These are the winning environmental measures on ballots across the US

November 9, 2020 by  
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While it took a long time to determine the new president of the U.S., the environment was a clear winner in many smaller elections this year. Many of the 49 conservation-focused measures on the ballots in 19 states have passed. The year of sheltering in place seems to have heightened people’s appreciation of open space for recreation. “During the current pandemic we have seen that our parks and public lands are more important than ever for people to safely get outside for their physical and mental health,” Will Abberger, director of conservation finance at the Trust for Public Land, said in a statement. Related: Gray wolves at risk after being delisted as an endangered species This love of land took many forms. In Denver, voters approved a “climate sales tax” that could generate $800 million over the next two decades. The tax is earmarked for climate projects in minority and/or low-income communities. Oakland passed a $725 million school bond for green schoolyards. Montana voters endorsed legalizing recreational marijuana, with taxes going to land conservation .  “The ballot measures approved by voters will provide more equitable access to parks, protect air and water quality, help address climate change , and protect critical wildlife habitat in communities across the country,” Abberger said. In Colorado, one conservation measure was running about as close as the presidential race. Proposition 114 would reintroduce gray wolves into Colorado’s western mountains. This measure was more popular with urban environmentalists than with the ranchers and hunters likelier to encounter the wolves. Critics called the measure “ballot box biology.” When opponents conceded the race, the wolves were leading by half of one percentage point. Colorado is the first state to decide to reintroduce gray wolves by popular vote rather than by a decision by the federal government. It’s a sweet victory for the wolves after Trump axed them from the endangered species list. Somewhere in the west, you might hear a celebratory howl about who won … and who lost. Via NPR and Yale Environment 360 Image via Huper

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These are the winning environmental measures on ballots across the US

Gray wolves at risk after being delisted as an endangered species

November 2, 2020 by  
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Gray wolves are left vulnerable after the Trump administration removed their protections. The species has been listed as endangered for over 45 years; this listing has been instrumental in protecting the animals from hunting and helping to recover dwindling population numbers. But last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to have the gray wolf removed from the Endangered Species Act. Following that proposal , the government took action in delisting the gray wolf as an endangered species last week. “Today’s action reflects the Trump Administration’s continued commitment to species conservation based on the parameters of the law and the best scientific and commercial data available,” Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said. But the move has been sharply criticized by conservationists. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are about 6,000 gray wolves in the wild in the U.S. This number is alarming to scientists, who say that the wolves are still in great danger of extinction if they are not protected. Related: Washington’s wolf population is down to 122 after a pack is shot by state hunters Gray wolves were once driven close to extinction because of conflicts with farmers and a decline in their prey. Due to such constraints, the once-robust population of the wolves in the northern U.S. shrank abruptly, forcing the government to offer them protection by law. While listed under the Endangered Species Act, the gray wolf population has experienced growth in the Great Lakes and Rocky Mountains. But as populations grow, some states have been demanding to have the wolves delisted. Case in point, Wyoming successfully filed a petition that has allowed for the hunting of gray wolves in the state. With the delisting happening just days before the presidential election, the move is seen as a strategy to attract voters from areas where the wolves live. In a statement released by the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, chief political strategist Brett Hartl said that President Trump’s push for reelection is putting more wolves at risk. “Wolves will be shot and killed because Donald Trump is desperate to gin up his voters in the Midwest,” Hartl said. “Secretary Bernhardt’s nakedly political theater announcing the end to wolf protections in a battleground state days before the election shows just how corrupt and self-serving the Trump administration is.” Via CNN Image via Christel S.

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Gray wolves at risk after being delisted as an endangered species

