Trump official delays protection of endangered species at oil lobbyist’s request

April 20, 2018 by  
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A top United States Department of the Interior official appears to have used his position to delay the protection of an endangered species at the request of the oil industry. As reported by the Guardian based on acquired documents, Interior official Vincent deVito acquiesced to a 2017 e-mail from the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) asking that the Texas hornshell mussel not be placed under protection for six months in the interest of continued, uninhibited oil industry activity. While the mussel was eventually placed on the endangered species list in 2018, former Interior officials and government watchdogs have expressed concerns over the ethics and legality of deVito’s actions. Of particular concern is the Trump Administration’s seeming disregard to science in favor of political decision making. “Listing decisions under the Endangered Species Act are meant to be entirely science-based decisions that result from – in some cases – years of review by experts in the field, not political appointees,” former Interior associate deputy secretary Elizabeth Klein told The Guardian . “A delay in and of itself might not be the end of the world – but then again it very well could be for an imperiled species.” In response to criticism, Interior press secretary Heather Swift said in a statement that deVito “maintains that he simply responded with an acknowledgment of receipt on the mussel email and maintains he had no role whatsoever in the listing.” Related: New evidence shows oil and coal were central in the decision to reduce Bears Ears There’s a portfolio of instances where DeVito used his official capacity in ways that would appear to be favorable to the fossil fuel industry. For example, DeVito described his close consultation of industry lobbyists before proposing a reduction of royalty rates on offshore oil and gas from 18.75% to 12.5% – a recommendation that was ultimately rejected by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. DeVito was also influential in approving a coal project near the habitat of the endangered Big Sandy crayfish in West Virginia . “It a scientific integrity violation for a political appointee to essentially leapfrog the Fish and Wildlife Service’s process when you have an Endangered Species Act listing involved,” former career Interior scientist Joel Clement told The Guardian . Via The Guardian Images via New Mexico State Land Office and YouTube

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Bottlenose dolphins spotted in Canadian Pacific waters for the first time

April 20, 2018 by  
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Bottlenose dolphins typically reside in tropical or warm-temperate waters around the world — but researchers recently glimpsed a group of around 200 of the dolphins and around 70 false killer whales off northern Vancouver Island’s west coast in Canada. They said this sighting is “the only occurrence of common bottlenose dolphins recorded in Canadian Pacific waters” — and a warming trend could be to blame. In July 2017, Halpin Wildlife Research , working with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Department of Environment and Climate Change , documented the dolphins and whales. In research published this month in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records , the three researchers involved said the sighting “is the most northerly record” for common bottlenose dolphins “in the eastern North Pacific .” Related: A beluga whale living with dolphins learned to “speak their language” Lead author Luke Halpin said in a statement , “The sighting is also the first offshore report of false killer whales in British Columbia. To see the two species traveling together and interacting was quite special and rare. It is known that common bottlenose dolphins and false killer whales seek each other out and interact, but the purpose of the interactions is unclear.” Warming in eastern North Pacific waters between 2013 and 2016 could be the reason for the presence of the dolphins and whales. Halpin said he’s documented warm-water species in British Columbia waters since 2014, including a loggerhead turtle and a swordfish . He said, “With marine waters increasingly warming up, we can expect to see more typically warm-water species in the northeastern Pacific.” + BioMed Central + Marine Biodiversity Records Images via Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith on Flickr and the National Park Service

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Bottlenose dolphins spotted in Canadian Pacific waters for the first time

Trump’s border wall threatens Texas plants and wildlife

March 30, 2018 by  
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If it is ever built, Trump’s US-Mexico border wall would pose a threat to vulnerable wildlife and plants, as well as to the growing ecotourism industry in the border regions of Texas . Norma Fowler and Tim Keitt, scientists at the University of Texas at Austin, have published a letter that outlines the potential ecological damage from such a major project. Currently, Texas has walls along approximately 100 miles of its border with Mexico. “Up to now, the wall has either gone through cities or deserts,” said Fowler . “This is the Rio Grande we’re talking about here. It’s totally different.” The proposed wall is set to cut through hundreds of miles of protected federal land, including much of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. “We have high biodiversity because of the river and because Texas extends so far south,” explained Fowler. “I and other Texas biologists are very concerned about the impact this will have on our rich natural heritage.” Fowler and Keitt conducted a scientific literature review of 14 other publications to support the concerns outlined in the letter. The authors express particular interest in the protection of the threatened Tamaulipan thornscrub ecosystem , which once covered much of South Texas. Related: Leaked memo shows that EPA staffers were told to downplay the reliability of climate science The wall could also divide breeding populations of vulnerable animals, such as the ocelot. With only 120 left in the Lone Star State, ocelots could suffer from decreased reproduction and eventually disappear completely from Texas. “Even small segments of new wall on federal lands will devastate habitats and local recreation and ecotourism,” said Keitt. The authors suggested alternatives if the United States does ultimately go forward in its efforts to strengthen the border. According to Keitt and Fowler, “Negative impacts could be lessened by limiting the extent of physical barriers and associated roads, designing barriers to permit animal passage and substituting less biologically harmful methods, such as electronic sensors, for physical barriers.” Via Phys.org Images via  Alejandro Santillana/University of Texas at Austin Insects Unlocked Project and  Andrew Morffew

