The sun, the moon and the stars would have disappeared long ago had they happened to be within the reach of predatory human hands. Havelock Ellis
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For 69 years, North Carolina’s Fort Bragg has trained the U.S. Army’s elite and airborne troops. Soldiers drilled at the fort have served in wars from Korea to Afghanistan. But in 1990, the base’s top brass encountered an unexpected foe that threatened to shut down Fort Bragg’s highly tuned operations: the red-cockaded woodpecker.
After years of charting the bird’s rapid decline and trajectory toward extinction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a “jeopardy biological opinion” in 1990, requiring the base to take action to recover its woodpecker population or face sharp restrictions on military training activities.
The ruling caught base leaders off guard. “We’d just returned from the Gulf War, and we were handed a jeopardy opinion,” says Mike Lynch, Fort Bragg’s director of plans, training and mobilization.
Ironically, with perhaps as little as 3 percent of the bird’s primary habitat—longleaf pine forest—remaining in the Southeast, Fort Bragg had become something of a haven for the endangered species. “It’s not how you might imagine a big army base to be,” says Ryan Elting, The Nature Conservancy’s North Carolina Sandhills program director. “Well over 120,000 acres at Fort Bragg are longleaf pine forest.”
Says Lynch, “At the end of the day, it wasn’t the army’s training or the soldiers or the bullets that were harming the woodpecker.” The culprit behind the bird’s decline on the base turned out to be ecological neglect: Years of suppressing forest fires on the base had begun to alter the longleaf pine habitat preferred by the red-cockaded woodpecker, and dense thickets of brush and scrub oak were filling in openings. The changes gave a boost to the bird’s competitors and predators, such as rat snakes. “We were not taking care of our forest,” says Lynch.
The red-cockaded woodpecker is no stranger to hardship. The bird was considered endangered before the U.S. Endangered Species Act passed into law in 1973. Even after receiving protected status, however, the woodpecker’s population continued to plummet for decades. From 1980 to 1990, the estimated number of woodpecker breeding groups (the birds live in clusters, usually with one breeding pair and several “helpers”) fell from 5,210 to 4,000.
The bird’s habitat of longleaf pine forests once blanketed more than 90 million acres from Texas to Virginia. Beginning in the late 1800s, those forests were systematically cut for timber and cleared for farm fields. Today fewer than 3.4 million acres of longleaf pine forests remain.
Frequent wildfires in the Southeast—usually sparked by lightning strikes—were the key to the past success of the longleaf pine and the red-cockaded woodpecker. The fires stimulate sprouting of the native groundcover that harbors the woodpeckers’ favorite insect prey. And the fires clear out brush, scrub oak and other hardwood tree species, allowing the pines, with their thick, fire-resistant bark, to thrive.
The red-cockaded woodpeckers adapted to life in this fire-driven habitat by carving out a niche, quite literally, in living pine trees, which helps protect their roosts from fire, says Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Susan Miller. (Other woodpecker species make roosting holes in dead trees.)
Winging It with Ospreys When a brisk wind began whipping up whitecaps on Great Peconic Bay last autumn, North Fork Bob was ready to go. Bob is an adult male osprey that summers on this shallow estuary near the tip of New York’s Long Island. As the bird was about to take off on his annual migration to the Tropics, Rob Bierregaard, an osprey researcher and professor at the University of North Carolina–Charlotte, was preparing to track him for a second season.
The previous year, Bierregaard, who names all his study ospreys, had briefly captured Bob by tucking an enticing sea bass under a carpet of fishing-line slipknots stretched across a nest. After carefully extracting the bird’s toes, Bierregaard weighed and banded him, then strapped a tiny pack on his back. Attached was a solar-powered satellite transmitter with a miniature GPS unit that would record Bob’s hourly location, altitude, speed and direction for the next three years. “It’s accurate down to tens of meters,” says Bierregaard, providing a level of detail and accuracy once thought impossible. And with the help of Google Earth, the scientist also can get a bird’s-eye view of Bob’s stopover and wintering habitats.
When Bob lifted off on the morning of October 3, he faced a gauntlet of potential hurricanes, hostile shooters and other dangers. “It’s a nerve-wracking time of year,” Bierregaard says. “We lose the most birds on the southbound migration.” Bob began his perilous journey by island-hopping down the Atlantic coast. He flew the length of the Florida Keys and crossed to Cuba, where he flirted with catastrophe by hanging out for a week just upstream from a fish farm. Ospreys are often shot at these facilities once they leave the United States, says Bierregaard, but Bob dodged the bullet, “figuratively if not literally.” From there, it was on to Haiti, then a 25-hour nonstop flight over the Caribbean to landfall in Colombia. By late November, Bob had reached the exact spot where he had wintered the previous year: along a shallow river in the highlands of southern Venezuela.
The travels of North Fork Bob and other ospreys fitted with Bierregaard’s transmitters are not only unlocking the secrets of their migrations, they also are revealing information on their winter behavior. For one thing, Bierregaard has found that adults don’t stray very far once they arrive at their southern home. “Bob’s barely moved the entire winter, not more than a mile and a half,” Bierregaard says. “He’s been a total couch potato.”
The sophisticated transmitters, which Bierregaard and his colleagues have placed on 34 ospreys in Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and South Carolina, also allow researchers to study the foraging ecology of ospreys on their breeding grounds. Biologists can discover exactly where the birds fish and where the threats to ospreys—and their ecosystems—might lie. “They are a sentinel species,” Bierregaard says, “the canary in the coal mine, so to speak.” If anything goes amiss in the waters where these top predators dive for flounder, menhaden and other fish, it will show up in the adults, their eggs or their young.
This happened, famously, about a half century ago. By the 1960s, the pesticide DDT—first used in the late 1940s—had accumulated in the tissues of ospreys and other birds. As a result, females laid eggs with shells much thinner than normal. In extreme cases, eggs broke under the weight of incubating adults. Hatching success even in eggs that did not break was very low.
Between New York and Boston, where the salt marshes were sprayed with DDT for mosquito control, ospreys nearly disappeared. “The coastal birds were essentially mainlining DDT,” says Alan Poole, a senior research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and author of the book Ospreys: A Natural and Unnatural History. “They couldn’t reproduce for many years.” Elsewhere in the country, says Poole, osprey numbers also sharply declined, but not as much as in New England.
In 1972, DDT was banned in the United States, and ospreys gradually began to recover. Today, although scientists still monitor them for traces of mercury or other industrial pollutants, the birds are back in a big way. A rough 2001 estimate by Bierregaard put the population in the Lower 48 at just below 20,000 pairs.
“There may be more ospreys nesting in North America now than ever before,” says Charles Henny, a research zoologist emeritus with the U.S. Geological Survey in Corvallis, Oregon, who has studied the species for 40 years. “It’s really a success story.” Ospreys succeeded in part because they have readily forsaken trees to build their 250-pound nests on power poles, cell phone towers, channel markers and other human-made structures. And unlike most raptors, ospreys are tolerant of people, even raising their young next to busy highways or marinas.
Today large concentrations of breeding ospreys are found in the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes, New England, the Chesapeake Bay region and elsewhere along the Atlantic coast as far south as Florida. They also nest in sizable numbers in reservoirs scattered across western states. Ospreys nest in all but four of the Lower 48 states. In good years, when fish are abundant, adults usually fledge one or two offspring.
Expedition Captures 26 Rare Millerbirds, Releases Them Safely at New Home on Remote Hawaiian Island The second phase of an ambitious and historic effort to save one of the United States’ rarest bird species from extinction reached another milestone as a group of 26 Millerbirds captured on Nihoa Island was released by biologists on the northwestern Hawaiian island of Laysan, some 650 miles away.
This second such translocation took place between August 12 and August 18, and was carried out by a team of biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), American Bird Conservancy (ABC), and other organizations as part of a multi-year effort to restore Millerbirds to Laysan Island within the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge and Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and World Heritage site.
Millerbirds have been absent from Laysan for almost a century as a result of habitat destruction due to introduced rabbits and other livestock. The last of these animals was removed from Laysan in the early 20th Century. FWS has been working to restore Laysan’s native vegetation for more than two decades. A self-sustaining Millerbird population on Laysan will ensure that the species is no longer vulnerable to extinction from a catastrophic event on Nihoa such as a hurricane or the accidental introduction of an alien predator or disease.
Last year, in the highly successful first phase of the translocation effort, 24 Millerbirds were moved from Nihoa to Laysan. Since their September 10, 2011, release this pioneer group of birds has survived and thrived, producing 17 young. The birds that are part of the second translocation also were captured on Nihoa and transported on a three-day boat trip to Laysan.
“So far, everything has gone extremely well for the birds,” said Sheila Conant of the University of Hawai‘i, who pioneered the study of Millerbirds on Nihoa in the 1980s and is a member of this year’s translocation team. “They were captured without incident; they made it through the boat ride in good health; we had no problems attaching transmitters to them; and they have now been released to their new habitat without a hitch. So we are thrilled with the way this phase has gone.”
With the 24 Millerbirds brought to Laysan last year, “the team has now translocated 50 “founder” Millerbirds—the initial target number set by the conservation team for giving the species the best possible chance of establishing a self-sustaining population on Laysan,” said Don Palawski, Acting FWS Superintendent of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which encompasses the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
During the voyage from Nihoa to Laysan aboard the vessel M/V Searcher, the Millerbirds were cared for by avian husbandry experts and a wildlife veterinarian from the U.S. Geological Survey. The itinerary included several days on Nihoa to capture the birds and allow them to acclimate to captivity prior to the sea voyage to Laysan, and three days on Laysan to release the birds and initiate radio-tracking of their movements. A Native Hawaiian cultural liaison accompanied the biologists on the translocation voyage and remained on Nihoa with the biological monitoring team. Two biologists will remain on Laysan through the end of October, and one will remain through the winter to monitor the newly released Millerbirds, the young produced in 2012, and the adults translocated in 2011.
“Certainly, there is much more to be done before we can say ‘we did it’ but I think everyone is satisfied that our plans were well thought-out and well-executed in a seamless and highly professional fashion, said George Wallace, ABC Vice President for Oceans and Islands. “So far, the results are even better than we had hoped.”
“This would not have been possible without a talented, dedicated team of biologists and a bird that is tough enough to withstand a three-day sea voyage of over 600 miles while retaining enough moxie to grab flies out of the air while a radio-transmitter is being glued to its back!” said Sheldon Plentovich, FWS Coastal Program Coordinator for the Pacific Islands, and lead biologist on the Millerbird project.
The Millerbird, which weighs less than an ounce, is a lively gray and brown bird that forages for insects among low shrubs and bunch-grasses. On Laysan, it joins the Laysan Finch, Laysan Duck, Hawaiian monk seal, several endangered plant species, and millions of nesting seabirds.
Close observation of the first group of translocated Millerbirds over the past 11 months has yielded significant new scientific information about the species, such as details of breeding chronology, the fact that pairs can produce more than one brood in a season, and a still-emerging picture of how young birds mature and enter the breeding population. All this information is important in assessing the progress toward population establishment on Laysan and is valuable in the conservation and management of the species. The success to date indicates that Laysan has suitable habitat and adequate food resources to support Millerbirds.
As a co-manager of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and World Heritage Site, the FWS is proud to lead this project in collaboration with American Bird Conservancy. We are grateful for the support and assistance from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the University of New Brunswick, University of Hawai‘i, the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Research Center, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
Study Finds Free-Roaming Cats Pose Threat from “Serious Public Health Diseases” A study published in the peer-reviewed public health journal, Zoonoses and Public Health, has found that free-roaming cats pose a threat from “serious public health diseases” to humans, domestic animals, and wildlife.