Doc Antle is the latest Tiger King star to be indicted

October 13, 2020 by  
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In the latest “Tiger King” criminal news, Bhagavan “Doc” Antle has been indicted on charges of wildlife trafficking and animal cruelty. Antle owns Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina and appeared on the “Tiger King” series as a wild animal trainer. After investigating for several months, Attorney General Mark Herring announced last Friday that Antle had trafficked lion cubs between Virginia and South Carolina. Herring scrutinized Antle’s relationship with Keith Wilson, owner of Wilson’s Wild Animal Park in Virginia, and determined that both zoo owners trafficked lion cubs between the two states. A grand jury in Frederick County indicted Wilson and his nephew on 46 counts of animal cruelty in November 2019. Related: USDA closes Tiger King zoo for animal welfare violations In December 2019, Herring’s investigation led to a search of Antle’s property. Antle and two of his daughters, Tawny Antle and Tilakam Watterson, faced misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty and violating the Endangered Species Act . Antle has denied all charges against himself and his daughters. “I have spent my entire professional life promoting the welfare and conservation of big cats and other species. I have deep regard and feelings for the animals in my care and would never hurt or abuse them in any way,” he told CNN . “I look forward to being able to answer these charges and to be able to clear my good name.” Netflix released “Tiger King”, a true crime documentary miniseries, in late March 2020. The series delves into the complicated relationships between big cat conservationists and collectors. The show focuses on Joe Exotic, former owner of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, who last year was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison for murder-for-hire and wildlife violations. While the show became wildly popular amidst the pandemic, it’s done less for its stars, several of whom are now making their way through the legal system. “The show ‘Tiger King’ made a number of false statements about my personal life that I just let slide off my back,” Antle told CNN. “But what the State of Virginia has done, to falsely attack my treatment of animals, to attempt to slander my reputation and my life’s work, solely to appease animal rights activists that have influence over the elected officials that have brought these charges is far different and it’s very personal to me.” We’ll find out more when Antle has his day in court. Via HuffPost and CNN Images via Pixabay and Zoo Friend

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Doc Antle is the latest Tiger King star to be indicted

An award-winning forest tops the worlds first publicly accessible art depot

October 13, 2020 by  
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The Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen, the first publicly accessible art depot in the world, has just completed construction in Rotterdam’s Museumpark. Designed by MVRDV , the bowl-shaped building draws the eye with its 6,609 square meters of exterior glass subdivided into 1,664 mirrored panels that reflect the surroundings and help blend the 15,000-square-meter building into the leafy park. In addition to an expansive art collection that will be made accessible to the public, the art depot features an award-winning rooftop forest at a height of 35 meters along with a rooftop restaurant that provides inspiring views of Rotterdam. Completed in preparation for the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s big move, the Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen was built to house the artworks not on rotation at the museum and to put those stored pieces on display to the public. A complete collection of 151,000 objects will be made accessible and, by next year, the entire collection of Boijmans Van Beuningen will be made visible to the public in the same space for the first time since 1935. Related: MVRDV’s mirrored “salad bowl” art depot gets green light in Rotterdam As an art depot, the artworks will not be exhibited according to movement or era but rather by their climatic requirements so as to best preserve the artifacts. Each storage space is climate-controlled and organized into five different climate zones and organized by material type including metal, plastic, organic/inorganic and photography. In addition to its reflective facade, the art depot makes a strong visual statement indoors with its light-filled atrium crisscrossed with stairs and a suspended glass display case showcasing exhibitions of works selected by museum curators. The atrium branches out to exhibition rooms and curators’ studios that offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how the museum maintains and cares for its art collection. Art is displayed throughout the building, from the ground floor lobby to the rooftop restaurant, which is surrounded by 75 birch trees. The art depot will open its doors to the public in autumn 2021. + MVRDV Images via MVRDV

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An award-winning forest tops the worlds first publicly accessible art depot

