Sunday, March 31, 2013

Man caught smuggling more than 10 percent of an entire species

A Thai man was caught in an airport trying to pick up 54 ploughshare tortoises. There are perhaps 400 ploughshare tortoises in the wild. Makes one wonder just how many other such smugglers are out there. Read the whole sordid tale.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Climate change expected to increase Snake River's sediment load tenfold

I grew up near the Snake in southeastern Idaho. Used to fish for trout just below the American Falls Dam (caught chub mostly). The climate change-created sediment load for this river, described by Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky  Barker in this article, is astounding. But also consider what will happen to other North American waterways.

Big Oil investing in exploration near Shetland Islands

Let's drill off Scotland so we can ruin another part of Earth, our only planet.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Birds, bees and aquatic life threatened by gross underestimate of toxicity of world's most widely used pesticide

Well, talk about looking the other way. As if colony collapse disorder isn't enough. This report from American Bird Conservancy has all the sad details.

In the Southwest, water flows uphill toward money

That's is among the choice lines to heard in "The Current," a new documentary that takes a hard look at water and human growth - in a desert. View the film's teaser.

Most Americans balk at spending to save beaches

And no wonder that's what this poll found. Spending gazillions of tax dollars after every nor'easter wrecks the dune line at Beach X or Y is absurd. And that will be even more costly of an endeavor with sea-level rise driven by climate change. Oh, and rebuilding North Carolina route 12 down the Outer Banks? Start paddling, not driving.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

EPA Survey Finds More Than Half of the Nation’s River and Stream Miles in Poor Condition

WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the results of the first comprehensive survey looking at the health of thousands of stream and river miles across the country, finding that more than half – 55 percent – are in poor condition for aquatic life. 
The health of our Nation’s rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters depends on the vast network of streams where they begin, and this new science shows that America’s streams and rivers are under significant pressure,” said Office of Water Acting Assistant Administrator Nancy Stoner. “We must continue to invest in protecting and restoring our nation’s streams and rivers as they are vital sources of our drinking water, provide many recreational opportunities, and play a critical role in the economy.” 
The 2008-2009 National Rivers and Stream Assessment reflects the most recent data available, and is part of EPA’s expanded effort to monitor waterways in the U.S. and gather scientific data on the condition of the Nation’s water resources. 
EPA partners, including states and tribes, collected data from approximately 2,000 sites across the country. EPA, state and university scientists analyzed the data to determine the extent to which rivers and streams support aquatic life, how major stressors may be affecting them and how conditions are changing over time. 
Findings of the assessment include:
- Nitrogen and phosphorus are at excessive levels. Twenty-seven percent of the nation’s rivers and streams have excessive levels of nitrogen, and 40 percent have high levels of phosphorus. Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water—known as nutrient pollution—causes significant increases in algae, which harms water quality, food resources and habitats, and decreases the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive. Nutrient pollution has impacted many streams, rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters for the past several decades, resulting in serious environmental and human health issues, and impacting the economy.

- Streams and rivers are at an increased risk due to decreased vegetation cover and increased human disturbance. These conditions can cause streams and rivers to be more vulnerable to flooding, erosion, and pollution. Vegetation along rivers and streams slows the flow of rainwater so it does not erode stream banks, removes pollutants carried by rainwater and helps maintain water temperatures that support healthy streams for aquatic life. Approximately 24 percent of the rivers and streams monitored were rated poor due to the loss of healthy vegetative cover. 

- Increased bacteria levels. High bacteria levels were found in nine percent of stream and river miles making those waters potentially unsafe for swimming and other recreation. 

