Alan Guebert: Corporations Have Rights; Why Not a Lake?

Farm & Food File:

If the ballot box is the ultimate source of power in the United States, then voters in Toledo, Ohio, used that power Feb. 26 to create what’s now being called a “Bill of Rights” for their wide, blue neighbor, Lake Erie. That vote, if it withstands court challenges (one was filed immediately after the referendum passed) gives any Toledo citizen legal standing to sue any person or corporation on behalf of Lake Erie over its “right” to be clean and environmentally healthy.

Lake Erie’s newly conferred/newly challenged rights have farmers in northwest Ohio deeply concerned because they have long been seen as a key source of the phosphorus run-off that fuels late-summer, toxic algae blooms in the lake, that also serves as Toledo’s public water source. But it’s not just Toledo. The toxic blooms, according to press reports, threaten the water supply of 12 million American and Canadian citizens living near Lake Erie and jeopardize more than $1 billion a year spent in Ohio on lake tourism.

Jason Bittel: Dragonfly Migrations

onEarth:

JUDY GALLAGHER  VIA FLICKR

JUDY GALLAGHER VIA FLICKR

According to a study published by the Royal Society last fall, common green darners, which are found from Cuba to Canada, make a long, complex journey that takes three generations and spans a distance of more than 1,500 miles. Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how they do it, but temperature seems to play a key role in telling the animals when to move. Unfortunately, this means climate change could well wreck the whole event even before we fully understand it. Worse, it would leave much of eastern North America without an important member of its food web.

The news that dragonflies migrate probably won’t shock people who study insects, says the study’s senior author, Colin Studds, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Maryland. “We’ve had an inkling of how many insects migrate,” he says. “There are moths, there are beetles, and there are probably about 20 species of dragonflies that we have expected of migration. But we don’t know much about it other than that it’s a phenomenon.”

Judith Weis: Phragmites - A Useful Native & Non-Native Plant

The Conversation:

But despite its bad reputation, Phragmites provides many benefits that are generally unknown and unappreciated. After studying salt marsh ecology and the impacts of stressors, including invasive plants, for many years, I have concluded that removing this invasive species wherever it is found – especially along vulnerable coastlines – is a very expensive and often foolish procedure.

Phragmites actually is native in the United States, but the native form comprises only a minor component of the high marsh – the zone that typically is above water. A new genetic variety arrived many decades ago and invaded brackish marshes.

In Europe and Asia, where Phragmites is also native, it is valued as an important wetland species. In China, where Spartina alterniflora has arrived, marsh scientists and managers are concerned with the effects of that invader replacing their beloved Phragmites. Human attitudes toward invasive species can be a bit subjective.

Avoiding the Invasive Trap: Policies for Aquatic Non- Indigenous Plant Management

User:Darkone; From Wikimedia Commons

User:Darkone; From Wikimedia Commons

ABSTRACT
Many aquatic invasive species (AIS) management programs are doing important work on preventing non-indigenous species movement to our wild places. Attitudes and perspectives on aquatic non-indigenous species and their management by ecologists and the public are fundamentally a question of human values. Despite eloquent philosophical writings on treatment of non-indigenous species, management agency rhetoric on ‘invasive’ species usually degenerates to a good versus evil language, often with questionable results and lost conservation dollars. We assess and learn from an established AIS program. We discuss an ethic framework and operational directives to minimise the trap of a binary classification of species into bad or good, and we advocate for a principled pragmatic approach to minimise conflicts. We make a case for not labelling species and instead focusing on managing nuisance conditions and protecting ecosystem health.

Paper link or here

Alma Gullermoprieto: Sunday Car Ban

National Geographic:

JUAN CRISTÓBAL COBO

JUAN CRISTÓBAL COBO

It’s like falling in love all over again; every Sunday without fail, and holidays too, the inhabitants of the car-choked, noise-filled, stressed-out city of Bogotá, 8,660 feet up in the thin air of the Andes, get to feel that the city belongs to them, and not to the 1,600,000 suicidal private cars, 50,000 homicidal taxis, nine thousand gasping buses, and some half-million demented motorcycles that otherwise pack into the buzzing capital of Colombia.

The weekly miracle occurs at an event you could call the Peaceful Community Gathering on Wheels, but is actually named the Ciclovía, or Bicycle Way. Starting at seven in the morning and until two in the afternoon, vast stretches of the city’s principal avenues and highways are turned over to everyone looking to enjoy a bit of fresh air. All kinds of transportation are welcome—bicycles, roller skates, scooters, wheelchairs, skateboards—as long as they are not motor-driven.

