January 27, 2013

Everglades Restoration Project Pt. 3: Restoring the Flow

So when last we left this story, I believe we were discussing how they were a makin' improvements on the edges, kind of cleaning things up, like a surgical tech prepping the patient, cleaning up little, and not so little odds and ends created by 100 or so years of American habitation of the Florida Peninsula (that's all it took to screw it up.. industrious people, Flagler and them!).. but you young kids, you whipper-snappers, who haven't been waiting 60 years for a drink of fresh water like us old alligator types. We know how to just lull ourselves and sit in the sun and not eat for a year or so, but you kids want satisfaction, you want to know about the big show, the big problem, you rush right in..well, I gotto admire that.. you kids got guts.. you realize that unless the flow is restored, the icon of the Everglades, Everglades National Park, is gunna shrivel up, succumb to nitrogen overload and invasive species onslaughts, world sea level rise, and, well, won't be much left to see..
Now a tourist might not know the difference.. to them, brown grass is well, brown grass, and a gator can survive just about anything, but it's the million subtle differences we are talking about, Okeechobee being almost dry, and the 'glades themselves being just about dry as well.. what to do, what to do..

January 26, 2013

Move 16 (Million) Tons...: The Shrinking of the Moab Tailings Pile

Merle Travis might have written it:

Paul Robson might have done it best:
Here's a mining themed version some guy did:
Hell, the Red Army Choir gave it a try:

but no one is doing it quite like the Department of Energy, UMTRA, and Portage Inc. of Idaho are in Moab, Utah right now, times a million, about 5000 tons a day worth..
What the heck am I talking about? None other than the Moab Tailing's Pile, the byproduct of some 30 years of Uranium Mining, that currently sits in the flood plain of the Colorado River next to one of Utah's biggest tourist destination hubs.

January 25, 2013

A Cougar Addendum: Self Reintroduction to Alaska

As we are learning, or perhaps you learned long ago, the story of the environment and man, and the idea of an ideal state of nature influenced or uninfluenced by man, is a bit of a complicated question.... there is not only science involved here but philosophy.. this is a short entry however, so I will try to cut to the chase..
The Cougar is introducing it's self, or reintroducing it's self, to Alaska..
Whether to chalk this up to Hope or Fear is a matter of question, but I'm going to toss it in the Hope category.
Reason why it might belong in fear: Global warming might be making previously inhospitable territory hospitable, but I kind of don't buy that in this situation because the lands of South East Alaska, where they are most likely to live, haven't changed that much.. what a solid land it is... amongst the most beautiful places in the world I might add.. to see the Lynn Canal or perhaps gaze across Frederick Sound from Mitkoff Island with whales breaching is to behold something special.

The Jordananian De-Sal Canal that will fill the Dead Sea back up..

So I love the Ol' USA, but my posts lately have gotten a bit domestic... Us Americans, we can be a bit self involved.. put 20 guys on the moon, create the Super Bowl and Southern Bar BQ, and all the sudden the rest of the world don't exist. We do fix problems when we get around to it, and our true freedom of the press, with a few warts through it may have, and our love for the Internets, this system of tubes, makes for easy blogging about just about any endangered hog nose snail, and boondoggle public works to fix a problem we never should have had in the first place under the sun.. Believe me, I understand.. but I do want to bring in some exotic elements here..
The world is a big place, and as we are learning more and more, it's environmental problems are interconnected, so I feel a need to write about a piece of potential hope someplace else, someplace exotic, someplace complicated.. and I'm not sure it gets any more complicated than the Middle East. Although Jordan is a relatively uncontentious little place, so this story might be kind of cut and dry, and well, distantly hopeful after all.. but ah the setting, what a complex pile of sand it is...ah, Israel, The West Bank, the Dead Sea, lowest place on Earth, extension of the Great Rift Valley, but if the Rift Valley was the Cradle of Human life, than the areas around the Dead Sea do kind of compete for being the cradle of Human Contention.. but nature is neutral to all that, nature either has no opinions, or just kind of wants to survive... we project almost everything else onto it, from needs to value, but it's fair to say that given that, the Dead Sea is kind of a cool place.. well, not cool, it's pretty damn hot.. lemme see.. Dead Sea Weather Report...
well, that's kind of it, but this is a bit more specific.. congrats on the record by the way, Middle East!
So all other problems aside, the Dead Sea, a bit like the Aral Sea now famously, is shrinking, rapidly, and it's not a natural occurrence..

