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GOP Senator Seeks Major Overhaul of Endangered Species Act

Conservation groups criticize 'partisan bill' for prioritizing politics over science

Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, released draft legislation Monday to significantly overhaul the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

photo of manateePhoto by David Hinkel / US Fish and Wildlife Service Senator Barrasso has introduced a proposal that would give states more authority over the Endangered Species Act. Several conservation groups say it would also undermine efforts to save endangered species like manatees (pictured) from extinction.

Under Barrasso's proposal, individual states would be given key authority over the federal program to conserve threatened and endangered species.

"When it comes to the Endangered Species Act, the status quo is not good enough," the Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman said in a press release. "We must do more than just keep listed species on life support — we need to see them recovered. This draft legislation will increase state and local input and improve transparency in the listing process."

The Endangered Species Act, passed by Congress four decades ago, is the nation's safety net for fish, plants ,and wildlife on the brink of extinction. More than 99 percent of species that have been designated for federal protection continue to exist in the wild today, including the bald eagle, grizzly bear, the leatherback sea turtle, and the Florida manatee.

Many Republicans have long sought to weaken the landmark conservation law, as it can block energy production or other developments on critical habitat for endangered species. The current GOP-controlled 115th Congress has introduced dozens of bills that would strip federal protections for specific threatened species or undermine the ESA, according an analysis from the Center for Biological Diversity. That's one such bill every six days in 2017 alone.

Earthjustice anticipated Barrasso's legislative proposal more than a year ago. The environmental law nonprofit said that Barrasso has received substantial campaign contributions from extractive industries that wish to mine or drill land that overlaps with wildlife habitat. Citing campaign finance records, from 2011 until 2016, Barrasso received $458,466 in total campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, plus $241,706 from the mining industry.

Conservation organization Defenders of Wildlife criticized Barrasso's plan, contending that states may lack the legal authority, the resources and sometimes the political resolve to implement the ESA.

"This partisan bill is all about politics, at the expense of sound science and the species that depend on …more

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Trump Administration Threatens US Environmental Security

By undermining the National Sea Grant College Program, president is hamstringing America’s ability to address long-term climate risks

Numerous articles have been written about how the Trump administration has been undermining federal regulatory agencies and their ability to ensure that Americans have access to clean water, air, healthy oceans, and productive soils. Less has been written on the administration’s goal to eliminate or undermine dozens of non-regulatory agencies like the National Sea Grant College Program (Sea Grant), which conducts important research on ocean, marine, and coastal issues, and provides jobs and economic benefits for Americans.

photo of Hurricane Harvey recoveryPhoto courtesy of Louisiana National Guard The Trump administration has proposed eliminating funding for the National Sea Grant College Program, which facilitates adaptation to the worst effects of climate change, like sea level rise and increasingly severe hurricanes. Above, members of the Louisiana National Guard prepare to deploy rescue missions in Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey last year. 

Sea Grant operates through a network of partner universities, government bodies, and private enterprises to promote better understanding and more informed use of coastal and marine resources, while also making it possible for the nation to prepare for, adapt to, and mitigate the worst effects of climate change — like sea level rise, intensified hurricanes, and increasing variations in local weather patterns — particularly as they relate to US environmental security. Environmental security concerns include those from nuclear contamination, spent fuel, and waste; threats to energy resources; contamination, degradation, or depletion of essential environmental resources; and environmental problems from failing infrastructure that may threaten US security or undermine political and economic stability in the US or abroad.

Sea Grant is on the frontlines of efforts to ensure US environmental security issues are addressed by providing timely research on marine issues, while keeping pace with trends that affect the security of individuals, communities, states, and the nation as a whole. The agency also performs a vital role by researching opportunities for local and regional economic development in coastal states, and also improving resource conservation and management practices.

Sea Grant’s role in environmental security is most visible in disaster scenarios. The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was one of the most powerful and devastating on record with Harvey, Irma and Maria hitting the US coastline directly. Because Sea Grant has a network of individuals already established in coastal states heavily impacted by these hurricanes (Texas, Puerto Rico, and Florida) it was able to quickly deploy resources at the local, state, and regional levels to research the impacts of the …more

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Scientists Call for Ambitious International Agreement to Save Life on Earth

Experts say our current mass extinction crisis requires an agreement embracing the 'Nature Needs Half' goal

Let’s be honest, the global community’s response to the rising evidence of mass extinction and ecological degradation has been largely to throw crumbs at it. Where we have acted it’s been in a mostly haphazard and modest way — a protected area here, a conservation program there, a few new laws, and a pinch of funding. The problem is such actions — while laudable and important — in no way match the scope and size of the problem where all markers indicate that life on Earth continues to slide into the dustbin.

photo of Isle de Jean CharlesPhoto by Wakx / FlickrSome scientists are calling for an an international agreement that embraces the "Half Earth" goal and drasticallying increases the amount of the world covered in parks.

