Trump wants to cripple storm forecasting just when it’s getting good — and we need it most.
By Eric Holthaus on Oct 23, 2017
As Hurricane Harvey roared toward the Texas coast in late August, weather models showed something that forecasters had never seen before: predictions of four feet of rainfall in the Houston area over five days — a year’s worth of rain in less than a week.
“I’ve been doing this stuff for almost 50 years,” says Bill Read, a former director of the National Hurricane Center who lives in Houston. “The rainfall amounts … I didn’t believe ‘em. 50-inch-plus rains — I’ve never seen a model forecast like that anywhere close to accurate.
“Lo and behold, we had it.”
That unbelievable-but-accurate rain forecast is just one example of the great leap forward in storm forecasting made possible by major improvements in instruments, satellite data, and computer models. These advancements are happening exactly when we need them to — as a warmer, wetter atmosphere produces more supercharged storms, intense droughts, massive wildfires, and widespread flooding, threatening lives and property.
And yet the Trump administration’s climate denial and proposed cuts threaten these advances, spreading turmoil in the very agencies that can predict disasters better than ever. The president’s budget proposal would slash the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget by 16 percent, including 6 percent from the National Weather Service.
Besides hampering climate research, the cuts would jeopardize satellite programs and other forecasting tools — as well as threaten the jobs of forecasters themselves. And they may undermine bipartisan legislation Trump himself signed earlier this year that mandates key steps to improve the nation’s ability to predict disasters before they happen.
Billy Raney and Donna Raney climb over the wreckage of what’s left of their apartment after Hurricane Harvey destroyed it on August 26, 2017 in Rockport, Texas. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
It’s hard to overstate how backward that seems after the hurricane season we’ve just witnessed, as well as the deadly wildfires in California, the climate-charged droughts and deluges and, well, you name it. Just when we need forecasting to be better than ever — and need our forecasters to be able to go even further, using those predictions in ways that protect people’s lives and livelihoods — the Trump administration wants to cut back?
Here’s how far we’ve come in forecasting: Three-day hurricane forecasts are now nearly as accurate as one-day forecasts were when Katrina struck 12 years ago. Even routine, “will it rain this weekend?” forecasts are better today than you probably realize. A 2015 paper in the journal Nature called the advancements a “quiet revolution,” both because they’ve gone relatively unnoticed by the general public, and because it’s been cheap. The National Weather Service, an agency of the U.S. government, costs taxpayers about $3 per person each year.
Still, knowing what the weather is going to do tomorrow and understanding how best to warn the public about potential risks are two different things. The first is all about physics; the other is about psychology, human behavior, social interaction, the built environment, and much more. You can guess which is easier.
Forecasts for Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall totals might have been stunningly accurate, but the floodwaters still surprised thousands of people. Days after Harvey’s rains ended, first responders in towns throughout southeast Texas were still rescuing families stranded by rising waters that flowed downstream toward the Gulf.
In the interest of saving lives, forecasters have started moving from simply predicting the weather to attempting to predict the consequences. Call it impact forecasting, an attempt to say what will happen after the rain hits the ground. Scientists hope to answer questions like: Where will water accumulate? Where will floodwaters head? How will it affect people?
The next step is using those “impact forecasts” to get people to safety. Researchers are working to build customized, real-time personal prediction tools that could tell people if their house is likely to flood, or how long they might go without power. There’s also a drive to create easier to understand warning systems, making better use of the latest communication tools and social media.
Besides getting people out of harm’s way, better warning systems could help by letting nonprofits seek donations in advance of a devastating storm, for instance, so they could provide relief more quickly. And they could help public officials do a better job of prepping for the worst.
Residents affected by Hurricane Maria wait in line for fuel donated by the Fuel Relief Fund in the municipality of Orocovis, outside San Juan, Puerto Rico. REUTERS / Shannon Stapleton
The need for this new branch of forecasting was highlighted during the height of Harvey’s rains, when the National Weather Service issued a bulletin that put the deluge in stark terms: “This event is unprecedented & all impacts are unknown & beyond anything experienced.”
“This was a good step forward,” says Kim Klockow, a meteorologist and behavioral scientist at the University of Oklahoma who supports the effort to develop impact forecasting. “It admitted something very important,” Klockow says — namely, that the system we have for warning people isn’t good enough.
In fact, experts say the best early-warning systems are ones that start years before the wind picks up and raindrops begin to fall, alerting people who live in vulnerable areas who might be prone to more threats in a climate-charged world.
Following Harvey, Klockow was named to a team of external scientists who will study the National Weather Service’s performance and look for ways to improve. They could start with better flood warnings, she says. “It’s like peering into a black box,” she says. “We give people almost nothing.”
In part, that’s a consequence of insufficient flood-zone maps. Even though rainstorms are getting more intense as the climate warms, FEMA sticks to historical flood data to determine which neighborhoods are required to purchase flood insurance — a policy that’s already leading to skyrocketing losses from floods. A recent study showed that 75 percent of the flood losses in Houston between 1999 and 2009 fell outside designated 100-year flood zones.
If residents don’t know their home is at risk of flooding, they’re less likely to consider that it might, even when a major storm is forecast. So it’s no surprise that, after floods, people report being caught by surprise.
How to keep them from getting surprised? Talk plainly.
There’s evidence that giving people unambiguous information can help move them to action. Recent research has shown that people often need to see the storm with their own eyes before they take cover. They need to see neighbors boarding up their houses before they do the same.
Read, the former National Hurricane Center director, says the same thing applies to him, despite his years of forecasting experience. “Most people, including myself if I’m really honest about it, are in denial that the bad thing will happen to you.”
