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Ryan Zinke to Look into Unpopular Montana Land Exchange Proposal

The 5,000-acre proposal by Texas oil barons was twice rejected under Obama

The US interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, has promised to look into a Montana land exchange proposal from Texas oil and gas billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks that was twice rejected under the Obama administration, the Guardian can reveal.

upper missouri big breaks national monumentPhoto by Bob Wick/Bureau of Land ManagementTexas oil and gas billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks offered the BLM territory in and around the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument (pictured above) in exchange for federal land within their N Bar Ranch in eastern-central Montana.

The Wilkses and their lobbyist met Zinke, a Montana native, last September.

Zinke said he’ll look into the Wilkses’ proposal but was noncommittal,” said the brothers’ representative, Darryl James, a Montana-based lobbyist who attended the meeting.

Local conservationists and hunters are opposed to the deal, wary of a takeover of protected lands by wealthy out-of-state landowners.

Since 2014, the Wilkses have set their sights on an approximately 5,000-acre enclave of federal land within their N Bar Ranch in eastern-central Montana.

In exchange they offered the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) territory in and around the Upper Missouri River Breaks national monument.

The BLM, under pressure from local opposition, twice rejected the proposal during the Obama era – most recently in January 2016, when the agency cited lack of resources to fully evaluate the deal. Hunters favor the enclave, known as Durfee Hills, for its large elk herds.

But now the Wilkses, who donated heavily to Republican Senators Ted Cruz (Texas) and Steven Daines (Montana), are trying again.

Last September, Farris Wilks, his wife JoAnn, and their consultant James met Zinke. A note on Zinke’s calendar for the 14 September meeting reads “Z request”, possibly indicating that it was the interior secretary who had scheduled the meeting. The calendar does not list any interior staff, which is unusual compared with Zinke’s other meetings.

James, who said he has known Zinke from the latter’s previous stint as a state lawmaker, told the Guardian he has since met BLM staff in Billings, Montana, and has been in contact with its field office in Lewiston, which is closest to the Wilks ranch.

“We think this proposal will benefit both the Wilkses and the public, which will enjoy greater access in the Upper Missouri River Breaks,” James said. “We hope the BLM will finally recognize this.”

Zinke’s office …more

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You Can’t Frack Without Harming Public Health, New Research Shows

Study examines over 1,200 peer-reviewed research papers, government reports, news articles

The conclusion is damning. “All together, findings to date from scientific, medical, and journalistic investigations combine to demonstrate that fracking poses significant threats to air, water, health, public safety, climate stability, seismic stability, community cohesion, and long-term economic vitality.”

arial view of fracked landPhoto courtesy of EcoflightAn oil and gas drilling area in Wyoming. In terms of public health, children and pregnant women are among the groups most at risk from air pollution caused by fracking.

“Emerging data from a rapidly expanding body of evidence continue to reveal a plethora of recurring problems and harms that cannot be sufficiently averted through regulatory frameworks.

“There is no evidence that fracking can operate without threatening public health directly or without imperiling climate stability upon which public health depends.” So concludes a must-read 266-page report published on Tuesday by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and the Nobel Peace Prize-winning group, Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The report examines over 1,200 peer-reviewed research articles as well as government reports and news articles. The hard-hitting report argues that: “the evidence to date indicates that fracking operations pose severe threats to health, both from water contamination and from air pollution.”

Take water pollution and the vast amounts of toxic waste-water dumped daily underground. “In the United States, more than two billion gallons of water and fracking fluids are injected daily under high pressure into the earth for the purpose of enabling oil and gas extraction via fracking or, after the fracking is finished, to flush the extracted wastewater down any of the 187,570 disposal wells across the country that accept oil and gas waste.”

All of the two billion daily gallons of fluid is “toxic, and it passes through our nation’s groundwater aquifers on its way to the deep geological strata below where it demonstrably raises the risk for earthquakes.”

Air quality does not fair better, either. “In the air around drilling and fracking operations and their attendant infrastructure, researchers have measured strikingly high levels of toxic pollutants, including the potent carcinogen benzene and the chemical precursors of ground-level ozone (smog).”

The report adds: “In some cases, concentrations of fracking-related air pollutants in communities where people live and work exceed federal safety standards. Research shows that air emissions from fracking can drift and pollute the air hundreds of miles downwind.”

I have repeatedly blogged that the science was taking time to catch up with fracking. But there is increasing evidence …more

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Mega Dams Are So Last Year

And we can’t wait for the day we can say these destructive projects are history

In February last year, the residents of the small town of Oroville in California’s Gold Country were told a 30-foot wall of water was headed their way. The men and women of the town ran through the streets in panic, and almost 200,000 people were evacuated from the area. These were not extras in a Deep Impact reboot, they were running from a structural failure in America’s tallest dam — the 770-foot-tall Oroville Dam had run into problems with both its main and emergency spillways after days of heavy rainfall and chances of massive breach seemed very likely.

