Environmental news from California and beyond

Category: Forests, trees, plants

Court ruling keeps Yellowstone grizzlies on 'threatened' list

A ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 2007 decision to remove the "threatened" designation for Yellowstone grizzly bears under the Endangered Species Act
Conservationists won a major battle Tuesday in their campaign to protect Yellowstone grizzly bears when a federal appeals court ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erred in removing Endangered Species Act protections for "one of the American West's most iconic wild animals."

The ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the wildlife agency's 2007 decision to remove the "threatened" designation for the bears under the Endangered Species Act.

Tuesday's ruling cited climate change as having accelerated a beetle infestation destroying the bears' vital white-bark pine food source. The grizzly is only the second wildlife species, after the polar bear, to earn protection in recognition of harm caused by global warming. Both are considered "threatened."

The three-judge panel embraced conservationists' warnings that the decline in the grizzlies' fodder would likely drive them to forage in more populous areas around the park, increasing incidents of confrontation between humans and the omnivorous bears.


Christo river wrap gets BLM approval

Karen Dawn's Thanksgiving turkey rescue

Peter Brown back onboard with Sea Shepherd

-- Carol Williams and Julie Cart

Photo: A grizzly wanders through open brush inside Yellowstone National Park. Credit: James Peaco / Associated Press

Super committee could gut national parks budget

National Park Service funding could potentially be gutted if the so-called congressional super committee doesn’t find those elusive $1.3 trillion in budget cuts this month.

According to a new report released today by the National Parks Conservation Assn., a parks advocacy organization, failure by the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (colloquially known as the super committee) could trigger a sequestration process that would mandate cuts in National Park Service funding by as much as 9%.

This would mean a $231 million cut to the national parks budget that is currently at $2.6 billion, said Craig Obey, senior vice president of government affairs at NPCA, in a press conference today. That would come on top of nearly $140 million in cuts made in 2011.

Overall, the National Park Service budgets are down almost $400 million from where they were 10 years ago.

“I’m watching this cut like everyone else and we’re very worried,” said Obey at the conference. “The issue with the national parks –- if you think of the budget like a tire, right now the tire has a slow leak. If we get a 9% cut, it’s a blow-out. Either way, you have a flat tire. We’re looking real soon at some tough results in the national parks.”

Those results, say the report, could include the closure of some parks, campgrounds, visitor centers and other services, the virtual elimination of seasonal rangers, a curtailment of law enforcement staff and resources for endangered species monitoring and other scientific work.

Gathered at the press conference were a group of experts concerned about the economic effects of any drop in visitors to the country’s popular national parks. Obey pointed out that the money going into the parks was a direct economic investment, returning $4 in economic benefit for every $1 spent, for a total direct annual contribution of $13.2 billion to the U.S. economy.

“I’m a Republican, a former two-term county mayor in a county that is the northern gateway to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park,” said Iliff McMahan, former mayor of Cocke County in Tennessee. “The park is a driver for economic activity in our area.”

“I implore that the lawmakers see that as an investment in the economic driver, the engine that drives that part of the U.S., and they do the right thing and keep that economic engine going.”

Obey and others noted that any cuts made now to National Park Service budgets would come mostly from basic operating budgets. More flexible accounts like construction and land acquisition have already been drastically curtailed.

John Garder, budget and appropriations legislative representative for National Parks Conservation Assn., pointed out that, even before the super committee process, the parks were already likely to experience budget challenges for the next decade. The Budget Control Act of 2011, passed in August, set discretionary caps for spending through 2021 that, depending on how they are interpreted, would mean flat budgets for the National Park Service for the next 10 years.

“Because of the real uncontrollable costs with rent increases, utility, cost of living increases for employees, and general increased expenses, the practical effect of a flat budget is a reduction in real terms,” said Garder. “It is less money that they have to work with. So we are already looking at a challenging climate for the NPS for the next decade.”


Christo river wrap gets BLM approval

Grand Canyon mining ban moves forward

Decision postponed, again, on Yellowstone snowmobile rule

-- Dean Kuipers

Photo: The floor of Yosemite National Park covered in snow. Budget cuts could sharply curtail park services. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times.

Forest biofuel projects could increase West Coast carbon emissions

Forest thinningThinning West Coast forests on a widespread scale to feed bioenergy projects would increase the region's production of greenhouse gases, according to a new study.

Research published Oct. 23 in the journal  Nature Climate Change undermines the argument that substituting wood-based biofuel for fossil fuels would reduce carbon emissions.

