Conservation & Environment

Congress considers treating wildfire like other natural disasters

Posted by on May 8, 2015 @ 1:22 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

As the West girds itself for what looks likely to be a fierce wildfire season, a bipartisan group of Western senators is pushing a bill to rethink the way the federal government pays to fight catastrophic fires. The idea is that the largest wildfires would be treated like natural disasters. As with big hurricanes or earthquakes, funding for them wouldn’t have to come from an agency’s regular budget.

For seven of the last 12 years, wildfires have been so costly that the Forest Service ran through its fire budget in late summer, long before the season was over and had to raid other programs to keep fighting fires. The problem is so well known it’s got its own nickname, “fire borrowing.”

Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell warned a Senate committee this week that there’s a 90 percent chance his agency will have to do that again this year. The drought and low snowpack across much of the West contribute to the forecast for a bad fire season this year. Tidwell said that with global warming, fire seasons could be expected to be longer — 80 days longer than they were just 15 years ago — and fiercer. Saying that it’s “past time to find a solution,” he reiterated his support for the bipartisan funding bill sponsored by Sen. Wyden, D-Oregon.

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National Parks need a little love

Posted by on May 8, 2015 @ 6:48 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Roads and trails and buildings in our national parks are deteriorating, and adequate funding to fix that problem remains elusive.

With so many competing demands for federal dollars, the National Parks Service is often a lower priority, especially for repair projects. The result is that despite user fees the backlog of projects at national parks nationwide is $11.49 billion, according to the agency – a staggering sum in an era when Congress is more willing to cut spending than to find ways to invest in infrastructure. This includes work on roads that bring hikers and tourists into the parks.

This problem of crumbling roads, culverts, lodges and eroded trails is not new.

Deferred maintenance work in the park system is chronic and longstanding. It doesn’t take much searching to find news headlines since the early 1990s that referred to our parks system as being “loved to death.” That’s another way of saying that with a growing population the national parks — which encompass some of our nation’s most spectacular places — get so many visitors that they are being worn out.

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Confirming Fears, Scientists Detect Fracking Chemicals in Drinking Water

Posted by on May 7, 2015 @ 8:46 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A toxic chemical used in the controversial drilling practice known as fracking has been detected in the drinking-water supply of Pennsylvania homeowners, according to a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The chemical—2-Butoxyethanol or 2BE, known to have caused tumors in rodents—showed up as “white foam,” which one researcher “likened to dishwashing suds.”

The PNAS study, Evaluating a groundwater supply contamination incident attributed to Marcellus Shale gas development, suggests that drilling fluid escaped the narrow, vertical borehole while crews were first drilling the gas well, and then moved laterally along intermediate depth fractures to the aquifer used as a potable water source.

“This is the first case published with a complete story showing organic compounds attributed to shale gas development found in a homeowner’s well,” said Penn State geoscientist Susan Brantley, one of the study’s authors. Explaining further, she said: “This is the first documented and published demonstration of toxic compounds escaping from uncased boreholes in shale gas wells and moving long distances” into drinking water.

In other words, “the scientists believe that the pollution may come from a lack of integrity in the well which passes through the drinking aquifer and not the actual fracking process below.”



Drought kills 12 million trees in California’s national forests

Posted by on May 6, 2015 @ 5:50 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Rangers in the San Bernardino National Forest call them “red trees.”

Instead of the typical deep green color, large swaths of pine trees now don hues of death, their dehydrated needles turning brown and burnt-red because of the state’s worsening drought.

“Unlike back East, where you have fall colors, here it’s because the trees are dying,” said John Miller, a spokesman for the San Bernardino National Forest.

Years of extremely dry conditions are taking a heavy toll on forest lands across California and heightening the fire risk as summer approaches.

“The situation is incendiary,” William Patzert, a climatologist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told The Times recently. “The national forest is stressed out.”

A new study by the U.S. Forest Service tried to assess the scope of the problem. Researchers estimated that the drought has killed off at least 12.5 million trees in California’s national forests during the drought.

The scientists expect the die-off to continue. “It is almost certain that millions more trees will die over the course of the upcoming summer as the drought situation continues and becomes ever more long term,” said biologist Jeffrey Moore.

