Marine Sanctuaries and the Future of Our Ocean

 

Johnston AtollJohnston Atoll National Wildlife (courtesy Jim Maragos/USFWS)

On Tuesday, President Obama announced his proposal to expand a marine sanctuary in the Pacific Ocean, a move that could double all of the world’s protected ocean.

By using his executive authority to add protected areas to the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, the President intends to create the world’s largest marine sanctuary in a threatened expanse of the south-central Pacific Ocean. According to The Washington Post, the existing protected areas in the monument may be enlarged by nearly 700,000 square miles. The plan will not be finalized before the White House consults with outside groups, including environmentalists and the fishing industry.

“The Pacific Remote Islands Monument is an important part of the most widespread collection of marine life on the planet under a single country's jurisdiction,” describes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The monument includes seven small islands controlled by the U.S. and some of the most diverse coral reefs in the central Pacific. Protections would extend 200 miles offshore of each of the islands, blocking fishing and other tampering activities in these pristine ecosystems.

Many endangered species of fish, crustaceans, turtles, and marine mammals in need of protection exist in this unique ecosystem. It is only the latest of the President’s efforts to safeguard natural environments, though his first major step for marine conservation.

Continue reading "Marine Sanctuaries and the Future of Our Ocean" »

Congaree National Park Adds New Wilderness

Congaree national parkPhoto courtesy Mark Kinzer

On May 29th, the National Park Service designated 6,690 acres in South Carolina’s Congaree National Park as protected wilderness. This is only the second time since 2009 that any new wilderness has been designated anywhere in the country. The first time was Congress’s protection of Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes wilderness in March of this year.

Generally, only Congress has the power to create wilderness areas but in this case, under a special law, the administration was given that authority.  

Credit for this great news about Congaree is given to the work of the National Park Service. In his State of the Union address earlier this year, the President said that in the face of Congressional inaction, he would act to protect public lands. This action is one more example of the administration acting on that promise.

Located southeast of Columbia, SC, Congaree features the largest old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern U.S. The Congaree River, Wateree River, and some smaller tributaries converge in the park and flow through the floodplain, making the region a depository for nutrients that allows nearly 90 species of trees to flourish abundantly in the region.

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Kick Nature-Deficit Disorder to the Curb: Celebrating Great Outdoors Month

NM hike

Just for kicks, I googled fear of outside this morning. My search turned up 187 million results. For comparison's sake, I then googled fear of death and fear of the unknown, fears I thought were fairly common. To my surprise, there were only 84.7 and 73.5 million hits, respectively, and when combined, still fewer results than my first search. While the findings of my quick internet inquiry will probably never hit the annals of any reputable science journal, there is a growing body of evidence that America is becoming increasingly sedentary and spending a lot of time indoors (you can find the facts on the Children & Nature Network's site).

June is Great Outdoors Month, and there is no better time to kick Nature-Deficit Disorder to the curb. So, let me share ten ways to get outside and celebrate the outdoors this month.

Continue reading "Kick Nature-Deficit Disorder to the Curb: Celebrating Great Outdoors Month " »

Obama's Gift to Us in the Land of Enchantment

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell - Photo by Meghan KissellOn Wednesday, May 21, President Obama gave a gift to all Americans, proclaiming nearly 500,000 acres of the Organ Mountains- Desert Peaks range as our nation's newest national monument.  Home to wildlife, cultural and historical treasures, the Organ Mountains tower 9,000 feet tall just east of the southern New Mexico town of Las Cruces.  This unique natural treasure is now permanently protected thanks to more than ten years of hard work by the people of Las Cruces joining with groups such as the Sierra Club.

Last Friday, I joined the Las Cruces community to host Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell on a high school field with the Organ Mountains as a backdrop. I was struck by the great diversity of supporters in the crowd of over 700. Tribal and religious leaders, local business owners, ranchers, farmers, hunters, backcountry horsemen, Sierra Club volunteers, elected officials, local artists…this is the embodiment of land conservation in the twenty-first century.

Our public lands get protected when people are brought together by their common love for a place that embodies their community's pride and identity. State and federal public servants are valuable partners in a common cause to steward our lands, water, and wildlife. Creating strong community-based efforts to protect special places makes old land-use conflicts melt away.

The President has now designated eleven new national monuments, totaling over 750,000 acres of priceless historic, cultural and ecological treasures. Over the remainder of his Presidency, he can designate another four million acres of our nation's most breathtaking landscapes as national monuments.  Places such as the Boulder White Clouds in Northern Idaho, Berryessa-Snow Mountain in Northern California, and public lands surrounding Canyonlands and Grand Canyon National Parks in Utah and Arizona. Each of these places has strong support by diverse coalitions of community leaders and is ready for new monument designations.

Our national monuments, national parks, wilderness, and other federally-protected public lands are places where we come together as a nation, to share experiences, forge new friendships, and reaffirm our connection to the great outdoors.  President Obama couldn't have said it any better when he signed the proclamation for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, "I have protected millions of acres of public lands…and I am not done yet!" 

TAKE ACTION: Join me in thanking President Obama and Secretary Jewell!

