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Sacred Lands vs. King Coal

Indigenous struggles against resource extraction are gathering strength in the Pacific Northwest

Under the breaking waves of Lummi Bay in northwest Washington, salmon, clams, geoducks and oysters are washed in rhythmic cascades from the Pacific Ocean. Just north of here is Cherry Point, home for three intimately related threatened and endangered species: herring, Chinook salmon, and orcas. It is also the home of the Lummi Nation, who call themselves the Lhaq’temish (LOCK-tuh-mish), or the People of the Sea. The Lummi have gone to incredible lengths to protect the health of this marine life, and to uphold the fishing traditions that make their livelihood inseparable from the life of the sea — continuing a bond that has connected them to the salmon for more than 175 generations.

cheery point beachPhoto by Nicholas Quinlan/Photographers for Social ChangeThe Lummi Nation is currently fighting a proposal to build the largest coal export terminal on the continent at Cherry Point.

The Lummi Nation is currently fighting the largest proposed coal export terminal on the continent (read “Feeding the Tiger,” EIJ Winter 2013). If completed, the Gateway Pacific Terminal would move up to 54 million tons of coal from Cherry Point to Asian markets every year. The transport company BNSF Railway plans to enable the terminal by adding adjacent rail infrastructure, installing a second track along the six-mile Custer Spur to make room for coal trains.

The project is one of many coal export facilities proposed across the US by the coal extraction and transportation industry. In the face of falling domestic demand for the highly polluting fossil fuel, the industry is pinning its survival on exporting coal to power hungry Asia, especially China.

The Gateway proposal has sparked massive opposition from the Lummi, who say it will interfere with their fishing fleet, harm marine life, and trample on an ancient village site that has been occupied by the Lummi for 3,500 years. The village, Xwe'chieXen (pronounced Coo-chee-ah-chin) is the resting place of Lummi ancestors, and contains numerous sacred sites that the Lummi assert a sacred obligation to protect. The Lummi’s connection to their first foods, and to the village site that holds their ancestors’ remains, goes the very heart of who they are as a people, and the Nation has pledged to protect both “by any means necessary”.

The Lummi are no strangers to stopping harmful development. In the …more

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Government and Gas Industry Team Up Against Local Fracking Ban Initiatives in Ohio

State officials hire industry-affiliated law firms to defend their efforts to block ballot measures

Last week the Supreme Court of Ohio upheld the Ohio Secretary of State’s decision to remove from this November’s ballot, measures by Medina, Fulton, and Athens  counties that would have banned hydraulic fracturing and related infrastructure projects. However, in a separate ruling, the court allowed the city of Youngstown to proceed with an anti-fracking charter amendment and ordered it be placed on the November 3 ballot.

anti-fracking protestPhoto by ProgressOhioSince a December 2011 injection of wastewater into a disposal well near Youngstown triggered a 3.9 magnitude earthquake, several Ohio cities and counties have initiated efforts to keep fracking and affiliated activities off their land.

Ohio is home to the Utica shale, which has attracted billions of dollars in investment by oil and gas fracking operations. Opposition to fracking in the state began in earnest in December 2011 after the injection of wastewater into a disposal well near Youngstown triggered a 3.9 magnitude earthquake. Since then several Ohio cities and counties have initiated efforts to keep fracking and affiliated activities off their land.

Secretary of State Jon Husted had removed the county ballot measures in August, claiming “unfettered authority” even though all three initiatives had gathered sufficient signatures. The court did not agree with Husted’s argument that there was “nothing to materially limit the scope of [his] legal review of the petitions.” It’s ruling against the initiatives was based on a technicality.

Along with banning fracking, the county-level initiatives would have also established Home Rule powers for the counties. Because of this, according to Ohio law, the initiatives needed to specify what form of government they were planning on establishing. Last Wednesday, the court ruled that because “one must look to sources outside the [initiatives] to determine the form of government they purport to establish,” they don't satisfy this test, and thus voters should not be allowed to vote on them. Terry Lodge, a lawyer for the petitioners, told Earth Island Journal “we don't agree that the [initiatives] are in any way deficient.”

In Husted’s August decision, he wrote, “the courts in Ohio have spoken: a municipality may not ‘discriminate against, unfairly impede, or obstruct’ the operation of oil and gas wells in Ohio.” Though this is true, his logic clearly skipped a beat.

According to Lodge, the argument …more

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Leap Manifesto Calls for Radical Changes to Canada’s Extractive Economy

Campaign envisions building a sustainable energy economy over next 20 years

The Leap Manifesto: A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another is signed by over 50 organizations including Oxfam, Idle No More, CUPE, CLC, PSAC, Council of Canadians, Greenpeace, and over 100 individual signatories of scientists, economists, artists, and activists.

ariel view of the Tar Sands minePhoto by thekirbster/FlickrThe manifesto, launched at a news conference in Toronto on Tuesday, lays out an ambitious plan to move away from extereme energy projects like Alberta's tar sands, end fossil fuel subsidies, increase income taxes on corporations and the wealthy, cut military spending and implement a progressive carbon tax.

