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Roadblocks to Restoring the Everglades

Funding tensions, water pollution slow down the most ambitious ecosystem restoration plan in the world

The Everglades is a stunning tropical wetland ecosystem in southern Florida that once stretched nearly 3 million acres from just below the city of Orlando all the way down south to the Florida Bay. It is also, however, one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world, the only UNESCO World Heritage site in the United States that is listed as in danger. In recognition of the immense impact the continued degradation of the Everglades would have on humans and wildlife, the region is now also the focus of one of the most ambitious ecosystem restoration plans the world has ever seen.

photo of EvergladesPhoto by Chauncey Davis The Everglades is under severe stress due to the diversion of much of its original freshwater flow.

The Everglades supports wildlife and humans alike. Fifty-six threatened or endangered species, including the Florida panther, the West Indian manatee, the snail kite, and the wood stork, depend on it for survival, and it’s the main source of drinking water for more than 7.7 million South Florida residents. Twenty percent of the original Everglades ecosystem has been protected within Everglades National Park.

But the Everglades is under severe stress due to the diversion of much of its original freshwater flow. This freshwater comes from the Kissimmee River, just outside Orlando which discharges into Lake Okeechobee, a vast and shallow lake that overflows during the wet season forming a 60 mile wide and 100 mile long slow-moving river dominated by sawgrass marsh that flows into the Florida Bay.

In the early 1900s, the Army Corps of Engineers began building a network of water control structures to divert millions of gallons of freshwater from the Everglades, in part to save small towns in the region from flooding during the wet season. Local towns and municipalities, too, dug canals and built levees in order to dry out the marshlands, allowing agricultural and land development interests to appropriate large areas of the Everglades for their own needs. 

The diversions — which interrupted the natural flow of the freshwater and forced it to flow directly to coastal towns and cities instead of passing through the Everglades — caused several areas of this unique ecosystem to dry out. As a result, the Everglades is now less than half its original size. 1,800 miles of …more

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Lynx May Once Again Roam Free in the UK

Proposal to rewild cats across England and Scotland moves forward in the British Isles

A wildlife group in the UK is putting forward a case for bringing wild cats back to the British countryside as part of a long-term rewilding proposal, igniting a debate about the merits, and risks, of reintroduction.

The nonprofit Lynx UK Trust has led the charge for reintroduction of the Eurasian lynx, which disappeared from the UK more than 1,000 years ago due to hunting, trapping, and deforestation. The trust has proposed reintroduction of 18 lynx, and is examining potential locations in Aberdeenshire, Argyll, Northumberland, Cumbria and Norfolk counties. Under the trust’s proposal — which will be submitted to environmental agencies in both England and Scotland — lynx could be released as early as next year. They would be observed and monitored for their social, economic, and environmental impacts throughout the five-year trial.  

photo of Eurasian LynxPhoto by Tambako The JaguarLynx have been absent from the UK countryside for more than 1,000 years, but if the Lynx UK Trust is successful in its efforts, they may soon be reintroduced.

The Lynx UK Trust has launched its own public consultation process surrounding the rewilding project, and has relied on research by AECOM, an infrastructure and environmental services company, to assess the benefits of reintroduction. 

The trust believes that reintroduction will improve ecosystem health. In particular, lynx would prey on deer which would help control deer populations and decrease overgrazing. Reduced overgrazing would, in turn, allow for forest regeneration and improved habitat for other wildlife.

AECOM’s research also indicates that reintroduction would increase eco-tourism in the British countryside, and would result in hundreds of new jobs during the trial reintroduction period, and tens of millions of pounds in eco-tourism revenue over a 25-year period. AECOM estimates that for every £1 spent on the reintroduction scheme, £47 will be returned to the UK economy. Some expect that the increased interest in eco-tourism, in turn, will have an impact on local attitudes toward the environment more generally, as residents will become more aware of how their actions alter their surroundings and the habitat of lynx.

But the project is motivated by more than just economic incentives. Jonny Hughs, chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, which supports the reintroduction project, has suggested that rewilding efforts are closely related to the heart …more

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Copyrighting Nature

An artist uses her creativity to fight the construction of natural gas pipelines

In June 2015, ecological artist Aviva Rahmani installed an unusual work of art in a forest in Peekskill, New York. She and several dozen volunteers used non-toxic paint to create blue sine waves, the symbol for sound waves, on trees that stood in the pathway of a proposed natural gas pipeline. It would pass within 105 feet of the Indian Point nuclear power plant and carry the fuel under the Hudson River to within 30 feet of New York City. Each painted tree signified a different note. When strung together, they became the overture of a symphonic score by Rahmani named Blued Trees.

