Conservation & Environment

Leave most fossil fuels in the ground, or fry

Posted by on Jan 8, 2015 @ 4:24 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

For the world to meet its climate goals, a third of the world’s oil, half its gas and 80% of its coal must stay underground.

The sheer scale of the fossil fuel reserves that will need to be left unexploited for decades if world leaders sign up to a radical climate agreement is revealed in a study by a team of British scientists.

It shows that almost all the huge coal reserves in China, Russia and the US should remain unused, along with over 260 billion barrels of oil reserves in the Middle East – the equivalent of Saudi Arabia’s entire oil reserves. The Middle East would also need to leave over 60% of its gas reserves in the ground.

The authors of the report, which is published in the journal Nature, say some reserves could be used after 2050, so long as this kept emissions within the CO2 budget, which would be only about half the amount the world can afford to use between now and 2050.

They say a factor that might help in the use of fossil fuels is that carbon capture and storage (CCS) is expected to be much more widely deployable by mid-century, assuming it to be a mature technology by then.

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Upper Dry Creek easement allows for conservation, restoration, research

Posted by on Jan 7, 2015 @ 11:13 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Upper Dry Creek easement allows for conservation, restoration, research

Tim Breuer doesn’t ask the question unless he knows the answer will be “yes.” Sometimes, it takes awhile to get there. In the case of the most recent easement agreements between the city of Boise, Idaho, the Land Trust of the Treasure Valley and Grossman Company Properties, it took 20 years.

“The first time I walked on [Upper Dry Creek] with the landowners was in 1994,” said Breuer, who has been the executive director of the Land Trust for eight years. At the time, he was the Ridge to Rivers coordinator for the city of Boise. Since then, it has been a slow but steady process of wooing the land owners into allowing the public on the popular hiking trails in perpetuity.

This newest easement agreement, however, goes far beyond the 11 miles of trail just off Bogus Basin Road. For starters, it isn’t just one easement. It includes three separate agreements: one between the city and the owner allowing the permanent trail easement so the Department of Parks and Recreation can perform maintenance; another between the city and the owner with a revocable easement covering nine miles of logging roads; and a third, between the owner and the Land Trust that allows for conservation work in the area.

The last conservation easement encompasses 3,400 acres and gives the Land Trust 10 years to enhance wildlife habitat, minimize sediment into the stream and decrease creek crossings along the trails.

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How oil drilling is threatening Utah’s red rock recreation sites

Posted by on Jan 6, 2015 @ 2:24 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A different kind of spire is jutting into the iconic red rock vistas of Moab, Utah. It is the scaffolding of drilling rigs, and it heralds a new chapter in Moab’s long history of energy extraction. Moab may have been comfortable with the uranium industry that put it on the map in another century. But having an oil patch in the midst of this area’s popular national parks and renowned recreational backcountry is jarring to some residents.

Oil and gas wells have been drilled piecemeal around here for decades. But today’s wells represent a kind of backcountry industrialization that this area hasn’t dealt with before. The area where the drilling is taking place attracts an estimated 500,000 backcountry recreationists a year. Those visitors are now a bedrock of Moab’s economy. Seventy percent of jobs in Grand County derive from tourism.

Out in the oil-rich lands, away from Moab’s ever-expanding hotel strip, transmission pipes are being slung over slick rock, through piñon and juniper trees and across draws where horses, mountain bikes and all-terrain vehicles have long played.

The lights on rigs and the flares from wells can be seen in the night sky from Arches and Canyonlands national parks and Dead Horse Point State Park. Truckloads of fluids and sand and oil lumber up and down the twists of Utah 313 that ends where the movie characters Thelma and Louise revved their convertible off a cliff and into eternity.

On a recent morning, backhoes, excavators and dump trucks chewed up the red mud alongside the highway to extend a pipeline to a new well where the smell of anti-corrosion chemicals hung heavy in a winter fog. The well is 7 miles from the southern boundary of Arches, a park that attracts more than a million visitors a year.

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Land acquisition for Headwaters forest passes halfway mark

Posted by on Jan 5, 2015 @ 4:37 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Land acquisition for Headwaters forest passes halfway mark

Using government grants and private donations, the N.C. Forest Service and its partners have now acquired more than half of the land necessary for a new 8,000-acre state forest in Transylvania County.

The Forest Service was able to purchase another 1,018 acres in the East Fork of the French Broad River from former U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor in 2014, bringing the total acreage acquired to 4,229 acres.

