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Protecting Wild Salmon and Wild Rivers

US Forest Service should place a mineral withdrawal on critical Smith River watershed

The Smith River, which originates in the wilds of southwest Oregon and flows through northwest California, is the only major undammed river remaining in California. Its free-flowing waters still provide the rare opportunity for wild salmon to make the epic journey from the ocean to the Smith’s headwaters to spawn, as salmon once did in rivers throughout the Pacific Northwest.  The California Department of Fish and Wildlife describes the Smith River as “irreplaceable” with respect to salmon population resiliency and biodiversity.

So it came as welcome news last week that Oregon’s Water Resources Department denied an application from a mining company — Red Flat Nickel Corporation — to withdraw water for mining exploration in the Smith River headwaters.  The Department concluded that the withdrawal wasn’t in the public’s interest, and that there wasn’t enough data to develop mitigation strategies to protect threatened and endangered fish species from likely harm.

White Pines National ParkPhoto by Zachary Collier The Smith River is the only major undammed river remaining in California.

Despite this initial victory, the issue is far from over. Red Flat Nickel — owned by a British investment firm — still seeks to develop a nickel strip mine on 2,900 acres of mining claims on public lands in the Baldface Creek drainage in Oregon, a key tributary of the Smith River. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the Baldface Creek watershed provides near-pristine spawning and rearing habitat and high quality water on which the anadromous fishery of the Smith River depends. But while the Smith River is protected from mining in California as part of the Smith River National Recreation Area, the headwaters in Oregon are not.

"It's a major concern in every possible way: a threat to drinking water, salmon runs and the recreation-based travel and tourism industry that is the single largest part of our economy," says Grant Werschkull, executive director of the Smith River Alliance in Crescent City.

Here’s the kicker. Under the federal 1872 Mining Law, a 140-year old law which still governs hardrock mining today, mining is prioritized over all other land uses, leaving federal land managers little authority to deny a project, regardless of a region’s value as a fishery, drinking water aquifer, or other important land uses. What’s more, under the outdated law, companies can stake an unlimited number of …more

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EPA’s Approval of Toxic Pesticide Ignores Health and Safety Risks

Dow Chemical's new line of GE seeds will drastically increase the use of 2,4-D, a harmful and volatile chemical

It's official. Yesterday, the US Environmental Protection Agency approved Dow AgroSciences’ new pesticide product Enlist Duo, a combination of the herbicides 2,4-D and glyphosate. Given that the US Department of Agriculture has already cleared the way for Dow’s new genetically engineered corn and soybean crops, this pesticide and seed combination can now be sold commercially.

Danger in the Cornphoto by Roger Smith, on FlickrDow Chemical’s Enlist seeds and pesticides passed this approval process with relative ease, despite extended public outcry.

The move is bound to drastically increase the use of 2,4-D, a harmful and volatile chemical linked to reproductive harms and cancer.

This is a turning point, not just for grain production but also for food production in the US and across the world. The introduction of Enlist corn and soybeans, and the widespread adoption of this new seed line, will have pervasive impacts on farmer livelihoods, public health and control of our food system.

This is a decision that our regulators should not have taken lightly. And yet, it seems they did. Both USDA and EPA set up an intentionally narrow scope for evaluating the potential harms posed by 2,4-D resistant crops – one that ignored the biggest problems and held up irrelevant factors as evidence of safety.

As small farmers brace for the impact of pesticide drift that will hit their farms once the Enlist crops are introduced, it is time for us to look forward. It's time to demand a regulatory system that takes a rigorous approach to pesticides and genetically engineered crops, one that values small farmers as much as industrial agriculture – and public health as much as corporate profit.

It's a set up

Dow Chemical's Enlist seeds and pesticides passed this approval process with relative ease, despite extended public outcry from farmers, health professionals and communities across the country.

Dow, and the other "Big 6" global pesticide corporations, would have us believe that this was a drawn-out, rigorous approval process that once again proves the safety and necessity of genetically engineered crops. The reality is that the whole process was a tricky sleight-of-hand: Enlist passed the test because the test itself was set up to be a cakewalk.

From the beginning, opponents of 2,4-D-resistant crops have focused on three main objections:

    by Linda Wells – October 16, 2014

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    Will National Forests Be Sacrificed to the Biomass Industry?

    The US Forest Service wants to sell our forests for fuel in the name of wildfire reduction

    If we’re to believe the biomass energy industry, the US Forest Service, and a chorus of politicians from both sides of the aisle, we can solve the energy crisis, cure climate change, and eradicate wildfire by logging and chipping our national forests and burning them up in biomass power facilities.

    The plotline of their story goes something like this: Years of taxpayer-funded logging and fire suppression in federal forests (at the behest of the timber industry) has resulted in “overgrown” forests crawling with icky bugs, ticking time bombs ready to burst into flames. And the fix, it just so happens, involves even more taxpayer-funded logging and fire suppression, with the trees forked over to the biomass industry to burn in their incinerators and then the “green” electricity sold to utilities and eventually the public — at a premium.  

