Archive for June, 2011

Taking A Chill Pill

June 28, 2011

Travelling. Back, middle of July.
Matt

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Pebble Mine; Another Insane Fiasco

June 23, 2011

I got this from NRDC’s Bio Gems. This is a project that is insane like a highway across the Serengeti.
Matt
Most people who’ve heard of the massive Pebble Mine — proposed for construction in the wild lands above Bristol Bay in southwest Alaska — know about the gigantic open pit, the estimated 10 billion tons of mining waste laced with toxics, the unavoidable risk of contamination to the wild salmon fisheries of region, and the overwhelming opposition of the people who live there.
But few people understand that it gets even worse.
The foreign mining companies that make up the Pebble Partnership have said very little about impacts from the road, power plants, slurry pipelines, relentless heavy-duty diesel truck traffic, and even a deep water port that would accompany the mine – infrastructure essential to its operation, destructive in its own right, and staggering in its geographic scale.
This week my colleagues and I flew over the proposed right-of-way of what is currently estimated to be a 104-mile road from the mine site to Cook Inlet. From the pristine wild lands at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed, the road would wind south, crossing innumerable streams and other water bodies, large and small, where salmon spawn. It would skirt the east end of Lake Iliamna — the largest fresh water body in Alaska – eviscerate the community of Pedro Bay, bridge the Iliamna River (among others), and traverse steeper and steeper slopes as it winds its way through icy mountain peaks that drop precipitously into the deep blue waters of Iniskin Bay in Cook Inlet.

There, an industrial marine terminal and a deep water port would be constructed at the receiving end of a new slurry pipeline, where ore from the mine would be loaded onto large, ocean-going container ships. These industrial facilities – and the increased ship traffic that it is intended to attract — wouldn’t be good news for the critically endangered population of Beluga whales that reside in Cook Inlet, already home to the Port of Anchorage to the North. The population has already been federally listed as endangered and its Cook Inlet habitat designated as critical.

Although no one yet knows how the power for the massive mine and associated infrastructure would be generated – power needed, for example, to continuously and permanently dewater the site, power the mine construction and operations, slurry the ore, treat the run-off, and run the port – estimates are that the demand would equal or surpass that required by the entire city of Anchorage. The costs of such facilities – economic, environmental, and social — would be staggering.
It’s no secret that the technological and engineering challenges of large-scale mining in a region as wild, wet, and vast as is contemplated for the Pebble Mine are unprecedented, from the mine itself to the facilities essential to service it. But it is equally clear that, even if the world’s best engineers could be enlisted to build it, there is no way they could engineer away the inevitable and innumerable risks of failure, accident, fuel and chemical spills, contamination, and ultimately economic, environmental, and social devastation that such a project, in such a location, would pose to the communities, to the fishermen, and to the wildlife of Bristol Bay.
The Pebble Mine is a road to disaster. And when the ore has left the country, the people of Alaska will be left with the wreckage.

Serengeti Watch Again

June 23, 2011

If we cant stop this fiasco, ….
Matt

Scientists around the world agree – this ill-conceived project would destroy a priceless world heritage that has been protected by the people of Tanzania since the birth of their country. It would also cause grave danger to their entire tourist industry. See this economic impact statement.

A World Heritage Site in Danger

We sincerely believe that the road will have disastrous effects on the entire ecosystem. The northern parts of the Serengeti and the adjacent Masai Mara are critical for the wildebeest and zebra migration during the dry season, as it is the only permanent year-round water source for these herds. Recent calculations show that if wildebeest were to be cut off from these critical dry season areas, the population would likely decline from 1.3 million animals to about 200,000 (meaning a collapse to far less than a quarter of its current population and most likely the end of the great migration).

– The Frankfurt Zoological Society. Read entire article!

The planned highway (in red on the map) will cut across a pristine and remote wilderness area of the Serengeti. It carves a swath across the migration path of millions of animals, shown by the colored arrows. This is not a track or a road — it’s a high speed highway for trucks that could eventually reach hundreds a day! Traffic will inevitably grow more and more frequent, invasive, and damaging as time goes on.