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Trump’s border wall threatens Texas plants and wildlife

UPS declares the "beginning of the end" for combustion engines by making its London fleet entirely electric

March 30, 2018 by  
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UPS has announced major investments in its vehicle-charging infrastructure as the company moves to electrify its London fleet, one of the largest in the world. The company recently deployed innovative smart grid technology that is capable of supporting a fully electric fleet of 170 trucks or more. “The breakthrough signals the beginning of the end of a reliance upon traditional combustion engine powered vehicles,” said the company in a statement . The ‘Smart Electric Urban Logistics (SEUL)’ initiative was created in partnership with  UK Power Networks and Cross River Partnership , with funding from the United Kingdom’s Office for Low Emission Vehicles . The SEUL infrastructure incorporates a central server, which coordinates with electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, the grid power supply, and on-site energy storage. Though the company currently uses new batteries in its storage, UPS hopes to incorporate second-use batteries from electric vehicles into its infrastructure in the future. Related: Waymo adds 20,000 Jaguar electric SUVs to its self-driving car service UPS believes that it is well-positioned to lead the way into an EV future. “UPS thinks this is a world first, right in the heart of a mega-city”  said Peter Harris, director of sustainability for UPS Europe. “We are using new technology to work around some big obstacles to electric vehicle deployment, heralding a new generation of sustainable urban delivery services both here in London and in other major cities around the world.” UPS is also invested in other electrification efforts, such as the conversion of 1,500 combustion-engine trucks to battery-electric in New York City and the increased purchasing of electric trucks from companies like Tesla and Daimler. The company has a long history of support for electric vehicles, with its earliest electric trucks introduced in the 1930s. Via Electrek and UPS Images via UPS

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UPS declares the "beginning of the end" for combustion engines by making its London fleet entirely electric

Conservationists sound the alarm to address ‘America’s wildlife crisis’

March 29, 2018 by  
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A coalition of conservationist groups have called for urgent action to address the drastic decline in American wildlife . According to the groups’ recently released report, one in three animal species in the United States is vulnerable to extinction, while one in five face a severe threat amid a serious decline in American biodiversity. “Fish, birds, mammals, reptiles and invertebrates are all losing ground,” Collin O’Mara, chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation, told the Guardian . “We owe it to our children and grandchildren to prevent these species from vanishing from the earth.” Over 1,270 species native to the United States are listed as at-risk under the Endangered Species Act, which include such iconic creatures as the grizzly bear and the California condor. In their recent report, the National Wildlife Federation, American Fisheries Society and the Wildlife Society argued that the actual number of at-risk species is significantly higher. The difference in numbers is accounted for by the data source. While federal authorities document species on a case-by-case basis, the report relies on data from  NatureServe , which determines the health of any particular species on a sliding scale. Related: Spending bill would open the world’s largest intact temperate forest to logging Some kinds of animals have fared worse than others. 40% of all freshwater fish in the United States are now endangered or at-risk while amphibian populations shrink within their known territory by 4% each year. “This loss of wildlife has been sneaking up on us but is now like a big tsunami that is going to hit us,” Thomas Lovejoy, a biologist at George Mason University who advised the report, told the Guardian . Species decline can be attributed to a variety of factors, including habitat loss, increased spread of disease, climate change , and pesticide use. The report emphasizes the need for a federal response to deal with this crisis, citing successful examples of species recovery efforts throughout the United States. This increased threat to biodiversity is not unique to the United States. “ Extinctions are ramping up, and if that continues it will be one for the history books for the whole planet,” environmental scientist Erle Ellis told the Guardian . The world is getting very humanized and I’m very concerned about the cost to biodiversity . It’s a challenge that will face us throughout this century and beyond.” Via The Guardian Images via Depositphotos (1)

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Conservationists sound the alarm to address ‘America’s wildlife crisis’

Scientists are launching human trials for a cancer ‘vaccine’ that cured 97% of tumors in mice