-- Dan Chu, director of the Sierra Club Our Wild America campaign

Illegal Utah ATV ride underscores need for protecting public lands

Atv.jpg.662x0_q100_crop-scaleThis weekend a group of protestors embarked on an illegal All-Terrain-Vehicle ride through Utah's Recapture Canyon. The event was billed as the next showdown in a series of challenges to our public lands and government, a sort of continuation of the failed Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s and 80s.   

As with the situation with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy (who owes the federal government more than $1 million in grazing fees - fees that all the other ranchers in the area pay), protesters conveniently ignored the fact that access is actually allowed in the canyon, just not with motorized means in part because two men created an illegal recreational vehicle trail through the canyon, destroying Native American artifacts and sacred sites in the canyon.

While the protesters' intent may have been to take a stand against federally managed public lands, the event actually served to underscore the need for protecting our country's cultural and natural treasures on public lands.
 
Our public lands belong to all of us. We all share a responsibility to protect these lands for their great beauty and rich history. Every American is part owner of our national parks, national monuments, and other public lands - including Recapture Canyon. They are managed so that everyone can share use and access in different ways. Yet this weekend, the irresponsible actions of the anti-public lands protesters prevented a group of veterans and Navajo faith leaders from participating in a healing event sponsored by the Sierra Club and the Bureau of Land Management in Recapture Canyon. These illegal protesters infringed on the rights of other Americans who legally own and use our public lands - in this case on the rights of those who have fought to defend places like this.   

Despite the rhetoric, breaking the law and crushing important archeological and cultural sites is not patriotic. Ask the veterans who were supposed to be a part of the healing ceremony; they know about patriotism.

The true motivation for much of the effort to "take back" public lands is not actually a love of country, but a love of money and the real force behind selling off our public lands is not the Cliven Bundys of the world, but well-funded, big industry like oil, gas and coal. Behind their populist message is the truth that the only access these special interests really care about is their own.

Efforts to seize federal public lands and lease or sell them to the highest bidder, both locally and in Congress, are not at their heart about improving the visitor experience, but about avoiding environmental protections that would prevent damaging mining, drilling, fracking, and logging. And while a handful of private corporations would benefit from exploiting our public resources, Americans would pay the cost in lost recreation opportunities, degraded water and air quality, and the forfeit of a sustainable outdoor economy. Simply put, a few gain a lot and everyone else loses.

We cannot allow special interests to usurp our public lands under the guise of patriotism and states' rights. America's public lands are some of our country's greatest attributes and are a vital part of both our history and our future. We should not allow special interests to run roughshod over the uniquely American idea of holding places in trust for all Americans. We should all be able to explore, enjoy and pass on to our children the public lands that are our shared heritage.

-- Dan Chu, Director of the Sierra Club's Our Wild America Campaign. Note: Above photo is a stock image of an ATV, not an image from the illegal protest.

The National Climate Assessment and Our Arctic Future

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We all remember being a kid and playing connect the dots. As adults we can connect the dots on climate change in the Arctic, and when we do we can see a pretty bleak picture taking shape.  A new piece of that picture came into focus today with the release of the National Climate Assessment, the nation's foremost comprehensive, peer-reviewed analysis of the impacts of climate disruption, which tells us that climate change is happening now and it is primarily caused by human activities. The report also draws the link between climate change and extreme weather and the threats to human health, infrastructure and potential impacts to wildlife across the country.

This is just the most recent dot in a picture that started to take shape on March 24, when with little fan-fare and little notice from anyone except polar bears, specialized scientists, and total Arctic nerds -- the Arctic sea ice hit its annual maximum extent and began melting; where it will stop nobody knows. This year was the 5th smallest maximum sea ice recorded extent, another low in the recent string of record setting ice minimums. Taken together with the shrinking thickness of the ice, the story is even more alarming. More than half of the Arctic sea ice has vanished over the past 30 years. 

As the sea ice melt began, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report examining the impacts climate change has on our current and future environment and what we must do to prepare. The report found that climate disruption is already occurring on every continent and in every ocean. Our leading scientists are telling us that we must act now to avoid the worst effects of climate disruption.

Continue reading "The National Climate Assessment and Our Arctic Future" »

House attempts (once again) to thwart the ESA

Wood_Bison                                                                                      Wood Bison, photo courtesy of USFWS

The House Committee on Natural Resources met earlier this week to markup several bills that would obstruct the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  HR 4315, HR 4316, HR 4317 and HR 4318 were proposed by Chairman Doc Hastings, Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis, Congressman Neugebauer, and Congressman Huizenga, respectively, and  make what they claim are “smart and sensible” updates to ESA, making the scientific and the legal aspects more transparent to the public. Unfortunately, the actual verbiage of these bills relays a much more nefarious effect.

The four bills fit into two sections, the first dictates operational rules on the scientific reports used for ESA assessments, and the second applies restrictions to citizen enforcement of ESA. These proposed bills strip away not only the credibility of the research community, but they also greatly reduce citizens’ right to seek counsel and petition. Congressmen DeFazio openly critiqued the package of bills, “[it’s] so absurd on its face I don’t even know why we’re considering this!” where Congressman Lummis argued that ESA has been invalidated for years.

