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US Forest Service Moves to Start Clearcutting in Rim Fire Area

Massive logging proposal threatens many spotted owls, currently thriving in the fire-affected acres of Stanislaus National Forest

The US Forest Service issued a draft decision yesterday for a massive post-fire logging project in the Stanislaus National Forest portion of the 2013 California Rim Fire, which covered 257,171 acres on the national forest and Yosemite National Park. A final, signed decision on the proposal is expected this afternoon. 

regenerating underbush in California Rim Fire areaPhoto by Chad HansonA carpet of lupines covered this large high-intensity fire patch in the Rim Fire area this spring, showing that forest is regenerating naturally.

The draft decision proposes over 37,000 acres of intensive post-fire logging, which would remove the majority of the rarest and most ecologically valuable habitat resulting from the fire on the Stanislaus National Forest: “snag forest habitat” created by high-intensity fire in mature conifer forest. (Forty one percent of the Rim Fire area was comprised of non-conifer vegetation, such as grassland and foothill chaparral, and most of the forest area burned at low/moderate-intensity, wherein only a portion of the trees were killed). 

This would include essentially clear-cutting 95 percent of the snags (standing fire-killed trees) in

19,462 acres of the fire area. An additional 17,706 acres of “roadside” logging is planned along roads, including old logging roads, which are not maintained for public use (and many of which are closed roads, long since decommissioned). Much of this would be clearcut too, including live, healthy, mature, and old-growth trees, which would be removed by the thousands, for no credible public safety benefit, based upon profoundly vague criteria that allow just about any tree to be cut.

Because the Forest Service has closed most of the Rim Fire area to public access, and because the agency is not marking trees before they cut them along roads, there is no accountability. 

The Forest Service would keep 100 percent of the revenue from selling the timber from our federal public lands to private logging companies. Most of these funds would be used to pay Forest Service staff to implement future post-fire logging projects, under the “Salvage Sale Fund.”  

As I have reported previously in Earth Island Journal (see here and here), the Forest Service has repeatedly claimed over the past year that the Rim Fire damaged and destroyed the forest, using this as a justification to propose one of the largest commercial logging projects in the history of the national forest …more

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Can A Drive-Thru Really Be Green?

LEED certified buildings can’t negate the emissions from a long line of idling cars

There’s a rainwater catchment system on the roof of my west Florida neighborhood’s Dunkin’ Donuts outlet, collecting water to irrigate the restaurant’s own landscaping. There are electric car charging stations, for those Tesla owners who aren’t afraid to get a little powdered sugar on the upholstery. There is carpool-preferred parking, which is really available to anyone but might at least make single-car drivers feel a little guilty for parking there. The building features reflective and permeable hardscapes, to minimize the heat island effect and to help recharge the aquifer after a rainstorm. There is efficient LED lighting, and low- or no-flow fixtures in restrooms and kitchen sinks. The whole place was built with recycled materials. The works.

McDonalds Drive ThruPhoto by Skip SteuartCars idle while waiting at a McDonald's drive thru in Virginia.

Now, I haven’t yet seen an electric car parked in front of one of the charging stations, but the water-saving features and the reflective, permeable hardscapes are particularly appropriate in urban Florida, where decades of aggressive population growth has put tremendous strain on our water resources, and where acres of blacktopped parking lots make already-challenging summers nearly unbearable.

You don’t see a lot of fast food restaurants like this, especially here in the Sunshine State. Scratch that — you don’t see many buildings like this here, period. As you might expect, the owners of this particular store are pursuing LEED certification. It’s the second Dunkin’ Donuts outlet in my city to be constructed using green building materials and methods.

But despite these efforts, the building is fundamentally at odds with concepts like sustainability and smaller carbon footprints and a cleaner environment generally. That’s because the building’s design includes a drive-thru window, which means it’s specifically designed to attract and accommodate lines of idling cars spewing toxins and greenhouse gases into the air. Which seems like a strange thing for a green building to do.

How long do drivers sit in the drive-thru, drumming their fingers on the steering wheel, waiting for their toasted bagels with cream cheese and their iced coffees? The industry average wait time is three minutes per car, from order to pickup. That translates to nearly 20 grams of pollutants emitted per car, on average, per visit — about the same as driving for a mile …more

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Can Trophy Hunting Save the Endangered Markhor Goats?

A controversial program in Tajikistan tests the idea

The sun was beginning to fade in the frigid evening sky. It was the end of a long day of counting the endangered wild goats of southern Tajikistan. Known as the markhor, these goats are distinguished by their Merlin-esque beards and twisting, towering horns. The rare goats are difficult to spot amid the crags and gulches of the Pamir Mountains, but conservationist Tanya Rosen Michel's is practiced at the art, and she eventually honed in on them.

Turkmenian markhorPhoto by Marie HalelSome conservationists believe that protecting the snow leopard and its prey, the Turkmenian marcher goat would require some form of hunting.

