Coalbed methane explainer and post-fire logging. news in brief.


Wildfires leave behind burned habitat that is crucial for many species, recent studies show, including the Pacific fisher and black-backed woodpecker. Post-fire logging can shortcircuit post-fire rejuvenation, removing snags and downed trees that wildlife use, while heavy machinery and herbicides can destroy regenerating conifers and other plants. But congressional Republicans are pushing two bills that would speed up so-called “salvage” logging after wildfires. H.R. 2647, the Resilient Federal Forests Act, and S. 1691, the National Forest Ecosystem Improvement Act, would allow widespread logging of burned trees as well as older, unburned trees. They would exempt many such projects from environmental review, and make it much harder to challenge them in court. U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell has criticized the bills as limiting public involvement, expediting logging at the expense of other forest uses, and ignoring the biggest threat to national forests — a firefighting budget that siphons money from other essential forest-health programs.
-Jodi Peterson

A male black-backed woodpecker in the Rim Fire area of the Stanislaus National Forest in California. A lawsuit failed to stop salvage logging in the bird’s habitat.
Courtesy Craig Swolgaard

21,000 Gallons of oil that remain in Prince William Sound 25 years after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, the cleanup of which the Department of Justice calls “a real success story.”

0 Surviving calves birthed by one group of Prince William orcas since the spill. 

In 1991, Exxon negotiated a billion-dollar settlement to help clean up and monitor Prince William Sound, agreeing to a provision that allowed state and federal governments to ask for more money should unanticipated impacts be revealed. In 2006, when it was clear that the oil was more insidious than expected, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Alaska Department of Law asked Exxon for another $92 million to clean up the oil that was still hampering the recovery of harlequin ducks and sea otters. The company refused, and the case languished. In a 15-minute hearing in federal court in October, the state of Alaska and the U.S. dropped the case.
-Krista Langlois

Canada’s election was one for the record books: A third-place Liberal party won enough seats to form a government. Aboriginal voters cast so many ballots that in some areas they ran out, and across the country, people demanded a reversal of a decade of Conservative policies. Mark Trahant, a professor of journalism at the University of North Dakota and a member of Idaho’s Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, offers his opinion on lessons learned:

1 You gotta run to win. Fifty-four First Nation, Metis and Inuit candidates ran nationwide. The New Democratic Party had the most, 22 candidates, though only two of those candidates won seats, Georgina Jolibois, Dene, in Saskatchewan, and Romeo Saganash, Cree, in Quebec.

2 Yes, mainstream politics do matter. I know, and respect, the argument that Native people should stay out of general politics. Some say there is no difference between any of the parties. Factually, that is not true.

3 Turnout is key. If Aboriginal voters had voted in previous elections, there would not have been a Conservative government. Not voting is a powerful statement. It’s the same in the United States. American Indian and Alaska Natives are pretty good voters during presidential election years; then we disappear. That’s backwards.

4 Elections are not the end of the process. But they do offer a new beginning. The Liberal Party has many strengths but it’s probably not going to be the leader on climate change, stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, or even rethinking energy in a big way. 

5 Canada, like the United States, needs a better democracy. This election is considered a huge win for Liberals. But they only won 39.5 percent of the popular vote. The Conservatives had 31.9 percent and the New Democrats earned 19.7 percent. The Green Party captured 3.5 percent — and yet only ended up with one seat. The reason for this, as in the U.S., is the district system, a system that most of the world has rejected in favor of elections that are more representative of all the citizens in a country.
-Mark Trahant

Coalbed methane is natural gas found in coal seams, and to “mine” it is to drill into the coal seam and extract it, much as one does with conventional natural gas.
-Jonathan Thompson

Last May, farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta made an unprecedented deal with the state of California, in which they would give up 25 percent of their normal water supply in exchange for a guarantee they wouldn’t lose more. In this online video, we check in with one of those farmers and a water manager to learn more about the deal and what water rights mean in the midst of drought.
-Zoë Meyers

A screenshot from HCN's newest video about people and water in California.
Zoë Meyers

For decades, researchers have struggled to find a worthy opponent for cheatgrass, an invasive weed that has overtaken the Great Basin and other parts of the West, converting sagebrush habitat to fire-prone weeds. After 30 years of study, Washington state soil scientist Ann Kennedy has finally found a formidable foe — a native soil bacteria that attacks the plant’s roots. In trials, the bacteria was found to reduce the amount of cheatgrass in test plots by half after only three years. The bacteria, dubbed “ACK55,” is currently undergoing Environmental Protection Agency registration, and land managers are hopeful they’ll one day see the sagebrush sea restored.
-Gloria Dickie

You say

Pat Finnegan: “Seems almost too good to be true. Tremendous ramifications for sage grouse habitat.”

Carlyle Corvidae: “I wonder what the long-term economic and environmental impacts of applying this bacteria will be. It seems initially appropriate for application in small-scale conservation efforts, but it still seems only time on a geologic/evolutionary time scale will right the impacts of cheatgrass.”

Tom Howarth: “Now if they can find a bacteria to kill field bindweed.”

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