So what about this reform is so absurd, if they’re meant to be “common sense” bills?

HR 4315 and HR 4317 would require U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service to post online what is defined by Congress as “the best available science.” While Sierra Club is a longtime advocate of using the best available science, the crippling effects of this mandate are twofold. This process would overburden the resources of all four agencies; and thereby waste taxpayer money and overextend agency resources. Where Section 6 of ESA includes the participation of the states, this bill elevates all state provided research as the “best available;” giving way for duplicative and inferior research to inundate the agencies. 

New Jersey Congressman Holt’s response to this bill was poignant, “Surely we don’t think that the members of Congress are better at evaluating the best available science than actual scientists…”  (Said humbly by the committee’s only physicist.)  The combination of these bills would undermine the quality of scientific research that agencies use to implement ESA, as well exhaust the agencies with excessive regulations.

The second set of bills, HR 4316 and HR 4318, would dismantle the ability of citizens to seek counsel by limiting the award given to successful litigants; this would stall the effective ESA litigation by requiring each and every cost associated with law suits be cataloged and published.  Here, Congressman Huffman pointed out that ESA suits make up barely 1.9% of all litigation and that these bills are based on the fabricated myth that these types of suits pad the wallets of environmental agencies and organizations.

Now what exactly is common sense about adding cumbersome regulations for multiple institutions? Which wastes more taxpayers’ dollars: the litigation fees or heavy expenditure of agency resources? Although these bills passed the House Committee, they, like so many Endangered Species Act reforms bills before them, will only be ignored and abandoned by the Senate. Thus, the ESA will be allowed to thrive as the one of the nation’s most effective environmental protection laws. 

--Lauren van Vliet, Federal Policy Public Lands intern

After a Spill: Conclusions and the future

This is part five of a five part series on the dirty legacy of offshore drilling. Read parts one, two, three and four.

Ehler 12-33

BP’s early commitment to accountability has shifted to one of affordability.  Entire ecosystems and the organisms that inhabit them have been irreparably damaged by the worst environmental disaster in the history of the US on the company’s watch. BP has now been reauthorized to bid on leases in the Gulf of Mexico, with settlements still pending and the long term effects of Deepwater Horizon still unknown. This decision is premature; BP has not proven that it will be a responsible contractor. If anything, the opposite is true. BP has just been involved with another spill in Whiting, Indiana that endangered the drinking water of millions of people. Although the spill was tiny in comparison to Deepwater Horizon, it is a spill nonetheless and BP recently spent over $4 billion to overhaul the Whiting facility to process heavy Canadian tar sands oil. BP should know better than anyone the risks of oil spills and their efforts to prevent them, such as the Whiting renovation, do not seem to be working.

Continue reading "After a Spill: Conclusions and the future " »

After a Spill: Ongoing Spill Costs

This is part four of a five part series on the dirty legacy of offshore drilling. Read parts one, two, and three.

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The damage of oil spills is not up for debate—ask anyone who has dealt with a spill first hand. Despite the high costs of post-spill cleanup, oil is still polluting our beaches and poisoning coastal wildlife. Exxon Mobile spent approximately $2.1 billion dollars on their unsuccessful cleanup efforts, yet remains of oil are expected to remain for centuries. Additionally, Exxon may have to provide further compensation under Senate Joint Resolution 25, which was proposed on March 24, 2014. The resolution asks state and federal governments to consider filing a motion to compel ExxonMobil to pay additional damages based upon the reopener provision from the 1991 settlement.

Continue reading "After a Spill: Ongoing Spill Costs " »

After a Spill: Oil Soaked Animals

This is part three of a five part series on the dirty legacy of offshore drilling. Read parts one and two.

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BP has painted spills as fixable, running commercials showing volunteers cleaning oiled birds with Dawn Soap. Although it’s nice to think we can undo the damage done to animal populations, the reality of a spill is much bleaker.

When asked to estimate the number of wildlife damaged by the Exxon Valdez spill, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council is unable to give an estimate, saying simply “no one knows.” The best estimate for wildlife deaths are as follows: upwards of 250,000 sea birds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, 22 killer whales, and billions of salmon and herring eggs. Many of the species damaged by the initial spill are still reported as recovering by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council over twenty years later. The above are considered low estimations for the immense amount of deaths caused by the spill. Killer whale researchers monitoring two distinct pods in Prince William Sound before and after the spill have seen the devastating effects of oil on the whale populations. Thirteen out of thirty-five killer whales in the resident pod died after the spill and the population still hasn’t rebounded. Even worse off is the transient pod, the Chugach transients, who due to their status as top predator “accumulate contaminants from everything below them. High levels of PCBs and DDT in their blubber may be causing reproductive problems: The Chugach transients haven't birthed a single surviving calf since 1984.” Twenty five years with no successful offspring is a devastating reality for Alaskan killer whales and extinction is a possibility for a pod that has lived in the area for thousands of years. The extreme disruption caused by the spill continues to affect animal populations as well as local biodiversity and human industry today—despite twenty five years of active monitoring and clean up.

Continue reading "After a Spill: Oil Soaked Animals" »


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