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In Conservation Work, ‘Reptiles and Amphibians Are the Underdogs’

A conversation with herpetologist Dr. Jenny Daltry

Dr. Jenny Daltry has been exploring her love for reptiles since the young age of eight, and her interest has only grown with time. By the time she turned 25, she had earned her PhD from the University of Aberdeen in zoology and ecology and her thesis had been published in Nature Magazine. Not content with an academic career or an office job, Daltry has spent much of her professional life in the field. Now, as senior conservation biologist at Flora and Fauna International (FFI), Dr. Daltry’s fieldwork has led her to dozens of countries, many in the Caribbean and southern Asia.

Jenny Daltree

Daltry’s work with critically endangered species has truly set her apart as one of the world’s leading conservationists. She personally oversaw the Antiguan Racer Conservation Project, nursing a tiny inbred population of 50 Antiguan racer snakes on one island in Antigua a much healthier population of over 1,000 snakes spread over several islands. This project rescued the species from the brink of extinction. Daltry was also one of the lead researchers involved in saving the Siamese Crocodile, a species once thought to be effectively extinct. Her work has been so influential that she was awarded the title of Officer of The Royal Order of Sahametrei for her services to the environment in Cambodia, and has received a number of other international awards including the Whitley Award from the Whitley Fund for Nature, a United Kingdom-based charity, and the Castillo’s Prize for Conservation for the Crocodile Specialist Group.

Can you give me a bit of background on your work as a senior conservation biologist at Flora and Fauna International (FFI) and how you came to work for them?

Well, I actually joined FFI as a member when I was 11 years old. FFI is one of the world’s oldest conservation organizations, founded in 1903, and I’ve always liked FFI because it is involved with issues impacting all types of wildlife. The mission is to help conserve threatened biodiversity across the whole world, so it’s very diverse, it’s a very dynamic organization, and I joined the organization as a staff member about 20 years ago. In my current role as senior conservation biologist, I work with teams across the world, helping to solve …more

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Can Seven Billion Humans Go Paleo?

Advocates of this meat-rich diet trend need to grapple with its impact on the environment

After decades of obscurity, Paleo is now one of the fastest-growing diet trends. A 2013 survey found that one percent of Americans eat Paleo, which is based on the premise that our diets should be based on animals and plants, the way we ate when we were hunter-gatherers. Bestselling books like Grain Brain have redeemed meat’s nutritional profile and convinced many people that their high-carb diets promote unhealthy levels of brain and gut inflammation. I count myself among the throngs of Paleolistas who have benefited from adhering, more or less, to its principles.

cattle at a feedlotPhoto by David OliverMany paleo advocates recommend eating organic, pastured, holistically grazed animal protein. But there’s simply not enough grazing land on the planet to feed enough livestock to put sustainable meat and eggs in front of all seven billion of us three times a day.

But what happens when Paleo really starts catching on, and millions of ill and overweight people eliminate grains and start eating animal protein with every meal? This leads to questions the Paleo community has yet to address: How many inhabitants of our small planet can regularly eat meat without despoiling the environment? And how do we decide who gets to eat Paleo and who’s stuck with grains and tofu?

Many Paleo advocates and consumers are no doubt aware of the environmental issues associated with factory-farmed livestock and commercial fishing — the enormous quantities of water, fossil fuels and pesticides needed to grow cattle, pig and chicken feed, livestock’s fecal contamination of fresh water, aquatic dead zones caused by pesticide runoff, the depletion and collapse of fisheries, heat-trapping methane emissions from the front and back-ends of farm animals … I could go on.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that global meat production uses one-third of the world’s fresh water and that more than 1.3 billion tons of grain are consumed by farm animals each year. In the Gulf of Mexico, aquatic dead zones from pesticide, fertilizer and manure runoff now total an area the size of Connecticut. Much of the runoff originates on heartland farms that produce corn for cattle feed.

Conventionally grown grains and vegetables are an ecological disaster too, but conventional meat production is substantially more resource-intensive, polluting and wasteful. The United Nations Environmental Programme cites meat production as …more

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White House Unveils Plan to Open Atlantic Waters to Offshore Oil Drilling

Move to lease large swaths of ocean along east coast and double down in Gulf of Mexico oddly comes in wake of attacks against right for climate change denial

President Barack Obama pivoted from his goal of fighting climate change on Tuesday, setting out a plan to allow the first oil drilling in Atlantic waters off the US east coast but bar companies from some of the pristine waters off the north coast of Alaska.

Offshore Oil Rigphoto by Stephen Conn, on FlickrThe proposals could allow the first oil drilling rigs off the Outer Banks of the Carolinas and other tourist destinations near Virginia and Georgia.