    White Pines National ParkPhoto by Josh Schlossberg 1,600 acres of White River National Forest are being clear-cut. All of the trees are fueling the Eagle Valley Clean Energy biomass facility.

    This “burn the forest before it burns you” propaganda is most prevalent throughout the West, but it’s present anywhere there’s public land, with a total of 45.6 million acres across  94 national forests in 35 states qualifying as “Insect and Disease Area Designations” under the 2014 Farm Bill — money on the stump for the biomass industry.

    Saving the Forest from Itself

    The Forest Service’s logging-for-biomass agenda has “nothing to do with public welfare or the economy,” according to Carl Ross, executive director of Save America’s Forests, an organization that works to protect US forests. Instead, it is simply a way to justify the existence of an agency whose “multi-billion dollar budget is dependent on cutting trees.” With the lumber industry in contraction due to a dismal housing market and tanked economy, the Forest Service focuses on “sick” forests that can only be “cured” through chainsaw surgery to fuel biomass incinerators.

    The concept of logging a forest to “save” it is nothing new. It dates back to President George W. Bush’s Healthy Forest Restoration Act in 2003. However, a recent uptick in national forest logging has accompanied a rash of new biomass incinerator proposals, with politicians and even some environmental groups like the Nature Conservancy, cheering the industry on.

    Currently, the majority …more

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    Nature Needs Half

    Conservation group promoting an ambitious new proposal for wilderness protection

    During the last half century conservationists around the world have won some impressive victories to protect wild places. Here in the US, the Wilderness Act preserves some 110 million acres of public land. Private holdings by groups like The Nature Conservancy safeguard tens of millions of additional acres. The idea of protecting ecosystems from industrial development has spread around the world. There’s the Mavuradonha Wilderness in Zimbabwe, the El Carmen ecosystem in northern Mexico, Kissama National Park in Angola, and the Tasmanian Wilderness in Australia, to name just a few stunning parks and preserves; UNESCO’s world heritage list includes 197 sites of special beauty and/or biodiversity.

    Patagonia AlivePhoto by Trey RatcliffNature Needs Half has set out an unbelievable challenge: to formally, legally set aside one half of Earth’s land and water as interconnected natural areas.

    But conservation biologists now recognize that these sanctuaries are limited in what they can accomplish precisely because they are special — which is to say, rare. Parks and preserves are all too often islands of biological integrity in a sea of human development. To really protect natural systems, healthy biomes need to be the rule, not the exception.

    To achieve that vision, The WILD Foundation, a multinational NGO based in Boulder, Colorado, is pushing a bold concept called “Nature Needs Half.” In a world in which even the wealthiest governments routinely abdicate their responsibilities toward future generations and the environment, Nature Needs Half has set out an unbelievable challenge: to formally, legally set aside one half of Earth’s land and water as interconnected natural areas.

    This is, of course, a hugely ambitious endeavor, opposing as it does the assumption that Earth’s resources are here to be exploited solely by humans. We live in what some have called the “Anthropocene,” the Age of Man, a world in which every aspect of physical being, from the oceanic depths to the troposphere, has been radically altered by humankind. Rivers are being dammed, forests leveled, oceans emptied and wildlife eradicated. It’s not a pretty picture, but as an empiric truth it’s difficult to refute. Consider a few facts:

    • The long-term acidification of the oceans by our ongoing buildup of industrial carbon dioxide is killing off coral reefs around the world, resulting in the loss of a critical …more

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    Experts Look to Lithium Extraction in the Race to Save California’s Salton Sea

    Geothermal brine in the region may contain North America’s largest deposit of the element that’s key to the electronics industry

    It is easy to imagine the Salton Sea, California’s largest lake, as nothing more than a 350-square-mile puddle. At its deepest point, the silvery inland sea is just 50 feet. By 2030, it will be reduced to a mere 30 feet, and over 100 square miles of lakebed will be exposed and reduced to a noxious dust, swirling in the relentless Sonora Desert wind.

    Salton SeaPhotos by Ian UmedaOther than rain and chemical-laden agricultural runoff from Riverside and Imperial County farms, the Salton Sea subsists on “mitigated water” from the Imperial Irrigation District’s. In 2018 the mitigated water supply will be cut off.

    The average annual rainfall here is about three inches, and other than chemical-laden agricultural runoff from Riverside and Imperial County farms, the Sea subsists on “mitigated water” from the Imperial Irrigation District’s (IID) annual Colorado River allotment. But on January 1, 2018, in accordance with a 2003 agriculture-to-urban water transfer agreement between the IID and the San Diego County Water Authority, the mitigation tap will be shut off.

    The 2003 deal, known as the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA), requires the Imperial Irrigation District to divert increasing amounts of water to drought-stricken, densely populated San Diego County. Already, thousands of acres of Imperial Valley farmland have been fallowed and miles of lakebed exposed. The Sea’s wetlands — a vital stopover for some 400 migratory bird species — are disappearing. The air is thick with dust. Imperial County, where the majority of the Sea lies, leads California in both childhood asthma and unemployment.

