Climate

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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.)

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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)

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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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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Historic Colorado Flood - From Two Perspectives

We love it when we get to see two or more of our alumni (or, in this case, an alumna and a staff member) reporting on the same issue on the same day. Today, two great stories about an historic event on the Colorado River: adam hintFirst, from our own Adam Hinterthuer, writing for The Last Word on Nothing:

The Year of the Flood

Until last Sunday, the Colorado River ended in Yuma, Arizona, backed up against an unremarkable span of concrete called the Morelos Dam on the Mexican border. Every drop of water above the dam was already spoken for -– supplying water to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Denver as well as irrigating farm fields in both the U.S. and Mexico. Barely a trickle of the river that had carved the Grand Canyon continued past the dam. And all of that was headed toward Mexicali farmland, not the last seventy miles to the Gulf of California.

But, on March 23rd, the gates of the Morelos Dam lifted, sending a pulse of water downstream that will mimic the increased flow that used to be provided by spring rains and Rocky Mountain snowmelt. After the pulse, the gates will remain open for roughly two months, giving the lower Colorado enough flow to, perhaps, complete its run to the Sea of Cortez... Read more.

After being allocated for municipal needs in major American cities and irrigation in the U.S. and Mexico, the Colorado River runs no more south of the border. (Photo by Pete McBride, USGS)

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sarah gilmanAnd, from Sarah Gilman, writing in High Country News:

Four Women Joyride the Flood that will Revive the Colorado River

The guides warned us, of course. Or they sort of did.

It was sometime after the river outfitter’s shuttle van had passed through the latticework of gates and fences that guards the steep, hairpinned road to the boat-launch at the base of the Hoover Dam, and possibly right before we realized that we had left our two-burner stove back in Alison’s truck, in the parking lot of a casino hotel towering beigely over an otherwise nearly buildingless swath of desert around Lake Mead.

March 19 had dawned beautiful and bluebird in what we had dubbed Baja, Nevada – a 12-mile stretch of clear turquoise water with intermittent hotsprings through the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, where my three college lady friends and I planned to kayak at a luxuriantly sluggish pace for four days. Green rattlesnakes will chase you, the guides told us as we wound into the steep gorge. Scorpions will roost in your sandals. Brain-eating amoebas will Swiss-cheese your frontal lobes if you’re stupid enough to snort the hotspring water. And in the afternoon and at night, the water level can rise without warning as dam operators let more or less through Hoover’s hydroelectric turbines to feed fluctuating power demands in Arizona, Nevada and California. Make sure your gear is secure, the guides fingerwagged, and your kayaks well-tied overnight... Read more.

High and dry. Photo courtesy Sarah Gilman.

Dispatches from the Road: North Carolina!

Well, the weather has thrown some curveballs at our intrepid North Carolina crew, but they have soldiered on despite gale warnings, ice storms, and the threat of the Outer Banks washing away completely while they watch. (Ok, maybe not completely, but they are seeing some serious wave action!) Because of this - and because they've needed to make some last-minute adjustments to the itinerary - they haven't been able to send any formal dispatches from the road.  But they are doing an awesome job of keeping us in-the-know via Facebook and Twitter, at the hashtag #ijnr_carolina.

And, some of the journalists have even been writing breaking-news stories based on what they're learning during the trip!

North Carolina fishermen used their meeting with IJNR journalists to break the news that they're seeking to end endangered-species protection for sea turtles. Sammy Fretwell with The State in South Carolina filed the story from the road:

Sea turtles should no longer be protected, fishing groups argue

HARKERS ISLAND, N.C. — Two North Carolina commercial fishing groups are seeking to end endangered-species protections for sea turtles, a move that could loosen regulations that the groups say are unnecessary.

In a notice this week to federal agencies, the N.C. Fisheries Association and a local group said sea turtles “are at or near recovery and strict regulation is unwarranted.’’ The notice gives the federal government 60 days to conduct an assessment of how many turtles inhabit the ocean – or the groups will take further legal action.

An attorney for the groups said the action applies to a variety of sea turtles that now enjoy federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, including the loggerhead sea turtle that can be found off the South and North Carolina coasts... Read more.

Meanwhile, in lieu of a formal from-the-road dispatch, here are some photos to give you a sense of what this crew has been up to!

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Wolves, Wind River Boundary Battles, and Struggling Mountain Frogs

Tuesday Noozeday! Here's some reading to keep you busy on this wintery day: michelle nijhuisFirst, from Michelle Nijhuis writing for On Earth magazine, a look at wolves and their status on the endangered species list:

Howls of Outrage

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. 

Photo by Matthew Pugliese

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Irina ZhorovNext, Irina Zhorov reports for Al Jazeera America on the complex relationship between the EPA, reservation boundaries, and racial tensions in Wyoming:

Wyoming reservation's redrawn borders put old conflicts back on the map

 

RIVERTON, Wyo. — Look at a map of the pretty pocket of land in central Wyoming known as the Wind River Indian Reservation, and you’ll see towns strung like pearls on the lines of road that traverse the territory. At the southeast corner of the reservation lies Riverton. On the map, the town of 10,615 appears to be part of the shaded rectangle marking Indian Country, yet Wyoming has considered Riverton nontribal land for more than 100 years.