The paper was authored by R.W. Gerhold of the University of Tennessee’s Center for Wildlife Health, Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, and by D.A. Jessup, retired from the California Department of Fish and Game.
Among the key findings of the paper are:
• Free roaming cats are an important source of animal-transmitted, serious diseases such as rabies, toxoplasmosis, and plague.
• Free roaming cats account for the most cases of human rabies exposure among domestic animals, and are the source for one-third of rabies post-exposure treatments in the United States. Because of inconsistent incident reporting, that number is likely an underestimate of the actual cases of rabies exposure.
• Trap, neuter, and release (TNR) programs may lead to increased, un-inoculated populations of cats that can serve as a source of transmittable serious diseases.
The study found that since 1988, rabies has been detected more frequently in cats than in dogs; in 2008, the number of cats detected with rabies was four times higher than dogs. In 2010, rabies cases declined for all domestic animals except cats, which comprised 62 percent of all rabies cases for domestic animals.
“This is a significant study that documents serious wildlife and public health issues associated with 125 million outdoor cats in the United States. Decision-making officials need to start looking at the unintended impacts these animals have on both the environment and human health when they consider arguments to sanction Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR) cat colonies. These colonies are highly detrimental to cats, wildlife, and people, and only serve to exacerbate the cat overpopulation problem,” said Darin Schroeder, Vice President for Conservation Advocacy at American Bird Conservancy.
According to the study, which cites numerous specific examples of rabies exposures from cats, “…….human exposure to rabies is largely associated with free-roaming cats because of people being more likely to come into contact with cats, [the existence of] large free-roaming cat populations and lack of stringent rabies vaccination programs.”
Importantly, the study also seems to directly contradict notions that TNR programs lead to smaller sizes of cat colonies and that they pose no health risk. Those programs purport to capture all the cats in a colony, neuter and vaccinate them, and return them to a colony that is fed and by volunteers.
“….neutered groups (colonies) increased significantly compared to [sexually] intact groups because of higher immigration and lower emigration. ………sexually intact adult cats immigrated into the neutered groups at a significantly higher rate than [they did to the] sexually intact group. ………immigrating sexually intact females had increased fertility along with increased survivorship of kittens as a population compensation response to neutered individuals.”
The authors report that the data suggest that neutered cat groups act as an attractant of sexually intact free-roaming cats, thus negating the belief that TNR programs lead to decreases in free-roaming cat populations. This attraction and subsequent movement of unneutered and un-inoculated cats into cat colonies “…may severely limit the protection offered by vaccination of TNR processed cats and would not abate the [transmittable disease] threat of rabies in these groups.”
The report also cited the dangers associated with TNR feeding stations in attracting raccoons, skunks, foxes, and other wild animals associated with rabies. The feeding stations not only increase the likelihood of contact between humans and rabies-exposed animals, they also increase the human and wildlife exposure to a potentially fatal parasite, raccoon roundworm, harbored by raccoons that is being seen in ever-increasing parts of the country. The danger to wildlife was illustrated in a 2008 study that found that five Florida panthers were killed as a result of a single such infected cat.
Another significant disease threat cited by the study concerns is a parasite frequently found in water or soil contaminated by cat feces. This parasite is responsible for causing the disease toxoplasmosis. Consequences of contracting this parasitic infection are most serious if you are either pregnant, HIV positive, or are undergoing chemo-therapy treatment, and range from significant to severe to fatal. The report cited a 2011 study that found that 63 percent of the patients with acute toxoplasmosis had become infected through cat feces.
The authors conclude by saying that their study “…highlights the serious public health diseases associated with free-roaming cats and underscores the need for increased public health attention directed towards free-roaming cats.” The fact that rabies exposure in humans is disproportionately associated with free-roaming cats “…should be of paramount concern to health officials because of the high mortality rate of clinical rabies…”
Don Juan, the exceptionally prolific panther, dies Biologists and researchers know they’re not supposed to name the animals they study. Wild animals are wild animals, and getting attached isn’t a good idea.
But every now and then an animal comes along that is so charismatic and so unique that naming is impossible to resist. Three weeks ago the panther research community lost one of the most charismatic panthers of them all. Just weeks shy of his 17th birthday, Florida Panther 79 – more commonly known as Don Juan – was euthanized at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.
A necropsy determined that Don Juan had suffered from late-stage cancer.
One of the first kittens to be born as a result of the Florida Panther Genetic Restoration Project, Don Juan was the most prominent breeding male in the Florida panther population for more than 10 years.
Genetic work shows that in his lifetime he sired more than 47 known panther kittens, giving a boost to the struggling species while earning his most appropriate nickname.
Between 100 and 160 Florida panthers are estimated to exist in the wild. That’s up from about 20 in the 1970s, said Marc Criffield, a panther biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Two new species of owl recognized from the Philippines Two new species of owls have been discovered in the Philippines, and a Michigan State University researcher played a key role in confirming their existence.
The discovery took years to confirm, but it was well worth the effort, said the paper’s lead author Pam Rasmussen, MSU assistant professor of zoology and assistant curator of mammalogy and ornithology at the MSU Museum.
“More than 15 years ago, we realized that new subspecies of Ninox hawk-owls existed in the Philippines,” she said. “But it wasn’t until last year that we obtained enough recordings that we could confirm that they were not just subspecies, but two new species of owls.”
Announcing the finding of a single bird is rare enough. But the discovery of two new bird species in a single paper is so rare that Rasmussen and the other researchers couldn’t recall the last time it happened.
The first owl, the Camiguin Hawk-owl, is found only on the small island of Camiguin Sur, close to northern Mindanao. Despite being so close geographically to related owls on Mindanao, it has quite different physical characteristics and voice. At night, it gives a long solo song that builds in intensity, with a distinctive low growling tone. Pairs of owls give short barking duets that start with a growl. They also are the only owls to have blue-gray eyes.
The second new discovery was the Cebu Hawk-owl. This bird was thought to be extinct, as the forests of Cebu have almost all been lost due to deforestation. But it had never been considered a distinct form. Study of its structure and vocalizations confirmed that it was a new species. In fact, it was the unique calling or vocalizations of both owls that confirmed that the new classifications were warranted.
“The owls don’t learn their songs, which are genetically programmed in their DNA and are used to attract mates or defend their territory; so if they’re very different, they must be new species,” Rasmussen said. “When we first heard the songs of both owls, we were amazed because they were so distinctly different that we realized they were new species.”
The owls have avoided recognition as distinct species for so long because the group shows complex variation in appearance that had been poorly studied, and their songs were unknown. Both islands are off the beaten path for ornithologists and birders, who usually visit the larger islands that host more bird species.
Sound recordings of both new owl species and those from other islands are available free on AVoCet.
Since the discovery process is both tedious and time consuming, it took a team of scientists and contributors to confirm the owls’ existence. The team included individuals from BirdLife International, the Oriental Bird Club, Philippines Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. and Birdtour Asia. Additional support was provided by National Geographic.
The discovery is featured in the current issue of Forktail, the Journal of Asian Ornithology.
Scottish wildcat faces extinction within months Critical analysis of efforts to identify Scottish wildcat populations over the last five years has concluded that the population numbers just 35 individuals.
A team put together by the Scottish Wildcat Association has appraised over 2000 records including camera trap sightings, eye witness reports and road kills collected independently by organisations such as the SWA, Cairngorms Wildcat Project and Oxford University.
Wildcats are threatened primarily with hybridization; cross-mating with feral domestic cats. The “hybrid” offspring in turn mate with more wildcats, feral and hybrids creating a confusing spectrum of cats that look similar to wildcats, but behave very differently putting pressure on prey species and raising conflicts with rural businesses.
Of the 2000 records of hybrids and wildcats less than 20 comply with the accepted coat-marking identifiers of the true wildcat, with an estimated 3500 hybrids in Scotland this would mean there were just 35 wildcats remaining.
“However you juggle the figures it’s hard to find anything positive,” comments SWA chairman Steve Piper, “if you ignore the eye witness sightings because they’re unreliable the numbers get even worse, if you hypothesize that wildcats avoid roads they only pick up a little, even if you decide the population of hybrids is larger you have to multiply it to impossible levels to get to the commonly quoted figure of 400 wildcats. The overwhelming evidence is that the wildcat is going to be extinct within months, anything else is blind hope.”
The news comes in stark contrast to reports earlier in the year claiming hundreds of wildcats had been found in the Cairngorms by the SNH funded Cairngorms Wildcat Project, Piper elaborates;
“We’ve asked the leading experts in identifying wildcats to double check opinions of our team and no one thought those animals were true wildcats. Apparently the Cairngorms project worked to a ‘relaxed’ criteria, in other words, if a hybrid looked close to a wildcat, they were calling it a wildcat; the much repeated phrase ‘expert verified pure-bred wildcat’ used in the press was exceptionally misleading.”
Scottish Natural Heritage have recently announced a series of meetings to formulate a national conservation action plan for the Scottish wildcat, listed by them as a priority species. Hopes have also been raised by the near completion of a genetic test to identify true wildcats; however the geneticist in charge of that project, Dr Paul O’Donoghue at the University of Chester, has concerns;
“The real issue is stopping hybridization, we can only do that accurately with a genetic test which works off of blood samples, wildcats have to be live trapped and sampled; no trapping, no genetics, no end to hybridisation. We’ve worked with the SWA and many of the experts in the scientific community to create an action plan combining such live trapping with the trapping and neutering of feral and hybrid cats and are waiting for our license to be approved by SNH. No meaningful conservation is happening without it.”
Piper echoes his opinions; “The licencing to trap wildcats is a big issue for their conservation, without it they will go extinct, taking photos of wildcats doesn’t stop them mating with feral cats. Many exceptional researchers and conservationists have proposed work before us and we’ve proposed variations of the same action plan three times in the last year but no progress, it’s coming up on twenty years since a trapping license was issued and that’s really holding things back.
“There is a clear path of action left open, the one big place no one has looked in real detail is Sutherland and Caithness, we’re sending people up there at the moment as are Oxford University, but we really need the go ahead to trap cats and use the genetics or it’s all guesswork. If we find wildcats, it raises new issues, they will be hard to protect in an expanse like Sutherland, realistically we need to relocate them somewhere they can be protected or put a truly vast amount of money and resources into the region to keep wildcats separated from hybrids and ferals.
“SNH have put in less than 0.1% of their budget to wildcats over the last eight years so maybe it’s their turn to get some attention, I hope so. It’s wholly unacceptable to lose a creature unique to Scotland when there is overwhelming public support, plenty of money within the current budgets for such things and a very talented community of scientists who have spent nearly a decade proposing solutions, it’s time they were allowed to get on with it.”
The Scottish wildcat is a much debated sub-species of the European wildcat which is unique to Scotland and can be found in Highland culture and legends throughout the Celtic clans and all the way back to the earliest Pictish settlers. Infamous for its aggressive independence and exceptional predatory talents it was identified as a cause for concern in 2004 when scientists from Oxford University and the National Museums of Scotland estimated the population at 400 individuals primarily threatened by hybridisation.
The Scottish Wildcat Association is the only charity dedicated to the conservation of the Scottish wildcat. Promoting public awareness and education since 2007 the organization has supported improvements in the captive breeding program, collated eye witness sightings and photographs of wildcats for use by conservationists and authored and trialed a comprehensive action plan combining genetic testing, captive breeding and feral cat neutering in the West Highlands.
