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Obama Makes Climate Change Personal With Call for Action in Home State Hawai’i

President delivers two major speeches on climate change, pleading with politicians to act in the interest of future generations

Barack Obama has issued perhaps his most personal plea yet to overcome the existential threat posed by climate change.

The US president gave two major speeches on climate change in the space of a day, one in Nevada and another in Hawaii, after Air Force One managed to safely dodge two hurricanes lurking in the Pacific.

Papahānaumokuākea national monumentsPhoto by Forest and Kim Starr/FlickrA laysan albatross chick at the Papahānaumokuākea National Marine Monument.Last week Obama created the world’s largest marine reserve by quadrupling in size.

“No nation, not even one as powerful as the United States, is immune from a changing climate,” Obama told an audience of Pacific island leaders in Honolulu.

“I saw it myself in our more northernmost state of Alaska, where the sea is swallowing villages and eating away at shorelines, where the permafrost thaws and the tundra is burning. Where glaciers are melting at a pace unprecedented in modern times. It’s a preview of our future if the climate changes faster than our efforts to address it.”

Obama embraced language that would not be out of place from an environmental group, calling on politicians “to be less concerned with special interests and more concerned about the judgment of future generations”. He lamented the “withering” crops in the Marshall Islands and the fact that the government of Kiribati, another low-lying Pacific nation, has purchased land in Fiji to relocate its people due to the rising seas.

The president also suggested that he will devote his energies to dealing with climate change after he leaves the White House. He said he was pleased with last year’s landmark climate accord in Paris but “I will push to build on that record for as long as I occupy this office and even after I leave it.”

It is expected that the US and China will jointly ratify the Paris agreement at the G20 meeting, to be held next week in Hangzhou. The commitment of the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases will provide a hefty shove to getting all major economies to sign up by the end of the year.

The urgency of a worldwide effort to lower emissions has been underscored by a year of alarming climate data. Every month since October last year has set a new record for warmth, according to Nasa, with July being the hottest single month since records began. Heatwaves and drought have ravaged areas as diverse as …more

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In Nairobi, Lions on the Loose Raise Questions About Living Next Door to Big Wildlife

Nairobi National Park’s unique location makes it attractive to both conservationists and development proponents

graphic depicting a hiker overlooking a valleyOn a hot February day in Nairobi, the Whatsapp group for my residents’ association chimed an urgent message: Lions had escaped from  Nairobi National Park. Living a few miles from the park, we were advised to stay home.

Not long after the two lionesses made their way safely back, my Whatsapp pinged again. This time it showed a video taken out the car window of a bushy-maned male lion running in panic alongside the busy highway on the other edge of the park.

Photo by Peter StewardThe park, that’s bordered on three sides by human settlements, is the largest national park in the world that lies within a capital city, and the only one to house big wildlife.

In the seven years I’ve lived in Nairobi, these are the first instances of wandering lions, yet in recent months the incidents have quickly multiplied. It’s not a coincidence. Work on a highway through the corner of park has been distressing and disorienting wildlife. It is believed that the activity is confusing the lions to the point that they flee the park, winding up panicked and aggressive in densely populated urban areas. Though it’s far from Kenya’s first instance of human-wildlife conflict, the rampaging lions are rapidly becoming the most visible example of the problem  — one that demands an effective response.

In a sense, it was inevitable. Nairobi National Park is the largest national park in the world that lies within a capital city, and the only one to house big wildlife, featuring not only lions but rhinos, giraffes, zebras, buffalos, antelope of all kinds, and even a few shy leopards. Fenced on the three sides that border human settlements — with Nairobi’s skyscrapers clearly visible in the distance — the park empties into a vast wild savannah on the fourth, unfenced side. This is by design, as wild animals need to follow traditional migration routes or they stop being wild. But recent development inside the park environs threatens to bring this delicate balance to an ugly end, and nowhere is this more in evidence than with the wandering lions.

I live a few miles from the park, but hundreds of thousands of people live in the Kibera slum that lies literally a stone’s throw away from it. The park is home to about 40 lions, separated from their human neighbors by a fence that …more

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Montana’s Newest State Park Signals Shift from Extraction to Recreation-Based Economy

In a state once dominated by mining and logging, outdoor recreation is now a bigger revenue generator

A pine-covered bluff rises above the Upper Clark Fork River in the heart of Milltown State Park, the latest addition to Montana’s state parks system. At the foot of the bluff, the Blackfoot River — of A River Runs Through It fame — surges into the westerly waters of the Clark Fork, having started its journey in the Scapegoat Wilderness, more than 75 miles away.

 Mike Kustudia at Milltown State Park Gabriel FurshongMilltown State Park manager Mike Kustudia hopes that the park, that’s situated on a former superfund site, can serve as a sort of outdoor museum, capable of documenting the seismic shifts in Montana’s economy and environmental standards.

The river’s banks are emerald green in mid-June, and a carpet of native grass, willow and young cottonwoods cover the floodplain. Native bull trout have returned to waters downstream and, earlier this spring, croaks of chorus frogs filled the ears of anglers. Bald eagles and osprey, fishing from far above, are routine sightings.