Photo by Jack Baran.Volunteers painting one of several 1/3 mile Blued Trees measures, in Rensselaer County, New York.

“When I looked at [maps of] the proposed pipeline, the first thing I thought of was musical lines,” Rahmani says. “I’ve had a great interest in music my whole life.” The 70-year-old, however, hoped that her creation—installed on private land with the owner's permission—would do more than just expose people to her art. She and a group of anti-fracking activists thought they could fight the future pipeline’s very existence. They hoped that by copyrighting the work, they might legally supersede the ability of Spectra Energy to take the land by eminent domain law (which allows the U.S. government to acquire private land for projects that benefit the public) and install the pipeline.

Rahmani and the other activists are opposed to fracking for the potential environmental impacts such as methane leaks, earthquakes, and groundwater contamination. They want the U.S. government to move away from fossil fuels and invest instead in clean and sustainable energy such as wind and solar power. “I have been intensely frustrated by the lack of regulatory programs against fossil fuel companies and the creeping horror of climate change,” Rahmani says when asked why she decided to join the activists.

Photographer: Aviva Rahmani The Algonquin (AIM) pipeline that was the subject of the Blued Trees Symphony Overture was conceptualized as iterated measures of the score from the Blue Mountain Reservation to the infrastructure for the Indian Point nuclear facility, indicated in red to the left of the image, within 105’ of the pipeline.

The Seed of an Idea

The copyright idea came …more

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Defending Mongolia’s Growing National Park System

A visit with Tumursukh Jal, director of one of the largest protected areas in northern Asia

graphic depicting a hiker overlooking a valleyA few months ago, when Mongolian national park director Tumursukh Jal was on an official visit to the Grand Canyon, one of his hosts asked a simple question: “How many national parks do you guys have there in your home country?” When Tumursukh mentioned there were 99 of them, his US colleagues seemed a bit nonplussed. “That many, really?”

Sensitive to his audience’s surprise, Tumursukh* went on to say: “Well, it seems to me that, when you Americans think of national parks, you normally conjure up a picture of one of your own amazing areas, like Yellowstone or Yosemite, or the Grand Canyon here. But you know, my friends, the rest of the world is catching up with you. Before long, we’ll have just as many national parks in Mongolia as you do here.”

Although it might take a few decades for Mongolia to surpass the United States in the sheer number of its national parks, in one way it already has outstripped America. The Mongolian parks now cover nearly seventy million acres, or almost one fifth of the entire country. By comparison, all the American national parks and monuments put together protect only 14 percent of US lands. And unlike America, where the pace of change is slower, there are new parks being created virtually every year in Mongolia. (Read more about the need for new national parks in the United States in the Journal feature “Room for More.”)

photo of Darhad Valley, MongoliaPhoto by Kerik Kouklis, courtesy of the Mongol Ecology CenterThe Darhad Valley, located in the Ulaan Taiga parks that Tumursukh manages.

The issue that worries Tumursukh is not that Mongolia lacks enough national parks. Instead, there is almost too much territory to protect – and certainly not enough park rangers and other resources to do the job correctly. This seems to be a problem facing many of the former Soviet bloc countries. Over the last 25 years, countries like Mongolia and Russia have been creating new parks at near-record rates. But now they need to catch up, and recruit qualified rangers and train them for the rigorous work of managing these parks. And to do this, they often need to reach out for advice …more

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Park Service Weighs Whether to Boost Dwindling Isle Royale Wolf Numbers

Isolated population, down to three wolves, strained by rising temperatures and inbreeding

In the late 1940s, Isle Royale’s moose population, which swam to the island decades earlier, welcomed some new visitors: a group of gray wolves. The wolves had walked to the Michigan island from Canada, crossing Lake Superior in the winter when the water was frozen and establishing Isle Royale as their new home. The wolf population grew over the next several years, preying on moose and mating both internally and with new wolves who crossed the ice bridge during the winter. 

photo of Gray WolfPhoto by John & Karen Hollingsworth/USFWSOnly three wolves remain in Isle Royale National Park.

Now the wolf population is in trouble, and wildlife managers in Isle Royale National Park, a designated wilderness area, face a tough decision: Repopulate the island’s dwindling wolf population, or allow the species to go extinct on the isolated island?

Managers have a plentiful source of information about the wolves at their fingertips. In 1958, researchers launched a 10-year study to monitor the predation habits of wolves and the wolf-moose relationship on the island. The project, which includes an annual survey of the wolf population, was extended past the 10-year mark, and continues to this day as the longest running predator-prey system study in the world. 

At its high point in the early 1980s, the Isle Royale wolf population numbered above 50 wolves, then leveled out at about 22 wolves. But in 2008, wolf numbers began to irreparably decline, and this year, the population dropped to an all-time low of only three wolves due primarily to complications from inbreeding and weather changes.