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Big Insurance Companies Are Warning The U.S. To Prepare For Climate Change

Posted by on May 6, 2015 @ 4:30 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A coalition of big insurance companies, consumer groups, and environmental advocates are urging the United States to overhaul its disaster policies in the face of increasingly extreme weather due to human-caused climate change.

According to a report released by the SmarterSafer coalition, the U.S. needs to increase how much it spends on pre-disaster mitigation efforts and infrastructure protection. That way, it asserts, the U.S. can stop wasting so much money on cleaning up after a disaster happens.

“Our current natural disaster policy framework focuses heavily on responding to disasters, rather than putting protective measures in place to reduce our vulnerability and limit a disaster’s impact,” the report reads. “This needlessly exposes Americans to greater risks to life and property and results in much higher costs to the federal government.”

The SmarterSafer coalition is made up of more than 30 different groups, including some of the biggest insurance companies in the world: Allianz, Liberty Mutual, SwissRe, and USAA, to name a few. Adequately dealing with the risks of climate change is inherently important to the insurance industry, as failure to prepare can lead to increased costs for insurance companies.

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California’s redwoods: In the land of the giants

Posted by on May 4, 2015 @ 3:47 am in Conservation | 0 comments

California’s old-growth coastal redwoods are the tallest trees on Earth, and the old-timers thrive in the foggy, rainy territory between Mendocino and the Oregon line. For many locals, these trees don’t just dominate the landscape; they connect with matters of life and death — even now, years past the timber industry’s glory days.

Bgin with the 32-mile Avenue of the Giants between Garberville and Fortuna, where the old growth of Humboldt Redwoods State Park alternates with roadside kitsch. Head into the park belt — a long, noncontiguous series of public lands that begin above Orick and stretch more than 70 miles north to Crescent City, including Prairie Creek Redwoods, Del Norte Coast Redwoods and Jedediah Smith Redwoods state parks, which together make up about half of Redwood National and State Parks.

Hiking in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, you will wonder whether the tallest tree in the world was hiding in plain sight. (It’s somewhere in the park, but rangers and serious tree people don’t disclose these things.)

You step into the forest and wade through ferns and ground-hugging oxalis, dodge poison oak, glance at moss-covered maples and Douglas firs. You run your hand along the soft, damp redwood bark — redwoods are related to sequoias but grow taller — you feel the soft floor of fallen leaves and needles underfoot. You consider the tonnage, the fires, the floods, the centuries towering above you.

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We’ll See You In The Forest

Posted by on May 3, 2015 @ 6:28 am in Conservation | 0 comments


Lassen Volcanic National Park is unmatched in the park system

Posted by on May 1, 2015 @ 7:38 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Unlike its neighbor Yosemite, at Lassen Volcanic National Park there were no crowds at the entrance gate, in the parking lots or on the trails. Only 400,000 people will make their way to Lassen this year; nearly 4 million will visit Yosemite, most of them during the summer.

“Not many people have discovered this park,” said Karen Haner, Lassen’s chief of interpretation and education. That makes the experience nicer for those of us who have discovered it.

Lassen, about a three-hour drive north of Sacramento, features jagged peaks, clear alpine lakes, quiet meadows full of wildflowers and ground that bubbles, hisses and smokes from volcanic activity.

Eruptions have rocked the region for more than 2 million years, but the spectacular landscape visitors see today began to form 100 years ago when a 30,000-foot-high volcanic blast unleashed a 12-mile-long mud flow that mowed down forests and reshaped the land.

Like the Asian volcanoes Krakatoa, Pinatubo and Mt. Fuji, Lassen is part of the Ring of Fire, a zone of mountain-building volcanoes that circle the Pacific Ocean..

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Namibia: Hiking Trails a Tourism Niche in Conservation Areas

Posted by on Apr 30, 2015 @ 5:20 am in Conservation, Hiking News | 0 comments

Hiking trails have been identified as one of new niche tourism markets aimed at enhancing values of farms around the capital of Namibia that offer unique landscapes.

