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Trump Administration Has Taken a Hatchet to Climate Language Across Government Websites

Here are several of the more egregious examples

During inauguration day on 20 January, as Donald Trump was adding “American carnage” to the presidential lexicon, the new administration also took a hammer to official recognition that climate change exists and poses a threat to the US.

photo of science marchPhoto by Joe Flood President Trump has question whether climate really exists, alarming environmental advocates and scientists.

One of the starkest alterations to the White House’s website following Trump’s assumption of office was the scrapping of an entire section on climate change, stuffed with graphs on renewable energy growth and pictures of Barack Obama gazing at shriveling glaciers, to be replaced by a perfunctory page entitled “An America first energy plan.”

Under Obama

President Obama believes that no challenge poses a greater threat to our children, our planet, and future generations than climate change.

Under Trump

President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the US rule.

In the more than 100 days since, the administration has largely opted for a chisel and scalpel approach to refashioning its online content, but the end result is much the same – mentions of climate change have been excised, buried or stripped of any importance.

Federal government websites are being combed through to apply new verbiage. The state department’s office of global change, for example, has removed links to the Obama administration’s 2013 climate action report and mention of the latest UN meeting on climate change. Text relating to climate change and greenhouse gases has also been purged.

Under Obama

The climate action plan, announced in 2014, highlights unprecedented efforts by the United States to reduce carbon pollution, promote clean sources of energy that create jobs, protect communities from the impacts of climate change, and work with partners to lead international climate change efforts. The working partnerships the United States has created or strengthened with other major economies has reinforced the importance of results-drive action both internationally and domestically and are achieving measurable impacts now to help countries reduce their long-term greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump’s desire to champion the coal industry is reflected in the Department of Energy’s online pages aimed at educating children. Sentences that point out the harmful health consequences of burning coal and other impacts of fossil fuels have gone.

Under Obama

In the United States, most of the coal consumed is used as …more

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In Memoriam: Well-Known Yellowstone White Wolf Dies Unnatural Death

Twelve-year-old alpha female deserved a wild end to her wild life, but that was not to be

Officials at Yellowstone National Park first shared the sad news in mid-April: A well-known white wolf in the park had been found severely injured and was later euthanized. Then on May 11, after a necropsy by the US Fish and Wildlife Service forensics laboratory in Oregon, they shared the real shocking news: This wolf, the alpha female of the Canyon Pack, had “suffered from a gunshot wound.”

Details are still emerging on what happened, when and where; the investigation remains active.

female white wolf walking in forest Photo Neal Herbert/National Park Service The wolf, pictured above, was one of three rare white wolves in the park and had 14 living pups. Park officials are offering a $5,000 reward for information on who might have shot her.

It all began on April 11, when hikers discovered “a severely injured” alpha female wolf, according to a press release from Yellowstone National Park. The white wolf, well-known among wolf enthusiasts and park officials, was seen near Gardiner, Montana, the town at the north entrance to the iconic park.

Staff eventually found the wolf in “shock and dying from the injuries,” and made the difficult decision to euthanize the majestic canine. The necropsy confirmed the animal had suffered from a gunshot wound, and park officials believe the incident took place near Gardiner or the Old Yellowstone Trail, located along the park’s northern boundary. The shooting likely occurred on April 10 or 11.

“Due to the serious nature of this incident, a reward of up to $5,000.00 is offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual(s) responsible for this criminal act,” Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk said in a press release.

When the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf, which can be gray, black or white in color, was taken off the endangered species list a few years ago, states were given the authority to set up their own wolf management plans. In 2015, Montana saw 210 wolves hunted or trapped. Yellowstone, which is nationally protected, is mostly in Wyoming with slivers of land in Montana and Idaho. Hunting and discharge of firearms are prohibited in the park.

There are approximately 100 wolves in Yellowstone, which is an impressive number given that the canids were once extirpated from the local wilderness. In 1995, wild wolves were released into Yellowstone National Park as part of an extensive recovery program. The population took hold, and now the park features …more

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Hampered by Lack of Resources, Peruvian Officials Struggle to Address Illegal Wildlife Trade

Illegal trade in plants and animals is pervasive in Peru

On first sight, as we wait by the river for a ferry, there appear to be only a few rickety stalls where banana chips and cans of soda are sold to Peruvian tourists waiting in their cars to cross. But as soon as the vendors have determined the coast is clear, the scene quickly changes: two snakes are pulled out of a frayed rucksack. Three monkeys are removed from a cardboard box beneath a counter. A child walks past the line of cars, showing off a woolly monkey. All of these animals are for sale.

baby monkeyPhoto by Eline van NesA baby Woolly monkey rescued from Tarapato, Peru.

