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Oct 112013

The Associated Press reports that the Obama Administration has said it will allow states to use their own money to open some National Parks.

Jul 142011

From Green Right Now Reports

Five major Great Lakes national parks are already feeling the impact of climate change in the forms of rising temperatures, decreased winter ice, eroding shorelines, spreading disease, and a crowding out of key wildlife and plant life, according to a new report issued today by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and Natural Resources Defense Council.

The report focuses on the five largest parks on the Great Lakes: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Indiana (near Chicago); Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and Isle Royale National Park in Michigan (just offshore from Minnesota); and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin.

As “Great Lakes National Parks in Peril: The Threats of Climate Disruption” notes, the threats of climate disruption to the national parks in the Great Lakes are also threats to the Great Lakes regional economy. “The five parks featured in this report together drew more than four million visitors in 2010. Visitor spending in 2009 totaled more than $200 million and supported nearly 3,000 jobs. These economic benefits are at risk as a changing climate threatens the special resources that draw vacationing families and others to these parks.”

The report identifies climate impacts that include:

  • Higher temperatures. Summers in Indiana Dunes could become as hot by late in this century (2070- 2099) as summers in Gainesville, Florida, have been in recent history (1971-2000). Summers in Sleeping Bear Dunes could become as hot as those in Lexington, Kentucky, recently have been.
  • Less winter ice. Higher air and water temperatures already are reducing winter ice cover on the Great Lakes, a trend expected to accelerate. Lake Michigan may have some winters with no ice cover in as soon as 10 years, and Lake Superior may typically be ice-free in about three decades.
  • Major erosion of shoreline and related features. With less ice and more open waters, the lakes will have more waves in winter than before, especially during strong storms, increasing erosion threats to park shorelines and structures. The park staff at Sleeping Bear Dunes has expressed concern that the park’s signature perched dunes, atop towering bluffs above the shorelines, could be vulnerable to accelerated loss from increased erosion, resulting from a loss of winter ice and snow cover that keeps the dunes’ sand from blowing away and from more waves undercutting the bluffs on which the dunes perch.
  • Loss of wildlife. In Isle Royale, the moose population has declined, as have the numbers of the wolves that depend on them as prey. Other park mammals at risk as the climate changes include lynx and martens. Birds at risk of being eliminated from the parks include common loons and ruffed grouse, iconic birds of the Great Lakes and the North Woods.

“The City of Bayfield, as the gateway community to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, faces the financial reality that climate change will bring tremendous economic challenges to our National Lakeshore-based local tourism economy,” Larry J. MacDonald, mayor of Bayfield, Wisc., said in a statement. “We need to continue to respect and protect Lake Superior. When the Lake is healthy, our community and the Apostle Islands will continue to prosper.”

The report also concludes:

  • The amount of rain falling in heavy storms in the Midwest increased by 31 percent over the past century. This is well above the national average of 22 percent.
  • Winds over the Great Lakes already are stronger than they used to be. Lake Superior wind speeds have increased by 12 percent since 1985.
  • The waters in the Great Lakes are hotter, with their temperatures having increased more in recent decades than air temperatures have. Lake Superior’s summer water temperatures rose about 4.5 degrees from 1979 to 2006, roughly double the rate at which summer air temperatures have gone up over the surrounding land.
  • In Isle Royale NP, the moose population is down to about 515, half the park’s long-term average. Temperatures higher than moose can tolerate could be responsible—as in nearby northwest Minnesota, where the moose population has crashed in the past two decades from 4,000 to fewer than 100 animals, coinciding with higher temperatures. Also, warmer winters in Isle Royale enable enough ticks to overwinter and cause such a large loss of blood among the moose that they are more vulnerable to the park’s wolves.
  • Isle Royale’s wolf population has fallen, too. The park’s moose make up 90 percent of the wolves’ prey, and declines in the moose population threaten the wolves. The park now has only 16 wolves in two packs, compared to 24 wolves in four packs a few years ago.
  • Botulism outbreaks linked to high water temperatures and low lake levels now kill hundreds to thousands of birds a year in Sleeping Bear Dunes NL. There are so many dead birds cover the park’s beaches that the National Park Service patrols from June through November to clean up the bird carcasses.
  • In 2010, a tick of the type that carries Lyme disease was confirmed at Isle Royale for the first time — a fact apparently being reported publicly for the first time in this report. Cold temperatures previously prevented the ticks that carry Lyme disease from reaching so far north, but their spread into the region had been projected as the climate gets hotter. The Lyme disease ticks also apparently have spread to nearby Grand Portage National Monument for the first time.