Biden vs Trump on environmental issues and climate change

September 22, 2020 by  
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As the U.S. has grown increasingly polarized, it seems more and more like the two presidential candidates inhabit different planets. If you listen to Joe Biden on climate change, you might feel the urge to junk your car and invest in wind power. Meanwhile, the incumbent’s message seems to be that fossil fuels are A-OK. You might find yourself wondering, does Trump believe in climate change? What’s actually in Joe Biden’s climate change plan? Here’s a quick rundown on where the presidential candidates stand on environmental issues and climate change . Imminent need for climate action The most striking difference between the two candidates environmentally is the novella-length treatises the Biden campaign is generating with ideas about how to solve climate problems versus Trump’s more meager approach. Related: Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan: create millions of jobs, reverse climate change Biden has a long record of working on behalf of the climate, dating back, at least, to introducing the Global Climate Protection Act , the first climate change bill to reach the Senate. During his stint as vice president, Biden oversaw the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 , which allocated $90 billion toward clean energy. At that time, he called fighting climate change “the single most important thing” the executive team could do while in the White House. He also supported President Obama’s signing of the Paris Agreement. Trump, on the other hand, immediately withdrew from the 2015 Paris climate accord as soon as he took office. Now, the U.S. is the only member country to refuse to participate in the agreement to reduce global emissions . Trump avoids discussing global emission reduction and has refused to sign certain international documents unless climate change references are removed. The Environmental Protection Agency under Trump has taken a distinctly anti-science bent, with half the members of the EPA Board of Scientific Counselors dismissed in 2017 and a 2018 disbanding of a panel of scientists tasked with advising the agency on safe air pollution levels. Trumps agenda has been distinctly anti-environment, including loosening restrictions on methane emissions , waiving environmental laws during the pandemic , rolling back fuel efficiency requirements , repealing water protections and weakening the Endangered Species Act . Making America “great again” seems to mean reverting to the good old days before anybody gave a hoot about the planet. Fossil fuels The fossil fuel issue is a tricky dance for Democratic politicians. While most agree that the future lies in renewable energy, most cars and airplanes still run on fossil fuels. Biden pledged not to take any fossil fuel money for his campaign. But he still has a weakness for natural gas, which he has supported in the past as a “bridge fuel” between dirtier gasoline and coal and cleaner renewable energy. He has not called for a ban on fracking . Biden has promised to end all subsidies to fossil fuel companies. Trump doesn’t have a problem with fossil fuel. As it says on WhiteHouse.gov , “Americans have long been told that our country is running out of energy, but we now know that is wrong.” The president has promoted using more fossil fuel, especially coal. He’s chosen lobbyists and leaders in the fossil fuel industry for important federal posts, including as EPA administrator and as secretary of the Interior Department. Trump has worked to expand gas and oil drilling , including in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico. He’s claimed victory over what he calls “the war on coal .” Renewable energy Biden talks about the U.S. achieving a target of 100% clean energy. His strategies include grid-scale storage that will be 10 times more economical than lithium-ion batteries, small modular nuclear reactors, net-zero energy buildings, development of carbon-neutral construction materials, doubling offshore wind production by 2030 and the development and deployment carbon capture sequestration technology. His track record in the Senate and as vice president bears out his commitment to clean energy. Trump has dismembered the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which privileged clean energy construction over oil and gas. His administration repeatedly sliced funding that incentivized developing clean energy, proposing to cut up to 87% of the Department of Energy’s Office of Efficiency and Renewable Energy budget. He’s also proposed eliminating electric vehicle tax credits. While initially the Trump administration embraced new federal leases for offshore wind farms, it cut federal incentives for harvesting offshore wind. A 2018 tariff on solar panels manufactured outside the U.S. that was meant to boost jobs backfired, costing American jobs and upping panel prices. Environmental justice Biden has officially recognized that low-income neighborhoods and communities of color are disproportionately affected by pollution and climate change and addresses how to change this in the Joe Biden climate change plan. Trump has not addressed the subject. Via Joe Biden and WhiteHouse.gov Images via Adobe Stock and Pixabay

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Biden vs Trump on environmental issues and climate change

Candelas hydrofoil boat is the worlds first electric speedboat

September 22, 2020 by  
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Candela is a Sweden-based start-up company on a mission to switch the world’s marine transport industry to electric power. Now, the company has announced its new hydrofoil boat, the Candela Seven, as the world’s first fully electric speedboat. According to Candela, the biggest hurdle keeping the electric marine craft industry from reaching its full potential is the discrepancy between speed and range. Electric water-bound vehicles typically either have speed or range, but not both, because planing motor boat hulls need enormous amounts of energy to go fast. A standard 25-foot boat, for example, needs 15 times the amount of energy of a standard car. Building an electric boat with the capability to perform just as efficiently as a boat that uses fossil fuels with contemporary batteries poses the biggest challenge. Related: Cool retro boats restored with electric motors In order to reduce friction from the water, Candela uses submerged hydrofoils under the surface of the water. These wings provide enough lift at 17 knots to completely lift the boat’s hull out of the water, reducing energy use by as much as 80%. The result is an exceedingly long all-electric range at high speeds, upward of 50 nautical miles or 92 kilometers, on one charge. Speeds go up to 20 knots, and the range is three times more efficient than the best electric boats currently on the market. In addition to the range and speed, these hydrofoils also provide a smoother ride thanks to their ability to move above the water’s wake and chop. Rather than feeling the boat bounce up and down on the water as it moves, occupants on the hydrofoil boat get to effortlessly glide along the water as the hydrofoils lift the vessel up and over rough water. According to the company, a series of onboard computers and sensors went into the design of the Candela Seven. In order to monitor the boat’s stability, these sensors constantly measure the height and adjust the foils to maintaining pitch, roll and height automatically. + Candela Speed Boat Via Electrek Images via Candela Speed Boat

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Candelas hydrofoil boat is the worlds first electric speedboat