A viewer unschooled in Montana history might never suspect that just eight short years ago these verdant shores were buried in toxic mine tailings, piled with sunken logs, and drowned at the foot of a massive dam built in 1908 to generate electricity for the Western Lumber Company. The dam owner was a billionaire Copper King named William Clark, whose attempt to purchase a seat in the US Senate resulted in a constitutional amendment requiring popular election of US Senators.

In Clark’s time, the Treasure State’s future was frequently determined by men who had the resources to unearth its vast natural wealth. From 1886, when the first sawmill was established in Milltown, until 1981, when the Anaconda Copper Mining Company’s (ACM) smelter shut down, this stretch of the Clark Fork, between the mining town of Butte and the logging town of Missoula, was transformed into an industrial corridor, scarred with clear cuts and steeped in heavy metals.

“When the Clark Fork and Blackfoot were dammed, it was considered the best thing you could do to a river,” explains park manager, Mike Kustudia, whose grandfather worked for 39 years in the ACM’s lumber mill, across the Blackfoot River from Clark’s mill. “There’s a great quote from Clark,” he says, “I have it written down but it’s something like, ‘We have these resources and as an empire we need to develop them and those who follow can take care of themselves.’”

An ironic smile appears through Kustudia’s salt …more

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The Real Twitter Feed That We Have Lost Track Of

Interspecies communication may be more advanced than we originally thought

One January morning, Eric Rasmussen, an ornithologist was driving along the roads that line MPG Science and Conservation Ranch, near Victor, Montana. The snow quit falling just hours before. A fresh half-inch blanketed the older snow. Rasmussen pulled the truck over and parked in this forested draw. He noticed fresh mountain lion tracks. He grabbed his binos, bear spray, and backpack and began trudging off through the snow following the tracks for a half mile. He had a field note that he needed to complete that day and take some photos. The whole forest was quiet and not a creature was stirring.

chickadee in a treePhoto by Stephen RansomChickadees use auditory cues to represent different predators. Wildlife biologists are unveiling that mammals, birds, and even fish recognize alarm calls from other prey species.

He stopped and listened a few times. Nothing. He kept following the game trail then three other, smaller lion cub tracks joined the larger cat’s trail. The four lion tracks lead down into this dark forested creek bottom. He scanned around with his binoculars and noticed a partially consumed and cached deer carcass with mountain lion tracks all around it. Rasmussen scoped out the area further with his binos and noticed the three cub’s tracks leading off uphill towards a large Douglas fir tree about 20 or 30 yards away that had dark, thick mistletoe consuming the bottom part of the trunk.

By this time, Rasmussen was really questioning what he was doing here? But he continued to stand there quietly for 20 minutes scanning everywhere for the mother lion. Then he heard a mountain chickadee give an alarm call — one single, nasally call note coming from the top of the mistletoe.

The reason the wooded areas had been all quiet, he realized, was because the chickadee had sent out a warning about the lioness’ whereabouts that all other prey animals in the vicinity had understood and quickly gone into hiding.

“I remember being uber aware of everything around me at that moment, a part of it all. I felt in tune with the potential of everything that could possibly happen in mother nature. I could be pounced upon at any moment. It was time to go but I also wanted to stay and be a part of it,” Rasmussen recalls.

Researchers like Rasmussen and others are discovering that animal language may not only be more advanced than we originally thought, but may even …more

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Obama Creates World’s Largest Protected Marine Area Off Hawaii

Expanded Papahānaumokuākea marine national monument is now more than twice the size of Texas

Barack Obama has created the world’s largest marine protected area by expanding an existing ocean reserve off Hawaii to cover 582,578 square miles, providing what’s likely to be the grandest, and final, chapter in the president’s conservation legacy.

photo of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monumentphoto by NOAA’s National Ocean ServiceBigeye soldierfish in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

The sweeping move quadruples the size of the Papahānaumokuākea marine national monument, which was originally designated by George W. Bush in 2006 and was declared a World Heritage site in 2010.

The monument, which is now double the size of Texas, stretches outward from the north-western Hawaiian islands and includes Midway Atoll, famed for its former military base and eponymous battle that was crucial in the US defeat of Japan in the second world war. The protected area is now larger than the previous largest marine reserve, situated around the Pitcairn Islands and announced by the UK last year.

Conservationists had pushed for an expansion to the monument following recent research that discovered new species and important ecological connectivity in the area, as well as raised concerns for the ecosystem due to the impact of ocean acidification and coral decline driven by warming temperatures.

The White House said the decision will provide “critical protections” for more than 7,000 marine species, a quarter of them found nowhere else on Earth. The area is inhabited by whales, sea turtles and yellowfin tuna and bigeye tuna, which are commonly referred to in Hawaii as ‘ahi. Swaths of black coral, the world’s longest-living marine species at more than 4,500 years, will also be protected.

“This is one of the most important actions an American president has ever taken for the health of the oceans,” said Brian Schatz, a Democratic senator for Hawaii.

