Zeal to ensure clean leafy greens takes bite out of riverside habitat in California
May06

Zeal to ensure clean leafy greens takes bite out of riverside habitat in California

Perceived food safety risk from wildlife drives expensive and unnecessary habitat destruction around farm fields By Liza Lester, ESA communications officer Meticulous attention to food safety is a good thing. As consumers, we like to hear that produce growers and distributers go above and beyond food safety mandates to ensure that healthy fresh fruits and vegetables do not carry bacteria or viruses that can make us sick. But in California’s Salinas Valley, some more vigorous interventions are cutting into the last corners of wildlife habitat and potentially threatening water quality, without evidence of food safety benefits. These policies create tensions between wildlife preservation and food safety where none need exist, say scientists for The Nature Conservancy, writing in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. The study will be published online ahead of print on Monday, May 6th, 2013. “Farming practices for food safety that target wildlife are damaging valuable ecological systems despite low risk from these animals,” said lead author Sasha Gennet. Check the back of your bag of spinach or prepackaged salad greens, and you’ll probably find that they came from the Salinas Valley. Salad is big business in California. In the aftermath of a deadly 2006 Escherichia coli serotype O157:H7 outbreak traced to California spinach, growers and distributers of leafy greens came together to create the California Leafy Green Handler Marketing Agreement (LGMA) on best practices for the industry, enforced by third-party auditors and inspectors. The LGMA established standards for farm work hygiene, produce processing and transport, and proximity to livestock. About 99 percent of California leafy greens now come from participating farms. But produce farmers in the Salinas Valley report pressure from some powerful buyers to take additional precautions not mandated by government or industry standards. These buyers insist that swathes of bare ground wider than a football field is long separate the leafy greens from rivers, wetlands and other wildlife habitat. Other precautions include treating irrigation water with chemicals toxic to fish and amphibians, and setting poisoned bait for rodents. “The California Leafy Green Hander agreement is transparent, flexible and science based,” said Gennet. “Going above and beyond it just creates costs for farmers and doesn’t improve safety.” It also creates costs for wildlife. Although scant evidence exists of risk of food-borne disease spread by wildlife, the risk of rejection of produce by major buyers is too much for most growers to bear, say Gennet and her co-authors. They measured changes in wetlands and riverside habitat in the Salinas Valley between 2005 and 2009, finding 13.3 percent converted to bare ground, crops or otherwise diminished. Widespread introduction of fencing...

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ESA Policy News: February 1

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: CONGRESS PASSES BILL TO SUSPEND DEBT CEILING TEMPORARILY On Jan. 23, the House passed H.R. 325, the No Budget, No Pay Act. The bill would temporarily eliminate the debt ceiling until May 19 while temporarily suspending pay for Members of Congress until the House and Senate each pass a budget. The measure prevents the nation from defaulting on its debt, potentially into August if the US Department of Treasury takes extraordinary measures. The bill gives additional breathing room to a series of fiscal debates set to occur in March concerning budget sequestration and continuing appropriations for Fiscal Year 2013. A trigger of automatic across-the-board spending cuts to both defense and non-defense discretionary spending programs will occur on March 1 unless Congress can come up with a plan to reduce the debt beforehand. Under H.R. 325, if either the House or Senate fails to pass a budget by the April 15 deadline, all income earned by the members of that chamber would be set aside. The members pay would be received in full once a budget is passed or on the final day of the 113th Congress at the end of calendar year 2014. The technical decision to withhold members pay as opposed to eliminating it indefinitely seeks to minimize conflicts with the 27th Amendment to the US Constitution, which prevents Congress from changing its pay after it has already convened. The bill also does not require both the House and Senate to pass the same budget, unlikely to occur, given the current party division between the two chambers. Murray takes Senate Budget Committee reins A new key player in federal debt talks this year will be Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), who assumes the chairmanship of the Senate Budget Committee. Even before the House legislation was finalized, Chairwoman Murray had pledged that the Senate would put forward and pass a budget this year, which would mark the first time the Senate has passed a budget since 2009. The Senate Budget Committee has posted a site that allows individuals to solicit their ideas on how to achieve fiscal reform as well as share stories of how federal investment has impacted them. To view the site and offer comments, click here. WHITE HOUSE: PRESIDENT EMPHASIZES NEED TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE IN SECOND INAUGURAL ADDRESS After a year of relative silence on the issue of climate change, President Obama gave the topic center stage in his second inaugural address. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the...