New hiking trails are being promoted by the Namplace project, which is mandated to advocate and educate the public about landscape conservation in the identified pilot landscape conservation areas such as Sossusvlei Namib, Fish River Canyon, Waterberg, Mudumu and the Windhoek Green Belt.

“These efforts are to make farms more sustainable and encourage farmers not to deplete natural resources on farms. Rather we recommend they venture into tourism to preserve the natural environment for the future,” said Manini Kandume, project communication consultant.

Farm Godeis, situated approximately 70 kilometres west of Windhoek, in what is known as the green belt, is one of the farms where the hiking trail intervention has been implemented.

The Namplace project in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism has developed a Khomas-Hochland hiking trail in Windhoek’s green belt landscape, which is a pilot study of the Namplace project stretching 100 kilometres along five farms.



The Conception of Wild Ideas: Scientists Confront Conservation Challenges of Our Times

Posted by on Apr 29, 2015 @ 4:23 am in Conservation | 0 comments

1934 was a big year for conservation in the southern Appalachians. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established in June, and in October, on a roadside somewhere outside of Knoxville, Tennessee, The Wilderness Society was born.

The story of The Wilderness Society’s conception has been told different ways, but all versions involve a heated roadside discussion centered on the novel idea of protecting wild places from the growing threat of “recreational motoring” and its associated roads.

In Bernard and Miriam Frank’s car on that October Friday were Benton MacKaye (father of the Appalachian Trail), Harvey Broome (notable Tennessee author and conservationist), and Bob Marshall (namesake for a million acre wilderness area in Montana). This group of five was simmering on a provocative, and at that time new, idea: that some places should be left to their own devices where people could experience nature on its own terms. Setting aside large tracts of land as untrammeled wilderness provided the best way to protect nature’s wildness.

That historic day marked the beginning of The Wilderness Society, the organization most closely associated with the Wilderness Act, establishing a National Wilderness Preservation System that now contains over 100 million acres. These wilderness areas provide the core of a network of wildlands aimed at protecting nature and passing it on to future generations. As conservation science has developed, wilderness designation has repeatedly been shown to effectively protect wildlife and their habitats, clean water, and refuges from many pernicious threats.

77 years after The Wilderness Society was conceived, research ecologists met again in the Smokies to take on a new provocative idea: how do we ensure that future generations will have opportunities to experience nature under increasing pressures from climate change and other threats unknown in 1934?

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Burying Edward Abbey: The last act of defiance

Posted by on Apr 27, 2015 @ 4:30 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Burying Edward Abbey: The last act of defiance

Late in the day the trucks reached their destination and the four men stepped out into the backcountry of western Arizona. In the back of the trucks, they had enough gear for a few nights of camping — cases of beer, baling wire and tools for repairs, shovels for digging. And they had a body bag, full of dry ice and the corpse of Edward Abbey.

The day was sunny, but it had been a rough week. The men spotted a mesa with a nice view, gathered some tools and walked to the top. When they got there, two of the men, Jack Loeffler and Doug Peacock, started to argue about where to dig the grave.

It was fitting that even in death, Abbey was somehow involved in something just outside the law. Abbey was a writer and anarchist who distrusted big government, big development, big money and the military. He abhorred violence, but was not above mischief. He hiked federal land in the Cabeza Prieta wilderness area without proper permits. He also was said to have done his share of “field research” for one of his more famous books: a novel about a group of environmentalists who cut down billboards and vandalized construction sites to slow development in the desert he loved.

By late in his life, the author of Desert Solitaire, The Monkey Wrench Gang and other works had a reputation as a passionate writer and defender of the wilderness.

But his legacy, really, was only partly written in his lifetime. It would be sealed by his death.

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Where to see wilderness in the eastern U.S.

Posted by on Apr 26, 2015 @ 6:10 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Most of the best-known wilderness areas are out west, but states east of the Mississippi River still contain millions of acres of stunning land protected under the 50-year-old Wilderness Act.

Befitting a pioneer nation, many of our most revered natural landscapes, from the Grand Canyon to Yosemite, are in the west. However, the roots of American conservation lie firmly in the eastern half of the country, as do many pieces of extraordinary designated wilderness.

