The Environment

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  Primates: Extinction Threat Growing For Mankind'S Closest Living RelativesOctober 26, 2007 09:55 Mankind's closest living relatives -- the world's apes, monkeys, lemurs and other primates -- are under unprecedented threat from destruction of tropical forests, illegal wildlife trade and commercial bushmeat hunting, with 29 percent of all species in danger of going extinct, according to a new report.

Titled "Primates in Peril: The World's 25 Most Endangered Primates--2006--2008,*" the report compiled by 60 experts from 21 countries warns that failure to respond to the mounting threats now exacerbated by climate change will bring the first primate extinctions in more than a century. Overall, 114 of the world's 394 primate species are classified as threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List.

Hunters kill primates for food and to sell the meat; traders capture them for live sale; and loggers, farmers, and land developers destroy their habitat. One species, Miss Waldron's red colobus of Ivory Coast and Ghana, already is feared extinct, while the golden-headed langur of Vietnam and China's Hainan gibbon number only in the dozens. The Horton Plains slender loris of Sri Lanka has been sighted just four times since 1937.

"You could fit all the surviving members of these 25 species in a single football stadium; that's how few of them remain on Earth today," said CI President Russell A. Mittermeier, who also chairs the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group. "The situation is worst in Asia, where tropical forest destruction and the hunting and trading of monkeys puts many species at terrible risk. Even newly discovered species are severely threatened from loss of habitat and could soon disappear."
  President Bush Moves To Conserve BirdsOctober 23, 2007 08:33 President George W. Bush outlined several conservation measures his administration is taking to benefit birds while speaking Saturday at the Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland.

He directed that a new State of the Birds report be written, said the U.S. would participate more in an international effort to conserve albatrrosses and petrals, and offered new cooperation with Mexico to protect birds that migrate between the two neighbors.

Many species of birds live part of their lives here in the United States and part in Mexico, the president said. "So we have a strategy to work with Mexico to enhance bird habitats in their country. I've talked about this issue with President [Felipe] Calderon. He shares my concern about making sure there's critical habitat available for our migratory birds."

The Secretaries of State, Interior and Commerce are working with their counterparts in the Mexican government, and nongovernmental organizations are working to undertake important habitat projects in Mexico, said Bush.

"One of the things we have done is we've identified five priority habitats in Mexico. We listened to the experts who pointed us to five important areas and we have provided $4 million to support conservation initiatives there," the president said. He did not immediately identify the priority habitats.

Bush said he has directed federal agencies to "increase U.S. participation" in an international effort to protect coastal and marine migratory birds such as albatrosses and petrels.

The Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels is a multilateral agreement which seeks to conserve albatrosses and petrels. It urges member nations to minimize seabird bycatch by fishermen, protect the birds' nesting and foraging areas, and confront other threats that jeopardize species listed under the agreement.

Bird advocates had hoped that the president would announce that the United States would become a signatory to this agreement, but he did not.

Nineteen out of 22 species of albatrosses are viewed as threatened due to mortality form longline fishing, lead poisoning, loss of nesting habitat, and predation of eggs and chicks by introduced animals.
  An Appreciation Of Al GoreOctober 22, 2007 07:11 When I learned this month that the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize had been awarded to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for their groundbreaking work to raise awareness about the threats posed by global warming, I was delighted.

In 1990, then Sen. Gore visited the Green Belt Movement in Kenya and later wrote about our work planting trees with poor, rural women in his book Earth in the Balance. A few years later, Vice President Gore invited me to join him on a trip to Haiti to view first-hand the effects of extreme deforestation on the country. Nearly every tree had been cut down, and people, desperate to feed themselves, had planted crops wherever they could, including on barren hillsides. When the rains came, the soil just washed away.

Unfortunately, little has changed. In times of extreme floods and hurricanes, which affect Haiti all too often, thousands of people lose their homes and their lives.

Back then, neither of us could imagine being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize or, indeed, that the Norwegian Nobel Committee would expand its conception of peace and security to encompass protecting the environment, ensuring the equitable and sustainable use of natural resources, and raising awareness of the linkages between ecological stress and conflict. By choosing Al Gore and the IPCC as this year's peace laureates, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has rightly reminded us that climate change is the single biggest threat to world peace.