March 29, 2018 by  
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Scientists at Stanford University are currently preparing the first human test of a cancer “vaccine,” a treatment that eliminated up to 97 percent of tumors during trials with mice. Appropriately 35 people with lymphoma will begin the trials before the end of 2018. Not technically a vaccine, the new cancer treatment is a kind of immunotherapy that involves an injection of two agents directly into a tumor. These agents stimulate the production of T cells, which then fight the cancer. As promising as the treatment may be, it is still a long way from being ready for and available to the public. In mice trials, the cancer vaccine eliminated tumors in 87 out of 90 mice, all of which suffered from various kinds of cancer, including lymphoma, breast cancer, and colon cancer. The vaccine proved effective even in instances when cancer had spread to other parts of the body. As exciting as this development may be, it is too early to properly evaluate. “We’ve been able to cure a lot of cancers in mice for a long time,” Dr. Alice Police, the regional director of breast surgery at Northwell Health Cancer Institute, told Live Science . Related: Scientists discover a huge new human organ hiding in plain sight Police also pointed out that since the human test only includes lymphoma patients, it will take more time and research before it can be determined whether or not the cancer vaccine is effective against other kinds of cancer in humans. Nonetheless, the cancer vaccine is a promising alternative to existing immunotherapies. “When we use these two agents together, we see the elimination of tumors all over the body,” said Stanford oncology professor Ronald Levy, MD  in a statement. “This approach bypasses the need to identify tumor-specific immune targets and doesn’t require wholesale activation of the immune system or customization of a patient’s immune cells.” Via Live Science Images via Depositphotos (1)

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Scientists are launching human trials for a cancer ‘vaccine’ that cured 97% of tumors in mice

World’s largest solar energy project will be 100 times bigger than any other on the planet

March 29, 2018 by  
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200 gigawatts of solar power . $200 billion. 100,000 jobs. Those are the numbers attached to the SoftBank Solar Project, which is set to become the biggest solar farm in the world thanks to a deal signed by Saudi Arabia and Japanese conglomerate company SoftBank ‘s Vision Fund . The move could help Saudi Arabia, the largest oil exporter in the world, progress from fossil fuels to renewable energy . The Saudis and SoftBank, signing a memorandum of understanding, are moving forward on a massive solar development that could see hundreds of gigawatts installed by 2030. SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman unveiled the plan earlier this week; the crown prince said, “It’s a huge step in human history. It’s bold, risky, and we hope we succeed doing that.” Related: Saudi Arabia announces plan for $500B megacity powered by renewables The project is planned for the Saudi desert, Bloomberg said. According to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, it could be around 100 times bigger than the next largest proposed development, and could “more than double what the global photovoltaic industry supplied last year.” The $200 billion investment will go towards solar panels , battery storage , and a Saudi Arabia solar panel manufacturing facility, according to Reuters. The project’s initial phase will be 7.2 gigawatts and cost $5 billion. The SoftBank Solar Project could mark a huge step away from oil and towards clean energy for Saudi Arabia; Bloomberg said the country only has small-scale solar projects operating at the moment and Reuters said they obtain a bulk of their electricity via oil-fired plants even though they’re one of the sunniest countries in the world. Economist Intelligence Unit lead energy analyst Peter Kiernan told Reuters, “Saudi Arabia is clearly preparing for a post-fossil fuel dependent economy in terms of domestic energy consumption, and this huge bet on renewables would free up a lot of domestic output of oil for exports, while probably saving domestic gas resources as well.” Via Bloomberg and Reuters Images via Depositphotos ( 1 , 2 )

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World’s largest solar energy project will be 100 times bigger than any other on the planet

Scientists create ‘umbrella’ spray to protect coral reefs from sun damage

March 27, 2018 by  
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Researchers have crafted a new liquid substance that can be sprayed onto the surface of the water above vulnerable coral reefs , shielding them from intense UV and visible light beaming down from the Sun . In doing so, the spray may help to defend reefs from extreme bleaching events. 50,000 times thinner than a human hair, the biodegradable spray is made from a natural lipid and calcium carbonate, a key component of coral reefs. “It is white so it reflects and scatters all the light which hits the ocean surface,” study researcher Andrew Negri told the Sydney Morning Herald . Laboratory tests revealed that the spray was capable of reducing the amount of light reaching underwater coral by 20 percent. “In the laboratory, it actually stays on the surface for several weeks, but in the ocean it could be broken up by wave action and moved around by the currents,” explained Negri. The spray will quickly biodegrade after it is broken up. Trials in a real-world environment will begin soon to refine the spray and make it more resilient to sometimes turbulent waters . Related: Spraying spiders with graphene helps them spin webs 6 times stronger than normal Conservationists are enthused about the idea of using the spray to protect acute vulnerabilities in coral reefs. “The idea being that you could in the future, knowing there is going to be hot days ahead… spray this film on top of key reefs… and this will act as a bit of a shield… almost like an umbrella, to protect these reefs underneath and the animals underneath,” Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden told the Sydney Morning Herald . “It’s important to note that this is not intended to be a solution that can be applied over the whole 348,000 square kilometres of Great Barrier Reef ,” Marsden noted. “That would never be practical, but it could be deployed on a smaller, local level to protect high value or high-risk areas of reef.” Via The Sydney Morning Herald Images via Depositphotos (2 , 3 )

