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Strawberries Top Dirty Dozen List of Produce Containing Pesticides

Report finds 146 different pesticides on fruit and vegetable samples tested by federal agencies

Keep your hands off those strawberries folks! Unless they are organic that is. Apparently nearly all conventionally grown strawberry samples tested by federal officials had detectable pesticide residues, and some had traces of as many as 17 different pesticides lingering around.

photo of strawberriesPhoto by bionicgrrrl In California, where most US strawberries are grown, each acre of strawberry field is treated with a whopping 300 pounds of pesticides.

With summer and its bounty of luscious fruits and vegetables just around the corner, the Environmental Working Group has come out with its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of produce that are heavily contaminated with pesticides, and this year strawberries get top billing on the list of foods to avoid.

The popular berry — the average American eats nearly eight pounds of fresh strawberries a year — displaced apples, which headed the list the last five years running.

Once a seasonal crop, strawberries are now grown almost all year long with the help of heavy doses of pesticides. In California, where most US strawberries are grown, each acre of strawberry field is treated with a whopping 300 pounds of pesticides. Of this, more than 60 pounds are conventional chemicals that may leave post-harvest residues. Most of the rest are fumigants — volatile poison gases that can drift into nearby schools and neighborhoods.

EWG’s update of its “Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce” reports that 98 percent of conventional strawberry samples tested by the US Department of Agriculture had detectable pesticide residues. Of those, 40 percent had residues of 10 or more pesticides. Some of the chemicals detected on strawberries are relatively benign, but others are linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental damage, hormone disruption, and neurological problems.

“This is the first year that strawberries topped the list, and I was surprised by how heavily contaminated they were,” Sonya Lunder, EWG senior analyst, told EIJ. “What’s worse is that the residues are well within the limits of laws regulating pesticides in food in this country. Most people don’t even know that there are pesticide residues in their produce that stays on even after washing.”

In total, the EWG report — which is based on results of more than 35,200 produce samples tested by the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration — found 146 …more

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Armenian Brown Bears Moved to Sanctuary After Months of Behind-the-Scenes Efforts by Activists

Plight of animals in Gyumri Zoo highlights the broader problem of private zoos in Armenia

Earlier this month, two brown bears, Masha and Grisha were relocated from the cramped quarters in a zoo in the Armenian town of Gyumri to the Libearty Bear Sanctuary in Romania, bringing to a happy end to more than six months of efforts to rescue them.

Two brown bears in a sanctuaryPhoto courtesy of Libearty SanctuaryMasha and Grisha were set free in the training area at the Libearty sanctuary

The bears and three lions had been living a miserable life in captivity in a privately-owned zoo in Gyumri. The zoo had been featured in the British tabloid, Daily Mail, back in January as “the world’s saddest zoo.” The article, which went viral, said that the animals were starving and had been left to die by the owner who had abandoned the facility.

Sadly, the story neglected to mention that there were individuals and organizations in Armenia, including Earth Island Institute’s Armenian Environmental Network (AEN), that had been in the process of rescuing the animals, and were also working to address the broader problem of private zoos in Armenia.

Back in October 2015, the owner of the Gyumri Zoo announced that he was ill and could no longer care for the animals. Because there is no animal sanctuary in Armenia and it takes an immense amount of resources and space to care for such animals, local organizations and activists initially didn’t quite know what do. The issue was made more complicated by the fact that there are no clear animal welfare laws in place that are applicable in this case, and enforcement of the few regulations that do exist is extremely weak. The fate of the animals was not looking so good.

Although animal welfare isn’t a main focus of AEN, we have helped with such situations in Armenia in the past. For example, we worked with local and international activists and organizations in 2010 to close down a new dolphinarium in Armenia. This time too, I saw an opportunity for AEN to do what we are good at: help build local capacity in Armenia and garner international support.

The Gyumri Zoo has been criticized for years because of the miserable living conditions of its animals. The Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC)  made a film …more

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Mass Coral Bleaching Now Affecting Half of Great Barrier Reef

Climate change and strong El Niño cause hundreds of kilometres of reef to bleach, as higher temperatures stress the coral

The mass coral bleaching event smashing the Great Barrier Reef has severely affected more than half its length and caused patches of bleaching in most areas, according to scientists conducting an extensive aerial survey of the damage.

Great Barrier ReefPhoto by By Steve Parish/Courtesy of Lock the Gate AllianceThe mass bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef is part of what the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has called the third global bleaching event – the first occurred in 1998.