 

That may have to change. A technical ruling on air monitoring by the Environmental Protection Agency in December put the town in the reservation, an action that has awakened dormant racial tensions, inflamed an already uneasy relationship between Wind River and Riverton and raised questions about what the boundaries really mean... Read more.

Neither the EPA nor Wyoming monitors air quality over the 2.2 million acres of the Wind River Reservation. But a new EPA ruling giving the reservation the right to monitor air has brought up old disagreements. Photo by Irina Zhorov for Al Jazeera America

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eric wagnerEric Wagner reports on the fight to save the Cascades frog for the National Parks Conservation Association:

Between a bog and a hard place

Late September isn’t the coldest time of year to be in the Seven Lakes Basin of Olympic National Park, but it’s getting there, and so it is with no small amazement that Wendy Palen and I watch Maureen Ryan wade into an alpine pond up to her waist.

“Cold?” Palen asks from the shore, where she is nice and dry.

“It’s actually not too bad,” Ryan says as she rolls up her sleeve and roots around the bottom. She’s searching for a device she placed in the center of the pond last spring, which has been tracking its temperature for several months. By comparing the data from another temperature logger placed on the shore with the one she soon wrests from the muck, she’ll be able to see whether the pond dried out completely during the summer. This, in turn, will help her predict the survival prospects of amphibians in the alpine wetlands of the American West... Read more.

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Bakken Boom, Trout Fiasco, NSA Climate Edge, and Pete Seeger

New reporting from IJNR alums for your Thursday reading! kirk sieglerFirst, check out this great multi-medi package from NPR's Kirk Siegler and his colleagues about the Bakken oil boom in North Dakota:

The Great Plains Oil Rush

A remarkable transformation is underway in western North Dakota, where an oil boom is changing the state's fortunes and leaving once-sleepy towns bursting at the seams. In a series of stories, NPR is exploring the economic, social and environmental demands of this modern-day gold rush.

On a Sunday at dusk, Amtrak's eastbound Empire Builder train is jampacked, filled with people heading to their jobs in North Dakota towns like Minot, Williston and Watford City.

Jennifer Brown is watching the snowy plains of northern Montana pass by outside the train's frosty windows. She's moving to North Dakota from Idaho to join her husband, who's been working in the oil fields since last summer.

"I haven't seen him in two months," she says. "It's been really hard."

The Browns ran a logging truck business in northern Idaho, but work was hard to come by. Out in North Dakota, though, a person can make $100,000 or more starting out in the oil fields... Read, hear, and see more.

The "horsehead" pump of an oil rig has become a common feature along the rural North Dakota skyline. (Annie Flanagan for NPR)

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eric wagnerFrom Eric Wagner writing for High Country News, a look at invasive trout in Flathead Lake - a story based on our 2013 Crown of the Continent Institute in Montana.

The great Flathead fish fiasco

The ding! is soft, but Capt. Rod's response is Pavlovian, and he skips over to the charter boat's console with a nimbleness remarkable for a man his size. "Fish on 2!" he calls. He hurries back to the stern and pulls the appropriate rod from its sleeve, then hands it to me. "OK, reel her in."

I steel myself for battle, but this particular fish, a lake trout, is blasé in the face of death. I reel. It resists a little. I reel again. It tugs, kind of. After a minute or so, Rod scoops the trout out of Flathead Lake and hands it to me. Jim Vashro, an avuncular biologist with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, appraises it with a practiced eye. "If you want to be respectable, say 'Less than 10,' " he advises... Read more.

Fishing for trout on Flathead Lake. (IJNR photo)

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Peter ThomsonOn PRI's The World, Peter Thomson investigates the idea that NSA spying gave the U.S. a leg up in the climate-change debate:

Did NSA spying give U.S. an edge at the Copenhagen climate conference?

The latest NSA targets to be revealed by Edward Snowden’s purloined document archive might surprise you: participants in the high-stakes UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in 2009.

The latest revelation comes from a joint reporting project between the Huffington Post and the Danish newspaper Information, which says it got a top secret NSA briefing paper on the negotiations from Snowden.

The document, which the news outlets have published online, is barely more than a page, and is dated December 7, 2009, the opening day of the Copenhagen conference.

Most of it reads like an article a news summary of the basic issues and conflicts heading into the summit, but it’s distinguished by two short paragraphs at the end of the document marked “TS”—for Top Secret—and “SI”—for Signal Intelligence, or electronic monitoring...Read more.

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michelle nijhuisAnd, from Michelle Nijhuis writing on The Last Word on Nothing, a tribute to Pete Seeger and his environmental legacy

 

Photo of the Clearwater sloop on the Hudson courtesy of Flickr user Sea of Legs. Creative Commons.

My Dirty Stream

You’ve probably heard a lot of Pete Seeger songs in the last couple of days. And no wonder: When Seeger died on Monday, he left behind a very long lifetime’s worth of beautiful, cheeky, unforgettable songs. But what he left me — and the millions of other kids who grew up along the Hudson River during his tenure there — is not a song but a story. And the story is as good a cure for cynicism as any I know.

It goes like this.... Read more.