Before Hurricane Katrina hit the New Orleans area in 2005, the National Weather Service issued a blunt statement that promised “certain death” should anyone be trapped outside unprotected. A post-storm analysis credited that warning with spurring an evacuation rate of more than 90 percent. Read says that’s why the Weather Service is shifting its focus toward making impending storms feel as real as possible to those in its path.
Forecasters need to “personalize the threat,” he says.
Klockow says that she’d like to see flood warnings take a personal approach, too. During a storm, an overlay in Google Street View could show you how high the water is rising in your neighborhood and re-route you away from flooded roads to get you home safely.
The tools to make that happen already exist. Several companies and local governments have already developed mapping tools that to warn of impending floods. North Carolina’s Flood Inundation Mapping and Alert Network relies on 500 measurement stations across the state that transmit their readings back to a central database. When conditions are ripe for flooding, the system’s software estimates possible consequences and alerts emergency managers.
This budding technology, integrated with databases of rescue supplies, could help FEMA figure out where to put aid and supplies before they’re needed.
Other organizations are working on an initiative called “forecast-based financing.” The idea is to allocate money for clearing out storm drains, as well as distributing first aid and water filtration systems, in the days ahead of a storm. Already tested in Uganda, Peru, Bangladesh and other countries, this innovation is now in the process of being scaled up worldwide. It could help organizations like the American Red Cross craft appeals for donations in advance, instead of relying on scenes of devastation after disaster strikes.
All of these efforts and ideas show a lot of promise. Yet even as forecasters have come to understand the importance of developing better advance-warning techniques, their ability to undertake those efforts is being undercut by a White House hostile to funding science.
Earlier this year, along with recommending that Congress gut funding for NOAA, President Trump proposed an 11 percent cut from the National Science Foundation’s budget, slashing funds from the institution behind much of the country’s basic scientific research. If Congress agrees, it would be the first budget cut in the foundation’s 67-year history.
At the National Weather Service, the Washington Post recently reported that the agency couldn’t fill 216 vacant positions as a result of a Trump-imposed hiring freeze. As a result, meteorologists were working double shifts when hurricane after hurricane hit last month and covering for each other from afar.
A forecast center in Maryland, for example, provided days of backup to the National Hurricane Center as hurricanes spun toward shore. National Weather Service meteorologists at the San Juan, Puerto Rico, office complained of “extreme fatigue.” Colleagues in Texas stepped in to give them breaks.
The threat of budget cuts is already crimping federally funded disaster research. A few days after Harvey struck Texas, the Colorado-based National Center for Atmospheric Research — one of the country’s top meteorological research institutions — cut entire sections of its staff focused on the human dimensions of disasters, including impact forecasting.
In an all-staff meeting on Aug. 30, the center’s director explained that the anticipation of tighter budgets forced the decision.
Antonio Busalacchi, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, which oversees the center, called the cuts “strategic reinvestments” in a statement to Grist. He said the money saved would be reallocated to “the priority areas of computer models, observing tools, and supercomputing.”
But researchers at the center, called NCAR, say the layoffs will hurt efforts to make forecasts more human-focused and effective.
“Our whole group was cut,” says Emily Laidlaw, an environmental scientist at NCAR, whose work focuses on understanding what puts people at risk from climate change and climate-related disasters. “I would absolutely say that these cuts make people less safe.”
Read, the former hurricane center chief, says increases in supercomputing power shouldn’t come at the expense of developing forecasts that work better for people.
“You can’t drop one for the other,” he says.
The cuts to the National Center for Atmospheric Research will result in the loss of 18 jobs. That may not sound like a lot, but consider that these were some of the only scientists in the United States working to prepare our country’s system for predicting disasters in an era of rapid change.
In that context, the recent revolution in meteorology and pitfalls in preparedness become a powerful metaphor: We know that if we stick to our current course, the future will be bleak. Acting on the forecast of a warmer planet in a way that helps us to usher in a safer and more prosperous future is completely possible, and the stakes keep getting higher.
One-third of the U.S. economy, some $3 trillion per year, is subject to fluctuations in the weather, and millions of people endure weather disasters every year — a number that keeps going up as climate change boosts the frequency and intensity of storms.
Despite excellent weather forecasts, hundreds of people have lost their lives, and billions of dollars in economic value have been lost during this year’s record-breaking hurricane season. In some especially hard-hit places, like Barbuda, Dominica, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, recovery will take years, or longer.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Get people out of a hurricane’s path, put aid workers and supplies in the right place, and a raging storm might not lead to a catastrophe.
We are living in a golden age for meteorology, but we haven’t yet mastered what really matters: knowing in advance exactly how specific extreme weather events are likely to affect our lives. Getting that right could usher in a new era of disaster prevention, rather than the current model of Disaster Response.
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The governing board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has decided to kick out recently exposed rapist and sexual deviant Harvey Weinstein. All currently non-exposed sexual deviant…
One of Schild’s prospects is Joseph Hernandez, a disabled U.S. Army veteran married to a housekeeper. The couple are living in a hotel and saving money by eating only two meals a day. Schild has made them a painful offer. If they walk away from their two-bedroom house, worth $127,000 before Hurricane Harvey, Schild will pick up the mortgage payments, paying nothing else. Although he says he sympathizes with the Hernandezes’ plight, he thinks the offer is fair because he figures the home is now worth less than its $65,000 mortgage.
Hernandez is in a bind. He didn’t buy flood insurance because his house wasn’t in a high-risk area. He can’t afford to rebuild, and he’s been told he’s eligible for only $23,000 in federal assistance. If he turns over the deed, he’s looking at losing the entire $60,000 in equity he had before the flood. “It’s blurry, what’s coming,”…
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At the beginning of this video there’s a female taxi driver parked at the Mandalay, you hear shooting farther off in the distance and then all hell breaks loose right above where she’s parked, at that point the dispatcher tells her to leave the area, she’s sitting at the light when people jump in that were escaping the concert.