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ESA Policy News: September 14

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: HOUSE PASSES SIX MONTH FUNDING BILL, AUTOMATIC CUTS STILL PENDING This week, Congress took up a six month continuing resolution (CR), an omnibus appropriations measure (H. J. Res. 117) that would fund government agencies through the end of March 2013. The funding is necessary as the current fiscal year 2012 ends on Sept. 30. The bill passed the House Sept. 13 by a vote of 329-91. Seventy Republicans and 21 Democrats opposed the measure. The agreement between House and Senate leaders of both parties uses funding based on the original Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25) agreement, the ceiling level of $1.047 trillion. Among its provisions, the bill adds about $800 million in funding for the Department of Interior (DOI) and the US Forest Service for wildfire suppression. The bill also continues a provision to deny funding for a provision in a 2007 energy law that would enforce light bulb efficiency standards. The measure also extends the current pay freeze for federal workers. Sequestration threat still looms While passage of the measure will ensure that government programs can continue to be funded through the opening months of the new calendar year, whether or not these funding levels will be sustained remains in limbo due to another provision of the Budget Control Act  which would initiate a budget sequestration in January. The sequestration would mean an eight percent cut to all discretionary programs (defense and non-defense) unless Congress takes action after the election to either find an alternative $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction or pass legislation to postpone or nullify the proposed discretionary spending cuts. On Sept. 14, the White House released a detailed account of how sequestration will impact federal agencies, as mandated by the Sequestration Transparency Act, passed by Congress last month. Read the report here. A few weeks ago, the Ecological Society of America, the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the American Mathematical Society teamed up to craft an action alert to their respective members, encouraging them to make their voices heard to their congressional representatives.  To go to the AIBS Legislative Action page where you’ll find more information on the fiscal cliff and budget sequestration as well as a letter to Members of Congress, click here. FWS: WYOMING GREY WOLVES REMOVED FROM ENDANGERED SPECIES PROTECTIONS On Aug. 31, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that gray wolves in Wyoming no longer require protection under the Endangered Species Act. According to FWS, there are 328 wolves in Wyoming, 230 of which live outside the...

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The multifaceted benefits of effective water infrastructure management

On April 25, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) joined Discover Magazine, IEEE-USA and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in hosting a briefing on how urban water infrastructure can be utilized to conserve energy and protect potable water resources. The briefing sought to promote the idea that better management of water resources serves to improve ecosystems, water quality and mitigate impacts of climate change. In his opening remarks, Senator Reid emphasized how climate change, energy and infrastructure are all interconnected. The Majority Leader noted the importance of such programs as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which he contended have seen funding shortfalls for much of the past 15 years. He also lamented how some of his colleagues in the Senate remain unwilling to address the issue of climate change. In July 2011, NSF announced a five-year, $18.5 million grant to fund a new Engineering Research Center to revolutionize the nation’s urban water infrastructure, the Engineering for Research Center for Re-inventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt) at Stanford University. The new center includes 22 industry partners and researchers from a variety of fields related to ecology, urban studies and law that will work to foster innovative solutions to issues related to water infrastructure systems. Richard Luthy, Director at ReNUWIt, noted the many potential benefits reaped from advancements in wastewater treatment technologies. Noting the increasingly important role they play in energy management, Luthy suggested that wastewater plants be looked at as “resource recovery centers.” He said that nitrogen and phosphorus in wastewater can be effectively used as fertilizer. According to ReNuWIt, reusing municipal wastewater that would otherwise be discharged into an ocean or estuary for non-potable uses would significantly augment water availability, save on the energy that would be used to treat water to make it potable and curb the need to transport water supplies. Patricia Mulroy, General Manger of the Las Vegas Valley Water District in the Southern Nevada Water Authority, noted that 100 percent of the water from Lake Meade used by neighboring communities is treated and returned to the lake for reuse.  Mulroy stated that treated wastewater has helped to restore wetlands in the state of Nevada. She also noted that climate change will continue to diminish water resources, furthering the need to take advantage of new wastewater management technologies. The briefing was moderated by Tom Peterson, Assistant Director of the NSF Directorate for Engineering. He noted that while U.S. investment in water infrastructure research has flat-lined for decades, China has doubled its investment in water infrastructure research.   For additional information on NSF activities related to ReNUWIt, click...

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ESA Policy News: January 13

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. INTERIOR: GRAND CANYON HARDROCK MINING PROHIBITION ENACTED On Jan. 9, the Department of Interior (DOI) announced its decision to ban new hardrock mining claims on more than one million acres around Grand Canyon National Park for the next 20 years. The order was signed by Sec. of Interior Ken Salazar. The withdrawn area includes 355,874 acres of U.S. Forest Service land on the Kaibab National Forest; 626,678 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands; and 23,993 acres of split estate – where surface lands are held by other owners while subsurface minerals are owned by the federal government. The affected lands, all in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon or Grand Canyon National Park, are located in Mohave and Coconino Counties of Northern Arizona. The process for approving withdrawal involved an extensive public comment period in which a wide array of stakeholders, including the Ecological Society of America, participated. To view the ESA letter, click here. For more information on the Interior’s withdrawal, click here. INTERIOR: NEW ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTERS SCIENCE PANEL CREATED On Jan. 6, the Department of Interior (DOI) announced the creation of the Strategic Sciences Group, a team intended to improve federal responsiveness to environmental disasters. The creation of the group is authorized under a recent order signed by DOI Secretary Ken Salazar. Interior officials contend the need to improve communication and coordination between federal scientists representing DOI, the United States Geological Survey and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, among others, led to the creation of the new group. The Strategic Sciences Group will be co-led by Gary Machlis, Science Adviser for the National Park Service Director and David Applegate, United States Geological Survey Associate Director for Natural Hazards. The group was given three months to establish an operational plan describing its organization and high-priority crisis scenarios. Rhea Suh, Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget, is in charge of implementing the order. More information on the DOI order can be found here. PUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY: WHITE HOUSE RELEASES DRAFT OCEAN PLAN On Jan. 12, the White House National Ocean Council released a draft of its National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan. The plan outlines a series of actions the federal government will take to improve environmental stewardship of the nation’s oceans, Great Lakes and coastal areas. The report instructs federal agencies to post all non-confidential data on ocean research to a new centralized ocean data website over the next three years. It also directs the federal government to streamline ocean and coastal permitting processes and call...