But a few scientists are beginning to call for more ambition — much more — and they want to see it enshrined in a new global agreement similar to the Paris Climate Accord. They also say that the bill shouldn’t just fall on nations, but the private sector too. 

A Global Deal for Nature

In 2016, E.O. Wilson — arguably the world’s most lauded living evolutionary biologist — published a book called Half Earth where he proposed that to save life on Earth (and ourselves) we must set aside around half the planet in various types of reserves. Not surprisingly, the idea was immediately controversial — but it was also picked up by other scientists hungry for an ambitious, hopeful way of facing a future of ecological Armageddon.

Last year, 49 scientists wrote a landmark paper exploring how feasible Half Earth might be across Earth’s different terrestrial ecosystems. But the headline news of this paper was really this sentence: “We propose a Global Deal for Nature — a companion to the Paris Climate Deal — to promote increased habitat protection and restoration, national — and ecoregion — scale conservation strategies, and the empowerment of Indigenous peoples to protect their sovereign lands.”

In less technical parlance, this is a ringing call for a massive, global agreement that would look at drastically increasing the amount of the world covered by parks — in some cases up to the Half Earth goal — and Indigenous protected areas. Indigenous people are now widely recognized as some of the best defenders of nature after decades of being sidelined.

This …more

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British Columbia to Require Indigenous Consent for Fish Farms

New rule exempts Broughton Archipelago, raising questions about how big a win it is

There is solid evidence suggesting open net pen fish farming carries too many risks and not enough rewards for the coastal communities it impacts. Case in point: Washington State, where a fish farm pen collapsed last summer, releasing farmed Atlantic salmon into the Salish Sea and putting the health of wild salmon stocks at risk. Following the breach, the state voted to phase-out open net-pen farming by 2025.

photo of Isle de Jean CharlesPhoto courtesy of Oregon State UniversityOpen net pen fish farming comes with significant environmental risks, including pollution of marine environments with excess feed and feces, as well as the spread of disease to wild salmon.

In Canada, there has been a similar battle brewing over fish farming, one that involves several coastal Indigenous peoples who rely on wild salmon for their economy and culture. On June 20, after grassroots protests across the province of British Columbia, including two occupations of foreign-owned fish farming sites by coastal First Nations, the provincial government has made a move to change how fish farms are licensed.

Specifically, the government issued two new rules. One requires that fish farm operators have consent from local Indigenous peoples in whose territory the farms are located. This rule has been interpreted by some to effectively amount to a veto power for Indigenous peoples. The second requires that operators demonstrate to Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) that their operations aren’t harming wild salmon stocks. This rule has been interpreted by some as an effort to encourage the federal government to do more to protect wild fish. The rules will take effect in 2022.

“The challenges facing our wild salmon have been ignored for far too long,” said Lana Popham, BC minister of agriculture. “That’s why we are putting in place a new approach to provide clarity and outline our expectations moving forward for a sustainable industry that protects wild salmon, embraces reconciliation, and provides good jobs.”

Although the move has received much positive feedback from Indigenous rights and environmental advocates, the four-year timeline for implementation has left some wondering why such a long delay. This timeline aligns with the next provincial election.

Others are puzzled by the exclusion of the Broughton Archipelago from the rules. Broughton is home to 20 fish farms tenures, including 12 operations run by Marine Harvest, the subject of much recent controversy in the region.

The crown land tenures for the Broughton farms were up for renewal on the same …more

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Lives on the Vulnerable Edge

In Review: Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore

Sea levels are rising. That’s not just an ominous and distant threat. For many people around the globe and across US coastlines, the perils of an encroaching ocean present dangers that are all too real. From dying trees to flooding islands to houses being destroyed, the damage wreaked on many coastal communities is changing lives forever. Elizabeth Rush’s Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore tells the stories of these lives, portraying the stark reality, the almost dystopian milieus of Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, the Tanyards of Pensacola, Florida, Oakwood Beach on Staten Island, New York and many other frontline communities.

photo of Isle de Jean CharlesPhoto by Karen ApricotIn Isle de Jean Charles, many residents have left their hurricane-ravaged homes.

Rush expands the stories of her settings by switching between several modes of narration: A first-person memoir that weaves descriptions of the environment with lyrical prose; more complex scientific sections; and chapters in the voices of the people who live in shoreline communities that are slowly dying.

After working on a magazine article on the effect of climate change on the Sunderbans delta in the Indo-Bangladesh border region, Rush realized that every change humans make to their surroundings can have a snowball effect on the environment. Over the last century, a considerable part of the rivers flowing into the delta — the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna — have been diverted, reducing volume of freshwater flowing into the Bay of Bengal and allowing water from the Indian Ocean to seep in, destroying once fertile farmland with salt water. Meanwhile, the rising seas have been eroding delta islands and have forced thousands of farmers and fisherfolk to migrate inland. After reporting on this issue, “I understood then that sea level rise was not a problem for future generations,” Rush writes. “It was happening already, exacerbated by human interventions in the landscape. And perhaps more importantly, I sensed that the slow-motion migration in, away from our disintegrating shorelines, had perhaps already begun.”