Left: Survey markers already are in place. Photo: Nikki Waterhouse

According to Tanzania’s own 10-year management plan, painstakingly developed in 2005 by scientists, Park officials, and conservation organizations, the area in the northwestern part of the Park is particularly sensitive. As shown on the map below, the area of the proposed highway cuts right through areas designated by the Management Plan as “Low Use” and “Wilderness” zones. The Low Use Zone “will have a lower number and density of visitors” and “more limited road network and lower bed capacity.”

The Wilderness Zone in green “is subject to minimal disturbance. As a result, visitor access will be restricted to walking safaris, with game viewing by vehicle prohibited. The only infrastructure permitted will be a limited number of access roads that can be used by SENAPA management and support vehicles for walking safari operations.”

These areas were not determined lightly. The management plan’s authors themselves state,

“There are significant management challenges facing the Serengeti National Park and its associated wildlife and the migration that contribute to the Park’s uniqueness and global importance.

The actions we take in the next ten years to address these pressures are certain to be critical to conserving those unique aspects of the Serengeti that we all hold dear, and to our ability to fulfill the pledge made by Tanzania’s First President, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, to conserve our precious heritage for the benefit of future generations.

— Serengeti 10-year General Management Plan, 2005

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A Threat to the Greatest Migration on Earth
The northern Serengeti is the most remote and pristine are in the entire ecosystem. Located near the Kenya border, it is the main route for the great wildebeest migration, and is also an important elephant migration area.

The wildebeest photo was taken on May 31, 2010, in nearly the exact place where the proposed Serengeti highway would bisect this part of Serengeti and Loliondo. Not far from this spot there are survey ribbons hanging on trees.

The Tanzanian government’s own impact study states that there will be 800 vehicles a day by the year 2015, and 3,000 a day by 2035. That would be more than a million vehicles a year! Experts say that even these figures have been understated.

In the short term, heavy truck traffic will result in: loss of wildlife and human life through accidents, fragmentation of habitat and alteration of water and soil systems, and increased introduction of animal disease and alien plant life.

The highway will be a convenient pathway for increased poaching by organized gangs. They will be especially interested in the thirty-two black rhinos being introduced by the Frankfort Zoo in the next few years.

One of the introduced rhinos recently ended up like this.

But the long term impact will be worse, as population and development grow…

Areas to the west of the Serengeti are already heavily populated. The northwestern section of the Park is a critical area for wildebeest, which use it as a refuge for much of the year. A highway will add even more human population and development.

Areas to the east of the Serengeti will be radically transformed as people migrate there and change land use from cattle grazing to farming. These areas are crucial dispersal zones for the migrating herds.

A Better Way

There is already too much commercial traffic going through the central Serengeti on its way to western Tanzania. A route is needed to link this area, to be sure. The government of Tanzania must work for development and human welfare in all areas of the country. Preserving nature is not the only task. But the answer is not to carve out a permanent commercial corridor through a World Heritage Site. The net effect will be to damage Tanzania’s vital travel industry, destroy thousands of jobs, and end a heritage of protection in place since the country’s independence.

The choice is not be between people and nature. There is no need for Tanzania to sacrifice its most precious wilderness, or income from tourism, or its heritage.

A safer alternative route to the south can bypass the Serengeti altogether and provide more economic benefit for the people of Tanzania! It would connect with paved highways to western, central, and eastern regions of the country, serving several times the number of people.

See our discussion on the southern route.

A southern route around the Serengeti can preserve Tanzania’s greatest tourism asset and spare the devastation of a priceless World Heritage Site. With the help of the world community, Tanzania can find a way to preserve its inheritance, help bring prosperity to its people, and show the world that it still leads the way in conservation.

Possible Solutions:
The solution is to stop the northern highway from going forward and encouraging the adoption and funding of the southern route.

