Red squirrels: 5,000 volunteers sought to save species – and help kill invasive greys
Wildlife Trusts’ biggest-ever recruitment drive will see volunteers monitor populations, educate children – and bludgeon grey squirrels to death
Friday 24 February 2017 06.01 GMT
An army of 5,000 volunteers is being sought to save the red squirrel from extinction by monitoring populations, educating children – and bludgeoning grey squirrels to death.
The Wildlife Trusts’ biggest-ever recruitment drive is focused on areas of northern England, north Wales and Northern Ireland where invasive grey squirrels first introduced by the Victorians are driving the retreating red squirrel population to extinction.
More than 2.5 million grey squirrels are continuing to spread north through England and into Scotland, out-competing the 140,000 remaining red squirrels and spreading the squirrelpox virus, which does not affect greys but rapidly kills reds.
“In most of the UK there are only a handful of refuges left for red squirrels,” said Dr Cathleen Thomas, programme manager of Red Squirrel United, a conservation partnership started in 2015. “Without help, experts predict this beautiful and treasured creature could be extinct within as little as 35 years.”
Volunteers for Red Squirrel United will be asked to monitor red squirrel strongholds in Northumberland, Merseyside, Wales and Northern Ireland, and report any grey squirrels entering these areas. Volunteers will set up camera traps to film squirrel behaviour and teach the public and school children about the way in which greys have rapidly driven the reds to extinction across southern Britain since 1945.
Supported by Heritage Lottery and EU Life funding, volunteers can also undertake training to trap and kill grey squirrels, which are caught in a cage-trap, put in a bag and knocked over the head.
“It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and we don’t expect people to do it if they are not comfortable but we do have volunteers who carry out the dispatch themselves,” said Thomas. “We don’t just say ‘do it how you like’ – we have very strict animal welfare guidelines. Nobody does it happily but it’s one or the other [reds or greys] and we’re in a position where we have to decide.”
Culling is controversial but scientific monitoring shows that reds swiftly recolonise areas cleared of greys. There were fewer than 40 red squirrels left on Anglesey in 1997 but a successful drive to eradicate all grey squirrels on the island by 2015 has seen the red squirrel population bounce back to 700 today.
Thomas added: “We do get animal rights activists saying we shouldn’t kill anything because all living creatures have a right to life and to some extent I agree but if we don’t do anything the reds will go extinct and in quite a horrific way. Given that the greys were brought over here by humans, it’s something we have to make a conscious decision about.”
Julie Bailey, who lives in Cumbria’s Eden Valley, used to watch dozens of red squirrels at her garden feeders. A grey squirrel arrived in Christmas 2009 and within a month all her reds had died of squirrelpox virus. “It was absolutely devastating,” she said.
She began volunteering for local red squirrel groups – there are 14 such community groups in Cumbria alone – recording red squirrels, and trapping and shooting greys.
“Pulling the trigger on grey squirrels was difficult if I’m honest because I’d never actually killed anything like that before,” said Bailey. “But because we’ve been culling the greys we’ve managed to get the reds back and they are still hanging on.” Despite three outbreaks of squirrelpox, Bailey now has six to eight red squirrels in her neighbourhood.
“It is a winnable war but not without boots on the ground,” she added. “We have some fantastic conservation projects but if we haven’t got someone sitting under that tree or checking that trap we’re at a loss.
“It’s an unfortunate part of red squirrel conservation that we have to kill grey squirrels. But we have an obligation to undo the damage the Victorians did by bringing them here in the first place.”
on: Today at 06:29 AM
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on: Today at 06:25 AM
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Hedgerows are haven for birds, hares and badgers
Welland Valley, Leicestershire Wildlife sightings, even on a short walk across the fields, demonstrate the effect of these ‘green corridors’
Friday 24 February 2017 05.30 GMT
The reed buntings sway on their vertical perches like trapeze artists waiting for the next trick. Bare hawthorn whips make a good vantage point from which to survey the landscape before they flit into a field of winter stubble to feed.
The males have a black head and smart white collar, adding to the appearance of professional performers. The females look at bit dowdy at first but, on closer inspection, their streaky brown plumage and fine white moustaches, running from the base of the beak across their cheeks, are just as handsome.
Once on the UK’s endangered list, Emberiza schoeniclus has recently made a comeback, largely because of its ability to adapt to living on farmland. These reed buntings are lucky to have found a farm where the hedgerows haven’t been grubbed up to make way for agricultural machinery and where the stubble hasn’t been ploughed up to make way for a second crop. The leftover kernels of wheat will see the birds through the hungry gap over winter and early spring.
Here at Rectory Farm, the tenants grow oilseed rape as well as wheat, which they add to bought-in millet, sunflower seeds and the niger seeds that goldfinches so love, to sell as garden birdfood mixes. Wildflower margins planted around the fields provide more seeds and attract insects for birds to feed on in the summer. Customers are encouraged to visit and see the results for themselves.
