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 51 
 on: Dec 08, 2016, 06:29 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Orangutan stuns zookeepers by becoming pregnant while on the pill

Adelaide zoo is hoping to support 34-year-old orangutan Karta through her pregnancy as she has lost six infants in the past

Elle Hunt
AFP
Thursday 8 December 2016 03.04 GMT

A Sumatran orangutan at Adelaide zoo has fallen pregnant, despite being on contraceptives.

Karta the 34-year-old orangutan is due early in 2017. Jodie Ellen, a senior primate keeper, announced the “exciting but nerve-wracking” news on the zoo’s Facebook page. “It wasn’t a planned pregnancy,” she said. “Mother Nature actually intervened.”

Karta has lost six infants since 1995. Most recently, in 2014, she gave birth to a stillborn. The zoo said it was going ahead with the pregnancy because Sumatran orangutans are critically endangered. “We are doing everything we can in our power to support her in this pregnancy,” Ellen said.

Cameras have been installed to monitor Karta during the lead-up to the birth, and the zoo was prepared to train her to breastfeed, which she has struggled with in the past.

“It’s a very stressful time for all of us,” Ellen said. “We all desperately want this to be a positive outcome, and we all hope for the best.”

It is estimated that there are only about 7,000 orangutans left in the rainforests in Sumatra, Indonesia, and that population continues to decline by as many as 1,000 a year. The greatest threat to the species is habitat loss.

Karta was born in July 1982 at San Diego Zoo and arrived in Adelaide in November 1992. The zoo describes her as a “strong and independent, 21st-century woman”. She is one of its three Sumatran Orangutans.

 52 
 on: Dec 08, 2016, 06:27 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
The severe Baltic winter that made thousands of birds flee

December 1978, on the Dutch polders and in the Baltic, was so cold large flocks of waterfowl and raptors left for the UK

Stephen Moss
AFP
Wednesday 7 December 2016 21.30 GMT

We seem, nowadays, to have forgotten what a “proper” winter is like. A series of mild seasons, punctuated only by the freeze-ups of 2009-10 and 2010-11, have perhaps made us complacent.

But for Europe’s birds, cold winters need to be taken far more seriously. Almost 30 years ago the winter of 1978-79 led to a big influx of ducks and other waterbirds from the continent.

At the end of December 1978 a deep low-pressure system headed eastwards along the Channel, bringing heavy snow across parts of south-east England.

Across the North Sea, on the polders of the Netherlands and around the Baltic, the weather was even worse. This was the trigger for thousands of birds to head west, towards Britain.
A smew drake. This species quadrupled its overwintering numbers in the UK amid harsh weather on the continent in 1978.

The first to arrive were flocks of smew, a small duck known as the “white nun” for its pallid plumage. Normally fewer than 100 smew overwinter in Britain – many on the gravel pits and reservoirs around the M25 roadway – but that year almost 400 birds were seen.

They were accompanied by other scarce species, including black-necked, red-necked and Slavonian grebes, and red-throated and black-throated divers. These were followed by birds of prey, with as many as 750 hen harriers in England alone, well over twice the usual wintering population. There was also an an influx of long-eared and short-eared owls, as well as skylarks.

All these species were fleeing a long spell of below-zero temperatures in continental Europe. Though it was cold in the UK too, there was still enough ice-free water and available food to allow them to survive.

 53 
 on: Dec 08, 2016, 06:24 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Spain could be first EU country with national park listed as 'in danger'

Doñana wetlands in Andalusia is home to thousands of species but has lost most of its natural water due to industry and faces ‘danger’ listing by Unesco

Arthur Neslen
AFP
12/8/2016 06.00 BST

A Spanish wetland home to 2,000 species of wildlife – including around 6 million migratory birds – is on track to join a Unesco world heritage danger list, according to a new report.

Doñana is an Andalusian reserve of sand dunes, shallow streams and lagoons, stretching for 540 square kilometres (209 square miles) where flamingoes feed and wild horses and Iberian lynx still roam.

But the Doñana region is said to have lost 80% of its natural water supplies due to marsh drainage, intensive agriculture, and water pollution from the mining industry.

Spain now has until 1 December to declare Doñana permanently off limits for dredging and industrial activity in a report to Unesco, or face becoming the first EU country to have a national park classified as being “in danger”.

Eva Hernández, a spokeswoman for WWF, which is launching a campaign to save Doñana on Wednesday, said that the park’s situation had become critical.

“Doñana’s biodiversity has eroded over the last 40 years and we are reaching a point of no return,” she said. “We could do things to recover the park – and some things are being done – but the pressures on it from private and public companies are becoming unbearable. We must decide whether it is more important to consume all of Doñana’s resources or to preserve its biodiversity and services to the people.”

According to WWF’s new report, more than 1,000 illegal wells drilled by farmers are accelerating the park’s destruction, as drought-resistant plants replace water-dependent ones in the region.

Industrial activity exacerbates this picture. A recent Unesco decision viewed with “utmost concern” plans to allow the México-Minorbis group to reopen a mine in Aznalcóllar, the scene of one of Spain’s worst ecological disasters in 1998.

Mechtild Rössler, the director of Unesco’s world heritage centre, and a veteran of the clean-up operation following that disaster, said that reopening the mine would be “not at all” compatible with world heritage site status, in her view.

“We also made it very clear that any plans for the approval of gas and oil exploration in or around the park would not be acceptable to us,” she said.

Spain has declared the area under Doñana a “strategic gas storage site” and authorised exploration and storage work by Gas Natural Fenosa within the park’s vicinity.