“Most people assume that wood bioenergy will be carbon-neutral, because the forest re-grows and there’s also the chance of protecting forests from carbon emissions due to wildfire,” said Tara Hudiburg, the paper's lead author and an Oregon State University doctoral student in the College of Forestry. “However, our research showed that the emissions from these activities proved to be more than the savings.”

Using data from thousands of forest plots in Oregon, Washington and California, Hudiburg and her co-authors calculated carbon storage and emissions under current forest management practices and then projected changes under three different thinning/biofuel scenarios.

Two involved thinning of varying intensity in fire-prone forests in the three states. The third called for widespread harvesting of trees up to 2 feet in diameter on public and private lands. The study assumed the harvested wood be burned to produce heat and power, converted to cellulosic ethanol and, in the case of larger, more valuable trees, milled into wood products.

The scientists took into account carbon dioxide emissions in harvesting, transportation and biofuel production as well as carbon credits for reducing wildfire and fossil fuel emissions, and long-term storage in lumber for housing. In some areas with relatively low forest productivity and high fire frequency, greenhouse gas emissions did not rise under the treatment scenarios. But in most they did.

"We are not saying that any project will increase emissions compared to current levels, whether they are from decomposition, wildfire, or harvest," Hudiburg said in an email. "We are saying that on average, this is what happens in West Coast forests, and if implemented widely will increase regional emissions -- contrary to policy goals." 

Total West Coast carbon emissions rose 2%, 6% or 14% under the three treatment schemes.

The study dealt solely with emissions and did not consider other potential benefits of forest thinning, such as reducing wildfire risk, which is projected to increase with global warming.

"In this study region," the authors wrote, carbon storage in forests "is more beneficial in contributing to reduction of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions than increasing harvest to substitute fossil fuels with bioenergy from forests."


California adopts historic cap-and-trade regulations

Australia moves closer to law establishing carbon tax

Climate skeptic admits he was wrong to doubt global-warming data

-- Bettina Boxall

Photo: Loggers use a machine that cuts and piles whole trees to thin an area in the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota. Credit: Associated Press / Doug Dreyer

California adopts historic cap-and-trade regulations

Oil refinery
The California Air Resources Board, after three years of contentious debate, on Thursday approved the nation's first state-run cap-and-trade program, which will for the first time put a price on carbon emissions.

The unanimous vote paves the way for the carbon trading market, which begins in 2013 and will eventually require 85% of the state's largest polluters to either emit less carbon or purchase credits on a market that the air board will regulate.   

The market is projected to exchange about $10 billion in carbon allowances by 2016, which would make it second largest in the world behind the European Union.

The program is part of AB 23, the state's 2006 climate change law that mandates a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Said board Chairwoman Mary Nichols: "We've done something important."


Australia moves closer to law establishing carbon tax

California falls behind Massachusetts in energy efficiency

Climate skeptic admits he was wrong to doubt global-warming data

--Julie Cart

Photo: Valero Energy's Wilmington refinery in a 2010 photo.  Credit: Christina House / Los Angeles Times

Nation's wetlands continue to disappear


Wetlands in the U.S. are still disappearing, although at a slower pace than two decades ago.

A national wetlands inventory released this week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that between 2004 and 2009, the lower 48 states lost a net average of 13,800 acres a year. That compared with a slight annual gain in wetlands during the previous six year-period.

The lower Mississippi River region and the coastal plains of the Southeast suffered the greatest declines, which the report attributed to development, drainage for the establishment of tree plantations and hurricane damage.

Rising seas associated with climate change are also taking a toll on the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastlines. Effectsof the BP oil spill were not included in the survey, which ended before the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

“Wetlands are at a tipping point,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said. “While we have made great strides in conserving and restoring wetlands since the 1950s, when we were losing an area equal to half the size of Rhode Island each year, we remain on a downward trend that is alarming."

In calculating acreage, the fish and wildlife agency took into account wetlands established through farm conservation and other programs. But the report notes that a large portion of those new wetlands consist of freshwater ponds, which some scientific studies have concluded don't provide the same ecological services as natural wetlands.     

The lower 48 states have an estimated 110 million acres of wetlands, 95% of them freshwater, according to the inventory, which was based on aerial surveys and some field sampling for verification.


A century later, Santa Cruz Island wetland to be restored

$44.4-million settlement reached in San Francisco Bay oil spill

Discovery of rare wildflower in Ballona Wetlands could halt recreation project

-- Bettina Boxall

Photo: A bird takes off in the wetlands of Grand Isle, La. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

Mattel drops paper company linked to Indonesia deforestation

It's official: Barbie has broken up with Asia Pulp and Paper.

Responding to a campaign by Greenpeace, toy giant Mattel, maker of the famed Barbie doll line, announced Wednesday that it will stop buying paper and packaging that the environmental group has linked to rain forest destruction in Indonesia.