Guggenheim, Bowing to Animal-Rights Activists, Pulls Works From Show
By MATTHEW HAAGSEPT. 25, 2017
Photo Huang Yong Ping’s “Theater of the World,” which features live insects and reptiles. Credit Huang Yong Ping/Guggenheim Abu Dhabi
Facing an avalanche of criticism, the Guggenheim surrendered late Monday and said it would remove three major works from a highly anticipated exhibition of art by Chinese conceptual artists, including the signature piece of the show, which opens next month.
The museum, in Manhattan, made the decision after it had come under unrelenting pressure from animal-rights supporters and critics over works in the exhibition, “Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World.” Protesters marched outside the museum over the weekend, and an online petition demanding “cruelty-free exhibits” at the Guggenheim had been signed by more than half a million people as of Monday night.
The three works, which all involve animals, are “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other,” “Theater of the World” and “A Case Study of Transference.” The pieces were among about 150 works selected for the show, mostly experimental art and many of them shocking, intended to challenge authority and use animals, in video, to call attention to the violence of humankind.
The museum planned to show a video of “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other,” in which four pairs of dogs try to fight one another but struggle to touch because they are on nonmotorized treadmills, and a video of “A Case Study of Transference,” which shows two pigs having sex before an audience. But “Theater of the World” was the signature work of the show and was going to feature hundreds of live insects and reptiles milling under an overhead lamp.
Xu Bing’s “A Case Study of Transference,” 1994. The artwork originally featured live pigs, but the Guggenheim was going to use a video of the Beijing performance. Credit Xu Bing
The museum said the works were being removed “out of concern for the safety of its staff, visitors and participating artists.”
“Although these works have been exhibited in museums in Asia, Europe and the United States, the Guggenheim regrets that explicit and repeated threats of violence have made our decision necessary,” it said in a statement posted on its website. “As an arts institution committed to presenting a multiplicity of voices, we are dismayed that we must withhold works of art. Freedom of expression has always been and will remain a paramount value of the Guggenheim.”
Criticism of the show grew quickly online, on social media and on animal-rights websites, with the initial focus on “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other.” The museum tried to quell the backlash last Thursday, releasing a statement acknowledging that the work was difficult to view but encouraging patrons to consider what the piece “may be saying about the social conditions of globalization and the complex nature of the world we share.”
A spokeswoman for the museum said Thursday that “it was not a question that it would stay in the exhibition.”
But the criticism only grew over the weekend. On Monday, the president of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said that only “sick individuals” could enjoy watching “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other,” and the American Kennel Club said that dogfighting “should not be displayed in any manner and certainly not as art.”
Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other,” a seven-minute video with eight American pit bulls on eight treadmills. Credit Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Beijing, Les Moulins, Habana
Two works removed by the Guggenheim have come under previous criticism.
Huang Yong Ping, who created “Theater of the World,” withdrew it from a show in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2007 rather than comply with a request from an animal rights group to remove scorpions and tarantulas from it.
Mr. Huang said by telephone from Paris that he had no comment on the Guggenheim’s action. He said the museum had not informed him about the decision to withdraw his piece.
“I am hearing about this for the first time,” he said.
Peng Yu, who created “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other” with her husband, Sun Yuan, denied her art was animal cruelty.
“These dogs are naturally pugnacious,” Ms. Peng said in an interview last year.
Reached in Beijing on Tuesday, Ms. Peng blamed the controversy on a recent article about the exhibition. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” she said, adding that the dogs were examined by veterinarians before and after they were used in the performance.
The Guggenheim originally agreed to include the third piece, “A Case Study of Transference,” but only as a video of a Beijing performance. The boar and sow are stamped with gibberish composed of nonsensical English words and invented Chinese characters — intended to make patrons consider the relationship between the West and China.
Jane Perlez and Zoe Moe contributed from Beijing.
Follow Matthew Haag on Twitter: @matthewhaag.
A version of this article appears in print on September 26, 2017, on Page A25 of the New York edition with the headline: Guggenheim, Bowing to Animal-Rights Activists, Pulls Works From Coming Show. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe
The killing of a young trainee bomb-detector dog that caused flight delays at Auckland Airport in New Zealand has sparked outrage on social media. People are questioning why the animal wasn’t simply tranquilized.
Sarah Rice / Stringer / Getty Images
After the lead crisis started, Flint’s fertility crisis began
By Edwin Rios on Sep 25, 2017
This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
In the year following the start of its water crisis, Flint, Michigan, saw fewer pregnancies among its residents and higher fetal deaths, according to a working paper published last month.
Kansas University economics professor David Slusky and West Virginia University economics professor Daniel Grossman examined health statistics in Flint between May 2007 and March 2015 and compared them to 15 other cities in Michigan. What they uncovered was alarming: After April 2014 — when, in an effort to cut costs, Flint officials switched its water supply from Detroit to the Flint River, leading to elevated lead levels — fertility rates among women in Flint dropped 12 percent. Fetal deaths spiked by 58 percent.
“This represents a couple hundred fewer children born that otherwise would have been,” Slusky said in a university press release this week. The researchers project that between 198 and 276 more children would have been born from November 2013, when the child was first conceived, to March 2015 had the city not switched its water supply.
The researchers also conclude that the water change and the corresponding increased exposure to lead prompted a decline in the overall health of children born. Children exposed to high levels of lead can suffer from irreversible neurological and behavioral consequences. Moreover, children born in Flint since the start of its water crisis saw a 5 percent drop in average birth weight compared to those in other parts of Michigan during the same time period.
