Watching the river flow – the complex effect of stream variability on Bristol Bay’s wildlife

Sylvia Fallon, a Senior Scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, blogged about ecosystem dynamics and the key role of salmon in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed last week, in a post inspired by Peter Lisi’s presentation at ESA’s 2012 annual meeting in Portland. Peter is a postdoc in Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. Here’s an excerpt from Sylvia’s post: Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska supports the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery.  And now scientists have a new understanding why: water temperature and stream flow.   Variation in the temperature and flow of streams is key to supporting not just Bristol Bay’s prolific salmon populations, but also the area’s immense wildlife diversity from bears to birds to plants, according to new research presented this week at the Ecological Society of America meetings in Portland, Oregon.  Working in the Wood River watershed of Southwest Alaska, scientists found that the diversity of stream conditions results in salmon that spawn at different times throughout the season, thereby extending the time that predators and scavengers can feast on this important food supply. …continue reading “Watching the river flow – the complex effect of stream variability on Bristol Bay’s wildlife” on Sylvia’s NRDC blog. In addition to speaking in a symposium on “The Evolving Role of Environmental Scientists in Informing Sustainable Ecosystem Policy and Management” at ESA2012, Sylvia delivered a lunchtime address to ESA’s Rapid Response Team, advising them on her area of expertise, policy engagement. In the early 2000’s, ESA assembled a diverse group of ecologists from agencies, academia and other research environments, who agreed to be on call to reporters and policy makers for expert information on rapidly evolving events of with ecological ramifications — events like the 2010 BP oil spill and hurricane Katrina. But the Team is not just for breaking news. They are also on hand (or on the other end of a phone) to provide ecological context and background on biofuels, climate change, agriculture, forests and fisheries. The Team’s membership turns over every few years to bring in new blood and give longer functioning members a break. Rapid Response Team scientists, and ESA members at large, are also encouraged to reach out to media and legislators before being asked. Fish & Wildlife and other government agencies, for example, typically have public comment periods for policy proposals. Sylvia urged the Team not to underestimate the power of commentary from independent scientists. “In these situations, my association with an environmental advocacy group does tend to compromise my credentials,” she said. During comment periods she often reaches out to scientific community to submit comments, “begging, will you comment, have you...

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Northwest leaders: coal export proposal deserves environmental review

This post contributed by Terence Houston, ESA Science Policy Analyst A proposal to develop new marine coal export terminals in Oregon and Washington, which could ship between 75 million and 175 million tons of Powder River Basin coal annually to Asia, has drawn concern from environmentalists in the region. The National Wildlife Federation and the Association of Northwest Steelheaders have released a report outlining various environmental concerns to local communities brought on by coal production in the region. The six export terminals would be located in Cherry-Point, Grays Harbor, Longview, Port of St. Helens, Port of Morrow and Coos Bay. In the report, entitled “The True Cost of Coal,” the authors state that the proposed projects would pose threats to public health and set back decades of successful environmental recovery efforts in the region.  Among the detriments cited in the report are air pollution from coal dust, noise pollution and congestion from increased train traffic, increased risk of invasive species from tanker traffic as well as mercury deposition and ocean acidification, which could lead to the loss of salmon and steelhead, critical to the regional economy. A number of local communities and organizations, including Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and Oregon’s Environmental Justice Task Force and the American Indian Yakama Nation tribe, have called upon Governor John Kitzhaber (D-OR) to delay any coal-export projects until a comprehensive health impact assessment is completed. The effort is being pushed by mining corporations, including Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Cloud Peak Energy and Ambre Energy North America. The Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, which advocates for the aforementioned entities, contends that “the proposed terminals would create thousands of new jobs and generate tens of millions in additional tax revenue for schools and other services in Washington and Oregon. The group’s website further maintains that the six proposed coal export terminals “can be built in a safe and environmentally responsible way.” The issue has garnered attention from lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) has introduced H.R. 6202, the True Cost of Coal Act. The bill imposes a $10 per ton tax on coal and establishes a Coal Mitigation Trust Fund to mitigate potential negative environmental impacts of coal transportation. The bill is unlikely to advance in the Republican-controlled House. Reps. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Denny Rehberg (R-MT), both supporters of Powder River Basin coal production, have been joined by leading Republicans and some Democrats in calling on the Obama administration to initiate project-specific permit reviews rather than the broad environmental impact assessments environmental advocates endorse. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has issued a letter requesting that the Bureau of Land Management and...