Most troubling for conservationists is a plan by the port authority of Seville to dredge the local Guadalquivir river to allow access for cargo and cruise ships in 2018.

A Unesco report last year said: “If [Spain] fails to urgently make a permanent and unequivocal commitment to abandon the plan to deepen the Guadalquivir river ... it should lead to the inscription of this property on the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger.”

A Spanish supreme court ruling forced a temporary halt to the project last year but it was put back on the agenda by a government decree in January.

Much will hinge on the exact wording of Spain’s letter to Unesco, but “if the report says that they are going ahead with dredging, I will repeat that the committee’s opinion was very clear, so there’s a very real risk of a ‘danger’ listing,” Rössler said.

The European commission has also launched an infringement case against Spain, which could end up in the European court.

A Spanish government spokesman did not respond to questions about the dredging or gas projects, but said: “We support all initiatives to promote the conservation of a natural area so unique and of such high ecological value as Doñana. Spain is doing everything in its power to end the over-exploitation of the Doñana aquifers and solve the regional problem of water scarcity.”

Doñana receives a liquid lifeline from the Guadalquivir and Guadiamar rivers, and from a large underground aquifer. But these resources have dwindled at the expense of river modifications and intensive irrigation schemes.

The Doñana basin contains Europe’s most productive rice field as well as being a fruit basket for Spain’s export to other EU countries. Some 70% of Spain’s strawberries are produced in the region, raising €400m a year - compared to the €74m a year that beach, nature and cultural tourism brings in.

But licenced farms are disadvantaged in their competition with hundreds of illegal operations that siphon off water from the park across 3,000 hectares of fields.

“We hope that the Spanish government will finally respond to the international community telling them that as a world heritage site, they have a responsibility to the whole world to protect Doñana,” Hernández said.

The conservation group cites the recent loss of 12 dragonfly genuses in the reserve, and the local extinction of three fish species, as evidence of the issue’s urgency.

Unesco describes the reserve as a key bird resting location, connecting other world heritage sites in a chain linking as far away as Mauritania.

“It is key not only for the Andalusian region, but for Europe and the whole world,” Rössler said.

 54 
 on: Dec 08, 2016, 06:21 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Conservationists declare victory for wildlife as EU saves nature directives

EU president abandons plan to overhaul flagship birds and habitats directives following a huge public campaign

Arthur Neslen
AFP
Wednesday 7 December 2016 16.32 GMT

The European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has been forced to abandon an overhaul of flagship nature laws after an unprecedented campaign that mobilised over half a million people in protest.

The popular birds and habitats directives protect almost a fifth of Europe’s landmass, about 200 wetlands, meadows and marine habitats, and more than a thousand animal and plant species.

But shortly after taking office in 2014, Juncker began a review to overhaul the nature laws (pdf) and make them more business-friendly, sparking an internal battle at the commission.

But on Wednesday the laws were declared “fit for purpose” without a vote and as campaigners celebrated, the environment commissioner, Karmenu Vella, hailed what he said was a win for nature in Europe.

“We have listened to public opinion very carefully,” he told the Guardian. “The main message sent is that these two directives are a milestone when it comes to environmental habitats and species [protections]. We need better and smarter implementation but these problems can be solved with non-legislative action. The directives will not be reopened.”

A record 550,000 people took part in an online consultation (pdf) about the future of the EU nature directives, with 520,000 respondents – 94% of the total – calling for the laws to be left alone. An EU consultants report (pdf) last March concluded the two laws were efficient, coherent, relevant and fit for purpose, but the paper was never published.

David Cameron pledged to protect the directives during the EU referendum campaign, as anger at any slashing of natural safeguards to appease farming and industrial lobbies grew across Europe.

“This is a huge win for wildlife,” said Alice Puritz, a lawyer for the NGO ClientEarth. “These laws work and should be celebrated. Now, we need to see strong implementation and enforcement, to make sure Europe’s nature gets the protection it needs to thrive.”

“Nature is a key value of our society and necessary for our survival,” said Ariel Brunner, the policy chief at BirdLife Europe. “This is also a victory for the idea of European cooperation as nature knows no boundaries.”

The Liberal Democrat MEP, Catherine Bearder, said: “I am absolutely thrilled by this news. The battle to protect UK nature has been won.”

WWF’s advocacy director, Trevor Hutchings, said: “As we exit from the EU we must ensure these protections are enshrined in UK law and enhanced through the government’s welcome commitment to a 25-year environment plan.”

Amid uncertainty about the future of the directives in post-Brexit Britain, the UN environment programme’s director, Erik Solheim, also called for the laws to be kept on the UK’s statute books.

Friends of the Earth said urgent moves were needed to improve enforcement of the nature laws in the UK – and to protect them after Brexit. “The need for enforcement is particularly keen in Northern Ireland where there has been systemic failure to protect sites covered by the directives,” said Sandra Bell, the green group’s nature campaigner.

In the Lough Neagh and Lough Beg special protection area, the Northern Irish government has recently approved a highway to carry 22,000 vehicles a day through valuable winter feeding areas for migratory birds that should be protected, Bell said.

“This decision must and will be challenged,” she said. “It shows why EU nature laws are so important, but also why the European commission needs to clamp down on the regular instances where these laws are being breached.”

The commission says that it will now draw up an action plan to scale up investment and good management practices in Natura 2000 sites – protected areas which were created by the two directives.

