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In the Channel Islands, an Effort to Save Seabirds and Native Flora is Paying Off

The biggest challenge facing the restoration process has been access to freshwater

Encouraging seabirds to recolonize regions of the Channel Islands National Park in California requires more than just erecting artificial nests and hoping they’ll return.  They also need native island flora and the sweet serenade from their own species resonating above sheer, volcanic cliffs.

ScorpionRockPhoto by Chuck GrahamAn island restoration team kayaks out to Scorpion Rock, one of the Channel Islands' rocky outcropping. Ocean sediments in the region now contain the largest known concentration of DDT in the world.

Since 2008, the National Park Service has been aggressively restoring lost habitat for seafaring birds like the nocturnal ashy storm petrels and the seafaring Cassin’s auklets on Santa Barbara Island, and on large rock outcroppings like Orizaba Rock, but especially on Scorpion Rock near the southeast end of Santa Cruz Island.

The project has been funded by the Montrose Restoration Program, which oversees the restoration of natural resources in southern California marine environment that were harmed by DDT and PCBs.  From the late 1940s to the early 1970s, Montrose Chemical Corporation’s DDT manufacturing plant in Torrance, CA,  dumped millions of tons of DDT-contaminated wastewater in the Southern California Bight near Catalina Island. The results were devastating for the pelagic food web. Ocean sediments in the region now contain the largest known concentration of DDT in the world.

In March 2001, following 25 years of litigation, Montrose and three other corporations — that were manufacturing PCBs and releasing their waste into the ocean through the same channels as Montrose — were ordered to pay $140 million in restitution with $40 million going towards restoring natural resources like seabird colonies on the Channel Islands National Park.

CassinsAukletPhoto by Chuck GrahamSince 2008, the National Park Service has been aggressively restoring lost habitat for seafaring birds like Cassin’s auklets.

Twelve species of seabirds nest on the archipelago. Besides Cassin’s auklets and ashy storm petrels, the other 10 species include double-crested, pelagic, and Brandt’s cormorants, pigeon guillemots, Scripps’s murrelets, California brown pelicans, western gulls, black oystercatchers, and two more types of petrels, black and leach’s. Eight of those species utilize Scorpion Rock, which is nearing the end of a major facelift, botanically speaking. 

At one time or another all five islands that make up the Channel Islands National Park experienced ranching, mainly between the 1830s and the late 1980s. When non-native animals are brought to islands non-native plants also come along. Perpetual northwest winds blew seeds onto the islands’ rock outcroppings, …more

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Zimbabwe’s Typhoid Outbreak Worsened by Water Scarcity and Poor Sewage Infrastructure

Outbreak underscores gap between a wealthy elite and those who have fewer choices about where the can source their water from

A typhoid outbreak in Zimbabwe has been claiming lives and infecting dozens over the past few months. The outbreak, which is likely due to an over-stressed sewage system and lack of clean water, is widening the gap between a wealthy elite who can afford to import bottled water to escape disease and those who have fewer choices about where they bathe or how they quench their thirst.

photo of water faucetPhoto by Robert AllenLack of clean water and an overstressed sewage system are likely causes of Zimbabwe's ongoing typhoid oubreak, which as so far infected an estimated 600 people.

Typhoid — a serious bacterial infection that results from consuming contaminated water and food, or from close contact with someone who is infected  — was first detected in Zimbabwe´s capital Harare in December 2016, when a 13-year-old girl succumbed to its complications.

The outbreak is the worst in Harare, the capital city 2 million where authorities have had to activate a typhoid treatment camp. As of early February, there have been two confirmed deaths, and more than 600 suspected cases, the majority in Harare and its adjacent suburbs. 

The cause of the outbreak has been the subject of some dispute, but many experts agree that Harare’s over-stressed sewage system, with pipes designed in the 1960s and some last cleaned in the 90s, is a major part of the problem.

“Raw sewage finds itself flowing unchecked into household pipes because the system for transporting waste is not functioning,” says Jadagu Garikain, an academic at the University of Zimbabwe´s School of Rural and Urban Planning.

The need to upgrade the capital´s sewer system has remained unaddressed since the late 1980s. Given Harare’s growing population, the current infrastructure has outlived its lifespan. “The capital’s main sewer treatment plant can only treat 54 out of its required 154 mega liters per day,” Garikain adds. “Lack of electricity, engineers, [and] chemical agents is the fatal reason.”

Paired with the sewage problem is the issue of access to clean water — an emotionally fraught issue in Harare, one of Africa´s most water-stressed cities. Suburbs can endure three years without seeing a drop ooze out of pipes thanks to a severe shortage of cash to import purification chemicals,  an exodus of qualified water engineers to South Africa, Australia and beyond, and, according to Transparency International Zimbabwe, a government accountability organization, illicit awarding of water contracts to dodgy water companies.