What’s Being Done:
Education and petitioning of the Tanzanian government. Conservation organizations, the travel industry, and individuals are starting to work together to stop the highway.

Read more: http://www.savetheserengeti.org/issues/stop-the-serengeti-highway/#ixzz1Q7XFME9G

Rare Shorebird Seen In In Expidition To Its Breeding Grounds In Cornell Lab Of Ornithology E-News

June 22, 2011

This was very interesting to me.
Matt

An unusual shorebird with a one-of-a-kind bill is facing extinction–and a team of scientists from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and Birds Russia are doing all they can to save it. They’ve mounted an expedition to this species’ breeding grounds in arctic Russia, hoping to establish a critically needed captive breeding population. Fewer than 200 breeding pairs remain on earth. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Gerrit Vyn has joined the team to capture rare images and sounds of Spoon-billed Sandpipers on their breeding grounds.

Differing diets make polar bears more vulnerable to ice loss By Doug O’Harra | Jun 20, 2011

June 21, 2011

Interesting. This bares some discussion.
Matt

Over the past 30 years, Dalhousie University biologist Sara Iverson has been part of an effort that collected fat samples from polar bears throughout the Canadian Arctic, producing a remarkable catalog of what bears eat for dinner and how that diet varies from population to population.

Finding out exactly what these top Arctic predators scarf down has become more important as summer sea ice shrinks back, forcing these ice-adapted carnivores to swim immense distances to find ice or retreat to the shore to wait for the onset of winter.

“Polar bears are absolutely dependent on sea ice to hunt seals, which use the ice as a platform to breed,” said Iverson in the story. “With the loss of ice, they’re having a difficult time. A major source of food has been removed and in some areas they’ve been forced ashore earlier in the spring in poor condition.”

Over the past couple of decades, the extent of summer ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas north of Alaska has shrunk to record and near record levels –matching ice shrinkage elsewhere in the Arctic. The fear that this loss will drive the U.S.-managed polar bear populations to extinction prompted the United States to list the bears as endangered, and to designate 187,000 square miles of North Slope and Arctic Ocean as habitat critical to their survival.

.The legal battle over that habitat designation – an area the size of California – has only just begun. Lawsuits challenging the legality of the decision have been filed by the State of Alaska, the Alaska Oil and Gas Commission and the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. (along with 11 other Native corporations and the North Slope Borough.) They variously argue that the designation was not done correctly, that it ignored population data or the economic consequences, or actually violated the Endangered Species Act. Conservation groups say they will intervene to defend the designation.

The biological issue hinges on whether polar bears will be able to find enough to eat as they roam shrinking ice floes. The research by Iverson and other Canadian scientists focused on the basics: what do bears in various Canadian populations eat already?

Between 1972 and 2004, these Canadian scientists took 1,902 fat samples from 1,738 bears spread among 10 different Canadian populations, including two populations that live in the Canadian portion of the Beaufort Sea, just east of Alaska’s territory.

What they found suggests that the Beaufort bears might have a harder time adapting as ice extent shrinks because they rely on just three kinds of prey.

A Stark Reminder Of A Changing Climate

June 20, 2011

I saw this today.

This will be the root cause of many wildfires and it will negatively impact grizzly bears, amongst other things.

I came over what is called Bozeman Pass and about half of the Lodgepole Pine have been killed by Mountain Pine Beetle. I think it will not spread this year because of the coolness in temperatures…but it will spread and you will see it in entire mountain ranges in the near future.

At high elevations, and very much around here, is the White Bark Pine, at mid through low elevations is the Lodgepole Pine and at low elevations is the Ponderosa Pine,on eastern fronts is the Limber Pine…all are around here in the Central Rockies and all will be impacted, and already are, by pine beetles. You can see it at Bozeman Pass from your car window…All of this is an artifact of climate change…and as sure as I write this blog it will happen and it is happening as I compose this.
Matt

One grizzly relocated; another euthanized in Montana In The Great Falls Tribune

June 18, 2011

This seems to be more frequent now in Montana.
Matt

Fish, Wildlife & Parks bear managers said Friday they trapped and relocated a subadult female grizzly bear near Essex and euthanized another grizzly captured on private property southwest of Trego.