Feargus O'Sullivan: Eliminating Cars Parking

CityLab:

This week, Amsterdam is taking its reputation for pro-bike, anti-car polices one step further by announcing that it will systematically strip its inner city of parking spaces. Amsterdam transit commissioner Sharon Dijksma announced Thursday that starting this summer, the city plans to reduce the number of people permitted to park in the city core by around 1,500 per year. These people already require a permit to access a specific space (and the cost for that permit will also rise), and so by reducing these permits steadily in number, the city will also remove up to 11,200 parking spaces from its streets by the end of 2025.

The cleared spaces won’t be left empty, however. As room for cars is removed, it will be replaced by trees, bike parking, and wider sidewalks, allowing Amsterdammers to instantly see and feel the benefits of what will still be a fairly controversial policy among drivers.

Aaron Renn: Struggling Cities

CityLab:

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Too often, states try to help these cities through massive spending or tax giveaways. The disgraceful Foxconn and Amazon HQ2 site selection processes are emblematic of what goes on every day across America. Massachusetts included Pittsfield in its list of proposed Amazon HQ2 sites, for example, and Atlantic City, New Jersey, also put in a bid. But decades of subsidies haven’t worked and won’t work.

Instead, deeply challenged smaller post-industrial cities should do the basics: Local governments must address their often huge unfunded liabilities and get to structurally balanced budgets. They should reform their governance where necessary, especially by eliminating corruption. And, they need to start rebuilding core public services, especially public safety but also parks, etc. Make no mistake, this will require help from federal and state governments, and may involve painful steps like bankruptcy and prosecutions.

AP: Trumpeter Swans died from Lead Poisoning

A University of Minnesota diagnostic lab report shows that dead trumpeter swans found at Sucker Lake in Vadnais Heights, Minn., earlier this month died of lead poisoning.

The Pioneer Press reported that the Vadnais Lake Area Water Management Organization, which investigated the swan deaths, originally thought the swans had died of malnutrition.

The report said the lead toxicity is likely from fishing sinkers that accumulate in the sediment. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources estimates that 40 percent of Minnesota trumpeter swan deaths are caused by lead poisoning. Experts say one pellet can kill an adult trumpeter swan.

About 10 dead swans were found at the Vadnais Heights lake.

We keep loosing lead sinkers in our lakes and we think it has no consequences. Crazy.

Weston Pew: Use a Pilgrimage to Find Your Way

Center for Humans & Nature:

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As I stare out across the social and environmental landscape of our time, I am reminded of a quote by Dr. Bob Moorehead, pastor and author of Words Aptly Spoken:

”The paradox of our age is that we have bigger houses but smaller families; more conveniences, but less time; We have more degrees, but less sense; more knowledge, but less judgment; more experts, but more problems; more medicines, but less healthiness; we’ve been all the way to the moon and back but have trouble crossing the street to meet the neighbor. We’ve built more computers to hold more information to produce more copies than ever but have less communication; we have become long on quantity, and short on quality. These are the times of fast foods but slow digestion; tall man but short character; Steep profits but shallow relationships. It’s a time when there is much in the window, but nothing in the room.”

This quote speaks to how we in the modern world have lost ourselves in the dream of progress. In the desire for ever more comfort and things, we seem to have forgotten something essential to our very existence: Life itself is a miracle; and such a miracle can only be fully expressed through the practice of living in right relationship to ourselves, our communities, the natural world, and the cosmos itself.

Alissa Walker: How to ID Lead Paint

Curbed:

Lead paint is extremely prevalent in older, historic houses—especially homes that haven’t been renovated. I figured we might have lead paint in our house, given its age. If the paint is in good condition, there isn’t much risk. However, when lead paint is deteriorating, you can ingest it...

If the paint is in good shape, sometimes all that’s needed is encapsulation, meaning sealing or painting over the older layers of lead paint. If the paint is chipped or flaking, or found in places that are frequently used, like hinges and windows, the more expensive abatement process is the best option. Our county’s public health department provided a list of accredited inspectors and abatement firms, and the EPA also has a resource center.

Eric Freedman: Isle Royale

Great Lakes Echo:

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The newly designated Minong Traditional Cultural Property covers Isle Royale and its entire archipelago of 450-plus northern Lake Superior islands and surrounding waters. It reflects many legacies, especially the cultural history of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, or Ojibwe.

The listing “recognizes and celebrates the lasting relationship” between Native Americans and Isle Royale and other nearby islands, said Seth DePasqual, the cultural resource manager at Isle Royale National Park. The Grand Portage Ojibwe have used the islands for many centuries.