The effect of these “green corridors” is visible on even the shortest walk across the fields. Skylarks lift into the air, although on this February day their chirruping has yet to reach the joyous sound of springtime. Flashes of white suggest that the “little brown jobs” flitting in and out of the hedge are chaffinches. The yellowhammer perched on a briar is easier to identify, his head and breast bright against the muted landscape. In the distance, a kestrel hovers and a red kite glides overhead. A hare lollops into cover and badger prints in the earth show the birds are not alone in taking advantage of the hedgerows.
on: Today at 06:23 AM
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Australia's 'biggest ever' antivenom dose saves boy bitten by funnel web spider
NSW central coast schoolboy, aged 10, was given 12 vials of antivenom after he was bitten by a male spider hiding in a shoe
Australian Associated Press
Friday 24 February 2017 03.48 GMT
A 10-year-old NSW central coast boy is lucky to be alive after a deadly funnel web spider bite necessitated what is believed to be the largest dose of antivenom administered in Australian history.
Matthew Mitchell was rushed to Gosford hospital after he was bitten on the finger by the male funnel web, which was hiding inside a shoe, on Monday.
He was given 12 vials of antivenom – an unheard-of amount and an Australian record, according to the Australian Reptile Park general manager, Tim Faulkner.
“I’ve never heard of it, it’s incredible,” he told AAP on Friday. “And to walk out of hospital a day later with no effects is a testament to the antivenom.”
The offending spider was captured and taken to the reptile park, where it is now part of the antivenom milking program.
Despite the fearsome reputation of spiders in Australia, deaths caused by bites are very rare, thanks to the introduction of antivenom.
In April 2016, a redback spider bite was believed to have caused the death of 22-year-old Jayden Burleigh from Sydney.
The funnel web spider is considered the most deadly in the world because its venom can kill within 15 minutes. But the redback is believed to have more powerful venom.
In Australia: giant spider carrying a mouse is horrifying and impressive
Forget pizza rat and cigarette crab and prepare yourself for spider mouse, the super strong and very hungry Australian arachnid
Monday 24 October 2016 04.54 BST
Australia’s litany of fearsome fauna seems to have a new entry. Added to deadly snakes, man-eating crocodiles and poisonous jellyfish comes Hermie the huntsman, a spider so unusually large and strong that it had no problem carrying a sizeable mouse up the outside of a fridge.
Hermie’s feat was captured on film by Jason Wormal, a tradesman from Coppabella in Queensland, who was heading out to work in the early hours of Monday morning when he says he received an offer from a neighbour that he couldn’t refuse.
“So I am just about to leave for work about 0030 and me neighbour says ‘You want to see something cool’ and I say ‘Hell yeah’, he wrote on Facebook.
“So we proceed to his place and he shows me this. Huntsman trying to eat a mouse.”
On the video shot by Wormal a voice can be heard off screen wondering in amazement: “What’s he gonna do with him? Man that is so cool”.
Stills taken of the spider seem to show the arachnid clutching the mouse by its head with its chelicerae while it scurries up the fridge.
The footage quickly circulated online and by Monday afternoon had been viewed more than 6.5m times.
Among the 41,000 comments below the original post were many expressing deep horror at the strength of the spider. Anthony Candelaria Sanchez summed up the general feeling with the simple statement: “Oh hell no.”
Arachnophobes may think about giving Coppabella a miss
In a later post, Wormal assures his friends that the spider is alive and well.
“Ok guys so just letting you all know that the spider is fine. We have named him Hermie, we have adopted him and he is now running his own extermination business out of our town Coppabella. Oh and he is now paying rent. Lol.”
Graham Milledge, the manager of the Australian Museum’s arachnology collection, said it was unusual, but not unheard of, for spiders to target vertebrates.
“This is the first time I’ve seen one catch a mouse, but I have seen huntsmen catch geckos. I’ve seen a redback spider catch a snake in its web, I’ve seen a golden orb spider catch birds.”
Milledge said the banded huntsman could grow to have a leg span as large as 16cm.
However his colleague, the Australian Museum arachnid expert Helen Smith, said it was unlikely that Hermie had killed the mouse itself.
“I would be very surprised if a huntsman would attack a mouse and even if it did, that the venom would be sufficient to kill it fast enough for the spider to still have hold of it,” she told the Guardian.
“I am also suspicious because the mouse’s tail looks quite stiff – as though it has been dead some time.”
While the exact cause of the mouse’s demise remained in question, there was no doubt over Hermie’s remarkable size and stamina, she said.
Click to watch: <iframe src="https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/environment/video/2016/oct/24/huge-huntsman-spider-tries-to-eat-a-mouse-video" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
on: Today at 06:18 AM
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Activists force YouTube to suspend live stream of giraffe giving birth – zoo owner
‘Sexually explicit’ video of giraffe in New York zoo briefly removed by YouTube
Owner Jordan Patch blames ‘handful of extremists and animal rights activists’
Associated Press in Harpursville, New York
Thursday 23 February 2017 17.49 GMT
The owner of a New York zoo planning to livestream a giraffe giving birth says the video feed was briefly removed from YouTube because animal rights activists labeled it sexually explicit.
