You Will Be Eaten By a Bear

If yer one of them huntin’ folks up there in Wyoming or Montana – y’know, Republican, an’ thinkin’ climate change is a myth – best listen up.

You will be eaten by a bear.
A grizzly bear.
A six-foot-tall, 600-pound grizzly bear.

The bears are hungry.

See, grizzlies up in Yellowstone eat the nuts of whitebark pine cones. Trouble is, there aren’t as many whitebark pines. That’s because of the beetles. There’s been a huge beetle infestation of the Yellowstone whitebark pine – 70% of the trees have been decimated. And that’s because the ground’s not freezing as much to keep the beetles at bay. And that’s because of global warming.

“Every year is now a bad year for whitebark pine,” said Louisa Wilcox with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We can expect more conflicts and we are getting it.”

The bears are comin’ down the mountain an’ eatin’ livestock.

“Right now every god-dang dead cow down in this country’s got grizzlies on them,” said Mark Bruscino, a bear specialist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in Cody. “We’ve already had a couple of reports of bears on the gut piles of hunter-killed elk. Road-killed deer have bears on them.” (Quotes via the Associated Press.)

An’ when they ain’t got no roadkill to eat, they’ll go with human carpaccio. Two people done gone an’ been killed by grizzlies so far this year, the most in a century. But those ain’t related to no whitebark pines. Ain’t the time of year yet. But it will be soon, as autumn arrives. So watch out, folks. Global warming could kill you sooner than you think.

Read more at the AP [H/T John Emerson]

Go Ahead, it’s your Earth Day

It’s kind of a silly holiday to our minds, especially when the New York Times – of all the things it could report – concentrates on the fact that at 40, Earth Day has reached its middle age and is focusing on making a profit.

“This ridiculous perverted marketing has cheapened the concept of what is really green,” said Denis Hayes, who was national coordinator of the first Earth Day and is returning to organize this year’s activities in Washington. “It is tragic.”

Do us a favor. Keep away from the tribal drum circles, forget about the Earth Day Brand green plushie tree-frogs, and don’t feel deliriously enthusiastic that PepsiCo is installing recycling kiosks around Manhattan for its plastic bottles. We’ve now got an Atlantic plastic vortex to compete with the Pacific version.

No, what we want you to do this Earth Day is rummage in your sock drawer, get your loose change together, and invest in something like wind turbines. That’s the economics of Earth Day we want to see.

Our Vanishing Wilderness: Now Online

40 years ago, a small crew of filmmakers set out to document some of the more pressing issues involving wildlife in America. They made eight half-hour films around the country–it ended up being the first environmental tv series in the US. Shot in 1969, the issues weren’t new, but hadn’t been handled much yet on television–the medium had yet to embrace the environmental movement.

‘Our Vanishing Wilderness’ was a landmark program for National Educational Television and public broadcasting (pre-PBS). The material in it pre-dates the first Earth Day, but definitely reflects the nation’s growing interest at the time in pollution and environmental issues. All eight episodes are available online here.

Leave That Poor Mountain Alone!

Renee Schoof writes for McClatchy

The consequences of this mining in eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and southwestern Virginia are “”pervasive and irreversible,” the article finds. Companies are required by law to take steps to reduce the damages, but their efforts don’t compensate for lost streams nor do they prevent lasting water pollution, it says.

The article is a summary of recent scientific studies of the consequences of blasting the tops off mountains to obtain coal and dumping the excess rock into streams in valleys. The authors also studied new water-quality data from West Virginia streams and found that mining polluted them, reducing their biological health and diversity.

Surprisingly little attention has been paid to this growing scientific evidence of the damages, they wrote, adding: “Regulators should no longer ignore rigorous science.”

New permits shouldn’t be granted, they argued, “unless new methods can be subjected to rigorous peer review and shown to remedy these problems.”

The Science article cites a number of potential health risks from removing mountaintops and filling in valleys, including contaminated well water, toxic dust and fish that are tainted with the chemical selenium. It also looked at environmental damage to the mining and fill areas and to streams below them, the reasons that forests are difficult to re-establish on mined areas and increased risks of downstream flooding.

“The reason we’re willing to make a policy recommendation is that the evidence is so clear-cut,” said Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland, the lead author of the Science study and a specialist on the ecology of streams. Her co-authors were experts on chemistry, biology, engineering and health from Duke University, West Virginia University and other institutions.

Palmer said she started studying mountaintop mining’s effects on streams in Appalachia, then sought help from the others to pull together scattered studies. Her family is from western North Carolina, and she spent much of her childhood there.

The assessment came days after the Environmental Protection Agency approved a permit under the Clean Water Act for Patriot Coal Corp.’s mountaintop Hobet 45 mine in West Virginia. The EPA reached a deal with Patriot to change the original plans. Instead of burying six miles of streams, the company will bury three. The EPA said that other changes would reduce stream contamination and protect public health.

At the same time, the agency acknowledged the environmental costs.

Mountaintop-removal mining has destroyed roughly 2,040 square miles of land in Appalachia and buried more than 2,000 miles of streams, EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said in an e-mail.

In a statement about the Science article, the EPA said: “This report underscores EPA’s own scientific analysis regarding the substantial environmental, water and health impacts that result from mountaintop mining operations. EPA’s responsibility under the Clean Water Act is to ensure that mining activities do not degrade the quality of water used by communities, and we intend to ensure this requirement is met.

“EPA will continue to rely on the latest scientific information to inform our Clean Water Act review of mountaintop mining permits. We look forward to reviewing the details of this latest study and considering carefully its recommendations.”

The EPA’s approval of the Hobet 45 mine, announced Tuesday, was the first major mountaintop mining permit the agency has approved from a batch of 79 that it said raised concerns. The mine is expected to employ 460 unionized miners.

Environmental groups condemned the decision and said that even with the changes, the mine would destroy forests and streams.

read more at McClatchy


Age of the Bug

Susan Milius writes for science news

Summertime and the insect breeding is easy.

That old song rings especially true for 44 species of moths and butterflies in Central Europe, according to an analysis by ecologist Florian Altermatt of the University of California, Davis. As the region has warmed since the 1980s, some of these species have added an extra generation during the summer for the first time on record in that location.

Among the 263 species already known to have a second or third generation there during toasty times, 190 have grown more likely to do so since 1980, Altermatt reports online December 22 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Only a rough third or so of all the species Altermatt reviewed show the capacity to breed more than once a year. What warming is probably doing for them, he speculates, is jolting the insects’ overwintering form into action early and also speeding up insect development. These head starts may allow time for a bonus generation before a non-temperature cue, atumnal day length, plays its role in shutting down insects for winter.

“From a pest perspective it’s an important issue,” says population ecologist Patrick Tobin based in Morgantown, W.Va., for the Forest Service Northern Research Station. Tobin has studied a warmth-related extra generation in a North American pest, the grape berry moth. He points out that an extra surge of attacking pests in the growing season means yet another headache, expense and round of damage for farmers.

read more at Science News