January 16, 2013

Close to the end of the Era of DDT? Bald Eagles brought to term on Catalina Island

Bald Eagles are spreading back over their original range again in a way that is making a lot of people happy, myself included. They are majestic, but I might agree with Ben Franklin about the Turkey, they are a bit smarter, in fact, more than a bit smarter:

but nothing quite says 'America Kicks Ass! like a baldie... but having watched 14 of them hang out on a truck full of fish nets in Dutch Harbor once, I can't argue they serve for stimulating conversation. Sadly, I think Jim Henson's Sam the Eagle got the personality pretty right..

National Symbolism aside, I doubt I need to explain to many readers the story of DDT, Rachel Carson and Silent Spring, and how thin eggshells, which caused massive moralities in recently laid eggs, nearly wiped away birds of prey from the Lower 48 and perhaps many other places on earth..
One of the footnotes to the global impact of DDT was that a company that manufactured it, perhaps 'the' company that manufactured it, Montrose Chemical Corporation, dumped tons of the pesticide into a drainage ditch near it's factory in Torrence, Los Angeles County, LA to dispose of it, (interestingly right next to a neighborhood called Carson, bringing to mind Rachel Carson). That ditch appeared to drain into something called the Dominguez Channel, what serves as kind of over engineered 'river' for this area if you could call it that, and the Dominguez canal would find it's way into Long Beach Harbor.

 After a while they stopped this and just started pumping DDT into the sewage system, about a ton every 3 days, therefore tens of thousands of tons over decades, where it went uncleaned through the system, which usually exists to break down excrement, not complex chemicals, and out into the Pacific Ocean near Paloes Verdes, the Hill in the South West corner of Los Angeles with some pretty nice views of both the LA basin and the Pacific,if you don't think about what might have been in the water.
So how does this fairly commonplace tale of environmental ignorance from the Big Car Era lead to Hope!?
Well, I was once staying in Banning House Lodge, perhaps 2 years ago, the old house of the family that owned Catalina Island for quite a while, above Two Harbors, dodging buffalo on my walks around day and night, and in the office they had a monitor always displaying one of these web cams since the actual location happened to be just a few hundred yards out the window:
Now realize that Catalina is about as close to Paloes Verdes and Dominguez Channel as any self respecting eagle is going to setup shop. They need room to soar..they gotto be free baby.. they ain't pigeons. What makes this all significant and hopeful, is that up until about two years ago they were stealing the Eagle Chick Eggs to rear in an incubator so it would be free of DDT impacts, basically so the mom wouldn't crush it because it was assumed that she would be eating walrus carcass or seal or what have you, and it's fat especially would be contaminated with the tons of DDT that Montrose dumped 70-30 years ago as they flap around the local waters, and she would sit on the shells to warm them and they would get crushed, which had been the trend for this long Silent Spring. But about 5 years or so ago, they decided to leave the eggs be, and lo and behold, they survived...
Vigilance is the eternal price of freedom perhaps, but this is a pretty good sign that despite all the environmental challenges ahead of us, perhaps the DDT problem is slowly fading into the rear view mirror..

Cougar, Puma, Mountain Lion, Catamount, Panther.. call it what you want, but they are at the Mississippi River and moving east!

Hard not to love a Mountain Lion.. for one, they eat people on occasion.. puts a little legitimate stress back in life.. something to worry about other than that text you haven't received yet..
The official line from various state agencies and the US Department of Interior is that they haven't moved east of the Mississippi River, with the exception of the isolated Florida Panther with one or two famous exceptions:
I have had friends knowledgeable about the outdoors give me pretty reliable stories of sightings in Vermont, South Carolina and Tennessee. Most recently I was told of game camera photos taken of them in North West Indiana. Maybe it's just young males looking for a good time, but they are in the east, have no doubt.