“The good news with my last flight is that I found 50 reefs that weren’t bleached, so that may be the southern boundary,” said Terry Hughes from James Cook University. Hughes is the head of the national coral bleaching task force, which has been conducting flights over the length of the reef, mapping bleached areas and recording the severity of the damage.

Climate change and a strong El Niño have caused hundreds of kilometers of the reef to bleach, as the higher water temperatures stress the coral, and they expel their symbiotic algae. If the bleaching is bad enough, or the temperatures remain high for long enough, the corals die, putting the future of reefs at risk.

The mass bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef is part of what the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has called the third global bleaching event – the first occurred in 1998.

Initial reports suggested only the most northern and remote areas of the Great Barrier Reef were bleaching, but as aerial surveys have continued, scientists have struggled to find a southern boundary.

The latest find of a stretch of unaffected reefs around Mackay was a small piece of good news, Hughes said.

But he said its significance would be unclear until reefs further south were examined.

“It may be a false southern boundary,” Hughes said. The reefs around Mackay have unusually large tides, which might have pulled in cooler water and saved the coral there.

bleached staghorn coralPhoto by Matt KiefferDead staghorn coral in the Great Barrier Reef. Coral bleaching has caused bleached patches across most of the Great Barrier Reef.

So far, the surveys reveal there are severely bleached reefs almost as far …more

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A Few Square Feet of Scotland

We take from nature, rape and pillage the wild places again and again. Yet it is possible to give back too

It was bordered on two sides by high walls, and on the third by tall trees and the grounds of a cathedral. Beyond the open side was the river.

flock of geese flying in dusky skyPhoto by Ronan/FlickrI was on the flight path for the geese returning from Iceland. The great trails of skeins passed right over my tiny garden

When I moved into the tiny house at the end of the street it was late autumn. There was almost no light in my rooms, which was shut out by the high walls and the trees – what little of it there was to begin with. The days were wild with wind; rain blattered against the windows and the trees roared like the masts of ships. At night it was eerie; I felt far out at sea in some great galleon. Then one day when I was outside in that tiny piece of ground that was mine I saw the moment the rain turned to snow. I had never thought of it before and I saw it now, and a great silence fell as those ballerinas of snowflakes twirled from the grey sky.

All I possessed were some 10 square feet of ground, the first I had owned in all my life. There was nothing special about them. A lawn with a narrow flowerbed along one edge. I stood at the back door and watched as the grass  flickered and turned grey with the first snow of winter. In the middle of my lawn were two stout metal poles, carrying a curve of washing line. The spring would be a new beginning. I had no idea what I would do, but I knew I wanted to do something with it.

I was on the flight path for the geese returning from Iceland. The great trails of skeins passed right over my tiny garden, and I felt proud, as though they had chosen that path intentionally. I went out every morning now with bread for the birds. There wasn’t so much as a bird table, but I cut a plank of wood into a simple oblong and set it down on the lawn, above the first thumb-deep settling of snow. Now my few square feet of ground were graced by the flights of blackbirds …more

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Tigers Declared Extinct in Cambodia

Government approves reintroduction plan in effort to save the iconic species

Due to years of illegal poaching and loss of habitat, tigers are now “functionally extinct” in Cambodia, conservationists conceded for the first time Wednesday. 

photo of redwood climbPhoto by LotseIndochinese tigers at Tierpark Berlin. There are now more tigers living in captivity than in the wild.

According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-Cambodia, the last tiger seen in Cambodia’s wild was in 2007 from a hidden camera set up in the Eastern Plains Dry Forest Landscape in Mondulkiri Protected Forest.

“Today, there are no longer any breeding populations of tigers left in Cambodia, and they are therefore considered functionally extinct,” the conservation group said in a statement.

The AFP reported that Cambodia’s dry forests used to be home to scores of Indochinese tigers, but intensive poaching of both tigers and their prey has devastated the population.

But in a major effort to save the iconic species, on March 23 the Cambodian government approved its “Cambodia Tiger Action Plan” that would import tigers from abroad and introduce them to the Mondulkiri Protected Forest.

Keo Omaliss, a government official in charge of wildlife, told the Associated Press that Cambodia is considering negotiating with the governments of India, Malaysia and Thailand to bring at least seven to eight tigers to live in the forest to breed and repopulate.

“This would be the world’s first transnational tiger reintroduction and will be based on best practices developed from successful tiger reintroductions within India,” WWF-Cambodia said.

Un Chakrey, communications manager for WWF-Cambodia, told the New York Times that the tigers could be introduced as soon as 2020.