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ESA Policy News: December 22

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS PASSES BILL FUNDING AGENCIES THROUGH FY 2012 The week of Dec. 16, Congress passed H.R. 2055, an omnibus bill which funds the government through the remainder of the current fiscal year (FY) 2012, which ends Sept. 30, 2012. The bill passed the House by a vote of 262-121 and the Senate by a vote of 67-32. The omnibus bill incorporates the remaining nine appropriations bills that were not included in the “minibus” that passed earlier this year (P.L. 112-55). The new omnibus bill includes funding for the Departments of Interior and Energy as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. Energy and Water Overall, energy and water programs are funded at $32 billion for FY 2012, a $328 million increase over FY 2011. For Department of Energy science programs, the bill includes $4.9 billion, an increase of $46 million from FY 2011. The bill also includes $769 million for nuclear energy research and development, $43 million above FY 2011. For environmental management activities, the bill includes $5.7 billion, a $31 million increase over FY 2011. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is funded at $5 billion, a $145 million increase from FY 2011. The FY 2012 funding level for the Corps is also $429 million above the president’s request, one of the few agencies to enjoy this distinction this year. Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): $8.4 billion for FY 2012, $233 million below FY 2011.The conference agreement cuts $14 million (six percent) in clean air and climate research programs; $12 million (9.5 percent) in EPA’s regulatory development office; and $14 million (five percent) to air regulatory programs. The bill also reduces the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund by $101 million. Bureau of Land Management: $1.1 billion, $5 million below FY 2011. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: $1.5 billion, $28 million below FY 2011. National Park Service: $2.6 billion, $32 million below FY 2011. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement: $60 million (this agency was formalized in FY 2011). Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement: $76 million, including $15 million for oil spill research for this agency, formalized in FY 2011. U.S. Forest Service: $4.6 billion for the Forest Service in FY 2012, $91 million below FY 2011. Department of Defense Research and Development: $72.4 billion, $2.5 billion below FY 2011. Click here for the House summary of the omnibus bill or here for the Senate summary of the omnibus bill. A comprehensive listing of policy riders included in the bill...

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In ecology news– land-walking octopi, turtle locomotion, Pebble Mine science, fracking, Neanderthal love

This post contributed by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer An unusual crowd converged at the recent meeting of the Arctic Division of the American Association for Science in Dillingham, AK. Over 150 locals joined the 75 meeting attendants to discuss technical and scientific questions about development of a very large copper mine in the area. The fight over the proposed Pebble Mine has been under way for much of the last decade, with passionate verbal artillery flying from both sides. John Shively, CEO of the mining conglomerate Pebble Limited Partnership, was on hand to discuss the interests of the mine. Bryce Edgmon, who represents the region in the Alaska State Legislature, described the pro-mining atmosphere in Juneau. With oil revenues declining, state government is looking to mining to fill the gap. The Pebble claim sits at the headwaters of two major salmon spawning rivers, the Nushagak and Kvichak, which flow into Bristol Bay, the largest and most profitable salmon fishery in the world. The mining company promises unprecedented technological feats to secure mine tailings and contain dangerous, contaminated water behind dams up to 740 feet high. But members of the half-billion a year salmon industry are worried. The sport fishing industry, environmental organizations, and Alaska Native groups reliant on subsistence fishing have joined them in resisting exploitation of the deposit. Pebble has the potential to become one of the largest mines in the world, holding an estimated 80.6 billion pounds of copper and smaller amounts of gold, molybdenum, silver, rhenium and palladium worth 300-500 billion dollars. The ore also contains sulfides, which will be exposed to the elements by the digging and crushing of the mining process. Without stringent mitigation, sulfuric acid drainage from the mine will profoundly change the chemistry of the watershed. Pebble Partnership is cagy about its exact plans for the site, but it is likely that the open pit mine would cover two square miles and would require an enormous amount of power from a source yet to be identified. During the public forum, CEO Shively offered the Fraser River near Vancouver, British Columbia, as evidence that salmon and mining can coexist. Not everyone agrees. The Fraser had an unexplained record run of 36 million fish in 2010 after a decade of decline (2009’s run was below 2 million). The river hosts two copper mines, including Highland Valley, the largest copper mine in Canada, in operation since the 1970s. Scientists say that only 5 grams of copper (about 2 pennies) in 1 million liters of water (around the volume of public swimming pool)  is enough to screw up salmon’s sense of smell and cause them...