Animal Adventure Park started streaming video on Wednesday of 15-year-old April in her enclosed pen at the zoo in Harpursville, 130 miles north-west of New York City. But the zoo’s owner, Jordan Patch, says YouTube removed the feed early on Thursday after someone reported it was explicit and contained nudity.
In a video posted on the zoo’s Facebook page, Patch blamed “a handful of extremists and animal rights activists” for interrupting the stream from the “giraffe cam”. The live stream resumed on YouTube later on Thursday morning.
April is expected to give birth to her fourth calf in the coming days.
on: Today at 06:14 AM
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How the release of Pruitt’s emails to the fossil fuel industry does and doesn’t matter
More than 7,500 pages of emails from the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office show a chummy relationship between Scott Pruitt and energy companies. But the release of the emails came after Pruitt's confirmation as EPA administrator.
February 23, 2017 —Thousands of pages of emails released by the Oklahoma Office of the Attorney General late Tuesday to meet a court deadline confirm what environmentalists and many Senate Democrats already knew: Scott Pruitt, the state’s top lawyer for six years and now head of the Environmental Protection Agency, had a chummy relationship with the fossil fuel industry.
The more than 7,500 pages of emails a judge ordered be released show Mr. Pruitt both coordinated legal strategy with energy companies to sue the agency he now heads and enjoyed personal favors from them. After a thunderstorm in the summer of 2013, for instance, Pruitt’s executive assistant at the time asked a lobbyist for American Electric power when the lights at Pruitt’s sprawling Tulsa home could be turned back on. Soon after the lobbyist asked for Pruitt’s address, utility workers arrived on scene.
The released emails, part of an open-records lawsuit filed by a liberal watchdog organization in early February, expand on a Pulitzer Prize-winning report by The New York Times in 2014, which highlighted many of the same emails. But the watchdog group, the Center for Media and Democracy, and Senate Democrats hoped the emails would be released during Pruitt’s confirmation hearing in order to enable more scrutiny of Pruitt’s record and relationships. Now that Pruitt has already been confirmed, the emails instead come during still-pending cases against the EPA Pruitt took part in, including one on electricity emissions, President Obama’s signature domestic climate policy.
“We’ve won a major breakthrough in obtaining access to public records that shine a light on Pruitt’s emails with polluters and their proxies,” Nick Surgey, research director at the Center for Media and Democracy, said in a statement. "The newly released emails reveal a close and friendly relationship between Scott Pruitt's office and the fossil fuel industry, with frequent meetings, calls, dinners and other events.”
Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons of the Seventh District Court in Oklahoma ordered the release of the emails. The Center for Media and Democracy had been fighting for their release for two years, eventually making an open-records request on Feb. 7. The group had said the emails show energy companies drafted language that Pruitt’s attorney general office then used in suing the EPA over regulations on energy operations.
Trump's biggest executive actions, explained
The state Attorney General’s Office has yet to release an unknown number of additional emails, saying they are exempted or privileged by Oklahoma’s public records laws. Ms. Timmons is reviewing those documents, but there is no set time for their release.
The more than 7,500 emails now out have an “impolitic tone” and “cast light on why Republicans were so eager to beat the release,” writes the Times’s Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton. (Mr. Lipton won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the emails in 2014.) “The totality of the correspondence captures just how much at war Mr. Pruitt was with the EPA and how cozy he was with the industries that he is now charged with policing.”
In one exchange in 2013, executives from Devon, an oil and gas company in Oklahoma City with whom Pruitt corresponded the most frequently, asked him to send an official state response to new regulations on hydraulic fracturing proposed by the US Bureau of Land Management. The company provided a draft letter for Pruitt’s signature, addressed to the White House office that reviews regulations.
In another series of emails in November 2013, Melissa McLawhorn Houston, Pruitt’s chief of staff at the time, asked a Devon executive whether it would be possible for her to take her sons to a restaurant at the top of the company’s 50-story headquarters building. She wrote they were “dressed like tourists” and had no plans to eat. Allen Wright, Devon’s vice president for government affairs, quickly had his assistant arrange for a personal escort for Ms. Houston, who later thanked the executive by inviting him out to lunch.
"You are so sweet!" Houston responded to Mr. Wright. "Thank you again so much for your help on this! Very sweet and you'll be making 2 little boys very happy!"
A Devon spokesman, John Porretto, said the company’s correspondence with Pruitt during his time as attorney general was “consistent – and proportionate – with our commitment to engage in conversations with policymakers on a broad range of matters that promote jobs, economic growth and a robust domestic energy sector.”
“We have a clear obligation to our shareholders and others to be involved in these discussions related to job growth, economic growth and domestic energy,” added Mr. Porretto. “It would be indefensible for us to not be engaged in these important issues.”