The manifesto warns that: "climate scientists have told us that this is the decade to take decisive action to prevent catastrophic global warming. That means small steps will no longer get us where we need to go."

"So we need to leap!"

One of the manifesto's central demands is 100 per cent renewable energy by 2035 and a 100 per cent clean economy by 2050.

"If any politicians don't support that demand then they have to explain why," said Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything. "If the scientists are telling us that we have to do it, and the engineers are telling us that we can do it, then why are our politicians setting targets that are way off in the future?"

The manifesto, which was hashed out over two days of meetings with 60 activists in May, is wide-ranging, with a series of radical demands such as:

  • Fully implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • A "100 per cent clean economy by 2050."
  • A halt to new infrastructure projects such as oil and gas pipelines, fracking projects in New Brunswick, British Columbia and Quebec, increased tanker traffic off the coasts and Canadian mining companies operations around the world.
  • The creation of "innovative ownership structures [that are] democratically run, paying living wages and keeping much-needed revenue in communities."
  • A universal program to build energy efficient homes, and retrofit existing housing.
  • Retraining for workers in "carbon-intensive jobs."
  • Investment in public infrastructure that can better withstand extreme weather.
  • An end to all trade deals "that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies, regulate corporations and stop damaging extractive …more

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A Tale of Pollen and Empowerment

In Chicago, Sweet Beginnings helps people returning from prison learn how to make a living with bees

The ground crew at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport are used to dealing with nature, de-icing planes in the wintertime and rolling over steaming hot runways in the summer. They are ready for anything nature might send their way. That is, until a swarm of honeybees decided to perch near a flight gate one sunny afternoon.

men standing with beehivesAll photos copyright of Sweet Beginnings, LLC, used with permissionThe Sweet Beginnings team unveils hives on the grounds of O'Hare Airport.

The crew mulled over a few ideas for dealing with the buzzing mass of bees, including spraying them with a hose or dousing them with pesticides. However, before any of the ideas could be put to action, the Sweet Beginnings team arrived and scooped up the swarm and its queen bee, whisking it away to be installed in a new hive. The team maintains 75 hives in a remote field on O’Hare property—the largest airport-based apiary in the United States. Though it was later found that the swarm did not originate from any of the Sweet Beginnings hives, the team did not mind the trip. “We were doing outreach right there on the spot,” recalls Brenda Palms Barber, founder and CEO of Sweet Beginnings. “While we were collecting the swarm, we were also chatting to the ground crew about honeybees, their behaviors and the ecological importance of pollinators.” While Sweet Beginnings has done much to promote bees as a resource rather than a pest, this is not their primary mission. It is, however, a fitting product of their work—just as honey is a fitting product of the invaluable work of pollination.

An Unusual Job Training Initiative

Sweet Beginnings is a job training program for individuals returning from incarceration or with other barriers to employment. The social enterprise is a subsidiary of the North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN), a social services organization on Chicago’s west side. NLEN “assists North Lawndale residents through innovative employment initiatives that lead to economic advancement and an improved quality of life.”

In 2004, NLEN launched Sweet Beginnings, LLC as a job training and revenue-generating project. Aided by a local beekeeper and several environmental and social organizations, NLEN’s clientele began learning how to care for honeybees, to extract and package honey, and to infuse the honey into soaps and lotions.

By 2014 …more

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Trapped Mountain Lions Plot Daring Escape From LA

Network of wildlife corridors planned to ease big cats’ genetic bottleneck

Earlier this month an obscure Los Angeles area regional public lands agency — the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority — announced the first stages of a five-year plan to build one of the largest wildlife corridors in the world. The goal is to create a natural looking bridge that will allow a small cougar population in the Santa Monica Mountain National Recreation Area the chance to escape north into much larger public lands, while at the same time allowing northern mountain lions the chance to move south and help out the badly inbred and lethally infighting Santa Monica cougars.

cougar cubPhoto courtesy of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation AreaAlthough a young female from the Santa Monica Mountains, P33, did successfully cross  Highway 101 in March this year, her escape north is a rare event.

The proposed bridge will leap over Highway 101, an eight-lane, east-west freeway in LA’s northern suburbs that sees 175,000 car trips a day. The bridge will be built at Liberty Canyon in the suburb of Agoura and when completed will be 200 feet-long and 165 feet-wide. It will be landscaped to blend in with the brushy hills, and sound walls along the edge of the bridge will “mitigate traffic noise and block light in order to make the crossing more conducive to wildlife,” says the project study report. The bridge will extend beyond the 101, reaching over an access road south of the highway, necessitating the construction of a tunnel. Estimated cost of the entire project: about $57 million.