Shortly after the move in April 2014, residents complained about the water’s stench as it became inflicted with lead from old pipes in residential homes. Even after doctors and experts alerted state and federal officials to the elevated lead levels in Flint’s children and in houses’ water, Governor Rick Snyder and other state officials didn’t concede to the public health emergency in Flint until September 2015. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality eventually acknowledged that it erred in not requiring the city to add anti-corrosive chemicals into its water.
Health officials found that between June 2014 and November 2015, 91 residents in Genesee County, which includes Flint, contracted Legionnaires’ Disease, a bacterial illness that can arise out of contaminated water, though not all were conclusively linked to Flint’s water crisis. At least 12 people from the disease died after 2014.
As of September 2017, 15 officials have been charged for their involvement in Flint’s water crisis, with five charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection to the Legionnaires’ outbreak. Earlier this year, a federal judge approved a $87 million settlement for the city of Flint that would pay to replace 18,000 water lines by 2020. The state still faces a number of lawsuits. One calls for the state to provide more special education services for children exposed to lead as a result of the water crisis.
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The Fight From Below Seen From Above: New Map Details Local Fossil Fuel Resistance
Posted on September 25, 2017 by GJEP staff
In an attempt to highlight and bolster the “groundswell of resistance” against fracking wells, pipelines, and other fossil fuel projects throughout the United States, a coalition of environmental groups on Thursday launched the Fossil Fuel Resistance Mapping Project, which details precisely where opposition to Big Oil is taking hold throughout the United States and how others can join in.
“People demand a safe and clean environment, and they will not rest until that is guaranteed for every community across the country.”
—Kelly Martin, Sierra Club
“From the Gulf Coast where people are recovering from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, to the Pacific Northwest where wildfires are raging, many communities are leading fights against fossil fuel projects amidst life-altering climate impacts,” the coalition—which includes 350.org, Sierra Club, and Bold Alliance—said in a joint statement Thursday.
“These fights are not isolated events, but rather a groundswell of steadfast and widespread local resistance to fossil fuel projects across the continent in the absence of federal climate action,” the groups continue. “Grassroots leaders in these efforts are pushing back on the fossil fuel industry’s injustices, from environmental racism to violating Indigenous sovereignty.”
(Image credit: Fossil Fuel Resistance Project)
The groups hope that the map, which can be accessed on the coalition’s website, will serve as “a resource for people to find, start, or join a campaign in their community to resist fossil fuel projects, and for those involved in existing fights to connect with each other.”
They also believe the map will serve as a tool to raise awareness and concern about the risks those who live near oil refineries and pipelines face on a daily basis.
“With the climate-denying Trump administration putting the the health of Big Oil billionaires’ bottom lines before anyone else, the time to join your local fight to protect our air, water, and planet is right now.”
—Cherri Foytlin, Bold Louisiana “This map highlights what too many Americans are forced to grapple with everyday: a life, community, and clean water and air threatened by fossil fuel infrastructure,” Kelly Martin, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels project, said in a statement. “That’s why we’ve seen the movement to oppose these projects grow rapidly in recent years. People demand a safe and clean environment, and they will not rest until that is guaranteed for every community across the country.”
The new project comes as the Trump administration continues its efforts to empower the fossil fuel industry and roll back regulatory measures designed to protect the air and water—even in the aftermath of deadly hurricanes like Harvey and Irma, which have left millions exposed to dangerous pollutants.
Foytlin, executive director of Bold Louisiana, said that the Trump administration’s blatant and “reckless” contempt for the planet should serve as a potent motivator for people across the country to join the burgeoning opposition movement and fight back.
“The extractive industry is like a cancer, and our efforts to stop this industry’s expansion are holistically connected on many fronts—this map makes that clear,” Foytlin observed. “With the climate-denying Trump administration putting the the health of Big Oil billionaires’ bottom lines before anyone else, the time to join your local fight to protect our air, water, and planet is right now.
Originally published by Commondreams.org
Copyright © 2017 · All Rights Reserved · Global Justice Ecology Project
Report: Algae Biofuel Claims Overhyped; GE Algae Poses Environmental Risks
Posted on September 26, 2017 by GJEP staff
SAN DIEGO, C.A. – As the Bio-Based Live Americas conference meets today to discuss topics including industrial scale production of biofuels and chemicals via genetically engineered (GE) microorganisms such as GE algae, a new report suggests that these organisms pose serious environmental and health risks.
Microalgae Biofuels: Myths and Risks and a companion briefing, released today by Biofuelwatch and Friends of the Earth U.S., reveals that even after decades of investment, viable commercial production of algae biofuels has failed and is unlikely to succeed. Meanwhile, genetically engineering microalgae to produce fuels, chemicals and other products poses under-recognized, serious threats to the environment and public health.
“As we are witnessing more frequent toxic algae blooms such as those currently plaguing the Finger Lakes region in New York, it seems particularly unwise to be encouraging mass-scale production and inevitable release of GE microalgae,” said Dr. Rachel Smolker, Co-Director of Biofuelwatch. “Scientists are clear that GE microalgae will inevitably escape from cultivation facilities. Many of the traits that are being engineered to create algal ‘chemical factories’ could result in their outcompeting and proliferating out of control in the wild.”
“Rushing genetically engineered algae into production ahead of safety assessments and oversight could result in serious unintended consequences. These organisms could become ‘living pollution’ that is impossible to recall,” said Dana Perls, Senior Food and Technology Campaigner at Friends of the Earth U.S. “We need a common sense moratorium on the commercial cultivation of GE microalgae, and investment should be redirected toward more promising and sustainable solutions.”
Key findings of the report include:
Even after decades and millions of dollars in public and private of investment, production of algae biofuels has failed to become commercially viable.
Genetically engineering microalgae to produce fuels, chemicals, and other products poses serious threats to the environment and public health: invasive algae outcompeting native species, potential for increased harmful algal blooms, and land use impacts from chemical, energy and water intensive feedstock production.