“When we started this process (in 2013), we thought it would be a three- to five-year acquisition period,” said Assistant Regional Forester Michael Cheek. “In 2013-14, we’ve gotten over 4,000 acres, so I think we’re making pretty good progress.”

The sprawling landscape south of Rosman boasts roughly 25 waterfalls — including the 100-foot-plus Hidden Falls — along with 60 miles of high-quality streams, nine rare mountain bogs and habitat for several endangered or uncommon plants and animals.

The Taylor property is the largest undeveloped tract of private land in Western North Carolina and has ranked as a top conservation priority since the former congressman approached Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy about selling it in 2009.

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Land trust adds to wildlife corridor in Jackson County, NC

Posted by on Jan 3, 2015 @ 10:00 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Land trust adds to wildlife corridor in Jackson County, NC

Located less than 2 miles from Panthertown Valley in Jackson County, a new conservation easement will provide a critical wildlife corridor, connecting three other easements.

The 48-acre Black Bear Trail property, now held by the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, becomes part of a continuous natural area of more than 1,000 acres, including habitat ranging from forest to rocky outcrops to water. The land includes about 5,625 linear feet of perennial headwater tributary streams, including at least two springs, which join to feed into Cedar Creek. Cedar Creek is a Class III trout stream that feeds into Lake Glenville in the Tuckasegee River Basin.

The property had been held by Tim and Emily Campbell, long-time friends of conservation. This is the sixth property they have conserved with HCLT, including The Mountain Retreat and Learning Center in Highlands, which Tim conserved with his business partner, Jeff Murphy.



Wild buffalo now roam east of the Mississippi for the first time since the 1830s

Posted by on Dec 30, 2014 @ 10:12 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

When David Crites walked out of his apartment last month, he was greeted by a line of six or so bison standing shoulder to shoulder in the front yard. He sidled over to his truck, staring at the huge animals, slipped into the front seat, then closed the door and turned on the ignition. As the pickup slowly made its way down the driveway, the bison lumbered alongside.

“It was like I was in Yellowstone,” Crites says. But he wasn’t. His temporary job is to remove trees and install fences in the Nachusa Grasslands of north-central Illinois—where wild bison recently set hooves down for the first time in almost 200 years.

The herd of 30 bison is part of an effort by the Nature Conservancy to restore grasslands in the Prairie State, which, perhaps ironically, has lost more than 99 percent of its former grassland. In the late 1980s, conservationists happened to be passing by the Nachusa when they heard the call of an upland sandpiper, a bird that breeds in tallgrass prairies. The Nature Conservancy then began buying farms in the area as they became available, and now it owns a total of 3,500 acres.

The group is doing its best to re-create a lost landscape, says Jeff Walk, director of science for the Nature Conservancy’s Illinois chapter. He knows the prairie won’t be exactly the same as yesteryear’s, but he and the rest of the team are trying to get as close a match as possible.

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Pope Francis Expected To Instruct One Billion Catholics To Act On Climate Change

Posted by on Dec 30, 2014 @ 7:33 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

At the end of 2015, the nations of the world will meet in Paris and attempt to hammer out a global deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions. And Pope Francis hopes that the world’s Catholics, as well as other major religions, will be a big part of serious climate action.

This includes a series of steps next year. Francis is expected to tell the planet’s 1.2 billion Catholics why acting on climate change is essential to the faith using an influential church document called an encyclical. This has been long-rumored, but will reportedly be released to the world’s 5,000 bishops and 400,000 priests following a papal visit to the hurricane-damaged city of Tacloban in the Philippines.

In September, the Pope will take his message to the U.N. General Assembly in a New York address next year, according to John Vidal of the Guardian, who cited Vatican insiders. He will reportedly personally lobby political and faith leaders there, with the goal of pushing them to commit to real action ahead of the Paris meetings in December of next year.

Earlier this year, Francis told a massive crowd in Rome, “if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us!” He has called the destruction of the rainforest a “sin,” and under his leadership, the Church held a five-day summit with scientists, economists, philosophers, astronomers, and other experts to explore ways the Catholic church could address climate and sustainability.

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View of Smokies shows air quality improving in East Tennessee

Posted by on Dec 29, 2014 @ 11:27 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Don Barger can tell from his commute to work that air quality in East Tennessee has improved in recent years. Barger, the southern regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, said the views of the Great Smoky Mountains on his way to work from Norris to Knoxville are evidence enough without the need to consult any data.