Isle Royale has been a national park since 1945. In 1976, Congress set aside 99 percent of the main island as wilderness.

Jessica Leber: Hobby Naturalists

Yale E360:

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Amateur contributions to taxonomy are far from new — “Darwin wasn’t a professional,” notes David Pearson, an Arizona State University ecologist and beetle expert — but this work became the more exclusive domain of traditional academic and museum institutions in the 20th century. More recently, however, Pearson says the heyday of Darwin’s Victorian era — when amateur naturalists driven by their own curiosity helped dramatically expand the world’s biodiversity catalog — is having a comeback.

The data, though limited, support the trend. A 2012 study found new species of multicellular land and freshwater animals are being discovered at an “unprecedented rate” in supposedly well-explored Europe. Crucially, it found “non-professional” taxonomists were responsible for more than 60 percent of those new species descriptions from 1998 to 2007. In the ocean, it’s a similar story — 40 percent of first authors of recently identified marine mollusks have been so-called “amateurs.” Another paper by New Zealand researchers argued that because of these citizen scientists, as well as new tools to analyze species and online access to knowledge, “the field has never been stronger,” they write, despite a decline in funding for the formal profession.

Marc Devokaitis: Sharp-shinned Hawk in the Yard

Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

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Raptors—especially Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks—have become a familiar presence at urban and suburban feeders around North America. But it wasn’t always this way.

In a 2017 retrospective of Project FeederWatch results, we noted that Cooper’s Hawks increased their presence fourfold at FeederWatch sites over the past two decades. The agile accipiters occurred at just 6% of feeders in 1989, but by 2016 had increased to around 25% of feeders. Cooper’s Hawks have historically been thought of as a rural species, picking songbirds from branches in surprise attacks in the woodlands and forests. But one clear factor in the surge of FeederWatch reports has been their expansion into suburban and urban areas.

Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology took these results and went further, trying to find out what might be behind these increases.

Daniel McGraw: Lake Erie Bill of Rights

The Guardian:

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The citizens of Toledo, on the western basin of Lake Erie, will now be voting on a controversial legal bill on 26 February. What they will be deciding is whether Lake Erie has the same legal rights as a corporation or person.

There have been cities and townships in the United States that have passed ordinances making some types of polluting illegal, but no American city or state has changed the legality of nature in a way that is this big and this extensive – effectively giving personhood to a gigantic lake.

Called the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, it would grant personhood status to the lake, with the citizens being the guardians of the body of water. If passed, citizens could sue a polluter on behalf of the lake, and if the court finds the polluter guilty, the judge could impose penalties in the form of designated clean-ups and/or prevention programs.

“What has happened in Toledo is that we have lost our faith in the current mechanisms of power, and decided to take things into our own hands,” said Bryan Twitchell, a Toledo school teacher.

Erin Jordan: Iowa Commission Won't Set Lake Pollution Limits

The Gazette:

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The Iowa Environmental Protection Commission on Tuesday unanimously denied a petition asking the state to set pollution limits on Iowa lakes. The vote in Des Moines followed a presentation by the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Iowa Environmental Council, which jointly filed a petition for rule making. The groups argued numeric limits for water transparency, chlorophyll-a, total phosphorus and total nitrogen would better help the state protect lakes used for recreation and drinking water.

But the Iowa Department of Natural Resources recommended the commission deny the petition, saying numeric limits would result in costly changes and more federal regulation. The Law and Policy Center also asked for numeric limits in 2013, but the commission denied the petition then as well.

Interesting… aren’t there benefits of setting a pollution standard for a lake or a group of lakes?

Frances Cairncross: A Global Warming Solution is R&D and Phased In Carbon Tax

Anthropocene:

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The world is playing a rigged casino game. “Every year that we inject more CO2 into the atmosphere, we spin the planetary roulette wheel … and the more we continue increasing the emissions that warm the planet, the more the odds are stacked against a favorable outcome.”
So what’s the smartest way to play such a game? Or, more to the point: Is there a way to speed up a massive leap from dirty to clean energy sources that would otherwise take many decades?

A team led by MIT’s Daron Acemoglu has recently argued that the best way to replace carbon-based energy with noncarbon fuels might be to start off with a high level of government subsidies for research and development of clean technologies. (1) Over the course of half a century, these subsidies would be gradually withdrawn and a carbon tax introduced at rates that would build to a crescendo over a century or so before declining. The boost to R&D would speed up the switch to clean energy without cutting economic growth, as a carbon tax alone might do.

Thus the carbon tax would become an effective way to bring about the transition to clean technology only after enough R&D had been done to shift the incentives for innovation.

