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Counting Fish

Joseph Taylor | Nov 08, 2010 05:00 PM

Bruce Barcott's essay last week in the online magazine Yale e360 reveals an interesting environmental paradox, one in which Pacific salmon might be both endangered and, simultaneously, too populous.  As Barcott writes, "How can numerous Pacific salmon runs be on the verge of extinction while total salmon numbers are straining the limits of the ocean's capacity to support them?"  The fulcrum for this is a recent Marine and Coastal Fisheries article [PDF].  Noting that salmon populations have doubled since 1960 because of ever escalating production of pink and chum hatcheries in Alaska, Japan, and Russia, the authors worry, as Barcott explains, that "the north Pacific Ocean may be nearing the limit of its salmon-carrying capacity."

This is a concern, but our temporal and spatial frames of reference require refinement.  Fisheries scientists tend to treat the start of their records as the beginning of time, especially when assessing hatcheries, but this makes for bad history.  That production doubled in the last fifty years is interesting and may be troubling, yet the amount of juvenile salmon entering the Pacific had so shrunk since 1800 that the recent doubling might mean little.  Merely counting fish is insufficient.  Context is everything, so we must expand our gaze in time and space.  There is a long history to ocean capacity, and increased productivity is also attributable to factors such as harvests, habitat protection, and fish passage.  This is about more than the last half century and a few superhatcheries.

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A bear's gotta eat

Mike Leahy | Nov 07, 2010 05:00 PM

For the six months or so of the year that grizzly bears are active, they have one thing on their mind: food. And they need lots of it.

To survive the long winter months of hibernation, a four- to six-hundred-pound adult grizzly bear must be constantly eating whenever it has the chance, a process known as hyperphagia. Grizzlies are omnivores and will eat a wide variety of both plants and animals just to stay alive. If salmon or elk aren’t on the menu that day, they’ll settle for any number of wild berries, insects or grasses depending on what’s in season. Thus they fight hunger with an indiscriminate appetite.

The grizzly’s omnivorism greatly improves the animal’s chances of finding enough food, but it means that a smelly trash can or a coop of backyard chickens can offer an irresistible snack. It also means that when natural food sources become scarce and important foraging habitat is lost, grizzlies will push farther into human territory in search of their next meal.

Grizzly Bear in Montana

Photo of grizzly bear courtesy Flickr user Dan Dzurisin

That was all-too apparent this year--a particularly tough one for the voracious grizzly. He spent a lot of time in the media spotlight, but for all the wrong reasons (the two human deaths being the most tragic encounters but fortunately also an extremely rare event). Grizzlies were busy eating chickens, dumpster-diving, and even eating Fido’s dogfood on the back porch.

There are several reasons for this. In Montana, native berries such as serviceberry, chokecherry, hawthorn and huckleberry – critical to a bear’s ability to store fat for winter – have been scarce this year. Meanwhile, grizzly bear populations in the area are slowly increasing, and humans are moving ever further into bear habitats, dotting formerly open lands with roads, subdivisions, livestock yards and other human constructions. This commonly leads to a summer cabin or community subdivision where green grass (a bear favorite), garbage cans, chicken coops, birdfeeders, pets and livestock abound.

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What does this week mean for Northwest climate policy?

Sightline | Nov 05, 2010 02:25 AM

By Eric DePlace

It's conventional wisdom that the heavier GOP configuration in Congress spells bad news for climate policy in the Pacific Northwest. There's some truth in that, but there's a more positive story for advocates to tell too. Here's how I see the events of this week through the lens of climate policy.

The most significant news by far was from south of the region, in California, where the oil industry-backed Proposition 23, which would have suspended the state's climate laws, went down in a ball of flames. In fact, Golden State voters were more decisive about rejecting Prop 23 than they were about any of the eight other initiatives on the ballot. Add to that the easy re-election of Senator Boxer, a serious climate champion, and a handy gubernatorial victory for Jerry Brown, who has pledged to advance climate policy, and you have excellent news from the biggest state in the West.