“We’ve got our mountains back,” said Barger, whose NPCA serves as an environmental park-protection organization. Barger said that faraway points in the Smokies — including the 6,593-foot-elevation Mount LeConte — are more often than not almost crystal-clear on his morning drive.

Litigation filed by NPCA and others against the Tennessee Valley Authority more than 10 years ago resulted in a historic settlement agreement in 2011. The resulting Clean Air Agreement created an enforceable strategy to retire 18 of 59 of TVA’s coal-fired boilers, and ensure that 36 others are brought up to modern standards by 2021. That will result in a systemwide reduction of 67 percent in sulfur dioxide and 69 percent in nitrogen oxides by 2021, according to NPCA. “Big coal-fired plants were the big culprits,” Barger said.

TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said TVA power plants have reduced sulfur dioxide emissions by 95 percent from peak levels in 1977, curbed various forms of nitrous oxide by 91 percent since peak levels in 1995 and reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent since 2005.

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Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front is place of surprises

Posted by on Dec 29, 2014 @ 6:08 am in Conservation | 0 comments

In his book “This House of Sky,” Ivan Doig described them as a “steel-blue army of mountains, drawn in battalions of peaks and reefs and gorges and crags as far along the entire rim of the earth as could be seen.”

“Summit after summit bladed up thousands of feet as if charging into the air to strike first at storm and lightning, valleys and clefts chasmed wide as if split and hollowed by thunderblast after thunderblast,” Doig wrote.

The Rocky Mountain Front, a marriage of opposites between the plains and mountains, has been inspiring writers and regular folks alike forever. The wall of mountains stretches 110 miles in Montana, beginning at the south end of Glacier National Park at U.S. Highway 2 and continuing south to Highway 200 south of the Dearborn River.

“It’s just like a work of art that can’t be duplicated anywhere,” said Gene Sentz, 73, of Choteau, a longtime Bob Marshall Wilderness guide.

The 2014 Heritage Act adds 67,000 acres of new wilderness on the Front, the first new wilderness in Montana since 1983. Another 208,000 acres is designated “conservation management area.”

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Think Like a Deer: Award-Winning Video Aims to Reduce Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions

Posted by on Dec 27, 2014 @ 4:14 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Collisions between vehicles and wildlife are a big problem on U.S. roads. Each year, on average, 1-2 million collisions with large animals, especially mule deer and white-tailed deer, end in 200 fatalities, 26,000 injuries, and costs exceeding $1 billion. About a third of the collisions reported on rural roads are wildlife-related, and two-lane highways with speed limits exceeding 55 miles per hour are particularly problematic.

Deer see things differently in a highway situation. Instead of tracking movement by following objects with their eyes as people do, a deer’s eyes are stationary. This allows deer to detect movement from predators that may be lurking. So, to a deer, a car heading into its path may only seem like an object that’s increasing in size. Deer also see less detail than humans. And a deer’s keen night vision results from an ability to take in a lot of light, which makes headlights blinding.

U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station wildlife biologist Sandra Jacobson, a transportation ecology expert, wants to make roads safer for wildlife and people. She and partners at the agency’s Missoula Technology and Development Center have produced a video, “Avoiding Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions,” to do just that.

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EPA Just Saved Utilities a Lot of Money With Weak Coal Ash Regulation

Posted by on Dec 19, 2014 @ 7:48 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

EPA Just Saved Utilities a Lot of Money With Weak Coal Ash Regulation

When power plants burn coal, they’re left with a coal ash residue containing arsenic, mercury, lead, and selenium. Until today, there were no federal standards for utilities to dispose of it. Utilities produce more than 100 million tons of the stuff annually, and what’s not recycled into concrete is spread across the country in 1,400 dry and wet ponds. The problem, environmentalists say, is that the coal ash is sometimes dumped into unlined and open-air pits and seeps into the ground, gets picked up by the wind, and occasionally spills into rivers and streams.

For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency has set a minimum baseline for coal-ash disposal that leaves enforcement to states. Ponds will now have to be inspected regularly and monitored for groundwater contamination; those that are leaky will be shut down. New ponds will now have to be lined and located away from sensitive areas like earthquake zones and wetlands. Otherwise, the EPA doesn’t address what to do with inactive ponds. The EPA’s regulations would not have applied to Duke Energy’s Dan River site, where a closed-down pond leaked 39,000 tons of coal ash into the river in February.

Environmentalists hoped the EPA would label coal ash as a hazardous waste, requiring utilities to dispose of it in facilities that are lined and sealed and far away from bodies of water. They’ve been asking the EPA to set stricter requirements for years—ever since the coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee in 2008. The EPA labeled it as a solid waste instead, meaning coal ash ponds are subject to requirements similar to those controlling household waste.