- Increased mercury levels. More than 13,000 miles of rivers have fish with mercury levels that may be unsafe for human consumption. For most people, the health risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern, but some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child's developing nervous system.
EPA plans to use this new data to inform decision making about addressing critical needs around the country for rivers, streams, and other waterbodies. This comprehensive survey will also help develop improvements to monitoring these rivers and streams across jurisdictional boundaries and enhance the ability of states and tribes to assess and manage water quality to help protect our water, aquatic life, and human health. Results are available for a dozen geographic and ecological regions of the country.
More information:

Study says invasive plants greatest threat to rangelands

Of course, let's remember how the seeds of invasive non-native plants get onto public rangeland: The tires and undercarriages of human machines (cars and trucks) and the hooves of livestock (cow and sheep). Read about it here.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

EPA survey of rivers and streams finds more than half in poor shape

I don't find this surprising. Not at all. Depressing, yes. But surprising, no. Given the sorry-ass condition of stream after stream in the corner of Pennsylvania where I lived for 20 years, I'm not shocked by this report's findings. Why local business leaders in Luzerne County, Pa., have not yelled and screamed collectively for years now about the sorrowful shape of their local streams is itself a shock.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Idaho pols stop short of endorsing federal land transfer

The state-level politicians in Idaho and Utah, and now Nevada, keep on tinkering with the idea of having fedearl public lands within their borders transferred to state management. I can visualize all sorts of business-happy blight coming from this: Billboards, not cottonwood trees, gracing the landscape of the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area south of Boise; oil and gas wells dotting the Great Basin Desert in all three states; converting the fake lake reservoirs behind hydro dams like American Falls into Jet Ski playgrounds (with motels and grab-and-go store gas stations dotting the shoreline where American white pelicans once lived their lives. You can read about the Idaho clowns right here.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A bounty on coyotes in Utah?

The whole notion of having a bounty and calling it part-and-parcel of a "wildlife management" program is absurd. Utah, with its old-fangled approach to removing a predator from its wildlife "resource," has just taken the whole American wildlife management science back a whole century to a time when even government agencies paid bounties to rifle-toting "hunters" who turned in evidence of a gray wolf kill. And let's recall that, event today, state fish and "game" agencies refer to what hunters kill as the "harvest." Read about Utah's war on coyotes right here.

Favorite places and Wild Nature - some words for keeeping them

This is the column I wrote several weeks ago for publication in a Sunday edition of the Standard-Speaker, Hazleton, Pa. Old amigos know that's where I worked as a daily journalist for a decade-and-a-half while also finishing a 26-year career as an Air Force officer. Read on and remember well your own favorite places. And also fight for their protection from "growth" and economic this-and-that.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Hunters kill 250 Bison moving out of Yellowstone

The existence of "political" boundaries - like the line between this town and that one - mean nothing to North American wildlife. Mammals like American Bison are guided by their ecological needs, not whether the ground they set foot on is private ranch land, national forest land, national park land, etc. The failure of those in power to recognize this basic bit of ecology is a national disgrace. As is the killing of even one of the genetically pure American Bison that are Yellowstone National Park ambassadors. Oh, and "harvesting" is the same as "killing." Read about the latest slaughter of Bison.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Chainsaw trade group goes after feds over spotted owl habitat

These "trade" associations are, more often than not, simply chambers of commerce with a fancy moniker. Their very name is crafted, they believe, to spread fear - in this case in the hearts of wildlife conservationists. The Northern Spotted Owl debacle has now been with us for 2.5 decades, give or take a year. And still, the trade associations talk behind their chainsaws as they try and rationalize the logging of old-growth (aka "ancient") trees and the species that depend on them. Ironically, it is the Barred Owl that wins with the logging of the ancients. It's still a debacle.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Coal by the numbers

Monarch migration dips to lowest level in two decades

In spent the better part of a fall day a decade or so ago watching migrating Monarchs fly over the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay on their way south to wintering grounds in Mexico. And my field trip log books are filled with notations of other memorable Monarch sightings, like those found near my previous home in Pennsylvania on the late date of Nov. 10. This NY Times article is filled with dreadful news of the species' diminishing population on wintering grounds in Mexico.The indiscriminate, criminal spraying of milkweed-killing herbicides on the margins of rural roads in Pennsylvania and across the Northeast for that matter is deadly.

New scorpion species found, described in Ariz.