Others who know Pruitt have previously defended his relationship with the energy industry, saying it isn’t based so much on a desire for a buddy-buddy relationship as it is on his federalism beliefs.
“He is deeply committed to federalism in a proper sense of this word,” David Rivkin, a constitutional litigator at BakerHostetler who represented Pruitt and Oklahoma on their lawsuit against the EPA's power sector emissions rule, told Zack Colman for The Christian Science Monitor. “It’s something that very much animates his thinking. I think what a lot of people don't understand is a lot of the lawsuits he brought are driven entirely by his constitutional views.”
After being confirmed last week, Pruitt now heads the federal agency responsible for reining in pollution and regulating public health. But as Oklahoma’s attorney general he fought what he saw as the Obama administration’s broad overreach of federal authority. Among his battles with the Obama administration, Pruitt took part in 14 lawsuits against major EPA environmental rules, at times coordinating with many of the energy companies he will now regulate. One of those suits, against former President Obama’s signature domestic climate policy, is still pending.
Pruitt has previously insisted on seeing the responsibility for environmental planning and enforcement shifting back to the states.
“Our environmental statutes have a very meaningful role for the EPA and a very meaningful role for the states,” he said at a recent event. “And it’s important that they work together to ensure the safety and health of our citizens. That’s something we’ll be committed to in the future.”
In his first address as EPA administrator, Pruitt expanded on this idea of cooperation, specifically among between environmental protection and energy production or job creation.
“We as an agency and we as a nation can be both pro-energy and jobs and pro-environment,” he said, according to The Guardian. “We don’t have to choose between the two.”
This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.
on: Today at 06:11 AM
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West's challenge is still water scarcity, wet winter or not
With climate change affecting water supplies already strained by urban growth, states in the Colorado River basin are being forced to innovate and adapt.
February 23, 2017 Pioche, Nev.—The number of “For Sale” signs compete with “Open” in the storefronts along the main street in this hilly town, where fortunes evaporated with the silver and zinc mines that created it. There’s no bank or grocery store. Mining has mostly vacated the area, leaving a clutch of retirees, some county workers, and not too many others.
But this part of Nevada still has one resource that residents to the south in glitzy Las Vegas desperately want and need – water.
A controversial proposal would send a big chunk of this region’s water southward, through a 250-mile pipeline that, critics say, would dry up ranchers and farmers to supply a sprawling metropolis defined by its embrace of nightlife and all-day pool parties.
“The people in Clark County want to put a pipeline in here to drain our water. We don’t want to give it away to them. We do just fine up here,” says Don Spaulding, a retiree in Pioche.
But there’s a larger reality, too: Whatever happens with the pipeline, water has been getting harder to find for urban and rural residents alike. Even with big snows and rains across parts of the West this winter, aquifers and forests remain taxed. Long term, the water challenges of the American West look increasingly beyond the scale of traditional infrastructure projects to resolve.
Lake Mead, a major reservoir serving the Southwest, has recently been at record lows, pressuring Las Vegas to look for water sources outside the Colorado River system. And here in Pioche, residents say a long drought has taken its toll.
“We’re not getting as many tourists,” says Ann Mills inside her trinket shop called Rag Doll. “They come up for recreation, but even the lakes are low. Echo Lake gets really low. It’s not even good for fishing anymore. Eagle Valley is getting mossy and stinky.”
A new era of water management
Yet in the face of these challenges, residents of the West aren’t resigning themselves to a bleak future. Instead, states in the Colorado River basin have been turning a page toward a new era of water management. With climate change affecting water supplies that are already strained by urban growth, the region is being forced to innovate and adapt.
•Cities are conserving through steps like encouraging desert landscapes, by prohibiting grass lawns for newly built homes, and paying people with existing lawns to abandon them.
•Advancements in treatment technology are making it more possible to recycle water and harness rainfall for later use.
•Farmers are shifting to drip irrigation and other methods to use less water.
•Increasingly farmers are trading water through formal and informal markets to use it more efficiently, shifting away from a system of use-it-or-lose-it allotments.
•Water managers are making dams more efficient at serving both hydropower and irrigation needs.
•And a pragmatic outlook is prompting states, cities, and rural areas to bargain over water, not just fight over it.
Behind all this is a slow, cultural shift that recognizes conservation and scarcity – and the need for innovative and multi-layered responses.
“We’ve got to make sure we don’t adopt a zero-sum game attitude towards these things, that somehow if Phoenix does well it comes at the expense of our rural areas, or vice versa,” Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton says in an interview. “In times of drought, we have way more in common [between] urban and rural interests in Arizona than we do disagree on things. So my attitude is we’ve got to work together.”
Systems under stress
It’s a story of hope in a region that continues to be defined in general by growth and vibrancy. But there’s no sugar-coating the challenges.
Ms. Mills, interviewed here this past summer, saw the drought literally killing her modest tourist-related business. She was laying plans to close her store. She isn’t the only one here to view Las Vegas as a city of greed that grew beyond its means – and the potential pipeline as a menace.
