The impact of the border wall on wildlife

Sadly, the people who want the border wall, likely will not care that it will drastically impact wildlife along the border.

But over at Vox, an excellent piece by Eliza Barclay and Sarah Frostenson lays out an amazing argument (and demonstrates visually) how this will impact biodiversity along the border.

Sadly, as this wall becomes a reality (if it becomes a reality) this is not the first or the last time we’ll be having this discussion.

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EPA’s Environmental Justice Head Resigned After 24 Years. He Wants to Explain Why.

“To move backward didn’t make any sense.”

In his resignation letter, Ali attempted to make the case for the Office of Environmental Justice by appealing to Pruitt’s interest in economic growth. He described what happened in Spartanburg, South Carolina, which received a $20,000 grant from the EPA to address the community’s abandoned dump sites that were leaching toxic chemicals. The mostly low-income, African American residents of the region experienced high rates of cancer and respiratory disease. Local black leaders leveraged that grant into $270 million from investors and the government to revitalize the city, “creating jobs and improving their environments through collaborative partnerships,” Ali wrote. “When I hear we are considering making cuts to grant programs like the EJ small grants or Collaborative Problem Solving programs, which have assisted over 1400 communities, I wonder if our new leadership has had the opportunity to converse with those who need our help the most.”

Read the rest of it here. And check out yesterday’s post about the budget slashing funding for scientific research, and gutting the EPA budget.

And finally, call your representatives, this fight is far from over (and consider marching for Science in April).

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A Race to Document Rare Plants Before These Cliffs Are Ground to Dust

Not figurative dust. Literal dust. Cambodia’s limestone karsts exist nowhere else and are home to a host of endemic species. These environments are being pulverized for cement and scientists are racing to document all the rare plants before they are gone.

Read about it over at the NYTimes!

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The Endangered Species Act may be heading for the threatened list.

Well this is nuts. Not surprising… but nuts none the less.

“A Senate hearing to “modernize the Endangered Species Act” unfolded Wednesday just as supporters of the law had feared, with round after round of criticism from Republican lawmakers who said the federal effort to keep species from going extinct encroaches on states’ rights, is unfair to landowners and stymies efforts by mining companies to extract resources and create jobs.

The two-hour meeting of the Environment and Public Works Committee was led by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who said last month that his focus in a bid to change the act would be “eliminating a lot of the red tape and the bureaucratic burdens that have been impacting our ability to create jobs,” according to a report in Energy and Environment News.”

The article goes on to discuss how it will likely be dismantled. Call your representatives!

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The recent USDA hiring freeze may be hurting bees

I want to start with the following statement: I know the title of this post is a pretty loose link.

But hear me out. One of the less talked about moves by the executive branch since the inauguration is the hiring freeze at USDA and EPA.

This means postdocs, researchers, graduate students and temporary positions. So for example, Julia Fine who was set to start a postdoc studying bee decline in Utah on a USDA funded position was informed that her position is frozen. Indefinitely.

Since Fine is the lead author on one of the recent prominent studies of bee decline, then this hiring freeze is hurting bees.

Want the more complete story (boy I know I do), read about it over at the Huffington Post.

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If you know a Federal scientist, give them a hug. It’s been a really bad week.

From a friend who works for the forest service:

“This week my colleagues and I have had to deal with confusing gag orders and onerous requests for information and justifications of our work. In one case, I was given only half an hour to write statements on a number of pending agreements to explain why they were in the “public interest.” Note, these agreements involve *already allocated funds*, that have gone through *numerous justification and vetting processes already*. I have no idea how these justification requests will be used, but signs out of other agencies are ominous.

All of that said, the *single most pressing issue* for us right now is the blanket hiring freeze. We can muddle through with a hiring freeze on permanent staff, but my work and that of many of my colleagues (and much the functioning of the rest of the Federal system) depends on temporary and seasonal workers.

If this part of the ban is not lifted, then I will not be able to complete a number of projects that are critical to learning how we can best restore arid ecosystems in the Western United States. These lands are under threat from increasing fire frequency, invasive species and other disturbances. These lands support and sustain wildlife, pollinators, rare plants, clean air, clean water, Native American tribes, recreationists, sportsmen and ranchers. These lands are part of our heritage as Americans.

If you would like to help Federal scientists and other Federal employees continue to provide the public service that you have *already paid for* as a tax payer, please consider adding *lifting the ban on temporary and seasonal hiring* to your list of things that you are calling your Senators and Representatives about. Thank you.”