Rising global temperatures have prevented ice bridges from forming between Isle Royale and Canada — they’ve only formed twice in the past 16 years — so the wolves are stuck on the island to inbreed and the population is becoming unhealthier by the year. Wolves can’t walk over the ice to find healthy mates to breed with, and healthy wolves can’t come to the island.

Wolves are the top predator on the island, and historically, they have helped control moose numbers, saving the remote Isle Royale environment from ruin. With the wolf population down, there’s little to stop the moose from wildly overpopulating the island — which is exactly what’s happening. The number …more

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Tackling Lake Erie’s Toxic Algae Blooms

US and Canada working together to reduce summer phosphorous levels in the smallest Great Lake

As summer gets into full swing, the people of Toledo, Ohio, begin what has become a disturbing annual ritual —- the wait for a toxic algae bloom to erupt across Lake Erie. This year, however, the anticipation may be mixed with hope, as state and federal officials take on this persistent problem.  

photo of Lake Erie Toxic AlgaePhoto by NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research LaboratoryA satellite image of the 2015 Lake Erie algae bloom.

The harmful blooms have a notorious history. In 2011, toxic algae in the open waters of Lake Erie’s Western Basin were 50 times higher than the World Health Organization limit for safe body contact. That same year, levels were 1,200 times higher than the limit for safe drinking water, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In August 2014, toxic algae shuttered the Toledo, Ohio drinking water treatment plant for several days, leading to advisories against the use of tap water in the city. The bloom also led to warnings for Pelee Island, Ontario residents not to use lake water. In total, more than 500,000 people were impacted. And the summer of 2015 produced the largest algae bloom in Lake Erie in 100 years. While it didn’t reach earlier toxicity levels, the bloom covered 300 square miles.

Lake Erie is the 12th largest lake on the planet and provides drinking water source for 11 million people. It’s the smallest and shallowest of the Great Lakes. Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario all border Erie’s Western Basin, which is particularly vulnerable to toxic blooms. While algae are a natural presence in fresh water systems, large harmful outbreaks are linked to excessive levels of phosphorus in the lake waters. Coming into contact with the toxic algae, or swallowing algae-laden water, can cause rashes, vomiting, numbness, and difficulty breathing, among other symptoms. The toxic algae threaten not only drinking water, but rob oxygen from the waters creating dead zones where fish are unable to survive.

The algae problem begins when phosphorus enters the Erie watershed, primarily through agriculture fertilizer and manure runoff. Watersheds contributing to the problem include Canada’s Thames River and Leamington tributaries. In the United States, the Maumee River Basin with its 6,500-mile watershed is the largest phosphorus contributor.

Harmful Lake Erie blooms have been on the increase over the last …more

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Air Pollution May Affect Children’s Mental Health

Study finds increased psychiatric disorders among kids living in areas with higher vehicle emissions

Add one more to the long list of harms caused by air pollution — mental health problems in children.

A new study by researchers from Umeå University in Sweden warns that prolonged exposure to polluted air, especially air containing particulates from vehicle emissions, may affect brain and cognitive development in children and adolescents.

young boys playing on the streetPhoto by Jaume Escofet Researchers found that the risk of psychiatric disorders increased in areas where the ambient air had even a slightly higher concentration of nitrogen dioxide.

The study, based on a survey of medical prescriptions given to more than half a million Swedish children, found that the risk of psychiatric disorders increased in areas where the ambient air contained even a slightly higher concentration of nitrogen dioxide — a harmful gaseous compound emitted by vehicles. 

“There may be a link between exposure to air pollution and dispensed medications for certain psychiatric disorders in children and adolescents even at the relatively low levels of air pollution in the study regions,” the researchers noted.

For their study, the researchers collated data on prescriptions for a broad range of psychiatric disorders — including sedative medications, sleeping pills, and antipsychotic medications — given to children and adolescents below the age of 18 in Sweden’s four major counties, Stockholm, Västra Götaland, Skåne and Västerbotten over a period of three and a half years, from 2007 to 2010. 

They then compared this data to concentrations of particulate matter and nitrous dioxide found in each neighborhood and found that air pollution increased the risk of children and adolescents being given medication for at least one psychiatric disorder. 

They found that the risk of children suffering from such disorders increased by 9 percent with every 10 microgram per cubic meter rise in the concentration of nitrogen dioxide in the ambient air. And the risk remained the same even when socio-economic and demographic factors were taken into account. 

"The results can mean that a decreased concentration of air pollution, first and foremost traffic-related air pollution, may reduce psychiatric disorders in children and adolescents," lead researcher Anna Oudin, from Umeå University’s Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, said in a statement. 

Air pollution, which the …more

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