As the world watched on with bated breath, the emergency spillway eased pressure, and the uncontrolled release of Oroville's reservoir didn’t occur. The residents and properties of the town were saved, and California was slapped with a near $1 billion repair bill.

Fisherman SarawakPhoto by Fiona McAlpineIn 2017, mega dams — which destroy waterways and impact communities, like the one this Sarawak fisherman belongs to, which depend on the river for sustenance — started to go out of fashion.

In a very different part of the world, in the face of similar imminent danger, the official response was a dismissal, and a shrug.

In November last year, phones started buzzing in villages downstream from Borneo’s Bengoh dam with photos of a leak in the dam’s 200-foot high wall. There is no emergency response plan in place for the area. The rumors were quickly quashed by Malaysian officials, and stories reporting the leak were swiftly erased from the web.

The sad fact is that in most parts of the world, the environmental, social, and safety concerns of mega dams have long been ignored.

At The Borneo Project, we’ve been working with communities fighting big dam projects in Sarawak for a long time. Today, as we celebrate the International Day of Action for Rivers, we are also celebrating the two-year anniversary of beating the Baram Dam project in Sarawak, which would have been the second-largest mega dam of its kind in Asia.

For decades, our allies around the world have been calling out these mega dam projects as corrupt, environmentally destructive, and socially devastating. Oroville was an important wake up call that the international media couldn’t ignore. Throughout 2017, domestically and internationally, we watched on as mega dams finally started to go out of fashion.

Mega-hydro is not clean energy, nor is it economic

The global …more

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An Endangered Fish Out of Water

A unique hatchery program is keeping the Rio Grande’s silvery minnow alive. But the long-term fate of this tiny fish is uncertain.

When irrigation was introduced to New Mexico, principally by the Spanish four centuries ago, the Rio Grande began its long decline from a wild, free-flowing river to a channeled ditch delivering water from its headwaters in the San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico nearly 1,900 miles away. Dam and water diversion projects built by conservation district personnel, the US Army Corp of Engineers, and the Bureau of Land Management, which manage the river, have inadvertently endangered a number of species—among them, the diminutive Rio Grande silvery minnow (Hybognathus amarus).

Rio GrandePhoto by I am New Mexico/Flickr The minnow survives only in about 5 percent of its historic range, in a 174-mile stretch of the middle Rio Grande (pictured above), often called the Albuquerque stretch, which also happens to be the most densely populated region of New Mexico.

The two-inch silvery minnow once occupied 2,400 miles of the Rio Grande and the Peco River, one of its major tributaries. Now the minnow survives only in about 5 percent of its historic range, between the Cochiti Dam in the north and the headwaters of Elephant Butte Reservoir — a 174-mile stretch of the middle Rio Grande, often called the Albuquerque stretch, which also happens to be the most densely populated region of New Mexico where more than half of its citizens live.

The silvery minnow was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1994, around the time when this stretch of the river began to regularly dry each summer when farmers diverted the water for irrigation into canals and ditches and onto alfalfa fields and pecan orchards, leaving the fish out of water. The plight of the minnow set off a legal battle between irrigators represented by the Middle Rio Grande Conservation District and environmental groups attempting to preserve habitat for the fish.

silvery MinnowPhoto by Joel Deluxe There is a growing understanding that like the proverbial canary in the coal mine,the silvery minnow
in the Rio Grande is not only a bellwether of the health of the river and its ecosystem, its fate
is also a harbinger of what people might face as as our freshwater sources become more scarce.

Nine years later, in 2003 the US Fish and Wildlife Service issued its biological opinion, which basically stated that water mangers would have to keep a small amount of water moving in the Albuquerque …more

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Wyoming Proposes Grizzly Bear Hunt for First Time in Four Decades

Move comes less than a year after the iconic bears were stripped of Endangered Species Act protections.

Yellowstone grizzly bears could be legally hunted for the first time in four decades under a proposalissued by Wyoming officials last week.

Grizzly bearPhoto courtesy of Yellowstone National ParkA grizzly bear on Swan Lake Flats in the Wyoming section of Yellowstone National Park. Wyoming Game and Fish Department's new draft regulation would allow the killing of up to 24 grizzlies.

The move comes less than a year after the iconic bears were stripped of Endangered Species Act protections.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department's new draft regulation would allow the killing of up to 24 grizzly bears—that's 12 bears (10 males, two females) within the demographic monitoring area in Greater Yellowstone, plus another 12 bears of any sex outside the area.

"This draft was shaped by public input we received this fall and winter and the best available science. It contains proposed regulations that would ensure Wyoming will meet its commitment to manage for a healthy and viable population of grizzly bears inside the demographic monitoring area in northwest Wyoming," said Brian Nesvik, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department's chief game warden and chief of the wildlife division.

"We believe this proposal reflects the public support for using hunting as a component of grizzly bear management and has many provisions that will recognize this opportunity and keep the grizzly bear population recovered for generations to come."

