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New EPA Web Portal Helps Communities Prepare for Climate Change

Fri, 10/07/2016 - 00:48

By The EPA

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today launched a new online portal that will provide local leaders in the nation’s 40,000 communities with information and tools to increase resilience to climate change. Using a self-guided format, the Adaptation Resource Center (ARC-X) provides users with information tailored specifically to their needs, based on where they live and the particular issues of concern to them.

Recent statistics from the Office of Management and Budget show the federal government has incurred more than $357 billion in direct costs due to extreme weather and fire alone over the last 10 years. Climate change is also expected to pose significant financial and infrastructural challenges to communities in coming decades. EPA designed ARC-X to help all local government official address these challenges – from those with extensive experience and expertise dealing with the impacts of climate change, to those working in underserved communities who are just beginning to meet those challenges.

“From floods and droughts to dangerous heat islands and other public health effects, communities are facing the very real impacts of climate change,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “ARC-X is a powerful new tool that can help local governments continue to deliver reliable, cost-effective services even as the climate changes.”

Building on climate adaptation training for local governments EPA launched last year, ARC-X provides another important resource for building climate resiliency.  The system guides users through all steps of an adaptation process, providing information on the implications of climate change for particular regions and issues of concern; adaptation strategies that can be implemented to address the risks posed by climate change; case studies that illustrate how other communities with similar concerns have already successfully adapted, along with instructions on how to replicate their efforts; potential EPA tools to help implement the adaptation strategies; and sources of funding and technical assistance from EPA and other federal agencies.

To access ARC-X:

For climate adaptation training:

Categories: Ecological News

First Bee Species Added to Endangered Species List

Thu, 10/06/2016 - 01:21

By Lauren McCauley
Common Dreams

Listing comes amid a national crisis of declining bee populations, which is attributed to an array of causes, including habitat loss, and the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

Hawaiian yellow-faced bee, Kauai, Hawaii. Photo: Forest and Kim Starr, CC

Marking a troubling development in the crisis of pollinator decline, the first species of bees were added to the Endangered Species List.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced the determined status on Friday for seven types of yellow-faced bees found in the Hawaiian islands.

It comes after a multi-year effort by the invertebrate conservation organization The Xerces Society to gain federal recognition and protection for the threatened bees.

Xerces communication director Matthew Shepard hailed the development as “excellent news for these bees,” but added that “there is much work that needs to be done to ensure that Hawaii’s bees thrive.”

“Unfortunately,” he lamented, “the USFWS has not designated any ‘critical habitat,’ areas of land of particular importance for the endangered bees.”

The endangered genus, Hylaeus, commonly called yellow-faced, are the only genus native to Hawaii. Their failure comes amid a national crisis of declining bee populations, including colony collapse disorder, which is attributed to an array of causes, including habitat loss, infection, and the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

As Shepard wrote earlier, “Hawai’i’s yellow-faced bees face many threats, from the loss of habitat due to land conversion, development, and recreation…to the negative impacts of nonnative species, such as wild pigs, bigheaded ants, and invasive plants. Climate change also poses a threat to small populations of these bees.”

He further noted that the bees are “critical pollinators of many endangered native Hawaiian plants and the decline of these bees could lead to the extinction of the plants that rely upon them.”

The announcement came a week after the USFWS proposed for protection the first bee in the continental U.S., the rusted patched bumble bee, typically found in the upper midwest and northeast.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Categories: Ecological News

Study Links Texas Earthquakes to Wastewater Injection

Thu, 09/29/2016 - 17:40

By Joel Bahr
Berkeley News

A new study co-authored by UC Berkeley professor Michael Manga confirms that earthquakes in America’s oil country — including a 4.8 magnitude quake that rocked Texas in 2012 — are being triggered by significant injections of wastewater below the surface of the Earth.

Shale gas drilling rig near Alvarado, Texas. Photo: David R. Tribble, CC

While there has been plenty of speculation that the alarming increase in seismic activity in states like Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas were a result of human activity, the study — which appears in the journal Science — fingers deep wastewater injections as the culprit.

“The proximity of the earthquake clusters to the injection wells suggests a link between them,” researchers explain in the report. “As wastewater is injected into the disposal formation, it increases pore pressure within the system… The increase in pore pressure caused by the injection of fluids decreases the effective normal stress on faults, bringing them closer to failure.”