The world’s 100 most threatened species – Are they priceless or worthless? Tarzan’s chameleon, the spoon-billed sandpiper and the pygmy three-toed sloth have all topped a new list of the species closest to extinction released by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
For the first time ever, more than 8,000 scientists from the IUCN Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC) have come together to identify 100 of the most threatened animals, plants and fungi on the planet. But conservationists fear they’ll be allowed to die out because none of these species provide humans with obvious benefits.
Professor Jonathan Baillie, ZSL’s Director of Conservation explains: “The donor community and conservation movement are leaning increasingly towards a ‘what can nature do for us’ approach, where species and wild habitats are valued and prioritized according to the services they provide for people. This has made it increasingly difficult for conservationists to protect the most threatened species on the planet.
While the utilitarian value of nature is important conservation goes beyond this. Do these species have a right to survive or do we have a right to drive them to extinction?”
The report, called Priceless or Worthless?, will be presented at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in South Korea this month (Tues 11th Sept), and hopes to push the conservation of ‘worthless’ creatures up the agenda that is set by NGOs from around the globe.
Co-author of the report, ZSL’s Ellen Butcher says: “All the species listed are unique and irreplaceable. If they vanish, no amount of money can bring them back. However, if we take immediate action we can give them a fighting chance for survival. But this requires society to support the moral and ethical position that all species have an inherent right to exist.”
Their declines have mainly been caused by humans, but in almost all cases scientists believe their extinction can still be avoided if conservation efforts are specifically focused. Conservation actions deliver results with many species such as Przewalski’s Horse (Equus ferus) and Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) have being saved from extinction.
The 100 species, from 48 different countries are first in line to disappear completely if nothing is done to protect them.
New species of monkey discovered in Africa Researchers have identified a new species of African monkey, locally known as the lesula. This is only the second new species of African monkey discovered in the last 28 years, after the discovery of the Kipunji in Tanzania in 2005, which was actually a whole new genus.
The first lesula found was a young captive animal seen in 2007 in a school director’s compound in the town of Opala in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The young monkey bore a resemblance to the owl faced monkey, but its coloration was unlike that of any other known species.
Over the following three years, the study authors located additional lesula in the wild, determined its genetic and anatomical distinctiveness, and made initial observations of its behavior and ecology, as reported in the PLOS ONE paper.
The new species’ range covers about 6,500 square miles in central DRC, in what was one of Congo’s last biologically unexplored forest blocks. Although its range is remote and only lightly settled at present, the lesula is threatened by local bush meat hunting.
“The challenge for conservation now in Congo is to intervene before losses become definitive,” says John and Terese Hart, who led the project. “Species with small ranges like the lesula can move from vulnerable to seriously endangered over the course of just a few years.”
The monkey was described in the September 12 issue of the open access journal PLOS ONE.
Saving the smalltooth sawfish Unmistakably unique, smalltooth sawfish resemble sharks in appearance but are actually large, bottom-dwelling rays. Their name makes reference to their long, saw-like bill chock full of razor-sharp teeth — which has been a mixed blessing for the species. The smalltooth sawfish can use its jagged snout to great advantage to sense and capture prey. Yet its bill makes it especially prone to capture by fishermen’s nets, and throughout the twentieth century, people killed the sawfish as a curiosity — a novelty to be stuffed and mounted on a wall.
Fishing still poses a threat to the smalltooth sawfish. Gillnets entangle the fish, and fishermen sometimes kill sawfish simply to keep their nets from tearing. Once numerous in all U.S. tropical waters from the Carolinas to Texas, the species has now been reduced to an estimated 5 percent of its former range and population — now occurring in only a few spots in Florida.
Although the smalltooth sawfish gained endangered species protection in 2003, coastal development continued unabated in sawfish habitat — including within sensitive mangrove forests that serve as nurseries for young sawfish. In 2007, the Center [for Biological Diversity] settled a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service, forcing the agency to meet a past-due deadline to designate critical habitat. Finally, in September 2009, the Fisheries Service finalized a designation of 840,472 acres of critical habitat for the smalltooth sawfish.
16 Rhinos Killed in 1 Day
• 9 in KwaZulu-Natal;
• 4 in Eastern Cape
• 3 in India
Reports from South Africa have revealed a terrible day for rhino conservation in KwaZulu Natal. 8 white rhinos were killed at Hluhluwe/Umfolozi, the park where they were rediscovered in 1895 having been thought extinct. KwaZulu Natal has suffered much less than other parts of South Africa from the scourge of rhino poaching, until now. Additionally, a black rhino was killed at iSimangalo Wetland Park (see more below) and a further white rhino was deemed to have died of natural causes.
The dead white rhinos were first spotted by Ezemvelo’s Bantom aerial surveillance plane before game scouts joined the search. Finally, the carcasses of seven poached white rhinos were found in the Ngqumeni area of the Hluhluwe section of KZN’s Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP). One was a pregnant cow with her fetus dead. Another was a dead cow but Ezemvelo saved her infant and took it to the game capture bomas for protection. Two other poached rhinos were found in Ndumo Game Reserve and the black rhino at iSimangaliso Park.
Altogether nine rhinos were found poached whilst one other was found but it was ascertained it had died of natural causes. Ezemvelo recovered the horns from one of the poached rhino.
Dr Bandile Mkhize, CEO of Ezemvelo KwaZulu Natal Wildlife has called for an emergency meeting of all his senior staff to ascertain what obvious shortcomings were in the organization’s Project Rhino anti-rhino poaching strategy that was established in 2010.
“I want action; decisive action. I cannot stomach this. It’s absolutely horrible to have such a bloodbath. I am going to investigate this and I can assure everyone I am going to get answers,” he said.
He did not rule out bringing in an independent criminal investigation audit: “But before I do that I am going to conduct my own research. But whatever is wrong I need to assure people from the bottom of my heart that our field staff is filled with people of huge dedication and passion. Make no mistake; this will have come as a huge great shock to them as well”.
Most of the dead rhino at HiP had been poached about a week or so ago, while one had probably been dead for a month old: “Our staff is doing their work as best they can. After all in terms of scouting, I am only concerned about our not having spotted the one white rhino that had died a month ago”.
Part of his investigation, said Dr Mkhize, would be centered on his own organizations anti-rhino poaching initiative ‘Operation Rhino’, begun in 2010. It was an urgent initiative to jointly co-ordinate all the activities amongst NGO’s, conservation action groups and Ezemvelo itself to try to combat rhino poaching in the province.
“I could say to people that we are under-resourced and that our foe is highly sophisticated. However true, I won’t accept this as an adequate explanation for this carnage. Project Rhino was established precisely to co-ordinate all the activities of interested parties. They meet once a month and yet this disaster suggests something is seriously amiss.”
He had to understand that after all the money and resources Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has invested in this “battle” that he now counted some 46 rhino poached in KZN’s state reserves this year alone: “It is more than ever before and there has to be explanations”.
Clearly upset, Dr Mkhize said he would also look into the communication amongst all the anti-rhino poaching forces: “we have to act as a large family, all working towards a single focused agenda. Perhaps some groups are working independently of each other”.
He bemoaned the resources his organization has thrown into the anti-rhino poaching campaign only for something like this to undermine his organization’s commitment to stopping it. Two months ago Dr Mkhize himself instructed that R2m would be earmarked from the R11.8m the organization raised from their annual game auction specifically for anti-rhino poaching. “I am so upset, actually. I have thrown every resource I possibly could into this war. I have made huge strides with the surrounding communities living on the boundaries of HiP in order to gain their support in this anti-rhino poaching campaign. For example I found sponsorship to organize that 100 children were selected from these communities and given a special conservation education. We organized a special sms campaign with a cell phone operator. We earmarked other resources for investigations and intelligence gathering; we helped a private helicopter company patrol HiP for some eight months; we are training special anti-rhino field staff…”
A black rhino has been killed at South Africa’s iSimangaliso Wetland Park the second rhino poached in iSimangaliso in the last 24 months.
The carcass of an adult black rhino male was detected in the 66,000ha Ozabeni section of iSimangaliso; its horns had been stolen. iSimangaliso and Ezemvelo are deeply concerned about this particular incident, which will impact negatively on the rhino recently introduced into Ozabeni and the restoration of game populations.
The Ozabeni section of iSimangaliso is a vital link between the uMkhuze section of the Park and the coastal planes stretching all the way down to the Eastern Shores, Cape Vidal and St Lucia sections in the south. The game introductions will enable this section of the Park to increase its contribution to the regional economy, local jobs and community-based economic empowerment. The medium-term goal is to develop low impact environmentally-friendly accommodation and activities such as horseback safaris. The region is marked by poverty and tourism is the biggest employer.
“We are outraged” says Andrew Zaloumis the iSimangaliso CEO “and will leave no stone unturned to find the perpetrators of this shameful killing. Destroying endangered species is an ecological and economic crime. Not only are rhino part of our collective national heritage, the presence of wildlife is a vital resource for the country and region. In a region marked by poverty, tourism and conservation are the biggest employers on which families’ survival and paying school fees depend.”
A reward of a R100 000 is offered to any person who provides information that results in the arrest and successful conviction of the culprits. If members of the public have any information, or see something suspicious please report these to Dave Robertson (Conservation Cluster Manager) on 0716833693 or iSimangaliso’s emergency no. 0827977944.
Desperate Measures Needed for Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Survival Concern over news that 2012 had the lowest counts of Florida Grasshopper Sparrows yet was evident at the recent Sparrow Working Group meeting. Experts in disease and captive breeding participated to develop a plan to establish captive breeding populations, while managers and researchers continue work to determine why wild populations are declining.
The last North American bird to go extinct was the Dusky Seaside Sparrow whose final population decline was from about 140 singing males to about 10 in only six years. Eerily, the male population of Florida Grasshopper Sparrows on the Avon Park Air Force Range also dropped from about 140 birds to less than 10 in about six years. Singing male sparrows on Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area and the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park have declined precipitously in the past few years as well. There are four recognized Grasshopper Sparrow subspecies in North America and these steep declines are restricted to the Florida subspecies.
Starting a captive breeding program for any endangered species is an unfortunate step to take. But animals like the California condor and black-footed ferret have been perpetuated, and eventually returned to the wild, by captive breeding programs. Captive breeding attempts for the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow could buy time for researchers and managers to discover and correct the problems the birds are facing in the wild, and Audubon will continue its work to resolve these problems for the future of this species.
Help for Leatherbacks Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed into law a bill sponsored by Seaturtles.org and introduced by Assembly member Paul Fong that establishes the Pacific leatherback as the state marine reptile of California. The bill also designates October 15 as Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtle Conservation Day
Assembly member Fong said, “This bill demonstrates California’s commitment to protecting our ocean’s ecosystem and a species whose population has declined more than 95 percent and whose migratory pattern includes California’s coast.” Click here to read the full press release.
The new designation for the giant Pacific leatherback will go a long way towards making the public aware of this amazing species that swims 6,000 miles across the Pacific to feed on the West Coast’s abundant jellyfish, its favorite food.
In fact, the California coast is one of the most important feeding areas in the world for this gentle giant and 16,910 square miles of the state’s waters are designated as critical habitat for them under the Endangered Species Act.
Strengthened by this heightened public awareness, Seaturtles.org hopes to enact stricter limits on long-line and gillnet fishing that result in injury and death to sea turtles and other marine wildlife, and end the drift gillnet fishery once and for all.