Michel is the snow leopard program coordinator for Panthera, a wildcat conservation group that was surveying the markhor with help from the Tajik Committee on Environmental Protection, the Forest Agency and Academy of Sciences, and the German Development and Cooperation Agency. The March survey was an effort to understand how the markhor population affects those of its primary predator, the equally endangered snow leopard.

The tally this year totaled 1,300 markhor – the highest count in more than two decades. In the 1990s, the population plummeted to a tenuous 350 animal due to a civil war that devastated livestock and fueled poaching. After the war, as normal food sources rebounded and local conservation efforts were enacted to protect the markhor, their numbers began to rise. So, too, did snow leopard sightings.

As Michel peered through her scope, she noticed the herd, which had been casually grazing on grass, tapping the cold ground feverishly and crowding together. Scanning the landscape, Rosen spotted the source of distress – a snow leopard tiptoeing towards the heard in hopes of meal. For almost half an hour the snow leopard attempted stealing upon the herd from different angles. It then lay down behind a juniper tree in hopes of calming the herd, which sensed the predator's presence. Without success, "the ghost of the mountains," turned tail and faded into the fog.

It is clear to Michel and her colleagues that the fate of these two animals is intimately linked. Snow leopards cannot thrive without the markhor – and the markor cannot thrive without a concerted human effort at conservation. Michel also realized that it was going to take a sizeable, and perhaps counterintuitive effort, to defend both species. To protect the snow …more

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Federal Judge Overturns Kaua‘i GMO, Pesticide Regulatory Law

Ordinance 960 preempted by state law, says ruling; appeal likely

A federal judge yesterday overturned Kauai’s new law regulating the transgenic seeds industry on the Hawaiian island, ruling that it was preempted by state law and was therefore invalid. The ruling is a setback for activists and citizens fighting to protect local residents and the environment from exposure to the heavy doses of toxic pesticides that the biotech companies use on their fields year round.

A GM corn field in KauaiPhoto by Ian UmedaA GE corn field in Kaua‘i. Community activists and Kaua‘i residents impacted by pesticide exposure from genetically engineered crop fields promise to keep the fight going.

“Obviously I would have preferred a different ruling…  I will recommend to my client that we appeal to a higher court,” Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said in an interview Monday evening. The legal nonprofit has intervened in the case to defend the county’s law.

The Kaua‘i County law, Ordinance 960, was passed in November after surviving a veto by Kauai Mayor Barnard Carvalho. The law, which received widespread support within the community, requires agricultural companies and large farms to disclose the type and volume of pesticides they are spraying and the location of their genetically modified crop fields. It also requires the companies to set up buffer zones between fields growing GM crops and public places like schools, hospitals, and parks.

The four global pesticide and genetically engineered seed corporations that have large operations on the island — Pioneer-DuPont, Syngenta, and Agrigenetics Inc (a subsidiary of Dow Chemical), and BASF Plant Science — had challenged the new law in federal court, arguing that it arbitrarily targets GE seed farming operations on Kaua‘i and tries to regulate activities over which counties have no jurisdiction.

Ruling on the lawsuit yesterday, US Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren concluded that the pre-existing Hawai‘i Pesticide Law preempted the Kauai ordinance and that only state government had the authority to regulate the seeds companies.

“This decision in no way diminishes the health and environmental concerns of the people of Kaua‘i,” Judge Kureen wrote in his decision. “The Court’s ruling simply recognizes that the State of Hawaii has established a comprehensive framework for addressing the application of restricted use pesticides and the planting of GMO crops, which presently precludes local regulation by the County.”

The biotech companies issued a joint statement yesterday saying they were pleased with judge’s decision.

more

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Passive Carbon Capture Can Clean Up Our Air, But the Technology Lacks Popular Support

Other significant challenges include cost and figuring out where to store the captured carbon

Trees are great filters. Wind, sunlight and photosynthesis enable trees to “scrub” carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, while replenishing it with oxygen, which almost every life form needs to survive. But there simply aren’t enough trees around to scrub out the surplus carbon we have in our atmosphere right now which is steadily changing the delicate balance of life on Earth.

passive carbon capture in a labPhoto courtesy Columbia UniversityKlaus Lackner (right), a geophysics professor at Columbia University, conducts a passive carbon capture experiment at an university lab.

Human beings have put an estimated 450 – 500 gigatons of carbon into the air, primarily by burning fossil fuels, according to James L. Buizer, a professor in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona. Each year we pump another 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air. The United Nations projects human population will surpass 9 billion by 2050, so energy use will only increase.

Researchers across the world have been working to develop technologies that can remove this excess carbon from the air. One such technology — passive carbon capture — holds much promise, but skepticism about the process and lack of support from policymakers have slowed the development of what could be a cost-effective approach.