Sep 152009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Midway into Ken Burns’ new ode to American history, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (starting on PBS Sept. 27), the filmmaker tells how the nation’s early park caretakers realize that wildlife is integral to preserving the parks.

You’d think this would have been obvious. But it came as an epiphany in the 1930s, decades into the development of the park system.

Oddly, until then, the public had been so busy ogling mountains and gaping at the exotic canyons of America’s national parks, that the animals seemed secondary, even incidental. Wildlife appearances were welcomed, of course. Bison wandering through a Rocky Mountain meadow enhanced the mountain vista beyond. Mountain sheep verified that one was high in the Rockies and the faithful appearance of the Yellowstone bears at the “bear dumps” or roadside feeding stops made an excursion to see Old Faithful complete.

Meanwhile, though, the wolves, bear, foxes, deer, elk and moose were still vigorously hunted, even on public lands. Government logging continued, degrading some of the very areas being preserved. And those Yellowstone bears were becoming a public menace, through no fault of their own, living on public handouts.

It took some new people in Washington to see what was wrong with this picture. One was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a champion of conservation who added national parks to the system nearly as fast as he added government programs to shore up the ailing 1930s economy.

Another key figure was George Melendez Wright, the first chief of the Wildlife Division at the National Park Service.

Wright saw what most others, at least those in the federal government, had failed to see: That leaving the wildlife alone to thrive in the parks without human interference would strengthen the ecosystems and assure the park’s sustainability.

He saw the nearly extinguished Trumpet Swans, for instance, not as potential hunting trophies, but as a species to cherish and be preserved in the wild. He understood the need for predators in the parks, and to balance the rampant recreational use of the parks to keep it in harmony with nature.

Tragically, this forward-thinking man, died in his early 30s in a car accident near Big Bend. But before he did, he pushed his philosophy forward enough that the parks were never viewed quite the same way again.

This is just one vignette in Burns’ monumental six-part, 12-hour series, which begins on PBS channels nationwide on Sept. 27 and will make Sunday evenings learning about National Parks the next best thing to going there. The film, five years in the making, is directed by Burns (who previously gave us the definitive epics, The Civil War, Jazz and Baseball) and written and co-produced by Dayton Duncan. Needless to say, the cinematography rocks (and not just the footage of the Rockies), and the collection of historic photos and clips presented is awesome. (Thank Burns and his chief cinematographer Buddy Squires.)

Burns excels at homing in on the poignant moments and historic pivots, and there are plenty here, as he and and Duncan tell the sweeping history of the parks through a series of smaller stories about the people who started them, shaped them, revered them and dwelt in them.

We hear about the odd, but visionary, John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, whose love of Yosemite Valley (“the grandest of all the temples of nature”) created the concept of national parks. Later, there’s Teddy Roosevelt, who vigorously promoted the idea of parks preserves but also hankered to nab a cougar whilst visiting Yellowstone.

“Roosevelt will always baffle people who don’t hunt, because he loved the animals and he loved to hunt,” notes one of the many historians and park rangers who narrate this documentary. (Park rangers who are eerily eloquent like Gerard Baker, a Native American ranger, Detroit-native Shelton Johnson, who missed his calling as a writer, and former Ranger Nevada Barr, who did become a writer.)

We learn how George Bird Grinnell, founder of the Audubon Society (and yes, that’s his real middle name), helped save the bison from extinction. And how onetime Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, described as “ruthless, unethical and highly effective” public leader abolished segregation in the National Parks and fended off special interests to create more protected spaces.

