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North Carolina Wants Feds to End Red Wolf Rewilding Program

Only 100 of this reclusive, endangered canid remain in the wild

The red wolf, an endangered species with fewer than 100 individuals left in the wild and approximately 200 in captive breeding facilities around the country, is a striking, smart-looking canid with pointy ears tinged an autumn crimson. Larger than coyotes and smaller than gray wolves, red wolves have impossibly slender legs and eyes that can be deep and sorrowful. Seeing one up close — a rarity that probably requires a visit to a breeding facility in the winter months — is a humbling experience. The animals stay to themselves, a connected pack with no desire to add any human siblings, and only occasionally perk up their ears — perhaps a sign that they hear the trespasser, sense the presence, and prefer life without instigation.

Red WolfPhoto by by Jim LiestmanWild populations of red wolves can be found only in North Carolina's Washington, Beaufort, Tyrrell, Hyde and, Dare counties.

By the 1960s, the red wolf population had been decimated by intensive predator control programs and habitat loss. Today’s only wild population can be found in Washington, Beaufort, Tyrrell, Hyde and Dare counties in North Carolina, not too far from the world-famous beaches of the Outer Banks. The first rewilding of red wolves began in 1987 in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern North Carolina, thanks to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). These releases have helped a population that numbered as few as 17 back then grow to healthier, though still small, numbers.

However, because of several issues in North Carolina, including hybridization with coyotes and concern from local landowners, the future of the red wolf in the Southeast remains uncertain. Recently, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission adopted resolutions calling for the end of the red wolf reintroduction project in the state and for the USFWS to capture and remove individual animals and subsequent offspring that were released on private land.

If the resolutions are fully realized, red wolves could become biologically extinct in the wild again.

The USFWS is expected to issue its decision on the matter in March, and all possibilities remain on the table. “We still haven’t made our decision at this point on what to do with the nonessential, experimental population there in North Carolina,” said Tom MacKenzie, spokesperson for the Southeast Region of the USFWS.

MacKenzie said there are two main options: …more

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Plastic Debris is Contributing to the Potential Extinction of Endangered Marine Species

Threatened or near threatened species make up 17% of all marine animals impacted by manmade debris, says report

A few days ago, I wrote about a study quantifying the ginormous amount of plastic debris that’s making its way into our oceans every year. (In case you haven’t heard it yet, 9 million tons of plastic is expected to end at sea this year, and researchers say the trash will likely increase tenfold over the next decade.) Now yet another study, which attempts to quantify how much of sea life is impacted by stuff we throw away, says this flotsam is contributing to the potential extinction of some already endangered marine species.

seal entangled in fishing netPhoto courtesy of NOAA Marine Debris ProgramDivers release a seal entangled in derelict fishing gear. The study notes that plastic waste accounted for nearly 92 percent of all cases of entangelments and debris ingestion by marine animals.

Researchers at Plymouth University in Britain compiled reports from across the globe and found that at least 44,000 animals and organisms have become entangled in, or swallowed marine debris in the past five decades and plastic waste accounted for nearly 92 percent of these cases. They found that 17 percent of all species impacted were listed as threatened or near threatened on the IUCN Red List, including the Hawaiian monk seal, the loggerhead turtle, and sooty shearwater. The findings were published earlier this month in Marine Pollution Bulletin.

“Encounters with marine debris are of particular concern for species that are recognized to be threatened, and with 17 per cent of all species reported in the paper as near threatened, vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, it is evident that marine debris may be contributing to the potential for species extinction," the report’s co-author Professor Richard Thompson, one of the world's leading experts on microplastics in the marine environment, said in a statement.

Thompson and his research partner, Sarah Gall, collated evidence from a wide variety of sources on instances of entanglement, ingestion, physical damage to ecosystems, and rafting — where species are transported by debris. “Reports in the literature began in the 1960s with fatalities being well documented for birds, turtles, fish, and marine mammals," Gall said.

In total, they found that 693 species had been documented as having encountered debris, with nearly 400 involving entanglement and ingestion. These incidents had occurred around the world, but were most commonly reported off …more

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An Ancient Vegetarian Tribe Struggles to Keep Its Traditions Alive

The Todas of India’s Nilgiri Hills have played a crucial role in safeguarding the biodiversity of the UNESCO World Heritage site

Kwattawdr Kwehttn cast a reverential gaze upon the distant hill, it’s the abode of Etyottydaihh, one of the gods of his tribe. Sitting on a cot outside his house in the Nilgiri Hills in southern India, he then turned his gaze to another peak, which too, is the abode of another god, Kwedrehndaihh. He doesn’t point towards the peaks. That would be disrespectful. Kwehttn’s life — his community’s life — is imbued with reverence for the hills, land, and the whole ecosystem that sustains them.

