Water for the trees
Jun07

Water for the trees

Saving forests from drought as the climate warms.

Drought complicates the big problems afflicting modern forests. Gordon Grant, Christina Tague, and Craig Allen think that mitigating drought stress should be an active priority for management of US public forests – in keeping with the US Forest Service mission to “improve and protect the forest” and “secure favorable conditions of water flows”.

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ESA Policy News: April 5

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: SEQUESTRATION IMPLEMENTATION HAS AGENCIES PLANNING FURLOUGHS With policymakers seemingly adapting to the implementation of the sequester budget cuts as a fact of life for the time being, many federal agencies are now faced with furloughs to compensate for the funding cuts they must implement. The cuts remain in effect until such time as Congress comes up with a deal to reach $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next ten years, an unlikelihood in the immediate future at least. On April 1st, the White House announced that 480 of the 500 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) employees have been notified that they will be furloughed for 10 days for the remainder of the current Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. For each pay period beginning April 21 and through Sept. 7, OMB employees will have to take one unpaid furlough day. In addition, less money is being spent on supply and equipment purchases and many agencies have instituted work-related travel restrictions. In an effort to minimize staff furloughs, the United States Geological Survey has pulled back on a number of its popular educational initiatives. This summer, it will no longer hire 1800 college students it utilizes to help monitor flood forecasting data and earthquake seismic activity. The agency is also ending its tours for school groups and the two-week science summer camps for children ages 8-12 that it has hosted annually since 1996. The next opportunity Congress has to reach a deal on the sequester will be when the temporary suspension of the debt ceiling expires. Under current law, the debt ceiling suspension will expire on May 19. However, the US Department of Treasury has indicated that the implementation of extraordinary measures may extend a government default on debt until late July or early August. The White House plans to introduce its budget proposal for FY 2014 on April 10 to nullify sequester cuts. The proposal is expected to include $1.8 trillion in savings through a mix of entitlement reforms and revenue increases. EPA: OVER HALF US RIVERS, STREAMS IN POOR CONDITION On March 26, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report that finds that 55 percent of US rivers and streams are in poor condition for aquatic life. Among its findings:  27 percent of rivers and streams have high levels of nitrogen and 40 percent of these water bodies have high levels of phosphorous. Excessive amounts of these chemicals causes nutrient pollution that increases oxygen-depleting algae that make waterways uninhabitable for aquatic wildlife. The study also found...

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Baltimore’s Watershed 263 experiment in socioecology
Jan16

Baltimore’s Watershed 263 experiment in socioecology

Ecological restoration makes city dwellers happier and healthier. by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer IN the first summer after my move from the cool green climes of western Washington State to Washington, DC, I gained a primal, physical understanding the urban heat island effect. Summer in the District of Columbia is a hot, humid shock for a native northwesterner, and last summer was record-breaking hot. Cycling away on humid summer evenings from the baking concrete and asphalt canyons of downtown, the steady progression into increasingly leafy residential neighborhoods felt like an essential reward, without which the long, sweaty uphill climb would not be psychologically tenable. A patch of woods, one of the many remnant forts of mostly forgotten historical significance dotting our nation’s capital, seemed to breathe blessed, refrigerated air over me as I turned the corner on the last leg of my journey. Thank you, elder generations, for this gift of evapotranspiration! That patch of woods is, of course, contributing more than a cool breeze to passing commuters. It is an ecological refuge, an absorbent surface during intense thunderstorms of the midatlantic summer, and a sponge for nitrogen and phosphorus washing off city streets and lawns. It’s an all-season draw for joggers, dog-walkers, and folks out for an evening stroll.  Parks, playgrounds and tree-lined streets make this working class (though, like much of Washington, rapidly gentrifying) neighborhood a pleasant place to live. And having a pleasant place to live is not trivial, nor is it just a marker of safety and economic privilege. It confers better health and well-being. “We had this hypothesis that there is a link between the social revitalization and ecological revitalization of urban neighborhoods,” said Peter Groffman, a microbial ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. Organizations like the USDA Forest Service and Baltimore’s Parks & People Foundation had observed the connection for many years, he said. The people on the ground say that projects that improve water quality by planting vacant lots, parking strips, and other urban spaces with trees and community gardens also bring people out of doors and teach local kids about their environment – and do so at lower cost than traditional engineering solutions to sewage management and stormwater runoff. When you bring neighbors outdoors to work on a shared community problem, the project brings people together. It creates, as the sociologists like to say, “social cohesion.” People see that they have power over their environment – that, as a group, they have access to power and city services. They start to demand access to other services that residents of wealthier parts of the city...