States throughout the West face a conundrum: Urban centers grew much faster and larger than the original architects of the bedrock 1922 water-sharing agreement between the seven Colorado River basin states ever envisioned. Those urban centers now boast an economic output that overshadows agriculture, and development has strained water resources.
In California, Central Valley farmers use 80 percent of the state’s water, and have resisted calls from major cities to use less. In Arizona, drought conditions could pit rural interests against city-dwellers if the state needs to curtail the amount of water it pulls from the Colorado River. Some cautionary tales come from Colorado, where some rural outposts sold their water rights to thirstier towns and later turned into dust bowls.
“There is no such thing as a non-controversial water project. It does not exist,” says Patricia Mulroy, the former Southern Nevada Water Authority chief who was deeply involved with the pipeline debate. “People get very emotional about it, they get very hyperbolic about it. They will look at everything far more rationally than they do about water.”
The climate factor
Now climate change is increasingly expected to drive water shortages in the future. Scientists predict the shifts will include earlier snowmelts, increasingly frequent droughts, and more evaporation (due to higher temperatures). And this would follow a long period that may, if anything, have had higher-than-normal precipitation.
“A lot of the people I work with and visit with are under the assumption or impression that the last 40 to 50 years in the Intermountain West have been abnormally wet prior to this last 10 or 15,” said Bevan Lister, a rancher near Pioche. “So if that actually is a truism that a lot of our data – a lot of our suppositions – are based on an abnormally wet period, then that is going to be a significant challenge for our future.”
Major infrastructure projects to reroute water are a staple of the past, but mind-sets are changing, says David Hayes, the former No. 2 at the Interior Department who approved the SNWA pipeline in 2012.
“Municipalities don’t want to go into a big fight with folks and negotiate what’s going to bring very expensive water from out of basin if they don’t have to,” Hayes says.
For residents of Pioche who oppose the pipeline, there’s some solace knowing that Utah hasn’t approved the plan. That deprives the Southern Nevada Water Authority of a valuable aquifer that would incentivize the agency to move forward with construction.
In any event, climate change will make water supplies and sources more “erratic,” Mulroy predicts, limiting the effectiveness of singular, silver-bullet infrastructure projects. Water transfers will still occur, but “in a different format than you probably are envisioning it.”
'We need ... to sit at the table'
She says water agencies will be seeking access to diverse resources, “each intended to be there in the eventuality of need.... So water resources become a mosaic made up of all kinds of different pieces brought to bear when they’re needed.”
Mulroy has been through the ringer with the SNWA pipeline proposal, a project with roots predating her 20-year stint atop the utility, which ended in 2014. If her experience has taught her anything, it’s that collaboration – whether between different states, between the environmental community and agriculture, or between rural and urban parties – is always preferred.
“I think that we need to stop the rhetoric, change our language, and look for ways to sit at the table together to find common solutions in a very difficult setting,” she says. “It’s going to be a fragile balance and it’s going to be a constant back and forth. That static environment that we lived in in the 20th century doesn’t exist anymore.”
Reporting for this story was supported by a fellowship at the Bill Lane Center for the American West, at Stanford University.
This is the first article in a series on solving water challenges in the American West.
on: Today at 06:08 AM
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Pipeline fights move from Dakota prairie to Louisiana bayous
23 Feb 2017 at 21:09 ET
When Hope Rosinski’s father gave her a six-acre plot in Louisiana more than a decade ago, she was surprised to find oil and gas pipelines crisscrossing the property.
Pipeline companies later secured her permission for two more lines, one of which has since caused flooding and consistently leaves her land saturated.
Now she’s had enough. Rosinski is fighting the latest request for a right-of-way, this time from Energy Transfer Partners – the company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. She said ETP declined to make contract changes she wanted or to properly compensate her for lost property value.
Opposition to the company’s planned extension of the Bayou Bridge pipeline has made Louisiana bayous the latest battleground in a nationwide war against new pipeline construction.
The pushback here is one example of the increasingly broad and diverse base of opposition nationally, which now extends beyond traditional environmental activists. In Louisiana, opponents include flood protection advocates, commercial fishermen and property owners such as Rosinski.
Their fight follows high-profile protests in North Dakota that were led by Native Americans and joined by military veterans, who together succeeded in convincing the Obama administration to delay construction.
Although the new administration of President Donald Trump has since cleared that project’s completion, pipeline companies are nonetheless taking the rising political opposition seriously. Alan Armstrong, chief executive at pipeline firm Williams Companies, told a conference in Pittsburgh that Trump’s action would not hamper the protest movement.
“It may even enhance it,” he said the day after Trump cleared the Dakota pipeline in January.
Pipeline supporters argue that more infrastructure is essential for the oil and gas industry to provide affordable energy and reduce dependence on foreign imports and dirtier energy sources such as coal.