***************

EU leaders at loggerheads over nature laws review

In a letter seen by the Guardian, European parliament president, Martin Schulz, warns EU chief, Jean Claude-Juncker, that inaction over a stalled review of the EU’s nature directives is jeopardising EU biodiversity targets

Arthur Neslen Brussels
AFP
Thursday 20 October 2016 07.00 BST

An impasse in Brussels over changes to the EU’s pioneering nature laws has pitted the president of the European parliament, Martin Schulz, against the bloc’s chief, Jean Claude-Juncker, in private correspondence seen by the Guardian.

More than a thousand animal and plant species – and 500 types of wild bird – are protected by the EU’s nature laws.

Natura 2000, the world’s largest network of protected areas, covering 18% of Europe’s landmass and 6% of its seas, was born out of the habitats and birds directives.

But a ‘fitness check’ of the laws that Juncker initiated to reduce burdens on business, has been plagued by missed deadlines and internal manoeuvring.

In a letter dated 12 October, Schulz has now warned Juncker, his friend and close colleague, that EU “inaction” over the stalled review is creating legal uncertainty, and jeopardising the bloc’s biodiversity targets for 2020.

“I would therefore urge you to clarify as soon as possible the position of the commission on these directives, to conclude the refit exercise and to publish the report on the results of the fitness check without delay,” Schulz wrote.

Across Europe, the EU’s nature laws have registered huge support in successive opinion polls and a record 550,000 people took part in the EU’s public consultation on the issue – 520,000 of them calling for the laws to be kept as they were.

Big agriculture and business lobbies have also proved persuasive though, with the German BDI employers federation and farmers’ associations lobbying strongly against what they saw as environmental “red tape”.

Juncker’s fitness check was supposed to assess “the potential for merging [the directives] into a more modern piece of legislation”, but the promised “overhaul” of green laws unnerved conservationists.

Martin Harper, the conservation director of the RSPB said: “Without a shadow of a doubt, the directives have been crucial in driving the recovery of threatened species, and they have helped provide extra protection to our most important wildlife sites.”

In the UK, the two laws reduced the annual loss of protected sites from 15% to just 1%, according to the RSPB.

“We are determined to ensure that their power is bolstered or maintained as the UK negotiates its new relationship with Europe,” Harper said. “Without them it will be impossible for the UK to meet its commitments to biodiversity restoration.”

The UK’s current position on the review is not clear, after the farms minister George Eustice dubbed them “spirit-crushing” and pledged their repeal if the UK voted for brexit.

Sources say that Theresa May’s government would look favourably on any changes to the nature directives in Brussels now, as these could diminish opposition to changes in the UK after Brexit.

An expert EU consultation though, recommended against tinkering with the legislation. A leak of the bloc’s final report earlier this year found the nature directives effective, coherent, good value for money and fit for purpose.

The EU’s ongoing delay in publishing it has stoked accusations from multiple sources that the issue is being sat on by key figures in Juncker’s office.

Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, a prominent Liberal MEP said: “Juncker has been taking Europe’s nature laws hostage for six months now. That is totally irresponsible. Europe’s nature is too important and fragile for political games.”

EU sources maintain that the fitness check will appear before the end of the year, but they caution that it might not reflect the final report’s conclusions.

“This is still a work in progress,” one official told the Guardian. “What consultants do is one thing and what the commision does to take ownership of it is something else.”

The legislative gridlock is thought odd, as environment ministers from several states – most stridently, Germany – have set them against any change to the nature laws, which they could in any case veto. But elections are due in Germany and several other states in the next year.

The origins of the EU’s fitness check are thought to lie in a 2011 UK review which George Osborne launched by chiding the directives’ “gold plating” of nature laws for imposing “ridiculous costs” on business, although the UK government’s own review later found they did not.

 55 
 on: Dec 08, 2016, 06:16 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
EPA aims to preempt Trump with ambitious fuel-economy target

The EPA aims for US car fleets to average 54.5 miles per gallon in 2025 – and seeks to keep Republicans from changing the policy in 2017.

Zack Colman
CS Monito   

12/8/ 2016 Washington—The Environmental Protection Agency proposed keeping fuel efficiency targets for light-duty vehicles Wednesday in an attempt to preserve one of President Obama’s most aggressive climate change policies.

The decision comes ahead of schedule as part of a mid-term review of a goal to require car manufacturers’ fleets to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The agency now has 30 days to review public comments.

Announcing the plan early – a preliminary determination was scheduled for 2017 and a final for 2018 – boosts the chances of finalizing the standard by the time Republican President-elect Donald Trump is sworn into office. Mr. Trump’s team has vowed to review the policy.

On the most basic level, the move reflects a political battle as the Obama administration seeks to lock in as much of its policy agenda as possible before a new presidency. But it’s also part of an ongoing debate about the use of federal mandates in the quest to reduce pollution, fight climate change, and enhance the nation’s energy security.

Many economists argue that the other approaches, such as a higher gas tax, would be preferable, by relying on marketplace signals rather than regulations. But the practical reality is that it’s unclear if Trump – a staunch promoter of fossil fuels on the campaign trail – will pursue the goal of cleaner transportation with any form of policy. And proponents of fuel-economy standards say the rules are already reducing America’s oil consumption, and that further big gains are possible.

“It’s clear from the extensive technical record that this program will remain affordable and effective,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement. "This proposed decision reconfirms our confidence in the auto industry’s capacity to drive innovation and strengthen the American economy while saving drivers money at the pump and safeguarding our health, climate and environment.”

Finishing the standard by Trump’s inauguration could prevent the new administration from scrapping it.