‘It’s not magic’

To people proposing sustainable energy alternatives and lifestyle changes, removing CO2 seems pointless. Removing a substantial amount of carbon from the air requires a great deal of it to be filtered. Heating, cooling, or pushing air through a filtration process requires the use of energy, thereby creating more carbon emissions.

But some scientists have demonstrated that carbon can be passively removed from the air without creating further emissions. Klaus Lackner, a geophysics professor at Columbia University and his team have developed a “fake tree” carbon collector.

An early effort used plastic “leaves” coated in resin that traps carbon particles in the air. The newer passive carbon-capture devices look more like furnace filters with straw-like tubes dotted with holes, packed closely together inside a metal frame. The devices necessary to collect one ton of carbon per day would fit into a standard shipping container that, once opened, would require approximately 60 square meters of area. Set up in a location facing into a slow wind, the devices would come into contact with carbon in the …more

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Employing Humor to Make Climate Science Digestible

In Review: The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change

Just six years ago, Gallup estimated that 61 percent of Americans grasped the reality that human activities cause global warming. Today, that number has slipped to 57 percent. In this climate of decreasing public acceptance, we need persuasive, knowledgeable advocates explaining the human book cover thumbnailcauses of global warming in elegant, digestible, and, most importantly, acceptable ways to counter the relentless disinformation war being waged by the fossil fuel industry.

One creative tool to help increase awareness and understanding of how human activities cause climate change is The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change, a new graphic book illustrated by Grady Klein, and written by Yoram Bauman, who describes himself as “The World’s First and Only Stand-Up Economist.” Together, these two bring a modicum of levity to the task of conveying the basics of climate change, an otherwise dour topic. With a comedic touch, and a small cast of characters cracking jokes in the background, they elucidate the basics of climate science, predictions of future warming, and possible solutions. Drawing heavily from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, Klein illustrates numerous infographics to help readers visualize complicated processes and associated statistics.

page from a graphic bookKlein & BaumanWith a comedic touch, and a small cast of characters cracking jokes in the
background, Bauman and Klein elucidate the basics of climate science,
predictions of future warming, and possible solutions. Click to enlarge.

Bauman’s background as an economist comes through clearly in his analysis, exemplified by his seven Chinas theory. The seven billion humans who occupy the planet at this time can be split into five groups of 1.4 billion, roughly the size of China’s population, he explains. The Rich Countries make up just one of those Chinas but are responsible for half of all resource consumption and half of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Global economic development is rapidly transforming poor people in the other four Chinas into middle class consumers who look to the Rich Countries as role models. If they follow in the footsteps of the Rich Countries, global resource consumption and greenhouse gas production will multiply two-and-a-half times without any population growth. But, population growth will likely take us up to 10 billion people before the end of the century, which adds …more

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Is China Turning the Corner on Environmental Protection?

Growing health concerns have spurred significant changes to the Middle Kingdom’s environmental law and policy.

Most of the news we hear about China’s environment is depressing, filled with references to the country’s dirty air, water, and soil. Some of it is downright apocalyptic, accompanied by images of environmental destruction that remind me of Dr. Seus’ illustrations in The Lorax. These scenes are the result of lax environmental protection, combined with rapid economic development and fast-paced population growth. Lately, however, a few positive changes in policy and rhetoric have caught my eye, leading me to wonder if China is changing its tune when it comes to the environment.

Commuters wearing face masks in NanjingPhoto by Markus SpringCommuters in Nanjing, as in other polluted Chinese cities, often wear facemasks to protect themselves from the smog. Concerns about public health are motivating Chinese officials to crackdown on air pollution.

Back in March of this year, for example, Premier Li Keqiang declared that China would “resolutely declare war on pollution as we declared war against poverty.” Shortly thereafter, in April, the country announced significant reforms to the national Environmental Protection Law (EPL). When first enacted 25 years ago, the law was more aspirational than it was substantive. The new amendments, however, incorporate several significant changes that give the law teeth.

One such change is the system for fining polluters. Previously, pollution fines were a one-shot deal, regardless of how long the pollution continued. Under the EPL amendments, fines will accumulate so long as the pollution continues. Fines may now be large enough so as to actually dissuade would-be polluters. “One of the major changes is that [the EPL amendments] increase the sanctions for pollution in ways that might conceivably make a difference if properly enforced,” says Rachel Stern, an assistant professor of law and political science at Berkeley Law, who specializes in environmental regulation and activism in China.  

The law also expands the range of public interest organizations that can bring a suit against polluters by providing certain organizations with standing (the right to sue). “The big change from my perspective… is that the law allows standing for NGOs to bring public interest lawsuits, ” Stern says. “And that is a really, really interesting change.” However, only nonprofits that are registered with the city-level governments or higher in China, and that have specialized in environmental protection for five years, will be permitted to bring suits. …more

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