The study details how Manga and his colleagues used interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) and GPS to detect small — no more than a few millimeters — but significant increases in surface elevation near four wells in East Texas. The surface uplift is likely the product of an increase in pore pressure — the pressure of fluids in the soil or rock below ground — caused by wastewater injections.

Wastewater injection wells exist because processes of extracting oil and natural gas from the Earth also yields a tremendous amount of water as well, sometimes exceeding 10 times more water than oil. The water that is extracted is saline and contaminated, and safe disposal of it is somewhat challenging. The water is too toxic to be introduced back into the water table, so the current disposal solution is re-injecting it back underground through these disposal wells. The four wells observed in this study became functional between 2005 and 2007 and have injected roughly 1 billion gallons of water back below ground.

“One way to think of it is like having a balloon underground,” said Manga. “As water is injected below the surface, the balloon expands, which increases the pressure that plays a role in triggering earthquakes.”

The study examined two wells that injected water a little more than a mile below ground, and two that injected water at about half that depth. The depth that the wastewater is disposed of, or the placement of the pressure balloon, plays a significant role in seismic activity.

Researchers found that there was detectable ground uplift in the area surrounding the two shallower wells where the water was being injected above a large, impermeable layer of rock. The increase in pressure was enough to distort surface elevations, but did not clearly factor in triggering earthquakes.

The two deeper wells injected water below this layer. Hundreds of millions of gallons of water were injected below this layer band of impermeable rock, ultimately having an impact on the pressure of “basement rock,” an area more than a mile below the surface where earthquakes form. As pore pressure rose, it sparked activity on an old fault in 2012. Tremors subsided by the end of 2013, when wastewater injections were reduced significantly.

“The findings are significant because they help us understand where earthquakes will happen, why they happen in some places and not others, and when they’ll happen again in the future,” said Manga.

Categories: Ecological News

The Giant Panda is No Longer Endangered

Thu, 09/15/2016 - 02:58

By Amanda Froelich
True Activist

The giant panda’s status has been downgraded to “vulnerable” thanks to conservationists’ efforts.


On September 4, 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced that populations of the giant panda have increased enough for the species’ status to be downgraded to “vulnerable.” In 2004, there were only 1,596 bears in the wild. Now, according to a 2014 nationwide census, there are now 2,060 in China.

This positive news is a result of conservationists employing a number of different tactics to protect the beloved species – specifically protecting the creatures’ habitat and initiating reforestation programs. It also helped that poaching of giant pandas was banned (as their hides were considered a commodity).

China’s panda reserve system also deserves credit, considering it helped to increase the bears’ habitats. At present, there are 67 reserves which protect approximately 5,400 square miles (14,000 sq kilometers) of habitat, reports CNN. That’s approximately 67% of the panda population!

The IUCN wrote in its assessment:

“The decision to downlist the giant panda to ‘vulnerable’ is a positive sign confirming that the Chinese government’s efforts to conserve this species are effective.”

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) – which has used the panda in its logo since 1961 – released a statement concerning the positive news:

“For over fifty years, the giant panda has been the globe’s most beloved conservation icon as well as the symbol of WWF. Knowing that the panda is now a step further from extinction is an exciting moment for everyone committed to conserving the world’s wildlife and their habitats.” “The recovery of the panda shows that when science, political will and engagement of local communities come together, we can save wildlife and also improve biodiversity.”

The giant panda isn’t completely in the clear, however. The IUCN warns that the gains made in the past few decades could be reversed by climate change and decreasing bamboo availability. The organization relays that the panda’s bamboo habitat could disappear in the next 80 years.

Joe Walston, Vice President of Conservation Field Programs for the Wildlife Conservation Society, told Live Science: 

“It is a real concern, and this is emblematic of what species are facing globally with regard to climate change. The most important thing we can do at the moment is to be able to grow the extent and range of that habitat and by doing that you allow pandas to move across landscapes.”

In result, conservation efforts will continue to ensure the species does not go extinct during any of our lifetimes.