That’s because the midterm policy is not considered a rule, said Nick Conger, an EPA spokesman. That means Republicans couldn’t use a legislative maneuver to overturn regulations, known as the Congressional Review Act, on the fuel economy standard. When the new Congress takes over in January, the GOP could use that tactic to nix any Obama rules issued since May, which includes a number of environmental measures.

“This is not a rule under the Administrative Procedure Act [but rather an adjudication],” Conger said in an email. “This decision is not subject to the Congressional Review Act.”

Congress, however, could still attempt to rewrite the standard through new legislation or undercut it in a spending bill.

"They can always try the legislative route – putting something in a much bigger bill," Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist  and former aide to retiring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, said in an email. Mr. Manley is now director of the communications practice at QGA Public Affairs.

Hiding a rewrite in larger legislation could keep supporters of the Obama standards at bay, saying, "I don't see lots of Dems going to the mat for this."

Motor vehicles are one of the major sources of heat-trapping gases that humans are emitting into the atmosphere, so the standards are a major element of the Obama administration’s effort to ramp up US action to reduce climate change.

Some researchers say the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards aren't an ideal tool to fight the problem. “Economists have estimated that per gallon of gasoline saved, the old CAFE standards cost 3 to 6 times as much as a gasoline tax,” wrote Lucas Davis, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, earlier this year.

Proponents of gas taxes (or broader carbon taxes) say the levies can be offset by other tax cuts, and could include rebates to alleviate disproportionate impacts on lower-income households. But any gas-tax hike is still highly controversial, no matter who is president.

The EPA estimates its standard would eliminate 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the lifetime of vehicles built in model years 2012 through 2025.

The EPA move comes despite protests from automakers that consumers, opting for less efficient vehicles amidst low oil prices, could thwart reaching agency goals. They have pressed the agency to consider weakening the standard.

Wade Newton, a spokesman with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said his group would work with the Trump White House, Congress and regulators in California – whose standards dictate much of the US auto fleet – “to get things back on track,” calling the EPA move “extraordinary and premature.”

“The evidence is abundantly clear that with low gas prices, consumers are not choosing the cars necessary to comply with increasingly unrealistic standards,” he said in an email. “Wishing this fact away does no one any favors, and getting this wrong has serious implications.”

When the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration set the 54.5 m.p.g. target in 2012, it envisioned passenger vehicles would comprise 66 percent of light-vehicle sales and trucks and SUVs would account for the remaining 34 percent by 2025. But a 2015 federal report updated that split to 52 and 48 percent, meaning the vehicle fleet would achieve just 50.8 m.p.g.

But the EPA pointed to progress in the vehicle market as well.

It said that car manufacturers have surpassed fleetwide fuel-economy goals for the program’s first four years, which accounts for model years 2012 through 2015, while auto sales increased for six straight years. It also noted more than 100 cars or light trucks already meet fuel efficiency standards for 2020.

Supporters said securing the standard would lock in production of more fuel-efficient vehicles, noting many manufacturers are rolling out cleaner models and improving the price point and range of electric vehicles. They said those trends would address the transportation sector's effect on climate change, which accounts for more than a quarter of total US greenhouse gas emissions, while also averting health ailments linked to smog and other pollution.

“The Clean Cars Standards are already protecting both Americans’ lungs and their wallets, and they are doing it while driving innovations in car design that are creating jobs and helping automakers earn money,” Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp said in a statement.

Electric vehicle sales, which are projected to increase, also have boomed. Cumulative sales of US plug-in electric vehicles eclipsed 500,000 in September, a sharp spike from the 345 on the road in December 2010, according to the Energy Department. Monthly sales hit a record high of 16,609 in September, and October’s lower figure of 11,351 still represented a 15.6 percent bump relative to October 2015.

The share of electric vehicles on the road is growing, but still small. Plug-in and hybrid vehicles have accounted for 2.82 percent of sales so far this year, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association.

 56 
 on: Dec 08, 2016, 06:13 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
​Northeast Christmas tree farmers get drought in their stockings

Drought has killed many young trees on farms across New England. Farmers are strugglng to adapt, by planting new varieties and considering drip irrigation systems.

Zack Colman
CS Monitor

December 8, 2016 West Newbury, Mass.—John Elwell has a pine needle stuck just below his left eye, but he doesn’t seem to mind. In this drought year that killed 80 percent of the plantings at his Christmas tree farm, he’ll take green wherever he can find it.

The New England drought will force Mr. Elwell to cut his selling season in half this year. It decimated his younger trees. If he’s not careful, the former high school principal might not have enough mature ones to sell next year.

“I’ve pulled up a lot of the dead ones,” Elwell says. “I want it to look good.”

The real damage may not be felt for years. The trees people cut down at his farm already are between 10 and 15 years old. That means it’s a decade from now when Elwell estimates he might have a supply gap from this year’s drought, costing him about $50,000, on top of the $2,000-worth of seeds he lost this year. He opted not to buy pre-cut trees like his competitors to stay in business longer this year.

“If I have a year where I don’t have the volume because of this drought, then I have a significant cost,” says Elwell, who stands about 6 feet tall, white hair peeking from underneath a beige baseball cap that says “Maple Crest Farm,” the name of the farm that’s been in his family 99 years. “I’m going to have to plant twice as many next year.”

The other three tree farms in West Newbury suffered similar losses. It’s a fate shared by the whole of Massachusetts and New England, and it’s a tale that climate scientists and forest ecologists say may become more common with warmer temperatures associated with climate change.

“They’re experiencing climate change and air pollution and insects and pests and land use change,” says Erica Smithwick, an ecologist and the director of the Center for Landscape Dynamics at Pennsylvania State University. “It does appear that climate change could be pushing some of these trees over the edge.”

