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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Blog dump!


Between moving, traveling, getting engaged and becoming a dog owner, I've been terribly remiss in keeping this thing updated. Here are a few of my latest stories for High Country News:

1. Sweeping new rule for Alaska's predator control: Federal versus state wildlife politics get even hotter.

When Jim Stratton, deputy vice president for the National Parks Conservation Association, heard last week that the National Park Service had announced a sweeping new rule banning the manipulation of predators and prey in Alaska’s national preserves, his reaction was — to put it mildly — unfettered joy. “This is totally exciting news,” he says. “I’ve only been working this for ten years. Game on.”

The reaction of the state Division of Wildlife Conservation? A little more tepid. Director Doug Vincent-Lang sees any attempt by the feds to usurp Alaska’s wildlife management authority as overreach, and this new rule — which maintains hunting rights on Alaska’s 22 million acres of national preserves but bans certain controversial practices — is overreach at its worst: “unfounded and unjust,” he told Alaska Dispatch News.

The proposed rule is currently up for public comments, and will likely be implemented next year. It prohibits the baiting of brown bears, the killing of wolves and coyotes when pups are in tow, and the use of artificial light to kill black bears in their dens. It also pre-emptively prohibits any other practice “with the intent or potential to alter or manipulate natural predator-prey dynamics.” In other words, killing predators to boost ungulate populations will no longer be allowed in Alaska’s national preserves.

To understand just how big this is, it helps to backtrack to 2002, when former Republican governor Frank Murkowski took office...

As always, to read the entire story, just click here. 

Photo courtesy John Burch

2. The nice folks at the National Parks Conservation Association hooked me up with former Alaskan governor Tony Knowles for his take on Alaskan wildlife management and the new rule. Read my interview with him here.


3. Manmade quakes shake the Southwest: Tremors in Colorado and New Mexico linked to coalbed methane extraction.

Colorado, northern New Mexico and even western Kansas felt their beds shake. Historic buildings crumbled and chunks of mountainsides slid onto highways, but no injuries were reported in the 5.3 magnitude quake that the New York Times deemed “the largest natural earthquake in Colorado in more than a century.”

Except that it wasn’t natural at all. A study released Monday in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America confirms what scientists have suspected for years: That the 2011 quake — along with dozens of others in the Raton Basin of Colorado and New Mexico — were caused by a byproduct of coalbed methaneextraction. Other studies have made similar connections in Oklahoma and Ohio, but this is the first to conclusively link oil and gas development with increased earthquake frequency in the Southwest.

It also skews the popular notion that fracking alone is responsible for tremors in oil and gas country. U.S. Geological Survey research geophysicist Bill Barnhart, who reviewed the study and has worked in the Raton Basin, emphasizes that the human-induced seismicity there is “completely unrelated” to fracking.

Instead, the culprit is coalbed methane extraction — or, more specifically, the wastewater it produces...

Again, to read the whole thing, click here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Alaskan cruise ship passengers to get a dose of climate change education

Two big things have happened since John Neary arrived in Alaska's rainy capital city 33 years ago: Juneau's most famous attraction, the Mendenhall Glacier, has receded by more than a mile; and the number of visitors to the glacier has nearly tripled, to 450,000 a year. “On Monday afternoons, the busses are lined up 30 deep,” Neary says. “The place is not suited to the volume of traffic it's receiving.”

The surge can largely be explained by an increase in Alaskan tourism over the last few decades. But visitors have more than doubled in the past 16 years alone, and at least part of that can be attributed to “last chance tourism,” or the flow of people rushing to see at-risk places before they're destroyed by climate change....

Read the rest here: https://www.hcn.org/blogs/goat/alaskan-cruise-ship-passengers-to-get-a-dose-of-climate-change-education

Grizzlies gain ground

Joe Scott remembers when Washington state banned the transportation of grizzlies back in 1995 — he still keeps a copy of the law by his desk and jokes that he uses it as a dartboard from time to time. “It was very emotional,” he says. “I remember getting red in the face testifying (against the law) in front of the state Senate committee. I lost my temper, and the chair just kind of stared at me wide-eyed.”

Scott, international conservation director for the nonprofit Conservation Northwest, has been passionate about large predators for as long as he can remember. So when state legislators introduced that bill, preventing wildlife officials from bringing in new grizzlies to augment the state’s rapidly dwindling population, Scott was outraged.
To others, though, the idea of bolstering grizzly populations is dangerous — and contentious. A proposal to reintroduce bears to Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains in 2000 spurred death threats, and a biologist who suggested bringing new bears to help the population of Washington’s North Cascades was spat on at a public meeting. Now, under the law that Scott testified against, Washington wildlife managers are encouraged to support grizzlies’ “natural regeneration,” but barred from transplanting or introducing them.