Several major companies invested in producing genetically engineered algae are turning to low volume, high-value products to remain economically viable, with some such products already on the market, including ingredients for food and consumer products, all of which are derived from GE algae.
Government agencies, including Department of Energy (DOE) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), along with various state and private sources, continue to invest heavily in algae biofuels.
The continued market hype about GE algae biofuels as sustainable, claims of unrealistic productivity, and historic promises of commercial viability just over the horizon perpetuate the myth of a “miracle fuel” and that unsustainable energy consumption may continue “business as usual.”
The report explores the biological and technical barriers to algae biofuel production, providing perspective as to why decades of investment and hype has yet to yield any commercial biofuels. It argues that whether it is for biofuels, “bio-products”, or face creams, the large-scale cultivation of GE microalgae poses unacceptable risks, perpetuates the myth that algae biofuels will provide a viable and substantial alternative to fossil fuels, and diverts attention, funding and resources from safer solutions. The report calls for more sustainable and proven solutions to climate and energy concerns, such as efficiency, solar and wind energy, relocalization, expanded public transportation, and regenerative agriculture.
Copyright © 2017 · All Rights Reserved · Global Justice Ecology Project
Defenders of Wildlife Blog
19 September 2017
Walling Off Wildlife
Posted by: Bryan Bird
The Trump administration pushes forward with plan to wall off wildlife.
While the president continues his bombastic border wall talk and the administration and Congress argue over funding for this monstrosity, construction equipment is already moving in, land is being cleared and people and wildlife are being displaced in the borderlands of California and Texas.
By Hook or by Crook
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has already waived a host of environmental and other laws in order to expand the border wall along a 15-mile stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego, California. Defenders, along with a coalition of national conservation groups, sued to stop this unlawful overreach of the authority provided by Congress in the Real ID Act of 2005.
Similarly, in Texas the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have started clearing land, taking soil samples and conducting tests in areas where they plan to build new border wall – often without even notifying the landowners or the public of their actions. This was the case when the managers of the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, discovered industrial mowers stripping vegetation from their land and imperiling more than 200 species of butterflies.
Now, CBP is trying to conceal efforts to build a 60-mile extension through the area that includes two national wildlife refuges and important habitat for the endangered ocelot and jaguarundi.
In a letter recently sent to a select group of stakeholders earlier this month, CBP requested comments on the proposed construction of 60 miles of border wall that would cut through parts of the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, the National Butterfly Center and the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. The letter appears to be a dubious ploy to claim that the agency is fulfilling its obligation to “seek public comment,” while not actually making the public aware of their plans. Perhaps even they realize what a terrible idea it is to construct a barrier through these sensitive habitats and critical wildlife corridors that support countless species of wildlife, including more than 500 species of birds, 300 butterfly species and 1,200 plant species.
A Tale of Two Refuges
Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge
Few places in the Western Hemisphere exhibit such a diversity of flora and fauna as the lower Rio Grande Valley in south Texas, home to the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. While small in size, the Santa Ana Refuge contains an abundance of neotropical songbirds, raptors, mammals and reptiles, including the nine-banded armadillo, Texas tortoise, Mexican free-tailed bat. It is also home to more than 400 bird species, more than 300 species of butterflies –half of all butterfly species found in North America – and more than 450 varieties of plants.
The refuge also provides habitat for at least eight species protected under the Endangered Species Act, including the highly-imperiled ocelot and jaguarundi. With fewer than 50 left in the United States, the refuge is essential to ocelot recovery.
Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge
Comprising several units along the Rio Grande, the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge helps protect a crucial link between coastal and river wildlife corridors. The various refuge units are located at the nexus of four climate zones – tropical, temperate, coastal and desert – and at the confluence of the Mississippi and Central flyways, making the region one of the most diverse conservation areas in North America. The Lower Rio Grande Valley is home to more than 700 vertebrate species, 300 species of butterfly and at least 18 threatened or endangered species, including the highly-endangered ocelot and jaguarundi.
The Lower Rio Grande Valley refuge complex conserves Mid-Delta Thorn Forest, a rare forest type that provides habitat for an array of small mammals and birds and serves as a key hunting ground for the ocelot. As the thorn forest has continued to diminish over the years, ocelots have been forced to cross open fields and been exposed to more dangers from vehicular traffic and predators. Further degradation of this crucial habitat from wall construction could prove devastating to the dwindling U.S. population of ocelots.
A Decisive Blow to Wildlife
The construction of an impenetrable wall through these refuges would fragment riparian habitats, block migration corridors for rare migratory birds and imperiled species, degrade and destroy habitat, and disrupt nesting, breeding and foraging by countless birds and other wildlife. Levee walls, which are proposed for at least 28 miles along this route, can trap wildlife and drown animals during severe flooding events.
Both refuges serve as important migration corridors for animals like the ocelot and jaguarundi, who travel back and forth from Mexico to the U.S. These rare cats would be cut off from crucial habitat affecting their dispersal and their potential to establish new resident populations in the U.S. The noise from increased vehicle traffic and lighting along the border wall could also greatly impair these animals’ ability to hunt and alter the behavior of their prey.
No Longer the “Land of the Free” for Wildlife
A border wall offends our core American values – freedom, equality, justice and the preservation of our natural heritage. For wildlife in the borderlands, a wall would set back decades of conservation success in the region.
We are the guardians of these imperiled animals and at Defenders we are fighting to make sure they have a voice and can continue to recover and prosper in our country. The illicit and secretive actions by the current administration would have disastrous consequences for wildlife.
Tell the administration you won’t stand for any attack on our refuges or our wildlife. Stand up for imperiled wildlife in jeopardy because of the border wall.
Stand up for wildlife now!