As a result, tree farmers in this region are adapting the varieties they grow and in some cases considering investments in things like drip irrigation systems – all of which represents just one front in a wider effort to help America’s forests and orchards adapt to changing conditions.

Elwell jokes that he’s an optimist because, well, why else would a 74-year-old do work today that he can’t benefit from for 10 more years?

But that doesn’t mean Elwell isn’t concerned. He rides a golf cart chased – or, rather, led – by a one-year-old short-haired German shepherd named Gunnar to a patch of his 32-acre farm where his Norway spruces died. Gaps in the rows of trees are unmarked graves for saplings taken by the drought after turning a sickly rust orange.

Dressed in a plaid flannel shirt, dirtied blue carpenter jeans, and brown utility boots, Elwell points a finger from his bulky, weathered safety gloves toward the reservoir just beyond the rolling hills of Christmas trees. He says he’s never seen the reservoir this low, pointing to a spot on the bank that hasn’t before been visible as proof.

“You keep hoping that climate change isn’t going on, but then you have these experiences,” Elwell says. “I can’t refute the experts. Are we making the cycle worse? Maybe we are.”

Climate scientists avoid linking specific, individual extreme weather events, like drought, to climate change. But the science points to some overall trends that might make droughts more frequent or severe and that, in turn, will stress the conifers that fill living rooms every December. And it goes beyond New England, as warmer temperatures are pushing species of trees and other flora and fauna out of their traditional homes for several reasons.

Challenge in many regions

Ms. Smithwick says the East is expected to have large temperature increases, which will affect plants even if average annual precipitation doesn’t change much for the region, as climate models predict.

That’s because plants will have to work harder in hotter temperatures if precipitation remains the same. For trees with shallow roots or in rocky areas, or ones that are more sensitive to heat, the result could be large die-offs. Drier projected autumns would also raise the risk for fires: Wetter springs would boost biomass that drops to the ground in the fall and, if drier, create kindling for a densely populated region with considerable fire risks. Of roughly 62,000 human-caused fires in the US each year, two-thirds occur east of the Mississippi River or in certain portions of Texas and Oklahoma, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

“I think what ecologists are most worried about is we’re not seeing regeneration,” Smithwick says. “It really calls into question the fate of forests in general.”

A December 2015 study noted surprising deaths of pines in the Southwest, where trees are more drought adapted. The research, published in the journal Nature Climate Change and led by Nathan G. McDowell, a climate researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said the results indicated forests experienced “a high likelihood” of “widespread mortality” by 2100 when extrapolated across all of North Hemisphere. Juniper trees were of particular concern, and the study said the tree “has alarming implications for conifers in general because juniper historically experienced far less mortality than other conifers during droughts.”

California forests are also enduring strain from drought, according to a study by the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study, which used airborne and satellite imaging technology to measure forest canopy water content, found 58 million of the state’s trees lost more than 30 percent of their water content between 2011 and 2015, a threshold the authors considered “severe.”

As for New England, recent research on the effect that melting Arctic sea ice has on wind patterns might help explain the drought.

The difference in temperatures between the Arctic and New England has shrunk in recent years as the Arctic has warmed. That, in turn, “weakens the engine that drives our winds and that can cause big changes in our storm tracks,” says Jacquelyn Gill, a paleoecologist at the University of Maine. That smoother gradient creates “blocking patterns” that can lead to cold snaps or heatwaves, she says. In this case, it established more space for storm tracks to travel further north, depriving New England of the rain it usually gets. That also resulted in more warm, humid nights that further tested plants, Gill says.

People in the region have noticed the trend.

Jeannine Largess of Boston called Elwell to see if he was even selling trees. Her daughter, Mary Rose, said a customer at the Starbucks where she works mentioned a failed attempt to shop for a Christmas tree – at another farm that wasn’t selling trees because of the drought.

“It’s good that he has some, but he said he has to shut down this weekend to conserve what he has,” Jeannine Largess says before she and her daughter embark on their tree hunt at Elwell’s farm. She is skeptical, however, of the consensus of climate scientists that humans are largely responsible for warming the planet, which dismays her daughter, who has an environmental science degree.
More moisture in air, less in soil?

Warmer temperatures might have the most pronounced effect on trees by increasing the ability of the atmosphere to hold moisture. As the atmosphere gets warmer, it can absorb more vapor, meaning clouds release precipitation less frequently, thus starving the soil and plants of water. That especially poses risks to young trees whose roots haven’t developed, like those growing on Christmas tree farms, but also to entire species if the climate trend is prolonged or permanent.

“We have a range of trees when we go to the tree farm store to pick up our Christmas tree. We have a lot of options in some places,” Gill says. “If farmers diversify their tree crops they may be able to buffer against some risks.”

Mark Harnett says he’s done planting Douglas firs – the most iconic of Christmas trees – and Norway spruces because none of them survived. Instead, the owner of Mistletoe Christmas Tree Farm in Stow, Mass., says he’ll double down on concolor firs, which do better in drought. He couldn’t sell his trees at full cost because they were skimpy. Nine out of 10 trees Harnett is selling this year are pre-cuts purchased from New Hampshire, compared with his normal 50-50 split of pre-cut to homegrown.

Mr. Harnett also buys some trees that are three years old and raises them for another six or so years until they’re ready to be sold. But those also struggled in the drought.