This article (Great News! The Giant Panda Is No Longer Endangered) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to the author and

Categories: Ecological News

Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service – “America’s Best Idea”

Thu, 08/25/2016 - 23:12

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary


In 1872, the Congress established Yellowstone National Park — the first park of its kind anywhere in the world. Decades later, the passage of the Antiquities Act in 1906 created our first national historic preservation policy. Under this new authority, and heavily inspired by his time in nature with conservationist John Muir, President Theodore Roosevelt set aside 18 new monuments and landmarks, adding to the scattered collection of existing parks throughout our country. One decade later, in order to provide the leadership necessary for maintaining our growing system of parks, the Congress passed monumental legislation — which President Woodrow Wilson signed on August 25, 1916 — to create the National Park Service (NPS). All existing National Parks were placed under the management of the NPS, ushering in a new era of conservation, exploration, and discovery — and securing, throughout the century that would follow, the profound legacy of an interconnected system of natural wonders.

Over the course of the past 100 years, our national park system has grown to include more than 400 locations across our country. Ranging from seashores to waterfalls, winding trails to rugged mountains, historic battlefields to monuments and memorials, every treasured site under the NPS is uniquely American. Our parks play a critical role in environmental stewardship, ensuring that precious wildlife can thrive and that ecosystems can provide the many benefits on which we depend. They have sustained the stories and cultures that define the American experience, and they embody the people and movements that distinguish our Nation’s journey.

As we reflect on the many natural and cultural gifts that our National Parks provide, we must also look to the next century and pledge to secure our precious resources. That is why my Administration has protected over 265 million acres of public lands and waters — more than any Administration in history — and worked to save endangered and vulnerable species and their vital habitats. Climate change poses the biggest threat to our planet and our parks and is already dangerously affecting park ecosystems and visitor experiences. It is imperative that we rise to meet this challenge and continue leading the global fight against climate change to ensure that our parks remain healthy for all who will come after us.

Often called “America’s best idea,” our National Parks belong to Americans of all ages and backgrounds. NPS sites and their recreational, educational, and public health benefits are our American birthright. Last year, these sites welcomed more than 300 million visitors, and my Administration is committed to helping all our people access and enjoy these public lands and waters. Through our “Every Kid in a Park” initiative, we have made our National Parks free to fourth grade students and their families so that more children, from any community or walk of life, can spend time being active in our outdoor spaces while learning about these natural treasures — something that First Lady Michelle Obama has also advocated for through her Let’s Move! initiative. And through the Joining Forces initiative that she and Dr. Jill Biden have championed, more of our troops and military families can enjoy our National Parks. We must expand on these programs and increase opportunities for people in underserved communities to experience the great outdoors as well. The second century of the NPS will rely on the support and engagement of young people who are visiting more parks through the “Find Your Park” campaign, and we must encourage this rising generation of Americans by inviting them to make their own personal connections to the places that have shaped our history.

NPS parks and programs strive to tell our diverse stories, allowing us to learn from the past and help write our country’s next great chapters. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, let us thank all those who — through their dedication to the mission of the NPS — help our country build on the legacy left by all those who came before us. As we look to the next century and embrace the notion that preserving these public spaces in ways that engage, reflect, and honor all Americans has never been more important, let us summon the foresight and faith in the future to do what it takes to protect our National Parks for generations to come.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim August 25, 2016, as the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service. I invite all Americans to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that recognize the National Park Service for maintaining and protecting our public lands for the continued benefit and enjoyment of all Americans.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-second day of August, in the year of our Lord two thousand sixteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-first.


Categories: Ecological News

Scientists Say Expect More 1,000-Year Events Like Louisiana Flood

Sat, 08/20/2016 - 01:09

By Nike Knight
Common Dreams

Louisiana’s devastating rainfall was the state’s second “1,000-year” flood this year

Louisiana flood, August 2016 – Photo: Common Dreams flickr/cc

Parts of Louisiana’s disastrous, ongoing flooding has been upgraded by meteorologists to once-in-1,000-years rainfall, with other areas classified as 500-year and 100-year events, reported Monday, as scientists warn that such storms are growing more and more frequent as the planet heats up.

“On Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is set to classify the Louisiana disaster as the eighth flood considered to be a once-in-every-500-years event to have taken place in the U.S. in little over 12 months,” the Guardian reports:

Since May of last year, dozens of people have been killed and thousands of homes have been swamped with water in extreme events in Oklahoma, Texas, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Maryland. NOAA considers these floods extreme because, based on historical rainfall records, they should be expected to occur only once every 500 years.