5 Reasons There Will Soon Be No More Fish in Our Seas Our oceans are running out of fish and our generation may well be the last to hunt them in large numbers, due to insatiable global demand for fish. At a time when fish stocks around the world are decreasing, global fish consumption is now about 17 pounds per person a year, a record high, with the average person eating four times as much fish as in 1950.
A BBC report offers some disturbing details about how a combination of more efficient technology, government policies and human consumption are fast eliminating the world population of fish.
1. Efficient methods such as bottom trawling are turning widening swaths of global seas into the equivalent of deserts. This has already happened in much of the Mediterranean and the North Sea and could well occur in West Africa. Recent data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reveals that West Africa’s coastal fisheries have declined 50 percent in just the past 30 years.
2. Government policies that provide subsidies are a short-term solution that add up to a long-term problem. According to the BBC, one in three fish caught in Spain is paid for by a government subsidy. Subsidies keep people employed (certainly a pressing issue in Spain, where unemployment is around 25 percent) but are not sustainable and ultimately deplete jobs along with the world’s fish supply.
3. We have simply become too good at catching fish. But now we need policies to prevent overfishing and undo the tragedy of the commons situation, whereby fishermen simply seek to net as many fish as they can in any waters. Fisheries need to be managed in sustainable ways; a policy promoting sustainability would be for each government to set “quotas based on stock levels in their surrounding waters” and then to ensure compliance with monitoring.
4. The marine ecosystem is, thanks to the new top marine predator (us), out of whack. Formerly sharks were on the top of the marine food chain but their numbers have declined by 80 percent worldwide and, as a result, there has been an “increase in fish numbers further down the food chain, which in turn can cause a crash in the population of very small marine life, such as plankton.” Climate change, acidification and pollution have also taken their toll on our seas and other marine wildlife including seabirds, which are caught in nets and discarded.
5. Only a miniscule 1 percent of the ocean is currently protected and it will not be until 2020 that 10 percent of it is. But simply protecting the ocean is not enough; such areas also need to be monitored and regulations enforced. In addition, as endangered species including sharks are migratory, mobile reserves are very much needed.
On a more cheery note, the BBC cites one study according to which, by just designating 4 percent of the world’s oceans as reserves, 108 species (84 percent) of the world’s marine mammals could be protected.
What really stands out in the BBC‘s report is that we humans have become the “top marine predator.” Like it or not, that’s a huge responsibility and we owe it to the oceans, ourselves and our children to protect fish before, one day, there are none left.
[I have long thought that we should impose a 2-3 year moratorium on all commercial fishing to give depleted stocks time to replenish.]
The Bottom Line: A Solution to a Protect Threatened Tuna An innovative project in the Gulf of Mexico may finally offer a real solution to a decades-old problem.
For 30 years, fisheries experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have tried to protect western Atlantic Bluefin tuna from surface longlines in the Gulf of Mexico, the severely depleted fish’s only known spawning area. Yet despite those efforts, this gear, intended to catch yellowfin tuna and swordfish, still threatens Bluefin and other ocean wildlife.
Fishermen and scientists may finally have a solution to the problem. Since May 2012, they have been working together on a year-long pilot program to test greenstick gear and buoy gear, which are alternative fishing methods seen as potential replacements for surface longlines in the Gulf. Initial results indicate that the new gear is more effective at catching the targeted species and, even more important, the increasing catch rates for each successive trip suggest that the equipment can be made even more effective over time. If adopted throughout the Gulf, these more selective fishing methods could provide significant environmental and economic benefits to the region.
A greenstick is a 35- to 45-foot pole attached to the top of a boat that tows a 300- to 400-foot line. Up to 10 plastic squid baits hang from the line and skip across the water, mimicking real squid and flying fish, both common prey of yellowfin tuna. Once a fish is hooked, it’s quickly brought to the boat.
Buoy gear, a relatively simple piece of fishing equipment developed for targeting swordfish, consists of a single piece of heavy fishing line attached to one or two hooks on one end and a buoy with a light on the other. Generally, one vessel will use 12 to 15 pieces of this free-floating gear. The buoys, which are deployed at night, drift in a straight line with the current. When a fish takes the bait, it drags a buoy out of line, indicating that it has been hooked.
Surface longlines, by comparison, stretch for 30 miles on average and suspend approximately 750 baited hooks. These hooks are often left in the water for up to 18 hours and catch a wide variety of ocean wildlife, in addition to the targeted species.
Fishermen monitor greenstick gear and buoy gear and land fish quickly. If the catch is too small or not the right species, they quickly release it. This dramatically reduces the mortality of juveniles and any fish not kept for sale.
Researchers with the Oceanographic Center at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in Dania Beach, Fla., are recruiting commercial fishermen in the Gulf to test greenstick fishing for yellowfin tuna and buoy gear fishing for swordfish. Two vessels from Florida are experimenting with the new equipment. A vessel fishing out of Louisiana is expected to start using the alternative gear later this month, and another Florida-based vessel is expected to join the project in October.
Fishermen who have worked with swordfish buoy gear and greensticks in other areas (the Outer Banks of North Carolina and the Florida Straits) are training the new participants to help them become skilled with the equipment and methods, including adapting the gear to the Gulf fisheries.
NSU has also assembled several trained fisheries observers to collect data on the catch and economics of the alternative gear. This information will allow scientists and fishermen to analyze gear effectiveness in multiple locations and during different seasons. Researchers will use economic data collected by the observers to compare the income and expenses associated with surface longlines with those of the alternative gear.
Data from this pilot program could be especially timely, given that NOAA is reviewing the way it manages Bluefin tuna fishing in U.S. waters. The agency is developing a new bluefin rule, which is expected in early 2014. It is seriously considering promoting the transition from surface longlines to greensticks and swordfish buoy gear and prohibiting the use of surface longlines year-round in the Gulf.
If greenstick and buoy gear in the Gulf perform as well as expected, NOAA could finally have a viable, practical and economical alternative to surface longlines. Switching gear could finally halt the wasteful killing of ocean wildlife such as Bluefin and sailfish, while ensuring profitable jobs for U.S. commercial fishermen and consumer access to American-caught seafood for decades to come — a win-win for all the communities that depend on a healthy and vibrant marine ecosystem in the Gulf.
New Yellow-legged Frogs Found in Southern California In a nice surprise discovery, U.S. Geological Survey field biologists have found 19 new adult mountain yellow-legged frogs in Southern California’s Mojave River, bringing the total of these imperiled frogs surveyed there to 71. The Southern California population of yellow-legged frogs was feared to be near extinction.
Mountain yellow-legged frogs live at high altitudes in the Sierra Nevada and Transverse Ranges in Southern California. These 3-inch, golden-eyed hoppers were once so abundant that hikers took care not to step on them around some lakes. But their numbers have plummeted since the 1960s because of pollution, predation by stocked trout and disease. They’ve now disappeared from 93 percent of their former range.
The Center for Biological Diversity is pushing for a recovery plan for Southern California yellow-legged frogs. We also petitioned to put the Sierra Nevada population on the U.S. endangered species list and gained state protections for all mountain yellow-leggeds in California. The Sierra population should get a decision on federal protection next year under our game-changing settlement to advance protections for 757 species.
Dime-size Puerto Rican Frog Protected by Endangered Species Act In response to the Center for Biological Diversity’s landmark settlement over 757 species, one of the tiniest, rarest frogs in the world will now get protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The Center’s 2011 settlement forced the agency to advance protections on the coqui llanero — a dime-size Puerto Rican frog, known by natives for its unique, high-pitched “ko-kee” call that has been waiting for protection under the Act since 2007.
The little frog is isolated to one chunk of wetlands, which is surrounded on all sides by destructive land uses: a go-kart track, landfill and proposed 92-mile-long pipeline that will cut Puerto Rico in half. Fortunately, this species can now get the help it deserves.
Menu favorites endangered as federal regulators consider protections for conch Forget those crispy fritters or spicy chowder if queen conch is put on the Endangered Species List.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is considering a request to list queen conch — the signature ingredient in conch fritters and conch chowder — as threatened or endangered. Harvesting conch has been prohibited in Florida waters for decades, and federal protection would prohibit seafood distributors from importing it.
“It would be a shame if we could not give our customers what they truly enjoy,” said Kevin Kudlinski, general manager at Two Georges in Boynton Beach.
The restaurant has been serving conch fritters since 1957, and many people return for that favorite appetizer, he said.
The number of conch throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico has dropped in the past couple of decades, as demand for the large gastropod mollusks has risen dramatically. It is harvested commercially in 20 countries, and levels have tripled since the 1970s, with the United States as the single largest consumer of internationally traded conch, according to a petition to the fisheries service.
WildEarth Guardians, a Denver-based environmental organization, in its March petition said the species’ habitat is being destroyed, it’s overused for commercial purposes and overfishing isn’t being stopped by the regulations in place. The fisheries service is accepting comments until Oct. 26 on whether the queen conch should be listed as endangered or protected.
“If we don’t curb our appetite for these animals, they will vanish,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians, in a news release.
Fisheries Service Natural Resource Specialist Calusa Horn expects the service will spend the next year determining whether the queen conch should be considered for listing. If it determines it “may be warranted,” then the service would write a rule and spend at least another year gathering information and comments.
It’s unclear what affect listing the queen conch would have on conch populations off the mainland United States, Horn said. The species can be harvested in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but not mainland U.S. Studies cited by WildEarth show conch has failed to recover in U.S. waters despite protection from fishing for several decades.
“I think a listing would potentially conserve those populations outside the U.S.,” Horn said.
Protected status for the conch would demand a recovery plan, said Ed Tichenor of Reef Rescue. And that could lead to a day when conch could be sold in restaurants again.
If conch is prohibited, Conchy Joe’s Seafood General Manager Nick Darley noted the Jensen Beach restaurant has a number of dishes that are made from its namesake.
“It would definitely not affect us in a good way if we couldn’t sell conch at Conchy Joe’s,” Darley said.
Bob Jones has stronger words.
“All this does is just take it away from the American market and send it to the Chinese market or somewhere else,” said the executive director of the Southeastern Fisheries Association, which represents seafood distributors, fishermen and everyone in between the boat and the restaurant.
“It won’t do a thing for the conch except deny us access to it,” he said.
Jones is telling members to contact their congressional representatives. Tom Hill of Key Largo Fisheries Inc., which distributes conch to restaurants throughout South Florida, is also warning customers.
“We’re very concerned that it’s up for an endangered species when there really isn’t reason for the United States to confirm it’s an endangered species,” he said.
If the designation comes to pass, he said, “the only way you’d ever have a conch fritter is to go to the Bahamas.”
Florida Bears Looking for Food in fall The 3,000 black bears that live in Florida are busy at this time of year, foraging for food to last them through the winter. But every year their instinctive need places them at risk. David Telesco at the Florida Wildlife Commission says every year about 150 bears are hit by cars.
He explains why it’s important to protect the state’s bear population.
“When you have bears in a landscape and they’re doing well, that means that all those little critters that have smaller needs are going to be doing well because the bear is there and they have much larger needs.”
This weekend (Oct. 6), the Forgotten Coast Black Bear Festival in Carrabelle aims to educate the public on black bears and how people can help protect the ursine population by developing habits such as securing their garbage and keeping pet food inside.
Florida bear populations can be found in forested areas around the state, with high numbers in Lake and Marion counties.
Shannon Miller, the Florida Program Coordinator for Defenders of Wildlife, says it’s important for everyone to take steps to protect the bears.