Beaver Reintroduction to Scotland, and Much of Europe it turns out..

In the 16th Century, the last of the Beavers of Scotland were killed, and it appears that as early as 1188 there weren't many left in the whole of the British Isles.
They make a nice hat, so I can understand why.

Well, after a 200-400 year absence depending upon whom you talk to.. still, murky waters have returned a bit of reserve and mystery to the British Isles. My research of the Scottish project, the first one I heard about and the one that intrigued me the most for some reason, has shown some success. Beavers as as common as mice in some areas of the US, we take them for granted, so I picture Willie the Scottish Janitor from The Simpsons wranglign with one like Bill Murray's Carl Spackler in Caddyshack. The Project, likned to below, counts 24 living individuals as I write in January 2013, out of an introduced population of 16, and it appears a nearby river has somehow been miraculously repopulated on it's own so that they are deciding to expand their study to observe there as well (could be amateur reintroduces, escaped pet's, or stream hating eco terrorists!). The population there is estimated at 150, so we are climbing towards 200 all told...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_Tay They tried to capture them for a while, but gave up.
This accidental or not reintroduction on the River Tay is actually way ahead of the official reintroduction project.

January 15, 2013

My OSearch (OCearch ?) Addiction

So sometimes hope can come from just information... knowing something about the natural world we didn't know always kind of pleases us, gives us a boost.. adds not only to some primordial part of our brain that thinks it might want the info for survival someday, but also it fits like a puzzle piece in our understanding of our surroundings, as our frontal lobe takes pleasure in understanding the complexity of the world around us... but what if the info involves Great White Sharks, the beleaguered North Atlantic Ocean, and menaced beaches!!!!!?
Triple Bonus Points!!
A brain swimming in primordial, I mean super fish brain stem primordial AND intellectual satisfaction!
Let me introduce the Southern California Discovery Channel Adolescent Dude Explosion Shark Extravaganza that is actually science, featuring two women who definitely get around, Mary Lee and Genie (can anyone say Gilligan's Island meets Happy Days meets I Dream of Genie, all your Orange County Adolescent dreams come true!?), plus some hot South Africans as well, known as OSearch (cue the JAWS theme):