Toda Elder outside a traditional Toda homePhoto by GBSNP VarmaKwattawdr Kwehttn, an elder of the nomadic pastoralist Toda tribe, sits outside a traditional barrel-vaulted reed and bamboo hut.

Eighty-year-old Kwehttn is an elder of the Toda tribe, an ancient nomadic pastoralist people of the upper Nilgiri plateau, which is one of India’s smallest Indigenous communities. The slim, gap-toothed elder lives in the tiny hamlet of Kwadrdhinnymund. Nestled amid towering hills peppered with tea plantations, and stands of eucalyptus, acacia, wattle, and pine trees, the hamlet is home to eight extended Toda families — a total of 28 people.

Kwehttn’s knowledge of the landscape, of the local plants and flowers, and of his community’s sacred sites is encyclopedic. He is among the few remaining members of his tribe who possesses the knowledge of Toda cosmography. Throughout his life, Kwehttn has wandered among these hills and mountains, communing with its plants and trees and stars. He tuned himself to the ebb and flow of the landscape and to the rhythms of forests. He has also observed his community’s rituals and listened to their ancient stories and passed this knowledge on to younger generations.

“I have no desires,” he says, “except to see Toda culture survive in the midst of changes happening all around.”

The Nilgiris are a part of the Western Ghats, a 990-mile mountain range that runs along the western coast of the Indian peninsula that contains a large proportion of the country’s plant and animal species, many of which are endemic to the region. The mountain range is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the eight “hottest hotspots” of biological diversity in the world. Two national parks — Mukruti (mostly shola grassland) and Mudumalai —  form the core of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, India’s first designated biodiversity reserve. This region, which also includes Silent Valley …more

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A Home For Businesses That Believe Ethics and Profits Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

The American Sustainable Business Council works to amplify the influence of sustainable businesses on policy issues like clean energy, food, and agriculture

We may have reached the point of peak craft beer. Cities are ranked based on their breweries, connoisseurs opt for beer tastings over wine flights, and beers are brewed with everything from matté, to mustard seeds, to pomegranate. In the midst of this beer hysteria, some craft breweries are taking things a step further, aiming to make beer that is not just small-batch and delicious, but that is also sustainable.

 Beer sampler Photo by Quinn Dombrowski, on Flickr Businesses like New Belgium Brewing Company have joined the American Sustainable Business Council to amplify their voice in public policy debates.

New Belgium Brewing Company, for example, has built sustainability into its business model. Pointing out that beer is 90 percent water, the company supports clean water advocacy, aims to reduce water use at its brewery, and has a special campaign to protect the Colorado River. It also works to source hops sustainably, minimize waste at its brewery, and reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

Often referred to as “triple bottom line” businesses, companies like New Belgium focus on minimizing their impact on the environment, supporting local communities, fostering a positive work environment, and of course, turning a profit in the process. (Triple bottom line refers a focus on people, the planet, and profits.) However, because this business model operates outside the profits-centric mainstream, it is not well represented by more conservative business organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce in the public policy arena.

So where does a company like New Belgium turn when it wants to join a policy discussion? When it wants to, for example, push the EPA to expand clean water protections? A good place to start would be the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), a business advocacy group that works on behalf of sustainable businesses, and lobbies on a wide range of policy issues, including clean energy, food, agriculture, toxic chemicals, and sustainable economies.  

ASBC was formed in 2009 with the specific objective of representing responsible companies in the policy-making process. “We felt that the traditional business groups that were out there weren’t doing a very good job to make the case that a company can be financially successful while being a high road employer, and committed to community, and being environmentally responsible,” says Richard Eidlin, co-founder and vice president of policy …more

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Gulf Coast Activists Band Together to Fight Climate Change and Extractive Industries

Frontline communities confront legacy of racism, poverty, and environmental destruction

For activists throughout the Gulf Coast 2015 is a year of anniversaries. It is the fifth anniversary of the BP oil spill; the 10-year anniversary of hurricanes Katrina and Rita as well as a BP refinery explosion in Texas City that killed 15 people; and 40 years since a massive influx of Vietnamese immigrants, who are now at the heart of the region’s fishing industry, began settling the region. And perhaps most notably the fiftieth anniversary of the march on Selma and the Voting Rights Act.

Ariel view of Deepwater Horizon spillPhoto by kris krügEverything from the Gulf Coast's history and environment to its politics and culture is shaped by the energy economy.

To commemorate these historic events, communities across the region are organizing a series of actions under the banner, “Gulf South Rising.” According to the group’s website their aim is “to inform and engage Gulf South communities around the climate crisis and its impact on the region.” (The tagline for the group goes: “the seas are rising and so are we.”)