New plant and animal species are being found and described in the scientific literature almost daily. But the march to extinction continues at the same moment in time. reports that a new species of scorpion, dubbed Vaejovis brysoni, has been found in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Rich Ayrey, a Flagstaff nurse and former biologist recognized it as a new species. Ayrey has discovered and named five other scorpion species. This particular scorpion was found by University of Washington post-doctoral scholar Robert Bryson, who spotted it in the Santa Catalina Mountains and sent samples to Ayrey and a collaborator to identify last April. The 2-inch-long, mahogany-colored scorpions were found above 6,000 in the mountains during a hiking trip. This discovery is the 10th known mountain scorpion species in Arizona. View a photo of the newlyh described/named scorpion at this link.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cheney marks 10th anniversary of the WMD lie

Ten long years, for sure, but the ex-veep is likely still lying and cheating in the circles he keeps as a private citizen. As for the public part, satirist Andy Borowitz offers this humorous look.

Vt. lawmakers consider rules for future shoreline property owners

The rules would cover topics like restoration and retaining native plant communities and their erosion and pollution filtering capacities. Oh, and contrary to the word "intended" in the caption of the photo with this article, that is, in fact, what riparian zone plant communities do. It is not, in other words, "intended."

Monday, March 18, 2013

Elwha advdvocacy update

My longtime friend Mark Gretch is on the staff of the Wild Fish Conservancy. Wild Fish Conservancy, the Conservation Angler, the Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee, and the Wild Steelhead Coalition filed suit on February 9, 2012, against the Olympic National Park, NOAA Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and representatives of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe (LEKT) for ignoring best available science and violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The suit alleges that by permitting, funding, and operating the Elwha Hatchery, the defendants threaten the recovery of Chinook salmon, native steelhead, and killer whales.  State and federal agency scientists, along with the independent Hatchery Scientific Review Group (HSRG), pointed out that the current plan gives no measurable goals for wild fish recovery, provides no timetable for ceasing the hatchery production, and that wild fish recovery is going to be hampered by the implementation of the Elwha hatchery plan.
You can read the entire release from the Conservancy right here.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Nevada DOW criticized when bear dies in capture attempt

Let's get one thing straight right off. The motor vehicle traffic, not the black bear, should have been stopped. Why? Because all that human stuff - the road, the ski resort, the cars, the noise pollution - is the hazard to native wildlife, not the other way around. The bear's well-being, not that of the motor vehicle drivers, should have been the first consideration. That is always the case. You can read about the Nevada state wildlife agency's debacle in this article.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Faced with a lemon, the F-35, Congress says push on anyway

Nearly half of my 26-year career in the U.S. Air Force took place during the Cold War years. I remember a poster on the wall of the Kunsan Air Base command post that read: "Kill a Commie for Mommie." That was indicative of the war-fighting spirit that permeated front-line installations like Kunsan at the time. The 8th  Tactical Fighter Wing, now just the 8th Fighter Wing, flew and still does fly the F-16 Fighting  Falcon fighter. It's a damn good airplane, as I'm sure the pilots of the Vermont Air National Guard's 158th Fighter Wing would agree. The future for Air  Force pilots, though, lies not in the cockpit of fighter jets but at the dekbound controls of a drone. That is just one of many reasons not to press ahead with the building and basing of the F-35 Lightning II, at the Burlington, Vt., airport or anyplace else. It is a Cold War-era fighter jet in search of a new Cold War enemy. Perhaps former Soviet MIG jet jockies selling themselves as mercenaries? There are many other reasons - for Burlington, especially - to say NO to the F-35. Noise pollution is one of them. This essay outlines the case.

The Salmon: An iconic creature that reminds us of Wild Nature's importance

I can think of many other pieces of the great puzzle of flora and fauna we share the planet with that is just deserving. But Salmon and British Columbia do indeed go together. And the fish species is wildly deserving of official status from the B.C. gubberment.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Obama seeks to use oil and gas money to develop alternative fuel cars

For the Nth time, reporting like this skips entirely over the best alternative fuel of all time: Walking, as in burning calories not gasoline. The oil and gas royalties Mr. Obama targets to fund the development of alternative-fuel cars would simply continue the status quo. The current way of operating in the U.S. is to pave over nature and to keep doing so, ostensibly forever. I strongly suggest putting the same royalties to work for Wild Nature by spending them to buy and preserve - forever - the nation's dwindling natural landscape.