So will grizzlies ever regain a foothold beyond Yellowstone and Glacier national parks?... 

My latest for High Country News, and it's up on our brand new website! http://www.hcn.org/articles/grizzlies-gain-ground

Monday, August 4, 2014

Boreal burning

Rumbling afternoon thundershowers are breaking over the Southwest, bringing gratitude and sweet relief – not that the region needed much relieving this year. Bouts of cool, wet weather throughout early summer helped stave off the conflagrations predicted to erupt after a dry winter, and by mid-July, most areas had already been deluged by a full month’s worth of rainfall. In other words, summer monsoon season has extinguished any lingering fears that 2014 would be a bad fire year.

But as the Southwest collectively inhales the smell of rain falling on dry land, parts of the Northwest and Western Canada are bathed in acrid smoke. Nearly a million acres are burning in Washington and Oregon alone – more than what typically burns over the course of a whole year. Some 12,000 firefighters have been deployed since the fires began earlier this month.

Yet though the deadly combination of drought and summer lightning strikes have led to a particularly severe fire season in eastern Washington and Oregon, some of the West’s biggest blazes are in Canada's Northwest Territories, where the total acreage burned so far this year is six times the 25-year average. In recent years, twice as much Canadian forest has been burning annually as in the 1970s, says University of Alberta wildland fire professor Mike Flannigan, and the northwestern part of the country is experiencing its hottest, driest summer in half a century. “What we are seeing in the Northwest Territories this year is an indicator of what to expect with climate change,” Flannigan says...

To read more about what burning boreal forests mean for the environment, click here


taigafire2

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

More fun with photoshop.











Grasshopper plagues: agricultural nightmare or ecological boon?


In early June, meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, New Mexico, were puzzled: There was a big splotch on the radar that didn’t look like any weather system they’d ever seen. Maybe their software had a bug?

Turns out, the dark green blob hovering over Albuquerque wasn’t a software glitch at all but a giant swarm of grasshoppers. John Garlisch, an agricultural extension agent at New Mexico State University, told Modern Farmer that the state’s dry winter allowed more grasshopper eggs than usual to hatch this spring, and the ongoing drought has caused a dearth of fresh growth on rural rangeland, forcing the swarm to take flight in search of greener pastures. The well-watered gardens of Albuquerque must’ve looked mighty appealing.

By now, the grasshoppers have mostly died of natural causes or been eaten by cats, says forecaster Brent Wachter of the National Weather Service. But this summer’s incident raises the question: As climate change continues to impact weather patterns across the West, will grasshopper swarms big enough to show up on Doppler radar become a more regular concern? And if so, how concerned should we be?

To find out, I called population ecologist Gary Belovsky, who’s been studying grasshoppers in western Montana for 37 years. He's currently researching how climate change affects grasshopper outbreaks. If you’re looking for a simple, straightforward answer, though – something along the lines of “climate change causes drought and drought causes more grasshoppers” – look elsewhere. While drought can indeed increase short-term grasshopper populations, the picture Belovsky paints over the long run is far more complex. ...

... Click here to read the rest.


More Pebble Mine - Alaska sides with mining corp., tribes back EPA

Victories in clean air and energy politics may be among the Obama Administration’s lasting legacies, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t been getting much love from rural communities lately. Here in western Colorado coal-mining country, a hand-painted sign reflects the opinion of many local miners: “Frack the EPA and the war on energy!” In Idaho last week, demonstrators illegally dredged a protected stretch of the Salmon River to protest EPA permits for mining in Western watersheds. Since January, Kansas and seven other rural states have passed symbolic measures opposing the EPA’s new power-plant emission standards, and since 2010 Texas has spent millions in taxpayer dollars on more than a dozen (mostly unsuccessful) lawsuits against the agency.

Yet in rural Alaska, where sentiment against federal oversight runs deep, a group of remote residents are actually siding with the EPA. Not only that, they’re joining the agency in fighting a powerful lawsuit filed against it.

That’s the latest news in the saga of Pebble Mine, a massive open-pit copper mine proposed in western Alaska’s Bristol Bay region. Local tribes and commercial fishermen fear the mine could destroy one of the world’s most prolific salmon runs, and in 2010, tribes petitioned the EPA to invoke a seldom-used power under the Clean Water Act to block development. This April, after a federal environmental assessment concluded the mine could indeed harm salmon habitat, the EPA took the first steps to begin using the Clean Water Act to halt the mine. ...


... Click here to read the rest.
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