The Wilderness Act of 1964, was authored by Howard Zahniser, an easterner whose love of nature was formed partly in upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains. And amid icons like Bob Marshall Wilderness (Montana) and Glacier Peak Wilderness (Washington), the first batch of irreplaceable public land protected that year included three eastern wilderness areas: New Hampshire’s Great Gulf Wilderness, and North Carolina’s Linville Gorge and Shining Rock Wildernesses.

In the east, you can find soaring mountain ranges, lush autumn foliage, exotic coastal wetlands and much more, protecting a wide range of wildlife habitat and offering ample recreation opportunities for hikers, campers, hunters, fishers and sightseers. The close proximity of many of these wildlands to major metropolitan areas makes them all the more delicate, but it also lends them much of their power, as a primal salve to smoggy, fast-paced city life.

Here are just a few notable wilderness areas east of the Mississippi River…


Bison might soon call the Windy City area home

Posted by on Apr 25, 2015 @ 5:15 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A small herd of about two dozen bison could be grazing on restored grassland south of Chicago as soon as this fall.

Officials plan to introduce a mix of young and mature bison at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, where the U.S. Forest Service and other groups have been trying to restore grassland at a site that was used as a U.S. Army ammunition plant for many years. The 1,200-acre area could eventually be home to about 100 bison.

Bison are an important part of prairie ecosystems, and they will help restore the site’s native grass species, the Forest Service says. That will improve the habitat for native grassland birds.

The first animals should arrive in the fall, said Greg Peters, a spokesman for the National Forest Foundation.

“We saw an opportunity to return an iconic species back to the native tallgrass prairie where they had existed before,” Peters said.

Over the summer, workers will construct pasture fences, corrals, hiking trails, overlooks and other facilities for visitors.



Obama pledges millions for national parks restoration

Posted by on Apr 23, 2015 @ 8:17 am in Conservation | 0 comments

On the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, President Barack Obama looked out on the tall grasses of the Florida Everglades Wednesday and declared that the sweeping wetlands illustrate the dangers posed by climate change.

“This is a problem now,” he said.

Obama visited the South Florida landmark to warn of the damage a warming planet is already inflicting on the nation’s environmental treasures – and announced more financing for conservation efforts.

In addition to the $2.2 billion investment in Everglades restoration, the president is also proposing another $240 million this year to fund more land and water conservation efforts. Mr. Obama announced an additional $25 million in private and public funding for the restoration of national parks.

The chief executive also hammered political opponents that he says are doing far too little about it. “Climate change can no longer be denied,” he said. “It can’t be edited out, it can’t be omitted from the conversation and action can no longer be delayed.”

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Experts Help Joshua Tree National Park Staff “Erase” Graffiti At Barker Dam Historic Site

Posted by on Apr 22, 2015 @ 10:45 am in Conservation | 0 comments

It took more than a year, but crews at Joshua Tree National Park, aided by professional conservators from the University of New Mexico, have largely “erased” graffiti scratched into the Barker Dam, a historic site inside the California park. Barker Dam is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The year-and-a-half partnership culminated with a weeklong project in March, where architectural conservators from the University of New Mexico volunteered their skills to effectively mitigate the visual impacts of scratched graffiti from the entire surface of the dam.

The dam can still hold water, but the ongoing drought in California has severely reduced annual precipitation. Lowering water levels in the dam exposed the naturally weathered surface and vandals were quick to act. In less than a year, scratched graffiti spread across over 50 percent of the entire surface of the dam.

UNM conservators employed a method known as “in-painting” to blend the scratched areas into the surrounding naturally weathered surface. “In-painting” is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process that involves adding pigments to the scratched areas with a method similar to the painting style of pointillism. Instead of merely painting over the graffiti entirely, the paint is applied in a way that matches the surrounding colors, textures, and patterns.

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Wildflower Weekend Coming To New River Gorge National River In West Virginia

Posted by on Apr 22, 2015 @ 3:11 am in Conservation | 0 comments

If, after the long, snowy and cold winter, you’re ready for some colorful spring wildflowers, consider heading to New River Gorge National River in West Virginia this weekend, April 24-26, 2015, for the 12th Annual New River Gorge Wildflower Weekend.