The Louisiana flooding has been so exceptional that some places in the state experienced storm conditions considered once-every-1,000-year events. Close to 2ft of rain fell over a 48-hour period in parts of southern Louisiana, causing residents to scramble to safety from flooded homes and cars.

And reported that the flooding “was triggered by a complicated, slow-moving low-pressure weather system that dumped as much as two feet of rain on parts of East Baton Rouge, Livingston and St. Helena parishes in 48 hours.”

“The record two-day rainfall in those areas had a 0.1 percent chance of occurring in any year, the equivalent of a ‘1,000-year rain,’ according to the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center, based at the Slidell office of the National Weather Service,” the local outlet wrote.

The ongoing flooding is the second “1,000-year” rain to strike the state this year. Noted environmentalist Bill McKibben tweeted about such disasters’ rapidly increasing frequency:

The flooding has caused the death of eight people and affected 40,000 homes and businesses, according to the Associated Press.

The floods have indeed been devastating, with many last-minute evacuations forcing residents to leave their houses with nothing. And although both the federal and state governments have now declared states of emergency, in many areas people have been forced to take search-and-rescue efforts into their own hands, the Guardian writes:

The scale of the flooding was beyond the reach of any government agency, though. So from the bayous and swamps emerged something locals are calling the “Cajun navy.” Thousands of hunters and fishermen from throughout the region arrived in boats and organized themselves into search-and-rescue parties.

Brittany Cuccia, a college student from Thibodeaux, joined one 10-boat fleet Monday as it moved from house to underwater house. “I’d say we’ve pulled out 50 people at least,” she said.

Residents who needed help were stuck in homes with no power, she said. They had no way to call for help, and so they retreated higher and higher into their homes, praying for rescue.

And with even some coffins being uprooted and photographed eerily floating down residential streets, at least one local described the disaster as “worse than Hurricane Katrina.”


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Categories: Ecological News

To Improve Beijing’s Air Quality, Cut Household Fuel Use Too

Thu, 07/14/2016 - 17:08

By Jeffrey Norris
UC Berkeley News

China’s plans to curb Beijing’s health-damaging air pollution by focusing on restricting emissions from power plants and vehicles may have limited impact if household use of coal and other dirty fuels is not also curtailed, according to a new study.

Beijing’s Forbidden City on a smoggy day. Photo: WikiCommons

“You cannot have a clean outdoor environment if a large percentage of the population is burning dirty fuels in households several times a day,” said Kirk Smith, a professor with UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health who co-led the study with Tong Zhu of Peking University and Denise Mauzerall of Princeton University. “The smoke may start indoors, but soon leaves the house and becomes a significant part of regional air pollution.”

Beijing’s polluted air came to international attention before the 2008 summer Olympics. Today, the average daily concentration of the smallest particulates — those that can lodge deeply in the lungs and trigger chronic and acute respiratory illness, heart disease and lung cancer — is more than six times what the World Health Organization regards as safe. Levels of other major pollutants, such as ozone, also rank high..

China developed a five-year plan to reduce emissions, but the researchers concluded that focusing too narrowly on controlling emissions of pollutants just within Beijing and its suburbs, without also reducing emissions from the entire region, including widespread surrounding rural areas, may limit the potential effectiveness of pollution-control efforts.

Their study will be published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The modeling study is the first to incorporate local and regional datasets on air emissions and to combine these with modeling of weather impacts and atmospheric chemistry in the region to come up with estimates of impacts of household emissions during winter months, when heating demands are greatest.

“We show that due to uncontrolled and inefficient combustion of solid fuels in household devices, emission reductions from the residential sector may have greater air-quality benefits in the North China Plain, including Beijing, than reductions from other sectors,” the researchers wrote. Household uses include cooking and heating.

The researchers used the Weather Research and Forecasting Model with Chemistry, a model developed in the United States and used by researchers worldwide, to generate atmospheric simulations using real data from China. They focused on Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei provinces, where more than 100 million people live.