On luckier days, when there is water, …more

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FERC’s Alternative Climate Facts

Federal agency has made 'no significant impact' determination for every pipeline-related climate assessment since 2009

Long before Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway took the phrase “alternative facts” mainstream, a rogue federal agency with authority to ram giant gas pipelines through people’s property against their will has for years pioneered the Trumpian version of reality when assessing the climate impact of natural gas infrastructure.

photo of pipelinePhoto by Loozrboy, FlickrFERC has approved nearly 200 interstate gas pipelines since 2009, but has not found a single one to have a significant impact on the climate.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), an “independent” agency that regulates the interstate transmission of gas and electricity, has permitted nearly 200 interstate gas pipeline projects stretching over 6,000 miles since 2009, and rejected only a single application. For each of these permitted projects an environmental impact statement was conducted. Where climate was assessed in these studies, the conclusion has always been the same – “no significant impact.”

Oil Change International and partners are launching a series of briefings today, together with a detailed methodology, that set the record straight on FERC’s alternative climate facts. The evidence is as clear as the rain on Trump’s inauguration ceremony. Major interstate gas pipelines cause climate change.

We kick this series off with assessments of two proposed pipelines that would tear through the pristine national forests and historic bucolic farmlands of West Virginia and Virginia (and in the case of one, also through North Carolina), the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines. (Read more about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s impact on Appalachian landscapes and communities here.)

Together these pipelines would cause annual emissions of around 158 million metric tons, equivalent to that of 46 average coal plants or over 33 million passenger vehicles. These projects could deliver these emissions for decades to come, so given the urgency to reduce emissions to close to zero by mid-century to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, a verdict of ‘no significant impact’ seems a little lenient.

So how does FERC manage to portray these emissions as not actually happening? (Sean Spicer should take note here because we’re about to reveal some tricks of the trade.)

First, FERC sticks to long-since-discredited assumptions by ignoring an entire body of research that contradicts its preferred finding. Second, it pretends stuff that’s happening is not happening. 

The discredited assumption FERC is wedded to is the idea that gas is a cleaner fossil fuel than coal or oil and therefore more gas flowing …more

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‘Extraordinary’ Levels of Pollutants Found in Pacific Ocean’s 10-Kilometer-Deep Mariana Trench

Presence of manmade chemicals in most remote place on planet shows nowhere is safe from human impact, say scientists

Scientists have discovered “extraordinary” levels of toxic pollution in the most remote and inaccessible place on the planet — the 10-kilometer-deep Mariana trench in the Pacific Ocean.

Small crustaceans that live in the pitch-black waters of the trench, captured by a robotic submarine, were contaminated with 50 times more toxic chemicals than crabs that survive in heavily polluted rivers in China.

photo of lobster Mariana trenchPhoto by NOAA Ocean Exploration & ResearchA small lobster in the Mariana trench. Scientists have discovered that small crustaceans in the trench, the most remote place on the planet, are contaminated with extraordinary levels of toxic chemicals.

“We still think of the deep ocean as being this remote and pristine realm, safe from human impact, but our research shows that, sadly, this could not be further from the truth,” said Alan Jamieson of Newcastle University in the UK, who led the research.

“The fact that we found such extraordinary levels of these pollutants really brings home the long-term, devastating impact that mankind is having on the planet,” he said.

Jamieson’s team identified two key types of severely toxic industrial chemicals that were banned in the late 1970s, but do not break down in the environment, known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). These chemicals have previously been found at high levels in Inuit people in the Canadian Arctic and in killer whales and dolphins in western Europe.

The research, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, suggests that the POPs infiltrate the deepest parts of the oceans as dead animals and particles of plastic fall downwards. POPs accumulate in fat and are therefore concentrated in creatures up the food chain. They are also water-repellent and so stick to plastic waste.

“The very bottom of the deep trenches like the Mariana are inhabited by incredibly efficient scavenging animals, like the 2 centimeter-long amphipods we sampled, so any little bit of organic material that falls down, these guys turn up in huge numbers and devour it,” said Jamieson.

He said it was not unexpected that some POPs would be found in the deepest parts of the oceans: “When it gets down into the trenches, there is nowhere else for it to go. The surprise was just how high the levels were — the contamination in the animals was sky high.”

The level of one type of POP, called polychlorinated …more

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This Land Was Built for Bison

A former rancher uses his experience in low-stress cattle handling to manage bison herds in Canada’s Grasslands National Park

Back when Don Gillespie’s mother, Norah, was growing up on the family ranch in the mixed-grass prairie of southwestern Saskatchewan in west-central Canada there were few roads and fewer vehicles. Ranch work was done with horses and fence pastures were scarce. These prairies once held tens of thousands of bison but after European contact the bison were hunted to near extinction and cattle took over as the large grazer in the ecosystem.

photo of grasslands national parkPhoto by Marshal Drummond Grasslands National Park is one of Canada's best bison habitat. Since being reintroduced in 2005 after more than 100 years of absence, the bison population in the park has grown quickly.

Succeeding as a rancher on the large open prairies took patience and skill, especially when herding cattle. Norah discovered that if one was quiet in gesture and voice, a person could move large numbers of cattle with a small number of people and fewer problems. “The first guy to holler had to go to the house," Gillespie says, recalling his mother’s insistence on using low-stress animal handling techniques. "The only way you can handle livestock in big pastures is slow. You have to keep the energy level down, if you don’t, you are running the weight off the cattle.”