The endangered school shark is being sold as food in Australia

July 14, 2020 by  
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Last year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature ( IUCN ) listed the school shark as critically endangered. But that hasn’t stopped it from being regularly sold in Australian fish shops. While the international group chose one designation for the shark, Australian authorities put the species in a category known as “conservation dependent.” This means people can commercially trade the shark despite it being endangered. Related: Right Whales now ranked as critically endangered species “It’s a quirk in our national laws that prioritizes commercial exploitation and economic drivers over environmental ones,” said Leonardo Guida, a shark scientist and spokesperson for the Australian Marine Conservation Society, as reported in The Guardian . “We stopped harvesting whales for that very reason. Why is it different for a shark? Why is it different for a fish? There is no reason why any animal that has had a 90% decline in modern times should still continue to be harvested.” School sharks are smaller sharks that can measure up to 6 feet long and live for up to 60 years. This migratory species is found in many parts of the world, including off the shores of Brazil, Iceland, British Columbia, the U.K., Azores, Canary Islands and New Zealand. But they would be wise to steer clear of Australia , where their meat is sometimes sold as “flake,” Australia’s generic term for the shark meat popularly sold by fish and chip shops. The school shark is one of several animal species listed as conservation dependent that experts say should actually qualify for stronger protection. The school shark population has plummeted to 10% of its original numbers since 1990, when the species was officially declared as overfished. Countries recently voted to list the school shark on the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) appendices. This international agreement tries to get countries to cooperate in conserving migratory species. Australia was the only country to vote against it, claiming that the school shark population found in the ocean around Australia doesn’t migrate. Via The Guardian Image via Queensland State Archives

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The endangered school shark is being sold as food in Australia

Orcas threatened by highly contagious respiratory virus, CeMV

June 1, 2020 by  
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Marine mammal conservationists warn of a contagious respiratory pathogen, cetacean morbillivirus (CeMV), that could potentially harm already  endangered  orca populations. Like the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that is causing the current COVID-19 pandemic, CeMV similarly has high transmission and mortality rates. With orcas being highly social animals, an outbreak could threaten entire pod populations, in turn drastically affecting the ecosystem, since  orcas  are apex predators. According to  National Geographic , more than a million cetaceans ( whales , dolphins and porpoises) are eliminated each year through “bycatch [species caught unintentionally by fishermen], intentional killing, ship strikes, seismic surveys done for oil exploration, and naval sonar.” Oil spills are another risk, as are municipal and industrial waste polluting their marine environment. Chemicals accumulating in marine food chains are thereby ingested, leading to high toxicity levels that suppress cetacean immune systems. Related:  Federal agencies propose designated marine habitat to help protect Pacific humpback whales Worryingly,  Emerging Microbes & Infections  journal affirms CeMV as the pathogen posing the greatest risk of triggering widespread disease in cetacean populations worldwide. What’s worse, CeMV is highly contagious, capable of spreading between cetacean populations of whales, dolphins and porpoises. Cases of CeMV first appeared in cetaceans during the 1980s. So far,  Science Direct  acknowledges at least six distinct strains of CeMV — porpoise morbillivirus (PMV),  dolphin  morbillivirus (DMV), pilot whale morbillivirus (PWMV) and beaked whale morbillivirus (BWMV).  Interestingly,  Viruses  journal states that CeMV is part of a virus family — the morbilliviruses — which includes the measles virus in humans and primates, the rinderpest virus in cattle, the peste des petits ruminants virus in goats and sheep, the canine distemper virus in dogs and the phocine distemper virus in seals and walruses.  Meanwhile,  NOAA Fisheries  estimates that of 50,000 orcas worldwide, about 2,500 reside “in the eastern North Pacific Ocean…[with] Southern Residents in the eastern North Pacific… listed as endangered in 2005.” This pocket of orcas has garnered media attention for their dwindling numbers as their primary food source, chinook salmon, is depleted. Human-induced noise also interferes with echolocation, threatening the orcas’ normal behavior. Additionally, lingering polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), despite being banned for decades, persist in the  oceans , contaminating the food chain. As  The Guardian  revealed, “PCB concentrations found in killer whales can be 100 times safe levels and severely damage reproductive organs, cause cancer and damage the immune system.” Immuno-compromised orcas are left susceptible to pathogens like CeMV. Researchers ran simulations to see what would happen should the highly infectious CeMV enter a pod population. Models indicated 90% of the population would succumb. Biologist Michael Weiss of San Juan Island’s Center for Whale Research explained in a  Biological Conservation  journal study, “The social structure of this population offers only limited protection from disease outbreaks.” While immunization against measles in humans and canine distemper in pets has been successful, vaccines against CeMV for whales might not be deployed practically — unlike the morbillivirus vaccine program under development for endangered seals. A more viable solution may be to enhance the  conservation  of chinook salmon to minimize the chances of orca hunger and boost their immune systems. + KUOW and NPR Images via Pixabay