The AFP reported that the new habitat will be protected against poachers by strong law enforcement and action to protect the tigers’ prey. The entire project is estimated to cost $20-50 million.

The Cambodia Tiger Action Plan also follows the objective of 13 tiger range countries to double the number of wild tigers in the world to more than 6,000 by 2022, which is the next Year of the Tiger. The global aim is also known as “Tx2.”

The 13 Tx2 countries are: Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Representatives from these countries will meet at the 3rd Asia Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation in New Delhi next week to discuss the Tx2 plan.

“This conference …more

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Head in the Clouds

Communing with nature high up in a redwood canopy

I grew up among the redwoods. My parents’ house is nestled in a unique Bay Area neighborhood built among these giant trees. Redwood roots burst through the concrete roads and sidewalks, and branches shade the narrow streets that have been paved around their trunks.

photo of redwood climbPhoto by Steve LillegrenUp in the redwood canopy.

Yet for all the time I’ve spent among these bold, towering trees, the idea of scaling up to the top of one never crossed my mind. That changed a few weeks ago when I found myself climbing a 200-plus foot redwood in the Santa Cruz mountains, and now I can’t help but wonder when I’ll have a chance to climb another one.

I made my ascent with Tree Climbing Planet, an Oregon-based company that offers tree-climbing courses to beginners and experienced climbers alike. Tim Kovar, founder and master climbing instructor, had his own dramatic introduction to recreational tree climbing, though it didn’t involve redwoods.

Working as an arborist back in the ‘90s, Kovar was invited to a tree climb hosted by Tree Climbers International, the world’s first school and organization for recreational tree climbers. Prior to the climb, he “wasn’t aware of people out there climbing trees for fun.” When he arrived, he found people of all different ages and backgrounds eager to get into the trees. In particular, he was struck by two older women joining the climb. “I’m in awe,” he says, referring to that day. “They are tapping into their inner child… They hadn’t climbed a tree in 60 years, and had assumed they wouldn’t climb a tree again in their life.”

He was also touched by the quick connections people made with one another, as they shared their stories about climbing trees as children. “I’m on the ground,” he explains, “and internally I’m in tears, because I’ve never seen this type of camaraderie.” From then on, Kovar was hooked.

photo of redwood climbPhoto by Steve LillegrenKovar leads a group of climbers as they begin their ascent in an adjacent tree.

Kovar’s passion for tree climbing came across as we prepared for the climb in the yard of a private residence in the hills. And his calm demeanor undoubtedly helped the rest of …more

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Conservation Groups and Municipalities Urge Ban on Rat Poisons in California

More than 45,000 people support bill restricting use of rodenticides that have harmed people and animals

A coalition of 57 conservation, public-health, research and wildlife-rehabilitation groups, the city of Malibu, Mayor of Richmond, Marin County, and more than 45,000 people have called for prohibitions on the most toxic rat and mouse poisons because of the unnecessary risk to wildlife, pets and children.

photo of a tapPhoto by Diana JacobsA coalition of conservation groups and municipalities have called for prohibitions on the most toxic rodenticides.

The coalition will hold a rally this afternoon at the state Capitol in Sacramento urging support for Assembly Bill 2596, introduced by California Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), and calling for an end to the misuse of toxic rodenticides. The bill would restrict use of the most dangerous rodenticides that have been linked to the poisoning of people and animals in cities and communities across California.

“I am very aware that too many of our native wildlife, especially bobcats and mountain lions, have become severely ill and in many cases died after eating smaller animals in the food chain that were needlessly poisoned by rodenticides,” said Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), chair of the California Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee and supporter of the bill. “Toxic-free alternatives are available. We can do better through the adoption of better management practices, elimination of the sale of rodenticides and the marketing of safer alternatives.”  

Anticoagulant rodenticides interfere with blood clotting, resulting in uncontrollable bleeding that leads to death. Second-generation anticoagulants — including brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difethialone and difenacoum — are especially hazardous and persistent in body tissues. These slow-acting poisons are often eaten for several days by rats and mice, causing the toxins to accumulate at many times the lethal dose in their tissues, which subsequently results in the poisoning of non-target animals that feed on their carcasses. Although California consumers can no longer use second-generation poisons, the pest control industry uses them widely.

Steps taken by the state of California and the US Environmental Protection Agency in recent years to place greater restrictions on consumer use of dangerous rodenticides have not been effective in curbing wildlife poisoning. At least 26 California cities and counties have also passed resolutions urging the public and pest-control operators to avoid the most harmful rodent poisons, including San Francisco, Richmond, Malibu, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, …more

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