Sunday, August 17, 2014

It;s a big 50th anniversary

50 years ago and a world of lawmakers who put aside bickering and political showmanship to do the right thing - for the American land and our natural heritage. This editorial talks about the anniversary in fine fashion. Today's generation of legislators care more for photo ops and bickering than they do in protexcting our natural heritage.

Friday, August 15, 2014

2 Florida butterfly species gain ESA listing

Good news for the two lep species, but sad that habitat destruction forced the issue. See

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Vermont lawmakers take on issue of forest fragmentation

I wrote this column earlier this summer

The wildlife-unfriendly issue of “forest fragmentation” just went before the Vermont Senate in Montpelier in the form of legislation to stop it in the Green Mountain State.
Too bad, though, for the state’s natural heritage that in the end corporate powers won and the legislation was tabled.
But, the very fact that proposed legislation focused on the issue is remarkable. The Vermont Senate may have set a “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” record as the first state legislative body anywhere in the U.S. to address the issue.
“A proposal to limit forest fragmentation was thwarted by developers who oppose using the state’s land and development laws as a tool to keep woodlands intact, according to the lead sponsor of the bill that was gutted on the Senate floor Wednesday,” the Web-based news magazine VTDigger reported March 19.
“There’s nothing ‘complicated’ about stopping forest fragmentation,” one Vermonter commented. “This is just another episode of legislators kow-towing to the corporate interests that make campaign contributions.”
State Sen. Peter Gailbraith wrote, “The Audubon Society points out that Vermont has the most diversity of bird species of any state in the continental U.S., and the reason is our large inter-connected forests. The (Gov. Peter Shumlin) administration has itself identified fragmentation as the number one threat to biological diversity in our forests, and yet neither the administration nor the legislature is willing to do anything to prevent it. This is a tragedy.”
Galbraith also noted that the legislature’s nod to “study” the issue is only cover. “A study is the legislature’s way of killing a proposal while pretending to the voters that it is concerned about the issue.”
The bill would have required development already undergoing the Act 250 review process to maintain forest integrity, VTdigger reported. “If development must alter forests, the developer could purchase a conservation offset at another site to balance the impact.”
Act 250, a state Website explains, is “Vermont’s development and control law, established in 1970. The law provides a public, quasi-judicial process for reviewing and managing the environmental, social and fiscal consequences of major subdivisions and development in Vermont through the issuance of land use permits.”
Converting large, continuous forests into smaller woodlots (islands) has many negative impacts, especially on bird species whose reproductive success plummets in fragmented landscapes.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: “Forest fragmentation occurs when large, continuous forests are divided into smaller blocks, either by roads, clearing for agriculture, urbanization, or other human development. Ornithologists suspect that fragmentation harms many woodland birds by increasing their susceptibility to predation and nest parasitism.
“Predators such as jays, crows, raccoons, and cats, as well as the parasitic Brown-headed Cowbird, typically are not abundant in extensive forests. But when a forest is fragmented, predators and cowbirds gain more access to the woodland. The importance of large areas of continuous forest for maintaining forest-interior bird species has been demonstrated in the eastern United States during the past 15 years.”
The chopping (literally) of forests into smaller blocks is a top cause behind population declines of many native North American birds. They include the state bird of Vermont, the Hermit Thrush.
“Forest fragmentation remains an important conservation issue for many species of wildlife, including the Hermit Thrush, which prefers large tracts of forests,” wrote ornithologist Douglas P. Kibbe in “The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds of Vermont.”
The rate at which fragmentation is occurring is substantial greater in Pennsylvania. I know there are some folks in Harrisburg who understand the threat to the commonwealth’s natural heritage. But I’d bet that none sit in the legislature or statehouse.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Will these birds care?

. . . about the National Audubon Society's carbon-reduction credit-selling gambit? I don't think so

Audubon Society forest in S.C. sells carboon credits

Some PR came out of the package described in this article. But this alone is hardly going to make a difference. Raising money was the gambit anyway.

Aspens in trouble in Idaho, elsewhere in West

Bad enough that sprawl development chews up native forests. Now more trouble is evident. Read about it here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

NASA, partners studying Lake Erie algal bloom

As is the case for Chesapeake Bay, the best thing that could happen to Lake Erie's watershed is this: A cessation to pollution-sourcing development. Great that NASA and others are studying the algal-bloom problem, but that's not enough to really, really help the lake.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Nuisance flooding to increase as sea-levels rise

It's 1424 EDT as I write and thunder is omnipresent as another round of afternoon thunderstorms gets wound up. I did a 5-mile cycle an hour ago. Here's the latest from NOAA on what we can expect from climate-change-driven sea-level rise.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

GE crops finally kicked off national wildlife refuges

For the past decade, PEER has been engaged in litigation trench warfare with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to end the use of genetically engineered (GE) crops on national wildlife refuges. Through five different lawsuits, we have forced FWS to end GE planting on scores of refuges in more than half the states. Even today, we are still in court to end GE cultivation on refuges in the Midwest.
So, it was a pleasant surprise to see that FWS has decided to throw in the towel and will phase out the use of GE crops to feed wildlife and ban neonicotinoids (neonics which are insecticides linked to bee colony collapse) from all wildlife refuges nationwide by January 2016. In a July 17 decision memo, FWS Refuge Chief Jim Kurth wrote:
“We have demonstrated our ability to successfully accomplish refuge purposes over the past two years without using genetically modified crops, therefore it is no longer possible to say that their use is essential to meet wildlife management objectives. We will no longer use genetically modified crops to meet wildlife management objectives System-wide.”
What he tactfully fails to mention is that the “past two years’” demonstration was not something his agency undertook voluntarily, but was due to a court order we won uprooting all GE crops from refuges throughout the Southeast, which had been the system’s agricultural breadbasket. 
In typical fashion, however, this phase-out carries caveats and loopholes:
  • It won’t take effect until January 2016 and thus could be reversed by the next administration. Of course, it is puzzling that if GE crops and neonics are bad for wildlife, why allow it for additional growing seasons?;
  • While GE crops cannot be used to feed wildlife, the decision allows “temporary” use of GE crops for “habitat restoration” which is sort of like using sugary drinks for dietary improvement. The danger is that these weaselly loopholes can be contorted to swallow the rule; and
  • Neonics can still be used for unspecified “appropriate and specialized uses” on refuges. 
So while this is a victory, we will have to keep the pressure on. Moreover, the forces behind industrialized agriculture on wildlife preserves have not gone away. Local farmers like the free use of federal lands and water for what are termed “cooperative” farming agreements. More significantly, Monsanto and the other biotech giants just hate hearing that their products are bad for wildlife and have no place on refuges and other important habitat.
Until recently, the biotech industry had the Obama White House on its side, as part of a broader effort to promote more American export of biotech products – regardless of consequence.  Frankly, that is why this litigation campaign has had to go on for so long.
In the environment, as in most fields, change is incremental. We at PEER are the ultimate incrementalists, working with public servants to ensure that their agencies follow the laws and fulfill their missions. Help us keep the gears of incremental progress turning.