The El Segundo company said it will tell suppliers to avoid wood fiber from companies “that are known to be involved in deforestation.” Among those companies, Greenpeace said in a statement, is Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) group. 

“The rain forests of Indonesia should be for species like the Sumatran tiger, not for throwaway toy packaging," Bustar Maitar, head of Greenpeace’s campaign to save the forests in Indonesia, said in the statement  "That’s why it is such good news that Mattel has developed a new paper buying policy."

The group urged Asia Pulp & Paper to follow in the path of its sister company, Golden Agri-Resources, which “has already committed to clean up its act and has won back lucrative contracts."

Greenpeace has pledged to push other companies, such as Disney and Hasbro, to take similar action to protect rain forests. 

Mattel's move comes after Greenpeace tested packaging from the company's toys, packaged in Indonesia, and found the cardboard contained significant amounts of timber from Indonesian rain forests. The group used Mattel's advertising campaign that featured a "reunion" between Barbie and Ken to draw attention to the packaging, sending an activist dressed as Ken and another as Barbie, who drove a pink skip loader to the company's corporate office in June. They hung a banner from the building that read: “Barbie: It’s Over. I don’t date girls that are into deforestation.”

Mattel’s new policy also includes safeguards against buying wood fiber from tree plantations established in areas where natural forests once stood, a practice that is driving deforestation, Greenpeace said.  

The toy maker also said it intends to increase the amount of recycled paper it uses, and to increase the use of wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

"Mattel is committed to advancing the use of sustainably-sourced paper and wood fiber in our packaging and products," a statement on the company's website said. "Mattel will strive to implement these fundamental principles to guide our efforts and maximize, to the extent feasible, the use of post-consumer recycled content and sustainable fiber."

The company also said it will "maximize post-consumer recycled content where possible, while maintaining packaging and product integrity and compliance with applicable laws and regulations."

It pledged to use only fiber whose source is known and traceable, and which is harvested "in compliance with applicable laws and regulations" locally, nationally and internationally, and in accordance with "international guidelines and treaties to protect the rights of indigenous peoples."

The company said it will establish specific goals and report on its progress publicly.

[Updated, 11:38 a.m.: A statement from Asia Pulp & Paper said the company “applauds Mattel’s commitments to recycling, wood legality, protection of High Conservation Value Forest, respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and robust auditing and certification procedures." 

The company added that it "supports all credible industry certification, however, we strongly urge companies to not limit their procurement policies to one standard, in this case FSC, which discriminates against products from Indonesia and other developing markets. APP supports policies that protect both the environment and the vital income which developing countries receive from the pulp & paper industries.”]

[Updated, 11:55: Mattel spokesperson Jules Andres said the company this summer directed its suppliers "to not source paper and pulp from Asia Pulp & Paper. She said Mattel's new policy "directs our printers not to contract with controvesial sources," and that Mattel considers Asia Pulp & Paper "a controversial source."]

Indonesia has one of the fastest rates of forest destruction in the world. The Indonesian government estimates that nearly 2.5 million acres of rain forest is being lost every year, according to Greenpeace.  

Indonesia’s rain forest, the largest in the world after those in the Amazon and the Congo, is home to orangutans, tigers, elephants, clouded leopards and scores of other endangered plants and animals. In the last half-century, about 40% of the country’s forests have been cleared, mainly for palm oil plantations and pulp and paper operations.

Despite a partial moratorium announced last month, Indonesian government plans suggest, by some accounts, that nearly half of the remaining natural forest could be cut in the next two decades.


US forest rules face controversial overhaul

Chiapas to California: preserving forests for dollars

Proposed law threatens to cripple Amazon rain forest protection

-- Geoff Mohan

Photo: Environmental activist Elise Nabor in a Barbie outfit, driving her "Barbiedozer" is stopped by an El Segundo police officer a half block away from the Mattel building in El Segundo, during a June protest. Credit: Mark Boster

Decision postponed, again, on Yellowstone snowmobile rule


Once again the National Park Service has punted instead of issuing a final rule regarding the number of snowmobiles it will allow to operate each day in Yellowstone National Park.

Supt. Dan Wenk announced Thursday that the issue required additional analysis and that the park would implement an interim policy of allowing up to 318 commercially guided snowmobiles in the park each day, and 78 commercially guided snowcoaches.

Wenk said that when the winter use season starts Dec. 15, the same rules that have been in place the last two years will still apply. 

He said a final "sustainable" rule is expected before the start of the 2012-13 season. 