Opponents counter that pipeline companies cannot be trusted to prevent leaks. Technology designed to detect spills only accomplished that goal in 20 percent of known pipeline leaks between 2010 and 2016, according to a Reuters analysis of data from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
Energy Transfer and its affiliates had among the most spills of any pipeline company, with nearly 260 leaks from lines carrying hazardous liquids since 2010, according to the Reuters analysis. An ETP spokesperson said most of those spills were small and occurred on company property.
The company said in a statement that it seeks to work with landowners and communities to “build the pipeline in the safest, most environmentally friendly manner possible.”
ETP’s relations with Rosinski, however, have apparently broken down. She told Reuters that the firm has threatened to take her to court for the right of way, citing legal rights of pipeline companies to build infrastructure for broader public benefit.
Rosinski wants to resist, but knows a court battle could be costly and lengthy.
“I’m a single mom,” she said. “I don’t have the finances.”
ETP declined to comment specifically on Rosinski’s case but said it typically gets voluntary agreements on easements from owners in about nine out of 10 cases, without legal action.
NOT IN MY BACKYARD
Some pipeline protesters are driven by opposition to any expansion of fossil fuel development, but many have more local and specific concerns.
Many protests so far – including the encampment in North Dakota, led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe – have focused largely on fear of water contamination.
Similar objections have cropped up in West Texas from protesters of Energy Transfer’s Trans-Pecos gas line, and in Arkansas and Tennessee over the Diamond Pipeline operated by Plains All American Pipeline.
Activists in Pennsylvania have been fighting a Williams Companies pipeline plan for three years. The company is looking to add 185 miles of new pipeline to its Atlantic Sunrise line, connecting the northeastern Marcellus natural gas shale region with the southeast part of the state. Opponents have argued the expansion could cause an explosion or taint the local water that supplies farms.
They’re borrowing tactics from Standing Rock tribe’s standoff. Malinda Clatterbuck, 46, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who leads the group Lancaster Against Pipelines, said residents are setting up a camp in Conestoga, where a right-of-way has been granted, and plans to live on and off at the camp with her family.
“I’m exhausted and angry about this,” she said. “Why do we have to upend our lives just to try to get justice for our community?”
Williams said it has operated 60 miles of pipeline safely in Lancaster County and that the company plans to exceed federal safety standards for the extension.
“We’ve also heard from thousands of people who support the project – individuals, chambers and business groups – who recognize the economic benefit,” the company said in a statement.
DEAD CRAWFISH IN THE BAYOUS
In Louisiana – home to massive oil refineries and about 50,000 miles of pipelines – ETP’s planned Bayou Bridge extension would run across southern Louisiana for about 160 miles, between Lake Charles and St. James.
The state has a mutually beneficial but testy relationship with the oil industry, which is widely blamed for cutting through wetlands and contributing to coastal erosion that has left Louisiana more vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding.
Some opponents of the Bayou Bridge are concerned that its construction will pollute drinking water and constrict drainage systems during heavy rains. Others want to see pipeline companies take better care of the environment during and after construction.
Jody Meche, 47, of Henderson, fears economic damage. He has fished in the Atchafalaya Basin for a quarter century. For years, he has been pushing companies to remove spoil banks caused by pipeline construction and oil exploration because they hurt the commercial fishing industry.
The spoil banks act as dams inside the basin, damaging the local ecosystem by stopping water flow.
Meche can sees the impact in the crawfish traps he pulls up from the bayou daily during the season, from February to early summer. The critters resemble tiny lobsters and are in high demand at bars and backyard boils from New Orleans to Houston.
“The stagnant water is not good for them at all,” Meche said. “They don’t grow as well, they don’t eat as much, they are very lethargic.”
Meche can sell large, healthy crawfish for about $1.50 a pound. But the smaller ones he often catches these days fetch half that, and many in his traps these days are dead and worthless.
Rosinski, meanwhile, is still fighting with Enterprise Products Partners, the pipeline company she said damaged her property during construction of an ethane line a few years ago. She said she has spent the last year trying to get Enterprise to restore her land and stop the flooding.
The cost to fix it could be about $12,000, she said.
Enterprise told Reuters it hopes to resolve the issue amicably, but that it has not gotten clear guidance from an attorney hired by Rosinski.
Rosinski received the right-of-way request from Energy Transfer Partners as she was squabbling with Enterprise. She suggested 30 changes to the contract and requested more compensation. ETP refused, she said, and told her it may take up the dispute in court.
“I’ve done my part,” she said of her previous agreements to allow pipelines through her property. “They’re consuming my land.”
(Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by David Gaffen and Brian Thevenot)
on: Today at 06:07 AM
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Will drones pull rain from desert clouds?
23 Feb 2017 at 18:09 ET
A test flight of a drone brings an unmanned cloud seeding tool one step closer.