Arriving a week after the president attacked climate deniers in his State of the Union address, the same week as his use of executive authority to protect huge swaths of Alaskan wilderness and in the shadow of the BP oil spill trial, the proposals could allow the first oil drilling rigs off the Outer Banks of the Carolinas and other tourist destinations near Virginia and Georgia. However, they would not include the whaling grounds and other sensitive areas of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

The Pacific coast, where there is strong objection to drilling from state governors and the public, would remain off-limits. However, the Obama administration’s plan called for doubling down on offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The plans – which are far from finalized – represent a first step to auctioning off oil leases from 2017 to 2022, the interior secretary, Sally Jewell, told a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.

“We continue to take an all-of-the-above approach to developing domestic energy,” she said.

The draft proposal includes a single potential oil lease in the Atlantic that could potentially extend from Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay, past North and South Carolina and down to Georgia. However, the proposed area represents the maximum that would ever be opened up for drilling, Jewell said, with oil companies forced to remain 50 miles offshore.

Governors in all four states have pushed hard for the Atlantic’s first offshore oil lease sales. Florida, Delaware and Maryland – where governors are opposed to drilling – were not included in the five-year plan.

The proposals envisage 10 lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and three in the Arctic, though Jewell said it was unlikely any lease sale would be held for the Atlantic before 2021.

Obama had sought to open up drilling in …more

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Can We 3D Print our Way to Sustainability?

3D printing offers promise for home-based manufacturing and recycling

Someday soon, home may be where the recycling happens. If Dr. Joshua Pearce has his way, that is. Pearce has spent his career investigating how technology can address the pressing global issues of sustainability and poverty. Last year, he and his team from Michigan Technological University's Open Sustainability Technology research group put milk jugs through an office shredder, then into a 3D printer. They found that making their own 3D printing feedstock used about one-tenth the energy needed to acquire commercial filament, and used less energy than recycling the plastic conventionally.

3D printingPhoto by Creative Tools, on Flickr Miniature 3D printed pallets. Environmentalists are hopeful because 3D printing is much faster and less wasteful than traditional manufacturing.

3D printing in general has been hailed as an eco-solution that will revolutionize industry as we know it. The technique boasts a wide range of potential applications in manufacturing, medicine, and even building construction. Since world demand for 3D printers and printing materials is projected to reach 5 million dollars per year by 2017, it may make a significant mark on the economy in the coming years. Environmentalists are hopeful because 3D printing offers several advantages over traditional manufacturing. It’s decidedly much faster and less wasteful. Since items are created digitally, there are no limitations on geometry; printers can make intricate shapes, interspersing hollow regions to make lighter-weight products that require less fuel to transport. The technique has already made lighter and cheaper solar panels that are up to 20 percent more efficient than conventional ones.

The eco-virtues of 3D printing have been extolled across the blogosphere. But is all the hype true? And what are its potential environmental drawbacks?

How 3D Printing Works

3D printing builds an item in layers from the bottom up, based on horizontal cross sections of a digital 3D model. It’s also referred to as additive manufacturing, since it builds products by adding material, rather than cutting it away. A major advantage is that it adds material to each layer only where it’s needed, resulting in little waste. In contrast, traditional subtractive manufacturing transports large amounts of material to a manufacturing site, where most of it’s cut away to shape an end product.

The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory found that subtractive manufacturing can waste up to …more

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Plan for Big Solar Array on Long Island Sod Farm Has Residents Crying Foul

Proposed project on bucolic green pits solar power proponents against open space advocates

On Long Island, NY a battle between open space preservation and solar energy has come to a head over a plan to construct a 9.5-megawatt solar array on a 60-acre sod farm by a residential neighborhood in the Suffolk County town of Brookhaven.

The proposal to set up 50,000 solar panels on the vast, open grounds of DeLalio Sod Farms in Shoreham, an unincorporated village within the town Brookhaven, was approved unanimously by the town planning board in October. The following month, a group of Shoreham residents filed a lawsuit claiming that the project lacks proper environmental reviews and that it would affect their property value and maybe even pose a health risk. The suit — against the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), PSEG Long Island (the region’s power utility), Brookhaven Town and sPower, the private developer of a solar array — is forcing local governments to take a hard look at solar energy policies.

A sod farm being wateredPhoto by CGP GreyIn areas with high population density like Long Island where open space is limited, plans to set up solar arrays in green spaces like sod farms are becoming a source of conflict.

As solar power continues to expand in the United States large solar farms have been popping up across the country. While the expansion of renewable energy is undoubtedly a good thing for the nation’s energy portfolio, the solar farms are becoming a source of conflict between local residents and solar advocates. This is especially true in areas with high population density like Long Island where open space is limited.