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America’s Second-Biggest Form Of Waste Is About To Be Federally Regulated For The First Time

Posted by on Dec 18, 2014 @ 4:54 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The EPA has confirmed that on Friday, Dec. 19, 2014 it will release its first-ever regulations on the second-largest form of waste generation in the United States: coal ash.

When it is is finalized, the rule is expected to include requirements on how coal ash should be disposed, how existing coal ash pits should be cleaned up, whether coal ash should be designated as a hazardous material, and who should be responsible for enforcing the rules.

Coal ash is a byproduct of coal burning, and often contains chemicals like arsenic, chromium, mercury, and lead. After producing it, coal companies sometimes dispose of it by dumping it into ditches, and filling those ditches with water. Those ditches, called coal ash ponds or lagoons, are often unlined, meaning the coal ash comes in direct contact with the environment.

There are more than 1,400 coal ash sites in the United States, most of which are located in close proximity to lakes and rivers due to the vast quantity of water needed to burn coal for power.

Right now, coal ash ponds are federally designated as nonhazardous, and enforcement over them is left to the states. Environmental groups hope that will change under the new rule. Among other things, they want the material to be officially designated as hazardous; they want to require companies to clean up existing unlined pits immediately; and they want the federal government, not states, to enforce the rules.

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What One Wolf’s Extraordinary Journey Means for the Future of Wildlife in America

Posted by on Dec 18, 2014 @ 11:59 am in Conservation | 0 comments

On Feb. 5, 2014, the world’s most famous wolf woke up somewhere along the Oregon-California border, very likely in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, a landscape of Alpine forests and grassland valleys. For the better part of a year he had been making his home in this place where the Cascade, Klamath, and Siskiyou mountains converge.

It was cold that day, in the upper 20s or lower 30s depending on his altitude. Still, it was plenty warm for a gray wolf, which can sleep comfortably at 40 below. Known as OR7—the seventh wolf to be fitted by Oregon wildlife officials with a location-transmitting collar—the wolf likely rose, shook off whatever snow may have fallen on his coat overnight, and sniffed around for anything new and exciting. In the still morning air, he could pick up a scent from nearly two miles away.

After getting a cool drink from a mountain stream, OR7 probably left his mark on a tree stump, just as he’d done thousands of times since setting out on the long, quixotic trek that took him from his birthplace in northeast Oregon and carried him over mountain ranges, across rivers and highways, and around the dangerous edges of civilization. Dispersing wolves tend to set up shop about 60 miles from their birth pack’s territory; OR7 was more than 500 miles from home. He’d been even further, deep into California, where he became the first wolf in nearly a century to take up residence in the state, staying for more than a year before settling down here in Oregon’s southern mountain ranges.

Since leaving home in September 2011, OR7 didn’t have much to show for his travels. Sure, he’d become an important symbol: His trek through lands that could form new wolf territories—lands conservationists would like to see protected and traditional Western lobbies would like to see exploited for hunting, ranching, and resource extraction—has added fire to the battle over the future of wolves in the West. It’s a battle framed at the extremes: Some wish to end livestock grazing on public lands altogether, others see the return of wolves as an ominous threat to be addressed by any means necessary.

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WNC’s National Forests at crossroads

Posted by on Dec 17, 2014 @ 7:46 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

On Oct. 21, 2014 the U.S. Forest Service unveiled draft management area boundaries that put 692,700 acres — about 69 percent — of Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest in management areas that make “timber production, for the purposeful growing and harvesting of crops of trees to be cut into logs” the “primary or secondary use of the land.”

Today, the Nantahala-Pisgah is one of the jewels of the National Forest system, receiving more than seven million visitors annually and playing a key role in Western North Carolina’s $2 billion tourist economy.

People still love the forest for the water, wildlife, scenery, wood, plants and recreation it provides. Timber harvests for the last 12 years have been sustainable, averaging less than 800 acres annually, and there is an opportunity to increase that number while doing ecologically beneficial work.

Yet, the divisions of the “timber wars” of the ’80s and ’90s still persist.

When WNCA saw the proposal to add 163,000 acres to the “suitable timber base” and the 200,000 acres of trail corridors, backcountry areas and rare species habitat that remain unprotected, WNCA and its partners sounded the alarm.