Blissfully Hanging On: the Atlantic Right Whale

The Right Whale as a Family of Species is doing well given the events of the last two centuries, but that's due to the healthy recovery of just one of it's five species, the Eubalena Australis, or Southern Right whale. The other three or four species, are well, sadly, in the toilet, although there is hope on at least one side of each remaining ocean that they inhabit, the Atlantic and Pacific. As they have found with Great White Sharks recently, which a are single species that have multiple migration areas that can lead to what might be a sub species with the shark, but with the right whales are considered a separate species, due to a differentiation that has occurred with the evolutions of the groups in the different migration areas over time. With the whites, they found that in fact, the ones off the coast of California have different patterns and habits than the ones off South Africa, which are likely the two best studied groups. They breed in different places, have different feeding grounds, and migrations and migrations times, it's not just one massive roaming population. Why I am discussing Great Whites in a post about Right Whales will become more obvious in a later post, but for now I hope the example makes sense. The five populations of Right Whales don't all have to survive for the family to survive, but it would be pretty hard to haul 200 Right Whales up from Antarctica and expect them to learn now to live off the coast of Alaska or Nova Scotia. They are actually different species, and the ideal is for each species to survive.
They were the 'Right Whales' to hunt, for they had ample supplies of Whale Oil to light the lamps of the world stored in their bulbous heads and blubber before Thomas Edison took mercy on them and started harnessing electricity. Before offshore whaling got big at the beginning of the 1800's, there were multiple independent migrations around the world, there were many around the arctic, and then there was from what I can tell an eastern and western Pacific migration, and an eastern and western Atlantic migration. They have been seen in the Mediterranian as well. So 5 distinct populations and i guess species all told, if not more. Since this blog is supposed to be an upper and not a downer, I will focus on the fact that three of the populations still exist, and one is doing quite fine, down in the southern oceans. I once sat in of all places a bathtub on the South Coast of South Africa and watched them breach and play for hours on end. The Western Pacific is hanging on well enough to be survive but have a future very much in doubt, population perhaps 200,mostly in the Sea of Okhost but not heavily researched, but the Western Atlantic population, which likes to Jet Set between the Georgia-Florida Coastal Areas for breeding, then back North again to the seas from New York north to it appears to Nova Scotia for summer feeding, mostly from Cape Cod North, has a population just hanging on, but the good news is that it is slowly but surely increasing...
Reading these entries you can see that it is a tough slow increase.They estimate that they birth about 20 per summer, and about half the moralities are due to Human Factors.. fishing nets, ship strikes, noise from sonar, and global warming and overfishing likely have had an impact, like in the summer of 2010. But if you notice, as of this summer, the population, like a man climbing back over the edge of a cliff, is slowly rising. They claim that in August of 2012 there were 396 individuals, up from 361 in 2005.. so that's not a huge appreciation, 35 individuals, about a 10% increase over 7 years, In 1935 I just read, there were only 100 thought to exist, so progress indeed, and progress in a place not many people associate with wilderness, the North Atlantic, which is more famous for World War Two battles and Shipwrecked Cruise Liners than for it's biodiversity, which is hanging by a thread due to honestly almost exclusively the pressures of being surrounded by some of the worlds largest population densities, who have the cash and the know how to fish offshore, and have for now hundreds of years.. but it's improvement, and I'm no geneticist, but I would argue that it's also likely enough to preserve the species.
NOAA and the USFWS have stepped in to do all it can on behalf of the American Government. Shipping lanes have been established to protect the whales, especially around Boston Harbor,and there is even an IPad app you can download to see where collisions might occur due to a warning system they have created.
That whale on the Bulbous Bow in the photo from the above link appears to be a fin whale that was brought into Baltimore Harbor on a container ship.. they are less endangered, so don't worry too much:
There does not seem to be an independent advocacy group for the right whale, just the government and the general groups like the World Wildlife Fund, wait, I take that back, the New England Aquarium seems to take a lead in research up north, and down south there are some advocacy groups as well.
They keep a blog and seem to be constantly doing something:
So for now, what can be done is to let NOAA do it's work, try to keep the boats and the nets from killing them, hold your breath, let em get it on, and watch the population grow... slowly...

The Expansion of Wind's Power

Somehow Windmills have become the poster child of the Green Revolution..

they are, well, pretty in the abstract, and in person, kind of impressive, form follows function, and they are somehow calming, and like a wind chime, cooling, and they are popping up in large installations it seems just about everywhere (except for the coast of California, but for once I will try not to be grumpy)..the biggest onshore I can find is 5 Gigawatts of potential in north west China, and another in the North Sea might hit 9 Gigawatts.
I can name a few spots I have seen them in my travels. The old famous Farms were the highways east of San Francisco and LA, on 580 and I-10, Altamont and San Gorgonio Pass respectively (the latter also the home of the giant dinosaurs at the truck stop in Pee Wee's Big Adventure, which I know is more important to you than anything that follows). These installations are somehow a vestige of the first Obama administration, known to many as the Carter Administration (or maybe the third Wilson Administration perhaps..), since it was the environmental movement of the 70's that laid the seeds of today's progress, but they lay dormant in some ways for years as we kind of cleaned up many a mess from our wild industrial times before we could step it up to move forward as we are now.

Beasts of the Southern Wild: Recovery With The Last Remaining Southern Red Wolves

The South is no longer known for it's savagery.. it's a kind of gentlemanly thing now, modernized.. a bit red neck, a bit hillbilly, a bit yuppie, and a bit kind of 'fat bald guy in a pick up with his Oakley's on' kind of 'Atlanta NASCAR Military Suburban', the kind of guy you might feel like you would agree with about nothing,
 but he's got a sense of humor, and you deep down inside kind of appreciate he is your countryman.