    In the community, this environmental and economic crisis has become known as the “Salton Sea problem.” With the 2018 shut-off looming, the rush is on to find a solution.

    The California Natural Resources Agency has estimated that restoring the Sea would cost between $3 and $9 billion. But there is little support in Sacramento and among the greater California public for such an expensive stabilization plan for the remote, accidental lake. (The Salton Sink basin was flooded when a Colorado River irrigation channel breached in 1905.)

    “The main question has become what do to with what is essentially a sewage dump,” said Columbia University’s Water Center director and professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering, Dr Upmanu Lall. “A body of water created by mistake has to be looked at differently than one created naturally.”

    Lall believes tax …more

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    Obama Declares Part of San Gabriel Mountains a National Monument

    The wild Is where you find It, and it is always worth protecting

    In a wise move, President Barak Obama today designated about 350,000 acres of the San Gabriel Mountains, east of Los Angeles, as our country's newest national monument. It's a decision that came as the result of years of collaboration amongst a vibrant and diverse network of community leaders, a reflection of the many important roles the area's mountains and rivers play for local communities. One hundred and fifty years ago, Sierra Club founder John Muir explored the steep and picturesque peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains and marveled at their beauty.

    San Gabriel MountainsPhoto by Raul/FlickrThe San Gabriel mountains are a dramatic landmark in the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests.

    The new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument affirms that protecting wild lands is still a popular endeavor for many Americans today. The wild is where you find it, whether that be an urban park or the vast wild spaces that make up much of our country's public lands. And no matter where it's found, the wild is worth protecting.

    The San Gabriel mountains are a dramatic landmark in the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests. These National Forests are within an hour's drive of more than 17 million people in Southern California, making them a popular and accessible outdoor recreation destination.The Angeles National Forest provides more than 70 percent of Los Angeles County's open space. Each year more than three million people visit the Angeles National Forest to be physically active and connect with nature. That's important for everyone, but especially for children in the San Gabriel Valley communities with few or no public parks. Park-poor communities in the San Gabriel Valley have child obesity rates of 30 to 40 percent, nearly twice the national average.

    Yet for years this beautiful area has been underfunded and underserviced. A new national monument designation will improve visitor services with new bathrooms and trash cans, trail signs, and culturally-appropriate visitor information and education programs.

    The San Gabriel Mountains also provide one-third of Los Angeles County's drinking water. Despite their proximity to Los Angeles, they provide homes for wildlife like Nelson's bighorn sheep, the California spotted owl and the San Gabriel mountain salamander. And they offer the chance for quiet recreation and communion with nature in its most pristine state.

    Fifty years after the creation of the Wilderness Act it's clear that …more

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    Carbon in the Tank

    The price of gasoline in the US reflects not actual costs but the reflected glare of the margins necessary for oil companies to sustain hefty profits.

    ON A BOOKSHELF above my desk, I have a rock that’s about the size of a fist. It’s ridged and bumpy, and covered in oil. I’ve been carrying it with me for about a decade, after collecting it from a remote beach in Galicia on the northwest coast of Spain.

    workers cleaning up oil from beach in SpainPhoto by Stéphane M. Grueso The sinking of the oil tanker Prestige off the coast of Spain unleashed one of the worst environmental disasters in history — at least until the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010.

    The beach, about fifty miles north of the border with Portugal, is barely more than a rocky outcropping in the Atlantic, an isolated place with a sharp cold wind even in the spring. Six months before I slipped the rock into my overcoat pocket, on the night of November 22, 2002, a ferocious storm off that coast had tossed the Prestige, an eight-hundred-foot-long single-hull oil tanker, like a toy boat. As she lurched in the violent waters, a wave smashed into the right forward hull and the three-foot-thick steel blew open—“like a sardine can,” a rescue worker later recalled. After the captain’s SOS, the Spanish Coast Guard sent a helicopter to pick up the nineteen crew members. Then the Prestige sank about thirty miles offshore. Out from the hull came viscous cascades of oil: Seventy-nine million gallons of crude washed onto a thousand miles of coast, all the way up to the beaches of southwest France. Satellite photos taken by the French research agency CIDRE show the oil spreading from the Prestige like spindly black veins in the circulatory system of the Atlantic.

    The Prestige unleashed one of the worst environmental disasters in history — at least until the Deepwater Horizon, BP’s oil derrick, exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. When the oil started gurgling out of BP’s underwater pipes, after the explosion killed eleven people who’d been working on the rig, a sense memory of Galicia returned.

    I didn’t go to the Louisiana coast to watch, but I did, like many of us, watch in horror from afar. It rapidly became clear that oil spills are not very different. In fact, they are interchangeable. The Prestige was carrying a refined version of what the Deepwater Horizon was pumping from …more

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