Photo courtesy Flickr user Leslie Osborne

California's climate laws have now been vetted -- and overwhelmingly approved -- by the people. That paves the way for reinvigorated state and regional climate programs, including the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), the sprawling 7-state, 4-province program to cap and reduce carbon emissions. So it's no surprise that exactly one day after the election, leaders in New Mexico, a major energy-producing state, announced that they would move forward with comprehensive policy, including a cap-and-trade program. All of which means that New Mexico and California are both poised to join hands with at least the Canadian provinces of the WCI -- BC, Manitoba, Quebec, and Ontario -- in meaningful regional climate action.

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Beyond Boardman

Sightline | Nov 04, 2010 12:00 AM

By Jennifer Langston

Oregon has been having a robust debate over the appropriate date for closing the state's lone coal power plant. The Boardman plant could theoretically operate until 2040, but its owners have proposed an earlier closure to avoid investing in expensive pollution controls.

There's been a lot of discussion about whether the plant should close in 2015 or 2020 (and how much its owners must spend in the meantime.) But that disagreement has become so central to the discussion that it's overshadowed what may be a much more important question: What happens after the coal plant closes?

Will Portland General Electric adopt another outdated fossil fuel strategy, building natural gas plants that will continue to release greenhouse gas emissions for decades to come? Or will the utility think creatively to pursue low-carbon options that reduce demand in the first place and then fill it with clean wind, solar or geothermal energy? If your chief concern is addressing Oregon's largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions, the replacement strategy matters. While burning natural gas is less polluting than coal, that process can release roughly half the carbon emissions. And if a utility invests millions of dollars to build a new gas plant, they'll want to run it for a long time.

Here's some rough math to illustrate the point that long-term thinking should matter most.

  • On average, Boardman releases roughly 4 million tons of CO2 each year. If the coal plant keeps running from 2015 to 2040, it would release 100 million tons of CO2 during that time period.
  • If you close the coal plant in 2015 and replace its power with a new natural gas plant that releases about half the pollution, you'd emit 50 million tons of CO2 over that same period. Sounds better!
  • But say you keep the coal plant running until 2020, at which point you replace the coal power with completely clean energy sources. In that scenario you’d emit just 20 million tons of CO2 over the period from 2015 to 2040. 

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California state parks funding measure fails

Felice Pace | Nov 03, 2010 03:50 AM

Dominated by the Sierra Club, California’s "Environmental Establishment" operates politically largely as a subsidiary of the Democratic Party. This fact plays heavily in what sorts of environmental initiatives this establishment chooses to put on the California ballot.

This year, the state’s environmental establishment put Proposition 21 on the ballot. It proposed a surcharge on vehicle license fees to provide stable funding for state parks. Proposition 21 was soundly defeated; 42 percent voted yes; 58 percent voted no.

California voters defeated the other anti-environmental initiative on the ballot. Backed by out of state oil companies, Proposition 23 sought to suspend Assembly Bill 32, the state’s landmark legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Less than 39 percent of voting Californians cast a ballot to suspend the law -- which is the most far reaching and progressive climate legislation in the nation.

What do these results tell us about the environmental movement in California and what that movement should work to put on the ballot in 2012?

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We, the American people, are united by our divisions

Mark Trahant | Nov 03, 2010 03:13 AM

All election night the message was about how the people have spoken with a clear voice and returned Republicans to power.

In Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul called it the “Tea Party tidal wave.”

Or the soon-to-be Speaker of the House, John Boehner, said “it’s clear tonight who the real winners are, that’s the American people.” He said change begins again because the “American people are demanding a new way forward.”

Sorry. I beg to differ. Division won. A Republican House of Representatives, a Democratic Senate and White House. (And, if you want to get snippy about it, I would add a Republican-controlled Supreme Court to this list).

We, the American people, are united by our divisions.

The urban core of the United States remains, essentially, a base for Democrats. It’s a similar story for African American, Native American and Latino communities. On the other hand the rural West, Midwest and South remain Republican. Independent voters play the field. This time they went Republican. Last time they favored the Democrats.

Elections are one thing, governing is another. Divided government creates all sorts of problems.

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River course restored after recovery diversion

Ed Quillen | Nov 01, 2010 05:20 AM

The Arkansas River is back on course after a diversion last week to recover the body of Kimberly Appelson, a 23-year-old Breckenridge woman who fell out of a raft on July 11 and had been missing ever since.
It happened two miles north of Buena Vista at a spot known as Frog Rock Rapids. Beneath Frog Rock is a "sieve" -- a chamber through which water can pass, but little else. Divers found her body trapped amid debris about a dozen feet below the surface.
The location had been suspected since the accident. Fellow raft passengers saw where she fell out, her body had not appeared downstream, and cadaver dogs had picked up scent in the area.