“If you are keeping your garbage in at night and waiting to put it out ’til the morning of, but your neighbor is putting their garbage out at night, then the whole neighborhood is still affected.”
Miller says that in the fall, bears are looking to eat as much food as possible and will instinctively look for the easiest food sources, which is why garbage and pet food are common targets.
Everglades and Water Quality Issues
Everglades Headwaters Proposal- 150,000 acres! The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working to conserve the natural resources and rural way of life in the Kissimmee River Valley. Our partners in this effort include the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Department of Defense, The Nature Conservancy and the National Wildlife Refuge Association.
As part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has accepted a 10-acre donation of land in south-central Florida to officially establish the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area – conserving one of the last remaining grassland and longleaf pine savanna landscapes in eastern North America.
If fully realized, the refuge and conservation area will span 150,000 acres north of Lake Okeechobee. Two-thirds of the acreage, or 100,000 acres, will be protected through conservation easements purchased from willing sellers. With easements, private landowners would retain ownership of their land, as well as the right to work the land to raise cattle or crops. The easements would ensure the land could not be developed.
Caloosahatchee River (C-43) West Basin Storage Reservoir – 170,000 acre-feet, and water depth will vary from 15 to 25 feet. Constructed on an approximate 10,500-acre parcel in Hendry County, west of LaBelle; it will store stormwater runoff from the C-43 basin and reduce excess water flow to the Caloosahatchee Estuary to maintain its salinity and thus ecological balance of fauna and biota
See map and more…
Martin commissioners want to show Army Corps leaders effects of lake releases on estuary Several Martin County commissioners and residents Tuesday blasted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to release polluted water from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie Estuary.
Releases of polluted water from the lake have historically harmed fish, sea grasses and other wildlife and made it hazardous for people to swim in the estuary.
“I suspect it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” said Commissioner Sarah Heard. “They need to see what the consequences of those actions are. It’s an unhappy, unenviable, unfair consequence.”
The commissioners voted unanimously to ask the South Florida Water Management District, which helps the Army Corps manage the lake, to provide information needed to discuss the discharges with Army Corps officials.
The commissioners also agreed to invite Col. Alan M. Dodd, the commander of the Army Corps district that includes Florida, to visit Stuart to see the problems caused by the lake discharges.
In addition, the commissioners agreed to send news articles, photos and other information about the releases to federal lawmakers to show them the need for funding for the C-44 Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area, the Herbert Hoover Dike Rehabilitation and other related projects.
“It continues to rain, the forecast continues to be wet and we do have the releases going on now,” said Deborah Drum, the county’s manager of Ecosystem Restoration and Management.
The Army Corps began releasing water from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers on Sept. 19 as part of its efforts to manage the rising lake level so the dike is not compromised.
Commissioner Doug Smith expressed sentiments similar to Heard’s.
“I’ve been here for five colonels now. They all seem to tend to think as they go into their new position that they’ve got everything under control,” Smith said. “They need to come and see and understand what it really means to us locally because it does change their perspective instantly when they see it.”
Jacqueline Trancynger, a civic activist from Jensen Beach, said she thinks the lake releases are the result of the South Florida sugar industry’s extraordinary political power. Massive sugar cane fields are located south of the lake.
Some observers think the sugar industry uses its wealth and political influence to block efforts to restore the historic flow of water from Lake Okeechobee south to the Everglades.
“It is certainly not a lack of the understanding of environmental facts that is causing the Army Corps to release water from the lake, so that if it continues (it) will kill our rivers and our lagoon forever,” Trancynger said. “Think Big Sugar and all of their money, much of which is earned by subsidies from my tax money in the first place.”
Tropical Storm Proves EAA Farms Still Generate High Levels of Pollution The significant and widespread rainfall from Tropical Storm Isaac triggered flood control back-pumping from the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) into Lake Okeechobee. Monitoring of the phosphorus content in this water shows how dirty EAA farm runoff remains.
Even after implementation of Best Management Practices required by South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) rules, phosphorus levels in water back-pumped from the northern part of the EAA averaged 301 parts per billion (PPB) and reached 337 PPB in discharges from the S2 water control structure.
The Phosphorus Standard for the Everglades—a naturally nutrient limited ecosystem—is only 10 PPB, and the desired level in Lake Okeechobee is 40 PPB. Phosphorus levels over 30 times above the limit will require that water undergo substantial treatment—accomplished by taxpayer funded Stormwater Treatment Areas—to remove the nutrient that throws the ecosystem off balance.
Audubon Florida has long recommended that SFWMD revise its regulations to require EAA farms do more to clean up water on their own land before it reaches canals that move water to the Everglades. Audubon believes that the Everglades Forever Act directed the SFWMD to impose stronger cleanup requirements on individual farms beginning on December 31, 2006, and that SFWMD has improperly ignored this law for the past six years.
‘A Storm for the Record Books’ in Palm Beach County As the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) was conducting recovery operations from Tropical Storm Isaac, a post-storm analysis showed the agency moved an estimated 105 billion gallons of water away from residents in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties during and immediately after the storm.
Water coursing through the District’s C-51 primary canal in Palm Beach County reached its highest recorded rate of 10,300 cubic feet per second, as water control gates remained open and pump stations operated at maximum safe capacity for many days following the 1-in-100-year storm event. Field crews continuously checked for erosion or structural damage in the system and ensured canals stayed free of trees and other debris that would block the massive flow of water.
“Isaac was unprecedented in the sheer volume of water the District had to move,” said Tommy Strowd, SFWMD Director of Operations, Maintenance and Construction. “By maximizing our pre-storm and post-storm operations, the 60-year-old regional system did its job and prevented widespread impacts.”
The District’s preparation and response — coupled with operations by local drainage districts and municipalities — minimized the extent of flooding for Palm Beach County’s 1.3 million residents. While many neighborhoods had excess water in swales, ponds, roadways and backyards, fewer than 50 residences were reported to be directly impacted by flooding. Rural areas with local drainage systems unable to handle the historic quantities of rainfall saw the most flooding impacts and longest recovery times.
Engineering calculations showed that a total of 44.2 billion gallons of water was released to tide in Palm Beach County alone.
Canals, pump stations, gates and culverts moving the remaining water from the most heavily impacted areas, including The Acreage and Loxahatchee, operated around the clock for many days following the storm. These operations included:
- Directing water into the L-8 Reservoir at a sustained rate of 540 cubic feet per second (cfs), which raised the water level about 1 foot a day. (Since emergency operations began, 3.1 billion gallons of water flowed into the reservoir, raising its water level by about 10 feet.)
- Operating pump stations at full capacity around the clock to move water into Stormwater Treatment Areas 1-East, 1-West, 2 and 3/4.
- Moving water through the massive S-5A and S-319 pump stations off Southern Boulevard into Stormwater Treatment Areas 1-West and 1-East.
- Discharging more than 1,500 cfs during the peak of the event into Lake Okeechobee from the 10A Culvert at the northwest end of the L-8 Canal, the main drainage canal for The Acreage.
- Diverting water into Water Conservation Area 1.
- Maximizing flow at three major water control structures on the C-51 Canal, helping to move water from the impacted areas.
- Deploying nine temporary pumps to help improve drainage from impacted communities.
- Gates in the three Water Conservation Areas were fully opened by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Staff in the District’s Operations Control Room worked with the Palm Beach County Emergency Operations Center, Indian Trail Improvement District and local communities to coordinate water operations and bring as much flow as possible from affected parts of the system into the appropriate District canals and facilities.
The primary SFWMD flood control system, including pump stations, gates and locks, has fully recovered from the storm and returned to normal wet season operations.
Following a dry July, Tropical Storm Isaac and wet season rains helped boost District-wide water levels by nearly 4 inches more than the average for the month. An average of 11.43 inches of rain fell from Orlando to the Florida Keys, representing 152 percent of average for the month.
All 16 counties in the District received above average rainfall in August, with the east coast recording the highest numbers. Rainfall in key areas included:
- Martin/St. Lucie: 13.11 inches (5.30 inches above average)
- Eastern Palm Beach: 16.20 inches (8.40 inches above average)
- Eastern Broward: 12.45 inches (5.02 inches above average)
- Eastern Miami-Dade: 12.01 inches (3.75 inches above average)
- Lower Kissimmee: 12.28 inches (5.36 inches above average)
- Southwest Coast: 10.40 inches (1.34 inches above average)
- East Caloosahatchee: 10.44 inches (1.66 inches above average)
As a result of Tropical Storm Isaac and rainfall throughout the month, the water level in Lake Okeechobee rose from 12.12 feet NGVD on July 31 to 13.95 feet NGVD on August 31. The lake level as of Sept. 20 was 15.22 feet NGVD.
Governor Scott and DEP Announce Everglades Restoration Projects Will Move Forward Governor Rick Scott announced on Sept. 11 that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued final permits and consent orders to the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) authorizing the operation and maintenance of existing stormwater treatment areas and requiring the construction and operation of treatment area expansions and water storage features as part of the historic plan designed to improve water quality in the Everglades. DEP Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard, Jr. signed the permits on Sept. 10, following a 21-day administrative period.
“This plan is an historic step forward in restoring America’s Everglades,” said Governor Scott. “This plan will result in significant water quality improvements to the Everglades without raising or creating new costs for Floridians.”
Last October, Governor Scott directed DEP Secretary Vinyard and SFWMD Executive Director Melissa L. Meeker to work collaboratively with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to expand water quality improvement projects necessary to achieve the ultra-low state water quality standard established for the Everglades.
“Governor Scott made this historic plan a priority. And because of his leadership, we are addressing a long-standing environmental problem,” Vinyard said. “In less than a year, Florida developed an economically feasible plan that sets us on a landmark path to solve water quality issues in the Everglades.”
This plan to improve water quality builds upon Florida’s $1.8 billion investment in Everglades water quality improvements to achieve the 10 parts per billion ambient water quality standard for the Everglades Protection Area. The schedule for implementing new projects balances economic realities with engineering, permitting, science and construction limitations. The plan proposes to utilize a combination of State and District revenues to complete the projects.
After the Department was notified in June by EPA that a proposed National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit and associated consent order satisfied EPA’s previous objections, the Department began the administrative process to issue both a federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit and a state Everglades Forever Act permit with associated consent orders. On Aug. 9, SFWMD staff presented the projects to the District’s Governing Board, which approved the projects, paving the way for the 21-day period. During that period, parties had the option of petitioning the permits.
The Department’s permits and consent orders include milestones for project completion, as well as enforcement mechanisms to ensure the milestones are met. The plan calls for 6,500 acres of state-of-the-art stormwater treatment areas and close to 110,000 acre-feet of associated water storage. Core project components will be designed, constructed and operational within six years.
“This step is an important milestone in our significant and unprecedented progress to restore the Everglades. The South Florida Water Management District is grateful for Governor Scott’s leadership in setting us on a clear path toward resolution of this decades-long water quality challenge,” Meeker said. “With a science-based plan and state oversight, the District is well positioned to construct this comprehensive suite of remedies that promises to bring lasting protection to America’s Everglades.”
Highlights of the water quality improvement strategies include:
- State-issued and enforceable Everglades Forever Act and Clean Water Act permits, including stringent discharge limits, for each of the District’s stormwater treatment areas. Design, construction and completion of 90 percent (99,000 acre-feet) of the required associated storage within four years. Capable of storing 32 billion gallons of water, storage areas known as Flow Equalization Basins will be located adjacent to existing stormwater treatment areas in the Everglades. This advanced combination of “green” technologies will better optimize water deliveries to new and existing treatment facilities, allowing water managers to treat runoff to extremely low levels of phosphorus.
