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Spanish Rangers Fear for Lives since Double Murder a Year Ago this Week

The killing of two wildlife defenders marked a chilling turning point for colleagues facing increasing violence in the line of duty

On a hill above the olive trees and dun scrublands of western Catalonia, two rusty iron silhouettes maintain a still and silent vigil. One peers out over the land through a pair of binoculars; the other kneels and holds a bird forever on the cusp of release.

photo of Mitsubish Agents RuralsPhoto by AsPARC, via Wikimedia CommonsLast January, two rangers called in a dead animal they passed on the road in western Catalonia. They drove on to make sure hunters hadn't strayed into a protected area in the region, and were soon shot by a hunter named Ismael Rodríguez.

At their feet is a simple plaque: “In memory and recognition of Xavier Ribes Villas and David Iglesias Díez, wildlife rangers whose lives were taken in the line of duty on 21 January 2017.”

Their deaths on a cold winter morning a year ago this weekend are a reminder that the risks of defending the natural world are not always confined to forests of South America or the African bush, and that working to protect sandgrouse, little bustard, and bittern can sometimes be as dangerous as guarding against elephant poachers.

The murders, together with a series of assaults over the past 12 months, have prompted calls for Spain’s 6,000 wildlife rangers to be routinely armed as they go about their job preserving the country’s biodiversity and regulating hunting and fishing.

On the day in question, the pair of agents rurals — as they are known in Catalonia — climbed into their Mitsubishi Montero and set off from their base in the city of Lleida.

After calling in a dead animal they had passed on the road, Ribes and Iglesias drove up to the hill where their monuments now stand to make sure hunters hadn’t strayed into a protected area close to the small village of Aspa.

It was probably there that they heard the volley of shots that drew them to a nearby olive grove where a group of men was shooting the thrushes that feed on the fruit. Among them was a 28-year-old hunter named Ismael Rodríguez.

Whatever happened next was quick and, as yet, unexplained. Training and protocol would have seen the rangers identify themselves to the hunter, ask him to put down his weapon and request to see his hunting and firearms licenses.

Rodríguez is alleged to have responded by …more

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Balking at Meatless Mondays? There are Some Impossible Solutions Afoot

The latest fake meat to hit the market is pretty close to the real deal, but there’s a rub

I’ve been mostly vegetarian for more than 12 years now, eating meat perhaps four or five times a year and seafood way more often than I should. But like many a former regular meat-eater, despite moral qualms, I still miss the taste of it. I’ve chomped my way through many a meat substitute — soy-based, seitan-based, mushroom-based, and more — but nothing has quite matched in flavor. So when I heard about the Impossible Burger — supposedly a genuinely meaty-tasting vegetarian patty made for carnivores — my interest was piqued.

Impossible burger at Umami restaurant in OaklandPhoto by Maureen Nandini MitraThe Impossible Burger with all the fixings at Umami Burger in Oakland, California. The fake meat patty, created by a biotech startup, comes close to its creator’s hope of making a plant based burger that’s “a carnivore’s dream.”

The lab-made, plant-based patty, developed by a Silicon Valley based company called Impossible Foods, has been receiving rave reviews that say it tastes, smells, and even “bleeds” like its made of ground beef. The company spent five years researching what flavors, textures, and aromas make meat unique, and then, according its website, set out to do the impossible — “find precisely the right ingredients from the plant kingdom to recreate the experience meat lovers crave.”

The patty hasn’t reached supermarket shelves yet — which its creators say is the ultimate goal — but is available at select restaurants across the country. “Proof of the pudding” and all, I decided a taste test was warranted. So I dragged some colleagues — including a recent convert to vegetarianism and a vegan — to Umami Burger in Oakland for a sample.

The burger, priced rather steeply at $16, arrived wedged between a soft bun, dressed with lettuce, caramelized onions, slices of American cheese (why oh why?) and tomato and miso mustard house spread. Size-wise, it was smaller than I expected. The Impossible patty did look pink and meaty, but seemed to be a wee soggier.

It tasted good enough, and certainly meaty enough, though a tad softer, as the first look indicated it might. But, for me, the tasting experience was marred by the fixings, which comprised a blend of flavors that didn’t seem to complement each other all that well. I actually liked the Portobello mushroom burger we had also ordered much better. But my vegan colleague took one bite of the Impossible Burger and proclaimed it “delicious.”

“It kind of grosses …more

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Birders get a First Look at how 2017 California Wildfires Affected Wildlife

Christmas Bird Count by volunteers helps scientists gather rare post-fire data

A neighbor knocked on Rick Burgess’s door at about 9:30 p.m. to tell him a fire was coming towards his home in Ventura, California. When he looked outside he saw a column of smoke, and the hills were already starting to turn orange. He loaded up his truck with a collection of native plants he was using to write a countywide plant guide, and barely had enough time to get out.

 DeMartino scanning a water body Photo by Matt Blois Frank DeMartino — who runs a shop in Ventura that sells bird feeders and birdseed — has organized the last three counts in Ventura. He started the 2017 Christmas Bird Count in Ventura harbor.