Tackling climate change is not easy anywhere but perhaps especially so in this part of the country. The Gulf Coast is in many ways the oil and gas industry’s stomping grounds. It was here after all that democratic senator Mary Landrieu made her last stand fighting for the Keystone XL Pipeline. It also happens to be one of the regions most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, where sea levels are rising and coastal lands are vanishing. According to NOAA, every year an area off the Gulf Coast larger than Manhattan disappears due to subsidence and sea level rise.

Colette Pichon Battle, an attorney with the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy who grew up in south Louisiana, says that addressing climate change effectively means drawing connections between environmental impacts and people’s lives. At a conference called Bayou Rising in December 2014 — which in some ways was a precursor to this year’s region-wide campaign — Pichon Battle said her goal was to get people to say the words “climate change.”

Many of the people who live in these frontline communities depend on the oil and gas industry for their livelihood. Often the choice is one between a poorly paid service sector job or $30/hour on a rig. Everything from the region’s …more

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Can Mardi Gras Go Green?

New Orleans revelry celebrates culture, but at a cost to the environment

It’s Carnival time in New Orleans. For the past week and a half, locals and visitors alike have been celebrating one of New Orleans’ most famous historical and cultural traditions. Today, the revelry culminates in Mardi Gras, and up and down the streets of New Orleans, hundreds of thousands of people are gathered together enjoying food and drinks, and watching the parades roll by.

Mardi GrasPhoto by Neil Cooler, on Flickr Mardi Gras beads litter a New Orleans street.

Green may be one of the three prominent colors of the Mardi Gras spectrum, but the event is anything but. It produces millions of pounds of trash each year, the majority of which ends up in landfills. In 2014, the City collected 1,758 tons of trash during the 10 days of Carnival, spending nearly $1.5 million on sanitation.

Though the City distributes between 50 and 100 extra trash bins along the major parade routes for the festivities, much of the litter still ends up on the ground and it falls upon the City and contracted companies to make the streets look clean again. Currently, the City doesn’t attempt to place recycling bins along the parade routes because of attendees’ general resistance to recycling. Pilots for recycling programs have been too small to have a noticeable effect on sanitation costs, according to the City.

What people often forget about when they see the streets shiny and new again on Ash Wednesday is where those tons of trash end up — in a landfill. If people recycled their plastic and glass bottles, aluminum cans and other recyclable containers instead of tossing them in the trash or on the street, Mardi Gras-related waste could be significantly reduced.

The Rise of Mardi Gras Beads

While catching and throwing beads, doubloons, stuffed animals and other trinkets during Mardi Gras parades may be exhilarating, many of these throws end up polluting the city as they are dropped and long forgotten once the parade is over. But the biggest offender when it comes to litter? Mardi Gras beads.

The Mardi Gras beads tradition began innocently enough. While the earliest of Mardi Gras parades didn’t have throws at all, by the 1950s, strings of glass beads imported from Czechoslovakia became a staple throw for the Rex parade, one of the earliest parades in New Orleans’ Mardi …more

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Germany Moves to Legalize Fracking

Four-year moratorium on shale drills set to be overturned as country initiates process to allow regulated hydraulic fracturing for shale gas

By Arthur Neslen

Germany has proposed a draft law that would allow commercial shale gas fracking at depths of over 3,000 metres, overturning a de facto moratorium that has been in place since the start of the decade.

3D printingPhoto by Justin Wooldford Germany has drafted a law that would overturn a de factor moratorium on shale gas fracking.

A new six-person expert panel would also be empowered to allow fracks at shallower levels.

Shale gas industry groups welcomed the proposal for its potential to crack open the German shale gas market, but it has sparked outrage among environmentalists who view it as the thin edge of a fossil fuel wedge.

Senior German officials say that the proposal, first mooted in July, is an environmental protection measure, wholly unrelated to energy security concerns which have been intensified by the conflict in Ukraine.

“It is important to have a legal framework for hydraulic fracturing as until now there has been no legislation on the subject,” Maria Krautzberger, president of Germany’s federal environment agency (UBA), told the Guardian.

“We have had a voluntary agreement with the big companies that there would be no fracking but if a company like Exxon wanted, they might do it anyway as there is no way to forbid it,” she said. “This is a progressive step forward.”

The draft law would only affect hydraulic fracturing for shale oil and tight gas in water protection and spring healing zones.

The tight gas industry made up around 3% of German gas production before the moratorium, and, under the new proposals, could resume fracking in the Lower Saxony region where it is concentrated.

Commercial fracking for shale gas and coal bed methane would be banned at levels below 3,000 metres, but allowed for exploration purposes at shallower levels, subject to the assessment of the expert panel.

Environmentalists, however, were alarmed that half of the experts belong to institutions that signed the Hanover Declaration, calling for increased exploration of shale gas in Germany as a way of increasing energy security.

“It is clear what these people are going to say,” José Bové, the French Green MEP, told the Guardian. “The panel is not going to be independent, but exactly what the companies are looking for. You don’t need a panel …more

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