- Doubling the size of Stormwater Treatment Area 1-West adjacent to the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. The District will construct 4,700 acres of additional treatment by 2018 and start construction on another 1,800 acres that same year. This expansion spanning 10 square miles will increase by 50 percent the treatment capacity of water quality facilities currently discharging into the refuge.
- Improving treatment in the western Everglades by adding 11,000 acre-feet of associated storage in the C-139 Basin that is capable of storing 3.5 billion gallons of water.
- Improving the operation of existing treatment wetlands in the western Everglades by retrofitting 800 acres of constructed wetlands in Stormwater Treatment Area 5.
- A robust science plan to ensure continued biological, ecological and operational research to improve and optimize the performance of water quality treatment technologies. The District’s constructed wetlands and flow equalization basins utilize cutting-edge science and engineering and are the largest of their kind in the nation.
- Utilizing thousands of acres of land already in public ownership, which minimizes impacts to Florida’s agricultural-based economy and accelerates construction of new projects.
- Regional source controls in areas of the eastern Everglades where phosphorus levels in runoff have been historically higher.
- Creation of approximately 1,550 direct jobs and 15,350 indirect jobs through construction of these facilities.
To reduce nutrient pollution to the Everglades and achieve state and federal water quality requirements, the District constructed massive treatment wetlands known as stormwater treatment areas that use plants to naturally remove phosphorus from water flowing into the Everglades. State law also requires best management practices on the 640,000 acres of agricultural land south of Lake Okeechobee.
More than 45,000 acres — or 70 square miles — of treatment areas are today operational and treating water to average phosphorus levels of less than 40 parts per billion and as low as 12 parts per billion. The District this summer completed construction of an additional 11,500 acres, which are now operational. Together with best farming practices, stormwater treatment areas have prevented more than 3,800 tons of phosphorus from entering the Everglades since 1994. This past year, the treatment wetlands treated 735,000 acre-feet of water and reduced the total phosphorus loads to the Everglades Protection Area by 79 percent.
Offshore and Ocean
Study shows chance of saving most coral reefs is dwindling Most of the world’s coral could be wiped out if greenhouse gas emissions are not reined in over the next 10 years, scientists have warned.
Global warming that exceeds a modest 2C above pre-industrial levels could mean the end of coral reefs as prominent coastal ecosystems, a study suggests.
Warming will have to be kept down to below 1.5C to protect at least half of the reefs worldwide, say the researchers.
Dr Malte Meinshausen, one of the scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research in Germany, said: “The window of opportunity to preserve the majority of coral reefs, part of the world’s natural heritage, is small. We close this window if we follow another decade of ballooning global greenhouse gas emissions.”
The scientists used a set of 19 global climate simulations to predict the cumulative heat stress on more than 2,000 coral reef sites worldwide.
Too much heat breaks down the vital symbiotic relationship between coral and the algae that live within them, and which they rely on as an energy source. This causes the coral to turn pale, or “bleach”. If the bleaching goes on for too long, the coral die. In 1998 an estimated 16% of corals were lost in a single prolonged episode of worldwide warmth.
The new study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, took into account the effects of greater ocean acidity caused by carbon absorption, which makes corals less able to withstand warm temperatures.
Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, another member of the team from the University of Queensland in Australia, pointed out that corals were not equipped to evolve heat resistance quickly enough.
“They have long lifecycles of five to 100 years and they show low levels of diversity due to the fact that corals can reproduce by cloning themselves,” he said. “They are not like fruit flies which can evolve much faster.”
Superhero Sea Otters: Don’t Worry About Climate Change, I Got This In the September 7 Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, University of California, Santa Cruz professors Chris Wilmers and James Estes describe how a “thriving sea otter (Enhydra lutris) population that keeps sea urchins in check will in turn allow kelp forests to prosper,” with huge consequences for the environment.
Sea urchins are kelp grazers who hide in crevices; when otters are present, the urchins feed on scraps. But in the absence of otters, urchins eat the kelp “voraciously.” Says Science Daily:
Kelp is particularly efficient at sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has increased 40 percent since the beginning of the industrial revolution, causing global temperatures to rise, the authors write.
After reviewing 40 years of data on otters and kelp bloom in regions from Vancouver Island to the western edge of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, Wilmers and Estes found that otters, by helping to control the urchin population, “undoubtedly have a strong influence” on how much CO2 is in the atmosphere.
Both scientists emphasized that spreading the otter population is not in and of itself enough to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. The value of their research lies in how it suggests that “managing animal populations can affect ecosystems abilities to sequester carbon:”
“Right now, all the climate change models and proposed methods of sequestering carbon ignore animals,” Wilmers said. “But animals the world over, working in different ways to influence the carbon cycle, might actually have a large impact.
“If ecologists can get a better handle on what these impacts are, there might be opportunities for win-win conservation scenarios, whereby animal species are protected or enhanced, and carbon gets sequestered,” he said.
Wilmers and Estes have gone so far as to calculate that “the CO2 removed from the atmosphere via the otter-kelp link could be worth between $205 million and $408 million on the European Carbon Exchange.” They also speculate if it might be possible for those millions of dollars to be used to As reintroduce and manage sea otter populations in areas where their numbers have drastically declined.
Scientific American reports, another species of otter, the Japanese river otter (Lutra lutra whiteleyi), was recently declared extinct by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment. River otters once numbered in the millions but, after overhunting and the loss of their habitat to development and pollution, not a single one not been sighted in 30 years.
Not too long ago, sea otters faced a similar fate as they had been hunted nearly to the point of extinction. Wilmers’ and Estes’ study underscores how animals, in ways that we are just beginning to discover, can play a key role in the carbon cycle. One creature, small or large, can have far-reaching effects on the planet and the lives of all who dwell on it.
Lawsuit Launched to Save Whales, Sea Turtles, and Sharks from California’s Deadly Fishing Nets Conservation groups have filed a notice of intent to sue the federal government under the Endangered Species Act for authorizing California’s drift gillnet fishery, which has killed alarming numbers of endangered sperm whales in recent years. In addition to sperm whales, the fishery also kills endangered leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles.
While most gillnets have been banned in California because of their deadly toll on endangered wildlife, the state’s drift gillnet fishery targeting swordfish and thresher shark continues to operate. Nets that stretch a mile are set to “soak” overnight, and catch and drown marine animals indiscriminately. On average more than 130 protected whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions, as well as thousands of sharks and non-target fish, are caught and discarded every year. The vast majority of those animals are dumped back into the ocean, dead or injured. Government observers documented the lethal take of two endangered sperm whales in 2010; since most entanglements go unreported, the government estimates 16 sperm whales were injured or killed in the fishery that year, exceeding what the population can withstand by more than tenfold.
“Curtains of death, in the form of the California driftnet fishery, should be abolished in California waters and need to be phased out as soon as possible,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of SeaTurtles.org. “Sea turtles, sharks and whales are all being hammered by this fishery that targets high-mercury seafood species that are largely unfit to eat.”
“Deadly fishing nets are risking the future of large whales and sea turtles,” said Catherine Kilduff of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Gillnets entangle everything in the sea, wasting sea life that’s precious to the balance of our oceans. It’s time to retire drift gillnets. They should belong to the past.”
“After over 30 years of experimentation, drift gillnets continue to have unacceptable levels of bycatch of our most treasured and vulnerable marine life,” said Oceana California Program Director Geoff Shester. “If we want to catch swordfish off our coast, we need to pursue fishing methods that are proven to be clean.”
The notice of intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service also seeks new analysis of the gillnet fishery’s impacts on sea turtles whose protections in California waters have been upgraded because of their imperiled status. This includes leatherback sea turtles off the California coast, with newly designated critical habitat and continued population declines through 2012, and loggerhead sea turtles in the Pacific, whose status has recently been upgraded from threatened to endangered because their population has declined by at least 80 percent over the past decade.
Nova Southeastern opens $50 million reef research center Every time Richard Dodge looks out his window, he can see how far Nova Southeastern University’s oceanography program has come.
When Dodge arrived as a young marine biologist 34 years ago, the nascent marine program at an obscure Broward County school was still reeling from the death of its first director, mysteriously lost at sea with four others when a research vessel vanished off the coast of Maine. The faculty worked out of a houseboat moored at a small marina and had to beg and borrow boats for forays to nearby reefs.
Now, he and the university’s marine scientists are settling into a strikingly beautiful building that is the centerpiece of a $50 million state-of-the-art research facility. From his new office, Dodge can see — and hear, all too clearly — heavy machinery pounding concrete pilings to upgrade and expand a marina that now boasts a small research fleet.
At a ceremony Thursday that featured comments by former Vice President Al Gore, NSU officially opened the doors on a facility that represents a milestone for NSU and an ocean sciences program of growing prestige. The Center for Excellence for Coral Reef Ecosystems Research ranks as the largest research center in the country solely devoted to studying how to sustain and protect declining corals reefs.
“I do think it was affirmation that we are doing good science here and are considered worthy enough to have a significant investment from the federal government,” said Dodge, who is now dean of NSU’s Oceanographic Center, which is located in Hollywood at the northern end of John U. Lloyd Beach State Park just across from Port Everglades.
The new facility was built with the help of a competitive 2009 federal science grant program designed to help build research centers across the country. NSU was one of only a dozen schools given awards in 2010 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and one of only two to receive the largest $15 million grants that year. The University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science received a similar $15 million grant in 2009 to construct a facility focused on the impacts of hurricanes on structures and the environment. The money for both projects came from the stimulus funding package championed by the Obama administration.
The opening was significant enough to draw Gore, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his campaign to address the climate changes that scientists believe have contributed to the massive declines of coral reefs around the world.
Both Gore, and keynote speaker U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who NSU leaders credited with helping secure the funding, called the center “amazing” after a tour and briefings with scientists.
Success! Shell Backs Away From Arctic Drilling Shell Oil announced it’s finally putting its controversial plans to drill in the Arctic on hold.
Commonly referred to as the “Polar Bear Seas,” the Arctic Beaufort and Chukchi Seas were in imminent danger from proposed drilling projects that had the potential to devastate Arctic ecosystems. Shell spent 4.5 billion over the span of seven years avoiding environmental lawsuits and investing in environmental protections. But safety precautions proved too difficult against the Arctic’s unpredictable environment.
Just one day into drilling plans, Shell sustained damage to its containment dome — a piece of equipment meant to contain oil in order to avoid hazardous spills. This setback, paired with persistent sea ice floes forced the company to put its drilling plans on hold.
Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune stated: Shell’s announcement is recognition of what we’ve been saying all along–the company cannot safely drill in Arctic waters…The Polar Bear Seas, special places in the Western Arctic and the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should be protected, not given away to Big Oil.
This is a big victory for environmentalists–but the issue is far from over. Shell Oil is only postponing Arctic drilling plans, not ending them. A potential 400,000 barrels of oil a day and an eventual 10 billion in profits keep Shell enticed by Arctic oil.
Shell must wait until its equipment is repaired and the Arctic’s harsh winter comes to end before resuming drilling. By next summer, and before its expensive permits expire, the company hopes to finish the multi-billion dollar project it started.