“Shortly thereafter the lights went out,” he said. “Then the engine came around and on the loud speaker said you must evacuate.”

Burgess and his wife drove to a friend’s house in a different part of town. The first night, they just wanted to know that their home was safe, and thankfully it was. The Thomas Fire burned many of their neighbors’ homes that night, but their cul-de-sac was spared. Burgess spent the two weeks following the fire living at a friend’s house, organizing the northern sector of Ventura’s annual Christmas Bird Count.

The count in Ventura was originally scheduled for December 17, but the Thomas Fire — now the largest ever recorded in California — burned more than half of the survey area, and organizers had to postpone it until December 30 because they couldn’t get to many of the those areas.

For the first few weeks of December, smoke filled the Ojai Valley where Burgess leads a count, and fire crews had taken over the Lake Casitas Campground where groups normally search for birds by boat. Even weeks after the worst of the fire had passed, the city of Ventura wouldn’t let the birders into several parks damaged by the fire. While the fire made it difficult to organize the count, surveying birds immediately after the fire also presented a unique opportunity.

With nearly four decades of Christmas Bird Count data from Ventura, scientists will be able to compare this year’s observations with historical data to understand how birds respond to fire. While the fire was devastating for the people who lost their homes, many species of wildlife in Southern California are adapted to live with fire and in some cases take advantage of it. For scientists, it can be difficult to find …more

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Warnings from the Arctic

Record-breaking temperatures in Alaska, the US's canary in the climate coal mine, provide glimpse of a warmer future

There is an ongoing scientific debate as to how much influence our changing climate had on the extreme cold snap or what some call “bomb cycle” in the Northeastern US.

As usual, there is an active discussion. Last week, World Weather Attribution claimed that the US has always epxerience cold snaps, but that “cold waves like this have decreased in intensity and frequency over the last century.”

photo of arctic researchPhoto by World Meteorological OrganizationThe Arctic is being fundamentally transformed by human caused climate change.

They add that their research shows “that the temperature of North American cold waves has increased substantially over the last century due to global warming.”

Other scientists disagree, though. Deepti Singh is a post-doctoral research fellow at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who studies the link between climate and extreme weather. She says: “It’s normal in that it’s winter time and we can have snaps of cold weather. It’s abnormal because it has covered such a wide part of the US. And it’s also abnormal because it persisted for a couple of weeks.”

She adds: “It is linked to climate change insofar as these contrasting temperatures [between the east and west US] have increased over the last 40 years. We’ve found that the increase in the frequency of concurrent warm conditions in the west and cool conditions in the east is more likely with human caused climate change than it would be in a world without climate change. Precisely how that happens is still an active area of research.”

As the academics argue the specifics of the science of the relationship between extreme weather and climate, we know one thing: As New York shivered — Alaska sweltered.

Alaska has just experienced its hottest December ever recorded. The temperatures in Alaska were 15.7°F above the twentieth century average at 19.4°F according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Rick Thoman, climate science and services manager for the National Weather Service said of the results to the Anchorage Daily News: “Alaska, of course, being the only Arctic part of the US … it’s often referred to as polar amplification, that climate is warming much more rapidly at high latitudes. We are the US’s canary in that coal mine.”

And the canary is issuing warning signals all the time. Before Xmas, I blogged about how scientists were talking about the “Old Arctic” — the one we once knew — and the “New Arctic” …more

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New Reporting Platform Sheds Light on Venezuela’s Mining Crisis

South American country's dangerous bet on large-scale mining threatens pristine Amazon region

News outlets InfoAmazonia and el Correo del Caroni are launching a new interactive website with a series of articles on mining conflicts in Venezuela. The project, “Digging Deeper into the Mining Arc,” is sponsored by the Pulitzer Center on Conflict Reporting.

Arc of Desperation

Venezuela’s decision to open up the Orinoco Belt to mining threatens the Amazon rainforest.

By Bram Ebus

At 10 a.m., young men on motorbikes start to arrive in front of a cockfighting arena in Las Claritas, a small village in the state of Bolívar in southeastern Venezuela. They mill around smoking cigarettes and playing cards. Their relaxed manner distracts one from the fact that nearly all of them are carrying weapons, handguns mainly, hidden under their t-shirts or tucked away in their sports pants.

»Read More…

Venezuela is making a dangerous bet. The country where corruption is king seems to be going all-in on large-scale mining. The country’s 2016 “Mining Decree” opens up the  Arco Minero region – a 43,183-square-mile swath of pristine wilderness in the upper reaches of the Amazon full of the world's most wanted minerals – to multinational mining interest.

Mining in Latin America is often tied to social problems and damage to the environment. This won’t be different in Venezuela, where mining operations already ravish fragile ecosystems, including in the Amazon rainforest, and contaminate rivers, such as the Orinoco. The Arco Minero overlaps with Indigenous territories as well. At least 198 Indigenous communities are located in the region that is targeted for the exploitation of coltan, diamonds, bauxite, and gold.