This three-day event showcases the biologically diverse southern Appalachian forest at New River Gorge National River, Tamarack, and the state parks of Babcock, Hawks Nest, Little Beaver, Pipestem Resort, and Twin Falls Resort.

According to park staff, the New River Gorge area has the most diverse flora of any river gorge in central Appalachia. New River Gorge National River and area West Virginia state parks help preserve this unbroken and globally significant section of the Appalachian forest ecosystem. Besides providing essential habitat for endangered mammals, rare birds and amphibians, a dedicated botanist can find more than 1,400 species of plants in these park sites.

All programs are free. Just be sure to bring water and wear sturdy walking shoes for guided walks. Snacks, binoculars, a hand lens, and a favorite field guide are also useful.

Complete schedule here…


We Didn’t Learn Anything From Deepwater Horizon—And We’re Going to Pay For It

Posted by on Apr 20, 2015 @ 4:59 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

We Didn’t Learn Anything From Deepwater Horizon—And We’re Going to Pay For It

Today is the fifth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, an event that triggered the nation’s worst-ever oil spill. The well leaked for three months and dumped over 200 million gallons of oil into the sea. The explosion itself killed eleven men; the resulting pollution killed a stupefying amount of wildlife, including 800,000 some birds. And despite billions paid out by BP in fines and restoration costs, the economic impact of the disaster remains wide-reaching and ongoing.

But possibly even more outrageous than the spill itself is how little has been done by government to prevent a similar disaster. The oil and gas industry has stayed active in Washington, and managed to fend off serious efforts to curb drilling: Congress has passed zero new laws—not one—to restrict offshore drilling or force it to be safer.

The Obama administration has approved over 1,500 offshore drilling permits since the spill. And back in January the administration announced a plan to open new areas in the Atlantic and Arctic for offshore drilling.

Drilling in the Gulf makes up less than one-fifth of US crude oil production, and an even smaller share of total oil production if you count unconventional oil from fracking. So it wouldn’t be a crippling blow to our energy supply to consider putting the brakes on offshore drilling—if not forever, at least until we feel secure that we’ve done enough to prevent another Deepwater Horizon.

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15 Alabama State Parks Are On The Chopping Block

Posted by on Apr 17, 2015 @ 8:56 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A recent budget crisis in Alabama could force as many as 15 state parks to close their gates to the public.

According to Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein, those parks include Bladon Springs, Chickasaw, Bucks Pocket, Paul Grist, Florala, Blue Springs, Roland Cooper, Rickwood Caverns, Cheaha Park, Lake Lurleen, DeSoto, Lakepoint, Guntersville, Joe Wheeler, and Frank Jackson.

If the plan goes through, not only would the parks turn away potential visitors, but they would lose critical funding earmarked for upkeep and maintenance.

One of the parks on the chopping block—Cheaha Park—is home to the state’s tallest mountain, while Guntersville and Joe Wheeler are considered two of Alabama’s most treasured natural areas. The closures could also effect portions of Alabama’s famous Pinhoti National Recreation Trail.

Lein told WHNT that the parks in question have reported subpar profits over the last three years while the 7 parks that would remain open under new budget cuts have been more financially stable.



National Park Week 2015

Posted by on Apr 16, 2015 @ 2:00 am in Conservation | 0 comments

National Park Week 2015

The nation is buzzing about National Park Week, America’s largest celebration of national heritage, April 18–26, 2015. It’s about making great connections, exploring amazing places, discovering open spaces, enjoying affordable vacations and enhancing America’s best idea—the national parks. It’s all happening in your national parks.

The National Park Service is once again partnering with the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, to present National Park Week, a presidentially proclaimed celebration of our national heritage.

April 18 and 19: On opening weekend of National Park Week every national park will give you free admission!

April 18: On National Junior Ranger Day, parks will invite young visitors to explore, learn, protect and be sworn in as junior rangers.

April 22: This Earth Day, if you want to roll up your sleeves and pitch in with a project, look for a park where you can help out.

Whether you’re a hiker, a historian, a romantic, a family with kids, a crowd-lover or simply someone seeking solitude there’s bound to be a national park for you. Get out there!