can accomplish this on its own. We are committed to engaging with the White House and Congress and putting things into action.”



Roundup Weedkiller Found In 75% of Air and Rain Samples, Gov. Study Finds

Posted by on Feb 13, 2015 @ 2:29 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Genetically Modified (GM) farming system has made exposure to Roundup herbicide a daily fact of our existence, and according to the latest US Geological Survey study its probably in the air you are breathing. It reveals that Roundup herbicide (aka glyphosate) and its still-toxic degradation byproduct AMPA were found in over 75% of the air and rain samples tested from Mississippi in 2007.

The researchers pointed out that, “the 2007 weekly air concentration pattern for glyphosate was similar to those of other commonly detected herbicides in both 1995 and 2007 in that the highest concentrations occurred in April and May. However, there were detectable concentrations of glyphosate over the entire growing season, which is consistent with how glyphosate is used on GM crops, including for post-emergent weed control throughout the growing season.” The longer period of exposure adds to growing concern that this ubiquitous toxicant represents an unavoidable body burden and that even small daily environmental exposures may be causing significant harm through their cumulative and synergistic effects with other toxicants.

This study brings to the surface the extent to which GM farming has altered our daily exposure to chemicals, such that even the rain and air we now breath contains physiologically relevant levels of glyphosate ‘fall out’ from the war against any plant not part of the monocultured, genetically engineered system of production.

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Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation Helping to Save the Hemlocks

Posted by on Feb 12, 2015 @ 11:48 am in Conservation | 2 comments

This spring, work crews will suit up and go to the rescue of eastern and Carolina Hemlock trees infested by the woolly adelgid, a tiny invasive insect striking down these majestic trees.

Late last year, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation received a grant from the Hemlock Restoration Initiative to collaborate with the National Park Service to help save these disappearing trees which are native to North Carolina. The funding will allow the chemical treatment of trees near the Blue Ridge Parkway in Avery, Haywood, Transylvania, and Watauga counties in North Carolina. Without intervention, woolly adelgid infestations can claim trees within a few years.

Meanwhile, two additional awardees are blazing trails to thwart the invasive woolly adelgid in other ways. While treatment crews work to save the stands that are vulnerable in the forest, Southwestern NC Resource Conservation & Development Council, based at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, is diligently working to create a hybrid hemlock species that will be resistant to the aphid-like insect. The Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development Council is expanding its program to release a natural predator, the Laricobius nigrinus beetle native to the Pacific Northwest, which can eat six or more adelgids per day. So far, the program has seen success in the Grandfather Mountain area.