More than 50,000 grizzly bears resided between the Pacific Ocean and the Great Plains in the early 1800s but their numbers dwindled down to only 136 by 1975, when they were listed as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act. Their federally protected status allowed the population to increase to about 700 or more today. But, citing success in conservation efforts, the Trump administration delisted the bears in June, thus allowing states to open up hunting season on the animals.

Environmental groups sharply denounced the Wyoming's plan.

"Wyoming's reckless hunt ignores the fact that grizzly bears remain endangered in Yellowstone and across the west," said Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "It's tragic that these imperiled animals will be shot and killed so trophy hunters can stick heads on their walls."

The Center for Biological Diversity noted that the bears occupy less than 4 percent of their historic U.S. range and are under threat from isolation from other grizzly populations, loss of key food sources in the Yellowstone ecosystem …more

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A Mega Giving Circle Makes Us Powerful

Making massive cooperation on issues that impact life on the planet regular, easy, and fun is a reasonable next step in movement building

When I have conversations about climate change with other people, the recurring theme is helplessness: They are acutely aware of the severity of the threat to life on the planet but struggle to find constructive outlets for their concern. Petitions, marches and other forms of advocacy have important impact but can feel inadequate given the urgency of the problem; those in positions of power occasionally make progress but generally fail to respond as rapidly and boldly as required. 

people power mosaic in TorontoPhoto by Herb NeufeldShared Nation envisions a new way to respond to global commons problems like climate change, species loss and ecosystem destruction.

For a few years now, our small team has wrestled with the question of how to address this sense of powerlessness. Unsatisfied with waiting for elected officials to do what is right or for corporate actors to take responsibility, we wondered if we could create a new way to respond to global commons problems like climate change, species loss and ecosystem destruction. We conducted a number of prototype tests and arrived at what we believe could be a new form of civic engagement.

Our proposed solution is a platform called Shared Nation. We believe that if millions of people aggregate their resources to invest in solutions to global Commons problems we can remove the middlemen and take our fate into our own hands. We can take regular actions with our shared money and manpower that will put precious land into protection, buy out bad actors, and support those harmed by these crises.

In essence, Shared Nation is a global giving circle — a group of people from around the world who pool their money and then regularly join together to identify good causes to invest it in. What makes this community exceptional is its aspiration to become truly massive. Where most giving circles top out at hundreds of participants we can accommodate thousands and even millions, requiring only very small contributions of money and time from each participant.


Shared Nation is able to still function and make good decisions with a very large group of participants because of its innovative “pairwise” voting technology. Each person who has contributed funds helps the group decide how to proceed by making a few quick choices — between a small subset of investment options — through an interface that makes it quick, fun, and educational. Numerous non-expert decisions quickly narrow the number of good causes the group might …more

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Do Current Climate Change Models Contain an Epic Error?

Microbiologist Peter Pollard believes freshwater carbon dioxide emissions are vastly underestimated

On a chilly late October morning Peter Pollard and an assistant ventured out from the upstate village of Fair Haven, NY onto the waters of Lake Ontario's Little Sodus Bay aboard this writer's 22-foot boat. They anchored in a somewhat protected cove in eight meters of water, and Pollard lowered a small instrumented respiration chamber into the bay. Then he and his companion sat back for a 30-minute wait to measure the metabolic activity of the bay's bacteria via their CO2 production.

Lake OntarioPhoto by Vladimir/FlickrFifteen years ago Pollard discovered that virus-infected freshwater bacteria were growing and releasing CO2 at phenomenal rates and that CO2 was not being fixed, i.e., converted into organic carbon through photosynthesis by plants and algae, and passed up the food chain. Since then he has circled the globe collecting and analyzing data from the waters of 17 countries, including Lake Ontario (pictured above).

Pollard, a microbiologist from Brisbane, Australia, believes that the microbiology of freshwater is key to understanding how the global cycling of carbon impacts CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. That, in turn, is crucial to the accuracy of the climate change models used by scientists, economists, and policy makers around the world to tackle perhaps the single biggest threat to the future of civilization today, climate change. During our three-hour session aboard the boat sampling bacterial activity from surface to bottom at one-meter intervals, Pollard explained how his quest for what he calls “the missing carbon” began. A few days later, I filled in the rest of the story at a lecture he gave to the regulars at the village diner.

Pollard, an affable professor from Australia’s Gold Coast region who works out of Griffith University has, for 36 years, studied the chemistry and microbiology of fresh and salt water. About 15 years ago he and his students documented the growth and interaction of viruses — also known as phages — and bacteria in a polluted waterway, the Bremer River, near the Griffith University campus, and the resulting release of CO2 into the atmosphere. At first, he couldn't believe the results. They found virus-infected bacteria populations were doubling every 20 to 30 minutes. In the process, they were releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide. As he said in his lecture, “No one believed me. Even I didn't believe me.”

Surprisingly, the CO2 was not being fixed (i.e., converted into organic carbon through photosynthesis by vascular plants and algae) and passed up the …more

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