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UNEP stakeholders’ conference prioritizes sustainability issues

This post contributed by Terence Houston, Science Policy Analyst  Last week’s  United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) North American Major Groups and Stakeholders Consultation in Washington, DC focused on how to implement sustainable development goals (SDGs) outlined during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this past June.  It was noted during the meeting that – in the time since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio 20 years ago – countries, NGOs and private corporations now recognize that the environment is critical to sustainable development. The meeting’s keynote speaker, Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs, spoke on the connection between climate change and economic development. He discussed how record droughts have adversely affected the quality and quantity of crop yields. Sachs also talked about the pressures on natural resources and promoted the need for better public health access including empowering women to make family planning choices.  Sachs stated that gender equality is a vital part of the solution to mitigating poverty and fostering environmental sustainability. He also said that the private sector has a big role to play in producing new energy technology that will be part of achieving “sustainable cities.” The need to link environmental stewardship to economic development was among the major themes discussed during the UNEP meeting. This includes acknowledging that we have a finite quantity of natural resources and should work on practices that help to sustain these resources for the long-term. Water, oil, coal, natural gas, phosphorous and rare earth elements have all been cited as vital resources that the world’s burgeoning population will have significantly reduced within the next 50-200 years.  Global oil and natural gas reserves would be depleted closer to the half century mark, according to information from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. In fact, UNEP, the Environmental Law Institute, the University of Tokyo, and McGill University last month released a book  that looks at how improving management of our dwindling natural resources may prove critical in deterring armed conflicts over these resources. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has a website, which outlines measures to help Americans manage resources more efficiently and reduce the amount of waste we produce. The US Department of Agriculture’s National Resource Conservation Service works with farmers, landowners and nonprofits on techniques to help to make the most of their land and soil and to indentify natural resource concerns in accordance with improving management of the environment. This includes helping farmers and ranchers manage agriculture in times of extreme weather conditions, including hurricanes, droughts or flooding. From a fiscal perspective, continued investment in these...

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Oceanographers testify in Deepwater Horizon civil suit

by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer This fall has seen the endgame of the US Justice Department’s civil case against British Petroleum and eight partners in the matter of the Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout, likely to be settled soon, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Justice Department is suing under the Clean Water Act for damages from the 2010 accident, which killed eleven men and spilled a net 4.2 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, endangering the people, wildlife, and ecosystems of the gulf. The case was scheduled to go to trial in January 2013. In an August memorandum, the JD accused BP of gross negligence. BP could be liable for between $5.4 billion and $21 billion in this case [update to clarify: $21 billion under the Clean Water Act alone; as John Kostyak points out in the comments, the defendants may face further liability under the Oil Pollution Act, among others. Settlement negotiations involve tradeoffs in penalties (it isn’t clear that the OPA fines won’t be levied instead of, rather than in addition to, CWA fines), and as OPA fines count as a tax write-off, and CWA monies mostly go to the States, with less stringent requirements that they be applied to environmental remediation, the political pressures are complex. Dare I say, Byzantine? Louisiana is now asking for a separate trial. The WSJ reported that the government is negotiating a combined settlement for criminal penalties. I urge interested readers to click through to the story for details], and also faces a class action suit on behalf of coastal businesses. Its liability under the CWA is dependent on the volume of oil spilled (and findings of negligence) – a number which is, naturally, under dispute. Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute have found themselves uncomfortably caught up in the legal proceedings after volunteering expert assistance during the emergency. Called upon to help in assessing the failure of the blowout preventer and measuring the rate of oil flow from the broken well, first by BP and later by the US Coast Guard, the scientists have been pushed into taking a side in the case when their findings were seen as unfavorable to the defendants. BP is, in any case, treating them as hostile witnesses. Last Spring, defense council subpoenaed more than 3000 emails that passed between oceanographers Christopher Reddy, Richard Camilli, and their colleagues during the exploration and data analysis, and in communication with editors and peer reviewers during publication negotiations. The team had already supplied BP with 52,000 pages of data and other materials used to reach their conclusions. “When BP sent its...