The illegal trade and imprisonment of exotic animals is not always visible in Peru. Many local people have learned that Westerners don’t usually like seeing monkeys and sloths bound and chained up. The animals, therefore, are not always shown to Western tourists. However, anyone inquiring at a market about a particular animal species is led through the corrugated-iron shacks to someone who has that animal.

For one week, a photographer and I joined the environmental police of the northern jungle city of Tarapoto to observe their work confiscating exotic animals from these illegal markets. One such raid takes place at Lake Sauce, popular with tourists. We arrive an hour before the police do and are quickly approached by four children, who, unlike many of the other vendors, don't seem nervous about approaching foreigners. Two carry a monkey, one a tortoise, and the fourth a sloth. “Hola gringo,” says one of the children. “Look how cute! Aaah .... Picture?”

When the police arrive soon after, they arrest three of the children, and immediately the other vendors start complaining: The police shouldn’t take the animals from those sweet children. The children, meanwhile, are bawling their eyes out — sincerely most likely. They say they are worried about the beating they’ll get from their parents for having been arrested.

As the police commissioner, Erick Reategui Alvarez, explains to the sympathetic bystanders, “To catch one young monkey, 10 must die. The hunter shoots the mother, who carries the little monkey on her back, and kills her so she falls from the treetop. The monkey’s family members rush over to help. They are killed too. Regularly, the baby monkey dies because of the fall or during transportation, the result of which is that everything has to be done all over again.”

Still, the other vendors believe the children …more

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France Bans All Dolphin and Whale Captivity While SeaWorld Invests in It

US-based company still refuses to divest from industry proven harmful to cetaceans

On May 7, the French government passed new legislation aimed at phasing out all dolphin and whale captivity, a move that reflects growing public awareness and concern over the poor living conditions cetaceans are forced to endure in captivity.  

photo of dolphins at Marineland Antibes Photo by John Clift Captive dolphins at Marineland Antibes in France. Last week, France pased legislation to phase out all dolphin and whale captivity.

The new law prohibits keeping any cetacean captive, with the ultimate goal being to entirely shut down the archaic industry throughout France. For those unfortunate individuals who are already held captive at facilities such as Marineland Antibes in the French Riviera, the legislation stipulates that no captive breeding can be done. It also prohibits direct contact between captive cetaceans and humans — putting an end to swim-with-dolphins programs — and requires that pools and tanks be made “significantly larger.” Facilities have been given up to three years to comply with the new rules.

Environment Minister Segolene Royal had signed an earlier version of the law that imposed strict controls on dolphin breeding, but then decided to take a “more radical” approach, resulting in a total phase-out of the industry. According to the ministry, this decision was influenced by information that captive animals were being drugged in some facilities. 

France joins a growing list of countries that have begun to phase out and ban cetacean captivity. In 2013, India banned cetacean captivity outright; Canada is currently considering doing the same with Bill S-203. Many facilities located in countries that have not yet taken such measures are phasing out their cetacean exhibits on their own, including the Baltimore Aquarium, the Vancouver Aquarium, and the Barcelona Aquarium.

However, the global cetacean entertainment industry leader — the United States-based company SeaWorld Inc. — has so far refused to divest from this industry that has been proven unethical and harmful for dolphins and whales.

Last year, SeaWorld did announce that the company would phase out its orca breeding program — which involved separating mothers from young calves — and pledged to stop theatrical-type shows, claiming that it would instead present orcas to the public in a more “naturalistic” way. The move drew praise from many groups, including the Humane Society of the United States. However, at the time of the announcement, a ban on the very things SeaWorld had pledged to give up was being considered by California legislators. …more

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Can Uplifting Stories Get People to Care More about Nature?

Storytelling project showcases the rediscovery of species thought to be long extinct

Nature doesn’t make the news often these days. When it does, the story usually revolves around wildlife on the brink, record-setting climate extremes or ruined landscapes. However, that is not the whole story. There is also good news, but it often receives little attention.

photo of Pinocchio anole lizard Photo by Javier Ábalos Alvarez, Flickr The Pinocchio anole lizard was first described in Ecuador in 1953, then believed to have become extinct until it was rediscovered in 2005.

It is easy to see how bleak accounts of the state of the planet can overwhelm people and make them feel hopeless. What is the point of even trying if the world is going down the drain anyway?

To muster public and political support on a scale that matches our environmental challenges, research shows that negative messaging is not the most effective way forward. As a conservation scientist and social marketer, I believe that to make the environment a mainstream concern, conservation discussions should focus less on difficulties. Instead we should highlight the growing list of examples where conservation efforts have benefited species, ecosystems and people living alongside them.

The power of positive messages

This question is not new. Professionals in many fields have to consider how to frame their messages to maximize their impact. For example, public health agencies can make positive recommendations that emphasize benefits of being disease-free, or use negative messages that focus on the consequences of disease. A 2008 meta-analysis of 60 health communication studies concluded that messages focused on loss were less likely to be effective than positive messages.