“In six years – that’s how we’re viewing it – it may be limiting the money we have for college, and I’m going to have three kids in school. That’s why we started this business,” he says. “You look at the average tuition up here in New England and it’s about $50,000 per year for room and board.”
Planting different trees

Michael Smolak says the New England drought goes beyond trees. While about 85 percent of his 6,000 plantings died this year, crops like cranberries suffered because there wasn’t enough water for the bogs, and dairy farmers couldn’t find enough grass for their cattle. Farmstead sales in the state were down 30 percent, says Mr. Smolak, who sits on the commonwealth’s Farm Service Agency committee and was appointed to the Massachusetts Agricultural Board by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

But it’s “real dog work” to go out and replant and water all of his trees, Smolak says. So that’s why he wants to promote cost-sharing for infrastructure so that farmers can afford the expensive, $20,000 drip irrigation systems that can save time and water.

“I know that things have changed. The trees don’t look as healthy as they used to look. We’re seeing diseases we didn’t see before, pests we didn’t see before,” Smolak says. “Take the politics out of it and bring the science in it.”

Still, Smolak is adjusting, too. He no longer plants scotch pine, blue spruce, or white spruce. They lose their needles quickly if it’s a dry season.

But the ability to make those changes is what separates tree farms from the broader trends hitting forests that grow in the wild. Elwell, for example, isn’t worried about a wildfire originating inside his tree farm, but he’s surrounded by oak, maple, hickory, and birch that, early in December, already have bared their branches.

“Look at the forest here. Look at what’s happening in Tennessee,” he says, referencing the massive wildfire there that killed 14 people as of Wednesday. Two juveniles have been charged with arson that is believed to have ignited the blaze.

One tactic: 'assisted migration' of species

Forests involve a lot more coordination and somewhat controversial practices to mitigate the effects of climate change. One such practice, called assisted migration, involves moving species into regions ahead of climate change so they have time to acclimate. The idea is just gaining currency in national parks, though it has many detractors, but states and the US Forest Service have been practicing it in pockets for some time.

“People are talking about assisted migration in a serious way that they weren’t before,” says Smithwick, though she notes that those planning decisions on the East Coast are much harder and require more collaboration than in the West. That’s because forests can span states, counties, and federal lands with multiple layers of governance in the East, whereas in the West states are large and forests are often primarily controlled by the Interior Department.

Managing the farm beneath Elwell’s own two feet is challenging enough.

It wasn’t too long ago that he was a full-time school principal where he “hardly ever went in without a shirt and tie. If my teachers wore jeans, then we had a conversation.” But at least he looks the part of a New England tree farmer now.

And for a lifelong educator, he is now the student in his relatively new profession. Some of the other tree farmers in the town have given him a hand. The drought threw a curveball – but if this career transition has taught him anything, it’s that Elwell thinks he can adjust.

“It’s a learning curve,” he says. “But I’m getting better at it.”

 57 
 on: Dec 08, 2016, 06:11 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

Smog city: Why Paris made public transit free for a day

Paris experienced the worst smog it has seen in 10 years or more this week. City officials responded by making public transit free, and introducing an even/odd license plate ban for drivers.

By Christina Beck, Staff December 7, 2016

Parisians who take public transit were met with a treat on Wednesday, as the city sought to counter excessive air pollution by making public transportation free.

Wednesday marks the second day of the effort, after skyrocketing pollution levels blanketed the city in the worst smog it has seen in ten years. The city’s free public transportation day is also accompanied by a driving ban for cars with even-numbered license plates.

Other cities around the world have employed similar methods to reduce smog, although some argue that such measures represent only temporary fixes.

“Why put a band-aid on this systemic problem?” asks Tufts University urban and environmental planning professor Julian Agyeman. “What cities need to be doing is integrated transportation planning.”

Paris’s even/odd license plate number scheme is a time-honored strategy for temporarily reducing pollution. Paris has employed it before, as have a number of Asian cities that also struggle with heavy smog.

Even in America, license plate bans have been used to regulate resources and keep cars off the road. Many Americans may remember the months in the late 1970s when President Jimmy Carter allowed state governors to regulate gasoline purchasing in their states due to the energy crisis that occurred in the wake of the Iranian Revolution. The governors of New York and New Jersey were among those who chose to institute an odd/even gasoline purchase ban.

In Mexico City, programs such as “Hoy no Circula,” which keeps motorists off the streets one day each week, and emissions testing also help the city combat its smog problem, while public awareness programs from Japan to the United Kingdom are educating motorists about how they can do their part to help reduce pollution.

Nicole Orttung reported for The Christian Science Monitor on worldwide anti-pollution measures in July of this year. She wrote:

    The London campaign hopes to make drivers aware that, when stopping for even 10 seconds, it’s best to turn off your engine, because 10 seconds of idling uses more energy than restarting the engine. The vehicle’s engine warms twice as quickly when it is driven, so drivers should also drive the vehicle slowly at first to warm up the engine rather than idling in a parking spot.

    It’s often difficult for local governments to get the word out about air quality advisories, and even harder to compel action. A 2008 study of residents in Portland, Ore., and Houston revealed that one-third of residents surveyed were aware of air quality advisories, but only about 10 to 15 percent of citizens changed their behavior.

Nevertheless, Dr. Agyeman says that temporary measures cannot combat the real problem of too many cars on the road.

Improving public transit can make decongestion more feasible, he says. Thus far, Paris’ public transit systems have struggled under the pressures of increased ridership. The RER B commuter line, for example, faced significant delays on Wednesday morning.

Quality of service plays a big role in whether even the most environmentally conscious commuters use public transit, says Madeline Brozen of the UCLA Lewis Center and the Institute of Transportation Studies in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor.

