It's been just over two years since the notorious quagga mussel first turned up in Lake Mead. The mussel, an invader from the Black Sea, first hit the Great Lakes, then hitchhiked across the country to California, Colorado, Arizona and Utah.
The fingernail-sized quagga mussels (and their close relatives, zebra mussels) are incredibly destructive -- they "rip apart native food webs, clog water intakes with tons of shells and mussel meat, foster the growth of noxious algae, and turn sugar-sand beaches into treacherous, stinking expanses of jagged shells" (see our story "Wish You Weren't Here").
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The Vulcan Project, an interactive map and tracking system for carbon dioxide emissions, is like one of those UV light photographs that show all the splotches of sun damage you've accrued on your face over years of neglecting to wear sunscreen.
Clever scientists at Purdue University have created a Google map that shows not only how much CO2 is wafting from respective regions of the United States, but actually tracks what sector it is coming from. You can see how much greenhouse gas is emitted by your neighborhood, your municipal airport, your local coal-fueled power plant.
A Vulcan video available on YouTube has real dramatic effect. Gray-purple, 3D, animated plumes of CO2 emanate from America the Beautiful, obscuring our mountain majesties and swamping our amber waves of grain. The simulations wield all the instructive power of a frightening children's cartoon, showing daily pulses in emissions as well as spatial patterns throughout the country.
Urban centers in the West are predictably gassy-- LA and the Bay Area stand out. Only the Pacific Northwest and the Dakotas are reliably visible through the clouds. Everything east of Texas is permanently obscured, no matter what time of day it is.
The images are strange and artful. Like all photographs of Earth from space, they are more instructive than an article, more sobering than a lecture, and more disturbingly beautiful than you'd expect.
On January 7th the Federal Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a decision in a long-running battle over whether the application of pesticides in, near or over water requires a Clean Water Act point source permit. In a case which consolidated multiple challenges to a Bush Administration regulation exempting pesticide applications from clean water permit requirements, the Court held (in the words of the winners) "that pesticide residuals and biological pesticides constitute pollutants under federal law and therefore must be regulated under the Clean Water Act in order to minimize the impact to human health and the environment.”
The decision, which elicited little press coverage, is being watched closely by agricultural interests. An appeal to the full Sixth Circuit or to the US Supreme Court may be coming. Background on this case and on the battle over pesticide applications can be found on the website of the Western Environmental Law Center. WELC lawyer Charlie Tebbitt was the lead lawyer for plaintiffs in the appeal case.
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It’s become something of an Obama administration mantra: The latest economic stimulus package will help jumpstart the U.S.’s green economy. And at a press conference Feb. 20, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar repeated it yet again, as he spoke on how the Department of Interior, which oversees agencies like the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, will use its $3 billion in stimulus funds.
“My hope and vision,” he told reporters, is that public lands will serve as an “engine for the clean energy economy.”
But wait. That sounds an awful lot like making our public lands the engine of energy independence -- by tapping their bountiful reserves of natural gas at the expense of pristine lands, and clean air and water. The first reporter to question Salazar ran with that theme: Can the department allow quick development of utility-scale renewable energy and transmission lines while at the same time preserving other public land values like wildlife habitat? he asked. And will that mean altering environmental oversight in some way to expedite permitting and construction?
Scientists studying black bears and mountain lions near Tucson, Ariz. found a surprise in one of their traps this week -- a 120-lb. male jaguar. They put a radio tracking collar on the big cat and released him. Now, for the first time ever, biologists will get regular updates on the location of a U.S. jaguar. The rare cat was added to the endangered species list in 1997, and over the past 10 years several have been caught on film in Arizona and New Mexico.
One of the biggest threats to jaguars, which regularly roam between Mexico and the U.S., is Homeland Security -- border fencing slices the animal's habitat into two disconnected chunks, and prevents breeding between different populations (see our story Cat Fight on the Border).
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Researchers John Swaddle and Stavros Calos have found that high bird diversity is linked with low incidence of the West Nile virus in humans. Their study can be found online.
Called the "dilution effect," the link between biodiversity and disease rates is not completely clear, but scientists believe that increased diversity within an ecosystem reduces the proportion of suitable hosts for a disease, and therefore reduces transmission rates.
The West Nile virus spread to North America in 2002, and since then more than 28,000 human cases have been reported, including more than 1,000 deaths. Western states have been particularly hard hit by the virus -- and avian diversity may be a factor.
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A few years ago, an industry-funded study indicated that prolific natural gas development on Wyoming's sagebrush-dotted Pinedale Anticline was hammering the massive mule deer herd that forages there in the winter. The herd, some 6,000 strong, had declined 46 percent between 2000 and 2004. A government-commissioned citizen oversight group pushed the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees energy development on federal lands, to act on those findings and rein in drilling. But the agency responded with only a weak proposal for maintaining the herd's "viability."
Now, however, it seems that the deer decline reversed between 2004 and 2007, at least a little bit. The Casper Star Tribune reports:
The study by Western Ecosystems Technology, Inc. concluded that mule deer numbers declined in the Mesa by 30 percent overall during the seven-year research project, which ran from 2000-2007. However, mule deer numbers stabilized and then increased during the final three years of the study. . .Read More ...
Yesterday, Feb. 18th, would have been Wallace Stegner’s 100th birthday (he passed away in 1993). Stegner, arguably the most iconic of Western writers and conservationists, is best known for his books “The Spectator Bird” and “Angle of Repose”. His prose has inspired generations of Westerners, including the founders of HCN.
His words are a key part of our mission: "to inform and inspire people to act on behalf of the West’s land, air, water and inhabitants (and to) work to create what Wallace Stegner called ‘a society to match the scenery.’ "
Timothy Egan has a thoughtful tribute to Stegner in the New York Times:
On his 100th birthday, it’s worth remembering another lesson of his life — to choose authenticity over artifice. “If you don’t know where you are,” he said, paraphrasing the writer Wendell Berry, “you don’t know who you are.”
Happy birthday Wallace, and here’s to the geography of hope.
Is Yucca Mountain about to implode? In this first month after the inauguration of President and Yucca Mountain-opponent Barack Obama, it's been a little hard to tell. Bush-appointed radioactive waste-czar Ward Sproat left the Energy Department on cue, but the man who rose from the ranks to temp in his spot, Christopher Kouts, spent 23 years on the project as an engineer. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, currently reviewing the license application Sproat hurried along, has approved its proposed radiation safety standards. And Obama's new energy secretary, Steven Chu, apparently implied in a New York Times interview that politicians should step aside and let the commission do its work -- in other words, the license review process should carry on for the sake of objective science.Read More ...
The Western Business Roundtable hosted a conference call yesterday. It was touted as a "sneak peek" into a new analysis of the Western Climate Initiative. But if you'd dialed in hoping to hear a fresh critique of the cap-and-trade framework designed to encompass 90 percent of the emissions across much of the west and part of Canada, you would have been disappointed. The Western Business Roundtable advocates for energy and mining companies. According to Sourcewatch, Arch Coal, Peabody Energy, Shell and Chevron sit on its board of trustees. Maybe that's why the report it commissioned is less interesting as a new analysis than as a case study in a few tactics people use when they want to protect their assets from climate rules:
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