Another study examined ads designed to persuade income support recipients to report their incomes. It concluded that messages focused on fear, shame or guilt could generate emotional backlash, in which people rationalized decisions to protect themselves from feeling ashamed of their behavior. This approach also caused emotional saturation that led people to “switch off” from the message because of its negativity.

Environmental advocates also confront this challenge. Much discussion has centered on the issue of climate change, where a number of scholars and advocates assert that doom-and-gloom messaging has not been effective. Yet until recently, we have not asked the same question about how we frame nature conservation.

Lost and found species

Today a growing number of scholars and activists are working to create a positive vision for protecting wildlife and wild places. One key effort started in 2014 with …more

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Prairie Chickens Reunite a Nebraska Ranch Family

Bird-watching tours help preserve vital habitat while supplementing family income

Life in the Nebraska Sandhills offers a remoteness not often found in the Lower 48. For Sandhill ranchers, the closest traffic signal can be 50 miles away. Their first-grader may ride the bus ninety minutes to school — one way. Six or eight-player football is common because there are more cows than kids, and getting groceries can take a full day.

But for Sarah Sortum (nee Switzer) the Sandhill prairies are home. And after graduating from university and starting a family in northern Colorado, by 2006 she wanted to move back to the family cattle ranch. Sortum wanted her kids to share her connection to the land.

photo of greater prairie chickenPhoto by Greg Kramos/USFWSThe greater prairie chicken, which is native to the mid-western US and faces threats from habitat loss and fragmentation, has helped reunite the Switzer family in the Nebraska Sanhills.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t just pack up and move home: The 12,000-acre Switzer ranch could not support her parents, her brother’s family, and her own. Sortum’s brother Adam made his move back to the ranch in 2000, starting Calamus Outfitters to generate income for his family. He converted a vacant home to a lodge, initially focusing on attracting hunters. He expanded to offer activities for outdoor enthusiasts, like floating and paddling down the Calamus River, which runs through the ranch.

A decade ago, while watching a sunset, a guest commented to Sortum’s brother and his parents how wonderful the ranch was, but added that it would be great if they had prairie chickens, and even better if they had sharp-tailed grouse. That simple comment changed the direction of the Switzer ranch and provided a way for Sortum to bring her family home.

The Switzers did in fact have greater prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse on their land.  It just hadn’t occurred to the family that the birds would be an attraction. The guest told them people would pay to see them, though the family was doubtful.

But eager to return home, Sortum and her family decided to link their future to bird-watching tourism. Convincing her parents to add bird tours to a cattle ranch wasn’t hard. “They wanted us to come back so bad, they were willing to think out of the box. It was a leap of faith for all of us. We were really nervous,” recalls Sortum.

In 2007, Calamus Outfitters offered its first prairie chicken tours of leks or booming grounds — mating …more

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Trump Aides Postpone Meeting as Clashes Over Paris Climate Deal Continue

President promises decision on US involvement before G7 summit, but the debate reveals deep divisions within his core team

Donald Trump’s advisers have postponed another meeting on whether the US should remain in the Paris climate agreement, amid growing nervousness from businesses and other countries over a potential withdrawal.

photo of Donald Trump and IvankaPhoto by NASA HQ PHOTO, Flickr There are deep divisions within the Trump administration about whether the US should remain in the Paris climate agreement.

A gathering of Trump’s top advisers was set to take place on Tuesday but has been postponed due to scheduling conflicts, as the administration attempts to come to a decision on the international climate deal.

The unusually public internal debate over the future of the deal has shown deep divisions within Trump’s administration as to whether to ditch the pact, which was struck in 2015 when nearly 200 nations agreed to curb their greenhouse gas emissions to avoid dangerous climate change.

Trump, who promised to “cancel” the agreement during the presidential election campaign, has said there will be a “big decision” on the accord ahead of a G7 meeting of nations later this month in Sicily. The president is reportedly leaning towards exiting the agreement, although he may still decide to downgrade America’s involvement rather than end it completely.

Different factions in Trump’s orbit have clashed over whether the US should pull out. Steve Bannon, Trump’s top strategist, favors withdrawal, as does Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator, who has called it a “bad business deal for this country.” Rick Perry, the energy secretary, said last month “we probably need to renegotiate” the agreement.

Meanwhile, Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, and Trump’s family members and advisers Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, are understood to favor remaining in the deal. Ivanka Trump is set to meet separately with Pruitt on Tuesday to discuss the Paris pact and according to AP has been handed the task of reviewing US climate policy.

Discussions have become somewhat bogged in a legal debate over whether the US could downgrade its emissions reduction goals. Barack Obama’s administration set a target of a 26-28 percent reduction in emissions by 2025, based in 2005 levels.

The Paris agreement states “a party may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition.” Pro-exit elements in the administration have argued that this text would make it hard to cut the US’s emissions reduction target …more

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