In his speeches, writings and the excellent documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore has made clear to the industrialized world that not only is global warming real, but that human actions are at the center of solutions as well as the problem. He has focused world attention on the challenges we need to confront to avoid the worst-case scenarios laid out by IPCC's dedicated scientists. His work to make ordinary people and political leaders aware of the dangers has been an inspiration.
  Why We Should Save The Delta SmeltOctober 22, 2007 06:55 California is a thirsty state. You don't mess with its water, even in a good year, unless you have an excellent reason. Which is why many Californians are shaking their heads in dismay over a federal judge's recent decision to cut by as much as 30% the water sent south from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta this winter. The judge's reason: to save a French-fry-sized fish called the delta smelt.

The delta smelt makes no heroic journey across the ocean or up river rapids to reproduce. Once superabundant, Chinese fishermen used to harvest the fish by net, but the little thing, a weak swimmer, wouldn't put up any fight at the end of a line. And a smelt would not even make a decent snack. Frankly, on first glance, the fish just isn't much to look at either.

So why should millions of Californians who rely on water pumped south from the delta make economic and social sacrifices -- including the possibility of rationing -- for a basically unremarkable fish?

There are at least four good reasons.

First, it is the law. The Endangered Species Act prohibits the government from doing anything that jeopardizes the continued existence of endangered or threatened species, and it forbids any government agency, corporation or citizen from harming, harassing or killing endangered animals without a permit. It is a sound law, put in place by the Nixon administration in 1973 to protect imperiled plants and animals "from the consequences of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation."

By drawing a bright legal line this side of annihilating whole kinds of creatures, the law is to thank for saving the bald eagle, the gray whale, the California condor and the Pacific green sea turtle, among other animals. And it's a law that will be especially important in California and beyond as climate change, human population growth, habitat conversion and invasive species increasingly degrade the natural world.

But obeying even a good law may seem unjustified when it comes time to make sacrifices for a ghostlike fish that conveys no clear benefits to mankind. That common perception brings us to the second reason to save the smelt: The goal of the Endangered Species Act is not just to protect single species but also the ecosystems on which they depend. The delta smelt is what Peter Moyle, a fisheries biologist at UC Davis, calls an indicator species: Its condition reflects the overall health of an ecosystem.

In the case of the delta, we're talking about a once-magnificent place that is in serious trouble. It is 16,000 square miles of wetland and open water -- the West Coast's largest estuary -- and the end point of about 40% of California's precipitation. When the Spanish arrived centuries ago, it was teeming with fish, crawling with bears and beavers, its skies periodically darkened with migrating birds.

Twenty-nine known fish species once called the delta home. Twelve of those are either gone altogether or are threatened with extinction. The Sacramento perch, once one of the most abundant fish in the system, was last seen in the 1970s, Moyle says. The thicktail chub disappeared in the 1950s. Many other fish are in rapid decline too, victims of pollution, overfishing and habitat destruction as big portions of the delta were diked and drained for agriculture, and the natural exchange of fresh and salt water was altered by the huge, sucking pumps that send water south. As for the delta smelt, Moyle has been charting its decline for decades. But that decline turned into a nose-dive a couple of years ago because of increased water diversions from the delta. This year's spring survey found 90% fewer fish than in 2006, the previous record low.
  Endangered Species Act Targeted During DroughtOctober 17, 2007 15:32 It’s man against mussel in the halls of Congress.

In a rare show of bipartisan unity, Georgia’s entire congressional delegation fired the latest salvo in the bureaucratic war over water in the drought-parched states of Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

With the filing of identical bills in the U.S. House and Senate, lawmakers are seeking a temporary exemption to the federal Endangered Species Act. Currently, billions of gallons of water are being discharged from Georgia’s lakes and rivers to protect mussels and sturgeon in the Apalachicola River on the Florida panhandle.

U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville, said human life takes priority over aquatic life.

"The Endangered Species Act should not have priority over human needs, when we’re in drought conditions," Deal said in an interview with The Times. "The bill gives a governor of a state or the secretary of the Army the ability to suspend the provisions of the act during the term of the drought conditions."

While Deal would not speculate about its future, the legislation faces an uphill challenge with the likelihood of negative reaction from members of the Alabama and Florida delegations, as well as from environmental groups opposed to any relaxation of federal law.
  Endangered Species Act Protection Sought For The Ashy Storm-PetrelOctober 15, 2007 11:39 Today the Center for Biological Diversity filed a scientific petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the ashy storm-petrel under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The ashy storm-petrel (Oceanodroma homochroa) is a small, smoke-gray seabird that nests and forages almost exclusively on the offshore islands and waters of California near San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. These waters are heavily impacted by development, including offshore energy terminals, shipping traffic, commercial fishing, and pollution, as well as by global warming. Faced with these multiple threats, the seabird has experienced sharp population declines in recent decades. The largest colony of ashy storm-petrels decreased by 42 percent in 20 years, prompting the World Conservation Union and BirdLife International to list the species as endangered.

