Earth Month, Day 9: Great Lakes Duo

As Earth Month continues on The Nooze, we bring you two stories this Tuesday,(Twosday?) looking at some big issues and big names in the Great Lakes Basin. Gary WilsonFirst, Gary Wilson with the Great Lakes Echo sits down in a rare one-on-one interview with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to talk about Asian carp, an aging oil pipline, and pet coke storage:

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder: 'Atmosphere of Crisis' Needed for Stronger Action on Asian Carp

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder brought his Great Lakes message to Chicago today as the region’s governors gathered in Chicago for an annual meeting.

Snyder co-chairs the Council of Great Lakes Governors with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. The two executives revived the dormant governors group on Mackinac Island last year and the Chicago meeting is an attempt to maintain momentum.

I sat with Snyder at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium overlooking Lake Michigan and he shared his thoughts on physical separation of the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River, the 60-year-old Enbridge pipeline that transports tar sands oil through the Straits of Mackinac and the volatile pet coke storage issue... Read more.


john flesherAnd from John Flesher with the AP, a closer look at the Enbridge pipeline, and the higher-ups who are pressuring the company to prove that the pipeline is safe:

Officials Seek Assurances from Enbridge on Pipeline

TRAVERSE CITY — Michigan’s attorney general and chief environmental regulator have asked the company that owns two oil pipelines stretched beneath an ecologically sensitive area of the Great Lakes for evidence that the 61-year-old lines are properly maintained and in good condition.

Attorney General Bill Schuette and Dan Wyant, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, posed a lengthy series of questions and requested stacks of documentation in a letter sent Tuesday to Enbridge and obtained by the Associated Press ahead of its scheduled release. They said the pipelines, which run beneath the Straits of Mackinac — the waterway linking Lakes Huron and Michigan — pose a unique safety risk.

“Because of where they are, any failure will have exceptional, indeed catastrophic effects,” their letter said. “And because the magnitude of the resulting harm is so great, there is no margin for error. It is imperative we pursue a proactive, comprehensive approach to ensure this risk is minimized, and work together to prevent tragedy before it strikes.”... Read more.

Workers pull oil-soaked absorbing booms from the Kalamazoo River near Marshall on Friday, Aug. 6, 2010. (Photo by Patricia Beck/Detroit Free Press)



Earth Month, Day 8: Fish Genes and Seawalls

Aquatic news from both sides of the country for today's installment of Earth Month: Matt FrankFirst, Matt Frank has a guest post on National Geographic's News Watch about the value of new species:

Fishing in the Gene Pool for New Species

One day last summer, Michael LeMoine, a Ph.D. candidate in fisheries biology at the University of Montana, carried a nondescript cardboard box into the Missoula FedEx office. Inside it was a jar of ethanol containing a single specimen of a new species of a type of fish called a sculpin.

The woman at the counter asked LeMoine for the value of the contents. He hesitated, considering. “My trouble, ma’am,” he remembers answering, “is that you don’t know this, but this is a new species in this box, and I really have no idea what the value of it is.”

So LeMoine hazarded $10,000, an amount that didn’t include the value of the months of field and lab work it took to identify the fish. Nor could he begin to answer the unspoken philosophical question: What is the value of a species?... Read more.



Sammy fretwellAnd, from Sammy Fretwell with The State, a story about seawalls, legislation, and shifting tides:

Senators Side with Gated Debordieu Community in Debate Over Public Beach

 — The S.C. Senate, in a departure from 26 years of coastal law, sided Tuesday with a handful of oceanfront landowners who want to protect resort homes from rising seas by rebuilding a seawall in their gated community north of Georgetown.

But a new seawall could encroach as much as two feet farther onto the shore than an existing structure at Debordieu Beach — and the Senate’s vote to allow the seawall drew sharp criticism.