Happy Anniversary, Planet Earth! Episode 9: Shallow Seas

The 9th installment of the series, “Shallow Seas” opens with the statistic that 8% of world’s ocean volume contains a majority of its marine life.

I’m in the middle of reading Hope Jahren’s “Lab Girl right now (a fantastic, inspiring book about her life as a scientist that I highly recommend). In the opening paragraph of the Prologue, she mentions a reason why she is not interested in studying the ocean: there is six hundred times more life on land than there is in the ocean. This is true! I don’t think I’ve ever read someone’s reason for not being interested in studying the ocean, having studied and worked for marine-focused institutions for the past 10 years while also living in beach and island cultures with students clamoring to be marine biologists. While Dr. Jahren’s point has more to do with her own interests in land plants, in the broader sense I agree that there is much to be studied and managed on land because terrestrial ecosystems have indeed produced more life than in the ocean. As a result, activities on land have the ability to negatively affect the diverse ecosystems of the “shallow seas”.

Over half of the world’s human population lives within 60 km of a coastline. These are remarkable ecosystem areas surrounding coastlines, separating the land from the ocean.

I lived on Yap Island in the Federated States of Micronesia as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 2004-2006, working with counterparts at the Yap State Environmental Protection Agency. I learned so much from my hard-working colleagues, far more than they probably gleaned from me.

(Left to right, top to bottom) Me (2006), view returning to the MicroSpirit ship with coconuts from an outer island (2004), traditional Yapese dance (2005), lunch on the boat (2004).

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Small island nations are deeply connected to their environmental resources, in both cultural and economic senses. Future climate change and accompanying sea level rise is affecting island societies more than other societies. The President of Palau has spoken prolifically on this topic, and was at the International Coral Reef Society meeting in Palau last month (June 2016).

Regina and Larry Raigetal, of Waa’gey.org recognize this in their efforts to confront challenges: “Extreme isolation, limited economic opportunity and climate change are big problems for the small atolls of Micronesia’s outer islands.” Waa’gey focuses on fostering pride in traditional culture, which has worked to sustain the population in the past, including traditional sailing navigation. Small island nations like Micronesia have populations less then a fraction of some developed countries, yet live entirely in coastal areas.

On the mainland of the U.S., Florida has over 1,000 miles of coastline and is becoming more and more affected by land-based activities. Beginning in the 1900s, land use changes were abundant in the state of FL. Miami was built out by developers and the sugar cane industry moved into the Everglades, a natural wetland area. Originally, water from Lake Okeechobee at the center of the state would naturally drain through wetland areas in south Florida eventually reaching the Gulf. Today, the Army Corps of Engineers has diverted the water out through a series of canals to the east and west, with significant freshwater discharge into estuarine areas and onto sensitive coral reefs causing an ecological disaster.

Economic benefits of the Indian River Lagoon resources were valued at more than $3.7 billion in 2007.

There is a lesson that Floridians and coastal US citizens can learn from the efforts of Waa’gey and other small coastal nations. (Teamwork in Ulithi atoll, outer islands of Yap):

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We can team together to place renewed value on practices that were common before development. This means supporting efforts to restore water flow in wetland ecosystems back to their original state. Buying undeveloped land to prevent further land use changes and damage. Lawmakers should encourage sustainable lifestyles by requiring homeowners near and on coastal areas to preserve and restore their shoreline vegetation, slow development and not use fertilizers. Provide more sustainable funding to long-term scientific studies, such as those in Dr. Joshua Voss’ lab at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University, investigating the effects of discharge on near-shore coral reefs.

A well-balanced ecosystem brings long-term benefits. 

The Planet Earth episode ends by focusing on the charismatic macrofauna that depend on the shallow seas: the octopus mimics a moving/rolling rock, a gurnard fish with pectoral fins camouflaging its shape, a jawfish hides underground. Plants manage to take root, which are then pruned by sea turtles. Marine mammals such as dugongs and manatees are the largest herbivores in sea, eating nothing but fleshy rhizomes of sea grass. Dolphins discover a shoal of bait and are shown surfing, riding a wave. Fish refuge close to shore water only few cm deep. Sea birds, cormorants. Shallow temperate seas contain greatest concentration of fish on planet. Huge shoals migrate to feed in rich waters. Cruising back and forth between equator and poles, humpback whales – among the largest inhabitants of the ocean – are shown migrating between the shallow seas where life proliferates so abundantly on our planet.

Sunset in Micronesia:

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