“The ashy storm-petrel is a barometer of the health of California’s coastal waters,” said Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity who has studied the ashy storm-petrel as well as the effects of ocean climate change on California’s seabirds. “The declines we’ve observed in its numbers and breeding success are indicative of troubling changes we’re seeing throughout the ocean off the West Coast.”

The marine ecosystem off the California coast is changing due to global warming, resulting in warmer, less productive waters with less food available for seabirds like the ashy storm-petrel. Also, ocean acidification caused by the ocean’s absorption of excess carbon dioxide may lead to declines in the storm-petrel’s prey. Sea-level rise from global warming threatens to drown important breeding habitat for the bird in sea caves and on offshore rocks.

Our fossil-fuel demand is also spurring the proliferation of proposed offshore liquefied natural gas terminals off California’s coast, which not only increase pollution but also add artificial lighting at night. “Artificial light attracts nocturnally active seabirds such as the ashy storm-petrel like moths to a flame, and the effects can be devastating,” said Wolf. Instead of going about their natural foraging and breeding activities, storm-petrels will continuously circle or collide with lighted structures at night, leading to exhaustion, injury, and even death.

The storm-petrel faces a variety of other threats at sea and on its island breeding colonies, including (1) the threat of oil spills near breeding and foraging hotspots that could decimate the population in one fell swoop; (2) lower breeding success caused by eggshell thinning from persistent pollutants like DDT and PCBs that continue to affect southern California seabirds; (3) ingestion of floating plastic pieces that can lead to starvation of adults and the chicks that are fed these plastics; and (4) depredation by introduced predators such as rats on the bird’s island breeding sites.
  Where The '08 Contenders Stand On Global WarmingOctober 15, 2007 11:36 Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize for his years of work on climate change has caused considerable speculation about whether he might be a late entry in the race for the White House, a subject on which he remains coy. But where does the former vice president's award leave the declared presidential candidates on global warming?

Their positions range widely: from a corporate carbon tax (Sen. Christopher Dodd) and an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 (John Edwards) to a cap-and-trade system on such gases (Sen. John McCain) to a pooh-poohing of the kind of climate threat Mr. Gore warns about (Rep. Tom Tancredo).

Asked by the Associated Press to name "the last work of fiction you've read," Republican Congressman Tancredo said it was Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth."

Inevitably, global warming and the gases scientists say are largely responsible – principally carbon dioxide – are tied to fossil fuels and energy policy.

Among Republicans, Sen. Sam Brownback says the country's energy security depends on more oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the Gulf of Mexico. Rep. Ron Paul would end "all subsidies and special benefits to energy companies."

Among Democrats, Sen. Joseph Biden wants to raise vehicle fuel efficiency standards to 40 miles per gallon by 2017, "which [he says] will save approximately the amount of oil we import from Saudi Arabia."

Not surprisingly, the most Gore-like positions on climate change have been staked out by Democrats. Even so, it's a politically tricky issue, one on which a candidate wants to be neither too hot nor too cold. Recent voter surveys show why.

Seventy percent of those polled by CBS News in January agreed that "global warming is an environmental problem that is causing a serious impact now." A Washington Post-ABC News survey in April found 33 percent – twice the figure from a year ago – identifying climate change as their main environmental concern. At the same time, according to the Pew Research Center "the public continues to be deeply divided over both its cause and what to do about it."
  Gore Ranks As Most Effective Advocate For Curbing Global WarmingOctober 12, 2007 14:56 Former vice president Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize win today meant the same thing to both his supporters and detractors: He now ranks as the world's most effective public advocate for curbing global warming.

While an array of activists, politicians and business leaders have all called in recent years for more stringent limits on greenhouse gases linked to climate change, no one has reshaped the public perception of what was once a wonkish scientific debate more than Gore. Through his tireless travel and slide show presentations, captured on screen in the 2006 film "An Inconvenient Truth," Gore has inserted himself into the policy debate both at home and in countries across the globe.

"It's difficult for Americans to comprehend how Gore is one of the most influential global leaders of our time," said Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, who met Gore more than two decades ago in Washington. "He is influential not only for his views, but for how he is mobilizing action and awareness in all countries, on all continents."