Tell CPB and the administration that you oppose any border wall construction that would destroy vital wildlife habitat on our national wildlife refuges and public lands.
Defenders is committed to protecting human communities, wildlife and habitat threatened by a border wall. We have joined a diverse coalition of conservation, human rights, civil rights, religious and other groups to mount substantial opposition. Please join us in this important fight.
Bryan Bird, Southwest Program Director
Bryan oversees Defenders work in the Southwest, where he has spent 23 years working on wildlife conservation. His efforts are focused on maintaining and enhancing vital wildlife habitat, and on protecting imperiled species, such as Mexican gray wolves, jaguars, desert tortoises and California condors, in the face of a changing climate, drought, and increasing development.
Categories: border wall, Habitat Conservation, habitat conservation, jaguarundi, Lower Rio Grande, Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, migration corridor, ocelot, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Take Action, Trump administration, Wildlife
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Wind power is on the rise and with it is an uptick in bat deaths.
Developing renewable energy is critical to minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing climate change. Wind energy is an important source of American renewable energy and the success of this industry is crucial to our green energy future. However, like all energy types, wind energy is not without its challenges. In the early 2000s, researchers realized that wind turbines were killing bats at record rates.
A Fatal Attraction
Findings from the last decade reveal that wind turbines kill more than half a million bats each year in the United States. The overwhelming majority of the bats killed are migratory bats that are not affected by white-nose syndrome, the pathogenic fungus causing precipitous declines in hibernating bat species.
Wind turbine blades disproportionately strike these migratory bats as they pass through wind farms to forage or migrate. It’s unclear why there are so many collisions, but bats are well-known to be curious creatures and have been documented to change course to check out turbines. Although there’s no scientific consensus on why bats are attracted to turbines—theories range from mistaking turbines as trees for roosting, to seeking out insect prey that congregate near turbines—this behavior puts them at increased risk for collision with the spinning blades.
Bat Numbers Give Us Cause for Pause
As more information becomes available about the interaction of bats and wind energy production, scientists are growing increasingly concerned. Bats are long-lived mammals (many bats live more than a decade, and at least one Brandt’s bat lived for 41 years!) that reproduce slowly, meaning that bat populations are very sensitive to losses of breeding-age adults.
A recent study led by UC Santa Cruz professor Winnifred Frick, whose findings were published in Biological Conservation earlier this year, set out to identify whether mortality from wind turbines could cause bat populations to decline. Professor Frick and her colleagues focused on the bat species most commonly killed by wind turbines: the hoary bat.
The hoary bat, named for its silver-tipped fur that resembles hoar frost, is a wide-ranging, migratory bat found throughout the United States, into Mexico and Canada. Hoary bats are solitary animals, spending their days roosting in trees until sunset. As it gets dark, these charismatic critters emerge to feed, foraging over great distances as they search for moths and other insects.
Unfortunately, hoary bats seem particularly susceptible to wind turbines, representing over a third (38 percent) of all bats killed at wind energy facilities. Professor Frick and her colleagues sought to determine whether the high mortality rate for hoary bats at wind facilities was sustainable.
Their results were alarming. According to the best available estimates for population size and growth rate, they projected hoary bat populations would decline by 90 percent in the next 50 years due to mortality at wind turbines. If wind energy development continues at expected rates and nothing is done to decrease bat mortality, the fate of the hoary bat will only become more dire.
Unfortunately, the hoary bat is not alone in facing such a bleak future – other migratory bat species may also be at risk. While hoary bats are the hardest hit bat species, other species of migratory bats are also frequently killed by wind turbines. Hoary bats, eastern red bats, and silver-haired bats collectively account for almost 80 percent of all bats killed at turbines. Future research is needed to determine whether there are population-level impacts to eastern red bats and silver-haired bats from wind energy.
What Can Be Done?
Fortunately, there are techniques that the wind industry can adopt so that we do not have to choose between wind energy and these important bat species. Wind industry leaders have stepped up and are proactively working with researchers and government agency staff to create technological solutions to overcome these bats’ fatal attraction to turbines. Technologies to deter bats from approaching turbines, such as playing high frequency noises, lighting the blades with ultraviolet light, using textured turbine coatings, are in development and being tested at pilot sites. We are optimistic that these technologies will be commercially available within the next five years or so, but continued funding and research are needed.
Until these technologies are available, operational changes, such as “feathering” turbine blades so that they don’t spin at low wind speeds (when bats are most active) during important migration periods, can drastically reduce bat deaths. These operational changes can be adopted immediately, but they come with a catch: they reduce the amount energy being produced from each turbine.
It’s not that wind facility operators don’t want to do the right thing–most are aware of the problem and want to minimize bat kills. However, until there is industry-wide adoption, any wind facility that does implement operational curtailment (by strategically feathering turbine blades) is at a competitive disadvantage because it would be producing less energy than a comparably-sized facility that’s not endeavoring to protect bats. In addition, some facilities are contractually obligated to produce a certain amount of energy that leaves little room for seasonal curtailment to protect bats.
If wind facilities trying to protect bats go out of business, that’s a losing scenario for both wildlife and the climate. Thus, saving these bats can’t solely rest on industry – energy consumers need to value wind operators who take measures to protect bats.
It’s a rare opportunity to be able to protect a species before it’s on the verge of extinction, but in order to do any good, we must act swiftly. Allowing hoary bat numbers to continue to decline at a precipitous rate isn’t just bad for bats, it’s bad for industry, too. Protecting bats through preventative solutions available to us now will help keep these species off the Endangered Species List, at which point options may be limited to more expensive conservation measures.