Under pressure to let Debordieu residents rebuild the aging seawall, the Senate agreed on a bill that gives property owners three years to fix the 4000-foot bulkhead. Engineers say the wall might need to be built farther out on the beach to make construction possible... Read more.





Earth Month, Day 7: The City and The Sea

meera subToday we bring you one story, but it's wide-ranging: Tree-planting, superstorms, the Pleistocene, landscape design, Mayor Bloomberg, and oysters. Intrigued? Then you won't want to miss this great piece by Meera Subramanian in Orion magazine: Debris from Superstorm Sandy is seen on a beach November 8, 2012 in Long Branch, New Jersey. (Photo by ALlison Joyce/Getty Images)

The City and The Sea

TWENTY YEARS BEFORE Hurricane Sandy slammed into the slim spit of land that is New York City’s Rockaways, local artist Richard George was out planting trees. He was in his forties then, and had shifted his home a few years earlier from Corona, Queens, to a 1920s bungalow colony in the Far Rockaways, abutting the Atlantic Ocean. He didn’t know anything about trees, had never given a thought to dune ecology or sea surges, but he’d joined the board of the local Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association, and a friend gave them fifteen thousand dollars. The directive was to plant trees, so that’s what he did.

“He planted the money in my hand,” George recalls when I meet him at his cottage, a bright white bungalow with turquoise trim that matches his t-shirt. “I said, ‘Where am I gonna plant trees?’” Then the artist saw the wide expanse of beach down the street, like a blank canvas in waiting... Read more. 


Earth Month, Day 6: Canadian Oil and Mexican Wolves

Today, we bring you two hot topics from the nation's periphery: Canada's Tar Sands, and Mexican gray wolves (the ones in the story don't actually live in Mexico, but they're pretty close). Laura PaskusFrom Laura Paskus, writing for Al Jazeera America:

Endangered Mexican Gray Wolf at Heart of Political Battle in Southwest

CATRON COUNTY, N.M. — Last year, government agents removed a pair of Mexican gray wolves from the Southwestern United States. They were accused of preying on livestock, and their time in the wild was over. Today the female lives in captivity. The male was killed, but his genetic legacy may live into the future.

“Unfortunately, when he was examined by a veterinarian at a facility in New York, it was determined he had a large mass in his abdomen and had to be euthanized,” said Sherry Barrett, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mexican wolf recovery coordinator. Working with state and tribal partners, the agency has been trying to recover the species that had been hunted to near extinction in the mid-20th century... Read more. 



jacques leslieAnd from Jacques Leslie, an opinion piece in the New York Times:

Is Canada Tarring Itself?

Illustration by Kristian Hammerstad

START with the term “tar sands.” In Canada only fervent opponents of oil development in northern Alberta dare to use those words; the preferred phrase is the more reassuring “oil sands.” Never mind that the “oil” in the world’s third largest petroleum reserve is in fact bitumen, a substance with the consistency of peanut butter, so viscous that another fossil fuel must be used to dilute it enough to make it flow.

Never mind, too, that the process that turns bitumen into consumable oil is very dirty, even by the oil industry’s standards. But say “tar sands” in Canada, and you’ll risk being labeled unpatriotic, radical, subversive... Read more.


Earth Month, Day 5: Clean Coal?

michelle nijhuisFor today's installment of our Earth Month series we bring you just one story, but it's a doozy: Michelle Nijhuis tackles coal for National Geographic.  


Juliette, Georgia Steam and smoke rise from the cooling towers and chimneys of the Robert W. Scherer power plant, the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the U.S. It burns 12 million tons of coal a year. (Photo by Robb Kendrick)

Can Coal Ever Be Clean?

Coal provides 40 percent of the world’s electricity. It produces 39 percent of global CO₂ emissions. It kills thousands a year in mines, many more with polluted air.