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Orcas threatened by highly contagious respiratory virus, CeMV

Rare blue bee spotted in Florida

May 20, 2020 by  
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While most Americans have been inside watching Netflix and cultivating sourdough starter, Chase Kimmel has scoured the Central Florida sand dunes for the blue calamintha bee . The rare bee hadn’t been spotted since 2016, but Kimmel’s diligence paid off. The postdoctoral researcher has caught and released a blue bee 17 times during its March-to-May flying season. Scientists think the bee lives only in the Lake Wales Ridge region, which is due east of Tampa in the “highlands” — about 300 feet above sea level. This biodiversity hotspot traces its geological history back to a time when most of Florida was underwater. The high sand dunes were like islands, each developing its own habitat. Unfortunately, this ecosystem is quickly disappearing. Related: UK bees and wildflowers thrive during lockdown “This is a highly specialized and localized bee,” Jaret Daniels, a curator and director at the Florida Museum of Natural History and Kimmel’s advisor, told the Tampa Bay Times . The bee pollinates Ashe’s calamint, a threatened perennial deciduous shrub with pale purple flowers. Scientists first described the blue calamintha bee in 2011, and some feared it had already gone extinct . It’s only been recorded in four locations within 16 square miles of Lake Wales Ridge. “I was open to the possibility that we may not find the bee at all so that first moment when we spotted it in the field was really exciting,” Kimmel said. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is funding Kimmel’s two-year study. Before the Ashe’s calamint began blooming this spring — and before the pandemic upended some of his research strategies — Kimmel and a volunteer positioned nesting boxes in promising areas of the ridge. After the flowers bloomed, he has continued to return and look for bees. When he sees what he thinks is a blue bee, he tries to catch it in a net and puts the bee in a plastic bag. Then, he cuts a hole in the corner of the bag and entices the bee to stick its head out so he can look at it with a hand lens. After photographing the bees, he releases them. Kimmel says their stings aren’t too bad. + Florida Museum Photography by Chase Kimmel via Florida Museum

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Rare blue bee spotted in Florida

Sea turtles thrive on empty beaches during COVID-19 lockdowns

April 21, 2020 by  
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As more people around the world stay inside, more animals are able to thrive in places that are typically crowded by humans. In the southeastern U.S., sea turtles are enjoying a peaceful nesting season without pesky sunbathers, fishermen or boats. “It’s going to be a very good year for our leatherbacks,” Sarah Hirsch, senior manager of research and data at Loggerhead Marinelife Center , told WPEC . “We’re excited to see our turtles thrive in this environment. Our world has changed, but these turtles have been doing this for millions of years and it’s just reassuring and gives us hope that the world is still going on.” Loggerhead Marinelife Center’s researchers have located 69 nests on the 9.5 miles of beach they study, which is significantly more than normal. Related: Baby turtles officially return to the beaches of Mumbai after largest beach cleanup in history All seven types of sea turtles are endangered or vulnerable. The odds are stacked against hatchlings; only one in 1,000 live to become adults. While hatchlings elude natural predators, such as dogs, seabirds, raccoons, ghost crabs and fish, turtles of all ages face many threats from humans. These include microplastics, fishing gear, coastal development, boat strikes, global warming and the illegal trade in eggs, meat and shells. David Godfrey, executive director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy , said thousands of turtles are currently migrating to nesting beaches in the sotheastern U.S. and that “all of the potential positive impacts relate to changes in human behavior.” With fewer boats on the water, the number of boat strikes on turtles and other marine animals will also drop. “All of the reduced human presence on the beach also means that there will be less garbage and other plastics entering the marine environment,” Godfrey said. A 2016 University of Florida study concluded that removing trash and debris from beaches can increase the number of turtle nests by 200%. In 2019, Florida reported more than 395,700 sea turtle nests during hatching season. Because many beaches preferred by turtles are also prized by tourists, researchers will watch with concern as parts of Florida begin to open their beaches to humans again. Via CBS News Image via Pixabay

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Sea turtles thrive on empty beaches during COVID-19 lockdowns

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