Unlike Vampires, Bats Don’t Live Forever (Plus Vampires are Fake)
Time is of the essence and we cannot afford to delay action. The wind industry, conservation organizations, academia, government, and energy users need to work together to find solutions. Defenders of Wildlife is fully committed to a strong wind energy future while conserving bats. We are working to educate corporate buyers about the importance of purchasing wind energy from responsible operators, while simultaneously advocating for federal, state, and private investment to advance and commercialize technical solutions to reduce the industry’s impacts on wildlife. Tackling this issue now is critical to securing a strong future for the wind energy industry and bats.
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Pasha Feinberg, Renewable Energy & Wildlife Research Associate
Pasha Feinberg is a research associate for the Renewable Energy and Wildlife team, providing scientific research in support of the team’s efforts to ensure that renewable energy development does not occur at the expense of wildlife. Prior to joining Defenders, Pasha earned her B.S. and M.S. in environmental science from Stanford University and conducted ecology research in Mexico, Australia, Tanzania, Kenya, and the United States to better understand the relationships between biodiversity, human health, and other ecosystem functions and services.
Categories: Bats, bats, hoary bats, Living with Wildlife, Renewable Energy, renewable energy, wind power, wind turbines
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The War on the Wild: Alaska at the Forefront
21 September 2017
Posted by: Mary Price |
The administration’s war on the wild zeroes in on Alaska
There has been a steady drumbeat from the Trump administration and many like-minded members of Congress who are pushing to wring every last available resource out of America’s wildest frontier – Alaska.
This fervent pursuit of profits above all else on our public lands and waters has put our wildlife and wild places at greater risk than ever before. It is clear this administration has little regard for the health and future of wildlife and our natural heritage, and Alaska has become a favorite target in its war on the wild.
Selling Out Alaska
Just this past week, The Washington Post revealed that the Trump administration is secretly pushing oil and gas exploration in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—the crown jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The contentious battle to open the refuge to drilling has been raging for decades, but has gained renewed momentum from an administration eager to profit from every last drop of oil they can bleed from our public lands and waters. In this case, the Trump administration is even willing to illegally alter regulations that have prohibited oil and gas exploration in the refuge for more than 30 years.
The Coastal Plain is the biological heart of the Arctic Refuge, home to some of America’s most iconic and imperiled species, including polar bears, caribou, and hundreds of migratory bird species that migrate from all 50 states and six continents. Drilling could forever destroy this delicate ecosystem. While full-blown oil development on the Coastal Plain still requires an act of Congress, the Trump administration’s effort to allow harmful exploratory activities in this wildlife haven is the first step to drilling. And Congress could get in on the action: the House FY2018 budget resolution currently under consideration is an opportunity for the legislative branch to authorize oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge.
The Trump administration’s unprecedented move against the Arctic Refuge should come as no surprise given the president’s directives targeting Alaska last spring. Specifically, the “America First Offshore Energy Strategy” would rewrite the country’s five-year development plan that guides the lease sales for oil and gas development in federal waters offshore. The current plan excludes lease sales in the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Trump’s executive order would put those “off-limits” areas back on the auction block. In addition, it seeks to fast-track harmful seismic testing and roll back safeguards for marine wildlife like dolphins, porpoises, whales and other creatures who can suffer devastating impacts from seismic testing.
Rescinding the Alaska National Wildlife Refuges Rule
Just months into the new administration, Congress and the president revoked the Obama-era Alaska National Wildlife Refuges Rule that prohibited extreme hunting practices on refuges in Alaska. The elimination of the regulation could allow the state of Alaska to pursue its unscientific predator control policy on these federal public lands that sanctions killing mother bears with cubs, killing wolves with pups during denning season, and baiting, snaring and scouting bears from the air for hunting.
Now Congress is taking aim at similar protections on National Park Service preserves in the state. The Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, deceitfully dubbed the SHARE Act, is anything but generous to wildlife, as it threatens to allow the same objectionable practices on Alaska’s national preserves. Through the SHARE Act, the House is doubling down on this attack since, as part of the FY2018 Interior Appropriations bill, it passed a separate measure that does the same thing.
Clearcutting “America’s Rainforest”
Alaska is home to our nation’s largest national forest and the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world. The vast Tongass National Forest spans 17 million acres and contains the largest remnants of intact old-growth forest habitat in North America. Sadly, it is still logged on an industrial scale – in fact, it is the last forest in the country where old-growth clearcutting is allowed.
In 2016, the U.S. Forest Service made plans to transition away from this outdated practice, but the new administration is putting that progress in reverse.
Now the Forest Service, operating under the Trump administration, is proposing to log an estimated 200-million board feet of old-growth forest on the Tongass over the next decade, in what would be the largest sell-off of old-growth forest the U.S. has experienced in decades. This colossal forest liquidation would destroy thousands of acres of high-quality wildlife habitat, threaten the persistence of Alexander Archipelago wolves, Sitka black-tailed deer, and northern goshawks, and potentially spell disaster for countless other species dependent on these unique and irreplaceable old-growth forests.
Bulldozing Wilderness in Izembek
For years, there has been spurious debate over proposals to build a road through wilderness wetlands in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, bisecting the refuge and destroying essential wildlife habitat. The dispute has now resurfaced with new potency.
The King Cove Road Land Exchange Act, which was recently passed in the House and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in the Senate, would trade away globally important habitat in the heart of the Izembek Refuge to allow construction of this destructive and unnecessary road.
If enacted, the bill would irreparably damage an internationally recognized conservation area, threaten the survival of imperiled species, like the Steller’s eider, and set a precedent that would undermine our nation’s bedrock environmental laws and jeopardize the integrity of wildlife refuges and wilderness protections on public lands across the country.
The proposed road would cost taxpayers tens of millions of additional dollars to solve a “problem” that the federal government previously addressed with a more effective, less destructive, transportation solution.