Environmentalists say that clean coal is a myth. Of course it is: Just look at West Virginia, where whole Appalachian peaks have been knocked into valleys to get at the coal underneath and streams run orange with acidic water. Or look at downtown Beijing, where the air these days is often thicker than in an airport smoking lounge. Air pollution in China, much of it from burning coal, is blamed for more than a million premature deaths a year. That’s on top of the thousands who die in mining accidents, in China and elsewhere.

These problems aren’t new. In the late 17th century, when coal from Wales and Northumberland was lighting the first fires of the industrial revolution in Britain, the English writer John Evelyn was already complaining about the “stink and darknesse” of the smoke that wreathed London. Three centuries later, in December 1952, a thick layer of coal-laden smog descended on London and lingered for a long weekend, provoking an epidemic of respiratory ailments that killed as many as 12,000 people in the ensuing months. American cities endured their own traumas. On an October weekend in 1948, in the small Pennsylvania town of Donora, spectators at a high school football game realized they could see neither players nor ball: Smog from a nearby coal-fired zinc smelter was obscuring the field. In the days that followed, 20 people died, and 6,000 people—nearly half the town—were sickened...Read more. 

Also, don't miss the story's accompanying slideshow by photographer Robb Kendrick. (Click photo below to see the full show.)


Earth Month, Day 4: Birds, Wolverines, and Genetic Mutation

The Earth Month Bonanza continues! For your Friday reading pleasure, we have avian gourmands, mutating critters, and wolverines in limbo. lauren sommerFrom Lauren Sommer, at KQED Radio:

Amid California Drought, Migrating Birds Enjoy Pop-Up Cuisine

Millions of birds migrate through California this time of year, but the waterways and wetlands they rely on for food and rest are largely dry due to the ongoing drought. So farmers are keeping their fields flooded to make temporary wetlands, providing a place for migrating birds to rest and eat.

Rice farmer Douglas Thomas is one of these farmers. On a recent morning some 3,000 snow geese float in his rice fields in California's Central Valley. He's watching a young bald eagle awkwardly dive at the flock.

"As soon as they start getting here, this is what I sit and do," he says. "I keep my binoculars in my truck."... Read more.

Rice farmer Douglas Thomas watches snow geese take flight over his rice fields in California's Central Valley. (Photo by Lauren Sommer/KQED)


sharon oosthoekFrom Sharon Oosthoek, writing for CBC News:

Cities Causing Genetic Changes in Plants, Animals

A researcher holds an adult female tomcod taken from New York's Hudson River. Most of the river's tomcod now carry a genetic variant that makes them resistant to the ill effects of PCBs humans have dumped into the river. (Photo by Christopher Chambers, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, NOAA)

Plants and animals have a long history of acclimatizing to city living - think of raccoons and their expert pillaging of compost bins. But now biologists are beginning to see signs that something more fundamental is happening. They say wild things may be changing at a genetic level to survive cities and their polluting, habitat-fragmenting ways.

 Fish in New York's chemically-laden Hudson River have evolved a genetic variation that gives them resistance to PCBs, for example. Birds nesting under highway overpasses in Nebraska have developed shorter, more agile wings, allowing them to quickly swerve from oncoming traffic... Read more.


Sarah KellerAnd, from Sarah Keller with High Country News:

Climate-Based Wolverine Listing Delayed by Scientific Disputes

With thick fur and snowshoe-like feet, wolverines are well-adapted to live in snow caves and run straight up mountains. Their high elevation lifestyles have helped them stay out of harm’s way in recent decades, and stage a slow comeback from the rampant carnivore persecution of the early 1900s. Though elusive and tenacious, they won’t be insulated from human impacts forever. They face a precarious future as climate change eats away at the snowpack they need.