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Out of the ashes: The Gulf, one year later

Last year the world’s eyes turned to the Gulf of Mexico when British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon drilling unit exploded, causing what became the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.  Eleven people lost their lives in the explosion that resulted in 205.8 million gallons of crude oil leaking into the Gulf, 17 were injured, and countless more had to rebuild their livelihoods. This time last year Deepwater Horizon was still spewing about 53,000 barrels per day into the Gulf, in a community still recovering from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.  This year, Gulf residents are bracing themselves for another assault—one that arrives every summer. That is, the Mississippi River deposits nutrients into the coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The influx of nutrients sets off a chain reaction that transforms a large area of the Gulf into a massive “dead zone” where virtually no aquatic organism can survive. This area,  off the Gulf coast of Louisiana and Texas is the largest hypoxic zone  currently impacting the United States, and it is second worldwide only to the Baltic Sea. Moreover, this year’s is predicted to be the biggest ever due to excessive flooding (see the above image showing sediment from the Mississippi River). The Gulf just can’t seem to get a break. So where does the problem start? When it rains, it pours. Rain that falls almost anywhere between the Rocky Mountains in the West and the Appalachian Mountains in the East (about 40% of the land area of the lower 48 states), with some exceptions, drains into the Mississippi. The majority of the land in this area is farmland, and the majority of farms in the Midwest are dependent on chemical fertilizers. “As agricultural commodity prices have plummeted and farm communities continue to decline,” according to a factsheet published by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, “many farmers feel they have no choice but to intensively fertilize and maximize production of a few low-value commodities.” This winter and spring brought record snowfall and record amounts of precipitation to the central US, causing the  Mississippi River floods of this spring. And big floods carry large amounts of fertilizer. Mississippi’s 1.2 million square mile watershed essentially funnels agricultural fertilizer straight into the Gulf. If you’ve ever wondered why nutrients could be so bad for marine ecosystems, hypoxia, which means oxygen depletion, is your answer. Nutrients from chemical fertilizers feed giant algae blooms, which in turn feed a population boom in algae-eating zooplankton. Dead algae and zooplankton fecal pellets sink down to the sea floor and are feasted on by bacteria, a process that consumes oxygen. In...

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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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Policy News: April 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 COMPROMISE FY2011 FUNDING MEASURE After months of short-term continuing resolutions and a near government shutdown, a deal was reached to fund the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2011. On April 15, the president signed (P.L. 112-10), which funds the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, 2011. The bill passed the House by a large bipartisan majority of 260-167 with the support of 81 Democrats (59 Republicans opposed the measure). The bill also cleared the Senate overwhelmingly by a vote of 81-19. The deal was struck and finalized moments before the most recent continuing resolution was set to expire the evening of Friday, April 8. In the waning minutes of that Friday evening, the House and Senate passed an additional one-week continuing resolution (CR) that included full funding for the Department of Defense. The move served to keep the government funded for an additional week to allow appropriations committee staff to draft the more complex long-term spending measure enacted April 15. In total, the bill sets final 2011 spending levels at $1.049 trillion. This is a $78.5 billion decrease from Obama’s 2011 budget request and a $39.9 billion decrease from the $1.089 trillion 2010 spending bills, as enacted. Republicans had sought a $61 billion cut in spending, but negotiations with the Senate and White House scaled those demands back. While the Senate and White House were successful in rescinding some of the massive cuts and riders proposed in the House-passed bill, the final agreement still included numerous significant cuts to science and environmental agencies. The funding decreases include $12 billion in cuts through three stopgap continuing resolutions and $28 billion in new cuts. NOAA weather satellites axed The long-term CR includes $382 million for NOAA new climate and weather satellites under the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS), roughly over a third of the president’s budget request for FY2011. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who has jurisdiction over NOAA, asserts that nearly $1 billion is needed this year to prevent data gaps that could make it harder to predict the weather. NOAA Secretary Jane Lubchenco has said that for every dollar not spent on JPSS this year, the agency would have to spend three to five dollars down the road because of canceled contracts and other problems. The program is already suffering because no increase was given to it in the stopgap funding measures that have kept the federal government operating since October. Obama ‘czars’ House...

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