Another climate change victim: The Ameridcan Pika

I saw a Pika many decades ago while hiking in Idaho, my home state. Read about this tiny critter and what us humans are doing to it.

New $100 hybrid fee applies to electric mopeds, too

The motto in sprawl-driven Virginia Beach, Va.: Tax anything that moves to get more dollars to pave over nature. After all, it's kjust "raw land." Right? According to this Virginian-Pilot article, the road-makers now want tax dollars from hybrid cars and even mopeds. Why not go after skateboards, too. And why not order people who walk to pony up some tax dolalrs, too?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Preventing an Arctic cold war

This op-ed does a credible job in detailing what the big problem is (climate change) and the stakes (oil and gas principally) as eight-of-so nations start quibbling over who gets what. I foresee massive overfishing in the Arctic, among other faults. In any case, the cold north that greeted the "thing" portrayed by actor James Arness in "The Thing from Another World" is nearly gone and human actions are to blame.

Monday, March 11, 2013

How much of Florida will disappear under rising seas?

Quite a bit. Take a look at the interactive map the Miami Herald offers at

When to say no (to the Keystone boondoggle)

"Boondoggle" is an appropriate word for the Keystone XL pipeline, for that is exactly what it is. And that boondoggle would be a bigtime generator to our planet's carbon load. Just say no, Mr. President. And the sooner, the better. The NY Times published this editorial today.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Anglers lure Weber’s rare cutthroat trout for study

This feature is about the electronic "tagging" of a Bonneville cutthroat trout in Utah. The link to the Salt Lake Tribune's work is here.

Idaho senator goes to bat for welfare ranchers with Interior nominee

Sen. Jim Risch apparently has no earthly idea what "rangeland health" is really all about. Dear senator, rangeland that is in poor shape likely has been stomped and overgrazed into submission by the livestock of welfare ranchers who pay a pittance for the privilege of fattening their cows and sheep on public land. That is the issue, dear senator. How about drafting legislation that would finally make ranchers pay the market-based rate for the privilege of grazing their meat on OUR public lands? The Idaho Statesman's Rocky Barker offers this view of the senator's pleadings to Sally Jewell, the nominee to repalce Ken Salazar as Interior secretary.

Friday, March 8, 2013

A gas pipeline through a national wildlife refuge?

Through it, or next to it, the ecological damage would still be there. Monica and I had the pleasure of visiting Buenas Aires National Wildlife Refuge south of Tucson during our second trek to Arizona. Even had the honor of meeting refuge manager Sally  Gall, who is quoted in this article. The disruption and fragmentation of habitat would be a problem regardless of where the pipeline goes in.

In Utah, $300K to fund anti-wolf campaign

And that's for the second year of an idiot-proof campaign backed by the "what's ecology?" crowd. This article has the lowdown  on this shameful use of tax dollars.

Sapstreak, a fungal invader, attacking sugar maples

I was unaware of this invader until reading this first-person account, but it's all very real know. The list of tree-killers out there is legion, and the bulldozer is just one of them: Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, Chestnut Blight, Emerald Ash Borer, Dogwood Anthracnose, etc.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Game over fro the climate

That's the message of this op-ed column written by NASA climatologist Dr. James Hansen. Climate change is not a hoax. It is quite real and human action - the  burning of fossil fuels - is the cause. The Canadian tar sands oil would quickly make our planet's climate spiral out of control.

Fish and Wildlife Service Seeks Public Comment on Gunnison Sage-Grouse

In a New York Times op-ed today, Cornell Lab director John Fitzpatrick tells the Gunnison Sage-Grouse's remarkable story of discovery and disappearance. Known for centuries to the inhabitants of modern-day Colorado and Utah, it was only formally described as a new species in 2000—despite the bird's flamboyant displays and former popularity as a gamebird. As the bird's numbers continue to fall from changes to its sagebrush habitat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is weighing listing the species under the Endangered Species Act—a move that would trigger important protections. To aid their decision they've issued a call for public comments, which are due by March 12. Read the article.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The value of science

Don't look to wacky Republicans in Congress for a true understanding of what the role of science should be in public policy. After all, to many Republicans the following are truisms: The Earth is flat, global warming is a hoax, and something ill-labeled as "intelligent design" should be taught in public schools. This op-ed points out, in good words, what science truly is to public policy.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Can Sally Jewell get a new generation involved with public lands?