Arkansas River

Image of Arkansas River courtesy Flickr user ilovemypit
Earlier efforts to recover the body had failed on account of too much current for divers to maneuver safely. This time, during a season of low water, a rock cofferdam was constructed upstream with heavy equipment, so most of the flow went around the Frog Rock sieve. Divers from Colorado Springs were able to find and recover the body on Oct. 27, though it took several tries.

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Of grizzlies and tortoises

Seth Shteir | Oct 29, 2010 04:20 AM

The towering grizzly bear and diminutive desert tortoise have something in common, and it’s not good: both animals are struggling for survival.

“The population of grizzlies in the continental United States was 50,000 at time of Lewis and Clark, and it’s down to 1600 animals today for some of the same reasons the desert tortoise has declined precipitously since 1970: habitat destruction and human caused mortality,” says Sid Silliman, an emeritus professor of political science at Cal Poly Pomona who has long tracked the fate of endangered species.

Silliman, who taught a course on the endangered grizzly bear at Cal Poly Pomona, fears that like grizzly bears, the threatened population of desert tortoises will eventually be restricted to just a few areas. And according to Silliman, projects like the Ivanpah Solar Plant, situated along the cusp of the California Nevada border and near Mojave National Preserve, are part of the problem.

Ivanpah Valley

The scenic Mesquite Mountains rise above the Ivanpah Valley - photo Sid Silliman

The Ivanpah solar project is not unique: the Bureau of Land Management and other land management agencies have received a flood of applications for utility-scale solar developments - a phenomenon many refer to as the “solar gold rush.” But many conservationists are questioning whether these projects should be sited on sensitive lands such as those in the Ivanpah Valley.

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Denver mayor accused of trashing rural residents

Ed Quillen | Oct 25, 2010 05:45 AM

The Colorado governor's race took another twist last week with the front-runner and Democratic candidate, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, getting accused  of "trashing" rural residents. 

The accusation came from his principal challenger, former GOP congressman Tom Tancredo, who entered the race in August as the nominee of the American Constitution Party. The Republican candidate, Dan Maes, is struggling at about 10 percent in recent polls.

It came about after a 2009 television interview with Hickenlooper surfaced on Oct. 22. The topic was the Matthew Shepard foundation. Shepard, a gay college student, was beaten to death by two men near Laramie, Wyo., in 1998. His parents established a foundation to combat such bigotry, and headquartered it in Denver.

The interviewer, Eden Lane, asked why they would have chosen Denver, even though "they didn’t live in Colorado, he didn’t go to school in Colorado, there really wasn’t that strong a connection. What do you think is it about the environment here in Denver that allowed them to choose this as their home?"

Hickenlooper replied that "the tragic death of Matthew Shepard occurred in Wyoming. Colorado and Wyoming are very similar. We have some of the same, you know, backwards thinking in the kind of rural Western areas you see in, you know, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico."

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Dredging Western rivers for gold

Felice Pace | Oct 20, 2010 02:00 AM

An item in the October 11th edition’s “Heard around the West” reported on an influx of “gold miners” on Southern Oregon’s Rogue River. But the article did not explain why so many miners are on the Rogue now.

The vast majority of these “miners” do not make a living mining. Rather they dredge in the summer and do other things in the winter. They are referred to as recreational miners. As HCN reported back in 2006  these “miners” flock to Oregon streams when the price of gold skyrockets as it has recently.

Gold dredges - Scott River tributary to Klamath River

Suction dredges on the Scott River, a major Klamath River tributary

The increase in “recreational” dredge mining in Southern Oregon this time, however, is also related to a successful drive by a coalition of tribes and environmentalists to end the practice of suction dredge mining in California. Those who oppose the practice say that it harms salmon runs. Led by the Klamath River’s Karuk Tribe, the drive to end the practice has resulted in litigation and a new California law which bans suction dredge mining in California until the Department of Fish and Game completes and environmental review of the practice and issues new regulations. Many of California’s suction dredgers do their thing along the Klamath River just south of the Oregon border. When dredging was banned in California these folks simply moved a bit north to the Rogue River.

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