Dr. Adam Watts of the Desert Research Institute is standing by the side of the road near Donner Pass, shouting over the wind into his phone to talk about a recent test flight. “We built a robot that can fly itself and bring more water out of clouds,” he says, capturing the technological promise at hand in just a few words. Together with Nevada’s Drone America, the team flew a cloud-seeding drone beyond the pilot’s line of sight. It’s the next step in a gradual and ambitious process, aimed at solving a decades-old problem: can the desert pull more water from the sky, and can it do so without injuring anyone along the way?
Cloud seeding itself dates back to the late 1940s, and appeared in Popular Science as early as 1950. Early attempts to pull rain from clouds, like Project Cirrus by the U.S. Army Signal Corps, released dry ice B-17 bombers to encourage the moisture to coalesce into ice crystals that then fall as rain. Another method injects silver iodide into clouds, where it works as a sort of dust that the water in the cloud freezes around.
(As an aside: the silver iodide method was discovered by no less than Dr. Bernard Vonnegut, brother of the science fiction novelist Kurt Vonnegut. The concept of seeding ice with a little particle may have influenced Ice-9, a doomsday weapon in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle).
Much of the early research into cloud seeding, like Project Cirrus, aimed to alter the direction and force of hurricanes, tornadoes, and hail, though the results were disputed at best. And there was American military research into weather, which acknowledged the warming effects of greenhouse gases in 1958 but was more preoccupied with fears Russian cloud-seeding and weather control. There were also economic arguments from the start, extrapolating from an expected modest increase in rainfall to greater hydroelectric power and agricultural yields. By the 1970s, the limitations of cloud seeding were clear: cloud seeding can only work when certain conditions are present.
As we wrote in 1977: “Weather modification, specifically cloud-seeding, was suggested as a way of setting things right. But, said experts, seeding only works when certain types of clouds are present: the method cannot break a drought.” Silver iodide alone is no silver bullet.
Still, it doesn’t need to end drought on its own to be a valuable enterprise. The Desert Research Institute estimates that it costs between $7 and $18 per additional acre-foot of water released from the clouds it seeds. The institute estimates its seeding operations contribute between 20,000 to 80,000 acre-feet of additional precipitation annually. For desert states like Nevada, that’s valuable enough that pilots have repeatedly flown into storms for cloud seeding. For the Desert Research Institute, that effort twice met with tragedy: in 1980, the institute lost two pilots and two scientists to a fatal plane crash. Then, in April of 2000, a plane contracted on a cloud-seeding mission for the institute crashed, killing all three people on board.
“There’s inherent risk in conducting aerial cloud seeding operations,” says West, “because the aircraft have to fly under dangerous conditions: low altitude, usually close to mountain terrain, in icing conditions, and quite often in high winds.”
Drones are the best solution for getting the same effect of an airplane without putting a human pilot at risk by physically being in the vehicle. This is a common thread in drone use by scientists. In 2015, NOAA flew drones over gray whale others and calves, to track blubber accumulation, which is a much easier task to do when the humans recording the results are safely at a distance. Scientists used a drone with a petri dish attached to collect whale snot, a task previously done by humans in motorboats with crossbows. To study shark predator behavior, researchers with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries baited sharks into biting an underwater robot, something that’d be hard to do with a human-carry vessel. In an experiment echoing one done in Switzerland in the early 1980s with helicopters and vaccinated chicken-heads, last summer the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service used drones to shoot vaccine-loaded M&Ms at prairie dogs, all to save an endangered ferret species. And in a more direct parallel, flying drones can directly save the lives of scientists.
Light-aircraft crashes are the No. 1 killer of wildlife biologists. Between 1937 and 2000, 91 biologists and other scientists died in the field, according to a 2003 study in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, and 60 of them were killed in plane or helicopter crashes. What’s more, the study says, most of those 60 appeared to have been flying at the low altitudes necessary for observing and tracking wildlife. Recent years have seen more deaths. David Maehr, for instance, crashed and died in 2008 tracking radio-collared black bears in Florida, and Kristina Norstrom perished last year trailing caribou in Alberta.
Getting the pilot out of the plane is the best way to reduce that risk, and so many wildlife biologists are adopting drones instead. (Though this is not an entirely neutral choice: while drones are great for observing birds, who don’t seem to mind so long as the drones keep a respectable distance, drones freak out bears.) And for cloud seeding, which requires flight in dangerous conditions, a drone is the ideal tool.
Last May, the Desert Research Institute, together with Drone America, flew a drone up to 1,200 feet, where it released a pair of silver iodide flares. That was an early test of the program, showing that the drone body itself can do the job. Last week, the program completed the next step of its development, flying for 30 miles, almost all beyond the line of sight of the pilot, before it landed.
“This demonstrates that the technology is ready for us to routinely go beyond line of sight,” notes West, “and the next steps will be to do so under realistic cloud-seeding conditions. We did this under great weather and a lower altitude, and the next steps will be to turn up the weather so to speak, to make the conditions like you’d encounter when you’re actually seeding clouds.”
As for what those conditions actually are?