The debate over the use of snowmobiles in the nation's oldest park dates to the Clinton administration, when the use of the machines was to be phased out because of concerns about noise, air and sound  pollution, as well as visitor and wildlife safety. That rule was reversed by President George W. Bush.

The issue of snowmobiles in the park has been studied for more than a decade, at a cost of more than $10 million.


Secluded park threatened with closure

Yellowstone park releases report on grizzly attack

EPA scolded on greenhouse gas report review process

-- Julie Cart 

Photo: A bison crosses the road ahead of snowmobilers at Yellowstone National Park in a 2003 photo. Credit: Craig Moore / Associated Press 

Yellowstone park releases report on grizzly attack

Grizzly bear in yellowstone

Officials at Yellowstone National Park on Tuesday released a report on the July 6 mauling by a grizzly that killed Brian Matayoshi, 57, of Torrance. The attack, which authorities described as a "one in 3 million" occurrence, was the first fatal mauling of a park visitor in 25 years.

The investigative record includes audio of the 911 calls that other hikers made seeking help. In one instance, a trauma surgeon who was part of a group of six hikers reported hearing Marylyn Matayoshi calling for help and asked if he should assist. 

The report added few details to what was already known about the incident, which occurred when Matayoshi and his wife, Marylyn, were hiking on the Wapiti Lake trail. The couple had earlier joined others watching a female grizzly and two cubs.

They had walked away from the bears, but when the couple turned to look back, the grizzly sow was charging them, the report said. Matayoshi yelled to his wife to run, and both raced down the trail yelling, according to the report. 

Continue reading »

Court approves endangered species settlement


A federal judge on Friday approved an agreement that puts a timetable on final listing decisions about hundreds of species that are candidates for Endangered Species Act protections. The court gave the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service four years to clear the backlog of more than 850 plant and animal species that are awaiting determinations and bogged down in various stagesof the process.

The ruling resolves a dozen lawsuits in which the group WildEarth Guardians challenged the Department of Interior’s failure to more timely list species under the act. As part of the settlement, the group agreed not to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service over missed listing deadlines for the next six years.

The judge's ruling frees hundreds of species from "regulatory purgatory", said John Horning, Executive Director of WildEarth Guardians. "Our goal has been for a  long time to see species move through the listing process from the starting line to the finish line, which is to a decision."

In May the agreement was put on hold by U.S. District Judge Emmett Sullivan, who ordered the parties to hash out a new agreement, this time to include another environmental organization -- the Center For Biological Diversity.

The agreement was hailed as a landmark of cooperation that would have moved 839 candidate species toward federal protection. That petition process can take decades, slowed both by the federal agency's admitted lack of staff and money to process applications and by the enormous backlog of lawsuits that accompany the applications.

The Center for Biological Diversity -- which is usually at the forefront of taking the government to court for failing to protect species -- opposed the agreement and claimed it was "too weak, too vague" and was ultimately not enforceable.



Rocky Mountain pikas not nearing extinction, study finds

Endangered arroyo toads cling to existence in the Tehachapi Mountains

Judge rules polar bears still 'threatened'

--Julie Cart







Texas wildfires: Is drought the new climate?

Drought and climate change
The litany of misery playing out in Texas is tough to watch but less difficult to predict.

Well before the contagion of wildfires was sparked this week, the state had been experiencing a weather catastrophe. Texas has seen its driest consecutive months since record-keeping began in 1895. Parts of the state have had no measurable rain in nearly a year. The drought, warn officials from the National Weather Service, may continue into next year.

A brutal heat wave has tormented residents, with some cities experiencing 100-plus degree weather for more than a month.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a GOP presidential candidate, scoffs at the notion of human-induced climate change, even suggesting recently on the campaign trail that scientists are manipulating data to make money. He also has declared a  weather-related state of emergency every month since December. Meanwhile, Texas' state climatologist has warned that his fellow citizens should get used to this new climate of extremes.

These horrible fires are driven by wind, to be sure, but are fueled by much more combustible decisions: fire-prone nonnative plants planted to benefit another nonnative -- cattle. Rampant urban incursions into wildlands, placing homes in danger. Private property owners' failure to manage the grasses and trees on their land. A budget-cutting policy that pared  most of the state's volunteer firefighters. 

Climate-watchers are reminding Perry that Texas' nightmare is a direct result of a political decision to ignore the reality of climate change, leaving the state unprepared for its devastating effects on public health, the livestock and agriculture industries, and, ultimately, the sustainability of life in the arid Southwest.


Is nature doing what the climate models predict?

Global warming effect seen in pole-to-pole data-gathering flights

Climate change: Drought, floods, tornadoes part of 'new normal'?

--Julie Cart

Photo: A nearly drained stock tank in West Texas. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times


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