ESA Policy News: November 9

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. 2012 ELECTION: RESULTS PRODUCE SAME PLAYERS, ADDED POLARIZATION The 2012 elections resulted in the continuation of a divided government with both parties more or less playing with the same hand they held before the election. President Obama remains in the White House, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) retains control of the Senate (albeit with a slightly more cushioned majority) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) retains control of the House with a substantial majority of over 230 Republican members. White House The re-election of President Obama generally means no significant policy changes for federal agencies. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) continues its National Oceans Policy, the Department of Interior’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative remains intact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will continue its regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions and its current Clean Water Act and mountain-top removal mining policies will be sustained.  The Department of State will continue its review of the Keystone XL pipeline with its early 2013 date on whether it will approved. The great unknown is who among the federal agency heads will be staying on to implement these policies. House US House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is expected to retain his role as is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). Congress’s first order of business, upon returning for its lame-duck session next week will be to address the fiscal cliff, a combination of automatic spending cuts enacted under the Budget Control Act and a series of expiring tax cuts enacted under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama. Speaker Boehner has declared that House Republicans are prepared to embrace a deficit reduction deal that includes revenue increases so long as those increases are coupled with further non-defense discretionary spending cuts and mandatory spending reductions. The Speaker has forewarned, however, that any revenue increases should be made through reforms to the tax code that closes loopholes, not through tax increases on the wealthiest Americans or small businesses. Republican control of the House means that many of the attempts to legislatively delist species from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, prohibit funding for NOAA’s proposed climate service, roll back Department of Interior and EPA regulations intended to protect the environment and cut or limit discretionary spending on certain science initiatives, will also continue over the next two years. House committee oversight hearings that are highly critical of various administration regulations and initiatives will also continue under the current majority. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) retains control of the Senate, partially due to...

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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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800 treated turtles to be released in Florida today and tomorrow

January’s recent cold snap not only affected local produce and nonnative Iguanas in Florida, but the endangered sea turtles as well. Sea turtles recover in a warming pool Photo Credit: NOAA Acclimated to milder water off of Florida’s coasts, cold-blooded sea turtles become unable to swim or eat as water temperatures drop, leaving the reptiles stunned and hypothermic. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and several other county, state and federal agencies quickly came to the aid of these endangered and threatened turtles. According to NOAA, officials rescued more than 3,500 turtles in the last couple of weeks and treated them for dehydration and injuries. And with temperatures rising recently, agencies have been able to release the turtles back into their natural habitats. A sea turtle is rescued Photo Credit: FWC The FWC reports that a total of 2,000 turtles have been released on the East Coast so far, and 800 more turtles are expected to be released today and tomorrow from the Panhandle region alone. Just yesterday, 27 turtles were released off the coast of Key West after being treated at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon,...

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Leatherbacks turn up by the tens of thousands

The largest population of leatherback sea turtles in the world has been identified off the coast of Gabon, Africa, and is estimated at somewhere between 15,700 and 41,400 female turtles. This seems to be a big bounceback for the endangered turtles, which are the largest living members of the sea turtle superfamily. This rough estimate was compiled during three nesting seasons between 2002 and 2007, using video to capture footage along Gabon’s 372-mile coastline, in addition to terrestrial monitoring. The study, which appears in Biological Conservation, also identifies the key sites for leatherback nesting, which can be used in assessing and developing management strategies. Beginning about 25 years ago, leatherback populations in the Indo-Pacific oceans were reduced to less than 10 percent of their former size. Although the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists leatherback turtles as critically endangered on a global scale, adequate population assessments across much of the Atlantic, especially along the African coast, are in short supply. In a press release, lead author Matthew Witt of the University of Exeter said: “We knew that Gabon was an important nesting site for leatherback turtles but until now had little idea of the size of the population or its global ranking. We are now focusing our efforts on working with local agencies to coordinate conservation efforts to ensure this population is protected against the threats from illegal fisheries, nest poaching, pollution and habitat disturbance, and climate change.” The study also showed that about 79 percent of nesting in Gabon occurs within national parks and other protected areas. Good news for the turtles, as these areas will be much easier to manage than privately owned lands. Photo courtesy Matthew Witt. Witt, M., Baert, B., Broderick, A., Formia, A., Fretey, J., Gibudi, A., Moussounda, C., Mounguengui Mounguengui, G., Ngouessono, S., & Parnell, R. (2009). Aerial surveying of the world’s largest leatherback turtle rookery: A more effective methodology for large-scale monitoring Biological Conservation DOI:...

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