And in a city the size of Paris, making public transportation free produces challenges. Ms. Brozen tells the Monitor that while free public transportation is a strategy that has worked on a smaller scale – UCLA’s free transportation program increased ridership by 50 percent and took cars off the road – it is incredibly hard to achieve in a city of more than two million people.

Another strategy is to charge congestion fees – a financial penalty that car owners must pay in order to bring their vehicles into high traffic areas at peak times. London and Singapore both employ this tactic.

Ironically, despite the city’s short-term strategies for dealing with a long-term pollution problem, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is now the Chair of C40 cities, a network of world cities devoted to fighting climate change.

“C40 member cities are determining the course of our planet’s future,” said Mayor Hidalgo in a statement after her election to C40 Chair. “Thanks to the leadership of Mayor Paes, C40 is a unique forum where cities can collaborate, share knowledge and drive measurable and sustainable action on climate change. I am honoured to be elected as Chair, and look forward to working with the mayors of the world’s great cities to create a sustainable and equitable future for all of our citizens.”

 58 
 on: Dec 08, 2016, 06:09 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

Study: Polar bear numbers could plummet by midcentury

Thanks to melting Arctic ice, the worldwide population of polar bears could face a sharp decline over the next 35 years.

By Rowena Lindsay, Staff December 7, 2016

New research from the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, Alaska, predicts that the global population of polar bears, estimated at 26,000, will decline by 30 percent over the next 35 years due to melting Arctic ice.

The study, which was published in the Royal Society Biology Letters, was lead by biologist Eric Regehr, whose team determined that there is a 70 percent chance this significant decline will occur by 2050.

“Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) depend on sea ice for most aspects of their life history,” the researchers wrote. “Anthropogenic climate change is the primary threat to the species because, over the long term, global temperatures will increase and Arctic sea ice will decrease as long as atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise.”

Polar bears use sea ice as a platform from which to hunt seals, which are the bears’ main source of food but can outswim them in open water.

Brenda Ekwurzel, the director of climate science for the Union of Concerned Scientists, in Washington D.C., told the Monitor that “atmospheric temperatures are rising because of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere so we have overloaded our atmosphere with carbon, so the air temperatures are warmer, which in turn can raise temperatures above the freezing point and melt the ice from above.”

As a result of this process, October and November saw the lowest sea ice extent ever registered in both the Arctic and Antarctic, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center.

To determine how this diminishing sea ice will affect polar bear populations, Dr. Regehr used three different population models. The first assumed proportional population and sea ice decline across all polar bear communities and habitats. The other models factored in how 19 specific bear populations have adapted to sea ice melt over the last decade, using 35 years of satellite data from four different “eco-zones.”

By averaging the three predictions, the team determined that there is a 70 percent chance that the global polar bear population will decline by 30 percent by the middle of the century.

But melting sea ice has already created significant challenges for polar bears. They have had to add new staples to a diet that had consisted mostly of seals, and some scientists have looking into if, in the absence of sea ice, the bears could survive on an entirely terrestrial diet.

Increasingly, the bears are attempting dangerous long-distance swims, sometimes swimming for days on end without food to reach habitable ice from which they can hunt.

"Ice is changing so quickly that we're finding the bears are getting caught in places where they're finally coming to the realization, 'I just can't stay here,'" Andrew Derocher, a researcher at the University of Alberta who co-authored the study, told The Washington Post. "These kinds of long-distance swims are not what they evolved to undergo."

 59 
 on: Dec 08, 2016, 06:08 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

Study: Polar bear numbers could plummet by midcentury

Thanks to melting Arctic ice, the worldwide population of polar bears could face a sharp decline over the next 35 years.

By Rowena Lindsay, Staff December 7, 2016

New research from the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, Alaska, predicts that the global population of polar bears, estimated at 26,000, will decline by 30 percent over the next 35 years due to melting Arctic ice.

The study, which was published in the Royal Society Biology Letters, was lead by biologist Eric Regehr, whose team determined that there is a 70 percent chance this significant decline will occur by 2050.

“Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) depend on sea ice for most aspects of their life history,” the researchers wrote. “Anthropogenic climate change is the primary threat to the species because, over the long term, global temperatures will increase and Arctic sea ice will decrease as long as atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise.”

Polar bears use sea ice as a platform from which to hunt seals, which are the bears’ main source of food but can outswim them in open water.

Brenda Ekwurzel, the director of climate science for the Union of Concerned Scientists, in Washington D.C., told the Monitor that “atmospheric temperatures are rising because of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere so we have overloaded our atmosphere with carbon, so the air temperatures are warmer, which in turn can raise temperatures above the freezing point and melt the ice from above.”

As a result of this process, October and November saw the lowest sea ice extent ever registered in both the Arctic and Antarctic, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center.

To determine how this diminishing sea ice will affect polar bear populations, Dr. Regehr used three different population models. The first assumed proportional population and sea ice decline across all polar bear communities and habitats. The other models factored in how 19 specific bear populations have adapted to sea ice melt over the last decade, using 35 years of satellite data from four different “eco-zones.”

By averaging the three predictions, the team determined that there is a 70 percent chance that the global polar bear population will decline by 30 percent by the middle of the century.

But melting sea ice has already created significant challenges for polar bears. They have had to add new staples to a diet that had consisted mostly of seals, and some scientists have looking into if, in the absence of sea ice, the bears could survive on an entirely terrestrial diet.

Increasingly, the bears are attempting dangerous long-distance swims, sometimes swimming for days on end without food to reach habitable ice from which they can hunt.