“Expanding Papahānaumokuākea will replenish stocks of ‘ahi, promote biodiversity, fight climate change, and give a greater voice to Native Hawaiians in managing this resource. This declaration sets us on a strong path forward for our irreplaceable environment and the generations to come.”

The expansion of the ocean reserve has been mooted for some time and was expected to be announced at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, scheduled for next week in Hawaii. Obama will address the international gathering on Wednesday, before traveling to Midway Atoll to highlight the threat posed by climate change upon marine ecosystems.

The new designation is perhaps a fitting conservation denouement for Obama, who was born in Hawaii. The …more

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A Birthday Gift for NPS: Obama Creates Maine Woods National Monument

Decades of efforts to establish a national park in Maine’s vast North Woods region pay off

graphic depicting a hiker overlooking a valleyIn honor of the National Park Service, which turns 100 today, President Obama yesterday signed into law the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine using his authority under the Antiquities Act.

Obama’s action follows in the tradition of many other presidents who have created national monuments such as the Grand Canyon, Grand Tetons, Olympic and others that were subsequently upgraded to national park status. The new national monument – which will be managed by the National Park Service – will protect approximately 87,500 acres, including the stunning East Branch of the Penobscot River and a portion of the Maine Woods that is rich in biodiversity. "The protected area – together with the neighboring Baxter State Park to the west – will ensure that this large landscape remains intact, bolstering the forest’s resilience against the impacts of climate change," the White House said in a statement yesterday.

view of Moosehead LakePhoto by George WuerthnerA view of Moosehead Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Maine, from top of Mt. Kineo in the North Woods. The lake was inlcuded in RESTORE the North Woods' initial 3.2 million park proposal. It's not inlcuded in the area covered by the new national monument.

There were several earlier attempts to establish a national park in the Maine Woods starting in the early 1900s, but all failed (read “A Park that Begs Creating”). The most recent effort to protect the Maine Woods began back in the 1980s and illustrates how persistence and perseverance can pay off. Conservation is more like the tortoise, not the hare — a slow continuous process that can take decades.

Back in the 1980s, I was writing several books on Maine, Vermont, and the Adirondacks that revealed that much of northern New England was owned by large timber corporations. I also learned that the regional timber industry was in steep decline, and much of the corporate lands were being sold off. And I also knew that nearly all of the parks and national forests in the eastern United States had been created by purchasing private lands. Here, I thought, was an opportunity. Feeling there was not enough public land in the region, I wrote an article proposing the creation of a national park in northern New England. I shopped it around, but no one would publish it. The editors kept asking me …more

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Illegal Herbicide Use on GMO Crops Causing Massive Damage to Vegetable Farms

Dicamba can drift for miles after spraying, harming non-target crops

Last year, Kade McBroom launched a non-GMO soybean processing plant in Malden, Missouri, and was optimistic about the potential to serve the fast-growing non-GMO market.

photo of soybeans in Missouriphoto by CAFNRA soybean field in Missouri. Monsanto's GMO crops can tolerate sprays of dicamba, but other crops can't

But now McBroom sees a potential threat to his new business from herbicide drift sprayed on genetically modified crops. This past spring, Monsanto Co. started selling GM Roundup Ready Xtend soybean and cotton seeds to farmers in Missouri and several other states. The seeds are genetically engineered to withstand sprays of glyphosate and dicamba herbicides. The problem is that the Xtend dicamba herbicide designed to go with the seeds has not yet been approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), leading many farmers to spray their GMO soybeans and cotton with older formulas of dicamba — illegally.

May Not Be Able to Grow Non-GMO Soybeans

While Monsanto's GMO crops can tolerate sprays of dicamba, other crops can't. As a result, dicamba, which is known to convert from a liquid to a gas and spread for miles, is damaging tens of thousands of acres of "non-target" crops in southern Missouri and nine other states, mostly in the South. An estimated 200,000 acres are affected in Missouri alone, though the EPA puts that number at 40,000. Non-GMO and even GMO, soybeans that aren't dicamba resistant are damaged as well as peaches, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe and other crops.

"Farmers are so mad," said McBroom, who has spoken with several farmers in his area about the problem. "I'm assuming there will be lawsuits."

Two farmers who grow non-GMO soybeans for Malden Specialty Soy told McBroom that they may be forced to grow dicamba tolerant GMO soybeans to protect their farms from dicamba drift.

"When my suppliers say 'I'm going to have to quit growing non-GMO soybeans and start planting dicamba beans just to protect myself' it becomes an issue," he said. "They don't want to go that route, but they may not have a choice."

For now, McBroom says his business is fine, but warns: "If they don't get this under control it will be a threat."

Peach Producer Lost 30,000 Trees

The dicamba drift problem extends beyond non-GMO soybeans to many other crops. Missouri's southern "Bootheel" region is known for its agricultural diversity. Farmers grow a wide range of crops including cotton, rice, wheat watermelon, tomatoes, cantaloupe, peaches, sweet potatoes, peas, popcorn and peanuts. Many of those crops are threatened …more

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