They released the female bear in the Baptiste Creek area above Hungry Horse Reservoir on Wednesday.

The bear had been frequenting homes around Essex, which is on U.S. Highway 2 west of the Continental Divide.

The subadult male grizzly was snared on private land about 10 miles southwest of Trego in far northwestern Montana. The bear was first captured about a month ago on the Flathead Indian Reservation by tribal biologists and was released in Coal Creek, a tributary of the North Fork of the Flathead.

The three-year-old, radio-collared bear apparently killed 11 chickens in the West Fortine Creek drainage on June 5 and was observed in the yards of several area residences.

On Monday night the bear returned to the residence where the chickens had been killed and killed three adult goats.

Out of public safety concerns, the bear was captured and euthanized there on Thursday.

A Confrontation Between Two Different Species Of Bear

June 17, 2011

One time I saw a grizzly female yammer at and stare down a large black bear (male I assume). A fight was going to ensue and before that started the large black bear turned around and walked where he came from and the female grizzly ran from where she came, foaming at the mouth, and swatting her chocalate cub, nervously standing and watching from about 50 yards away. The cub bawled and followed its mother into some nearby willow.
Matt

A Place Without A Road: A Visit To The Amazon By Ben and Devon West In NRDC’s OnEarth Magazine

June 16, 2011

How we treat the Amazon Forest; So goes our plight. This is an integrel part of a larger picture. Please read on.
Matt

A cursory glance around the jungle and it’s difficult to tell where you are — at least to my untrained eye. Costa Rica and the Amazon are the only points of reference I have, but to me, a rainforest in Costa Rica could just as easily be the Amazon. They’re green, they’re lush, their undergrowth is dense, they’re full of insects and frogs producing a cacophony of noises, and it seems they’re both full of the sounds of monkeys off in the distance — heard but not seen. However, when you step back from this close-up view, even I begin to notice the profound differences. The Costa Rican landscape inevitably begins to turn into a landscape dominated by banana plantations and other kinds of development. The Amazon on the other hand seems to continue regardless of your vantage point. There’s no shame in that for Costa Rica. It’s hard for any place to compare to the Amazon, particularly a small country like Costa Rica. If you look at the entire landmass of Costa Rica it is 131 times smaller than the jungle that makes up the Amazon. It is this type of comparison that is a testament to the size of the Amazon. Even though in 2010 it lost approximately 7 square miles of forest a day, it still contains areas where you have to travel for days to find major areas cleared of jungle.

There were two instances where the immensity of the Amazon really began to sink in. The first was on our flight into Iquitos, Peru. Iquitos is a proper city of over 400,000 people completely engulfed by the Amazon, and one of the largest cities in the world inaccessible by road — the only access is by plane or boat. Our first impression of the city came on our decent. The only thing in view was expanses of forest as far as the eye could see; only broken by sinuously braided tributaries of the Amazon River working their way through the deep green tapestry. As we started to get close enough to make out the details of individual trees still the only thing we could see was jungle. Abruptly, like some lost city, the airport and surrounding civilization emerged from the surrounding jungle. That the Amazon jungle could virtually swallow and hide a city of over 400,000 was a reminder of how big it really is. Even at its perimeter and along the edge of a major city the Amazon Basin is still green forest stretching into oblivion.

The second moment of realization about the expansive size of the Amazon came from the Amazon River. Our jungle adventure required a 3 hour boat ride — some 54 miles down the Amazon River from Iquitos — taking us to a rustic jungle lodge. We were astonished by the size of the Amazon River; even though we were 2,300 miles from its mouth on the Atlantic Ocean it was massive. We were visiting at the beginning of the rainy season, when the locals still considered it to be narrow. Yet there were portions on the river where the only thing you could see was water disappearing with the curvature of the earth. This phenomenon didn’t occur because the river was straight, but because it was so wide. Even so close to the headwaters of the river the twists and turns were swallowed up. It was hard to fathom the river would get significantly wider than what we saw, because if it hadn’t been flowing we would have mistaken it for a very large lake.