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Scientists create ‘umbrella’ spray to protect coral reefs from sun damage

Trump fills his wildlife protection board with big-game trophy hunters

March 16, 2018 by  
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A new federal advisory board commissioned to rewrite rules governing the import of hunted animal trophies has been packed by President Trump with big-game trophy hunters. Many of them maintain close relations to President Trump and his family and are most likely to support Interior Secretary Zinke’s agenda, which is guided by the belief that the most effective way to protect endangered animals is to facilitate their killing by American hunters. The Associated Press conducted a social media and background review of the board’s 16 members and found that their governing philosophy will echo Zinke’s. The assembly of Trump’s wildlife protection board follows news of recent rules changes that would have banned the import of big-game trophies from certain African countries, including Zimbabwe. Although Trump initially claimed he would carry out the Obama-era ban on a practice he called “a horror show,” he quietly reversed this decision in early March . The rule reversal is particularly concerning given reports of corruption in Zimbabwe that indicate that little of the money spent by big-game hunters in the country has actually gone to conservation efforts. Related: Ryan Zinke claims wind energy contributes to global warming Despite the questionable current policies, Trump’s hunter-packed advisory board has some historical precedent. President Theodore Roosevelt, an avid hunter, brought conservation to the forefront of American life through his enthusiastic advocacy for wildlife and public access to wild spaces as well as the bills he signed into law, including the Antiquities Act of 1906. It was through this law that presidents were granted the power to create national monuments through executive action. President Obama harnessed this law to create several significant national monuments , including the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine and the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. President Trump is now attempting to use the same power to dismantle Bears Ears. The Trump Administration’s policies raise concerns that the current president will fail to live up to his Republican predecessor Roosevelt’s legacy and will instead threaten the survival of all kinds of life on this planet. Via The New York Times Images via Depositphotos and Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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Trump fills his wildlife protection board with big-game trophy hunters

Conservationists rid Florida of invasive iguanas by smashing their heads

March 16, 2018 by  
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Invasive iguana populations have soared in Florida , and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission launched a $63,000 research project to figure out the best way to get rid of the lizards . But the Sun Sentinel and Gizmodo reported some people are taking issue with one method: that of smashing in the iguanas’ heads. Iguanas can impact native wildlife and plants and irritate homeowners, according to commission spokesperson Carli Segelson. Gizmodo said many residents of Florida consider the reptiles pests, akin to rats. A 15-person University of Florida team, whose work is part of the commission’s project, is tackling the problem with methods like a captive bolt gun or bashing the reptiles’ heads against solid objects, including a boat and truck they’re traveling in to track the creatures down, according to the Sun Sentinel. Wildlife biologist Jenny Ketterlin said their methods are compatible with Florida’s anti-cruelty laws, and that destroying the iguanas’ brains rapidly is the most humane method of killing them. The team has taken out 249 iguanas near a canal over three months, and have spurned other extermination techniques on the grounds they’re inefficient, not safe, unproven, or crueler. Related: It’s so cold that frozen iguanas are falling off trees in Florida Some people don’t like the sound of smashing in iguanas’ heads. The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy executive director Lori Marino described the method as appalling; veterinarian Susan Kelleher said it’s cruel and a kinder method of killing the iguanas would be sedating and euthanizing them. Gizmodo said this is a complicated situation. They spoke with iguana expert Joe Wasilewski who said he did cringe when he heard about iguana heads bashed in, but that this method is one of the better options we have. “In less than a second these lizards go from being cognizant to completely dead. Is that cruel?” he told Gizmodo. “Look, we kill millions upon millions of rats and cockroaches every year. The last thing I want to do is harm one. I’ve spent my whole career trying to improve their island habitats, but the sheer number of iguanas is exploding — it’s a situation that’s not getting better any time soon.” Via the Sun Sentinel and Gizmodo Images via Depositphotos and Skye am i/Wikimedia Commons

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Conservationists rid Florida of invasive iguanas by smashing their heads

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