[to paraphrase a Shell Oil executive…”happy, happy, happy”…]
Energy Report: U.S. Wind Industry Surges in 2011The Energy Department released a new report on August 14 highlighting strong growth in the U.S. wind energy market in 2011. According to the 2011 Wind Technologies Market Report, the United States remained one of the world’s largest and fastest growing wind markets in 2011. Wind power represented 32% of all new electric capacity additions in the nation last year, accounting for $14 billion in new investment. Additionally, the report found that the percentage of wind equipment made in the United States also increased dramatically. Nearly 70% of the equipment installed at U.S. wind farms last year was from domestic manufacturers, doubling from 35% in 2005.
The report finds that in 2011, roughly 6,800 megawatts (MW) of new wind power capacity was added to the U.S. grid, a 31% increase from 2010 installations. The nation’s wind power capacity reached 47,000 MW by the end of 2011 and has since grown to 50,000 MW, or enough electricity to power 13 million homes annually. The country’s cumulative installed wind energy capacity grew 16% from 2010, and has increased more than 18-fold since 2000. The report also finds that six states now meet more than 10% of their total electricity needs with wind power.
According to industry estimates, the wind sector employs 75,000 American workers, including workers at manufacturing facilities up and down the supply chain, as well as engineers and construction workers who build and operate the wind farms. Despite recent technical and infrastructure improvements and continued growth in 2012, the report finds that 2013 may see a dramatic slowing of domestic wind energy deployment due in part to the possible expiration of federal renewable energy tax incentives, including the Production Tax Credit and the Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit. Energy Department press release and the complete report .
HR 3409 The House of Representatives has introduced the worst anti-environment bill EVER in the history of Congress. The so-called “Stop the War on Coal Act” or H. R. 3409, bundles almost all the worst environmental bills previously introduced in the House into one super polluter bill. It is nothing short of a full-scale assault on America’s most important environmental laws. It includes attacks on the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Surface Mining Control Act and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It also attempts to overrule a decision by the Supreme Court and, to top it off, rejects climate science.
For 40 years the safeguards in the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act have protected the water we drink and the air we breathe. Millions of American families rely on these laws to prevent birth defects, asthma attacks, central nervous system damage, cognitive impairment and heart attacks.
H.R. 3409 details:
* Title I would allow mining companies to proceed unfettered as they poison and destroy rivers and ecosystems, threatening the communities that depend on them and shielding even the most egregious mountaintop removal mining operations from new public safeguards under the Surface Mining Control Act.
* Title II, or H.R. 910, would give the biggest polluters a free pass for unlimited carbon pollution by repealing U.S. EPA’s science-based endangerment determination and simply declaring that carbon dioxide is no longer an air pollutant. This title would also cost consumers at the pump by eliminating U.S. EPA clean car standards.
* Title III, or TRAIN Act (H.R. 2401), blocks and stalls significant clean-air protections, allowing their permanent delay. The bill forces the U.S. EPA to delay by at least six to seven years the implementation of smog, soot and toxic air pollution replacement standards. Blocking these standards for just one additional year would result in up to 19,300 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, 130,000 asthma attacks, and 5,700 more hospital and emergency room visits.
* Title IV aims to maintain the dangerous status quo that led to the Kingston, TN coal ash disaster in 2008. It won’t protect American communities from the leaching of toxic pollution from coal ash dumping or guarantee the safety of coal ash impoundment dams.
* Title V, or H.R. 2018, would reverse decades of progress in cleaning our nation’s waters. It undermines the cooperative state-federal partnership at the core of the Clean Water Act. Under this title, the U.S. EPA would be stripped of its important authority to ensure that water quality standards are enforced and reflect the latest science.
Sadly, this super polluter bill is one in a long line of bills introduced this year whose goals are to give polluters free reign to poison our air and water. The 112th Congress has cast a record-setting 302 anti-environment votes, making it the worst in history on the environment.
Putnam says planned network of natural gas refueling stations is a model for communities. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Tuesday a planned network of natural gas refueling stations could help overcome the “chicken-or-the-egg” dilemma for alternative-fueled vehicles.
Nopetro on Tuesday opened a natural gas vehicle refueling station in Tallahassee that’s open to the public. The company, which has offices in Miami and Tallahassee, says it plans a network of 16 refueling stations in Florida and another three in Georgia.
“It really reflects an ideal partnership to expand natural gas into mobile fuels,” Putnam said.
On Monday night, Tesla Motors announced it was establishing a network of solar electric charging stations in California with plans to expand them across most of the nation by 2014, according to Bloomberg news.
There is no network of refueling stations now in Florida for alternative-fueled vehicles, though some recharging stations for electric vehicles are scattered in cities. A spokesman for Putnam said there are no other natural gas refueling stations now open to the public.
The Nopetro grand opening event on Tuesday resulted from a contract with Leon County Schools. The school district in 2007 made a commitment to buying new school buses that use natural gas because it is cheaper, cleaner and the energy source is available in the United States, Leon Schools Superintendent Jackie Pons said.
The district in 2010 contracted with Nopetro to refuel school buses at its bus refueling station on the east side of Tallahassee, Pons said.
As part of that contract, Pons said, the company built the station on the city’s west side, which is available to motorists who register their vehicles with the company. A station attendant pumps the natural gas into the vehicles, a Nopetro spokesman said.
The company plans to build the other 16 refueling stations in Florida within the next three years, said Jorge A. Herrera, Nopetro’s chief financial officer.
Putnam said fuel diversity in Florida is important to him, and now only one-tenth of 1 percent of motor fuels comes from natural gas. He said converting vehicles to natural gas should start with government and corporate fleet vehicles that are restricted to a geographic operating area.
The Nopetro station is a model for other communities to follow by combining a guaranteed market for fleet vehicles with the opening of a public station that could be used to refuel vehicles as they become available. The agriculture commissioner said through a spokesman that no legislation is needed to encourage other pumping stations to be built.
“That solves the chicken-and-egg problem of: Do you build the stations first, or do you invest in the vehicles first?” Putnam said. “This moves both forward together, but it’s not totally dependent on the taxpayer to be successful.”
Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, told the groundbreaking event audience that he plans to introduce a bill in the 2013 legislative session to help school districts overcome the challenge of buying school buses such as those used by Leon County Schools.
Canada’s Enbridge Inc. on Sunday raced to repair a major pipeline that spilled more than 1,000 barrels of oil in a Wisconsin field, provoking fresh ire from Washington over the latest in a series of leaks.
The spill happened almost two years to the day after a ruptured Enbridge line fouled part of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan — has forced the closure of a major conduit for Canadian light crude shipments to U.S. refiners and threatens further damage the reputation of a company that launched a more than $3 billion expansion program just two months ago.
Enbridge said it intended to begin repairs to Line 14 late on Saturday after making “excellent progress” in clean-up, allowing for visual inspection of the line. But it still did not know what had caused the incident and provided no estimate on when the 318,000 barrels-per-day Line 14 would resume service.
An official with the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said two inspectors were at the site on Sunday, and that all of the pooled oil had been cleaned up.
“The line has been uncovered to begin removing the failed section and send it to a metallurgical lab for examination,” PHMSA spokesman Damon Hill said.
Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources are also on site, Enbridge said in a statement.
An image of the area posted on Enbridge’s website showed a patch of damp, blackened earth near a stand of trees about one-third the size of a football field. It found some oil on two small farm ponds, but said they did not connect to moving waterways and that drinking wells did not seem to be affected.
Although the spill appeared to be relatively small and quickly contained, it comes at a delicate time for Enbridge, which suffered another leak in Alberta, Canada, a month ago and endured a scathing report from U.S. safety regulators over its handling of the Michigan incident in 2010, with employees likened to the “Keystone Kops” for their bungled response.
“Enbridge is fast becoming to the Midwest what BP was to the Gulf of Mexico, posing troubling risks to the environment,” U.S. Representative Ed Markey, the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement.
“The company must be forthcoming about this entire incident, and deserves a top-to-bottom review of their safety culture, procedures and standards,” said Markey, an outspoken critic of increasing imports of Canada’s heavy oil sands crude.
Just two months ago, Enbridge kicked off one of the most sweeping expansions in its history, announcing a multibillion-dollar series of projects aimed at moving western Canada and North Dakota oil to Eastern refineries and eliminating costly bottlenecks in the U.S. Midwest.
Line 14 is a 24-inch diameter pipe that was installed in 1998, making it a relatively new line. Enbridge said it had been inspected twice in the past five years.
In most cases, smaller pipeline leaks can be repaired quickly, although regulators may require significant work if they find any cause for alarm. Following the leak in Michigan two years ago — which spilled roughly 15 times more oil than the Wisconsin leak if initial estimates of the Friday incident prove correct — one line was shut for more than two months.
Enbridge said two landowners had been affected and that one family had been relocated for their safety and comfort, but that most of the spill was restricted to the pipeline right-of-way. It kept its estimate of the spill at around 1,200 barrels — about as much as would fit in six very large oil tanker trucks.
“The house right next to where the pipeline broke got covered with oil,” said Patrick Swadish, who lives about a mile northwest of the spill site in a rural area of mostly farmland, some 80 miles north of the college town of Madison.
Oil trucks, Enbridge vehicles and about a dozen crews were working in the area, which had been cordoned off by sheriff deputies. Local law enforcement officials said they had been told it may take up to 30 days to clean the area.
Enbridge also said it had briefly shut down two larger adjacent lines — the 400,000 bpd Line 61 and the 670,000 bpd Line 6A — but both were pumping again within a day. Together with Line 14, they form the backbone of Lakehead, a 2.5 million bpd network that is the main route for Canadian exports.
Another line, the 180,000 bpd Line 13, which carries diluents from Chicago to Edmonton, Alberta, would be restarted once it was confirmed the release had not had an impact on it, it said.
Just weeks ago, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board blasted Enbridge’s handling of the July 2010 rupture of its Line 6B near Marshall, Michigan, which led to more than 20,000 barrels of crude leaking into the Kalamazoo River.
The NTSB said it found a complete breakdown of company safety measures, and that Enbridge employees performed like “Keystone Kops” trying to contain it. The rupture went undetected for 17 hours.
U.S. pipeline regulators fined it $3.7 million for the spill, their largest ever penalty.
The incidents, plus the most recent spill in Alberta, have caused furor just as the company seeks approval for its C$6 billion Northern Gateway pipeline to Canada’s West Coast amid staunch opposition from environmental groups and native communities that warn against oil spills.
Florida’s Water and Land Legacy is a coalition of the state’s leading conservation organizations including The Trust for Public Land, Audubon Florida, Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and many others. Together with concerned citizens, they have united to launch a major constitutional amendment campaign for the November 2014 ballot.
A constitutional amendment is the best way we can assure that adequate funding is dedicated solely to restoring critical natural areas, like the Everglades, and protecting Florida’s magnificent waters and lands for future generations. Floridians understand the value of clean and abundant water for people and wildlife, and they cherish the natural areas that make Florida special. That’s why the amendment would ensure that these values have a place in our state’s constitution.
A New (Yet Ancient) National Monument The designation of Chimney Rock National Monument by President Obama not only adds to our country’s conservation legacy but also serves as a perfect example of why the Antiquities Act is so important. The Act was passed by Congress in 1906 to allow the president to ensure “…the protection of objects of historic and scientific interest.”
Chimney Rock fits the bill perfectly. The area contains stunning remains of ceremonial and other archaeological sites from the ancient Pueblo culture that thrived in the Southwest for hundreds of years. The twin rock spires that lend Chimney Rock its name are as inspiring today as they were 1,000 years ago — every 18.6 years they perfectly frame the moon during what’s known as the northern lunar standstill (the last one was in 2006).