Wolverines are already one of the rarest carnivores in North America. With their fates tied to snow they may become rarer still. Photo by Steve Kroschel. Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

That’s why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to add them to the endangered species list, even as a handful of wide-ranging wolverines are venturing into states where they haven’t been seen for generations. The agency was slated to make a listing decision earlier this month as part of a legal settlement with environmental groups. But reputable wolverine biologists have criticized the scientific underpinnings of the agency’s proposed listing decision, especially the parts related to snowpack. Now, the FWS is delaying the decision for another six months so they can reconvene with scientists about wolverine habitat and climate impacts to it... Read more


Earth Month, Day 3: Mongolia and the Mekong

josh zaffosFor today's Earth Month installment, we bring you a two-fer: A pair of essays from Colorado-based writer Josh Zaffos, who traveled to the other side of the globe to report on some big stories from some beautiful places. An hour’s drive east of the city of Ulaanbaatar, a steel statue of Mongolia’s legendary warrior Genghis Khan rises 131 feet above the country’s 68 million-acre grassland steppe. © Nick Hall

Giant Steppes: Protecting Mongolia's Grasslands in the Face of a Mining Boom

 Amar Purev, a square-jawed ranger with a no-nonsense demeanor, peers through binoculars from the window of an SUV as it bounces along a double-track path through a green-and-golden sea of hip-high grass. He spots only a few gazelles in the distance, but when the vehicle crests a hill, it halts: Fifty yards away, hundreds of gazelles and their calves graze on stipa, or feather grass. Before Purev can open his door, the animals take off, coursing 40 miles per hour across the flat and boundless expanse that reaches to the horizon.

This grassy ocean is Mongolia’s Toson Hulstai Nature Reserve, a protected area of more than 1 million acres. It is part of a 68 million-acre expanse of grasslands that stretch from forests to desert across the country’s Eastern Steppe. The steppe is the largest intact temperate grassland on Earth, and this reserve protects calving habitat for the Mongolian gazelle, whose herds can eclipse the horizon with thousands of animals. Scientists estimate the gazelle population here at a million, rivaling the wildlife herds of Africa’s Serengeti... Read more.


Life on Mekong Faces Threats as Major Dams Begin to Rise

A villager washes in the Mekong, with Xayaburi Dam construction in background. (Photo courtesy International Rivers)

In the sleepy northern Thai border town of Huay Luk, a community leader, Pornsawan Boontun, still remembers the day when villagers netted a Mekong giant catfish more than a decade ago. The fish weighed 615 pounds, and it surprised everyone since the elusive species has never been common in this stretch of river.

The giant catfish, among the planet’s largest freshwater fish species, is now rare throughout the entire Mekong River Basin. While overfishing and past practices, such as dynamiting or electroshocking pools in the river, contributed to the species’ decline, a much larger threat now looms for aquatic life and human populations along the Lower Mekong River: dams... Read more.

Earth Month, Day 2: Tumbleweeds and Steelhead

Earth Month continues! sarah gilmanFirst, from Sarah Gilman with High Country News, an investigation of some pesky plants:

Troubleweeds: Russian thistle buries roads and homes in southeastern Colorado

J.D. Wright pauses to check in with his wife of 51 years. “Do you remember, Mama, when that wind was?” After a few minutes perusing her cellphone photos, she reports back: Tumbleweeds first buried the house on November 17. The gusts screamed up and there they were, piled so deep over the doors and windows that Wright, who has a ranch on the Crowley-Pueblo County line in southeastern Colorado, had to call his grandson to come dig the couple out with a front end loader and pitchfork... Read more.

For more on this story - including hilarious, reader-inspired suggestions about how to eliminate tumbleweeds - see here.



Ashley AhearnAshley Ahearn with EarthFix Radio learns how science can help save salmon:

Stalking Puget Sound steelhead with science

TACOMA, Wash. — You might call Barry Berejikian a steelhead stalker.


The government scientist’s pursuit of these anadromous trout has brought him to the deck of the Chasina, a research vessel that’s motoring through choppy gray waters of southern Puget Sound near the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

He’s here to lay the groundwork for an experiment that could explain why so few steelhead are completing their journey through Puget Sound and on to the Pacific Ocean.