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Ecological research in images

(Click the below image to view the photo gallery.) This week, the American Museum of Natural History launched the exhibit “Picturing Science: Museum Scientists and Imaging Technologies” which explores the images produced by scientists while performing research. The images range from bug genitalia to staghorn coral (see video at the end of this post). As quoted in a recent Wired Science article, “‘A lot of people come to the museum under [the] impression that we just look at stuff in dusty jars, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,’ said zoologist Mark Siddall, curator of the museum’s new exhibit. ‘There’s a lot of solid, cutting-edge research going on here with incredibly advanced technology.’” Dave Mosher explained in the Wired Science article that images like these are a large part of any scientific endeavor, but often times, these images are filed away—never to be seen by the public. Of course, there are journals that publish images alongside the research articles. While they are all accessible through searches, these images are not typically displayed like those that are being featured in the AMNH’s new exhibit. The above photo gallery presents only some of the images that have been featured in the Ecological Society of America’s journals over the last decade or so. Click on the image to scroll through and learn a bit about the research corresponding with each image. Many of the images featured in ESA journals are taken by the researchers themselves. Browse all of the cover images on ESA’s journals...

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Policy News: May 6

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. MINING: COMMITTEE HEARING HIGHLIGHTS INDUSTRY CONCERNS OVER EPA REGS The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment met May 5 for the first in a series of hearings entitled “EPA Mining Policies: Assault on Appalachian Jobs.” The hearings are in reaction to the Obama administration’s review of coal mining projects and the recent interim Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidance for issuing mountaintop removal permits in Appalachia. The guidance is currently under review of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Of the hearing’s four witnesses, none was opposed to mountaintop removal mining. Coal industry supporters on Capitol Hill believe the guidance, which sets the first-ever numeric standard for water conductivity—which  EPA says measures degradation from mining debris—is a significant departure from previous federal oversight of mountaintop removal mining. The mining technique being targeted by the guidance involves dynamiting mountaintops to expose coal seams and disposing of debris in adjacent valleys. Critics of the guidance assert it amounts to new regulations without having gone through the rulemaking process.  Proponents of the guidance maintain that Appalachian mountaintop removal mining is particularly harmful to both ecosystems and people, while producing only a fraction of America’s overall coal output. ENDANGERED SPECIES: NORTHERN ROCKIES GRAY WOLVES DELISTED, PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY FOR GREAT LAKES POPULATIONS On May 4, the US Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a final rule to remove gray wolves in Idaho and Montana as well as parts of Oregon, Utah and Washington, from the threatened or endangered list under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The move comes per the direction of language in the recently enacted  appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2011. The wolf delisting provision was championed by of House Interior and Environment Appropriations Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Sen. John Tester (D-MT). Conservation and scientific groups are concerned that the delisting could pave the way for removal of additional species through legislative means that circumvent—as this one did—the usual delisting process. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar touted the delisting as “a success story,” comparing the gray wolf to the recovery of the whooping crane, brown pelican and bald eagle. Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes noted that the agency will continue to apply the ESA’s “post-delisting monitoring requirements” to help ensure the wolf populations continue to flourish under state management. Some, such as Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), claim the delisting language did not go far enough. Hatch is the lead sponsor of S. 249, the American Big Game and...

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From the Community: genetically altered salmon, microbes on dogs’ paws and anchovy roulette

Genetically altered animals come closer to approval, global climate change extends the time space junk orbits the Earth, researchers develop a method to identify and analyze whale vocalizations, artists shape messages about the planet’s health and female mollies prefer a more mustachioed mate. Here are highlights in ecology from the last week in June.

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ESA Policy News: April 23

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Piper Corp.

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