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Take a Walk on a Leaky Uintah Basin Oil Well With a Whistleblowing Oil and Gas CEO

Posted by on Dec 15, 2014 @ 9:07 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Three separate and very interesting things have happened over the past few months, and what makes them even more interesting is the timing, and the fact that they all happened within such a short period.

Sequentially speaking, the second and most recent thing that happened, is that a midwife in the highly conservative oil patch community of Vernal, Utah in the Uintah Basin observed something — a ghastly discovery that apparently no state or federal agencies, nor even the local TriCounty Health Department had yet observed– dead babies, and way too many of them.

Newsweek broke the story about Donna Young and the apparent cluster of stillborn Uintah Basin babies, and it turned out that the midwife of 19 years had put two and two together after experiencing the first stillborn birth in her nearly two decades of practice — then subsequently noticing abundant newborn graves in the local cemetery.

She then began to do her own research by tracking infant obituaries in the local Uintah County paper, and what she found turned out to be very shocking indeed. Upon further examination, her observations revealed the stark fact that the heavily fracked and drilled Vernal area had just witnessed an elevation in infant deaths — rising from numbers that closely resembled the national average back in 2010, to a number six times that by 2013.

The Uintah Basin has undergone a massive boom in oil and gas development in the last several years — a boom that like the explosion in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale has lead to an increase in oil production by hundreds of percent, in just a few short years.

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House Republicans Voted Against the Environment More Than 500 Times in the Past Four Years

Posted by on Dec 12, 2014 @ 7:13 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The House of Representatives will end its legislative session this week having recorded at least 234 votes against the environment in two years. According to a December 1, 2014 count by the minority staff on the Energy and Commerce committee, the House floor held 551 anti-environment votes over the four years since Republicans took control—including votes on bills and amendments that weakened Environmental Protection Agency regulations, opened lands to coal and oil, made changes to the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, approved the Keystone XL pipeline, and more. The report also includes times Republicans rejected pro-climate and environment amendments from Democrats. The EPA was the major target for the 113th Congress, with 145 votes to restrict EPA rulemaking and funding.

Since 2010, Democratic control of the Senate meant much of the GOP’s agenda had little chance of becoming law. That will change in January, and this report serves as one of the best previews of what the next Congress will plan for the environment. Both House Speaker John Boehner and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have promised to renew legislation approving the Keystone pipeline, rolling back the EPA’s cap on carbon pollution from power plants, the ozone rule, and others.

Senate filibusters and President Barack Obama’s veto pen still stand in the way, but Republicans plan on using must-pass appropriations bills to raise the stakes of these negotiations.

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We have the technology to make invisible pollution visible

Posted by on Dec 12, 2014 @ 6:47 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Out of sight, out of mind. This certainly applies to methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.

That’s because methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas and the primary constituent of natural gas, is invisible to the naked eye.

And it’s one reason methane emissions, while a significant threat to our environment, don’t get the attention they should from policymakers or the public when compared to, say, conspicuous oil spills.

But we have the technology to make the invisible visible. A video shows that fugitive methane emissions look very much like an oil spill in the sky. The footage comes from FLIR, a maker of optical gas imaging cameras and one of the largest companies in the methane mitigation industry.

The company participated in a recent briefing on Capitol Hill intended to educate policymakers on the negative environmental implications of methane emissions. People were gasping as they watched plumes of methane leaking from well sites, processing plants and valves – pollution that was now visible through the infrared camera.

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NC’s ongoing coal ash regulatory disaster shows urgency of EPA action

Posted by on Dec 11, 2014 @ 5:49 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

It’s been 10 months since a pipe broke beneath a coal ash waste pit at a shuttered Duke Energy power plant in North Carolina, sending 39,000 tons of toxic waste into the Dan River, a drinking water source for downstream communities in Virginia and North Carolina.

One might think that 10 months would have been enough time for the company and North Carolina state regulators to ensure that the coal ash pits at its 13 other power plants across the state were secured and not putting other water sources at risk – but one would be wrong.

Last week, environmental watchdogs announced they had found “massive coal ash pollution leaks” coming from Duke Energy’s Buck Steam Station near the city of Salisbury in central North Carolina. Their tests show the leakage contains health-threatening levels of toxic metals including arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, and selenium. The pollution is contaminating the Yadkin River, which joins with the Uwharrie to become the Pee Dee; the Yadkin-Pee Dee is a drinking water source for communities in North and South Carolina.

How toxic is the pollution? The level of cancer-causing arsenic found in the leakage was triple the legal limit, and the level of neurotoxic barium was 6,000 times the health protection standard.

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