Since 2007, Puget Sound steelhead have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Millions of dollars have been spent improving their habitat but the fish are not recovering.

And scientists can’t pinpoint why... Read more.

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Earth Month, Day 1: Wolves, Water, and Frac Sand

We're kicking off Earth Month in style, with stories about three classic, controversial topics: Wolves, water, and energy. michelle nijhuisFirst, from Michelle Nijhuis, writing for OnEarth magazine, a look at the brouhaha over the removal of wolves from the Endangered Species List:

Howls of Outrage

(Photo by Tim Fitzharris/Getty)

About 300 wolves live in the nearly 2-million-acre swath of central Ontario forest known as Algonquin Provincial Park. These wolves are bigger and broader than coyotes, but noticeably smaller than the gray wolves of Yellowstone. So how do they fit into the wolf family tree? Scientists don’t agree on the answer—yet it could now affect the fate of every wolf in the United States.

That’s because last June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed removing gray wolves across most of the country from the endangered species list, a move that would leave the animals vulnerable to hunting. To support its proposal, the agency used a contested scientific paper—published, despite critical peer review, in the agency's own journal—to argue that gray wolves never existed in the eastern United States, so they shouldn’t have been protected there in the first place...Read more.


codi yeager kozacekCodi Kozacek, writing for Circle of Blue, covers the unusual steps being taken at a Michigan mine to monitor pollution:

Rio Tinto's Michigan Nickel Mine Introduces Citizen Water Quality Testing Program

Scheduled to begin production of nickel and copper next year, the Eagle Mine is the first new hard rock mine to open in northern Michigan’s Copper Country in decades. It’s so new that Chevy pickups need Kevlar tires to prevent blowouts on the sharp edges of stones not yet worn by mine traffic.

Puncture-proof tires, though, are hardly the only distinctions that separate the Eagle Mine from others in Michigan or across the United States. Two years ago, Rio Tinto, the mine’s developer, made an unusual proposition to the nonprofit Superior Watershed Partnership and Land Trust, a local environmental organization...Read more.

The Lake Superior beach at Sand Point is still covered with stamp sands from old copper mines. Approximately 500 million tons of them were dumped into Lake Superior and its tributaries in the Keweenaw Peninsula. (Photo by Codi Kozacek)


And from Richard Mertens, writing for The Christian Science Monitor, a story about the newest fracking-related unrest:

Next Fracking Controversy: In the Midwest, a Storm Brews Over 'Frac Sand'

A truck dumps a load of sand at the loading terminal for Modern Transport Rail in Winona, Minn. (Phot by Andrew Link/Winona Daily News/AP/File)

Kyle Slaby bounds up the slope behind his house, stopping at the sandstone outcrop he hopes will save his family's farm. The Slabys grow corn and soybeans on the ridgeline above. But these days there's more money – a lot more – in mining the sand below.

Sand has become a valuable – and deeply divisive – commodity in the upper Midwest. Hydraulic fracturing, a method of extraction also known as fracking that has boosted oil and natural gas production across theUnited States, requires sand, and there's plenty of it here. And so in dozens of small towns and rural townships in MinnesotaIllinoisIowa and especiallyWisconsin, the demand for frac sand, as it's called, has brought a surge of new mining activity. Scores of companies have poured in, eager to take advantage of the thick sandstone that underlies the bluffs and ridges of the region's picturesque river country... Read more.



Earth Month!

Hooray for spring! Hooray for Earth Month!

In honor of Earth Day, we decided to go big: Why celebrate with just one day? Why not celebrate with a whole month?

Starting tomorrow, we'll be bringing you "Earth Month" here on The Nooze. From April 22 - May 22, we'll offer one blog post every weekday, highlighting recent noteworthy stories from alumni. We have a backlog (backblog?) of great stories that our Fellows have produced in the past month or two, so be sure to stay tuned!