That is just one of the challenges awaiting the soon-to-be former boss of REI as she takes over leadership of the Department of the Interior. I hope she succeeds. Some of the pro-pollution crowd - mostly Republicans of course - have already been attacking Jewell under the guise of REI's gifting of financial help to citizen conservation outfits. What a bunch. This piece takes a good look at Jewell.

State agency game farming is not compatible with ecosystem integrity

And neither is the very unscientific creation of edge habitat in a state that's full of man-created edge habitat, as I saw on State Game Lands 141 and Nescopeck State Park in Pennsylvania. The machines that did the nasty work were there by order of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Well, it's been nearly 20 years since it happened and the creation of even more edge habitat in the state marches on. Complicit in this very anti-conservation biology course of events is the whole governmental enterprise, from the township and borough level on up to Harrisburg.
What's wrong with edge habitat? It is the favored habitat of habitat generalists, like white-tailed deer, skunk, raccoons and many more small predators. And it lowers the nesting success of forest-interior species, like wood thrush. Read what conservationist George Wuerthner thinks.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Federal and state/private forests and money (greed)

This is a nice column from the Idaho Statesman's Rocky Barker. But, Rocky, why no mention of the phrase "ecological services?" Yes, you mention fish and wildlife habitat, erosion, roadless vs. roaded, etc., but the great big public still needs to hear about ecological services. Oh, and roaded forest lands always have a much, much larger carbon footprint than roadless land. And which is healthier for wildlfife? Simple. Roadless.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

On the scenic Missisquoi,a debate about federal recognition

I was a daily newspaper journalist for 17 years in northeastern Pennsylvania, so I feel qualified to make statements like this: While reporter Candace Page turned out a solid, in-depth piece on a proposal to protect much of northern Vermont's Missisiquoi River under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers program, the headline writer at the Burlington Free Press chose the easy way out by using the word "debate." Why is it that every little thing in today's "he said, she said" media circus has to be called a "debate?" Simply put, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers program works and works well. This has been proven by more than 40 years of citizen work and involvement on designated waterways nationwide. I feel particularly focused on this because I had the honor, as a student at Idaho State University in the early 70s, of going door-to-door for U.S. Sen. Frank Church, the father of the Wild and Scenic legislation. In any case, click on this link to read Candace Page's report.
Idaho Rivers United, a conservation club, says: "The Wild & Scenic Rivers Act protects more than 11,000 miles of 166 rivers in 38 states. Idaho is home to more than 1,000 miles of America's finest Wild & Scenic rivers, from the famed canyons of the Middle Fork of the Salmon to the St. Joe in North Idaho. These rivers and their corridors provide habitats for wildlife and treasured recreational places for rafters, anglers, campers, cyclists, hikers, and others."

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Aransas NWR survey shows Whooping Crane numbers up

The Fish and Wildlife Service's Winter Whooping Crane Survey estimates there's a total of 279 whooping cranes, including 257 found within the primary wintering grounds and 22 beyond that area. Service personnel conducted seven surveys of the primary wintering grounds of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock, the last remaining wild flock of whooping cranes. With the help of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Texas Whooper Watch and other observers, additional sightings suggest at least 22 additional birds outside the primary wintering grounds. Last year, the count was 267 birds. The birds begin arriving at their Texas wintering areas in mid-October and leave for their summer homes the end of March.
You can read about the survey and more at this address.

Shark kills number 100 million annually, research says

Commercial fishing (to fulfill the demand for shark fins) is pushing shark species to oblivion. Damn. This BBC piece offers the stark details.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Idaho shows it's not serious; lets lobbbyists write water plan

Endangered fish species in Idaho waters? Nah. That's the theme underlying the big rewrite of Idaho's statewide water-use plan. As reported here, the plan favors big  business and big polluters, not Idaho's natural heritage. More and more these days, things in my old home state of Idaho get worse and worse. The politicians who take up space in the Idaho capitol are doing just that.