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BLM Must Begin the Process of Tapering Fossil Fuel Development

Keeping climate change in check requires a halt to new oil and gas leasing

The North Fork Valley and its surroundings — managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Uncompahgre Field Office — is an exceptionally beautiful place. Located on the western slope of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, the valley is home to the largest concentration of organic farms in Colorado, and is renowned for its outdoor reaction. Many in the region have worked hard to transition the local economy from coal mining to more sustainable industries such as agriculture, tourism, recreation, and the arts. Now this cleaner economy is under threat.

photo of Colorado’s North Fork Valleyphoto by WildEarth GuardiansUnder the BLM's "Preferred Alternative" for its new Resource Management Plan, the North Fork Valley would be available for leasing by the oil and gas industry .

The BLM is currently in the process of writing a new Resource Management Plan for the region. Part of this comprehensive planning process determines which of the nearly one million acres of federal mineral estate will be available for oil and gas leasing for the next 20 to 30 years.

The agency's so-called “Preferred Alternative” is essentially the status quo in which roughly 90 percent of the lands would be available for leasing by oil the and gas industry. For a region looking beyond coal for a sustainable economic and environmental future, oil and gas leasing represents a step backward — a turbulent future of booms and busts, environmental damage, and enormous impacts to those whose backyards would host this federally-determined development whether they like it or not.

Some local citizen groups have instead been advocating for something called the North Fork Alternative in which only 25 percent of the available lands would be open to leasing. Meanwhile, other local and national groups, including Earthworks, are suggesting that BLM create a new alternative in which no new leasing occurs.

The differences of these approaches is understandable. Those in favor of the North Fork Alternative — who have worked with locals on a compromise solution for years — see a realistic chance to get solid conservation gains through this alternative if they can convince BLM  to favor it over the Preferred Alternative. Others like me, however, look at it through a different lens.

Recent reports have concluded, using the best available data, that the carbon contained in the world's already-developed oil, gas, and coal resources will warm the earth beyond 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels. Not including coal, just the oil …more

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Dolphins Illegally Captured in Solomon Islands Returned to Ocean Following Police Raid

The 30-plus cetaceans were likely destined for captivity abroad, says marine mammal nonprofit

Evidence recently uncovered by the nonprofit International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) reveals two secret captures of more than 30 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in the Solomon Islands. According to IMMP, the dolphins were driven to shore in the Western Provinces of the country in an inhumane capture process similar to the dolphin drives in Taiji, Japan. They were then transported by boat to shallow net pens on Bungana Island off the coast of Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands.

Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphinphoto by Mike Prince / FlickrMore than 30 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins were secretly captured in the Solomon Islands before being released back into the ocean by government officials.

IMMP, an Earth Island Institute project that works to protect dolphins and whales, believes those behind the illegal scheme intended to export the dolphins to China or other far-flung countries for miserable lives in captivity. The nonprofit provided its investigative findings to the Solomon Islands’ government.

Fortunately, the Solomon Islands Fisheries Ministry, led by acting fisheries secretary Ferral Lasi, has taken the matter very seriously. Earlier this week, the ministry reported that the captures are in clear violation of Solomon Islands law and that the dolphins captured both in the Western Provinces and in the Bungana Island net pens have been released back into the ocean. Lasi suggested that legal action might be taken against those involved in the captures.

"The Solomon Islands Fisheries Ministry deserves great credit for upholding the ban on dolphin capture and export,” David Phillips, director of the IMMP, said today upon hearing of the releases. “The government has cracked down on this secret and illegal capture and export scheme.”

The captivity industry in wealthy nations such as Singapore and Japan is booming, creating lucrative markets for wild-caught dolphins and whales. China has made big news recently with attempts to import hundreds of marine mammals from the coastal waters of Namibia, including orcas and bottlenose dolphins, for captive display.

“Without the Solomon Islands government’s raid and intervention, more than 30 dolphins might have been loaded aboard cargo jets and flown off, likely bound for China,” Phillips said. “The journey is harrowing enough, as is the trauma of being torn from their families and ocean home. Dolphin capture and transport is cruel and, results in stress, disease and premature death.”

The Solomon Islands used to be at the center of the world’s deadly trade in live dolphins. However, strong international pressure convinced the government to …more

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Army Corp of Engineers Ordered Police to Arrest Standing Rock Water Protectors

Police deployed pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets in 'standoff with protestors'

The US army corps of engineers ordered North Dakota police to arrest Native American protesters and destroy a bridge that activists built over a creek at the center of the increasingly tense Dakota Access pipeline demonstrations.

Woman in headdress holding up a fistPhoto by Sara Lefleur-VetterPaddlers arrive at the shore on the edge of the Standing Rock Reservation in September. On Wednesday, police deploted pepper spray and teargas on water protectors on the banks of Cantepata Creek.

The Morton County sheriff’s office announced on Wednesday that police were in a “standoff with protesters on the banks of the Cantapeta Creek” while activists said they were engaged in a peaceful water ceremony.