Kirsti Marohn: 'Forever' Chemicals in Groundwater

MPR:

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“We do know that these chemicals just don’t break down,” said Matt Simcik, a University of Minnesota professor who has done extensive research on PFAS. “So once we’ve made them, they’re around forever.” About 20 years ago, studies found that PFAS were showing up around the globe: in water, soil, wildlife and even in humans. Scientists are still studying the health effects of the chemicals, but research has linked prolonged exposure to PFAS to health problems including some cancers, thyroid disease and infertility.

”There’s strong evidence they have adverse biological effects,” said Bill Arnold, a University of Minnesota professor who has studied methods to remove PFAS from water. “The data isn’t 100 percent conclusive, but the prevailing wisdom is that it’s not good to have them in your bloodstream. And we all have them in our bloodstream.”

EPA's Forever Chemicals Plan

AP:

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Under pressure from Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday it would move toward setting safety limits for a class of highly toxic chemicals contaminating drinking water around the country. Environmentalists, congressional Democrats and state officials countered that the agency wasn’t moving fast enough.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler released an “action plan” for dealing with the long-lasting substances, which have been linked to health threats ranging from cancer to decreased fertility. The perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known collectively as PFAS, have turned up increasingly in public water systems and private wells.

Gavin Van Horn: Shagbark Thoughts

Center for Humans and Nature:

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Small places, small encounters. We start where we are, with what is available to us. An iridescent bird who has learned to seek bread from human hands is not a bad place to begin. Which reminds me of the wise words of writer and lepidopterist Robert Michael Pyle. There’s a moving chapter entitled “The Extinction of Experience” in Pyle’s memoir of childhood exploration, The Thunder Tree. There he notes that when people think of extinction, they often think of rare species—Javan rhinos and Bengal tigers. Animals that are large or furry, or a combination of both, draw the lion’s share of our attention. As important as big, charismatic species are, Pyle sets his sights on something closer to home. He expresses concern over a potentially more devastating loss, “the extinction of experience.” This type of extinction is more subtle, occurring at the scale of the neighborhood, and therefore less appreciated and harder to detect. Rarely is ink wasted on headlines about this type of extinction. One season a copper-colored butterfly flutters by, the next year it is gone, cool concrete substituted for purple coneflower.

These small disappearances could be characterized as lesser losses. After all, in Chicago there are the forest preserves, many miles of lakeshore, innumerable municipal parks. Even if we get to those places only once in a while, the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet or Nat Geo Wild allows the exotic to burst into our living rooms. For Pyle, this way of thinking reflects the slow erosion of intimacy with so-called throwaway landscapes.

Stephanie Hemphill: Farmers Reducing Phosphorus Runoff

ENSIA:

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Why exactly does Green Bay need saving? Because it suffers from too much phosphorus, which contributes to Cyanobacteria, more commonly known as blue-green algae. Around the world, these bacteria are turning water a disgusting shade of green and other colors, and producing poisons that can sicken people and kill animals. And when the algae die off they can rob oxygen from other life in the water, killing fish and other aquatic life.

Around Green Bay, several small streams carry excess nutrients from farm fields into the bay and eventually into Lake Michigan. One of them, Silver Creek, is the focus of a pilot project designed to answer a crucial question: Can farmers reduce their pollution enough to help the bay, while remaining profitable? The project lies within the boundaries of the Oneida reservation, and more than half the land is owned by the tribe, which leases a lot of land to non-tribal growers...

Five years in a pilot program isn’t much time to clean up a stream, but the ultimate goal of adaptive management is to bring Silver Creek up to the state’s water quality standard for phosphorus. NEW Water says the project has cost US$1 million dollars annually over the last four years. That’s a lot cheaper than US$100 million for a new treatment plant. And how well is it all working?

The project promises to provide extensive data about how well various agricultural practices work to reduce polluted farm runoff. The weekly samples from five monitors along Silver Creek provide baseline measurements from the year before the BMPs started. This is not as precise as more expensive continuous monitoring would be, but it offers more experimental rigor than most studies can provide.

Those five monitors continue to track water quality. So far, the results are mixed. In 2016, three of the monitors showed phosphorus reductions, one stayed essentially the same and one showed a slight increase. In 2017 the area was drenched with what felt like endless rainfall, soaking the fields and making them more vulnerable to runoff. The phosphorus numbers went up, but not to levels seen pre-BMPs. “I was very happy to see that even with a very wet year we never even approached the concentrations we saw before we started installing these best management practices,” NEW Water’s Erin Houghton says.