The vastness of the jungle and river was more remarkable than any of the species we encountered – and there were a few. While we didn’t come close to seeing the almost 1,500 species of birds, more than 300 species of mammals, and more than 500,000 species of insects and spiders that inhabit the Amazon, we saw just enough to wet our appetite. Perhaps most amazing was that the lodge and many of our jungle bushwhacks were through second growth forest. These second growth stands still possess an amazing amount of diversity with an abundance of more common species like giant millipedes, tarantulas, and blue morpho butterflies. However, counter intuitive as it may be, they also had a number of species that are more difficult to spot like the pygmy marmoset (the world’s smallest monkey), a sub-species of poison dart frog thought to only inhabit the drainage around the lodge, and the elusive two-toed sloth. Our visits to areas previously subjected to intense human use showed us that the Amazon rainforest is still incredibly resilient.

While we would have loved to see more virgin stands of rainforest there was only one area we visited that still had big old trees, massive ancients with their crowns disappearing into the canopy above. They hadn’t been cut down because of a collaboration between the lodge and the local community that lives close to the trees. The lodge pays the community to not cut down the trees and to prevent others from doing the same. In return the lodge has reliable access to ancient trees without having to take people on bushwhacking tours through a hot, humid and mosquito ridden jungle not knowing if the big trees would still be there. Although we only saw the big trees in one place we know there are more out there, as we saw a number of barges with massive tree trunks floating along the river and an active sawmill in Iquitos that had some of the biggest tree trunks either of us have ever seen.

Our trip into the Amazon was short and only hinted at the biodiversity it has to offer.Even the lodge owner, who has been living in the Amazon fulltime for the past seven years, said he saw things every day that were new to him. While what we saw weren’t the rarest of species, they were new to us: a two-toed sloth up a tree (our guide had never seen one in his ten years of guiding), grey and pink river dolphins, a host of frogs, toads, and snakes, and more insects, plants, and birds than I can ever hope to remember. There are still many things we missed that were on our list. Most were animals that, for me at least, are intrinsically associated with the Amazon, such as the South American tapir, the iconic Anaconda of the Amazon, the capybara (the world’s biggest rodent), and giant anteaters and giant otters to name a few. We definitely hope to go back someday not just to spot the animals we missed, but where else in the world can you go fishing for piranhas for lunch surrounded by the vastness of the world’s largest river and dense jungle?

Bear-proofed trash cans could help in Issaquah By GARY CHITTIM / KING 5 News

June 15, 2011

This can be seen from Alaska to California and from California to New Jersey. This can also be seen in the SE US…bear proofing trash recepticles are an important part of the solution.
Matt
ISSAQUAH, Wash. — The suburban good life of Issaquah is being disrupted by some hungry natives on snack patrol.

Bears are showing up seemingly unconcerned about being seen in broad daylight, in the middle of neighborhoods as they forage through trash cans.

They seem to know when trash pick up days are — and if they don’t, some aren’t above popping over a fence to get to one.

Fish and Wildlife officers say they can trap and remove the bears but they will just keep coming back until residents secure their trash. But now a local activist and Waste Management officials have teamed up on a possible way to deter the bears — getting bear-resistant residential trash cans.

Like the one developed by Toter Inc., it looks just like a normal trash can to wheel out to the curb on trash day. It’s even compatible with the automated lifts on Waste Management trucks. But this can has a locking mechanism on top and a bear resistant strip of metal around the lid.

The combination has made the can impenetrable to grizzly bears in tests (watch the video from Toter Inc. below) and is being used in Colorado, Alaska and other states. It’s not available yet to Issaquah residents but it is being studied along with other products.

Waste Management officials and Cathy Macchio of the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project hope to come up with a plan to offer the cans locally soon.