Gillespie learned from his mother to work with the landscape and took over the family ranch when his parents retired, carrying on the work of previous generations.

"My family's ranch had been in my family for a hundred years," says Gillespie, whose deeply crinkled eyes hint at a life spent living and laughing on the land. "My wife and I had two daughters. One wanted to work in finance and found a good job at a bank in the city. Our other daughter loved the land and ranching but she was killed in 2008." Gillespie paused, as if remembering happier times. "With no one to leave the land too," he continued, "it made sense to make it part of Grasslands National Park."

In 2008 he sold and the family’s 32 square miles of land became part of Grasslands National Park. One of the few remaining natural grasslands in North America, the park contains over 70 different species of grass and more than 50 wildflower species. It is also home to several at-risk species, including the burrowing owl and black-tailed prairie dog.

"It's bittersweet," Gillespie says about being the last Gillespie to live on the land. "Grasslands National Park has …more

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The Planet Needs Radical Compassion

Action built upon care and concern for all human and nonhuman beings can lend power to the environmental movement

Deborah Eden Tull was born an activist. “My mom, Tanya Tull, founded four nonprofits to end homelessness and my grandparents were old-time social justice activists and artists,” says Tull, who took on environmentalism as her branch of the family effort. Early in her career, Tull worked for many well-known environmental groups. “I deeply loved and respected the outer work … these activists were doing. But I also got to witness the imbalance.” In Tull’s words, the environmentalists and other activists she grew up with were prone to “depletion, anger, competition, finger pointing, and just plain not getting along.”

photo of hugsPhoto by Guillaume DELEBARRE, Flickr Tull and others in the eco movement are calling on environmentalists to become radically compassionate, aware of the interdependence of all things and everybody.

“One of the things I learned [early on] was that they were doing things in ways that led to burnout and stress rather than peace,” says Tull, who is an Ojai, California-based mindfulness teacher and sustainability educator. She’s also a teaching assistant for UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center.

In today’s political climate, where environmentalists feel under siege — consider a recent email blast from the Sierra Club, for example, that says the “E” in EPA will soon stand for “eliminated” if the Trump administration and likeminded members of congress have their way — activism burn-out is top of mind.

This is why Tull — and others in the eco movement — are calling on environmentalists to become radical. That is, radically compassionate. Compassion — an awareness of the interdependence of all things and everybody — is the only way to move from a place of real power and have a lasting impact, says Tull.

This sentiment is echoed by Paul Wapner, professor of global environmental politics at American University in Washington, DC, and author of Living Through The End of Nature. “In my mind, the environmental movement itself is fundamentally a compassion movement in the sense that one of the things it tries to do is extend moral consideration across time to future generations,” Wapner says. “Certainly it does this across space. Part of our concern is for those living downstream, suffering the consequences of environmentally harmful behavior. And also across species to the extent that we’re extending care to the more-than-human world.”

If the movement is compassionate, though, activism has not always been.

“People tend to react to environmental issues, the election, social justice issues, anything that …more

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Small Northern California Town Taking On Timber Giant for the Right to Local Water

Residents are engaged in a legal battle with company that has told them to find water elsewhere

For 107 years, residents of Weed, California, a picturesque hamlet nestled against the flanks of snow-capped Mt. Shasta, have been drinking water from nearby Beaughan Spring. The water is so pure it flows straight to their faucets; no treatment is necessary. Locals take gallon jugs of it with them when they leave town.

photo of Weed, CaliforniaPhoto by Don Barrett, Flickr The Roseburg Forest Products mill in Weed, California. The timber giant, which asserts ownership over a local spring, has told the city to find a new source of water.

But Roseburg Forest Products (RFP), the Oregon-based timber giant that owns the land around the spring, has other uses for that pure water. Crystal Geyser already bottles Beaughan Spring water in Weed, and residents believe Roseburg wants to sell them even more. The timber company has told the 2,700 folks who call Weed home to find their water elsewhere.

"No way,” says Michael Yates of the Water for Citizens of Weed, California. “I've been drinking that water for 60 years. I can taste the chlorine in other tap water. Even my dog gets sick drinking that stuff.”

Before it was a stop along Interstate 5, Weed was a classic timber company town. Abner Weed bought the land and the Siskiyou Lumber and Mercantile Mill in 1897 for $400. RFP is still the largest private employer in town.

The company changed hands a few times before 1959, when International Paper approached the state for permission to subdivide the land and sell it to residents. A condition of the sale, completed in 1961, was creation of the non-profit Weed Water Works to provide water, sewer, and fire protection for the fledgling community. Rates and charges are determined by the California Public Utilities Commission.

When the Weed Water Works sold all assets to the city in 1966 they included the infrastructure but excluded rights to the water. Instead they granted a 50-year lease to provide 2.0 cubic feet per second to the city for $1 a year. That lease expired June 26, 2016.

Beaughan Spring is located on RFP property, but ownership of the water rights is murky. Twenty years ago Crystal Gyser began negotiating directly with the city for rights to bottle more of that pure spring water. Finding a cloud over the water rights, they turned their attention to the land owners. Five years ago, RFP …more

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