Mining for Trouble in Bristol Bay
Every year, tens of millions of wild salmon return to the Bristol Bay, Alaska, where they join an incredible diversity of wildlife ranging from Pacific walrus and beluga whales to brown bears. Despite the incalculable value of these species and the clear, clean water of the bay, or the very tangible value of these resources to the regional recreation and tourism economies, this administration is threatening to jeopardize it all to allow the permitting process to proceed for a Canadian company to open a massive gold and copper mine. This decision overturns a robust, public Obama-era review that declined issuing a permit to the company.
Mining in the bay’s watershed would require massive earthen dam construction, development of a 100-mile road through important salmon habitat, and diversion of nearly 35 billion gallons of water a year from salmon streams and rivers. These activities will expose all manner of species to habitat loss, increased vehicular and vessel traffic in Cook Inlet, which could impact endangered Cook Inlet belugas, and the potential for the mine’s massive earthen wall to collapse that would forever ruin this vital ecosystem.
Tribulations for Teshekpuk Lake
The area around Teshekpuk Lake in Alaska is incredibly important for wildlife – polar bears make their dens there, migratory birds spend their summers along the shoreline and tens of thousands of caribou call it home.
Teshekpuk Lake is located inside the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska (NPRA) – an Indiana-sized expanse covering much of the western Arctic. Despite its name, the NPRA is required to be managed both for conservation of its remarkable wildlife values and oil and gas development. In 2013, after a lengthy robust planning process involving numerous local, regional and national stakeholders, the Bureau of Land Management finalized a management plan that allows oil and gas development on over 11 million acres in the area, but protects the important habitat around Teshekpuk Lake by designating it “unavailable for leasing.”
Unfortunately, this successful resource management plan could be short-lived. In May, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke signed an order requiring a review of the Obama administration’s plan for managing this area, but rather than holding a transparent and public process, and expedite the opening of Teshekpuk Lake up for exploitation by oil and gas interests.
Fighting for “The Last Frontier”
The Trump administration and some in Congress have a keen interest in Alaska, so do we – but for very different reasons. We and most Americans, want to enjoy and preserve Alaska’s wildlife, lands and waters, while current leadership is driven by greed, unfazed by what they could ruin in pursuit of their objectives.
Help us fight back against this administration’s relentless attacks against our wildlife and wild places.
Mary Price, Digital Copywriter
Categories: Alaska, Alaska, Arctic, Arctic, Arctic drilling, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, bears, imperiled wildlife, Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, Public Lands, Trump administration, Wildlife, wolves
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#U.S. Legal News
September 18, 2017 / 4:22 PM / Updated 3 hours ago
U.S. Interior chief urges changes to national monuments -report
Jan Harvey, Valerie Volcovici, Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the U.S. Department of the Interior called for changes to the management of 10 national monuments that would lift restrictions on activities such as logging and mining and shrink at least four of the sites, the Washington Post reported.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended that President Donald Trump reduce the boundaries of the monuments known as Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou.
Zinke also called for relaxing current restrictions within some of the monuments’ boundaries for activities such as grazing, logging, coal mining and commercial fishing, according to a copy of the memo that the Post obtained.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante monument has areas that “contain an estimated several billion tons of coal and large oil deposits,” Zinke’s report said, suggesting that it could be opened to energy production if Trump makes a reduction in the footprint of the monument.
The Trump administration has promoted “energy dominance,” or plans to produce more coal, oil, and gas for domestic use and selling to allies. With Grand Staircase-Escalante being remote, and oil and coal being plentiful elsewhere, it is uncertain if energy interests would actually drill and mine there, if the monument’s boundaries were changed.
Trump has said previous administrations abused their right to create monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906 by imposing limits on drilling, mining, logging, ranching and other activities in huge areas, mainly in western states.
The monuments targeted in the memo were created by former presidents George W. Bush, a Republican, and Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. A designation as a national monument prohibits mining and sets stringent protections for ecosystems on the site.
Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift referred questions about the memo to the White House.
“The Trump Administration does not comment on leaked documents, especially internal drafts which are still under review by the President and relevant agencies,” White House spokeswoman Kelly Love said in a statement to Reuters.
In June, Zinke told reporters he had recommended shrinking the Bears Ears monument, the country’s newest monument, and last month he sent his recommendations to the Republican president after reviewing more than two dozen national monuments. [L1N1J917V] Trump ordered the review in April as part of his broader effort to increase development on federal lands.
Energy, mining, ranching and timber industries have cheered the review, while conservation groups and the outdoor recreation industry threatened lawsuits over what they see as an effort to undo protections of critical natural and cultural resources.
The Sierra Club, an environmental group, said Zinke had “sold out” public lands. “Leaving the protection of Native American sacred sites, outdoor recreation destinations, and natural wonders to the goodwill of polluting industries is a recipe for disaster,” Sierra’s head Michael Brune said.
Senator Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate energy committee, tweeted that former President Teddy Roosevelt, a conservationist, would “roll over in his grave” if he saw Zinke’s “attacks” on public lands.
Besides reducing the four sites, Zinke called for changes at Maine’s Katahdin Woods and Waters, New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte, two Pacific Ocean marine monuments and another marine one off the New England coast.
Many fishing industry supporters cheered changes outlined in Zinke’s memo. Jon Mitchell, the mayor of New Bedford, Massachusetts, a large fishing port, said the marine monument designation process “may have been well intended, but it has simply lacked a comparable level of industry input, scientific rigor and deliberation.”
While the antiquities law enables a president to permanently declare certain places of historic or scientific interest a national monument, a few U.S. presidents have reduced the size of some such areas.
<^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Washington Post: Shrink at least 4 national monuments and modify a half-dozen others, Zinke tells Trump wapo.st/2xag7RJ Reuters graphic on review of U.S. monuments tmsnrt.rs/2itKQFD) ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^>
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