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ESA Policy News: October 26

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: REPORT FINDS SPENDING CUTS POSE THREATS TO PUBLIC SAFETY, CONSERVATION EFFORTS ON PUBLIC LANDS A recent report from several conservation organizations concludes that the automatic spending cuts, set to take place in January 2013 under the Budget Control Act, would adversely impact efforts to protect public health and safety in public parks, forests and natural recreational areas. For National Parks, the study concludes that budget sequestration would force a loss of park rangers, jeopardizing public safety for park visitors and hindering the promptness of emergency response personnel. The cuts could also spur increases in vandalism and looting in public parks and impede efforts to monitor endangered species. For the  Forest Service, the cuts would decrease the agency’s ability to respond to wildfires. Inadequate campground maintenance would also lead to park trail closures, increasingly unkempt bathroom facilities, halted restoration projects and unprocessed recreational permits. All of this would adversely impact revenue brought in from tourism. The automatic cuts would also hinder the agency’s ability to manage  invasive species. The report was led by the Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Parks Conservation Association and Defenders of Wildlife. View the full report here. ENDANGERED SPECIES: INTERIOR VACATES CRITICAL HABITAT DESIGNATION FOR SEABIRD Department of Interior officials have agreed to vacate nearly four million acres of critical habitat for the threatened marbled murrelet until 2018 as part of a settlement agreement with the American Forest Resource Council (AFRC), a prominent timber industry advocate. The designation would have included parts of California, Oregon and Washington states. The agreement must be approved by the US District Court for the District of Columbia before it is final. According to court documents, defendants agreed that vacating critical habitat would not significantly impair conservation efforts for the species. Conservation groups, however, differ with this opinion. According to the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), marbled murrelets have been declining by roughly four percent per year since 2002. This decline is mainly attributed to continued habitat loss due to logging, particularly on state and private lands. On Oct. 24, CBD joined with several environmental groups in sending a letter to the Obama administration requesting that it withdraw from the agreement before it becomes final. To view the CBD letter, click here. For more information on federal conservation efforts for the marbled murrelet, click here. GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT: SCIENCE EXEMPTION SOUGHT FOR TRAVEL BAN LEGISLATION A legislative effort to curb participation of  federal employees at national conferences has spurred an effort from several organizations to seek an exemption...

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40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act
Oct18

40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act

by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer “Help!” 1969. Cleveland State University Library Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection. Bill Roberts Editorial Cartoon Collection. Roberts0706. By 1969, there had long been no fish left in the Cuyahoga to plead for help, according to a Time magazine article that ran that August, and commented, memorably,  “Some River! Chocolate-brown, oily, bubbling with subsurface gases, it oozes rather than flows.” ON the afternoon of June 22, 1969, the Cuyahoga River was on fire. It wasn’t the first time; the river had burned in Cleveland on 13 occasions over the previous century. This was just a little flare up, of no particular note, put out in less than half an hour by the local fire department. Nothing like the 1952 blaze that burned through three days, a bridge, and a fleet of fishing vessels, to the tune of $1.5 million. But people did notice. Time magazine noticed, and Washington noticed. Americans, seeing the costs of pollution, were mobilizing for change. The stage was set for the Clean Water Act. Though he supported the Clean Air Act and set up the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, President Nixon vetoed the Clean Water Act when it arrived on his desk two years later, complaining of its bloated $24 billion price tag and retroactive payments to state and local governments for sewer upgrades already completed. The water quality bill he sent to Congress, he wrote, would get the job done in a fiscally responsible manner. “It would have committed $6 billion in Federal funds over a three-year period, enough to continue and accelerate the momentum toward that high standard of cleanliness which all of us want in America’s waters,” he told Congress in his veto statement. “I have nailed my colors to the mast on this issue. The political winds can blow where they may. I am prepared for the possibility that my action on this bill may be overridden.” Congress did overrule him, voting the Clean Water Act into law on October 18, 1972.  But it took the Impoundment Act of 1974 and a Supreme Court ruling to get him to spend all of the money Congress appropriated for the purpose. US rivers do not run thick with oil anymore, thanks to the Clean Water Act, the EPA, and other environmental policies of the 1970s. The Clean Water Act has been very effective at cleaning up point sources of pollution to the “navigable waters” in it’s purview, sources like municipal sewers and stormdrains, stockyards, and refineries (ephemeral water bodies like seasonal rivers, playa lakes, and wetlands disconnected from a “significant nexus” with a navigable waterway are not protected,...

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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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