But despite its cultural significance, Chimney Rock lacked any protective designation to provide permanent support for and protection of its sites and resources — until now. Along with protecting the site, the designation is expected to increase heritage tourism in the region, adding to the 9,000 visitors who already come to experience Chimney Rock each year. A recent economic study showed that this national monument designation will double the economic benefits to the region within five years.
While Chimney Rock is unique, its story is not. A number of other studies by Headwaters Economics have documented post-designation job and personal income growth in communities near new national monuments. Across the country, protected public lands draw millions of visitors each year and are vital to our nation’s $646 billion outdoor recreation economy, which supports over 6 million jobs.
As with the designation of Fort Monroe National Monument in Virginia and Fort Ord National Monument in California, this new designation will benefit Americans now and for generations to come.
Michael Brune Executive director Sierra Club
Help Protect the NPRA The Department of Interior is finalizing the first-ever comprehensive management plan for America’s largest tract of public land, the nearly 23-million acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (Reserve). The proposed plan would safeguard key areas Audubon has been working to protect for nearly two decades. The Reserve provides habitat vital for millions of migratory birds, two large caribou herds, grizzly bear, polar bear, wolves, wolverine, Arctic fox, walrus, and ice seals.
We need an overwhelming show of public support for the new plan! Send YOUR citizen comments today.
Since 1976, Congress has specifically recognized that the Reserve contains special areas with extraordinary natural resources that should be protected. The proposed plan would protect 11 million acres of exceptional wildlife habitat—roughly the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined—while still allowing development of the great majority of the area’s oil resources in less sensitive habitats.
The proposed plan protects vital wetlands surrounding Teshekpuk Lake, which lies at the heart of a globally-significant Important Bird Area that has been a special focus of Audubon for many years. Bird nesting habitat at Teshekpuk Lake may be the most productive in the entire circumpolar Arctic, supporting species such as the rare Yellow-billed Loon and the threatened Spectacled Eider, along with a diversity of other waterfowl and shorebird species. All told, the plan protects 96 percent of the priority areas in the Reserve identified by Audubon scientists as critical wildlife habitat.
As the Department of Interior works to finalize the plan, your comments are urgently needed to ensure the Administration follows through and delivers these historic protections for the migratory birds and iconic Arctic wildlife that rely on the Reserve.
Click here to submit your comments
River of Grass Greenway The River of Grass Greenway is a safe, non-motorized transportation and recreation corridor across the Everglades between Naples and Miami that provides opportunities for education, stewardship, and preservation of the environmental, historic, and cultural assets of this unique area. It will offer activities such as bicycling, walking, birdwatching, photography, and fishing, etc.
Addressing the needs of citizens, local businesses along the pathway, and governmental and tribal officials is crucial to the development of this unique greenway.
Currently there is a Project Development and Environment (PD&E) Study for the 15.8 miles between San Marco Blvd (CR92) and Carnestown (SR29).
A Feasibility Study and Master Plan for the entire 75-mile ROGG corridor is now being developed, and input from the public at this beginning stage is very important.
Later this fall a website will be available for information and feedback.
In January and February of 2013 workshops in Naples, Everglades City, and Miami will be held during which time the public will be invited to participate.
For more information, contact Patty at 695-2397 or visit the website at www.evergladesROGG.org .
Former military site in Lee County now conservation land What used to be part of the state’s largest military airfield is now the county’s newest green space, the 3,000-plus-acre Wild Turkey Strand Preserve.
The new Conservation 20/20 preserve between Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres opened recently off State Road 82 west of the Hendry County line. It provides wildlife habitat as well as a place for nature enthusiasts, hikers, photographers and picnickers.
“It came together wonderfully,” said Cathy Olson, senior supervisor for the Conservation 20/20 program in the county Parks and Recreation Department. “The design team tried to make it as green as possible.”
The preserve sits amidst what used to be the Buckingham Army Airfield, once the state’s largest airfield training base during World War II.
The airfield, used from 1942 to 1945, was instrumental for gunnery training during World War II.
Little evidence of the facility now remains, but Olson said workers are in the process of installing historic interpretative panels describing the field’s use during WWII. The area offers a wilderness feel despite the steady drone of jetliners every three minutes or so on approach to Southwest Florida International Airport not far away.
Also included at the new preserve are picnic areas, a 1.8-mile nature trail and two wetland observation decks.
Two primitive portions of the nature trail remain somewhat under water during the area’s wet seasonal and visitors are recommended to wear appropriate shoes.
Sherri Furnari, the 20/20 coordinator for the preserve, said a brochure is being put together to describe the site as well as others being planned such as the Buckingham Trails Preserve, 8790 Buckingham Road, set to open in 2014, and Six Mile Cypress Preserve North, also on Buckingham Road, set for 2017.
“It has historical as well as natural perspective,” Furnari said of the new preserve.
DEP Announces Finalists for Fourth Annual Florida Green School Awards The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Environmental Education has named 16 finalists for the 2011-2012 Florida Green School Awards program.
Three finalists from K-12 public and private schools statewide have been selected in each of the five categories: students, classrooms, teachers, schools and school districts that have implemented resource-saving projects. One state winner within each category will be announced at the Florida Green Schools Awards Ceremony and Banquet scheduled for Oct. 18, 2012. This year, the awards banquet will take place at the West Palm Beach Marriott Hotel.
The finalists for the 2011-2012 Florida Green School Awards include:
Lisa Paniale, Audubon Elementary School, Brevard County
Laurie Mecca (P. J. OWL Team), Pine Jog Elementary, Palm Beach County
Wayne Oelfke, Ft. White High School, Columbia County
Bridget Cleary, Learning Gate Community School, Hillsborough County
Deborah Pate, A.K. Suter Elementary School, Escambia County
Hector Escobedo, TERRA Environmental Research Institute, Miami-Dade County
Neil Gleitz, Pine View School, Sarasota County
Alexis Salcedo, TERRA Environmental Research Institute, Miami-Dade County
Sharon Cutler, Lawton Chiles Elementary School, Hillsborough County
Wendy Doromal, Timber Creek High School, Orange County
Driftwood Middle School AHW, Broward County
Sandalwood High School, Duval County
Spring Valley School, Pinellas County
School District Finalists:
Duval County School District
Leon County School District
Polk County School District
Viral disease detected in North Florida deer Florida is the latest state to report the presence of epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) in its white-tailed deer herd. This viral disease has been confirmed in two deer and suspected in at least 10 others from North Florida that were examined this year.
EHD is an insect-borne disease, transmitted to deer by small biting flies known as midges or “no-see-ums.” The disease can cause illness or death in individual deer but should disappear when freezing temperatures halt insect activity. EHD cannot be transmitted to humans or pets; however, as a general rule, people should avoid consuming sick or unhealthy deer.
“This is a disease that you typically see in late summer or the fall, and it often occurs after periods of drought,” said Dr. Mark Cunningham, wildlife veterinarian for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). “The good news is we don’t expect long-term impacts to our state’s deer herd.”
Deer infected with EHD may have pronounced swelling of the head, neck, and tongue, and often have large ulcers in the mouth. Infected deer are often found near water and may be lethargic, lame and emaciated.
The FWC is monitoring the health of the state’s deer herd and is examining deer for EHD and other diseases. Sightings of sick or dead deer can be reported to the FWC by calling 866-CWD-WATCH (866-293-9282), which is the state’s chronic wasting disease hotline number.
In addition to Florida, at least 12 other states are reporting EHD cases.
Reuse has become an integral part of wastewater management, water resource management, and ecosystem management in Florida. During the past 20 years, Florida has risen to be recognized as a national leader (along with California) in water reuse. Approximately 722 million gallons per day (mgd) of reclaimed water was reused for beneficial purposes in 2011. This represents an average per capita reuse of 38.19 gallons per day per person. Reusing 722 mgd of reclaimed water is estimated to have avoided the use of over 142 billion gallons of potable quality water while serving to add more than 81 billion gallons back to available ground water supplies.
The total reuse capacity of Florida’s domestic wastewater treatment facilities has gone from 362 mgd in 1986 to 1,618 mgd in 2011 which amounts to an increase of 347 percent! The current reuse capacity represents about 64 percent of the total permitted domestic wastewater treatment capacity in Florida.
Reclaimed water from public access reuse systems was used to irrigate 311,068 residences, 546 golf courses, 998 parks, and 346 schools. Irrigation of these areas accessible to the public represented about 58 percent of the 722 mgd of reclaimed water reused.
Organizations Renew Demand to UN for Global Ban on GM Trees At the Meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Hyderabad, India, civil society organizations released a letter today to the CBD Executive Secretary demanding a global ban on the release of genetically modified trees into the environment.
One of the topics for discussion at this meeting are guidelines for the risk assessment and risk management of genetically modified (GM) trees. The communiqué from the CBD Secretariat on 27 September 2012 stated the meeting will “adopt further decisions to contribute to ensuring the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology”.
“Contributing to the safe transfer, handling and use of GM trees directly contradicts the decision of the CBD’s Conference in Bonn, Germany in 2008″, stated Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project. “That meeting reaffirmed the need to take a precautionary approach with regard to GM trees, and called for contained studies–not open air–of the risks and impacts of GM trees. This came about in part due to a unanimous call by organizations and Indigenous Peoples groups, as well as the entire African delegation and other Parties to suspend the release of all GM trees into the environment”, she added.
Among the threats being faced by forest dependent communities, the conversion of forests and other ecosystems into industrial tree plantations is among the most serious.
“The forestry industry is involved in developing GM trees for use in its industrial plantations, in order to achieve trees that can grow faster; have reduced lignin content for production of paper or agrofuels; are insect or herbicide resistant; or can grow in colder temperatures”, stated Isis Alvarez, of Global Forest Coalition, who recently completed a briefing paper on GM trees in Latin America. “This research is aimed at increasing their own profits while exacerbating the already known and very serious impacts of large scale tree plantations on local communities and biodiversity”.
“These impacts include forced displacement of communities and destruction of native forests and biodiversity to make room for new tree plantations, and depletion of soils and ground water,” stated Teresa Perez of World Rainforest Movement. “The use of GM trees will inevitably and irreversible lead to the invasion and contamination of wild forests with genetically engineered pollen and seeds, leading to unknown but predictably serious impacts on biodiversity.
“By creating guidelines that would allow industry to export GM tree seedlings all over the world the CBD is only considering the industry’s interests while jeopardizing the livelihoods of millions of people that depend on forests ecosystems”, she added.
The submitted letter ended: “We therefore demand the Convention on Biological Biodiversity BAN the release and transboundary movements of all GM TREES”.
Russell E. Train, one of the most influential and well-known leaders in American conservation, passed away on Monday, September 17, 2012. Over the past half century, Train’s guidance and visionary leadership as founder and chairman emeritus of WWF-US grew the small, primarily grant-making organization into a global conservation force with over 1 million members in the U.S. Train was a pioneer not only at WWF, but for the entire conservation movement.
Joe Gatins passed away recently from a heart attack. Joe fought tirelessly to protect the forests, rivers, and mountains he loved in northern Georgia. He was a long-time supporter of Georgia Forest Watch (GFW), where he served on the board of directors and was a GFW district leader on the Chattahoochee National Forest
Larry Gibson, long-time champion for the Appalachian Mountains and staunch opponent of mountaintop removal coal mining, died of a heart attack while working on his family’s land at his beloved Kayford Mountain in West Virginia.