In many ways, the Norwegian Nobel Committee's decision to award the peace prize to Gore -- along with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- underscores an emerging political and scientific consensus on the need to make more dramatic cuts in carbon dioxide emissions generated by human activity.

The award establishes that "climate change is the most challenging of all environmental problems that threaten peace and prosperity," said John Holdren, a Harvard University climate scientist who chairs the board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "It's a recognition that he has done more as an individual, and the IPCC has done more than any organization, to bring the reality and the urgency of that danger to the rest of the world."
  SCDOT Works for Endangered MusselsOctober 08, 2007 07:51 Another article that juxtapositions a positive environmental move against a few people's complaints about the move. Show me a case where you couldn't find someone to complain about anything the government does!

In an effort to save endangered species Carolina Heelsplitter mussels, which are found in Greenwood County’s Cuffytown Creek, the South Carolina Department of Transportation has constructed check dams along Bowie Road, which crosses the creek.

One Greenwood couple, however, thinks the dams will cause more harm than good.

SCDOT Engineering District 2 Mark Dezurik said the work along Bowie Road was recent, with dams constructed in the last few weeks. Dezurik said maintenance crews placed riprap, a type of rock usually used to line lakeshores to prevent erosion, in ditches that border the gravel road. Then, on the uphill side of the rock, crews placed an erosion sediment tube, which is a mesh bag with something like wood shavings inside, to block sediment but let water pass through.

Plastic reflectors were attached to wooden stakes and posted directly along the road.

“That was a safety component up there to point where the actual check dam sediment tubes were placed,” Dezurik said of the reflectors.

The dams should keep silt out of the creek.
  Melting Ice Pack Displaces Alaska WalrusOctober 06, 2007 20:03 Thousands of walrus have appeared on Alaska's northwest coast in what conservationists are calling a dramatic consequence of global warming melting the Arctic sea ice.

Alaska's walrus, especially breeding females, in summer and fall are usually found on the Arctic ice pack. But the lowest summer ice cap on record put sea ice far north of the outer continental shelf, the shallow, life-rich shelf of ocean bottom in the Bering and Chukchi seas.

Walrus feed on clams, snails and other bottom dwellers. Given the choice between an ice platform over water beyond their 630-foot diving range or gathering spots on shore, thousands of walrus picked Alaska's rocky beaches.

"It looks to me like animals are shifting their distribution to find prey," said Tim Ragen, executive director of the federal Marine Mammal Commission. "The big question is whether they will be able to find sufficient prey in areas where they are looking."

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, September sea ice was 39 percent below the long-term average from 1979 to 2000. Sea ice cover is in a downward spiral and may have passed the point of no return, with a possible ice-free Arctic Ocean by summer 2030, senior scientist Mark Serreze said.

Starting in July, several thousand walrus abandoned the ice pack for gathering spots known as haulouts between Barrow and Cape Lisburne, a remote, 300-mile stretch of Alaska coastline.

The immediate concern of new, massive walrus groups for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is danger to the animals from stampedes. Panic caused by a low-flying airplane, a boat or an approaching polar bear can send a herd rushing to the sea. Young animals can be crushed by adults weighing 2,000 pounds or more.

Longer term, biologists fear walrus will suffer nutritional stress if they are concentrated on shoreline rather than spread over thousands of miles of sea ice.

Walrus need either ice or land to rest. Unlike seals, they cannot swim indefinitely and must pause after foraging.

  Maine To Limit Trapping To Protect LynxOctober 06, 2007 19:40 A federal lawsuit aimed at protecting threatened Canada lynx has ended in a settlement in which state game officials agreed to restrict trapping in northern Maine.

The agreement was formalized Thursday in a consent decree in U.S. District Court in Bangor that bans or restricts certain types of traps and requires the state to monitor and report cases of trapped lynx and rehabilitate injured lynx.

The settlement follows a hearing last week in which Judge John Woodcock indicated that the lawsuit brought by the Animal Protection Institute had a good chance of success.

"I don't think anyone here is accusing anybody of deliberately trapping lynx, but if trappers are going out ... and they accidentally or inadvertently take lynx, then that is a violation of the Endangered Species Act," Woodcock said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said trappers have caught 34 lynx in the past eight years, and two of those animals died. Maine's lynx population is estimated at between 200 and 500.

The lawsuit against Maine's Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife claimed that the agency is liable for lynx that are accidentally injured or killed by traps set for other animals. Lynx are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.