Police claimed that the protesters — who have for months been attempting to block construction of the $3.8 billion oil pipeline that they say threatens sacred lands and their water supply — were trying to gain access to private property known as the Cannonball ranch. The group had built a “handmade wooden pedestrian bridge” across the creek, the sheriff said in a statement.

“Officers responded and ordered protesters to remove themselves from the bridge and notified them that if they cross the bridge they would be arrested.”

Police, who deployed pepper spray and teargas, said the activists were “violating numerous federal and state laws,” including the Clean Water Act and the Safe River and Harbors Act.

An army corps spokesman said the agency had given police permission to enter the federal property “to prevent further campsites from developing and threatening public safety.”

Protesters eventually retreated, and the sheriff’s office said late Wednesday afternoon that police had arrested one individual who was “aiding in illegal activity by purchasing canoes and kayaks to be used for crossing the waterway.”

The activist, who police did not name, was arrested for “conspiracy to commit obstruction of a government function.”

Police also admitted to using “less-than-lethal ammunition to control the situation.”

The standoff comes hours after Barack Obama said in an interview that the army corps was exploring ways to reroute the controversial pipeline project around sacred Native American lands.

Some activists said the announcement was too little too late, noting that construction of the pipeline had come very close to the Missouri river, which the Standing Rock Sioux tribe said could be contaminated by the project.

Danyion LeBeaux, an 18-year-old protester at the standoff, said he got hit in the ribs by some kind of rubber bullet and saw …more

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A Prayer on Life On the Day of the Dead

Heavy pesticide use in Central Valley means the nation’s breadbasket is far too familiar with death

The Day of the Dead is a somber holiday marking the middle of autumn in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Last week the first rain in close to a year fell on Fresno. The dust that had been collecting on the leaves of Valley Oaks and tacky landscaping plants that line the strip malls was finally washed to the earth. Around this time in 2014, through the passage of October and the advent of November, a major historical event went unmentioned in the US. The name Warren Anderson likely does not trigger a response in the majority of Americans, considering that according to his obituary he died in obscurity in a senior home in Florida, but for thousands of people around the world, and here in California, his name has had an immeasurable impact

Indian women protesting inaction on Bhopal tragedyPhoto courtesy of Bhopal Medical AppealA massive leak of gases used to produce the pesticide Carbaryl, or what American farmers would know as Sevin, on December 2, 1984, has killed more than 25,000 people in Bhopal, India to date and permanently debilitated more than three generations of residents. Sevin is banned in many countries but continues to be used in the US.

Anderson was the CEO of Union Carbide, subsidiary of Dow Chemical, during the single largest environmental disaster in history – a pesticide gas explosion in Bhopal, India three decades ago that has killed over 25,000 people to date. On the night of December 2, 1984, a toxic cocktail of gases leaked from a ruptured pipe at the Carbide plant. The toxic cloud loomed over all of the residences in the vicinity, sending people into violent convulsions and respiratory attacks as the effects hit their systems. They were reacting to concentrated amounts of byproduct gases used in production of the pesticide Carbaryl, or what American farmers would know as Sevin. Sevin is an insecticide that kills every insect it touches, including bees and butterflies, and is banned in most countries that have the wherewithal to regulate their pesticide industries including the UK, Denmark, Sweden, and Iran. Of course it is used widely in the US, the mother nation of such technology, and is one of the most commonly applied chemicals in food production as well as landscaping. In addition to immediately killing over 5,000 people, the gas leak permanently debilitated more than three generations of residents in Bhopal.

Anderson was never tried, and no charges were ever filed against …more

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Security Firm Running Dakota Access Pipeline Intelligence Tied to US Military

TigerSwan has been involved in US interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq

TigerSwan is one of several security firms under investigation for its work guarding the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota while potentially without a permit. Besides this recent work on the Standing Rock Sioux protests in North Dakota, this company has offices in Iraq and Afghanistan and is run by a special forces Army veteran.

FX8A9979chuck holton/FlickrCivil-rights groups have criticized the militarized response to peaceful pipeline protesters in North Dakota.

According to a summary of the investigation, TigerSwan “is in charge of Dakota Access intelligence and supervises the overall security.”

The Morton County, North Dakota, Sheriff's Department also recently concluded that another security company, Frost Kennels, operated in the state while unlicensed to do so and could face criminal charges. The firm's attack dogs bit protesters at a heated Labor Day weekend protest.

Law enforcement and private security at the North Dakota pipeline protests have faced criticism for maintaining a militarize presence in the area. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and National Lawyer's Guild have filed multiple open records requests to learn more about the extent of this militarization, and over 133,000 citizens have signed a petition calling for the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene and quell the backlash.

The Federal Aviation Administration has also implemented a no-fly zone, which bars anyone but law enforcement from flying within a 4-mile radius and 3500 feet above the ground in the protest area. Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer on the scenes in North Dakota with the Indigenous Environmental Network, said on Facebook that “DAPL private security planes and choppers were flying all day” within the designated no-fly zone.