Investing in mining may be the worst move crisis-ridden Venezuela could make. Mismanagement of the country’s mainly oil-based economy led to the current economic freefall. Venezuela does not produce enough food for its own population and the drugstores are currently as good as empty.

In 2017, the country saw:

  • An average of than 26.6 violent deaths per day (an average of 15 per day by police forces)
  • Inflation of 2,700 percent
  • Three-quarters of Venezuelans lost weight in the past year, an average of 20 pounds each
  • More than 300,000 new cases of malaria

Officially, the Venezuelan government claims to be organizing a state-corporate mining sector in which many multinationals will participate. On paper, a new Ministry, named (take a breath) Ministry of the Popular Power of Ecological Mining Development of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, oversees the operations. In reality, mining in Venezuela is controlled …more

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New York City’s Fossil Fuel Divestment Could Spur Global Shift

Economists say city’s status as financial and cultural giant means move will catalyze others around the world to follow

New York City’s decision to sever ties with its fossil fuel investments is set to prove a catalyst to other cities in the face of the Trump administration’s staunch support for coal, oil, and gas interests, according to several leading economists.

photo of new york city winterPhoto by Roman Kruglov>New York City's plans to divest $5 billion from fossil fuel-linked money could build the momentum required to stave off the worst consequences of climate change.

On Wednesday, city officials announced that New York was to divest its pension funds of about $5 billion in fossil fuel-linked money over the next five years. New York’s total pension fund for its teachers, firefighters, and other city workers is worth about $189 billion.

Bill de Blasio, New York’s mayor, also revealed the city is suing the world’s largest oil and gas companies over their role in knowingly creating dangerous global warming in a two-pronged assault that he said is aimed at “standing up for future generations.”

Economists said the status of New York as a financial and cultural giant would probably spur other cities in the US and worldwide to divest and, more significantly, build momentum in the global shift required to reduce emissions and stave off the worst consequences of climate change.

“This is a really big deal,” said Jeffrey Sachs, an economist at New York’s Columbia University and special adviser to the UN secretary general. “Pension funds of other major US cities will follow, I think. New York is the neighborhood of the very big money managers. It’s a powerful, personal signal to them that they cannot keep funding the sorts of projects they have in the past.”

New York will be the first of the US’s largest cities to divest and has jostled to the forefront of a group of global metropolises that have committed to ridding themselves of fossil fuel stocks, including Paris, Berlin, Sydney, and Stockholm.

In November, the Norwegian central bank, which runs the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, proposed dumping shares in oil and gas companies. Dozens of other institutions, ranging from Oxford University to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, have also joined a movement that activists say is worth $6 trillion in divestments or avoided investments.

“The divestment movement is active and growing and by its nature, New York will play a big leadership role,” said Sachs. “New York hosts …more

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California Pot Farmers’ Use of Rat Poison Harms Northern Spotted Owls

State’s legalization of marijuana likely to spur more unpermitted cultivation, further exacerbating the problem

Pot users in California may be rejoicing at finally being able to smoke marijuana for recreation without fear of being arrested. But the state’s new law legalizing weed for fun — which officially took effect January 1 — may be bad news for the already beleaguered northern spotted owl and other wildlife in the state’s northwest regions.

photo of spotted owlPhoto by J.Mark Higley: Hoopa Tribal Forestry / UC Davis A new study found that 70 percent of spotted owl carcasses and 40 percent of barred owl carcasses collected from California's major pot-growing counties tested positive for rat poison.

The northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) — a rather retiring raptor that tends to be very territorial and intolerant of habitat disturbance — is already being exposed to high levels of rat poison from illegal marijuana farms, says a new study led by the University of California, Davis, with the California Academy of Sciences. And experts fear that legalization of recreational marijuana will spur an increase in unpermitted cultivation, further exacerbating the problem.

The study, released today in the journal Avian Conservation and Ecology, showed that seven of the ten northern spotted owl carcasses collected from the state’s major pot-growing counties — Humboldt, Mendocino, and Del Norte — tested positive for rat poison, while 40 percent of 84 barred owls collected also tested positive for the poison. 

The research is the first published account of anticoagulant rodenticide in northern spotted owls, which are listed as a threatened species under federal and state endangered species acts, but it supports previous accounts that rat poison is contaminating the food web in this region.

The Green Rush

Humboldt County has a new extractive industry.

It was August of 2014, in the midst of the worst California drought in recent history, when I first saw the stream bordering my property run dry. There it was, a disconnected watercourse revealing a barren creek bed.

>Read More…

“Spotted owls are inclined to feed along forest edges. Because grow sites break apart these forest landscapes, they are likely source points for exposure,” Mourad Gabriel, lead author of the study and a researcher with the UC Davis Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center, said in a statement. The owl and other raptors and carnivores that prey on mice and rats often die from eating animals that have consumed anti-coagulant rat …more

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