In Rising, Rush takes readers on a journey through some places in the United States where climate change has wrought similarly slow yet dramatic impacts.

In Isle de Jean Charles, on one of many “frayed fingers of fine tidal lace” that make up Louisiana’s bayous, Rush meets Chris Brunet, a native of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe who has lived his whole life in Isle de Charles. While Rush talks to Brunet, a dolphin swims up the narrow …more

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Pets Come with Major Environmental ‘Pawprint’

With pet food responsible for 25% of environmental impacts of meat production, companies look for plant-based alternatives

Animal microbiologist Holly Ganz cannot talk about the pet feeding regime known as biologically appropriate raw food without laughing. The increasingly popular diet is known by its unfortunate acronym, Barf. “It’s bizarrely named,” she says, laughing. It certainly runs contrary to the twee language usually reserved for the pet realm; such as Kitty Biome, a project Ganz recently raised $23,000 for via Kickstarter, which invited cat owners to pay $100 to have the microorganisms in their cat’s droppings analyzed. The common term for the environmental impact of pet-keeping has a cute name too: pawprint. But, with humans increasingly demanding human-grade meat for their four-legged family members, pet food is estimated to be responsible for a quarter of the environmental impacts of meat production in terms of the use of land, water, fossil fuels, phosphates, and pesticides. And this trend for raw food is, environmentally speaking, a step backwards.

photo of dogs eatingPhoto by Carol Von CanonThe pet-food market, which already has a significant environmental impact, is projected to grow in the coming years as new markets open up.

It is this carbon pawprint that Ganz is working to reduce. She has been drafted in to assess the gut-friendliness of a vegan pet-food product launching in the US in July called Wild Earth. Its first offering is a dog treat made from what the blurb calls an “ancient Asian” fungi called koji. “We’re hoping,” she says, “that it will support bacteria that will help to fight inflammation and maintain healthy digestion and nutrition.”

Ask Wild Earth’s CEO, Ryan Bethencourt, what the future of pet food looks like and he has one word: “Massive.” In 2017, the global pet-food market was worth $94 billion, and it is projected to grow even further as new markets open up. In China, where pet ownership is rare, the market grew by 100 percent last year. “If China follows the trends, we are going to see hundreds of millions more pets in existence,” says Bethencourt. He thinks these pets can be fed sustainably with his koji protein while, for the longer term, the company is working on lab-grown meat, culturing meat cells that would not require rearing or killing animals. They have already created a mouse-meat prototype for cats that, it says, will beat lab meat for humans to market because there is less red tape to navigate. But it will …more

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Fostering Scientific Inquiry and Environmental Awareness

From documenting shark sightings to scoping out urban owl habitat, Earth Island projects are embracing citizen science in their work

Earth Island Journal’s summer cover story, “Citizens Afield,” is all about citizen science and how it is contributing to essential research while also transforming our relationships with the natural world and changing age-old ideas about who can do science and how and where it is done. Here at Earth Island Institute, which publishes the Journal, we have several projects that are engaging volunteers with exciting citizen science opportunities. Read on to learn about a few of these efforts.

photo of wildcat creekPhoto by Patrick BuechnerWholly H2O has held a series of BioBlitzes, citizen science events that bring people to a set location to document flora and fauna, in the San Francisco Bay Area's Wildcat Creek watershed.

Wholly H20

When people hear the word “watershed” it’s natural that they first think simply of water. But watersheds are full ecosystems with many living beings impacting their health and vitality. Water conservation education nonprofit Wholly H2O’s project The Waterhood is reimagining watersheds as neighborhoods, with all living flora and fauna as our relatives and neighbors. The goal? To spread awareness that we all live in a watershed, and that our behavior influences the well-being of our waterhood neighbors.

“Too often we forget that wherever we are, we’re in an ecosystem, and behave as if humans are the only consideration,” says Wholly H2O executive director, Dr. Elizabeth Dougherty. “This encourages humans to be irresponsible in caring for our neighborhoods, forgetting that our actions impact entire watersheds, often to our own detriment. This holds especially true in urban areas.”

In an effort to connect people with their watersheds, and with generous funding from the Creative Work Fund, a program of The Walter and Elise Haas Fund, Wholly H2O's most recent citizen science program has Bay Area residents and visitors documenting the inhabitants of the Wildcat Creek watershed in San Francisco's East Bay. Through a series of BioBlitzes, citizen science events that bring people to a set location for a given period of time to document flora and fauna using the app iNaturalist, volunteers are making a real contribution to our knowledge about the watershed.

“It’s such a thrill to see folks, most especially kids, walking through a landscape and noticing, some for the first time, what is living there,” says Dougherty. “That’s our goal. Keep getting to know your watershed neighbors. Your life depends on them!”

The Waterhood project doesn’t stop there. Live media artist Ian Winters, together with the Lightbulb Ensemble, …more

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