This hall of fascinating figures includes both the virtuous champions of the cause and those who undermined it. We meet defenders of rare birds and the nefarious absconder of ancient artifacts from Mesa Verde. The fun folks elevate the story so far above the “travelogue” that critics were worried would emerge, it doesn’t even bear fretting for one minute more about that.

Burns, master of his craft that he is, does not forget the common man/woman. Somehow, he has unearthed precious home memoirs of park aficionados dating back to the turn of the century. We follow one brave couple from Nebraska, Edward and Margaret Gerkie, as they tent alongside their car in various developing parks . We meet another man, a Japanese-born artist Chiura Obata whose spiritual connection to the “Holy Mountain,” Mount Rainier, leads to his life’s work painting scenes from the national parks. And naturally we meet Ansel Adams, photographer extraordinaire of the American West.

Just as the U.S. bureaucrats finally remembered to include wildlife in their plans for the nascent national parks, Burns remembers to put the people into his chronicle, turning what could have been a grand, but monotonous travelogue into a spirited exploration of our social and natural history, our culture and values.

But we would expect no less from our de facto national documentary filmmaker as he expounds on our nation’s presumed “best idea”.

About that claim, some will argue that America’s best idea was something else; something like, say, modern democracy (if you leave the ancient Greeks out of it) or representative government (skipping over the Iroquois here), or great TV sitcoms (a possible contender).

But Burns and team make a good case that the parks, set aside for all to enjoy, are uniquely American and embody our democratic spirit and more.

“The country (and therefore the parks) belong to the people. They are not for the rich alone,” says FDR, in a segment about how this nature-loving president, unable to hike or even walk far, greatly expanded the number of parks including some remote places.

Burns’ mega documentary, all 12 hours of it, is carefully organized, following the chronology of the parks from their inception in the 1800s, spurred by naturalist and Sierra Club founder John Muir, to about 1980 (a little disappointment there, given there are so many parallels with current park issues).

But his execution is multi-layered, creating a nuanced version of history with a panoply of interesting byways, detours and surprises.

He presents the parks as they were first viewed – as amazing spectacles that any American would be lucky to see and follows them though their various incarnations as vacation spots, points of education, and finally as core of our identity.

Our string of magnificent National Parks, concludes Sierra Club executive president Carl Pope, seems to suit a nation of immigrants, giving us places of peace and land that endures:

“They are the meaning of home for many of us.”

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Jun 152009

By Shermakaye Bass
Green Right Now

Last week, the Obama Administration announced a new youth-jobs program designed to simultaneously boost the country’s economy and ecology: a promising, if labyrinthine, new agency called the Office of Youth in Natural Resources (OYNR), which falls under the Department of the Interior. The OYNR debuts with a program, the 21st Century Youth Conservation Corps, patterned after the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930′s (but not expected to create the 3 million jobs CCC did).

The timing couldn’t be better. The White House has been increasingly criticized for the slowness with which ‘Stimulus Act’ money has resulted in actual shovel-ready jobs. Putting kids to work is a great way to counter the criticism.

According to DOI spokeswoman Joan Moody, “the 21st Youth Conservation Corps will be the signature program for the Office of Youth in Natural Resources, which will also coordinate a number of existing programs. This summer, under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus funds), 5,000 additional jobs for youth are in the process of being added to the 10,000 existing youth jobs.”

The country’s ‘youth’ is defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as between the ages of 16 and 24. However, Moody said the agency and its star pupil, the 21st Century Youth Conservation Corps (let’s call it 21CYCC), have not yet decided what ages will be eligible for the jobs.

Moody said the new OYNR is also hiring a director and several career staff positions (listed on USA Jobs), and these staffers will help to shape the nature of the youth corps as it evolves. The overall plan is for the corps to put approximately 70,000 to 100,000 young people to work each year on public lands. These are ultimately funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009.

“The reason we call the jobs ‘green’ is that they will involve performing conservation and rehabilitation work in national parks, wildlife refuges, public lands, on Indian reservations and in other ‘green’ areas.  Many of the projects on which the 5,000 new jobs will be, include trail building and maintenance, other deferred maintenance projects and assisting in habitat restoration and other land and wildlife conservation programs of the department.