California Condor: 400 and counting..

Never seen one, but I know how important they are. I think they are the biggest bird in North America, and what I guess I would describe as the Apex Scavenger of the American West. Debates continue as to how far East and North they might have ventured,but from Oregon to Texas and all along California and down into Baja and perhaps even Sonora and beyond they soared.
They are huge, 9 foot wingspan. I have seen an Andean Condor, the biggest bird in the world with up to 10.5 ft wingspan, and all I could think to compare it to was a C-5 transport plane as it flew towards me, impossibly large... They are basically huge buzzards, the things look like something out of Spielberg's Dark Crystal, or like an animal caricature of the long lean faces of the old Indian groups from the same areas, like an old man from the Tarahumara in Mexico.
This tells the story better than I could. DDT was the problem, and they are susceptible to lead poisoning as well, which is a second major human cause of premature fatalities, since they often feast on carrion that has bullets or lead shotgun pellets embedded in it..They scooped up every remaining one in the wild they could about 25 years ago, the 20 or so remaining pairs, and started breeding. Their mating got all the attention of European Royalties for a while.
The Plan, with players like the USFWS, NPS; San Diego Zoo, Ventana Wildlife Society, and now the Mexican National Commission for Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) and SEMARNAT, the Mexican equivalent of an EPA, was to breed the remaining ones and try to increase numbers, then release them into the wild again as it became possible

January 10, 2013

Everglades Restoration Project Pt. 2: Change Around the Edges

The essential problem in the South Florida Water Management District, or less bureaucratically, the huge watershed that is South Florida, is that it used to be a huge shallow slick of fresh water that ran unabated for more than half the length of the Florida Peninsula, from the Kissimmee Lakes near Orlando, all the way to the sloughs and shallows in what is now Everglades National Park. The Everglades were, well, ever-glades, a glade that went on forever, 4,000 square miles.
Man's ingenuity changed all that. After a flood caused by a hurricane in 1938 I believe, and the demands of road building, agriculture and population increase after Henry Flagler's railroad started to bring Americans into the sub tropics, they set about controlling this water for farming, flood control, and accidentally by road building, in some profound ways. Canals were built for every reason imaginable, 1400 miles of them and their buddies, levees and water control devices, according to Wikipedia, and the ecosystem was brought to it's knees, albeit in ways you had to pay attention to see, since it was hard to notice going by at 75 mph on Alligator Alley.

Everglades Restoration Project Pt. 1: Introduction

Anyone who has been to South Florida and knows anything about environmental science (or civilization for that matter) likely has one word that comes to mind to describe it:

I spent enough time in Florida to need hope, since there is very little of it there. I also spent enough time there to never want to go back, but like en ex girlfriend with no soul, I still stalk her sometimes on the Internet, because there were occasional good times, improbably but somehow.

Panama Canal Expansion Project

Due to be done in a few years, and for a while ahead of schedule (no longer at last check), this promises to save a bunch of carbon, and the new gates are more efficient water-wise than the old ones, allowing for less impact on the ecosystem of the Canal Zone, well less than would have happened with the same gate system as the old gates (100 years and ticking!).
the one knock against this, unless you get anarchistic, is that it could have been done with a railroad system, but that might have been even more destructive, as panama would have had to build a huge port on it's pacific side, plus a huge container yard, which might have been more of an eyesore and an environmental catastrophe than just this big construction project.


The news about Global Warming is depressing, worse than people realize, and sadly true. I have a friend who is a Government glaciologist, and he once, after a beer or two, decided to tell me how much time was left for a few major ice caps we knew.. it's a bit sad.. add to this the 150 years of environmental degradation from industrialization and population growth we are healing from, like a post party house cleanup, so I needed uppers, and I found a few good projects around the world to give me hope,which I sometimes check like expats check the sports scores back home... Like the cheesy line that Robert Plant somehow could pull off in introducing Stairway to Heaven on The Song Remains the Same: This is a Song of Hope...