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.

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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)

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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.