“As just one small example, ten high school and college students have been hired by the U.S. Geological Survey (a DOI bureau) at The Bird Banding Laboratory of Patuxent Wildlife Refuge in Maryland,” Moody told GreenRightNow. “The lab has been the main storehouse of scientific data on the banding and subsequent encounters (recoveries) of birds for all of North America for over 100 years.  The students will be working on getting 700 boxes of older data ready for scanning so they will be available for digital access. These data on migration and other matters are quite important for conservation and regulation purposes.”

Last summer, youth unemployment was up to 13.5 percent, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said last week during the OYNR announcement – the highest rate for July since 1992. But, he said, “jobs are not the only reason for such a program. …When President Franklin Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, he said, ‘More important than material gains will be the moral and spiritual value of such work.’”

Another element of the OYNR -besides coordinating youth programs across agency lines – is encouraging girls and women to get involved in careers that traditionally have lured boys and men by a substantial margin. Thus the White House Council on Women and Girls is also closely involved, the Council’s chair, Valerie Jarrett, said last week.

Though all federal agencies, departments and bureaus are working together to come up with jobs -beginning now – each will have its particular slant. For instance, the Bureau of Indian Affairs will “be engaging youth through their workforce training programs where participants will receive job skills in the construction trades,” Moody explained.

“The Bureau of Reclamation will engage youth on some of their infrastructure reliability and safety projects, primarily in the  areas of retrofitting of existing facilities to provide ADA accessibility and maintenance activities,” she said.  “The Bureau of Land Management, National Parks Service, Fisheries and Wildlife Service and others are engaging youth in trails maintenance – whether the trails be on the Appalachian Trail or in the middle of Boston Harbor – habitat restoration and deferred maintenance projects. The United States Geological Survey will use interns to assist in their volcano monitoring, earthquake monitoring and data preservation activities.”

In addition, 107 national parks are adding Stimulus-Act related jobs over the coming months. For more information, check out the DOI Recovery Site.

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Jan 222009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

The stimulus package pending in Congress promises to create jobs, but how green these plans will be is cause for concern and debate.

While environmental advocates are glad to gleeful over the promise of the new administration, they still have questions: Will the focus on energy security overshadow other green moves? Will the sagging economy, which has claimed jobs at solar and wind energy companies just as it has in traditional industries, preempt plans to curb global warming?

While few quibble with emergency assistance to “Main Street,” those with visions of a bright green future worry that money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 could be spent before a more orchestrated plan to marry jobs and green initiatives can be developed or win favor.

Transportation advocates, for instance, noticed that a draft of the stimulus proposal devotes a lot of dollars ($30 billion) to highways, which they see as a missed opportunity to develop mass transit (tagged to get $10 billion). They say that building up intra-city transit and railway connections between American cities could create jobs and energy-efficiencies, with more staying power.

A group of architects, promoting green building as a way out of the economic mire, also sees a window of opportunity in the present bleak space. They propose that buildings, which account for some 40 to 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, could be constructed to be carbon neutral by 2030. That’s right, zero emissions. But only if we stop now to reconsider how we need to change construction practices. Led by Ed Mazria of New Mexico, Architecture 2030 has proposed the 2030 Challenge Stimulus Plan that envisions a new path for the building trades that would create jobs, vastly reduce energy consumption and lower expenses for homeowners, who’d get better mortgage rates in exchange for making energy retrofits.

Read more about this captivating proposal in our story Saving America with energy efficient homes and better mortgages by Diane Porter.

Conservationists, meanwhile, are hoping that stimulus money can help repair national parks and refuges. It’s hard to find flaws in their proposal to put Americans to work fixing up parks and wilderness areas. The jobs created would be skilled and local by nature (no pun intended); the projects would strengthen our infrastructure and help preserve the biodiversity we’re losing to development. Not only that, it worked (or didn’t work, depending on the historian at the podium) once before during the Roosevelt years, when the Works Project Administration tossed up public buildings like pizza pastry, including some in national parks.

Get up to speed in It’s a natural: Rebuild America’s refuges and parks with green jobs by Shermakaye Bass.

Yes, it’s a new day in Washington, but is it a Green Day?