In the past few years, more than 50 solar energy farms, totaling 50 megawatts of power, have been approved on Long Island as part of the "feed-in tariff" solar initiative, and scores more are in the pipeline, according to PSEG Long Island, which is administering the program along with LIPA.  Another round of 76 projects, totaling 100 megawatts, might be in the works soon.

While some of these projects include arrays on the tops of commercial buildings and on industrial land this rush of new solar farms in the area is posing a new and unexpected threat to the island’s remaining open spaces.

Since the end of World War II suburban sprawl has expanded further and further east on Long Island. The Long Island Index, which …more

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Managing the Wild: Rocky Mountain National Park Turns 100

RMNP managers have learned a thing or two in the first 100 years — here’s a look back, and forward, to the challenges ahead

“It had taken five years of lobbying, debate, conflict, and compromise ... But it happened. On January 26, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill into law. Rocky Mountain National Park was born.”

– Mary Taylor Young, “Rocky Mountain National Park: The First 100 Years”

To look at it, the landscape — a flat, open, riparian meadow — appears easily navigable. But walking across it is comically challenging. In one step the snow supports me, and then suddenly, upon the next step, gives way with a crunch and I'm knee deep in the fluff beneath the icy shell. The snowless patches are hardly better. Clumps of long golden grasses — laid flat by some prior rush of water — make for unsure footing. The 8,300-foot elevation and fierce, frigid wind don't help either. I'm panting and tripping and squinting my way toward an aspen grove in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).

 Elk Rocky Mountain National ParkPhoto by Kent Kanouse, on Flickr Elk on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Trail Ridge’s above tree line traverse is the engineering centerpiece for Rocky's more than three million annual visitors.

The aspen grove is itself odd — tall, wizened, mature trees clustered by a seeming weed field of shoulder high shoots. It's like grandparents day at an aspen tree daycare, with the middle generation conspicuously absent. One hundred feet or so in any direction there's a tall fence, and beyond that, meadow, roadway, and ancient granite stretching upward into cold January sky.

The absence of the middle generation and the presence of the fence can both be explained with a single word: Elk. This grove sits within an exclosure built to keep the elk out; and without the over-grazing elk, the aspen are thriving. Pre-exclosure it was otherwise: old trees dying, middle trees becoming old, and youngsters being wiped out by an overabundance of hungry elk. The ripple effect of this is a spiraling ecological puzzle in which, without sufficient young aspen, beavers are without sustenance. Without beavers — park populations are down 90% from half a century ago — and the ponds they create, the water table drops, further compromising aspen populations and the migratory birds and butterflies who summer among them. 

Taken individually, the exclosure is a simple human construct addressing a …more

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Obama Seeks Wilderness Designation for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

If approved by Congress, it would mean exploration for onshore oil is now off limits in the region

President Obama’s Administration moved to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, known as one of the most wild and remote areas in the world. The Department of the Interior announced yesterday the release of a conservation plan that recommends additional protections for the Refuge that asks Congress to designate core areas—including its Coastal Plain—as wilderness, the highest level of protection available to public lands. This is the first time in history that a Wilderness recommendation includes the Refuge’s Coastal Plain as part of its final plan. If passed by Congress, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would become the largest ever wilderness designation since Congress passed the Wilderness Act more than 50 years ago.

Caribou and Brooks Range, Arctic NWRPhoto courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife ServiceIf the proposal is passed, The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would become the largest ever wilderness designation since Congress passed the Wilderness Act more than 50 years ago.

“Designating vast areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as Wilderness reflects the significance this landscape holds for America and its wildlife,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “Just like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of our nation’s crown jewels and we have an obligation to preserve this spectacular place for generations to come.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, based on the best available science, recommends 12.28 million acres for designation as wilderness with four rivers—the Atigun, Hulahula, Kongakut and Marsh Fork Canning—for inclusion into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. This designation would protect and preserve the refuge, ensuring the land and water would remain unimpaired for use and enjoyment by future generations.

“The Coastal Plain is the wild heart of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is why Americans from all walks of life have advocated for its protection for more than half a century,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “This Wilderness recommendation at last recognizes the wonder and importance of the region for Native cultures, wildlife and anyone seeking to experience one of America’s last great wild places.”

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has the most diverse wildlife in the arctic. Caribou, polar bears, gray wolves, and muskoxen, and more than 200 species of birds, 37 land mammal species, eight marine mammal species and 42 species of fish call the Refuge home.

For thousands of years, the Gwich’in people have regarded the Coastal Plain of the Arctic …more

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