"Ice is changing so quickly that we're finding the bears are getting caught in places where they're finally coming to the realization, 'I just can't stay here,'" Andrew Derocher, a researcher at the University of Alberta who co-authored the study, told The Washington Post. "These kinds of long-distance swims are not what they evolved to undergo."

 60 
 on: Dec 08, 2016, 06:06 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Trump to name climate-change skeptic as EPA chief

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has led the fight by Republican-led states against the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, which calls on states to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

Zack Colman
CS Monitor
  
December 7, 2016 Washington—President-elect Donald Trump will tap Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a Republican who as has sued the Environmental Protection Agency several times during the Obama administration, to head that agency, according to multiple news reports.

Mr. Pruitt has been one of the more vocal opponents of President Obama’s EPA. He took a prominent role in battling the agency’s rules, including the Clean Power Plan, a federal rule to limit greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector. A Pruitt-backed lawsuit currently has that plan tied up in the courts.

To conservatives, the pending announcement by the Trump transition team promises to put an ally of fossil-fuel development – and the jobs that come with it – at the head of an agency long derided as infringing on industry,​ states,​ and personal property rights.

Environmental groups and Democrats said the pick ​will undercut the agency's role of safeguarding clean air and water, and signals what they’d feared: Mr. Trump isn’t morphing into a friend to climate-change action.

"President-elect Trump promised to break the special interests’ grip on Washington, but his nomination of Mr. Pruitt – who has a troubling history of advocating on behalf of big oil at the expense of public health – only tightens it,” Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D) of New York said in a statement.

The nomination queues up a contentious fight in the Senate. Democrats will hope to persuade a handful of Republicans to cross the aisle to block Pruitt from getting the 51 votes he’ll need to be confirmed.

“It’s offensive and I’m going to do everything I can to stop his nomination,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D) of Hawaii, told reporters in the Capitol. “We’re going to need the support of some of the senators on the Republican side who have occasionally flirted with reality and have been on the correct side of history when it comes to climate change.”

“This is the worst case scenario,” he said, referring to the selection of Pruitt.

Republican senators who have in the past sided with Democrats on environmental issues, such as Maine Sen. Susan Collins, could be in play. When asked about the Pruitt nomination, Collins said, “I don’t know who he is. I truly know nothing about him or his views. I didn’t even know his name.”

Opponents said the pick of Mr. Pruitt reflects that Mr. Trump may not have undergone a climate change evolution. Some were guardedly hopeful that Mr. Trump was moderating on the issue when he met with former Vice President Al Gore this week and recently told The New York Times that he has an “open mind” on staying in an international climate change agreement.

But just as Mr. Trump has called climate change a hoax, Mr. Pruitt has questioned the whether climate change is caused by humans, which a consensus of climate scientists say is the case.

"Healthy debate is the lifeblood of American democracy, and global warming has inspired one of the major policy debates of our time. That debate is far from settled,” Pruitt wrote in a May opinion column for National Review with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R). “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind. That debate should be encouraged – in classrooms, public forums, and the halls of Congress. It should not be silenced with threats of prosecution. Dissent is not a crime.”

Opponents found those comments alarming, as well as Mr. Pruitt’s fossil fuel industry ties – a New York Times report found lawyers from Devon Energy, one of the biggest oil and gas companies operating in Oklahoma, wrote a three-page letter to EPA that Pruitt passed off as his own.

“Pruitt’s statements and actions are in direct conflict with the job to which he has been nominated,” Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement. "If he is approved, his tenure as administrator would be devastating to the EPA’s ability to carry out its mission."

At an event hosted by The Christian Science Monitor in Washington this week, current EPA administrator Gina McCarthy sounded a more conciliatory tone, withholding judgment on the incoming administration and voicing cautious hope that the next administrator would “figure it out” that Americans value clean air, water, and land.

Hailing from the oil and gas state of Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt has sought to beat back regulations that he viewed as overly burdensome to the state’s fossil fuel industry. In his website biography, Pruitt describes himself as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.”

Those attributes may well have made Pruitt attractive for the post. Pruitt will be charged with regulating the oil, gas and coal industries, which Mr. Trump has said he wants boost. A lighter regulatory footprint could be one of the ways of accomplishing that feat, supporters argue.

"Pruitt will be a strong advocate for sensible policies that are good for our environment, as well as mindful of the need for affordable and reliable electricity,” Paul Bailey, senior vice president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said in as statement.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R) of West Virginia praised the pick, saying that, “I can’t make predictions, but I think most people would look very positive toward him."

For his supporters, Pruitt’s litigious streak helped to rein in what they see as illegal government overreach.

David Rivkin, an attorney at Baker Hostetler who represented Pruitt in his lawsuit against the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, said that Pruitt was uniquely committed to constitutional issues and maintaining the federalist system. He said that suited Pruitt well for the EPA, considering environmental statutes rest largely on federal-state cooperation.

“Would he protect the environment? I happen to think that environmental protection can best be advanced through serious cooperation between the states and the federal government. And this is something that Attorney General Pruitt would be able to implement superbly,” Mr. Rivkin said in an interview.

Pruitt hasn’t sued the EPA on every regulation, said Scott Segal, head of the Policy Resolution Group at Bracewell Law in Washington. He said Pruitt’s constitutionalist streak guides when he decides to weigh in on the agency’s rules.

“He looks at those rules that he finds the most egregious violation of EPA authority,” Mr. Segal, whose firm has worked with Pruitt and energy companies that oppose the Clean Power Plan, told the Monitor.

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