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Jan 212009

By Shermakaye Bass
Green Right Now

It’s about jobs.

America’s newly inaugurated President, Barack Obama, has a Herculean task ahead of him, no question. Virtually everyone from the far right to the hard left agrees that if the new leader wants to rescue America’s economy, it’s all about jobs.

And as Mr. Obama promised, the buzz is about green jobs – a green economy, greening our buildings, revamping parks, wildlife refuges and public spaces. These involve “shovel-ready” jobs, some of which can be started within 90 days of Obama’s inauguration, say eco-leaders, who’ve been lobbying Washington to fund what could amount to an environmental restoration of the United States.

Last week, when the U.S. Congress presented its $825 billion recovery package, legislators gave the first hint that they are listening. The package proposes $90 billion for infrastructure and $54 billion to support renewable-energy production and research — all aimed at modernizing the economy and stopping the river of pink slips that claimed two million jobs in just the last four months of 2008. As Appropriations Committee chairman, Rep. David Obey, (D-Wisc.), pointed out – without the recovery plan, the country could face 12 percent unemployment in 2009.

That’s precisely why now is the time to bust out the shovels and dig in, say people like Noah Kahn, manager of the national wildlife refuge program for the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife. We’ve definitely got our work cut out for us, he adds. And what’s being proposed by Congress is only the tip of the iceberg, in terms of what could be achieved in a green-jobs economy. Continue reading »

Nov 072008

From Green Right Now

In one final mad dash of activity, look for the Bush administration to roll back several significant environmental restrictions, according to a report from McClatchy Newspapers.  It’s expected that the administration will overturn limits that have kept power plants from encroaching upon national parks, blocked uranium mining near the Grand Canyon and protected ground water from contamination at mountaintop coal mining sites in Appalachia.

McClatchy reports that the Bush administration is expected to have the new rules finalized shortly before Thanksgiving. If the administration can get the rules in place quickly, it would make it more difficult for the Obama administration and the new Democratic Congress to undo the changes.

If the relaxed restrictions occur, the areas od potential impact include:

Continue reading »

Oct 272008

By Tom Kessler

More than 30 years after the Clean Air Act set a national goal of cleaning up dirty air in major national parks and wilderness areas, conservationists don’t see progress but they do still see a yellowish haze caused by old power plants and factories with outdated pollution controls.

Last week, the Environmental Defense Fund and National Parks Conservation Association sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to enforce deadlines for the states to adopt Clean Air Act plans. To date, only a handful of states have submitted the required plans to comply with the law. The two groups say coal power plants and factory emissions continue to obscure views at national parks across the country.

Continue reading »

Oct 012008

By John DeFore

Once upon a time, the only humans who lived in trees were such fictional folks as Tarzan and the hero of Italo Calvino’s charming romance The Baron in the Trees. That was before the “tree-sitting” phenomenon, in which activists climb into trees threatened by development and refuse to come down.

The population of real-life tree dwellers shrank this month as the last two participants in a 20-year-old protest agreed to leave their perch in Northern California redwoods.

As the story was reported locally, the protest ended after bankruptcy put the Pacific Lumber Company under new ownership. Humboldt Redwood Co., which took the company over, committed to a sustainable-harvest policy that the Associated Press says “promised to spare any redwood that sprouted before 1800 with a diameter of at least 4 feet. It also pledged to avoid clear-cutting, a practice that the timber giant aggressively practiced under its previous owner, Maxxam Inc.”

Humboldt president and chief forester Michael Jani trekked out to the occupied trees himself to make the promise explicit, and the activists are taking him at his word. Last week, the final tree-sitters in Humboldt County gave up their temporary homes, including a 300-foot tree at least 1,500 years old where 22-year-old Billy Stoetzer had lived (in a hammock shelter) for almost a year.

Organizers tell reporters that they’ll keep an eye on the area to ensure that promises are kept. Since Humboldt Redwood is owned in large part by the owners of The Gap, they’d have plenty of opportunities for high-profile protest if things were to change.

For more information about old growth redwood forests, see this National Park Service webpage.

(Photo: National Park Service.)

Copyright © 2008 | Distributed by Noofangle Media