They then made estimates of the relative contributions of emissions sources using data from 2010, and also modeled emissions reductions scenarios to derive estimates for reduction levels of small particulates over the region that would result from different mitigation efforts.

The researchers concluded that eliminating household emissions in Beijing alone would reduce levels of small particulate pollution in the air over Beijing in winter by about 22 percent, but that eliminating household emissions in all three provinces surrounding Beijing would nearly double the reduction in particulate levels in the city itself.

In other words, Beijing does not have its fate entirely in its own hands, according to Smith, and the results highlight the importance of regional efforts to reduce urban air pollution.

“On a smaller scale, here in the Bay Area, air-quality control is not only focused on San Francisco and Oakland, but also coordinated across nine Bay Area counties through a regional governing body,” Smith said. “One might think that, because China has a powerful central government, it would be easy to coordinate regional governing bodies to fight pollution, but that is not necessarily the case.”

The researchers did not attempt to evaluate how climate change might be affected by Chinese efforts to reduce household burning of biomass fuel by supplying natural gas. China has begun building plants to convert coal to “synthetic natural gas,” which burns cleaner, but results in more carbon dioxide emissions than direct burning of coal.

Nor did the researchers try to gauge the health benefits of reducing household emissions. However, a Global Burden of Disease study found that direct household exposure to air pollution from solid fuels was responsible for 800,000 premature deaths in China in 2013, about equal to the number of premature deaths from outdoor particulate pollution, Smith said. The work by Smith and colleagues indicates that a significant portion of the ill-health from outdoor pollution in China should also be attributed to household fuels.

The research was funded by National Natural Science Foundation Committee of China, the European Seventh Framework Programme Project PURGE (Public Health Impacts in Urban Environments of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions Strategies) and the Collaborative Innovation Center for Regional Environmental Quality.

Categories: Ecological News

Maryland to Become First State U.S. State to Ban Bee-Killing Pesticides

Tue, 07/12/2016 - 17:02

By Amanda Froelich
True Activist

Maryland will become the first U.S. state to ban neonicotinoid-containing pesticides to help revive honey bee populations.

A bee gathering pollen in a sunflower. Photo jlodder via Flickr Creative Commons License

In 2015, honey bee populations in the state of Maryland declined by 61%, according to the USDA. That startling statistic is two times higher than the national average, which is why beekeepers are celebrating the state’s recent decision to ban neonicotinoids, pesticides which have been linked with Colony Collapse Disorder. 

ThinkProgress reports that in April, the Maryland House and Senate agreed upon and jointly passed a final version of the Maryland Pollinator Protection Act. If passed, the legislation will virtually eliminate consumer use of the widely-used pesticide that has been shown to negatively impact honey bee populations. In effect, Maryland will become the first state in the U.S. to codify such protection for the bumbling insects.

While scientists haven’t pinpointed a single cause behind the mass honey bee deaths, most agree that pesticides are an important contributor. The reason a ban on neonicotinoids hasn’t been passed nationwide is because the USDA has failed to declare a link between neonics and bee deaths. Reportedly, the widely-used pesticides are a key part of expanding the global insecticide market projected at around $15 billion in revenues.

The EPA is reviewing the link between several varieties of the insecticides and the bee deaths, however. Those findings will be shared with the public in 2018, the same year Maryland’s ban on neonicotinoid-containing pesticides goes into effect.

Concerning the legislation, Tiffany Finck-Haynes, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, commented that Maryland’s [pollinator] losses are really staggering.” She also noted that “sustainable” bee losses are considered to be around 10 to 15 percent of a colony – significantly less than what Maryland has been experiencing.

Over the past few years, scientists have found several links between neonicotinoids and poor pollinator health. For example, one study found that exposure to neonicotinoids impacted a bee’s brain. This, in result, made it forget the scent of food. Other studies have shown that pesticide exposure might weaken a honeybee’s immune system, making it more difficult to fend off viruses. Of course, bees’ populations are also threatened by dwindling food sources and the varroa mite – both which have been implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder.

The new law would “be a landmark, and it would set a standard that maybe other states would follow,” commented Del. Anne Healey, D-Prince George’s County, who authored the House version of the bill.

This article (Maryland To Become First State In U.S. To Ban Bee-Killing Pesticides) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to the author and

Categories: Ecological News