Despite the report’s dull bureaucratic language — mountain lion sex is blandly described as “the exchange of genetic material“ — at its heart the proposed Liberty Canyon wildlife corridor represents an astonishing effort to reverse decades of suburban sprawl and fragmentation of the region’s surviving open spaces.

The campaign’s iconic poster boy is the famous “Hollywood lion,” also known by its wildlife ID number, “P22.” In 2012, P22 crossed two major freeways and migrated roughly 40 miles from the Santa Monica Mountains along the coast to Los Angeles’s 4300-acre Griffith Park on the city’s eastside. There he took up residence, feeding on the park’s mule deer, and soon became a national celebrity of sorts.

Cougar P22Photo by Crystal/Flickr P22, the only young …more

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By Protecting the Big, Famous Critters, We Can Preserve Biodiversity as a Whole

New paper says focus on charismatic megafauna has a positive ripple effect

For many years now, a debate has raged within wildlife advocacy organizations and among conservation biologists about whether the popular focus on charismatic megafuana distracts from the larger goals of protecting landscapes and preserving biodiversity. The argument goes like this: Big, often furry, and adorable-looking animals get all of the love and attention from the public and the media, while the needs of other critters fall by the wayside. For example, Cecil the lion gets shot and the Internet goes ballistic; meanwhile a slow and steady extinction crisis is hammering the world’s amphibians, and barely anyone notices. Often, the infatuation with charismatic megafauna isn’t good science, some critics say. A flagship species isn’t exactly a keystone species; if large, fuzzy critters disappear from their environments, the ecosystem doesn’t necessarily collapse.

giant panda on a tree limbPhotos courtesy of Duke UniversityThe researchers examined the Chinese government’s substantial investments in giant panda conservation and found that protection of that cuddly creature has a had positive ripple effect that benefits other species.

A new study released today in the journal Conservation Biology offers a rebuttal of sorts to the now-common critique of species-focused conservation. Duke University researcher Stuart Pimm and a Chinese colleague, Binbin Li, examined the Chinese government’s substantial investments in giant panda conservation and found that protection of that cuddly creature has a had positive ripple effect that benefits other species. The panda has become a kind of “umbrella species”: In trying to protect the panda, the Chinese government has established a network of nature reserves that are also home to many other threatened or endangered amphibians, birds, and mammals. “Investing in almost any panda habitats will benefit many other endemic [species],” the paper concludes.

“The obvious questions is: Does it do good for other species [to focus on charismatic megafauna]?” Professor Pimm said to me in an interview Wednesday. “That’s exactly why we did this study — it’s exactly to answer that question. And it's a very good question. For someone like me who is concerned about biodiversity as a whole, we wanted to address the issue. … The answer broadly is that it protects a lot of other species, it protects biodiversity broadly.”

deerBlue sheep are among several species that have benefitted from habitat …more

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Letter from the Shores of the Salish Sea

OR: What I witnessed on my summer vacation — fire and drought in the Pacific NW

As we came in for a landing at the small airport in Bellingham, Washington, I could tell that something was wrong. The landscape appeared unfamiliar to me. The pastures and fields that surround the small city just south of the US-Canada border looked faded: not the soft green, or even yellow, of late summer, but something closer to brown or beige. The view of Mount Baker was even more disconcerting. The glacier atop the peak had shrunk noticeably, and the skirts of ice were closer to the summit than I had ever seen them before. This did not seem like the place I had long known.

Haze SunsetPhoto by Jason MarkAs the sun dropped to the horizon, the haze thickened, turned the sunset into something you’d expect in the desert Southwest: thick bands of burnt orange, and the sea like a puddle of pink

I’ll admit that the scene wasn’t exactly a surprise. I had read the reports about the Pacific Northwest’s hot, dry summer — the freakishly long stretch of 90-degree days without any rain. On Twitter, I had watched the posts from Seattle go from delighted to dire as the heat wave stretched into weeks. I knew that Washington’s governor had declared a drought emergency in several countries, and I had heard about the wildfires on the Olympic Peninsula. Fires even in the rainforest — it was a bad omen, everyone agreed.  

Still, there’s nothing like seeing something for yourself. A few hours after landing, I took a short walk in the woods and was shocked by what I found there. The forest, I could tell, was suffering. The sword ferns were prostrate, as if they’d been ironed flat by the heat. Many of the bracken and the lady ferns were dead or dying. The hemlock, fir, and cedar that form the region’s iconic plant palette showed no obvious signs of stress, but the big leaf maple clearly were in bad shape. Their leaves had turned yellow or brown, and many had already dropped to the forest floor. It looked as if autumn had arrived ahead of schedule.

Washington’s unofficial nickname is “The Evergreen State.” Looking around the weirdly arid northwest woods, I had to wonder if “forever” has a half-life, too.

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