“Well, I’m sitting in them right now as I go over Donner Pass from San Francisco to Reno,” laughed West, “If you picture a mountain range that’s experiencing winter storms, you’ve probably got high winds, you’ve got clouds that may or in some cases may not be snowing or raining, if you’re talking from the standpoint of aviation you can have icing conditions, so it’s quite risky from the standpoint of aviation, and that goes back of course to the reason we had the idea to use an [Unmanned Aerial System]. It’s pretty nasty weather conditions, honestly.”
Taking the pilot out of the cloud seeder makes the act of cloud seeding a lot safer for the pilot, but West cautions that cloud seeding alone should not be seen as a one-stop solution to drought. He notes the role of conservation in a water-limited state, and that while cloud seeding can increase regional water supply, it can’t will it out of thin air.
“You have to have clouds, and clouds under certain conditions in order to seed those clouds. So you can’t literally bring water out of nothing,” says West, “but it can enhance precipitation when it’s properly done.”
on: Today at 06:04 AM
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California lawmakers release environmental bills in attempt to thwart Pig Trump
23 Feb 2017 at 18:17 ET
Democratic state senators in California on Thursday unveiled a series of bills designed to freeze in place Obama administration-era environmental regulations in the event the Trump administration moves to weaken them.
The bills, collectively known as the “Preserve California” package, aim to make existing federal clean air, water, and endangered species laws enforceable under state law and protect federal lands in the state from being sold to oil companies.
“The goals and objectives of these measures… is to do everything within our power to make sure the federal government doesn’t encroach on our far-reaching progressive policies,” California Senate Leader Kevin de Leon said during a press conference in Sacramento on Thursday.
The Trump administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the bills.
If the bills become law, they could set the stage for legal battles between the left-leaning state and the conservative Trump administration, which have already clashed over President Donald Trump’s policies on immigration.
After the presidential election, California Democrats hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who served in the Obama administration, to help in any legal battles with the Trump administration.
De Leon said that while the state is not looking to go to court against the administration over the proposed policies, it will deploy Holder as needed.
“The less that we use Eric Holder, the better,” de Leon said. “The more we use Eric Holder, that means bad things are happening towards California.”
One of the bills released on Thursday is designed to prevent federal lands in the state from being opened up to development and would give the state the right to halt the sales of federal land.
“There are prominent members of Congress and prominent members of the Trump administration who are on the record supporting a large-scale sell off of our federal lands,” said Senator Ben Allen, the bill’s author.
“Either opening them up to mineral and oil and gas exploitation or direct sales to corporations who want to use those lands for commercial gain,” he said.
Another bill would shield whistleblowers in federal agencies who are also licensed to practice in California from losing their professional certification under state law.
It would also direct state environmental and public health agencies to protect any data under state law, even if parties in Washington D.C. order their censorship or destruction, according to Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, the bill’s author.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Andrew Hay)
on: Today at 06:03 AM
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Groups sue EPA to protect wild salmon from climate change
23 Feb 2017 at 22:22 ET
U.S. fishing and conservation groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday, seeking to protect wild salmon threatened by rising water temperatures attributed in part to climate change in two major rivers of the Pacific Northwest.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, is believed to be the first court case brought against the EPA under President Donald Trump’s newly confirmed chief of the agency, Scott Pruitt.
The groups’ legal bid on behalf of salmon runs in the Columbia and Snake rivers hinges on the EPA’s authority under the Clean Water Act to regulate excessive temperatures in those rivers as pollutants.
The lawsuit seeks to compel the EPA to thus require dam operators in the Columbia and Snake watersheds of Washington state, Oregon and Idaho to control river flows in such a way as to keep water temperatures cool enough for the salmon to survive.
The plaintiffs, including Idaho Rivers United and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, have argued those dams create stretches of artificially slow or shallow waters susceptible to increasingly warm weather, a regional consequence of climate change.
The lawsuit cites the EPA’s own recognition in 2015, amid a major salmon die-off in the Northwest that year, of the “critical” need to lower river temperatures in the face of human-caused global warming.
It also noted that Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general who sued the EPA more than a dozen times on behalf of his oil-producing state, is on the record as doubting the science of climate change.
The EPA declined to comment on the suit.
Excessively warm stream temperatures were to blame for the loss of an estimated 250,000 adult sockeye salmon in 2015 during the fishes’ seasonal upstream migration from the Pacific to freshwater spawning grounds.
Summer water temperatures in the rivers has for years exceeded limits allowed under state standards, a pattern that should have prompted the EPA to craft a plan setting temperature limits and steps to take should those levels be exceeded, according to the lawsuit.
It said the EPA in 2000 began such a process tied to imperiled salmon and steelhead trout and issued a draft plan citing dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers as primary contributors to excessive water temperatures.
The suit seeks a court finding that the EPA has violated the Clean Water Act by failing to set maximum temperature levels in the impaired streams and unlawfully delayed a regulatory remedy, resulting in “severe” consequences for endangered and threatened fish populations.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Steve Gorman and Sandra Maler)