Donnell Hushka, the designated public information officer for the North Dakota Tactical Operation Center, which is tasked with overseeing the no-fly zone, did not respond to repeated queries about designated private entities allowed to fly in no-fly zone airspace.

What is TigerSwan?

TigerSwan has offices in Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, India, and Latin America and has headquarters in North Carolina. In the past year, TigerSwan won two U.S. Department of State contracts worth over $7 million to operate in Afghanistan, according to USASpending.gov.

TigerSwan, however, claims on its website that the contract is worth $25 million, and said in a press release that the State Department contract called for the company to “monitor, assess, and advise current and future nation building and stability initiatives in Afghanistan.” Since 2008, TigerSwan has won about …more

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White-Haired Goldenrods Are Thriving Again in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge

Decades-long conversation effort struck the right balance between visitor use and habitat protection

The Red River Gorge in eastern Kentucky has a reputation of being one of the most beautiful places in the southeastern United States. This canyon system has over 100 natural sandstone arches, scenic waterfalls, high cliffs, and rock shelters, making it a popular destination for hiking, camping, and, especially for rock climbing.

photo of white-haired goldenrodPhoto courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region The white-haired goldenrod only grows in the cracks and crevices of sandstone cliffs in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge.

It is also the only place in the world where the white-haired goldenrod grows. This perennial plant’s habitat is restricted to cracks and crevices of the sandstone cliffs in the Gorge. It can also be found in the floors and ceilings of rock shelters, but only in partial shade behind the dripline. The white-haired goldenrod was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1988 due to habitat destruction from activities like rappelling, rock climbing, hiking, and camping. Conservation efforts by Daniel Boone National Forest, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission successfully restored the plant’s population, and in 2015, it was proposed that the white-haired goldenrod be taken off the Endangered Species List.

The proposed delisting for the white-haired goldenrod is a significant accomplishment for conservation. According to the Environmental Conservation Online System managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, there are a total of 2,339 species of plants and animals listed as threatened or endangered. Not counting species that were delisted because of extinction or a data error, only 29 listed species have ever been delisted due to recovery.

“I consider the white-haired goldenrod to be synonymous with the [Red River] Gorge because it’s the only place on Earth where it grows, so it is very satisfying to see the plant doing well there and to know that its chances for continued survival are very good,” says Michael Floyd, a fish and wildlife biologist whose focus is the listing and recovery of endangered and threatened species at the USFWS.

Tara Littlefield, a rare plant botanist at the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, closely monitored the white-haired goldenrod populations during the recovery effort, and says finding new populations in more remote areas with less recreational impact is gratifying.

“Protecting these populations not only protects the white-haired goldenrod, but the whole natural community within these rock shelters, as well …more

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Beast of Contention

The polar bear as conservation emblem and political pawn

Today, no animal except perhaps the wolf divides opinions as strongly as does the polar bear, top predator and sentinel species of the Arctic. But while wolf protests are largely a North American and European phenomenon, polar bears unite conservationists — and their detractors — worldwide.

In the new millennium’s politics, polar bears play the part whales played in the 1980s. From a theatrics-as-protest perspective, their shape lends itself better to impersonation than that of a rainforest or whale. Activists take advantage of this. Dressed as polar bears, they show up in the most unlikely places — the Kremlin, or Ottawa’s Parliament Hill — as nonhuman “climate refugees. In an act billed as “part protest, part performance,” Greenpeace paraded a mechanical polar bear the size of a double-decker bus through central London, as part of its Save the Arctic campaign. Fifteen puppeteers operated Aurora the bear, which had an articulated head and neck, a mouth like an ice cave, and the real bear’s “slightly lazy” ambling gait.

Photo of Activist dressed as polar bearPhoto courtesy of Elizabeth Dalziel/Greenpeace A Greenpeace activist dressed as a polar bear visits London’s Mounted Household Cavalry. The bear’s shape and behavior make it particularly suited for impersonations as part of political “theater.”

When climate change became a pressing political issue, zoos that had closed polar bear exhibits or were planning to do so because of their high costs reversed course, making sure polar bears were on hand. In part, this reflected zoo visitors’ growing interest. But zoos also stepped up their breeding programs when the species was listed as threatened — many of their bears were well past the reproductive age. They soon increased their holdings also with abandoned cubs and “problem” bears removed from the Arctic.

Ice Bear book cover

Like captive breeding programs and reintroduction efforts in general, science-assisted interventions in the field raise the question of what constitutes wildness, or the bearness of polar bears. One of several emergency actions proposed to relieve starving bears has helicopters airlift food to the “most accessible” ones — at a cost of thirty-two thousand dollars per day. (Similar programs already exist for intensely managed animal species and populations such as the California condor, black bears in Washington, and brown bears in Eastern Europe.) Other last-ditch efforts biologists suggest include relocating bears farther north, where sea ice will last longer; moving more bears to zoos; and even euthanizing those unlikely …more

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